Character Motivation Entry: Protecting One’s Home or Property

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

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

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Protecting One’s Home or Property

Forms This Might Take:

  • Protecting one’s home against the elements (a forest fire, a tropical storm)
  • Protecting one’s community during a civil war or attack
  • Protecting one’s farm from those wishing to seize one’s property and assets
  • Protecting one’s property from animals or creatures intent on doing harm
  • Warding off a supernatural attack
  • Safeguarding a keep
  • Safeguarding a lab or facility
  • Protecting an embassy or government building from terrorists or hostiles
  • Protecting one’s neighborhood during a riot
  • Protecting one’s home from the undead
  • Warding off attacks from renegade militant groups
  • Keeping pirates from boarding one’s ship
  • Protecting one’s home and family from violent individuals (a home invasion)
  • Protecting a church, school, business, or other building one feels ownership of during times of violence and unrest
  • Protecting one’s property from government agencies seeking to dismantle the group or organization within (a cult, an extremist group, etc.)
  • Protecting one’s business from rivals seeking to steal trade secrets, patents, or other information

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): safety and security

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal:

  • Investigating one’s enemy to better understand their strengths and weaknesses
  • Choosing a peaceful approach and attempting to work with those who represent a danger to one’s home or community by offering something they need (supplies, information, access to resources, etc.) in exchange for not interfering
  • Gathering resources so one can operate independently for a period of time if necessary (food, water, medicine, etc.)
  • Fortifying one’s home (boarding up windows, barring doors, installing shutters, reinforcing walls or other parts of the structure)
  • Placing guards and lookouts around one’s community
  • Creating natural traps and fortifications (digging pits, building perimeter walls and enclosures,burying mines, etc.)
  • Altering the landscape for protection (removing trees for greater visibility, creating a fire break, etc.)
  • Installing security systems
  • Hiring protective forces
  • Entering a training program (for weapons, hand-to-hand combat, defense, etc.)
  • Purchasing weapons
  • Investigating how to create homemade explosives
  • Studying building blueprints for vulnerabilities
  • Preparing an escape route
  • Digging an underground tunnel network or sewer system for strategic movement around the property or to use as an escape if necessary
  • Making plans and creating protocols for different situations that might happen
  • Reaching out to others for help (resources, manpower, weapons, protection)
  • Placing wards, sacred stones, or other spiritual protections around one’s home
  • Arranging for a blessing or spiritual cleansing of one’s home
  • Buying protective gear (gas masks, protective suits, etc.)
  • Investing in surveillance (cameras, listening devices, security guards, metal detectors, alarms, etc.)
  • Installing safes, panic rooms, or other fortified areas as a last resort if the home or building is breached

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal:

  • Damaged relationships between family members or neighbors who may not see eye to eye on the path forward
  • Destruction of one’s property during an assault
  • A loved one being injured or killed
  • Running up debt to purchase what one needs to protect one’s home
  • Impaired judgement from a lack of sleep or paranoia due to stress
  • Being injured while protecting one’s home
  • Losing special mementos or having one’s assets damaged
  • Losing one’s standing in one’s community
  • Being viewed as paranoid or extreme by others for one’s protective measures
  • An innocent accidentally being hurt by one’s own defenses (a trap, friendly fire, etc.)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved:

  • A traitor who flips and secretly helps those who are seeking to overtake one’s home
  • An enemy who is well-equipped and well-manned
  • An enemy who is patient, and willing to wait it out until one is forced to give up (when resources run out, or a critical need emerges, like needing access to a doctor or medicine)
  • A fire breaking out that creates chaos and weakens one’s defenses
  • Having a home that is difficult to fortify (it has lots of windows, it is not in a defensible position, the property is so large it is impossible to surveil well, etc.)
  • Being pressured by one’s neighbors to give up because they have, losing one’s “strength in numbers” position
  • The enemy having access to a weapon that one cannot counter (a biological weapon, a supernatural force, technology that reveals one’s position to the enemy, etc.)
  • Running out of supplies
  • Sleep deprivation, an illness, or injuries that weaken one to the point that defense is difficult if not impossible
  • The enemy capturing someone one loves and using them as a chess piece

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

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

  • The loss of wealth, status, power, and property
  • Making an enemy that puts one in even greater danger
  • Losing one’s livelihood as a result of forfeiting one’s home or property
  • Becoming homeless
  • Losing whatever one was trying to protect (a family member, a priceless artifact, cherished objects, a cure for an illness, a special prototype, etc.)
  • Items falling into the wrong hands (weapons, a virus that can be weaponized, sensitive documents, etc.)

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

Image: 3557203 @Pixabay



Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Critiques 4 U

Hi, everyone! I’m hip deep in preparations for the DARA workshop I’ll be speaking at in Dallas (if you’re in the area, I’d love to see you there!). And in the process, I’ve discovered that I can only cram so much stuff in my brain. I need some down time, which always includes good reading material, so it’s time for


Contest Closed!

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

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

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

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


Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. Best of luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

How to Rescue a Book in Danger of Dying


Some experts claim that as many as 82% of adults dream of writing a book. They have a story they are burning to tell or a message they are dying to convey. The advent of self-publishing has given all these people the opportunity to fulfill this dream – but first, they have to actually write the book, and writing a book that people actually want to read turns out to be a lot harder than it first seems.

The vast number of that 82% never get past the first few chapters. They may talk about writing a book, read books about writing a book, or attend conferences and courses about writing a book, but the work of sitting down and actually writing the book never happens.

You can tell if your book is in danger of dying if any of the following is true:

  • You talk about the book more than you write. You discuss craft and theory, you brainstorm about the next chapter, you compare your book to other people’s work – and you convince yourself that all that talking is somehow leading to progress.
  • You dread sitting down to write. It’s not fun, it brings you no joy, it’s an energy suck. You know you’re supposed to love it – this is what writers do, after all – and you love it in an abstract way but you don’t love the day-to-day doing of it.
  • The feedback you are getting whenever you dare to share your work is lukewarm at best, and so you just keep rewriting the same few pages, trying to get them “right” even though you aren’t really sure what that even means anymore.

If this describes you and your relationship to your book project, here are some steps to take to get out of the danger zone:

Courtesy: Pixabay

Step 1: Decide if you WANT to save it

Ask yourself:

  • Do I care about saving this book?
  • If your answer is, “Hell, yes,” then go to Step 2.
  • If the answer is that it would be a relief to let it go, then let yourself let it go, and find another dream to dream.
  • If the answer is neutral, consider letting the idea go for a period of time – say a month – and seeing how that feels. If you can stop writing, perhaps you should stop writing.

Step 2: Decide WHY you should save it.

Ask yourself:

  • Why exactly am I doing this? What are my goals and objectives for my book? Why am I writing it? Check all that apply:
    • To make money
    • To make a name for myself as an expert/authority
    • To influence/educate/illuminate/comfort/entertain people
    • To raise my voice/speak up/claim my story
    • To prove that I can do it, either to myself or others
    • Because I feel called to do it/I am burning to do it/I can’t rest until I do it
    • To leave a legacy for my family
    • Other: __________________________________________
  • Is it in my power to achieve my stated goals and objectives?
    • If the answer is yes, move to Step 3.
    • If the answer is no – if, for example, your goal is to make money, and money depends on a fickle public finding and liking your book—ask yourself: is it worth the risk to move forward with an uncertain outcome? Perhaps you can reframe your idea of success so that it is in your power to achieve it.

Step 3: Decide WHO you should save it for

Ask yourself:

  • Who else will care about what you’re writing? Be very specific about your ideal reader. Describe him/her in two sentences. Think in terms of what keeps them up at night, what they are afraid of, what they most want in the world.
  • Now write down how your book gives them what you need – is it entertainment, escape, solace, information, inspiration?
  • Write these answers on a Post-It note to keep on your desktop: “I am writing this book because I believe (target readers) desperately need (deeply held value).”
  • Don’t write forward until you can answer this question, because writers need readers. It’s how we close the creative loop.

Step 5: Define your POINT

Ask yourself:

  • What’s my point? What am I trying to say? (And yes, fiction and memoir must make a point, too. If you are having trouble wrapping your mind around this, think of your favorite books and the points they make…) 

Step 6: Make sure you’re STARTING in the right place

Print out the first chapter of your book – or if you don’t yet have a complete first chapter, print out whatever you have. Go sit somewhere comfortable like a couch or a happy reading chair. Read your pages straight through as if you have never seen them before.

For fiction, memoir and narrative non-fiction, ask yourself:

  • Does the reader know EXACTLY who to root for and EXACTLY what’s at stake? Not in a vague way but in a super clear way – clear enough that if asked, they could say, “I am rooting for X person to achieve Y thing.” (In memoir, X person is you, who is both the narrator and the protagonist.)
  • Does the reader know EXACTLY what would happen if this person doesn’t get what they want?

For self-help/how-to, ask yourself:

  • Does the reader know EXACTLY what they are going to learn how to do and why?
  • Is the path to success crystal clear?

For any genre, if the answers are no, odds are good that you are not starting in the right place. You are probably gearing up, ramping up, warming up. You want to start in the place where it’s crystal clear what’s happening (or what the problem is for self-help/ how-to) and why it matters. Rewrite your opening so that you can answer yes to these questions.

Courtesy: Pixabay

Step 7: Make sure you know where it’s all LEADING

Ask yourself:

  • Where does my book end?
  • Write this out in relation to the point you defined above and the place where the book begins. Think of the beginning and the end as a frame for the point you are trying to make.
    • For fiction and memoir: does the character get what they want or not?
    • For self-help/how-to: does the reader have what they need to achieve success?

Step 8: Lock in effective writing HABITS

Ask yourself:

  • Are the people I’m sharing my work with actually supporting my forward progress and helping me become a better writer? If not, find new writing friends.
  • Do I have the (physical/psychological) space I need to write well? If not, find it. Ditch the kitchen table for the library, save up for noise cancelling headphones for the coffee shop, use Internet-blocking software, start training your family to leave you alone after 9 pm three nights a week.
  • What am I willing to give up to finish this book? Commitment takes sacrifice. What can you let go of in your life to make room for this project?
  • How can I measure my success? Give yourself deadlines and find someone to share them with so they can hold you accountable.

Step 9: Be GENTLE with yourself

Writing is hard work – far harder than most people realize. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not going the way you would like it to go. Keep at it – and remind yourself that if it were easy, 82% of all adults would be authors, and writing a book would not be the deeply satisfying achievement it is.

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

Twitter | Instagram



Posted in Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Pursuing Justice For Oneself or Others

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

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

Courtesy: Pixabay

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Pursuing Justice for Oneself or Others

Forms This Might Take: 

  • Winning a court case and proving oneself or one’s client innocent
  • Enacting a law that will provide equality for a group of people
  • Changing the status quo (in a country, school, organization, etc.) in way that brings about justice for someone
  • Making something available to others that one believes to be a personal right (freedom, education, clean water, the ability to vote, etc.)
  • Saving someone from being bullied, persecuted, or discriminated against
  • Bringing an unjust situation to light so it can be addressed
  • Exposing the deeds of an evil person or entity so justice will be served

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): love and belonging

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Inserting oneself (to some degree) into the oppressed group to get a feel for what they’re going through
  • Looking for allies within the oppressed group who are willing to go public
  • Finding external allies who are in a specific position to help (doctors, judges, lawyers, government officials, celebrities, experts in a field, etc.)
  • Gathering evidence
  • Reading up on prior fights for this group that produced favorable results
  • Organizing rallies and protests to increase public awareness
  • Raising funds
  • Counteracting propaganda (through a blog or YouTube channel, by distributing fliers and pamphlets, with media interviews, etc.)
  • Shifting one’s priorities so this pursuit can be given more time and energy
  • Visiting the oppressed group or area as a way of doing research
  • Studying the situation to educate oneself
  • Exploring alternative solutions that could help solve the problem (different ways of getting clean water to an area, finding cost-effective methods of bringing education to those without it)
  • Educating the people (if necessary) on the situation and what they can do to decrease their own victimization

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • being harmed (physically, financially, etc.) by those who don’t want the status quo to change
  • strained relations with family members who are being threatened or attacked due to one’s involvement
  • losing friends who don’t agree that injustice is happening and don’t support one’s goal
  • one’s reputation being ruined in a smear campaign
  • becoming so impassioned with this culture or group of people that one loses touch with one’s own
  • becoming so obsessed with righting the wrong that one sacrifices one’s family, career, health, or mental well-being
  • Giving up hobbies, memberships in organizations, or passions that once were important but now seem trivial in comparison to the greater wrong that’s happening

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Powerful people or organizations who are deliberately oppressing the group for their own gain
  • Legislature and bureaucratic red tape that make change difficult
  • Ignorance or denial among the public
  • Lack of resources (money, time, volunteers, etc.)
  • Lack of necessary skills
  • Cultural barriers (not speaking the language, prejudices that make one untrustworthy to the people one wants to help, etc.)
  • Naïveté or overzealousness leading to lapses in judgment

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

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

  • Oppression and possibly loss of life for those one is fighting for
  • A lack of meaning in one’s own life
  • Substance abuse (due to guilt or wanting to dull the knowledge that people are continuing to be oppressed)
  • An inability to continue living in the culture that didn’t help the oppressed or refused to see the injustice
  • Depression and mental illness
  • One’s failure proving the naysayers right, reinforcing their ignorance and decreasing the chances of someone else taking up this fight down the road

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The crusader who sacrifices everything (health, finances, family) but is unable to overcome the opposition and ends up penniless and alone
  • The stereotypes that lend themselves to this role (hippies, rabid environmentalists, etc.)

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

ProWritingAid: A Useful Tool For Many Types Of Writing

Today’s post is brought to you by Resident Writing Coach, April Bradley, who knows her way around the editing desk (and then some!). Read on to get her take on ProWritingAid, a great piece of editing software for writers.

When Angela asked me to review some editing software, I was intrigued. I had never used this kind of tool before and wondered how developers could create something that performed better than a sophisticated grammar program. As a writer, I use self-editing strategies during revision. As a developmental and line editor, grammar programs are, of course, useful, but do not help me with nuanced problems that interfere with elements such as structure, character development, pacing, flow, voice, technique, style, and momentum. ProWritingAid exceeded my expectations.

ProWritingAid is an editing and style software that provides support to writers after the drafting stage. Users may compose within the program or work with other platforms such as Microsoft Word, Mac, Scrivener, Open/Libre Office, and Google by import within the on-line editor, as an add-on plug-in, and as a desktop application.

Premium users have unrestricted access to the premium toolbar in addition to the free editor and a number of operations that allow a user to analyze and edit on several levels, including a plagiarism checker. ProWritingAid does not supplant developmental, line, and copy editing, but it helps writers become better ones, and for those of us who do edit, it is a useful and fun program, especially for those of us who enjoy data.

This is no mere grammar and spell-checker. This product has a great deal of depth, and yet it is intuitively easy to use. Users easily can become dependent on the generated reports and neglect the features that provide more extensive analysis.

ProWritingAid provides 25 reports, including a Summary Report and an option to customize reports. The following reports are among my favourite:

  • The Writing Style Report, a comprehensive report that revels elements that weaken readability such as passive voice and repetitive sentence starts.
  • The Grammar Check works much like one in any word processor but with the added benefit of the expertise of copy editors.
  • The Overused Words Report identifies problematic words that falls into five main categories: Too Wishy-Washy, Telling Rather Than Showing, Weak Words Dependent on Intensifiers, Nonspecific Words, Awkward Sentence Constructions. In the drafting stage, these kinds of words on the sentence level is often where writers like to revise.
  • The Sticky Sentence Report tallies “glue words,” which are the most commonly used articles, prepositions, and conjunctions that obscure clarity. The software’s suggestion is that sentences contain less than 45% glue words.
  • The Sentence Length Report and The Pacing Check Report provide users with information about sentence variety and a bar graph to show how readers experience the speed of your prose.
  • The Sensory Check looks for words and constructions that refer to the five senses.
  • The Alliteration Report looks for instances of words with repetitive consonant sound at the beginning. I found this particular report fascinating and helpful. Along with The Eloquence Check that is another technique report, writers who are working on the sentence level and over the arc of an entire work, word choice and the relationships between words is vital.
  • The House Style Check is a feature I appreciate. Many businesses have their own style, even if it jumps of AP, Chicago, or MLA. This feature allows a user to look for specific issues in a document that are not standardized in word processors.

(Learn more about the full array of reports here as well visit as these articles on The Summary Report and The Combo Report.)

ProWritingAid analyzes seven types of writing: General, Academic, Business, Technical, Creative, Causal, and Web. I uploaded drafts and finished works (my own, and those solicited from friends) in the following categories: fiction, creative nonfiction, academic, blog posts, business technical writing, and casual email from 150 words to 15,000.

Here’s what a couple of the reports looked like for one of my published flash creative nonfiction pieces (click to enlarge):

The summary report is too long to grab in a single screenshot, but here is a sample:

According to this tool, my sentences are sticky with empty words and the pacing is slow. I agree. This is something I’d like to revise, but not for pacing. The slow pacing is deliberate. One thing I also notice: I never, ever break the 67 percent on editing.

The final feature I’d like to mention is Word Explorer. This feature is so much word-wonderful fun. I could fall into it and not emerge for days—and I am one of those people who fool around on the OED site.A sound bite from the site:

“The Word Explorer helps you break through writer’s block. It shows you definitions, synonyms, examples, rhymes, collocations and more. Type a word in the search box to get going.”

Word Explorer provoked a gasp from me, and I ended up playing with it for quite a while. This aspect of ProWritingAid is a writing prompt as well as a resource for finding the perfect word and make “semantic leaps.”

Overall, the program offered the most helpful analysis with Business, Creative, Causal, and Web writing. When I used it to analyze academic and technical writing, it focused too much on end notes and minutiae. This is unsurprising, however, and my samples were highly polished: one was a soon-to-be-published article in a peer-reviewed journal, and the other was a report for the State of Tennessee by the Commission On Children.

ProWritingAid did offer a good analysis of readability and clarity. Overall, I enjoyed the program. It doesn’t take the place of discernment and good judgment with what to do with the information. Pricing is currently $40 for one year, $60 for two years, $80 for three year, and $140 for a lifetime subscription. Plagiarism checks are very reasonable from one-time charges to package deals.

Final Takeaway: Writers and editors, check it out! And if you do, there’s a special code for Writers Helping Writers readers and One Stop For Writers users: type in WRITERSHELPING into the discount code box and you’ll get 25% off.

How awesome is that?

Have you used ProWritingAid before? Would something like this help you strengthen your writing? Let us know in the comments.


april_bradley_framedApril Bradley has a Master’s in Ethics from Yale University and studied Philosophy and Theology as a post-graduate scholar at Cambridge University. Her fiction has appeared in many literary magazines and has been nominated for the 2015 Best of the Net Anthology as well as the 2017 Pushcart Prize.

She is the Associate Editor for Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine and Press and the Founder and Editor of Women Who Flash Their Lit. Find out more about April here, visit her website, and catch up with her online.

Facebook | Twitter | Google+












Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

What Does It Mean To “Raise the Stakes”?

jami-goldYay! I’m happy to be back at WHW as a Resident Writing Coach. *waves* Last time I visited, we discussed how understanding the interconnectedness of our story elements can help us with revisions, and today we’re going to dig deeper into one of those elements: our story’s stakes.

Stakes are simply the consequences of failure. If our character doesn’t reach their goal, what will happen? What can go wrong?

Low stakes—such as when there are no consequences or failure would be no big deal—can create problems with our story’s conflicts, tension, and pacing, as well as weaken motivations and make goals seem less important.

So we definitely want to follow advice like “Raise the stakes throughout your story,” but how do we do that?

Step #1: Check for Goals

We all know that our protagonist should have a goal (or at least an unconscious longing) in every scene, right? But we’re not referring to just a big-picture story goal like “beat the bad guy.” Rather, scenes should also have a specific, immediate goal.

For example, the character wants to…:

  • get the job
  • help a family member
  • reassure a friend
  • avoid trouble
  • win the bet
  • arrive on time
  • prove their competence
  • beat the rush-hour traffic, etc.

Step #2: Identify the Cost of Failure

Without consequences for failure, readers have no reason to care about or root for a certain outcome—any will do. So we have to identify what the negative consequences are if the character fails to reach those goals.

However—unlike goals—stakes don’t have to be immediate. Humans often act to avoid imagined trouble—think of parents who try to get their baby into a certain day care center because they believe that will lead to a good school, college, job, and lifelong success for their adult child years in the future. *smile* Our characters can behave the same way.

Stakes could be a specific failure to reach the goal (doesn’t get the job), or they could be a general risk, threat, fear, etc. of related failure (my child won’t be a successful adult). Stakes can be anything that motivates our character into acting to avoid the feared situation becoming reality.

Step #3: Ensure the Cost Increases during the Story

Ever wonder what counts as increasing stakes? Are stakes less than life-and-death too weak? Or if the protagonist is at risk of death, how do we increase the stakes from there?

Judging stakes as strong or weak all depends on context. In one story, not getting a job could be devastating. In another story, that failure could simply mean the character doesn’t get the prestige of a promotion.

In other words, it’s up to us as the author to sell the idea of how strong a stake is. A self-sacrificing type of character might think the risk of death is no big deal, but if the next scene shows their loved one at risk, that could be a huge increase in the stakes even though it’s not about them anymore.

“Raising the stakes” refers to how close the cost hits to home for that character. How much would failure “attack” their sense of self, who they are or want to be?

Why Is It Important to Raise the Stakes?

Characters might not be as eager to take the story’s journey if they knew all the obstacles ahead of time. The stakes are a way to force characters not to give up or walk away in the face of a story’s increasingly difficult conflicts and obstacles.

Also, at their heart, stories aren’t about plot. Rather, the plot reveals who the characters are.

The plot’s rising stakes force characters to make riskier and riskier choices. By the end of the story, they’re doing things they never would have imagined they’d do at the beginning of the story, and readers get to see the character’s essence, as they’re stripped down and vulnerable.

Other Tips for Using Stakes in Our Story:

  • Stakes don’t have to increase every Some scenes can reinforce stakes, reminding readers of the risks. Or scenes can deepen stakes, with the character becoming more involved with the same risks.
  • Subplots have their own consequences, which might be lower than the stakes of the main plot. That means stakes might decrease from one scene to the next if the story changes focus to a subplot. However, within each subplot, the stakes will

Subplots are often a good place to let our characters fail completely with no opportunity to “fix” the situation. Dealing with the consequences of a subplot failure can maintain the story’s tension in the middle act, and our protagonist’s failure in one situation can make the other stakes seem more possible too.

How do you raise the stakes in your scenes?

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

Find out more about Jami here, hang out with her on social media, or visit her website and Goodreads profile.
Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Image: Readon @ Pixabay





Posted in Characters, Motivation, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Tension, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 18 Comments

Dan Blank: The Daily Practice of Growing Your Audience

Finding your book’s ideal audience and the people who are influential with that group is a core piece of marketing, but many authors struggle with where to even begin. Dan Blank of WeGrowMedia is here with practical, actionable steps to show you how to find readers and build relationships that will help you immeasurably down the road.

divider-30134_960_720Today I want to talk about why you need to begin developing your audience for your book as early as possible. Then I want to share practical steps you can take each day to do this, even amidst an otherwise busy life.

This comes from the methodology I share in my new book, Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. I frame the process as crafting a gateway that leads people to your writing, opening the gate to your ideal readers, and then leading them through your gateway in meaningful ways. It is a process filled with joy, not spammy marketing tactics.

It takes time to understand who your ideal readers are, how to connect with them, and develop trusting relationships with those who already have their attention. This sets the foundation for what all authors want: word of mouth marketing.

Let’s establish a process for you to find what will engage your ideal audience Here are three steps I want you to take:

Study Your Marketplace

Know the marketplace your book will be a part of better than anyone. Here is the process I just went through with one of my clients who writes fiction:

  1. Identify “comps” for your book. These are comparable works that your ideal readers likely know about. They are comparable works that booksellers and librarians may know of when you tell them the genre or topic you write within. Seek out comps that have been published within the past few years, and as best you can, pay particular attention to those authors who didn’t initially find success decades ago.
  2. Research each comp book and comp author. Go to the book pages on Amazon and Goodreads, and read through their book description, their author bio, and reviews for the book. Then seek out the author’s website, their social media channels, and any videos that feature them on YouTube. In doing so, identify the phrases that these authors seem to repeat; the ways they frame their books; the language that readers use again and again to say why these loved these books; notice where these people (both the authors and the readers) show up online: what channels.
  3. Use this initial round of comps to map the marketplace. See what other books Amazon recommends and determine if these are comps as well. See who reviews and mentions the comp books — what media, websites, events, and other prominent places online and off.

Throughout this process, you will move from having only a vague understanding of your marketplace, to knowing every comparable book, why they engage readers, how they developed an audience, and the names and faces of those who are advocates of books like yours.

This is a daily and weekly research process. Take simple actions each day to develop this. In the beginning, you may feel confused, even frustrated. I encourage you to persist through that. Because that is where the magic is.

Most authors skip this research, and around book launch, they are left hoping that their book magically finds readers.

At the end of each week, write down one new thing you learned about your audience from your research. After a few months what you will find is that your understand the marketplace surrounding your book better than nearly any other author. Imagine what it will feel like to have that kind of awareness and certainty when developing a launch plan for your next book.

Test Your Messaging

Your voice is the most powerful tool you have to truly develop an audience and engage people in a meaningful way. Not an app, not a button, not some “social media hack.” By your voice: I mean your writing, your actual voice, or any way that you meaningfully share your creative vision with others.

Instead of waiting until launch to make a “big splash” with your book, use your voice to bring us along in your journey.

In the past several years, authors have been told to create websites, email newsletters, blogs, book trailers, podcasts, and use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and so much else. An artist I spoke to last week told me that she keeps having people tell her:

  1. You have to be everywhere — on every social media channel
  2. You have to keep promoting your work — pound it into people’s heads.

Bleh. Nobody wants this. Not you, and not the audience you hope to engage. Instead, what if, as you study your marketplace in the steps I listed above, you began slowly engaging with some of these people. Not by broadcasting spammy Tweets about your book, but via direct messages as two people who are passionate about the same kinds of books.

In doing so, learn what engages people. What feels right for you to say to others that gets them to lean in and want to chat?

There are two ways to do this:

  1. The human level: what feels right to you? What gets people to respond? What develops the foundation of relationships with others who you would consider colleagues in your field: advocates for books such as yours.
  2. The technical level: use social media ads, a/b testing features in email newsletters and other data to try out five ways of talking about your book, and see which one gets more attention, and converts them to taking an action: clicking a link, subscribing to a newsletter, following you on social media. Even if you could care less about developing a social media following, this data becomes useful for you when determining how to writer your book description, and how to develop a marketing plan for a book launch.

Developing your voice is a practice. I know, your vision may be confident, and the voice you have with your friends may feel unwavering and clear. But to a marketplace of readers, it takes time to develop, to gain clarity, and for you to understand why things resonate.

In this process of studying the marketplace and testing what resonates, focus on developing relationships with those who are as passionate about books as you are.

This should be a daily practice of coming together with others in celebration of books, stories, and the passion that made you become an author in the first place.

Dan Blank is the author of Be the Gateway: A Practical Guide to Sharing Your Creative Work and Engaging an Audience. He is also the founder of WeGrowMedia, where he helps writers and creative professionals share their stories and grow their audience.

He has worked with hundreds of individuals and amazing organizations who support creative people, such as Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Sesame Workshop, Workman Publishing, J. Walter Thompson, Abrams Books, Writers House, The Kenyon Review, Writer’s Digest, Library Journal, and many others. You can find Dan on his blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Have a question for Dan on finding & connecting with your book’s audience or influencers? Let us know in the comments!





Posted in Guest Post, Marketing, Platform, Publishing and Self Publishing, Social Networking, Time Management | 21 Comments

Conflict and Suspense Belong in Every Kind of Novel


What is the goal of the novel? Is it to entertain? Teach? Preach? Stir up anger? Change the world? Make the author a lot of money?

It can be any of these things, but in the end, none of these objectives will work to their full potential unless they forge, in some way, a satisfying emotional experience for the reader. And what gets the reader hooked emotionally? Trouble! Readers are gripped as they vicariously experience a massive pile of trouble on a lead character.

Courtesy: Pixabay

That’s where conflict comes in. While there those who say plot comes from character, I say Bosh. Character comes from plot.

Why? Because true character is only revealed in crisis. Put your character into big trouble (plot) and then we’ll see what he or she is made of (character). If you don’t believe me, imagine a 400-page novel about Scarlett O’Hara where she just sits on the porch all day, sipping mint juleps and flirting. Gone With the Wind only takes off when Scarlett finds out Ashley is going to marry Melanie (trouble!) and then the Civil War breaks out (big trouble!)

Another way to think about it is this: we all wear masks in our lives. A major crisis forces us to take off the mask and reveal who we really are. That’s the role of conflict in fiction: to rip the mask off the character.

Now, conflict must be of sufficient magnitude to matter to readers. That’s why I teach that “death stakes” must be involved. Your lead character must be facing death—which can be physical, professional, or psychological.

Genre doesn’t matter. In a literary novel like The Catcher in the Rye, it’s psychological death. Holden Caulfield must find meaning in the world or he will “die inside.” Psychological death is also the key to a category romance. If the two lovers do not get together, they will lose their soul mate. They will die inside and forever have diminished lives (that’s the feeling you need to create). Think about it. Why was Titanic such a hit with teen girls? It wasn’t because of the special effects!

In The Silence of the Lambs, professional death is on the line. Clarice Starling must help bring down Buffalo Bill in part by playing mind games with Hannibal Lecter. If she doesn’t prevail, another innocent will die (physical death in the subplot) and Clarice’s career will be over.

And in thrillers, of course, you have the threat of physical death hanging over the whole thing.

Courtesy: Pixabay

The second element is suspense, and I don’t just mean in the suspense novel per se. Suspense means to “delay resolution so as to excite anticipation.” Another way to say this is that it’s the opposite of having a predictable story. If the reader keeps guessing what’s going to happen, and is right, there is no great pleasure in reading the novel.

We’ve all had the wonderful experience of being so caught up in a story that we have to keep turning the pages. This is where writing technique can be studied and learned and applied. For example, there are various ways you can end a chapter so readers are compelled to read on. I call these “Read on Prompts,” and it was one of the first things I personally studied when I started learning to write. I went to a used bookstore and bought a bunch of King, Koontz, and Grisham. When I’d get to the end of a chapter I’d write in pencil on the page what they did to get me to read on.


Again, genre doesn’t matter. You have to be able to excite anticipation and avoid predictability. Suspense technique helps you to do that. I am so passionate about this that I wrote a book on the subject: Conflict & Suspense  (Writer’s Digest Books). In fact, if you were to concentrate almost exclusively on these two key elements for the next few months, your books will take a huge step toward that exalted “next level” everyone always talks about.

Raymond Chandler’s legendary PI, Philip Marlowe, once told a client, “Trouble is my business.” It’s yours, too, writer. Now go make some.


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




Posted in Conflict, High Stakes, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Help Us Celebrate Our 200,000 Book Milestone

Honestly, I don’t even know how to start this post–I am utterly lacking in the word department, which is pretty ironic for a writer, isn’t it?

200,000. Books. Sold.

Back in 2012 when Becca and I dipped our toes into the self publishing waters we never imagined it would lead here, but it has…because of all of you. Again, I can’t think of the appropriate words! All the kind ways you have helped and supported us…Thank you seems so unworthy, but it’s all we can say, a thousand times!

When we started down this road with our crazy idea for an Emotion Thesaurus, I had told Becca I would be ecstatic if it sold 50,000 copies in its lifetime. We underestimated just how many other writers struggled with emotion. What a thrill to know this book, and our others, are helping writers all over the world!

It’s been a long time since we shared numbers. I know some find sales transparency helpful and hitting this milestone seemed like a good time to update ours.

So here’s where we’re at, as of Feb 2017:

The Emotion Thesaurus, English only, Pub date: May 2012 (Print, ebook, PDF): 120,101

Foreign rights: Japan, Korea, Romania, China, Taiwan


The Positive Trait Thesaurus, English Only, Pub Date: Oct 2013 (Print, ebook, PDF): 31,659

Foreign rights: Japan, Korea


The Negative Trait Thesaurus, English Only. Pub Date: Sept 2013 (Print, ebook, PDF): 34,874

Foreign rights: Japan, Korea


The Rural Setting Thesaurus, English Only. Pub Date: May 2016 (Print, ebook, PDF): 7,206

Foreign rights: Japan


The Urban Setting Thesaurus, English Only. Pub Date: Oct 2016 (Print, ebook, PDF): 6,734

Foreign rights: Japan


Excluded from overall count: Emotion Amplifiers, a free companion. Pub Date: Dec 2014 (ebooklet & PDF): 37,306



About these numbers:

  • Print outsells digital (I think this is common with reference books)
  • No books were set to “free” except Emotion Amplifiers. (EA downloads are not part of the overall count)
  • No books have been enrolled in exclusive programs to date
  • We didn’t play with ebook pricing (instead we chose a reasonable price and stuck with it)
  • But we did try a one-day “group book sale” of the ET at .99 to experiment
  • To date we’ve tried only one ad in a high-volume newsletter (we lost money)
  • No accurate numbers for foreign sales yet (but we will update once we do)
  • Our books are at Amazon, Createspace, Kobo, B & N, Smashwords, and Apple, and available as a PDF using Gumroad. We don’t use Ingram Spark (yet)

Rather than re-invent the marketing wheel…

We’ve talked about the marketing approach we’ve taken in greater length in other posts and interviews, so if you like, visit this tag to find other numbers & data posts, look through some of our past events we’ve run, and check out our marketing tag for extra help.

Also, we strongly encourage you visit our tool page for more marketing help, including social media handouts, marketing interview links, a VERY helpful swipe file from our last book launch.

GIVEAWAY (Open Worldwide)

20 Thesaurus eBooks (Winner’s Choice)

5 one-month subscriptions to our writing web app, One Stop for Writers

How could we celebrate such a terrific milestone without a little giveaway? So, if you’ve been looking to test drive one of our books, or have been itching to try One Stop For Writers, just enter using


Contest is now over–thanks everyone!

Congrats to Paul, Rachel, Robin, Ellen, Wendy, Janet, Kara, Sandy, Silvana, Denyse, Allison, Sussu, Kimberly, Gaye, Donna, Reana, Gifford, Vicky, Tara, Carol, Anna, Susan, Traci, Melinda & Anne

Again, thank you for buying, recommending, and using our books.

(And all the fun pictures posted to social media. THE BEST!)

We hope our books continue to supply ideas and help push your writing to the next level. Look for The Emotional Wound Thesaurus to make an appearance later this year.  🙂

Legal stuff is here, and prizes will be drawn Monday, March 6th, 6 PM EST.































Posted in About Us, Contests, Emotion Thesaurus Guide, Foreign Rights, Goal and Milestones, Marketing, One Stop For Writers, Positive & Negative Thesaurus Guides, Promotion, Publishing and Self Publishing, Sales Numbers & Helpful Data, Setting Thesaurus Guides, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized, Writing Resources | 32 Comments

The Story of Prose, A Social Platform For Writers

Becca and I are passionate about helping writers, no secret there. Two years ago this passion sent us “down the rabbit hole” to create a writing web app with Lee Powell of Scrivener. Some have wondered, Why do this when your writing books already sell well? but the answer is simple: deep down, we’re innovators. If you know our books, you know we approach common writing struggles in unique ways. A site would allow us to explore ideas for tools and resources that work better on the web, helping writers leap forward in a new way.

Building One Stop for Writers was fun, intimidating, and challenging (and still is as we continue to evolve the site). Understanding the hard work and vision it takes to realize a dream has really made me interested in how other writing sites came to be.

Today I have one of the masterminds behind Prose, a social & writing platform built to share stories, get feedback, and gain visibility. He’s sharing his road to creation, and I hope you enjoy it. After you’re had a read, swing by Prose–you might find a new home for your writing spirit to flourish and gain some new writing friends along the way.

divider-30134_960_720Call me A.

I’m about to tell you several stories within a story.

It’s March 10, 2014, Austin, Texas, SXSW (a technology and music festival of sorts), and I’m Airbnbing for the first time with a guy I barely know. His name is Jeff Stewart and he’s a professional writer. Arms entirely inked, avid dog-and-metal aficionado, amazingly talented author, the guy’s aura radiates pure passionate artistry. He’s attending SXSW to promote a new book, I’m there to promote a new app. We drive to the convention center and make our way into throngs of technothusiasts. I’m sufficiently prepared, with a technology to demo and some cards to share. Jeff, meanwhile, is hauling a sack of book copies. We start networking, and I get lost in the crowd. Then, a few minutes later, he finds me.

“Let’s have a drink, man. Stop what you’re doing. I just had an idea I know you’ll love.”

I’m down. “All right. Let’s do this.” We exit the building. “So what’s your idea?”

“The entire social media experience – but the media content isn’t focused on updates, or on messages, or on images, or on videos, or on songs…”

“…then on what?”

“Writing. The entire spectrum of writing. All kinds, all sizes, all skills.”

“That sounds cool, but why would anyone care?”

He grins. “Because unless you’re a mega-successful writer, getting visibility and feedback is too strenuous. You alone must market yourself and ensure the work you submit is fully edited, developed, legit. I’m seeing a way to empower writers everywhere like never before.”

Next thing I know we are sitting in the Omni, sipping whiskey coke and eating chicken wings, talking about what Jeff is now calling “Prose.”

I get back to Seattle from Austin and share Jeff’s idea of Prose with the board of my company, Arc Reactor, and we decide to collaborate with Jeff and build Prose. We also decide to make Prose look and feel like a game, in subtle ways, through writing challenges and author leader-boards and the like, encouraging writers to push themselves and get their words down with a goal to chase, mimicking the incumbent literary ecosystem. Our hope is that this will help writers grow more accustomed to, and comfortable with, the publishing industry’s intense threshold of creative competition.

We launch our iOS app in September of 2014, and then our web app in January. We decide to experiment with a “$100 Challenge of the Week” later that year. The experiment proves to be a success, and we see how making writing more gamelike and rewarding pushes people to work harder on honing and perfecting their craft. So we introduce Books, Coins, and Juice to let writers make money from their craft via purchases and donations for any kind or size of writing, from a haiku to a chapter to a saga.

(and many more portals)

Now it’s February of 2017, and we’re working to make Prose better and better. If you love to write, Prose might be the right home for you, especially if you have been looking to share your writing, learn & grow with other writers, and have a surprising amount of fun along the way.

Our mission is to help humanity live its intellectual and creative potential by constantly making the written word experience more social, fun, and rewarding. We are focused on sharing Prose with existing groups of writers who will appreciate having their own community to network and improve as well as their own platform to augment visibility and feedback.

Thank you for reading and sharing this story. I hope to read and share yours on Prose!

Prose, founded in 2014 and headquartered in Seattle, is a social writing platform dedicated to empowering writers worldwide by improving both feedback and visibility. Visit our web app, or mobile app.

Have you visited Prose before? Have any questions you’d like to ask? Let us know in the comments!







Posted in Guest Post, Motivational, Platform, Social Networking, Software and Services, Uncategorized | 6 Comments