Author Interview: CAT CONNOR

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If you don’t know her already, I’d like to introduce you to successful, New Zealand-based mystery/thriller author, CAT CONNOR, and the star of her highly acclaimed Byte series – Ellie Conway.

Did you invent Ellie Conway, or did she find you and ask you to tell her story? I saw a video in my head. I could not see the main character but I could hear her. I had no idea what her name was, but I knew she was FBI and she was living in Virginia. She never really introduced herself, she just showed me scenes and expected me to keep up. I only knew her screen name until another character called her by name. Which was a little bit weird, but fun for me. The other thing is that I didn’t know what she looked like for a long time. Everything she shows me is from her point of view so I couldn’t see her unless she looked in a mirror. She doesn’t so much ask me to tell her stories as show me video of scenes that don’t let up until I write them down. She is fun, though. Her sense of humor is great so I enjoy having her in my head.

Did you consciously set out to build a series around Ellie, or was the first book a standalone and then you later decided that Ellie had more to tell? The first book was a standalone based on a ‘worst case scenario’ after some real life chat room death threats. My rights to my book Killerbyte were tied up in the bankruptcy of my first publisher, and a very wise author (Jeffrey Deaver) told me to write another book while I was waiting/fighting to get my rights back. So I did. Turned out Ellie had a lot more to tell me. So I wrote another one … and by the time I signed with Rebel I had three of the Byte novels under my belt. So the answer is no, I never set out to write a series. Ellie just has a lot to say, and every time I think we’re done, something new pops up. She doesn’t like to tell me everything at once. For example, all the way through this series Ellie has mentioned New Zealand. We know she likes the place and she vacations in NZ, and that she’s worked there (both undercover with the CIA and also with the FBI), but it’s not until the 9th book that everyone will find out a bit more about her ties to the country.

Is Ellie you, and what do you personally have in common with her? Ellie isn’t me. I wish I was her. She’s someone I’d really love to hang out and drink tequila with. We share a birthday (Dec 12), we both dislike honey, although Ellie really hates it and I can tolerate it, if I’m sick. We are both a wee bit smart mouthed. Physically we are the about the same height and body shape – that makes it easier when I’m writing some scenes. For example, I know that (when both are standing) if someone is six foot tall, Ellie can look them in the eye quite easily but if someone is six foot six she needs to lift her chin to do that. But no, she’s not me.

What would you tell a mystery writer who writes standalone books if they want to write a series? Do you do a lot of planning to keep track of what you write about Ellie from one book to another? If you were planning to take a standalone novel and turn it into a series – get a notebook and make damn sure you keep really good notes regarding your characters. ALL of your characters. (Even the dead ones.)

I don’t plan. I rely heavily on Ellie to show/tell me the story, she never shows me the end until I’m about to figure it out for myself.

Every book I write has at least two large notebooks attached to it (I’ve kept them all, they live in a HUGE lidded plastic storage bin). The notebooks are for everything I think is important while the story is unfolding. (Formulas for explosives, locations of CCTV, names of people who were killed, partial scenes, chapter summaries (which I write AFTER the chapter is finished), chapter titles (which are always songs), occasionally photos of locations.

Because I’ve written the series and I’ve also written about twenty short stories about Ellie and her team, I have a lot of information in my head. I do trust myself to insert the right name/character detail/reference a lot of the time without checking I was right until I’m almost finished the manuscript.

I don’t usually need to check things regarding Ellie or her team, although I did have an issue with Lee’s eye color in DATABYTE, because I couldn’t remember if his eyes were brown or blue, or if we’d ever mentioned them. They’re brown. His brother has blue eyes 🙂

I have no overreaching plan for the series. I don’t have a development plan for characters either – they evolve as things happen. Maybe because they live in my head and are not confined to a definite set of black and white characteristics they are more fluid and more capable of evolving as the stories progress. Each story emerges through my fingers as Ellie starts showing me video.

What’s coming up for you as a writer in 2017? The 9th Byte book is coming up in 2017. I finished the writing of METABYTE last night and it will be with my publishers and editor by the end of November. METABYTE was previewed at the end of PSYCHOBYTE, and is quite the twisty tale.

Metabyte Preview: SSA Ellie Iverson nee Conway’s world is turned inside out by a late night call from her husband saying his teenage niece, Harley, is missing. Harley’s parents are out of the country and suddenly incommunicado, thus raising Ellie’s internal alert level from yellow to orange. Adding to the rising alert status is the discovery of freshly dead formerly deceased federal agents. Crime scenes and dead agents emerge at an alarming rate. Working under a directive from the Director of the FBI and with the Wayward Son Protocol, Ellie and Delta A try to stem the flow of death. Cryptic messages from missing Ret-NCIS Special Agent Noel Gerrard alludes to the seepage of sensitive data, and then undeniable CIA involvement. Coded messages hidden in attempted hackings of Iverson Technologies provide clues regarding the missing parents of Harley Iverson and a potential link to the Wayward Son Protocol. In the midst of turmoil, the sudden death of a team member leaves Delta A reeling. The team struggles on to uncover layers of deceit culminating in more death. 

Apart from METABYTE, I’m not sure. I expect Ellie will start pushing me to write another book soon enough. I thought 9 was the last, but she seems to think there’s another story to be told…


Cat’s books are published by Rebel ePublishers

For more information about CAT CONNOR and her Byte thriller series, check out: www.catconnor.com

@cat.connor (facebook)

@catconnor (twitter)

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Defining (or re-defining) Success

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How do you stay motivated to write when you keep sending out query letters, manuscripts or chapter submissions and getting back form rejections or radio silence?

Let’s take a step back and look at how you currently define “success”. Is an actual publishing contract or agent representation the only way you’ll feel successful as a writer? If so, you’re not alone, this is a very universal goal among writers at any stage. But your unfailing ambition and persistence could be preventing other smaller (and maybe more likely) successes.

Success comes in large and small packages. How it’s defined is deeply personal…and you can change your definition anytime. I recently received an un-rejection by a reputable literary agent in a personalized (not form) email, and to me this felt like my manuscript sample had caught enough of their attention to ascend to a senior editor. Though that editor ultimately passed, they included a note that my story sounded intriguing and that they liked my character’s voice. I defined this response as success (a small one, yes). But if you spend all your time and energy trying to catch big, trophy fish, your artistic heart might starve in the process. In the same way that we take vitamins to supplement the nutrients we don’t get in our diet, a steady feed of small successes will keep you inspired through the process and help you to keep writing!

Aim high; aim low. Of course continuing to target major New York literary agents, as well as publishers directly, is the best chance of getting your work seen by the industry’s primary decision-makers. But with so many major publishers requiring submissions only through agents, you can boost your chances of visibility by including smaller, independent publishers, as well as newer literary agents who are just starting to build their list of clients. New agents are more likely to take a chance on a new literary voice than an established agent. Or if print publishing isn’t your only desire, you might consider a strictly-digital ePublisher. Certain ePublishers, such as Witness Impulse (a division of William Morris) balances their lack of offset printing with massive distribution and huge potential visibility.

Due diligence. Regardless of who you send your work to, keep your submission strategy simple. Go to the publisher’s or agent’s website and read their submissions guidelines, their specific directions, and follow them. Edit your query letter and your manuscript sample right before you send it. Yes, even though you’ve edited it a hundred times already. Resist the urge to include any additional content that wasn’t specifically requested in the submission guidelines. Keep track of your submission with names, dates and results.

Personalize. In the same way that us writers hate getting form-rejections, acquisition editors and literary agents have repeatedly reported that same complaint. An agent doesn’t want to feel like a number – like you’re paging through the Literary Marketplace and mass-mailing the same generic package to everyone. And I’m by no means knocking mass-mailing. I’m saying it’s advantageous to personalize a submission as a means of making an agent or editor feel…well…special. If you haven’t met the agent or publisher you’re querying, research them, learn something about them. Educate yourself about what books they love, where they’re from, what inspires them. Find a conference where they’re speaking and be there. Don’t fake a connection – make one.

Tactics. Here are a few ways to keep focused on your ultimate goal of landing a publishing contract while keeping your mind sharp, opportunities open, and muse fed:

  • You make direct contact (and get a direct response) from a literary agent via Twitter inviting you to submit
  • You learn of a new agent in New York who’s seeking manuscripts in your genre and you send them a query
  • A traditional publisher has now opened submissions directly to authors instead of only through an agent
  • You send a query letter and your recipient asks to see a partial of your manuscript (yeah, baby!)
  • You write a short story and get it published in a literary journal. If you can boost your publishing creds while finding a book publisher, all the better. The same goes for publishing a book review, or being asked to be a guest blogger on a writing blog
  • On your submission tracking list, create a separate section for Successes and list them separately, in bold, in a different color ink to call them out.

One final tip: not if but WHEN you do connect with a literary agent or book publisher who offers you a contract, check out Preditors and Editors to vet them first, read about their reputation, their contract, and feedback from other writers.

How do YOU define success in your writing career? Do you have other ways of keeping yourself inspired and motivated on the path towards publication? Please share your comments with me here, and thanks for reading!

 

 

How do you deal with rejection letters?

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If you’re a serious writer who’s either published or working to get published, you’re not new to the dreaded rejection letter. They’re as ubiquitous to publishing as milk to the coffee industry. What happens when you get one of these in the mail?

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Do they cause depression?

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Rebellion?

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Anger?

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For some highly enlightened souls, rejection letters cause them to revise their manuscript and even create a new story twist or plotline that they hadn’t thought of before.

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Some truths about literary rejection letters:

  •  They are a sign of courage that you were willing to write something worthy of market value, polish and perfect it to industry standards, and put it before someone else’s eyes to be judged. Don’t discount this aspect, it means something.
  •  They are unbelievably common among all of our industry peers – from John Grisham and Dan Brown to J.K. Rowling. Depending on what you write and which market niche you’re approaching, the odds of getting a query or manuscript accepted by either a publisher or agent are unmistakably low.
  •  It’s not personal. Unlike relationship rejection, literary rejections are solely based on your manuscript and project, not you as a person. When you can think of it in those terms, doesn’t it become a bit more business-like, impersonal, even clinical?
  • They don’t mean you’ll never get published – just that it hasn’t happened YET.

Picture yourself at a job interview. You’re highly skilled in your field, have some polished work samples and business references with you, but you somehow don’t make it to that second interview. Why? There could be a thousand reasons, and mostly they’re all because you and your skills just simply aren’t the right match for the position. This mismatch concept holds true in the literary industry as well. You’re sending your unique manuscript to a complete stranger and hoping your project and vision will track with what the agent or publisher is seeking for their client list.

Let’s step back a moment and take a look at this literary agent. And let’s assume you’ve done your research and confirmed that this particular agent is interested in acquiring manuscripts within your genre and they’re considering taking on new clients. And let’s say you’ve worked with an industry mentor to perfect your query letter, you have your manuscript formatted perfectly, and have gone through three editing rounds to fix any grammatical errors. The thing is, even if all these bases are covered, there are still lots of other variables that can influence whether an agent selects your manuscript over someone else’s. Like what?

  • Gender – Not you, your protagonist. The agent might be looking for fiction with a strong female protagonist and yours is male.
  • Voice – They could be looking for third person POV and yours is first person.
  • Length – Your manuscript could be too long or short for the existing market of your genre.
  • Subject matter – Some agents are seeking stories consumable by a wide audience. So if your book has a super edgy theme and touches controversial topics, they might opt to pass.
  • New or published writer – Some agents are eager to hear from fresh industry voices; others only want to work with established and previously published authors.
  • Setting – Some want domestic stories, yours might take place in Paris.

And these are just a few! I know, it’s enough to make you go insane. But you’re not expected to mold your manuscript to every single thing a potential agent or publisher could possibly ever want. The platitudes are true – write what you love. The good news is that there are lots of publishers and literary agents available in every genre, more every day, and lots of them are looking for new writers. Where are they? Check here.

Too often, an agent will reject a manuscript because it lacks the specific WOW factor they were looking for. That doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t like it and that it’s not good. Because the industry landscape has changed so drastically in the past few years, they’re forced to be even more selective with the types of projects they invest in. In other words, if an agent can’t immediately see the potential for revenue in your book, they’re likely to pass even if they otherwise like your story, your writing, and everything about you. Money isn’t all that matters, but it definitely matters.

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Emotional Intelligence

Rejection letters are a great reminder that we must constantly keep our thoughts on the right track and stay in a positive and inspired space when it comes to writing. DON’T wallpaper your office with rejection letters! The last things we need as writers are negative reminders. Observe your reaction to your last rejection letter. Did you use it as fuel to grow deeper into your craft and commitment to success? If not, it’s okay, there’s time to work on this. And it IS work and no one’s more worthy of that work, time and energy than you are. For more reading on creative resilience, check out this great article from Lifehacker.

Focus on Inspiration

What inspired you to write your book in the first place? What kinds of books and writing continue to inspire you? This is the fodder for your creative expression and it must be positioned on a pedestal because it’s the most important aspect of your writing relationship. You see beauty around you, kindness, amazing human stories. Whatever it is that drives you to your keyboard or your journal, hold that in your heart as your primary focus. Post pictures of that inspiration in your writing space, your desktop, as reminders of what motivates you and what drives you to succeed over and over despite the odds.

Self-Publishing

The publishing industry has shrunk, or grown, depending on your perspective. And the changes are vast. 31% of all e-book sales are from self-published authors. Why do some writers turn to self-publishing as an option? There are lots of advantages, such as royalties. The royalties are typically way higher than traditional publishers (though no advance), and it’s a super quick turnaround to see your work in print (generally 30 days as opposed to 15 months). As you’re not working with a literary agent to sell your manuscript, there’s no middle man to take a 15% cut off your royalties when they start coming in. But there are offsets, too. Self-publishing can be expensive ($500 – $5000 per book), and there’s a lot more work you’ll need to do to push your book into the commercial marketplace, like arrange for distribution, marketing, advertising, editing, cover art, and layout.

Check out these famous, best-selling books and authors that were initially rejected by (in some cases, many) publishers or agents:

  •  J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  •  Jack Canfield for Chicken Soup for the Soul
  •  C.S. Lewis for The Chronicles of Narnia
  •  Dan Brown for The Da Vinci Code
  •  J.D. Salinger for The Catcher in the Rye
  •  Margaret Mitchell for Gone With the Wind
  •  Alice Walker for The Color Purple

There’s more here

What does this tell you? You’re in good company for one thing. Rejections give us an opportunity to re-examine what we’re doing…any why. If making money is why you write, self-publishing could be a great option for you. If you’re a compulsive storyteller hell bent on finding a traditional publisher or agent, then sink your teeth into that path and persevere and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

There are many forms of success – how do you measure yours and what’s your benchmark? If you’re new to the writing path, maybe finishing a novel is a worthy pursuit right now, or you might want to publish 5 books a year, or earn enough to quit your day job. A stack of rejection letters means you’re engaged, working, and investing time and energy in your success and future. Don’t let them derail you; instead use them as a necessary tool of the trade.

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What are your rejection war stories, or successes that started as rejection letters? Please share!

Well Behaved Pens

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What makes you sit down and write? And what keeps you from writing?

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I’m constantly at this question. I have no time to write, I’m exhausted, haven’t eaten in sixteen hours and slept only 2 last night, yet I find myself crouched on the carpet in the dark in a cramped corner of a room writing by moonlight as if my life depended on it. Then on an easy Sunday with nothing to do and my inviting well lit writing desk staring angrily back, I somehow find laundry to wash, countertops to wipe, rugs to vacuum, bathtubs to scrub, closets to organize. Ridiculous.

What if something as inconsequential as pens were the magic variable? I know – to writers, pens are the farthest thing from inconsequential and are deeply personal, like the traits we search for in a mate. You can’t explain your desire for short blonde women or men with tattoos – it just IS. And the same goes for pen-preference. I loathe fountain pens. To me, they’re heavy, bloated, full of themselves, ostentatious, ridiculously priced, and represent in sum all the human traits I can’t stand.

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Ball Points

These used to be my favorite. Solid, reliable, consistent. The ink lasts longer than you’d expect, they feel comfortable to hold – not too fat, not too slim, and you never have to waste valuable mental real estate on them. Pick me up, drag me across the page, voila!

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Roller Balls

I know, they can be temperamental compared to ball points and this took some getting used to, but their naturally flowy nature and the fluidity of their mechanism drove me to reconsider my narrow views. They’re impetuous, creative, and they surprise you with the unexpected.

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What’s your favorite pen type? Do you keep any special pens, like locked away in boxes or tins that you don’t let anybody use?

Today, buy a gift for your inner writer and reward yourself for the deep work and introspection required by our craft. Buy a new, beautiful pen. Invest money in something that will be your gift of inner travel and exploration, your path toward imagination and escape, something that will make you want to spend money on an exquisite journal. Write a new story in that journal with your new pen, or draw pictures of cartoon owls. Write an impromptu poem about the dying plant on the table, what it intended to look like before it got waterlogged or before sunlight became too hard to find. Write at a big desk, write on the floor. In the morning light, or by candlelight. Writing has such power – with nothing but a pen, we can build a whole world.

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LUNATICS WANTED

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Writing encompasses more than one of the academic disciplines known collectively as the humanities. And as art refers to an expression or application of creative skill and imagination, writing is most definitely an art. What about science? A scientist is someone who acquires knowledge through systematic means. Systematic implies an ordered or methodical organization to how that knowledge is pursued. Writers – fiction or nonfiction – are pursuing knowledge of their craft, seeking to understand something and then transmogrify it through the creative process. There, we’ve just proved that writing is a humanity, an art, and a science. Why does this matter? Because I’m about to turn you into a mad scientist.

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What I’ve always loved about mad scientist movies is their laboratories. Bubbling glass beakers, formalin-suspended brain specimens, eyeballs in jars. And what do scientists typically do in their laboratories? Conduct experiments in their pursuit of knowledge.

I have a mostly-written novel that I started several years ago and haven’t been able to find the time to finish it. You’re a writer so you can relate. We’re great at starting projects, not so great at finishing them. I’m about to embark on a 30-Day Challenge to finish this book. And while preparing for this challenge, I’ve been feeling lately that I need a laboratory to help me sort out my thoughts. It could be somewhere in my basement, a rented studio, or make-believe laboratories work too. Mainly, every writer needs one.

We’re all scientists in a way, and we need a place for exploration and experimentation. A place where we don’t need to keep an organized filing system, don’t need to sweep sunflower seed shells off the floor, a playroom that can be messy all the time and where we can be completely allowed to write the worst crap of our lives and have that be a viable part of our creative process.

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“Throw the third switch!”

“Not the third switch, Doctor…”

“Throw it!!”

Your writing lab doesn’t need good lighting or proper ergonomic chairs. You can sit on the floor and write with crayons on gigantic sketch pads. Or purple sharpies, or those China black art pencils.  There are no rules in your laboratory. You can write what you want, write at two in the morning, write backwards or make everything rhyme.

And then having an office, too, is a useful arrangement, because that’s where we organize our thoughts, make logical decisions and mold the raw material into something others would want to read.

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So I ask you – where do you typically write? And do you have a different place for practice and experimentation than for polishing, editing, and molding your work into final form? If you don’t yet have a writing spot, now’s a great time to start thinking about it. And if you already have a home office or designated space, think about where your writing lab would go. And don’t forget goggles!

 

 

 

Does your writing life need Feng Shui?

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Curious about Feng Shui but a bit bewildered by it? Good, me too. Read on.

When I first started researching this ancient art of placement and spatial arrangement, I felt totally overwhelmed and daunted. There’s just so much to learn and absorb. What’s a bagua? Why do I need a compass (do I even own one)? From tai chi and yoga, I’ve learned a little bit about energy. But the energy of a room, of a desk, a doorway? To be honest, it sounded a little new-agey to me.

As I continued reading, I started learning more about Qi and realized that the science behind Feng Shui is about maximizing auspicious (beneficial) elements in a room so they don’t hinder the flow of energy. So not necessarily the Qi of a desk, but more like analyzing what objects or situations near or on the desk might be blocking the flow of that Qi.

What does all this have to do with writing? Everything. Writing requires that we harness our inner flow of creative energy and imagination to tell stories. The type of stories doesn’t matter. Fiction, nonfiction, they’re all ultimately stories. Writing is hard work and requires not only time but commitment and focus. And small changes can make it easier and more fun.

Where do you write? Lying on the floor with a pen and journal, on the couch with your iPad, noisy coffeeshop, or upright at a desk typing on a keyboard? Do you feel that your typical writing location helps or hinders your flow of creative energy? If you haven’t yet uncovered your perfect writing spot or if you dread the very sight of your desk, simple Feng Shui changes could make a huge impact on how that space feels. Like anything else, it’s best to consult a trained expert on the subject, and I’m the farthest thing from that. But I have spent a couple of years reading about tips and tricks and I can attest to their efficacy in how they’ve helped me feel focused, productive, and excited about going to my writing space at home. I’ve also included lots of links in this post to Feng Shui experts and consultants.

We all have too much clutter in at least some area of our lives. Hopefully your writing desk doesn’t look like this:

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Aside from the obvious hoarding tendencies, lack of organization and a 45-year old chair, this space lacks a few other essential elements – lighting, for one thing. Check this out:

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So the desk/writing surface here is large, which is great. And they’ve got an ergonomic adjustable arm for a computer monitor, which saves tons of space. Love it! More points for the live plant in the corner of the desk. But the best part, of course, is the huge French window with a view of the woods. A nice view, simply put, will make you want to be there. Even if your writing space looks nothing like the picture above, I guarantee you could make your space feel just as aesthetic and inviting, and it might be easier than you think.

Some basic tips:

Don’t use a u-shaped desk or arrange your desk facing a wall, as these orientations could make you feel boxed in. There should be enough space for you to walk completely around your desk and it should preferably be facing the entry to the room. Situate your desk katty corner facing the door for an optimal “command position”.

Don’t put a trash can beneath the desk, as this could impact your writing success. Why? A trash can or waste container is likely to attract challenging, low-energy vibes. Set it out from under the desk and empty it frequently so as to not cause stagnation.

Stimulate your creative juices by hanging inspiring art or decorative objects on the walls. Find an image that makes you feel good, gives you energy, and draws you in. I prefer abstract art because, to me, it looks like a question that wants to be answered.

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Manage clutter! I have no drawers in my writing desk, which is a constant challenge causing me to be creative about what I store and where. I found an open, 3-shelved bookcase, which is perfect for housing decorative office storage boxes. You can find them in almost any color and size to match the vibe and color scheme of your home office.

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Confession: I’m obsessed with pens. I gather, collect, store, and hoard them, and openly steal them from my friends and colleagues. As a lifelong writer, I seriously feel on some level that all pens are just simply intrinsically mine. So one of my most successful de-cluttering tactics was to a) locate all my pens, b) pitch hundreds (literally) of broken, inkless relics, c) buy new ones, and d) display them on my desktop. Releasing that which we no longer need makes s p a c e in our lives and minds for more useful things, like ideas.

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To read more about desk organization, click here.

Next: cables. Look under your desk. What do you see?

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Even if your desktop is clean, well-organized and aesthetic, an atmosphere of unaddressed chaos beneath it can sabotage your writing process. How about this?

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Check out cableorganizer.com for ideas.

If after renovating your writing area you’re ready to get serious about Feng Shui, you can easily find a certified Feng Shui consultant online in your area. Typically an initial consultation takes 2-3 hours, and be prepared to take lots of notes! They’ll prepare a list of recommendations along with alternatives. In other words, if you’re not willing to move your home office out of the damp basement, they’ll recommend ideas for making that environment more hospitable and conducive to how you want to use it.

Want to learn more?

http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-feng-shui-your-home-office

http://video.about.com/fengshui/Feng-Shui-for-a-Home-Office.htm

Inside Voice

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Did you choose your protagonist or did they choose you? If you’ve got a novel in-progress, how did you come up with your main character? Sometimes mine come to me while driving, when my brain is active but my creativity is dormant. I also get name ideas from watching movie credits, and sometimes I hear a name so extraordinary that the evolution of the character and their attributes unfolds on its own. Kermitt Rictose, who was a stunt person in one of the umpteen Die Hard movies. What kind of character would emerge from a name like that? An older gentleman, affluent, entrepreneur, lives at the top of a hill in a gray, monolithic house. Too stereotyped? Okay, he’s a rock singer living on a houseboat and mows lawns for a living.  Kermitt the go-getter.

Tell me everything you know about your current protagonist. I’m sure you know their physical attributes, how they look, dress, walk. But do you also know what they love, what they loathe, and what they fear? What keeps them up nights, and what drives their obsessions? If you don’t know, here are a couple of ideas.

You could just…ask them. That’s right – create a sort of back and forth interview of your character, asking them about their favorite foods, favorite color, the car they drive. It’s more challenging than you think, because it takes not only creativity but courage to really make this exercise work. What you’re doing is tuning your senses inward and bringing the act of listening to a new level. I find it takes a certain willingness to surrender before your character really starts talking to you. And they will, and when they do, you’d better be listening. No, there’s no medication that can be prescribed for this affliction. It’s called creativity and there is no cure.

Another way is by mapping your characters to actual film stars.

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I find that writing realistic dialogue requires me to not only know my protag’s inner and outer personalities, but also how they express themselves and interact with other people. So I model them after an actual actor whom I’ve seen in films. In the book I just finished writing, I modeled my homicide detective after actor Timothy Hutton in his latest series, Leverage.

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I’ve been watching Hutton since 1985’s The Falcon and The Snowman, where he portrayed an unlikely 19 year old American spy. And after twenty plus years of movie fandom, I feel like I know him. I’ve watched and studied how he behaves, reacts, his expressions, body language, and from that rich dataset I can infer how he would talk to his departmental underlings, the Medical Examiner, and my protagonist.

Sometimes I print photos of all my celebrity-mapped characters and tape them around my monitor, where they serve as a sort of visual Greek chorus. Other times, I tack them to my white board all in a cluster. The idea is to know and study these people, constantly. And even if they’re imaginary, they must at least be real to you. Having a face to build upon makes them broader than one-dimensional. For me, it helps bring them to life.

When it comes to your personal writing practice, you are the pilot and, generally speaking, there is no co-pilot. So you can do whatever you want, draw on any tricks of the trade, and don’t be afraid to go deep with your characters, even if it means, on occasion, talking to yourself.