Character Motivation Entry: Escaping a Dangerous Life One Doesn’t Want



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Keep It Fresh: 10 Ways To Show Your Character’s Emotions

Years ago, Becca and I grumbled about how our characters always expressed emotion the same way. My big thing? Frowning. Did my characters EVER know how to frown. They were savage at it. Becca’s characters? Smilers, all of them. SO HAPPY.

Unfortunately, our inability to express emotion in a fresh way was dragging down the quality of our writing. So, in 2012 we published The Emotion Thesaurus, hoping it would help writers get out of this boring rut when it came to expression.

Then we, er…got AMBITIOUS. We decided to make this thesaurus even bigger and create 12 more description thesauruses while we were at it. That’s when One Stop For Writers was born, and the online Emotion Thesaurus located there has 98 entries and nearly 20 “emotion amplifiers” that are often mistaken for emotions. So, lots of help there in the emotions department!

Book or site, our mission is the same: offer brainstorming tools that will trigger an avalanche of fresh description. We provide the ideas and you weave your magic to turn them into story gold.  


But here’s the thing about a tool…it works better when we know how to use it. 

Conveying character emotion is a struggle for many. Today let’s look at 10 different ways to SHOW what a character is feeling. 

 Body Language 

Clearly, no surprise–a huge part of showing emotion is describing how the body reacts to feelings roiling around inside a character. Grief looks different than gratitude, excitement displays differently than dread. Often we focus a bit too much on facial features (eyes narrowing, lips pinching) when we should use the body more as there’s so much more to work with.

how to show emotion, show don't tell, character emotions, character expressionsA hand splayed across the chest, shoulders bowing momentarily before stiffening, shaky fingers reaching up to rub the lip…showing this as a character receives a hard-won accolade as his peers look on will clearly show gratitude. Put yourself in the character’s shoes and imagine the scene. Let yourself feel what they do, then set out to describe it.


Thoughts are an excellent way to show emotion, as long as they adhere to the rules of POV. When swept up by emotion, our thoughts follow certain patterns. Worry has us jumping to conclusions and imagining the worst case scenario. Skepticism has us poking holes, looking for proof that our intuition is right and something’s rotten in the litter box. Scorn goes further, revealing those ugly, judgey-judge thoughts we have about someone else. Flavor your character’s thoughts with emotions and not only will a character’s voice shine, readers will also be drawn right in.

Internal Sensations

Internal sensations are those immediate and uncontrollable reactions we have to emotion and the fight, flight, and freeze instincts. That tight heat of arousal at just the right touch (desire), the spike in heart rate when a streetlight suddenly goes out (fear), a rock that manifests in the gut after noticing a ambulance in the driveway (dread)…these sensations are immediate and forceful. Use them with care when you’re in the character’s POV but do use them. Readers recognize these sensations and have felt them all before. Remember less is more because while powerful, too much sends description into melodrama land.


Individual expression can shown through posture as well. Not only does it paint a better image of the character for readers, it can show what they are feeling. Are they a wall of tenseness, or more fluid, relaxed, easy? Is the chest thrust out (confident) caved (struggling or upset) shielded by crossed arms (closed off, impatient, irritated) or openly (welcoming, caring)? Does the character lean in, or away? Do their feet point toward someone (engaged) or away (escape)?  The body is a road map that we can use to show readers exactly what they are feeling.

Personal Space

Introvert, extrovert, or in between, all characters have a bubble of personal space that allows them to feel safe. This area may widen or narrow, depending on how the character feels. Does he let people into his space or keep them at a distance? Does he enter the space of others? We can see indicators of how he feels by his willingness to engage and be vulnerable (or not).


Dialogue is a great way to show emotion as long as it mimics the real world. People rarely state their feelings directly—they beat around the bush. They don’t say “I’m angry,” instead they rant or vent about the thing pissing them off. What a character says (and what they avoid talking about!) show their inner emotional landscape to readers and other characters.

Vocal Cues

Along with what a character says is how they say it. Are they speaking fast (nerves, rushing, impatience) or slow (careful, thoughtful, tentative)? Does their voice rise in pitch, showing they can’t quite keep a lid on what they are feeling, or go lower, revealing they are in control, or trying to rein themselves in? Do they hesitate, emphasize certain words, fumble around and go on tangents to show their discomfort about a topic, or interrupt themselves to change the direction because they are revealing too much?

Decision-Making & Actions

Okay, my psychology geekiness is showing, but one of the BEST PARTS of emotion is that it constantly messes up a character. Emotions (and their amplifiers) are great at destabilizing decision-making skills. When people act out of fear, or anxiety, defensiveness, or even out of love or desire, they do things differently than they would if they were feeling centered and rational.

Every action has a consequence, and emotion-driven actions can create conflict fallout, which is great for storytelling…and shows what emotions are pushing a character’s buttons.


Every character has empty spaces they carefully maneuver around if we look hard enough. These are danger zones where they might come face to face with an emotion they are uncomfortable experiencing, usually because it is tied to an emotional wound that leaves them jaded and questioning their on self-worth.

Voids can be used to indicate these painful emotions simply by showing things that are out of character, like them ignoring something right in front of them because it makes them feel uncomfortable, or how they steer conversations away from something that nudges painful feelings.  This void can be resistance, like showing them do something the hard way because he’s avoiding the logical choice as it’s chained in negative emotions. Imagine wanting to ask a older brother for help because he’s the expert, but refusing to because he slept with the character’s ex the day after the two separated. Because voids hint at deep emotions and complicated situations they should be treated like the proverbial “smoking gun.” In other words, if you show friction between brothers to the extent that one will go to great lengths to not seek out the other’s help, that emotional sore spot eventually must come to light so the void makes sense.


We’ve all said to a relative, “Of course you can stay with us this weekend!” when they ask. But sometimes, inside, we are a hodge-podge of emotion: we’re swamped at work, the house is a mess, and we have no time to host big dinners and provide the entertainment which goes with family visits. Yet we smile and nod as we speak….except our shoulders sag a little, or we swallow and hesitate before forcefully flooding our voice with enthusiasm. Basically, with contradictions, a character may try to fake it but body language doesn’t lie.

Tip of the iceberg!

There are more ways to show emotion–so many more. I mean, don’t get me started on all the things you can do with emotion and the setting. Good grief, you could write a book on just that. Er, two books, technically. 🙂

Anyway, the big takeaway?

With emotional expression, go beyond what is obvious. Use a variety of techniques, drawing from different description wells.

If you only show emotion through body language, or dialogue, or rely too heavily on the internal thoughts of your POV character, your writing will seem one-dimensional and readers won’t have as memorable of an experience.

Stretch yourself! In each scene, think how some of these might work. Experiment. You might just see your writing jump from good…to great!


Need more help with body language and emotion? We’ve got you covered:

A giant selection of Checklists and Tip Sheets HERE.

Tutorials on showing emotion & utilizing elements of fiction better HERE (to view, register for free).

To access the expanded Emotion Thesaurus at One Stop For Writers (and save money doing it) use the code below: 

1. Register for free.

2. On the My Subscription page under the Account tab, enter this special code:


Into the coupon box and hit “activate.”

3. Select the 1-month plan.

You will get your first month for only $4.50! (That’s 50% off)

It’s like giving up a coffee and investing in your writing instead. But before you spend a dime, stop by and see if One Stop for Writers has the Features and Tools you are looking for.

Happy writing!












Posted in Character Wound, Characters, Conflict, Description, Dialogue, Emotion, Emotion Thesaurus Guide, Experiments, One Stop For Writers, Setting Thesaurus Guides, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 3 Comments

How to Boost Your Self-Editing Superpowers: The Four Perspectives


A vast number of writers are afraid of their own power. They fall prey to listening to what other people think their story should be—writing friends, Twitter pals, critique partners, the English teacher next door, agents they’ve met for a minute, workshop teachers, and even editors and book coaches. In their desperate attempts not to get it wrong, they fail to get it right. They forget how to tune into their own voice and their own vision. The sad result is that they end up writing a book that feels as if it’s been written by committee. It’s flat, stingy of spirit, incapable of stirring the hearts of any reader anywhere ever.

This is, obviously, a really bad result.

In order to combat this tendency, I often tell my clients, “You are the god of your own story!”

I say this when I am reflecting back what I see in their story. I want them to either say, “Yes! That’s what I’m trying to do!” or to vehemently disagree with whatever I am suggesting – to fight for what they know their story should be. I do this to help them tune into their own voice and their own power, because you have to have that kind of authority in order to write a book other people want to read. You have to own your words, and own your right to speak, and own the point you set out to make. You have to become the god of your own story so you can bring to life the world that only exists in your mind.

Sounds like awesome fun, right? And it is! To a point. Because becoming the god of your own story means more than being a supreme creator. As with most things, you can cause big problems by going too far with that role. When I think of what “too far” means for a writer of memoir or fiction, I think of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice – that fabulous Disney clip from Fantasia, where Mickey Mouse steals the powerful hat of the sorcerer, starts wielding the master’s wand with abandon, and brings down a world-threatening flood.

I also think of a writer who loves the process of writing, who thrills to sit and create and spin their magic web, who loves to talk about the joy of what they are doing, but who refuses to step back and assess. They write whatever they want to write (they are the god of their story!), are frequently dazzled by their own output, hold on tight to everything they produce (every word is precious! Every scene is perfect!), and then they get to “the end” and believe the rest of us should roll out a red carpet for what they have made. They are, after all, a story god!

Ah, but not so fast. Because a god doesn’t just have the power of creation. She has the power of observation, as well. She is omniscient and all-knowing. She can walk around her creation and peek at it from all sides and consider all angles, and nip and trim, and add and enhance as she works to make it better. In other words, she has the power to edit.

art is fire plus algebra, revising, editing from different perspectives, the god of your story

Louis Borges said that art is fire plus algebra. Being the god of your story means owning your creative power and tapping into your unconscious and letting your imagination go wild – that’s the fire part of the equation. It’s the part writers are largely really good at. Let’s call the fire the first perspective a writer needs to have about her work.

Perspective #1: You, the god of your own story

You let a vision stick in your mind. You trust in it and you allow yourself to bring it to life on the page to the best of your ability.

Practical Tactics for Perspective #1:

  • Keep telling yourself you are the god of your own story, which is to say, tap into what you want this story to be, what you know will resonate with readers, what you love about it.
  • When the moments of doubt arise – my mom will hate me for writing this, my writing group didn’t love it, that editor said I should turn it into a mystery instead of a romance, vampire stories are hot again, agents only want YA written by women – do what you have to do to recognize the doubt and keep creating despite it.

The algebra part of the creative equation is when you take off your creator’s hat and set it aside and step back and look with logic and discernment and humility at all sides of what you have created, and you work to make it better, one element at a time. Whether you are revising a scene, a chapter, a section, or a whole manuscript, you must set down your pen and spend time assessing from each of the other three perspectives.

writing, editing, revising, author inner voicePerspective #2: You, the person who has lived a long life, who brings a billion experiences to bear on the work, who has opinions and biases and the burden of all kinds of knowledge.

You don’t know how much you know about your story, how much you assume, but you have to try to make this conscious in order to make sure that your reader has a chance in hell of getting what you are trying to do.

I read a fantastic letter to the editor the other day in an etiquette column in Real Simple magazine that illuminates this point perfectly. The letter writer was miffed that someone on her crowded commuter train had taken a picture of her purse with his cellphone and texted it out to someone. She was nervous, suspicious, confused. Forget the question of etiquette for a minute and imagine all the different reasons why someone would take such a picture. These are the options etiquette expert Catherine Newman presented:

  • This is the purse you should snatch when we get off at Grand Central
  • Ugly, amiright?
  • I’m texting you the picture of this woman’s stuff just to drive her crazy
  • This is the gorgeous bag I was telling you about
  • You designed this, right?
  • Hey it’s your same purse!

The point is that if you were writing that scene in a story – “The woman looked up in shock. The man next to her had just taken a picture of her purse and was furiously typing on his phone. She smiled.” – your reader would have NO CLUE what just happened, or why it mattered, or what to make it of it, and I promise you that she will not stick around to find out.

Your job is to TELL US. Yes, please tell us, don’t just show us. If you don’t tell us, you are shutting us out. Show don’t tell means show us the way the story unfolds, show us what it all meant. Let us in.

Here’s how that sentence above could be revised to do that.

“The woman looked up in shock. The man next to her had just taken a picture of her purse and was furiously typing on his phone. She smiled. The first time this had happened she wasn’t sure she could believe it, but this time, there was no doubt: that man had recognized her design. She tried to catch his eye, to say, “I’m the designer,” but he was absorbed in his phone, immune to the reality that in New York, the stranger on the train could be a rising fashion star.

Practical Tactics for Perspective #2:

  • Read your pages, thinking of only of what you know that no one else knows. The whole goal is to show us what you know about your topic or your story.
  • Look for places where you have assumed something or skipped over something or failed to make it visible.
  • Look especially in dialogue, and in scenes where your characters are making a decision or a judgment call or drawing a conclusion (which should be every scene).
  • Look especially at the handling of time. Has an hour gone by? Five? A whole day? A week? A year? The timeline of your story is no doubt solid in your head. Make sure it is solid for the reader, too. You need to ground us in the real movement of time in your story.

reading, your audience, your readers

Perspective #3: The reader, for whom you are crafting an experience.

This reader is busy and anxious and worried. She doesn’t have a lot of time in her day, but she is desperate to connect with another human being in some profound way, which is why she has bought your book in the first place. She wants solace or education or entertainment or escape. Your job is to know what she wants and to make sure you are giving it to her

Practical Tactics for Perspective #3:

  • Know what your reader wants. Know the genre your book belongs in, the bestselling books in that category, the things readers tend to say on Amazon and Goodreads about them, the reasons they fall in love with authors who give it to them, and what, exactly, your book is adding to the conversation. Honor her desire in everything you write.
  • This means axing anything that doesn’t serve your story or your point – and I mean anything that doesn’t add directly to what the reader needs to know right now to make sense of what she is reading, including: A lovely passage about the sunset, a beautiful description of the blue dress the woman on the stage was wearing, a random bit of backstory from someone’s childhood. Be ruthless.
  • No really, be ruthless. Real writers throw out a lot of pages in search of something that feels real and true and alive, not just for them, but for their readers. You have to hold your reader’s perspective in your head – their worries and fears and desires and hopes – so you can give them something of value on every page.

Perspective #4: The characters, who themselves have lived long lives, bring a billion experiences to bear on their life, and who have opinions and biases and the burden of all kinds of knowledge.

If you want your characters to seem like real people to your readers, they, too, will have all of the same burdens of knowledge about their lives that we have about ours. They will believe things about the world very strongly, want things very desperately, be terrified of things at a soul level that are probably the very things that are keeping them from what they desperately want. In other words, characters who seem real to readers feel that way because they are designed that way. The writer has taken the time to give them fully formed interior lives – memories and biases and fears and irrational little worries just like we have.

Practical Tactics for Perspective #4:

  • Read your pages, thinking only of what your characters know and believe and feel about what is happening to them. This is the perspective that will add depth of meaning and emotion to your work. This is what will make it all seem real to your reader.
  • If you don’t know the answer to what your character thinks or believes or wants, stop and figure it out. Sometimes that means going on a walk or paging through Pinterest or reading someone else’s work as you try to understand your character inside and out, past and present. Giving someone a history and motivation and a rich inner life is not work that usually comes quickly, so as you do it, give yourself a break.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell us the answers you find. More writers err on the side of not saying enough than on the side of saying too much.

Here’s how I might add a bit to the sentence above about the woman on the train to add this layer of emotional depth in a revision.

“She pulled up Tad’s number on her phone and for a split second, considered texting him. He was the only person who would understand the intensity of her ambition –  that deep in her bones, she believed she deserved to have this kind of success, not because she was any better than anyone else, but because she had overcome so much more than they had to get there.

She stared at his photo and his name, then quietly turned off her phone and slid it back into her prized purse. What good was success if the only person who would have understood it was no longer alive?”

The four perspectives will give you self-editing super-powers. By intentionally looking at each scene, chapter or an entire manuscript from all four perspectives, you will fix holes in logic, deepen the emotion, and offer your readers an immersive experience that will keep them turning pages.

Do any of this information strike a chord with you? If so, you might want to look into the new course on revision that I’ll be rolling out at You can sign up for the interest list for the course here.

jennie-nash_framedJennie has worked in publishing for more than 30 years. She is the author of four novels, three memoirs, and The Writer’s Guide to Agony and Defeat. An instructor at the UCLA Extension Writing Program for 10 years, she is also the founder and chief creative officer of Author Accelerator, an online program that offers affordable, customized book coaching so you can write your best book. Find out more about Jennie here, visit her blog, discover the resources and coaching available at her Author Accelerator website, and connect online.

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Posted in Editing Tips, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Avoiding Financial Ruin

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

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

save the farm, avoid financial ruin, bankruptcy, foreclosure, crisis

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Avoiding financial ruin

Forms This Might Take:

  • Saving a failing business
  • Saving a business from unethical practices that will cause it to go under if/when the perpetrators’ actions are brought to light
  • Finding a job that will provide financial security
  • Pursuing a degree that will enable one to make more money
  • Paying off a large amount of debt (credit cards, medical bills, student loans, a mortgage, etc.)
  • Seeking to avoid declaring bankruptcy
  • Escaping a blackmailer or extortionist who is bleeding one dry

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): physiological needs

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • In Business
    • Getting a second mortgage on one’s home to cover the costs of the failing business
    • Seeking advice from wise financial counsel
    • Studying successful businesses to see what they’re doing
    • Downsizing at work (cutting or combining positions, lowering wages, etc.)
    • Increase marketing to try and increase revenue
    • Implementing a short-term spending freeze
    • Identifying who or what is causing the problem and requiring that changes be made
    • Negotiating better arrangements with the institutions or people one is losing money to (banks, suppliers, manufacturers, etc.)
    • Streamlining processes to make them more efficient
    • Engaging in illegal activity to make things happen (offering bribes, blackmailing someone, stealing money, extorting a competitor, etc.)
  • Personally
    • Downsizing one’s home
    • Selling extraneous material items
    • Selling valuable collectibles (baseball cards, movie memorabilia, stamps, etc.)
    • Selling luxury items (sports cars, a boat, smart phones, expensive jewelry or furs, etc.)
    • Looking for a windfall (by playing the lottery, gambling, waiting on an aging benefactor to pass away, etc.)
    • Becoming more self-sufficient (growing vegetables rather than buying them, making clothes for one’s family, etc.)
    • Creating a budget and sticking to it
    • Cutting up credit cards
    • Requiring family members to get on board with the new plan
    • Moving to a location that is less expensive
    • Getting rid of one’s car and biking, walking, or using public transportation
    • Adopting a “saving” mentality over a “spending” state-of-mind
    • Getting a second (or third) job
    • Giving up a low-paying or unprofitable job (that might involve one’s passion) for one that makes better money (even if it’s not enjoyable)
    • Finding alternative ways of making money (by selling one’s artwork, taking care of someone’s child after school, etc.)
    • Making education a priority (if one is pursuing a degree to change one’s financial situation)

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Losing employees, partners, or investors because of the fundamental changes to the business that need to be made
  • Having to change the brand, clientele, or image of one’s business in order to save it
  • Having to give up expensive hobbies, pastimes, or activities that one enjoys
  • Growing apart from friends involved in expensive activities that one no longer sees
  • Conflict at home with family members who refuse to see the truth of what’s happening and get on board with the plan
  • Losing esteem in the eyes of others (when they discover one isn’t as affluent as they thought)
  • Giving up a beloved job in pursuit of a better-paying one
  • Loss of freedom as one works multiple jobs to make ends meet
  • Short-term financial hardships that must be accepted in order to make long-term headway
  • Having to give up the luxuries one has become accustomed to

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Bureaucratic red tape that keeps necessary changes from happening
  • A recession or depression that increases the business’s financial problems
  • Competitors who wouldn’t want one’s business to thrive
  • Being unable to get the loans and mortgages that would help one get into a better financial situation
  • A personal setback that makes it difficult for one to work (an accident or medical diagnosis, being fired or having one’s hours cut, a family member needing extra support at home, etc.)
  • One’s ego keeping one from making the smartest financial decisions
  • Family members who don’t want to give up their lavish lifestyle
  • A poor credit score (due to past poor choices) that makes it difficult to get a loan or line of credit

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

Gaining the Trust of Others

Skills specifically tied to one’s job or that could help the character make money (FarmingForagingGardeningMechanically InclinedPromotion, etc.)




A Knack for Making Money



Reading People



Strategic Thinking

Survival Skills

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

  • Plummeting self-esteem
  • Losing one’s home
  • Exhausting one’s savings and being left with nothing
  • Being left by one’s spouse
  • The death of one’s dream (of owning one’s business, having a certain career, etc.)
  • Health problems (hypertension, ulcers, migraines, etc.) due to long-term stress and anxiety
  • Losing one’s moral way; stooping to unethical means in an effort to hold onto what one has without having to make the hard sacrifices
  • Depression

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

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Worldbuilding, Demystified

One Stop For Writers world building tool, worldbuilding, creating new worlds, settingsAs a fantasy writer, one of my absolute favorite parts of the writing process is worldbuilding. I love creating new worlds, cities, and people groups from scratch. I probably either have a God complex or am fighting OCD tendencies, but whatever. It is what it is :). And I know I’m not alone. I’m sure many of you are also fascinated with this process, and still others are curious but daunted by the whole thing. It used to be kind of scary for me, too. This is the main reason we created One Stop For Writers’ Worldbuilding Tool—to simplify the process and make it easier for both avid and newbie worldbuilders. To that end, I’d like to make the whole thing painless and show you how it works.

First: Where Do I Start?

When building a new setting, look at which parts you really need to create. It can be helpful to use the following hierarchy of possible aspects of the world:

A Solar System
Alien Races
The Planet
Realms, Kingdoms, or Countries
Cities, Towns, and Villages
People (citizens of each area)
Groups, Factions, and Organizations
Sacred or Magical Objects

Obviously, all of these aren’t necessary to research for every story; the next step will be to zero in on which ones will play an important part. I typically end up planning the main city or town, the realm it’s a part of (because governing laws and structures will affect the city), the people who live there, and a super brief overview of the planet (since this determines certain considerations like climate and geography). If my character will be traveling, I’ll research each town she visits, along with the people who live there.

Had L. Frank Baum used this hierarchy when building his world, he might have come up with the following for the first book in his The Wizard of Oz series:

Realm: Oz
Cities, Towns, and Villages: Munchkin Country, Quadling Country, the Emerald City
People: Munchkins, Quadlings, Winkies, witches and wizards, the dainty china people
Creatures: winged monkeys
Sacred or Magical Objects: ruby slippers

In this case, none of the other aspects were necessary to research. You can do the same, narrowing down an entire world to only the parts you’ll need to plan.

What Questions Need to Be Answered?

Once you’ve got your short list of aspects, it’s a matter of picking where you want to start. Some like to begin with the largest and work downward, since certain elements of the larger regions will affect smaller areas. Others prefer to start with the aspect that excites them the most.

Once you’ve found a starting point that works best for you, you’ll want to create a survey for that aspect. To do this, log in and go to the Worldbuilding Tool at One Stop and add a new survey.

From the dropdown list of survey types, choose the one you’d like and create a name for it. A list of possible questions will pop up. And this is where the fun begins :).

From here, scroll up and down through the questions (relating, in this case, to a new city or village). Rarely will you need all of them. Just click the ones that are important for your setting, drag them into the Answers field, and fill in your answers. If you decide you don’t want a particular question, you can drag it back to the Questions field.

You can even add your own custom questions and answers.

And that’s literally how simple it is. When you’re done, save it in My Workspace. You can choose to save it to a particular project (related to a book, series, character, etc.) or keep it as a loose survey within your workspace. Adding more questions or changing existing answers can be done any time with a simple edit.

Then, repeat this with any other aspects of your new world that you’d like to explore. If you like hard copies, you can print your surveys—even compiling different ones into a single PDF document.

Building a world from scratch isn’t easy. It takes quite a bit of brainpower, imagination, and filling in the gaps. But with the right tool, the organization part is a non-issue and the process becomes much more intuitive.

Hopefully this how-to sheds some light on One Stop’s answer to worldbuilding. Check out some of our other story planning tools too if you like; registration is free so you can have a poke around. If you choose to subscribe, this worldbuilding tool is just one of the many terrific resources you’ll have access to.

Want to give the Worldbuilding Tool a spin? Let us help!

1. Register for free.

2. On the My Subscription page under the Account tab, enter the code WorldBuilding into the coupon box and hit “activate.”

3. Select the 1-month plan and you will get your first month for the latte price of $4.50. That’s 50% off.

Give up a coffee. Change the writing game forever.

Why not give it a try?

If any of you are currently using this Worldbuilding tool, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you!





Posted in One Stop For Writers, Setting, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

A Question of When: Indicating Time Passage in Our Stories

jami-goldToday, we’re going to discuss a question a WHW reader previously submitted to the Resident Writing Coaches. Nancy C. asked:

“I would like to know more about how to show the passing of time between scenes (other than dates or ‘one week later’ at the beginning of the chapter).”

Great question, Nancy! *smile* Before we get to the answer, let’s first recap why it’s important for our readers to be at least vaguely aware of the time frame of our scenes:

Time—just like location—establishes our story’s setting, which anchors readers in our story.

Without an anchored setting, readers might be distracted from digging into our story, as they struggle to correctly interpret events in their head. And time—especially the passage of it—can be just as important as our beautifully described locations in giving readers that anchor.

Including the passage of time can also make our story more believable. Readers are more likely to give us the benefit of the doubt if they’re not expected to swallow that our characters instantly fall in love, learn new skills, overcome their emotional issues, research how to beat the bad guys, etc.

So how can we indicate the passage of time in our story? Here are a few options beyond listing a date line above our scene or starting with “One week later…”

Option #1: Use Weather of the Seasons

If the previous scene took place during a summer heat wave, readers will understand that time has passed if the next scene mentions the russet colors of falling leaves or a wind-whipped snowstorm.

Freezing sleet drenched her thin jacket and made her long for the warm breezes of last summer.

Option #2: Setup a Wait and Payoff an Event

If the previous scene mentioned that the characters were waiting for something (receiving a message, another character catching up with them, an upcoming holiday, etc.), the next scene can jump to that event.

The medicine arrived in the mail on the promised day, and she grasped the tiny bottle with shaking hands. One more day, and it might have been too late to reverse the infection.

Option #3: Contrast What the Time Passage Could Have Been

Related to Option #2, if our characters and readers are expecting a wait, we can indicate how much time has passed by contrasting the actual amount with the expected amount.

Even though the instructions had said to wait two weeks, impatience got the better of her after ten days, and she dialed the number listed for Receiving Your Laboratory Test Results.

Option #4: Highlight What’s Changed—or Hasn’t Changed

Similar to Option #2 but without an expected wait, a scene can show whether anything has changed from the previous situation.

With every month that passed after the loss of her mother, her friends assumed her grief would lessen, but no amount of time would relieve the ache in her heart.

Option #5: Bring a Character Up to Speed

If a character misses events, another character could catch them up on what they missed.

“Thank goodness you’re finally here. Your father has been asking for you for weeks.”

Option #6: Use a Literary “Montage”

We’re probably all familiar with the “training montage” scene in movies, and even though that’s a visual technique, we can do something similar in our writing by contrasting a before and after.

From one day to the next, her accuracy improved until—after more weeks than she wanted to admit—she could finally hit the bullseye with every shot.

Option #7: “Hand Wave” Away the Time Passage

The opposite of Option #6, we can tell readers that time passed quickly while not much was happening.

At her stomach’s grumble, she glanced at the clock to see which meal she’d forgotten this time. Mealtimes—and days and nights—had passed in a hazy blur lately as she pretended the last message from Headquarters hadn’t changed her life forever.

Caution: Don’t Lose Readers by Skipping Information

While most of the examples above don’t use specific phrases like “three weeks later,” they still vaguely indicate how much time has passed—at least as far as days, weeks, months, or years. A passage of days is very different from that of months, and readers usually need the unit of time for an anchor.

Also, we don’t want readers to feel left out from whatever happened in the interim. As shown in the examples, we can keep readers connected to our story by hinting at how our characters spent the time: activities (training, traveling, researching), their emotional state (grief, impatience, survival mode), etc.

Do you have questions about any of these options, or can you think of other ways to indicate time passage in our stories?

jami-picture-200-x-300_framedAfter muttering writing advice in tongues, Jami decided to put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she creates writing resources and writes award-winning paranormal romance stories where normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Find out more about Jami here, hang out with her on social media, or visit her website and Goodreads profile.
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Posted in Characters, Guest Post, Pacing, Resident Writing Coach, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 18 Comments

Character Motivation Entry: Trying Again When One Has Previously Failed



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Critiques 4 U!

Hi, everyone! Can you believe it’s June? I’m SO looking forward to turning off my alarm clock for two months and soaking up the sun. But there are still 3 weeks of school (for us) to get through in the meantime, so let’s do some critiques, shall we?


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

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

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

Also, please be sure your first page is ready to go so I can critique it before next month’s contest rolls around. If it needs some work and you won’t be able to get it to me right away, I’d like to ask that you plan on entering the next contest, once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of. 🙂


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!

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Let Your Characters Live and Breathe

james-scott-bellIn my collection of writing books is a 1919 title, A Manual of the Art of Fiction, by one Clayton Meeker Hamilton, a professor at Columbia University. It’s a bit academic, but I’ve found some gems in it. Among them is the following. In his chapter on characterization, Hamilton states:

“The careless reader of fiction usually supposes that, since the novelist invents his characters and incidents, he can order them always to suit his own desires: but any honest artist will tell you that his characters often grow intractable and stubbornly refuse at certain points to accept the incidents which he has foreordained for them, and that at other times they take matters into their own hands and run away with the story. Stevenson has recorded this latter experience. He said, apropos of Kidnapped, “In one of my books, and in one only, the characters took the bit in their teeth; all at once, they became detached from the flat paper, they turned their backs on me and walked off bodily; and from that time my task was stenographic––it was they who spoke, it was they who wrote the remainder of the story.”

Has that ever happened to you? I suspect it has. It’s one of the most pleasurable aspects of writing (though a little daunting if you’re a dedicated outliner).

So what should you do when a character starts making a few moves of his own?


As Madeleine L’Engle once put it, “If the book tells me to do something completely unexpected, I heed it; the book is usually right.”

Take a breath and just let the turn of events soak in. When writing No Legal Grounds, about the stalking of a lawyer and his family, I had planned all along for the wife to leave the house and go off to stay with her sister. But when I got to that scene she wouldn’t go. Just wouldn’t do it. I tried to make her, but she told me to go pound sand.

So I walked around my writing desk thinking about it. I listened to her reasons. And it turns out she was right for her. She became a stronger character. Of course, I had to change my plans from that point on, which brings me to:


Whether you are a plotter or a “pantser,” now is the time to jot some free form notes on this new development. Start with a general document on plot possibilities. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What further trouble can happen to this character?
  • What sorts of things has this character unloosed by her independent actions?
  • How have the other character relationships changed?

And so on. Next, add to your character’s voice journal (this is an exercise I follow and recommend in all my workshops. It’s a stream-of-consciousness document in the character’s own voice). Let the character talk to you about what’s going on, and what she might want to do about it.

Plan and Write the Next Two Scenes

Don’t worry about changing your entire outline just yet. Just do the next two scenes. Write them. The act of writing itself is the most important way to let the characters live and breathe. Get a feel for who they are now by writing out the consequences. Then you’ll be in much better shape to write to the end.

So what about you? Do your characters ever take off on you? How do you handle it? (I’m on the road so may not be able to comment much, but please go ahead with the conversation!)



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




Posted in Characters, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Character Motivation Thesaurus: Escaping Homelessness

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

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

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Fleeing One’s Homeland

Forms This Might Take:

One of the most basic human needs is shelter. When an individual or family has no home of their own, their other basic needs become endangered. For this reason, finding a home of one’s own can be a driving force for someone who is homeless.

It should be noted that there are often factors contributing to one’s homelessness that are seemingly insurmountable, making the goal extremely difficult to overcome: addiction, mental illness, physical disabilities, and the need to pay for medications one can’t afford. Some of these factors can cause the person to abandon or sabotage this goal. Please know that this entry outlines some of the ways a person could achieve this motivation while understanding the very difficult, complex circumstances surrounding it.

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): physiological needs

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Finding temporary lodgings (at a shelter, the YMCA, a motel, with a friend, in an abandoned building, etc.)
  • Borrowing money from a friend to secure the things one needs in order to get a job (clothing, shoes, toiletries, etc.)
  • Asking for help at a local church, shelter, or nonprofit organization
  • Finding a way to keep up with one’s hygiene
  • Securing a job
  • Arranging for someone to care for one’s child after school, so one can work
  • Overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction
  • Researching affordable home options
  • Planning a budget that will allow one to save up the money needed to get an apartment
  • Selling any valuable items one might have (a car, jewelry, etc.) to obtain money for a security payment or first month’s rent
  • Stealing money or items from others
  • Obtaining any necessary identification (birth certificate, driver license, etc.)
  • Completing a skills course that will enable one to secure a job
  • Maintaining a positive attitude
  • Facing one’s past so one can move forward

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Facing the pain of things one might have been avoiding (failing, reconnecting with estranged family and friends, the truth about one’s addiction or mental illness, etc.)
  • No longer being on one’s own; having to be responsible for and to others
  • Having to live life according to a more traditional set of rules and expectations
  • Being rejected (by potential employers, landlords, etc.)
  • Getting one’s hopes up only to have them destroyed again
  • Facing prejudice, ambivalence, or scorn due to one’s homeless status
  • Giving up the things one has become accustomed to, even if they’re less than ideal or even harmful
  • Having to depend on others for help (instead of solely on oneself)
  • Having to lie or deceive in order to achieve the goal (by giving a fake address, making up details from the past, etc.)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Self-doubt and fear
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Mental and physical disabilities
  • Lack of an ability to maintain good physical hygiene
  • Being unable to afford the things one needs to achieve the goal (a downpayment on an apartment, working clothes, food, laundry services, transportation, etc.)
  • Negative influences who don’t want one to succeed
  • Shelters and food kitchens that are full to capacity or closing down due to budget cuts
  • An injury or illness that occurs as one is just starting to bounce back

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

Blending In

Gaining the Trust of Others





A Knack for Making Money


Photographic Memory

Reading People


Strategic Thinking

Survival Skills

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

  • Never being able to reconnect with estranged family members
  • Sacrificing one’s moral code as one is forced to do dreadful things to survive
  • Never achieving one’s dreams
  • One’s self-esteem being forever compromised
  • Not being able to trust or connect with others
  • Falling into addiction
  • One’s existing addiction or mental illness spiraling out of control
  • Being arrested for breaking the law in order to survive
  • One’s children never being able to escape the cycle
  • Being attacked or taken advantage of by others
  • A shortened lifespan due to illness and a poor quality of life
  • Death

Clichés to Avoid: the homeless person who fails in his goal but teaches others some meaningful lessons about life along the way

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

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