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Imagine it:

You’re standing there, holding your book.

The weight of it.

The smoothness of the cover.

How the pages flutter as you drag your thumb along their edges.

A smile beams out of you. It’s happened–it’s really happened: you are an author.

Or envision something slightly different:

You’re at the keyboard and your fingers are flying to keep up with your imagination.

You skip lunch, ignore the ping of Messenger. Coffee? What coffee.

There is only the story and the iron certainty that this one is…special. Deep down you know it’s stronger than anything else you’ve ever written.

Can you see this dream, fulfilled? We can.

Your ideas deserve to be immortalized on the page. Your stories need to be out in the world. And One Stop for Writers is determined to help make this happen.

Since One Stop for Writers‘ inception, Becca, Lee, and I have focused on developing highly intuitive, powerful tools because as writers ourselves, we know what you really need to create your best work. And today we are thrilled to announce we now have a 2-week free trial!

So, if you’ve heard amazing things about our fiction-focused thesaurus database–the largest description bank available anywhere–visit us and start using it as you write!

Or, if you’ve had writing friends talk about a hyper-intelligent tool called the Character Builder that helped them create an all-star story cast, maybe it’s time to create an all-star of your own.

Even if you just know Becca and I love to build useful things for writers, stop in and give our free trial a spin. We’d love for you to discover what writing can be like with one-of-a-kind resources is at your fingertips.

Let’s create something amazing–our readers are waiting!

Angela, Becca, & Lee
Your One Stop librarians

Visit One Stop for Writers

The post One Stop for Writers Now Has a Free Trial! appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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Self-doubt can be a crippling weight, especially for writers. Today we have writing mentor Leigh Shulman with us, and she has some terrific, actionable ways to use prompts to turn self-doubt on its head (and get you writing again!)

I’ve never met a writer who didn’t doubt. You worry you’re not good enough. You wonder if anyone even wants to read your writing. You even begin to suspect that unless your writing fills some very specific criteria, you couldn’t possibly be a real writer at all.

Problem is, worrying about all these things holds you back from writing. Instead of sharing writing for feedback or sending work out for publication, doubt gets you mired in the mud and stuck. 

But what if doubt could propel you forward instead of holding you back?

I created these four journaling prompts to help you dance with fear and follow your instinct as you become a stronger and more confident writer.

Prompt One: Let Go of Doubt with an Unstructured Free Write

This is the most powerful writing exercise I know because it helps you move past self-consciousness and get your ideas on paper. In twenty years of writing and teaching, it has never failed me. 

When to use this prompt: 

When you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed or you’re simply not sure where to begin. This is a perfect prompt to move through resistance.

How to use this prompt:

You’ll need a timer plus your desired method of writing. Use a pen and paper or type directly on a computer. Whichever works best for you.

Set the timer for ten minutes and write for ten minutes without stopping. No editing, erasing or crossing anything out. If you don’t like what you’re writing, simply move to the next line and continue with your next thought. If you have nothing to say at first or you think this is the most ridiculous exercise ever, write that down.

What to do next:

Read through your freewriting, circling any ideas that jump out at you as interesting. Let your instinct guide you. Those circled ideas become the seeds for finished essays, stories, scenes, and books.

Prompt Two: Dive Deep into Your Doubt

When to use this prompt:

Any time self-doubt hits. Instead of pretending you don’t feel the way you do, embrace it and write.

How to use this prompt:

As with unstructured free writing, you’ll set a timer for ten minutes. This time, dive into what you’re feeling. Explore the edges of your emotion by writing down what you experience.

Where do you feel doubt in your body? Does your stomach tighten or do your hands go cold? What sparks the doubt? 

Use the Emotion Thesaurus to answer these questions, too. What verbs connect to the sensations you experience? What happens with your doubt once it begins? Does it escalate into full worry and disbelief? Or can you ease your doubt and turn it into curiosity?

What to do next:

Apply your personal experience of doubt — or any emotion for that matter — to your characters or in a personal essay. You can lift passages directly from your journaling and edit them to fit a story or scene.

Prompt Three: Talk to Your Haters

When to use this prompt:

When you find yourself stuck because you believe no one wants to read your writing or when you imagine you’re writing to a specific audience.

How to use this prompt:

Write about the audience you imagine not wanting to read your work. What do they look like? Where do they live? Why do you believe they won’t like what you have to say?

Or perhaps there’s a misunderstanding? What is it your reader really wants? And what about your writing will resonate with them?

What to do next:

This process of diving into the thinking of another person is the basis of character building. You can incorporate this person into something you write.

This prompt also helps you develop your author branding and platform building. When you have a clear idea of who wants to read your writing and why you know where to reach out and how to find your readers.

Prompt Four: Problem Solve with a Targeted Free Write

When to use this prompt:

You know basically what you want to write, but you’re not sure how to write it. Or you have so many ideas, you’re not sure which to choose. Whether perfecting your storytelling, fleshing out characters or understanding why a scene isn’t working, targeted free writing allows you to explore your options and experiment.

How to use this prompt:

Instead of writing whatever comes to mind as you would in an unstructured free write, begin with a question you have related to your writing. Some examples of what you can ask yourself:

  • What will happen next in the story?
  • What does my character want?
  • Which of the subplots need development?
  • Any other quandary you currently face with your work-in-progress. 

Then write for ten (or more) minutes to answer your question.

What to do next:

Use the solutions you uncover and apply them to your works in progress. Try something, see how it works. If it doesn’t fit your needs, try something else.

People often avoid journaling, because they wonder what worth free writing can be if no one ever reads it. What if you develop an idea and it ends up being the wrong one?

This is simply part of what it means to be a writer. Yes, you will likely write pages you’ll never use. But the more you practice, the more you move past the resistance and doubt that holds you back.

For more ways to get past self-doubt, download this Build Your Writing Confidence worksheet.

What helps you get back to writing when self-doubt hits? Let me know in the comments!

Leigh Shulman is a writer and writing mentor with over 20 years experience. She’s the author of The Writer’s Roadmap: Paving the Way To Your Ideal Writing Life. Her online writing mentorship program The Workshop guides writers as they create a business plan for their writing lives then make their plans happen. For more ways to get past self-doubt, download her Build Your Writing Confidence worksheet.

The post How To Stop Self-Doubt From Holding You Back From Writing appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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Writers are the most powerful people on the planet. Yes, you! You have the power to change your readers in a more profound way than almost anyone else they encounter. 

How? By allowing them to experience, first hand, the profound change your protagonist goes through in the pages of your story.  

Sounds like magic, doesn’t it? It is in a way. Here’s the scoop: Stories are the world’s first virtual reality. They allow us to vicariously try out difficult situations that might paralyze us in real life, the better to give us useful inside intel on how to best survive should those situations befall us. So sure, your reader might be devouring your novel while sitting in her most comfy chair, but biologically, that story has catapulted her out of her own life, and into your protagonist’s. And as your protagonist’s worldview changes, so too does your reader’s.  

But there’s just one caveat: for that magic to happen, you must actually tell a story. And the biggest problem with most manuscripts, as one freelance editor recently lamented, is that most of them “are just a pile of pages, not a story.”

Turns out that it’s relatively easy to write a pile of pages, but not nearly as easy to write a story. As the great Southern writer Flannery O’Connor once quipped, “most people know what a story is, until they sit down to write one.”

So, before you sit down to write another word, let’s first define what a story actually is. Then we’ll dive into three simple questions you can ask to ensure that you’re telling one.

What a story actually is – the nutshell version

A story is about one single external problem that grows, escalates and complicates forcing the protagonist to make a long-needed internal change in order to solve it (or not, if it’s a tragedy).

What is that one single external problem? The plot. What is the story about? The long-needed internal change the plot will relentlessly spur the protagonist to make. 

That’s why at the heart of every story is an irony: what the protagonist thinks will solve the problem and get her what she wants is actually the thing that’s keeping her from it. 

Here’s the secret: a story isn’t about whether or not that external plot problem is solved – Will the protagonist save her daughter? Rescue her brother? Keep the earth safe from evil intergalactic unicorns? Of course we care about those things, and we’re dying to know how they turn out. But what has us on the edge of our seat is how that external problem is gradually forcing the protagonist to change internally, giving her the insight and the strength to solve it. Readers are wired to track the internal change—the shift in how the protagonist sees the world, the shift in why they’re doing what they do.  

This means that you can’t start by simply envisioning the plot. First, you have to envision the internal change that the plot will force the protagonist to make.

If you’re wondering, Wait, what change? Change from what to what? Why?That’s exactly what these three simple questions will unlock. 

To be very clear: these are questions to ask about your protagonist’s impending internal change before you shove her onto page one of your novel. Right now, as far as she’s concerned, her life is probably going to go on just the way it always has; she has no idea about the deliciously dark and stormy night you have in store for her.  In other words, you’ve got her right where you want her.

1. What does your protagonist already want?

Every change we humans make is based on one thing only: how it will help us achieve our agenda. This doesn’t make us selfish – heck, your agenda could be coming up with a cure for insomnia (please). Or to bring a smile to everyone you meet (that’s sweet). Or to create an ad campaign that would convince people once and for all that cellulite is actually quite lovely (please, please). 

The point is, until you know what your protagonist will enter the story wanting, you can’t figure out what change she will have to make in order to get it.  So ask yourself: what, specifically, does my protagonist already want – whether she’s aware of it or not? The more concrete your answer can be the better.

2. What external change does your protagonist need to make in order to achieve her goal?

Here’s a maddening irony: we’re often completely oblivious to the very changes we need to make to have a shot at getting what we want. In fact, we tend to instead embrace our current iffy behavior, thinking it’s helping us. 

For instance, that ace copywriter whose dream it is to change how the world views dimply thighs? She really, really wants the big promotion that’s up for grabs because it means she’ll get the dimply thigh project, but she not only doesn’t tell anyone (even her boss) that she wants the job, she lets everyone else take ownership of her ideas, which of course they’re all too happy to do. If she doesn’t speak up soon, she’s going to get passed over again! 

Bingo! The ability to stand up for herself is the external change she needs to make if she wants to have a shot at her dream. Now the question is: why doesn’t she just speak the heck up for goodness sake? What’s stopping her?

3. What is keeping your protagonist from making this change, internally?

This is where you’ll strike gold! Because we’re about to leave the surface world—the world of what your protagonist does—and dive into the world of why she’s doing it. This is the layer that readers come for, the layer that brings your novel to life, giving meaning, urgency and conflict to every single thing that happens. What mesmerizes readers is your protagonist’s internal struggle, the one that leads, scene-by-scene, to the change they’ll have to make.

The question to ask yourself is: what deeply held belief is causing your protagonist to take such misguided action? Because as far as she’s concerned, she’s not making a mistake at all—she’s doing exactly what she should do, except that for some reason she can’t quite figure out, it’s not working.

For instance, maybe that ace copywriter doesn’t dare ask for the promotion she so dearly wants because she believes that pride goeth before the fall. And so if she has to tell her boss how much she deserves it, it will not only prove that she doesn’t deserve it, but that she is arrogant to boot. To her, that’s not a “belief,” it’s a fact.

Aha! That is the misbelief that your plot must now force her to question and overcome if she’s going to get what she wants. 

Now that you know the specific change your protagonist will have to make, and why it’s so darn hard for her, you can begin to create a plot that will spur her toward it every step of the way – whether she likes it or not. 

And here’s the bonus: by digging deep into your protagonist’s past to answer these three simple questions, you’ve already unearthed the story-specific info you need to envision the single escalating plot problem you’re going to throw her into. After all, you’d never toss her into a pile of pages, not when there’s a compelling story to tell.

Lisa Cron is the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius. Her 6-hour video course Wired for Story: How to Become a Story Genius can be found at CreativeLive.com, and her TEDx talk, Wired for Story, opened Furman University’s 2014 TEDx conference, Stories: The Common Thread of Our Humanity.

In her work as a private story coach, Lisa helps writers of all ilk wrangle the story they’re telling onto the page. For a library of her free myth-busting writing tips and information on how to work with her one-on-one, you can find her at wiredforstory.com

Psst! Angela here, who has been traveling the internet a bit lately. If you need help with making your Character’s Physical Description Stronger, I’ve got you covered. And if you’re focused on growing your audience, find out my 5 Tips for Building a Fan Base.

The post Three Simple Questions That Will Unlock Your Story appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Category: Relationship Friction, Loss of Control, Ego

Examples: Learning that an ex is seeing someone else can be a painful experience, especially if the character is still emotionally attached. The amount of conflict this situation arouses will depend on many factors, but the most impactful are who the ex is with and where the character sees them. For varying degrees of tension in this scenario, consider the following possibilities:

Seeing the ex with… 
The character’s best friend
A family member
The character’s therapist, pastor, or other trusted mentor
A rival
Someone the ex always claimed they didn’t like
Someone the character can’t easily avoid, such as a co-worker or their child’s teacher

Seeing the ex and their new significant other… 
At a funeral
At a family reunion
In a place that holds significance for the character and their ex (the site of their first date, the church where they were married, etc.)
In a confined area where avoidance is difficult, such as a shared taxi, a train car, or an elevator
At an event where the character needs to be at their best, such as a performance or important business meeting

Minor Complications: The character saying something they’ll regret later, awkwardness or unease that causes the character to do something embarrassing (spilling a drink, putting on an obvious act as if everything is fine, etc.), skipping school or calling in sick and getting in trouble for it, avoiding the ex by cancelling plans with a friend and creating tension in that relationship, temporary uncertainty about one’s current romantic partner, becoming need with one’s romantic partner

Potentially Disastrous Results: Getting into a physical altercation with the new person, the mental strain causing collateral damage for the character in the aftermath (blowing a work presentation, not doing well at a job interview, etc.), obsessing about it and ruining the current romantic relationship, seeking revenge against the ex, coping in an unhealthy way (getting drunk and doing something stupid, spending large amounts of money, becoming promiscuous, etc.), pushing one’s romantic relationship to the next level before either party is ready to go there, seeking to get the ex back (even if the ex was bad for the character, the relationship was toxic, etc.)

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Comparing oneself to the new person and finding oneself lacking, romanticizing the old relationship (only recalling the good memories, remembering things more positively than they actually were, etc.), needing to process the new information but having to hide one’s emotions, difficulty finding closure (if the new person is someone the character will see often), becoming dissatisfied with one’s singleness, struggling with suicidal thoughts, slipping deeper into an existing mental illness (depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.), revived feelings of remorse or guilt (if the character was to blame for the break-up)

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: The character’s current romantic partner, the ex, the ex’s new flame, friends and family members

Resulting Emotions: Agitation, anger, anguish, anxiety, betrayed, conflicted, contempt, depressed, desire, devastation, disbelief, flustered, hurt, inadequate, insecurity, intimidated, jealousy, loneliness, longing, nostalgia, obsessed, powerlessness, resentment, sadness, self-pity, shock, stunned, vengeful, vulnerability

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, addictive, catty, confrontational, controlling, impulsive, insecure, jealous, macho, melodramatic, needy, obsessive, oversensitive, paranoid, possessive, promiscuous, rebellious, reckless, self-destructive, self-indulgent, vindictive, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: Eventually gaining closure from seeing that the ex has moved on, comparing one’s current partner with the ex and seeing how much better one’s situation is now, seeing one’s faults realistically (if one was to blame for the break-up, or the new person is a truly good person) and being motivated to change them, being freed emotionally to pursue a new relationship

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

The post Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Seeing an Ex with Someone New appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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One person I love having at the blog is Savannah Cordova from Reedsy, because she always has an innovative take on every subject. If you enter writing contests, this post is one you will want to read, because she offers a ton of great ideas on how to make your entry stand out. Enjoy!

If you’ve ever participated in a writing contest, you’ll know that it’s one of the most exhilarating, motivating, and overall craft-stimulating experiences you can have as a writer. Indeed, what starts off as a modest contest entry can even turn into a much bigger project, like a book.

However, the flip side of the coin is that if you’ve entered multiple writing contests and still haven’t won, the experience can become intimidating, demoralizing, and frustrating.

I’ve personally been on both sides of the contest conundrum: I’ve lost time and time again and felt incredibly discouraged, then had all faith in my writing restored after a win. And recently, my knowledge of writing contests has gained yet another dimension — the perspective of a judge, as I help decide the winner of a weekly contest we hold at Reedsy.

My experience as both a writing contest participant and a judge has given me a finely-honed sense of what contributes to a winning entry… and what doesn’t. To that end, here are five innovative strategies that could help you win — some of which I’ve used myself, some of which I’ve seen in action, but all of which have proven concretely successful (as you’ll see from the examples below).

1. Draw from a recent experience

“Write what you know” is some of the most oft-given writing advice for a reason. Writing about something you’ve personally seen, felt, or done lends the story an air of authenticity that’s nearly impossible to replicate in any other way.

My key addition to that advice is to make it recent: the fresher the experience, the stronger your writing about it will be. Of course, if you want to write about something from a long time ago that affected you deeply, that’s your prerogative — but you might find it hard to dredge up the words to describe something that happened months or years ago.

I’ve found that the more recent the experience, the more smoothly the words flow. Indeed, this was the tactic that I used for my story “Perspective,” which actually won the Reedsy short story contest last May (and led me to my current job). When I wrote “Perspective,” I was getting ready to move away from my family and feeling sentimental, which I indulged by watching old home videos. The intensity of emotion I felt then inspired me to write a story that started with a woman watching her home videos and see where things might go from there.

2. Subvert the prompt

Many contests provide writers with a prompt or theme to write about. In this case, another highly effective technique is to subvert the contest theme/prompt. Of course, this can backfire if the rules of the contest are particularly rigid — however, in most cases, judges will appreciate writers who think outside the box.

There are many ways to subvert a prompt. One common method is to switch up the expected genre; for example, if given a dramatic prompt, you might make it comedic instead. You might also interpret the prompt’s phrasing in an unorthodox way, and/or apply it to a subject that nobody else would think of. Two great examples of this from the Reedsy contest are “Leaves” and “Apart,” each of which responds to a quote in such a way that the original speaker never intended, but with utterly brilliant results.

3. Evoke a certain atmosphere

This one can be hard to pull off for writers who’re real plotters and always prioritize story over setting the scene. But bear with me: sometimes it’s best to focus on atmosphere, particularly if setting is a meaningful component of your piece.

You can evoke atmosphere by employing detailed sensory descriptions: what the characters see, hear, smell, touch, everything. Remember to show rather than tell as much as you can, though don’t overwhelm the reader with paragraphs of description — break it up with some dialogue and action.

This also ties into my first piece of advice, in that one of the best ways to create strong atmosphere is to base it off real life. Judges will be much more able to “soak up” the atmosphere of your story if you, too, have experienced it.

If you can, immerse yourself in that environment for a solid hour or two before you start your story, making observations and notes. When you’ve emerged from your sensory cocoon, you’ll be primed to evoke that atmosphere as part of a more polished piece. (If you’re still lost, check out this contest winner, “A Bird in the Hand,” which conjures atmosphere beautifully.)

If you are unable to visit the setting yourself, these tips will help you deliver description that feels real to readers.

4. Try out an unusual POV

Using an unconventional or surprising point of view in your writing can also be a major boon in a contest. Most entries are written in basic first or third person, so using a different POV can really help your piece stand out.

For example, second person POV (in which the narrator addresses their intended audience as “you”) is rare, but very powerful when used well. One of our winning stories that did this was “Local Hero,” in which the narrator speaks directly to her tormented husband. The impact of second person POV here is breathtaking — her sorrow and pain are palpable, and the reader feels almost as though they are responsible for it, since they perceive themselves as the “you.”

You (the writer) might also consider writing in standard first or third person POV, but not revealing who the narrator actually is, or making them unreliable. Finally, you could switch back and forth between different narrators, possible even different types of POV (e.g. between first and third person), which keeps the pacing swift and readers on their toes.

5. Play with temporal structure

Perhaps the most challenging of these suggestions is to experiment with chronology and temporality in your work, disrupting the reader’s conception of how time should work.

A well-established way of doing this is to include flashbacks, which gradually reveal more and more information that coincides with “present-day” events in your story. You can also reverse the timeline — though this is tougher because you can’t just rehash everything backwards. You have to carefully depict information and events in such a way that it reveals something of import; Reedsy contest winner “The Final Day” accomplishes this reveal with great aplomb.

In any case, as you can probably tell, the essential lesson to glean from all of this is: be the most unique version of yourself as an author and write a story only you could write. Ironically, following other people’s advice on the subject won’t get you nearly as far as marching to the beat of your own drum. So be intrepid, go forth, and write!

If you’re feeling inspired to start right now, head on over to our directory of over 300 writing contests you can enter in 2019.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories (and occasionally terrible novels).

You can read more of her professional work on the Reedsy blog, or personal writing on Medium.

The post 5 Innovative Strategies That Could Help You Win a Writing Contest appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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You’d be forgiven for thinking that only horror books should contain an element of fear, but I’m here to challenge that thought by claiming that all books – regardless of genre – need a sprinkling of it.

Why You Need Fear in Your Novel

Fear is a driver. It drives plot, pace, tension, and emotion—which, when you combine those elements, creates the climax of your story. Status quo would suggest that desire is the predominant motivation pushing a hero towards the climax of a story, and sure, it might be. But fear is a secondary motive.


In most stories the hero wants something: to save the day, to save a loved one, to stop the villain. But having those goals also means the hero has something to lose…the world, their loved one, innocent lives.

Having something to lose – something of value – creates fear. The fear of losing something important will naturally drive your hero onwards.

5 Tricks for Creating Fear

1. Insinuation and Implication

When the Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, I was twelve – not old enough to watch it. But I’d seen the trailers and couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. Afterall, you didn’t see any monsters in the clips. What you did see was a lot of running, heavy breathing, and twig snapping. 

So I asked my dad (who had seen it), what exactly he’d seen to make it so universally scary. He said, “Well, you don’t see anything.” That made me realize that a reader or viewer’s imagination is FAR superior to any words or clever film trickery. 

One could argue that fear doesn’t exist; it’s an emotion caused by a perceived threat of the danger of pain or harm. In other words, it’s just an idea in someone’s head.

And that’s something we writers can take advantage of. We can insinuate that bad things will happen and that’s enough to send a reader’s mind racing.

2. Use Psychological Fear

The types of fear that are popular tend to cycle. For example, since the early 2010s we’ve seen the rise in popularity of psychological thrillers like Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) and The Girl on The Train (Paula Hawkins). But in the late 70s through to the mid 90s, physiological fear was huge, especially in gory films like the Halloween series, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

How to Create Psychological Fear

At the heart of psychological fear is the emotional state your characters (and therefore your readers) are in. Therefore…

  • Make sure your hero has a fear that the hero, reader, and villain are aware of. The villain can then capitalize on it and make the hero face that fear in order to defeat them. 
  • Remove all possibility of hope for your hero. Make it seem like he or she will lose. That drives up the tension and heightens the fear factor by making your reader assume that losing is inevitable.
  • Make sure your hero is vulnerable. Vulnerability can be a form of foreshadowing; if your hero is in a dangerous situation and all alone, the reader automatically knows something is about to go down. Note: you can also make your hero emotionally vulnerable, which is particularly effective for inner flaws or genres like romance.

3. Use Physiological Fear

This one does what it says on the tin: violence, gore, torture, or anything gruesome. It’s not for everyone nor every genre, but the prospect of injury or maiming will inevitably create a sense of fear for both your hero and your reader.

4. Capitalise on Your Hero’s Emotion by Using the Senses

Fear is an emotion, which is why it’s essential to utilize the senses in your descriptions. Hopefully you’ve read Becca and Angela’s Emotion Thesaurus, which will tell you that fear is a physical reaction heightened by your senses. When you’re afraid, your face turns white, you blink rapidly, your muscles tighten, and beads of sweat run down your back. Your villain should provoke that sort of reaction in your protagonist. If he does, your reader will feel it too. 

Likewise, showing the reader (rather than telling her to be afraid) will also increase the sense of fear she feels:

“Don’t tell me the killer is standing in front of you holding a knife covered in blood. Show me the table where the knife used to sit, and a trail of blood droplets on the floor that finishes at your feet. Let me hear the creak of floorboards or the click of a lock that no one’s had a key to for a decade.” Sacha Black, 13 Steps to Evil – How to Craft a Superbad Villain

5. Withhold Information

Knowing what a monster looks like creates one type of fear, but NOT knowing what’s coming creates something different. Let the reader (and the hero) know something awful is coming, but withhold just enough information so they don’t know what, why, or when. When authors do this it reminds me of the movie technique of making music crescendo into a fever pitch and then dropping to silence. It puts me on edge every time.

No matter your genre, fear is vital. Whether you want to increase tension and pace or create depth for your hero’s motivations, it’s one tool that should be in every writer’s toolbox. These five tips will get you started, but try exploring multiple genres, as well as film, TV, and theatre, where you’ll find plenty of subtle tricks and techniques for crafting fear.

Sacha Black is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. Her blog for writers, www.sachablack.co.uk, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy. The first two books in her Eden East Novel: Keepers and Victor, are out now.
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The post Why Every Novel Needs a Sprinkling of Fear appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: A Deadline Being Moved Up

Category: Increased Pressure and Ticking Clocks

Examples: Needing to have important paperwork completed, securing funds to pay off a debt, needing to have materials prepped for a earlier meeting than expected, being forced to complete plans for a rally or other event sooner, discovering the timeline to fulfill a promise has been bumped up, needing to secure resources sooner (for a battle, to prepare for imminent danger, etc.), finding out a window of opportunity is closing faster than anticipated (to escape, to overcome an obstacle, to impress the right people, to prove one’s innocence, to save someone’s life etc.)

Minor Complications: Disrupting one’s schedule and personal plans, inconveniencing other people if their support is needed to complete a task, losing sleep, having to sacrifice quality for efficiency, disappointing loved ones by placing their needs last, having to ask people for help that one may not want to (because it makes one look weak, they may expect something in return, or the other person is a rival), scrambling to make changes to fit the new timeline (cutting back on scope of the project, changing the venue, having to pay more to expedite things or obtain what one needs, etc.)

Potentially Disastrous Results: Rushing that leads to safety issues (and someone is injured), having to make a deal that carries a high personal cost (being forced to sacrifice a cherished goal, having to return a very expensive favor, being placed in harm’s way, etc.), being blamed for a poor turnout or sloppy end result, failing because the timeline cannot be met, having one’s reputation destroyed because one delivered subpar work, completely blowing a budget and being held accountable, treating someone poorly while stressed and damaging a relationship beyond repair, breaking the law to meet the deadline and getting caught

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Anxiety over how to meet the deadline, suffering a crisis of faith in one’s abilities, feeling guilt for putting others in a bad position through no fault of one’s own, feeling guilt at letting some people down to focus on the task at hand, anger (at the cause) that wars with feelings of duty and responsibility, struggling with the temptation to cut corners, break the law, lie, or cross an ethical line to get what one needs

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: One’s boss, co-workers and employees, family members, a political party or cause one is championing, people in one’s community, or anyone who will be impacted by the choices one makes in order to complete the objective in time, or if one fails, those who will be hurt by that failure

Resulting Emotions: Anger, Anxiety, Apprehension, Bitterness, Conflicted, Contempt, Defeat, Despair, Desperation, Determination, Doubt, Dread, Emasculated, Embarrassment, Flustered, Frustration, Guilt, Inadequate, Intimidated, Overwhelmed, Panic, Powerlessness, Resentment, Resignation, Self-pity, Shock, Skepticism, Stunned, Unappreciated, Worry

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Abrasive, Cocky, Compulsive, Confrontational, Controlling, Disorganized, Extravagant, Fanatical, Flaky, Forgetful, Fussy, Gullible, Hypocritical, Impatient, Impulsive, Inattentive, Indecisive, Inflexible, Insecure, Irresponsible, Martyr, Melodramatic, Needy, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Perfectionist, Pessimistic, Reckless, Resentful, Scatterbrained, Stingy, Tactless, Temperamental, Uncooperative, Weak-willed, Whiny, Worrywart

Positive Outcomes: Becoming better at time management, being able to hone one’s organizational and planning skills, becoming more adaptable when things go sideways, a chance to lead and gain valuable experience, becoming better at working with others, discovering who one’s friends truly are by seeing who sticks around to help and who does not, learning one is far more capable than believed by taking on a difficult challenge

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

The post Conflict Thesaurus Entry: A Deadline Being Moved Up appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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Humans like complexity; puzzles, questions, layers. It fascinates us. My guess it’s because there are so many complex systems in nature that our brain needs to navigate successfully. Ecosystems, weather systems, the tax system…But the one that has the most influence on our evolution are social systems.

Our relationships were vital to our survival. Throughout the ages, fellow humans have been our friends— the ones we collaborate and cooperate with to gain more resources, and our foes—our competitors who can hold the power of whether we live or die. These relationships gave rise to social systems: rules, expectations, and norms. These same social systems are enduring but constantly changing, strongly connected but disjointed, adaptive but counter-intuitive (like, why do I bother asking my sons if they’re hungry?). As writer, what’s important to know, is that the minute evolution finds something that enhances our survivability, it lights up our neurons and makes it pleasurable (think calorie rich cheesecake or gene reproducing sex).  

So it’s not surprising the brain is drawn to complexity (think about a piece of art that caught your attention—did it have layers?), is curious about complexity (did you spend time wondering and pondering?), and attends to complexity (how long did you stand there, wondering and pondering?).

It’s why complexity in stories also attracts us, and I’m going to hypothesize that a significant proportion of best-selling novels capture complexity in their pages. As I think of the novels that I loved, the ones that stayed with me, they all had complications, intricacies and layers. They were complex.

And I don’t just mean a complex plot. Complexity isn’t all about the whoa-didn’t-see-that-coming. It’s more than that, and to explain it, I’m going to use permaculture. For any non-horticulturalists out there, permaculture is the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. How does it relate to writing? Well, you’re either about to learn a valuable strategy for writing awesome scenes, or you’re about to wonder about the convoluted mechanics of my brain…

One of the principles of permaculture is that any element in your garden needs to perform more than one function. Chickens? Yes, they produce eggs. But they’re also scrap munchers, manure makers and little walking tractors. Feed them your left over lunch, then use them to turn over old garden beds, and fertilize them in the process. The eggs are almost a bonus! A grape vine growing on a trellis? At the right angle, it can provide shade from the hot afternoon sun for a bunch of veggies, it can provide a nice little micro-climate for the strawberry bed beneath, oh, and its fruit and leaves are edible.

A good scene will do the same. It works on more than one level. Through careful consideration and design (just like a permaculturalist), you add more value for your reader, more experiences and emotions and information for your reader to devour. You’d already have an idea of the function of your scene  — usually moving the plot forward. Here are some ‘layers’ you can add to a scene to add complexity:

Deepen characterization

Let your readers learn something about your character they didn’t know. Let their quirks shine through, slip in a little of their backstory or their wound or their strengths. As they learn about how the plot is evolving, let them learn about this person they’re journeying with.

Explore theme

Use a little symbolism or metaphorical word play to explore the deeper question, worldview, philosophy, message, moral, or lesson your book is probing.  You could slip it into dialogue, the setting, or your secondary characters.

Explore a secondary character

Your secondary characters are a great way to explore theme, but they can also be a juxtaposition or complement to your main character (and/or antagonist). Use them to elicit emotion in your reader — whether it’s empathy for them or for your hero. Expand the focus of your scene to include interesting and valuable information about them, too.


I do love some nice foreshadowing, both as a writer and as a reader. Foreshadowing elicits intrigue, which in cognitive terms, means curiosity. Whilst entrancing and educating your readers about what’s happening right now, you can give them a taste of what might be coming…

Deepen setting

Your setting is a character in itself. It can help your hero, or be a major roadblock (either literally or metaphorically). It can set the mood, provide context (e.g. the culture or the historical period) and denotes the passage of time. Weave it into your scene like a best-selling author.

Show off your writing talent

Sprinkle a little purple prose or a few clever metaphors. Implement those literary devices or challenge the ‘rules’ of writing. As you take your reader on this ride, do it in style. Most importantly, do it your way.

So, if you have a scene that you think might be a little ‘flat’, or if you’re looking to jazz one up so it has more impact, I recommend engaging your green thumb and employing this handy little permaculture principle: every scene must perform more than one function.

TamarSloan is a freelance editor, consultant and the author of PsychWriter – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers. Tamar is also an award-winning author of young adult romance, creating stories about finding life and love beyond our comfort zones. You can checkout Tamar’s books on her author website.
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The post Digging Deep: The Psychology of a Layered Story appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

Whether you’re looking for minor friction options for a given scene or major conflicts to hamper the character’s overall story goal, this thesaurus can help. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Taking Advice from the Wrong Person

Category: Failures and mistakes, relationship friction, duty and responsibilities


  • A character seeking advice from someone who is secretly working against them
  • The protagonist taking advice from someone whose top priority is him or herself
  • The character taking advice from someone with good intentions who doesn’t know what they’re talking about
  • The character seeking the advice of someone who will affirm their ideas rather than challenge them with an opposing viewpoint
  • The character seeking outside advice because it’s easier than them doing the footwork and research themselves

Minor Complications: Embarrassment when it’s made public that the character had the wrong information, experiencing a minor set-back in achieving the overall goal, relationship friction between the character and the advice-giver, losing credibility in the eyes of others, becoming complacent (because of the nature of the advice) when time is of the essence, over-reliance on the trustworthy people in the character’s life (since they’re the only ones that can safely be trusted)

Potentially Disastrous Results: Difficulty trusting others, not being trusted in the future with important projects or duties, purposely not seeking the advice of others (relying solely on one’s limited knowledge, missing out on the wisdom of others, etc.), the misinformation causing the loss of an important ally or benefactor, the setback creating a ticking clock situation that makes the overall goal very difficult to achieve, someone being harmed or killed because the character acted on incorrect information, getting fired, the character becoming defensive and digging in their heels to support the bad advice,

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict): Doubting one’s discernment and ability to read people, blaming oneself (for trusting the wrong person, for allowing oneself to be swayed despite initial suspicion, for not having enough information initially to recognize the advice as being faulty, etc.), being tempted to silence the accuser and bury one’s mistake, conflicted feelings about the guilty party (especially if they’re a valued person in the character’s life), becoming indecisive due to a new need to over-research and make sure one is making the right decision

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Allies, family members and friends, co-workers, mentors and benefactors

Resulting Emotions: Anger, anxiety, appalled, betrayed, bitterness, confusion, defensiveness, denial, disappointment, discouraged, disillusionment, doubt, embarrassment, fear, built, humbled, humiliation, hurt, inadequate, insecurity, intimidated, resentment, self-pity, skepticism, surprise

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Apathetic, cocky, defensive, gullible, insecure, martyr, melodramatic, oversensitive, perfectionist, tactless, volatile, weak-willed

Positive Outcomes: Realizing the importance of doing one’s own research, being more careful about who one trusts in the future, creating a checks-and-balance system by seeking out multiple people for advice, being better able to spot inauthentic or unreliable people due to one’s experience, being more inclined to trust one’s gut (because one didn’t in this situation)

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.

The post Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Taking Advice from the Wrong Person appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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This spring, Becca and I released two very important tools for writers… The Emotion Thesaurus 2nd edition (expanded by 55 entries) and a Character Builder Tool at One Stop for Writers.

These two releases happened within days of each other, unplanned, because if we’ve learned anything about building software these last few years it is that releases rarely hit their target date. And that’s okay with us, because the team at One Stop cares far more about quality than deadlines!

Because these two big projects releases so close to one another, we weren’t able to spend as much time describing just how powerful the Character Builder at One Stop for Writers is.

It’s the first tool we’ve created that uses all the content from our many character-specific descriptive thesauruses, meaning as you plan your character’s backstory wound, physical features, personality, skills, etc., the character builder shows you all the options we have in our description databases. Even better, it’s hyper intelligent, so each time you choose a specific detail, the tool prompts you with more options tied to that detail so you can go deeper. Building a fascinating, complex, and unique character now takes half the time!

This alone makes the CB tool different from anything else, but we weren’t finished, so we pinpointed specific details from your character’s profile that, when combined, will create an accurate character arc blueprint:

There are a million other things I could tell you about this tool, but today I want to point out one super helpful feature: the ability to clone characters.

Why Do I Need a Clone?

Many of us write series, meaning we often carry our characters from book to book. But as the series progresses, our protagonist’s goal and motivation will change, they will have different flaws to overcome, and something new will be at stake. Redoing all that character planning seems like a lot of work…unless you can make a clone!

Just click the button, and boom, you have a clone. All their details carry over, and you can focus on whatever changes for the next book: the goal, the stakes, newly-acquired talents, and whatever is motivating them to achieve a specific objective.

And then you can head back to their character arc blueprint and see exactly where the story will go from here!

This is a perfect way to tweak and adapt characters as they grow book to book. It is also handy if a character’s role changes, say if your protagonist had a love interest in book 1, but in book 2, an ugly war pits the lovers against one another and now she’s the antagonist. You’ll need to change certain things about this character but her backstory, personality, beliefs, appearance, etc. will remain the same. What an easy way to save yourself some work!

In just a few short months, One Stop for Writers users have created over 2000 characters using the Character Builder tool!

How amazing is that? And if you’d like to see how deeply layered these characters are, check out our character Paul Graham or watch a video to see this tool in action.

Have you tried out the Character Builder Tool at One Stop for Writers?

Hinty-hint, if you would like to, for free, there’s a 1-month free code available (scroll to the bottom of the page). We’d love to hear about the characters you build!

The post The Easiest Way to Plan Characters for a Series appeared first on WRITERS HELPING WRITERS®.

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