Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Discrimination or Harassment

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: Experiencing Discrimination or Harassment

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

Examples:


Discrimination: being treated unfairly by someone because of a characteristic or activity
Harassment: aggressive intimidation because of a characteristic or activity

Both of these scenarios involve prejudicial treatment—meaning, a person with prejudice or bias made a judgment about the character based on race, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, nationality, level of education, political affiliation, etc. But harassment often occurs repeatedly, making it a more personally targeted action. They both can occur anywhere—in any environment, relationship, organization, etc.‚—and the ways in which they can occur are, sadly, myriad. Your character may experience discrimination or harassment if any of these characteristics factor into the following scenarios:

Not getting a job or promotion despite being the best candidate
Being paid less than someone else doing the same job
Being excluded from a club, team, or other groups
Being ignored or overlooked in favor of other people (at a store, in line at the DMV, etc.)
Not being called on in class
Not being invited to parties or other social events
Being pulled over by police when the character has done nothing wrong
Being monitored, scrutinized, or targeted without cause due to a characteristic
Standards being changed for the character (a testing measure being lowered, a physical requirement being higher for the character than for others, etc.)
Treatment stemming from biased expectations—i.e., boys being expected to pursue athletics while girls are expected to pursue the arts; teens being scrutinized in a store due to false beliefs that “all teenagers shoplift”
Being denied service at a restaurant, store, etc.
Being unfairly fired or let go from a job
Receiving hate mail
Being told off-color jokes, called slurs, or otherwise being verbally insulted based on the characteristic
Needing more education, experience, or social proof to be viewed as an expert
Being pressured to do things that other people aren’t being pressured to do (return romantic or sexual advances, adhere to a different dress code, etc.)
Being subject to rules, policies, or processes that are not universal
Having to provide a higher level of evidence to be trusted or believed
Personal boundaries or privacy not being respected (the character’s hair being touched, being leered at, personal space being invaded, etc.)

Minor Complications:
The character having to hide their feelings in the moment because it isn’t safe to address the treatment
Inconveniences arising from avoiding the person/place where discrimination occurs
Damaged relationships (looking at someone differently because of what they did or didn’t do)
Confronting the other party, resulting in awkward conversations
Having to submit a harassment report or attend an inquiry
Having to explain (again) why something is discriminatory
Dealing with the rumor mill in the aftermath
Being scrutinized and judged unfairly by those who weren’t there

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Not being supported by those with influence (being asked to “let it go”)
Telling others about the treatment and not being believed
The character lowering their expectations to match those of the discriminator or harasser
Confronting the other party, and the occurrences escalating instead of going away
Being blamed for contributing to the problem
Having to change jobs, neighborhoods, etc.
Other discrimination or harassment situations arising because this one has gone unchecked
Friendships souring because the friend doesn’t believe the character’s claims or doesn’t know how to respond
Experiencing long-lasting physical, mental, or emotional distress
Pulling away from other people groups and staying within the group that makes the character feel safe
Because of the mistreatment, reading discrimination into other circumstances where it isn’t a factor
Becoming biased against the kind of person who did the abusing (people of that race or gender, in that occupation, etc.)
Losing one’s temper and incurring consequences (being reprimanded at work, getting suspended from school, being removed from a board or organization, etc.)
Suffering further discrimination and humiliation by a company who doesn’t take responsibility (being asked to move on a plane, at a restaurant, or being shifted to another position at work to circumvent the situation rather than deal with the offender)

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Discriminatory experiences causing a war between hope that things will change and losing faith in humanity
Trying to decide whether to call out the behavior or not (especially if the character fears negative fallout by doing so)
Internalizing the treatment (believing that what was said is true)
Struggling with fear, anxiety, or depression
Growing resentment, anger, or rage

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Co-workers, the character’s family members, neighbors, other people in the same demographic

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, anxiety, appalled, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, defiant, depressed, despair, desperation, determination, disbelief, discouraged, disillusionment, dread, emasculated, embarrassment, envy, fear, flustered, frustration, hatred, humiliation, hurt, indignation, insecurity, intimidated, loneliness, neglected, nervousness, overwhelmed, panic, paranoia, powerlessness, rage, resentment, resignation, sadness, self-pity, shame, shock, tormented, unappreciated, unease, vulnerability, wariness, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, cynical, hypocritical, ignorant, inhibited, martyr, needy, nervous, paranoid, perfectionist, pessimistic, prejudiced, reckless, subservient, violent, withdrawn, worrywart 

Positive Outcomes: 
Standing up for what’s right and seeing a positive change because of it
Shining the light on a wrong and exposing it
Educating people and gaining allies for the cause
The character sharing their story and emboldening others to do the same
Hearing other people’s stories and recognizing that the character isn’t alone
The character benefitting from cutting the toxic people out of their life
The character being able to identify and accept their characteristic as a strength rather than something to be downplayed or ashamed of
The character experiencing harassment or discrimination and becoming self-aware enough to acknowledge and discard their own biases

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 | 2 Comments

Critiques 4 U

How are you all doing? Things are so crazy in our world; it’s easy to get so caught up in what’s happening around us that we lose our center. I’ve talked to so many people who are searching for peace—something they used to have but are missing now and desperately want to get back. If you’re struggling with this, take some time to do what brings you peace. Spend time with uplifting friends, go for a walk, pray, volunteer…whatever that looks like for you.

One of the things I do is focus on what I’m grateful for. And I’m honestly grateful for all of you. Being able to help you and offer support makes me super happy to get to work everyday. One of the things I really like doing is reading your story openings and sharing my thoughts about them. So let’s get our monthly critique contest underway :).

CRITIQUES 4 U

THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED 🙂

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

Two caveats:

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

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

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

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

Best of luck!

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

No Story Conflict? Explore Your Options

As a reader of Angela and Becca’s blog, chances are you’ve seen some of their many posts about the role of conflict in our story. In fact, as a Resident Writing Coach here, I’ve previously talked about how to make our story’s conflict stronger.

The most common advice is to add more conflict to our stories, to add more external or internal obstacles that force our characters to struggle while attempting to make progress on their goals. After all, without conflict, our characters would reach their goals immediately: The characters want X and then they get it. In other words, we’ve learned that conflict is what turns a goal into a story.

But what if that’s not the kind of story we’re trying to tell? What if adding conflict doesn’t feel right for our story? Are we stuck?

Maybe we just need to expand our idea of what constitutes a story…

Different Narrative Story Structures

If we grew up in Western culture, chances are that we learned from our time in elementary school that stories are about solving a story problem. In turn, a story problem implies goals, stakes, and conflict, as the characters try to solve the problem.

However, that dramatic-arc narrative style doesn’t apply to every story, especially those in non-Western cultures. More importantly for today’s topic, stories with different narrative structures often don’t rely on conflict the way we’ve learned. This lack of conflict doesn’t mean they don’t “count” as stories, but it does make them different – and that means we can learn from them.

Narrative Structures with No/Low Conflict

Examples of narrative structures that take a different approach to conflict (often ignoring it completely) include:

  • Kishōtenketsu: 4-act story structure found in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese storytelling, from centuries-old stories to modern manga and Nintendo video games
  • Robleto: style of traditional Nicaraguan storytelling, which includes a “line of repetition” tying a character’s many journeys within the story together
  • Daisy-Chain Plot: story follows single object or idea with no central character
  • Fanfiction “Fluff”: zero-conflict/angst stories focusing on character interactions
  • Oral Storytelling: often emphases a moral message and not conflict
  • Rashomon-Style Plot: repeating events from different perspectives

A Different Way of Defining Stories

If we’re stuck in a Western-culture perspective of storytelling, we might assume no-conflict stories would be boring. Or we might not consider them stories at all. But let’s take a step back to understand what makes a story a story.

As I’ve often talked about on my blog, all types of stories are built on change. Most Western-style storytelling is based on a conflict-style of change, which involves the protagonist overcoming or learning from external or internal conflict (or failing to overcome or learn).

However, that’s not the only kind of change that can apply to storytelling. Many of the examples listed above instead focus on change in the reader rather than in the character.

For example, Rashomon-style stories present the same events as perceived by different characters to the audience, and it might be up to the reader to decide where the truth lies. In fanfic “fluff” stories, readers simply expand their imagination of what beloved characters might say, do, think, behave, or react in different situations.

In kishōtenketsu, the third act typically includes an unexpected “twist” unrelated to the previous acts (often seeming like an outright non sequitur) until all aspects of the story are brought together and reconciled in the fourth act’s ending. In other words, the twist can be more about changing readers’ perspective than the typical “plot twist.” (Check out the first comic at this link for a simplistic example.)

No Conflict? We Still Need a Story

All that said, this knowledge of alternatives to the usual conflict-focused story doesn’t give us an excuse to release boring dreck to readers. We still need to make sure our story is a story, especially as there’s a risk to relying on alternative story structures, as our Western audience is probably expecting a typical narrative. Being too stuck or lazy or whatever to think of how to add conflict is different from purposefully creating a story where conflict is unnecessary and beyond the point.

So if we’re going to claim our story fits one of these other narrative structures, we need to learn the rules and expectations of that structure just as much as we now study conflict, goals, stakes, etc. Claiming our story “fits” an alternative structure doesn’t automatically make it true.

In addition, we need to make sure we know how the idea of change applies to our story. Whether found in the character, the story world, or readers’ perspective or experience, the sense of change creates the sense of a story. No matter the style of change or how much conflict our story does—or doesn’t—have, the change is a type of enlightenment.

Readers want to discover the unknown, from “what happens next?” to “how does this apply to me?” or “how do these story ideas relate to each other?” A reader’s desire to get answers can create another form of tension and conflict, even in non-Western-style stories that are often thought of as conflict-less. And that emotional investment from readers will help ensure our story—no matter the form it takes—is satisfying to readers. *smile*

Do you have any questions or insights about no/low-conflict stories or alternative narrative story structures?

Jami Gold

Resident Writing Coach

After muttering writing advice in tongues, Jami decided to put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fueled by chocolate, she creates writing resources and writes award-winning paranormal romance stories where normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat. Find out more about Jami here, hang out with her on social media, or visit her website and Goodreads profile.
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Posted in Balance, Characters, Conflict, Endings, Experiments, Pacing, Plotting, Reading, Resident Writing Coach, Uncategorized, Writing Craft | 12 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Being Given an Ultimatum

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

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

Conflict: Being Given an Ultimatum

Category: Power struggles, increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, loss of control, ego

Examples: “Ultimatum” is a Latin word meaning “last one.” It’s a final demand that, if not met, will result in serious consequences for the character.

In romantic relationships, an ultimatum is often an order for the character give up something (a job, dream, hobby, or another person) or risk losing the person making the demand.

Sometimes, instead of asking the character togive something up, the other person demands that the character do something they don’t want to do. At work, this might involve the character having to violate a moral code, break a promise, or marginalize someone else in order to keep their job.

While ultimatums have a largely negative connotation, keep in mind that they’re not always bad or unreasonable. Demands to stop abusing drugs, be an involved parent, get to work on time, or stick to the rules of one’s parole are legitimate ones meant to establish healthy boundaries or help the character make better choices. But that doesn’t negate the stress and conflict that result when even a well-meaning ultimatum is given.

Minor Complications:
The situation keeping the character up at night
Trouble focusing at school or work
Other relationships suffering (because the character is keeping secrets, they’re taking out the stress on their kids, etc.)
Minor health issues, such as weight loss, stomach upset, headaches or fatigue
Dragging things out and prolonging the agony (through stalling, avoidance, denial, etc.)

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Not taking the other person seriously
Choosing the path that allows the character to continue in hurtful or destructive behavior
Giving in to an unreasonable ultimatum to placate the other party
Refusing to comply with a healthy ultimatum and losing an important relationship (friend, spouse, child, etc.) as a result
Listening to foolish advisors and making the wrong choice
Making a decision that results in the character living with dissatisfaction, insecurity, or regret
Giving up something the character truly loves and values

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Being plagued with indecision; not knowing what to do
Resenting the person making the ultimatum
Feeling trapped and powerless
Struggling with feelings of shame or self-loathing for allowing oneself to get into this situation or be pushed around by others
The character doubting their instincts or discernment

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the person making the ultimatum, family members, co-workers and employers, neighbors, people the character is responsible for

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anguish, annoyance, anxiety, apprehension, betrayed, bitterness, conflicted, defensiveness, defiant, denial, despair, desperation, determination, disbelief, discouraged, disillusionment, dread, fear, frustration, indignation, intimidated, panic, powerlessness, rage, reluctance, resentment, resignation, sadness, self-loathing, self-pity, shame, stunned, unappreciated, uncertainty, unease, vulnerability, worry, worthlessness

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Addictive, antisocial, apathetic, confrontational, controlling, defensive, dishonest, haughty, indecisive, inflexible, irrational, melodramatic, needy, oversensitive, paranoid, stubborn, subservient, uncooperative, vindictive, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: 
Recognizing the need for change (in the case of a well-meant ultimatum)
Recognizing in the aftermath of an ultimatum that it was a good thing; being grateful for it
Evaluating priorities and getting a clear idea of what’s important
Knowing what one really wants
Seeing the person making the ultimatum for who they really are
Increased confidence over having made the right decision in a difficult situation

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 Random Acts of Kindness, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Writers, Are You Struggling? It’s Time to Turn the Page

This year’s been a bit of a nightmare, hasn’t it? It feels like we’re living in the Upside Down. Between COVID, anxiety, financial stress, (and new responsibilities if you have school-aged children), you probably haven’t written as much as you’d hoped and your other goals have been disrupted. You aren’t alone. 

Not having control over our lives in such an extreme way is hard, and naturally, it impacts our mindset. We struggle. We get discouraged and pessimistic. In fact, you might be tempted to just write the year off completely…rip the 2020 calendar down, douse it in gasoline, and light it on fire along with any plans and goals.

Please don’t do this.

Goals Are Important

Every January, we writerly types perform a ritual: sit down and decide what we want to focus on during the next 12 months. Will we write a new book? Build our platform and learn everything we can about the industry? Take the leap and self-publish?

We aren’t alone in setting big goals. The rest of the world does too, in the form of business plans, marketing strategies, and heck, even New Years Resolutions. Collectively we understand that goals motivate and achievement moves us closer to the life we want. Since we view the start of a new year as a fresh beginning it’s the ideal time to chart a course toward our dreams.

Dreams Are Important

Writing a book. Publishing a book. Building a sustainable writing career. This is our collective dream – yours and mine. A crap sandwich like COVID can’t erase the fact that DREAMS MATTER. Your dreams matter. And while it’s harder than it should be for all of us right now, if at all possible, we need to find a way to keep moving toward those dreams.

Unfortunately, our COVID challenges will continue for some time yet. But good news…right now we have a special seasonal ally: Autumn.

When Seasons Shift, So Can We

For many, September marks a unique point in time: when summer gives way to fall. As such, this month has always had a “roll up your sleeves” feel to it: kids go back to school, adults return to work if they’ve been on holiday, and we writers head back to the keyboard in earnest after ignoring our WIP a little (or a lot) over the summer.

Just as January prompts us to imagine and plan the future, our minds are hardwired to think a certain way when September rolls around. It is a time to buckle down, make preparations, finish important work, and embrace change.

Now for some (like my Aussie friends), September may not actually be “fall.” But no matter what month autumn hits, it affects people the same way.

An Opportunity to Regroup & Refocus

The symbolic nature of fall is powerful, and we can use it to our advantage. This time of change makes it easier for us to regroup, leaving disappointment over what didn’t get accomplished or didn’t happen in the past and shift our thoughts to what can still happen.

It’s not too late to make strides toward your goals. Where can you dig in? Can you be creative right now and write? If so, do. If you can’t (and that’s okay), think about other ways to refocus energy toward your writing dream: small steps that are doable.

Maybe you can…

We have four months left of 2020. Four months to dust off personal goals, adjust business plans, and create a modified to-do list. Let’s turn the page and push forward, doing what we can as time and energy allow.

The season of fall is highly symbolic and triggers motivation. Use it to your advantage!

Posted in Balance, Focus, Goal Setting, Motivational, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized, Writer's Attitude, Writing Time | 1 Comment

Ways to Defeat Self-Doubt: Hang Upside Down (and Other Creative Moves)

September, 2009, was Dan Brown week in the world of publishing. That was when The Lost Symbol—Brown’s much-awaited follow-up to The Da Vinci Code (2003)—hit the bookstores.  

The Lost Symbol was not easy for Mr. Brown to write. I mean, how do you follow a once-in-a-lifetime megahit like The Da Vinci Code? Brown copped to the pressure. Regarding the long lag time between the two novels, Brown said in an interview:

“The thing that happened to me and must happen to any writer who’s had success is that I temporarily became very self-aware. Instead of writing and saying, ‘This is what the character does,’ you say, ‘Wait, millions of people are going to read this.’ … You’re temporarily crippled….[Then] the furor died down, and I realized that none of it had any relevance to what I was doing. I’m just a guy who tells a story.”

What happened to Dan Brown on a mega level happens to most writers who publish more than one book. A lot of unpublished writers think things will be just swell once they’re published, and they can produce book after book with nary a worry.

The truth is, writing fiction gets harder because we continue to raise the bar on ourselves. That is, if we truly care about the craft. We know more about what we do with each book, and where we fall short. We hope we have a growing readership, and we want to keep pleasing them, surprising them, delighting them with plot twists, great characters and a bit of stylistic flair.

Dan Brown reportedly deals with all this by using gravity shoes. He hangs upside down, letting the blood rush to his head. Bats use the same method. But there are other options.

Whenever you are wondering if you’ve got the stuff to be published (or, if published, to stay that way), let me offer a few helps.

1. Write. This is the most important thing of all. Get “black on white,” as Maupassant used to say. Even if you feel like pond scum as an artist, just start writing. If you can’t possibly face a page of your project, write a free form journal about something in your past. Begin with “I remember . . .” Pretty soon, you’ll feel like getting back to your novel.

But we can’t stroll down the aisle of “Plots R Us” and choose something fresh, right out of the box. (Although Erle Stanley Gardner was known to use a complex “plot wheel.” I guess he did okay). We are on a never ending quest for premises, characters and plot. No matter how many books we’ve done, we keep aspiring to the next level.

2. Re-read. Pull out a favorite novel, one that really moved you. Read parts of it at random, or even the whole thing. Don’t worry about feeling even worse because you think you can’t write like that author. You’re not supposed to. You never can. But guess what? He can’t write like you, either.

3. Incubate. For half an hour think hard about your project, writing notes to yourself, asking questions. Back yourself into tight corners. Then put all that away for a day and do something else. Walk. Swim. Work your day job. Stuff will be bubbling in your “writer’s brain.” The next day, write.

4. Stay away from the internet and social media for 8 hours. Think you can do it? It may be harder than you think! But what a needed respite for your creative mind.

Mental landmines abound for writers. The key is not to let any of them stop you from writing, even if you have to hang upside down to do it.

James Scott Bell

Resident Writing Coach

Jim is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Romeo’s Rules, Try Dying and Don’t Leave Me. His popular books on fiction craft can be found here. His thrillers have been called “heart-whamming” (Publishers Weekly) and can be browsed here. Find out more about Jim on our Resident Writing Coach page, and connect with him on
Twitter

Posted in Balance, Motivational, Reading, Writer's Block, Writing Craft | 2 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

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: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Category: Increased pressure and ticking clocks, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities, moral dilemmas and temptation, loss of control, no-win situations, miscellaneous challenges

Examples:
Witnessing a crime (a robbery, murder, counterfeiting operation, etc.)
Overhearing sensitive or dangerous information being shared
Discovering something about someone the character loves or respects that casts them in a negative light
Discovering another’s plans to disrupt, overthrow, or take over
Witnessing police brutality or misuse of power that could have blowback
Uncovering a terrorist plot
Witnessing another’s personal moment of vulnerability
Discovering a friend or family member’s affair by accident
Crossing a street and being hit by a car
Mistaken identity (that leads to being blamed, targeted, or held responsible for something the character had nothing to do with)
Being caught between two clashing forces
Being in a location when something terrible happens (an earthquake, terrorist event, an active shooter in the vicinity, the testing of a biological weapon, an equipment malfunction)

Minor Complications:
Having to take another route, causing a delay
Missing a meeting or appointment due to the fallout of the situation
Losing time to dealing with the aftermath (giving a police statement, waiting to be checked over by a paramedic, being held for processing, etc.)
Frustration over having to explain what happened over and over
A strained relationship from knowing something about someone that the character wishes they didn’t know (especially if both parties are aware the secret is now known)
Damage to one’s property (house, vehicle, clothing, etc.)
Having to replace a broken phone, get a car fixed after an accident, cancel credit cards that were stolen, etc.
Being injured
Being threatened
Suffering discrimination or obstacles in the aftermath
Restricted communication (a broken or lost phone, being physically incapacitated) and being unable to check in with loved ones or get help
Freedoms impacted (being held by police, being restrained or taken until everything can be sorted out)
Being quarantined or kept in a hospital for observation
Having to take tests and wait for the results to come back
Having to hide or change a routine until the threat has passed
Having to get a lawyer to straighten things out
Being pestered by the press
Losing one’s privacy
Being pressured to “forget” what the character saw

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Being viewed as a threat and fired (or booted out of an organization, etc.)
Being placed in life-threatening danger
Becoming responsible for the welfare of others when the character doesn’t feel capable or want such responsibility
The character’s reputation being ruined to discredit them as a possible witness
Being forced into becoming part of a cover-up
Being identified as a witness, placing the character and possibly loved ones in danger
Being targeted by people looking to silence a witness
Being turned into a scapegoat by those in power
Suffering a serious injury
Being hospitalized with no insurance
Ending up in a coma, with memory loss, or with a permanent disability
Being exposed to a chemical or virus doctors can’t identify to treat
A blown cover due to news coverage (being recognized by an abusive ex-spouse, enemies, authorities, etc.) who mean the character harm

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Trying to decide what to do: tell the truth, or lie
Trying to move forward when it’s difficult to do so
Self-blame (for not foreseeing what would happen, for not taking a different route, for not reacting differently at the moment, etc.)
Warring between self-preservation and the welfare of others
Guilt knowing that silence means others escape justice
Needing to talk about what happened but feeling unable to (or having no one who would understand)
Being guilted into staying quiet when the character knows it’s wrong
Moral struggles over doing the right thing when it means the character is placing themselves in danger (possibly losing their job by outing a corrupt boss or testifying in court after witnessing a shooting and being targeted by the cartel who ordered the hit)
Being pressured to frame what happened in a certain way to protect others involved
Guilt at being offered opportunities and advancements, knowing these are not deserved but rather to encourage silence
Regret at not doing more or making a different choice
Shame at giving in and protecting those responsible out of fear

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: innocent bystanders, victims and their families (if one doesn’t come forward as a witness, or provide aid), family members (who may be targeted in an effort to ensure silence)

Resulting Emotions: anguish, anxiety, appalled, betrayed, conflicted, disbelief, disgust, disillusionment, dread, embarrassment, empathy, fear, grief, guilt, horror, inadequate, intimidated, overwhelmed, panic, paranoia, pity, powerlessness, regret, remorse, resentment, self-loathing, shame, shock, tormented, vindicated, vulnerability, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: confrontational, cowardly, dishonest, disloyal, flaky, foolish, gossipy, impulsive, inattentive, judgmental, nervous, obsessive, paranoid, reckless, tactless, vindictive, violent, volatile, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: 
Discovering information the character never expected to may open their eyes to what was right in front of them but they were missing. While hurt or disillusionment may follow, knowing who is genuine and who is not will help the character cut toxic people out of their life and make more informed choices moving forward.
While a difficult and unexpected situation is never desired, it may help your character better see their own worth when they step up and meet the moment.
Often a situation like this leads to moral choices. A character looking for redemption may find it by doing the right thing whether it is immediate, or it takes time to gain the courage to do so in the aftermath.

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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Identifying Your Character’s Primary Attribute

When I think about some of my favorite protagonists, I can usually identify a trait that defines each one:

Sam Gamgee: Loyalty
Anne Shirley: Impulsivity
James T. Kirk: Boldness

However, if each character was made up of only that one trait, they probably wouldn’t make many “favorites” lists because they’d be paper-thin—caricatures, rather than characters with depth and nuance. Real people are complicated and deep, embodying more than one quality. And so must our characters be if they’re going to draw readers in through authenticity and relatability.

However, by including too many traits, you run the risk of creating a character who’s all over the map and doesn’t ring true. So how do we create multi-dimensional characters who make sense to readers? For simplicity’s sake, I’d like to focus today on how to accomplish this in regards to a character’s positive attributes (although this process also apply to flaws).

First, identify your character’s positive traits. Though there could be dozens, narrow the list down to the dominant ones—no more than five or six. Let’s use our beloved Captain Kirk as an example.

Along with boldness, he also exemplifies loyalty, daring, decisiveness, extroversion, and charm. But focusing on so many traits can make for a scattered character with hard-to-define motivations and emotions. To avoid this, look at your short list of traits and determine which is your character’s primary one. This is the attribute that will drive his choices. It is often also tied to his moral and ethical beliefs, his sense of right, wrong, duty, and worth. 

Going back to Captain Kirk, while he clearly owns a number of positive traits, boldness is the one that most motivates him. It determines how he relates to others and responds to crises, and it directly affects his career path and choice of hobbies. It also serves as a header from which many of his other traits—adventurousness, extroversion, and decisiveness—stem. 

Once you’ve figured out your character’s primary attribute, show that trait to the reader. Whenever your hero is faced with a choice, that trait should push him to a decision. When crises arise, the primary attribute should be the one that influences him on an internal, subconscious level.

Narrowing the list down to one trait will also make it easy for the reader to identify who the character is. For good or bad, human beings like to categorize things and put people in boxes. When readers can say, “Oh, he’s like this,” they’re able to put their finger on who the character is, and he becomes accessible. Relatable.

To add dimension, make sure you show those secondary traits, too—just, not as often. They should offer support, strengthening your character’s personality without overpowering it. Showing these traits to a lesser degree will add dimension while ensuring that your character’s primary trait shines through.

If you’ve got a multi-flawed character, which is a good idea, you can follow these same steps to balance his negative traits and make sure you’re focusing on the one that truly drives him. Very often, this will be tied to his fatal flaw—the thing he has to overcome or learn to deal with for him to successfully traverse his character arc.

Resources

You know that we’re all about making things as easy as possible for you, so we’ve got some resrouces that can help you with this process:

  • One Stop for Writers’ Character Builder: This tool lets you collect all the important information about your character, including their positive and negative traits. It also encourages you to choose the primary one of each. If you’d like to see what this hyper-intelligent and multidimensional resource is all about, sign up for a free trial to give it a whirl.
  • Character Target Tool: This resource helps you identify your character’s primary moral, achievement, identify, and interactive traits, making it easier to zero in on what makes him or her tick.
  • The Positive and Negative Trait Thesauruses: These books look at over over 100 attributes and flaws: where they come from, how they manifest, the behaviors and attitudes associated with them, and the good and bad aspects of each. If you’re on the fence about who exactly your character is, these books can help you narrow the field. They can be purchased separately or in a boxed digital set.

Posted in Character Flaws, Character Traits, Characters, Fatal Flaw, Positive & Negative Thesaurus Guides, Show Don't Tell, Writing Craft | 4 Comments

Predictions for Publishing Trends in Late 2020 and Beyond

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been decidedly weird. Despite our desires to the contrary, the weirdness persists, gouging grooves into our current reality that spell changes for the future of publishing. Savannah Cordova is here to share some trends we can likely see emerge as a result.

If there’s one thing 2020 has shown us, it’s that our lives are not nearly as predictable as we like to think. This isn’t exactly a new revelation — the best-laid plans of mice and men, etc. — but it’s one that brings fresh perspective and humility to all our forecasts now, whether in regards to the weather, the government, or the state of the publishing industry.

That said, while many of life’s twists are inherently unpredictable, others can be approached more confidently, with research and trends to back up one’s assertions. So while it’s true that any prediction in our current era should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s still worth a try (and gives us a certain human satisfaction) to speculate on what might come next!

On that note, having seen how both the COVID-19 pandemic and other major events have affected the industry over recent months, here are my best guesses at how publishing trends will evolve in late 2020 and beyond — both in the spirit of speculative intrigue and in the hopes of helping authors make more prudent business decisions over the coming months.

1. Diamond-in-the-Rough Dystopian Fiction

While early pandemic purchases tended toward the practical (survival guides, children’s academic workbooks, and the like), as months have dragged on, people have begun seeking out new genres of literature — and not all in the escapist vein you might think! Indeed, rather than gravitating toward elaborate, all-consuming high fantasy or fluffy romance, many readers have proclaimed a newfound love for dystopian fiction, in which the characters’ circumstances are just as bad (or even worse) than those we find ourselves currently facing.

Upon reflection, this isn’t as surprising as it might seem. For one thing, misery loves company, and even for those of us who aren’t exactly miserable, I’d imagine a bit of schadenfreude via a world even more desolate than ours might be rather comforting. Plus, for more pessimistic (or, depending on how you look at it, pragmatic) readers, dystopian fiction may even provide a tenuous blueprint as to how we should proceed in our own world. As Caroline Zielinski of The Guardian writes:

Now I reach for [dystopian fiction] because I want to see how characters behave when their freedoms are taken away from them. I want to know what choices they make when they lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their families and friends. Dystopian fiction helps us think through what reality could be like, and shows us how people might cope with adversity.

All of which is to say: dystopian fiction, while never unpopular (at least not since the Cold War), is having a real moment in 2020. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that all of it will flourish going forward! On the contrary, as more and more authors finish writing coronavirus-inspired novels, the late-2020-and-beyond market will likely be oversaturated with dystopian works.

Still, between readers’ renewed fascination with the genre and the pure quantity about to be on hand, there will surely be at least one or two standout dystopian novels, of the likes we haven’t seen since Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. And as someone who considers Station Eleven one of her favorite books, I personally can’t wait for the dystopian renaissance.

2. A Surge of Diverse Voices

Another publishing trend we’ll be seeing (and welcoming) much more in late 2020 is more diverse literature from a wide variety of authors. This trend stems from several sources: new writers that organically emerge each generation, a spike of people writing during the COVID-19 era, and finally an industry-wide call for diverse stories — which has, in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, increased exponentially (and rightfully!) to encompass many more perspectives.

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to recognize that as more people write about their experiences — and become conscious and inclusive of others’ experiences as well — more diverse narratives will become available for publishing. And with so many literary agents interested in #ownvoice stories (I’ve been seeing this request on every other Manuscript Wish List these days, which is honestly fantastic!), there should be no shortage of diverse, widely representative books in trad pub over the coming months.

As for self-pub, the same will be true, albeit with less mainstream coverage; more people writing still equals more perspectives, even if they don’t all end up with Big 5 contracts. To that end, I encourage all of us to seek out and support more diverse indie authors, as they too will be publishing in droves over the coming months! (And if you’re an author hoping to be a part of this trend, but don’t want to appropriate, be sure to check out this post for some excellent guidance.)

The rationale behind this trend is obvious: since the COVID outbreak, people have been understandably wary of physical items handled by multiple people before purchase. This is naturally a concern for books in physical bookstores, and even more for those in libraries and used bookstores. So at least for the time being, it seems we’ll be saying goodbye to quaint IRL browsing and hello to the safer digital alternatives.

3. More eBooks and Audiobooks

But even for hard-copy aficionados like myself, it isn’t all bad news. For one thing, ebooks are cheaper and more portable than hard copies, and some even come packaged with audiobooks — especially for books in the Kindle Unlimited library and similar subscription services. That’s right: even the indie authors whose books populate these platforms are starting to engage more with audio content (over the last few years generally, but especially since COVID-19).

And for another thing, ebooks are simply easier for authors to handle in terms of setup and production. Self-publishing a book on Amazon takes a great deal less time and effort than trying to land a publisher, so if readers are keen to get their hands on ebooks, indie authors can — and will — fill that demand with very little cost to themselves. Audiobooks are a little trickier, but the primer linked above will get you on track if you’re interested in recording one for your book.

In any case, there’s really no time like the present for authors to get into the ebook and audiobook game! And for those who may be concerned this trend will wane when things go “back to normal,” it’s crucial to note that ebooks and audiobooks were already on the rise long before the pandemic — and will be for years to come, if library checkouts are anything to go by. (Not to mention the fact that we really have no idea when “normal” will arrive, if ever.)

4. Virtual Events Become the Norm

We’ve already seen this trend taking shape over the past few months, and again, the rationale is pretty obvious: real-life author events involve lots of people in a crowded room, shaking hands and posing for photos, touching other people’s books, and all manner of potentially infectious behavior. Virtual events may not come with the tangible satisfaction of having an author scrawl on your copy’s title page in Sharpie, but they’re much safer in the current climate — and in my experience, have proven surprisingly adept at capturing a similar energy to real-life events.

Authors are also starting to get on board with the benefits of virtual events that have nothing to do with COVID. Sure, looking out at an audience of people who’ve read your book must be an incredible feeling… but is it really worth the costs, the travel, the forced speeches and socializing for authors who aren’t especially at ease in a crowd? While authors can always do more to up their book signing game, for many, the answer is still turning out to be “no.” Simply put: virtual events provide a cost-friendlier, less intimidating alternative to connect with readers. Not to mention more people can attend all at once!

I certainly don’t think this will be the end of real-life book events, but I do predict authors start cutting tours down and doing more virtually — not even necessarily readings, but all sorts of webinars and discussions (like Angela’s and Becca’s the other day!). Indeed, another great thing about virtual events is how flexible they are; for example, if an author discovers their readers aren’t too keen on Q&As, but that they love doing writing sprints together, that author can adjust their events accordingly rather than having to adhere to a preplanned book tour.

Maybe this is all wishful thinking, my rose-tinted dreams of a publishing world that shifts seamlessly into a new era. But I think we have enough of a precedent, even in these so-called “unprecedented times,” to know that authors will manage to persist and succeed no matter what comes at them. And even if I’m wrong about the rest, I look forward to seeing the solutions they innovate throughout 2020 and beyond.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories (and occasionally terrible novels).

Posted in Publishing and Self Publishing, Reader Interest | 3 Comments

Conflict Thesaurus Entry: An Unwanted Romantic Advance

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: An Unwanted Romantic Advance

Category: Power struggles, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, ego

Examples:
A friend who doesn’t want to stay in the Friend Zone
Being pursued by someone in a position of power or authority (the boss, a teacher, one’s landlord, the security guard in one’s building, etc.)
Romantic advances from someone crossing a moral line (the best friend’s significant other, a sister’s ex, the fiancé’s mother-in-law, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Awkwardness around the pursuer
Having to keep the situation secret from an important person (one’s spouse, best friend, sibling, etc.)
Inconveniences arising from trying to avoid the pursuer

Potentially Disastrous Results:
Other people finding out, and important relationships being damaged as a result (even if the character never encouraged the pursuer)
Trying not to hurt the pursuer’s feelings and inadvertently giving them false hope
The person the character is really interested in stepping out because he/she thinks the character is already involved with someone
The relationship dynamic changing for the worst—i.e., losing a friend because that person wants more and the character can’t comply
The pursuer refusing to take no for an answer (becoming obsessed, stalking the character, trying to manipulate them, etc.)
The pursuer becoming depressed or suicidal at the character’s rejection
Being pressured by others to accept the unwanted advances
Giving in, even though the character doesn’t fully return the pursuer’s feelings
The character having to leave their job/school/neighborhood to get away from the pursuer
The rejected pursuer using a position of authority or power to punish the character

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
The character being conflicted about their feelings for the pursuer
Struggling with guilt from having to reject him or her
Wanting to respond respectfully but being angry or embarrassed from being put in the situation
The character second-guessing their decision or response to the advance

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: the pursuer, those close to the pursuer (if they don’t appreciate him/her being slighted), those close to the character (if they don’t appreciate someone else making advances), co-workers

Resulting Emotions: Anger, annoyance, appalled, apprehension, conflicted, contempt, denial, disbelief, dread, embarrassment, empathy, flustered, frustration, guilt, horror, indifference, indignation, intimidated, irritation, pity, powerlessness, reluctance, sadness, scorn, shock, stunned, uncertainty, unease, vulnerability, wariness, worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, apathetic, callous, cruel, disrespectful, gossipy, nervous, tactless, worrywart

Positive Outcomes: 
A boost in confidence that comes from being found desirable
Learning to give bad news graciously and respectfully
The situation clarifying the character’s true feelings in some way (realizing they love someone else, recognizing the importance of a vital relationship in their life, realizing they don’t have time for any romantic attachments right now, etc.)
Clarification about what the character does or doesn’t want in a romantic relationship

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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