Monthly Archives: September 2022

How to Reveal a Character’s Internal Conflict

If you’ve been on the writing trail long enough, you’ve heard plenty of talk surrounding conflict and the role it plays in storytelling. Whatever form it takes—annoying neighbors, quarrels with loved ones, car accidents, fistfights, ticking clocks—conflict keeps the story moving. It creates tension and complications while also providing opportunities for the character to grow and evolve as they navigate their character arc.

But some of the most compelling conflict doesn’t come from an external source. Rather, it lives within the character. These character vs. self struggles include a certain level of cognitive dissonance, with him wanting things that are at odds with each other. Competing wants and desires, moral quandaries, mental health battles, insecurity, confusion, self-doubt—internal struggles haunt the character because their impacts ripple outward, affecting not only how he sees himself but altering his future and often the lives of the people he cares about. They carry a heft that can’t easily be set aside. 

Internal conflict is also critical for helping the character acknowledge the habits that are holding them back. Without that soul-cleansing tug-of-war, Aragorn would still be a ranger instead of the rightful king. Anakin Skywalker would have denied the goodness within, leaving Luke to die at the hands of the emperor. The Grinch would’ve stolen Christmas.

So it’s important to include this inner wrestling match for any character working a change arc. But equally important is how we reveal that struggle to readers. It’s all happening inside—meaning, we have to be subtle. The information has to be shared in an organic way through the natural context of the story. I’ve found the best method is to highlight the internal and external cues that hint at a character’s deeper problem.

Internal Indicators

If you’re writing in a viewpoint that allows you to reveal a character’s internal thoughts and processes, it’s a bit easier to draw attention to the struggle within. Just show the character experiencing some of the following:    

Obsessive Thoughts

Whatever’s plaguing your character, she’s going to spend a lot of time thinking about it, because the only way to get past the insecurity is to figure out what to do and make a decision. So her thoughts should be circling the issue. You don’t want to spend too much time in her head, because too much introspection can slow the pace and diminish the reader’s interest. But the character should poke at the issue, examining it from different angles. Whatever’s going on in her life will bring her back to her inner conflict, and her thoughts should reflect that.


Like us, characters crave control and certainty, so not knowing what to do can make them feel incapable, afraid, and insecure. Being constantly reminded of their unsolvable problem might be emotionally painful enough for them to try to escape it. One way to convey this is by having them slam the door on a certain train of thought. Show their mind starting to wander in that direction and them deliberately turning away from it. Maybe they get really into work as a form of distraction. They may take avoidance a step further into full-blown denial, destroying paperwork or putting away mementos that remind them of the impossible decision so they can pretend it doesn’t exist. This is how you show that incongruency between what’s happening on the inside and the outside.

Wavering Between Courses of Action (Indecision)

A dilemma is named such because the character doesn’t know what to do. It often takes a while for them to figure out what action to take, and the only way they can do that is to consider the options, so indecision is a major part of internal conflict. Show the character vacillating between choices, playing out various scenarios, weighing the pros and cons. This can be a great way to show the depth of the struggle.

External Indicators

If you’re limited in your ability to plumb the character’s depths—maybe because you’re writing in first person and can’t jump into the head of the love interest or villain—you can still show readers (and other cast members) that struggle. Just figure out the external signs of what’s happening inside, and show those.

Over or Under-Compensation

The character won’t be happy with their own inability to make a decision or take action. If their ego becomes involved or they’re the kind of person who wants to keep up pretenses, they may overcompensate by becoming forceful or pushy. Controlling external people and situations will make them feel better about their inability to control this other area of life.

Or your character could go a different direction. Plagued with indecision, they may become averse to making any choices at all. When even the smallest questions are raised, they defer to others. Letting other people take the lead ensures that the character won’t make a mistake, alleviating some of the pressure.


The human brain can only focus on so many things at once. A character whose mind is consumed with a troubling scenario isn’t going to have much mental time for anything else. As a result, their efficiency and productivity at work or school could take a hit. They may become forgetful. Responsibilities they were always counted on to handle may be done halfway or fall completely to the wayside. These outer indicators will be a visible sign of the chaos beneath the surface.


Characters under extreme pressure don’t always make the best decisions. Their distractibility, combined with any insecurities they may be feeling, can lead to mistakes that get them into trouble. For a character who is usually level-headed and logical, this can be like a neon sign to others that something isn’t right. 

Emotional Volatility

We all know what it’s like to be consumed by a problem we can’t fix. It steals our peace, our sleep, and our joy. This is fine—even normal—for short periods of time, but when it goes on for too long, it starts to take its toll. One of the first things to go is emotional stability. 

A character in this situation may lose their patience, snap at people, or lash out at others. A different character may constantly be on the verge of tears, overwhelmed to the point of every little thing being the last straw. They may experience wild mood swings, reacting to everyday circumstances in unexpected ways. Your character’s response will depend on a host of other factors, including their personality and normal emotional range. Figure out which kind of response makes the most sense and you’ll be consistent in your portrayal of them, even in the most pressing of situations.

This is how you reveal an inner struggle: by focusing on the underlying and visible results of that conflict. The most important thing here is for you to know your character so you can predict how they’ll respond. Then you can clearly show what you know to readers.



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3 Reasons You Should Write Ghost Stories

3 Reasons to Write Ghost Stories

Why should you write a ghost story of your own? Here are three reasons to write one:

1. Ghost stories are biblical.

While science is skeptical, the Bible doesn’t seem to be afraid of ghosts. In 1 Samuel 28, King Saul consults a medium who brings the prophet Samuel back from the dead.

As you can imagine, Samuel’s ghost wasn’t too pleased about it, and he teaches Saul some healthy fear of the dead.

2. Ghost stories are spectacular.

I think of spectacle as the kind of thing you would talk about around the campfire back in Homer’s day. You would probably tell stories about things like war, adventure, the opposite sex, political intrigue, and, of course, ghosts.

Of course, the campfire is where most of the best stories from history came from. If you want to tell the kind of story that could be told around a campfire, a story about spectacle, write about ghosts.

3. Ghost stories demystify death.

One of the most popular themes in literature is death. Each of the thirteen stories nominated for the Booker Prize in 2011 were about death. Death is universal. The unfortunate truth is that if you’re alive, you’re going to die (if you’re a zombie or a vampire, you get a break).

The problem is, no one knows exactly what happens when you die.

We all have our theories, but even our theories have holes and grey areas. (E.g. Will there really be pearly gates and streets of gold, or is that just a metaphor?)

Why We Love Stories About Ghosts

Ghost stories are about what happens after you die. However, the interesting thing about ghost stories is that while they remove mystery, they also heap a lot more mystery on.

How does one become a ghost? Do ghosts ever move on to the next life? What’s the next life they move on to? And then we’re back at the beginning.

Either way, they’re a lot of fun!

Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever written about them? Why or why not? Share in the comments.

By Joe Bunting


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Fear Thesaurus Entry: Becoming What One Hates

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.

Becoming What One Hates

Some characters with this fear are worried about becoming someone dark and dangerous—a murderer, an abusive parent, or a psychopath. Others might worry about becoming the person they never thought they could or would be when they were young, from a mercenary capitalist to something more mundane, like a stay-at-home mom driving a minivan. This fear, taken to an extreme, could lead a character to not fully explore their own psyche, emotions, personality, and needs, giving them a skewed view of who they are and hindering the development of their true self.

What It Looks Like
Practicing asceticism or strict religious practices to prevent unwanted behaviors
Avoiding certain groups of people or situations where the undesired behavior may be triggered
Attending long-term therapy
The character seeking reassurance from others that they’re not taking on certain traits or attitudes
Going to extremes—e.g., someone who struggles with a forbidden sexual desire deciding to live a life of complete abstinence
Voicing criticism of people who represent what the character fears
Becoming defensive if someone says something that suggests the character is similar to what they hate
Living a persona (pursuing hobbies, embracing opinions, etc.) that isn’t true to who they are
Avoiding interactions with the kind of people the character doesn’t want to emulate
Cutting people out of their life who represent what the character hates or who push them in that direction

Common Internal Struggles
Feeling guilty over secret desires to be “that person”
The character trying to accept facets of themselves while also staying true to their morals or principles
Struggling to avoid losing control of emotions or actions
Being drawn to the very people the character wants to distance themselves from
Feeling intense shame and self-loathing (for wanting to engage in certain activities, for being related to someone who exhibits something abhorrent, etc.)
The character wanting to be at peace with themselves but being unable to accept certain aspects of who they are
The character constantly searching themselves for signs that they’re becoming what they hate
The character doubting their instincts and motivations
Living in constant fear that someone will find out their deepest fears or desires

Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Controlling, Defensive, Devious, Dishonest, Evasive, Hypocritical, Insecure, Macho, Martyr, Melodramatic, Needy, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Rebellious, Resentful, Self-Destructive, Withdrawn, Workaholic

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Coping with anxiety and depression
Not considering other sides of an issue, especially ones that oppose the character’s beliefs
Difficulty developing deep relationships with others because the character doesn’t believe they’re worthy or doesn’t trust themselves to make the right choices
Abusing drugs or alcohol to combat their fears or deal with perceived failures
Living a lie to fit in with others
Being unable to pursue things the character really wants because they’re associated with the thing they trying not to become

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Having to associate with family members who embody what the character is trying to escape
Seeing media coverage of the type of person they are avoiding themselves
A situation that tempts the character to take a step toward what they’re trying to avoid
Feeling a compulsion to do the very thing that would turn the character into what they fear.



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7 Keys to Write the Perfect First Line of a Novel

7 Qualities of the Perfect First Line

This post is about what makes memorable first lines great. We’ll look at examples from some of the best books in history and try to apply their techniques to our stories.

Note that some of these lines are a bit longer than one sentence. Instead, I think of them as the first idea.

By the way, if you haven’t already read Monica Clark’s excellent post about writing the perfect first page, you should read it immediately.

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Perfect First Lines Are Vivid

Here’s the line from Ulrica Hume’s “Poppies” that caught my attention.

I was born upside down, the umbilical cord looped twice around my neck.

It’s a simple sentence, but I love it. “Born upside down.” There’s something at once whimsical and perilous and messy about that image. Don’t you instantly get a picture of the hospital room, the tiny baby, perhaps with a bit of hair, being held upside down by the doctor, still slightly blue and screaming?

Great first lines instantly invite us into an image.

Here’s another vivid example from my favorite novel, All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy:

The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door.

Isn’t that a cool image? The light from a candle being reflected and twisted by a door. One of the reasons so many of Cormac McCarthy’s novels have been adapted into films (e.g. All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, The Road) is that his writing is so cinematic, focusing on seemingly small details to invite us into the lives of his fascinating characters.

Great first lines, like the opening montage of a film, lead us into a scene. They use images, lighting, and tone to set the mood that the rest of the opening pages will take.

2. Perfect First Lines Establish a Unique Voice

We like to hear stories from people who sound interesting and unique, and perfect first lines introduce the reader to a character’s unique voice.

Voice is the peculiar vocabulary, tone, and phrasings our characters use. For example, here’s a classic example of the first line from Catcher In the Rye by J.D. Salinger:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

Notice how conversational this is. All the rules we were taught in school—don’t use adverbs like really, don’t use slang like lousy, and definitely don’t use words like “crap”—Salinger breaks them. And it works because this isn’t a school paper; this is one friend talking to another.

The remarkable thing about a unique voice is that it can be just as vivid as description. Don’t you instantly get an image of a sarcastic, teenage kid (perhaps wearing a red hunting cap backwards) while reading this? Voice can spark your imagination to create whole worlds.

Speaking of strange worlds, here’s J.K. Rowling’s first line from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.

You can just hear the Dursleys saying that huffily, can’t you? “Thank you very much. Such Nonsense.” I also think it’s fascinating that for such a magical novel, Rowling chose to begin with the least magical people in the whole story, which just increases the contrast between the magic and “muggle” world. Brilliant.

3. Perfect First Lines Are Surprising

This might be the most important tip in this post.

Be surprising. So many of these examples of great first lines are surprising. Case in point, here’s the opening line from 1984 by George Orwell:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

How do you quickly show the world you’re describing is slightly off from the real world? Alter the way time is tracked. Genius.

Snakes are an easy way to surprise your reader. Here’s the opening line from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. Here is a copy of the drawing.

Nothing like boa constrictors and drawings of boa constrictors to catch your reader’s attention.

Here’s another example from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

Firing squad? Discovering ice? So much strangeness here I couldn’t help but read on.

And in honor of Christmas, here’s Charles Dickens’ first line from A Christmas Carol (thanks Magic Violinist for the recommendation):

Marley was dead: to begin with.

Want to create surprise? Apparently you should begin your story with someone dying (as three of our examples do).

4. Perfect First Lines Are Funny

Humor is closely linked with surprise, and great first lines are often very funny. For example, here’s a silly image from J.R.R. Tolkien’s very funny novel The Hobbit:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

“And that means comfort.” I love that part. I can imagine Tolkien’s four children squealing with delight at this opening line.

And here is Jane Austen exhibiting her slyly satirical wit in the first line of Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Of course he must. How could he not?

5. Perfect First Lines Are True

Some novels begin with a philosophical truth. Take the iconic first line of one of the bestselling books of all time, A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness…

… and so on. It’s quite long, so you can read the full line here. This line is so famous that when I first read A Tale of Two Cities I was surprised to realize it came from a book. By now, this line has become a truism, but in its day, it was a philosophical reflection on the subjectivity of history and human experience.

Great first lines can do that. They can take a look at an entire culture as a whole and You can’t, of course, stay there forever. Eventually, you have start teaching again. But a little philosophy at the end of a novel doesn’t hurt.

6. Perfect First Lines Are Clear

Many great first lines do little more than introduce us to the characters we’re going to be following through the book. For example, from Melville’s Moby Dick:

Call me Ishmael.

And here’s a quick synopsis of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in its first line:

Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.

Great first lines are often clear, we instantly know who the narrator is, where we are, and what this story  will be about.

7. Perfect First Lines Contain the Entirety of a Novel

Perfect first lines don’t just begin a novel, they someone manage to compact the entire story into a single sentence.

For example, take Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: 

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

You can see Samsa’s entire journey, from the realization of his plight to his painful alienation to his eventual death.

Here’s another example from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.

In this single, perfect sentence Nabokov reveals all the passion, poetry, and disaster that will follow.

Just as William Blake said, “To see the world in a grain of sand,” so the first line of a novel can contain its entirety within it.

How to Write the Perfect First Line

From all these examples, I hope you’ve seen that perfect first lines take many shapes and forms. In fact, the title of this post is misleading because there is really no such thing as the perfect first line. There is only a perfect first line for your story.

Be patient as you look for it. It might take longer than you think to find it. You may discover it, and then find another, then discard that one for something better still.

Remember, a great first line can hook your reader through the rest of your story. Keep searching for it. It’s worth it.

By Joe Bunting


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The Finishing Line: How to Celebrate A Completed Book

So, you’ve finished your book. Congratulations! Writers often work alone, with very little validation. We have to struggle uphill, putting up with rejection and radio silence.

This is why we absolutely MUST celebrate our completed books. Here’s how …

1) Acknowledge the Win

Look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re the main wo/man. Remind yourself LOTS of people want to be writers … but very few of us manage to get words on paper, never mind make it out the other side to publication.

So first things first, pat yourself on the back for your achievement. That’s it!

2) Take a Break

Confession time: I used to find finishing a book a bit of an anti-climax.  This meant I wanted to fill the hole my last story had left, so I would go straight from one book to another or start editing without a break.

Unsurprisingly, this took its toll VERY FAST … and I ended up burning out, HARD. Learn from my mistakes!

3) Tell Your Writer Friends

If you have a group of personal writer friends, tell them you’ve completed your book. They will get what a big deal this is, so will celebrate with you.

If you DON’T have any personal writer friends, that’s okay. Drop in to Twitter, insta or Facebook and tag ME as @Bang2write. 

I will congratulate you and so will the Bangers. W000t! You can also use hashtags like #WritingCommunity to find writer friends too.

4) Treat Yourself

It’s true that many of our friends and loved ones won’t ‘get’ what a big deal it is to finish a book. (Hell, many of them think we’re just mucking about – boo).

When I finish a book, I go for a walk. It’s great to get away from my desk and be at one with nature. I even go when it’s windy and rainy! I love to see how dramatic the British countryside can get.

If I’ve just done a MAJOR edit or had a book published, I go one further and treat myself to a block of my favourite chocolate. I have expensive taste – it’s £3.50 for a small bar. Yikes! But that’s okay, I’ve earned it. So think about whatever it is you like to do … and do it. You deserve it.

5) Remind Yourself

Sometimes writers tell me finishing books makes them anxious. This will usually because they feel daunted about about revising the story.

Other times it will be because they have to ‘reset to zero’ by moving on and starting a new project.

Remind yourself every writer feels this way. What’s more, you know now you CAN finish a book. You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. YOU GOT THIS!!! 

So what are you waiting for? Go CELEBRATE!



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Fear Thesaurus Entry: Death

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 Death

Human beings have a natural drive for self-preservation and survival, so a healthy respect for death is normal. But when the character begins to obsessively fear that they or a loved one will die, a phobia called thanatophobia can develop. Someone in this situation may be afraid of the death process—of pain, the unknown, or the afterlife—or simply of ceasing to exist. This kind of fear can dominate a person’s life, making it impossible for them to enjoy even the smallest aspects of living.

What It Looks Like
Shying away from potentially dangerous or thrill-seeking situations (skydiving, storm chasing, running at night, etc.)
Frequently checking for signs of illness or disease
Avoiding cemeteries, funeral homes, and other places associated with death
Not celebrating Halloween, the Day of the Dead, and other holidays related to death
Checking in frequently on loved ones to make sure they’re okay
Taking vitamins and supplements
Exercising obsessively
Insisting on over-the-top safety precautions
Avoiding hospitals
Running to the doctor at the slightest sign of illness
Protecting children to the point of smothering them
Being an overly cautious driver
Being overly concerned about germs
Doing good deeds as a way of “balancing the scales” in this life so the character won’t be punished in the next one
Talking incessantly about reports of dangerous places, mass casualty events, etc.
Making fear-based decisions
Suffering from frequent nightmares or insomnia

Common Internal Struggles
The character falling sick and fretting that they’ve contracted a deadly disease 
Worrying that they won’t be able to accomplish everything they want to before they die
Anxiety rising when the character sees a news report about someone dying
Desperately wanting to know the truth about the afterlife but not having any proof
Struggling to act normal because the character knows their fear makes them look irrational
Not being able to rest when loved ones are away
Knowing the character’s actions are driving family members away but being unable to lighten up
Obsessing over exercising regularly and eating healthy
Struggling with paranoia

Flaws That May Emerge
Fussy, Controlling, Morbid, Needy, Obsessive, Paranoid, Stubborn, Worrywart

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Missing out on opportunities to try new things
Being reclusive and living a life of isolation
The character’s health being such a big priority that they don’t have time for other activities
Other people avoiding the character because of their neediness, restrictive rules, and obsessive need for safety 
Having to use medication to control anxiety and depression
Spending so much time worrying about death that the character loses all joy and happiness
Being ruled by fear

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Experiencing a life-threatening situation, such as a car accident or a tropical storm
The character or their loved one being diagnosed with a terminal illness
A loved one dying unexpectedly
Having to attend a funeral
Seeing death depicted in a movie or on the news
Having a near-death experience 
Suffering a serious injury
Milestone birthdays that represent the passage of time
Seeing signs of aging as the character gets older.



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Fear Thesaurus Entry: Crowds

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 Crowds

Crowds make a lot of people nervous. Some people simply fear the large numbers of people present; for others, it may be a heightened sense of perceived danger and unknown behavior, being left alone in the crowd, or the overload of the sensory experience of sounds and smells and even of being touched. Your character’s fear of crowds may be the result of a natural aversion to groups of strangers, concerns about germs or contagion, connected to a wounding event, or tied to a fear of having a panic attack in public. For the latter, see the AGORAPHOBIA entry.

What It Looks Like
Refusing to attend crowded events, like graduations, large family reunions, and concerts
Avoiding amusement parks, zoos, fairs, and other cultural destinations
Having difficulty taking public transportation
The character having a panic attack if they’re unexpectedly stuck in a crowd
Always asking to meet at smaller venues for social gatherings
The character hiding in a corner or out-of-the-way place when they encounter a crowd
Making excuses not to attend certain events
Having an escape plan in mind when a crowded venue can’t be avoided
Scoping out exits upon arrival
Clinging to friends or family at large events
Scanning the crowd for points of danger
Timing attendance to coincide with off-peak times or low volumes of people 
Experiencing sensory overload in a crowd from the noise or proximity of too many people
Always leaving large events early (making a token appearance) 
Needing time to recharge and be alone after being in a crowd

Common Internal Struggles
The character wondering what’s wrong with them
Second-guessing their own feelings and fear
Growing angry at what they feel is their own shortcoming or irrational fear
Struggling between wanting to feel safe but not wanting to miss an important event
Feeling dissatisfied with their limited scope of activities
Wondering if they’re overreacting
Being unable to carry on a conversation with a stranger and feeling ashamed or insecure about it
Seeing pictures online of events they missed and feeling left out, wishing they could have participated

Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Compulsive, Fussy, Inflexible, Inhibited, Insecure, Irrational, Obsessive, Paranoid, Resentful, Withdrawn

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being unable to maintain stable friendships or romantic relationships
Barriers arising between themselves and family members who downplay or don’t understand their fear
Missing out on important milestones for family and friends
The character being unable to enjoy the events they do attend because of worry and fear
Turning down promising job opportunities with large companies
Hurting their career prospects by refusing to attend company gatherings
Worsening symptoms leading to agoraphobia

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Seeing a news report of a tragic event that played out in a crowd (at a train station, amusement park, etc.)
Being asked to speak at a friend’s wedding reception
Being triggered regarding a past trauma that occurred in a crowded area
Getting lost in a crowd (if the character is a child)
An outbreak of a contagious disease
Family or friends downplaying the character’s fear 
Being forced to attend a large work gathering 
Being surrounded by people and feeling the onset of a panic attack.



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Feedback and Editing: The Right Eyes at the Right Time

Unless you wrote your book exclusively for your own satisfaction, once your creative vision is on the page, it’s time to zoom in on how the book works for readers. The key is getting the right kind of feedback for where you are in the revision and editing process—and dodging the kind that will pull you off track.

Much of this choice hinges on your editorial budget. You could do most or all these steps for yourself at no cost, but the quality of your book will reflect the quality of the production behind it. Most writers end up drawing on both free and paid feedback options.

Let’s make sure you’re leaning on the right options at the right time.

Writing Feedback: Stage by Stage

With a newly complete manuscript

Volunteer feedback is perfect at this stage of your book’s development. One or two alpha readers (often a spouse, critique partner, or close friend) provide that initial gut check on what’s hitting home and what’s missing the target.

During second and later drafts

As you continue working through early drafts, crowdsourced feedback continues to be your best bet. Lean on your peers in critique partners and groups, collecting enough opinions to sort out which point to genuine issues and which simply refer to personal taste.

Active drafting can be an opportunity for coaching or mentoring on story problems identified by critique buddies—a character arc that refuses to gel, saggy pacing, a general lack of zing—if your budget and time comfortably allow it. A little one-on-one help from a pro now could prevent you from filling your manuscript with pernicious errors that will inflate your editing rate down the line. (Incorrect use of dialogue tags and action beats, I’m looking at you!)

Before you’re ready for professional editing

Once you sense you’re nearing the limits of your ability to improve your book on your own, it’s time to bring in beta readers. Beta readers provide high-level, subjective, personal feedback such as “the pacing felt slow in the middle” or “I just didn’t like that character at all.”

Although paying for beta reading ensures the readers will finish the book and return feedback, it’s not necessary to hire a pro. In fact (unpopular opinion ahead), an editor is the wrong choice for beta reading. The reason is simple: Beta reading is not Editing Lite™. It’s designed to generate genuine reader reaction, not analysis from a trained professional.

When you’re ready for professional editing

When you’re ready for professional editing, marching in with a request for a particular type or level of editing puts you at risk of getting precisely what you ask for—whether your manuscript needs it or not. It would be like relying on Dr. Google to diagnose a physical ailment, then convincing a local doctor to prescribe strictly the medications and treatments you’ve decided you need.

Choose your editor with care. You deserve a specialist who resonates with you and your work, not whoever offers the lowest rates and immediate availability.

Once you’ve found the perfect editorial collaborator, let them recommend what your manuscript needs. Their recommendations should be based on what will best support your story, your writing, and your publishing goals. If your editor hasn’t reviewed all those points, you can’t be sure you’ll get what you need.

Between edits

Another popular point for beta reading is in between edits. For example, betas can check whether the revisions you made after a developmental edit satisfy the needs the edit identified.

Don’t use beta readers beyond the point at which you’re willing to make big-picture changes. Once the story is settled, it’s time to move forward into editing.

Before you query

Raw talent shouldn’t mean raw material, and having your manuscript edited before you query agents and publishers helps you get your foot in the door.

“Our agency consistently see proposals that are okay, but simply not written at a level that is needed to break into the market,” writes literary agent Steve Laube. “Agents are not freelance editors so there is only so much we are willing to do to fix a project. I have said it this way, ‘If I get something that is 90% ready, I can take it the rest of the way. But if it is only 80% ready I will kick it back to the writer with a rejection. We are looking for the best of the best.’”

Agents are not there to provide you with free editing. In The Shit No One Tells You About Writing (season 2, episode 1), literary agent Cece Lyra advises writers not to expect feedback from an agent until “your writing is so, so good to the point that your agent is actually ready to sell it, then he’ll give you editorial feedback. … Your agent’s job is to sell your work. You need to have other sources of feedback too.”

Authors like Bianca Marais (The Witches of Moonshine Manor) seek out professional help before sending their manuscripts to agents. “I think as writers, we need to get into the habit of seeking out the expertise that we want, and that means paying for it,” she notes in The Shit No One Tells You About Writing (season 2, episode 1), “but it makes the agent’s job that much easier to be able to sell the work because the work is so much more polished and professional at that time.”

Before you self-publish

Self-publishing your work means assuming the responsibility for producing a professional-quality product—and that means paying for professional-caliber editing.

A developmental editor will help you master and refine the principles of story structure, genre, and storytelling technique. Your need for this level of editing may diminish as you master the craft, but you can’t afford to launch your writing career with limp storytelling.

And when it’s time for line editing and copyediting, your friend the English teacher can tell you if you have a problem with dangling participles, but they probably haven’t the foggiest about publishing industry standards for fiction style and punctuation. Get a professional copyedit.

Proofreading could be a suitable time to loop in friends and family who’ve promised to help. Vet their recommendations carefully—their knowledge of current grammar and usage or publishing industry standards will not always be on target—and be clear that you’re asking for help identifying typos and objective errors. Collate and compare volunteer findings, then get a professional editor or proofreader to review the results. You may be able to get this done as part of your editing follow-up or at an extremely low rate.

Keep Hold of the Creative Reins

Finally, follow these three guidelines for incorporating feedback into your work at any stage.

1. Don’t seek creative feedback from anyone you wouldn’t entrust with molding your book’s creative vision.

2. Take responsibility for learning your craft. “The conscious writer listens to everyone, tries everything, but follows no one; they are their own guru,” advises story development consultant Jeff Lyons. “(The conscious writer) takes responsibility for their failures as well as their successes and knows that they, not some fortune cookie, are the only ones who can solve their writing problems—and they love that responsibility.”

3. Don’t get sucked into an endless feedback loop. Gather constructive input, make your decisions and revisions, and move on to the next novel. You want a writing career filled with books, don’t you?




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Fear Thesaurus Entry: Not Being Believed

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.

Not Being Believed

The fear of not being believed often comes from a place of abuse. A character who made themselves vulnerable to someone (a relative, a corporation, the media, etc.) and was then accused of dishonesty, unreliability, or worse—it’s enough to turn that character into a bubbling mess of self-doubt and paranoia. There is nothing like an abuse of power to send one spiraling into a dark abyss that takes years to climb out of.

What It Looks Like
Only telling people what the character thinks they want to hear
Only speaking up when there is zero doubt that what the character is saying is true
Being loose with the truth (because no one will believe them anyway)
Being honest to a fault—refusing to tell even a little white lie
Needing constant assurance that people believe them
Withdrawing from friends and family
Questioning everything that is said or presented to them
Being able to read others and recognize dishonesty
The character often accusing people of lying to them or to loved ones
Becoming angry if their word is questioned
Searching for the truth in all things
The character having nightmares about times when they weren’t believed
Keeping quiet about abuse or unfairness (because speaking up won’t do them any good)
Harboring a healthy distrust of other people, institutions, etc.
Extreme self-reliance from the belief that the character can trust no one but themselves

Common Internal Struggles
Wanting to speak up about an injustice but worrying they won’t be believed
Feeling guilt or shame despite having done nothing wrong
Being paranoid that people are conspiring against them
Wanting to confide in someone but being unsure if they’re trustworthy
Wanting to speak up about a situation but choosing not to after seeing society’s reaction to a similar event
The character second-guessing themselves, doubting their ability to remember details correctly
Negative self-talk (berating themselves for not standing up for themselves, etc.)

Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Antisocial, Apathetic, Cynical, Defensive, Dishonest, Evasive, Hostile, Inattentive, Inhibited, Insecure, Nervous, Nosy, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Pessimistic, Resentful, Suspicious, Timid, Uncommunicative, Volatile, Withdrawn

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Living in isolation
Struggling professionally due to a distrust of those in authority
Being ruled by fear or anger
Quitting jobs rather than telling someone about workplace injustices
Difficulty relating to or accepting people who are similar to those who didn’t believe the character (men, women, police officers, doctors, religious leaders, etc.)
Living with self-doubt because the character doesn’t trust their own instincts
Never knowing who can be trusted
Continuing in a toxic or harmful situation because the character thinks no one will believe them

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Watching someone go public with a similar problem and lose all credibility in the media
Witnessing behavior at work that should be reported
The character testifying about a crime and their word being questioned
Seeing someone speak out about what happened to them and hearing loved ones blame the victim
Being told by an abuser and that no one will believe the character if they talk
Telling authorities about wrongdoing and seeing nothing happen
Innocently witnessing a crime and being named as a suspect
Being told about an injustice in a way that makes the character question the reporter.



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Point of View: Is Deeper Always Better?

Until relatively recently, most stories were written with an omniscient point of view (POV), which follows the story and characters from an all-knowing distance. But over the past several decades, storytelling techniques have trended to a closer POV, focusing on one character and their experience at a time. In fact, for many genres, the expectation now is to use Deep POV for third-person stories, relating the story from within the POV character’s head (much like how we’d write first-person stories, just with different pronouns).

With the trends and expectations pushing toward a deeper POV, we might wonder if that means we should never drop out of Deep POV. What if we keep the POV “close” to one character’s experience, but relate some of the story from a shallower perspective that’s not so deep inside their head?

Choosing POV: What’s the Point?

The POV we choose shapes readers’ perspective of the story, story events, and whatever message we’re trying to share. For example, the POV we choose affects a reader’s view of the cause-and-effect flow, narrative momentum, immersion strength, emotions of arcs at the scene level, what characters notice about situations, priorities of various story goals, etc.

So the question of when we should use Deep POV—and when we shouldn’t—comes down to which option will shape readers’ perspective the way we want. Will Deep POV help or hurt our intentions for the reader experience?

Because Deep POV usually creates a sense of immersion and emotional connection between the reader and the character, it’s gotten more popular over the years. However, for some situations, Deep POV won’t deliver the experience we want readers to have.

Deep POV, Immersion, and Emotional Connections

Download this POV tip sheet

In general, the deeper the POV, the deeper the immersion—the sense that we’re not just reading words on a page but experiencing the story, right down to tandem visceral responses along with the POV character. Yet we also need to keep in mind that anything that takes readers out of the story disrupts that sense of immersion.

With Deep POV, readers also tend to feel a stronger emotional connection to the POV character, as they experience the story as the POV character. The story is told 100% subjectively, as readers learn of only the POV character’s thoughts and emotions, not those of the other characters. Readers are more likely to prioritize the same goals as the POV character and forgive any mistakes, as they have a deep understanding of the character’s secret longings and foibles. Yet sometimes that deep understanding of the POV character isn’t what we want for the story.

Obviously, this experiential style of POV requires a lot of showing rather than telling, in order to bring readers along the character’s journey, step by step. That’s why advice to increase our levels of showing often go hand-in-hand with the advice to use Deep POV, but showing isn’t always best for our storytelling.

If we understand how Deep POV, immersion, emotional connections, and showing are all linked, we can start to predict when Deep POV might not serve the experience we want for our readers.

When Might Deep POV Hurt a Reader’s Experience?

Here are five situations when we might want to use a shallower POV to create a better reader experience:

Situation #1: Avoid Reader Boredom

We’ll start with the most superficial situation: Telling vs. Showing. The advice to show more than tell often makes writers think that showing is better than telling. However, telling isn’t bad or something to be avoided.

For example, we wouldn’t want to use a lot of showing and Deep POV in a scene if the result would be boring, such as when it would be better to skip forward with a transition of time and/or place. Sure, the POV character might need to bring another character up to speed, but if that repeats a bunch of information the reader already knows, readers shouldn’t have to experience that repetition along with the character.

Tip: Briefly switching to a shallower POV to allow for a transition, perhaps with a telling-style summary of what the reader missed, can prevent reader boredom.

Situation #2: Share Future Knowledge with Readers

Most stories are written in “literary past tense”—rather than normal past tense—which means that story events are described as though they’re happening in the story present. However, some stories use normal past tense, which means that the events have already happened within the story itself.

Think of how in some stories, the narrator already knows how everything turns out. They might even interject with lines like: “I didn’t know it yet but…” or “If she’d only known, she would have…”

While many of these stories are told by a narrator sharing a tale from their past with a framing device, some instead simply use the technique of a shallower POV to include those types of lines. The story might briefly shift to a shallower POV to give a preview of events yet to come, as the story’s future already exists due to the use of normal past tense.

Whatever technique we use to include those types of lines, normal past tense adds distance to our storytelling, as those “If she’d only known” lines remind readers that they are reading a story. And unless our character is a fortune-teller, Deep POV doesn’t work for sharing future story knowledge.

Tip: For some stories, the normal past tense and a shallower POV for some lines makes sense if sharing future knowledge with readers is what we intend.

Situation #3: Limit an Emotional Connection to the POV Character

Wait…don’t we want readers emotionally connecting? Yes, but with some stories, we want to encourage readers to emotionally connect with the story itself or with other characters, not with the POV character of a scene.

For example, some stories include scenes from the villain’s perspective. Those scenes are sometimes written in a Deep POV style when the author wants to hide the villain’s identity, but in many other instances, the villain scenes are written in a slightly shallower POV than the rest of the story, as the author doesn’t want to encourage an emotional connection between readers and the villain.

In other stories, perhaps with a large cast of POV characters, it might make sense to encourage readers to connect to the overall story more than to any one character. Or those stories might start and end scenes with shallower POV to help ease the transition from one POV character to another.

Stories with an unreliable narrator might want to avoid readers feeling too betrayed when they learn their connection to the POV character wasn’t as close as they thought. So they might include selected details from a shallower and more objective perspective to give readers subtextual hints of the truth.

Tip: For some situations, we might want to discourage, or at least temporarily lessen, a reader’s emotional connection to a specific POV character by using a shallower POV in certain sections.

Situation #4: Tell the Story Beyond a Character’s Ability

Obviously, there are some stories where Deep POV doesn’t make sense at all, such as when the story we want to tell ranges beyond characters’ knowledge. However, there are some situations where most of the story is in Deep POV, but the POV character temporarily loses their ability to share the story experience with readers.

For example, if we want readers to know that our POV character is experiencing a dream, we might include a few lines with a shallower POV to transition into the dream. We might do something similar if a character is drugged or unconscious (or nearly so).

Or think of a scene where the POV character is emotionally numb, perhaps near catatonic. In that case, we might pull back the POV a bit so readers aren’t stuck in that numb situation with the character and we can give details that force the story’s narrative forward.

Tip: In some situations, we may want the storytelling to still feel like Deep POV, while we bend the “rules” of the technique a bit to move the story forward with a few shallower POV lines or details.

Situation #5: Maintaining Immersion Requires a Shallower POV

Above, I mentioned that Deep POV usually increases a reader’s sense of immersion. However, there are some instances when a Deep POV that creates a strong emotional connection with the POV character would overwhelm readers.

Think of a story where the POV character experiences such intense situations and/or emotions that the reader could feel uncomfortable. For example, extreme grief or sexual assault could make a reader pull back from the immersive experience to protect themselves from mental or emotional trauma.

In other words, some story situations can trigger readers to break immersion themselves. So if we want to maintain immersion, we might choose to use a shallower POV to prevent readers from feeling the need to pull back.

If readers already have the context for what the POV character is going through, the emotional connection can remain with a sense of sympathy, rather than the sense of empathy that a Deep POV might entail. As I’ve posted about before on my blog: The reader’s “flavor” of the emotion can be more powerful, intimate, and immediate than what they would experience if the author tried to tell them “here’s what this emotion feels like.”

Tip: In some situations, readers will feel a stronger emotional connection if we give them room with a shallower POV to experience their own reaction to events, rather than trying to match the reader’s emotional journey to the character’s experience.



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