Introducing One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder

Life is crazy sometimes. Here it is, less than a week away from us launching a book people are very, very excited about, and we’re about to share something else that is, in our humble opinion, even bigger and better: One Stop for Writers’ new tool, the Character Builder.

Becca, Lee, Abhishek, and I have been working on the Character Builder for almost a year and a half. It’s been a massive undertaking, the only tool of its kind, and one that we hope will utterly transform how you build characters.

Many of you use our description thesauruses, not only those in book form but all the additional ones we have at One Stop. Along with our unique Idea Generator, they have helped you brainstorm your story’s cast time and again.

The hyper-intelligent Character Builder is integrated with our description database, generators, and behavioral lists. This means as you work on your character, the tool will prompt you with specific options and choices that will be the best fit for them, helping you to build your seedling ideas into a full-blooded, three-dimensional character.

unresolved emotional wound character builder tool

For example, let’s say you know your character’s unresolved emotional wound, chosen from our database. The Character Builder will show you what sort of personality traits, fears, misbeliefs, behaviors, and dysfunctional emotional shielding might result in your character, based on this exact wound. It will also show you how to uncover your character’s Fatal Flaw that, in this case, is the one thing they must overcome if they are to achieve their goal.

If you can’t find a database wound that fits, you can add your own (and the tool will still offer up helpful ideas on what to brainstorm!)

Character Motivation the Character Builder Tool

Or maybe you know your character’s goal (outer motivation). The Character Builder will help you distill exactly what this will look like for your character, offer ideas on what skills and talents would be beneficial to help them achieve it, and what the stakes could be. It will then lead you through the process of uncovering your character’s inner motivation: the WHY behind the goal they are pursuing.

There are dozens of places to start when it comes to building a character, and these are only two. You can choose what area to plan first, whether to use our suggestions or add your own ideas, and plan as much or as little as you like!

The most incredible aspect of this tool?

Once you’re finished planning, the Character Builder will create a blueprint of the character’s arc based on the information you gathered.

Yes, read that again:

You’ll have a map of the character’s inner journey, in hand, as you write.

This Character Arc Blueprint also allows you to switch between arc types, so you can see what the story looks like if the character is on a Change arc, Static, or Failed. It works for all characters: protagonists, antagonists, villains, antiheroes, love interests…even minor characters. If they have an arc in the story, you can decide if it leads to failure or success.

(Did I mention you can export a PDF of your character to you favorite writing program, like Scrivener?)

Okay, I’ve babbled enough. It’s time for you to see a tiny slice of what this tool will do. Join Becca as she takes you on a tour of the new Character Builder:

Want to test drive this incredible tool? Here’s a 75% discount to get you started.

We’re ridiculously giddy over the release of the Character Builder and want everyone to try it. So, we’re offering a massive sale: until the end of February, you can get 75% off our 1-month plan. Just use this code at One Stop for Writers:


To redeem:

  1. Register and then click on the confirmation link that we’ll email to you. (If you’ve previously registered, just sign in.)
  2. Go to My Subscription (under the ACCOUNT tab)
  3. Enter the code: CHARACTER (no spaces) into the coupon code box and activate it, following the prompts
  4. Attach a credit card
  5. Select the 1-month plan

The 75% discount will be applied to your first invoice only. Cancel any time. Our pricing plans are here

Know someone who might like the Character Builder? Please share this post. And we’ll see you at One Stop. 🙂

Posted in Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Hobbies, Character Traits, Character Wound, Characters, Emotion, Motivation, One Stop For Writers, Show Don't Tell, Story Structure, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 10 Comments

Look Forward, Not Backward, to Pull the Reader In

september-c-fawkesA lot of writers have the tendency to look “backward” when writing. They might use a lot of flashbacks, they might have a character think “back” on things, or they may simply refer to events that happened in the past. Sometimes they may even backtrack and reiterate what has already played out on the page, or repeat information the audience already knows.

As writers, we love looking backward. Part of this is because from our perspective, when we understand a character’s past, we understand the character better, or alternatively, when we understand what events led to the current point of the story, we better understand the story. From a writer’s perspective, we may even feel more powerful emotions by linking back to the past regularly.

Looking “backward” in a story isn’t necessarily wrong. It has an important role in storytelling. Maybe we do need that flashback, for example. Looking back once in a while also adds authenticity–after all, we all look back from time to time in our personal lives, and a story should be bigger than what’s on the page. Your characters should have an existence, a history, before the first chapter.

However, unlike the writer, most of the time, for the reader, looking backward is not nearly as interesting or as effective as looking forward.

Often as writers, we think, if the audience can just see the significance of the past, they’ll be drawn into the story. In reality, looking forward does this innately and more powerfully.

The past has already happened. It can’t be changed. Which is why you will hear many writers speak out against flashbacks.

But the future–that hasn’t happened yet. It can change. So when we look forward to it, the audience automatically gets drawn into and invested into the story.

This creates anticipation and tension. Two elements (that to some extent overlap) that will get the audience to turn page after page.

This is essentially why hooks are so important. Most of the time, hooks get the audience to look forward to, or in other words, anticipate something

Thankfully, looking “forward” in a story is actually easier than looking backward (remember how I said it’s innately equipped to draw in the audience?). One way to do it is by simply having a line where the viewpoint character thinks about what could happen. It might be something as direct as this:

I was afraid that if I told him the truth tomorrow, he wouldn’t like me.

reader interestSee how that automatically has us anticipating that something bad might happen? Now we need to turn the page!

Other times the line might be more indirect, building off the context of the story, but whatever the case, the viewpoint character is anticipating what might happen, so we are too.

An alternative approach is to give a summary line about what does happen, which begs for more information. For example:

To her dread, their alliance only made things worse.

Wait, what? This alliance we just read about makes the situation worse? Now as a reader, I’m looking forward to learning how and why–to getting more information–and I’m wondering, what will the consequences be if things are worse?

In my mind, there are two main, important categories that really draw the audience in:

1- We get the audience to dread (or fear) something might happen.

2- We get the audience to hope something might happen.

Both categories are very effective. One is negative and one is positive. But both cause the audience to look forward and therefore anticipate and therefore read more. Readers may worry something bad is going to happen to the character or story. Or they may pray something good will happen.

Get readers to anticipate what comes next using HOPE!

In the writing world, we indirectly talk about the first category a lot. It can bring in a lot of tension. Think about it. This is where all the advice about “risks” and “stakes” comes in. What does the character or world have to lose? In a good horror story, we are drawn in by the fear that a character might die, or worse.

We don’t talk as much about the second option, which can still be very effective. Hope is a powerful thing. This is where all the advice about giving your character a goal or something he cares about comes in. It works because it gets us to hope for an outcome. In a good romance, we hope that the characters fall in love, or better.

And sometimes, you may be appealing to both of these simultaneously.

In most stories, category one is probably most effective, but don’t ignore category two, which is often underestimated.

Utilizing both regularly in your storytelling will get the audience to turn page after page. That’s really how page-turners work–by getting the audience to look forward.

So next time you feel tempted to look backward in your story to try to make it more effective, stop and consider if what you really need is to look forward.

september-c-fawkes_3Sometimes September scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. She works as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author while penning her own stories, holds an English degree, and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. Find out more about September here, hang with her on social media, or visit her website to follow her writing journey and get more writing tips.

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Posted in Empathy, Experiments, Flashbacks, Pacing, Reader Interest, Reading, Resident Writing Coach, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 19 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Chef

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Is your character a chef? If so, this is how to write this occupation accurately.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: CHEF

Overview: There are many different types of chefs, but in general a chef is responsible for food preparation; they may plan the menu, oversee and direct others in its preparation, select ingredients, order supplies, and manage the kitchen staff.

Chef-Owners are responsible for the restaurant’s success, and so oversee the kitchen (and restaurant) from a business standpoint. They may hire, fire, set prices, and have the final say over the menu. An Executive Chef oversees the daily operation of the kitchen which includes food preparations, ordering, and menu planning. A Sous Chef oversees the kitchen in the Executive’s Chef’s absence, is responsible for training new chefs, and ensures the food leaving the kitchen is of the highest quality and presentation. A Senior Chef is part of the team and is typically assigned to a station within the kitchen where they are responsible for a specific dish or aspect of food preparation (such as plating). Chefs are different than cooks (cooks do not have as much training and generally fill the entry-level positions in a restaurant or work as part of a small staff in smaller establishments).

Necessary Training: Most chefs require an associate’s degree in culinary arts and certifications in specific areas. Their courses will include things like nutrition, butchery, grilling, pastry creation, kitchen safety & basic first aid, garnishing and plating,  hospitality training, menu planning, and possibly business courses that look at kitchen operations and management. Training is both classroom based and hands on. Candidates will often take entry level positions and apply for apprenticeships (2-3 years) to gain the work experience needed to apply for chef positions.

Chefs often also have specialized training in a certain area (Pastry Chefs, Grill Chefs, Pantry Chef, Sauce Chef, etc.)

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, a knack for making money, baking, basic first aid, enhanced sense of smell, enhanced taste buds, exceptional memory, hospitality, multitasking, photographic memory, promotion, sculpting, super strength, swift-footedness, throwing one’s voice

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, alert, ambitious, analytical, centered, cooperative, creative, disciplined, focused, hospitable, imaginative, independent, industrious, inspirational, meticulous, observant, organized, passionate, professional, sophisticated, talented, thrifty

NEGATIVE: cocky, compulsive, extravagant, judgmental, know-it-all, obsessive, perfectionist, workaholic

Sources of Friction: long work hours, demanding employers and customers, customers who insist on certain substitutions or exclusions that basically will ruin a dish, kitchen hazards (burns, cuts, back issues from being one one’s feet too long, dehydration from hot cooking conditions, scaldings, etc.), having to work weekends and holidays (missing out on family events), working for owners who have little knowledge of how a kitchen should be run and meddling with one’s system or making unreasonable demands with the menu, poorly designed kitchens with too little storage and counter space, poorly maintained equipment, hiring lazy staff, team members who are out of sync (messing up the food delivery timing), customer complaints, last-minute diners who arrive right before closing, kitchens that are not stocked and prepped properly for the next day, servers who screw up an order and then the kitchen staff is blamed, performance-related stress, competition among chefs

People They Might Interact With: customers, kitchen staff, wait staff, management, owners, other chefs, cooks, delivery people, health inspectors, grocers

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: The long, difficult hours, being in an environment where one’s skills are not appreciated and customers are demanding or rude may lead a character to wonder if they chose the right dream to follow
  • Esteem and Recognition: A chef who is on the lower end of the kitchen hierarchy may struggle if he or she feels that their contributions are not being recognized or if they are being mistreated by haughty senior chefs
  • Love and Belonging: The long hours, weekend and holiday shifts, and exhaustion while home can make relationships difficult to keep. Family may come to resent the character’s profession as it will often come before them.
  • Safety and Security: A kitchen contains many hazards that could lead to an injury that would be life-changing (losing a finger while chopping, being scalded and disfigured, sampling too much and gaining an unhealthy level of weight, etc.)

Common Work-Related Settings: airport, big city street, birthday party, black-tie event, casual dining restaurant, cruise ship, kitchen, medieval castle (speculative), penthouse suite, ski resort, upscale hotel lobby, wedding reception, wine cellar, yacht

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Why Querying Writers Shouldn’t Write Sequels

Querying writers have quite a few hurdles to jump through to secure literary representation. For those of you who don’t know what a query is or what I mean by literary representation, let’s go over a few of the basics to start.

There are a few ways to publish a book, one of those being traditional publishing. As of early 2019, the big five publishers—whose names you have likely heard of many times before—are Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster. If you want to be published through the big five or through another traditional publisher, you need to have a literary agent.

Many people call literary agents the “gatekeepers” to the traditional publishing industry. Whether or not that’s true, writers have to pitch their unpublished manuscripts to agents via a query letter, which is essentially a professional cover letter all about your book.

There are certain formats and pieces of information that are expected to be within your query letter, but we won’t dive into that today. To learn more about querying, be sure to check out iWriterly’s Query Hack series, where we critique queries.

Essentially, writers are expected to pitch their book (via a query letter) to one literary agent per agency. Many represented writers have shared that they queried an upwards of 100 literary agents before they signed their contract with their current agent. On average, most writers write an average of four books prior to securing literary representation. That means, they likely wrote several books before writing the book that landed them an agent.

If you do the math, a writer could potentially send out 400 queries (assuming they sent approximately 100 queries per manuscript) before signing a contract with a literary agent.

Now, imagine you write a book that no agent is going to want. You spend a year or more writing and editing the book—both by yourself and with critique partners and beta readers—prior to sending out your 100 queries. You are beyond excited for this book, and you think readers are going to be as captivated about the story and character as you are… if only agents had fallen in love with the first book in the series.

One less known fact about literary agents is that most will not consider representing subsequent books in a series. That means agents need to fall in love with the first book in a series first. If they don’t want to represent book one, they aren’t going to want to represent the whole series.

Therefore, the months—or years—you spent drafting and editing the sequel will not assist you in your goal to land a literary agent. In fact, some might consider having written a sequel a waste of time. Personally, I think that any book written is never a waste of time because it teaches you to hone your writing craft. However, this sequel will unfortunately not be able to assist you in your goal to get literary representation, which is a main stepping stone to becoming traditionally published. In addition, even if you are picked up by an agent, if the agent can’t sell a series to a publisher and only sells a one-book deal, then there is nothing you can do with those sequels.

Instead, once you finish the first book in a series, consider going on to write a new book in a different series (or a standalone). Try to write these books as standalones with series potential. Meaning, a reader can read the first book and feel completely satisfied with where the story ended. There aren’t any glaring cliffhangers to the main plot or conflict. However, there might be little threads that the author could pick up later to write subsequent books in the series.

By writing several first books in different series, you are increasing your chances to secure literary representation—and, eventually, securing book deals with traditional publishers.

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 social media.

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Posted in Agents, Publishing and Self Publishing, Series, Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Barista

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

The Occupation Thesaurus helps you pick the right careers for your characters—ones that will fulfill their character arc and help (or hinder) them in the story

Occupation: Barista

Overview: A barista is someone who makes coffee and espresso drinks (though some countries, the skill may also encompass knowledge of other beverages). In many commercial and chain shops, the job entails being able to work the necessary machinery and care for customers. A barista in a specialty or independent shop may be more knowledgeable about the different types of coffee, including where the beans come from, how the plants are cultivated, and the tastes and strengths of the different roasts. They may take ownership of more of the process, such as grinding the beans and making an extra effort in the presentation.

Wherever a barista works, they’ll need to also be able to interact with customers, keep items stocked, and maintain a clean environment for guests. Because this job is often seen as a stepping stone to other opportunities (rather than a permanent career), it can be a great choice for teenagers and people in transition.

Necessary Training: No formal education is required; most training will be received on the job.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Charm, enhanced sense of smell, enhanced taste buds, good listening skills, hospitality, multitasking, promotion

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, calm, charming, cooperative, courteous, efficient, enthusiastic, honest, honorable, hospitable, kind, observant, passionate, responsible, sensible

Sources of Friction: Malfunctioning equipment, running out of supplies, employees calling in sick or not showing up with no warning, dishonest or lazy employees, micro-managing or absentee bosses, failing a health inspection, serving a customer with food allergies a drink containing an allergen, a customer slipping and falling, co-workers who don’t get along, having to work in a cramped space, demanding or difficult customers, bad PR, having a passion for coffee that the establishment doesn’t share or care about, developing an allergy or sensitivity that makes the coffeeshop a difficult place to work (e.g., becoming pregnant and not being able to stand the smell of coffee), discovering that something underhanded is going on (beans being gotten from unethical sources, etc.), pressure from one’s peers to give them free drinks

People They Might Interact With: other baristas and employees, a manager, a store owner, delivery people, customers, health inspectors

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: Someone with a passion for coffee may find their enthusiasm squashed if the management is only interested in doing the same old thing. This could lead a lack of fulfillment for the barista.
  • Esteem and Recognition: It’s likely that most people would view this opportunity as a short-term job. If someone is happy doing it and wants to make a career out of it, they may find their esteem lowering in the eyes of others.
  • Safety and Security: While most retail jobs are fairly safe, a barista’s security may be at stake in the event of a robbery or if the store is located in a high-crime area.

Common Work-Related Settings: Airport, bakery, big city street, bookstore, coffeehouse, cruise ship, grocery store, hospital (interior), shopping mall, ski resort, small town street

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: 

  • This job is often a temporary one, but what might drive a character to pursue it as a long-term career?
  • To create some pizzazz for your barista, consider what you can change about the coffeeshop itself. Where would an interesting location be? What other businesses might be run out of or in conjunction with the shop (a bakery or stationary store)? What charity, like a pet rescue or mentoring program, might the owner be excited about that could be paired with the shop?

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

3 Signs It’s Time to Stop Editing That Manuscript

Today Kyle A. Massa from ProWritingAid is helping us with a problematic decision: knowing WHEN it’s time to stop editing a manuscript. Read on!

When’s the right time to stop editing?

If you answered, “Never,” this article is for you.

For a manuscript to become a book, editing must eventually end. If you just keep going, no one will ever read your work (except maybe your mom). So the question is, when is it good enough? When can you be sure it’s safe to stop editing and hit “Submit”?

That’s what we’ll cover in today’s article. If any of these three signs sound familiar, you’re done. No more edits!

  1. You’re Making Changes, Not Improvements

Writing a manuscript is a lot like American football: only forward progress counts. Lateral movement, on the other hand, won’t get you any closer to the end zone.

when to stop editing your novel

There may come a point in your editing process where it feels like you’re moving laterally. This happened to me while editing my book. A few weeks before my deadline (more on those in a minute), I began rearranging chapters, toying with fonts, and tweaking character names. At some point, I realized none of these changes made the work any better—they just made it different. Adding a syllable to a supporting character’s surname was lateral movement, not forward progress.

My own personal theory on this phenomenon is simple: we get scared. As we near our deadline and editing time dwindles, we subconsciously realize that we’ll soon be unable to make any further changes. As a result, we compensate by making too many changes.

While editing, constantly ask yourself, “Is this an improvement or a change?” If it’s the former, do it. If it’s the latter, don’t. And if it continues to be the latter, you’re probably done editing.

  1. You’re Going to Miss Your Deadline

You might’ve heard this Douglas Adams quote before: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Hilarious? Absolutely. Worthy of emulation? Certainly not.

If you’re editing so much that you’re going to miss your deadline, you’re likely editing too much. As long as you’re working on your manuscript consistently and diligently, you should be done by the date you’ve been assigned (or chosen yourself). If you allow yourself to miss one deadline, what’s to stop you from missing more? And at that point, you’ve likely entered into changes-not-improvements territory.

Furthermore, you don’t want to become known as an author who misses deadlines. Douglas Adams can joke about it because he wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For the rest of us, missing deadlines is a sure way to build a bad reputation. Publishers certainly won’t like it; They need manuscripts submitted on-time to fulfill their scheduling needs. And if publishers won’t work with you, your agent won’t be able to find you work, which will soon leave you agentless. When that happens, it won’t matter how much time you’ve devoted to editing—your manuscript won’t get published!

Indie authors might be in the corner giggling to themselves right now, but be forewarned. Your readers expect a steady output of work, perhaps even more than they’d expect from a traditionally published author. If you shirk deadlines, you produce less work. The less work you produce, the less likely your audience is to continue supporting you.

Yes, this tip will certainly vary depending on the writer. You might uncover a gaping hole in your plot late in the editing process and have no choice but to seek an extension. However, standard procedure should be as follows: set a reasonable deadline, then stop editing once you reach it.

  1. You’re Sick of Your Project

Again, this one will vary from writer to writer. Some might never tire of a manuscript, while others might grow sick of their work after a month. Yet for most authors, losing interest in a project likely means it’s time to stop editing. Here’s why.

The first few days and weeks of manuscript editing are always exciting. Maybe it’s the first time you’ve seen your draft in a month, or maybe you just finished yesterday. Either way, the fun comes from improvement. You’ll likely find something to refine on every single page in these early stages. That’s forward progress, and any forward progress is bound to be thrilling.

But as weeks turn to months and you’ve been reading the same passages over and over, your interest will invariably wane. That’s because as you improve the quality of your manuscript, the need for further changes declines. Eventually, you’ll find yourself reading and re-reading work that can’t be made any better (at least not by you).

That’s why you get sick of it. That’s when it’s time to stop editing. Submit, then start the next one.

In Conclusion

Editing a manuscript can be just as time-intensive as writing it, if not more so. But editing time isn’t infinite—nor should it be. At some point, you need to stop. The world wants to read your work!

When is it time to stop editing your novel?Kyle A. Massa is an independent speculative fiction author and a marketing specialist at ProWritingAid. When he’s not writing, he enjoys reading, running, drumming, and playing with his cats. His debut novel, Gerald Barkley Rocks, is available for Amazon Kindle.

Posted in Editing Tips, Guest Post, Publishing and Self Publishing, Revision and Editing, Time Management | 6 Comments

Struggle to Show, Not Tell Emotion? Here’s a Mother-lode of Description Links!

As you can imagine, we’re pretty amped about the upcoming release of The Emotion Thesaurus Second Edition, out February 19th. I hope those of you who know you want those extra 55 emotions and double the teaching content have secured your Preorder Bonus.

Sometimes it’s fun to see behind the scenes, and we hope these cutting room floor entries that didn’t end up in the book will be put to good use in your stories. (If you haven’t received your bonus, just visit this page to preorder the book and claim your extra entries.)

Every launch, Becca and I go on a guest posting tear, sharing information from our latest release. These posts are packed with great ideas for showing emotion and often utilize excerpts from the book, so I’ll list them here:

The Inner Struggle: How to Show a Character’s Repressed Emotions (Jane Friedman)

Using Vocal Cues to Show Hidden Emotions (Fiction University)

Fight, Flight, or Freeze: Psyche 101 for Writers (Elizabeth Spann Craig)

Got Subtext? Writing Better Dialogue (Jerry B. Jenkins)

Podcast Interview with Angela (Blood, Sweat, and Words)

Emotion and The Setting: A Powerful Story Combo (Seekerville)

The Connection Between Character Emotion and Reader Empathy (Live Write Thrive)

How to Show Emotion for Non-Viewpoint Characters (Jami Gold)

Character Research: What to Know to Write Authentic Emotion (ProWritingAid)

Telling vs. Showing When It Comes to Emotions (Kobo Writing Life)

5 Vehicles for Showing (Instead of Telling) Character Emotion (DIYMFA)

We hope you enjoy these posts!

Don’t Forget…

We have a free webinar recording that can be viewed right up until the end of February: Using Emotion To Wow Readers.

You can find the access link here.

And, if you’d like an email reminder on February 19th when this book releases, just add your address to our Notification list.

Happy writing! 🙂


Posted in About Us, Emotion Thesaurus Guide | Leave a comment

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Skydiving Instructor

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Is your characetr a skydiving instructor? Here's all the description for how this job and the personality and skills that go with it, can impact the story.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Occupation: Skydiving Instructor

Overview: A skydiving instructor teaches willing participants the basics of safe skydiving, and then takes them miles into the sky to help them to jump out of a plane with a parachute (some solo, some in tandem dives). Instructors will teach, pack parachutes, assist clients with questions and gearing up, and ensure all safety regulations are followed.

Skydiving Instructors must be highly alert, dedicated, calm, work well with others in a high-pressure environment, be decisive, be strong communicators, exude confidence and enthusiasm that encourages trust, as well as have high standards and a strong work ethic. They also have a strong sense of adventure and and are able to analyze and mitigate risk very well.

Necessary Training:

Depending on the amount of dives, the certifications the instructor has, and their own personal areas of interest, skydive instructors might be Coaches (100 skydives; able to teach students the essentials as they do their pre-A licence solos); Skydiving Photographers (200 skydives; accompanying individuals and their instructors on skydives to capture the moment); and the at 500 skydive mark +3 hours of freefall, they could become AFF certified by taking an additional USPA (United States Parachute Association) AFF instructor course (in the US) after getting one’s C-licence & completed instructor proficiency card. Alternatively at the 500 skydive mark a person can obtain another proficiency card and course to get their Tandem Instructor rating. In addition to the jumps and classroom time, becoming an instructor also requires challenging written and oral exams. There are many additional courses a instructor can take for different areas of skydiving, learning maneuvers to become proficient so they may teach these specialized areas.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, a knack for making money, charm, enhanced hearing, ESP (clairvoyance), exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, high pain tolerance, hospitality, lip-reading, making people laugh, mechanically inclined, photographic memory, predicting the weather, promotion, reading people, strategic thinking, strong breath control, super strength, survival skills, throwing one’s voice, wilderness navigation

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, adventurous, alert, ambitious, analytical, calm, courageous, decisive, diplomatic, disciplined, easygoing, efficient, enthusiastic, extroverted, focused, friendly, happy, hospitable, independent, industrious, meticulous, nature-focused, observant, organized, passionate, persistent, persuasive, professional, protective, responsible, spontaneous, thrifty, uninhibited

NEGATIVE: obsessive, perfectionist

Sources of Friction: working for a company that is always running a tight budget (walking the safety line), struggling to make ends meet as an instructor, friction between instructors and staff over preferential treatment or work ethic imbalances, having clients change their minds mid-flight, having clients who don’t follow instructions or who take risks, problems with the parachutes deploying smoothy, an inattentive skydiver who deploys too early or isn’t paying enough attention to the position of others (leading to a near-miss or even a collision), a malfunction with a skydiver’s automatic activation device (AAD), a fellow skydiver suffering a seizure mid-dive, a jumper blacking out, a near-collision with a plane or drone, camera malfunctions, bad weather, missing the drop zone and getting lost, plane issues that scrap the day’s dives (meaning no pay), straps that break mid-flight, a difficult landing that leads to injuries, being sued by a client, having a death occur within the skydiving community (especially if it happens onsite)

People They Might Interact With: other skydivers, first timers, staff at the facility, pilots, students, family members of participants

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: A character who becomes addicted to the rush of skydives may struggles with feeling satisfied fully when on the ground.
  • Esteem and Recognition: A character who dreams of competing on the world stage and being recognized as being one of the very best may not be able to dedicate themselves to jump mastery if most of their time is spent teaching others.
  • Safety and Security: A career as a skydiving instructor does not pay well, and being part of the sport is expensive, meaning a portion of one’s earnings will go right back into skydiving. This can create a financial hardship if the character is not frugal enough or has a family to support.
  • Physiological Needs: While parachute malfunctions and other accidents are rare, skydiving means ever-present risk to one’s life.

Common Work-Related Settings: airplane, field, hanger

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: skydivers are often portrayed as fearless but many of them have a fear of heights, and it was the desire to overcome this fear that sent them on their first jump. Their love of the experience pushed them to pursue sharing it with others through instruction, but the fear of heights hasn’t gone away.

Skydivers are also portrayed as risk-seeking and reckless, but instructors are anything but. They understand risk and work to mitigate it for their clients for whom they are responsible. Skydiving instructors are meticulous and do things by-the-book.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

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The Key Components of a Compelling Character (According to Psychology)

 We’re fascinated by our fellow humans. In fact, we have a profound desire to try and understand the thoughts and feelings bouncing around other people, the characters on TV…the hero introduced on your first page.

From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Our fellow humans are pretty darned important to our survival. They’re our friends; the ones we collaborate and cooperate and mate with, and our foes; our competitors who can hold the power of whether we live or die. It’s why we get a burst of dopamine when someone smiles at us and the same part of our brain associated with physical pain lights up when we’re rejected (in fact, research has found that Tylenol is an effective way to reduce the anguish of social loss).

The wonderful news is that this desire to understand and connect transfers to the fictional characters we create on the page. It means that your reader is looking for someone they can connect with. Someone who will allow them to slip off of their shoes and step into their life so they can safely trek through new territory. They want to blur the line between themselves and your protagonist.

Your reader is wired for it and they are seeking it when they open a book.

You need to give it to them.

How? Well, there’s four key ways to achieve this. The first two acknowledge that a character needs to be someone your reader can establish a relationship with—and the truth is, we empathize more with people we care about. The more invisible the boundary with the self and other (i.e. the character), the easier it is to slip into empathy. To do that, we’re going to explore our commonalities. As diverse as we all are, and as unique as each of our characters are, there are some things that are universal to all humans: a want and a wound.

Make them Want

We empathize with people we identify with, and there are some needs that are universal. Basic human needs. These deep-seated drives grab our attention because they hold evolutionary stakes. Survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, fear of death, all grab us by the guts. The caveman song of survival or hunger or death? Their intrinsic connection to their father, mother, sister, brother, wife, child? That’s what we want to tap into.

As complicated as your plot gets, at its core it should be basic. It should connect with us on a visceral level. Ask yourself, would a caveman understand the core of your story? Does it have physical and/or emotional stakes? Even if your book is a sweet rom com, you need to be able to say yes.

Make them Hurt

I challenge you to find a person who isn’t carrying a wound, consciously or unconsciously. Our brains have a tendency to internalize negative events. I’ve worked with children who blame themselves for their parents’ divorce, teens who punish themselves for social transgressions, and parents who blame themselves for their child’s disability. These perceptions and conclusions aren’t always rational (or helpful), but they’re very human. Wounds will make your character authentic and ultimately someone a reader can empathize with, no matter what they’re facing.

The next two components are about harnessing two powerful psychological processes: curiosity and emotion. Your character needs to be someone who grabs our attention, and what captures our attention? Anything out of the norm, unexpected, or surprising. So we make our character unique. Then we harness the crucial emotional element by grabbing those heart strings and not letting go. To do that we make our character someone who is ‘more’.

Make them Unique

Crafting powerful, compelling characters relies on 4 key premises. Do you have them in place?

It’s a well-known rule that you want to avoid stereotypes and clichés when it comes to character development. Stereotypes and clichés are familiar, commonplace, and banal. But anything new, different, unexpected, or unprecedented? That grabs our attention, all because when we are experiencing something new we are also, quite inevitably and unconsciously, learning.

Which is why you need to make your character unique. How do you make your handsome billionaire CEO stand out in a crowd of other drool-worthy billionaire CEOs? You got it—surprise your reader. Intrigue them.

Make them one-of-a-kind.

Ask yourself, what about your character is unique? Is it their circumstance, their personality, their mannerisms? What haven’t readers come across before with this particular person on a page? Those are the characters your reader wants to spend time with.

Make them More

Many writers assume that to create an authentic, relatable character, they need to make them ‘like us.’ And they’re right. Relatable and authentic are pretty darned important, the issue is that you run the risk of having a character who is ordinary. And yes, that does translate to boring (sometimes depressing).

Luckily, when we make our character want and hurt, we create a character a reader can connect with. We all yearn and we all bleed. But the characters who are memorable? The ones who stay with us long after we finish the book? The ones who have us looking to see if maybe, maybe this book’s (please let it be) a series?

Those characters are more.

These characters have something about them that is extraordinary or exceptional, not in looks or intellect, but in timeless virtues. Traits such as compassion, strength, integrity, insight, a commitment to justice, family, love, steadfastness, sacrifice, selflessness. Essentially, they are any trait that is admirable or inspirational. In fact, research has shown that reading about good people elicits a sense of elevation and inspiration.

Ask yourself the following: what is extraordinary about your character? Even if they are an ordinary Joe Blow who lives next door, works nine to five, and drives a Volvo, what is extraordinary about him?

Have you incorporated some or all of these key components into your character/s? Have you noticed how best-selling authors use them in their writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions.

Tamar Sloan is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Tamar is also an award-winning author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can checkout Tamar’s books on her author website.

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Posted in Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Traits, Character Wound, Characters, Description, Emotion, Empathy, Motivation, Resident Writing Coach, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 27 Comments

Announcing The Emotion Thesaurus Second Edition!

Keeping secrets are hard, especially keeping happy, year-long ones from the people we care about. So you can imagine how terrific it is to finally share with you that the mystery thesaurus Becca and I have been working on this past year is a second edition of The Emotion Thesaurus! It releases on February 19th.

We love all the books in our series, but the Emotion Thesaurus has always had a special place in our hearts. It redefined what a writing resource guide could look like and provided writers with a new way to brainstorm strong, compelling emotion that shows rather than tells.

And as our knowledge grew over the years, we longed to come back to this book and make it even better, adding more emotions and helpful ideas on how to express it. It’s so gratifying to finally be able to share the book cover for this new edition!

And that’s not all.

We’ve also created a pre-order for this book so if you like, you can make sure the nanosecond it’s available on February 19th, it will wing its way to you.

Indiebound (Print)

Amazon (Print and Kindle)


Apple Books

Book Depository

Preorder Bonus!

If you preorder this book, send a screenshot of the order to this link and you’ll receive a bonus PDF of entries that we completed but chose not to add to the 2nd edition!

But wait…do you need a second edition? What’s new and different about this book?

1.     Existing entries have been revamped and expanded to include more options for showing each feeling, including a list of power verbs and de-escalating emotions so you can better plan what emotion comes next.

2.     We’ve added 55 new emotions to bring the total to 130 (up from 75 in the first edition). Click to view the entire list.

3.     The instructive portion of the book has more than doubled and includes new material on how to power up dialogue with emotion, use subtext and other techniques to show hidden emotions, what character development is necessary to determine emotional range so actions are authentic to each person’s nature, and more.

All of this tallies up to a book nearly twice the size of the original. It really is a whole new book! We have some sample entries to check out too, like Schadenfreude, Vindicated, and Euphoria. We hope you love this new edition as much as we do!

And because this book and its predecessor would have never come to be without all of you, we have a small thank you gift: a free webinar on Using Emotion To Wow Readers


(This webinar recording is only viewable for a limited time, so be sure to watch it before the end of February!)

Posted in About Us, Emotion Thesaurus Guide | 41 Comments