4 Ideas on what to do with your completed manuscript in Kenya

Have you completed your Manuscript and are wondering what to do?

You have finally finished writing your manuscript, be it Fiction or Non-Fiction, and you have saved your work on your laptop or in the cloud.  You’re asking, ‘What do I do now?

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First, Congratulations on finishing your writing project, a finished manuscript is cause for celebration.  I mean it.  Celebrate that moment of completion, because it takes a lot of time to get to that last full stop.

Now, let’s get to work.

Idea 1: The Intensive Editing Process

I hate to say it but you need to consider this.  Be very honest with your finished work and answer this question.  Is your Manuscript a First Draft/Rough Draft?  Is it a shell of an idea you have about your book?  I’m asking, is it work you think still needs more effort?

– The Editing Process is intensive and it transforms your first draft into a worthy book.  There is no way around it because you’re not writing this manuscript for you, but for readers you hope will engage, love and understand your work.  Your thoughts or your story must be cohesive and understandable.  Getting to this moment of perfection takes a few rewrites.

The process might go like this.  When you finish writing a manuscript, you print it out and give it a few days before you read it.  When you do pick that manuscript, read it holding a pen and make notes on a notepad.  Find scenes that feel incomplete.  Find sentences that read wrong.  Fix typos and spelling mistakes.  Discover insane plot holes that need reworking and rewriting.  This happens before you let anyone else read your work.  Once you have gotten your story to where you feel you have done the most editing you can yourself, let someone else read it.  Why?  You can’t see the flaws anymore.  You’re too close. 

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Beta readers always have notes for you.  Discuss them and more changes will likely happen in the manuscript.  Try to make this a fast process instead of making it endless.  Endlessness sends you into limbo world.  You keep working on the same manuscript over and over and it never ends.  If you have a good beta reader, you’re able to create deadlines that you both meet leading to a state of completion.

Any editor you reach out to gets the fourth or fifth edition of the manuscript.  Be aware that the editor will have a few changes for you too.  I’m saying this with all my love.  Editor Feedback is a blessing to you.  Rant and rave if you must, but get back in there and refocus your attention.

Look at the suggestions given from the perspective of your editor, the reader, and try to see what you can take from that feedback.  It’s a painful process.  You rewrite entire chapters or lose them, as in cut them out.  You gotta keep track of these changes.  It hurts when you lose changes that you really needed.  I’ve cried tears over this.  Anyway, your editor gets you to that nirvana that is the Last Draft, the draft to release out to the world.

Is this Intensive Editing Process important?

You’re thinking, ‘I’ve written and completed a manuscript.  Other than spelling typos and a few sentences that sound off, I think I have this, no need for rewrites and second-looks.  Let’s just sell this thing.

Great! Confidence is important in all undertakings.  If you don’t have confidence, well, why start in the first place, right?

Still, take a moment to really ask yourself, ‘What is the goal of you writing this manuscript?’

  1. Is it to gain readers?  Is it for crazy sales? 
  2. Is it for fun? Is it just a phase?
  3. Do you just want to tell people you write?
  4. Are you educating people in an industry?  Do you want to entertain?
  5. Is it for mad fame and culture-changing insight?
  6. Is it for an important cause?  Are you creating a fiction masterpiece?

If you answered 1, 4, 5, 6, then you need the intensive editing process to get your work into sparkling condition.  You have competition and you need to get ahead of the other millions of writers who want the very same things.  Editing gets you there.  It makes your work stand out.

You know your readers measure your manuscript’s worth in reviews and sales.  You want to give them the best, so you work at it until you’re satisfied with the last edition.

There is nothing wrong with answering 2 and/or 3.  Still, even at this stage, you should work to polish your work, and then create a platform that is your very own real estate.  Have a place to share your work and direct people to see and read your work.  Stages 2 and 3 launch you into the next step.  They help you grow an audience and give you the courage and confidence to go all in.

Selling your Completed Manuscript

Self-Publishing Tidbits:  Have stories you create for sharing everywhere: on your blog, on social media, on looseleaf notebooks for your close people to read.  Have stories you list for sale.  Spend money on the stories you list for sale: on editors and book cover art.  Get a website and allocate a marketing budget.  You may also have stories you submit to Traditional Publishers in the hope of getting them published. (Don’t publish submissions elsewhere, please.)  All these stories should have one thing in common.  Make sure they are presentable in all their available forms.  They are your brand and represent your body of work.

Ideas 2 & 3: Literary Agents and Traditional Publishers

Question: My Manuscript is ready. I’m in Kenya, or East Africa, and I’m wondering, what do I do next?  Do I choose a traditional publisher, or should I start thinking of self-publishing? It all depends on your goals.

The ultimate goal for any writer is to publish their work on a grand scale with worldwide publishing.  This means getting your book published by the Big Five Publishers around the world.  You need a Literary Agent to get to this level.  Literary Agents are a great asset.  Their skill in negotiation will get you to your goals, as they work for your best interests.

Getting a Literary Agent requires hard work on your part in terms of editing your manuscript.  You then need to write queries and submit them to Literary Agents who represent writers in our East Africa region.  Please note, there is a delicate dance between finding Legitimate Literary Agents and meeting the Right Literary Agent to represent your work.  I will acknowledge there is a fair amount of networking and searching to get this connection in our region.

Published by Traditional Publishers in Kenya-

  • Publishers in Kenya receive manuscripts from thousands of writers in the region.  Your work is to get yours noticed.  This means, finding an editor who will help you get your manuscript up to level, if you can’t afford one, using all your effort to get to that level.  
  • Do your homework.   Publishing Houses in Kenya each have different types of genres they prefer.  Do your research.  Educate yourself on genres and discover how your work fits in their house.  Reach out to them and take their feedback seriously.
  • When your work is accepted, the publisher will get you to the next step.  Educate yourself on royalties, copyrights and contracts in Kenya.

The Traditional Publishing Route is as intensive as the Editing process.  If this is your chosen route, do not quit in the middle.  Send in your submissions, and if you get rejections, study why and grow from it.  Keep going until you get that yes.

Idea 4: Self-Publishing Route in Kenya

On this route, you take on the challenge of putting out your completed manuscript to the world.

  • The Editing Process – Work to get your editing done at the same level as books churned out by Traditional Publishers.  Make sure your content is cohesive and engaging.  Do not take shortcuts and push out loads of typos.
  • Book Cover Art, Blurbs & Formatting – You’re the publisher now, so once you finish your last edit, you get to jump in and design your book.  These decisions are yours to make and formulate.  Do your research.
  • ISBNs and Copyright – Don’t neglect your legal needs, to protect your hard work and to get your book in the library systems.
  • Digital Platforms & Hard Copy Books – You get to decide what type of medium you want to pursue to sell your book.  You can print a physical book, or publish it as digital content (e-book).  You may choose to use both.
  • Marketing and Getting Reviews – Once your book is ready and available, you start building a marketing network.  Find bookshops that will carry your physical book and websites to advertise your e-books.  Talk about it on social media.  Sensitize your audience on the book’s existence.  Get the word out there, and don’t stop.
  • Write your next book – The journey does not stop at one book.  Keep writing.

Self-publishing is essentially starting your own business.  You product is your book.  Your work is to create a brand, grow an audience or a following for your book, and keep writing.  It does give you the freedom to choose your platforms.  However, it also requires a great deal more effort from the author.

This blog post is courtesy of questions in my email on completed manuscripts and what to do next. What challenges do you face when you think of getting your books published? Thank you for reading my blog.

Five Reasons why you need an Editor in Kenya

Five Reasons why you need an Editor in Kenya.

Editing is lifesaving to writers.  A good editor will make your work shine, and help you tell your story in the clearest way possible.  A good editor will ensure you are bringing out the best of your content.

editing
Editing Notes

Here is why:

  1. Language:
    • Editors will make sure you have structured your sentences, full stops, commas, ellipses, dialogue tags…all these important tools and ingredients in the right way. This is no excuse for you to ignore the rules of language.  A writer should be well-versed on language, and the tools it requires to write a good story.  The editor helps you refine your language.  You don’t want to punish your editor, you want to inspire them to help you polish your work.
  2. They are your first audience:
    • A good editor will resonate with your work. If they read it, engage with it, and interact, then you’re one step closer to reaching a wider audience.  Do listen to their advice, even when you don’t want to.  It will help you in the long run.
  3. Your Editor will help guide you in the right direction
    • Depending on the relationship you develop with your editor, any conversation you have with your editor can help the direction you take with your work. They will challenge you to break long time habits, explore your talent, and push it beyond the limits you have set yourself as a writer.  Be careful to choose an editor you can communicate with.  Don’t forget, Editing is a service, shop around until you find the right fit for you.
  4. Editors keep you honest – If you’re writing fiction, and your editor knows your style, the moment you start to cut corners, your editor will call you out on them and keep you honest.
  5. They are always right, not always, but most times– This is the hardest thing to take for a writer. The moment your editor reads your work and you find a series of red marks, suggestions and comments.  Do not lose your head.  Take a walk, then return to your document and give it a second look.  You may argue a point out with your editor, sometimes, you may win, most times, you won’t as they are only trying to help you tell your story in a clear manner.

Once you have finished writing your fiction, or non-fiction book, get yourself an editor.  Do not mind the cost and take it as an investment.  To ensure the fiction/poetry or non-fiction book you produce is polished, and readable.  Remember, your book is a product, you want to produce the best content quality possible.

Have you found your right Editor?

Writing Resources – Quick Edits – Grammar and Punctuation

download92Quick Edits

This  post will help you edit and format your work as you write.

Grammar and Punctuation.

Direct Speech

a. We use speech marks (” “) at the beginning and end of the words that a person says, including the sentence punctuation. For example:

“Are you going home?” – The question mark is included in the speech marks.

b. When a different person speaks, we begin a new paragraph.

For Example:

“I want to eat spaghetti tonight.  What about you?” she asked.

“Me too,” he said.

c. When the spoken words are split (as example below), as in, the spoken words are one sentence, but written in a spit form,

e.g. “Come back at once,” he screamed, “or I’ll have you executed!”

In this case, we put a comma before the first closing speech mark and after such words as said, shouted, asked, e.t.c.

If the spoken words are two sentences ( as example below), we put a full stop, exclamation mark or question mark before the first closing speech mark and a full stop after said, shouted, asked, e.t.c. 

For Example:

“Come back!” she shouted.  “Come back at once!

So if  you’ve written a story, your completed work should look something like this:

It had been a rainy day, she’d stood at the KenCom bus stop waiting for a citi-bus at around five-thirty in the evening.  She’d been holding her umbrella tight hoping to catch an empty bus.  Timothy had walked up to her and asked to share her umbrella.  Too startled by the tall handsome stranger, she’d agreed.  She’d bitten back a smile when he’d had to duck to fit under her umbrella.  When he’d kept bending, she’d felt pity on him and handed him the umbrella.  The fates must have been on her side because he could have been one of those that just run off with the umbrella.

“Where are you headed?” he’d asked making sure the umbrella covered her.

“Forty-six, my stop is in Kilimani” she’d said shyly.

“Great, we’re on the same bus.  I’m Timothy,” he’d said offering her his free hand in greeting.  “Timothy Limpo.”

“Janet Kerira,” she answered.

“Nice to meet you, Janet,” he’d said giving her a bright smile.

They’d sat on the same seat on the way home.  They’d talked about the weather, moved on to business and what each of them did for a living.

The spaces between the dialogue allow the reader to understand who is saying what.

Further Reading: (Make sure to Further Read, because Grammar and Punctuation is a pet peeve for any Editor.  They want you to know the rules, and know them well.  It definitely makes editing your story easier so make a little effort.)

Six Easy Tips for Self-Editing Your Fiction

How to use Quotation Marks

Brief Overview of Punctuation

The Punctuation Guide

Chicago Manual of Style FAQs –This source will answer any questions you might have.

 

Writing Resources: Self Publishing in Nairobi- What it Takes.

Hey, Hey, Hey!

I got emails asking a lot of questions on how self-publishing works.  How to do it, and why.  So, I thought this post might answer all these questions at once.lonely girl

Publishing in Nairobi, and I mean like getting a hard copy-honest to goodness paper book is a journey.
It requires your commitment to investment in order to get your book published into a physical book.  Then there is the footwork getting bookshops to stock and sell the books, and then advertising to get readers buying your books.  You may get lucky and get your book published by mainstream publishers in our country, but please note that this also requires effort as well.  Especially for someone writing Fiction.  Things might feel like the girl in the picture but don’t despair just  yet.

Baby-Steps – Be Brave

1. Be confident in yourself and share your work.  As long as you’re writing in your notebook and hiding your writing away, no one is going to read it.  So, if you’re worried how everyone will react to your writing, start small, and test out your stories.  If you’re reading this post, that means you’re already online, so Create a Blog.  There are lots of blogging platforms e.g WordPress, Wix and Blogspot.  All of which are easy to access.  Post your stories, share them and get other people to read them.  Share your site with friends and family, on Facebook, Twitter, Whats App, Instagram, make videos on TikTok, social media is so vast.  Talk about your stories there.

2.   The importance of step one is to give you a thick skin. People will read your work, some will love it others won’t like it.  And that’s the truth.  Now, the day you meet that first person who tells you that they don’t like your writing, you might think of scrapping that Blog and hiding again, but Don’t.  Don’t do it, don’t scrap that blog, just take a deep breath, find your comfort zone, and the courage to ask that person why.  If not, shake it off, because the same way you find that person who doesn’t like it, you’ll find a dozen others who do.  Be sure to remember that you can’t please everyone.  So my point is, grow a Thick Skin enough to take criticism and not give up.

3. If you’ve mastered the first two, you’re ready to explore the world of Self-Publishing.  Your book is a product.  Take it that way…find out who you want to write for (target audience), what genre you want to pursue, and get started writing.  It’s not an easy industry, and you’ll have many sleepless nights writing a book, but if you’re passionate, then it should be a fun process.  Romance, Mystery, Paranormal, Young-Adult, Contemporary, find out the meaning of these words when it comes to genre, and tailor your stories to it.  And then buckle down for the process.

4. Obviously, the first thing to do is to Write The Story.  Without a story…., what are you doing?  Get to work.  How many words have you written?  Have you finished a story? No? Goodness! Finish it!

5. Once it’s written, find a good editor.  Not someone who’ll put you down, but someone who’ll help you work out the kinks in the story.  A good editor is one who’ll take your story and  help you flesh it out.  Work with him/her, Chapter by Chapter, checking Grammar, Style, Plot Holes, e.t.c until you’re both satisfied.

6. If you’ve gotten your work edited, it’s time to start Self Publishing.  Things you need:

a. You need a Cover – You can do this yourself, or get someone good with Graphics to do it for you.  Do your research and come up with an image that suits your story. Be Creative, and give credit where it’s due.

b. You need a Blurb– This is that paragraph you find in the back of the book.

c. Talk About It – Tell as many people as possible that you’re publishing a book.

d. Choose the Self- Publishing platform that suits you best.  There are a few of them, and each one has it’s merits. So, here are your choices:

1. Smashwords – They offer you two choices, publish for free or put a price.  So, that is up to you. They pay through Paypal after your sales amount to $10.  Equity Bank offers a way to access your funds on Paypal.  So just get a Paypal account and consult with Equity Bank for the rest.

2. Amazon – There is no choice for free eBooks here, so once you publish, you must give it a price.  They pay you after your sales amount to $100 in the form of a check. (if you’re in Kenya) Once the check arrives in your mail, you get to cash it at your bank account as per your bank’s procedures.

3. Lulu – You can publish on Lulu.  I’m not so sure about the payment, I’ll check it out more, to better understand the Process.

4. If there are more, let me know….

download4e. Don’t forget to Market your Book.  Talk about it, share it, give it for free, get people to know that you’re writing and publishing.  This is the most important part.  Don’t stop writing!  Don’t publish one book and stop. The best form of marketing is writing more, get as much of your stories published. (Don’t forget to make them interesting and entertaining, because if you’re publishing uninteresting stories, you’re going to have a hard time.)

7. You’re probably asking who’ll read your stories right?  Don’t worry, there are lots of people online, in fact, the whole world is online and extremely curious.  If you have a strong voice, and a compelling story, there are readers. There are also loads of people in Kenya who prefer to read eBooks online.  There is no excuse to say that no one will read your work.  There are people who will read your fiction.

Have you reached here?

Well, if you have and are inspired, I wish you the best.  And once you get that blog running, or that book published, drop me a line.  Strength in numbers right, I’ll share it with everyone I know, and in turn, they too will share it…you get the gist of it, self-publishing is about networking and getting as many people as you can to read your stories.  It’s even better when your stories are amazing, coz then they sell themselves too.

I hope this long Post has given you some direction and I hope to read more fiction from you.

Writing Resources: Conflict and Why It’s Important

Conflict!

You need it in a story, and it has to have purpose.

Different types of Conflict

Man Vs. Man

Man Vs. Man is the most common Conflict.  Your character having a villain in his life who just wants to cause trouble.  This is the conflict used with most superhero stories, supernatural stories, and even mystery cases.  Find out who done it.

Man Vs. Nature

I know you’ve watched 2012 or know the story. It is the best example of a Man Vs. Nature kind of story. Man surviving desert storms, the ice age(although I don’t think this is possible in Kenya…but hey, you’re the writer), Floods, Drought, e.t.c.

Man  Vs. Society

This is the type of story that is about one person facing off with an entire society.  They mostly occur in traditional settings, an individual challenging customary rules, and having  a hard time because it’s a challenge to change an entire society.  Most times, this individual may end up being the odd one out, and the story is how he/she handles that sort of thing.  Examples of this are: Mandela’s Story, Martin Luther King’s Story, in Fiction – Avatar by Micheal Crichton.

Man Vs. Himself

This is the type of story I truly love because it starts out with the main character as the underdog and ends with him being the king of the jungle.  Writers that pull off this type of conflict have a great story, one that is shared for ages because each one of us has something we struggle against in our lives.  And the moment you stop struggling and master that thing, it becomes a source of triumph and achievement.  Examples are like the Hellen Keller Story.

There are those who are able to mix all these conflicts in the story, making it complex and exciting.  There are those who prefer to follow one simple conflict, which can leave you breathless as well.  So, it is up to you to plan out your story using the conflict that most excites you and your plot.  Just don’t mishmash it in there and make it confusing to your reader, take it slow and plan it out until it is believable.

Further Reading

Literary Conflict

Literary Devices – Conflict

Writing Resources – Plotting Romance Novels in Nairobi

I’m in a dream that one of these days I’m going to walk into a Nairobi bookshop and find a full aisle filled with romance novels, or fiction set in Nairobi.  So all of you shy Kenyan Fiction Writers, typing away in the middle of the night in your houses, get creative, even though you have to self publish e-books online, until you can manage to get them printed.  Don’t be afraid, and just write. Be Brave as Dora Okeyo and if you already have published, share the link so I can read it.

Today, I’ll focus on Romance Novels.  I know you read them, we need more Kenyans Writing Them.

The Romance Novel

A romance novel consists of a central love story that ends in a Happily Ever After.

1. When writing a romance novel, you place emphasis on a romantic relationship between your two main characters, and restrict your use of subplots to those that support the romantic conflict.   What does this mean?

E.g. If your main characters are John and Terry, anything that happens in your story should be to support John and Terry’s budding relationship to the end.  Don’t include scenes in the story that will not supplement their relationship.

2. Your choice of language is important.  Most romance readers read a story to live vicariously through your characters.  So, make sure your character’s words, thoughts and experiences are as he/she would experience them.  Put your reader in your character’s thoughts.  Confused?

E.g. Terry squashed herself into the full matatu, and tried to ignore the fact that she was practically sitting on air between two chairs.  She felt sweat trickling on her forehead, and blew air upward hoping to dry it off.  Her blouse stuck to her skin.  She took in a deep breath and grimaced as the stench of  sweat filled her nostrils.  Lord help her, she shouldn’t have run to catch the matatu after all, now she was going to be smelling like a sweaty pig all day.  Someone tapped her shoulder and she turned to her right to find a pair of amused dark brown eyes watching her. It was John, her neighbor’s son.  The guy she’d had a crash on for as long as she could remember….

The example above, while very raw gives you an example of what I mean.  Put your reader in your character’s thoughts.  It makes for an entertaining experience.

And now the most important part:

Plot or Story Arc

Basically, this charts the direction of the events in your novel.  The low points, the high points, the conflicts, complications and resolutions, those delicious events that keep your reader moving from one chapter to the next.

How to get started

1. Know the length of your story. 

1. Short Story – 7,500 words or less

2. Novella – 7,500 – 40,000 words

3. Novel – 40,000 or more

Read about the merits of each length story.

2. Characters: Once you know how many words you want to write, create your characters.  Know their names, and how many of them you’re going to have in your story.

3. Plan your Story Arc – Plot

a. Parts of  a Plot:

1. Introduction of the Plot

– This is the introduction or the setup of your story.  This is the part you introduce your character, e.g. quirky Terry, you tell us about her life, what she does, where she lives, and also include the inciting incident that starts the story. Your main characters meet here, due to an incident, or a situation…it’s your imagination….make it fun and write a great first meet. (cute first meet)

2. Rising Action

-I call this the meat of the story. After the introduction, this part of the story is where you have your characters getting to know more about each other.  Introduce the conflicts, making the stakes rise for your two main characters. They could be cultural, economical, social, e.t.c or even personal conflicts that work to pull your two main characters apart.

Learn more about Rising Action.

3.  Turning Point (Climax)

– Your characters make some decisions resolving some of the conflicts arising in the rising action.  It is a major turning point because you fully develop the relationship despite the foreboding consequences.  E.g. I’ll be with you even though my parents hate you…okay that’s weak, but you know what I mean. You can have your characters facing off with the parents at this point with something major at stake.

4. Falling Action

– This occurs after the Climax, and refers to the consequences of the decisions made in the Turning Point.  E.g. Someone gave up something in the turning point and therefore both characters are miserably apart or one is locked away in jail or at home….hmm…well, my imagination is off today, you might have a better one.  Basically it leads to the dark moment in romance novels when the romance seemed doomed, or over. Lots of tears to be shed.

5. Resolution

– This part includes the dark moment, your characters are struggling, and all seems over, but then a solution is found and your characters can have their happily ever after.

Your job Dear Budding Writer is to take all these parts of the plot and create a great story, that will have me the reader staying up all night to get to the ending. 

Further Reading:

The Essential Elements of Writing a Romance Novel

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Conflicts and why they are such a huge part of the plot.  You can’t have a story without conflict, otherwise the plot will just lay flat and your reader will be bored to tears.  So, Stay Tuned.

Kenyan Fiction Writers

On a side note, don’t be afraid to write Fiction.  We’re in an age where you can’t say there are no publishing avenues.  If you can get online, which is everybody now, you can publish, or share your stories for others to enjoy.  Writing fiction, be it Romance, Mystery, Contemporary, or whatever, do it, so that we can flood the market and make it common place to find fiction written and set by Kenyans.

If you’re unsure how, ask, the questions will be answered, or you’ll be directed to those who know more, right?  Right.  Keep Writing!!

Writing Resources – Creating Characters in Nairobi

I love writing Fiction, and as a result, I’m always on the prowl for new tricks to use to make my writing better.  This week, I’ll share some of those articles that are useful, entertaining, mind boggling and a bit intimidating.  This Writer in Nairobi wishes there were more chances to attend Creative Writing Seminars, but alas, the best I can get is reading articles online and buying huge creative writing books. I wrote this blog post almost six years ago.  You can now find Creative Writing Seminars in places like these.  Since improving your writing means never stop learning, I hope these links help you too.

We’ll start with Characters:

Why do you want to improve your Characters?

When you look back at all the novels  you’ve read, movies and television shows you’ve watched.  The characters in these movies, shows and novels are what you remember most.  Harry Potter comes to mind every time for me, or Voldemort when it comes to Villains for both books and movies.  Yes, I might have spent a few years following that series like a maniac.  What we’ll agree here is that the writer, J.K. Rowling, spent a lot of time developing her characters as people.  Harry Potter’s past, his present, his future, his likes, dislikes, his family, his weaknesses, his strengths, you get my point.  This allowed you to get into his world and better understand him.  As a writer, you want to make  your character memorable to your reader, and this can be quite a challenge.

What goes into Character Development?

A. The 9 Ingredients of Character Development

In this article, Tom Pawlik explores nine different things you need to think about when creating your character.  These Ingredients as he calls them are:

1. Communication Style

2. History

3. Appearance

4. Relationships

5. Ambition

6. Character Defect

7. Thoughts

8. Everyman-ness

9. Restrictions

I especially find no. 3 and no. 8 interesting because I’ve written characters before who were too pretty and too elite for anyone to understand.  Most people want to read a story about a man or woman they can relate to.  It’s so easy to write about rich people living the fabulous life, or women falling for very gorgeous men.  The truth is in real life we don’t fall in love with uber-gorgeous men who work out four hours a day.  We fall in love with that guy in your neighborhood who used to trip you and tug your hair, and whose laugh you hated because it made you cry. Right? No, that didn’t happen to you? Oh well…guess that was just someone I know.

B. Creating a Character Bio Sheet

Creating a Character Bio Sheet forces you to define who your characters are, instead of skimming the top.  This article lists categories that help you keep track of your Character’s traits.  Examples of the categories you’d need to write down are:

  • Character Name
  • Nickname / Alias
  • Date of Birth
  • Place of Birth
  • Residence
  • General Appearance
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Measurements
  • Clothing Sizes
  • Clothing Choices
  • Hair Color
  • Hair Length
  • Eye Color
  • Handedness
  • Jewelry
  • Tattoos / Marks
  • Role in the Story
  • Key Relationships
  • Education
  • Work History
  • Skills
  • Phobias / Fears
  • Bad Habits / Vices
  • Quirks
  • Best Qualities
  • Worst Qualities

There are more on the list, so check out the article.  By the time you get to the end, or choose the categories that matter to your story, you’ll have a comprehensive view of who your character is, where they come from, what they do, what their role is in the story.  This activity helps you get to know who your characters are as you would a friend.

Here are other links to more Character Sheets that will help you learn more about your character.

1. Character Questionnaires 

2. Character Worksheets/Sketches

C. Go Beyond the Norm: How to Make Ordinary Characters Compelling

The moment you think you know all about your character, understand that you don’t, because in real life, we never really know another individual, even your own family.  I think this is the hardest thing to capture when you’re writing a story.

Have you ever started a story, following your character sheet, but you end up having a completely different character in your story?  The character takes on a life of their own.

This can be a good thing, and it can also be a bad thing, and that’s when your editor keeps saying your character is inconsistent in every chapter.  This happens when you don’t know what your character’s gut instinct is.  Are they the type to help an old lady cross the street, or one to just run on ahead not caring if she crosses or not.  Does your character think of himself/herself first, or does she care first about others?  It is good to know the answers to these questions because you don’t want your character being a selfish bastard at the first chapter, and suddenly becoming a helpful angel in the second chapter without some sort of catalyst.  It will give your readers whiplash.

Pay Attention to Your Own Experiences and Observation

The best characters are the ones we’ve met.  Make your characters interesting by adding the little quirks you notice in the people around you.  E.g.

1. Your Aunt’s strange habit of  adding garlic to the tea because she thinks it will keep you healthy.  Seriously.

2. That guy in the bus who keeps talking really loudly on  his new phone so that you can see it.

3. The Tout who always remembers you at the Bus stop and therefore will never forget your stop.

4. Mama Mboga who always keeps you the freshest fruits.

Those people in your life who add color to it, add color to your story.

So, I hope I’ve helped a little in your quest to create characters and Happy Writing to you.

Here’s a glimpse at Stories set in Nairobi, with Great Characters.

The Perfect Love Story