Where to Start a Story Edit

By Kristina Stanley and Lucy Cooke

Do you have a draft written but aren’t sure if there is a strong story in that draft?

In our book, Secrets to Editing Success, we go into great depth on how to perform a story edit—a structural edit—on any novel. We take the theory and show you the process to story edit.

We’re going to share some of our secrets here. And the first secret is how you know if there is a story in the draft.

The Most Important Question

Does the draft contain a story?

That’s a big one, and how do you answer it if you’ve just written that draft? And to go deeper, how do you answer it objectively?

First, You Perform a Story Test

What do we mean when we talk about having proof that there is a story? We are asking if you can write a synopsis.

We define a synopsis as a blurb plus the five story arc scenes plus the ending. A synopsis is a cinch when you know that’s all it boils down to.

When authors find it tough to write a synopsis, it’s normally because either they don’t have an understanding of what goes into the synopsis or there isn’t a full story yet.

A story synopsis is a tool you can use to determine if there is a story in the draft manuscript. We’re not asking you to write a polished synopsis. We’re asking you to write a skeleton synopsis.

Skeleton Synopsis = Skeleton Blurb + 5 Story Arc Scenes + Resolution

The first part of the story test is to create a skeleton blurb.

Skeleton Blurb

A skeleton blurb answers three simple questions.

  1. Who is the protagonist?
  2. What is the story goal?
  3. What is at stake?

The answers to these questions are found in every story. If you cannot answer them from the draft, then we can tell you the story promised is not there yet. And the draft is not ready to be edited.

With your skeleton blurb, you found the protagonist, the story goal, and the story stakes. With your skeleton synopsis, you will find the story.

The Skeleton Synopsis is Your Next Tool

A skeleton synopsis is a short description of the story.

Here is an outline for the skeleton synopsis:

The protagonist _________________ finds out the story goal __________________ (Inciting Incident). Then _______________________ happens, and the protagonist must go forward toward the story goal, (Plot Point 1). In the new “world,” ________________ happens, and the protagonist becomes proactive to the Story Goal (Middle Plot Point). But _______________________________ happens, and the protagonist’s hope is destroyed, they realize they must change to achieve the story goal (Plot Point 2). But the protagonist ______________________, and the world changes, they finally address the story goal (Climax).

To fill in the blanks, read the draft and find the inciting incident, plot point 1, the middle plot point, plot point 2, and the climax. Use the action in each of these scenes to fill in the blanks.

You can find out more about the story arc and how to find your story arc scenes at The Story Arc: Definitions & Examples.

Listing the Story Arc Scenes Shows You Whether There Is a Story.

  • Does the protagonist find out the story goal,
  • then something happens that propels the protagonist onto chasing the story goal,
  • so that they can learn to be proactive,
  • change themselves after all hope is lost,
  • and use what they have learned on their journey to answer the story goal that they found at the start of their journey?

What you just read is the most basic form of a story. And all great stories are structurally similar.

How to Create a Skeleton Synopsis

Step 1: Perform a Hands-Off Read-Through

A hands-off read-through means you read the story without making any changes.

Step 2: Name Every Scene

You can do this when you’re performing a hands-off read-through. A hands-off read-through means you read the story without making any changes, but you can and should make notes and name every scene.

When naming the scenes, find and label the inciting incident, plot point 1, the middle plot point, plot point 2, and the climax.

Step 3: Dig Deeper into the Story Arc Scenes

To write a skeleton synopsis at this stage, the following story elements for each story arc scene will help you set it up.

  1. Scene Name
  2. Point of View Character
  3. Point of View Character’s Goal
  4. Scene Middle
  5. Scene Climax
  6. Scene Impact on Point of View Character

Step 4: Create the Skeleton Synopsis

Now there are four clear steps to getting that skeleton synopsis done:

  1. Reference the skeleton blurb.
  2. Find the five Fictionary Story Arc scenes on the story arc.
  3. List scene name, scene middle, scene climax and impact on point of view character for each of these scenes.
  4. Summarize the ending showing the story’s resolution.

Step 5: Does the Draft Contain a Story?

The synopsis will help you determine if there is a story or not. You’ll find that if you can’t write the synopsis at this stage, then most likely the story is not finished. The attempt at writing a synopsis will highlight which portions of the story still need to be written.

If one of the 5 story arc scenes is missing, is in the wrong place, or doesn’t satisfy the requirements of a story scene, then there isn’t a story in the draft, yet.

It’s time to start revising the draft until the skeleton synopsis shows you there is a story. Once there is a story, you can move on to a full story edit.

Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Getting Back in the Writing Flow

We all need down time in our writing lives—a planned vacation, Christmas with the family, a buffer between big projects. Sometimes we get down time whether we’ve chosen it or not (I’m looking at you, COVID). Whatever the cause, it can be good to put down our pens or shut our laptops for a while. Vacation is my time to catch up on reading, and I savor it.

But time away creates an inevitable problem: how to get back into the writing habit.

I try to coordinate vacations with the end of a novel draft and use my departure date as a deadline. For me, there’s nothing worse than leaving a novel half-written. More than three days away from a novel-in-progress and I have to read back a few chapters to remind myself where I left off and trick myself back into the rhythm of the writing. More than a week and I basically have to read from the beginning—to say nothing of reviewing all those cryptic half-written notes that no longer make any sense.

The solution is not don’t take time off. That can be a direct route to burnout. We can’t be on all the time. We need that down time to recharge our batteries. Filling the well, as Julia Cameron calls it—whether by reading or having new experiences or meeting new people. Or just doing nothing. It’s essential. Taking zero time off can result in work that feels stale; it can even kill your desire to write altogether.

But say you have taken time off. You’ve had a great vacation and now Monday looms—the day you’ve decided it’s time to get back to your desk, back to whatever creative project you’ve been working on. You’re nervous. Afraid you’ll be rusty. Or worse: you’re afraid that whatever magic allowed you to fill the blank page is most certainly gone by now, never to return.

Of course, that’s nonsense. But if you’re anything like me, those are the thoughts running through your head. And nonsense or not, they feel real enough to cause panic.

I’ve found a few ways to smooth out the return to writing after a significant break.
Maybe they’ll work for you.

Don’t Procrastinate

Set a date and time when you will return to your desk and SHOW UP, no matter how hard it feels. Don’t make excuses or talk yourself out of it.

Take the Pressure Off

When I was doing my MFA, my novel-writing instructor, Gail Anderson-Dargatz gave us a mantra to follow: write crap. We had a lot of work to produce in a short period of time, and many of us were novices when it came to writing a novel. Putting pressure on yourself to be the next Margaret Atwood or write a bestseller guarantees only one thing: a blank page. When you take that pressure away and allow yourself to write anything, as long as the words show up on the page you’ve achieved your goal. As Jodi Picoult puts it, you can’t edit a blank page. And chances are, whatever you come up with won’t be crap at all.

Start By Editing Someone Else’s Work

Sometimes it’s the act of sitting at your desk and moving your pen on paper that’s enough to reinspire you. If you’re editing someone else’s work, there’s nothing at stake for you. You’re not judging yourself. You’re not thinking, See? I knew I was no good, I knew the magic was gone. You’re helping someone else—and at the same time getting your mind back in the habit of thinking about craft.

Start By Editing Previous Chapters of Your Own Work

If you did have to step away from a half-written project, ease yourself in by reading a few chapters back—or even from the beginning. It’s like giving yourself a running start. Your body and brain will get into the groove and before you know it, the ideas will be flowing again, and you’ll be adding sentences to the draft.

Try Another Art Form

Creativity feeds creativity. If the idea of returning to your desk has you paralyzed, take a walk and snap some photos. If you play a musical instrument, put in some time at the piano. Draw, paint, dance. Creativity is a muscle. If you coax it, it will come back to life.

Try Using Writing Prompts

Prompts can be a fun way to stretch yourself, and the internet has so many good ones now. There’s no pressure in a prompt. You’re not trying to create anything coherent. You’re just writing for, say, fifteen minutes, and the only rule is to keep your hand moving. You can do that.

Write In a Group

There’s a certain magic to writing in a group that’s hard to explain but I’ve found it to be undeniable. It’s as if creativity is contagious. When you surround yourself by people who are writing, you’ll write too.

The return back to writing always feels a little awkward and nerve-wracking at first. But persist and be kind to yourself. The habit will come back faster than you expect, and your work will be better for having taken the time away.


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Having No Purpose

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 Having No Purpose

A lack of purpose can create a downward spiral into apathy and even despair as the character believes that nothing they do matters. A fear in this area may push the character into frantic action as they try to find or force a purpose for their life. Alternatively, it can cause them to abdicate their own agency, leading them to sit back and do nothing.

What It Looks Like
Turning to self-help books and programs for guidance
Taking inventory and personality tests to determine aptitudes
Volunteering with differing agencies or charities
Fundraising for causes
Job-hopping to find the perfect role
Dismissing accomplishments when they do happen
Seeking outside approval or validation
Working long hours to compensate for a perceived lack of purpose 
The character having unrealistic expectations about what they can or should have accomplished by certain points in life
Dreading birthday milestones (because they accentuate what the character hasn’t been able to do)
Drifting through life with no meaningful connection to their inner self
Dismissing or belittling others’ success to feel better about themselves
Being overly ambitious 
Making decisions aimlessly, with no specific end-point in mind
Becoming defeatist, believing that nothing anyone does matters
Pursuing temporary feel-better activities that don’t satisfy (using drugs, engaging in unhealthy or unsafe sexual practices, shoppin

Common Internal Struggles
Constantly feeling unproductive or incapable
Feeling depressed or anxious about the lack of progress 
The character feeling as if nothing they do matters
Feeling lost in a world that defines success based on having a specific purpose 
Worrying that their life will never have meaning 
Wanting to contribute positively but not knowing how
Questioning their current profession and if they’re on the right path
The character comparing themselves to others and being disappointed
Dissatisfaction with the way life is going
Resenting people whose purpose is clear

Flaws That May Emerge
Apathetic, Cynical, Impatient, Impulsive, Insecure, Irresponsible, Jealous, Lazy, Martyr, Melodramatic, Nervous, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Whiny, Withdrawn, Workaholic, Worrywart

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Drifting from job to job looking for one that provides meaning
Difficulty recognizing their own achievements
An inability to live in the moment (because the character is too busy working toward the perfect purpose-filled life)
Starting many ventures but not following through (always moving to the “next big thing”)
Needing praise and approval to counter their feelings of doubt 
Missing opportunities to align with people who are doing meaningful things because the character is searching for their own individual legacy
Constantly being sucked into the comparison game
Developing an addiction or unhealthy habit as a coping mechanism

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
|Internalizing the message of self-help gurus or celebrities who equate finding purpose with monetary success
Seeing close friends or relatives succeed in meaningful areas of life
Being left behind by a colleague who moves up the ranks quickly 
Being accused by a loved one of not having enough drive or vision
Hitting an important milestone and feeling dissatisfied with life
A friend or relative dying, leading to a revelation for the character about how fleeting life is
The character being rejected in their efforts to create meaning (not being selected for a promotion, being replaced on a volunteer board, their business failing, etc.)
Seeing a portion of the population that needs help, but feeling inadequate and unequipped to help.


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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The Moral Villain

As readers, what inspires empathy for the hero and makes us root for him? Their flaws? Admirable qualities? Hopeless circumstances? Yes, to all of the above. But none of these elements would be effective without a worthy villain to complicate matters.

This is the real purpose of the antagonist: to make things unlivable for the hero and ramp up reader empathy. I mean, would we care so much about Snow White without the Queen? Maximus without Commodus? The Smurfs without Gargamel? Villains are important because they’re the ones who determine how bad things will get for the hero. It is fear of this antagonist that inspires empathy in readers, putting them firmly in the hero’s cheering section and ensuring they will keep turning pages. So it’s crucial you create a villain who is just as unique, interesting, and believable as the main character.

One way to do this is by including the Evil-By-Nature Villain. These are the antagonists who don’t have a backstory. They do what they do because it’s in their blood or their programming. The shark in Jaws. Ellen Ripley’s alien. The Terminator. Such a ruthless and seemingly unstoppable villain puts the hero in extreme danger because the enemy can’t be reasoned with or talked out of its determination to destroy. Villains like these, with little or no backstory, can be terrifying in their own right.

But there absolutely are worse bad guys. While a twenty-five foot shark might keep me out of the water, it won’t keep me up at night. The villains who accomplish this are the ones who feel real. They have morals—albeit skewed—and live by them. Though a nightmare now, they weren’t born that way; life, past events, and the evil of others have made them the villains they are today. They’re terrifying because they were once normal—just like me.

It is this kind of antagonist we should strive to create: moral villain who strictly adhere to their twisted moral codes. Here are some tips on how to bring them to life:

Know the Villain’s Backstory

We spend a lot of time digging into the hero’s history, but what if we dedicated even half as much energy researching our villain? Who were their caregivers? What were they like in the past? What happened that changed them? Who was kind to them? Who was cruel? Every villain has a backstory that should explain why they are the way they are today. Dredge it up and create a profile. Then dole out the important bits to readers so they can get a glimpse of who the villain used to be and how they became a monster.

Know the Villain’s Moral Code

We don’t tend to think of villains as moral individuals, but they usually are. They just live according to a different set of values than the rest of society. 

Morals have to do with our beliefs about right and wrong. To make your villain truly ominous, give them a reason for doing what they do. Make her believe there is value in their choices. For example, through her abusive past and twisted religious beliefs, Margaret White (Carrie) finds it acceptable to verbally and physically abuse her daughter. Anton Chigurh, the heartless villain from No Country for Old Men, adheres to a moral code that isn’t explained; the audience doesn’t know why he chooses to let some people live and others die, but whatever his reasons, he believes firmly in them and acts accordingly.

It’s one thing for a character to engage in reprehensible behavior. An element of creepiness is added when they defend that behavior as being upright and acceptable. To pull this off, you need to know your villain’s moral code.

Know the Villain’s Boundaries

Morality isn’t just about what’s right; it also includes a belief that certain ideas are inherently wrong. Are there things your villain won’t do, lines they won’t cross? Why? Show their human side and you’ll make them more interesting. You might even manage to create some reader empathy, which is always a good thing.

Give the Villain Someone to Care About

Love is a moral concept—the idea that a person cares more for someone else than they do for themselves. Show that your villain is capable of caring, and you’ll add a layer of depth to their character. 

On the TV show The Blacklist, serial criminal Raymond Reddington seems to have no boundaries. As long as it suits his purposes, he’ll sell out anybody—except FBI Agent Elizabeth Keen. This obsessive attachment not only gives him a human side, but it’s intriguing to the audience, who wants to know why he cares for her when he’s so ruthless in every other area of life.

No one’s going to cheer for a hero whose adversary is superficial or unrealistic. Turn your villain into a truly horrific creature by giving them a moral code to live by. Unearth their backstory and show readers that, at one point, they were human. It’s a good reminder that we’re all just one bad experience away from becoming monsters ourselves.


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

How Writers Can Be Their Own Valentine

When February 14th rolls around, it’s a reminder to let certain people know that we love and cherish them. So, we buy chocolate, flowers, or go for a night out. Maybe we give the gift of time and make a favorite meal or dessert.

In reality, most of us don’t need a special day to show our love for the people in our lives.

But we do need a reminder to show love for the person we tend to forget about: OURSELVES.

Speaking of the L word, many of you know Becca and I gave our hearts to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs long ago. We use it all the time to teach writers how to build stronger characters, arcs, and how to add meaningful conflict and stakes.

Well, if there were a hierarchy for a writer’s life, it might look something like this:

In other words…YOU always come last.

So this year, think about how to put yourself first.

Be your own Valentine!

Start with some meaningful gifts:

1) Give yourself the gift of space.

We all live busy lives and can end up trapped within responsibilities and routines. We’re used to taking every spare moment and filling it with stuff that must be done – errands, fixing things, appointments. When do we have time to reflect on what we need, what we want to see for ourselves, and what will bring us more happiness and fulfillment?

So…back away from the to-do list and give yourself some space to think and reflect. We only get one kick at the can of life (unless reincarnation is a thing), so go for a walk in the park, take yourself on a picnic, or fill the bathtub with suds and lock the door. Turn your thinker to what small changes you can make to move toward a happier and more balanced you.

2) Give yourself the gift of time.

The Writer’s Pyramid shows how everything else tends to come first. After all, we love the people around us and want to make sure their needs are taken care of. But the constant merry-go-round of work, driving everywhere for school and activities, and all the other life stuff doesn’t leave us a lot for writing and other fulfilling goals.

So…be a little selfish with your time this February. Putting your needs and interests first for once doesn’t make you a bad person. Pausing things that can wait so you can make room for your writing and yourself is a healthy habit and teaches us to make choices about what’s really important. Plus, when you have more time for yourself and things personal to you, you’ll be happier and more energized.

3) Give yourself the gift of escape.

Forgive me, Stephen King, for I have sinned: I have become so busy I barely have time to read anymore. In fact, I may have moved that stack of books I bought out of sight so I wouldn’t feel guilty about what I wasn’t doing…reading.

If this sounds familiar, it’s okay. You aren’t alone. A busy life means reading fiction can end up on the back burner. But remember, we write because we love stories and want readers to escape into our realities. Reading is key to furthering our career and keeping our creative well filled.

So…let’s escape, too, and go on a book date. Pick up that trilogy you’ve been eyeing. Buy yourself your favorite sweets, a new flavor of tea, or whatever will help you unplug from everything and focus on the fictional realm. Give yourself permission to put everything else on hold and fall into a story world.

4) Give yourself the gift of help.

Writing is hard work and requires passion, perseverance, and grit. It can seem like we’re climbing a mountain that only gets higher as we learn what strong writing looks like and how to get our own story craft to that level. But while there’s much to learn, we also have a writing community filled with experts to help!


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Physical Pain

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 Physical Pain

Pain is something we all want to avoid. But it’s also a part of life that has to be dealt with. A character with an intense fear of physical pain will struggle to manage it well, and their extreme efforts to avoid pain will limit what they’re able to accomplish.

What It Looks Like
Avoiding activities that could result in injury (playing sports, bungee jumping, working out, etc.)
Being sidelined by minor injuries or illnesses
Being a difficult patient for caregivers
Taking a lot of pain medications
Being addicted to painkillers
Being overprotective of loved ones (helicopter parenting, not allowing loved ones to do what others are doing, etc.)
Becoming obsessed with safety measures (only driving when traffic is light, installing no-slip strips on stairs and in bathtubs, wearing protective gear, etc.)
Avoiding routine medical procedures
Being afraid of needles
Avoiding treatment measures that would cause more pain (getting stitches, getting a shot, physical therapy, etc.)
The character imagining they’re in pain when they’re not (or believing the pain is worse than it is)
Elevated anxiety
Panic attacks
Becoming a hypochondriac

Common Internal Struggles
Constantly self-analyzing, looking for areas of pain or discomfort
Wanting to participate in an activity or with a group of people but being too afraid
The character knowing they’re making themselves look strange to others but not knowing how to stop
Hating that their rules and limits are hurting their relationship with loved ones
Judging others for being reckless

Flaws That May Emerge
Addictive, Childish, Controlling, Cowardly, Fussy, Inflexible, Judgmental, Melodramatic, Needy, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Timid, Whiny, Worrywart

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Being unable to participate in activities with family members and loved ones
Constantly worrying that the character or a loved one is going to get hurt
The character passing their worry and fear to their children
Inconvenience and Inefficiency (due to all the things the character must avoid) making life more difficult than it has to be
Small medical issues becoming big ones because the character refuses treatment options that will inflict short-term pain
The character being unable to accurately assess their physical health because they’re always envision the worst

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
A new source of physical pain or discomfort
A minor physical problem that requires ongoing treatment
A loved one wanting to participate in an activity the character deems risky
Being denied access to painkillers
An emergency situation where pain or injury are likely (being caught in a natural disaster, a car breaking down in a deserted area and the character having to walk a long distance in bad weather, etc.)
The character learning they’re pregnant
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness.


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Discrimination

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 Discrimination

Discrimination doesn’t have to be big or obvious to hurt; even one thoughtless word or exclusive action sting. The fear of being mistreated and maligned is one of degrees, but becomes debilitating for characters when, in an effort to avoid discrimination at all costs, they hide or change who they are, thereby limiting themselves and living short of their full potential.

What It May Look Like
The character associating mainly with people like them (same race, gender, class, etc.)
Avoiding certain neighborhoods or places
Keeping silent when witnessing discrimination to avoid being targeted also
Choosing to remain in background (at work, in social situations) to avoid drawing the wrong sort of attention
Avoiding people who are racist, bigoted, sexist, etc.
Going to great lengths to work with and surround themselves with people who are “safe” or like-minded
Wearing clothing that won’t draw unwanted attention
Finding a job where discrimination will be minimal rather than following a dream
Changing their appearance or doing things to be accepted even if it doesn’t feel right
Being hyper-alert to the emotions and actions of others
Avoiding “charged” events where the discriminatory factor is front and center (rallies, meetings, etc.)
Pretending to not hear a rude joke or comment to keep a situation from escalating
Becoming adept at hiding indignation, anger, and rage
Painstakingly trying to be ‘perfect’ to avoid being targeted (at work, in social circles, etc.)
Coaching their children to avoid drawing attention, speaking out, and dressing or acting a certain way that the character deems unsafe
Agreeing to do things a certain way despite it being demeaning or unjust in order to be viewed as ‘a team player’ rather than ‘a problem’
The character raising their children in a bubble, sheltering them
Hesitating to open up about the parts of their life that may invite discrimination (mental health conditions, sexual orientation, etc.)
Only being truly comfortable with the people they’re similar to
Being subservient to someone and feeding their ego to avoid being maligned by them
Putting on a face for others
Conforming to the people around them
Putting up with suggestive comments, unwanted touches, and demeaning nicknames (Honey, Babe, Boy, Gramps, etc.) to keep a situation from getting worse
Making themselves invisible when they’re with people who are different than them
Rejecting the part of themselves that might be discriminated against
Distrusting the justice system and government agencies

Common Internal Struggles
Doubting people’s motives; wondering if they’re being discriminatory when they may not be
The character having prejudicial thoughts about people who have mistreated them
Feeling misunderstood 
Believing everyone is against them
Harboring anger or hatred toward another people group (police officers, the wealthy, etc.)
Feeling trapped, being unable to live life to the fullest like others can
Always being on edge, on the lookout for possible mistreatment
Wanting to speak up but being too afraid
Struggling with shame
Struggling to be optimistic and hopeful when every day they experience inequality
Fighting despair or depression (because the character believes things will never change and they won’t be able to achieve their dreams)

Flaws That May Emerge
Abrasive, Antisocial, Apathetic, Callous, Cynical, Disloyal, Hypocritical, Inhibited, Insecure, Know-It-All, Martyr, Nervous, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Prejudiced, Resentful, Self-destructive, Timid, Uncommunicative

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
Struggling with low self-esteem
Not making amends with people who have mistreated them
Being filled with anger
Believing a lie about a person or group of people
Believing the lies that others propagate about the character (self-fulfilling prophecy)
Missing out on friendships with other kinds of people that could show the character love or broaden their perspective
Living a life that falls short of their full potential

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Witnessing discrimination against someone else
Returning to a place where the character experienced discrimination (a school, family, church, etc.)
Speaking out against mistreatment and not being believed
Having to interact with a political or religious group that is known to have questionable or unpopular beliefs
Encountering someone who has been discriminatory in the past
Moving to a new neighborhood, city, or school
Seeing a news story about a hate crime
Meeting a person from their own group who has differing opinions or beliefs
Being asked to become an advocate and publicly fight discrimination


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fighting Attraction in Romance (Body Language Help)

Emotion is the heart of any story, and there is no genre where this holds more true than romance. Readers look forward to a romantically tense roller coaster ride (how’s that for alliteration) that feels authentic and satisfying as characters are drawn together. Often though, characters fight this attraction. They might have goals or responsibilities they believe require all their focus or have something to prove and so are determined to remain independent. And of course, many try to avoid entanglements because their past has shown them that love leads to emotional pain.

This last one (emotional pain), is almost always the biggest factor, and no wonder. When it comes to the heart, vulnerability threads itself through everything, leading to a deep, loving bond or a terrible wound that makes trust all but impossible moving forward. However, despite the baggage your characters lug into the story or their desire to avoid romantic collisions, our job is to bring the protagonist and love interest together.

When our characters are invested in a romantic connection, it’s easier to show it through behavior by progressing through the stages of attraction: Interest, Flirtation, Desire, and Lust.

But if one or both characters fight the attraction, there’s more of a push & pull progression to intimacy and connection, and showing that becomes more complicated.

The extra work is worth it, though. Friction means the romance won’t be easy, and readers love to bear witness to a challenge, especially when they can see how good the two will be together. When readers are invested and want to see a certain outcome, those pages keep turning.

What Does Character Resistance Look Like?

Characters who are fearful of being hurt often try to stay in control by denying their feelings. This resistance is mental as well as physical. For example, if the POV character is trying to resist or deny their feelings for another, they will often try to reframe the person in their mind, finding flaws to counteract the attraction they feel. These thoughts often carry a tone of anger, frustration, and impatience, because these emotions can help turn down the dimmer switch on their desire.

But will it work? It depends on the level of their attraction and desire. After all, control weakens when strong emotions swoop in. The more their desire takes over, the weaker their ability is to try and diminish the other person so they can trick themselves into believing they are not a suitable match.

One way to show this tug of war is to show a “disconnect” between what they think and what they do. People can try to lie to themselves about what they feel but in some way their body will always reveal the truth through uncontrolled responses (taking a step toward another, reaching out for them, getting flustered when speaking, etc.). For realism, our characters should behave as we do, so using this disconnect will show readers that despite whatever excuses the character tries to come up with in their mind or whatever they try to do to control the situation, love is starting to bloom.

One obvious type of “disconnect” might be your character telling themselves they are going to make a point of ignoring the love interest at an event, yet their attention is repeatedly drawn to them, and they seem unable to control it. When they realize what they are doing, the deception might weakly continue as they come up with arguments as to why such monitoring is needed. But the real reasons, often helped along by interest and attraction body language cues, will leak through to readers.

It can be tricky to show readers something that the character themselves doesn’t see, like their own primal attraction for another person. But this is where uncontrolled body language cues and visceral sensations (blushing, sweating, heartbeat racing) help show your character is being gripped by romantic feelings. And often the harder they try to resist, the more obvious their feelings become to other characters and the reader.


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Originalizing Your Story Idea

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about differentiation—how we can make our stories stand out from all the others. Customers are being more careful with their money, which means they’re very likely buying fewer books. With the estimated 1,000,000+ books being published each year, ours need something to set them apart, something that will jump off the shelf and grab a potential buyer’s attention. 

But how do we elevate our ideas? I took a good look at some books that grabbed me straight off and continue to stand out in my mind as incredibly memorable. Here are some methods those authors used to originalize their story ideas and turn them into something truly groundbreaking and never-before-seen.

Rule-Breaking Genre

This is where we take the rules of our specific genre and either tweak them or rewrite them altogether. A good example of this, love it or hate it, is the Twilight series. Meyers threw the old vampire rules out the window and invented her own: undead creatures that can live in daylight and have sparkly skin, for crying out loud. One of the reasons this series did so well was because she took a popular genre that had gotten a little tired and rejuvenated the whole concept.

Ilsa Bick did a similar something with her Ashes trilogy. Her zombies weren’t created by a biological weapon or an accident in the lab; they were the result of an EMP attack that scrambled the brains of everyone between the age of puberty and roughly 30 years old. And if you got bit by a zombie, you didn’t turn into one. You just got eaten. Still terrifying. These changes created an interesting post-apocalyptic dynamic.

So if you write in a genre where certain rules apply, start over. See which ones you can revamp (remembering to explore the new rules from every angle and plan them out for consistency) to switch things up for your story.

Spliced Genres

Sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the genre; instead, you can combine more than one of them to create something new. One of my favorite reads of all time is Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book, which is part futuristic time travel and part historical fiction during the Black Plague. Another is a book called Berserker, which takes place in the 1880s American West but features a family of Viking descendants with supernatural powers granted by the Norse gods.

When these authors were done writing their stories, I bet they felt like the chef who first combined strawberries and chocolate or mac and cheese. Eureka! Something new and amazing.

Upside-Down Preconceived Ideas

I find this in stories based on ideas that go against cultural norms. In Neal Shusterman’s Scythe books, technological advancement has virtually eliminated death, leading to an overpopulation problem. So certain individuals called scythes are tasked with culling the herd. This practice—abhorrent in the real world—is unilaterally viewed as necessary in Shusterman’s society.

Minority Report does the same thing with the notion of people being innocent until proven guilty. The author turns that idea around in his created world, making it a good idea (in the beginning, at least) to arrest people before they can commit a crime. 

These stories are compelling simply because they make readers think. They get them seeing things from a different perspective. Keep in mind that it doesn’t always have to be a good idea that’s villainized. You can also take something historically considered to be unethical and turn it into something good. Robin Hood’s philosophy of robbing the rich to give to the poor is an example of this.

Unorthodox Characters

This is by no means a new idea, but it’s so important that it bears repeating. Characters are the heart of any story, and they’re primarily responsible for pulling readers in. So we want them to be relatable and well-rounded. But it also helps if they’re a little unexpected.

Stephen King does this masterfully (along with pretty much everything else) with his Holly Gibney character. She suffers from OCD, a sensory processing disorder, and is somewhere on the autism spectrum—not the kind of person you’d expect to find doing detective work and running a private investigation firm. But some of the qualities stemming from her disabilities make her really good at what she does. And we love her because of the idiosyncrasies that make her unique.

Distinctive Voice

One specific way to make your characters stand out is through their voice. It’s easy to get drawn into a story when the protagonist or narrator has an intriguing way about them. Take the first few lines from Franny Billingsley’s Chime:

I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.

I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story. I can’t relive those memories—the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp…

This character’s voice doesn’t sound like others I’ve read. It’s not just the word choice and style that are pleasing to the ear. It’s what her words say about her as a person. For one thing, she starts off with a confession. What kind of person does that? And secondly, she says she can’t bear to tell her story, but you know that’s exactly what she’s going to do for the next few hundred pages. This is a person I’d like to spend some time getting to know, and it’s largely because of her unique and interesting voice. This can be hard to get right, but it’s worth the time and energy to really get to know your character and figure out how they should sound so you can write them consistently from page one.

Unexpected Villain

Sometimes, we get sucked into a story because the stakes are so high, we’re not sure how the characters could emerge unscathed. One of the best ways to ensure high stakes is with a terrifying villain—preferably one we haven’t seen a bajillion times. Some of the most daunting antagonists in literature weren’t megalomaniac bad guys or power-hungry organizations. Consider, instead, a xenomorph that bleeds acid and lays its eggs in its victim’s stomachs (Alien series), a mentally unstable fan (Misery), spores from an asteroid belt that fall from the sky like rain and devour organic material (Dragonriders of Pern series), or a psycho with serious mommy issues (Psycho).

Like settings, villains are highly plot-driven. Your character’s overall goal will help determine who your antagonist is, because who’s going to keep him or her from getting what they want? The villain. But, again, you have choices. Don’t settle for simple or cardboard antagonists. They should be as nuanced as the rest of the cast, with motivations, wounding events, fears, and missing human needs that drive them to do what they do. 

Surprise Resolution

Some stories are memorable because of the surprising way in which the main conflict is resolved. The movie World War Z, in many ways, is just another zombie tale. From start to finish, viewers are asking themselves the age-old zombie-genre question: how will the good guys survive? But the solution in this story is an unexpected one: “vaccinate” the healthy population with pathogens that the enemy can sense, making the humans undesirable hosts for the zombie virus. Instead of destroying the undead or avoiding them, humankind learns to live among them in plain sight. 

This method works best if you’ve got a story with seemingly insurmountable stakes, so keep that in mind if you want to employ it.

Surprise Foundation

This one, imo, is the most interesting method because it’s so hard to pull off. It’s similar to the Surprise Resolution in that it has a twist at the end, but the twist doesn’t resolve the conflict. Instead, it explains, with remarkable clarity, something foundational about the entire story.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a book that’s just made of awesomeness, about a teenage girl in Prague being raised by demons. Karou eventually falls in love with an angel, which is problematic, as you can guess. But it becomes more complicated when we learn that in her past life, Karou was a demon. She was killed because of her forbidden romance with the same angel, but her soul was saved and reincarnated as a human by her demon guardians. With that revelation, everything about the story clicks into place. Multiple questions are answered simultaneously in the most satisfying way possible.

This method is all about the twist reveal. But as with any element of writing, it can become overused. The Sixth Sense rocked everyone’s world, but it triggered an avalanche of stories where the main character turns out to be dead. So your big reveal should not only be sufficiently twisty, it needs to be specific to your story so as not to become clichéd. In any case, if the surprise is used as a gimmick rather than one that ties naturally into the overall story, it’s not going to work. Use this method with caution, and plan it carefully.

Any of these methods can be used to freshen up a blasé story idea. Use them in tandem or focus on just one, but don’t sacrifice your plot line or characters in the process. The story has to come first. Use the methods to enhance your idea, and you just might end up with something no one has ever seen before.


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Build Suspense With Secrets

Have you wondered what makes a book unputdownable? What techniques or tricks an author employs to make sure you read that next word, sentence, paragraph, page?

One of the most effective ways to do this is by building suspense. All genres have suspense…or at least should.

Suspense is reader glue. Conflict, questions, secrets, surprises, and action are the lifeblood of suspense. Suspense happens when dramatic questions or secrets trap the reader’s attention and makes them want to know what happens next.

Our job is to sprinkle secrets out like wayfinding points to get readers to ask questions…without them realizing we are doing it.

Be Careful: Gimmicks vs Suspense

The last thing we want to do is be gimmicky with our writing. There is a difference between withholding information and having genuine secrets. If you must withhold information, you must have a compelling reason. This reason must be more than to simply surprise or shock the reader.

Angela Ackerman asks three questions when planning story secrets:

  1. Does this secret enhance the plotline, or distract from it?
  2. Does this secret align with the character’s moral code?
  3. Does this secret send a message about the character’s personality that meshes with how I want readers to think about him or her?

When using secrets to build suspense, you must make sure that:

  • The secret is integral to the plot.
  • The secret is true to the character.
  • Your character must have a necessary or indispensable reason for keeping the secret.
  • The tension is not increased by giving the reader the information upfront.

If you cannot check these four criteria off, you may be better off giving your reader the information, and building suspense through other secrets and questions.

Remember: readers are smart. Treat them as such.

How Do You Want Readers to Feel When They Learn a Secret?

  • Surprise. In other words, you don’t want them to see it coming. (Hello, Snape.)
  • Understanding. When the reader learns the secret, it should make total sense. We want our readers to have a WOW and DUH experience. (The Sixth Sense, I’m looking at you.)
  • Satisfaction. The reveal should emotionally satisfy the reader—whether that emotion is revenge, a giant I-told-you-so/I-knew-it, character redemption, or they-had-it-coming. (The Good Place, is actually the bad place.)

Types of Secrets in Fiction + Examples

There are two types of secrets in fiction. Author Secrets, which are the story twists and surprises that you, the author, intentionally keep from the reader and reveal based on your plot. And Character Secrets, which are secrets characters keep from other characters, usually traced back to that character’s morality or original wound. These secrets may or may not also be kept from the reader.

Author Secrets:

  • Directly tell the danger/stakes at the beginning, but no more. That’s what the rest of the book is for….
    • QUEST FOR A MAID, Frances Mary Hendry

When I was nine years old, I hid under a table and heard my sister kill a king.

  • I mean, those are high stakes right? After this bomb of a first line, the author just goes into the story of Meg, the precocious little sister and the toothache that led her to witness this horrific event.
  • The devil’s in the details…the important ones that is. These are little hints that, once your final reveal comes to light, all come bubbling back to the surface. These are the secrets that, on second read-through, readers will pick up on.

Perhaps Harry had eaten a bit too much, because he had a very strange dream. He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban, which kept talking to him, telling him he must transfer to Slytherin at once, because it was his destiny. … He rolled over and fell asleep again, and when he woke the next day, he didn’t remember the dream at all.

Plant: Something thumped against my head. I looked around, up, down—and picked up a raisin. Where did that come from? Grief rolled through me, tight and tense and tinted with guilt. Raisins would be forever connected to Narfi, my troubled friend who’d tried to protect me from the Sons. And they’d killed him for it. I closed my hand around the shriveled fruit and got to my feet.

  • Our main character believes her friend Narfi is dead—never to be seen again. But as more raisins appear in her path (more plants), she—and us—perk up. Something else is going on, and we’ll have to keep reading to figure out what.
  • Chekhov’s Gun: ‘If in Act I you have a pistol hanging on the wall, then it must fire in the last act.’ This device doesn’t have to be a literal gun, but if you include a significant detail in the beginning, and spend time describing it, the item or idea must be used by the end of the story.

But gradually — like a telescope being focused — I began to realize I was watching something clinging to one of the mooring ropes on the ship’s stern. It reminded me of a picture I once had seen of a sloth, an animal that hangs upside down upon jungle vines. But this — I gradually perceived — was a man. He appeared to be shimmying himself from the dock up to the Seahawk. Even as I realized what I was seeing, he boarded the ship and was gone.

In this example, our main character is witnessing a stowaway steal onto a ship in the beginning of the story. She’s too naive to understand what she saw and it quickly slips her mind. The detail is small, and not much thought is given to it in the story BUT our reader ears have perked up, and we’re now—on a sublevel—searching the story for this mysterious man and when he might show up again.

  • Misdirection

“It was Snape,” Ron was explaining, “Hermione and I saw him. He was cursing your broomstick, muttering, he wouldn’t take his eyes off you.”

“Rubbish,” said Hagrid, who hadn’t heard a word of what had gone on next to him in the stands. “Why would Snape do somethin’ like that?”

Whether your story’s secret is something that is only known to the author, the character, or between certain characters, secrets are one of the key ingredients of building suspense, and therefore, crafting a story readers cannot put down.


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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