You’ve probably heard this from
many authors: base your characters off people you know. A lot of writers do
that, including big ones like J.K. Rowling. However, unlike them, I never base
characters off people I know.
That being said, I do often develop
them like people I know. Many characters in my books were developed like family
members and people I went to school with, including teachers.
However, the ideas of those
characters were often for plot convenience or inspired by other fictional
sources, such as movies, books, or even legends. In fact, the antagonist in my second
book of the “Magical Missions” series was inspired by the Grim Reaper. Believe
it or not, in early drafts, he was more like the death figure: pure evil and
carrying a scythe. But now he is not like that. I developed him to make the
readers sympathize with him more. I won’t spoil anything else from the story,
Why don’t I base characters off
people I know, you might ask? Because I just feel uninterested and find basing my
characters off of other fictional sources better. My life has been pretty
straightforward and ordinary. While I’m more social than I used to be, real
people inspiring me for characters just doesn’t happen.
What makes me different from other writers, you may ask? Do
you know how writing experts say that all authors must love reading, too? Well,
that’s not how I am.
Yes, it might be strange for me to say this, but while I love
writing, I don’t love reading. You read that right. I hardly ever read
for fun. Usually, I read to enhance something for myself or if I’m forced to—which
hasn’t happened in years since I’m out of school and college.
The last year I’ve enjoyed reading stories for fun was 3rd
grade. Starting in 4th grade, I’d only read non-fiction for fun. Not
much has changed with that since—well, except in 8th and 9th
grade. I would only read “Harry Potter” for pleasure. I constantly borrowed the
books from my school library. And because I started reading them after the first
four movies had been released, I read the novels out of order. It was no
Anyway, another unique trait in me is that I’m not just a
weak reader for my age, but I also have younger tastes. I am not kidding. I
would often get surprised when I heard about young children reading about
characters at least a few years older than them and advancing faster than I
thought. There are even complex books for kids who advance quickly, but are appropriate
for their ages.
When I heard about a 7-year-old who wouldn’t be caught dead
reading Dr. Seuss and read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, I was thinking Caught
dead? At that age, I was constantly borrowing Dr. Seuss books from my school
library. I also heard about a 4th grader who read about
14-year-old main characters. When I was that young, 14 would’ve been an extremely
big number for me, and I would’ve considered myself way too young for
that. I am not exaggerating. The first time I read about a 14-year-old character
was early 8th grade, and that was “Harry Potter and the Goblet of
Fire”. I was reading about characters at that age when I was 16. I also read “Judy
Moody” when I was 10. I’m, like, the only person who read down a lot—the
opposite of many people, children and adults. My mom even had to stop me from
reading a certain book for school summer reading because it was too young.
Excluding required stories for school, I’ve rarely read up
for fun. I read the 7th Harry Potter book from age 13-14 (I read
super slowly and have a short attention span) and where the protagonist is 17. But
that was only because it was a bestselling franchise. Had it been at the level
of “Percy Jackson” or “Eragon”, I likely would never have touched the book.
Last year, right before turning 25, I was just getting
interested in new adult stories. As a college freshman, my classmates would
discuss books like, “The Help” while I was far from ready to outgrow young adult
On the bright side, if you write children’s books, reading
other stories in your target audience’s age range will help you with your own
writing. So, there’s a benefit of reading below your level.
Above all, don’t let others judge you. Be who you want to
be. Read what you like and when you want. Hey—it might benefit your own
Who doesn’t love music, regardless of genre, mood, and everything else? I like to play it when I do chores, sometimes drive (only when I stop, of course), and when I edit. But not just any kind of editing—the text-to-speech kind.
Yes, your computer probably has it—if
it’s a more recent model. And you know what? It’s a huge savior for
spotting spelling, grammatical, and pretty much every kind of error. At least
for me, it is.
While I don’t usually play music
when I’m having text-to-speech reading for shorter documents, they make a big
difference for longer documents, like novel manuscripts.
Before I discovered music makes
the reading more pleasurable, I would use text-to-speech for one chapter a day.
And that would take forever. Then, came along my discovery for music playing
when using the text-to-speech feature. Boom! I had a grander time
editing and would have the voice read at least a few chapters. I sometimes didn’t
want to stop.
What kind of music do I play, you
may ask? Pop, showtunes, and Disney—but in instrumental versions, like piano pieces.
Lyrics would probably distract me. Plus, the tunes still sound great on the
piano, if not, better—sometimes.
Reading your work aloud always
makes a difference and you can spot errors more easily. But if your voice is
tired or you’re in public, just look up how to use the text-to-speech feature.
Then sit back, relax (and wear earphones if in a public setting), and enjoy
your text being read to you as well as music on your computer (or phone if you
are at home and you can play things without earphones). Yes, you can have more
than one form of audio on your computer. I’ve done it before. What do you think?
I’ve had such a bad habit of
publishing when I thought I was ready, but really wasn’t. Now I have a bunch of
books on Amazon that are unavailable, but sadly, still listed because
hardcopies stay on retail sites forever. Now I have given myself a rule to not
publish paperbacks unless my reviews are great, not just good or decent.
But that’s another post.
Before publishing my books, I have
pre-tested them to see if they received satisfying reactions. They have. But
after I published them, while many reviews were good, the overall ratings were
That’s what you want when you publish fantastic, wonderful reactions. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve experienced receiving just good enough reviews. And believe me, they aren’t as satisfying as they sound.
So, now I have a second version of
one book published and a third version of that story’s sequel on pre-order. It
took me seven years to find my writing voice and for it to mature. I’ve had a habit
of wanting to share my stuff with the world, even if it was no good. Now I’ve
learned to hone and make my works the best they can be before letting anyone
see them, unless it’s for editing or critique.
So, before you get excited about
letting the world see what you’ve made, pre-test it with others, and see if the
feedback is excellent. I mean that. If it’s only okay, you’ll regret your
decision later. So, take your time with your ideas.
I know, I know. Many people prefer
hardcopies over eBooks. Many writers and publishers will say you should have a
hardcopy or paperback available with your eBook.
I agree…if you’re satisfied
with your reviews. I realized this recently. I’ve published too many premature
books that got just okay reviews but not super-satisfying ones. So, I removed
them from the market. However, only the eBooks are gone forever. Sadly, the
print books will be there for the rest of time. Amazon and other retailers list
print versions for third-parties to sell copies, even if the author removed
them from the market. And if the paperbacks and hardcovers are listed permanently,
the reviews will be there forever.
Now I have a bunch of books on
Amazon that aren’t available anymore (except maybe from third-party sellers) but
will never be taken down. I hope it doesn’t ruin my reputation as an author.
That’s when I started to give myself
a new rule: no print copies may be published unless I have at least a few reviews
that are very satisfying—not just so-so. That way, if I’m not happy with
the reviews, I can remove the eBook and the listing shouldn’t stay up.
If you’re traditionally
publishing, this might not work as the publisher will have the rights. But if
you’re self-publishing, then I would highly recommend this, even if you send
out pre-publication copies and they’re all satisfying. That excludes people you
I have an eBook on pre-order and
it’s the third time publishing a particular story that has only okay feedback
the first time and even the second time, despite the drastic changes I made. I revised
and removed even more material in this third edition. I am still nervous about
the reactions, both before and after publication.
Hopefully, the reviews will be
more pleasing than ever. But if they’re not, I will know what to do.
My handwriting has always been sloppy. I have also written
big and not very quickly. Sometimes, in school, I fell behind in handwriting
I also have preferred to handwrite my stories at times. Why?
Because there are no computer distractions, such as the internet, and I found
my handwriting speed to be, ironically, faster in recent years. However,
because of the quicker motions, my hands often hurt. So I couldn’t write as
much as I wanted, even if I abbreviated things (i.e. u for you).
I discovered shorthand writing when looking up ways to
hasten up my handwriting. At first, I was resistant to it because I felt it
would’ve involved too much work. But boy, was I wrong. It didn’t take a very
long time to learn. In fact, it almost became a default habit.
I started out with writing the alphabet in shorthand. Then I
wrote short phrases such as “I love you” and “happy birthday”. After that, I moved
onto short songs that don’t repeat phrases and that I knew by heart. Although
it was no longer holiday season, I translated the lyrics to “Rudolph the Red-nosed
Reindeer” into shorthand. Hey—no one was going to see it, anyway. Nor would
anybody know what the sentences said. I also translated a couple showtunes into
shorthand. Finally, I did entire first pages of books, such as “Diary of a
Wimpy Kid” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”.
Due to other things happening, I haven’t used shorthand
writing in a long time. However, I will come back to it. It’s good to keep up
with something that can expedite your handwriting, as long as you don’t have to
share the works with other people.
Many authors base their characters off of people they know.
A high percent of people also base their stories off of real-life experiences.
However, I am different. I rarely or never do any of those things.
One: I find my life experiences too ordinary and
straightforward. Two: I find it more exciting to make them very different from
For example, the MC of my novels is Irish Catholic, blonde,
and has had a tragic life. I am Indian and Hindu, dark-haired, and has lived a
typical life with hardly any tragedies. I lost my paternal grandpa when I was 2,
so I don’t remember him. My maternal grandpa died when I was 22 but I didn’t
cry. I only experienced shocking pain for a few hours. That’s really it for the
sad moments in my life.
I could explain my MC’s tragic life. But that is within the
novels. You can find them through reviews, excerpts, or if you choose to
purchase the books.
Anyway, I find varying and differentiating things far more
fun than making them like me. After all, the world would be a boring place if
we all thought the same things, even if that meant little to no conflicts. I
could be wrong, though.
Differentiating characters from myself also opens more room for
growing knowledge, even if that means extra research. If I wrote about Hindu
characters, I probably would not have to do as much research. But I would also
get bored. And if it’s boring to write, it’s usually boring to read.
While I rarely make characters similar to myself, I never
base them off people I know. But that will be for another post. That being
said, I do give some similarities occasionally, such as food tastes. Overall,
though, I differ from other writers.
Have any of you wrote something and didn’t realize anything
significant about your work until long
after? I have. They are symbols and messages I didn’t discover until a lengthy
time after writing the projects.
For instance, in my first book, “The Frights of Fiji” (formerly,
“From Frights to Flaws”), there are mermaid-like women, but with dolphin tails,
who sing certain songs as a way of informing others of their presences. Those songs
ended up relating to the situations they were encountering or leaving.
In my second book, “The Unruly Curse” (formerly “Wizardry Goes Wild”), my MC wants her dog to attack the antagonist, who is a skeleton. At the time I wrote the story, I tied that dog vs. skeleton situation with historical context—not because of the “dog-eating-bones” stereotype.
Another unintentional message I ended up making in that installment was about history repeating itself. I’m not going to spoil anything, but the book does tie a lot of Puritan and Salem Witch Trials content. My MC is cursed with involuntary magic. When she does it, others misunderstand and become afraid of her. This ties to how people during Pilgrim and witch hunt times were miscomprehended and feared when they were just different. While people who were found guilty of witchcraft were hanged and/or burned, the “witch” (my MC) is penalized for her sorcery by getting detention at school, suspended, excluded from activities, and more (I won’t give away anything else).
I have yet to discover any accidental messages or symbols in
my third book. But hey—it might happen.
Ah, characters: you’ve got to love or hate them—or have some
opinion on them. They also shouldn’t be perfect. The hero should do wrong
things and get disliked at times and the villain should get liked at times.
However, this is super-difficult—at least for me it is. I
have a tendency to protect my main character in my novels. I like her a lot. I
feel sorry for her. And because of those, I tend to make her hardly flawed. At
most, she may do a few wrong things
and at milder levels. The worst she has done in my book series was unauthorized
filming and lying about not doing it. That’s actually a serious offense.
Anyway, I’m probably not the only writer who has trouble making certain characters flawed. Of course, there are characters who are unfriendly, but not evil. And obviously, there is conflict in my stories. But I think I know why I have difficulty getting my protagonist to misbehave.
One: it wasn’t until the plot of my first book’s first
edition was nearly complete when I found out that protagonists should behave
badly or do wrong things. When rewriting my first book after removing it from
the market, I couldn’t make my main character more flawed as the major elements
had already been established. Two: I have recently become very uncomfortable
around conflict. Not just in real life, but also in fiction. Yes, I have
stopped certain books and movies because I loathed how the characters were being
treated. Now while writing my third book, I have no plans to make my MC do
really bad things. Yes, she won’t be perfect. In fact, she will have trouble controlling
her emotions. But I will stop there on that.
Writers fall in love with their heroes. They become attached
to them. So they may have trouble making them behave badly. However, someone
told me that the best books have characters who misbehave a lot.
Now if you’re creating children’s stories, there are limits
to how badly the characters can act. Of course, it would be acceptable (and would
probably engage readers) if the protagonists started food fights at school, got
sent to the principals’ offices, and were punished by their parents. However,
you could not have them do something that would be inappropriate. Not just
drugs or drinking, but also activities that could lead to death or serious
injuries. Otherwise, parents won’t want their kids reading your books.
Do you notice that lack of perfectly behaved characters in
fiction? Most likely. And that’s because people want flawed characters. In
fact, sometimes that’s essential to the storylines.
I’ll give a few examples from Disney movies. In The Lion King, when Simba talks to Scar about that shadowed area that his father forbade him to go, Scar says that only the bravest lions would enter. “Brave” is the big, main keyword. That was what encouraged Simba to check it out, and, of course, that led to conflict crucial for the plot. If Scar had said that only the dumbest lions would go there, Simba might not have gone because he wouldn’t have said, “Well, I’m dumb.” He was in too good of a mood to say such a thing. And then, there would have been a lot less conflict. And without enough conflict, the story would’ve been dull, and the film would’ve drastically failed—or maybe not have even been green-lit.
In Beauty and the Beast,
after the beast releases Belle from the dungeon tower, he leads her up to her
new room and says that she can go anywhere, except the forbidden west wing. Later
Belle is curious about the west wing and enters it, discovering the enchanted
rose and the portrait of the beast when he was a person. The beast catches her
and forces her out.
At the end, when the beast transforms back into a human,
Belle recognizes him from the painting. Then they live happily ever after.
If Belle had listened to the beast, or the beast had not
prohibited her from going to the west wing, then the ending might’ve resulted
in the prince re-explaining how he’d become a beast. Or—he might not have
changed into a better character. Therefore, Belle wouldn’t loved him, and he
would’ve failed to break the spell he and the servants had gone under.
So there you have it. Notice the pattern in both examples? Let
that help you.
Why is it so hard? Because it needs to be relevant to the
storyline, not offensive, and sound natural to the person speaking it, taking
their age, time, where they live, and other demographics in mind. You need to listen
to how people speak.
Yet, many people, especially those the ages of middle grade
characters, have said little to nothing in my presence. Yup—people watching is
tougher than you think, excluding the risk of those folks thinking that you’re
stalking them. You could watch movies too, but that doesn’t really help,
either. Another option is to read books and see how other authors write their
But the hardest challenge with dialogue, overall, is having
characters react believably to extreme situations, especially in fantasy. I
write fantasy and I cannot stress enough how difficult it is to make characters
react naturally to high levels of danger. No matter how hard I try, readers have
said that the characters’ reactions were muted, unnatural, and too accepting. It’s
However, I found a solution, besides receiving help from
editors. I print out the story and read the dialogue out loud. I was surprised
to discover how unnatural some lines were—just by reading them out loud. So I
changed the words.
Observing others is fine up to a certain extent. Also, a lot
of people are quiet in public. Many even put on faces in public and might behave
differently in their homes. Reading other books could work, as well. But I find
reading the dialogue out loud helps the most.