I belong to a few online writing groups. I love to answer questions that new writers have about how to write and encourage them to continue on their writing adventure. Writing takes practice. And to be able to write dialogue requires a good ear. Check out my article on How To Write Great Dialogue for a more in-depth analysis on the subject.
In this video, I wanted to highlight a few key points to remember.
Tip#1: Write dialogue that sounds real
Have you ever read a book or watched a TV show and just found yourself snapped out of the story? Chances are that the dialogue didn’t sound real to your ears. When characters speak in a way that sounds artificial, the readers can lost interest.
When I was in high school, I remember watching General Hospital. Soap operas are notorious for having poor dialogue. I couldn’t watch one nowadays. There’s no purpose for the interchanges half the time. Or the purpose might have been to prolong the scene.
You’re writing a book. You’re interested in drawing in the reader and keeping him or her engaged. In order to do that, you need to make sure your dialogue is tight and sounds real.
Tip #2: Delete unnecessary pleasantries
The only way to learn to write great dialogue is to start somewhere. I remember when I first started to write stories in grade school, I would begin at the beginning. It made sense. Mary walks into the room to talk to Joe. Wouldn’t Mary greet Joe? Then wouldn’t Joe greet Mary?
Well, sure, in real life you might hear:
“Hello, Joe,” Mary said.
“Hello, Mary. How are you?”
“I’m good. How are you?”
“I’m good, too.”
In a book, these pleasantries are a bit painful to read. Most of the time you can shorten them and cut right to the purpose of the dialogue between the characters like so:
“Hey, Joe,” Mary said. “How’s it going?”
“Great! I got a new job.”
That’s better. It leads into an interesting conversation.
Tip #3: Add humor into dialogue when possible
Now, I’m not saying you should force humor into every scene. That would be awkward.
However, I know that when I really know my characters, when I’ve truly developed them, they tend to create their own dialogue. Some of my characters are good friends. And when two friends get together, they usually crack jokes. This lapse into comedy often includes inside jokes that others on the outside might not get. As an author you need to make sure the reader is in the loop, so that he can understand the banter.
Tip #4: Write dialogue for your readership
Remember that not everyone is always going to get every joke. Some readers won’t get your sense of humor. That’s OK. They aren’t your readership!
In the above scene with my daughter, we throw in a reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Will everyone know the film? Probably not.
You don’t need to write dialogue so that everyone in the world will understand each joke on the first pass. It’s hard to create inside such a tiny box. Simply go for communicating to your readers.
It’s important to identify your readership before you start writing, then write to those people. Teenage boys will probably have a different sense of humor than middle-aged mothers. Maybe.
Simply consider your readers as you write dialogue between two characters. And remember, you can perfect dialogue when you edit your book! Don’t stress about it too much in the first draft phase.
I hope you enjoyed this video and found these tips helpful.
Do you have a burning desire to write a book this year?
You’re not alone!
I believe that everyone has at least one book within them. Whether they wish to share a story idea that’s been simmering for years, sage business advice to help others succeed, a personal life story that just needs to be told, or a family history project that is time sensitive.
As a ghostwriter of twenty years, I’ve worked with many clients in each of the above categories. I love them all because each genre has its own particular challenges and its own rewards. And although they are all unique, each book project requires the same elements and preparation.
If you follow the steps in this article, you will avoid the common problems people face, which can cause writer’s block and cause them to fail in their goal to complete their books.
Before you can really get started on a book, you need to prepare yourself for the project. I believe the reason most people never complete their books is that they don’t set themselves up properly from the get-go.
Make a firm decision to write a book
Make the firm decision to write a book—no matter what. This decision will help you stay on track in the face of distractions. Give yourself a final deadline and target dates along the way for milestones to complete. That will help you finish your book.
Find the time
The best way to complete your book is to make regular progress. Find a time of the day when you won’t be disturbed. This may be early in the morning before the kids wake up, or late at night after all of your other responsibilities are done.
If you can only carve out a few hours a week on the weekends, that’s a good place to start. Just know that you might find you lose some time in reacquainting yourself with the material if you allow too many days to pass between writing sessions.
See if you can find even a little time to write every day. You’ll soon be immersed in creating your book and may even find extra time to work on it.
Find a place
Find a dedicated writing space. Somewhere around your home, with a door you can close, would be most convenient. I know some writers who are inspired by the great outdoors and settle down near a lake or in a meadow. They don’t even mind the occasional visits from beetles and spiders.
It doesn’t matter where you set up, as long as you can write without distraction.
Experiment, and find your place.
State your purpose
Over the years, my clients have voiced a variety of different purposes for writing their books. Many writers yearn to see their names on the cover of their books. As an author, I understand; I know there’s no better feeling than seeing your creation in print.
Beyond that, there are authors who crave financial gain, while others want to share their story or wisdom in order to help. Some simply wish to complete their books for the benefit of their loved ones.
Be clear about your purpose right from the beginning. It will allow you to better determine what direction you will take.
Determine your readership
One of the biggest errors you can make as an author is to fail to identify your readership. You can’t write a book to everyone. Trust me, you’ll fail. No, you need to target your words to a specific demographic.
It’s important to figure this out early, because the voice and style of your book will depend on the readers you wish to entertain or educate. After all, wouldn’t you write a how-to book for experts in your niche market differently than you would a science fiction novel aimed at a young adult audience?
Consider your themes
Simply put, the theme of your book is the glue that ties everything together. This idea often conveys a universal truth, such as Love, War, Forgiveness, Courage, Friendship or Faith.
For example, I think we can all agree that J.R.R Tolkien communicated courage beautifully in The Hobbit, as did J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter. Friendship was another theme in both these works.
Keep in mind a book’s theme is rarely stated outright. It’s more subtle. It’s a takeaway the reader will experience and consider for years to come when you express your viewpoint of the world and the human condition through your characters’ beliefs, actions, experiences and conversations.
Now that you’re fully set up to write a book, it’s time to organize your thoughts. A lot of first-time writers fall on their faces when they just begin to write without a strategy. After all, if you were to bake a wedding cake for your best friend, you’d probably do a little research and at least follow a recipe.
Create detailed notes
It is so helpful to jot down detailed notes before you begin to write a book. Get these ideas out of your head and onto paper. This process will help you envision your story and get the creative juices flowing.
I have found an effective way to collect notes is to create an idea folder. This could be a word processing document or a notebook. Any thought you have about your book should be recorded in this folder. Don’t worry about the order, grammar, spelling or anything else.
Just let your ideas flow.
Have fun with it.
Remember to research
Research is crucial for any book project. If you’re writing a memoir or recording your family’s history, you’ll need to provide accurate details as to time, location, appearance of the historic events. This also holds true if your novel is set in a past era.
Fortunately, you have many resources available to you for research. Many writers use the internet and the library, but don’t forget the treasure trove of information within the minds of your family members. Many of them lived through the decades past and can share experiences with you.
As you gather information, add it to your notes file. Be sure to always record your sources, so you can refer back to them.
Your story will take place in a location. If it is a real place, use the information from your memory or research to paint it accurately. If you are writing fiction and setting your story in an imaginary place, I recommend that you do some world building. World building consists of fully fleshing out the universe which your characters occupy. This includes the geography, history, scientific laws and developments, culture and customs of the inhabitants, etc. By having a crystal-clear idea of what these are, your story will flow, and your readers will happily come along on the adventure.
Know your characters
Regardless of your genre, you will probably have a cast of characters in your book. Even most business books include personal anecdotes that involve friends and family. These characters all need to be developed.
I find it helpful to create character biographies. Here I list each person who will be featured in the book and jot down their name, birth date and various other attributes that will help me write realistically about them. Some things to consider might be:
mannerisms or habits
At this point you have an excellent, solid foundation in place; you are well set up for success. Now it’s time to pull together all your notes and research into a cohesive plan. Then you can begin to write.
Create an outline
An outline allows you to organize your notes to create a good flow for your book. I am a big fan of outlining. It’s a road map that allows me to know the direction I’m going with my book. Without an outline it’s very easy to take a wrong turn and wind up in a dead end.
If you’re writing a novel or memoir, consider putting all the incidents in chronological order. That’s usually the best plan. Of course, you can opt to indulge in the occasional flashback, but don’t overdo it.
Your outline can take any form that works for you. After all, it is for your eyes only and is purely a tool to help you organize the content of your book.
When writing a business book, I suggest that you create a table of contents along with subheads. Jot down descriptions or bullet points under each to remind you about the content you wish to share.
For a novel or memoir, I prefer to use a different system. I create a large incident list which answers the following questions:
Who is in the scene?
Where does it takes place?
When did it happened?
What happened in the incident?
What is the purpose of the scene in your book?
Note: The last point is by far the most important aspect of this process. After all, if a scene has no purpose, it will just land on the editing room floor at the end of the project.
Write your first draft
Once the outline is completed, you may find that the book is pretty well written—in your mind. Now it’s time to get words on paper.
New writers often edit as they crank out the first draft. Try to avoid doing that. Just get the rough draft completed. I know, it won’t be great. That’s OK! You’ll fine tune your manuscript during the editing phase.
So just sit down and write…
If you’re writing a memoir, and find yourself sharing personal stories, be as detailed as possible so that you can help the reader feel as if he were right there with you. To do this, close your eyes and see the colors, hear the speech patterns, smell the odors, taste the food, and feel the textures in each incident.
The same goes for a novel. Use your senses when you’re telling the story. Draw on personal experience if possible. If not, use your world building notes to help guide you.
If you’re penning a how-to book, be sure to give step-by-step, detailed instructions for your reader. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who knows nothing about the subject. Imagine what questions he may have as he tries to do the steps, or any difficulties he may run into, and address them accordingly.
Edit your first draft
After completing your first draft, it’s time to edit. I’d recommend putting your manuscript down for a few days or a week to take a breather from the project.
The next step is to read over your manuscript from beginning to end and see if there are any issues with continuity. It can happen that you switch gears on a subject mid-writing. In that case, you’ll need to go back and make adjustments.
You will also pick up on issues with flow as you read it through. Some scenes will flow right into the next, while other transitions will be choppy. This is the time to fix that.
While doing this you may spot typos. Sure, fix them, but this isn’t the time to focus on grammar or punctuation. Instead, make sure the story sings. By the time you finish this phase, you may find that you’ve altered and rearranged the words so much that fixing typos doesn’t make sense.
Once you’ve worked out the major kinks, you can review your manuscript for errors in grammar and punctuation. I’d recommend hiring one or two editors to look at your story with fresh eyes. It’s always good to have a detached person review your work.
With these steps for how to write a book, you should be ready to start. Regardless of the decade and what is going on in the world at the time, there’s no time like the present to begin. If you have any questions or would like some help, please contact me. My greatest joy is in helping others achieve their dream of sharing their story in a book.
Author Bio: Laura Sherman (aka the Friendly Ghostwriter) has been helping authors write their stories for twenty years. When she’s not busy building worlds for her clients, she homeschools three children as the family travels the country in her RV.
You’ve made the leap—you’ve decided to author a book this year. Bravo! This is a wonderful goal. If you’re similar to many other busy successful people, you may need a little help. If so, you may find you learn a lot just from a simple interview with a ghostwriter.
Over the years I’ve discovered that authors sometimes aren’t aware of everything that goes into the development of a book. Some have a vague idea of the process, but most have a lot of questions about structure, format and content. That’s completely normal. I’m more than happy to share this information with you during our initial interview.
The initial interview with a ghostwriter
Naturally there are questions you want to ask to determine whether a particular ghostwriter might be qualified to take on your project. I cover this topic extensively in my article, Interview Questions for a Ghostwriter.
However, while you are interviewing her, she is also gathering information which will help her decide if she is the best ghost for you. Through this initial interview with a ghostwriter you will take the first step toward understanding what will be required to complete your book.
Hit upon the genre of your book
The three most popular book requests I receive are: fiction, business nonfiction, and memoir. Within those classifications, there are many subcategories. For instance, if you’re writing a fictional story, you have various choices of genre: drama, science fiction, fantasy and young adult, to name a few.
If you’re writing business nonfiction, there are a wide variety of subjects as well as a few choices of styles of presentation of the facts and information. Some authors prefer text only, while others opt to include many photos. When I wrote Chess Is Child’s Play, we included many fun text boxes with tips and anecdotes for the reader to enjoy.
Memoirs are pretty straightforward. They are typically written in the first person and look and feel like a novel (even though they are true stories). However, some are presented as a diary or journal.
Keep in mind, there is some cross-over, too. For instance, you can have a memoir that is only loosely based on fact but is primarily a novel. Or a novel that feels like memoir but is actually completely fictional. In addition, many entrepreneurs who have important lessons to impart will write a nonfiction how-to book and sprinkle many humorous anecdotes throughout. Another option is to write a memoir and include many tips and tricks of the trade to educate the readers.
When you interview with a ghostwriter, make sure to know your book’s genre so you can hire the best ghost for the job; most writers specialize in certain genres.
Uncover your readership in an interview with a ghostwriter
One of the biggest errors a new author can make is to try to write his book for “everyone.” While some books are very popular with a lot of people, you always want to direct your creative energies to a certain demographic.
For instance, a how-to book giving practical parenting advice for single parents will be written very differently than a science fiction novel aimed at the young adult market. The voice and style will vary depending on the readers you wish to entertain or educate.
During your interview with a ghostwriter work to determine the right readership for your book and make sure your ghost can capture the style and voice required to resonate with them.
Talk about your goals
A good ghostwriter will ask you to reveal your goals for your book early on. Over the last twenty years, I’ve heard a variety of goals from many clients. Some are interested in financial gain, while others want to share their story or wisdom with others. Many simply wish to complete their books for their loved ones.
Another popular goal of many is to see their name on the cover of a book. I understand—it’s a bucket list item. As an author, I know there’s no better feeling than seeing your story in print.
I love to work with clients who wish to share their expertise or life lessons with others. I have seen that sometimes books written with a strong purpose to help, enlighten or entertain others also result in fame and fortune. On the other hand, fame and fortune seldom come when the author is purely money-driven. Your ghostwriter must know what drives you to write your book so that she can help you achieve your goals.
Discuss your publishing plans in an interview with a ghostwriter
It’s a good idea to share your publishing goals early on as well. While this information is not vital when it comes to writing the outline of a book, it does help to bring the ghostwriter in on the overall strategy. We’re a team, after all.
If you don’t know yet, don’t worry. You have time. I always suggest my clients decide about halfway through the writing process. That gives you time to make a more educated decision and prepare a query letter if that’s what’s needed.
The next interview with a ghostwriter and the next
After you complete your initial interview with a ghostwriter, you will probably immediately know if this writer will be your ghost. A rapport and bond should form quickly. If you have to “think about it,” the answer is probably no. Interview another writer.
Once you sign the contract and send the down payment, the next step will be to send all the written information you might have to your new ghostwriter. For me, one of the best sources of research is in written form. This gives me a great foundation to start learning what I need to know to write your book.
Some clients have a first draft that needs a complete overhaul, while others have a lot of detailed notes. Some provide journal entries or articles, while some have notes or documents written on cocktail napkins. Gather up all these pieces so you can send them to your ghostwriter. These written samples are invaluable, as they will help your ghostwriter capture your voice.
I always tell my clients that they can never give me too much data. It’s a bit like creating a sculpture from a large block of marble. You need a lot of material to start so you can carve out a beautiful piece of art.
After your ghostwriter has reviewed all your written material, she will need to continue to interview you. I often conduct these over email and phone. Sometimes clients send me audio or video files, which I transcribe.
Note: while I prefer to receive most of the information in writing, I also need to talk to the client now and then. Live conversations help a lot.
Please know that these ongoing interviews are vital. They help your ghostwriter get the detailed information she needs to fully and accurately capture your style and written voice.
Get personal in an interview with a ghostwriter
If you want your writer to accurately portray you to your reader, it’s important that you participate in each interview with a ghostwriter fully.
That means if you’re writing a memoir, you must share your most personal experiences, thoughts and feelings sincerely and honestly. While you don’t need to include everything in your book, you can’t hide from all the negative events that happened.
Don’t try to make out that your life is wonderful all the time. You need to show your flaws and share your errors. Readers need to be able to identify with you. They need to see that you’re human. If you portray yourself as perfect, the reader will know that you’re lying.
And your book will be boring.
Just like life, a good story must have conflict to be interesting. So, you must be willing to open up to your readers. That begins with your ghostwriter. Your ghostwriter will help you by asking broad questions. If the questions spark an idea, feel free to elaborate. It’s fine to go off-topic for a bit because that may open the door to more ideas and even bring up interesting incidents which might have been a bit buried. Most of my clients remember many details when they interview with me, their friendly ghostwriter.
One word of warning: if you’re thinking of speaking ill of someone, be aware that her or she may read your book. Consider carefully if you are willing to face the consequences. After all, anything you put in writing is permanent.
If you’re writing a fiction book or a prescriptive nonfiction (how-to book), keep in mind you still need to interview with your ghostwriter. She will need to coordinate closely with you and collect all the pertinent facts. In addition, she’ll require regular feedback on her work.
Each interview with a ghostwriter will help her hear how you put together phrases, learn more about your philosophies on writing and life, and better understand your ongoing thoughts and goals for the project.
What a ghostwriter needs
My clients usually wish to write their book with me. I always embrace this partnership and strive to teach them about the process every step of the way, if that’s what they desire. However, some authors prefer a more hands-off approach. In those cases, I simply write pages and submit them on a regular basis.
There are various key research elements a client can provide that make my job a lot easier.
Biographies of characters
No matter what the genre, it is always helpful to collect biographies of the people mentioned in the book (whether they be fictional or not). If I’m writing a memoir for a client, I like to know the following information so that I can write a truly three-dimensional character:
Birthdate (month and year)
Birthplace and residences
Hair and eye color
Hobbies or interests
This is a good starting point, but, really, there is a lot more that can be added to this list. Consider all the things that make this person truly unique.
A detailed list of incidents
Any fiction book or memoir is really comprised of a series of incidents. It’s a timeline of the events that happen to your characters.
In order to get started on your outline, I need to know what happened. This list doesn’t have to include a lot of information. In fact, when you’re just starting out, it can just be a list of key words that triggers the right concept for you. Then, during your interview, your ghostwriter will pull out the relevant details to understand the scene as well as you do.
For instance, if you’re writing your memoir, you might jot down:
The time I got food poisoning in LA
The first horror movie I attended with a boy
The time I flew to Paris to meet my sister
Once you make a giant list of all these incidents, you can even delve in a little further and add a few more pertinent facts:
Who was involved?
Where did it take place?
When did it happen?
What was the significance for you?
Snippets of dialogue
When you’re writing a memoir, it is very helpful to note down any actual conversations that you might wish to recreate in your book. Of course, your ghostwriter will change it around to work for your book, but these words will give her a sense for how you and others in your story speak and interact with one another. If you think about it, you speak very differently with the different people in your life. I know I don’t talk to my mother-in-law the way I speak to my children or my neighbor.
The same goes for fiction if. If you have a good handle on the characters you wish your writer to portray, I’d recommend that you provide a little sample dialogue. That way your ghostwriter can build from that and meet your expectations easily.
I find it extremely helpful to get the addresses of former homes, offices, schools, etc., so I can research details about the locations various characters visited throughout the story. This helps me set the scenes accurately, especially if the research turns up photos of the interior as well. I love to pore over local maps to get a feel for the area.
Of course, if you have any pertinent photos, those help tremendously because they give a complete picture of how people, places and things looked.
Use your senses in an interview with a ghostwriter
As you are writing down all the above information, do your best to fully describe everything so that your ghostwriter can see and feel what you did. Use all your senses. For example, if you’re describing your first girlfriend, mention the color of her hair, the sound her high heels made as she clicked across the floor, the way her perfume reminded you of the rose garden at your grandma’s house, or the silky feel of her dress when you held her as you danced.
If you’re writing a memoir, each interview with a ghostwriter may bring out a lot of emotions. Let them out. Be honest about how you felt when certain things happened. Open up and share the fear that gripped you when your car spun out of control on an ice patch, the raw anger you experienced when your brother teased you as a young child, or the pure joy you felt when you held your first-born child.
And through it all, seek the themes that you wish to impart. Share the messages you wish to communicate through your book.
Enjoy each interview with a ghostwriter. You’ll learn a lot and, through the process of working with a ghostwriter, you both will create an excellent book.
Many writers wish to earn a living through their craft. Some choose to write their own books and sell them, while others prefer to become freelance writers who sell their wordsmithing services to others while still receiving credit for their work. If you enjoy helping others share their ideas with the world through the written word, perhaps you might wish to become a ghostwriter.
A ghostwriter is someone who writes for another and receives no author credit. If you’re a professional writer who wishes to become a ghostwriter, you should know that although there are some similarities between authoring and ghosting, a ghostwriter flexes different muscles.
I have been a ghostwriter for twenty years. During this time hundreds of experienced writers have emailed me, asking what it takes to venture into this world. I’m ever eager to encourage others to explore this unique writing opportunity. At the same time, I always caution that this move isn’t right for everyone.
A few drawbacks
I love being a ghostwriter. There’s nothing more rewarding than helping an author write a book. However, there are some aspects of the trade you might not like. It’s good to be aware of these before entering the field.
A ghostwriter works for someone else
As an author, you’re the boss. You decide what to write, how to communicate your ideas, and ultimately how the book turns out. When you’re ghostwriting, you give up this control. For example, if you’re building a world in a sci-fi story and want to develop the main character into a strong independent woman, but your client wants her to be less so, that’s how she’ll be.
I always tell my clients, “I’ll tell you what I honestly think, but in the end you’re the boss and I’ll follow your wishes. After all, it’s your book.” And I mean it. My job is to educate my client on the process and guide him to the best-possible book. It’s not my job to push a particular agenda. You need to be okay with the idea of following the course set by another if you want to become a ghostwriter.
You can’t share what you’ve written
Everything you write as a ghostwriter is protected by a confidentiality agreement. Although some clients are extremely generous and allow me to share portions of their books as writing samples, it was not always so. In the beginning, people had to hire me on faith or simply based on my blog or short stories. I can tell you from experience, it’s not always easy to encourage someone to take this kind of leap of faith. Lack of writing samples makes getting a new client difficult for new writers in the industry. Even now, after having written over two dozen books, I still can’t share the titles with others.
In addition, if your friends ask you about the projects you’re working on, you won’t be able to discuss the details of the book. So, when I’m delving into the history of a new cryptocurrency or uncovering the secret remedy for a disease, I can’t share much with my friends and family. And they know not to ask. Unfortunately, this can make for awkward silences when people are talking about their day around the dinner table.
Bottom line, you must be willing to keep mum about your work and find ways to promote your writing skill without samples if you want to become a ghostwriter.
Your name won’t be on the cover of the book you wrote
I think this is the toughest pill to swallow for most writers. Being a ghostwriter is a bit like being a surrogate parent. Once you finish the manuscript, your baby is out of your hands. The completed book rightly belongs to the author who hired you. This can be emotionally rough. For many this is a deal breaker.
After spending a year creating a masterpiece, you must be willing to hand over the project and disavow having played any part in its creation. You must be willing to silently step back and allow someone else to claim full credit. I honestly don’t mind this, but many do.
Having laid out all the drawbacks, I must say there are many perks for ghostwriters. Aside from the financial rewards, it’s an emotionally rich and satisfying career. We get to walk in the footsteps of many different people, learn their crafts, feel their emotions, and then share their experiences with the world. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
Skills required to become a ghostwriter
If you’re a writer who wishes to become a ghostwriter, you might need to develop a few skills. These will set you apart from a solo writer.
Learn to listen
A ghostwriter is a great listener.
She not only listens to the words her clients speak or write, but she also listens to their messages, themes, and writing goals. A ghostwriter breathes with her client, gets in sync with him and does her best to fulfill all of his intentions and purposes for the book.
For instance, when I interview a client and discover she wishes to write a memoir chronicling how she became a successful entrepreneur, I’m jazzed. Not only can I help her share her life story, but I can help her help others follow in her footsteps. Now, if her goal for the book is also to gain new clients, that’s important to know, as I’ll need to write her book with that in mind. Since her readership will include her future client base, these people will be interested in how specific aspects of her business might benefit them.
If you wish to become a ghostwriter, but are concerned that listening is a weak point for you, don’t worry. It’s a skill anyone can learn. It just takes some practice.
A little exercise
Start with your friends.
Listen to them.
After they leave, write down what they said.
Can you recount what they said in the way they said it? Keep in mind, you’re not only listening to the content of what they’re communicating, but you’re observing the nuances of their language. Everyone has a different way of speaking. You need to hear how they put words together.
If you find yourself drifting off as your friends speak, that’s not good. You need to quit that bad habit. It’s like biting your nails. How would you handle that? Yes, you can just quit doing it.
Rein yourself in and really listen to what your friends are saying. Work on improving the accuracy of your perception of the conversation until you capture the full content and tone of it.
You also need to become adept at hearing what people don’t say. If you’re writing a memoir, you are hired by your client to get at the truth. When he says something that begs a question, bring out your inner journalist and ask for details. Or if you sense that he is hiding a pertinent fact, pry a little. Of course, he has a right to his secrets, but his memoir will fail if he doesn’t open up to his public. They will be able to tell if he’s not being genuine.
A good ghostwriter will find a way to get her answer. Interviewing clients is another necessary skill to become a ghostwriter. That sounds like a good topic for another blog article!
Become a good writer
It goes without saying that in order to be a ghostwriter, you must first be a writer: a competent, compelling, and confident writer. Writing comes from experience; you don’t need a college degree, nor must you be a published author. While both could help, neither is absolutely necessary.
Having said that, I believe it would be difficult to ghostwrite a book if you’ve never completed one yourself. There are lessons one learns simply by seeing a project through to completion. For instance, how do you overcome writer’s block? Are you able to edit out a cherished character that just doesn’t quite fit in? Every time you conquer an obstacle, you learn a lot. This helps you write a better book for your client.
I believe it will be helpful to you if you develop your own writing style and voice before you embark on the grand adventure of helping your client develop his.
Learn to capture another’s voice and style
One of the signature skills of a ghostwriter is to discover and bring out the voice and style of your clients. In order to do that, you’ll need to take a lot of notes and study all their current written work. Some clients will give you pages of a diary or blog articles they’ve written. You need to pick out the phrases they use, hone in on their style of communicating, and create a voice that will accurately portray them.
While you wouldn’t want to pass on the grammatical errors of your clients, you want their unique speech patterns and mannerisms to shine through. For instance, one client might use endearments for everyone around her, while another pauses dramatically between meaningful thoughts. You want to be sure to weave these into your book.
On the other hand, if your client has a lisp or stutter, you wouldn’t pass a speech impediment on to his character. Find the qualities that highlight who he is without amplifying the negative characteristics.
A little exercise
Capturing someone else’s style and voice is another skill you can practice. Jump on the internet and find a prolific writer who blogs. See if you can pick out her voice. What makes her uniquely her? Find those nuances.
Zero in on any cultural references. For instance, if the author is from the UK, he might use some colorful phrases unique to his region. “Blimey” or “dodgy” might be sprinkled into his dialogue.
As a ghostwriter, when you capture the author’s dialogue, you can even drop a few foreign words here and there, as long as their meaning is clear.
“Guten Tag, Herr Schmidt!” helps us know the character is of German origin.
When the foreign word’s meaning isn’t completely clear, define it within the text.
“She handed out the Stollen to her family. The buttery fruitcake was enjoyed by all.”
Ultimately, there are many ways a person communicates his thoughts and ideas. If you want to become a ghostwriter, know that it’s your job to spot these and create your client’s voice using their distinct style.
Capture your client’s viewpoints
People have a unique take on things; they see things from their particular point of view. Some will tell you outright how they feel and what they believe, while others won’t. For those who don’t, you’ll need to glean their viewpoints using interview questions. You must be able to identify these so you can help the reader see things from the author’s standpoint.
Recognizing the viewpoints of others is another skill that can be learned. You can start by observing others around you. Slip into their shoes and really see things from their perspective. Their point of view might not be yours. That’s OK. Simply understand how they feel and think about things.
In order to be a great writer, you must be able to adopt the various viewpoints of your characters. That’s one way they come to be three-dimensional (and beloved).
Another tip to differentiate characters in a book is to observe how different people react to the same situation. For instance, one friend might shriek when surprised, while another will do his best to suppress his reaction. Then there is the person who will laugh hysterically. These little details go a long way to creating believable characters.
The Business Side of Ghostwriting
One of the chief differences between being an author and being a ghostwriter is that when you’re a ghostwriter you’re running a business. That means that you’re in charge of everything—all aspects of the enterprise. You must:
Procure new clients
Complete all projects on time
Collect testimonials from existing clients
Write the entire book yourself
Ask for payments from your clients
Hire outside team members to help when needed
It’s important to be highly organized, to keep track of all your deadlines and to answer emails and texts from clients as quickly as possible. I have a policy of answering all incoming emails within 24 hours, but usually do so within hours of receiving them.
As with any business venture, you must be professional in all aspects of the business. Of course, you should never deliver any piece late; in fact, I recommend being early. Exceed expectations.
And above all, respect the confidentiality agreement as if you were a secret agent. Your word is your bond.
Always work with a contract
Don’t try to go into business without a good professional contract. Trust me, if you work on a handshake basis, it can become a disaster. Part of running a successful business is making sure to provide the services you promised your clients. In order to do that, you need to be clear about what your services are.
I outline all the pertinent details for a good ghostwriting contract in another blog article, but here is a summary of what a good contract should contain:
A confidentiality agreement
The rough word count of the book. Note: Word count is much more accurate than page count.
The deadlines for all the major milestones. This would include:
Confirmation that the copyright of the book belongs to the client
The number of revisions included in the price
While you can find decent contract templates on the internet, I highly recommend that you hire a lawyer who can draft one to fit your particular needs. An ambiguously worded agreement will cause you and your client trouble down the line in the event of a disagreement.
I find being a ghostwriter a very rewarding experience. Over the last twenty years I’ve worked on ten novels, eight nonfiction how-to books, and seventeen memoirs (along with a few children’s books and screenplays). I enjoy the diversity: getting to know all different kinds of people and stretching my writing muscles in a variety of genres. I have learned so much from each project and have found fulfillment in helping others meet their goal of creating a book. If you’re a writer who wants to become a ghostwriter, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions. I’m here to help!
Hiring and working with a ghostwriter is a major undertaking. You are about to enter into a long-term relationship with someone who will step into your shoes and learn to write with your voice. I find this connection is very special; I often become close friends with my clients.
Because writing a book together with a ghostwriter is such a personal journey, it’s important that you really talk to the writer before you hire them. After you determine the ghostwriter’s fee, compile a good list of interview questions for a ghostwriter to help you find the best match for you. It’s a good idea to come up with your own questions.
I recommend writing down the questions ahead of time; however, as with any great interview, you’ll need to ask follow-up questions on the fly. For instance, if you ask about the ghostwriter’s background and he tells you about working as a school teacher, it would be logical to ask about the grade level. His perspective will be quite different if the taught third grade or high school.
Make sure to take notes, so that after you’ve spoken to a few writers, you can remember who said what. Notes will also help you formulate follow-up questions.
Here are a few topics that should yield some good interview questions for a ghostwriter:
The number of books she has written
Writing a book is not an easy task. There are many steps involved in producing a high-quality product. If your prospective ghostwriter has never written a book, you can expect that she will likely have trouble completing your project.
Having said that, if you’re on a tight budget, a ghostwriter with no prior experience should give you a great price on your book because she will be eager to fill in her resume. It’s a bit of a gamble for you, but if you check out her writing samples and talk to her extensively, you might find a hidden gem. Make sure to pay her enough so that she can invest the time to deliver a quality manuscript to you.
A professional ghostwriter will have a few dozen books under her belt. All the same, if a writer has written at least three books, she is experienced enough to help you with your project.
Testimonials from past clients
Someone once told me that what other people say about you counts far more than what you say about yourself. I like that tidbit of advice because it is so very true.
Any professional freelance writer should have collected quite a few testimonials from prior clients. Now, the only problem is that these will need to be semi-anonymous because all ghostwriters are sworn to secrecy. Even so, an established ghostwriter won’t have any trouble getting a few clients to write a few lines of praise.
Check out my testimonial page. You’ll see some clients proudly share their name and company name, while others prefer to share only initials. Still, you can see that I have worked with many people over the last twenty years. Make sure your ghostwriter has similar credentials.
Her writing forte
Some of the interview questions for a ghostwriter should revolve around what she likes to write. Also ask about her experience. This will help you determine if the ghostwriter is a good match for you.
A few writers only write fiction. Others love to pen memoirs, while some prefer to stick to small business books.
Personally, I enjoy writing uplifting stories, helping record a family’s history or educational non-fiction material. I wouldn’t be comfortable writing a memoir centered around abuse; it would be too painful.
However, I can write a fictional novel, a non-fiction how-to book (sometimes called prescriptive non-fiction), or a memoir. I love all classifications and genres, as long as the overall message is positive.
The ghostwriter’s current schedule
When you interview a ghostwriter, ask about his schedule. You need to have some prediction about when he can deliver a finished manuscript to you.
If the writer you select has a full-time job and is going to try to write your book in his spare time, I’ll tell you right now, that’s a recipe for disaster. You can predict that scheduling conflicts will prevent him from completing your story in a timely manner. Plus, he will be tired after his day job and will have trouble giving you his best effort.
Find a writer who has the time to work with you. You might also ask him how many projects he has on his plate at the moment. As for me, I’m comfortable working on many projects at the same time and always strive to come in ahead of schedule. However, I’m upfront about the time it takes to write a book. Eight months is a minimum requirement, but some can take up to 18 months. It really depends upon the amount of research required.
It’s unfortunate, but true; there are those who will try to scam you in this industry. Over the years I’ve had many people report being ripped off through Craigslist. That’s why I don’t recommend finding your writer through that source.
When vetting a writer, try putting her name into a search engine and see what comes up. If she is a successful writer, her books, interviews and articles should pop up. If the proverbial crickets chirp (dead silence), you know she isn’t very well established (or she has chosen to keep off the internet). Most professional writers have their own websites.
If a ghostwriter asks for the entire fee upfront, she is probably trying to con you. Typically, professional writers will ask for a deposit of 25% to 50%. The rest of the payments should be made as the pages are produced. I ask for 25% at the signing of the contract, then another 25% after the detailed outline is approved. The third installment is due after I complete the first half of the first draft, and the final payment is made when I’ve given the client the completed first draft. After that, I make all the edits (hiring an outside editor) and deliver the final manuscript.
Test your writer before hiring him
It is a good idea to test your top ghostwriting candidates by requesting a sample of their writing. This will allow you to see how you work with them.
You’ll need to pay for the sample you request. Please never ask a candidate to write for free. No professional ghostwriter should agree to that (if he does, he’s far too desperate, which should be a red flag). However, I highly recommend that you ask him to write a few pages for you—for a fee. Most writers have a per word fee. For instance, I charge a dollar per word. If asked to write a sample, I can produce any length desired.
Keep in mind that there are about 250 words per page. So, four- to eight- pages is a good-sized sample. This will help you determine the skill of the ghostwriter.
Yet you are not only checking out the ghostwriter’s ability to write, but evaluating his process as well. How much time does he take to write the piece? Make sure he gives you a deadline. Then observe if he meets it. If he is late (for any reason), know that he will probably be frequently tardy if you hire him.
How does the writer respond to your feedback? If he bristles at your suggestions, that doesn’t bode well for the future. On the other hand, if he accepts all your suggestions without any discussion, this could be equally problematic.
A good ghostwriter/client relationship involves a healthy amount of give and take. That’s what will produce the best-possible book. I will always give my clients my honest opinion and thoughts, but in the end, remind them that “they are the boss.”
Communication is key
After you ask your interview questions for a ghostwriter, observe how she handles subsequent communication with you. How quickly does she answer your emails? Does she respond to your texts in a timely manner?
My policy is to handle all communications within 24 hours. In actuality, I’m much faster. I’ve had a few clients comment on how fast I am. “It’s like you’re sitting there waiting for my email!” Well, no, I’m not. But I do check my email frequently. When I see a client query pop up, I like to handle it quickly.
Most ghostwriters offer a free consultation. Take them up on that. It’s a great opportunity to get their take on your project. See if you can get them to give you some insight into how they’d tackle the project. How would they approach the opening chapter? For instance, if you’re writing your memoir, you wouldn’t start with the day you were born. It’s much better to find an exciting incident to begin your book and drop the reader headfirst into that scene!
The process of hiring a ghostwriter should be quite enjoyable. If you ask your interview questions for a ghostwriter and bond with her, it bodes well for a successful working relationship. After all, writing a book with a professional can be a fun and fulfilling adventure. Take the time to pick the right writer for you!
You may be wondering if you should hire a local ghostwriter, someone who lives near you. This is a valid question, and I hear it a lot. I think it’s because whenever you see a ghostwriter in the movies, he is practically living with his client.
However, reality is much different than these fictional portrayals; none of my clients are local. They live all over the world. We correspond via email and talk regularly on the phone. Sometimes we Skype.
Having said that, if it is convenient to meet up with my client in person, I will. It just isn’t necessary for the project’s success. The fact is, when I’ve met my clients, it’s usually been with the book was finished.
Why limit your choices?
There are internet articles that advise you to always hire a local ghostwriter. I’m not sure why people suggest this, but there are people who fervently hold onto that idea. I’ve actually had prospects (potential clients) refuse to talk to me because I wasn’t in their area.
This concept of only hiring someone locally severely limits your choices, which could hinder your project. Truthfully, unless you live in a major city, you probably won’t find a qualified ghostwriter in your area. Most likely your ideal writer for your book lives clear across the country from you.
With nearly two decades of experience under my belt, I can tell you it just isn’t necessary for a ghostwriter to walk where you’ve walked, personally tour the towns or buildings where your story takes place. Locations can always be researched on the internet. Sometimes I find amazingly detailed photographs and videos of an area, which help paint the picture along with the descriptions provided.
Qualities to look for in a ghostwriter
Finding the right ghostwriter might take some time. It’s a very personal choice, one you shouldn’t feel pressured into making. When you do choose a writer, make sure that you really like her because you will be working closely with her for many months.
Since hiring a local ghostwriter isn’t important, I want to spell out attributes that do matter and that are keys for success. Here are some qualities to look for in a ghostwriter:
Great writing ability. Hire someone who writes in a way you enjoy reading.
Excellent communication skills. Make sure that you are comfortable talking with her.
Professional behavior. Some good writers have no idea how to run a business. Make sure she answers your questions and respond to queries quickly.
Reliability. Select a writer who can meet a deadline and work through difficulties.
Within your price range. The cost of a ghostwriter will vary from writer to writer. Find one within your budget.
If you absolutely feel you need to meet your ghostwriter in person (and Skype will not do), you can always fly out to her or fly her to you. It will cost extra, but it is a viable option.
Research your ghost
Some people feel they need to meet a person face to face to know whether or not he can be trusted. While I agree that this helps, internet research is much more effective for spotting a con man.
Someone who is trying to rip you off will have no internet presence. He will not have a website or a blog, nor will he have a media page. Testimonials are key to establishing trust in a ghostwriter. After all, what other people have to say about someone is more pertinent than what he has to say about himself, right?
Another trick is to type the ghostwriter’s name into a search engine with the word “scam” or “complaint” and find out if there have been problems with that person. Of course, there might be numerous people by the same name, but if you know where he lives and that he is a ghostwriter, it’s a good bet it’s the same person. I used this technique with a potential publisher before going into business with him. It saved me a heap of trouble!
So, what do you think – do you still feel you need to hire a local ghostwriter?
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I have an amazing story to tell, but don’t know how to start writing a book now. I have so many things all jumbled up in my head and I don’t know how to get it out on paper. Help! -Art M.
Dear Art M.,
When I received your question, I did a little search on the internet: “How do you start writing a book?” I was curious to see what other writers had to say. Up popped a dozen articles that made the process seem ridiculously easy. In my opinion, these articles paint a false picture; writing a book is far from easy and you’re not the only one to have difficulties in this area! So, I don’t want to answer your question with a cookie-cutter twelve-step to-do list; instead, I would like to give you some broad-stroke advice.
Make a list
A movie is made up of hundreds of scenes. These flow together to tell the story. With a book, these scenes can be better described as incidents. Basically, think of these incidents as the things that will happen to your characters (or if you’re writing a memoir, they are the experiences that have happened to you).
Some people like to make flashcards. They write the individual incidents out onto three-by-five-inch cards and put them into the order they think will work best. I prefer to open a word doc and write out the incidents there. I don’t number them, but just get them out of my head in the simplest way possible. For example, it might look like this:
Incident: Bob discusses breaking up with Mary in a coffee shop.
Incident: Terry says good-bye to her parents before entering her new college dorm for the first time.
It just needs to have enough information to jog your memory when you create a more complete outline later on. Don’t worry about putting the incidents in any order. You’re just trying to get the information out of your head and onto the paper (or computer document). It simply is a list of what happens.
Note: Some incidents might be super short. That’s fine!
Give each incident a time stamp
You should end up with dozens of incidents (perhaps even hundreds). Next, go through and give each incident a time stamp, which tells you when it took place. Some timestamps might be simply a month and year. For example:
Incident: Sam starts high school: September 1979.
Incident: George gets a job at Mercury, Inc.: May 1983
Sometimes, the time of the incident will be relevant. In that case, be as specific as you can. If you know the exact date, mark that down. For instance:
Incident: Bernice gives birth to her daughter: June 17, 1988, 4:30am.
Incident: Lonny graduates high school: May 25, 1999, early afternoon.
Again, these are notes for you. Don’t get bogged down. If you don’t the exact date, just put in the year.
Put the incidents in order
Now that you have the time stamps, you can put the incidents in chronological order. It’s possible that some incidents will serve as a flashback. If you know that will be the case, you can group them after the appropriate incident. For example:
Incident: Joe waits for Sally at their favorite park bench: September 2002.
Incident: Flashback: Joe and Sally share their first kiss on the bench: August 1994.
Flesh out your incidents
Now that you have all your incidents in order, it’s time to drill down and examine each one. I find it helpful to use a kind of journalistic approach with each incident.
Here are some questions you can answer:
Who is in the incident? (Name all the characters, even minor players.)
Where does it take place? (Be as specific as you can.)
When does it happen?
Describe what occurs (very briefly)
What is the purpose of this incident? (Why should it be included?)
You might have other points to mention, but it is important to keep it very brief. Don’t indulge in lengthy descriptions. It’s not time to start writing your book quite yet. For one thing, some of these incidents might not make the cut!
Note: The most important element on this list is the last one—the purpose. You must have a strong purpose for including this incident in your book. If you can’t come up with one, cut the incident immediately.
If you feel inspired to write a scene from this list, go for it. You might need to rewrite it later, but that’s OK. I understand the need to get the ideas/images out of your head! Sometimes I just write a few notes under the incident description. This helps me free up my attention and move on to the next incident on the list.
The next step
After you finish creating your master list of incidents, you want to make sure they flow one into the next. Once you have them all in sequential order and you’ve weeded out ones that don’t fit or have a real purpose, take a step back and review it. Read the list over a few times to make sure it works for you. This is one way to create an outline. If you want to change the format, it will be easy to do so, because you now have all the information you’ll need.
You may just find that the book is pretty much written! Yes, it’s still in your head and you’ll need to write the 50,000 (or so) words, but now you know where you’re going.
The incident list is a great tool to help you sort out the ideas that are jumbled in your head. And it will act as mile markers for you on your journey, helping you make sure that you’ve included all the important occurrences and events. It’s much easier to start writing a book if you have a well-laid plan. Enjoy the process!
As you begin your new adventure, you might find yourself hitting a few distractions. If you’d like some tips on how to avoid these, read my article on the subject. And, of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to email me!
Do you have a great idea for a book and want to make that dream a reality? Maybe you need a ghostwriter!
I know quite a few people who spend a lot of time tossing around book ideas. They plan to write it themselves, but for one reason or another they have trouble getting started. Does this sound familiar?
When to hire a ghostwriter
Maybe you don’t have the time or the discipline. Perhaps you’re not a huge fan of research. Or maybe you just plain don’t enjoy writing. Whatever the stumbling block, it doesn’t have to keep you from finishing your book. A ghostwriter can help you take your idea from conception to fruition.
Here is a handy checklist to help guide you through the steps of hiring a ghostwriter:
Decide on your budget
Before you begin searching for a writer, it’s a good idea to determine your budget. What can you comfortably afford? Don’t go into debt when hiring a ghostwriter.
Pricing for ghostwriting can span a broad range. You should know that you will get what you pay for. Some ghostwriters advertise extremely low rates, but if you’re interested in producing a high-quality book, written by an experienced author, you’ll need to pay them what they are worth.
Be ready to answer basic questions
In order to get a bid from a ghostwriter, you need to be able to answer various questions. A ghostwriter will need to know:
How many words your book will be
If you’re self-publishing
The general subject matter or genre of the book.
It’s also wise to ask your prospective ghostwriter about their fee before you get too far in the conversation. There is no sense in pouring out your heart and story, only to learn that the writer is way out of your price range. It’s worth noting that most ghostwriters share their price on their website.
Find a good fit
It’s a good idea to do a little homework on a ghostwriter before you interview them. Start with their testimonial page. After all, it’s more important to read what others say about them than what they say about themselves. Also, review their writing samples to see if you like their style.
Once you’ve determined that they have the experience and writing expertise, It’s important to find someone who you will mesh well with throughout the ghostwriting process. Writing a book is a financial investment, but also an endeavor of the heart; there is a balance.
Pay your first installment and get started
Once you have made your momentous decision, plan to make the first payment and sign the ghostwriting contract so you begin working on the project. These will be required by any professional writer. Don’t wait too long to make your decision. If you love a writer and know you want to hire them, don’t dawdle, because the more popular ghostwriters will get booked quickly.
Plan the time to work with your ghostwriter
As your project unfolds, it’s important to answer your writer’s emails and phone messages promptly. After all, you and your ghostwriters are partners in this project. Your ghost needs you, assisting them to achieve your goals. For that reason, don’t allow too much time to go by without communication.
When I work with a client I love to shoot emails back and forth throughout the week. I also find myself picking up the phone to talk to him or her at least once a month.
Create a marketing plan
Writing the book is certainly the foundation of your project, but make sure you have strategies in place for marketing your book once it’s published. It’s a good idea to create an author’s website and start blogging before the book is released. Also, be active on social media and connect with your readers. It’s never too early to think about marketing.
With a great book idea, a little bit of help, and a lot of preparation, your book can become a reality! If you realize that you need a ghostwriter, please email me and let me know how I can help!
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I have written a story about a teen who has doubts about his faith. The story takes place in a different realm. I have a complete story in about 30,000 words, but it lacks deep character development. That is my struggle. I want help developing feelings of the characters on paper. Looking forward to your response. Peace, Dan
Congratulations on the completion of your first story. That’s a wonderful accomplishment! I understand your struggles with character development; it’s tricky. As you’ve surmised, it is a quintessential part of any book, whether it’s a novel or a memoir. While description and action are key to locating a story and moving it along, what keeps readers invested are the fascinating characters that draw them in. I’d like to explore a few ways you might create characters that are well-rounded, full of life, and able to keep the reader engaged in your story.
Writing with reality
Research is a crucial component of the process, especially if you are unfamiliar with the character’s skill or condition. Let’s imagine that your main character is a fighter pilot, but that you’ve never been in a cockpit. Still, you need to write your scenes so that a seasoned pilot might identify with the character, thinking to themselves, “Yeah, that’s happened to me.”
No, you don’t have the enroll in flight school to write about an ace pilot, but you do need to roll up your sleeves and learn. Start by scouring the internet for stories about a jet jockey taking to the skies. Read a few biographies or memoirs and try to pick up a pilot’s lingo and actions, as well as his state of mind. Of course, if it’s at all possible, speak directly to a person who is passionate about flying, someone with a lot of experience. Nothing beats that one-on-one interview.
As a general rule of thumb, it helps to watch people when working to improve character development. Just go to a public place and observe how different people interact. Look for mannerisms, notice the speech patterns, etc. This will help you create character bios, which we’ll discuss later in this article. The first step is to be able to identify various traits of people in front of you.
People don’t exist in a void
Unless your book centers around one person stuck on a deserted island talking to a volleyball all day, you’ll need to create many characters for your book. Don’t just focus on the main character, the protagonist. Of course, many stories also have a “bad guy” (an antagonist), somebody bent on thwarting your hero as he attempts to achieve his goal. You’ll need to understand this person just as thoroughly as your main guy. However, don’t forget the other side characters. They contribute to the motion of the story, too, and are known as secondary characters.
Writers can make the mistake of ignoring the minor players, thinking they aren’t important enough to be fully realized. Even if the character is the barista who serves your pilot a steaming hot cappuccino with honey each morning, she deserves a little character development. Think of Gunter on the popular sitcom Friends. He had dimension and we all loved him, although he rarely said a word.
Every character needs to pop from the page; they need description, personality, and realistic dialogue. It could come from the way the barista talks. Or perhaps the way she whistles to herself as she works, a tune the protagonist can’t get out of his head for the rest of the day. When you really spend the time to create these secondary characters and create their relationship to the others in your book, they come alive and often help flesh out the protagonist as well as the story.
Create character bios
As you work to form your characters, consider creating a little bio for them. Definitely avoid stereotypes, such as the absent-minded professor or the ditzy teenager. People rarely fall into these clichés. Readers appreciate seeing their lives reflected in your book, so include lots of examples of the rich diversity of humankind in your story.
When I build a character bio, I start with the physical description: Height, weight, hair color, etc. These might never be directly discussed, but I need to know what they are. For instance, if Jeremy is 5’ 2” and Alice is nearly six foot, Jeremy will always be craning his neck up to just look at his beloved.
Now that you have these mundane details down, it’s time to focus on the aspects that make up your character’s in-depth portrait. Include his history, typical emotional state, spiritual belief, nervous tick, and anything else that makes him, him.
Quick and Easy Bio Sheet
I have a form that I use when I’m starting a new project. Here are a few elements you might consider including for each character:
Full name and nicknames
Birth date (this helps you know how old each character is in each scene you write)
The address of their current residence, as well as all the homes they ever lived in
Any identifying marks or physical conditions, etc.
Hobbies or interests
Jobs they’ve held
Milestone events and dates (such as graduations, marriages, birth of children, etc.)
The names of their significant other and children, along with their birthdates
Dan, this is just a starting point, but I hope I’ve sparked some ideas to help you with character development. Creating the people of your book is truly fun! The idea is to get to know your characters on a personal level. The more real they are to you, the more identifiable they will be to your reader, and the richer your story will be.
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter,I’ve never hired a ghostwriter, and I have no idea how I go about any of this, but I really would like to write a book on my life. Please could you give me some advice on how I even start the process, and also, I’m not very good with writing so I’m not sure I’d be able to write it myself. – Tony
Dear Tony, Your question is very common and makes sense. I can understand why the ghostwriting process might seem to be a bit of a mystery. I’ll tell you, whenever I take on a new client, the process is unique, because the author and written content are unique. However, I can share with you a few aspects that seem to occur with every book project I’ve worked on for the last two decades.
As a first step, your ghostwriter will need to collect all the information required to write your book. In the case of a fictional novel, that could simply be understanding your core idea (which might not be time consuming). However, with a memoir, your writer will need to know everything about your life that is relevant to the book. This takes time and can be done in different ways. One is for the writer to interview you in person or on the phone. However, I find it is far more effective for the client to send me a lot of written notes (in rough form). After I study these carefully, I can follow up with emails and phone calls if I need more information or any clarification.
Please understand, when you hire a ghostwriter, you don’t need to write the book; you just need to provide notes. All your notes will be rewritten, so don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Now, some people prefer to work with the ghostwriter and write their book alongside them. That works, too! Again, each relationship is unique, but never feel you have to be a good writer to hire a ghost.
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I need help and inspiration in surpassing the first eight pages of my book. I am sooo stuck… It feels as if I’m writing the same thing over and over, so I delete and delete, while continuously whittling my pages away. Also, I am constantly unsure of my grammar and punctuation.Any help is appreciated!– Ennayt
Dear Ennayt, Stuck in the mud? You know, I hear this a lot! You’re not alone; not by a long shot. The fact is, a lot of new writers make the mistake of cutting out words, then pages, as they produce their first draft. It’s important to let yourself go and just write. I implore you not to waste any time (and words) editing in the beginning. Allow yourself the freedom to create! Trust me, once you get to the end of your first draft, you’ll be better equipped to sculpt your draft into a book.
I’d also recommend that you not worry about grammar in this phase. Just let the words pour out of your mind onto the page. If you’re interested in learning more about the English language, I’d recommend reading a simple grammar book or checking out an online source like Grammar Girl. Start by learning one rule, then applying it. Then select another and so forth. Take it step by step. You may just find the learning process fun!
Dear Friendly Ghostwriter, I would like to write an autobiography/screen play. This is something I have thought about for many years, but I’m extremely nervous how to approach this because of safety issues. I am not sure where to start. I would appreciate a consultation if possible.– Gen
Dear Gen, You bring up an excellent point. Honestly, I do think you have a right to be concerned. Once you put your story out there, you can’t take it back. I believe there are many instances when it just isn’t wise for someone to write their memoir. And it isn’t always safe.
Another point to consider is how a book will affect the people in your life. When writing a memoir, your characters are real people. They might not like what you have to say about them and if it isn’t handled correctly, the whole situation can blow up.
I always advise my clients to hide the people in the book as much as possible. For instance, it’s fine to change their names and physical appearances. The story will still be true even if the details are changed to protect the people involved.
Thank you all for your questions! Please feel free to write more in the comment section below or write me privately and I’ll do my best to answer!