Writing Antagonists Readers Can’t Help But Like

There’s a dirty little secret among many of us readers: well-written antagonists get our blood pumping. When a scene come along with them in it, well, we lean closer. Grin a little more. Not because we’re a bunch of budding psychopaths and this is some alter-ego role play–okay, maybe a little–no, it’s that deep down, there’s something we like about them. Maybe even admire.

What now? you say. How is that possible? He (or she) is the baddie, after all!

Indeed. And we know it. But just like a protagonist, the antagonist can have something special about them too. It’s not a hollow quirk, catch-phrase, or great sense of style that draws us in. No, it’s something deeper, something attached to their identity or life experience. We see this part of them and relateto it because it reminds us of something we’ve seen or experienced in our own real-world journey.

Is relatability only for protagonists?

A lot of airtime is devoted to building a relatable protagonist because it makes the character accessible to readers in a meaningful way. Relatability is a rope that ties the two together – in some significant way, readers see the hero or heroine is like them. Maybe they’ve both felt the same thing, been in the same situation, experienced the same heartache or sting of failure. This common ground helps a bond of understanding and empathy to form, and the reader becomes invested in what happens to the character. They root for the protagonist and care what happens to them.

We don’t see as much written on the subject of relatability when it comes to the antagonist or villain because writers are supposed to nudge the reader into the protagonist’s camp, not the antagonist’s. Unfortunately, though, this can send the wrong message about the importance of our darker characters, leading to some writers glossing over their development so they end up with cliché, yawn-worthy villains.

Antagonists should be as developed as protagonists.

They should have understandable motivations (for them), have a history that shows what led them down the dark alley of life, and an identity, personality, and qualities that make them a tough adversary for the protagonist to beat. The more dedicated, skilled, and motivated the antagonist is, the more of a challenge they will be, leading to great friction, tension, clashes, and conflict.

So, just as we want to show readers a protagonist’s inner layers and give them ways to connect and care about the protagonist, we should encourage readers to find something good or relatable about the antagonist so it causes the reader to be conflicted. They may not agree with the antagonists’ goal or how they go about getting it, but maybe they understand why this story baddie wants what they want, or they admire certain qualities they have.

When readers are torn over how to feel, they become more invested in the story.

Life is not always black and white, is it? So it’s okay if a tug of war goes on inside them over who is right and who is wrong in the story, or if they care enough about the villain to hope they will choose to turn from their dark path, and redemption may be possible.

So how do we make an antagonist relatable?

Common human experiences, especially ones that encourage moral confliction, are a great way to show readers they have something in common with the antagonist. For example, consider temptation.

Haven’t you ever been tempted to cross a moral line?
Did you ever want to make someone pay because they deserved it?
Have you ever ignored society’s rules because they don’t make sense, are unfair, or were built to benefit a select few?

Temptation is something we’ve all felt, and wrestle with. Sometimes we remain steadfast, other times we give in. So having a darker character be tempted in a way readers relate to will cause them to identify with the antagonist’s mindset.

Another way to use temptation is to get readers to imagine the what if, which can be another area of common ground:

  • What if you could easily let go of guilt and do what feels right for you?
  • What if you could break the law for the right reasons and serve a greater good?
  • What if you could go back in time and erase someone who really deserves to be erased?

This can work well if you tie the antagonist’s desire to embrace the dark side because of a past trauma. For example…

  • Maybe they do whatever feels right because they were enslaved by a cruel master as a child
  • They break the law because those who make them are corrupt and entitled
  • They go back and erase someone because that person killed their beloved and unborn child

Can’t we all relate to these dark motivations just a little? Don’t they help us understand where the character’s behavior is coming from? We may not morally agree with what the antagonist does, but we do feel some connection to them.

And I’m convinced this last one is the key because antagonists and villains have an Achilles heel: their role. As soon as it’s clear they are cast as the Bad Guy or Gal, readers put them in a box. They must be a jerk, a sore loser, a narcissist, someone who’s all about power and control. They must be unlikable.

And I don’t know about you, but when the antagonist or villain turns out to be exactly those things, I’m disappointed. Why? Because it’s expected: good guy faces off against typical bad guy, good guy wins. Yawn.

Relatability makes it okay to like the antagonist, even though they do bad things.

So, to recap and offer a few more ideas…

Craft a backstory that’s as well-drawn as the Protagonist’s. As the author, you need to know why they’re messed up and take the dark path. Use a past tragedy to help readers understand what led them to their role. Maybe you can even reveal this in a way that causes readers to wonder if they would be any different had they been in the antagonist’s shoes. 

Give them a credible, understandable motivation. Even if their goal is a destructive one, they should have a good reason for wanting it. (For ideas on what this could look like, check out the Dark Motivations in this database.)

Give them a talent, something helpful or interesting. Just like a protagonist, your antagonist likely is skilled in some way. What talent or skill will help them achieve their goal? And you can always make this an interesting dichotomy, like an antagonist with a talent for healing who takes in hurt animals but lacks the same empathy for humans. 

Give them a quality or trait that is undeniably admirable. It’s easy to paint a villain as being all bad, so skip the cliché and give them a belief they live by. Maybe they keep every promise or hold honestly in the highest regard and so are always truthful, even if it makes them look bad. Of course, the dark side might be that they don’t suffer lies of any kind, and punish them severely.

Make them human. Sometimes writers can go on a “power and glory” tear and forget their antagonist is as prone to “Average Joe” problems as anyone else. Does their roof leak, do they have visitors show up at an inconvenient time, do they get sick?

Antagonists can have a hobby or secret, struggle over what to do, or regret words said in haste just like the rest of us. So while you highlight their dark ways and volatile emotions, remember to also show how in some ways, they’re just like anyone else.

By ANGELA ACKERMAN

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

7 Ways to Find Telling in Your Writing

I’ve been obsessed with the concept of Show, don’t Tell for years. I could geek out about it all day long, and don’t get me started if I find a book that drags me into its pages with Showing details and makes me skip meals, sleep, and time with my family to find out what happens at the end…

              *SWOONS*

So, when I was writing the second book in my The Fountain Series in 2017, and I got notes back from my editor on the draft I submitted, with “Show, don’t Tell, please!” in the margin, my stomach sank. I stared at the computer screen, my face hot, scrolling to see those words repeated more times than I care to admit. How could this be? I’d revised that manuscript until my eyes watered.

I thought I was doing it.

It’s Almost Impossible to See Telling in Your Own Writing Just by Reading…

If this has happened to you, don’t beat yourself up like I did. My editor’s notes on that book were the kick in the butt I needed to crack this code, and I’ve since discovered that it’s almost impossible to see Telling in your own writing just by reading. The story you’re sharing is alive in your mind, playing like a movie, with every detail available to your brain, from the pink sky your characters stand under in your scene, to the low hum of traffic in the distance. But most of that detail won’t end up in your first draft because it’s too obvious to you and you don’t want pages of description to slow your pacing.

*YAWN*

To further complicate things, when you read what you’ve written back to yourself, you won’t notice what’s missing, because your smart writer brain will fill in all the glorious details your imagination holds about the sky and the sounds in the distance. To you, your story will read like a masterpiece. The problem is, those details your brain knows didn’t make it to the page, so your reader is going to get a much flatter version of the story you’re trying to tell.

So, how do you fix this age-old writing problem if you can’t find it in your own work? Talented editors and beta readers can flag this problem for you, but the earlier you find it, the better. I developed a checklist that will help you find places you need Showing details in your work without banging your head against the wall.

7 Ways to Find Telling in Your Own Writing

  1. Named Emotions – Don’t tell readers your character feels murderous, Show us their narrowed eyes and shaking body. Search for emotions named in your draft (happy, sad, frustrated, surprised, etc.) then grab your copy of The Emotion Thesaurus and drag your reader into your character’s body by adding Showing details.
  2. Using “-ly” Adverbs – Simply, actually, slowly… these words are almost always Telling. Hunt them down and get rid of them to make your writing stronger.
  3. Info Dumping – This is too much information shared at once, without anything happening in story present to move the story forward. Scan your draft visually for text-heavy pages without much white space, and these areas will stick out like a sore thumb. Eliminate any information your reader doesn’t need, find a more creative way to deliver it, or break the information up between actions that happen in your scene.
  4. Recapping Events that Happened Off-Screen – It’s never fun for a friend to say “you shoulda been there!” If your characters are sitting around in a scene Telling each other about blood they spilled in an epic battle, bring your reader to the battle instead, so they can hear the screams and feel the wind that blows through your character’s hair, first hand.
  5. Showing Many vs. One – Rather than saying your character often went fishing, Show us a specific fishing trip, where the character’s boat sprang a leak and they had to swim to shore. Instead of writing that the crowd surged forward, show us the boy who darted in front of the surging crowd, getting trampled by their feet.
  6. Being Vague vs. Specific – Watch for words like something, things, stuff, objects, etc. that are vague, and replace them with a specific detail that adds to your worldbuilding.
  7. Saying What Isn’t in the Scene – If your character sees “nothing” in the dark, or there were “no books” on the shelf, you’ve missed an opportunity to Show your reader a detail or two about what is there – the soupy fog that swallowed up the character’s view of the forest, or the bare slats of the bookshelf covered with a thick layer of dust.

Once you find these pesky places in your writing, have fun adding Showing details, so your reader can experience your cascading purple waterfalls or dark musty caverns up close. Adding these details to your book during your revision process stretches your brain in the most creative way, and might just become your favorite part of your writing process.

by SUZY VADORI

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Rejection

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life. 

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Rejection

Notes
One of our basic human needs is to be loved, wanted, needed, and accepted, so it makes sense that people generally want to avoid rejection. When this fear is taken to an extreme, it can hold the character back in their career, relationships, and their basic enjoyment of life. As a result, characters with this fear often feel stuck where they are, unable to grow.

What It Looks Like
Being overly agreeable
Exhibiting a strong work ethic (to prove their worth to others)
Being a perfectionist
Being passive aggressive rather than straightforward about their feelings
The character not standing up for themselves
Sticking like glue to the people who accept and love the character
Being conflict-averse
Being shy with new people and in new situations
Taking extra pains with their appearance so they’ll always look their best
Being a people-pleaser
Being evasive or dishonest about beliefs and opinions that others may not agree with
Jumping to conclusions about what others are thinking or feeling
Getting their feelings hurt easily
The character keeping mostly to themselves
Avoiding romantic relationships unless they’re absolutely sure of the other person’s feelings
Underachieving and encouraging low expectations (so people won’t expect too much, be disappointed, and reject them)
Having secret hobbies
Ending romantic relationships and leaving jobs prematurely (rejecting others before they can reject the character) 

Common Internal Struggles
Wanting to open up to others but being afraid their true thoughts and opinions will be criticized
Wanting to stay in a relationship but also wanting to get out of it
Being afraid of failure or letting people down
The character despairing of ever reaching their full potential
Longing to be in a romantic relationship but being too afraid to put themselves out there
Struggling with loneliness but not knowing how to build deep connections with others
Feeling unwanted or unlovable
Constantly worry about what others think
The character wondering what’s wrong with them

Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Cowardly, Disorganized, Insecure, Jealous, Needy, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Suspicious, Timid, Withdrawn

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being consumed with worry about other people and what they think
Trouble making and keeping friends
An inability to form trusting relationships
Burning out from the constant drive to please everyone or be above reproach
Frequently being taken advantage of
Living a life short of their full potential
Low self-esteem undermining the character’s belief in themselves and their capabilities

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A situation where the character must be chosen by others (a job interview or promotion, a political campaign, etc.)
The character meeting someone they’d like to date (but will have to ask out)
The character’s work being criticized
Being fired or laid off
A friend canceling plans with the character
Being divorced or dumped
A child asking to live with the character’s ex.

by BECCA PUGLISI

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Losing Financial Security

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life. 

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Losing Financial Security

Notes
Food and housing security is one of humankind’s oldest needs. The fear of losing it (along with the corresponding conveniences and perks of modern life) can be rooted in many causes and will manifest in diverse ways.

What It Looks Like
Marrying for money
Being frugal
Picking a career based on salary over personal fulfillment
Frequently negotiating for a raise
Working more than one job to maintain a certain income
Job-hopping to take advantage of better paying opportunities
Pursuing higher education, certifications, and continuous learning opportunities
Being conservative and risk-averse when investing
Obsessively watching the stock market and the current financial climate for signs of a downturn
Being paranoid about scams
Living by a strict budget
Living simply (buying generic brands, choosing staycations over vacations, not engaging in expensive hobbies, etc.)
Building up and jealously guarding an emergency fund
Closely monitoring credit reports and credit card charges 
Making fear-based financial decisions rather than logical ones
Getting frustrated when family members overspend or don’t follow the character’s budget
Measuring financial security by an arbitrary goal (having a certain amount of money in the bank, being wealthier than a sibling or neighbor, etc.)
Personally going without so other family members can have a little extra

Common Internal Struggles
Always thinking about money 
Worrying about running out of money later in life and having to depend on others 
Wanting to enjoy life and the fruits of working but being consumed with worry
Constantly trying to anticipate and plan for scenarios that will create a financial bind, such as a medical emergency, car repairs, etc.
Second-guessing financial and career decisions
Anxiety spiking when a new expense is added (a child asking for money for a class trip, insurance premiums going up, etc.)
Wanting to give a child or spouse what they want but having to say no
Being tempted by a risky investment that, if it pays off, ensures financial security

Flaws That May Emerge
Compulsive, Controlling, Dishonest, Flaky, Greedy, Impulsive, Indecisive, Irrational, Nervous, Obsessive, Pessimistic, Possessive, Stingy, Unethical, Workaholic, Worrywart

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
The character losing sleep because they’re always worrying about money
Not being able to have the same experiences as others
The character lacking fulfillment in their career
Missing out on important family moments because the character is always working
Bypassing lucrative opportunities because the character is too afraid of the risk
Suffering the physical effects of too much worrying (headaches, weight loss, ulcers, etc.)
An inability to be content; always striving for more financial security
Having strained relations with a spouse or child because of the character’s stinginess or inflexibility

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
The character or their spouse losing their job
The boss announcing cutbacks at work
Sustaining an injury or incurring a serious illness 
Losing everything to a scammer or in a bad investment
Watching the economy plummet toward a recession or depression
Having to take on caregiving duties for an additional family member
Having to file for bankruptcy
Being sued.

By BECCA PUGLISI

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Losing Control

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life. 

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Losing Control

Notes
To varying degrees, control is something we all desire because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it. The resulting disappointments, frustration, and even tragedies can cause a fear to develop, creating problems in many areas of the character’s life.

What It Looks Like
Suppressing emotions
Being rigid and inflexible
Adhering to schedules and routines
Seeking to be an expert on everything so the character will be as informed as possible
Going to great lengths to keep loved ones safe
Displaying Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) tendencies (checking locks, making sure the oven is off, excessive hand washing, etc.)
Using rituals to calm down (counting, breathing techniques, mantras, etc.)
Employing checklists and to-do lists
Anticipating problems before they happen
Monitoring a spouse’s emails and calls
Micromanaging co-workers 
The character restricting their child’s freedom (with early curfews, limited internet access, having to approve their friends, etc.)
Seeing things in black and white
Being a perfectionist
Being overly sensitive to criticism
Not taking action without in-depth research and planning
Being risk-averse
Other phobias arising from the fear of not being in control (fear of flying, being confined, etc.)

Common Internal Struggles
Knowing that life is filled with change and uncertainties but being unable to come to terms with them
Wanting to delegate a job but feeling like no one else can do it properly
Struggling with stress and anxiety
Knowing certain things can’t be controlled but trying to control them anyway
Wanting to know the future  
Feeling unsafe when things aren’t certain
Fearing for the safety of loved ones
Obsessing over situations outside of the character’s control

Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Compulsive, Confrontational, Controlling, Hostile, Impatient, Impulsive, Inflexible, Irrational, Jealous, Know-It-All, Needy, Obsessive, Perfectionist, Possessive, Pushy, Suspicious, Volatile

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Losing employees due to micromanagement
Driving a child away with neediness or nosiness
Being overworked due to an inability to delegate tasks
Being unable to live fully in the present
Not taking advantage of good opportunities because they can’t be controlled or predicted
Being unable to be spontaneous
Struggling with letting others make decisions—when a child chooses to go away to college instead of staying close to home, for instance
Being overwhelmed when unexpected circumstances arise

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A situation arising where the character cannot control the outcome (getting caught in a storm, being stuck in traffic, contracting a chronic illness, etc.)
A teenager rebelling and wanting more freedom
Hearing about a tragedy that befell a friend’s family 
Entering a transitional phase of life (going to college, getting married, having a child, menopause, etc.)
Experiencing the unexpected loss of a loved one
Being the victim of a crime
The character having to trust someone else (a family member, the judicial system, etc.) for their security.

By BECCA PUGLISI

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Historical Fiction: The Story Comes First

As writers of historical fiction, we might be tempted to believe our job is to teach readers about a certain event or era. While that might be part of what we’re doing, I would argue it’s not the most important part. The number one job of a fiction writer is to tell a story. A history textbook tells about history, but historical fiction should bring it to life by showing it. That’s our true mandate. It’s the difference between reading a menu and eating the meal.

But historical fiction doesn’t make this easy. Sometimes facts and figures need to be included; there are real events and people to take into account.

The thing we’re striving for in fiction is authenticity. We want our work to have the ring of truth to it. To that end, research is crucial. If we don’t do our research as historical fiction writers, we lose credibility with our readers. But researching comes with its own pitfalls. Information is dry and boring to read. The trouble is, we authors can get pretty fired up about our research. It’s cool stuff, plus we’ve worked hard to find it. The temptation is to use as much of it as we can. Indeed, the more research we’ve done, the more strongly we’ll feel about this.

But there’s a good chance that, for the sake of the story, a sizable amount of our research will never make it into the novel. We need to make our peace with that because research can easily get in the way of good storytelling. We’ll want to find a way to weave our research into the story seamlessly.

If we don’t, we’re likely to end up with an info-dump.

The Dreaded Infodump

An infodump is an extended section of telling (rather than showing), a chunk of information that is “dumped” into the reader’s lap.

Introducing readers to a historical era, explaining the political situation or a technical procedure—these are difficult things to do. The infodump makes it easy. You simply take a couple of pages—or an entire chapter—and explain it. This is why infodumps often show up either in prologues or first chapters. The author explains all the important bits to the reader up front before starting the story.

While an infodump might tell us about the world of the story, it doesn’t do anything to develop character, it doesn’t advance the plot, and it doesn’t really help the reader because usually there’s so much information crammed into one section, the reader won’t remember it. And it’s not presented in scene. It’s presented as information. Those are the moments in a story when a reader’s mind wanders.

Readers want to be immersed in the moment of the story. They want to feel like they’re standing beside our main character experiencing all the exciting things alongside them.

Infodumps also fail to create an emotional reaction in the reader. Most infodumps are written in a way that is cold and flat. When we fail to engage a reader’s emotions, we fail to engage the reader.

            To Avoid This Kind of Writing:

  • Look for anything that isn’t happening in the present moment of the story. Have a close look at your sections of exposition. Backstory and world-building are common offenders.
  • Figure out what needs to be explained only at that moment. Ask yourself: what does the reader need to know right now? If they don’t need to know it now, cut it, and save it for when they do.
  • Trust your reader. They can piece things together; in fact, they like figuring things out. That’s part of the process of discovery involved in reading.
  • If you’re unsure of whether you’ve given the reader enough information, try it out on someone. But beware of going from zero to overload if your reader asks for more information. Often, a subtle hint is all that’s needed.

Incorporating Research into a Scene

            There are a few tricks we can use to weave research into a story as seamlessly as possible:

  • Integrate it into the scene. Make it relevant to something that’s happening in the moment. That way, it moves the plot forward. 
  • Add tension. Make the information something that causes problems for the characters. Show their reaction. This engages the reader. If the information matters to the characters, it will matter to the reader. 
  • Write it in such a way that it conveys something about a character’s personality. Then it adds to character development. 
  • Keep it brief. A sentence or two of information is enough.
  • Break it up. Don’t stick all your information in one spot. Sprinkle it throughout a scene. Remember, the story comes first.

Use Your Research Elsewhere

There will always be a difference between the amount of research we do for a historical novel and the amount that makes it into the book. But why not use that extra information in other ways?

  • Write some non-fiction pieces about the things you discovered while researching your novel. This is also a great way to generate some additional buzz for your work.
  • Add the additional research to your website or on social media for readers who want to know more.
  • Get creative: turn your facts into a trivia game or add them to presentations when you’re promoting your work.

Research is never a waste of time. Even if it doesn’t make it into the novel, it will show in subtle ways. The more we read about the world we’re building, the more we internalize it, and that is guaranteed to lend authenticity to our work.

By MICHELLE BARKER

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Sickness

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life. 

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Sickness

Notes
Being sick is typically annoying, unpleasant, and sometimes painful. Many people are especially worried now, after the pandemic, about coming down with something. But it becomes a real problem when the fear of sickness begins to dictate a character’s very livelihood and ability to function in society.

What It Looks Like
Frequent hand washing
Carrying sanitizer or wipes
Keeping a distance from others
Only leaving the house when absolutely necessary
Symptom-checking and self-diagnosis
Avoiding seeing a doctor (for fear of being diagnosed with something)
Running to the doctor about every cough or sniffle
Wearing a mask, gloves, or other protective gear in public
Sanitizing objects (doorknobs, faucets, buttons) before touching them
Avoiding crowds
Maintaining a healthy diet
Nosiness about friends’ and family’s health
Looking up diseases and symptoms online
Limiting loved ones’ activities to keep them healthy
Self-isolation
Obsessive-compulsive habits
Embracing home and natural remedies 
Spending a lot of money on vitamins and supplements
Judging others for not taking the same precautions

Common Internal Struggles
The character constantly worrying that they’re coming down with something
Struggling with loneliness
The character feeling shame for their compulsive behaviors
Fearing that minor symptoms (headache, fatigue, etc.) are signs of something serious
Being conflicted about whether to see a doctor
Worrying about their children or loved ones getting sick
Wanting to attend an event but being too afraid of contracting an illness
Feeling judged by others who think the character is overreacting

Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Compulsive, Cynical, Fussy, Inflexible, Irrational, Judgmental, Morbid, Nervous, Nosy, Obsessive, Paranoid, Pushy, Withdrawn, Worrywart

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being unable to care for a sick loved one due to fear of germs
Living in isolation (being unable to go to the store, enjoy hobbies, socialize, etc.)
A serious condition going undiagnosed and untreated
The fear spiraling into an anxiety disorder
Being unable to attend parties, concerts, and other get-togethers
Friction with loved ones who feel coddled and over-protected

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A pandemic or disease outbreak
A loved one receiving a serious diagnosis
The annual arrival of cold and flu season
Witnessing someone get sick in public
A routine doctor’s physical
Being in places the character believes to be dirty or germy
Being ineligible to take certain medications or vaccines
Getting sick in a place where healthcare is not readily available
Experiencing symptoms that hint at a serious disorder or illness
The character learns that someone they were in contact with was diagnosed with a contagious disease

By BECCA PUGLISI

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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How to Uncover Your Character’s Inner Conflict

Conflict is a powerful element within the story and can be loosely categorized as either Outer (external) Conflict or Inner (internal) Conflict. The difference is that outer conflict is something external keeping the character from his goal, while inner conflict is a mental struggle over wanting things that are at odds or compete.

Internal conflicts might be:

  • Opposing or competing wants, needs, or desires
  • Confusion about how to feel
  • Questioning beliefs or values
  • Suffering from indecision, insecurity, self-doubt, or another emotion that puts the character at odds with themselves
  • Conflicting duties and responsibilities
  • Grappling with an aspect of mental health

Internal Conflict Is Relatable

Internal conflict draws readers in because it’s a type of struggle common to us all. Confusion over what to do, feel, and believe, can make us feel exposed. To find a path forward, we must weigh and measure personal beliefs, ideas, and needs. Characters, like us, must do the same, and as they look within themselves for answers, they reveal their vulnerability and humanity to readers.

Scene-to-scene, you’ll usually see inner conflict. At times it’s a heavy weight, other times, indecision over what to do, or deciding what’s better, option A or option B.

Where inner conflict really takes center stage is at the story level. Character vs. Themselves conflict will create a war zone inside your character throughout the story, and they must resolve it successfully to achieve their goal.

5 Ways to Find—and Use—Inner Conflict

This primary inner conflict might be something you need a bit of help to brainstorm, so poke around the psychological side of them to see what shakes loose.

#1: Their Greatest Fear

Fears are highly motivating. The inconvenient, everyday ones? Sure, because no one makes split-second decisions better than an arachnophobe who’s just stumbled into a spiderweb. (This is the voice of experience talking.)

But in storytelling, it’s the larger fears that drive both character and story. Fear of failure, being alone, losing a loved one … these can push the character to embrace unhealthy habits or paralyze her into maintaining the status quo and resisting needed change.

Imagine, for instance, a character who is afraid of letting others down. This fear will insert itself into every situation where she’s accountable to others, steering her toward doing what others want rather than what she wants, or causing her to step back instead of stepping up. She may worry that if she takes on something big, she’ll screw it up, so she discards goals that could result in personal fulfillment, such as having children or leading a beloved charity group or event. This fear of disappointing others can influence her choice of career or who she marries. It can lead to her sacrificing her own joy for the happiness of others. Then, before you know it, an important human need has been compromised, leading to more problems.

#2: Their Core Moral Beliefs

Nothing causes psychological turmoil quite like a challenge to one’s core beliefs, and no beliefs are more central than the moral ones, because they define who we are.

This is the situation Paul Edgecombe encounters in The Green Mile. As a death-row prison guard, experience has taught him that the men in his charge are guilty and deserve their punishment. But then he encounters an inmate who doesn’t fit the mold. Could John Coffey, a man found guilty in a court of law, actually be innocent? If so, how can Paul execute him?

Think about what your character believes on the deepest level—his thoughts about right and wrong, good and evil. Then introduce an event that challenges those ideas. If his inner turmoil surrounding this issue or theme is what the story is really about, if it’s something he could struggle with for the story’s entirety, it may be a good choice for his story-level internal conflict.

#3: Their Existential Ideas

Another trait particular to human beings is our curiosity, particularly about big ideas: Who am I? What’s my purpose? Is there life beyond Earth? After death? These questions often aren’t answerable, but your characters grapple with them anyway because the answers will impact and define who they are.

If your character already knows what they believe about bigger life questions, that information will become part of their core belief system. Challenging them will throw the character into an emotional and existential tailspin. If they don’t have answers, the struggle to find them can lead to all kinds of internal strife.

#4: Their Wants and Needs

Wants are exactly what they imply: something the character desires but doesn’t necessarily need. By themselves they don’t generate much conflict, but when you set them in opposition to the character’s missing need or a core belief, internal strife explodes onto the scene.

Dan Burns, the protagonist in Dan in Real Life, lost his wife many years prior and is now raising three girls on his own. He hasn’t been truly happy in all that time—but then he meets Marie. Finally! His need for love and belonging is going to be filled—except … his brother is already dating her.

Now his need (happiness and love) and his want (to be with Marie) are at odds, because for him to be with Marie, he would have to betray his brother. And how could he be happy doing that?

#5: Their Secrets

Characters jump through all kinds of emotional and logistical hoops to keep important secrets from coming to light. They may withdraw from people, organizations, and cherished hobbies to avoid questions that hit too close to home. You can imagine the inner turmoil that develops when a character must give up an area of giftedness or a close friend in order to keep certain information from getting out.

Many characters will drastically change their behavior to keep their secrets safe. Melinda Sordino in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is so determined to keep a certain event from being revealed that she stops talking altogether. After all, if you can’t talk, you can’t tell. If your character’s secret is one that must be protected at all costs, it can provide compelling fodder for internal conflict.

by ANGELA ACKERMAN

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Feeling Unsafe

Debilitating fears are a problem for everyone, an unfortunate part of the human experience. Whether they’re a result of learned behavior as a child, are related to a mental health condition, or stem from a past wounding event, these fears influence a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality traits. The compulsion to avoid what they fear will drive characters away from certain people, events, and situations and hold them back in life. 

In your story, this primary fear (or group of fears) will constantly challenge the goal the character is pursuing, tempting them to retreat, settle, and give up on what they want most. Because this fear must be addressed for them to achieve success, balance, and fulfillment, it plays a pivotal part in both character arc and the overall story.

This thesaurus explores the various fears that might be plaguing your character. Use it to understand and utilize fears to fully develop your characters and steer them through their story arc. Please note that this isn’t a self-diagnosis tool. Fears are common in the real world, and while we may at times share similar tendencies as characters, the entry below is for fiction writing purposes only.

Fear of Feeling Unsafe

Notes
Safety is a basic human need. When it’s lost, everything can feel like a threat. The analogy being scared of your own shadow isn’t far from the truth for a character with this fear, which can progress to the point of them being afraid to leave home. Their unease can be focused on certain locations and people or spread to everyone and everywhere, including their safe places.

What It Looks Like
Always erring on the side of caution
Being risk-averse
Being short-tempered and snappy 
Isolating themselves and loved ones from the outside world
Physical ailments associated with worry (headaches from grinding their teeth, ulcers, fatigue, etc.)
Nervous habits—wringing their hands, eyes darting around the environment, etc.
Scanning rooms or restaurants for exits 
Being perceived as unfriendly or standoffish
Constant exhaustion from always being on high alert
Not going out after dark
Avoiding certain parts of town
Believing the worst about people
Being obsessed with self- and home defense
Being overprotective of loved ones
Becoming confrontational when cornered 
Carrying a weapon, such as a gun, a taser, or pepper spray
Investing in security measures (a dog, a security system, a concealed carry permit, etc.)
Frequently checking locks 
Not going anywhere alone
Obsessing over news accounts of people being attacked
Distrusting the police or those in authority
The character being edgy when they’re alone

Common Internal Struggles
Feeling compelled to flee a situation despite there being no visible threat 
Wanting to go out with friends but being too overwhelmed with worry
Missing out on professional or relational opportunities due to a fear of traveling alone, at night, or in a strange place
Being compelled to protect family and friends despite knowing those efforts are pushing them farther away
Being obsessed with the news even though it makes the 
Feeling like a burden (because the character can’t stay alone, needs someone to drive them after dark, etc.)
Disliking the perception they’re creating about themselves but not being able to change

Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Apathetic, Cowardly, Defensive, Evasive, Indecisive, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Morbid, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Subservient, Superstitious, Suspicious, Timid, Withdrawn, Worrywart

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Having to schedule their plans around other people’s timetables 
Living as a recluse
Hiding from the real world so much that they become out of touch with it and the people in it
Being limited professionally because of their fears
Being pitied, judged, or rejected by others
Difficulty trusting others
The character’s relationship with their children deteriorating because of their obsessive need to keep them safe

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A stranger approaching the character’s house at night
Feeling watched in a restaurant or store
A loved one getting involved with someone the character doesn’t trust
Being a victim of a home invasion
Losing a driver license or other documentation containing sensitive information
The political climate changing for the worst
Hearing a friend’s first-hand account of an attack or violation
Being pulled over by police in an isolated spot
A child not arriving home when they were supposed to.

by BECCA PUGLISI

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Five Micro-Edits to Hook Readers On Your First Page

Ah, first pages. We angst over them. We change them incessantly. We hope they’ll nab readers and agents and editors. No pressure, right? While there are many big considerations for what your first page must do, today we’ll be covering five micro-edits you can apply that work like stealthy secret weapons. Those people you hope will fall in love with your first page won’t even know you’ve clenched them until it’s too late to close the book.

Make Your Protagonist Part of the Very First Line

Research shows that readers are looking for who represents them as soon as the very first line of our stories. The faster we signal who that character is, the more likely they are to bond with them and become invested in the story. Even if your story starts with setting, or a line of dialogue or action that belongs to a character who isn’t your protagonist, consider a way to bring them into that first line. Perhaps the action of the other character leads to an immediate reaction in your protagonist, or there’s a way to start the story one line earlier. Maybe the dialogue of the other character hits your protagonist’s ears a certain way. Attaching the reader to their story “guide” in that first line increases your chances for getting them to stick around for the rest of your book.

Give Your Characters Indirect Lines of Dialogue

The mind loves to wrestle with clues. To work on solving mysteries. One common mistake in writing our first pages is that as we get to know our characters and their dynamics, we play interactions out from start to finish in ways that reflect unfamiliarity. We include greetings. We have the characters use one another’s names. We utilize dialogue as a way to include exposition. All of these read in a somewhat contrived way because, in theory, your characters’ lives are in-progress when we meet them. They wouldn’t need to call each other by name, or exchange standard greetings, or pass along information that the other character probably already knows. Challenge yourself to bypass the stock interactions and sink into the world en medias res. What are your characters not saying that evokes our curiosity? What are they saying that makes us “read between the lines?” Are you utilizing movement and body language that hints that more is lurking beneath the surface? Clues that contrast the dialogue? For any given line of dialogue, is there an emotional “cloud” hanging over it that we can feel? Are the characters conveying a goal in their line, even if that goal is avoidance or resistance? Do we feel the push and pull of tension between what each character wants in the scene through what they say? Consider crafting each line of dialogue as a clue—a line that gives rise to a question as soon as read it.

Manipulate White Space

Sometimes, we’re so focused on what our writing is saying that we might overlook the way what we don’t say plays into the reading experience. We tend to forget that the physical words we put onto the page can impact our readers in powerful ways. Think about how you feel when you turn the page of a book and take in lots of writing. Blocky, long paragraphs and few paragraph breaks steal the “wind” out of your sail before you even start tackling the page. This type of writing slows our readers down and induces them to want to take a break. Or worse, to stop reading altogether. Conversely, think about the way a novel-in-verse reads, or poetry. We breeze through the pages, our eyes flying through the words thanks to all that white space. If getting readers to turn pages means they stay inside our stories, breaking up chunky blocks of text and maximizing white space encourages them to keep reading. Before they know it, they’ve several pages into our books and they’re invested.

The other benefit to manipulating white space is that new paragraphs shift a reader’s attention. It alerts them that something is changing, whether it be the character, the idea, or something else. Any time we want the reader to pay extra attention and to add emphasis, new paragraphs can be a powerful tool.

Avoid Complex Sentences

We can mistake good writing as beautiful, impressive writing. Long, lyrical lines that have our readers oohing and aahing. But writing that draws attention to itself is largely quite distracting. The reader’s focus shifts from the story to the words. It’s important that we remind ourselves that generally, readers don’t open a book for the writing. They come for the story. If the reader trips over the clever words we’ve chosen, or has to focus on a lengthy line, or digest a clever, complex metaphor, they may feel the need to go back and reread it to ensure comprehension. Or, they completely lose track of the story itself as they turn over the words. As writers, we want to avoid anything that stops readers and causes them to yank out of the reading experience. Direct, easy-to-read, smooth lines are our secret weapons in keeping the reader in our stories. The fewer multi-syllabic words, the fewer commas and clauses, the fewer fancy things to hold onto in any given line, the better. Remember, story over writing. And on a first page, this will be especially important so that the reader is onto all the pages ahead before they know it.

Manipulate Sentence Length to Evoke Mood

I often tell my clients that one of their primary jobs is to make the reader worry. Circling back to the points above, direct sentences not only ensure comprehension, they can be used to create emotions in your reader. Short, staccato sentences evoke the feeling of a pulse. Jolted, tense movement. Worry. While we wouldn’t want our entire first page to read this way, it’s important to apply this knowledge deliberately to the lines where we want the reader to worry. Where we want their pulses to race, and fear to grip them. If our first page is a sea of long, leisurely lines, tension falls and the reader gets the sense nothing is wrong. There’s nothing to fix and no story question nagging at them. Think about how you can deliberately play with mood by structuring each sentence.

What are some of your go-to micro-edits for first pages? Are you maximizing any of the ones we’ve covered already and seeing the impact? Open a favorite book and see if the author applied any of these micro-edits in ways you hadn’t even noticed at first glance. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

by MARISSA GRAFF

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing