Writing Feedback: Should We Seek It Out?

As most of you know, Becca and I have been writing and publishing for some time now. Many thing have changed in the industry, including how a book reaches the shelf.

Thankfully the slush pile of doom is no longer the only route; writers can skip the gate-keeping queue and self-publish instead. Many do, including us.

What hasn’t changed is the fact that as the creator, a writer lacks objectivity when it comes to their own work. This means an important step for all, regardless of whether we plan to traditionally publish or self-publish, is to seek out the educated opinions of others. These might come from beta readers, critique partners, freelance editors, writing coaches, or mentors. These people can spot areas that need work and their insight helps us strengthen the story. Even better, we learn as we go, growing our skills bit by bit!

As someone who has penned thousands of critiques, taught writing, and built resources & tools to shorten the learning curve for writers all over the world, I know how important it is to do everything in our power to produce a strong book. And yet, one step I see some writers skip is seeking feedback. Instead, they write and revise in a cycle until they feel it’s good enough to self-publish (or they are sick of the manuscript). This means the story will only be as good as the writer’s skillset at that time.

Now I’m not saying you can’t write a strong book on your own. Some can and do (a small percentage). More often though the writers who skip the feedback step are the ones on social media a few months later trying to puzzle out why their book isn’t selling.

For 99% of writers, feedback is not a luxury…it’s a necessity.

So why doesn’t everyone take advantage of feedback?

It might be a lack of self-confidence. A writer may worry about showing their work to others and being judged on it. This is an understandable fear because let’s face it, feedback can be uncomfortable (What, my baby isn’t beautiful?). However, feedback comes one way or the other in the form of Amazon and Goodreads reviews. If a book doesn’t hold together, the author will hear about it.

The second reason someone might avoid feedback is because they don’t know where to turn to find beta readers, critique partners, editors, or coaches. This is the easiest problem to solve as asking one’s writing network and doing a quick google search will offer up many solutions.

The third possibility is that feedback requires time and energy. Not only is there the painful, chop-and-slash work that needs to be done to incorporate feedback, often the writer is expected to help others in return. Some folks are only interested in a shortcut solution where they get feedback but don’t have to give it and if they can’t have that, they move on. (This is unfortunate because some of the biggest leaps in writer growth happens by critiquing the work of others.)

Finally, cost can be a barrier when it comes to hiring an editor and/or coach. If you traditionally publish, editorial costs are covered by the publisher, but if you self-publish, it’s on your shoulders. This one is a judgement call, but I would suggest writers on a budget ask themselves “What can I afford?” rather than “Do I really need help?” as certain types of editing or guidance shouldn’t be something we skip.

Bottom line? The knowledge of others is a valuable asset.

Gaining feedback at different times during the writing process can really improve a book’s quality. Some options have a cost, others don’t. (Look for an upcoming post on this!)

In most cases, writers seek help after the writing is done, but did you know one of the best times to crowdsource feedback is before a story begins?

Working with a writing partner or coach to brainstorm ideas for a story can be hugely helpful, especially when it comes to planning out important characters!

Why? Because your protagonist is the living heartbeat of your story. Their actions, choices, and decisions are a result of who they are, what they need most, and what’s at stake. Knowing these things will help you see their character arc, which shapes the story’s direction.

Admittedly, Becca and I are a bit nutty about character development. We’ve written many books about it, and we’ve designed a tool that outstrips anything else out there as far as creating rich, fully realized characters able to carry the weight of a story on their shoulders. We focus on characters because they can make or break a story.

Want to learn from the best? Watch this Character Clinic Webinar Replay!

Would you like to create stunningly realistic characters that your readers can’t help but connect to? If so, I urge you to watch our Character Clinic we co-hosted with Author Accelerator on October 8th.

In this live webinar, expert story coach Julie Artz workshoped a character created using One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder, offering valuable feedback we all were able to learn from. This was a great way to better understand which characterizing details MATTER MOST to a story.

You can’t have a powerful story without a powerful character, so watch the webinar replay to see how you can create one!

Posted in Book Review, Character Arc, Characters, Critiquing & Critiques, Motivation, One Stop For Writers, Publishing and Self Publishing, Reader Feedback, Reader Interest, Reading, Revision and Editing, Show Don't Tell, Story Structure, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Groups | 4 Comments

Meet Our Newest Resident Writing Coaches!

It’s hard to believe, but we’re about to kick start Year 4 of our popular Resident Writing Coach program! For those of you new to the blog, the RWC program is where we invite some of the best minds in our industry to share their knowledge of writing and publishing, bringing you a variety of voices and insight from all over the world.

This year we have a few new coaches joining us, but first let us say a giant thank you to Lisa Cron, Victoria Mixon, and Chris Winkle for all the wonderful posts this past year. We wish you well!

We are thrilled to welcome three new faces to the program:

Lucy V. Hay aka Bang2write is a script editor, author and blogger who helps writers. Lucy is the script editor and advisor on numerous UK features and shorts. She has also been a script reader for over 15 years, providing coverage for indie prodcos, investors, screen agencies, producers, directors and individual writers.

Publishing as LV Hay, Lucy’s debut crime novel, The Other Twin, is out now and is being adapted by Agatha Raisin producers Free@Last TV. Her second crime novel, Do No Harm, was a finalist in the 2019 Dead Good Book Readers’ Awards. Her next title is Never Have I Ever for Hodder Books. You can find out more about Lucy here.

Lisa Hall-Wilson is a writing teacher and award-winning writer and author. She’s the author of Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers. Her blog Beyond Basics For Writers explores all facets of the popular writing style deep point of view and offers practical tips for writers. She is also the founder of the Deep Dive Author Club which offers a five-week online masterclass on writing in deep point of view and an ongoing membership class with critiques and support.

Lisa writes adult noblebright fantasy and her award-winning debut novel The Last Seers is available. Find out more about Lisa here.

Christina Delay is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning psychological suspense author. She also writes award-winning supernatural suspense for young adult and adult readers under the name Kris Faryn. Fun fact: Faryn means ‘to wander or travel.’ Since that’s exactly what she loves to do, you’ll find juicy tidbits on exotic and interesting places in all her books!

Cruising Writers brings aspiring authors together with bestselling authors, an agent, an editor, and a world-renowned writing craft instructor together on writing retreats. Find out more about Christina here.

Are you excited? We’re excited! These three will fit right in with our returning masterminds:

Meg LaTorre is a writer, AuthorTuber/BookTuber, developmental book editor, and former literary agent with a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. On Meg’s YouTube channel, iWriterly, she geeks out on all things books. Meg also launched Query Hack, a query critique platform where writers can submit their manuscript queries or Twitter pitches for free feedback.

She has written for Writer’s Digest and SavvyAuthors and can be found teaching online classes throughout the year. In her free time, she enjoys reading, running after her toddler, competitive sports, and sleeping. To learn more about Meg, go here.

Sacha Black is the author of several bestselling books for writers including, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain, and 10 Steps to Hero: How to Craft a KickAss Protagonist. Her blog for writers, www.sachablack.co.uk, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. She’s also recently started a new podcast, The Rebel Author Podcast. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy and you can find out more about Sacha here.

Tamar Sloan really struggled writing this bio because she hasn’t decided whether she’s primarily a psychologist who loves writing, or a writer with a lifelong fascination of human behaviour. Somehow she got lucky enough to do both.

Tamar is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. She is also an award-winning author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. Details about Tamar’s books are on her author website and your can find out more about her here.


James Scott Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure. Among his numerous thrillers are Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way, Romeo’s Hammer, Try Dying, and Don’t Leave Me. In addition to his traditional novels, Jim has self-published in a variety of genres. His popular books on fiction craft can be found here. His thrillers have been called “heart-whamming” (Publishers Weekly) and can be browsed here. Discover more about Jim here.


Jami Gold, after muttering writing advice in tongues, decided to become a writer and put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she shares writing tools, presents workshops, and offers insights on her blog about the craft, business, and life of writing. Jami is the winner of the 2015 National Readers’ Choice Award in Paranormal Romance for the novel Ironclad Devotion in her Mythos Legacy series. Read more about Jami here.

September C. Fawkes can scare people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. She worked as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author and writing instructor, and now does freelance editing at FawkesEditing.com. She has edited manuscripts of bestselling and beginning writers. She has published poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction articles, and her award-winning writing tips have appeared in classrooms, conferences, and on Grammar Girl.

She holds an English degree, has served as the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal, and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on the worldwide appeal of Harry Potter. Read more about September here.

We are looking forward to another incredible year of Resident Writing Coach posts. Is there a topic you’d like to see covered? Just leave us a comment below!

Happy writing,

Angela & Becca

Posted in Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Sabotaged

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 Sabotaged

Category: Power Struggles, Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Losing an Advantage, Loss of Control

Past secrets being made public by a competitor
A work or school project being destroyed or tampered with
A physical attack that sidelines the character
Theft of someone’s work or ideas
The destruction of a machine, facility, or system by an activist group
The public being influenced against the character through lies or manipulation
The character’s reputation being attacked
Deliberate underachieving and poor performance by co-workers or employees
Important supplies being purposely rerouted and lost
Official documents being destroyed
The media only reporting negative information (and ignoring anything positive) about a character, organization, or issue
The distribution of counterfeit correspondence (an email, transcript, affidavit, signed confession, press release, etc.) meant to discredit the sender
An ally being won over by the enemy or taken out of the game altogether

Minor Complications:
Having to start over
Lost revenue from having to pay for new supplies, repairs, labor, etc.
Expending energy and time on dispelling rumors instead of on important work that needs to be done
A decrease in responsibilities and opportunities, such as being demoted or removed from a project

Potentially Disastrous Results:
The character’s reputation being ruined
Family members being harassed or attacked
Losing an important ally, influencer, or business connection
The character being physically harmed by a saboteur
Loved ones turning against the character (because the believe the lies being told, because they’re tired of being dragged into the fray, etc.)
The enemy taking or destroying something that can be replaced (an original idea, a recipe or formula, someone’s life, etc.)
Getting fired
Being arrested for something the character didn’t do
Loss of influence; being unable to accomplish the good things that were the character’s original intention (bringing down a corrupt organization, righting a societal wrong, etc.)

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Difficulty trusting others
Becoming cynical and jaded
Being so paralyzed by fear that the character is reluctant to try again
Always worrying that others have believed the rumors and think badly of the character (if a reputation assassination was a factor)
Becoming an underachiever to avoid being targeted again
Struggling with feelings of disempowerment

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family members, co-workers, people benefitting from the character’s company or organization

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anxiety, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, defeat, defensiveness, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disbelief, discouraged, disillusionment, fear, humiliation, hurt, indignation, insecurity, intimidated, paranoia, powerlessness, resentment, self-pity, shock, vulnerability, wariness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Cowardly, cynical, gullible, martyr, melodramatic, nervous, oversensitive, paranoid, reckless, resentful, sleazy, timid, vain, vindictive

Positive Outcomes: 
Increased resiliency
The character being able to identify the untrustworthy people in their life
The character seeing where they were too trusting or naïve, and making changes for the future
Seeing the sabotage as confirmation that the character is on the right path
Renewed determination to accomplish what they originally intended
Out-of-the-box thinking forcing the character to come up with even better ideas or methods the second time around

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

TWO Critique Opportunities 4 U!

Welp, the kids are back in school, I’m all moved into my new place, and no hurricanes are imminent, so I’m finally getting back into my groove. Which is good, considering I’ve got TWO amazing critique opportunities for you this month!

#1: Our Regularly Scheduled First-Page Critique Contest
THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED, but the character critique is still open. Keep reading for info 🙂

If you’re working on a first page (in any genre except erotica) and would like some objective feedback, please leave a comment. Any comment :). As long as the email address associated with your WordPress account/comment profile is up-to-date,I’ll be able to contact you if your first page is chosen. Just please know that if I’m unable to get in touch with you through that address, you’ll have to forfeit your win.

Two caveats:

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

  ▪    I’d like to be able to use portions of winning submissions as illustrations in an upcoming presentation on first pages. By entering the Critiques 4 U contest, you’ll be granting permission for me to use small writing samples only (no author names or book titles).

Three commenters’ names will be randomly drawn and posted tomorrow morning. If you win, you can email me your first page and I’ll offer my feedback. 

We run this contest on a monthly basis, so if you’d like to be notified when the next opportunity comes around, consider subscribing to our blog (see the left-hand sidebar).

Regardless of whether or not you’re entering our Critiques 4 U contest, we’ve got one more limited-time opportunity you may want to take advantage of: a chance for you to get feedback on one of your characters! First, a little bit of background info:

#2: One Stop for Writers and Author Accelerator would like to invite YOU to their Character Clinic on October 8th!

This live webinar will show you how to take a character from good to GREAT. Plus it’s an opportunity to…

  • Get an intimate look into what happens between a writing coach and their client during the character development process
  • Gain insight into the details about a character that REALLY MATTER so you know exactly what to brainstorm
  • See how One Stop’s hyper-intelligent Character Builder will help you craft a fascinating and meaningful story cast.

Or if you’d rather get started on building a powerful character right now, activate our free trial. No credit card is necessary. Not only will you have full access to the site, you’ll be able to create one Character Profile using the Character Builder!

Posted in Uncategorized | 48 Comments

Goal-Oriented Storytelling: Satisfaction

Welcome to the final post in this four-part series on ANTS. As I mentioned in my first post, ANTS is a goal-oriented framework for storytelling. It’s what you’re trying to achieve by making great characters, settings, and plots for your stories. In the previous posts in this series, I’ve covered attachment, novelty, and tension. Now it’s time for our final effect: satisfaction.

Satisfaction is tension’s alter ego. Whereas tension is created when you introduce problems that hold readers in suspense, satisfaction is derived from resolving those problems. A well-structured novel will include smaller doses of satisfaction throughout the book, as the protagonist tackles smaller challenges before the climax. Because creating satisfaction often involves reducing tension, the lion’s share of it is reserved for the story’s end.

However, crafting a satisfying conclusion isn’t as simple as giving your story a happy ending. In fact, satisfaction does not require a happily ever after. We’ve all had the experience of reading or watching an ending that brought tears to our eyes but that was still undoubtedly good. Instead, satisfaction relies on following a series of principles that are rarely spelled out to new writers.

An End That Matches the Beginning

The first thing satisfaction requires is an understanding of the sources of tension in the story. After all, satisfaction is created by dispelling that tension. But sometimes writers don’t realize when they’ve introduced a problem or mystery that’s created tension. Other times, they intended to create a problem but weren’t clear enough. If the story’s ending doesn’t bring closure to the specific problems that were introduced, it will be unsatisfying.

Character Agency

Next, the ending of the story – good or bad – must result from the actions of the characters. And generally, the main character must make the biggest difference to the end. It’s deeply unsatisfying if the problem is resolved by pure chance. It’s equally frustrating if a side character swoops in and saves the day instead of the story’s hero. The central protagonist of the story must struggle against problems and then overcome them – or succumb to them – through their own choices.

Karmic Balance

Last, audiences apply value judgments to character actions, and those actions must create an ending that rewards or punishes characters appropriately. A character can earn a positive outcome by showing clever thinking, by sticking to their guns when it’s hard, or by being willing to sacrifice to achieve their goal. Characters that give into temptation or make selfish choices show that they deserve a bad ending. This is why the main characters in tragedies have a tragic flaw. Ultimately, it is acting on that flaw that brings about their downfall.

Generally, creating satisfaction comes down to one critical moment in the conflict: the turning point. You can think of a turning point as the climax of the climax. It’s the moment when the story’s outcome is determined by the protagonist. Let’s have a close look at the turning point in Star Wars: A New Hope.

The big problem of A New Hope is the threat of the Death Star. Using this weaponized space station that can blow up entire planets, the Empire will soon crush the Rebel Alliance. The tension in the story escalates as the Empire locates the Rebel base and sends the Death Star to destroy it.

The movie’s climax appears as the Rebel pilots fly their X-Wings to the Death Star in a last, desperate attempt to destroy it. But to succeed, they have to fire at a very precise weak point on the station, and they are being picked off by enemy fighters. A senior pilot in the Alliance manages to fly down a trench in the station’s hull to get to this weak point, but he fails to hit the target. To give the Rebels one last chance, Luke decides to make his own attempt.

As Luke approaches the weak spot, the turning point comes. He hears the voice of his mentor, Obi-Wan: Use the force! Luke has to decide whether to rely on the targeting technology in his ship or risk everything on a leap of faith. He chooses to trust in the force and in himself, and because of that, he succeeds. The ending to A New Hope is satisfying because the tension surrounding the Death Star was resolved, Luke is the one who resolved it, and he earned his happy ending by making the right choice.

The principles behind ANTS are like any other principle in storytelling: they can be broken in the right circumstances. However, because each ANTS effect is fundamental to reader engagement and enjoyment, storytellers need a very compelling reason to abandon them. So unless the entire purpose of your story is to comment on humanity’s helplessness in the face of cosmic forces, you’re better off sticking with a climax that makes the hero matter.

Chris Winkle is the editor-in-chief of Mythcreants, an online magazine dedicated to fantasy and science fiction storytelling. You can read more of her articles on writing or listen to her talk about stories on The Mythcreant Podcast.
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Posted in Action Scenes, Character Arc, Characters, Conflict, Endings, Motivation, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Tension, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 6 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Given Bad News

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 Given Bad News

Category: Power Struggles, Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Relationship Friction, Duty and Responsibilities, Moral Dilemmas and Temptation, Losing an Advantage, Loss of Control, Ego, No-Win Situations, Miscellaneous Challenges

Being told a loved one was in an accident
That one has cancer or another disease
A promotion went to someone else
One’s bid on a contract was too high
An anticipated trip has been cancelled
That important paperwork was submitted too late
The sale of one’s home has fallen through
Funding could not be secured
One’s company is laying everyone off
That a pitch (for a new design, project, book, etc.) was rejected
A medicine or treatment isn’t working
A child wasn’t accepted into a university

Minor Complications: rearranging one’s schedule, dropping what one’s doing and re-prioritizing, cancelling plans, losing time to sadness, regret, disappointment or worry, losing out on an opportunity, poor decision-making due to stress and anxiety

Potentially Disastrous Results: a money shortage that causes one to default on a mortgage or loan, being unable to cope without the thing that is now missing ( a loved one, steady employment, a place to live), giving up on a direction in life because this news was such a setback or disappointment, jumping into the wrong opportunity out of fear or a need for security without considering possible repercussions and fallout of that choice

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Internal struggles with guilt, regret, and feelings of failure, bouts of depression or anxiety, worrying about protecting others (dependents, a spouse, the people one leads, etc.), trying to decide if keeping the truth quiet is better than sharing the news and causing others pain, fear of the future and what it may bring, becoming obsessed with regaining control through any means necessary after this upset

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family members, one’s spouse, extended family, co-workers, neighbors (this will depend on the type of bad news).

Resulting Emotions: agitation, anguish, anxiety, appalled, betrayed, bitterness, confusion, denial, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disappointment, disbelief, discouraged, disillusionment, dread, empathy, fear, grief, guilt, humiliation, hurt, inadequate, overwhelmed, regret, remorse, resentment, resignation, sadness, self-pity, shame, shock, skepticism, unappreciated, uncertainty, unease, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, addictive, antisocial, controlling, cowardly, defensive, disloyal, disrespectful, fussy, greedy, haughty, hostile, impulsive, insecure, irrational, judgmental, macho, melodramatic, morbid, needy, nervous, obsessive, oversensitive, paranoid, pessimistic, possessive, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, self-indulgent, selfish, spoiled, tactless, ungrateful, vain, vindictive, violent, withdrawn

Positive Outcomes: Gaining perspective about what’s really important in life, feeling heartened than the outcome wasn’t worse, realizing one needs an emergency plan and then creating one, gaining insight into how one is exposed and making changes to be less vulnerable (setting money aside in an emergency account, buying stronger health insurance, making a move into a field of work that is more secure, etc.)

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Taking a Character from Good to GREAT

FACT: Characters are the heart of a story. The stronger one is, the more powerful your novel will be.

In today’s competitive fiction market, there’s no room for okay-ish characters. This is why most writing courses, books, workshops, retreats, etc. often focus on character development. Mastering the art of building a character is something we strive for so they will be compelling enough to capture the hearts and minds of our readers.

Those of you following the thesaurus work Becca and I do know we take character-building pretty seriously. Each of our books, regardless of the topic, help with characters. All of the thesauruses we’ve created (16 now!) are either directly on character development or tied to story elements that create a spotlight on the character and their journey.

A few short months ago we launched the Character Builder, a super-tool that turns any writer into a character-building expert.

Because this tool draws from our thesauruses, it has a massive database of character information to help writers create fully-developed characters with rich backstories and motivations.

The Character Builder will also map out a custom Character Arc Blueprint for each character based on the exact information the writer selects. This tool is a game-changer, there’s no two ways about it.

But being able to build a well-layered character is only half the battle. We also need to understand why those layers are important.

The gateway to powerful writing happens when we marry expert knowledge with great tools. So, we’ve reached out to some of the best writing coaches in our industry: the team at Author Accelerator.

Author Accelerator is an incredibly talented group of one-on-one writing coaches that make it their mission to guide, mentor, and support a writer’s journey through a book.

Each coach is hand-picked, and provides on-the-ground advice and feedback as a novel is written. (Sounds like a dream come true, right? No wonder they’ve had so many successful clients pass through their doors.)

One Stop for Writers and Author Accelerator would like to invite you to watch their Character Clinic REPLAY!

The live webinar is over, but you can still soak up the knowledge by watching the REPLAY to see how to take a character from good to GREAT. Plus it’s an opportunity to…

  • Get an intimate look into what happens between a writing coach and their client during the character development process
  • Gain insight into the details about a character that REALLY MATTER so you know exactly what to brainstorm
  • See how One Stop’s hyper-intelligent Character Builder will help you craft a fascinating and meaningful story cast
Posted in About Us, Backstory, Character Arc, Character Flaws, Character Traits, Character Wound, Characters, Description, Emotion, Fear, Motivation, One Stop For Writers, Reader Interest, Revision and Editing, Show Don't Tell, Stereotypes, Uncategorized, Villains, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 1 Comment

Avoiding Change: What’s Stopping Our Characters?

Stories are about change. Our characters’ world is changing around them, or they’re changing internally—or both.

Yet at the same time, we know change is hard. In our own lives, we struggle to change our habits or take steps to be successful and reach our goals, whether that’s switching jobs, getting into shape, or whatever. In fact, we often resist more the closer we get to the possibility. Just because we know what we need to do doesn’t mean we follow through.

Real-Life vs. Fiction: What’s Realistic Change?

Despite the reality we all know about life, when it comes to storytelling, there’s usually a limit to how patient our readers will be with our characters not taking steps toward changing their situation, beliefs, or behaviors. That reader impatience is especially a risk if our characters suspect (or maybe even know) what “should” be changed before they’re ready or willing to act. Worse, if readers get too frustrated, they can stop rooting for our characters, thinking them too stupid or pathetic to do what needs to be done.

On the other hand, if that change were easy, why wouldn’t our characters have already reached their goals? Stories without resistance either need to be super-short or risk seeming unrealistic—and quite frankly, boring. Ask any romance novelist skilled with sexual tension about the value of anticipation for reader enjoyment. *grin*

In other words, we need to make change realistically difficult while avoiding the problem of wishy-washy characters. And that’s often easier said than done, especially when considering readers’ reactions.

Keeping Readers in Our Characters’ Corner

One key to keep readers cheering for our characters, even when they’re not taking steps toward change, is ensuring the obstacles in our story—internal and/or external—are as strong as possible. If readers believe our characters have “good” reasons for delaying, resisting, or only taking baby steps, they’ll stay on our characters’ side.

Of course, virtually any reason could be convincing with strong writing. However, we first need to be consciously aware of what’s stopping our character to ensure we’re fully developing those reasons on the page.

Using Plot Obstacles

Plot obstacles are typically easier to use for convincing readers, as the evidence that our characters’ have “good” reasons is right in front of readers’ eyes. For example:

  • Plot Obstacles Interfere: Our character might be on the path toward change, but plot obstacles—such as needing to complete a different quest first—slow their progress.
    Our character desperately needs to pursue a promotion, but their father’s heart attack means they’re distracted by having to take on caretaking duty. (i.e., It’s not our character’s fault their progress is slow.)
  • Plot Events Change Priorities: Despite what our character thought, recent plot events have triggered realizations or exposed the need for different priorities.
    Our character wanted a promotion, but their father’s heart attack makes them realize a focus on family is more important. (i.e., Our character’s goals change during the story, so they take steps only after they embrace the new goal).

Using Internal Obstacles

Internal obstacles are often trickier to use for convincing readers, as too much emphasis on their internal debate can make the character seem obsessed, indecisive, weak, etc. While characters hem and haw, readers are likely to want the characters to just get on with it, no matter how realistic that behavior is in real life.

To overcome that problem, we want to transform their internal reasons for avoiding change into tangible, external reasons as much as possible. For example:

  • Emotions Hold Them Back: Our character’s too afraid, too resentful, too doubtful, too uncomfortable, etc. to change—which is expressed in words or behaviors with external plot consequences.
    Our character wants a promotion, but when they learn their competition is their “nemesis,” they angrily insult their coworker in front of the boss. (i.e., After the character self-sabotages, their goal is further out of reach.)
  • Change Isn’t Needed: Our character believes they’re right or fine as they are and don’t need to change, or they believe it’s not their responsibility to change—which is expressed in words or behaviors that reject other options.
    When told they’d be eligible for a promotion if only they learned to meet deadlines, our character counters by stating their missed deadlines never caused issues. (i.e., They embrace the status quo and refuse other goals.)

Delay Makes the Eventual Change Sweeter

No matter what combination of reasons we use for our characters, the circumstances and rising stakes will eventually force even the most resistant character to attempt change. But before we get to that point, we first want to make change seem impossible.

The more we develop the obstacles preventing our character’s change, the more readers will believe success is out of reach. When the delays, debates, or resistance are finally overcome, the eventual change can be both emotionally satisfying and surprising. *smile*

Do you have any questions or insights about setting up obstacles to prevent our character’s change? And for more information on this topic, try this post.

After muttering writing advice in tongues, Jami decided to put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she creates writing resources and writes award-winning paranormal romance stories where normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat. Find out more about Jami here, hang out with her on social media, or visit her website and Goodreads profile.
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Posted in Basic Human Needs, Character Arc, Character Wound, Characters, Conflict, Emotion, Middles, Motivation, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Tension, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 10 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Facing a Challenge Beyond One’s Skill or Knowledge

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: Facing a Challenge Beyond One’s Skill or Knowledge

Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks, Failures and Mistakes, Duty and Responsibilities, Loss of Control, No-Win Situations, Miscellaneous Challenges

Lead people to safety
Deliver a baby in an emergency
Survive a natural disaster
Treat a wound or perform emergency surgery
Survive a home invasion
Navigate the wilderness when lost
Troubleshoot a vehicle breakdown
Provide aid as the first to arrive after a car accident
Escape one’s abductors
Intervene between individuals to stop a violent fight
Talk someone out of committing suicide
Steal a car or break into a building because one must
Save someone’s life
Evade dangerous pursuers (a car or foot chase)

Minor Complications: Having to put other plans or needs on hold, shakiness from an adrenaline rush, discomfort with the task at hand (possibly dealing with blood and exposed bone, having to break the law out of necessity, feeling vulnerable and exposed, etc.), suffering an injury while trying to navigate the situation, making a political misstep or otherwise “stepping on toes” while trying to help

Potentially Disastrous Results: Making a mistake that hurts or kills someone (causing spinal damage while pulling a person from a burning car in an accident, not taking enough care when delivering a baby, or dressing a wound incorrectly and an infection occurs, etc.), failing to see a risk until it’s too late, causing painful fallout to oneself or others

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): A moral tug-of-war over right and wrong in this situation (putting one’s needs about others to survive, abandoning one person to save the group, having to break the law for the right reasons, etc.), combating instinctual fight vs. flight as pressure mounts and one feels incapable in the situation, difficulty reconciling with hindsight and what one could have done, said, or should have seen coming

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family, friends, innocent bystanders, the group of people one is with, anyone whose fate is in one’s hands

Resulting Emotions: anguish, anxiety, apprehension, conflicted, confusion, defensiveness, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disbelief, discouraged, disgust, disillusionment, doubt, dread, empathy, fear, flustered, frustration, guilt, humbled, inadequate, insecurity, nervousness, overwhelmed, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, regret, relief, reluctance, resignation, self-pity, shock, stunned, terror, uncertainty, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, apathetic, callous, disloyal, disorganized, flaky, foolish, forgetful, gullible, impatient, impulsive, inattentive, indecisive, insecure, irrational, irresponsible, nervous, oversensitive, paranoid, perfectionist, reckless, resentful, scatterbrained, selfish, tactless, temperamental, timid, uncommunicative, uncooperative, weak-willed, whiny, worrywart

Positive Outcomes: Learning that one is more capable than previously believed, feeling good at stepping up or helping out when it was needed most, realizing one can lead others, seeing mistakes as an opportunity to learn and as proof of a willingness to stick one’s neck out when required, having a bigger appreciation for one’s life and the advantages (and people) in it

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Using Backward Design to Plan Your Story

Weaving a powerful tale is not easy. Whether you pants or plot, ending up with a cohesive tale means understanding the key moments in a story. Today’s post by Angelica Hartgers offers up a great technique to use if plotting is something you struggle with, so read on!

“Begin with the end in mind.” -Stephen Covey

Whether it’s planning a goal, an entire curriculum unit, or a book, backward design is an effective concept that can be applied to any strategic planning process – storytelling included.

Think about it: As writers, we often start mapping out our stories by focusing on the beginning, then working our way through the murky middle, until we reach, with relief, the inevitable end.

But, what if you were to plan your story backward, and reverse engineer your entire plot?

If you’re struggling with writer’s block or discovering that your story’s events don’t seamlessly lead your reader to a resolution, try reverse engineering your story with backward design.

What is Backward Design?

Backward design, also known as backward planning or mapping, is a popular strategy used by educators to design learning experiences that lead students to end-of-year success. Teachers use this strategy to plan their curriculum unit or lesson plan with the end-goal in mind, rather than construct it around the everyday classroom process. 

How Can You Apply Backward Design to Storytelling?

By starting with your story’s end in mind, you can navigate your way through the major plot points that led up to that end. You can take your reader through a well-constructed, thoroughly mapped out experience.

You can apply the backward design strategy on a macro and micro level. On a macro level, you can use it to plan the main events in your plot. On a micro level, you can apply it to strengthen your characters’ development, so that they achieve the desired persona.

Let’s take a look at how we can apply this strategy to our storytelling! 

Step 1: Establish the End-Goal

Just as a teacher might begin with laying the foundation, you must begin with a setting and some basic characters for your piece.

Once this is established, you can dive into the big question: How do you want your story to end?

The answer to this question can vary depending on your writing goals. Do you intend to write a series of books, a single novel, or a short story? Either way, thinking about how your story will end is the foundational question you must answer.

Identifying your end-goal first is a beautifully simplistic thing that opens up a plethora of opportunity for your characters and plot.

As an example, let’s examine J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The end goal of Tolkien’s series is that Frodo destroys the one ring, crumbling the dark forces of Sauron. Due to the establishment of this ending, Tolkien’s characters’ actions, and the course of his plot is dedicated to attaining this resolution. Without the inception of this ending, the beloved characters of The Lord of the Rings would find themselves wandering Middle Earth for three novels until their author deemed it a good time for the story to end.

To avoid disappointing your reader with plot holes, start by establishing your story’s end goal and guiding your entire plot and characters towards it.

Step 2: Determine Your Principle Plot Points & Create an Index

Once you’ve established your end-goal, you get to delve into the meat of your story, constructing the path your plot must take in order to reach the desired resolution.

With your ending scrawled out before you, you can now create an index of what titular events must take place in order for your ending to be achieved.

Using The Lord of the Rings as an example again, Frodo must have the ring in order to destroy it, he must find a way to get to the only place where the ring can be destroyed, his enemy must be distracted upon his final approach, etc.

Creating an index of these important events allows you to space out your story, and precisely build an outline for your plot to follow.

Step 3: Construct the Filler

Your story now has a roadmap. You know where you are, where you’re going, and what your primary stops are along the way. All that’s left is to make the journey.

From this point you get to connect all of your principal events in whatever way best suits your characters. It is within this step that you can use backward design on the micro level to plan your characters.

Using Backward Design to Plan Character Dynamics

A complex character development is just as beneficial as a good plot, and backward design provides an effective strategy to constructing this development throughout your piece.

To formulate your characters using backward design, simply follow the same format we used for mapping out the plot.

Establish where you want your character’s development to end, then plan out the events that will shape their personality to get them there. 

Step 4: Tie in Character Construction

At this point, you have planned out the arc of your plot, starting with its end, and have discovered who your characters will be upon reaching your tale’s resolution.

Now, you can simply tie the two together, recognizing what events in your plot line will cause for the necessary changes in character. By the time you are finished, you have a beginning-to-end story with no loose ends, formulated so that every event that unfolds supports the conclusion. 

Try Using Backward Design to Plan Your Story!

While this strategy of plot-planning may not be for everyone, it is a surefire way to turn an idea into a viable story, and to avoid writing a plot that doesn’t support your ending.

While this article focuses on applying backward design to fiction writing, you can even apply this strategy if you’re writing a nonfiction book. Instead of outlining a plot, you’ll outline each topic that will guide your book’s main point.

What do you have to lose? Try it – it just might be the strategy you’ve been looking for. 

Angelica Hartgers is the Content Creation Specialist at SelfPublishing.com. With a background in writing and education, she is passionate about empowering other writers to improve their craft and promoting the power of the written word. When she’s not creating content that helps writers tell better stories and publish their books, she’s reading, writing, and traveling the world. Read more on our blog

Have you ever written a novel by starting at the end? Let us know in the comments how it worked out for you and if you’d try it again!

Posted in Backstory, Character Arc, Characters, Endings, Experiments, Guest Post, One Stop For Writers, Plotting, Setting, Story Structure, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 18 Comments