There once was a Goddess who preferred to talk to fully grown trees rather than people. While searching for a splendiferous tree, she instead encountered a gnarled tree stump–a whole forest of them, actually.
The Goddess, named Marsha, was quite young. She was one-hundred-and sixty-two years old, which, in Goddess terms, is merely a teenager. Her parents, Atara and Gringold, lived in another quadrant of the galaxy. They had not heard from their daughter in over one hundred years. Obviously, they were very concerned about Marsha’s welfare.
Since there isn’t space in a blog to artfully parse out Marsha’s backstory, I will give you the bare bones and then move on.
For starters, Marsha really isn’t Marsha. Atara and Gringold gave her a proper Goddess name: Savasanti. It means “Beautiful Peace.” Like almost everything her parents tried to give her, Marsha discarded the name in favor of something else. This is not to say there is anything wrong with the name Marsha. I am only pointing out that it is unheard of to refuse a given name in the world of Gods and Goddesses.
As the dual suns beamed down on the idyllic world of Aleya, an argument ensued between Marsha and her parents in the parlor of their majestic mansion built on the highest bows of a giant Grazanga tree. (The fruit of a Grazanga tree resembles a football-sized pasticcio nut, by the way. They make a delicious and nourishing grab-and-go meal for a God or Goddess, either raw, roasted, salted or unsalted).
Shouting on Aleya is a rare event, especially between parents and their children. Nevertheless, the shouting between Marsha and her parents was audible on the marshy plain thirty feet below and outward to the neighboring tree mansions. As the conflict escalated, Atara and Gringold reddened with embarrassment and anger while Marsha’s spirits soared. Marsha always felt powerful when she irritated her parents.
Whereas they had every right to lose their tempers, Atara and Gringold, like the good parents they were, did not. However, the decibel count of the exchange increased to a level where it became necessary for a peace abiding neighbor to call the tree police to restore the tranquil vibrations of the neighborhood. The arrival of the tree police only served to heighten Atara and Gringold’s level of frustration and embarrassment with their daughter.
Exasperated, Atara cut Marsha off in the middle of a tirade. “As long as you live in this house, you will obey our rules.”
Marsha looked back at her mother, literally fuming with her long auburn locks ablaze.
“Our patience with you is at and end,” Atara added. “Your father and I expect you to curb your insolence, your selfishness, and your complete lack of gratitude.”
“If your behavior doesn’t improve,” Gringold said, “I will send you to Marsh Point where they will teach you discipline and how to act like a proper Goddess. This is your last warning, Savasanti.”
Marsha, as she was known to herself and a handful of insolent friends, glared defiantly at her parents.
After a few tense seconds, Atara implored, “If you won’t listen to us, talk to the trees. They are wise.”
“The trees are stupid. They say the same things you say.” And with that, Marsha stormed out of the room trailing behind her a long mane of smoke.
The next day, Marsha abruptly left home for worlds unknown.
Due to her premature departure, Marsha never learned the arcane secrets of navigating billions of light years across the galaxy and landing gracefully at a pre-determined destination. She arrived in Earth orbit, because the planet looked inviting from outer space, only to plunge like a meteor into the sands of the Gobi Desert in a failed attempt to land smoothly. I assure you that “failed attempt” is an exceedingly kind description of the event.
Marsha spent nearly a century at the bottom of a deep crater gouged out of the shifting and scorching sands of the Gobi Desert. The immense force of the impact left Marsha in a coma for most of this time. To be exact, the impact left Marsha’s cells in a coma because she no longer had a body. Her tissues lay scattered across a concave pit in the darkened depths of the crater. Over time, Marsha’s body reassembled, cell by cell. When her body was whole again, it still required a decade to recover from the shock of the explosive landing.
And then one day, Marsha’s eyes blinked open. She remembered nothing. She wondered, Who am I? What am I doing here.
For days, Marsha lay in the pit of the crater. Memories fluttered into her brain, slowly at first, and then quickly, like a drought stricken lake fully restored in a deluge of spring rain. She knew who she was and where she had come from.
With every beat of her heart, Marsha grew more curious about the planet she had landed on. She knew there was more to the new world than the desolate hole she found herself in. She remembered seeing lush land masses and vast oceans from her orbit in outer space.
Without another thought, Marsha jumped into the embrace of the darkness and flew out of the crater into the harsh sun and endless sands of the desert.
In any new situation, the first thing to do was to talk to a wise tree. This was especially true if you were not fond of people, as in Marsha’s case. Any dummy knew speaking to a tree first in a new situation was the smart move. And Marsha was no dummy. She had told her parents that trees were stupid just to aggravate them.
She kept flying until the land below turned from deathly pale sands into thriving shades of verdant green. After several clumsy and near catastrophic attempts to lose altitude, Marsha managed to ease into a cruising altitude near the planet’s surface. Ahead, she spotted a menagerie of trees in all shapes and sizes. Perfect. It appeared to be some sort of tree garden.
She landed in a field of pink roses. There were no people or houses of any kind in sight. Marsha figured she had come to a public park, or perhaps the reserve of a very rich family. Whatever the case, Marsha felt safe enough to lie down and take a nap. The long flight combined with a century of bodily dismemberment and reconstitution had taken its toll.
Marsha had no idea how long she had slept. She awoke in the dead of night staring at a canopy of stars overhanging a ghostly full moon. The sight reminded Marsha of the museums her parents had taken her to as a child. Those were happier days, centuries ago and billions of miles away.
It was time to begin her new life. No sense laying around and reminiscing. Lifting herself up from her bed of roses, Marsha marched towards the tree garden. And then, Marsha saw something grotesque. She had never seen anything like it before. A ring of tree stumps surrounded the tree garden. Upon reaching the ring of stumps, she stopped suddenly. “Who would do this and why?” she wondered aloud.
“It’s unfair,” the nearest tree trunk replied. “We grew too tall and blocked the view of the garden. So the humans cut us down.”
“I know. It’s abominable. The humans can’t communicate with us. Don’t ask me why. My name is Earl, by the way.”
“Marsha. Pleased to meet you.”
“Are you from around here?”
“No. I’m from the other side of the galaxy. I’m a Goddess.”
“You don’t say.” The tree trunk made clicking sounds, as if it were thinking.
“Maybe you can help me,” Earl the tree trunk said after the clicking stopped. “I’ve heard that Goddesses have powers. Is it true?”
“I’ve just met you and it sounds like you want something from me.”
“I need help badly. Look at me.”
“I suppose you want me to restore you to your former glory. That’s a big ask.”
“What can I give you in return. I once had powers of my own.”
“Can you show me what I look like?”
Like most Goddesses, Marsha’s outer beauty was beyond compare. She was, however, unaware of her looks. You see, there are no mirrors on the planet Aleya. No one needed mirrors because the Gods and Goddesses on Aleya were all astoundingly beautiful. And looking at oneself in a mirror was frowned upon.
“I can do that if you restore me to my ‘former glory,’ as you said so poetically. How long has it been since you’ve seen yourself, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I do mind. Do we have a deal?”
“Yes. Absolutely. If I could pinch myself, I would do it, to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.”
“You aren’t dreaming. I’m sympathetic to your cause. Where I come from, no one would dare to cut down a tree.”
Earl breathed a deep sigh. “That’s reassuring.”
And so, Marsha raised Earl the tree trunk back to his former glory as the other tree trunks looked on in astonishment. They all began to clamor, “me too.”
Marsha ignored their cries. Business was business. It was time to collect her boon. She flew to one of Earl’s uppermost branches where she made a graceful landing.
“Alright, show me what I look like,” Marsha said impatiently.
“Happy to oblige,” Earl chirped. “Come closer and look deeply into the knot.”
Leaning forward, Marsha gazed into the whorl embedded in Earl’s skin, or more correctly, Earl’s bark. The whorl transformed into a mirror. Upon seeing the image in the mirror, Marsha gasped and turned away. “That can’t be what I look like,” she said in a tremulous voice.
“It’s what you look like on the inside,” Earl sneered. “Best case recalcitrant. Worst case, evil. I’m leaning towards evil. You don’t deserve your powers. I’m going to take them. Then I’ll rain hell down on the humans who reduced me to a stump.”
Before she could move, Marsha watched the bony ends of branches enter her arms and legs, and then her mouth. She tried to scream, but it came out as an impotent gargle. The pain was excruciating. It felt like the invading branches had set her blood vessels on fire.
As her strength ebbed, the same thoughts pounded in Marsha’s mind like a kettle drum, over and over again.
I should have listened. Why didn’t I listen?
A faint voice whispered in her ear. It sounded, no, it couldn’t be, but yes, it did. It sounded like her mother, Atara, speaking to her with some good advice for a change.
Marsha set herself ablaze. The torturous branches inside her body recoiled and withdrew, setting Marsha free.
Free to fall.
Marsha spread her arms to avoid another crash landing.
“Without anyone nearby to dowse the fire,” Marsha screamed at Earl,” “you will surely burn to ashes for the wind to scatter into oblivion; a fitting end for a criminal tree.
A nearby tree in the garden called to her.
“What do you want?”
“To apologize,” the stately tree said. “The humans cut down the circle of trees for a reason, but not because they grew too tall. They were infected with a virus that would have killed us if the humans had left them alone. I’m sorry your path led you this way.”
“Thank you,” Marsha said. “I, too, regret finding my way here. No offense to you.” She waived at the tree. “Live long and prosper, as someone once said.”
Then, Marsha looked skyward, and flew far away, determined to find her way home.
Put them in the hands of children, and they are apt to draw Moms and Dads, third-grade teachers, tulips, and dragons.
Pencils in the hands of adults are apt to write brilliant plays or novels.
The work of Robert Ludlam and Lee Child comes to mind.
In adult hands, pencils are also useful for solving complex mathematical problems.
Or sketching landscapes, faces, and naked bodies.
Or drawing just about anything, like plans for an invention to wash, dry, and put away a month’s worth of dirty dishes.
What if pencils came with the option of connecting to a vast reservoir of primeval energy?
In order to make your dreams come true?
How does it Work?
First, you’ll need a supercharged pencil at a cost of three-million-five-hundred-sixty thousand dollars for the special writing implement. Then, you’ll have to cough up another one-million-seven-hundred-fifty-three thousand dollars for the one-time primeval energy hookup.
The primeval energy bubbles and bursts somewhere deep in the bowels of the Earth. The exact location is kept under wraps for the sake of National Security.
Visually, I’m told by confidential sources, the energy resembles molten lava amped up on mild steroids.
The connection to the energy is wireless.
The special pencil allows the user to manifest (bring to life in three dimensions) anything the operator’s heart desires.
If you are thinking: where do I get one? please be advised that the item is backordered well into the next century.
And you must pass a battery of exhausting psychological tests to have the privilege of placing an order.
Due to the long lead times required to process many of the orders, the manufacturer assumes science will develop the technology to extend human life spans and thereby delivery dates.
If science fails to adequately extend human life spans, or if a purchaser tires of his or her two-century life, then the buyer will have the right to bequeath the order to a qualified heir.
If you lack the patience or funding, then try making your dreams come true the old- fashioned way.
Is the car running away from something? Is it running towards something? Or is it just some dumb kid with a lead foot accelerating off of a dirt shoulder? If you picked option three, you get an all expenses paid free night at a Comfort Inn in Sawdust, Idaho. Here’s a more detailed description of what happened.
The cop who gave the kid a speeding ticket has left the scene. The kid is angry. He’s also trying to impress his sixteen-year-old girlfriend sitting next to him in the bucket seat of a restored 1971 Pontiac GTO.
The kid is basically a nobody, despite his ability to restore vintage cars, who is trying to prove he’s a somebody. It doesn’t help that he’s preternaturally short and stubby for a seventeen-year-old. It does help that he’s been blessed with freakish good looks. And, he’s never had a bad case of acne. His girlfriend, Luisa, is an average-looking teenager who started wearing braces later in life than most of her peers. Fortunately for Luisa, a company called Invisalign has invented a unique clear plastic brace that doesn’t look as bad as metal braces. These braces aren’t even called braces. They are called “clear aligners.” Isn’t that clever?
(Please note: I had never heard of Invisalign before I wrote this post. I was vaguely aware that something like clear braces exist, so I Googled “Clear Braces.” Invisalign came up. For all I know, the claims the company makes are pure poppycock).
To be perfectly honest, Luisa’s good fortune regarding her braces is completely beside the point. The big question is, as I’m sure you are wondering by now, why does Luisa hang around with the kid? There is no cut and dried answer, as is the case with many things in life. It may be that she is a good listener. The kid does most of the talking in the relationship, and, as far as Louisa can determine, she is the only person around who takes an interest in what the kid has to say. Another factor is that nobody besides the kid is beating a path to Luisa’s door. So, a bird in the hand applies.
There are other subtler reasons to account for the kid’s presence in Luisa’s life. We don’t have time to get into all of them. Mainly, and to her surprise, Louisa has admitted to herself that she likes the kid. A little. Upon further examination, she has realized it’s impossible not to form a connection with someone you spend regular time with, unless that person turns out to be a serial killer.
I’ve been remiss in mentioning the kid’s name. It is Elmore. The name is another cross the kid has to bear. His father was an avid fan of the writer, Elmore Leonard. Hence the first name. Shit happens.
Elmore likes to impress anyone who will listen with his knowledge of fast cars. He likes to put adults on the spot by asking them questions like, “Do you know what the letters GTO stand for?” Occasionally, an elder will know the answer, but most of them say, Grand Touring…Uhh.
Elmore stands there smugly and says, “It stands for Gran Turismo Olomongato.”
A pregnant pause normally follows. Elmore proceeds to explain that Gran Turismo Olomongato is an Italian phrase denoting a race car that is officially sanctioned for grand tour racing competition. Upon hearing this, Elmore’s audiences generally find an excuse to peel off in another direction, leaving Elmore to ponder why such a phenomenon happens with maddening regularity. He then consoles himself with the thought that most people beyond the age of twenty-one have become passionless souls obsessed with boring careers.
I’ll have to end here, because I know that people don’t like to read long blogs. I started writing this by randomly downloading the picture at the top. I recommend it as a fun exercise if you have no clue what to write about. If I had something socially redeemable to write about, I would. If you are looking for a theme to this blog, try this: To Stay Sane in the Midst of a Worldwide Pandemic, Sometimes It Helps to Write About Nonsense. This is probably a good practice any old time.
Questions abound as to what will happen to Elmore and Luisa. How will they grow as characters? Will they fall in love? Who besides these two will enter the story? What is the central conflict. And who is the antagonist? If you have any interest, let me know and I’ll continue the saga. And, if you have any story ideas, don’t be shy to suggest them. Your thoughts are welcome.
Comparatively speaking, writing a novel is the fun, easy, first step of the self-publishing process. The second step, creating an attention-getting book cover, offers its own unique set of challenges. However, the most intimidating and difficult undertaking, to most authors, is the third step—Online Marketing. These words strike terror in many authors’ sensitive little hearts because they want as little to do with the outside world as possible.
The most intimidating marketing question is: “Where do I begin?” In this blog, I’ll let you in on some of the advertising methods I’ve tried and the results I’ve had. I’ll save you time and money. I’ll guide you through the marketing process from the completion of your manuscript to the final strokes of your marketing plan.
Before we begin, bear in mind that more than a million books are published every year. Therefore, we have to be good at marketing. Damn good!
After completing your final rewrite and the inevitable tweaks that come afterwards, it’s finally time to upload your book to online retailers. Next, you announce it on your blog, your author website, your Facebook page, and your YouTube channel (optional).
Now what? Gulp…
This is the seriously hard part—driving people to these outposts in cyberspace.
Let’s take a look at what has worked for me and what hasn’t.
The first step in marketing your book online or ANYWHERE is to create a relatable, attention-getting cover. We’re taught not to judge a book by its cover. Ironically, this principle doesn’t apply to actual books.
I’ve read that the cover of a book needs to be genre specific. By this I mean your reader can quickly identify the subject matter inside, whether it be Romance, Action/Suspense/Adventure/ Thriller, Espionage, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and so on. The trick is to make your book genre specific without making it look like every other book in the space. The idea is to stand out from the crowd, not get lost in it. If you are an accomplished graphic artist, go ahead and do it yourself. Just be sure that you follow the specifications of your print on demand supplier. If you are not a great graphic artist, like me, go ahead and shop for an artist who can turn your cover vision into a commercially viable package.
Please choose an artist with a specialization in book cover design. This person can have other specialties, but they must also be fully versed in the art of book cover design. If you are creating the book cover, make sure to research the subject. There are many pitfalls, just as there are with writing a book.
I used three different artists to create the covers for the three novels I published. Besides the fact that I get bored easily, there may have been a method to my madness. Each of my novels is in a different genre. Some artists have genre preferences and do better work in those genres. There is no set rule. Some artists are good in any genre. They may be more talented and expensive than others, but you won’t have to go through the angst of breaking in new ones. And you may get a better overall result. Or not. Choose carefully.
If you have an idea of what you want in your book cover, great. If you don’t, that’s okay. Just be sure you choose a capable artist who you can communicate with. Don’t be guided solely by cost. Choose someone who knows what they are doing; who inspires your confidence, and “gets you.
Blogging is a great way to get yourself and your work “out there.” It’s not hard to create a blog, even for graphically challenged people like me. WordPress and Wix are two of the most popular sites now. You don’t have to be an expert at coding to make a nice looking blog. You can also choose an upgrade plan that will give you more customizing options. I believe the upgrade plans are worth it. WordPress has a premium plan for only $99 per year.
Once your blog is created, don’t let it just sit in Cyberspace. Take a little time each day to read and comment on blogs by folks who write about subjects that interest you. Those people will then read and follow your blog if your content is good.
Take note of how other people promote their work on their blogs. I’ve found that the subtle approach is the best way to do it. Keep in mind that content is king. What you have to say and how you express it will ultimately determine your degree of success. And, make sure the template you use to create your blog is Smart Phone Friendly. I finally woke up to the fact that most people read blogs on their phones. Duh. I dumped my old templates and replaced them with new, easy to read, phone-friendly ones. Now, I’m attracting more followers than ever before, and I’m making many new friends.
I’ve experimented with ads on Facebook. I’ve racked up tons of likes and very few sales. In my humble opinion, paying for ads on Facebook is a total waste of time and money for self-published authors. I have an author friend who is running great ads on Facebook, but he’s not selling any books. I’m not saying ads in general don’t work on Facebook. They do. But you are an up-and-coming author struggling to find an audience. You aren’t Macy’s. You aren’t selling specialty items currently in demand like face masks. See what I mean?
A Facebook page isn’t essential, but I strongly suggest that you put some time and effort into making a good one. If nothing else, FB pages add credibility and overall impact to your marketing campaign. And they are FREE. You might even sell some books from your page using the SHOP NOW button. Pick a glowing book review and pin it at the top of your posts column. This little maneuver has increased views and engagements on all three of my Facebook pages.
Upload a JPEG of your book cover with a link to your Facebook page. If you have lots of friends who spend half of their lives on Instagram, you might get lucky. I don’t use Instagram. Don’t ask me why.
I’ve created and distributed press releases on PR Web with a target audience of 30,000 journalists and bloggers. The idea is to drive traffic to your websites and generate publicity on major news sites and search engines. You can participate at various cost levels starting at $99. The more you spend, the bigger the audience. I participated at the second highest level at a cost of $289 per release. (The highest level currently costs $389). To add interest to the releases, I created a book trailer video. (A simple book trailer without actors will cost anywhere from $250 to $300 from a reputable company).
Bottom line: I could not relate any book sales to my press release adventures. Save your money.
Book trailers are nice to have but they aren’t essential to your marketing campaign. When I first started marketing my books twelve years ago, the pundits all said that you were dead in the water if you didn’t have a book trailer. As it turns out, this is baloney. Book trailers are a nice addition to your marketing package, but they aren’t powerful generators of sales. I made trailers for my first novel, ThreeDays to Darkness, and my second one, Scarlet Ambrosia–Blood is the Nectar of Life. I had fun making them and they didn’t cost too much. Recently, I used the first trailer I made as the cover photo on my Facebook page. (Note: The video has to be two minutes or less to be uploaded to the cover section). To my amazement it worked. More than a thousand people visited myThree Days to Darkness page in the span of two weeks. I made some book sales at the rate of two percent of the visits. I’m still getting views. But here’s the thing: if you have a limited budget, use it where it will do the most good. I’m getting to that. Stay with me.
If you can swing the cost, make an audio version of your book. As you are no doubt aware, people don’t read as many books as they used to. Audio books are getting more popular every day. I used ACX to make the audio book for my third novel, Micromium:Clean Energy from Mars. I liked using ACX and they are part of Amazon. I signed an exclusive agreement with them, which means I get a bigger royalty (70%) on each audio book sale. With this agreement, your book is automatically uploaded to Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. The downside is, you don’t get exposure on sites like Hoopla, Overdrive, and Bibliotheca, which serve libraries. If you don’t go exclusive, ACX offers a non-exclusive agreement wherein you can distribute to any platform and get a 25% royalty.
If you hire a narrator for your audio book, which you can do through ACX, a good one will probably cost you between $100 and $150 per finished hour. Your narrator does the narration and all of the production work. You direct them and approve the finished product. I had a great time making my audio book with an amazing woman who did a fabulous job. I’ve done reasonably well with my audio book. I’ve noticed that having an audio version available has increased my overall book sales.
When you launch your book, you want to have a sufficient number of positive reader and editorial reviews available on retail sites and Goodreads to convert browsers into buyers. Unless you have twenty friends and a handful of book critics ready, willing, and able to post glowing reviews, it makes sense to purchase a few of these.
There are a number of sites available for these services. I have found the best and most reliable site for reader and editorial reviews to be indiereader.com. Check out their website. I bought reader reviews and an editorial review from them. I’m 100% satisfied with their service, reliability, and results. I’ve also used midwestbookreview.com for fair, reliable, and less expensive editorial reviews. Readers Favorite is an excellent site for FREE reviews. Check it out.
Sponsored ads on Amazon.com are the most effective marketing tool I’ve used so far. If you have a limited budget, this is where to spend it. The ads are easy to create. You set your daily budget, write your copy, set your campaign dates, and off you go. If the ad doesn’t work, you can scrap it and try different keywords. You can see which keywords are working and which are not and adjust accordingly. Best of all, you can see how many books you’ve sold and how much it has cost you to sell those books. There’s no baloney and no guesswork. And, let’s face it, most of the books people buy are sold on Amazon. To create a campaign, sign in to your KDP account, select the book you want to advertise, click on the three dots to the far right of the book, and select promote and advertise.
I hope you will find these tips helpful. I wish you all the success in the world, and keep writing.
David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. Before quitting his day job, he spent more than thirty years as a marketing director building expertise in advertising, copy writing, corporate communications, collateral sales materials, website content/design and online marketing. For more information, please visit www.davidgittlin.com
Most serious writers want to connect with an audience; preferably a big one. You have something to say. You have a story to tell. You want people to read it. One of the best ways to make people want to read your work is to create memorable and relatable central characters. Whether you are writing a short story, screenplay, or a novel, you want your readers to identify with and live the story through your main characters. To do this, you have to createthree dimensional characters that live and breathe in your reader’s imagination. I’d like to share with you a method I learned for from professional, published writers.
I started writing in earnest when I began a career in marketing communications. In my early thirties, it became clear to me that writing was the thing I enjoyed doing the most when it came to work. I wrote promotional copy and content for radio and TV ads, brochures, websites, press releases, Power Point® presentations, sales contests and salesperson motivation, and on and on. In my forties, I wrote a few not-so-good short stories. At the age of fifty, I decided to try my hand at writing screenplays. I was scared shitless. Deep down, I really didn’t think I could do it. Some crazy impulse pushed me towards the cliff’s edge and over it into the unknown.
Fortunately, I was old enough to realize I needed help. At fifty, I didn’t have the time or inclination to fall into the traps most beginning fiction writers do. I had already suffered enough scars from learning how to write business communications. I wanted to walk as straight a path as possible in this new world of fiction writing. I knew that mistakes were inevitable. I just wanted to avoid the detours.
Somehow, I found my way to the Online Writers’ Program at UCLA. One of the first things I learned in my online courses was the necessity of building an original and compelling Protagonist and Antagonist plus an interesting cast of supporting characters. Unless you are an incredibly gifted genius, you will need to know your characters thoroughly before you start writing your story. You must know them in detail, including the seminal events that made them who they are today, commonly called their backstory. Why is this necessary? Because if you don’t know who your characters are and what they need and want before you start writing, they will almost certainly be flat, two-dimensional cut outs. At the very least, they won’t be original and interesting.
If you craft your characters carefully and thoughtfully, your story will write itself. Your plot will be character driven, rather than contrived. Your readers will become emotionally attached to your characters.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Enough of this baloney. Tell me how to write amazing characters.
There are two methods I can suggest. You can sit down and write everything you know about your character. Hopefully, you’ll fill several pages with your biographical information. If you can do this effectively, more power to you. There’s only one catch: You better know what to include in your character’s bio because, as we’ve said, you have to know your character inside and out. That’s why I prefer the second method, especially if you are new to creating fictional characters.
The second method, which I deveoped from my online courses at UCLA, employs a character template to build your character. I feel it’s better than writing about your characters in an unstructured format because it forces you to answer questions about them that you might try to avoid or just plain leave out. Here’s the template you can use to create central characters with more originality, specificity, and complexity. Filling out the template takes a bit of work, but in the end, I believe it can expand your audience and pave the way to greater writing success.
Build or Figure:
Past/present home life:
David Gittlin has written three feature length screenplays, produced two short films, and published three novels. For more information, please visit www.davidgittlin.com
My father is back. He’s forty-five-years-old. He looks just like himself, except he’s learned not to smoke. He’s learned a lot of things in heaven, not the least of which is how to be a better human being. Ever since he died in 2006, I have thought of my father as Morton rather than my father. As you might have guessed, Morton and I were not exactly bosom buddies before this new version came along.
This new Morton has a beautiful new wife who is not my mom. She’s a brunette, tall, with a model’s figure, and she’s smart and very good at human relations. She has to be to get along with Morton. She doesn’t take abuse from anyone, including Morton. She is a deeply rooted human being who can correct Morton when he gets mean or when he gets too into his work and forgets to be a person. Her name is Jennifer. Her maiden name is Jennifer Ward-Allen. She’s from a mixed Jewish and Irish family, which is odd. Her hair is red and her complexion is fair. She has green eyes. She doesn’t look Jewish, but she is Jewish, which works for Morton. Jennifer exudes an inner as well as an outer beauty. Although I had no problem with my original mother, I sense that this woman is much more caring, present and aware.
Last week, I went to sleep as a seventy-year-old family man, and woke up as a twenty-five-year-old single man. After recovering from the shock of looking in the mirror, I take stock of my surroundings. I quickly discover that I’m not living in the beautiful home my wife, Bonnie, has made for me. It’s a sterile apartment where I used to live in North Miami. The place has since been torn down and redeveloped into two luxury condo towers, but now it’s back to being an aging complex known as “The Summer Winds Apartments.”
My first concerns as a twenty-five-year-old are for my wife and daughter. Will I ever meet my loyal and devoted wife Bonnie again? If I do, will we have our precious daughter, Danielle? As I contemplate these disturbing eventualities, the phone rings. I go into the galley-sized kitchen to answer it.
“This is your father calling. Remember me?”
“Who is this? You have some nerve calling and impersonating my father. If you are a telemarketer, I’m going to report you to the FTC and the Florida Attorney General’s office, and to any other law enforcement agency that will listen.”
“Calm down, David. It’s really me.”
“How can it be you? You died thirteen years ago.”
“It’s me, son. You kept thinking about the good times we had with the racing stable after we sold the business and you got married. You were wishing for those good times again. You were wishing you could be young again. Well, someone up there must like you, because I’m back, stronger than ever. You remember that Wall-Tex commercial where they used that slogan after they settled the plant workers strike.”
“How can I forget? How can I forget anything we did? But how can this be you? You expect me to believe this is some kind of miracle?”
Morton sighs heavily. “Oy vey, David. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
“Okay. If you’re my father, then what was the name of the horse we owned that won the In-Reality Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes?”
“His name was Silver Sunsets.”
“How did he run?”
“He came from dead last at the quarter pole to first place at the wire.”
“Oh my God. It’s really you.”
“Live and in living color, my boy. Now, can we get down to business?”
Morton asks me if I might be interested in doing marketing for his new company.
The company is a custom packaging manufacturer equipped with an expert design team and all of the latest online ordering applications. The company’s potential is worldwide and unlimited. Morton plans to develop a top notch, multi-lingual sales force under one roof using state-of-the-art, virtual training programs. He tells me to be ready to work if I come on board, because, “You know I don’t settle for anything except hitting our goals, and I set high goals, in case you forgot.”
I say, “How could I ever forget.” He says, “Good. Show up to meet this guy at nine at such and such a place.”
I meet Morton’s new Vice President of Marketing and CEO. He has the combined personality of two of my previous bosses, plus, I sense that he’s better at making money than either of them. He just understands what is required to make money. He has the instincts and the knack for it that can’t be taught, just like Morton.
The guy’s name is Guy Pearce, like the actor. He’s thirty-two with brown hair and hazel eyes. Incredibly, he bears a striking resemblance to the actor. When I ask him if he is THE GUY PEARCE, he shakes his head and says, “never heard of the guy, I mean, you know, that Guy.” “Funny,” I say. “You look just like him.” Then I ask him if he’s seen the HBO version of the movie “The Time Machine” starring Pearce. He just stares right through me. This Guy is a no nonsense guy.
Pearce asks me what I’ve been doing. I show him a paperback edition of “Micromium: Clean Energy from Mars.” I show him my website, my blog, the digital book, and the audio book. I show him the other two digital books I’ve written, “Scarlet Ambrosia” and “Three Days to Darkness.” I talk about how I conceived Micromium, wrote it, and created four versions of it. He reads the copy on the back. He asks me what I did in my last job. It seems like the last honest job I had was in a previous incarnation. I don’t tell that to Pearce. I tell him the highlights of Fulfillment Online and Business Cards Online, two proprietary, ground-breaking online ordering applications that I marketed at a direct mail, printing, and fulfillment company my family owned. I tell him I created a mailer that landed more than fifty Fortune Five Hundred Companies as clients. I tell him that I have created just about every type of marketing and communications campaign imaginable at the two previous companies where I worked as marketing director. I conveniently leave out the fact that my previous bosses were instrumental in my success.
He picks up the Micromium full color print edition and tells me, “This right here shows me that you’re qualified to do what this company needs. You can create content and packaging and sell it. That’s marketing A to Z. If you can take direction, then I’m proud to welcome you aboard. Do you want the job? I nod my head. I’m not sure that I want an honest job again, but what the hell. It’s getting lonely writing books that are really tough to sell.
I watch anxiously as Pearce picks up the phone and calls Morton. He says, “I just hired David.” I overhear Morton saying “Good. It’s about time he got back to work.”
I guess the twenty year vacation is over. Now I have a REAL job to get up for every morning. I feel important, valued. That’s what I want. I don’t enjoy being irrelevant. It’s very easy to become irrelevant at my age. Oops, I mean my former age.
I suddenly remember this new edition of Morton telling me as a young boy things like: “When you grow up, you will be in a world much different than the one you’re in now. Everything won’t come easily to you. You’ll have to earn the respect of your peers and your supervisors. You’ll have to earn everything. It won’t be given to you like it is now.
“You can start right now by believing in yourself. You can see that I’ve accomplished something in my life, and I have much more to accomplish. You can accomplish and be a winner too if you believe in yourself. Listen to the things I tell you. What I tell you will always be for your own good. You can trust me and you can trust what I tell you. You don’t always have to agree with me, but I’m asking you to listen first, and then we can discuss things. There will be many situations that come up and they will be learning experiences. We need to talk about them. Don’t be afraid to talk to me. My door will always be open if you need to talk.
“There are winners and losers in this world, David. You want to be a winner. Winners are generally happy people. I’ve never met a happy loser.”
These are the things a father needs to tell his son. These are the sort of things Morton never told me. Hey, I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m just sayin’. If you are young and you are reading this, make sure your Dad tells you these things, and if he doesn’t, then remember what I just said. Got it? Good.
I also have new memories of going to the racetrack with Morton to watch the horses run. I remember him teaching me how to read the racing form. In my first life with Morton, I never even knew he went to the racetrack occasionally with my mother. It wasn’t until he started a racing stable and asked me to be a partner in Three G Stable that I learned of Morton’s interest in horses and the the amazing sport of horse racing. Not many people have the opportunity to see the sport from the inside like I did. It’s something I’m extremely grateful for. I’ll always treasure sharing those experiences with my parents and my daughter Danielle. There really was a Three G Stable. I really did go to the barn and the petting zoo with Danielle. We really did have many claiming and allowance winners and stakes winners.
Oops. I’m waxing nostalgic. Gotta get back to business.
The new Morton decides to buy a farm in Ocala to breed, race, and sell thoroughbred race horses. We purchase two freshman sires, one from the Galileo/Saddlers Wells line for turf horses, and one from the Northern Dancer and Mister Prospector cross for dirt horses that can also potentially run on the turf. Both of these Florida Stallions turn out to be leading sires, not just in Florida, but in the Eastern United States including Kentucky. We get offers from Kentucky to buy the two stallions, but we keep them in Florida. We buy well-bred stakes winning mares at auction to breed to our stallions. We keep a few of the offspring to race ourselves. We claim horses to fill out the stable. My love of breeding horses and the sport of racing is rekindled. I enjoy working in the packaging company and what I do with the horses is a labor of love.
We hire Mark Casse to be our trainer. Mark is the son of the legendary Norman Casse, a Florida breeder, owner, and Co-founder of the Ocala Breeder’s Sales Company. Mark is destined to become a world class trainer. At the time we hire him, he is a young man starting out in his career with a reputation as a patient handler with a knack for developing every horse in his care to their fullest potential. I find Mark to be a quiet, humble man with an innate love for his horses. He treats all of them as individuals, and gives them the time and the attention they need to mature into winners.
One of the horses Morton and I breed shows great promise as a yearling. We decide to keep him and race him when he doesn’t reach his reserve at public auction as a two-year-old. He is by Classic Empire out of an Unbridled mare who has already produced two graded stakes winners. We name him “Beautiful Dreamer,” after the title of my second screenplay. We call him “Dreamer” for short.
Dreamer matures slowly. He shows no aptitude for short races in his early training. He wins his first race at a mile and then runs second in the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Gulfstream Park. It is a prep race for the In-Reality stakes, the biggest race at Gulfstream for Florida-bred two-year-old colts and Geldings. Like Silver Sunsets, Dreamer has a grey coat and wins the In-Reality Stakes. Beautiful Dreamer goes on to run third in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. We put him away at our farm for the winter after the Breeders Cup, and run him back at a mile on the turf in an allowance race in January at Gulfstream Park. He runs second in the race. From there, he runs second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. Mark encourages us to run in the Florida Derby against the best thoroughbreds stabled on the east coast. We listen to his advice, and Dreamer wins the Florida Derby at the relatively long odds of eleven-to-one. The fact that Dreamer was not one of the favorites in the field is an indication of the high quality of the horses he beat.
The Florida Derby win qualifies Dreamer for a spot in the Kentucky Derby. After huddling with Mark, we decide to enter Dreamer in the mile and a quarter first leg of the Triple Crown. He draws post ten in a full twenty horse field. He’s a horse that possesses tactical speed, but he doesn’t break alertly when the gates open. He’s ridden by Julian Leparoux, an excellent rider, who manages to recover after the bobbled start. “Dreamer” circles wide around horses at the quarter pole turning for home and rallies furiously down the stretch to finish third at odds of seven-to-one. It’s a respectable showing, but we’re disappointed. We now know that Dreamer had a legitimate chance to win the race with a better start. It hurts, but that’s horse racing.
We think about going on to the Preakness Stakes, but decide against it, opting instead to enter the Haskell invitational Stakes for three-year-old colts at Monmouth Park. The track comes up muddy on a rainy day. Dreamer stalks the winner all the way around the mile and an eight race, but he can’t get past a clear front runner who is bred for wet tracks and scores at odds of nineteen-to-one. Dreamer goes off second choice in the race at odds of five-to-two. The nine-to-five favorite finishes third.
Should we go for the Grade One Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Track in upstate New York? We decide against it, opting instead to enter Beautiful Dreamer in the Suburban Stakes at Belmont as a Fall prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic later in November if he does well. Once again, Dreamer finishes second after tracking in fourth place behind a fast pace. Dreamer looks like a winner seventy yards from the wire, but another horse passes him five yards from the wire. We decide that Dreamer is good enough to run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Mark elects to change riders for the race. First, we ask Jose Ortiz to ride Dreamer in the Classic, but he has another commitment. Then we ask his brother, Irad Ortiz Junior to ride for us. He accepts the mount. He likes our trainer, and he wants to give Mark a chance to put his name down in racing lore. We’re confident that Irad will give us a better chance of winning with his impeccable sense of timing. Irad has had his eye on our horse for a while, and he’s confident that he can move Dreamer up several lengths with the right ride.
Meanwhile, my father, stepmother and I are having the time of our lives with this horse. This year, Gulfstream Park is hosting the Breeders’ Cup races for the first time in twenty years. It makes it much easier on our horse. Dreamer is familiar with the track because he is based at Gulfstream and trains there. He also doesn’t have to travel, which for many horses can be an energy-draining and disconcerting experience. Horses get nervous when their routines are interrupted, and they don’t like being cramped up in unfamiliar spaces. After hundreds of years of inbreeding, thoroughbreds still have their deeply ingrained instinct to run at the first signs of danger. It’s hard to run from danger in the cargo hold of a jet plane.
Finally, Breeders’ Cup Day dawns bright and sunny with no rain in the forecast. We’re relieved, because we don’t want to be wired on a wet track by a freak front runner like what happened in the Haskell. Dreamer has been training brilliantly for the race. Our trainer, Mark, says he’s in peak form. Dreamer is the fourth choice in a fourteen-horse field behind two heavy favorites and another highly regarded horse owned by John Magnier, the super-rich founder of Ladbrokes, a chain of sports betting parlors in England. We have our work cut out for us. Mark is his usual quiet and calm self. He’s never been much of a talker, but we can tell that he’s excited about the race and our chances. He can’t wait to get Dreamer in the gate.
We watch and bet the races, having fun and forgetting about the big race. It’s an interesting day with favorites and long shots winning and placing throughout the card. The European horses win most of the turf races while the American horses generally prevail on the dirt. The Breeders’ Cup racing card is probably the most fun card to bet all year. The fields are big and almost every horse in each race has a chance to win because they’re all so good. So, I like to get creative, which usually results in me losing my butt. Still, it’s fun.
At five-thirty, we leave our seats and a courtesy golf cart designated exclusively for the Breeders’ Cup owners transports us to the barn where beautiful Dreamer is waiting. He’s happy to see us. His big head bobs up and down and his front hoof paws the straw in the bed of his stall. Carefully opening the stall door, Mark attaches a chain to Dreamer’s halter and leads him out. He stands before us at attention, his gray coat dappled, radiating energy and health. He knows it’s time to race, and somehow, I sense that Dreamer knows that what he’s about to do is special. Horses are creatures of habit, and Dreamer know it’s later in the day than he’s ever run before. His eyes dart from Mark to Morton and to me, as if he’s asking for an explanation of what’s going on. Mark places a reassuring hand on Dreamer’s shoulder, and I stroke his flank gently to let him know everything is alright. Mark says something into Dreamer’s ear. He flicks it forward to listen. Whatever Mark said, it calms Dreamer down immediately. He’s ready to do whatever is asked of him.
We accompany Dreamer and Mark all the way from the barn to the saddling enclosure where Mark will saddle and prepare Dreamer for the race. The crowd in the stands and on the grounds has swelled to over one hundred thousand people. Police officers patrol the saddling enclosure looking for possible trouble and to make sure the onlookers stay behind the ropes and temporary fences where they belong. I feel very important to be one of the relatively few people on the other side of the barriers. Dreamer is taking in all of the excitement like a pro. I sense that he has his mind on running, and somehow, he knows the horses that he’ll be competing against are better than most of the ones he’s faced before. He looks down and shakes his head and long silvery mane, as if to shake out any last remaining knots of tension. Mark strokes Dreamer’s shoulder and head to keep him calm and relaxed.
Irad Ortiz enters the enclosure. He shakes our hands. We wish him luck. He gives Dreamer a few reassuring pats on the shoulder. The horse immediately feels at ease with Irad. Irad has been aboard Dreamer to breeze him five eights of a mile a week before the race to get acquainted. The two of them are a team now, as if they’ve known each other for years. The call comes for “riders up.” Mark has already spoken to Irad about the race earlier in the day to give him his riding instructions. Now, all he has to do is to give Irad a leg up and tell him to “have a good trip.” Irad expertly guides Dreamer away. We watch them disappear into the tunnel leading to the racetrack. Mark gives us a thumbs up. He likes to watch the races by himself when he saddles a horse, so we go our separate ways back to the owner’s box and Mark to his observation post.
The horses for the Breeders’ Cup Classic file by the stands in the post parade. There are fourteen horses in the race. Dreamer has post position seven. His post position gives Irad an excellent opportunity to settle Dreamer optimally going into the first turn of the mile and a quarter race. The major objective for Irad is to secure a good stalking position without going wide. All of the jockeys will be trying to save as much horse as they can going around the first turn and up the backstretch. If the horse is a front runner, the jockey will be trying to slow the pace down as much as possible. The other jockeys have to be alert to the pace and settle their horses accordingly. If the pace is slow, the horses that run from mid pack and beyond will have to stay closer than they normally would if the pace is honest. The first half of the race is just as important as the last half. A jockey’s mistake in judgement can cost a horse all chances of winning before they reach the half-mile pole.
Dreamer is prancing on his toes with his head held high as he passes us in the post parade. Mark has obviously done the most anyone can do to prepare Dreamer for the race. Now, the rest is up to the horse. Dreamer is a solid fourth choice at odds of five-to- one. Morton bets a hundred on him on the nose—typical Morton. I bet twenty on Dreamer to win. I know that Mark never bets on the horses he trains. It’s a good habit. Many lesser trainers bet on their horses because they think they will make a big score and they need the money. Sometimes they make that big score, but it’s just not a classy thing to do. The top trainers don’t do it.
Ten minutes later, the horses have warmed up and are entering the starting gate. Mark has instructed Irad to do a minimal prep for the race, just a slow, short gallop to get his legs and muscles loose. We watch the loading through binoculars. The horse in slot six is acting up, delaying the start. We can see Irad stroking Dreamer’s mane to keep him from getting upset by the unruly horse next door. Finally, all of the horses are loaded. We wait nervously for the starter to open the gates. It seems like an eternity, then the gates spring open and the horses explode out of the gate with pent up energy. The number five horse from England veers in and knocks the four horse off stride. Irad deftly guides Dreamer away from the trouble. The rest of the field sorts itself out naturally after the troubled break.
Due to the mishap, Dreamer runs third in the fourteen-horse field, closer to the pace than he normally likes to be. Irad lets him settle back into fourth, but the bulky field is tightly bunched behind the two horses battling for the lead. The number four and ten horses cut out the first quarter in twenty-three seconds flat, which is fast for the mile and a quarter distance. The number ten horse backs off and lets the four horse have the lead. They go the half in forty-seven and one fifth seconds, a more reasonable pace. Irad keeps Dreamer poised in fourth place. As the horses reach the three-quarter pole, the number ten horse moves up to challenge the four horse for the lead again. The pace quickens. Irad stays put as other horses pass him on the outside. I grow concerned that Dreamer will not be up to the challenge of running against the best horses in the world. In my imagination, I see Dreamer floundering on the rail and falling behind as the serious run for the finish line begins.
The front runners reach the quarter pole in one minute ten and four fifths seconds. It’s an honest pace for horses of this caliber. Now, Dreamer starts to move up on the rail as the horses turn for home. Irad is taking the shortest distance home. The danger of another horse blocking him looms. It’s a risky move that Irad attempts, but he has no other choice. He will lose too much ground if he tries to go around horses. Irad has one of the best clocks in his head of any jockey alive. I know that his timing is impeccable, but the rail in front of him is suddenly blocked by the tiring front runners which are slowing and shortening their strides. Irad has to make a move; now or never.
Irad angles Dreamer off of the rail. I see another horse rushing up behind Dreamer vying for the same lane to the wire. Irad taps Dreamer on the shoulder with his whip and the horse responds with a burst of acceleration, beating another horse to the three-path.
Dreamer blows by the faltering front runners and opens a clear lead down the homestretch. With a similar explosion of speed, I watch the number one horse, named Bal Harbour Boss, burst out of the pack in mid-stretch. It gobbles up ground from behind Dreamer with every stride. The fast-closing “Boss” reaches Dreamer’s flank on the inside and they run in tandem, neck and neck to the wire. As Dreamer and his adversary pound to the wire lengths in front of the rest of the field, I expect Bal Harbour Boss to tire because it has had to cover more ground with a wide ride outside of horses up the backstretch all the way to the quarter pole. Except the damn horse is resolute. It won’t give an inch.
The hundred thousand plus throng of spectators bellows so loud that it feels like the ground is shaking and an earthquake is coming. The Jockeys urge their mounts onward. The race announcer’s voice crescendos as Dreamer and Bal Harbour Boss bob heads to the finish line. Photo finish. I can’t tell if Dreamer got his head up in time. It’s impossible to tell with the naked eye which horse has won the race. So much is on the line. The first-place purse is worth three million dollars. The winning horse will command a high stud fee. And then, there’s the thrill, prestige, and satisfaction of winning one of the biggest races in the world.
Morton is white as we wait for the results to be posted. I give him a hug and tell him. “No matter what, we proved that Dreamer has the genes and the heart of a champion.” Morton says nothing. He stands there, white as a sheet. I know what he’s thinking. Second place is “nowheresville” in Morton’s vocabulary.
The results flash on the tote board in the infield. The number one is posted on top of Dreamer’s number seven. Morton slumps. We’ve lost. We’ve been nosed of the win. Then a red square appears around the two top numbers. Next to it, the words “DEAD HEAT” flash in red. It’s a tie. Beautiful Dreamer is a co-champion with Bal Harbour Boss. I hug Morton. I hug my stepmother. We are delirious. Sharing the top honors beats the hell out of losing. The dead heat is the first in Breeders’ Cup Classic history.
We meet Mark in the winners’ circle. I can tell that he’s beside himself. He doesn’t show emotion easily, but he’s obviously overcome by the biggest achievement of his training career. The winners’ ceremony is a long one because both horses and their entourages have to be photographed. I hug Mark. I hug Irad Ortiz. They are both slightly taken aback by my display of emotion, but I can tell they understand. Mark and the Jockey are both ecstatic, albeit a bit more quietly.
The sight of Beautiful Dreamer wearing the Breeders Cup Champion yellow garland of flowers will be forever etched in my memory. Sharing a moment like this with signicant others goes beyond any feeling I can describe. I can’t remember anything immediately after the race. I’m just somewhere else, and it’s a very good place to be. The next thing I know, I’m driving to a restaurant in North Miami for a victory dinner.
After several hours of intense celebrating with my father and Jennifer at an excellent Italian restaurant named Il Tulipano, I return to my humble one bedroom apartment and stumble into bed. I’m asleep in seconds from the sheer exhaustion of a long day filled to the brim with exciting moments. When I wake up, I’m back home with my wife, seventy-years-old again. My first reaction is bitter disappointment, but then I realize that I have my wife and daughter back again. I remember what my father said at dinner in Il Tulipano, another ghost of the past that has disappeared and moved on. With his wine glass raised, my father said: “We’re fortunate to have won this race, but what’s most important is that we’re together and we care about each other.” My father’s words remind me to appreciate the people who are with me now.
Was it all a dream, or did it really happen? I decide it was just a glimpse, like in the movie “Family Man” with Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, and Don Cheadle. An angel has given me a glimpse of what my life actually was and might have been, like Don Cheadle did for Nicolas Cage in the movie. Yeah, that’s what it was; a beautiful dream that became real for a few fleeting moments in time; a precious glimpse that has taught me to appreciate my life and loved ones; past, present and possible.