Back Story – When do you use it? How much should you use? Is it necessary?

Here is an oldie but goodie that I thought I would re-post with some updates:


My blog this week expands on a concept that appeared as a tip in an earlier blog. That tip focused on removing writing that was unnecessary. When I completed my first book, I tried to make sure that all of my characters were fully developed. I created biographies for each of them using templates that I found on the Internet. These templates included sections for physical attributes, motivations, character traits, family background and other biographical details.

In my Frank Rozzani Detective Series, the main character has events in his back story that motivate who he is in the present time. These events pushed him into his career as a private detective and forced him to relocate. My first draft of the book had two full chapters devoted to Frank’s back story. I thought that readers would want all of this rich detail about his former life in Syracuse, NY along with his family history and the tragic events that brought him to the present day in the story. I incorporated this as a flashback. I was excited about it and sent it off to my editor.

When I received my editor’s comments, she slashed nearly all of the flashback chapters from the book. She said that it was all unnecessary and that I should be more stingy with the back story and spread it out throughout this book and the ones that would follow. It was a blow to my ego at first, but in hindsight, she was absolutely right.

After this eureka moment, I started looking at the way other writers used back story in their work. Some of them, like John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard use back story very sparingly and only reveal details when they are relevant to the current story. Others like Dean Koontz and, in some instances, Stephen King, use back story to develop their characters into living and breathing people full of complexity. I wanted to land somewhere in the middle and I think, with my first book, and to a greater degree, my second book, I have succeeded somewhat.

Have I mastered the use of back story? Absolutely not. I don’t think, as writers, we ever truly perfect any aspect of our writing. I thought, however, that I would post some tips that I use and that might help you as you look for balance in sharing character background information in your work.

flashback

1) Use the flash back technique sparingly: Unless you are writing a book about time travel, you can really confuse your reader by jumping back and forth in your book. If your reader starts to wonder where and when the story is taking place, you might lose them. If you must use flash back, consider doing it in short doses, such as in a character’s dream. If you have to devote a chapter to it, be certain that the details are relevant to the story.

conversation

2) Consider giving past information as part of a conversation: This technique might involve a character telling their story to another character as part of a conversation. You want to avoid long monologues by your main character. You should try to make the reveal of the back story more of an interactive scene between the characters.

background

3) Incorporate portions of background details as a summary: Many authors use this technique to indicate what has happened in the past. They will reveal details in the character’s background with single sentences.  Here is an example:

“As an attorney, John vigorously went after cigarette manufacturers. He wanted nothing more than to be victorious in cases against them while securing high punitive damages for his clients. This passion was fueled by the deaths of both of his parents from lung cancer.”

believe4) Make the back story believable and realistic: As an author, you should think out the main points of your main characters’  back story. Don’t invent events just to suit your story. The back story should be grounded in some type of reality. You can’t have your character defeat their enemy with a complex form of martial arts if studying the techniques do not make sense in the characters background. Maybe he or she was in special forces or spent time in Asia.

need-to-know-gif

5) Create a situation where the information needs to be known: In my first book, Frankly Speaking, the main character is single and is being pursued by a beautiful, successful woman. Despite her obvious hints, he resists her. When things finally come to a head, he reveals the details of his wife’s murder to her and explains his reluctance to get into a new relationship. This is a case where the reader was aware of some of the details, but other characters were not.

I hope that these tips about back story were helpful to you. I learn more about the different methods to reveal character background details as I read more and apply the techniques that I’ve learned to my own writing. Those things that motivate your characters might be the things that keep your readers interested, especially if you have multiple works that feature the same cast of characters.

 

Indie Authors – What is your toughest challenge? Part I of an ongoing series

As an author, there are significant challenges. Finding original ideas and turning them into something interesting is a significant challenge. If you are a traditionally published author, you have to not only find an idea that interests you, but it has to interest your publisher as something marketable and viable so that they can make money. You also have to please your agent so that they will push your work on a publisher.

As an independent author, coming up with ideas, in my opinion, is the smallest hurdle to be faced. Because we are independent, we are free to publish whatever interests us and then take that work directly to the readers. One thing that indie authors discover quickly through social media, there are niche reader markets for just about every genre you can think of. If you like to right paranormal zombie western romance erotica, there will be a group that will read it.

My own genre, private investigator mysteries, seems to appeal to readers of a certain ‘seasoned’ age. That’s fine with me. I will join that demographic in the next ten years or so and these retiring baby boomers have time to read and money to buy books.

I deviated from this genre for my terrorism thriller, Blood Orange, and found that, indeed, the demographics of the readers that favored this book changed. This is something that, as an independent author, I believe you can get away with by searching out the appropriate niche for your writing.

After landing on what genre you want to write in, there are many other challenges that the independent author faces. Becoming known is a significant challenge. When I first started out, I put my first book on Amazon and hoped for the best. My friends and family bought some and posted some reviews.

At this early stage, I got some help from a self-proclaimed expert promoter of independent authors. I did get some traction from some of the things that this person helped me with. Interviews and reviews appeared on various blogs. I was interviewed on a podcast, and slowly but surely, my exposure grew a bit.

I soon found that the techniques that this person was using to help me gain exposure were easily achievable on my own. I gradually started to take these things on and found that my reader base continued to grow steadily.

Getting good, constructive reviews on Amazon and other platforms is a great start. It can be a slow process, however, building up a collection of reviews. One technique that helps is offering your book for free over a weekend. During my first giveaway, I had over 1,000 copies of my first book downloaded and I saw the reviews begin to grow. With the reviews came additional readers.

I want to make this blog post the first in a series that deals with the challenges that we face as indie authors. What I need are your ideas and feedback regarding the challenges that you’ve faced. One thing I learned early on is that I am not competing with my fellow indie authors. We are all in this together and can learn from each other.

So, let’s help each other. Let’s share challenges and ideas so we can grow as a community.

I look forward to your comments and feedback.

 

Am I a Real Author?

When I jumped into the indie author scene, it was a calculated risk. Like I do with a lot of decisions, I looked at the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • There are a number of platforms that are easy to publish your work on for little or no cost (Amazon, Nook, Smashwords, etc.).
  • The royalties for sales are pretty decent. If you price a book on Amazon over $2.99, for instance, you will get 70% of what you sell.
  • You can write at your own pace in whatever style you want.
  • You can directly interact with your readers through many vehicles (blogs, mailing, lists, social media, author signing events).
  • There is a fairly organized community of independent authors and you can learn from others and help others that are just getting started.
  • My writing would be judged directly by the readers and not some low-on-the-totem-pole publishing house employee looking for the flavor of the month.
  • Trend-setters like Hugh Howey and Mark Dawson are putting independent authors on the map ranking higher than some traditional best-selling authors.
  • You have creative control over everything! You can select your own cover, hire an editor (or not), title your book, and write in whatever genre you want to.

Cons:

  • Just like with the indie music world, there is a lot of variety out there. There is also good and bad. The key component that differentiates here is quality. Poor spelling, grammar, and formatting occurs at a much higher frequency in the work of indie authors.
  • Getting recognized is hard work. There is no publishing house promoting your book, issuing press releases, and setting up interviews. You are your own social media and blogger.
  • You have creative control over everything! There is no one to point out if the emperor is not wearing clothes. There are no focus groups to select your cover for you or advise you on a title or a genre to write in. You are it.

Obviously, the pros outweighed the cons for me. The main factor was my age. Becoming a novelist after age 50 is daunting enough without the rejection letters and constant queries to publishing houses that don’t want unproven ‘seasoned’ authors. I wanted to get my writing out there and let the readers tell me if it stunk or not. Of course, my first reader was my wife of 30 years. I knew that she would not ‘blow smoke’ if she didn’t like my writing. She liked the first book and that gave me the confidence to move to the next step.

I hired a very intelligent, long-time friend of mine to be my editor. When I say ‘hired’, that’s a bit of a stretch. She edited the book for free with the promise of whatever I could pay her as the book made profits. I knew that, as a friend, this wouldn’t just be a job for her, she would also tell me if the book had weak points, which it did, and be honest about it’s viability, which she was.

In the end, it all worked out. I am now four novels in, along with two non-fiction books, and I still have the same passion I did in the beginning. Am I ready to quit my day job? Not yet. Although, my earnings from writing have doubled each year since I started. Each book I release seems to outperform the previous one. I must be doing some things right.

The one piece that still is elusive is getting that recognition. I’m doing what I can, but it’s still a challenge. This year, I created a street team. I honestly didn’t think that anyone would be interested in promoting my books. I solicited interest from my mailing list and immediately got responses. Instead of the two or three I expected, I got 30 volunteers in the first several hours and cut off the street team membership at that number. They have been a loyal group trudging out to bookstores and libraries loyally with the promise of signed copies of my latest book. I owe them tremendously.

So, I may write more about this in the future. This has been somewhat cathartic. I would love to have this blog start off a discussion. What journey did you go through as an independent author? What has worked and what hasn’t? Let’s help each other.

As always, your comments are most welcome.

About Don Massenzio:

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian-American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

Welcome to 2016 – Now Let’s Talk

2016

Last night, as I struggled to stay awake, I watched Carson Daly try to control four intoxicated guests in the foreground of Times Square as they waited for midnight and the ball to drop signifying 2016. As they waited, they recapped the “top” stories of 2015. Most of the stories mentioned were the typical celebrity fluff. NBC and Daly seemed to strategically skirt the tragic terrorist attacks in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. I can’t say that I was looking for hard news in this setting, but at least a moment of silence or some form of acknowledgment for the victims of these attacks might have been appropriate.

Now that I’m sounding like an old man complaining about the younger generation, my actual point is quite different. I spent the better part of 2015 researching and writing a book called Blood Orange. The book centers on a devastating terrorist attack on a highly-visible soft target in the United States.

The book’s original date of publication was set for November 13, 2015, the night of the Paris attack. I promoted the book heavily leading up to the publishing date spending a good deal of money on social media advertising.

When the attacks in Paris happened, I was out to dinner with my wife and two daughters. We were watching the coverage on my cell phone and wondering who was behind it. Not long after we began watching the coverage, I received a text from my editor. She asked me if I thought I should pull the book promotion based on what happened in Paris. It didn’t take me long to make that decision. While I was disappointed because I believe in the story the book tells, I didn’t want to be insensitive or appear to be taking advantage of a horrible event for personal gain.

Now that time has passed, and like we always do, Americans have put the tragic events in Paris and Bakersfield behind them, I want to move forward with promoting this book. Blood Orange is important to me in that it shows how vulnerable we are in the United States. We live in a wonderful country with a great deal of freedom. Terrorism, whether foreign or domestic, cripples us in two ways. First, there is the grief for the victims and the disgust of the act. Second, when behavior is changed because of terrorism, the terrorists score a victory.

I am glad I made the decision to pull the promotion for my book, but, at the same time, I am angry that these soulless, misguided individuals that carried out the attacks made me change my behavior.

With that in mind, please indulge me as I begin to heavily promote this book. Those who have read it have been extremely positive in their reactions. Can the story the book tells happen in the United States? Absolutely. Will my writing this book prevent it from happening? Probably not. The story is meant to entertain. It’s not meant to scare or anger its readers.

I’ll be using this space in the next few weeks to tell you about the book and give you some excerpts. My goal is to entice you to buy it, of course, but I also want to take this book out of the shadows and promote it like I originally intended.

If you’d like to read the reviews or get a preview of the book, you can check it out here on Amazon.com.

I am looking forward to 2016. At a time when people are setting (and breaking) resolutions, my sole resolution is to go for it this year. This is my third year of writing and publishing novels. I hope to continue and increase the success I have had thus far. I feel like this is a pivotal year. I hope you come along with me on the journey.

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

About Don Massenzio:

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian-American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series was released on April 24th, 2015 and is available on Amazon.com in both Kindle and Paperback formats.

He has also published a well-received short story collection that is available on Amazon.com.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Independent Publishing Statistically Speaking – Measuring up Against Traditional Publishing

Last week’s blog regarding the “snobbishness” of those in traditional publishing toward independently-published authors generated a great deal of discussion and healthy debate. I believe there are valid points on both side and that the best solution is some type of merger of the the two camps in the future. I’m not sure what that will look like, but it will be interesting.

I don’t think that independent publishing is going anywhere anytime soon. With advocates like Hugh Howey and even traditional authors dabbling in the platform, it is here to stay. This blog will show how the numbers support this assertion. As I researched this article, certain encouraging, and some surprising, trends emerged.

For instance, from a July, 2014 article in Publishers Weekly, I discovered that the “Big Five” traditional publishers now account for only 16% of the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists and independently-published books represent 31% of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store. This is an encouraging statistic. The article also reveals that independently-published authors are “dominating traditionally published authors” in sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and romance genres but and are also taking “significant market share in all genres.” Since my work is mostly in the mystery/thriller genre, I was encouraged to see this as well.

The article also had some interesting information around pricing. It said that $2.99 and $3.99 are currently the pricing sweet spots for most e-book bestsellers. Authors who price their books at these prices earn more than those whose average price is higher. Conversely, pricing books at 99 cents is not as popular as it used to be and does not result in higher sales as it once did.

Here are some other interesting items regarding pricing strategies. The article states that free books still work as a marketing tool, especially when an author offers the first book in a series for free. But, because so many of us are using this strategy, it has lost some effectiveness.

A strategy that Amazon has opened up for independently published authors is allowing pre-orders. PW states that this  gives authors a sales advantage. In fact, one contributor to the article states that pre-orders should be used in the same way that offering books for free was used in the past.

One thing that surprised me in the article is that Non-fiction books earn more at higher prices. In fact, it went on to say that non-fiction authors are likely under-pricing their work and should experiment with higher prices. This could be a result of the old adage, “you get what you pay for”.

This article, as well as others in my research, talked favorably about the earning potential for independently published authors. Publishers Weekly states that indie authors are earning nearly 40% of the e-book dollars going directly to authors. This is supported by an August, 2013 report in the Huffington Post which reveals that independently-published authors earn between 60-100% of the net profit (depending on who they choose to publish and sell through), compared to the 12-15% royalties they would earn through the traditional publishing business model. We know this to be true for publishing with Amazon which remits 70% of the selling price to authors whose books are priced at $2.99 or more (and 30% for those priced less than $2.99).

The growth in independently published books has been steady as well. An article published by Digital Book World in October, 2014 states that the number of  International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) assigned to independently published authors increased by 17% from 2012 to 2013.

An article by Bowker in October, 2013 states that the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011 and 422 percent over 2007. It went on to say that Ebooks continue to gain on print, comprising 40 percent of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, up from just 11 percent in 2007.

Perhaps the most telling statistics regarding come from The 7K Report written by Hugh Howey himself, arguably one of the most successful independently-published authors of all time. I’ve included some tables to illustrate some of the most important statistics. The first chart shows the percentage by source for books that are on the Amazon Bestseller List for the Mystery/Thriller, Science-Fiction/Fantasy, and Romance genres.

Graph 1

As you can see from this graph, 55% of the best sellers came from independently-published authors. The most telling fact is that only 28% came from the “Big Five” publishing houses.

The second graph shows a different picture. In this category, gross revenue among bestsellers, “Big Five” books actually dominate. This is likely due to the much higher average price for these books.

Graph 2

This graph shows that 52% of the revenue in these genres goes to the “Big Five” publishers with only 24% going to independently-published authors. It can also be said, however, that there is almost an even split between revenue to the “Big Five” and to everyone else.

This next graph, however, shows where the authors are earning the most money in terms of the percentage of revenue authors earn in each category.

Graph 3

This graph shows that only 32% of the revenue brought in by best sellers in these genres goes to authors with 47% of the overall revenue going to Indie authors. Again, this is an encouraging statistic.

So, what do all of these statistics mean for independently-published authors today, and what do they mean for the future? In all of the articles that I read as research for this blog, the trends for independently-published authors have pointed to an increase in market-share, readership, and revenue in the past six to seven years. Recognition for indie authors is increasing. Platforms such as Amazon, Smashwords, CreatSpace and others are making it easier to produce quality independently-published work.

Does this mean that everything is rainbows and unicorns for all of us? Not at all. As the spotlight swings toward independent publishing, like everything else that is recognized as successful, there will be those that seek to find the flaws. In my various blogs, I have talked about some of the flaws around the quality of independently-published work. I have made it my mission to work with other independently-published authors to help them raise the bar. There are plenty of readers out there for us, so let’s not compete. Let’s collaborate and succeed together.

I will continue to publish blogs on topics that I believe are helpful to indie authors. I learn something new every day as I try to become as successful as possible in this discipline that I love. Every sale of a book or comment that I receive on my blog is like a personal victory. It’s a great feeling and one that I want to share with fellow authors.

Your comments and criticism are welcome as always.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available. His third book in the Frank Rozzani series will be coming out in April, 2015 and is available for pre-order.

He has also published a well-received short story collection that is available on Amazon.com.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Independently-Published Authors – Your Best Marketing Tool – Reasons to Quickly Write Your Next Book

Fellow authors,

My post this week is all about the activity that most of us probably enjoy the least, marketing our work. You’ve probably seen my posts all over Facebook and my tweets. This is the part of independent publishing that I dread and that is the most cumbersome.

I’m sure most of us would just like to write and ignore the marketing. Unfortunately, if you want to gain exposure, this is an unavoidable aspect of what we do.

For the mundane marketing tasks, such as posting to Facebook and other social media outlets, I have found time-saving ways to raise the awareness of my product. I’ve also enlisted the help of a PR person to help me gain exposure through third parties like podcasts and blog interview tours.

I will make sure that future blog posts focus on some of these aspects of marketing. I have some great tips to share around posting on social media and using giveaways to build your mailing list, another very important aspect of marketing.

In this post, however, I want to talk about the best aspect of marketing for an independently published author, writing. That’s right, the more you write, the more exposure you’ll gain and the more product you’ll have to offer to the very deep pool of readers. Here are some reasons to write as much as possible:

1) More Product = More Potential Readers: There are a lot of consumers of books out there. The more offerings you have, the more exposure you will get with those readers if they like your work. If you only release one book every 1-2 years, you might fade from the memory of readers that read 2-3 novels per month.

2) More Product = More Potential Reviews: I’ve blogged about feedback and its importance in the past. It’s advantageous to get feedback on multiple works so that you can assess how readers are reacting to your work and make adjustments. It also gives you the chance to get reviews from multiple (non-family) independent reviewers which will help your profile on platforms such as Amazon.

3) More Product = Greater Traction: In traditional publishing, it takes an author an average of three books to gain traction. On a publisher’s schedule, this is a minimum of three years if you’re lucky enough to find a publisher that will wait for success through three books. Did you know that John Grisham had boxes of the book A Time To Kill in his garage until The Firm became a huge hit. It was his first book and probably one of his best in terms of substance. The good news is that we can accelerate that period of time and get to that three book milestone more quickly.

4) Less Product = Selling Your Book to Death: If you only have one book and you’re posting weekly to your favorite social media outlet, you’re going to hit the same targeted readers multiple times with your single offering. This can turn readers off to you’re single work because they are overexposed to it.

5) The more books you write, the more books you’ll sell: There is something called the Long-Tail Effect. This is the tendency of readers to go back and purchase older books by an author if they read a newer one that they enjoy. This is how I’ve discovered many authors. Harlan Coben is a case in point for me. I read one of his later books and liked his writing style and this caused me to go back and read his earlier work chronologically. If you are on your 4th or 5th book and it hits with readers, it is almost guaranteed that your earlier books will sell more.

Now, after my pep talk extolling the virtues of writing multiple books, that doesn’t mean you should do so without some important do’s and don’ts.

1) Make sure that what you are publishing is of good quality: Publishing 12 books that are not of good quality will not gain readers for you. A reader will take a chance on 1 or maybe 2 books, but continued quality issues will ensure that your books will not be read or attract loyal readers. Negative word of mouth spreads as fast, if not faster, than positive.

2) Consider writing short stories: If your an author of fiction, short stories can be useful for multiple reasons. First, they are a great way to practice your craft. Second, they can be published individually to give readers a small, inexpensive taste of your writing, or they can be collected into an anthology giving you another book to offer. Also, short stories can be a way to further gain exposure by offering them for publication in niche online or print magazines and collections. Hugh Howey’s Epic series, Wool, started as a short story.

3) Don’t rush to publish something before it’s ready: I’ve extolled the virtues of editors and beta readers. Don’t cut corners. Make sure that you have done all of your quality checks before launching. One slip in quality and your readers may abandon you.

4) Don’t be afraid to relaunch a book: Once you’ve published a book, that doesn’t mean that it will reach a peak early on and then fade away. Remember my John Grisham story. A Time To Kill is believed by many to be his best work and is arguably the best adaptation of one of his novels into a movie.

5) Play with pricing and giveaways: When you have a new book coming out, consider lowering the prices of your earlier books or using the free or progressive pricing options on Amazon to entice readers to impulse buy them.

The information in this blog evolves for me on a daily basis. If you take nothing else away from this, strive to learn from the tasks that you carry out to gain a positive reputation as an author. Remember, authors write books. Don’t pay attention to the artificial time constraints imposed on traditionally published authors. Break out of the box and keep on writing.

As always, your questions and comments are welcome.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com

Keeping Track of Your Characters – Who is Who and What Have They Done?

This week’s blog is another opportunity for me to share a technique that works very well for me during my writing process.  Throughout my personal and professional life, I have been horrible remembering names. I can remember phone numbers, addresses, and useless facts that make me desirable on any trivia team. The writing process has revealed my one memory flaw to be a challenge for me as well when it comes to remembering character names, physical descriptions, life events, and ages.

When I hand wrote my first novel in a series of notebooks, I found myself having to write character names and characteristics in the back of one of the notebooks so that I could flip back and forth whenever I needed to figure out who did what and where they came from.

When I switched to using Scrivener along with my laptop, desktop, and tablet (depending on where I was doing my writing), I tried to come up with a better way to organize my characters and their back story. Let me first say that I don’t like to plot out every detail of my characters’ back stories. I would rather have details revealed to me as they occur or are needed during the story. That being said, failing to keep key details about your characters could come back to bite you. You’ll want to keep track of their marriages, children, illnesses, education, and other things that might end up feed plot elements down the road.

So, how do I do this? I actually have two techniques that have helped me keep things straight. The first is a picture. I create charts, or what I call ‘character maps‘ that are like mini organizational charts for my characters showing who they are and how they relate to each other.

I’ve included one of these charts that I used for my second book as the cover image for this blog. The chart shows groups within some of the key families within the book and how the members relate to each other. In the view of the chart that I included, there are members of three families shown. One of the characters happens to be the murder victim within the book and her designated box is x’ed out to show that she is dead.

I keep the charts related to my current project along with the mind map (see last week’s blog) on a bulletin board near my desk at home. I also have an electronic version of each that I can bring up as needed when I’m writing on my computer while traveling.

Another tool that I use if I need more information on my characters is a matrix showing deeper details about the characters.  I use a row for each character and the columns are used for such details as the character name, what books they’ve appeared in, their physical appearance, etc.

Shown below is an example of the matrix for some of my characters in my Frank Rozzani detective series books:

Character Table

This matrix gives me a quick view of who the characters are, when they first appeared in my work, what their personality traits are, and what significant events shaped who they are. It has been extremely helpful to me and helps me to overcome my memory gaps. It also helps to cut down on inaccuracies that can plague authors when they are writing a series of books featuring the same characters . It may seem like a lot of work, but it can be helpful and actually save time in the long run.

I have seen other suggestions around organizing characters. There are those that espouse writing complete and detailed biographies for your characters. This may work for some authors. I have always been a person that prefers to work smarter and not harder. The information in the character map and the character matrix that I have shared have been enough for me to provide continuity to my work without locking me in to biographical details that might change the characters’ evolution.

I hope that this has been helpful to you as authors.  I believe that as an independent author, with some measure of success, sharing tips with you is the right thing to do. There are plenty of readers out there and if these tips help you to create a better product so that you can entice readers to your work, then I welcome you to use them.

I also wanted to thank those of you that have been reading my blog. Last week, I doubled my best  ‘viewership’ of this blog. As I continue to drum up ideas for a weekly blog, your suggestions are welcome. If there are questions that you have about writing or suggestions for some aspect of writing for which you’d like to see a blog, please let me know and I’ll be happy to entertain them.

About Don Massenzio

Don Massenzio was born in Syracuse, New York, to first generation Italian American parents. He is an avid reader. Some of his favorite authors include Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Stephen King, and Hugh Howey. His favorite book of all time is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.

Don began writing as a way to combat the long hours of travel and numerous hotel stays that are part of the ‘glamorous’ world of corporate travel. He uses writing as a therapeutic outlet. He recently took the jump to sharing his work with others.

His first published long work is the novel, Frankly Speaking. It is the first of what will be a series of books focused on the character, Frank Rozzani, a Florida private detective. The book is a throwback to the days of pulp detective novels with a tip of the hat to Jim Rockford from 70’s television and The Rockford Files.

The second Frank Rozzani detective novel, Let Me Be Frank is now available.

Prior to finishing his books, his published work was comprised of short stories that will be merged into a collection in the near future.

Find out more about Don at his web site:

www.donmassenzio.com