Monthly Archives: October 2022

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

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.


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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!



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Fear Thesaurus Entry: Being Pitied

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 Being Pitied

Pity almost always comes from a good place, from people who care and only want to help. But some people don’t want pity or sympathy for others because it makes them feel weak or inferior. When pity is accompanied by patronization, superiority, or passive-aggressiveness, it can cause the recipient to repel anyone’s attempt to show concern for them.

What It Looks Like
A strong work ethic
Rejecting charity
The character taking care of themselves when things are rough
Stashing food, money, and resources to prepare for hard times
Being highly adaptable
Downplaying negative life events so others won’t think they’re so bad
Brushing off the concerns of others
Becoming defensive when others express pity
Questioning shows of love or concern from others
Avoiding churches, soup kitchens, or other places typically associated with charity or sympathy
Overcompensating to show off their physical, emotional, or spiritual strength
Hiding negative emotions
Refusing to get professional help (in the form of counseling, food stamps, etc.)
Avoiding places where pity or charity are offered (church, support groups, etc.)
Quitting activities they enjoy if they start to perform poorly
Working very hard to avoid having to accept help from others
Having high expectations for themselves and others

Common Internal Struggles
The character believing they’re somehow inferior to or worth less than others
Wanting to be considered equal with others but secretly resenting those who have an easy life
Wanting to help others in need but not wanting to show pity
The character feeling guilty for their feelings about their unhappy life circumstances because they know others are even worse off
The character wanting desperately to prove themselves
Being afraid to show vulnerability to others
Fearing that others will find out about the character’s difficult circumstance

Flaws That May Emerge
Defensive, Dishonest, Grumpy, Judgmental, Perfectionist, Resentful, Uncooperative, Ungrateful

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Not getting the help they need because they never ask
Relationships remaining somewhat surface because of the character’s difficulty opening up about their problems
The character being overworked or resorting to desperate measures to care for themselves
Not being able to cry or express anger around others
Having to keep certain aspects of their life secret
Sustaining a serious injury or developing an illness and having no support system

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Being thrust into an unfortunate situation (homelessness, bankruptcy, a terminal illness, etc.) 
Being offered support from well-intentioned friends or family members
Dealing with an overbearing caregiver
Making an embarrassing mistake in public
Being targeted for being weaker or less than everyone else
A situation where the character is expected to be vulnerable



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The Top Three World-Building Pitfalls (and how to avoid them)

What Even is World-Building?

First, a definition. World-building is the act of creating a fictional story world. It often involves thinking about the physical landscape, plants, animals, and inhabitants of the world, its history, religion, technology, and the cultures of the different races that live there, including power structures, social customs, languages, leisure activities, and work. 

The Top Three World-Building Pitfalls

The most common pitfalls I see in my clients’ novels when it comes to world-building are:

  • Relying on tired tropes/cliches
  • Random world-building
  • Info-dumping

And all three of these can be avoided with a little planning. That’s why I recommend including world-building in your planning/pre-writing process even if you’re mostly a pantser.

Avoiding Tropes and Cliches

Every writer wants to create a world that is absolutely unique and is something that has never been done before. But to do that, you can’t write in a vacuum. Doing so creates a false sense of security that you don’t need to do any research to avoid tropes, cliches and stereotypes.

That’s why the first thing I do after I get an idea for a new world is read every comparable title I can get my hands on so I know what the tropes are and can either avoid or subvert them. The genre tropes section of the TV Tropes Wiki is a great place to get ideas for what’s already out there. A lot of tired tropes, cliches, and stereotypes crop up due to under-developed world building, where a writer fills in gaps in their story world from other worlds they’ve read or watched. So that makes it even more crucial to flesh out your world–and make sure it avoids those pitfalls–in the beginning of your process. 

For example, if your world includes a four-legged creature with a single horn, even if it’s not the traditional white horse and you don’t call it a unicorn, you need to understand the mythos around the unicorn to write this into your story world. Why? Because the second I said ‘four legged creature with a single horn,’ you conjured up an image. It might have been the slender, mystical figure from the animated version of The Last Unicorn or your kid’s sassy My Little Pony unicorn, but it still popped into your head, and some image will pop into your readers’ heads as well. Since you cannot control which unicorn they are thinking of, you have to do some world building to ensure that they’re seeing exactly the type of creature you want to see.

This is also why your research needs to include primary sources in addition to things that have been published in past few years. For a mythology-based world (which many of mine are), I read the original epic poems or stories when I need a little additional inspiration. Of course, it’s important to be aware of the biases and prejudices of the times when you’re looking at source material. I often take something from the original that I find sexist or racist or otherwise irritating and subvert it in my story. China Mieville’s brilliant UnLunDun is a great example of subverting the typical Chosen One trope, for example, because the Chosen One doesn’t actually end up saving the day. Thus a cliché is avoided, giving readers a fresh take on a tired patriarchal trope.

Create a World that Enhances Story Themes

Sometimes the desire for fresh world-building overrides everything else. And that can lead to a world that feels random or disconnected from the themes, plot, and characters of your story. Think of The Hunger Games. Without the socio-economic oppression of The Capitol, the games wouldn’t make sense. Without Katniss’s near-starvation, she wouldn’t have the initial connection to Peeta—when he threw her the loaf of bread–that drives so many of the plot points throughout the trilogy. Even her preferred weapon, the bow and arrow, gives the reader information about this world. It’s one of the most primitive of weapons, used far before the Bronze Age introduced metal weapons, which reinforces the primitive subsistence living that’s been imposed on District Twelve while The Capitol hoards all its high-tech luxuries. So as you’re building out your world, make sure you think about how it will reinforce your story’s themes and character journey.

World-Building Takes a Light Touch

Once you’ve done your planning, you know the tropes, cliches, and genre expectations that are out there, and have ensured that your world-building reinforces the themes you’re writing about, it’s time to write. And, because you’ve created such a fresh, new world, you decide to start by orienting the reader to that world. Do not do this by including three chapters of world-building as your opening pages! Because as important as world-building is, it’s the character who is about to go on an adventure in that world who will draw the reader in. So start with character and give the reader only the bare minimum information required for them to understand what’s going on. (Becca has a great post on this here.)

Weave in details during scenes with forward action. Probably my most-used world building comment to my clients is: BE SPECIFIC. A platter of meat on the table is so much less evocative then roasted hell-boar basted with clarion berry jam. Even better if the main character’s father was gravely injured on a hell-boar hunt years ago or if the seeking out the clarion berries is a right-of-passage that the main character hopes to participate in soon. Then the details become a way to build character, foreshadowing what is to come, recall backstory, and, ultimately, make the world you’re creating on the page come to life.

I’m ready to build a world, now what?

By Julie Artz


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How to Make a Story You Love Out of a Writing Prompt You Hate

Writing prompts can be used to break through writer’s block or just as a warm-up to get your creative juices flowing.
Writing exercises are great.

till they aren’t.

What should you do if you detest the writing assignment?

Sometimes Writing Prompts Are Awful

I just received an invitation to take part in a collection of short stories.
Being personally invited is a big deal, so I was thrilled to get the chance.
The offer was joyfully accepted right away.

Afterward, I received my writing prompt.
The question was very challenging and a little outside of my comfort zone.
And I despised it.

I was unable to go back, though.
It was a great opportunity, and I had already committed to writing a story.

I had to persevere and finish that story.

5 Tips to Turn a Terrible Prompt Into a Brilliant Story

How did I get over my dislike of that writing assignment?
How then can you make the most of a prompt that you don’t like?

The following are my top five suggestions for writing for a prompt you detest:

Tip #1: Word association/brainstorming

I always clear a spot on my wall and write the prompt in the middle when I’m stuck.
(I possess a huge chalkboard.
During this technique, no paint was affected.)

I write down any thoughts that come to me as I pace in front of the wall.
(A dictionary is a helpful tool.)
What ifs
Sometimes, I’ll ramble in a single sentence about how much I detest the prompt or how bad a writer I am.

I literally write anything that comes to mind.
This is typically where the procedure ends.
I have something at the end of the first or second hour.

My chalkboard failed me this time.
I only had a lot of scribbling, so I resorted to more extreme means.

Tip #2: Come at it from a different angle

When writing, rules are crucial.
They establish the limits and define our boundaries for us.
Rules are what prompts are.
“This is the only thing we’re writing right now.”

By their very nature, rules and many prompts are restrictive.
rather limiting at times.

Especially when it comes to art, rules are designed to be broken.

When providing you a prompt, your editor does not want you to interpret it too literally.
Be innovative.
Consider novel ideas.
Don’t send your editors a piece that has been read a thousand times.

Try writing in a different genre or from a novel point of view.

Tip #3: Let it stew

Retract your steps and focus on anything else.
Take a stroll or a run.
Try another creative activity.
Consume chocolate.

While you direct your conscious attention elsewhere, your brain will continue to consider the issue.
If you’re fortunate, you’ll have insight while discussing socks with someone and the conversation will flow.

Tip #4: Roll dice

I mean literally in this instance.
I have a number of writing tools that I have received as presents over the years.
A box of Story Cubes, a set of dice featuring images on each side, is one of them.
The goal is to stimulate your brain visually so that you can solve problems without the need for words.

You can also experiment with additional “prompts” like online name or title generators, browse a ton of pictures, or play The Storymatic game.
You can use any illogical ideas these items inspire you to write about the writing prompt you’re supposed to use.

Tip #5: Ask others

One of my favorite strategies to get beyond a writing block is to bounce ideas off of other people.

This is not cheating, though.

Although it could seem like a simple solution, keep in mind that you are the one writing.
The other person is merely hurling ideas at you; it is your responsibility to determine which ones will stick and to pursue them.
Instead of stealing ideas, consider their inspiration.

(However, be sure to tell them what it’s for.
Don’t really plagiarize a complete tale.)

Do you adore or despise writing prompts?
Comment below and let me know!

By Rima

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The Skeleton of Your Story

Think of Milestones (aka story beats) as a human skeleton. The skull, spine, sternum (breastbone), scapula, ribs, and pelvis are vital for life. Without these large bones in place, we’d become a mushy blob of skin, muscle, and meat. Also important is the humerus (upper arm), radius and ulna (forearm), femur (thigh), patella (knee), tibia and fibula (shin). Though we could survive without arms and/or legs, we’d have to adjust to a new way of life. Same is true for the metatarsals and phalanges of our hands and feet.

A complete skeleton has the strongest foundation. Don’t we want the same for our novels?

Drilling down into the Three Act Structure, the dramatic arc is split into four quartiles. Milestones appear on the microlevel of those quartiles, called Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV. Each Part takes up about 25% of the novel. For clarity, I’ve colored Acts in red, Parts in blue, Milestones in black.

Ready to get high on craft? Cool. Let’s do this…


Part I: The Set Up: 

The first quartile (25%) of the story has but a single mission: to set-up everything that follows. We need to accomplish a handful of things (as you’ll see in the Milestones), but they all fall under the umbrella of that singular mission. If we choose to show the antagonist, we only want to include jigsaw pieces of the puzzle.

Most importantly, Part 1 needs to establish stakes for what happens to the hero after Part 1. Here in Part 1 is where the reader is made to care. The more we empathize with what the hero has at stake—what they need and want in their life and/or what obstacles they need to conquer before the arrival of the primary conflict—the more we care when it all changes. 

In Part 1 the hero is like an orphan, unsure of what will happen in their life. And like orphans, we feel for them. We empathize. We care.

Opening Scene

Often the Opening Scene doubles as the Hook, but not always. If you choose to include a prologue, for example, the Opening Scene must also hook the reader.


In an 85K word novel, the Hook should arrive between p. 1-15. This scene should introduce the hero, hook the reader, and entice them enough to keep reading. You need to ensure the reader either relates to, or empathizes with, the main character. Contrary to what some believe a reader does not have to like a main character. There have been plenty of unlikable heroes that have hooked us for an entire novel. Why? Because we empathized with their situation. Likeable or unlikeable, the reader must have a reason to root for them. That’s key.

Inciting Incident *Optional*

Not every story has to have an Inciting Incident in the way I use the term. Some call the Inciting Incident the First Plot Point. I refer to it as a separate Milestone, a foreshadowing of the First Plot Point but without affecting the protagonist. And that’s the main difference. It can even be an entirely different event, one that relates to the main plot, but it’s a false start. A tease. If we choose to include a separate Inciting Incident, this Milestone should land between p. 10-60 in the same 85K word novel. But an Inciting Incident does not mean we can skip the First Plot Point.

First Plot Point

Here’s where the true quest begins. The First Plot Point should land at 20-25% into the story, or between p. 60-75 in the 85K word novel. The First Plot Point is the single most important scene of all the Milestones because it kicks off the action and propels the hero on a quest, which is your story. Even if it’s been foreshadowed or hinted at, the First Plot Point shows the reader how it affects or changes the protagonist.

ACT 2 

Part II: The Response:

This quartile shows the protagonist’s reaction to the new goal/stakes/obstacles revealed by the First Plot Point. They don’t need to be heroic yet. Instead, they retreat, regroup, and/or have doomed attempts at a resolution.

First Pinch Point

The First Pinch Point arrives at about 37.5% into the story (roughly the 3/8th mark or p. 114 in the 85K word novel). This Milestone reveals a peek at the antagonist force, preventing the hero from reaching their goal. If you showed the antagonist earlier, this is a reminder, not filtered through narrative or the protagonist’s description but directly visible to the reader.

For a more in-depth look at Pinch Points, see this post

Midpoint Shift

The Midpoint Shift lands smack dab in the middle of the story at 50% or on p. 152 in the 85K word novel. This is a transformative scene, a catalyst for new decisions and actions. With new information, awareness, or contextual understanding, the protagonist changes from wanderer to warrior, attacking the problem head on, which lays the foundation for Part III.

Part III: The Attack: 

Midpoint information, awareness, or contextual understanding causes the protagonist to change course—to shift—in how to approach the obstacles. The hero is now empowered, not merely reacting as they did in Part II. They have a plan on how to proceed.

Second Pinch Point

Unlike the First Pinch Point, we must devote an entire scene to this Milestone. The Second Pinch should land around the 5/8th mark or 62.5% into the story (around p.190 in the 85K word novel). This time, the antagonist is more frightening than ever because, like the hero, he’s upped his game. Or, if the antagonist force is Mother Nature, the Second Pinch Point shows the eye of the hurricane or lava erupting from a dormant volcano.

Dark Night of the Soul

A slower paced, all-hope-is-lost moment before the Second Plot Point, also known as the second plot point lull. At its heart, the Dark Night of the Soul is the main character grappling with a death of some kind—a mentor, profession, a relationship, his reputation, her sense of who she is, etc. Here’s where the hero is at their lowest point, believing they’ve failed.

As a clichéd example, the Dark Night of the Soul shows the cop with his gun in his mouth, ready to commit suicide. But then something happens to change his mind, and that something sets up our next Milestone.

Second Plot Point

The Second Plot Point arrives at 75% of the way into the story, or around p. 228 in the 85K word novel. This Milestone launches the final push toward the story’s conclusion. It’s the last place to add new information, characters, or clues. Everything the hero needs to know, to work with or to work alongside, must be in play by the end of the Second Plot Point. Otherwise, deus ex machina. But the protagonist—and reader—may not fully understand yet.


Part IV: The Resolution: 

The protagonist summons the courage and growth to come up with a solution, overcome inner obstacles, and conquer the antagonist. They’re empowered, determined. Heroic.


The hero conquers the antagonist or dies a martyr. Most will say the hero should never die at the end, but it is an option. And here’s when it’ll happen. In most novels the hero survives. It’s important to note the protagonist should be the one to thwart the antagonist, or at least lead the charge if it’s a group effort. They cannot be an innocent bystander.


Denouement means unknotting in French, and that’s exactly what this Milestone accomplishes. After enduring the quest, stronger for the effort, the protagonist unravels the complexities of the plot and begins their new life.



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Themes and Symbols Go Together Like Peas and Carrots

So…symbolism. We’re pretty familiar with this storytelling element, and I’m guessing most of us have experimented with the use of symbols in our writing. In a nutshell, you take an object, word, color, phrase, etc., and apply it in a story to give it a deeper meaning:

Tolkien’s one ring (evil) in Lord of the Rings
The floating feather (destiny/fate) in Forrest Gump
A Mockingjay (rebellion) in The Hunger Games

Some symbols are super obvious; other times, readers have more of a subconscious awareness that the object is really meant to represent X. Either way, when a symbol is deliberately included in a creative work, it’s almost always saying something about the story’s theme.

But theme … this one isn’t as easy to grasp. So let’s talk about this storytelling element and how you can use it along with symbolism to strengthen your writing.

What Is Theme?

The theme of a story is the central message that explores a universal concept. Nature, good vs. evil, freedom—ideas like these are common to the human experience, and when we include them in our writing, readers tend to engage with them and connect with the text and the characters on a deeper level.

But thematic ideas themselves aren’t typically so neutral. The author will often bring their own worldview and perspective to bear on a given concept to form a thematic statement that supports a specific perspective:

We’re all part of the circle of life. (The Lion King)
Every human has equal capacity for good and evil. (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)
Freedom requires sacrifice. (Braveheart)

Typically, this statement emerges and is proven out through the protagonist’s journey. They may start out embracing the thematic statement, which is challenged along the way by other ideas, but it survives the test of time and holds true. (Or the protagonist refuses to embrace that statement, ensuring in most cases that the story ends in tragedy.)

Alternatively, the hero may come to the story with a contrasting statement that is eventually proven wrong. And in some cases, the protagonist has no particular dog in the thematic fight; they arrive on page one without an opinion either way about the main idea. But by the final pages, the people they’ve encountered and trials they’ve faced have made them believers in the thematic statement.

As authors, we’re orchestrating this process. Sometimes it happens subconsciously, with our deeply rooted opinions organically making their way onto the pages as we write. But others take a more strategic approach to theme; they know what idea they’re trying to get across. It’s just a matter of figuring out the best way to do it.

Well, good news! We’ve got some tried-and-true methods for you to do just that.

Use the Whole Cast Via…

Contrasting Thematic Statements. If you’ve done your character creation homework, you’ve assembled a cast that is diverse in experience, personality, and mindset. As a result, each player will see the thematic idea from their own perspective. Allow readers to explore the central idea through the lens of those different viewpoints.

For instance, greed is the concept being explored in the movie Wall Street, and the players involved all see it a little differently. Protagonist Bud is a clean slate, with no preconceived ideas about it. His mentor lives by the mantra “Greed is Good,” and he has the money and moral ambiguity to prove it. Bud’s father, a hardworking blue-collar family man, believes that strength of character and being able to look yourself in the eye are more important than being rich. Bud’s girlfriend doesn’t reference greed overtly, but her ability to be bought says volumes. These viewpoints all leave an impression on Bud, formulating his ideas and influencing his journey to finally understanding and embracing his truth about the theme of greed.

Surround your protagonist with characters whose thematic statements contrast with his own. As the story unfolds and conflicts arise, the characters will respond based on their preconceived ideas about the theme. This will allow you to convey the idea you’re wanting to get across.

Personality Traits. We’re largely defined by our values, and this comes through in the traits that define us. The same is true for our characters. Someone who is honorable will look at greed differently than someone who is materialistic, selfish, or even ambitious. Likewise for an idealist vs. a cynic. Personality will naturally impact your character’s opinions and values, so whatever theme you want to explore, give each character the negative and/or positive traits that will make their beliefs about it make sense.

Experiences. A character’s ideals will also be influenced by their experiences. Let’s take, for example, a theme of family. Someone who grew up in a tight-knit, got-your-back family may swear by the adage that blood is thicker than water. But a character who was abandoned by their parents and has had to cobble together their own support system may believe that family is what you make it. Being raised in a home defined by rigid rules, strict punishments, and condemnation could cause someone to feel that family is a prison that must be escaped. Each character’s history—the good and the bad—will contribute to their personal ideas about your story theme. Set them up to have their own ideas about the theme by giving them the backstories that will support those beliefs.



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Less Is More—When It Comes to Describing Setting

If you’re a fiction writer, it’s your responsibility to develop vivid, evocative surroundings for your characters to inhabit.
Any seasoned fiction writer will tell you that the trick is to strike the right balance between over- and under-depicting, between vividly describing the environment with sensory details and succinctly summarizing.

It’s preferable to use a “Goldilocks” strategy while writing fiction—not too much, not too little.
However, how do we locate the location where the level of description is “just right”?

Sol Stein, a well-known writing instructor, wrote:

“Fictitious writing requires a precise balance.
On the one hand, generalizations plague a lot of novice writing.

One of the greatest pleasures of reading—using one’s imagination—is taken away when a novice writer provides the reader with specifics about characters, attire, surroundings, and actions.
To strike a balance, I would advise erring on the side of too little rather than too much.
Less is more in the reader’s imagination.

It takes time, effort, and research to learn how to strike the right balance between too little and too much detail.

Studying how skilled best-selling authors in your particular genre utilize description to take readers into the creative world created without experiencing boredom, aggravation, or misunderstanding is how you will discover the great techniques, making the study the most crucial of the three elements.

How to Find the Balance

How can authors practically understand the adage “less is more”?
Find the setting of a book you enjoy (that fits your genre).
(Although it’s helpful, it’s actually not crucial when it comes to writing a superb location description to look at the current top sellers.
When I write my historical Westerns, I try to replicate the sensory qualities that Zane Grey so expertly captured in his magnificent setting descriptions from the early 20th century.)

Frequently, just 3–4 sensory cues are sufficient to evoke a sense of location.
However, every detail must pass through the senses of the POV character.
What she perceives of her surroundings—what she sees, feels, hears, or experiences—must be something she would notice at that precise moment for it to be credible.
Additionally, the few words of description must capture her attitude and mindset.

This is important.
It’s excessive when the setting is described without using the proper POV or tone (and, often, just plain weak writing).
Why is it excessive?
because rarely everyone takes the time to scan their surroundings and make a mental inventory of everything they can see.

All of this means that you must be certain of the thoughts and emotions that your character is experiencing at all times.
And when thinking about how to depict the setting, keep the goal of your scene front and center in your mind.

A few years ago, I attended a master class at Thrillerfest, and I still remember my instructor talking enviously about how another author managed to sum up New York City in just one sentence.
On garbage pickup days, the fictitious character noticed the overstuffed black trash bags spilling out the corners of the streets before dawn and observed how the sacks wiggled as the rats inside rummaged for food.
It was the ideal, evocative depiction of the scene in his opinion.

Here are some examples of setting up a sense of place with just a few specific, carefully chosen sensory details (in POV):

The attic had a wonderful pine odor and temperature.
In the cooler months, the resin droplets that had been pushed from the rough floors by years of summer heat solidified into tiny amber marbles that dispersed everywhere as we moved trunks and cardboard boxes.
The pungent resin scent and the distinct amber rattle, which sounds like ball bearings moving around in a box, are imprinted on my memories of that afternoon.
It’s amazing how much recollection is made up of details that were forgotten at the time.
(From Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams)

I had always heard that angel tears were the early morning moisture that shone off the mound of bike parts across the yard.
The wide eyes of a few of the sprockets were rimmed with metal eyelashes as they glared at me.
It might have been a piece of postmodern art.
I said, “In New York you’d fetch large dollars.”

Walking would warm me. I crossed the rickety bridge that spanned the creek and started off toward the road to town. I pumped my arms, striding briskly along the rutted lane, were evergreens, withered and skeletal, blended into the gray-green of the sage. Tiny had said the trees were infested with a kind of beetle, killing them an inch at a time. This saddened me and I walked faster. (The Fence My Father Built, Linda S. Clare)

I walked back out to my car. The scrub oak on the rim of the hills looked like stenciled black scars against the molten sun. I started the car engine, then turned it off and got back out and slammed the door. (Bitterroot, James Lee Burke)

I hope you noticed how personal these descriptions are, the setting telling something about the POV character and not just blandly presenting a laundry list of adjectives and nouns.

The context is established in the final example through straightforward action—the protagonist walks to his car, gets inside, starts and shuts off the engine, then exits.
The choice of verbs and adjectives makes it obvious what the character’s mood and mindset are even without knowing anything about this particular point in the story.
Burke also employs a simile to express that atmosphere, which is a powerful way to emphasize emotion.

He doesn’t go overboard with verbose, in-depth descriptions of the character’s emotions.
The man doesn’t kick his feet and walks irately to his car.
He simply takes a moment to reflect while gazing out towards the horizon.
He seemed to be debating whether to stay or leave.
He doesn’t rev the engine and grinds his teeth while holding the steering wheel with whitened knuckles.
He doesn’t mention the inside temperature, the appearance of the road, or the exhaust odor.

Yes, Burke could have written a few more lines, intensified the atmosphere, and slowed the action down some more, and it would have worked.
Less is more, though.
You can see from this that less produces good pacing, keeping the action moving without boring readers.


First, consider the purpose of the scene. Why your character is in this particular place and what she is doing there. What mood is she in and why? Write about the setting from her POV and in her mood. Make sure every noun, verb, and adjective reflects her mood. Fill a whole page with all kinds of sensory details.

Now, select just three or four phrases, sentences, or similes that really nail the setting in her POV. If you do this every time you sit down to write a new scene or put your character in a new place, you’ll get the hang of “less is more.” And your writing will greatly improve.

By Rima

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How to write a mystery novel?

So you’re interested in learning how to write a mystery book.
It makes me happy to hear it.
Since I hid behind the Lincoln Logs in Mrs. Jenkins’ third-grade classroom so I could read my first Nancy Drew book alone, I have loved mysteries.
That day, mystery snagged me, and ever since, she has been leading the way.

Being a mystery reader is the finest way to get ready to write a mystery book.
You must be able to rely on reflexes that you’ve honed over years of reading.
And to help you through the difficult times, you’ll need the dedication of a loyal supporter.

Being completely honest, there is a ton that goes into creating a mystery book.
However, if you invest the time and energy to make it happen, you’ll benefit greatly in the long run.
So let’s get going.

Being a mystery reader is the finest way to get ready to write a mystery book.
You must be able to rely on reflexes that you’ve honed over years of reading.
And to help you through the difficult times, you’ll need the dedication of a loyal supporter.

Being completely honest, there is a ton that goes into creating a mystery book.
However, if you invest the time and energy to make it happen, you’ll benefit greatly in the long run.
So let’s get going.

Readers of mysteries like figuring out puzzles and looking forward to the conclusion.
But readers have much higher expectations than that.
Readers want to empathize with the protagonist, feel the excitement of the chase, and feel satisfied that the offender has been punished.

In every genre, but especially in mystery writing, meeting reader expectations is of utmost importance.
Approximately 33% of all fiction sales in the English language belong to the mystery genre, which has a huge fan base.
You’re putting yourself in a position to succeed in the mystery genre if you can win over even a small fraction of that audience.

Which mystery subgenre fits your writing style the best?

The mystery genre has numerous subgenres, and some authors are better suited to various mystery subgenres.

For example, cozy novels need a lot of character and setting detail to keep the sluggish pacing engaging.
Cozies are lighthearted mysteries with a bloodless crime that frequently involves a victim who has little connection to any of the protagonists. The violence occurs off-stage.

Without a lot of action, cozy authors must be able to crank out upwards of 60,000 words while keeping it interesting.
The primary character is highlighted rather than the crime.

Medical and legal mysteries, as well as police procedurals, demand in-depth specialized expertise.
These are best suited for experts in these subjects, for meticulous writers who enjoy the minute details of technique.
If you get it incorrect, readers will spit you out, and a little bit of research won’t help you get by.

As much of the gathering and analyzing of clues will fall to a group, with each member contributing to the crime’s solution, this kind of writer should also be adept at creating teams for their characters.

Readers look for a really compelling, believable main character in Private Eye/Noir books.
The PI will engage with police, and those conversations must be realistic, therefore familiarity with or study in this area is not required.

Which type of mystery best suits your writing style?

The main character earns a living by conducting background checks and other investigations, among other things.
A writer who wants to write a PI novel should have experience in IT or a similar sector because modern PIs are excellent computer users.
It’s undoubtedly a noir if the tone of the book is grim, grimy, extremely gory, or unashamedly urban.

Suspense is another element, but that is a topic for another day.

Recognize the tropes

Like all genres, mystery is replete with tropes, which are recurring themes or literary devices that readers are familiar with.
“The butler did it” and “locked room mystery” are a couple of instances.
While some of these may seem cliché to you, mystery enthusiasts adore and rely on the majority of them.
Instead of avoiding them, the idea is to discover novel ways to approach them, so that readers experience both a sense of familiarity and a sense of surprise.

Plan ahead .
He advises taking into account the following four elements when crafting a mystery:

technique of murder.
Find a new angle on what has already been done.
I quickly searched for creative murder techniques on Google, and as you could expect, the list of results was incredibly large.
At your own peril, explore.
The Darwin Awards are a different resource you could take into account when looking for uncommon ideas.

Object of the opponent.
What does the villain ultimately want?
Dent describes it as a kind of treasure, either literally or figuratively.

The crime and the villain should provide the context for the tale.
The setting ought to come after you’ve got those under control.

the cause of the hero.
What’s at stake is a different way to look at things.
What will the hero get out of achieving his objective?
What will he forfeit if he loses?

One more quick suggestion for outlining, this from Scott Meredith and Algis Budrys. Formulate a…

In a setting
With a problem
Put your protagonist through a series of try/fail cycles while solving the crime, escalating the stakes with each cycle
The last try/fail cycle is the most perilous and challenging of all and is followed either by the hero’s success in catching the murderer and bringing him to justice, or his ultimate failure

Continue knowing your genre and analyzing it.
However, don’t allow studying prevent you from writing.
If you want to create a mystery novel, try it out because writing is the best kind of practice!

Have you thought of a mystery novel idea?
Have you created a smart riddle that, in your opinion, would make a fantastic mystery novel?
In the comments box, make a comment about it.

By Rima

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Never Finding Happiness

Everyone struggles with crippling fears, which are terrible aspects of being human.
These anxieties have an impact on a character’s behaviors, habits, beliefs, and personality features, whether they are brought on by learned behavior from childhood, are connected to a mental health issue, or originate from a previous traumatic experience.
Characters will be driven away from particular people, events, and situations and held back in life by their urge to avoid what they dread.

This main fear (or group of fears) in your novel will repeatedly threaten the objective the character is pursuing, compelling them to withdraw, compromise, and give up on what they desire most.
It plays a crucial role in both since this fear must be overcome for them to succeed, find balance, and feel fulfilled.

This thesaurus looks at the several kinds of anxieties that could be affecting your character.
In order to completely develop your characters and guide them through their story arc, use it to understand and utilize anxieties.
Please be aware that this is not a tool for self-diagnosis.
Although we occasionally exhibit the same characteristics as characters, fears are a typical occurrence in real life, and the section below is solely meant to be used in fiction writing.

I’m afraid I’ll never be happy


A person who fears they will never be happy could believe they are unworthy of happiness.
Additionally, it’s possible that they’ve had enough of life’s many setbacks and are unwilling to place any more hope in anything.
Because of this anxiety, the character’s emotions are split into two extremes: either they spend their entire time seeking happiness or running from it.

How It Appearance

They are looking for the one item that will ignite their inner fire.

experimenting with a variety of pastimes and hobbies

researching philosophies, religions, and other beliefs

being alone a lot, and contemplating life

Hopping from job to job in search of the ideal one

Abusing drink or drugs to escape from pain or to find serenity

concealing or withdrawing from the public

angering others out of frustration

aiming for perfection

talking negatively to oneself

Having trouble making judgments

Being unable to progress toward something they want Being unable to discover activities that delight them

dislike everything about life

exhibiting a “why me” mentality

Typical Internal Conflicts
Character’s inability to experience joy because of constant anxiety about potential negative outcomes

even after something good occurs, feeling numb

Keeping your mind on the past even when things have improved

worrying about the future rather than appreciating the good things in the here and now

The persona experiences anxiety

not being able to recognize their own worth

Despite having done nothing wrong, they feel guilty or ashamed.

Flaws That Could Appear

Inattentive, restrained, insecure, irrational, theatrical, needy, anxious, overly sensitive, pessimistic, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, submissive, timid, uncommunicative, whiny, withdrawing

Flaws That Could Appear

Inattentive, restrained, insecure, irrational, theatrical, needy, anxious, overly sensitive, pessimistic, reckless, resentful, self-destructive, submissive, timid, uncommunicative, whiny, withdrawing

Life Obstacles and Disruptions for the Character

finding it challenging to make friends

The protagonist not pursuing their goals in life

ignoring great chances and accepting the current quo

persistent drug use

unable to move forward because of sadness, social anxiety, etc.

a delusional belief that everyone is out to get them

believing that destiny, god, or the universe are against them

being motivated by bad feelings and thoughts

Situations That Could Provoke This Fear

becoming a victim

The character has a loss that makes it appear hard for them to pursue their goal (a musician going deaf, an athlete losing a limb, etc.)

When the protagonist loses their ideal job,

enduring a string of setbacks in a short period of time

a significant catastrophe (a weather event, economic depression, pandemic, etc.)
having a detrimental effect on the character

a difficult-to-overcome health emergency (cancer, a stroke, a chronic illness diagnosis, etc.)

the loss of a close relative

A great chance that was lost at the final minute.

By Rima

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