The Efficient Writer: Using Timelines to Organize Story Details

FACT: when we sit down to write a novel, most of us already have almost a book’s worth of notes tucked away in computer files, stored in writing apps, scribbled on notepads, or stuffed into the coffee-glazed ridges of our brain.

And honesty? This is my jam. I love the brainstorming stage because everything is still on the table.

This is my happy place. I put story puzzles pieces together, like what backstory events shaped my character and which important locations will tie into the story. It’s all about A leading to B, which leads to C.

I think about the ways characters are connected, make notes about the tasks they must complete, and hash out roadblocks I’ll put in the protagonist’s way. Creating a giant ball-pit of ideas? It’s glorious.

But then it’s time to actually write.

And my brain sort of goes, Oh crap.

It isn’t because I’m trying to pants my way into the story. I actually shifted from pantsing to plotting after seeing how much better my novels were when following story structure turning points. The Story Map and Scene Maps [Formal and Informal] tools give me what I need, so all good there.

My Problem? Searching so many notes for important information that keeps my worldbuilding consistent and supports the logic of my world.

Like, where did I list out the hierarchy of mages for the magical order the hero belongs to? Or what was the sequence of artifacts he had to find to build a weapon that will protect him from dark energy infiltrating the magic community? If I flub these up, readers will notice, so I have to make sure everything is consistent.

Trying to sift through notes for where I had jotted this information down was costing me time, and occasionally it pulled me out of the creative flow. Some information, I found, needed better organization.

Thankfully, we created Timelines at One Stop for Writers. Ironically when we built it, I was thinking of how it would help other writers with their story planning, not imagining how much this tool would also help me. But wow, does it ever work well to keep me organized!

(Okay, I have to show you. Excuse me while I geek out a bit.)

Most people think of timelines as a way to create a calendar of events that happen throughout a story…and they’d be right. It’s a handy way to plot time sensitive events, like the order of battles in a war that will put your character on the throne, or the clues your mystery sleuth discovers at crime scenes as he hunts for a serial killer:

(click to enlarge)

But timelines can also be used for so much more, like charting a character’s backstory wounds to better understand why they fear Abandonment:

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Or, as a way to crystallize a character’s motivation in your mind, drawing right from the Character Motivation Thesaurus entries:

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Timelines are also great for grouping objects or places and the important details associated with them, especially when you’ll need to source this information throughout the story. This was my big problem!

Here it is helping me keep track of the special powers of sacred gemstones in one of my stories:

(click to enlarge)

Maybe you plot using Save The Cat, or you’re a bit of a note card plotter like Michael Crichton and like to write down story events and then play around the order. Timelines work really great for this because all the boxes are “drag-able,” so you can test out different scenarios by moving things around:

(click to enlarge)

Honestly, I could probably come up with a million ways to use this tool, but I think you get the gist. If you want to see more ideas of what can be tracked and organized using a timeline, there’s a list here. Between this and the Worldbuilding tool, planning story details and keeping it all organized has never been easier.

Want to give the timeline tool a whirl?

You can find it at One Stop for Writers, along with a ton of other writing resources. (And if you need it, there’s an active 25% off code for One Stop For Writers plans at the end of this post.)

Do you ever create timelines to help you keep your story organized? What types of things do you track? Let me know in the comments!























Posted in About Us, One Stop For Writers, Plotting, Story Structure, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 16 Comments

Want to Write Romance? Layer Your Scenes for Success

cs-lakinWhen I began considering writing a romance novel, I asked some of my romance author friends about structure. I had no idea that romance novels, across the board, followed a basic structure that differed in many ways from traditional novel structure.

I was glad, then, to be introduced to Michael Hauge’s story structure for romance writers—because it took the guesswork out of my task. Hauge, a top Hollywood’s story consultant, proposes what he calls “The Lover’s Journey,” which mirrors the classic “Hero’s Journey,” but with some obvious differences.

Since I’m a big proponent of plotting a novel by starting with identifying the ten key scenes, I wondered how Hauge’s “12-Step” method might work alongside my method. What I soon discovered was that, by layering, I could craft a strong story structure with my romance novels without ignoring the important foundational scenes found in every good novel.

We’re going to go into some depth here, but don’t panic. I think it will all make sense.

The 12 Key Romance Scenes

Hauge proposes twelve key scenes in the romance structure. Not every romance story has to have all of these, but they’re the milestones you’ll see in most romance novels. I often leave out two or three and replace with ones that work better for my story.

Here are the twelve romance scenes (in my wording):

  1. Ordinary World: We see the heroine’s normal world before she meets the hero.
  2. The Meet: The lovers meet.
  3. Rebuffed: Heroine has a negative response to the hero that shows they’re incompatible (or you can reverse all this and make this the hero’s reaction to the heroine).
  4. Wise Friend Counsels: Heroine’s friend/mentor points out why the hero is right for her.
  5. Acknowledge Interest: Heroine is forced to acknowledge her attraction to the hero.
  6. First Quarrel: Lovers have an argument or disagreement that pushes them apart.
  7. The Dance: Opposites attract and repel. Development of the relationship but with tension!
  8. The Black Moment: Romance is dead, impossible due to something that’s happened.
  9. The Lovers Reunite: They finally openly admit/accept they are fated/ meant for each other but things stand in the way.
  10. Complications Push Them Apart: Tension precluding the big climax, usually due the complications of the subplot.
  11. Together At Last: Working together, thrown together, at the climax to overcome the last big obstacle (emotionally and actually), they are finally together or joined in love and purpose.
  12. HEA: or happily ever after. The reward for the hard journey.

So let’s take a look how you might layer these romance scenes over the ten foundational novel scenes.

Take a deep breath and don’t get overwhelmed. Pretend this is all fun (because it is!).

NOTE: The 12 key romance scenes are R1, R2, R3, etc. The 10 key scenes are numbered 1-10 (see the downloadable chart).

Also, keep in mind that in many romance novels POVs alternate, so you may have a scene or two in the hero’s POV, then shift to the heroine’s. In other words, each of these key scenes could be two halves—a whole scene but one that has a POV shift midway. This is very common with romance novels.

# 1 (also R1) – Setup. Introduce protagonist (HEROINE) in her world.

# R1 introduction of HERO. This is the match to the first essential scene. It may not be the second scene in your novel. You may have two or three scenes with your heroine first.

# 2 Turning Point #1 (10%): inciting incident. This incident moves the heroine into position for the meet (a move to another location, an event, etc.).

# R2 The Meet. This may come later. Some say the lovers have to meet in the first scene. I’m not big on that. I want some time to get to know them both before they’re thrown together.

# 3 Pinch Point #1 (33% roughly): Give a glimpse of the opposition’s power, need, and goal as well as the stakes. This is the full setup of your subplot.

# R4 – Wise Friend Counsels:  Again, this can be, and often is, scenes with both the hero and heroine. They can each have a mentor/ally/wise friend character that gives them advice.

# 4 – Twist #1: Something new happens: a new ally, a friend becomes a foe. New info reveals a serious complication to reaching the goal. Protagonist must adjust to change with this setback.

# R5Acknowledge Interest:  A key scene that throws the lovers together so they start getting to really know each other

# 5The Midpoint (50%): No turning back. Important event that propels the story forward and solidifies the protagonist’s determination to reach her goal. Usually one of the lovers realizes and decides the other is for them, and they will now pursue without letup, despite current obstacles. And at the same time, the other lover may see something that makes him/her decide the relationship is not gonna happen.

# R6The First Quarrel: Things start coming to a head and creating high tension with the lovers.

# 6 – Pinch Point #2 (62% roughly): The opposition comes full force. Time to buckle down and fight through it. Again, this is further development of the subplot.

# R7The Dance of Attraction:  The two are again thrown together, and now they are perilously close to falling madly in love. But . . . there are still obstacles (subplot unresolved).

# 7 – Twist 2: An Unexpected Surprise Giving (False?) Hope. The goal now looks within reach. A mentor gives encouragement, a secret weapon, an important clue.

# R8 The Black Moment: Then something happens to kill the possibility of a true romance. A misdirection, lie, reversal, misunderstanding. This is a great place to throw that monkey wrench in.

# 8 Turning Point #4 (75%): Major setback. All is lost and hopeless. Time for final push.

# R9 ­– The Lovers Reunite: Somehow they find a way to get together despite the huge obstacles. This is the scene where they admit/realize they both are fated to love each other.

# R10 Complications Push Them Apart: There is one last big obstacle in their way. Which sends them reeling into the high action and tension of . .  .

# 9 – (also #20 – R11Together at Last) Turning Point #5 (76-99%): The climax in which the goal is either reached or not.

# 10 The Aftermath (90-99%): The wrap-up at the end. Denouement, resolution, tie it all in a pretty knot.

# R12The HEA. A final, parting shot of the happy result of the wrap-up.  This could be included in the last scene (above) as the two plot elements merge together, or they might be separate scenes within the final chapter(s).

Notice, R1 is essentially scene #1 and R11 is scene #9. So you have basically the twenty key scenes here, give or take one or two depending on how you want to lay this out.

To help writers see how those romance scenes might be layered in as a subplot, I’ve created a helpful chart that you can download here. I hope this gives you a blueprint to write a terrifically structured romance novel!

How do you plot out your scenes? Have you ever tried layering them in this way? Do you think this method will be helpful to organize your creativity?

cs-lakin_framedC. S. Lakin is an award-winning novelist, writing instructor, and professional copyeditor who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her award-winning blog for writers, Live Write Thrive, provides deep writing instruction and posts on industry trends. In addition to sixteen novels, Lakin also publishes writing craft books in the series The Writer’s Toolbox, and you can get a copy of Writing the
Heart of Your Story and other free ebooks when you join her Novel
Writing Fast Track email group. Find out more about Lakin here and connect with her on social media.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

C.S. Lakin also wrote a terrific piece on creating successful Romance subplots, in case you missed it and want to take a peek.



Posted in Characters, Resident Writing Coach, Romance, Story Structure, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 12 Comments

Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Escaping a Widespread Disaster

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): Escaping a widespread disaster

Forms This Might Take: Fleeing an area to escape…

  • a war
  • a tyranical government or regime
  • a terrorist attack causing a major societal disruption that knocks out power, food distribution, the police force, etc.
  • the aftereffects of a catastrophic weather event (tornado, hurricane, earthquake, volcanic eruption, superstorm, etc.)
  • an imminent asteroid or meteor strike
  • a nuclear explosion (resulting from war or an accident at a nearby power plant)
  • a deadly plague
  • the zombie apocalypse

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

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Stockpiling survival supplies
  • Inventorying one’s materials to see what will be useful
  • Protecting one’s supplies from those who would steal them
  • Rationing one’s supplies
  • Talking to experts to determine the extent of the disaster and where it’s safe for one to go
  • Banding together with others to increase one’s chances of escaping
  • Mapping out an escape route (deciding which roads to take, what time of day/night to travel, etc.)
  • Inventorying the strengths of those in one’s company to determine who is best suited to do which jobs
  • Establishing new and stricter safety routines for one’s family to keep them safe
  • Acquiring a weapon and learning to use it
  • Formulating a plan to stop the disaster from happening (if this is possible)

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Falling prey to illness, injury, or violence during one’s journey
  • Becoming separated from loved ones during the journey
  • Moving from a place of financial security into poverty
  • Having to start over (making friends, building a career, learning the culture, etc.) in a new place
  • Trading one place of danger for another (due to civil unrest, prejudice, social inequity, etc.)
  • Losing loved ones who choose to stay behind
  • Mental disorders arising from the journey (PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, etc.)
  • One’s children being assimilated into the new culture and turning their backs on their heritage, religion, culture, etc.
  • Leaving behind things of importance (family heirlooms, property that’s been in the family for generations, childhood mementos, etc.)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Destroyed infrastructure that makes travel difficult (dilapidated bridges, roads blocked with abandoned cars, etc.)
  • Results of extreme weather that make travel difficult (washed-out bridges, roads being blocked by fallen trees or mudslides, flooding caused by broken dams, etc.)
  • Environmental factors that make leaving dangerous (air polluted with radiation or volcanic ash, an airborne disease, etc.)
  • The amount of time it takes to get from one place to another on foot prolonging the journey and increasing the chances of failure
  • Running out of supplies
  • A member of one’s party becoming injured or falling ill, slowing everyone down
  • Power-hungry officials that are reluctant to let people leave
  • Bureaucratic red tape making it difficult to leave one’s country or get into another
  • Criminals and those outside of the law preying on travelers
  • Extreme circumstances ramping up fear and anxiety in other groups, leading to unnecessary conflicts with one’s party
  • Conflict within one’s group (over which way to go, how to ration supplies, who should be in charge, etc.)
  • Letting someone into the group who turns out to be a threat
  • Reaching one’s destination and being denied access

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

A Knack for LanguagesArcheryBasic First AidBlending InGaining the Trust of OthersESP (Clairvoyance)Enhanced HearingEnhanced Sense of SmellFishingForagingHagglingHerbalismHot-Wiring a CarKnife ThrowingLyingMechanically InclinedMentalismReading PeoplePredicting the WeatherRepurposingSelf-DefenseSewingSharpshootingStrategic ThinkingSuper StrengthSurvival SkillsSwift-footednessWilderness Navigation

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

  • Death for oneself and loved ones
  • Living a life of oppression
  • Constantly living in fear for the safety and well-being of one’s family
  • Starvation, being exposed to the elements, and other physical hardships
  • Being trapped in an unsustainable place and having to fight for survival
  • Feeling personally responsible for the people in one’s care who die as a result of not escaping the disaster
  • Having to watch one’s loved ones die
  • Seeing loved ones be victimized and mistreated by those in charge by those who take over in the void of leadership
  • Physical, mental, and emotional scars caused by suffering due to not escaping to a place of safety

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • Characters lacking experience with certain survival skills (shooting a gun, hunting, navigating the wilderness, etc.) easily picking them up with virtually no practice
  • The long-awaited catastrophe being averted just before disaster strikes
  • The team dedicated to stopping the catastrophe sacrificing themselves in the final hour to save the rest of civilization
  • Survivors having a natural resistance to a plague (rendering them immune) that is never explained—one that readers are expected to accept at face value

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

Hand-Selling: How to Kill It at Book and Comic Conventions

Happy to welcome author Andy Peloquin back to the blog–he’s got some tips for in-person events where book selling comes with the territory, so read on!

Comic Conventions, Book Festivals, Book Signings, and other similar events are the best way to connect with readers in your city. Instead of appealing to the internet at large, you’re focused on a target demographic: people who like to read your genre of books in your area.

For many authors, public appearances are terrifying—but they don’t have to be! Angela’s post on Hand-Selling Your Book: How Savvy Are You? provides excellent insight into the basics of selling in person, but I’m going to share “sales secrets” that have enabled me to sell more books and engage with more people.

Stand Up – This is my #1 rule at conventions: never sit! Sitting is more comfortable, but  can make passersby feel like you’re “hiding” behind a wall of books. You’re also more likely to turn on your phone, read a book, or do something that draws your attention inward. When you stand up, you can’t relax, so you’re always looking around, talking to people, and focusing your attention outward–making you more approachable.

Get Them to Stop – Let’s say 5% of people will stop at your booth on the strength of your cover art and swag. But a solid 90% of people will respond to a question like “How are you enjoying the convention?” or “What brings you to the festival?” People LOVE to talk about the things that make them passionate.

Asking about their interests allows you to strike up a real conversation and possibly give you an opening to talk about your books. Remember to always be genuine; talk about their interests, passions, and hobbies. People respond positively to that.

Find Common Ground – Are they wearing a T-shirt you like? Does their costume belong to one of your favorite TV shows? Do they enjoy a certain book genre? Finding that common ground is the most important part of your conversation. If they see that you both like the same thing, they’re more likely to share YOUR interests—like your book!

Make ‘Em Laugh – Laughter can create a positive bond between people. If someone laughs at your joke, their brains are subconsciously telling them that you’re a good person. That positive association helps make them more receptive to you and your book.

Put it In Their Hands – A 2009 study from UCLA found that “merely touching an object results in an increase in perceived ownership”. Translated: if they touch the book, they’re more likely to buy it.

I learned this trick selling comic books. People love to flip through the pages and see the art and colors. It’s a bit different with novels—people will read the back cover material, study the cover, etc. This also goes hand in hand with the next tip.

Select an Engaging Passage – Choose a section of your book—500 to 1000 words, or one scene—that you think would appeal most to readers. If you’ve connected well with someone you can suggest, “Read a bit, if you like.” The book is in their hands, and you given them something engaging. SO effective for selling the story without saying a word (as long as you’ve taken care to not make them feel pressured).

Find a scene that gets them intrigued in the story/world and want to know more. Just like you use teasers for blog posts, this snippet of your book is meant to HOOK them.

Tell it Like a Story – Instead of saying, “My main character is this, who does this, and this happens,” tell it to them like a story. Give them a bit of information behind what prompted you to write the story, and how it relates to them.

Sharing it like a story—hand gestures, inflections, and excited tone of voice—makes it seem much more interesting to the person you’re talking to.

Be Passionate – A LOT of people have told me, “You sold me on the story,” rather than “The story appealed to me.” Of course the story is going to be good (you’ve labored hard to make it so), but when it comes to selling face-to-face, your passion is going to be the most appealing thing.

People love to see someone excited about something. If your tone of voice, facial expression, body language, gestures, and overall bearing show your enthusiasm and passion (by telling the story you love), people will identify with that and respond positively.

Be Fun – This is a bit too broad to be a specific tip (like the others above), but it’s one I find makes conventions so much more enjoyable for me. Personally I like to take goofy photos, do silly things, come up with crazy ideas to make me and the others around me laugh, and generally have a good time. Heck, I’ll even start dancing if someone next to me plays music. It puts a smile on the faces of those who see me (I am somewhat shameless at conventions), and it makes the time I spend on my feet more enjoyable.

Recommend Your Neighbors – This is a trick I use to both “put good karma into the world” and take advantage of the fact that I’m sitting next to people an entire weekend. If the authors around you write a genre you don’t, recommend the reader pop over to their table to check their books out.

This builds a relationship with the authors around you, and they’ll send people your way as well. Not only do you all end up selling more, it shows you’re a genuinely decent human being willing to help those around you. In the end, the good always comes back to you.

I use the tips above with every single person that passes my booth. I’ve found they help me get my books into the hands of readers a lot better than just sitting back and maintaining that “mysterious author” persona. Be fun, outgoing, and engaging…and you’ll sell MANY more books!


Andy is getting ready to celebrate a new release–how awesome is that?

The Last Bucelarii (Book 3): Gateway to the Past

A faceless, nameless assassin.

A forgotten past. 

The Hunter of Voramis–a killer devoid of morals, or something else altogether?

(The Last Bucelarii–dark fantasy with a look at the underside of human nature)

Enjoy dark fantasy? Find this book at Amazon, jump into the whole series, or add it to your Goodreads list if you like!

About Andy Peloquin

I am, first and foremost, a storyteller and an artist–words are my palette. Fantasy is my genre of choice, and I love to explore the darker side of human nature through the filter of fantasy heroes, villains, and everything in between. I’m also a freelance writer, a book lover, and a guy who just loves to meet new people and spend hours talking about my fascination for the worlds I encounter in the pages of fantasy novels.

Twitter  * FacebookWebsite

Have you sold books in person before? Do you have any tips or ideas to add? Let me know in the comments!









Posted in Buying Books, Guest Post, Marketing, Promotion, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude | 17 Comments

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.

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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.

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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.
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Image: Readon @ Pixabay





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