A Writer Quirk

Due to extenuating circumstances, I’m now on my fourth pair of brand new headphones and my fifth pair that I’ve used this year. Many of my readers will note that every time a pair has broken, I get really upset (sometimes more than the situation seems to warrant). This is in part, because I hate spending money on something that just breaks a few months later. It’s not cool. But more so, it has interrupted my ability to function in a way that I’m accustomed. That is why this entry is dedicated to a special writer quirk.

As I’ve met more and more fellow writers, I’ve come to realize that we’re a weird bunch, but more importantly, we like to have things a certain way. This of course varies in severity from writer to writer, but we like what we like and will not be happy until it’s that way. From writing implements to what season it is, some things just have the ability to make the words flow better than others and these are some of mine.

HeadphonesOkay, Colleen, tell me about the headphones…

What? – Well, so far, I haven’t be able to attach to any brand in particular, because they keep breaking. I’m rather rough on them, and they see a ridiculous amount of use. The best pair of headphones that I ever owned were a pair of SkullCandy, which lasted me nearly three years, but they’ve stopped carrying this particular model. And this makes me very sad. (Okay, everybody keeps telling me that none of their SkullCandy headphones have lasted more than three months. When did this happen? Didn’t they used to be good?) Since it always seems to be cord that keeps breaking, it seemed logical that I should try a wireless pair. I bit the bullet this morning, purchasing a wireless pair of Logitech brand. If you’re interested, I’ll tell you how well they work.

Why? – You all know how important that music has been to my writing process, but the headphones have become an integral part of isolating myself from the outside world. The world is full of sounds that simply drive me crazy. From the dog that howls next door to the trucks backing up into our neighborhood grocery store to the construction going on down the street, I can never seem to escape the noise with the exception of when I’m wearing headphones. Earbuds do not fit properly in my ears and really hurt after a while as do all other forms of audio that hang on the ears (I’ve never been able to wear earrings for the same reason). And maybe I’ve just grown accustomed to having my head squeezed; I don’t know. I just love my headphones.

Keyboard

What? – Once again, this doesn’t have a whole lot to do with any sort of brand although I’m sure that given half the chance I’d be particular about that too. I’m the kind of person who likes to have a flat keyboard. I pretty much hate those keyboards with the tall keys and these horrendous gaps in between each key. And those ergonomic keyboards are a no-no as well. I won’t even go into those, but I absolutely hate them… Virtual keyboards too.

Why? – I have a few reasons for this actually including, the key placement, pressure, and sound. For the first, key placement allows me to type faster and more accurately. I have what many call piano hands (as in I have super long fingers). With the taller keys, my fingers tend to slip into the gaps between the keys more often than they do with the wider shorter keys.

It also has to do with pressure. A lot of people I know are hard typists, and I just can’t understand why. Have any of you watched a hard typist? It’s like BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM SPACE ENTER!!! And I’m sitting there like “OMG, what did the keyboard ever do to you that you have to punish it like that?!” I only type like that when I’m mad. I’m a soft typist. If I weren’t, you can imagine my fingers would get really sore and they have. The taller keyboards require more pressure than the shorter ones and therefore force me to be what I’m not.

And finally, there’s sound. I know, I know, I’m weird when it comes to sound. But the taller keyboards are make a lot more noise. First, there’s how hard that you press the key. Second, the keys rattle together after a while. Third, eventually, the springs wear out and creak. And fourth, one of the worst sounds in the world is when something gets underneath one of the keys. But at least they don’t make those really loud clicking sounds that the old time keyboards used to make.

Pen

What? – My favorite pen in the world is the black Sanford Uniball brand micro point pen. I love these pens.

Why? – I love them, because they’re inky but not too inky. The ink isn’t too think like in most ball point pens but they don’t run all over the place. And most important is that the ink doesn’t sparkle. Not even a little bit. They’re the right thickness and the right balance of weight. They glide across the page especially if I’m writing in cursive, and my handwriting looks like calligraphy.

And finally, a story. There used to be a time when I couldn’t just sit on my computer all day. I had to go to school. So, I would pretend to pay attention and wrote during class. Then on the weekend, I would type it all in. Well, one day, my dad put a can of WD-40 on about 20 pages of my manuscript I had sitting on the desk. I went ballistic. The grease ran down the side of the can and soaked into the paper. Yes, the paper was suddenly see-through and the purple lines bled like crazy, but the ink withstood it. Every word that I had written was perfectly preserved.

Paper

What? – My favorite paper is the Mead college ruled paper with the purple lines.

Why? – Once again, it has a lot to do with comfort. Honestly, it came down to the grain of the paper. The Mead paper had the lowest grain paper and was therefore the smoothest. While I liked the idea of getting super textured paper to make it feel like it was old it didn’t work out for me. Since I wrote so much, I was dragging my right arm across the page really frequently, and truth be told, any other paper chaffed. This isn’t so much of a problem now, but I do still buy a lot of paper to write out my notes, and I will not buy another type of paper.

Season

What? – Fall

Why? – Autumn is my favorite season. Maybe because everything around is dying, but it just makes my soul happy. I cannot explain it, but when the weather starts getting colder, the leaves start changing, and every house you walk into smells either of apples and cinnamon or pumpkin, you will never find me happier. This is when I do most of my writing. Not only did I write Wingéd in just four months, completely unheard of in my world, but I also rewrote it in the exact same time frame. It may be strange to have this one season be the only time that I feel “right”, but the results don’t lie.

Okay, guys, it’s your turn. Is there anything that you absolutely need when you write?

Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle Select, and Kindle Matchbook

Recently, I received an email in my inbox from Amazon.com regarding an addition to their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So, of course, this article I’ll be discussing my experience with eBooks, Amazon’s KDP, Kindle Select, and now Kindle Matchbook.

I’ve actually had a lot less experience with eBooks and KDP than I have with CreateSpace, and I took a long time to decide on whether or not to do it. When it came up on the CreateSpace website, it was followed by a whole lot of legal jargon that I didn’t fully understand, mostly about the price of the book and Amazon’s terms of service. Some of the things that it said about Amazon being able to put my book on sale, limits on where else I could publish, and requiring that Amazon be 20% cheaper than any other sales avenue were a great concern of mine. However, with the demand of eBooks growing, I had to just bite the bullet.

I’m not sure about the process if you’re publishing an eBook alone, but if you’re going from the CreateSpace website, it’s really easy. Just follow the directions on my CreateSpace book creation overview, and at the end when it prompts you to create an eBook, just click “yes”. Amazon has a program that will convert your file from CreateSpace to the Kindle format. If you have any issues with the way that it comes out, it is also possible to upload your Word document directly. (I found out the hard way that even if you have a special setting on your Tab function, Amazon’s program will not recognize it and keep your Tab normal size. It made stuff look funny.) Amazon will take a few hours to look over your work just like CreateSpace, so you’ll have to be patient with it.

After that is all done, you’ll have to choose your royalty rate. Amazon has two options for KDP, 35% rate and 70% rate. The 70% is only available for sales from certain countries and your eBook must be priced between $2.99 and $7.99. Amazon also will subtract the cost of delivering your eBook based on the size of the file. You can choose the 35% option no matter your price, and the rate calculation is much simpler.

In addition to KDP’s regular services, you have the option to enroll in Kindle Select. This does a few things. The first is that it puts your eBook into the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL). This service is available to people who 1) own a Kindle (no, it must be a Kindle; a Kindle app will not do) and 2) have a paid (not a student or trial) Amazon Prime account to borrow your eBook, and you will receive royalties for every first time borrower. Second, it gives the author the option to offer the eBook for free for five days within the 90 day period that the Kindle Select option is active. These can be random single days; they can be five days in a row. They can be whenever. It is not required though. But there is a catch. You must sell your eBook exclusively on Amazon during the 90 days that your eBook is enrolled in the program.

Offering your novel for free also has some pros and cons. I’ve read a lot about it and the reviews are mixed. Some people say that if your book is worth anything, you shouldn’t have to offer it for free. Others say that it increased their sales by 600%. I enrolled just one of my novels in the program just to try it out, and I’ve gotten results. The problem is that I don’t really know what to do with the results. What I gained from it was experience and information. The most important was that there is demand for what I’m selling. My first novel, Wingéd, was downloaded over 500 times over the course of two days, a Tuesday and Wednesday, and was ranked #9 on Amazon’s list of free epic fantasy downloads. Sounds great, right? Well, this little adventure gained me just seven paid downloads that I wouldn’t have otherwise, which technically was a large increase in sales (it’s hard to get people to care about your novel). I haven’t received any reviews based on it, good or bad. If anyone has any advice, feel free to leave me a comment.

Lastly, a week or so ago, I received an email from KDP announcing Kindle Matchbook. The email says that in order to gain more sales, it gives you the option of offering your eBook at a discount if someone purchases the print copy. It sounds like a good offer, so I’m thinking about doing it. I’m not sure if it’ll make a difference, but I can always give it a whirl and report back at a later date.

So, that has been my experience with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Is there anything that I’ve forgotten that you’d like to know?

Colleen

Character Creation Using Psychology

When I was younger, I loved watching Harriet the Spy (Is it weird that I feel as if I am betraying someone by saying that I loved a movie instead of the book?), and I especially loved when Ole Golly says, “There are as many ways to live as there are people in this world, and each one deserves a closer look.” This is the approach that I take toward personality.

Some of the biggest complaints regarding fiction are that the reader/viewer was unable to identify with the character, inconsistency in behavior, or that the character is flat and has no discernible personality. This can happen for a number of reasons. Perhaps the character isn’t fully realized. Perhaps the author is unable credibly portray that character’s point of view. Or perhaps the character’s motives are inadequate reasoning for their behavior. If it isn’t a matter of writing, then it’s a matter of psychology. This post seeks to introduce a few subjects to aid authors in figuring out how their characters tick.

Psychology is more than just a personality. It brings to light the biases and assumptions that belong to not only the character but the reader as well. The more that the author understands about these driving forces, the easier it will be to create believable characters, and the easier it will be to manipulate the feelings of your reader. Sometimes I feel bad about that last part, but other times, I just touch my fingertips together and cackle.

Personality Types & Tests

Myers-Briggs
My personal favorite of all the personality tests is the Myers-Briggs test. Its foundations lie in Carl Jung’s theories, and it states that a person is made up of four types of traits. They are either introverted or extroverted, intuitive or sensing, feeling or thinking, judging or perceiving. This ends up in sixteen different personality types to choose from. When I’m stuck on a character, sometimes it helps to read through them. I appreciate this due to the variety, subtle differentiation, and how thorough it is. Also, it’s a really fun test to take. You can find the Myers-Briggs test here: http://typelogic.com/ (All links open new windows.)

Enneagram

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Another popular test is the enneagram test. I’d forgotten about this one until recently. It reduces personalities into nine types: the reformer, the helper, the achiever, the individualist, the investigator, the loyalist, the enthusiast, the challenger, and the peacemaker. I like this test, because it helps to determine what traits motivate a character most and determines his or her biggest flaw. It can also predict how a character will react to stress or events and shows how these personalities are related to one another which Myers-Briggs doesn’t do as well. For more on the enneagram test, you can visit the Enneagram Institute: http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/intro.asp#.UijH3casiSo

Personality Disorders
And if you’re looking for more than your basic personality, you might be interested in the wide world of personality disorders. There are three clusters of disorders: odd or eccentric; dramatic, emotional, or erratic; and anxious or fearful. I do sometimes like to give my characters personality disorders or personalities prone to these traits, because they tend to be more interesting than your every day characters. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has really detailed descriptions on typical behavior manifestations and what might cause them. A word or warning: it’s not recommended that you try to diagnose yourself or others based on these descriptions. You can find a fuller list of personality disorders here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personality_disorder

Defense Mechanisms

In every story, you’re going to have conflict. If you don’t, let me be the first to tell you, you’re doing it wrong. Whether it be an internal conflict or external conflict, your characters will need to find a way to cope. Sometimes these are obvious reactions and other times less so. Either way, I have found that Freud’s fifteen common defense mechanisms to be most helpful. (See? He wasn’t only obsessed with sex.) Of course not everyone copes with stress or conflict in the same way, so knowing all the various ways that someone might react comes in rather handy. I suggest using some caution, because you will want your character’s defense mechanism to match his or her personality. For more reading on these, you can check out this website: http://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-defense-mechanisms/0001251

Attribution

I learned about attribution from a Social Psychology class. (This is different than sociology by the way. Sociology studies how culture influences behavior and social psychology study how different situations affect social behavior.) On the very first day, this short, elderly woman trudged into the room, slammed her brief case down on the desk, scowled out at us, and said, “Social psychology is simple: we want to feel good about ourselves all the time. That’s all you need to know, but we’re going to spend the next ten weeks studying it anyway.”

This was one of the most important lessons that I could learn when it came to character creation, especially when it came to villains. No matter how evil a character is perceived, that person wants to feel good about him/herself, and their actions will reflect that. The logic might be sick and twisted, but even the most evil or sociopathic individual has thoughts and feelings that will lead them to act in ways that serve this core desire. And there are things that we often do subconsciously in order to protect our egos. This article on attribution highlights a few of these biases that you never knew that you had.

Kendra Cherry “The Psychology of Attribution” http://psychology.about.com/od/socialpsychology/a/attribution.htm

Of course, no one can be whittled down to a super fun archetype, but it’s a great place to start if you’re having trouble with your characters. Is there anywhere that you go that helps you with character creation? Feel free to comment below!