Snowflake People: Backstory to the Rescue

Irish (really?) castlemusic with friendsChef JoelI’ve finished 3 mysteries, with a solid first draft of a fourth and half a draft of another. The first, Through the Fog, was a solo project, a lark, a few years ago. This year, I got more serious with A Long, Hard Look and dug a little deeper for Into the Fog, the second of my foggy Irish mysteries.

The first editing note Tom Bentley sent regarding Into the Fog mentioned that its protagonist sounded a lot like the chap in A Long, Hard Look.

All I could think was, wait ’til he reads anodyne.

All three protagonists (wait; there’s a fourth, a woman) speak with my voice. There are subtle differences, but I’ve made the mistake of allowing my writer’s voice to overwhelm these characters’ individuality.

They’re all too much me. I guess I have so many faces I want to use them all. But that’s confusing for readers.

O woe is me. How to fix?

Tom’s first suggestion sounded familiar. That’s because I’ve been recommending it to my business coaching clients since before I wrote The Commonsense Entrepreneur in 2008.

This is why we hire others: so they can help us see, over here, what we’ve been doing for 6 long years over here.

Write What Who You Know

I’d like to introduce you to Eileen Thomasina Armstrong, 36. (She sure doesn’t like her middle name.) Here are some things you might like to know about her:

She worked for her husband’s business until they divorced 3 years ago. She studied to be a teacher in college but got married and her husband didn’t want her to work.

She enjoys writing. She has a blog where she writes about teaching.

Her previous business experience provided her with enough ready cash that she only works because she loves what she does and wants to continue her comfortable lifestyle.

Her husband was a contractor who restored old homes and buildings, so she has a strong background in historical restorations, architecture and interior design.

She does some design but prefers to teach it to DIY types.

She spends afternoons with her little girl Elisabeth (Betsy) who is 6. Betsy’s nanny also cooks.

Eileen wants to write a book to establish herself as an authority in teaching her expertise.

She writes her blog and sends her sister Elizabeth (Liz) long letters about what she’s doing and how she does it.

What Eileen really needs is someone to hold her accountable to her dream. She needs a process with accountability, guidance and deadlines.

She loves the feedback she gets on her blog and the letters to her sister and knows that if she had more feedback she could write that book.

don't move or I'll shootHemingJoeltravelerEileen is a fictional persona I created to help me focus my marketing. None of my clients match this profile exactly, but since I wrote that description and started marketing one on one to Eileen a few years ago it’s amazing how closely my clients do match this ideal.

Ask me a question about Eileen and I’ll know the answer. I know as well as I know any real person.

Can’t Write What You Never Knew

What color is Phil Brennan’s hair? How tall is Web Martin? Is Jake Calcutta thin and wiry or solid, filled out?

I don’t know.

How can I speak convincingly in all these different voices when I don’t know these people?

I can’t.

My next writing project will be to get to know Web, Phil, Jake, Jade, and maybe some other folks as well as I know Eileen.

Once I truly know them, their world view will inform everything I write about them. They’ll become individuals, unique. Readers will be able to make an emotional connection with each of them, and with all of them.

Giving readers a vicarious experience is vital to successful fiction. Take them places they’d not otherwise go; show them people, real people, they’ll never meet anywhere else.

4 thoughts on “Snowflake People: Backstory to the Rescue

  1. I am hoping that the modern Rumi-like guru guy with the fez-like topper in your photo lineup will soon release his autobiography: “Mystical Pancakes and Low Roads for Highbrows.” It will sell like … you know.

    1. When Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones said they were going to put together a heavy metal blues band in 1968, Keith Moon said “That ought to take off like a lead balloon.”

      They liked it so much they named the group that.

      No connection to your suggestion, of course.

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