Build a Bridge: From Story Beginning to Main Conflict

During one of my previous posts as a Resident Writing Coach, we talked about the importance of strong goals for helping our story move forward. But as we discussed in the comments of that post, our characters can start off with weaker—passive—goals, as they might not embrace the need to solve the story-level problem right away.

In fact with many cases, the story problem and main conflicts don’t make an appearance until later in the story. Think of stories with thriller-type elements, where the protagonist can’t possibly know the villain is making evil plans in their secret lair until rumors, spy reports, or weird things occur later.

In those types of stories, our characters obviously can’t create strong goals to overcome the story problem right from the start because they’re not even aware the problem exists. In the meantime, bridging conflict kickstarts story momentum and grabs reader interest before the big story problem introduces the main conflict.

What Is Bridging Conflict?

As the term implies, bridging conflict “bridges” the gap between a story’s beginning and when the main story problem and conflict pick up the momentum. When our story requires the use of bridging conflict, the main story problem and conflict are still usually established by the 25% mark of our story.

In standard story structure, a major goal of the turning point that falls around the 25% mark on a beat sheet—sometimes called the First Plot Point, Break into Act II, or End of the Beginning—is to establish what the main story problem is. While the protagonist might not be fully aware of the problem yet, they should have some awareness and be dragged into the orbit of its influence.

Not surprisingly, readers don’t want to wait until the 25% mark for something to happen that will keep their interest. And we don’t want our protagonist to wander aimlessly with no goals to strive for through all those early pages either.

Enter bridging conflict. Bridging conflict could be related to the main story problem, or it could be a separate and unrelated issue. Either way, the bridging conflict establishes an immediate problem for our protagonist to overcome (i.e., gives them goals for the interim).

How Does Bridging Conflict Help?

Bridging conflict is more than just a standalone conflict with no effect on the other story elements. It also comes with a problem to solve, goals to strive for, obstacles to overcome, and motivation for our character’s actions.

However, even if the bridging conflict is unrelated to the eventual main conflict, we’d usually want the bridging conflict, goals, and/or obstacles to put our protagonist onto the path that leads to the story-level problem and main conflict. With that connection between conflicts, readers immediately feel a sense of story momentum from the beginning, and tying the bridging conflict to the rest of the story helps keep that momentum.

How to Use Bridging Conflict

Let’s look at an example…

Main Conflict: A villainous hospital administrator is using patients for dangerous experiments.

Story-Level Problem and Goal: To save the patients, the protagonist must expose the hospital administrator and their plans. (strong, active goal)

At this point, if our protagonist worked at the hospital with the administrator, clues and hints of the conflict could start from the beginning of the story. But let’s imagine that our protagonist is a park ranger and not involved with the hospital administrator at all.

How do we get a park ranger to even be aware of the hospital—much less the hospital administrator? Let’s add bridging conflict…

Bridging Conflict: The protagonist’s mother suffers a heart attack and is taken to the hospital.

Bridging-Level Problem and Goal: The protagonist must face their mother’s mortality and juggle work and watching over their mother’s treatment. (weaker, passive goal)

The story’s first several scenes could focus on the protagonist, their mother, the initial emergency, their worries, the treatment plan, whatever. At some point in the first 25% of the story, clues of the main conflict are laid out.

Maybe the doctor’s treatment plan alludes to experimental treatments that trigger the protagonist’s suspicions. Maybe at the hospital cafeteria, the protagonist overhears several families weeping for patients who suddenly “didn’t make it.” Maybe the elevator door opens for the protagonist to catch snatches of nurses grumbling about how they’ll have to find new jobs if the hospital’s death rate gets out to the media. Or maybe all of the above.

The point is laying the groundwork to set up the main conflict and story-level problem. In this example, the bridging conflict and the main conflict are unrelated, and yet the bridging conflict still sets the protagonist on the path toward the main conflict. That connection carries the momentum of narrative drive and reader interest from one conflict to another, making the story feel consistent and whole. *smile*

Do you have any questions or insights about bridging conflict or how to use it?

Jami Gold

Resident Writing Coach

After muttering writing advice in tongues, Jami decided to put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she creates writing resources and writes award-winning paranormal romance stories where normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat. Find out more about Jami here, hang out with her on social media, or visit her website and Goodreads profile.
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Psst! Need ideas for CONFLICT? There’s a thesaurus for that… 😉

Posted in Action Scenes, Character Arc, Characters, Conflict, Openings, Pacing, Resident Writing Coach, Tension, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 4 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Doing Something Stupid While Impaired

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

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

Conflict: Doing Something Stupid While Impaired

Category: Failures and mistakes, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, loss of control, ego

Telling the boss or coworkers what the character really thinks (about them, the company, personal beefs, etc.)
Calling up an ex in hopes of getting back together
Calling up an ex to tell them off
Picking a fight with someone
Taking stupid risks (jumping over a campfire, climbing out on a roof to stargaze, standing on a high ledge to prove fearlessness, going swimming at night, taking a shortcut through a dangerous neighborhood)
Drunk driving
Indecent exposure
Sleeping with a best friend’s significant other, a co-worker, or other person who should be off limits
Trying to cross the friend zone when it’s a bad idea
Rioting during a celebration
Breaking the law
Pulling a dangerous prank where others get hurt
Sleeping with a stranger (when this is not the norm)
Abandoning friends to go off with strangers
Revealing a secret (their own, or one belonging to another)

Minor Complications:
Being hurt
Embarrassment or humiliation
Making a bad impression on someone
Losing the trust of others
Worrying loved ones
Letting someone down
Waking up in a compromised situation (alone in a sleazy hotel with no memory of what happened, having their wallet stolen, discovering they had unsafe sex or used drugs they would normally never take, etc.)
Causing their family, friends, or the company they work for embarrassment

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Discovering their actions while impaired were filmed and are now on the internet
Losing their job
Destroying a relationship over a bad choice (being unfaithful, sharing another’s secret and breaking trust forever, being caught in a big lie, etc.)
Getting a disease (through unsafe sex or drug use)
Doing something that cannot be taken back (like killing someone while driving impaired)
Being convicted of a crime and losing custody of one’s children
Being sued
Being convicted of a crime and going to jail
Hurting someone while under the influence
Being attacked while under the influence

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Shame over their own actions while being angry at those who encouraged them to drink excessively
Guilt at losing control yet resenting the stress and pressure that led to the need to self-medicate
Embracing responsibility due to remorse while resenting others who never seem to suffer any consequences for similar behavior
Feeling shame and humiliation but also believing that the punishment for the lapse in judgment is too much
Shame at what one did but shock and disbelief at the fallout

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family, friends, co-workers, a business’s image, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were injured or had to witness something they would have preferred not to see

Resulting Emotions: anguish, appalled, bitterness, contempt, denial, depressed, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, disgust, disillusionment, emasculated, embarrassment, guilt, horror, humiliation, hurt, hysteria, panic, powerlessness, regret, remorse, resentment, resignation, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, tormented, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: addictive, childish, cocky, confrontational, disloyal, flaky, foolish, gullible, impulsive, irresponsible, jealous, macho, martyr, melodramatic, promiscuous, rebellious, reckless, rowdy, self-destructive, tactless, temperamental, unethical, vindictive, violent, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Hitting rock bottom and being determined it will never happen again
A realization that one’s drinking has become a problem and making a choice to seek help
Making a mistake and realizing to do so is human, and this leading to them to let go of perfectionist tendencies

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

This conflict thesaurus is still being developed, but if you would like to access our entire descriptive collection (14 unique thesauri and growing), visit our main site, One Stop for Writers.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Permission to Play Video Games (Or Read, Draw, Knit, Whatever)

It happens to all of us: at some point, our creative well runs dry. There are lots of reasons for this, and one is that we become so focused on the work that we don’t allow ourselves to have fun. Farah Naz Rishi, a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, is here to tell us why we a break from our writing can often make it—and us—stronger.

I’ll admit it: I get distracted from writing all the time. I know I’m not alone; most writers also work other jobs, go to school, raise kids, juggling all the distractions and demands of life. And with so many things vying for our attention, play time is usually the first to drop from our demanding schedules. So naturally, as writers, we tell ourselves the only way to focus is to lock away any and all “unnecessary” distractions—our TV, our video games, even other books. With looming deadlines and the ever-hungry desire to achieve publication, what choice do we have? As the old adage goes, there is no art without suffering

After all, if you’re not focusing on your book, pouring your entire being into it like everyone else seems to be doing, then can you truly call yourself a writer? 

That was the approach I took when I first began writing my debut novel, I Hope You Get This Message. I refused to give myself days off, and for months, stopped playing video games—my favorite way to relax when I’m stressed. It didn’t matter that the kinds of video games I enjoy have epic, sweeping story lines that formed my love of story in the first place; I convinced myself I had to write fast, and I had to write well, with no room for compromise. Unsurprisingly, I quickly lost steam, and had to doggy-paddle my way through the soggy middle. My mental health took a turn for the worse, and eventually, my inability to write became so terrible that I began to doubt my ability to write anything, much less something of substance. 

When I was at the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2016, our instructor, Jeanne Cavelos, explained the concept of a creative well that lives within each of us–the collective pool of media and experience from which we draw inspiration. But like any well, it can and often will run dry if you let it. Similarly, if you keep drawing from the same kinds of media over and over, if you refuse to diversify the material you absorb, then the work you produce will likewise fail to grow in new, interesting ways. For the first time in my life, I was given permission to read, to watch a show, or even play video games, instead of write. I was told that it was okay to play, to explore the spaces beyond the empty pages—and that in fact, sometimes, it’s vital to do so. 

I found my love of writing again when I allowed myself to step away from it. I used the occasional inability to focus to my advantage by critically engaging with the media I consumed, using the time away from my book as an opportunity to bring something new back to my writing. 

For example, if I’m not enjoying a movie, I home in on exactly why: Is it the stilted dialogue? Does the movie fail to develop tension—how? Am I not understanding how a character is struggling to achieve their goal? Like a crow, when I venture away from home, I’m always on the lookout for shiny objects to incorporate into my nest when I return. 

With this in mind, I gratefully leapt back into playing video games. But instead of a time-wasting distraction, I found inspiration. Games encourage exploration of environment to creatively reveal world-building. How could I use that, I wondered, in my own writing? I began to think about ways to think of worldbuilding on a micro level in I Hope You Get This Message, and in doing so, found deeper ways the characters could engage with the world around them, which in turn made them feel more real. Emboldened with these new ways to think about writing, I created an entire codex for my book, with most of it not even coming on the page but still deepening and enriching the process. 

By allowing myself to play, writing became less about explaining a story—a daunting process—and more about the fun challenge of designing a story, the way a game’s narrative designer would. As I wrote, I had to convince myself and my future readers that I was telling the story in the only and inevitable way it could be told, even though every story has opportunities for the narrative to branch and break (a concept that a majority of role-playing games pride themselves on). It seems silly now, looking back on it: of course writing wouldn’t be fun if I’d forgotten how to have fun. 

The beauty is that video games are just one way to refill the creative well. Using the basic critical thinking framework of questioning why a story—any kind of story—works or doesn’t work for you applies to pretty much every form of media. And if you practice engaging with media that way, breaking down every story bit by bit, you begin to do so on a subconscious level; you won’t even realize you’re still, technically, working. 

So if you don’t have a writing instructor to give you permission, then allow me to assure you that there is no shame in taking a break. If you have a video game that’s collecting dust on your shelf, pick it up with the intention of refilling that ol’ creative well. Your writing will thank you for it. 

Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani-American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her B.A. in English from Bryn Mawr College, her J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter at @far_ah_way.

Just like Farah, students at Odyssey Writing Workshop commonly experience light-years of epiphany that influence their work for years to come. Odyssey is now accepting applications for its annual six-week residential workshop for writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. This year’s workshop takes place June 1 – July 10 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Scholarship opportunities are available.

Posted in Guest Post, Motivational, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block, Writing Craft | 7 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Unable to Save Everyone

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

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

Conflict: Being Unable to Save Everyone

Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Duty and Responsibilities, Loss of Control, No-Win Situations

Trying to rescue family members from a burning building
Arriving on the scene of an accident where multiple people have critical injuries and being unable to get to them all
Rescuing people who are drowning after a boat capsizes
An opportunity to liberate people in captivity but being unable to free everyone
Having a transport which can save some from a war zone or other imminent threat, but having limited seating
Sniping from a distance to support ground troops, but being unable to take out every enemy
Having two threats happening at the same time, and being forced to choose one to respond to (two bombs needing to be diffused, synchronized attacks happening on two different battle fronts, etc.
Coming across multiple people with the same illness, condition, or poisonings, and having only enough medicine or antidotes to help some

Minor Complications:
Remaining objective when faced with having to choose who to save when there are people the character knows
Having to choose between people the character cares about equally
Becoming paralyzed by the enormity of the situation and inactivity causing further challenges or risk
Having to reason with others who are involved and try to get everyone working together to save as many as possible
Arguments with others over who to save and why (if the threat isn’t immediate where they have no time to think, only act)
Increased risk and danger to the character and those they are trying to save as the clock ticks down
Unshakable guilt and remorse
Damaged relationships and the anger of others due to the choices one made

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Making a decision too late (and therefor being unable to save someone, or possibly anyone)
Being injured in the process or falling victim to the same condition (being captured while trying to liberate others, inhaling toxic fumes while helping others escape, etc.)
Being held criminally responsible for the situation when the character did their best (a doctor being sued by the family of someone who was not attended to during a crisis, for example)
Being blamed or used as a scapegoat by others trying to use the tragedy to their advantage
Being cast out or shunned (by one’s family, community, etc.) for choosing to save certain people over others
Suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the aftermath (reliving the trauma)

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Knowing they acted as fast as they could but feeling guilt over being unable to save anyone
Beating themselves up in the aftermath for split second choices made in the moment of crisis, yet knowing they could not have done more
Knowing they made the right choices over who to save but being unable to voice this to others for fear of repercussions
Being angry at themselves for a lack of foresight (so they could have been being better prepared, trained for the crisis, or prevented the event in the first place)
Guilt and shame if their own actions unknowingly contributed (a doorman saving building tenants from a fire only to discover that the person who started it accessed the building through a door the doorman forgot to lock)
Feeling terrible for the victims yet relieved they themselves were spared

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family and friends, the people involved in the situation (especially the victims), bystanders who have to live with the trauma of what they witnessed

Resulting Emotions: anguish, conflicted, connectedness, defeat, defensiveness, defiant, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, flustered, grief, guilt, horror, inadequate, panic, powerlessness, rage, regret, self-loathing, shame, terror, tormented, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: cowardly, disorganized, flaky, forgetful, impulsive, indecisive, insecure, irresponsible, perfectionist, scatterbrained, self-destructive, selfish, unintelligent, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: 
A greater appreciation for life and what’s truly important
A close call and the brush with tragedy causing the character to reevaluate their own relationships
Choosing to no longer hold onto grudges because life is too short
Realizing life is precious and deciding to live life free of regret
The character re-prioritizing their life so what’s most important comes first and they live for today
Becoming better able to share emotion with others, ceasing to hold back
Gaining perspective about their own place in the world and what they want out of life, leading to a stronger focus on achieving meaningful goals
The situation leading to a mission to become more skilled or better prepared in the future

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

This conflict thesaurus is still being developed, but if you would like to access our entire descriptive collection (14 unique thesauri and growing), visit our main site, One Stop for Writers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Scrivener and One Stop for Writers: Perfect Tools For Crafting Powerful Scenes

Many of you know that Angela and I are super excited about One Stop for Writers and how it simplifies the writing process for authors. So when we get notes from writers going on about One Stop’s tools…well. Icing on the cake. Rodney Buxton recently reached out to let us know how much he appreciated the Scene Maps tool and the ability to export his One Stop tools to Scrivener. He was so excited, he asked if he could write a post about it. So of course we said yes…

For my first novel, I took the pantster approach. It worked, I finished the book, but it took forever. I wrote scenes I didn’t need; I wrote myself down dead-end paths. I quickly realized this wasn’t the way for me.

For my second novel, I wrote an outline of scenes with one sentence to describe the basic action. This worked much better, but there were still scenes I needed to add, a lot of thinking I had to do about why the characters were doing things, and what would move the story in the right direction. Fast forward to my discovery of One Stop for Writers’ Scene Maps.

Map out Your Scenes

There are two mapping tools, so I tried one of each. You can capture similar information in either, but the Formal Scene Map broke down into more detail and allowed me to identify the motivations for the scene. That, to me, was important—to know why the scene exists and what the characters want to achieve. If you feel both versions require too much information, the Timeline tool lets you enter a title and description with nothing else.

I started by adding scenes that moved the plot along. Initially, I just added the scene with the title and the primary emotion. I didn’t fill in any of the other boxes. This was just to get the ideas down and see where the story was going. 

Once I had all the scenes I thought I would need, I went back to the first one and entered the outer and inner motivation. 

Here I referred constantly to the story map and character profiles I had already created. I took my time to ensure the storyline moved along logically and the motivations made sense. I also realized several times that I needed to add a new scene for the motivations to make sense. This is easy to do—just click the “New Scene” button, type the title, and move it to where you want it on the map.

Next, I tackled the outer conflict, inner conflict, and stakes for each scene. Conflict drives the story forward. Without it, nothing happens. What’s at stake goes hand in hand with the conflict, so it made sense to work on these three together. What’s helpful about this tool is that the information doesn’t have to be completed in order. Sometimes I knew the inner conflict and used that to figure out the outer conflict. Or I knew exactly what was at stake, which led me to the conflict.

Finally, I tackled emotional state. This could be done when choosing the primary emotion for a scene, but having all the other information beforehand allowed me to better define what the character was feeling. Since it’s a free-form text box, I either wrote a generic statement for the scene or detailed the emotional state for various characters involved. Whatever seemed appropriate. Again, referring to the character profile and emotion-related thesauruses helped build this.

And, presto! I had successfully mapped out a scene that was character-centric, contained all the right ingredients, and kept my story moving in the right direction. 

At this point, pantsters are probably thinking this is way too much work and even ardent plotters may feel overwhelmed. I can assure you, this takes far less effort and thought than rewriting a scene five times because it doesn’t work, or writing a scene only to find it goes nowhere. It doesn’t take much time. Two days on and off, and I had more information to start with than ever before, even when I had spent weeks planning.

Export Them to Scrivener

At this point I printed the PDF, spread it out on the desk and got ready to write. I opened Scrivener…and my heart sank. All this great information was tied up in a PDF or printed sheets of paper. I’d already written my scenes in One Stop, and I didn’t want to go through that effort again. That’s when I discovered the Export My Data function at One Stop for Writers.

This allows you to transfer your One Stop data to your own system—or, for Scrivener users, directly to your binder. There are two ways to do this.

OPML Format

On the Export My Data page, select the tools you’d like to export from the OPML column. Then, open Scrivener and navigate to the File menu. Choose Import, then OPML or Mindmap File, and click browse to select that file. Your data will be re-created in your Scrivener binder.

While this process will take care of exporting your files to Scrivener, it’s not my preferred method. For one thing, the titles of the scenes aren’t used for the files in Scrivener. Also, each piece of text entered in the scene is created as a separate document in the sidebar, which isn’t the result I was looking for. So I’ve found a second method that results in a cleaner export.

TXT Format

Follow the same process above for exporting, but choose the desired files from the TXT column at One Stop. In the downloaded file, you’ll need to make a few format changes, but it only takes a minute. For each scene, replace the “Point X” and “TITLE” lines with ### (in front of the actual title). Save the file, and that’s it.

In Scrivener, select the manuscript folder, then click File->Import->Import and split. Select your file, and enter ### in the box at the bottom of the dialog, then click OK.

That’s it. All your scenes are created and your One Stop text is in the scene’s body rather than separated out into individual files in the sidebar.

Creating scenes that drive the story and push the protagonist through their arc can be challenging. But One Stop’s Scene Mapping tools make the job a lot easier. And if you’re using Scrivener, it’s a simple matter of exporting your data so you can get writing quicker. And isn’t that what we all want?

Want to give these tools a spin as you plan your novel? One Stop for Writers has a Free Trial!

Rodney is a reformed pantster and an author of paranormal romance involving vibrant vampires. Capital Thirst is his first novel and Beverly Hills Torture will be available in early 2020. You can find him online at Facebook and Twitter.

Posted in Motivation, One Stop For Writers, Story Structure, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 11 Comments

Six Steps to Setting Yourself up Financially as a Writer in 2020

I’ve always loved the energy of a New Year. It’s alive with intentions and goals and the buzz of a fresh start. This New Year feels even more special because it’s the start of a new decade too. With that in mind, do you know where you want to be in ten years? What do you think 2030 will see you doing? 

I spent years dreaming of writing full-time but it wasn’t until I developed a money mindset that the dream of quitting my day job became a reality. This post outlines some of the tips and tricks I used to set myself up, which I hope will help you move into the next decade able to make your dreams a reality too.

Tip 1: Know What You Need

Before you can embark on quitting your job to write full-time you need to know one fundamental figure:

How much money do you need each month in order to survive?

I get asked this question a lot, but no one other than you can answer it. Depending on the cost of living where you are, the amount of bills you have and the amount of debt, that figure will be different for everyone. 

Action: create a spreadsheet with your incomings and outgoings

If you don’t want to create one, head to Google—there are plenty of budget templates available there. 

If you do create one, include everything that costs you money. For example:

Utility bills, local taxes, food, insurances, TV licences, Netflix or other subscriptions, internet, sports memberships, childcare, school fees etc.

You should also include potential spending. For example, I go to the local coffee shop once a week to write so I know I need $20 a month to cover that. I also spread the cost of Christmas and summer holidays out over the year by saving each month, so I include that figure too. And, I may or may not give myself a monthly book-buying budget because, you know… we’re all book addicts here.

Essentially, anything that will cost you money needs to go on the list. Once you’ve got your list, tot it up and see what the monthly figure is. That is the minimum amount of money you need to earn regularly from your writing business before you leave your job.

Tip 2: Lose the Debt

A controversial one, I know. But, the fastest way to leave your job is to need as little as money as possible. The more money you have to earn, the harder it is to reach that figure—especially as a new business owner. Most businesses don’t earn a good profit for the first 2-3 years.

If your monthly bills (including debt) total $3000 a month, that’s a lot harder to earn than if you’ve paid off all your debt and reduced your outgoings and as a result only need $1500 a month.

Before I quit my job, I paid off £40,000 in student and car loans and fertility treatments. It meant I needed £800 less each month and that made my monthly figure far easier to reach.

No one’s saying you’re only going to earn $1500 a month from your business forever, but if you want to quit, then the lower the ‘must-earn’ value is, the easier it is to achieve. 

Tip 3: Have Savings

I know it’s boring and no one wants to hear it. But trust me, every business will have cash flow issues at some point. 

Once you leave your day job, you also leave the security of consistent paydays each month. It means you have to be stricter about pulling money out of your business and ensure you have enough to cover bills no matter what date they’re coming out. 

If you do client work too, you have to factor in that sometimes they’ll pay late, and you might need to pay bills in the meantime. Having a pot of cash set aside for this (and also any emergency flat tires, doctor’s appointments, or new tumble dryers) is vital so you don’t put yourself in a financial hole.  

A great book covering this topic is called The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape.  You could also check out Rich Dad’s Cashflow Quadrant by Robert T. Kiyosaki, which is specifically about business and money. 

Tip 4: Separate Bills from Income

If you’ve published a book, are providing a service (or you’re about to), or you have any other form of secondary income, then I implore you to separate out your finances. It’s easy enough to set up another current account. You don’t need a fancy business account when you start, but you do need to separate the business costs from the normal day-to-day cost of living.

Why? Because come the end of the tax year, you’re going to need to go through your spending and income line by line to work out whether you’ve made a loss or a profit. Having it separated from your household bills will make your life an awful lot easier.

Tip 5: Track it All

We’re words people, not numbers people. But this is one set of numbers we all need to track. If numbers scare you, then keep it simple. All you really need are a few columns in a spreadsheet and a habit of putting in your income and outgoings each month.

I have two spreadsheets, an income one and an expenditure one, though if you’re spreadsheet savvy, I’m sure you could amalgamate them. For your spreadsheets, include these basic columns:

  • Income and any explanatory title you want to give it like Amazon sales, Kobo sales, editing work, etc. 
  • Expenditure, and (again) a description of the type of expenditure, like office furniture, software, or stationery.
  • Dates. It’s helpful to keep dates associated with the income or expenditure so you know what tax year it falls into and can find any associated receipts if necessary.

If you’re more technical, consider using a piece of software. There are lots out there that will pull the transactions from your bank into their software and make the accounting and end-of-year tax assessments super simple. I moved to using Xero this year, but there are lots of other options like QuickBooks and Sage. Carefully read the terms and conditions and check for hidden costs.

Tip 6: Have Multiple Income Streams

Lots of writers want to write all day rather than deal with the business or marketing side. And that’s fine, we all have our preferences. What’s dangerous is to leave yourself with only one income stream—e.g. only book sales. 

People employed by others generally have more stability than those who are self-employed. But you only have to look at the 2008 financial crash to know that you could be made redundant and lose your income at any time. Which is why, even if you want to write all day, you should protect yourself financially by having other sources of income. If you don’t want to take away from your writing time, then choose passive sources like investments or affiliate income. 

Having multiple sources of income will keep your business stable and ensure that no one source has the power to cripple you if it vanished. Some ideas, if you’re confident and have the right skills:

  • Editing / critiquing
  • Coaching writers
  • Formatting
  • Organizing writer events etc
  • Patreon

You could also think about:

  • Investing in the stock market
  • Investing in property
  • Freelance consulting back into your old career
  • Utilizing other skills you might have, like making cakes or sewing, and selling those services  

If you only do a few things this year on the business side of your writing, let it be these. Separating out finances and tracking your income and outgoings are the foundations of any business, creative or otherwise. And who knows, 2030 might see you writing full-time.

Sacha Black

Resident Writing Coach

Sacha is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. Her blog for writers,, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy. The first two books in her Eden East Novel: Keepers and Victor, are out now. You can find her manning the helm at The Rebel Author Podcast, and on social media:
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Posted in Resident Writing Coach, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Misaligned Goals

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

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

Conflict: Misaligned Goals

Category: Power struggles, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities


  • One character wants to have a baby while her partner doesn’t
  • One character wants to get married while the partner doesn’t
  • One character wants to right a wrong while the other seeks to maintain the status quo
  • One character seeks growth and improvement while the other just wants to coast
  • The protagonist is romantically interested in someone who doesn’t feel the same way
  • Business executives who have different goals for their company
  • One business partner has altruistic goals while the other is only out for profit
  • Acquaintances enter into conversation with different goals (one wants to be heard and affirmed while the other wants to dominate the exchange)
  • A parent wants to protect or control a child who is pursuing autonomy
  • One teen pursues a friendship because she wants to develop a relationship while the other person only does so to access an asset

Minor Complications:
Tension in the relationship
Making assumptions about the other person based on their goals (they don’t want kids so they must be selfish, their assertive business tactics mean they’re aggressive and domineering, etc.)
Misunderstandings delaying the decisions that would lead to improvements (forward-thinking business decisions, pursuing self-actualization, etc.)
Not recognizing the root problem (misaligned goals), and getting stuck in the conflict

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Avoiding the issue (to keep the peace), allowing it to fester and grow
The character pushing their agenda to the point of driving away the other person or damaging their own reputation
Being blocked by the other person from doing what’s right or best
Both parties digging in their heels, resulting in a stalemate
The character determining to get their own way regardless of what it takes
Being manipulated, undermined, or sabotaged by the other party to further their goal
The conflict turning personal and irrevocably damaging the relationship
The character backing down even though their goal was the correct one
The relationship being categorized by friction and conflict
Slipping into “roles” (the frugal executive, the selfish spouse, the controlling parent, etc.) that deepen tensions and stymie growth

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the party opposing the character’s goal, people who are close to the situation (co-workers, the boss, clients or customers, family members, friends, etc.)

Resulting Emotions: Anger, annoyance, betrayed, bitterness, conflicted, confusion, contempt, defensiveness, determination, disappointment, disbelief, dissatisfaction, doubt, frustration, hurt, impatience, inadequate, indignation, insecurity, intimidated, irritation, powerlessness, reluctance, remorse, resentment, unappreciated, uncertainty

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Confrontational, controlling, greedy, gullible, indecisive, know-it-all, manipulative, melodramatic, oversensitive, paranoid, resentful, selfish, stubborn

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Growing frustration
Feeling personally slighted or invalidated
Resenting the other party
The character feeling limited or unable to reach their full potential when they can’t get what they feel they need
Wanting to be right rather than being open to a differing viewpoint
A crisis of confidence (if the character gave in despite their goal being the right one for the situation)
Being conflicted about the right path forward (seeing potential in both goals and not knowing which one is correct)

Positive Outcomes: 
Opening up to new or challenging ideas
Becoming teachable
Learning how to compromise in a healthy way
Recognizing what’s important and what doesn’t need to be fought over
Learning to give in (when the character is used to always getting their way)
Valuing people over plans or processes
Recognizing how the other party complements the character’s weaknesses (seeing them as an ally instead of the enemy)
Learning how to work with the other party and defuse conflict

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

This thesaurus is still being developed, but if you would like to access the entire collection of descriptive thesauri, visit our main site, One Stop for Writers.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Critiques 4 U

Contest is closed! See you next month.

Happy New Year! We hope that your holidays were everything you expected them to be—a relaxing and peaceful foray into what is to come or a spectacularly fabulous goodbye to the past. Angela and I are jumping with both feet (as we tend to do) into 2020 and are excited about the year ahead. We hope you are, too. And I can’t think of a better way to kick things off than with some free 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 | 42 Comments

Capturing an Unhappy Relationship: A Writer’s Roadmap

Relationships are a complicated beast, and if you write romance like me, then you’re wed (pun intended) to the HEA ending (happily ever after). But the reality is, we have a divorce rate of almost 1 in 2 marriages; so as much fun as it is to delve into the romanticized ideal of soulmates wandering hand-in-hand into the sunset, the challenges of relationships can equally lead to hearts broken and relationships fractured.

Capturing the unwinding threads of a relationship is complex. Just like the real world, our characters have a history of weaving those threads together, usually with the intent that their fabric will be as tight as Egyptian cotton. 

But people evolve, circumstances change, and sometimes a relationship isn’t strong enough. Usually these ruptures don’t happen quickly; they involve little tears and big tears over days, months, and sometimes years.

John Gottman, the guru of relationship therapy and founder of the Gottman Institute, outlines the following four factors as tell-tale signs that all is not well with a married couple. In fact, when the frequency of these four behaviors are measured within the span of a 15-minute conversation, Gottman and his fellow psychologists can predict which marriages will end in divorce with striking precision.

If you’re looking to capture this heart-breaking (or cathartic) process in your story, either with your main characters or with those memorable secondary characters, then consider these four predictors of relationship breakdown (they are a wonderful way to capture ‘show, don’t tell’ and to create some interesting moments into your story).


Far more toxic than frustration, contempt is a virulent mix of anger and disgust which involve seeing your partner as beneath you. Apart from its direct consequences of either belittling or angering a partner, contempt involves one character closing themselves off to their partner’s needs and emotions. 

If you constantly feel smarter than, better than, or more sensitive than your significant other, you’re not only less likely see his or her opinions as valid, but, more importantly, you’re far less willing toput yourself in their shoes to try to see a situation from their perspective.

Consider these examples:

  • Jane sends Jo a list of groceries for tonight’s dinner. When Jo gets home, Jane realizes that Jo picked up self-rising flour instead of plain flour. Jane becomes frustrated, asking Jo what sort of idiot doesn’t know the difference between the two. She even posts it on Facebook so her sisters can see what she has to live with.
  • Barry is organizing his next fishing weekend with his two sons. Daria laughs as they are packing their tackle boxes, pointing out to their sons that she caught the biggest fish last time she went out in their godforsaken tin-can-of-a-boat.


Like contempt, criticism involves turning a behavior (something your partner did) into a statement about his or her personal character (the type of person he or she is). As many of us have experienced or observed, fault-finding and belittling behaviors add up. Over time, darker feelings of resentment and contempt are likely to brew.

  • Alex has a habit of leaving her cereal bowl—soggy, uneaten Wheaties and all—on the coffee table every morning. Sam makes sure she notes it each day as she collects them, pointing out what a lazy and inconsiderate partner Alex is.
  • After a sleepless night, Jake overheats baby Bobby’s mashed pumpkin. When Bobby spits it out and starts screaming, Sally scoops him up, shouting over the top that when it comes to parenting Jake couldn’t raise a sweat let alone a child.


Defensiveness involves a sense of protectiveness and guardedness about our thoughts and feelings. A character who is being defensive will often play the victim in; at times that may be justified…others, not so much.

  • A couple are late to a cousin’s wedding. Ashleigh is the first to say, “It wasn’t my fault!” as they slip into a back pew.
  • Jane is online to her best friend, typing furiously that she never got a chance to tell her husband about the dint in the car door because all he does is watch YouTube. If he gets upset about it, he can’t say she didn’t try to tell him.


If your character can sense an argument brewing and their response is to shut down or walk away, you’ve got a stonewaller. Stonewalling can be just as toxic for a relationship as criticism or contempt because it keeps your characters from addressing their underlying issues. When perspectives don’t get a chance to be explored, then frustration is likely to morph into resentment.

  • Ian and Sarah are arguing about their credit card debt. When Ian asks Sarah exactly how much those shoes cost, she turns and walks away. Picking up her phone, she retreats to the bedroom.
  • During a parent teacher interview, Jacqui suggests that maybe their son isn’t succeeding in math because of the children he’s sitting next to. Her husband, Jed, rolls his eyes at the teacher, shifts his seat forward, and tells the teacher that their son just needs more challenging work as he’s obviously bored. Jed starts enquiring about extension work.

Are you seeing how you could weave these behaviors into your own narrative? I hope so! I’d love to hear how you’ve already done this, or how you plan on showing your characters’ unravelling relationship. 

Tamar Sloan

Resident Writing Coach

Tamar is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Tamar is also a USA Today best-selling author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can checkout Tamar’s books on her author website.
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Posted in Character Flaws, Characters, Conflict, Romance, Tension, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 15 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Having to Work with an Enemy

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

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

Conflict: Having to Work with an Enemy

Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, loss of control, ego, no-win situations

Competitive co-workers placed on the same project or team
Teammates with a common goal of winning
Ex-spouses co-parenting during a challenging time (a difficult health diagnosis, a child who suffers from depression, etc.)
Feuding family members trying to save a family business
Enemies engaged in a cover up that will ruin both their lives if discovered
Enemies stuck in a situation they cannot handle alone (escaping a danger, being lost in the woods, etc.)
Siblings teaming up to stand against abusive parents
Estranged family members having to plan a mutual loved one’s funeral

Minor Complications:
Flaring tempers and arguments
Making others involved feel uncomfortable
Having to swallow one’s pride for the greater good
Having to monitor one’s tone and words to avoid splintering the group
Being distracted by resentment and negativity
Holding back to not give up an advantage, leading to self-sabotage
Wasting mental energy on questioning the other’s motives
Struggling with mistrust

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Revealing secrets that will have repercussions after the crisis is over
Unintentionally giving an enemy Intel they can use later
Being manipulated into giving up an advantage that wasn’t necessary

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Discovering likeable qualities about someone one should hate
Resentment warring with appreciation (hating to need help but being glad to have it)
Trying to hang onto knowledge or a strength to keep the advantage but being forced to share it solve the current situation
Worrying about what others will think regarding the collaboration Worrying about what will happen after the crisis has ended
Achieving growth through the awareness of one’s flaws due to the perspective of an enemy unafraid to point them out
Wanting to dismiss a great idea only because of its source

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family members who will be disappointed by the collaboration, friends invested in the friction remaining in place or who are invested in the enemy’s downfall, other people who have something riding on the outcome, win or lose, people who are relying on the two to succeed so they can avoid negative consequences themselves

Resulting Emotions: agitation, anger, betrayed, bitterness, certainty, conflicted, contempt, defensiveness, defiant, denial, dread, emasculated, frustration, guilt, humiliation, inadequate, insecurity, intimidated, irritation, jealousy, paranoia, powerlessness, reluctance, resentment, resignation, schadenfreude, scorn, self-pity, skepticism, smugness, stunned, suspicion, unappreciated, vengeful, vindicated, vulnerability, wariness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, catty, childish, cocky, confrontational, controlling, dishonest, hostile, inflexible, insecure, jealous, martyr, melodramatic, oversensitive, paranoid, stubborn, tactless, temperamental, uncommunicative, uncooperative, vindictive

Positive Outcomes: 
Discovering common ground that helps each gain a better perspective
The adversity forcing each character to deal with internal hangups that hold them back
Overcoming difficult circumstances leads to greater self-confidence
The experience gained makes the character better able to work with people in the future
Working out past issues that really needed to be dealt with to move forward

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

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