How to write the perfect Amazon Book Description

Amazon is a powerful tool in the self publishers shed so it’s worth taking the time to learn how to make it work for you. Knowing how to market your work properly in this huge book paradise can get you noticed by your target audience and drive your sales higher. Today we are going to talk about the importance of the Book Description on your Amazon page and how to get your book to sell.

 What It’s NotNo No

The term ‘Book Description’ can be very misleading in what it’s actually asking for. It isn’t meant to be a comprehensive layout of your book, with all your cast of characters and exactly what happens. You don’t want to lay down a full synopsis where you tell the potential reader all of your highlights. Giving away too much of the story will annoy readers and end up turning them off purchasing it.

 What It Is

The best way to think of Amazon Book Descriptions is to consider it in the terms of an enhanced paperback cover blurb. You are writing advertising copy to attract interest and excitement in shoppers. The goal is to intrigue, entice and convince customers that they simply must know more.

Yes

How to Lay Out Your Amazon Book Description

There are many good marketing resources geared towards the perfect Book Description but all agree that the following layout, in genre focused variations, works the most effectively:

  1. Jump onto Amazon’s #100 Best Sellers in your genre and study how their book descriptions have been assembled. Like cover design there will be a distinct difference in how your genre is marketed compared to all the others. Study them, pick up tips and tailor your description to these specifications.
  1.  If you have won any awards or accolades put them first in your description e.g. New York Times Best Seller, No.1 Amazon Best Seller. If you do not have any awards you can always start with a positive quote from a reviewer. NOT YOUR MUM. Someone who is a professional reviewer such as Kirkus Reviews or Self Publishing Review.

A good review can go a long way in establishing your credibility as a writer and publisher.

  1. The first line of your description is the most important. Try to think of it as your sales hook. Don’t be nervous about referencing other well known authors here. If you wrote a book about a young pre-adolescent boy who learns magic it doesn’t do any harm to compare it to J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter or Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci.
  1. Your book description should cover these points:
    • Don’t be vague or boring
    • Keep it simple– don’t go into too much detail
    • Don’t give your story or plot lines away
    • Introduce the character in a single line
    • Focus on your characters, and their goals
    • Short, punchy, emotive sentences.
    • Deliver the conflict, make the reader beg to see if it is resolved.
  1.  Always leave the reader wanting more. Closing with particular questions is a good way to leave a description open ended. e.g. “Will Lassie get help in time? Or will little Tommy be left alone in the dark forever?” You can also use this as a tagline on your front cover to catch a reader’s attention.

These are but a few helpful ideas to get your thoughts of your own Book Description flowing. It can be painful and time consuming activity but it’s worth taking the time to get it right as this section is the first example of your writing that readers will encounter. You need to get them interested!

Writing Book Descriptions isn’t an exact science, there is no magic formula that will work every time, but using them as a marketing tool can help attract your readers. The most important thing to remember? You can always rewrite and change it up until you find what works for you and your story!

For more information on crafting Book Descriptions the below is some helpful links and testimonials:

http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/10/05/the-11-ingredients-of-a-sizzling-book-description/

http://thefutureofink.com/kindle-books-sales-tool/

https://www.createspace.com/en/community/docs/DOC-1462

http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/best-practices-for-amazon-ebook-sales/

What have you found works well in a Books Description? As a reader and consumer what turns you off about Book Descriptions when you are shopping?

 

Should you have your character on your book cover?

GMYbu1C3IpaZ9psTRe20rv2L9YZBz3bRVzY_PfnQnFgThe biggest and most frequent misstep made by self publishers is not researching current marketing trends before selecting a cover for their book. They might have written the Book of the Year but no one is going to look at it if its cover isn’t telling the right story, or worse telling too much of it. As writers we get a very firm idea in our heads about what our protagonists look like so we often try and recreate that image when it comes to designing the cover. Unfortunately how you see your character isn’t necessarily going to be how a reader sees them and this can be a major turn off. Knowing what your genre is and listening to your designer might just be the thing that plucks your book out of obscurity.

Why We Love That Face

It’s a fact humans will always be drawn to other humans. We search out faces instinctively so having a person on your book can have its advantages. The temptation is there because not only are we attracted to them but also it can convey a relationship, depending on what they are doing. This is why you see men and women on Romance covers looking at each other longingly. When H.M Ward was a guest on this blog we learnt about her personal experiences designing covers for her Romance novels. She shared about making her covers identifiable to Romance genre readers and not to cater to her own creative preference. After she did this her sales jumped so dramatically she now frequently sits in the New York Times Best Sellers Lists.

Aside from Romance you will see characters on the covers of a lot of Fantasy or Speculative Fiction. The practical reason being that many characters are sub-human and a character with a unique appearance is memorable to readers. Young Adult novels use characters on covers frequently but once again be careful of the genre trends. Lauren Kate’s Fallen cover has her main character, Lucinda Price, in a suitable gothic back drop to represent its paranormal fantasy themes.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

In contrast Veronica Roth’s Insurgent relies on symbolism to showcase her Dystopian fantasy novel. Both are Young Adult, fall under a fantasy sub-heading and are using what works best to represent that particular category. Knowing where your book sits in the genre gene pool should always be intrinsic to your cover decision making process.

Keeping the Mystery Alive

Even though we are attracted to bodies, readers hate having ideas imposed onto them. A character on your book cover can cement that appearance in your audience’s mind and take away the experience of imagining them. This annoys many readers as the appeal of reading is to immerse yourself in your own imagination. If your book is about a place or a particular concept having a character on your cover will send a confused message about the story. Symbolism in cover design is powerful because it isn’t marketed at a particular audience demographic.

George R R Martin: Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin: Game of Thrones

Take a look at the Game of Thrones covers.The original cover is very fantasy driven with castles and characters while the recent  covers have only a simple sword. This isn’t only because of a change in genrepreferences in recent years but also due to the success of the TV Series. It appeals to many (even sworn fantasy haters) and this is important when thinking about your own book.

Another example of this is Chick Lit author Rachel Schurig’s Three Girls series. She changed her covers in 2012 to a simple design and let the candy box colours, shoes and book specific icons appeal to her audience. Moving to a characterless cover helped her Three Girls series become a best seller with a passionate fan base. A little mystery goes a long way with readers and a well-designed iconic cover can have a universal audience, opening up your marketing possibilities.

Three Girls and A Wedding: Rachel SchurigBenefits of a Good Design and Changing Your Mind

Having a good cover designer takes out the guesswork and headache of your cover designing challenges. You are a writer, your art is important to you and you want to give it its best chance. A cover designer has done the research and has the qualifications to give you good advice when it comes to marketing your work. Don’t know where your book fits in the sub-genres? A good designer will, they will also know what’s trending and probably have five ideas on how to market it within reading the first paragraph of your novel. The other sign of a good designer is compromise because this is a symbiotic process. They know how significant this moment is to you, that is why you will be sent different concepts, its so that you can have input into your cover creation.

Scandalous by H. M. Ward  Always remember self-publishing is a business, if your cover is not working you can always change it until you find something that does. Sometimes like H.M Ward and Rachel Schurig you can fall in love with the original designs but even the most beautiful covers can struggle to sell books. The important thing is that they both did something about it; they went back to the drawing board until they found something that worked. Remember, you have a finite number of seconds to get your reader’s attention and having a strong, memorable design can help you find your audience every time.

Do you  have a personal preference when hunting for books? What kinds of things draw your eye?

I get asked all the time: What’s the most important element on a book cover?

the_war_on_words.largeI get a lot of e-mails from designers finishing school, to designers just entering the industry and have changed from a hobbyist to a professional, and there is one reoccurring question that comes up:

What is one thing that will help me create a good book cover?

You can’t ever just say it’s one single thing, design is such an all-encompassing experience. It’s like building a house, you can’t ask: what will help me build a good house? without expecting a list.

I’m going to tell you the one thing that is at the very top of the list. Often ignored, rarely thought out, and separate from the imagery. It’s seen as like a third cousin who lives out in the country, people don’t really want to talk to it.

What is it?

TYPOGRAPHY

the_king_of_methlehem.largePurpose of type:

Pfft, game over, I can hear you saying. I just put on some Garamond, or even just Arial or Times New Roman and it’ll look great.

NO, it doesn’t.

The purpose of type is to support the design, enhance the message, while being completely undetected. When you open a paperback and start reading, it is considered good typography when you are never distracted by the font face and the layout, and it is an ease to read. This is the same with type faces on a book cover. It should almost remain invisible, but add to the beauty and grace of the cover.

If the interior of a paperback looked like this it would drive us mad and we’d have to put the damn thing down:

tightleading

Think of it like… a bride getting her hair done for a wedding. The rest of her looks beautiful, from make up to dress, but if the hair isn’t done it’s alarmingly offensive. When it is done, it works together with the ensemble and never draws attention to itself, yet it can be complemented and singled out as beautiful on its own.

i_was_a_dancer.large

Typography rule 1: Keep it simple, and legible

The first mistake I see on book covers is the use of overly technical, decorative or distorted font faces. The author/designer thinks:

Well, the genre of the book is paranormal romance so I’m going to use some really curly font I found on 1001 fonts, because it looks paranormal-ish.

Like this:

vtks-38.regular vtks-beauty.regular billy-argel-font.regular

The rule keep it simple means: Let the image do the talking. Choose a font face which takes a back seat and doesn’t scream LOOK AT ME!!!! 

The rule make it legible means: Your readers have to be able to read it fairly easily.  The typeface is going to get completely lost if there’s already a lot going on in the imagery, so don’t be scared to pull it right back.

utopia.largeTypography rule 2: Don’t use more than three fonts, try and just use two

What is the main focus of your book cover, regarding type? It’s the title. If you decide on a decorative or distorted or flourishy font then use it for the title to bring it to attention. You can also combine a decorative font with a serif/sans serif font face in the title to create a bit of excitement, and you’ll see this done a lot in Romance.

The second focus is the author name. If you want to use the same or a different decorative font face for the name then you end up diluting the focus of the title. To support the title rather than fighting with it, go with a serif or sans serif font face. Your name can still be big if you want, but there is a hierarchy to everything.

Title is King, the name is Queen.

At the high court of typography if the Queen wants to look like the King then the people won’t know who to follow, or focus on.

The tagline needs to be smaller than the name and very easy to read. I suggest using the same font face as the name, if it is a serif or sans serif. Consider it a whisper, but it has to fit with everything else. By going for a third type face at this point can splinter the cover unnecessarily, especially if it’s a poor choice.

the_mad_ones.largeTypography rule 3: Your type should be a part of the design, not an afterthought. Integrate it.

A pet peeve of mine is when I see a piece of art work that’s been created specifically for a book cover, by an artist that is so talented I want to puke, and the title name and author is plastered on in five minutes, and it shows.

What is the relationship of the title to the image? Does it need to be in the same colour palette, placed carefully into the right corner, does it need to be big or small? Take care when choosing font faces and try different layouts. Just like writing you have to work through drafts before you find the right one.

we_must_love_one_another_or_die.largeTypography rule 4: Work with grids

Grids are used everywhere in design. You can head on over to The Grid System or Thinking With Type to see how extensive working with the grid can be.

Grids bring control and balance to design. Don’t be afraid of them but work within their boundaries. Set up some margins over your document and follow them to ensure the width and height of words, letters, and lines fall into the same structure.

You can follow this tutorial at typophile to figure out how to layout a grid in InDesign.

This tutorial shows you how to set them up in Photoshop.

the_thing_about_life_is_that_one_day_youll_be_dead.largeTypography rule 5: If unsure, get a professional to do it

If you’ve hired a professional illustrator for your cover, why aren’t you investing the same sort of time and money into a designer who really knows their typography stuff? Learning how to work with type takes time and experience, the greatest typographers can act like an invisible Superhero. They take out the baddies, but you never see them or hear about them.

It is the typography that can make or break a cover, in some instances. 

If you don’t have the knowledge, invest in it. I offer type-only book cover packages for a much cheaper price than my standard book cover packages.

 

This article is for those still learning design, or aren’t a designer and still want to give their book cover a crack. Once you get a handle on typography you can go ahead and break all of the guidelines I’ve mentioned here. Experiment with it, see what comes about. Learn from example and research other book covers, look to see how others have done it. You don’t have to start from scratch. You’re allowed to seek out inspiration, direction and motivation.

What are your experiences with typography? What have you learned along the way that you can share with others? What is a book cover you’ve seen where the typography makes or breaks it?

Are book cover designers working for readers or authors?

The reader or the author
When I started designing I thought I knew everything. I thought I knew more than the author’s that I worked with, and I was the bees knees. But… with experience comes knowledge. The more I understand, the more I realise I don’t know shit! So I’m writing this article to share what I’ve learned with you, that there is no black and white answer. Yeah, there’s a lot of grey scale- but there’s a lot of good in that grey scale so don’t stop reading now…

Before self-publishing designers were hired directly by the publishing house and given a brief. Over time the book cover was designed and developed by the guidance of a head designer who knew about the publishing industry and how to communicate to readers.

When Penguin arrived on the scene in the early 1900s, with their simplistic paperbacks and clean outlines, it was obvious their trust in the book’s success lay implicitly in the literature between the two covers. Now a lot of the trust is gone. To an extent we must convince the reader that the work inside is a good one, so those simple, block colour, single type family covers don’t cut it any more.

Unless your name is known it is upon the shoulders of the designer to make the siren call to the readers. 

Why I’m asking this question: When an author comes to me to design their cover they often have an idea in mind. If they don’t, there is still a level of expectation remaining that I will do what they want, in a way they want it. They are, after all, my client and I’m here to work for them. But 90% of the time the author doesn’t know as much about book cover design as I do.

Case Study: Designing for the author

bookWhen the author comes to me it’s ultimately my responsibility to fulfil their needs. We’ve talked over ideas and I’ve gotten a general idea as to what they want for their cover. Some may even have a very specific idea for what they want which could be anything from a particular typeface, to a model, to a background.

The outcome for this case study is that the author is happy with the outcome.

Pros:

The author gets what they want

They feel proud to share their book cover

They feel like they contributed greatly to the process

They understand the connection between the final design and their book, they understand the message

If they have a background in design or art, they will already have a good understanding about what is needed for the cover

They know their book better than anyone else, and can give an informed opinion as to what will work best.

Cons:

Just because they understand the concept, doesn’t mean the reader will

The author may be stuck on wanting one single image, something they’ve put a lot of time and thought into, but may not be right for the design.

They run the risk of eliminating readers because of their biases, opinions, and personal judgements as to what they feel should or shouldn’t be on the cover.

Case Study: Designing for the reader

Although it may seem like the designer’s obligation is first to the author, we must consider the purpose of the design in the first place- which is for the reader. This requires a lot of trust on the part of the author, which is hard. No matter how great the artist, creating something from scratch is scary if you don’t know what to expect.

Pros:

The designer draws from experience and industry knowledge to design a cover that will target your readers.

Will offer concepts about your cover that you may not have considered

Will draw off themes from your book that you didn’t realise were in there

Gives a third party perspective

Makes decisions on layout, composition, typography, colour and semiotics

Interpret your story into a visual medium in the most simple form, for easy understanding.

Cons:

Well founded and considered opinions of the author may not be taken into account

The designer might believe the author doesn’t know as much as the designer does, when it’s important to take on all thoughts and ideas.

If the designer doesn’t have a lot of experience their interpretation of the brief may be unsuccessful.

 

I believe it is the designer’s responsibility to work with the author for the best outcome for the reader.

The reader’s delight is the true purpose of the project, not the author’s. But the author and designer must work together to get to that point, and have an open mind for it.

Each person brings their own knowledge and experience to the table, why discount it? This isn’t a war or a conflict but a great artistic collaboration. Great things can come out of it, so long as ears are open and everyone is open to change.

So when the author says,

“Look… I think it’s important to have the stencil typeface to show that it’s a military book, and combine that with the script type face, to show it’s romance.”

It’s important to listen to what the designer has to say. They can tell you why stencil and script typefaces don’t work together, and how tacky stencil font faces can be.

BUT I think it’s also important for the designer to at least give it a shot. They won’t truly know until they try it out.

So when the designer says,

“Look… I’ve used illustration on your chick lit book cover because it is an easily recognizable genre style and it shows a fun, frolicky side of your book. ”

It’s important to listen to what the author has to say. They can tell you why illustration might not be the best choice because, although they’re writing chick-lit, they know from the books that they read that photographs can be used just as well.

BUT consider the amount of research the designer has in the field, and that the book cover they designed for you has come together from comparison of others in your genre.

So when starting out with your designer it might be an idea to talk about who you feel is the priority in your project- is it you, or your readers? When you’ve figured it out, then you know how much input you should give your designer, and what kind of input.

Keep your readers in mind, figure out what they want and find out the best way to get there.

Do you feel it’s the reader or the author who the designer is working for? What’s your experience when designing a cover? Do you keep your readers in mind or find your own desires for the cover taking over?

George Orwell’s 42 different covers for 1984


As a self-published author changing your book cover for your ebook or paperaback can be daunting. You don’t have anyone to really compare yourself against; how often have the best sellers changed their covers?

If the cover works and the book sells, why change it?

There are a lot of different reasons, but today to help put your questioning mind at ease I want to share with you the many different book covers for George Orwell’s 1984. A classic, a trend setting piece of literature, ground breaking in its prophecy.

While you browse the book covers I want you to ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you guess when the book cover was published?
  • What part of the design tells you it’s from a particular era?
  • What parts of the design are trends, which are now considered unfashionable?

  • What does each book cover say about the book? Does it convey the message of what the book is about?
  • Is there anything on the cover which shows what the book is actually about? I.e.: Is there a literal image of what’s going on inside the book, on the outside, or is it more symbolic?
  • How do you think the book would sell with each different cover, in today’s publishing industry?
  • Can you find the one that was designed after the film release?
  • Can you find the one that was designed by Shephard Fairey, the designer who did the Obama Hope poster?
  • If these covers were shared in the self-publishing industry, what sort of feedback do you think other authors would share? “Is the title big enough for the thumbnail?” “Does it speak of it’s genre?” “Does it say enough about the book? Is it too different?”
  • What is your favourite cover, and why?


01-olle-eksell-book-cover-1959-george-orwell-1984 004_lx 5c06810ae7a0f4198b5d1210-l 26a562e89da0a1e5be564110-l 500_1984comparison 1984_arabversion 1984_classicmodern 1984-60th-anniversary-edition 1984v3.indd 1984-book-cover 1984-book-cover-pic 1984-by-george-orwell-eye 1984cover4 1984coversega8 1984first 1984-warispeace 0141187352 1405862416 b3ef810ae7a09f7d904be110-l georgeorwellxobeygiantprintset-1984coverbyshepardfairey index1 orwell_1984 orwell-nineteen-eighty-four-large-cover orwellsphoto GeorgeOrwell84 georgeorwell_1984_illustrated screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-12-10-am orwell_1984_movieversion Penguin_original_1984 screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-17-01-am screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-18-56-am screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-20-10-am orwell_1984_tvs screen-shot-2011-06-25-at-8-24-48-am 1984 spanish searchadv signet-books-1984-george-orwell www-robinmalau 1984+orwellcover 1984_owl

penguin-1984

This last book cover version is my favourite. It is a multi-layered concept designed by David Pearson, and this is what he says:

The new cover design is part of Penguin’s ‘Great Orwell’ series, a re-release of five of Orwell’s greatest works. Pearson and his team designed all five covers for the ‘Great Orwell’ editions, and although Pearson refers toNineteen Eighty-Four as the ‘risk taker of the series,’ each of the re-booted cover designs stands out as fresh and thought-provoking. When PSFK asked Pearson about the bold choice for Nineteen Eighty-Four, he told us his inspiration was ‘born out of altering/erasing the identity of the book,’ adding, ‘using classic Penguin livery – which everyone knows and understands – allowed for this sort of fun and games — I would argue that the idea wouldn’t work otherwise.’

This is why this book cover is my favourite, not just in this series but is in my top 5 across the board of book cover design:

  1. The concept: Penguin produces books that are considered classics, educational, and famous. THIS book in particular forces the reader to challenge their thinking, and the thinking of society around them. Pearson has used our real life experience with Penguin to transcend us into the book.
  2. By picking up the book to find out more we are going against group think and Big Brother.
  3. It is immediately eye catching and stands out amongst its competition.
  4. It is bold and intriguing
  5. It tells us what the book is about in simplest terms.

Even the most famous books go through major redesigns, from limited editions to scrappy high school paperbacks, from western culture design to European and Asian influences.

So when you think about if you should go for another redesign, ask yourself the same questions you asked when looking at the Orwell covers. Can you guess when the cover is published? Does it use trend style design, or is it timeless? Is it symbolic or literal, and what is more appropriate for your story?

 What are your thoughts on multiple cover design for a book? Should there be a limit, or different designs for different countries?

 

My 2014 resolutions, from anxiety to fun.


marilynSo it’s day 6, have you already broken your resolutions?

I’ve found this time around that the idea of resolutions has taken a big beating. You can’t simply make resolutions anymore, because nobody really sticks with them, right? So you have to make personal goals, promises, newly formed habits, claims of inspiration and determination. You’ve got to explain it in a way so that others will truly believe you’re going to do it. And then they’ll come back with, “Well, why do you wait till new year? Why not just start whenever?”

You know what? Who cares. If I’m going to make decisions from the 1st of January that might better my life, even just for a brief moment, I’ll take it. It will make me one month more motivated, more determined, more full of joy and hopeful for myself, than it would if I didn’t do anything. So instead of 12 months of depression, it’s only 11 and a half! Yay!

So what are my goals for Scarlett Rugers Design for 2014?

  1. Have fun. I get bogged down in the serious stuff, I really enjoy learning but that also comes with anxiety and pressure and feelings of failure. So I’m returning back to my roots- having fun. Designing book covers for authors is exciting, and always different, and by making it more fun for myself it will be more fun for the author!
  2. To better my processes and automation to reduce errors and smooth out wrinkles. I’m a human being and I make mistakes. It’s important to recognize what they are and keep trying to be better, so I will focus on improving my processes to eliminate any potential errors before they happen.
  3. To prepare for expansion of Scarlett Rugers Design, in 2015.
  4. To keep learning and offering more value to all of my clients. To innovate and continue to strive to provide some of the best customer service and design in the book cover design industry.

Now that’s over, lets stop talking shop and start talking like human beings.

fireworksAs Scarlett, not as the business, what does 2014 really mean for me? Some of you may already know that I have, in the past, suffered from chronic anxiety and depression. While I don’t think they are chronic anymore, I do know that they still have an iron hold over me some days.

Most days I win, some days I lose. Over time I’ve seen that the more I talk about and be open about it, the more others realise that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that you can still have success, still have the life you want. It’s hard work, but you can have it.

So a brief resolutions list for me, not my business:

  1. Have fun. Definitely applies in my life. My personal motto is ‘life is supposed to be fun’, and continuing to remind myself of that helps.
  2. Give myself a break! I’m getting married this year, so there’s going to be a lot happening between now and May. Giving myself the time and space I need is very important.
  3. Continue writing. Have that bliss, enjoy it.
  4. Stand in the sun every once in a while.

 

stephencolbertI think that’ll do it for now. I’ve got a week full of emails ahead of me! I cannot wait to get started this year, big things are happening.

What big things are happening for you this year? What will you do to get yourself to your next big goal? 

Writing Great Characters

How to make a Buffy: 3 things you must do if you want a massive fandom of your fiction


Do you love Buffy? Great. No? Then read on anyway. My article can cover pretty much any well respected, fan crazy TV show. Breaking Bad, The Wire, The West Wing, Buffy, Stargate, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Dr Who… You decide, now let’s move on.

When you want your readers to go batshit crazy over your books, and they aren’t your mother or your husband or your best friend, there are three things you must do to get there. I’m not saying this guarantees you a place on the Golden Throne of Awesomeness but if you work hard enough then the readers will follow, with love and adoration and screaming and strange gifts will turn up on your doorstep with an odd ticking sound inside and smelling of 2 week old yoghurt…

What are the three things? Well, let’s not waste any more time!

1. The first thing you must do if you want dedicated and obsessed fans: write strong characters.

What’s the main link between all of these great TV shows? Characters. If there was no plot a new one would appear without much effort. Characters drive the plot. Let’s use some examples:

When Red Letter Media analysed the first three Star Wars movies he sat three people down and asked them to describe the characters (click Qui-Gon Jinn and watch the video from 6m39s):
starwars

You can see that compared to the first (well, still consider them the first) three Star Wars movies that there is no clear definition as to who the characters are or their true roles.

Writing Great Characters

 

We know who these characters are. It is because of their character that there is plot. So we must ask ourselves, what makes a good character? From my own experiences and analysis these points are vital:

  • They have weaknesses
  • Their weaknesses sometimes cause shit to happen
  • They have the courage- even if they don’t believe it- to overcome what they most fear
  • They have beliefs, and opinions, and not everyone likes them or hates them
  •  Defined, distinct traits that make them who they are (desperation, naivety, intelligence through suffering, cheerfulness in the face of death).

This is not the only thing that ensures a good character, but one I’ve found time and time again in all the great characters that I love. The more I write the more I’m unafraid to let my readers dislike my characters- and it’s THAT which has propelled me forward.

I spent so many of my years writing characters I wanted everyone to love. You can’t. You can’t do that. Not everyone is going to like them, just like there is not a single person on the face of the Earth who is loved by everyone, right? So why are we trying to make this blank canvas of a person all fluffy and nice and whimsical? Because we want our readers to love them.

If your character has a conflict, and they sometimes fail before overcoming that conflict, and then they rise up there is a really, really good chance people will love your character. Heisenberg was the evilest bastard who ever lived (exaggeration I know) but that ending was so, so sweet.

A great way to find out who your character is, is to get them talking. Which leads me to point number 2…

2. The second thing you must do if you want dedicated and obsessed fans: write great dialogue.

Narrative is good, but dialogue is great. Done well together they are unstoppable.

Django Unchained

My characters used to ramble. I thought that by having them talk like talked, and say the things that said they would be more realistic. But that’s not the case.

No character should ever talk like a normal human being does. It’s as boring as all hell.

Each word that goes into your manuscript should be there for a purpose, and if it has no purpose it should be scrapped- the same can be said for dialogue.

  • Your character should not ask how someone’s day is unless it is vital to the story.
  • Your character should not ramble on the telephone unless it adds to the plot.
  • Your character should not make small talk, or out of the blue compliments, or offensive remarks unless it is plot or character building.

Pulp FictionIf you do this, you will bore your reader. It’s boring to write and it’s boring to read. If you don’t know what I mean go and watch your favourite movies and listen to them, hear what they’re really saying. One of the masters is Quentin Tarantino, writer and director of Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill and, more recently, Django Unchained (in my opinion his finest work).

Other masters of dialogue:

  • Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
  • Kevin Smith
  • Joss Whedon (Obviously)
  • Vince Gilligan
  • Monty Python
  • Woody Allen
  • Stanley Kubrick
  • William Goldman
  • The Coen Brothers

3. The third thing you must do if you want dedicated and obsessed fans: your characters should fail, and the higher the stakes the better.

Vulnerability allows us to connect with your character. It not only acts as a conduit between you and the character, but heightens the stakes for what there is to lose, and the possibility of losing it. Nobody likes a perfect Mary-Sue.

One major fault-free character is Dexter. Look, bare with me here.

For people who follow Dexter:

dexterI know how it all ended, and I was a lover of Dexter right from the very start. But around season 4 or 5 I lost it… We were going through the same loops and it was obvious Dexter had no real consequences to face. He was doing the same old shit, and even though Trinity came up and faced him in the office in one of the most epic moments in the whole series… what the hell happened? Nada. Nothing. Not a thing.

Where was his weakness? Where did he truly fail? Where was the point where I thought… oh God, this is it, he’s going to get caught? That was way back in series 1.

For people who don’t follow Dexter:

Dexter dived around season 4 after it repeated the same conflicts without resolving them, and Dexter I feel that Dexter never truly faced his consequences.

Failing at things gives us opportunities to learn, it makes us humble and grateful, causes us to reconsider where we are in life, and provides suffering which, without it, we would never succeed, overcome, or change. 

One of the greatest failures: Walter White in Breaking Bad. That is the ultimate rise and fall of a man.

heisenberg

There we have it, the top 3 things you must do if you want a big readership, and dedicated readers. Of course this is just one person’s opinion so, as always, take what you think works for you and leave the rest. And there are many other things you need to do to build a readership but when I break it down, these are right up there at the top of the list for me.

What do you think should be added to this list? What are methods or techniques you’ve used, in or outside of writing, that has helped you boost your readership?