How to Build a Roadmap to the Author Future You Want

When the clock turns forward, we tend to think about what the next year will bring. With a new decade on the horizon, perhaps this time, the question carries a bit more weight.

Now personally I’m not one for making New Years resolutions, but I absolutely do think forward, solidifying what I want to accomplish, ways I want to change, and then I make a plan on how to do both.

Right now, a big change is going on behind the scenes (I apologize for being vague but I really can’t talk about it yet) and the stakes have raised. Becca and I had to make a decision, and we made it. Our path forward means doubling down in what we believe in and embracing risks that will greatly challenge our knowledge and abilities. It’s a bit scary. No, that’s the wrong word. It’s terrifying.

But if we have learned anything, it is that if we want something, the only way to get it is to turn intent into action. This means engaging in some deep thinking and planning, and then moving on to the hard work of doing.

If you want to accomplish big things as an author, ask yourself these questions. They will help you move from Thinking, to Planning, to DOING.

Thinking

  • ASK: As a writer, what do I want for myself in the coming year that is within my control to do, will bring me joy, and will leave me satisfied at year’s end?
  • EVALUATE: How can I better steer my time and energy so I grow, improve, and move forward in ways I can measure?
  • IDENTIFY: What stepping stones will help me get closer to my goals this next year?

Planning

  • RESEARCH: What tools, information, education, communities, and opportunities will help me grow in the ways I need most?
  • PRIORITIZE: How can I make it a priority to obtain these things?
  • NAVIGATE: What tasks must I finish to ensure I make progress toward reasonable and achievable goals?

Doing

This is the hard part. We can think and plan, but unless we’re ready to do the hard work, we won’t succeed. So consider the following:

COMMIT: Reject excuses and change your habits. Better manage your writing time. Create a to-do list or set achievable mini-goals each day. If you have one, make choices that align to your business plan.

Why is this important? When more is getting done (revisions completed, new projects started, a book published, a website created, etc.) you can’t help but be motivated by your progress. Small successes lead to big ones, and each day that you choose action over inaction, you will see how YOU and YOUR CHOICES are shaping your future.

INVEST: Buy that course (or workshop, marketing guide, etc.) if you truly need it. Invest in the subscription that will give you access to knowledge and mentorship so you can achieve important stepping stones. Trade your time to work with critique partners so you can learn from each other.

Why is this important? I’m not trying to be flippant or cause anyone financial hardship. It’s not easy to spend time and money up front, especially when there are other things going on in our lives. We feel guilt, we worry. But like any other professional career, we writers need to invest in knowledge and a toolkit to do our best work. Be smart about it, but if you need something to succeed, make it a priority.

SACRIFICE: Decide what you are willing to let go of to get what you want. Trade a TV show for more writing time. Get up a bit earlier on the weekends to have more time to focus on your goals. Give up those fancy coffees and put the money toward a resource you know will make writing easier.

Why is this important? When you walk the walk, that’s powerful. It proves to your biggest critic (that’s YOU, by the way) that you will not be deterred, how this is important and meaningful, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes. So make sacrifices.

Don’t Be Afraid of a Business Plan

Years ago, Becca and I realized we needed to make a change if we wanted to get anywhere. Our career was overloaded with “all the things we felt we needed to juggle” to succeed. We decided to narrow our focus on what would help us reach specific goals and we created a business plan.

My gosh, the difference has been astounding! I wrote about our plan long ago at Jane Friedman’s blog and still have people asking for the template, so if it will help you, check it out. 🙂

One More Thing…

Every December Writers Helping Writers sponsors a charity.

This year, we’ve selected A21, whose mission is to abolish slavery by ending human trafficking and restoring freedom to the world’s most vulnerable. Earlier this year, Becca participated in a fundraiser and we wanted to help out a bit more now, so Writers Helping Writers will be sending $1000 their way. To find out more about this charity and the work they do, visit them here.

When you buy our books, or subscribe to One Stop for Writers, you’re doing more than just building your career…you’re also putting light and compassion into the world, and that should be celebrated. So thank you!

Posted in About Us, Business Plan, Focus, Goal and Milestones, Goal Setting, Motivational, Publishing and Self Publishing, The Business of Writing, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 11 Comments

3 Steps To Writing Diverse Characters

It’s official … Audiences have voted with their wallets and proved they WANT more diverse characters as standard. Novels lead the way, with breakout successes like Gone Girl and The Hate You Give making huge cultural impacts.

Now the screenwriting world has undergone a radical overhaul, too. Massive movie franchises like Disney’s, Marvel’s and DC’s through to streamed shows like Russian Doll, Good Girls and Dead to Me have followed suit. And this is just the start!

So, it’s a fact that audiences want a greater variety of characters in books, movies and television that feel both fresh AND authentic. Whether it’s protagonists and antagonists, supporting or peripheral, audiences and readers just don’t want the ‘same-old, same-old’.

Writers too are taking up the challenge. But as writers, we are also told to ‘write what we know’ …  And we can’t KNOW EVERYTHING. *Supersadface*

One of the reasons I wrote my book,  Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction, Film & TV is because so many writers contacted me worried about this. They would say they’d LOVE to write more diverse stories and characters BUT …

… They ‘don’t know where to start’ and
… They’re ‘afraid of getting it wrong’

So now what?

Well, start here with this handy flow chart … And to avoid ‘getting it wrong’, pay close attentions to what it asks of you as a writer. LET’S GO!

STEP ONE:

EMOTIONAL TRUTH

Emotional truth is the first stop on the flow chart. Authenticity is the antidote to samey tropes and stereotypes. True fact! Start with these questions, below.

1) Why this story?

This part asks the writer to consider WHY they feel the need to tell this particular story. It helps us connect with our own motivations and identify that element that really connects us to both the story and our target audience.

However, sometimes we have to face we are not the best writers for the job. For example, maybe it’s time now for disabled people to tell THEIR stories from their POVs, instead of able-bodied people doing it for them?

2) Why this character?

Note the character spotlight on the flow chart. Connection is key to a diverse character feeling authentic.

  • Is this character like me? Why/why not?
  • How can I make this character’s struggle or motivation meaningful to the most people possible in my target audience?
  • Can I bring authenticity to this character? How can I access his/her world?
  • What research do I need to do? What do I already know?

TOP TIP: Writers fall into the ‘same-old, same-old’ when they don’t SCRUTINISE their ideas and assumptions at foundation level. If you do the above however, you can find a fresh take.

STEP TWO:

WRITING CRAFT

STORY OVERVIEW

Next on the flow chart: check your initial logline/idea, with the following questions in mind.

 3) What is LIKE this story?

  • What has gone before in this genre, style, tone in various mediums?
  • How is yours the same … but DIFFERENT? What is your twist, or unique selling point?
  • Who is your target audience? (It’s not ‘for everyone’!).
  • How do you know they will like YOUR story, or at least are likely to pay $$ to watch it?
  • What does your target audience want? What research do you need to do on this?

4) What type of diverse story do you want to write?

  • Diversity as catalyst.  The most common type of diverse story. The main characters’ diversity serve as the REASON for the story occurs (ie. had they not had some kind of ‘difference’, they would not be part of the story). Examples: GET OUT, MAD MAX FURY ROAD, THE HANDMAID’S TALE.
  • Diversity as backstory. In this story world, diversity is the standard. The lead characters and their secondaries are not the REASON for the story. Instead, characters live in a diverse world where their individual heritage may or may not be important eg. PITCH PERFECT, OCEAN’S 8, EMPIRE, THE 100 , GRAVITY, BROOKLYN 99 etc).

CHARACTER

Back to characterisation on the flow chart, with the following questions in mind:

 5) What is LIKE this character?

  • Who is your protagonist? What does s/he want? Why?
  • Who is your antagonist? Why does s/he get in your protagonist’s way?
  • Who are your secondary characters? Are they ‘Team Protag’ or ‘Team Antag’ – Do they help or hinder your main characters? Why?
  • Are your characters archetypal? Cross-reference with your story notes. Are your characters a fresh twist on those ‘usual’ archetypes we see in their story’s genre/type, or rehashes of what we have seen before?
  • Where does your protagonist live? What is the status quo in his/her storyworld? Is this a world where diversity is typical … or untypical? Why?

6) Type of Protagonist You Are Writing

Next up on the flow chart … Protagonists are most often the character driving the story, making them vital to the success of your story.

  • Protagonist as The Educated – the most common. This type leads to the protagonist changing his or her viewpoints via her actions in the narrative, thanks to the actions and teachings of other characters (usually secondaries, but also the antagonist. B2W calls this ‘The Transformative Arc’). ‘The Hero’s Journey’ is a classic example of the transformative arc, so most superheroes follow this route.
  • Protagonist as The Educator – There are many ways to do this, but here are 3 of the most common ways to write a protagonist who does not undergo a transformative arc
  1. ‘The Change Agent’ is when a protagonist does not change him or herself, but may inspire other characters to change, such as the antagonist or secondary characters, ie. Forrest Gump, Mary Poppins. MORE HERE.
  2. The Voyager. This is a character who is already capable and doesn’t need to change so much, as solve a significant problem presented with skills and attributes they already possess, ie. John McClane, Ellen Ripley, Furiosa, John Wick. Secondary characters may have to decide to ‘fall in’ with the protagonist and see the mission his/her way … They must help the protagonist, or they are the enemy. You could say The Voyager’s motto is ‘join me or die’. MORE HERE.
  3. The Passive Protagonist. A passive protagonist will resist all efforts to make him or her do ANYTHING … which is why a secondary character or antagonist MUST ‘take the reins’ FOR the passive protagonist and drive the story forwards. Usually, a passive protagonist will take some kind of last-minute action in the final moments of the story *for some reason*, often under sufferance (especially comedy), ie. THE BIG LEBOWSKI.

STEP THREE

7) Write A New Logline / short pitch for your book or screenplay

Now return to your notes/ original logline / outline and use what you have broken down here to INFORM your story in a NEW logline … with your diverse character at the heart of it!

Try the 3 Cs – clarity, character, conflict. The model reminds us a good logline makes it obvious what is at stake for a character by using clear language, such as active verbs and focusing on WHO does WHAT. This prevents us from describing ‘around’ the story and/or falling back on cliched language.

Another good model for loglines to use in conjunction with the above:

When (inciting incident occurs), a (specific  protagonist) must (objective) or (this happens –> stakes).

Download your free cheat sheet on How To Write A Logline.

Good Luck with your writing!

Lucy V. Hays

Resident Writing Coach

Lucy is a script editor, author and blogger who helps writers at her site, Bang2write.com. To get free stuff for your novel or screenplay, CLICK HERE
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Posted in Backstory, Buying Books, Character Arc, Characters, Cliches, Diversity, Emotion, Reader Feedback, Reader Interest, Reading, Resident Writing Coach, Stereotypes, Story Structure, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 8 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Turned Down by a Potential Love Interest

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

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

Conflict: Being Turned Down by a Potential Love Interest

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

Examples:
Asking out a stranger or acquaintance and being turned down
Being “friend-zoned” when the character tries to take a friendship to the next level
Asking someone out for a second date and being rejected
Planning to ask someone out, then learning that they aren’t romantically interested (via an intercepted text or email message, overhearing a conversation, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Responding awkwardly, compounding embarrassment
Having to see the person regularly (at work, school, church, in the neighborhood, etc.)
Feeling reluctance to ask others out
Being embarrassed publicly (if the rejection happened in a public place or online)

Potentially Disastrous Results:
The character’s entire future falling apart before his or her eyes (because they’re in love with the other party)
Rebounding by jumping into an unhealthy relationship with anyone who is willing or available
The rejection triggering an addiction (if the character is a recovering addict) and contributing to a relapse
Doing something stupid in the aftermath as a way of compensating (picking a fight with someone, having a one-night stand, etc.)
Swearing off romantic relationships forever (if this was the latest in a series of rejections) and being alone
Not taking no for an answer (continuing to pursue the other party, stalking them, intimidating them, etc.)
Determining to win the love interest over (through accomplishment, lavishing gifts, being friends until they come around, etc.)

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Struggling with feelings of insecurity and self-doubt
Developing a fear of rejection
The character comparing him or herself to others and finding themselves lacking
Negative self-talk that contributes to low esteem (You’re so stupid, She was way out of your league, No one wants to be with you, etc.)

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the love interest, people the character interacts with negatively in the aftermath (other romantic parties, family, friends, etc.)

Resulting Emotions: Anger, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, depressed, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, discouraged, doubt, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, flustered, hurt, inadequate, indignation, insecurity, longing, reluctance, resentment, sadness, self-pity, stunned, uncertainty, unease, vulnerability

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Addictive, controlling, hostile, insecure, macho, martyr, possessive, self-destructive, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Knowing the other person isn’t interested (enabling the character to move on)
Recognizing mistakes in technique, and improving the process for next time (getting to know the person better first, changing the approach, etc.)
Recognizing that the other person wasn’t a fit, and being ok with that
Determining to be careful when rejecting others to avoid hurting them unnecessarily
Appreciating “singleness” and the benefits it brings

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How to Show Holiday Love to Critique Partners & Writing Groups

This time of year always makes me appreciate the people in my life, personally and professionally.

It’s been a year of adjustment for me. My kids “left the nest” and so not having access to them as I used to is a bit hard. Each time I see them now is a special gift, and so I am looking forward to the holiday when that will happen. And as the year winds down for “writer” me, I reflect on my accomplishments and think about the people that have helped me move forward.

Where would any of us be without the support and kindness of our fellow writers? My gosh, when I think about how Sacha Black came to my rescue when I needed help understanding ads, or how Mel Jolly let me and Becca pick her brain about outsourcing at a conference, or how our street team members worked tirelessly to help launch the newly expanded Emotion Thesaurus… I am FILLED with gratitude. Plus there are those who have offered to beta read for us, the people who share our blog posts and tweets, review our books, mention us to their writing groups, and on and on. My gosh. I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world to do what I do!

I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to say “I appreciate you,” so I put together a list of ways to do that, some free, some low cost.

Gifts for Writers: Free

An encouraging note. Sometimes the only thing that keeps us going is a kind word at just the right time. A facebook post. A tweet. An email. Public or private, let someone know how much you have enjoyed working with them this year and that you appreciate them.

A beta read or chapter critique. Feedback is what we all need but it can be intimidating to ask. If there’s someone who has really helped and supported you, why not tell them you’d like to gift them some feedback? You can even create a certificate, like this one I created with Canva!

A book review. If you’re like me, your time is constantly being swallowed by other things. If book reviews are something you always mean to get around to doing but forget, take a few moments to visit the books you love and leave some words on Amazon or other e-tailers. It helps so much. Then tag the author online so they know!

A pair of free ebooks. Tamar Sloan is one of our Resident Writing Coaches and she’s created two writing guides that can be downloaded for free. This pair is packed with value, perfect for reading over the holiday break.

A Show, Don’t Tell Thesaurus Writing Guide Sampler. Some of you have one or more of our books and/or spread the word about these books to others (THANK YOU FOR THAT!) We realize our guides are a bit different and might be harder to describe, so we’ve created a thesaurus sampler (Download it here!). It contains show, don’t tell advice, links to our best articles, and has a thesaurus entry from each book. If you know someone who struggles with showing, this is an all-in-one helpful kit. 🙂

Gifts for Writers: Low Cost

If you are looking for a gift, something inexpensive yet hugely valuable, here are some of our top picks.

(may contain affiliate links, but we stand behind all these suggestions)

James Scott Bell’s Write from the Middle writing guide ($3.99). This is a thoughtful digital gift for any writer that struggles at the novel’s midpoint. My favorite “mini-guide” from Jim, hands down.

K.M.Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs writing guide ($3.99). All of Katie’s books are great, but I am particularly fond of this one because so many writers struggle with Character Arcs and it digs into what they are and how to create them in a straightforward way.

Angela (that’s me!) and Becca’s Emotion Amplifiers (.99). This ebooklet is a companion to The Emotion Thesaurus, and contains show, don’t tell lists for what some call “near emotions” (stress, boredom, pain, attraction, and more). Set up like our other books, it’s full of ideas on how amplifiers can unbalance your character’s emotions so they make more mistakes, creating conflict!

A One Stop for Writers Gift Certificate ($9.00 and up).

I’m biased, but I think this site should be in every writer’s toolkit. Imagine writing your next story with the largest fiction-based description database available anywhere at your side. Or creating your next character with a tool intelligent enough to build an accurate Character Arc blueprint for you. And that’s just two of the resources we have at One Stop. A 1-month gift certificate is the cost of 2 lattes, and will give your writing friend’s storytelling a big boost.

If you need more ideas, just think about what you would really like as a writer. Chances are what appeals to you will also appeal to others in the writing path.

What’s the BEST writing-related gift you’ve received? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Win $2600 in Prizes In Our Advent for Writers Calendar Giveaway

It’s THE FINAL DAY of our Advent Calendar for Writers giveaway and the mystery prizes are blowing people away.

Here’s the complete list of giveaways. Enter them all below:

Plus today’s Advent Calendar Giveaway. (Just click the window to the left and see what prize you can enter to win!)

And there are more mystery prizes up for grabs so remember to check back each day right up until December 14th when the last prize is revealed. At that point all draws will be open and you can enter all 14 giveaways.

This is a special time of the year, and writers are special people. As you enter these giveaways, please take a moment to than the person or company that has so generously donated a prize to help us celebrate writers and how hard they work in pursuit of this dream!

If you have a moment, would you mind sharing this giveaway with others? We’d love to give every writer the opportunity to try and win something that will help their career. Thank you!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Nepotism at Work

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: Nepotism at work

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

Examples:
Not getting a promotion because it was given to the boss’s nephew
The office suck-up being given an important or lucrative client
Being forced to train or babysit a new hire with no experience or capability who was given the job because of their connection to the boss
A brown-nosing co-worker being put in charge of the character’s team or project
An unethical co-worker escaping consequences because of their relationship with the boss
Bidding for a job but losing out to someone with a connection to a higher-up
Being ordered to overlook certain things from a preferential client
Legitimately complaining about a co-worker who is friends with an influential person and being punished in some way for doing so
Being reprimanded for a one-time infraction (being late to work, being out of uniform, etc.) that the boss’s son repeatedly does without consequence
The boss’s brother-in-law receiving perks that other employees don’t (a business credit card, a coveted parking space, Yankees tickets, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Morale in the workplace slowly declining
Cliques forming in the office
Being sucked into office politics
Being unable to fully focus on work due to all the drama
The character’s work load increasing because the favored employee is incompetent or lazy
Contempt for the boss dictating the character’s response to him or her

Potentially Disastrous Results:
The character rocking the boat and losing their job or being demoted
Talking to the wrong person about the nepotism and being punished for it
The environment becoming so toxic that the character has to quit and find new work
Responding in a way that compromises the character’s ethics (avenging oneself on the party, spreading rumors about them, etc.)
Speaking out against the favored party and being sabotaged by them
Becoming stuck professionally; not being able to advance
Becoming apathetic and underachieving, believing there’s no point in putting in extra effort

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Struggling with jealousy, resentment, or even rage
Uncertainty over whether the nepotism is real or imagined
Being tempted to suck up to the boss to gain advancement
Self-doubt setting in as the character wonders if their inability to advance is their own fault
Feeling guilty because the character didn’t say anything, and the favored employee continues to be advanced above other qualified employees
Becoming jaded and seeing favoritism where it doesn’t exist

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Co-workers, employees, clients

Resulting Emotions: Agitation, anger, annoyance, betrayed, bitterness, contempt, defiant, desperation, determination, disappointment, discouraged, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, doubt, frustration, indignation, insecurity, intimidated, jealousy, neglected, paranoia, powerlessness, rage, resentment, resignation, unappreciated, uncertainty

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Catty, childish, controlling, devious, hypocritical, inhibited, insecure, martyr, needy, paranoid

Positive Outcomes: 
Helping the new employee learn the business, and that person becoming the character’s ally
Finding the courage to speak out against wrongdoing
Digging deep and becoming even better at the job
Recognizing the unfairness of nepotism and resolving never to be guilty of it

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Mastering Show, Don’t Tell

We hear it over and over: Show, don’t tell. You can’t get away from this advice, not in writing workshops, at conferences, or heck, even when visiting this blog. Writers Helping Writers and the thesaurus work we do is all about strengthening show, don’t tell skills.

There’s a good reason for this, though. Showing draws a reader in so they are more emotionally involved. Telling informs.

Often paired with “show, don’t tell” advice is the assertion that not all telling is bad. That’s also true. Telling is necessary, and acts as a balance to showing. If everything was shown, books would be 400,000 word monstrosities. An our readers? Asleep after twenty pages.

Does this means our stories should be equal parts showing and telling? Not by a long shot. In storytelling, showing is King.

The spirit of show, don’t tell is recognizing when a detail or moment is important, and then slowing things down briefly to describe it.

Now “slowing things down” doesn’t mean lazy, liquid writing – far from it. Adding sugary, fluffy words without purpose might pretty up a sentence, but it also slows the pace and weakens writing.

Think of words as currency–limited currency. If we only have so many words to work with, we become more careful about how we use them.

Being choosy is a good thing in writing. Is something important to the story? Will it add meaning and depth, reveal something about the characters, and enhances the reader’s experience? If so, it’s probably a detail to expand upon.

Show, Don’t Tell & Emotion

Most articles and workshops on show, don’t tell focus on emotion. It’s no wonder because emotion is one area where showing almost always trumps telling. After all, we want readers to feel part of what’s happening and connect with what a character is feeling, and it’s easier to do that through showing. Consider these:

Dee waited for Kirk to get home. She was furious. (Telling)

Dee paced the kitchen. She was as mad as Hell. (Weak showing + telling)

Dee lapped the kitchen table, crushing fistfuls of air and counting the minutes until she’d have something more solid to choke. Kirk was a dead man. (Showing.)

Showing engages. It involves. It can make readers feel like they are participating in the moment. That’s why scenes with emotions usually have a higher percentage of showing.

Show, don’t tell is something that we should always keep at the front of our mind as it forces us to think about the reader’s experience and how to make it better. And because we want to do more with less (word currency) we try harder to find the best words to describe something. When we become picky about our description and language, our writing improves!

Show, Don’t Tell & Setting

Setting is a powerful element in fiction. It can be used in so many ways: to help readers imagine the scene, infuse a moment with emotion and mood, foreshadow, create tension, characterize…. On and on it goes. Consider this:

Mary stopped on the sidewalk. The house in front of her was old and creepy. This couldn’t be the right place, could it? (Telling)

The house towered over Mary, blocking the sun and stealing warmth from the air. Peeling porch steps sagged and the shutters hung askew, like old bones barely able to hold together. Mary dug for the slip of paper Grandmother had given her. This must be the wrong address. Had to be. A cold tingle slid across her shoulders and she froze. Someone, or something, was watching. (Showing)

Showing usually requires more word count, which is why we want to think carefully about which details to include and which not to. I could have also described the scabby lawn and toppled flower pots, or even how the trees seemed to bend toward the house as if cradling its secrets. But it’s easy to get carried away, especially when you are trying to build atmosphere and mood. Choose powerful details that do the job and keep the writing tight.

Show, Don’t Tell & A Character’s Physical Features

Show, don’t tell isn’t always about using one over the other. It’s about using both effectively and challenging ourselves to do more with description. Consider:

Marcy pounded on her upstairs neighbor’s door, ready to lash into the jerk blasting his My dog died and my tractor left me country music at six AM. An old, blue-hair answered, shocking the words right out of Marcy. Not what she expected, not at all.

Marcy pounded on her upstairs neighbor’s door, ready to lash into the jerk blasting his My dog died and my tractor left me country music at six AM. A cherubic grandmother answered, white curls carefully coiffed and a flower-print apron circling her thick waist. “Good morning, dear.” Her smile was the equivalent of a warm cookie on a plate next to an inviting glass of milk.

I, uh, just wanted to introduce myself. Marcy.” She thrust out her hand. “I have the, you know, basement suite.”

Which one sets up the neighbor’s kindly personality and displays Marcy’s shock?

Does every character require thoughtful physical description? No. It’s really up to you to decide which characters are important enough to describe and to what degree, but when you do, challenge yourself to ditch generic details and instead choose ones that give readers insight into who the character is deep down, how they feel, or something else significant and interesting.

Make Each Word Earn the Right to Be Included

Thinking in terms of show don’t tell will make you a more effective storyteller because you get used to doing more with your description.

If you need help getting into this mindset, try One Stop for Writers’ descriptive thesaurus database. It’s the largest database of its kind and will help you brainstorm meaningful details to push the story forward and reveal your character’s deeper layers. If you like our thesaurus books, this database of ours is like that, only much, MUCH bigger!

Remember, the reader doesn’t need to know everything, only the important things. Whenever you’re not sure if you should show or tell, just think about what you the audience to get out of this moment. Do you have a point to make? Are you trying to show a character’s deeper emotions, hint at a traumatic past, or showcase how their flawed behavior is holding them back in life? If there’s something important you want readers to see, chances are you need to show.

Posted in Balance, Characters, Mood and Atmosphere, One Stop For Writers, Revision and Editing, Setting, Show Don't Tell, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, worldbuilding, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 12 Comments

Is It Necessary to Write EVERY day?

Some time ago I was asked by Writers Digest to participate in a feature with nine other writing teachers. We’d each take a position on a well-known writing “rule.” Then another expert would be matched up taking the opposite side. 

It was a great idea, a lot of fun. It’s always good to think through the fundamentals of the craft. I was told to pick a common teaching I was for, and one I was against. Here they are:  

PRO: Turn Off Your Inner Editor

Writing is a lot like golf, only without the beautiful scenery and checkered pants. 

To get any good at the game, you have to practice like mad, usually under the watchful eye of a good teacher. You have to think a thousand little thoughts as you work on your various shots.

But when you get out on the course you must put all those thoughts aside. If you don’t, you’ll freeze up. You’ll play rigid. 

What you have to do is train yourself to go with the flow and the feel, trusting what you’ve learned. After a round is the time to think about what went wrong and devise ways to practice on the weak areas.

Same goes for writing. You have to write freely when you write, and think about the craft afterward. Write your scene without overthinking it. Let the characters live and breathe. After you’re done, read it over and fix things. I like to check my previous day’s work, edit it lightly, then move on. 

Study writing books and articles, get feedback from readers or a critique group. But when you write, write. That’s how you truly learn the craft.

Practice writing for five or ten minutes without stopping. Write anything—essays, journal entries, prose poems, diatribes, stream-of-consciousness memoirs, letters to yourself. You’ll soon learn to keep that inner editor at bay when you’re actually writing your fiction.

And the best part is you don’t have to wear checkered pants to do it. 

CON: Write Every Day

Don’t think that you have to write every day.

Yes, I’m a big believer in word quotas. One of the earliest, and perhaps still the best pieces of advice I ever got was to set a quota of words and stick to it. 

I used to do a daily count. But a thing called life would often intrude and I’d miss a day. Or there were times when writing seemed like playing tennis in the La Brea tar pits, and that’d be another day I’d miss. 

Such days would leave me surly and hard to live with.

Then I switched to a weekly quota and have used it ever since. That way, if I miss a day, I don’t beat myself up. I write a little extra on the other days. I use a spreadsheet to keep track and add up my word count for the week.

I also intentionally take one day off a week. I call it my writing Sabbath. I find that taking a one-day break charges my batteries like nothing else. Sunday is the day I’ve chosen. On Monday I’m refreshed and ready to go. Plus, my projects have been cooking in my subconscious. The boys in the basement, as Stephen King puts it, are hard at work while I’m taking time off.

I also advocate taking a whole week break from writing each year. Use this time to assess your career, set goals, make plans—because if you aim at nothing, there’s a very good chance you’ll hit it.

What craft fundamentals do you stick to? Is there a so-called “rule” that you can live without? 

James Scott Bell

Resident Writing Coach

Jim is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Romeo’s Rules, Try Dying and Don’t Leave Me. His popular books on fiction craft can be found here. His thrillers have been called “heart-whamming” (Publishers Weekly) and can be browsed here. Find out more about Jim on our Resident Writing Coach page, and connect with him on
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The Advent Calendar for Writers Giveaway is BACK!

It’s the seasonal event to end ALL events: the Writers Helping Writers’ Advent Calendar Giveaway. Last year, a ton of lucky winner snapped up almost $2000 in prizes. This year, holy bananas, people. I can’t wait for you to see what you could win. But first things first!

What the Heck Is an Advent Calendar for Writers?

You know those Advent Calendars that have a delicious chocolate behind each window, counting down to Christmas? Well, it’s like that, only COOLER.

Every day from December 1st to December 14th we will provide a link to a very special giveaway just for writers. You click the link, opening the daily “window” and boom, there will be something fabulous you could win. Things like…

  • Coaching sessions with writing, publishing, and marketing experts
  • Premiere courses to help level up those writing skills
  • Subscriptions to access top writing tools, resources, and communities
  • Editing packages, books, and more!

Ready to Discover Day 14’s Advent Calendar Prize?

Click the advent window on the right and you’ll be taken straight to the last giveaway!


14 Days. 14 Amazing prizes (a combined value of $2600). Enter them all below:

Dec 1: Write Your First Novel (12-Week Online Workshop with Janice Hardy (valued at $497)
Dec 2:
1-hour Marketing Consult with NYT Bestselling author Eva Lesko Natiello! (valued at $200)
Dec 3:
A 12-month subscription to One Stop for Writers (valued at $90)
Dec 4:
1-Year ProWritingAid License (valued at $70)
Dec 5:
Outlining Your Novel Software (valued at $40)
Dec 6:
The Spun Yarn’s Complete Manuscript Package (valued at $500)
Dec 7:
A Workshop with Writing Coach Jami Gold (valued at $40-$80)
Dec 8:
The complete digital Thesaurus Writing Guide set (valued at $36)
Dec 9:
A first chapter edit by Fawkes Editing (valued at $112)
Dec 10: A professional consult plus 4 writing craft books by Sacha Black (valued at $185)
Dec 11: A Premium Membership Upgrade at Scribophile Alex Cabal, (valued at $65, 3 winners)
Dec 12: A 1-Year Subscription to Novelize! (valued at $45 each, 3 winners drawn)
Dec 13: A 3-Chapter Critique by editor Sara Letourneau (valued at $375)
Dec 14: A 1-Hour Character Clinic Consult with Angela Ackerman (valued at $160)

This event runs from Dec 1st to the 19th and winners will be drawn on the 20th.

Huge gratitude to the kind contributors involved in this giveaway.

The best part of our writing community is seeing how people support one another. There are so many folks who give their talents and time to others, being part of a chain that allows us all to succeed.

As you enter these draws, we hope you’ll take a moment to get to know the people and businesses behind them. Everyone involved has a big heart for writers, and a product or service that can help you reach your writing goals. 🙂

Don’t forget to check back each day to see what new Advent giveaway has opened up!

Why not share this giveaway with the writers you know? And good luck to all!

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Power Up Your Toolkit for Less: One Stop for Writers is 50% Off

Writing is HARD. We all know it.

So Becca and I joined forces with Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows to make writing easier.

Together we built One Stop for Writers, a portal to powerful resources that can help all creatives–from novice to pro–to write stronger, faster, and deeper.

“One Stop for Writers changed my life! It helped me finish my first novel when I thought it was impossible. The new character builder tool blew my mind.” ~Julie Hiner

“I use One Stop every day. From their Character Builder to the other resources in their library, I couldn’t live without it.” ~Kali Anthony

“One Stop for Writers is pure genius. It’s a great place to organize everything you need for your story. It’s seriously the best thing I have used in a long time.” ~Stephanie Bourbon

These are writers just like you. Writers determined to get their stories into the hands of readers. The best part? They are succeeding.

We’re ready to change the writing game. Are you?

Start 2020 with a powerful tool in your pocket: a One Stop for Writers subscription. Right now all plans are 50% off for a limited time.

No more staring at the screen wondering what to write. With One Stop, you can…

Our affordable plans fit your needs:

If you’d like to poke around the site first, sign up for our free trial.

But if you decide we’ll make a good team, act fast and grab the 50% off code. This unicorn of a deal ends December 2nd.

Are you a current One Stop for Writers subscriber? This code can be used by you, too! Just visit the My Subscription page to activate this code and the discount will be applied to your next invoice.


Looking for more Black Friday Deals for Writers?

We’ve got you covered there, too. Here’s a list.

We hope these discounts make it easier to reinvest in your career, and maybe pick up a gift or two for your writing partners!

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