How to Create an Interesting Villain

© Can Stock Photo / Ostill

It seems like I spend so much time thinking about the good guys that I forget the bad guy needs love too. Plot lines revolve around conflict. So, there must 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 villain. One is to have him or her truly evil and completely irredeemable. Think Count Dracula. Your readers will hate him and root for the good guys to wipe him out. This is the villain you can kill off at the end of the story, and leave your readers feeling relieved and satisfied.


A more interesting approach is to create a conflicted villain. Instead of Count Dracula, you have Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire from Dark Shadows. Barnabas had been a good guy until a witch placed a vampire curse him. This leaves him despising what he’s become. I think of Barnabas as a “hero-villain.” He’s an antagonist we can root for. We want to see him cured of his affliction and end up with the girl. In the interim, however, he’ll wreak plenty of havoc.


Some storytellers like to take chances and have their hero go bad. Interesting approach, but it can be tricky. If you’re going to attempt it, your character will need plenty of redeeming qualities. If not, your readers won’t make a connection, and they won’t root for him or her. By the end of the story he or she will have to renounce all the bad things they did earlier. They must also be willing to make up for the sins of the past. If not, your readers won’t 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 a tragedy. This works well when your villain has done things that simply can’t be walked away from. At the end of the original Star Wars saga, Darth Vader renounces the emperor and turns away from the dark side of the force. He has to sacrifice his own life in order to save Luke. This made 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 interesting and memorable villains who’ll keep your readers engaged. And that’s what good storytelling is all about.

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How to Write a Good Description of Your Novel

From time to time I get emails from other authors announcing their latest book, This included one from someone who’s been writing novels longer than I have. It had the usual announcement, along with the book cover and a description. The description, however, was problematic, to say the least. It was at least five hundred words, if not more. And it described the entire plot. Once I finished reading it I had no incentive to buy the book. I knew the story from start to finish.


One of my mentors taught me to write descriptions of ten to one hundred words, and nothing longer. Over time I’ve discovered that a fifty to one hundred word description works nicely. I also write teasers, not plot summaries. The whole idea of a book description is to give a potential reader a general idea of what the story is about. It should also entice them to read more. In other words, it’s ad copy


I’ve pasted the descriptions for my Marina Martindale novels, The Journey, and The Stalker, as examples of effective teaser descriptions.


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The Journey

Cassie Palmer’s world is shattered when a car crash leaves her hospitalized and fighting for her life. Her husband, Jeremy, begins his own frightening journey when he meets Denise, one of Cassie’s nurses. Denise seems familiar, but while he may no longer remember her, she has neither forgiven nor forgotten how he jilted her, years before. Denise seeks revenge and Jeremy soon vanishes under mysterious circumstances, leaving his grieving wife behind. As Cassie struggles to recover her life will take another strange turn, when an unexpected visitor reveals that things are not as they appear.

The Stalker

Rachel Bennett may have attended her ten-year high school reunion on a whim, but fate intervened once she saw Shane MacLeod. No longer the shy, gawky teenager she remembered, Shane has matured into a handsome and successful man, but her perfect evening ends when another man from her past suddenly reappears. Craig Walker had been her mentor until he became jealous of her talent and success. Now he intends to either have her, or destroy her at all costs. As Rachel’s family pressures her to take Craig to court, she can no longer ignore her nagging feeling that a tragedy is about to strike.

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Knowing When to Quit, Part One

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / tomasfoto

 I was an art major in college, and I’ll always remember one of my painting professors said.


“Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he’s done. Otherwise, he’ll overwork the painting and turn it into mud.”


It’s extremely difficult for us as artists to see our work objectively enough to know when it’s finished. And once we realize we’ve overworked something, it may be too late to salvage it. Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One would be redundancy. I’ll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.


I was near the end of the story. I’d resolved the main conflict. But as I was tying up remaining the loose ends I suddenly discovered a huge opening for one of the antagonists to go after the protagonist a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought, as I loved my cast of characters. However, in this instance, the conflict would have been virtually the same as the conflict in the first book, thus making sequel redundant. In other words, it would have been a boring, “been there, done that,” story. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader’s time, with a bad sequel, I wrote a definitive ending and killed off the antagonist, ending the feud once and for all. 


Does your story feel like it’s getting stale? If so, go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character’s choices are always the same, it may be that your story has become too redundant.


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Just Add Two Tablespoons of Fate

Anna’s Kitchen was my very first book. I completely produced and published it on my own. I think every author should be required do this at least once. It’s an incredible learning experience. It makes us extremely aware of just how much hard work goes into publishing a book, and why teamwork is so necessary.


Because I was doing it all myself, I had no one to edit or proofread for me. So, I used my spell checker. Big mistake, I know. It’s how I learned, the hard way, that every author must have an editor.


Once the book was printed I found all kinds of errors. One of my friends came across one in a gravy recipe he thought was particularly amusing. It said, “Add two tablespoons of fate.” He laughed and laughed. Then he asked me if it meant that we were supposed to pray over the gravy as it was being prepared. Now mind you, that’s not a bad idea. I pray over the little everyday things in life much more than the big things. In this case, however, it was a typo that the spell checker had missed. The word, “fate” was spelled correctly. But what it should have read was, “add two tablespoons of fat.”


Yes, you need a couple tablespoons of fat if you’re making gravy. However, when it comes to life in general, you might need to add two tablespoons of fate. Just saying.

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The Cure for Writer’s Block

Graphic by Gayle Martin

It happens to all of us at one time or another. We run into a proverbial brick wall and suddenly find ourselves unable to come up with something to write about. Ugh!

Creativity is a funny thing. We can’t always turn it on and off whenever we choose. This can be particularly frustrating for fiction writers who have to juggle their writing time between jobs and families.

 
Sometimes switching gears and writing about another topic can help. I have friends who work on two or three different books at the same time. If they get stuck on one, they simply set it aside and work on another one. However, if that doesn’t work, or, if you’re like me, and you only work on one story at a time, then try stepping away from the computer. Go do a project that’s been on your “honey do” list for too long. Those nagging issues really can affect your creativity.

If that doesn’t help, then take a break and do something you enjoy. Bake cookies. Play a round of golf. Go to a movie, or a ball game. Take a day trip somewhere. Read a book you haven’t had time to read. Call a friend or relative you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Taking a time out and doing something you enjoy gives your mind  a chance to focus on other things. It also gives your creative muse a rest. Don’t worry about your story. It’ll come back. And when it does, you can pick up where you left off. 


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So Who’s Responsible for Marketing Your Book?

From time to time I get into some rather interesting conversations with authors lamenting the fact that their book isn’t selling they way they expected. So, I ask them what they’ve done to market their book. Oftentimes they haven’t done anything. Many authors, especially newbies, honestly think all they have to do was list their book on Amazon, and people would come along and buy it.


“Build it and they will come,” may have worked in the movie Field of Dreams. However, that mindset doesn’t apply when selling books. Nor is your publisher responsible for selling your book for you. They distribute it, not market it. So, unless you, the author, go out and do some marketing, your book won’t sell. Fortunately, there are many things that you can and should be doing to help promote your book. 

How authors can promote their books

  • Have a website or a blog, or both, about your book.
  • Promote your book on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.
  • List your book on other websites such as Goodreads.
  • Book signings.
  • Newsletters
  • Contests and giveaways.
  • Book Trailers.
  • Advertising.

If you only do one item on this list, make it a website. If you’re on a tight budget, you can do a simple, do it yourself blog on platforms such as Blogger, virtually for free. And if you have the means, you can hire a webmaster and have a state of the art website will all the bells and whistles. Either way, however, it’s up to you to promote your blog or website.


Social media is an absolute must as well. It costs nothing to open account on most social media platforms. Keep in mind, however, that it takes time to build a following on social media, so don’t expect instant results. I’ve also found contests and giveaways to be a nice marketing tool. You can do giveaways on Amazon, through social media, or in newsletters.


If your budget allows it you can hire a publicist. If you do, be sure that he or she has experience in book promotion, as book promotion is different from other kinds of public relations. Also be sure to talk to him or her about the cost. Some firms may charge as much as $3000 a month for their services. Others may charge much less, and may do just as good of a job as the higher-priced publicists.


No one ever said marketing a book would be easy, especially in a time when anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can upload a Word file onto Amazon Kindle and call themselves an author. However, unless your name is Stephen King, James Patterson or J.K. Rowling, don’t expect people bust down the doors to buy your book just because you’ve listed it on Amazon. You really do have to get there and do some work.

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Why Having the Cloud or Other Off-Site Storage is a Must

Photo by Gayle Martin.

It’s happened to me twice now. That oh so sickening feeling of going to open a file, only to discover it’s vanished.

Computers are mysterious creatures. I jokingly tell people they’re black magic and voodoo. But sometimes I wonder if there could be some truth to this. Both times this happened was after I’d saved the files and shut down my computer properly. Obviously, files can be lost or hopelessly corrupted, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is why I have off site storage.

Off site storage, sometimes called, the cloud, is just that. Your files are backed up to a third party server. So, heaven forbid, your computer gets lost or stolen, or an important file gets lost or damaged, you can easily download a backup. Some people may worry about privacy. That’s a legitimate concern. However, any reliable off site storage company will encrypt your files. 

What I use

I use Carbonite. It costs a little over $50 per year, and it’s money well spent. It runs in the background and automatically backs up my files. And, when I had to use it, I found it very easy. The first time was to recover missing a Word file. I got all but the last two paragraphs back. More recently, I had to recover an InDesign file that mysteriously vanished. Carbonite downloaded it completely intact.

 
Some people tell me they don’t need off site storage as they manually backup their files to a flash drive. That’s fine, as long as you remember to do so everyday. However, Murphy’s Laws are what they are. So with my luck, the day a file corrupts or completely disappears will be the same day I forgot to do a back up.


Stuff happens, and it can happen to you. Carbonite has saved my rear-end. Not once, but twice. I’m now a customer for life.


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Fan Fiction and Copyrighted Characters

Graphic by Gayle Martin

I recall an interesting chat with a fellow author at a writer’s convention. He was telling me about another writer who apparently got into serious trouble with Paramount. This other writer had allegedly written a very adult oriented Star Trek story, and Paramount had taken issue with the way he’d used their characters.

As I recall, Star Trek conventions got started so the fans, or Trekkies, as they once called themselves, could share their fan stories. However, it was a different time. Fanfiction authors wrote with pen and paper and they kept their stories in notebooks. Self publishing didn’t exist. There was no Internet, no blogs, no Kindle.

Times have indeed changed. Today a fan writer can write his or her own Star Trek story in a blog or post it on a fan forum. And while their motive may be sincere, their devotion to their favorite TV show could, potentially, put them in legal hot water. I’m not an attorney, nor am I giving legal advice. However, it’s common knowledge that the rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person or persons who created it.

I write my own unique stories with my own characters. But if I were to include someone else’s character, for whatever reason, I would get their permission first. It’s only common courtesy. It would also save me the worry of getting a nasty letter from someone’s attorney. Even if I wasn’t writing for monetary gain, it could still be considered copyright infringement.


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Soap Opera Plots

Time Tested Reliable Storylines

© Can Stock Photo / ginosphoto

Once upon a time, my friends and I were soap opera junkies. We loved our soaps. I taped my favorite soap everyday for years. How times have changed. I don’t watch soaps anymore, and neither do any of my friends. We stopped watching them years ago. I don’t think it’s our age. Both of my grandmothers watched their favorite soaps when they were well into their eighties. I think it has to do with the fact that today’s soap operas are so poorly written.

Soap operas used to be about love and romance. Then one day the producers decided they wanted a younger, more hip audience. As a result, the writers began writing outrageous story lines. Demonic possessions. Frozen cities. Characters buried alive. And, of course, UFOs. Good plot lines for The X Files, but certainly not what we wanted to see on Days of Our Lives.

Those of us who write romantic fiction know that basic plot structure revolves around conflict. For many years, soap operas relied on these classic plot lines which consistently worked and kept viewers watching.

The Romantic Triangle


Boy meets girl. They fall in madly love. But another girl is in love with the same boy. So she plots and schemes, relentlessly, to break them up, thus becoming, “The Girl We Love to Hate.”

Extramarital Affairs and Illegitimate Children.

The side effect of the romantic triangle. Soap operas kept audiences riveted for years wondering when an unsuspecting husband, or ex husband, would finally discover that his son or daughter actually wasn’t his son or daughter. 

Long Lost Half Siblings.

Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight. But one of their mothers is dead set against their relationship. So, she does everything in her power to break them up. Soon the truth comes out. Years ago, Mom had an affair with the father of her child’s love interest. This means they’re half brother and sister. Fortunately, this always comes out before the romance is consummated.

Sometimes the writers will create a plot twist. The other mother comes forward later on and says no. So and so wasn’t her child’s father after all. Therefore, they were never half siblings. However, this only happens after the would-be lovers have moved on to other relationships. The fun never stops.

The Big Frame-Up

From time to time a villain has to be killed off. So why not frame a favorite character for a crime they didn’t commit? Of course, they would eventually be found innocent, but not until they’d gone on trial and ended up in prison. This plot line can be easily adapted to 21st century technology with the real killer tampering with the DNA test results.

Catastrophic diseases or injuries.

Hodgkin’s Disease. Brain tumors. Comas. High risk pregnancies. All were common soap opera maladies. Tripping over a waste basket could cause a miscarriage. And how many times did a favorite character go blind or deaf? But, at least in Soap Opera Land, everyone recovers; only to be struck down with another malady a few years later. However, soap opera characters are immune to one disease. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

amnesia

A rare medical condition in the real world. However, 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

A favorite character is involved in a plane crash or similar event. He or she is missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. The character leaves the show, only to return later, oftentimes with another actor assuming the role.

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. The other scenario is when the character returns after being held captive somewhere. Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it home until their spouse or lover has found someone else.


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. And they work just as well today. I use variations of them in my own romance novels, and my readers tell me they can’t put my books down.

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Blogs vs Social Media

© Can Stock Photo / gunnar3000

As authors we’ve all been told, dozens upon dozens of times, to use social media to promote our books. Good advice. Social media is an essential marketing tool. However, just like anything else, it can also be overrated, if not overused.

Some authors go on social media and post nothing but, “Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book!” To which I say, “Enough already!” We all want people to buy our books, but social media was never intended to be a vehicle for free advertising.

So, how does an author use social media? Well, this author uses it to drive traffic to her blogs, but I post about other things too. You know. The weather. Pictures of my dog, that sort of thing. I actually have a life outside of writing, but a word of caution here. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites can be extremely distracting and they can easily take up too much of your valuable time. Try not to spend more than ten to fifteen minutes per day on any one platform, and don’t feel that you have to post something everyday. Log in, write your post, put a couple of likes on friend’s posts, check and see if you have any private messages, and then log out. Better yet, use Hootsuite, and you can post to multiple social media accounts at the same time. 

Why I think the blog is still king

No Trolls Allowed. Trolls are people who apparently have nothing better to do with their time than to harass others or even destroy an author’s career. They’ve done some serious damage to Goodreads, and they can be a problem on other social media sites as well. However, with a blog, you can eliminate trolls completely. All you have to do is set up your comments so they cannot be posted without your prior approval, and bye-bye trolls. You’ve just created a place where people can feel safe engaging with you, and with each other.

You Can Engage One on One with Your ReadersA blog allows you to connect with your readers on a more personal level. You can share ideas, have contests and promotions, and build your following. And yes, a blog is a form of social media, as long as you allow comments. Both Blogger and WordPress allow multiple pages, so one of my other blogs, Marina Martindale’s Musings, uses those other pages for sample chapters. That’s a whole lot more than I’m able to do with my Facebook fan page.

Not Everyone Uses Social Media. Many people have either shut down or no longer use their social media accounts due to privacy concerns and other issues, while others never signed up for them in the first place. However, anyone with an Internet connection can read your blog, and you have the option of allowing anyone to post a comment. This makes you more accessible to your readers, especially if you include your blog address in your books. 

So there you have it. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media, when used properly, can certainly help you publicize your books, but, in my opinion, there simply is no substitute for a blog.

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