Become a Story Genius: How Your Character’s Misbelief Drives The Plot

We’re welcoming story coach Lisa Cron to the blog today. Her new book, Story Genius, released not long ago and is traveling toward me via drone, or spaceship, or whatever thing Amazon’s using these days. I can’t wait for it to arrive. 🙂

Lisa has some great thoughts on the inner struggle happening inside a protagonist, and how defining the why behind this struggle is the key to unlocking a powerful story that will capture your readers.


story-geniusStory is not about what happens on the surface, but what goes on beneath it. It’s about what the protagonist has to face, deal with and overcome internally in order to solve the external problem that the plot poses. That means that the internal problem pre-dates the events in the plot, often by decades. So if you don’t know, specifically, what your protagonist wants and what internal misbelief stands in her way, then how on earth can you construct a plot that will force her to deal with it?

The answer is simple: you can’t.

That’s why a generally interesting idea, a dramatic plot and lovely language aren’t enough to capture the reader’s attention. What readers are wired to come for is insight into what people do when push comes to shove and, most importantly, why they do it. We’re looking for inside intel into human nature, the better to navigate this scary, beautiful world ourselves. That’s what my book Story Genius is all about. It takes writers step by step through the process of developing a novel that will do just that, and so at every turn, we ask why.

I’m here today to talk about the single most potent place to ask why, which is your novel’s Origin Scene – that is, the moment when your protagonist’s defining misbelief springs into being. The big question the Origin Scene asks – and answers — is: why does your protagonist so wholeheartedly believe something that is so wrong?

In order for this to make sense, enter novelist and book coach, Jennie Nash, who develops a novel from scratch within the pages of Story Genius so that readers can watch the process in action. I am going to use her examples so you can follow along and nail this key scene in your own work in progress.

Here’s Jennie breaking down her fledgling story idea:

“What if a woman – I’ll call her Ruby — who’s spent her whole life believing she’s successfully hedged her bets against love (of people, of things, of dogs) is on the verge of losing everything—the one person she’s felt close to, her lifelong career, and her grasp on reality? Mad with grief, she has one chance to set things right, but first she must convince those around her that she’s not suicidal. So she devises a scheme to steal a dog for an hour or two, believing that ‘getting’ a dog will reassure the people in her life (who are dog lovers) that she’s back on the path to emotional stability. But when she can’t get rid of the dog, she’s forced to confront the fact that the very thing she spent her life avoiding—connection—is what makes the inevitable grief of loss endurable.”

Now that we have a basic notion of the story Jennie is developing, the question is: What is Ruby’s misbelief? In other words, what does she believe about the world that the story will force her to examine? Jennie boiled it down to this: “Not only isn’t love is worth what it costs, it weakens you.” Now, it’s your turn!

 Step 1: Ask yourself, what is my protagonist’s misbelief? What one, defining thing does she think is true about the world that is going to be proven false?

Think in terms of bumper stickers here. Cheaters never prosper. Technology is evil. Pride goeth before the fall. Your protagonist’s “aha” moment at the end of your novel when she finally overcomes her misbelief, will be where your novel makes a point. Perhaps cheaters DO sometimes prosper, perhaps technology is not ALWAYS evil. In Jennie’s story, Ruby will come to realize that love IS indeed worth the cost.

Does EVERY story have a misbelief at its core? Absolutely, regardless of genre.

Step 2: Brainstorm possible scenes where the misbelief might have first taken hold in your protagonists’ life.

This step is about finding that moment in childhood when life forced your protagonist to embrace a belief that, even though it isn’t really true, saved them from a difficult situation. This misbelief doesn’t make your protagonist a dope, an idiot or evil. Back in the day when it first bloomed, the misbelief made them smart. It allowed them to adapt to what the world threw at them, and thus survive – but soon after that it began to undermine them. Only they don’t know that. As far as they’re concerned, it’s a hard-won bit of very useful inside info, becoming a seminal part of the lens through which they evaluated everything from then on — the lens that your plot will be constructed to shatter.

Once you’ve pinpointed your protagonist’s misbelief, your goal is to trace it back to its origin, which will then allow you to trace it forward as it takes root, becoming the foundation of the inner logic that drives your protagonist’s action.

Don’t be afraid to try many scene possibilities here. Here’s Jennie talking about her process:

           I knew that because my character’s misbelief is about love and loss and her struggle being around grief, that someone was going to have to die. So when I thought about where this misbelief begins, it seemed natural to me that it would be when she first saw somebody lose someone.  But I didn’t want it to be so up close and personal that she’d be devastated, so I came up with the idea that Ruby was going to watch her best friend lose her dad.”

Step 3: Write out your Origin Scene as an actual scene

Like all scenes, it will chronicle a single event. It will be specific. You will need to set the place, the time, the context. Don’t simply focus on what happens externally; let us know what your protagonist is thinking as she reacts, internally, to everything.

Let us see the protagonist change from a person who believes X to a person who believes Y, and make us understand why. Put her inner struggle right on the page so we can experience her internal conflict ourselves. This will help you find specific answers to the underlying WHY that drives your novel: why does your protagonist act the way she does, think the way she does, make the choices she does? This is where it all begins.

Download Jennie’s Origin Scene Here

In this heartbreaking scene, Ruby’s belief – that the love this family had was going to keep them strong – is shattered. Instead of saving them, she realizes, their love is what did them in. In that instant, her worldview shifted and she was left feeling lucky that she didn’t have the love she’d longed for. That misbelief is going to guide every decision that Ruby makes until the novel begins, 35 years later.

And THAT is why we ask why, because one specific leads to another, driving your novel from start to finish, yanking the reader deep into the heart of the story.

story-genius-workshopLisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. If you are interested in working through all the Story Genius concepts and getting feedback as you go, check out the Story Genius Novel Writing Workshop at starting October 4 or in mid-January 2017.

Do you know what your character misbelief is, and have you written the origin scene to get a better handle on the inner struggle he or she will face during the story? Let us know in the comments!







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Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Having a Child

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 quickly identify what the overall story goal’s going to be; this will better enable them to root for the character because they’ll know exactly what he’s trying to achieve. But how do you know which outer motivation to choose?

If 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.


Courtesy: Pixabay

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Having a Child

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): Love and Belonging

Methods for Achieving This Goal:

  • Conceiving a child with a partner
  • Becoming artificially inseminated (if one is single)
  • Undergoing fertility treatments
  • Adopting a child
  • Becoming a foster parent
  • Stealing a child and raising it as one’s own
  • Buying a baby on the black market

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Reading up on pregnancy and parenting
  • Giving up things that could harm an unborn child or decrease one’s chance of conceiving (cigarettes, alcohol, certain medications, caffeine, heavy weight lifting, boating, etc.)
  • Getting into good physical shape
  • Convincing one’s partner that having a child is a good idea
  • Sabotaging one’s method of birth control (if one’s partner isn’t on board)
  • Tracking one’s ovulation cycle and scheduling sexual encounters accordingly
  • Seeing a fertility doctor
  • Researching and choosing a sperm donor, egg donor, or surrogate
  • Saving money or adjusting one’s budget to account for fertility treatments or adoption fees
  • Starting the process to become a foster parent
  • Preparing one’s home for home visits from social workers
  • Researching adoption agencies and adoptive children
  • Joining online groups and message boards with other like-minded people

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Going into debt
  • Putting off vacations and high-end purchases in order to afford fertility treatments or adoption fees
  • Changing one’s standard of living so one can afford the associated financial costs
  • Replacing sex as a pleasurable experience with sex that is purely clinical and a means to an end
  • Losing a spouse or partner who doesn’t want to have children
  • Losing friendships or family relationships when other people don’t agree with one’s methods of becoming pregnant
  • Sacrificing one’s career in order to have a family (settling for a position with less time restraints or stress, being passed over for a promotion, not being able to pursue the career one would most like to have)
  • Risking one’s health if one has existing problems that a pregnancy or birth could make worse (a mental illness requiring one to stop taking one’s medication if one becomes pregnant, heart problems, etc.)
  • Giving up or postponing other goals (running a marathon, competing in the Olympics, taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip that occurs during one’s fertility treatments, dropping out of school, etc.)
  • Going to jail (if one is trying to obtain a child through illegal means)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Infertility
  • Health conditions that could make a pregnancy or birth difficult
  • A spouse or partner who doesn’t want children
  • Moral objections to the methods one would have to employ to become pregnant (having sex outside of marriage, fertility treatments where many eggs are fertilized and the remainders are discarded, being inseminated with a stranger’s sperm, etc.)
  • Financial limitations
  • A mental illness or past criminal activity that keeps one from being able to adopt or foster a child
  • A social worker with an axe to grind
  • An inept fertility doctor

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

Possible Fallout if the Need Driving This Goal Is Not Met: 

  • Heightened feelings of loneliness and unfulfillment
  • Growing apart from other couples one’s age who have families
  • Tension with one’s partner that could lead to a breakup
  • Self-doubts; wondering if there’s a reason one isn’t able to have a child
  • Fear of growing old alone
  • Resentment of other parents
  • Depression

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • External stressors tearing apart a couple during the adoption process, forcing one of them to move forward and adopt on his/her own

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






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Change of Plans: Introducing The Character Motivation Thesaurus

Recently Becca and I announced that our next thesaurus would be the Human Needs Thesaurus. And people got excited, and why the heck not, because the very fiber of a story is indeed the need that drives your character to act. We were excited too…until we worked up our template and realized what we really wanted to talk about was Needs and Goals, and that our original thesaurus idea was too narrow. So, we stepped back and tried again, and POW, came up with something amazing.

The Character Motivation Thesaurus

sunset2This thesaurus will help you unravel some of your biggest story questions by specifically focusing on what your character wants (outer motivation), why they want it (inner motivation), how they might achieve their goal, and what stands in their way.

We will look at common story goals most often portrayed in books and film that center around fulfilling the protagonist’s missing Human Need, the common ingredient in any change arc. Here are the areas each entry will cover:

A Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation)

All stories feature a protagonist with a goal, something they are determined to achieve by the story’s end. This story goal matters to them; it’s personal in some way. Every action, choice, and sacrifice is made with the singular focus of achieving the mission. The goal might be to bring a killer to justice, reach safety when one is lost in the woods, or find one’s birth parent. Whatever shape it takes, the goal is tangible.

The Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation)

When it comes to the change arc, a meaningful goal must have a WHY attached to it: why does the character want to achieve this particular goal? The why is what interests us as readers, because the why is an underlying universal human need that drives behavior.

According to famed psychologist Abraham Maslow, all individuals are driven by needs that fall into five basic categories:


If one of these needs is lacking, it creates a void—one that the character will go to great lengths to fill.

For example, if your character is safe, secure, and loved, yet craves the recognition and esteem of others, he will grow increasingly anxious and dissatisfied. Once this reaches a critical point, he will feel DRIVEN to make a change. His need for esteem and recognition will push him to act, and direct him toward a very specific, tangible goal. Perhaps he quits his job to go back to school and obtain a degree. Maybe he decides to fight his biggest rival for the promotion he knows he deserves. Or, perhaps he makes a plan to leave a toxic parental relationship that is rife with mental and emotional abuse.

These needs are universal, meaning they apply to everyone. Readers will understand the character’s yearnings for something more and to feel complete. This sets them up to care about the protagonist and want them to succeed.

Needs are powerful, and can alter a character’s personality or even force him to the edge of his own moral code (and sometimes beyond). Knowing which needs your character is missing will let you know how that lack will affect her. Like the all-important picture on the cover of a jigsaw puzzle box, this knowledge will help you piece together many other related elements that are important to her personality and your story.

Methods for Achieving This Goal

Whatever the goal is, your protagonist can go about trying to achieve it in different ways. For instance, a heroine with the goal of having a child could accomplish this by trying to conceive with her partner, but she could also pursue artificial insemination, undergo fertility treatments, adopt, or become a foster parent.

The route your character takes will depend largely on her personality and life circumstances; having a list of choices will help you to brainstorm a path that works for your story while sparking ideas for possible roadblocks, obstacles, complications, and dangers that might stand in her way.

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

To make our story even more compelling, our characters should be somewhat unsuitable for what lies ahead. Both inwardly and outwardly, they will need to make changes: gaining new knowledge, seeking out help, training, learning new skills, shedding bad habits, or otherwise preparing themselves to achieve their goal.

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated with This Goal

For a goal to be meaningful, it often comes at a cost. Change is never easy, and moving toward something also means moving away from something else. The character may have to give up certain comforts, freedoms, habits, and fears if he is to move forward toward a new reality.

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

Our job as writers is to make sure whatever our protagonist wants, they have to fight for it. Conflict & tension are the butter we spread on storytelling bread, so for each goal, we’ll look at possible friction points (people and things) that can be used to block them. These roadblocks can also come from within, such as fears and insecurities that are holding your protagonist back, or moral lines that challenge their commitment to the goal.

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal

Who your character is deep down is an important piece of the puzzle, because special skills and talents can help them with goal achievement. Listing out certain skill sets tied to a goal will provide ideas for possible talents you may wish to give your character so they can overcome the difficulties ahead.

Possible Fallout if the Need Driving This Goal Is Not Met:

Inner motivation (needs) and outer motivation (the goal) are bound together, and making the decision to chase a goal takes courage and a leap of faith. To make the story as compelling as possible, something needs to be on the line. Readers need to know what is at stake…what will happen if the protagonist fails to achieve his goal, and his critical need goes unmet.

Clichés to Avoid

Finally, as you can imagine when dealing with common goals, there may be some clichés all writers should be aware of. Above all, we want the story to be fresh and innovative. Knowing what the clichés are will help us think outside the box when it comes to a goal, giving readers a satisfying and rich ride.

Join us Saturday as we launch the first entry of this thesaurus!













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What’s in a (Character’s) Name?

For some of us, coming up with names is easy—just pick one that sounds right, or one you’ve been in love with forever. And sometimes it truly is that easy. But what if you want your characters’ names to be more meaningful, to be a better fit for your story? Olga Kuno’s got some great ideas on how to come up with just the right names for your cast members.


Courtesy: Jonathan Rolande @ Creative Commons

You’re about to start writing a new novel. Maybe you’ve already carefully developed a plan for each chapter. Maybe you have a plan for a couple of chapters only and, at this stage, have no idea what’s going to happen afterwards. In any event, there’s something you need to know from the very beginning: the names of your important characters.

If you’re writing a realistic novel with the plot unfolding in the actual world, in a specific country at a specific time, this imposes at least some limitations, but the range of names you can choose from is still wide. But what if you’re working on a fantasy or sci-fi novel, describing events that are taking place in an imaginary world? In that case, the sky’s the limit. You’re free to choose any name of any nationality that has been used at any period. Moreover, you can even invent a name of your own.

Coming up with just the right name can be daunting. I’d like to share some ideas on how to simplify the process.


I suppose “meaning” is the most obvious reason to choose a particular name. After all, names are derived from words that are meaningful in some language or other.

‘My name is Alice, but —’

‘It’s a stupid name enough!’ Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. ‘What does it mean?’

Must a name mean something?’ Alice asked doubtfully.

‘Of course it must,’ Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: ‘my name means the shape I am — and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.’

Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

Humpty Dumpty isn’t quite right, but in literature, it’s definitely possible to give one’s heroes names that say something about their character. Consider America Singer, the protagonist of The Selection by Kiera Cass. Her surname says something about her: she’s a musician and a singer. Yet another example is Mr. Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma. It’s clear to many English-speaking readers that this name emphasizes the character’s nobility.

Sometimes, the meaning can even come from another language. Continuing the topic of music, one of the major heroes in Oksana Pankeeva’s Russian fantasy series is known under the (fake) name of Cantor. In Spanish, the corresponding word means ‘singer’, and indeed, the character was a singer in the past.


A name may also obtain content through the connotations it invokes. This happens when it’s identical or similar to the name of a well-known literary or mythological character. For instance, it’s hardly possible to read “Bridget Jones’s Diary” without associating Mark Darcy with Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy (and when watching the movie, the association becomes even stronger, for obvious reasons!). Indeed, the two characters have certain qualities in common.

Geographical Inspirations

Associations may arise not only with characters but also with the real world. Getting back to America Singer, her first name is obviously identical to a geographical one. This is purposeful, since the heroine brings in certain values that play an important role in the United States but have largely been forgotten and abandoned in Illéa.

Geography can also play a part in a character’s name when the sound of it reminds readers of a particular culture. An invented name that ends in -slav or -mir—Jaroslav, Vladimir, Miromir—will bring to mind the Slavs and the rich culture surrounding them. Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series is a good example of this. With a main character named Alina Starkov and events occurring in places like Keramzim and Ravka, the names are perfect for her story set in an alternate pre-revolution Russia.

Playing Games With Names

Yet another possibility is to think of a name that you can mess around with. A well known example is young Voldemort from the Harry Potter books. Tom Marvolo Riddle is an anagram for “I am Lord Voldemort.” And, obviously, Riddle also holds meaning. For a different example, consider Karina Dёmina and her novel The Bride. The character has two personalities: Tori and Hilda. So it makes sense for the author to have chosen the name Tornhild, where both personalities are represented.

These are just a few suggestions which may be helpful in resolving the difficult task of name selection. But then, it’s absolutely fine to choose a name because we like the way it sounds. What methods have you used for picking the right names for your characters?

olga1920pxlsBorn in Moscow and having left Russia in 1991, Olga Kuno has lived in Europe, Asia and America. Having completed her Ph.D. in linguistics, she started writing fantasy romance novels. Today she is both a lecturer in linguistics and a Russian fantasy writer who tries hard not to mention princes, dragons and magicians in her scientific articles. Olga has published 13 fantasy novels in Russian (however scary that number may seem!). In June 2016, her novel “Half a Step Away from Love” was for the first time electronically published in English translation. Her interests include British folklore, linguistic analysis of humor and animal communication.

Road Trip

Angela is over at Writers In The Storm talking about the transition between “writer” and “author,” and the learning curve involved. Feel free to stop by. 😉





Posted in Characters | 22 Comments

Critiques 4 U!

Ok. I’m sure that some of you are a leetle confused to see a critique contest post going out. I mean, it’s SATURDAY, and Saturdays at Writers Helping Writers has always meant thesaurus day. And last week we let you know about a new thesaurus that would be rolling out this week.


Courtesy: Pixabay

But it’s funny how things work. Angela and I have both been feeling like there was something off about the template we had put together for our new project. A driving force behind what we do is wanting to provide you with content that is needed, practical, and easy for you to both understand and apply. And over the past week, we both realized that what we’d come up with just wasn’t clear enough for our liking. So while we really wanted to stick to our guns and roll out the new thesaurus today, we’ve decided to take a bit more time on it to make sure it’s as good as it can be.

Meanwhile, we didn’t want to leave you empty handed while our thesaurus idea is under construction. And since we haven’t run a critique contest yet this month, we figured it would be a good idea to do it now. Which means

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)


Because it’s the weekend and people aren’t online as much, this contest will run for two days instead of the typical 24 hours. Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted on Monday. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. Best of luck!

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A Storyteller’s Swiss Army Knife? The Setting

Why Setting Is As Versatile As A Swiss Army KnifeWriting the Urban and Rural Setting Thesaurus books taught Becca and me something big: that the Setting really is the Swiss Army Knife of Storytelling.

Whaaaat, you say?

It’s the truth.


Check out all it can do:

  •  create conflict or tension
  •  foreshadow a coming event
  •  encourage an emotion-driven action or choice
  •  remind a character of the past (good or bad)
  •  poke at an old wound
  •  challenge the hero to face his fears
  •  recreate a wounding event so the hero can navigate it successfully & let go of past pain
  •  show or reinforce the story stakes
  •  characterize one or more characters
  •  display symbolism or motifs that reinforce a deeper message or meaning
  •  reinforce a specific mood
  •  help steer the plot
  •  test through obstacles and setbacks
  •  give the setting an emotional value & deploy emotional triggers
  •  deliver important backstory

(click here to save this as a checklist)

Are you suitable impressed? I hope so!

The setting is versatile. It allows us to show, not tell in so many important ways.

Learning how to use it fully is one of the best things we can do to elevate our writing. The Setting Thesaurus DuoTo see an example of setting in action, pop by Seekerville to find out How The Setting Can Steer Your Plot.  There might just be a giveaway involved…*wink*

And, if you are rounding the horn into Fall with plans to give your writing career a boost by attending a writing conference, stop by Writers Digest where I show you how to get more out of your conference pitches, workshops and networking opportunities by thinking like an extrovert…even though you happen to be an introvert.

I hope everyone is back in the groove of writing now that September is here and those precious bundles of ours are back at school. Becca and I are climbing back to full speed here at WHW, rolling out a new thesaurus on Saturday, planning out some amazing new tools at One Stop For Writers with the talented Lee Powell, and plotting our next book, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus.

Here’s to what comes next–happy writing, all!


Image 1: Skeeze @ Pixabay









Posted in About Us, Publishing and Self Publishing, Setting, Setting Thesaurus Guides, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 2 Comments

Hunting Down Story Holes Using a Novel Journal

Hi everyone–I’m happy to welcome author David Stafford to the blog today as he’s tackling something we all wrestle with at some point: Story Holes. Here’s some great advice on how to defeat Story Holes, and a list of the areas they are often found.

holesPlot holes are disastrous. So are inconsistencies in your characters and setting.

These gaps in your story’s logic, or “Story Holes,” invite the reader to quit. They break rules and seriously jeopardize your chances of converting readers into loyal followers and future buyers.

Finding “Story Holes” can be difficult because we’re often overwhelmed by all the elements in our stories, especially if they’re novel-length. Keeping track of details is incredibly important, especially as we work scene-to-scene.

There are common spots where Story Holes like to lurk, so ask yourself questions to ensure the story’s logic holds up.

Seasons: When does each chapter take place? How do you signal the change in seasons? Is the geographic location of your setting stated or easily discerned? Does the temperature/weather match the stated season?

Weather: Are you consistent within chapters or periods of time (It’s raining on page 1 and not instantly sunny on page 3)? Do scenes begin and end with seemingly unannounced changes in the forces of nature?

Time of Day: Does time pass with realistic pacing and flow? If it does, do scenes focus on the important, relevant scenes? Does dialogue that takes 5 minutes to read consume 5 hours of story-time?

Location Layout: Does your story’s setting have a logic to its layout? Will readers be able to draw a map of it based on the details you provide? Is there a balance of geographic terms (north, south, east, west) with imagery? Is this layout consistent throughout the entire story? Does it take an appropriate amount of time to move from one location to another? For example, characters shouldn’t be able to drive across Los Angeles in ten minutes.

Setting Status: Have elements of the setting changed? Has something been destroyed, altered, or improved? Keep detailed notes in your novel journal on how the setting has changed during each chapter’s events.

Different Laws of Physics: Your story may contain different laws of physics, including magic, supernatural creatures, super powers, and so on. However, each of these creations o needs its own internal set of rules. As you write, put these down in writing as a constitution for you to adhere to. Use it when you check for Story Holes to see if character powers have suddenly changed for no reason, or if the rules of your world are being constantly broken. There must be a logic that your reader can follow, anticipate, and own. If you break your own rules, the reader will have no reason to respect them.

Story Holes From Editing: Have you been rearranging chapters? If so, you need to reread the entire section in which you made the switches. Better yet, have someone else read them because his/her unfamiliar eye will be able to spot the subtle ways that this rearrangement has altered the logic of your story.

Changing the Cause of an Action: As you revise, you will often alter a character’s motivation for making a choice. This will change the flow of any dialogue or thought-process in the chapter. I noticed this Story Hole when I edited my protagonist’s goal in early chapters. Large portions of dialogue had to be rewritten so that what he said was in alignment with his new, updated goal.

Character Core Qualities: Do characters maintain their unchanging qualities throughout the story (paralyzed characters don’t suddenly “walk away,” claustrophobic characters don’t suddenly enjoy elevators).

Character Traits: Character traits are more fluid than Core Qualities, but still require internal logic that’s tied to plot. Usually, for a Character Trait to change, the change must occur as a result of an action with significant stakes. If beta readers are questions “Why” characters do things, or “How” they gain or lose or alter specific traits, you may have forgotten to earn that change with a bold action in the story.

With all these details floating around, how can you hope to keep track of them all?

Answer: A Novel Journal.

the-bean-of-life-coverI created a chart for my novel, The Bean of Life, and used the following “fields” (or columns) to diagram the details of each chapter:

  • Chapter # and Working Title
  • Season (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall) and Time of Day
  • Days/Weeks/Months since prev. chapter
  • Word count/Budgeted word count (in italics)
  • Character notes (New characters, any changes, major actions, major declarations)
  • Setting notes (changes, alterations, enhancements)
  • Plot Notes (plans or observations on the draft for me to use later)
  • Color-code based on its part in the book, or “tension” in a series of chapters that vary in intensity

With a tool like this in place, it will be easy to track your story’s vital details and hunt down Story Holes with incredible precision and efficiency. Here’s a template you can use!

TIP: When you save your Novel Journal, give it a name like “NOVEL TITLE_PLAN” and put it in the same folder as your manuscript.

Remember, no one gets a story perfect the first time. Prepare for this by investing time in your Novel Journal and reviewing it after each writing session. As your hunting skills get sharper, Story Holes will disappear from your prose until it’s a structural masterpiece.

(And readers will LOVE you for it!)

david-saffordDavid H. Safford is the author of The Bean of Life, the story of a man who decides to save the world with coffee. Read a free preview or get an early-access copy here before the September 20th launch.

When he’s not brewing his next pot of coffee, David coaches writers and travels to mountainous realms where his soul can finally rest. You can find him on twitter, too!

Confession time: What was your biggest logic gaff? Tell us about a story hole you discovered and how you fixed it!

Image 1: Efraimstochter @Pixabay








Posted in Description, Editing Tips, Guest Post, Revision and Editing, Uncategorized, Writing Resources | 20 Comments

The Show, Don’t Tell Description Toolkit #MyWritingKit

mywritingkitreversed2-1Today I’m sharing some amazing tools as part of Verbaleyze’s My Writing Toolkit event, in hopes you might find some new weapons in the battle for strong, compelling description.

For those not familiar with VerbalEyze, they are a 501(c)3 nonprofit that serves to foster, promote, and support the development and professional growth of emerging young adult writers. How awesome is that?

So if you’re age 13 to 22, you really should look into how Verbaleyze can help you develop your writing.

And if you want to see some amazing writing tools this month, follow the #MyWritingKit hashtag. They have a terrific contest on right now, and both Writers Helping Writers and One Stop For Writers are sponsoring prizes. Stop in and enter, if you like.

Okay, onto my Tool Kit. I hope you like the resources I’ve put together. 🙂

Show, Don’t Tell: The Ultimate Description Toolkit 

Show, Don’t Tell. It’s one of those things that we hear over and over, but what does it REALLY mean? There’s a lot of contention around it–some assume that “show, don’t tell” we must show everything, tell nothing, and of course, this isn’t right.

Show, Don’t Tell is one of those phrases that is oh-so-important to get right, yet requires a heavy dose of good judgment. Because it isn’t as much about showing OR telling, but knowing when to do each, and how to be effective at both.

Confused? Don’t be. Think of it this way…

Show Don’t Tell is a promise you make to readers to give them a special, emotion-driven sensory experience that will be both captivating and memorable.

To fulfill this promise, we must make the most of our description. There’s no room for empty description and filler. Every word should earn the right to be included, so we want to do double or triple duty with our descriptive choices so we’re not only conveying “a sense of place.”

Okay, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about what Show, Don’t Tell looks like.

If there’s one thing we have here at WHW, it’s tools to help you. Because Showing and Telling is such a striggle for many, I’ve created some checklists that outline when to SHOW, and when to TELL.

(HINT: click to enlarge & don’t forget to Pin!)

When to show_One Stop_For_WritersWhen to Tell_ One Stop For Writers1


Showing will also convey a character’s emotions through their body language, actions, dialogue, and if it is the POV character, their thoughts, and visceral sensations. You might find these helpful:

ONE STOP Showing Emotion_Whole Body

Stages of Attraction_Both Sexes



It’s important we also convey the setting to readers by using the 5 senses, as well as utilizing mood and other techniques, to create deep emotional pull.

 The Setting Thesaurus_Sensory Details The Setting Thesaurus_Mood Building

Show, Don’t Tell is also part of deep story, using various elements like Deep POV, Character Motivation, Goals & Stakes to show what your character sees, feels, wants, and needs.

Conflict Options and Secrets also create pressure for your character to show readers who she or he is. To see more checklists for all of these, visit our One Stop For Writers Pinterest Board.








Show, Don’t Tell storytelling power is also heightened by using specific, rich language combined with high-level fiction craft.

Tighten your descriptive writing using these tools:

Crutch Words List_Writers Helping Writers Download

Crutch Words List

Verb Tool

Weak Verb Converter Tool





Finally, to really challenge whether you’ve shown effectively, test your story against this ultimate critique checklist. (It isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it will ensure your story is hitting all the high notes!


Ultimate Critique Checklist

And of course, if you want more formal help, our collection of thesaurus books are your greatest weapon when it comes to choosing description with impact:

Writers Helping Writers Descriptive Thesaurus Collection


Or visit our ultimate Library Resource, One Stop For Writers, where we have 11 description thesauruses (and more coming) to choose from, plus many other features and unique tools for writers. Pulling readers in via meaningful description has never been easier.


So, what’s in your #MyWritingKit? Share it with the hashtag, and you could win!

And, if you’d like to see another  #MyWritingKit check out the one I created for characters: Ultimate Character Building Toolkit.






















Posted in About Us, Basic Human Needs, Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Traits, Character Wound, Characters, Conflict, Description, Dialogue, Emotion, Emotion Thesaurus Guide, Empathy, High Stakes, Motivation, One Stop For Writers, Positive & Negative Thesaurus Guides, Revision and Editing, Setting Thesaurus Guides, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Tension, The Setting Thesaurus Guides, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons, Writing Resources | 5 Comments

How to Stay Organized During a Revision

Hi, everyone! Becca and I are back from our break and ready to rumble. We spent the week visiting with relatives, hosting dinner parties, catching up on the many projects that there’s never enough time for, and I managed to create a bunch of new nifty writing checklists.

(Watch for those in a coming post, or visit this insanely helpful Pinterest board if you just can’t wait!)

Janice Hardy RGB 72 3x4Today however, we have author and writing coach Janice Hardy (@Janice_Hardy) here with some terrific revision advice, so please read on:

Revising your novel can be a huge undertaking, and like any large project, going into it prepared can save you time and frustration. It can also help you complete that project in the most efficient and effective way.

How much feedback your manuscript gets before you start revising determines how much you have to keep track of. Detailed critiques from ten beta readers yields a lot more information than a first draft with no outside comments. Keeping track of it all can be challenging, but totally doable.

Step One: Gather Your Materials

Some writers like index cards and tape flags, others use three-ring binders and highlighters, and still others use software with electronic files instead of manila folders. Don’t forget about the non-writing essentials—your favorite drink or snack, reference guides, links to blog posts with great advice (such as Writers Helping Writers or my own site, Fiction University). If you think you’ll need it, put it within reach.

If you don’t have a preferred method yet, try these options:

Software: Collect all your notes and critiques in one file (or folder) in your favorite program. Microsoft Word’s Document Map feature is a handy way to create a table of contents to scan for what you want. Scrivener allows you to add extra text subfiles with everything you need right there per scene or chapter. Note-taking software keeps everything in one place, such as Microsoft’s OneNote or Evernote.

Three-ring binders and paper: For those who prefer a more hands-on approach, a binder can be the perfect fit. You can easily add and move pages as needed, and take notes anywhere. You might even have a separate binder for the manuscript itself, with notes and ideas written on the pages.

Tape flags and printed pages: Print out your manuscript and use different colored tape flags for different aspects of the revision. Tape additional sheets of paper to pages for extra notes, or write on the backs of the manuscript pages. Don’t forget scissors and tape if you go this route. Highlighters and colored pens are also useful.

Step Two: Gather Your Notes

Hunting through files for the feedback you want to address can be both time consuming and annoying. Collect everything in one place so you can easily access it when you reach that section of the revision. Create a story bible with important details to maintain consistency.

Put the notes into the manuscript file: Copy all the comments you want to address directly into the manuscript, so as you read through each scene, you’ll see what needs to be done. Add macro comments to the start of each chapter or scene, or in the beginning of the file. If you have multiple critiquers, you might use a different color per person or type of problem to address.

Create a master revision file: A master file with a summary and list of what you want to revise can provide a nice, step-by-step guide to follow—and a checklist to cross off when that aspect is done.

Print everything out: Hard copies could be a better option for those who prefer to edit from paper.

Use index cards: A popular organization method is to write out what needs to be done per scene on a index card, referencing page numbers or chapters. Put everything on one card, or use different color cards for different characters or options.

Step Three: Gather Your Thoughts

It’s not uncommon to try to tackle too much too fast, and end up frustrated and feeling like you’re not getting anywhere (or worse—that you’re just ruining the manuscript). Take the time you need to be in the right frame of mind to revise your novel and have fun with it.
There’s often a lot to keep track of during revisions, and a little planning before you dive in can make the entire process go more smoothly.

How do you prep for a revision? Do you prepare or dive in?

Win a 10-Page Critique From Janice Hardy

RYN 2x3To celebrate the release of my newest writing books, I’m going on a three-month blog tour–and each month, one lucky winner will receive a 10-page critique from me.

It’s easy to enter. Simply visit leave a comment and enter the drawing via Rafflecopter. At the end of each month, I’ll randomly choose a winner.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my new book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of The Healing Wars trilogy and the Foundations of Fiction series, including Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft and the upcoming Understanding Show, Don’t Tell (And Really Getting It). She’s also the founder of the writing site, Fiction University.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

*Excerpted from Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft








Posted in Guest Post, Revision and Editing, Uncategorized | 84 Comments

A Short Blog Break

    2942026934_17963107c0_oCourtesy: Marco Paköeningrat @ Creative Commons

Well, August is wrapping up, taking summer and my days of sleeping in, lazing around, and relaxing with it. Boohoo. On the other hand, the kids are going back to school this week, and while I love my kids and the family fun time that summer brings, it is SO time for them to go back to school.

Every year during summer, Ange and I take a blog break. This year, we’ve decided to schedule it at the tail end of things so we can gear up for fall and everything we’ve got going. We have a lot of cool stuff planned for the next six months, both for One Stop and in the book department, and we can’t wait to get started on them. But first, we’re taking a week off to recharge, so we can come back amped up and ready to dive back into writing and work.

So don’t be alarmed by the radio silence. It’s definitely temporary. We’ll be back on September 6th, blowing up your feeds with our regularly scheduled awesomeness ;).

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments