How Do I Create My Male Characters?

Characters mostly choose their narrator. I can say that convincingly having experienced that a number of times with my characters: they come, I start the story and they take over!

I am often asked how I manage to portray my male characters so realistically? Is it difficult to switch from gender to gender and be equally convincing, giving them the same depth?
Well, after all, both female and male characters are people, and this is where the skill lies – in writing about people and their intertwined relationships honestly, skillfully and in-depth.

The majority of my novels are written in the first person perspective and in the body of one novel I write in both genders. When I start the story writing as a woman the reader enters into the world of certain sensibility. I am not talking of stereotyping and typical ‘female sensibility’, as my women are often very strong-headed with very distinguished characteristics and strength of character and psyche, but still, regardless of their strong personalities they are female characters.
Being a woman, it is easy for me to sympathise with any of my female characters regardless of their age, nationality or any kind of background. I can portray with equal zest and plasticity the girl of a tender age or a woman whose rich and long life is nearing its end, as I do in my books.

Characters mostly choose their narrator. I can say that convincingly having experienced that a number of times with my characters: they come, I start the story and they take over!

I am not going to claim that I get my male characters perfect as they are very demanding, capricious, strong-headed and tend to hide their feelings. I have to dig deep to discover their real feelings, and the depth of them, but the more reluctant they are to uncover their feelings the more determined I am to dig them out and expose them to the light of day. I love exploring human feelings, the reasons why we do what we do, why we act the way we act, what lies deep down that governs our behavior and leads us to chose a certain path.

When I was growing up I read classic literature.
There were only two female writers that were assigned as compulsory literature in high school: Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen; the rest were male writers, therefore I read many great writers whose characters were predominantly male characters. I was fascinated by the majority of them, by their secret inner world, their psyche, the way they thought, acted, by their view of women et cetera.

My male characters are so far from my psyche that it seems like an almost impossible task to ‘get them right’. The only thing I had in common with the character of Vito Del Bianco was – we were both writers. He is a womanizer, a bon vivant, heavy drinker, cynic, and a cunning man. He loved and lived on the wild side taking advantage of people and situations.
Just like Nicholas O’B, a selfish, self-destructive wannabe writer, a gambler, liar, cheat and a skilled master of manipulation and deceit.

Otto Visconti is a misfit. A poet who interprets the world in a very unique way: he is suspicious, overwhelmingly pessimistic showing poor and degenerate demeanor and lifestyle due to the lack of self-confidence and inner strength. He blames his parents for his misfortunes and lack of stamina, mainly his mother, which makes him create an unreal view of women, unreal expectations and ridiculous, unsuccessful attempts to charm any woman or win any friend.

How do I fit there? Under the skin of such a character or in his milieu?
I let them be. I let them express themselves; I listen to them.
I evoke and explore old memories, the place where I store all the characters I’ve ever met; I study people thoroughly all the time and ask myself constantly, ‘How does he feel right now?’, ‘Why did he say that and how can I see on his face, in his gestures that he really meant it?’, ‘What is his body language saying about him, his feelings and hidden motives?’
I endlessly analyse my characters. I sympathise and empathise with them trying to get out of me all those feelings that they might feel or might hide.
While I write about them I live their lives, I get into their heads and I converse with them asking them to reveal their deepest thoughts, secrets and dreams: pleasant, unpleasant, ordinary, wild, cruel or unselfish, the whole range of emotions. For me it matters more what they feel than how they comb their hair or what type of shirt they are wearing.

When I bring out all of their emotions I know that it is going to be convincing … surely for some of my readers; as I can’t claim that my male characters are perfect, I know, at least, that they are – colourful.


This post is contributed as Guest post by Branka Cubrilo.


I am an author of 7 written novels (written from 1981 – 2011). Five of them were published by three different publishers (I am writing in two languages).

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Introduction to Perfect Freedom

Who do you think is your worst enemy? Is it someone who you didn’t vote for? Is it someone who makes fun of what you hold so dear? Or, is it someone who insults your race, gender or sexuality?

Nobody wants to fail. Going through life, however, each of us discover that no one is exempt from failure. I’ve succeeded, I’ve failed. I’ve reached my biggest dreams, only to have everything taken away from me. I’ve made this video as a gift to the world, hoping that there will be people out there who will find it relevant to them, to help them understand that success, failure — none of it matters, everything is impermanent, and meditation helps you to understand this. A friend once said that the suffering I’ve been through was enough to keep most people in depression or drive them to much worse. Funny how sometimes it takes someone else to point out what should be very obvious to you — that you’ve been doing something right for yourself. And for me, this has been meditation. And right now, I’m just happy and free, so take a look at how it’s done.

Sometimes You Have to Get Lucky

I’m again searching for another book idea but, who knows, it may, once again, come to me when I’m not looking.

Never been to Berlin. Did not speak more than a few words of German beyond the phrase made famous by John F. Kennedy: Ich bin ein Berliner. Didn’t know much, really, about escapes at the Berlin Wall in the 1960s, or the chain of events that led to its fall in 1988. So how did I end up spending more than two years digging under the Wall — that is, researching a book titled The Tunnels?

Since the early 1980s, I had written many books whose subjects were clearly chosen by design, sometimes years in the making or at least months marinating. But this one was different. I don’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed that it came about by pure chance, thanks to my daughter, and a sunny day.

Although I am, sadly, old enough to recall growing up in the 1950s and 1960s with Berlin as an almost daily hot topic in the news, I was never obsessed with the Wall. My generation, after all, had racial segregation, nuclear war, Vietnam, and Nixon to contend with here at home. This began to change for me just in the past decade. The German film, an Oscar winner, The Lives of Others, explored the horrors of living in East Berlin behind the Wall, focusing on the Stasi-enabled police state. It became one of my favorite movies of recent years. Then I co-produced an acclaimed film documentary, Following the Ninth, exploring the political and cultural impact of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. One of its five segments featured an appealing young woman who grew up in the shadow of the Wall.

So I might have been slightly primed, but while looking for a new book idea this never crossed my mind. What I needed was an intimate encounter. That came after my daughter, who had just gotten her Ph.D. in London, unexpectedly moved to Berlin with her husband and their three-year-old son. They happened to take a flat in the old East Berlin, near Alexanderplatz, about a mile from one of the most famous Wall neighborhoods along Bernauer Strasse. On our first ever visit to Berlin, however, my wife and I had trouble encountering any remnants or legacy of the Wall — the barrier was torn down so quickly and completely, and there is no major museum to visit.

On our final day, however, we decided to stroll to the most extensive Wall memorial site which runs for several blocks along Bernauer, even though it was barely mentioned in our guide book and very poorly described. Fortunately it was a bright, sunny, day in May and it did not rain — or my life might be quite different today.

Exploring that site, which includes patches of the Wall and the “death strip” that discouraged escapes, we agreed it was one of the most moving, tasteful, and overwhelming historical sites we had ever experienced. And I was most struck by the stories of attempted escapes by East Germans under the Wall, some successful, others ending in tragedy. What was most incredible about the tunnels was that, almost unique in history, they were dug not from imprisonment to freedom but in the opposite direction. — from west to east. Students in West Berlin excavated the caverns to spring friends, lovers, and family members, even strangers, from the East. Almost on the spot I decided to explore all types escapes, over a wider period, for a possible book, when I returned to New York.

When I did that, however, I found that chronicling the many attempted flights from the East would be daunting, especially from 4000 miles away, and with no German language skills to conduct interviews or read a single document. But I discovered something else: there was an amazing, long forgotten American media angle to this subject. And I had been a media writer for many years, along with serving as editor of Editor & Publisher for many years not long ago.

It seems that NBC had aired a film covering the digging of one particular tunnel in 1962 which sparked controversy but ended up winning three Emmys and now considered a landmark in television history. (I may have even watched it when I was in my early teens.) What few know today is that the Kennedy White House and State Department tried to bully NBC into canceling the show, for reasons still murky. They did succeed in causing a postponement. That got my attention, as well as offering an exciting American focus for my narrative.

Researching further, I found that NBC wasn’t alone in funding and attempting to film a dig under the Wall. CBS tried to do it a few weeks earlier, and the correspondent was none other than the legendary Daniel Schorr. His program never did make it on the air, killed by his boss under pressure from the Kennedy team. But why? State Department and CIA documents and cables had just been declassified — another lucky break for me — and they were riveting.

Suddenly my amorphous “Berlin Wall Escape” book had come into clear focus. I might be able to explore this deeply — with a sharp American angle — by organizing it around those two tunnels and those two controversial network projects. But how could I accomplish that from so far away, and as a non-German speaker? Would I be able to make substantial use of the Stasi archives and other sources in that country? Were any of the key tunnelers and escapees still alive and willing to talk?

Another lucky break: My daughter, like her dad, does not speak any Deutsch — but her husband, Stephane Henaut, is half-German and, of course, fluent. So over many months he was able to help set up meetings with the key tunnelers and escapees (another bit of luck: most were still alive and living in or near Berlin), accompany me on interviews to serve as interpreter, then translate the tapes at home. Just as important: he was able to provide translations of hundreds of pages of Stasi documents and chapters from German language books.

And that former East Berlin woman featured in my Beethoven documentary? Turns out she’s now living in Los Angeles — and she translated hundreds of other pages of Stasi docs and pages from books, conducted a couple of key interviews with Germans from afar, and provided almost daily fact-checking.

There’s the expression, it’s better to be lucky than good. I hope both may apply to The Tunnels. Now I’m again searching for another book idea but, who knows, it may, once again, come to me when I’m not looking.

Greg Mitchell’s THE TUNNELS: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill will be published by Crown on October 18.

This post is contributed as Guest post by Greg Mitchell

The Surprising Success Secret to Making it Big as a Writer

15 percent of your success comes from your technical skill. The other 85% comes from how well you deal with people.

Do you know the most powerful success secret to making it big as a writer?

Is it:

  • Natural talent?
  • An English degree?
  • How many awards you’ve won?

Dale Carnegie said this back in 1937:

15 percent of your success comes from your technical skill. The other 85% comes from how well you deal with people.

If you think

that’s outdated, check this out.

Google did a survey of managers in 2009 called Project Oxygen. The researchers wanted to know:

  • if managers matter
  • if so, then why do they matter
  • what skills are responsible for their success

Here are so

me of those skills:

  1. Be a good coach.
  2. Empower; don’t micromanage.
  3. Be interested in direct reports, success and well-being.
  4. Don’t be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
  6. Help your employees with career development.
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
  8. Have key technical skills so you can advise the team.

Do you see a theme running through these?

Every one of these skills involves dealing with people.

“Your success as a writer depends more on your people skills than your talent.”  Frank McKinley

Success Secret #1 – You need other people.

Success doesn’t depend much on genius. It does depend heavily on how well you know and relate to other people.

Here are some quick and easy ways to supercharge your human relations IQ.

  • Be courteous. Say thank you when others do you a favor.
  • Do favors for other people. Don’t come asking first. Give if you want to receive.
  • Ask for what you want – and frame it so the other person comes out a winner.

The bottom line is this: treat people as well or better than you want them to treat you. When you do this, you’ll set the standard for how you’re treated.

Success Secret #2 – Don’t wait for people to come to you.

Four years ago, my son and I visited a new church.

Here’s how I got him ready.

“Drew, there are probably a lot of nice people in there. Some of them may come up to you and introduce themselves. But there’s no guarantee of that. Don’t wait around. You introduce yourself to people first and good things will happen.”

I thought he’d just nod his head and do nothing.

Before I even got a seat, Drew introduced me to 4 or 5 people he’d already met!

After church, the same thing happened.

If you want friends, be one. Make the first move. Invite people to chat, spend time with you, and work together. You’ll be amazed at what might happen!

Here’s what happened when I made the first move this year:

  • I’ve done 5 expert interviews
  • I’ve been invited to speak on a webinar and a podcast
  • I have written for two other blogs
  • I’ll be doing a Q&A this fall at the popular Tribe Conference

If you want things to happen, do what my friend Anne Peterson told me:

Always be networking.

Success Secret #3 – Always give people a reason to continue with you.

If you struggle with making people connections, let me recommend a book I’m reading called the Improv Manifesto.

If you’ve ever seen the show Whose Line is it Anyway, you’ve seen improv at its best. I’m not asking you to become a standup comedian. Neither am I asking you to become an actor. The point is there is a lot you can learn from this acting if you want to succeed as a writer.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • Make offers. In other words, give them a reason to say or do something. Think in terms of what they want, not what you want.
  • Start off strong. The first impression you make will last, so make it count.
  • Go for it. Reach out and make that connection now. Do the best you can and remember you’ve got nothing to lose.

“You’ll get what you want when you ask for it.”

Frank McKinley

Now Do This

This week set a networking goal.

Here are some suggestions.

  • Contact an expert and ask for an interview.
  • Do a book review and send a Tweet to the author.
  • Offer to write about something your favorite Blogger’s audience needs but hasn’t gotten yet.

“You can get everything in life you want when you help enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar

Have a fantastic week! I can’t wait to hear how this works for you.

  • Share your story in the comments.
  • Feel free to ask me for help if you’re getting stuck.
  • Want more tips? Subscribe for a new one every week!
Frank McKinley
I help writers engage readers, sell their ideas, and build their tribes.

My Writing, My Novel

I am a proud Granddad with five grandchildren who wrap me around their fingers.

I think, like a lot of people, I always thought that I would love to write a novel. It eventually happened, although I did wait until I was in my fifties to make it happen. I don’t know where I got the idea from to write a Fictional Story based on Historic events, it just seemed to pop into my head. It took a little bit of research but that wasn’t a problem as you might expect the World Wide Web is full of information about the Ripper. The story grew as I got more into the plot, I used to dictate the story in my head when driving or traveling on public transport. The funniest thing was that I actually thought the ending two thirds into writing the novel and had the final chapter written early. I was always desperate to get to a PC and type in my commuting thoughts, it led to a lot of Proofreading and a great many punctuation errors, but I did not mind this one bit as long as I got my thoughts down on paper or in this case my PC Word Document

I suppose the inspiration to write my novel came from the publication of my poetry book, after years of writing the odd poem here and there and losing some in the process, I decided to self-publish. It was a great feeling seeing my poetry book on the Amazon Website. The feeling grew when the novel appeared about 20 months later. I cannot express enough my gratitude for all the help I have received in the publishing of my book from my publisher, from the very first consultation to the finished article the team have constantly kept me up to date on the progress and have been extremely helpful and quick to respond to my many questions with a very professional and friendly approach.

My Poetry Book

This book sums up me up I think , it has lots of humorous poems .Lots of poems have been developed from jokes that I knew back in my young days. There are views on Life in the present day and from the past, Romantic ones wrote from the heart. I write when I’m inspired, sadly I have misplaced quite a few of the poems that I have written over the years and although I have tried to recreate some again they never seem to have the same feeling. The book is there to be enjoyed, easy reading and a few laughs

About Me

I grew up in a working class family. I went down to the shipyards as a young 16 year old to serve my time as a Marine Fitter. After 15 years, including my apprenticeship, I moved into the Shipbuilding offices and trained as a Planning Engineer. After three years doing this job I made my way into the big wide world and became a traveling Contractor. I worked in many places in the UK, Europe and the Far East. I am currently still working as a Planning Engineer thirty three years later. I have a wonderful wife who cares for me and three lovely daughters. I am a proud Granddad with five grandchildren who wrap me around their fingers.