Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Delay that Makes One Late

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.

Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Loss of Control


Oversleeping (due to an alarm not going off, a hangover, etc.)
A diaper explosion as the character is getting ready to leave
The dog escaping and having to be chased down
Facilities issues, such as a pipe breaking or the fire alarm going off
A transportation breakdown (the car won’t start, one’s bike being stolen, etc.)
Forgetting something vital (a wallet, passport, phone, etc.) and having to go back for it
Getting stuck in traffic, behind a school bus, or at a drawbridge
Taking a wrong turn
Getting a ticket
Getting into a car accident
Having to take an important call (from the kids’ school, the boss, a doctor, etc.)
Having to wait on someone else (a carpool driver, late school bus, babysitter, etc.)
Poor planning (due to being overwhelmed by other things, personality, etc.)

Minor Complications: Friction with others who are inconvenienced, one’s credibility being damaged, forgetting something important because one is in a hurry, being short-tempered with others due to the stress, minor health implications (increased hypertension, aggravating an ulcer, etc.), missing a meal and becoming cranky

Potentially Disastrous Results: Being late to an interview and not getting the job, missing a flight to an important event, ruining a last chance at romance, getting into an accident due to rushing, giving in to road rage, being triggered into a panic attack or mental meltdown

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Berating oneself unnecessarily, struggling with panic or anxiety, denying one’s responsibility and blaming others, becoming defensive, defeatist thoughts (if the impact of one’s tardiness is dire), being tempted to lie about the cause of the lateness

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Anyone waiting on the character: co-workers, the boss, clients, a spouse or partner, children, other relatives, a babysitter or nanny, friends

Resulting Emotions: Agitation, anger, annoyance, conflicted, defeat, defensiveness, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, discouraged, dread, embarrassment, flustered, guilt, impatience, irritation, nervousness, overwhelmed, panic, powerlessness, regret, unease, worry 

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, controlling, defensive, disorganized, flaky, foolish, forgetful, fussy, impatient, impulsive, indecisive, inflexible, irresponsible, martyr, melodramatic, nervous, obsessive, perfectionist, scatterbrained, selfish, stubborn, verbose, worrywart

Positive Outcomes: A chance encounter that wouldn’t have happened had the character been on time, learning one’s lesson and planning better in the future, taking responsibility for one’s mistake and being forgiven, recognizing that one is overcommitted and taking steps to keep it from happening again, missing one’s final destination and realizing it was for the best

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

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Writers, Remember: The Wand Chooses The Wizard

When we choose a writing career, naturally we want to find our footing quickly. But this can cause us to pay too much attention to what other authors are doing in hopes of finding the magic of success. Michelle Barker is here to remind us why looking within is actually the key, so please read on!

When I first started writing, I was fresh out of university with a degree in English literature. I was determined to be a literary writer. To me, this was what being a writer meant. Never mind writing about the things that suited my personality. I would write big important novels for adults, and short stories with lots of sentence fragments. And never mind finding my own voice; I wanted to sound like Margaret Atwood.

Well, the short version of this story is: I am not Margaret Atwood. It turns out, big important novels for adults are not my thing at all. I write young adult novels, because the voice that most suits my personality is a teenage one. It took a long time to reach this point, however. I did not understand the wisdom of Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter’s world, nor would I have accepted it. But like it or not, Mr. Ollivander was right: the wand chooses the wizard.

Flannery O’Connor had her own version of the wand merchant’s wisdom: “The writer can choose what he writes about but he cannot choose what he is able to make live…” I tried writing two important adult novels. They were utter failures. There was no magic in them, no spark. They weren’t me.

Seeking Your Own Inspiration

Having misconceptions about writing serious literature is one aspect of this problem. You will also no doubt encounter well-meaning friends and family members who advise you to write about vampires because they’re popular right now. Or you’ll have that uncle at the Christmas party who corners you with a story that would make a great novel and you should write it.

Write what is in your heart, not to trends

Writing what you (or other people) think you should be writing simply doesn’t work. Unless vampires are your obsession, unless your uncle’s story made all the hair on your arms stand up, chances are you’ll only be writing with half a heart.

Besides that, jumping on the market bandwagon is a recipe for disappointment. By the time your book is ready to meet the world, there’s a good chance the fad—whatever it is—will have passed and the market will already be glutted.

Uncovering Your Passion

What do we bring to life most effectively? The things we are passionate about. The things that keep us awake at night.

These are not always easy to pin down. If you had told me even ten years ago I would be writing historical fiction, I would have laughed. I’m not a history buff. But I have a mother who lived in Germany during World War Two and then in what became East Germany. I grew up hearing stories about her life. When I finally realized I needed to write about East Germany, I didn’t care if novels about East Germany were popular. I had a protagonist with a story that was bursting out of me, and I had to write it.

We don’t usually choose our obsessions. They’re built-in, ready-made. You don’t need to justify a love for dragons or aliens or cowboys. You just need to own it.

People used to ask Stephen King why he was “wasting” his talent writing horror. Why? Because horror is what he loves. And what exactly is being wasted? He is arguably the best horror writer in the world. Should he have ignored his obsessions and tried to be a literary writer? Would he have been as successful if he had?

Finding Your Wand

But what if you stumble into Mr. Ollivander’s store like the young Harry Potter, unsure of who you are and what you might be good at? There are a few things you can try:

  • Pay attention to what you like to read. That’s often a good clue about what you might like to write. Include a list of your favourite movies and TV shows. Keep an eye out for what they all have in common.
  • Try Ray Bradbury’s exercise of making lists of nouns to see what floats to the surface of your mind. What might these lists consist of? Memories. Things that frighten you, or amuse you, or puzzle you. He contends that this exercise was what lifted his work from imitation into originality.
  • Do some journaling about the ideas you find yourself circling. If you look at many writers’ bodies of work, you’ll see they keep coming back to the same themes like a dog worrying a bone. Chances are you’ve got a few of those lurking in the background of your thoughts.

Above all, don’t apologize for what you write and who you are. Anything true, anything original and authentic, comes from this deep place.

Michelle Barker is the award-winning author of The House of One Thousand Eyes. She is also a senior editor at, a novel development and editing service, and a frequent contributor to its blog for writers, The Chopping Blog. Her newest novel, My Long List of Impossible Things, comes out in spring, 2020, with Annick Press. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and her website.

Set in East Berlin in 1983, The House of One Thousand Eyes is a young adult historical thriller. Seventeen-year-old Lena’s beloved uncle, a famous author, has disappeared.

Lena will stop at nothing to find him—but she must do so in a society of ruthless surveillance and control. Who can she trust to help her find out the truth?

Have you ever found yourself writing something that “wasn’t you?” Let us know in the comments!

Posted in Focus, Guest Post, Motivational, Voice, Writer's Attitude, Writing Groups | 14 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Offered an Easy Way Out

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.

Is your character trying to get out of trouble? How will they deal with someone offering to buy their way out...for a price?

Conflict: Being Offered an Easy Way Out

Categories: Power Struggles, Failures and Mistakes, Duty and Responsibilities, Moral Dilemmas and Temptation, Ego

An offer to retake a test after one’s poor performance
An offer to take over a difficult situation when one is struggling
A powerful connection offering to pay someone off and make one’s sticky situation go away
A friend willing to lie so one can escape repercussions
Having an inside man offer to fast-track a process or application
Being offered a position because of a connection, not because one earned it
Someone offering to call in a favor to ensure evidence is “lost”
An inside man offering to alter records to get one out of trouble
Being offered a solution in exchange for a favor down the road
Being offered a bribe or donation to look the other way after making a discovery that could be hazardous (to one’s job, health, etc.)

Minor Complications: Being forced to lie to people one cares about, having to lie on record, deciding to resist temptation and deal with the fallout, disappointing others when the truth comes out

Potentially Disastrous Results: Owing a person in power a favor, being blackmailed, the truth getting out and one’s reputation or standing being ruined, losing the trust of someone one cares deeply about, having to live a lie, being forced to do something outside one’s comfort zone (danger, morally wrong, etc.) in return

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Paranoia that someone will find out, an identity crisis over crossing a moral line, guilty feelings if there is fallout to others as a result of an action one took, self-hatred for being weak if one took the easy way out, trying to make up for what one did in a way that doesn’t reveal what truly happened but finding it doesn’t erase one’s guilt or shame

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the character themselves, family and friends who hold the character in high esteem or vouch for their honesty and skills, co-workers or others who are being penalized due to one’s unfair advantage, people who are victimized because justice is not served

Resulting Emotions: anguish, anxiety, conflicted, denial, depressed, despair, desperation, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, doubt, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, empathy, fear, gratitude, grief, guilt, humiliation, obsessed, overwhelmed, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, regret, relief, reluctance, remorse, resignation, self-loathing, shame, smugness, tormented, unease, vulnerability, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: addictive, cocky, confrontational, cowardly, cynical, defensive, disloyal, disorganized, flaky, foolish, forgetful, gossipy, greedy, gullible, impatient, impulsive, insecure, manipulative, melodramatic, paranoid, prejudiced, pushy, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, spoiled, subservient, uncooperative, unethical, weak-willed, whiny, worrywart

Positive Outcomes: resisting temptation and accepting responsibility, learning the value of being prepared, being determined to not make the same mistake again that landed one in trouble, redoubling one’s efforts to be ethical, moral, or honest moving forward, gaining respect for people who do accept responsibility even when it hurts them

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

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Why Writers Shouldn’t Query Self-Published Books

Have you self-published a novel you had originally intended to send to literary agents (to see how it did)? Or, did you self-publish a novel, decide that publishing path wasn’t for you, and now want to send that book to literary agents?

Let’s talk about why sending previously self-published books to literary agents (or publishers) may not be the best idea.

As you are probably aware, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to go about publishing. Meaning, you can self-publish books, send unpublished manuscripts to agents, you can publish with an indie press… There are so many (great) publishing options in 2019 that weren’t available in previous years.  >> Check out my previous blog, How Should I Publish My Book?, to learn more about the publishing paths available to you.

In addition, with so many high-quality books being self-published, the stigma around this publishing path has been slowly fading over time. Though, I wouldn’t say it’s gone away entirely (yet).

However, there is one persistent question I see in the comments for almost every YouTube video I publish, and that is: “Can I query a book I’ve already self-published?”

The short answer is: No. Or, I don’t recommend it.

The long answer is one I’m going to attempt to get into today.

When I worked at the literary agency, the authors who queried me with a self-published project usually were querying that manuscript because the book didn’t sell well.

If a book didn’t sell well—meaning, readers had a chance to check out the story and decided they weren’t interested in it—why would industry professionals be interested in that book (again, if readers weren’t)?

The role of a literary agent is to find books they think they can sell to editors at publishing houses. Agents only make money when an author does. Once a book is sold, agents take a fifteen percent cut of what the author makes. (And good agents earn that fifteen percent!)

The role of an editor is to find books they think they can sell to readers. They want to find a fantastic story that they think they can edit, package, market, and hopefully make a profit on. If publishers don’t make money on the books they publish, they will have to downsize or eventually close their doors.

Therefore, if you have previously self-published a book that didn’t sell… well, most publishers won’t be interested in it for that very reason. 

The typical response I get to this is: “BUT BUT BUT I’m not good at marketing. If this book had been traditionally published and had marketing support, it would have sold better.”

Perhaps. But, then again, perhaps not.

While a good marketing strategy can absolutely help spread the word about a book, it’s not just about marketing.

Publishers considering whether or not they want to purchase a book will look at: 

  1. The quality of the writing: Because, obviously!
  2. The uniqueness of the story: Has it been done in a similar way before? If so, how is this story unique?
  3. The marketability of this book: Do readers want to read this type of story?
  4. Trends in the marketplace: Where do they think the market will be in two+ years?
  5. Whether or not the publisher can make a profit

Most publishers also want rights to first to market. Meaning, they want to be the ones to introduce a story to the world. By an author previously self-publishing a title, the book has lost its “newness.” People have had a chance to see it. If they didn’t purchase it before, why would they purchase it in two+ years after a publisher has published it? 

In addition, even if a book is published traditionally, authors are still expected to participate in the marketing efforts. A common misconception writers have about traditional publishing is that they only have to write stories and the publisher does the rest (including marketing). While that may have been true in the past, it’s no longer true today. Therefore, if the book didn’t sell well before (with your marketing efforts), why would publishing it now be any different?

Now, if a book performed well and sold many copies, you will likely have agents and/or editors knocking at your door (without having to query them). Don’t forget that publishing is a business. Publishers are always looking for books that will earn them a profit. If a self-published book is selling thousands of copies, all bets are off for everything I said before. Again, if a title is doing well, industry pros will likely be coming to you (rather than the other way around).

An alternative approach to querying a previously self-published title would be to write a new manuscript and query that. You can always write another book and send it to literary agents in the hopes of getting it published traditionally (should that be the publishing path you’d like to pursue). Just because you previously self-published books doesn’t mean you can’t traditionally publish titles later on. (Hello, hybrid publishing!)

It’s always going to be sticky territory (and likely a big fat “no thanks”) if you try to garner interest from a literary agent (and ultimately a publisher) on a title that has already been published.

*Please Note: This conversation doesn’t apply to self-published authors who work with literary agents for foreign rights and sub rights. Everything mentioned above is geared toward authors who want to remove a book from the market (for example, North American, English rights) and try to sell those rights to a publisher. 

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

Posted in Agents, Foreign Rights, Marketing, Publishing and Self Publishing, Rejection, Resident Writing Coach, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

When Telling, Not Showing, Emotion is the Right Choice

Hi everyone! A past resident writing coach is visiting us with an excerpt on a new course she’s teaching on mastering emotions: C.S. Lakin. This post is a touch longer than usual but it will give you a good window into some of the things you’ll learn. Please read on!

Many amateur writers tend to tell or name what a character’s emotions are. That’s often because they haven’t learned clever, more effective ways to get the emotion across. It is a challenging task.

when is telling emotion okay?

Telling the emotion doesn’t allow readers to feel or experience the emotion. It often creates more problems: the writing gets burdened with lists of emotions, and in the writer’s attempt to push harder in the hope of conveying emotion, she overdoes it. Adding to that, she might throw in all those body sensations for good measure, cramming the prose with so much “emotion” that the only thing readers feel is irritation.

You’ll notice in great writing that it’s a rare moment when a character names her emotion: “She was scared. She was angry. She was frustrated.” Yet, there may be times when telling emotion is masterfully done. When it’s expedient and helps move the action along.

You can directly state what a character is feeling in a number of different ways: in dialogue, in direct thoughts, in the narrative (in POV), and in narrative scenes.

Think about your character. Yours might be the type to name her emotions. With a young character, for example, it’s wholly believable for her to think in simple labels, rather than in nuance and complexity of emotion. What she is feeling might be complex, and the reader would pick that up, but what she herself believes, how she interprets what she is feeling, might be told plainly as it is understood plainly.

Here’s an excerpt from Whale Song by Cheryl Kaye Tardif that illustrates this technique well:

We climbed aboard the bus, sat down in our usual seats and hardly said a word to each other during the ride home. When the bus reached the entrance to my driveway, I mumbled a quick good-bye and hopped down the steps. The road to my house seemed never-ending and I trudged along, dragging my feet in the sand and gravel.

That’s when I realized something.

I was ashamed of what Goldie had done to Annie on my behalf. I was mortified that I was the cause of someone’s public humiliation. The guilt ate at me.

Until I remembered the bug-infested chocolate bar.

Then the rage set in.  

“You’re awfully quiet tonight,” my father said during supper. “What’s up, Sarah?”

Pushing my cold mashed potatoes to one side of my plate, I looked at him. My eyes burned with the need to tell him how much I hated living in Bamfield, how much I hated school and how mean everyone was―everyone except Goldie. I yearned to tell him about Annie and the horrible things that she had done to me.

I opened my mouth to speak. But nothing came out.

“Sarah?” my father repeated. “Are you―?”

“Can I be excused, Dad? I don’t feel so good.”

“Of course.”

The words were scarcely out of his mouth when I jumped to my feet and rushed upstairs to my room. Closing the bedroom door behind me, I threw myself down on my bed.

“I hate it here,” I sobbed. “And I hate Annie.” I grabbed my pillow and flung it against the door. My face was wet and my throat felt like a fiery furnace. It was hard to be quiet when what I really wanted to do was bawl and scream.

I thought of Annie and my blood boiled. How would I survive three years of being the white kid? How would I endure the malevolent spitefulness of Annie Pierce?

My hatred of her was so intense that I longed to lash out at her, to hurt her physically. I envisioned revenge. My own sweet revenge. I couldn’t allow Goldie to be my savior forever, to be there for me every time Annie decided to be cruel. I needed to be strong, to defend myself. I wanted to overcome my fear of her. I just didn’t know how.

I curled up on my bed, depressed and angry, plotting all the vengeful things I would do to Annie. I don’t know how much time passed before there was a soft knock on the door.


The bed sagged as my mother sat on the edge of the mattress.

“Are you okay, honey?”

Her voice cracked a bit and I sensed her sadness.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

I shook my head.

She stretched out beside me and we lay side-by-side, shoulders touching. We stayed like that for a long time, neither of us saying a word.

Working up my nerve, I said, “There’s this girl at school. Annie. She’s the one who cut my hair. And she gave me a chocolate bar with bugs in it.” I took a deep breath and looked at my mother. “Everyone teased me and Annie called me white girl.”

My mother was appalled. “That’s horrible. I’ll talk to your teacher.”

I shook my head. “No! That’ll make things worse.”

“Annie must be a terribly sad and angry girl.”

I stared at her, confused by her comment. How could my mother feel any sympathy toward the girl that was bullying me?

“What do you mean?” I asked in a sulky voice.

She patted my hand and entwined her elegant fingers through mine. “Usually when kids act like that toward someone else, it’s because they are unhappy. Annie may be jealous of you. Or maybe a white person treated her badly at one time and that’s why she seems to hate white people.”

I opened my mouth to argue, but she cut me off. “That’s called racism, Sarah. When you judge someone or dislike them for the color of their skin or their race. When Nonno Rocco and Nonna Sophia first came to North America, many people were mean to them because they were Italian. People can be spiteful sometimes―especially children. Some people just don’t know any better. No one’s taught them that it’s wrong to judge others by the color of their skin.”

I pouted. “Why didn’t Annie’s parents teach her it’s wrong?”

She gave a sad shrug. “I don’t know, honey. Sometimes kids learn from their parents how to hate other people. I really don’t know why Annie feels the way she does.”

I clenched her hand, wondering how she could always see something good in everyone, no matter how nasty they were. That was why my mother was so special.

But I wasn’t like her. I hated Annie.

The bed shifted as my mother rose to her feet. “What are you going to do, Sarah?”

I moaned. “I don’t know, Mom. What can I do?”

“Hating Annie will suck out your own goodness and energy. You’re so much better than that. If you choose to hate her, then you become just like her―no better.” She kissed my forehead and hugged me. “Life’s too short to not forgive those who hurt us. I trust you to do what’s right. Right by your own heart.” She placed her palm against my beating heart. “Forgiveness sets you free.”

Outside the bay window, the sky was woven with fiery cumulus clouds and the sun drifted below the trees. A bald eagle dipped low, soared past the window and disappeared into the night.

As I went to sleep, the last thing I thought of was my mother’s parting words.

“Forgiveness sets you free.”

Here it feels perfectly appropriate and useful to have Sarah name her emotions. Her thought process fits her age and maturity.

Sometimes telling emotions is the right technique to use.

That’s not to say only young characters should name emotions. If it’s in character for your character to think like that, then, by all means, do so.

What kind of character would name her emotion? One that has to have enough self-awareness to be able to identify what she is feeling. Or at least try to identify.

And not everyone is like that. A teen girl is more apt to ponder her emotions than a middle-aged highly educated male computer programmer. Or not.

See, don’t fall back on assumptions and stereotypes. It’s all about personality. Maybe your computer geek is deeply in touch with what he calls his female side. Or maybe, conversely, he’s quick to jump to conclusions, and that includes defining his and others’ emotions by labeling without much thought.

It’s Got to Fit the Character and the Moment

If we keep in mind that the narrative—all the narrative—in a scene is the POV character’s thoughts, it will be clearer to us when to tell emotion. When would your character think to name an emotion? When she is aware of her feelings, right? In the kind of moment when the character would stop and consider how she’s feeling. And only if it fits the character.

That’s why in those manly thrillers, we don’t see the hero thinking about his emotions. We don’t read “General Harris was mad.” Instead, we see his anger as he lunges at the bad guy. Whereas in a thoughtful women’s fiction, we do.

For example, when a writer tells the reader via author intrusion that his character is jealous, it’s one step removed. It’s out of POV.

Jason stood at the corner and saw his girl flirting with Bill Jones in front of the bank. He was jealous because he really didn’t know if Rose’s affections were genuine or if she was just toying with him and he couldn’t bear the thought that she might like that jerk more than him.

We sense immediately that this is the author speaking to the reader. Jason isn’t thinking “I’m jealous because I really don’t know if Rose’s affections toward me are genuine.” Right?

First off, ask: Is Jason the type of guy to stop and explore his feelings—while he’s standing on a corner reacting to this unexpected scenario? Not likely, even if he’s set up to be a touchy-feely kind of guy. Not even if he’s a therapist. Not in that moment when he is reacting. Maybe later when he’s processing he’ll admit to himself that he was jealous. And he might name the emotion. It could be in dialogue, for instance:

“What’s bugging you, bro?” Steve asked him.

“I saw Rose talking to that creep Jones,” Jason said.

Steve eyed him, and a smirk rose on his face. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous.”

“Sure I’m jealous. She just agreed to go to Vegas with me. You’d be jealous too, if Cindy was making eyes at a loser like Jones.”

It’s believable because, in that kind of situation, Jason is going to name his emotion. And it would work as internal dialogue or narrative too:

Jason stormed off down the street and into the nearby coffee shop. He blew out a breath, feeling like he was about to blow a fuse. Admit it—you’re jealous. You just can’t trust her. And that’s your problem. It’s always been your problem.

Which is basically the same as this:

Jason stormed off down the street and into the nearby coffee shop. He blew out a breath, feeling like he was about to blow a fuse. He was jealous. No denying it. He thought he was past that, had gotten a handle on the jealousy after Denise dumped him. But here it was again, like some ugly monster from the Black Lagoon slithering up his neck, whispering poisonous words into his ear.

That’s a bit melodramatic, but I hope you get the point. It’s all about how your character would think. And telling emotion is a thought your character is thinking. Make sense? Still, Jason has to be the kind of guy that would stop and realize he’s jealous, and not every guy is like that. Isn’t it more likely that someone else is going to tell us what we’re feeling?

Yes, telling emotion is much easier and much more believable in fiction when it’s a character naming someone else’s emotions. Because, sadly, that’s what we do. We sum up, categorize, and stereotype others, and if your characters are realistic, they’ll probably have moments in which they do too!

Keep in mind that people rarely immediately, clearly, definitively recognize the emotions they are feeling. They rarely simplify and categorize what they’re feeling into one noun. How often have you seen something happen that upsets you and you think in that moment, “Wow, I’m upset”? We just don’t do that. No, what occurs are thoughts.

“I can’t believe that jerk just cut me off. He didn’t even check the lane before he merged.”

Telling Emotion Isn’t a Bad Thing When It’s the Right Fit

Telling or naming emotion is one of the three ways to effectively convey your character’s emotion. You might find that it’s exactly what you need to punch home a feeling.

Want to learn how to become a masterful wielder of emotion in your fiction? Enroll in Lakin’s new online video course, Emotional Mastery for Fiction Writers, before September 1st, and get 50% off using this link!

C. S. Lakin is an editor, award-winning blogger, and author of twenty novels and the Writer’s Toolbox series of instructional books for novelists. She edits and critiques more than 200 manuscripts a year and teaches workshops and boot camps to help writers craft masterful novels.

Posted in Characters, Description, Dialogue, Emotion, Guest Post, Revision and Editing, Show Don't Tell, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 11 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Losing a Bet

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.

Did your characetr lose a bet? Here's how you can write the fallout (conflict and tension)

Conflict: Losing a Bet

Category: Failures and Mistakes, Duty and Responsibilities, Losing an Advantage, Ego, Miscellaneous Challenges

Being forced to suffer a humiliation that damages one’s reputation
Having to embarrass oneself (by hitting on a stranger, singing in public, wearing a costume that is humiliating, getting one’s head shaved, wearing a sign in public, having to wear a rival’s sports jersey, get a tattoo)
Having to give a prized possession to a rival (a car, a special backstage pass, a reservation that was impossible to secure, a specialized piece of equipment or type of technology)
Publicly having to admit one was wrong
Being forced to support a competitor’s goals, ambitions, or ideas
Having to cater to or serve the victor
Agreeing to step aside or step down (in a competition, a relationship, etc.)
Having to take on an extra burden or responsibility that requires time, money, or causes a hardship as a result
Having to take on added risk or danger as a result of losing

Minor Complications: being teased by others, never being able to live down what happened, becoming the butt end of a joke, damage to one’s reputation, losing esteem in the eyes of others, missing out on an opportunity, having to change one’s plans, having to ask for help to fix things which increases one’s embarrassment

Potentially Disastrous Results: Having one’s humiliations filmed and uploaded to social media, breaking the law in order to fulfill a punishment and being caught and charged, someone being hurt as a result of one’s actions, a friendship being ruined in the aftermath, losing one’s job or a position of esteem because details of the bet are discovered by those in power, being forced to abandon a goal one really cares about, being blackmailed

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): diminished feelings of self-worth, blaming oneself for losing or for making the bet in the first place, struggles if one is forced to cross a moral line or sacrifice one’s values in order to follow through, second-guessing one’s choices that led to this situation and beating oneself up for them (hindsight is 20-20), guilt if others are impacted by one’s actions

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family, friends, people who have their reputation tied to the character

Resulting Emotions: anger, anguish, anxiety, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, confusion, defeat, defensiveness, defiant, denial, depressed, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, discouraged, disgust, disillusionment, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, flustered, frustration, humbled, humiliation, insecurity, intimidated, nervousness, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, pride, rage, regret, resentment, resignation, self-loathing, shame, shock, stunned, tormented, vengeful, vulnerability, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, confrontational, cowardly, flaky, foolish, hostile, ignorant, impatient, impulsive, inhibited, irrational, jealous, martyr, melodramatic, nervous, oversensitive, paranoid, resentful, stubborn, uncooperative, whiny, withdrawn

Positive Outcomes: Gaining a better appreciation for thinking before reacting, becoming more astute to manipulation in the future, pride at taking responsibility no matter what

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How to Craft Engaging Dialogue Exchanges

One of the best places to reveal your character’s emotions is during dialogue. Author Peter Gelfan joins us with some great considerations on how to make these exchanges more powerful, drawing readers in. Read on!

Although we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, emotions provide deeper and more persistent motivation to our lives. Reason may steer us, but emotions drives us. The same goes for the characters we write, and they often most vividly reveal and project their emotion though dialogue. Dialogue remains one of the most complex skills we have to learn and keep learning, and writers face a series of choices in depicting emotion in dialogue.

Monologue vs. Scene

Dialogue and emotion: how to write it well

Dialogue almost never consists of disembodied words, so conveying it isn’t only a matter of deciding what words the character will utter. As well, people in the throes of emotion often have difficulty putting together coherent sentences. So writing dialogue involves creating an entire scene, which entails a number of decisions. This can include, in rough descending order of importance: what the character says (or doesn’t say, which can be just as eloquent), what the character does (or doesn’t do), what the character thinks (or not), what other characters say, do, or think (or don’t), and tonal elements such as setting.

Having a character expound her innermost feelings at length in poetic cadences may make for a riveting performance on stage, but in a novel, where realism rather than spectacle generally holds sway, it’s likely to come off as contrived and expository rather than genuine and heartfelt. Instead, work out what effect you want the scene to create and then choose the actions and spoken words that will best put it across for that character and situation.

Expectation vs. Surprise

A character receives some news—perhaps a lover has died. You have a great range of possible responses, and the least effective choices are the expected ones: “Oh, no!” and she bursts into tears. Or you can give readers a surprise—one that in hindsight they will realize they should have seen coming—and something to think about, such as a new side to this character. Perhaps she stiffens for a few seconds, then slowly collapses into a chair with a long exhale and a blank expression. After a pause, she says, “This isn’t all my fault.” Or, “Who was he with?” Emotional scenes are gold for a writer. Think twice before squandering them on default emotional responses and clichéd ways of expressing them.

Hearts on Sleeves vs. Ambiguity

So far, we’ve been talking about conveying emotion. But there’s another dimension to consider. How unequivocally do we want readers to understand a character’s emotional state? It’s not always in a story’s best interest to let readers know clearly how someone feels. In some cases, it’s vital that readers do not know, such as when the copiously grieving widow is the poisoner. Even when reader ignorance isn’t vital, as it is in a whodunit, it’s always more interesting for readers to wonder about something, which spurs thinking and imagination, than to know something, which lets the mind go back to idling. As well, in essence, depth of character boils down to the impression there’s more to learn about this person, which can include how they feel. Ignorance, including emotional ignorance, is what pulls readers through any novel.

Emotion and Subtext

In any given scene, a writer has several layers of understanding to manipulate. This can also be seen as levels of subtext. At the full-knowledge end of the scale, the character in question knows exactly how he feels, as do the other characters and readers. That may be fine for a happy ending, or a fast blast of disaster. But it doesn’t give readers much to chew on in terms of character interaction and undercurrents.

Dialing down from full knowledge, perhaps the central character has his friends fooled, but readers know how he really feels. Or vice versa: the other characters seem to know how he feels, but readers don’t. Further down toward ignorance, the main character knows how she really feels even if she effectively hides it from others, including readers. You can even have a main character who is so confused she can’t sort out her emotional state. And of course we’ve all had mixed emotions about an event, with some of them embarrassing or shameful. At the bottom end of the scale is complete ignorance, where even the writer hasn’t quite yet decided how the character feels about something.

Writers sometimes have the mistaken idea that their job is to convey information to readers. That may be true in nonfiction, but creating an engaging reader experience in fiction has more to do with playing on reader ignorance and curiosity. So before you try to communicate as much emotion as you can as often as you can, have a look over your choices and find the best emotional tool for a character and a scene. Sometimes hiding it, hinting it, faking it, exaggerating it, downplaying it, or reversing it will make your story even better. Then, once you’ve created your subtext, don’t spoil it by explaining it with interior monologue, dialogue, or exposition. Trust your readers to get it. Write for smart people, and your writing will be smarter.

Drama vs. Exposition

One last suggestion about making the most of emotion in dialogue: unless you have a very good reason to do otherwise, build the emotion into the dialogue and the scene rather than stepping in as author to try to explain what the character is feeling. You want readers right there with the characters trying to fathom what’s going on with them. You want readers listening to the characters, not to you. You may know what the character is feeling, but instead of telling readers, write the character and the scene to allow the reader to figure it out. The purest essence of the novelist’s art is to communicate through human interaction, not exposition.

Peter Gelfan was born in New York City, grew up in New Haven and the New York City suburbs, and attended Haverford College until he turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.

He has traveled widely and lived in Spain, England, Florida, and Vermont. Found Objects, his debut novel, was published in 2013; his latest novel, Monkey Temple, was published in 2019. He co-wrote the screenplay for Cargo, les Hommes Perdus, which was produced and released in France in 2010. He lives with his wife, Rita McMahon, in New York City, where he continues to write, work as a freelance book editor, and tutor writing in a public high school as part of PEN’s Writers in the Schools program. You can find him on the web here.

Posted in Backstory, Characters, Description, Dialogue, Emotion, Guest Post, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Tension, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 7 Comments

Navigating the Changing Face of Book Promotion with Smart, Effective Strategies

Hi everyone! I hope everyone is enjoying summer and taking time to refill their creative wells. Writing, publishing, and marketing is a lot of work so making time for ourselves to recharge is really important. The other critical thing we need is great advice and powerful resources, and Penny C. Sansevieri from Author Marketing Experts is here to give us both, so read on!

Much like the world of publishing, book promotion is constantly changing and with it, so are the services offered by book promotion companies. What may have worked just a few years ago doesn’t have quite the same impact today. I know from experience that the surge of books we see every day in the marketplace has a real effect on how various programs work. Today’s book promotion services are less about what you’re marketing in the moment and more about the foundation you’re creating.

So, what’s working in book promotion now? Surprisingly, it’s not at all what you would expect. Let’s take a look:

Email Newsletters: While it may seem really basic, unlike social media, email newsletters are an effective way to make a direct connection to your readers. We think of social media as the main way to reach our audience but in reality, it’s not as direct as we’d like it to be. And sending an email newsletter is actually a lot easier than say, managing a bunch of social media platforms. (Here’s a guide for getting started.)

Your Reader Fan Bases: Book publishing is rapidly growing and with around 4,500 books being published daily, it is crucial to build supportive reader fan bases. In the past, we’ve relied on the blogger market to help promote books but with such fierce competition, it is getting harder and harder to get attention. What remains steadfast though is your readers. Building excited and engaged reader fan bases is a fantastic way to build momentum for your book and letting readers help you with your book promotion by posting reviews and sharing your book release on their social stream. (Want to build fans and superfans? This article shows you how.)

Going Local: Many authors approach book promotion with the goal of reaching a national audience through big media. What shouldn’t be overlooked though is local media. Local media loves their local authors and can be a great launching pad for long-term success. It isn’t that you aren’t worthy of the national spotlight, but national media is harder than ever to get. Also, many bigger media outlets use scouts who research local stories that are gaining momentum, so making waves in your local market can lead to national exposure.

In addition to local media, you may also consider doing local events, whether at a library, bookstore or gift fair. And don’t forget non-bookstore markets like boutiques, coffee shops, and other area businesses that might be interested in your topic. (Here’s some more great advice on positioning yourself when it comes to media.)

Expanding Your Goodreads Presence: Goodreads is growing by leaps and bounds and with each month that passes, it gets more robust. Now more than ever, it’s imperative to get set up on Goodreads and start networking with genre-specific groups. More than any other social networking site, Goodreads is geared toward and caters to readers. Start by being a reader. Being more involved in networking and socializing and less on being the pushy marketer will garner you much more attention and will sell you more books in the long run.

Smart eBook Pricing: Digital clutter is changing the trends of ebook pricing. While price discounts and specials are good, that isn’t smart book pricing. As an example, book pricing at launch can be slightly lower than what your regular pricing might be, as even a dollar discount can give your book a helpful bump. But eBook pricing should still be weighed against what the market will bear. I also advise against pricing an eBook over $9.99, especially if you’re just starting out. As a new author, remember that readers are taking a chance on you and might be more inclined to purchase if your book’s price feels more like an impulse buy.

Amazon Book Page: It’s easy to get outwardly focused on book promotion and forget about the all-important landing page we are sending our readers to – Amazon! Your book page on Amazon should have a clear description with white space and no paragraphs crammed on top of each other. I also recommend using your Author Central Page to enhance your book page. With Author Central, you can add reviews, an author interview, or book experts. Think of your book page as a sample of your personality with information to help the reader decide to buy your book. It can also be a terrific way to drive more reader engagement on your page.

Amazon Advertising: I had some challenges with Amazon ads (also referred to as AMS ads) when they revamped their platform and the associated advertisement algorithm, but I’m happy to report that the platform has found its footing and the ads are improving. As a guideline, you’ll want to have 400 keywords at a minimum. Start your ads at $10 a day in budget and no more than .50 cents per click until you get a sense of how the various keywords are doing.

AMS ads are great to do at campaign launch, starting them a week before the book launches if it’s on pre-order. You can also use them to promote pricing strategies, lowering the book price for a few days to coincide with an eBook promotion.

Keeping Your Social Media Footprint Small: When you try to be *everywhere* on social media, it’s hard to be engaged on all the sites, all the time. And in an age of fake followers and fake accounts, engagement matters. Even if their numbers are small, the user with the most engagement far outperforms the ones with millions of followers. This doesn’t mean less work though – you’ll still need to put the effort into the site you decide to be on. Engaging readers on one social media platform in a consistent and fun/informative/helpful way is a far better book promotion strategy than trying to be everywhere. As I always say: it’s not about being everywhere, but everywhere that matters. (For more ideas on integrating social media into your marketing, try this.)

Knowing Your Audience: Many authors I speak with have no idea who their actual reader market is. When I ask them, they’ll often say: everyone. You know who markets to everyone? McDonald’s, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. But they didn’t start out focused on everyone. Amazon, for example, started out as a book site, reaching readers. It wasn’t until they built a base of readers that they began expanding out into other things. Knowing your audience is not only important when you’re writing your book, but absolutely crucial when you’re trying to market it. Zeroing in on your core reader, specifically, is key to any successful book promotion campaign. (Need help finding your readership? Try this article.)

While book promotion can seem like a daunting feat, it doesn’t have to be. By focusing your efforts into smart strategies that are tailored to your book and your audience, a successful marketing campaign can be just around the corner!

Penny C. Sansevieri, Founder and CEO Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU. She was named one of the top influencers of 2019 by New York Metropolitan Magazine.

Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Amazon Optimization programs as well as Social Media/Internet book marketing campaigns. She is the author of eighteen books, including How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload on Amazon, Revise and Re-Release Your Book, 5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors, and Red Hot Internet Publicity, which has been called the “leading guide to everything Internet.” 

AME has had dozens of books top bestseller lists, including those of the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal. To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, visit

Posted in Marketing, Platform, Promotion, Publishing and Self Publishing, Social Networking, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized, Websites | 7 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Forced to Move

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.

Is your character being forced to move? Here's lots of ideas on how this type of conflict will impact them

Conflict: Begin Forced to Move

Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Relationship Friction, Duty and Responsibilities, Loss of Control, Miscellaneous Challenges

Relocating for work
Having to move due to financial constraints
Moving due to a separation or divorce
Requiring specialized care (at a retirement home, for treatment at a medical facility, etc.)
One’s building being condemned or a safety concern
Begin evicted
Moving to be on hand to support a struggling family member
Having to flee (to escape one’s enemies, avoid being caught by police, etc.)

Minor Complications: Having to take time away from work to pack, dealing with children who are angry about the move, a bank account hit as one pays for moving-related expenses, losing time to home repairs as one preps a home for sale, needing to leave on a moment’s notice for a showing, having to sell what one can’t take, having to reschedule appointments, holidays, or other commitments, difficult goodbyes to friends and neighbors, having to switch schools, a possibly longer commute or new job to navigate at the new place

Potentially Disastrous Results: Discovering the new place is riddled with problems (leaky pipes, faulty wiring, a pest infestation, awful neighbors), realizing the new neighborhood is unsafe or in some way undesirable (such as a new factory or mall being built close by), one’s kids hating their new school or being bullied by local kids, finding out a criminal lives next door, hating one’s new job, being unable to keep up with one’s new mortgage

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Second guessing one’s decision to move, self-esteem issues (if the move was a downgrade), reopening past wounds due to one’s situation (the pain of poverty, feeling abandoned or isolated, being mistreated at work, feeling unsafe, etc.), struggles with new places and change

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family members (especially children), friends, organizations that the character is involved with and must now leave, one’s employer if the notice is short

Resulting Emotions: agitation, anger, anxiety, apprehension, bitterness, conflicted, defeat, defensiveness, defiant, determination, disappointment, disillusionment, doubt, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, envy, frustration, guilt, homesick, hopefulness, hurt, insecurity, loneliness, longing, nervousness, nostalgia, overwhelmed, powerlessness, regret, relief, remorse, resentment, resignation, self-pity, unappreciated, uncertainty, vulnerability, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, catty, confrontational, controlling, disorganized, forgetful, grumpy, gullible, haughty, hostile, impatient, impulsive, indecisive, inflexible, irrational, irresponsible, materialistic, melodramatic, oversensitive, pessimistic, possessive, prejudiced, scatterbrained, temperamental, uncooperative, volatile, weak-willed, whiny

Positive Outcomes: Realizing one is able to adapt to change and adversity, discovering new friendships and opportunities in the new location, being able to leave behind pain associated with the old home and situation, gaining a fresh perspective on life along with the new start, feeling more independent and life-capable

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

World-building: Creating a Credible Magic System

Hi everyone! Today we have a new face at the blog: author and ghostwriter Justin Attas. He’s in love with world-building and has some great ideas on how to ensure the magic systems we create are credible and logical, enhancing the world and the story line rather than becoming window dressing. Read on!

If I started breathing fire today, it would be magic.

Ten years from now, researchers would have dissected why it happened. Then it would be science.

When I write fantasy, or any genre incorporating magic, I live and die by this premise, because no matter the depth of study in your plot, when you use magic, it needs reason, method, and understanding to back it.

Magic is a catalyst for thousands of amazing stories, but also ten thousand more flat, unoriginal ones. The key is to make magic seem “real,” in the context of your world. One surefire way to help you do this is to make sure the concept of magic stands alone in your story.

What helps your magic stand alone? Its origin, uses, and how it changes the world. Of course, no idea is entirely original, but borrow from others only in inspiration, never in execution. Build your magic from the ground up, and it will be as real as the pages (or screens) under your readers’ fingers.

Origins: Where Does Magic Come From?

The easiest way to create “real” magic in your story is to find its origin. These details don’t necessarily need to be shared at the beginning of the story, but they should be one of the first things you brainstorm. If your world is filled with magic, that’s going to affect everything, including its history. Unless magic is a recent discovery, it will play some part in how everything evolved. (Imagine how different Earth would be if twenty percent of the population could commune with animals!)

So ask yourself, what made your fictional world magical? Did it fall from a mystical meteorite? Did the gods themselves impart gifts on those they chose, or everyone? Does magic emanate from a certain material, perhaps a mineral only found in the mines of a single mountain range? It is crucial that you not just answer one of these questions, then skip ahead to the flashy spell casting. Deciding the origin of magic will form the rest of your world.

To demonstrate, if your magic came from the aforementioned mineral, how long ago was it discovered? Are the first people to find it now more prosperous than others? What regulations have authorities put on this precious material? Only three question, but these details will make the magic feel more authentic and your world will become more layered and interesting.

Uses: Who Uses Magic, and How?

After you’ve handled how magic got there it’s time to enjoy the arguably most fun part: what does it do? Remember, this is your world. Don’t feel constrained by predecessors’ work. When most people think of magic, they picture classic elementalism- manipulation of fire, water, air, or earth. You certainly can birth an interesting story from this if you use a unique twist. But don’t be afraid to make magic do, well, whatever you want. So long as you can explain it, go ahead and give your sorceress the ability to tear thoughts from a brain and bring them to life as a spectral servant.

Once you decide what the magic will actually do, there’s a plethora of choices to make regarding magic users. Are people born with natural propensity for one type or the other? Perhaps, in your world, people must study to learn magic. If so, decide what sorts of magical teachers and schools there are. People might learn the arcane arts from tomes in solitude, have a singular mentor, or attend a massive magical university. There’s a huge range to play with, and you should have fun doing it!

Need help with knowing what questions to ask about the magic in your world? Look into One Stop for Writers’ Worldbuilding Surveys.

Your World: How Does Magic Change it?

Next we want to consider how magic changes your world, and answer in every way possible. Culture. Government. Social structure. Education. War. Spare no expense on how magic fits into your story. It helps to compare your fictional world to our own. Picture all the things magic can do, and transplant that to Earth. How would it change the things mentioned above? You’ll need to tweak a few things for allowances of time period and technology, but the exercise will give you an idea of how magic affects your fictional world.

Never forget that the ultimate purpose of including a magic system is to tell a unique story. Not every detail about how magic works and what it influences needs to be stated in the story (we don’t want a pile of information dumps) but the most important aspects should fit into your plot and push the story forward. Without a compelling reason to include it, a magic system becomes a flashy coating on an otherwise dull story.

Justin Attas is a professional ghostwriter. He has written twelve novels across genres including: western, science fiction, supernatural, mystery, and crime thriller. Justin is also the author of the science fiction novel, Strand: the Silver Radio. He has a background in education, which he uses to create articles and videos to help other writers along on their journeys. As someone who had a crooked journey to writing himself, Justin aims to use his experience and skills to encourage anyone with the soul of a writer to grab a pen and start writing.

Justin’s Youtube Channel is an ever-growing resource for writers, so check it out, read his ebook, or explore his website for a comprehensive look at the writing life.

How do you go about ensuring your magic system stands up to story logic? Do you have any favorite resources you use? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Backstory, Characters, Description, Guest Post, Setting, Show Don't Tell, worldbuilding, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 12 Comments