Introducing One Stop For Writers’ NEW Worldbuilding Tool

We’ve all read amazing fiction where the world itself captivated us as much as the characters did. And let’s all admit it, when we hit the last page of the final book in the series, a little piece of our soul died, because we knew we’d have no more new adventures in that world.

Isn’t this exactly how we want our readers to feel when they read our books? I mean, sorry about the piece of your soul and all, but WOOT on creating a world so rich and textured our audience is still thinking about it months or even years later.

Worldbuilding is not easy. To really create a world that has the depth to convey fascination and realism we have to do significant planning…especially if building a world from scratch. But even if our story takes place in the real world, we still don’t get to skip out on the work. To get readers to invest in the circumstances of the story, we need to know each location down to its bones (and be prepared to show it).

There are some good surveys online, but Becca and I find often they don’t always ask the right questions or we end up skipping big sections because they cover things that don’t apply to what we’re creating. #writerproblems

It’s times like this we get a bit giddy that we happen to know two talented developers. Off we go, explaining our writing woes to Lee and Abhishek at One Stop for Writers, and BOOM, after a bit of collaboration, the Worldbuilding Tool is born.

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Imagine a set of surveys that can be customized and will work for all genres so you can easily bring together the important details for your world. Plan key people, organizations, locations, and more, no matter where your story takes place. You can design the solar system all the way down to the communities where your characters live, whatever you need. All you do is choose a survey type, drag over the questions you’d like to answer, and leave the ones you don’t.

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And if there’s a question you want to explore that isn’t already in the survey, you can add your own, customizing the survey.

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And we’ve included questions with links to thesauruses that may help, allowing you to immediately do some deep-level planning right on the spot.

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Once you’re finished the survey, just save it, and make another if you like. Once you have explored all the aspects of a world, you can use the surveys to help you build story timelines, story maps, scene maps, or to have on hand as you write. Access them right from One Stop’s Workspace or print them out (and if you want to keep all your surveys together in one PDF, you can do that too!)

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Along with some helpful ideas for each survey, we’ve also put together a Lesson on Worldbuilding, so if you subscribe to the site, check that out.

Now you know the kind of things Becca and I work on when we’re not penning our next book. We love creating our writing guides for you, but some things can’t be done in a book, so we’ve built One Stop. The site has a toolbox brimming with writing goodies, so stop by sometime and check it out if you like.

Want to receive an occasional newsletter to see what we’re cooking up next at One Stop For Writers? Just sign up here.

Happy writing, all!

Do you love worldbuilding, or is it something you struggle with? Let us know in the comments!

Image 1: Comfreak @ Pixabay










Posted in Description, One Stop For Writers, Setting, Show Don't Tell, Uncategorized, Writer's Block, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons, Writing Time | 5 Comments

Character Motivation Entry: Being Acknowledged and Appreciated By Family

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): Being Acknowledged and Appreciated by One’s Family or Loved Ones

Forms This Might Take:

    • Being acknowledged for one’s dedication to one’s children and their growth (volunteerism as school, coaching their teams, driving to practices, fundraising)
    •  Being acknowledged by family for one’s independence (such as a youth who works, pays for one’s own car, clothing, tuition, etc.) rather than expect family to pay one’s way)
    • Being appreciated for the time one puts into the house and family (cooking and other chores, maintaining the home, making repairs as needed, paying bills, offering emotional support to family members, offering unconditional love and support, etc.)
    • An acknowledgement for a sacrifice one is making (of time, money, of personal energy, etc.) to see to the needs within the family, such as caring for an elderly parent, supporting a family member as they navigate a difficult situation such as cancer treatment, working with a cousin to help get them out of financial distress, etc.)
    • Being acknowledged for one’s passion and dedication to a goal, despite opposition and setbacks (starting up a new business, trying to break in as an artist or musician, working to keep a homeless shelter or charitable organization afloat through hard times, advocating for a cause)
    • Being appreciated by family members for one’s dedication to providing financial security (working multiple jobs, attending night school to retrain for a better job, accepting a position that requires lots of travel or being on-call) and giving up sleep, personal self care, and other sacrifices to do so

    Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): esteem and recognition

    How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

    • Living by example (being a good role model, appreciating others for what they do and showing it, offering praise that is deserved)
    • Pointing out what one is doing and why as a ‘team decision’ to an unappreciative or upset spouse (such as acknowledging that long hours at work means one isn’t around as much, but it’s paying the mortgage and allows the kids to be on sports teams or follow their passions, which is what the spouse also wants)
    • Not getting sucked into petty family drama and instead turning the other cheek or diffusing it as best as one can
    • Voicing that one is feeling that one’s efforts are being disregarded and opening up about how that makes one feel in a calm way
    • Asking for help when one is feeling overwhelmed rather than trying to “do it all” and thereby sending a message that one is overloaded
    • Share responsibility with others within the family so they can understand accountability and the costs associated with one’s role (dividing up chores, driving schedules for the kids’ activities, ask a sibling to step up to take an ailing parent to medical appointments, etc.)
    • Being honest about hurtful statements and actions and asking for a conversation about it without it devolving into a blame game
    • Reining in one’s anger and resentment so it doesn’t escalate arguments about who does what
    • Asking others to step in and share a financial or time burden so they better appreciate the difficulties of managing everything
    • Lessening one’s availability to demanding family members so they better realize how much they depend on the support on one and shouldn’t take it for granted
    • Acknowledging the passions and interests of others and showing respect for the effort and dedication involved
    • Having healthy discussions about what is lacking without personalizing it to one’s own situation

    Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

    • Strained relationships between family members who are self-absorbed or who struggle with change
    • Having to cut out toxic relationships (which could lead to family feuds as members pick sides)
    • Shifts in finances, schedules, and responsibilities that may cause fallout if one shifts responsibility burdens to others so they gain a deeper appreciation for what one does (encouraging one’s partner to scale back work hours and be home more to help out, for example, resulting in tighter finances but more family time or home support)
    • Taking on additional responsibility (financial, etc.) to follow a passion despite a lack of family support in order to prove oneself as committed and capable
    • Misunderstandings over motives as one scales back so another can assume more responsibility (like an elderly parent being hurt that one is no longer providing meals and in-home support, not understanding that this is so a sibling can take it over to better appreciate the time and energy involved)

    Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

    • Toxic family members who sabotage one’s efforts or try to dismantle one’s self esteem to “keep one in line”
    • A financial crisis
    • A health crisis in the family
    • Third-party suffering (giving one’s partner the responsibility of picking the kids up from school and taking them to activities to discover late pick ups and excuses are leaving kids feeling neglected or getting them in trouble for showing up late to practice)
    • Competitive family members who are always trying to “one-up” the character
    • Family members who refuse to step up
    • Narcissistic family members who try and turn others against the character, citing selfishness

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

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

    • Broken family relationships with those who refuse to validate one’s value and contributions (a falling out with one’s parents, refusing to speak to a sibling, cutting an aunt out of one’s life, etc.)
    • Divorce
    • Personal burnout that leads to emotional volatility, depression, anxiety, or complete breakdown
    • Damaging relationships unintentionally because of the emotional strain (yelling at the kids, snapping at a partner) because of friction with other family members and situations
    • Fallout from neglect (especially between parent and child, or partners in a relationship) that creates low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and need for validation from anyone who will give it
    • Sleep issues and increased stress which could lead to a medical crisis
    • Reaching a tipping point and feeling a failure when one is no longer able to keep up with all one does

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

    Image: Johnhain @ Pixabay






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Wanderlust: The Case for Writing and Travel

As some of you know, I’m kind of a travel nut. Becca is used to me abandoning her for several weeks to backpack around Malaysia or Vietnam, or attempt to not get eaten by wild critters in Tanzania. For me, travel is therapeutic, both for filling my creative well and helping me find balance within a busy life.

This year I am trying a different sort of adventure by going on a writing cruise in September. Seriously, I can’t wait. Hang out with writers, work on our craft together, and visit some new places at the same time? DONE.  Christina Delay is the organizer of this terrific retreat, and she knows all about the benefits of travel for writers.

For many, travel is something we categorize as luxury or special or something that happens only if our bonus check comes through. For others, it’s a lifestyle.

From an early age, I had a case of wanderlust. I started saving up for a trip to Italy when I was sixteen years old. Ten years later, my husband and I took a dream trip to Venice, Tuscany, Sorrento, and Rome.

I knew we’d see beautiful sights and experience new food and culture. What I didn’t expect was this overwhelming thrill that welled up inside me and filled and fed parts I had forgotten existed.

I came back from that trip to Italy and picked up my writing—something I’d let slide since I’d started adulting.

Why Authors Should Travel

See, travel fulfills in a way that nothing else can. It’s not just for wanderlusters or for people with big budgets. Travel is imperative to anyone with a creative drive. And it can be worked into any budget.

The rush of newness, of discovery, of having your eyes opened to things and ways of life you never knew existed…delivers writing fodder for years. And for some, like me, it can reignite a spark long buried by the ashes of the years.

I believe with every fragment of my heart that authors must get out of their familiar settings and discover something new…as a lifestyle. Our job is to deliver stories and messages in fresh and unexpected ways. We simply cannot do that from the same chair that has looked out the same window on the same tree year after year after year.

Travel Impacts Story

On one of my recent cruises with Cruising Writers, I and one of our wonderful writing craft coaches, Margie Lawson, went to the ship’s helipad at midnight. The helipad was mostly empty. The lights were off and the night was silent except for the hum of the ship’s engine and the splash of the waves far below. But the sky—oh the sky! It was filled with shooting stars.

A meteor shower in the middle of the Caribbean, on a silent, dark ship at midnight.

It was one of those singular experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life. In part, because I memorialized it in a story.

Travel is one of the most immediate and effective ways to impact your writing. If you’re looking for depth, travel. It affects your setting, your characterization, how your characters problem-solve, belief systems, language…it affects everything.

If you’ve ever gotten one of those critiques or rejections that said, “Loved the story, didn’t connect with the characters,” go travel.

Or how about this one? “The writing felt a bit flat to me. I wasn’t as engaged as I’d hoped.” – Go travel, because it will add a richness and depth to your writing.

Practical Tips to Enrich Your Writing

No matter where you are going or what purpose you are traveling for, get into the habit of making the trip work for your writing.

  1. Carry a journal: This is one of my favorite tricks. A small notebook fits easily into a purse or a pocket and can be pulled out and used much easier than a laptop or a phone. Plus, it breaks down barriers. When you have technology in front of your face, there is a wall between you and what you should be experiencing. People tend to avoid you because it looks like you’re working. However, journaling leaves you open to approach and to be approached. Writing with pen and paper reaches a different part of your brain and opens your mind to new discoveries that have been previously sucked away by the almighty power of the screen.
  2. Go somewhere by yourself: Even if you are traveling with a group, find time each day to go somewhere and breathe. Listen to the waves crashing on the shore without interruption. Go to a French café and let the beautiful French language take you to another time and place. Hike somewhere, zipline over a mountain, experience. But do it by yourself. Later, you can regroup. But for your writing’s sake, go and experience something each day, alone.
  3. Meet someone new: Here’s the real secret to deepening character. Strike up a conversation with someone you would have never talked to before. If they don’t speak your language, even better! Magic happens when two people communicate with that language barrier in place. You find creative ways to make yourself be understood, and you’ll pay closer attention to that person’s body language and facial expressions and inflection than you would ever have before. All of that is usable in your writing. And after you’ve had this amazing conversation, write down the things that stuck with you in your journal; a turn of phrase, the way his mouth ticked up slightly on the left before he smiled, how her voice turned high every time she made herself understood.
  4. Do something daring: It could be hiking, it could be skydiving, it could be trying out a new phrase in French. It could be requesting a song from a pianist who speaks a different language, but shares your musical taste. Dance in St. Mark’s Square. Eat fish straight from the fisherman’s boat. Drink what the locals drink. In short, experience life.

If you get the opportunity to travel and incorporate some of these tips, I guarantee your writing and your readers will thank you.

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

About Cruising Writers

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

Join us in the beautiful Languedoc of Southern France this April and stay in a historic chateau with world-renown writing craft instructor Margie Lawson, NYC-based literary agent Louise Fury, Publisher Liz Pelletier with Entangled Publishing, Amazon bestselling author Shelley Adina, European Manager for Kobo Writing Life Camille Mofidi, and President of Literary Translations Athina Papa. | Facebook | Twitter

Do you love to travel? Have you ever gone on a writing retreat? Tell us about your experience!








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Using Text-to-Speech Software as an Editing Tool


When I was preparing to edit my novel last year, one technique I considered was reading each chapter out loud. That way, I could hear the words instead of simply seeing them, and gauge whether sentences or paragraphs were too long through listening. Yet I also saw the drawbacks: Reading each chapter out loud could be time-consuming – and it could tire out my voice. (And no one enjoys going hoarse or having a sore throat, right?)

Around that time, one of my writing friends mentioned a tool in her editing arsenal that she was grateful for: text-to-speech (TTS) software. In other words, your computer “narrates” a selected portion of your manuscript while you read along either on your screen or with a printed copy.

My first thought? “That’s BRILLIANT. I should try it!” And now that I have, I plan to continue using TTS software when editing future stories.

So, how can TTS software help with your editing? What should you watch out for when trying it? And what programs can you use? You might be surprised with the last one. But let’s start with…

Three Ways Text-to-Speech Software Can Help with Editing

Courtesy: Pixabay

#1: It Lets You Listen to the Flow of Your Writing. While a computer’s monotone isn’t as engaging or expressive as a human voice, it still brings the words you wrote to life. This way, you can listen to the writing and judge its effectiveness better than when reading it from a printed page. Is the flow smooth at times and rough or choppy at others? Does any weird sentence structure give you pause? Do incorrect or flawed word choices stick out? These and other shortcomings will wave like red flags as the TTS software narrates the text.

#2: It Brings Typos to Your Attention. Ever reviewed your writing for spelling or grammar, then realized a day later that you missed a typo, like “their” instead of “there”? Our brains (and our computer’s Spellcheck) often overlook these small errors and “read” them as the intended words. But with TTS software, we’re more likely to catch these typos as the computer “verbalizes” them. Hearing those mistakes in someone else’s voice, either real or robotic, makes them more noticeable so we can fix them in the next draft.

#3: You Get the “Reading Out Loud” Experience While Saving Your Voice. As fun as it might sound to read your work out loud, imagine how dry your throat might be and how winded you might feel after each reading. TTS software doesn’t read at a faster rate, but it does allow you to conserve your vocal and respiratory energy. Besides, no writing advice is good advice is if it recommends you sacrifice health and well-being for your craft’s sake. (*wink*)

What to Be Careful of When Using Text-to-Speech Software

Read Along with a Print Copy or On Your Computer Screen. You might be tempted to sit back and listen, but it’s better to be an active participant. As your TTS software narrates the text, read along either on your computer screen or on a printed copy of your manuscript. This will prompt you to pay close attention to the written words and the audio so you can find potential changes. (In other words, it prevents you from “sleeping on the job”!)

Select Short Sections of Text at a Time. Having TTS software read an entire scene or chapter can be taxing on your brain. The longer your computer reads without pausing, the more likely you’ll lose your place as you read along or forget ideas for possible changes. Instead, select one page or a few paragraphs at a time, and give yourself breaks in between so you can mentally process each “reading” and make notes of future edits.

Expect Foreign or Invented Words to Be Mispronounced. This happened during my WIP frequently, since it’s a YA fantasy story set in a fictional world – and some of my software’s pronunciations of my invented terms left me in stitches! But it’s important to know you might run into this if your manuscript also features foreign or made-up words. And if it does, have a good chuckle, then let it go so you can focus on the real issues.

Which Programs Offer Text-To-Speech Software?

Many of us already have TTS software on our computers without realizing it. Here are some of the programs that come equipped with it:

  • Microsoft Word comes with a Speak command, which you can access via Word’s Quick Access Toolbar once you add the shortcut. (Speak is also available on Microsoft Outlook, OneNote, and PowerPoint.)
  • Computers using Windows 10 feature a Narrator function, which reads text, calendar appointments, and other notifications aloud. Check out this detailed guide on Narrator for more information.
  • If you own a Mac, your operating system also comes with TTS capabilities. Go to System Preferences > Dictation & Speech > Text to Speech, then select the “Speak selected text when the key is pressed” checkbox. (Click here for the complete instructions for English-speaking users.)
  • Scrivener has a built-in TTS function as well. When you’re ready, click Edit > Speech > Start Speaking to use it.
  • Other TTS software options include Voice Dream, Natural Reader, and several other programs listed here.

So, give TTS software a try the next time you edit your work. You might find that it helps your process in a way you hadn’t expected, and that the quality of your writing in later drafts – the ones that matter most – is even stronger than before.

Do you use text-to-speech software as part of your writing process? If you have, which program(s) would you recommend? Do you have other experience or advice with reading your manuscript out loud during the editing stage?

sara-_framedSara is a fantasy writer living in Massachusetts who devours good books, geeks out about character arcs, and drinks too much tea. In addition to WHW’s Resident Writing Coach Program, she writes the Theme: A Story’s Soul column at DIY MFA and is hard at work on a YA fantasy novel. Find out more about Sara here, visit her personal blog, Goodreads profile, and find her online.
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Posted in Editing Tips, Resident Writing Coach, Software and Services | 36 Comments

Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Realizing a Dream

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): Realizing a dream one was never able to achieve

Forms This Might Take:

  • Pursuing a new career
  • Getting a degree/going back to school
  • Being creative in a way one was never able to fully be before
  • Living in one’s dream setting
  • Traveling the world
  • Inventing something and making it available to the world
  • Completing a bucket list
  • Achieving a sports-related conquest (running a marathon, climbing a mountain, sailing around the world, winning an Olympic medal, etc.)
  • Running for office
  • Pursuing spiritual enlightenment (giving up material possessions, becoming a missionary or monk, going on a pilgrimage, etc.)
  • Having a child when one was never able to do so before
  • Making life better for an underprivileged or underrepresented people
  • Being the first (of one’s race, gender, family, ethnicity, etc.) to accomplish something

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): self-actualization

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Making a list of steps needed to achieve the goal
  • Putting together a team of experts to help in various areas
  • Physically preparing one’s body for the task ahead
  • Getting in the right mental mindset
  • Honing the skills necessary to succeed (taking a class, hiring a coach, participating in an internship, etc.)
  • Studying those who have succeeded in the past
  • Budgeting one’s finances to allow for expenses
  • Purchasing necessary materials
  • Making contacts that can help one along the journey
  • Joining groups, clubs, organizations, etc. where people share the same passion
  • Purging the naysayers from one’s life, or cutting them out of the process
  • Coming up with a mantra or a visual image to focus on
  • Giving up habits that are counterproductive to one’s success
  • Taking on extra work or jobs to pay for expenses
  • Getting rid of distractions (relationships, hobbies, etc.)
  • Re-prioritizing one’s life around the new goal
  • Making difficult sacrifices if it increases one’s chances of success (sacrificing sleep, one’s physical health, friendships, pastimes that make one happy, etc.)

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Losing friends and family members who don’t understand one’s drive to achieve this particular goal
  • Losing important relationships due to one’s obsession with achieving the goal
  • Giving up beloved pastimes and hobbies that one no longer has time for
  • Risking failure
  • One’s sense of value or worth being tied to reaching the goal, and losing that if the goal isn’t achieved
  • Bankrupting oneself or one’s family in order to succeed
  • Making enemies and jealous rivals who will try to sabotage one’s efforts
  • Sacrificing one’s health due to one’s singleminded focus on the goal
  • Other basic needs that are sacrificed in the process (e.g., achieving self-fulfillment but giving up love and belonging in the process)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Jealous rivals and competitors
  • Physical limitations (e.g., wanting to make a pro-basketball team but being considered too short)
  • Sickness and injuries
  • Running out of money
  • Family members and friends who don’t understand why the goal is so important
  • Mental limitations (a learning disability, mental illness, etc.)
  • A character flaw that makes success difficult (laziness that causes one to cut corners, a weak-willed nature that undermines one’s discipline, self-doubt, etc.)
  • A missing piece of information that brings progress to a halt (a law one unknowingly breaks, misfiling a necessary piece of paperwork, etc.)
  • Conflicting desires (e.g., wanting to achieve this all-consuming goal but also wanting to start a family)

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

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

  • Being so obsessed with the goal that one risks a mental breakdown if one fails
  • Living an unfulfilled life
  • The lives of others being impacted (if one is unable to bring an important product to the world, if one is seeking to help a certain group of people, etc.)
  • A fear of failure and taking risks in the future
  • Always being haunted by “what could’ve been”

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The obsessed protagonist who sacrifices everything to achieve his dream and realizes that the sacrifices weren’t worth the result

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 | 2 Comments

Critiques 4 U!

Courtesy: Pixabay

People! I’ve been in New York for a year and a half now, and next week I’m headed back to Florida for the first time since we moved. I’m so excited to see family again, to go to the beach, and Disney (The most magical place on Earth!), and other venues where shorts will make an appearance. And of course there will be ample opportunity for reading, so it’s the perfect time for our February



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 | 18 Comments

The Secret of a Successful Mystery: Making the Reader a Participator

september-c-fawkesA lot of great stories have a mystery in them. The mystery may not be the primary focus; it might be the secondary, or the mystery might be so minor it lasts only a few chapters. But whatever the case, it should draw readers into your story and keep them turning the pages. That only happens, though, if it’s done right.

As an editor, I see a lot of unpublished work. One of the most common problems I see when an author includes a mystery is that the whole mystery seems to happen on the page. The author plants “clues” of course, but then focuses too much on them, making sure the reader “gets it,” or she has her character wonder for paragraphs upon paragraphs, with speculation that is often vague, uninteresting, or leads to conclusions that are far too predictable.

In cases like this, the reader becomes a spectator.

But just as emotion is more powerful when the reader experiences it himself, mysteries are more powerful when the reader is a participator.

The narrator (which in some cases is the viewpoint character) is the readers’ guide. The narrator draws focus to certain aspects of the story, and leaves others in the background. The narrator offers an emotional tone that helps the reader interpret a scene. The narrator suggests themes and ideas and judgments on the story and characters.

In manuscripts where the mystery all happens on the page, the narrator is trying too hard to guide the reader. But the best mysteries leave enough room for the audience to interpret and hypothesize. If every aspect of your mystery is on the page and the reader is being guided through it with a heavy hand, she won’t be intellectually invested.

If you want to write a powerful mystery, you have to let the reader participate, not spectate. To do that, you need to exercise full control and skill in several areas:

Subtext – Subtext is what’s not on the page, but what is implied. When you have conscious control over subtext, your story (and mystery) immediately becomes more powerful. Because subtext is what isn’t on the page, it instantly invites the reader to become a participator. They are automatically invested in the story and contemplative about it–because they are trying to interpret the subtext. How to write (or “not write”) subtext would take far too long to explain here, but I have an article that will give you all the tools to make it happen: How to Write What’s Not Written (Subtext)

Subtlety – One of the problems with the mysteries that happen on the page is that they aren’t subtle enough. Usually the author is so worried about the reader “getting it,” that the mystery and its “clues” are too heavy-handed. They should be suggested, inviting and drawing the reader in, not egocentric, forcing the reader to focus on them. Even children know that being forced to do something is annoying. If you try to force your reader to notice the elements of your mystery, they are more likely to be annoyed than anything. The real power comes when readers pick up on elements themselves, and realizations and connections happen in them not on the page. For actual techniques on how to plant “clues” subtly, find that section in this article: The Mechanics of Rendering Mysteries

Suggesting Connections – I touched on this already, but it’s sort of its own thing. There is a difference between planting subtle clues and suggesting connections. Maybe you want your reader to connect two different aspects of your story (or mystery) in a significant way. Maybe you want them to realize that Susan wasn’t actually getting her car washed like she said, but attending that secret meeting we heard about earlier in the story. The realization doesn’t happen on the page, so you have to learn how to suggest (not force) a connection. You can get ideas on how to do that by studying the two articles mentioned above.

Context Shifts – Basically a context shift happens when new information enters the story that changes the way we viewed things before. A great example of this comes from the movie Interstellar. The protagonist sets out on a journey in space, hoping to save the human population, but at the midpoint, new information enters that changes the context. In reality, this trip wasn’t about saving the human race. The protagonist learns that he unwittingly left everyone on Earth to their deaths.

To create context shifts, you introduce information that offers a new perspective. You may or may not connect the dots (depending on the mystery and situation), but once again, context shifts are powerful because it allows the realization to happen in the reader instead of just on the page.

What book have you read lately where you were a participator? 

And, if your stories contain a mystery element, do you have a favorite method you use to include the reader?  Let us know in the comments!

september-c-fawkes_3Sometimes September scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. She works as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author while penning her own stories, holds an English degree, and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. Find out more about September here, hang with her on social media, or visit her website to follow her writing journey and get more writing tips.

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Image2: ShotPut @Pixabay







Posted in Characters, Resident Writing Coach, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 3 Comments

Character Motivation Entry: Overcoming Abuse and Learning To Trust

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): To Overcome Past Abuse and Learn To Trust

Forms This Might Take: Because of the focus on trust, abuse in this case might come at the hands of a partner, family member, person in authority, or someone known to the character. Some examples might be

  • Sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Being raised by a abusive parent or caregiver
  • Being tortured
  • Being raised by neglectful parents
  • Being treated like property (sold, prostituted, enslaved, etc.)
  • Being raised by a parent with untreated mental illness

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

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Get oneself into a place of safety if one has not already done so (a government-supported shelter, stay with a friend, move out into a place of one’s own, move in with a trusted relative, etc.)
  • See a doctor and enter treatment for resulting conditions from the abuse (Post-traumatic stress, sleeping problems, suicidal thoughts, phobias, anxiety, depression, etc.) including taking medications if necessary
  • Read books and articles about overcoming abuse and how to deal with the emotional turmoil that has resulted from it (trust issues, a tendency to disassociate when deeply stressed, emotional numbness, an inability to express certain emotions, how to deal with fears resulting from the abuse, etc., whatever applies)
  • Get involved in online forums for survivors of abuse to access information and have a support network
  • Work at establishing a normal routine that focuses on minimizing stress and promoting wellness (eating well, getting enough sleep, taking medications on time, attending support group meetings, getting exercise)
  • Learn to identify and break negative thought patterns that will cause anxiety flare ups or reinforce feelings of low self-worth (by getting outside, reaching out to someone one trusts for support, cognitive therapy, etc.)
  • Seek out a therapist for counseling, slowly building bonds of trust
  • Join a support group to meet others in a safe space who understand the difficulty of openness and vulnerability
  • Strengthen one’s self confidence by viewing oneself as a survivor, not a victim (and feeling empowered through building a career, pursuing education, following passions, getting fit, becoming an advocate for a cause, being in service to others, learning self-defense, etc.)
  • By getting involved in one’s church or community, and through caring for others, seeing people are trustworthy, and realizing everyone has value and is worthy of loving relationships
  • By getting an animal as a pet for companionship and unconditional love
  • Through the practice of self-acceptance and self-care, continuing to boost one’s feelings of self worth
  • Extend the hand of friendship to others who respect boundaries and honesty
  • By being able to help others through their own struggles by showing empathy, kindness, and understanding, which leads to trust being built on both sides

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Leaving an abusive environment may create financial hardship, especially at first as one is striving to go it alone while recovering from the trauma
  • As one opens up to others (through friendship or romantic relationships) one is also open to being hurt
  • One may choose a dysfunctional partner or toxic friend because this is the unbalanced relationship one is used to, reliving the situation of abuse
  • One could get into a relationship with someone that just doesn’t work out, leading to heartache
  • Trust can be broken in small ways (accidentally spilling a secret, telling a white lie, breaking a promise, etc.) which will leave a bigger mark on a survivor of abuse than it might with others

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • An abusive partner or parent may refuse to let go and stalk, harass, reclaim, or try to hurt the character
  • One may struggle to find support (a place to live, means to get by) especially if one has no skills or ways to support oneself
  • If the character went to the police, they may not believe the character’s account of the situation, especially if there is no evidence, the perpetrator has a good reputation in the community (as a pastor, a teacher, a member of town council, etc.), or has power and influence. This could leave one’s abuser free (and possibly able to seek retribution) and leave the character’s trust and faith betrayed again, this time by the police or court system
  • One may be cut off from other family member as a result of leaving (the family members at home forbidden to have any contact by the abuser, or family members who side with the abuser over the character, etc.)
  • Being victimized in some way (mugged, a victim of random vandalism, a wallet stolen, a break-in, etc.) that causes one’s emerging trust in people to crumble once more
  • Developing a sexual dysfunction as a result of the type of abuse one suffered, leading to even more struggles with intimacy to overcome
  • Having a dependency to deal with (to alcohol, drugs, etc.) as a result of past trauma or a disorder that creates extra challenges (such as an eating disorder)

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

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

  • Being unable to trust people and feeling the void of close relationships
  • Being victimized again
  • Living with fear as a constant companion
  • Dreams and passions left unrealized
  • Never being able to be a mother (or father) if that is a desire
  • A lifelong struggle with low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Feeling isolated and alone

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

Image: Tegula @Pixabay


Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

How To Accurately Write About Your Character’s Pain

The best thing about this online world of ours is you never know who you are going to meet. I don’t know about you, but one of the areas I struggle with is writing a character’s pain in a way that is raw, realistic…but not just “one-note.” So when I crossed paths with a paramedic-turned-writer, I got a little excited. And when she said she’d share her brain with us about the experience of pain, and how to write it authentically, I got A LOT excited. Read on, and make sure to visit Aunt Scripty’s links at the end. Her blog is full of more great medical info for writers.

Writing About Pain (Without Putting your Readers in Agony)

Pain is a fundamental part of the human experience, which means that it’s a fundamental part of storytelling. It’s the root of some of our best metaphors, our most elegant writing. Characters in fiction suffer, because their suffering mirrors our own.

In good writing, physical suffering often mirrors emotional suffering. It heightens drama, raises the stakes, adds yet another hurdle for our hero to jump before they reach their glorious climax.

So why can reading about pain be so boring?

Consider the following (made-up) example:

The pain shot up her arm like fire. She cringed. It exploded in her head with a blinding whiteness. It made her dizzy. It made her reel. The pain was like needles that had been dipped in alcohol had been jammed through her skin, like her arm had been replaced with ice and electricity wired straight into her spine.

For your characters, at its worst the pain can be all-consuming.  For your readers, though, it can become a grind. Let’s be honest, you gave up reading that paragraph by the third sentence.

In another story, a character breaks his ribs in one scene, then has, uhhh, intimate moments with his Special Someone in the next. Where did the agony go‽

There’s a fine line to walk between forgetting your character’s pain, elucidating it, and over-describing it.

So I’m here today to give you a pain scale to work with, and provide some pointers on how to keep in mind a character’s injuries without turning off your readers.

How Much Does It Hurt? A Pain Scale for Writers

Minor/Mild: This is pain that your character notices but doesn’t distract them. Consider words like pinch, sting, smart, stiffness.

Moderate: This is pain that distracts your character but doesn’t truly stop them. Consider words like ache, throb, distress, flare.

Severe: This is pain your character can’t ignore. It will stop them from doing much of anything. Consider words like agony, anguish, suffering, throes, torment, stabbing.

Obliterating: This is the kind of pain that prohibits anything else except being in pain (and doing anything to alleviate it). Consider words like ripping, tearing, writhing.

Metaphors, of course, are going to play somewhere on this spectrum, but I would suggest picking one level of pain and targeting it. For instance, don’t  mix stinging with searing when finding a metaphor to build.

How Often Should We Remind Readers of a Character’s Pain?

Most pain that matters in fiction isn’t a one-and-done kind of a deal. A gunshot wound should burn and itch and ache as it heals. A broken bone should send a jarring blast of lightning into the brain if that bone is jostled or hit.

Injuries need to have consequences. Otherwise, what’s the point?

There are three main ways to remind a reader of your character’s suffering: show them suffering, show them working around their suffering, and a third, more advanced, technique that I’ll mention in a moment.

If you want to show their pain, the easiest way is to tell: “her shoulder ached”; “she rubbed her aching shoulder”; “she rolled her shoulder subconsciously, trying to work out the aching stiffness” all convey what we want.

For frequency, try to limit those mentions to once per scene at the most, and perhaps as rarely as once per chapter.

However, we can choose something closer to the show route, by watching the character work around their injuries: “she opened the door awkwardly with her left hand to avoid the burn on her right”; “she led each step on the staircase with her good leg”; “Martin fiddled with his sling irritably”. That can be a little more frequent. It’s a reminder, but it’s also a small challenge that they’re solving before your very eyes. Huzzah!

One Final Technique: The Transmission of Agony

My best friend is a paramedic. She’s also had spinal fusion, has multiple slipped discs, and takes a boatload of pain medication. And yet I can see how much pain she’s in when we work together by the way she walks, talks, and carries herself.

Her pain isn’t constant. It changes. It ebbs and flows like the tide. It can be debilitating in one minute, bearable the next. So, too, can the agony of your characters:

“The agony had faded to a dull throb.”

“The pain in my shoulder ramped up the from stiffness all the way to searing, blinding agony faster than I could blink.” 

And, just when the pain was at its worst, it dissipated, like fog off some terrible lake.”

Go forth. Inflict suffering and woe upon your characters!

If I can offer one more piece of wisdom, it’s this: research the injury inflicted upon your character. At the very least, try to get a grasp on what their recovery might look like. It will add a level of realism to your writing that you simply can’t fake without it, and remind you that they should stay injured beyond the length of a scene.

Thank you for your time and your attention.

xoxo, Aunt Scripty

Aunt Scripty is a veteran paramedic and author of the ScriptMedic blog at . In just three short months, her blog has attracted several thousand followers and accidentally started a writing advice blog revolution on Tumblr.

She lives in an undisclosed location with her beautiful wife and imaginary pibble, Steve, and can be found @scriptmedic on Twitter. If you’re not careful, she’ll sneak up on you in a dark alleyway and give you a free ebook.

Have a question about PAIN? Now’s your chance to get some serious A+ feedback. Comment below.

Image 1: BrookLorin @pixabay
Image 2: LeoNeoBoy @ Pixabay





Posted in Conflict, Description, Emotion, Empathy, Fear, Guest Post, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Tension, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 15 Comments

Does Your Character Description Create A Powerful Image?

michael_haugeYour job as a storyteller is to create IMAGES. This is true not just for screenwriters, but for anyone presenting a story to a reader or an audience.

Whenever we read a novel or hear a speech or see a story as part of a marketing email, we immediately picture what is happening. It is your responsibility to make your characters, your settings and the action of your stories come to life clearly and vividly.

The most common weakness of character descriptions I read or hear is that they generalize.

The details are broad, vague or not visual at all. They neither create a specific image, nor do they reveal anything important or emotionally involving about the character.

When you define your character only by their function – a boss, a mother, a teenager, a customer – that person is hard to picture and hard to care about. The same holds true when the description is a summary – giving us a character’s personality or conflict or need with no visible evidence, and nothing to allow your reader or audience to draw their own conclusions. It may be true that your character is “the hero’s sister-in-law” or “mean and vindictive” or “a loser” or “my son” or “from Macon, Georgia”, but none of those statements will draw us to the character, or your story. (And if you’re a screenwriter, you must omit such descriptions altogether – you can only write what the audience will see and hear on the screen.)

Sometimes storytellers provide visible descriptions that create an image, but the details are unimportant to the story and reveal nothing of what’s inside the character. I’ve read countless screenplays which introduce characters in this way: “JOHN, 29, tall and thin,” or “MARY (mid 40’s) an attractive brunette.” As you read those two descriptions, did you get any kind of clear image of John or Mary? Neither will your reader or your audience.

Your goal must be to reveal two or three clear, succinct and vivid details that create a picture in the minds of your reader or audience, and that convey something of the essence of that character.

Your focus should be on three things:

  1. What a person wears reveals far more about her than her height, build and age. Imagine reading about a woman whose Salvation Army dress was crisply ironed, and whose perfectly polished shoes hid the holes in their soles. Not only would you be able to picture the character, you would immediately know that she was desperate to hide the fact that she had fallen on hard times.
  2. Telling us a first person story about how you once “got angry” will make your speech vague and uninvolving. Instead describe how, as you waited endlessly in line for your prescription at CVS, your jaw bulged as your teeth began to clench and your face grew increasingly red. Now your audience will imagine they’re in line with you.
  3. How would your character enter a room full of people? Burst through the door followed by his entourage? Stick his head in and scan the crowd before quietly sliding behind a potted plant? Stagger in, shirt untucked, before colliding with a waiter? Each of these is more visual, and more revealing, than the word “enter.”

Consider the following example:

A seven-year-old girl sits watching [a beauty pageant] intently. She is big for her age and slightly plump. She has frizzy hair and wears black-rimmed glasses. She studies the show very earnestly. Then, using a remote, she freezes the image. Absently, she holds up one hand and mimics the waving style of Miss America. She rewinds the tape and starts all over again.

Even if you haven’t seen LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (and if you haven’t, why not?! It’s a terrific movie!), I’m guessing that screenwriter Michael Arndt’s description of Olive gave you a very vivid image of the character. And notice how her black-rimmed glasses, intent expression and mimicking wave tell us volumes about her beyond just her appearance. We know what she longs for, how determined she is, and how out of reach her dream seems to be for her.

Reveal just two or three carefully chosen details when introducing a character. That character will come alive for your readers and audiences, and they’ll be emotionally hooked into your story.

What’s a defining feature of your character’s appearance, and what does it say about who they are? Let us know in the comments.

michaelhauge_framed1Michael has been one of Hollywood’s top script consultants, story experts, and speakers for more than 30 years, and is the author of Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds and Writing Screenplays That Sell.

Find out more about Michael here, check into his articles and coaching packages at Story Mastery, and catch up with him on social media.

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*The original posting can be found at Story Mastery.








Posted in Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Traits, Characters, Description, Dialogue, Emotion, Motivation, Resident Writing Coach, Show Don't Tell, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 2 Comments