Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Police Officer

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

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

is your character a police officer? Here's how to write that profession!Occupation: Police Officer

Overview: Police officers serve and protect, keeping the peace, often putting themselves at great risk to do so. In the scope of their duties they enforce the laws and investigate, pursue, and apprehend anyone who breaks them. Officers may enforce traffic laws, resolve community and domestic issues, respond to emergencies, follow up on 911 calls, and investigate suspicious circumstances or crimes that have taken place. They also interview suspects and witnesses, issue tickets, and when the situation warrants it, arrest those who have broken the law.

Police officers are usually assigned an area to patrol and work with a partner. The type of work they do will often depend on where they are located (a small town will have different crimes overall than a big city, for example, and the area one patrols may be more high crime, gang-related crime, “white collar crimes,” etc.). To carry out their duties, officers should be unbiased, highly ethical, and not display favoritism. The work is both mentally and physically tasking and the shift-work can be hard on relationships and make work-life balance difficult. That said, officers help and safeguard the public, work to solve problems and bring about amicable solutions, and deal with people at their worst (drug addicts and people under the influence, thieves, gang members, etc.) and have the opportunity to try and encourage them to make life changes before it is too late. Officers are also in a position to help lift the burdens for victims, helping them navigate difficult situations by showing compassion and empathy and using their knowledge and resources. Making a difference in the lives of others can make this a very rewarding career.

Necessary Training: While the specifics of education and training will vary depending on where your book takes place, generally speaking, a police officer must be a high school graduate, pass a thorough background check, be in excellent physical condition, and attend a police academy (and graduate). There they will learn state and constitutional laws, local ordinances, civil rights, and accident investigation. Recruits also learn about traffic control, first-aid, emergency response and receive firearms and self-defense training. Officers will also need to pass written, physical, and psychological tests, as well as a polygraph. Officers may be trained in special areas and learn special investigation techniques.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, basic first aid, blending in, enhanced hearing, ESP (clairvoyance), exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, high pain tolerance, hot-wiring a car, knife throwing, knowledge of explosives, lip-reading, lying, making people laugh, photographic memory, reading people, self-defense, sharpshooting, strategic thinking, strong breath control, super strength, survival skills, swift-footedness, wilderness navigation

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, alert, analytical, calm, cautious, charming, confident, courageous, decisive, diplomatic, disciplined, easygoing, efficient, empathetic, focused, friendly, honest, honorable, independent, just, loyal, objective, observant, organized, patient, perceptive, persistent, persuasive, proactive, professional, proper, protective, resourceful, responsible, socially aware, tolerant, wise

NEGATIVE: workaholic

Sources of Friction: being shown disrespect by the public one is protecting, being hurt on the job, losing a fellow officer in the line of duty, having to kill someone in the line of duty, the scrutiny of every decision made, dealing with the politics of the job, dirty cops that give all cops a bad name, having to notify families of someone’s passing, being repeatedly exposed to traumatic situations (horrific car accidents, violence against children, grieving families and victims, school shootings, etc.) and trying to process the psychological stress in the aftermath, dealing with “armchair experts” who try telling the police officer how to do their job, dangerous situations one must enter with little knowledge (active shooters, terrorism, drug operations, chemical threats, searching suspected drug users, etc.), PTS, trying to keep work and home life separate, relationship strain (due to long hours, being unavailable at times, etc.), dealing with misconceptions and misunderstandings of a police officer’s job

People They Might Interact With: suspects, criminals, members of the press, firefighters, coroners, detectives, FBI or other government agents, the public, victims and their families, paramedics, witnesses, other police officers, city officials, judges, lawyers

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: If an officer joins the force to make a difference but is instead disrespected and unappreciated due to a negative public opinion of the police, it may lead to disillusionment and questioning this path
  • Esteem and Recognition: If your character becomes guilty by association after a very public mistake by another officer, their esteem make take a big hit.
  • Love and Belonging: The long hours, possible emotional struggles and necessity of not discussing what happens at work at home may leave a partner feeling like they aren’t a priority. Marriages may fail and relationships may grow strained with children because of the job, creating a void in the need of love and belonging
  • Safety and Security: A police officer’s job is inherently dangerous meaning safety and security will always be tenuous at times
  • Physiological Needs: Because a police officer thrusts themselves runs toward danger when others flee and often works in high-crime areas, there are many situations that could threaten their lives.

Common Work-Related Settings: airport, alley, ambulance, bank, bar, basement, big city street, car accident, cheap motel, coffeehouse, community center, condemned apartment building, convenience store, courtroom, emergency room, empty lot, fire station, gas station, hospital (interior), hospital room, house fire, house party, indoor shooting range, jewelry store, juvenile detention center, liquor store, morgue, nightclub, parking garage, parking lot, pawn shop, police car, police station, pool hall, prison cell, pub, razed city street, rec center, rock concert, shopping mall, skate park, small town street, subway train, subway tunnel, trailer park, train station, truck stop, underpass,

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype:

Avoid writing police officers who are lazy, inept, and easy to fool. This is a frustrating and utterly false stereotype used to further the plot.

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

How to Power Through the 30k Slump During NaNoWriMo

Happy Thanksgiving, US Friends!

Today we’ve got a goldmine of ideas for those brave NaNoWriMo souls who feel a bit sluggish heading into the final third of your novel. Please welcome Savannah Cordova from one of our favorite sites: Reedsy!

For NaNoWriMo vets, the pattern is all too familiar: you start the month off strong, full of great ideas, excited about the story you’re going to write. Maybe you even exceed your word count goals in those first few days, giving yourself a comfortable buffer.

But then that momentum starts to slip away. With your buffer in mind, you only write 500 words one day, or you skip a day entirely. Before you know it, you’re struggling just to stay on track. Your plot is stalling and your characters have started to feel dull. You’re feeling frustrated, exhausted, and generally uninspired.

You’ve hit the “30k slump” — now what are you going to do about it?

The answer is: keep moving forward. Here are five solid tips for getting past the slump and powering through to the end of your awesome novel.

  1. Free yourself from your outline

Stuck in the middle of your novel? Techniques to get your story moving again!

Many writers work from outlines during NaNoWriMo — they can definitely make the process smoother and less stressful. However, your outline can also turn into a real burden when you realize some element of it doesn’t work. You feel torn between the safety of the outline and the need to go in a different direction, and this internal conflict may factor into your slump.

The reality is, even if you plan out your whole novel before so much as writing the first sentence, that plan can still go awry. Writing isn’t a science (as all us English majors know), and writing a novel requires a bit of wiggle room.

You might want to introduce a new character, or incorporate a plot twist that you’ve only just conceived. Do whatever you need to do to make your novel work — original outline be damned.

Of course, experimenting in the middle of a novel is always a risk, especially when the whole process is so time-constrained. But remember: it’s always better to take a risk than to stop writing completely.

  1. Use dialogue to keep things moving

One of the best ways to inject some spark into your writing is to use dialogue. Throw a couple of your characters together and get them talking! This might be a critical moment where one of them confronts another or reveals something meaningful — or it might be a discussion about the merits of various potato chips.

Even if it’s largely irrelevant to the main plot line, dialogue can really loosen up your creative muscles and lead to more substantial scenes. Also, most importantly, the dialogue itself is still words on the page — getting you ever closer to that elusive 50k.

  1. Carve out a whole day just for writing

When you start to feel the 30k slump, the best thing you can do for your novel is not to avoid it, but to embrace it. And that means clearing a whole day to spend some quality time with your characters.

Take a day off work, or simply spend a Saturday indoors. Ten straight hours of working on your novel may sound like a drag, but a few hours into it you’ll feel that inspiration rushing to the surface again, and you’ll be so energized you’ll actually want to write.

A full day of writing is especially helpful if you do writing sprints, as Meg talks about in this post. Say you work from 10 am to 8 pm, and do one 500-word sprint every hour. That’s 5,000 words right there! They might not be the most eloquent passages in the world, but the fact remains that you’ll be 10% closer to finishing your novel after just one day, and that’s gotta feel pretty good.

  1. Look other places for inspiration

You are your own worst enemy during NaNoWriMo. When you start feeling uninspired, you might think it’s all over for your novel. But there are plenty of great resources out there to help you get back on track!

For example, writing prompts are a fantastic way to reboot your creative system. Obviously you’re not going to start an entirely new novel, but prompts can inspire a scene or help you solve a problem you’ve been grappling with, like how to get a character from Point A to Point B. Basically, if you’re already stuck, you have nothing to lose from looking through a few prompts.

If mental inspiration isn’t the problem, try changing up your settings — both physical and virtual. If you’re not getting any writing done at your desk, go work in a coffee shop, library, or even just a different room in your house. You might also want to switch up your digital toolbelt! Try using a distraction-free word processor like FocusWriter or ZenWriter, and take advantage of any other resources at your disposal.

  1. Remind yourself why you’re doing this

No matter how drained you might feel at the 30k mark, remember why you started writing in the first place: to churn out those 50,000 words and finish your novel. Yes, it’s incredibly hard, but it’s supposed to be hard. You knew that going in, so don’t give up now!

If you’ve gotten this far, you can absolutely power through to the end. 30,000 words is no chopped liver; you’re already more than halfway done! Remind yourself of what’s waiting for you at the finish line — a beautiful, full, completed novel — then pound that coffee and go, go, go.

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). You can read more of her professional work on the Reedsy blog, or personal writing on Medium.

Are you attempting NaNoWriMo or writing a novel outside of this challenge? What strategies have helped you power through when you needed a boost? Share your thoughts it in the comments!

Posted in Focus, Guest Post, NaNoWriMo Strategy & Support, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 7 Comments

Character Arc and Narrative Arc

Character arc: someone living their life

Narrative arc: the things that happen when someone lives their life

When I worked with children, I’d always teach them the simple, zen fact: every sentence has a subject and verb.

Someone does something.

I’d tell them, “From this you can learn that storytelling is holographic. Do you know what a hologram is? It’s a picture made of light, of which every tiny bit is actually the whole picture in miniature.” I’d wave my hands, showing them tiny and whole. Then I’d say, “Or the other way around. Anyway, they’re both very cool.

“Because a story—like a sentence—has a subject and verb: someone does something. And everything in between the whole picture and the tiny bit of an individual sentence has a subject and verb. No matter what granularity—cosmology to quantum mechanics—it’s all designed the same: a subject and verb.”

Now, these children didn’t know what holograms, granularity, cosmology, or quantum mechanics are, but that’s okay because I didn’t mind telling them. And kids love that! What cool ideas!

All those big words and concepts make subject-verb, frankly, laughably easy. Just two things stuck together. A person. And what they do. Anyone can remember that.

I liked imaging their parents’ faces when they’d go home and say, “Did you know a holo-something is something that’s the same in its tiniest parts as it is in its biggest parts? And atoms are characters and what they do are verbs? And it has something to do with other stuff, but I forget what because I ‘m starting a novel?”

Character arc. Narrative arc. Subject. Verb.

Someone does something.

Authors as the creators of their worlds, orchestrating their characters and their arcs throughout the story

As writers, we work on a story, living with the characters in our heads, hearing their voices, watching them move around their homes, the wildernesses of city or forest or desert or small towns. And they’re doing things (things they shouldn’t), making decisions, running into each other under inconvenient, embarrassing, or even dangerous circumstances. They’re doing, doing, doing, and it keeps twisting back on them, thwarting them, turning their carefully or not-so-carefully laid plans inside out, tossing them cavalierly out of the frying pan into the fire.

What are their arcs?

Well, we go through arcs. We go to a child’s basketball game, maybe, and some kids there are mean to other kids, and we don’t like it.

It sets up an internal conflict: we have our own personal issues about confrontation in public situations and, maybe, our own experiences as children. And at the same time we hold the dearly-cherished value that we don’t let people hurt kids. How do we resolve this internal conflict?

That’s our character arc.

Meanwhile, this trigger sets off a series of events sparked by that original event. We go to the game, which causes us to see the kids being mean, which causes us to make a decision. Maybe we decide to shuffle out in embarrassment. Maybe we decide to pretend it’s all fun and games. Maybe we decide to blow our top, and the police arrive. Maybe something else.

Whatever we decide causes another event, which backs us into a more specific corner, about which we must make a new, more refined decision, which narrows our options even further.

That’s our narrative arc.

So the further we work our way through our character arc—resolving our internal conflict—the more focused our narrative arc becomes, until we reach the point after which the life we were leading before this chain of events (this narrative) came along has been irrevocably altered into something different (by our character).

Who’s your story about? What’s going on inside them that sets them up for this original decision with which they must cope? What’s on one side of their internal conflict—what need in their character forces them into this decision? What other need contradicts that original needturning this one aspect of character into a narrative?

What values, beliefs, fears, hopes, prejudices, assumptions, secrets, denial, habits, and history bear on this character from all sides, forcing them to be able to react in just one way? What’s the core of their internal conflict, the Gordian Knot beyond which they simply cannot continue? How does this illuminate their mutually-exclusive needs, the clues to how all of us—every single human on Earth—live with irreconcilable paradox in our souls? How we resolve conflict matters less than what we learn about ourselves in the process.

We’re not just revealing characters when we create fiction. We’re revealing the key to being human. And what scenes occur, one after another, other characters coming in and out, conversations, gestures, activities, milestones in a life?

We’re not just chronicling narratives. We’re chronicling the inevitable forward motion of being alive. And that’s what story is all about.


Victoria has been a professional writer and editor for over thirty years. She is the author of the Art & Craft of Writing series and offers email subscribers a free copy of Art & Craft of Writing: Favorite Advice for Writers. Catch up with Victoria on twitter or visit her website for more information on her editing services.

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Posted in Character Arc, Characters, Conflict, Motivation, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The Emotion Thesaurus 200,000 Book Milestone Giveaway (Last Day!)

It’s rather mind-blowing to know there’s 200,000 Emotion Thesaurus books are out there in the world so of course Becca and I wanted to run a giveaway! Have you entered yet?

We’re drawing for several signed sets of The Emotion Thesaurus, one for you, and one for a friend! After all, we know that some of you have well-highlighted copies that could use a refresh. Or you have the kindle, not the print. Or maybe you loaned your copy out and aren’t sure when (if?) you’ll even see it again.

And if you are new to the Emotion Thesaurus and want to give it a spin, now’s the time!

To enter:


Are you a super fan? If you have a well-loved copy of The Emotion Thesaurus, we want to see it! Share a picture on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with a #EmotionThesaurusSuperFan hashtag so we can find it!

Have the digital version? Share a picture of it on your device! Easy-peasy.

Don’t have a copy yet? Just share this post with the hashtag.


We LOVE hearing from our readers! Take a quick minute to share a story HERE of why you are a super fan of this book.

Contest is now finished–winners are being notified. Thank you all so much for helping us celebrate!

Don’t have a copy? Tell us about you and what you write. It will be a pleasure to get to know you better.

Double your chances & enter both!

New fan or old fan, please enter! Pass on your second copy to a writer friend who needs it!

Six SIGNED* sets will be given away in total. Open internationally.

Legal stuff: Winners will be sent both copies so they can choose who to pass on the second signed copy to.  Must be at least 18, subject to the legal such and such here. This giveaway ends November 19th, midnight EST.

Good luck and thanks so much for helping us hit this milestone!

*Becca or Angela will sign them, depending on who ships the prize. 🙂
Posted in About Us, Emotion Thesaurus Guide, Goal and Milestones, Past Events, Sales Numbers & Helpful Data, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Emotion Thesaurus SUPER FAN Contest

So, recently something nifty happened: we sold our 200,000th Emotion Thesaurus book.


We’re completely awestruck. When Becca and I started this journey, we talked about what success would look like for The Emotion Thesaurus. After gnawing on the question for a bit we settled on the idea that if the book sold 50,000 books over its lifetime, we’d be over the moon.

Needless to say, 200,000 copies has left us rather speechless.

Being writers of thesauruses, you’d think we’d get better at describing what this incredible rush of euphoric joy feels like, but nope. Word fail us, other than the largest, most heartfelt THANK YOU. 🙂

Because this number? It really belongs to you. After all, you were the ones that decided to take the leap and give this strange book of lists a try. You were the ones that brought the book to critique group meetings, mentioned it in writing forums, blogged about how the Emotion Thesaurus changed your writing for the better, and gifted copies to editorial clients and writing partners. You championed this book. And many of you didn’t stop there – you championed ALL of our books. We love you guys so much!

We would like to invite you to enter our giveaway for a new SIGNED copy. In fact, two signed copies – one for you, one for you to pass on to a friend. Because maybe your book looks a bit roughed up after all that use. Or you have the kindle but not the print. Maybe you lent your copy to someone who SWEARS it was abducted by aliens and you haven’t seen it since.

We’ve heard about our books being taken hostage (and more!) and we love you all for it. That’s why in this contest we’re especially looking for super fans!

There’s two ways to enter:


Are you a super fan? If you have a well-loved copy of The Emotion Thesaurus, we want to see it! Just share a picture on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).  Oh, and add a #EmotionThesaurusSuperFan hashtag so we can find it!

Have the digital version? No worries! Share a picture of it on your kindle or other device! Easy-peasy.

Don’t have a copy? No worries! You can enter too! Just share this post with the hashtag.  🙂


We love to hear from our readers! Take a quick minute to share a story HERE of why you are a super fan — did you convince critique partners to get the book? Buy a copy for someone? Leave a review? Stalk us online? Whatever you did, tell us about it (and thank you!).

Contest is now finished–winners are being notified. Thank you all so much for helping us celebrate!

Don’t have a copy? Enter the draw as well! Tell us about your writing aspirations, what you write – whatever you like! It will be a pleasure to get to know you better.

Want to double your chances? Enter both!

1. A picture + #EmotionThesaurusSuperFan hashtag

2. A story or comment left HERE.

New fan or old fan, please enter! We love you all. Even if your current book is pristine, you can gift your signed copies to another writer or run a giveaway for them on your blog.

Six SIGNED* sets will be given away in total. Open internationally.

Legal stuff: Winners will be sent both copies. (If they choose to pass on either copy, they are responsible for further shipping costs.) Must be at least 18 years of age and is subject to the legal such and such here. This giveaway ends November 19th, midnight EST.

Thank you all so much for helping us reach this milestone!

*Becca or Angela will sign them, depending on who ships the prize. 🙂
Posted in About Us, Emotion Thesaurus Guide, Goal and Milestones, Sales Numbers & Helpful Data, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Context, Text, and Subtext: What They Are and How They Help Storytelling

september-c-fawkesIn writing tips, we talk about text a lot. But I feel like we don’t talk enough about context and subtext in this industry. Both are vital to good storytelling and often misunderstood or even mixed up. So today I wanted to go over and define the differences between context, text, and subtext, and explain how they work.


Often when we think of context, we think of things like the date a work was published, who it was written by, or the climate of the time. But context is very important within your fictive universe as well. Context in this sense is all the grounding and guiding information that the audience needs, such as who the characters are, where they are, what time of day it is, etc. Context can also be any other additional information the audience needs to interpret and accurately understand what is happening in the story.

Here is an example of a passage without context.

Mack shut the Hummer’s hood. “Should be fine now,” he said to John.

 “Great. Thanks, Karl.” John got in the driver’s seat and stuck his key in the ignition.

Why did John call Mack, Karl? We have no idea. There is nothing in the text to help us interpret and accurately understand what his motives are. Is it an accident? Intentional? A nickname? Is this a typo or mistake the author made?

This passage lacks context.

Learn how to write subtext and context well.

This can happen when the writer is trying to make their story mysterious, exciting, or engaging by leaving room for readers to come to their own conclusions and interpretations (which is what subtext is for). Sometimes it can happen from trying to follow the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule too religiously.

When the audience lacks context, the story becomes very vague, which is a problem for several reasons. (See my post on vague vs. ambiguous.) If there is no context, there is almost no investment in the story, because if the audience doesn’t have access to any clear meaning, they are unable to care about what happens. The only time where a lack of context works is when writing teasers.

Here is the earlier example with context:

Mack shut the Hummer’s hood. “Should be fine now,” he said to John.

“Great. Thanks, Karl.” John got in the driver’s seat. He loved calling people the wrong name, just to get under their skin. It afforded him a power over others that was subtle enough to get away with.

 John stuck his key in the ignition.

In this example, the context is brought in through telling, but in general context can be conveyed in several other ways, through dialogue, through character reactions, through description, or validating the reader. How it should be conveyed depends on what it is and what the scene calls for.


Text is the easiest one of the three to understand, because it is what we often focus on the most. The text is the written part of the story, what happens and what is stated on the page. It is everything you see that is not implied.

Now, you could look at my example above and say that I added text–because I did. But in storytelling, I would argue that story-context is within the text, just as subtext is–after all, we need to have text in order to have context or subtext.


SUBTEXT: writing details beneath the surface

Subtext is what we mean when we talk about “reading between the lines.” The “sub” refers to underlying. It is underneath the text.

It is different than context, in that context helps us interpret and understand the story, and subtext happens when the story is bigger than what is on the page.

Once the reader has some stability, some grounding with context, you can make them a participator in the story through subtext.

Here is an example of subtext:

Robert, not bothering to raise his hand, spouted out an inappropriate joke.

 “Robert, I don’t want to hear that kind of language in my class,” Mr. Henderson said, but the ends of his lips twitched up. “That’s very offensive.” He failed to suppress a full-blown grin. 

Notice we understand what is happening in the story (context). The subtext is that although Mr. Henderson acts like he disproves of Robert’s joke, his body language tells us he thought it was funny.

Subtext happens through implications. It also uses contradictions of one sort or another (what Mr. Henderson says is at odds with what his body does). Subtext happens when the audience comes to a conclusion that explains those contradictions.

Like context (and text), subtext is critical for good storytelling. Subtext is used to create unreliable narrators, blind characters, ulterior motives, powerful revelations, successful mysteries, even humor, and more. While a story without context is inaccessible, a story with no subtext is flat.

Want to learn more about SUBTEXT? Here are two powerful articles: ONE & TWO.

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

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Posted in Characters, Description, Dialogue, Resident Writing Coach, Revision and Editing, Show Don't Tell, Subtext, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 6 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Ghostwriter

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

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

The Occupation Thesaurus can help you find jobs for your cast that will enhance characterization and strengthen the storyline

Occupation: Ghostwriter

Overview: A ghostwriter is someone who writes for hire, taking a flat fee for a writing project but getting none of the credit for the work. They’re hired by someone as a freelance writer to produce copy for a fee. Ghostwriters may work on staff, generating content (speeches, Tweets, letters, blog posts, video scripts, website content, etc.) for a company or employer, or they may work on their own and be hired for a specific job, such as writing a novel. They also may be part of a content marketing agency, where individual ghostwriters are paired with clients seeking a writer for a specific project.

For many jobs, the ghostwriter will be paid an up-front fee for the job at hand. In other cases, they may negotiate for a smaller advance and a percentage of royalties. In most situations, the credit for the written work goes to the person or organization who hired the writer, but sometimes this is also negotiated, with the ghostwriter being listed as a co-author, contributor, editor, or developmental editor.

Necessary Training: Ghostwriters often have a solid backlog of writing credits to their name, which means anyone seeking employment in this field needs to have a lot of writing experience—and bylines—under their belt. Nonfiction ghostwriters who focus on specific topics might have training in that industry or area of expertise, giving themselves not only the necessary background to knowledgeably write the content, but also credibility in the eyes of a potential employer.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: Exceptional memory, good listening skills, writing

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, cooperative, courteous, creative, curious, disciplined, discreet, enthusiastic, focused, honest, industrious, meticulous, organized, passionate, persistent, professional, responsible, studious, witty

NEGATIVE: Withdrawn, workaholic

Sources of Friction: One’s ego taking a hit due to never getting the credit for one’s work, a client who doesn’t clearly communicate his needs or the scope of the project, one’s style not being appreciated by the client, a perfectionistic or controlling client who micro-manages a project, working on projects that aren’t stimulating or fulfilling, falling behind on a deadline, family members who treat one’s job as a hobby, people who see ghostwriting as an unethical career choice, tackling a job whose content proves difficult to grasp, difficulty finding or landing new jobs, former clients who don’t help with referrals or networking, a lack of discipline that leads to a blown deadline, an illness or injury that makes the job difficult (such as a broken finger, carpal tunnel, migraines, or chronic fatigue syndrome)

People They Might Interact With: clients, an employer, members of discussion and job-posting boards, other writers

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: Many ghostwriters choose this field as a way of making money while they focus on their own books. But if they have no time or energy for their own writing, they may become dissatisfied and lack fulfillment.
  • Esteem and Recognition: For writers whose esteem and self-respect depend on them being recognized by others, ghostwriting may lead to a void in this department.

Common Work-Related Settings: Backyard, library, living room, office cubicle

Twisting the Fictional Stereotype: Writers are often portrayed as reclusive introverts, immured in their own worlds. To spice up your character, give your writer some unusual character traits or hobbies. Because writers often work more than two jobs, also consider your character’s primary (or secondary) career, and add some diversity there.

(Thanks to Gaby Triana for her input on this entry!)

You can view the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

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How to Write More Words, aka, Winning at NaNo

With so many stories bouncing around in a writer’s mind, it likely comes as no surprise that most writers seek to write more—or to be more efficient in the time they have to write. In the month of November, known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) to the writing community, thousands of writers endeavor to write 50,000 words in a single month.

To give you perspective, 50,000 words is roughly 200 manuscript pages (at approximately 250 words per page). For non-writers, that number is probably akin to a month of torture. For writers, it may feel that way, too. Yet, it’s a delightful torture we do to ourselves… every year.

But regardless of the month of the year—whether it’s NaNoWriMo season or any other month—how can writers more efficiently put words onto the page?

1. Make a writing schedule and track your progress

It’s important to make writing a routine. Depending on your lifestyle, such as if you’re a nurse, you may not be able to write daily. Find what works for your schedule and make it a routine. Meanwhile, track how much you write to keep yourself accountable.

Winning at nano, writing more efficiently, writing more words

2. Determine when your peak creativity is and plan your days around that time

Some people like to write in the morning, some at night. Assess your daily habits to see when your creativity blossoms throughout the day. If it’s in the morning, adjust your schedule so you go to bed earlier. If it’s at night, try putting your kids to bed earlier (if you have kids) so you have more time to write.

Whatever your circumstances are, adjust your schedule so you are available to write during your peak writing time.

If your peak creativity is at a time when you are at work, for example, and can’t make time to write, I have unfortunate news for you. You will likely need to write at a time when you don’t “feel” creativite. Part of the difficulty of being a writer is you can’t only write at the times you feel like it. Learn to be creative through discipline.

3. Restrict your writing time to only writing

Don’t use social media or anything else that might be distracting while you are writing. Allow your writing time to be strictly that: a time to write. If that means going to write where there’s no WiFi (and therefore no temptations), do it. Also, consider leaving your phone in the other room when you write.

4. Utilize the Pomodoro Technique (also known as  “writing sprints”)

If you have ever gone on the online writing community, namely the communities on Twitter and YouTube, you will likely have heard of writing sprints. In short, it’s a designated amount of time (often ranging from 10 to 40 minutes) where writers will write as much as they can in that allotted time.

Recently, I stumbled across the Pomodoro Technique, which is similar in theory to a writing sprint. Essentially, it’s a time management method created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo where you work in timed intervals, usually 25 minutes in length, and it’s separated by short breaks.

I’ve found the following schedule works for me:

  • Write for 20 minutes
  • Rest for 5 minutes
  • Write for 20 minutes
  • Rest for 5 minutes
  • And so on

During the 20 minutes of writing, I write as much as I can. In the five minutes of rest, sometimes I will read over what I’ve written or my outline for the remaining/next chapter, or I might hop on social media or do some other menial task and let my mind rest until the five minutes are over.

Test it out to see what works for you. I highly recommend setting a timer on your phone (or another device). There are also Pomodoro Technique apps.

Compared to having an hour and saying to yourself, “I’m going to write for an hour,” and then writing for 20 minutes and fidgeting on social media for the other 40 minutes, the Pomodoro Technique encourages single-tasking and efficiency.

5. Avoid editing as you write

This is a tip you will hear everywhere, but I think it’s great to voice one more time. Your first draft is supposed to be an imperfect retelling of the perfect story in your head. Allow yourself to be messy, to have typos, and so on as you write the first draft of your manuscript. Only put your editor hat on when it’s time to edit that first, completed draft (or section of the book).

If you’re an edit-as-you-go writer (which is totally cool), NaNoWriMo or speed writing may not be the thing for you. Or, perhaps, allow yourself to speed write a chapter before going back to edit it.

As always, take my advice (or any writing advice) with a grain of salt. Experiment to see what works best for you!

writing more words, winning at nano, writing efficiently

6. Ignore all other shiny novel ideas

Got a fantastic novel idea for your next novel? Does it somehow—rather suddenly—seem so appealing to explore? That’s your brain trying to avoid working on your current book—something it likely sees as stressful or hard work. Our bodies and minds are wired to want to be the most efficient and take the path of least resistance. However, fight the instinct to divert your creative attention. Instead, write these shiny new ideas down and explore them at a later time.

7. Have your computer/notebook handy

You never know when you will have downtime. Consider using any spare minutes in the car between appointments, before a doctor visit, etc. to jot down a few words or book ideas. If you know you will have free time during your day, such as while you are at the airport, bring your computer or notebook to write. If you don’t want to bring your personal computer while you travel, download the Google docs app (or a similar writing app). That way, you can open up your Google docs on your work computer or on your phone and write whenever you have free time.

8. Write in different places

Whether you are a creature of habit or you like variety in your writerly routine, consider the place you write as yet another contributing factor to your productivity. Do you have a favorite place to write at home? A desk or office, perhaps? Write there. If the words aren’t flowing onto the page, however, consider swapping locations: kitchen table, local library, couch, bed, coffee shops, a local pub (if you are of age), and so on.

winning at nano, writing more words, writing techniques9. Write when others are sleeping

Whether you are a parent or live in a busy household, consider writing when others are sleeping—either late at night or first thing in the morning. The hours before the world wakes up or after it goes to sleep are some of the most productive hours, as there are less distractions or other obligations vying for your time.

10. Remove distractions

Turn off your WiFi, put your phone in another room, or remove any other distractions that might tempt you to do something other than write during your writing time. For me, it’s tinkering on my website. As a result, I will turn off my WiFi and only allow myself back online when I’ve hit my daily word count goal.

11. Find an accountability partner

I hesitate to include this tip. From what I’ve seen, many writers will place the responsibility on their accountability partner to keep them writing. But, in my opinion, that responsibility falls solely on the writer, themselves. Therefore, consider finding a fellow writer to touch base with weekly or every now and again. Encourage each other to keep going, and don’t be afraid to bounce book ideas off them if you are stuck. But do not count on these people to remind you to write every day. That’s what calendar alerts are for.

12. Outsource non-writing tasks

As many of you guys know, I’m a mom. And goodness knows my to-do list is about as monstrous as my TBR (to-be-read) list. During the month of NaNoWriMo or any other month you are looking to pump out some extra words and increase your productivity, don’t be afraid to ask for help in non-writing tasks (that might otherwise take away from your writing time).

If you have a spouse or partner, ask them if they wouldn’t mind doing the dishes or laundry that week. If you are at school, ask your roommates if they could go grocery shopping for you. If you live at home, ask your parents or loved ones to chip in as needed. You would be surprised how your family and friends will go out of their way to help you if it means supporting your dreams.

13. Say no to non-writing activities

Unfortunately, you won’t have time to do everything. If you’re invited to a barbeque that’s during your writing time, you may have to say no to get that next chapter down. Look at your schedule. Decide if you can (or have) hit your goals with your remaining free time that week. If not, consider saying no.

14. Give yourself deadlines

Sometimes, simply saying, “Write 50,000 words in a month” is a little too vague for our writerly brains to grasp (and ultimately attain). Instead, consider giving yourself weekly deadlines, such as writing 12,000 words by Sunday night each week. Most importantly, use these deadlines to keep yourself accountable!

15. Make a long-term plan with short-term goals

Similar to the first point in this blog, make short-term goals for your writing. Write down attainable goals that are within your power. For example, a goal within your power is to write 50,000 words in a month. A goal not within your power is to get a literary agent in the next year.

Track your progress throughout and adjust your timeline as needed.

With these short-term goals in mind, consider how this will impact your future. Do you want to have a published book within the next five years? If so, you will want to factor in other things to your timeline, such as the time it takes to research agents, query, go on submission, etc. To accomodate for these things, which are outside of your control, you may want to give yourself a deadline to complete draft one, another deadline for self-editing, another deadline for exchanging chapters with CPs, and yet another deadline for beta readers so you have extra allotted time for the time it takes to get literary representation and then go on submission.

Time moves faster than you think; so consider where you want to be in your author career in the coming years.

16. When all else fails, use bribes

If looking into your future and thinking about having your book on a bookshelf in five years is just too darn far away to motivate you to write right now (vs. binging a television series on Netflix this very evening), you may want to utilize my favorite writing productivity technique: carbs.

I mean, bribes.

It may not sound flattering, but humans aren’t all that different from animals. Classical conditioning (also called Pavlovian conditioning) works on us, too. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, discovered in his research in the 1890s that dogs began to salivate at the presence of the technician who normally fed them, and not salivating at the presence of food. In short, he discovered dogs could be trained over time to respond to a stimulus and associate it with food.

Similarly, we can learn to associate hitting 2,000 words per day with a well-earned bowl of pasta. Just saying.

Meg LaTorre likes to think of herself as an avid book nerd with an exceptional taste for mac and cheese. She is a writer, YouTuber, host of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, developmental book editor, writing coach, and former literary agent with a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. To learn more about Meg, visit her website or follow her on social media.

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Posted in NaNoWriMo Strategy & Support, Time Management, Uncategorized, Writing Time | 8 Comments

Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Physical Therapist

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

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

Occupation: Physical Therapist

Is your charachet a physical therapist? Write their skills, personality traits, and values with authority.Overview: A Physical Therapist (PT) specializes in the recovery of patients who have had injuries, illnesses, or surgeries that impact their mobility and comfort. It can also be used to safely rebuild muscle tissue and flexibility if this has been lost (due to age, malnutrition, or other specific circumstances) or to prevent further degradation. Many physical therapists work with athletes, but this is also a common rehabilitation option for anyone who has suffered a work-, activity-, or home-related injury or is in recovery from a specific condition or illness. The most common types are Orthopedic, Geriatric, Neurological, Cardiovascular and Pulmonary, Women’s Health, and Pediatric.

PT professionals are trained to listen to the symptoms of a patient, ask further questions to help diagnose what the problem may be, and then create a plan to treat the injured site. Once a therapy plan is made, the PT practitioner will administer therapy using a variety of methods: massage and muscle manipulation, ultrasound, isokinetic bands and devices for tension stretching, ice and heat therapy, electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), exercise balls, exercise bikes, and other resistance pulley equipment to allow for low impact workouts and exercises.

The PT practitioner will also document and modify the therapy as needed, consulting with doctors or other healthcare professionals if it becomes necessary. They also provide a listening ear, encouragement, and empathetic support so the patent makes the best recovery possible and is more incentivized to continue with at-home exercise and build healthy habits that will prevent re-injury. Physical therapists need to be excellent at problem-solving and communicating.

Necessary Training: A PT practitioner will need a university degree that focuses in physical therapy or closely-related science-based courses. To practice, an individual must obtain a doctoral degree in physical therapy (DPT) which includes up to seven months of supervised experience in a clinic.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for languages, basic first aid, charm, empathy, enhanced hearing, enhanced sense of smell, exceptional memory, gaining the trust of others, good listening skills, high pain tolerance, hospitality, making people laugh, multitasking, reading people, regeneration, strategic thinking, strong breath control, super strength

Helpful Character Traits:

POSITIVE: Adaptable, alert, analytical, appreciative,  calm, cautious, charming, confident, cooperative, courteous, curious, disciplined, discreet, easygoing, efficient, empathetic, friendly, industrious, nurturing, observant, optimistic, organized, patient, persistent, persuasive, proactive, professional

NEGATIVE: know-it-all, nosy, obsessive, perfectionist, workaholic

Sources of Friction: patients who are uncommunicative and so make the diagnosis more difficult, patients who lie about how they were injured (out of embarrassment), having too many patients, being overwhelmed by paperwork, difficulty navigating the different coverage thresholds for insurance providers, poorly maintained equipment, patients who don’t want to put in effort for their recovery, frustration at patients who have not taken care of themselves (the morbidly obese, those who have ignored medical advice, etc.), patients who are not vocal when something hurts or who have a low pain threshold, leading to accidental injury, trying to manage a practice while running the business, drama with co-workers, overhearing a patient in another room complain about a previous session that one did, patients who divulge too much personal information, people who expect to be seen without an appointment or without a referral, becoming injured during a session with a client, trying to manage a client load and keep up with new developments in treatment and therapy

People They Might Interact With: other physical therapists, clinic employees, doctors, nurse practitioners, patients, insurance agents, product reps

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: A character who dreams of consulting with high-profile athletes but is unable to work into such a position may not gain the same sort of fulfillment at working in a general clinic
  • Esteem and Recognition: If the character is unable to help a patient to the degree they believed they should have, or becomes embroiled in a malpractice lawsuit, it may cause them to question their own abilities, leading to lower self-worth, or disillusionment if they feel they are being unfairly sued for trying to help someone
  • Love and Belonging: The long hours and physicality of this type of work may leave the character with little energy for loved ones once the day is finished, which could lead to frustration and resentment from the other partner or one’s children
  • Safety and Security: If the character is working with a difficult client that requires a greater level of flexibility and strength than one has, the character could become injured and temporarily unable to practice, causing financial hardship

Common Work-Related Settings: hospital room, military base, nursing home, rec center, spa

Visit the other Occupations in our collection HERE.

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The Powerball of First Page Resources

As many of you know, I run a monthly critique contest here at the blog, where I offer to read first pages and share my feedback. People are so grateful to win, but I have to ask: who’s the real winner here? I get to read story openings no one else has access to with full permission to tell their owners what I think. In the words of Chandler Bing, does it GET any better than that??

Anyway, I’ve been doing this for a while now, and you can probably guess that when it comes to problems with first pages, I see the same things over and over. Because we all struggle with the same issues in our openings, I thought it might be helpful to write up a post highlighting these frequently seen problems and information on addressing them. So here goes…

Need help with your story opening? Check out these common problems and the resource stop help you avoid themStarting in the Wrong Spot

This is the advice I like giving the least, because no one wants to hear You’ve started in the wrong place. Because that means Rewrite your opening. But this is honestly one of the biggest problems I see. And I get it. It’s super tricky. Start too early, and your reader is wading through a flood of backstory and telling. Start too late, and they’re dropped in the middle of a confusing world and storyline going Huh? Unfortunately, the opening sets the tone for the whole story; if people are bored or confused, they’re not likely to read for long. So this is really important to get right.

Action Too Early
Finding the Sweet Starting Spot


Too Much Telling

Show, Don’t Tell. It’s, like, the first five of The Writer’s Ten Commandments. We all know that there are places where telling is ok, but your story opening is not one of them. The reason? It’s BORING. Telling drags the pace and pulls readers out of the story as they have to slog through long passages of passive narrative explaining how magic works, or the history of Couldntcarelessia, or why your hero’s parents’ divorce ruined his life. Once your reader is fully crushing on your main character, you can get away with manageable bits of telling here and there. But the first pages are like a first date: what you see is what you’re gonna get, just way more of it. So when you find telling in your story opening, have no mercy and burn it like the kudzu that it is.

Show Don’t Tell Part One
Show Don’t Tell Part Two
Show Don’t Tell Description Tool Kit 
When to Show Tip Sheet (with examples)


Wordiness and Weak Writing

This happens when writers just aren’t concise enough with their prose. Rambling sentences, repeated words and phrases, redundant words—wordiness slows the pace and creates more work for the reader. They won’t verbalize it as such, but it will wear on them. And editors and agents have very little patience for it.

Weak Writing: The Usual Suspects
Self-Editing for Writers
Crutch Words Tip Sheet


Failure to Create Empathy

Sometimes I’m reading an opening and there’s nothing technically wrong with it. It’s clean, polished, things are happening, but I just don’t care—and usually, it’s the character that I just don’t care about. When it comes to hooking or enticing readers, we’ve got to get them empathizing with the protagonist, otherwise, why will they keep reading?

Tips for Building Empathy in the First Few Pages
Writing Endearing Characters


Overdone or Not Enough Emotion

If you’ve been following Writers Helping Writers for any period of time, you’ll know the emphasis we place on character emotion. Adequately conveying your character’s feelings in a way that engages the reader is one of the best ways to pull them into the story and keep them invested in the character. But this is another area where striking the balance isn’t easy. Emotions are often 1) overstated, seeping into the melodramatic or unrealistic range, 2) understated, leaving the reader not feeling anything for or with the character, or 3) written poorly, in a way that doesn’t engage their emotions.

Fresh Ways to Show Emotion
Dive Deep with Emotion
Capturing Complex Emotion


Too Many Details

This one’s primarily for the fantasy and sci-fi writers who are tempted to throw in all the need-to-know information about their made-up world in the first chapter. But it also applies to any writer who struggles with the tendency to include too many details in general. Check out the resources for more info on how not to do this.

Too Much Going On
Choosing The Right Details

Character Voice

I can hear the lambs screaming, Clarice. Before you freak out, I’m not talking here about your unique authorial voice; I’m talking about your character’s voice. You start talking about voice and everyone gets a little tense, but here’s the thing: to write a good story, the character’s voice doesn’t have to be spectacularly awesome. It just needs to be consistent. And this is where a lot of people fall short—even on the first page. Every word the character speaks, every memory recalled, analogy used—filter it all through their point of view, and you’ll have done most of the work.

Listen To Your Protagonist
4 Ways To Develop Your Character’s Unique Voice
Most Common Writing Mistakes: Weak Character Voice

Other Helpful Resources on Strong Openings

Jim Scott Bell’s List of Things to Avoid
Opening Elements that Readers Are Wired to Respond To
First Pages Tip Sheet

Posted in Editing Tips, Emotion, Empathy, Openings, Pacing, Point of View, Show Don't Tell, Voice | 7 Comments