Tag Archives: TheWritePractice

Capturing an Unhappy Relationship: A Writer’s Roadmap

Relationships are a complicated beast, and if you write romance like me, then you’re wed (pun intended) to the HEA (happily ever after) ending. But the reality is, we have a divorce rate of around 1in 2 marriages; so as much as it’s fun to delve into the romanticised ideal of soulmates wandering hand-in-hand into the sunset, the challenges of relationships can just as equally lead to hearts broken and relationships fractured.

Which is what this week’s article’s about.

Capturing the unwinding of threads of a relationship is complex. Just like the real world, our characters have a history of weaving those threads together in little steps and big steps, usually with the intent that their fabric will be as tight as Egyptian cotton. But people evolve, circumstances change, and sometimes a relationship isn’t strong enough. Usually these ruptures don’t happen quickly; they involve little tears and big tears over days, months and sometimes years.

If you’re looking to capture this heart-breaking (or cathartic) process in your story, either with your main characters or with those memorable secondary characters (your MC’s parents, best-friends or children), then consider these four predictors of relationship breakdown (they are a wonderful way to capture ‘show, don’t tell’ and to create some interesting moments into your story):

  1. Contempt

Far more toxic than frustration, contempt is a virulent mix of anger and disgust which involves seeing your partner as beneath you. Apart from its direct consequences of either belittling or angering a partner, contempt involves one character closing themselves off to their partner’s needs and emotions. If you constantly feel smarter than, better than, or more sensitive than your significant other, you’re not only less likely see his or her opinions as valid, but, more importantly, you’re far less willing to try to put yourself in their shoes to try to see a situation from their perspective.

If one or both of your characters are contemptuous of the other as they interact, you’ve just captured one of the cornerstones of an unhappy relationship. Consider these examples:

  • Jane sends Jo a list of groceries for tonight’s dinner. When Jo gets home, Jane realises that Jo picked up self-raising flour instead of plain flour. Jane becomes frustrated, asking Jo what sort of idiot doesn’t know the difference between the two. She even posts it on Facebook so her sisters can see what she has to live with.
  • Barry is organising his next fishing weekend with his two sons. Daria laughs as they are packing their tackle boxes, pointing out to their sons that she caught the biggest fish last time she went out in their godforsaken tin-can-of-a-boat.
  1. Criticism

Like contempt, criticism involves turning a behaviour (something your partner did) into a statement about his or her personal character (the type of person he or she is). As many of us have experienced or observed, fault-finding and belittling behaviour adds up. Over time, darker feelings of resentment and contempt are likely to brew.

  • Alex has a habit of leaving her cereal bowl—soggy, uneaten weeties and all—on the coffee table every morning. Sam makes sure she makes note of it each day as she collects them, pointing out what a lazy and inconsiderate partner Alex is.
  • After a sleepless night, Jake overheats baby Bobby’s mashed pumpkin. When Bobby spits it out and starts screaming, Sally scoops him up, shouting over the top that when it comes to parenting Jake couldn’t raise a sweat let alone a child.
  1. Defensiveness

Defensiveness involves a sense of protectiveness and guardedness about our thoughts and feelings. A character who is being defensive will often play the victim in tough situations with their partner; at times that may be justified, others not so much.

  • A couple are late to a cousin’s wedding. Ashleigh is the first to say, “It wasn’t my fault!” as they slip into a back pew.
  • Jane is online to her best friend, typing furiously that she never got a chance to tell her husband about the dint in the car door because all he does is watch YouTube. If he gets upset about it, he can’t say she didn’t try to tell him.
  1. Stonewalling

If your character can sense an argument brewing, they feel the tension tightening between their shoulders, notice their voice amping up a few decibels, and their response is to shutdown or walk away, you’ve got a stonewaller. Stonewalling can be just as toxic for a relationship as criticism or contempt because it keeps your characters from addressing their underlying issues. When perspectives don’t get a chance to be explored, then frustration is likely to morph into resentment.

  • Ian and Sarah are arguing about their credit card debt. When Ian asks Sarah exactly how much those shoes cost, she turns and walks away. Picking up her phone, she retreats to the bedroom.
  • During a parent teacher interview, Jacqui suggests that maybe their son isn’t succeeding in math because of the children he’s sitting next to. Her husband, Jed, rolls his eyes at the teacher, shifts his seat forward, and tells the teacher that their son just needs more challenging work as he’s obviously bored. Jed starts enquiring about extension work.

John Gottman, the guru of relationship therapy and founder of the Gottman Institute, has said that these four factors are tell-tale signs that all is not well with a married couple. In fact, when the frequency of these four behaviours are measured within the span of a 15-minute conversation, Gottman and his fellow psychologists can predict which marriages will end in divorce with striking precision.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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8 Ways To Balance A Writing Career While Making Family A Priority

Note: This is a guest post by Lisa Hall-Wilson, she’s an award-winning freelance journalist and author. She teaches writing classes online and writes historical and speculative fiction. Visit her website at LisaHallWilson.com. You can also find her on Facebook.

I have been a stay-at-home mom off and on for eighteen years. For the last twelve years, I’ve also been a writer.

I went from knowing nothing to having my own freelance business and being a national award-winning freelance journalist and author. One thing I had to learn was how to carve out time for my writing career while keeping my family a priority. You can, too.

I think “balance” isn’t the right concept. I don’t balance my priorities, I set priorities for short seasons.

For me, trying to keep all the balls in the air all the time was exhausting and inevitably I failed at all of it.

By making writing and family a priority for a short season (I’m talking a few hours, days or a week at a time), it all seems to balance out. My kids understand that I have deadlines and wordcounts to make and will hang out later, and sometimes I don’t touch my laptop for four or five days because it’s family time. I never neglect one or the other for very long.

There are different seasons with raising kids, so I’ll try and point out the adjustments I made in each stage.

  1. Make use of empty time

Empty time is all those soccer practices, swim lessons, auditions, rehearsals, and music lessons that you’re stuck waiting around for. I’m not talking about games or meets where you need to pay attention – that’s family time. But, in those multiple hours a week where I’m just waiting it out, I bring a printed manuscript, my laptop, my phone, or a notebook. Whether I’m editing, emailing, writing, reading/studying, or brainstorming, making use of those 20 min to 1 hour time slots is a game changer.

Now my are older and are into different activities so I spend more time in the car waiting and working and make sure my devices are fully charged before I leave. In winter, (I live in Canada, it gets cold in the car) I look for a nearby library or coffee shop. Bring some headphones and music that drowns out the noise of the crowd and get to work!

  1. Make use of play time

When my kids were younger, we lived in an apartment so I had to go with them when they went outside. In these times I brought interruptible work, so what I mean by that is work that I could pick up and set down and still accomplish things. This works even if you have to sit by a window or on the deck while the kids play. I would do a lot of editing or reading/highlighting moreso than writing at these times. I made sure I set aside one play time a day where they had my full attention.

  1. Write while they sleep

Whether we’re talking about toddlers or teenagers, making use of quiet time in the house when you have it is essential. The times of day they sleep will change so you have to be flexible. I am more likely to stay up late than get up early, so I’ve done that lots.

There was a season where I would work from 10PM to 3AM, sleep until 8AM and get up with the kids for school, go to a part-time job, sleep for a few more hours in the afternoon, do the supper/hang out with the family until 10PM or so, and start over. When they were in bed by 7PM, I wrote from 7 – 9PM each night because I had to be alert during the day and then spent time with my husband. It’s important when you’re writing in the outlier hours to take at least two days off a week from that schedule. If I didn’t, I was miserable and so was everyone else.

  1. Set aside time for your work

You need to set aside dedicated time to write. If you have a spouse or partner, work out a mutually-agreed upon arrangement where they will take the kids or help guard the quiet of your workspace for a determined amount of time. I had a couple of hours here and there during the week where everyone was home, but I could shut myself in a room and get work done.

It’s important to take those moments like play time and sports waiting to plan your writing time. Nothing is worse than getting those two hours and then lose a half hour staring at a blank screen. What was it Churchill used to say? If you fail to plan you plan to fail. This is not time to reread everything you wrote the day before and edit, you have other times for that. This is dedicated writing time.

  1. Weekends away

This was a game changer for me. My writer’s group splits the cost of an Air BnB rental, we bring our own food, and write. We don’t eat meals together, plan side trips, any of that. This is not a social time for me, it’s writing time.

I can get 20,000 to 25,000 words down (original stuff – not editing) on a novel between a Friday evening and Sunday noon. But I also make sure I am prepared with an outline, character sketches, etc. to make the best use of that time.

  1. Office Hours

In the seasons where I’ve been home full-time, my office hours are school hours. This is not time to clean, volunteer, lead groups studies, spend time on Facebook. I treat those hours like an outside job as much as I can. I try not to work outside my office hours, but it’s hard if I’m neck deep in a story or facing a deadline – and there will be those seasons.

Summer holidays are hard because I don’t have a door on my writing space and I’m constantly interrupted. But at the end of the day, I’m OK with losing writing time because my kids want to talk with me. They’ll be out of the house soon, so I’m not going to rush that. Always make time for life.

  1. Go on an adventure!

I do my best to take my kids on “an adventure” a few times a month. When they were younger, we’d go for a hike and look for caterpillars. We’d collect leaves and see how many different ones we could find. We walked everywhere. We built snow forts and snow slides or went tobogganing (sledding). Now we go to the mall, a bookstore or movie.

When we get home, all they want to do is play quietly, rest, or read. We had family time, and now they’ll give you writing time usually without complaint. Setting priorities for a short season. This is how it works.

In the summer, I’ll take a whole day and go on an adventure (like the beach), and then they’re OK if I spend a couple of evenings writing. I focus on them entirely for that whole day, and they give me the freedom to focus entirely on my writing for a couple of evenings.

  1. Be kind to yourself

Sometimes life throws you a curveball and you have to step away from the keyboard. Someone gets sick, money is tight and you have to take a part-time job – whatever. Life happens. Resist the urge to feel guilty about this and sneak in time to write when you can. Write every day, even if it’s ten minutes while locked in the bathroom with a notebook. It all counts and keeps your passion for writing alive.

Also, take care of yourself physically and mentally. Go outside – fresh air always helps when I’m stuck on a story. Reliving traumatic events to write authentically requires that I take care of myself mentally and take breaks. Talk it out with a friend or spouse.

Some of these ideas may seem like they’re just a few drops in the bucket when you want to write full-time, but these snatches of time add up cumulatively.

Source: positivewriter.com
By Bryan Hutchinson

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Top 3 Reasons Censoring Your Writing Is Holding You Back

There will be tough love today, and even a bit of cursing. If it’s too much for you, feel free to leave now.

Do you worry what others think about you? Do you sit at your computer screen, paralyzed to type what you desperately want to say for fear of what your mom, husband, brother, friend, or best friend from second grade might say? Truth is, most of our family and friends won’t read our books or give them much thought. We only THINK they will.

Stop censoring yourself!

Maybe you have shared your writing and been burned, relationships severed, friendships or family relationships strained or even ended. It’s terrifying, all those what if’s.

Others people’s problems are other people’s problems. Don’t take that shit personally. #WriteWhatScaresYou

Fuck that shit. As Cheryl Strayed says, you need to write like a motherfucker. What does she mean by that? Does she mean to write with papers everywhere, cartoon balls of trash flying across the room, keys tapping to the beat of Copacabana? (Let’s hope not. We’ll never get that song out of our heads.)

No. She means that you need to own it. Own your shit. Write your shit. Ignore the voices of others, get in your head, your heart, grab your soul and write the shit out of that shit. This resonates with me because that’s how I wrote Broken Places (my latest release) and Broken Pieces. Let’s deconstruct.

Censoring Your Writing 

Why are you censoring yourself? If I came up to you, stood over your shoulder, read your latest paragraph, and told you, “You can’t say that!” what would you say to me? Because if you said that to me, I’d tell you to go the hell. Not only because this is my book, but because who are you to tell me what to write? Isn’t this my book? My work? My story? My name?

This person telling you what to write — does their name go on that book cover? Are they the ones spending countless hours writing and rewriting the work? No. So, fuck em.

I get it, though. People attempt to tell us daily what we should or shouldn’t write about, right? It amazes me, to be honest, that others who don’t know our story, or who think they know our story intimately but can’t possibly because they don’t live in our heads and don’t feel our emotions or live our lives, want to censor us for what we may or may not say. What makes them so scared? That’s the real question, isn’t it?

Scenario #1:

I shared a Brené Brown quote the other day about having courage and vulnerability when sharing your story, and someone replied that when she’d done so, people had chastised her, she’d lost good friends (and even family members) because her truth upset them too much, so she’s done. She’s ‘taking a break from truth.’

This saddens me deeply. I’m not judging her — she’s had enough of that. What saddens me is she’s allowing others to make that decision for her, letting them dictate what is okay or not okay to share, because they are embarrassed she shared her abuse story; now others know and can’t deal, which is another form of censoring her and shaming her for something she didn’t do.

Censoring: The Loop of Shame

When someone abuses us, we often don’t tell because we are ashamed. When (or if) we do tell, we are shamed because it’s embarrassing and shameful to us — what child (in many of these cases, as was the case with me) wants to say that an adult used our body for physical pleasure? It’s sick and twisted, and yet here we are, alone, forced to wrap our young, innocent minds around these confusing acts, with nobody to talk to, nobody to help us understand that we did nothing wrong.

Fast forward to adulthood: we choose to write about it as a form of catharsis, healing, therapy, or simply sharing so others will know they are not alone, only to have our loved ones shame us for sharing, or further chastise us for going public in some way. Shaming a survivor is one of the most selfish acts there is.

We survived the abuse — dealing with your discomfort isn’t our issue. It’s yours. If you can’t get over yourself, oh well. Survivors don’t have to accept that. We have a basic human right to speech. We have a right to tell our story.

Scenario #2

One fellow, T, shared his story in a public Facebook post, and with his permission, I’m sharing his story here with you today. T’s sister immediately chimed in to scold him for ruining the family name, embarrassing her, accusing him of lying, of creating current drama when all that happened in the past, and on and on. I complimented T on his courage and she came after me, warning me to “keep my mouth shut, to stay out of their family business, etc.,” even though this was all on his public wall.

What I love about the survivor community is that we support each other, and we understand that many people don’t understand that we have a right to tell our stories. We don’t do it for pity or attention (more on that in a moment), but as a way to heal and bond with others who have also survived, and to help educate non-survivors what it means to live the lives we do, to deal with all this on the daily.

Real or Imagined Censorship and Risk

Sure, there’s risk involved in opening up those dusty doors of honesty. I’m not immune to the coughs and sputters of family and friends, even strangers who may or may not judge me for my words, or who place blame on me for their behavior. I’ve been called a liar, an opportunist, one person even went so far as to accuse me of ‘prostituting myself for profit and attention,’ and I’m told often to just move on (as if I haven’t).

I find it interesting that people equate sharing my story with victimhood, or ‘being stuck in the past,’ when that’s not the case at all, yet they are determined to tell me that yes, that must be so. It’s sadly comical, the judgments people make about survivors.

Truth is, those are not my issues.

Scenario #3

I wrote a guest post recently as part of my Broken Places blog tour and the host shared it, as hosts kindly do. Someone on Twitter replied that basically I am ‘playing the victim’ by sharing my story, that I’m somehow magically compelling people to “feel sorry for me.” Fortunately, people supported me without me saying a word (I don’t respond to those types of comments). If you know me at all, you know that I am anything but a victim…yet, these comments aren’t uncommon for survivors.

I’m not offended. I’m not religious. If anything, I want to thank this person for reinforcing I’m on the right path to help remove the stigma of childhood sexual abuse (or any abuse survivors) have to face. This person is a light for me — further helping me realize I still have a lot of work to do. In a strange way, I find comfort knowing my advocacy work is not done, and I have many more people to reach with my story, giving voice to others’ stories, and sharing my platform so other survivors can share their stories.

Ignorance needs an audience so sexual abuse survivors have one, too.

By
Source: rachelintheoc.com

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How to Show and not Tell Intelligence

Although the concept of intelligence and what exactly it means for a person to be intelligent are the subject of considerable controversy and debate, it’s widely accepted that intelligence is valued in our society. In fact, if you’re a sapiosexual, you find intelligence as the most sexually attractive feature in a prospective partner. I’m not going into the evolutionary theories for this (including that intelligent men have a higher sperm count and women intuitively understand this and so are drawn to them), so you’ll have to take my word for it. Intelligence is attractive, and a trait we see in many a hero (and villain in fact). In the landscape of writing, this is a trait you can harness to add layers to your character.

Although every psychologist who has endeavoured to define intelligence has come up with their own definition, intelligence is broadly understood as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviours within an environment. The key as a writer is to create a character who presents as intelligent in a plausible manner. Sure, you can slip in their above average IQ scores as they munch over breakfast, or point out they have seven PhD’s, but what if your character is an adolescent? Or what if they live on the planet X where IQ tests aren’t used because the sentient species have acknowledged the limitations of cognitive testing?

What if you want to show, not tell?

Well, you’ve come to the right blog post. I undertook some research, and along with my professional understanding of intelligence (IQ testing is a regular part of my practice in schools), I considered it in terms of character development. If you’re looking to craft an intelligent character, then check out the following traits (quick caveat: they don’t all have to be present for a person to be considered intelligent, but each of these traits are understood as strong indicators of above-average cognitive capacity):

High Verbal Functioning

People with a high IQ have strongly developed verbal skills. Your character is likely to be able to verbalise meaningful concepts and express themselves articulately and maybe even eloquently. This means dialogue, internal and external, is going to be important in representing an intelligent character.

Strong Reasoning Capacity

A person with high intelligence is able to detect underlying concepts and relationships, and use reasoning to identify and apply rules. Abstract thinking is a strength, as is attentiveness to detail. Many detectives in crime novels demonstrate strong reasoning capacity, and every time they solve the murder by linking the dots that seem to live in different postcodes we’re wowed by their intellect.

Good Memory

Intelligent people not only notice this nuanced information in life, but they also maintain this information in conscious awareness. This process, which requires attention and concentration, allows them to manipulate and play with said information in their mind. I’d rather not recollect the amount of times I’ve looked like I’ve lost valuable IQ points because I can’t remember the of age of my firstborn child!

Fast thinking

Smart people are fast thinkers. They can do all of the above, and they do it quickly. They are able to scan information accurately, make decisions, and implement those decision rapidly. These characters will drop one-liners in the blink of an eye, or be the first to recognise that the name of their victim isn’t on the list of missing people following the earthquake that levelled New York.

 

But it’s important to note that high intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean your character is any of the following;

Emotionally Intelligent

Emotional intelligence; the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically, is quite different to cognitive intelligence. Whilst people who do well on standardized tests of intelligence tend to be more successful in the classroom and the workplace, emotional intelligence is correlated with better social relations, better family and intimate relationships, and better psychosocial wellbeing.

Think of Sheldon in Big Bang Theory—with his borderline autistic tendencies, he’s an accomplished physicist, but he’s socially inept and emotionally naïve, which has been mined over 11 series of hilarious interactions. It’s worthwhile to consider whether your character has both of these qualities.

Wise

You’ve probably heard the saying there’s knowing that a tomato is a fruit…and understanding a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad. In the same way, intelligence (knowledge of information and using it adaptively) isn’t necessarily wisdom (the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, and insight). Your character may have acquired the knowledge (impressively and quickly), but wisdom is the proper use of that knowledge. Whilst trawling the internet I found this little nugget: Intelligence is knowing that Frankenstein was the doctor. Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein was the monster.

Nice

Just because your character is smart, it doesn’t mean they’ll be nice. In fact, intelligent people can be less trusting and less compliant with rules (think of Tony Stark in Ironman; he’s brilliant, but socially irreverent to the point of egocentrism). Intelligence can give rise to suspicion (and if were to extrapolate that, to conspiracy theories), selfishness (you just need to read Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene to know selfishness is smart), and subversiveness (which could be a good thing in your story, but also may make them unlikeable).

Emotionally Stable

Intelligence doesn’t equate with emotional stability, in fact, it’s possible that higher IQ is linked with higher incidents of some mental health diagnoses (including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia). Although the link isn’t clearly understood, it’s probably not important to our story building motivations. What is important, though, is to understand that your character may be in the top two percent of the IQ bell curve, but their physiology and environment (e.g. a traumatic childhood) will also play a factor in their emotional life.

By Tamar Sloan
Source: psychwriter.com.au

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CHARACTER MOTIVATION THESAURUS

A compelling goal is one of the cornerstones of strong fiction, but conveying why the character is driven to achieve it is what draws readers in and makes them care. Explore all angles of character arc by digging deep into what is motivating your protagonist, the obstacles that could stand in their way, and how sacrifices may play a role if the character is to succeed.

ACHIEVING SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT

AVOIDING CERTAIN DEATH

AVOIDING FINANCIAL RUIN

BEATING A DIAGNOSIS OR CONDITION

BECOMING A LEADER OF OTHERS

BEING ACKNOWLEDGED OR APPRECIATED BY FAMILY

BEING THE BEST AT SOMETHING

CARING FOR AN AGING PARENT

CARRYING ON A LEGACY

CATCHING THE BAD GUY OR GIRL

COMING TO GRIPS WITH A MENTAL DISORDER

COPING WITH A LEARNING DISABILITY OR ILLNESS (KIDLIT)

DEALING WITH BULLIES (KIDLIT)

DISCOVERING ONE’S TRUE SELF

DOING THE RIGHT THING (KIDLIT)

EMBRACING A PERSONAL IDENTITY (KIDLIT)

ESCAPING A DANGEROUS LIFE ONE NO LONGER WANTS TO LIVE

ESCAPING A KILLER

ESCAPING CONFINEMENT

ESCAPING DANGER (KIDLIT)

ESCAPING HOMELESSNESS

ESCAPING INVADERS

ESCAPING WIDESPREAD DISASTER

EXPLORING ONE’S BIOLOGICAL ROOTS

FINDING A LIFELONG PARTNER

FINDING FRIENDSHIP OR COMPANIONSHIP

FITTING IN (KIDLIT)

GIVING A CHILD UP

HAVING A CHILD

HELPING A LOVED ONE RECOGNIZE THEY ARE HURTING THEMSELVES AND OTHERS

NAVIGATING A CHANGING FAMILY SITUATION (KIDLIT)

OBTAINING SHELTER FROM THE ELEMENTS

OVERCOMING ABUSE AND LEARNING TO TRUST

OVERCOMING ADDICTION

OVERCOMING A FEAR (KIDLIT)

PROTECTING ONE’S HOME OR PROPERTY

PURSUING JUSTICE FOR ONESELF OR OTHERS

PURSUING MASTERY OF A SKILL OR TALENT

REALIZING A DREAM

RECONCILING WITH AN ESTRANGED FAMILY MEMBER

RESCUING A LOVED ONE FROM A CAPTOR

RESISTING PEER PRESSURE (KIDLIT)

RESTORING ONE’S NAME OR REPUTATION

RIGHTING A DEEP WRONG

STOPPING AN EVENT FROM HAPPENING

SURVIVING THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE

TRYING SOMETHING NEW (KIDLIT)

TRYING TO SUCCEED WHERE ONE HAS PREVIOUSLY FAILED

WINNING A COMPETITION

Source: onestopforwriters.com

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Miss Having Coworkers? Here’s How to Start a Writing Group

Writing can be a lonely road.

Though working solo has many benefits, everyone has moments when they wish they could stop by a coworker’s desk to ask a question, get feedback on an idea or simply share a crazy client story.

I worked on my own for several years before going in-house as a staff writer for a personal finance website. And, while I missed the freedom of working remotely, I loved the daily banter with my colleagues. Not only was the camaraderie enjoyable, it often sparked my creativity.

So, when I returned to freelancing a year ago, I wanted to bring a bit of that feeling along with me — and I started a writers mastermind group.

What is a mastermind group?

Napoleon Hill, author of The Law of Success and Think and Grow Rich, is largely credited with introducing the word “mastermind” in the 1920s, though the concept has been around far longer than that.

Organized by entrepreneurs across industries, a mastermind is a group of peers who meet regularly to set goals, overcome challenges and use their collective brainpower to accelerate business growth.

Famous mastermind participants include Franklin Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates — even the Knights of the Round Table!

And they’re still very much in vogue today. As the legendary online entrepreneur Pat Flynn writes: “A mastermind group is mandatory to achieve online success… I would not be where I’m at today if it weren’t for the mastermind groups that I’ve been a part of.”

My mastermind consists of five female freelance writers. We meet once a month over Google Hangouts to share highs and lows, resources and encouragement.

I always look forward to our call, as it’s one of the only times I get to have honest conversations about writing with people who understand what I’m talking about. I also learn so much from my fellow group members, and love the support we provide each other.

5 steps for starting a writers’ mastermind group

Becoming part of a writers mastermind can certainly be a boon for your career — and your mental health.

So, rather than waiting around to be invited to one, why not start one yourself? Here are five steps to follow.

1. Outline your goals and rules

The first thing to figure out is what you want to gain from your mastermind. Collect your thoughts in a Google Doc that you can share with potential members.

For example, here was my mastermind’s main goal: “To grow our writing careers while traveling the world — and without going crazy.”

In the document, I also included secondary goals about accountability, perspective, support and inspiration, as well as the proposed schedule and rules. Some examples: “Show up every month (if you miss three calls, you’ll be asked to leave the group)” and “Listen openly and without judgment.”

Though I’m generally not a stickler for rules, I thought they were important to mention. That way, potential members would take the group seriously, as well as understand the type of environment I hoped to create.

2. Determine your meeting cadence

Most mastermind groups meet once a week or once a month.

My mastermind meets from 3-5 p.m. EST on the first Wednesday of every month. Having a regular time makes it easier for us to fit the meeting into our schedules (and to remember when it’s occurring!).

Determining your meeting cadence will also determine your meeting structure. In many weekly masterminds, for example, each member offers a brief update, then one person is in the “hot seat” with the rest of the meeting focused on their business and goals.

Since my mastermind only meets once a month, we all take turns sharing our highs, lows and goals, then it’s an open floor for any member to discuss challenges they’re facing.

3. Choose your tribe

This is the most important step in creating a writers mastermind: Who are you going to invite?

Here’s some common advice for choosing your mastermind’s members:

  • Invite three to five other people: Any more, and your sessions will go too long; any less, and it’ll be overly detrimental if someone can’t make it.
  • Choose peers: Try to find people in similar stages of their careers. If someone’s significantly further along, it’ll probably feel more like a coaching session for them — rather than an open exchange with peers.

In terms of the type of writing your members do, I’ve found it helpful that all of my mastermind’s members are freelance writers. I purposely also chose people who enjoy traveling, since it’s something we can all bond over.

To find my members, I turned to my personal network: Three were writers I’d met at conferences, and one was a friend of another member.

4. Create a shared space

You’re going to need somewhere to record the ideas generated during your calls and continue the conversation in between.

For my mastermind, I created a private Facebook group where we ask questions and share resources. We also have a few documents where we’ve written out successful pitches (though, to be honest, we don’t use this as much as we should).

If you’re not into Facebook, you could do this via Slack or another platform; choose what works best for you.

5. Get going

Now all that’s left to do is get started! It probably won’t be perfect, but you’ll be able to fix any bumps along the way — with the help of your new mastermind buddies.

Or, as those in the tech world would say, “Ship fast and iterate.”

One year into our writers mastermind, we’re still figuring out how to improve our processes. For example, we recently began assigning one notetaker per meeting, since so many good ideas are shared in the moment (and it’s tough to remember them all).

Bumps aside, starting a writers mastermind group was one of the highlights of my year.

It’s been so helpful to chat with these fellow writers; to know they’re on my side when I’m having a rough day (or month), to know they’re there for my silly questions and to know we’re all helping each other progress in our writing careers.

This may be my first mastermind — but I can tell you with confidence it won’t be my last.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

By Susan Shain
Source: thewritelife.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

 

Sneak Peek at Story Drills: Character Arcs

Today’s post offers a sneak peek at my forthcoming book, Story Drills: Fiction Writing Exercises for Building Storytelling Skills. This exercise examines character arcs. Enjoy!

Character Arcs

In storytelling, an arc is a path of transformation. A character arc is the journey that a character experiences throughout the course of a story, which leads to a significant change.

Changes can occur internally or externally. Characters can acquire or lose knowledge, skills, or emotional strength—or they can gain or lose relationships, material possessions, or status. Some of the best character arcs are a combination of both internal and external transformations.

A character’s arc can be positive or negative. Most heroes emerge from a story wiser, stronger, or better off in some significant way. However, some characters experience a downward spiral—they are on top of the world when we meet them, and then we watch them fall. A character’s arc can also wind through the story’s events—up and down—only to lead back to where they were at the beginning.

An arc is common—some say essential—for a protagonist, but any character in a story can experience an arc. In Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, the protagonist, Luke Skywalker, undergoes significant growth, but supporting character Han Solo also gets a meaningful arc that is critical to the story.

At its core, an arc signifies change and gives the events of the story deeper meaning—after all, stories are about conflict, and what good is conflict if it doesn’t produce meaningful change in our lives?

These changes range from deeply significant to superficial. Some characters will start out as store clerks and end up as store managers. Others will save the world.

Character arcs don’t appear in all stories. Stories with minor or nonexistent character arcs are usually plot driven. For example, police procedural series tend to focus more on showing the detective solving crimes in each installment without undergoing much meaningful personal transformation.

There are some common milestones that characters experience throughout an arc, especially the protagonist. These include establishing goals or realizing that they want or need something; facing conflicts and challenges; making difficult decisions; and experiencing the consequences of their decisions (good and bad). As a result of these experiences, the characters are transformed by the end of the story.

Study:

Choose a character from a story you know well and plot the character’s arc, noting the gains, losses, and transformations that the character experiences as the story progresses. Make sure you note the corresponding story event with the change that it effects in the character.

Practice:

Start with the following premise: A child’s mother dies while the father is overseas on a top-secret mission. The child is put in foster care for almost a year until the father returns. Make a list of five plot points and how each of these events changes the protagonist. Then write a short paragraph describing the protagonist’s arc over the course of the story. Feel free to come up with your own story premise for this exercise.

Questions:

Can you think of any protagonists that don’t change over the course of a story? Can you think of some supporting characters who experienced significant arcs? How does a character arc enrich the reader’s experience?

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Stumped for Story Ideas? Try This One Tip

In a recent episode of Jane the Virgin, the main character, Jane, is stumped for story ideas. She already published one book, but that was inspired by her dramatic telenovela-like life. She’s convinced that she has no other story to tell.

one tip 2

When she shares her dilemma with her fellow writing-class students, they assure her that what she described is not a problem at all. She doesn’t need new story ideas. Why?

Because she can retell the same story.

Follow the Heat

Cheryl Strayed calls this “following the heat.” Her most famous book is Wild, a memoir about the hike that help her deal with her mother’s death.

But she wrote about that period of her life and the loss of her mother repeatedly. She wrote personal essays about it and fiction inspired by it. She told and retold her story as many times and as many ways as she could.

That’s following the heat.

There are so many examples of authors rehashing the same story ideas and telling stories about the same thing over and over again. Philip Roth is one of the most prolific American writers ever—somehow Newark, NJ manages to find its way into most, if not all, of his books. In the show, Jane’s fellow classmates astutely point to Jamaica Kincaid and John Updike and their tendency to return to the same themes or characters.

Tell and Retell

So, do you feel like you’ve already told your one great story?

No problem. Tell it again.

Tell it from a different perspective (e.g, a side character). Zoom in on a specific moment or zoom out to show how it fits into something bigger. Try telling your great story in a different format: perhaps a personal essay instead of a novel, or vice versa.

It’s OK to take the same story ideas and tell your story again and again and again.

Can you think of other writers who have told and retold the same story? Let us know in the comments.

By Monica M. Clark
Source: thewritepractice.com

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Dilemma: 4 Powerful Steps to Make Your Characters Choose

The Spring Writing Contest is coming soon!

If you haven’t heard of them, the Write Practice’s seasonal writing contests are a great opportunity to get published and possibly win fame and (a small) fortune.

Perhaps you’ve entered before, but haven’t found the winner’s circle. Rejection is a familiar badge of honor amongst seasoned writers, but for many of us it can be tiring, and even tempt us to stop entering contests or submitting to publications.

But what if there was one thing you could change about your writing that could almost instantly make it better?

There is! There is a storytelling element that I’ve seen as an entrant and judge of multiple fiction contests that makes stories work and win, standing out above the rest.

And that single, difference-making element is a Powerful Choice.

When We Forget “Choice”

Unfortunately, this element isn’t as simple as it sounds. Characters yelling and screaming and fighting and kissing doesn’t necessarily count as a powerful choice. Sometimes it’s just noise, not a dilemma.

Other times writers fill their 1,500-word submission with lyrical prose and vivid imagery, but nothing happens. There are no dilemmas to be found. And though it always saddens me to do, as a judge I had to move on from such pieces.

Stories contains many elements that may be fun to write or read. But a story cannot possibly work without a powerful choice. It is central to any successful narrative.

In the same way, a house may be more valuable if it comes with marble countertops or vaulted ceilings. But without a solid foundation, the house is worthless, regardless of how aesthetically pleasing it may be.

In Aristotle’s Poetics, he defines dramatic tragedy as “the imitation of an action.” And while the stories you write are not all tragic, they are dramatic, in that they seek to create an impression of life.

In other words, they imitate life.

And when we imitate life, we are imitating the most basic act of life: a choice, or an action.

A story without a choice may be beautiful for its language or description. It may be memorable for any number of reasons.

But it won’t be remembered as a contest winner, because it will fail to do the most important storytelling job: To imitate the action of choice.

How to Imitate an Action

Imitating an action may seem like a simple chore. After all, “action” is a lot of fun to write, isn’t it?

But genuine choices aren’t just about the action or motion that takes place. Often most of the energy is potential — it’s in the build-up to the action.

And that is where you need to focus your storytelling energy, at least at first. Then, once your character has made his or her choice, you need to spend time on the fallout from this choice. Consequences are massively important to a well-told story, and your reader will want to know how a character’s choices play out.

So let’s look at the four steps to a powerful choice that will make your story a winner!

1. Desire & Goal

Before any choice is made, the protagonist must have a Desire.

Without desire, a choice doesn’t have any meaning. It is simply an item on a grocery list. And story desires can never be so trite and hope to win over a reader.

Then, the desire must be formed into a Goal, a stated or thought objective in the protagonist’s mind. If it isn’t clear to the protagonist — and therefore the reader — that this goal is the “Why?” behind everything he/she is doing in the story, then the story will be confusing and the reader will struggle to follow it, even if it makes sense to you.

So despite how “deep” we want our stories to be, two things must be abundantly clear: What the protagonist wants (Desire) and how he/she plans to get it (Goal).

2. Resistance & Conflict

The next step in a powerful choice is Resistance and Conflict, two forces that will make your protagonist’s goal interesting and worth reading about.

After all, if the object of desire (money, a lover, a new job, getting home, etc) is easily attainable, then it will fail to produce a story that your reader simply can’t put down.

So there must be a reason, or reasons, why the protagonist cannot achieve the goal and get what he/she wants right now. And those reasons must seem insurmountable.

The resistance and conflict can come from diverse places, too. The setting can push back. Family and society can dissuade and even forbid the protagonist from advancing. And a villainous antagonist (and his/her minions or servants) can make life hell for our hero along the way.

Without brutal resistance and difficult conflict, the protagonist cannot be faced with a tough dilemma and driven to the point of making a powerful choice. Devoid of this pushback, the choice would be easy, predictable, and obvious. That’s the last thing you want!

So make sure that the resistance and conflict push your protagonist as far as he/she can go without completely breaking.

3. Risky Choice

Finally, the moment must come when the protagonist imitates the greatest action in all of humanity: the Choice with unimaginable consequences!

But it requires lots of set-up. It can’t be done without a relatable and clear Desire/Goal, or a highly antagonistic pairing of Resistance/Conflict.

To make the choice work, the hero can’t simply choose between an obvious “Yes” and equally apparent “No.” Choosing to kill the bad guy versus choosing to run away like a wimp isn’t really a dilemma.

No, choosing to kill the bad guy who is the hero’s brother or not kill the bad guy who will probably retaliate anyway is a high-risk choice. It’s powerful because of the implications.

And it will have your reader turning pages like lightning!

Shawne Coyne’s The Story Grid teaches about two types of crises that produce amazing moments of choice: The Best Bad Crisis, and the Irreconcilable Goods Crisis. The “bad guy is your brother” anecdote is an example of the “Best Bad Choice.”

Risky choices are just that because there’s almost always something to lose. There are few moments in life when everything turns out okay, and there are no negative consequences.

Which is why the fourth and final step is so important.

4. Consequences

Readers want to know “What happens after …” your protagonist’s risky choice. And if they don’t get a satisfactory answer, they’ll leave your story feeling cheated and bitter.

This doesn’t mean you have to give them an ending that rivals Return of the King, but you need to make it clear exactly what the Consequences of the risky choice were.

  • What did he/she gain? At what cost?
  • Did he/she commit any sins or grievous offenses in pursuit of his/her goal? How were these paid for, if at all?
  • And what did he/she gain, and how is it affecting life now, after the story journey?

You don’t have to tie up every single loose end the story may have — especially if you intend to pen a sequel! In fact, leaving one plot strand dangling while all the others are snugly knotted can be a great way to keep readers around, ready for your next release.

Make sure you thoroughly address how the action ends up, though. Because this, too, is a part of the imitation of an action. Every action has a reaction, and readers know it. They’ll be expecting it your story, too.

Time for Action!

Whether you’re planning to enter the Spring Writing Contest or not (though you really should!), I hope that the value of a well-written action will be central to your stories.

Not only is it solid storytelling, but it’s exactly what readers want. And the best part is that this isn’t genre-specific. This is precisely the kind of journey that readers crave, whether they’ve picked up your Cowboy Romance novel or your Sci-Fi Horror short story collection.

So plan your next story with these four steps in mind. It’s time for action!

What’s the toughest choice you’ve ever made your characters make? Let us know in the comments.

By David Safford
Source: thewritepractice.com

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

37 Questions to Ask Your Character

Pretend you are an interviewer for a newspaper, a secret agent, or a novelist, and you are interviewing, or interrogating, a character for your story. Imagine the character is sitting in front of you, you have a new fifty-sheet yellow writing pad and your favorite pencil your cat chewed, and you are about to ask them a list of questions.

Create a character by conducting an interview. Interview your character before you start writing so you can immerse yourself completely in who they are and what they stand for. Interview them and find out who they are.

Why Interview Your Character Before You Start Writing?

When you completely know your character before you start writing, you will have a better understanding of how they will react in different situations. Your character will be more three-dimensional if you know who they are before you start writing.

Your character will be three-dimensional and not flat if you spend time thinking about how they think and feel about life. If you know your character’s worldview it will be easier to keep their personality consistent throughout the story, and you will have a better understanding of how your character will grow and change as they deal with conflict.

37 Questions to Ask Your Characters

These questions will help you find out if your character is kind, honest, loyal, or trustworthy. These questions focus on how your characters think, not what they look like. We will develop their appearance later when the photographer arrives to photograph your characters.

10 Questions

  1. What did you eat for breakfast? Did you make it yourself? What time do you eat breakfast? Do you wash the pan after you cook the eggs or do you leave it for the maid to clean? Do you have a maid?
  2. Do you have a cat? How many cats do you have? Do you wish you were a cat? How many litter boxes do you have? Do you clean the litter boxes every day? Or does your maid clean the litter boxes?
  3. Do you go our for lunch or bring a sack lunch? Do you
  1. take an extra long lunch break and charge the company?
  2. Are you an only child? How many siblings do you have? Are you close or are you estranged?
  3. If you are adopted, do you know your birth parents? Do you want to find them?
  4. Do you call your mother every day, or only on her birthday, Mother’s Day, and Christmas? Are your parents alive?
  5. Do you like to cook? Do you use recipes or make up your own recipes? Do you eat out every night?
  6. Do you put both socks on first, or one sock, one shoe?
  7. Do you have a dog? Is the dog a rescue dog or bought from a breeder?
  8. Or perhaps a hamster? Or do you have any pets?

11 More Questions

  1. Do you iron your clothes? Who does your laundry? Do you do it yourself or do you send it out?
  2. Are you married? Are you divorced? How many times have you been married?
  3. Do you brush and floss your teeth before you go to bed? Do you use an electric toothbrush and a water pick?
  4. Do you have any cavities?
  5. Are those your real teeth, or are they dentures, or are they all capped?
  6. What do you throw into the garbage? Do you recycle?
  7. Do you live in an apartment or a house?
  8. Do you own your own home or rent?
  9. Do you mow your own lawn or use a landscape service?
  1. Have you ever had a garden?
  2. Have you ever eaten a carrot right out of the ground?

16 More Questions

  1. Do you pick your nose?
  2. Do you bite your fingernails? Do you have any bad habits?
  3. What is your earliest memory?
  4. Do you hold the door open for the person behind you or do you let it go and slam in their face?
  5. Do you take chicken soup to your elderly neighbor when they are sick?
  6. If you had a dog, would you pick up your dog’s poop when you go for a walk or sneak off and hope no one saw your dog poop on their lawn?
  7. If your boss asked you to cheat on your invoice and bill your client for extra hours, would you do it?
  8. On Monday morning, are you excited to go to work, or are you sad?
  9. If you could go back in time for one day, where would you go?
  10. You can cure one disease. Which one would you cure?
  11. Do you honk at the car in front of you if they didn’t see the light turn green?
  12. Do you exercise or are you a coach potato?
  13. If a Boy Scout comes to your door selling popcorn, do you hide in the kitchen or buy popcorn?
  14. Have you ever served in the military?
  15. What is your greatest fear?
  16. Would you like me to get you a glass of water? Or would you rather have soda? Wine? Whiskey?

Know Your Characters

Questions like these can help you know your character better. If you’d like even more, read this famous list of 35 questions French novelist Marcel Proust was asked by a friend when he was fourteen years old.

Think of other questions you would like to use in your interview. What questions will help you understand your character’s personality, motivations, and goals?

I wonder how your characters in your current story would answer these questions?

What questions would you want to ask your character in an interview? Let me know in the comments section.

By Pamela Hodges
Source: thewritepractice.com

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