Truth and Fiction: Girl Cliques

My daughter just finished first grade—a year of filled with holiday parties, cutesy art projects, and learning to read. It would’ve been altogether wonderful if it wasn’t for the mean girl. Yes, the 6-year-old mean girl. It wasn’t anything major, just your typical using-guilt-to-manipulate, ruling-the-first-grade-roost-with-a-pink-clad-fist kind of thing. It ended up being a great learning experience for my daughter, as we were able to teach her some valuable life lessons and give her the tools necessary for dealing with not-nice people. But honestly, in the beginning, I was totally at a loss.

Growing up, I didn’t understand girls; girl relationships were complicated with way too much subtext for me to figure out. So I hung out with boys. Boys were straightforward. I didn’t have to play games or curry favor in order to be friends with them. But my daughter’s a social BEAST. She wants to be friends with everyone and play with everyone and my advice to avoid the little Napoleon just didn’t fly with her. Then one of my friends told me about this book she had read. So I checked out Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. And oh boy did I get an education.

This book, to put it simply, is AWESOME. Written by a former educator who has spent most of her life studying teens and their group dynamics, it pulls back the curtain to reveal the intricacies of the typical girl clique: the players and their roles, currency within the group, what motivates them, and a ton of other stuff. This book has been incredibly useful because it’s TRUE; as I’ve looked back over my experiences with other girls, I’ve seen it played out at all different ages and in different groups. When I shared what I’d learned with my neighbor, she said that she’s unfortunately seeing this among the women at the nursing home when she goes to visit her 80-year-old grandmother.

So as the mother of even a six-year-old girl, I’ve found this information to be really helpful.  As someone who would like to relentlessly stamp out bullying, it’s invaluable.  But I’m blogging about it today because of its practical use for writers—because if you’re writing about girls (or even women), the information can come in really handy.

As I say in most of my webinars and workshops, one of our most important jobs as authors is to make readers care about our characters. And one way to do that is to write characters who are believable. If your writing involves girls and the popular girl clique, it’s important to understand the way these groups typically operate, so you can write their dynamics in a way that rings true with readers.

Now, I’m just getting started and I know that some of you are already bristling, so please allow me to disclaim. The information from Wiseman’s book is applied mostly to the popular girl clique, not to every group of girls; girl groups do exist that are healthy and positive. Dynamics within these popular cliques are often (but not always) similar. While I’ll be sharing these commonalities, I understand that every human being is intrinsically different and not all girls fit this mold. But by understanding how the dynamics typically work, we will hopefully be able to 1) write girl groups realistically, according to the way they tend to exist, or 2) turn the cliché on its ear by using the information to write girls in a new and fresh way.

Enough posturing ;). Let’s get to it…

According to Wiseman, most girl cliques have an established social structure, with each person playing a clearly-defined position. Today I’d like to focus on those roles within the popular girl group, and what they typically look like.

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Wiseman’s book was the basis for the movie “Mean Girls”

The Queen Bee 

  • Reigns through a combination of charisma, force, money, looks, and social intelligence
  • Strengthens her power and influence by weakening girls’ relationships with each other
  • Is usually at the center of the group
  • Transfers affections from one girl to another as she deems strategically appropriate
  • Seeks revenge when someone has “wronged” her
  • Uses subversive means to maintain control or subdue a perceived threat
  • Is always in control
  • Can manipulate girls, boys, and even adults to get them to do what she wants

The Sidekick

  • Gains power by being in close proximity to the Queen Bee
  • Is closest to the Queen Bee
  • Unquestioningly backs the Queen Bee
  • Works with the Queen Bee to intimidate and bully other girls to get them back in line
  • Becomes jealous if the Queen Bee warms to other girls
  • Often loses her sense of identity as she adopts the Queen Bee’s attitudes, likes, and dislikes as her own

The Banker

  • Gains power by being the one who always knows what’s going on
  • Is the confidant of the group; can easily get information out of other girls
  • Uses learned information strategically against other girls
  • Causes conflict through the sharing of information

The Messenger

  • Gains power out of her ability to “save” relationships and resolve conflict
  • Delivers information about others, but does so out of a desire to act as mediator
  • Appears to be a peacemaker, as she’s always trying to fix people’s problems
  • Loves to create drama
  • Is always involving herself in other people’s conflicts

The Wannabe

  • Gains power by feeling that she belongs in the group
  • Will do anything to keep her spot in the group
  • Imitates the behavior of the others in the group
  • Is always currying favor from those in a position of power
  • Has no sense of personal identity as she takes on the likes, dislikes, and opinions of the powerful girls in the group

The Torn Bystander

  • Gains power through her silence, which she utilizes so she can stay in the group
  • Often disagrees with how the group treats people but is afraid to act on those beliefs
  • Rationalizes her decisions to not oppose the group
  • Often has to choose between friends in the group
  • Tries to accommodate everyone
  • Toes the line when she’s with the powerful girls but is often a truer version of herself when she’s not with them

The Target

  • Has no power within the group
  • Is at the bottom of the pecking order within the group
  • Is often made fun of or humiliated by the other girls
  • Doesn’t truly feel part of the group
  • Will change herself in an effort to fit in

The Champion

  • Gains power by knowing she’s liked for who she is as a person rather than who she is within the group
  • Belongs to different groups and can move freely between them
  • Is able to take criticism
  • Doesn’t view or treat people as commodities in the social game
  • Stands up to the Queen Bee when she feels it’s necessary
  • Treats people with dignity and respect

So there you have it. In most popular girl cliques, these are the players. Depending on the size of the group, some of these can be missing, or numerous roles may be combined and taken on by one member. What’s interesting is that while most parents would say that their daughter is The Champion of her group, most parents would be fooling themselves. But the fact is that every girl can have champion moments; it’s these moments of growth that give girls the strength and confidence to rise above their roles, move out of these relationships—which are sometimes abusive—and become better versions of themselves. In books, it’s these champion moments that provide important crossroads scenarios that can propel our heroes along their character arcs and help them become happier and healthier characters.

So when you’re writing a story where your main character is part of a group like this, consider this information and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which role does my hero play?
  • Is she satisfied or conflicted about the role she plays?
  • At the end of the story, will she be in the same position?
  • At the end of the story, will she be in the same group?
  • What will she gain by changing her role?
  • What will she lose by staying the same?
  • Who is speaking truth into her life? Who is challenging her?
  • What circumstance would make her rise above her role?

Here are some questions to consider if you’re looking to switch things up:

  • How can I make my girl group different?
  • How does the dynamic change if I remove one or more of the players?
  • What new roles can I add?
  • Does any one character play more than one role?
  • What other ways can a girl gain power within the group? What role might emerge out of a desire to gain power in that way?
  • What character could I add that would throw the group into disarray?
  • If the Queen Bee abruptly disappeared, what would happen to the group? Would it fall apart? Would someone new rise to take her place? Would that person come from within or outside of the group?

I hope I’ve given you some helpful information today, or at least some food for thought—either for a writing project or your own personal introspection. If you’re interested in learning more about girl dynamics, do check out Queen Bees and Wannabes. And because I’m just figuring all of this girl stuff out, I’d love to hear any comments, opinions, or girl-group stories that you’d be willing to share.

photo credit: Yoko @ Creative Commons

Posted in Characters, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

Emotional Wound Entry: a Role Model Who Disappoints

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

crimeCharacters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect. 

A ROLE MODEL OR MENTOR WHO DISAPPOINTS

Examples:

  • a pastor’s affair
  • a teacher’s arrest
  • a coach’s abuse of a player
  • a parent charged with propositioning a prostitute
  • a teen or adult sibling caught selling drugs
  • a respected boss being caught embezzling from a business or non-profit
  • a family member discovered scamming seniors out of pension checks
  • a favorite uncle or aunt being accused of child abuse
  • a parent lying about an severe addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.)
  • close family or friends who preach Christian values but are involved in activities not approved by the church
  • a parent or close friend’s infidelity
  • a family member or friend who is on the take (a police officer, a judge, etc.)
  • an athletic cousin who preaches clean living caught doping for a competition
  • a relative’s bad choices leading to public humiliation, dragging the family name through the mud

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • Everyone lies; I can’t trust anyone
  • I am gullible and will believe anything
  • People are all hypocrites
  • I have no one to look up to
  • I cant be an example for others when I’ll fail at it like everyone else
  • If my mentor was weak inside, I must be too
  • If I let people get close they will find out how gullible I am
  • Why try to be a good person when no one else is?
  • Why work hard when the world rewards cheaters?
  • People only want to take advantage of me
  • I need to keep my distance from people so they can’t abuse my trust
  • No one respects me and that’s why they lie
  • Following rules is for chumps
  • At the end of the day, everyone is just out for themselves
  • People pretend to be genuine but they aren’t
  • I need to learn how to take, not give, if I want to make it in this world

Positive Attributes That May Result: analytical, cautious, discreet, ethical, honorable, independent, just, pensive, observant, perceptive, private, proactive, responsible, sensible, wise

Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, antisocial, apathetic, confrontational, defensive, dishonest, evasive, hostile, humorless, hypocritical, impulsive, judgmental, martyr, needy, obsessive, prejudiced, rebellious, resentful, stubborn, suspicious, timid, uncommunicative, vindictive, volatile, withdrawn

Resulting Fears:

  • fear of trusting the wrong person
  • fear of vulnerability or being exposed in some way
  • fear of being taken advantage of
  • fear of failure
  • fear of moral failure (giving into temptation or being weak)
  • fear of authority or government (if this factored into the disillusionment)
  • fear of sharing (ideas, beliefs, convictions) only to have them stolen or used against oneself
  • fear of responsibility (and failing as others have)
  • fear of being viewed as a role model and failing another
  • fear of being dependent on other people
  • fear of being genuine or honest

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • becoming secretive, refusing to share information (especially anything personal)
  • being distrustful with others, always looking for ulterior motives
  • avoiding close friendships or relationships (becoming unsocial)
  • a suspicious nature which makes it difficult to relax around people
  • adopting antisocial behaviors (inciting rebellion, encouraging others to buck the system to expose corruption (if this factored into the original disillusionment)
  • watching what one says to avoid giving true feelings away
  • antagonism and bias toward people who remind one of the person who let one down
  • avoiding a sport or activity tied to the person who caused the disillusionment
  • refusing to plan long term or have “big” goals, especially ones that rely on other people to reach fulfillment
  • cutting a person, organization or group out of one’s life completely (who was involved in the original situation)
  • being unable to forgive people (even for the smallest transgressions)
  • avoiding responsibility or decisions that may cause one to fail others
  • developing high moral standards and condemning others who do not adhere to one’s beliefs

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.

 

Image via bykyst @ Pixabay

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Will Readers Find Your Protagonist Worthy?

integrityThere are many facets of a strong protagonist. And as we juggle the different pieces of characterization with the goal of building someone truly exceptional, one of the biggest jobs is to make sure readers connect to the protagonist, understand his or her goals, and most importantly, find them worth rooting for.

Stating the obvious here, right? Sure. But achieving worthiness is easier said than done. Deeper and more complex than simple likability, worthiness means delivering on meaningful character qualities that will elevate your protagonist in the reader’s eyes.

Any Character Can Be Likeable, But Your Protagonist Must Be Worthy

There are many attractive traits and behaviors that hold universal appeal. Recently I wrote this post discussing how the Love Interest in a romance novel needs to capture not just the heart of the protagonist, but the reader’s also. Why is this so important? Because if an author does their job correctly, readers will want the protagonist to get what they deserve, and in romance, that’s a likeable match…the perfect partner.

The stakes are even higher when it comes to the protagonist, however. To win over the reader we need to stretch past likability and achieve true worthiness. We want readers to believe there’s something compelling and special about our character so they root for him. To do that, not only should the very best bits of a protagonist’s personality shine throughout the story, but something even more meaningful.

Your Hero’s Center: Their Moral Compass

What really resonates with readers is when a character shows deep convictions–a passion for something meaningful. Why is this? Because buried deep within each of us is our moral center, a belief system that influences our every thought, action and choice. And, for characters to be authentic, they too must display a highly tuned set of beliefs that guide their motivations.

While it’s easy to assume that “good” or “worthy” characters must all have a similar moral compass, the truth is that this part of an individual is truly unique. How a person was raised, who and what influenced them, and the positive and negative lessons learned along the way will shape their moral code.  This is true of life, and so should be true in fiction.

In light of this, do you know what represents right and wrong to your hero or heroine? What moral lines will he or she never cross? What moral belief stands above the rest–kindness? Loyalty? Justice? Equality? Something else? Understanding your hero’s moral center is key to knowing which attributes will naturally line up with his beliefs.

Target blank(WHW Target Tool Printable)

Think of your character’s personality like the “bulls eye” target. The innermost circle (the eye) contain positive attributes that go deepest, influencing which other traits will also likely form. In The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Attributes, Becca and I refer to these as Moral Attributes as they are tied directly to the character’s belief system. For example, if kindness is a core belief, it becomes one of the character’s moral attributes, and will help dictate what other attributes form. A kind person may also be perceptive, courteous, unselfish, and tolerant, because these traits are supportive of this central trait and moral belief.

On the other hand, attributes like analytical, flamboyant, and persuasive may not be personality stepping stones. An analytical person studies and weighs, and only then chooses to act (or not). A flamboyant person isn’t afraid to be themselves, even if it means making others slightly uncomfortable. A persuasive person likes to be involved and drive decisions rather than wait to see where a need might form. So in some way, each of these attributes doesn’t quite line up to a person who prizes open giving and goodwill above all else.

Understanding the character’s moral center helps you build a protagonist that sticks to who he is deep down no matter what. To peel back the layers on your character’s morality, think about the person’s backstory and which people and events taught the character something about life and how the world works, in good ways and bad. Here are a few more articles on this important aspect of character building:

Building Authentic Heroes Using Attribute Categories

How Morals and Basic Needs Influence a Character’s Positive Traits

Deepen Conflict By Forcing Your Hero To Embrace The Grey Areas of Morality

Justifying Evil: Understanding Moral Ranges as a Writer

Creating a Moral Villain

image: JohnHail@ Pixabay

Posted in Character Traits, Characters, Empathy, Positive & Negative Thesaurus Guides, Show Don't Tell, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 12 Comments

Emotional Wounds Thesaurus: Suffering From A Learning Disability

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. Please know that it is never our intent to create emotional turmoil. We also recognize that an event that is traumatizing for one person may have only a passing impact on someone else. Emotional wounds affect people differently, so we have tried to include many possible outcomes, to give writers many options to choose from. Above all, please know that we desire to treat these wounds and those who have lived through them with the utmost respect. 

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Examples: Suffering from a learning disability such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia,  slow processing, executive functioning, and visual or auditory processing disorders.

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I’m stupid.
  • I can’t learn.
  • There’s something wrong with me.
  • If I engage at school, everyone will know how dumb I am.
  • If I only focused better/worked harder/practiced more, I’d be able to do X.
  • If people know about my disability they won’t want to be friends with me.
  • It’s pointless for me to even try to excel academically.
  • If I can just get through school, I won’t have to deal with this anymore.
  • If I _____, no one will notice that I can’t do the work. (become the class clown, act like an airhead, turn on the charm, etc.)
  • I should attack others before they attack me.
  • I’m not smart, so I’ll have to gain respect some other way (through looks, popularity, sexuality, sports prowess, excelling at the arts, etc.).

Positive Attributes That May Result: adaptable, cautious, charming, disciplined, empathetic, flirtatious, funny, imaginative, industrious, meticulous, pensive, persistent, private, tolerant

Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, confrontational, cruel, cynical, defensive, dishonest, evasive, hostile, inhibited, insecure, know-it-all, lazy, macho, nervous, oversensitive, rebellious, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, timid, uncommunicative, uncooperative, violent, volatile, withdrawn

Resulting Fears:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of being unable to achieve one’s dreams or goals
  • Fear of being picked on
  • Fear of being called on at school
  • Fear of letting others down
  • Fear of others finding out one’s secret
  • Fear of being labeled
  • Fear of passing one’s disability on to one’s children

Possible Habits That May Emerge: 

  • Avoiding responsibility out of a fear that one will let others down
  • Thinking small; limiting one’s dreams or goals so they will be reachable
  • Thinking negatively about oneself and one’s abilities
  • Withdrawing from others as a way of avoiding ridicule and teasing
  • Bullying others
  • Overcompensating in some way
  • Becoming angry or volatile
  • Engaging in destructive or risky behaviors 
  • Diverting attention from one’s disability (never answering correctly in class to discourage the teacher from calling on oneself)
  • Avoiding those who could help (counselors, teachers, tutors, etc.) out of denial or a desire to keep one’s disability secret
  • Making fun of people with similar disabilities
  • Working super hard in order to succeed
  • Learning to compensate or work around one’s disability (developing one’s memory, utilizing software or other tools, etc.)
  • Becoming an advocate for those with learning disabilities
  • Focusing on one’s strengths rather than one’s weaknesses
  • Excelling in the area of one’s strength
  • Choosing jobs, hobbies, and activities that don’t utilize one’s weakness

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.

photo credit: Kristine Lewis @ Creative Commons

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Critiques for U: June Edition

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CONTEST CLOSED!

Well, it’s time for this month’s Critiques 4 U contest, and usually I have some kind of pithy, witty intro. But I’ve been knee-deep in contracts for the past week, and I’m all out of humor.

Why all the contracts, you ask? Well, they’re in preparation for the awesome NEW SOFTWARE PRODUCT that Angela and I have in the works. You can read more about One Stop For Writers™ here, and if you’re interested in getting all the up-to-date info as we approach our Fall release, you can also sign up for the One Stop newsletter.

But for now…let’s do some critiques!

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

1) your email address

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

3) the intended audience

~ONLY ENTRIES THAT FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS WILL BE CONSIDERED~ 

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!

Photo credit: Pixabay

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

Wound Thesaurus Entry: Childhood Sexual Abuse

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

secretCharacters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect.

PAST CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE (BY A FAMILY MEMBER OR TRUSTED INDIVIDUAL)

Examples:

Sexual behaviors, touching or penetration by:

  • a sibling or cousin
  • a parent or step-parent
  • a parent’s romantic partner (a boyfriend or girlfriend)
  • a close relative (aunt, uncle, grandparent, etc.)
  • a teacher or principal
  • a babysitter
  • a neighbor
  • a friend of the family
  • the parent of a close friend who has access (during sleepovers, etc.)
  • a close friend of one’s siblings
  • a classmate or peer
  • a known adult who has authority (a police officer, priest, counselor, doctor, dentist, a farmhand or household worker, etc.)
  • an adult volunteer associated with the child’s activity or organization (a swim coach, Scout Leader, youth group leader, etc.)

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • My own bad decisions/choices/behavior caused my abuse to happen
  • I deserved it because I am worthless/a bad person
  • I am not safe; even those closest to me cannot protect me
  • Love is a lie
  • People take advantage of me because I let them
  • When I am friendly or helpful, people hurt me
  • I must have wanted it because I didn’t fight back/say no/etc.
  • I am powerless to change my life for the better
  • I don’t deserve a better life–bad people only deserve bad things
  • If I let someone get close, they will hurt me
  • It is better to be alone than to be betrayed
  • I can’t trust anyone, not even my family
  • I am defective
  • If people know what I am, they will reject me
  • No one could ever love someone as terrible as me
  • Standing out (excelling at something, feeling talented or special, wearing nice clothing, etc.) is an invitation to be hurt

Positive Attributes That May Result: analytical, assertive, brave, decisive, determined, empathetic, independent, introspective, intuitive, knowledgeable, levelheaded, loyal, observant, organized, principled, proactive, proficient, reserved, resourceful, self-reliant, watchful

Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, addictive, anxious, cagey, closemouthed, close-minded, constrained, controlling, cruel, cynical, defiant, explosive, foolhardy, guarded, hostile, hypersensitive, inhibited, insecure, irrational, mistrustful, needy, paranoid, secretive, self-destructive, undependable, violent

Resulting Fears:

  • fear of being alone
  • fear of intimacy and sexual feelings
  • fear of being touched or exposed
  • fear of specific areas or conditions that act as triggers (a bathroom where the abuse took place, the dark, birthday parties or sleepovers, etc.)
  • fear of people, especially those tied to the abuser
  • fear of misjudging a situation or making the wrong decision
  • fear of trusting the wrong person
  • fear that the same thing will happen to someone one loves

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • becoming reclusive, avoiding family or friends
  • mood swings (being quick to anger), experiencing anxiety (panic attacks) and depression as an adult
  • changing one’s manner of dress to cover oneself more completely or feel less noticeable
  • giving up passions, interests or activities that one associates with the abuse
  • worrying about the worst case scenario and adopting pessimistic thinking
  • becoming overprotective or even irrational about the safety of one’s children or loved ones
  • developing an eating disorder or engaging in self-harm (cutting, scratching, etc.)
  • becoming addictive to a substance to cope (alcohol, drugs, etc.)
  • being achievement-driven at work, in relationships, or as a parent to “make up for being unworthy” (misplaced feelings of shame or guilt)
  • being unable to accept compliments (responding with self-deprecation or minimizing one’s role) or experiencing discomfort at praise
  • difficulty with asking for help, accepting gifts, or feeling discomfort when others bestow a kind gesture
  • trust issues, having a difficult time taking someone at their word, reading into situations
  • sexual dysfunctions (hyper sexual activity, risky sex, promiscuity, etc. or the opposite where one is unable to enjoy sex)
  • difficulty being open in a relationship, experiencing anxiety at becoming vulnerable
  • Being uncomfortable with one’s body and it being seen by others (avoiding group change rooms, disrobing in the dark, etc.)
  • Flinching when touched, or avoiding situations where one might be touched
  • Close relationships becoming strained if family members pressure the victim to not talk about it so everyone can move on and forget (resentment and anger)

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.

Image: DGlodowska @ Pixabay

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

3 Quick Tips To Help Readers Connect To Your Hero

There has always been a debate on what is more important–plot or characters. For a long time, I stood on the PLOT side of things, because I thought it was my cool twists and turns that kept readers glued to the page. CHARACTERS, I believed, were just the people populating my world, the ones I did things to in order for the to story work.

And, well…I was wrong.

CompulsionHow do I know? Well, when I think about what makes a great read, characters always pop into my mind first. Barrie Watson and Eight Beaufort from Martina Boone’s novel Compulsion. Karou of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Mat Cauthom of The Wheel of Time. These are all characters that entranced me. I’m guessing you probably feel the same way. If you think about the stories you loved to read, the ones that made you forget to eat or workout or walk the dog…what about them stuck with you after the book was finished? Do you wish you could read more about the same plot, or do you want more time with the characters?

I’m not saying that plot and world building aren’t important, because they are. But it is the characters readers bond with and root for, and this happens because of one very important word: EMPATHY.

When characters are unique yet well-rounded and familiar in some way, we connect with them. We empathize with what they are going through, become tense when trouble hits, and relax when they emerge in one piece. We care about what happens to them because our emotions are engaged.

So how do we build strong characters that command a reader’s attention?

Create Empathy Through Action, Not Circumstance

Some writers try to use hardship as a way to elicit reader empathy, creating characters who are kicked around, impoverished, or have some sort of physical disability or handicap. Stories with these types of character situations might start out with dead parents, being moved across the country, losing a job or discovering a spouse was cheating. Going this route can be dicey though, and feel like an overused plot device if the author isn’t careful. Readers might have sympathy for what the character is dealing with, but they can also grow bored or impatient because they have seen this scenario before.

What pulls a reader in and makes them care is when they see how the character acts despite their hardship. The actions that one takes regardless of bad circumstances is what is compelling. If a character is a frazzled mess after discovering his spouse has packed up and left him a Dear John note on his nightstand, and yet he manages to shove hurt aside because he has a shift at the Teen Distress Call Center, that makes us care. His actions, his strength…this is why we are drawn in, and whatever his goal is, readers will now have an easier time rooting for him to succeed.

Understand What Came Before

plot or characterThe character’s life did not begin on page one, so we need to spend some time thinking about their past. What events and traumas shaped them? What happened to them that left them feeling utterly helpless and weak? Who let them down in life, and who built them up? What marked them, and wounded them? How do these past events now influence their personality and behavior?

We all try to avoid the hurts of the past, and to keep bad things from repeating. Thinking about who and what hurt your character will help you understand how they behave now to emotionally protect themselves. Don’t be afraid to show their vulnerabilities. We all feel vulnerable at times, even though we try to mask this feeling. Readers will connect to the rawness of a character feeling exposed.

Give Them Flaws, Self-Doubt & Let Them Make Mistakes

People are unique, and characters must be as well, but that doesn’t mean they should be completely foreign to the reader. One way to create commonality is through flaws. As people, we are all flawed and expect to see faults in others. If a character is too perfect and too confident, they won’t feel real. Showing a hero’s shortcomings makes them authentic and rounded. Readers will empathize when they see a character overreact and make a mistake as a result of flawed thinking. It is a reminder of their own imperfections, and they know just how painful it can be when saying or doing something stupid creates a big mess to clean up.

YOUR TURN!

How do you create complex heroes worth rooting for? What ways do you help them to stand out to readers? Tell me in the comments!

Image 2: PublicDomainPictures @ Pixabay
A version of this post first appeared here.

Posted in Character Flaws, Character Wound, Characters, Emotion, Empathy, Show Don't Tell, Writing Lessons | 14 Comments

Emotional Wounds Thesaurus: A House Fire

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

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HOUSE FIRE

Examples: One’s home and belongings being destroyed due to

  • faulty wiring
  • a lightning strike
  • a grease fire in the kitchen
  • unattended food on the stove
  • space heaters
  • a dirty chimney
  • careless smokers
  • a child playing with matches
  • flammable liquids
  • frayed Christmas tree lights
  • arson
  • forest fires or wildfires

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I can’t be trusted with anything important. (If the character blames himself)
  • I can’t trust the important things to anyone but me. (If someone else is to blame)
  • Don’t get too attached to anyone or anything, because they can disappear at any time.
  • I can’t ever be truly safe.
  • If I stay in one place long enough, something bad will inevitably happen.
  • Through meticulous planning, I can keep something like this from happening again.
  • I must cling tightly to my loved ones to keep them safe.

Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, cautious, grateful, meticulous, nurturing, simple, thrifty

Negative Traits That May Result: apathetic, callous, fussy, humorless, morbid, needy, obsessive, pessimistic, possessive, stingy, ungrateful, withdrawn, worrywart

Resulting Fears:

  • Fear of fire
  • Fear of losing one’s material things
  • Fear of losing irreplaceable heirlooms or sentimental items
  • Fear of making (another) huge mistake that has serious consequences
  • Fear of being responsible for the death of a loved one

Possible Habits That May Emerge: 

  • Obsessively checking one’s new residence for anything that could cause another fire to start
  • Moving often, so as not to become attached to any dwelling place
  • Renting rather than owning
  • Becoming stingy with one’s money; not purchasing unnecessary items as a way of not becoming attached to them
  • Becoming disdainful of materialism
  • Hoarding material items (out of a fear of losing them)
  • Avoiding duties that makes one responsible for the lives of others (if the fire was one’s fault)
  • Following instead of leading
  • Micromanaging others (if the fault was someone else’s)
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Clutching onto loved ones, out of a fear of losing them

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.

photo credit: Kiwi NZ at Creative Commons

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

One Stop For Writers: Your Ultimate Online Library

booksoldThis post has been waiting to be written for some time, and I must admit that as I finally type it out, I’m twitchy-nervous. Why? Because whenever we push ourselves out of our comfort zone to try something new, it is both scary and exhilarating. In our minds we imagine how wonderful it will turn out, but among these exciting flashes also churns our deepest worries and fears: Can I do this? Am I ready? Should I just stick to what is known, the path that works?

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000046_00058]A few years ago, Becca and I were in this very same place. We had completed The Emotion Thesaurus, an unusual little resource very different from all other writing books available. Self-publishing still carried stigma, and we were about to put ourselves out there as authorities in an area dominated by traditionally published bestselling authors, highly educated editors, and world-renowned agents. Hitting publish took a lot of courage (and perhaps a dash of insanity), but we took the leap.

And I am so proud of us that we did.

So here we are again with the desire to innovate, to try and build something that will really help writers create wonderful, rich stories and characters, and save them time doing it. Becca and I, along with one of the brilliant developers of Scrivener, are creating something called One Stop For Writers™. This software brings together everything we have worked on, and everything we plan for the future, all in what we hope you will agree is a one-stop library experience unlike any other.

typewriterWe are still months away from release, but we are building an email list so that we can share our progress, update our audience on some of the offerings, announce when beta testing positions come available and so much more. If this new Writers Helping Writers project sounds like something you are interested in following, we hope you’ll sign up for the occasional update.

Regardless, we are so happy you have taken this journey with us. Becca and I hope we can continue to help you succeed through content we provide here, in our books, and at One Stop For Writers.

Image 1: Jarmoluk @Pixabay
Image 3: mikilnarayani at Pixabay

Posted in One Stop For Writers, Uncategorized | 13 Comments

Emotional Wounds Entry: Victimization via Identity Theft

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

VICTIMIZATION VIA IDENTITY THEFT

ANONYMOUS

Examples:

  • having to fight a charge on one’s record because a criminal identified himself as the character using false documents upon arrest
  • having one’s passport stolen or duplicated and used to bring a criminal or immigrant into the country illegally
  • having one’s bank account or investments drained by someone with false documents posing as the character
  • accruing credit card or other debts as a result of another using illegally obtained personal identity documents and numbers
  • being harassed by creditors, police or criminals because another person has assumed one’s identity
  • cyber theft of one’s online social accounts or doppelganger accounts created in one’s name to engage in cyber bullying or to ruin one’s reputation
  • having another obtain medical care using the character’s identity, racking up medical bills and affecting one’s ability to obtain insurance
  • having a friend or family member pose as oneself and then do something that leaves a lasting stain one one’s reputation
  • having one’s fingerprints or DNA obtained without consent and then used to implicate one in a crime
  • having one’s image stolen, photo-shopped into pictures and videos, and then shared online in a revenge attack to ruin one’s reputation
  • having one’s personal information (phone number, home address, email and social media links) paired with a fake account on an unsavoury sex, violence or predator site to invite harassment as a means of targeted bullying or revenge
  • having another hack one’s email or other personal communication to send out harmful emails, criminal threats or to pass on damaging/illegal information with the intent of  all activity being traced to the character as a scapegoat

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, esteem and recognition

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I can’t trust anyone but myself
  • I was targeted because I am weak
  • Trying to make a better life is useless because someone will just take it away from me
  • Control is an illusion; what I have can be taken from me at any time
  • People don’t respect me because I am not worthy of it

Positive Attributes That May Result: aware, cautious, conservative, discreet, scrupulous, structured, watchful

Negative Traits That May Result: biased, cagey, close-mouthed, controlling, cynical, deceptive, guarded, hostile, insecure, obsessive, paranoid, unsociable, secretive

Resulting Fears:

  • fear of being used or exploited
  • fear of losing everything one has built
  • fear of financial ruin
  • fear of making a mistake and misplacing one’s trust in the wrong person

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • avoiding technology and information-gathering processes
  • stashing money in hiding places rather than risking it to the bank
  • obsessively changing one’s passwords, bank accounts and switching credit cards
  • refusing to share personal information
  • shutting down social media accounts
  • over-reacting when friends or co-workers ask too many personal questions
  • mistrust and paranoia, leading one to question the motivations of others
  • always paying in cash
  • avoiding close relationships (if the identity theft was personal & hate-motivated)

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus.

 

Image: Pixabay: Niekervlaan

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments