How To Mine Your Dreams For Story Gold

We’ve all experienced it…the curtain to consciousness opening, and with it, the realization that the best story idea we’ve ever had is carefully unraveling with each passing second into wakefulness. We grab something–anything–and start writing down a the images, thoughts, character tics, plot snippets and world building details before they can escape.

dreamcatcherAfter a shower, a coffee, and if we’re lucky, some form of breakfast that doesn’t have the word “leftover” in it, we sit down to reread our brilliance. And often, the only word to describe what we see is gobbledegook.

It’s disheartening, because we feel that heart flutter, that sense of knowing that a gemstone resides within the clatter of words. But if our dream catcher fails and the images seem no more than disjointed fragments, how can we turn what we’ve collected into something usable?

I’m turning the blog over to author Anthony Metivier, visiting us from Germany, because he’s pondered this very question and has some great ideas to share. Please read on!

FleuronIt’s well known that if you want to consistently remember your dreams, you need to write them down each and every morning.

This practice used to be a pain back in the day of pen and pencil, especially if you slept with another person.

Today it’s as simple as iPhone and the Plain Text app syncing the words to Dropbox faster than you can thumb them in.

With that problem solved, the question is: how do you get the dream material you’ve recorded into the form of a narrative, a compelling story that people will actually want to read?

A lot depends on exactly how you dream, but it seems to me that irrespective of whether you see narrative shards or full blown scenarios, all dreams serve the same function as Tarot cards spread out on a table before the interpreter’s eye.

As Doktor Freud once taught us, dreams provide the basis for association and the more dreams you have, the more associations to the dream you can make. Recent advances in psychology have worked to demonstrate that dreams probably have no meaning, but that doesn’t suggest that dreams can’t be interpreted and mined for narrative treasure.

Thus, imagine the following scenario:

You wake up and write down everything you can remember from the cinema of your sleep. Because you’ve been practicing “dream writing” for awhile now, the dreams tend to blossom large in your mind and you have no difficulties capturing full portraits of your night time activity.

Instead of looking for a story within the dream itself (which is also a perfectly reasonable and wonderful thing to do if the material is present), look at the dream you’ve written down and its images and let your mind free associate. You might come up with a completely new story or find yourself reflecting on something from your past. It could be something for yesterday, last year or a decade ago.

Using the most prominent association that comes to your mind, examine it for the following characteristics of compelling narrative:

  • Does it involve a driving desire that is in conflict with a critical need (like wanting a home with a white picket fence but needing to be a better parent before that house can have any authentic value and serve as a home)?
  • Does it involve being trapped or imprisoned in a particular social situation (job, family, etc.)?
  • Is there a dilemma in which many options offer themselves as possible solutions without any of them being particularly desirable?
  • Has a crisis forced you or someone in the association to take action?
  • Did the action lead to some kind of confrontation?
  • Did any sense of self-revelation or a better understanding of the self emerge?
  • Was there a resolution?

Although the disconnected fragments of a dream may not contain these elements, the episodes our dreams sunder in our minds for association often will. Exploit these and then combine them with the intense imagery of your dreams to make narrative magic.

To give you a case study, during a recent trip to Athens I dreamed of a pregnant woman with a butterfly tattoo on her cheek getting out of prison. She approached a throbbing wall made of human bones and flesh, behind which a dragon was spouting flames. She gave birth to her child and held it up to the wall, which immediately disintegrated into pieces.

When I woke up, I wrote the dream down and immediately started associating it with whatever came to mind. After a few seconds, I arrived upon the Berlin Wall and started to think about a futuristic alternative world in which people are kept out of East Berlin instead of being trapped in it.

I had also recently seen my girlfriend buy a lottery ticket, something that shocked me because I never would have suspected she was a gambler. For whatever reason this came to mind during the free-association, it gave me the idea of having some kind of lottery involved in how people get into this new version of East Berlin.

The next step was to take the scenario and answer each of the questions given

The result:

A basic sketch for a visually intense novel I drafted over the next two weeks tentatively called Electville. Using nothing more than my dreams, random associations and my iPhone, I crafted the basis for what would become a rich first draft, most of which was also drafted in bed upon awakening.

The sexiest part of this kind of practice is that it builds what you might call a self-interfering feedback loop. What I mean is that you create one novel-sized plot from a dream and then continue dreaming while working on the novel and still writing down your dreams on a daily basis. Although it doesn’t seem to provide more dreams that richen the novel drafting process, it does seem to compound the intensity of the dreams so that the idea-generating aspect get more and more intense and the depth of the outlines and sketches that emerge become a treasure trove for future exploration.

Even if unused (as most of our ideas ultimately must be), these outlines and sketches are like the gold coins in a pile you never spend because you always have enough to sustain yourself from the surface. And yet those coins you do pick from would never be so evident to your fingers and agile in your imagination if it weren’t for the unspent coins supporting them from below.

This I have learned from making dreams the horde of gold that supports of all my fiction.

AnthonyAnthony Metivier is the author of Lucas Park and the Download of Doom, How to Remember Your Dreams and founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a 21st century approach to the Memory Palace Method that makes memorizing foreign language vocabulary, poetry, and the names of the important people you meet easy, elegant, effective and fun.

Posted in Experiments, Focus, Guest Post, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Character Skills and Talents: Promotion

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

PromoterDescription: a person who uses enthusiasm, product knowledge, and compelling reasoning to sway an audience to invest in a product, brand or service. A promoter drums up business and sales, raising awareness and facilitating discoverability. To do this, they effectively utilize different forms of communication: in person events, one-on-one solicitation (such as a phone call or door-to-door selling), written communication (emails, letters and advertisements), as well as virtually using social media. 

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: A good promoter has strong hygiene, dresses appropriately for interacting with one’s audience, is well spoken and has strong product knowledge. Knowing how to read people and their moods well and be able to juggle multiple action items at one time are both important. Having a strong sense of presence, good manners and posture, a pleasing sense of humor and being genuine are all strong qualities that will help a promoter succeed at getting the word out about one’s message. The most important aspects in promoting is the desire to help the audience and believing in what one is selling, as that passion will come through to others. Understanding preferred forms of communication (in person, online, email, phone, etc.) of one’s audience and being well versed in these methods allows the promoter to be effective when getting his or her message across.

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: Extroverted, Passionate, Genuine, Outgoing, Enthusiastic, Focused, Hard Working, Shrewd, Intelligent, Organized, Friendly, Courteous, Confident, Creative, Persuasive (in the short term: deceptiveness, questionable ethics and manipulative deceitfulness may all be of benefit, but in the long term, the truth will come out.)

Required Resources and Training: Public speaking, working as a team, researching the market and competing products, understanding how ads work and psychology behind decision-making, looking at things from the audience’s view to what they need and want so one can best slant promotion to fit these needs, being well versed in online etiquette and social media

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:

  • that promoters are pushy and refuse to take no for an answer*
  • they talk more than they listen*
  • they are motivated by “what’s in it for me” instead of “what’s best for the audience/customer”*
  • they use social media poorly by shouting “promotional white noise” instead of engaging with people*
  • they do what they are told by employers, even if they morally disagree *

(*note, many “perceptions” are actually “misconceptions,” simply because of the tendency to judge all promoters by the actions of a few)

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • a career in sales
  • job interviews
  • working on a political campaign
  • working in advertizing
  • being one’s own advocate

Resources for Further Information:

A few things to know about being a Promo Girl

The Art of Shameless Self-promotion

Promoting Your Product or Service

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

photo credit: Andrew Stawarz via photopin cc

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3 Steps to Taking Your Character Further and Deeper With…Anger?

We all know how hard it is to write emotion: understanding what a character is feeling exactly, and to what degree, and then showing it to readers. And of course, that’s just the tip of the challenge. What makes it truly difficult is that whatever body language, thoughts and actions we use MUST be ones that fit each individual’s personality seamlessly.

Emotional description is not one size fits all. This means that while Kara might throw a mug at the head of her deadbeat husband as he wanders in at six am loaded to the gills, Barbara will not. Her anger is a slow simmer that lasts, displayed through burnt toast and undercooked eggs, of phone messages that are not passed on, of leaving the gas tank near empty at every opportunity.

M J Bush is with us today, shedding insight on one of the most volatile emotions of them all: ANGER. On the outside, it seems like such a cardinal, easily identifiable emotion, but there are many forms it can take. Which is right for your character?

Fleuron

The page was crawling with them. Characters of every stripe had gathered to mutiny:

“We’re angry! And you’re not getting our anger right! It’s an outrage!”

“I’d never sulk like that!”

“I’m far more refined than that display.”

“Come down here and I’ll show you the punch I’d throw!”

Do you ever fear being that author, the one getting emotions so wrong on the page that your characters actually come alive and mutiny?

anger2I’m going to be frank for a moment. When I started researching this article, I thought it would be fairly easy to categorize what types of anger came most often to different personalities. I even had some ideas already drawn up.

The idea was to help us write our characters more convincingly. You can show the typical reaction in your character to establish consistency, and then push them into another type of anger that would be just as human, just as true, but showing a different facet of their personality.

But the sheer number of nuances makes that categorization impossible unless I write a book on it. So instead, I’ll try to enable you to figure things out.

Step One: When your character is angry, how does it usually manifest? Here’s a short list of possibilities:

Aggravated

Aggressive

Aggrieved

Agitated

Annoyed

Animosity

Bitter

Contempt

Controlling

Cranky

Cruel

Detesting

Exasperated

Enraged

Frustrated

Furious

Grouchy

Hostile

Indignation

Irate

Irritable

Ire

Loathing

Livid

Mean/vicious

Obsessive

Offended

Outraged

Provoked

Resentful

Scornful

Seething

Sulky

Sullen

Vengeful

Vexed

Wrathful

Remember, it’s nuances we’re looking for here. Every word has its own meaning. Ire is tightly controlled. Rage is out of control. Cranky is a passing mood based on self; grouchy is a bit more lasting and focused on others.

It’s fine to have a few “normal” types of anger. Your character should have multiple facets.

Step Two: Now, how can you push them to react with a different anger? What would take them further? What would make a certified hothead react with sullenness or barely registered annoyance?

It’s a hard-hitting tactic to make your readers rally behind a character or commiserate with him. Consider this line from The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss:

There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.

The contrast between the normal gentleness and the fear-inducing anger is memorable. It can make a reader want to cheer for him standing up to whatever outrage forced him to abandon his gentleness.

For another example, consider a sensitive soul that has long used irritability to protect and isolate himself. Vex him with a puzzle, a character he can’t understand, especially if he’s used to labeling people, and he’ll have to move out of his isolated comfort zone to interact.

The bottom line is this: get your character to act “out of character” in a way that isn’t actually out of character when the motives are examined. It’s good for the story and the characterization.

Step Three: Figure out how he’ll react after the anger has faded. Or if it does at all.

How does it change him, even if he doesn’t stay angry? What emotions does he go through? How do the other characters react? How does it change the relationships?

Does he learn a lesson, or something about himself?

Anger Tells a Story All its Own. Go Use It.

Don’t worry about your characters staging a mutiny. Just make sure you give them solid reasons to act the way they do, and then have them react to how they acted.

You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. You can do this. Here are the steps once more:

Identify his normal anger.

Figure out how to push him beyond that.

And show him reacting to that difference.

It goes for guys and girls, protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters. You can apply it to any character the story calls for.

Because that’s what it’s all about:

Your story.

MJMJ Bush is The Analytical Creative. Her writing advice steps back to take in the whole picture, then dives in to grab the pearls of usable detail. She’s the founder of Writingeekery.com and a full time fiction coach, editor, and writer.

P.S. Take the first step (it’s an easy one!) and tell us what your character’s typical anger is in a comment.

 

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Feedback Please! How Are We Doing?

Hi everyone! Just a quickie post today, asking for a bit of feedback. It’s been over six months since we transferred hosting sites and became Writers Helping Writers, so I wanted to do a check in:

How are we doing?

WHW blog buttonOur goal is to build a space that offers writers help, information and tools that can’t be found elsewhere. Becca and I want to support all writers, both with bettering their craft, and helping them navigate the marketing and the business end of being an author.

To do this right, we need your help.

If you don’t mind, take a minute to let us know what you really need to help you succeed as a writer or author. Is there a tool you’d like to see, a Thesaurus Collection you wish we’d create, or topics you want us to cover? If so, please tell us!

Also, don’t be afraid to make suggestions on how we can improve our website, and our current writerly offerings. We appreciate the time you spend with us, and want to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible. Becca and I are all about learning and improvement, so if there’s something we can be doing better, just shout it out. :)

UPDATE: More Books Releasing in Spring 2015

One of the most common questions we get via email is: what’s next? 

Here’s the scoop:  Becca and I are hard at work creating two new volumes that will encompass The Setting Thesaurus Collection. While we’ve posted quite a few setting choices here, we know there are a lot of “holes” in the range of locations available. And while we can’t create an entry for every type of setting, we’d like to double or triple our current location choices to give you all a really good selection of Contemporary Settings to choose from. Setting is incredibly important, and choosing the right one adds deeper meaning to the story through symbolism and motifs, pulls readers in through sensory detail and creates great opportunities to actively characterize your hero. We are super excited to be writing these books!

Becca and I may also release a third volume that will tackle Speculative Fiction Settings (think Horror, Paranormal, Sci-fi, Fantasy…that sort of thing) if we feel there is enough interest. As you can imagine, the research and time needed to write these books is pretty intense, so we want to make sure we’re focused on a topic that serves a broad audience. (So if you would be interested in a setting book for these genres, let us know!)

TIPPY-TIP: If you’d like to be on an email notification list for when we have a solid date for book releases, just fill this email request form out if you haven’t already! Don’t worry, we won’t spam you…that’s not how we roll.

So…onward to the comment section!

  • How can we better help you succeed as writers and authors?
  • What would you like to see here at Writers Helping Writers?
  • What types of tools/articles/webinar topics would you like to see us tackle?
  • What are your biggest writing or marketing struggles?
  • And most importantly, is Writers Helping Writers living up to its name?

We’d love to hear from you!

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Hidden Emotions: How To Tell Readers What Characters Don’t Want To Show

pensiveOne of the struggles that comes with writing is when a character feels  vulnerable  and so tries to hide their emotions as a result.  Fear of emotional pain, a lack of trust in others, instinct, or protecting one’s reputation are all reasons he or she might repress what’s going on inside them. After all, people do this in real life, and so it makes sense that our characters will too.  Protecting oneself from feeling exposed is as normal as it gets.

But where does that leave writers who STILL have to show these hidden emotions to the reader (and possibly other characters in the scene)?

The answer is a “TELL”– a subtle, bodily response or micro gesture that a character has little or no control over.

No matter how hard we try, our bodies are emotional mirrors, and can give our true feelings away.  We can force hands to unknot, fake nonchalance, smile when we don’t mean it and lie as needed. However, to the trained eye, TELLS will leak through: a rushed voice. An off-pitch laugh. Hands that fiddle and smooth.  Self-soothing touches to comfort.  Sweating.

For a story to have emotional range, our characters will naturally hide what they feel at some point, and when they do, the writer must be ready. Readers will be primed for an emotional response by the scene’s build up, and will be on the lookout for a character’s body language cues and tells.

Here is a list of possible TELLS that will convey to readers that more is going on with your Protagonist than it seems:

  • A voice that breaks, drops or raises in pitch; a change in speech patterns
  • Micro hesitations (delayed speech, throat clearing, slow reaction time) showing a lack of commitment
  • A forced smile, laugh or verbally agreeing/disagreeing in a way that does not seem genuine
  • Cancelling gestures (smiling but stepping back; saying No but reaching out, etc.)
  • Hands that fiddle with items, clothing and jewellery
  • Stiff posture and movements; remaining TOO still and composed
  • Rushing (the flight instinct kicking in) or making excuses to leave or avoid a situation
  • A lack of eye contact; purposefully ignoring someone or something
  • Closed body posture (body shielding, arms crossing chest, using the hair to hide the face, etc.)
  • Sweating or trembling, a tautness in the muscles or jaw line
  • Smaller gestures of the emotion ‘leaking out’ (see The Emotion Thesaurus for ideas that match each emotion)
  • Growing inanimate and contributing less to conversation
  • Verbal responses that seem to have double meanings; sarcasm
  • Attempting to intimidate others into dropping a subject
    Overreacting  to something said or done in jest
  • Increasing one’s personal space ( withdrawing from a group, sitting alone, etc.)
  • Tightness around the eyes or mouth (belying the strain of keeping emotion under wraps)
  • Hiding one’s hands in some way

Sometimes a writer can let the character’s true thoughts leak out and this can help  show the reader what’s really being felt. But this only works if the character happens to be the Point Of View Character. The rest of the time, it comes down to micro body language and body tells that are hard, if not impossible, to control.

Have you used any of these tells to show the reader or other characters in the scene that something is wrong? What tells do you notice most in real life as you read the body language of those around you? (These real life interactions can be gold mines for fresh body language cues to apply to your characters!)

TIP: For more inspiration on body language that will convey specific emotions, flip through The Emotion Thesaurus.

TIP 2.0: Becca has a great post on Hidden Emotions as well, and how “Acting Normal” might be the go-to expressive that gets hidden emotions across to the reader, while potentially leaving other characters in the dark.

Original posting
Picture credit

Posted in Character Traits, Characters, Description, Dialogue, Emotion, fear, Flaws, lessons, Uncategorized | 25 Comments

Talents and Skills Entry: Photographic Memory

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY

photo-25

Now where was that stupid joker…

Description: People with photographic (also called eidetic) memories can recall with great accuracy objects, text, images, and scenes seen for a brief period of time. It is debated whether true photographic memories exist. While there are people with incredible recall, the extent to which this ability is often portrayed in movies and books is definitely beyond the norm.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: intense focus

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: observant, alert

Required Resources and Training: Because photographic memories in the truest sense aren’t believed to exist, creative liberty can be taken as to how the ability forms and whether or not it can be honed. You might cite genetics, brain injury, the effects of medication, electrocution, or any number of other possibilities to explain your character’s gift.

However, it’s pretty well accepted that everyone’s memory can be improved. For tips on how your character can hone his gift, see the Resources below.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: Geniuses and savants are often portrayed as having photographic memories. Good cops and detectives also have near-perfect recall of details. The perception about photographic memories is that people with this gift can perfectly recall everything they’ve ever seen, even in moments when they weren’t particularly paying attention. They often describe their brains as being “cluttered.”

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • in a society where there is no written word or way of recording events
  • witnessing pivotal events in history and being able to go forward in time and accurately report them
  • when someone has lied about an important event
  • to succeed in school
  • when one must recall facts, statistics, and exact numbers
  • in a debate or argument

Resources for Further Information:

The Mind Palace Technique for Improving Memory

Memory Techniques

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

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Cookies and Layers

Well, it’s summertime (as you know), and I’m having a blast with my two littles. Which is, of course, what summer is all about. As I’m sure you also know, summer is also about cookies. Oh yes, indeedy, it is. And since summer is also about sharing (who knew summer was so awesome?), I’m sharing my favorite 7-Layer Cookie recipe below, followed by a popular post from the past. Originally, I published this post in the fall, when I made a connection between cooking soup and adding layers to a story. But it’s too freaking hot for soup. Hence the cookies. Enjoy!

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Image Courtesy of Meal Makeover Moms @ Creative Commons

Ingredients:

1/2 cup margarine

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 cup flaked coconut

8 ounces peanut butter bits (some people use butterscotch bits, but I prefer peanut butter)

8 ounces chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped nuts

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Directions: Melt margarine and put in a 13×9 pan. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs over the margarine. Continue with the rest of the ingredients, sprinkling them one layer at a time, and finishing with the milk. Bake at 350º for 20-25 minutes.

So…what does this recipe have to do with writing a story? Well, the first draft of a story is usually pretty plain, like the graham cracker crust on this cookie. But once you start revising, you add the layers that flesh out the story and make it thicker, three-dimensional. There are a lot of things you could add to achieve this goal. Here are a few on my current revision list…

1. Subplots. These secondary plot lines add complexity and girth and are almost always directly tied-in to the main plot line. A romance that complicates the main character’s objective (The Hunger Games); a mystery that is solved at a pivotal point in the story (Saving Private Ryan); a friendship that spurs the mc on in her quest to reach her goal (Wither). Each subplot should have its own complete and smooth story arc. Keep this in mind when editing.

2. Theme. Some writers start with theme. Others figure it out along the way. Still others have the entire first draft done before they realize what the theme is (hello, me). However you do it, it’s crucial to at some point identify your story’s main theme so you can touch on it from start to finish. Think of your theme as a secondary subplot, one that needs a full arc from beginning to end. Revisit it frequently to add depth.

3. Character Renovations. Without fail, I get all the way through my first draft and realize that my main character is missing something. I hate that. But that’s what the revision process is for, no? To increase depth, add an endearing quirk, uncommon trait, or a fatal flaw to be overcome. For maximum impact, make the trait one that either helps or hinders the character’s ability to achieve his or her overall goal. For more information on fleshing out characters, definitely check out The Negative Trait Thesaurus and The Positive Trait Thesaurus on our Bookstore page.

4. Meaningful RepetitionsThese include anything that is repeated throughout the story and, ideally, grows or changes with the story. Symbols and metaphors are good examples. Common phrases or sayings. Meaningful objectsSettings also apply: a favorite hang-out, the place your character goes when she needs downtime, a location that has specific significance or emotional importance. These repeated pieces are like touchstones for the reader, connecting them with the characters and embedding the reader more firmly into the story with each repetition.

What have I missed? What are some areas you like to focus on when adding layers to a story during the revision process?

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Character Talents & Skills: Telling Lies

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

liar liar movie

Description: being able to convince others that one is trustworthy and knowledgeable even when one does not have facts, evidence or intimate details of the situation is a well-honed skill. Like having a silver tongue, being able to articulate one’s viewpoint is incredibly important. However, a liar will purposefully skew facts or tell falsehoods in order to further one’s own agenda.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: having control over one’s emotions, being very aware of body language and what it conveys, always thinking before acting, having an innocent or trustworthy expression, being able to mask certain “tells” that go along with lying (fidgeting, changing the topic, rushed speech, deflecting and denial, etc.)

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: Manipulative, Observant, Evasive, Charming, Controlled, Confident, Rational, Courteous, Crafty, Persuasive, Intelligent, Quick-Witted

Required Resources and Training: To become an adept liar, a person must learn how to exude confidence, keep a calm demeanor, and speak in a way that appeals to the target’s emotional sensitivities. Observing others to understand body language and how to read their emotions is necessary as most communication is non-verbal. Through watchfulness and asking careful questions, a liar can become adept at determining a mark’s emotional state, allowing him to manipulate the person better. Because lies often contain a bit of truth, understanding the basics of a situation and the people involved is a must to be able to manipulate information and tell convincing lie.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:

  • That all politicians are liars
  • Criminals will lie to anyone about anything
  • Telling a white lie to save someone from hurt is acceptable
  • Parents tell small lies to children to avoid having to explain things they don’t want to or to avoid debates

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • Talking one’s way out of a tight spot (feigning ignorance or lying to diffuse a volatile situation)
  • To win a much-needed reprieve (being able to hand in an assignment late)
  • To gain an advantage (to have more time to prepare, to study, or to gather facts)
  • To take advantage of an opportunity (calling in sick so one can hang out with a visiting friend)
Resources for Further Information:

Resources for Further Information:

Spotlight on Subtext: When Characters Are Liars

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

 

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5 Surprising Ways Regret Can Deepen Your Hero’s Arc

Super pleased to welcome Writing Coach MJ Bush today. I am a huge fan of her blog, Writing Geekery…if you don’t yet have this site on your writing resource roster, make it happen! (Trust me, you don’t want to miss any of her articles because they contain unique and valuable insight into character arc and story structure.)

MJ’s tackling REGRET, which is key to a well developed character arc. Regret can destroy a person, but it can also motivate, spurring a character to take action when they reach the point where fears, missed opportunities and poor choices lead to unbearable fulfillment and dissatisfaction. Great stuff here on how to use it in your hero’s arc, so please read on!

Fleuron

Regret is a hard motive to wrangle. Shallowness creeps in because actions seem simplistic or pasted on if you don’t establish realism and reader empathy.

Even if your reader wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly why it doesn’t seem realistic now, they’ll know realism when you use it.

And boy, can you use regret to change your character’s life in interesting ways. PLUS I’ve got some tips on creating emotional realism. Read to the end for my gift, a free report on arcs born from regret.

regretFirst, let’s clarify what regret is.

It’s an indirect motivator. For example, it can fuel a desire to right wrongs, or a fear that the same thing will happen again.

It’s grieving for what could have been. Even if there was nothing you could have done.

But it also encompasses guilt, remorse, and contrition.

Basic regret is wishing things could have been another way, guilt is blaming yourself, remorse is wishing to make amends, and contrition is acting to make amends.

So, let’s look at five realistic ways regret can affect your character.

1. Looking Ahead Too Intently

Anticipated regret is stronger than the regret itself.

Your character might be disproportionately afraid of missing out, and realize later that it wasn’t so bad. The arc from fear to relief is an especially great option for supporting characters.

►► Avery had a ticket to leave on the next ship out, headed for one of the newly terraformed colonies, but he cut it too close and he can’t get everything ready in time. He transfered to a later launch, had more time to say goodbye, and realized that it was ultimately a good experience.

2. But It’s Not the Same!

This one applies when your character has missed an opportunity. The psychological phenomenon is called inaction inertia. One missed opportunity increases the likelihood of missing another, wishing it was as good as the first.

So make sure your character has a good strong push to take a second opportunity. Or let them pass up the second only to realize that they will really regret it if they miss a third.

…If you want them to take it.

►► Avery landed on his new planetary home and immediately found a great house, but decided to check out the possibilities. Nothing compared, but when he went back, it’d been sold. Later that week, he found another great place but he decided that the first house was his dream home and this other house just wouldn’t cut it.

Desperate after realizing that he should have taken it, he gave up and took the next livable place.

3. The Growth of Resilience (or Not)

Regrets can cause a distorted self-concept, the past reflecting on the self-worth.

It’s possible to learn to see the shame, the guilt, and the situations as trials intended to give you strength. And when your character learns to adopt this worldview, his entire outlook and self-concept will shift.

He will see himself as product of adversity, not the victim of it.

Or you can let one character wallow while another improves. I do like my foils.

►► Before moving to the stars, Avery always saw himself as a victim of his circumstances. His poor upbringing, the demeaning jobs, even the dead-end romantic relationships all fed the idea that the world was against him. When he started to realize that those things made him stronger, he started tackling bigger dreams and challenges.

Until, finally, he stepped on that ship.

4. Comparing Hurts Our Health (LINK)

As this article states, social comparison is a coping mechanism for regret. And the interesting thing is that it can have an effect on the character’s health.

It’s not just artistic license that has characters getting sick when they compare themselves unfavorably with others. Who knew?

►► Avery’s best friend Daniel slowly wasted away on Earth, alternately railing against the world and castigating himself for not stepping up like Avery.

5. Aged Regret = Different Flavor

We’re likely to regret actions in the short term, but in the long term it’s the things we didn’t do that get us down.

This can make a nice foil, with a younger character regretting an action and an older character regretting an “omission.” Or you can have a character arc from one to the other in the space of the story.

►► Years later, Avery forgot the decision to pass up the second house. Instead, he regretted not encouraging Daniel to see his own strength.

Show It Better Than a Movie

There’s more to regret than arcs and motivations. It’s an emotion, and as an author you need to treat it like one.

You see yourself as having lost something, or the idea of something that is profoundly meaningful to you, and the experience is every bit as real as suffering after any kind of traumatic event.Suzanne Lachmann, Psy.D.

Your job is to show that grief. The resulting actions aren’t enough. Words spoken or thought aren’t enough.

You have to show a reaction to the pain.

Give it some screen time.

Let it sink in.

It’s Time to Give Your Characters the Depth They Deserve

You’ve got the tools to show your character’s regret, and to make it a realistically integral part of their actions and emotions. Especially if you have The Emotion Thesaurus.

MJYour pen is waiting.

Get to it.

HEADS UP! You can grab the free report Seven Arcs of Regret – ONLY AVAILABLE HERE – for more ideas and details. Download it now.

MJ Bush is The Analytical Creative. Her writing advice steps back to take in the whole picture, then dives in to grab the pearls of usable detail. She’s the founder of Writingeekery.com and a full time fiction coach, editor, and writer.

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Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: A Way with Animals

As writers, we want to make our characters as unique and interesting as possible. One way to do this is to give your character a special skill or talent that sets him apart from other people. This might be something small, like having a green thumb or being good with animals, to a larger and more competitive talent like stock car racing or being an award-winning film producer. 

When choosing a talent or skill, think about the personality of your character, his range of experiences and who his role models might have been. Some talents might be genetically imparted while others are created through exposure (such as a character talented at fixing watches from growing up in his father’s watch shop) or grow out of interest (archery, wakeboarding, or magic). Don’t be afraid to be creative and make sure the skill or talent is something that works with the scope of the story. 

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A Way With Animals

Description: People who have a way with animals are able to easily win animals over. They know how to approach, communicate with, and win the trust of animals that normally would shy away from humans. The people also are able to identify the physical and emotional problems that a given animal may have. In the other hand, animals instinctively recognize that these kinds of people can be trusted.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: having an affinity for nature, being comfortable being by oneself (since animals aren’t likely to approach a crowd of humans),

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: compassionate, observant, unselfish, perceptive, patient, calm, kind

Required Resources and Training: Spending time with and studying certain animals can lead to a better understanding of how they function individually, their group dynamics, and their overall tendencies. Studying their biology and physiology can give someone the knowledge necessary to help them from a medical standpoint. There are also real people with this knack; working closely with them may give someone valuable information into the process of understanding animals and gaining their trust.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: Princesses and fantasy heroines most often have this skill, without any explanation ever being offered as to why. To break the stereotype, consider giving this skill to a male character, or an adult rather than a child. Maybe the gift applies to certain species or kinds of animals, or is limited to a geographic or temporal location. And giving a reason for the character’s extraordinary gift might aid in making it more believable for readers and giving it a new spin.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • when a favored animal (the king’s stallion, the witch-woman’s familiar, a child’s pet) is sick, injured, or under-achieving
  • a rural setting where animals are plenty and people are scarce
  • a scenario where animals are needed to resolve the main conflict
  • when the animals know important information that the hero doesn’t
  • in a futuristic/dystopian setting where animals rule and humans are subjugated

Resources for Further Information:

7 Amazing Wild Animal Whisperers

The Real Life Horse Whisperer

You can brainstorm other possible Skills and Talents your characters might have by checking out our FULL LIST of this Thesaurus Collection. And for more descriptive help for Setting, Symbolism, Character Traits, Physical Attributes, Emotions, Weather and more, check out our Thesaurus Collections page.

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