Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Blending In

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. 

 

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Courtesy: USAG-Humphreys at Creative Commons

BLENDING IN

Description: Being able to blend in to one’s surroundings, whether it be a socialite party, a corporate event, or a busy street. People with this skill are chameleons who can fit in easily with different groups and look the part even if it’s not really them.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: To succeed in this area, one must have the ability to accurately read people and situations. This skill involves manipulating others to believe that one belongs, so being able to easily lie or deceive is a must. A strong memory is necessary in order to remember what has been told to whom, and quick thinking is a beneficial quality when one must react believably to suspicion or difficult questions.

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: perceptive, observant, bold, alert, charming, discreet, private, hypocritical, manipulative 

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: Spies, assassins, and government agents are often endowed with this skill, along with politicians and socialites who know how to work a room. Most often, this skill is embodied by those who wish to deceive—people with an agenda. But in real life, we often do this without guile simply as a way of fitting in.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • In one of the above career paths where blending in is part of the job description
  • when one needs to infiltrate different people groups in order to gain information
  • when someone is running for her life and needs to remain incognito
  • when it’s necessary to gain access to a person outside of one’s inner circle and win him over
  • in high school
  • when someone has moved to a new area and is trying to fit in and make friends
  • in a culture where one’s political or religious views are in opposition to those in charge and it is necessary to keep one’s beliefs private
  • in a situation where one wants to make a good impression

Resources for Further Information:

20 Tips on Blending in with the Locals

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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Critiques 4 U

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Courtesy: Denise Krebs at CC

I don’t know about you all, but I love to critique. Maybe it’s being able to help others with their trouble spots. Possibly, it’s my mutant writing gene that makes the revision stage my most favoritest part of the process. Maybe it’s my inner four-year-old reveling in the knowledge that I’m not the only one who needs help. Whatever the motivation, I do love to critique, but because of all the stuff I’ve got going on, I don’t get to do a lot of it these days.

But there’s this old saying: necessity is the mother of invention. What does this mean? It means that I’m creating my own opportunity to critique. And you guys are the guinea pigs beneficiaries.

Every month or so, I’ll post a call for first pages. If you’re working on something (no erotica, please) that needs fresh eyes, leave a comment. I’ll randomly draw 3 commenters from the 24-hour period that follows and post the winners in the comment section. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll give you my feedback.

So when, as Disney likes to say, does the magic begin? Well, there’s this other saying: There’s no time like the present. What does this mean? I think that’s fairly obvious. Anyone who’d like a first-page critique, please leave a comment including your name, the working title of your WIP, its genre, and the intended audience. On Wednesday, I’ll announce the winners and we can let the games begin!

Posted in Critiquing & Critiques, Uncategorized | 78 Comments

Character Talents and Skills: Re-purposing

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. 

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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. 

 Re-purposing

Description: the ability to envision new uses for common items, or to alter what one has to fit a specific need.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being good with one’s hands, the ability to imagine how different objects might fit together or work in a different way, thinking beyond the obvious, the drive to find a better, more efficient way of doing things, the desire to avoid wastefulness, a willingness to learn and try new things, being “crafty,” seeing beauty in common things, having a eco-mindset, being mechanically-minded

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: creative, imaginative, thrifty, tenacious, calm, curious, sensible, decisive

Required Resources and Training: collecting useful items at minimal cost, or hanging onto things that can be reinvented to become something else, treating items gently so that they last, researching do-it-yourself projects (sites like Pinterest are a treasure trove of ideas), learning to see the potential in common things, applying oneself to master tools or learn creative techniques, volunteering in order to learn new skills (carpentry, home repair, engineering, mechanics, painting, etc.)

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:

  • That re-purposing is often harder than it looks
  • That just because something is old doesn’t mean it isn’t useful
  • That people who re-purpose are cheap or stingy

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • being able to fix problems or make necessary repairs when one has little resources to work with
  • being able to stretch one’s resources when times are tight
  • succeeding by applying creative thinking to problems that stump linear thinkers
  • being able to show thoughtfulness through creating gifts that are one of a kind and useful
  • creating items that are helpful, stylish or unique and selling them to earn money

Resources for Further Information:

Re-purposing on Pinterest

50 Creative Ways to Repurpose, Reuse and Upcycle Old Things

Green Tips for a Healthy Planet

LifeHacks Discussion Board

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.

 

Image: Alsudiz @ Pixabay

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Kick it up a Notch: Top Tips on Writing a Page-Turning Novel

We all want to write an engaging, page-turning story. But that’s harder said than done, as is proven by the number of times I leave a movie complaining that it was one long bull crap moment. There are tips and tricks to successfully writing a can’t-put-it-down book. Eileen Goudge is here today to share some of them with us…

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Courtesy: Sam Beckwith at CC

If you’ve watched the hit TV show “24”, you know that every day in the life of hero Jack Bauer is a really, really bad day. When he’s not hunting terrorists he’s saving a major city from total annihilation. Is any of it remotely believable? Hell no. But we watch anyway.  Why? Because the action moves at such a rapid clip, we don’t pause to reflect on the gaping plot holes until the credits are rolling.  (Seriously, a middle-aged guy singlehandedly taking out a dozen armed terrorists?)

It’s the same reason authors like Stephen King have legions of fans. King is a master of plot and pacing.  He knows that to create a novel that’s addictive you have to “kick it up a notch,” in the words of chef Emeril Lagasse. King’s current bestseller, Mr. Mercedes, had me at page one. It was off and running when I still had one foot on the ground climbing into the passenger seat. (It contains some Jack Bauer-like heroics, is all I can say without being a spoiler.) Is it the kind of stuff that would ever happen in real life? Doubtful. But who cares? We get enough real life in our own lives, and it’s usually pretty tame compared to a day in the life of Jack Bauer. Whether it’s a novel or filmed entertainment, fantasy or reality-based, we all want the same thing when reading a book:  to be swept away.

So how do you accomplish this when you’re writing a novel? How do you take a low-octane plot and kick it up at notch?

Don’t be afraid to be over the top. Your plot doesn’t have to be in the realm of the probable, just believable enough to keep readers from rolling their eyes in disbelief. The only rule is that it has to make sense in the context of the story so it doesn’t seem out of character.

When I first started out as a writer I made it a practice to keep up with what was selling by reading at least one book by each of the authors whose titles frequently appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. If you want to understand the perennial popularity of a Danielle Steel, check out Palomino. The heroine is not only dumped by her cheating husband, an anchor on the local news channel, she then has the torment of watching him and his now-pregnant girlfriend/co-anchor on TV every day. And that’s just the first chapter. Before she’s paralyzed in an accident.

You may roll your eyes at this plot line, but in the hands of a skilled writer like Steel, it’ll have you turning the pages too fast to think, “Please. Like this would ever happen!”


In my first novel, Garden of Lies, which was a New York Times bestseller, my doctor heroine is faced with an unwanted pregnancy as a first-year intern. She agrees to end the pregnancy only if her doctor boyfriend will perform the abortion. She wants him to know it’s a big deal, not the minor procedure he seems to think it is. In ending a life they’re both scarred for life. And that’s just one of the subplots. The main plot is the classic tale of babies switched at birth with a twist: It’s the mother of one of the babies who consciously makes the switch.

Create high stakes. It’s one thing to have the protagonist lose his job or have the bank foreclose on his house. We read about this sort of thing every day in the news, so it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary; we feel for the person crying on TV because they lost their house and wish him or her well. With fiction, we want the exact opposite: more pain and suffering. If the protagonist is thrown into hot water, we want that water to be scalding.

Take The Firm, for instance—the novel that launched the mega-bestselling John Grisham’s career. The protagonist, Mitch, not only suspects there’s something fishy going on at the law firm that’s just hired him, but he notices the mortality rate among junior partners is unusually high. Soon he’s on the hit list and being chased, not only by the crooks, but by the mob and FBI. Who cares if that’d likely never happen in real life and you wouldn’t survive to tell the tale if it did? It makes for a compulsively readable novel and was made into a film that was a box-office hit.

Make us care before you toss your hero into hot waterThere’s a reason you don’t see a dead body in the opening pages of my newest title, Bones and Roses (Book One of my Cypress Bay mystery series). I wanted readers to first get to know my amateur sleuth Tish—a recovering alcoholic who lost her mom at a young age—so when the corpse does turn up, they’d understand and appreciate the impact it has on her.


In opening scenes, suspense should come from the protagonist himself (or protagonists if it’s a multiple-viewpoint novel). Readers will want to know more about this character, so they’ll keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. If the author fails to create reader sympathy for the protagonist before he or she is put in a tight spot or a tight spot becomes even tighter, the reader won’t care whether or not he or she finds a way out.

Take The Shining, by Stephen King. King foreshadows the horrors to come in an opening scene in which down-on-his-luck protagonist Jack Torrance is interviewing for the job of caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. You care what happens to Jack and his wife and son, and you suspect it’s not going to turn out all hunky-dory when he gets the job.

In short, if you haven’t developed reader sympathy for your protagonist, the sledgehammer blow on which the plot hinges won’t have as much impact.

Keep up the pace. Remember when you were a kid and your big brother would twist your arm behind your back until you cried “uncle”?  There’s no crying uncle in a taut, fast-paced novel. As you build toward the climax, it needs to be fast and furious with no letting up. In Michael Kortya’s masterful suspense novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, a wilderness guide is leading a group of at-risk youths—among them, a kid who witnessed a murder and is being hunted by killers. Throw in a former U.S. marshal who has her own reasons for finding the kid, a forest ranger with a tortured past, the hero’s plucky wife back at the ranch, and a couple of really scary psychopaths, and you have a potent blend that’ll get the reader’s pulse pounding like a triple shot of espresso.

You write romance? Same rule applies as with horror and suspense novels: keep those pages turning with memorable characters and a compelling plot. Will Scarlett find happiness with Rhett?  Will Bridget Jones get over herself and get with Mr. Darcy? These questions keep the plot bubbling and the protagonist stewing to perfect, delicious done-ness.


These are just a few of the basics. For more about how to write a page-turner, I recommend Writing the Blockbuster Novel, an excellent how-to written by my former literary agent and ex-husband, Albert Zuckerman. As someone who’s published a novel of his own and shaped countless others (including those of bestselling author Ken Follett), Al really knows his stuff.

Eileen authorNew York Times’ bestselling novelist Eileen Goudge wrote her first mystery, “Secret of the Mossy Cave,” at the age of eleven. She went on to pen the perennially popular GARDEN OF LIES—which was published in 22 languages around the world—and numerous other women’s fiction titles. BONES AND ROSES is the first book in her Cypress Bay Mysteries series. She lives in New York City with her husband, television film critic and entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon. Online, you can find her at her website.

Posted in Guest Post, Pacing, Writing Craft | 23 Comments

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Reading People

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. 

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Aaron Brinker, Creative Commons

READING PEOPLE

Description: “Reading people” is the ability to size others up quickly and accurately. People with this skill are able to see through misdirection and outright deceit to correctly identify a person’s character or motives in many different situations.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being a good listener, being able to think clearly and in an organized fashion

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: observant, perceptive, extroverted (other-focused), discerning, objective, decisive, focused, sensible, empathetic

Required Resources and Training: While some people are inherently good at reading others, there are some things that can be done to improve one’s discernment in this area.

There’s a kind of science to lying, with certain tells that reveal deceit. Paul Ekman studied this in great detail and shares his findings in his book Telling Lies; studying these tells and the micro expressions that people use when they’re not being truthful can improve one’s ability to identify truth from falsehood in others.

Much of what we know about others, we learn by observation. Anyone who wants to read people better can do so by simply studying them. Paying close attention to people, listening intently to them, and engaging with them will result in a better understanding of people in general and will eventually help us to recognize patterns.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: Con-artists, detectives, gamblers, psychics, and empaths are often portrayed as being able to read others well. While it’s a positive skill to have, it often has a negative connotation, being used by people to manipulate and take advantage of others. The other stereotype is that of the shy and under-valued but highly perceptive sidekick or peripheral character. This person keeps to the background and doesn’t seem to have much purpose until, at a pivotal moment in the story, he/she reveals some great truth about the hero or villain that everyone else has missed.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • when someone with power or influence is not who they appear to be
  • when a dangerous person is about to do something deadly
  • when someone is suicidal and is hiding their desperation
  • when a friend is in an abusive relationship
  • when someone is being conned
  • when a famous or highly regarded person needs to know his true friends from those who would use him
  • when trying to get to the bottom of an argument or long-lasting feud
  • when a police officer is interviewing a subject
  • when a con-artist or criminal is looking for a mark

Resources for Further Information:

18 Tips and Tricks about Reading People

What Every BODY is Saying

Telling Lies

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 | 6 Comments

When Your Writing Routine Goes Poof

I’m an easily distracted person. In order to write productively, I need a private space with no voices, few interruptions, and a view—because, let’s be honest, when you spend a large portion of your writing time staring out the window, you need something nice to look at. And all of this was fairly easy to arrange before my kids were born.

IMG_0236So cute, right? They make life worth living. They also make writing really difficult. For the past six years, I’ve had roughly 2 hours of writing time each day. To maximize that time, I’ve had to stick to a strict routine to keep myself on task. I work in my office, where it’s private, noise is minimized (meaning, the wrestling matches go undetected, but I can hear when they take the turn into a UFC cage match), and the kids can get me if they need me. I light a candle. I start up some instrumental music. With these things in place, it’s easier for me to focus and write.

But something happened last week that shot holes all through my perfect writing routine. My youngest son started school—half-day PreK. But that’s great, you say. Writing will be so much easier now with both kids at school, right?

One would think. But, le sigh, not so much. See, my kids attend different schools that are twenty minutes apart, with vastly different drop-off and pick-up times. In order to maximize my writing and decrease the amount of time spent driving back and forth, I decided it would be best for me to drop my son off, then write at the library that’s around the corner from his school. It wasn’t the perfect solution (obviously, writing at home with all my stuff in its proper place was the perfect solution), but I figured it would work. Unfortunately, those first few days were fairly unproductive. Why? Because the triggers I’d set up to get myself into the writing mood—privacy, music, candle, view—aren’t in great abundance at the library.

Now, I know that some of you don’t struggle with this. I know writers who can write anywhere, any time, no matter what’s going on. If that’s you, I envy you. I resist the urge to poke your dolls with voodoo pins. I wish I was wired that way, but I’m just not. So if you’re one of those types like me, who need structure when writing, what can you do when your routine/schedule/regimen changes, and you can’t  get into the writing groove? Here are some things that are working for me:

1. Keep Trying Ideas until You Find Ones that Work. My initial plan was to write at my son’s school (which is held at a church). But that first day, I learned that there was no Wi-Fi, which I need for Thesaurus writing. Also, my writing space was located right next to the nursery, which was noisy enough, but when the bingo group walked in…time for Plan B. I considered going to a nearby Panera or Chick-fil-A, since they have Wi-Fi, but I knew there would be too many distractions. So my third option was the library. It took me three tries to find a nice private spot there, and then I was on my way.

2. Duplicate as many of your old triggers as you can. There is no pretty view from inside our library, and for some reason, the dictatorial powers-that-be frown upon my open flame candle. *boggle* But I found the privacy piece in the Quiet Reading Room. And I realized that if I bring my earbuds, I can listen to music on my computer while I write. I also always have a drink of some kind while writing, so I’m now smuggling a Snapple into the library. I know. I’m a total hell-raiser. Anyway, when change rears its chaotic head, some of your old triggers just aren’t going to work anymore. But some of them will. Find the ones that do, and make them work for you.

3. Reward Yourself. It’s universal: change sucks. Scrapping an established routine and starting from scratch is hard. One of the things I wasn’t looking forward to was lugging my stuff to the library everyday to work. I knew I would need a good bag to carry my laptop and books back and forth, so I decided to get a nice one. And wouldn’t you know? I got this one for a song at a charity auction.

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Now, I don’t mind carting my stuff around as much. Every time I see this, it makes me happy—not only because I bought a pretty new bag, but because I was able to help this incredible cause at the same time. Maybe you’d like to work at a local coffee shop or café—some place where you could have a yummy snack or drink while working. If you write longhand or need paper for taking notes, treat yourself to an awesome pen or notebook. Figure out what motivates you and give yourself a little writing-related pick-me-up to propel you into your new normal.

4. Maintain Perspective. The writing has to get done. Period. The conditions may not be ideal. You may have to write at a time that isn’t so productive for you (hello, mornings). You might have to squeeze your writing time into smaller chunks than you’d like (hello, children). But, chances are, your old writing routine wasn’t initially ideal, either. Very likely, that routine began because of a change that killed the preceding routine. While change is hard, it can be maneuvered, even conquered. Give yourself some time to adjust, and you’ll soon find yourself hammering out the words and wondering what all the fuss was about.

What about you? What are your must-haves to write productively? If you’re struggling with any part of your routine, feel free to let us know in the comments, and maybe we can brainstorm a solution.

Posted in Time Management, Writing Time | 47 Comments

Character Talent & Skills: Mentalism

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. 

MENTALISM

medium_6918558888Description: having heightened powers of observation and exceptional body language reading skills that allow one to deduce things that others cannot, leaving many to believe some sort of psychic ability is involved.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: because the key to mentalism is the ability to see past deception and facades, appearing good-natured and nonthreatening will encourage others to put their guard down. A background in human psychology gives a mentalist insight into human behavior and motives, which allows them to make judgements about who they are and what they believe in. Armed with this knowledge, they will be able to deduce facts in a way others cannot. Having a way with words will allow the mentalist to ask the right questions to elicit a “tell” that can then be harvested for information. Sharp eyesight will allow them to notice micro-gestures in the split-second that they appear, which acts as breadcrumbs of true emotion. Mentalists are also skilled in mind tricks (the power of suggestion, reverse psychology, leading questions, misdirection, etc.) and utilize them to appear to read minds or somehow access information in a way that seems impossible.

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: observant, focused, alert, intelligent, shrewd, persuasive, crafty, controlled, friendly, unconventional, creative, curious, charismatic, mysterious, charming

Required Resources and Training: understanding human psychology and emotions, having exceptional body language reading skills through exhaustive practice and some working knowledge of hypnosis and/or the power of suggestion will all hep a mentalist hone his craft.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • magicians who use mentalism in conjunction with sleight-of-hand can become very effective at manipulating audiences through illusions
  • police or other law enforcement personnel in the course of interviewing suspects and determining what is truth and what is not
  • those who practice psychological torture, where secrets must be uncovered
  • politicians who must persuade and inspire in order to retain support
  • lawyers during jury selections, and then later at reading the jury during the trial, allowing them to revamp their strategy if needed
  • anyone in a position of leadership or power, where retaining control is difficult and may depend on being able to uncover enemies before they attack (criminal organizations, for example)

Resources for Further Information:

Easy Mentalism Tricks

Psychology Mind Tricks

Mentalism School: Areas of Study

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 credit: Condor.com via photopin cc

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Boost Story Conflict By Exploring The Dark Side of Your Hero’s Best Qualities

 Every hero or heroine needs positive traits to not only make them likable and worthy, but also to see them through the tough times ahead in the story. No journey should ever be smooth, and the bumpier the road, the more the protagonist has to earn that happy (or at least satisfying) ending.

Yet like all things, positive traits have a dark side. Anything, taken to the extreme, will find its opposite, and this is something we encourage writers to explore using our Positive and Negative Trait Thesaurus books. There’s nothing better than the moral crossroads and conflict these extremes can bring into the story.

To see how our good friend & YA author Julie Musil has explored these positive and negative sides of character traits in her new novel, please read on!

Fleuron

Determined. Loyal.

Good character traits, right? Determined writers ultimately reach their goals. And we all appreciate a loyal friend.

 But admirable character traits, when paired with the right story, can turn negative. In a good way.

crossing linesIn my latest YA release, The Summer of Crossing Lines, the main character, Melody, is determined to find her missing brother. She relentlessly follows breadcrumbs of clues. Here’s the rub: those clues, and her determination to follow them, lead her to do unsavory things. She crosses moral lines because her view has become skewed. She goes too far.

The love interest in the story, Drew, is a thief who’s trapped on the wrong side of the law. He’s loyal to his dad and concerned about his safety, which causes Drew to stubbornly carry out crimes he’s not proud of.

With both of these characters, their positive traits lead them down dangerous roads. How can writers move positive character traits into negative territory, while also creating a believable, entertaining story?

 The Set Up

The first step is to set up the positive traits early. Melody stutters, and she’s determined to improve her speech. She’s determined to branch out and join the summer drama program. She’s a determined student.

Drew is a loyal mentor who plays basketball with younger kids. He’s loyal to his dad, who’s fallen on rough times. He’s loyal to the leader of a crime ring, who at one time came to Drew’s rescue.

Once the positive traits are established, we can then manipulate events to turn them negative.

Know Your Ending

Even if you’re not a plotter, you can re-write your beginning to make this work. I knew where Melody and Drew would end up–splayed out on a California freeway after a high speed chase. Once I knew the end game, I was able to establish a series of events that gradually moved them further and further over the line.

The trick here is to muddy the character’s viewpoint, which makes this unhealthy path seem necessary to them. When Melody infiltrates a theft ring, it’s reasonable to her. It’s simply a way to gather information and follow clues. With each crime she commits, she inches closer to her brother. She’s determined to find him, no matter the cost. When Drew commits crimes, he’s doing it out of loyalty. He’d rather break laws than break his word.

 When Positive Traits Collide

These positive-turned-negative traits can bind your characters together. Brainstorm traits using the Positive Trait Thesaurus and Negative Trait Thesaurus. Which traits can your characters have that will bind them together through a crisis? Which traits can you assign your characters that will increase conflict? How can those positive traits turn negative throughout the character arc?

For instance, a generous person might allow others to take advantage of her–she gives too much away and finds herself desperately in need. Or a kind, trusting person may believe what other people tell her–she won’t see the lies and betrayal coming. These positive traits turned negative.

In my story, Melody’s goal is to find her brother. Drew’s goal is to repay an unholy debt. Their goals run parallel to each other, binding them together. Her blind determination and his blind loyalty trap them in a high-risk lifestyle without an escape.

It’s fun to play with character traits, working them against each other. And it’s fun to turn a positive trait into a flaw–especially when it leads the character down a twisted path.

Have your characters’ positive traits ever turned negative? Did you plan it that way, or did it happen by surprise? Any tips you’d like to add? Please share!

Julie MusilJulie Musil writes from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her YA novels The Summer of Crossing Lines and The Boy Who Loved Fire are available now.

The Summer of Crossing Lines:

When her protective older brother disappears, sixteen-year-old Melody infiltrates a theft ring, gathers clues about his secret life, and falls for a handsome pickpocket. At what point does truth justify the crime?

(Click HERE to add this book to your GOODREADS list!)

And for more information, or to stop by and say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook(Seriously, Julie’s pretty dang awesome, so make yourself a new friend!)

 

Posted in Characters, Guest Post, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 29 Comments

Talents and Skills Entry: Swift-footed

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. 

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Courtesy of Dru Bloomfield

Description: Being able to run quickly

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: endurance, being physically fit

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: disciplined, driven, competitive, determined

Required Resources and Training: Undoubtedly, there’s a genetic component to speed (including body mass index, bone structure, and muscle fiber physiology), making some people simply born to run fast. But a training regimen can help the swift of foot by 1)making a fast person faster, and 2)enabling a fast person to stay fast for longer periods of time (adding endurance). As always, one must practice the skill in question in order to improve. Pushing oneself to do more and go farther is also beneficial in maintaining and building upon one’s innate abilities.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: Associated stereotypes include athletes (especially sprinters and distance runners), extremely thin people, superheroes, and men and women of African heritage. Common perceptions of fast people is that they may abuse their bodies in order to maintain their speed, through eating disorders or the use of steroids.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • in a race
  • when a message needs to be taken on foot
  • in an emergency situation when supplies need to be delivered on foot
  • to escape a murderous pursuer or wild animal
  • in many children’s games (duck-duck-goose, tag, etc.)
  • when the car has broken down and one must get to an important meeting
  • to avert danger before it happens (by breaking up an impending fight across the room or rescuing a child from an approaching kidnapper)

Resources for Further Information:

Physical Characteristics of Sprinters and Runners

25 Tips for Running Faster

Add Speed with these Before and After Running Tips

 

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 | 9 Comments

Blurbs that Bore, Blurbs that Blare

I know that everyone has their own method of choosing books. Some go by the cover, others by the back copy. Some people get a good feel for the book by reading the first (or last) page or chapter. For me, it’s all about the book blurb—that two-paragraph snippet on the back cover or the inside of the dust jacket. If I don’t get a good vibe from a book after reading its blurb, back on the shelf it goes.

As an author in charge of writing my own blurbs, this creates a fair amount of anxiety; with the bajillions of books out there vying for our reader’s attention, it’s critical that we nail the book blurb. But how? What do I include? How long should it be? WHAT, IN THE NAME OF CHOCOLATE, MAKES A GOOD BLURB?

Enter Michaelbrent Collings, who’s got some seriously good advice on how to write the awesomest book blurb ever…

There seem to be a lot of misunderstandings about the back cover copy—the “blurbs” that so many writers have to put on the back of their books. 

In Ye Olden Tymes, some person who was paid to do stuff like that—meaning, a fellow who probably looked like a dumpier version of a Mad Men character—would take care of the blurb as part of the deal a writer got when they were published.

Now, with more and more writers turning to self-publishing, and with more and more publishing houses relying on the writers to provide copy, advertising, marketing, and more…it’s likely going to be something the writer does.

And that’s great! Because, well, who understands the story like the person who wrote it?

But it also sucks. Because, well, who less understands how to sell the story than the person who wrote it?

Wait, lemme ‘splain. No. Is too long. Lemme summarize. (And because the summary is this long, you should understand how important this subject is.)

Watching most writers tell others about their books is like watching parents show baby pictures: it’s a passionate, energizing, fascinating process for everyone… except for everyone who isn’t the parent. Sorry, but (and I say this as a parent myself) very few people really care about Tommy’s new tooth, about Lucy’s skinned knee, the nanosecond-by-nanosecond details of Charlie’s first step.

There. I said it. If I’m gone tomorrow it’s because The Angry Parents League finally dragged me away to an underground oubliette filled with binkies and used diapers, there to die in madness induced by never-ending Teletubbies reruns.

Back to my point: we don’t care about the everyday details of other people’s kids. At least, not until we are thoroughly invested in the child. And you don’t get a stranger thoroughly invested in anything by spewing mundane crapola.

So why, if that’s the case, do so many writers try to “suck in” complete strangers with the boring, banal details of their story?

It’s because those writers a) don’t care to be professionals, or b) just don’t understand the purpose of the blurb. I will ignore group a) because, to be honest, they irritate me and I hope they suffer embarrassing diarrhea at a fancy dinner party. No help for them.

As to group b), here is the purpose of the blurb, and this is the only purpose of the blurb. I will put it in big bold letters so’s y’all know I’m serious-like.

The only purpose of the back blurb is to raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book.

That is IT, people. The outside of your book—the cover design, the spine, the lettering, EVERYTHING—is for one purpose: to separate readers from their money. Your blurb is part of that. And its part of the job is (again):

The only purpose of the back blurb is to raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book.

So how do you do that? A few clues. First, leave out the details. No one cares about Eugene’s first skinned knee. Lead with that and it’s a buzzkill at the Christmas party. But if you say, “So, Number Three almost died today,” all conversation STOPS. 

Those who know that “Number Three” is your third kid will think, “Holy crap, died?!”

Those who don’t know what “Number Three” is will think, “Who died?” or “Who’s number three?” or “I thought you could only go up to Number Two!” (this is a Christmas party after all, so some of your people probably aren’t thinking straight at this point).

But everyone’s interested. Because you haven’t given details. You’ve raised questions. If you walked out of the room at this point, you’d get angry phone calls from “concerned” (i.e. ragingly curious) friends and family.

This is a good start for your blurb. Raise that question!

Also implicit in the above are a few other things that good blurbs tend to include: the genre of the piece (romance? Western? sci-fi?), the mood (funny? scary? Melodramatic?), and the HOOK. This last merits a bit of discussion here.

The hook is that gimmick, the setup, that grabs you in just a sentence or two. The core idea that sets it apart from all the others out there. It’s what you’d see on the movie poster—The Shining is about a family trapped in a malevolently haunted hotel, The Hunger Games is about a girl who competes in a battle to the death with other teens, etc. Note this, again, is not the story. Neither description told you who would live, who would die, what their lives were like outside the bare description of a setup. But the setup…interesting!

Look at the following examples.

When Sharlene wakes up after a five-year coma to discover that she has a ring on her finger and a three-year old baby named Kumbaya, she has no memory of how she got the ring or where the baby came from. Doctors assure her that Kumbaya is hers, and their tears assure her that the story behind the little half-Liechtensteinian babe is a heartrending one. But for some reason, no one will speak to her. They will not explain the ring, the baby, or the two million dollars in smuggled African conflict diamonds she also finds in the baby’s bassinet.

Now Sharlene is on a mission. To find the father of the child, to find the owner of the diamonds, and, hopefully, to find the man she somehow knows in her heart that she loves. She will travel across the world, from Australia to France to Indonesia on a globe-trotting trip that will take her everywhere and bring her into contact with people like the deaf-mute man who somehow plays harp music that makes her heart sing. She will travel everywhere…and then return to find that answers, and love, were right at her side all along.

And my thoughts after reading this, of course: HO. LEE. CRAP.

There’s no reason to read the book. Sounds like I’ve just read it, actually. I got the beginning, the middle, and even the end (she’ll find her answers when she comes home, and at this point I’m so sick of reading about it I don’t care anymore).

The saddest part is there’s a good blurb hidden in there. Think of this:

Sharlene wakes from a five-year coma with no memory of her accident. Or how she got the wedding ring that sparkles on her finger, the $2 million in illegal diamonds…or the three-year-old baby that doctors insist is hers.

Now Sharlene is on a mission for answers. Led by clues she finds, led by a need to know. And most of all…led by a feeling that love waits at the end of her journey.

Now I ain’t sayin’ this is art. But it is 1) shorter (which is almost always better on blurbs, since you have maybe ten seconds to grab someone and twenty seconds total if you DO grab them), 2) leads with the “hook,” and 3) SETS UP THE QUESTIONS THAT CAN ONLY BE ANSWERED BY READING THE BOOK (Who gave the ring? Where did the diamonds come from? A three-year-old baby?)

Here’s another blurb. This one from my book Strangers, which has been a top seller on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc.

You wake up in the morning to discover that you have been sealed into your home. The doors are locked, the windows are barred. THERE’S NO WAY OUT.

A madman is playing a deadly game with you and your family. A game with no rules, only consequences. So what do you do? Do you run? Do you hide?

OR DO YOU DIE?

This is 100% about the hook (waking up completely sealed in a family home), and about the QUESTIONS: will the protagonists make it out? Who is the madman behind it? What are the motives? How is such a thing possible to be carried out? And, hopefully, more questions that can only be answered by clicking that little “Purchase” button.

I also did the tricky move of putting the reader “in” the story. Instead of being “A family wakes up” (Strangers is about a family), I said “You wake up,” “you and your family,” “what do you do?” etc. It personalizes the story and makes the moving question even stronger sometimes (though of course this doesn’t always work). For instance:

You wake up from a coma. Five years gone. Illegal diamonds next to you, no memory of them or the sleeping three-year-old that the doctors insist is yours.

The only way to find answers is to follow the clues left by a mysterious man. A man whom you sense will lead you not only to your past, but to your future. Not only to understanding, but to love.

Okay, hopefully you get the point. And, regardless, I’ve blathered enough.

Remember, though (if you remember anything), this single thing. The point of blurbs. The fact that no one cares about your babies…not right away. You have to get them invested in the questions and the big stories before they will be interested in the details. And remember…

The only purpose of the back blurb is to raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book.

Good luck. Go forth and sell your babies.

 

michaelbrentMichaelbrent Collings is a #1 bestselling novelist and screenwriter, one of the top selling horror novelists on Amazon for over two years straight, and has been a bestselling novelist on various ebook lists in over forty countries. His newest novel is This Darkness Light. Join his mailing list to be notified of new releases, sales, and freebies.

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing | 38 Comments