Tag Archives: writing practice

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

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

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

Visit us at First Edition Design Publishing

Fear Thesaurus Entry: Criticism

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 Criticism

No one likes to be criticized, but for some people, it can be very intimidating and even demoralizing, leading to an avoidance of any kind of well-intended feedback or critique. A fear like this can also be linked to a fear of rejection. It might be generalized, affecting many areas of life, or be localized to one person or environment.

What It Looks Like
Hesitancy to share their work 
Double- and triple-checking completed tasks
Striving for perfection
Conforming to societal norms
Being highly self-disciplined
The character being very hard on themselves
Asking a lot of questions before starting a new project
Going above and beyond what was asked
Choosing words carefully
Compensating for a perceived inferiority by bragging, exaggerating, etc.
Repeatedly apologizing for perceived wrongdoing
Seeking approval and validation 
Being uncomfortable in new environments and activities
Procrastinating or missing deadlines
Never taking initiative
Preferring to be alone
Avoiding risks
Becoming defensive when advice is offered
Avoiding people who might offer feedback
Reading criticism into every instance where advice is given
Taking things personally
Misreading people’s intentions—believing that someone is on a power trip when they’re only trying to help
Not taking advantage of opportunities where criticism is likely
Being unable to differentiate between constructive feedback that should be ignored

Common Internal Struggles
The character always feeling on edge, afraid of making a mistake
Having ideas to share but being too afraid of they not being received
Feeling like a failure
Struggling with low self-esteem
Believing they are inferior or worth less than their peers
Feeling inadequate or incapable
Becoming obsessed with negative feedback
Believing people are waiting for them to make a mistake
Being ashamed of a part of themselves (a physical characteristic, a weakness, etc.)

Flaws That May Emerge
Antisocial, Defensive, Evasive, Haughty, Inhibited, Insecure, Jealous, Know-It-All, Nervous, Perfectionist, Pretentious, Timid, Verbose

Hindrances and Disruptions to the Character’s Life
The character stagnating because they’re unable to accept feedback
Being limited professionally because of an unwillingness to change
Never being able to truly express themselves
Giving up a passion because of criticism in that area
Gaining a reputation for being easily offended, uncooperative, or uninterested in self-improvement
Living with relationship friction due to the character misreading a spouse or parent’s intentions or character (accusing them of being overly critical or believing the other person thinks poorly of the character, etc.)
A lack of self-awareness keeping the character from growing and improving

Scenarios That Might Awaken This Fear
Having to change jobs and start over with a new supervisor
Being put in a situation where the character or their skills are on display
Being assigned a job that is beyond the character’s abilities (being set up to fail)
Being rejected (in an interview, on a date, when sharing an idea, etc.)
Being paired with someone whose performance is always lauded
Receiving harsh criticism from a trusted individual
The character’s skills being brushed aside or devalued
Encountering a loved one whose desire to help looks a lot like criticism.


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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“No, Don’t Tell Me”: How & When Should We Use Foreshadowing?

Foreshadowing is a literary technique we can use in our stories that gives a preview or hint of events that will happen later. While many might think of foreshadowing for mysteries, this literary device can be used in any genre.

In fact, most stories need foreshadowing of some type to keep readers interested in what’s going to happen. That said, foreshadowing requires a balance. When used poorly, foreshadowing can make our story feel boring or predictable, but when foreshadowing is used well, readers will find our story more satisfying.

How Can Foreshadowing Make Stories More Satisfying?

While most aspects of writing contribute to readers’ sense of whether our writing is “strong,” foreshadowing helps create readers’ sense of whether we and/or our story have a plan, whether we’re going to take them on a worthwhile journey. In other words, foreshadowing can help create the sense that every element of the story has a purpose, that it’s all leading to a purposeful destination.

Hints of future story elements—even ones that just register with readers subconsciously—make story events fit into a sense of a bigger picture. While unexpected twists can make a story fun and avoid the feeling of being too predictable, foreshadowing can help a story hit the sweet spot of feeling inevitable-yet-surprising.

For example, imagine a final dilemma where a character faces a choice between two options illustrating the tug-of-war between aspects of their personality. If the story concludes with an unexpected twist as the character lands on a third option, the ending could feel like a cheat or an out-of-character decision – or it could feel like a brilliant way to resolve the story.

The difference between those reactions often comes down to whether the third option was foreshadowed at all, even in the most subtle, subconscious-registering way. A subtle foreshadowing can ensure that twist doesn’t feel like a cheat or out of character, and instead make it feel like the resolution was the point of the journey, adding to the sense of strong—and satisfying—storytelling.

Types of Foreshadowing

That said, before we can use foreshadowing effectively and find the right balance between leading readers along the storytelling journey and “spoiling” events, we need to understand more about foreshadowing as a writing technique. Different types of foreshadowing will fit our story at different times.

Some foreshadowing is direct and tells readers where the story is going. Other foreshadowing is more about subtle hints that are so indirect as to often be recognized only in hindsight.

Examples of Direct Foreshadowing

  • mention of a future event
  • show characters worrying about what might happen
  • a character declares that something won’t be a problem, which often hints to readers that the character will be proven wrong later
  • show or allude to tension that readers figure will eventually have to snap
  • a prophecy of what the future will bring
  • If we’re writing in normal past tense rather than the default literary past tense, we can directly say what’s to come, such as: He didn’t know it yet, but that would be his last night at home.
  • a flash-forward (often in a prologue or preface) showing events to come
  • mention of emotions or thoughts of what a character longs for (even subconsciously), clueing readers into what their internal arc or internal goal will be

Direct foreshadowing tells readers the what, but readers still read to learn the how.

Examples of Indirect Foreshadowing

  • show a lower-stakes version of the final conflict early, hinting at how the situation will play out later
  • show a prop or character skill in action earlier that will be important for the success of the final conflict (depending on how obvious the earlier incidence is, this type of pre-scene might be more direct than indirect)
  • show a threatening object, hinting that it will eventually be used (i.e., Chekhov’s Gun) (depending on how obvious the appearance is—background vs. close up, etc.—we might consider this a direct technique rather than an indirect example)
  • allude to something in a throwaway phrase, often burying the detail in the middle of a sentence and/or paragraph, letting readers skim over and forget about the hint
  • toss out a seemingly normal statement that will resonate with more meaning in future events later
  • use similes or metaphors to hint at hidden traits or situations
  • show a suspicious event, but have the viewpoint character believably decide there’s an innocuous reason, so readers don’t know the character assumed incorrectly until later
  • use symbolism, such as how crows and ravens around a character often foreshadow their death or how weather often symbolizes a coming change
  • use imagery and settings to create a certain mood appropriate to the later story, such as dread or creepiness

Indirect foreshadowing uses subtlety, subtext, and/or misdirection to hide the story’s future, with the truth becoming clear only in hindsight.

3 Tips for How & When to Use Foreshadowing

Tip #1: Usually, Foreshadowing Should Be Avoided When…

  • we’ve already foreshadowed the event, as we don’t want elements to feel repetitive
  • the event is unimportant, as the payoff won’t be worth the setup (exception: using it for non-anticipatory reasons, such as the setup and payoff of humorous details)
  • we’ve already foreshadowed related events, as readers don’t want to know how everything will play out

Tip #2: Direct Foreshadowing Can Be Beneficial When It…

  • establishes reader expectations, as meeting reader expectations makes our story more satisfying
  • makes events seem credible, as by establishing the possibility, readers will be prepared to accept the events
  • uses foreshadowed motivations to make characters seem more logical, as they’ll seem less like puppets to the plot
  • increases a story’s sense of foreboding, tension, or suspense, as readers might not know what exactly is going to happen, but they know it’s going to be bad
  • increases a story’s sense of anticipation, as readers will want to know what happens
  • makes readers more invested, as they try to guess how the story will play out
  • helps us delay events until best for the story and reader anticipation, while still letting readers know that more interesting stuff is coming in the story soon
  • makes readers feel like they have a relationship with author-us, as readers interact with our writing to guess outcomes

Tip #3: Indirect Foreshadowing Can Be Beneficial When It…

  • gives readers a sense of closure or gives our story the feeling of tying up loose ends
  • creates a sense of the story being deliberately woven together with a surprising-yet-inevitable ending
  • makes readers feel more satisfied, like seeing the final piece of a puzzle fit and finally glimpsing the bigger picture
  • provides a richer experience for readers by creating layers and parallels
  • avoids making the ending feel contrived or solved by waving a Deus Ex Machina wand, and instead makes events feel natural to the story
  • gives readers the satisfying feeling of “Wow! I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming” rather than the angry or betrayed feeling of “WTF? That came out of nowhere”
  • increases emotions, such as making a tragedy more tragic by having the character (and reader) realize the tragedy could have been prevented if only they’d known earlier how X was significant
  • prevents readers’ frustration when they’re purposely kept in the dark with lies, instead making them think they could have guessed with truths that are simply hidden.
  • gives repeat readers something new to enjoy, as they put together new connections on a reread

Use Foreshadowing, but With Purpose

Whether we’re using direct or indirect foreshadowing, the idea is to set up details, events, and concepts in our story that we later pay off with consequences, growth, change, etc.

Foreshadowing—setups and payoffs—creates echoes in our story that make our story feel more crafted, more purposeful, more deliberate, and more confident. All of that makes our story feel more meaningful to readers—and thus more satisfying. *smile*

Have you read stories with foreshadowing? Did the technique work for you (and why or why not)? Have you written stories with foreshadowing, or have you struggled to know how to use it (or find the right balance)? Can you think of other situations when foreshadowing would be beneficial or harmful? Do you have any questions about foreshadowing?


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Writing Antagonists Readers Can’t Help But Like

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

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

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

Is relatability only for protagonists?

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

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

Antagonists should be as developed as protagonists.

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

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

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

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

So how do we make an antagonist relatable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, to recap and offer a few more ideas…

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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7 Ways to Find Telling in Your Writing

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


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

I thought I was doing it.

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

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


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

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

7 Ways to Find Telling in Your Own Writing

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

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


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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Fear Thesaurus Entry: Rejection

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

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

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

Fear of Rejection

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source: writershelpingwriters.net

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