3 Tricks to Surviving a Public Speaking Event

You know what I find interesting? That statistic claiming that more people are afraid of public speaking than of anything else in the world. I mean, the everyday person would rather be trapped in a cave, touch a spider, or be chased by clowns than address a crowd.

But in today’s market, visibility is huge. Somewhere between 600,000 and 1 million books were self-published last year IN THE US ALONE. For readers to know about our books, we’ve got to get out there and be seen. And that means book signings, school visits, library engagements, speaking at conferences, etc. If the mere thought makes you break out in hives, take a deep breath, because Rachel Amphlett is here to share 3 simple tips for surviving any public speaking event. IT CAN BE DONE, PEOPLE!

Creative Company Conference 2011

Sebastiaan ter Burg @ Creative Commons

Most writers I know, myself included, are quite happy in their own little worlds. We might venture out to go to work, socialize with friends, or do the shopping but we’re never happier than when we’re tucked away daydreaming or scribbling down frantic notes for our current works in progress.

The problem is, when we are required to do public speaking, we’re simply not equipped for it. In fact, we’re terrified. So, how do you go from happy introvert to confident extrovert, even if it’s just for a few minutes?

Prepare Yourself

You’re probably going to be asked to read an excerpt from your latest work. The trick here is to read it out aloud on your own a couple of times during the week leading up to the event.

Talking out loud is a lot different to talking in your head. You’ll spot the words you’re likely to trip over, you’ll discover a whole new meaning to ‘pacing’ and, more importantly, you’ll find the places where you can come up for air.

Yes, remember to breathe – please. We don’t want you passing out from lack of air.

Know Your Audience

The first public talk I ever did with regard to my writing was in a library, on a Saturday morning, to two people. Yes, two.

I was still scared. These lovely ladies had read about my first novel in the local paper and had decided that they’d better come along to see what I had to say for myself.

I quickly realised it would be ridiculous if I insisted on standing and pacing about in front of them, so instead we pulled up a little circle of chairs and I started off by explaining how I decided to write a book. Before I knew it, a whole hour had gone by, two of the library employees had joined us, and they’d all grabbed details of how to download my book (it was only available as an eBook at the time, and the library still supported me, thank goodness), and we’ve exchanged emails since that time.

Sitting down and being at the same level as my audience meant we were a lot more approachable to each other – the gesture broke down any ‘us and them’ barriers that might have otherwise been in place, and led to a much better engagement. And I realized that they weren’t so scary after all.

The key here is to size up your audience and adjust your presentation, if necessary. Are the guests talkative and chatty? Engage them with questions. Are people taking lots of notes? Slow down the tiniest bit to allow them time to write. Reading your audience is hugely helpful in allowing you to tailor your presentation to their needs, which can make for a more successful event.

Take Your Time

For the life of me, I can’t remember where I learnt this trick, but trust me – it works. Whatever the occasion, when it’s your turn to stand up in front of an audience, make them wait.

Not too long, though. By taking your time, I mean walk up to the podium, stage or whatever speaking platform has been set up, and either open the book and run your gaze over the first few sentences, or adjust the microphone. Adjusting the microphone is my favorite trick. Personally, I haven’t got an excuse, because at six foot tall I usually tower over my host anyway, but it’s a fantastic way to prepare for public speaking.

When I was asked to read an excerpt from my first book at an international thriller author’s book launch, I adjusted the microphone, looked up at the audience, and asked if they could hear me okay. A few people at the back called out that they could, and off I went. Those precious few seconds allowed me to:

• Get my breathing under control
• Eyeball my audience
• Engage with my audience, and prepare them (and me!) for the sound of my voice

Hopefully the above tips will help ease your nerves leading up to your moment in the spotlight. If public speaking is something you’d like to develop, there are several groups you can join, Toastmasters being the obvious choice, and one I’ve participated in a couple of times. I found them to be incredibly supportive and attentive listeners and the feedback is invaluable. Often, the hurdle is getting used to your own voice, but once you’ve done that, you’ll be well on your way to being a confident public speaker, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Rachel Amphlett_web_4322Rachel Amphlett previously worked in the UK publishing industry, played lead guitar in rock bands, and worked with BBC radio before relocating from England to Australia in 2005. After returning to writing, Rachel enjoyed publication success both in Australia and the United Kingdom with her short stories, before her first thriller White Gold was released in 2011. Her Dan Taylor thrillers (White Gold and Under Fire) and her latest standalone thriller, Before Nightfall, are all Amazon bestsellers. Currently, two further independent projects are in draft stage, while a third Dan Taylor thriller is being researched. You can keep in touch with Rachel via her mailing listFacebook, and Twitter.

Posted in Guest Post, Promotion, Publishing and Self Publishing, School Visits | 19 Comments

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Whittling

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. 

WHITTLING

5068714787_2c685a966a_b

Andrea Parrish-Geyer @ Creative Commons

Description: To shape a piece of wood by chipping or cutting small pieces from it

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: good hand-eye coordination, dexterity, a steady hand and firm grip, the ability to sit for long periods of time without getting stiff or sore

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: imaginative, artistic, patient, calm, resourceful, meticulous, focused, obsessive

Required Resources and Training: Whittling is a time-consuming activity that takes much practice to master. It can be learned with little or no teaching; all you really need is a sharp knife, a piece of wood, and lots of time. It helps to have a basic understanding of wood types, so you can choose the type of wood that will yield the best result for the project. And while you can whittle with any knife, smaller ones work best, and different kinds of blades can help with different cuts.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: The most common stereotype associated with whittling is the country bumpkin (usually male) sitting on the front porch whittling sticks down to toothpicks. While it makes sense that an avid whittler needs access to wood, he doesn’t have to live in the actual woods. Items can be whittled from wood chunks or twigs found in a park, or even from lumber bought at a hardware store.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • for relaxation or stress relief
  • as a way of passing the time when one has excess time on one’s hands
  • coming up with a new product or technique that can be turned into a much-needed money-making venture for the hero
  • when a small, secretive item is needed to help save the day (a lock pick, wooden coin, weapon, etc.)
  • when it’s necessary to camouflage something important as an everyday object

Stories Where Whittling is Used As Part of the Plot Line

  • The Shawshank Redemption—though Andy Dufresne whittled soapstone instead of wood
  • Spindle’s End (Robin McKinley)

Related Talents and Skills: Carpentry

Resources for Further Information:

Whittling 101

A Beginner’s Guide to Whittling 

Getting Started in Woodcarving and Whittling

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 | 3 Comments

Pacing Tips

Before we get to the nitty-gritty, let me give a hearty shout out to all of you doing NaNoWriMo. *POM-POMS*  I’ve never been able to NaNo with the rest of the world, since November is such a crazy month for me, but I have so much respect for all of you in the trenches right now. KEEP IT UP! You’re halfway there!

Even the Dark Side needs motivation

Kenny Louie @ Creative Commons

So, I mentioned that November is insane, right? My son’s birthday falls just before Thanksgiving. This year, we’re throwing his first party. He wanted a Darth Vader theme, and I may have gone a teensy bit overboard. Regardless, his birthday party, combined with his actual birthday, followed by my father-in-law’s birthday, and then Thanksgiving for the family at MY HOUSE THIS YEAR… Well. Let’s just say that it’s all about planning and pacing right now.

Advice that is so often true of writing, too.

And I just happen to have this nifty post on the subject, which originally aired at Lisa Hall-Wilson’s excellent blog. So, in homage to the difficult topic of pacing, and in an effort to maintain my natural hair color through yet another November, here it is, for your viewing pleasure…

I’d like to start this post by stating an opinion that I think pretty much everyone shares: Pacing Sucks. When you get it right, no one really notices. I mean, how many times have you read a 5-star review that went on and on about the awesome pacing? On the other hand, when the pacing’s off, it’s obvious, but not always easy to pinpoint; you’re just left with this vague, ghostly feeling of dissatisfaction. One thing, though, is certain: if the pacing is wrong, it’s definitely going to bother your readers, so I thought I’d share some tips on how to keep the pace smooth and balanced.

1. Current Story vs. Backstory. Every character and every story has backstory. But the relaying of this information almost always slows the pace because it pulls the reader out of the current story and plops them into another one. It’s disorienting. And yet, a certain amount of backstory is necessary to create depth in regards to characters and plot. To keep the pace moving, only share what’s necessary for the reader to know at that moment. Dole out the history in small pieces within the context of the current story, and avoid narrative stretches that interrupt what’s going on. Here’s a great example from Above, by Leah Bobet:

The only good thing about my Curse is that I can still Pass. And that’s half enough to keep me out of trouble. But tonight it’s not the half I need because here’s Atticus, spindly crab arms folded ‘cross his chest, waiting outside my door. His eyes glow dim-shot amber—not bright, so he’s not mad, just annoyed and looking to be mad.

Bobet could have taken a lengthy paragraph to explain that certain people in this world have curses that are really mutations, that Atticus has crab claws for hands and his eyes glow when he gets angry. But that would’ve slowed the pace and been boring. Instead, Bobet wove this information into the current story—showed Atticus leaning against the door, showed his crustacean claws and his freaky, glowing eyes so the reader knows that he’s a mutant and, to the narrator, at least, this is normal. This is an excellent example of the artful weaving of backstory into the present story.

2. Action vs. Exposition/Internal Dialogue. Action is an accelerant. It keeps the pace from dragging. Granted, there will be places in your story that are inherently passive, where characters have to talk, or someone needs to think things out. The key is to break up these places with movement or activity. Characters should be in motion—smacking gum or doodling or fidgeting— while talking. Give them something to do during their thoughtful moments, whether it’s peeling carrots or painting a picture. These bits of action are like an optical illusion, fooling the reader into thinking something’s happening, when really, nothing’s going on. This is one scenario when readers actually prefer to be fooled, so make sure to energize those narrative stretches with action.

3777040907_c7610fb2d5_o

Oliver Kendal @ Creative Commons

3. Conflict vs. Downtime. On the flip side, you can’t have a story that’s all go and no stop. One might think that since action is good, more action is better. Not true. Readers need time to catch their breath, to recover from highly emotional or stressful scenes. A good pace is one that ebbs and flows—high action, a bit of recovery, then back to the activity again. Even The Maze Runner, possibly the most active novel I’ve ever read, has its moments of calm. When it comes to conflict and downtime, a definite balance is needed for the reader to feel satisfied.

4. Keep Upping the Stakes. We know that conflict is important—so important that every single scene needs it. But for conflict to be effective, it needs to escalate over the course of the story. To keep the reader engaged, each of the major conflict points needs to be bigger, more dramatic, and with stakes that are more desperate. One of my favorite reads of 2013 was Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray, a historical fiction novel about the deportation of a Lithuanian family during World War II. It starts out ominous enough, with the family being forced from their home. Over the course of the story, they’re moved by cattle car across the continent, relocated to a forced labor camp, and eventually reach their final destination—a camp in the Arctic Circle where they’re expected to survive the elements with whatever resources they can scrounge. Clearly, lots of other conflict is interspersed, but when it comes to the major points, each one should have greater impact than the last.

5. Condense the timeline. When possible, keep your timeline tight. If it gets too spread out, the story will inevitably drag. It’s also hard, in a story that covers a long span, to keep things smooth; there will be time jumps of weeks or months or even years between scenes. Too many of these give the story a jerky feel. So when it comes to the timeline, condense it as much as possible to keep the pace steady.

For sure, pacing is tricky, but I’ve found these nuggets to be helpful in maintaining a good balance. What other tips do you have for keeping your story moving at the right pace?

Posted in Pacing | 20 Comments

Character Skills and Talents: Astrological Divination

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. 

astrology Description: exploring the study of the placement of stars, planets and constellations, to determine how astrological structure can affect personality and influence life events. A character who has studied astrology extensively can chart an individual’s celestial path by using the date and hour of their birth. This information can offer unique insight into their personality traits, relationships, and how certain planetary movements may be influencing their lives. This in turn can give greater context to past events, the present, and possibly open a window into what the future may hold.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: Strong reading skills, a background in psychology or working knowledge of the personality basics, being a people-person, having an investigative nature, a willingness to help others, an interest in other cultures and their beliefs, being strong in mathematics

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: open-mindedness, studious, intelligence, pensive, inquisitive, disciplined, patience, curiosity

Required Resources and Training: A character would have to dedicate significant amounts of time to the study of the stars, constellations (birth signs), cultural mythology (pertaining to astrological beliefs), and spiritual beliefs. Having a mentor or attending programs that focus on astrology and its teachings would fast track one’s knowledge. The character would also need significant practical experience in creating charts and learning the right questions to ask so that one’s advice addresses the specific areas the subject will find the most useful.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:

Many believe that astrology is not a valid discipline, while others place weight on what celestial influences are interacting with their star/sun sign at different points of their lives. Most see astrology as being no more than computer generated horoscopes that run in newspapers and magazines, but in reality, it is a philosophical study of finding meaning in the stars.

Scenarios Where This Skill Could be Useful:

  • Choosing the right time to have a family, take financial risks or make bigger changes in one’s life by seeing if the influences in the stars are currently favorable or not
  • Understanding the traits that pair with Zodiac signs to determine if a friendship or other relationship will be a strong match, and if not, how best to work with a specific sign based on the traits that present typically with someone of that group
  • Increase awareness of upcoming planetary shifts that may present challenges, so one can work towards minimizing them before they occur
  • As a form of entertainment at parties
  • As a way to secure one’s place as an adviser or trusted supporter (provided the person in power believes in Astrological influences)
  • As a method to introduce a fictional prophesy or predict a major event

Resources for Further Information:

Understanding Astrology

First Steps in Astrology

The Personalities of Astrological Signs

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: Kaz @ Pixabay

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Technical Writing: A Viable Career (Or Sideline) Option for Writers

3557345656_3627c75722_z

Tony Fischer @ Creative Commons

First let me start by giving a heartfelt THANK YOU to the men and women who have served or currently do serve in the armed forces. While Veteran’s Day is an American holiday, I applaud and respect the dedication it takes for anyone to serve their country in such a sacrificial way. I recognize that my freedom comes at great cost, and I’m humbly and eternally grateful for your sacrifice.

One of the freedoms we cherish in America is the ability to choose our own career paths—even if our desired career is difficult or impractical or monetarily unfruitful. (How’s that for a nice way to say MAKES YOU POOR?) Writing is a tough business in a lot of ways. It’s particularly hard to make as much money as we’d like (especially in the early years), which is why so many of us have day jobs. I know most of us wish we could have a job within the writing field, since we’d like to earn money doing what we love, so when Brenda Di Bella contacted us with a potential post about technical writing, I jumped at the chance. 

Back in college, I took a summer temp position at Harcourt-Brace, where I did some technical writing. I loved the writing aspect of that job. It’s a great option for writers of all stripes, so if you’re looking for a full-time opportunity or simply a way to supplement your income, check out what Bella has to say about this career option for writers…

 

3452272176_3fabbca25d_z

Lisa Risager @ Creative Commons

Why Technical Writing?

Technical writing can be an excellent source of income for all writers. There are thousands of opportunities out there for individuals with writing skills, and many of them are remote projects that can be done from home. You don’t have to be a technical expert to earn extra income in this lucrative and flexible field. In fact, because most “uber-techie” types are notoriously atrocious writers, the demand for skilled communicators is very high and continues to grow as technology evolves.

While many people (like myself) have chosen tech writing as a full-time career, many projects are available on a contract basis, making them temporary commitments with a lot of flexibility. Currently, the average hourly rate for technical writers in the U.S. is $31. This rate varies based on skill level, location, industry, and other factors.

 

What is it?

Technical writers are responsible for converting complicated technical and scientific information into language that is easy to understand. They usually work in conjunction with computer programmers, engineers, medical professionals, or other specialized experts. Just about every industry imaginable has the need for technical writers at some point in time. While an exhaustive list of the types of projects available would be far too lengthy for this blog, some common projects include:

• user guides, manuals, online help, and training materials
• design and marketing specifications
• research articles and reports
• policy and procedure documents

 

What Qualifications or Skills are Necessary?

Along with grammar skills, a successful technical writer must have a knack for clarity. The ability to consider the technical savvy of your audience is essential for this type of work. For example, when writing a user guide for a new software application, it is important to include every step necessary to perform a task. Likewise, policy and procedure manuals must be worded very carefully to avoid possible issues for the employer.

Some computer proficiency is necessary for most tech writing projects. The most commonly used applications for this type of work are Microsoft Word, FrameMaker, RoboHelp, and XML. In some cases, research and training skills may be required.

The qualifications necessary to acquire tech writing projects vary, but most clients prefer candidates with some education in English (or a similar field of study) and some writing experience. It is a good idea to develop a portfolio of writing samples to show off your abilities. Some resources for strengthening your skill set and learning about trends in the field are:

• The Society for Technical Communication (STC) – be sure to check out their webinars!
• The National Association of Science Writers
• The National Writers’ Association
• The National Writers’ Union

 

Where Do I Find More Info?

Thousands of tech writing opportunities can be found every day on all the popular employment websites (Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed, etc.). In addition to these, be sure to check out Dice.com (which specializes in tech jobs), the STC website, and the job placement department of your alma mater. I mention these resources in particular because I have had personal success with each of them. There are also a plethora of sites specifically dedicated to tech writing jobs. These might very well be viable resources for opportunities, but be cautious about any which require you to pay for their services, and don’t expect to be flooded with offers. Finally, many companies do not use employment sites to post job openings, but a quick visit to their corporate website can tell you if they are looking for someone like you.

Blog Photo

 

Brenda Di Bella is a Senior Technical Writer with 20 years’ experience. She has a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing from Purdue University, and has successfully completed projects for dozens of Fortune 500 companies like Bank of America, Eli Lilly and Company, Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and Bally Total Fitness. She is currently self-employed, offering a variety of writing and editing services. For more information about Brenda, please visit her website.

Posted in The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: Throwing One’s Voice

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. 

THROWING ONE’S VOICE ventriloquist

Description: also known as ventriloquism; the ability to change one’s voice to make it appear to be coming from someone or somewhere else

Interesting Origins: This ability was originally involved in religious practices. Ancient Greeks believed that the noises that came from one’s stomach were the voices of the unliving, who took up residence there. The ventriloquist was the interpreter of these voices, and so was believed to be able to converse with the dead and to foretell the future.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: strong core muscles to enable one to breath correctly, good acting chops (since successfully throwing one’s voice relies heavily on listener perception)

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: disciplined, dedicated, sneaky, manipulative, dramatic, playful

Required Resources and Training: Throwing the voice requires utilizing the right muscles throughout the body, changing the way one typically would speak (via placement of the tongue, lips, etc.), and placing the voice in a different area of the throat than is normally used when talking. Basically, this ability requires learning to speak in a whole new way. It requires study, discipline, and lots and lots of practice.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: ventriloquists; fortune tellers and other scammers

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • when one needs to escape or throw an enemy off of one’s trail
  • to provide a distraction
  • to scare someone
  • to discredit or embarrass someone (by making people think that person is saying something he/she wouldn’t normally say)
  • to trap someone (by getting them to follow the sound of one’s voice)
  • for entertainment purposes

Similar Talents and Skills: Mimicry

Resources for Further Information:

Throw Your Voice Like a Ventriloquist

Ventriloquist Circle

 

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 | 8 Comments

Critiques 4 U, November Edition

CONTEST CLOSED!

I trust that everyone had a great Halloween—full of treats and short on tricks, preferably. It was tons of fun at my house this year. My son is obsessed with Darth Vader, so his costume was a no-brainer. After he declared his choice, my daughter decided to pair it up, and this interstellar awesomeness resulted:

photo-26

I am your father. I mean, your brother. Wait a minute…

My 1980s cup overfloweth.

But Halloween is over, and man cannot live on cuteness alone. There are words to be chopped. Characters to be killed off. Entire plot lines to be reconsidered. That’s right: I has CRITIQUES 4 U! I’m opening submissions for this month’s contest today. For those of you who aren’t frantically NaNoWriMo’ing: if you’re working on something (no erotica, please) that needs fresh eyes, leave a comment that includes: 

1) your email address

2) the working title of your WIP

3) its genre

4) the intended audience

ONLY ENTRIES THAT FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS WILL BE CONSIDERED.

3 commenters’ names will be drawn and posted tomorrow. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. Best of luck! And may the force be with you…

Posted in Uncategorized | 48 Comments

Character Skills and Talents: Heightened Empathy

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. 

micelangelo
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. 

HEIGHTENED EMPATHY

Description: the ability to place oneself deeply within another person’s experience to see their view of the world and better identify with their emotions, concerns, goals and life struggles. NOTE: this entry does not cover Empaths, which is a talent that goes beyond learned empathy.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: control over one’s emotions and being able to reject any personal bias that might get in the way of seeing life from another person’s view, perceptiveness and knowing what questions to ask, strong listening and communication skills, openness to new experiences and ideas, being comfortable enough to open up and share in kind

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: curious, kind, understanding, objective, honest, calm, encouraging, fair, diplomatic, selfless, imaginative, compassionate, non-judgmental

Required Resources and Training: to hone one’s empathy, a character must open themselves to other people, their thoughts, perceptions and experiences, and be able to view these as having as much value as their own personal ones. Listening–really listening–means not rushing in with advice or expressing sympathy or pity. Empathy is acknowledging another person’s emotion as being valid, and seating oneself in their viewpoint to better experience their perspective.

Learning to be open-minded, and set aside one’s own experiences and interactions that can lead to unintentional bias can be difficult to achieve, but necessary to achieve true empathy. Training oneself to watch for physical cues and body language will help the character see if supportive questions might encourage a deeper sharing of emotions and experience, or if quiet listening is better in the situation. Being aware of body language and what it communicates will also allow the character to use their own to reinforce the message that they are open and engaged, and listening without judgement. Trying new experiences, identifying and then facing different personal challenges, and looking for deeper meaning in the world around will help the character open themselves to “trying on” different perspectives, making it easier to set aside their own feelings to better feel another’s.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions:

  • The misconception that people with empathy are bleeding hearts who can’t make hard choices
  • People who show empathy build trust quickly
  • Empathy creates balanced leadership
  • People who feel strong empathy may also feel strong guilt if they are unable to bring about a needed change

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful: in friendship and relationships, in careers that focus on social sciences, mental health and well-being, human advocacy groups, politics and leadership, communication and diplomacy, any job that requires strong interpersonal skills, people in an advisory role to those in power (using empathy skills to convey the need for change, reinforce balance and promote open communication)

Resources for Further Information:

Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People

Five Ways To Grow Your Empathy

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: PublicDomainPictures @ Pixabay

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

How Morals and Basic Needs Influence a Character’s Strengths

You ever have one of those mornings where you’re just feeling…bleh? Life wasn’t exactly ticking along like clockwork and I was struggling with self-doubt. Then I clicked open my inbox and read the most wonderful message from a reader praising our Trait Thesaurus books. The most interesting thing was that she had been really touched by the front matter, rather than the entries. 

Well, I perked right up at that. It made me think of some of the really cool things Angela and I have accomplished over the past three years—of the hard work, the struggles to come up with front matter that would be as helpful as the entries in our books. So today, in a state of nostalgia, I’m reposting an oldie but a goodie, which originally aired at Elizabeth Spann Craig’s blog. Enjoy, and if you think of something nice to say to someone today, please don’t hesitate to share it. You never know when someone might need a little encouragement!

affirmations-441457_1280

Pixabay

Since writing our last book, The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes, I’ve been thinking a lot about personality traits and how they’re formed. Flaws are incredibly important for a character to have—and, let’s be honest: they’re really interesting to read about. But one of the main reasons we fall in love with characters is because we want them to succeed, to achieve their goals and overcome their flaws; this is where the positive attributes come in. The fact is, every character needs both positive and negative traits, and these traits need to be chosen thoughtfully.

When it’s time to create your character and figure out what his traits will be, you should take into account many factors that influence their development: genetics, upbringing and caregivers, past wounds, environment, peers—all of these things absolutely cause certain traits to organically emerge for a character. (For more information on how these factors influence trait development, please see this post on the topic.) Today, I’d like to zero in on what I believe are the two biggest influencers on trait formation: morality and basic needs.

2892270262_d3a496b80e_z

courtesy: Paul Downey @ Creative Commons

Morality

Every character—protagonist, villain, sidekick, mentor, etc.—lives by a moral code. His beliefs about right and wrong are deeply embedded in his psyche and will influence his decisions, day-to-day actions, the way he treats people, how he spends his free time—they will impact every area of his life, including his personality. A character will only embrace traits that in some way align with his moral beliefs. Because of this, it’s crucial that we know what our characters believe and value in order to figure out which qualities will define him.

Take, for example, Zack Mayo from An Officer and a Gentleman. Mayo’s morality is largely derived from a traumatic childhood event: finding his mother’s body after she killed herself. Mayo’s father took him in but made it clear that taking responsibility for an impressionable boy wasn’t going to put a crimp in his affinity for drugs and prostitutes.

Fast forward a decade, and Mayo’s moral code has been formed from this sad crucible: look out for yourself because no one else will. Many of his defining traits stem directly from this belief. He’s independent, opportunistic, persistent, apathetic, emotionally withdrawn, and selfish. It would have made no sense for someone with Mayo’s moral code to embrace selflessness or loyalty, because to embody these traits, he’d have to go against his most important belief.

This is why its crucial to know your character’s backstory. All those factors I mentioned earlier? Put those puzzle pieces together to figure out what your character now values, what he believes about right and wrong. Once you know his moral code, you’ll know which traits he’ll embody and which ones he’ll disdain. His defining traits will be pretty much fixed because to reject them, he’d have to reject what he most believes in.

Basic Needs

But sometimes, as authors, a drastic shift in morality is exactly what we want for our characters. This kind of change doesn’t occur easily, but it can happen under the right circumstances. This is where basic needs come into play.

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

1. Physiological: the need to secure one’s biological and physiological needs
2. Safety and Security: the need to keep oneself and one’s loved ones safe
3. Love and Belonging: the need to form meaningful connections with others
4. Esteem and Recognition: the need to increase one’s sense of esteem
5. Self-Actualization: the need to realize one’s full potential and achieve personal fulfillment

The first level is the most important; if a character’s physiological need isn’t being met, he’ll do whatever it takes to meet that need. Once it’s met, the next level becomes the most crucial. And so on.

If you’re crafting a story and you discover that you need one of your characters to undergo a major moral shift, simply take away one of his basic needs. An awesome example of this is the movie Prisoners. Hugh Jackman’s character is a responsible citizen — morally upright and a family man. But then his daughter goes missing (i.e., his need for safety and security is no longer being met). He’s certain he knows who abducted her, but the police won’t do anything about it. He tries everything he can think of to get his daughter back while working within the confines of his moral beliefs. When those ideas run out, he begins wrestling with the options that don’t coincide with his moral code. Desperate to regain his former equilibrium where all of his needs were being met, his morality shifts. He abducts his daughter’s suspected kidnapper and tortures him in an effort to learn of her whereabouts. His basic belief that all human beings are deserving of dignity and respect has changed—and so have his traits. Respect has turned to cruelty. Centeredness gives way to fanaticism. And all of this can be traced back to one need that is no longer being met.

We’re cruel taskmasters, we authors. But it’s through difficulty that true character emerges, and if we want our protagonists to grow, we have to provide growth opportunities. Know your character’s moral code and choose suitable traits. If you need your character to make a big change, threaten one of his basic needs. Using these two influencers, you’re sure to come up with a character who is believable and will resonate with readers.

Posted in Character Traits, Characters, Positive & Negative Thesaurus Guides, Uncategorized | 28 Comments

Talents and Skills Thesaurus Entry: The Midas Touch

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. 

THE MIDAS TOUCH

8363160192_3a7776a090_z

Keith Cooper @ Creative Commons

Descriptionthe ability to multiply one’s money; having a knack for making money. Most people with this talent have a bent toward the business arena. Many are entrepreneurial by nature and, without any education or formal experience at all, have an inherent knack for understanding the dynamics of finance and are able to apply their knowledge in a way that leads to success.

Beneficial Strengths or Abilities: being able to quickly and accurately size up an opportunity, seeing opportunity where others see nothing, being good at math

Character Traits Suited for this Skill or Talent: disciplined, self-control, shrewd, patient, greedy, risk-taking, ambitious, bold, focused, discerning, persistent, analytical, visionary

Required Resources and Training: Many people with this gift can be found making money at an early age through entrepreneurial enterprises without any resources or training to speak of. As they grow older, they either increase their knowledge through education or experience in the field. They often end up becoming experts in a particular area, be it finance, the stock market, real estate, the fashion industry, etc. They grow and improve (often by making costly mistakes in the beginning) through immersion in their given area.

Associated Stereotypes and Perceptions: investors, entrepreneurs, business moguls. People with this skill are often portrayed as being greedy and caring first and foremost about money. They’re often perceived as materialistic with a shaky moral code.

Scenarios Where this Skill Might be Useful:

  • a situation where the hero is in need of money
  • if someone needs to disappear or start a new life but needs to be able to support himself
  • to support the lifestyle one has become accustomed to living
  • when a large sum of money is needed to back a cause or organization

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 | 7 Comments