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Friday, September 17, 2021 character archetype book writing

Different character sketches

 

Characters are the foundation of every story. If your readers can’t connect with the characters, they’ll put down your story. Some characters change and grow over time, and other characters remain the same. Howard Tayler of Writing Excuses calls characters that don’t change over time iconic characters. Think of a James Bond or a Conan the Barbarian character where the world changes around them, but not the main character.

Before moving on, let’s establish conceptual clarity between a stereotype and an archetype. A stereotype relies heavily on using widely believed characteristics of a person from a recognisable group. In the case of French Canadians, there’s a stereotype that we are all lumberjacks, spend our time making maple syrup, are farmers or work in menial jobs. Think of a group that is “other” than you, and you’ll come up with an image of how they dress, talk, where they live, and their general vocations. Some of those portrays may be accurate to a degree, but most won’t be.

Stereotypes can be harmful to individuals in that group, and the reader can find them boring to read.

Character archetypes are different. Archetypes are characters that share common characteristics across the human experience. People across cultures and time recognise a leader, healer, or warrior (among other archetypes). Archetypes play a certain role in society.

Archetypes are different from stereotypes because all cultures have healers and warriors (and so on). However, how each culture expresses its “warrior-ness” differs. A Canadian soldier in 2021 has certain equipment, extensive training in specialised fields (paratrooper, infantry, tank commander, etc.), and a certain mentality that draws them to work and that particular position. An Aztec warrior has different equipment, different training, and but likely the same motivation to be a warrior.

I was asked by @LouSchlesinger if and how I use archetypes to build my characters systematically. The simple answer is that I don’t use archetypes. The more in-depth answer is that I build my characters from the trope and setting out. For Novella 2 of Heartened by Sport, I decided to write a second-chance romance in which the sport of choice (remember it’s part of the Heartened by Sport series) would be pickleball. I thought this sport was unique enough to create interesting circumstances for the characters to interact while engaging the reader. From there, I fleshed out the characters to understand their deep hurts (the reason why they aren’t in a romantic relationship {at all} and, more specifically, why they aren’t in a romantic relationship with their counterpart in the book).

I strive to make unique but believable characters. I often pick careers that aren’t top of mind in romances. Even when I write historical romances, I strive to give the women plausible means to sustain themselves that remain in keeping with the time and social constraints. If they are upper class, I aim to give them unique hobbies that make them stand out.

Why? The simple reason is that I work to create unique characters that readers will relate to and cheer for.

I don’t write to archetypes, but I play around with the dynamic between conflict, career/occupation, and setting. I explore ways that certain careers (combinations of his/hers) create problems for the individual and a romantic relationship. Perhaps someone is a salesperson who is always travelling. Long-distance relationships can be tough. Perhaps one is an early childhood educator who always catches colds and cases of flu from their young charges and hampers their social life. Perhaps the characters work opposing shifts, which adds complications if they are parents and trying to keep a strong marriage while coordinating childcare responsibilities and staying in touch with family and friends.

Each occupation has certain benefits and hindrances. Certain personalities (archetypes) are likely to gravitate to certain professions. There’s also a push-pull between the characters, their interests, their professional interests, and the relationship (in a romance) they seek to establish. Map out the conflicts between these layers and have fun with them. You’d be surprised how you can make each character, personal development arc, and romance unique.

Sure, certain themes are common in romances, but how each character and couple overcome them makes them memorable (or not) to readers.

When developing characters, I focus on unique events in their lives, how those events lead to decisions, and the consequences of those decisions on the character as they mature. What happens if a nurse (healer archetype) is also in desperate need of healing because of a chronic illness? What happens if the character who is a teacher (college instructor, corporate trainer, university professor, the most senior person on the team responsible for onboarding new staff, etc.) is the one who needs to learn the world isn’t the same and they need to adapt?

There are many dynamics to explore to add depth to your character. I choose to start with the trope, theme, and setting of the book. I drill down to career and hurts, and from there, I sketch their layers of conflicts, personal goals, deep hurts, character beats, and plot beats.

Archetypes are interesting to expand and explore. Delve deeper into a character’s background and occupation to highlight what makes them unique. They’ll be more interesting characters, and your readers will be more engaged.

 

How do you use character archetypes in your writing? Reach out on Twitter @reneegendron to continue the conversation.

 

Thank you, @LouSchlesinger, for the topic suggestion.


Old couple

 

When most people think of romance, they think of people in their early twenties to mid-thirties finding the love of their lives. However, romances also happen between older couples.

Let’s start with the basic structure of a romance. Both love interests have internal conflicts that prevent them from entering a romantic relationship. Internal conflicts cause external conflicts (conflict between the love interests). For the love interests to have their happily ever after, they must first resolve internal matters and focus on external issues by working out their differences.

There are two types of setups in a romance. The first is the love interests don’t know each other at the beginning of the story, get to know one another, and resolve their matters by the end of the book. The second is the love interests are in an existing relationship that is on the rocks.  The love interests need to work to maintain and strengthen the relationship.

Whether you write younger characters or older ones, those structures remain the same. I’ll let you in on a secret about writing romances with older characters—there’s a lot of emotional depth to mine. I’m certain you’ll find emotionally mature nineteen-year-olds who have been through a lot and conduct themselves with poise and grace. Let’s not forget different historical times when most women were raised to marry by the age of twenty. That’s a different mindset than the way most people raise their children in Canada in 2021.

When you write older characters, especially characters with a lot of history between them, there’s a tremendous opportunity to explore emotion, resiliency, pain, loss, and triumph. Romances work because of emotional payoffs. Every romance reader knows there will be a happily ever after, but they don’t know how the characters will get there.

A forty-year-old who is divorced and has one child has different emotional baggage than a twenty-year-old who has never been in love. The constraints on the forty-year-old’s life are different than those of the unattached, non-parent, twenty-year-old. Making time to date when raising a child, working full-time, dealing with an ex who does all they can to make your life miserable while dealing with all of the other bumps and hiccups life throws at you is difficult.

Romances explore choices and how they relate to conflict. Let’s take that forty-year-old single parent and call him Léonard. He works full time, and he has to pay alimony to the ex. His commute is extended because he has to swing by the daycare/babysitter to pick up his daughter Claudette. He has to clean and cook and help Claudette with her homework. A fellow like that is going to be more practical in his approach to finding a romantic partner. Léonard isn’t likely to hang out in pubs and clubs, he’s unlikely to have a lot of time for hobby groups, and he probably won’t take a four-day vacation to a resort because he had a good deal (Claudette has school, after all).

Léonard is more likely to meet a potential love interest at one of Claudette’s after school activities, or through a neighbour, or a friend. When Léonard meets the potential love interest, he has to evaluate the potential not only through his lenses (do they get along, is he attracted to her, do they share similar interests, and so on), but also through Claudette’s perspective. Any love interest that isn’t interested in being with a man with a child, well, for responsible fathers, that’s a non-starter.  

Let’s take a moment to consider some of the emotional issues Léonard faces when considering dating. He was married for six years and dated his ex for an additional two years. Prior to that relationship, he had two other serious, long-term relationships. Each relationship was different, but each relationship also left him with unique scars. One woman wanted children right away when he wasn’t ready. One woman wanted to travel the world working gig to gig, while he had to stay in one place to develop his career. And his marriage, while things were good at first when Léonard and his ex were aligned with interests, hobbies, wanting to start a family, the toll of running a family tore them apart.

These different decisions have impacted him and alter the way he views a potential love interest. Léonard needs to weigh his past hurts versus a stable life for his daughter versus his current reality of being a single parent (time constraints, resource constraints, the messiness of coordinating schedules when a love interest also has split-time with their children) versus his interest in dating.

These constraints and conflicts are interesting to explore. How each person and romantic couple addresses these constraints allow for an enriching experience for the reader.

Some questions to ask when developing romances between people who are divorced with children still at home

  • How much does the ex still loom in the picture?
  • What are realistic expectations as to how much time the couple can spend alone versus childcare responsibilities?
  • How do complicated family arrangements (blended families with different parental structures) impact the ability of the couple to act in the best interest of the couple?
  • What are the sleeping arrangements? (This is particularly relevant if you’re writing a high heat romance and are writing sex scenes. What are realistic conditions in which the couple can have a sleepover?)

 

Let’s age the characters up a bit. Let’s say you’re writing a romance in which the romantic leaders are sixty years old. Let’s say you’re writing Céline, and she’s sixty-two years old. Her first husband died of a heart attack ten years ago. They were married twenty-eight years. It took her years to overcome the grief, and last year she met Pierre.

Céline has three adult children and four grandchildren. She may or may not work full-time. In the years since her husband’s death, she’s taken up new hobbies and has reinvigorated her social life because her husband wasn’t the type to go out. She’s sixty-one. She’s likely to have health issues, and she’s likely to be the primary care provider for her parents or aunt and the emergency babysitter for her grandchildren. There are a lot of pulls on her time.

She’s also likely been through a lot of emotional pain (given that she’s lived longer than a twenty-year-old). She might be more set in her ways for some things, behind the times on many other things, and wise in some areas.

If you write Céline the way you would a twenty-year-old, you’re cheating the character and the reader. You’re depriving the reader of an emotional experience gained for the school of hard knocks, and you’re depriving Céline of the ability to apply all of her knowledge and insight to resolving the issue that needs to be resolved. Remember, Céline’s been around sixty-one years. Maybe there’s a pattern or a similar situation that keeps popping up in her life that she has to learn to move past it. Maybe now, after decades of failing, she has the self-confidence to do something she’s always wanted to do. Maybe she can guide her grandchildren in a way she wished she could have with her children.

Questions to ask when writing older characters:

  • Have they grown more patient or impatient with age?
  • Are they more vocal about pointing out issues and problems than they were when they were twenty?
  • How have they stayed the same since they were a child?
  • How have they changed?
  • What are three major events that have changed how they behave, act, and feel?

In what way does their health impact their daily life? If you write high heat romances, you’ll need to incorporate some aspects of health and perhaps the need for pharmaceutical supports.

 

The structure of a romance between twenty-year-olds is the same as writing one between sixty-year-olds. What changes are the emotional depth, the amount of baggage each character has to resolve, and the tools each character brings to the table to address their issues.

Writing romances between older couples can be richly rewarding. Don’t be afraid to stack the conflicts and constraints each character faces. Explore realistic meet-cutes and flesh out each character’s world. Romance is romance.

Keep an eye out of James' and Mirabelle's story. He's fifty years old with four adult children and she's forty five. I'm in the last stages of editing it and will release it in fall 2021. If you liked the excerpt (still in draft) and/or this blog post, please consider chipping in one dollar towards a professional cover for their book. 

 

Thank you to @SStaatz for the topic suggestion. 

Let's keep the conversation going on Twitter. Reach out to me @reneegendron and let me know how you write romances with older characters. 


 

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Building An Author’s Platform

It’s tough being an author. Even if you write a perfect book that every reader loves, you may sell only a handful of copies. This is not because you are unlucky. It’s because you don’t have an author’s platform.

Just in case you don’t believe me, here’s an example from literary history. Back in 1846, three unknown young ladies self-published a poetry anthology titled Poems, by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. This carefully collated work of accomplished poetry only sold 3 copies.


Today, those same poems are studied in detail in high schools and universities across the world and have become the subject of many doctoral theses. Why? Because Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë later published bestselling novels, and their author’s platform expanded exponentially.

 


What is an Author’s Platform?

An author’s platform is a collective term for the goodwill accumulated by a writer. If you’re an accountant or familiar with fiscal terms, you’ll understand what I mean by this. Otherwise, let me explain.


A new author does not have an existing fanbase. They are an unknown commodity. This makes them unattractive to publishers and agents because they may invest money in publishing the author’s books and make a loss.


A published author who has successfully sold books has a fanbase. If they release another book, it is likely that people who enjoyed their previous books will buy their next one. The more successful books this author releases, the bigger their fanbase, and the easier it is for them to sell more books.


So, success breeds success. The established author is a safer investment for publishers and attractive to agents. As a business, that author has what an accountant calls goodwill. But if this is the case, how can a new author ever catch a break?

 


Building an Author’s Platform

An author’s platform consists of more than a fanbase of readers who have read previous books. It also extends to an author’s social networking accounts, their website visitors, and book reviews.


Quite often an author will have contacts through social networking who have never read one of their books. Despite being unfamiliar with previous books, that contact will still promote their future books for their own reasons.


An established website with a high DA (domain authority) and PA (page authority) provides another platform for marketing your new novel.


Book Reviews are ESSENTIAL to increasing an author’s platform. When somebody is considering buying your book on Amazon or another platform, they will often skip the blurb and hit the review section to find out what other people said about your book.


If you have no reviews on the platform, this puts potential readers off. But if you have lots of reviews with an average of 4 out of 5 stars or higher, you’re likely to sell a book. That’s why you need to get readers to review your book as part of your author’s platform.
Social Networking


If you have never published a book in your life, you can still open accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and other social networking sites. These are all free to join and make great networking tools.


I focus on Twitter because I find it easy to navigate and gain followers. And, more importantly, I have met people on there with similar goals to myself who are willing to work together with me to our mutual benefit. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @TheRomanceBloke.


The same principles apply to any social networking platform, and many find Instagram a great place for writers. For some reasons, a lot of publishers like their authors to have Facebook Author pages. These are easy to set up and completely free. I have one, though I rarely use it.


It’s not easy to start from zero on a social networking site, but it’s not impossible. I opened my Twitter account in December 2020 but didn’t send out my first tweet until sometime in January 2021. At the beginning of January, I had zero followers. By mid-May, I had over 7,300.


Many of my followers have over 50,000 followers of their own and regularly retweet my tweets. That is why my Tweet Impressions for the last 28 days stands at 626,000. This means that my tweets have been viewed over half a million times in the past month. That’s a lot of potential readers for any books I publish in future.
How do you gain followers?


The same basic principles apply to all social media platforms. To become popular, you must interact with other members of the writing and reading community and offer them something of value.


Since you are mainly interested in finding readers for your books, you should focus on book-related posts. What I mainly offer in my posts are links to articles about writing, publishing, book marketing, and book reviews.


Instead of posting links to the same article ten times a day, I have built up a portfolio of articles and book reviews that I rotate so that there are different articles featured on my profile every day.


But interaction is key. By regularly retweeting/sharing the posts of other members of the writing community, I am helping them to market their books and products. Because I am helping them, they are more inclined to help me.


I also offer to publish guest posts on my website. I invite other members of the writing community to write articles about their books, products, or writing techniques. These guest articles help those authors to market their books.


I usually keep a link to one of these guest articles as my pinned tweet on my Twitter platform. This not only promotes the guest author, but it also directs people to visit my website and encourages more book readers and authors to follow me on Twitter. For me, it’s a win-win situation.

 


Website
Many authors’ websites are white elephants. If you check out their DA and PA scores, they’re around DA 1 and PA 1. But what does that mean?


Domain authority (DA) is a measure of how authoritative a website is. A higher DA means that the website is respected as a source of information within its speciality. Page authority (PA) is a measure of how likely it is that a page on that website will rank high in a Google search.


The DA and PA range is between 1 and 100 for all websites, but few sites come close to 100. Wikipedia, for example, stands at DA 93 and PA 81. An established publisher like Penguin UK has a high DA and PA. Penguin’s scores are DA 73 and PA 63.


When you start a new website, you begin with DA 1 and PA 1. That means that it is unlikely anyone will visit your website without being invited to do so. They won’t stumble across your website in a Google search. If you want to get noticed, you need to improve your DA and PA.


To increase DA and PA, you need to publish new articles on your website on a regular basis. You also need to attract readers to view these articles, and you need other websites to build links to those articles on your website. The more visitors that come to your website and the more links that are constructed, the higher your DA and PA will grow.


I have divided my website into different areas for different kinds of articles. I have a Book Reviews tab for storing all my book reviews, an Articles tab for the writing-and-book-related articles that I have authored, and an Experts Opinion tab for the guest articles written by authors I have met via social networking. This makes it easy for my website visitors to navigate and find what they want to see.

 


The Cost of a Website
Unfortunately, you have to pay to set up a website. However, it’s not as expensive as you might think. You need two things: the software and a host. You can get the software for free from corporations like Wordpress but you must pay for the hosting, which is the place where all your website’s information is stored and processed when you run a site.


I paid around US$90 for a 3-year deal with HostGator for my hosting and then imported WordPress software for free. Shop around and never pay the full price. There are always ads that offer a discount on hosting at various hosts if you use their discount code. If you want to keep setup costs minimal, you can get hosting for a year for less than $40.


The biggest expense on your website growth and maintenance is your time. Websites don’t grow on their own. You have to write articles and post them. If others write articles for you, you still have to format and post those.

 


Book Reviews

As I said earlier, book reviews on Amazon and other platforms are an essential part of your author’s platform. When you are planning to publish a book, it’s a good idea to hand out a few Advanced Review Copies (ARC) to people you are confident will read your book and write reviews.


The authors and readers you’ve connected with through social networking are ideal candidates to read and review your ARCs. If you’re previously read and reviewed their books, they’re even more likely to agree to read and review your ARC.


There are also organisations like Reedsy Discovery, Book Sirens, and Book Bub who will distribute your ARCs to readers who promise to read and review your book in exchange for a fee. Now, it’s always better if you can get your ARCs read and reviewed for free. But these services do help you to gain more reviews quickly if your “volunteers” fail to deliver.


I have found writing book reviews to be one of the best ways of quickly making new friends in the Writing Community. Authors love to receive reviews, especially if it’s clear you’ve actually read their books and noticed what they did. On Twitter, authors have become much warmer to me and likely to retweet my tweets after I’ve reviewed their books.

 


My Final Word

After reading this article, I hope you understand why building an author’s platform is so important for new authors. Don’t be daunted. Anyone can build an author’s platform.


I would advise you to avoid the temptation of publishing your book before you’ve built an author’s platform. No matter how good your book is, you will most likely be disappointed by a low level of sales.
Once you’ve established a loyal author’s platform, you should find it much easier to get volunteers to read your ARCs and even find customers who buy your books. The larger your author’s platform, the more likely you are to publish a successful book.


Also, if you dream of traditional publishing, agents and publishers will be much more interested in your unpublished manuscript if you can demonstrate to them that you have a huge author’s platform. An established website with a high DA and PA alongside a social media account that shows you have thousands of followers will go a long way toward you receiving that elusive acceptance letter.
 
 

Thank you Robert Baker for your guest post on Building an Author's Platform. 

 

Robert Baker — The Romance Bloke @TheRomanceBloke
 

Robert is the founder of The Romance Bloke, a website devoted to romance book reviews and articles about books and writing.

He passionate about reading and creative writing. He has published short stories and poetry in magazines, such as the ASP Literary Journal, Open Door Magazine and Meet Cute Press. He is frequently found hanging out on Writing.Com with other wannabe authors.

Robert is a freelance content writer and website manager. He has written informational articles, reviews, and blogs for a wide range of online businesses in the fields of travel, health, technology, and outdoor adventure.

When he is not reading or writing, he loves traveling with his family and horseback riding. Robert is also on the judging panel for the Book Bloggers’ Novel of the Year Awards 2021.