When I first started creating the Magic Cube series, I hemmed and hawed over what name I would write under. I’m sure I was overly dramatic about the whole thing; I am a writer, after all; we have a flair for the dramatic. I always imagined I would write under the name I was born with and pay homage to my ancestors. The very thought of using a pen name sent a chill through me; I was horrified by the idea. How would my family feel? Would I be spitting on the very name that brought me into this world?
Then, I pulled myself together, and I remembered I was an introvert. I love hiding in the shadows. If I used a pen name, I could hide behind this extravagant persona. After taking to the internet and doing an obnoxious amount of research, I came up with a few other really great reasons to use a pen name.
1) I have a common name
Michelle Peterson is the name I was born with. Michelle is okay if I had some oddball last name, but I don’t. I have one of the 100 most common last names in the US. Then, I went and married a Miller…now I was in the top 10 most common last names. Why is all this information on popularity important? Search Engines.
There are millions of books out there. It’s hard to market a book, especially if thousands of people already have established web pages with your name on them. The last thing anyone wants is to get buried in the search engines. Searchability is one of the most critical aspects of building a brand and gaining publicity.
2) Building a Brand
Self-publishing includes a ton of marketing. You are essentially creating a brand around your author name. You will want to create social media accounts and build an author website.
I knew I wanted to buy a domain name and build a website. I also wanted a name unique enough to show up on the first page of any given search engine. Hardly anyone scrolls past the first page. If you aren’t there, how will anyone find you?
3) Introvert Problems
As mentioned above, I’m an introvert and horribly shy. I love talking to people and hearing their stories; I’m not so good about sharing my own. Talking about writing and publishing is terrifying to me. It is entirely out of my comfort zone. Marketing for someone else? Now, that’s something I can do.
It sounds silly, I know. I’m marketing for myself, hiding behind someone else.
What’s in a Name?
I finally decided to go with a pen name. Now came the hard part, what name to use?
The Magic Cube Chapter books are geared toward early readers. I need a name they can all pronounce and remember. Also, after reading about J.K. Rowling and why she used initials, I wanted something gender-neutral.
Mitchel Maree is born
For as long as I can remember, my grandfather always called me Mitchel. Maybe he secretly wanted more grandsons; I don’t know, but it stuck. I have a couple of uncles who use this pet name to this day.
My middle name is Marie. I messed with the spelling and ended up with a French last name.
I have been using this pen name for about a year now. When my first book came out, I felt uncomfortable telling people I wrote it under a pen name. Now, I’ve embraced the writer in me, the author I call Mitchel Maree.
I choose a pen name to build a brand, be more marketable and easy to find, and as a way to keep some anonymity.
When I first started writing, I struggled with character development. I completed my very first manuscript, an adult suspense book, about ten years ago. I sent out countless queries begging agents to represent me, and I received numerous rejections letters in return. One agent took the time to respond with constructive criticism; my storyline was interesting, but they couldn’t connect with the characters. Ooof, that one stung a bit. Thus began my decade-long struggle to create characters worthy enough to be featured in my stories.
Since that first attempt at publishing crashed and burned, life took over and moved me in a different direction. I shelved my writing while I took on the challenge of motherhood, four times over. I wrote on and off during my children’s infant stage, but it wasn’t until my youngest child started school, I could focus on writing again.
Modeling After Real People
In another blog, which you can read here, I explain how I came up with the Mystery of the Cursed Elves idea. The book is centered on four siblings’ adventures; those children are loosely based on my own kids. This time around, I really wanted to nail the characters in the hopes of creating a really great series. I figured if I used real people as my models, it would be hard to fail.
As I sat down to write the story, I picked out each child’s most prominent personality traits and then embellished them a bit.
To my great wonderment and surprise, writing these characters came easy. In all honestly, I didn’t even think about the four children; they simply came into being and worked with me to tell the story. In fact, it wasn’t until a few Beta Readers mentioned how fun and relatable the characters were that I really understood what I had done. I managed to develop great characters because I knew their personalities like the back of my hand. Years of motherhood gave me the insight I needed, and all I did was write the story as if my own children were in it.
If I ever struggled with “What would Max do?” or “How would Sophie react to that?” I thought about the child they were modeled after and found my answers. It was a no brainer and, in hindsight, quite impressive. I discovered something here as if a light bulb switched on in my creative mind.
My Favorite Character to Write
I get the most compliments on Parker. My Beta readers love Parker; her personality shines through most effectively. Author confession, she is my favorite character to write for. Parker is based on my youngest child, Roxi, my spunky, wild child. And although Parker is an exaggerated version of Roxi, their personalities are similar.
Roxi is younger than Parker in real life; she was only 4 when my first book was published. In the books, Parker is six. Since the children go on many wacky adventures, they all needed to be slightly older for the stories to make sense. Some of the things Parker does would be far-fetched if she were only four. That being said, both Roxi and Parker share an adventurous and bold disposition. Although Roxi isn’t quite as fearless as Parker, she shares the same spunk and spirit. Parker is the embodiment of what I think Roxi will be as she gets older.
I love writing her parts because of her fearlessness; she is the polar opposite of myself. While I tend to think before acting, I love that Parker acts without thinking. Its so different from my own experiences, but almost freeing in a way. Its honestly the way I wish I could be sometimes, running at things head first, completely spontaneous, without a single thought to the consequences. Parker can do all this because she knows her siblings will be there if she does end up in over her head.
The Other Kids
Sophie, the oldest sister in the series, is based on my oldest daughter, Mila. Mila has always been a “little mother” to her siblings. She is kind, caring, helpful, and always nurturing, just like Sophie in the books. In our family, Mila is the natural leader, but I gave that role to Max in the series; I wanted him to be important in driving the plot forward.
Max is modeled after my only boy, Maddex. Like Max, my son also loves adventure and problem-solving. He isn’t quite as bold or outgoing as Max, but he can be very persistent and determined when he gets an idea in his head. Much like Max, he gets along well with his sisters, and they spend quite a bit of time together.
Violet is a mixture of my middle child and myself as a child. Khaleesi is quiet but has an active imagination. Her personality is more passive, often allowing her ideas to be easily overshadowed and dismissed by her bolder, louder sisters. Like myself, her imagination is vivid and overactive; in fact, when I find myself struggling with the plot, she is my go-to gal, often helping to spark my creative juices and get me back on track.
Lessons Learned – Developing Characters
I have learned so much from writing this first book. I now know I am capable of creating characters my readers not only relate to but will cheer for. While building characters is not my strongest trait, I can put into practice what I learned from this series in future writings.
Basing characters on real people works well for me. It takes the guesswork out of creating a personality from scratch; I already know the traits.
A character needs to feel like a real person. Everybody has their own specific traits and personality, so work to make that shine in everything they do.
Bring the personality to life. I don’t want to tell my readers what a character is like, I want to show them. Use dialogue and action to really accentuate and amplify those traits; bring the character to life.
I’m looking forward to putting all I have learned into practice and meeting all the new characters lurking around in my head.
Keywords: developing characters, fiction characters, book characters, character building
People are often curious about what an author’s writing process looks like. Every author has their own style and their own process for completing a novel. Below, I list out what my typical writing process looks like.
My ideas come from everywhere. It may start with something I read or watch, and wonder would happen if they made a different choice. It could start with a simple idea such as writing a story about Christmas or about fairies. My current work in progress all started with a Fairy Door; I wanted the Watson children to go through a fairy door. I crafted my story around that idea.
Whatever the idea may be, it is normally a short thought or sentence that I build a story around. “What if the elves tried to ruin Christmas?” or “What if the kids turned into fairies?”
I don’t do outlines. I tried it once and ended up changing the entire book halfway through, making the original outline a waste of time. I consider my first draft the outline of the book.
I start with my premise and idea and I write. I write books straight through, beginning to end. I let the book unfold as I’m writing. I know who my main character(s) will be, and I keep a running list as new characters are created. These characters tend to reveal themselves as the story progresses. For the most part, I’m never exactly positive where the story is going to go or even how its going to end.
I love this process because I can honestly say I have no idea where the story will end up. I am often surprised at some of the twists and turns my stories end up taking. Its as if I’m on my own journey and I, mostly, enjoy it. I wrote a rough draft of a suspense/murder mystery book many years ago; at the time of writing it I had no idea who the murderer would be. The reveal came to me near the climax of the book and I knew who it had to be and why.
There are times when a story isn’t quite coming together for me. I may not like where its headed, I may be stuck on a certain part, or I just can’t get into a certain character’s head. I try to power though and just keep writing, but sometimes I must put a pin in it. If I really get stuck, I walk away from the book for a while. Sometimes, I put the book away for a long time and work on something completely different.
I really struggled with my current book about the fairy door. The story wasn’t flowing the way I wanted it to, and while I had written some good stuff I was stuck at where to go next. I had to shelf it and move to other things. Then, out of nowhere I had an idea that turned the book around. I can’t go into much detail or I’ll give too much away right, but I’ll revisit this later.
The main goal of the first draft is to write and keep writing until the story is done. This will be my incredibly detailed outline and from here I have something solid to work with.
Once the first draft is done, I let it sit. Sometimes as little as one week, and sometimes as much as one month. Then, I rewrite the entire thing. I use the first draft as my guide, copying the parts I like and reworking the rest. I start this in a brand-new document as if I’m writing for the first time.
After this draft, the story is usually much better and with more detail. Everything flows together well and the parts I may have skimmed through, just to get it written, are fixed. At this point, I’m happy with the story and, if for any reason, I feel the story needs work I do this entire process again until I’m satisfied.
Now, this is when things start to get interesting. The first edit is me reading through the draft and make changes. I correct spelling and grammar errors and make sure the story flows well. During this phase, I like to hide in my office with the door closed because I have to read out loud to hear how it sounds. Once I make changes and I’m happy with the story; it’s time to send it out.
Next, I send my story to two of my faithful critics. They read through the story, point out plot holes, suggest word upgrades, help with sentence structure, and give their overall opinions. Of course, they check for spelling and grammar as well. I have two people I use, family/friends so it doesn’t cost me anything but a few hits to the pride.
Once I have my two manuscripts with edits back, I go through them. I put on my thick skin and read through the suggestions. This is the hardest part for me. This is where the constructive criticism takes place and I have to take it all with a grain of salt. After the initial zing, I can see how changing parts of the story only make it better. With each edit and each book I write, I know my writing improves.
I read through all the edits, most of which I accept, but there are a few suggestions I don’t use. I know how I want the story to go and I know my characters well; some suggestions don’t mesh well with either of those things. However, I take all suggestions to heart and think them through. Normally, I find some sentences or paragraphs that need to be reworked based on edits, which I will highlight and take notes for the next edit.
After making suggested edits, I go back and read through the book again. At this point, I work on the areas I highlighted and aim to tighten up the story.
At this point, I am also looking at chapter length, meaning word count. I am currently writing lower middle grade chapter books and they like consistency. They want to know each chapter will be roughly the same length. I have found ten pages per chapter is a good goal; this is ten pages in the completed book not in the Word document. For me, this is roughly 1050 words per chapter give or take: no less than 1020 and no more than 1080.
Getting these numbers to work can be, well, work. Not to mention I’m also looking at my final word count, which for my particular genre is around 10K total words. It can be a chore to get these numbers where I want them to be. It often means a lot of chopping huge chunks of the book. If a sentence or paragraph doesn’t move the story forward, then it must go.
2nd Outside Edit:
Once I’m satisfied with the story, it’s time for a professional copy edit. This is where I pay someone to read my book, make changes, correct spelling and grammar, check for inconsistencies, and help make sure the story really works.
Again, this is where I put my ego on the shelf and prepare myself for the “red ink” return. This constructive criticism can be a bit tougher because I am paying someone to be bluntly honest. I remind myself this is all to make the story better.
Once I receive the manuscript back from the editor, it’s time to get serious. I review all the suggestions and make the necessary changes. Then, I read through the book as many times as it takes until I’m satisfied with the finished product.
From here, I move on to preparing the book for publication, which I will discuss in an upcoming blog series on Self-publishing. This is my basic writing process from idea to final draft.