Writing Character Descriptions

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Lately I’ve been perusing the internets for a good book. I find a lot of books by indie authors (on Goodreads, Google +, and Twitter), and most of the time, I will click on the link and read the first page to get a feel of the author’s style. There have been at least three instances in the past week where I made a decision not to purchase a book because there was an onslaught of character description.

I won’t name names (I never do!), but here is an example of something I ran across:

“Jamison, when are you going to marry me?”

“Girl, you wish!”

Denise folded her skinny arms and whipped her sexy, black hair cut towards the window, so much so that her boyfriend, with his almond colored skin and mustache that looked like a handlebar, scratched his Mohawk and furrowed his pecan colored eyes in confusion, all while whipping his long, muscular arms in the air as the waitress, who had long, blonde hair and eyes so red she looked like she’d been crying, and a stain on her uniform that looked like coffee but very well may have been tea, walked by and offered them some more lemonade.

“I don’t want any lemonade!” Denise said in a huff, and as the waitress left the table (also in a huff), she realized that she was on rollerblades, pink rollerblades with little flashing lights at the bottom, in every color of the rainbow.

She looked at Jamison across the table. Although she was mad at him for not wanting to marry her, she laughed because he was still whipping his arms in the air.  Oh, how she’d always loved those arms! In fact, that’s what had drawn her to Jamison in the first place, the fact that he looked like a basketball player, and would have been one if his five foot nine frame had only been taller and if his mother, with her dark red hair, plus sized body, hazel nut eyes, and girlish smile, had only allowed him to leave their house, which was blue, not quite decrepit but getting there, and owned by his grandmother, who was sick and shut in, but still managed to gamble away the family’s fortune through online slot machines….

Obviously I had some fun here (tehe), but I think you get my drift: too much description can definitely be a killer.

When it comes to describing my characters, my personal preference is not to be too heavy-handed (I also don’t mind light description when I’m reading because my imagination fills in the gaps). I don’t describe every single character as they are introduced on the page because I think it reads a bit too much like Writing 101: Insert Description Here. I do describe the main characters, not just by giving what Sol Stein calls “Movie-house ticket taker” description: I try and tie the physical description with a trait that reveals something about the character’s personality or life: something that will (hopefully) add another layer to the character. Is the character beautiful? Well, this might be important if she often uses her beauty to get what she wants in life. Does the character have a strange birthmark? Well, that might be helpful when she sees a news article about a kidnapping that happened thirty years prior (and a picture of the stolen baby with the same strange birthmark…).

Or sometimes, I might just say, “The lady walked into the room. She was wearing a hat.”

Of course, everything depends on the story and genre, but I don’t think there’s a need to describe every single character (especially nonessential ones), and when we do describe characters, I don’t think there’s a need to go overboard with the description.

What about others? As writers, what’s your approach to character descriptions? And as readers, what are your likes and dislikes?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


The First Three Chapters

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I was on a writing forum recently and noticed a call for beta readers. Several people responded (saying that yes, they would be willing to read), and the author said something very interesting about their novel. I can’t remember verbatim, but it was something along the lines of: “Well, the first few chapters are kind of boring anyway. It doesn’t get good until the middle.”

*Throws computer through window. Cries real tears.*

As you can imagine, I was shocked. It was my assumption that everyone knew that the first three chapters are the launching pad to any novel, otherwise, agents wouldn’t request them…right?

So many important things happen during the first few chapters! We’re learning who the main character is, what issues are plaguing them, what kind of story we’re getting into, etc., all while building up to something so momentous that the character will never be the same again and will spend most of the novel (the middle) trying to restore order.

But what makes a good first few chapters? Well, I guess that’s subjective. What’s good for you might not be good for me, so just off the top of my head:

  1. An interesting main character. They don’t always need to be likable but if I’m going to spend 300 pages with somebody, they better at least be interesting. What makes a character interesting? Well, their perspective on life. The things that they do or say, the people they surround themselves with (the list can go on).
  2. Good narrative voice (not what is said, but how).
  3. The writer presents a real life problem for the main character that readers will care about. It doesn’t have to be life or death, but the main character should care enough about the problem so that the reader cares. And even better, the character should care enough about the problem to try and (actively) find a solution.
  4. A good supporting cast. Nothing like great secondary characters to make a story pop.
  5. This one’s personal, so if you don’t mind this one just skip it: for me, I hate it when a book starts off too fast. Like when there’s a dead body on the first page and I haven’t spent enough time with the characters to even care about who’s dead. Or, a story that starts off with a car chase, or so much action that I find it hard to ground myself in the story. My personal preference is for a slow build (but not so slow that we’re still moving at a snail’s pace halfway through the story) that leads to a heart pounding climax. Just my preference….

So that’s my two cents. What about others? What kinds of things do you like to see in the first few chapters of a novel? What turns you off?

And to writers: what methods do you employ when writing those first few chapters?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!




Paid Blog Tours…Are They Worth It?

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Lately I’ve seen a few discussions on Goodreads about blog tours, mainly from people looking to start blog tour companies. First off, I think if someone is organized and connected enough, a blog tour company is a great business idea. Especially if that company can provide an impactful service for authors who aren’t connected enough or who just don’t have the time to organize their own blog tour.

But for authors: are paid blog tours worth it? I can tell you from personal experience that my feelings about them are mixed (I had a few of them last year when I released my first novel). I won’t disparage anybody here, but let’s just say that there are blog tour organizers who aren’t able to deliver what they promise and who also don’t have the best followup skills (but that’s a story for another blog post).

What types of things should an author consider when looking at blog tour companies? There are several things that come to mind:

Price. I’ve seen tours range from $50 to $800. What is “reasonable”? Well, I think that depends on an author’s budget, but also consider this: what kind of return are you getting on your investment? If you don’t get at least a few sales during your tour, increased page views, etc., then you might decide that it’s not worth it to book a blog tour for your next release and just roll up your sleeves and do your own marketing.

What’s being offered? I think the main thing that authors want from blog tours is reviews, so how many will you get?

Number of tour stops (The more the better.)

Amount of traffic/page views/comments for participating blogs. I don’t mean to suggest that participating blogs need to have thousands of readers, but if nobody is reading that blog, then you’ve pretty much wasted your money. My personal thoughts? Even if that blog only reaches one person who bought your book, depending on how much you paid for the tour, that might still be worth it: if that person likes your book they will tell their friends, and their friends will tell their friends, and so forth.

Another thing that might help an author decide is the “success” of  a company’s past clients: how many reviews do their books have? If a blog tour promises 5 reviews but the book has zero (or only a couple) reviews, that might be something to consider. Side note: blog tour organizers are normally up front about reviews: they can’t promise that reviewers will post them, but if very few reviews are consistent across the board for their past clients, that says something about their blog tour hosts (and not something good).

Does the blog tour organizer have a decent social media following? If they don’t, then you might want to have a conversation with them about how they are going to reach bloggers and help you spread the word about your book (or pick somebody else).

I think that blog tours are a great way for authors to get exposure for their books. Blog tour companies are good for authors who are short on time but I strongly believe that a well connected author can successfully organize their own blog tours. Heck, even an author who isn’t so connected: all you really have to do is gather a list of bloggers, tell them who you are, don’t be spammy, and pitch them your blog tour idea. I also think that an author should consider what a blog tour company can offer them and weigh that against what they can do for themselves. If there’s not much of a difference, then it might be worth it to save that money you were going to spend on a blog tour and use it towards something else (like towards the cost of a good book cover for your next novel).

What about others? What’s been your experience with paid blog tours? Do you recommend them? Any horror stories? (I hope not!) I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Also, for anybody looking for a blog tour company,  I had a very fun (and from what I could see, successful) blog tour with Chick Lit Plus. The organizer, Samantha March, was by far the most organized and professional blog tour organizer I’ve come across. Her followup skills were impeccable and she let me know what to expect pretty much everyday.

Here’s a couple of other companies I’ve come across in my search that seem to be pretty reputable:

Pump up Your Book. Their prices are waaay out of my range but during my research I discovered that indie author K.L. Brady used them for her debut novel, The Bum Magnet. She eventually ended up getting a traditional book deal (probably not as a direct result of the blog tour, but definitely something to consider).

Fabulosity Reads

Bewitching Blog Tours

As always, before booking a blog tour with anyone, do your research! 

Writing What you Love Vs. Writing What Sells

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When it comes to writing, I generally follow the Toni Morrison rule: “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

That’s why I write the kind of books that I write: southern paranormal fiction and humorous fiction. I generally write the types of books that I would walk into a bookstore and buy.

But there’s another issue here: actually making a living as a writer.

Before I started my publishing journey I was aware of a few things:

It’s hard out there for an author, especially an independent one, without the marketing muscle of a big time publishing company. There’s no guarantee that the book you spent a year, two years, or even ten years writing will ever make a dime.

But there is a genre that seems to be raking in the cash: erotica. In an article titled “Why Boomer Women Are Hot For Erotica E-Books” author Julio Ojeda-Zapata discusses the convergence of two trends: a rise in e-readers (fans can now read these books with anonymity) and a mainstream acceptance of erotica (the success of books like 50 Shades). In fact, in 2012 romance and erotica books raked in $1.4 billion in sales. The erotica book business seems to be a-boomin’.

I recently came across a blog post where an author was saying that the genre she loves the most doesn’t sell well but her erotica titles sell something like 2,000 copies a week (yes, that’s 8,000 copies a month).

After I read that I said to my husband: “I think I’m going to write erotica under a pen name.” And you know what happened? He laughed at me! I said, “What’s so funny?”

He said, “You don’t even like erotica!”


“I think you should just stick to what you’re doing.”

I have to be honest with you: I have been seriously considering trying my hand at erotica (under some sexy pen name like Veronica Sizzle) just to see what happens, but you know what? My husband is probably right: I should probably just stick to what I’m doing because a book written without passion is sort of, well…meh. And the last thing I want to do is get outed by TMZ for writing subpar erotica. No, ma’am!

So I guess I’ll just stick to writing what I love and do like all the other authors who came before me: read as much as I can, hone my craft, and hope that with a little dedication and persistence, my writing career will eventually take off.

But it is very tempting to try and write the trend in expectation of getting a huge pay day. Very! So if you ever see a book by Veronica Sizzle, just don’t judge me, okay?

What about all of you? What genres are you writing in? Do you think about book sales when you write? Does what you write just so happen to fall into a genre that’s hot right now?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!