What Can the Best Metaphors in Literature Teach Us About Writing?

A big hello and welcome to Savannah Cardova from Reedsy today. She’s got some terrific advice (and resources) on Metaphors, so read on!

Life is a highway. Love is a battlefield. All the world’s a stage. Hope is the thing with feathers.

If you’re familiar with these expressions, you already know that metaphors are all around us — and that some of the most striking ones come from literature. For this reason, writers who want to improve their figurative language would do well to study famous metaphor examples and see how they’re constructed.

But there’s so much more we can learn from metaphors other than how to create an interesting comparison! Indeed, they’re something of a microcosm for writing as a whole — the techniques we use to design metaphors can be applied to countless other aspects of the craft. To that end, here are five lessons from great literary metaphors that you can use to turn your writing into a powder keg (see what I did there?).

1. There’s power in brevity

Let’s return to the examples I cited in my first line — all extremely well-known metaphors, yet none more than six words long. Coincidence? Absolutely not. Just as with business mottos and political slogans, shorter metaphors are much more likely to make a memorable impact. I’ll use another famous comparison, courtesy of the inimitable Bard, to drive this point home:

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

There’s a bit of buildup here, but the last four words make the metaphor: Juliet is the sun. What a perfect way to sum up how Romeo sees her — as the center of everything, his source of light and warmth, practically blinding him with her beauty, etc. Reaching a bit further, you might even say that Romeo feels as though he already revolves around Juliet, and perhaps has a sense of foreboding because he understands the danger of getting too close to her.

But having explained it that way, the metaphor loses its initial impact. This is why it’s best to simply present an analogy and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. The same is true of writing in general — brevity is the soul of wit, as another Shakespearean character once noted. So whether or not you’re constructing a metaphor, take care to be concise in your writing.

2. Some references are evergreen

Another great lesson when it comes to metaphors and writing is that certain reference points never go out of style. While this may be less relevant to content creators who strive for topical, Twitter-worthy references, most writers can really benefit from making their metaphors (and all prose) as timeless as possible.

One of the most illuminating experiences I’ve had with figurative language has been reading Madeline Miller’s Circe, which retells the story of the titular mythological figure. Naturally, one repercussion is that all references must be made to things that existed in the ancient past. But Miller tackles the challenge masterfully, resulting in highly affecting metaphors like these:

She was very beautiful, it was true, one of the jewels of our halls.

He was a poison snake, and I was another, and on such terms we pleased ourselves.

Gods pretend to be parents, but they are children, clapping their hands and shouting for more.

All these analogies compare characters in the story to universally recognizable things: jewels, snakes, parents and children. Such things have always had clear connotations, so mentioning them is like drawing upon a highly-charged power source.

This is what writers should attempt to do — use potent language that won’t be diluted by the passage of time. Of course, this may be difficult when the situation is very specific, or if you’re worried about being too many ostentatious with literary devices. But luckily, these kinds of evergreen references are so organic, your readers will hardly even notice them. They’ll contribute to the overall effect without making a spectacle of themselves.

3. The occasional change-up is good

That said, sometimes a bit of a spectacle is exactly what you want. While I advocate for using subtle, organic language 95% of the time, occasionally you want your writing to stop readers in their tracks. And if you want a metaphorto achieve this, you should try juxtaposing two highly dissimilar things. Here’s an exemplary excerpt from Run, Rabbit by John Updike:

He flinches when footsteps pound behind him. But it is just two lovers, holding hands and in a hurry to reach their car, their locked hands a starfish leaping through the dark.

When you imagine lovers holding hands, you probably don’t associate it with a leaping starfish. For one thing, the shape of two hands clasped together isn’t especially star-like; for another, starfish don’t leap. But the illogical nature of this comparison is overcome by the strength of the image. We as readers are swept up by the nonsensical wonder of a leaping starfish — which indeed, may be just as rare and bewitching a sight as true love.

So perhaps what I should say here is not to compare dissimilar things, but things that don’t have an obvious similarity, in order to make the reader really work for it. And this is true of writing as a whole: you don’t want readers to struggle through your text, but the occasional challenge (such as an unusually structured chapter) will keep them on their toes.

4. Lengthy passages should remain clear

On the note of challenges, and as something of a counterpart to my first lesson, let’s talk about extended metaphors. These are metaphors that draw a comparison between two subjects and elaborate upon that comparison by creating additional parallels.

The full versions of both Shakespeare quotes in this article are actually extended metaphors, as are numerous song lyrics (Taylor Swift is particularly skilled in this arena). But my favorite extended metaphor would have to be The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood / And sorry I could not travel both / And be one traveler, long I stood / And looked down one as far as I could / To where it bent in the undergrowth.

This is only the first verse, but the entire poem is an extended metaphor about the choices of life and the various “roads” one might take. It’s lovely, evocative, and easy to understand, despite its length — which I think makes it the quintessential extended metaphor.

While it may seem like all lengthy pieces of prose are inherently confusing, but they certainly don’t have to be! In that vein, try to be just as clear in your longer passages as in your short ones; this will vastly improve your work, and your readers will surely thank you.

5. The best prose becomes proverbial

As you’ve probably surmised from some of the examples given here, the best metaphors are immortalized in the form of everyday wisdom. Here are a few more you’ve surely heard before:

A leopard can’t change its spots.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

It’s not over until the fat lady sings.

These are all implied metaphors about different kinds of people and situations. But where did they come from originally? Various texts: the Old Testament, Don Quixote, and a short story by Charles Dickens, to be precise. And I’m sure you can think of plenty more common phrases, idioms, and adages that have derived from works of literature.

So if you want to be truly remembered, try to write something pithy and perpetually true that people will say for generations to come. It doesn’t have to be a metaphor — it doesn’t even have to be figurative language! But if you can manage to get to the heart of something in a succinct way, you might just find your words emblazoned on mugs and posted on Wikiquote in the future. And after all, isn’t that every writer’s dream?

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories (and occasionally terrible novels). You can read more of her professional work on the Reedsy blog, or personal writing on Medium.

Posted in Description, Guest Post, Mood and Atmosphere, Reading, Setting, Show Don't Tell, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Story Feedback: Free and Paid Options for Writers

It’s a sad fact, but most writers don’t have a basement full of money, meaning the word BUDGET is kind of a big deal. We want to publish but to do it, we have to think carefully about where we spend our money and why.

Investing in our career is smart, when we can afford it. There are infinite workshops, conferences, resource books, memberships, courses, and coaching available to us. All can help us develop our skills, better understand storytelling, and navigate the business side of being an author. But what they don’t help with is a question that plagues us more than any other:

“Is what I’ve written any good?”

No matter how many books are under our belt, the same worries about quality surface.

Am I fooling myself that I have what it takes?

Did I just get lucky before?

Is this the book that ends my career?

Impostor’s Syndrome is always there ready to kneecap our self confidence.

On the plus side, I think wobbly self-confidence can also push us to do our best and it encourages us to seek feedback. (And we should. I recently posted about the importance of feedback, which is a powerful way to crowdsource opinions to help answer the question above.)

Knowing what type of feedback we need and when, and what help we should pay for and what we shouldn’t helps us make sure we’re sticking to the budget. So I’ve put together a list of people to seek when you need feedback, and share the different free vs. paid options.

Free Help For Writers

There are many different ways to get help as a writer without breaking the bank. The more you do on your own, the less you’ll end up paying when you’re ready to take your manuscript to the publication stage.

Beta Readers are typically your first readers, people who may be writers but often are not, rather they are potential readers, people who enjoy the type of books you write and they won’t let a personal relationship with you get in the way of offering constructive feedback. They give “overall” feedback on the story (usually when it’s in an early draft stage so you know if it works or not), and will tell you what pulled them out of the reading experience, like a lack of emotional connection to a character, a confusing plot, etc. If they are the first person to lay eyes on your draft, some refer to them as a Alpha Reader.

You don’t need to pay for beta reads (although there are some services that do offer experienced editorial feedback, so do your research to make sure they are legitimate if you choose to use them.) You can find readers by asking people that you interact with online if they would like to beta read for you, or ask unbiased family or friends who read your genre.

Critique Partners are those who will workshop a book with you, meaning they read each chapter and offer your feedback on any (or all) story elements that you want their opinion on. I recommend running through your book chapter by chapter at least once by other writers (yes, writers — having more than one partner means different perspectives and strengths are applied to your story).

Critiquing is free, but based on give and take: someone critiques you, and you critique them. This is work, but work well worth doing. Some writers try to find critters for a one-way relationship but this shortchanges them on a valuable opportunity to improve. Why? Because when you critique others, you learn a ton about what works and what doesn’t in a story. And once you “see” a problem in another person’s manuscript it becomes much easier to spot the same issue in your own stories. These epiphanies are golden opportunities to grow your skills quickly!

Critiquing shouldn’t cost you, although there are services who do charge, so again, if you go that route, do your research to make sure they are legit and are worth the return on investment (ROI). To find critique partners, ask your writer’s network or join a site like the Critique Circle. This is where Becca and I met and we have both workshopped many stories there.

Full Swap Partners are writers who are looking for a full novel read. Typically this happens when a writer has already had their manuscript workshopped extensively and they now need fresh eyes to have a look before they take the next step, either querying it or to hiring an editor to self-publish it.

Full swaps are about viewing the story as a whole rather than line editing, and passing on honest opinions afterward about the book. Swaps are often between writers who are more advanced and write in the same or similar genres. Typically the writers involved do not steer the other in any way so that they are not specifically looking for issues or problems as they read. This way it’s easier to see if improvements made during past revisions were effective. After the read is complete and the critiquer submits their impressions about the book, and the author may send along follow up questions on specific areas if they wish.

To find a writer to swap with, ask your network. Think about the forums you belong to, the social media writing groups you interact most with, and the people you trust. It can be beneficial to swap with people you don’t know because they will spare your feelings, but always research first. Ask questions about the person (and the story) to ensure it’s a good match. If you are seeking swaps as you move toward publication, you’ll want to make sure the other person’s work is of the same quality and that they are a skilled writer as reading a full manuscript is a bigger time commitment. No money changes hands for a swap.

Necessary Writing Help that Will (Probably) Cost Money

Keeping costs down is every writer’s goal but the trade off should not be quality. A poorly written book will not sell, and this will only lead to self-doubt and disillusionment about making writing a career. Don’t be afraid to invest and pay for the help you need.

Freelance Developmental Editing is something to look into if you are self-publishing, but I don’t recommend it if you are trying to traditionally publish. Why? Two reasons. First, the publisher will assign an editor to you and they will ask for edits that align with their house style and vision, overriding any edits you paid for. Second, and I know this might sound harsh, but your writing should be strong enough to gain a contract without a professional editor shaping it.

I say this because you’ll be expected to follow editorial directions and return quality work after a contract is signed. So while all writers do need an editor, we also need to bring our own skills to the table. If a writer leans too much on a freelancer so they can shop a book, it could leave them in a sticky predicament if their writing skills are not up to the task of following editorial directions once under contract. It’s best to apply yourself as a writer to learn the craft, taking advantage of the many blogs, books, courses, and workshops available to you, often for free. Then workshop your book extensively with critique partners. This, and your own abilities, should be enough to get your book where it needs to be to interest an agent and editor. However, if time is an issue and money is not (and sometimes this is the case), then hiring an editor might be right for you even if you do plan on traditionally publishing.

One important thing to note: if you are offered a deal by an agent or an editor on the condition that you pay for editing, this is a scam.

If you self-publish, you should hire a professional editor. No matter how strong we are at writing there will always be gaps in our knowledge. A professional freelance editor can help with this and because the story isn’t theirs, they also have the distance we lack.

There are different types of editors, so you should research what you need for your story. This is one part of publishing where paying is sort of unavoidable, so just make sure you choose someone who is professional and experienced in your genre.

Costs will vary, but if the price is too low, be aware that sometimes you get what you pay for. Always ask for a sample edit first so you can see their style and skill level, and don’t be afraid to ask for references from past clients.

Proofreading is something I recommend. You can pay for proofreading (Becca and I do) but it is also possible you might know someone who is very skilled in grammar and punctuation that may be willing to help you for free. Or, you can try to use a tool like ProWritingAid (good options for writers going the traditional route if their grammar and proofing skills need support).

Tempted on skipping this type of editing? I wouldn’t. If you traditionally publish, too many errors will pull the agent or editor out of the reading experience as they assess your story. And if you self-publish, readers will ding you on reviews if they notice too many mistakes. We are often blind to our own typos and grammar missteps, so another set of eyes can be really helpful. And, if you are a Canadian like me writing for the American market (or vice-versa) there will be all sorts of “isms” that a professional proofreader will catch. (Michael Dunne loves turning all my greys to gray and neighbour to neighbor!)

TIP: If you are interested in hiring a proofreader, ask for a sample page or two. We did this with 5 proofreaders, seeding certain mistakes into a sample, to see who would catch them all. Only one did, so be aware that not all proofreaders are created equal.

A one-on-one Writing Coach is another option for feedback. While Becca and I are writing coaches we focus on groups, not individuals. A one-on-one coach is someone who will help you through the process of writing a novel by being your sounding board, and by offering you feedback, education, and keeping you accountable.

There are various places to find coaches. Many authors have a side business where they offer coaching because they have been through the book writing process. There are also highly professional coaching firms with a professional coaching team. The one I recommend whenever asked is Author Accelerator as I know the skill level of many of their coaches, and I love the fact that they partner each client with a specific coach based on the writer’s needs, genre, and style.

One-on-one coaching is often a higher price investment. But, what a writer learns while in a program will help them accelerate their writing skills exponentially. The knowledge they end up with can be applied to every novel moving forward. So for writers who are able to afford this investment, it’s well worth considering.

Looking for MORE help? Check out this MASTER LIST OF WRITING & PUBLISHING RESOURCES.

The wonderful thing about choosing writing as a career is that there are many, many ways we can steer our own growth and development, and this in turn helps us develop our Writer’s Intuition which let’s us better evaluate feedback and view our own writing objectively. Opening ourselves up to learning at every step means each novel will get a little easier. It’s hard work, but that’s also how you know it is work worth doing.

Happy writing, all!

Posted in Agents, Critique Groups, Critiquing & Critiques, Editing Tips, Grammar, Motivational, Publishing and Self Publishing, Reader Feedback, Rejection, Revision and Editing, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Repressed Memory Resurfacing

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: A Repressed Memory Resurfacing

Category: Power Struggles, Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Relationship Friction, Losing an Advantage, Loss of Control

Examples:
Being triggered by something in their environment
Overhearing a discussion that leads to forgotten memories
Uncovering something unexpected during hypnotherapy
Experiencing a traumatic situation that awakens memories of past trauma
Finding mementos from the past that trigger a flood of unwanted memories

Minor Complications:
Becoming highly emotional and anxious
Experiencing fight or flight and causing a scene
Shutting down (disengaging from work, forgetting to pick kids up from school, becoming unresponsive, etc.)
Revealing secrets that will impact others
Feeling unsafe and insecure and not knowing how to cope
Underlying behaviors becoming worse (fear reactions) because the character now fully understands the reason for them

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Post traumatic stress disorder derailing one’s life
Depression and suicidal thoughts (or attempts)
Self-isolation and paranoia caused by trust issues or disillusionment
Feeling betrayed if they are not believed
A family fracturing when a member’s involvement in a past event is revealed
A family member being incarcerated for their past actions
The character acting on their anger and seeking revenge, breaking the law which leads to incarceration

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Doubting their own memories and what is real or not
Self-loathing and self-blame (often undeserved)
Feeling unsafe and not knowing how to fix it
Feeling like their life has derailed and it no longer fits who they are
Wanting to move past what happened and being unable to
Struggling to decide what to tell others
Frustration over holes in one’s memories and wanting to remember
Anger and resentment toward others involved who should have done more to offer protection or made different choices
Religious disillusionment

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: People they accuse of wrongdoing (and by association, their family), family or friends who engaged in a cover up and their actions are coming to light, people in power who dropped the ball or looked the other way and now that’s being revealed, people the character is responsible to while they time to work through these memories and any resulting fallout)

Resulting Emotions: anger, anguish, anxiety, betrayed, bitterness, confusion, depressed, disgust, disillusionment, fear, grief, guilt, hatred, humiliation, insecurity, neglected, overwhelmed, panic, paranoia, self-loathing, shame, terror, tormented, vulnerability, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: addictive, impulsive, insecure, irrational, needy, nervous, paranoid, reckless, uncommunicative, vindictive, violent, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Knowing their past trauma allows them to seek help and start working through it
Having an explanation for why they feel a certain way (when in a specific place, with a person, or doing an activity)
Having answers about a past event or situation which brings relief
Knowing they may finally get closure when there was no chance of it before

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How To Scare Your Readers Using Deep Point Of View

I love to get geeky about deep point of view and I’m so excited to be a guest writing coach here. *mittened fist bump* What is Deep Point Of View? It’s a writing technique, a strategy, that removes the perceived distance between readers and characters so readers feel like they’re IN THE STORY, in real time. Deep POV straps a Go-Pro to your main character and takes the reader on an intimate, visceral, emotional journey. You can use deep POV for your entire novel or for key scenes where you’re looking for an emotional gut-punch. 

Take fear, for instance. It’s such a common emotion that it’s sometimes hard to make it real for readers. When I’m critiquing, I find that writers don’t go “deep enough” into fear to really create that emotional punch they’re looking for in key scenes. Have you ever had an editor or crit partner say “go deeper?” Here are some of my best tips on how to dig deeper into fear to really make it work for you. 

You Understand More About Fear Than You Think

Fear is not only horror, terror, or panic. It has many faces. Worry is a form of fear. Perfectionism is a form of fear. Doubt, being shy or timid, having cold feet, agitation, suspicion, concern, phobias, lying/boasting, jealousy, loneliness, anxiety, PTSD – these can all be fueled by varying degrees of fear. (On a sidenote, fear and excitement use the same neural pathways – they FEEL the same.)

You know how fear feels. You’ve been afraid, you’ve reacted poorly when afraid. Everyone has. Get curious about how that felt! 

Get Curious With Your Emotive Memory 

Take a few minutes and think back to a moment when you were afraid. Fear is uncomfortable because it’s supposed to be, so this will have to be an intentional choice on your part. 

Reflect on why you were afraid (what was at stake, what did you risk losing?) and how it felt to be afraid. Where did the fear sit? Did it clench your gut? Constrict your throat? Make it hard to breathe? Were you able to think your way out or did you just react? Were you jumpy? Did you startle easily or remain calm? Relive that experience and get curious about it. Most of the time, the reason for our fear is very individual, can be irrational, is rarely linear, and can be volatile or unstable. How can you make your character’s fear uniquely theirs? 

Fear Involves The Body And The Mind

Overly simplified, fear is an alarm system that warns of danger, and that alarm is connected to other important systems in your brain – thinking and reasoning, emotions, physiology, etc. Fear will shut down systems not deemed necessary to survival (like feeling pain for instance) and amp others up (breathing, heart rate) to allow for a quick response. Learn more about the body language of fear here. Have you considered how you might employ this reality in your fiction? How this could create problems or amplify tension in a particular scene? 

Fear has many uses, but don’t get fixated on being strictly realistic. Real life doesn’t happen in tidy three-act structures. Technically someone in a life-and-death showdown probably isn’t thinking very much at all, but you need the scene to feel like time has slowed for readers, so you use more internal dialogue than would happen in real life. That’s a stylistic choice. 

Fear Must Be Specific And Unique To Each Character

Take bees, for example. We know how helpful they are, but many people fear them for a variety of reasons. Maybe Sally is afraid of them because when she got stung, she cried and her friends laughed at and excluded her. Cindy, on the other hand, is afraid of bees because her mother told her a sting will hurt and her face might swell up and she might have to go to the hospital (and Grandpa died in the hospital). Jamie is afraid of bees because the sound they make is too loud, and loud things aren’t safe. Rich is afraid of bees because the first time he was stung he couldn’t breathe and the next sting might kill him. 

First – notice how each fear is specific and unique to the individual AND shows us a good deal about their character. Sally’s fear is fueling shame, maybe. Cindy’s fear is fueling anxiety. Jamie’s fear is irrational but still has huge stakes for him. Rich’s fear fuels his survival instinct. 

While Rich is the only one with a tangible reason to be afraid of bees, the other children’s fears feel as real and as incapacitating as Rich’s. The stakes aren’t the same though, right? The thinking fueling their fear (the WHY) will be very different and so will the consequences of feeling that fear, which is what deep pov drills down into. Your job is capture that experience of fear for your character in the way that feels real to them, that shows the stakes they’ve attached to that fear.

If you want fear to really grab readers, the fear needs to be specific, needs to have high stakes, and readers have to understand WHY the character is afraid.

Prime The Fear Pump

“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.” Stephen King, The Shining

Once fear is already present, even innocuous events can bring it about. How many people shiver when they see a clown or red balloon? For them, that association with Stephen King’s It primes the fear pump with specific imagery.

The abusive husband/father comes home from work and slams doors, kicks toys out of his way, curses at the dog. The family sits down to dinner and the father cracks open a beer and chugs it. He demands another beer and cracks that one open, too.

His family is now primed for a fear response. They see the red flags that will set him off, and experience tells them they’ll be the first targets of his rage. They’ll be hyper-vigilant to a threat, and any small thing will push them into a fear response. They’ll adopt whatever behavior they’ve learned de-escalates the situation, even at great physical or emotional cost.

The father leans over to cut his four-year-old son’s meat, the knife scraping the plate with a wicked screech, and the father curses at the sound. The child winces and begins to cry but stays in his seat, shoulders hunched. Mom stares at her plate and resists the urge to comfort the boy. The father bursts out of his seat and tosses the chair aside. He hasn’t DONE anything to make the boy cry. What are they all afraid of? All kinds of things could be explored in a scene like this from various points of view.

Fear feels like a complex emotion, but it’s not. What makes fear work in fiction is when we take the time to make it personal and give it high stakes. When we prime the character to feel fear through deep point of view, the reader will be on the edge of their seat as well!

Join my free 5 Day Deep Point Of View Challenge on Facebook starting on October 14th. 5 days of lessons and personalized feedback to help you implement deep point of view in your stories!

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Resident Writing Coach

If Lisa had a super-power it would be breaking down complicated concepts into digestible practical steps. Lisa loves helping writers “go deeper” and create emotional connections with readers using deep point of view! Hang out with Lisa on Facebook at Confident Writers where she talks deep point of view.
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Posted in Characters, Emotion, Fear, Point of View, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 8 Comments

Diversity in Fiction: Writing the Character You’re Afraid to Write

In the last two years, diversity in fiction has become more and more prevalent. We’ve seen blockbuster film and TV hits from award winning books like The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas or Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. The positive side to this is that marginalized authors are having their stories published in their own voices. This also goes some way to removing hurtful stereotypes from the past.

But what about authors writing diverse characters when they’re not part of that diverse group themselves. Is that okay? As with all things, it depends on how it’s handled, but we’ve all seen vitriolic social media reactions toward authors who’ve gotten something wrong when writing diverse characters. Even books vetted by sensitivity readers aren’t immune to scathing criticism and (sometimes) online bullying. This response has made many people wary of writing characters who are different from them.

So many writers edge back to the traditional safe ground of writing what they know. But all this does is create fear. And we know what fear does: it cripples and blinds, muting the voices that would tell the stories the world so desperately needs to hear.

It’s okay to write diverse characters as long as we do our homework and avoid hurtful stereotypes. Here are some tips for how to write a character who’s different from you.

Research

If you don’t know how to do something, the first thing you usually do is Google it. Diverse characters should be no different. Look for articles written by diverse voices. For example, the Huffington Post has a homepage series for Black VoicesQueer Voices and Latino Voices

If you prefer audio-visual formats, look for podcasts and YouTube channels like this one: Bisexual Real Talk. Remember, most of the big social media platforms have supercharged search functions. You can type whatever you want into YouTube and find a solution on how to fix the knob on your washing machine, which means you can also use it as a research platform for character development.

If you’re more into audio, try Listen Notes. It’s a thematic search function for podcasts. Want to find interviews with trans people? Type that in. Want to find information on the history of Native Americans? Type that in, too.

The important thing to note is that if you want to include a character from a specific people group, make sure you learn from people of that background rather than gathering second-hand information.

Reach Out to Advocacy Organizations

Most advocacy groups are only too keen to help spread the word about the people they work with. There are tons of organisations working with minority groups, from Stonewall for LGBTQIA people to Mind, a mental health charity. 

Better still, if there’s a local branch, you can pop in and ask whether you’d be able to speak to their service users. That way you get primary research and first-hand accounts, which bring a richness to your writing that you can’t get any other way.

Read Fiction AND Non-fiction

Writers are always told to read as much as they write. So why wouldn’t you do the same if you want to create a character from a different background than yours?

You can use information sites dedicated to diverse books like this one, which has lists of everything from queer stories to Asian author lists, middle eastern fiction, and much more. Or you can always use Goodreads’ huge book lists to find stories from every single genre and type of minority you could think of. 

But don’t forget, it’s not all about fiction. If you want ideas about personal experiences, read memoirs or nonfiction books about history and culture. Pop into your library and ask the librarian for recommendations or go to your local book store and do the same.

Speak to People

I know writers are often introverted, but it’s time to step outside of your comfort zone. Besides, it doesn’t matter what country, gender, or ethnicity people are from, it’s human nature to want to talk about yourself, and that’s what makes gathering primary research so easy. 

If you want to create an African American male character, speak to African American males. If you what to write a Latino character or a girl from Nigeria or maybe a transgender Chinese boy, guess what… go speak to them and ask questions.

Nine times out of ten, if you ask someone about their heritage, cultural practices, or their experiences of coming out, they’ll be only too keen to tell you. And if they aren’t, the worst they will do is say no. But the improvement and quality of your words if they say yes far outweighs the risk of a ‘no.’

Sensitivity Readers 

Once you’ve written your book, you can use a group of sensitivity readers to make sure you’ve not said anything that would cause harm or offense. 

A sensitivity reader is someone who is a prolific reader or who has a background in writing and editing and also has personal experiences of the topic you’re writing about. The aim is to highlight any misrepresentation, bias, unconscious or blatant racism, homophobia, or unintentional stereotyping.

Opinions vary widely about the topic of hiring sensitivity readers. Is it an imperative for accuracy? A form of censorship? Would not hiring sensitivity readers be a barrier to publication? This is something you’ll want to research yourself, to figure out what you believe and what’s best for your story. 

If you decide to hire sensitivity readers, I’d advise starting in author forums, be it on Facebook or otherwise. If you have a mailing list of readers, you can always do a call out in the same way you’d ask for advance readers or reviewers. And if, when researching, you speak to people from the desired background, you can always ask if they’d be willing to review your story once it’s finished.

Regardless, it’s important to have more than one person read your work. I, for example, am a woman of colour with a mixed heritage. I’m also a lesbian woman. However, while I could read and give an opinion on a character like me, my experiences aren’t universal to all lesbian or mixed raced people. Therefore, it’s important to get a range of views and find the middle ground in them.

Universality of the Human Condition

You might be wondering why I haven’t talked about craft. There’s a reason for that: you need to treat your diverse characters in the same way you treat all of your other characters. They should still have character arcs and goals and motivations because realistically, under our skin and gender and sexuality, we’re all human. But there’s one thing all humans share: emotion. 

I could go into detail about how to write emotion, but Becca and Angela have that covered in spades. For more information, check out their compilation post, containing over a dozen links to posts on how to write character emotion. Or use the search function in the right-hand sidebar to find more.

Bottom line: it doesn’t matter who your character is or what ‘minority’ they come from. The way you make them real to a reader is by concentrating on their emotional journey. 

Be Fearless

This is really the message I want to leave you with. We’ll never normalize minority groups if we don’t bring them into the limelight. Be brave, talk about experiences, ask people from different backgrounds questions, and learn about cultural differences. If you’re unsure about whether you should be the one to write a particular experience or story, ask the people within that group. Then go forth and populate your books with characters that are different until different becomes what it should have been all along: normal.

Sacha Black

Resident Writing Coach

Sacha is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. Her blog for writers, www.sachablack.co.uk, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy. The first two books in her Eden East Novel: Keepers and Victor, are out now. You can find her manning the helm at The Rebel Author Podcast, and on social media:
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HEADS UP!
Angela, Becca, and Lee are celebrating One Stop for Writers’ 4th birthday…and YOU get the presents!

Four years ago the three of us took on a big task: to make storytelling easier for writers of all levels. We designed a writer’s dream library by filling it with tools and resources that bring something completely different to the storytelling table. To date we’ve helped thousands of writers craft their best fiction yet, and we’d love to help you too!

Give our FREE TRIAL a spin, or use this one-time 25% off code to enjoy a juicy discount off your next invoice.

  1. Log in
  2. Go to your My Subscription page and enter the code BIRTHDAY4 in the coupon box by October 14th, 2019
  3. Tick the checkbox, hit the Activate button, and BAM, save 25% off any plan.
  4. Take your savings and spend them on more books, you reading addict, you!

A bestseller with your name on it is waiting… See you at One Stop!

Posted in Diversity, Emotion, Reader Feedback, Resident Writing Coach, Stereotypes, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 10 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Car Accident

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: A Car Accident

Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Losing an Advantage, Loss of Control, No-Win Situations

Examples: A minor fender bender
A major accident with another vehicle that results in physical harm
Hitting an animal or pedestrian
Running off the road and into a tree or structure

Minor Complications:
Being made late due to having to wait for a police officer or tow truck
Boredom while waiting on paperwork to be finished
Having to deal with rambunctious children during the wait
A totaled car that leaves the character without transportation
Getting a ticket (if the character caused the accident)
Conflict with the other driver
A new or young driver not knowing the protocol
Temporary health problems resulting from the accident (a headache, sore muscles, bruises or scratches, etc.)
Damaging someone’s property and being financially responsible for repairs

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Sustaining life-threatening injuries, such as internal bleeding, a collapsed lung, or damage to vital organs
Injuries that result in chronic pain or disability (paralysis, traumatic head injury, back pain, etc.)
Death
Being negligible in an accident that results in someone’s death
Suffering severe injuries and having no insurance
Being hit by a driver with no insurance
The accident occurring in a remote location where help won’t come for some time
Getting sued
Being trapped in a vehicle
The character losing their license (because this wasn’t a first offense, they were drunk, etc.)
A long recovery
The character being unable to work because of the injuries or hours missed during recovery

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Being tempted to evade responsibility (by leaving the scene, lying to shift the blame to the other driver, etc.)
The character second-guessing themselves and wondering what they could have done to avoid the accident
Struggling with wanting to get revenge (if a loved one was killed due to someone else’s irresponsibility)
Being overcome with guilt (if the character was responsible)
Depression
Seeing the accident replay over and over in their mind
Being overcome with fears associated with the accident (fear of driving, of loved ones driving, of hospitals, etc.)
Obsessing over the What Ifs?—What if I had killed someone, I had left the house thirty seconds later (thereby avoiding the accident), someone had stopped the other person from driving under the influence, etc.
Worrying over what the character’s spouse or parents will say (if the character caused the accident)

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Those involved in the accident, their loved ones, first responders (police officers and EMTs), anyone else inconvenienced by the accident (employees who have to cover a shift when their co-worker doesn’t show up, a sports team having to compete without their best player, a date being stood up at a restaurant, etc.)

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, annoyance, anxiety, apprehension, bitterness, concern, defensiveness, denial, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disbelief, dread, empathy, fear, frustration, grief, guilt, horror, hysteria, impatience, intimidated, irritation, overwhelmed, panic, powerlessness, rage, regret, remorse, resentment, resignation, sadness, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, stunned, unease, vengeful, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, addictive, callous, confrontational, defensive, evasive, impatient, impulsive, irrational, irresponsible, martyr, melodramatic, morbid, vindictive

Positive Outcomes: 
Gratitude that things didn’t turn out as badly as they could have
Being reminded of what’s important in life
Becoming a more cautious and patient driver (if the character was to blame for a minor accident)
Being forgiven instead of condemned and determining to be more gracious and forgiving in the future

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How Do You Know If Your Protagonist Is Strong Enough?

You can have an incredibly detailed world, adrenaline-spiking action and jaw-dropping plot twists, but unless the character in the driver’s seat is interesting, layered, and memorable, the story will pancake. So building a protagonist (and a story cast) that wows readers is a top priority for us all.

We all like to believe we’ve created a protagonist that is undeniably compelling and unique…but how do we know if they are strong enough to carry the weight of the story on their shoulders?

Give Them A Past That Hurts

If a character just shows up at the doorstep of your novel with a handful of random qualities, great hair, and a guitar slung over his shoulder, he might quicken the pulse initially but it’s doubtful he’ll have enough substance to keep the reader in thrall. Readers crave a bit of complexity, something deeper than what’s on the surface. After all, we all have pasts – you, me, and the reader. Those pasts make us who we are. Your character needs one too, and to cut right to the chase, it should contain some unresolved pain.

Emotional wounds–painful events that hurt your character deeply–are formative. These negative experiences will change a person, instilling fears, corrupting their worldview, and damaging their self-worth. These things shape the character’s attitudes, behavior, and personality so knowing what happened to them in the past will help you write their every action, choice, and decision authentically. So, don’t skimp when it comes to exploring their BACKSTORY, especially the bad.

Uncover Their Aching Need

There are five basic human needs that cause all people to act despite fear, danger, pain, and risk when urgency is strong enough. Your character is no exception. Take a look within them to find their “empty bucket,” a part of the character that is longing to be filled by something meaningful: love, connection, safety, recognition, family, forgiveness, or something else.

This missing need is their INNER MOTIVATION, and only it can push your character to leave their comfort zone to obtain it.

Give Them A Meaningful Goal To Chase

The character’s goal can be anything (literally anything) as long as the readers believe down to their boots that the protagonist must have it. Pay close attention to your character’s empty bucket and choose a tangible goal (OUTER MOTIVATION) that will fill it.

The best goals are ones that will greatly challenge your character, not only externally through opposition and conflict, but internally also. To become someone stronger and more capable of winning, force the character to shed their dysfunctional behaviors, traits, attitudes, and the lies they believe about the world and themselves. These negative elements are all part of their emotional shielding which can only be dismantled when the character recognizes it hurts them more than it helps. To be free of it and their fear, they have to find a way to heal from the wound that caused it to form in the first place.

Reveal A Layered Personality

Choosing a character’s personality is more involved than taking a list of traits and assigning ones that seem interesting or appealing. People are complex creatures, and their personalities are full of contradictions: compassionate and impatient. Affectionate and jealous. Lazy, yet intelligent.

Backstory once again is the garden from which a personality grows. Experience is a teacher, and so the influential people and events from your character’s the past (good and bad) are what cause certain traits to form. A personality test or two can help you draw together an eclectic personality sure, but if you want one that is nuanced and rooted in truth, spend time unraveling their backstory to see how the past created the present.

Find Their Line In The Sand

Every person has morals, beliefs, values, or ideals that they will defend to the death, and so must your protagonist. Threats won’t sway them, nor will temptation, because it is their line. They may sacrifice many other things, but not this.

Decide what truths your character believes, truths so absolute they become part of their identity. Whatever belief they refuse to shift on, show it at work in the story: how they treat other people, interact with the world around them, and the many small ways they try to be someone better to honor those beliefs. Show readers they are worthy.

Make Them A Mirror Of The Reader

For readers to truly connect with a character, there needs to be commonalities: viewpoints, beliefs, desires, struggles, fears, emotional experiences, and needs that they both share. No person is perfect, and the character shouldn’t be either. Instead they should be realistic and flawed, making mistakes, struggling, and learning as they go.

Your protagonist might be facing incredible scenarios or be tasked with responsibilities the reader has never experienced yet still there are things that connect them to the reader. For example, on the surface, a protagonist who must save his children by diffusing a bomb in their school may have little in common with your audience, but underneath they can relate. Every reader has someone they love who they would do anything to protect. A person they fear for and would sacrifice everything to keep safe. Because of this, readers can put themselves in the protagonist’s mindset and emotions and imagine what it would be like to be the only thing between loved ones and death. Emotions are always the great connector between the page and the real world.

Now…wouldn’t it be great if there were a tool to help plan all of this? (There is.)

One Stop for Writers has a Character Builder that lets you explore the deeper layers of a character…easily. How? Because it has been hardwired to our massive description database for characters and so will prompt you with meaningful ideas at every step. Once you plan your character’s backstory, emotional wounds, personality traits, needs, goals, emotional range & behavior, talents, and more, well, you’ve got a character that will definitely wow readers. Check out this character created using the Character Builder!

Even better? You’ll have a custom Character Arc Blueprint which will show you exactly what the real story will be. Why not use the 2-week trial to create a character of your own?

Level Up Your Character Planning By Watching this Live Character Clinic Replay!

On October 8th at 11 am PST, Becca and Angela invited Julie Artz, a writing coach at Author Accelerator, to run a Character Clinic and show us all how to improve our characters by focusing on the details that really matter to the story.

Using a character built with the Character Builder, Julie gave us all an insider’s view of how a writing coach can take a character from good to great. If you would like to watch the replay, go here!

What else makes a strong character? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in About Us, Backstory, Basic Human Needs, Character Arc, Characters, One Stop For Writers, Software and Services, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 5 Comments

Writerly Procrastination: Why It Happens & How To Break Free of It

I don’t mean to brag, but procrastination is my superpower, one that I’ve honed through years of dedicated training. In the course of writing this post, I’ve come up with an idea for another post (and made notes on it), made myself a sandwich (and was compelled to tidy up the kitchen while I was there), decided the vegan jambalaya recipe I made last night is not an experiment I should repeat, considered whether I should trim my nails (then decided against it, cause, y’know, that would be procrastinating) three times, and stared out the window for fifteen minutes reflecting on how much I procrastinate.

Then I trimmed my nails.

The truth of the matter is, to be human is to procrastinate, but I think writers take procrastination to a level that non-writing homo sapiens would be in awe of. The reasons writers are so awesome at delaying, deferring, or dithering is multifaceted. First of all, we often don’t have a hard and fast deadline. This is particularly the case for first time authors or self-published authors. There’s no cranky boss frowning and threatening unemployment as that external motivation to keep your head down and pen-in-hand. Second, writing is an uncertain and objective art. We have no guarantees that our hard-working efforts are going to be liked or popular. Finally, writing eighty thousand odd words takes time and effort. What’s more, some of those words flow like a fountain…others feel like you’re trying to dig them out of the Sahara.

What’s more, our brains don’t like uncertainty or discomfort. Take away those external incentives, and you’ve got even less reason for our grey matter to want to spend time in that space.

Let’s look at the four top reasons why writers procrastinate so you can develop an understanding of your own reasons for avoidance.

  • Perfectionism: Setting the bar for the realms of perfection is like inviting procrastination to come and live with you. The prospect of trying to write the perfect prose, the perfect paragraph, the perfect masterpiece of literary fiction is pretty intimidating. It’s much easier to go and scoff at reality TV shows.
  • Self-doubt: We all carry a critical inner-editor that likes to voice its opinion on our faults and weaknesses. Some days, that snarky pessimist concludes we don’t have what it takes. Sitting with uncertainty and disbelief in our talent isn’t a pleasant place to be—it’s much easier to take a load off your freezer by cleaning out all the ice-cream.
  • Fear of failure: We’ve all tasted failure, and it’s a bitter, nasty slap that stings long after we faced it. Our brain isn’t stupid—it knows that you don’t want to repeat that little exercise—which means that just the whiff of a misstep and it starts pointing out how awesome your garden would look if you actually spent some time in there…
  • Low energy levels: Pushing yourself past your “I’ve had enough for today” point is hard. When we’re tired it’s harder to focus, it’s harder to stay motivated, and it’s damn well harder to figure out if our character arc is heading in a convex or concave direction! Those are the days where the prospect of reading or TV or mindless scrolling through Facebook are pretty seductive.

If you look for a common theme among those four dot points, you’ll notice that it’s an avoidance of discomfort. Whether it’s the present unpleasantness of self-doubt or unachievable standards; or the projected prospect of failure; or having to write when we least feel like it; avoidance is your brain’s immediate solution. And it’s pretty effective to—if you go and find something better to do, the uncomfortable feelings go away.

It goes without saying that whilst you’re ridding the garden of weeds, your books aren’t getting written. And we’ve demonstrated enough times what not writing is going to mean for your writing career. We’ve all been there. We all know.

To write even when your brain is suggesting otherwise, consider the following:

  • Remind yourself why you write. Our passion is driven by something bigger and better than the immediate rewards of TV or food or Facebook. Write down why you write and put it somewhere prominent. Next time you consider procrastinating, read it and consider which is more important.
  • Make room for the uncomfortable feelings that writing can evoke. All those discouraged thoughts, the thorny feelings, all the pessimistic predictions are going to come along for the ride whether we like it or not. Ask yourself, can you make room for them as you write?
  • Incorporate some rewards for your achievements. I know Nica does this—when she hits a target of so many words, she buys herself a treat (I asked if it was chocolate, but she said it’s usually a book). Give yourself the gift of external motivation for your efforts in overcoming the very human desire to procrastinate.

How do you bust through the procrastination cycle? Let me know in the comments!

Tamar Sloan

Resident Writing Coach

Tamar is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Tamar is also a USA Today best-selling author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can checkout Tamar’s books on her author website.
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Posted in Focus, Goal and Milestones, Goal Setting, Motivational, Resident Writing Coach, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block, Writing Time | 15 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Character Having Feelings for Someone They Shouldn’t

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Having Feelings for Someone One Shouldn’t

Category: Power Struggles, Failures and Mistakes, Relationship Friction, Duty and Responsibilities, Moral Dilemmas and Temptation

Examples:
Desiring a family member’s spouse
Wanting a relationship with a friend’s significant other
A professor having feelings for a student (or vice-versa)
An employer wanting to be with their employee
Having feelings for a co-worker (when fraternization is not allowed or the co-worker is with someone else)
A married person developing feelings for someone else (who may also be attached)
Developing feelings for someone who is much older or much younger
Falling for one’s enemy, opponent, or captor
An officer wanting to be with a subordinate
Wanting a friendship to become something more when that friend has other romantic interests
Being attracted to someone of a specific gender that causes the character to fear they will not be accepted for it (and so they think they shouldn’t have those feelings)

Minor Complications:
Embarrassment if their feelings are made known and not returned
Friction in their other relationships (caused by guilt, shame, and secrets)
Disrupting their routine so they can spend more time around the other person
Having to answer questions about their odd behavior around someone after it is noticed (leading to evasiveness, denial, or lying)
Rumors starting to fly
Damage to their reputation

Potentially Disastrous Results:
A spouse’s heartache at discovering these hidden feelings
A marriage breakdown if a line is crossed and an affair is discovered or admitted to
Losing one’s job if the feelings are uncovered and deemed inappropriate
Ruining a friendship or relationship once feelings are out in the open
Losing an opportunity (for a promotion, a scholarship, admission to a special club or sorority, etc.)
Being kicked out of an organization or group to avoid conflict of interest
Being cast out (of a church, a community, a family, etc.)
Being demoted or reassigned to a new department or job posting
Engaging in an affair and being unable to live with the guilt (and so telling one’s partner, leading to fallout)
Developing an emotional wound (unrequited love) and being unable to move on

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Feeling guilt or shame for what they feel, even while allowing themselves to fantasize about fulfilling their desires
Struggling with questions about monogamy and whether it’s natural or not
Agonizing over the idea that they may be a deviant for what they feel
Trying to rationalize their feelings and failing
Constantly going over all interactions with the person they have feelings for in hopes of spotting signs they feel the same
Feeling angry at themselves for feeling the way they do
Questioning the role of fate and if this attraction was “meant to be,” as it would explain why they can’t control what they feel
Vacillating between wanting to tell the other person and staying silent (in fear of ruining everything)
Questioning their own identity

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family, friends, or people in a work, school, or social environment where they have contact with the person they desire

Resulting Emotions: admiration, adoration, anguish, anticipation, anxiety, apprehension, conflicted, connectedness, desire, desperation, disappointment, eagerness, elation, embarrassment, envy, euphoria, excitement, fear, flustered, guilt, happiness, hopefulness, jealousy, loneliness, longing, love, lust, panic, powerlessness, self-loathing, self-pity, shame

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: addictive, compulsive, disloyal, foolish, impulsive, jealous, needy, nervous, obsessive, possessive, promiscuous, reckless, selfish

Positive Outcomes: 
Realizing unhappiness is causing their wandering eye and so making the choice to work on themselves or an existing relationship to regain happiness
Discovering what they really want (either to stay in an existing relationship or to move on)
Regaining appreciation and respect for a loved one who is faithful (helping the character to realize they must also be faithful and let go of their emotional attachment to another)
In some cases, realizing their desires are not appropriate or normal and seeking out help before they act on what the feel

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Writing Feedback: Should We Seek It Out?

As most of you know, Becca and I have been writing and publishing for some time now. Many thing have changed in the industry, including how a book reaches the shelf.

Thankfully the slush pile of doom is no longer the only route; writers can skip the gate-keeping queue and self-publish instead. Many do, including us.

What hasn’t changed is the fact that as the creator, a writer lacks objectivity when it comes to their own work. This means an important step for all, regardless of whether we plan to traditionally publish or self-publish, is to seek out the educated opinions of others. These might come from beta readers, critique partners, freelance editors, writing coaches, or mentors. These people can spot areas that need work and their insight helps us strengthen the story. Even better, we learn as we go, growing our skills bit by bit!

As someone who has penned thousands of critiques, taught writing, and built resources & tools to shorten the learning curve for writers all over the world, I know how important it is to do everything in our power to produce a strong book. And yet, one step I see some writers skip is seeking feedback. Instead, they write and revise in a cycle until they feel it’s good enough to self-publish (or they are sick of the manuscript). This means the story will only be as good as the writer’s skillset at that time.

Now I’m not saying you can’t write a strong book on your own. Some can and do (a small percentage). More often though the writers who skip the feedback step are the ones on social media a few months later trying to puzzle out why their book isn’t selling.

For 99% of writers, feedback is not a luxury…it’s a necessity.

So why doesn’t everyone take advantage of feedback?

It might be a lack of self-confidence. A writer may worry about showing their work to others and being judged on it. This is an understandable fear because let’s face it, feedback can be uncomfortable (What, my baby isn’t beautiful?). However, feedback comes one way or the other in the form of Amazon and Goodreads reviews. If a book doesn’t hold together, the author will hear about it.

The second reason someone might avoid feedback is because they don’t know where to turn to find beta readers, critique partners, editors, or coaches. This is the easiest problem to solve as asking one’s writing network and doing a quick google search will offer up many solutions.

The third possibility is that feedback requires time and energy. Not only is there the painful, chop-and-slash work that needs to be done to incorporate feedback, often the writer is expected to help others in return. Some folks are only interested in a shortcut solution where they get feedback but don’t have to give it and if they can’t have that, they move on. (This is unfortunate because some of the biggest leaps in writer growth happens by critiquing the work of others.)

Finally, cost can be a barrier when it comes to hiring an editor and/or coach. If you traditionally publish, editorial costs are covered by the publisher, but if you self-publish, it’s on your shoulders. This one is a judgement call, but I would suggest writers on a budget ask themselves “What can I afford?” rather than “Do I really need help?” as certain types of editing or guidance shouldn’t be something we skip.

Bottom line? The knowledge of others is a valuable asset.

Gaining feedback at different times during the writing process can really improve a book’s quality. Some options have a cost, others don’t. (Look for an upcoming post on this!)

In most cases, writers seek help after the writing is done, but did you know one of the best times to crowdsource feedback is before a story begins?

Working with a writing partner or coach to brainstorm ideas for a story can be hugely helpful, especially when it comes to planning out important characters!

Why? Because your protagonist is the living heartbeat of your story. Their actions, choices, and decisions are a result of who they are, what they need most, and what’s at stake. Knowing these things will help you see their character arc, which shapes the story’s direction.

Admittedly, Becca and I are a bit nutty about character development. We’ve written many books about it, and we’ve designed a tool that outstrips anything else out there as far as creating rich, fully realized characters able to carry the weight of a story on their shoulders. We focus on characters because they can make or break a story.

Want to learn from the best? Watch this Character Clinic Webinar Replay!

Would you like to create stunningly realistic characters that your readers can’t help but connect to? If so, I urge you to watch our Character Clinic we co-hosted with Author Accelerator on October 8th.

In this live webinar, expert story coach Julie Artz workshoped a character created using One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder, offering valuable feedback we all were able to learn from. This was a great way to better understand which characterizing details MATTER MOST to a story.

You can’t have a powerful story without a powerful character, so watch the webinar replay to see how you can create one!

Posted in Book Review, Character Arc, Characters, Critiquing & Critiques, Motivation, One Stop For Writers, Publishing and Self Publishing, Reader Feedback, Reader Interest, Reading, Revision and Editing, Show Don't Tell, Story Structure, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | 4 Comments