How To Research Mental Health and Trauma For Your Characters

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

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

Know How Much Trauma Your Character Will Live With

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

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

*face palm*

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

Labels Help Authors More than Readers

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

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

Low-Hanging Fruit: Friends And Family

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

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

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

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

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

Utilize Experts And Websites

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

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

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

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

What If You Don’t Know Anyone To Interview?

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

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

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

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

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Resident Writing Coach

If Lisa had a super-power it would be breaking down complicated concepts into digestible practical steps. Lisa loves helping writers “go deeper” and create emotional connections with readers using deep point of view! Hang out with Lisa on Facebook at Confident Writers where she talks deep point of view.
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Posted in Backstory, Character Wound, Characters, Flashbacks, research, Resident Writing Coach, Writing Craft | 14 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Public Humiliation

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: Public Humiliation

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

Examples:
Infidelity being made public (through a sign on the lawn, a billboard ad, announcing it at a wedding or family event, in a mass email, or on social media)
Having private letters, images, or video shared online
The character being negatively singled out in front of peers
Being ridiculed by family or friends at a group event
Having their dirty laundry aired publically
An explosive secret coming out (drug use, sexual fetishes, criminal behavior, etc.)
Being put on the spot when the character is unprepared or at a disadvantage
Guilt by association (a spouse’s drunkenness at a company event, an adult child who has a very public arrest, a family scandal coming out, etc.)
Having a lie publically exposed or fraudulent behavior called out
Being forced to do something in public that the character believes is beneath them (due to their status, prestige, wealth, etc.)
Serving a punishment for a transgression that puts one’s act on display (being forced to hold a sign about bullying by one’s parents on a street corner, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Embarrassment, guilt, or shame (or all three)
Friends and connections who distance themselves, leaving the character to deal with the fallout alone
The rumor mill spinning, adding to the drama
Not knowing who to trust
Being shunned by neighbors or coworkers
Having to explain what happened over and over
Paying for legal advice
Changing a routine to avoid being harassed or ridiculed
Pulling back from activities to protect one’s privacy
Feeling trapped at home because of reporters, protesters, etc.
Having to disguise oneself in public
The character’s family members being inconvenienced or harassed
The character’s words being twisted in the media to fit a certain narrative to make things more “news-worthy”
Feeling watched
Having one’s other past actions examined and scrutinized
Damage to the character’s reputation
Having a membership revoked or an award taken back
Feeling uncomfortable around others due to being judged
Being unwelcome at a club, event, or establishment
Being threatened and harrassed
Being bullied or targeted online

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being scrutinized to the point that other secrets come to light
A marriage breakdown
Being abandoned by family, friends, employers, etc.
Losing important allies
Being falsely blamed or scapegoated
Criminal charges being laid
Losing key support or funding
Losing a job
The character’s business having to close down
Being forced to move, relocate, or change one’s name
Family members being caught in the crossfire and having their lives ruined
Being innocent of an accusation but having no proof
Being incarcerated or put on a watch list
Having to give up on a dream
Developing PTSD, an anxiety disorder, or other conditions
Turning to drugs or alcohol to cope and developing an addiction

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Self-directed anger at a mistake or shortcoming warring against anger at others for exploiting it
Self-pity facing off against acknowledging they knew the risks and have only themselves to blame
Wishing one wasn’t caught yet being relieved that the secret no longer needs to be kept
Feeling betrayed yet being glad to know someone’s true colors so they are no longer in a position to cause pain and heartache
Letting go of a relationship due to a betrayal yet mourning the loss of it
Feeling shame yet also victimized
Wanting to fit in and hating oneself for being weak enough to still want it after what happened
Desiring revenge but knowing integrity means being the bigger person
Being pressured to forgive and forget yet believing others should be held accountable for their actions

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The character, their family and friends, the business they work for, any groups, organizations, or connections they have that may be negatively affected by the publicity

Resulting Emotions: anger, anguish, anxiety, betrayed, bitterness, defensiveness, despair, devastation, disbelief, disillusionment, dread, emasculated, fear, grief, guilt, humiliation, hurt, inadequate, intimidated, loneliness, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, rage, regret, remorse, resentment, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, tormented, unappreciated, vulnerability, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: abrasive, addictive, compulsive, confrontational, cruel, evil, gullible, inhibited, insecure, martyr, needy, oversensitive, paranoid, perfectionist, rebellious, reckless, self-destructive, vindictive, violent

Positive Outcomes: 
If a secret is holding the character back, having it in the open at last might create a pathway to acknowledging the pain surrounding it, taking accountability (if this is a factor), and taking steps to finally move past it
Humiliation can open the character’s eyes to the true nature of others, helping them to take the step to cut toxic forces from their life
While humiliation is terrible to live through, sometimes hitting rock bottom is what will trigger the realization that something must change. This can lead to change, growth, and regaining control over the future.

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

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

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

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Writing About Character Occupations: The Resource Mother Lode

With every new book release, Angela and I write a bunch of posts that cover various aspects of that topic. We’ve found it useful to collect all of those resources into one handy post so it’s easy for anyone looking for help to find what they need.

Now that The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers has made its way into the world, here’s your round-up of posts on how to write character jobs in ways that will enhance your cast and your story. We’ll be adding to this list as new posts are published, so check in every once in a while to see the list of topics grow.

Why do occupations matter? This post on The Character-Building Details Writers Shouldn’t Overlook contains an excerpt from the introduction to The Occupation Thesaurus and explains what a carefully chosen career can do to enhance your story.

If you’d prefer a podcast format, this episode is all about the different ways a carefully-chosen occupation can serve your story.

If you’re looking for a meaningful job for your character, consider how an emotional wound might play into their career choice.

Check out this post for ideas on what a character’s job can reveal about him or her and then also see how these details can become a secret characterization weapon, especially at the start of your book!

One thing to remember is that we aren’t always thrilled with our jobs. What can a character’s dislikes or disappointments with their career tell readers?

Here are some tips for finding the right job for your character.

Looking at a storyline where Romance happens in the workplace? Don’t miss this post on all the conflict options you can play with.

BONUS #1! Looking for MORE jobs that aren’t included in The Occupation Thesaurus? Check out this list curated by our readers.

BONUS #2! We’ve uploaded some of the appendix tools from the book to help you narrow down the job search for your characters. Our tools page now contains Career Assessment and Occupation Speed Dating tools, as well as a downloadable template so you can create an entry for any job.

If you’re curious about The Occupation Thesaurus, you can find more information here, including a free preview, the complete list of jobs included, and a sample entry (Firefighter).

Finally, if you want to see an expanded version of The Occupation Thesaurus, hop on over to One Stop for Writers, where you’ll find it in the largest fiction-focused description database online. There’s a free trial too, if you want to check the site out in-depth.


Happy Writing!

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What “Read More to Improve Your Writing” Really Means

Everyone says you should read a lot if you want to improve your writing. A blanket statement if ever I heard one. 

Anyone can read. There are readers out there consuming 100, 200, and even more books a year. You don’t see them automatically writing bestselling novels. That’s because just reading isn’t enough. I think there should be a caveat to that sentence. It’s not enough to just read. You have to analyze, deconstruct and synthesize that reading into your work. That’s what we’re going to look at today.

A Word on How You Read

When I say you have to read consciously and not lose yourself in the story, many people object, because “escapism” is half the joy of reading. Look, I’m not saying you’re never allowed to read solely for fun. What I’m saying is to try and keep part of your brain conscious. Allow it to roam the pages for sparkling dialogue, description that sings, or characterization that takes your breath away.

Underline those sentences, or if that’s too much like sacrilege, use a sticky tab to highlight where you found sentences that jumped out at you.

How to Pick up on Sentences

In order to find interesting sentences, I ask how or why an author created that particular sentence or effect. I go into detail on this topic in The Anatomy of Prose, my latest book. Here are some examples:

Dialogue

  • Why did that line of dialogue make me laugh?
  • How did the author use the back and forth between two characters to show insight into their emotional wounds?

Description

  • How did the author use punctuation to create descriptive rhythm?
  • Why did the author choose those words to create a descriptive metaphor?
  • How did the description shed light on a character’s personality?

Technical Observations

  • How did those conflicting words create such a powerful juxtaposition?
  • Why did the author choose to break that writing rule in this sentence?
  • Why did the use of alliteration in this description work so well to create vivid imagery?

How to Analyze What You’ve Read

It’s all good and well telling you to ask questions, but the real lesson comes from the analysis and then putting it into practice. So, let’s do just that.

Worked Example

I dug through my file of quotes (yes, I collect quotes from books where I think a lesson can be gleaned) and found a great example:

“I see no secrets in your gaze,” I said. I see only night and smoke, dreams and glass, embers and wings. And I would not have you any other way.” Roshani Chokshi, The Star-Touched Queen.

There are many observations we can take from this quote. But I’m going to focus on just two: 

Observation 1

Chokshi has created characterization as well as character description by elaborating through the narrator’s inner dialogue. This means the narrator doesn’t want the character being described to know what they think or feel about them. It also shows the narrator’s vulnerability as it’s clear she “likes” the character she’s describing. 

Observation 2

Chokshi has used a specific repetition technique and rhythm to create the description. Specifically, “X and X”. Her words are:

“night and smoke”
“dreams and glass”  
“embers and wings” 

You can take both these literary techniques and use them in your own work with your own words.

Putting Lessons into Practice

Note that we are not copying the author’s words, their characters. or characterization. That’s plagiarism. Instead we are using the literary techniques like inner dialogue to increase characterization, or the X and X rhythm of description to create our own descriptive flow. Some techniques might work for you, others you may hate. But unless you try the tools and techniques you discover while reading, you won’t shape your own writing voice. 

To give an example of this in practice, I’ve used two characters I’m currently developing for a new series: Earl (the narrator) and Scarlet (the woman he’s describing). If I wanted to use the same techniques and rhythm Chokshi used, I could create something like this:

“There is death in your eyes,” Earl said. Death and blood, vengeance and war, power and victory. Everything I like in a woman.

You’ll note that, while I used the same techniques, my sentences are completely different from Chokshi’s. Different words, different characters, different tone and feeling.

If this feels too similar to Chokshi’s sentence, I could include Earl’s thought in the narrative description rather than inner monologue, like so:

“There is death in your eyes,” Earl said. Death and blood, vengeance and war, power and victory. Everything I like in a woman.

Or I can get rid of the X and X technique while still using the narrator’s inner dialogue to show how he really feels about his counterpart.

“You reek of death,” Earl said. I like that in a woman.

If I preferred shorter, cleaner descriptions, I could still use the X and X rhythm but make it sharper by removing all but one instance, like this:

“There is death in your eyes,” Earl said. Death and blood. Everything I like in a woman.

You can see how much you can take—both lessons and technique-wise—from the analysis of just one quote. Yes, reading is important, nay, essential as a writer, but I truly believe it’s more than that. What’s important is what you do with your reading and how you analyze what you’ve read. It’s that intentional practice that truly helps you develop as a writer. 

Sacha Black

Resident Writing Coach

Sacha is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. 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. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy. The first two books in her Eden East Novel: Keepers and Victor, are out now. You can find her manning the helm at The Rebel Author Podcast, and on social media:
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Posted in Experiments, Reading, Resident Writing Coach, Writing Craft | 20 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Losing a Job

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

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

Conflict: Losing a Job

Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, duty and responsibilities, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego

Examples:
Being fired
Being laid off due to budget cuts, a merger, etc.
Having to leave a beloved job due to personal circumstances beyond the character’s control (needing to relocate, having to care for a sick relative, etc.)
Being intimidated into quitting (through discrimination, harassment, etc.)
Reluctantly choosing to leave because of difficult work circumstances (dealing with an inept or abrasive boss, being unable to advance professionally, the company making a moral shift that one can’t support, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Difficulty finding another job
Leaving valued co-workers
The character having to explain to people that they lost their job
Having to downsize or relocate one’s family
Dealing with the inconveniences that accompany a job change (finding new insurance coverage, etc.)
Having to deal with work associates after the termination is complete (to fill out paperwork, to bring someone up to speed on a work project, etc.)
Being contacted by a client who doesn’t know about the termination and having to rehash everything after the fact
Lack of organization resulting in a long, drawn-out termination process

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Angrily saying or doing things during the termination process that make a positive recommendation less likely (in the case of being laid off or let go reluctantly)
Having to take a job one doesn’t want or is overqualified for, resulting in a lack of fulfillment
Having to take a pay cut
Seeking vengeance against the party responsible for one’s departure
A lack of support about the decision from one’s spouse or children (if the character chose to leave, even reluctantly)
One’s family struggling to adjust to less income
Getting stuck at a certain point in the grieving process
Being rejected by former co-workers, friends, and colleagues
Floundering in the aftermath; being paralyzed with indecision or too stunned to move forward
Attempting to strike out on one’s own and struggling to succeed

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Struggling with bitterness or resentment (if the character didn’t want to leave)
Embarrassment over the termination
Internalizing any unfair accusations or claims that caused the termination
Second-guessing the decision to leave
Losing one’s sense of identity

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: family members, clients and customers, co-workers, employees, subordinates

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, annoyance, anxiety, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, defensiveness, denial, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, disbelief, discouraged, disillusionment, doubt, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, fear, hurt, indignation, insecurity, intimidated, overwhelmed, panic, powerlessness, rage, reluctance, resentment, resignation, sadness, self-pity, shock, stunned, unappreciated, uncertainty, unease, vengeful, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, childish, cocky, confrontational, controlling, disloyal, disrespectful, indecisive, inhibited, insecure, lazy, martyr, melodramatic, nervous, pessimistic, resentful, uncooperative, vindictive

Positive Outcomes: 
Being able to pivot into a new career that is more fulfilling and rewarding
Having the freedom to relocate to a better place for one’s family
Choosing to fight back against an illegitimate termination, thereby righting a wrong
Hindsight providing clues to the end result that allow the character to recognize those clues in the future and avoid the same situation
Adopting a positive, forward-looking mindset instead of one focused on the past
Accepting the part one played in being fired and resolving to do better

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

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

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

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Release Day Celebration: The Occupation Thesaurus Is Here!

Celebrating a new book NEVER gets old for us. Aside from the obvious feel-good-ness of having another book in the world, it’s satisfying to know everything WE learned as we wrote the book is now yours…and your writing is going to be SO MUCH STRONGER FOR IT!

The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writers Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers

What if you could fast-track the reader’s understanding of a character without chunky paragraphs of description that kill the story’s pace? And what if you could use a common element of daily life to explore story goals, relationships, themes, and even the character’s internal growth? You can. It’s time to activate the power of your character’s occupation.

Whether a character loves or hates what they do, a job can reveal many things about them, including their priorities, beliefs, desires, and needs. The Occupation Thesaurus will show you how a career choice can characterize, drive the plot, infuse scenes with conflict, and get readers on the character’s side through the relatable pressures, responsibilities, and stakes inherent with work.

More about The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers
The List of Occupations in this guide
A sample entry: Firefighter

BUY THE BOOK

Becca and I are so excited to bring you a book that will help you weave character and plot in a new, meaningful way, shorten the “get-to-know-the-character” period with readers, and give you an endless supply of conflict options to challenge your character’s commitment to their goal.

Because this book is on occupations, we wanted to create a giveaway that can help YOU with YOUR writing career. After all, you work hard. You’re dedicated, showing up every day, to get the words down. Let’s face it, you’re freaking magnificent!

So we’re giving away Showcase GIFT CERTIFICATES to help with the costs associated with writing & One Stop for Writers® SUBSCRIPTIONS so your story is as powerful as it can be.

Here’s how it works…

The Services for Writers Showcase is a collection of small businesses within our community, most writers themselves. They offer important services to writers to help them reach their publication goals, and the income they earn supports them while they pursue their own goals.

Paying the bills right now is a challenge, and many are struggling. So, if you win a Showcase gift certificate in our giveaway, you can redeem it at any business listed in our Showcase. With COVID in the mix, it is more important than ever to support our own.

You can also win subscriptions to One Stop for Writers®, a site Becca and I created.

One Stop for Writers is a portal to powerful storytelling tools like the Character Builder and the largest show-don’t-tell database anywhere containing ALL our thesauruses (15 and counting!). There’s much more to One Stop, so stop by. Writing can be easier.


Want to win one of these great prizes? Enter using THIS FORM.

This giveaway is now closed. Watch your inboxes for notifications! Winners have 48 hours to respond.


Congrats to:
Elissa Kane, Susan Policoff, Annie Douglass Lima, Karen Adair, Billie Wade, and Gina!

Then, go check out our Services for Writers Showcase so you can see what services there are to choose from, and PSST! check out the special deals some of these businesses have put together just for you!

This contest ends July 23rd, at 11:59 PM EST, so hurry and enter. One entry per person, no cash value, or exchanges. More general rules and conditions here.

But Wait…There’s More!

Because there are literally thousands of jobs and we had to choose only a fraction to include in the book, our fantastic Street Team helped us create a special resource: a Contributed List of BONUS Occupation Entries. Check it out…you might find the PERFECT FIT for your character!

A giant thank you to everyone who helped us launch this book <<Street Team squeeze>>, and to all of you for your support of what we do.

Be a good writing bud and let your friends know about this draw? Good luck to all!

Posted in Uncategorized | 37 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Peer Pressure

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: Peer Pressure

Category: Power struggles, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, loss of control, ego

Examples:
Doing something irresponsible or dangerous because others are doing it (using drugs, cliff diving into unknown waters, etc.)
Giving in to a dare (picking a fight with a stranger, vandalizing property, etc.)
Going farther physically than one wants to because they’re pressured to do so
Laughing at an off-color joke, even if one feels uncomfortable about it
Seeing wrongdoing and not pointing it out, due to fear of losing friends
Covering for someone who’s doing something they’re not supposed to do
Taking part in a prank
Allowing oneself to be subjugated to someone else (laughing off insults, agreeing to ideas the character doesn’t believe in, etc.)
Participating in activities one isn’t really passionate about because important people in the character’s life are involved (joining a country club, trying out for a sports team, etc.)
Living beyond one’s financial means to keep up appearances (buying a luxury car, taking expensive trips, only wearing designer clothes, etc.)
Expressing support for political, religious, or social ideals one doesn’t actually believe in
Going to great or unhealthy lengths to maintain a certain physical appearance simply to look like everyone else
Making important life decisions based on what others are doing (where to go to college, where to send one’s kids to school, what career to pursue, where to live, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Embarrassment over the foolish decisions one has made
Getting into minor trouble at school or work
One’s reputation being damaged

Potentially Disastrous Results:
The character losing their sense of personal identity and values
Experiencing physical, mental, or emotional trauma from the fallout (getting pregnant, developing an eating disorder, being abused, getting into a car accident, etc.)
Being guilty by association
Choosing dysfunctional relationships over healthy ones, and losing the friends and loved ones who would speak wisdom into the character’s life
Seeking other unhealthy ways of gaining control (self-harming, promiscuity, controlling people outside of one’s peer group, etc.)
Going into debt (if the peer pressure impacts financial decisions)
Being arrested
Getting suspended or expelled from school
Getting fired
Developing co-dependence tendencies
Living an unhappy or unfulfilled life
Hurting someone else (if the peer pressure involves oppressing or bullying others)
Losing the ability to think for oneself

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Feeling powerless and trapped, like the character isn’t really in charge of their own life
Struggling with feelings of insecurity and self-doubt
Constantly feeling conflicted about what one is doing and what one really wants to do

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: friends and family who truly care about the character, anyone who is victimized by the character’s choices (someone who is belittled or bullied, for instance), people who look up to the character and are negatively influenced by their example

Resulting Emotions: Agitation, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, conflicted, confusion, contempt, defeat, defensiveness, denial, depressed, discouraged, doubt, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, flustered, guilt, humiliation, hurt, inadequate, indifference, insecurity, intimidated, loneliness, nervousness, powerlessness, regret, reluctance, remorse, resignation, self-loathing, shame, tormented, uncertainty, unease, wariness, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Addictive, callous, catty, childish, cruel, cynical, defensive, dishonest, evasive, frivolous, gullible, hypocritical, ignorant, impulsive, indecisive, insecure, irresponsible, mischievous, selfish, subservient, timid, unintelligent, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: 
Recognizing manipulation in others so it can be avoided in the future
Wanting to regain control of one’s life
Seeing how far one has come from their roots, and determining to get back to their true origins
Learning to accept responsibility for one’s actions, even for things that happened because one stood passively by
Deciding to be a leader instead of a follower

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

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

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

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The HOT SEAT with Angela & Becca Is Today, July 16th – Sign up!

What’s more fun than an Author Q & A? Easy, a HOT SEAT.

Hot, as in Angela will put Becca in the Hot Seat and ask questions she won’t see coming…and then Becca will repay the favor.

Hot, as in YOU decide what those questions are, not us!

Ask us about how we met, the almost-calamity when we visited Disney World, how we work together, our books, or things that force us to expose our weird side!

Want to ask Becca a question? Send it to Angela here.

Want to ask Angela a question? Send it to Becca here.

Want to join this Zoom event to watch the whole crazy trip unfold and ask even more questions live? SIGN UP! The zoom will be Thursday, July 16th at 8 PM EST. We hope to record it, so if you can’t make it, sign up and you’ll get the recording.

For more information on the HOT SEAT, visit this post.

(Psst. There might be prizes.)

See you there!

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CRITIQUES 4 U!

Welp, Angela and I are in full-blown, a-million-balls-in-the-air, pre-publication madness right now. It’s crazy, but we love it because it means that by this time next week, The Occupation Thesaurus will be available at all our regular distributors :). In case you were looking for news on that, you can find some information about the book here.

Also, we’re doing something a little wacky for this launch (shocking, I know) that will allow YOU to put US in the Hot Seat and ask us whatever questions you want about our jobs, working together, etc. If you would like to attend this Zoom event or submit questions for us to answer, check out this post.

(The Hot Seat is happening Thursday, July 16th, at 8 PM EST. We will have a recording I hope, so even if you can’t make it live, you can watch after the fact!)

And now, back to this month’s critique contest!

CONTEST IS CLOSED :). SEE YOU NEXT MONTH.

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.

CRITIQUES 4 U!

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).

Best of luck!

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Ready to Put Angela & Becca in the HOT SEAT?

You guys! Do you realize the NEXT Thesaurus Writing Guide, The Occupation Thesaurus, will be here in less than 10 days? *excited shrieking*

Our book release event is July 20th and many great prizes will be up for grabs. But before that, we’re putting on a LIVE event and we hope you’ll join.

The Hot Seat

Because this book is all about occupations, we thought it would be fun to pull back the curtain regarding the work Becca and I do. Join us for a fun HOT SEAT event where YOU ask the questions about US, our work, relationship, and maybe our weird quirks.

If you’ve ever wondered about how we met, the crazy coincidences that keep happening to us, how we work together, or who’s weirder, now’s your chance. We’ll bring you into our home offices and dish all the details.

When: July 16th, 8 PM EST
Where: Zoom
What to Bring: a beverage of choice, questions, and your sense of humor
Sign Up Here!

WANTED: Your Questions

In addition to being able to ask questions LIVE, you can also suggest ones for Angela & Becca to ASK EACH OTHER…putting them in the HOT SEAT!

Have a good Hot Seat question? Click the link below to send it to either Becca or Angela:

Becca, ask Angela THIS QUESTION (Angela will not see these questions in advance)
Angela, ask Becca THIS QUESTION (Becca will not see these questions in advance)

SIGN UP & WE’LL EMAIL YOU THE LINK TO JOIN ON JULY 16TH, 8 PM EST

Can’t wait to see you all!

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