Vulnerability: The Key to Compelling Romantic Relationships

loveThe connection between two characters is one of the most magnetic forces in storytelling, especially in romance novels.

Whether they welcome the relationship, fight it, or fall somewhere in between, emotional friction creates an energy that leaves readers anxious to see what will happen next.

Building a compelling romance is not easy, and to make the pairing realistic, a writer must know each character down to their bones, including any past hurts experienced at the hands of others. Pain is a necessary component of any fictional romance. Pain? I know, it sounds crazy. Here’s why.

1) Romance isn’t simple.

You can’t throw two people together and expect pheromones and sex drive do all the work. Readers have expectations that a rocky road lies ahead, because obstacles, suffering and hardship are what makes a romance so satisfying. Characters willing to walk through fire to be together convinces readers they belong with one another. Love is powerful, and there is great beauty in the struggle to obtain what the heart wants most.

2) Healthy relationships (especially romantic ones) require vulnerability.

To really dig into this, we need to first look at vulnerability in real life. It’s usually cast in a negative light, used in the context that if we don’t avoid it, bad things will happen. If we don’t lock our doors, we’re vulnerable to thieves. If we don’t protect our personal information, people may steal it. Negative experiences teach us to be wary of appearing vulnerable, so we take care in who we trust and what we share. We dress a certain way, act a certain way, hide our hurts and pretend we are strong.  Characters, to be realistic, should think and act the same way.

But there is another powerful side of vulnerability: acceptance.

When a person accepts themselves, faults and all, they are able to show their true self to others rather than hide it. This openness, this sharing of one’s innermost feelings and beliefs, is the foundation of all meaningful relationships. Being genuine and honest allows a person to connect with another on a deep level. In romances, characters who are willing to be vulnerable and put their true feelings out there open the gateway to love and intimacy. Without vulnerability, a romantic relationship reads false.

So where does the pain come in?

Being vulnerable is not easy, especially for characters who have been hurt by those they once loved. A character’s past is often a quagmire of painful events making it difficult to let down one’s guard and trust.

For example, if our protagonist was manipulated by an abusive ex-husband, her painful experience with him becomes a wound she can’t forget. She will harden herself, maybe push people away, using emotional armor to keep from being hurt. But this also blocks any new trusting relationships from forming, something she may deeply want. Even when she finds a man to love, it is a difficult process to strip oneself of that armor and be vulnerable enough to forge a strong relationship, risking hurt once more. The character’s desire for the relationship must outweigh her fear of being hurt.

As writers, the need for vulnerability creates a giant obstacle. Why? Because it is our business to create characters who are broken, jaded or struggling in some way. Yet somehow we must show them it’s okay to trust. We must find a way to give them the strength they need to let go of their fears of being hurt and open themselves up to another. The question is, how do we do that?

1) Hone in on the desire for “something more.”

A common need we all have as people (and therefore all characters should have it as well) is the desire for growth and fulfillment. Fears hold a character back and leave them feeling unfulfilled, affecting their happiness. They must realize this, and yearn for something to change. This is the first step.

For example, if your character is having a hard time with trust and openness, have her look within and see the dissatisfaction she feels at not having close relationships, or people to hang out with, trade gossip or confide in. This realization will lead her to probe for what she truly wants (genuine friendship and connection) and create the desire within her to obtain it.

2) Create positive experiences for vulnerability.

There are many times when opening up and being genuine pays off. It feels good to tell someone a secret fear only to find out they understand because they fear it too. Or asking for help and then getting it. Even when we share a problem, we feel the weight of it lift because it’s no longer ours alone. Experiencing love, intimacy, trust, and friendship are all positive experiences that can build a person up, encouraging them to be more open and vulnerable with others.

3) Showing how the past has affected your character but having them see how negativity is holding them back so they can take an important step forward.

In the example above of the woman seeking friendship and connection, it will take time to learn how to trust and feel comfortable sharing details about herself, but if the desire for change is strong enough, it can be achieved.

The path to vulnerability is often the meat of a romance, so it’s important to get a good grasp on it as it plays into the obstacles, hardship and struggles that must be overcome to end with a deep, loving connection.

Image: PublicDomainPictures @ Pixabay

 Would you like a bit more help with romantic relationships? Try my post over at Romance University today: You Wrote a Killer Love Story…But Did You Romance The Reader?

Posted in Character Flaws, Character Wound, Characters, Emotion, Empathy, Fear, Show Don't Tell, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 10 Comments

Character Talents and Skills: Regeneration

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

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


Description: the ability to restore one’s physical condition to an optimal state, healing wounds and bodily damage at a cellular level.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: to achieve this ability, one would require an evolved level of mental control so that the healing progress could be triggered at will. Superior genes and intelligence would both be needed to direct the allocation of energy, ensuring that if necessary, calorie intake, stored fat and even muscle tissue could be refocused to repair tissue or organ damage. Being able to consume large quantities of high energy foods without getting sick and learning to sleep at will would both heighten one’s ability to regenerate and recover as needed.

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: focus, intelligence, determination, adaptability, gluttony, conservative, self-controlled

Required Resources and Training: While a large part of regeneration would have to be genetically imparted (unless it came about through taking a drug or some kind of nano technology), a great deal of concentration and study would be required to learn how to harness and focus healing, especially during times of high stress. Meditation and having a mentor who can lead one through exercises to boost one’s mental prowess would help one master this skill. Additionally, a deep understanding of the body, organ placement and how everything works in concert would be necessary to perform regeneration without over extending oneself and depleting energy stores beyond recovery. As well, a person with regenerative skills would have to have constant access to an energy source (food, sleep, a drug, etc.) to power one’s ability to regenerate.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • in battle, warriors could fight longer and harder, and not be slowed by injuries
  • people with this skill could fight off infections and disease, even if there was no known cure
  • those with this skill could work in hazardous environments that could kill a person normally (radiation leaks, sub zero temperatures, etc.)
  • If one suffered a major trauma in an accident (such as losing limb) regrowth would be possible

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

Photo: erikawittlieb @ pixabay

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

A Book Marketing Truth Few Experts Will Admit

Book marketing is tough, especially when it comes to self-publishing. The good news is there is no shortage of experts, books and websites out there to advise authors on how to market. The bad news is that while some offer content brimming with strong, helpful advice, others impart ‘wisdom’ that belongs in a primer on what NOT to do. It takes time and the willingness to work hard to sort good ideas from bad and come up with a plan that is best for you.

But here’s a cold, unpopular truth about book marketing: you can do everything experts say to do, and still feel you are not getting a good ROI (Return on Investment).

There are a number of reasons for this. Here are some of the biggies:

Unrealistic expectations.

bookstoreIt’s human nature to look around and compare one’s book to that of a similar one and weigh the success of each, but the reality is this is an unfair comparison. Every book is different, so how readers connect with the characters and story of each will also vary. And readers aside, each author will have a unique platform and marketing focus. So while outwardly two books rest in the same apple cart, they might not belong together, and authors should not expect them to perform the same.

(image: Geralt @ pixabay)

Industry and market shifts.

amazonNot only do readers’ tastes change as trends reach a saturation point (people grow tired of reading about X so change to Y), so does the online retail market. Going exclusive with Amazon used to be a golden ticket, but now? Not so much. Same thing with the power of free. In the early days, free was the fast track to downloads, exposure and shooting up Amazon lists. But technology is fickle. Algorithms shift. Subscription services enter the picture. And BAM, just like that, the playing field changes…what used to work no longer does, or the value of marketing a certain way lessens. So depending on when you release a book and what is happening in the online marketplace at that time can affect your ability to reach those big sale goals.

(image: Roadrunner @ pixabay)


Anyone who says luck has had nothing to do with their success is either lying or naive. Luck is ALWAYS a factor – the right book, the right time, the author connecting with the right influencers to help boost their reach, and finally, being discovered by readers who will become super fans…this all requires an element of luck. Sometimes, people just can’t catch a break. But, that said, authors make their own luck by putting themselves out there. If you want to hear a knock at the door, you have to be close by.

Playing the game, but not getting why.

social mediaI know many writers who “do everything right” by pricing appropriately, paying for a professional cover, designing a website, blogging, getting on social media, running visibility events, book signings, speaking engagements…and they still don’t feel it’s working. A person can do every strategic thing right and still fail if they don’t understand and respect that their number one goal should be to connect genuinely with readers. Readers aren’t dollar signs, or Facebook likes, or book reviews…they’re people. It means treating them like people, caring about them like people, and enjoying that relationship without strings. It is about providing them with value when we can, and entertainment, a listening ear or whatever else is within our ability to give.

Being on social media is not the same as “getting” social media. Tweeting and blogging and posting to Facebook in ways that are only strategic, not social, means one is not using the platform as it is meant to be used. And if you don’t come across as genuine and interested, if it feels like a job to tweet and share…people sense it. They will (maybe) friend you and (maybe) retweet because it is the polite thing to do, but the depth of the relationship will only ever go so far. They won’t really care about what’s happening with you. That level of connection won’t be there.

(image: Nominalize @ pixabay)

Marketing to the wrong audience, or focusing on only a niche.

AudienceIf you are marketing your heart out trying to connect with people who love and need hammers by hanging out with golf enthusiasts, your efforts won’t yield much. Understanding who your exact audience is and what they need and want is key to improving your chances for success when it comes to finding readers. Think beyond genre. And in the same wheelhouse, if you are targeting the right audience, don’t focus on too small a group. A typical way authors do this is by concentrating marketing on other authors who write in the same genre. Yes, writers are readers, but at best, this is settling for a tiny slice of pie when the whole pie is available. At worst, you are damaging relationships with your fellow writers who may feel put off when you promote at them.

(image: openclips @ Pixabay)

A sub par book.

Simply stated, a lot of books are published that aren’t at the caliber they need to be to do well. Learning strong writing craft takes a lot of time and dedication. Some writers understand this and by applying savvy marketing to their quality book, they knock it out of the park. But with the ease of self-publishing comes a subset of writers who are hoping a quick upload to Amazon is their shortcut to success. Or they think quantity wins out over quality, and seek to get out as much product as possible to have a larger revenue funnel. But, if one is more focused on quantity than making each book better than the last, the saturated market offers a sobering reality: unless there is something special about a book, it generally doesn’t gain a foothold that lasts. There are just too many other good books to read.

 So, does this mean we should all give up? That the cards are stacked against us? Not at all!

I’m no expert and have plenty to still learn. But I’ve picked up a thing or two, so here’s a few sound bites:

senses 1) Write a book so good it fills you with pride. Never stop learning your craft. Always strive to do better with each new book.

2) Be genuine. Talk to people, start conversations. Build relationships and be present. This takes time and energy, but it’s worth it.

3) Only do what feels right via social networks. If you hate twitter, don’t use it. Remember to be social. Provide value in some way and be part of the community.

(image: john hain @ pixabay)

4) Figure out who your audience is, and find them online. Don’t just focus on other writers…unless that is your exact audience.

5) Learn to love what you do…not just the writing part, but the connecting with people part. Yes, even you introverts! The more you do it, the easier it gets, I promise. And when you connect with people, you find friends, supporters, and influencers, making your own luck!

6) Understand your personal strengths and what you have to offer, then offer it the best you can. Are you funny? Let it out. Have a knack for finding interesting content your audience will like? Share it! Be yourself, and be awesome.

7) Talk to other people about marketing. Ask for help. Offer help in return. Collaborate. We’re all in this together.

8) Try new things, take risks. Look at other industries and how they connect with their audiences. Don’t fear mistakes because they are simply opportunities to learn. Not everything will work and that’s okay.

caring9) Make it about your audience, not you. Put yourself in their shoes…shoes that are probably overworked, stressed, underpaid and over-promoted to. Do they need more spaghetti promotion thrown at them? Probably not. So how can you use social media to make a positive difference in their day to day lives? How can you provide content that entertains, supports or adds value? How can you make them feel valued?

(image: PublicDomainPictures @ pixabay)

10) When you give freely, it comes back to you. As self-publishers we have many hats to wear, and only so much time, which is why some authors struggle with the idea of doing something so labor intensive as “building relationships.” But taking the time is well spent, because when you form real connections with people and care about then, they care about you in return, and about your books and your success. Many end up helping in little ways, including telling others about your books. Word of Mouth is the most valuable marketing currency there is.

 Have any tips to share? Please leave them in the comments.

Posted in Marketing, Platform, Promotion, Publishing and Self Publishing, Social Networking, Uncategorized | 64 Comments

Critiques 4 U, February Edition


Courtesy: Dana Lookadoo @ Creative Commons

Well, it’s time for another round of critiques, but I’ve decided to do things a little differently this month. I know that the writing journey is hard and long. We’ve all heard the stories about writers who submitted their stories over and over again, piling up insane rejection amounts before hitting the big time. Authors like…

  • Kathryn Stockett, whose book “The Help” was rejected 60 times.
  • Louie L’Amour, rejected 200 times before he hit the jackpot.
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hanson, who racked up 134 rejections for “Chicken Soup for the Soul”.
  • Beatrix Potter, whose “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” was rejected so many times that she eventually just published it herself. 45 million copies later…

The list honestly could go on and on. Success as a writer depends on persistence as much as it does natural ability and luck. So to honor this important trait, I went back and found our most dedicated Critique 4 U junkies, and I’ll be offering them the first page critique prizes for this month. Nicole Zoltack and Linda Andersen have entered 4 of the 5 contests, so they deserve a shot in the arm. The remaining winner was randomly chosen from those of you who have entered to win 3 times, and that lucky girl is Aften Brook Szymanski.

I hope by this post, you’re encouraged to keep trying. Hard work and persistence really do pay off. Keep at it, and I’ll see you next month! Winners, I’ll be in touch :).

Posted in Critiquing & Critiques | 10 Comments

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Super Strength



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

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

Description: having unusual or extraordinary physical strength

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being physically fit, being flexible

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: adventurous, ambitious, confident, disciplined, competitive

Required Resources and Training: As with most skills, strength is a natural ability that is enhanced with practice and exercise. A strong person who works out, eats well, and takes care of her body will become even stronger. To build upon one’s natural strength, a person might exercise frequently, possibly hiring a personal trainer to maximize one’s fitness efforts. They may also enter competitions and contests to give them something to work toward and spur them on to making the most possible progress.

Associated Stereotypes: Super strength is usually associated with superheroes, but there are real people who are naturally stronger than others and are capable of extraordinary feats of strength. Typically, enhanced strength is portrayed as a male trait, usually among bodybuilders and weightlifters.

Associated Perceptions: When one thinks of an incredibly strong person, the image of a muscle-bound body builder comes to mind. But while many times that can be an accurate representation, strength can also come in smaller packages. Ample evidence exists of other factors that contribute to strength apart from muscle mass (see the Resources for Further Information section). There is also the perception that strong people are strong in every physical way, able to lift, press, squat, throw, and carry extraordinary amounts of weight. To switch things up, consider creating a character who is exceptionally strong in a given area.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • in a strength contest
  • in a fistfight
  • in a catastrophe, when heavy debris must be moved to pave a way or save someone’s life
  • when it’s beneficial to impress someone important
  • to excel in a certain sport in which one’s area of strength is an asset
  • when the mere threat of violence or power is enough to affect change

Resources for Further Information:

Getting Big Vs Getting Strong

What Makes Someone Physically Stronger than Another Person of Equal Size?

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How to Write Vivid Character Descriptions: Be Invisible!

One of the most difficult areas of description is when it comes to showing the appearance of a protagonist, especially when writing in first person POV. We need readers to “see” our protagonist, but how do we deliver description that feels natural and active? Luckily my friend Nola Sarina, Author Extraordinaire, is here with terrific advice on using Voice & Being Invisible to convey details not only about the main character, but the rest of a story’s cast. Please read on!


mirrorMost authors have encountered the advice: “Avoid the dreaded mirror scene!” Why? Because using a mirror to describe your main character is a crutch upon which many authors rely to give their readers a visual snapshot of the characters in a book. But giving a snapshot not only interrupts the flow of a scene, it also reminds the reader that an author wanted them to see something. To make an authentic, deeply-connected bond between reader and character, the author must immerse the reader in the character’s voice and stay out of the character’s way.

Image via @Jill111 @ Pixabay

So how do you stay out of the way and give your reader a vivid, visual connection with your characters, without interrupting the flow of the moment?

Physical description of a character only matters if your character has a reason to acknowledge it. Your main character will likely notice the thick, curly red hair of the girl she has a crush on. But will she notice her own straight, faded-red hair and her clothing choice of the day? Not likely, unless it directly applies to the moment. Even then, it must be laced into the scene in a delicate way so the reader does not recognize the author’s desire to show the character’s appearance.

So how can you get visual imagery across without resorting to a mirror or forced-feeling self-observations?

Take a look at this passage, which features a very common, yet disengaging, pattern of physical description:

I tried to keep my cool, tossing my long, faded-red hair over my shoulder as the popular but judgy Sarah raked her critical glare over me. Her freckles wrinkled along the bridge of her nose. Wearing black leather pants and a black tank top, I was a stark contrast to her blingy, Barbie-pink look.

When I am faced with an apprehensive encounter, I don’t often think about the fact that my hair is faded, or red, or long. I just toss my hair. I might try to convey a certain attitude with the motion, but I don’t think about the color or the length until it applies to the moment. I also wouldn’t make clear-cut observations about my antagonist’s popularity (though the reader absolutely needs to know these things) because these observations are largely situational and intuitive. The same is true for my outfit or surroundings. In a situation where I don’t fit in, I’m focused on the reactions of those around me—or my own reaction to their apprehension—not the colors, sizes, or styles.

So while this example isn’t wrong, it interrupts the action of the scene to give your reader a snapshot-view of the characters in the author’s voice before moving forward. It’s a bit like saying, “Look at these characters and then I will show you what they do.” But to seamlessly integrate the description and the action in a continuous flow, the author shouldn’t say anything at all. Rather, the main character says, “Come with me, let’s go!” and flows right into the story without reminding the reader that it was once imagined and written by someone else. The author should be invisible every step of the way.

Don’t use description dumps to give your reader a chance to see the appearance of your character. Instead, give your character a chance to show their appearance to your reader through voice and action.

I tried to keep my cool, tossing my hair over my shoulder. But a long, faded-red strand swung too far around my head and whipped me in the eye, earning a smirk from Sarah as she raked her critical glare over my figure. Her friends, sparkling like Barbie’s closet in pinks and bling, moved in to form a half-circle around me, reeking of popularity and judgement.

“What is this, the Goth Club?” Sarah said, wrinkling her freckled nose at my all-black-and-leather look.

This way, your reader still has a sharp, vivid picture of every character in the scene (including the main character), and sees these things as they happen—as they matter—rather than pausing to study a snapshot of characters in the scene first.

Making sure that your character is the one who tells the story, not you, keeps your author voice out of the way, and allows your readers to immerse completely into the experience of the character. By becoming an invisible author, you encourage your readers and your characters to connect on an intimate, authentic level through the journey they take together.

NolaNola Sarina lives in Southern Alberta, Canada with her husband and three children. Born in Minnesota and raised to appreciate reading and writing of all types from an early age, she found her favorite titles within the genres of dark fantasy, science fiction and romance. She is the author of the dark fantasy romance Vesper series, and also writes paranormal romance and erotica with co-author Emily Faith. Please stalk her on Facebook and Twitter!

VesperGilded Destiny

A woman’s memory returns when she falls in love with the monster who took it from her. 



Jaded Touch

It took three scars to break her, and two men to save her…



Phantom Nights

Release Date TBA

The darkness Samantha’s faced in her life pales in comparison to what she’ll face to save the demon she loves.


Do you try to be an invisible author? What do you struggle with most when it comes to writing character description? Let us know in the comments!

Posted in Characters, Cliches, Description, Experiments, Guest Post, Point of View, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 29 Comments

Character Talents and Skills: Astral Projection

Before we get to today’s entry, two housekeeping items. First, Becca and I are happy to announce that our PDF provider, GUMROAD, has officially put a VAT tax collection system in place, allowing us to once again be able to deliver our PDF books to VAT countries. WOOT!

Secondly, our friend Janice Hardy asked us to give a special shout out to KIDLIT WRITERS, because Springmingle is happening soon. What is Springmingle? An awesome conference event for writers in Decatur, GA.

Springmingle banner graphicCalling all kidlit writers and illustrators: Springmingle ’15 Writers’ and Illustrators’ Conference will take place on March 13-15, 2015. Meet editors and agents from industry-leading agencies and publishing houses—and the friendliest, most supportive colleagues one could ever hope to find. Attendees will find nearly a dozen workshop sessions, including: 101+ Reasons for Rejection, Writing La Vida Loca, and Traditional Picture Books in a Digital Age. Visit their website for a complete listing of workshops: Present by SCBWI/Southern Breeze Region.


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

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

Description: using one’s astral body (a spirit form) to travel in an out-of-body experience to the astral plane. It is believed that astral projection occurs naturally during sleep, where one’s spirit body goes to another plane of existence to have actual experiences that create the basis for our dreams. If one becomes aware of being in a dream state, this is called lucid dreaming. A character experiencing a lucid dream would then be able to direct the dream, shaping what happens consciously. Or, they could push aside thoughts and emotions influencing their specific dream they are in and see the astral plane as it really is.

Astral projection can also happen consciously with relaxation and visualization techniques. Characters with this skill can astrally travel to different locations instantly by visualizing a specific place, meet with other beings in the astral plane, and receive spiritual lessons in the form of symbols to give insight into themselves, the past, or to receive premonitions of future events. The astral body remains tethered to the physical body during all travels until death occurs.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being able to relax easily, concentration that forces distractions to fall away, having a thirst for knowledge, having strong convictions that there is something more and feeling driven to find it, having a strong memory

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: peacefulness, curiosity, focus, wisdom, open-mindedness, spiritual, perceptive, controlled

Required Resources and Training: practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, honing one’s dream recall, learning to find the point just before sleep and balance in that state to slowly and willfully encourage the astral body (soul) to leave the physical body, practicing AP by going somewhere close by and studying an object in detail, and then waking to recheck the object to confirm if the details are exactly as one remembers

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:

There are many who disbelieve in astral projection and instead feel the experiences people have are merely due to vivid dreams. Because science cannot prove that people believing they are having an out of body experience are actually traveling anywhere, many believe the shared experiences of AP (such as flying) is merely “guided imagery” (an experience that happens because the person was told to expect that experience to happen).

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • For communicating in a safe plane beyond the reach of one’s enemies
  • Using AP to travel to dangerous places and assess what is happening, and then to report back
  • to gain a higher understanding of spirituality and what everything means
  • to gain insight into what the future holds so one can act accordingly
  • to visit places too far away to travel to, including other worlds or planes of existence

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

4 Research Hacks for Writing Thrillers

Chances are that if you write for long enough, you’ll find yourself penning a story about a topic or in a genre that you have no firsthand experience with whatsoever. It’s a humbling experience. You feel like a hack, feeling your way through the process, totally unqualified to write the story that’s begging to be told. This, of course, is where research comes in. And that, naturally, is why Rachel Amphlett is here today—a thriller author who, contrary to popular opinion and her own imagination, is neither a crackerjack fire fighter, an international spy, or a four-star general. And yet she writes thrillers. HOW IN THE NAME OF JAMES BOND DOES SHE DO IT???

data-229113_1280One of the most common questions I’m asked as an author is, “How can you write thrillers if you’ve never served in the military/emergency services/spy agencies/etc.?” It’s a fair question. But before I explain my research process, I’d like to share some background about where I get my love of the thriller genre.

Both my parents have a passion for history. When I was growing up, our summer holidays in the UK were either spent visiting castles around Devon, Dorset and Wales, exploring old air traffic control towers on ex-World War II airfields, or visiting military museums. I soaked up the knowledge our parents passed onto us. We were always encouraged to learn more about the places we visited and to let our imaginations run wild.

By my teens, I was soaking up novels by writers like Ken Follett, Dick Francis, Alistair McLean, and Jack Higgins. I love the way these authors maintain a foot in the thriller genre while exploring both historical and international settings—in fact, I’ve always been a bit jealous of their ability to do this so seamlessly.

I enjoy the genre because of the thrill of the chase, the adrenaline rush that keeps you turning the pages well after midnight, and the twist at the end that nearly makes you drop the book in surprise. And it was a fairly effortless step to move from reading thrillers to writing them.

Obviously, you don’t have to be an expert in a particular field to write in a certain genre or about a certain topic. It’s enough to have a passion for it and an active imagination. But you still need to write your story believably and realistically. For that, you’ll have to do some serious research. I’ve developed some tried and true tips along the way, and I’d like to share those today—not only with other thriller writers, but with anyone attempting to write a story that falls outside their scope of experience.

Read the News

This is a good place to start if you don’t have firsthand knowledge of a particular subject, time period, location, or career. Some of the best material can be found by

  • reading the current affairs news sections of reputable national newspapers.
  • exploring the issues that defense agencies face, both globally and at a local level.
  • researching articles on how your character’s career affects both the individual and the family.
  • staying informed about current threats.

Make Contacts

This is where your search engine will come in handy. Great places to start include

  • Museums and Historical Sites. Visit them. Talk to the volunteers, who are often personally involved in some way with your subject of research. Remember to take your camera and either a notebook or voice recorder for taking notes. One of my favourite teenage memories is when I was allowed into the vaults of Bristol Museum in the UK to see artefacts that weren’t displayed to the general public. There’s no harm in asking an archivist if you can do the same. If you can’t visit the museum in person, contact the press office; introduce yourself, tell them what information you’re looking for, and remember to thank them afterwards!
  • History Societies. These enthusiasts can save you hours of research, and if they don’t have firsthand knowledge about your subject, they can often put you in touch with someone who does.
  • Military and Emergency Services Recruitment Pages. Are you looking for information about a specific role in the military? Do you need to know the hierarchy within the Army, Navy, or other branch of your country’s military? Check out the corresponding recruitment page or website—and be prepared to get distracted, because there’s a lot of great information there.
  • Specialist Websites. Organizations such as the FBI or state and federal police agencies have an amazing amount of information on their websites. For example, the FBI website has detailed descriptions about all of its divisions and specialist teams, as well as information on current threats and historical accounts of cases that have been solved.


Now use your contacts to build a panel of experts. Mine now includes a doctor, a surgeon, police officers (from the UK, USA, Australia, and Canada), serving and ex-army personnel, and journalists. Trust me, we have a lot of fun discussing what I can put my protagonists and their enemies through! When building your own panel of experts, be sure to include the following:

  • Friends and family. Do you have friends serving in the military? Family members who have lived or visited the international setting from your story? From my experience, people are happy to share what they know and help you get your facts straight. Sometimes, it really is as simple as asking.
  • Museum Contacts. Who did you speak to on your visit or phone interview? Keep their details and stay in touch. You never know when you’ll remember a question you forgot to ask or need to check your facts.
  • Social Media. Stuck on a question? Give a shout out on Twitter or Facebook. You’ll be amazed at the number and quality of responses you’ll receive.


It’s not enough to bombard your contacts and network with questions. Be prepared to listen, too. Often it’s their anecdotes and examples that create that A-ha moment, and you never know what you might find out by accident. Everyone has a story. Make it your job to listen with respect and soak up that knowledge.

And lastly, remember two old sayings that are very true:

  • There’s no such thing as a stupid question.
  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Best of luck with your research!

Thanks for being here today, Rachel. One of my earliest novels was a historical fiction set in the California gold rush. Since I’d never even been to California, much less panned for gold, there was a lot of research involved. Rachel’s suggestions are good ones, and I’d like to personally emphasize the importance of being bold with your questions. In my research phase, I remember feeling nervous about contacting strangers and peppering them with questions. But everyone I spoke to genuinely liked talking about what they knew, and if I asked something about their particular topic that they didn’t know, they were eager to find the answer. So don’t be afraid to ask those questions.

What about you? Have you ever written in a genre or about a topic that was out of your expertise? If you’ve got any additional research techniques, please share them in the comments.

Rachel Amphlett_web_4322Rachel Amphlett previously worked in the UK publishing industry, played lead guitar in rock bands, and worked with BBC radio before relocating from England to Australia in 2005. After returning to writing, Rachel enjoyed publication success both in Australia and the United Kingdom with her short stories before her first thriller, White Gold, was released in 2011.

Rachel’s Dan Taylor thrillers, White Gold and Under Fire, and her standalone thriller, Before Nightfall, are all Amazon bestsellers. Rachel’s fourth novel, Look Closer, will be available for pre-order in February 2015, with a publication date of late March 2015. A further thriller is scheduled for release in June 2015 while a third Dan Taylor thriller is being written.

You can keep in touch with Rachel via her mailing listFacebook, and Twitter.


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Character Skills & Talents: The Confidant

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

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

Description: Being skilled at getting people to confide in you

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being able to read people well, being a good listener, having a knack for making people feel comfortable and at ease

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: attentive, nurturing, discerning, observant, charming, perceptive, alert, tactful, empathetic, persuasive, devious, manipulative, hypocritical

Required Resources and Training: Being a confidant is more of a natural gift than a trained skill. There are just some people that others feel at ease with; people instinctively trust them and feel comfortable sharing their private feelings. Some confidants humbly acknowledge this skill and use it to help others. Others see a weakness that can be exploited and use their talents to take advantage of those who too easily misplace their trust.

Associated Stereotypes:  grandmothers, aunts, and other maternal types; the quiet member of a girl clique; therapists and psychologists; con-artists; Svengalis and other controlling figures

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • when a character has a secret that needs to be revealed to readers
  • when your character needs information that someone else has
  • when a character needs to bribe or blackmail someone
  • when a character has a Savior complex and wants to help others
  • when a character desperately needs to be needed
  • when the information shared, even out-of-the-blue, offers incite into the main character’s weakness or overall problem

Resources for Further Information:

Getting People to Open Up to You

Why Do We Confide in Complete Strangers?


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

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The Art of Story: When Telling Trumps Showing

Show, Don’t Tell. This is something we say quite a bit at WHW. As most of you know, our thesaurus collections are packed with inspiring ways to help you ‘show’ so you can craft compelling fiction that readers feel they can almost see, hear, taste, smell and touch.

informationBut while showing is key to writing a great story, telling has its place too, and so it’s important to know how to do both well. Becca has written a great 2 part post on Showing vs. Telling HERE and HERE, so I won’t reinvent the wheel. If you like, check them out!

So, back to TELLING. When is it okay to Tell instead of Show?

High Action or Fast Pace

When there’s a lot going on in a scene, like your hero is running pell-mell through the woods to evade an axe-wielding maniac, or you’re neck deep in a scene where a frantic flight attendant is trying to land a plane during a terrorist takeover, then pace is king. Slowing down to describe the soft melody of crickets and scent of pine needles won’t fit with scene A any more than play by play description of a passenger helping by giving CPR to a pilot fits with scene B.

This is not to say high action scenes are all tell, no show, because they aren’t! Only that word economy is important, and doing more with less is key. We maintain the intensity by choosing what is important enough to show, and what can be told.

Fight scenes are an excellent example of this. Describing every blow, dodge, twist, kick and stab in micro movements will cause readers to skim. Instead, we want to only show details that give the fight scope and intensity, and tell the bits that need to be conveyed quickly for readers to keep up and “see” what’s happening. Let’s say there’s a brawl going on between fueding brothers in the kitchen. If our hero Josh grabs a chair and smashes it over Tim’s head, readers really don’t need to know that it is a cheap wooden chair with one wobbly leg, or that Josh was actually aiming for Tim’s left shoulder, but because his brother shifted mid swing, it cracked him on the head instead. These details slow the scene down. Instead show us one swift image that paints the action unfolding: Josh hooking the chair with his boot to drag it close, and then swinging it at Tim’s head. BAM.

Time, Location or POV Leaps

Stories, by nature, often jump around, chopping out the boring stuff between critical scenes. If our main character Betsy went to sleep at the end of one scene and nothing important happens to further the story until she leaves for summer camp the next afternoon, we don’t need details of her waking up, eating breakfast, and the rest of her usual routine until the bus finally shows up at her door. Use narration to summarize the time between going to sleep (all full of nerves over a week at summer camp!) and pick up again when her butt hits the unyielding plastic bus seat the next day.

A single line of transitional telling can help readers skip the boring stuff and anchor them immediately into a new scene. The same goes for shifting the POV (after a scene or chapter break,) or if the story leaves one location for another. If it has no bearing on the plot, readers don’t need to read about a character getting in their car, starting it up, fighting rush our traffic and nearly getting rear ended before they meet someone at the library. If a bit of telling summary like, Jenny drove to the library to meet Amy helps tie those location shifts together better than showing can, do it.

Revisiting a Static Setting

If your story involves the character returning to the same setting repeatedly, you do not need to freshly describe the location each time. Consider a main character who runs a pharmacy checkout. If nothing has changed since the last time she worked a shift, don’t gob up the page with redundant setting description. Instead, focus on the action. (The only time this doesn’t apply is if the setting has changed significantly from the reader’s last visit. If for example, a car has driven through the pharmacy storefront creating a tsunami of pill bottles, condom boxes and maxi pads, then this is something that must be shown.)

High Emotion that Endures

Any scene that is packed with emotion can be a descriptive minefield. Too much showing can cause melodrama to rear its head, but too little and the moment can flat line. Whenever emotional tension goes on for an extended period of time, make it a jagged climb. This means showing readers a range of emotions, not just one, and to mix showing and with tiny (TINY!) bits of telling to give the moment scope and allow readers a chance to catch their breath. If an extended emotional scene is all show, show, show, you run the risk of confusing or overwhelming readers.

Details that Do Not Further the Story

When it comes to description, a scene should have color, but too much and the story canvas becomes a runny technicolor mess. Identify which details matter, and which do not. If something furthers the plot, provides needed characterization or helps the reader feel more deeply part of the scene, then show it as needed. But if a detail is more instructional or better served by telling, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of narrative to explain it so we can then focus on what is really happening.

What other situations can you think of where Telling might be better than showing? Let us know in the comments!


Image: Geralt @ Pixabay

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