Cheat Sheet

Writing Fiction For Dummies

From Writing Fiction For Dummies by Randy Ingermanson, Peter Economy

Writing fiction is fun, and also full of challenges. A good way to work through the challenges is to outline the histories of your characters, which helps you present them more clearly to readers. Another way to polish your writing is by networking with other writers. Plus, to get the readers you want, explore the tricks of the trade to attract as many as possible.

Establishing a Fictional Character’s History

To better understand a character’s history, or backstory, many fiction writers create entire histories for their characters. When developing a character for a story, determining the character’s personal history first is critical. You must understand where your character comes from, or you’ll never understand what your character wants or why he acts the way he does. And if you don’t know, neither will your readers.

You don’t have to figure out your character’s history all at once, but it helps to have a good idea of it before you sit down to write; otherwise, your character may end up changing halfway through writing, and you may end up having to rewrite your entire story — or end up with a story different from what you intended.

To set up your character’s history, just start writing — fast. Get it all down. It doesn’t have to be pretty. You can clean up the history later, but your character is spilling his guts for you now, so pay attention. Here are some tips on what to include:

  • Describe your character. What does he look like? Write down his birthday, eye color, hair color, and anything else that matters to you and possibly your reader.

  • Discuss your character’s early life. Where was your character born? Who are his parents (and grandparents if you know about them)? What are his first memories? What’s the worst thing that happened to him in kindergarten?

  • Write about the horrors of school. What was your character’s favorite subject, and what was his most hated? Did he do well in high school, or did he skate through? Was he a geek, a jock, a heart-throb, a nobody, or what? Did he date, and if so, what was she like? Did he dump her, did she dump him, or did they get married?

  • Note what your character did as he came to adulthood. Get it all out: the good, the bad, and most especially the horrible. What traumatized him? Who were his friends and his family? Who were his enemies?

  • You may want to interview your character. Ask him what he’s learned. How does he see his current situation? Most importantly, what would he like to change about his life? What would he like to do but can’t? You need to know, because this sort of information determines what his future will look like.

A little goes a long, long way with your character’s history. In your story, dole out the character history in little snippets, leaving the reader curious, wanting to know more. It’s far better to have the reader want more history than to want less. If you throw too much history on the reader early in the book, you may smother the story.

Building Up Your Author Support Network

If you’ve finished writing a novel but aren’t published yet, you should have two goals: to make sure your novel is as good as it can be and to market yourself to agents and editors who can help you get published. Networking can help you with both of them.

Start by attending writers’ groups, writing conferences, Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs, and other formal writer gatherings. They’re great for building a support network for any aspiring writer. Here are some good reasons to connect with the people who attend these gatherings:

  • You can get help with your writing (and help other writers). Thinking of other writers as your competition is a misconception. They’re not; you are your competition. Other writers can give you creative feedback and help make your novel even better. You’ll be able to help other writers, too. Giving and receiving feedback can be fun, and you may gain some valuable friends who can hook you up with agents and editors.

  • You get to hang out with other writers. The blunt truth is that novelists are some of the coolest people on the planet. Some of your most enthusiastic marketers may be the novelist friends you met at conferences. If your writing is up to snuff, your friends will be only too happy to make connections for you.

  • You’ll learn more about the publishing world. You’re bound to find out something totally unexpected that you didn’t even know that you didn’t know. The more you know about the publishing world, the more likely you are to break in.

  • You’ll likely meet editors and agents. Agents and editors are usually present at conferences. Agents can tell you things that editors can’t, and editors can tell you stuff the agents don’t know.

  • Once in a very great while, a deal is made. You may make a connection that leads to a deal — or make a connection that leads to a connection that leads to a deal. Deals come from relationships. Relationships come by serendipity. Serendipity is oozing all over the floor when you meet up with other writers, and it’ll seep right up through your shoes if you let it.

Good Ways to Promote Your Novel

Although it’s a wonderful feeling to finally hold your published novel in your hands, it’s an even better feeling to watch your book sell. How exactly do you go about making sure that your novel sells lots of copies and that you, in the process, become a best-selling novelist? Here are some of the best ways to promote your novel:

  • Build a Web site or write a blog. This has become a definite must for promoting a novel or other book. Of course, your site has to tell something about you, the author, but you can also include articles or blog posts on a topic of interest that ties in to your book. That way, you’ll attract readers who never heard of you to your site.

  • Send out a press release. Create a short write-up about your novel — including the publisher, where to buy the book, price, and your name, phone number, and e-mail address — and send the press release via e-mail or the Postal Service to any media that may be interested in letting others know about your book: newspapers, radio stations, bloggers, anyone you can think of.

  • Do readings. Bookstores, schools, and libraries love authors, and they’re often very enthusiastic about scheduling authors to do readings, workshops, and all sorts of events. Speak with the person in charge to find out how you can get onto their reading schedule.

  • Mail or e-mail sample copies of your book for reviews. If your publisher has some money set aside for marketing, then it’ll probably be willing to do the mailing for you. But if not, you can do it yourself. Send copies of your book to the people you think will provide you with publicity by reviewing your book, such as local newspapers, radio stations, and interested bloggers.

  • Hire a book publicist. This should be a last resort due to the cost. A book publicist is an expert in promoting books and hopefully boosting sales in the process. Ask other successful novelists for referrals to a good book publicist, and be prepared to pay handsomely for a talented professional.

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