Predictions for Publishing Trends in Late 2020 and Beyond

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been decidedly weird. Despite our desires to the contrary, the weirdness persists, gouging grooves into our current reality that spell changes for the future of publishing. Savannah Cordova is here to share some trends we can likely see emerge as a result.

If there’s one thing 2020 has shown us, it’s that our lives are not nearly as predictable as we like to think. This isn’t exactly a new revelation — the best-laid plans of mice and men, etc. — but it’s one that brings fresh perspective and humility to all our forecasts now, whether in regards to the weather, the government, or the state of the publishing industry.

That said, while many of life’s twists are inherently unpredictable, others can be approached more confidently, with research and trends to back up one’s assertions. So while it’s true that any prediction in our current era should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s still worth a try (and gives us a certain human satisfaction) to speculate on what might come next!

On that note, having seen how both the COVID-19 pandemic and other major events have affected the industry over recent months, here are my best guesses at how publishing trends will evolve in late 2020 and beyond — both in the spirit of speculative intrigue and in the hopes of helping authors make more prudent business decisions over the coming months.

1. Diamond-in-the-Rough Dystopian Fiction

While early pandemic purchases tended toward the practical (survival guides, children’s academic workbooks, and the like), as months have dragged on, people have begun seeking out new genres of literature — and not all in the escapist vein you might think! Indeed, rather than gravitating toward elaborate, all-consuming high fantasy or fluffy romance, many readers have proclaimed a newfound love for dystopian fiction, in which the characters’ circumstances are just as bad (or even worse) than those we find ourselves currently facing.

Upon reflection, this isn’t as surprising as it might seem. For one thing, misery loves company, and even for those of us who aren’t exactly miserable, I’d imagine a bit of schadenfreude via a world even more desolate than ours might be rather comforting. Plus, for more pessimistic (or, depending on how you look at it, pragmatic) readers, dystopian fiction may even provide a tenuous blueprint as to how we should proceed in our own world. As Caroline Zielinski of The Guardian writes:

Now I reach for [dystopian fiction] because I want to see how characters behave when their freedoms are taken away from them. I want to know what choices they make when they lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their families and friends. Dystopian fiction helps us think through what reality could be like, and shows us how people might cope with adversity.

All of which is to say: dystopian fiction, while never unpopular (at least not since the Cold War), is having a real moment in 2020. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that all of it will flourish going forward! On the contrary, as more and more authors finish writing coronavirus-inspired novels, the late-2020-and-beyond market will likely be oversaturated with dystopian works.

Still, between readers’ renewed fascination with the genre and the pure quantity about to be on hand, there will surely be at least one or two standout dystopian novels, of the likes we haven’t seen since Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. And as someone who considers Station Eleven one of her favorite books, I personally can’t wait for the dystopian renaissance.

2. A Surge of Diverse Voices

Another publishing trend we’ll be seeing (and welcoming) much more in late 2020 is more diverse literature from a wide variety of authors. This trend stems from several sources: new writers that organically emerge each generation, a spike of people writing during the COVID-19 era, and finally an industry-wide call for diverse stories — which has, in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, increased exponentially (and rightfully!) to encompass many more perspectives.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to recognize that as more people write about their experiences — and become conscious and inclusive of others’ experiences as well — more diverse narratives will become available for publishing. And with so many literary agents interested in #ownvoice stories (I’ve been seeing this request on every other Manuscript Wish List these days, which is honestly fantastic!), there should be no shortage of diverse, widely representative books in trad pub over the coming months.

As for self-pub, the same will be true, albeit with less mainstream coverage; more people writing still equals more perspectives, even if they don’t all end up with Big 5 contracts. To that end, I encourage all of us to seek out and support more diverse indie authors, as they too will be publishing in droves over the coming months! (And if you’re an author hoping to be a part of this trend, but don’t want to appropriate, be sure to check out this post for some excellent guidance.)

The rationale behind this trend is obvious: since the COVID outbreak, people have been understandably wary of physical items handled by multiple people before purchase. This is naturally a concern for books in physical bookstores, and even more for those in libraries and used bookstores. So at least for the time being, it seems we’ll be saying goodbye to quaint IRL browsing and hello to the safer digital alternatives.

3. More eBooks and Audiobooks

But even for hard-copy aficionados like myself, it isn’t all bad news. For one thing, ebooks are cheaper and more portable than hard copies, and some even come packaged with audiobooks — especially for books in the Kindle Unlimited library and similar subscription services. That’s right: even the indie authors whose books populate these platforms are starting to engage more with audio content (over the last few years generally, but especially since COVID-19).

And for another thing, ebooks are simply easier for authors to handle in terms of setup and production. Self-publishing a book on Amazon takes a great deal less time and effort than trying to land a publisher, so if readers are keen to get their hands on ebooks, indie authors can — and will — fill that demand with very little cost to themselves. Audiobooks are a little trickier, but the primer linked above will get you on track if you’re interested in recording one for your book.

In any case, there’s really no time like the present for authors to get into the ebook and audiobook game! And for those who may be concerned this trend will wane when things go “back to normal,” it’s crucial to note that ebooks and audiobooks were already on the rise long before the pandemic — and will be for years to come, if library checkouts are anything to go by. (Not to mention the fact that we really have no idea when “normal” will arrive, if ever.)

4. Virtual Events Become the Norm

We’ve already seen this trend taking shape over the past few months, and again, the rationale is pretty obvious: real-life author events involve lots of people in a crowded room, shaking hands and posing for photos, touching other people’s books, and all manner of potentially infectious behavior. Virtual events may not come with the tangible satisfaction of having an author scrawl on your copy’s title page in Sharpie, but they’re much safer in the current climate — and in my experience, have proven surprisingly adept at capturing a similar energy to real-life events.

Authors are also starting to get on board with the benefits of virtual events that have nothing to do with COVID. Sure, looking out at an audience of people who’ve read your book must be an incredible feeling… but is it really worth the costs, the travel, the forced speeches and socializing for authors who aren’t especially at ease in a crowd? While authors can always do more to up their book signing game, for many, the answer is still turning out to be “no.” Simply put: virtual events provide a cost-friendlier, less intimidating alternative to connect with readers. Not to mention more people can attend all at once!

I certainly don’t think this will be the end of real-life book events, but I do predict authors start cutting tours down and doing more virtually — not even necessarily readings, but all sorts of webinars and discussions (like Angela’s and Becca’s the other day!). Indeed, another great thing about virtual events is how flexible they are; for example, if an author discovers their readers aren’t too keen on Q&As, but that they love doing writing sprints together, that author can adjust their events accordingly rather than having to adhere to a preplanned book tour.

Maybe this is all wishful thinking, my rose-tinted dreams of a publishing world that shifts seamlessly into a new era. But I think we have enough of a precedent, even in these so-called “unprecedented times,” to know that authors will manage to persist and succeed no matter what comes at them. And even if I’m wrong about the rest, I look forward to seeing the solutions they innovate throughout 2020 and beyond.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories (and occasionally terrible novels).

Posted in Publishing and Self Publishing, Reader Interest | 2 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: An Unwanted Romantic Advance

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: An Unwanted Romantic Advance

Category: Power struggles, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, ego

A friend who doesn’t want to stay in the Friend Zone
Being pursued by someone in a position of power or authority (the boss, a teacher, one’s landlord, the security guard in one’s building, etc.)
Romantic advances from someone crossing a moral line (the best friend’s significant other, a sister’s ex, the fiancé’s mother-in-law, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Awkwardness around the pursuer
Having to keep the situation secret from an important person (one’s spouse, best friend, sibling, etc.)
Inconveniences arising from trying to avoid the pursuer

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Other people finding out, and important relationships being damaged as a result (even if the character never encouraged the pursuer)
Trying not to hurt the pursuer’s feelings and inadvertently giving them false hope
The person the character is really interested in stepping out because he/she thinks the character is already involved with someone
The relationship dynamic changing for the worst—i.e., losing a friend because that person wants more and the character can’t comply
The pursuer refusing to take no for an answer (becoming obsessed, stalking the character, trying to manipulate them, etc.)
The pursuer becoming depressed or suicidal at the character’s rejection
Being pressured by others to accept the unwanted advances
Giving in, even though the character doesn’t fully return the pursuer’s feelings
The character having to leave their job/school/neighborhood to get away from the pursuer
The rejected pursuer using a position of authority or power to punish the character

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
The character being conflicted about their feelings for the pursuer
Struggling with guilt from having to reject him or her
Wanting to respond respectfully but being angry or embarrassed from being put in the situation
The character second-guessing their decision or response to the advance

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the pursuer, those close to the pursuer (if they don’t appreciate him/her being slighted), those close to the character (if they don’t appreciate someone else making advances), co-workers

Resulting Emotions: Anger, annoyance, appalled, apprehension, conflicted, contempt, denial, disbelief, dread, embarrassment, empathy, flustered, frustration, guilt, horror, indifference, indignation, intimidated, irritation, pity, powerlessness, reluctance, sadness, scorn, shock, stunned, uncertainty, unease, vulnerability, wariness, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, apathetic, callous, cruel, disrespectful, gossipy, nervous, tactless, worrywart

Positive Outcomes: 
A boost in confidence that comes from being found desirable
Learning to give bad news graciously and respectfully
The situation clarifying the character’s true feelings in some way (realizing they love someone else, recognizing the importance of a vital relationship in their life, realizing they don’t have time for any romantic attachments right now, etc.)
Clarification about what the character does or doesn’t want in a romantic relationship

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this conflict thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is available at our main site, One Stop for Writers

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Critiques 4 U, with Guest Editor Marissa Graff!


It’s time for our monthly critique contest, and I’m excited to be able to introduce a new guest editor! Angela and I have known Marissa Graff for years; she has a TON of editing experience, she’s contributed guest posts to Writers Helping Writers in the past, and we’re super excited that she’ll be joining us as a Resident Writing Coach starting in October.

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.


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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 40 Comments

Yesterday: Looking Back at the First Act


A beautiful, beautiful song that easily applies to our writing process. Confused? Go with me for a minute.

It doesn’t matter if we’re a pantser, a plotter, a plotser, a puzzler, or some other mash-up of a writing process (there is no right or wrong process!). There will come a time in our first draft, or second or third, when we look back and realize we’ve missed something super important along the way…something that could not have been revealed until we had the space to look back.

That’s important. Keep that in mind as we continue.

So how does a Beatles song apply to our writing? Let’s find out.

Yesterday – The First Act

When writing the first act, we’re often in that I’m in love! phase with our book. The characters are finding their voice, the story we’ve had brimming inside is finally getting onto the page, and there’s a powerful, creative energy for this amazing story idea.

All my troubles seemed so far away

Sure, it’s not easy. For some of us, it may be the hardest act to write. (ahem.)

But while we’re in the first act, plot holes don’t exist, boring side characters haven’t revealed themselves yet, lack of suspense or action or romance hasn’t occurred, because we are still so early in the process.

Then, we enter act two and act three—which have their own share of problems. Even if we’ve painstakingly plotted, scenes that arrive later in the story might throw our original vision off course. And sometime in these later two acts, it can feel as if our troubles are here to stay.

Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

A Shadow Hanging Over Me

I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly

In the later acts, it may feel as if there’s a shadow hanging over our words. 

Something’s changed somewhere, or we feel we have missed an opportunity to deepen the story…but because the story has not been completely written, we don’t have the clarity or distance to see where we’ve gone astray. 

We all have different ways of dealing with this, from puzzling our scenes together and connecting them at the very end of our process, or sticking to our story outline no matter what…even if a scene is no longer working…or making a note in the margin and moving on, trusting ourselves to fix it later and praying we’re not writing ourselves into a corner.

But that shadow. It can really dampen the writing spirit.

Now I Long for Yesterday

Why she had to go, I don’t know
She wouldn’t say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday

Hey. It happens. Hindsight is 20/20, or so they say. At the very least, hindsight lets us see the path we’ve traveled, and where we could have taken different steps to shorten our journey or saved ourselves from some hard bumps along the way.

Lucky for us, we’re writers.

We actually do get to go back and rewrite the early acts of our story.

Some editing insights happen only after we’ve written “The End”:

  • Strengthen Theme – What is the central emotion, lesson, or question that our story radiates from? Does our theme run through the entire story, or do we allude to it once and then forget about it?
  • Deepen Character – especially side characters – What is their goal? Do they reach it by the end of the story, or do they fail? How can we better set up their faults and strengths to help them reach or not reach their goals by the end?
  • Fill In Character Motivation – Sometimes we don’t understand a character’s motivation until the end (why does Snape keep protecting Harry Potter??)…and then we have to set up the beginning motivation to better support the end.

And then, there’s this little thing I like to think of as the subconscious story mind. It’s magical.

Oh, I Believe in Yesterday

Love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday

The magical Subsconscious Story Mind (SSM) is both a mindset and an editing bullet point.

Oh, I believe in yesterday is such a perfect lyric to describe the SSM. 

Our magical SSM understands more than our conscious brain does. It gets our story themes even before we do. 

You know those lightbulb moments you get as you’re reading your first draft for the first time? Somehow, you’ve made a subtle scene the impetus for a majorly important end scene…and you didn’t even plan it that way!

Looking back at our first act…after our story is written…gives us the ability to bring our subconscious genius to our conscious story. We get to utilize the full, creative magic of applying 20/20 wisdom to our ‘yesterday,’ 

Don’t miss out on this, the magic of yesterday. Not only that, but believe in yesterday. It’ll get you through the shadows that hang over your writing process. Trust your SSM.

You have left yourself clues in your story. Now, it’s time for you, author, to dig up those clues, bring them out of your story’s subconscious and closer to your story’s surface. 

These are clues our reader can stumble across and have an even more satisfying conclusion to our story. Like Snape casting a secret counter spell, use your SSM and yesterday magic to create plot twists, strengthen the story theme, and hook your readers in for not only this story, but for all your books yet to come.

Christina Delay

Resident Writing Coach

Christina is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning psychological suspense author. She also writes award-winning supernatural suspense under the name Kris Faryn. You can find Kris at: Bookbub ǀ Facebook ǀ Amazon ǀ Instagram.
Cruising Writers brings authors together with bestselling authors and industry professionals on writing retreats. Join Cruising Writers this November in the Easter Caribbean with Writers Helping Writers co-founder Angela Ackerman and New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Darynda Jones!

Posted in Characters, Motivation, Motivational, Openings, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Story Structure, Theme, Writing Craft | 2 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Competitor Showing Up

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.

Note: For Romantic Competitors, see this entry

Conflict: A Competitor Showing Up

Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, losing an advantage, ego

A superstar co-worker who joins the team
A business that opens nearby with the potential to compete with one’s own
Someone new who begins hanging out with the character’s group of friends
A competitor for resources (a gold panner who sets up a claim close by, a factory that draws large amounts of water from the river, an influx of hunters that make game scarce, etc.)
Being upstaged by someone (say by a spouse’s estranged, deadbeat son or a successful cousin who loves attention) who shows up and steals the family’s time, energy, and focus
A political competitor joining the race (for mayor, the school president position, to head a committee, etc.)
A competitor for a cherished role (the lead in a play, the team captain position, a promotion)
Another candidate who puts their name in for tenure at a university
Another group or organization vying for government funding
Student hopefuls seeking to gain spots at an elite university that the character wishes to attend
A superstar entering the character’s field, thereby threatening their position or status
The character ending up in a bidding war (for a house, property, someone’s business or their goodwill, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Being ignored or forgotten temporarily while the focus is on the new person
Having to go through new hoops to accommodate the competition
Dealing with jealousy
Being thrown “off one’s game” due to emotional turmoil caused by this threat
Finding that people or resources (that maybe the character sort of took for granted) are unavailable
Having to call in a favor for help or to gain an advantage
Being forced to explain things, go over the rules, show someone around, etc. when the character doesn’t want to
Being caught off guard and having to scramble to catch up (say to match a competitor’s promotion that is stealing away customers or to assemble a team to help the character strategize how to win an election they believed they would get by proxy)
Having to put on an act (friendliness, being accepting or understanding) when the character doesn’t want to
Having to hide anger, frustration or hurt because to express it will cast one in a bad light

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being outmatched by the competition
Discovering the competition is flouting the law or doing a great amount of damage but being unable to prove it
A competitor who plays dirty
Knowing the competition is toxic yet seeing everyone fall under their spell
Losing to the competitor
Losing prestige, clout, or support due to a smear campaign by the competitor
Being passed over (for a position, a raise, a promotion)
Being blackmailed and forced to drop out of the race by the competitor
Being called out or cast out (by family, a social group, an organization) for overcompetitiveness and rash behavior
Crossing a moral line in the heat of the moment and regretting it
Damaging a hard-won reputation for losing control during the competition

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
The desire to play dirty because the competition is
Believing in capitalism yet resenting a newcomer who forces competitiveness
Feeling entitled to win due to loyalty, dedication, and having a history with the company or organization yet knowing the competition is more skilled or better at leading
Anger at facing competition when peers, siblings, or family members in the same situation are not
Discovering something that could ruin the competitor’s chances but knowing that revealing it will change how others see the character
Wanting to get rid of one’s competition but being unable to (because they are a family member, or they make a loved one happy)
Liking someone and wishing they were an ally, not competition

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected:
Family and friends caught in the crossfire, supporters who back the character and lose, loyal friends who cross the line (because the character asked them to) and get caught
Loving one’s family but resenting their support of a competitor

Resulting Emotions: admiration, agitation, anger, anxiety, betrayed, bitterness, concern, conflicted, contempt, defensiveness, determination, disappointment, discouraged, frustration, humbled, humiliation, hurt, inadequate, intimidated, jealousy, nervousness, panic, resentment, schadenfreude, self-pity, stunned, uncertainty, vulnerability, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, catty, childish, cocky, confrontational, devious, dishonest, disorganized, flaky, foolish, gossipy, hypocritical, impulsive, indecisive, inflexible, inhibited, insecure, irrational, irresponsible, jealous, lazy, macho, needy, oversensitive, possessive, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, spoiled, unethical, vain, vindictive, violent, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
When a competitor shows up, it may force the character to reflect on why winning or being chosen is important: are they doing it for themselves or to make others happy? This could help the character to double down and fight harder, or have an epiphany that they are chasing a goal for the wrong reasons, leading to them bowing out so they can pivot toward a better goal.
If the character has been coasting thus far, competition forces them to up their game and try their best so they can discover what they are truly capable of.
Competition often leads to creativity and innovation, meaning those standing to benefit from the outcome may do so in a bigger way.
Competition can also reveal the true colors of those invested in the outcome. The character may discover their friends and supporters are fair-weather ones, and while this will hurt in the moment, longterm it allows the character to cut ties with people who are negative and focus on relationships that are healthier.

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this conflict thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is available at our main site, One Stop for Writers.

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

What Is Writer’s Burnout?

Hi everyone! Today we’re happy to welcome author Chrys Fey to the blog who is sharing an excerpt from her book, Keep Writing with Fey: Sparks to Defeat Writer’s Block, Burnout, and Depression (affiliate link) where she focuses on writer’s burnout. This is something that’s a real risk, especially this year. We’ve all had a lot more to handle and it takes a toll. So please, read on.

When I mention writer’s burnout, many people get the wrong idea about it, so I thought I’d mention a few of the most common myths about writer’s burnout first and then get into the facts about what it is and what causes it.


– Writer’s burnout is the same as writer’s block.
– You only get burned out by writing too much.
– If you can write an essay or a poem, you’re not burned out.
– If, deep down, you want to write, you’re not burned out.

The Confusion:

Writer’s burnout is often confused with writer’s block when, in actuality, it is more extreme than that. Writer’s block is the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

When you are burned out, it is very different. We’re not just talking about things that can stop you from writing. You don’t even need to be blocked in order to get burned out. You could be able to easily think of what to write next and may even have the next scene or chapter plotted out and still suffer from this extreme condition. Anyone who works too hard, pushes their limits in order to get one task after another done without a break, and is eyeball deep in stress, can experience this. It doesn’t matter what your profession is, either. Usually, it’s called job burnout, but when it comes to being a writer, and when this burnout affects you as a writer, I call it writer’s burnout.

When I suffered from writer’s burnout, I had many ideas of what to write and a workable outline for the next book in my series. I was not blocked. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t. I’d try and fail. Again, not because I was blocked. I’d have a good day or two of writing a fictional story with fresh energy that would make me think I was back to normal, and then I wouldn’t be able to muster up the energy, the motivation, to write a single word more on the third day. I’d want to. Oh, boy, did I want to. I wanted that energy I had the previous two days. But it wasn’t there. I was depleted. Utterly exhausted, from my mind to the tips of my fingers and toes. Even my soul felt drained. I had worked myself beyond the breaking point, through depression and stress, and faced the severe consequences.

During that time, however, I managed to write essays about my life as a child and teen. These essays were non-fiction and ranged from a page or less to three pages long. See? I could write something. I found writing about my life (for myself and no one else) relatively easy, but writing fiction, the thing I’d been writing for well over a decade, was hard. I didn’t have the motivation or energy for it anymore.

I did a small amount of non-fiction writing when, suddenly, even that became too much and I couldn’t manage to write another short essay. Eventually, because I kept trying to force myself to write, I did lose all motivation for anything writing related. I didn’t even want to write emails. That’s how exhausted I was. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is burnout.

What is Writer’s Burnout?

Burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by stress or by doing too much. Believe me, you can be physically exhausted as a writer.

You can lose motivation and feel as though you have nothing else to give in the area that caused your burnout, which usually means your job. For athletes, it’s their sport, the one they’ve devoted and dedicated their lives to. For writers, it can be anything related to being a writer, not just the act of writing. And that is something many don’t understand. You don’t need to be writing five thousand words a day to burn yourself out as a writer. You can burn yourself out by revising or rewriting a project over and over again. You can burn yourself out by editing one thing after another for others. You can burn yourself out by focusing on marketing day in and day out and getting upset that nothing is helping your sales.

Once you have burnout in one area of your life, it can leak into all areas of your life, like an oil spill, covering everything with a thick greasiness and zapping your energy for things even unrelated to writing. That is how dangerous burnout is for creatives and career-oriented individuals.

What Causes Writer’s Burnout?

Anything. It can be different for everyone, and you may have several causes working together to burn you out completely.

For me, doing too much in other areas (blogging and editing for clients), stressing myself out over marketing, and depression, which partially stemmed from my writing life, brought about my long battle with burnout.

Common Causes:

– Excessive stress
– Overworking yourself
– Taking on too many responsibilities
– Chaotic work environment
– Feeling undervalued
– Too many expectations
– Setting unachievable goals
– Lack of support
– Sleeplessness

Symptoms of Writer’s Burnout:

– Feeling drained and tired (fatigue)
– Insomnia
– Lowered immunity (illnesses)
– Frequent headaches
– Sadness, anger, or irritability
– Sense of failure
– Negative outlook
– Feeling detached
– No or low motivation
– Lack of interest
– Unhappiness
– Depression
– Alcohol or substance abuse
– High blood pressure
– Heart disease

That’s a lot, isn’t it? That’s why burnout is not something to shrug your shoulders at. That’s why burnout should be taken seriously and understood.

How are you feeling right now? Are you experiencing writer’s burnout? Let’s talk about it.

(Affiliate link)

Chrys Fey is the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication (affiliate link). She is also the author of the Disaster Crimes series.

Visit her blog, Write with Fey, for more tips on how to reverse writer’s burnout.

Posted in Focus, Guest Post, Motivational, Time Management, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 27 Comments

6 Tricks to Layer on Stakes

Stakes are what are at risk in a story. It might be that the protagonist’s life is at risk, or perhaps a romantic relationship, or maybe the opportunity to go on a long-awaited trip (Hello, Covid!). But I find this definition a little vague. So I prefer to think of stakes as potential consequences.

Stakes are significant things that could happen, and they include a sense of cause and effect. Typically, you can fit stakes into an “if . . . then . . . ” statement (even if it’s not literally written as one in the text):

If I don’t defeat [the antagonist], then he’ll hurt my family.”

If you become a vampire, then the only thing you’ll love is blood.”

If we don’t keep moving, then dehydration will kill us.”

Great stakes are closely related to tension and hooks. All three get the audience to look forward and anticipate what could happen, usually by getting the audience to hope or fear a potential consequence. The audience then has to keep reading to discover the actual outcome.

For many writers, stakes can be difficult to get on the page specifically because they require the writer to brainstorm possible, future outcomes–some of which may not actually happen.

For example, say your characters are stranded in a desert. They decide if they don’t keep moving, they could die of dehydration. But perhaps, in reality, it turns out if they had stayed put, they would have been rescued. Stakes aren’t always about what actually happens. They are about risk.

In most stories, you’ll want to include more stakes than what actually happens. Sometimes, it’s hard to brainstorm enough of those, so here are some tricks.

1. Look at both positive and negative potential consequences.

When it comes to stakes, we often focus on the negative . . . because that is what is at risk.

“If [the protagonist] doesn’t defeat [the antagonist], [the antagonist] will take over the world.”

But putting positive outcomes on the page can sometimes be just as effective.

“If Samantha can nail this audition, then she can finally star in a movie.”

In this example, a positive potential consequence is what is at risk. Sure, we could change it to a negative–if she doesn’t nail the audition, she can’t star in a movie. But by considering both positive and negative, we are more likely to brainstorm new stakes.

2. Add to the cause-and-effect trajectory

Once you have one stake on the page, you can often add more to it, by taking the cause-and-effect trajectory out further. Suzanne Collins does this well in the opening of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

If the protagonist can’t eat cabbage soup, then he can’t get his stomach to stop growling (consequence #1), which means people will realize he’s poor, not rich (consequence #2), which means his reputation will be ruined (consequence #3), which means he’ll lose his opportunity to be a mentor through his school program (consequence #4), which means he’ll unlikely be able to meet the credentials needed for college (consequence #5), which means his family won’t be taken care of (consequence #6), which means his cousin might have to succumb to prostitution (consequence #7).

That’s a lot that hinges on cabbage soup. Suddenly that soup feels pretty important.

3. Consider broad potential consequences

Another helpful approach is to look at how a potential consequence can have broader ramifications.

This works even with personal matters.

“If Jasper doesn’t return Emily’s love with a proposal, her descendants may be doomed to live in poverty.”

Here, something personal, love, has been broadened to include a family line–all of Emily’s children.

“If George doesn’t get to water, he could die of dehydration, which means his evil uncle could take the throne.”

Here, the protagonist’s possible death affects a whole kingdom.

4. Consider personal potential consequences

A reverse of this is to make potential outcomes more personal.

“If I don’t defeat the antagonist, he’ll take over the world–my mom, dad, Frankie, my entire hometown won’t survive.”

This goes from broad to personal.

5. Pull in other plotlines

In most stories, there are multiple plotlines: primary, secondary, tertiary, etc.  

One way to brainstorm more stakes, is to try to connect the current situation to an indirect stake, like one from another plotline.

Say in one plotline, the protagonist is concerned about training her dog. In another, she’s trying to get her love interest’s attention. You can look for ways to connect them with stakes.

“If she can’t get her dog trained, then Fido might chase after the love interest’s car–earning her the wrong kind of attention.”

6. Look at perceived threats

Sometimes a perceived risk works well. Meaning, the character thinks something is at risk, when it isn’t.

Perhaps you are writing about a child who thinks if she lies to her teacher, she’ll go to jail. This is obviously not true, but to her, it’s a possibility. 

When perceived threats are written well, they can feel real, even when the audience knows they aren’t. Just make sure not to only use this kind.

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 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 for more writing tips, and find her on
Twitter ǀ Facebook ǀ Instagram ǀ Tumblr

With these six approaches, you should be armed to brainstorm more, significant stakes. To learn more about stakes, you can read my other article on them here.

Posted in Action Scenes, Character Arc, Characters, Conflict, Fear, High Stakes, Motivation, Pacing, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Tension, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 9 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Losing One’s Temper

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: Losing One’s Temper

Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego, no-win situations, miscellaneous challenges

A character can lose their temper in any circumstance, with any person. The severity of the situation (and, therefore, the fallout) will depend on a number of factors:

The Environment
At work
In the bedroom
In a media interview
In the principal’s office
At a public event that is being recorded

The Target of the Character’s Anger
A partner
One’s toddler
The boss
A police officer or other person in authority
A physically or mentally disabled person

The Severity of the Outburst
Generic yelling
Throwing, punching, or breaking things
Using insults or offensive language
Physical violence against the other party (grabbing, pushing, hitting, shaking)

The Frequency of it Happening
Does the character lose their temper often, meaning, it’s expected and is blown off as part of their volatile nature?
Was this unprecedented—a total shock and completely out of character?

Minor Complications:
Being thrown out of an establishment and forbidden from coming back
Being reprimanded at school or work
Losing the respect of others
Minor property destruction that must be fixed (breaking a knickknack, punching a hole in the wall, etc.)
The outburst causing a rift in a relationship that the character must address
The outburst being recorded and posted publicly
Being embarrassed

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Losing a friend
Being arrested
Getting fired
The situation devolving into a physical fight
Seriously injuring someone
Losing trust with the other party
The character’s insults damaging the target’s else’s self-esteem and confidence
Destroying an important piece of property (an antique, something that holds significant emotional significance for the other party, etc.)
Getting in a car wreck
Loved ones following in the character’s footsteps and repeating this abusive behavior (a child, niece/nephew, protégé, etc.)
Slipping into a dysfunctional behavior pattern of losing one’s temper when angry
Viewing the tendency as normal and acceptable rather than something that is disrespectful and damaging and needs correction
Reinforcing harmful stereotypes about the character’s occupation, race, gender, birthplace, etc.

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Feeling intensely guilty following the outburst
Knowing it’s wrong but enjoying the sense of power the outburst brings when it happens
Wanting to respond differently but feeling powerless to do so in the moment
Struggling with shame or self-loathing
The character feeling that they have let others down

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The target of the character’s anger, onlookers, loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers, people who admired the character

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, appalled, apprehension, conflicted, defensiveness, defiant, denial, determination, devastation, disappointment, discouraged, disillusionment, doubt, dread, embarrassment, frustration, guilt, horror, humiliation, insecurity, powerlessness, rage, regret, relief, remorse, satisfaction, schadenfreude, self-loathing, self-pity, shame

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, callous, confrontational, controlling, cruel, defensive, disrespectful, hostile, impatient, impulsive, macho, perfectionist, stubborn, violent, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Seeing the damaging results and vowing to be more controlled
Recognizing a dangerous pattern of behavior and determining to make a change
Achieving the desired result—getting one’s opinion across, stopping an undesirable decision from being made, regaining control, etc.—despite using a dysfunctional method to bring it about

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

While this conflict thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is available at our main site, One Stop for Writers

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Best Self-Publishing Companies for Novels in 2020

If you are an aspiring or newbie author, you may be wondering where you can (or should) self-publish your novel and in what formats (hardcover, paperback, and/or ebooks). Or perhaps you are a veteran author who has been publishing books one way for a while, and you are looking to see what other options are out there. 

Before we get into publishing options, let’s talk about the biggest places readers are picking up books in 2020. (In other words, the places you want your books to be sold.) The biggest retail options for indie authors (also known as self-published authors or independent authors) in 2020 are as follows:

  • Amazon
  • Rakuten Kobo
  • Google Play
  • Apple iBooks
  • Barnes & Noble/Nook

Today’s discussion will center around hardcovers, paperbacks, and ebooks.

Please be aware that some of these publishing options only distribute physical books while others only distribute ebooks. In addition, if any of these options are marked as aggregators, that often means they take a percentage of whatever you make. When in doubt, do some extra research on your own. 

For paperback and hardcover options, I highly recommend looking for POD (print on demand) companies rather than companies that require you to order large volumes of your book. There are pros and cons to each option, which we won’t be able to get into today. But the business model for POD companies is to print books as they are ordered by customers. That way, no one has too much extra inventory lying around.

Self-Publishing Options

1. IngramSpark

  • Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook.
  • Distribution: IngramSpark is a book distribution company. They distribute to 40,000 libraries and retailers, including Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as major online retailers including Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etc.
  • Pricing: Pay to upload your book to the platform. (Click here to learn more.)
  • Pros:
    • You can offer hardcovers.
    • You can offer paperbacks and hardcovers for preorder.
    • *Distribution network.
  • Cons:
    • *Distribution network.
      • They can get your book to many different places, but your book isn’t always available to libraries and retailers.
    • Customer service & response time is notoriously slow (if they get back to you at all).
    • No real-time data. (For example, IngramSpark doesn’t offer any metrics for preorders.)
    • The platform isn’t user-friendly (confusing to use).
    • Receiving author copies or proofs can take months.
    • Printing quality isn’t consistent (either great or sloppy).

2. Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing)

  • Formats: Paperback and ebook.
  • Distribution: You can elect to enroll your book in KDP’s Expanded Distribution. However, they currently only work with US distributors. 
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
    • It’s free to create an account with KDP and upload your books. You only pay for proofs or author copies. 
  • Pros:
    • Good customer service/response time.
    • Real-time dashboard metrics.
    • Quick turnaround time for proofs and author copies.
  • Cons:
    • Doesn’t offer hardcovers.
    • Doesn’t offer preorders for paperbacks. (Only ebooks are available to preorder if you set up a preorder for your book.) 

3. Barnes & Noble Press (Nook)

  • Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook.
  • Distribution: Strictly to Barnes & Noble Press.
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • You can offer preorders on all formats. 
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 
  • Cons:
    • Barnes and Noble is a retailer, and book retailers have gone out of business in recent years. 

4. Rakuten Kobo (Walmart)

  • Formats: Ebooks.
  • Distribution: Strictly to Rakuten Kobo.
    • Rakuten (which owns Kobo) partnered with Walmart to distribute ebooks to Kobo readers. In other words, by distributing to Rakuten Kobo, you are also tapping into Walmart. 
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • Kobo is a Canadian company with a large reader base there. However, it’s also growing in the U.S.
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 
  • Cons:
    • It’s one more place to remember to upload your book.

5. Google Play

  • Formats: Ebook.
  • Distribution: Strictly to Google Play.
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 

6. Apple iBooks

  • Formats: Ebook.
  • Distribution: Strictly to iBooks
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 
    • The platform is growing in popularity in the U.S. 
  • Cons:
    • In the past, you had to have an Apple computer to upload your book directly to this platform. 

7. Draft2Digital

  • This is an aggregator. 
  • Formats: Ebook.
  • Distribution: Amazon, iBooks (Apple), Barnes & Noble, Rakuten Kobo, Tolino, Hoopla, Vivlio, OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Baker & Taylor.
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • You don’t have to upload directly to tons of different retailers.
    • They get your ebook into digital platforms for libraries that would be difficult to access otherwise. 
  • Cons:
    • They take a percentage of your sales.

8. SmashWords

  • This is an aggregator. 
  • Formats: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Distribution: Smashwords, Amazon, iBooks (Apple), Barnes & Noble, Rakuten Kobo, Baker & Taylor, OverDrive, Scribd, cloudLibrary, Gardners, Odilo.
  • Pricing
  • Pros:
    • They sell books directly on their platform. 
    • You don’t have to upload directly to tons of different retailers.
    • They get your ebook into digital platforms for libraries that would be difficult to access otherwise. 
  • Cons:
    • They take a percentage of your sales.
    • The platform isn’t easy to navigate. 

9. Working Directly with a Manufacturer 

  • Pros:
    • You have more flexibility for the format of your book and special features. You are only limited to what the manufacturer can do.
    • You sell directly to the consumer and have their information (vs. selling through a retailer who doesn’t share their customer info with you). 
  • Cons:
    • You may have to order books in bulk and store them at your home. 
    • Depending on your model, you may have to ship books directly to the customer (vs. having the printer ship the book to the customer). 
    • You can’t access an existing reader base (such as readers that are actively looking for books on Amazon or iBooks). You have to market extensively to bring readers to you. 

A few other publishing options that we don’t have time to get into today are:

  • LuLu
  • PublishDrive
  • StreetLib
  • BookBaby
  • XinXii
  • Blurb

I recommend if you use an ebook aggregator, use more than one. Often, these ebook aggregators distribute to different retailers or libraries. That way, if you use both (and uncheck publishing options covered by the other), you have a wider reach and your book will be available in more places. 

In addition, I personally do not recommend platforms that charge monthly subscription fees to use their services (at least when you are first starting out). Instead, I recommend platforms that take a percentage of what an author earns. Later on (if you are making more money on your books), a monthly subscription model might be more financially beneficial than having the aggregator or POD company taking a percentage of every book sold. But that will be subjective to each author’s goals and preferences. 

Which Self-Publishing Company Should You Choose?

In my opinion, this comes down to what you have more of, money or time.

If you have more time than money, then uploading directly to all of the “big five” platforms (Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, iBooks/Apple, and Nook/Barnes & Noble) might be the best option for you. That way, you don’t have an aggregator taking a percentage of your income on top of the percentage a retailer takes. 

The downside of going direct means it’s a lot more to do when tax season rolls around. You need to get reports from every platform you upload to and sell books through. It’s also more to track as far as expenses and sales. 

If you have more money than time, then using an aggregator might be the best option for you. In this case, a percent of your sales would be taken by the aggregator (usually around 10-15%). However, you only have to pull a few reports during tax season. 

In addition, if there is ever an issue in your manuscript (such as a typo) and you want to re-upload your manuscript or if you choose to change your book cover, you have to re-upload your manuscript to potentially dozens of platforms (if you don’t work with an aggregator). Some of those platforms, such as IngramSpark, charge upload fees. Meaning, every time you upload a new formatted manuscript or files, they charge you a fee. But if you work with an aggregator, you re-upload those files once, and BOOM. You are done. 

What publishing path that is best for you and your books will be subjective to your author goals, what your financial situation is, and how much time you are able to devote to the publication process of your book. 

Keep in mind that no publishing platform is perfect, and there will always be hiccups along the way. But there are many more publishing options today than there were a few years ago, and I anticipate there will be even more options for indie authors in the coming years. 

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.
Twitter ǀ Facebook ǀ Instagram ǀ You Tube

Posted in Publishing and Self Publishing, Resident Writing Coach | 5 Comments

How To Research Mental Health and Trauma For Your Characters

Giving a character a trauma or mental health backstory seems like an easy way to add internal conflict to our characters – and it is. But where do you start that research? What should you be looking for?

No one likes to read a story and find the writer just plain got something wrong. It ruins the story. It’s important to get the details right, most writers agree on that, but I think we need to raise the bar of what we expect of ourselves. People read fiction to be entertained primarily, but through our characters we can impart factual information instead of maintaining harmful perceptions and stereotypes. 

Know How Much Trauma Your Character Will Live With

First, be sure you know what level of trauma or mental health you want your character to struggle with. Is this a minor annoyance or a major stumbling block? Is this something they need to overcome by the end of the story or something they simply have to learn to manage and live with? Do they need to be able to maintain a healthy romantic relationship? Do they need to hold down a high-stress job?

Understanding this up front will help you decide what kind of trauma or mental health issue to start researching. I’ve seen way too many movies and TV shows that give characters PTSD, but the only symptom they have are combat flashbacks. Their life is not impacted in any other way.

*face palm*

That’s not how PTSD works. If you give your character PTSD, they should struggle (a lot) with many, many aspects of life including holding down a job or maintaining a healthy romantic relationship. 

Labels Help Authors More than Readers

When doing research, being able to label what your character is struggling with will help you target your research better. Be sure you’re using the correct label in your research. The way we use these words in conversation is not necessarily how they’re used in a clinical setting, but you need the facts from credible sources, so labels will be important.

Do you want your character to have an anxiety disorder or just be anxious? Those can be different things. Does your character have PTSD or c-PTSD? Do they have any co-existing issues? People with anxiety can also struggle with OCD, depression, panic disorder, suicide ideation, etc. Flashbacks are specific and debilitating, not a convenient vehicle to deliver backstory. Sometimes, symptoms can appear to be contradictory, but once you’re in that person’s head you realize it’s not contradictory at all. People who struggle with PTSD are often preoccupied with feeling safe, yet risky behaviour is a common symptom. You get to decide how complex to make their inner struggles. 

Low-Hanging Fruit: Friends And Family

The low-hanging fruit for your research will start with your family and friends. Ask around. Hey – you’ve mentioned you struggle with x. I’m writing a character who struggles with that. Would you be willing to help me out by answering a few questions?

Ask them if they know anyone who might be willing to talk to you. If you have an author page, Insta or Twitter following, ask on social media. Most people are happy to help an author with research. And they don’t need to have had the exact same problem or past. Talk to more than one person, if possible.

When you do talk to them, avoid phrasing questions in a way that makes it seem like you already know the answer. You’ll get your presuppositions echoed back often. 

Instead of: What’s the scariest part about having anxiety?
Try: Can you describe what your anxiety feels like when it just starts up?

Most of the time, what you need is that first-hand experience. What it FEELS like. Let them talk. It’s always more helpful to get their experience in their own words—not so you can copy them, but you begin to get a sense of their attitude towards things, you sense where the emotion surfaces, where they carry shame or anger, etc. 

Utilize Experts And Websites

Try your best to stick to accredited websites for your initial research. Charities, hospitals, and support groups will tend to address the issue with sensitivity and facts. You can parse where careful language is used – what words they don’t use. People with PTSD often feel “broken” and they will use that word to describe themselves, but you won’t find that language on accredited websites. Instead you’ll find descriptions of why PTSD is the brain’s natural coping response to overwhelming trauma.

Read widely, and pay attention to the publishing dates. Of course, there are tons of books out there on these topics. Research who the leading experts are in that field. Do they have any books out? Have they endorsed any books? Try those first. 

Find the most current content you can. I tend not to consider something for my fiction unless I’ve seen it verified on at least three credible websites/books within the last two years. Psychology and mental health information is changing rapidly, so avoid relying on anything more than five years old at the very least.

Reach out to experts in that field. University faculty lists are a great place to start. Many of these people are willing to answer questions or read pages to help you make sure you’ve got it right. I like to offer these people scenarios rather than ask them simplistic questions I could find the answers to on Google. They’ll lose interest if your questions demonstrate you’ve not put any effort into research on your own.

What If You Don’t Know Anyone To Interview?

In this case, start surfing Reddit threads, Quora, and other sites where people post questions and get responses. Read newspaper articles and watch news videos from events that were similar. Look for witness accounts. Memory can be faulty, so look for quotes immediately following an event. If this is a historic trauma for your character, you can watch or read testimony of survivor accounts. Where are they filling in the gaps in their memory? What do they do with their hands, their expressions, as they recount the parts they do remember with clarity? 

I’ve found lots of gold watching Holocaust survivors tell their stories, particularly when people were children during the war. They retell aspects of their experience they clearly got from another source much later, and their own memories stand out. They remember images – what things looked like, a smell, a sound – things that were out of place. The snow turned bright red and my mother didn’t move again. Every step crunched under my feet. I couldn’t figure out why, but later I realized it was because I was walking on shattered glass.

Researching mental health and traumatic experiences may seem daunting, but it can be done. I hope these tips give you the information needed to get you started and moving in the right direction.

Do you have any other tips on researching for mental health or trauma responses for your characters?

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.
Twitter ǀ Facebook ǀ Website ǀ Pinterest

Posted in Backstory, Character Wound, Characters, Flashbacks, research, Resident Writing Coach, Writing Craft | 14 Comments