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

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 …

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

NaNoWriMo website logo
NaNoWriMo

I’m a bit late for this, but my curiosity is piqued. What is this all about, you ask? Well, we’re going to find out together.

The Facebook group, Ninja Writers, is where I first heard tell of NaNoWriMo, as people have started calling it. In one post, a Ninja Writers’ member exclaimed that he was on his 100th page of his novel. That’s great! I thought. However, underneath that, he wrote, “NaNoWriMo is going well for me!” I thought to myself, What the hell is NaNoWriMo?

So I turned to my friend Google, and I said, “NaNoWriMo?” And Google, being the ultimate at knowing exactly what you want from single word questions, pointed me to https://nanowrimo.org, the National Novel Writing Month website.

I clicked around the site, and I determined a few things from what I read. First, I am very late. You’re allowed to sign up in September. Second, you start posting updates and all that from Nov 1st through the 30th. Third, the novel must have a minimum of fifty thousand words by the end of the month. Fourth, major authors give pep talks and support. Finally, it’s a community where writers meet.

Let’s get started:

After clicking “Get Started,” I am taken to a basic form: name, email, password, age verification, and reCAPTCHA; you know, the basics.

After making certain that I’m not a robot by clicking the checkbox, I hit sign up.

The next page says “Thank you!” and I must wait on an email to complete the sign-up process. Fortunately, the wait is only 0.5 seconds long. The email has a link that takes me to a sign in page.

My first pop-up from NaNoWriMo!

The first item on the agenda is selecting a region. Since my county is not on the list, I choose the next one over.

“Committed to writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November?” NaNoWriMo asks.

“I’ll do my damndest,” I say.

“Follow these easy steps to get started,” it says:

  1. Fill out your profile. (Will do)
  2. Create your novel starting in September. (Oops)
  3. Select your region. (I did that on the last screen)
  4. Earn badges. (Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!)
  5. Get inspired. (Easier said than done. Am I WRITE? Ha, see what I did there?)
  6. Start Writing. (Erm, Somehow I think this is akin to step 2.)
  7. Claim your win. (Now we’re talking! What do we win?)

 

Ok, so step one: filling out the profile. At the very top of the page, it has a field for the name of your novel, and a spot for a picture. I also note that if you donate to the site, you can get a “halo.” In all, there are five tabs to fill out. I seem to be on the “Author Info” tab, as the fields below ask for the basic profile stuff, location, b-day, hobbies, fav music, website, sponsorship, occupation, fav books or authors, and a bio.

I accidentally add The Unfettered Child as this year’s November novel. I could delete it, but nah.

The other tabs are “Novels,” “Badges,” “Writing Buddies,” “Buddy Of,” “Goal Trackers,” and “Stats.” Over the next few days, I will play with these.

The closest group to me is in Stephenville, so I introduce myself on their forum. They apparently meet quite often at the local Starbucks to . . . write, I guess. Drink coffee and write. I love it.

Overall, the experience is good. How effective it is still depends heavily on how involved you are. Check back and I will write about the “Inspiration” section. From what I see, there are pep talks from successful authors.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Lavender-colored rose against a technology background

Lavender Rose

“Daaammmmian,” a honeyed voice rang out from his apartment. “Please refrain from killing my men. I have no intentions of harming you.” The Syndicate obviously wanted him alive. Ignoring the voice, Damian used his free hand to quietly open the window at the end of the hall. “Really, Damian, I just have a job for you. There’s no need for this violence,” said the man.

Instead of entering through the open window, Damian moved to the closest apartment door. “I don’t work for the Syndicate anymore!” Damian shouted and shot down the hall, masking the sound of his boot kicking the door open. The door bounced, eliciting a scream from behind the door.

Slipping in quickly and quietly, gun first, Damian noted an obese naked and tattooed man stumbling back from the door swearing about a broken nose. The man’s belly bounced as he landed heavily on his rear. Damian pointed his gun at the man. “Shut up,” he said, his voice cold and deadly. He quickly shut the door behind him. The apartment’s layout looked like a mirror image of his own. The likeness ended there. This man’s slovenly messes littered every room. A terrible stench wafted out of the kitchen, and in the bedroom, a woman hid her nakedness behind some cheap blankets. Damian pointed the gun at the woman and repeated, “Shut up, now!”

The man nodded enthusiastically, encouraging her to capitulate. His eyes were wide with shock and fear, and blood stained his unruly beard. Damian returned his aim to the man.

After determining that the man and woman had acquiesced, Damian turned his body to the side, enabling him to peek out of the spy hole in the door while still keeping the pistol trained on the obedient man behind him. He heard the group out in the hall talking amongst themselves in Japanese. “He must have gone out of the window,” one said. Then the honeyed voice spoke again. “Follow him; don’t lose him.”

 

If you enjoyed this excerpt, stay tuned for more in Michael C. Sahd’s upcoming full-length novel, Lavender Rose (The DuFonte Chronicles, Book 2).

Lavender Rose
Lavender Rose Working Cover

The Unfettered Child Working Book Cover

The Unfettered Child

Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek into Michael C. Sahd’s upcoming fantasy novel, The Unfettered Child:

“In all the countless moons of my life, I have never met an elf, Abizou.” The strong deep voice emanated from what appeared to be a human skeleton into a throne room which appeared richly decorated, but devoid of life. Even as it spoke, the skeleton sat motionless on its marble throne, its bones loosely wrapped in red and white silk robes embroidered with gold. Gold and marble made up the decor of the large room, with scatterings of white banners that each featured a red sun.

They are treacherous, Havelle. Almost as treacherous as you, said a woman’s voice, seemingly from nowhere.

The skeleton’s head turned slowly to gaze sightlessly upon a round blue-faceted gem resting on a velvet red pillow. Two red pinpoints of light glowed in the hollows of the skeleton’s eyes. “What do you suppose they want? I could not discern with my magic.”

Elves have powerful mages, who put shields in place to protect against any such divinations. Also, they are not known to parley with lesser beings, said the woman’s voice, apparently originating from the gem.

The skeleton’s gaze turned back to the large double doors at the entrance of the hall. Distant horns could be heard, marking the approach of the elves. The skeleton stood, pulling itself up with a copper and silver staff. No sooner did it take a step down the dais than a yellow halo enveloped it. Then, like a strange liquid, muscle, followed by flesh, flowed around the bones and filled out the draping robes.

Now, in front of the throne stood a strong and handsome olive-skinned man. He looked over at the blue stone sitting next to the throne and smiled. “I’m pleased you think so highly of me,” Havelle said.

If the stone could have scoffed, it would have. Instead, it said nothing.

Havelle stepped to the right of the throne. Flattening his robes with hands now covered in flesh, he said, “I think, perhaps, I sleep too much.”

Your lineage manages the empire just fine without you, said Abizou.

After hundreds of years, Havelle sighed for the first time. Enjoying the sensation, he sighed again.

Troubles? asked the gem.

“Troubles? No, I’m just enjoying the sensations of having a body.” He smiled wickedly at the gem.

The Unfettered Child book cover

 

The Unfettered Child
A new novel by Author Michael C. Sahd,
Coming this Autumn!

 

Assassin Marked by Michael C. Sahd Book Cover
 
 


I have decided to host a one-day only Amazon giveaway for one e-book copy of “Assassin Marked.” This book will be given to the 250th entry, so hurry!



My wife suggested I write about my post-publishing nervousness. Between Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and this bloody blog (heh, I like the way that sounds), I’ve been working very hard to get the word out about “Assassin Marked.”

To be honest, I have no idea how to explain my nervousness. It could be the persistent itch to get more of my stories out there. Then again, it could be the fear of not doing well; the nagging question, “Will people like it?” One of my biggest fears at the moment is receiving a terrible review on Amazon.

But enough about that. I really don’t want to write about my nervousness. Rather, I would like to write about my progress. I spent a bit of time today revising some of the fiction piece I’m working on. It’s requiring that I studying the effects of post traumatic stress disorder in children, and the psychological effects of a parent losing his family. A little teaser there.

I’ve also been hard at work composing a more thorough historical time line for Damian’s world in “Assassin Marked.” Not for publication really, just notes for myself to help me remain consistent in my story. But I have many little stories springing up revolving around Damian, or the world Damian lives in.

My six-year-old daughter, on the other hand, decided that her pony needed a haircut for the weekend.

TGIF,

~ Michael C. Sahd

 

 

Many writers will share that real life experiences inspire the tales they tell. Many, myself included, scoff (or have scoffed) at such a statement; telling themselves, “My life isn’t nearly so interesting.” What I have learned, however, is that this is rarely the case. Experiences take place daily, and though they may be mundane to you, they won’t be after “enhancing” them.

Just the other day, I took a trip to the local library to find the second book to the Septimus Heap series. I, of course, found Angie Sage’s books fairly quickly, and although they had many of her books, the one I wanted was not on the shelf. Naturally, I asked the librarians to see if it was checked out. It wasn’t.

I informed the lady at the counter that I had looked and it wasn’t there; she responded by telling me to look around, because people don’t always put them back in the right place. A little disheartened, I went back to look again (I had already looked around the nearby shelves, duh). After not finding it, I went back to the librarians for help. Instead of helping, they shrugged and said it could be anywhere. I left, rather annoyed by their lack of help.

However, the librarians were interesting characters, and a version of this scene has already inserted into my next story with Damian. I have changed many of the details and spiced it up a bit, but the entire scene is inspired by this short interaction.

Your experience doesn’t need to be Hollywood material. Just the smallest interaction, large enough to catch your attention, but not much more than that, can turn into a scene in your book. Take notes, make a voice memo, or just tell someone about it, and you will be able to get it down on paper. Embellishing the experience into an interesting scene is what makes you a writer.
And no . . . I still have not found the second book to the Septimus Heap series.

Septimus Heap, Book Two: Flyte by [Sage, Angie]