Your Never Ending Writing Improvement Program


In Japan, after World War II, the concept of kaizen was introduced into their industrial culture. It resulted in a huge boom in technology and manufacturing that rebuilt Japan and made her prosperous.

It’s a simple idea. It means ongoing quality, and systems set up to test quality all the time. And, every day, striving to do something better.

Why should a writer do any less?

You are responsible for designing your own writing improvement program. One that never ends.

To do that, you have to look at both yourself and your fiction. And you have to take the “critical success factors” of each and figure out ways to make them better.

But most writers don’t think in a kaizen type of manner. We are artists, after all! We want to frolic in the tulip fields of the imagination! We don’t want to get weighed down with things like, yikes, strategic planning! We could have gone to engineering school if we wanted to do that kind of thing.

Come on there, Bunkie. It’s not that difficult.

Here’s the idea. Even if you improve an area only 10%, if you do that with each factor you are improving yourself in an exponential fashion. That’s how to get intentional about your career.

The Six Characteristics of Successful Writers

Here are the six areas in which you need to excel if you’re going to make it in the writing game:

1. Craft knowledge
2. Discipline
3. Perseverance
4. Risk
5. Market sense
6. Professionalism

Let’s break these down.

Craft knowledge

Mastery of the craft, the tools and techniques of fiction, is of course essential to your success. If you don’t know how to put together a scene, or show instead of tell, or construct crisp dialogue, or any of the other nuts and bolts, it’s over. You won’t write salable fiction.

Keep learning your craft. Do it systematically. At the start of my career, I created a Writing Improvement Notebook (see The Art of War for Writers for details of what’s in this notebook). Do the same. Make it your own, use it. Spend time in it every week.


This means, simply but powerfully, a quota of words. Every week. I split my writing week into six days, and go for 1,000 words a day. But I track it weekly, so if I miss a day I know I can make it up later. I take Sundays off from writing, to recharge my batteries. (Discipline is also about working smarter, not just harder).

Produce the words. There is no substitute for this. Even if your quota has to be small because of your circumstances, pick a number that works, and stretches you just a bit. Then go for it, week in and week out.


Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

– Calvin Coolidge

Old “Silent Cal” Coolidge wasn’t given to many words, but these are choice. You’ve got to stay in this deal for the long haul, and determine that from the start. Or right now.

You have to know this business is practically all about setbacks and overcoming them: rejections, waiting, criticism, lack of sales. Just determine you’re not going to stop. Ever.

The worst that will happen? You’ve written a lot of fiction. You’ll have spent a good portion of your life in wonderful dream worlds you’ve created. You can live with that!


You have to stretch as a writer. Not so far that you tear all your muscles. You don’t try to pole vault twenty feet if your personal best is ten.

But to write for all you’re worth you need to go a little further. You need to reach further than your grasp. Take risks with your characters, plots, settings, research. Go deeper. Because if you don’t, you’re just producing what people can get elsewhere. Vanilla.

Market Sense

Headline: publishers and agents want to make money. In fact, they need to make money, or they go out of business.

It’s not a bad thing to make money. If you want to write and not get paid, you can skip this part. But if you do want to make some lettuce as a writer, you should constantly be asking this question: who on Earth would pay good money to read what I’m writing?

Whether you self-publish or seek a house contract, you need to have an answer!

Make it your goal to assess yourself in each of these areas, and then make a plan to improve in each one this coming year. And the year after that. And the year …

That’s kaizen, friend.


Jim is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including, Romeo’s Rules, Try Dying and Don’t Leave Me. His popular books on fiction craft can be found here. His thrillers have been called “heart-whamming” (Publishers Weekly) and can be browsed here. Find out more about Jim on our Resident Writing Coach page, and connect with him online.





Posted in Resident Writing Coach, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude | Leave a comment

Christmas Gift Ideas For The Talented Writer In Your Life

Every holiday season I like to poke around the internet and dig up terrific gifts for writers, and this year, I’ve come up with some amazing finds. Here’s my top pics, numbered so all you have to do is email the link and the # number to someone who has asked you for Christmas gift ideas. Easy, right?

gift_socks_#1 Fun socks, because life is too short for boring ones.

Many writers have soul-sucking er, other day jobs that stifle creativity. So stick it to the man by secretly wearing a pair of fun socks that embraces the writer’s crazy and creative personality! Alien socks, zombie socks, shark socks, cats-surfing-on-a-slice-of-pizza socks…get some of these beauties for your stocking!

gift_bookends_#2 Cool bookends, because you’re cool, your books are definitely cool…and your bookshelf should be, too.

The hard part here is deciding which ones, am I right? Last year, Becca got me the zombie ones and I LOVE them. Ask your family for bookends and give your bookshelf some serious love this Christmas.

gift_lockbox_#3 A book-shaped lock box, because writers have secrets.

It is a sad reality that while we all wish we had a secret bookcase passageway that led to a hidden writing library, most of us don’t have the bank to make it a reality. An antique book lock box is the next best thing AND you can keep your chocolate, candy, and booze stash inside. #win-win

gift_writermug#4 A writer-appropriate beverage container, because FUEL.

Coffee, tea, tequila (hey, I don’t judge)…we writers need our go juice if we want to pound out the words. I like this one because it’s all about getting into the right mindset, and creating a daily routine that tells the brain that it’s time to write.

gift_soundwave#5 A piece of Soundwave art, because writing a book is a magnificent accomplishment that deserves a keepsake.

Hold onto your pants, people, because this is sort of mind-blowing: you can turn a digital file into artwork. Imagine sorcery that turns your voice into ART. Now imagine you reading a passage of your novel and having it turned into a picture or a piece of jewelry. Pricey, but hey, you worked your butt off for that story. What a one-of-a-kind way to celebrate that effort!

bookmarks#6 A bookmark that makes a statement because writers are all about standing out.

These handmade bookmarks are unlike anything else. Crazy for Harry Potter, Wizard of Oz, Lord of The Rings, Star Wars, or just into dragons or some other animal? BOOM, get yourself a pair of bookmark legs to show the world…Hobbit legs, C3PO legs, Skeleton legs, or even a Mermaid fin or two.

gift_notepad_#7 A Dream Essentials note pad, because while our muse may like to work at night, usually our memory does not.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever solved the biggest story problem in the history of writer-kind only to not remember a single detail in the morning? Yeah, me too. (Thanks for having my back on that one, brain.) Well, drink this in, folks–a light up notepad. The question now becomes: how can you NOT ask for this gift for Christmas?


#8 A set of unique reference books, because it’s all about creating amazing fiction.

Now I hear these particular books are pretty good. Sure, it’s sort of weird to see a bunch of books titled “thesaurus” and all, but maybe these description resources will change your life. Or maybe they just contain a really great waffle recipe. Why not join almost 200,000 other writers and find out?

gift_typewriterpencil-holder#9 A typewriter pen holder because it reminds you of your roots.

We basically want to ball up in a corner and weep each time a critique or editorial letter comes in, right? All those red slashes and notes to cut, rewrite, reword, redo…total knife to the chest. But man, doing that before computers? Seriously, our typewriter-wielding ancestors deserve total respect. Having this on your desk will give you strength when the going gets tough. (Plus, it would make a great container for Skittles or M & Ms, just saying.)

gift_coloring_#10 A coloring book just for writers, because sometimes our lizard brain solves problems better when it’s allowed to drift.

Who hasn’t had a tough writing knot to unravel at one point or another? Well, instead of grinding our teeth into sand or binge-eating jelly beans (oh…that’s just me?), doing something fun and creative can allow ideas to float to the surface. This coloring book might just be the ticket to get your creative juices flowing.

gift_one-stop-for-writers#11 A gift certificate for One Stop For Writers, because writing is @#%$ hard and really, shouldn’t someone make it easier? (Spoiler alert: someone did.) 

I bet you spend a lot of time surfing the web and digging through books to find the best sources of writing help, tools, and resources. Only, what if you didn’t have to? What if, say, everything you needed existed in one place? I bet you’d get a lot more words down each day with all that extra writing time you’d have.

One Stop is a mind-meld project between Lee Powell (the creator of Scrivener for Windows), Becca, and I. The three of us wanted to answer this question: how can we help writers elevate their storytelling, and give them more time to write? If you want to see how, visit our unique library for writers and put a subscription gift certificate on your wish list.

What’s on your Christmas Wish List? Let us know in the comments!

And if you want an avalanche of other terrific gift ideas for writers, check out our Ultimate Gift List For Writers Pinterest page.


























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Critiques 4 U


Courtesy: Pixabay

Happy first day of December, people! Are you getting into the Christmas spirit? Rumor has it Angela is almost done with her Christmas shopping. Let’s all pause to send dirty looks in her general direction…

Ahh. I feel better about not even starting my shopping yet. And in the efforts of  further procrastination:

It’s CRITIQUES 4 U time!


If you’re working on a first page and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment that includes: 

1) your email address. Some of you have expressed concern about making your email address public; if you’re sure that the email address associated with your WordPress account is correct, you don’t have to include it here. But if you do win and I’m unable to contact you through that email address, I’ll have to choose an alternate winner.

2) your story’s genre (no erotica, please)


Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. Best of luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | 37 Comments

An Interview with Agent Mark Gottlieb


Courtesy: Pixabay

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Before we get started, I just wanted to remind everyone that we’re currently running two Goodreads giveaways: one is for a print copy of The Urban Setting Thesaurus and the other is for a print copy of The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Just click on the links to enter. The giveaways run through 12/5.

So…have my American friends woken up from your Thanksgiving-induced tryptophan comas yet? I hope so because we’ve got a treat for you today: an interview with Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group. Can you believe that in over 8 years of blogging, we’ve never interviewed an agent? Yeah, we can’t either, so when Mark contacted us, we thought it was high time.

Knowing that many of you are seeking traditional publishing contacts, we conducted an informal poll on social media to see what questions you might have for an agent. Mark has graciously answered them. I hope this information comes in handy.

1) Mark, would you say you are an editorial agent or not? How much feedback and help do you provide your authors on their manuscripts?

Every manuscript is different in terms of the editorial guidance that it may or may not need. In certain instances I have written editorial letters in excess of 10 pages, whereas in other instances I have provided only bulleted notes in the way of sparse editorial feedback, while in other instances I have seen manuscripts come in that are very tightly written and feel ready to go.

2) A big concern for authors who become clients of an agency is communication. Because one of the best things a writer can know up front before signing is the agent’s communication style, can you talk about yours? What can clients expect when it comes to email turnaround to their questions, wait times for reads, following up on information requests, etc.?

Communication is important to any relationship, whether it be a business or personal relationship such as a friendship. This is why I make a point of making myself readily available to authors by way of any means they would like to communicate. Some of my clients talk to me on Skype, while other clients talk to me via Facebook messages, and of course I receive phone calls and emails from other clients all the time. I tend to think of my role as a literary agent like that of a doctor on call with a beeper. For me, book publishing is more of a lifestyle than a career and so I am always happy to hear from my clients.

3) Do you represent clients on a per-project basis or are you more career-focused when bringing authors on? If it’s the latter and a project doesn’t sell or doesn’t sell well, does this change anything for you?

I am more interested in careers than I am in book deals, but if an author were only up for a one-off book deal for something like a celebrity memoir, then I would be fine with that. It is important in terms of working with careers over time to not only be able to see the horizon but to also be able to see over it. This is especially the case since you cannot put a price on genuine talent. Were an author’s book to have struggled in the marketplace, I would continue to believe in them and we would take strides to reposition them in a new way, whether that meant creating a pen name or switching genres, etc.

4) What is your position on hybrid publishing, and do you have any policies in regards to the self-publishing side? For example, some agents insist on authors going with their publishing company or service while others do not. Can you tell us a bit about your agency’s self-publishing model?

I tend to think that hybrid publishing can oftentimes be complementary to traditional publishing since major trade publishers are not open to publishing novellas, short stories, and other non-traditional works that fall out of normal book length. The e-book market is a better space for those projects to live as self-published works. Sometimes when an author has a book online, that publication can benefit from the marketing efforts of the major trade publisher and vice versa.

In general, my opinion of self-publishing is that it is something of what the farm league is to Major League Baseball. Authors who experience a modicum of success in the self-publishing sphere can often go on to bigger and better things by obtaining a deal from a major trade publisher, thereby taking their business to a whole new level of success that they otherwise could never obtain on their own in self-publishing. Again, generally speaking, once the move is made into major trade publishing, I tend to discourage clients from doing the hybrid model except for projects the publishers are not open to publishing. Furthermore, we as an agency mainly only commission deals we do for clients, so we prefer that clients be faithful in working with us.

image1Through Trident Media Group’s Digital Media and Publishing department, we can offer our clients industry knowledge and expertise in their self-publishing endeavors. It is a huge step above an author publishing on their own. The proof is in the pudding as we have had many New York Times and USA Today best-selling authors coming out of the program. There are even backlist titles we have breathed new life into. TMG/DMP also serves as a marketing and publishing resource for our clients in the program as well as major clients of the agency.

5) What do you look for in a client? Is it only great writing, or do you also consider prior sales? Does it help to have a referral or some sort of direct connection like participating in a pitch slam at a conference?

I am finding more and more that platform is becoming important to fiction writing, whereas in the past it was mostly important to nonfiction authors. Platform tends to look like what an authors online presence or social media following is. An author that comes to me with a lot of “street cred” in the way of advance praise before publication and perhaps some award for best-seller status is very attractive to me as a literary agent. Any sort of relevant writing experience or credentials an author can gain along the way from prestigious writers workshops and conferences is also of help.

I speak to this above but I find that platform is ultimately most important to nonfiction since it is idea-driven and the author must not only be an authority on their subject but must also be able to reach a wider audience. Fiction is mostly driven by the quality of the writing and the author as a brand-name but I find that platform is still helpful in the area of fiction.

6) Let’s talk wish list. What are you looking for? If you were stranded on a deserted island with three amazing full manuscripts to read, what would they be?

I am very open to most any kind of genre, excluding poetry, short stories and textbooks. There are also struggling genres that I am generally not open to such as horror, erotica, cozy mysteries, and paranormal romance. My current list is generally comprised of science fiction, fantasy, crime, mystery, thriller, literary fiction, women’s fiction, young adult, middle grade, picture book, graphic novel, creative nonfiction, humor, celebrity memoir and pop culture. In addition to more commercial books, I would like to see some more serious fiction on my list and perhaps some more literary fiction.

7) Any further advice you would pass on to writers looking to query you?

There are so many things an author can do incorrectly in approaching a literary agent, whereas there are very few things one can do correctly in approaching a literary agent. One of the biggest mistakes I see from authors approaching literary agents is when an author queries a literary agent with an incomplete fiction manuscript. Fiction can only be sold on a fully written manuscript.

Three general pieces of advice:

  • You must persist despite rejection and learn and grow from that.
  • You must have patience along the way; this is a hurry-up-and-wait sort of business as it takes time to read and consider a manuscript.
  • Once a publisher does enter the process, you must be willing to participate in the book publishing process since an author is central to the marketing and publicity role of getting the books sold to readers.

aaeaaqaaaaaaaak4aaaajdljnmfkyzgwlwyzzdgtndkxni05nze5lwu1mdczmzljmmmxmgMark Gottlieb attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature & publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s VP. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was EA to Trident’s Chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on in Overall Deals and other categories.

Posted in Agents, Publishing and Self Publishing | 5 Comments

Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Restoring One’s Name or Reputation


courtesy: Pixabay

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Restoring one’s name or reputation

Forms This Might Take:

  • Proving one’s innocence upon being falsely accused of something
  • Overcoming a stigma brought on by a relative or ancestor
  • Proving to others that one has changed (after overcoming an addiction, experiencing a spiritual renewal, recognizing that one was wrong, etc.)
  • Trying again to succeed after a public failure (in business, in one’s relationships, in not keeping a promise that was made, etc.)
  • Proving one’s loyalty to a person or group (a gang, the mob, a supplier, one’s employer) after it has been questioned

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): Esteem and recognition

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Reach out to those who were negatively impacted by one’s actions (or the actions of the people associated with the character)
  • Search within and taking ownership of the part one played
  • Write a book or blogging about what happened
  • Schedule media interviews to get the word out about one’s innocence
  • Analyze past efforts to determine what went wrong and what should be done differently this time
  • Distance oneself from the people in one’s life who reinforce the negative stereotype, such as former cronies who embrace the ideas one once espoused
  • Associate with people who embrace the image one wants to portray (joining support groups or clubs, attending church, etc.)
  • Dedicate one’s time and money to helping the kinds of people one once mistreated
  • Dedicate one’s time and money to educating the people who used to share one’s values
  • Ask forgiveness and making amends
  • Gather evidence to prove one’s innocence or the offending party’s guilt
  • Hire a lawyer, consultant, publicist or other professional to help one improve one’s image
  • Educate oneself on possible arguments so one will be knowledgeable and able to argue one’s innocence
  • Enlist the help of supportive friends or people with likeminded ideals to be character witnesses or allies
  • Do away with unnecessary hobbies or interests and dedicated all of one’s time to this pursuit
  • Gather whatever supplies will help in achieving one’s goal
  • Reconcile with the most important people in one’s life to shore up one’s support system
  • Discredit the people who blackened one’s name to begin with
    Silence the competition (through blackmail, threats, coercion, murder, etc.)

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Sacrificing important relationships as the pursuit of the goal becomes one’s top priority
  • Losing friends and family members who are still of the old mindset and don’t like that one has changed
  • Being thrown back into the public eye (if one’s issue is an old one that has been sidelined)
  • One’s children, spouse, and close loved ones being dragged into the spotlight and negatively affected
  • Bankrupting oneself in a desperate effort to clear one’s name
  • Losing one’s job due to the company not wanting to be associated with the controversy
  • One’s safety being threatened by powerful people who are opposed to one’s goal
  • Losing the esteem of others who don’t understand one’s obsession with the goal
  • Reopening old wounds as one confronts the people one has done wrong
  • Losing friends and loved ones who may not have been aware of one’s past transgressions
  • One’s health being impacted due to pushing oneself to the limit or worrying over the outcome

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Family members and friends who want to maintain the status quo
  • New people in the lives of those who were negatively impacted who don’t want to see their loved ones hurt again or taken advantage of
  • Inept or corrupt officials who make success difficult (police officers, lawyers, judges, reporters, record keepers, social workers, etc.)
  • Government systems that make it difficult to overcome past wrongdoings (social services, law enforcement, the IRS, etc.)
  • Inner turmoil over whether one truly deserves to be vindicated or not
  • Repeated rejections by those one is trying to make amends with
  • A biased media that won’t provide fair representation
  • Powerful people or organizations that have a vested interest in one’s continued failure
  • Temptations to be drawn back into one’s old lifestyle
  • False witnesses coming forward to undermine one’s story

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Good Listening Skills

Gaining the Trust of Others

Exceptional Memory




Making People Laugh


Photographic Memory

Reading People

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Continued broken relationships
  • Having to live under the radar to avoid scrutiny
  • One’s children and loved ones suffering consequences from one’s tarnished reputation
  • Missing out on opportunities due to one’s perceived (or real) guilt (not being able to get jobs, being passed over for promotions, potential love interests keeping their distance, etc.)
  • Living an unfulfilled life where one is unable to reach one’s full potential
  • Living with the ramifications of being considered guilty (losing custody of one’s kids, becoming a social pariah, never getting out of jail, etc.)

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • Ruining personal relationships and going into bankruptcy in order to clear one’s name
  • Experiencing a setback and falling briefly back into one’s old patterns of behavior

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

One Last Thing…

To celebrate NaNoWriMo, we have a coupon running right now for 1/2 off your first month at One Stop For Writers that will be expiring on November 30th.  We have added some amazing tools and features and expanded the description database to 13 thesauruses, so you can take the One Stop library for a spin for about the cost of one latte. one-stop-for-writers-lg

If you’re interested, just sign up (free of course) at One Stop For Writers, and then use this coupon:


…to get $4.50 off your first invoice (the equivalent of a 1-month plan at half price).

Just add the coupon to the box provided on the My Subscription page once you’ve registered, and hit “activate.” Then, select your 1-month plan, and boom, instant access to story maps, timeline and scene map tools, tutorials, lessons, and a description database unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Writing has never been easier.

Happy writing!

Angela & Becca


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How Character Attributes and Flaws Work Within Character Arc

Like real people, characters have mixed personalities that contain both positive traits (attributes) and negative traits (flaws). Flaws are especially interesting as they develop  when a person has experienced a painful life lesson: the world, and the people in it, can be cruel.

How does this happen exactly? Well, just as we have “fight or flight” responses for physical threats, we instinctively act to protect ourselves from emotional hurt.  If something painful happens, big or small, it makes us feel vulnerable and weak. The fear of feeling this way again pushes us to form a protective shield around our emotions, a wall of sorts. This barrier is made from something that, by nature, keeps people at arm’s length: personality flaws.

1NTHow does that work? Well, an unfriendly character can rebuff someone before they have a chance to lash out. A catty character’s sharp tongue warns people to watch their step. And an inflexible character always insists things are done exactly the way he wants, no matter what. In each case, flaws ensure the character is in control when interacting with other people and protect his emotions at the same time.

Each character is unique, and so the flaws that develop in their personality will be too. But what always remains the same is the damage factor. On the surface, flaws appear to help the character avoid being hurt, but they actually do the opposite.

Flaws damage relationships, limit self-growth, and encourage biases to grow that skew the character’s view of his world. 

Flaws exist because of a deep fear: that an emotionally traumatic event will happen again, and all that awful vulnerability one felt before will come crashing down. This fear is all-consuming. It steers the character’s actions and choices. He will avoid certain things for fear of being hurt. Dumped by a longtime girlfriend? Stay away from committed relationships, maybe by becoming more abrasive, or promiscuous, or self-absorbed. Make the wrong decision and catch blame for the fallout? Start avoiding responsibility or use indecisiveness to avoid being put in this situation again.

Fear of being hurt again will place limits on your character’s goals and dreams.

Until the character sees how fear is steering his life and how flaws limit his ability to connect with people and work against him as he tries to achieve meaningful goals, he will never be fully happy or satisfied. list-of-character-flaws_one-stop-for-writersIn storytelling, flaws give the character something to overcome on the path to his goal.

This battle for “a better self”  provides an opportunity to face fears, shed flaws, and achieve self-growth (character arc).

Within the three acts, we want our character to awaken in some way and realize flaws and fears are holding him back. He needs to realize that to move forward, he must change.

Change is the unknown, and most people fear and avoid it. But when a powerful desire grips the character, suddenly his goal, whatever it may be, becomes more important than anything else, including a fear of change.

To achieve his goal, the character must adapt and approach obstacles from a position of strength, meaning he must cut loose what’s holding him back: his flaws. Seeing flaws for what they are (a negative quality) creates perspective. The character can take stock, and choose to hone his strengths rather than feed his fears.

While flaws are important, a character’s positive attributes are key to the hero “winning” the day.

Positive attributes are core beneficial traits that help a protagonist make difficult decisions, face fear or danger, and find the courage to strive for fulfillment. In other words, they are SO important to character arc. Choosing the right strengths also provides a “hint” of greatness that promises the reader this hero is someone worth rooting for.

list-of-attributes_one-stop-for-writersTo build a well-rounded protagonist, it’s important to choose attributes that will make him authentic, believable, and allow him to navigate his world. This means choosing a character’s strengths based on these four Attribute Categories:

MORAL ATTRIBUTES: moral beliefs are at the core of each of us, determining our actions and decisions in our world. We naturally assign a moral “weight” to everything we do and see, and so must our characters. Choosing traits that closely align with what a character believes to be right and wrong is the foundation of their personality. Kindness, generosity, responsibility and loyalty are all examples of moral traits. Think about what beliefs your character holds dear and choose a trait or two that specifically line up with his morals.

ACHIEVEMENT ATTRIBUTES:  all characters are driven to meet their own cardinal needs and achieve goals that matter to them. Achievement-based attributes should align with the character’s moral beliefs but their main function is to help the character succeed. Examples might be resourcefulness, focus, efficiency, and perceptiveness. List out the big goals your character has, and then identify which positive traits will help him achieve them.

INTERACTIVE ATTRIBUTES: the way a character interacts with other people and his world is important. Being that humans are social creatures, relationships play a big part, and will matter to your character (whether he wants to admit it or not!) Traits like diplomacy, honesty, courtesy, hospitality or friendliness might be attributes a character would adopt to form healthy interactions. Think about how your character acts towards others and how he ensures the relationships he needs are functional.

IDENTITY ATTRIBUTES: each person (and therefore each character) is on a journey of self-discovery. Identity traits help your protagonist express who he really is, and what he believes in. Patriotism, curiosity, extroversion or introversion, idealism, quirkiness and a sense of adventure are all traits that promote greater individuality and personal expression. Identity attributes are a great way to make your character stand out as unique!

Positive Trait ThesaurusChoosing traits from each of the four categories ensures you will build a complex and interesting character that will resonate with readers, and give him the tools he needs to succeed.

Think about your character’s flaws and fears, and the attributes that might help him shed these unwanted life companions.

For a tool that will help you explore these attribute categories, try the Character Target Tool. And for an extensive list of positive attributes that digs deep into the behaviors, attitudes, and thoughts associated with each, check out The Positive Trait Thesaurus.

Heads up!

Becca and I are running a dual Goodreads giveaway for a print copy of The Urban Setting Thesaurus and a print copy of The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Just click on the links to enter.

And One More Tip:

To celebrate NaNoWriMo, we have a coupon running right now for 1/2 off your first month at One Stop For Writers that will be expiring on November 30th.  We have added some amazing tools and features and expanded the description database to 13 thesauruses, so you can take the One Stop library for a spin for about the cost of one latte. one-stop-for-writers-lg

If you’re interested, just sign up (free of course) at One Stop For Writers, and then use this coupon:


…to get $4.50 off your first invoice (the equivalent of a 1-month plan at half price).

Just add the coupon to the box provided on the My Subscription page once you’ve registered, and hit “activate.” Then, select your 1-month plan, and boom, instant access to story maps, timeline and scene map tools, tutorials, lessons, and a description database unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Writing has never been easier.

Happy writing!

Angela & Becca
























Posted in Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Traits, Character Wound, Characters, Experiments, Motivation, Positive & Negative Thesaurus Guides, Setting Thesaurus Guides, Story Structure, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 3 Comments

Christmas Shopping Made Easy

We writers are an eclectic group. Our creativity spills out through the written word but also can manifest in other ways. In addition to writing, some of us paint, knit, make jewelry, craft handmade cards, sculpt, crochet, make music, and do so many other things. Sometimes, we’re able achieve a measure of success in these areas that allows us to sell our products and make a profit.

As you know, Angela and I love writers and want to support them, and we know many of you do too. So with Christmas coming, we’ve prepared something special to help with your shopping: a list of products created by fellow writers. If you’ve got people to buy for and you like the idea of supporting writers, nab two birds with one grab. Click on the images to see what these talented creatives have available for purchase.


Tammy Archambeau’s jewelry: Angela and I both own Tammy’s amazing work. She even makes custom pieces!


Angie Richmond’s Mixed Media Collage and Abstract Watercolor Art. Some custom options are available.


Christine Powell-Gomez’s Customizable Book Swag in the form of bracelets, charms, key rings and more


Cheryl Rainfield’s Affirmation Cards: Use these joy-filled cards when you need some reassurance or compassion—or you just want to feel good.


Gaby Triana’s Bracelets: Charm Bracelets with Whimsy


Adria Laycraft’s Wood Jewelry and Carvings: Hand carved wooden pendants, knickknacks, and assorted awesomeness.


Talena Winter’s Knitting Patterns: Patterns designed for hand knitters who love knits, stories, and classic style.


Alison Davis Lyne’s Fine Art Paintings: portraits, wildlife, historical paintings, and more


Charlie Pulsipher’s Miniature Cardboard Sculptures: Almost too amazing to believe!

But wait! There’s more!

Angela and I are running two Goodreads giveaways that start today: one is for a print copy of The Urban Setting Thesaurus and the other is for a print copy of The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Just click on the links to enter. And if you know someone who might have these books on their Christmas list, let them know that the giveaway runs through 12/5. Ho ho ho!

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Character Motivation Entry: Obtaining Shelter From The Elements

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

shelterIf you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Obtaining Shelter From The Elements

Forms This Might Take:

  • Breaking into a vacant home or building
  • Breaking into a vehicle
  • Building a lean-to, tent, or structure with the materials at hand
  • Finding a crawlspace or stairwell to huddle up in
  • Entering a cave or wide crevice despite what may be within
  • Sneaking onto a train or other transit vehicle (a bus, etc.) if one can’t afford a ticket
  • Holing up in a public washroom, a bus shelter, or a covered car park
  • Finding an all-night diner or fast food restaurant
  • Paying for a hotel or motel
  • Sleeping in one’s car
  • Sneaking past guards or police to access a building or structure
  • Breaking into a RV at a park or storage facility
  • Creating a snow cave (if one is out in winter elements with no other choice)
  • Sleeping in the stairwell at an apartment building
  • Accessing a condemned building
  • Seeking out a church or hospital
  • Breaking into a closed business or empty warehouse
  • Accessing an unlocked shed or hiding under a porch at someone’s residence
  • Sleeping in a bus station or transit terminal
  • Going door-to-door in a neighborhood and asking to be let in
  • Sneaking onto a boat that is anchored and vacant

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): Physical Needs

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Gathering materials one needs to build a shelter
  • Travel whatever distance necessary to find adequate shelter
  • Strike out alone in reconnaissance to see what one’s options are
  • Pull money from a credit card or bank to purchase shelter
  • Offer to barter or work for one’s shelter
  • Fight others for access to a safe haven in dangerous circumstances
  • Avoid opposition (guards, police, structure owners) using stealth to access a building
  • Pretending to be waiting for someone (at a hotel lobby or bus station)
  • Waiting for nightfall to access shelter unseen (if danger is present)
  • Move on to find a suitable shelter if the first option doesn’t work out
  • Plead one’s case to those who may help one gain shelter
  • Pick a lock or break a window

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Draining one’s finances or other resources
  • Becoming lost as one seeks out shelter
  • Having to give up one’s resources to obtain shelter (leave one’s belongings behind to go on foot, etc.)
  • Running into a danger associated with the area (wild animals, militant groups, gangs, aggressive property owners, etc.)
  • Hypothermia or injuries associated with the environment if one is caught out too long
  • Being charged with trespassing

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Opposition in the form of police, owners, or security guards protecting the property
  • Competition for the shelter
  • Being mugged or assaulted
  • Running into a scam artist or violent individual looking to take advantage of the situation
  • A companion who is injured and cannot travel far
  • An illness or injury that acts as a ticking clock
  • Weather elements that shift quickly and become dangerous
  • Animals in the area that pose a threat because they are territorial
  • Being robbed and left with no resources to bargain with
  • Mobs or other violent parties in one’s path
  • Not having the knowledge needed to survive elements in one’s environment
  • Losing all sense of direction (such as during a whiteout storm)
  • Going into shock from exposure (hypothermia, etc.)
  • Extreme fatigue

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • An injury or illness
  • Frostbite and limb loss (if winter)
  • Being caught by one’s pursuers
  • Death
  • The death of someone in one’s care

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • Being out in the woods and coming upon an abandoned cabin in the nick of time
  • Being hunted during extreme weather for added tension where one’s predators would logically not venture out
  • Having pursuers take extreme, illogical risks for the environment to try and capture the character

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

Image: Jnightfall @ pixabay


Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

5 Visualization Techniques to Help Your Writing Craft

Happy to welcome high-performance coach and author Nina Amir to the blog today. She’s got some great techniques for you to try if you ever hit a brainstorming wall, so please read on!

blue-crop-4Plot. Scene. Character. Setting. Point of view. Theme. Literary devices. You’ve studied and practiced how to write great fiction, but sometimes that knowledge and skill aren’t enough to help you write your novel.

You still get stuck and don’t know where your story should go next. You still find your Muse takes vacations, leaving you unable to write. You still struggle to pull all the elements together into a story that works and to improve your craft—your writing—at the same time.

That’s when you need to take a different approach…an approach that helps spark ideas, creativity and productivity.  

Use Your Mind’s Eye

Your ability to imagine helps you write your novel. But sometimes you need to consciously or deliberately turn on a mental movie. With your mind’s eye, you can find the answers and inspiration you seek.

Athletes, actors, dancers, and entrepreneurs use visualization to help create the results they desire. You can use the power of visualization to support your writing efforts, too.

If you think this is a crazy tactic, consider a swimmer. To finish a race, she must start fast, push past the half-way point and touch the wall before the other swimmers. Her training includes visualizing this scenario. She imagines the shock of the cold water on her body when she dives into the pool, the pain and heaviness in her legs and arms and her heaving and aching chest at the half-way point, and a burst of energy and a positive thought—I can do it!—that allows her to sail past her competitors and win.

The mind can’t tell the difference between what is happening in the simmer’s imaginary world—in her mind—and what is happening in the physical world. As she visualizes swimming the race, her muscles fire just as if she were swimming. And her mind learns to provide positive messages that help her rev up rather than give up emotionally and physically.

Visualization works the same way for writers. It trains you to write.

The following four tools enhance your writing ability by turning away from craft (briefly) and toward the creative power of your mind. They utilize visualization to help solve problems, eliminate self-defeating thoughts, and generate forward movement with your writing work.

  1. Creative Visualization

Creative visualization is your ability to deliberately imagine yourself writing with ease, your book completed or your story finished. See your desired result. Feel it. Touch it. Smell it!

writing-outsideImagine yourself writing, answers and ideas coming to you easily and effortlessly, and the final manuscript pages spewing out of your printer. Feel what that would be like. That’s creative visualization.

Your mental images tell your brain to help you write and craft ideas. Your visualizations train it to focus on desired outcomes rather than on self-doubt, worry, or problems. By visualizing the outcome you desire, it easier for you to take action, generate new ideas, and finish your manuscript. You have shown your mind that you can do it, and it believes that to be true.

  1. Story Visions

Visualizing your story also can help you write. If you find yourself struggling with plot or characters, for instance, visualize your story unfolding. See the whole story or just the challenging section.

Don’t try too hard to direct the story in the way you think it should unfold. Instead, allow your mind to generate new scenarios or plot turns you hadn’t thought of previously. Let your story vision provide new ideas for approaching your novel.

  1. Deliberately Daydream

When faced with a challenging part of a writing project, most of us focus on finding a solution or answer—something to help us over the rough spot. However, allowing new ideas to enter your brain without force can prove more productive.

Sit back in your chair, put your hands in your lap and close your eyes or stare out the window. Don’t think about your book. Don’t think about anything in particular.

Remember daydreaming in class when you were still in school? That’s the state you want to enter. As your mind wanders, your subconscious mind begins to call up new ideas.

If you struggle with this approach, do something mindless—vacuum, fold laundry, mow the lawn, or take a shower. The best ideas show up if you don’t try to generate them. When your conscious mind is occupied with something menial, the unconscious mind has the chance to bring its ideas and thoughts into awareness.

  1. Visualize Your Characters

faceWhen you get stuck, spend imaginary time with the characters in your novel or in the setting where they exist. Visualizing them so you can experience them. In the process, you bring your characters, settings and scenes to life.

This is a great technique to use when you need to write character profiles. Imagine each character in action. How do they look and behave? What do they say or how do they talk?

Or walk through the town where your characters live. See it through their eyes.

  1. Mentally Meet Your Characters

Get up close and personal with your characters. Visualize meeting them. In your mind’s eye, enter your protagonist’s office, home, bedroom, or even the scene of a crime. Meet at the coffee shop where she spends time each morning—and buy her coffee, sit down at her table, and have a conversation.

Ask the antagonist what you should know about him. Or inquire about what he thinks he should do next in the scene you find difficult to write.

Because visualization activates your brain differently than the act of writing, it increases your ability to solve problems, get answers, and activate ideas more quickly and effectively. This allows you to turn back to writing craft and finish your novel.

creative-visualization-for-writers-cover-small-399Nina Amir is an eleven-time Amazon bestselling author of 19 titles, including Creative Visualization for Writers, How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual.  She helps writers make a positive meaningful impact with their words. Her clients have sold 300,000+ copies of their books, landed deals with major publishing houses, and created thriving businesses around their books.

The author of 19 books, she founded National Nonfiction Writing Month and the Nonfiction Writers’ University as well as a proprietary Author Training Program. Six of her books were on Amazon’s Authorship Top 100 list simultaneously. She is one of 300 elite high-performance coaches in the world.

Have your ever tried visualization techniques to either brainstorm the story or work your way past a block? Let us know in the comments. 🙂






Posted in Characters, Experiments, Focus, Guest Post, Writer's Block | 25 Comments

When It’s OK to Listen to Your Inner Editor


We’ve all wrangled with our inner editor at some point in our writing process. This voice in our head critiques our craft in mid-stream, from the big picture (“This plot hole needs to be fixed!”) to minor details (“That’s not the right word!”). And quite often, it can be distracting – or, worse, discouraging. No wonder many writers suggest that we ignore or “turn off” our inner editor so we can focus on our work.

I agree with that advice, though I’d phrase mine this way:

Ignore your inner editor so you can focus on your work – but don’t forget to listen to it at the right times.

Yes, that voice can help improve your work in certain instances. The trick is recognizing when you should or shouldn’t pay attention to it. And with practice, careful thought, and self-assertiveness (well, you are putting your foot down with yourself!), you can tune in and out of your inner editor’s chatter as you see fit.

So, let’s touch on common scenarios featuring the inner editor and how to handle its criticisms – er, input – when appropriate.

When Is It OK to Listen to Your Inner Editor?

When Revising Your WIP: At this stage you’re performing “minor surgery” on your story. You have a good idea of what it’s about and what large-scale changes (additions, deletions, moves, etc.) might strengthen it. What if your inner editor chimes in with an idea you missed before? Depending on how you work best, you can either incorporate that suggestion now or wait until the next draft.

When Editing Your WIP: Editing differs from revising in that you’re polishing your writing and fixing tiny elements like punctuation. Your inner editor might remind you now to slow down and choose the precise words, emotions, or images for the scene at hand. That’s perfectly fine. Take that moment to listen and refine, especially if you’re submitting the story to an editor or beta-readers next.

When Its Suggestions Are Valid: Your inner editor doesn’t always nag or berate you. Sometimes it speaks calmly and constructively, like “Is the protagonist behaving in-character here?” or “You might want to check the definition of this word.” These moments, when your inner editor acts as your conscience and not as a frightened child, are ideal times to listen to it.


Courtesy: Pixabay

When Is It NOT OK to Listen to Your Inner Editor?

When Drafting Your WIP: This is when you’re still learning about your story – and often when your inner editor shouts loudest. When it does, it’s crucial to remember to simply write. Otherwise, you’ll keep going back to rewrite scenes or entire chapters when you should be adding new ones instead. After all, you want to finish that draft, right?

When Your Ego Takes Over: Sometimes your inner editor turns into your worst critic. You question your characters, plot, voice – every element of your story. This isn’t your inner editor talking, though; it’s your ego. All writers wrestle with doubts and fears throughout their process. So while it unfortunately comes with the territory, remember you aren’t alone in fighting your inner demons, and you can find a way to overcome them.

Learning How to Manage Your Inner Editor

As you can see, half the battle is recognizing when and why you should listen to your inner editor. But how can you manage that relationship without neglecting advice that might actually help? Here are some tips:

  • Distinguish the advice from the “screaming.” When your inner editor speaks, listen carefully to its message and tone. Then ask yourself, “Will this improve my WIP? Or am I beating myself up?” You might already know the answer subconsciously.
  • When drafting, take notes of changes instead of incorporating them immediately. That way, you can focus on finishing your story while creating a revision / editing checklist for Draft #2. I did this during my WIP’s first draft, and it was one of the smartest changes I’ve ever made to my writing process.
  • Develop a strategy for overcoming writer’s doubt. Whether you prefer to take a writing course or channel your creativity through other outlets, it’s good to have a method for rebuilding your confidence in case your inner editor overpowers you.
  • Step away from the WIP temporarily. If your inner editor refuses to be quiet, give yourself permission to take a day or two off from writing. This will let you clear your head and gain a fresh (and less critical) perspective for when you return to your work.

In short, it really is possible for us to work with our inner editor. Figuring out how will require work on our part (let’s face it, inner editors rarely compromise). But once we do, we can transform that relationship from painfully one-sided to respectfully harmonious – most of the time. 😉

Do you find yourself “arguing” with your inner editor sometimes? Have you learned when to ignore or shut down that voice, and when to listen to it?

sara-_framedSara is a fantasy writer living in Massachusetts who devours good books, geeks out about character arcs, and drinks too much tea. In addition to WHW’s Resident Writing Coach Program, she writes the Theme: A Story’s Soul column at DIY MFA and is hard at work on a YA fantasy novel. Find out more about Sara here, visit her personal blog, Goodreads profile, and find her online.
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Posted in Editing Tips, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized | 30 Comments