Master Storytelling and Save: One Stop for Writers is 50% Off

Well, Black Friday is here and keyboards everywhere are heating up. I wish you a successful day of bargain hunting!

While you’re out there taking advantage of the sales, consider one that can vastly help improve your writing: a One Stop for Writers subscription.

Right now you can score a 6-month subscription for 50% off. (Holy gluten free bananas, that’s only $25!)

So, if you need access to:

  • The largest, show-don’t-tell description database in existence
  • Powerful Story Map, Scene Map, and Timeline tools
  • Customizable Worldbuilding Surveys
  • An Idea Generator
  • Templates, Worksheets, Checklists, and Tutorials
  • And a Character Builder tool so smart it will create an accurate Character Arc Blueprint for any character you design (Yes, really!)

Visit One Stop for Writers and add the one-time code BLACKFRIDAY2020 when you subscribe to the 6-month plan.

Becca and I would love to help you write fantastic, memorable fiction. Writing can be easier with the right tools in your creative toolkit!

This deal disappears November 30th, 2020. See you at One Stop for Writers!

Posted in About Us, One Stop For Writers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Stakes Set up Expectations

Last time I coached on Writers Helping Writers, I talked about 6 Tricks to Layer on Stakes, in it, I explained how I like to think of stakes as potential consequences–what could happen if a certain condition is (or is not) met. For stakes to be most effective, they usually need to be specific and often on the page. They should follow a cause-and-effect trajectory. 

Usually, we want more stakes on the page than what actually comes to pass.

One thing that stakes do, is they set up the reader’s expectations. They may not always be 100% solid expectations, but they set up expectations more or less. 

Because if Suzy accidentally left her campfire going, then I would expect that it could start a forest fire. That is a logical outcome. Depending on how this is rendered in the story and what’s happening in the plot, and what I, the reader, have read and seen in other stories before, I may fully expect that to happen next: Suzy’s campfire will start a forest fire. 

Now that my expectations are set up, the author can play with them, if he or she desires.

Stakes are what might happen, not necessarily what actually happens. When you set them up as a writer, you have a few options on how to handle the actual outcome.

The situation leads to the expected problem:

  1. Suzy’s campfire does start a forest fire.

The situation leads to no problems:

2. The campfire peacefully burns out, and it rains that night.

The situation leads to a problem worse or bigger than expected:

3. The campfire not only starts a forest fire, but burns up a few homes, and the state park.

The situation leads to a surprising outcome:

4. The campfire attracts a bigfoot.

Good writers will take advantage of these different outcomes (whether the writer is fully conscious of doing that or not). 

Be careful of using option 2: The situation leads to no problems. If you use that too much, you run the risk of undercutting the tension in your story. This is when the writer cuts threads of tension, so that there is no tension in the story for a period of time, or when the writer repeatedly fails to deliver on promised conflict.

The point is, when you work with stakes, you set up expectations in the audience. This is a good thing, because it helps the audience get invested in the story (unless you are only setting up expectations that are totally predictable). Once they have expectations, they’ll want to stick around. And you, the writer, can meet them, surprise them, or over-deliver on them. And yes, sometimes, undermine them too (only on occasion, and only when you have plenty of other important forms of stakes and tension in play).

So think about what your audience is expecting from your story’s stakes. And if you are only using one or two of these types of outcomes, try to switch it up to keep your readers surprised.

September C. Fawkes

Resident Writing Coach

September C. Fawkes has worked as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author and writing instructor, and now does freelance editing at She has published poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction articles, and her award-winning writing tips have appeared in classrooms, conferences, and on Grammar Girl. Visit her at for more writing tips, and find her on
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Need more ideas? Download this Tip Sheet on Raising the Stakes from One Stop for Writers:

Savings are nice, right?

We’ve hunted high and low for great “Writing-Related” Black Friday deals and found quite a few items!

To see all the things on sale right now, just head over here.

Posted in Action Scenes, Characters, Conflict, High Stakes, Motivation, Pacing, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Tension, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 6 Comments

Black Friday Deals for Writers

Black Friday is coming and so now is a good time to think about how to invest in our writing career and save money doing it. Here are some of the best writerly deals we’ve uncovered:

(FYI, there’s an affiliate link or two below. They help keep the lights on around here.)

50% off a 6-month subscription at One Stop for Writers

One Stop for Writers is Angela & Becca’s portal to tools that will help you become a master storyteller.

At One Stop, you’ll find:

  • The largest fiction-specific Descriptive Database anywhere (containing 15 signature thesauri, including The Emotion Thesaurus)
  • A hyper-intelligent Character Builder that makes deep characters easy to create (& will produce an accurate Character Arc Blueprint for you)
  • Story Map & Scene Map tools that demystify story structure
  • A drag-and-reorder Timeline tool
  • Customizable Worldbuilding Surveys
  • An Idea Generator for plot complications, story stakes, secrets & more
  • Worksheets, Templates, Tip Sheets & more

There’s no easy button for writing a powerful novel. But the next best thing? One Stop for Writers.

Give the Free Trial a spin and grab this deal with the one-time code BLACKFRIDAY2020. Writing can be easier! (DEAL ON NOW)

50% off a 1-year subscription to Fictionary StoryTeller

Editing a manuscript is a big undertaking, both intellectually and emotionally. Being thorough can be difficult and time-consuming, but the creative story editing process always pays off.

Fictionary StoryTeller makes editing easier by applying universal storytelling structures to each and every scene. Evaluate and revise your manuscript against 38 Fictionary Story Elements such as the Story Arc and quickly highlight structural areas that need improvement! Use the code BLACKFRIDAY2020 for 50% off. (DEAL ON NOW)

25% off 1-year or 50% off a lifetime license for ProWritingAid Premium

ProWritingAid is a grammar guru, style editor, and writing mentor in one package. It’s the only platform that offers world-class grammar and style checking combined with more in-depth reports to help you strengthen your writing technique.

Their unique combination of suggestions, articles, videos, and quizzes makes writing fun and interactive. ProWritingAid has more integrations than any other editing software, and premium users also get access to all the books in their Writer’s Resources Library. No code needed. (DEAL ON NOW)

$100 off a 100+ print book order at BookBaby

Why print your book with BookBaby? Our formula for great custom book printing is very simple: BookBaby is a book printing company staffed by professionals utilizing the world’s best book printing and binding equipment.

While every individual book project is different, the results are always the same: eye-popping colors, crisp and even ink coverage, quality paper stocks, sturdy, tight bookbinding, all carefully packaged and delivered to your door. With over 50,000 projects successfully delivered last year, we know what authors require and expect from their book printer. Receive $100 Off 100+ Printed Books with code 100OFFBOOK. (DEAL ON NOW)

20% Off Professional Editing Services at FirstEditing

First Editing’s professional editors have assisted over 50,000 authors this past decade. In fact, their professional editing services have helped writers transform into successful authors since 1994.

They guarantee your satisfaction and deliver your editing on-time. Get a free editing sample of your writing so you can try before you buy. Use the code BLACK20 to save 20% at FirstEditing. (DEAL ON NOW)

50% off Instagram for Authors Coursee

Instagram for Authors is a power packed course providing authors with all the tools they need to successfully use Instagram to Market and sell their books. Save 50% off this course with code WPSFRIDAY20. (DEAL ON NOW)

66% off a full conference ticket for the Women in Publishing Summit

The Women in Publishing Summit is a week-long conference that provides resources and training to authors across all facets of writing, publishing, marketing, and author development. Made by women, for women, the conference not only delivers incredible content, we celebrate the achievements of women in the industry. Our sponsors provide incredible discounts and opportunities as well to our participants, to help them in the process. The Black Friday special discounts your ticket to $67 (sale ends November 30th). (DEAL ON NOW)

25% off Outlining Your Novel Workbook Software

The Outlining Your Novel Workbook computer program is a powerful brainstorming tool designed to guide you in identifying the best ideas for a solid story that will both entertain and move your readers.

The software provides an easy-to-use fill-in-the-blanks format that will guide you through every step of the process. Creating your own outline is as simple as starting on the first screen, using its prompts and lessons to work through your story in the most intuitive way, and clicking through the tabs at the top to access important sections. Save 25% with the code OUTLINE. (DEAL STARTS NOV 25th)

50% off SelfPubCon Passes

SelfPubCon (or the Self-Publishing Advice Conference) is run in association with the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and runs twice a year in March and October. The conference draws in all the big names from the world of self-publishing and gives you access to the best authors and advisors out there.

As well as access to the live events in 2021, your pass allows you to dive right into an extensive conference archive featuring self-publishing advisors like Michael Anderlé, Mark Dawson, Ricardo Fayet, Joanna Penn, Orna Ross, and 100+ more. Grab a six-month or lifetime online conference pass using the code INDIE50 from now to Nov 30th. (DEAL ON NOW)

As writers, we’re all on a budget. Becca and I hope these deals are exactly what you need to take your writing to the next level. Happy writing to all!

Posted in About Us, One Stop For Writers, Past Events, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 1 Comment

Stuck in No-Man’s-Land: Your Novel’s Middle

If you have hit the point in your draft where you’re looking out at the vast landscape of your novel with no idea where to go next, congratulations…you’ve probably made it to Act 2.

I know, I know, there’s an ocean of cracked, barren earth on all sides and you don’t where to go next in the story. It’s not a fun place to be, but at the same time, you’re not the first to arrive in No-Man’s-Land, and you won’t be the last. The middle of a novel can be difficult terrain to navigate if we’ve lost our map (or didn’t have one in the first place…looking at you, my pantsing friends!).

Stories tend to change and evolve, so whether you’ve wandered away from the original outline or you didn’t do much planning to start with, it’s okay. A novel’s middle is a foe all writers must face. So if you feel stuck because your pace and plot are flagging, take a break and do a novel check-in.

By Act 2, you should know your character’s main story goal. (It will look like one of these.) Hopefully you also know WHY they are chasing this goal, and the missing human need causing their internal discomfort.

The Second Act is about challenging your character, forcing them into corners and throwing rocks at them. In fact, this might be familiar:

Act 1: Force the character up a tree
Act 2: Throw rocks at him
Act 3: Get him down again

It’s simplistic, but the second act is all about rocks. We want to cause them pain, push them into the meat grinder. Why? Because challenges and trials will do two important things: 1) force them to prove they really want this goal (through sacrifice) and 2) give them a big, old reality check that this is going to be hard and if they want to win, they’ve got to change.

When it comes to trials or challenges, we want to throw a few things at our character. A good rule is three challenges. Have you written three moments that squeeze your character and force them to struggle? If not, what situations can you write into the story that take them out of their element?

Keep in mind your character will not always be successful when facing these obstacles or adversaries. Failure is part of a character’s journey because when this happens, they realize they need to do something different if they want to achieve their big goal. This epiphany happens at the midpoint of your novel and James Scott Bell has a great name for it: the Mirror Moment. Usually that “something different” involves internal growth where the character must change how they see the world, let go of past hang-ups, and face old fears.

Ideally, challenges will cause your character to doubt themselves and at times fear will rise up, but ultimately their internal reasons for wanting the goal and the stakes push them onward despite danger or hardship. Sometimes though, a character has too much self-doubt or fear. This can also cause a saggy middle, because they stubbornly refuse to act and instead try to run from the obstacles in their path.

Some running is normal, but too much is a death knell because your pacing goes into sloth mode. Because characters often let fear dictate their actions – causing inaction – is such a common problem, we created a tip sheet on applying Pressure Points at One Stop for Writers. PRESSURE is exactly what you need to get your character moving again. Download this Pressure Point Tip Sheet here.

Finally, if your story stalls and you just know it needs…something, try a Plot Push. Plot Pushes add another layer of complication or intrigue to a story, giving it more depth. You can download this Plotting Pushes Tip Sheet here.

The middle is also a good time to examine your subplots and to work on developing the other characters in the story who interact with your protagonist. What makes them tick? What do they want? How are they connected to the protagonist and how do they aid the hero or heroine toward their goal…or stand in their way of it? Find ways to develop these characters and use the subplots to provide those challenges and tests for the protagonist!

I hope these ideas get your brains thrumming. A few more posts to check out:

Saggy Middle: Use Conflict to Nip and Tuck It
Four Ways to Fix a Boring Story
The Dangers of Anecdotal Writing
Beating the 30K Slump
5 NaNoWriMo Hacks to Keep Words Flowing
Fall In Love with Your Second Act

If you’re feeling stuck in the middle, don’t give up. Finish that novel. You’ve got this!

Posted in Action Scenes, Backstory, Basic Human Needs, Character Arc, Characters, Conflict, Fatal Flaw, Middles, Motivation, One Stop For Writers, Pacing, Plotting, Tension, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writer's Block, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | Leave a comment

Determining Your Character’s Emotional Range

I firmly believe that while readers sometimes do connect with our stories, they more often fall in love with our characters. If we want to really pull readers in, we’ve got to make each protagonist relatable and easy to connect with.

This can be a tall order when you consider that each reader is different. Their geographic location, individual circumstances, personal experiences—no one character can encapsulate all of that for every person who picks up your book. But there’s one thing that every reader and character do have in common: emotion. 

No matter who the reader is or what they’ve been through, they’ve experienced the same emotions as the character. The circumstances may be different, but they will connect on some level to a character exhibiting the feelings they’ve felt at important moments in life. For this reason, it’s super important to write a character’s emotions consistently and believably so they ring true with readers. As with many other areas of writing, the best way to do this is through showing that emotion rather than telling it. But before we can write about the character’s feelings, we need to know how those feelings will manifest. In short, we need to establish the character’s emotional range.

Each person (and therefore, each character) has a unique way of expressing their feelings, meaning you can have two people in the same situation and they’ll respond differently. If we’re going to consistently write a character’s emotions, we need to first know her baseline—how she reacts to the normal, everyday things that happen. To figure that out, ask the following questions:

Is My Character Demonstrative or Reserved?

Think of emotional range as a spectrum: a straight line with RESERVED at one end and DEMONSTRATIVE on the other. Where does your character fall on this line? A demonstrative character has bigger reactions while a reserved character plays it closer to the vest. They feel the same emotions, but they exhibit them differently. 

Consider the lovely but fairly mundane event of receiving flowers at work. A reserved character is likely to smile when it happens. Maybe she’ll hug herself, gaze at the beautiful flowers with a silly grin on her face, and shoot off a quiet email to thank the sender.

In contrast, a demonstrative character screeches as the delivery person walks in. She may jump up and hug him. She slaps her thighs and laughs out loud, then takes her flowers on a victory lap around the office to show them to everyone.

Same situation, but different responses based on the character’s emotional range. When you know where your character falls on that spectrum, you’ll have a good idea of what her responses will be to the normal, day-to-day things that happen. Then you can write those reactions consistently so readers will know what to expect. This builds that reader-character connection as the reader begins to get to know the character better.

Who Is She Comfortable With?

Most people don’t act the same around everyone. They’re more themselves with the people who make them feel comfortable. Whether that’s family, close friends, a co-worker, or the next-door neighbor, the character will stay true to her typical responses when she’s with those people. But as she gets less comfortable, her emotional responses will change, becoming either more inhibited or exaggerated.

Examine the various people groups your character will encounter and determine how she’ll act around them. How is she with strangers? Is she sensitive around people of a specific race, religion, or political affiliation? What about people with certain physical characteristics? Examine those dynamics and the reasons behind them so you’ll know which cast members will evoke a different emotional response from her.

Who Does She Hide Her Emotions From?

When we’re feeling vulnerable, we tend to hold back emotionally. Maybe the people making your character uncomfortable can be found a little closer to home: her father-in-law, her soccer coach, her child’s third-grade teacher. The pool boy. If you’ve done your backstory work, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out why these people set the character off. If you haven’t gotten that far in your research, explore those relationships. This will provide a better understanding of how your character will depart from her baseline when she’s around certain people.

Which Emotions Does She Suppress?

One of the nuances of emotion is that not everyone is comfortable with the full range. You might have a character who’s mostly in touch with her feelings—except when it comes to fear, or anger, or sadness. At the first sign of that emotion, she hides it—possibly, only when she’s around one of the people mentioned above. This is one of those small details that, when added carefully and thoughtfully to your character’s emotional profile, can make her more realistic and familiar to readers.

Questions like these are important to consider because they define your character’s “norm.” They tell you how she’ll respond to daily stimuli so you can write her reactions consistently and realistically. This information will also tell you how hard you’ll have to push when you need a bigger emotional response and elevated conflict—which is another way to pull readers in. But that’s a post for another day.

If you’re wondering how exactly how to figure out your character’s emotional range, the One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder has a whole section devoted to this. Sign up for a free two-week trial and see what you think.

Posted in Backstory, Characters, Emotion, Emotion Thesaurus Guide, Writing Craft | 1 Comment

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Neighbors

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: Neighbors, by definition, live close to each other. For the protagonist, this could be the person living in the house across the street from them, on the farm that borders their property, or on the other side of an apartment wall. In today’s world, people are often busy and may see their neighbors less than usual, but the opportunities for both support and strife make it a relationship worth exploring.

Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
Respecting physical and emotional boundaries
Looking out for each other
Providing what the neighbor needs: a listening ear, caring for a pet while the owner is out of town, privacy, etc.
Addressing problems directly instead of going through a third party
Reasonably maintaining one’s property so it doesn’t negatively impact those living nearby
Being considerate when it comes to noise, parking, etc.
Making certain decisions with the community (instead of only themselves) in mind

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship
Disregarding requests to keep one’s property safe and reasonably clean
Disrespecting the neighbor’s property (letting one’s dog poop on their lawn, allowing trees to drop rotting fruit in their backyard, etc.)
Reporting an issue to the Homeowner’s Association instead of trying to work it out with the neighbor
Prying into the neighbor’s personal business
Acting thoughtlessly—i.e., throwing loud parties that run into the wee hours
Constantly coming over unannounced
Borrowing tools and not returning them
Monopolizing streetside parking or blocking the neighbor’s driveway

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
One neighbor eager to build a friendship while the other wants privacy
A neighbor who is religious about lawn maintenance while the other prefers a natural look
Living next door to a budding musician and having to trade solitude to keep the peace
A homeowner who rents the home as a vacation property living next to someone who wants steady neighbors
One neighbor wanting to own a backyard beehive but the other is allergic
Neighbors needing quiet at different times due to shiftwork
A neighbor with secrets living next to someone who is overly curious
Someone with trust issues living next to someone who is clueless about other people’s boundaries
A recovering alcoholic living next to someone who likes to drink and party
A dog rescuer living next to someone who breeds dogs for quick cash

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations:
Timid and confrontational, cooperative and uncooperative, courteous and disrespectful, curious and evasive, meticulous and sloppy, private and nosy, responsible and selfish

Negative Outcomes of Friction
Small, unresolved conflicts leading to larger ones
Purposely doing things the other will find annoying
The relationship becoming distant and superficial
Assuming wrongdoing for other infractions and accusing the neighbor erroneously
Children losing friends because the parents can’t get along
Needing help and feeling unable to ask for it
Calling bylaw on the neighbor for every minor infraction
Becoming isolated in the community when the other neighbors take sides against the character
Home no longer being the character’s safe and happy place
Bringing hostility online and turning a community chat forum toxic

Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A tragedy bringing the community together
Working together to get a terrible building manager fired
Coming together to help another tenant who is struggling (someone recovering from surgery, a neighbor who lost their son to suicide, etc.)
Neighbors who discover they have an interest or hobby in common
Co-occupants who have no living relatives connecting to erase loneliness
An overworked single parent finding childcare with a neighbor who regrets not having kids of her own
Two budding killers discovering their mutual interest teaming up to keep from being caught
Seeing a neighbor in need and viewing it as a chance to make amends for a past mistake
Working on a community project both see as being important

Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
A helpful neighbor (i.e., one who occasionally watches the character’s son for free) can encourage the character to get outside of himself and serve others
A social-minded neighbor who’s always organizing this or that charity drive can help an isolated character find a much-needed community
A character on good terms with his neighbors will find those relationships useful in a post-apocalyptic or natural disaster scenario
Diplomatic neighbors can teach a selfish character or first-time homeowner how to co-exist with others
A biased character may find his beliefs challenged when he gets to know his neighbor, encouraging him to re-examine those ideas

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Alienation, Beginnings, Betrayal, Borders, Coming of Age, Crossroads, Danger, Endings, Friendship, Hope, Instability, Isolation, Loss, Love, Obstacles, Rebellion, Sacrifice, Stagnation, Teamwork, 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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Critiques 4 U!

Happy Thursday, everyone! At least, I hope it’s happy in your corner of the world. 2020 continues to be difficult for many, between contentious political elections, looming lockdowns, earthquakes, hurricanes, and who knows what else. But here’s what I’m learning through all of this: joy is a choice. And if I find myself without, it isn’t current events that have stolen it from me; it’s because I have given it away. And I refuse to do that.

One thing I’ve found that has helped me through this season is doing the things I enjoy. With the day so full of responsibilities and distractions, it’s easy to lose that “me time.” But breathers, even short ones, are especially important when things are so hard. So make the time to take a walk, call a friend, enjoy a holiday treat, or do some writing. For me, I’m going to do some critiques :).


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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Why You Should Side-Write Your Protagonist’s Origin Scene

Side writing: Any exploratory piece of writing that helps a writer get to know elements of their story but isn’t intended to make its way into a draft in its entirety. Examples include journaling from a character’s perspective, writing a scene from an alternate point of view, or creating sensory word lists for a particular setting.

Writers tend to feel strongly about side writing, one way or the other. I’ll admit it. I was not a fan of it for most of my writing life. Sometimes, I still have trouble working up the power to sit down and write, period.

But I’m going to make the case that whether you love it or despise it, you owe it to yourself, your story, and your reader to write one piece of side writing. Just one: the origin scene.

As writing instructor, story coach, and author Lisa Cron calls it in her book Story Genius, it’s the transformative scene in your protagonist’s life that forever changed the way they see their world. It is the moment before your story opens when their view of life changed dramatically enough to warrant the need for the story you will tell. It’s a scene so pivotal that your novel is built upon it. We’re talking about the moment when the protagonist’s wound/baggage/lie/misbelief/whatever-you-want to call it was born. And yes, I’m talking about a fully-formed scene.

It won’t become a prologue. It won’t be your first scene. And it may not become a full-fledged flashback. So why write it?

We’ve all heard the expression of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. The origin scene will allow you to see your story world through protagonist-colored-glasses.

As an editor, it’s common to work with clients who aren’t conveying their protagonist’s misbelief as intimately as they hope. As a writer, I’m guilty of it myself. We often generalize this critical piece of our protagonist’s backstory into something generic. He was bullied, or she was abandoned, or they lost a loved one. But this sweeping statement of what has fundamentally transformed our protagonist robs us of conveying it authentically. It reads like cardboard because we haven’t written it out so that it actually happens, moment by moment, to our protagonist in a way that we feel like it happened to us, as well.

Knowing the details of the scene where your protagonist’s life veered in a new direction will help both you and your reader know them far better than you can ever imagine. There are loads of character inventory sheets or questionnaires online, asking us to list our character’s favorite movie and hair color and tastes in music. But what matters in a story isn’t their favorite color; it’s genuine emotion.

Emotion is the reason we read, the reason we write, and the reason we care. And unless you can mine the details that have fundamentally shaped the person you are writing about, all these random facts about your character will fall flat. The origin scene gives rise to who your character really is when your novel opens. What they’re carrying when we first meet them. It makes the case as to why your story matters, why your story earns its power to undo this misbelief.

First, the good news: the origin scene doesn’t have to be polished. That’s right—no revision. Yay! It can be messy. Loaded with telling. Packed with bad dialogue. Brimming with named, abstract emotions. There’s every chance no one will ever see it but you, so it can be as short as you need or as long as you want. What matters most is that you, the writer, have slipped into the skin of your protagonist to experience in real time the moment that dramatically changed their world. That way, you carry it forward as though it happened to you. The payoff in authenticity on the page is worth it. I promise.

More good news: having written their origin scene, you will know far more clearly what your protagonist is up against internally. You will know what demon(s) they are battling as scene one opens in your WIP. This will better set you up to show how gradual their internal change will be at each of your critical turning points. You will understand their reluctance to change, as well as the forces necessary to undo the misbelief. Similarly, you will be better equipped to plot external events that are powerful enough to yield that internal change. You will know just how high the stakes need to be in order to put that misbelief to bed forever.

And perhaps, the best news: pieces of this scene will make their way onto the page. Every page. You will carry forward potent details that will help you understand the pain or joy your character experienced as though it happened to you. You will be wearing those protagonist-colored-glasses, seeing the world through their eyes. That feeling can’t be faked unless it feels real to you, the writer. Sensory details, physical objects, dialogue, and other bits can emerge in your front-story scenes in order to jog the protagonist’s memory, stirring up remnants of that deep-seated emotion. You will sprinkle in bits of the origin scene, both at turning points and as the misbelief is finally killed off. Making this scene as crucial, if not more crucial, than any scene that will appear in your manuscript.

Cron recommends writing the origin scene in first-person POV, regardless of your novel’s POV. She says our main goal in this scene is to clearly track our protagonist’s emotions and expectations as the scene opens. Then, experience the moment those expectations weren’t met and track how it emotionally impacts our protagonist. Finally, spell out their emotions and the solidification of their new belief after the turn. The birth of the misbelief.

So, what are you waiting for? Give this one piece of a side-writing the try you, your story, and your reader deserve. Fair warning: it may transform your WIP in ways you may not expect, ways that will make you wish you’d done it sooner. Who knows? It may even turn you into a fan of side-writing after all. And, if you’re already a fan of the origin scene, I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing it and know how it’s helped you develop your stories!

Marissa Graff

Resident Writing Coach

Marissa has been a freelance editor and reader for literary agent Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary Agency for over five years. In conjunction with Angelella Editorial, she offers developmental editing, author coaching, and more. Marissa feels if she’s done her job well, a client should probably never need her help again because she’s given them a crash-course MFA via deep editorial support and/or coaching.
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Posted in Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Wound, Characters, Empathy, Fatal Flaw, Resident Writing Coach, Writing Craft | 10 Comments

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Police Officer and Confidential Informant

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. It should be noted that details involving characters working in specific occupations can vary from country to country. Our research is based in North America with a heavy emphasis toward the U.S., so if you live elsewhere, those details may be different than what you’re accustomed to.

Description: An informant is someone who is part of or has infiltrated an organization where criminal activity is occurring. They work with a policy agency, providing inside information that those on the outside wouldn’t be able to access. In exchange, they may receive immunity for their own offenses, a commuted sentence, or monetary reimbursement.

Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
Recognizing what each person brings to the table
Respecting the agreement or arrangement (maintaining an informant’s confidentiality, not shopping around one’s information to other agencies, etc.)
Respecting boundaries (the officer not showing up at the informant’s home or workplace, the informant not expecting the officer to drop everything and come running when he calls, etc.)
The officer validating the informant’s feelings rather than dismissing them
Being patient; recognizing that it will take time for the goal to be achieved
Approaching the relationship as equals rather than one person having unlimited power over the other

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship
The officer threatening or browbeating the informant
The informant acting as if the police work for him
Broken trust (the officer not responding when the informant requests help, the informant providing false information)
A paid informant shaking down the police for more money in the middle of an investigation
The relationship becoming too cozy or friendly
The informant calling at all hours, on weekends, on holidays, etc.
Informants crossing lines that threaten the officer’s case (trying to entrap a suspect, etc.)

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
Each party only wants what they want, with no real concern for the other person’s needs
The officer wants facts but the informant is providing skewed information to punish an enemy or fulfill a private vendetta
The officer wants to maintain a professional relationship but the informant is pursuing something more
The informant wants to be respected for what he’s doing but the officer sees him as a criminal and simply a means to an end
The officer wants to be left alone unless absolutely necessary but the informant fears for his life and needs frequent reassurances

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations:
Withdrawn and needy, pushy and timid, controlling and stubborn, responsible and flaky, judgmental and oversensitive, nosy and private, honorable and sleazy

Negative Outcomes of Friction
The informant being “outed” and endangered
The officer losing his inside informant and his case being jeopardized
The officer arresting the informant for criminal behavior so he’ll be more compliant or submissive
The officer ignoring a needy informant’s calls, not realizing that he’s in real danger
The officer questioning whether or not the information he’s receiving is real

Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A dangerous situation requiring the officer to come to the informant’s rescue
A situation that allows the officer to see the informant as a victim rather than a criminal
Getting the desired information, which gives them both a sense of accomplishment
Discovering a new mutual enemy
An oppositional judge, lawyer, or police chief who makes the job more difficult

Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
Being able to glean the evidence that will result in a case being prosecuted with positive results for people in the community
The case revealing problems in the process or system that can now be examined and addressed
The informant realizing that he no longer wants to be involved in a criminal lifestyle
The officer learning that his stereotypes about the informant or the suspect weren’t true
An uncooperative or untrusting person learning the benefit of working with others

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
A Fall from Grace, Alienation, Betrayal, Crossroads, Danger, Deception, Endings, Enslavement, Freedom, Greed, Journeys, Obstacles, Perseverance, Sacrifice, Stagnation, Suffering, Teamwork, Violence

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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Dropping Breadcrumbs: How to Show a Character’s Emotional Wound Through Behavior

Emotional wounds are transformative and have the power to re-shape a character in many negative ways, impacting their happiness, their self-worth, and causing mistrust and disillusionment to skew their worldview. This critical piece of backstory is key to understanding their motivations, and will impact their individual character’s arc, so knowing what it is, and how to show the fallout it generates is vitally important.

Regardless of whether you choose to show the emotional wound overtly during the story or merely hint at it, it will always be necessary to reference the event in smaller ways throughout. It’s a piece of the character’s past that holds vital significance; someone who’s endured the loss of a loved one, physical torture, or a messy divorce can’t simply forget it—especially if it hasn’t been dealt with. It will haunt her, and continue to hold her back in the story until it is dealt with.

Mastering the art of obliquely referencing what has happened in a way that reads naturally is an important skill to master as it pulls the reader deeper into the story through the art of subtext. There are many ways to seed ideas in the reader’s mind about the type of emotional trauma a character has suffered, including showing it through defense mechanisms. Here are three additional ways you can feed information about the event to readers without using info dumps or giving the whole thing away.

Use the Character’s Greatest Fear

As we know, wounding events beget fear as the character seeks to avoid a repeat of what she’s suffered through. Building scenarios into your story that showcase her avoidance will provide clues as to what might have befallen her in the past.

For instance, let’s say your character experienced a failure, one that resulted in major fallout for a lot of people. As a result, this character —we’ll call her Jess—may avoid being in charge because she doesn’t want to risk repeating that experience. You can hint at this by creating situations that show her shunning responsibility. At work, she might be offered a chance to lead an all-star team in a bid to bag a wealthy client. To the reader, the decision seems like a no-brainer. But Jess cites lame reasons and declines, or she accepts, then fabricates an excuse to back out. This avoidance raises questions. Why would she pass up such an amazing opportunity? What is she afraid of? And why has she chosen a career that affords opportunities like these if she’s going to sidestep them when they come along?

Avoidance is great for referencing, in a roundabout way, a character’s fear; when this by-product is combined with other clues, readers can figure out what’s haunting her. It’s also good for the character arc. In the case of our irresponsible lead, she is allowing her fear to keep her from true happiness, and she won’t be whole until she faces and overcomes it

In a well-structured story, this won’t happen immediately. She’ll need many chances to triumph (and fail) before she realizes that her fear is holding her back. Building these scenarios into the plotline will provide the chances she needs to move along that character arc toward eventual success.

Showcase the Character’s Self-Doubt

Characters, like real people, are complex. No matter how popular, attractive, or accomplished they are, they will still experience self-doubt and uncertainty. And these areas of insecurity often relate back to the wounding event.

Look at Jess. She might be confident and self-assured most of the time but feels insecure in certain situations: when she has to lead, when people are depending on her, or when an important decision needs to be made. Her self-doubt may also be tied to specific circumstances surrounding her past failure. For instance, if she goofed up in a TV interview, she may become a nervous wreck in a public forum or anytime she has to go on the record.

Once you’ve decided on your character’s wounding incident, ask yourself some questions to better understand her insecurities relating to it. When does she doubt herself? In what scenario does she not trust her intuition? When does a simple decision paralyze or turn her into a second-guessing mess? The answers to these questions will let you know where her uncertainties lie; you can then show the contrast between her normal self and the circumstances where her personality changes. Done consistently, this can shine a spotlight on your character’s doubts, hinting at her wounding event and showing how it’s impacting her even now.

Let Overreactions and Under-reactions Do the Talking

When you know your character well, you’re able to write her consistently. Readers get to know her and what to expect from her in the various situations that arise. If she reacts in a way that’s either understated or overly dramatic, it’s like a red flag for readers, telling them that something isn’t quite right.

Let’s imagine that Jess is typically an outgoing, bigger-than-life kind of girl. She’s always up for a party, so when her company throws a celebratory bash, she’s there in all her extroverted glory—until she’s asked to field questions from the local news crew. We’d expect a person like Jess to respond with exuberance at the chance to ham it up for the cameras. Instead, the animation leaves her face. Her body goes still, and the pitch of her voice drops. With a stricken smile, she declines, suggests someone else as a replacement, and excuses herself.

This response is way too subdued for the Jess we’ve come to know. It’s a sign that something about this interview scenario is freaking her out. We’d be similarly alerted in a situation in which a run-of-the-mill response was expected but she went ballistic.

If you’ve laid the foundation for your character’s personality and have remained true to her emotional range throughout the story, contrary reactions will warn readers that something is wrong while allowing you to hint at trouble from the past.

For more ideas on how to dole out information about your character’s past and show the aftereffects through behavior shifts, take a peek at The Emotional Wound Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Psychological Trauma or visit the Emotional Wound Thesaurus at One Stop for Writers.

Posted in Action Scenes, Backstory, Basic Human Needs, Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Wound, Characters, Conflict, Emotion, Emotional Wound Thesaurus, Fatal Flaw, Fear, One Stop For Writers, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 3 Comments