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Creating Believable Characters

I remember the day I faced reality – the day a reviewer of The Battle for Oz said my characters were two-dimensional and un-relatable. That both Alice and Dorothy were kind of weird, and that neither grew throughout the tale. My first response was, well, defensive. But after thinking it through, I had to agree. You see, I’m no master at creating believable characters. Believe me when I say, character development is my weakest spot. And knowing this, I’ve been trying to improve. But… how?

How does one create three-dimensional characters? How do we make them relatable, and help them grow? How can our characters move readers on an intimate level?

The thing about writing is this: despite the many resources, some things have to be learned through experience. And almost literally, character development is one of those things. Literally. You can read stacks of books, but if you don’t see it – feel it – your characters will remain flat on its pages. What do I mean by that? It’ll be easier to explain by telling you what I did, and am still doing.

Are you ready? Here’s the big reveal: my secret to creating believable characters is… Well, it’s really no secret. It is, however, something we may have overlooked – something so basic – something that is of us. It is… human psychology. Yes, the understanding of the human mind. I’ve come to discover that studying and observing human behaviour is the key to creating believable characters.

I first dived into this study out of curiosity – I wanted to be able to read people for fun. As an individual with a habit of watching others, being able to interpret expressions, gestures, and speech patterns was a bonus. So, I scoured the world wide web. And from what I’ve gathered, I can now spot attraction, notice physical habits, and I’m more aware of my own thoughts and actions. But how do these skills actually help with character building? It starts with the approach.

With this insight, I approach my characters not as their author but as a friend, parent, mentor, sibling, acquaintance, rival, and passerby. I also help my characters approach others via the same state of mind. Simply put, I present characters based on how other characters perceive them. I create an impression through the eyes of others. Because in reality, that’s what we do.

Science says it takes seven seconds for us to judge a person we’re meeting for the first time. We don’t do it on purpose, but we do it anyway. The way a person speaks, stands, and expresses emotion, tells us whether we like them or not. In seven seconds, we either have a foe or an ally. In seven seconds, we either come off as awesome… or not so awesome. Just by knowing this fact, isn’t it interesting to see how your characters fair with each other?

What did Thom think of Seanna on the road to Daysprings? By presenting first impressions, characters have more depth when they prove those impressions right… or wrong. And since they’re defined by another, it is our job to help them prove themselves. Which brings us to our next question: how do we do that without spelling things out? Ironically, readers don’t want to read a character – they want to discover a character. So how do we send readers on an expedition, while providing the exact coordinates to the treasure? The answer is in body language.

I had a fun time writing Trails of the Wind, specifically the scene where the antagonist entered stage. I’d set to fill his character with habits, he himself wasn’t aware of. Right off the bat, he taunted with false guffaws, slow claps, and finger snaps. He smirked when he contradicted himself. And, he rarely failed to announce his arrival either verbally or physically. I’m pretty sure you, with your innate ability to read character, don’t like him already. And just like that, you have a grasp of his personality – not a firm grasp, but a grasp nonetheless. My goal wasn’t to present his personality intrusively, but subtly. And body language is always subtle.

Personally, understanding human behaviour has helped me in creating believable characters. As I observe, discover, and challenge, I see and feel the world differently. And from my experiences, I’m able to translate ideas into depictions. The day you grasps the very nature of us beings, is the day your characters do the same. And guess what, you don’t need a master’s degree. You just need to pay a little more attention to those around you.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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I’m Not Done Yet! Or am I?


Am I done with this novel? Is it good enough? When can I say I’m truly done?

As a writer, I always ask myself these questions. But the fact is, one can never say a novel is truly done. There’s no benchmark. There’s no checklist. There’s just me… and my novel. I’m the judge of when it’s complete. And yet, I cannot judge. I wonder if the extra rounds of editing would make my book worse. I oscillate between editing again or leaving it as it is. I don’t know what to do! Help! The uncertainty drives me crazy. But recently, I’ve come to a realisation.

Whenever I edit my novels, I mostly dislike what I read. I’m rarely happy with the text before me. I always think my story sucks – that I’m not a good writer – and I know I’m not alone. But in the midst of that, there’ll be a moment in time – a second of contentment – that hits me like an unforeseen kiss. It’s rare. It doesn’t happen as frequently as I hope it would. And it only transpires after I’ve grown tired with my work. This emotion comes after my self-loathing is replaced with fatigue.

Have you ever felt worn out from all the editing? Have you told yourself, “I’m done. I’m not touching this again. I’ve done all I can”? This brief moment of unexpected tranquility is how I know I’m done. Because… it only sweeps past me after my final round of editing. And by ‘final’, I mean I decided it would be the ‘final round’ before even starting work. How convenient, right?

You see, subconsciously, we know when we’re done. We can sense it. It’s an innate ability. Like how animals can sense an earthquake, it’s a gut feeling we writers have. But the two things holding us back – driving us to spend years on a single book – are doubt and fear. We doubt we have what it takes. We fear we’re not good enough. So we keep at it, on the same piece of writing, not realising that by working on the same thing over and over again, we’re not growing. We’ve boxed ourselves. We’re unable to learn by exploring other stories within us. We squeeze our creativity, then question why we’re not good enough. And when that moment of contentment hits – when we’ve come to believe we’ve given our all – we quickly brush it aside. We disregard the prompt that’s telling us to stop. And we repeat the vicious cycle of wondering, questioning, and not knowing when it’s done.

I, personally, don’t believe we should work on a single piece of work for years. I know I say this with The Slave Prince being a novel I worked on for 3 years, but I wrote plenty of other work during those 3 years too. And by honing my craft, I’m able to better The Slave Prince as I find my own style and voice. Am I done with The Slave Prince now? Yes. Very done. I’ve given my all. And there’s only so much I can do where I am, right now.

Moving forward, I’m ready to dive into new worlds. I’m ready to challenge my creativity and imagination. And I know I cannot do that if I’m stuck on the same book. Don’t let the question of ‘done’ stop you from moving forward. Because in reality, we’re never done. We will always grow, and we need to let ourselves grow.

So take it from me. The next time a wave of surprising satisfaction washes up your shore, after your ‘final round’ of editing, ask yourself these:

Am I done with this novel? Yes. Is it good enough? No. When can I say I’m truly done? Never.

You don’t have to publish your novel tomorrow. But you most certainly need to start writing something new. Only then can you free yourself from a curse, so cruel, it robs you of your much needed ‘happily ever after’.

The End.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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The 7 Stages of ‘Writing’

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Or should I say, The 7 Stages of ‘What did I get myself into?’

Those who think writing a novel is a single phase operation, I believe it is my duty to inform you that it isn’t. Oh, how I wish it was. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Alas, this arduous truth should not be withheld. Hence, I’ve decided to write this post and share my 7 stages of writing.

Disclaimer: My process isn’t benched at 7. Often times I go beyond when working on a novel. Sometimes I go under when working on a short story. But as my standard guide, 7 is a wonderful number. Do note that these stages do not include planning, and most certainly excludes professional editing.

1. Word Vomit

Mean Girls, anyone? My first stage of writing is vomiting everything in my head onto a word document. It’s just me, getting the story out, while trying to be as creative as I can. However, creative writing isn’t my goal. This stage is about telling, or should I say ‘reporting’, the story as it is. I do build the universe, I do develop the characters, but only as much as it is required to complete the story. Then, once my head is figuratively empty, I move to stage 2.

2. Rewrite

This is where I get creative. I research, google, and expand my imagination to paint vivid worlds and mold believable characters. I endeavour to be as ‘literary’ as I can, one paragraph at a time. Yes, one paragraph at a time – I rewrite every single paragraph. And yes, I detest this stage. If I could skip it, I gladly would. But I can’t, of course. Nobody wants to read word vomit.

3. Line Edit

Once I’ve heaved a sigh of relief, after completing stage 2, it’s time for line editing. I read aloud, test the pacing, check for errors, and split lengthy sentences. I scour for problematic areas. And as an extra step, I send the manuscript to beta readers.

4. Rewrite… Again? Again.

There’ll be areas in my writing that bug me excessively. So in this phase, I rewrite those paragraphs, dialogues, and sentences that rob me of my sleep. I also catch repetitive words in each chapter and find alternatives for them. And while doing all of that, I request feedback from my beta readers.

5. Line Edit… Again? Again.

Since I rewrote, I need to re-line edit. It’s back to reading aloud, testing the flow and pacing, and making minor changes if required.

6. Proofing

Before proofing, I usually take a break. And by break, I mean working on another story (either a new one or an existing one – it doesn’t matter). I try my best to clean my palate of the current work, and only return to it a month or so later. Fingers-crossed, my brain wouldn’t default to autocorrect upon my proofing. Though, let’s be honest, there’ll be mistakes I’ll overlook. Hence, stage 7.

7. Audio Proofing

Depending on the work, I sometimes run audio proofing twice using different voices. I alternate between tssreader.com and speechninja.co. Audio proofing helps me catch what I’ve missed, while testing the tempo as if read by a reader. It’s not a full proof stage in cleaning a manuscript, but it does call out errors. Despite it taking a while, it’s worth the time.

So, there you have it – my 7 stages.

Like I said above, this is just a guide for me to follow. The Slave Prince has gone over 10 stages, with multiple rewrites. Trails of the Wind has been audio proofed 3 times. Whereas most of my stories below a 1.5k word count are only rewritten once.

Also, the stages differ from author to author. I know of authors whose stage 1 is carefully executed requiring fewer rewrites after, and of those who’ve lost count of their rounds. It depends on the individual. But, we can all agree on one thing: no story should be published straight from the head.

If you’re new to writing, I hope this doesn’t scare you. Draw strength from your passion and dream, and you’ll find yourself doing your very best. Writing may seem laborious, but if it’s what you love, you will do it. Heck, you have to do it. It’s your life! And you’ll embrace whatever it encompasses.

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2017 in Writing Journey

 

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What’s Coming In 2017?

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It has been a good year.

I know the internet has hopped on the bandwagon of 2016 being the worst, but I’m afraid I cannot come along for the ride. Personally, 2016 has been better than 2015. Yes, the world has lost great people. It has gone through changes that has and will continue to affect my life. But despite the weak economy, the absence of influencers, and the uncertainty of 2017, I am grateful. I’ve achieved something this year. I still have my family and friends. And I’m still alive. The same cannot be said for many others, and that is why I will not – I cannot – claim 2016 to be the worst year (of my life). Still, I am looking forward to 2017. It is going to be a better year. And I’m hoping you will join me as I journey into the unknown.

So… what do I have planned for 2017?

The Slave Prince

Officially in November, The Slave Prince received a full publishing contract from Inkshares. It won the Geek & Sundry Fantasy Contest thanks to the generosity of many, and it’ll possibly be on bookshelves late 2017. As the year progresses, I’ll be sure to update on how things are going. I’m extremely excited to see the book be made and cannot wait to hold it in my own hands. If you’ve yet to check the book out, head over to the book page! You can pre-order your copy in advance to receive the book before it is released to the public.

Beneath The Crimson Star (진홍빛 별 아래)

The Clubhouse has ended after 3 years! There were 75 chapters – a total estimate of 63,000 words. My goodness. That was long enough. So moving forward, there will be a new blog series. The introduction to this series will be made in January, and will commence in February. Just like The Clubhouse, there will be a poll after each chapter. However, unlike The Clubhouse, Beneath The Crimson Star is inspired by East Asian history and culture. Hence why I couldn’t help myself with the Korean title (obvious Kdrama addict is obvious). Though it is not based on any historical characters or events in particular, it’ll be influenced by some. So keep at eye out for the introduction coming soon.

Three Words, One Story Challenge

This writing challenge continues on. However, I’m running short of ‘word sets’ to choose from. So if you have any three words you’d like me to concoct a story with, read the introduction of the challenge and leave your words in that comment section. So far, the challenge has done good for my writing and imagination. It has forced me into different genres and expanded my capacity to create using un-relatable words. I’m glad I started it and I intend to keep it up in the coming year.

The Raindrops Trilogy

2017 is the year I am to send Book 1 to publishers, and write Book 2. Yes, this is more of a note-to-self point. Of course, if I succeed in grabbing a publisher’s attention, you’ll hear it first on this blog.

Well, that’s all I have planned. Doesn’t seem a lot, I know. I’d rather not pile my plate, when I’m not sure if I can finish my meal. But who knows? Anything can happen. Thank you for sticking around this 2016! Whether you’ve only just come onboard or have been around since 2011, your presence is greatly appreciated. You’re the reason I’m still here! So thank you. I hope your 2017 would be a great one. And wherever you are, let’s endeavour to make the best of the coming year. It is how we approach it, that makes it worthwhile.

Blessed New Year, awesome reader! And Happy Holidays.

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2016 in Others

 

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Aspire To Inspire

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We all aspire to inspire. But how much are we willing to give to be an inspiration?

In the past 3 months, during the Geek & Sundry fantasy contest, I’ve learned that inspiring others requires a whole lot more than just being me. Yes, being me is the start. And doing what I think I do best – writing – is good too. But being me and writing stories have its limits. If I truly want to be an inspiration, I have to give. And by giving, I mean living by example.

It’s tough to live by example. For those in the creative industry – those being watched – living by example takes a conscious effort. Heck, living by example in general, requires purposeful action. Because in reality, nobody wants to be kind on a bad day, nobody wants to be generous when finance is tight, and nobody wants to support during emotionally trying times. We’re humans after all, and our lives include both the highs and lows. So to actually live by example, we have to do more when we don’t feel like it. We have to go beyond merely existing and… give.

I personally do not think I’m a good example. I’m trying to be, though. I’m trying to care about those around me. I’m trying to be generous and lend a hand to the less privileged. I’m trying not to judge others, because I’m flawed myself. I don’t know if all of my actions are inspiring others. But I do know, that when I see comments about how my stories and my dream chasing endeavours inspire people, I don’t want those to be all I have to offer. I want to try to be a light whenever and wherever I can.

Still, I’m not perfect. Trust me, I’ve imagined knocking a helium balloon out of a child’s hand. I’ve feigned ignorance out of the unwillingness to help. I’ve laughed at people’s spelling mistakes, only to realise how I make laughable Korean mistakes myself. I’m also an introvert, so being friendly is the last thing on my mind. But if there’s any consolation, I know I’m trying . And I hope that my stories won’t just be an inspiration to you, but my life will be as well. I hope that one day, Jeyna wouldn’t just be a writer. Jeyna would be a writer who lives by example. Yes, it’s going to be tough. But… you know what? My life is a story itself. And it’s the most important story I have to tell.

Often times, we get caught up in creating that we forget the most important thing: our life stories. My life story and your life story speak more than anything we can physically create. It’s the most powerful and moving tale we will ever write. And when we aspire to inspire, we are drafting this story. Sure, there will be plenty of edits. But at the end of the day, we can give our stories a good closure. Our unique plot lines can make a difference in the lives of every reader we encounter. Unequivocally, our actions will speak louder than words. Can you believe I’ve only realised this now?

I hope that one day, I wouldn’t just be the writer that writes. I hope that one day, I would be the writer that lives. And from one creator to another, let’s write a story that no one can put down. Let’s aspire to inspire not just through creating, but living.

(*I apologise if this post reads a lot like a personal blogpost. I just couldn’t help but share what I’ve learned during the campaign of The Slave Prince. And speaking of The Slave Prince, the book won the Geek & Sundry Fantasy contest! It will receive a full publishing deal from Inkshares! Woo hoo! I’m super excited. Should you like to know more, head over to the book page and follow the book. Updates on the book’s progress will be posted there. Also, if you’ve not pre-ordered the book, you can still do so. It’s at a cheaper price now, and who knows how long it’ll stay that way.)

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2016 in Writing Journey

 

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Be A Protector

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‘Protector: a person in charge of the kingdom during the sovereign’s minority, incapacity, or absence.’ – English history.

I’ve thought about this. I’ve thought about this long and hard. And I’ve decided.

Now, I’m not loaded. I don’t have an overflowing bank account. But after seeing your generosity in supporting my dream, I’m inspired to pay it forward. You showed me what it means to give selflessly, and I want to do the same thing too.

No, this isn’t about a giveaway. Though, there are a couple more to come this month and they’ll be announced on Facebook.

So, what am I talking about? I’m talking about… slavery. I’m no expert on this issue, but I’m aware of its existence. I’m aware that it has ruined lives. And if there’s one cause I want to stand by, it is this: the fight against modern day slavery

There are approximately 36 million slaves in the world today. 50% are minors. And if you have $90, you can actually buy yourself one. This makes me angry. Children have been robbed of their childhood. People have been robbed of their rights. Families are torn apart. And for these individuals, living is meaningless.

I know… I am no Thom. I’m not a prince with a calling to save his people. I don’t have a magical aid. But I want to do something if I can. Hence, I’ve decided to give RM2 for every reader that pre-orders The Slave Prince to Change Your World.

Change Your World is a movement I’ve believed in for many years. Based in Malaysia, it exists to create opportunities and platforms for the young generation to ‘Save Lives’ through their creativity. This is as creative as I can get – telling stories. And if I can use my stories to stand for justice, then I should do it.

So, if you’d like to fight alongside me in this cause, pre-order a copy of The Slave Prince. I can only match two ringgit to a reader. But if you think it’s too little, forget ordering my book, reach out to Change Your World and support them. Saving lives is far more important.

For all those who’ve been eyeing the Geek & Sundry contest, there’s a month left. If you’d love to see my book hit the bookstores, please grab a copy at your earliest convenience. It only takes 5 minutes to help this dreamer – only 5 minutes to change a life. And if you stand by me, winning a publishing deal would be a walk in the park.

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2016 in Others

 

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Taking A (Mental) Break + Giveaway Teaser

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I rarely skip a post unless I’m on holiday. Today, however, is going to be one of those days where I skip a post because I want to. And… I sincerely apologise for the lack of a fictional escape this week.

Honestly, I’m low on creativity at this moment. The newest chapter for The Clubhouse is supposed to be out today, but I haven’t even written it yet. Why? Because I don’t know what to write. This sometimes happens, and I’ve managed to push through it before, but not this week. I’ve not gotten enough rest for the past few days and I’m just tired all the time. To try and squeeze a story out of me would result in horrible writing. So if you’re following The Clubhouse and looking forward to the next chapter, please forgive me. You’ll have to wait until next week.

Since I’m being honest, I might as well say that the past month has been very mentally draining for me. As you might have read, I’ve been campaigning heavily for The Slave Prince. This is my chance to get another book on bookshelves, and I’m really going for it! But with the recent emergence of a new book in the competition, that left me in the dust, I was forced to up my game.

HERE is the current standings of the contest, if you’re curious. The Slave Prince has had to fight to stay in the Top 3 since Sparked came into the picture. Sparked shot straight to #1 in less than a day and you have no idea how intimidating that is. I quickly learned how small I am, compared to authors with such huge influence. So in my attempts to face this giant, I’ve been networking like crazy. And thankfully, through my approaches, I’ve managed to get the support of 4 creative people. These people are willing to give out their creative works to those who pre-order The Slave Prince!

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Tomorrow’s Giveaway!

I won’t be able to update you on all the giveaways on this blog, as I don’t want my blog posts to spam you daily. But if you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or the book page itself, you’ll see what’s going to be raffled. There will be novels to give away, cash vouchers, video games, and even an album. No kidding. The sooner you pre-order The Slave Prince, the higher your chances are at taking home something extra – and believe me when I say, everybody will win at least one giveaway. For tomorrow itself, I’ll be announcing a novel giveaway. It’s not my own, but a fellow Inkshares author’s book. More details will be on social media.

Well… that’s all for today’s post. Please accept my apologies and please pre-order a copy of The Slave Prince. Hopefully, when I see you next time, I’ll have something substantial to offer. But until then, have a great week!

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2016 in Others

 

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