Emotional Wound Entry: Having to Kill Another Person To Survive

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

killerCharacters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect. 


  • a forced initiation into a gang or military group
  • a parent protecting their child or themselves from a stranger
  • a parent protecting their child or themselves from a violent spouse
  • a child protecting a loved one
  • killing to escape confinement or torture
  • having to kill in battle (soldier) or as part of one’s job (a bank guard or police officer, etc.)
  • being forced to kill another as part of a sadistic game or situation
  • performing a mercy killing to end another’s extreme suffering
  • killing to protect those in one’s care
  • killing to protect one’s vital resources in dire circumstances
  • killing to obtain vital resources (food, water, weapons) for one’s family

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: safety and security, esteem and recognition, love and belonging

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I am a violent/dangerous person/a monster
  • The world is an evil place
  • I did the unthinkable and so am capable of anything
  • I will suffer damnation for what I’ve done
  • No one will ever trust me again
  • People look at me differently now
  • People are afraid to be around me or get close
  • People expect that I will just snap and commit violence
  • It doesn’t matter what I do, people will only see me as a killer
  • I can never balance the scales after taking a life, never make up for what I did

Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, appreciative, cautious, courageous, decisive, diplomatic, disciplined, independent, introverted, private, proactive, resourceful, protective, socially aware

Negative Traits That May Result: addictive, antisocial, controlling, cynical, defensive, humorless, impatient, inflexible, irrational, materialistic, needy, paranoid, pessimistic, prejudiced, suspicious, timid, vindictive, violent, withdrawn

Resulting Fears:

Note: fears will be circumstance-specific, but below are some possible suggestions

  • fear of strangers
  • fear of loud noises
  • fear of being confined
  • fear of poverty (if a factor)
  • fear of weapons
  • fear of the dark
  • fear of a specific people group associated with the event

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • having to know where one’s loved ones are at all times
  • increased security protocol for one’s home and family
  • difficulty building trust and friendships
  • avoiding sharing personal information
  • having a secret store for cash, weapons or other resources (whichever factors into the original situation)
  • avoiding answering the door when alone or if it is a stranger
  • not leaving one’s home, avoiding going places alone
  • assessing risks before making a decision, a lack of spontaneity
  • investigating people in one’s family life to determine if they pose a threat
  • taking care with one’s resources, avoiding wastefulness and debt that could narrow one’s options
  • thinking about the worst case scenario
  • difficulty relaxing or enjoying the little things
  • noticing dangers and threats constantly

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus. For our current list of Emotional Wound Entries, go here.

For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.

Image: Satlitov @ pixabay

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Avoid Black Friday Mayhem & Create Happy Writers

shoppingWell, the terrifying shopping season is upon us. I find people either embrace Black Friday with incredible enthusiasm, or they want to get as far from it as they can. I am not a big shopper on my best day, so you can probably guess I’ll be hanging out at home, and any shopping I do will be from my keyboard.

If you’re like me, then I have some good news for you: maybe we can knock a few people off your Christmas list if they happen to be the writerly sort!

pinterestFirst of all, I have created a Pinterest Board FULL of gifts for writers. Oh, the cool things I have found. (I hope Santa is listening!)

Second, Becca and I have put together a page full of the top writing books that have helped our careers immensely. These are our personal recommendations, and we hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Or, if you want a few more ideas for a specific area of craft, then check Amazon’s Best Sellers & Most Wished For lists.

gift certificateFinally, if you have been thinking about taking One Stop For Writers for a spin or know someone else who wants to, we now have Gift Certificates available, so if you like, swing by and check it out. They never expire.

Speaking of One Stop, a newsletter just went out that details our planned upgrades. If you’re interested, you can read it here.

So, what are your BLACK FRIDAY plans…fight the crowds, shop at home, or get some writing done? Let me know in the comments!


Image 1: HerbiFot @ Pixabay

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The Subtle Knife: Writing Characters Readers Trust But Shouldn’t

I don’t know about you, but I love reading books where the author encourages me to draw conclusions that are wrong. Case in point–untrustworthy characters who I trust anyway. Like all writers, I am ultra aware of character cues and actions as I read, so when I’m led astray and find out someone I believed to be good really isn’t, I want to cheer and tell the author, “Well done!”

Tricking readers in this manner is difficult.

moodyIn real life, all of us are body language experts. At least 93% of communication is nonverbal, meaning we are very adept at ‘reading’ other people by their mannerisms, gestures, habits and voice changes. In books, this skill allows us to pick up on nonverbal cues which communicate a character’s emotions. Plus, if we are in the dishonest character’s POV, we also have access to their thoughts and internal visceral sensations (heartbeat changes, adrenaline shifts and other uncontrollable fight-or-flight responses). All of this means that tricking the reader can be very tough.

There are several ways to make the reader believe one thing while another thing is true.

One technique is the red herring. This is where a writer nudges a reader in one direction hard enough that their brain picks up on ‘planted’ clues meant to mislead them. So for example, let’s say I had a character who was a pastor and youth councilor for his church and he spent his weekends working with homeless teens, trying to get them back into group homes. The reader will begin to get a certain image in their mind.

If I then further describe him as slightly bald with a bad taste in fashion (imagine the kind of guy that wears those awful patterned sweater vests) but who has a smile for everyone he meets, it’s a good bet that I’ve disarmed the reader. They’ve written this character off as a nice, honest guy. Even though his life is all about the church, no way could he be the one stealing cash from the collection box, or the man having affairs with depressed women parishioners, or playing Dr. Death by administering heroin to street teens, right?

Another technique is pairing. Similar to a red herring, pairing is when we do two things at once to mask important clues. If, as an author, I show my friendly pastor leaving an alleyway at night and then have a car crash happen right in front of him, which event will the reader focus on? And if later, the police find another overdosed teen nearby as they interview the pastor about the accident, commending him from pulling a woman from the wreckage before the car could explode…would the reader put two and two together? If I did my job right, then no.

1NTA third technique is to disguise aspects of his “untrustworthy nature” using a Character Flaw. After all, no one is perfect. Readers expect characters to have flaws to make them realistic. If our nice pastor (am I going to go to Hell for making my serial killer a pastor?) is characterized as absent-minded with a habit of forgetting names, misplacing his keys, or starting service late and flustered because of a mishap, later when the police ask him when he last saw dead teen X and he can’t quite remember, readers aren’t alarmed. After all, that’s just part of who the character is, right?

When your goal is to trick your readers, SET UP is vital.

If the clues are not there all along, people will feel ripped off when you rip the curtain aside. Make sure to provide enough details that they are satisfied you pulled one over them fair and square!

What techniques do you use to show a character is untrustworthy? Any tips on balancing your clue-sprinkling so that the reader doesn’t pick up on your deceit before you’re ready for them to? Let me know in the comments! 

Image: lllblackhartlll @ Pixabay

Posted in Character Flaws, Character Traits, Characters, Experiments, Positive & Negative Thesaurus Guides, Subtext, Uncategorized, Villains, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 10 Comments

Resources for Television Writers

At Writers Helping Writers, we want to support everyone. Screenwriters, novelists, picture book authors, ghostwriters, journalists, magazine writers—we love you all and want to see you succeed! So while we tend to focus on novel writing, we like to also publish posts that deal with specific genres and formats. For this reason, we’re excited to host Lesley Vos, who’s here to share some information about writing for TV—a topic Angela and I have no experience with and so haven’t discussed much.

Now, before you change the channel because you “don’t write for TV,” keep in mind that we can learn a lot from writers of other genres. Stephen King has a lot of wisdom to offer for everyone, not just those in the horror business. Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need was a game-changer for me, bringing the complex nature of story structure down to a manageable level. And I don’t write screenplays. So keep an open mind and read on to see what nuggets you might glean.


Courtesy: Bruce Guenter @ Creative Commons

If you read a lot of books, you’re considered well read. But if you watch a lot of TV, you’re not considered well viewed.”Lily Tomlin

Do you write for TV? Or do you dream of becoming a TV writer whose scripts will garner many fans and followers?

If so, you’ll need some help to learn the art of screenwriting and improve your general skills. Small tips, writing rules, online references and resources for TV writers – they all can come in handy if you want to be a real master of your trade.

Things to remember when you write for TV

When a person decides to join a team of professional TV writers, he often doesn’t know what’s involved. Television writing has its specifications; some of them are the same as for other genres, and some are different. You have to be familiar with the specifics of writing for TV if you’re going to succeed in this business. A few general things to keep in mind:

  • Be literate.
  • Know how to tell stories.
  • Understand the four-act structure.
  • Know what a script is and how to write one.
  • Be able to capture the style of the TV shows you want to write for.
  • Know how to structure scenes and acts.
  • Be able to capture the voice of each character.

Clare Dowling, a writer behind twelve seasons of Fair City, has posted this very good article on tips for TV writers.

Online resources to bookmark for TV writers

  1. Helping Writers Become Authors – A website by K.M. Weiland where she shares insights into writing powerful scenes, structuring your stories, creating awesome characters, and much more. Useful content for every TV writer to have.
  2. Genre Hacks – A website by Sean Hood where he shares his filmmaking experience and posts interviews and discussions on writing TV scenes and using various related technologies. He is a professional screenwriter with a lot of practical knowledge that can benefit TV writers.
  3. Save the Cat – A website by Blake Snyder, a screenwriter and producer. Here you’ll find workshops, seminars, script coverage from screenwriting experts, books on screenwriting, useful resources to develop screenwriting skills, and much more.
  4. Final Draft — A website where one can check all the news and events of the screenwriting world, read articles and interviews on writing for TV, and watch tutorial videos. The CEO of Final Draft is Marc Madnick, a professional screenwriter who has been working in this field since 1986.
  5. Film Script Writing – A website containing real scripts (Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, When Harry Met Sally, etc.) that are available to the public. Reading these familiar and successful examples can help writers learn the nuances and details of scriptwriting in their own genres and find out if their scripts are structured the right way.
  6. John August’s Blog – A website where the experienced screenwriter shares his knowledge and reveals the secrets behind television writing. Many interesting stories, interviews, tips, and tricks for writing TV scripts can be found here. You are welcome to contact John and ask him questions, too.
  7. Movie Bytes – A website with information on screenwriting contests and markets. You are welcome to take part, to share your experiences, to learn from experts, to read the latest news from the world of TV writing, and more.
  8. Syd Field – This resource provides workshops and online courses for those interested in learning the skill of screenwriting. It includes useful tools for writers, articles and interviews, Field’s books on screenplays – all of this information is a must-see for those who want to write for TV.
  9. Script Shadow – This website reviews the latest scripts in Hollywood and lets you take part in different contests for screenwriters. Movie reviews, advice on writing, articles to learn something new on writing for TV – they all can be found here. Plus, you can send them your own script for a review.

Bonus: Useful software for TV writers to bookmark

Looking for something more practical to help with writing your TV scripts? These tools might be useful:

  • Fountain – A tool that allows you to write in plain texts and export scripts to HTML, PDF, or Final Draft. This is a markup syntax for writing, editing, and sharing your screenplays.
  • Scrivener – A tool for generating content and composing and structuring long documents. Scrivener gives you control over formatting and is focused on helping you complete your first draft.
  • Celtx – A tool that lets you create scripts, schedules, cast&crew reports, and other writings needed for production.

In closing, don’t be afraid of screenwriting. Learn its genres to improve your skills and write desirable scripts for TV. Read books on screenwriting, ask experts, follow their blogs, take part in contests, and you just might end up becoming a TV guru on someone’s list of screenwriting resources down the road.


About the author: Lesley Vos is a writer. She is honored to contribute her writings to many websites, sharing her experience and helping others improve their writing skills. You are welcome to check Lesley’s profile here or contact her on G+.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Emotional Wounds Thesaurus: Getting Lost in a Natural Environment

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

Characters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect. 


Credit: Richard Leeming @ Creative Commons

Examples: Becoming lost for an extended period of time…

  • in the woods
  • in the mountains
  • in the desert
  • while hiking or camping

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • I am incompetent.
  • I can’t trust my instincts.
  • I cannot save myself; I need others to rescue me.
  • I don’t need anyone else; I can take care of myself.
  • Being alone is bad.
  • I can never be truly safe.
  • Nothing I do matters because everything is determined by fate.

Positive Attributes That May Result: adaptable, alert, cautious, independent, observant, optimistic, patient, persistent, resourceful, sensible,

Negative Traits That May Result: controlling, defensive, humorless, insecure, irrational, lazy, martyr, morbid, needy, nervous, obsessive, paranoid, pessimistic, possessive, rebellious, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, self-indulgent, selfish, superstitious, temperamental, timid, uncommunicative, uncooperative, withdrawn, worrywart

Resulting Fears:

  • Fear of the landscape in which one was lost (forests, mountains, deserts, etc.)
  • Fear of wild animals
  • Fear of the dark
  • Fear of not having enough to eat
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of crowds
  • Fear of noisy places
  • Fear of venturing too far from home
  • Fear of new places
  • Fear of isolated places

Possible Habits That May Emerge: 

  • Becoming homebound; rarely leaving one’s home
  • Avoiding places like the one where one was lost
  • Becoming obsessed with places like the one where one was lost
  • Hoarding food, blankets, or whatever else would have staved off suffering during one’s trial
  • Being thrifty with one’s resources
  • Appreciating small comforts
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Becoming dependent on others
  • Never going anywhere alone
  • Avoiding new places
  • Refusing to accept help from others
  • Relocating to a home where one feels secure, be that away from people or nearer to them
  • No longer adhering to social norms (ignoring personal space, undressing in public, not bathing, etc.)

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus. For our current list of Emotional Wound Entries, go here.

For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How to Decide How Many POV Characters Our Book Needs

Becca and I see certain questions pop up in our email boxes over and over, and one that always comes up during NaNoWriMo season is the question of how many POVs a novel should have.

Marcy_KennedyLike so many questions, this isn’t a cut-and-dry answer; so much depends on the type of story being told, what the author needs to achieve through multiple POVs, and to a lesser degree, the experience of the writer themselves. So I’m happy author Marcy Kennedy is here with some excellent metrics to consider when planning a novel and choosing how many POV characters to include.

FleuronOne of the most common challenges for us as writers is deciding how many point-of-view characters we should use, and yet a lot of the advice we hear can be too generic. Use the right number for your genre. Don’t use more than three.

While those tips are good general advice, they’re often not specific enough to actually answer our question. Our story might seem to need more than the standard advice would recommend. Or there might not even be a “standard” for our genre. How do we decide how many point-of-view characters to include?

One technique we can use for figuring out what’s best for our individual story is to write down all the potential point-of-view characters we might want to use, and then ask ourselves the following questions.

Who is the protagonist?

Our protagonist is the person whose goal drives the story. Most of the time, we need our protagonist to also be a point-of-view character (and to receive the majority of our scenes). Identify them first, and then you don’t have to consider them in the rest of the questions.

Would it improve the story to include scenes from the antagonist’s viewpoint?

In some stories, we don’t want to delve into the mind of our antagonist, either because the antagonist is an especially twisted villain or because revealing the identity or plans of the antagonist would ruin the tension. In other stories, knowing the antagonist and his or her plans increases the tension as readers worry about whether our heroes will spot the trap in time.

What’s the scope of our story?

An epic fantasy spanning five planets where the fate of the galaxy is at stake might require more point-of-view characters than the coming-of-age story of a young woman in feudal Japan. Generally speaking, the smaller the scope, the fewer point-of-view characters we need. The larger the scope, the more we can reasonably use, but that doesn’t mean we must or should—which is where the other questions come in.

Does every potential point-of-view character influence the plot in a significant way?

This is a good question for checking that each potential point-of-view character is essential. If a character could be cut without having to change the plot in any significant way, or if another character could easily step in and take their place, they probably aren’t a good choice for a point-of-view character because they’re expendable.

Does including this point-of-view character’s perspective enhance the theme?

Theme is always a tricky area for writers. We don’t want readers to feel like we’re beating them over the head with our message. Theme should develop through our main character’s growth arc and the challenging decisions they face, but another way to enhance our theme is to have characters approach it from varying angles and to take different sides on the issue. Those other characters don’t necessarily need to be point-of-view characters, though. So what we want to look at is whether we need to be inside a character to truly understand their opinion and stance on the issue.

Say we’re writing a mystery and we have a detective and her partner. The detective is our protagonist. She’s the one driving our story. So do we also need scenes from the viewpoint of her partner? Maybe, maybe not.

If he’s only there to be her sounding board, then we probably never need to go into his head. But, instead, if they’re investigating a crime involving a local church and her partner is a devout Christian, then his perspective on the events and on the people involved would add new layers we couldn’t develop if all we had was the viewpoint of our atheist detective.

Which characters play a key role at the climax of the novel?

Our whole story builds up to the climax or the “final battle” where our characters fight the antagonist. The characters who are instrumental during this climax are the ones who are most important in the story. These are also good characters to consider for roles as point-of-view characters. If a character isn’t involved in the climax of the story, that’s a clue they might not be important enough to be a point-of-view character.

How many scenes might I give this character in their point of view?

If we’re only considering giving them one or two scenes, it usually means we want to make this person a point-of-view character to shoehorn in information or to show a part of the story that doesn’t need to be shown. Those aren’t good reasons to make someone a point-of-view character.

Each point-of-view character we include needs to have goals, motivations, and stakes within the story and to give a valuable, necessary perspective on the situation.


Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand—or fall.

It’s the opinions and judgments that color everything the reader believes about the world and the story. It’s the voice of the character that becomes as familiar to the reader as their own. It’s what makes the story real, believable, and honest.

Yet, despite its importance, point-of-view errors are the most common problem for fiction writers.

In Point of View in Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide, you’ll learn

  • the strengths and weaknesses of the four different points of view you can choose for your story (first person, second person, limited third person, and omniscient),
  • how to select the right point of view for your story,
  • how to maintain a consistent point of view throughout your story,
  • practical techniques for identifying and fixing head-hopping and other point-of-view errors,
  • the criteria to consider when choosing the viewpoint character for each individual scene or chapter,
  • and much more!

Amazon | iTunes | Barnes & Noble | Kobo

Marcy Kennedy is the author of the bestselling Busy Writer’s Guides series, which focuses on giving authors deep teaching while still respecting their time. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth on her website.

Have a POV question for Marcy? This is an excellent opportunity to pick her brain on all things Point-of-view!


Posted in Characters, Guest Post, Point of View, Uncategorized | 19 Comments

The Fatal Flaw of Underwriting

Fatal Flaws FINAL ebook coverHi everyone–I hope you had a terrific weekend and are in the mood to learn. Today I’m handing over the blog keys to Rachel Starr Thomson, one of the editors who have jointly written 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing. I’m excited about this venture of Rachel’s as the book  features more than sixty detailed Before and After examples of flawed and corrected passages to help authors learn to spot flaws in their writing. Seeing real examples is a great way to elevate your writing.

The Fatal Flaw of Underwriting

Fundamentally, when we write a story, we want to connect with readers’ emotions. Engage emotion. Elicit it. Give readers a story they don’t just learn but one they feel and will never forget.

Yet emotion is one of the story elements most commonly underwritten—and underwriting in general tends to harm emotional connection the most.

Underwriting is just what it sounds like: it’s the failure to put things on the page that need to be there. When somebody picks up a gun and fires it off, and we didn’t know there was a gun on stage, that’s underwriting. When someone makes a decision completely out of the blue, leaving us not so much surprised as confused, that’s underwriting. When a story just plain doesn’t make sense, it’s probably underwritten.

And when no matter how hard you try, you just can’t give a damn about the characters? Most likely underwriting is at fault.

Why We Underwrite

The dirty little secret, though? Underwriting is sometimes (often) a direct result of following editorial advice like “show, don’t tell,” and “make sure your scenes are active and full of conflict” and “don’t info dump or fill your scenes with backstory.”

As an editor who also writes stuff (a lot of stuff), allow me to eat humble pie and tell you that sometimes we push you to strip so much out of your story that it ends up gasping for breath, struggling to hang on to a shred of character or conflict that anyone cares about.

I’ve been there. I once misinterpreted “show don’t tell” so horrendously that I thought it meant everything had to be conveyed through action and dialogue alone, and I was never allowed to include thoughts or backstory. Talk about gutting a book!


Underwriting hurts emotional connection so badly because it turns everything 2D. We lose contact with really essential parts of our stories, settings, and characters when we fail to include what needs to be there.

In particular, these three often-underwritten areas can make or break connection:

Process. When your character goes from decision point A (“I will not go to the ball”) to decision point B (“I will go to the ball”), and we didn’t see any of the decision process, it’s impossible to feel invested in the question. The Rule of Three is helpful here: in a decision of midlevel importance (meaning it’s more important than “I think I’ll brush my teeth” and less important than “I think I’ll marry the hero after all”), show three stages of the decision-making progress.

I will not go to the ball.

  1. But then I just learned my best friend is going.
  2. If my best friend goes, she will exceed my popularity.
  3. If she exceeds my popularity, I will lose the interest of the prince.

I will go to the ball after all.

Reaction. In my clients’ manuscripts, it’s amazing how often something will happen that ought to get a reaction from the POV character … and it doesn’t. I mean, somebody’s mother might have just died, and we get crickets. When you’re in POV you always always always have to react. Even if you don’t react, it has to be because you’re being so darn deliberate about not reacting. If the temperature drops, shiver. If someone dies, cry. If someone says something provocative, have an opinion about it.

Many times, I’ve had a client return a manuscript after revision, and simply by adding reaction—usually in the form of a thought, shown through deep POV—they had absolutely transformed the story. A character who responds to things is alive, and through that character, the story can be experienced at far greater depth.

The Thoughts Behind Emotion. This is a biggie, and it’s where “show don’t tell” can be so incredibly damaging when misunderstood. We know not to write “She was angry.” So instead, many writers revert to writing “body emotions”: “She ground her teeth.” “She turned red.” This makes for a lot of odd and sometimes unclear images, but it doesn’t connect us to the character’s emotion at all. We see her feeling something; we don’t feel it. The best way to convey emotion, it turns out, is to write thoughts. We feel in response to things we’re thinking. So do our characters. If you can show what they are thinking, nine times out of ten you can make an emotional connection with your readers.

Words are the stuff of our worlds. Without words to translate into vivid images, actions, thought processes, emotions, settings, and more, none of those things can exist. So underwriting is actually as great a danger to a novelist as overwriting—perhaps even a greater one.

Thankfully, underwriting not irreparable. In fact, when we go and fill in the gaps, we might just discover the missing heart of our own stories.

RST author picRachel Starr Thomson is the author of eighteen novels. As an editor and writing coach, she has helped writers achieve their best work for over a decade—so she’s thrilled to contribute to The Writer’s Toolbox series, which gives fiction writers everything they need to know to create compelling, solid stories, with 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing.

You can check out all Rachel’s books at her website.

Which of these three areas of underwriting do you struggle with? Let us know in the comments!


Posted in Editing Tips, Grammar, Guest Editor, Guest Post, Revision and Editing, Uncategorized | 35 Comments

On Writing Badly and Redefining Failure


Credit: Monda at Creative Commons

I want to start by saying how proud I am of all of you who are attempting NaNoWriMo. I’ve done NaNo before, and I know how hard it is to plan and write an entire story in one month. I remember the struggle, and I still remember the lessons that I learned during the process. Because I know that many of you might be hitting the wall, I’d like to share some inspiration that might help you soldier through.

The thing that frustrated me the most when I started drafting was how blah the writing was. It was hard enough to get the words down, and once I did, I was completely underwhelmed by them. Then I stumbled across this quote by Shannon Hale that’s been making the rounds:

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles. 

Yes. Yes! By all that is holy, YES! This is what we do. We shovel words onto paper, as fast as we can, knowing—even expecting—them to be fairly crappy. Don’t worry about correct word choice, proper grammar, or flair. Just get the words down. That’s what you’re aiming for this month.

And that ties in to my second mantra, stolen from Dean Wesley Smith:

Dare to be bad

I’m a little weird in that drafting is the most difficult part of the process for me. Every day when I sit down to write, it takes forever to get going. For me—and for a lot of writers, I’ve learned—it all comes down to fear. Fear of starting in the wrong place, of wasting time, of going through all this effort and the story not being any good—all of this stymies the writing. It wasn’t until I read Dean’s advice that I freed myself up to write badly. I realized that the only writers who do get it right the first time around are the ones who’ve been doing it for years and have written roughly a gajillion words. I’m not there yet. But I will be, if I keep writing. And so will you. So when you’re struggling through that first draft and you’re afraid that it totally sucks, don’t worry. Dare to be bad, and just finish the story. You’ll have plenty of time to pretty it up later. That’s what the revision process is for.

And that leads to a favorite quote—this one from Kristen Lamb—that we all need to remember from time to time:

Redefine Failure

When I started my NaNo, I aimed for the standard goal of 50,000 words. It became clear very quickly that I wasn’t going to make it. Wasn’t even going to come close. I had to revise my goal, and I ended up with 30,000 words— barely a third of my novel. At first I was disappointed that I had achieved so little. But then I realized, No. I had planned and outlined an entire novel. Wrote the first third of it with a preschooler underfoot. Wrote 30,000 words that I wouldn’t have had under my belt if I hadn’t tried. Mastered some new techniques that are getting me closer to being able to write those solid first drafts. I had to redefine my notions of success and failure to appreciate all that I’d accomplished in just thirty days.

And that’s my hope for each of you: Get the words down on paper. Don’t worry about the quality. And realize that what you’re doing is A-MAZING. This month is about more than just finishing a book. It’s also about the writing, whether that’s 5000 words or 50,000. With every word you write, you learn. As you learn, you improve. And as you improve, the process gets easier.

You’re doing great! Keep up the good work!

Posted in Motivational | 20 Comments

NaNoWriMo Triage Center: Helping You Get To 50K

There you are, happily pounding out words, the click and rattle of the keyboard creating a musical symphony in your writing space. Maybe you’re humming along, caught up in the frenzy of creation that oozes out every pore. When the scene finishes, you stop, roll your shoulders, sip at coffee gone cold, but who cares son, because cold coffee means VICTORY in a writer’s world.

A neck crack and a handful of nourishing Skittles later, you poise your fingers over the keyboard, ready to begin again.

Only…nothing comes.


The NaNoWriMo Boogeyman

You stare at the blinking cursor, then your fingers. Why aren’t they moving, directing fictional lives, creating worlds?

Come on, you urge. Get to work. They remain still, splayed out in knobby hooks of rigor mortis.

A familiar feeling curls through your belly, sliding around in a slow dance before fanning through your chest and netting it tight. It is an emotion you dare not name. But deep down, you know. It’s happening, the thing you prayed would not come to pass this November: a visit from the NaNoWriMo boogeyman, The Big Blank.


The big blank, the block, the curtain that draws across your story vision. It happens, and it can happen to you. Remain calm. Breathe. This is the triage center, a place for you to come when your writing stalls and you need some help to get moving again.

Choose your blank & click the link. Get the help you need and then grab your keyboard and write.


Introduce a Secret

Let’s face it, sometimes our characters seem a bit blah on the page. It might be your hero, the sidekick or even the villain. And while I’d normally suggest you dig deeper into your character to develop them more, mid-novel during NaNoWriMo, a person can’t always re-plan a character. So, try giving your character a secret. Not something lame-ass, but a secret with depth, birthing from a place of Guilt, Shame, Exploitation or Necessity.

Give Him or Her An Unusual Skill or Talent

To make your character stand out on the page, focus on how to make him unique. Is there a Talent or Skill that adds zing and factors into the plot? Here’s a list of ideas to get you started.

ONE STOP Worthy GoalsMake Him Worthy

Sometimes we need to work on the connection between a character and a reader, and the area to explore to create empathy is WORTHINESS.  Giving him an undeserved misfortune isn’t enough. It is what a character does despite his hardship that pulls readers in.


Focus on Motivation

Ran out of steam, did you? It’s okay, the middle of a story can be a tricky place. You don’t want to wrap things up too quickly, but at the same time, not…much…seems to be…happening. When you get stuck and don’t know where to go next, think MOTIVATION. Your hero should always be motivated to act, making decisions, choices, weighing options. Always know what is motivating your character, and you’ll be able to put one foot in front of the other again.

Have Him Look In a Mirror

If you’re lost in the middle, make haste to the midpoint & mirror moment when your hero looks within, has an emotional epiphany, and that leads to change and purpose.

Seek Out an Expert

James Scott Bell knows all about writing the middle of a novel, so much that he’s written a book about it. A book, I might add, you should own (and all his others).


Throw a Curve Ball

Tension makes the world go round. If your characters are stalling on what to do, it’s time to amp things up and spread some pain. Follow this one-two-three punch of tension and complicate matters, forcing your hero to adapt to succeed. Remember though, when it comes to frustrating your characters, you need to make sure their reactions & ways of dealing with an upset fit the character.

Introduce a Pressure Point

If your plot is chugging like a car running on cheap gas, it might be time to utilize a pressure point. There’s nothing like a temptation, a challenge, or an opportunity for redemption to push the story forward.

Poke His Wounds

Emotional wounds are a big part of the story, so if the plot trail dries up, return to Character Arc and remember your Character is on a path of CHANGE. Understanding why his wound is important to the story will help lay down some plot pieces for you to follow.


One Stop Raise The StakesRaise the Stakes

If your conflict is flat-lining, it’s time to raise the stakes. No, I’m not talking about throwing more monsters at your hero for him to kill, or a bigger, nastier bomb for him to diffuse. Instead, Friend-o,  let’s personalize those stakes. Give your hero a compelling reason to ACT. How we do that is make sure the character sees that if he doesn’t, something even worse will happen, like undeserved consequences falling in the lap of someone else.

Cross a Moral Line

If your tension is about as hardcore as limp celery, it’s time to bring about a belief crisis. Force your hero to do the unthinkable and cross a moral line for the “greater good.” When the lines between right and wrong grow fuzzy, everything gets complicated in a hurry, which is terrific for juicing up your story.

Friction & Fireworks

You love your cast of characters, I get it. Pass around the flowers, have everyone hold hands and let them get the job done TOGETHER. Very sweet. The problem is, when everyone is playing nicey-nice, the story gets boring fast. Add a healthy dose of tension by creating some clashing personalities who will create story friction.

Emotion Amplifiers High ResAmplify Emotional Reactions

Nothing adds tension and conflict like a big ol’ stupid mistake. Screw ups are a story’s bread and butter! So let’s get your hero off his game by amplifying his emotions, piling on the stress or pain, or even distracting him with primal pull of attraction, hunger or thirst. You pick the amplifier, apply it, and watch the emotional overreactions lead to bad judgement and rashness that creates delicious story fallout. (Oh yeah–this ebook is free, by the way.)


Sometimes the creative well empties and our brain turns to static. But it’s NaNoWriMo season, and nobody’s got time for that. Pull out the big guns and get going.

The Writers Helping Writers Descriptive Thesaurus Collections

WHW_400Two words: Description Nirvana. When you’re struggling with finding the right sensory detail for settings, check the Setting Thesaurus. Looking to add some symbolism and motif depth, describe your characters’ physical features, their emotions, unique personality traits or a host of other things? We’ve got you covered, all accessible right here at WHW.

One Stop For Writers: A Library Like No Other

Logo-OneStop-For-Writers-mediumLike the WHW sample thesaurus collections, do you? Well then you will love One Stop, where all the grown up versions of our thesaurus collections live (including the bestselling book versions of The Emotion Thesaurus, Positive Trait Thesaurus, Negative Trait Thesaurus and the yet-to-be-released Setting Thesaurus books [Spring 2016].) Hundreds of new entries & expanded content, tutorials, generators and one-of-a-kind worksheets make this a powerhouse library for writers. It’s all searchable with a click, making NaNoing that much easier. Registration is free, so you can test drive the site.


If all else fails and you can’t seem to get over the Big Blank, go around him. Put in a sentence or two as a placeholder, and then move forward in the story to a point where you feel on solid ground again. Later, you can come back and fill in the blanks. Chances are if your brain has time to think about the problem without feeling pressured to perform, you’ll sort it out on your own and be able to add in the missing scenes.

Happy writing, Fearless NaNo Warrior! See you at 50K!

Image: Currens @ Pixabay

Posted in NaNoWriMo Strategy & Support, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Emotional Wound Entry: A Home Invasion

When you’re writing a character, it’s important to know why she is the way she is. Knowing her backstory is important to achieving this end, and one of the most impactful pieces of a character’s backstory is her emotional wound. This negative experience from the past is so intense that a character will go to great lengths to avoid experiencing that kind of pain and negative emotion again. As a result, certain behaviors, beliefs, and character traits will emerge.

violenceCharacters, like real people, are unique, and will respond to wounding events differently. The vast array of possible emotional wounds combined with each character’s personality gives you many options in terms of how your character will turn out. With the right amount of exploration, you should be able to come up with a character whose past appropriately affects her present, resulting in a realistic character that will ring true with readers. Understanding what wounds a protagonist bears will also help you plot out her arc, creating a compelling journey of change that will satisfy readers.

NOTE: We realize that sometimes a wound we profile may have personal meaning, stirring up the past for some of our readers. It is not our intent to create emotional turmoil. Please know that we research each wounding topic carefully to treat it with the utmost respect. 


Examples: having one’s house broken into while one is home, either alone or with one’s family present, and then forced through the ordeal of being robbed, victimized, assaulted (physically, mentally or sexually), kidnapped or a enduring a combination of these violent elements.

Basic Needs Often Compromised By This Wound: physiological needs, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and recognition, self-actualization

False Beliefs That May Be Embraced As a Result of This Wound:

  • strangers should be feared
  • everyone I don’t know well could be a potential threat
  • if I’m not safe in my own home, I’m not safe anywhere
  • showing sympathy, empathy or kindness are signs I’m weak
  • I can’t keep my loved ones safe
  • I am to blame for what happened (for not having proper home security, for not locking the door, for not being strong enough, for not acting differently in the situation, etc.)
  • the police are inefficient, inept, can’t protect me, etc.
  • the world is not a safe place
  • I have no real control over my life or what happens

Positive Attributes That May Result: alert, analytical, cautious, independent, introverted, mature, meticulous, observant, perceptive, private, protective, responsible, sentimental, wise

Negative Traits That May Result: abrasive, apathetic, cowardly, defensive, compulsive, evasive, humorless, inflexible, insecure, irrational, materialistic, nervous, obsessive, paranoid, pessimistic, prejudiced, suspicious, timid, uncommunicative, withdrawn

Resulting Fears:

  • fear of strangers
  • fear of visitors
  • fear of being alone
  • fear of violence
  • fear of a particular person “type” or “ethnicity” tied with one’s ordeal
  • fear of criminals
  • fear of weapons associated with the ordeal
  • fear of intimacy and sex (if one was sexually assaulted)
  • fear of particular elements associated with the ordeal (enclosed spaces if one was in a closet hiding, for example)

Possible Habits That May Emerge:

  • obsessive about home safety, checking locks, installing floodlights, getting a dog, getting a security system
  • becoming hyper sensitive in one’s surroundings (focusing on noises one would simply dismiss before, tracking movement, etc.)
  • Becoming withdrawn or secretive
  • struggling when one is alone, even suffering panic attacks and paranoia
  • difficulty sleeping/insomnia, waking with a racing heartbeat
  • feeling uncomfortable around weapons or even kitchen implements, if they remind one of the attack
  • buying a weapon for home protection or joining a self-protection class
  • creating a safe room within one’s home, fortified with locks and home protection
  • difficulty concentrating, being non-responsive in conversations
  • jumping at loud noises
  • anxiety flare ups (racing heartbeat, dizziness, trouble breathing) at certain triggers tied to the trauma (the smell of beer breath, breaking glass, the sight of blood, etc.)
  • feeling followed or watched
  • feeling unsafe in one’s home but being too fearful to leave it
  • reliving what happened over and over
  • having a difficult time enjoying the little things, finding joy, smiling, laughing, etc.
  • needing to know where one’s children are at all time

TIP: If you need help understanding the impact of these factors, please read our introductory post on the Emotional Wound Thesaurus. For our current list of Emotional Wound Entries, go here.

For other Descriptive Thesaurus Collections, go here.

Image: Republica @ Pixabay

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments