Occupation Thesaurus Entry: General Contractor

Before we launch into today’s Occupation Thesaurus entry, let us hopefully save you some money! Christmas is coming, and when you buy ebooks, you can set them to deliver on a specific date. Like December 25th. And we think that’s pretty neat, especially for all the critique partners and writing people who we usually buy a little something for.

Right now, the Amazon Kindle Deal Gods have The Emotion Thesaurus ebook on sale at two different stores: it’s $2.99 at Amazon.com and ₹153.60 at Amazon.in (India!)

So if you know someone who doesn’t have this book, or you don’t have it, we hope you’ll grab it. And there are a lot of other books on sale too, so even if you don’t choose ours, we hope you’ll keep your TBR pile growing and support authors.

Happy writing, and we hope you find today’s entry really useful! 🙂

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.

Find the perfect career for your character—one that will highlight his skills, challenge his fears, and either help or hinder him in his overall goalOccupation: General Contractor

Overview: A general contractor is the person in charge of a construction project. Whether the project is residential, commercial, highway-related, or anything else, the GC oversees it from start to finish. This means that their job begins well before the first hammer falls.

The GC is responsible for putting together proposals, including getting pricing on labor and materials and creating a budget and timeline for the project. Once they’ve landed a proposal, they are in charge of hiring subcontractors (plumbers, electricians, etc.) and keeping them accountable while the job is in progress. They will also oversee all the general workers, ensuring that the number of people with the right skills are employed each day and their work is up to par.

A general contractor who is skilled in certain construction areas (such as carpentry or drywalling) or is a jack-of-all-trades (proficient in multiple areas) may take on part of the work themselves and work alongside their people. Others take a more hands-off approach, choosing to outsource all the work and oversee its progress.

A GC’s hours will be dependent on the type of project they’re overseeing. New home construction, and much commercial construction, is often a 9-5 job. Highway work is likely to be done at night. Hours may increase or change as a deadline approaches.

Necessary Training: No formal education is required for a person to set themselves up as a general contractor. But companies looking to hire GC’s often want to see a certain level of experience and education—often in the form of an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Basic first aid, carpentry, haggling, knowledge of explosives, mechanically inclined, multitasking, predicting the weather, repurposing, super strength

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, alert, ambitious, analytical, cooperative,courteous, decisive, diplomatic, disciplined, efficient, honest, honorable, industrious, intelligent, just, loyal, meticulous, observant, organized, patient, persistent, persuasive, proactive, professional, resourceful, responsible, thrifty

NEGATIVE: Controlling, humorless, know-it-all, obsessive, perfectionist, pushy

Sources of Friction: Losing a bid on a promising project, prices that fluctuate during a project and drive up costs, falling behind deadline, receiving a shipment of incorrect or broken materials, someone being injured on the job, employees not showing up for work, not being able to find suitable workers for a job, unreasonable labor laws that make scheduling difficult, demanding or indecisive customers, sexual harassment on the job, workers cutting corners that result in a low-quality or unsafe structure, unforeseen circumstances that raise the cost for the customer or increase the time needed to finish, unethical or nitpicky inspectors, family members who are upset when one misses important events while working under a deadline, having to work the night shift, unpleasant weather making the job difficult, finding that a job is beyond one’s ability to properly oversee, the job stalling due to lack of funds, losing good workers to a competitor, having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, fears that make the job challenging (heights, enclosed spaces, being underground, etc.)

People They Might Interact With: general construction workers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, stone workers, ironworkers, roofers, painters, architects and engineers, clients, office personnel, members of management (if one works for a company), inspectors, distributors, delivery personnel

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: This need may be impacted for a character who wants to excel and grow but finds himself unable to land the right jobs or move upward. A similar situation arise if the character is skilled in the construction aspect of the job but struggles in other necessary areas (organization, finance, people skills, etc.).
  • Esteem and Recognition: A general contractor who chafes under the small-mindedness of those who look down on blue-collar workers may find his esteem negatively affected.
  • Safety and Security: Every construction site has an enhanced possibility of danger. As such, the safety and security of the workers there will be much more at risk than people working in other careers.

Common Work-Related Settings: Backyard, big city street, bridge, condemned apartment building, construction site, garage, hardware store, parking lot, salvage yard, tool shed, trade show, workshop

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype:

  • Obviously, women are hard to find in this career field; when you see them at a construction site at all, they’re typically doing general labor. Consider giving your female character the boss job—and the construction skills to go along with it.
  • Those who hire a general contractor often complain about common faults: they’re disorganized, have poor communication skills, don’t care about quality, can’t keep to a deadline, or are flat-out dishonest. Every character needs flaws; to make your GC more interesting, consider negative traits one doesn’t typically see in this field: extravagant, reckless, superstitious, or verbose.
  • To mix things up, consider a change of venue for your construction site. Maybe your GC is overseeing the restoration of an historical structure, building an amusement park, is in constructing a one-of-a-kind bridge, or is overseeing a project in a remote and rural location.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Representation in Literature: Why It’s Important & How To Handle It

Happy to welcome Deborah Dixon, a passionate author, editor, and racial justice activist to talk a bit on Representation in Literature, a topic of importance and something I think many of us want to understand better so we can encourage the right sort of discussions and help bring about change. Please read on!

Representation in LiteratureThe issue of representation has become an important one in literature and throughout the entertainment industry. As an author and publisher of color, I am often asked to offer insight on how best to include characters of diverse backgrounds. Specifically, this means characters from minority or underrepresented groups, such as ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+ persons, religious minorities, those with disabilities, and to some extent, socioeconomic minorities. In this article, I will use the term “minority” to refer to members of all of these groups.

First, my credentials: I am Jamaican, neurodivergent, and simultaneously a citizen of and immigrant to the United States, among other things. These credentials do matter, because the basis of a person’s regard for your opinion on these sensitive matters starts with your background. It isn’t the whole picture; not every minority person has the same breadth of experiences, and many majority members have been exposed to the problems that minority members face. Also, like anything else, background and privilege are nuanced. Even I have some sources of privilege: I am cisgender and not physically disabled.

Also valued is the nature of a writer’s privilege. I won’t discuss privilege and entitlement too much here, as there are plenty of resources on both, such as this exploration of the different elements of identity.

Diversity and representation in literature

There are two primary reasons why representation is important: inclusivity and perception.

Seeing people who look, act, and experience life like them in media makes a person feel included in a society, and it reinforces positive views of themselves and what they can achieve in society. Also, members of other groups, especially majority groups, base their ideas of groups on what they see in the media. For example, a hiring manager who watches too many police procedurals might view candidates of minority races as having criminal tendencies.

For people who exist outside of these marginalized and underrepresented groups, it can be hard to imagine life with the experiences and hardships that minorities experience. Without those experiences, writing characters of diverse backgrounds can seem daunting.

A good start is to be cognizant of the problems that your character would face and when those problems would have to be addressed. People of minority groups are still people; we have similar needs and similar motivations. The main difference is in the ways that society and its structures are arrayed against any particular group.

Therefore, in some situations, it will be perfectly acceptable to write a minority character just as you would any other. If a character’s romantic relationships are never brought up, then their sexual orientation might be little more than a footnote. Likewise, a black student’s college career might be just like that of a white student if the college itself is diverse and tolerant.

However, if the character is placed in a situation where their identity would be a factor, then it would be irresponsible to overlook it. For example, a black character being pulled over by the police should be described as feeling exceptional anxiety over their possible treatment by the officers. Whether the writer feels that this is a legitimate fear is irrelevant; it is what black people experience, and it is a problem that we continue to battle. Any work that included a black character getting along famously with the police would be soundly ridiculed by the black community.

Also, it might be tempting to fall back on stereotypes, but these are harmful images that still negatively affect members of those minorities. Take, for example, the common use of Middle Eastern characters as villains, or the portrayal of Native Americans as oversexualized savages. If these are the characters that are being written, then we would rather not have them at all!

Remember that minority characters are not there to be “exotic” ornaments for your plot. One striking example I encountered as an editor was a white writer using an almost all-white cast who included an Asian woman as a manicurist. It was meant as a cheeky observation, but in practice, it supported yet another harmful stereotype, and it would have reinforced to readers that Asian woman are only fit to run nail salons.

Always Do the Research

There is plenty of first-hand material about the situations that minority groups face, and many companies, including mine, offer research specific to fiction writing. If you happen to know someone from the group that you are interested in writing about, then ask that person if they can offer any insight, and be prepared for them to possibly turn you down.

Finally, remember that this is a cultural exchange; you must offer something in return. Consider promoting minority authors. Don’t just tack on characters to be “diverse,” and don’t borrow elements from a group without context, such as European knights using scimitars because they’re “cool.”

For a well-known example of what not to do, observe J. K. Rowling’s approach to including Native Americans in the Potterverse. She combined the hundreds of Native American cultures into one homogenous “community,” reappropriated important cultural touchstones, and supported harmful narratives of Natives accepting white colonialism. Although she was called out on this, she has not publicly apologized or changed her approach.

The best recent example of representation being done right is a film: 2016’s The Accountant, in which the main character, played by Ben Affleck, is high-functioning autistic. While the character is written in a very predictable fashion—aural oversensitivity, emotional vacancy—Affleck’s performance provides nuance that elevates the entire story. It’s clear that he and his supporting cast did the research, and while the movie’s overall effect on the autistic community is debatable, many of us saw pieces of ourselves in its protagonist.

Although the entertainment industry at large is welcoming more content written by minority members, most stories that reach the mainstream are still ones written by the majority—white, straight people. The majority still has a much stronger voice. Use it to amplify positive portrayals of the people who need them the most.

As with anything else, when in doubt, ask.

Look for editors who specifically offer sensitivity reading as part of their processes. Many editors, like those at Shalamar, offer diversity feedback as a matter of course. Here’s an additional resource to check out if you are incorporating diversity in your work:

Writing Diversity Checklist

We welcome respectful discussion–if you have questions or comments, Debra is here to discuss!

Shalamar is a book publishing and author advocacy company based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Created in 2016 by a trio of writers, Shalamar aims to break down barriers to entry in publishing by offering accessible and affordable services to new and undiscovered writers.

The company also supports initiatives to amplify voices from underrepresented and marginalized groups. They can be found at @shalamarllp on Facebook and @ShalamarNOLA everywhere else.

Deborah Dixon is a cofounder, author, and editor at Shalamar. She has published two novels, seven novellas, and numerous short stories of her own.

She is a digital rights and racial justice activist, and her opinions on social issues, the publishing process, and Saints football can be found on Twitter at @Deboracracy.

Posted in Characters, Critiquing & Critiques, Diversity, Editing Tips, Focus, Guest Post, Stereotypes, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Create Killer Twists: Learn How to Redeem Your Villain

You might think a villain can’t be redeemed. After all, they’re sinister and twisted and think killing people is a post-dinner dessert choice. But even villains are people, and, no matter how coal-crusted it gets, they have a heart buried somewhere inside their ribs. Besides, readers love a good twist and what’s better than a villain suddenly seeing the light?

What is a Villain Redemption Arc?

A character arc defines the change a character goes through during your story. Typically a hero or protagonist will start from a lower point (flawed) and then, as the story tests them, they’ll build up to overcoming their flaw and defeating the villain.

A classic villain will spend the entire plot descending into the pits of evil, where eventually he’s defeated – in other words, it’s a straight-shot into the hell mouth. But a bad guy on a path to redemption doesn’t follow the same arc path. Note the diagram above is illustrative, not literal. Arcs will vary depending on your individual stories and plot points.

So how do you create a redemption arc?


If your villain is going to do a 180 and become good, then there should be a reason. Humans don’t do things without reasons, and in order for your readers to swallow such a significant change, you need to ensure you’re clear on why he’s doing it.

There are two things you need to know to create a realistic redemption arc:

  • Why your villain is evil in the first place
  • Why your villain is trying to redeem himself

Realism is derived from a multitude of factors, but one of the most important is having authentic motives. Villainy is a dark path for a reason – it’s hard to come back from – which is why you need a super-bright ‘why’ torch to help your baddie see the light.

The best way to create a ‘why’ (or a motive) is to understand where it comes from. For example:

  • Maybe your villain wants a bigger pay off and this is how he thinks he will get it
  • He could be taking an order from someone more powerful
  • A more emotional reason might be that the hero appeals to his heart by saving someone the villain cares about
  • Or perhaps the villain just wants to right a wrong or past mistake

Quick Tip

Whatever the plot point for justifying your villain’s redemption, you can create added depth to their motive by linking it to an old wound in his past (you can use Becca and Angela’s Emotional Wound Thesaurus to help with this).

Types of Redemption

Life-or-Death Redemption

There are lots of outcomes to a redemption arc, but the two most common are ‘life’ and ‘death’. Either the villain dies in the course of redeeming himself (often to prove he’s become ‘good’), or he lives because the heroes see the change in the villain and do the right thing and save him. Regina, The Evil Queen from the hit TV show Once Upon a Time, is a good example of this. After spending several seasons as a villain, she endeavours to right the wrongs she caused by using her powers to delay the explosion of a device that will kill everyone. As a result, Henry (one of the heroes) says, “You’re willing to die to save everyone, that makes you a hero.” And he and several others work together to save both their town and Regina who is redeemed by her willingness to sacrifice herself.

Epiphany Redemption

Sometimes we don’t realize we have bad habits until someone tells us or we suddenly become aware of them. One of the most famous epiphany redemption examples is Scrooge from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The entire plot revolves around Scrooge going through an awakening. With the help of Christmas ghosts, he’s shown the impact of his actions which causes him to see that he’s been a leading a terrible life. The end of the story shows him as a changed man, being kind and charitable to others.

Quick Redemption Tips:

  • It takes time. Just as a hero takes an entire novel to overcome her flaw, it will take some time for a villain to make this monumental change. Don’t let them flip-flop like a beached fish between good and evil – the change needs to build slowly throughout the book.
  • Foreshadow, foreshadow, foreshadow. Readers don’t like to be cheated. You need to drop breadcrumbs throughout your story to let your reader know subconsciously that the villain is going to change, otherwise they’ll feel cheated. It doesn’t take much—the occasional soft glance from the villain, a nicely spoken sentence, an action that is ‘good’ rather than evil. Tiny clues.
  • Don’t make it easy. It’s hard for the hero to overcome her flaw and likewise, it should be hard for a villain to overcome his. A quick way to make it harder for the villain to redeem himself is to catch him between two of his values. For example, while this character isn’t a villain, it still illustrates the point: Ned Stark in Game of Thrones values loyalty and wisdom – his wisdom tells him if he helps his King it will inevitably lead to his death, and yet, his loyalty forces him to help the King anyway.
  • Don’t let them go soft. Villains are villains for a reason. Keep them authentic by retaining some of their sharper personality edges. Just because their actions are good doesn’t mean the whole of them will be.

Redemption arcs create killer twists because a villain doing a 180 is unexpected. But there’s lots of pitfalls you can fall prey to. Make the change of heart genuine by giving your villain a solid motive, let the change grow with the story, and remember that foreshadowing is key to bringing your reader along with you.

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, and her first series, Keepers, is due out in November 2017.

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Posted in Character Wound, Characters, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Villains | 21 Comments

One Stop for Writers Turns 3: Grab Your 50% Discount Code!

Has it really been 3 years since One Stop for Writers first opened its doors? Yes!

Coming from the land of books, it was a big leap for us to enter the world of custom tools & resource design with Lee Powell of Scrivener. But together we’ve helped thousands of writers dig deeper into their characters and stories and watched as many have gone on to produce some of their very best work to date. Not only is this unbelievably rewarding, it confirms we made the right decision three years ago.

Each year One Stop for Writers has grown as we add more of our unique description databases and new, powerful tools to make storytelling easier. Our goal is twofold: build stronger writers & provide the resources they need so they spend less time staring at the screen and more time actually writing.

Many of you have tried One Stop for Writers, and some of you have been with us since the very beginning. We’re so honored! To say thank you, we have a 50% off coupon code that can be applied to any plan, new or existing. Act fast, though–this code expires on October 12th!

How new users activate this code:

  1. Register at One Stop for Writers
  2. Click on the link that comes in your confirmation email. Then sign in and go to the My Subscription page.
  3. Enter the code THREEYEARS in the box provided and follow the instructions to activate it.
  4. Attach a credit card to your account and then choose any plan. Boom, a 50% discount will show up on your first invoice.

Regular prices apply after and you can cancel at any time. If you have any questions or need help signing up, just reach out! We’re always happy to help. 🙂

Something BIG Is Coming…

One of our largest developments to date is nearing the finish line: a Character Building Tool (CBT) that will revolutionize how writers can build their story’s cast. Whether you are a pantser or a plotter, we think you’ll like what we’ve created and if you’d like insider details on what this tool will look like and when we’ll request beta users, just sign up to the One Stop for Writers newsletter. I’ll be putting out an update about the CBT in a day or two and you’ll get the first look at what’s coming!

Thank you all so much for supporting the work that Becca, Lee, Abhishek, and I are doing. If there’s ever anything we can do to improve your One Stop for Writers experience, let us know. Happy writing, all!

Posted in About Us, One Stop For Writers | 6 Comments

On The Quest for Knowledge, Writers Must Show Courage

When we step onto the writing path, we know there will be a lot to learn. We see the mountain ahead and sure, it’s intimidating. But hey, we’re head over heels for story, in love with the author’s dream, and we want that future to be ours. So we adjust our pack, yank out some beef jerky to gnaw on, and start the climb.

What we don’t realize until we’re in the thick of it is that there is no end to our education. In fact when we crest the mountain, instead of being handed a certificate, trophy, or even a celebratory cheesecake from someone shouting, “You did it! You’re finally good enough!” we see another mountain waiting. And another after that. A range of them, actually.

At this point, one of three things tends to happen…

Some writers quit, deciding what’s ahead is too daunting and will take too much. They move on to other things, forgoing this dream.

Others choose to stay at that first summit. Their writing plateaus. The knowledge they have acquired might be enough to achieve their individual publishing goals depending on what those are. Or it might not.

The third group (after a mental tug-of-war that may include chocolate bingeing, ugly crying, alcohol, and various other grief stage coping mechanisms) decide to keep going.

Sure, they see the way ahead won’t be easy but they’ve realized something: a big part of the joy of writing is the learning itself.

They look back and remember who they were at the start of the journey and who they are now. They see how the layers of hard-won knowledge have stretched them, challenged their ideas of what is possible, and pushed them to be the very best version of themselves.

Do you remember your first summit? I do.

I felt proud of how I’d grown. Terrified at the mountain range ahead as I knew enough to grasp just how much I didn’t yet know. And, as is true for so many of us, doubt was there, too–doubt that I could ever learn enough about writing craft to succeed.

But I wanted that knowledge. I craved it. So screw doubt. I decided to focus on the journey, not the goal, and become a Learner of Craft. (Many of you have done this same thing, adopting the Learner’s mindset, and that’s why you’re here, reading this post!)

One of the best parts of opening myself to learning are the writing epiphanies that come along: those missing cogs of knowledge that slide into place and it…all…suddenly…CLICKS. My eyes go wide and bright because holy batman, that one small lesson just transformed how I see story!

Many of these moments can be credited back to specific sources so I thought I’d share a few in hopes that you might find new helpful resources as well.

1) This book and this video series. Thank you universe for helping me find Michael Hauge, because through him I began to grasp inner conflict, character arc, and most importantly, realize the influence an emotional wound has on the human psyche and how we can use it in fiction. (If it weren’t for Michael sparking our interest in this whole area of story, The Emotional Wound Thesaurus might never have been written.)

2) Katie Weiland. She has incredible insight into writing craft, has an amazing site, writes great books and is one of the best human beings I know.  There are too many aha moments to count here, so just trust me and go find her online to fill your knowledge well.

3) When story structure baffled me, I found Save The Cat. Between that and Screenplays that Sell, my knowledge took another big leap forward.

Hurray for Beat Sheets!

4) I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention several other books that helped me very early on: Description (Monica Wood), Self-Editing For Fiction Writers (Renni Brown & Dave King), and Writing the Breakout Novel (Don Maass).

(Through our work on the blog and our books, Becca and I have a gained a bit of a reputation for being experts in description, particularly “show and tell.” So, how ironic is it that what drew me to wanting to understand them at depth was the fact that I was terrible at both? Thank goodness for Description as it started the ball rolling.)

The Breakout Novel book taught me about tension (hmm, kind of important–who knew?) and Self-Editing gave me the basics of editing when I really disliked that end of things, showing me the beauty behind the process of working something until its true essence could shine through.

5) The Critique Circle. This online critique site endured some of my early work (sorry, CC members) and I learned valuable lessons on giving feedback with diplomacy, accepting feedback with grace, and divorcing emotion from the process so I could take what was given and improve. Great site–go visit. It’s free to join, and guess what? That’s where Becca and I met!

For me, this love of learning turned into a love of teaching.

I travel the world to teach and absolutely love writing our signature Thesaurus books and helping writers in that way. A few years ago Becca and I embarked on another journey with Lee Powell of Scrivener, creating a new site, One Stop for Writers. We are doing such innovative things there and are getting close to launching a tool that will transform how writers build characters. I can’t wait.

Resources To Check Out

Becca and I also try to give back as much as we can so we urge you to check out these free resources to broaden your knowledge. First, the Writers Helping Writers Tools Page. There’s a mother-lode of downloadables here that will help you in many areas of writing craft and beyond. Second, visit this massive page of Tip Sheets and Checklists at One Stop for Writers. You don’t have to be a member to get these so head over, save them to your computer, and share them with others on social media if you like. And guess what? If you do want to check out One Stop for Writers, there’s a free 1-month code at the bottom of that page so you can give the site a test drive on us.

Finally, we know about a few other great free offers right now. Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA (great site–go visit) has a free video series AND is offering a free master class TODAY. If you sign up there will be a recording, so even if you can’t attend in person, the recording can be accessed later for a limited time. And, a HINT: I think she’s got a bonus for anyone who does sign up today!

Gabriela was one of our writing coaches here at WHW and is a good friend. And so you know, the two links above are affiliate links, meaning that should you decide down the road to take any courses through DIY MFA, you are also helping Becca and I keep our lights on (so thank you if that is the case). We are careful who we partner with because we only want to bring you top quality education, which is why we are working with Gabriela–she’s amazing.

If you want to see Gabriela in action, check out her TEDx Talk or listen to her DIY MFA Radio Show. (Here’s the episode where Becca, Gabriela, and I nerd out about writing.)

Also, Janice Hardy is giving away her Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure ebook for free until October 15 if you subscribe to her site (and if you want to learn more about writing, you’ll want to anyway). Check out the details here.


Now I want to turn this over to you. What people, books, or websites helped your writing skills leap forward? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in About Us, Critiquing & Critiques, Focus, Motivational, One Stop For Writers, Revision and Editing, Show Don't Tell, Software and Services, Story Structure, Uncategorized, Websites, Writer's Attitude, Writing Craft, Writing Groups, Writing Resources | 12 Comments

Capturing Complex Emotion: A Writer’s Superpower

Our brain is driven by emotion. We may like to think we’re rational beings, applying the rules of logic calmly and sensibly to those little and not-so-little decisions, but our every thought, our whole perspective is colored by emotion. What this means is, that as a writer, you need to convey not just what happens (the action) in your story, but also how this affects your protagonist and how they feel about the events (the reaction). Why? Because that is what your reader is going to connect with. Without emotion, it will be neutral, boring…put down and the remote picked up.

Which seems straightforward…. except emotions aren’t that simple. During the 1970s, psychologist Paul Ekman suggested there are six basic emotions that are universally experienced in all human cultures: happiness, sadness, disgust, fear, surprise, and anger. And in some ways he was right. These six emotions are actually recognized across the globe, across a multitude of cultures, and are even expressed by babies who are blind.

But… (there’s always a but), so many emotions are far more complex and heterogeneous to be fitted neatly into six (or even sixty) categories. Where does humility rest? Where do you slot nostalgia? And what about dolce far niente, the pleasure of doing nothing; or the feeling of ilinx, the excitement of wanton destruction (like throwing a pile of loose papers out the window or deliberately smashing a delicate china cup), or even pronoia, the strange creeping feeling that everyone is out to help you? Emotions can be intense feelings directed at someone or something, they can be a state that is mild (such as annoyed or content), or they can be not directed at anything in particular (as in anxiety or depression). Just as primary colors combine to create rainbows and kaleidoscopes, primary emotions blend to form the full spectrum of emotional experience.

To start with, each separate emotion appears in a variety of forms with great differences between them. There are many types of love or anger or hope. Then there’s emotion’s great sensitivity to personal and contextual circumstances. How a person attributes or understands a certain context will influence what emotion is elicited. Fifty dollars won through good luck could elicit surprise; fifty dollars earned by hard work may elicit pride; and fifty dollars received from a friend when experiencing cheesecake-withdrawal is likely to beget gratitude.

Great writers, the writer we all want to be, understand this complexity and capture it.


They realize the goldmine of emotions is in the detail.

Parents are adept in capturing this. If a mother or father had to describe how Alex feels when told they are moving interstate; they’ll notice the long blink, the shifting of weight, the glance at the teddy sitting on the chair on the other side of the room. What’s more, they can tell you what each of those details mean. They notice the subtleties and nuances of their children because they are invested in noticing. They care. And they pay attention.

And we can use that framework too. No two hugs are the same. No drive to work is identical to the last. No handshake can be replicated exactly. Details are interesting, intriguing, and loaded with emotion. They take the big stuff like fear or love, and tease them out into their levels and layers, where they contrast and where they combine, how they heal and how they hurt.

Consider the manuscript you’re writing right now and ask yourself any of the following:

  • How do you differentiate between the shades of emotion your character is feeling? If they’re scared, how do you convey the depth, the magnitude, the subtleties of that experience?
  • How does your character’s unique perspective create their particular flavor of emotion? How is it different to how you experience it?
  • What are three novel features of the current situation that your character may be experiencing? What is unfamiliar even if what they are doing is familiar? Notice with open-minded interest and incorporate that into your description.
  • And lastly, consider a major turning point in your story. It could be the call to action or the dark night of the soul, or anywhere in between. Brainstorm a list of emotions that scenario could raise in your protagonist. List two or three emotions. Then list a few more. Try to come up with several. Now spend a little time considering their impact and sensations and then crafting them into the scene.

What are your thoughts? How do you capture emotion’s complexity? How do authors you admire achieve it?

And, PSSSST, readers! Tamar has a new book releasing soon that everyone might want to check out. Hook Your Readers will release on October 13th, and you can read about (and preorder!) it HERE.

Tamar Sloan 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 an award-winning 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 Characters, Emotion, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Babysitter

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: Babysitter

Overview: A babysitter will watch over children while their parents are away from the home, ensuring the children are safe, cared for, and that they follow the rules of the household. Children may be awake or asleep during the time the babysitter is in the home, which will dictate what sort of activities a sitter will engage in. Typically a sitter will play with the kids while they are awake (playing games, watching movies, taking the kids to a local park, etc.) as well as prepare easy meals, read stories, and get the children ready for bedtime. Occasionally they may be asked to perform a few menial chores (washing the dinner dishes or straightening up a playroom after the children go to bed). Babysitting is typically done by responsible teenagers or those of college age to supplement other income such as an allowance or a part time job.

Necessary Training: This type of work can be done without any training or certification, although there are programs available that teach youth their responsibilities when babysitting and to guide them in a series of possible situations to help them problem-solve and know what to do in emergencies. Many parents insist their sitter does have a babysitting course under their belt and be a specific minimum age to mind their children. Most provinces or states will also have a legal age for babysitting (or at least provide guidelines for when a child can be left without parental supervision, which may also have a limitation on the span of evening hours alone). Typically parents will interview a potential babysitter and get a feel for who they are, their experience, their attitude toward kids, and whether they have completed a babysitting course or have any first aid training before hiring. Depending on location and availability, some parents may struggle to find a sitter and so may need to offer greater financial incentives to obtain someone to watch over their kids, or they may engage a retired neighbor into child-minding.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: basic first aid, charm, empathy, enhanced hearing, enhanced sense of smell, gaining the trust of others, haggling, making people laugh, reading people, swift-footedness, throwing one’s voice

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, adventurous, affectionate, alert, calm, charming, confident, creative, diplomatic, easygoing, friendly, imaginative, independent, mature, nurturing, obedient, observant, persuasive, playful, responsible, spontaneous, spunky, tolerant, whimsical, wise

NEGATIVE: controlling, know-it-all, paranoid

Sources of Friction: kids who don’t respect the babysitter’s rules or authority, kids with parents who are lax with discipline and so act spoiled, demanding and entitled, discovering something disturbing (such as signs of abuse, illegal activities, or drug use within the home), learning a family secret through something a child says, house guests who show up unannounced, trying to reach a parent in an emergency but being unable to, one of the children growing violent, kids sneaking out or trying to run away, kids trying to do something dangerous such as starting a fire with matches or playing with a kitchen knife, parents who don’t come home when they say they will (disrupting the babysitter’s schedule), parents who underpay, the babysitter’s friends who show up unannounced and expect to hang out (without securing a parent’s okay first), parents who demand a list of chores are completed upon return, parents who have grounded the kids from certain activities that will make the time pass easier (No TV, no computer time, not allowed to play outside in the yard, etc.), an emergency (an injury, a power outage, a lost child, a break-in, etc.)

People They Might Interact With: parents, older siblings of the kids one is babysitting, neighbors, police

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Esteem and Recognition: a character who is in a different financial situation than those one is babysitting may struggle with feelings of inferiority or shame when comparing what one’s family has to what another family’s has, especially if the babysitter is close in age to one of the children in the house)
  • Love and Belonging: A character who lacks strong family connections (perhaps a turbulent home life) may struggle being around a family that contains tight, loving bonds, as being exposed to a nurturing close family only increases the contrast to what is missing in one’s own family
  • Safety and Security: If the family the character is babysitting for lives in an area where the home may be targeted (either because it is in a high crime neighborhood or the wealth of the neighborhood attracts a criminal element) they may be in danger if someone attempts a break-in or home invasion

Common Work-Related Settings: backyard, basement, child’s bedroom, kitchen, living room, nursery, patio deck, playground, run-down apartment, teenager’s bedroom

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: In fiction and film, babysitters are often female, but this is a job either sex might be drawn to in order to make some extra income, so if you have a male character needing a bit of extra funds, consider this job for something fresh.
Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Can Writers Get an MFA Experience Without the Expense of College?

In many ways, writers are lucky. Our community has many knowledgeable people to help us learn and grow so we can turn our writing into a sustainable career. One of the most generous and innovative people Becca and I know is Gabriela Pereira: an author, TEDx Speaker, past Resident Writing Coach here at Writers Helping Writers, and the creator of DIYMFA.

I asked Gabriela to swing by today and explain the DIYMFA concept because it truly is a great alternative to a MFA degree if college is out of reach right now due to the high cost and time commitment. So if you’ve been looking for a powerful path forward, please read on.

I remember the exact moment when DIY MFA started. I was sitting in graduation (for my traditional MFA, no less) when I had a crazy idea: What if you could DIY your MFA?

Like most writers who have “crazy ideas,” I needed to run home and write about it, immediately. At the time I had a small personal blog with a total of twelve followers (one of whom was my mother) so when I decided to write a blog post that crazy idea I’d had at graduation, I expected the post would simply evaporate into the ether, never to be heard from again.

But it didn’t.

When I woke up the next morning, I found dozens of comments on my blog and emails flooding my inbox. Apparently, my crazy idea had hit a nerve.

When I first dreamed up DIY MFA, my goal was to give writers a framework so they could recreate the traditional MFA experience without going back to school. It turns out that it’s fairly easy to DIY your MFA, if you follow a few simple steps.

1. Improve your process, not just your writing.

Most MFA programs focus on the workshop model: you write something, get feedback from peers and a teacher, then fix it. The problem is this approach assumes you are already good at getting words on the page. But what if the first draft—the raw material—is the problem? Aside from giving you a deadline, workshops don’t do much to help write those words in the first place.

This is where iteration is so important. Instead of just improving your craft why not work on improving your process as well? Just as tech startups beta-test a piece of software and adjust it as they get feedback from users, so too can you hone and improve your writing process.

Treat each writing session as a mini-experiment. Track of how long you wrote, and how many words you produced and also note other environmental variables, such as where you were and what time of day. Over time, you’ll start to notice patterns and you’ll see when and where you do your best writing. This way you can work on both the quality of what you write, and the quality of your writing process.

2. Read in a way that serves your writing.

Most writers are readers first, but how do you read without taking time away from your writing? This is where the DIY MFA approach to reading comes into play. When you read with purpose, you’re doing double-duty because you’re still reading but you’re doing it in a way that fuels your writing.

This begins with choosing the right books.

There are four main categories of books that support your writing. I call these the Four C’s and they are: competitive books (i.e. comps), contextual books, contemporary books, and the classics.

Competitive books are ones that most directly “compete” with your current project. You want to be aware of these comps as you write your book, and they’ll also come in handy when you pitch to agents or build your platform later on. Contextual books include anything that informs or lends context to your work-in-progress. This includes books you read for research, as well as books with similar themes to your own.

Contemporary books help you keep your finger on the pulse of what’s current in your genre or niche and classics give you a window into which books have staying power. Keep in mind that “classic” doesn’t necessarily mean old, and you can view a relatively recent book as a classic if it sheds a new light on that genre or niche.

3. Build a circle of trust.

Writing is a lonely business. We often spend more times talking to imaginary characters in our heads than we do interacting with real people. Yet if we’re going to survive and thrive as writers, we need to assemble what I like to call a “Circle of Trust.” This is a support network of real humans who help us grow as writers. Websites like Writers Helping Writers are a great place to find potential members for your circle of trust.

As you create your support network, make sure you have at least one person who fulfills each of the following four categories. These essential categories are: critique, accountability, support, and advice. While some people will overlap with more than one category, it is rare to find one person who will fulfill all four.

The beauty of a writer’s education is that it’s a lifelong journey. I interview writers on the DIY MFA podcast are well-established mega-bestsellers and they still strive to improve their craft and challenge themselves. As writers, there is always room for us to learn and grow.

This is why I’ve created this (free!) video series to help writers like you put the DIY MFA framework into action. Or if you prefer, join me for a free online masterclass On Oct 9th (a recording will be available).

Now I’d like to know:

Which of these techniques are you excited to put into action first? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Critiquing & Critiques, Experiments, Focus, Guest Post, Motivational, Publishing and Self Publishing, Reading, The Business of Writing, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Craft, Writing Groups, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 8 Comments

Meet Our Newest Resident Writing Coaches!

We’re heading into our third year of the Resident Writing Coach program, can you believe it? Writers Helping Writers is honored to host some of the best teachers of writing craft out there, bringing you a variety of voices and insight from all over the world.

This year we have a few new coaches joining us, but first we would like to say a giant thank you to Sara Letourneau, Gabriela Pereira, and Jennie Nash for all the generous knowledge they have passed on this last year. We wish you well!

It’s always exciting to reveal our line up of coaches each year. First let me share what new experts will be joining us this year:

Victoria Mixon has been a professional writer and editor for over thirty years. She is the author of the Art & Craft of Writing series, including Art & Craft of Writing Fiction: First Writer’s Manual and Art & Craft of Writing Stories: Second Writer’s Manual. She is listed in the Who’s Who of America and has taught fiction for Writer’s Digest and the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Through her free ebook, Art & Craft of Writing: Secret Advice for Writers, you can join her email list and get your free copy of Art & Craft of Writing: Favorite Advice for Writers. She works as an independent editor through her blog and can be found on Twitter at @VictoriaMixon.

Meg LaTorre is a writer, AuthorTuber/BookTuber, developmental book editor, and former literary agent with a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. On Meg’s YouTube channel, iWriterly, she geeks out on all things books—from the concept to the bookshelves (and everything in between). Meg also launched Query Hack, a query critique platform where writers can submit their manuscript queries or Twitter pitches for free feedback.

She has written for publications such as Writer’s Digest and SavvyAuthors on topics related to writing and publishing and can be found teaching online classes throughout the year. In her free time, she enjoys reading, running after her toddler, competitive sports, and sleeping. To learn more about Meg, visit her website, follow her on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook, sign up for her monthly newsletter, and subscribe to iWriterly.

Chris Winkle is the founder and editor-in-chief of Mythcreants, an online magazine dedicated to fantasy and science fiction storytelling. Mythcreants exists to give speculative fiction writers advice that inspires them, to be a safe space for critical discussions of popular media, and to break down stories to see how they tick. Between writing almost weekly blog posts, being a host on the podcast, giving out free advice, and editing fiction and non-fiction, Chris is very busy!

When Chris manages to escape from chronic workaholism, she likes to drink tea, wear fun hats, pet kitties, and crush her enemies at the game table.

So, are you excited? I’m excited! These three brilliant ladies will fit right in with our returning writing masterminds:

Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her video tutorial Writing Fundamentals: The Craft of Story can be found at Lynda.com, and her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference, Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.

Lisa has worked in publishing at W.W. Norton, as an agent at the Angela Rinaldi Literary Agency, as a producer on shows for Showtime and Court TV, and as a story consultant for Warner Brothers and the William Morris Agency. Since 2006, she’s been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and she is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts MFA program in Visual Narrative in New York City.

In her work as a private story coach, Lisa helps writers of all ilk wrangle the story they’re telling onto the page. For a library of her free myth-busting writing tips, and information on how to work with her one-on-one, you can find her at: wiredforstory.com. Find out more about Lisa here.

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, and her first series, Keepers, is due out in November 2017.

Sacha is also the founder of the Annual Bloggers Bash Awards, a yearly international event for bloggers, writers and authors. Find out more about Sacha here.

Tamar Sloan really struggled writing this bio because she hasn’t decided whether she’s primarily a psychologist who loves writing, or a writer with a lifelong fascination of human behaviour. Somehow she got lucky enough to do both.

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 an award-winning 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 and find out more about her here.

jsb-author-photo_framed2James Scott Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure. Among his numerous thrillers are Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way, Romeo’s Hammer, Try Dying, and Don’t Leave Me. In addition to his traditional novels, Jim has self-published in a variety of genres. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books including: Just Write, Write Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structure, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense.

Read more about Jim here and Follow Jim on twitter: @jamesscottbell.

jami-picture-200-x-300_framedJami Gold, after muttering writing advice in tongues, decided to become a writer and put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she shares writing tools, presents workshops, and offers insights on her blog about the craft, business, and life of writing. Jami is the winner of the 2015 National Readers’ Choice Award in Paranormal Romance for the novel Ironclad Devotion in her Mythos Legacy series.

Read more about Jami here.

september-c-fawkes_3September C. Fawkes can scare people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. She works as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author and writing instructor, a job that includes editing manuscripts of both published and unpublished writers. She has published poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction articles, and her writing tips have appeared in classrooms, conferences, and on Grammar Girl. She holds an English degree, has served as the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal, and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on the worldwide appeal of Harry Potter.

Read more about September here.

We are looking forward to another incredible year of Resident Writing Coach posts. Is there a topic you’d like to see covered? Just leave us a comment below!

Happy writing,

Angela & Becca

Posted in About Us, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Pilot

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.

The Occupation Thesaurus can help you choose the perfect careers for your characters

Occupation: Pilot

Overview: There are many kinds of pilots, but only a few can be paid for their services—meaning your character would need to be an airline pilot, a commercial pilot, or a pilot in the military. As the name suggests, airline pilots fly commercial airliners. Commercial pilots may work for a private company or own their own business transporting passengers and cargo, running rescue missions, or doing aerial photography. Military pilots obviously fly within the military; they may be career pilots or could be fulfilling a tour of duty as a means of gaining flight training and experience. Pilots in the military often have no trouble  transitioning to a civilian pilot’s career once their time is up.

Airline pilots don’t tend to have the typical 9-to-5 work schedule; instead they work a series of days followed by a number of days off. A commercial pilot’s workweek may be more regulated, depending on what they’re doing. The former must be 23 years old while the latter can begin working earlier, at 18.

Necessary Training: Pilots will need a certification that consists of a combination of ground school (any training done on the ground) and flight training. Training can take place at a flight school, through a collegiate program, or with a private instructor. A medical certificate is also required (first class for aviation pilots, second class for commercial pilots).

Beyond certification, most commercial jobs require that a pilot have a certain number of flight hours under their belt. Many times, their flight training doesn’t provide the required hours; in this case, pilots will need to gain flying experience before applying with their desired company.

Military training is obviously a different animal, with varying requirements depending on the country and branch of service involved.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Exceptional memory, mechanically inclined, multitasking, predicting the weather

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, adventurous, alert, confident, cooperative, decisive, disciplined, focused,meticulous, responsible, studious

NEGATIVE: Perfectionist

Sources of Friction: working with a difficult or lazy co-pilot, flying a plane with mechanical difficulties, flying in difficult weather, having to conduct an emergency landing, romantic entanglements with members of the flight crew, failing a drug test, a terrorist or hijacking situation, missing an important event (a child’s birthday party, a vital marital counseling session) due to a delayed flight, having to take less-desired flights due to other pilots having seniority, being stationed in a place where one doesn’t want to live, medical issues that threaten one’s career as a pilot, difficulties at home that make it difficult to be gone for long stretches (a serious medical diagnosis, a spouse’s promotion that require them to travel too, etc.)

People They Might Interact With: co-pilots, air traffic controllers, flight attendants, airport personnel, union officials, passengers, hotel personnel

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: A pilot who is unable to obtain his desired certification may be stuck doing jobs that are unsatisfying. This could also happen if the pilot’s personal circumstances required him to take a job with more flexibility and traditional hours.
  • Love and Belonging: This need could be impacted if the pilot’s work hours and time away from home become a problem.
  • Safety and Security: Despite the best training and experience, flying is still a dangerous endeavor. If a pilot encounters a life-threatening situation, it may haunt them, hindering their flying attempts in the future.

Common Work-Related Settings: Airplane, airport, hotel room, military base, military helicopter

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype:

  • Gender-wise, pilots are largely male, so making yours female can provide a seldom-seen twist.
  • Pilots are typically portrayed as either highly adventurous adrenaline junkies or straight-laced, by-the-book types. When you’re building your pilot’s personality, consider uncommon traits that aren’t usually associated with this career, such as flirtatious, sentimental, philosophical, sleazy, verbose, or morbid.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment