Does Your Story Idea Need a Makeover? Try Cratedigging

Not all story ideas are winners. But they could be, if they only had that spark of originality and relevance to make them stand out. The irony is that the unique angle you’re looking for may require you to borrow existing ideas from other authors. How does that work, exactly? David Pennington breaks it down for us.

“The ugly fact is…books are made out of books.”
~ Cormac McCarthy

Your idea, as it stands on the page, is likely not everything it could be. Worse yet, it’s likely not everything your audience wants it to be. Writers today are challenged to hit the “publish” button as fast and as often as possible. As writers, our duty is to subtly tie together ideas in a way that is easily approachable and digestible so it leaves your audience feeling better for it.

Where do these ideas come from, and how do you make them the complete, robust gems your audience is craving? It’s time to go cratedigging.

Chances are, you couldn’t point out Gregory Coleman at a party. I’d also bet you couldn’t tell me about his band or any of the records he put out. However, you might have heard of the Amen Break—a ten-second piece of drum work that has worked its way into hundreds of popular songs throughout the decades. Hip Hop, House, Soul, Rock, Jazz—artists from nearly every genre have sampled the Amen Break into their music. Sampling pays homage to the art which came before you by working it into something of your own.

In an ocean of online content of self-publishing, modern writers could do well with a bit of sampling. 

Painters sample brush techniques. Architects borrow from nature. Chefs fuse flavors. To find the right work to sample from, you need to listen to thousands of records, study endless paintings, and taste every flavor to know what you have to work with.

In short, you need to get into the habit of cratedigging.

What Is Cratedigging?

I heard it best put this way: “Cratedigging is finding the DNA of a song you love.” The term refers to cratediggers who would take to used record shops on the weekends, flipping through endless crates of vinyl to find rarities, reprints, and the one EP their favorite guitar player released on a different label in the 80s.

Artists should always be looking to build their respective collections, if only to draw the double-helix around the thing they love the most. To do that, you have to embrace the fact that the ideas you’re working with may not be entirely yours. There are eight billion people alive on the planet today, another 100 billion in the ground beneath our feet. Your job is to find the ideas that already exist—the ones you love—so you can enhance your writing with what others have already learned. 

Cratedigging for Authors

Record shops are usually a mess, and the internet isn’t much better. For decades, publishers have put out whatever information they want in whatever format suited them best. Each was left to tag and categorize their content any way they saw fit, and no two publishers followed the same protocol. It is up to you, the writer and creative cratedigger, to find the samples your readers crave the most.

Whatever you’re looking for likely isn’t going to flow through a social media feed. Cratedigging starts with a search box and jumping to the fifteenth page of results. Cratedigging is clicking through all of the little blue links at the bottom of a Wikipedia page to see where you end up, and then spending hours reading through hundreds of poorly maintained websites and blogs. Along the way, you are saving links, taking screenshots, and keeping your clips somewhere you can dig through them later.

You’re not looking for answers. In fact, you should end up with twice as many questions as what you started with. Those new questions should follow you to the library where you ask the lonely librarian about the books that aren’t on the shelves, but back in the stacks—where the information is so esoteric no one ever asks about it, so why bother shelving it? You’re doing it to find the choice samples that, combined with your own voice and style, will give birth to something altogether new.

And along the way, your collection grows. Maybe it’s music, or movies, or a pile of links and printouts and newspaper clippings. Keep notes and categorize meticulously. You never know when a sample from today’s fascination will make for tomorrow’s headlining story. Then, through it all, cratedigging is enhancing your collection—organized and neatly kept—so the next generation of cratediggers can flip through it, looking for the DNA of the thing they love. 

David Pennington is an author, writing coach and copywriter who is on a mission to improve the way we all tell our stories. He offers direct, often humorous advice that cuts straight to the heart-of-the-matter to help writers, marketers and copywriters tell a deeper, more-connected stories to better convey their message.

Posted in Guest Post, Story Ideas, Writing Craft | 4 Comments

4 Ways to Fix a Boring Story

Is your story boring? Would you know or acknowledge it if it was? No one wants to admit that their story is slow, lackluster, or zzzzz. But hey, that’s what critique partners and editors are for. If recent feedback makes you suspect that your story may need livening up, Gilbert Bassey has some ideas on how to do that.

I still vividly recall working on my first story. The anxiety I felt when I thought of sending it out into the world made me instantly start to sweat. But I did send my script to a movie producer and director, and when I got her feedback, my worst fears were realized: “I can’t get past page 50. It is slow, nothing is happening.” 

I wanted to cry. I thanked her and asked for some time to fix it. She granted it to me and I went back to work. Two months later, I sent the script back to her and was thrilled when she called to ask how much I wanted for it. 

With the many novels, screenplays, and short stories I’ve written, I’ve had to face different versions of the same complaint: “This story is boring.” Every time, I have had to go back and tinker with my piece until the response became positive. This experience has taught me that boring stories tend to have the same problems. To be sure, I didn’t find them all by myself. I had help from many books on storytelling, with my favorite by a long margin being Robert McKee’s Story. We turn to him for the first factor.

Factor 1 :  Weak Conflict

“A protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.” — Robert McKee

This is the most influential and common factor. It makes sense because when you really think about it, at its core, story is conflict, and strong conflict can only be delivered by strong forces of antagonism. The solution is simply to intensify the conflict.

There are 5 layers of story conflict you can use to your advantage.

  • Internal (character vs. himself)
  • Personal (character vs. family and friends)
  • Social (character vs. social world — institutions, governments, culture)
  • Environmental (character vs. nature)
  • Metaphysical (character vs. supernatural)

If the conflict between character and family doesn’t seem compelling enough, shift the focus to the social world or the supernatural. A popular story strategy is to blend more than two layers. For example, Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) fires on all five cylinders. No wonder it grabs the attention as it does.

An important thing to note is that it is not always about intensifying the conflict vertically (across layers) but also horizontally (within layers). In some instances, the right solution will be to intensify conflict that already exists within a single layer by scaling up the size of actions and consequences between the opponents. In this, do not be scared to go to extremes.

For ideas on the various kinds of conflict you might infuse into your story, see Becca and Angela’s Conflict Thesaurus.

Factor 2 : Diluted Intensity

The main culprit here is shoddy plotting; the story is boring because there are too many scenes that do not move the story forward. Instead, they bog it down with their pointlessness. Audiences and readers expect scenes that are arranged with as strict an adherence to the principle of cause and effect as possible. Every scene should follow the previous one and move the story forward.

To fix this problem, you only need to edit out the weak scenes. On On Writing, Stephen King wrote that he has a habit of cutting 10% of his initial draft. In some cases, depending on how much material you have, you may have to cut way more than that.

Factor 3: Uninteresting Characters

It stands to reason that if stories are about characters, then an uninteresting character will create a boring story. What makes a character interesting? A combination of many things, but there are a few non-negotiables. I call them the GNFC components of character.

Goal: What does the character want? It’s very difficult to care about a character who has no desire. Why does he want it? Do we care that he wants it?

Need: What does the character need but isn’t aware of? Is he blind to something? This is usually that thing which he will have to attain or sacrifice to get to the goal.

Flaw: What bad habits does the character have? What’s the bad thing about him? Where is the devil in him? Remember that all characters, like all people, should have a mix of strengths and weaknesses to round them out.

Change: In what way does the character change in relation to the theme or as a result of story events? Is the change positive or negative?

Interesting is rarely about quirkiness, weirdness, or eccentricity. Rather, it’s about empathy. If we can relate to a character, we will be more invested in the character.

One last thing, which is just as important as the others: action. Many times, when the character is uninteresting, it’s because she is not doing anything. Things are happening to her instead of her taking steps and making choices that will determine her path. To fix that, make the character act. Give her a desire and set her off to realize it.

Factor 4: Uninteresting Events

“What is natural and essential to any thing is, in a manner, expected; and what is expected makes less impression, and appears of less moment, than what is unusual and extraordinary.” — David Hume

People consume an incredible amount of stories in their lifetime. This means that both writers and readers are familiar with the same story concepts. To hold interest, you have to subvert expectations every now and then. This relates heavily to familiarity with genre and knowing what the reader will be expecting at any point in time. Breaking genre conventions is a good way to go if you want to twist things in original and interesting ways. If what you’ve done has been done before, why do it again if not in a new way?

In Conclusion

With knowledge of these four factors, it should be far easier to add fire to a boring story. Most times, the key is in focusing your attention on the emotions you want the reader to feel at every moment. If you study life, you realize that it goes up, down, up, down, down, up, down, and so on. A story that stays on one level for too long will inevitably start to feel flat. But if you follow life’s advice when planning your story events and character’s emotions, you’ll be fine. (And for more help troubleshooting an uninteresting story, check out my free checklist.)

When did you last fix a boring story? What did you do to get it right? Share your story and tips in the comments so the writing community can also learn from you.

Gilbert Bassey is a writer and filmmaker who is dedicated to telling great stories and helping other writers do the same. You can follow his writings on medium and subscribe to his storycraft newsletter to get a free copy of the Ultimate Guide To Compelling Antagonism.

Posted in Character Arc, Character Flaws, Characters, Conflict, Empathy, Guest Post, Pacing, Reader Feedback, Rejection, Writing Craft | 15 Comments

Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Parent and Teen Child

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

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

Description: A parent and teen relationship is often defined by dramatic highs and lows. While this relationship is vitally important for teens as they grow and mature, conflicting goals between the parent and child can result in ongoing low-level friction and spectacular blowups. And the pressure for parents to get it right can add to the already elevated stress of raising a teen.

Dynamics of a Healthy Relationship
Unconditional love between a parent and a child
Providing space for the teen to explore their world
Providing reasonable boundaries and rules to ensure the teen’s safe development
Listening with an open mind—often without offering advice or criticism
Allowing the teen the freedom to establish their own beliefs and values
Being approachable, consistent, and reliable as a parent
Respecting the parent’s knowledge and experience
Parental obedience when it matters most
Recognizing that the parent is on their side (they’re not the enemy)
Being truthful and transparent

Dynamics of an Unhealthy Relationship
Conditional love based on the child’s obedience and achievement
Removing all boundaries
Failing to monitor activities as they should
Avoiding responsibility as a parent
Modeling bad behavior for a child to emulate
Trying to be the teen’s friend instead of their parent
Abuse or cruelty (physical, mental, emotional)
Toxic control and interference that damages the teen’s self-reliance and independence
Discouraging independent thought and the teen’s exploration of their world
Discouraging other relationships and friendships to ensure dependency
Not respecting one’s parent
Open and repeated defiance
Endangering oneself or others knowingly to get back at a parent
Rejecting a parent’s wisdom or experience
Lying or deceiving one’s parents to engage in desired but unhealthy behaviors

Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The parent seeking control while the teen seeks freedom
The parent wanting to connect with a teen who wants space
The parent wanting certain goals for a teen who has different plans
The parent wanting to help a mentally ill, addicted, or self-destructive teen who doesn’t want help
The parent wanting to do what’s best for a teen (changing schools to avoid bad influences, hiring a tutor, etc.) who has different ideas about what’s best
A divorced parent wanting to remarry but the teen not wanting that
The parent wanting to improve a dysfunctional relationship with a teen who wants things to stay the way they are
The parent seeking forgiveness from a teen who refuses to give it
The parent wanting to protect a teen who thinks they don’t need protection
The parent pursuing a dream that the teen doesn’t approve of (because they’re morally opposed, it will inconvenience him or her, etc.)

Clashing Personality Trait Combinations:
Independent and Controlling, Responsible and Irresponsible, Ambitious and Lazy, Honorable and Dishonest, Naïve and Worldly, Meticulous and Disorganized, Nurturing and Withdrawn, Playful and Humorless, Responsible and Scatterbrained

Negative Outcomes of Friction
A loss of trust
Self-blame for not handling the situation better, resulting in self-doubt
Communication suffering
Feeling powerless (to control behavior, to be treated fairly, to influence the other, etc.)
Keeping secrets rather than being transparent moving forward
Distance in the relationship
One side trying to hurt the other as retribution or punishment
Resentment directed toward the person involved (the parent, the child, a sibling who seems to never get in trouble, etc.)
Feeling disrespected or not trusted

Ways a Healthy Relationship Can Encourage Positive Change
Teens can view parents as a resource to be mined when advice is needed
A healthy relationship will provide teens with the confidence and support that will enable them to take risks and strike out on their own
Parents who remember that their goal is to empower their teen and set them free will be able to achieve the ultimate parenting goal
Parents can learn from their teens to be open to new ideas and experiences

Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
Borders, Coming of Age, Crossroads, Endings, Family, Freedom, Inflexibility, Journeys, Love, Perseverance, Rebellion, Transformation

Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.

Need More Descriptive Help?

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

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

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The Best Resource for Planning Your NaNoWriMo Novel

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

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

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

I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Last Tip (& It’s a Big One)

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

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

Posted in Character Arc, Characters, Motivation, Motivational, NaNoWriMo Strategy & Support, One Stop For Writers, research, Software and Services, Time Management, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, worldbuilding, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 3 Comments

What You Can Learn from Rhetorical Questions in Your Manuscript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhetorical Questions Aren’t Wrong

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

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

Flip-Flopping

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

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

Could she trust him?

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

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

Try Starting with the Rhetorical Question

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

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

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

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

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

Are the Rhetorical Questions Always Coming from One Character?

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

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

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

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

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Resident Writing Coach

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

Relationship Thesaurus: Friends with Benefits

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

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

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

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

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

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Critiques 4 U: Guest Editor Edition

CONTEST IS CLOSED. SEE YOU NEXT MONTH 🙂

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

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

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

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CONTEST GUIDELINES

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

If you’re working on a story opening (anything except erotica, nonfiction, or picture books) and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment. Any comment :). As long as the email address associated with your WordPress account/comment profile is up-to-date, Marissa will be able to contact you if you win. Just please know that if she’s unable to get in touch with you through that address, you’ll have to forfeit your win.

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

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

Best of luck!

One More Thing…

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

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

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Asking the Right Questions with Character Interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATIONSHIPS

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

INNER-SELF

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

LIFESTYLE

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

HISTORY

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

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

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

Alli Sinclair

Resident Writing Coach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy 5th Birthday, One Stop for Writers!

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

FIVE YEARS. WOW!

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

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

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

Sorry, registration is closed.

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

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

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

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

Posted in About Us, Goal and Milestones, One Stop For Writers, Past Events, Software and Services, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 14 Comments