Do You Understand Your Characters?

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Do you understand your characters? Do you know what your character’s self-concept is? Can you state it in one phrase?

If the answer to these questions isn’t yes, then you don’t know your characters well enough to write their stories.

You need to be able to identify your characters’ self-concept so that you can identify their challenges. For instance, in the first book of the Harry Potter series, Harry believes himself to be an ordinary little boy. His challenge, therefore, is finding out that he isn’t ordinary. How he meets this challenge is the basis of the story for the first book.

When you write up your character’s description (you do develop a character synopsis, right?), one of the first things you should be revealing is their self-concept. For instance, ThePastRekindled_3D_coverthe main character of my book, The Past Rekindled (the first book in my Tran’zr series), is a young woman named, Terra McGinley. The first line of her description is:  Self-sufficient, independent woman trying to establish her own company. That’s how she thinks of herself, that’s her self-concept.

So, what hurdles does she need to face that would challenge that self-concept? The first hurdle I gave her was the rejection of her business proposal to a large bio firm. But that wasn’t enough. I needed another challenge. Therefore, I added someone from her past. This person creates an emotional roadblock to her current goals while also challenging her self-concept. But just to be sure, I also added another layer, something she feels she needs to keep secret because it clashes with her own self-concept and with how most people view reality (she’s a tran’zr — she transitions people when they die). Now I have a story; the story is how she handles these challenges.

Another example is from my fantasy series, Darkwind of Danaria. My leading male bk1-2covercharacter, Joelnar, sees himself as a failure and a coward, yet still an honorable man. Because of that self-concept, every task I gave him forced him to contradict the first part of that self-evaluation. To maintain his honor, he had to return to the place of his greatest fear. Doing that and keeping his charge alive, meant he was no longer a failure or a coward. But which was stronger, his honor or his fear?

That’s the story. That’s what the reader wants to know, too. Will he be able to overcome his fears and do what’s being asked of him, or will he end up as the man he thinks he is?

That’s how you build your story. Create a character. Determine their self-concept, and then challenge that self-concept at every turn. Add more and more challenges until the story practically writes itself.

Try one for yourself:  Dottie Matthews: stubborn, technophobe, but excellent librarian. 40-ish, widowed for 2 years, working in a small library. She loves dogs and has one unmarried daughter.

What challenges would you give Dottie? How about having the library switch to computer-based book files. How does our technophobe deal with that, and how does it affect her view of herself (excellent librarian)? Maybe she decides to take classes where she meets someone handsome/mysterious/scary?

To add another layer, perhaps her daughter creates an online dating profile for Dottie. How does Dottie, the technophobe, deal with that? Does she meet someone who forces her to overcome her fear of technology in order to save her and her daughter’s lives? Or does she meet someone as inept with technology as herself who is only pretending to know what he’s doing?

Your story could be romantic, horrific, or even comedic depending on how you think Dottie might react to each situation. The key, though, is that the audience finds something relatable about Dottie and the situations she finds herself in and so cares about what happens to her. And the way to make Dottie (or any of your characters) relatable is to ensure that you (the author) understand what each character’s self-concept is. If you understand your characters, then so will your audience; and understanding the character is key to your readers’ accepting and relating to that character.

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Is That a New Look?

You bet it is!

While the original look of my non-fiction books was great (see images below),

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my award-winning books have been out (in some cases) nearly a decade, and it was time for a change.

So, the publisher, book-cover designer and overall art guru (DL – Design and Digital Art), and I got together. After a month of discussions, samples, and reader input, these are the new designs:

NewCovers

What do you think?

I can’t believe how fresh and gorgeous the new look is. Everyone really did a great job.

So, check out my books and their wonderful new cover designs either here on my site, or at your favorite book selling site.

[Of course, updating the look of my books does require a bit more work. I’ve been having to update all of the book trailers and presentations (for my speaking engagements), but I think it’s worth it to have such gorgeous new book covers.]

 

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Ahhh, it’s just right

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LOOKING FOR A writing group is much like Goldilocks in the house of the three bears trying out their chairs — it takes a while to find a fit that’s just right. Finding that right fit is made even harder when you move to a small town.

I used to live in a moderately sized city with about dozen different writing groups to choose from. And while it took me some time, I found one that suited me. We discussed the writing industry, publishing options (traditional vs. independents), shared marketing tips, contest information, and upcoming events (such as conventions and conferences). And, oh yeah, we even critiqued each other’s works, but that was usually done via email, so rarely became the focus of the twice-a-month meetings.

I have now moved to a much smaller town, and was lucky to find two writing groups listed at the local library. I went to the meeting of Group A, but they were too hard. If you hadn’t read the classics, studied creative writing or English Lit, and had (at a minimum) a bachelor’s degree in same, you were made to feel very small and unwelcome. Since I studied journalism and left school three credits short of a degree, I felt their condescension. And although I let them know that I had seven published books, they remained disdainful.

Despite that experience, I decided to try Group B. But they turned out to be too soft. The moment I walked in, I knew it wasn’t a fit. Everyone there was at least 20 to 25 years older than me. (While it made me feel young, I am considered by society to be a senior citizen.) And lest you think I’m judging them on age, my heart didn’t sink until I tried speaking with several of them about something I had read in a blog. Blank stares and confusion were my response. They were unfamiliar with blogs, could barely navigate a word processing program or their email, and had no concept what I was referring to.

They had started the group because they had finally realized their own mortality and thought that their life should have meaning. Therefore, although they had never written anything beyond a grocery list, they wanted to write and publish their memoirs in the hopes that someone would remember each of them. And while, I have no issue with that, it wasn’t the type of group I was looking for. They were there to critique each other’s works and that was all.

For three hours they chided individuals on their use of commas and clauses. They also banned the use of the word ‘that.’ (I have no idea why they disliked the poor word so, but every occurrence was stricken from the hard copies they all referred to — no computers here — with a notation that it should henceforth never show its face again.)

Discouraged, but not quite ready to give up, I checked around the other small towns in my area. However, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I wanted something similar to what I had left behind — the camaraderie and intellectual exchanges regarding writing, blogging, and publishing. I wanted the support and understanding that only other authors trying to sell their books can give, primarily because they appreciate the perils, horrors, and pitfalls of marketing when you’re an introvert.

But it seems that when you move to a small town, you have to make sacrifices. For me, that sacrifice is my writing group. Therefore, I sought out the type of writing group and interactions that I craved via the Internet. Luckily, I managed to find like-minded writers, willing to share tips, ideas, and critiques. They also give me the support and understanding that I need to continue my writing career. For me, my Internet writing group is just right.

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Death Lessons

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Variations of this question have popped up often enough during presentations that I give regarding my near-death experience that I decided to just create a blog post. The question is:

What commonality do people’s reports of their NDEs have?

MANY PEOPLE WHO have reported NDEs have also stated how their perceptions and outlooks toward life have changed. When I compiled their comments, I found a consistent theme in their current principles (tenets and beliefs).

Almost all of those with positive NDEs now had principles that echoed those that I had known internally since I was old enough to put coherent thoughts together.

These are real, every day (‘normal’) people—not some guru or medium, yet each of us has the same message we carry around inside.

However, I would like to share the message and the principles with everyone. Just because you haven’t had an NDE, doesn’t mean you can’t experience what we have: an awakening, an epiphany of the soul.

So, here are seven of the ‘secrets’ that NDE-ers have learned:

  1. Everything is Choice.Before we incarnate in physical form we plan and choose our lives. We select our families, friends, potential mates, experiences and challenges. We also choose where and when we’ll be born (what socio-economic and political climate and circumstances). And after we’re born, we continue to make choices that affect us and those around us.
  2. Everything is Connected.Everyone incarnate and discarnate is connected. And we’re all connected to everything—animate and inanimate. We all share the same base structure, the same energy base; therefore, anything we do affects everything and everyone else around us.
  3. Everything Needs Balance.This is sometimes called karma, but it all comes down to learning to find the balance between our needs and our wants (or our ‘what we think we need’), between love and fear. The balance point is acceptance and tolerance, but there’s a whole range of experiences between love and fear or need and want. (And acceptance is not the same as resignation—acceptance is full of love, while resignation is without hope and contains fear.)
  4. Life is Eternal.Sentience never dies. The body we think of as ourselves will die, but the true being inside of that body does not. The true body, the true us, lives forever.
  5. Life is Relationships.Life is about the relationships we have with everything—our parents, ourselves, our jobs, our friends, our things, our pets, all of what we call nature, people we barely know (mail carriers, cashiers, neighbors, taxi drivers, etc.), other countries, religions, etc. How we treat ourselves and others is very important, because as stated earlier, we’re all connected.
  6. Life is About Experience.Knowledge, learning, and experience are important parts to life. Every time you choose a physical life you gain knowledge and experiences, and that contributes to your overall learning. Your overall knowledge contributes to the overall experiences of everyone else because we all learn from each other.
  7. Unifying Power.There is a unifying power, a super energy, a oneness, a singularity that binds us all together. Some of us call it God, some call it The All, and others call it a Supreme Being. Whatever name we give it, most people, especially those who have had an NDE are certain that it exists, even if they had been atheists prior to their NDE.

These seven principles seem to come through in the messages of loving acceptance that each NDE-er has. And these are the same seven principles that I have felt guiding my life since forever.

I have to admit, I find it fascinating, comforting, and a bit satisfying to hear other “normal” people express these same seven principles that I’ve been carrying around all my life. (I think it always makes you feel better when someone else can validate you or your beliefs.)

So, while I can’t prove (in any scientific way, anyway) that these are the seven driving forces behind the world we live in, they have definitely been the seven driving forces behind my own life.

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Interview With John Edward

I’ve been to the “other side;” I’ve visited the “after life;” and I’ve seen Mr. Edward at work. He’s the real deal, as they say.2019_Escorting the Dead - 5x8_BW_300-3D

This article gives you a chance to read about his life, philosophy, and perceptions.

And, to learn more about the afterlife from someone who has been there, read “Escorting the Dead” by yours truly.

john-edward-232312-1-402John Edward (Born John Edward McGee Jr. on October 19, 1969)

John is one of the country’s foremost psychic mediums and the author of the critically-acclaimed, New York Times Best Sellers One Last Time, Crossing Over: The Stories Behind the Stories, What if God Were the Sun, After Life: Answers from the Other Side,Practical Praying: Using the Rosary to Enhance Your Life, Final Beginnings, Infinite Quest, and Fallen Masters.

John’s broad appeal has led to numerous tours of the USA, Canada, Australia, the UK and Ireland, a weekend takeover at Sirius Satellite Radio and expert appearances on Oprah, Dr. Phil, the Kardashian programs, and Dr. Oz. He has also been featured on CNN’s Larry King Live, The View, Ellen, The Today Show, Entertainment Tonight, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Early Show, The Crier Report, Fox and Friends, Maury, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Dateline…

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A Great Idea Unrealized

AtlantisGeneThe Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle

Summary:  The Atlantis Gene is a thought-provoking technothriller about global genetic experiments, ancient conspiracies, and the mysteries of human evolution. Its complex characters and historical and scientific facts will stay with you long after you finish. This fast-paced adventure is the first book in A.G. Riddle’s Origin Mystery series.

Recommended:  No

Review:  This book has a great premise; however, it fails in every way to live up to that idea. What Mr. Riddle doesn’t have is a good grasp of story showing (he spends most of the book telling you what a character is feeling rather than showing you).

He also lacks characterization skills. Every character in this book is a shadow. They are flat, one-dimensional shadows that creep through the story taking direction from an inept story teller.

His initial male protagonist is a pale copy of every nerd-turned-hero that has ever shown up in a movie or book. And that character’s death was so foreshadowed that I almost applauded when the author finally wrote him out of the story. However, the author’s next choice of male lead was little more than a shadowy, poorly done Dirk Pitt (Clive Cussler has nothing to worry about, trust me). Meanwhile, the female lead was only a little better. The author seemed to have spent some time developing her, and at times she almost came alive. It was like watching her blink from black and white to color, and back again.

As for the antagonist, all I can do is shake my head. His actions were those of a psychopath, and his words were angry and full of hate, but there was no passion or depth to him. He, too, was a flat, pale shadow of every evil villain that ever appeared in a book.

Mr. Riddle tried to surprise us readers with several little plot twists. However, each one was cliched and so foreshadowed that there was no surprise.

While I understand this was his first book, it left me as flat as his characters.

He calls it an adventure, technothriller. I call it a confused mess of a plot with flat, uninteresting characters that isn’t worth the time or effort.

Will I read any of his others? Probably not.

Am I surprised at his success? Yes. (But then I’ve always said being a successful author has more to do with marketing than writing.)

About the Author:  A.G. Riddle spent ten years starting internet companies before retiring to pursue his true passion: writing fiction.

He released his first novel, The Atlantis Gene, in March of 2013. It became the first book in The Origin Mystery trilogy.

Mr. Riddle grew up in the small town of Boiling Springs, North Carolina and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. During his sophomore year of college, he started his first company with a childhood friend. He currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife, who endures his various idiosyncrasies in return for being the first to read his new novels.

No matter where he is, or what’s going on, he tries his best to set aside time every day to answer emails and messages from readers. You can reach him at: ag@agriddle.com

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Defining Me

pendulumIf there was a defining moment in my life, it would have to be the summer of my brother’s first car accident.

I say defining, because that was first time I let my family (specifically my mother) see me in action.

My life is and has been filled with psychic incidents—some big, some small. Each day is filled with insights and information that would, if I didn’t control it, overwhelm and consume me. However, the first time I let my family in on my ‘secret’ I was nine.

It was summer; school was out and life was laid back. My father and one brother were out back with the guests—my parents were entertaining some friends by having a BBQ/pool party in the back yard. I was in the house with my mom, helping her make the salads for dinner. My oldest brother was out in Mom’s car picking up some extra hot dog buns.

The phone rang, and before my mom could cross the kitchen to answer it (phones hung on the wall in those days), I said, “It’s about K. He’s been in an accident, but he’s ok. The car is trashed, though.”

My mom gave me a strange look, picked up the handset, and listened to the voice on the other end. As she did so, she kept looking at the phone, then at me, and back.

When she hung up the phone, all she said was, “How did you know?”

While it was an earnest question, it became a rhetorical one at that moment because we had to take care of more urgent matters—what to do about K and the trashed car.

However, my mother didn’t forget what had happened. Several days later, when life was a little calmer, we sat down to discuss what happened in the kitchen that evening. Despite my mother’s initial reaction (which I took to be disapproval), she turned into my biggest ally. She got me all kinds of books on parapsychology and all things psychic. When the library wouldn’t let me into the adult section for books, she’d check them out for me.

Although my mother and I had our differences, she was there for me as I learned and grew and practiced…finally building my fledgling abilities into something a bit more robust. She helped me define myself…TA Sullivan, a person who lives in multiple realities and planes of existence; a person who had the opportunity to grow into her abilities without shame because of that one defining moment.

Tas-lotus-flower-2If you want to build your own abilities, you can try meditation. Purchase my Mastering Meditation book to show you how. Or if you want to know more about your life’s goals and what’s coming up for you, contact me at Tas Readings. I can do a life reading, help you translate your dreams, or help you determine which of your past lives is affecting your current life, and what you can do about it.

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