Online Courses Now Available at Professional Author Academy

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to learn more about writing, finish your book or maybe even to self-publish, you’re in luck. I’m now offering online courses on writing, business and publishing for authors of all experience levels, from aspiring to multi-published, at Professional Author Academy.

Here’s a look at the courses:

Business Courses 

Audio Books for Indie Authors
Audio books are the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry and are a relatively easy way to make money on books you’ve already written. The process may seem overwhelming, but Nicole Evelina will guide you through a few of the ways of getting your book from page to earbuds. She’ll help you understand your options for production, the cost involved, how to audition narrators and guide them once you’ve selected your talent, what the recording and editing process entail, and how to get your books out to your audience.

Basic Branding for Authors
When we hear the word “branding,” most of us automatically think “logo.” While that is one part of it, branding is actually so much more. It includes the way people feel when they interact with you, your “voice” both in your writing and online, and the image you project online and in person. In addition, branding encompasses your logo, author and book taglines and the fonts and colors you choose for your web site and marketing materials. Drawing on 15 years of professional experience in marketing and a master’s degree in public relations, as well as her own experience as an author, Nicole will help you understand branding through case studies of authors who do it successfully, as well as offer tips and exercises you can employ to discover your own brand.

Business Plans for Authors
A business plan is a roadmap to success. Whether you’re published or not, indie or traditional, a good business plan helps you in defining your goals as well as action steps you can take to reach them. In this course, you’ll learn an 11-step process for writing yours that will take only an hour or two to complete. Plus, you’ll get to see a real-life example of a business plan from your instructor. You’ll also learn how to set your budget and think through your long-term and short-term goals, uncover additional merchandising opportunities that could lead to income, and plan for your next year’s worth of book releases.

Legal Issues for Indie Authors
Being an indie author is more than just writing and publishing a book. Regardless of whether or not you choose to formally start your own publishing imprint, as soon as you make your first sale you are a business in the eyes of the law. This means you’ll have to pay taxes and make sure you follow local, state and Federal laws. In this course,* award-winning author and owner of Lawson Gartner Publishing, Nicole Evelina will walk you through the ins and outs of copyright, PCIP information and Library of Congress numbers, things to consider when starting your own publishing imprint, taxes and proper business record keeping. *This course should not be taken as legal advice. Please consult an attorney and/or tax expert before taking any action.

Marketing Plans for Authors
In today’s publishing world, it’s not only indie authors who have to handle the lion’s share of marketing their book. Increasingly, traditionally published authors are being asked to shoulder the burden. So where do you start? Drawing on 15 years of professional experience and a master’s degree in public relations, as well as her own experience as an author, Nicole Evelina will lead you through creating your own marketing plan. You’ll learn how to:

  • Get an idea of the market for your genre
  • Research competitive and comparative books
  • Identify your strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats
  • Identify your target audience
  • Develop key messages about your book and yourself as an author
  • Plan what tactics you will use before launch, during your launch and after to gain and sustain sales:
    • Distribution – online and physical stores
    • Getting endorsements
    • Paid advertising
    • Social media
    • Your web site content
    • Guest posts/writing articles
    • Events/speaking engagements
    • Media relations
    • Tapping into online and real-life organizations
    • Using giveaways and ARCs to build buzz
    • Getting reviews
    • Supplemental materials you’ll want to have on hand
  • Measure for success and evaluation of ROi

Nicole will share her own marketing plans with you, so you can see how one looks when complete, as well as provide handouts you can use as templates to create your own plan. Nicole has won international communications awards for her marketing plans and regularly writes them for her day job.

Self-Publishing 101
Self-published authors are more than just writers. We’re our own business managers, sales force, distribution team, marketers and more. This course will teach you everything you need to know to self-publish as a professional and produce books of equal or greater quality than traditional publishing houses.

This course is actually several courses in one, as I offer many of these modules separately. Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • The benefits of self-publishing
  • How to write a business plan
  • Budgeting
  • How to handle editing/proofreading
  • How to get a great cover design
  • Options for interior book formatting
  • Distribution: Ebooks, print and audio
  • How to sell your book to libraries and bookstores
  • Legal issues for indie authors: copyright, Library of Congress, forming your own imprint, taxes, recording keeping and expenses
  • Marketing and PR basics
  • Your digital media strategy: website, social media and branding

Steps to Self-Publishing
Self-publishing a book is more than uploading it to Createspace and clicking “publish.” There are several steps necessary in order to produce a book that is equal to or better than those from traditional publishing houses. In this course, award-winning self-published author Nicole Evelina will walk you through everything you need to know about professional editing, cover design, interior formatting, production​, sales and marketing in order to make your book as professional as possible. She’ll also teach you how to budget for the expenses involved and cover the advantages and disadvantages to choosing to publish independently.

Web Sites and Social Media for Authors
By now we all know that web sites are a must for anyone who wants to be taken seriously in any field. This is especially true for authors whose sites function as not only as virtual calling cards, but as portals for sales and interaction with fans. In this course, award-winning author Nicole Evelina will walk you through everything you need to do to set up a site of your own, from choosing a hosting company and buying a URL to deciding what information to include and how to organize your pages. She will also show you how to incorporate branding and marketing best practices into your social media. In addition to using her own site and social media examples, Nicole will offer best practices from famous authors and show you how to emulate them.

Writing Courses

Self-Editing
Editing. That one little word conjures a range of emotions in writers. Some love it. Some hate it. No matter how you feel about it, it’s a necessary step to get your novel ready for publication. Nicole Evelina will teach you some tips and tricks she’s learned over the last several years that will make self-editing a much easier step. Highlights include how to:

  • Break your editing into rounds so that you don’t have to tackle everything at once.
  • Examine dialog, description, characterization and action.
  • Use a beat sheet to check pacing and balance of power.
  • Make every word count without having to agonize over every sing word.
  • Use advice from beta readers and contests to strengthen your novel.

Setting and Description in Fiction
Setting and description are key to immersing your reader in the world of your novel. But how do you accomplish this without overwhelming your readers with pages of flowery prose? Nicole Evelina shares her tips for writing description that will leave your readers wanting to live in the world of your book without sacrificing pace.

Writing Historical Fiction
Ever wanted to try your hand at historical fiction but didn’t know where to start? Award-winning historical fiction author Nicole Evelina will show you it’s not as intimidating as it may seem, even if you’re not a fan of research (though it helps if you are). She’ll cover research methods and sources, how research informs plot, how to handle characterization in other time periods, how to bring the past to life, mistakes to avoid, and more. Whether you’re just dipping a toe in the historical waters or have already published in this genre, you’re sure to learn something new.

Convenient and Reasonably Priced
I know what it’s like to try to fit learning into a life already filled with work, family, writing and other responsibilities. That’s why these courses don’t require any homework and can be taken at your own pace. All courses include a welcome video and narrated Powerpoint slides. Many also include a recommended reading list and other handouts for reference or use as a worksheet or template.

Plus, they are cheaper than your average college course, which runs about $1,500/course (at $500/credit hour), or even many Writer’s Digest Online Workshops, which average between $200-$600+. I offer a tiered pricing structure based on the amount of information in each course. You can pay all at once or installments.

Basic – $100/course

  • Legal Issues for Indie Authors
  • Writing Setting and Description

Standard – $200/course

  • Audio Books for Indie Authors
  • Business Plans for Authors
  • Self-Editing

Advanced – $300/course

  • Branding for Authors
  • Website and Social Media for Authors
  • Steps to Self Publishing

Premium – $500/course

  • Marketing Plans for Authors
  • Writing Historical Fiction

Premier – $1,000/course

  • Self Publishing 101 (This course is several courses in one, including Steps to Self Publishing, Business Plans, Marketing Plans, Legal Issues, Web and Social Media. If you bought the classes separately, you’d pay $1,400.)

To register, just head over to Professional Author Academy.

Stay Up to Date
I’m planning to add new courses several times a year, so if you’d like to be notified when there is a new course or a current course goes on sale, please sign up for my course newsletter.

Future Planned Courses

  • Advanced Author Branding
  • How to Use Pinterest to Develop Your Story and Career
  • How Acting Can Make Your a Better Writer
  • Public Speaking for Authors
  • Starting Strong: Tips for Honing Your Novel’s First Chapter, Page and Line
  • Resources for Self Published and Hybrid Authors
  • Working with a Publicity Company: What You Need to Know
  • Building Strong Characters
  • How to Write a Query Letter That Goes You Noticed

If you have any suggestions for future courses, please email me at nicole[dot]evelina[at]att[dot]net. I’d love to know what you want to learn about!

And please spread the word about this new resource to all the writers in your life.

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Lessons in Creative Writing from Deborah Harkness – Part 5

Point_of_view

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This is the fifth and final in a series of posts sharing what I learned from author Deb Harkness during a week-long Master Class at Hedgebrook. Here are part 1part 2part 3 and part 4 in case you missed them.

Our final class was an open forum for various topics, so if this looks disorganized, that’s because we were just asking whatever came to mind. We had Deb’s expertise and we were going to take advantage of it!

Point of View
We spent a fair amount of time talking about how to know which point of view to tell your story in, and along with that, whether to write in past or present tense.

Refresher: the three main points of view are first person, third person limited and third person omniscient (this really isn’t used much anymore, so we didn’t talk about it.) Past tense is the traditional verb choice, but present is gaining in popularity. From my experience as a reader, present tense has to be done well for it not to be annoying. I wish I could tell you what I mean by that, but I can’t; I just know it when I see it.

Deb seems to be a third person fan – in fact she said if she had it to do over again, she’d write the All Souls trilogy in third person. I on, the other hand, I write in first person (so far, who knows for the future). Deb said she believes we’re seeing first person fatigue among readers and editors. Personally, I like reading first-person accounts because they are more intimate, but that’s just my opinion.

Each point of view has its positives and negatives. First person has serious limitations because you can only write about what your main character sees or is present for. In order to show other things, you have to rely on reports, hearsay, letters, conversation or exposition. In addition, because you are writing from within one person’s mind, all other characters are at least somewhat opaque. However, there is a deep sense of living the events along with the main character. I find it very helpful if you specifically want to tell one person’s side of the story or if you are chronicling a life.

As Deb noted, in first person, you’re better off sticking with past tense. Even though it’s popular, especially in YA novels, first person present tense almost never works. It does convey immediacy and power, but is usually awkward and stilted. (In fact, one of the books I’m reading right now is guilty of that.)

What third person lacks in intimacy, it makes up for in versatility. Limited third person allows you to change point of view and weight it more toward one character when you need to. A small twist puts you in a different point of view. If you have a lot of locations or things that your character doesn’t have access to in your plot, use third person. You can get the same immediacy of a character seeing something first hand if you have another character ask something like “is that a pirate ship in the harbor?” and then give a description.

Deb is quick to remind writers that point of view isn’t written in stone. “It’s a tool and method of discovery, not a straightjacket or a contract.” You can switch back and forth in the drafting process, so long as you’re consistent by the time you’re ready to send your work to anyone else to read. For example, if you are writing in third person and are having trouble identifying with your character, she suggests writing a scene or chapter in first person. You can always change it later. (In fact, she wrote the opening of Book of Life from eight different characters’ points of view before she finally hit on the one that worked.) She says when you find the right point of view, you’ll know.

Empty Phrases in Writing
One thing eliminate from your writing (especially when writing in first person) is what Deb calls “neck and above sentence structure.” This includes phrases like “I noticed, I saw, I smelled, I tasted, etc.” When you do this, you are filtering the experience through the thoughts of the character rather than letting the reader see through their eyes.

Writing like this can almost always be changed around to be a more powerful sentence. For example, in book one of the Guinevere trilogy, I originally wrote “I could smell the heavy, choking fumes of the tar that turned the boat black.” When my editor got a hold of it, she taught me to change it around like this: “The air was thick with the heavy, choking fumes of the tar that turned the boat black.”

This is a tough habit to break, but it is possible. I still do it occasionally, but I’ve learned that writing the other way really does have more impact. Deb says that if you find yourself slipping into this habit repeatedly, you may want to consider switching to third person.

Other Writing Tips:

  • If you’re using letters in your novel, make sure they do some work for your plot, preferably beyond just revealing information. Otherwise they are just a gimmick.
  • If you have a sense of play, fun and discovery while you’re writing, that will come across to your readers in your writing
  • Not all characters will be forthcoming with their emotions or motivations. With reserved characters, show there is more than meets the eye – show their inconsistencies, put their difficult roles in context to show their humanity. (I had to do this with Arthur; he wasn’t much of the sharing type.)
  • Deb suggests writing a biography for your characters when you are starting to get to know them. She suggests striking through, rather than deleting, things when details change so that you can always see your changes if you need to.
  • When researching, take a picture of the cover and table of contents of each book to help refresh your memory in case you are wondering where you got something from or need to reference it again later.
  • Asking questions will help you get to know your characters. Let them answer you. Then probe them as to why.

Deb’s last piece of advice to us was, “Don’t go shingle shopping before you’ve bought the house.” By that she means, don’t get hung up on the details before you have the main structure of the characters and plot in place. I think that’s a great way to keep your priorities straight when writing, especially in historical fiction, where it’s tempting to keep researching forever.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and were able to take something away from Deb’s wisdom. I wish every single one of you could have been with me at Hedgebrook. Don’t forget that Deb will be on tour this summer promoting Book of Life, so you may just get the chance to meet her in person!

What do you think of Deb’s lesson on point of view, and her other tips? Do you agree or disagree? Why? What have your experiences been with different POVs in reading or writing?

Lessons in Creative Writing from Deborah Harkness – Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts sharing what I learned from author Deb Harkness during a week-long Master Class at Hedgebrook. Here’s part 1 and part 2 in case you missed them.

All credit to cartoonist Charles Schulz

All credit to cartoonist Charles Schulz

Day three at Hedgebrook was all about setting, plus Deb gave us some additional research tips, which I will share here.

Setting the Scene
Setting is actually my second favorite part of writing, next to character. I’ve been told by editors that I have a talent for writing beautiful descriptions of place (I’ll take that compliment), but as with anything else, it needs to be done carefully. Too much and you will bore your reader; too little and they won’t be immersed in your world.

Deb describes setting as “putting your story in fancy dress.” It not only includes the room, weather, time period and location, but also things like dialect and costuming. In historical fiction, you need to be deliberate in your deployment of historical details. Too much (especially with dialect) will distance the reader; less is more. Like every word in your book, your setting has to do some work. It shouldn’t just be there for its own sake.

You may need to write a bunch of detail before you learn what is really needed in a scene. To illustrate this, Deb gave us copies of three drafts of the same passage from Shadow of Night. The first was her really getting a feeling for the place. She called it a historical sketch based on generalities. The second was longer, as she flushed out details as they related to Matthew as a solider and a spy. The third (which was the published version) struck a nice balance between giving the reader a sense of location and helping the details show us something about the characters in the room. As she put it, “editing is what made it clear to the reader.” Deb’s advice:

  • Write your description, then go back and look at all you’ve written. Pick out only three things that are important and think about why they are important. The “why” is just as important as the “what” in constructing a good setting.
  • Think about this: if your historical story was set in present time, would you stop the action/dialogue to describe this? (She tells a story about how many people get caught up on describing a certain type of  button, when just calling it a button would suffice.)
  • If your description stands in for character development, plot or dialogue, delete it. These three things are much more important than description.

Deb compares writing to cooking. “History [and setting] are like cayenne pepper or tarragon; a little goes a long way. A really effective story is a balance between character, plot, dialogue, setting, action and reflection.”

Nine Historical Research Resources
I’m not sure how we got to talking about research (maybe from the question of how to recreate setting for a previous time period?), but we did. And I’m glad. These are the resources Deb recommends:

  1. Wikipedia –  Yes, she really did recommend this. Using keywords or names, it’s a great place to look for books (fiction and non-fiction) that have been published in a given area/topic. It’s also great for “creating the scaffolding” of your story. But double check facts with other sources and don’t rely on it for interpretations of historical events.
  2. Abe Books – Great source for books written by antiquarians which will give you a lot of time period detail.
  3. Local historians – They can often give you detail you won’t even find in books because history is to them a living, breathing thing that they interact with regularly through their location.
  4. Amazon – (I wrote a blog post about it as a research tool a while back.) Deb suggests sorting your results by date, rather than relevance, and looking for new scholarship. If you are writing about/looking for information on women, family, household life, etc., look for books written after 1974, which is when the old male-dominated mindsets in research began to change. Also, don’t rely on conduct books from a given time period. They often reflect the ideal woman/child/family, rather than reality.
  5. Google Books – It gives you access to at least parts of thousands of books, including Harvard’s entire collection prior to 1890.
  6. Local library’s database collection – Your local public and/or college library should have a good database collection. If you need help with a specific topic or aren’t sure how to access the databases, talk to the reference librarian. That’s what he/she is there for.
  7. Church of Latter Day Saints – Their records include London’s register from the 16th century on and their libraries are gold mines. You can also find some of their information on ancestry.com if you do a family search.
  8. Primary sources – Always read first-hand accounts, if such a thing exists. Primary sources such as letters, journals, and novels written by women are ideal to get a feel for the time and the people.
  9. Newspapers – If they existed in your time, use them. Many are being digitized. Three months of issues will give you a lot to work from.

One More Tip from Deb
Writing isn’t the only thing a writer needs to do. Reading, watching a bird, staring at the fire (or anything else that lets you dream/imagine/use your brain) are part of your job.

Next week: Deb’s lecture on worldview.

What do you think of Deb’s advise on setting and research? How do your favorite authors handle setting? As a reader, what do you like/dislike? If you’re a writer, did you learn anything from Deb’s research tips?

Lessons in Creative Writing from Deborah Harkness – Part 2

Deb during one of our classes

Deb during one of our classes

This is the second in a series of posts sharing what I learned from author Deb Harkness during a week-long Master Class at Hedgebrook. Here’s part 1 in case you missed it.

Having learned our fill on character, our lesson for day 2 was on plot and history. A lot of people find plotting overwhelming, but as Deb said, “all we’re doing [with plot] is taking a person from point A to point B.”

How History and Plot Work Together
The elements of a historical narrative are the same as the story historians construct about the evidence they have found. We tend to think of history as what really happened, but a lot of times we just can’t know, even with a lot of evidence. Many times the evidence, even eyewitness testimony, is contradictory.

That’s why historians look at evidence and then go back later and construct a narrative to tell a particular story. Like historical fiction writers, they end up leaving 99% of what they’ve learned off the page. It may sound like they aren’t being true if that’s the case, but if they included it all the book would be overwhelmingly lengthy and boring. They, like fiction writers, have to stick to a central point or purpose and only radiate out so far from that, and only when doing so enriches the overall point they are trying to make.

Genre and Plot
There are tons of traditional plot models out there, but Deb told us none of her books follow any of them. She believes that is a perfectly valid choice for an author to make. (Honestly, my books don’t either.) We explored the traditional three act structure, the hero’s journey (often used in fantasy) and a basic plot structure and talked about how they are alike and how they differ. (By the way, the images I’m linking to here are the exact ones Deb gave us as handouts, so you can pretend like you were there with us.) It’s a good idea to at least familiarize yourself with the elements of these and other models so that you know the basics of what’s expected from a story, even if yours doesn’t fit neatly into one of them.

Deb doesn’t define herself as a genre author. This means she writes broader fiction that doesn’t fit into a category like mystery, paranormal, romance, etc. However, many writers, myself included, do choose to write within a given genre. It’s important to note that different genres have different expectations. As an author you have three choices:

  1. Work within your genre – All genres have expected conventions, word limits/page expectations. (For example, romance has very particular word counts and expectations of what has to happen by a certain page. Thrillers are also known for having strong pacing expectations.)
  2. Work outside of genre – This is what Deb does. It tends to give you more freedom in length and what you can and can’t do, but it can also be difficult for agents and publishers to classify when it comes time to sell it.
  3. Work against genre – In order to do this, you need to know the rules of the genre well. After all, you can’t break rules (well) you don’t know or understand. And if you break them badly, you won’t have a story people want to read.

History defines the outer limits of where you can go in historical fiction. Within in historical fiction, your sub-genre (fantasy, romance, mystery, thriller, etc.) constrains the genre. In other words, if you’re writing historical fantasy (as I do), you’re still subject to the general rules of fantasy writing; you just happen to be setting your fantasy in another time period.

Bringing History into Your Plot
Deb made the very interesting point that very few people are participants in historical events, but history still affects each one of us. There are three main ways we interact with history:

  1. History that is going on around you that shapes what you eat, wear, etc. – This affects everyone. For example, if I was setting a book in pre-Roman Britain, my Celts would likely not eat onions or celery because the Romans brought those to Britain. However, because my Arthur and Guinevere live after the Roman invasion, it’s logical they could eat those things.
  2. History you are a direct participant in  –  Fewer people will be part of a battle or other significant event. This could be due to their station in life, or they might just happen to live where something of import takes place and get caught up in it. For example, because they are rulers, both Arthur and Guinevere are active participants in the historical battle of Mount Badon.
  3. Doing historical things – Deb gave the examples of being a blacksmith, riding side saddle or teaching in a one room schoolhouse. These are things that you wouldn’t really know are historic while you are doing them. It’s only by looking back through history that we can define them as historic. For example, Guinevere is a Druid priestess. To her, that is a natural part of her religion. Only to us, 1,500 years later, is this considered historical.

This is a continuum. Characters can move on it and different characters can be in different categories at the same time as one another. So your main characters might be doing historic things or being directly involved in historic events, while your secondary characters are only doing historic things. Or your main character may always be doing historic things, but those historic things might change in the course of the book as the history that is going on around him or her affects his/her life.

We all know this, but it bears repeating, especially in the context of historical fiction: history for history’s sake is boring. You may be impressed by what you know, but you will lose the story and your readers if you include all of it. (This is why I started this blog, so that I had something to do with all that extra knowledge and didn’t feel like it was going to waste if it didn’t end up on the page.) Pick the historical things that allow your character to work within your plot. History is a pot of resources you can dip into to find something that makes your characters work i.e. show something about a relationship, help in character development. It shouldn’t be there just because you learned it.

Story Openings and Other Various Tips
As any writer will tell you, knowing where is the best place to begin your story is very difficult. As writers, we often have to “write our way” into the novel and so where we started writing isn’t necessarily the best place to actually begin the book. Deb’s suggestion for finding the elusive “inciting incident” is to find the moment where everything changes for your character and start there. As she said, “It’s like sinking an anchor for yourself and the reader.”

Deb’s tip: Look at your WIP and start reading at page 151. What before that is truly necessary and what is you writing to get to where you need to be? Delete anything that isn’t absolutely essential.

Trivia: Deb told us that A Discovery of Witches originally had a lot more of Diana at the library at the beginning, but she cut it because nothing was happening.

Other tips:

  • Create a file or a book for yourself that is your “bible” with all the information about your characters, plot, and references so you can easily refer back while writing and editing.
  • If you’re going to use something extraordinary like time travel, magic or reincarnation in your story it has to have a reason beyond you wanting to do it. It has to add something to the story.
  • Letting information out slowly over time is always better than a dream, flashback or other contrived tool.

Next week: What Deb taught us about setting.

What do you think about Deb’s advice on plot and history? Writers, what tips do you have? What’s worked for you? Readers, what do you like the best in the plots of the books you read? What annoys you?

Lessons in Creative Writing from Deborah Harkness – Part 1

This was our last day of class. Yes, we had wine.

This was our last day of class. Yes, we had wine. (Deb is on the right.)

I received permission from Hedgebrook, Deb and my classmates to post a series of blogs about what we learned from Deb during our Master Class called Past Tense: History as Resource and Inspiration. Since she covered a different topic every day, that’s how I’m going to present them to you. She purposefully taught us different aspects of creative writing in the order she feels they are most important.

A Few Notes on Writing Historical Fiction
Before Deb got into the specifics of her first topic, she gave us a nice lecture about how we are perfectly qualified, as storytellers, to write historical fiction even though we’re not historians. I touched on that a little in my first post about the Master Class, but I’ll add a few details here.

Non-historians tend to think of history as right and wrong; historians know no such thing exists. History is an interpreted discipline in which they make an argument based on what they can back up with evidence. Circumstantial evidence doesn’t count for them, but it is a boon for historical fiction writers. It is our job to “write between the gaps,” as one of my follow writers said.

Novelists need to take authority over our story and characters and give up on the idea that historians have “the truth.” If it is not historically impossible, then for us, it is historically possible. It is our job to make it believable.

She emphasized that history should be a tool and not an obstacle. Our first job is to tell a great story. For that reason, any historical fiction story should be able to be set in contemporary times and still make sense. That is how we know the story itself is solid. The history simply places in another time.

Lesson #1: Character
Deb is a character-driven writer, meaning that for her, stories begin with and are propelled by the characters and their journey. The plot arises from what they do, rather than being thrust on them. (I’m a character-driven writer as well.) Her main point is that if your readers don’t care about the characters, all you’ve done is write history. The characters are what people relate to as they read your story.

In order for your characters to have integrity, they must be real, three-dimensional people who are consistent and make decisions that ring true, even if you don’t always agree with them. She believes that oftentimes readers are willing to trust historical fiction authors with history because they trust the characters. They are willing to forgive and forget a lot, but usually not a character that doesn’t speak to them.

History can give us the basis for creating characters, whether we pull them straight from history or use it as the context of the lives of fictional characters. Either way, when used correctly, historical details reveal things about the characters.

One character development tool Deb introduced us to is the Proust questionnaire. I’ve seen lots of lists of questions to interview your characters with, but this one was new to me. (Interestingly, this is what part of the interviews on Inside the Actor’s Studio are based on.) The idea is that by answering these questions, you begin to learn what makes your characters tick and see patterns in their lives. Most of what you answer won’t end up in your book, but knowing this information will help you start immersing yourself in their world. The better you can do that, the more believable and real your characters will be.

Another tool one of my fellow writers mentioned was the question Anne Lamott poses in Bird by Bird, “What does your character have in his/her pockets and why?” The “why” is the true purpose of any of these interview techniques because it starts to get at motivation, which is key to both a believable character and story. As Deb said, “History can be a crutch for us. Sometimes problems are better solved by asking ‘why?'”

She ended our first lecture by reiterating her belief that (at least in character driven fiction) the character’s journey transcends all the other stuff: the setting, the plot, the historical context. She taught us about each of those, but set the tone by teaching us their place: they are all secondary to character.

Next week: Plot and history.

Random bit of trivia: Deb doesn’t outline. She says her stories evolve as she goes and does lots of editing.

What do you think about Deb’s thoughts on historical fiction, history and character? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Did anything you read here strike you as important or unusual? Please tell me your reactions in the comments.