The Character-Building Detail Writers Shouldn’t Overlook

The farther I get into this writing and coaching career, the more I find myself talking about details and how important it is to get them right. Whether we’re figuring out which backstory information to include or are writing characterization, settings, and physical descriptions, there’s SO much we could write into our stories. But we all know the drawbacks of throwing everything into the soup. Less is usually more, so we have to choose carefully which details will make it into the final draft.

As most of you know, Angela and I are getting ready to release our next book. The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers is set to release on July 20th, and we couldn’t be more stoked—even though this book got off to a slow start for us.

As writers, we don’t always spend a ton of time figuring out what our characters’ jobs will be. I mean, if we’re writing about a ship captain getting lost at sea, the choice is obvious. But overall, how often do we think about making occupations part of the plot? Angela and I wanted to explore their importance, but would authors see the value in a book focused on careers? I mean, most of the time, the character’s job is ancillary and doesn’t really matter, right?

As we worked up the instructive content for this book, we found more and more reasons why jobs DO matter and how they can power up your storytelling. Our excitement ramped up with each connection we made. And we hope you’re getting excited too, because it’s chock full of information on how the character’s job can make YOUR job easier.

To give you a sneak peak, we’d like to offer a preview of what this book covers and why the information is vital for writers. So read on, and let us know what you think.

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Wherever you are on the creative path, sooner or later one question pokes its way to the center of your thoughts: What does it take to become a masterful storyteller?

The answer? So many possibilities. Is it tenacity—a butt-in-chair mentality that keeps authors chipping away at their stories, no matter how many drafts it takes to get it right? Is it hard-won knowledge acquired from thousands of hours of focused reading, studying, and applying one’s craft? Is it a passion for uncovering a character’s deepest layers to give readers realistic players who have desires, fears, and vulnerabilities just as they do?

Honestly, it would be hard to list all the contributing factors for becoming a great storyteller, but one thing is certain: skilled writers display a willingness to see the job through. Whether they are researching, planning, drafting, or revising, they seek to unearth what’s meaningful, which requires paying careful attention to the details.

And details? Well, they matter—in careers, life, and storytelling.

Let’s consider the focal point of any work of fiction: the protagonist. We know that readers respond to the ones who are relatable and interesting and whose behaviors make sense within the story. To create characters like these, we authors must know a lot about them: their personality traits, emotional wounds, passions, hobbies, quirks, and so much more. These details are important because they’ll reinforce our protagonists’ desires, goals, fears, and needs, which, in turn, define their arcs and determine their actions throughout the story.

One detail often overlooked by writers is the character’s occupation. Perhaps it seems insignificant—an aspect of characterization that simply rounds the character out rather than lending strength to the story. And if this were the case, a writer could just assign their character a profession they’ve personally done or that they find fascinating, and move on. But here’s the thing: used to their full potential, occupations can be powerful drivers in the story, helping to characterize, steer the plot, generate conflict, reveal dysfunction, and provide a route for character arc growth—and that’s just to start.

So, insignificant? Not in the slightest. Because a job can influence so many story factors, careful thought should go into selecting one.

Think about this from your own perspective. When it comes to your current occupation (or past jobs), were they chosen randomly, without much thought? Probably not. You may have been drawn to them because of your interests and areas of giftedness or because the job met a need, such as supporting your family or making a difference in the world. Maybe it was a simple matter of convenience and what was available. Regardless, there were reasons behind every employment decision you’ve made.

The same should be true for our characters. If we choose their jobs thoughtfully, readers will have a better understanding of who they are, what skills they possess, and their motivations and priorities. Not only do jobs provide valuable characterization indicators, they tie into the plot itself, providing characters with the abilities and knowledge they’ll need to succeed or by creating obstacles to hinder them along the way.

~~~

If you find any of this intriguing or thought-provoking, consider hanging around the blog for the next little while because we’ll be exploring this more, both at Writers Helping Writers and around the blogosphere.

View the full list of jobs covered in this book

See a sample entry (FIREFIGHTER)

Check out the latest reviews and add The Occupation Thesaurus to Your Goodreads Shelf

QUESTION: HAVE YOU CUT BACK ON SOCIAL MEDIA?

Now, we’re definitely living in weird times, and it seems like every time we get online, we’re bombarded with bad news, division, people being nasty to each other, and near-constant negativity. To keep things in perspective, I’ve had to downgrade my social media usage, and I’m sure some of you have, too. If you’d like to stay updated on our progress without having to spend too much time on Facebook or Twitter, you can always sign up for our newsletter and get news about The Occupation Thesaurus delivered right to your inbox.

Before You Go…

Angela’s on a virtual road trip, visiting Jami Gold’s blog to talk about How To Craft A Relationship that Matters by making each character the other’s PERFECT MATCH. Stop by and say hello!

Posted in Characters, Occupation Thesaurus, Show Don't Tell, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 2 Comments

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

As authors, we’re often seen as experts in certain areas. If we branch out into speaking engagements, editing, or coaching, this perception increases exponentially. And despite our credentials, experience and knowledge, it’s easy for us to doubt ourselves. Imposter Syndrome is real, and Elizabeth Hartl is here with some tips on putting it in its place.

Have you ever felt unqualified for a job even though you have extensive training? Do you ever shy away from giving advice because you believe that what you have to say is wrong or unimportant—even though you know what you’re talking about? 

When I graduated and took on my first clients, I had nightmares about how others would receive me. I questioned myself constantly; Do you know what you’re talking about? Who would trust you to guide their writing? Regardless of the knowledge and experience I had, that little voice in the back of my mind continued to cast doubt, uncertainty, and fear.

I lived with this feeling for years. In fact, I still struggle with it. I figured it was a part of my brain trying to make me better at my craft, so I continued learning and growing. What I didn’t know is that this feeling doesn’t go away, at least not on its own. You have to consciously work to eradicate it.

I didn’t know until recently that this feeling had a name: impostor syndrome. It’s not a diagnosed syndrome, but around 70% of creative minds struggle with this issue. That’s a sizable portion of us. Impostor syndrome is the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite accomplishments. It is the feeling that all of your accomplishments result from luck. It is a psychological phenomenon to which most creatives can relate.

For writers, impostor syndrome attacks your unique “voice”, and it can be the worst feeling in the world. It causes anxiety, stress, fear, low self-confidence, and even shame and depression. If allowed to go unchecked, it can lead to less risk-taking and missed opportunities. 

But don’t worry. Here are five ways to combat impostor syndrome.

1. Own and Celebrate Your Achievements

Nothing will ever be 100% perfect. We are human and the errors we make give us character. Your training, experience, and willingness to learn make you an expert in your field. Stop being so hard on yourself and trust that you know what you’re doing, even if it’s not 100% perfect.

2. Stop Seeking External Validation

The sun shines and the birds sing when others recognize you for your work (at least it does for me). Recognition is motivation to keep doing our best. While outside validation is nice once in a while, it should not define our lives. We must seek validation from within ourselves and the knowledge we have about our craft. Know that you are doing an expert job, and keep at it.

3. You Are a Work-In-Progress and That’s Okay

I bet no one ever told you this in school, but learning continues throughout our lives. If we’re smart, we’ll take every learning opportunity we’re offered because it will only help our craft. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to produce genius-level results. No one is looking for genius; they are looking for a realness that comes with character and flaws.  Admit to yourself that you are a work-in-progress, and all those charming quirks will shine through, easing the pressure to produce or perform. Chances are, people will love you more and still trust you.

4. It’s Okay to Ask for Help

Some creatives believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness (It’s me, I’m “some creatives”). When you need to ask for help you feel like a failure. It’s kind of like the stereotype of how men never ask for directions and get lost because of it. It’s okay to ask for help. No one knows everything. Asking for help when you need it will add to your credibility and ease your mind.

5. Gain Skills When You Need Them

Remember how we talked about learning being a lifelong process and a good thing? Well, if your learning is excessive, it’s not a good thing. Do you gain certifications or training because it makes you feel credible? Doing this might sound like a wonderful idea, but it causes unneeded stress and anxiety. Instead, try gaining skills as you need them. Give yourself a break, you deserve it.

I used to think impostor syndrome was that little voice in the back of your mind that everyone has to live with. I have learned that no one has to live with it. We all struggle with impostor syndrome at some point in our lives, regardless of our qualifications or achievements. Remember that you know what you’re talking about and it’s okay to share that knowledge with others.

Elizabeth is a freelance writer and editor with 12+ years’ experience in both fiction and non-fiction. She currently runs Elizabeth Edits, an editing and writing coach service, and can be found on Instagram.

Posted in Guest Post, Motivational | 14 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Mistaken for Someone Else

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

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

Conflict: Being Mistaken for Someone Else

Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, loss of control, miscellaneous challenges

Examples:
Being mistaken for a celebrity or public figure
Being mistaken for someone whom one physically resembles
Having similar features as police suspect or a person of interest
Having similar features as a criminal, sexual offender, or war criminal
Having people mistake the character for their sibling
Sharing common ground with someone who is anonymous (similar life circumstances, a job description, or access to sensitive information), enough so that people close to the situation believe the character is this anonymous person
Having the same name as someone else
Having someone steal identifying information and use it, causing confusion over who is who
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time and so appearing to have a connection to a crime because of it

Minor Complications:
Accusations of sharing sensitive information within a company when someone else was the one doing it
Being accused of infidelity when their doppelganger is spotted on a date with someone else
Being falsely accused of a crime
Being mistrusted until the truth is sorted out about the character and someone else not being connected
Getting mobbed by “fans”
Being warned (to repay a loan, keep their mouth shut, not involve the cops) because people determined to keep information quiet have the wrong guy
Being watched and monitored
Having one’s house trashed or personal items messed with as someone seeks out sensitive information because they have misconnected the character with someone else
Being asked for favors because people believe the character is someone with influence
Being hounded for selfies, autographs, endorsement offers, etc. for looking like someone else

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Getting jumped and beaten up as “repayment” for something a doppelganger did
Being served or stalked by credit agencies because another person has stolen one’s identity and wracked up debt
Being arrested (and possibly being unable to prove innocence)
Family and friends turning their back on the character, believing the lies of others
Being taken and tortured by dangerous people
The character’s family being targeted to send a message
Being framed by the actual wrongdoer who sees this as an opportunity
The character’s family being dragged through the mud, guilty by association
Being fired or having to close down one’s business because of the bad press
Having to go into witness protection, leaving their life behind
Being betrayed by the justice system who know they made a mistake but refuse to admit it

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
The temptation to “pretend” to be the other person (when it leads to a positive experience) but knowing it would be wrong to do so
Going along with the mistaken identity and then regretting it when things get complicated
Understanding the situation is complicated yet still feeling betrayed by loved ones who show doubts
Feeling anger toward others for turning on the character yet knowing if the show was on the other foot, they probably would have done the same
Feeling let down by people who judge yet also knowing they themselves have similarily misjudged others

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family and friends close to the character, the character themselves, victims of a crime who will not get justice if the wrong person is convicted

Resulting Emotions: amazement, anger, anguish, anxiety, betrayed, bitterness, conflicted, defensiveness, desperation, determination, disbelief, frustration, horror, nervousness, overwhelmed, paranoia, powerlessness, self-pity, stunned, unease, wariness, wistful, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, confrontational, controlling, evasive, gullible, impulsive, irresponsible, paranoid, self-destructive, uncooperative, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Regaining a newfound appreciation for one’s “ordinary” life
Becoming an advocate for injustice and the falsely accused, helping others
Building close bonds with those who stayed true throughout the mistaken identity ordeal
Discovering who one’s friends really are (and getting rid of the dead weight)
Growing aware of the inequities in society and how some are targeted (through prejudice, racism, etc.), and working to bring about change

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Emotional Roller Coaster all Writers Experience

Welcoming Martha Alderson (The Plot Whisperer) today, who is brilliant at digging down to the deepest layers of a story. Martha’s new book, Boundless Creativity: A Spiritual Workbook for Overcoming Self-Doubt, Emotional Traps, and Other Creative Blocks (affiliate link) tackles the inner journey of writers and what might hold them back from producing their best creative work. Today she’s looking at something oh-so-familiar: the emotional ups and downs of writing a story. Read on!

How you feel as you write a story from beginning to end usually depends on where you are in the story. In other words, your feelings when you begin are usually vastly different than how you feel plotting and writing the middle, or when you craft the ending. The more aware you are of where the sharp turns and unnerving pitfalls are likely to occur, the more apt you are to move through the writing process with grace.

Writers usually feel a sense of relief in knowing that whatever they are experiencing—no matter how challenging or frustrating—is normal and part of the Universal Story at the heart of every great creative journey. To understand that you are not the only one who is hit with setbacks and hardships and it is in fact a stage we all pass through brings comfort. Let’s look at these stages.

The Beginning

At the start of any creative endeavor, you’re a willing participant. You have a seed of inspiration you’re eager to follow, find worth in your pursuit, are energized and uplifted by the possibilities, and see a shining future for yourself.

Beginnings are not the time to think rationally about all the reasons why you shouldn’t or couldn’t dream and desire what you want. Simply let your imagination roam free, and as you do, begin to settle into a routine of showing up for your writing. Decide where and when you’ll devote time and attention to your story. Schedule your writing time on your calendar you so you’re sure to stay true to your commitment to yourself.

Though some writers prefer to wait for inspiration to hit before writing, the muse seems to show up more consistently when it knows where and when you’re likely to be waiting to receive.

As you start writing the beginning, try imagining where your protagonist will be at the end of the story doing something she’s unable to do anywhere else in the story because first she needs to learn new skills and abilities.

The Middle

The middle of a story is the territory of the antagonists. This is where, in a story, the protagonist meets obstacles and antagonists. The same thing happens to you. At some point, after you cross over from the excitement of beginning a new story and have settled into a writing routine, you stumble. You come face-to-face with your limitations. The early middle phase of undertaking anything new—such as living in these current times—signals the need to learn lessons and new skills, gain experience and knowledge about what’s expected of you and those around you, increase your self-awareness, and manage your emotions.

You may find yourself stumped about plot, or your dialogue feels stilted, or your characters are wooden, or you struggle to show your characters’ emotions rather than simply tell the reader how they feel (The Emotion Thesaurus by Ackerman and Puglisi is a terrific resource how to demonstrate how a character is feeling). Snags such as these are not uncommon. All writers confront weaknesses in their understanding of the craft.

Rest assured that setbacks are a natural part of the creative process and to be expected. Their main objective is to pause your progress (not to send you into a tailspin) and alert you of something you’re missing to succeed.

As difficult as the challenges you face may seem at the time, so long as you take the time to learn the skills you’re missing through reading craft books, studying how success writers in your genre deal with the issue you’re stymied by, attending classes, and turning to others for help, setbacks always come with gifts of knowledge, experience, skills, and tools that will serve you throughout your entire writing life.

Internal Struggles

Beyond the weaknesses you may discover about specific elements around the craft of writing, you may also be confronted with internal weaknesses as well. You find yourself procrastinating rather than sticking to your writing schedule. You read over what you’ve written and judge yourself harshly. You believe you’re not good enough, smart enough, worthy enough to be a writer.

Complications and trials at this point in the process are emotional lessons created specifically for each individual person. So long as you persevere and learn about yourself from the conflicts and stumbling blocks, they become priceless opportunities to gain insight into your beliefs, acceptance of your emotions and wisdom about yourself—virtues that will prove helpful in all aspects of your life.

A Dark Night

Proud of yourself for overcoming those low points and traps, you continue writing. But, wait. You are not out of the woods, because eventually, as you keep writing, a crisis strikes. You suffer an excruciating critique. Your characters turn on you. You hit a wall and believe you’ve failed. This perceived failure happens either through no fault of your own or because of self-sabotaging habits and beliefs. Failure happens when you unconsciously expect to fail, when you’ve wandered too far afield from your destiny, or when you’ve stumbled and fallen short of your promise.

Failure, brokenness, fear, emptiness, alienation, and great loss—your ego destroyed—leave room for profound growth. In every endeavor, difficulties multiply to a breaking point that signifies the death of your creative vision and dream, and even your nerve. Not every writer falls into such a profound tailspin, however, the more emotionally attached you are to your piece, the harder the fall. If you find you’ve stopped writing and even the thought of continuing with your story brings up dark feelings of failure, chances are you have slid into the abyss.

How you react now prepares the ground for the next time you struggle, hit a wall, or feel a failure. You either give up or you understand that to succeed, something has to change. And, that something is you. Why me, you might ask. Because your relationship with your writing and all you create is reflective of your relationship with yourself.

Self-Doubt and Emotional Traps

We all experience moments of doubt and a lack of self-confidence. A problem develops when those moments turn into hours, days, months, and even years, and interfere with, block, or even stop the creative process altogether. Once the cycle of anxiety and insecurity sends you spinning like a top, getting you nowhere, it’s important to learn to stop. Learn to listen to what you’re saying to yourself to rise above the dilemma and more clearly see and understand the true problem.

If you’re willing to dive deep into your emotions, learn about yourself, and begin to trust your own inner knowing, you are gifted with insight, sparks of inspiration, and invitations to explore ideas that pop into your imagination. Every breakdown also offers the opportunity of a breakthrough. Releasing unproductive habits and belief patterns is a spiritual task that leads to the development and growth of faith in you yourself.

Don’t Deny Your Feelings

Don’t change how you feel or fix your feelings. Now that you’re aware of your emotions, accept that this moment is happening as a gift to experience more of the unknown. You’ve learned lessons that your flaws determined. Slowly, you become stronger having accepted and embraced your imperfections. Each learning-growth-change-transformation cycle plays out in ways that uniquely match your specific spiritual, writing, life-skills needs.

The End

After you’ve dusted yourself off and are determined to reach the end no matter what comes, the struggles don’t just disappear. In fact, they rise in intensity. Except now on your way to triumph you have all you need to go the distance.

The more you learn about yourself through writing and creating, the more conscious you become of every aspect of yourself. Ultimately, the spiritual purpose of creating is to challenge you to express yourself fully with no doubt or fear. Our stories and what we write has its own energy and the potential to change the world.

MARTHA ALDERSON is the author of the best-selling The Plot Whisperer. She writes novels for readers, plot books for writers, and most recently Boundless Creativity: A Spiritual Workbook for Overcoming Self-Doubt, Emotional Traps, and Other Creative Blocks for anyone looking to enrich their lives with more creativity and inspiration.

Her other books are Writing Blockbuster Plots and Writing Deep Scenes, The Plot Whisperer Workbook, The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts, as well as several ebooks. Look for her latest novel Parallel Lives: A ’60s Love Story coming out summer 2020. She lives and writes in Santa Cruz. Learn more about Alderson on her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Youtube.

Posted in Focus, Guest Post, Motivational, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block | 6 Comments

Sneek-A-Peek at The Occupation Thesaurus: FIREFIGHTER

July 20th is just around the corner and so we thought we’d tee up one of the entries inside the newest volume in the Writers Helping Writers Descriptive Thesaurus series.

About this book…

Characters are as complex as people and revealing their inner layers without chunky blocks of pace-stopping description is a challenge. The Occupation Thesaurus can help you unlock one of the best tools in your show-don’t-tell writing kit: a character’s job. Find out more.

FIREFIGHTER

OVERVIEW
A firefighter is a rescuer who extinguishes and prevents fires that threaten life, property, and the environment. They also respond to car accidents, chemical spills, natural disasters, and engage in water rescues. Many firefighters are certified EMTs, administering first aid until paramedics arrive. They complete inspections, educate the public on preventing fires, and conduct investigations, particularly if arson is suspected. When they’re not responding to an emergency, they work on call at a fire station, maintaining vehicles and tools, staying physically fit, conducting drills, and keeping up to date with industry changes. Because shifts can last 24-48 hours, they often eat and sleep at the station.

NECESSARY TRAINING
Firefighters need a high school diploma or equivalent. Some choose to complete a two-year degree in fire science, but it is not always a requirement. They receive training at a fire academy, where they must be interviewed and pass written, physical, and psychological tests.

USEFUL SKILLS, TALENTS, OR ABILITIES
Basic first aid, empathy, enhanced hearing, enhanced sense of smell, equanimity, high pain tolerance, knowledge of explosives, stamina, strength, strong breath control, swift-footedness

HELPFUL CHARACTER TRAITS
Adventurous, alert, analytical, bold, calm, cautious, compulsive, confident, confrontational, cooperative, courageous, decisive, disciplined, efficient, fanatical, focused, fussy, humorless, intelligent, objective, observant, persistent, protective, pushy, resourceful, responsible, sensible, unselfish

SOURCES OF FRICTION
Sustaining an injury due to someone’s incompetence (a firefighter, volunteer, reckless member of the public, etc.)
A fellow firefighter dying in a fire
Strained personal relationships due to the inherent danger of the work
A challenging fire investigation
An accusation of misconduct or poor decision-making by higher ups who were not on scene
Long and unusual working hours, including 24-hour shifts, holidays, and weekends
Living in the firehouse with people who have clashing personalities
Private firefighting companies competing with traditional firefighters for jobs
Showing fear in front of other firefighters
Managing post-traumatic stress
Repeated exposure to trauma
The physical demands of carrying heavy gear or working in extreme temperatures
The weight of responsibility as a rescuer
Having to fight for government funding year after year
Losing someone in a fire and feeling responsible

PEOPLE THEY MIGHT INTERACT WITH
The fire chief, other firefighters (paid and volunteer), members of the public, police officers, paramedics, fire inspectors, fire investigators, public servants, reporters, psychologists, search and rescue training specialists

HOW THIS OCCUPATION MIGHT IMPACT THE CHARACTER’S NEEDS

Self-Actualization: In high-intensity situations, firefighters might struggle to problem solve. They may be faced with difficult moral decisions, such as saving one person over another. The lack of control in some situations may be hard to square with, especially if a firefighter is highly empathetic, and leave them wondering if this is the career for them.
Esteem and Recognition: Lives may be lost while a firefighter is on the job, resulting in guilt, shame, and possibly post-traumatic stress, all of which may lower self-worth.
Safety and Security: Firefighters work near traffic accidents, buildings with compromised structures, swift-moving water, and active fires, making this is an extremely dangerous profession.
Physiological Needs: Firefighters place their lives on the line in many of the situations they face, so this is a need that is definitely threatened on the job.

TWISTING THE FICTIONAL STEREOTYPE

  • Firefighters do more than serve the federal or local municipalities; they also work at ports, airports, for the armed services, and for chemical, nuclear, and gas and oil industries. Why not switch up your character’s workplace to bring a fresh twist to the page?
  • Firefighting is an overwhelmingly male occupation. Consider crafting a female character who can meet the demanding physical, emotional, and mental requirements of the job.
  • The public inherently trusts firefighters. You could keep this in mind and craft a character that defies stereotypes and surprises the reader.

CHARACTERS MIGHT CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION BECAUSE THEY…

  • Grew up with a family member in the same profession
  • Want to make up for a perceived past mistake where they failed to rescue someone
  • Desire to serve the public in a meaningful way
  • View camaraderie with other firefighters as a substitute for family
  • Are drawn to exciting activities and want a job that keeps them active
  • Want to channel their adrenaline-junkie tendencies into a healthy outlet
  • Are fascinated with fire

The Occupation Thesaurus has 124 different job profiles like the one above, giving you a range of diverse, contemporary options for your characters along with a deep dive into this important (and yet often under-utilized) area of characterization. On July 20th, get ready to unlock the storytelling power of occupations!

So…what do you think?

Are the wheels turning on how a career can power up character building, story plotting, conflict, and more? I hope so. As with every guide of ours, we lead you through why this job information is so valuable and how to use it effectively in your story.

Preorders

Unfortunately, we do not have a preorder for this book. I’ll skip the long, tragic tale about how a certain e-tailer messed up our last preorder by triggering a book refund and telling people (falsely) that the book wouldn’t be published. Let’s just say Becca and I still have PTSD over it and we don’t want to risk a second debacle. The official book release is July 20th, and if you would like a notification when it’s available, just add your name here!

Early ARC reviews from Goodreads

“The Occupation Thesaurus is yet another priceless author resource released in this series…”

“[Angela & Becca’s books] have helped me throughout my successful children’s writing career and when I made the jump to Indie and Romance. This one, The Occupation Thesaurus has to be one of my faves…”

“I’m a retired therapist and I’ve never realized until I read this book that a person’s job, even an insignificant one, carried so much weight in a story and that readers subliminally pick up on it…”

“Angela and Becca go into great detail on the many, many professions presented in this book. Each entry is incredibly well thought out and well researched…”

Add this book to my Goodreads shelf

Find out more about this volume

Posted in About Us, Backstory, Basic Human Needs, Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Hobbies, Character Traits, Character Wound, Characters, Cliches, Conflict, Description, Diversity, Motivation, Occupation Thesaurus Guide, Point of View, Publishing and Self Publishing, Show Don't Tell, Stereotypes, Story Structure, Subtext, Theme, Uncategorized, Villains, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons, Writing Resources | 8 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Divorce or Break-Up

PSSSST! In case you didn’t know, our newest book will be releasing soon, on July 20th. If you’re curious, we’ve got some links for you:

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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.

A Divorce or Break-Up

Category: Power struggles, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, ego

Minor Complications:
Awkwardness arising from running into the person in social situations
Being lonely
Having to attend social events and functions alone
Wanting to get back together when the other person has no desire to do so
Decreased productivity at work or school
Entering a different stage of life (singlehood) and drifting away from friends who are in relationships
Loved ones who share unhelpful advice: You’ll find someone even better, or How long are you going to mourn that loser?
Being saddened by hobbies or interests that were shared with the other person, and being at loose ends

Potentially Disastrous Results:
A difficult and drawn-out divorce settlement
A bitter custody battle
The character’s children suffering
Losing friends or family members who choose sides
Being financially ruined (due to a prenup, shared debts, lawyer fees, etc.)
Having to move to a new house, neighborhood, or city
Sinking to new lows in an effort to win the person back (stalking, manipulation, nagging their friends for information, etc.)
Being pursued by the other person (if the character initiated the break-up)
The break-up triggering or aggravating a mental disorder (depression, panic attacks, OCD, etc.)
The ex seeking power by spreading rumors, deliberately poaching the character’s friends, poisoning their child against him or her, etc.
Having to continue to work with the ex (if he or she was a co-worker)
A toxic rebound relationship
Refusing to see the part the character played in the break-up; being destined to repeat their mistakes in future relationships

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Insecurity and self-doubt
Self-blame (if the character’s actions caused the break-up)
Having to go through the stages of mourning
Feelings of despair over dreams (of getting married, having children, etc.) being put off or destroyed
Feeling as if life isn’t worth living without the other person
Seeing other happy couples and experiencing jealousy, bitterness, or resentment

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The ex, the character’s children, family and friends, co-workers

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, anxiety, bitterness, conflicted, denial, depressed, despair, desperation, devastation, disbelief, dread, emasculated, grief, guilt, homesick, hurt, insecurity, jealousy, loneliness, panic, powerlessness, remorse, resentment, resignation, sadness, self-pity, stunned, unappreciated, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Addictive, controlling, cynical, defensive, gullible, insecure, manipulative, martyr, needy, pessimistic, possessive, promiscuous, reckless, self-destructive, vindictive, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Recognizing the part the character played in the break-up and taking steps to make changes and grow
Making the most of the time without a partner; the character learning to be comfortable and happy with him or herself
Distance revealing truths about the other person that the character had been blind to
Being free to find someone who is a better fit
Having more time to engage in meaningful activities and pursuits
Building deep, lifelong relationships with other singles

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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Critiques 4 U!

Welp, the calendar may disagree, but summer is in full swing in my neck of the woods, and we’re making the most of it. So far, that includes a trip to the grandparents’, beach days, and heading to Starbucks to order off of the secret menu (hey, it’s the little things). Whatever season you’re in, no matter what’s happening where you are, I hope you’re enjoying time with family and friends and taking care of yourself.

Submitting your first page for critique may be part of that important self-care. Or, possibly, the idea of letting someone else read your writing is as appealing as dental work. If it’s the latter for you, get out your brown paper bag and take big breaths, because it’s time for another critique contest.

CONTEST CLOSED

If you’re working on a first page (in any genre except erotica) and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment. Any comment :). As long as the email address associated with your WordPress account/comment profile is up-to-date, I’ll be able to contact you if your first page is chosen. Just please know that if I’m unable to get in touch with you through that address, you’ll have to forfeit your win.

Two caveats:

  ▪    Please be sure your first page is ready to go so I can critique it before next month’s contest rolls around. If it needs some work and you won’t be able to get it to me right away, let me ask that you plan on entering the next contest, once any necessary tweaking has been taken care of.

  ▪    I’d like to be able to use portions of winning submissions as illustrations in an upcoming presentation on first pages. By entering the Critiques 4 U contest, you’ll be granting permission for me to use small writing samples only (no author names or book titles).

Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow morning. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. 

We run this contest on a monthly basis, so if you’d like to be notified when the next opportunity comes around, consider subscribing to our blog (see the left-hand sidebar).

Best of luck!

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How To Avoid A Half-Baked Idea

Half-baked ideas are everywhere in the spec pile. But what does ‘half-baked’ mean? After all, whether a script reader, agent’s assistant or intern LIKES the idea behind a story is another matter. Let’s look to the dictionary to agree on a definition …

Half-Baked

Adjective. Not fully thought through; lacking a sound basis.

“a half-baked conspiracy theory”

Synonyms: undeveloped, unformed, not fully developed. 

So, we agree we are not talking about personal preference. Instead, when we say a story has a ‘half-baked’ idea, we mean it is ‘not fully thought through.’ Like a cake recipe, something got missed out … It’s lacking, not quite whole.

Why Does This Happen?

Half-baked ideas happen in stories happen because writers frequently dive straight into drafts. They might have an idea for a character, story world, theme or even just a feeling and begin writing. But going back to my cake analogy, it’s like shoving in the flour, butter, water … but forgetting the eggs.

Don’t get me wrong: free writing is a legitimate writing tool, plus writing for writing’s sake can be beneficial for confidence. If you need to write like this to get started, be my guest.

But do NOT send these drafts out. Like the cake with no eggs, your draft will not be the best representation of your talents. This is because – you guessed it – those drafts will contain an under-developed idea.

This is a problem. Okay, sometimes cakes without eggs are vaguely edible. So yes, the person reading that draft might be able to pick out *nice bits* of your writing (such as the aforementioned character, storyworld, theme or feelings).

However, a half-baked idea means the draft will not hang together coherently.

Quite simply, just like a cake, a story is the sum of all its parts!

How Do I Develop My Idea?

I believe our idea – aka concept, premise, controlling idea, ‘seed of the story’ – is one of the foundations of writing craft. (This is why it’s module number one on B2W’s free online mini-course. You can grab yours free by clicking the link).

i) Recognise!

First, recognise the idea behind your story needs to be ROCK SOLID. A little thing perhaps, but it means everything. Once you recognise ideas need to be developed and worked on as much as the rest of your writing craft, you know where to begin.

ii) Write A ‘Baseline’

Next, write what I call a ‘baseline’. This is a short pitch or summary that describes what’s going on in your story. It doesn’t have to be amazing … It’s a kind of ‘note to self’ if you like: ‘This is the story I started with.’ This free cheat sheet will help you with this.

iii) Now ‘Break Story’

Now it’s time to ‘break story’. I like to do this by asking myself 5 ‘W’ questions …

  • Who are my characters?
  • What do they want? Why?
  • Where are we? (storyworld, genre, tone)
  • When are we? (time period, non linearity, story strands)
  • Why? (writer’s voice, theme, message)

But you can do it anyway you want. (This is nice and easy to remember, though).

iv)  Compare & Contrast

Next, go back to your ‘baseline’. Compare it with your answers to the ‘W’ questions. Do you have a different view of the characters now? Maybe you have added more detail, or have a better sense of the tone or genre. Or perhaps you have made a realisation … your character doesn’t have enough to do, or maybe too much!

v) Create Your Foundation

Keep tweaking your baseline until it reflects what you WANT it be. You don’t need it to have every single little thing in from your ‘W’ questions, you can save some of those thoughts for the actual writing. Whatever happens, you now have a powerful foundation to start from … And your idea will no longer be half-baked!

Good Luck!

Lucy V. Hays

Resident Writing Coach

Lucy is a script editor, author and blogger who helps writers at her site, Bang2write.com. To get free stuff for your novel or screenplay, CLICK HERE
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Posted in Character Arc, Focus, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Story Structure, Time Management, Writer's Attitude, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 8 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Experiencing a Crisis of Self-Doubt

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

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

Conflict: Experiencing a Crisis of Self-Doubt

Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, no-win situations, miscellaneous challenges

Examples:
When a new challenge is introduced after a long battle
As the character is getting ready to propose
When the character is about to take a leap of faith to try something new (singing tryouts, apply for a new job, etc.)
When the character needs to take charge
Right as the character needs to do something dangerous (leap out of a plane, jump off a bridge, run into a burning building)
While following through with a murder, a heist, a kidnapping, etc.
When delivering an important speech
While trying to lie their way out of a situation
When an obstacle presents itself
When others are relying on the character to follow through
When the character needs to take on a large responsibility
When it’s important to speak up
When there’s an opportunity to impress someone
When someone needs to be protected

Minor Complications:
Delaying and missing an opportunity
A competitor getting the edge
Missing the perfect moment
Losing a window of much-needed privacy
Creating the seed of doubt in others (about the character’s abilities, leadership, commitment, etc.)
Having to reschedule
Losing out on a chance to lead or share an idea
Never getting a chance to say something to someone important

Potentially Disastrous Results:
A criminal escaping
Losing the chance to take out a difficult target
Disappointing a loved one
Being caught in a lie
Failing to save someone’s life
Causing an accident where someone is hurt
Losing to a competitor
Missing the chance to say goodbye
Giving up on the cusp of greatness
Failing to bring about a meaningful change
Becoming a follower, not a leader
Never living up to one’s potential due to a fear of failure

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Feeling paralyzed by past failures yet wanting to believe something better is possible
Wanting to give up because it’s hard but knowing others are counting on them
Being tempted to give in because it’s easier
Wrestling with what’s right and wrong
A misbelief that they don’t deserve to be happy so maybe giving up will lead to less pain
Worrying that an inner weakness will always keep them from greatness
Suddenly becoming aware of another point of view which causes them to question what they believe to be true
Being torn between trying and failing or not trying at all

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Those who are relying on the protagonist, people the protagonist is responsible for or to, people who could be hurt if the character fails

Resulting Emotions: anguish, anxiety, conflicted, defeat, despair, desperation, devastation, disappointment, discouraged, disillusionment, doubt, dread, fear, frustration, inadequate, longing, overwhelmed, panic, powerlessness, self-loathing

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: cowardly, flaky, gullible, insecure, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: 
Following through and discovering inner strength
Gaining the clarity in the moment to know what they really want and doubling down
Breaking away the chains of fear and doubt by following through
Hesitating long enough to question one’s motivations and avoiding a terrible mistake

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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Character Introductions: Making the Right Impression

Many aspects of writing can be hard to get right, especially in our first draft. For just two examples:

  • With our story beginning, we might struggle to find a good balance between a throat-clearing boring scene (before getting to the good stuff) and jumping into the plot’s action too quickly (before readers care about our character hanging off a cliff by their fingernails).
  • With our characters, even with all the prep work to make our character well-rounded, we might struggle with how to show them to readers in a way that elicits empathy and a desire to follow their story.

Put those two aspects together, and we have the double difficulty of introducing our characters at the beginning of our story to create the right impression for readers. We all know that first impressions can be important, so what should we keep in mind for how we introduce our characters?

Step #1: Is Our Choice a “Good” Scene?

There are countless options for how to fulfill each idea of our story. Even once we have a general premise, plot, and characters, we can reveal the story in dozens—if not hundreds—of ways. So how can we know the right setup, scene, or situation to create the right impression?

At any point in our story, a “good” scene is one that:

  • moves the story forward, setting up the next plot point or milestone in the character’s emotional journey
  • grows out of previous story events
  • reveals aspects of our character that we want readers to understand
  • increases reader interest in the story and character
  • reinforces our story’s theme and/or our character’s emotional arc

Of course, at our story beginning, we don’t need to worry about the second bullet point as much. But in exchange, our opening scene also needs to establish our story’s genre, setting, mood, and tone.

Step #2: What Impression Does Our Choice Create?

For the all-important early introduction to our character, we also want to consider which scene and situation option would best:

  • allow our character to express their current personality (not act out of character)
  • kick off the right character emotional arc and story theme
  • establish our character as empathetic, likeable, and/or compelling to readers
  • reveal a hint of our character’s vulnerability, longing, or false belief (so readers get a sense of their path of growth)
  • anchor readers in who our character is and the world they live in

“Boring” Is Never a Good Choice

Note that for the last point listed above, we want to share context, not backstory or explanation. We just want to give readers a hook to connect with our character and their goals and struggles.

Contrary to what we might think, beginnings aren’t about setting up the character and their situation. Beginnings are about setting up elements of the story’s conflicts. Readers will learn about the character and their situation along the way.

For example, to hint at a character’s longing or the obstacles in their way, we could:

  • show a choice the character makes that demonstrates how they’re sabotaging themselves from reaching their potential
  • show a problem the character must deal with that gives readers our intended impression of some character traits
  • show a problem that gives readers hints about the main conflict and how it relates to the character

The point is to show conflict. Readers want to see characters in action, showing who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, and what matters to them.

Revise to Get It Right

As I mentioned at the outset, we’re often not going to get all the pieces right in our first draft, but feedback on our opening pages can help us fix issues in revisions. Our goal is to make readers of our excerpts and “look inside” pages want to keep reading.

For example, in Treasured Claim, the first story of my Mythos Legacy series, the opening scene showed my heroine preparing to steal—er, acquire jewelry, setting up her personality and the conflict and goals with action. Obviously, however, that setup could also make her unlikable to many readers, so I revised to include her motivation: If she didn’t steal jewelry, she would die. Including that context for how the character was vulnerable helped readers connect to her.

Tweaking motivations, reactions, emotions, etc. can all help readers get on the same page as our intentions. Thinking of how readers will interpret our words, story, and characters can be difficult, and it’s often doubly hard to create the right impression of our characters from the start. But with feedback and revision, we can make sure our character’s introduction not only sets up the story and plot, but also gives readers a reason to stick around for their journey. *smile*

Do you have any questions or insights about character introductions and impressions?

Jami Gold

Resident Writing Coach

After muttering writing advice in tongues, Jami decided to put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she creates writing resources and writes award-winning paranormal romance stories where normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat. Find out more about Jami here, hang out with her on social media, or visit her website and Goodreads profile.
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Posted in Backstory, Basic Human Needs, Character Arc, Characters, Conflict, Description, Emotion, Motivation, Openings, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, worldbuilding, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 12 Comments