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Katlyn: [00:00:00] Today I am talking to Sacha Black. Sacha Black is a best-selling and competition winning author, rebel podcaster, speaker, and craft teacher. She has published many non-fiction books along with a young adult fantasy series. And her newest release, ‘8 Steps to Side Characters’ is coming out this week.
[00:00:25] ‘8 Steps to Side Characters’ is a comprehensive writing guide that will help you create the side characters your story needs. So I’m so excited for you to learn from Sacha about how to level up your side characters in your writing. So let’s get started with the interview. Welcome back to the channel.
[00:00:44] Sacha Black. Sacha was here over a year ago, talking about her non-fiction book, ‘The Anatomy of Prose’. Now we’re here to talk about ‘8 Steps to Side Characters’, which is publishing this week. I read an early copy of this book and it’s so amazing and has forever changed the way that I look at side characters.
[00:01:05] So welcome back, Sacha.
[00:01:07] Sacha: Thank you so much for having me. I cannot believe it’s been a year. Where has the time gone?
[00:01:14] Katlyn: If anyone hasn’t watched that amazing interview, which I will link in the description. Please let us know how long you’ve been publishing and what other nonfiction craft books you’ve published.
[00:01:26] Sacha: Okay. So I think I first published in 2017. So what is that four years or so now? And I have published a book on villains so how to create better villains, a book on how to create better heroes and now a book on side characters. And then you mentioned The Anatomy of Prose as well, which teaches you how to improve your sentence level writing.
[00:01:52] And then I also did like a collaboration and did a couple of short books with J. Thorn on like rebel mindset and personal finance as indie authors. And then I also publish fantasy. So I have some young adult stuff out and I’m kind of in the background brewing up to some adult fantasy stuff.
[00:02:11] As well.
[00:02:11]Katlyn: That’s awesome. You’re like a machine with nonfiction craft books. I love it. So I wanted to ask what made you choose side characters as the topic for this specific, your next upcoming book? What was the spark for it?
[00:02:28] Sacha: I would love to tell you that there was some wonderful story behind this, but of all of my non-fiction books.
[00:02:35] This is the one that probably has the lamest answer for that, so basically, you know, I started with villains then I’d written heroes. Well, really left there was only side characters in terms of like types of character. So that was one of the drivers. And then the other driver was that I like, my audience asked me to write this book.
[00:02:56] Like I said to them, what do you want me to write? And they all said, yes, well, it was, it was very close, a very close tie between characters and working on description. So that will be my next big book for next year. I’ll be working on a book on how to be better description. But I’m just doing like a mini nonfiction book that I’m not really talking about right now that I’m aiming to get out in January, but we’ll see.
[00:03:19] Cause I don’t know if I can do it yet. But yeah, there’s like a little mini book also coming but yeah, so, I mean, essentially it was a toss-up between my audience asking for this, because there actually isn’t really a lot in the market on side characters. There’s a lot on characters and how to write good characters, but not so much specifically on side characters.
[00:03:40]Yeah. And then the fact that, you know, we covered the other two big characters in, in every story already. So, yeah.
[00:03:46] Katlyn: So in your opinion, what are the different types of side characters?
[00:03:51] Sacha: So there are lots of different ways that you can come at this. And I think people will be expecting me to talk about like archetypes, but I don’t really think that archetypes are a helpful way when you are learning to write a book of thinking about side characters.
[00:04:11] So I come at this from a different angle, and I come at it from I’m saying there are three types of side characters: cameos, minor, and major side characters. And I’ll explain briefly what each of them are. So for anybody who has watched The Matrix this is like, like, I love this example more than any other example in the book. In the Matrix,
[00:04:34] for anyone who hasn’t watched The Matrix, The Matrix is essentially an artificially intelligent created world where humans are plugged into. And Neo is pulled out of this matrix back into the real world, which is like this decimated dystopian wasteland. And the, the aim is to like destroy the AI’s who created this.
[00:04:55] And in training, he goes back inside the matrix. And they’re in what looks like a very bog standard, New York downtown street, and all of a sudden this lad– and so I should just say, everybody is dressed in like black grays. They’re all carrying briefcases, nobody’s looking at each other. And then all of a sudden this woman in a red dress walks past Neo.
[00:05:18] That’s it that’s the only time she’s in the whole film. It says very brief flash instantaneous view of this woman. And the only thing you remember is that she was wearing a red dress and she was kinda cute. And she, maybe she had blonde hair. I can’t even remember if she did have blonde hair. And that’s it.
[00:05:33] And the film is obviously like two hours long, but she’s in it for about 10 seconds. And that’s what a cameo is they’re in your story for a flash for an instant that they might not have any lines? I don’t think she even has any lines. Maybe they hold the door open, maybe they, they hand you something, but that’s about it.
[00:05:52] So they have no effect on the story really. And they’re entirely forgettable. They might not even have names. So that’s what a cameo is. And the other example I like to use is Stan Lee he always used to in his Marvel films. So like, you know, he drove a truck. Or he was a judge, or he was a doctor or whatever.
[00:06:11] And like, you know, and sometimes he said a line or two, but most of the time he didn’t so, yeah, that’s a, that’s a cameo. Minor side character is like a step up from that. So these are the characters who are going to be your book more frequently than a cameo, but they’re not really going to have a lasting effect on your story.
[00:06:32] So. Maybe they’re a barman that the protagonist talks to sometimes, maybe they’re a guard that they get to see, and maybe the guard gives them a key because they made a friendship or whatever. So they may be important to like a plot situation, but they wouldn’t be important in terms of character development, like putting the protagonist or, you know, being an obstacle stuff like that.
[00:07:00] So there could be like a barman or a receptionist or someone who brings information, performs a role, but they don’t really impact the story. And they don’t really impact the main character. Like to give you some tangible examples of that. I know everybody has a problem with J.K. Rowling, but Harry Potter is a very well-known story.
[00:07:22] I do use examples from that despite my disagreeing with JK Rowling. So Mr. Filch is a very good example of a minor character. He’s the janitor, the one with the Maine Coon cat the big floofball. And so the janitor, Mr. Filch he appears every so often. And sometimes he causes a bit of trouble for– or the cat causes trouble for Harry.
[00:07:43]But you know, really he could come out of the story and that, you know, it would be fine. The story would still be fine. It would be the same story. Another example would be Wheezy from Toy Story and like a Magda from The Hunger Games.
[00:07:58] So I don’t even think she’s in the film, but she’s in the book. And you know, she’s there at the beginning. That’s about it. So that’s some examples of some minor characters. Your major side characters are who I predominantly aim my book at. So your major side characters are the ones who have a big role in your, in your story.
[00:08:18] It may be the mentor type figure, you know, Gandalf, for example it could be your protagonist’s best friend. So like Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Grandpa Joe, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is another example. These characters have depth. They might have their own arc. They might have a narrative point of view as well.
[00:08:41]That probably going to have subplots dedicated to them. They’ll take up a lot of page time and they will leave a mark on both the story and your protagonist. So, yeah, I, that is how I break down my side characters, because I think it is a more useful mechanism for structuring your writing and for knowing where to place the emphasis in the story.
[00:09:03]Because a lot of people struggle with letting side characters take over. And so using this structure helps prevent that.
[00:09:10] Katlyn: I love that. I love the, all the examples. I’m a big example person. So thank you so much for that. So how do you think writers should approach side characters versus a protagonist?
[00:09:22] Sacha: So I think two of the most important things to bear in mind are tied up with each other. So your side characters are not the most important characters in your story. The story is about the protagonist and therefore everything that your side characters do must be bent or angled towards the protagonist.
[00:09:47] Now that said, you still want your characters to at least look like they have life outside of the protagonist in order to make them seem, you know, full of depth. And like, they are a real character because if they exist only for your protagonist, then they’re going to be very flat. And it’s going to be cheesy.
[00:10:08] A couple of things to think about are creating an illusion of an arc. With a protagonist, all the whole book is about your protagonist. So you go in depth into your protagonists character arc, but you don’t have the time or page space to do that for your side characters. So you create the illusion of an arc.
[00:10:29] Now, the way that you do that is you work out what it is, your side character wants. If it can be connected to theme even better. I think we’ll talk about this later. But if you couldn’t connect it to the theme even better, because that will help to bolster your protagonist, but you start out with them wanting something at the end of the book, either they are going to have got that thing, or they’re not going to have gotten that thing.
[00:10:53] In, in minimum viable character that is all that you need to create at least the illusion of an arc. If you want to create a bit more depth to that arc, then you could have a stop point, a couple of stop points in between. In scenes where your character tries to get the thing or perhaps they’re grappling with whatever it is they have to do in order to get that thing.
[00:11:16]And you know, importantly, if you can try and weave those in, so that it’s still about the protagonist, perhaps your protagonist is helping the side character to achieve that arc or whatever, then all the better for creating that, you know, holistic mesh, where everything is connected to everything else. So.
[00:11:35] Yeah, unlike your protagonists, where you’re going to have, you know, half a dozen different locations where they’re trying to overcome obstacles or examining that thing inside them, that’s created the flaw your side characters aren’t going to have that. And they shouldn’t have that. They should only have
[00:11:52] beginning where they don’t have it, or they they’re working out what they want, the end, where they have it, where they, they failed. And then, you know, a point or two in the middle where they’re grappling with that. And then that is connected to scene power. So scene power is this concept that when, and it doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or an extrovert, but when you walk into a room, let’s say you’re walking into a dinner party.
[00:12:16] It’s usually very obvious who is holding the attention in that room, who is in charge of that room, where, where are everybody’s eyes, where’s everybody’s energy directed. And it’s usually to the host in that instance. And so you can compare that host to the protagonist in any story. What you don’t want to do is have your side characters driving any action or decisions in a scene.
[00:12:43] So for example, if you have come together as a group, your characters have come together and they’re trying to work through clues or create a plan. Whilst your side characters can be giving information and providing clues or helping to work things out. It should all, all be directed towards the protagonist and the protagonist should be the one making the decisions.
[00:13:07] So the protagonist should be the ones saying, I will be sacrificial lamb not a side character saying, well, why don’t you do it or not, or not the side character saying, oh, I should do it. Unless of course your hero then jumps in and says, oh no, no, no, I’m going to. Because then it makes the sacrifice look better or whatever.
[00:13:24]So another example of this is like, if you have a police officer, so you’re writing crime and you have always, you always have your police officer, detective person, and then you have a sidekick you know, Sergeant or whatever, the Sergeant should be presenting information or picking up clues, but it should always, always, always be the detective
[00:13:47] who pieces those clues together. It goes, aha, I’ve got it. And that means that they, that detective is controlling the scene power because he’s taken all the bits of information, or she’s picking all the bits of information from the side characters and pieced it together. You can’t have your side characters doing that because then the load of power is with them and that’s not
[00:14:09] where it should be. So that is a couple of different ways to yeah like look at your side characters differently or you know, how you should approach them differently.
[00:14:18] Katlyn: I love the visual of the dinner party. That’s fantastic. And I will always remember that. So thank you. So what sort of research did you have to do for this book?
[00:14:29] Sacha: I tend to, so I know we know about strengths, but I have high learner and input, so I always like a lot of information anyway. So with all of my nonfiction books, I tend to heavily research a lot of articles. I read lots of books and then that’s like on the non-fiction side. So I’m looking for other craft information.
[00:14:51] I’m looking for craft books. There were actually, there isn’t a single book on side characters out there. Not one, there are books on characters, but there are no books on side characters. So I, this is the first book on side characters specifically. So yeah, I read a lot of books about characters. I read a lot of books about craft, story structure, and I’ve read a lot of articles as well.
[00:15:11] And then I also go away, and I get to do a fun bit which is like binge- reading and binge-watching stuff as well. I tend to go and try and consume as much information as possible. And then I spend some time like sub-consciously processing it all because I have a different way of looking at craft, I think, and I like to have my own spin on it.
[00:15:40] So for example, I mentioned earlier about how I, I look at it in terms of major, minor, and cameo. Most people look at side characters in terms of archetypes, but I didn’t want to do that. I like to give people a new way to look at these things. So I need some time to process. And, and yeah. I would say how I do most of my research and then I just start vomiting and collecting quotes and things. Yeah.
[00:16:03] Katlyn: I always love that fun research where it’s like, oh, I’m doing research. I’m gonna watch these ten movies or a binge these TV shows. So I love it. Yeah.
[00:16:11] Sacha: Our job is awesome.
[00:16:14] Katlyn: What are some ways that writers can level up their side characters?
[00:16:18]Sacha: Okay, so early on, I’m going to start with this one earlier on. I mentioned the fact that your side characters, you need to create this illusion of an arc with a side character.
[00:16:28] So I talk about the three why’s each side character should have three whys. So why are they helping the protagonists or, you know, if they’re on the villain’s side, then why are they opposing the protagonist? And then, and I should also point out, I am talking about major side characters. I’m not talking about minor and cameos.
[00:16:48] And then you need to look at what, like, what is the why for existed outside of the protagonists? So what do they want, what is their why? Like, and their why for existing what is it that they want that’s outside of the protagonists? Is the protagonist trying to get to the Olympics, perhaps they are trying to be a mathlete, you know, so something that is external to the protagonist and then they need why for being in each scene because so many characters, well, you’ll see these great groups of people coming into a scene and then three or four out of the six are all talking.
[00:17:21] And all of a sudden the author’s describing that the six characters are leaving the scene again. And you’re a bit like, wait, what? Where did those characters come from? So why are they in the scene? Why do they exist outside of the protagonist and why are they existing for the protagonist? Those three why’s really help.
[00:17:37] And then I think, the thing that is most important or the thing that I hope most people take away from the book is around getting your characters to work with the theme. So for example your protagonists, if, if your book was a math’s equation, your protagonist would be the answer to that equation. Your antagonist or your villain is the incorrect answer to that equation.. And your side characters are the workings out along the way. And what I mean by that is that if your protagonist is the embodiment of your theme, that’s the message that you’re trying to give out. Then your side characters should represent different aspects of that different workings out.
[00:18:21] So if you have a side character that represents perhaps a negative version of that theme, that’s either going to show your protagonist that’s what they want to, or isn’t what they want, because it’s not the same embodiment. So if we put this into tangible examples.
[00:18:39] I was going to do love black I’m going to have to use The Scent of Death because that’s the only thing in my head right now.
[00:18:43]So my book, The Scent of Death is about a boy who gets punched on the nose and then he can smell how people are going to die. And he’s had a really rough upbringing and all he wants to do is save the people that he loves. And that’s really the theme. Like if you love somebody, you should save them.
[00:19:00] But the, the characters are all different versions of that. And him seeing each of those different versions helps him to learn the lesson that you can’t save everybody. So for example, Pearl, who is the love interest. She is a very independent woman. She’s a cheeky rebel, doesn’t need saving. Thank you very much.
[00:19:22] So that’s her embodiment on the theme. She doesn’t need saving cause she’s going to save herself. And so that is a different variation of his theme, which is if you love somebody, you should save them. Another character. Frank is gay and he’s in the closet and he’s struggling with coming out because his family background, they’re not very pro-gay people. And so it’s difficult for him to come out. So his version on theme is. If he loves himself, he should save himself by coming out of the closet he should save his mental health. So again, it’s another variation on the theme. And I think when you and I go into a lot more detail on like the different ways you can represent theme.
[00:20:02] So, you know, like sticking with the theme truth or sticking with a lie or flipping from positive to negative, negative to positive so on and so forth in the book. So there’s more information on that. Yeah. I think that so many writers just slap on some side characters to create some humor or to create dialogue, to increase the pace.
[00:20:22] And they don’t think about tying it all together with the theme. And it’s so easy to do it if you know how. So yeah, that would be one of the biggest things I think you could level up your characters..
[00:20:36] Katlyn: So on the flip side, what are some mistakes or the biggest mistakes that you see? How writers mess up beside characters?
[00:20:45] Sacha: Yeah. Okay. So we talked a bit about scene power giving side characters too much scene power. We also talked about them not having a reason to exist outside of the protagonist. And I think the other one that I probably haven’t mentioned is , so two more one is not giving them anything distinctive.
[00:21:03] So each of your major side characters should have a little je ne sais quoi about them, a little something that is memorable. So one example I always remember from the movie ‘East is East’. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen. It’s nineties. I think it’s nineties or noughties film anyway, it’s set in Birmingham, UK, I think in like the eighties, I want to say.
[00:21:25] And basically this kid called Sajid. He, he always wears this green bomber jacket. And it’s filthy, and it stinks he’s smelly, but like you never see him without the jacket. And it’s a thing like in the, in the whole, through the whole film. And so yeah, each of your characters should have a thing that makes them stand out and maybe it’s physical thing.
[00:21:46] Maybe they always wear a particular shade of lipstick or maybe it’s a personality thing. So like Kaz Brekker, in ‘Six of Crows’ always walks with a crow head cane, and always wears gloves. Now [Leigh] Bardugo, who wrote the book, made a thing out of the gloves and the gloves are linked to, to his flaw which is a fantastic way of like bringing that web of connectivity together.
[00:22:09]But each of your side characters should have a thing. Maybe it’s their type of humor. And you know, they have a very specific type of humor or maybe it’s their dialogue or their dialect, but each of your side characters should have something distinctive about them that is unique only to them and differentiates them from everybody else.
[00:22:29]Yeah. So I think that is probably, you know, there’s a lot of sameness. Well blandness that, you know, these characters don’t put in, but they don’t really have any pazazz about them. And so they just, they sort of merge into everybody else.
[00:22:45] Katlyn: Yeah, for sure. That’s, it’s difficult as a reader too to not be able to differentiate side characters.
[00:22:51] So I think as a n author to be able to do that upfront is really helpful. So how has this book specifically changed or updated your view on side characters in your fiction?
[00:23:02] Sacha: Well, the interesting thing about this is that I realized how much I love side characters. And the funny thing is in studying so many site characters and how unique they are and how that’s reflected in my own fiction, it’s actually made me realize I have to work more on my protagonists
[00:23:24] if anything, which I think is funny because you know, we, I do actually spend quite a lot of time creating my side characters and giving them that unique thing. And actually, funnily enough, some of my favorite own characters are side characters and they’re like, this should not be the case. Like why is my protagonist
[00:23:42] or you know, my villain, not my favorite thing. So yeah. I think what I have learned is I actually spent a lot of time on my side characters and they’re really fun. And they’re fun because you aren’t as restricted with your side characters as you are with your protagonist. And so the lesson I have taken away.
[00:23:59] is to have more fun with my protagonists and to, to make them as distinctive as I make my side characters.
[00:24:05] Katlyn: While I was reading your book as well, like it felt like sort of a case study to read about The Scent of Death. And I think a lot of the exercises that you talk about to do for side characters will definitely help me and other writers who read this book.
[00:24:19] Sacha: So yeah. It was important. Like obviously we have to be careful because of the copyright there’s fair usage and stuff. So you can quote very small things from people, but it’s really important to me to have examples in my books. And the only way I could do that. I think was with The Scent of Death because I have so carefully structured it in a particular way to create a particular effect to get particular ending.
[00:24:43] And, you know, it was actually really quite difficult not to give away the big ending or the big twist, but like whilst also going into quite a lot of detail about how you can put some of these things into practice. But yeah, like I hope people find it useful.
[00:25:00] Katlyn: Are your favorite side characters in books, movies, television, and why?
[00:25:05] Sacha: Oh my goodness me, this was the hardest question of all the questions. Okay, so I’m just gonna reel off a few. And I reserve the right to change my mind because these things changes as we go. But I came up with was because it was such an iconic movie and Morpheus was so damn cool.
[00:25:27] and I just wanted to be Morpheus like he has, he has like really high self-assurance and he’s probably like number one self-assurance and I just, I loved his confidence, and he just knew he knew stuff and he believed it and it made it true. And that’s what I loved about him. I read ‘The House on the Cerulean Sea’ by TJ Klune recently.
[00:25:49] Oh my goodness me is just 400 pages of joy. It has the antichrist in the book and the, he of all of the characters I have ever read, he has the single best dialogue lines I have ever read of any character ever. So that is high praise. And he, personality is just this wonderful juxtaposition, which is why I liked him.
[00:26:14]Got to give a mention to ‘Game of Thrones’. I love Cersei Lannister and Arya Stark. And at the moment I am watching Scandal and so that is a Shonda Rhimes TV series. And I really like Huck. Huck is this assassin character who’s deeply complex very broken and is this wonderful juxtaposition of pure unadulterated violence and the most kind hearted, caring, thoughtful person
[00:26:48] I think I’ve ever come across. And like, it is just two unexpected things that you don’t think should be thrown together but work beautifully. And so, yeah, I would say he is my favorite side character at this minute. Also just a little nod to the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy and Terry Pratchett who have some of the funniest side characters ever death, for example, in ‘Mort’ is fantastic.
[00:27:13] One of my favorite inclinations of death in any book ever.
[00:27:16] Katlyn: And that’s awesome. I love Scandal. And that is a really good example of a lot of like side characters. I think it’s easier in television because you can really explore these side characters, but Huck is fantastic and it’s like one of those you know Wolf in sheep’s clothing type of thing.
[00:27:32] Like he’s not necessarily a villain, but like. You get to know the backstory and you’re like, oh yeah, that’s who he is?
[00:27:43] Sacha: He’s just so deeply complex. Like that’s the, I just, I truly, he is one of the best side characters I’ve seen in a long time.
[00:27:52] Katlyn: All right. So how has your writing process for nonfiction changed since writing any of your previous books?
[00:27:59] Sacha: So this is a really hard question because a lot of my process is still the same, so I still do lots of research. I still throw down information in the same way. I think what has changed is my ability to explain complex topics in an easy-to-understand way. And I don’t, I think I’ve always done that cause I do do that in villains, but I think I have got significantly better at it over the years.
[00:28:32] So hopefully each book is better than the last. And I think that just comes down to experience and, you know, constantly analyzing story, be it the cinema be it in poetry, be it in flash fiction or whatever, in novels and having more examples, I really like to create like metaphors or analogies or things that explain these complex
[00:29:03] story structures in an easy-to-understand way. And yeah, so I would say not change necessarily, but I do more of that and hopefully I’m better at it than I was when I first started. So yeah, like but the core of how I write nonfiction, I don’t think has necessarily changed. I think I’ve got confident with it, and it’s supposed to be faster, but not changed.
[00:29:29] Katlyn: This is sort of an aside to on top of that has your, the way that you promote nonfiction changed from the beginning, like, do you do anything different? Do you find things that work and don’t work? Can they not work and work between books or do you find that process to be pretty streamlined?
[00:29:47] Sacha: It’s definitely changed because I didn’t have a podcast at the beginning.
[00:29:51] And I’m only just getting my first audiobook up off the ground. So yes, I would say some things have changed. Some things have stayed the same. So I tried to do you know giveaway’s. So I tried to I write on my own blog, I will release newsletters. So those things stay the same. What has changed is I used to do a lot more article writing.
[00:30:13] Now I’m a bit more selective, but I think it’s possibly because my time is more restricted. So I try to rather than like going to my friends now I will try and pitch people target in a targeted way. So like, you know, does this podcast have a big listenership does this book have, you know, a big readership?
[00:30:34]So I try to do those things a bit more tactically than I probably did previously. And I also try and do a lot more video and audio. So for example I’m going to run a series of live like interviews for my launch, which I probably would never have done, you know, four years ago when I first released villains. I just wrote, I purely focused on, on article writing. Whereas now it’s a lot more interviews, a lot more podcasting, a lot more video. Other things that stayed the same are I still run the Amazon ads. Amazon ads is fantastic for non-fiction writers. Yeah. So I would say the leaning in terms of outreach that I do is a bit more video or audio than it is purely words.
[00:31:20] Now I still try to do as much as I humanly can though, that has never changed. But you know, as you, as you grow up, I was going to say that as you get more experienced in the industry, you learn more and more things. But the other thing that I would say is. If you are a non-fiction writer, don’t necessarily listen to what I am saying and assume that that is the case for all nonfiction books, because I think readerships are different.
[00:31:43] Like mine, nonfiction readership is very different to say John Truby’s non-fiction writing craft audience because his books are far, his books is far more formal. It’s more structured. It’s very used in like trad agents and stuff. So, whereas my non-fiction audience, they’re all naughty.
[00:32:05] They’re all cheeky. They all like sarcasm and rude jokes and, you know, and so it’s just a different type of audience and therefore the interaction might be different. And so my advice to you is to experiment, don’t assume that whatever works for me is going to work for you. Or you don’t know that until you have done it and tried it at least two or three times, no, whether or not that’s going to work for your audience.
[00:32:30] And so I still experiment. That’s something else. That’s the same. I still try new things. Each time I launch, I try something new. I pitched somebody different. I you know, I, I try, I try a different type of giveaway. I try collaborations, you know, all of these different things. I think as an indie you just have to experiment with and see what works.
[00:32:51] Katlyn: And you’ve given me a lot of advice when it comes to nonfiction. Whether it’s you know, structuring a book and writing it and promoting it. So I love the experimentation aspect of it as well, because I always try to look at any information out there from authors who are successful and just say, well, I’ll try it, but it may not work for me because I think a lot of authors can feel disappointed when a certain advice doesn’t work for them.
[00:33:18] So in that vein, what are some of your best tips for authors wanting to write non-fiction.
[00:33:25] Sacha: Okay. So two, I will say I’ve got two. The first one is that structure is the hardest thing. It is always the thing that changes the most. I, you know, it doesn’t matter how many times I try and structure it. You know, and I suppose that’s kind of like the outline, but it doesn’t matter how many times I try and structure it before I write the book.
[00:33:40] It will always change as I go through. Because as you are compiling the information it you still have to take the reader on a journey from, you know, base level information to here is problem here is some ways to solve it. Here is, you know, how you implement it going forward or whatever, or whatever the journey is that you’re taking and redesign.
[00:34:00] And as you are writing and explaining and laboring in your nonfiction book, that is a complex thing to do before you write down the things you need to write down. So always get somebody to read it who doesn’t necessarily have knowledge on that area because that they will be able to tell you whether or not you’ve taken them from zero information through to whatever it is, you know, and back down that you need to.
[00:34:28] Okay. And the second thing I would say is to think about your voice. What voice do you want in your nonfiction? We talk about voice a lot for characters and for fiction. And it’s important because it’s what they sound like. It’s what you, it’s the feeling that you get from them, but it is no less important in nonfiction.
[00:34:48] And the thing like my bugbear with non-fiction, it is boring nonfiction where people are really stuffy and there’s no humor. There’s no, you know it’s just dry and they use big complex words and there’s no fun analogies. Like I, I am one of my, one of my missions in life is to make learning fun. And so your voice matters like
[00:35:13] non-fiction as a chance for you to be yourself in a way that you can’t be in fiction because you’re being somebody else in fiction. And so, yeah. Put your best bits of you into your nonfiction and put your humor and put your, your, if you have a turn of turns of phrases that you tend to use now it’s your chance to really dig into who you are and your way of storytelling.
[00:35:36] You know, it’s story telling in a whole other model and, and version and, and format. And so, yeah, like thinking about your voice is super important.
[00:35:46] Katlyn: I had to learn a lot about that this year with writing, you know, my non-fiction and understanding that there’s still that arc, as you were talking about in nonfiction, which I never really thought about before.
[00:35:59]But when you read a book that doesn’t really have that arc, you’re like, oh, this is not great. And it doesn’t have a great voice. I’m not learning anything. So you just want to make sure you learn how to do that. So what have been your favorite nonfiction books in the last year, since we discussed that last year.
[00:36:15] Sacha: So I’m going to give you three. There are lots more and I will give a nod to somebody else shortly, but so the number one that had probably the biggest impact on me is ‘The Heroine’s Journey’ by Gail Carriger. And I didn’t even know that there was a heroine’s journey versus a hero’s journey. And just to just, just to explain a heroine.
[00:36:35] can still be a male and a hero can still be a female. It is just the arc, the arc, and the story structure that you go through. And I didn’t know, I was writing heroine’s journeys and it has helped me resolve a lot of problems in my book so I’m literally about to start editing it for the final time.
[00:36:54]So yeah, that book, another book called ‘Effortless’ by Greg McKeown. I think that’s how you say anyway. Fantastic mind-blowing reminder that life doesn’t have to be hard and that you can make things easier on yourself. And there is no excuse for not doing that. You don’t have to live a hard, difficult life.
[00:37:14]And the last one was ‘Tell, Don’t Show!’ by something-Lofquist I think I can give you the links to these And that I read that book during a time where I was trying to learn how to skinny draft and it basically has enabled me to fast draft my first draft of any fiction book, which is speeding up my ability to write.
[00:37:37]And it just gave me permission to tell the first draft and to not necessarily have to write every single word that I want to be in the, in the finished book in the first draft. If my first draft is only 20k or any 50k or 40k, whatever fine. So be it, you know, I can. I can just, just do straight dialogue in the scene or, or I can just write bullet point notes about the description or the setting, and then just get the plot down or just get a character, you know, emotion in the scene, whatever it is that I have, it gave me permission to get that down in my skinny draft.
[00:38:13] And it has changed the way that I write fiction. And it was so freeing and yeah, so I, I really, I like that, but it’s so short as well. I think it’s not 50 pages, but it was like the best 50 pages I’ve paid for it a long time, apart from, apart from ‘The Heroine’s Journey’, which was also fantastic.
[00:38:31] Katlyn: That’s awesome. I read the heroine’s journey as well, and I always found it very difficult as an outliner to put my characters in the hero’s journey. And I was always like, but that doesn’t really fit. So I’ll like, write it in my books were like different because of that. And I’m like, I don’t feel good about that.
[00:38:51] And then I read hero’s journey and I was like, or heroine’s journey. And I was like, oh, I was doing that the whole time. I just didn’t have like a name for it. But I do want to check out that the third book you mentioned, because I do- we started skeleton drafting, you know, sort of at the same time. And I found the process super freeing.
[00:39:10] So anything that can help me is definitely helpful. So I will link all of those books in the description as well. For anyone who wants to check them out.
[00:39:18]Sacha: Yes. And I will get a final shout out to Dan Willcocks who wrote ‘The Self-Publishing Blueprint’. And I think he’s been on, has he been on or is he coming on.
[00:39:27] Yeah. And that was also fantastic. Yeah, so, and it just like a step-by-step guide to getting your book out of the door, the publishing door.
[00:39:35] Katlyn: Yes. That was a great book as well. So what can we expect from you in the near future from you, fiction or non-fiction-wise?
[00:39:43] Sacha: Okay. So as you know, Side Characters is out this week, and I am also going back, and I am narrating
[00:39:50] my non-fiction. So I am in the process of getting audio books out as well. So I’m starting with villains, then I’m doing The Anatomy of Prose and then I’ll do Side Characters and then I’ll do Heroes.. I’m also going to be running a series of master classes in the fall. So probably from September onwards, I will be running one master class per book.
[00:40:10] And if you can’t attend, you’ll be able to like buy it afterwards. So that’s also coming and then next year I will be releasing a book on description and hopefully a little mini book that I can’t talk about yet in January. And in terms of fiction, I’ve got books three and four coming out probably in November, January, November, December, October, November, depending on how fast I can do it.
[00:40:32] So they’re coming. And then the book that I talk about in Side Characters, ‘The Scent of Death’ will be out next year. By the end of next year, I would have thought.
[00:40:41] Katlyn: That’s very exciting. And I love hearing a list of things. I, I did want to plug your Instagram event that you mentioned. Can you give us a little more information about that and what to expect?
[00:40:55] Sacha: Yes. So it’s called your side characters and you, and what I’m trying to do is talk to indie authors about both their side characters. In, in their own fiction books, their favorite side characters in TV and movies and shows. And then trying to extract a little bit of advice from them about how they create their side characters and then just like have a bit of fun.
[00:41:19] And I’ll be doing these on Instagram every night from the 30th until the eighth or ninth. And they’re at 8:00 PM UK time. Yeah. And I get have your very lovely self or one of them. I don’t remember this exact date. I’m sure you can add it in post. There we go. August 1st. Yeah. So I will be doing those every night from, from the 30th.
[00:41:46] Katlyn: So I’m so excited for those events. And please tell us where we can find you elsewhere on the interwebs.
[00:41:53] Sacha: Okay. So my website is Sacha black.co.uk, which is S-A-C-H-A and then the color black.co.uk. I’m most active on Instagram, which is @Sachablackauthor. And you can find my books are all wide. You can find my books anywhere.
[00:42:06] You can even order them from the library if you prefer. And I do have a Facebook group, which is rebel authors, which is quite active and a fun place to be too. And of course my podcasts the Rebel Author Podcast.
[00:42:17] Katlyn: Fantastic. Thank you so much, Sacha, for joining me again.
[00:42:21] Sacha: Thank you for having me.
[00:42:23] Katlyn: Absolutely. Be sure to order your copy of ‘8 Steps to Side Characters’, which is coming out this week, which is so exciting. So we’re going to wrap it up here and I’ll see you soon.