Indie Authors: Tips for Writing Characters That Resonate

By Stagg Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Stagg Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Characters are an important element of every story. So how do you make sure your story has characters that stand out? That readers find interesting and believable?

Writers in the Storm posted an article about becoming your character, so that you don’t make mistakes like head hop or have multiple viewpoints for one character. The best way to do that is to become your character. That way, Marcy Kennedy explained, we can better remember that we only know our own thoughts and feelings, not someone else’s, we can only experience things within our eye sight or within our ear shot as they happen, and our past and personality determines how we react and interpret things.

According to Marcy, who wrote the book Point of View in Fiction:

Point of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand—or fall. It’s the opinions and judgments that color everything the reader believes about the world and the story. It’s the voice of the character that becomes as familiar to the reader as their own. It’s what makes the story real, believable, and honest.

A character’s self-sacrifice can also help pull readers in. K.M. Weiland, from Helping Writers Become Authors, said that “Self-sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love—and so, of course, it’s an endlessly powerful story catalyst.”

To make the self-sacrifice even more powerful, K.M. said that you should have a scene earlier in the story that sets up the self-sacrifice, by showing how much your character wants something. Doing that shows the reader that the character is doing something really hard when he or she self-sacrifices.

Another aspect to consider to round out characters is internal dialogue. Writers in the Storm shares in a post that internal dialogue helps show emotion, in addition to helping to pace the story. According to Marcy Kennedy, the most effective internal dialogue is not repeated in actual dialogue or action, it should be used to share important thoughts, and it should be told in the character’s voice, not the author’s. Additionally, internal dialogue should sound like dialogue, so that it sounds natural.

Author Zoo also recommends using juxtaposition, to help show a character’s motivation. Lana Pecherczyk gives two examples of using juxtaposition: as a flashback in a tense scene or in characterization, to make the reader think more about that character.

Last, if you want some advice for how to become an overall better writer, check out McSweeney’s “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better Than You Normally Do.” Colin Nissan lists tips and explains in a tongue-in-cheek way why those tips are useful. Advice includes writing every day, not procrastinating, reading a lot, and finding a muse (though he cautions, “Beware of muses who promise unrealistic timelines for your projects or who wear wizard clothes”).

Originally published August, 2016


From Grammarly: How well do you know your grammar? Affect vs. Effect

All writers know that grammar is important. And the company Grammarly likes to put a fun spin on learning grammar. How big of a grammar nerd are you? TakeTake Grammarly’s quiz to show how much you know about affect vs. effect:

To learn more about affect vs. effect, check out Grammarly’s in-depth blog post that explains the difference between the two.

Guest Post: Shifting from Writing Literary to Commercial Fiction


By Tantra Bensko

Tantra Bensko is a talented writer and wonderful teacher. In fact, she taught me how to write experimental fiction at UCLA Extension. She is the author of numerous books, including her latest, Glossolalia, a psychological suspense novel that is part of her Agents of the Nevermind series. Below she shares her experiences her shift from writing Literary to Commercial fiction, and gives great tips on how to succeed. Find out more about Tantra on her Facebook author page.

In the olden days, masses of people enthusiastically read poetry, Literary Fiction, academic criticism, and in-depth analysis of profound novels. Now? You’ve got to be kidding. No way.

Statistically, Literary interests have dipped so far down as to be arguably pathetic. What to do? If you grew up inspired by the geniuses taught in school, and you hoped to write books that would be classics included in anthologies of great American thought, you may have realized by now that emulating those authors is no longer likely going to get you many readers. That’s OK. But still…

Have you ever secretly considered switching allegiance from Literary Fiction’s beautiful language, artistic sentiments, profound subtle themes, startling metaphors, intensely unique narrative voice, conceptual brilliance and meaningful structural innovation to – just plain Genre entertainment? Fast action, pop sensibility, sex and death, splashy heroes and heroines and adrenaline-based excitement? I know. It’s like becoming a new person to make that kind of change. But it’s actually possible. I know because I did it.

Granted, my novels aren’t simple entertainment. There’s a political analysis and history there. But otherwise, they follow The Mighty Formula instead of veering from it meaningfully like my earlier writing did. They titillate. Things explode and there are chase scenes and fight scenes. The endings are not ambiguous and gray like real life. They’re victorious, straight up.

To make the transition, I made myself watch popular movies and novels in the genres I was exploring instead of my usual foreign art film and avant-garde literature fare. I no longer read Experimental Lit for fun. I embraced uber-conflict and linearity. I followed trends (God forbid.) I literally set out to change my taste and I had no idea it was actually so possible that a personality could be so malleable. And while I’m very glad I was the previous me—previously, I’m thinking the new me might possibly make more money—or, at least rationalize spending more money on advertising because there’s some chance the ads will lead to a reasonable ROI. Yeah, marketing jargon everywhere. Instead of creating a plot organized in concentric circles, I’m now “splintering the tripwire.”

I used to embrace my obscurity. Now it leads to gnashing of teeth. Bruxism was never a way of life for me before, but now, bring it on! Who needs sleep? I’m going to be “famous”: in other words, I’m going to watch my Amazon rank rise when the Kindle Select books are set to free for five out of every ninety days and they’re announced to the free-book groups.

I have a strong, solid reputation in the Innovative Literary Fiction world, have spoken on panels at conferences, guest edited a magazine, teach Experimental Fiction, had hundreds of publications and won awards. But if I offered the influential free-book groups about my previous books of short stories that subverted the dominant paradigm with kaleidoscopic perspectives and an avant-garde novella that collapses time, the group members would have made funny faces that could have gotten plenty of hits on YouTube.

Now, some people will still think the new books are too niche because they question US policy rather than just setting up the secret agents to be glorious good guys; instead, they’re the antagonists. But at least mainstream readers of my new books won’t be twitching, belching, backing away and staring out into the distance with their eyes unfocused while they regroup and try to forget what just happened.

My personality hasn’t changed completely. I still don’t go to the latest blockbuster movies in the theaters or read Stephen King. I have no idea what most people are talking about when they’re on the topic of current pop culture. I still do aim to veer the dominant paradigm of spy novels to ones that acknowledge the messed-up US policy. But I’m starting to allow myself to get that people like reading books that have a buzz right now, because they want to talk to people about them at work, at coffee houses, on dates. I can now even look at the covers of commercial fiction without a twinge of nausea.

I already knew the rules of all the genres well, as I’ve taught them for many years. I’ve had stories published in most genres, to at least demonstrate I know what I’m teaching. But I narrowed down to only one of them for The Agents of the Nevermind series and lo and behold, I actually like it. It’s not constricting at all. And it doesn’t feel shallow or like I’m selling out. In fact, it’s liberating to feel I’m an insider instead of an outsider with my nose pressed against the window of all the Genre authors networking, advertising, and gaining visibility on Amazon.

Lit Fic is known in the Commercial circles as “those books where nothing happens.” Or, “all the thoughts of academic professorial characters experiencing existential angst in middle aged crisis.” “Language being inexcusably flowery.” “The land where semi-colons go to die.” “Snob city.” It’s nuanced motifs and ambiguity. Depressing endings and lots of pondering.

Conversely, commercial fiction is happnin’. Commercial fiction is hip. It’s action; it’s triumphant battles of good vs evil. It embraces a predictable formula instead of fighting it tooth and nail to create something new and fresh and unlike anything ever seen before. The audience is wider and to really succeed, needs to appeal to people of average intelligence and lower as well as higher. This is the part I personally find most difficult, because the ideas I want to get across take a lot of brain-power to absorb, and guessing solutions to the mystery puzzles in the plots requires earnest conjecture. Getting my books requires going against propaganda and assumptions, stereotypes. They’re thrills for thinkers. I have to have faith there are lots of readers out there interested in the world around them, intrigued by going deep and using their smarts.

Apparently, however, most people don’t want to think too deeply about what’s behind the scenes in politics, details that call into question popular memes, international economic realities, and true history which has instead been changed by the Pentagon in its presentation in popular movies. But then, most Literary readers don’t either. Not really. Some people do, however. And I want to give them something to revel in. Just like I did with my Lit Fic, in a different way. And I want to make it fun.

What’s a simple universal formula for Commercial/Genre Fiction? The main character, who is usually the protagonist, is seen at first in regular life, with a hint of a flaw that makes the reader wish the character would grow up, get a life, and listen to her ideas about how he should change. Good. OK, then, the inciting incident, bam, the requisite hesitation, the First Plot Point, in which he decides to take the plunge and enter the adventure, after which there’s no going back, and bam, the story has begun in earnest. The tension builds, of course—we all know that. But how it builds has been carefully analyzed by many authors, including the midpoint in which there he actually or symbolically looks in the mirror to assess the reality of who he really is.

The Second Act (out of four) has him reacting to the events and the Third Act shows him becoming more proactive, but he’s still learning from his inevitable mistakes. He’s in a pickle because of that particular tendency for mistakes, so he makes lot of wrong decisions, and learns from each one. Each encounter with the antagonist teaches him new lessons and he veers off on his approach, creating Plot Reversals. There must be plenty of zigs and zags as the protagonist learns the skills he will be called on to come out of the terrible Crisis and successfully fight the antagonist in the Climax in Act Four, ideally making a difference to the world at large.

While Literary Fiction can target only above average English skills because there’s little hope of being a best seller, anyway, obscurity being an acceptable status, fiction meant for a large audience statistically needs to be able to be understood by people who have average and below average as well as above average IQ, education, reading abilities, and understanding of the English language. Prose accessible by ninth grade reading level is generally recommended. Showing rather than telling directly is good, so the readers can figure things out on their own, but some amount of hand-holding can help people who are a little slow follow along with enjoyment.

Literary Fiction can get away with lots of internal dialogue, plots resting on epiphanies, long descriptions of landscape, older main characters, language-driven or character-driven material, Genre Fiction needs action. Thriller/Suspense, which my series falls into, needs explosions, chase scenes, fight scenes, sex scenes, lots of twists and turns, a ticking clock, urgency of solving the problem to save the world or at least a life. Murder is almost inevitable. However, Psychological Suspense is the closest to Literary in that it explores issues such as identity and self-delusion, is focused on a complex personality, requires long suspension of understanding, and has to be character-driven to some degree. Suspense is slower paced than Thrillers, which is an accepted trait of Literary as well, and while in Thrillers, something big needs to happen, in Suspense, the dread of something happening, even if not much ever does, is key. So Psychological Suspense is a good move for Literary authors trying to branch out for a larger audience.

Advertising the books is completely different. Before, I networked with the Literary Community, such as at local readings and on Facebook, where we shared and commented on each other’s links, reviewed work we loved, interviewed authors we liked, all for small press magazines.

Now I use Facebook ads, for example, bringing attention to my new Tantra Bensko Author page, and entice people to my newsletter with lead magnets of the first chapter with illustrations of the characters as well as videos, slideshows, and more. I create sleek images for the ads, Twitter posts, etc. with Canva, using the 20 % text rule, instead of painting avant-garde works on actual canvases. I used to make surreal trailers for my books myself and now I hire professionals and license the music.


I spend a lot more money on the Genre writing than the Literary, based on continually studying marketing, especially for authors, and I make sure to use the right color CTA button in the location on my website proven to get more clicks. I analyze the different interest groups I target in marketing for who signs up for my newsletter most often. I’ll be setting up ads, targeted to the specific audiences, that say “Fan of Barry Eisler? You’ll love Glossolalia.” “You liked Eyes Wide Shut? Read the book that finishes what that movie tentatively started.” I feel like a businesswoman my father would have been proud of while maintaining the integrity of my art that my mother would have been proud of. It’s actually possible to do. I know I’m facing competition of authors putting hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising and box sets to give away as lead magnets. I’m competing with authors who outsource all their books and put out new ones in popular genres every month.

People who want to support my efforts to write about the reality of US foreign policy, corruption in intelligence agencies, media lies, and heroes who expose propaganda will buy my books and if they love them, word of mouth will set the novels free to make a difference to the world. In the Literary community, controversial political topics are taboo but in Thrillers/Suspense it’s becoming a possibility now indie publishing means we don’t have to kowtow to censorship by the domination of the Big 5. And I like that. I like the new me, and I like my new readers and fellow Genre authors. I still like the Literary crowd too. My world just expanded, is all. And that’s a good thing.

tantrabenskoauthorTantra Bensko, with an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop, teaches fiction writing at UCLA Extension Writing Program,, Writers College, and her own Online Writing Academy. Her Agents of the Nevermind series begins with Glossolalia: Psychological Suspense, about the lives of secret agents who are so secret, even they don’t always know that’s what they are.

Episode, the World’s Largest Community of Mobile Storytellers


Back in 2014, Pocket Gems, a leader in the mobile games space, launched Episode, their interactive mobile story platform. In this platform, which is available on Apple, Google Play, and Amazon, users can interact with animated stories and make decisions to shape their plots.

The platform has grown in the past two years, and has become a great place for new writers to get their work noticed. I had the opportunity to interview head of studio Michael Dawson, who talked about the current and future state of Episode. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Alchemy of Words


By J.D. Lakey 

J.D. Lakey is the author of science fiction series, The Black Bead Chronicles. She shares how she became a sci-fi writer. Keep reading for a synopsis of the third book in her series, Spider Wars: Book Three of the Black Bead Chronicles. You can also get the first book in the series, Black Bead, free on Kindle today.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Writing and Illustrating a Children’s Picture Book


By David Hoobler

David Hoobler is both the author and illustrator of the Zonk the Dreaming Tortoise series. In the post below he shares his creative process when it comes to writing, illustrating, and publishing his own books.

My process… What the heck is my process. First I hit myself on the head with a hammer until an idea falls out of my ear. Then I pick up a pencil and start to write or draw. It’s a mess.

I am the author and illustrator of three children’s picture books, the Zonk the Dreaming Tortoise series. It has taken many years to get the three books created and self-published, partly because they are based on my personal experiences of living and exploring the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Mexico, specifically Baja, and partly because I had to learn publishing along the way. Continue reading

Indie Authors: Organization and Writing Tips

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 11.54.05 PMAs an indie author treating writing as a business, it’s important to stay on top of deadlines and to always work on improving your craft.

Organizing Your Time

To that end, Duolit has provided a helpful free monthly planner for authors. The idea is that to-do lists can be too daunting, and if you schedule activities in your calendar you will actually get more done. The planner has you choose a focus for the month. For example, building a website, writing, planning promotions, etc.

Of course, writing (arguably) the most important activity you can do as an indie author. So you want to make sure you spend some time each day writing. Monica Leonelle gives some great advice on how to write more. In addition to using dictation software, she advocates making a small to-do list for the day (so it can complement your calendar), where you fill in things to do for a two hour chunk of the day, three 25-minute sessions, and five five-minute tasks. I haven’t tried this method yet, but I can see how it would be satisfying to do.

Shelley Hitz also advocates scheduling your writing time as a way to improve.

Improving Your Writing

Yes, the more you write, the better your writing will become. But it’s also good to figure out what makes writing good, and how you can improve your skills. Forbes recommends three books that will help with just that, including The Sense of Style and The Getaway Car. Sounds intriguing, especially for books on writing.

Writing flash fiction can also improve your writing as a whole, according to Kate Tilton. This is because in flash fiction, you have to make every word count.

According to Brain Pickings, great storytellers must have three qualities: magic, story, and lesson. And R.S. Mollison-Read wrote about two other essential writer skills: imagination and analysis.

Live Write Thrive provides a 10-item checklist of questions to ask about your story. Questions include character reactions, what the conflict is, and what the point of the scene is.

And The Book Designer talks about joining writer groups to help you write, and also promote your book. The article also provides a long list of groups you can join.

And last, if you’re looking for some inspiration, Writers Unplugged shares 21 quotes for novelists. Here’s my favorite:

“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.” ~ Beatrix Potter

Guest Post: The 2016 Dublin Writers Conference

By A.G. Billig

The Dublin Writers’ Conference will be held at The Irish Writers Centre on June 24-26 of this year.

International best-selling author and scriptwriter Michael Russell joins an expanded line up at THE 2016 DUBLIN WRITERS’ CONFERENCE

For many of us, 2016 is the year of the indie author. According to one Author Earnings Report, last year in the USA readers spent over 600 million dollars on self-published books. This fast growing market isn’t just about opportunities but also about challenges and competition. You need to master the writing craft and learn the secrets of digital marketing. Something achievable nowadays not only because of the Internet but also because of an increase in number and quality of writers’ conferences. What better opportunity to learn, grow and connect than an event dedicated to the craft of writing and digital marketing? Continue reading

Indie Authors: Researching Your Books

By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When writing books, there are a lot of things you can research. What genre should you write in (if you don’t already have a preference)? How can you attract readers? Who are your target or ideal readers? What should your book title be?

Below is a list of resources that can help answer those questions:

Guest Post: The Best MOOCs for Writers to Enroll

By Andrew Howe


What is e-learning?

Living in the digital era, it’s nearly impossible to stop using the Internet to obtain knowledge and improve skills. While most students know what blended learning is (offline and online lessons), post graduates start thinking about e-learning.

To stay competitive and grow revenue, it’s important to keep on self-developing, and e-learning is a key to success. The number of MOOCs (massive open online courses) is growing rapidly, and no matter who you are, you can find the best one for you to hone your skills.

Why People Enroll MOOCs

Since early childhood, we have been hearing that obtaining a higher education is crucial for our career growth. However, the times have changed, and additional ways how to improve skills appeared. Enrolling in MOOCs is one of these ways.

Reasons to enroll MOOCs:

  • improve skills or obtain knowledge
  • it’s cheap or even free
  • flexible time schedule
  • to learn from leading experts from the best universities
  • online certificates
  • study wherever you are

Taking a MOOC is beneficial, and here is a list of MOOCs for writers.

Check it out!

If you want to publish your book, polish your creative writing skills, or get an insight, this course is right for you. It helps to boost inspiration, create your writing style, and teach how to get the most out of critics.

Being a writer means knowing all writing features, from effective academic language to making an argument and supporting claims. No matter who you are, whether a newcomer or a proficient writer, this course might help you hone your writing skills.

People write different texts for different purposes. It’s important to produce high-quality texts, so enhancing the quality of writing is a must. This course can help you obtain knowledge and master your writing and editing skills.

If you’re a freelance writer or a current student, this course should be high on your list. It helps you to understand how to create strong statements, write high-quality essays, and improve your self-editing skills.

Sometimes it’s crucial for writers to know how to use academic writing. This course helps to identify plagiarism, explain how to write an argument essay, and use sources. Plus, it gives an insight on collecting information and doing research.

Proficient writers should be good at both completing tasks and creating savvy emails. When communicating with clients and readers, it’s important to have advanced email writing skills, as it’s the way to keep in touch with them. This course teaches tone and level of formality in emails, shows the difference between email formats, improves overall written English skills.

To build authority online, a good writer should have persuasive skills and know how to organize and clearly communicate. This course can help you understand your audience to polish your writing and, therefore, improve your professional communication skills.

If you’re going to write your first book or want to make this process easier, this course suits your needs. Divide your writing into steps, enhance readability, cause buzz, and produce a high-quality book.

Most writers need to manage their workflow: search for clients, write texts and submit them. It’s an eternal process of earning money, and there are some hints how to write short stories that sell (to save time and grow revenue).

Productivity is a key to success in any niche. To write high-quality papers, a writer needs to be inspired and be productive. This course is aimed at giving tips on productivity.

The Bottom Line

The number of MOOCs is big on the web, and it is not a problem to find a course that suits your needs. By enrolling in MOOCs, you can manage the educational process to obtain additional knowledge or improve skills. Once you pick up a course, pay attention to the feedback section below and the number of people who have already signed up. Analyze this data to decide whether this course is high-quality or not.

If you are sure this course is exactly what you need, sign up or bookmark to take the course later.

Have you ever enrolled MOOCs? What are your impressions?

me_jpegAndrew Howe is fond of languages, writing, and traveling. He runs Adverbless website that helps people hone their writing skills. To get in touch with Andrew, drop him a line at