Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Personal Trainer

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Looking for the perfect occupation for one of your characters? Get ideas from our Occupation Thesaurus, starting with this entry on Personal Trainers.Occupation: Personal Trainer

Overview: A personal trainer works one-on-one and with small groups of clients to help them achieve their physical fitness goals. This usually involves leading them in an exercise regimen meant to help them reach their goals and advising them in regard to nutrition. Trainers may specialize in certain areas, such as yoga, aerobics, or strength training. While they typically work in public venues, many large-scale organizations now have their own fitness centers and personal trainers for their employees to utilize. Wealthier clients may pay for a trainer to come to their home.

Necessary Training: While there is no secondary education required for most personal training jobs, some employers would rather hire someone with a degree in the the fitness or health fields. It also helps to achieve certifications in the areas one would like to specialize in. And some additional training, such as in basic CPR and first aid, is required. The one universal requirement for this career is that the person be personally fit themselves.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Basic first aid, high pain tolerance, parkour, strong breath control, super strength

Helpful Character Traits: Bold, confident, cooperative, courteous, disciplined, empathetic, enthusiastic, inspirational, observant, optimistic, persistent, persuasive, supportive

Sources of Friction: A client being hurt during one’s session, being unable to afford the necessary equipment or materials, wanting to strike out on one’s own but being stuck working for someone else, obtaining an injury or developing an illness that makes it difficult for one to stay physically fit, being unable to help a client achieve their goals, dishonest clients who make it difficult for them to achieve their fitness goals, becoming romantically attracted to a client, unhealthy competition with other trainers at one’s workplace, sexual harassment, being accused of maintaining one’s physique through unethical means (doping, abusing diuretics, getting surgical implants, etc.), having no time to pursue one’s true passions (becoming a professional bodybuilder or weight lifter, etc.)

People They Might Interact With: clients, gym rats, other personal trainers, gym managers and owners, administrative personnel, people they would run into during their own personal fitness training (spin class attendees, a yoga instructor, runners at the local track, etc.)

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: People in this field are enthusiastic about fitness and very often have their own fitness goals. Someone many have taken this job as a way to finance their own fitness goal of becoming a competitive athlete. If the job becomes too time-consuming, the character’s need to pursue their passion might cause a void in this area.
  • Esteem and Recognition: It’s natural for people in this field to notice peoples’ bodies; if in comparing themselves to others they find themselves lacking, this can lead to a self-esteem problem.
  • Love and Belonging: A person in this field might struggle making true connections with others if they feel that potential romantic partners are only interested in them for their looks, or their interest will only remain as long as they maintain a certain physique.
  • Physiological Needs: As with any healthy desire, wanting to be physically fit can be taken to an unhealthy extreme—even to the point of a character’s health or very life being threatened.

Common Work-Related Settings: Backyard, fitness center, gymnasium, mansion, rec center, spa

Twisting the Stereotype: The hard-nosed, borderline-abusive personal trainer yelling and spitting into the client’s face has been done to death. Likewise, the sex kitten bombshell female trainer. Consider a different angle.

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Dive Deep with Emotion

Hi all! One of my favorite people is here today: Christina Delay of Cruising Writers. She’s got a great post on how to write deep emotion, so please read on!

Don’t you just love feedback from beta-readers or your critique partners that goes something like this:

“I think you feel the emotion here, but the reader? Not so much.”

Or maybe, you get the dreaded, “Meh. Cliché.”

Write DEEP Emotion using these terrific writing techniques. Today, we’re going to strap on our scuba set and dive deep into our stories with emotion, giving our characters oxygen with fresh viscerals and appropriate emotional levels.

How to Write Fresh Viscerals

Everyone has their own tried-and- true process for writing. However, writing fresh viscerals—involuntary physiological responses to external factors (like bad news)—requires a whole other skill set. It’s not one I’ve seen taught very often (Margie Lawson has some great courses and an Immersion cruise with Cruising Writers this December on viscerals), but I believe this particular skill set at the heart of every tip or strategy I’ve come across on ‘how to’ write emotion.


Yup. I went there.

Brené Brown talks in great depth about this subject and if you’ve never searched her out, I’d start with her fabulous TED Talk on the subject.

As authors, to access deep emotion and be able to write it in an authentic way that connects with our readers, we must become vulnerable.

Vulnerability means accessing your own pain or joy, and at times reliving those crucial turning points in your own life. But not just the facts. You’ve got to pull on those emotions…and what your body was doing at the time.

I can recall in great clarity the moment I got the phone call that my best friend had died. I was sitting on the second step of the stairs in my childhood home. My dad was in his study, and my friend was on the phone telling me the news. And I remember going numb. I remember my dad’s words about the news and how foggy they sounded, and at the same time became so clear that they’ll stick with me for the rest of my life. But most of all, I remember how loud my heart got. It drowned out everything else, and the beats were slow, and hard, and vibrated my bones.

When my character is facing a death or a moment of tragedy, I have to go back to that moment or moments like that. I have to allow myself to sink back into that pain. Or a moment of joy, depending on the scene. And then, I have to put it on the page.

Instead of telling your reader that your character felt the pain like the edge of a knife, go deeper. Get personal by being vulnerable. What would that pain feel like to you? Does it feel like the edge of a knife, or is it more of a gut pain, or a chest pain? Where would you feel that pain? What does your body do?

Then expand that. If you feel stress in your chest, chest tightening, heart racing, is that where your character experiences stress? Maybe your character’s thighs clench whenever her mother barrels through the door like a whirlwind of anxiety. Or maybe her fingertips tingle. The Emotion Thesaurus and One Stop For Writers are great resources for drilling down to various emotional responses.

Another great tool is a cliché twist. This is my favorite tool to use to write fresh emotion. It goes something like this:

Jane’s heart thundered.

Heart. Heart beat? Beat and thundered. That’s rather cliché. We’ve read it a bunch of times. But beat and thundered—those sounds are closely related. What can you do with those?

Jane’s heart sounded like the beat of a drum, thundering through the jungle in a slow, ancient tribal rhythm. Ba-da-dum, dum, dum, ba-da-dum.

Using vulnerability to access a deeper level of emotion, then using twists on old clichés, can help you get to fresh emotion that not only connects with your reader, but adds a layer of emotional depth to your characters.

How to Stay at the Appropriate Emotional Depth

Write DEEP Emotion using these terrific writing techniques. However, you can go too deep. Depending on the level of emotion and action in the scene, the example above could be too much.

If Jane is getting news that her kid didn’t make it into the gifted program, she wouldn’t experience the same emotional depth as she would if she got a phone call saying her kid had been in an accident.

You can even set up your own scoring system. Kid not making it into the gifted program gets a score of 5 on an emotional intensity scale. Kid being in an accident gets a score of 10.

So, let’s stick with the original emotion example, in the context of Jane getting the news that her kid didn’t make it into the gifted program at school.

Jane’s heart thundered.

Yes, she could still have a heart reaction to this news, but it wouldn’t be so drawn out. An emotional intensity level of 5 would be more thoughtful and less of the base physical response of a 10.

Using the same thought process: Heart? Heart beat? What else makes a beat sound? Drum. Like a kick drum. Relates to music.

Jane’s heart kicked up in her chest, timing the beats to the worry wheel spinning in her head. How was she going to break the news? Ba-dum. Sally would be so disappointed—not even ice cream could fix this. Ba-dum. How would she keep Sally’s self-confidence up, after she’d tried so hard…and failed? Ba-dum.

Recognizing the emotional intensity of a scene and writing an appropriate level of emotional response can save you from overwriting, and also save your scenes from falling flat.

Do you love to write emotion or is it a struggle for you? What tips and tricks do you have for writing authentic, fresh emotion?

About Christina

Christina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning author represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency. When she’s not cruising the Caribbean, she’s dreaming up new writing retreats to take talented authors on or writing the stories of the imaginary people that live in her heart.

Cruising Writers brings writers together with bestselling authors, an agent, an editor, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor writing retreats around the world.

Cruise with us to Grand Cayman this October with Kristen Lamb (Bestselling Author and Marketing Jedi), Rachel Caine (Bestselling Author of 50+ books), Deidre Knight (The Knight Agency), and Alex Sehulster (St. Martin’s Press).

Or get ready to Dive Deep and join us on a 7-day Immersion Cruise with Margie Lawson this December to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel!

Posted in Character Wound, Characters, Cliches, Description, Emotion, Empathy, Guest Post, Revision and Editing, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 7 Comments

How To Keep Writing When That Critical Inner Voice Won’t Shut Up

You know the feeling. You went to bed last night floating on air and wondering whether it really is too early to begin writing that acceptance speech for when you win the Pulitzer. But this morning when you reread your WIP, well, either monkeys got into your laptop while you were sleeping, or, let’s face it, you’ve been deluding yourself.

Now you’re sure that the only prize you’ll ever win is as the worst writer who ever lived. Suddenly you’re positive that your prose is stiff, your premise mundane, trite even, and who the hell wants to read yet another love story anyway?

Cue the mean voice in your head – the one that sounds suspiciously like your second grade teacher – that asks what made you think you could be a successful writer in the first place.

It’s at a moment like that when 97 out of 100 writers give up. Yep, studies show that only 3 out of 100 writers ever finish so much as their first draft.

Are those successful three the writers who never once doubted themselves or their story? Hell no! In fact, writers who never doubt themselves or their work are the very writers who should. Because writing a novel is hard. It takes time. And you have to do it all by your lonesome. Truth is, every writer worth their salt eventually faces that dark night of the soul, and for some writers, that night is every night. It can be oddly comforting to know that it’s a club the vast majority of us belong to.

The question is: Since those doubts aren’t going to disappear, how do you keep going, especially when the mean voice in your head gets really loud? What will give you the strength to soldier on day after day, and the courage to dig ever deeper in the face of that nagging doubt?

Learn to deal with the internal editor without giving up on your novel

The good news is that there are two questions you can ask yourself that will give you the ammunition to fight back. What’s more, the answers to these questions will help keep your novel on track. They’ll not only help you become one of the three out of a hundred writers who finish a first draft, they’ll also help insure that that draft really has the power to rivet readers.

The questions are:

  1. What is my story’s point?
  2. Why is telling this story, making this point, deeply important to me?

Let’s dive in and find out why.

What is my story’s point?

Turns out this is a question you need to ask regardless, because all stories make a point beginning in the very first sentence. What kind of point? A point about human nature, about what makes people tick and, most importantly, why.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to step out and tell the reader what that point is. In fact, that’s the last thing you want to do. Rather, this is the point your story will be building toward from the first page to the last. Which is why you need to know what it is before you begin writing, otherwise, how can you build a story that gets there?

When you first begin to zero in on your point, it can sound shockingly simple. Cliché even. Like: It’s what’s inside that counts. Or, diving a bit deeper: Even though it’s terrifying to show people who you really are, it’s only by being vulnerable, thus authentic, that you can be loved for your true self. Or, given our scary world: Technology is a double-edged sword, don’t trust it to have your best interest at heart. Yes, Alexa, I’m talking about you. Stop laughing.

Ask yourself: What inside intel am I giving my reader about how to best navigate this mortal coil? How do you want to change the way people see the world, and how they treat each other? Because make no mistake: as a writer you are one of the most powerful people on the planet, and your novel will have the ability to shift your reader’s worldview. Not by telling them what to do, but by allowing them to experience the plot induced scene-by-scene evolution of your protagonist’s worldview.

Once you’ve nailed your point, we can ask the second question. It’s the answer to this question that will keep you writing, even when the going gets super tough.

Why is making this point so important to me?

This is a far more revealing question than it sounds at first blush. Because the answer isn’t a simple, declarative sentence, like: My point is that no child should ever go hungry and it matters to me because, hey, I just told you, no child should ever go hungry. Very true. But not the answer. Why? Because it’s surface. Impersonal. Generic. And let’s face it, a tad self-congratulatory.

What you’re looking for is something much deeper, and closer to home. Something that costs you something. Perhaps the reason your story matters to you is because of something that happened in your past that you’re still grappling with. Almost always there’s a deeply personal reason. That’s gold.

Ask yourself: What, specifically, happened in my life that made this important to me? This will probably make you feel vulnerable. It may hurt. That’s what tells you you’re getting close. You might also find yourself angry. Perhaps it was an unfairness that you experienced. Or a deep inner fear. Or it might be something that happened to someone you love. And sometimes the reason you’re writing your novel is to keep you from doing something that might get you in trouble. Like Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone mysteries, as reported in the Los Angeles Times in 1990:

“Sue Grafton’s homicidal urges surfaced in the middle of a bitter, six-year custody battle with an ex-husband. “I was so furious at him that I lay awake at night fantasizing how I could finish him off,” she recalls.

“Then I had the brilliant idea of using oleander as a poison . . . So I concocted the perfect murder plot. I imagined making copies of my children’s keys to their father’s house–we had joint custody at the time–so that I could sneak in and put powdered oleander in his allergy capsules. The next hay fever attack–no more ex-husband.”

But in the clear light of morning, Grafton came to her senses. “Of course, I knew I’d never get away with it,” she says with a laugh. “And since I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a shapeless prison dress, I decided to turn my homicidal fantasy into a mystery novel.”

So, yes, sometimes the reason it matters to you is because it’s what’s going to keep you out of jail. If that isn’t a powerful motivator, I don’t know what is.

The point is, knowing why you’re writing your novel is what will give you the courage to face down that mean doubting voice when it pipes up and tells you you’re bound for failure. It’s what allows you to turn around and say to it, “Maybe so, but I’m on a mission to change things, and to make the world a better place. So if my novel fails, it won’t be because I didn’t give it everything I had and then some.”

That knowledge is what will keep you writing. Whether it’s that you want to save yourself, like Sue Grafton, or save the world, or both. It’s what gives fuel to the grit it takes to write through those dark nights of the soul. Once you know why writing your novel is deeply important to you, those dark nights aren’t quite so dark. There’s a surprising – and liberating — feeling of power that comes from the knowledge you have the moxie to keep on going. And that, too, is worth its weight in gold.

Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her 6-hour video course Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius can be found at CreativeLive.com, and her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference, Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.

In her work as a private story coach, Lisa helps writers of all ilk wrangle the story they’re telling onto the page. For a library of her free myth-busting writing tips, and information on how to work with her one-on-one, you can find her at: wiredforstory.com


Posted in Motivational, Writer's Attitude | 8 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Outdoor Guide

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Is your character a trail guide or mountaineer and you need details on what their job is like? This post offers great writing help and description detail.

Angela & her psycho horse Mate, with Nick, her trail guide

Occupation: OUTDOOR  GUIDE

Overview: An outdoor guide is someone who leads excursions into the natural areas. These excursions may be anywhere from a few hours, to days or weeks. An outdoor guide uses their skills and vast knowledge of the area to give clients an experience that only a seasoned outdoors enthusiast might otherwise have. Guides may take groups into natural areas to view scenery and animal activity using land and water transport, usually going by foot, horseback, boat, or other means. This allows clients to safely explore harder-to-reach natural areas, or in the case of mountaineering, summit a peak.

Guiding is done year round in many areas. In places where snow is common, transport might be by skis, snowshoes, Ski-doos or even dog sled teams. Guides are responsible for the safety and welfare of their clients and oversee camp preparations (setting up, getting firewood, filtering water if needed, and meal preparations) on longer excursions. 

Necessary Training: Not a lot of formal training is required to start as a guide, just a huge passion for the outdoors. A guide must be a people person also so they can effectively entertain, manage a variety of personalities within one’s group, and encourage travelers who grow exhausted or are pushed to their physical limits during the excursion.

Guides will require previous field experience or be given on the job training in whatever type of guiding they specialize in, both for knowledge of the terrain and in different modes of transport. If for example, the guiding is primarily by horseback, guides will require additional education regarding the handling and caring for horses, including any emergency situations that could crop up away from civilization. Guides may or may not have firearms training and carry a rifle as they are responsible for those in their charge. They will also have taken courses in first aid and possibly be a certified Wilderness First Responder (WFR)or a suitable equivalent.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, archery, a way with animals, baking, basic first aid, charm, exceptional memory, fishing, foraging, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, high pain tolerance, hospitality, making people laugh, multitasking, predicting the weather, reading people, sharpshooting, strategic thinking, super strength, survival skills, wilderness navigation

Helpful Character Traits: Adventurous, alert, calm, cautious, centered, charming, confident, courteous, curious, decisive, diplomatic, disciplined, easygoing, efficient, enthusiastic, extroverted, friendly, funny, hospitable, independent, mature, nature-focused, observant, optimistic, organized, persuasive, professional, protective, resourceful, responsible, sensible, simple, wholesome, wise, witty

Sources of Friction: difficult or whiny clients who underestimate “roughing it,” bad weather making the trip miserable and impacting what can be seen and experienced, equipment malfunctions, injuries (both people and animals if used), dangerous wildlife wandering close to camp, clients who try to get too close to wild animals, personality conflicts between clients, unwanted advances, clients who are poor tippers, clients who are not at the fitness level the excursion requires, a horse throwing a client, encountering a bear with cubs, a client wandering away from the group and getting lost

People They Might Interact With: Outfitters, tourists and locals, ranch hands, fish and wildlife officers, photographers, outdoor enthusiasts

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: while a guide might choose this occupation to be closer to nature and find their fit in the world, the day to day grind of dealing with entitled, rude, or overbearing clients on the trail may sour the character’s love of the wilds, leaving them unsatisfied with the mismatch of expectation and reality.
  • Esteem and Recognition: Because guiding can seem like choosing self-isolation, other people can make assumptions about a character with this career, assuming they are loners and somehow unfit for ‘the real world,’ which may impact the character’s self-esteem.
  • Love and Belonging: Because a character is often away for days at a time and on constant rotation during tourist season, it cane be difficult to create and nurture long-term relationships.
  • Safety and Security: Out in the wilds the character may encounter dangerous animals or navigate difficult situations due to the lack of experience of their clientele. In this case, the guide is responsible for the welfare of their customers, meaning they must take all the risks if something dangerous happens during the trip.

Common Work-Related Settings: arctic tundra, badlands, barn, campsite, canyon, cave, country road, creek, fishing boat, forest, grotto, hiking trail, hot springs, hunting cabin, lake, marina, marsh, meadow, moors, mountains, ocean, pasture, pond, rainforest, ranch, river, swamp, waterfall

View other occupations in this thesaurus HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

How NOT To Mess Up Your Book Series

Writing a fiction series? Find out how to do it well by keeping a book bible and knowing what to do with those villains

Writing one book is hard. Writing an entire series of books, with their interconnecting subplots, arcs, and golden threads, weaving first book to last, is even harder. It’s like doing a puzzle with no opposable thumbs and a blindfold wedged over your eyes. But there are things you can do, to help you progress through your series.

Create a Book Bible

The most useful lesson I ever picked up from writing a series is to create a book bible. This is a document containing all the most important information about your plot, characters and world without including the actual 100,000-word plot!

Why have a book bible? Unless you’re Einstein, I doubt you can remember every detail, character, timeline and subplot. Having a reference guide helps prevent you from turning a thin character into a podgy one or a science tech into a teacher. It can also be handy for other people working on your  novel, like editors and beta readers.

What should you include? The list below is long (and not exhaustive), but only use what’s relevant to you and your series. My book bible started with just a few lines of notes; it’s taken three books to record all of the below.

  • Timelines—for each book, the series as a whole, and even events that happened before the story started, if relevant
  • Brief description of EVERY character—including distinguishing features and any key plot information where they change events or create action/tension
  • Key characters’ ‘wants’ and motivations
  • The character’s relationship to the protagonist or other key characters (where it’s relevant to a plot or subplot)
  • Family trees
  • Spelling of names, locations or special words—including relevant capitalization of words and made-up words
  • A map or list of key locations–for example, the fact that your character always takes piano lessons on the 5th floor of a building
  • Glossary
  • World building laws—e.g., rules of magic, both how it can and cannot be used
  • Societal structures—government, judicial, royal, military hierarchies, etc.

Understand Entry Points

Most readers have to start a series at book one (an entry point). But that creates reader drop-offs because not everyone will read to the end of a long series. It also makes selling the final book in your series, decidedly harder than selling the first. And that gives you a giant marketing problem. But there are ways to get creative with the series and provide multiple entry points for your readers.

Bella Forrest does this beautifully with her multi-million-selling A Shade of Vampire series. It has seven “seasons,” each told from a different family’s viewpoint and containing around eight books. This gives Forrest’s whopping 50-plus book series seven entry points and lots of opportunity to read across the seasons.

When you’re planning your series, consider whether or not you could add one or more of the following:

  • A prequel
  • A novella slotted between two planned books
  • A spin-off series based on other characters

Decide on a Series-Long Character Arc

One of the first lessons we learn as writers is to ensure our protagonist has a character arc – that they change and develop past their flaws into a fully-fledged hero at the end of your book. But what happens if you’re writing a series? Ensuring your characters are engaging for the entire series requires a little more thought. Here are some popular types of arcs you can use over a series:

Groundhog Day Arcs – These characters never change, no matter how many books you run them through (such as James Bond or Sherlock Holmes.)

Same Old Arcs Characters in this model take an entire series to grow through their flaw—like Harry Potter, who works on leadership and confidence until he’s strong enough to defeat Voldemort.

New Story, New Problem These characters have to overcome a new flaw or problem in each book. Or they have a different ‘thing’ to get over in each story arc. For example, Woody from Toy Story has to get over his jealousy of Buzz (film one), move past his ego in favor of his heart (film two), and let go of the past (film three.)

Line Up the Villains

Much as it pains me to say it (because I love a good villain), most villains have a three-ish book lifespan before your audience needs closure or you lose the believability of your hero and the credibility of your villain. If your character is chasing the same villain for ten books without any resolution, the audience is going to get tired. And yes, before you mention Harry Potter, I know he chased Voldemort for seven books.

Except, did he? Each Harry Potter book had a different villain or ‘antagonist’ that needed defeating, whether it was a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher or an ethereal form of Voldemort. But technically Voldemort himself didn’t ‘come back to life’ until the end of book four. Meaning each book had a separate villain or conflict, and Voldemort was the overarching series villain.

How do you keep th villain from getting stale over the course of your series? Here are some suggestions:

  • Have two villains, one for the first half of the series and another for the second half
  • Have a minor and a major villain—for example, a physical villain and a more societal or intangible villain that’s not embodied in a person. Like President Snow and The Capitol in the Hunger Games
  • Have a different villain for each book

A Word On Cliffhangers

Cliffhangers are like Marmite: some readers love them, others hate them. But they’re mighty useful for keeping your audience ploughing through a series. If you include cliffhangers at the end of each book consider the following:

  • You need to make absolutely sure you round off every other subplot and story arc in your book.
  • Readers prefer faster releases in the series if there are cliffhanger endings.

Series are hard to write, but there are lots of things you can do to make yours the best it can be. Think about your individual book arcs as well as a series arc, consider how many villains you need to keep the story flowing, and finally, remember that more entry points equals more readers and more sales.

Sacha Black is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. Her blog for writers, www.sachablack.co.uk, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy, and her first series, Keepers, is due out in November 2017.

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Posted in Resident Writing Coach, Series | 24 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Teacher

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Wondering what jobs your cast of characters should have? Explore our occupation thesaurus, starting with this one on the teaching career!Occupation: Teacher

Overview: There’s a wide range of jobs available to those interested in education. Teachers work at various levels, from pre-kindergarden through the collegiate level. Public schools are fairly standard, with the teacher’s requirements being dictated at the county, state, and national levels. Private schools are more varied; they may follow the traditional public school model, espouse a certain educational method (Montessori, etc.), or be affiliated with a religious organization.

Teacher’s duties and education requirements vary depending on their area of focus. Through the elementary level, most teachers are responsible for a small group of students for the entire year, instructing them in the core education areas (math, language arts, science, and social studies). Special-area teachers focus on a specialized area of instruction, such as physical education, art, music, band, computer skills, etc. This model continues into middle and high school, where teachers are certified in a certain subject area and teach that subject throughout the day to a wide range of students. Professors do the same at the college level.

Teachers’ duties include preparing lesson plans based on established curriculum standards, teaching lessons to accommodate the needs and ability levels of many different students, assessing students, attending faculty meetings, conferencing with parents, and participating in workshops and other ongoing education opportunities. Some teachers may have additional duties as well, such monitoring students at lunchtime or recess, coaching a sports team, leading a student club or organization, and other before- and after-school responsibilities.

Necessary Training: Teaching certifications depend upon a number of criteria. In the US, many pre-k programs require no formal education for their teachers. Elementary and secondary teachers need a four-year degree, though they can go on to get their masters or doctorate degrees for better pay and the opportunity to move into an administrative capacity. Unaccredited private schools may have more lenient requirements. Professors are usually required to have a masters or doctorate.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Empathy, enhanced hearing, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, hospitality, multitasking

Helpful Character Traits: Adaptable, affectionate, alert, calm, cooperative, decisive, diplomatic, disciplined, discreet, enthusiastic, gentle, honorable, industrious, inspirational, intelligent, nurturing, objective, observant, optimistic, organized, passionate, patient,  protective, resourceful, responsible, studious, tolerant, wise

Sources of Friction: Unreasonable administrative expectations, frequently changing curriculums and teaching methods, being unable to adequately teach the basics because of the pressures to teach to a certain test, co-teaching with a teacher whose methods or philosophies are different than one’s own, limited funding that requires one to supplement supplies, conflict with parents (who don’t support the teacher when they should, whose absentee parenting makes their child’s success difficult, who want preferential treatment, etc.), seeing a student fail despite one’s best efforts to help him or her, conflict among students, being accused of inappropriateness by a student, suspecting that a student might be a victim of abuse, being unable to connect with a student and gain their trust, suspecting that a student is being bullied but being unable to catch the offender

People They Might Interact With: Administrators, students, parents, other teachers, classroom aides, mentors,

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: As with so many occupations, the dream doesn’t always match the reality. Teachers spend a large portion of their time doing things other than teaching. They can easily find themselves doing very little of what they love, making them dissatisfied with their chosen profession.
  • Esteem and Recognition: While teachers are slowly gaining the respect they reserve, there are still people who would rather their loved ones choose occupations that pay higher wages or garner more prestige. A teacher with a parent, spouse, or other influential person putting pressure on them to find new employment may take a hit in the esteem department. This could also occur if the educator has to find a second job in order to support themselves and their family.
  • Physiological Needs: The rise of school violence has made this scenario a sadly believable one that could threaten a teacher’s survival, along with their need for safety and security.

Common Work-Related Settings: Boarding school, custodial supply room, dorm room, elementary school classroom, high school cafeteria, high school hallway, juvenile detention center, parking lot, performing arts theater, preschool, principal’s office, prom, public restroom, school bus, school locker room, science lab, teacher’s lounge, university lecture hall, university quad

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Destructive Power of The Lie Your Character Believes

We are often our own biggest critics, aren’t we? Whenever something goes wrong, we feel disappointed, frustrated, upset, or hurt. The fallout might cause others around us to suffer too, causing further anguish and guilt. When this happens, unless the situation was in no way tied to us, we tend to blame ourselves:

Why didn’t I see this coming? I should have been prepared.

How could I fall into this trap? I should have known better.

I can’t believe I did that. What’s wrong with me?

In other words, we become critical of what we did or didn’t do, how we allowed something to happen…or not. We chastise ourselves for not avoiding what said happened to us.

To be fair, sometimes we are to blame: Drunk texting an ex may lead to an embarrassing Facebook upload of screenshots the next day. Falling asleep at the wheel can end in a car accident. Most times, though? We’re not to blame. Still, we never let ourselves off the hook. Why is this?

Instinct & The Brain’s Need To Define Cause & Effect

Whenever something negative occurs that we don’t expect, we are desperate to understand why it happened so we can stop it from occurring again. This is our primal instinct to protect ourselves—mark something as “the problem,” then act so it (and the pain it causes) will be prevented in the future. Cause and effect—it’s a law we live by.

If we’re lucky, we spot the problem and follow through with a logical solution: I failed the test, so to pass next time, I will study harder. Or, My car was ransacked, so I must stop forgetting to lock it up at night. We change behavior to ensure that the same thing doesn’t happen again. Logical, right?

Unfortunately, cause and effect aren’t always clear, especially when dealing with something like an emotional wound. Rendered utterly vulnerable, lives are changed in an instant. There may not be a single cause to blame, or if there is, we often hold ourselves responsible for “letting this situation happen.” After all, we (falsely) assume we are in charge of our own lives so when control is suddenly lost, the mind reels – how did I let this happen? On some level we believe it’s our fault. Had we chosen differently, trusted someone else, paid more attention, etc., a different outcome would have resulted.

Our characters should mirror real people–this is what makes them (and their emotions) feel authentic, which captivates readers.  So, when we’re exploring their backstory and brainstorming a wound, we need to ensure that in their deepest pain, their minds follow the same detrimental path of self-blame that a person’s mind will.

The Internal Blame Game & Lie It Produces

When the character’s thoughts circle disempowering beliefs (that they are incompetent, naïve, defective, or they lack value) as a reason for their failure, it eats away at their self-worth. This, combined with a need to identify the pain’s cause will lead to a specific effect: an internal lie will form. This Lie (also called a False Belief or Misbelief) is a conclusion reached through flawed logic. Caught in a vulnerable state, the character tries to understand or rationalize his painful experience, only to falsely conclude that fault somehow lies within.

Imagine a character who convinces his wife they should pick up snacks for a movie night at home to save money rather than go out as she wanted to. While they are inside a corner store, a robbery occurs and the the wife is shot and killed.

This wounding event is horrific and will forever change the character. He’s not going to simply blame the shooter and move on. No, he’s very likely going to also blame himself. In his mind, he’ll dwell on how it was his choice to stop at the store because he was cheap and wanted to avoid an expensive ugh this out. He may question his actions in the store: why didn’t I charge the gunman? Why didn’t I find us a better hiding place? Why didn’t I try to create a distraction so my wife could escape?

You and I have perspective this character lacks and know that Losing a Loved One to a Random Act of Violence like this isn’t something a person can blame themselves for. But caught in his confusion, grief, and pain, he believes he failed his wife, failed as a husband, he was a coward, and so on.

His Lie might look like one of these:

I can’t protect the people I love.

I am unworthy of love because I fail those who give it.

I am a coward who runs rather than fights.

My judgement is flawed; I can’t be trusted to make good decisions.

Once a lie forms, it’s like a fungus releasing toxic spores. This false belief seeds itself deep into the character, damaging his self-esteem, sabotaging his confidence, and creating a deep fear, maybe that if he loves again he’ll lose them or if he’s given responsibility he’ll only screw it up and get people hurt.

This lie will affect how he sees the world and himself. It will change how he interacts with others (he’ll keep his distance, afraid of letting himself get close to people he will only fail or hurt), he will avoid chasing goals which will make him be accountable for others, and he will always be on the lookout for situations that will lead to loss and pain so he can avoid these at all costs. He goes from living a full life, to a half-life.

While most lies center on a perceived personal failing due to self-doubt or guilt, not all of them do. In cases where a wound isn’t as deeply internalized, the person may become disillusioned. Using this character’s example, he might come to believe:

People will take what you love because they can

Violence is everywhere; no place is safe

The police can’t protect anyone

This type of lie becomes a critical judgment about how the world works, because, in the eyes of the character, it’s true: someone did take what he had away from him without cause, and the last thing he expected was violence yet he found it, and the police didn’t keep this criminal off the street. His wide conclusions may be skewed, but this wounding experience taught him a negative life lesson. Now, he’ll always be expecting life’s other shoe to drop.

The lie is destructive and until it can be reversed, it will continue to hamper the happiness, fulfillment, and inner growth of your character. Understanding and planning your character’s backstory wound and lie is important. If you are writing a change arc, it is only when your character can shatter this misbelief through internal growth that they will feel that they truly deserve the goal they seek. Their deeper sense of self-worth gives them the courage and inner strength they need to put all their energy into achieving it.

What Lie does your character believe? Let me know in the comments!

If you need help with Emotional Wounds and the Lies they cause, grab your copy of The Emotional Wound Thesaurus or visit One Stop for Writers’ expanded thesaurus and our helpful tutorials.

Posted in Character Arc, Character Wound, Characters, Emotion, Emotional Wound Thesaurus, Empathy, Fear, Motivation, One Stop For Writers, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 17 Comments

Deepening Character Complexity with the Help of Psychology

Psychologists will often conduct a case formulation when a client presents in our office. If we want to be part of the change the client is seeking, then we have to have a good understanding of the client and all the factors that influence them. Now, are you seeing any parallels with a writer and their character? As writers, we want to understand our characters in a nuanced level that will allow us to create an authentic connection with our readers. We want a character who others can relate, empathise, or connect with, even if they don’t need to like them.

When psychologists aim for this level of comprehensive understanding, one framework we’ll use is the Four Ps. We apply this model to gain information about how to instigate change and move forward. Interestingly, stories are also about instigating change and moving forward, so it’s not surprising that writers can gain from this framework. Using the information you create from the Four P framework allows psychologists to understand their clients and their environment in a comprehensive manner. I believe writers can do the same for their characters and the story world they’re building.

Predisposing Factors

Although psychologists call this part of our world ‘predisposing factors’, in the world of writing, this is your character’s backstory. Psychology allows us to delve into this backstory with a deeper level of nuanced understanding. This is because psychology knows there are biological, psychological and social factors that impact on our personality and behaviours.

For a writer, this means considering both the internal and external factors that have shaped your character. Although not every point will be relevant to every story, reflecting on the following areas is going to give you a deeper understanding of your character when they enter the story.

  • What traits does your character already present with? Are they extroverted, introverted, highly intelligent, impulsive, have a family history of cancer or mental illness?
  • How has your character managed stressful situations in the past? Are they avoidant, do they rationalise, do they go on the attack? Are they quick thinkers, or do they need time to process the events that unfold around them? These personality and psychological structures are going to predict how your character responds to the challenges your plot is about to throw their way.
  • How has their social world influenced them? Cultural and sociodemographic influences are what every writer needs to consider when crafting an authentic character. If your character is a Caucasian, middle-aged man who grew up in middle-class suburbia, their childhood environment is going to be quite different to a Hindu girl who grew up in the slums of India.

Precipitating Factors

Precipitating factors are actually described as inciting incidents in the psychological literature, which serendipitously aligns with story structure terminology. When we consider precipitating factors in our story, think of the inciting incident that may launch your hero into act two or three, but also all the little instances where their wound or misbeliefs are triggered which will allow you to show what really pushes their buttons.

  • What situation/s would directly challenge your character’s understanding of the world?
  • Two people may experience the same precipitating event, but react differently depending on their backgrounds, life experience, social support, coping strategies and current circumstances. Which of these influencing factors are relevant to your character and story?
  • How can you use this knowledge to challenge, trip up, or even confirm, your character’s perception of the world in small ways throughout your story?

Perpetuating Factors

Perpetuating factors are very much the nuts and bolts of your story world. These are the factors that maintain your character’s thoughts and response style, and will either reinforce them, or challenge them. Perpetuating factors are likely to be a carefully considered mix of the following:

  • We all see the world through our own perceptions and beliefs. Consider what this lens looks like for your character; are they an optimist or pessimist, do they struggle to understand social cues, are they depressed, do they believe no one can be trusted?
  • What social relationships are currently impacting on your character? Do they have a supportive teacher, avoidant parents, a broad peer network or only one trusted friend? What does this mean for your character’s choices?
  • Consider your broader story world—a dystopian society is always going to impact on its story world inhabitants (particularly depending on which side of the social ladder you got allocated to), but how does it impact on your character personally? How does this information relate to everything you’ve already learned?

Protective Factors

Deep character brainstorming with the four P's - unearth the deeper aspects of your character to plan backstory

Protective factors are one reason I love the Four Ps model—protective factors delve into your character’s strengths, resilience and support. It allows us to explore our character’s assets, but in detail from their internal traits, to the world you’ve created around them.

  • What traits does your character have that will aid them as you drag them through hell—I mean, the story? Are they street smart, are they great at problem solving? Are they empathic, optimistic, funny, determined, disciplined or dedicated? Take a little time to consider the strengths your character already had when they first walked onto the page.
  • Who are the people around them that support and help them? Some of these already existed in the details of your backstory, like the grandmother who taught your character to stand up for the underdog, through to a new mentor that teaches them the rules of the fantastical world they’ve just discovered themselves in.
  • What strengths does your character have that they aren’t aware of? The external perspective of a psychologist, or in our case, the writer, holds an objectivity and understanding a person may be too close to see. Consider how your character may discover these strengths, and what that could mean for them.

What do you think? Can you see the wonderful link between case formulation and character building? By reviewing and applying the four Ps, what have you learned about your character? Your story world?

Tamar Sloan is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Tamar is also an award-winning author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can checkout Tamar’s books on her author website.

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Posted in Basic Human Needs, Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Traits, Character Wound, Characters, Emotion, Motivation, Resident Writing Coach, Subtext, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 11 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Store Cashier

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

What is your character's occupation? If they are a retail store cashier, this post will tell you all about that type of job. Occupation: Store Cashier

Overview: A cashier is someone who handles transactions, accepting payments for goods from customers (who might be buying milk at a grocery store, a plant from a flower shop, or a meal at their local pizzeria). Cashiers are usually stationed at a specific checkout with a cash register and remain there as customers come to them. Occasionally they may have other duties they perform during a lull in traffic, such as straightening the checkout area (which often contains magazine racks, gift card, chocolate bars or other store-specific impulse items).  If the bagging of items is required, the cashier may also do this, and remove tags if requested.

Cashiers handle a variety of payments such as cash, credit cards, gift certificates, coupons, and the like. They require basic math skills and need a good memory as they must apply store processes to ringing in items, know codes for different departments or those assigned to goods being purchased (such as fruit and vegetables being weighed). Cashiers are also the “front line” when it comes to dealing with customers, so they must be personable and able to problem solve or deescalate situations where customers are upset or frustrated.

Cashiers with seniority in larger stores may be put in charge of the front end (customer support), working more with management and less on cash, performing duties such as scheduling hours for cashiers and clerks, creating break assignments for front end employees, restocking the checkout area, attending to price checks and re coding prices  within the store’s computer system if required. They will also handling customer inquires and some paperwork.

A character may have a cashiering job at a grocery store, gas station, convenience store, retail shop, restaurant, cafeteria, movie theater, hardware store, coffee house, fast food or takeout place, recreation spaces, or any service industry business that sees regular foot traffic.

Necessary Training:  Most cashier jobs require no formal education level, but on-the-job training is provided. Cashiers either attend special training sessions to learn how to run the cash register and perform related duties, or they are shadowed for the first few shifts by more experienced coworkers. Cashiers may also have to memorize store codes for certain products (such as a grocery store). Lists of these codes are provided by the store and employees are expected to memorize them on their own time. Because cashiers handle money, trust is paramount. For this reason, it is unlikely that someone with a known criminal record would be hired as a cashier.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, charm, empathy, enhanced hearing, exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, hospitality, making people laugh, mechanically inclined, multitasking, photographic memory,  promotion, reading people

Helpful Character Traits: calm, charming, cooperative, courteous, diplomatic, disciplined, discreet, easygoing, efficient, friendly, honest, hospitable, independent, loyal, obedient, observant, organized, proactive, professional, witty

Sources of Friction: Angry customers who feel they are being overcharged or can’t find the product they like best, people soliciting customers outside the store without permission, ethical issues when customers wish to buy products to get high with or underage customers try to buy products that are not age-appropriate (condoms, pregnancy tests, etc.),  other employees who don’t show up for their shift and cause staff shortages at peak times, coworkers who use seniority to get out of certain duties, money that goes missing from the till, customers who are inebriated or belligerent, customers who act violent, shoplifters, robberies, having one’s hours reduced when one can’t afford to lose out on income, being blamed for something so the management can save face

People They Might Interact With: customers, other store employees, management, delivery people

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: A character who is unable to find employment elsewhere due to job shortages may feel underemployed and unfulfilled. Trapped by financial circumstances, they are unable to pursue other passions or higher education.
  • Esteem and Recognition: People may look down on cashiers because this work doesn’t require much education and a character’s self-esteem may suffer as a result.
  • Safety and Security: As a cashier with direct access to money, your character will be in danger should someone come into the store looking to rob the place.
  • Physiological Needs: Because this job pays very little, the character may find they are unable to secure basic needs (food, shelter, etc.) depending on where they live and who they are providing for in addition to themselves.

Common Work-Related Settings: bakery, bank, bar, bookstore, bowling alley, break room, casino, casual dining restaurant, cheap motel, circus, coffeehouse, convenience store, county fair, cruise ship, deli, diner, farmer’s market, fast food restaurant, flower shop, gas station, grocery store, hair salon, hardware store, high school cafeteria, ice cream parlor, jewelry store, laundromat, library, liquor store, mechanic’s shop, movie theater, museum, nightclub, pawn shop, psychic’s shop, pub, race track (horses), shopping mall, spa, sporting event stands, tattoo parlor, thrift store, trade show, train station, trendy mall clothing store, truck stop, upscale hotel lobby, used car dealership, video arcade, zoo

Twisting the Stereotype: Cashiers are often portrayed as run-down women who have fallen on hard times and hate their job. Why not give us a character who genuinely loves the work and interacting with people?

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Outlining Your Future Book in 30 Minutes

To plot or to pants? That is the question—one with as many different answers as there are writers. As an avid plotter, the idea of pantsing gives me the heebie-jeebies, but I understand that my over-the-top planning would probably make other writers break out in hives. That’s why I’m happy that Lesley Vos is here to share a quick outlining method that pretty much anyone could use to lay the framework for their story.

We all have a story in us, and the day comes when we feel ready to share it with the world. But writing is hard. It’s often a challenge more than a pleasant pastime. One of the reasons for this is a lack of planning.

Some fiction writers believe that creativity and imagination are enough to take them where they need to go, that if they allow the characters to live their own lives, they result will be a highly readable book. And this does work for a small number of writers. But in many cases, a few weeks or months go by, and neither the authors nor their characters know where the story’s going.

Outline your fiction or nonfiction book project in just thirty minutes.Things work a little differently with nonfiction writers, who seriously plan their books before they’re written. This planning can help fiction authors, too, saving them time and energy and preventing plot and character mishaps, along with writer’s burnout.

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, for those of you who aren’t too keen on planning, I’d like to share my plan for outlining a story idea in just thirty minutes.

Fiction Projects

Understandably, you don’t want your future masterpiece to sound like an academic essay. And yet a summary, together with core facts on plot and characters, would come in handy. It will at least help you avoid hitting the writer’s-block wall and failing to finish the story.

To write an outline of your future novel, follow these steps:

1. (5 minutes) Write a one-sentence summary, or log line, of your story as you would describe it to agents. How would you make them understand that this book is worth publishing? Screenwriters call it a log line—a one-sentence synopsis that shows the potential of a movie based on its premise, characters, and conflict. Blake Snyder perfectly decribed it in his book Save the Cat! For example, here’s the one-sentence log line for The Shawshank Redemption.

Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency. 

2) (10 minutes) Expand it to a three-act structure. The first act will introduce characters, the main conflict, and time. The second one will develop the idea and reveal more about characters. The third act includes a climax and solution to the conflict. This summary can be just a few sentences long or it can go into more details—whatever you’re comfortable with. The following shows how the Shawshank log line can be expanded into a five-sentence summary of the three-act structure:

In 1947, a young banker Andy is wrongfully accused of the murder of his wife and convicted to two life sentences in Shawshank State Penitentiary. He meets Red there, a man who had been to that prison for 20 years already. Thanks to his professional background, Andy becomes useful for guards, helping them to evade taxation, but yet can’t avoid violence and sexual assaults from inmates. He asked Red, known as a “guy who knows how to get things,” for a rock hammer to pick up his hobby of rock shaping and a poster of Rita Hayworth. These are two things allowing Andy to escape: he digs a hole, covering it behind the poster, and reunites with his friend Red after 40 years.  

3) (5 minutes) Specify the main characters.  Write a one-sentence summary of each character: their name, goal, motivation, conflict, and storyline. Who are they? What do they want? What could prevent them from getting it? What part do they play in the plot?

4) (10 minutes) Go back to step two and expand each sentence into a paragraph, including more details. This will help you understand if your whole story works or not. Also, you’ll see whether you need all the characters represented in step three.

Now you’re ready to start writing the book. Go back to the structure; bring characters to life with more details about their appearance, history, hobbies, and the changes they will experience throughout the story. Set the scenes, and re-draft wherever necessary.

NonFiction Projects

Before writing a detailed outline of your nonfiction book, make sure the market needs it. Spend some time on research. Are there any published books on similar topics? What structures do they have and how well are they selling? Do you have anything new to say?

Also, consider the audience. Do they need another book on your topic? What would they like to see in the book?

Finally, ask yourself: is your idea original, or are you just paraphrasing existing books? What unique experience(s) do you have to share with people? What skills will they get after reading your book?

Now it’s time to create your detailed outline.

1) (5 minutes) Specify the main idea of your book. This is often easy, because you’re aware of what book you want to write. It’s also important at this stage to consider your own experience with the topic since this will tell you if you have something exclusive or unique to offer on the topic.

2) (5 minutes) Come up with a title that gives a promise to readers: “This book will help you gain this skill.” Here’s an example of how these two points can work together to help an author zero in on their book’s main idea and how their experience can make it stand out:

Chris Anderson, author of  TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking, has 
worked behind the scenes with all the TED speakers for many years. In his book, he shares insights from TED’s favorites on how to speak publicly like a boss. 


The book’s title tells readers exactly what skill they’ll acquire by reading the book (learn to speak publicly). And Chris’s experience offers him the unique opportunity to share insights and advice from industry professionals. This is how he can differentiate his project from other books on the same topic.

3) (10 minutes) Consider a Harvard essay structure. Write an introduction (specify a hypothesis you’ll work on in your book – a “what” component), a body (enumerate arguments you will include into the book – a “how” component), and a conclusion (specify a thesis – a “why” component).

4) (10 minutes) Itemize the structure. Go back to step three and detail each item the best you can. Here’s an example of what this might look like.

After your outline is ready, draft the rest of the details, and your book will be born.

In the case of book writing, planning matters. No one says you need to forget about creativity, sudden strokes of inspiration, and plot twists; they’ll be your companions during the writing process. But before you start, spend just thirty minutes on outlining your future book so you won’t give up the idea of writing it once the first mishap takes place.

Lesley Vos is a seasoned web writer and blogger behind PlagiarismCheck.org. Lesley specializes on planning, researching, and creating plagiarism-free, in-depth, and comprehensive content. Feel free to see more works of hers on Twitter (@LesleyVos).

Posted in Guest Post, Plotting, Uncategorized | 12 Comments