No, I’m not talking about Dungeons and Dragons. I’m talking about character sheets for the characters in novels. Not to say that I haven’t used D&D to make characters for my novels, because I certainly have. However, Dungeons and Dragons lacks some very important elements for characters in books.

You want your characters to be memorable. You want them to be believable (at least in some ways). You want them to be unique. How do you go about doing that? Well, I’ll start by telling you how I do it. Then I’m going to share some resources I found to help.

However, since I mentioned resources, I’ll actually start with what I use to outline, keep notes, store information, and begin my writing process. Google Docs! Why do I choose Google Docs? Because it’s easy, it’s organized, and I can access it anywhere I want.

The hitch is the internet requirement for using Docs, and it’s true, it’s quite painful to not have access to my documents when I’m not connected to the Interwebs. With that said, I only work when I’m at a computer, and I rarely am not connected.

The Spine

What you see above is the spine of my projects, with each folder being the start of a project I’m working on. Within each of these, I keep the main body of the work, broken down by chapters, and then I have a folder as well that contains notes. It’s in the notes folder that I keep my character sheet.

Now for the structure of my character sheet, or what I prefer to call my Character Portrait. I start with the name. That’s kind of a given. Then I go into physical appearance, but I don’t go into great detail here. Instead, I focus on defining traits. For example, Samara’s people are of a darker complexion like that of the Chinese or Mongolians; however, Samara is paler than most of her kind. Also, she has abnormal, night-blue eyes, almost black, whereas most of her people have brown or hazel eyes.

Next, I focus on the character’s history. Why history over personality? Because history, more often than not, shapes personality. Samara’s people are nomads. Life is difficult for them, and they rely heavily on one another. Therefore, Samara is very selfless, willing to stand up for others. She was also being trained as an apprentice by the tribe’s shaman. She is very devoted to her studies, very curious, and intelligent. When she learns magic, it is with determination and relentless persistence.

After history, I focus on the character’s interests before and during the story (sometimes they can change). I also put notes of significant research in the document. For example, I have extensive notes on childhood trauma and how children are affected by and deal with it.

That’s it. I have extensive write-ups for each of these sections. I don’t spend a whole lot of time developing every little detail of the character, that usually just pops in while I’m writing, and I can fill that stuff into my notes later. However, I still do make D&D character sheets, because it’s fun.

This may not work for every writer, so I’m going to tell you of some programs that I discovered, and one in particular that I’m interested in. I’m going to try using portions of it on my next project.

Bibisco

Bibisco is a free-to-download program that gives you a bunch of amazing features, and if you donate (at least 12 pounds), you get even more amazing features.

I’m only going to focus on the character sheet portion of this program, but it is worth checking out the rest if you need help organizing things like locations, timeline, architecture, themes, scenes, and chapters.

The first step to creating a character on Bibisco is to click on the characters tab. The program will now have two sections on the main screen: main characters and secondary characters.

On the right side is a button that states “create main character.” Click this and it will ask for your character’s name. Type it in and hit save. This will take you back to the previous screen, but now you will have your character listed underneath the section that says “main character.”

Next, click on that character. Here is what you’ll see:

As you can see you, there are five questions: Who is he/she? How does he/she look? What does he/she think? Where does he/she come from? And, Where does he/she go?

Underneath these questions are more buttons. When you click on them, you are given a more in-depth questionnaire about the character. There are a large number of questions there, so I’m not going to go into each one, but for example, the “physical features” button has questions like, “What does his/her shoulders look like?” Very, very detailed lists.

Other programs

I haven’t looked into the details of these, but I found a list over on www.reedsy.com that talks about several options (paid and free) when it comes to software for novelists. Click the link for more details.

So how about it? Do you find yourself using these programs? Do you think they’re useful? Please comment below, and thank you for reading.

~Michael C. Sahd

The Day Of The Photo Shoot

This was your classic busy day, during which you scramble to get everything done in the short amount of time you have allocated. We had to meet our photographer at “solar noon.” Why? Simply because we were using a green screen, poor-man style.

Basically, I had bought some green fabric, which we needed to hang from a tall fence, and the sun had to be directly above us so that it would not cast a shadow.

So we had a timeframe to get ready in. One of the largest issues with using my daughter as the model for Samara was her hair color. Samara has dark black hair, and my daughter has dirty blond locks. Otherwise, she fit perfectly.

So her cousin, who used to work in beauty departments, suggested that we use spray-in hair coloring, because we did not want to use a permanent dye.

We had gone to Sally’s Beauty Supply the day before to buy one of these sprays, and that morning, we took my daughter over to her cousin’s house to get it colored and to apply makeup.

If you are unfamiliar with beauty supply products, then you are blessed. That stuff stinks. I can hardly understand why anyone would sit in a nail bar (parlor, I’m not sure what they’re called), and suffer that scent. I get sick walking by them at a mall.

Anyway, her cousin started spraying her hair with this stuff, and it was working wonderfully. Her hair was turning black before our eyes, and it was drying quickly. She was a third of the way through when the can started sputtering.

Now we were in trouble, sort of. I jumped in the car and raced down to Sally’s.

You know that feeling you get when it seems like you’re rowing up a current, trying to fight against the rapids? Well, that’s how I felt when I pulled into Sally’s and found it closed. Of course it was closed on a Sunday.

However, my quick thinking had me ramming the car in reverse and skipping over to Walgreens. They have beauty supplies, right? Damn straight.

I found L’Oreal Paris Magic Root Cover Up, as per her cousin’s recommendation, and raced back to her house.

She finished spraying my daughter’s hair, and it looked black! Except (and here I’m rowing up that river again), the new stuff bled . . . badly. Her face and makeup would get a black streak in it any time the wind blew a strand into her face.

We decided that it was fine. It would make her look dirty, and Samara was dirty a good portion of the book, so good.

We went to pick up her costume, then drove over to meet our photographer, just in time.

The first round of pictures were taken against the green screen so that we could get the solar-noon lighting.

Pay close attention to her hair. It is black in the front and not so much in the back. This was due to the Sally spray lasting and the Walgreen spray not. Anyway, these were a lot of fun, and we took oh so many more, but these were my keepers.

We were not done yet, however. We headed over to a local park next, which had a nice nature trail and a river next to it, to take some more natural pictures.

We took this awesome set and thought we were done after that, but then my daughter noticed a neat-looking tree in the distance and wanted to climb it and get some pictures in that.

They came out nicely too. You may recognize the middle one from my Twitter or Facebook banner.

Next week, I’ll go into what it took to make the actual cover.

That’s all for now.

~Michael C. Sahd

The Costume

So I got my model, and I had my photographer lined up. What’s next? Well, she needed to look the part. I needed something directly from the book, and Samara was described as wearing mammoth skin, black leather, with a brown-and- gray fur.

My first stop was Hobby Lobby and Walmart, where I bought a few things:

This was the fabric I purchased, and I know there is very minute difference between the two black ones in the picture, but they were very different in person. The black fabric from Hobby Lobby was softer, more supple than the faux leather from Walmart.

I had a friend, as I mentioned, who intended to put this together for me, but much to my horror, he was not getting back to me. So I took the fabric over to another friend’s house and attempted to sew it myself on his sewing machine, using a pattern I bought.

What a huge mistake that was. A tailor, I am not.

Fortunately, about halfway through the day, I got a call from my tailor friend. “I’m ready to work on that costume,” he said, and I was on the other end practically leaping for joy. “Great!” I responded, I’ll be right over.” What I didn’t tell him was that I already started it on it. To his great dismay, he discovered that when I showed up at his house.

“What the hell did you do?” he asked me, when I pulled out the butchered tunic that was way too large for my daughter. Looking abashed, I said, “I was trying to get started. I had a pattern. It said it was for 6-10 year old children.” What the pattern meant by that age though, was that it was meant for 6-10-year-old children of GIANTS.

Well, he took my stuff, and I didn’t hear back from him for days.

In the meantime . . . I went to work on the kukri, and I took pictures of the process. I had to think about how to make this blade. I didn’t have a forge, and I definitely didn’t have time to learn how to make one.

What I did have was a grinder. I thought to myself, I can possibly get a large blade and cut it down to size. I ran to Harbor Freight and bought a machete for $5.99

Oh wait, let me back this up. In addition to the knife, I also had to carve some buttons for the costume. We wanted it to be as authentic as possible so, in lieu of mammoth tusk, I used deer antler (that’s about the same, isn’t it?).

Then I went online and looked up ancient Siberian carvings (because my tribal people are loosely based off of them), and went to work. We had decided on toggles, and I finished them in short order:

Okay, back to the knife. I decided to use the excess deer antler to make the handle. I cut out the blade and the handle, then glued them together:

So there’s the basic kukri. Now came the hard part. I went online to look up pictures of sabretoothed cats. I needed something with its mouth open, and I found this:

I needed to carve the cat into the handle!

I have never carved anything like this before. Not that I had zero experience. After all, I am a jeweler and spent a good part of my life making jewelry out of lost wax. Still, this was a different beast (like what I did there?). I had to carve a three-dimensional cat’s head into a deer antler. Well, I went to work, and I think it came out just fine:

See how that progressed? Finally, I had to put on the finishing touches, such as the engraving and the gem. Considering it is a prop (although a functional one), I just hot glued the gem in place.

Yes, that is Arabic. If you want to know what it says, you must read my book! ūüėČ

Making the knife was very fun.

Okay, so I had two days to the photo shoot, and I still hadn’t heard back from my friend. I had asked him if I could come over to take progress pictures, and the response I got was, “There is nothing to take pictures of.” So I was getting nervous.

The Saturday before the shoot, we went to board game night and my tailor friend showed up. As nonchalant as I could be, I asked, “Where the hell is my costume!!!” Well, not quite in that manner, but you get the idea. He told me that he would have the finishing touches done that night, and I could come get it before the shoot.

I will talk more about the next day in part three, but here is the completed version of the costume. It came out wonderfully.

That’s my daughter in her Samara costume. She says she is going to be Samara for Halloween.

Come back next week for Part 3. I will show off the pictures from the photo shoot.

Finding Samara

If anybody had been following me when I first started the publication process of Assassin Marked, they would know the struggle I went through to come up with a cover for it. Since it was such a short story I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, and I also couldn’t find any stock photography that portrayed Damian.

Fast forward two years later to when I began preparing my first full-length novel, The Unfettered Child, for publication. I wanted to really do my best with it, so I started early. I had several plans:

  1. Getting my daughter to model the main character
  2. Making a costume
  3. Doing a photo shoot
  4. Finally, making the cover

When I first had the idea, my daughter was keen on doing the photo shoot for me. For months we talked about it, and I went about buying the supplies to make the costume. After getting these supplies to a friend of ours, Dennis Swain, a tailor who makes costumes, my daughter decided that she didn’t want to do it anymore. Understandable, she didn’t feel comfortable showing her face to 1000s of people or more.

Panicking, I searched Pixabay for a suitable image that I could use. I found a few, but I wasn’t really satisfied with any of them.

None of these were suitable, and all of them would require a lot of shooping.

I did come up with a few designs from these. The one with the beanie, I replaced with a fur hood and cropped the chest. I put some really cool effects in her eyes. It was a nice substitute, but not good enough.

The frowning, dark-haired girl was the closest in appearances to Samara, but not quite sufficient. The redhead had a good expression, but changing that hair color would have been horrible. Finally, I did something with the silhouette, and that made it close to the final design of my cover.

I was very disappointed. After some time, the subject was brought up again, and my daughter took pity on me and agreed to do it again, on the condition that her face not be shown. Not a problem, an action scene is generally better than just a simple pose.

She had mixed feelings herself. One part of her was very interested in being on the book cover, while the other part was afraid of being in front of a camera. She very obviously doesn’t like her picture taken. For me, she was the best candidate for Samara, despite her hair color.

So it was decided, we were to move onto the photo shoot.

To be continued …

Assassin Marked

Michael released Assassin Marked in October of 2017. However, Damian made his first appearance long before that, in a short story Michael wrote while still in high school.

Although nothing ever came of the original story, Damian continued to inhabit some primal domain in Michael’s imagination. He finally returned to our world in a dialog practice that Michael wrote for a college writing class. This, too, found itself filed away among many of Michael’s other writings.

Years later, Michael’s wonderful wife (who also happens to be a professional editor) took a look at Assassin Marked. After much persistence from her, Michael made the story what it is today, and Damian emerged from his secret hut, hidden away in Michael’s imagination.

The DuFonte Chronicles

In addition to Assassin Marked, Damian will be featured in future stories and novels in the DuFonte Chronicles, including Lavender Rose.

The DuFonte Chronicles!

Angela (Pooled Ink Reviews) rated it FOUR STARS  “ASSASSIN MARKED is a short story that introduces what is sure to be a very interesting world. Damien seeks vengeance, Victorias loyalties tear her apart, both have a choice to make that will alter the course of their lives. Do they obey orders? Or do they allow love to sway them and death to chase after? This is the story of an assassin marked.  …more

Grace J Reviewerlady rated it FIVE STARS “Firstly, let me say that Im not and never have been anything remotely like a fan of sci-fi. However, I just have to follow that up by saying I LOVED this short story! …more

Amanda (A Brighter Shade of Hope) rated it FOUR STARS “I would recommend this book to anyone who loves science fiction, gunships and assassins or is up for a simple but gripping read set in the solar system. I’m not sure if there are any plans for continuation of the story, but I would definitely love to read more of Damian, Victoria and the ruthless Syndicate in the future.  …more

 

 

Assassin Marked book cover floating in space

The last two weeks, I have been super busy writing. Not anything new. I’ve mostly been improving The Unfettered Child, preparing it for publication. Yup, that means my Camp NaNoWriMo project has been put on the back burner. Sorry, Camp NaNoWriMo!

This upcoming novel is entirely unrelated to Assassin Marked, but don’t give up hope, folks. I’m certain you will enjoy The Unfettered Child, and it won’t be too long before you see Lavender Rose’s release ( the full-length sequel to Assassin Marked). Sorry, people waiting for the sequel.

Assassin Marked Ad
Free on April 30th

Speaking of Assassin Marked! As the title to this blog post states, I am running an Amazon promotion, so you can download a digital copy of Assassin Marked for free. Yeah, that’s right! Starting right now and continuing throughout today, April 30th, you can get Assassin Marked for free. What are you waiting for? Click here to order.

In other related news, something that’s been milling around in my head is turning Assassin Marked into a graphic novel. Turns out I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. Earlier this month, I received the following review on Goodreads:

Goodreads Review.

The main reason I’m bringing this up is that I would love an artist to step up and turn it into a comic book. What do you say, artists? Want to earn some royalties?

That’s all I got for now. Thank you for your time.

~Michael C. Sahd

While perusing the endless posts of writers seeking help and advice on social media, I’ve run across some who ask, “How can I make magic work in my story?”

Many established authors have broached the subject and invented unique methods, but new writers want to make something fresh.

Pimply Wizard
A young wizard

The real question is: What is a fantasy story without magic? Of the top of my head, I can’t think of any high fantasy stories that don’t include magic of some kind. J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan, and so many more authors have included magic in their stories.

Each of these authors approaches the use of magic in their own way, and applies their own limits to its use. For example, Harry Potter must have a wand and must know the correct incantation. Stupefy anyone lately?

These limitations, I feel, are very important for an author to include, and would perhaps be the first thing to consider when developing a magic system. Without them, a character runs the risk of becoming a superbeing without challenges, and challenges are what make a story good.

While you are developing your system, consider including a learning curve for beginners, and the opportunity for growth. Remember Willow’s first spell? He accidentally shot himself into a tree. Perhaps you can have a school for magic, or an apprentice system. Regardless of the method you choose, all of your characters should have a starting point, and a place to grow into.

Willow

These three things–limitations, learning, and growth–serve as a foundation to your character and their magical growth. Next, you can develop magical structure and techniques, but honestly, these are not important to flesh out unless you feel your reader needs them to understand the first three things.

In my current work-in-progress, for instance, a mage must draw upon their own inner reserve of power, which grows stronger as they practice the art. As the mage uses magic, it drains them, making them feel tired. If they push too hard, the mage will die from the exertion.

It’s a very simple explanation, and I like it that way. This allows me to focus on telling the story. Don’t let your lessons on how magic works interfere with the tale you’re weaving.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how magic works for you. Let me know in the comments below.

~Michael C. Sahd

If you are unaware of who Paul Burt is, you’re about to learn. How? Well, he narrates Assassin Marked. That’s how. Of course, you can also find out more about him at his website, or by clicking his name above or the image below.

Paul Burt
Paul Burt

If you’re wondering how I met Paul, it was on ACX, a website to help authors connect with voice actors. I auditioned a few voice actors, and I liked Paul’s reading the best out of the bunch. I feel he most accurately captured the noir style I was going for with Assassin Marked.

Those of you that have read Assassin Marked know that a good portion of the story is written from the point of view of the female protagonist, Victoria Maruska. I feel that, as a male, it is very difficult to portray a female’s voice when reading out loud. Many men give the female voice a high falsetto that is really awful to hear. Paul Burt managed to pull off Victoria without the falsetto, and it was pretty good. The only way it could be better would be if a woman had read it (but then Damian’s portion would have suffered, haha).

I’m really excited to see how well my readers like the audiobook. To get a copy of the audiobook, you can click here and sign up. Just think, now you can listen to Assassin Marked while driving or while waiting for an appointment! Even though it the audiobook was only released this afternoon, people have already ordered it. I can’t wait to hear their feedback!

Here is a sample of Paul Burt reading the book:

Assassin Marked Audio

I hope you’re as excited as I am. If you get it, please let me know what you think in the comments below.

That’s all for now.

~Michael C. Sahd

Valentine’s Day 2019 seemed to be like any other day. I got up in the morning, took the kids to school, and then went to work. Same type of day as any other.

At 5:00 PM, I went home, again just like any other work day. Upon arriving at the house, I found my wife in the bedroom talking on the phone. I didn’t want to disturb her so I went to the kitchen and heated up some leftover pozole that I had made a prior day (It was very good pozole, I might add).

Bowl of Posole.
Homemade Pozole (Yes, this is the exact bowl I’m referring to).

I had just finished heating up my bowl, when my wife walked into the kitchen. I was just chewing my first bite when I looked up to see the disappointment transforming her smile.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said dejectedly.

“Oh,” I said, “you had something planned.”

“Well, no,” she said, pouting. “It’s OK. Eat your pozole.”

“No,” I said, putting my bowl in the refrigerator. “I only had one bite. Let me get ready.” Already, she looked pleased.

After getting ready, we asked our oldest son to watch his younger siblings, and headed out to the car. “Let’s take my car,” I said, and we both hopped in.

As I was pulling out of the drive, she said, “This is going to be tricky trying to surprise you while you’re the one driving.”

Stepping on the brakes, I said, “You can drive.”

“Nah,” she replied, and I continued backing up.

“Well, I can put on a blindfold and you can guide me,” I said, to which I just received a fake chuckle. What can I say, dad jokes aren’t very good at the best of times.

We opted for her to just tell me where to go, and I would be surprised as we neared the establishment. I didn’t mention that I had already guessed where we were going.

The destination was Tokyo Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar, despite the fact that my wife absolutely hates Japanese food (Oh, the sacrifices we make to please our significant others).

As we pulled up, we saw a family getting into their car, and two restaurant employees standing outside the entrance. Getting out of the car, we walked, arms linked, up to the doors. As we neared, one of the employees said, “I’m sorry, we’re closed,” in an accent that I’m certain wasn’t Japanese.

“Well, OK,” I said, a little disappointed, and we returned to the car. “OK, now what?” I asked, and she began leading me somewhere else.

The Turtle Restaurant in Brownwood TX.
Fancy McFancy Pants Restaurant

We went downtown, and her path eventually led us to The Turtle. I honestly don’t know much about this restaurant, except that it is fancy. Very fancy.

We entered and were greeted by a hostess. After returning the greeting, we requested a table for two.

“Do you have a reservation?” she asked.

“No ma’am, we don’t, but we can wait,” I told her.

She gave me one of those oh, you poor fool looks, and then said, “I can put you down, but it will be an hour and a half before we can seat you.”

Completely dejected, we retreated from the Fancy McFancy Pants restaurant, walked around the downtown sidewalks for a bit, and discussed our options. We would have waited, but it was a school night and we would need to help the kids with homework and get them ready for bed.

Eventually, we decided to go to Humphrey Pete’s, a local steakhouse. Nothing special for us; we’ve eaten there often enough. However, I did get a mahi mahi plate, a rare treat due to its expense.

What struck me most about this Valentine’s day though, was the wonderful bond I share with my wife. Even at our age and after all these years together, we still enjoy each other’s company, and there is nobody I would rather spend a blas√© Valentine’s with.

That’s all I have for today. What did you guys think? How was your Valentine’s day? Tell me your story in the comments.

~Michael C. Sahd

New Year - Fresh Start

I can’t say that I have ever made a New Year resolution list. After seeing one of my fellow writers on Twitter make a post about it, I thought I would give it a shot. So here goes:

Write a little every day: I know I’ve said this many times, but I would like to keep it a goal that I write at least a little every day. I’ve read many books concerning getting published. Even my favorite book by Stephen King, called On Writing, insists that the only way to be a writer is to write more and read more, which brings me to my next resolution.

Read more: I actually do read every day. Every night before bed, I will read a chapter or two to my nine year old. Currently we are reading the Everworld series. I would, however, like to read for myself as well.

Enjoy work: I would like to find a way to enjoy my job, and somehow rid myself of the parts I don’t enjoy. I’ve already started taking measures toward this.

What about you guys, my faithful readers? What are your New Year’s resolutions?