Writing Retreats: How to Choose the Best One for You (+Giveaway!)

Hi everyone. Help me welcome author Sean Hillen who is going to help us better understand what makes a writing retreat worth the investment. And SPOILER ALERT, you definitely want to get in on the giveaway mentioned at the end of this post!

Forking out scarce, hard-earned cash for a writing retreat is no small decision, so when a writer decides to do just that, they want to make sure the benefits will be multi-faceted. Even beyond a powerful dose of creativity, the experience should also be confidence-building and provide positive, long-lasting effects.

As a journalist and editor for radio, newspapers, and television in both Europe and the US for the last 40 years, including having the same reporting position with the same newspaper as Ernest Hemingway, I’m not a great believer in theory. Instead, I feel the learning is in the doing.

We can greatly benefit from the guidance of those with more experience, and the collective camaraderie and support by fellow participants in a retreat is powerful. After all, we’re apprentices attempting to learn and perfect a process that involves skills that can be challenging to master.

In this way, ‘a timely critique’ becomes an important element of any decent writing retreat.

Rather than tutors talking about the theories of creative writing, value-for-money retreats should literally put participants to work. Writing assignments should preferably be based on activities or excursions participants actually take part in during a retreat. Why? Because such ‘live and present’ situations encourage writers to corral all their senses and create memorable prose.

They also teach aspiring writers to observe and absorb all that happens around them, what is often called ‘color’ – ‘the shapes of fading flowers and the images they evoke,’ ‘the sound and sway of leaves and branches caressed by wayward breezes,’ ‘the expressions on people’s faces as they sip coffee and nibble on croissants in cafes.’  

Just as in journalism, such daily writing assignments should have a set deadline to help foster discipline. At Ireland Writing Retreat in Donegal where I teach, participants enjoy daily an excursion or an activity that lasts several hours, then return to the boutique hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean where they stay (and where the retreat takes place) to complete the assignment. Later these will be critiqued collectively in a workshop led by an experienced tutor, usually a published author, and everyone benefits from the insight. 

Excursions are organised to be as diverse and enjoyable as possible and include guided tours of an ancient Irish castle, a ferryboat trip to an island for a walkabout and a food and drinks tasting experience in a 100-year-old thatched cottage overlooking Ireland’s famous ‘Wild Atlantic Way.’ Not to mention exclusive live traditional Irish music and dance performances.

Such activities at retreats can be as wide-ranging and innovative as organisers wish, depending on duration, location and, of course, budget.

Writing retreats should encourage participants to step out of their ‘literary boxes.’ 

What do I mean? Well, some writers prefer to write in certain genres, yet most writers have not tried them all. So why not give them a go? What harm is done by having participants write a ghost story based on a castle visit, a romance based on an island, a murder at an innocuous food-tasting event or a sci-fi story about an alien from Mars trying to master the intricate steps of an Irish jig. Such challenges stretch the imagination. And that’s what we all crave, isn’t it?

I mentioned camaraderie. 

Collective encouragement should be a key ingredient of all retreats.

All of us – including the Dan Browns and the Margaret Atwoods of this world – stumble and fumble often, like post-party people trying to insert keys in door locks at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Fellow scribes helping each other overcome the pitfalls of plot, characterisation and story structure is wonderful to behold. Why? Because we all suffer from the frustrations, the obstacles and merciless procrastination, the dreaded, ‘I’ll hand-wash the dishes instead of putting them in the dishwasher’ syndrome). As Mephistopheles said so solemnly in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus,Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris’ – misery indeed does love company. No better way to overcome it than to share tried and true strategies. 

I also feel some of the best writing retreats are those where participants hail from different backgrounds, economically, culturally and ethnically, and feature a mix of genders and ages. Why? Because diversity provides an excellent melting pot of experiences from which learning flowers and friendships flourish. Outlooks broaden, expectations rise, and passionate brainstorming erupts in a delightful crescendo of conversation. 

In the six years since its foundation, Ireland Writing Retreat has managed to attract men and women, ranging in age from early and mid-20s to those in their 60s and 70s, from countries as diverse as Holland, France, the United States, Ireland, Canada, England, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland and Scotland. Professions have been as wide-ranging as teaching, medicine, social work, civil service, NGOs, law, media, advertising, and PR. 

Last but not least, quality retreats should also provide the opportunity for participants to receive feedback on works-in-progress.

To facilitate this best, retreat organisers should request manuscripts of a designated length well in advance of retreat dates to allow tutors ample time to read and review. This way writers return home with a roadmap to move forward with on their own personal projects.

TIP: Attending a specialized writing retreat can also be a powerful way to further your career.

For example, have you ever thought about using your creative non-fiction skills as a TRAVEL WRITER for newspapers or magazines?

Or travel blogging on your own site, thereby being invited on free enjoyable trips to exotic places by tourism agencies? Both can be rewarding, both financially and as a way to blend a love of travel with a love of words.

At this year’s Travel Writing Retreat, Simon Pia, a Scotland-based print, radio and broadcast editor-cum-columnist, will join me as a tutor. Not only will we offer plenty of adventure, we’ll examine the style and structure of travel writing, best practices for keeping a travel journal and other special add-ons, such as how your blog can be a showcase for editors.

And if you would like to join us on this Ireland-bound Travel Writing Retreat, you can, FREE.

Ireland Writing Retreat is giving away one participation package for their Travel Writing Retreat on May 4-10, 2020, in Donegal, Ireland.

Yes, you read that correctly. Someone will be experiencing the beauty of Ireland while investing in their future as a travel writer, FOR FREE.

Prize Details:

One lucky winner will be able to participate in all workshops, excursions, and activities associated with the upcoming ‘Travel Writing Retreat’ on May 4-10 in Donegal, Ireland at no charge. (Prize value: 990 euro.)

Note: This prize does not include anything other than the participation component described above. All travel arrangements, hotel stay, transfers, meals, and other costs outside of the program described above would be the responsibility of the winner. (Ireland Writing Retreat organizers will help the winner book accommodation at the same hotel as the retreat should they wish it.)

Did you know that Ireland Writing Retreat was named one of the ‘Top Ten’ artistic retreats in Europe by The Guardian?

Want to enter to win a spot in this retreat? Just fill out THIS FORM.

A winner will be drawn March 31st, 2020.*

*Entrants must adhere to these terms and conditions to qualify. The prize will be awarded by Ireland Writing Retreats directly, not Writers Helping Writers. This giveaway is also subject to the legal notices here.

Want to see more beautiful photos of this and other retreat locations? Check out @irelandwritingretreat or visit them on Facebook.    

Sean Hillen worked at the United Nations Media Center in New York and is a former foreign correspondent for Time magazine, The Irish Times and The Times of London and chairperson of a national Fulbright Commission.

He is author of several books, including ‘Digging for Dracula’ and ‘Pretty Ugly.’

Posted in Contests, Focus, Goal Setting, Guest Post, Motivational, Reader Interest, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Time | 1 Comment

When ‘Situational’ Writing Works Better Than Plotting

Hi everyone! Help me welcome Brandon Cornett to the blog today, who is discussing a great plotting technique Stephen King uses for people who struggle with plotting. Please read on!

Do you have a hard time plotting an entire novel in advance? Do you get bogged down or overwhelmed, to the point it paralyzes your story? If so, you might be more of a situational writer. And it might be time to set yourself free.

Plotting has long been my nemesis. Over the years, I’ve read many books and articles on fiction writing that stressed the importance of advance plotting. I understand the merits, on an intellectual level. In some cases, as with epic fantasies and the like, plotting becomes more of a necessity than a choice.

But not all writers fall into that boat. Some could benefit from taking a more situational approach to their work.

(Book titles may contain affiliate links)

I first encountered the concept years ago, while reading Stephen King’s memoir and writing guide On Writing. He was discussing the manner in which he writes his books — or prefers to write them — and he used the term “situational.” Suddenly, I had a label for something I’d been drawn to all along.

Here’s a relevant passage from On Writing:

Gerald’s Game and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon are two other purely situational novels. If Misery is ‘two characters in a house,’ then Gerald is ‘one woman in a bedroom’ and The Girl Who is ‘one kid lost in the woods.’ As I told you, I have written plotted novels, but the results, in books like Insomnia and Rose Madder, have not been particularly inspiring. These are (much as I hate to admit it) stiff, trying-too-hard novels.”

For me, the pressure to create an extensive plot stifles the artistic process. It bogs me down. It removes the organic spontaneity from the story. And that spontaneity — those little surprises that emerge along the way — is one of my favorite things about writing. When I eventually nixed the plotting and embraced the situational model, I felt liberated. I found more surprises within the story, more life. I got to see my characters emerge and figure things out on their own. It was all I could do to keep up and chronicle their evolution.

Now, before you plotters start throwing tomatoes at me, let me clarify. I’ve read many novels that were plotted in advance (as disclosed through author interviews) and enjoyed them immensely. Plotting works for some writers. For some novelists, plotting is a tool that paves the way to a finished book. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Finishing. So, if you’re one of those writers, and plotting is how you reach the finish line … plot away!

I would also be remiss not to mention the hybrid approach. This is where you start with a general plot but leave room for situational writing and spontaneity.

It’s not an either-or scenario. You can mix it up.

If you’re like me, however, and you feel weighed down and walled in by plotting, it might be time for a different approach. Try the situational method. Let the story emerge bit by bit, the way real life happens, and see where it takes you.

So, how do you go about it?

The first and most important thing is to create a strong enough situation. This is mission critical. It won’t result in a finished work. You still have to figure out what your characters are all about, how they change during the course of the story, etc. But it all starts with the situation. That’s the seed from which the story grows.

In the above quote, King was downplaying when he said the situation behind Misery was “two characters in a house.” There was more to it, obviously. Yes, there were two people in a house. But one was a popular romance novelist, immobilized by a car accident, and the other was a deranged fan with serious entitlement issues. Now that’s a situation!

Misery, and many other novels like it, evolves though a series of “what next” questions. (Or “what if” questions, if you like.) What would Paul Sheldon do if he realized he was being cared for by a closet lunatic? What would Annie do if she suspected he was trying to escape? These questions — these situations and their results — drive the story forward.

Maybe you’re not a Stephen King fan. That’s okay. There are plenty of other examples. Many successful and prolific authors have written novels in this manner. So don’t get too hung up on the whole King thing. It’s the idea I want you to consider. And the idea (to borrow another quote from On Writing) is this:

” A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me.”

So you start with a situation. Then you move toward it, establishing mood, building character. And you ask yourself: what next? What would this character do in this situation, and how might that complicate things? What conflicts would arise? Thus, the story moves forward.

Some critics malign the situational writing method. Some claim it results in one-dimensional stories. I say they’re missing the point. The situation is not the novel. It’s the spark that conflagrates. It is the basis of conflict that creates drama and friction. Even with a strong and intriguing situation, there is much work to be done.

But for some writers, the situational approach makes that work easier to tackle. It gives you a first draft. Then you go back and add layers to deepen the story. Chances are, you’ll discover things about your characters you didn’t know when you first set out. That’s a best-case scenario. It requires revisions. A lot of them, in some cases. But it also allows you to smash through tropes and formulas to produce something new, something the reader never saw coming.

If you’re a veteran writer, you probably have things figured out already. You’ve got your method, and it works for you. Great! But for novice writers, a bit of exploration might be warranted. You have to figure out what kind of story you want to create, and what strategy is needed to accomplish that goal. Situational writing is one approach worth considering.

Brandon Cornett has written three novels and published one. His first published book, Purgatory, is a horror-based thriller with a reality TV tie-in.

His next novel will be out in 2020. You can connect with the author by visiting https://www.cornettfiction.com.

Have you ever tried situational writing? Were you able to plot your way to an entire novel? Let us know in the comments!

Posted in Characters, Conflict, Experiments, Focus, Guest Post, Motivational, Pacing, Plotting, Writer's Block, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 22 Comments

How Premise Plays into Theme

For many writers, theme is an afterthought–something they may try to figure out once the book is mostly written. But in reality, for a lot of stories, the premise actually promises a theme, or at least, a theme topic. This may not be true of all premises, but a surprising number actually have a theme already begging to be explored.

First, what do I mean by premise? Because a quick search online shows me multiple writing websites that define it slightly differently. Most will agree that a premise is the main idea of the story. It’s about 1 – 3 sentences that say what the story is about, typically the setup. This means it has a character, a goal, and a conflict.

Before we start writing, most of us have some idea of a premise, even if we haven’t officially written it down and ironed it out. And as we brainstorm and work on the story, that may become more defined. Here is an example of one:

When Fa Mulan learns her weakened father must go to war to fight the invading Huns, she secretly disguises herself as a man to take his place. 

So we have a character, Mulan, a sense of conflict with the Huns and how that affects her family, and a sense of desire illustrated by proaction–she takes her father’s place.

And would you believe it? It already has thematic elements begging to be explored!

The most obvious one is gender. The protagonist is trying to pass as the opposite gender. Just this setup already tells us that we are going to be including her personal struggles with that. How can you not? And if you didn’t, the story might feel like it’s lacking–like you are possibly dancing around a topic that deserves to be addressed.

So in a sense, at least one of the theme topics is already decided just by the premise.

Let’s look at what else we have going on in that single sentence. We have both a personal problem and a public problem: Mulan’s family life and the Huns invading China. So we will probably need to be addressing both of those. Looking at the setting and the fact that Mulan is going in her father’s place, which is a no-no, we might start to get ideas for a second theme topic that should be address: honor.

Already, just from the basic idea, the setup of the story, we have two theme topics.

Let’s look at some more examples.

When an ogre, Shrek, who craves solitude discovers that fairytale creatures are being exiled to his swamp by Lord Farquaad, he sets out to reclaim his property–while reluctantly being befriended by a very social Donkey. But when Shrek meets with the lord, a deal is struck that he must rescue Princess Fiona, who is awaiting her true love in a tall tower guarded by a dragon. 

Okay, so just from this setup, we have some great things happening. Shrek craves solitude, and the worst thing that can happen is having his home overrun with magical creatures AND having to pal around with a Donkey who will never shut up. To make matters worse, he has to rescue a (at this point) seemingly stereotypical princess who is awaiting her true love (and his kiss), but he’s an ogre.

And look at that! I see some theme topics that are aching to be developed and explored. We’ll want to address something with solitude and socializing, and also probably disappointing others by not meeting expectations.

Sure, this maybe needs a bit more work to nail down specific themes. But if you are familiar with the story, you’ll see how these things tie into the bigger theme of not judging others based on their appearances. (Ogres are like onions!)

Here is Arrival‘s.

Linguistics professor Louise Banks leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touchdown in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. (source)

Take a moment and look at that setup. That premise. Do you see any theme topics that are begging to be addressed?

The most obvious is language/communication.

Which will feed into a higher, linguistic concept that language itself affects–literally–how our minds process the world.

This is also played into not only by trying to communicate with aliens, but with “nations teeter[ing] on the verge of a global war”–communications between nations, and humans as a whole.

Premise plays into theme. 

One of the problems that can come up when working with theme, is that the author may already have a premise in mind, and then chooses a theme topic that doesn’t really fit.

However, you can surprisingly get a lot of theme topics to fit a lot of premises. For example, we could have instead made Shrek explore communication–the topic of Arrival. After all, Shrek craves solitude but is paired with Donkey, who talks nonstop. He also has to learn how to communicate with Farquaad and Fiona.

But could we have made Shrek explore the topics of gender and honor? Well . . . perhaps, but not as powerfully or as apt as Mulan, which frankly begs for it.

Now, imagine picking a topic that has little to do with the story you’ve decided to write–it’s going to create problems, probably some of the most common problems that writers run into when it comes theme (such as being too preachy)–because it’s unnatural. 

So instead, look at the premise of your story to help you identify what theme topics you should probably explore–and troubleshoot which don’t fit in as easily.

September C. Fawkes

Resident Writing Coach

September C. Fawkes has worked as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author and writing instructor, and now does freelance editing at FawkesEditing.com. She has published poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction articles, and her award-winning writing tips have appeared in classrooms, conferences, and on Grammar Girl. Visit her at SeptemberCFawkes.com for more writing tips, and find her on
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Posted in Resident Writing Coach, Theme, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 6 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Partner Being Unwilling to Commit

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: A Partner Being Unwilling to Commit

Category: Power struggles, relationship friction

A significant other who doesn’t want to get married
A partner who doesn’t want to move in together
Refusing to call the relationship “exclusive” even though there is no one else

Minor Complications:
Arguments and friction in the relationship
Having two of everything (two homes, two beds, two closets and sets of clothes, etc.)
Awkward questions from family and friends
Being judged or talked about by those outside the relationship
“Bleeding money” because finances and assets are not consolidated
Feeling like an outsider around the partner’s family

Potentially Disastrous Results:
An ultimatum being delivered
A partner leaving the relationship
A partner looking elsewhere for the commitment they desire (engaging in emotional cheating or an affair)
A rival seeking to move in due to a belief that the existing relationship isn’t serious
A pregnancy forcing the issue or upping the ante

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Loving someone yet hating the part of them that can’t commit
A character feeling like they are defective (low self-esteem) yet knowing the commitment issues lie in their partner’s painful past
Feelings of self-doubt; soul searching as to whether they are making a mistake by staying in the relationship
Wanting marriage and a family but being unsure if their partner will ever “get there”

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The character and their partner, any children in the mix if commitment issues spill over into the child’s life

Resulting Emotions: bitterness, conflicted, confusion, contempt, defeat, desire, determination, disappointment, frustration, hopefulness, hurt, insecurity, longing, neglected, powerlessness, resignation, self-pity, unappreciated, vulnerability, wistful

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: confrontational, insecure, jealous, martyr, needy, possessive, selfish, uncommunicative, withdrawn, worrywart

Positive Outcomes: 
A resistance to commit also means not committing too early, especially if the couple is very possibly a mismatch
Being unable to commit may cause friction that will lead the character to search within for reasons as to why, hopefully leading to personal growth and being able to let go of the past

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

This conflict thesaurus is still being developed, but if you would like to access our entire descriptive collection (14 unique thesauri and growing), visit our main site, One Stop for Writers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to Find Critique Partners & Beta Readers

Outside feedback is vital to the success of your manuscript. 

As I’ve quoted many times before on my YouTube channel, according to Terry Pratchett, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Our first drafts are imperfect translations of the perfect story in our minds. This version of the story isn’t ready for the eyes of the reader. But in order to improve the weaknesses in our story, we first need to be able to locate them. That’s where critique partners (CPs) and beta readers come in. 

Before we get into where you can find CPs and beta readers, let’s first talk about what they are.

Critique Partner Vs. Beta Reader

Critique partners are writers who provide feedback on your work, usually by request (to exchange chapters or full manuscripts).

Beta readers are people who read your manuscript as a reader first (rather than a writer). Most of the time, beta readers are not writers.

A good CP will:

  • Be kind and professional when providing any kind of feedback
  • Be timely in their feedback and maintain agreed-upon deadlines
  • Be attentive to the feedback you are looking for (such as big-picture editing vs. grammar)
  • Find any faults or shortcomings in your writing (that you may have overlooked), including world-building holes, wonky pacing, pointing out when a character is two-dimensional, and much, MUCH more
  • Show you the worst and best of your writing to help you to reach your full potential
  • Provide specific recommendations for areas of improvement (without telling the writer how to write their story), and not simply “I don’t like this”
  • Encourage you to write the best version of the story you want to write—and not the story they want to see

A good beta reader will do many of these things as well. However, since many beta readers are not writers, their feedback will not be as in-depth. For example, common feedback from beta readers might be something like: “I was bored in this section.” Then it’s up to you, the writer, to determine where your pacing lagged and how you can make that scene or chapter more engaging. (Unless, of course, you meant for the pacing in that chapter to slow down.)  

Finding a Critique Partner or Beta Reader Is a Lot Like Dating

I will be the first to tell you that finding CPs and beta readers, especially when you are first starting out, is exceedingly difficult. It’s a heck of a lot like dating—where you put out feelers to see who would be interested in swapping chapters. If it’s not a good fit, then you amicably part ways and start again. If you find someone who clicks, you have to continue to channel your inner chill and ask if they want to swap manuscripts. (Or whatever process works best for you.)

Personally, I’ve probably worked with an upwards of fifty CPs over the course of the last ten years, and I’ve now found my humans. It’s not going to take everyone nearly as long, but be prepared that the first CPs and beta readers you connect with might not be your tribe. 

Where Do You Find Critique Partners and Beta Readers?

First and foremost, you must put yourself out there. You can’t wait for them to come to you. Below are a few places where there are writing and/or reading communities and you can potentially find CPs and beta readers.


  • If you see an interesting pitch in a Twitter pitch contest, tweet at that person and ask them if they are looking for a CP.
  • Follow writing hashtags, such as #amwriting, #writingcommunity, and so on. Start chatting with writers and see if anyone there wants to swap stories. 


  • Similar to Twitter, follow the writing hashtags to see who is currently writing a book and might be looking for feedback. Be a friendly, normal human and engage with them in the comments. When it feels natural, ask them if they want to swap stories. 


  • I’ve said this in my iWriterly videos, and I’ll say it here. There are writing communities on YouTube. Don’t be afraid to jump into comments on my videos (and other writing videos) and ask other writers if they want to exchange chapters with you. AuthorTube is a great place to connect with writers, especially in the comments. But respect the person if they say no. 


  • There are many writing groups on Facebook, some of which are dedicated exclusively to beta reading. Do some research, ask your fellow writer friends what they have used, and see what happens!


  • Unlike the other recommendations I’ve offered thus far, Goodreads is a community of readers (vs. writers). This may be where you find more beta readers than CPs. However, definitely check out some of the groups on this platform for beta reading. There are lots of voracious readers!


  • Depending on what age category and genre you write in, you might want to check out some local chapters for writing societies, such as SCBWI. 
  • If you’re unable or do not want to pay the annual fee to be a part of writing societies, you could also check out places like Meetup, which hosts a number of different groups.  

One thing I recommend to all writers looking to find CPs and beta readers is to post on whatever social media platforms you are most active on, saying you are looking for volunteers to read your book and provide constructive criticism. However, if you have an existing author platform, it’s much easier to call for beta readers and have folks interested in reading your story (than if you have no platform at all). Still, I do think it’s worth trying—in addition to proactively putting yourself out there in the handful of communities and places I’ve recommended above. 

Best of luck finding your writing tribe! 

Meg LaTorre

Resident Writing Coach

Meg LaTorre is a writer, YouTuber (iWriterly), creator of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, co-host of the Publishable show, blogger, and she formerly worked at a literary agency. She also has a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. To learn more about Meg, visit her website, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, sign up for her monthly newsletter, and subscribe to her YouTube channel, iWriterly.
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Posted in Critique Groups, Critiquing & Critiques, Reader Feedback, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | 7 Comments

Tools to Make You a More Powerful Writer in 2020

The start of the year is when I pay close attention to what is happening in our industry: what publishers and organizations are focusing on, the changes occurring on sales platforms, and what author advocates are suggesting writers pay attention to in order to succeed.

One of the big things I keep reading over and over is that 2020 will be a year where many authors will invest in tools and services to help them do more.

So with that in mind, I have a roundup of resources that can help you be more productive and write stronger fiction, faster. Even better, they all have a free trial or version so you can test them out before investing, or they are a free resource altogether.

Get Focused

Brain FM: I purchased a lifetime license years ago and have never looked back, and why? Because it helps me focus on the task at hand. This app plays special neural phase-locking music that engages with your brain to put you in a state of focus, relaxation, or sleep, whichever your goal is. It starts to work in 15 minutes, shutting out distractions…which we can be prone to as writers. If you’d like to try it free, use my member’s code to get a free month.

Freedom: On Facebook a bit too much? Constantly dipping in and out of your email box? Do notification pings and banners break your train of thought? If so, you aren’t alone. This is another product I have used with Chrome because an unending stream of information via the internet is a blessing and a curse. So, if you want to claw back your keyboard, distraction-free, try this app and website blocker. (There’s a free trial).

Feed Your Creative Brain

Reverse Dictionary: Sometimes as I tappity-tap, the right word eludes me, driving me bonkers. It doesn’t matter how many throw pillows I move or cushions I upend on my mental couch, I can’t grasp the words that will convey the feeling or mood I want to build in a scene. The reverse dictionary has saved me so many times as you can type in something abstract like “fear” and it will pull up a cascade of words related to fear. This almost always triggers an idea and boom, I’m writing again. This is a free site, so bookmark it.

Descriptionari: If you get inspired by reading through the descriptions of others, you will love this site. Enter in a keyword like “Tree” and a host of user-written descriptions will pop up. Clearly I’m not suggesting you borrow or alter any descriptions (that’s plagiarism) but if reading a few helps to unlock your own imagination so you can write something fresh, check it out.

One Stop for Writers: I can’t discuss creativity and not bring up One Stop for Writers. Between having the largest fiction-centric Description Database ever created, a powerful Idea Generator, customizable Worldbuilding Surveys, and a Character Builder (which can produce a Character Arc Blueprint!), you will never be at a loss for what to write next. And that’s just some of the site’s tools.

Becca and I are writers and coaches, so we know what writers need most. That’s why we created One Stop. So if you want to create magnetic stories and become a stronger writer at the same time, put One Stop in your toolbox. If you like, give the free trial a go.

Clean Up Your Prose

Grammarly: This is a useful tool for all sorts of editing and usage fixes, whether you are writing emails, blog posts, social media updates or polishing your novel. It integrates with many programs, going where you go and will prompt you with fixes as you type (which I really like). The paid version has a lot of great features including a plagiarism checker, handy for us writers as we read a lot and would not want to unintentionally borrow something. The free option is helpful too, and easy to set up.

Natural Reader: This handy text-to-speech app is terrific for self-editing. Our eyes may skim over flaws in our writing, but the ear rarely lies. Find typos and disconnects in tone or cadence by listening as your story is read to you. The free version allows for 20 minutes of reading, so that’s a nice chunk of time to do some prose polishing.

ProWritingAid: This site is another favorite of mine. Like Grammarly, PWA takes good care of you on the editing side of things but it has analytical reports that will be of special interest to writers and boasts a stellar blog packed with articles on how to improve your storytelling. It also comes with lots of integrations, so you can use it in the program that you like to write in. Give the free trial a spin.

Never Stop Learning

To make a sustainable career out of writing, learning is key. One thing that divides professional writers from amateurs is the refusal to settle for writing that is “good enough.” Pros expect that their writing will evolve and they look forward to absorbing more knowledge.

The great thing about being a writer these days is that help is everywhere. Here are a few extra-special resources to take in.

K.M. Weiland’s Story Structure Database: Stick your hands into the gooey innards of famous books and movies and see how their story structure works! SO HELPFUL.

Jami Gold’s Worksheets for Writers: Want to learn about beat sheets, critiquing, revision, and more?

Become best friends with this page.

Story Mastery: I’m sure there’s someone that you fangirl or fanboy over, amirite?

Well, for me it’s Michael Hauge. If you want to delve into the deeper aspects of writing craft, check out Story Mastery. Start with the articles, but trust me, also pick up his Hero’s 2 Journeys and check out some of his other videos, including his book that shows you how to apply storytelling skills to marketing. It’s amazing what fiction writers can learn from screenwriters!

One Stop for Writers Tip Sheets: If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you know Becca and I love to pass on small lessons that make a BIG difference. Especially when it comes to description we want you thinking carefully about every element and detail, and how to squeeze as much storytelling juice from every word in your story.

One Stop for Writers has a giant depository of tip sheets and checklists free to download and share. So start clicking that mouse and save these valuable tip sheets to your computer to reference later or print out.

What tools will you invest in this year? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Editing Tips, Focus, Grammar, Motivational, One Stop For Writers, Publishing and Self Publishing, Revision and Editing, Show Don't Tell, Software and Services, The Business of Writing, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 9 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Confiding in the Wrong Person

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: Confiding in the Wrong Person

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

Sharing information with someone who can’t keep it to themselves
Having something private or personal be sold to tabloids
Having information be used against the character in some way
Being honest about a system flaw or security risk and being fired to cover it up
Revealing corruption and being turned into a scapegoat so those who were involved can avoid jail time
Being blackmailed with information one shared in good faith
Sharing sensitive information to a friend who uses it to turn a profit
Confiding about a lapse of judgement (like infidelity) and the person turning around and telling their partner about it
Revealing information to a co-worker who uses it to get ahead
A conversation being recorded and then having what was said be sensationalized or quoted out of context
Confessing to feelings that are then passed on without consent
Confiding in someone who morally will always do the right thing
Showing trust by being transparent and then being taken advantage of

Minor Complications:
Damaged relationships and mistrust
Being unfairly blamed for fallout
Damage to their reputation
Being put in a compromising situation
Being forced to do something they don’t want to do to to fix the situation
Having to call in an expensive favor
Being forced to lie to save face or prevent further fallout
Losing access to something (or someone) they cherish
Having something private made public and being judged

Potentially Disastrous Results:
A relationship ending
Losing a position of prestige
Losing an advantage that was hard won
Being betrayed by someone close leading to an emotional wound
Being blackmailed
Being excommunicated or shunned
Being prosecuted for wrongdoing
Being forced to break the law, or sacrifice ethics or morals to reverse the fallout
Destroying one’s chances to win something important
Losing out on a once in a lifetime opportunity
Financial hardship (from being sued, dragged through the courts, or blackmail payments)

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Anger and disillusionment warring with lingering feelings of friendship or love for the one who betrayed
Anger that cherished memories have now been tainted or spoiled by backstabbing
Guilt or self-blame at one’s nativity at odds with rage toward the one who upended the character’s life
Anger and upset at what happened yet relief the secret is out in the open

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family, friends, loved ones, people the character is responsible for, people who are associated with the character (if the fallout paints any associated with them in a negative light)

Resulting Emotions: anger, anguish, anxiety, betrayed, bitterness, conflicted, defeat, defensiveness, defiant, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, disillusionment, dread, grief, guilt, humiliation, hurt, longing, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, rage, regret, relief, remorse, resentment, resignation, self-loathing, self-pity, shock, vengeful, vulnerability

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: cocky, compulsive, confrontational, controlling, dishonest, disloyal, evil, gossipy, hypocritical, macho, martyr, needy, nervous, possessive, suspicious, vindictive, volatile, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes:
Being called out for one’s actions allows for an opportunity to take responsibility
When something private is made public, the character may gain perspective about where their loyalties should lie, who may be a toxic influence in their life, or who is working against their best interests, leading to freedom and independence
If there’s dysfunction at work, the character can seek help once everything is out in the open
Once a situation is acknowledged and made public, there’s the opportunity for closure

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

This conflict thesaurus is still being developed, but if you would like to access our entire descriptive collection (14 unique thesauri and growing), visit our main site, One Stop for Writers.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How to Make a Book Trailer that Speaks to Readers

Book Trailers can be a great way to market your story, and we’ve got the perfect person to provide insight on the process. Victor Blasco from Yum Yum videos has got some great tips on how to structure your trailer to maximize viewer impact.

So, you did the math and realized that your brand-new book could really benefit from having an awesome trailer. Good job!

While riveting writing is often enough to trap avid readers between two covers for a while, it takes much more to pique someone’s interest online. There are just too many distractions on the internet to bet all your chips on written promotion alone!

The problem, though, is that working on making a great book trailer can be rather tricky – especially if you have no previous experience with video marketing. Or trailers, for that matter.

But fret not, you’ve come to the right place.

In this post, we are going to talk a little bit about the most important elements you’ll need to consider for your fledgling trailer. And by the time we are done, I’m sure you’ll be brimming with ideas to bring yours to life!

Book Trailers as Storytelling Mediums

The first thing you’ll want to understand here is that book trailers are, in themselves, short narrative platforms. They are supposed to tell a story.

Granted, it should be an incomplete story, but a story nonetheless. It is an important point to make, especially once you notice that YouTube is riddled with “book trailers” that are little more than slideshows with text overlays and generic music.

Moreover, you’ll need a trailer that can accomplish said goal within the timeframe in which you can keep a viewer’s attention. PRO TIP: Most video marketing stats place that around the one-minute mark.

You want your trailer to transmit your book’s main idea and theme, and convey its tone, style, and intent by giving glimpses into its content. And while that can sound a bit overwhelming at first, it should become much more manageable once we start going through each major element using a language you are already familiar with.

You’ll quickly see that you already have most of the information you’ll need to make your trailer’s content shine.

Learning from the Pros – The Hollywood Method

Hollywood has been making successful trailers for decades—trailers that go on to be the central pieces of marketing strategies that consistently generate the type of hype, engagement, and interest you’re after.

They pretty much have it down to a science by now. So we’re going to take a page from their book – pun definitely intended – and go over the most important elements you’ll need to build your trailer’s narrative.

Hook Viewers from the Start

Think about your trailer’s first few seconds as the first lines in your book’s chapter one. How many times did you go back to edit those into perfection? Your chapter one’s first few lines are crucial because they have a very important job to fulfill: to grab a reader’s interest from the start. It’s the same for your trailer’s beginning.

Suspense and intrigue might be great for your book, but most people decide whether to watch something or keep scrolling based on the first few seconds of a piece. So you need to give them something that makes them stop and pay attention.

Maybe there’s a particular sentence from your book that can do the trick. Or a sequence you can start your video with that will elicit this type of attention. 

Whatever you go with, know that its job is to make people go “Huh, do tell me more…” and then start building from there.

Use Your Premise to Flesh Out the Trailer’s Story

In terms of book trailers, the premise is everything.

As I mentioned earlier, your trailer should be telling an incomplete story – That is, to convey your book’s premise in such a way that leaves people wanting more.

To get a better sense of what the main “story” for your trailer could be, look into the work you’ve already done for the back-cover or sales copy. The idea is to distill the most relevant and interesting story hooks that can get viewers on board without revealing too much.

It can be a difficult balance to attain, as an approach of “less is more” might not always be the case! You want to give enough info to get anyone watching to feel that they “get” what your book is about without you overdoing it.

Don’t Leave Your Characters Out

I feel like too many book trailers go with a more “artsy” or interpretative approach for fear of committing to something more tangible. They focus their trailers on high-minded concepts or themes… “the big picture” instead of the nitty-gritty of it all.

I believe that’s a mistake.

Stories are great, but it is the characters and players in them that make them feel real. Why would it be anything different for your trailer?

Don’t get me wrong; you don’t have to base the whole piece around your MC – although you could – But I need to, at least, walk away from your trailer with a sense of who the main player or players are.

And all of that applies to non-fiction books as well! In such cases, the authors themselves can play the role of “the character” in the trailer, giving viewers someone relatable to relate to.

Write a Script

Well-developed scripts aren’t just for voice-over or acted trailers! Even if you decided to go with a mostly musical piece with text overlays, you should treat – and format – these things like a script.

Write them out from start to finish until you are satisfied with the pacing of the information-reveal to the viewer. Basically, you’ll want to plot your trailers a little bit. Once that’s taken care of, start polishing it.

Treating the content-side of your trailer in script format can help you keep things organized, but more importantly, it will make it easier for you to spot when something is missing.

Maybe the narrator is jumping too soon to a key piece of the trailer, or maybe the text overlays aren’t flowing organically from one to the next. Problems like these can really set you back if caught later in production, so you’ll want to use every tool available to prevent this.

And on that note…

Work on a Storyboard for Your Trailer

Creating a storyboard for your trailer is non-negotiable. It doesn’t have to be perfect or look professional, but you do need one.

Having your trailer’s most important beats visually displayed in front of you will give you the ultimate overview of the piece you can have before actually shooting it. Think of it as when you read your manuscript out loud to catch mistakes you hadn’t picked up previously. That’s the type of help a storyboard gives you.

Lastly, and much like with your script, a storyboard will give you a better sense of when something’s missing or not working. Don’t be afraid to move elements around or outright change them until you feel satisfied with your future trailer’s progression.

Score Your Trailer Appropriately

Some authors spend so much time and energy figuring out the visual content of their trailer that they approach the audio design side of it last, almost as an afterthought. Big mistake.

One of the advantages of working on a multimedia piece is that you have several avenues to convey or reinforce your message. And there are lots of things you can communicate through sound and design alone, like the theme, genre, and atmosphere of your book.

Something like that might require the help of a skilled video company because it can get tricky to get right if you lack previous experience. However, if you have musical skill yourself, know that elements like the music you pick for your trailer can make or break it.

Wrapping Up

As you might have puzzled out by now, there’s a lot that goes into making an awesome book trailer – and we didn’t even get too much into the technical aspects of it! However, it is an effort that, done right, is worthwhile.

Getting people’s attention nowadays is a challenge, yet video remains one of the most consistent mediums to go about it. So use these tips to start fleshing out an awesome trailer that does justice to that awesome book you’ve already written!

Do you have questions for Victor about making a book trailer? Post them in the comments section and take advantage of this opportunity to ask the expert!

Victor Blasco’s an audiovisual designer, video marketing expert, and founder/CEO of the explainer video company Yum Yum Videos.

Besides running the business, he’s a lifelong student of Chinese philosophy and a passionate geek for all things sci-fi.

Pssst, Angela here. Did you know we used Yum Yum to make an introductory video for One Stop for Writers way back when we opened its doors? If you would like to see it, visit THIS LINK. We think they did a terrific job.

Our site has evolved quite a bit since then so we don’t have this video up there anymore, but it was a great way to convey to our audience the type of help they would find at One Stop for Writers. Feel free to stop by sometime. 🙂

Posted in Book Trailers, Marketing, Promotion, Publishing and Self Publishing, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Build a Bridge: From Story Beginning to Main Conflict

During one of my previous posts as a Resident Writing Coach, we talked about the importance of strong goals for helping our story move forward. But as we discussed in the comments of that post, our characters can start off with weaker—passive—goals, as they might not embrace the need to solve the story-level problem right away.

In fact with many cases, the story problem and main conflicts don’t make an appearance until later in the story. Think of stories with thriller-type elements, where the protagonist can’t possibly know the villain is making evil plans in their secret lair until rumors, spy reports, or weird things occur later.

In those types of stories, our characters obviously can’t create strong goals to overcome the story problem right from the start because they’re not even aware the problem exists. In the meantime, bridging conflict kickstarts story momentum and grabs reader interest before the big story problem introduces the main conflict.

What Is Bridging Conflict?

As the term implies, bridging conflict “bridges” the gap between a story’s beginning and when the main story problem and conflict pick up the momentum. When our story requires the use of bridging conflict, the main story problem and conflict are still usually established by the 25% mark of our story.

In standard story structure, a major goal of the turning point that falls around the 25% mark on a beat sheet—sometimes called the First Plot Point, Break into Act II, or End of the Beginning—is to establish what the main story problem is. While the protagonist might not be fully aware of the problem yet, they should have some awareness and be dragged into the orbit of its influence.

Not surprisingly, readers don’t want to wait until the 25% mark for something to happen that will keep their interest. And we don’t want our protagonist to wander aimlessly with no goals to strive for through all those early pages either.

Enter bridging conflict. Bridging conflict could be related to the main story problem, or it could be a separate and unrelated issue. Either way, the bridging conflict establishes an immediate problem for our protagonist to overcome (i.e., gives them goals for the interim).

How Does Bridging Conflict Help?

Bridging conflict is more than just a standalone conflict with no effect on the other story elements. It also comes with a problem to solve, goals to strive for, obstacles to overcome, and motivation for our character’s actions.

However, even if the bridging conflict is unrelated to the eventual main conflict, we’d usually want the bridging conflict, goals, and/or obstacles to put our protagonist onto the path that leads to the story-level problem and main conflict. With that connection between conflicts, readers immediately feel a sense of story momentum from the beginning, and tying the bridging conflict to the rest of the story helps keep that momentum.

How to Use Bridging Conflict

Let’s look at an example…

Main Conflict: A villainous hospital administrator is using patients for dangerous experiments.

Story-Level Problem and Goal: To save the patients, the protagonist must expose the hospital administrator and their plans. (strong, active goal)

At this point, if our protagonist worked at the hospital with the administrator, clues and hints of the conflict could start from the beginning of the story. But let’s imagine that our protagonist is a park ranger and not involved with the hospital administrator at all.

How do we get a park ranger to even be aware of the hospital—much less the hospital administrator? Let’s add bridging conflict…

Bridging Conflict: The protagonist’s mother suffers a heart attack and is taken to the hospital.

Bridging-Level Problem and Goal: The protagonist must face their mother’s mortality and juggle work and watching over their mother’s treatment. (weaker, passive goal)

The story’s first several scenes could focus on the protagonist, their mother, the initial emergency, their worries, the treatment plan, whatever. At some point in the first 25% of the story, clues of the main conflict are laid out.

Maybe the doctor’s treatment plan alludes to experimental treatments that trigger the protagonist’s suspicions. Maybe at the hospital cafeteria, the protagonist overhears several families weeping for patients who suddenly “didn’t make it.” Maybe the elevator door opens for the protagonist to catch snatches of nurses grumbling about how they’ll have to find new jobs if the hospital’s death rate gets out to the media. Or maybe all of the above.

The point is laying the groundwork to set up the main conflict and story-level problem. In this example, the bridging conflict and the main conflict are unrelated, and yet the bridging conflict still sets the protagonist on the path toward the main conflict. That connection carries the momentum of narrative drive and reader interest from one conflict to another, making the story feel consistent and whole. *smile*

Do you have any questions or insights about bridging conflict or how to use it?

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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Psst! Need ideas for CONFLICT? There’s a thesaurus for that… 😉

Posted in Action Scenes, Character Arc, Characters, Conflict, Openings, Pacing, Resident Writing Coach, Tension, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 9 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Doing Something Stupid While Impaired

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: Doing Something Stupid While Impaired

Category: Failures and mistakes, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, loss of control, ego

Telling the boss or coworkers what the character really thinks (about them, the company, personal beefs, etc.)
Calling up an ex in hopes of getting back together
Calling up an ex to tell them off
Picking a fight with someone
Taking stupid risks (jumping over a campfire, climbing out on a roof to stargaze, standing on a high ledge to prove fearlessness, going swimming at night, taking a shortcut through a dangerous neighborhood)
Drunk driving
Indecent exposure
Sleeping with a best friend’s significant other, a co-worker, or other person who should be off limits
Trying to cross the friend zone when it’s a bad idea
Rioting during a celebration
Breaking the law
Pulling a dangerous prank where others get hurt
Sleeping with a stranger (when this is not the norm)
Abandoning friends to go off with strangers
Revealing a secret (their own, or one belonging to another)

Minor Complications:
Being hurt
Embarrassment or humiliation
Making a bad impression on someone
Losing the trust of others
Worrying loved ones
Letting someone down
Waking up in a compromised situation (alone in a sleazy hotel with no memory of what happened, having their wallet stolen, discovering they had unsafe sex or used drugs they would normally never take, etc.)
Causing their family, friends, or the company they work for embarrassment

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Discovering their actions while impaired were filmed and are now on the internet
Losing their job
Destroying a relationship over a bad choice (being unfaithful, sharing another’s secret and breaking trust forever, being caught in a big lie, etc.)
Getting a disease (through unsafe sex or drug use)
Doing something that cannot be taken back (like killing someone while driving impaired)
Being convicted of a crime and losing custody of one’s children
Being sued
Being convicted of a crime and going to jail
Hurting someone while under the influence
Being attacked while under the influence

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Shame over their own actions while being angry at those who encouraged them to drink excessively
Guilt at losing control yet resenting the stress and pressure that led to the need to self-medicate
Embracing responsibility due to remorse while resenting others who never seem to suffer any consequences for similar behavior
Feeling shame and humiliation but also believing that the punishment for the lapse in judgment is too much
Shame at what one did but shock and disbelief at the fallout

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family, friends, co-workers, a business’s image, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were injured or had to witness something they would have preferred not to see

Resulting Emotions: anguish, appalled, bitterness, contempt, denial, depressed, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, disgust, disillusionment, emasculated, embarrassment, guilt, horror, humiliation, hurt, hysteria, panic, powerlessness, regret, remorse, resentment, resignation, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, tormented, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: addictive, childish, cocky, confrontational, disloyal, flaky, foolish, gullible, impulsive, irresponsible, jealous, macho, martyr, melodramatic, promiscuous, rebellious, reckless, rowdy, self-destructive, tactless, temperamental, unethical, vindictive, violent, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Hitting rock bottom and being determined it will never happen again
A realization that one’s drinking has become a problem and making a choice to seek help
Making a mistake and realizing to do so is human, and this leading to them to let go of perfectionist tendencies

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

This conflict thesaurus is still being developed, but if you would like to access our entire descriptive collection (14 unique thesauri and growing), visit our main site, One Stop for Writers.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments