Blogging in Character: A Good Idea?

By Posted in - Social Media for Writers on June 27th, 2010 16 Comments

Last week I posted news that I’m writing a blog from the point of view of one of my characters, which garnered a fair amount of interest, especially as an exercise in finding your character’s voice.

A week later I have more to share with you. Here’s what I’ve found out:

A micro-blog is easier than a traditional blog

Using a traditional blog as your platform has three strikes against it:

  1. It’s an investment in time and writing power that is perhaps best reserved for your manuscript.
  2. Because you’re writing ‘long’, it’s easy for the character’s voice to become too studied and ‘novelistic’.
  3. You run the danger of giving away too much about the story in advance of publication.

Micro-blogging with a provider like Tumblr.com is a really nice compromise between tweeting in your character’s POV and blogging long, involved posts.

It’s more like a scrapbook of impressions, photos, videos, quotes, and bits of text that your protagonist finds fascinating or worth sharing. You’re looking through his or her eyes at the world he or she sees. All the little details, niggles and snarks.

If you’re writing a teenage protagonist, as I am, then it’s a much more appropriate form than a traditional blog. Not many teenagers blog, but lots of older ones micro-blog. The reason? They have over-loaded lives and a traditional blog is a commitment. It also takes more time to read, so their friends are less likely to follow a blog, but will follow a micro-blog because it’s quick and fun.

Find the look that your protagonist would choose for themselves

Choose a theme for the blog that reflects your character’s preoccupations, tastes or location. Mine lives at a university that exists outside of time and space, so I’ve chosen a steampunky, sepia-toned theme that doesn’t have any specific time but certainly doesn’t look modern. In doing so I’ve identified the first problem with her blog. I’m not sure what her passion is. I know it’s books, and she lives in a place that’s full of them but isn’t supposed to read them. That’s a great inherent conflict. But what kind of books is she specifically interested in? Writing her blog has made me realize I don’t know. Is she into science, alchemy, or engineering? I need to make a decision if the novel is going to feel real.

Which Character Should I Choose?

This is an interesting question, because the first impulse is to give the blog to the main character, right? But what if he’s not the chatty sort? What if blogging would be anathema to him? What if he’s a man of action and would never be caught dead blogging?

In that case, maybe there’s a minor character who can offer observations on the key players without interfering with the storyline. I could have chosen Beckett, the porter of the University in my novel, whose office is by the college gate, making him privy to everyone’s comings and goings. But I felt instinctively that he is a traditional man, not a blogger, and that secrets are his stock in trade. He wouldn’t be sharing information unless there was a green handshake involved.

So I turned to Rowena, the college scout (or servant) and my main character’s future love interest. It seemed entirely plausible to me that Rowena would keep a diary in which she would vent her frustration about being a servant at a university when she’d rather be one of the scholars. She watches everyone with envy, and has access to their private rooms so she can clean them. Perfect, intimate access to a fascinating world rife with conflict and jealousies.

What should my character blog about?

Keep to daily observations by your character, those of a personality living in a certain situation, with its inherent highs, lows and frustrations over relationships with other characters. Remember that your purpose is to entertain. The Science of Deduction by Sherlock Holmes (from the Masterpiece TV show with Sherlock in the 21st century) includes clues, case files and hidden messages, for instance, providing an interactive extension of the show’s stories to keep fans entertained and engaged between episodes.

Should I allow comments?

Depends what the purpose of the blog is, don’t you think? On Sherlock’s blog, fans respond to his requests for help with clues (which are veiled contests for giveaways), and on Dr Watson’s blog the comments are supplied by other characters in the series, creating an extra dimension of meta-reality to the blog, along with opportunity for further information and intrigue, but the comments are closed to the public at large.

Who are you doing this for?

If you are doing it for yourself, to find your character’s voice, passions, viewpoint, attitude, then maybe you want to make the blog private, rather than broadcast it to the world just yet. You can password protect Tumblr blogs so only the people you give a password to can access it.

Too public, too soon?

Be careful. If you’re blogging because you’re excited about your characters and your story and can’t wait for publication to share them with the outside world, you may do better to concentrate on finishing your book and getting it published, because there’s a danger that you’ll give a way too much.

It may be best to keep the blog private, or password protected, until you’re book is out. Then you can use it to extend the reading experience for your fans. An article about a serialized online novel that employed social media to extend the world of the novel into the virtual world of social media can be found here:  My Darklyng. But note, this was done concurrently with publication, not before.

Broadcasting your ideas far and wide ahead of publication has dangers you should be aware of:

  • Copyright issues: Of course, a blog that you own is completely under your control, so the rights remain with you, but what if someone copies and pastes your content elsewhere? You have little control over that.
  • If you are doing the blog to drum up a readership for your book then you’ll want the blog to be public, but don’t add content or ideas that relate to the book until the book is published.

Doing it right

If your goal is to build a readership ahead of publication, choose a central subject, or theme, that has broad public appeal, regardless of your book. If you find a readership based on the theme of your novel, then there’s a good chance they’ll also be interested in reading a novel on the same theme, especially if they have connected with you personally through your blog. Building a readership is a worthwhile way to spend your non-writing time, pre-publication.

For the micro-blog for my novel, A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS, I’m not worrying about being in character, I’m speaking to the theme of my novel. Should we ignore warnings of the dangers that our innate human curiousity may lead us to?

There, I gather all the warnings or examples of curiosity that I can find, or bios of people who were famously curious, or macabre (like Edward Gorey), or flouted societal rules (like Oscar Wilde or Lord Byron).

I may invite other bloggers to post their own examples of warnings. In this way I may be able to build an audience for the novel before it comes out.

Got a question?

It’s hard to make any specific suggestions to you without knowing your characters and your story, but do feel free to leave me comments with any questions you may have.

I will tell you one thing—it’s a lot of fun! But don’t forget what you’re writing it for. Your book comes first.

My micro-blogs:

Later, if it looks like they’ll become a permanent part of my book promotion, I’ll purchase the domain names and host them myself, but for now I’ll save the pennies and buy printing paper with it. 🙂

Share your links

Hey, if you end up setting up a micro-blog or any other kind of online presence for one of your characters, come back and add a link to the comments below so we can all admire your work!

Here are some character blogs I’ve found around the web:

Further Reading:

(16) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    June 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Rachna, yes, I do think secret is the way to go until you're close to publication. After all, why would anyone care about a character who's out of context? We fall in love with a book first, with the world of the story, through the conflicts and challenges that the characters meet so bravely.

    But then the book's over, finished, and we have to wait at least another year for the next book in the series. So we go online and check out the author's website, hungry for any hint of when that might happen, and find a blog by one of our favorite characters! Yay, we think, and subscribe to updates. They act like little serial novels, or snippets, from that character's daily life. In this way we get a sense that the character has a life outside the novel that they're getting on with, and feel reassured that there will be more from them later, when the next book is done.

  • Schuyler Esperanza - Reply

    June 27, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    I think your character’s micro-site is beautiful and thought-provoking, a site to visit for itself and not even for teasers to something larger…although of course I’d like to see how it all fits together. The aesthetics of the micro-blog need to be carefully considered, not only from the WIP-as-a-whole angle, but from the realization that people aren’t going to stick around if it’s not enticing. Layout, design, etc. may not be a writer’s first talent/love, but will be judged.

    That being noted, I think the micro-blog/site is a fantastic idea…emphasis on the word fan in fantastic. Nothing seems to stir a crowd like waiting for the next installment of something. As a person who’s more a reader/observer than writer at this point, I know I become loyal to those authors who have a steady online presence in one form or another. Truly, out of site in the Internet Age can be out of mind. Feed me more of your novel, Seymour, and tweet more about your thoughts, and I’ll remember your name when I walk into my local bookstore.

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    June 27, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    Schuyler, you’ve made such a good point, and so eloquently! You ARE a writer. Now you’ve got me interested—which writers have won your loyalty with their steady online presences?

    I love to learn from those whose efforts have worked!

  • Birgitte Necessary - Reply

    June 27, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I’m following your lead and micro-blogging characters in my novel as well. I like Tumblr because it has very little functionality, which as you mentioned would just distract me and get in the way. This is a great way to just free write, something that doesn’t come natural to me. I resist it. But when I make myself just write with very little concern for story structure or direction, I find gems. I’m hoping this is a way to discover deeper levels of my novel and make my characters come more alive. Great suggestion!

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    June 27, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Birgitte, I agree about blogging in character being a great way to free write.

    I’m often resistant to starting a day’s writing, but if I blog or freewrite for a bit, just to loosen my writing muscles, I find it much easier to turn my hourglass over, yell “Tally ho! Into the breach, my friends!” and haul my poor characters through another grueling day of disappointments and obstacles. lol

  • claudine - Reply

    June 27, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Great idea, Lia, and this post about doing it is so informative. I can’t think of anything to ask right now, but you’re once again on the cutting edge. Good job.

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    June 27, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Thank you, Claudine! I love just knowing that you’ve visited and enjoyed a blog post. Makes all the difference when I sit down to write a new one!

  • Rachna Chhabria - Reply

    June 27, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Thanks Lia, for this wonderful post. I need to reassess my character’s passions, likes and dislikes after reading this post. I think micro blogging is a great way to discover new things about both the character and the book, which so far have remained hidden from me. But my blogging in character will remain for my eyes only. It will help me work out the problems in my plot and book.

  • claudine - Reply

    June 28, 2010 at 5:47 am

    I think might try the secret blog thing too, like Rachna.

  • Victoria Dixon - Reply

    June 28, 2010 at 6:02 am

    What a fabulous idea. It wouldln't work with my current MC, who has no business being on a blog. I'd have to do it with a short story character as all of my novel ideas tend to be historicals. Hmmm. Who could I do this with as a fun exercise? Thanks for the distracting thought. I kinda needed this. ;D

  • Schuyler Esperanza - Reply

    June 28, 2010 at 6:32 am

    Twitter is my internet happy place in terms of All Things Authors. I'll read a good book, follow the author, and just very naturally through their links, retweets, and correspondence, come upon something intriguing or funny. This leads to following more people, and learning about books they've authored; books they're reading; interesting blogs; micro-blogs like yours, Lia; book giveaways; and WIP. It's wonderful!

    An example of how things can work well for authors on social networking sites like Twitter is YA author Maureen Johnson. I came across something funny she'd tweeted through another YA author I follow, checked out her Twitter profile, and found out her tweets are hilarious! After following her for a bit and seeing how she interacts with her fans, I decided to buy her latest book (which was second in a possible series, so I bought the first one, too). Loved the books, and went on to recommend them to others, including my teen librarian friend; our library has a teen fan site, so I recommended Johnson to them; and so word-of-mouth (through word-by-'net!) has hopefully taken hold.

    My advice, as a voracious reader always looking for my next book fix, is use the free social networking sites! Yes, they take away from writing at times; but I've only been on Twitter since October, and since then have read at least 50 books by authors I hadn't heard of before.

  • Schuyler Esperanza - Reply

    June 28, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Another success story about online presence, this time through Facebook: author Richelle Mead. I'm a loyal fan of her YA series, Vampire Academy. However, she has two adult series as well, and I wasn't aware. Through my Facebook feed, she mentioned a release date for the next installment in one of these series. I checked it out and it's amazing! Richelle will post silly things on her Facebook like a picture of shoes with a link, and write, "What do you think of these shoes with this dress?", and it's fun to post comments in reply. Carrie Jones, another YA author, posts about her dogs' antics, and things like how she's not a morning person, is yawning tremendously, but has a signing at 10 a.m. at ALA, and will people understand she's not being rude? I love it!

    Probably the most generally successful author of all time on social networking sites is Neil Gaiman. I was already a huge, slobbering fan of his before following him online, and he's had a cult following for decades before the internet was ubiquitous, but he's definitely one of the most popular people on Twitter and Facebook. His book, American Gods, was voted the One Book, One Twitter read. He is definitely someone to study in terms of How to Do It Right (Social Networking 101)!

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    June 28, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Yay, Claudine! It’s fun, and it just might help you think of the character as a real person, if they haven’t quite sprung to 3D life for you yet.

    I don’t know anyone who’s done a blog from their antagonist’s point of view. That might be a good one for a private blog, too… (thinks…)

  • Birgitte Necessary - Reply

    June 28, 2010 at 9:35 am

    I’ll be blogging from my protag’s POV too. I’ll let you know how that turns out!

  • Lia Keyes - Reply

    June 28, 2010 at 9:49 am

    And a very sweet person, to boot. I met him at ALA and congratulated him on delivering a great speech about The Graveyard Book, during which he caught himself just before he got choked up describing how the story came to him, years ago, whilst watching his son walk through a graveyard.

    He leaned close and said in a whisper "Was it really all right? I lost my speech on the plane and had to make it up as I went along."

    Who wouldn't fall for such candour?

  • Tee - Reply

    July 2, 2010 at 4:34 am

    I so love this idea and cannot wait until I get to this point in my WIP. I'm sure there are a few fairies, a few Fey that have a lot they want to get off their minds!

    Great post, honey

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