I was looking forward to seeing Billy T Award winner Rose Matafeo's show, but I had no idea what an extraordinary talent she is. Blown away by her fresh, fabulous comedy.
Read the full review on the Theatreview website.
Penny Ashton's ribald new show is chock-a-block with sexual innuendo. I took a leaf out of Penny's book when writing the show review, which climaxes with the line: 'Wrap your laughing gear around the sizzling giggle stick that is Hot Pink Bits.'
Read the full review on the Theatreview website.
Free, downloadable ‘cheat sheet’ to use when you’re creating characters.
You’re watching your favourite TV series, halfway through a great book or nearing the end of an enjoyable movie, when all of a sudden a character does something that doesn’t feel right. The woman who’s been fighting to prevent a multinational fast food outlet from establishing in her town agrees when her abusive ex-husband asks for shared custody of the kids. The murdering psychopath suddenly adopts a stray kitten. You turn to the person next to you and say “the character just wouldn’t do that.”
The metaphor of an iceberg is often used to describe character development. Over 90 per cent of an iceberg’s volume and mass is below water. What your reader or audience sees of your character is the 10 per cent of the ‘iceberg’ that sits above the surface. In order to create well-drawn, compelling characters and avoid the ‘they just wouldn’t do that’ reaction, you need to know much more about them than will ever appear on the page.
I’ve created a free, downloadable character development ‘cheat sheet’ that you can use when you’re developing your characters. You can read on for more detailed information, or you can download the character worksheet here. Feel free to adapt the cheat sheet to suit your needs, or let me know if you think of any categories I’ve missed.
Character development worksheet
A name reveals clues about your character’s age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background. The names Rosemary Barr-Scott, Hamish Waipara and Jayden Smith all conjure up different ideas. Rosemary is possibly an older lady, Hamish is probably of Māori descent and Jayden is likely to be fairly young.
What’s their gender, nationality, ethnicity, skin colour, eye colour, hair colour and hairstyle? What kind of perfume or aftershave do they wear? What’s their posture like? How do they move?
Do they stride quickly, accidentally banging other people with their briefcase as they walk down the street? Do they move slowly and deliberately? Do they get mistaken for a dancer? A sumo wrestler? For Brad Pitt?
Everyone has some health problems, what are theirs? What are the parts of their body that they like and dislike?
Do they rely on glasses, a hearing aid or a cane? Do they suffer from asthma, diabetes or dandruff? Do they love their long, graceful neck but hate their thick ankles? Do they look immaculate except for the tobacco stain on their fingers?
What clothing and jewellery do they wear?
What they wear and how they wear it reveals character. Do they have a small wardrobe of expensive pieces, or do they prefer cheap and cheerful fashion from chain stores? Do their shoes shine or are they scuffed? What kind of jewellery do they wear? A Claddagh ring might point to Celtic ancestry. A diamond necklace denotes ostentatious wealth.
What are their favourite turns of phrase? What does their voice sound like?
Do they have an accent, a stutter? Do they use big words out of context because they’re trying to seem smart? Do they speak in grunts?
What physical ticks do they have?
Do they tug their hair when they’re nervous? Clear their throat before saying something emotional? Unconsciously open and close their fists during tense work meetings? Do they have a fixed, unblinking gaze or do they look at the carpet when they talk? Mannerisms reveal a lot about a person’s confidence and inner state.
How smart is your character? Do they have any mental illness or neurological disorders?
How smart are they, and how smart do they think they are? What kind of intelligence do they have – are they book smart, street smart, or are they skilled at reading people? Do they suffer from depression, anxiety, Asperger’s? Do they have any phobias, fetishes or obsessions?
Character flaws / weaknesses
What does your character dislike about themselves? What would the character’s employer, family members or friends dislike about them?
Are they a strident right-wing politician and supporter of big business who secretly fears they might be destined for Hell? Do their co-workers hate them because they’re lazy and a braggart? Your character’s biggest flaw will often be connected to their goal.
What do other people love about them? What do they love about themselves? What quality is going to help them overcome their obstacles?
Spiritual and political beliefs
What kind of religion did the character grow up with, if any? Are they still devout or has their faith lapsed? Perhaps they found or switched faith later in life? Perhaps they’re more spiritual than religious, preferring to embrace yoga and meditation?
What political party does your character vote for (if any), and why?
Occupation and hobbies
What’s your character’s occupation? Is it their dream job or did they get there by chance? Does it fulfil them personally or is it just a way to pay the bills?
What does your character do in their free time? Do they visit family, travel around the country, participate in roller derby tournaments or dissect hedgehogs?
What’s their income and socio economic status, and what’s their attitude towards money?
Are they miserly, prudent or extravagant? What do they like to splash out on?
Is your character’s self-talk positive or negative? Do they reveal their inner voice through their dialogue, or are what they think and what they say quite different things?
Perhaps your character is outwardly helpful and polite, but inwardly pictures themselves violently attacking their co-workers. Or perhaps they’re pretending to be something that they’re not – a minister who’s lost their faith in God, or a physical trainer who binges on frozen cheesecake every night.
What personality traits does your character have? What qualities do they most admire and despise in others?
Do they live in the past, present, future, or in their imagination? Are they empathetic or sociopathic? Vengeful or Zen? What do they find funny? Are they good at influencing other people, or would they rather eat worms than suck up to someone they don’t like?
How does your character deal with their emotions?
How does your character react when they’re stressed, angry, ecstatic, embarrassed, pleased, heartbroken, thwarted?
Does your character drink, smoke or take drugs? What’s their favourite beverage? Favourite food?
Are they a meat eater or a vegan? Do they get their clothes ready for the next day before they go to bed, or do they rush in the mornings and end up eating their toast in the shower?
What secrets does your character have? Who are they hiding them from, and why?
How does your character treat other people?
Does your character pull out all the stops for their boss but yell at their local check-out chick? Do they buy food for homeless people? Do they blast dance music until the early hours of the morning?
What kind of family did your character grow up with?
Did the character grow up with both their mother and father? What were their parents’ occupations? Does / did your character have a good relationship with the people who raised them? Did they have siblings? What did they particularly love and hate about their family while they were growing up? Was their family strict or nurturing? What was their socio economic status? Did they have any special family traditions / rituals?
Where did they grow up?
What school did they go to? Have they had any tertiary education?
What is their goal in the context of your narrative?
What does your character want to achieve? What are they willing to sacrifice for their goal?
What do they need?
What do they need that they may not be aware of? What’s driving them?
What a character wants and needs can often be quite different things. Fred might want to criminalise homosexuality. He might need to address the fact that he’s gay and come to accept himself and others.
What’s standing in your character’s way?
Do they have a mean boss at work? A girlfriend who doesn’t believe in them? Is there a dragon between them and the pot of gold? What are the barriers between your character and their success?
What suburb does your character live in? What kind of home do they have, and how is it furnished?
Do they have a dark, dusty villa filled with treasured objects? Do they have a light, airy and modern apartment? Is this their ideal home, and if not, how would they really like to live?
Is your character gay or straight or somewhere in between? Does your character have a partner, kids, or a group of friends? What are these key players like, and how does your character relate to them?
How do they see themselves, how do they believe they are perceived by others, and how are they actually perceived?
Perhaps your character perceives themselves as being very kind and considerate. They are sure that other people see them as being very helpful and caring. But other people think your character is too much of a martyr – so much so that they find your character annoying.
Now that you’ve developed your ‘iceberg’ you can write your narrative with the confidence that you know how your character will react in any given situation – and avoid the ‘they just wouldn’t do that’ effect.
Last night's beautiful haze at The Tuning Fork featured a heart-achingly good performance from local pop heroes Voom and a 'chaos meets genius' set from SJD and his band.
Read the full review and check out Michael Flynn's photos on The 13th Floor.
Finally got around to watching this film - just brilliant. Highly recommended for anyone who's ever contemplated the definition of success.
Feature film, 2014
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
For a movie about music, Whiplash features a lot of blood.
Whiplash is the story of aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and renowned conductor Terence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons).
Andrew’s a first year student at New York’s prestigious Shaffer Conservatory. He’s ruthless in pursuit of his goal of becoming a jazz legend - practicing even when his hands bleed. Terence sniffs out Andrew’s talent and invites him to become part of his studio band… but instead of being inducted into a bright future, Andrew enters into Terence’s high pressure, high stakes world where one mistake could cost his future.
During a family dinner scene Andrew references saxophonist Charlie Parker, saying he would rather “die drunk, broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remembered who I was.” Whiplash devotes itself to exploring this theme - what price is too high for artistic immortality? And Andrew’s already paying steep dues - his mentor is a sadist.
Throughout the film it’s unclear whether Terence gets off on crushing his students’ dreams, or if he’s pushing Andrew to his limits because he sees something special in him. At times the bullying is harrowing and uncomfortable to watch - but Andrew’s no easy target. He’s just as bloody-minded as Terence, and the film is a long wrestle for power.
Andrew has deep reserves of self-belief which enable him to take extraordinary risks, such as during the climactic drum solo - a battle of wits that could have devastating consequences. Andrew drums for his life, fingers covered with blood and sweat. With each furious beat he risks dropping his increasingly slippery sticks. Revenge and triumph fuse in the last moments of the film, and it’s unclear whether both tutor and student’s dreams have come true - or if they’re taking each other straight to Hell.
How far should you go in pursuit of your dreams? Whiplash leaves you to make up your own mind.
Five tips for promoting your author brand… and why no writer is an island.
Now that you’ve created your author brand it’s time to share it with the world. Here are five tips for promoting your author brand.
1. Build a website
Rather stick pins in your eyes than write code? Put your sewing kit down - these days creating a website is almost as easy as opening a social media account. If you haven’t done it before, here’s your how-to guide:
Need more help? Check out these blogs on creating an author website and getting to grips with SEO.
2. Start a blog
So now you’ve got a website with a blog section - but what are you going to blog about? And why?
Take another look at the work you did on developing your author brand - it will help guide your content decisions. If you’re writing historical novels then you might want to share interesting tales from the vaults of history. If you’re a fashion writer you might share beauty product reviews.
Why not take your reading and writing journal online? As well as giving you interesting material to share with your audience, this has the added benefit of forcing you to write well-structured reviews. Have you read an interesting book lately? Been to see an inspiring play? Instead of keeping all of this to yourself, why not share it with other people?
Assess your content from your reader’s point of view. Do they want to know how much of a struggle writing has been for you lately? Do they want to read about your head cold, how tired you are this week, and how you struggle to spend quality time with your cat? Probably not. But they’re likely to be interested in your thoughts on that book you just read, or what you learned from that writers’ event you attended. By sharing interesting and useful content with your readers, you give them an incentive to keep returning to your site.
Aim to blog once a week, and at around the same time every week, so your readers know when to check back in. Once you’ve published your blog post, share it with your followers on social media.
3. Get on board with social media
So now you’ve got a great website with an interesting blog, but chances are people aren’t just going to stumble upon it. Luckily you’ve got millions of people at your fingertips thanks to social media. Check out Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads and other social media platforms and figure out what’s going to work for you. (Personally I went with Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads - but if your work has a visual focus or if you do a lot of visual research, you might want to consider other platforms.)
People refer to using social media as ‘connecting with your tribe’. I recently went to hear Tui Allen, author of Ripple, speak about self-publishing. Tui’s book is about dolphins, and through social media she’s managed to reach almost every dolphin lover in the world. She has definitely connected with her tribe - and she’s had amazing opportunities because of it. In their book Branding Yourself: How to use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy talk about the concept of ‘givers gain’. Tui is a real social media ‘giver’ who takes the time to review other peoples’ work, comment on forums and share her insights. Think of social media as your opportunity to connect with and support your followers. Like Tui, you’ll find that they’ll start to support you, too.
Tips for using social media:
Worried that you’ll spend all your time on social media instead of writing? Check out Hootsuite, a social media scheduling system that enables you to plan future posts across multiple platforms (they’ll let you use up to three social media accounts for free). When you spot interesting content you can click the owl icon on your browser and schedule a post for later.
4. Track yourself
Your website and your social media accounts allow you to track the number of people who read, like and share your posts. Check in every week or so to see what’s resonating with your audience. Once you know what appeals to your followers you can tweak your content accordingly. You can also experiment to find out what times of day are the best to post.
5. Create good material
Releasing great content is the best way to cement your brand - so now it’s time to focus on writing again. Along with working on your major project, consider other ways that you can practice your craft while promoting your brand:
Developing and promoting your author brand will take time, but stick with it. Your brand will give you credibility, a point of difference in the marketplace - and it will lead to new connections, business contacts and opportunities.
If this post has been useful for you please let me know in the comments!
Five tips for creating your author brand... and why you shouldn’t mention coffee and cats in your bio.
What is an author brand?
Whether you’re a novelist, a poet or a food blogger, if you’re sharing your work in the public domain, then – like it or not – you already have a brand.
Your brand – your name and how you present yourself – is what sets you apart from everyone else. It helps people categorise you and it helps them remember you. It’s important that your brand represents you and your work well.
Think about the following fictional social media avatars. What do they tell you about the author’s brand?
The first person comes across as a serious author – perhaps someone who writes non-fiction or literary fiction. The second person also seems like a serious author, but they’re probably not writing romance novels –– they’re more likely to be a fantasy or sci-fi writer. You can’t tell much about the third person other than that they can’t upload a photo properly. Don’t be that person!
In this article I’ll expand upon five tips for developing your author brand:
1. Conduct a self-audit
Before you develop your brand you need to do some background research – on yourself. Take some time to answer the following questions:
2. Write your story
Whether it’s your twitter bio or the author’s note that appears in a journal, your story helps your readers connect with you. You’ll need two different biographies of different lengths – your social media bio and your submission bio. Keep them on hand so that you can quickly and easily edit them as you need them.
Social media bio
This is the short teaser that you’ll use on social media such as twitter. Be specific and interesting – and don’t mention coffee or cats. No matter how much you love coffee and cats, no one wants to read another bio about them.
Bad: Scribe, cat lover, coffee addict.
Better: I’m a Dunedin-based author excited about gothic architecture, local history and combining photography with the written word.
When you submit work you’re often asked to submit a bio. Submission bios are generally written in the third person (though once you’ve changed it into first person, this is the bio that you might want to use on your website). This is your opportunity to go into more depth about your achievements and reveal something personal (but not ‘coffee and cat’ personal) to your readers. Keep it relevant and up-to-date.
Bad: Jemima Ted was born in Dunedin in 1972 and attended Dunedin Secondary School where she won the prize for fiction every year. She studied fiction at university and went on to write for magazines and publications before writing a novel. Jemima lives in a mid-century home with her cats Binky, Bompy and Bill. Jemima is a coffee connoisseur with a weak spot for a macchiato.
Better: Jemima Ted attended Otago University where she completed a degree in journalism and Master’s degree in creative writing with first class honours. Jemima wrote for the magazines Architecture Unlimited, Historical Observer and Photographic Weekly before self-publishing her first novel Sunken Seas, a story based on the 1889 ‘Lotus Flower’ shipwreck, which was accompanied by Jemima’s original photos.
3. Find your mission
Now it’s time to set some goals. First, define your mission by answering these questions:
Bad: I would like to make millions of dollars and appear as a guest on the Graham Norton show before I die.
Better: In the next five years I aim to publish two books: a collection of essays on Dunedin’s past and the novel Buttermilk, a fictionalised account of the fire that destroyed Dunedin’s first dairy farm.
4. Create your own personal style guide
Have a think about your written and your visual style. Go back to the four words you want your readers to associate with you. Whether you’re fun, whimsical, modern, cynical, obtuse, poetic, ordered, intellectual, biting, goofy or spooky, you want your written and visual style to reflect it.
If we go back to our social media avatars:
5. Get to know your audience
Think about who your target audience might be. Is it the newspaper editors who have the power to accept or decline your submissions. Women who read erotic fiction online? Tech-heads who love reading new product reviews?
Bad: I think everyone would probably be interested in my work.
Better: My work appeals to academics and people with an interest in New Zealand history. My audience reads specialist magazines and historical fiction.
Once you’ve defined who your audience is, you can start figuring out how to reach them. More on that in an upcoming post – Promoting your Author Brand.
If this post has been useful for you please let me know in the comments!
Branding Yourself: How to use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself
Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy
Que Biz-Tech, 2010
If you read enough ‘developing an author brand’ blog posts you’ll eventually be referred to the library to find some more in-depth information on personal branding. The day I visited the library the only personal branding book I could find was Branding Yourself: How to use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself by American authors Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy – so I checked it out and got stuck in.
The book is aimed at job seekers, people wanting to establish themselves as experts in a field, business owners, creatives and professionals wanting to supercharge their careers.
The edition I read was published in 2010 (a second edition was released in 2012), and although some of the specific social media tips no longer apply, the principles that underpin the book still hold true.
The book is divided into three sections – ‘Why do I care about self-promotion’, ‘Your network is your castle’ and ‘Promoting your brand in the real world’. In other words, in the first section you learn how to develop your brand, in the second section you learn how to share your brand via social media and in the last section you learn about relationship management.
Each section is broken into useful tips, such as ‘Be bold – it’s okay to talk about yourself’. This particular tip may be of special interest to New Zealanders, as we’re not known for talking ourselves up. Deckers and Lacy contend that the difference between self-promotion and bragging is your motivation. Sharing information about your interests because you’re passionate about them? Self-promotion. Sharing your successes because you’re pretty sure they’ll make other people jealous? No one’s going to appreciate that.
The stories of four theoretical people are woven through the book to you show how personal branding can benefit anyone, whether you’re trying to enter a new field or hoping to nab that Chief Executive role one day. Along the way there are also plenty of dos and don’ts, for example, ‘don’t post pictures that would shock your mother’ and ‘do invest in other people.’
The authors recommend blogging as key to establishing yourself as an expert in your field. They offer some platform options, but you’ll probably want to hop online yourself and see what other choices are out there in 2015 (personally I use Weebly). Their blogging dos and don’ts? Don’t make your blog one big commercial. Do write from the heart.
The book provides hundreds of handy tips that you can immediately put into action. Branding Yourself: How to use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself is an interesting and useful read that’s still relevant today.
The five tips I took away from each section of the book:
Why do I care about self-promotion?
Your network is your castle – build it
Promoting your brand in the real world
Review also posted on Goodreads.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.