The Best Resource for Planning Your NaNoWriMo Novel

Can you believe it? We’re less than 10 days from the biggest, craziest, event in Writerville: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). That means 50,000 words written in one month, and all the coffee, stale pizza, and Skittles you need to fuel yourself to do it.

This year I won’t be entering but I’ve won NaNo a few times in the past (and failed once). That failure was due to a misstep of mine which I’ve never repeated.

What happened, exactly? Well, things were stupidly busy for me and long story short, I went into it unprepared. All I had was a nugget of an idea and figured I’d “get everything sorted” as I went along.

I was wrong.

Halfway through the novel, the story petered out. I never finished. Worse, I felt like I’d wrecked what could have been a great story idea…had I planned it out a little more. UGH.

Some people like to pants a novel (meaning they don’t need to plan and they can create on the fly). And while back then I would always pants a little, I still needed to know my story’s bones – who the protagonist was, what was at stake, and have ideas about where things were going.

So lesson learned: plan the important stuff. Since then, I’ve brainstormed what I’ve needed to. No more novels running out of steam, and no more quitting a book before it’s finished!

Whether it’s NaNoWriMo or not, I’ve realized that planning my characters so I know who they are deep down means they are so much easier to write. I always know how they will behave because I understand who they are and what’s motivating them.

Whether you plan a little or a lot, there’s one go-to place to check out: One Stop for Writers.

Planning is part of my routine but time is always tight, so having the right toolbox at my keyboard makes all the difference. Here’s how One Stop can help.

Ideas. Oh, where to start when it comes to planning a novel? A character’s secret, fear, or emotional wound? A plot complication, an area of internal growth, story stakes, or a story prompt? The idea generator is packed with options for planning your characters and plot.

Characters. At the heart of your story, characters must be well-developed with needs, motivations, and goals that make sense for who they are. The Character Builder not only helps you plan the people in your story, it also can recognize which key details will be part of their character arc. It will gather this information and create an accurate character arc blueprint showing their internal journey in your story. (Yes, really!)

Worldbuilding. Whether the story takes place in the real world or one of your own making, the details matter. For readers to be immersed in the protagonist’s struggles and the logic of the world has to hold up. One Stop has customizable surveys can help you plan the people, places, and systems that power your world.

Timelines. Is your character going on a quest? Do you need to plan a series of crime scenes where a killer leaves clues behind? This tool can help you track places, dates, and important details. And if you need to, you can drag the tiles around to play with the order of story events.

Plot & Structure. Need a solid outline to follow? Story Maps leads you through the 3-Acts step-by-step, helping you plot the outer story and prompting you to think about what developments should happen and when for change, failed, and static arcs.

Scene Outlines. If you want to keep your scenes on track so each one pushes the story forward, we have two different styles of Scene Maps to help.

Depending on what you need, there are other resources too. You can take it slow with Templates and Worksheets by planning the character, plot, and settings in smaller pieces. Or dive into everything that touches your character’s specific goal like the obstacles, stakes, and preparations using the Character Motivation Thesaurus. One Stop has the largest description database available anywhere so even during NaNoWriMo you’ll never run out of ideas on what to write.

Each of us plans differently…we get a feeling in our gut that guides us. Whatever you personally like to know about a story going in, I’m guessing One Stop for Writers can help. (But hey, I’m totally biased!) If you want to check the site out, give the 2-week free trial a spin.

One Last Tip (& It’s a Big One)

Bookmark this list of Checklists and Tip Sheets just in case you get stuck, write yourself into a corner, or stall out during NaNoWriMo. It might just be your lantern to finding your way out of the darkness!

Are you entering NaNoWriMo? Is this your first year, or have you done it before? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Character Arc, Characters, Motivation, Motivational, NaNoWriMo Strategy & Support, One Stop For Writers, research, Software and Services, Time Management, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, worldbuilding, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 2 Comments

What You Can Learn from Rhetorical Questions in Your Manuscript

It is such an easy thing to do. Once you become aware of author intrusion and what that looks like in limited third person, first person, or deep POV, the easy workaround becomes a rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is used to create dramatic effect or make a point rather than elicit an answer. Instead of telling the reader how the character feels or inserting information into the story, you have the character wonder about the information instead.

Here’s a paragraph from a manuscript I’ve stuffed in a drawer. 

Laurel slunk deeper into her seat. The two other reporters and the admin glanced at her, but mostly they stared at their notebooks. She straightened in her seat and hooked her hair behind her ears. Why was everyone acting so sullen?

There it is. The rhetorical question that’s slipped in to replace the bit of author intrusion I had there. Problem solved, right? Maybe. Except, when I do a search for question marks, there’s 22 rhetorical questions in eight pages. TWENTY-TWO?? Hmmm…

I saw this trend of overusing rhetorical questions in my student’s work too and the question marks began jumping off the page at me. The problem is that the author intrusion or narrator voice we’re trying to avoid by using rhetorical questions ends up being a crutch that prevents us from taking that next step to go deeper with our character.

So I challenged myself to limit the rhetorical questions to one per chapter. One. And here are the benefits of stretching yourself in this way.

Rhetorical Questions Aren’t Wrong

Rhetorical questions have their place in internal dialogue, the goal shouldn’t be to completely eliminate them (mostly, rhetorical questions are fair game in dialogue). They can offer great surprise for the reader. 

But most of the time, the character’s rhetorical questions are offering information the reader already knows the character is thinking about. You’re repeating information instead of moving the story ahead. You’ve just tied an anchor to the pace of your novel right there. Why waste valuable space on the page repeating things the reader already knows?


Readers want characters that stand for something. They want characters who have decided to press on towards a particular goal no matter what the cost – there’s no turning back. To do this well, your character needs to plant a flag, draw a line in the sand, pick a path, choose a side.

While we hope rhetorical questions help us create tension and uncertainty in characters (and therefore readers), over-using them allows the character to waffle. This waffling or hesitation makes the character harder to cheer for, harder to relate to. Instead, force them to be decisive and live with the consequences. Take a rhetorical question in your manuscript and have the character think of the answer to the question instead. For instance:

Could she trust him?

Could become: He’d betrayed her before and nothing stopped him from doing it again. But maybe he was her only chance at a relationship. The ache in her chest kicked up, a sharp penetrating throb over her sternum. No, she couldn’t trust him, but she didn’t trust herself to make a good decision either.

The rhetorical question is a shortcut that’s meant to increase tension, but many times the shortcut undermines the emotional potential in a scene. It’s a lost opportunity to go deeper. There’s more emotional depth to the answer than the rhetorical question offered.

Try Starting with the Rhetorical Question

Back-to-back rhetorical questions point to weak writing or undeveloped characters. I’m a pantser at heart, so my first drafts are riddled with rhetorical questions. Case in point:

But could she do it? Could she go back to the farm—to him? Could they fix their marriage? Did she even want to?

I have begun to see these paragraphs as fluorescent sticky tabs marking a place I need to revisit and go deeper with the emotions.  

In revisions, get curious about how the character would answer those questions. Start with the rhetorical question as a launching point for going deeper. What are the implications of one or more possible answers? 

In the paragraph above, the female character is trying to decide if she should give her marriage another chance. There’s so much depth to plumb there. If she goes back to him, what kind of person does that make her? Would her opinion of herself change if it doesn’t work out? Why is it so hard to decide – what’s at risk? What parts of herself are upset and why is she refusing to listen to them? What would a stronger person do? Why can’t she do that? 

Are the Rhetorical Questions Always Coming from One Character?

This was a pretty humbling question to ask myself, because I saw a trend in my first drafts where there was always one POV character who overused rhetorical questions to an embarrassing level. The other POV characters would have a reasonable use of rhetorical questions, but there would be one with back-to-back paragraphs of rhetorical questions. *womp womp*

Has this happened to you too? It’s a signal to me that I don’t know my character well enough. I don’t know WHY they’re doing/thinking certain things, what’s motivating them, what emotions are involved or at risk, or even what they really want. The rhetorical questions allowed me to waffle and skim, to avoid the hard work of going deeper. I had to stop being a lazy writer and get curious about aspects of this character I didn’t have an answer for yet. 

Going deeper with the emotions in a scene allows the reader to connect with the character. Rhetorical questions can be a great starting point to diving deep into emotions, so don’t be discouraged if you find quite a few. Just nod. Maybe do a search and highlight what you find. This is a new starting point. OK, I know what that’s about now and I know how to fix it.

Are you going to do NaNoWriMo? The mini-course on layering emotions in deep point of view is available on my website. It’s a combination of written lessons, PDFs, videos, and ideas for homework to help apply what you’ve learned. 

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Resident Writing Coach

If Lisa had a super-power it would be breaking down complicated concepts into digestible practical steps. Lisa loves helping writers “go deeper” and create emotional connections with readers using deep point of view! Hang out with Lisa on Facebook at Confident Writers where she talks deep point of view.
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Posted in Characters, Emotion, Motivation, Pacing, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Writing Craft | 6 Comments

Relationship Thesaurus: Friends with Benefits

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

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


Description: A “friends with benefits” relationship is not the same as a hookup or no-strings-attached scenario as the characters involved are friends, and if the sex stopped, that friendship should (hopefully) remain intact. Partners will have strong physical chemistry and develop a level of intimacy where they can share things about their lives as friends, but there’s no sense of ownership, obligation, or expectation of commitment.

Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
Characters in this relationship value the friendship and respect each other’s autonomy
Partners have rules in place that both agree to (possibly to meet on a schedule, to never stay the night, to not “date” as a couple, etc.)
If one or both partners enter a committed relationship with another, all benefits are halted
Problems, challenges, and concerns regarding the relationship are discussed and worked through (good communication)
Both parties work to provide what the other needs in the bedroom and out of it
Personal boundaries and privacy are respected
Demands and expectations are not placed on one another
There is not an expectation of permanence
If the characters halt sexual encounters (perhaps because one enters a romantic relationship) they still check in on each other
The two practice safe sex

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship
Rules not being followed (showing up unannounced, asking to stay the night, wanting to bring the partner to events as their date, or whatever else breaks the rules)
Showing up unexpectedly (at the other’s work, a family event, or somewhere else that was always off-limits)
Demanding to know what the other is doing when not together
Displaying jealousy, control issues, and possessiveness
Emotional volatility and drama due to one person wanting more than the other is willing to give
A partner’s request for distance not being respected
Making ultimatums and threats (one partner demanding the relationship evolve or they are out)
Failing to halt “benefits” when one or both are also in romantic relationships (leading to affairs and emotional dependance)
Keeping secrets (an STI is discovered but not disclosed, a characetr’s feelings have changed, etc.)

Conflicting Desires That Can Impair the Relationship
If one partner meets someone they wish to have a romantic relationship with and the other is too invested and unabe to give the F-W-B up
Wanting to have other friends-with-benefits relationships (or bring a third into the mix) yet the character’s partner does not
Changing needs in the bedroom that both aren’t on board with
One partner developing feelings and wanting to evolve the relationship while the other is happy with the status quo

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations: Adventurous and Timid, Generous and Selfish, Needy and Independent, Perceptive and Inattentive, Affectionate and Inhibited

Negative Outcomes of Friction
The loss of a friendship because both parties are no longer in agreement about what they want
A broken heart
Unrequited love
Struggling with intimacy moving forward
Closing off to other satisfying relationships because this one ended badly
New emotional wounds involving relationships and trust issues
Secrets shared in confidence being made public out of revenge, damaging the partner’s reputation or their relationship with others

Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
Characters feeling the pressure from family or society to have “a significant other” when they don’t want one can mutually agree to play the role of the other’s partner when needed

Characters who are incapable of intimacy and yet still have needs (both sexually and also to be understood or accepted) may find this relationship gives them what they need. This could be a good arrangement for sociopaths, for example (albeit closer to “allies with benefits”)

Characters who are friends and have no interest in romantic relationships and yet occasionally desire sexual interaction could choose this relationship as it can be a good fit for both.

Ways a Healthy Relationship Can Encourage Positive Change
A character who is struggling with sexual dysfunction may find the right partner in this dynamic provides them with a safe way to work through their challenges without pressure

Characters looking to experiment sexually may find this relationship is a good fit so they can do so free from judgment so they better know what they are looking for in future romantic relationships

A character who has been deeply hurt in the past romantically may regain their confidence through a friends-with-benefits type relationship because they can set rules that discourage attachment

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
Beginnings, Coming of Age, Freedom, Friendship, Journeys, Knowledge, Loss, Love, Obstacles, Transformation, Vulnerability

Need More Descriptive Help?

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

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

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Critiques 4 U: Guest Editor Edition


It’s time for our monthly critique contest, and the wonderful Marissa Graff is back to provide feedback for two lucky winners!

If you’re game to enter this month’s contest, here’s the amazing person you could be working with: 

Marissa has been a freelance editor and reader for literary agent Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary Agency for five years. In conjunction with Angelella Editorial, she offers developmental editing, author coaching, and more. She specializes in middle-grade and young-adult fiction, but also works with adult fiction. Marissa feels if she’s done her job well, a client should probably never need her help again because she’s given them a crash-course MFA via deep editorial support and/or coaching.



This month’s contest will be a little different because Marissa is offering up a critique on the FIRST FIVE PAGES of TWO WINNERS‘ stories!

If you’re working on a story opening (anything except erotica, nonfiction, or picture books) 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, Marissa will be able to contact you if you win. Just please know that if she’s unable to get in touch with you through that address, you’ll have to forfeit your win.

Please be sure your story opening is ready to go so she 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 her right away, let me ask that you plan on entering the next contest once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of.

Two commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted here tomorrow. If you win, Marissa will be in contact to get your pages and offer her feedback. 

Best of luck!

One More Thing…

It’s One Stop for Writers’ 5th Birthday this month, and we have a special discount code for you.

To find out the details, and to discover why One Stop for Writers should be in your writing toolkit, just head over here to our birthday post.

Posted in Uncategorized | 33 Comments

Asking the Right Questions with Character Interviews

Thank you so much to the team at Writers Helping Writers for asking me to be part of the Resident Writing Coaches program. I’m honoured and delighted to be working with such a wonderful community of writers and look forward to helping you with your craft.

Developing characters is one of the joys of writing and it’s a dream when we understand them and what they’re about. Inevitably, though, there comes a time when our characters do and say things that don’t make sense to us, we feel they’re one-dimensional, or we just don’t know how they should react to situations. This can stall our story.

Character interviews are a fabulous way to address these problems. Not only does interviewing your character help you learn more about them, you’ll be able to note the hesitations or uncertainties so you can drill deeper into those areas. It can also give you a better feel for their voice, which can sometimes be hard to nail down.

But there are so may interviews and questionnaires available on the internet, and we can lose a lot of time answering questions that may not be relevant to understanding our character. So how do we know which questions are the right questions? Which ones will help us dig deeper into our characters and, ultimately, strengthen our story?

Breaking questions into categories can be extremely useful; that way you can focus on what you need to know. For example, take a character who uses humor in intense family situations. Is it just a nervous reaction or is something deeper going in, perhaps a protective measure because of a traumatic family event in the past? In this case, asking pertinent, probing questions about relationships with each family member is a way to delve deeper into your character and understand them better.

Whether you cherry-pick from existing questionnaires or create your own, the questions need to be in-depth. And don’t let your character shy away from answering. If you uncover a huge secret they’re hiding from the world or a lie they’ve been telling themselves for years, even better!

To get you started, I’ve suggested some categories with questions that might be relevant for your character. Feel free to add to it to create your own database of questions.


  • Who is the most important person to you in the family? Why?
  • If there are rifts in your family, who are they with and why? 
  • Who is your best friend? What is your relationship like? 
  • Have you ever had a falling out with your best friend? What happened? How did it change the relationship?
  • Are you friends with any of your exes? Why or why not?
  • Do you date a certain “type”? Do you see in your relationships?
  • If your exes were asked for their views on you, what would they say?
  • How do you deal with confrontation? Have you always been like this?
  • If someone met you for the first time, how would they describe you? Do you agree? If not, why not?


  • Do care what people think of you? Why or why not?
  • If you had one wish, what would it be?
  • When you meet someone, what is the first thing you notice about them? Second?
  • When you meet someone, are first impressions everything or are you open to changing your mind? Why or why not?
  • What are the secrets about yourself that nobody knows?
  • What do you do at home by yourself?}
  • What makes you emotional? 
  • Do you hide your emotions or allow the world to see them? Why? 
  • What is your biggest regret in life? 
  • What are you most afraid of?
  • If you found $50 in a supermarket carpark and no one saw you, what would you do?


  • Are you obsessed with anything? What is it and why? 
  • What’s your definition of a perfect vacation?
  • Is your house messy or clean? Do you care?
  • If you could have your dream job and/or life what would it be and why?
  • If you aren’t doing your dream job or leading the life you want, why not?
  • Where do you see yourself in one year? Five years? Twenty years? 
  • What kind of learner are you? 


  • If you could change something in your past, what is it and why? 
  • Do you believe examining past experiences is a great way to grow as an individual? Why or why not?
  • How do you feel looking back on your first romantic relationship? What about your last one?
  • Do you look forward or back? Why or why not?
  • What habits or traits have you always possessed? Do you want to change it? Why or why not?

By asking the right questions, you’ll be able to dig deep into your character’s mind and heart you’ll have an array of wonderful, memorable characters your readers will love (or love to hate, depending on what genre you’re writing!). 

What questions do you ask your characters when you need to delve deep?

Alli Sinclair

Resident Writing Coach

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

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Introducing…The Relationship Thesaurus!

Human beings are social creatures. We’re made to be with others, meaning, our lives are built on a series of interwoven relationships. Deep or superficial, good or bad, these relationships are incredibly important. They contribute to our feelings about ourselves, influence our decisions and actions, and teach us how to get along with others. As such, they’re formative, and even the most introverted among us can’t live without them. 

The same is true for our characters. For us to know them, we need to know the relationships that are important to them, and why. 

But when it comes to storytelling, relationships can accomplish so much more. They offer support in the form of allies that the protagonist will need in order to achieve their goal. People within the protagonist’s relationships act as mirrors and foils, providing reflective opportunities that can lead to the internal change that is key to character arc. And every relationship, good and bad, can shore up story structure in the form of natural conflict that can be infused into each scene.

Because of the many ways relationships can be used to enhance a well-told story, Angela and I have decided to make this our next thesaurus topic. We’ll explore a variety of relationships, such as SoulmatesCo-WorkersRivals, Exes, and Parent and Child, along with the aspects of those relationships that could be tailored to fit a story. Here are a few of the features each entry will cover:

Healthy and Unhealthy Dynamics. Some of your character’s relationships will be good and some will be bad. Others, like the people involved, are a mixed bag. We’ll be brainstorming all the variations to give you ideas on which one might be best for your character and story.

Clashing Personality Traits. Even the most loving and supportive relationships should have some tension. But authors often make the mistake of making the “good” ones too good. And without that tension, they fall flat. A natural way to spice up a boring relationship is to give the players opposing traits, and voilà: instant conflict.

Conflicting Desires. Another way to add sparks is to give the people in the relationship opposing goals and desires. Alice and her parents may have a healthy and positive relationship, but if she wants to go away to a prestigious university while her parents want her to stay nearby (and attend the local state school), sparks are going to fly. Whether you’re looking at a supportive or toxic relationship for your character, conflicting needs and wants not only add conflict but can make your character question their own desires, seeding doubt and insecurity.

Positive Influences and Change. Characters undergoing a change arc will need to be pushed in the right direction. This influence often comes from the people around them: friends, rivals, family members, the doorman in the character’s building—literally any relationship can be used to solicit the change needed to get your protagonist where they need to go. We’ll delve into the various ways each relationship can help in this area.

Themes That Can Be Enhanced. Central story ideas are important for setting your story apart and adding depth, but writing them can be tricky. Relationships can naturally tie into certain themes and provide a subtle vehicle for exploring those ideas. So whether you’ve got a theme in mind or one naturally emerges as you write and you need to flesh it out, we’ll be looking at different relationships and highlighting the themes that can be emphasized with each.

Whatever genre you write, relationships will figure largely into your story. And they should be as complex, compelling, and layered as they are in real life. Our hope is that this thesaurus will encourage you to fine-tune and develop your character’s relationships until they do exactly what you need them to do in your story.

The first entry will be coming your way next Saturday, so stay tuned!

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Happy 5th Birthday, One Stop for Writers!

It’s October, which is One Stop for Writers’ BIRTHDAY MONTH. Even better, we’re hitting a very special milestone: it’s been 5 years since the One Stop library opened its doors.


One Stop for Writers is our passion project, one that Becca and I originally started with Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows. The three of us envisioned a library that would give writers exactly what they needed to write stronger stories faster, and help them become masterful storytellers at the same time. And so that’s what we built! Lee has since moved onto other projects but Becca, myself, and our team work hard every day to bring you the most powerful writing toolkit out there.

To celebrate this big birthday we’re hosting a free Zoom webinar on character building where we will hit all the major touchstones for creating fascinating, deep characters. We’ll show you how to plan their backstory, fears, needs, personality, behavior, motivation and more using the one-of-a-kind Character Builder.

This Zoom will take place on October 14th at 7 PM EST. If you can’t make it, we’ll send out a recording to those who register. We’ll be giving away a SWACK of 1-month memberships to those who attend live, too! Sign up to secure your seat:

Sorry, registration is closed.

Want to join the One Stop for Writers family? Here’s 25% off.

Activate the code BIRTHDAY5 and choose any paid plan. You’ll see a one-time discount of 25% on your next invoice!

(The code expires Oct 31st, 2020, so grab it fast)

New users or existing users, please use this code if you need it. And thank you for supporting us and the things we make to help writers. The world needs talented storytellers, and we love serving you!

Posted in About Us, Goal and Milestones, One Stop For Writers, Past Events, Software and Services, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 12 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: The Death of a Pet

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.

pet, death, grief

Conflict: The Death of a Pet

Category: Failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, losing an advantage, loss of control

Examples: Pets provide so much encouragement, love, and comfort that their loss can be a huge blow—especially when it’s unexpected or brings with it an element of guilt. Tack this debilitating event onto the end of a string of minor conflicts, and it can be the proverbial final straw that pushes a character over the edge.

Minor Complications:
Needing to do something with all the pet products in the house because looking at them causes too much pain
Having to make final arrangements (if the pet is going to be cremated, preserved through taxidermy, etc.)
Having to explain the death after the fact (when the vet’s office calls months later with a reminder about a scheduled appointment, to neighbors who ask about its absence, etc.)
Seeing pets that look similar to one’s own, and being reminded of him or her
Having to get used to new routines that don’t involve the pet (going for walks alone, riding in the car alone, sleeping by oneself, etc.)

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Adopting a new pet and realizing that one wasn’t ready
A well-meaning loved one buying a replacement pet for the character before they’re ready to start again
Being unable to adopt another pet because the character was partly to blame for the death of the first one
Family members needing opposing things in order to heal—i.e., one person needing to get a new pet and the other being unable to do so)
The pet dying on or near the anniversary of another loss (the loss of a parent, a miscarriage, the finalization of a divorce, etc.)
The pet dying in the same way as an important loved one
The pet dying in a gruesome or violent way, and the character being unable to move past it
One’s children struggling with the pet’s passing
Losing a support pet and not being able to function without it
Being unfairly blamed by a grieving family member for the pet’s death
The pet’s death being part of a crime, and the character having to keep revisiting the details in a criminal investigation
Remaining pets pining away for their friend

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Blaming oneself (legitimately or not) for the death
Wanting another pet but being afraid of losing it and having to experience grief again
Being unable to forgive a family member for the part they played (even accidentally) in the pet’s death

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family members

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, bitterness, denial, depressed, despair, devastation, disbelief, discouraged, dread, grief, guilt, loneliness, longing, nostalgia, overwhelmed, remorse, sadness, shock

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Irrational, martyr, melodramatic, needy, nervous

Positive Outcomes: 
Remembering the good times
The character recognizing the good they did in taking in an animal needing a home
Deciding to contribute a monetary gift to an animal charity in the pet’s memory
Adopting another pet in need of a loving family
The character realizing that the love and companionship they experienced is worth the risk of loss

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this conflict thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is available at our main site, One Stop for Writers

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

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How to Use Your Excuses to Get More Writing Done

Writers are master excuse-makers.

Whenever we don’t get the writing done, we have a library of excuses ready to use.

I was too tired.
I was in a bad mood.
I didn’t feel well.
I had a hard day.
I didn’t feel creative.
I thought I’d have time later.

My personal favorites are “I didn’t have time,” and “My brain was fried.” You probably have a few you regularly use too.

Excuses are dangerous, though. They prevent us from achieving our writing goals. They can also make us think that it’s not our fault when we don’t meet our daily writing quotas.

Something else happened, we say to ourselves, or someone else got in our way. It was out of our control!

But of course, nothing could be further from the truth. We are in complete control of our schedules and our choices.

How can we shake ourselves loose from all this excuse-making and boost writing productivity? Here are three methods that might work for you.

1. Keep Track of All Your “Why I Didn’t Write” Excuses

Usually, our excuses come and go and we never think of them again. This allows them to stay hidden from our consciousness, where they are rarely recognized as the devious monsters they are.

Bring your excuses out in the open by keeping track of them. One way to do that is to create a chart, table, or Excel document on which you record your daily writing progress. On those days when you write, mark down the time you spent writing, the words you completed, or both. On the days you don’t write, record your excuse.

This can be a very powerful tool. When you review your progress document each week, you’re going to feel a positive hit for every day that contains writing time and/or words, but you’re also going to “feel the shame” for every day you allowed an excuse to get in the way.

Some excuses, of course, are legitimate. If you had to take a family member to the doctor or get emergency help for a broken water heater, you’re not going to feel bad about that. But if you look back and see you didn’t write because you binge-watched a favorite TV show, for example, or decided you were uninspired, you’re going to come face-to-face with your own failure to follow through.

“There is just something about being forced to write it down,” author Leigh Stein told NBC News, “being forced to look at what [excuse] it is that you’re using that I think helped me as a corrective.”

2. Stop Using the Word “But” Before Your Excuse

Excuses often begin with the word “but.”

For example:

  • I wanted to write, but I was too tired.
  • I was going to write, but my brain was dead.
  • I had planned to write, but I had to fix dinner.

The word “but” allows us to let ourselves off the hook way too easily. It makes it feel like it’s okay to neglect what’s important to us—our writing.

Try taking this word away. When you do that, the above three examples become:

  • I wanted to write.
  • I was going to write.
  • I had planned to write.

All of a sudden you can see your true desire under the excuses. You wanted to write, but you allowed your excuse to draw you away from that desire.

From now on, decide you will no longer use the word “but” when it comes to your writing schedule. When you find yourself about to say, “I wanted to write, but…” just stop. Sit with the first part of that sentence for a minute: “I wanted to write.” It may inspire you to write immediately, after which you’ll probably feel much better.

3. Use Your “Why I Didn’t Write” Excuses as Clues

Most of the time, when you don’t write, it’s not because you’re tired, too busy, or uninspired.

There’s something else going on. The excuse is a cover-up.

To boost your writing productivity, you need to put on your detective hat. What is the real reason why you’re not writing?

To unearth some clues, focus in on fear. By far the most popular reason writers don’t write, fear frequently gets in the way, so pull out your journal and answer these questions:

  • If I write, I’m afraid I will…
  • If I get my writing done, then I’m afraid…
  • Every time I think of writing, I’m afraid of…

See what you find from your answers to these questions, then track yourself for the next two weeks. Every time you’re tempted to avoid your writing time, stop and ask yourself: “What am I afraid of?”

Most of the time, this will help you get to the bottom of your excuses, so you can move past them.

Would you like to get more writing done and boost your writing career? Get Colleen’s FREE worksheet, “7 Easy Ways to Become a More Productive Writer” here!

SOURCE: Compton, Julie. “How Tracking Her Excuses Motivated This Writer to Pen a Novel.” NBC News. Last modified December 5, 2019.

Colleen M. Story

Resident Writing Coach

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

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Why Writers Should Consider NaNoWriMo in 2020

Let’s not mince words: 2020 has been a real crap sandwich. COVID has caused all sorts of struggles, anxiety, and challenges. Some of you have had work disrupted. Others wanted to travel to see loved ones and couldn’t. All of us are feeling isolated or overburdened, and everyone’s schedule has gone off the rails.


Recently I posted about the changing seasons and the big opportunity we have to mentally reset using our deeply rooted associations with fall. The symbolism of this month is all about preparedness and taking action, getting things done before winter sets in. This means psychologically it’s a great time to set small, achievable goals and mentally turn the page.

One goal I’d like you to consider is not a small one, however. I bring it up because it has huge potential as far as offering us a mental reprieve from current stressors by providing a powerful, communal goal to rally behind. I’m talking about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) of course.

If NaNoWriMo is new to you, basically think CHALLENGE MEETS CREATIVITY. Tens of thousands of writers all over the world take on the same goal: to write 50,000 words in the month of November. It’s a lot of words. For many, it adds up to a full novel. And for all, whether they reach 50K or not, it’s a way to shove aside all the “You can’t write a novel” voices in their heads and JUST DO IT.

Some of you might think I’m insane for suggesting taking on a bigger goal like Nano, but hear me out.

Reason #1: It’s been a disruptive year, and NaNoWriMo provides us with a sense of normalcy and routine. Many of us have Nano’d before, or we’ve watched others do it. Participating this year is a chance to set aside what we can’t control and focus on what we can: creating incredible stories.

Reason #2: It’s a great way to come together and support one another as we pursue a common goal. If you’ve felt isolated, there’s a huge virtual community of writerly brothers and sisters with the same passion and drive as you. Through NaNoWriMo you’ll meet some and might just walk away with new writing besties. (We all need those!)

Reason #3: It’s free therapy. 2020 has been a psychological rollercoaster that has likely pushed you to your limits. Use this time to pour your emotions into your characters. Give them struggles that allow you to productively use the feelings you’ve experienced. The best part? As they grow and find their inner strength, it’ll help you recognize and appreciate your own resilience.

Reason #4: It gives you permission to experiment. Many writers have struggled to work on current projects (they’ve lost interest, hit a wall, feel too distracted, or their mood isn’t a match for the novels they typically write). One beautiful thing about NANO is that it invites experimentation. What a great time to try a new genre, character type, or to play with plot elements you’ve never given yourself permission to try before. Don’t pressure yourself over quality. Have fun seeing what your imagination is capable of!

Reason #5: The world needs your words. This has been a difficult year and more challenges lie ahead. Stories provide escape, comfort, connection, and sometimes, a pathway for a reader to gain insight into their own lives and grow. What a beautiful way to use your gift right now to help others!

reader interest

Not everyone will be able to do NaNoWriMo, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t. You didn’t ask for a pandemic or all the challenges that go with it, so this is just a gentle nudge. Use the spirit of NaNoWriMo to create something this November: a short story, a scene, or freewriting about something you’ve always wanted to explore. Do something that brings you joy.

Considering It? Let’s Build Your NaNoWriMo Toolkit.

NANOWRIMO: Sign up, introduce yourself on the forums, find local groups, and explore the treasure trove of links and resources that writers all over the world recommend.

TRELLO: This free tool is great for brainstorming. Gather together story ideas, research links, create columns for each character…Trello’s drag-and-drop cards are a great way to organize your ideas. (Free!)

ONE STOP FOR WRITERS: This creativity portal is LOADED with powerful resources to help you plan characters & their story arcs, world-build, create story timelines, slay story structure and plot using the Story Map & Scene Map tools, and so much more. (2-week free trial!)

BRAIN FM: I purchased a lifetime license years ago and have never looked back, and why? Because it helps me focus on the task at hand. This app plays special neural phase-locking music that engages with your brain, encouraging productive writing sessions. If you’d like to try it, use my member’s code to get a free month.

FREEDOM: If social media and email pings distract you, well, you aren’t alone. An unending stream of information is a blessing and a curse, so if you want to claw back your keyboard, try this app and website blocker. (There’s a free trial).

THE NOVELIST’S TRIAGE CENTER: If you get stuck at any time (write yourself into a corner, you run out of ideas, a plot hole happens, etc., visit this page. It’s packed with the many possible problems you might encounter and how to free yourself of them so the words continue to flow. (Free!)

NANOWRIMO PLANNER: Want a roadmap for 2020’s challenge? Eva Deverell’s handy planner guides you on what you should be doing to prepare leading up to November, and checkpoints during NaNo to help you get to 50K. Check it out. (Free!)

SHOW-DON’T-TELL PRO PACK: Description is powerful when you choose the right details. This powerful PDF gives you insight into some of the most meaningful areas of description and how to better utilize details to make characters leap off the page, push the story forward, and fascinate readers so they live in the world you’re creating alongside the protagonist. (Free!)

Whether you decide to jump into NaNoWriMo or not, we are in your corner!

Create something if it will help you, and if not, find ways to fill your creative well. Be kind to yourself. Reach out any time if you need someone to talk to and be proud of your strength. This has not been an easy year, but you are getting through it and we think you’re amazing.

Posted in About Us, Focus, Goal Setting, Motivational, NaNoWriMo Strategy & Support, One Stop For Writers, Show Don't Tell, Software and Services, Time Management, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Groups, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 3 Comments