Creating a character isn’t all physical description and heartbreaking backstory.
Well, a lot of it is, but it’s not just that. You need to round out that tall, dark-haired beautiful orphan with some emotional depth. The kind that will keep your readers turning the page and recommending your stories.
They’ll do this because they’re invested in your books. And they’re invested because they relate to the characters. They might not be tall, dark-haired, beautiful or an orphan, but they know how it feels to miss family, to never find the right pant length, or to be judged by their looks.
Creating a relatable connection to universal struggles is key and ensuring your characters have emotional depth is the metal that forges that key.
Five Ways To Give Your Characters Emotional Depth
Don’t Say Emotions
Emotions are something we all feel, unless you’re a serial killer.
The best way to extend the legacy of those who came before us is not to talk but to do the work as they have done. That said, what did King do that we may not already know about? Here are the facts.
1. The Poor People’s Campaign
King founded a program for the poor he called The Poor People‘s Campaign that he was just getting off the ground before his death. In December 1967, King wanted to bring together poor people from across the country to demand better jobs, better homes, better education, and better lives. The purpose behind the campaign was to, “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.” (Dr. Ralph Abernathy) King said, “If you are, let’s say, from rural Mississippi, and have never had medical attention, and your children are undernourished and unhealthy, you can take those little children into the Washington hospitals and stay with them there until the medical workers cope with their needs, and in showing it your children, you will have shown this country a sight that will make it stop in its busy tracks and think hard about what it has done.” Ultimately, King put together a plan that he thought would help solve poverty so that every American had a guaranteed income. His program was set to begin on April 22, 1968 but he was assassinated on April 4th.
2. Fought for Better Schools for Children in the Cabrini Green Projects
In 1966, King moved into an apartment on Chicago’s West Side as part of the Freedom Movement. At this point, he was less interested in Civil Rights and more interested in Human Rights which included fair housing in Northern cities. Chicago has always been a segregated city and was even more so in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. A system of redlining was implemented that prevented blacks from purchasing property in their own communities. Not only was the rent high but run-down apartments were divided into what was called Kitchenettes. Kitchenette’s split six-family apartments in half so they became one-room apartments.
“The Kitchenette is our prison, our death sentence without a trial, the new form of mob violence that assaults not only the lone individual but all of us in its ceaseless attacks.” – Richard Wright
The Projects were the answer to the slums but did not fare much better. People eventually abandoned public housing for the suburbs once offended that blacks were being treated as whites. Newspapers and Ads boasted Blacks and Italians living side by side, happy and positive. The public wasn’t having it. Riots broke out as whites pulled blacks out of their cars, beating them. Middle-class blacks were forced out as the screening process got more and more relaxed. Eventually, Gates were put up that made residents feel imprisoned. The once “promised land,” that was the newly established projects became just another ghetto. Black schools also suffered. One elementary school was overcrowded and King fought with residents to get a racist teacher fired. “The people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate,” he said after being stoned by angry white residents in the then all-white Marquette Park on the city‘s Southwest Side. When parents were in their third day of a planned strike, King met with them, saying, “Should you in any way be persecuted or prosecuted for attempting to seek the best education possible for your children, I can assure you that thousands of parents from all over the city will come to your aid and together we will join you in jail if necessary.”
3. Campaigned for Black Sanitation Workers in Memphis
King helped black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee in March and April 1968. He compared their struggle with the poor people‘s campaign, saying, “a fight by capable, hard workers against dehumanization, discrimination and poverty wages in the richest country in the world.” He was in Memphis for a sanitation strike when he was murdered at the Lorraine Motel. The deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker brought the issue of the sanitation workers into the public eye. On February 1, 1968, in Memphis TN, these men were crushed to death by a trash compensation mechanism on a garbage truck that malfunctioned.
Their deaths highlighted the dangerous conditions and the strike that resulted from these men’s deaths brought it to the attention of Civil Rights leaders like Dr. King. However, at this time King was less interested in Civil Rights and saw this not as another opportunity to march but a chance to further the Poor People’s Campaign. “He saw the Memphis strike and the workers’ demand for union rights as embodying the goals and values of his fledgling Poor People’s Campaign, a movement that sought to bring a multiracial coalition of religious leaders, workers, and the poor together to fight poverty in a way that intentionally centered the voices of the marginalized. “(P.R. Lockhart, 4, April 2018) Sadly, he would be shot at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, later dying at St. Joseph’s Hospital, leaving his campaign unfinished.
King did the work. He didn’t talk about it or stand on the sidelines. MLK was more than an “I Have a Dream,” speech. He was actually on the ground doing the work. Read his books and listen to his other speeches, the ones that aren’t being promoted by the media (The Three Evils of Society is a good one).
PBS aired an excellent documentary this week on black business ownership. Boss: The Black Experience in Business, explores the inspiring stories of trailblazing Black entrepreneurs and the significant contributions of contemporary business leaders. From the collapse of the Freedman’s Bank, the lynching of black grocery store owner of The Peoples Grocery, Thomas Moss, to Booker T. Washington’s National Negro Business League, a network of black entrepreneurs. By 1900 there were about 20,000 black owned businesses in the U.S. and I’ve got tons of ideas for future fun facts!
Just a quick message to let you know that there are slots open for interviews. If you are new to this blog and are not familiar with my author interviews or how to schedule yours, click the original post HEREor the page HEREto learn what you need to do to be featured. Below is a brief description of this series. Please be sure to visit those pages for in-depth detail.
Introduce Yourself is a promotional opportunity for new authors I started back in 2016, hosted on this blog. It is an interview conducted by Yecheilyah (that’s me) with questions specifically tailored to helping us to get to know you better. Inspired by a song introduced in a children’s bible study class I helped coordinate, the song is meant to “break the ice.” With this feature, I hope to introduce new authors to my audience for an opportunity to learn more about them and their work. They say teamwork makes the dream work and I hope to do my part to introduce to the world little known authors and to assist in making these authors dreams come true. These interviews are free. All you have to do is follow the instructions and email me.
We have featured over 40 authors so far. New authors, established authors, Best Sellers and authors just getting started.
If you follow my social media (my personal accounts) then you know why I was excited yesterday. I am Soul got approved for stocking at Barnes and Noble at its Marietta, Georgia location, making this the fourth store to carry one or more of my books. This may not mean much to you but, briefly, here’s why these things excite me:
Poetry is not like other books, it’s hard to sell and yet I am Soul has been selling since its release in 2017. I don’t mean selling a lot. I mean consistent sales over time. (Much like consistent book reviews. They may not all come in on the day of release but if they trickle in every now and again for months or even years, that’s still good!)
I am Soul has remained relevant for two years even though I’ve published other books, something I have not been as successful with before. (No matter how long it’s been since publishing your book, it is always relevant. It can never be unwritten or go out of style. Make sure it doesn’t. Keep promoting it. Keep it fresh.)
I am not backed by a publisher. I am my own Publisher.
I don’t have a lot of money. Everything I make goes right back into the work. (In the beginning, you will have to invest in yourself. Although I’ve been publishing awhile, this is still the beginning for me).
I don’t have a lot of social media followers (if that’s important).
I gave a short testimony on my socials on being prepared but I will go in more detail here since we have the space (no worries, I’ll keep this short).
When I walked into Barnes and Noble yesterday and spoke with the manager, a few things she said stuck out.
“Oh, you have books.”
She seemed surprised.
When I shop my books around I carry the container you see here. It’s just something I got from Walmart many years ago. It only looks new because I cleaned it off. Don’t wanna embarrass my mama by going outside with something that looks like who did it and why did they do it. In this plastic container box are books, bookmarks, business cards, a PayPal Here card reader (because you never know if you meet someone on the street who might wanna buy a book. No cash? No problem! I can scan you right here lol), my author seal stickers, and a writing pen.
Eventually, after some convo, the woman asked to see one of my books so she could look me up.
“Most Self-Publishers come in here and they’re not in the system,” she said.
We’ll go into detail about what this means and how to get in the system later (I am putting something together to help Indies with that). For now, just picture walking into a B&N and picking up a book. You carry it over to the counter. Well, when the ISBN is scanned, what happens? If the book is in the B&N computer the information about pricing and everything comes up. This makes things easier on the store. How so? Because they can easily scan the book when someone picks it up, just as they would with any other book. (You can Self-Publish books with no ISBN but then you can’t sell it at stores.)
After going over the details and her agreeing to stock my book, I signed the copies we would leave there.
Me: “I’m gonna go ahead and sign these.”
“Yes, please do. We sell a lot of poetry. It’s making a comeback.”
“You have stickers?”
(she meant something that lets the reader know the book is signed….Queue my author seal!)
Me: “I do.”
“Got a pen?”
Me: “I do.”
Everything she asked me for, I had on my person. I am not saying I am always this prepared. I am not perfect or special. And it’s not like she wouldn’t have given me a pen if I didn’t have one. But by already having one I presented myself as an organized professional serious about her work because…
…and I am not just talking about physical preparation. I am also talking about mental preparation, spiritual preparation (faith), and time.
Time is part of the preparation. Time to research. Time to learn and understand. Time to ask questions. Time to write, publish, revise, improve, write and publish again. Time to make mistakes and learn from them. Time to put things in position so that when the time comes, you are ready.
At the recent signing, I had to recite a poem on the spot. I prepared for this. I knew one day it would come so when it happened I was ready. I was nervous, but I had a couple of poems in my head I knew by memory just in case. I was only prepared this time because I’ve dealt with not being prepared. Years ago, at a conference, I was asked to recite a poem. It was one of my audience favorite poems. I stood up there, said a few lines and forgot the rest! It was an old poem. A poem I should have never forgotten the words to. I was so embarrassed. I wanted to run out of the room. Instead, I quietly returned to my seat, ashamed. Prepare!
I’ve been publishing my books since 2008 but it took six years before I really got my books seen by people outside of my immediate circle. Six years to realize how much I didn’t know. Many of you are already way passed where I was when I started. You are much further along than you think. I’m just catching up.
Prepare for where you want to be. Get in position because if you are not ready when it comes it will make no difference. If the universe wants to pour into your cup but you are not even holding a cup, it will make no difference how long you’ve been standing there. You weren’t ready when what you said you wanted, arrived.
It’s time for another post on lessons from a book signing. I try to learn something new from every event I do. I also enjoy seeing if what we learn online applies when in direct, real life, person-to-person contact. Here’s what I learned from Friday‘s Book Signing.
Practice Makes Perfect
While I am not perfect by any means, consistency and practice really do help us to get better. Cliche as it is now, the saying is true. The more book signings and events I do, the better I get at pitching my books. I am a naturally shy person but author events help me to be more open. It is the chance for me to learn how to communicate what my book is about without being scripted (which is easy to do when you’re behind a computer), but that you only have seconds to do in person. For example, I had the chance to sit and think about what I wanted to say here, how to say it and the words that would best sum up this experience. In person, the time is much, much faster. There is no time to sit and think about what to say. There is nothing but your knowledge of your product and why you think it‘s worth the time and money investment. They even asked me to recite a poem on the spot! I am thankful to Yah I was ready.
It’s also not just about selling books but genuine interaction with the people. There were many people who bought books but did not take pictures because they didn’t want to and I did not force them. Some people didn’t buy books at all, but they sat and talked with me and laughed and we shared some interesting conversation. I met a new poet who told me about some open mic spots to hit up and a young man who referred me to a Barnes and Noble in the area that accepts Self-Published Authors. The best way to get started making change is to begin where you are.
Competing Against Cell Phone Attention Spans
In person, you get to see the distractions we compete with up close and personal. People‘s attention spans are short already but add to it the mobile device and it’s easy to get discouraged. Many of the people who walked past my table were glued to their mobile device or already talking on it. This makes me much more conscious of this when doing business online. Knowing that the interest in the smartphone is a big deal is one thing but seeing it empowers me with so many new ideas and thoughts on how I, as an author can keep this in mind when interacting with readers.
Don’t Try to Sell to Everyone (Don’t Sell At All, Connect)
The same thing about finding your target audience online applies to offline as well. While the time is faster and you do have to pull people away from their phones, discernment is important as well. I am starting to pick up on who to reach out to (literally) and who to let walk by. This may sound funny but it’s not just about getting a sale. Some people purposely crossed the street to avoid my table (lol), some people purposely focused on the ground and avoided eye contact, and some people were not on the phone. They just pretended to be to avoid me. These are examples that “I don‘t want to be bothered.” Just like not everyone will want to buy your book online, not everyone wants to buy your book in person. Some things I picked up on from people who wanted to buy my book or was interested in learning more:
They hesitated and stared at the book cover while walking by
They stopped by
They spoke to me
They asked questions
They stopped when hearing what the book was about
There are ways of knowing if you should reach out to people and if you should not. I hope to use the experience from Friday to help me at the Atlanta book signing in July.
Some Writing Advice Does Not Apply Offline
Every time I meet with people face to face it‘s a different experience than being online. What may surprise you is that I find writing advice (not all, but some) we use online does not apply to offline. There’s no screen, no script, no hashtag, nothing but good ole fashioned communication between two people who may share a genuine interest. In real life people do want your business card to learn more about you, they do ask about your website, and they want to know if they can follow you online. This means that while some advise against business cards, author websites and social media, this is not true when you are face to face with the people. In my experience, no one asks to follow your blog or if they can sign up to your email list (unless there’s already a sign-up form present and you ask them). While I think both are important and are necessary for Indie Authors to have (and both have helped me tremendously), in my experience when talking to the people in person who don‘t already know me, the basics they want to know is:
Do you have a card?
Do you have a website?
Can I follow you online?
Can I pay with my card?
Applying this means:
Having business cards with me
Having a website for people to go to
Being present on social media
Having a card reader on hand
If you did not get to stop by or you are not in the area, remember that I am Soul, my latest collection of poetry is 99cents in ebook through the month of April in honor of National Poetry Month. Also, if you are in the Atlanta area this summer, I’ll be at the Atlanta African American Book Festival in July. I’ll be premiering my first Non-Fiction release, Keep Yourself Full (of course I’ll still have my other books present as well) and other author swag. Don’t miss the chance to connect. See you soon ✒📚📸
This picture is a couple of weeks old. I’m just using it because it fits nicely with today’s topic. My real attire is dirt smeared sweat pants, yesterdays shirt, and pink garden gloves. No sense in being cute when there are weeds to pluck. But you didn’t stop by this blog to hear me talking about my clothes or gardening for that matter.
It was while walking my dog and tending to the garden when I started thinking about the many layers of myself and how I notice that people pick the parts of me they like. Some people love the silly me. They like when I post funny memes and do silly things. Some people like intellectual me. They love when I talk about history and little-known facts. Some people love the lover in me. They like to see me and my husband together, loving on one another and having a good time. Some people like the spiritual me. They like to hear me quote scriptures and talk about the bible. They like prophetic me. Some people like fiction me. They enjoy my novels and short stories. Others like the poet me.
I’ve learned from life that you’ll meet so many different people over the course of a lifetime and they will pick the parts of you they like best. But you know, as I know, every part of you helps to build you into the person you are. What I realized today was the importance of accepting your whole self. People may pick the parts of me they like but it is my responsibility (not theirs) to pick my whole self. I am all of the things people love (and don’t love) rolled up into one. I am not a scattered puzzle. I am a body and each of my body parts helps me to be the full and whole person that I am. When we start to favor one part of ourselves over another because we see it is what people like most, we lose the other parts of ourselves. And since we need every body part to make up a full body, in a sense, we lose ourselves.
Remember that there are layers of you and though people will choose the layer they like best, it is your job to choose your whole self.