I’ve been re-reading Screenplay by Syd Field lately as I gear up to write my first screenplay (I’m currently in the early developmental stages of it). Now that I know craft as well as I do, I love to read badass books on craft, because it really refines and clarifies and expands my current understanding of how stories work and how to write them.
Creating characters–and especially your Protagonist–is one of the big reasons why I love writing stories. I have a deep desire to understand the human mind and the human condition, and why people do and think the way they do.
And a story is nothing if not a study of the human condition.
But this is where a lot of fiction writers fall off track. Because while a story is about a character, that’s not the whole story. There’s so much more to it than that.
If you don’t know this or haven’t implemented it properly in your story, what you’ll end up with is an episodic narrative that gives the day-to-day account of a character’s life. Almost like a journal.
The reason it’s episodic narrative as opposed to an actual story is because there’s no definitive end point. You could just keep going, writing forever about what happens in the character’s life.
But that doens’t make it a story (OR a series of stories).
What makes it a story is that it has a character who wants something, another character who opposes what the other one wants, and a journey ensues toward a resolution.
And that’s just the starting point.
Your character needs to be three-dimensional, so they feel like a real person and are believable as a real person. Otherwise your reader won’t be able to empathize for them.
Without reader empathy your story is dead in the water.
As I’ve been reading Screenplay, I’ve loved gaining further clarity on creating a character–in this case, a Protagonist–and how to really bring them to life.
There are four essentials to creating a three-dimensional character and making them compelling and someone readers can empathize with.
1. Goal–this is what your Protagonist wants in the story. It’s the whole enchilada. This is the reason we’re even reading the story or watching the movie to begin with.
The main character has a goal and we want to watch and cheer them on as they go up against an Antagonist to achieve the goal (or have another goal introduced by the Antagonist, which then causes the character to have to overcome that before being able to achieve the initial goal).
2. Point of View–this is the internal landscape of the character. It’s what they believe about the world and themselves and their backstory. This is where you really have to go deep on what makes the person tick. And beliefs are the core of what makes up a person.
It’s true that what you believe you become, and the same thing works in fiction. So what beliefs does your Protatonist have and how has this shaped the way he sees the world and himself?
This is also where the character’s inner demon will come into play.
3. Attitude--this is the external aspects of your character. It’s how he presents himself to the world and the opinions that he holds. It’s his mannerism and way of being.
This is where you’ll figure out how your character acts or would act when presented with certain scenarios and situations.
4. Transformation–this is the overall change the Protagonist makes in the story. It’s when they’ve finally overcome their inner demon(s) and defeated the Antagonist.
This is the other thing a reader comes to a story for. To watch a character go through hell and come out victorious or at least changed for the better.
What transformation does your character make in your story? And how does that transformation stem from dealing with and overcoming the inner demon and Antagonist?
Creating compelling, interesting, engaging and empathetic characters is what will bring your story to life on the page. But you can’t just write a day-to-day account of their lives or even a specific time in their lives.
You have to write about a character with a specific need or goal they must achieve and the journey that ensues toward a resolution when another character steps into the story and tries to stop them from achieving the goal, or creates an entirely new goal for them to have to acheive before they can achieve the original one.
Do that and you’ll have yourself a story that’s actually worth reading.
Dream life or bust,
P.S. I’m currently accepting new email story coaching private clients. Spaces are very limited. If you want to work privately with me to plan and develop the idea in your head into a fully fleshed out story plan that you can use to write your first draft–or you want to rework a story you wrote that’s not quite working yet–send me a PM right now and I’ll send you more info about how you can work with me.
A few months ago, I started seeing a ton of reviews popping up on my books on Amazon. Reviews from total strangers.
And I wasn’t even asking for the reviews. They were just showing up.
Then I discovered that Amazon added a new feature to Kindle where, after you finish reading a book, it pops up a message and asks you to leave a review. (I also recently started adding a “note from the author” at the end of my books, asking people to leave a review if they enjoyed the book.)
But here’s the thing about getting more reviews. Something really, really key that a lot of writers forget about.
People will only leave reviews if they actually make it to the end of your book.
No one leaves a review on a book they started and never finished. No one leaves a review on a book that didn’t keep their attention or that didn’t make them walk away feeling like they enjoyed their experience.
And they’ll only see the message from Amazon, asking them to leave a review, if they get that far.
This is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself as an author: is my book engaging enough that the person reading it will read all the way to the end AND have liked what they read so much they will take the extra few minutes to leave a review?
If you’re not getting enough reviews right now–or any–there’s a good chance it’s because no one is making it to the end of your books.
I’m not saying this to make you feel bad. But I am saying it to wake you up to the fact that you may need to take a serious look at what you’re putting out there and whether or not it’s actually any good.
Some things to consider:
Did you hire a good content editor who actually knew what they were doing? Did you listen to the feedback and suggestions from said content editor? Or did you just take it upon yourself to think that you know what you’re doing and you don’t need to listen to the editor?
Or maybe you didn’t hire a content editor at all, and instead assumed your book was good enough because you’ve read hundreds of novels so obviously you can write a novel? (Not true, by the way.)
Did you find Beta Readers–who aren’t friends with or related to you–to check the book out before you published it? Does the book have an actual plot and story structure? Or is it an episodic narrative of a character’s day-to-day life?
Did you give the reader something to sink their teeth into? Was the book actionable? Did it give them information they could take away and use right now in their own lives?
Does the book actually have an ending that’s satisfying to the reader? Or does the ending come as a total disappointment or not even actually feel like an ending because nothing really gets resolved?
All of these are errors I see writers and authors making. And it’s a big part of the reason why no one reads, finishes or leaves reviews on their books.
Harsh? Maybe. But I’m hoping it’s also a reality check for what it really takes to write a book that gets reviews. And not bad reviews, but 4- and 5-star reviews. Rave reviews. Reviews that say the person loved the book so much they couldn’t put it down or it totally changed their life and way of thinking and being.
What it all comes down to is knowing the craft of what you’re writing and doing due dil to bring the best possible story or nonfiction book to your readers. It means stepping into the identity of the pro writer you want to be and treating your book with the same care and professionalism that you’d get with a traditional publisher.
Because when you self-publish, you are the publisher. And readers will still hold your book to the same standards that they hold books that come from traditional publishers.
A reader may not know the difference between a traditionally published book and a self-published book, but if you don’t do a great job with your book, they will be able to tell that something is off. Because stories require certain principles and criteria.
And readers have read enough books to know when a story (or nonfiction book) doesn’t work.
You’ll never fool your readers into enjoying your book if it doesn’t fit the principles and criteria of storytelling. For people who read a lot of books, even if they can’t tell you what’s wrong with the story, they will still have an innate sense of whether it’s good or not.
And even your beautiful prose will do nothing for you if your story isn’t compelling, engaging and cohesive. Beautiful prose is important, but it’s not the most important thing.
That’s why books without beautiful prose will still hit the bestseller lists and gain a huge readership and get turned into movies. Because it’s about the story more than it is about how beautiful the prose is.
Many people think Stephenie Meyer is a horrible writer. And I agree that her writing style is pretty basic. But her storytelling ability is so great readers can see right past the simple words and even cliche ways of describing stuff.
None of that matters when the story is awesome. When the story is awesome the beautiful prose is just icing on the cake.
But beautiful prose will never save a story that doesn’t work.
Dream life or bust,
P.S. I have 3 spots available right now for private story coaching. If you’re ready to take the idea in your head and turn it into a fully developed story plan with structure and a scene-by-scene roadmap that you can use to write your first draft… and not just any first draft, but a first draft that’s a revision and edit away from being publishable, send me a PM (private message) right now and let’s get this show on the road.
P.S. If you’re a blogger who is ready to create your first eBook, you’re gonna love my workshop that’s happening this Saturday, April 29 at Noon EDT. It’s called Blog to Book and it’s a 2-hour virtual workshop where I’ll be walking you step-by-step through the process I use to turn the content on my blog into eBooks that I sell on Amazon.
P.S. Doors to the Bestselling Author Mastermind are now OPEN!! If you’re ready to step into being the writer and author you’ve always dreamed of being… if you’re ready to FINISH… if you want to develop the habits, craft expertise, mindset, consistency and follow-through of a professional author, the BAM group is for you.
> FREE access to all of Jennifer’s workshops and digital products that cost $100 or less
“We can either make a habit, or some habit will form and start making us,”—Ken Hughes
The other day someone on Facebook asked, “if you had to pick a song to be the theme song of your life, which would you choose?”
Several people commented that there were too many to choose, but I knew right away after reading it which song I’d pick. I already call this song the theme song for my life.
The song, Make Yourself, by Incubus, has been the theme song of my life for more than a decade now. Because the lyrics fit exactly what I believe about life—that you have to create who you want to be and what you want your life to be like.
Some of the lyrics…
“If I hadn’t made me
I would have been made somehow
If I hadn’t assembled myself
I’d have fallen apart by now
If I hadn’t made me
I’d be more inclined to bow
Powers that would be have swallowed me up
But that’s more than I can allow
If you let them make you
They’ll make you papier-mâché
At a distance you’re strong
Until the wind comes
Then you crumble and blow away…”
I consciously took the wheel of my life when I left for college at age 17 and went off on my own. But over the last few years as I’ve worked a lot more on my mindset, I’ve been consciously creating myself in a whole new way.
Which started with a total revamp of my habits (multiple times over).
The things we do every day are the things that are making our lives. The things we get used to; the things we do by default, those are the things we are living for.
Which means you’re either living for your writing dream and for doing the writing that will get you there… or you’re living for Resistance or procrastination or numbing out with food and TV or whatever else you’re doing in place of doing your writing.
The choice is always yours. You get to decide, every single day, what will make you.
Whatever habits you currently have—aka: the things you do daily—that’s what you’re giving your life for.
So the thing that needs to be looked at here is—what’s your default?
Because unless you’ve been intentional about your life and have created the things you want and the habits that will support you in getting it, you’re operating and living by default with whatever default programming you picked up throughout your life so far.
Really think about this one and don’t be afraid to take an honest look at the things you’re doing every day. It may even help to keep track of everything you do every day for a week and then look back at what you’re giving your life for.
If it does’t look how you want, it’s time to consider a habits overhaul.
To do this, just pick ONE habit… one thing that if you did it every day (or stopped doing it every day) a year from now would totally transform your life. And then start doing (or not doing) that habit every day.
Be consistent. Stick with it.
What you’ll find by changing one habit is not only will your life start to change, but you’ll want to add in more new habits (or continue removing old ones you no longer want).
But the best thing to do is to pick one to start with. You don’t want to try and change everything all at once or go cold-turkey on everything because that’s just setting yourself up for a setback.
Pick one thing. Choose something massively important that would actually transform your life. Do that one thing every day.
And can I make a recommendation? Choose the one thing that will totally change your writing life first (‘cause you know you want to!).
A couple months ago I tried to change EVERYTHING all at once. I started new daily writing habits, I changed my diet completely, I started new exercise habits…AHHH!!!
It was all too much too fast. My body went haywire and it took me almost 3 weeks to get back to feeling normal again.
So I decided to take a step back and just do one thing. I picked building a daily habit of doing my writing (blog post and work on my fiction) every morning first thing before I do anything else.
And I’ve kept it up. I’ve been on track for almost 2 months now with doing a daily blog post and working on my fiction. I give myself a break on the weekends, meaning I still make a point to write something, but I don’t force myself into it has to be a blog post or I have to work on my novel.
Usually that’s what I end up working on anyhow, but I give myself the freedom to write or work on whatever I want on the weekends, as long as I write something.
I’m starting to feel pretty stable with my daily mindset practice habit, as well as my daily writing habit. So I’m to add in some food-related habits, a little at a time.
Creating yourself exactly as you dream of being is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.
The important part is that you make the decision that you will consciously create yourself and who you want to be, and not continue to live your life based on default programming that may or may not actually align with who you want to be.
Write with a purpose, live with intention,
P.S. Writing Life Rehab is happening later this month!! This workshop will kick your ass and get you out of default mode and into creating your writing life exactly as you want it to be. Best of all, if you’re a member of the Bestselling Author Mastermind, you get the Writing Life Rehab workshop for FREE! Doors to BAM open to new members next week. Get on the waitlist so you’re the first to know when the doors open.
There was a point in my writing life where I made way more excuses than I did put words on the page. Back then, I used to say, “I don’t have time” on a regular basis. I was working a full-time day job and trying to run a blog and write books and maintain a personal life.
It was a lot to fit in.
So I’d constantly find myself saying, “I don’t have time” or “there’s not enough time in the day” or [insert whatever other time excuse you can make]. But then one day a thought hit me…
What if “I don’t have time” and “there’s not enough time in the day” are just limiting beliefs that have been programmed into me… and I can choose to create new beliefs around time?
So I started writing in my journal every day: I am productive as fuck today. I bend the fuck out of time today.
I’ve now instilled beliefs in myself that there’s always plenty of time for everything I need to do, and I can bend time at will. And funnily enough this has become true for me.
My productivity is at an all-time high right now, and it gets better and better every day.
I can now intend that I will bend the fuck out of time for the next 30 minutes or whatever, and somehow I always manage to get everything I need to done in that time.
Because time is an illusion. Einstein proved it. So that means you get to decide how time feels for you.
You know when you go to work on a slow day and time seems to drag on? Eight hours feels like 20 and when you finally get to leave at the end of the day you’re spent. But then when you go on vacation to your favorite beach resort, the week flies by faster than you can blink.
That’s a perfect example of time feeling different based on the situation. But you can change the way time feels at any point during that work day or that vacation.
You can choose to live in the moment on your vacation and savor every little second of the day and fit in as much living as possible. Suddenly it feels like enough. You can choose to take advantage of your work time and work on something you’ve been wanting to work on, but didn’t have time for, and suddenly your day flies by.
You can make it feel like you have time abundance.
And here’s the other thing about time abundance: it will always feel like you don’t have enough when you’re not doing what matters every day.
When I look back at the years of my life where I felt like I didn’t have enough time in my day, it was the years when I wasn’t doing what actually mattered each day. I was putting the things that mattered off to do all these other things—a lot of which I didn’t really want to do.
But as soon as I started doing what matters every single day and doing it first, before I do anything else, suddenly I had all the time in the world. Suddenly by dedicating 1-2 hours of my morning to what matters, my entire day opened up.
And because what I really wanted to be doing—journaling, writing, creating—was finished early in my day, my mind was free for the rest of the day.
When I wasn’t doing what matters, I’d find myself thinking about my writing or my stories all day long. But when I sit down and do my writing and work on my fiction first thing in the morning and get it done, then I’m not thinking about it all day long, which gives me free mental space for other things that need to get done.
Sure, my story may stay on my mind as I go through my day, but I’m not feeling resentful that I’m having to be doing other things, because I’ve already done what matters.
Time abundance comes from doing what matters, doing it daily, and doing it first things first.
Here’s what to do next…
1. Figure out what old, limiting beliefs you have about time (there’s not enough, etc), and then flip them into new beliefs that will allow you to feel differently about time (There’s plenty of time for everything that matters” etc).
2. Start doing what matters, every day, first things first. It will change your life, I promise you.
Write with a purpose, live with intention,
P.S. I get it now. I saw this light around doing what matters a year ago around this same time, but somehow managed to forget and get lost again. But thankfully it came back to me, and this time around I’m holding on to it and creating the discipline and habits that I need to have to turn it into a daily thing.
I’m now fully, 150% committed to doing what matters, every day, before I do anything else. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be a year from now!!
Want to join me in doing what matters, every day and doing it first? Stay tuned! Doors to the Bestselling Author Mastermind are opening soon!! And since it’s the one-year anniversary of the group, I’m doing some MAJOR celebration bonuses, including a workshop that will kick your ass into finally making your writing a priority.
BAM is a high-level community and mentorship for writers who want to create the habits, mindset, consistency and follow-through of a bestselling author. You get insanely awesome tools and resources every month to help with whatever stage you’re at in your writing journey, plus we do 3x weekly work sessions where we meet up virtually and work on our writing projects together.
There will be a bonus for anyone who signs up that was on the waitlist, so get on the waitlist here: www.jenniferblanchard.net/
As I sit here writing this, there are dishes in the sink and on the counter; there’s a pile of towels and pajamas on the big-red chair in my living room, which my dog, Weiland, has now made his little nest for the day; while we’re at it, my living room could definitely use a vacuuming; and don’t even get me started about the laundry baskets and clothes rack in my bedroom with last week’s laundry still hanging-dry on it.
But this blog post is getting written.
And when I’m done writing this blog post, I’ll work on my novel revisions. Then I’ll work on my sections in the eBook I’m coauthoring with a friend.
The dishes and laundry and vacuuming will still be there. But my writing will be done. And I will have made progress on my goals and my writing dreams.
This is the way of the writing warrior—the writer and author who refuses to let anything get in the way or stop them from getting their words and stories out into the world.
There will always be life chaos. Wait, let me repeat that one… on stereo… THERE WILL ALWAYS BE LIFE CHAOS!!
It never goes away. If you do the dishes, there will be more soon after. If you put the laundry away, more will take its place on the drying rack.
You can always find something that needs cleaning or organizing or repairing or whatever. It’s a never-ending cycle.
But if your writing—your soul work—isn’t getting done at the expense of the cleaning, organizing, repairing, etc., it’s time to make some changes.
You’ve been waiting your whole life to be the writer and author you dream of being. How much longer are you willing to wait for? How much longer are you going to put your dream on hold for bullshit excuses and housework (or whatever you’re doing that stops you from writing)?
I used to think all that stuff mattered. That I had to have a perfectly clean house and everything had to be put away and neat and organized before I could spend time doing what I really wanted to do.
And some days I’d procrastinate and resist my writing so much that I actually made the housework more important, even though deep down I knew it really wasn’t.
Do you know what happened?
I had a neat, clean, organized space to live in, but was dying on the inside from not letting the writing out.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I finally allowed myself to do the writing—the stuff that really mattered—before I did the housework. It was magical, because after I finished writing and finished doing what really mattered to me, not only did the other stuff get done, but I didn’t resent it anymore.
The laundry, the dishes, it all gets done eventually. (You can even hire someone to do it for you, amazing, right?) And now so does my writing.
I’ve learned to embrace the chaos. I’ve finally accepted that I’ll never get it all done and I’ll never really keep on top of everything in my life. But so long as I’m keeping on top of and doing the things that really matter to me—my writing, creating and teaching—then everything else will work itself out.
How can you embrace the chaos in your life and get your writing done anyhow?
Write with a purpose, live with intention!
P.S. Could your writing life use a pick-me-up? Then stay tuned… more details about the Bestselling Author Mastermind, my high-level community and mentorship group for writers who want to create the habits, mindset, consistency and follow-through of a bestselling author, are coming soon. Get on the waitlist here so you’re the first to know when the doors open (and you’ll get access to a waitlist-only bonus!): www.jenniferblanchard.net/mast
While so often writers want to believe otherwise, most of what makes someone a bestseller is marketing. But while marketing is a hugely important part of the bestseller process, it’s not the whole thing.
Because you have to also consider what got the writer to the point where they were able to do the marketing to become a bestseller—the mindset, the habits, the consistency, the visibility, the follow through.
You may not be able to replicate the exact results of a bestselling author’s marketing campaign, but you can replicate the thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and actions that made the result possible.
1. Develop A Pro Writer Mindset
Bestselling authors are pros. They think like pros and that’s what allows them to have pro results in their writing careers.
And they also believe in themselves.
That combination of pro-thinking and confidence is a key in becoming a bestselling author. You have to not only believe it’s possible, but you have to believe it’s possible for you.
Action Step: start a daily mindset practice that gets your thinking aligned with the bestselling author you dream of being
2. Create Aligned Habits
If you want something, like to be a bestselling author, you have to take a look at your habits and daily activities to see whether or not they’re aligned with the goal that you have. This is huge, because you can’t get where you want to go without being in alignment with it.
Alignment simply means, is what you’re currently doing on a daily basis gonna get you the results you want? If you walked on a straight line, would you eventually end up at your goal? Or you on a totally different path?
For example, if you want to be a bestselling author, but you’ve never finished or published anything, that’s not in alignment. You need to finish and publish something before being a bestselling author is even a possibility for you. If you haven’t finished or published yet, you’re not even in the game.
Action Step: take a look at what you currently do every day (your habits) and determine if they’re in alignment with your writing goals or not. If they are, great! And if they’re not, time to make some changes so they are.
3. Be Consistent (No Matter What!)
This is probably one of the hardest parts of being a bestselling author. Consistency is tough. There’s so much going on in life, and chaos happens at seemingly random times. It’s hard to know what things will look like day-to-day, so committing to doing something daily is scary.
You know what I call that? Excuses.
Because consistency is only tough when you’re allowing yourself to make excuses. (I do it at times too.)
But when you’re focused on the results and outcomes that you’re after, and you’re all in and unwilling to let anything stop you or get in your way, consistency is easy. You just show up every day and do the work, and then repeat it the next day and the next day and the next day…
You either have excuses or you have results. Which do you have?
Action Step: pick one thing that if you did it every day for a whole year would totally change your life. Commit to doing that one thing consistently every single day from here on out.
4. Get Visible
This is another very tough one for writers. Because writers are mostly introverts who like hiding out behind the scenes.
But in the digital age, hiding out spells death to your success as an author. Visibility—especially online—is a must. It’s a nonnegotiable.
Bestselling authors become so because they’re visible. People know who they are, they like them and they trust them.
With a big enough following that spells instant bestseller status.
Action Step: how can you start to be more visible as an author? Again think of one thing you could do daily to be more visible online and then commit to doing it every day from here on out.
5. Finish What You Start. Repeat.
Ah, follow through. Probably the toughest out of all the things I’ve listed here.
Starting a writing project is easy. You’ve likely done that dozens of times. Maybe more.
But finishing? Finishing is a whole other thing.
Finishing means following through with the project until it’s done.
And done doesn’t just mean completed first draft or even revision. It means published. It means the book is out in the world, ready to be read.
You have to train yourself to become a finisher. It’s a skill that takes practice.
I’ve trained myself over the last decade+ of my life to be a finisher. It’s not always the easiest thing, but I always find a way to just do it anyhow. That’s how I became a finisher.
Action Step: don’t give yourself a hard time if you’ve not finished up ’till now. Just choose a writing project right now, commit to finishing it and then do the work to actually follow through on that commitment.
When you get your mindset and habits aligned, and then create consistency, visibility and follow through in your writing life, you’ll be on track to eventually hit bestseller status. You just have to commit to it, keep going and never look back.
Write with a purpose, live with intention,