Happy 5th Birthday, One Stop for Writers!

It’s October, which is One Stop for Writers’ BIRTHDAY MONTH. Even better, we’re hitting a very special milestone: it’s been 5 years since the One Stop library opened its doors.


One Stop for Writers is our passion project, one that Becca and I originally started with Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows. The three of us envisioned a library that would give writers exactly what they needed to write stronger stories faster, and help them become masterful storytellers at the same time. And so that’s what we built! Lee has since moved onto other projects but Becca, myself, and our team work hard every day to bring you the most powerful writing toolkit out there.

To celebrate this big birthday we’re hosting a free Zoom webinar on character building where we will hit all the major touchstones for creating fascinating, deep characters. We’ll show you how to plan their backstory, fears, needs, personality, behavior, motivation and more using the one-of-a-kind Character Builder.

This Zoom will take place on October 14th at 7 PM EST. If you can’t make it, we’ll send out a recording to those who register. We’ll be giving away a SWACK of 1-month memberships to those who attend live, too! Sign up to secure your seat:

Sorry, registration is closed.

Want to join the One Stop for Writers family? Here’s 25% off.

Activate the code BIRTHDAY5 and choose any paid plan. You’ll see a one-time discount of 25% on your next invoice!

(The code expires Oct 31st, 2020, so grab it fast)

New users or existing users, please use this code if you need it. And thank you for supporting us and the things we make to help writers. The world needs talented storytellers, and we love serving you!

Posted in About Us, Goal and Milestones, One Stop For Writers, Past Events, Software and Services, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 14 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: The Death of a Pet

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.

pet, death, grief

Conflict: The Death of a Pet

Category: Failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, losing an advantage, loss of control

Examples: Pets provide so much encouragement, love, and comfort that their loss can be a huge blow—especially when it’s unexpected or brings with it an element of guilt. Tack this debilitating event onto the end of a string of minor conflicts, and it can be the proverbial final straw that pushes a character over the edge.

Minor Complications:
Needing to do something with all the pet products in the house because looking at them causes too much pain
Having to make final arrangements (if the pet is going to be cremated, preserved through taxidermy, etc.)
Having to explain the death after the fact (when the vet’s office calls months later with a reminder about a scheduled appointment, to neighbors who ask about its absence, etc.)
Seeing pets that look similar to one’s own, and being reminded of him or her
Having to get used to new routines that don’t involve the pet (going for walks alone, riding in the car alone, sleeping by oneself, etc.)

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Adopting a new pet and realizing that one wasn’t ready
A well-meaning loved one buying a replacement pet for the character before they’re ready to start again
Being unable to adopt another pet because the character was partly to blame for the death of the first one
Family members needing opposing things in order to heal—i.e., one person needing to get a new pet and the other being unable to do so)
The pet dying on or near the anniversary of another loss (the loss of a parent, a miscarriage, the finalization of a divorce, etc.)
The pet dying in the same way as an important loved one
The pet dying in a gruesome or violent way, and the character being unable to move past it
One’s children struggling with the pet’s passing
Losing a support pet and not being able to function without it
Being unfairly blamed by a grieving family member for the pet’s death
The pet’s death being part of a crime, and the character having to keep revisiting the details in a criminal investigation
Remaining pets pining away for their friend

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Blaming oneself (legitimately or not) for the death
Wanting another pet but being afraid of losing it and having to experience grief again
Being unable to forgive a family member for the part they played (even accidentally) in the pet’s death

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Family members

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, bitterness, denial, depressed, despair, devastation, disbelief, discouraged, dread, grief, guilt, loneliness, longing, nostalgia, overwhelmed, remorse, sadness, shock

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Irrational, martyr, melodramatic, needy, nervous

Positive Outcomes: 
Remembering the good times
The character recognizing the good they did in taking in an animal needing a home
Deciding to contribute a monetary gift to an animal charity in the pet’s memory
Adopting another pet in need of a loving family
The character realizing that the love and companionship they experienced is worth the risk of loss

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

How to Use Your Excuses to Get More Writing Done

Writers are master excuse-makers.

Whenever we don’t get the writing done, we have a library of excuses ready to use.

I was too tired.
I was in a bad mood.
I didn’t feel well.
I had a hard day.
I didn’t feel creative.
I thought I’d have time later.

My personal favorites are “I didn’t have time,” and “My brain was fried.” You probably have a few you regularly use too.

Excuses are dangerous, though. They prevent us from achieving our writing goals. They can also make us think that it’s not our fault when we don’t meet our daily writing quotas.

Something else happened, we say to ourselves, or someone else got in our way. It was out of our control!

But of course, nothing could be further from the truth. We are in complete control of our schedules and our choices.

How can we shake ourselves loose from all this excuse-making and boost writing productivity? Here are three methods that might work for you.

1. Keep Track of All Your “Why I Didn’t Write” Excuses

Usually, our excuses come and go and we never think of them again. This allows them to stay hidden from our consciousness, where they are rarely recognized as the devious monsters they are.

Bring your excuses out in the open by keeping track of them. One way to do that is to create a chart, table, or Excel document on which you record your daily writing progress. On those days when you write, mark down the time you spent writing, the words you completed, or both. On the days you don’t write, record your excuse.

This can be a very powerful tool. When you review your progress document each week, you’re going to feel a positive hit for every day that contains writing time and/or words, but you’re also going to “feel the shame” for every day you allowed an excuse to get in the way.

Some excuses, of course, are legitimate. If you had to take a family member to the doctor or get emergency help for a broken water heater, you’re not going to feel bad about that. But if you look back and see you didn’t write because you binge-watched a favorite TV show, for example, or decided you were uninspired, you’re going to come face-to-face with your own failure to follow through.

“There is just something about being forced to write it down,” author Leigh Stein told NBC News, “being forced to look at what [excuse] it is that you’re using that I think helped me as a corrective.”

2. Stop Using the Word “But” Before Your Excuse

Excuses often begin with the word “but.”

For example:

  • I wanted to write, but I was too tired.
  • I was going to write, but my brain was dead.
  • I had planned to write, but I had to fix dinner.

The word “but” allows us to let ourselves off the hook way too easily. It makes it feel like it’s okay to neglect what’s important to us—our writing.

Try taking this word away. When you do that, the above three examples become:

  • I wanted to write.
  • I was going to write.
  • I had planned to write.

All of a sudden you can see your true desire under the excuses. You wanted to write, but you allowed your excuse to draw you away from that desire.

From now on, decide you will no longer use the word “but” when it comes to your writing schedule. When you find yourself about to say, “I wanted to write, but…” just stop. Sit with the first part of that sentence for a minute: “I wanted to write.” It may inspire you to write immediately, after which you’ll probably feel much better.

3. Use Your “Why I Didn’t Write” Excuses as Clues

Most of the time, when you don’t write, it’s not because you’re tired, too busy, or uninspired.

There’s something else going on. The excuse is a cover-up.

To boost your writing productivity, you need to put on your detective hat. What is the real reason why you’re not writing?

To unearth some clues, focus in on fear. By far the most popular reason writers don’t write, fear frequently gets in the way, so pull out your journal and answer these questions:

  • If I write, I’m afraid I will…
  • If I get my writing done, then I’m afraid…
  • Every time I think of writing, I’m afraid of…

See what you find from your answers to these questions, then track yourself for the next two weeks. Every time you’re tempted to avoid your writing time, stop and ask yourself: “What am I afraid of?”

Most of the time, this will help you get to the bottom of your excuses, so you can move past them.

Would you like to get more writing done and boost your writing career? Get Colleen’s FREE worksheet, “7 Easy Ways to Become a More Productive Writer” here!

SOURCE: Compton, Julie. “How Tracking Her Excuses Motivated This Writer to Pen a Novel.” NBC News. Last modified December 5, 2019.

Colleen M. Story

Resident Writing Coach

Colleen inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, was a gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards. Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018. Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker.
Writing and Wellness | Author Site | Twitter

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Why Writers Should Consider NaNoWriMo in 2020

Let’s not mince words: 2020 has been a real crap sandwich. COVID has caused all sorts of struggles, anxiety, and challenges. Some of you have had work disrupted. Others wanted to travel to see loved ones and couldn’t. All of us are feeling isolated or overburdened, and everyone’s schedule has gone off the rails.


Recently I posted about the changing seasons and the big opportunity we have to mentally reset using our deeply rooted associations with fall. The symbolism of this month is all about preparedness and taking action, getting things done before winter sets in. This means psychologically it’s a great time to set small, achievable goals and mentally turn the page.

One goal I’d like you to consider is not a small one, however. I bring it up because it has huge potential as far as offering us a mental reprieve from current stressors by providing a powerful, communal goal to rally behind. I’m talking about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) of course.

If NaNoWriMo is new to you, basically think CHALLENGE MEETS CREATIVITY. Tens of thousands of writers all over the world take on the same goal: to write 50,000 words in the month of November. It’s a lot of words. For many, it adds up to a full novel. And for all, whether they reach 50K or not, it’s a way to shove aside all the “You can’t write a novel” voices in their heads and JUST DO IT.

Some of you might think I’m insane for suggesting taking on a bigger goal like Nano, but hear me out.

Reason #1: It’s been a disruptive year, and NaNoWriMo provides us with a sense of normalcy and routine. Many of us have Nano’d before, or we’ve watched others do it. Participating this year is a chance to set aside what we can’t control and focus on what we can: creating incredible stories.

Reason #2: It’s a great way to come together and support one another as we pursue a common goal. If you’ve felt isolated, there’s a huge virtual community of writerly brothers and sisters with the same passion and drive as you. Through NaNoWriMo you’ll meet some and might just walk away with new writing besties. (We all need those!)

Reason #3: It’s free therapy. 2020 has been a psychological rollercoaster that has likely pushed you to your limits. Use this time to pour your emotions into your characters. Give them struggles that allow you to productively use the feelings you’ve experienced. The best part? As they grow and find their inner strength, it’ll help you recognize and appreciate your own resilience.

Reason #4: It gives you permission to experiment. Many writers have struggled to work on current projects (they’ve lost interest, hit a wall, feel too distracted, or their mood isn’t a match for the novels they typically write). One beautiful thing about NANO is that it invites experimentation. What a great time to try a new genre, character type, or to play with plot elements you’ve never given yourself permission to try before. Don’t pressure yourself over quality. Have fun seeing what your imagination is capable of!

Reason #5: The world needs your words. This has been a difficult year and more challenges lie ahead. Stories provide escape, comfort, connection, and sometimes, a pathway for a reader to gain insight into their own lives and grow. What a beautiful way to use your gift right now to help others!

reader interest

Not everyone will be able to do NaNoWriMo, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t. You didn’t ask for a pandemic or all the challenges that go with it, so this is just a gentle nudge. Use the spirit of NaNoWriMo to create something this November: a short story, a scene, or freewriting about something you’ve always wanted to explore. Do something that brings you joy.

Considering It? Let’s Build Your NaNoWriMo Toolkit.

NANOWRIMO: Sign up, introduce yourself on the forums, find local groups, and explore the treasure trove of links and resources that writers all over the world recommend.

TRELLO: This free tool is great for brainstorming. Gather together story ideas, research links, create columns for each character…Trello’s drag-and-drop cards are a great way to organize your ideas. (Free!)

ONE STOP FOR WRITERS: This creativity portal is LOADED with powerful resources to help you plan characters & their story arcs, world-build, create story timelines, slay story structure and plot using the Story Map & Scene Map tools, and so much more. (2-week free trial!)

BRAIN FM: I purchased a lifetime license years ago and have never looked back, and why? Because it helps me focus on the task at hand. This app plays special neural phase-locking music that engages with your brain, encouraging productive writing sessions. If you’d like to try it, use my member’s code to get a free month.

FREEDOM: If social media and email pings distract you, well, you aren’t alone. An unending stream of information is a blessing and a curse, so if you want to claw back your keyboard, try this app and website blocker. (There’s a free trial).

THE NOVELIST’S TRIAGE CENTER: If you get stuck at any time (write yourself into a corner, you run out of ideas, a plot hole happens, etc., visit this page. It’s packed with the many possible problems you might encounter and how to free yourself of them so the words continue to flow. (Free!)

NANOWRIMO PLANNER: Want a roadmap for 2020’s challenge? Eva Deverell’s handy planner guides you on what you should be doing to prepare leading up to November, and checkpoints during NaNo to help you get to 50K. Check it out. (Free!)

SHOW-DON’T-TELL PRO PACK: Description is powerful when you choose the right details. This powerful PDF gives you insight into some of the most meaningful areas of description and how to better utilize details to make characters leap off the page, push the story forward, and fascinate readers so they live in the world you’re creating alongside the protagonist. (Free!)

Whether you decide to jump into NaNoWriMo or not, we are in your corner!

Create something if it will help you, and if not, find ways to fill your creative well. Be kind to yourself. Reach out any time if you need someone to talk to and be proud of your strength. This has not been an easy year, but you are getting through it and we think you’re amazing.

Posted in About Us, Focus, Goal Setting, Motivational, NaNoWriMo Strategy & Support, One Stop For Writers, Show Don't Tell, Software and Services, Time Management, Tools and Resources, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Groups, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 3 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Blackmailed

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 Blackmailed

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

Blackmail occurs when one party demands compensation of some kind in return for not revealing potentially damaging (true or false) information about the victim. The possibilities for a blackmail scenario are virtually limitless when you consider the many secrets a victim may not want revealed combined with the demands the blackmailer could make. Below are a few brainstorming options to get the wheels turning:

Secrets about the victim that a blackmailer could threaten to reveal:
An affair
A hit and run accident from the past
A murder
A crime committed by their child
Damaging correspondence between the victim and another party
Information about a loved one that would be considered taboo in that time period or setting (a mental disorder, their sexual orientation, attending Communist meetings in the 1940s, etc.)
Racist comments
Accusations that were silenced or covered up
Nepotism in high places
Proof of lies
Sexual inappropriateness

In return for the blackmailer’s silence, they may demand…
Valuable items
Sexual favors
Verbal support for them or their cause
A coveted job for an ally
A scholarship or acceptance to a prestigious school for their child
That their legislation, permitting, or paperwork be pushed through
That the victim turn a blind eye to the blackmailer’s criminal behavior
The victim remove him or herself from an influential position

Minor Complications:
Lost sleep from worrying that the secret will get out
Inability to focus on work or school
Lying to many people and losing track of what has been said to whom
Having to come up with cover stories (for who the blackmailer is, where the character disappeared to for the past three hours, etc.)
Disagreeing with a confidante about what course of action should be taken
Having to cover when friends notice a change in the victim’s appearance (rapid weight loss, fatigue, lack of hygiene, etc.)

Potentially Disastrous Results:
The secret (real or fabricated) getting out
The blackmailer coming back and demanding more
Giving in to a demand that requires the victim to break the law or become complicit in some way
Damaged relationships with loved ones when they discover the secret
Loved ones being threatened
Loved ones being hurt when the blackmailer wants to send a message
The victim’s children being bullied when the secret is revealed
Bankrupting oneself to pay off the blackmailer
Not giving in to demands because the accusation isn’t true, and not being believed
Ulcers, high blood pressure, a heart attack, or other serious health issues
Becoming involved in a criminal investigation because of one’s involvement with the blackmailer
Sacrificing a career, marriage, or other valuable commodity to keep the secret private

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Being paralyzed with indecision about what to do
Constantly worrying over the situation
Imagining that other people know or suspect what’s going on
Wanting to confide in loved ones but needing to lie to protect them
Feeling shame or self-loathing over the transgressions from the past one is being blackmailed for
The victim contemplating taking the blackmailer out to remove the threat

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The victim’s family, innocent bystanders, people involved in the past transgression

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, anxiety, apprehension, denial, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, devastation, dread, fear, guilt, hatred, horror, intimidated, overwhelmed, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, rage, regret, remorse, resentment, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, shock, tormented, vengeful, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Apathetic, defensive, impulsive, indecisive, nervous, paranoid, pessimistic, reckless, self-destructive, uncooperative, vindictive, worrywart 

Positive Outcomes: 
Coming clean about something that has been weighing on the victim’s mind for years
Finally taking responsibility for one’s actions
Confiding in someone and seeing the relationship grow stronger through the trial
Taking charge of the situation instead of always letting others dictate the character’s choices
The victim growing in confidence when they realize they have done the right thing

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

Need More Descriptive Help?

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Meet Our Newest Resident Writing Coaches!

Can you believe this is the 5th year of our Resident Writing Coach program? It’s true! And today we introduce (and reintroduce) the wonderful experts who will be joining us for the Fall 2020-2021 season!

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 insights from all over the world.

Before I introduce our newest coaches, a heartfelt thank you goes to Sacha Black, Tamar Sloan, and Meg LaTorre for all the wisdom they’ve shared during their time in our RWC program. We wish you well on all your projects to come!

Now! The wonderful new coaches joining us are…

Alli Sinclair is an Australian multi-award winning and bestselling author whose fact-based fiction explores little-known historical events. In 2019, Burning Fields—a novel set in Australia post-WWII—was voted #13 in the Top 100 Australian novels of all time. Alli’s books have been published around the world in numerous languages.

Alli loves interviewing, researching, archives and adding rich historical detail into her books: Luna TangoUnder the Spanish StarsBeneath the Parisian SkiesBurning Fields and The Cinema at Starlight Creek. Her sixth book, The Codebreakers—a novel about Australia’s unknown female codebreakers in WWII—will be released in March 2021 and is the inspiration behind The Secret Lives of Australia’s Signals and Intelligence documentary. She also works on international film and TV projects as a screenwriter and producer.

Alli has lived in Argentina, Peru and Canada, climbed some of the world’s highest mountains and worked as a tour guide in South and Central America. She enjoys immersing herself in exotic destinations, cultures and languages. Alli’s books explore history, culture, love and grief, and relationships between family, friends and lovers. She captures the romance and thrill of discovering old and new worlds, and loves taking readers on a journey of discovery.

Alli hosts the Writers at Sea cruise retreat for writers, presents writing workshops internationally, and volunteers as a role model for Books in Homes. Alli is an experienced manuscript assessor and loves to work with writers to help their manuscripts shine. Find out more about Alli here.

Marissa Graff has been a freelance editor and reader for literary agent Sarah Davies at Greenhouse Literary Agency for over five years. In conjunction with Angelella Editorial, she offers developmental editing, author coaching, and more. She specializes in middle-grade and young-adult fiction, but also works with adult fiction. Marissa feels if she’s done her job well, a client should probably never need her help again because she’s given them a crash-course MFA via deep editorial support and/or coaching. Find out more about Marissa here.

Colleen M. Story inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, was a gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards and Reader Views Literary Awards. Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018 and was an Amazon best seller. Her novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.

Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker, where she helps attendees remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers. Her first course, “How to Finish the Creative Projects You Start,” is available on Teachable. Find out more about Colleen here.

We’re pretty jacked about all the things we’re sure to learn from these newest coaches. They will be a spectacular fit with returning RWC masterminds:

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.

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! Find out more about Christina 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.

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.

Another incredible year of Resident Writing Coach posts is about to begin. Is there a topic you’d like to see covered? Just leave us a comment below!

Happy writing,

Angela & Becca

Posted in About Us, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Writing Craft, Writing Resources | 3 Comments

Why You Should Be Excerpting Your Novel

Have you ever been flipping through a magazine and found an excerpt from a book, maybe one you’d never read? And did reading that short passage make you want to read more, prompting you to go looking for the book? This is why a lot of authors and publicists publish book excerpts: to generate interest in their story. Erik Klass from Submitit is here to discuss why this might be a good idea for you, too.

A few years ago I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Signature of All Things” in the journal One Story, and was blown away. When the eponymous book came out a short time later, I bought it. For readers like me, who skipped Eat, Pray, Love, getting a taste of Gilbert’s fiction was important. We can understand why the author (and probably her publishers) went to the trouble of getting an excerpt published.

But a more important reason to excerpt a novel, I believe, is that, with a few publishing credits in the quiver, an (otherwise) unpublished writer might have an easier time finding an agent and eventually a publisher for his or her first novel. It is a great separator, a free pass to the top of a (towering) pile of queries. 

But, you say, your novel is structured with care. It is complete. It adheres to a particular emotional arc. It is the sum of its parts—or, correction, is greater than these parts. A completed puzzle. But a chapter, no mirror or fractal of its larger whole, may not have an arc of any kind. 

And I rejoin: If a novel is a love affair, a short story is a one-night stand. It’s quick. Sometimes a little dirty. Strangers remain strangers. In many of my favorite short stories, very little actually happens. Not much time passes (it may stand still). They are all mood and indigo. A thought. A gesture. A crack in a bathroom mirror opens up a violence. The silhouette of a child’s kite against a setting sun brings back a memory. Let’s go into the woods and follow a stream and spot a deer beneath a blood-red sky. There can be great profundity in the small. 

I’m currently working on a novel about a man wandering the streets of Łódź, Poland, contemplating the loss of love. In one chapter, about halfway through, the narrator sits in a small square in the city and remembers an afternoon at his ex-lover’s apartment. A moment in time echoing a moment in time. That’s it. No real narrative arc—maybe this is another word for plot—no arc at all. And yet, there are colors and sounds and smells. There’s that inescapable feeling of loss. The haunting fleetingness of memory. I’d like to believe it will work as a publishable excerpt. 

Yes, short stories are often subtle. This, I think, is good news for your excerpt. You don’t need to connect all the dots. I recommend you don’t. Hint. Sprinkle breadcrumbs. Those gaps? Leave them. Have you ever stood close to a painting—let us say, Van Gogh’s Roses (1890)—and studied just one small section—perhaps a single white fallen petal in the canvas’s bottom corner, painted, it seems, with the tip of a finger? It is easy to miss, white against nearly white. It is a beautiful thing. This may be your excerpt.

But not all chapters are ready to reveal themselves, to throw off their novel (in both senses) clothes. An excerpt may require some work. 

Let’s say your excerpt requires a little background. Try this: summarize your novel (up to the chapter) in a sentence or two. It’s a surprisingly easy—and startlingly effective—way to start a story. I just came up with this: My wife would be meeting her lover at 4 in the afternoon (Ulysses).

I think I’d keep reading.

And endings: Unlike most novels, your excerpt doesn’t need tidy resolution. In fact many short stories leave things vague. But you probably need a hint of resolution. Perhaps there is a catalyst, a spark, and we’re left to imagine the oncoming conflagration. (This might be how you’re ending your chapters already. It’s what we do, we novelists.) But if you need to tie things up ever so slightly, tie away. 

The chapter I mentioned above ends with my narrator eventually rising from where he sits in the little Polish square and continuing his journey through the city. No resolution. (It’s a sad chapter.) But I didn’t want to end this excerpt like this. So in the last couple paragraphs I created a new character (yes: deus ex machina), a girl with long legs and violet-blue eyes. Not a word is spoken, but there’s that hint. It’s enough.

What I’m trying to say is that we may change our chapters. They are malleable, these precious things of ours. They are made not of stone, but of clay. We may even tear them, sometimes to shreds. For this novel—this interminable novel of mine—I wrote a chapter about eight Polish poets preparing for Vladimir Mayakovsky’s famous visit to Warsaw in May 1927. I get into their minds, explore their loves. With just a bit of work, I was able to pull short excerpts from this chapter and submit these new “flash” stories to a handful of journals; all but a few were accepted. (Here’s one, if you have half an interest.)   

Most chapters, I believe, hold this potential. Consider it an exercise. Free of the pulling weight, the magnificent magnitude, of the rest of your novel, you may enter into your story’s story, use the tip of your finest brush (or finger), and paint anew.

Finally, there’s a whole art to submitting your—I must call it now—story. There’s much to submitting, but I’ll leave you with one piece of advice: read. There are literally hundreds of journals (I have over 400 on my list), and they vary widely. Many writers use Duotrope to search for journals—it’s a great place to start. (And if you want to make it really easy, I run a company that can help.) Read these things. It is pleasant homework.

I hope the above inspires you to submit excerpts from your novel. And I wish you success.

Erik Harper Klass is the founder of a full-service submissions company called Submitit. He has published stories in a variety of journals, including New England ReviewSummerset ReviewMaryland Literary Review, and Open: Journal of Arts and Letters, and he has been nominated for multiple Pushcart Prizes. He writes in Los Angeles, CA.

Posted in Guest Post, Publishing and Self Publishing, Reader Interest, Short Stories | 1 Comment

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Lacking an Important Resource

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: Lacking an Important Resource

Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, failures and mistakes, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control

Examples: Characters are always going to be somewhat goal-oriented-whether they’re pursuing an overall story goal or a smaller-level scene one. When they lack the resources they need to get what they want, it creates a problem. Conflict can easily be generated if a character finds themselves lacking one of the following:

Food or water
A safe place to live or stay
A weapon
Money or other commodities
Tools or equipment
A skill or ability
An ally in a position of influence
Paperwork (ID, a travel permit, a hall pass, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Lost time and energy as the character turns their focus to obtaining the resource
Physical discomfort
Tempers flaring among allies as time passes and emotions escalate
The character being blamed for the lack when it wasn’t their fault

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Losing allies or investors who are tired of waiting for the character to gather what they need
A window of opportunity closing while the character is obtaining resources
The character cutting corners in obtaining resources, resulting in disastrous results
Ego pushing a character who doesn’t understand the resource to try and obtain it him or herself (instead of letting someone more qualified do it)
Crossing moral lines to get the resource
Reaching a physical or mental breaking point
Missing a crucial deadline
Other resources breaking or being depleted as a result
Not recognizing or admitting the importance of the missing resource until it’s too late
Someone within the group challenging the character’s ability to fulfill their role
Lashing out at the person responsible for the lack

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Stressing and worrying over how the resource can be obtained
Blaming oneself for not getting the resource before the lack became a problem
The character doubting their ability to lead or fulfill their role
Struggling with moral dilemmas surrounding how to obtain the resource
People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Anyone on the character’s team or in their group, people depending on whatever the character is trying to achieve (leading a revolution, building a bomb shelter, getting from one location to another, etc.)

Resulting Emotions: Annoyance, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, concern, defensiveness, denial, desperation, determination, disappointment, disbelief, discouraged, doubt, embarrassment, fear, flustered, frustration, guilt, impatience, inadequate, insecurity, overwhelmed, panic, stunned, uncertainty, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Disorganized, flaky, foolish, forgetful, fussy, impatient, impulsive, insecure, perfectionist, scatterbrained, uncooperative
Positive Outcomes:
Discovering skills the character didn’t know they possessed
Becoming more organized
Getting better at anticipating problems before they occur; being proactive
Learning to delegate; allowing others to be a bigger part of the process
Being able to ask for help when it’s needed
Connecting with people who can provide necessary resources
Learning to work through pain, discomfort, anxiety, or whatever else the lack may be causing

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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How a Character’s Job Can Awaken Unmet Needs

In fiction and film, often who a protagonist is at the start of the story and who they are at the end are different. Why? Because stories—the best stories—are about change. After all, in real life, we’re all in flux, learning and growing through experiences, gaining new insight, and adapting our worldviews. It makes sense that as readers, we want stories that show characters on a similar trajectory into the unknown.

The irony is that despite wanting to read about it, we know change isn’t easy, for us or the characters. In fact, change can be painful, making us feel vulnerable and afraid. We often fight it when it challenges our ideas, beliefs, and comfort zone too abruptly because we are not in control. And so, like us, characters understandably will also fight change to some degree when they are feeling the psychological squeeze.  

Change is an opportunity to learn, become someone stronger, and live our truth, which gets us closer to fulfillment and happiness. So as difficult and uncomfortable as it might be, it’s part of the human experience, and therefore it should be part of a character’s, too.

Change Arc Journeys

With change arcs specifically, the protagonist (and possibly others) will undergo an inner transformation during which he learns to harness his inner strengths, regain lost self-belief, and let go of the fears and wounds of the past (which is holding him back from living his best life in some way). To get to this point, though, the character must awaken to the fact that “something is off” about his life, causing him to feel unhappy, hollow, and unfulfilled.

This is the feeling of a need going unmet, and it can be a bit nebulous. The character may know he’s yearning for something without knowing what it is, and he’ll have to dig for the cause. An unmet need can create problems in many areas of their life, making it even harder for them to pinpoint what the source is. This creates a problem for us writers because for the sake of word count, we have to fast track this epiphany for readers. The character might be slow to catch on what’s wrong, but readers? They need to see what’s really going on as it’s key to them becoming invested in the character’s struggle.

Your Character’s Career: A Perfect Window into What’s Wrong

A great way to reveal what’s wrong in the character’s life is to use their job to show it. After all, work is a big part of anyone’s life, including your protagonist’s. Readers are hardwired to look for friction, and the day job comes with lots of built-in opportunities for clashes and problems, making a great showcase for conflict and unmet needs.

For example, take Adam, who works on the family’s ranch, training to take it over from his aging father. The world of cattle is all he knows—the routine of caring for animals and mending fences and the quiet hours of reflection as he leads the herd to grazing pastures and home again. Adam loves the sunsets and sunrises and roaming the wide-open spaces on horseback, but he also knows that something isn’t quite right. Let’s consider how his job might help him (and readers) pinpoint what is causing this dissatisfaction.

What if ranching is a duty, not a dream? Maybe he herds cattle yet imagines a different life, one with streets and shops, with high-rises and yellow cabs, a world busy with lights and sounds. He might think about university and the different possibilities available to him. Perhaps Adam is fascinated with buildings—their shape and flow, the beauty of glass and steel. To him, buildings are art, and he’s realizing he has a passion for how they are made.

As time goes on, ranching becomes drudgery; he becomes fixated on the less enjoyable tasks rather than the ones he likes. Most of his school friends have left to pursue education and build their own lives. Feeling trapped and lonely, he wants to experience new things too.

In this case, two things are awakening Adam to a need for change: a growing dissatisfaction with the work he does and the feeling that a window is closing. As his friends move forward, Adam believes he must do the same, and soon. This sense of urgency might help Adam evaluate his priorities about what’s important—studying to be an architect and having a different future—which will push him to have a difficult conversation with his dad.

Now let’s consider a different scenario in which Adam doesn’t dream of the city and being an architect. In fact, he loves everything about ranching. But he’s constantly butting heads with his father, who likes things to function a certain way. Always micromanaging, he points out what Adam misses rather than mention what he’s doing right. It doesn’t seem to matter how proactive his son is or how hard he works; his dad always complains about something Adam could have done better.

Adam is becoming increasingly unhappy, so when friends from college return home with enthusiastic stories about life at school, he can’t help but question whether ranching is for him. He longs for independence and a break from the constant criticism. As he and his friends meet in a pub, they talk about their lives. Some are excited about what they’re learning, but others seem overwhelmed and perhaps envious of Adam. On the drive home, he is uncertain what to feel. Life on the other side of the fence maybe isn’t as great as he first thought.

Giving your character conflicting information will create mixed feelings, which in turn sends their gaze inward to reflect on their situation and what’s bothering them.

In this case, Adam begins to realize that it’s not the ranching life he’s struggling with but his dad. An honest discussion about the problems might help Adam see his father’s criticism as well-meaning—a way to prepare him for the challenges of managing a ranch. Understanding that viewpoint can help him grow. Or maybe the conversation doesn’t go well and reinforces his dad’s need for control. If this can’t be worked through, another difficult conversation will have to happen, this time about Adam starting a ranch of his own.

A decision like this could be hard on both characters. Adam’s dad will be disappointed and possibly angry, and it will take time for him to understand his son’s decision to leave. Adam will also be taking a risk, walking away from a profitable ranch where all the kinks have been worked out. But if he is ready to fight for his independence, it means he’s realized something important: chasing what you want isn’t easy and involves risk. And while this situation with his dad will be difficult to navigate, doing so will lead to greater self-confidence and empowerment—the self-growth he needs to steer his own future.

A character’s job is one of the most important (and versatile!) details about your character and can be used not only to create a natural avenue for character arc growth, but also to characterize and showcase their deeper layers, provide hints to a past emotional wound, generate relationship conflict and more.

To investigate more ways you can use a character’s career to power up your novel, check out the newest volume in the Writers Helping Writers family: The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers.

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Awesome Writing Tips From 6 Famous Writers

As I always say on Bang2write, there are no specific writing rules to break, just risks to take … That said, there are ‘best practices’!

This is why it can be a good idea to check out what others who’ve gone before us think … We can then decide if we agree, disagree or are neutral. In turn, this helps us work out how we see our own writing craft working.

So, check out these famous writers and decide what you think!

Stephen King

Stephen King is a writer who needs no introduction … He’s one of the most prolific living authors, publishing at least 87 books. He writes a minimum of one thousand words a day but is an advocate of being ‘pantser’. This means he ‘flies by the seat of his pants’ without an outline, making up his story AS he writes.  (Other writers such as JK Rowling are ‘plotters’ in contrast because they DO write outlines). Want more pointers from King? CLICK HERE.

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is a TV writing goddess … You probably know her best as the creative force behind classic hospital drama Grey’s Anatomy. Rhimes puts big emphasis on self-belief when it comes to success.

I can really relate to this. When I started, no one believed a teen single mum who lives in the middle of nowhere could make any impression in the writing or script reading world … but I did! I can relate to Shonda’s words as a script editor, too. Unfortunately, I have seen lack of self-belief SINK so many writers who could have had great careers. So, BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! More from Shonda, HERE.

Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard was an author and screenwriter, with many of his books adapted for the big screen multiple times. His most famous include Rum Punch (filmed as Jackie Brown by Quentin Tarantino in 1997); Out of Sight starring J-Lo and George Clooney (1998) and TV’s Justified (2010-2015). This was adapted from Leonard’s short story Fire in The Hole, plus Leonard was also executive producer until his death in 2013.

Leonard had lots of strong opinions about what makes good writing. Amongst others he said writers should never start a story with the weather or use adverbs to describe the word ‘said’. Funnily enough, despite being one of my favourite EVER writers, I don’t always agree with what Leonard says! I always learn something from his pointers, though. Read more from Leonard, HERE.

Kirsten Smith

Kirsten Smith wrote the classic Rom Com, Legally Blonde starring Reese Witherspoon. Unlike Stephen King Smith values planning and when writing, she considers the purpose of every single line. If it doesn’t? Cut it out! She also places audience at the heart of what she’s doing. More from Smith, HERE.

Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele is a writer and director who won an Oscar for the screenplay of his smash hit horror, Get Out (2017). His pointers on searching for meaning and truth in writing are so important … It’s these two things that really attracted an audience to his film. Three years on, it seems Get Out is waaaaay ahead of its time now after a summer of Black Lives Matter protests. If you haven’t seen the movie, you have a real treat in store … That level of subtext is so difficult to pull off. To read more writing advice from Peele, CLICK HERE.

John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was another classic author with plenty to say. A Nobel prize winner, Steinbeck wrote stories about The Great Depression decade. Also, before Steinbeck ‘made it’ as a writer, he supported himself as a manual labourer himself while writing.  You may also remember learning his novel Of Mice And Men at school (I know I did!).

I think my favourite piece of writing advice ever comes from Steinbeck: ‘Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.’

This tip has worked for me for all my novels now (I’m currently writing novel number eight!). Let me know if it works for you! If you want to read more tips from Steinbeck, CLICK HERE.

Final Words

Are you more of a Steinbeck or Smith? Peele or Leonard? King or Rhimes? Or maybe you’re more of an amalgamation of all of these famous writers, mixed with a good chunk of your own tips!

So, whether you’re a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’ (or something else!), be sure to share with us in the comments. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Lucy V. Hays

Resident Writing Coach

Lucy is a script editor, author and blogger who helps writers at her site, Bang2write.com. To get free stuff for your novel or screenplay, CLICK HERE
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Posted in Characters, Focus, Motivation, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Stereotypes, Story Structure, Writer's Attitude, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 5 Comments