One Surprising Thing I Learned About Marketing

I recently participated in a marketing class taught by my former WordServe agent, Alice Crider. She gave us the tools needed to take control of our careers and the motivation to create opportunities.

Release Day

There was, however, one thing about the class that shocked me. In fact, if more writers knew about this before they got started, then they might have reconsidered their career choice. Here it is:

To sell your books, you need to be a likable character, and one of the requirements for becoming a likable character is to be polarizing.

Polarizing: to cause (people, opinions, etc.) to separate into opposing groups.

This means that if I am polarizing, then there will be people who don’t agree with me, or they could, gasp, even dislike me.

I hate conflict though. Can’t we all just be friends?

The problem with this wish is that as a writer, if I want anyone to stand with me, I have to first stand for something. I have to know who I am. I have to believe wholeheartedly in what I’m saying. And while this may push some people away, it’s going to draw those who agree with me even closer. They will become my true supporters.

For example, Jen Hatmaker recently claimed that gay marriage can be holy. You can’t get more polarizing than that in the church. She was attacked, and her books have since been banned from certain stores. But here’s the interesting part. She has endeared herself to her audience so completely that her latest book is now in the running for Goodreads Best Book of the Year.

Once I understood this, I decided to not only keep yoga in my next novel, but to use it in promotion. My editor was afraid some Christians would be offended, but I explained why I teach yoga and how it is both permissible and beneficial for me. She accepted with the stipulation that I write a reader letter for the beginning of the book.

beach yoga

I shared that letter yesterday online, and it was definitely polarizing. I received a personal message saying that I’ve been warned, and now they were going to wipe the dust from their feet and leave me behind. But I also got messages from people wanting to review the book. Besides that, one yogi reviewer told me Finding Love in Eureka is one of the best books she’s ever read. I’ve found my audience.

My point here isn’t to argue who is right or wrong. It’s to encourage writers to be strong. Of course, that’s going to include being knowledgeable and respectful. (You’re goal isn’t to tick people off but to say the hard things that you might not want to say for fear of ticking people off.)

You’re the expert. You’ve been given your passions and desires for a reason. Don’t let your message be watered down when trying to please people. You have something unique to offer that won’t resonate with everyone.

In fact, Jesus said, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” There’s probably never been a more polarizing man in all of history. And His book, you know, is a number one best-seller.

 

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What Does Your Hero Yearn For?

I’m not talking about story goals here. This is something deeper, more at the core of his being. James Scott Bell writes about this in his book Conflict & Suspense.

The hero may not even realize it’s present. It’s something he doesn’t have but yearns for. Businessman Running with UmbrellaBell defines yearning as a desire for something without which the person feels incomplete. And he may not even be aware the yearning is there until a story event triggers a response based more on the yearning than on the event itself. This could lead to behavior, an overreaction or under reaction, that makes little sense to the other characters and to the hero himself.

This yearning is in your hero’s history, perhaps something from his childhood. Whatever it is, it predates the story. When he comes into the story, he’s already carrying trouble in the form of this unfulfilled yearning. This gives you all kinds of possibilities for unpredictable actions by the hero as the unspoken yearning influences his behavior and relationships with others.

man prayingFor example, say your hero yearns for a strong father figure because his father left the family when the hero was a boy. In your novel, he might have a hard time seeing the antagonist as the villain because he develops a strong emotional attachment to the man early on. As the villain is slowly revealed, the hero rebels against what he sees and may even attempt to shield the bad guy, defend him, rationalize his behavior. Or he may feel betrayed which can send him down another path in the story

Next time you feel stuck with your hero, dig deeper into his history. See what unexpressed yearning he’s hiding from himself—and from you.Now the tension and potential for a tragic outcome is heightened as the hero’s yearning, and resulting idolization, of the villain conflicts with the reality of who and what the villain really is.

Plain, Ordinary, or Beautiful?

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Once I made the mistake of creating a heroine who wasn’t loveable because she didn’t forgive until the end of the story. Although her black and white thinking was true to character in her particular setting, it made her unappealing to the modern, more open-minded reader. Some who couldn’t relate blasted her in reviews.

Observation: Characters can be too realistic.

While she needs to stay true to her personality type, a good heroine breaks out of the norm for her particular setting from the get-go.

Because writing is a creative process, the rules are loose to allow us to create a unique voice. It’s a painful process to learn what works through our failures. After a dozen novels, workshops, and self-help studying, I still blunder my way along. At the end of each novel, I find myself vowing, Wow, I’ll never do that again. No more prologues for me—but that’s a topic for another day.

Under deadline, I write and juggle life. But between contracts, I study, plot, fret, and find more time to doubt myself. As you might have guessed, I’m currently developing characters. While fretting over my next heroine, I asked myself, what would help her connect with readers on page one and throughout my manuscript? This thinking led to another observation. Let me explain.

Growing up as a Mennonite, I call myself a plain-vain gal.

I was raised on humble pie and continue to strive for humility. But you know how it goes when somebody says you can’t have something. So if I’m honest, I have a craving for beauty and admiration. When I read, I enjoy living-escaping through beautiful, gutsy heroines. Most of my heroines have been lovely on the outside.

But since I’m wallowing in character fret-mode, I polled my Facebook followers with the following question:

Do you prefer a beautiful heroine or a plain one?

Every single response was plain, except for a few who didn’t care. Really? I expected the comments about inner beauty, but I was shocked they demanded plain on the outside. I expected mixed preferences.

For sure, they want a heroine who overcomes the ordinary. I’m still processing this information so I ask you…

…Is inner beauty or character strength more visible on a plain heroine?

As an example, Katharine Hepburn comes to mind, and I did a follow up blog post about using her as a character on plain girl romanticizing.

I’m conforming to my followers’ preference. Like most authors, I cut photos for each character and study them as I write. Here’s the plain-Jane photo I’ve chose for my WIP.

heroine 2

She’s really growing on me. I’m convinced I’ll make her shine. And hopefully make her smile too.

All of my responses were from women. I wonder: men, would you respond differently? But as a romance author, I’m writing for women. Or was this a genre thing (Amish readers ages 34-55)? Would it have been different for younger readers?

And what about our heroes? In secular romance novels, heroes are often dark and brooding with wicked pasts. It’s up to the heroine to bring out the good and change him. In Christian novels, the growth is often attributed to God. But what kind of heroes are Christian women seeking? Have you done any polls?

From my own experience, my favorite hero was my last one. He was ordinary looking. On a scale of one to ten, he started below zero with the heroine who remembered him as gawky and pesky from college. I developed his inner strength and found myself drawn to him more than my good looking heroes.

On book covers, publishers often hide the heroine’s face. But writers must describe character attributes.

So what do you think? Does it really matter how they look?

Or is it all about the writing?

Creating Characters with Personality

My characters didn’t always have personality.

In blind date jokes, the matchmaker skirts around the topic of a candidate’s looks and plays up their wonderful personality.  It was the reverse situation for my characters.  According to an editor, they had the looks, even the quirks, but no personality.  I was mortified to discover I had cardboard characters. I didn’t understand how it could be possible when I had developed a character notebook filled with descriptions, pictures, and imaginary back story.

I might have stayed in denial if my editor hadn’t challenged me to study personality typologies.

I quickly discovered by using type theories that someone else had already done all the work. I didn’t have to dream up any more character bios or answer a hundred silly questions about what my characters would do in various situations. I dreaded those kinds of exercises.  But I loved research. In a sense, this was researching my characters. All I had to do was find a key piece, and all the other pieces fell into place. I didn’t have to force myself to do something I didn’t enjoy. I found the process fascinating.

Now all my major characters have designated personalities which drive their actions and dialogue, and create tension and plot. I use a popular personality typology called the Enneagram. If you’re interested, personality TYPE helps are as easy as Googling personality typology.

First I look at my story premise to see what will be expected of my heroine. Then I examine the Enneagram chart’s short summaries to see which type will allow her to perform what’s required for the story. After reading more about her type, it’s easy to match her personality or purposely clash her personality with other characters by setting all their personality types. Some typologies even recommend matches, especially in the love and occupation departments. Back story practically writes itself because there’s also a section devoted to childhood.

Once you set a character’s personality TYPE, the story unfolds in a more believable way. That doesn’t make it predictable. It deepens it.

During writing when things aren’t clicking like they should, we often tear into our plots. But uncooperative characters may actually be the culprits. Before they can enhance the story, they must be equipped with personalities that will move the plot forward.

A roller coaster slowly climbs to its peak. In the same way, a story builds toward its climax. Imagine what would happen if the occupants of the roller coaster jumped out, swung from the scaffolding or pushed the coaster off its track.  It might be perversely entertaining at first, but the ride would be ruined. Readers expect characters to stay on track, so the story’s climax is thrilling and fulfilling.

I use the Enneagram at the beginning, when the story gets in trouble, and before I start edits.

While personality typology works for me, it’s not the only way to get the job done. What method do you use?  Just for fun, do you know your personality type?