Creating from the Familiar

Have you watched The Mandalorian yet? It’s worth it just to listen to the opening theme music. It has this haunting western-scifi feel that is utterly unique, compelling, and has a complexity that allows you to discover something new each time you listen.

My husband, being the musician he is, found this video about how the composer of The Mandalorian, Ludwig Göransson, found the Mando sound. What struck me about Ludwig’s process was how he created a piece of art so unique by returning to the common and familiar instruments of his childhood.

Ludwig also mentioned multiple times that he “locked himself in his studio for a month,” away from his normal sound equipment and high-end sound tech, in order to create these Mando songs. 

Most of us don’t have that luxury; however, it does make me wonder if this Academy Award-winning composer was dealing with a little bit of writer’s block–complete conjecture–and needed to clear his mind and workspace of distraction.

Maybe he needed to return to the familiar to create.

Are you struggling with finding inspiration or the creative energy to write lately? It would be completely understandable, if so. Maybe a return to your familiar will help unearth a deep well of creative energy.

Revisit Childhood for Inspiration

When was the last time you read your favorite book from when you were a kid? Maybe the first chapter book that made you fall in love with words?

The oldest patootie and I recently started reading A Wrinkle in Time together. Her first time, my fortieth. And I was struck by the way the rhythm of Madeline L’Engle’s words fell into place for me. Much like Ludwig going back to the recorder, rereading one of my favorite childhood books cracked opened the well to my struggling creativity (thanks 2020). 

As I rediscover this book through the eyes of my patootie, I’m struck by how much Ms. L’Engle’s descriptions impacted the way I write today. Not only is it inspiring and motivating me to deepen my descriptions, but it is helping add a layer of creativity to my current work.

Play That Funky Music

Music plays such an important part in many authors’ writing process–so much so that it’s fairly common for an author to post their book’s playlist on their website. But have you ever tried listening to some old favorites to inspire an emotion you need to write? Maybe an angsty song from your teenage years to inspire betrayal or love at first sight. Or your wedding song. Maybe yours and your best friend’s favorite tunes or artist? 

Music is important because it hits us in such a personal and unique way, and different music affects us differently at different times. And when we hear those songs again, we often remember where we were, who we were with, and how we were feeling with startling accuracy.

Pick Up Old Habits

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my writing routines…or lack thereof (this one goes out to all parents of young kiddos in the middle of a pandemic).

First, I want to go on the record of saying that I do not believe in shaming yourself into writing. 2020 has been exceptional in many ways, and if the most you can do is write 200 words a month? Go you. It is more important to have grace with yourself than beat yourself into creative burnout.

What did I do well when I did have a good, solid writing routine?

For one, I had a strict bedtime that didn’t allow for excess Netflix binging. I also woke up earlier than everyone else in the house…and often that was the only time I could get work done. Frequent walks by myself gave me much-needed brainstorming time. And I did a better job of balancing my time between day job, family, and writing.

Not all old habits are easy or healthy to pick up. But some are. 

As often as I’ve talked about the importance of new experiences to creativity, it is also important to have some familiar routines to fall back on when life gets too big.

Memories of Days in the Sun

(Bonus points to those of you who name that song.)

Speaking of the importance of new experiences to creativity, when you can’t travel for inspiration, revisit your days in the sun. Through photos.

I love Google Photos. They’ll send me my year ago, two years ago, seven years ago, etc photos and it is so much fun. Recently I’ve received a flood of Cruising Writers photos and have spent more time than I care to admit to my husband revisiting those memories and emotions. My photos from our international trips help me recall the way a city smelled or a pastry tasted or how the off-tune, accordion-playing, opera-singer-in-training sounded.

Maybe your photos aren’t vacation photos. Maybe they are family or friend photos. Maybe they are nature hikes or sunsets or the fish you’ve caught. Whatever they are, they are your memories and each one still holds captive a little bit of that moment for you, waiting for you to take another peek, soak it in, and use it for inspiration.

To an outsider, these activities may seem like you’re wasting your time or procrastinating doing something else. But for those in the know, they’ll recognize these activities exactly for what they are.

Food for your creative soul.

Christina Delay

Resident Writing Coach

Christina is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning psychological suspense author. She also writes award-winning supernatural suspense under the name Kris Faryn. You can find Kris at: Bookbub ǀ Facebook ǀ Amazon ǀ Instagram.
Cruising Writers brings authors together with bestselling authors and industry professionals on writing retreats. Join Cruising Writers this November in the Easter Caribbean with Writers Helping Writers co-founder Angela Ackerman and New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Darynda Jones!

Posted in Motivational, Resident Writing Coach, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block | Leave a comment

How to Evoke Emotions with Book Cover Design

We all know the importance of book covers in helping readers choose books. So what separates an engaging cover from one that potential buyers pass by? Would you be surprised if I said that emotion was part of the equation? Read on, as today’s guest writer, a graphic designer and creator of book covers, explains the connection and how to make it happen with your cover design.

Do you remember being a child in a bookstore? 

With shelves upon shelves of books around, you felt positively overwhelmed and full of anticipation. Hundreds of stories waited for you to take a peek behind their covers. And then, you stumbled upon a book that grabbed your attention. Your eyes were glued to its shiny surface. The colors, the art, the beautiful font — they were impossible to ignore. Without even opening the book, you already wanted to experience the world hidden inside. 

That’s the cover every book deserves; it should evoke emotion, whatever the readers’ age. 

In this post, we’ll be examining how to achieve that hard-hitting first impression. But first…

How Do People Decide which Book to Buy? 

A few years ago, aspiring writer Gigi Griffis decided to conduct a little survey to figure out how avid readers pick new books. Here are her results: 

  • 85% said that they buy books of the authors they already loved
  • A friend’s recommendation was the second most popular reason (77%)
  • 47% and 48% respectively cited book sales and gorgeous cover art

These numbers confirm what we’ve already suspected: people stick with the familiar and they let their eyes guide them. Fortunately, a professional book cover can help us create that sense of familiarity while also attracting readers. While there is no secret universal formula, there are essentials that will help you lay a solid foundation for an emotionally impactful cover. The main and primary rule is:

Know Your Target Audience 

Most of the time, readers already know what kind of a book they want. More specifically, they know the emotion they want to experience

I want to be scared
I want to be thrilled
I want to explore strange and captivating worlds
I want to feel in love

For a cover to “hit” the target audience in just the right way, it’s primary purpose should communicate: This book has the feeling/vibe you’re looking for! 

The first way we can accomplish this is through color.


People have strong, well-defined associations with color and temperature, smell, and emotions. A color can be warm, cool, wet, or dry. It can signal danger or imply coziness. An effective book cover should use associations like these to achieve the desired emotional result.

Here are a few examples: 

The combination of dark and red implies danger and tension, making it a good choice for horror and crime novels.

Pastel hues often indicate tenderness and sensitivity, so they do wonders for romance. 

Red and orange are associated with energy. They’re fun, vibrant, youthful colors, which makes them a good choice for action. 

Purple is associated with royalty, majesty, or nobility and can often have a spiritual or mysterious quality. It suits fantasy or paranormal literature well. 

Of course, color associations may differ from culture to culture or person to person. But don’t let that stop you from using some common palettes to target as many potential readers as possible. Think about what emotions you want to evoke in your ideal audience and choose the best colors for the task. 


Chip Kidd—a well-known and delightfully eccentric book cover designer—has said that his job in designing a cover is to ask: “What does the story look like?”

The imagery of your cover should answer this question while also communicating the book’s genre (which helps achieve that sense of familiarity). So don’t hesitate to follow the established canons of the genre. If the idea is common, masterful execution and a unique take can still make the visuals fresh, as we see in the following examples. 

It’s okay to go for a wide-angle shot of a planet for sci-fi. 

Spooky forest for a mystery story? No problem. 

A dragon silhouette for a fantasy book? Why not? 

You get the idea. 

Our recommendation? Do your research and find references. A nice source of inspiration can be movie posters, photoshoots, other book covers, and paintings. As for the style of the art, it doesn’t matter whether you choose a photo-based, illustrated, minimalistic, or abstract cover. Just make sure it suits the mood and genre of your book. 


The primary rule of book cover typography is to choose the font that suits your genre and complements the imagery. Here’s a handy example. 

On the left, we have a traditional fantasy font. It emphasizes the genre; its elegance suits the imagery, and it communicates the proper sense of wonder and adventure. The squarish font on the right belongs to sci-fi more than to fantasy. It creates dissonance and detracts from the familiarity we’re striving for. 

If you’re looking for tried-and-true fonts for a new story in a particular genre, consider the following:


  • Serif
  • Gothic
  • Baskerville
  • Apple Garamond
  • Trajan Pro
  • Cinzel


  • Cassandra
  • Countryside
  • Beautiful People
  • Blessed Day
  • Painter
  • One More Day


  • Hennigar Regular 
  • Roar Bold 
  • Cook County Jailhouse 
  • Trade Gothic
  • Romic 
  • Interstate 


  • Encode Sans 
  • Josefin Sans 
  • Grove 
  • Orbitron 
  • Roboto 
  • Geom Graphic 

If you’re worried about using a font that’s a little too predictable, amplify the vibe by adding a texture and/or some volume. Compare the following pictures. Which is more interesting?

Besides choosing a proper font and breathing some life into it, here are some general typography tips: 

  • Try not to use more than two different typefaces. If you’re unsure, you can always use some of the Sans Serif family. Here’s a handy tool for finding font combinations. 
  • Make the title the dominating element of the cover. If you don’t yet have a huge following, the title should be bigger than a subtitle and your name. 
  • Place your subtitle either beneath the title or between its lines. 
  • Align the title, the subtitle, and the author’s name similarly—left, right, or center. Usually, the latter option is the safest.  
  • If you write for an audience that reads from left to right, use the Z-pattern layout. It follows the way we read: from the left-top then diagonally to the right-bottom.

Never underestimate the typography, since it has the power to ruin or enhance your cover. Treat it as cake frosting — it’s there to make your creation even more impressive and appetizing. 

Summing Up

Overall, if you keep in mind your readers’ desires, use the power of imagery to its full extent, and tie it all together with proper typography, you’re on your way to creating an emotionally impactful book cover. This piece of art will help promote your book to new readers while also releasing their inner child, freed from life’s responsibilities to get lost in the pages of the perfect book.

In your opinion, what makes a book cover emotionally impactful? 

Vova is a Senior Graphic Designer at Miblart—a book cover design company for self-published authors. We believe a book cover is the №1 marketing tool, and we help authors get the most out of it.

Posted in Book Covers, Emotion, Marketing | 11 Comments

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Twins

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.

Description: Twins—identical and fraternal—have a unique sibling dynamic. While birth order can often help determine personality and determine family dynamics, the same rules don’t apply to children born only minutes apart. Their identical age often means they share the same space at home, are given the same rules, are in the same grades at school, often have the same friends. Despite being individual and different people, a twin’s identity is often partially wrapped up with their sibling’s.

Relationship Dynamics
Each relationship is different, depending on the people involved, their history together, their individual personalities, and a host of factors. Here are some common dynamics—healthy, and not so much—that can accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.

Being best friends with one’s twin
Knowing that the twin always has your back
Being a companion or ally to help one’s twin navigate the difficult stages of life
Intuiting a twin’s emotional state or physical sensations on a deeper level (sensing when they’re in danger, feeling pain when they feel pain, etc.)
Knowing one’s twin intimately and being able to offer meaningful and even life-saving advice
Recognizing and valuing differences as a way of embracing individuality
Recognizing the difficulties of being a twin and trying to make things easier for one’s sibling
Being in frequent communication, even as adults who are physically separated
Engaging in various degrees of sibling rivalry
Vying for people’s attention
Other people’s expectations creating insecurity or frustration (expecting twins to be alike in personality or aptitudes, etc.)
Unfair comparisons making the twin relationship volatile (e.g., one being referred to as the smart, athletic, or shy twin)
Being disgruntled at having to share everything
Struggling with desires to go one’s own way and to stay on a path that aligns with one’s twin
Extreme competition with one’s twin
A dominant twin always making decisions for the other twin and running their life
Difficulty adjusting to life as an adult singleton (when one twin moves away or both attend different colleges)
One twin being the obvious favorite (of a parent, teacher, coach, etc.)
Using an identical twinship to confuse, control, or manipulate others
The unique relationship creating extreme grief, isolation, and depression upon the loss of a twin

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
One twin wanting independence while the other wants to share everything
Both twins wanting to be the best at the same thing
One wants to use an identical twinship for nefarious reasons while the other does not
One twin’s goals or desires changing while the other twin wants things to remain the same
One twin following a path that the other can’t follow (engaging in unhealthy habits, pursuing a toxic relationship, participating in criminal behavior, etc.)
A twin wanting to be their own person while also wanting to maintain their identity as a twin

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Controlling and Timid, Affectionate and Withdrawn, Cautious and Reckless, Independent and Protective, Supportive and Apathetic, Loyal and Disloyal, Private and Gossipy

Negative Outcomes of Friction
Twins growing apart and losing intimacy
Increased feelings of insecurity
Competitiveness with a twin spreading to include an unhealthy competitiveness with others
A twin feeling like they have to be the best at everything (to prove their value or elevate themselves above their twin)
A twin losing their sense of identity
One twin adopting a false persona as a way of differentiating him or herself
A twin engaging in unhealthy behaviors to gain attention
A twin becoming selfish or stingy because they’re tired of sharing everything
A real or perceived betrayal by a twin resulting in a deep inability to trust others

Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A single parent’s engagement to an undesirable partner bringing twins together to derail the relationship
A bullying situation bringing a twin to their sibling’s defense
The death of an elderly parent whose last wish was for their estranged twins to come together to achieve a common goal
Twins choosing to pursue the same occupation or volunteer opportunity to honor a respected mentor
Twins in complementary careers having to come together to solve a crime, right a wrong, or meet a need in the community

Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Growth
A twin learning that it’s possible to be a twin and have their own identity
A co-dependent twin realizing the need for self-reliance and independence
A twin applying the positive aspects of their twinship to an ailing relationship with a family member, love interest, or business partner
A dominant or controlling twin learning that a change of approach is needed for the people in his life to be able to thrive

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
Alienation, Beginnings, Coming of Age, Crossroads, Family, Friendship, Health, Journeys, Love, Unity

Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.

If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.

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7 Ways Deep POV Creates Emotional Connections With Readers

Deep POV (point of view) is a popular (and lately, divisive) writing style to employ. Many blogs about deep pov will list out the same four or six foundational tools as though any newbie could pick this up and run with it from these meagre explanations. Deep POV is complex and involves many tools that overlap and interact with one another to create specific effects. It’s truly a disservice to simplify deep POV to such an extent that newer writers stew in frustration for years trying to figure out why they can’t get this simple style to work for them.

What Is Deep POV?

Deep POV is a style of fiction writing that aims to remove all the psychic or narrative distance between the reader and the character so the reader feels as if they’re immersed in the story. By removing the author/narrator voice, the reader takes a vicarious emotional journey along with the point-of-view character. Here are 7 ways you can use deep POV to make that happen.

1. Remove The Writer Voice Entirely

First, it’s important to understand the role of the author/narrator in each point-of-view style.

  • Most are familiar with Omniscient POV, where the writer tells a story about a group of characters and shares how all the characters feel or think (and often whether they’re right to feel or think that way). 
  • Objective Third Person is a writer/narrator telling a story about one or more characters, but there’s little focus on what the character thinks or feels.
  • Limited or Close Third Person POV is a writer/narrator telling a story about ONE character, and that character shares thoughts intermittently with readers through free indirect speech (the parts we like to italicize).
  • First Person POV can also utilize this narrative or psychic distance, but it isn’t in deep POV by default.

Deep POV is one character living out a story with the reader at their side, in their head. The writer will use free indirect speech when writing in deep pov, but the focus of the story is the character’s emotional journey. There’s no place for the writer/narrator voice.

2. Avoid Drawing Conclusions For Readers

In deep POV, you share the raw information the character takes in and not the conclusions they reach. Their emotions and decisions are based on this information, so this basic data provides the WHY behind what they think and do and feel. Let’s look at some examples of how this works.

With limited third person, you’re telling the story, so you’re free to share the conclusion the character or you have come to: 

  • Anxious energy surged through her.
  • Bob looked at me with a sad face.
  • She imagined what he looked like without his shirt on.

In deep POV, you’ll focus instead on the raw info the character sees, hears, touches, learns, intuits – and how these things feel.

  • She jigged her leg under the table and tapped her nails on the chrome armrests to help keep her mouth shut. 
  • The corners of Bob’s mouth turned down and he stared out the window, his shoulders bowed with some unseen weight.
  • She stared at the wedge of chest hair exposed by the missing button on his shirt and bit her lip. Her gaze continued down to the top of his jeans before jerking away.

In deep POV, you focus on presenting the raw data in the form of internal sensations and physiology, sensory details, thoughts, expressions, gestures, posture, tone of voice – what Psychology Today calls the silent orchestra of communication

3. Filter Everything Through the POV Character

This is so critical to making deep POV work for your story. Everything comes to the reader filtered through the point-of-view character – through all the things and all the feels. When another character is speaking, the reader receives that dialogue through the point-of-view character, not the writer (as they would in limited third person). The POV character will have an opinion about what’s said and the person saying it. What’s said will have an effect on how they think and feel. 

The same goes for setting and description, to the beats written to attribute dialogue to another character, how characters move, their expressions, ambient sensory details… EVERYTHING is filtered through the POV character’s perspective. This is a hard mindset shift to make.

4. Get Inside the Character’s Head 

Each time you narrate a character’s thoughts (Bob wondered what the implications of this might be), explain things the character would already know (there’s Judy, Bob’s second wife), or insert information that you, the all-knowing writer, want the reader to know (it had been five months since she’d seen him) – this is author intrusion in deep POV.

In deep POV, internal dialogue is written entirely from the POV character’s perspective, filtered through their own scene goals and emotional journey. The point here is to deepen the character’s emotional journey. These bits of telling and author intrusion undermine the immersive fictive dream you’ve spent so much time creating. Deep POV is not about characters ruminating and reflecting and navel gazing as a workaround for talking to the reader.

5. Employ Greater Emotional Range And Intensity (Emotional Arc)

Most writers have learned about the three-act structure, creating tension, and understanding pace and characterization. They don’t always learn about creating emotional arcs for their characters at the scene, act, and story levels. The emotional conflict needs to intensify and escalate as the story progresses. Each scene or sequel would do well to surprise the reader with its range and intensity of emotions

Deep POV falls flat when writers rely on the same easy emotions. We reach for these low-hanging-fruit feelings because they’re universal and can be explosive – things like anger and love and attraction and fear. Those emotions aren’t wrong, but they most certainly are more complex and nuanced than many writers instinctively explore. I highly recommend James Scott Bell’s writing from the middle teaching and Donald Maas’ book The Emotional Craft Of Fiction as good places to start if this is new to you.

6. Limit the Reader’s Knowledge to What the Character Knows

Every word on the page comes from within the character. If the character knows it, and thinks of it, the reader should know it. Similarly, if the character does not know something, the reader can’t know it. Because of this, many who write mystery and suspense especially feel that deep POV won’t work for them. Let the character discover things, be surprised by things, remember things – the key is that the POV character doesn’t see the plot twist coming. 

7. Create Specific Effects, Not Constraints

Challenge yourself to learn the more advanced tools of deep POV while also focusing on what effect the tools aim to create for readers. Deep pov is neither template nor prison. It’s a set of stylistic choices that should serve you and the story, not limit what you want to write. Once you understand the effects these stylistic choices are going for, you can choose when and where to apply (or not apply) them.

Do you use deep POV? Is there anything about this style that has you stumped or frustrated?

Lisa offers her 5 week intensive training on writing in deep pov three times a year. Registration is now open for the January 25, 2021 class. She offers free tips, advice, and critiques in the closed Facebook group – Going Deeper With Emotions In Fiction between classes.

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 Emotion, Point of View, Resident Writing Coach, Writing Craft | 12 Comments

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Stalker & Target

Trigger warning on this one. Please practice self care.

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.

Description: This relationship is a one-sided fixation where a stalker deliberately observes, pursues, harasses, manipulates, falsely inserts themselves, and maliciously targets another, causing them psychological distress and often physical harm. A stalker often chooses their victim due to being scorned, certain visual or personality factors (having a preferred “type”), manic beliefs (political, for example), an inability to let go of a past relationship, feeling wronged, or even because the target is a fit for a fantasy (a good surrogate for a situation the stalker wishes to re-experience). They may believe a special bond is in place, their fate is entwined, the two are meant to be together romantically, or that the target must die.

Depending on the aggressor, they may fixate on a stranger, acquaintance, or even a celebrity. It is possible the target may not even know what is taking place if the stalker’s fantasy is to keep them unaware but usually at some point they progress things to activate the victim’s fears. Either way, the stalker experiences a rush of power from having special knowledge about and influence over the target, and feels God-like at having control over what ultimately happens to them.

Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
Because this is a one-sided relationship, it is inherently unhealthy.

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship
Fantasizing and reading into innocent interactions
Obsessing about the target and prying into their personal affairs to feel close to them
Sending unwanted gifts, letters, and tokens
Unrequited love
Gathering the target’s personal information without permission
Digital stalking, bullying, or insertion into the target’s online contacts
Using manipulation to influence or cause problems (spreading falsehoods or lying to people in the target’s life to cause disruption)
Monitoring their movements and interactions
Theft or forced entry to access to the target’s property or personal items
Vandalizing their home, car, or place of work
Mimicking to feel closer (ordering the same takeout, building friendships with the target’s core group, wearing the same clothing, etc.)
Moving or altering things around the victim to cause them to question their memory or feel unsafe
Cloning their electronic devices, digital hacking
Hurting people (or animals) around the victim to send a message
Impersonation (cancelling their appointments, giving permissions they would never give by phone, providing false reports, etc.)
Wanting the target to “pay” for not noticing them or returning their feelings
Manipulating people close to the target
Fantasizing about what will happen and even rehearsing an attack
Attacking, restraining, forcibly confining, and/or committing sexual assault against the target

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The stalker’s need to control conflicting with the target’s independence
When the stalker’s fantasies take on such enormity they can no longer discern reality from fantasy
When the stalker wants a specific, happy future with the target but then also wants them to hurt because of a perceived betrayal (dating someone else, not appreciating gifts. etc.)
Aggressively pursuing the target to the point of recklessness and being caught
Becoming so paralyzed by fear that even if the stalker is caught, the survivor’s life is diminished by it
Being captured and developing Stockholm Syndrome becoming confused and enmeshed in the stalker’s reality

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Controlling and independent; resourceful and intelligent; compulsive and inflexible, meticulous and observant, trusting and manipulative

Negative Outcomes of Friction
Surviving and becoming a prisoner to fear
Believing one is to blame for the stalker’s obsession
Having feeling for the target that spiral out of control
Crossing a moral line in order to obtain what one believes one must have
Having to kill to survive
Having to leave one’s life behind and go into hiding to stay safe
Never feeling safe as a result of the experience and being unable to trust

Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A greater threat that brings the two together for survival (a natural disaster, a house fire, etc.)
The belief that someone can be redeemed or needing to forgive to move forward
A belief that all life is precious (say in a scenario where the victim seriously injures their stalker to escape but administers aid so they survive)
Stockholm Syndrome

Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
If a stalker was caught and placed in psychiatric care they may get the help they need and no longer be controlled by their urges
A character who has to rescue themselves from a stalker may learn resiliency and gain inner strength
A close call might make a character more careful in the future (a stalker will be more meticulous and plan better to avoid being caught and a survivor will become more observant and aware of the people who have access to them)

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
Alienation, Betrayal, Danger, Death, Deception, Enslavement, Evil, Freedom, Hope, Innocence, Instability, Isolation, Loss, Love, Obstacles, Perseverance, Rebellion, Sacrifice, Suffering, Violence, Vulnerability

Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.

If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Critiques 4 U!


Before we get to today’s critique contest, I’d like to take a minute to share the beauty of the world we live in. Sometimes the ugliness around us can be overwhelming, but our planet is an amazing and inspirational place. It’s easy to forget this, especially when circumstances dictate that we can’t go out and see it for ourselves. If that’s your situation, here a few images from Angela’s and my world.

Angela’s Canadian winter wonderland
Methane bubbles frozen in the water of Abraham Lake
The river on my parents’ property in Alabama
My local beach

Try not to let current events overwhelm and consume you. Do what you need to maintain mental health—by taking a walk, baking some cookies, snuggling with your furry family members, or polishing that first page.

For me, I’m going to get critiquing ;).


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/comment profile 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 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 morning. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. 

We run this contest on a monthly basis, so if you’d like to be notified when the next opportunity comes around, consider subscribing to our blog (see the left-hand sidebar).

Best of luck!

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Writing Better Dialogue

Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where the dialogue has been so beautifully written that you are in that moment, experiencing the character’s emotions and hanging on to their every word? Or you know exactly what the character is feeling or thinking because of their lack of dialogue? Great dialogue can make stories and characters shine and, in novels, it’s a valuable tool to break away from writing too much internal monologue and a wonderful way to show readers the relationships between your characters and reveal important information. 

Popular culture is full of memorable movie lines that are quoted the world over. See if you can figure out which movies the following lines are from (extra points if you can name the character!):

A/ Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. 

B/ Here’s looking at you, kid …

C/ Show me the money!

How did you do? A was Gone with the Wind, B Casablanca and C Jerry McGuire. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know them (as we can’t see every movie ever made!) but chances are you’ve heard at least one. 

Screenwriters are masters of dialogue. They rarely have the opportunity to include a character’s innermost thoughts on the screen so they rely heavily on dialogue to drive the story forward, develop characters and convey a range of emotions. By studying the art of dialogue through reading screenplays and watching movies or TV shows, it will help you develop your own characters and stories.

There’s an array of movie and TV scripts available on the internet for you to read and I recommend you start with the screenplay of one of your favorite movies. I will add that screenplays available on the internet are not pirated, as screenwriters and film production companies often make them available for the public to read after a movie or TV show has been produced. 

When studying dialogue, here are some points for you to consider:

What Isn’t Said

Humans rarely say everything we’re thinking and feeling and neither should your characters. If we’re talking about something that scares us or we’re in danger of being found out or simply too embarrassed to talk about a subject, we change topics or do something that helps us avoid talking about something we don’t want. 

The Coen Brothers are brilliant at holding back dialogue that creates tension so that when a character does speak, we’re mesmerized by their words and really want to know what they have to say. The movie No Country for Old Men is a great example. 

No Two Characters Should Sound the Same

They way in which a character speaks is a culmination of their experience, upbringing and beliefs and no two people should ever sound the same. Listen to the way your friends and family talk. People have favorite words and expressions, some interrupt conversations while others sit quietly and wait until they’re asked a question or think a long time before saying how they feel. Others avoid talking about their emotions all together. Imagine a conversation between a teenager and someone in their mid-forties. They’re likely to use different idioms and expressions the other may not understand.

Look at each of your characters and figure out what kind of person they are. Are they a leader, follower, questioner, peacemaker or a troublemaker? How would this be reflected in the way they speak? Their traits will greatly influence their conversations with others. 

Read the Dialogue Out Loud

The best way to discover if dialogue is working is to read it out loud. You can do it yourself or enlist a friend or family member to be the other character or you can use one of the many available reading programs that will read what’s on the page to you. Does the dialogue sound natural or stilted? Are they using the other character’s name too much in the dialogue (a mistake nearly every writer does!)? Are they too wordy? Remember, most conversations between people are short and simple. Most of us don’t use big words and opt for the simpler version to get our message across. We also don’t speak for great lengths of time without being interrupted and neither should your character. 

Don’t Tell Us Something We Already Know

If an event has happened the reader has been privy to, we don’t need our characters to relate the same event to another character. It could be briefly referenced in a way such as “Like what happened last Thursday” and we’ll instantly know what the character is talking about. If you have information to give the reader or another character, do so in an organic way, just like you would inform a friend in real life. 

Be a Screenwriter for a Day

Try writing an entire scene only with dialogue. Then read through and see how the conversation unfolds. Does it sound realistic? Does it flow like a conversation between real people would? You may find this makes it easier to pinpoint the areas of dialogue that need addressing. Of course, once you’re happy with the dialogue you can add in the inner thoughts and descriptions like you would in the rest of your manuscript. 

Get Creative!

There’s a classic scene in Before Sunrise where the two main characters manage to convey how they feel in dialogue but in a unique way. I won’t elaborate here, as you can watch it unfold in the video below. Are there any ways you can creatively use dialogue in your scenes? 

One of the best screenwriters of our time is Aaron Sorkin. He’s written The West WingSteve JobsThe Social Network and A Few Good Men among other TV shows and movies. He’s a master at dialogue and I highly recommend you read at least one of his screenplays. The website Script Slug gives you access to scripts he has written. You can find it here:

Learning how to write effective dialogue can be one of the most interesting and fun aspects of the craft. What’s your favorite movie or TV show that has great dialogue? 

Alli Sinclair

Resident Writing Coach

Alli is an Australian multi-award winning and bestselling author whose fact-based fiction explores little-known historical events. Alli’s books have been voted into the Top 100 Australian novels of all time and when she’s not writing novels, Alli is working on international film and TV projects as a screenwriter and producer. 
Alli hosts the Writers at Sea cruise retreat for writers, presents writing workshops internationally, and volunteers as a role model for Books in Homes. Alli is an experienced manuscript assessor and loves to work with writers to help their manuscripts shine.
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Posted in Characters, Dialogue, Resident Writing Coach, Voice, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 4 Comments

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Protagonist and Crush

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.

Description: There are many kinds of romantic relationships; this one is all about a protagonist who’s crushing on someone. It may be a far-off person who doesn’t know the character exists (a celebrity or someone at the office) or a person with whom they’re already in a platonic relationship (their boss, a best friend’s sibling, or a friend-of-a-friend). Sometimes the other person is oblivious to the protagonist’s infatuation while, in some cases, it’s obvious despite the character’s best attempts at hiding it.

Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
Admiring from afar
Trying to catch the crush’s attention in non-intrusive ways (attending a get-together they’re attending, finagling an introduction via a mutual friend, etc.)
The protagonist purposely looking their best when the crush is around
Mooning over the crush to the safe people in the character’s life
Seeing the crush in a positive light; recognizing and valuing their positive traits and attributes
Learning about the crush’s hobbies and taking an interest in them
Seeking to impress the crush (through the character’s performance at work, by highlighting their own strengths, etc.)
Mentally replaying small interactions and analyzing them for interest

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship
Using intrusive means to catch the crush’s attention (by sabotaging their current relationship, crashing a private party, etc.)
Being unable or unwilling to see the crush’s flaws
Being so desperate that the protagonist will accept even negative or harmful attention should the crush offer it
Not taking no for an answer
Obsessing to the point of neglecting healthy relationships
All other romantic options paling in comparison to the point that the character is unable to entertain other possibilities
Not being able to properly perform at work or school due to distraction and daydreaming
Being so nervous or flustered around the crush that the character is unable to function
Becoming so obsessed with the crush that the character believes life isn’t worth living without him or her in it

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
When the crush is taboo (a sister’s ex, someone the character’s parents don’t approve of, someone from a different caste, etc.)
Crushing on someone and learning that a friend is interested in the same person
Crushing on two different people
Desiring the crush but feeling unworthy of their love
Recognizing that pursuing an impossible relationship is keeping the character from dealing with past pain, but doing it anyway
The character’s feelings fading when the crush begins showing interest
Longing for the crush but being too afraid to take steps to win them over
Learning something about the crush that impacts the character’s feelings (the emergence of a heinous flaw, learning that the crush has a history of abusing others, etc.)
Crushing on a friend; wanting more but not wanting to ruin the relationship
Crushing on a friend who has feelings for a mutual friend

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Bold and Timid, Flirtatious and Jealous, Observant and Reckless, Childish and Mature, Cruel and Innocent, Manipulative and Kind, Needy and Withdrawn, Pretentious and Uncouth

Negative Outcomes of Friction
The protagonist changing their personality or values to avoid conflict with the crush
Sacrificing healthy relationships with those who express concern about the character’s obsession
Being rejected by the crush and becoming depressed or self-destructive
Internal conflict leading to self-doubt, insecurity, and uncertainty

Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A situation revealing personality differences that make the character realize the crush is better as a friend or ally than a romantic partner
Being paired in a contest or competition where the character must put aside personal feelings to work alongside the crush
The crush having feelings for someone close to the character, and the character realizing they make a better pair and helping him/her win the person over
A life-threatening scenario where survival is imperative and there is no room for romantic feelings or entanglements

Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Growth
A better match comes along, enabling the character to embrace happiness with someone else
The character realizing that it’s better to be alone than with someone who isn’t a great match
An obsession revealing internal flaws that the character must work through before pursuing a healthy relationship
The protagonist stepping out of their comfort zone and taking a risk to make their feelings known and pursue a worthy relationship
The character choosing to cut their losses and focus their energy and resources on more fruitful endeavors

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
Betrayal, Coming of Age, Enslavement, Freedom, Friendship, Hope, Innocence, Instability, Isolation, Love, Perseverance, Suffering, Vulnerability

Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.

If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.

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Why Writers Should Take More Risks This Year

by Colleen M. Story

It’s the start of a new year. Are you ready to take the next step in your writing career?

If not, that’s okay. Do it anyway.

Because no writer ever got anywhere waiting until she was “ready.”

5 Advantages Risk Takers Have Over Writers Who Play It Safe

Look around and you’ll see—successful writers are risk-takers.

That means they do things before they feel completely “ready” to do them.

Writers are often by nature a cautious bunch. We like to make sure everything is right before we take that leap. That’s usually a good approach when it comes to the writing itself, but it can stunt your growth in the rest of your writing career.

1. Risk Takers Are Smarter

In 2015, researchers reported on a study in which they used MRI scans to compare the brains of risk-takers with play-it-safers. They found the risk-takers had more white matter in their brains—the area responsible for sending messages back and forth.

Why would this be? It seems the more risks a person takes, the more he/she learns about various situations, which helps the brain grow. Ergo, risk takers are smarter!

2. Risk Takers are Optimists

Risk takers are optimists by nature. They’re more willing to take a risk because they have a positive outlook. “It will be great!” they say, whereas the play-it-safers are more likely to list all the ways things will go wrong. (One of the reasons they hesitate.)

Risk takers have the right attitude when it comes to taking chances. They know things may not always work out perfectly, but they feel confident they’ll be able to handle whatever challenges may come their way.

3. Risk Takers Learn More

It’s one thing to “think about” trying something new. Take self-publishing a book, for example. You can imagine all the steps you need to take, but the process of actually taking them will teach you far more.

4. Risk Takers Overcome Fear of Failure

Play-it-safers fear failure. It’s the main reason why they avoid taking risks. After all, if you never submit to a publisher, you never have to suffer through a rejection.

The writer who takes the risk of submitting again and again eventually overcomes that fear of failure. It doesn’t mean rejections don’t sting. It just means the writer has developed the skill to manage it.

5. Risk Takers are Happier

In one study involving more than 20,000 interviews, researchers found that people who enjoyed taking risks were more content with their lives as they got older.

Here’s another interesting finding: Those more likely to take risks were also more likely to be self-employed. (Hello authorpreneurs!)

How to Take Smart Risk in Your Writing Career

This year, why not take a few more risks in your writing life? You may fail a time or two, but you’ll build your confidence and learn a lot on the way

Just remember two things:

1. It will never feel comfortable. There will always be an element of the unknown in any risk you take—that’s what makes it exciting! So expect a few butterflies and proceed anyway.

2. Take smart risks. I’m not saying quit your day job tomorrow and go off to Hawaii to write. It’s important to stack the odds in your favor before you take that leap.

How do you do that?

Answer three questions. Here’s an example for you.

Let’s say you’re thinking of self-publishing a book this year for the first time. (You can use any example you like from your writing life.)

First, write down all the potential problems that could occur.

For example:

  • The cover may not work for your target audience.
  • The book may contain errors.
  • You may have poor sales.
  • You may get bad reviews.

Next, put on your problem-solving hat. How can you reduce the odds that these negative outcomes will occur?

  • Research covers that sell in your genre and hire a professional cover designer.
  • Hire a proficient editor and proofreader.
  • Put together a plan for a successful book launch.
  • Make your book as good as you can, then offer it to your followers to review.

The problem-solving step is critical when it comes to taking risks. It not only improves the odds your risk will pay off, but it also pushes you to innovate in ways you may not have otherwise. 

Consider the writer who has a small subscriber list and is worried about having a lackluster book launch. Problem-solving compels her to grow that list before her book comes out.

By doing so, she solves her launch problem and expands her author business.

Finally, ask yourself the question most writers miss: What will it cost you NOT to take this risk?

  • My work remains in the desk drawer and never sees the light of day.
  • I continue to stagnate as a writer, rather than progressing.
  • My author business struggles.
  • I become a discouraged writer.

Play-it-safers benefit most from this step because it shows the very real cost of NOT taking a risk. Oftentimes, when looking at your writing career as a whole, this is a much more damaging option than taking a risk might be. 

Ready to Take That Leap?

Once you’ve answered all of the questions above, it’s time to take that leap. Hold your breath and jump, and have faith that it will work out.

If you’re still not sure, I offer you this quote by actor Hugh Laurie (“House”) as inspiration:

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There’s almost no such thing as ready. There’s only now. And you may as well do it now. I mean, I say that confidently as if I’m about to go bungee jumping or something — I’m not. I’m not a crazed risk taker. But I do think that, generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

Get help setting inspiring goals this year with Colleen’s FREE “Start the Year Off Right” bundle, available here!


Colleen M. Story

Resident Writing Coach

Colleen inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, was a gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards. Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018. Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker.
Writing and Wellness | Author Site | Twitter

Posted in Business Plan, Focus, Goal and Milestones, Goal Setting, Motivational, The Business of Writing, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude | 5 Comments

Introducing Unique Story Elements without Confusing Readers

Story openings can be difficult as authors struggle to introduce the protagonist, show them in their everyday world, hint at what’s missing, and begin the vital process of building empathy. And all of this has to be done in a way that doesn’t drag the pace or overload readers with exposition and backstory narratives.

It becomes even more complicated for stories containing unique or otherworldly elements that readers won’t readily understand. Trying to explain a tribble, flux capacitor, or the imprinting process of dragons can easily devolve into long explanatory passages that leave readers yawning and wondering what’s in the fridge. Not the impression you want to make with your opening scene.

But it is possible to get that important information across in a way that will keep readers engaged. 

Stagger the New Stuff

In general, people need time to assimilate new information and work it into their existing knowledge. If you try to introduce a bunch of new inventions, characters, elements of magic, or political factions at once, readers’ brains are going to explode. Give them one new thing to work on at a time before introducing something else. 

This requires you to ask an important question at the start of your opening scene: What information does my character need right now? 

There’s a common disconnect here between what the author thinks the reader needs to know and what the reader actually needs to know. We ALWAYS think they need more information, which usually results in us throwing it all into the opening chapter. And readers end up overwhelmed or lost.

Instead, figure out what they need to know now, at this point in the story—i.e., identify which one of those unique elements are most important to that scene. Introduce it, then give the reader time to process the information before you throw another new idea into the mix. 

Garth Nix does this exceptionally well. Here’s the first paragraph from Sabriel, the first book of his Old Kingdom series:

It was little more than three miles from the Wall into the Old Kingdom, but that was enough. Noonday sunshine could be seen on the other side of the Wall in Ancelstierre, and not a cloud in sight. Here, there was a cloudy sunset, and a steady rain had just begun to fall, coming faster than the tents could be raised.

With this introduction we see that something unusual is going on with the setting. There are two kingdoms bordering each other, but the usual Earthly rules don’t apply. The weather is different on either side of the boundary wall. Time also flows strangely because while it’s noon in Ancelstierre, dusk is falling in the Old Kingdom.

There are many more—and more significant—unique elements in the story, but this is all the author needed to share at this point. The rest is revealed later, being doled out on an as-needed basis.

Show It in Context

When the time is right to present a unique element, do yourself a favor and show it to readers instead of telling them about it first.

We have this idea that if we explain a new concept before it makes an appearance, the reader will have the information they need to understand it when they finally see it. But this isn’t how the brain works. We grasp new concepts and ideas much better when we can see them in context. So when you have a new element or concept to share, resist the urge to explain it. Simply show it being used, discussed, manipulated, etc. as part of the actual story. This provides the context necessary for readers to fill the gaps in their knowledge, and it does so without killing the pace in your important opening pages.

As an example, the book City of a Thousand Dolls involves something unique called an asar. Here’s how the author introduces it: 

Her satisfaction lasted only as long as it took for a group of girls to decide she was an easy target in her plain gray asar and untidy braid

And a few paragraphs later: 

She could imagine the House Mistress perfectly, her rust-brown asar wrapped so it came only to her knees, the short sword at her side

Based on this description, the reader understands that an asar is a garment of clothing in this world, and it’s associated in some way with value or worth. Is that due to wealth? Talent? Prestige? We don’t know, and at this point, we don’t need to know. The author has provided enough information for us to be able to move forward without confusion. 

For another inspired example, check out Tim Lebbon’s The Silence. The story begins with geologists opening a subterranean cave that has been sealed off for millennia, releasing a never-before-encountered creature that quickly sets civilization back to the dark ages. We learn about this terror a little bit at a time via news reports and social media accounts. First we watch a flying animal, tiny with distance, bringing down a human. Then we see a live but distorted image of leathery wings and lots of teeth. As more reports come in, the characters start calling them vesps—short for viespi. Wasps. Someone refers to them as a swarm of flying rats… 

Little by little, we gain an understanding of this monster. The author gives readers time to fit the new information into their existing knowledge and create a framework for the vesps. And by being stingy with the details, Lebbon allows intrigue to build as we slowly begin to realize that the characters are in serious trouble.

Find the Right Balance

How much space should you leave between new elements? This will vary from story to story. 

Lebbons takes his time introducing the vesps, using the first five chapters to show what they look like, their hunting habits, and their alarmingly quick life cycle. A longer timeline works for this story because there’s only one new creature to introduce. But in a book like Sabriel, which involves not only a fantasy world but a unique system of magic and a twist on necromancers, the author can’t afford to wait quite so long between elements.

Some of this process undoubtedly involves trial and error, with reader clarity casting the deciding vote. Ask yourself: Are readers confused, or can they follow what’s happening? This is where critique partners and beta readers are invaluable. If they can read your first few pages without getting lost, you’re good to go. But if they voice confusion or ask questions for clarification (I’m not sure what’s going on. What’s this thing supposed to do? Is that guy with the government or the rebellion?), you’ll want to regroup. Maybe you need a little more space between new elements. It’s very likely that some of those new ideas can be shared later in the story, allowing you to simplify the opening.

Listen, first pages are hard. Because we know every possible thing about our characters and their world, it’s hard to know how much to share and when to share it. When it comes to those weird and awesome elements that are unique to your story, spread them out and show each one in context. Readers will be fascinated rather than confused, eager to see what else your intriguing world has to offer.

Posted in Openings, Show Don't Tell, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 5 Comments