Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Bounty Hunter

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

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

Occupation: Bounty Hunter

Overview: Bounty Hunters apprehend fugitives who are running from the law. While a suspect awaits a court date, they’re often released on bail. If they can’t pay the money themselves, they get it from a bail bondsman. If the suspect doesn’t appear for his court date, he becomes a fugitive. The bail bondsman may hire a bounty hunter to find the suspect in exchange for a portion (usually 10-20%) of the bail amount. Bounty hunters may work directly for a bondsman or do freelance work on their own.

In some ways, bounty hunters have more freedom than official police officers because they can enter the fugitive’s home without a warrant and cross state lines to apprehend the fugitive. Their work might include such activities as interviewing family and friends, canvassing the fugitive’s neighborhood, staking out certain locations, tracing phone records and license plates, and confronting the suspect when he’s found. Because of the inherent danger in this job, most bounty hunters work in teams or pairs.

Necessary Training: In the U.S., you must be 21 years old and hold a high school diploma or GED to pursue this career. While many bounty hunters have a background in the military and law enforcement, no official training is necessary. Because they must be licensed in most states, they’ll have to pass an exam that covers the laws and limitations for their trade area. Someone new to this profession would likely apprentice with an experienced hunter to learn the trade.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Basic first aid, blending in, charm, ESP (clairvoyance), exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, haggling, high pain tolerance, knife throwing, mentalism, parkour, reading people, self-defense, sharpshooting, strategic thinking, super strength, survival skills, swift-footedness, wrestling

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adventurous, alert, bold, cautious, decisive, discreet, focused, industrious, just, observant, patient, persistent, persuasive, protective, resourceful, responsible, sensible, uninhibited, wise

NEGATIVE: Callous, confrontational, humorless, manipulative, nosy, obsessive, pushy, rebellious, rowdy, suspicious, vindictive

Sources of Friction: Trying to get information from uncooperative sources, being confined by the law, being tempted to circumvent the law to catch a fugitive, not being able to find the fugitive, receiving incorrect information from a source, a job requiring going over budget or schedule, an important contact going out of business (one’s primary investigator or bail bondsman, for instance), conflicts of interest (the fugitive being a person one knows, having a family member who was victimized by the fugitive, etc.), suffering a physical injury that makes it difficult to do the job, being wounded or taken captive by the fugitive, working with an impatient bail bondsman, working a case that multiple bounty hunters are also working, do-gooders questioning one’s methods, having to enter dangerous neighborhoods and talk to volatile people to get information

People They Might Interact With: bondsmen, law enforcement officers, people associated with the fugitive (family members, friends, neighbors, former bosses, etc.), “regulars” in the areas where one frequently works (shop owners, wait staff, etc.), administrative personnel

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: A bounty hunter who chose the profession because he was unable to pursue the career he really wanted (such as one in the military or law enforcement) might soon become restless and feel unfulfilled.
  • Safety and Security: The danger associated with this job, the fugitives involved, and the neighborhoods they frequent could easily cause safety or security problems for the character.
  • Physiological Needs: Most careers wouldn’t impact a character on this level, but a bounty hunter could easily lose their life in this line of work.

Common Work-Related Settings: Airport, alley, backyard, bar, basement, big city street, casual dining restaurant, cheap motel, coffeehouse, convenience store, courtroom, diner, emergency room, fast food restaurant, garage, gas station, hospital (interior), hospital room, hotel room, indoor shooting range, living room, nightclub, park, parking garage, parking lot, police station, pub, public restroom, small town street, subway train, waiting room

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype:

Bounty hunters are often portrayed as rough and grubby, which helps them blend into the environments where their subjects are hiding. To switch things up, consider a bounty hunter who takes on only high-profile cases and must share the upscale looks of the fugitives he hunts.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

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Gameify Your Writing Life

As creatives, we all have a million ideas. But if we’re going to turn any of tthem into reality, we have to have a plan, and that’s where the wheels fall off the bus for many of us. Rochelle Melander is here today to share a method for doing this that you may not have considered—one that involves combining writing with gaming. Two of my favorite things!

About ten years ago, my husband and I got pedometers. We’d always been very competitive, but the pedometers gave us a new game to play. Who could walk more in a day? In a week? Suddenly my husband was volunteering to walk books back to the library, take children to the park, and carry laundry up and down the stairs. It’s not that he hadn’t done these things before—he had. He was just more excited about it now. As we turned walking into a competitive sport, we both won. We both walked more than the recommended 10,000 steps a day and felt better overall. 

We benefited by gamifying our lives. Gamification brings game elements to existing experiences to make them more engaging. It has been used in just about every area of life, including the military, advertising and marketing, and in the health industry. For writers, National Novel Writing Month is a great example of gamification. Participants sign on to complete the challenge or writing a 50,000-word novel in a month. Winners get badges and bragging rights.

I learned about this idea through the book SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver, and More Resilient. In the book, author Jane McGonigal talks about how she used gaming to heal from a brain injury. She said, “When we play a game, we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, and more optimism. We’re also more likely to reach out to others for help.” (p. 3)

You can use gamification for just about anything, including making social media posts, querying agents, and publicizing your book. Here’s how you can use this concept to write more.

Define Your Epic Win

What would a big win look like for you? Writing your book in the next 60 days? Writing daily? Finishing the draft of that super-secret project you’ve been longing to write but haven’t had time? 

Get a Secret Identity

When I was first writing professionally, I felt like an imposter. Because of that, I had difficulty claiming my writing time. I might have benefited from adopting a secret identity. For those of you who juggle day jobs, family responsibilities, and more, having a secret identity can help you feel more powerful.

Choose a favorite superhero or two that have some of the traits you use to succeed: resilience, strength, extreme vision, or courage. Create a name that will help you embody these traits. Model your name after your favorite superheroes—maybe Wonder Writer, IronWriter, Super Word Weaver. Take a look at some of the online name generators to help you choose your name. (Google Superhero Name Generator and look at the images tab.) It can also be helpful to give yourself a tagline. Superman was faster than a speeding bullet. You might be “The fastest drafter in town” or “Making up Fun Stuff Since 1999.” 

Identify Allies

Who will support you in this endeavor? We need allies to support and encourage us on our quests. Develop a list of people who can be there to check in with you once a week. Think about who might keep you accountable, encourage you, and help you celebrate. One interesting way to do this is to add your future self to your list of allies and imagine that he or she is rooting you on. 

Name Villains 

A villain is anything that prevents you from achieving your goal. It can be the inner critic, online or in-person distractions, or toxic friends and colleagues. Who interrupts your writing time? What roadblocks do you encounter? Are you dealing with imposter syndrome? Name the villains you commonly face (thereby taking away their power) and make a plan for defeating them. 

List Power-Ups

If you’ve ever played a video game, you know that power-ups give you extra energy or abilities to navigate the game, fight villains, and survive. As a writer, power-ups help us renew our energy, overcome roadblocks, and finish difficult tasks. For example, doing a repetitive activity like knitting or folding clothes can lead to finding the solution to a writing problem. Make a list of the activities that support you as a writer. These might include taking walks, gardening, chatting with a friend, taking a nap, cuddling with your dog, or eating a healthy snack. Next time you get stuck, try a power-up to renew your energy and move forward. 

Identify Rewards

When runners cross the finish line, they’re often rewarded with a participant medal and, in some races, a mug of beer. How will you reward yourself after each quest? Like power-ups, rewards don’t have to be expensive or fancy. And many of your power-up activities will work as rewards, too.

But rewards and power-ups differ in two key ways. First, because rewards happen at the end of a quest, they can be a bit more elaborate. So, while working on the quest, you might take short walks to boost your energy. But when you finish your quest, you could reward yourself with a longer walk in a new neighborhood.

Second, rewards can be special activities you don’t do every day. So, a power-up might be spending fifteen minutes in the garden while a reward could be going to the store to buy a new plant. If you choose a reward that will delight you when you finish your quest, you’ll be even more likely to win!

Design Quests

Now, imagine that your epic win is completing a draft of your novel by the end of August. That’s great—but it’s a long way off. You need a series of quests to get you from here to there. Here are examples of some potential quests that might help you reach your epic win:

  • Research Quest: Study the clothing choices for a woman in 1880s France
  • Writing Quest: Write an elevator pitch or logline for your book
  • Plotting Quest: Write a list of potential scenes for your book
  • Editing Quest: Apply my critique group’s edits to chapter four
  • Submission Quest: Query five agents
  • Promotion Quest: Connect with five bloggers about potential guest posts

When you’ve established a quest, make it doable by deciding on the following elements:

  • A Measurable Goal (Write 500 words a day)
  • The When, Where, and What (After breakfast each day, I will sit in my favorite writing chair and write scenes for my novel until I hit 500 words)
  • A Power-up (If I get stuck, I will fold laundry, sweep the floor, or do dishes for 15 minutes and then get back to work)
  • Rewards (When I finish my 500 words each day, I will reward myself with 30 minutes on Facebook. At the end of each week, I will have coffee with my accountability buddy.)

Pro Tip: As you develop quests, make sure that your reward is tied to your actions instead of the results. Why? The publishing world is fickle. You can only control what you do. Do it well, and you will succeed no matter what.

Once you’ve developed and played a few quests, you’ll get a sense of which quests work best. You’ll also know what power-ups renew your energy the most and which types of rewards will motivate you. You’ll be better able to design quests that help you reach your goals.

Ready, Set, Go!

Writers spend a good chunk of their lives alone, in our heads, making stuff up. When we’re pre-published, we may be working without deadlines or any other kind of external accountability. Gamifying our work lives can help us stay focused on our goals and write more. 

Rochelle Melanderis a speaker, certified professional coach, and the bestselling author of twelve books, including Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. Through her writing and coaching, Rochelle Melander helps writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs overcome distractions and procrastination, design a writing life, turn their ideas into books, navigate the publishing world, and connect with readers through social media. She is the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop that supports teens in finding their voice and sharing their stories. Visit her online at writenowcoach.com. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Posted in Focus, Goal Setting, Guest Post, Motivational, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude | 1 Comment

Contrasting and Condensing Characters: Two Sides to One Coin

Good characterization is an enigma: it happens in the minutia, with the details we choose for our cast members, but it also happens on the macro level, with how we put those details together. I’d like to share two techniques today for building compelling and substantial characters that will breathe new life into your story. Let’s begin with the first one.

Contrast: the quality that makes characters visible

One of the most important things about character is opposition. Characters must be in opposition to each other, their story, and themselves.

Say we’ve got a pair of charming ducks. We can’t just leave them a pair of charming ducks. They’ve got to contrast each other. They’ve got to exemplify, somehow, the fundamental differences between all human beings. So we want to set up a dichotomy between these two characters, which of course turns out to be the root of all their ills. 

They’re super-compatible. They both love art and frisbee and cats. They love life. They love each other. All’s well in their world.

But there’s an abyss between them—the abyss that will tear them apart. 

Say when she was young she accidentally shot her brother while hunting and now has terrible recurring dreams. Say he’s an LPN and works in the ER. This contrast between their characters can bring about their worst nightmare when he’s in the ER one night and a gunshot victim rises unexpectedly from the gurney and pulls a pistol from their belt, and she’s the only person who can drag him to safety and follow his gasped instructions for digging out the bullet. . .

Or.

He’s secretly gay. And she’s secretly lesbian. But they need a child. (Why? Who knows? Maybe they’re aristocrats in need of an heir, like Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicholson.) The fact that they’re terrified of revealing their secrets to anyone—especially each other—means their efforts to live up to the pressure result in either great comedy or great tragedy. . .

Or.

They’re not really a couple. But they must pretendto be a couple for very urgent reasons. Maybe they’re in a Witness Protection Program. And it turns out that one of them isn’t really a witness, which is, naturally, the contrast between them. And this means the other isn’t really protected. . .

Do you see how the contrast between characters is the tension that makes our story a great big paintball aimed right at the reader’s head? 

Now let’s try the second technique by condensing some of these characters.

Condensation: giving the reader someone to follow

Say the woman who accidentally shot her brother originally had two sisters. We have a social climber, a tomboy, and Mommy’s Little Girl. We have someone who’ll knock others down to get her way, a rather moody black sheep, and someone with a (slightly-strained) smile for every season. We have all of these qualities we really want to explore, and we need someone to paste them onto.

What if we eliminate the sisters? What if we give all those characteristicsto the same character?

Or maybe the homosexual man originally had a straight best friend with all the qualities we didn’t know how to give to our effeminate gay blade. The best friend is big, muscular, athletic, and has a way with the ladies. We’ve made our gay blade thin, willowy, soft-voiced, and limp-wristed. 

What happens if we combine the two? Make the gay man big, willowy, muscular, soft-voiced, supremely athletic, with a charming way with the ladies to hide his passion for their brothers and boyfriends? The ladies don’t mind his limp wrist. They think he’s being sophisticated.

And the lesbian woman—maybe she originally was bluff and hearty, with a fondness for fresh air and dogs and comfortable shoes. And maybe the social-climber sister was intensely competitive, while the smiley sister was a fainting lily who spent a lot of time on her chaise longue sipping absinthe and fluttering her eyelashes at the big charming dude with muscles.

What if we made the lesbian a delicate flower with a fondness for fresh air and dogs and comfortable shoes. Her intense competitiveness makes her constantly over-do the bluff and have to retreat to her chaise lounge while her husband with the limp wrist brings her absinthe. She flutters her eyelashes at him hoping against hope that he hasn’t seen her rolling in the hay with the neighbor’s governess.

And after they’ve survived the shoot-out in the ER, he has to testify against the perpetrator, who can identify him. So he’s put into a Witness Protection Program and given a fake wife, with whom our heroine falls in love. . .

Do you see how contrasting and condensing characters brings them vividly alive? It forces us to climb over our unconscious clichés and create unique people—all while keeping the story focused on their conflicted needs that get them from hook, through development, to climax.

And it makes the material so much more substantial, resulting in writing that’s significantly more compelling.

Victoria has been a professional writer and editor for over thirty years. She is the author of the Art & Craft of Writing series and offers email subscribers a free copy of Art & Craft of Writing: Favorite Advice for Writers. Catch up with Victoria on twitter or visit her website for more information on her editing services.
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Posted in Character Traits, Characters, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 6 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Paralegal

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

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

Occupation: Paralegal

Overview: A paralegal is a qualified person retained by a lawyer to perform a variety of research and preparation tasks for legal cases. Duties might include investigating areas of the law that pertain to the case, working directly with the client to understand and catalogue the case’s facts, booking and organizing meetings, researching and helping to interview witnesses, preparing legal document drafts (but not signing them) for the lawyer, organizing witnesses and evidence, taking notes, preparing and filing documents in a timely manner, acting as a liaison with court officials and other parties tied to the case, managing deadlines, and assisting the lawyer in whatever way is needed. Paralegals are prohibited from any tasks that constitute “practicing law” (such as accepting cases, offering legal advice, representing a client, or determining fees).

Necessary Training: Paralegals can take a two-year certificate course, but they may also have a degree. Because of the wide range of duties they perform, most paralegals will have strong computer, writing (and grammar), organization, and communication skills, and have some training in client interactions so they can present a professional face on behalf of the agency. They are incredibly detail-oriented and organized, since even the smallest mistake can be disastrous for a case.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, blending in, charm, enhanced hearing, exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, multitasking, photographic memory, reading people, strategic thinking, writing

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, alert, analytical, confident, cooperative, decisive, diplomatic, disciplined, discreet, efficient, empathetic, focused, honest, honorable, humble, independent, industrious, intelligent, loyal, meticulous, obedient, organized, persistent, persuasive, proactive, professional, protective, resourceful, responsible

NEGATIVE: obsessive, perfectionist, stubborn, workaholic

Sources of Friction: Having too large of a workload because the firm refuses to hire more help, being underappreciated for one’s work, being mistreated by big personalities and fragile egos when things don’t go well, working with a disorganized lawyer (creating a rush for the paralegal to research, collect any data and experts, and file documents on time), long hours, working weekends, problems at home with one’s family who resent the time the character gives to work, having to work around red tape, being frustrated by the strategy because one has so much knowledge of the case but not being in a position to influence it, moral conflict when working for a lawyer who has flexible ethics, misfiling and errors that happen on the court’s side, resulting on delays and lost time as one must resubmit

People They Might Interact With: lawyers, other paralegals, legal assistants and secretaries, bailiffs, judges, filing clerks, court reporters, criminals, expert witnesses (detectives, psychologists, accountants) as well as anyone else with intimate knowledge of the case, delivery personnel, librarians at the law library, other staff members at the law firm, family members of one’s client

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: A paralegal is limited in what she may do despite the growing knowledge, experience, and skills he or she gains. This lack of a career path may squash the character’s feeling of self-actualization, even if they love what they do because they are part of the judicial system and are making a difference in people’s lives
  • Esteem and Recognition: It is not uncommon for paralegals to not be recognized properly for the tremendous (and important) work they do, which can lead to feelings of lower self-worth
  • Love and Belonging: Relationships may suffer because a paralegal is very much at the beck and call of the lawyers she or he works for, meaning that things get done on the lawyer’s schedule, not the paralegal’s. Not being around for important life events (anniversaries, a weekend soccer game, etc.) or having little energy when one is around can cause relationship strain

Common Work-Related Settings: airport, big city street, boardroom, elevator, juvenile detention center, library, office cubicle, taxi, therapist’s office

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

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Saggy Middle? Use Conflict to Nip and Tuck It

When I get a new story idea, I fly into the start of it with as much gusto as a kid in a candy store. I’m filled with the buzz of ‘newness’ and the anticipation of where the story might take me. But 30 – 40,000 words in, the honeymoon is over. I hate my characters, my characters loathe me, we’re bickering worse than siblings, and my earlier projectile vomiting of words has ground to barely a hiccup.

I’ve hit the saggy middle.

What Is Saggy Middle?

There are lots of ways to recognize that your middle has gotten a little droopy. Some of the common indicators:

  • A lack of tension or pace
  • Your subplots are more interesting than your main plot (or you’re writing more about them than your main plot)
  • There’s something wrong with a subplot
  • A lack of action
  • Huge information dumps or explanations

If you recognize one or more of these red flags in a particular scene and you’re beginning to suspect that it might need reworking, ask yourself some these questions: 

  • Is this scene/chapter essential to the story?
  • Does it push your character towards their goal?
  • Does it add conflict?
  • Does it reveal something important?

If the majority of your answers are no, then it’s time to trim the fat.

Getting Rid of the Saggy Middle

There are dozens of ways to handle this. Here are a few top tips.

Add a Mini-Climax. Your novel doesn’t have to have just one large climax at the end. You can tighten your novel’s middle by having a smaller climax (or climaxes) earlier on.

Conclude a Subplot. Having too many subplots can confuse the reader. If you’ve opened lots of threads in your first act, tie one or two of them up. This gives your reader closure and drives them towards the ending.

Open a Subplot. On the flip side, you could open up a new thread. This helps to create questions your reader wants answered and therefore pushes them through your story. It also helps with foreshadowing if the new threads will continue into your sequels.

Kill Someone. Pull a George R.R. Martin and kill off a few characters. It adds shock value and sets off a few fireworks in your character’s lives.

Add a New Character. Bringing fresh meat into your story always creates new tension because it puts established character relationships into a state of flux.

Add a Source of Conflict. This is my favorite method of de-sagging. Adding a source of conflict in the middle of your story will up the pace and tension and give your characters new things to focus on. It also creates action, mystery, and questions that your reader will want to have answered.

Types of Conflict

Generally speaking, there are three types of conflict you could add to your story:

Macro Conflict. This is large-scale conflict—world wars or society-against-the-hero type stuff. Stories with this kind of conflict often have two antagonists – the villainous character and a more intangible ‘societal’ villain. This type of conflict could cross states, history, natural forces, the law, races, and more. This happens in The Hunger Games, with the intangible Capitol being embodied by President Snow. For another example of this kind of conflict, check out The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham.

Micro Conflict.This is a more interpersonal form of conflict, such as the battles the hero might have with other people and characters. Good examples include tiffs between lovers, friends, family, colleagues, and enemies.

In Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, the whole plot is a micro conflict. Will, the leading male, has a motorcycle accident that paralyzes him and leaves him wanting to end his life. But Lou comes into his life, falls in love with him, and tries to change his mind, and their desires come into direct conflict. 

Inner Conflict. This is the most acute type of conflict as it’s internal to the hero. It happens when the hero battles personal flaws, emotions, and values. Though it’s insular, it creates the most emotional conflict for the reader because they’re viewing the story through the hero’s eyes. If your hero hurts, so does your reader. 

Ned Stark from Game of Thronesis rife with inner conflict. He has to choose between two values—his loyalty or his wisdom—in order to save his life. In the same series, Theon Greyjoy is torn between his blood family and the adopted family that brought him up. 

No novel should have a saggy middle. While most authors naturally grow tired half way through a project (because, let’s face it, writing a novel is a marathon) there’s no reason for your plot to suffer. There’s a plethora of ways you can snip, trim, and tighten that sag. But if I were you, I’d torture your characters and add a little conflict. 

Sacha Black is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. Her blog for writers, www.sachablack.co.uk, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy. The first two books in her Eden East Novel: Keepers and Victor, are out now.
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Posted in Conflict, Editing Tips, Middles, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Villains, Writing Craft | 7 Comments

Story Structure in a Flash

Story structure can sometimes be difficult to wrap our minds around; there are so many different structures, all with different terminology and slightly different meanings. But today I’m going to hopefully simplify things by covering how I view story structure—in under 900 words. So let’s get straight to it. 

The Beginning

(Prologue):Not every story needs a prologue, but some do, and others work either way. I personally believe that prologues are largely misunderstood (and therefore, writers are often misguided on how to do them), but if you look at all successful prologues, their primary function is to make promises to the audience.

Hook: The opening of the story should have a hook (or really, several). Hooks work by getting the audience to look forward to a later part of the story. Sometimes the later part is the next sentence. Other times it’s chapters away. Often this is done, though, by getting the audience to hope or fear something specific could happen.

Setup: This is the part of the story that grounds the audience in the here and now. Who is this story about? When does it take place? Where does it take place? It usually establishes a sense of normalcy. It may introduce themes and character arcs as well. Often, the protagonist is alone or alienated in some way.

Note: In some stories, these three elements may largely overlap, and that’s fine.

Plot Point One: This is sometimes called the “inciting incident.” At plot point one, something happens in the story that critically changes the protagonist’s direction and disrupts the established normal. Peter Parker gets bit by a spider. Harry finds out he’s a wizard. Alice goes to Wonderland. The protagonist will reactto that change all the way until the midpoint. 

The Middle

Pinch Point One: Between plot point one and the midpoint, when your character is reacting, there will typically be a pinch point. A pinch point is a moment that shows the antagonist as a truly formidable foe—someone or somethingthat the audience realizes will be very difficult for the protagonist to defeat. Worth noting is that if the antagonist hasn’t yet been introduced, this is the introduction. This moment will escalate the stakes.

Midpoint:At the midpoint, new information enters the story that changes the context. It moves the protagonist from reactionto action. He stops being a wanderer and turns into a warrior, trying to fight back and attack, usually with a clearer goal or a more refined strategy. In other words, he is now more empowered than before.

Pinch Point Two: Between the midpoint and plot point two, there will be another pinch point. This is simply a moment or a scene in the story that shows that the antagonist is even more formidable, and that he, she, or it will be even more difficult to defeat than we’d thought. 

Plot Point Two: Plot point two is typically made up of two parts: The “all is lost” lull and the “final piece to the puzzle” epiphany. There will likely be a moment where it appears to the protagonist that “all is lost” and they can’t defeat the antagonist. But they’ll have an epiphany (often related to character arc and theme) that leads them to the “final chase.” In some stories, this may seem to happen during the climax itself. 

The End

Climax: In the climax, the protagonist faces the antagonistic forces head-on, ready for the final battle that determines who (or what) wins the established conflicts. This part of the story will test, prove, and resolve conflicts, stakes, arcs, and themes. Anything in the climax should be foreshadowed beforehand at least in some way. Expectations need to be met (or exceeded). Often for maximum impact, the biggest conflicts cross paths with the most personal conflicts.

Denouement: Denouements are also often misunderstood. We tend to think the point is to hurry and end the story. In reality, the denouement is meant to validateall the changes and establish a new normal. Did someone confess her love? We need to see her officially together with her partner. Did anyone die? We may need to attend a funeral. Was the antagonist really defeated? We need to see that their power is gone from this world. If there are any loose ends or unresolved conflicts, they will typically be addressed and handled in the denouement. 

(Epilogue): Like the prologue, your story may or may not need an epilogue. Epilogues function in two different ways: they provide additional closure, or they add more loose ends. If there are no more installments after this story, the epilogue will probably tie up anything that didn’t fit into the denouement. If there is another installment, the epilogue will probably tease the audience by adding loose threads . . . so they have to buy the next installment.

And that is story structure in a flash. Do you have to always adhere to allthese things? Probably not. But, these elements do make a great story. And most successful stories fit this structure in some way.

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Sometimes September scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. She works as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author while penning her own stories, holds an English degree, and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. Find out more about September here, hang with her on social media, or visit her website to follow her writing journey and get more writing tips. Find September on
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Posted in Conflict, Endings, Openings, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Story Structure, Villains, Writing Craft | 3 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Diplomat

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

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

Occupation: Diplomat

Overview: Diplomats are foreign service officials appointed to represent their home nation to other countries around the world. They have many responsibilities, including negotiating treaties, improving relations, gathering and reporting information, issuing visas, protecting their citizens overseas, and influencing other nations in regard to various issues, such as war and peace, economics, the environment, and human rights. Whatever job they’re doing, the diplomat should always be representing the interests and policies of their home country.

While diplomats may remain in their home nation, they most often are posted to an embassy in another country. Many assignments are short term, lasting two to four years, after which time the diplomat will be reassigned to a new country. Newbies are required to do consular work and can move up to other more desirable postings and assignments with a few years of tenure under their belts.

There are different kinds of diplomats. The names and responsibilities vary between countries and can include any of the following, ranked by seniority: ambassador, minister or envoy, secretary (first, second, third, etc.), and attaché.

Necessary Training: Each country’s requirements are different, but as an example, someone wanting to become a diplomat in the US must be a US citizen between the ages of 20 and 59 years old. They must take a written aptitude test and go through a rigorous interview process to determine their suitability for the job. Following a successful background check, the applicant will enter the Foreign Service Institute for training that can last up to nine months.

Candidates must understand up front that they will be posted where they’re needed rather than where they might want to go. In some of the more dangerous postings, the diplomat’s family may not be allowed to accompany them. So people pursuing a career in this field need to take things like this into consideration before committing.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, charm, empathy, exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, haggling, hospitality, mentalism, promotion, reading people, strategic thinking, writing

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, adventurous, ambitious, analytical, appreciative, bold, calm, charming, confident, cooperative, courteous, decisive, diplomatic, discreet, empathetic, enthusiastic, extroverted, honorable, hospitable, inspirational, intelligent, meticulous, organized, passionate, patient, patriotic, persistent, persuasive, proactive, protective, socially aware, sophisticated, tolerant, wise

NEGATIVE: Confrontational, evasive, manipulative, nosy, perfectionist, pushy, suspicious

Sources of Friction: Being posted to an undesirable location, an attack on one’s embassy, language barriers that make communication difficult, working with an inept or biased translator, officials from the hosting country who are inflexible and uncooperative, being assigned a dangerous posting that one’s family can’t accompany one to, being reassigned and having to leave a beloved place and close friends, one’s children having difficulty adjusting to frequent moves, one’s family struggling with culture shock, moving to a location where common creature comforts aren’t available, failing in a negotiation, conflicts of interest, being threatened with or targeted for assassination, getting caught in a civil uprising or war, homesickness

People They Might Interact With: ambassadors, envoys, attachés, foreign diplomats, reporters, translators, government officials and heads of state

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization:  Anyone working in politics is subject to the whims of those they report to. A diplomat may work very hard to achieve their given objectives on an assignment only to learn they’ve been used as part of a political scheme. Getting burned too many times in this way could make them doubt their ability to make a difference in the world.
  • Esteem and Recognition: There’s a clear diplomatic ranking in most governments. Someone at the bottom of the ladder who has trouble working their way up may become discouraged by the lack of esteem with their position.
  • Love and Belonging: A diplomat must be flexible, going where he’s sent and changing countries frequently. This can make it difficult to develop romantic relationships and maintain close friendships.
  • Safety and Security: Diplomats are often needed in places defined by unrest and instability. This can make it a dangerous position in some circumstances.
  • Physiological Needs: Should a country’s situation devolve into violence, the residing diplomat’s life could easily be threatened.

Common Work-Related Settings: Airplane, airport, alley, bazaar, big city street, black-tie event, boardroom, elevator, mansion, military base, refugee camp

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype:

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

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How Should I Publish My Book?

Do you aspire to write a book and be a published author one day? If so, you are not alone.

According to Joseph Epstein, author, essayist, short-story writer, and editor, “81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them.” However, not every single person with the desire to write a book can do so.

Going off those statistics, approximately 265 million Americans aspire to be authors (with 327.2 million Americans as of 2018). But according to William Dietrich, Novelist, Naturalist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist, there are a mere “145,900 American ‘writers and authors’ counted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a quarter of them part-time, two-thirds of them self-employed, and with median earnings of $55,420.”

In short, becoming an author isn’t for the faint of heart. And it shouldn’t be for those seeking fame and fortune. Becoming an author in today’s day and age can be a difficult path, and the options seem to change from year to year.

Which paths are available to the modern writer?

Traditional Publishing

As of early 2019, the big five publishers—whose names you have likely heard of many times before—are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster.

If you want to be published through the big five or through another traditional publisher, you need to have a literary agent. Many people call literary agents the “gatekeepers” to the traditional publishing industry. Whether or not that’s true, writers have to pitch their unpublished manuscripts to agents via a query letter, which is essentially a professional cover letter all about your book.

Traditional publishing can take years before your book hits the bookshelves, including the months or years it takes to secure literary representation, go on submission with your agent to editors at publishing houses, and then the average two-year publishing timeline once a book is acquired (if the book is acquired at all).

In addition, authors are often expected to have a platform (even for fiction) and assist in marketing efforts. On the plus side, many traditional publishers offer authors advances as well as royalties (once the advance is met), and authors are not expected to pay anything upfront to publish their book. Traditional publishers also have fantastic distribution and connections within the industry that can help to spread the word about a book.  

Indie Presses

An indie press (or independent press) is a publisher that is independently owned. The majority of small presses are independent publishers and separate from the big five publishers.

Indie presses are not the same as self-publishing (which we will get to). The phrase “indie author” usually refers to a self-published author, while the phrases “indie press” and “indie publisher” typically refer to a small, independently-owned publisher.

Indie presses often only publish a few titles per year and (usually) do not offer their authors advances. Otherwise, they often operate similar to a traditional publisher, utilizing in-house staff to edit, format, and publish a book on behalf of the author. In return, the author signs a contract to give the indie press certain rights to their book.

For authors who elect to publish their books with an indie press, one upside is often the press’ ability to take chances on authors and titles that a larger publisher might not (such as genre-bending manuscripts). Since indie presses aren’t driven by shareholders like the big five, they have the freedom to take more creative risks.

Self-Publishing

Authors can choose to publish their own books through platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), iBooks, IngramSpark, Lulu, Barnes and Noble Press, Kobo, Smashwords, and more. In doing so, authors retain the rights to their books (rather than giving them to a publisher) and have complete creative control of a given manuscript. However, authors are also expected to do all of the tasks a publisher would typically do, such as book formatting, creating a cover, hiring an editorial team (developmental, copyediting, proofreading, etc.), marketing the book, and so on.

It’s important to note that authors can choose to publish a book without having worked with an editor, which is where the (unfortunate) stigma around self-publishing books being lower quality comes in. Self-publishing has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years, and the stigma surrounding self-publishing has lessened over time due to many professional indie authors publishing high-quality work.

According to an article in Publisher’s Weekly, “[t]he Big Five traditional publishers now account for only 16% of the e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists.” In addition, “[s]elf-published books now represent 31% of e-book sales on Amazon’s Kindle Store.”

Vanity Publishing

DON’T PUBLISH YOUR BOOK WITH A VANITY PRESS. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about why.

If you aren’t aware of this, writers who want to traditionally publish are not expected to pay anything. One of the benefits of this option is that the publisher invests in you, thereby paying for things like developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, book layout, book cover design, etc. The same goes for indie presses. They, too, will pay for all expenses. In return, you (as the writer) will give them various rights to your book and story.

For self-publishing, the author has to foot the bill. All of the above to-dos the author is expected to pay for themselves. However, the royalty rate is usually significantly higher for indie authors as a result (meaning, you make more money per book you sell—and hopefully earn back the money you invested into the book at the front).

Vanity publishers, on the other hand, will publish your book for you and they expect you to pay them. Essentially, they often claim to be a publisher and that they are able to do a bunch of wonderful things for your book (which they often cannot fulfill). In short, the vanity publisher expects the author to pay them to publish their book… and they may try to take some of the author’s book’s rights as well in a contract. STEP CAUTIOUSLY, FRIENDS.

Anytime a publisher asks you to pay to publish, consider that a MASSIVE red flag.

*Note: There are companies, such as Book Launchers, that you can pay to assist you in the self-publication process. Other sites, like Draft2Digital and PublishDrive, upload your book files to different distributors in exchange for compensation. However, with these services, you still retain your rights and have access to the behind the scenes of all of the platforms your book is available on.  

Hybrid Publishing

This is what many consider to be “the best of both worlds.”

Typically, when someone says they are a “hybrid author,” they have self-published their own work and also either published traditionally or with an indie press.

No matter which path you choose, carefully consider what success looks like for you. What are your ultimate dreams for this book as well as for your author career? If having complete creative freedom is most important, then self-publishing might be the route for you. Or if you are unable to financially invest in publishing a book, traditional publishing might be best.

There is no one right way to publish a book. So, go forth, write your stories, and do your due diligence in determining which publishing path might be best for you.

Meg LaTorre likes to think of herself as an avid book nerd with an exceptional taste for mac and cheese. She is a writer, YouTuber, host of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, developmental book editor, writing coach, and former literary agent with a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. To learn more about Meg, visit her website or follow her on 
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Posted in Publishing and Self Publishing, Resident Writing Coach | 12 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Farmer

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

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

Occupation: Farmer

Overview: A farmer is a person who plants, grows, and harvests crops or they breed and raise animals, most often for food consumption.

Necessary Training: It isn’t mandatory that a farmer has formal education, but unless they have significant experience (perhaps from working on a farm or growing up on one), it can greatly help them gain the knowledge they need to succeed. Farming is a very complex business requiring adaptability, foresight, and many different skill sets. Farmers who grow crops must become subject matter experts in an exact crop type, be it grains, vegetables, berries, fruit, nuts, or seeds. They will need to understand what each crop needs and where it will grow best, plus ensure optimal conditions (sun, water, nutrients, etc.) are in place while taking certain precautions to protect from pests and disease. Crops will also need to be harvested, stored, transported, and sold. With so many stages in the food production chain, a lot can go wrong if it isn’t handled correctly.

If a farmer raises animals (mammals, avians, fish, etc.), they are responsible for their welfare and must know their needs, provide a healthy environment, proper nutrition and care, understand animal husbandry, follow industry safety and health standards, and be able to pass livestock inspections. Once the livestock is ready for sale, the farmer must arrange for the sale and transport of these animals.

Farming is a business, meaning farmers also manage accounts, pay bills, manage workers, address rotating debts (if applicable), balance books, purchase and maintain equipment and other supplies, maintain the property and all buildings, connect with suppliers, buyers, and arrange for the product to reach markets. Margins are tight, the market fluctuates, and weather, policy, and pricing will always influence a farmer’s bottom line.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: a knack for making money, a way with animals, basic first aid, carpentry, enhanced hearing, enhanced sense of smell, enhanced taste buds, ESP (clairvoyance), exceptional memory, farming, gardening, haggling, mechanically inclined, multitasking, predicting the weather, repurposing

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, ambitious, analytical, calm, disciplined, efficient, independent, industrious, meticulous, nature-focused, nurturing, observant, patient, proactive, resourceful, responsible, socially aware, thrifty, wholesome, wise

NEGATIVE: compulsive, know-it-all, workaholic, worrywart

Sources of Friction: An illness that decimates one’s crop or livestock, climate change or extreme weather (early frosts, too much rain or not enough, drought that lasts year after year, lightning strikes that cause forest fires, flooding, etc.), mounting debt, political policies and market shifts that affect one’s ability to get one’s product to consumers, pricing shifts, market saturation, wild animals attacking one’s livestock, an illness or injury that prevents one from performing one’s duties, too much work and not enough time to stay on top of it, pressure to change one’s crops to better fit the market’s needs, a lack of support from the government, feeling one’s industry is being over-taxed and over-regulated, friction within the family if a member desires to trade a country life for a city one, equipment breakdowns happening at the worst time, family conflict if there’s a disagreement over the direction of the business, moral conflict over farming methods vs. profitability

People They Might Interact With: other farmers, neighbors, mechanics, suppliers, customers, inspectors, veterinarians

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: A character who loves living and working in the country may question their path if staying afloat is a constant, wearying struggle
  • Love and Belonging: If there are differences in opinions in a family-run farm (how it’s being run, decisions that create risk which not everyone is comfortable with, or there is pressure on children to choose the farming life for themselves yet they want something different for themselves) it can cause problems and lead to distanced relationships
  • Physiological Needs: Farming is not an easy livelihood because so many different elements are outside the farmer’s control. Dealing with debt is a huge struggle and should a farmer lose that battle, it can leave them and their loved ones without the necessary things they need to survive

Common Work-Related Settings: barn, chicken coop, country road, county fair, farm, farmer’s market, garage, hunting cabin, meadow, old pick-up truck, orchard, pasture, ranch, tool shed, vegetable patch

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

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Critiques 4 U

CONTEST CLOSED

Welp, Angela’s away on a well-deserved vacation, which means I’m getting all kinds of things done. Which means it’s time for a critique contest!

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).

I typically pick winners using a random number generator, but I’ve decided to do things differently this time. ‘Cause I’m mixxy like that ;). Just be sure to enter by the time the contest ends tomorrow morning, and we’ll see what happens.

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 | 34 Comments