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Introduction
As a blogger about writing, it probably comes as no surprise that I dabble with story myself. I recently read K.M Weiland's 'Outlining Your Novel' as I am looking to scrap and restart an old project. K.M. Weiland takes a non- prescriptive approach to outlining, recognising that writers are an idiosyncratic bunch, and that each one of us needs to develop our own approach to outlining. What Weiland does brilliantly is to describe her own process and to offer other strategies that may appeal to others.

One of the strategies that she uses herself and recommends is the character interview. Weiland has developed a comprehensive 100 question interview on her blog and you can get it here.  I decided that I would give it a go as a part of my own process.

If you listen to the Story Grid podcast as I do, you may have heard editor Shawne Coyne talk about the importance of the antagonist, about how these bad guys are the most important character in terms of driving the story, about how despite this they are often neglected by novice writers like me.

So I interviewed the bad guy.

Practical stuff

Secrets: are your characters hiding something?
Secrets: are your characters hiding something?

The interview begins with biographical stuff: places lived, education and schools, dating history, self-image. I found myself in 'interview mode' writing fairly fluently in the first person, thinking little or nothing about the literary quality of what I wrote. And I found that I was coming up with stuff about my character that I didn't know – most significantly a failed marriage, and a sadistic pair of step-brothers.

This was powerful stuff that I simply wouldn't have without having done the interview.

However, I came unstuck a bit on 'Is he lying to himself about something?' I couldn't answer this in the first person, and if I did I would obscure the information I wanted to detail.

The next section is a description of the character's appearance, preferences and habits, and I felt I had to stay in the third person for this. That said the physical stuff made me see that I really had not considered the character in adequate depth. My descriptions led me to do an image search on Google, where a found a rugby player who pretty much matches the ideas I had.

I saved the image so I can load it into YWriter. I even came up with a few usable similes!

Getting to know the character

Game of Thrones: every character has a story to tell.
Game of Thrones: every character has a story to tell.

 

Some of the most exciting questions in K.M Weiland's interview are the ones that you could almost transplant directly into a key moment in the book.

Questions like:

 

What’s the worst thing he’s ever done to someone and why?
And
What does/will he like least about the other main character(s)?

Answering these questions made me think about those revelatory moments in Game of Thrones where George R.R. Martin's characters share character forming incidents in their pasts. I could just imagine my antagonist revealing the angry 'self-defence' attack on his brother at some key moment I have yet to discover. This was feeling like a really useful exercise.

Developing my own approach

In terms of developing my own approach I think I need to divide up the questions into those I can answer in the first person and those I need the third person for. I'll put the first person questions first so that I can dive into the character before defining them from the outside in.

Having considered my story's overview using the Story Grid foolscap method in previous weeks, I really wanted to make sure that I was considering my characters in terms of their link to my controlling idea and key themes, and about the values they represent more specifically.

I also want to move the history to the beginning so that I can add key dates as I think of them. Also I imagine that these dates may be useful to me, and that I am likely to want to access this information quickly.

Conclusion

K.M. Weiland author of 'Outlining Your Novell'.
K.M. Weiland author of 'Outlining Your Novell'.

I'm always a little bit envious of writers whose characters speak to them. K.M. Weiland writes about characters that 'speak' in relation to this exercise. If you are one of those people then this exercise might get you there quickly. If you are more like me, however, and your characters just don't like you enough to chat, this exercise will give your plotting more power and fuel emotive revelations that will fire up key scenes. Either way the task is really enjoyable. It is, as K.M Weiland says, 'grand fun'.

See my character interview here.

 

Tim Grahl, Story Grid, marketing

Tim Grahl, author of 'Sell Your First 1000 Copies'.

Tim Grahl is the marketing brain behind the Story Grid podcast. He has worked with the likes of Hugh Howey and Dan Pink.

Listening to Tim and Shawne on the Story Grid podcast recently got me thinking, not only about writing stories that work – the main focus of the project – but also about marketing books that sell. And marketing books that sell is something that Tim Grahl knows a thing or two about.

 I guess it was the podcast that made me purchase Tim's ebook from Amazon: YOUR FIRST 1000 COPIES: THE STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO MARKETING YOUR BOOK. I thought it might be useful to me with this Blog. Hmmmm – time will tell on that one! Anyone who has listened to the Story Grid podcast will know that Tim, despite some pretty impressive achievements in his field is refreshingly arrogance free, and has a laid back persona that is welcoming and inclusive. And in Your First 1000 Copies we find that Tim's persona on the page is equally accessible.

With his work on the Story Grid project with partner, publisher and story charmer, Shawn Coyne, Tim's profile is on the up. Now I've never written a novel (more of that later) but my dad has (more of that later too). I'm sure he'd be the first to admit that like so many self-published writers in an increasingly competitive market, his sales so far have hardly set the world alight.

In Your First 1000 Copies, Tim outlines what he calls the CONNECTION SYSTEM, which basically means that in marketing what we need to think that everything we write is all about building long lasting connections with people and that we do this by being relentlessly helpful.

How to do it:

1 Permission

Connecting with people directly and regularly is key to the Connection System in Your First 1000 Copies and for Tim this means building an email list (do sign up to ours!). The argument is that only email connects you directly with an audience that is already receptive to what you are doing as a writer.

To build an email list you will need: a web presence, an email marketing tool (like MailChimp for example), a clear and prominently placed email sign up form, something to give away.

And of course when your email list grows, you need to keep that connection with relentless and regular content.

2 Content

One of the sub-headings in Your First 1000 Copies is, tellingly, To blog or not to blog. Tim's answer to this is to celebrate the potential of the blog, but also to warn of the challenges that blogging brings with it. In this book Tim recommends making use of others' platforms as a first priority, be that through columns on major websites, guest entries on other people's blogs, and publication in magazines and anthologies.

Whatever mode of internet presence you choose, Tim's approach to content can be summarised in two words: sharing and adventure.

By sharing we mean to share both what you are doing and what you have. Whether that be extracts, or plans, permafrees, or supplementary resources like reading guides. Long lasting connections depend on being open with your audience. If you think you're sharing just enough, you need to share a little more is the mantra here.

Adventure means that life can be be every bit as engaging as fiction, and that what sharing what we already do – sharing our own learning process – is almost certainly going to land with a lot more people than we think that it will.

3 Outreach

If we want people to notice what we are doing we need to be the best influencers that we can be. And just as in the Blog or not to blog section, Grahl suggests that working with other proven influencers can be the best way to build our own following. And how do we get to work with great people like this? By being helpful of course!

Don't ask for help; offer your service.

This is the section where social media comes in. To do that we need to understand our readers or potential readers and give them what they want too. To this end choosing the most appropriate Social Media platform can be key. If you write Young Adult, shouldn't you be on Instagram already?

Don't forget, though, that the best way to connect is always to meet face to face. So go to events and do this whenever and wherever you can. And no, folks, I do not think that this does include Skype.

4 Sales

The final ingredient of successful book marketing is sales, and sales Grahl reminds us, is not a dirty word. In Your First 1000 Copies reminds us to be our own fans. Be positive and enthusiastic about your work. Enthusiasm is infectious.

Make it easy to buy your book. In email communication, give your audience clear and repeated opportunities to buy your book. And don't be afraid to ask for the sale either. Remember that your customers gave you permission to contact them.

They want to know what you have to offer.

In summary

Obviously, this article contains a condensed version of the ideas in Your First 1,000 Copies, and to get the full version you can buy the book and read it for yourself. I found the book compelling and the ideas engaging. It's not expensive and it's a pleasant and uplifting read.

As I mentioned at the start, my dad is a self-published author with only limited sales. It'll be interesting to see whether applying the principles of Tim Grahl's Your First 1000 Copies can help him with his next project.

1,000 copies would certainly be a great start.