7 Tricks For More Relatable Characters

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Hi there! I hope you’re safe & well. The fall ick has been going around lately. Hopefully you’ve been taking care of yourself and staying healthy so you can enjoy this season!

I have had one common piece of feedback on my writing: readers have trouble connecting with my characters.

This is something I’ve been working to improve because, as we all know, the characters can make or break a story!

Would you rather read a good story with a bad MC, or a not-so-good story with a great MC?

For me, it’s all about the character.

Don’t get me wrong, I love an exciting plot. But if I can’t get into the character’s head from the start, I’m bored for the rest of the book.

The problem with this is that there’s often a small window of time where if I don’t connect with the character, I never will. I have to be drawn in within the first few chapters, otherwise the character is lost on me.

So today I thought I’d share some tricks I’ve learned about creating more relatable characters.

1: Give the character something to care about-QUICKLY!

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Giving your character something to love is such an important part of adding depth to a character.

This doesn’t always have to be a love interest!

In fact, I recommend you give them something to care about that is totally platonic, or even something private they don’t share with many people.

This can be a pet, a sweater their grandma knit them, a necklace from their dad, a rock they found as a child, anything!

Make it personal, give it a story!

This is part of developing your character’s backstory-creating little scenes from their past that you can incorporate into the story in one way or another.

This adds depth to your character and a level of relatability for your reader!

They can have moments like “Oh, my grandma knit me a scarf I still have!” or “I have a dried flower from that nature walk I took with my dad, I get why she kept that rock!”

It’s the little things that make a big impact on a reader.

Everyone has things they love. That’s just human nature.

Giving your character something to love makes them more believable, and if your reader can relate to it with a similar scenario, all the better!

If you can’t think of anything for your character, think of things you care about, or things people you know care about.

Sometimes taking some inspiration from real life can be even better than making it up, because it’s real.

It’s so much more believable because you believe it.

If you write with complete understanding about a topic, even if you don’t mention every single fact, that knowledge will shine through and give your reader a sense of surety.

2: Give the character unique traits.

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Every single person has their own set of unique traits and quirks-so it stands to reason that your characters will too!

More than believability, adding a quirk will give your reader a peek into your character’s inner world.

They will gain an understanding of what makes them tick, how they behave, why they are the way they are.

More than that, it will make your character stand out amongst their peers.

If you think about your friends or family, who stands out to you the most? What makes them unique? What’s your favorite thing about them?

Often it’s people’s quirks that make us love them the most.

I have this cousin. I know I’m not supposed to pick favorites, but he is definitely my favorite! He is covered in piercings and tattoos and is in a heavy metal band. But he’s also the kindest, gentlest soul I think I’ve ever met.

I love his unique qualities, they serve to make him stand out to me.

Give your character some quirks.

Make them scared of butterflies.

Make them love cinammon rolls so much they shed tears every single time.

Make them have a weird laugh.

Make them only wear purple.

Just make them unique!

Give them (believable) traits that make your reader say, “Oh this person’s interesting. Now I want to know more.”

3: Make their best trait be their biggest downfall.

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Sometimes our biggest and best qualities can also be out greatest weaknesses.

Bravery is great, especially in a butt-kicking MC… but what happens when their bravery becomes reckless self-sacrifice?

Pride can be a good thing, but what happens when it gives your character a big head?

Being a sweet cinnamon roll can be a lovely quality, but what does it feel like to be the person who never says no, who always has to be nice?

There are so many weaknesses you can give your character, but make sure they fit the personality!

Think about someone in your life. What is their best trait? Their worst?

Can you see how these two things relate to each other?

Don’t be afraid to look into some behavior psychology.

People are fascinating. Life experience, family of origin, and present circumstances can all influence personality.

Make sure that your character makes sense, but then dive deeper into why they are the way they are and how you can make them more interesting.

4: Give your character goals.

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Everyone has a goal.

Most people have several!

Someone might have life goals, but also little goals every year, month, or even day.

Make your character want something. Make them desperate for it.

Wanting something is so relatable for your readers. So if you give your character a goal, your reader will connect with that.

Giving your character smaller goals will also be relatable for your readers.

Even if their goal is just to find something to eat.

Who hasn’t been hungry before? Everyone can relate to that!

Another thing to keep in mind here is that every character should have goals, not just your MC.

Your MC’s Big Goal will often line up with the plot, but you have to keep in mind that not all supporting characters will have that same goal.

Maybe your MC wants to save the world, but one of your supporting characters is just in it for the recognition.

Maybe your MC wants to slay the dragon, but your love interest just wants to win the MC’s heart.

Take a good look at each character’s personality and ask yourself why they are on this path.

Your supporting character is the MC of their own story, so what is that story?

5: Give your character redeeming qualities.

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Redeeming qualities are vital to creating a relatable character.

Part of relatability is likeability. No, not every person on the planet is likeable, but you will have a tough time selling a book if all your characters chafe against the reader.

Your reader needs to be able to like your MC.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “But MK, I’m writing a different story. I don’t want my MC to be nice.”

Did I say nice? Nope!

The reader just has to be capable of liking them.

Not every person on the planet is kind, not even all the people you care about in your life. But I guarantee you that if you care about them, they have some redeeming qualities.

Maybe they’re tough but they love hard.

Maybe they have explosive anger, but are also fiercely protective of their loved ones.

Whatever you pick, make sure there is something about your characters that your readers can actually like.

Unless, of course, you enjoy low book sales and being ripped to shreds on Goodreads.

6: Put relatable obstacles in their path

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If you’re plotting correctly, there will be several obstacles in your MC’s path.

But part of making them relatable is showing “relatable reactions” to unrelatable situations… and giving your character some normal obstacles!

Put yourself in your character’s shoes: how would you react if you were them?

Make sure that whatever reaction they are having, it lines up with their personality and is believable for your reader.

But more than that, give your characters some NORMAL obstacles!

Does your MC need to save the world, but all the odds are stacked against them? That’s not super relatable for your reader…

So maybe also add that they get nervous in crowds or they’re afraid of spiders. Something totally normal so your reader understands it.

Maybe your character wants to ask someone out, but they’re scared.

Maybe your character is fighting with their sibling.

Maybe your character just lost a family member.

Take something away. Give them a fear. Put something totally mundane in their way that still ends up being a pain in the butt.

All these obstacles are relatable to your real-world readers and can add a sense of depth and believability to your character and your story.

7: Show growth

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Growth is vital to your story.

Characters need to show internal struggle just as much as external.

If you’re looking for some examples to take note of, YA does this so well!

You always start out with a character who changes dramatically over the course of the story.

This should happen over time, in believable increments.

Growth takes time in the real world, it should take time in your story too!

Your character should struggle against it at first. Nobody likes change. But after some growing pains, they should be better for it.

It should happen over the course of the book, with greater growth over the course of a series if that’s where your story is headed.

Maybe you’re asking, “But what if my MC ends up worse off than they started?”

Yes… there are exceptions. Something to remember about writing rules is that they’re really more like guidelines.

If you are following a different story structure and you want to show some kind of regression, go for it! It’s your story.

Will you get sales? I don’t know… Ask me in 10 years. Or just do it and find out!

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I hope this guide was helpful for my fellow writers out there!

As always, feel free to leave comments below if you think of anything that might make characters more relatable.

Sending love,

MK

This is Linux and his cousin Evie. They are the best of friends. When he’s working on character believability, he likes to think about her. Not to help his writing, mostly because that’s all he really thinks about when she’s around.

How To Show Not Tell Like A Pro

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Hi there, I hope you’re having a great week! Have you been doing lots of cozy fall things? I love this season. The leaves. The crisp breeze. The cozy sweaters and evenings snuggled up in a blanket. Whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re taking care of you ❤

I thought I’d cover showing vs. telling when it comes to writing.

I touched on this briefly in my post on 5 Common Mistakes New Writers Make, but I think it could use some further explanation.

You hear it everywhere: Show, don’t tell!

But what does that really mean?

Basically, it’s a way of expanding your writing and immersing your reader in the story.

Evoking emotions in your reader and giving them the tools to dive into your story.

Sounds great, right?

But it can be tricky.

I mean, you can’t show all the time.

Your book would be way too long and overflowing with flowery sentences that would lose their luster pretty quickly.

It’s like bumper stickers. A few carry meaning. But having your entire car decked out in bumper stickers will probably just make people turn away, not even bother to read one.

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It’s all about balance. You have to show enough to immerse your reader, but not so much that they get tired of reading the long, drawn-out paragraphs.

This balance will be different for every writer, and for every story. Something I have found is that it’s always better to show more.

Show as much as you can, then trim things down in the edits.

Do you need to say “Her eyelids grew heavy, her shoulders slumping as sleep beckoned her further from reality” every time, or can you just say “she was exhausted.”

Great question!

The answer is: Only you can know that.

I know, I know.

“MK, that’s not what I wanted to hear.”

But that’s the reality!

Only you can know what’s right for your story.

So show everything! Show in every paragraph, every line. Show until your fingers ache from typing, then go back and trim the fat.

Maybe you’ll go back and realize you already said that she was tired, so it’s good that you’re showing its affect now.

Maybe you’ll go back and realize this scene is already pretty fluffy, so you can just say “she was exhausted” and call it a day.

In the end, you should probably have a 70:30 ratio of showing vs telling.

Show me the little things that make me feel this world.

Tell me the big stuff.

Show me your character’s reaction when she sees a child’s doll crushed into the dirt in a war-torn countryside.

Show me how it feels when your character’s anxiety kicks in, and for the love of God, do some research if you don’t know what it feels like.

Show me how butterflies took flight in your character’s stomach when he had his first kiss.

Show me how it felt for your character to stand across from their partner on their wedding day.

Tell me the sky was blue.

Tell me the character walked across the bar and took a seat next to a cute boy.

Tell me your character is hungry.

Tell me what I need to know.

Show me what I need to feel.

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If you were describing the scene above, what would you tell me, and what would you show me?

You might tell me how deep the water was, but show me how it felt to be immersed in it. You might tell me she smiled when he kissed her, but you might show me what it felt like to kiss a mouth that tasted like saltwater and laughter. You might tell me the sun beat down on them, but you might show me how it felt to have your head grow warm while your toes buried in the frigid sand below.

You’re telling a story. That involves facts that need to be stated.

But this is art, at the end of the day.

Make me feel something.

Now if you’re wondering: “How do I show my readers?”

I’ve got you covered.

All you need to do is focus on the 5 senses: eyesight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.

Let’s give it a try with your actual story.

Think of a scene from your WIP that could use some flowers and fluff.

Got it?

Great.

Now close your eyes.

You are the character.

Their personality is yours.

Their habits and mannerisms are yours.

Their experience is your own.

Become your character in this scene.

What are you seeing?

What are you hearing?

What are you tasting?

What are you touching?

What are you smelling?

If you were this character, what would be the first thing you say, the first thing you do?

What, in this scene, would be the most important to you? The least?

What would you pay attention to? What would you ignore?

One character might be more interested in the art on the walls, while another character might be more interested in the people.

A good way to connect with your character is to imagine them at a dinner party. The waiter spills water on them. How do they react?

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Everyone will react differently in this situation. Some would jump away. Some would get angry. Some would get embarrassed. Some would apologize to the waiter. Some would shout at them.

Knowing how your character would react in a situation like this adds believability, and helps to shift your perspective to know how they would react in other situations.

Your character is a sweet little cinnamon roll. No combat training. No muscles to speak of. Afraid of their own shadow.

If someone tries to punch them, they’re probably not going to block it. They might duck, but not in a super-cool matrix-ish way. More in a scream-and-cower way. Odds are, if someone tries to punch them, they’re going to get punched! They just don’t have the reflexes required to dodge or block an attack.

How they feel about it is another story. Cinnamon roll might be scared. Or they might be embarrassed.

When I get scared, my instant reaction is to get angry. Call it a defense mechanism. Call it a problem. Whatever. It’s just how I am. If someone tries to punch me, and especially if it hurts, I’m going to cover up any fear or embarrassment I feel with anger. It will be gut instinct. My very first visible reaction.

But if I’m writing a super tough character that doesn’t have this reaction, I have to set that aside while I’m writing the scene.

It’s a lot like acting, just for anti-social weirdos such as myself.

So get into character!

Imagine how your character would feel, react, act, and write it down!

Show your reader how to feel.

If you ever feel like a scene is missing something, go back and count how many senses you used. You need to use every single sense to give your reader a fully immersive experience.

The most common one is sight. Writers are always telling me what a character is seeing, but I have a pretty active imagination. I don’t need to know what they’re seeing, I need to know what they’re hearing. Smelling. Tasting. Feeling.

You don’t have to tell me your character walked into a bakery with purple walls and a case full of breads and black and white tiled floors and a cute baker boy in the back.

If you tell me your character walked into a bakery and the smell of baking bread filled their nose, cute baker boy in the back kneading dough, I’ll fill in the rest.

Your reader is smart. And sometimes, it’s best to hint at your world and let your reader use their imagination. This adds believability, and gives the reader a better experience.

I hope this was helpful to my fellow writers out there!

If you have any more tips on Showing vs. Telling, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

As always, take care of yourself. It’s a tough world out there.

Sending love,

MK

This is my boi, assisting my mom as she tries to work. He’s telling her she needs to show more and tell less, all while making his signature derp face.

6 Tricks To Make Your Writing More Believable

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Hi there! I hope you are enjoying your day so far. It’s been chilly here, but I love to bundle up with a cozy sweater and a book. I hope you’ve been practicing some fall self-care.

Something a lot of new writers struggle with is believability in their story.

Either you know you struggle with it, or this is news to you, and you should go check your manuscript!

Whether this is tough for you, or you think you have the hang of it, I thought I’d share 5 tips that I have found useful to make my stories more believable.

Your readers are smart, and they have high standards!

Give your book the best chance it’s got at being a success!

Quick note: Keep in mind that these rules are here to guide you. But rules are meant to be broken, and you’ll find that a lot of good writers out there do! Just make sure that any rule you break, you have a good reason for doing so.

Keep It Simple

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I can’t stress this enough.

Simplify, simplify, SIMPLIFY!

You do not need to come up with an alternative unit of measure. The metric system is fine, unless there’s a really good reason you can’t use it… Like you’re an American and you just feel this desperate need to measure things differently and call football soccer.

You do not need to talk about lands and nations that have nothing to do with your plot, that your characters never come from or travel to.

You do not need to list every species of make-believe animal if your character never encounters them.

You don’t need to give me the life story of every character in the story, just give me relevant details. Drop hints here and there.

Like getting to know someone in real life, the beauty is in taking it slow, finding hidden gems along the way. I don’t need to know everything all at once.

You’re writing a book: Annie Saves The World.

Annie’s a superhero. She kicks butt. She looks good doing it. She makes friends and saves the world in the way only a super cool heroine can.

I don’t care that Annie went to Harvard and took a pottery class in her second semester and has a cousin named Joe… Unless of course Joe becomes a prominent figure in the story and Annie saves the world with her homemade fruit bowl.

Let’s cut to the chase: the only scenes you should include in your novel are ones that further your plot!

Not only does this tighten up your writing and assist with pacing, but it keeps your readers engaged, and prevents confusion later on.

If you tell me Annie took a pottery class in her second semester at Harvard, I’m going to spend the entire book wondering when she saves the world with her homemade fruitbowl, and how Joe helped her do it. And when this doesn’t happen, I’m going to be annoyed! Because my precious time was wasted on useless information. Now I’m questioning everything!

Add depth. Develop your characters. Know Annie took a pottery class in her second semester of Harvard, write out her entire class schedule if you feel like it! But for goodness sake, don’t tell me unless I need to know.

Little tid-bits of information are so much more juicy than an info-dump.

Give me the information I need to understand the story. No more. No less.

What is it people always say about creating a good lie? Too many details shows your hand. Keep it simple. Don’t give me anything to question.

If you don’t know how something works in your novel, DON’T TALK ABOUT IT.

If you have to explain it, but you still have no idea (you should probably work on your world building), show your character being confused about it.

“Why is it like that?”
“I have no clue, it’s just always been that way.”

That makes sense to a reader. They had the same question! Now they relate to your character.

If you don’t know every detail about how the government works in your novel, and you don’t need to talk about it, DON’T! No one will ask “but is it a democracy? Aristocracy?” if you’re not writing anything about government or the running of this world!

Don’t make your reader ask irrelevant questions.

Stick to your story. Stick to the facts of your world.

Keep your reader on a need-to-know basis.

Motivate Your Characters

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Have you ever read a story where half way through you just think, “Why is this character doing this?”

That’s a sign you aren’t believing the story!

In real life, every person has independent thoughts, feelings, and goals.

You need to show that in your novel!

Even your side characters want something, and it’s not always just to help the MC.

You should have an idea of what every character’s overarching goal is in the story, and also give them little wants and needs along the way. Make them want a friend. A glass of water. Make them want to save their family. Make them want a cookie.

Annie wants to save the world. Great… but why?

Let’s just assume for a second that Annie is an imperfect sentient being. We’re selfish. We do stupid things. We don’t want to save the world, we want to save the world because this is where our family is! Or because this is where donuts are! Or because saving the world would make us look good…

Now Annie’s friend Dante is helping her save the world. He’s handsome as heck. Abs you could bake cookies on. Does that hair flip thing. But why is he helping? Does he just want to look good? Or maybe he’s just a genuinely good person, and feels it’s the right thing to do.

Even your villain needs a motivation! No one is evil for the sake of being evil. They believe they are doing something right, or at least something with purpose.

Is your villain trying to blow up the world because someone hurt them, and now they want to inflict pain on others? Or are they a researcher who’s science went to their head and they believe the only way to save the planet is to rid it of it’s greatest threat: humans.

I don’t care what the reason is, but everyone has to have one.

You don’t have to relate to it to make it believable. There just needs to be some kind of logic behind it. Some way that the character can believe in it completely.

Because if your character doesn’t believe in something, why would your reader?

It’s also important to give your reader an urgent feeling. You can do this by motivating your character to keep moving forward.

Every decision your character makes needs to be driven by something, and your reader shouldn’t be able to ask “why wouldn’t they just do this?”

Make sure that when presenting your character with an option: fight or don’t, the alternative is not a viable option. They must fight, because they will die if they do not.

They must eat, because they like waffles!

They must go get something from a far-off land, despite the fact that it will take them longer to reach their overarching goal, because without this item they can’t win the war!

Always give your character a logical reason to need things. This way, your reader won’t question their decisions.

Outline Your Plot

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I don’t care if you’re a Pantser, you have to have a plan!

You cannot write a story without some idea of the end goal.

You need to know where you’re going. You need an inciting incident. You need a midpoint.

Just like your character needs goals, so does your plot!

When you are planning your novel, even if you’re a Pantser and do the bare minimum here, you need to create some structure for your story.

A general idea of the events that will take place, and in what order.

This way, you have a direction.

This adds to believability because it keeps your reader engaged. An engaged reader doesn’t have time to let their mind wander.

It also lends support to your arguments, to your plot as a whole.

Annie wants to save the world. We have her motivation: she thinks it will make her look good. But what is the inciting incident, the point of no return where she must make this choice? When does she have a change of perspective? When does she learn a lesson, and come to the realization that maybe she should save the world because she loves people, not just because she loves looking good?

I suggest you look into the Save The Cat Method. I used it and it made a huge difference in my outlining! I love to create an outline, but when it comes to writing, I’m more of a Pantser. This method helped me create an idea, a ladder to climb, but didn’t stifle the creativity of figuring it out as I go.

An outline also helps you stay on track with your story.

I have read (and beta-read) so many books where it seemed like the author got distracted and wandered off in a different direction for a while before coming back.

This gave me time to wonder “Why is this happening?” and “Why is that like this?” but it also made me question the story as a whole.

Once the reader is not engaged, once you wake them from the dream, they begin to question everything.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

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I do this all the time while writing!

As I’m typing, I close my eyes and I picture myself in the situation I’m describing.

What does it smell like? What do I hear? What am I touching? Tasting?

Using all the senses immerses the reader and helps them believe that, yes, this is happening!

You’re reading a scene where Annie is fighting for her life. Close your eyes and picture yourself as Annie. Someone swings a sword at you (and you have butt-kickery training) what do you do? Do you duck? Do you parry? Do you hear the zing of steel cutting through the air? Do feel your heart pounding in your chest? Does fear shoot through you like lightning?

Dive in. You can always trim back during your edits!

What’s important here is that you’re making sure what the character is doing is believable.

If I have butt-kickery training and someone swings a sword at my head, I would probably parry. My training would kick in and my muscles would spring into action. Really, duck OR parry would be believable in this situation.

What wouldn’t be believable is if you screamed and ran away.

You have butt-kickery training. You’d have to have a dang good reason to scream and run.

You’re probably thinking, “MK, that’s ridiculous. I would never write that into a scene.” But you’d be surprised!

This is a betrayal of character, when you have developed a personality for your character and you go against it in words or actions, and it happens ALL THE TIME. Especially with newer writers!

If your character is soft spoken and kind, they’re not going to just walk up and punch another character in the face. That wouldn’t be believable.

Now if said soft spoken and kind character sees someone being abused, and they have a protective streak, they’d totally punch someone in the face! But you have to set up that protective streak ahead of time. Put it in their back story, or show hints of it in small, casual ways.

If you’re pushing your character outside their usual pattern of behavior, you just need a good reason!

It’s all about perspective. Make sure that whatever you’re writing into your scene, it makes sense for the character! There needs to be a logical build up.

Literally imagine yourself as that character, with that character’s personality and goals. What would you do in their shoes?

Backstory & Foreshadowing

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Foreshadowing and backstory have some similarities, but for the purposes of your plot they are very different.

Backstory is a character’s history.

Foreshadowing is pieces of a character’s experience that hints at their future.

How do you make your story believable through these tools?

Develop a thorough backstory. A well-rounded character is a believable character.

As I said before, you don’t have to mention every detail. In fact, you shouldn’t! But knowing these details makes you believe in the character, and that will show through in your writing.

Annie has a brother named Paul and a cousin named Joe. Her parents live in Pasadena and are both lawyers. She grew up in boarding schools and her best friend’s name was Maria, but they don’t speak anymore.

That’s a lot of info!

Her parents were lawyers, so that might influence her personality. You can show that without explicitly saying they were lawyers, then reveal it later. It will give your reader that ah-hah! moment they want. This is all back story.

Now if you were to tell the reader her parents were lawyers who worked cases to do with high-body-count criminals, and you had heard them talking about one in particular as a child, then it later comes out that criminal is the big bad villain, that’s foreshadowing!

Maria shows up later in the novel, and has the key to saving the world.

Joe turns out to be on the bad side.

Paul dies.

These scenes all make these random facts worth mentioning. If these scenes didn’t happen, you really wouldn’t have needed to mention them.

Just let these unspoken pieces of a character’s history influence who they are in the present day.

How does a girl with an older brother typically act when compared with a girl with a younger brother?

How does having lawyers for parents affect her personality?

What scars did living in a boarding school leave on Annie’s psyche? What strengths?

A well-developed back story lends believability to your character. Foreshadowing (when done well) adds believability to your plot.

When your reader has that ah-hah! moment, they believe this story is going somewhere. “Ah hah! This is all making sense now.”

Dots are connecting.

Synapses are firing.

Your reader is squeeing.

You are creating a dream for your reader. Backstory and foreshadowing are just more layers you add to it.

Dive into some psychology! How does your character’s history affect their present state of mind? Their goals? Their fears?

Drop hints like two chickadees dropping breadcrumbs through the forest.

Create a logical path for your reader to follow.

You’d be amazed about how many happy coincidences happen simply because you created a well-developed character and world.

If you know your character well enough, you will weave their history into their present and create believability for your reader without even trying!

Fact Check

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This is a big one! Last but certainly not least.

Make sure that whatever “facts” you’re putting into your novel, they’re either real, or real enough to be explained.

Do you research.

Look into personality.

Look into the affects of the childhood trauma you want your character to go through.

Read stories from real people who identify as your character identifies.

You can’t really over-research (unless you’re just using it as procrastination).

All these little factoids will swim around in your brain as you write, and the surety you have from them will shine through, building confidence with your reader.

Everything in your novel should either be real, or explainable.

Are vampires real in your novel? Great! But you need to be able to tell me how they came to be. Or at the very least, tell me no one knows how they came to be, they’ve just always been.

Did you make up some animals for your novel? Cool! But if you just made random animals and didn’t pull them from mythology or other stories, you’re going to have to explain them to your reader somehow.

Do humans have powers? Excellent! How did they get them, and what are their limitations?

Fact checking also comes into play here.

I can’t stress this enough.

Check. Your. FACTS!

If you don’t know how something works, research it!

Writing about mermaids?

You need to know how breathing works.

You need to know how behavior works in aquatic species.

You need to know how wound treatment is different below the water.

You need to know how reproduction works.

I don’t care if you mention it in your novel or not, but you have to know these things.

If there’s anything you are questioning, but you decide to just glaze over it, your reader will find it. They are bloodhounds. They will scent weakness and they will root it out.

They will mention it on Goodreads.

You will cry.

Research your story, your plot, your people. Have everything squared away before you start writing.

Then just write your story. You don’t need to drop facts. If you researched well enough, they will shine through.

BONOUS TIP!

Make sure that when one of your characters is hurt or injured, you are consistent with it throughout your story.

Your character cannot get shot in the arm, then climb a tree ten minutes later.

Maybe this is a fantasy novel. Maybe you’re writing a super tough character. They will power through a lot, you say. They can handle it, you say.

But bloodloss is a real thing.

Having an arrow in your leg hurts like heck.

Slicing open your skin leaves a scar.

Make sure it hinders your character in a realistic way.

I’d suggest doing research on whatever injury you want your character to endure. Both from a medical and patient’s perspective.

What is the treatment plan and healing process?

How does it feel to have an injury like this?

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

I hope you found these tips useful!

If you have any suggestions that helped you write a believable story, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

As always, take care of yourself! You are your top priority.

Writing can wait if your mental health demands it.

Sending love,

MK

This boi wants to write a story where tennis balls can throw themselves, but he knows it has to be believable so he is going to say a wizard enchanted them. Yeah. That works.

How to Build a Fantasy World Part 2: Systems

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Hi there! How are you this week? Are you taking care of yourself? Make sure you’re balancing work and mental health. ❤

If you’re a writer, especially a fantasy or sci-fi writer, you are familiar with World Building.

Or maybe you’re not, and that’s why you’re here! Hah!

World Building is the term the writing community uses to describe creating the world for your book. This is so much more than just a map.

If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 to make sure you’re getting all the steps!

This part will be all about systems.

Quick note: This will be a bit more challenging if you haven’t already determined the details of your culture, listed in Part 1 of this 3 part series.

So, what systems am I talking about, exactly?

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Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com

What you need to think about here is Government, Infrastructure, Economy, Agriculture, and Magic.

Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds!

I’ll break it down for you and give you some questions to answer so that you can flesh out the details.

Government:

How is this society ruled?

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Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

Is there a monarchy? A chief? Is this a democratic society? A lawless land?

Logistically, how does this place work? Every society needs laws or boundaries, even if they aren’t a sovereign nation.

Even if the law is “there is no law”.

While you don’t need to write out a bunch of laws or create in-depth systems of government for every aspect of your society, you do need to think about what your character will encounter in their story.

Will they have a run-in with the law? Do they ever talk about the governance of their land or peoples? Are there limitations to what they can do/where they can go?

Who would they ask for help if the situation called for it?

Example:
The Selection by Kiera Cass is set in a dystopian society.
This society has social classes and a monarchy (among many other things – read the book for more detail).
This way of governing has a massive impact on the MC and her life. Her family’s income, her future, her career, who she can marry…
Cass had to create this governing body. She drew on real-life examples and added in a little hand-waving.
Do we know every single detail of how the government operates? No. But do we need to? Also no!
We know what is pertinent to the story. What gives it depth.
Definitely read this book if you’re looking for an example of good fantasy government building.

In this vein, you should also take a moment to think about how this society relates to other cultures. Trade? Arranged marriages? Wars?

Do they have allies? Do they have enemies?

Again – don’t worry about this if it isn’t necessary to YOUR story. If you never mention another society in your book, then who cares that they signed a peace treaty with them 30 years ago?

On the other hand, the more detailed you plan this society, the easier it will be to write your story. Don’t go into crazy, unnecessary details, but have a firm grasp of how this place works.

Believability is EVERYTHING.

While you don’t need every single detail of the society planned out, having that idea in your head can add depth to the story, even if you don’t specifically put those facts in. This will happen simply because you know it works, so it will be easier to convince your reader it works.

Infrastructure:

The layout of this society and how they get around within it.

Photo by Jerry Wang on Pexels.com

Here, you need to think roads and homes.

What kind of roads run through the main city? The suburbs? Dirt, gravel, cement, traffic in the sky?

It can be good to sketch out a map here so that you can keep the layout straight in your head as you are drafting your story.

How do they travel within their area? To faraway places?

What do the homes look like? Modern homes made of wood and plaster? Lean-tos with thatched rooves? Houses made of packed dirt?

No houses at all, but tents or wagons for a nomadic society?

What do the rulers live in and how is it different from what the poor live in?

Think about the layout of your city. How do you get around? Where do you need to go on a regular basis?

Do they have grocery stores? Markets?

Is there piped water? Electricity?

How do they heat their homes? Cook dinner?

Do they trade with other societies?

These should all be appropriate to the time period of your story.

Example:
Throne of Glass is set in a time period before most modern conveniences, however they have running water for the sake of the story.
Maas just kinda does some hand-waving around how this is possible, but she does it so well that, as the reader, you don’t really care!
Sometimes having the character admit they don’t know how something works, or that something is weird, can be all the explanation you need.
“I don’t get how it works, but it does, so I get to enjoy the benefits of other people’s brainpower!”

While there are so many details you can and should come up with here, the main ones you should be thinking about are what will directly impact your story.

You don’t need to know they fly in blimps to visit distant lands if they don’t use them, or ever visit distant lands, during the story…

Economy:

Money and its various uses.

Photo by Pratikxox on Pexels.com

Unless you have an economy-focused story, there’s really no need to get into the nitty-gritty here.

At a certain point, giving a ton of details can actually create less clarity and more questions.

If you say there are banks and the currency is gold, awesome! As a reader, I believe that.

If you say there are banks and then there’s this detailed system behind it, oh and there’s the treasury, and the money is based on this physical resource, and you pay for food with gold but you pay rent with favors, and we trade with other nations using livestock and then there is this system of credit and…

Oh gosh! That is so confusing. As a reader, I’m lost. And to be honest, I don’t really care… Unless there’s a specific plot-based reason I should.

Keep it simple, friends.

Here are the questions you do need to be able to answer:

What does their money look like? Gold, bills, coins, favors, life-force, etc.
How much is that money worth? What does a set of clothes cost? A dinner out? A month’s rent?
What relationship does this society have with money (greedy, rich, poor, give tithe to their religion, etc.)?
What relationship does your character have with money?

If there is anything else (story specific) that you can think of, certainly work that out.

But, again, keep it simple!

Less is more.

Lies are best crafted when they don’t have too many details. We know this, we were all teenagers at some point in time.

Agriculture:

Farming & Food. It’s that simple, folks.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

The main questions you need to ask yourself here are:

What does this society eat? Is there a difference between food of the rich and poor?

Do they grow food, or have it imported? Or is it manufactured?

What kind of crops do they grow, if they grow any at all?

What kind of livestock do they keep, if they keep any at all?

Is the farmland incorporated in the story? If you never need to mention it, then don’t worry about it! If your story is set in a palace where they are waited on hand and foot, never traveling to a farm or speaking of one, then telling your readers about the society’s agriculture is totally unnecessary!

Magic:

The magic system or powers in this society, and the world beyond.

Photo by Joy Marino on Pexels.com

Magic systems can be intricate (and intimidating) even in the most basic of magical stories.

The key things (for a believable magic system) you need to remember are these:

Power comes from somewhere. An god/entity, nature, another person, animals, blood…
There must be a cost. Energy, life, time, memories, beauty…
There must be rules or guidelines (cannot create life or love is really common).
There must be a limit to how much power someone can have or use (whether you grow tired or the cost is too great).

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Who possesses magic/powers?
What kind of magic/power is it?
What is the cost of using it?
Is magic/power evil? Good? Or is it simply a tool as good as its user?
Is magic/power a secret, or does everyone know about it?
Does magic/power elevate someone’s social status, or lower it?
If someone uses too much power, what happens to them? Body/Mind/Soul.
Is the magic/power tied to religion in some way?

Now, if you’re talking about powers, it will be a bit different, but still the same premise!

Where does it come from, who has it, what are the limitations?

Example (magic):
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin has a magic system that trades memories for power. The bigger the power, the more important the memory.
This has grave repercussions for the user as they change every time they lose these pieces of themselves.

Example (powers):
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard uses powers instead of magic.
The power seems to come from inside them, and is based on some kind of inner well of energy. It can be drained and refilled. There are limits, which are different for every powered individual.
There are many different types of power, and groups who have the same power, but everyone seems to have their own spin on it.
Aveyard even goes into lovely detail of explaining how this was some kind of mutation, elevating powered members of society to a higher social status, creating a rift between peoples.

Keep in mind that this is all up to your imagination!

Go crazy, make weird rules and exceptions, do something no one’s done before!

Just keep in mind that the questions above, while only a helpful guide, will help you create a believable magic system.

If you don’t care about believability, then by all means, make power unlimited and free for all! It’s your story!


I hope this guide has been helpful for you in creating the systems within your world!

Don’t forget to check out the first post here on Culture.

Next post next Friday will be the 3rd and final part of this series.

Take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you love this week!

Sending love,

MK

Linux would create a world where magic tennis balls are tossed all day in fields of dog treats, and human hands never tire of belly rubs.

How to Build a Fantasy World Part 1: Culture

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See Disclaimers for more details.

Hi there! Hope you’re healthy – body, mind, & soul! You are your top priority so make sure you’re giving yourself the effort you deserve! ❤

As you may know from previous posts/Instagram, I have a “finished” manuscript to my first novel floating around.

I had to take a step back and get some more beta readers because I wasn’t having much luck with querying. So it may be a while yet until my baby is out on the shelves.

That being said, I wanted to chat about how I build my worlds.

World-Building is my absolute favorite part about crafting a story.

I love drawing the map, creating cultures, thinking up religions… All of it!

Because there are so many details, I thought one big post might be overwhelming.

So I broke it out into 3 parts that you can follow along. I will post them every Friday.

Keep in mind, this guide will be specifically for fantasy/sci-fi stories, or any story set in another world. Basing your story on the real world is a whole different game.

This first part will be all about culture.

Quick note: If you have multiple nations within your novel, you will have to repeat these processes for each one!

Photo by Askar Abayev on Pexels.com

Another quick Note: You should have a basic premise of your story already in place before you begin. This way, you stay on track and only build what you need.

Culture is basically the customs and social interactions of a set of people.

This includes behaviors, social structure, the way people dress and act, language, etc.

This can be quite the hefty task, but it can be done if you break it down.

You’ll need 4 basic pieces: Appearance, Belief System, Social structure, and Language.

Appearance:

What do people look like, and how do they adorn themselves?

Photo by Tru1ea7n Long on Pexels.com

Most of the time, my MC comes to me fully formed.

Hair color, skin color, physical attributes, personality, skills…

Sometimes they even come with clothing preferences, and I shape their culture to make sense within those guidelines.

But it’s ok if you’re not sure yet. That’s where the creative part comes in!

The main question you need to ask yourself here is how does the majority of this society look, physically?

Are there major differences between people (some have two sets of arms, some don’t), or subtle ones (run-of-the-mill gene recombination)?

Are they human, animal, a mixture, humans with non-human qualities (claws)?

Wings? Pointed ears? Tusks? Cat whiskers?

Are they not human at all? Perhaps snakes or wolves or fish?

Example:
The people of A Court of Thornes and Roses series by Sarah J Maas vary between societies.
There are the humans and the fae, with all the normal differences to be expected between people born to the same society but different parents. Then there are other societies like the Ilyrians, the “lesser faries”, the Valkyries (a society but not a race).
This is a great example of variance between cultures, but also within cultures.
You’re only limited by your imagination!

Let’s remember here that you will have a wide variety of readers who will be different from you in a variety of ways.

The assumption that white & light eyed & able-bodied & neurotypical is the norm, and anything else is “other”, is not one that will do you any favors in your writing.

Nor will it serve your readers.

Please keep in mind that differences in skin color, hair color, eye color, gender, preference, abilities, and so much more are the things that make this world BEAUTIFUL.

And you have a moral obligation to be inclusive and respectful in your stories, regardless of what you look like, regardless of your abilities and preferences, regardless of your upbringing.

*dismounts soapbox*

Another piece of appearance is adornment: how does this society dress?

This can be a result of climate, beliefs, societal norms, and also personal preference (just like the real world).

You will need to decide what kind of clothes the society wears, as well as specifically what each of your characters prefer to wear.

Cold, snowy climate? Furs and boots will be pretty common! But maybe you have a weird character who refuses to wear long pants. Maybe he likes to feel the chill wind rustle his lower leg hairs.

What kind of jewelry does this society wear? And is there a difference between the classes?

Everyone has earrings, but only the rich have nose rings.

No one except the “low class” wear jewelry because it’s considered vain and sacrilegious.

Do people have tattoos? Do they have cultural significance, or are they simply personal preference?

There are lots of ways to adorn a body, and not all of them might be common to your own society, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

This is a fantasy world, after all!

Belief System:

What does this society believe in?

Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels.com

Is there a deity? Multiple? Strict atheism? Do they hold a set of principles as their belief system (people are inherently good/do whatever you want, damn the consequences/warriors are highly esteemed/children are sacred/etc.)?

This may not look the same across the world, or even across the society.

Think of your own society. Your neighbor may share your belief system, but differ in their principles. Your neighbor may have a different belief system altogether!

Differences can add more believability, because it’s more realistic!

How does their belief system impact their society? Their government? Their customs? Their social interactions?

Think about real societies in our world. Religion/belief has a massive impact on almost every culture in our world. People go to war over beliefs. Borders are set, kingdoms made and broken.

What did religion do to your story’s world?

Example:
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin is set in a pretty believable world (and kinda familiar). There is the Chruch, which believes witches are evil, and there are witches, who believe magic is only as good or evil as its user.
The religious aspect of this book is so believable because it is so very familiar.
Two sides who each think they are wholly right. Governments and borders formed through the influence of these societies.
I could go on, but it’s a great example of strict religious culture in a story.

Another example (because I can’t help but love this story):
The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E Pearson has, in my humble opinion, some of the best world building I’ve ever seen.
This is a post-apocalyptic world where the religion seems to have formed out of the events and oral accountings of survivors.
I won’t spoil anything for you, but the way Pearson puts in excerpts of religious text really adds depth. And the way everyone’s ideas and practices are a bit different is a beautiful depiction of the way a religion would come to be in this situation.
Highly HIGHLY recommend this series for anyone looking to write a religion-heavy story!

A final question to ask yourself, when it comes to actually writing the story, is how does this belief system affect your character?

In the previous examples, the character’s belief had great power over them. They spoke of it often, even in every-day conversation.

But sometimes religion is more subtle than that.

Take Christianity in the real world: there are the people who pray every day and talk about their beliefs on social media. They wear tshirts and go to concerts. Then there are the “Sunday Christians” who, for all intents and purposes, no one can tell are even religious until they show up to church.

I’m not giving you a lecture on right and wrong in our world, I’m simply giving an example that is familiar to me.

Is your character devout? Or are they “situationally religious”?

Is their society strictly religious, or do they allow an ebb and flow depending on personal preference?

Social structure:

Basically, how do your people interact with each other?

Photo by Joy Anne Pura on Pexels.com

This may already be taking shape after your government and religion are in place. Excellent!

But let’s ask a few questions to make sure you’re solid.

Are there castes/classes that aren’t defined by government but by social interaction (rich vs. poor, religious vs. secular)?

How does this society treat its poor?

Its elderly?

Its women? Its men? Its non-binary?

What is the separation like between the working class and the aristocrats?

Is there a mixture of backgrounds/cultures/ethnicities, or is the society pretty closed off? On that note, how do they treat outsiders?

What are their relations to other nations in their world, and opinions of cultures that are not their own?

How does this society view gender? Sexual preference?

What are “taboos” that people can’t or don’t talk about (sex, religion, money, political views, background, job, etc.)?

Example:
In The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood, there are multiple worlds, each with a unique society.
You can tell the differences as the MC travels worlds, going from a soft-spoken, religious society, to tougher, louder societies focused on fighting, to more scholarly societies. These differences are cultural, and the people will act accordingly (to a certain extent).
You can see the differences in worlds simply by the descriptions of interactions. There are even differences in appearance, due to the different worlds they come from.

This is a lot of questions, I know! But thinking through these details is really important to your story. You need to have a working knowledge of how this society interacts with each other so that your characters act in a way that fits the culture you’ve created.

Language:

Is there another language in your story?

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

The fact of the matter is, unless there’s some magical or story-based reason, your world will have differences in language (among many other things) between societies.

The easiest way to go about this is to stick to one culture, so all your characters speak one language.

If there are multiple languages, you can let the reader know they’re speaking another language, then put the text in italics.

If you want to go down the rabbit trail of creating a fantasy language, my best advice would be to pick a real language, and twist it. I did this for one of my worlds, and it was tough! But it did add a layer of depth to the story.


All in all, when coming up with these pieces of your world, try to keep your character and your story in mind.

Think about your characters and the dynamic you want them to have.

Are they Poor/Rich? Extroverted/Introverted? Do they have jobs? Are they in the ruling class? Are they from another culture entirely?

In answering these questions, you should ask yourself how they interact with their world.

When you think about your character, ask yourself what about their culture, their society, shaped them to be this person? What circumstances or customs pushed them to be who they are today?

Example:
Inej Ghafa from Six Of Crows is reserved and quiet, religious, and fiercely protective of those she loves. She’s a trained acrobat and fighter, and uses her skills to navigate her world.
-She might be reserved and quiet because of her family of origin.
-Religious due to her Suli heritage and her family.
-Fiercely protective because of her traumatic past.
-Her family trained her as an acrobat. It gave her confidence.
-She learned to fight because a friend in her city gave her the opportunity to take her power back.

I suppose, the question for Leigh would be, “What came first, the culture that shaped Inej, or the culture Leigh created to explain how Inej came to be?”

My characters usually come to me fully formed. Physically, mentally, spiritually. So, after that, I shape the culture to fit them.

Sometimes my story changes a bit as I lay out the culture and the geography. Sometimes certain pieces of a character have to shift because they don’t fit, or they create a plot hole.

Truly, you’ll figure it out as you go along. I know that’s not helpful, but just dive in! Think about whether this culture could survive in real life, or if some pieces don’t fit/are missing.

Let’s take a pause here, friends!
You have a moral obligation to make sure your stories include all people, not just those like you.
Ethnicity, identity, beliefs, customs, preferences, abilities, and behaviors vary from person to person. Make sure that your story includes a beautiful variety of people that appropriately and respectfully include the beautiful variety of your readers.
That being said, certain stories are not yours to tell. Make sure you are respectful in your depiction of an experience that does not resemble your own.

I hope this guide helps some fellow authors out there!

Part 2 coming next Friday!

I’d love to hear about your WIP or see the beautiful cultures you create in the comments below, or in my inbox.

Don’t forget to write this week!

Sending love,

MK

If Linux practiced some world-building, he would make a land full of green grass and sunshine, where rivers of yogurt cascade over mountains of treats, and human slaves play fetch all day.

6 Tricks For Better Instagram Photos

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Hi there! Are you doing well? I’m sending love & positive vibes your way! Life can be tough. Make it a little easier by being kind to yourself ❤

I thought I’d share a few tricks for Instagram photos that I’ve learned through trial and error so that maybe you don’t have to learn the hard way! I’m no expert, and I just do Insta for fun, so this is a pretty basic tutorial.

I joined Bookstagram a few months ago and absolutely LOVE IT! It is so fun to indulge my creative side and see what I can do with the books I love. I shared some tips & tricks for Reels in another post, so check that out if you’re interested.

Without further ado, here are my 6 tricks for better Instagram photos:

1 Lighting – I can’t stress this enough. Not only will it help with the sharpness and clarity of your photos, but people love bright photos on Instagram! Some of my older stuff is not very bright, and it looks a bid dingy to be honest. I tend to get more likes on brighter photos, and people on IG just really like the bright look. This looks like a pretty good photo light, if you need one.

Photography lights for a studio.
Photo by tyler hendy on Pexels.com

2 Stick with a vibe. A flavor. An aesthetic, if you will. My photos have a bit of an airy, classic vibe. Lots of cream colors, muted tones, flowers, and fur. I also have been using the same backdrop (it’s actually a table cloth) for a while and it gives my my wall a really cohesive feel. I started getting more traffic once I started to stick with the same vibe throughout my pictures. This way, my followers know what to expect from me. If you scroll down further in my account, you can see that my earlier photos were a bit all over the place. We grow, we learn. That’s why you’re here, right?

Happy woman with a colorful aesthetic. Flashing her loud vibe.
Photo by Karley Saagi on Pexels.com

3 Photos have are more visually pleasing when they’re a little off-center. Now, this isn’t always the case, but it usually is. For book stacks (I’m a Bookstagrammer) I will usually keep them pretty on-center, but for one book or a collection of books laid out on a backdrop, it’s good to make the focus point off-center.
Turn on your grid while taking a photo. Try to make your focus point line up with one of the intersections. This can be a book, or a picture or word on the book (if you’re taking a picture of books). It’s also best if they are not straight up & down. Keep in mind that your camera typically takes a rectangular photo, while Instagram will crop to square, so the situating may be done after the fact.

4 Knick-knacks and other random items can add depth and interest to your photos. I have some pebbles, candles, flowers, decorative balls, rings, and bookmarks that can all be mixed & matched to create the look I’m going for. Adding things that pertain to the subject of your photo is always good as well. Placement should be done with your focal points in mind, but also with a bit of randomness. Working too hard on placement can sometimes add stiffness to a photo. Below, you can see 3 different placements of items. I kept rearranging until it felt right.

5 Filters – I actually edit my photos in the IG app. I know a lot of people use other softwares, but frankly I’m just too lazy to do that. When editing, I will pick a filter first. This way, the little touch-ups I do will look good with the filter I’ve chosen. As I mentioned before, I’m trying to stick with a certain vibe, so I only use like 3 of the filters. I pick the one I like best for the photo I’m editing based on lighting, subject, and the feel of the photo.

Woman using a filter. She is wearing red and the photographer has captured her serious mood.
Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

6 After you’ve chosen a filter, select Edit to adjust other aspects of your photo. I usually crop and move my photo around until the focal point is right where I want it. If there’s only one book, I like it to be a bit off-center. Adds some dimension. I’ll also play with the other toggles until I get the look I’m going for. Usually upping the brightness, saturation, and warmth, and lowering contrast. It depends on the photo, and the vibe you’re going for, but this just fits for me. I also really like the sharpness and structure options. It pulls out the shiny little details like the glitter in the table cloth or the shine on the book without overdoing the brightness. Don’t be afraid to play around with it until you get the look you’re going for. You can always press and hold on the image to compare to the original.

I’ve included the before and after below so you can see the results!

I hope you found these tips helpful! I’d love to see some of your photos or hear any other tricks you’d like to share, so feel free to add you account or pointers in the comments below!

Check out my Bookstagram account if you’re interested in seeing my work.

Sending love,

MK