12 June 2024

Writing a Novel: Is a Physical Description Enough When Developing Your Characters?


When embarking on a new story, one of the most empowering and creative exercises is to envision what our characters might look like. It's a challenge to bring our characters to life without a clear mental image. In the realm of historical fiction, we often have the advantage of finding visual references for our main characters online, but the rest is a canvas for our imagination to fill. 

Yet, stories are not just about a handful of main characters. They are populated with a multitude of supporting characters, each with their unique story to tell. This is where we, as authors, have the liberating freedom to develop their appearances beyond the typical eye and hair color. We can delve into details like height, weight, body type, or other distinctive physical traits, painting a vivid picture for our readers.

Although eye and hair color are part of the description, it is so easy to rely on such physical characteristics that we might be tempted to neglect everything else. But how can writers go beyond the obvious? 

Here are some methods that have worked for me so far:

1. Main characters will, more than likely, need a description of their hair and eyes and so much more to help our readers visualize our main characters right from the start instead of leaving them confused halfway through the book and then springing an image on them that might not match what they've already visualized. 

2. Supporting character descriptions can do without hair and eye color unless one or both play a role in the plot. Otherwise, why even bother mentioning them? Writers can use much more creative ways to describe them...with traits that add to the story in some peculiar and memorable way, such as mood or tension. 

3. Give your characters unique 'tags ', which are distinctive traits or characteristics, to help the reader identify a character throughout the book. It can be something simple, such as a physical abnormality, such as a beet-red face or a wart on the tip of the nose. Give the character a 'tick ', such as a catchphrase that only one character uses throughout the story. Your character could also be plagued by extreme shyness or bad habits like nail-biting. While these tags can be handy, it's important not to overuse them. It can become tiring when you mention these tags every time a character makes an appearance. And that leads me to my last point...

4. Ultimately, the physical description is only the tip of the iceberg in bringing a character to life. Their actions, their reactions to certain situations, their goals and dreams, etc., these are the elements that truly inspire and leave a lasting impression in the reader’s mind about who the characters are.

What unique ways have you developed to describe the characters in your fiction writing? Feel free to share your writing experience with us in the comment section!

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.
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05 June 2024

Writing a Novel: How to Add Depth to Your Story


A while back, I met an aspiring writer, named Peggy, at a local pet supplies store (I spend a lot of time there....what can I say, I love to shop for my furry children!) who asked me several questions regarding my writing but this one stood out:

“All the books I've attempted to write so far have always resulted in little more than short stories with a page count of under a hundred pages instead of full-length books. Because of this, I've been reluctant to approach an agent or even attempt to self-publish. Do you have any tips or tricks you don't mind sharing how to develop my storylines and/or characters further to make my books longer?”

This week I decided to take the gist of her questions, and turn it into a blog post. Thank you for the inspiration, Peggy! 

My debut novel has over 400 pages, and a word count of over nearly 115000 words, my second historical fiction piece has over 360 pages, and even my current project already exceeds the 320-page mark. As I started to think about what I have done so far to reach that amount, I came up with these three points:

Respect the Setting

One way novels can lack depth is by overlooking the setting and instead focusing too much on the characters and plot. It can be hard to get the setting "just right.” Sometimes we make a mistake by not including enough details, especially when we attempt to develop a fast-paced plot. Then, at times, we err by randomly tacking on setting details like some sort of after-thought.

Instead, we should strive to give the setting the respect that it’s due and to do so, we should focus on descriptions and sensory details that relate to the plot and the mood you wish to create. When we accomplish that, the setting becomes another character in your story that we can slowly and carefully nurture.

When we view the story environment as more than just a description but as an essential component, then we should be able to add the right details at the appropriate times, in order to keep our readers engaged without overloading them.

Add More than One Conflict to the Basic Plot 

Many story writers develop their plot around some kind of conflict, often involving an antagonist. While there's nothing wrong with that approach, there are many other ways to add more conflict to your storyline. Consider man vs. society, man vs. nature, man vs. time, man vs. machine....the list is nearly endless.

I try to remember to weave more than one of these types of conflict throughout my story. The more types of conflict we add to the plot, the more complicated our stories become. Just keep in mind that there's also such a thing as too much of a good thing! 

Give Your Characters Internal Struggles to Conquer

Another way to add layers to a story is by delving into our character's hard, emotional issues, go below their skin as it were, and straight to their hearts. But please keep in mind that this is more than just our characters expressing their reactions to the plot, which is, of course, important as well. 

While they need to show and express appropriate feelings in regards to the antagonist, an emotional struggle is a bigger internal conflict that we can weave throughout the entire story. This is usually a character flaw or struggle such as a personal insecurity, fear of the unknown, pride, etc. that is somehow related to main our character’s backstory. 

The more we intertwine this emotional plot with the world that we have created, the richer our story will become, giving our readers greater opportunities to connect with our characters.

There are many ways to add substance to your story including adding subplots, supporting characters and their viewpoints, creating more scenes, etc. As writers, when we’re looking to increase our story's length, we obviously don’t want to add more words just to reach some arbitrary word count goal. Instead, we should strive to make every word count.

How do you add depth to your writing? Please feel free to share your insight in the comment section!

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.
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29 May 2024

Canine Summer Safety Tips

Summertime means lots of fun in the sun for us and our four-legged family members….well, that is when the weather plays along. While long days are spent frolicking outdoors creates many priceless memories, it can also pose hidden dangers to your fur babies. However, when you follow common sense, you can ensure everyone, including your pet(s), enjoy summer safely.

Please, do not leave your pet in the car!

I have read the heart-breaking story too many times. Someone’s beloved pet was found dead in a vehicle, even though the pet parent was only gone for a short period. Even with the windows cracked, the inside of a car can heat up in a matter of minutes. Leaving the A/C running also does not guarantee your furry companion’s safety. If you are planning on running errands to places that do not allow pets on their premises, consider keeping them at home. You would not leave a human baby in the car with the windows cracked open! Then why would you do that to a furry baby? 

Hydration is key! 

Pets that spend time outdoors in the heat require plenty of water. To avoid dehydration, always bring fresh water with you and offer it to your pet at least every half hour. There are many styles of portable dog bowls available that are convenient to carry in a small handbag; some dogs even learn how to drink from a bottle and water packs.  

Pets can get sunburned, too!

Dogs and cats are susceptible to the same damage from ultraviolet rays just like we are. This is especially so for white or light-colored pets and areas of the body with thin hair, such as the nose, ears, and bellies. It might look a bit silly, but a light T-Shirt can help protect them, along with some pet-safe sunscreen. 

It's time to chill out!

The amount of time a dog can exercise in the warm weather depends on several factors: How long and often has the animal been exposed to hot temperatures, the animal's current health and fitness level, and hydration status.

In general, once it gets above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, dog owners should be cautious when exercising their dog outdoors. For most of them, moderate activity for thirty minutes is safe. When the temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit, it is probably best for pet and pet parent to skip the outdoor workout until it cools down.

If your dog displays rapid or labored breathing, starts to resist walking or acts depressed, your dog may be overheating. In these cases, stop, rest, and re-hydrate. This does not mean you need to cease exercising because your dog is panting, just be mindful of your dog's behavior. Watch him/her carefully to determine if the panting is excessive or abnormal. When in doubt, take a break!

Water safety

Many pet owners enjoy taking their animal companions to the beach for a dip or a boat ride. Such activities are great ways to bond with your furry children. I love to include my pets in outdoor fun whenever possible, but not every animal is a strong swimmer. When you plan to take your pet in the water or on a boat, please consider the use of a pet flotation vest.  The ones with a sturdy, convenient handle will allow you to safely retrieve your companion should he/she get tuckered out from swimming or fall overboard. Fun in the sun can get hot, so remember to provide plenty of shade and lots of drinking water during your outings.

After an enjoyable day in the water, you might want to give your dog's coat a quick rinse with plenty of clean, fresh water and some pet shampoo. Don't forget to clean and dry the ears (especially the floppy ones) with an ear cleaning solution! Ear infections are often caused by allowing moisture to remain in the ears after swimming or bathing.

Summertime is a great time of the year for people and their pets. The activities you share with your furry companions this season will last a lifetime. Be smart, and stay safe!

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.
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20 May 2024

NEW BOOK ALERT: The Last Warrior Queen has arrived!


She’s finally here! Today is the day, after months in the making.

I hope that Mandukhai’s story moves you, wherever this month may find you. I’m so grateful for women like Mandukhai Khatun, who inspire us with the beauty of their dreams and the passion and resilience of their life stories. I am truly thankful that I get to write stories like Mandukhai’s and share them with you.

To all my readers who have been following my writing journey: Thank you for all your support, encouragement, and enthusiasm! You make all the hard work worthwhile, and I could not have done it without you. 

If you pick up a copy of RISE OF THE LAST WARRIOR QUEEN today, I’d love to hear from you. Happy Reading and Happy Launch Day to #RiseoftheLastWarriorQueen!

About the book:

15th century Asia. In the midst of Genghis Khan's former empire, torn apart by two centuries of civil war, a young Mandukhai dares to dream of becoming a fierce female warrior. Her aspirations are abruptly halted when she is compelled to become the second wife of Manduul Khan, a man of ruthless power. Yet, even in the face of such a daunting fate, her spirit remains unbroken.

Meanwhile, Wan Zhen’er, who lives in the Forbidden City, a place of immense power and secrecy, is only the nanny to Zhu Jianshen, the future Emperor of China. But although she eventually rises to the rank of official concubine of the Chenghua Emperor and becomes the most powerful woman in the Middle Kingdom, Lady Wan is forced to defend her precarious position daily against conspiratorial eunuchs, warlords, ministers, and much younger and ambitious concubines.

The great Mongolian warrior, Unebolod, spends his life in Manduul Khan’s shadow, preparing for the day when he can seize the throne, even though he’s not a direct descendant of Genghis Khan but rather of his younger brother, Qasar. His lineage, though not direct, holds significant weight in the Mongolian hierarchy. But when he forms a dangerous alliance with Mandukhai Khatun, it swiftly transforms into a lingering passion that could destroy them both. But just as the two young people are sure that fate will bring them together and make Unebolod the next Khan, a young prince emerges from the shadows, captures the Khan’s attention, and attempts to steal the people’s hearts.

As Manduul Khan's health deteriorates, Mandukhai Khatun faces her most daunting challenge yet: Establishing her place in a male-dominated political hierarchy. With the Mongolian warlords preparing for another round of conflict, secrets are unearthed and dangers lurk at every turn. The suspense builds as the treacherous games of influence and power unfold at the Mongolian court and the Forbidden City. Who will emerge victorious? Will the royal bloodline of Genghis Khan survive? And who will be left to recount the tale when the dust finally settles?

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.
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15 May 2024

#WritersLife: Misconceptions about Self-Publishing

The publishing world has changed dramatically over time, but especially since online self-publishing became popular. Viewed by many as inferior, publishing your own work can be intimidating. However, all those myths floating around about it don’t help the situation. To uncover the truth about self-publishing, we should explore some of the most prevalent myths. 

Misconception #1: You can only do one or the other

This is quite possibly the biggest myth. Just because you've decided to go with one route of publishing doesn't mean you can't give the other a whirl. There's a place for self-publishing and traditional publishing, and there are plenty of authors who have done both. Nowhere does it say that you can't self-publish one book and then look for a publishing house for the next one. It actually seems to become more common for traditionally published writers as well as independent ones, to explore the other side of publishing. Pitching the same book that you've already self-published, hoping for a book deal, is quite an unrealistic undertaking since publishing houses prefer manuscripts that no one has read before. 

Misconception #2: Self-Publishing is less involved than traditional publishing

As the word "self-publishing" already indicates, the writer is publishing on his/her own. That means, there are no teams of editors, designers, agents, or marketers to turn to for assistance. It truly is a one-person show. Of course, you can invest some money and hire someone for the services mentioned earlier, but they aren't cheap. While pitching your book to a publisher takes up most of your time and energy when going the traditional route, you're on your own with self-publishing. The industry average is about two years before you can hold that precious creation in your hands if you're fortunate enough to land a book deal. While it is possible to get your book published and onto bookshelves sooner through self-publishing, you really shouldn't berate yourself if it should take you longer. 

Misconception #3: Self-publishing is not real publishing

There are plenty of authors who are spontaneously drawn to self-publishing. Traditional publishing comes with its own set of problems. In most cases, many writers turn to self-publishing not as a last resort after their manuscript has been rejected, but it is a conscious choice. For me, it was just that: A choice! I was intrigued by the prospect of delving into all aspects of the publishing world. From writing a manuscript, to formatting, and creating a book cover and blurb. I find the whole process exhilarating. Whether you decide to give conventional publishing a whirl or turn to self-publishing, is up to you. Those are your choices, and I believe they are equally relevant. Not to mention that it's good to have options! 

Misconception #4: Traditional publishers produce better books 

It's not the publishing path that determines the quality of a book, but its contents. Just because a manuscript was accepted by a publishing house doesn’t automatically make it a literary masterpiece. I've read some "professionally" edited and published as well as independently published works that made me cringe, while I found others superb. Publishers choose books that suit their company and their objectives at that time. After all, book publishing is a business, and they want to make a profit. 

Misconception #5: Only a traditionally published author can be successful

This is a very subjective statement, and it all hinges on your definition of "success". However, most of us would say that if you sell a lot of copies, then you are considered successful. The truth is that there is no magic formula that will guarantee that your book will make a lot of money. Writing and publishing a book is not a get-rich-quick and famous scheme; it's a labor of love. 

Writing a book takes many hours and dedication. Often it takes an author away from their loved ones. Most writers get paid much less than you might think; most of them write because they love to tell a story. The one or two dollars they make in royalties per book barely buys that next cup of coffee that fuels the next chapter. It can take months and sometimes even years to write a book. It takes even longer to design the cover artwork, edit the contents, and then publish it. After that, most authors have to give up even more of their precious spare time to market and promote their book(s).

Money is one of the primary reasons why many storytellers turn to self-publishing. They don’t want to wait for publishers to decide on the fate of their manuscript, so they go it alone instead. It is possible to earn money both with self-publishing and traditional publishing. Still, as with everything in life, there are no guarantees.

Misconception #6: Only independent writers have to market their books

Marketing is an integral part of publishing (independent or traditional) unless you don't care whether your book(s) sells. While you do get some help when you go the traditional publishing route, you can't rely on your publisher to do all the work. When you self-publish, the burden solely lies on you to make the world aware of your newest publication.

The overall importance for an author to have an online presence has changed the face of marketing drastically. Nowadays, authors who want the world to know about their writings need a marketing strategy regardless of the publishing method. This means being active on social media, giving interviews (live or virtual), participate in blog hops, etc. This means you should start learning about marketing pronto, as you'll need to know in any case.

Misconception #7: Self-publishing is for writers without skills

What do Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolf, have in common? Well, they are all bestselling fiction writers, with critical acclaim. But, did you know that they all, at one point or another, decided to self-publish? Self-publishing is not a new concept, and these powerhouses of publishing, all had their reasons to go the independent route. Mark Twain was an unknown author. Virginia Woolf wanted more creative control, and Jane Austen’s publisher was taking too long to print. 

I genuinely believe that if you know how to use a computer competently, then you can figure out how to self-publish utilizing one of the many online publishing services. You might need some help along the way from an editor and maybe a talented artist to create a captivating book cover. It's okay to get some help. 

Writing and publishing books is not a sprint, but a marathon. It takes time, and the more you write, the better you become. And perhaps you hit it big one day with your book(s), or maybe you won't. You won't know unless you try. If it's your dream to be a published writer and believe in your talent, then go for it, no matter which route you take.

Piper is the award-winning author of The Country Girl Empress series. When she isn't busy typing on her computer, she can be found chasing after her furry children or holding on tightly to a good cup of coffee. Follow her on LinkedInFacebookMedium, and Goodreads.
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