Crafting a “Body Language Voice”

september-c-fawkesYou’ve probably heard about “voice”–that elusive quality that so many editors, agents, and readers are drawn to. Years ago, I did a couple of posts about character voice, arguing that it’s made up of what the character says and how she says it. Each character should have a unique voice. Sure, their voice can have similarities with other voices, but when it gets down to it, they are somewhat different. But you know what else is somewhat unique to an individual? Body language.

So today I’m going to talk about what I refer to sometimes as “body language voice.” The reason this can be tricky is because many writers learning the craft are completely unaware of it. Instead, they simply focus on the emotion they are trying to portray to the audience–which is great, because that means they are trying to “show” how someone feels instead of simply “tell,” but one of the problems that can arise is that the writer gives the characters all the same emotional indicators. Whenever a character is annoyed, he or she rolls her eyes. It doesn’t matter who the character is, it’s the same response. Every character shrugs. Every woman puts her hands on her hips.

Write stronger emotions using your character's "Body Language Voice"To take this to the next level, you should develop a “body language voice.” Most people I know don’t actually roll their eyes. Some do, but most don’t. It’s a specific type of person who uses this body language. I know lots of people who never shrug or put their hands on their hips. Like with typical character voices, there may be aspects that overlap with others. For example, two different people might still say “That’s lit,” but it’s unlikely that everyone says that. Then there are more common and universal words and phrases that almost everyone says, like “How are you?” and “Cool.” This applies to body language. Most everyone smiles, nods, and shakes hands. Those are more universal. But beyond things like that, your characters should have their own body language.

This means moving beyond your go-to emotional indicators. A great resource of course to help with this is Angela and Becca’s The Emotion Thesaurus. When looking at the lists in the entries, ask yourself which indicator fits that specific character. How does that character express anger?

Instead of making all your characters roll their eyes when they are annoyed, try to mostly limit that to one person. It’s “her” thing. What character does that body language most suit? I pretty much never roll my eyes (unless I’m being sarcastic) because I think it’s rude, and even if I feel annoyed, I don’t necessarily want the other people present to know I feel that way. So for someone like me, I almost never do that. However, I know a few people who do that precisely because they want the other person to notice. Other times, simply because that is the way they release annoyance. So looking at who your character is will help you determine what sort of reactions most suit him or her.

I know people who shake their leg when they are nervous, others who literally put their tongue in their cheek to keep from laughing, some who quirk an eyebrow, and some who can rarely maintain eye contact. Watch which people in your life do what to help you individualize the body language of your own characters.

There are also internal emotional responses. More of these are universal, but some may be unique. Whenever Ron Weasley gets uncomfortable or embarrassed, his ears go hot (I know they are hot, because they go red). Sometimes when I’m super excited about something I feel like I’m going to throw up–weird right? (It’s weird to me as that’s something I would relate more toward nerves not excitement.) I have a friend who only really cries when she’s mad. So even how our bodies respond to certain emotions may be somewhat unique. (Just don’t go to so many extremes that they get ridiculous.)

I could go on with examples, but I think you get the idea. Your characters should have their own body language.

For further reading on this, check out Becca’s post on Finding Your Character’s Emotional Range.

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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Posted in Characters, Emotion, Resident Writing Coach, Show Don't Tell, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 1 Comment

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Tattoo Artist

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

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

Occupation: Tattoo Artist

Overview: Tattoo artists are responsible for using needles and ink to tattoo a person’s skin. They may copy a customer’s design or render an original one based on what the client wants. These artists may work for a studio or be independent freelancers.

Necessary Training: While no formal education or training are required, most people begin their career working as an apprentice and grow their craft under the eye of a master tattooist.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Good listening skills, high pain tolerance, promotion

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Calm, confident, cooperative, creative, imaginative, kind, meticulous,  patient, persuasive, quirky, responsible, sentimental, supportive, talented, tolerant

Sources of Friction: An indecisive customer who can’t decide what they want, overzealous health inspectors, a client asking for a design that’s offensive to the artist, customers with low pain tolerances, tattooing a customer who has self-medicated in an effort to proactively manage the pain, working for an unlicensed or unregistered parlor that takes shortcuts resulting in a client getting sick, a customer requesting a design that’s too complicated for the artist, tattooing a customer with an undisclosed health risk (hemophilia, specific allergies, etc.), difficulties arising from working at a parlor in a dangerous part of town, conflict with family members who are morally opposed to one’s occupation, an underaged client lying about their age

People They Might Interact With: other tattoo artists, a landlord, administrative personnel, vendors, customers,

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: Many tattoo artists choose this profession because it enables them to satisfy their creative needs. But this need could go unmet if their work situation requires them to do more commercial, standard work that doesn’t allow them to flex their imaginative muscles.
  • Esteem and Recognition: While the old stigma regarding tattoos has largely gone away, there are still certain people and cultures who look down on the profession. This could be a problem if the naysayers are important or influential people in the character’s life.

Common Work-Related Settings: Art studio, big city street, parking lot, shopping mall, tattoo parlor

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: 

  • Tattoo artists are usually fairly well inked themselves. But what about a character who couldn’t get tattoos due to a health problem but pursued the job so he could be creative?
  • You could also play with the kinds of tattoos an artist creates. Maybe their work is philanthropically based, such as turning scars into art or covering prison, slave, or concentration camp markings.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Critiques 4 U

Welp, it’s August. Some of us are crying because the summer’s over. Some of us are celebrating because the summer’s over. We northerners are, frankly, trying to ignore all the back-to-school posts because, jeez, we just got out of school.

Whatever situation you’re in, I hope you’re enjoying the moments and finding that precarious balance between work and personal life. Personally, I’m headed to Colorado with the family in a few weeks, and I needed to squeeze in some critiques this month, so today’s the big day :).

CRITIQUES 4 U!

CONTEST CLOSED

If you’re working on a first page (in any genre except erotica) and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment. Any comment :). As long as the email address associated with your WordPress account is up-to-date, I’ll be able to contact you if your first page is chosen. Just please know that if I’m unable to get in touch with you through that address, you’ll have to forfeit your win.

Two caveats:

▪    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, let me ask that you plan on entering the next contest, once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of.

▪    I’d like to be able to use portions of winning submissions as illustrations in an upcoming presentation I’m creating on first pages. By entering the Critiques 4 U contest, you’ll be granting permission for me to use small writing samples only (no author names or book titles).

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

Writing By Design Part 4: Contrast, or Light versus Dark

In earlier installments of this “Writing by Design” series, we’ve discussed how to use the constraints of space to lend a shape to your story, and we also looked at the importance of patterns in your writing, and when and how to break them. Finally, we talked about color theory and how to use it to create characters with depth.

Today we take our fourth and final foray into writing by design. Here, we’ll tackle contrast, or light versus dark.

Contrast is essential to storytelling. When you tell a story orally, the sound of your voice weighs against the silence when you’re not speaking. On the page, the dark letter forms create a contrast against the crisp white of the paper. And even the digital document that contains your manuscript at its purest and most essential form boils down to a series of zeroes and ones in the depths of your computer’s memory.

But contrast goes beyond the mechanics of recording your story. The most interesting parts of your story are where characters, plot points, or thematic elements create contrast with each other.

And yet, contrast is a stylistic element often ignored in writing. This might be because you can’t see contrast simply by looking at one item by itself. You have to put two things together and watch how those story elements bounce off each other. Just as light can’t exist without darkness, to create contrast you need a basis of comparison.

Contrast Is Relative

In design there is a concept known as “relative contrast” which purports that an object will stand out or blend in depending on the context where it is found.

Take the image below. The small squares are the same shade of grey, but when placed against either a dark or light background they appear to be different shades. The human eye perceives the small square against the light background as darker than the one against the dark background. In other words, the context shapes how we perceive visual elements.

The same is true with story. In order for readers to resonate emotionally with the story, you need to create moments of contrast. Consider, for example, the heart-wrenching moment in The Hunger Games when Rue dies and Katniss honors her by covering her with flowers. This moment would not have nearly the same emotional impact if it weren’t happening against the violent backdrop of the Games.

Similarly, humor often gets its impact by playing off this contrast between light and dark. For example, in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, the humor often comes from the contrast between what the protagonist Greg Heffley writes in his diary and what we see actually happened via the doodles in the margins.

Contrasting Characters

In my previous post about Color Theory, I shared a technique for building conflict between your characters by placing characters who seem opposite each other in the same scene. When you force characters with opposing opinions or agendas to work together, it automatically creates drama in your story. Conflicting characters often bring out the worst in each other, which allows readers to better appreciate the characters’ good qualities when those glimmers of light flicker through.

You can also build character contrast by playing their actions against their thoughts or dialogue. When characters say or do exactly what they think, there’s no tension. When characters’ behaviors and dialogue is too on-the-nose, it’s boring. Instead, you can create tension by not having actions or dialogue match up exactly with a character’s thoughts or emotions.

These moments where you create layers of subtext will resonate with readers because it feels true to life. Rarely do real people say exactly what they mean. At the same time, you can also use subtext to put readers in-the-know while the character in the scene is oblivious to what’s actually happening.

For example, in the sitcom The Office, most of the storylines consist of the main character Michael Scott doing something utterly ridiculous and getting himself or his team into trouble. The humor comes from the audience’s heightened awareness of just how bad Michael’s choices are. We see how badly the situation can become, but Michael doesn’t see it. That contrast between the information we have as the audience versus Michael’s awareness is what makes the show funny.

In the Murky Middle

The one danger with contrast is when differences—the light versus dark—becomes too exaggerated and cartoony. When you jump from happy-go-lucky scenes with the “good guys” to dark brooding scenes with your villain, it doesn’t create contrast, it just makes your readers feel disoriented.

As a die-hard Star Wars fan, it pains me to say this, but the Endor section of Return of the Jedi has serious flaws in terms of contrast. This segment of the film makes it the weakest of the original trilogy in large part because it keeps bouncing between extremes of light and dark. On one hand you have the Ewok battle on Endor with all the comic relief characters in one place. At the other extreme you have Luke facing off against Vader and the Emperor. The jumps between light and dark are so extreme that it’s hard to take Luke seriously when he tells Vader “I sense the good in you.” Really? Vader is downright evil until the very end, so his transformation is a bit hard to believe.

Like anything in writing, the subtleties and nuances are far more interesting than when elements are pushed to a stereotypical extreme. Characters are more compelling when they are both heroic and deeply flawed. Scenes are more engaging to readers when they have both elements of light and dark intertwined.

As you develop and craft your stories, I encourage you to draw on rules of design to help inform your writing. Think about both the space your story takes up on the page, and the details that you know as the writer but that never make it into the finished book. Consider too how you can establish—and break—patterns in your story. Finally, think about how you can use color theory and relative contrast create more drama between characters and in your scenes.

Our job as writers is to craft an experience for our readers, making our stories truly immersive. This is what it means to write by design.

Gabriela Pereira is the founder of DIYMFA.com, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters degree in writing. She is also a speaker, podcast host for DIY MFA Radio, and author of DIY MFA: Write with Focus, Read with Purpose, Build Your Community (Writer’s Digest Books, July 2016). Join the word nerd community at DIYMFA.com/join.

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Posted in Characters, Experiments, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 4 Comments

Fill Your Toolbox: $2.99 Thesaurus Writing Guides (Today Only!)

Hi everyone! It’s summer and we have a great one-day deal for you: all of our kindle books are on sale today (amazon.com only) for $2.99 or less—The Emotion Thesaurus is only $1.99!

But act fast, because this is truly a one-day deal.

The Emotion Thesaurus is the Kindle Deal of the Day, so to celebrate, we decided to lower all of our ebooks. If you need to add a few volumes to your toolbox and round out your collection, today’s the day. 🙂

If you don’t need these but know someone who does, please let them know about this offer. We would love to save writers money if we can.

Shares are greatly appreciated. We hope you are all having a terrific summer!

~ Angela & Becca

Posted in Emotion Thesaurus Guide, Emotional Wound Thesaurus, Positive & Negative Thesaurus Guides, Setting Thesaurus Guides, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

The Six Stages of Your Hero’s Character Arc

It’s always special when a past Resident Writing Coach returns to the blog, so help me welcome C.S. Lakin who is opening up discussion on a powerful topic: Character Arc. I am a big fan of Michael Hauge’s 6-Stage Plot Structure so please read on!

The Six Stages of Your Hero’s Character Arc

As a writer, you’re probably familiar with the term “character arc,” but what does a character arc entail? How do you structure this arc? And what informs the way your character changes, from the start of your story to the end?

While all characters in a novel can have arcs, it’s the protagonist whose change should be the most significant. Depending on genre and plot, your hero’s change might be subtle or life-altering. A suspense thriller or cozy mystery may show little character growth by the end, when the bad guy is caught or the mystery solved, whereas a thoughtful women’s fiction novel or relational drama may showcase monumental change.

But, in all stories, arcs are about change or transformation. And the stories with strong arcs show a character starting in what Hollywood movie consultant Michael Hauge calls identity or persona.

What makes for a great persona is a character who has suffered in his past and has developed a coping mechanism over time. This is his face he presents to the world that keeps buried his pain, fear, or hurt.

It’s human nature to deny and avoid painful feelings. But when we suppress them, it creates problems. We are never truly happy in our persona. It’s like having a tiny (or big) thorn in our toe that is festering. We keep our foot in a sock and walk around trying to ignore it, but it isn’t going to go away on its own. At some point we have to pull off the sock, look hard at the infection, then extricate that thorn and flush out the wound.

This gives us a blueprint for the process of crafting a strong character arc. While we understand coming up with “a wound” for our protagonist is key, we don’t want to make up any ol’ wound. We need to develop one that is intrinsically tied in with our premise.

I like to use Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure, which not only shows the key turning points in your plot and where they go, it also aligns your protagonist’s transformational journey with those specific events in your story.

In other words, your character moves from his persona to his true essence in stages, gradually and in a believable manner. People don’t change overnight. Events erode a person’s grasp on his persona until he can no longer hang on to it. By the end of your story, your character finds no safe haven in that persona any longer.

Let’s take a look at these six stages of transformation, using the movie Hostiles as a perfect example.

  • Stage 1: This is your setup scene at the start of your novel. Your character is fully in his persona. This is the face he shows the world, and though it’s helped him cope with life, it has not brought him happiness.

In Hostiles, Army Captain Joseph Blocker has spent the last two decades fighting Indians, and he’s witnessed horrific things the Indians have done. He hates the Indians and cannot see past his hate to imagine they have any humanity or worth. Before he retires, he’s commanded to escort the ailing Cheyenne chief Yellow Hawk—his most despised enemy—to his ancestral home in Montana. He is fully in persona.

  • Stage 2: At this stage (between the 10% and 25% mark), your character’s entrenched views begin to be challenged. He gets a glimpse of his essence, of who he could be, if he let go of his persona.

In Hostiles, Blocker’s hatred begins to crack when he witnesses Yellow Hawk and the other Indians quickly move to join in protecting their group, even killing other Indians in defense. This glimpse of integrity that he sees in Yellow Hawk sparks respect and challenges his core beliefs that all Indians, especially this one, are savages and nothing more.

  • Stage 3: Somewhere between the 25% and 50% mark, your character, still in his persona and moving toward his goal, is gradually changing due to what he is experiencing and learning. A mentor or friend might mirror to his the way he is acting, pointing out how that’s not working for him. Or something someone says or does makes him stop and consider how his coping mechanisms aren’t making him happy. Think of creating a scene in which he takes the first step toward changing, or that shows he is already changing without realizing it.

In Hostiles, Rosalie, a woman whose family was butchered by Indians and who Blocker saved and has taken with him on this journey, has a deep talk with Blocker about life and spiritual things. This mirror moment gets Blocker questioning his life and values and begins to crack his hard shell.

  • Stage 4: This stage comes sometime between the Midpoint and the Dark Moment (75% mark). Now your character knows he must embrace his true essence. He is not there yet, but he fully realizes his persona is failing him. He must get the courage to be true to himself and face the truths he hasn’t been able to face. Often this is where the character backslides into his persona again, where it’s safe. But it doesn’t work anymore. There is only going forward.

Rosalie and the two native women are kidnapped by a group of fur traders who come across them as they wash dishes at a creek. Alerted by Little Bear, Blocker and several of his men, as well as Yellow Hawk and Black Hawk, track them down. They find the fur traders’ camp and witness one of the kidnappers beating Yellow Hawk’s daughter. When the kidnappers return to their tents, the men sneak down into the camp and attack the kidnappers and kill them. One of the rescuers is killed in the struggle. This intense event, which throws the opposing characters together, uniting them in purpose and morality, causes a further transformation of Blocker’s character. The Indians are people who strive, who suffer, who take care of those they love. He sees they are not all that different from him. He’s almost in his true essence.

  • Stage 5: This is the moment of arrival. As the climax barrels into him, he fully embraces his true essence, which gives him all that’s needed to reach his goal. He has everything to lose, but he goes for it. The final push to “arrive.”

In Hostiles, after a huge climax of death and mayhem, the group finally reaches Montana, and Blocker and Yellow Hawk, who is near death from cancer, speak. Blocker names some of the men he had lost fighting Yellow Hawk. Yellow Hawk responds by saying that he had also lost people. The two men shake hands in an apparent mutual act of forgiveness and friendship. When they arrive at Valley of the Bears, they bury the now dead Yellow Hawk using a traditional native burial scaffold. When white men approach and threaten them—mirroring the exact attitude Blocker had at the start of the story: hateful, racist, violent—we see Blocker take a stand, and he kills the leader of these men. Everyone in Blocker’s group is shot and killed except Rosalie and the young Indian boy.

  • Stage 6: At the resolution, your character is now fully in his essence; he has transformed and sees the world and himself in a new, healthier light. He is honest and transparent about himself.

At the end of Hostiles, Rosalie boards a train with the boy, heading home to where she will raise the young warrior. Blocker says good-bye, but because he is now fully in his essence, wholly transformed, he cannot leave the woman he loves. He is now able to do two things he could never have done at the start of the story: be at peace enough to allow himself to love this woman he cherishes and decide to help raise an Indian boy. He has broken through his racism and hate by way of experiences that taught him the lessons he needed to learn, giving him understanding that had never been within his grasp. A powerful story with a perfect transformational journey for the protagonist.

When you sit down to work on your character arc, consider using the Six Stage Plot Structure. Brainstorm scenes that will showcase the specific stage your character is in, for each turning point in the story.

Using this framework will not only help you write a solid story, it will aid you in crafting a believable character arc for your protagonist that will engage and delight your readers.

C. S. Lakin is a writing coach, copyeditor, and author of thirty books, fiction and nonfiction. She blogs at www.livewritethrive, helping writers on their writing journey, and teaches online courses for writers at cslakin.teachable.com.

Enroll in her new course, The Ten Key Scenes to Frame Up Your Novel, before August 20, 2018 to get 50% off the regular price!

Posted in Character Arc, Characters, Guest Post, Story Structure, Tools and Resources, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 3 Comments

Writers, Taking a Break This Summer? Here’s How To Be Productive, Too

Ah, summer. Freshly mowed grass, sunshine, grilling kabobs on the barbecue, a pitcher of mojitos…does it get any better than this?

Some of you have likely decided to take time off from writing. Totally understandable. You’ve worked hard and have absolutely earned down time with the family, some nights out on the deck, and a few reading sessions in the hammock. Enjoy every minute!

BUT.

If I can make a tiny suggestion, it is this: a break from writing also provides a unique opportunity to turn your attention to some of the things that generally fall by the wayside.

Like…investigating marketing ideas and pinpointing the exact audience for your book. Or making a list of the movers and shakers influential with your readers. Or reading up on how to collaborate with other authors.

Many authors feel drained when they think about marketing. I totally get this.

It can be frustrating when we try something, and it doesn’t seem to work, or what does work takes a lot of effort. And yet, I can’t say enough how important it is that we fight past these feelings and work at broadening our knowledge to chart the path to a satisfying writing career.

So, it’s summer and mission number one may be to refill your creative well, but while you’re doing that, why not also add to your business well, too? You know, while you’re in that hammock, or sipping that mojito. 🙂

Need marketing help? Here are some great links to get you started!

If you read one article every day or three, think about how much more knowledge you will have by summer’s end.

Here are some excellent articles that might fill in gaps & provide ideas.

SUMMER READING

Finding Your Book’s Ideal Audience: If I told you that the single most important marketing step you can take is to really understand who your exact ideal book audience is…would you set time aside to do it? I hope so, because connecting with the right group of people will save you a boatload of time and money. Plus, you’ll enjoy marketing more because at the heart, it’s really about finding people who have a lot in common with you and building relationships with them.

Authors, Do You Know Who Your Influencers Are? The other side of the marketing coin is finding your influencers: people who have already established trust and authority with your potential book audience. I’ll show you how to determine who these influencers may be for you, and how you can reach out to these influencers to create a relationship that will benefit both parties. Plus, I’ve created a downloadable Influencers Hot Sheet to help you make it all happen.

Inside a Successful Book Launch: How to Manage a Book Campaign: This webinar recording is worth a watch. Author Accelerator’s Jennie Nash peppers me with questions on how to successfully launch a book, gain visibility online and run a Street Team. And, you can access a PDF Swipe File of our book launch emails, posts, and promotional materials to see exactly what Becca and I did.

10 Sites like Goodreads for Authors and Readers: Here’s a list you might not be aware of. Why not check them out over the summer, and create a few profiles for you and your books? By fall, you’ll have a nice set of websites for new readers to discover you.

Six Smart Ways Indie Authors Can Collaborate When Marketing: Any job becomes easier when we share it, including book marketing. And really, whether you are traditionally published or not, you can use these ideas to further your own reach and gain more readers. Finding other authors whom you admire who have a very similar audience can really open the door to some great creative collaborations, so start building your tribe!

A Book Marketing Truth Few Experts Will Admit: Unfortunately, sometimes no matter what it seems a person does, their marketing doesn’t gain traction. Most experts will tell you that all you need is to take their course, or sign up for their coaching program, or buy their automated marketing funnel system, but the truth is that sometimes other factors are at play. This post looks at a list of reasons (and some may be hard to hear) as to why your marketing may not be successful (yet).

Want more links but don’t have time to scour the web for marketing help? Try these Facebook groups as they often post good links: Build Book Buzz and Marketing For Authors.

Happy writing, reading, and relaxing this summer!

Posted in Marketing, Motivational, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Massage Therapist

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

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

Is your character a massage therapist? Learn all the information about this job so you can write it authentically. The occupation thesaurus can help. Occupation: Massage Therapist

Overview: A massage therapist will evaluate a client for injuries and then manipulate muscle and soft tissue to bring them relief from pain, help heal injuries, improve circulation, alleviate stress and offer relaxation and overall wellness. They may specialize in a variety of modalities (Swedish, Hot Stone, Aromatherapy, Deep Tissue, Shiatsu, Reflexology, Sports massage, Pregnancy massage, etc.) and work in different environments such as spas, doctor’s offices, sports clinics, hotels, chiropractic centers, and fitness centers. Some massage therapists build a practice where they work on location (coming to someone’s home, office, or a hotel) bringing their own equipment, lotions, and oils. Others may run a massage salon from their own home.

Massage therapists need healthy stamina, strength, and dexterity as while some sessions may be short, most are often 60-90 minutes of applying pressure and resistance techniques using the hands, fingers, knuckles, forearms, arms, and elbows. They must also be good at communication to ensure they can properly assess a client’s condition and diagnose what might be causing an injury so it can be treated effectively.

Once a treatment is finished the therapists will recommend follow up (stretches, exercises, posture adjustments, avoiding certain activities) and make further recommendations for managing symptoms or to see a doctor for further diagnosis.

Necessary Training: Most therapists enter a post secondary program that is part classroom study, part hands on massage. Programs often require 500 hours of practice and have an exam. Additional time will be required to specialize in a modality. Certified therapists may require a license to practice depending on where they operate, pass a background check, and may need to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, basic first aid, charm, empathy, enhanced hearing, ESP (clairvoyance), exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, high pain tolerance, hospitality, reading people, regeneration, strategic thinking, strong breath control, super strength

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, analytical, cautious, curious, disciplined, discreet, empathetic, focused, friendly, industrious, meticulous, observant, organized, patient, perceptive, persistent, professional, sensible, supportive, tolerant

NEGATIVE: controlling, gossipy, perfectionist, workaholic

Sources of Friction: A client being evasive about symptoms out of embarrassment, a client not disclosing a condition (like pregnancy) or injury, having someone on the table who is highly medicated and less able to offer feedback during a session regarding pain levels, clients who don’t like to be touched, clients who “read into” the massage in a sexual way, being told secrets or gossip about others one knows or must work with by a client, people who are demanding and try to tell the practitioner how to do their job, people who are fussy and make demands about how the appointment will be run, clients who try to get out of payment after the service is complete, credit cards that are declined, working at an office with poor hygienic standards, working at a clinic that requires one take on a too-high client load, bad contracts that make unreasonable requests or demands that are outside the scope of one’s work, suffering an injury or strain on the job, working on clients who are overly obese which stretches ones strength and stamina, requests for “a happy ending”

People They Might Interact With: clients, doctors, chiropractors, administration, suppliers

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Esteem and Recognition: A character who has traditionally struggled with feeling valued by others may seek out this career to directly influence the health and wellness of others, drawing much satisfaction from the appreciation of clients as the pain and stress from injuries and other events is lifted, returning them to a state of better health.
  • Love and Belonging: A character who is in a long term relationship with someone who suffers from injuries or a condition that requires a lot of massage therapy (say, after a car accident or workplace incident) may choose this career in order to provide the care their loved one needs to live a normal life.

Common Work-Related Settings: airport, beach, cruise ship, fitness center, hotel room, penthouse suite, rec center, spa, therapist’s office, yacht

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype:

Massage therapists are often portrayed as hot young guys or beautiful, small framed women, but the reality is that the muscle manipulation requires a lot of core strength. Make sure your character’s body type fits the profession and remember the “hotness” level has nothing to do with this career.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

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Need to Add Depth to a Character? Consider A Quirk

We talk a lot here at the blog about strong, unforgettable characters. Which ones do I most vividly remember? What makes them so unforgettable?

One of the common denominators is that they all have at least one attribute that 1) I admire, or 2) draws me to them in some way. As a shy teenager, I fell in love with Anne’s (of Green Gables) vivaciousness—clearly expressed through her nonstop chatter. Every Christmas, I watch Elf and laugh my mistletoe off at Buddy’s socially awkward brand of innocence.

The key, I think, is to give our characters a quality that is admirable, likable, or somehow inspires empathy. Then we’ve got to show this positive attribute in a way that cements it in readers’ brains and leaves no doubt as to why they’re drawn to the hero.

Quirks are a great way to differentiate characters and make them multi-dimensionalOne easy way to do this is through the use of quirks—small, original mannerisms or habits that are unique to a character. While these area often randomly applied as a way of making a character offbeat or “quirky,” I’d like to focus today on how to utilize quirks deliberately as a way of showing your character’s positive attributes. I’ve found that the best way to apply them meaningfully is by pulling them directly from the character’s personality or emotional wound.

Quirks Via the Character’s Personality

Identify your character’s primary attribute. Maybe it’s a trait that will help him achieve his goal. Perhaps it’s one that matches his morals and values. Regardless of what you decide, his primary attribute needs to make sense in light of his history. His upbringing, core beliefs, profound past events—all of these things should play a part in determining who he is in the current story, so take them into consideration when choosing his stand-out trait.

Brainstorm actions that exemplify that trait. If your character is meticulous, what are some realistic mannerisms that she might acquire? Maybe she would obsessively clean (Monica Geller, Friends). She might count her toothbrush strokes and steps to the bus stop (Harold Crick, Stranger than Fiction). Perhaps she would make fastidious notes on post-its and stick them all over her apartment (Dr. Emma Russell, The Saint).

The cool thing about choosing a quirk is that the possibilities are limitless. You just have to find one that fits with your character’s whole personality. Take note of her flaws, fears, and other issues, and make sure that her quirk fits her.

Use your quirk to show the attribute. Plenty has been said about the value of showing instead of telling in our writing. It’s the difference between someone saying that your new roommate is a little strange and you figuring it for yourself when you find her talking to her extensive ceramic bunny collection.

When someone tells you something about another person, you hear the information, but it’s impersonal—until you witness it for yourself. Then you experience an emotional response. This emotion is what you want to evoke in readers, so instead of stating outright what kind of person your character is, show it through the use of a well-chosen quirk.

Quirks Via the Character’s Emotional Wound

An emotional wound is a negative experience (or set of experiences) that causes pain on a deep psychological level: Getting dumped, suffering from a learning disability, being wrongfully imprisoned, living with an abusive caregiver, etc. These are things that change a character. The event was so painful that they fear its recurrence, so their lives become one big carefully orchestrated attempt to keep anything like it from happening again. One of the common side effects are quirks.

Imagine a character whose parents favored a sibling over her. She may grow up determining to never make anyone feel that pain—especially her children. Fairness becomes an obsession, one she takes so far that it borders on the comical. Each Christmas, one of her kids’ stack of gifts is topped with an envelope containing change—$7.92, because she spent that much more on the other child’s gifts. Maybe each kid’s stack has the same number of presents, even if it means her son gets three pairs of individually wrapped pairs of underwear. Her determination to be fair in all cases continues even after her children are grown. She’ll never not answer the phone if it’s one of them—even to the point of picking up during a job interview.

It may sound over-the-top, but the person I’ve just described is someone I know, with this “fairness” quirk coming directly out of her biggest wounding experience. Past traumas and their ensuing fears can easily birth quirks for a character. It’s just a matter of figuring out what the wound is and brainstorming some quirky possibilities that make sense.

A Few Final Tips

Use quirks sparingly. As with any other gesture or habit, quirks that are used too often become distracting. Choose fitting times for your character to show his personality so each instance has meaning and serves a purpose.

To wrap things up, I’d like to close with two examples of how quirks have been used to convey character personality. The first is an example of how not to do it.

How Not To Show a Quirk: Back in 2013, I (briefly) watched this show called Revolution. Great premise, but there was a lot wrong with it—one of them being the main character. She cried in every episode. It got so bad that my husband and I started betting on time slots to see who could guess when Charlie would overflow. This mannerism of hers was completely overdone, and worse, it didn’t tell me anything about her personality.

The writers must have gotten my memo because all of a sudden in season two, the waterworks were gone. While I was glad, its sudden departure showed that it wasn’t a true indicator of her personality. This is a good example of a quirk that didn’t make sense for the character and was used haphazardly, without purpose.

How to Show a Quirk: On the other hand, the first time we meet Hermione Granger, she starts off her mostly one-sided conversation with Ron and Harry by informing them that she’s learned all the course books by heart and that all the spells she’s practiced have worked perfectly. Her bragging is a quirk that she exhibits fairly consistently; it’s a sign of both her intelligence and competitiveness but also of her insecurity.

As the books progress, her bragging progressively lessens and eventually disappears—a sign that she has successfully navigated her character arc and no longer needs to prove herself. This is a great example of an effective use of a quirk to show a character’s personality.

Can you think of a personality trait or wounding event and a quirk that might spawn from it? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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Tools for the Visual-Spatial Writer (and the Rest of Us)

One of the most important things I learned as a teacher was that children learn differently, and the best approach for reaching them all included a variety of methods. I find the same to be true in writing. I may have certain techniques or tools that work well for me, but I can still benefit from other resources. Barbara Linn Probst is here today to talk about some out-of-the-box tools you might want to add to your kit. I thought some images might help with visualizing how these could look, so I’ve included some screenshots of examples from these kinds of resources at One Stop for Writers.

Ten ways to raise the stakes in your novel.

Six steps to making your protagonist more likeable.

Twelve questions to ask your beta readers.

Much of the writing advice we encounter is offered through lists and steps. It’s not surprising; sequential formulations pervade our culture. We have shopping lists and bucket lists, schedules, manuals that provide step-by-step instructions. We’ve gotten so used to sequential formulations that it may seem as if that’s the only way to organize knowledge.

For about thirty percent of us, however, experience is processed spatially, not temporally – not as a linear progression through time, but as pattern, network, array. We see landscapes, mosaics, parts in relation to the whole. If you’re not sure which kind of person you are, think about how you “know” how to get somewhere. Do you rely on a series of routes and turns, or on landmarks?

Awareness of the visual-spatial processing style goes back to 1981, when psychologist Linda Kreger Silverman coined the term to explain the challenges – and gifts – of youngsters whose “upside-down brilliance” made it difficult for them to learn in traditional ways. Despite the work of Silverman and others, the sequential approach still dominates our educational system. That’s true for adult learners as well as for children. Thus, writers seeking to improve their skills – who happen to be visual-spatial processers – may find much of the available “advice” difficult to implement. They need other tools.

In fact, we all need visual-spatial tools. Some aspects of writing do lend themselves to checklists –making sure one has covered the important points in an opening scene, for example – but others, such as organizing the relationships among characters, are best served by non-sequential techniques. A well-stocked toolkit needs both. The strategies below are for all of us, regardless of our primary learning style, and can provide an important complement to the plethora of sequential strategies that are already available.

Ironically, the only way to offer sample tools is through – you guessed it – a list! But the tools themselves are not based on lists. The examples below illustrate the kinds of tools that can be utilized. They are neither exhaustive nor prescriptive; writers should feel free to develop their own.

A Relationship Mapping Tool currently being developed at One Stop For Writers

Relationship Mapping. Stories have characters, and characters have relationships to each other, as well as to the novel’s protagonist – relationships based on affinity, aversion, power, vulnerability, motivation, history, temperament, age, gender, and so on. As author, you need to understand and keep track of these relationships, which are often quite complex – too complex to be depicted by an index or list.

Social work has a tool called an ecomap, developed by Ann Hartman in 1975, that can help. The ecomap is a diagram that shows an individual in relationship to the people and social systems in his environment. The person is placed in the center, at the hub, with people and systems arrayed around him and connected – to him and to each other – by arrows and lines. The lines can be thick or thin (strong or weak), solid or hatched (positive or negative), with arrows indicating the flow of energy.

Writers can easily adapt this tool by placing the novel’s protagonist in the center, with other characters arrayed around him. The lines between the characters will illuminate patterns of isolation, alliance, dependence, power, and so on.

Thematic webs and tapestries. Structurally, stories contain elements or motifs: emotions like jealousy, ambition, fear, regret; concepts like sacrifice or the power of secrets; narrative movements like choices, reversals, and betrayals. Some elements are central, serving as hubs from which secondary motifs radiate. These motifs intersect, like crisscrossing trails or threads in a tapestry, to thwart, divert, or reinforce each other.

To capture the interplay of these motifs, each can be drawn in a different color as it moves across the linear story. A motif can have peaks, valleys, and plateaus. Overlaying the “journeys” of several motifs will reveal their connections. When one element peaks or intensifies, another may have a valley or a corresponding intensification.

Scene Grids. Other visual-spatial tools use grids, with “cells” formed by the intersection of elements along two axes. For example, if we want to look at the variation in our scene openings, we can list the chapters along the right-hand axis. Along the top or lateral axis, we can list the type of scene opening: dialogue; a statement indicating a change of date or setting; a sensory detail; a bit of exposition in the author’s voice; and so on. Reviewing the number and placement of cells in each column can help to show, at a glance, if (and where) certain openings are over-used and ought to be varied.

Grids can be used to map scene endings (e.g., an upturn, a setback, a surprise); settings (e.g., scenes that take place at the kitchen table); which character takes action and which reacts; or any story element that warrants tracking.

One Stop’s Settings-At-A-Glance tool is an example of a scene grid

The best novels tend to be both sequential and spatial, of course. They’re sequential because the story moves forward, horizontally, in a chain of cause-and-effect developments. But they’re also spatial because each point in the story has multiple layers, a verticality or “thickness” composed of the elements in relationships to one another.

Think about your own story. Which visual-spatial strategies—ones mentioned above or those of your own creation—might help to illuminate aspects you’d like to understand better?

Barbara Linn Probst, author of the groundbreaking book on nurturing out-of-the-box children, When the Labels Don’t Fit (Three Rivers Press, division of Random House), is a writer, teacher, researcher, and clinician living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. She holds a PhD in clinical social work and is a dedicated amateur pianist. To learn more about Barbara and her work, including her present focus on upmarket women’s fiction,  please see http://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/

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