What Is Writer’s Burnout?

Hi everyone! Today we’re happy to welcome author Chrys Fey to the blog who is sharing an excerpt from her book, Keep Writing with Fey: Sparks to Defeat Writer’s Block, Burnout, and Depression (affiliate link) where she focuses on writer’s burnout. This is something that’s a real risk, especially this year. We’ve all had a lot more to handle and it takes a toll. So please, read on.

When I mention writer’s burnout, many people get the wrong idea about it, so I thought I’d mention a few of the most common myths about writer’s burnout first and then get into the facts about what it is and what causes it.

Myths:

– Writer’s burnout is the same as writer’s block.
– You only get burned out by writing too much.
– If you can write an essay or a poem, you’re not burned out.
– If, deep down, you want to write, you’re not burned out.

The Confusion:

Writer’s burnout is often confused with writer’s block when, in actuality, it is more extreme than that. Writer’s block is the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

When you are burned out, it is very different. We’re not just talking about things that can stop you from writing. You don’t even need to be blocked in order to get burned out. You could be able to easily think of what to write next and may even have the next scene or chapter plotted out and still suffer from this extreme condition. Anyone who works too hard, pushes their limits in order to get one task after another done without a break, and is eyeball deep in stress, can experience this. It doesn’t matter what your profession is, either. Usually, it’s called job burnout, but when it comes to being a writer, and when this burnout affects you as a writer, I call it writer’s burnout.

When I suffered from writer’s burnout, I had many ideas of what to write and a workable outline for the next book in my series. I was not blocked. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t. I’d try and fail. Again, not because I was blocked. I’d have a good day or two of writing a fictional story with fresh energy that would make me think I was back to normal, and then I wouldn’t be able to muster up the energy, the motivation, to write a single word more on the third day. I’d want to. Oh, boy, did I want to. I wanted that energy I had the previous two days. But it wasn’t there. I was depleted. Utterly exhausted, from my mind to the tips of my fingers and toes. Even my soul felt drained. I had worked myself beyond the breaking point, through depression and stress, and faced the severe consequences.

During that time, however, I managed to write essays about my life as a child and teen. These essays were non-fiction and ranged from a page or less to three pages long. See? I could write something. I found writing about my life (for myself and no one else) relatively easy, but writing fiction, the thing I’d been writing for well over a decade, was hard. I didn’t have the motivation or energy for it anymore.

I did a small amount of non-fiction writing when, suddenly, even that became too much and I couldn’t manage to write another short essay. Eventually, because I kept trying to force myself to write, I did lose all motivation for anything writing related. I didn’t even want to write emails. That’s how exhausted I was. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is burnout.

What is Writer’s Burnout?

Burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by stress or by doing too much. Believe me, you can be physically exhausted as a writer.

You can lose motivation and feel as though you have nothing else to give in the area that caused your burnout, which usually means your job. For athletes, it’s their sport, the one they’ve devoted and dedicated their lives to. For writers, it can be anything related to being a writer, not just the act of writing. And that is something many don’t understand. You don’t need to be writing five thousand words a day to burn yourself out as a writer. You can burn yourself out by revising or rewriting a project over and over again. You can burn yourself out by editing one thing after another for others. You can burn yourself out by focusing on marketing day in and day out and getting upset that nothing is helping your sales.

Once you have burnout in one area of your life, it can leak into all areas of your life, like an oil spill, covering everything with a thick greasiness and zapping your energy for things even unrelated to writing. That is how dangerous burnout is for creatives and career-oriented individuals.

What Causes Writer’s Burnout?

Anything. It can be different for everyone, and you may have several causes working together to burn you out completely.

For me, doing too much in other areas (blogging and editing for clients), stressing myself out over marketing, and depression, which partially stemmed from my writing life, brought about my long battle with burnout.

Common Causes:

– Excessive stress
– Overworking yourself
– Taking on too many responsibilities
– Chaotic work environment
– Feeling undervalued
– Too many expectations
– Setting unachievable goals
– Lack of support
– Sleeplessness

Symptoms of Writer’s Burnout:

– Feeling drained and tired (fatigue)
– Insomnia
– Lowered immunity (illnesses)
– Frequent headaches
– Sadness, anger, or irritability
– Sense of failure
– Negative outlook
– Feeling detached
– No or low motivation
– Lack of interest
– Unhappiness
– Depression
– Alcohol or substance abuse
– High blood pressure
– Heart disease

That’s a lot, isn’t it? That’s why burnout is not something to shrug your shoulders at. That’s why burnout should be taken seriously and understood.

How are you feeling right now? Are you experiencing writer’s burnout? Let’s talk about it.

(Affiliate link)

Chrys Fey is the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication (affiliate link). She is also the author of the Disaster Crimes series.

Visit her blog, Write with Fey, for more tips on how to reverse writer’s burnout.

Posted in Focus, Guest Post, Motivational, Time Management, Writer's Attitude, Writer's Block, Writing Resources, Writing Time | 27 Comments

6 Tricks to Layer on Stakes

Stakes are what are at risk in a story. It might be that the protagonist’s life is at risk, or perhaps a romantic relationship, or maybe the opportunity to go on a long-awaited trip (Hello, Covid!). But I find this definition a little vague. So I prefer to think of stakes as potential consequences.

Stakes are significant things that could happen, and they include a sense of cause and effect. Typically, you can fit stakes into an “if . . . then . . . ” statement (even if it’s not literally written as one in the text):

If I don’t defeat [the antagonist], then he’ll hurt my family.”

If you become a vampire, then the only thing you’ll love is blood.”

If we don’t keep moving, then dehydration will kill us.”

Great stakes are closely related to tension and hooks. All three get the audience to look forward and anticipate what could happen, usually by getting the audience to hope or fear a potential consequence. The audience then has to keep reading to discover the actual outcome.

For many writers, stakes can be difficult to get on the page specifically because they require the writer to brainstorm possible, future outcomes–some of which may not actually happen.

For example, say your characters are stranded in a desert. They decide if they don’t keep moving, they could die of dehydration. But perhaps, in reality, it turns out if they had stayed put, they would have been rescued. Stakes aren’t always about what actually happens. They are about risk.

In most stories, you’ll want to include more stakes than what actually happens. Sometimes, it’s hard to brainstorm enough of those, so here are some tricks.

1. Look at both positive and negative potential consequences.

When it comes to stakes, we often focus on the negative . . . because that is what is at risk.

“If [the protagonist] doesn’t defeat [the antagonist], [the antagonist] will take over the world.”

But putting positive outcomes on the page can sometimes be just as effective.

“If Samantha can nail this audition, then she can finally star in a movie.”

In this example, a positive potential consequence is what is at risk. Sure, we could change it to a negative–if she doesn’t nail the audition, she can’t star in a movie. But by considering both positive and negative, we are more likely to brainstorm new stakes.

2. Add to the cause-and-effect trajectory

Once you have one stake on the page, you can often add more to it, by taking the cause-and-effect trajectory out further. Suzanne Collins does this well in the opening of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

If the protagonist can’t eat cabbage soup, then he can’t get his stomach to stop growling (consequence #1), which means people will realize he’s poor, not rich (consequence #2), which means his reputation will be ruined (consequence #3), which means he’ll lose his opportunity to be a mentor through his school program (consequence #4), which means he’ll unlikely be able to meet the credentials needed for college (consequence #5), which means his family won’t be taken care of (consequence #6), which means his cousin might have to succumb to prostitution (consequence #7).

That’s a lot that hinges on cabbage soup. Suddenly that soup feels pretty important.

3. Consider broad potential consequences

Another helpful approach is to look at how a potential consequence can have broader ramifications.

This works even with personal matters.

“If Jasper doesn’t return Emily’s love with a proposal, her descendants may be doomed to live in poverty.”

Here, something personal, love, has been broadened to include a family line–all of Emily’s children.

“If George doesn’t get to water, he could die of dehydration, which means his evil uncle could take the throne.”

Here, the protagonist’s possible death affects a whole kingdom.

4. Consider personal potential consequences

A reverse of this is to make potential outcomes more personal.

“If I don’t defeat the antagonist, he’ll take over the world–my mom, dad, Frankie, my entire hometown won’t survive.”

This goes from broad to personal.

5. Pull in other plotlines

In most stories, there are multiple plotlines: primary, secondary, tertiary, etc.  

One way to brainstorm more stakes, is to try to connect the current situation to an indirect stake, like one from another plotline.

Say in one plotline, the protagonist is concerned about training her dog. In another, she’s trying to get her love interest’s attention. You can look for ways to connect them with stakes.

“If she can’t get her dog trained, then Fido might chase after the love interest’s car–earning her the wrong kind of attention.”

6. Look at perceived threats

Sometimes a perceived risk works well. Meaning, the character thinks something is at risk, when it isn’t.

Perhaps you are writing about a child who thinks if she lies to her teacher, she’ll go to jail. This is obviously not true, but to her, it’s a possibility. 

When perceived threats are written well, they can feel real, even when the audience knows they aren’t. Just make sure not to only use this kind.

September C. Fawkes

Resident Writing Coach

September C. Fawkes has worked as an assistant to a New York Times bestselling author and writing instructor, and now does freelance editing at FawkesEditing.com. She has published poetry, short fiction, and nonfiction articles, and her award-winning writing tips have appeared in classrooms, conferences, and on Grammar Girl. Visit her at SeptemberCFawkes.com for more writing tips, and find her on
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With these six approaches, you should be armed to brainstorm more, significant stakes. To learn more about stakes, you can read my other article on them here.

Posted in Action Scenes, Character Arc, Characters, Conflict, Fear, High Stakes, Motivation, Pacing, Plotting, Resident Writing Coach, Tension, Writing Craft, Writing Lessons | 9 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Losing One’s Temper

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 One’s Temper

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

Examples:
A character can lose their temper in any circumstance, with any person. The severity of the situation (and, therefore, the fallout) will depend on a number of factors:

The Environment
At work
In the bedroom
In a media interview
In the principal’s office
At a public event that is being recorded

The Target of the Character’s Anger
A partner
One’s toddler
The boss
A police officer or other person in authority
A physically or mentally disabled person

The Severity of the Outburst
Generic yelling
Throwing, punching, or breaking things
Using insults or offensive language
Physical violence against the other party (grabbing, pushing, hitting, shaking)

The Frequency of it Happening
Does the character lose their temper often, meaning, it’s expected and is blown off as part of their volatile nature?
Was this unprecedented—a total shock and completely out of character?

Minor Complications:
Being thrown out of an establishment and forbidden from coming back
Being reprimanded at school or work
Losing the respect of others
Minor property destruction that must be fixed (breaking a knickknack, punching a hole in the wall, etc.)
The outburst causing a rift in a relationship that the character must address
The outburst being recorded and posted publicly
Being embarrassed

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Losing a friend
Being arrested
Getting fired
The situation devolving into a physical fight
Seriously injuring someone
Losing trust with the other party
The character’s insults damaging the target’s else’s self-esteem and confidence
Destroying an important piece of property (an antique, something that holds significant emotional significance for the other party, etc.)
Getting in a car wreck
Loved ones following in the character’s footsteps and repeating this abusive behavior (a child, niece/nephew, protégé, etc.)
Slipping into a dysfunctional behavior pattern of losing one’s temper when angry
Viewing the tendency as normal and acceptable rather than something that is disrespectful and damaging and needs correction
Reinforcing harmful stereotypes about the character’s occupation, race, gender, birthplace, etc.

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Feeling intensely guilty following the outburst
Knowing it’s wrong but enjoying the sense of power the outburst brings when it happens
Wanting to respond differently but feeling powerless to do so in the moment
Struggling with shame or self-loathing
The character feeling that they have let others down

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The target of the character’s anger, onlookers, loved ones, friends, neighbors, co-workers, people who admired the character

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, appalled, apprehension, conflicted, defensiveness, defiant, denial, determination, devastation, disappointment, discouraged, disillusionment, doubt, dread, embarrassment, frustration, guilt, horror, humiliation, insecurity, powerlessness, rage, regret, relief, remorse, satisfaction, schadenfreude, self-loathing, self-pity, shame

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, callous, confrontational, controlling, cruel, defensive, disrespectful, hostile, impatient, impulsive, macho, perfectionist, stubborn, violent, volatile

Positive Outcomes: 
Seeing the damaging results and vowing to be more controlled
Recognizing a dangerous pattern of behavior and determining to make a change
Achieving the desired result—getting one’s opinion across, stopping an undesirable decision from being made, regaining control, etc.—despite using a dysfunctional method to bring it about

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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Best Self-Publishing Companies for Novels in 2020

If you are an aspiring or newbie author, you may be wondering where you can (or should) self-publish your novel and in what formats (hardcover, paperback, and/or ebooks). Or perhaps you are a veteran author who has been publishing books one way for a while, and you are looking to see what other options are out there. 

Before we get into publishing options, let’s talk about the biggest places readers are picking up books in 2020. (In other words, the places you want your books to be sold.) The biggest retail options for indie authors (also known as self-published authors or independent authors) in 2020 are as follows:

  • Amazon
  • Rakuten Kobo
  • Google Play
  • Apple iBooks
  • Barnes & Noble/Nook

Today’s discussion will center around hardcovers, paperbacks, and ebooks.

Please be aware that some of these publishing options only distribute physical books while others only distribute ebooks. In addition, if any of these options are marked as aggregators, that often means they take a percentage of whatever you make. When in doubt, do some extra research on your own. 

For paperback and hardcover options, I highly recommend looking for POD (print on demand) companies rather than companies that require you to order large volumes of your book. There are pros and cons to each option, which we won’t be able to get into today. But the business model for POD companies is to print books as they are ordered by customers. That way, no one has too much extra inventory lying around.

Self-Publishing Options

1. IngramSpark

  • Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook.
  • Distribution: IngramSpark is a book distribution company. They distribute to 40,000 libraries and retailers, including Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as major online retailers including Amazon, Apple, Kobo, etc.
  • Pricing: Pay to upload your book to the platform. (Click here to learn more.)
  • Pros:
    • You can offer hardcovers.
    • You can offer paperbacks and hardcovers for preorder.
    • *Distribution network.
  • Cons:
    • *Distribution network.
      • They can get your book to many different places, but your book isn’t always available to libraries and retailers.
    • Customer service & response time is notoriously slow (if they get back to you at all).
    • No real-time data. (For example, IngramSpark doesn’t offer any metrics for preorders.)
    • The platform isn’t user-friendly (confusing to use).
    • Receiving author copies or proofs can take months.
    • Printing quality isn’t consistent (either great or sloppy).

2. Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing)

  • Formats: Paperback and ebook.
  • Distribution: You can elect to enroll your book in KDP’s Expanded Distribution. However, they currently only work with US distributors. 
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
    • It’s free to create an account with KDP and upload your books. You only pay for proofs or author copies. 
  • Pros:
    • Good customer service/response time.
    • Real-time dashboard metrics.
    • Quick turnaround time for proofs and author copies.
  • Cons:
    • Doesn’t offer hardcovers.
    • Doesn’t offer preorders for paperbacks. (Only ebooks are available to preorder if you set up a preorder for your book.) 

3. Barnes & Noble Press (Nook)

  • Formats: Hardcover, paperback, ebook.
  • Distribution: Strictly to Barnes & Noble Press.
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • You can offer preorders on all formats. 
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 
  • Cons:
    • Barnes and Noble is a retailer, and book retailers have gone out of business in recent years. 

4. Rakuten Kobo (Walmart)

  • Formats: Ebooks.
  • Distribution: Strictly to Rakuten Kobo.
    • Rakuten (which owns Kobo) partnered with Walmart to distribute ebooks to Kobo readers. In other words, by distributing to Rakuten Kobo, you are also tapping into Walmart. 
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • Kobo is a Canadian company with a large reader base there. However, it’s also growing in the U.S.
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 
  • Cons:
    • It’s one more place to remember to upload your book.

5. Google Play

  • Formats: Ebook.
  • Distribution: Strictly to Google Play.
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 

6. Apple iBooks

  • Formats: Ebook.
  • Distribution: Strictly to iBooks
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • Exclusive marketing and promotion opportunities for authors on this platform. 
    • The platform is growing in popularity in the U.S. 
  • Cons:
    • In the past, you had to have an Apple computer to upload your book directly to this platform. 

7. Draft2Digital

  • This is an aggregator. 
  • Formats: Ebook.
  • Distribution: Amazon, iBooks (Apple), Barnes & Noble, Rakuten Kobo, Tolino, Hoopla, Vivlio, OverDrive, Bibliotheca, Baker & Taylor.
  • Pricing: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Pros:
    • You don’t have to upload directly to tons of different retailers.
    • They get your ebook into digital platforms for libraries that would be difficult to access otherwise. 
  • Cons:
    • They take a percentage of your sales.

8. SmashWords

  • This is an aggregator. 
  • Formats: They take a percent of your sales (depending on how you price your book).
  • Distribution: Smashwords, Amazon, iBooks (Apple), Barnes & Noble, Rakuten Kobo, Baker & Taylor, OverDrive, Scribd, cloudLibrary, Gardners, Odilo.
  • Pricing
  • Pros:
    • They sell books directly on their platform. 
    • You don’t have to upload directly to tons of different retailers.
    • They get your ebook into digital platforms for libraries that would be difficult to access otherwise. 
  • Cons:
    • They take a percentage of your sales.
    • The platform isn’t easy to navigate. 

9. Working Directly with a Manufacturer 

  • Pros:
    • You have more flexibility for the format of your book and special features. You are only limited to what the manufacturer can do.
    • You sell directly to the consumer and have their information (vs. selling through a retailer who doesn’t share their customer info with you). 
  • Cons:
    • You may have to order books in bulk and store them at your home. 
    • Depending on your model, you may have to ship books directly to the customer (vs. having the printer ship the book to the customer). 
    • You can’t access an existing reader base (such as readers that are actively looking for books on Amazon or iBooks). You have to market extensively to bring readers to you. 

A few other publishing options that we don’t have time to get into today are:

  • LuLu
  • PublishDrive
  • StreetLib
  • BookBaby
  • XinXii
  • Blurb

I recommend if you use an ebook aggregator, use more than one. Often, these ebook aggregators distribute to different retailers or libraries. That way, if you use both (and uncheck publishing options covered by the other), you have a wider reach and your book will be available in more places. 

In addition, I personally do not recommend platforms that charge monthly subscription fees to use their services (at least when you are first starting out). Instead, I recommend platforms that take a percentage of what an author earns. Later on (if you are making more money on your books), a monthly subscription model might be more financially beneficial than having the aggregator or POD company taking a percentage of every book sold. But that will be subjective to each author’s goals and preferences. 

Which Self-Publishing Company Should You Choose?

In my opinion, this comes down to what you have more of, money or time.

If you have more time than money, then uploading directly to all of the “big five” platforms (Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, iBooks/Apple, and Nook/Barnes & Noble) might be the best option for you. That way, you don’t have an aggregator taking a percentage of your income on top of the percentage a retailer takes. 

The downside of going direct means it’s a lot more to do when tax season rolls around. You need to get reports from every platform you upload to and sell books through. It’s also more to track as far as expenses and sales. 

If you have more money than time, then using an aggregator might be the best option for you. In this case, a percent of your sales would be taken by the aggregator (usually around 10-15%). However, you only have to pull a few reports during tax season. 

In addition, if there is ever an issue in your manuscript (such as a typo) and you want to re-upload your manuscript or if you choose to change your book cover, you have to re-upload your manuscript to potentially dozens of platforms (if you don’t work with an aggregator). Some of those platforms, such as IngramSpark, charge upload fees. Meaning, every time you upload a new formatted manuscript or files, they charge you a fee. But if you work with an aggregator, you re-upload those files once, and BOOM. You are done. 

What publishing path that is best for you and your books will be subjective to your author goals, what your financial situation is, and how much time you are able to devote to the publication process of your book. 

Keep in mind that no publishing platform is perfect, and there will always be hiccups along the way. But there are many more publishing options today than there were a few years ago, and I anticipate there will be even more options for indie authors in the coming years. 

Meg LaTorre

Resident Writing Coach

Meg LaTorre is a writer, YouTuber (iWriterly), creator of the free query critique platform, Query Hack, co-host of the Publishable show, blogger, and she formerly worked at a literary agency. She also has a background in magazine publishing, medical/technical writing, and journalism. To learn more about Meg, visit her website, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, sign up for her monthly newsletter, and subscribe to her YouTube channel, iWriterly.
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Posted in Publishing and Self Publishing, Resident Writing Coach | 5 Comments

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.

Did you know that your character’s job can tie directly into your story’s theme? It’s a great way to get your message across subtly and organically.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

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!

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