How to Create an Interesting Villain for Your Stories

villain-001It seems like I spend so much time thinking about the good guys when I write my fiction that I sometimes forget the bad guy needs love too, so to speak. Since plot lines revolve around conflict there has to be a source behind that conflict, and that would be the antagonist, more commonly known as the villain.

There are different approaches to creating a good villain. One way is to have him or her truly evil and completely irredeemable, sort of like a Count Dracula. Your readers will hate him and root for the good guys to wipe him out. That would be the sort of villain you can kill off at the end of the story, and your readers will leave feeling relieved and satisfied.

A more complex, and interesting, approach would be to create a “conflicted” villain. Instead of a purely evil Count Dracula, you could create a villain more like Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire of Dark Shadows fame. Barnabas had been a good guy until the vampire curse was placed upon him. Once that happened, he was left despising what he had become. He both hates, and deeply regrets, all the things he’s had to do along the way in order to survive. Thus he becomes a “hero-villain;” an antagonist whom the audience could root for, because they too wanted to see him cured of his affliction and end up with the girl, be it Maggie, Vicki, or his true love, Josette. In the interim, they sure get to see him wreak a lot of havoc.

Some storytellers like to take chances by having their protagonist, or hero, go bad. That can be a tricky approach. If you’re going to attempt it you need to have a character with plenty of redeeming qualities, otherwise your readers won’t be able to make a connection and they will not root for him or her. By the end of the story he or she will have to renounce all the bad things they had done earlier, and as well as be willing to do whatever has to done to make up for the sins of the past. If not, your readers will not be satisfied with the ending, assuming they stayed with your story until the end.

Another way to conclude your story would be to end a tragedy with tragedy, especially if your hero-villain has done some really nasty things in the past that he or she really can’t walk away from. At the very end of the Star Wars saga Darth Vader renounces the emperor and turns away from the dark side of the force, but in so doing he has to sacrifice his own life in order to save Luke. It certainly made for a dramatic, and satisfying, end of the conflict.

So there you have it. With a little imagination, and a few character quirks, you can create develop interesting and memorable villains who can keep your readers engaged. And that’s what good storytelling is all about.
GM

 

 

 

Weeding Through Website Hosting

keyboardOne thing absolutely essential for 21st century authors is a good website. In this day and age, websites are no longer optional. More and more readers search for books on-line. However, setting up a website can be daunting, especially to a new author who, prior to publishing his or her first book, may have never had a need for a website.

First things first. Before you can have a website you need a domain name. The optimum domain name for an author is yourname.com. If it’s already taken, as is the case with me, put it on back order. Sometimes patience pays off. In the meantime you can try yourname.net. However, if the .net for your name isn’t available either then you may have to tweak it a little bit. Try adding your middle initial, or words such as, “author,” or “books.” I’ve registered both “gaylemartin.net” and “gaylemartinbooks.com.” They work well. You may also want to consider registering a domain name for your book title, or, if it’s part of a series, a domain name for the series. I have LukeandJennyBooks.com and LukeandJenny.com. (Remember what I just said about patience paying off? I had the latter one on back order for four years, but I eventually got it.)

Now, where to point it…

I firmly believe that you can never have too much Internet presence. You never know how or where a potential reader will find you. If your funds are limited, you can start with a blog, as you can set up a blog for free or for very little money.

In addition to a blog site, I also recommend having a formal web site if your budget will allow it. You’ll look more professional, and you can do all kinds of cool and wonderful things, such as add animation, slideshows, forums–all kinds of neat stuff, depending your individual needs and on how much time and money you’re willing to invest. There are many people out there who design websites for a living, and if your vision for your website is something that does everything but wash the dishes and do your laundry, I suggest letting the pros handle it for you. However, if your funds are limited, there are hosting companies out there with easy to use site-building tools which will allow you to do it yourself. I’ve been creating my own websites for years. I’m quite happy with the results, and I’ve had many nice compliments on them too. Hey, if a technophobe like me can build a website then you can too. I use Go Daddy, but you may want to shop around to see what works best for you.

When webhost shopping you should also consider whether or not they offer live, 24/7 tech support. That to me is more important than anything else. Things can and do go wrong with websites, so it’s nice have live people out there when bad things happen and you really do need the help.

GM

 

Tax Tips for Writers and Authors

Spring is in the air, and that means it’s tax season once again. I’m not a tax expert, so I’m not purporting to be giving any kind of legal advice, but the one thing I have learned, through trial and error, is to save those receipts. Come April 15, it’s far better to have your tax preparer tell you that you can throw a receipt away because you don’t need it, instead of having him or her tell you that you won’t be able to claim a deduction you would otherwise be entitled to because you don’t have your receipt.

Generally speaking, if it’s an expense incurred in writing, publishing or promoting your books, you can deduct it. Your tax preparer will ultimately determine what deductions you will be able to take, but they will probably want to see your documentation first. Therefore, you should keep your receipts for:

  • advertising expenses
  • book design services
  • book reviewers, (if you had to pay for a review)
  • editing services
  • photographers and illustrators
  • publishing services
  • research materials

Does your publisher charge you for your copies of your books? If so, hang on to the receipts.

Other expenses that may be deductible would include:

  • Book signing materials, including tables and chairs, tablecloths, display materials and signage
  • Cellphones, (if purchased for business use)
  • Computer hardware and software
  • Office supplies
  • Postage and shipping services, such as UPS

Do you work out of your home? If so, a portion of your rent or mortgage, and utility bills, may be deductible. Keep the receipts.

Some authors, including yours truly, write genre books that sometimes require special attire for book signings. For example, I write Old West historical fiction, and some of the Old West venues where I sign my books require me to wear period clothing. Again, whenever I buy any period outfit or accessory, I keep the receipts, because it may be tax deductible.

Many authors also have book related travel expenses. Whether it’s across town or across the country, you need to keep track of your travel expenses, as they too may be deductible. These expenses would include:

  • Air fare
  • Gasoline
  • Hotels and lodging
  • Meals
  • Rental cars
  • Taxi fare

Business mileage is anther potential tax deduction that many us of tend to forget about. You can document your mileage by either keeping a log book in your car, or via websites like Google Maps or Yahoo Maps. Simply enter your address and the address of your destination, and the exact mileage will display at the top of the page. Print out the page and put it in your tax files.

Remember too that authors and writers are not immune to tax audits. You should keep your final return, as well as all of your documentation, including receipts, on file for six years. Rest assured, if you’re ever audited, you will most certainly have to have your receipts. If you don’t the IRS will, more than likely, not only disallow the deduction, they may also hit you with a big penalty as well. It’s far better to have those receipts and not need them then the other way around.

My tip for the day.

GM

 

Book Signing Essentials

Book Display Tucson Fest 2011Book signings are a strange animal. While they’re a lot of fun, they’re also about as predictable as the weather, and one challenge I’ve frequently encountered is getting passers-by to even notice I’m there in the first place.

My static display skills aren’t bad, however, there is more to a successful display than just a pretty arrangement. The trick is to make your display stand out against the competition. Competition isn’t necessarily other authors signing their books at the same venue. Grouping authors together is usually a benefit, as the multiple book displays tend to stand out more. The competition is the usually rest of the “neighborhood” where the venue is being held. This would be the non-book vendors, brick and mortar shops, restaurants, and whatever activities or events the venue is hosting. A good display is a must if you want to successfully sell your books.

If you’re just starting out, or, if you’re like many of us and have a limited budget, getting everything you need to put together a successful display may seem daunting. However, you’ll find many of your basic display items are inexpensive, and can be found at Wal-Mart, Target, or Michael’s, or even a thrift shop.

First, you’ll need a nice tablecloth. Solid colors work best. If you prefer a tablecloth with a pattern, find a simple one. Think of your tablecloth as the backwash in a painting. Loud, busy fabrics are out. You want the public looking at your books, not at the intricate printed patterns on your tablecloth. I also like to use a small table runner. For most signings I use a simple, ivory lace runner, and I also have a festive Christmas table runner that I use during holiday book signings. If you don’t have a lot of money you can find used tablecloths, or even used draperies or sheets, at thrift stores or yard sales.

Next, you need some small display easels for propping up your books. I’ve found some really nice ones at Michael’s. Try to avoid using the three-legged plate holders. They are unstable and your books will keep being knocked over. If you have the funds, a large bookrack is a really nice display tool. They can be pricey, but they’re a darn good attention grabber and well worth the investment.

You would think that a good book display would be enough for people to understand you’re selling books, but, oftentimes, it not the case. That’s why you also need good signage. If you don’t have a lot of money, you can start out by printing something off your printer and putting it in an attractive photo frame. If you have the tools and the skills, have a have a poster or banner printed and attach it to a piece of foam core board. You should be able to do this for a very reasonable cost. If your funds will allow it, I highly recommend investing in a good quality retractable banner, but keep in mind that retractable banners are not suitable for outdoor use.

I found a sign shop here in Tucson that got me a good deal on a sandwich board. These boards are suitable for outdoor use and they can really take a beating. The signs themselves are easy to remove, so I can swap out different signs for different venues.

And finally, not all venues will provide a table a chair. I found a lightweight, aluminum folding table in the camping department at Wal-Mart for a very reasonable price, along with a couple of cloth folding chairs that are comfortable and easy to carry. That, along with a small dolly or wheeled cart to easily move everything around with, should cover about just about everything that you will need. These items may also be found at thrift stores, yard sales, or craigslist.

Book signings can be fun, and they are one of the best tools out there for promoting and marketing your books. However, as the old adage goes, you will have to spend money to make money, and you should be able do it without going broke in the process.

My tip for the day.

GM

 

 

Soap Opera Plots–Time Tested Reliable Storylines

TV Set

Once upon a time, my friends and I were all soap opera junkies. We loved our soaps, and I taped my favorite soap everyday for years. How times have changed. Now I don’t bother watching soaps anymore, and neither do any of my friends. We all stopped watching them years ago. I don’t think it’s our age. Both of my grandmothers were still watching their favorite soap operas when they were well into their eighties. I think it has to do with the fact that soap operas today are so poorly written. Soap operas used to be about love and romance. Then the producers decided they wanted younger, “more hip,” audiences, so the writers began writing outrageous story lines about demonic possession, characters being buried alive, couples going back to the garden of Eden, and UFOs. Good plot lines for The X Files, but definitely not what we wanted to see on Days of Our Lives.

Those of us who are fiction writers or storytellers know that basic plot structure revolves around conflict, and how the characters react to and resolve the conflict. For many, many years, soap operas relied on these classic plot lines which consistently worked and kept viewers watching. They were:

The Romantic Triangle.  Boy meets girl. They fall in madly love. But another girl is also in love with the same boy, so she plots and schemes, relentlessly, to break them up, becoming, “The Girl We Love to Hate.” Such was the Steve, Alice and Rachel triangle on Another World that kept viewers watching for years. It’s even written up in Wikipedia.

Extra-Marital Affairs and Illegitimate Children. The side effect of the romantic triangle. Days of our Lives kept their audience riveted for years, wondering when Mickey would find out that Mike was actually his brother Bill’s son.

Long Lost or Unknown Half Siblings. Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight. But one of their mothers is dead set against their relationship, and she does everything in her power to break them up. Soon the truth comes out. Years ago, Mom’s lover was the father of her child’s love interest, and they’re half brother and sister. Fortunately, this always comes out before the romance is consummated. A good plot twist is when later on, after they’ve both found other love interests, the other mother comes forward and says no, so and so was not the father of her child after all, so they were never half siblings in the first place. The fun never stops.

The Big Frame-Up. From time to time a villain has to be killed off, and what better way to do it than to have a favorite leading man or lady framed for a crime they didn’t commit. Of course, they would eventually be found innocent, but never until after they’d gone to trial, been convicted, and ended up in prison. This plot line can be easily adapted to 21st century technology by simply having the real killer tamper with the DNA test results.

Catastrophic Diseases or Injuries. Hodgkin’s Disease was common on soaps. So were brain tumors and comas. Pregnancies were, more often than not, high-risk. Miscarriages were frequent and could be caused by the strangest things, such as tripping over a wastepaper basket. And how many times did we see our favorite characters go blind or deaf? But, at least in Soap Opera Land, everyone always recovered–only to be struck down by another malady a few years later. The only disease that soap opera characters were ever immune to was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Amnesia. A rare medical condition in the real world, but at one time it was quite common on soaps. Having a favorite character lose his or her memory and wander off somewhere, with everyone else thinking they were dead, made for great soap opera watching.

Returning From the Dead. This is oftentimes the end result of amnesia. A favorite character is involved in a plane crash or other catastrophic event. He or she is missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. The character leaves the show, only to return sometime later. (Sometimes played by a different actor upon returning.) This plot line has many possibilities. The character may be recovering from the aforementioned amnesia, or maybe not. Either way, the memories will eventually return, but oftentimes not until after experiencing another catastrophic event. The other scenario is when the character returns after having finally escaped from being held captive somewhere.  Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it back home until after their spouse or lover has moved on and found someone else. However, this plot can be overdone. Come on, Days of Our Lives. How many times can Stephano DeMira be brought back from the dead?

And there you have it. Any romance writer worth his or her salt knows that such stories of star-crossed lovers have worked since Romeo and Juliet. Too bad that soap opera writers abandoned the basics in favor of the bizarre. Once they did, they lost touch with their loyal viewers, and once an audience is lost, it’s nearly impossible to get it back.