Thursday, September 15, 2016

3 Ways To Use The Setting To Steer Your Story’s Plot

with guest Angela Ackerman.

The setting is a powerful force. Not only does it evoke mood, create tension and conflict, allow you to share critical backstory in a non-dumpy way, and draw readers deeper into the story through powerful sensory detail…it can also steer your plot. 

If you're a pantser who likes to go where the wind takes you, or you struggle a bit with plotting, this is great news! After all, we know every scene needs to further the story, but sometimes we draw a blank on how to best do that. 

Using the setting to help power your plot is a great way to add depth. Not only can it influence the outer story’s direction, it also will help push the character’s inner journey (character arc) forward. Here are a few ways to achieve this. 

Obstacles & Road Blocks

As writers, we should always know our character’s goal within a scene—to obtain information, gain the upper hand, secure something of importance, etc.—and then make sure achievement never comes easy. Yes, we provide friction. Encourage the protagonist to struggle. We force them to work hard to get what they want, and we do this, over and over, scene after scene. Sure, it’s a bit evil of us. But that tension and conflict it creates? That’s what keeps our readers turning pages! 

One of the best ways to place a barrier between what the character wants and them getting it is to incorporate an obstacle or roadblock. This forces the protagonist to think on his feet, adapt, or try a new direction. 

Every location we choose for our story will come with inherent dangers and possible complications. An obstacle in our character’s path could be as simple as a carpet strewn with Lego as your heroine tries to sneak out of her lover’s home before his kids wake up. It could be a security guard patrolling a warehouse the hero need to break into, a car that won’t turn over when he’s late for an appointment, or a contaminated stream he drinks from while hiking that makes him violently ill. The setting obstacle we choose will make life more difficult and pose a risk, forcing them to be more cautious.

A road block means the protagonist literally can’t proceed as expected. It might come in the form of a washed-out bridge between himself and his destination, pirates patrolling a seafaring trade route he’s always traveled, or a locked door keeping him from what he needs most. Roadblocks and obstacles both force the protagonist to make a choice about how to move forward, steering the events to come. 

Emotional Triggers

One beautiful thing we can do with any setting is to “seed” it with emotional triggers. These triggers are symbols which are important to the protagonist in some way, influencing what he thinks, feels, and does. 

For example, imagine our protagonist is faced with a difficult decision: to accept a high paying dream job that requires almost constant travel, or pass up the job offer in hopes that the relationship he is currently in will eventually lead to marriage and a family. As he wrestles with this choice, perhaps he takes a lunchtime walk through a park located across from his office building. 

If we seed the park with certain triggers such as a busy playground, a young couple pushing a newborn in a stroller, or even a wedding photography session unfolding against a swirling backdrop of fall colors, his heart will focus on his longings to put down roots and start a family. But, choose different triggers, such as a pair of businessmen in power suits discussing multi-million dollar deals as they stroll along the pathway or a line of expensive sports cars parked at the sidewalk, or a colorful poster at a bus stop shelter advertising luxury travel, and the character’s thoughts and actions will go in a different direction. 
Emotional triggers lead to emotional decision-making and the actions that result will change the story’s trajectory. 

Challenges That Characterize

A third way to steer the plot is to use the setting to provide challenges that will lead to success or failure. Whichever is the result, the protagonist will be forced to look within and take stock of his or her strengths and weaknesses. Challenges are useful when it comes to a character’s inner journey, as by default, succeeding or failing influences the story’s direction and the necessary pathway to inner growth (character arc). 

For example, let’s say you have a character who has a drinking problem. Lately, it’s become dire, and after his wife leaves him, he decides to get clean. Newly sober, you could test whether he is truly committed to turning his life around simply by placing him in a setting that includes a challenge: easy access to alcohol. 

Perhaps the setting is a restaurant where his boss is hosting a retirement dinner, or he’s invited to travel to Vegas for a bachelor party. Or maybe the setting you choose is the pub he passes on his walk home every day. Then, it’s up to you. Does he walk past, or go in? Does he decline the Vegas invite to avoid temptation, or convince himself he deserves one last crazy weekend? Does he drink soda at the retirement dinner, or take advantage of the open bar?

Succeed or fail, in this challenging situation, something will be revealed about the character’s strengths or weaknesses to readers, and the plot will shift accordingly. This might lead to a new opportunity or fallout…you decide!

Have you used the setting to steer your plot? 

Leave a comment today for a chance to win your choice of The Urban Setting Thesaurus or The Rural Setting Thesaurus. Ebook format. Two winners. Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.

Settings should be more than a simple backdrop. Yes, they provide the opportunity to ground the reader, but they can also be used to establish mood, steer the story, foreshadow, and build tension.

The Rural Setting Thesaurus helps writers like never before by exploring over 100 school, home, and natural locations, providing the sensory details for each along with possible sources of conflict that can be found there. Also covered are many figurative language techniques that can be used to convey emotion and bring the setting to life, creating a vibrant, one-of-a-kind experience for readers.

As far as story elements go, the setting is one of the most necessary, yet it’s often underutilized by writers. The Urban Setting Thesaurus is the key to creating stronger, more powerful descriptions by showing writers how multisensory details can draw readers in and enhance the story.

Not only will writers learn how to choose the right location for each scene, they’ll also see how the setting can be used to characterize, reveal backstory, and provide triggers that can amplify character emotions and drive behavior. Through its sensory exploration of over 120 urban settings, this book will help writers create a realistic, textured world readers will long to return to, even after the book closes.

For more information on these books, including more purchasing options, please visit Writers Helping Writers.

Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: a Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, as well as four others including the newly minted Urban Setting and Rural Setting Thesaurus duo. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site, Writers Helping Writers, as well as One Stop For Writers, an innovative online library built to help writers elevate their storytelling. She loves connecting, so please say hello on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. 

The entire Descriptive Thesaurus series can be found 
on Amazon in ebook and print format! 


Megan Brummer said...

This is such a fun concept! I didn't realize it until I read your post, but I've been doing this instinctively. My protag has to run through sand and feels the resistance of it against her strides. Another character has to fight through a crowd and figure out creative ways to get on top of and over the buildings in a city to get to something she wants.

Now that I'm aware of this, I'm going to see where else I can use it to develop my characters and plot more deeply. I LOVE the idea of planting triggers! Thanks for parsing this out for us, Angela!

I think I'm also about to spend WAY too much time on your other two sites :)

Melissa Jagears said...

Just wanted to drop in and let you know that my 10 year old was helping me organize my bookshelves recently and she found the Emotion Thesaurus and "stole" it from me for her own fairy tales she's writing. She thought the book was the best writing book I had. :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Welcome back, Angela!!

For those who are not familiar with Writers Helping Writers, it is a treasure trove of helpful tools for writers.

Thrilled to have you back and delighted about your new releases.

Tina Radcliffe said...

MJ! Your daughter is a writer as well? How cool is that?

Angela Ackerman said...

@Megan, so glad this article resonated. As you say, I think a lot of the tension we add is sort of by "gut," but it's even better when we understand why as we can explore all the opportunities for it that lie within the setting. And Emotional Triggers are so much fun--they naturally tug readers deeper into the character's perspective and create empathy, as well as steer the story.

@Melissa, love that your daughter stole your book. That's awesome! Families that write together just makes my heart grin. :)

@Tina, thank you. I love visiting Seekerville because for me the activity and support and energy reminds me of a writing conference, and that buzzy-warm feeling you get from spending time with YOUR TRIBE. You guys rock. :)

Cindy W. said...

I love it when I am reading a book and the setting is one of the characters. You can take the characters and plop them an any setting and if the setting doesn't become part of the story the characters, in my opinion, are lost. I'm not sure that makes sense.

I will come back later to digest this post a little more. Only a few hours sleep and now back to work. Thank you for the post.

I would love to be in the giveaway.

Cindy W.

Jill Weatherholt said...

Welcome, Angela! I love and own all of your books! You hooked me with the Emotional Thesaurus and I've since purchased every one, so don't enter me, I just wanted to say thank you! Your books are definitely the best out there.

Shanda Miller said...

Excellent post. Love the seeding the setting idea. Writing is juggling so many knives. Thanks for sharing ways to hone and keep them sharp. : )

Jackie said...

Angela, you are so smart. Thanks for sharing with us, and thanks for these two great new sources! Please add my name to the drawing! Thanks!

Janet Dean said...

ANGELA, welcome back to Seekerville. Thanks for the awesome post on using setting to further the plot! Your tips on how to do that are excellent. The Thesauruses sound great! Must check them out.

The coffee is on! I'm whipping up some French toast and eggs.


Josee Telfer said...

My fluffy duvet is crumpled at the foot of my bed, keeping my feet warm on this brisk morning. Though it's too cool to open any windows, a fan is on to muffle the sound of cartoons my daughter is watching in the other room. Shirts are piled on the blue wing chair in the corner, waiting to be pressed but I reach for my mug of hot coffee, breathing in's rich aroma.

The morning sun spotlights the trunks of trees in my heavily wooded backyard, pulling back a dark velvet curtain as leaves dance in the light breeze, some of which are tipped in red. I love observing the tree bark at this time of day, when the sun highlights the deep grooves and leaves cast their dappled shadows...the click clack of my keyboard pulls me out of my reverie. I've got some writing to get to.

AWESOME post. Thanks for getting the juices flowing this morning, Angela!

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, ANGELA! I especially like your points on "emotional triggers" of a setting. The author can play it any way that works best for their story / character development--it all depends on the character's point of view. Thank you for the reminder! These new rural & urban books look like great additions to the series!

Tina Radcliffe said...


In my dreams.

Sigh. I was just bemoaning how I miss weather.

But I can pretend. Bringing chocolate croissants and pots of hot chocolate to this party!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Shanda Miller! Welcome to Seekerville. Tell us what you are working on.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I'm with you, Jill W. I own all her books!

J Baugh said...

Wonderful tips! Thank you!

Cindy Regnier said...

Angela - so thrilled to "meet" you! I use your thesaurus books all the time and I love them. I especially love my new Rural Setting Thesaurus. Thanks so much for all the info and writing tips.

Connie Queen said...

I need to use setting more. I work so hard to make sure the actions/plot is there, but leave half the tools out of my toolbox.

The Emotional Thesaurus is the only writing book I keep at me desk.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

I LOVE this post. The way you shared ideas to impact our characters' emotions through triggers we place in the setting is brilliant. I haven't done much of this, but I need to. I'm working on focusing more on emotion in my writing. YOur suggestions are so helpful! I'd love to be in the drawing for one of your books.

You've got me thinking this morning! Thank you for that.

Michelle Gregory said...

i've used the setting to help the reader feel where things are happening, but i've never thought of using it as part of the plot. thanks. i'd love to get the rural setting thesaurus.

Renee McBride said...

Good morning, Angela!

This subject is near and dear to my heart. I love using setting to create emotional triggers for my characters.

In my latest WIP, the hero is looking into an historical train depot that still has a dirt floor and recalls playing Jesse James train robbery on his horse as a child with his brother. This not only reveals a piece of his past, but also the family dynamics (his brother was the instigator and he was the reluctant follower, thus revealing his character). It also illustrates the importance of the historical building they're in and what it means to the townspeople.

I love incorporating historical settings into my contemporary stories to add a little western flavor. I think it adds interest and depth, and it's also a lot of fun for me too.

Now the only problem with this post is that I thought I owned all the Thesaurus books. I didn't realize they have books on setting too. UGH! I thought I already owned every craft book known to writer kind. I just HAVE TO HAVE THEM!

Myra Johnson said...

Excellent post, Angela!!! Love your examples of how different aspects of setting can affect both the characters and plot direction. You've already got me mentally sifting through the scenes of my wip to see if the setting is doing its job effectively.

And your new thesauri look fascinating. Must check those out!

Tina Radcliffe said...

I agree with the commenters, this is a huge addition to our writing and it's one I am guilty of forgetting. Mary Connealy actually does this very well.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Michelle Gregory,

Terrific to have you in Seekerville! What do ou write? Have a chocolate croissant.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Angela, some day we need to meet your other half. We have never met Becca your coauthor.

Do you both live in Canada?

Sharee S said...

This is so good and crazy timing. I was just looking to buy the Emotional Thesaurus the other day! Thank you for this post. I'm a big city girl transplanted to a rural community and I write using both so Please please please toss me in the drawing.

Marianne Barkman said...

I'm having coffee, and chocolate croissant sounds like the perfect addition. Addiction. Whatever! I love to read how writers get so smart!

Angela Ackerman said...

Cindy w., I agree. for me a big part of the experience is believingin the world, seeing it as the character does, and for that, the setting has to be not just vividly drawn, but involved in the character's life.

@Jill, thank you for the welcome, and gosh, for being such a fan of what Becca and I do with these books. We love to help in new ways because writing is such a tough gig sometimes. Really appreciate the kind words <3

@Shanda, it does feel like juggling, doesn't it? I make this comparision all the time, not only with the writing part of it, but the career side too. So many balls to keep in the air, so many hats to wear. It is amazing any of us remain sane *twitch twitch* but this is also I think where true passion comes into it--to be a writer, you have to love it and love it deeply.

@Jackie, thanks for stopping in--very glad you enjoyed this window into setting :)

@Janet, French toast is one of my absolute favs. It sounds so much better than this smoothie I'm drinking too. Enjoy your day :)

@Josee, your morning sounds amazing--I feel like I am right there with you!

@Glynna, glad you enjoyed the point about triggers. Any way we can bring emotion into it really does create story magic, because we're not just affecting the character's feelings, but the reader's too, and this draws them deeper into the story and makes the experience that much more compelling.

@Cindy, so glad you are liking the Rural one. It took us a long time to put these setting books together because we visited almost every setting in person to get the details just right. I am so glad we did take our time though, because I feel like I understand how deep the relationship is between the setting and the story is now. :) Happy writing!

@Connie, it is all a process, and I think sometimes we look at the toolbox and just feel overwelmed sometimes. I know I feel this way But I also know that every time I've taken the time to understand a tool, use it, and really learn the inside and out of it, using it becomes second nature, and that's the magic. So one bite at a time, one tool at a time. :)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Josee! You writer, you! Loved it!!!

Angela, welcome back to us! I'm so glad you're here, and I'm more delighted that you're working on setting.... I love setting "settings" and for those very reasons: the setting becomes an anchor for the story. And urban settings rock visually, hence so many shows in NYC or Chicago... But not as many on the West Coast because you can't invent weather on a tv set, so snow, rain, wind, etc. are usable setting variables in the north and northeast and Midwest... but the West Coast is fairly inflexible along a good share of it. Sun... maybe fog.... more sun.... more sun.... Although I loved The Closer and Major Crimes.

But back to books: The small town/rural/farm lit setting is a favorite of mine, but I also love some big city work. I've set stories in Philly and New York City, and those are a treasure trove of old and new, urban fun and urban legend. But the reader crush for small towns, back-to-basics and heartland is important: they love that old-fashioned feeling.

You've shown great examples and ideas here, thank you! And the books look marvelous.

Tina, I brought fresh coffee by, and there is definitely something to be said in favor of "weather"... differentiation would be my word of the day. :)

Angela Ackerman said...

@Jeanne, glad this post came along at the right time. As I mentioned earlier, bringing emotion into storytelling at all levels is the magic elixir of storytelling because it involved readers in a very visceral way and they are compelled to read on. :) Keep at it!

@Michelle, there are just so many ways to use the setting. I know I linked to a few articles above in the post, but here's a checklist from one of the books:

Setting can...
create conflict or tension
foreshadow a coming event
encourage an emotion-driven action or choice
remind a character of the past (good or bad)
poke at an old wound
challenge the hero to face his fears
recreate a wounding event so the hero can navigate it successfully & let go of past pain
show or reinforce the story stakes
characterize one or more characters
display symbolism or motifs that reinforce a deeper message or meaning
reinforce a specific mood
help steer the plot
test through obstacles and setbacks
give the setting an emotional value & deploy emotional triggers
deliver important backstory

Crazy, right? And if you or anyone want to download this as a checklist for your writing, just follow the link here: (you can also find all the tools from all of our books on the Tools For Writers Page at WHW).

@Renee, I love how you've used an emotional trigger to slip in a critical piece of backstory! This is exactly what I talk about in the backstory link at the start of the article. Setting is magic when it comes to allowing important, tight bits of backstory to be shown.

@Myra, Hurray--glad this post got you thinking. I am a big fan of doing more with less. I used to hate description--for me, it was all about the plot, but now I realize that if we make description do double or triple duty, we can create an amazing experience for readers.

Nicky Chapelway said...

This is an interesting post and after reading it I am going to have to try to focus more on inspiring my plot with my setting. I think I did it pretty well subconsciously, but I think that if I were to make a conscious effort I could do a way better job. One of the things that I really have to focus on is the fact that if it's night your characters are going to have a hard time seeing. I always forget that one and so there is no stumbling around in the dark for my characters :)

Please enter my name for the drawings.

Edwina said...

This was a great and very helpful post!

thanks so much for sharing!

Angela Ackerman said...

Tina, yes I should definitely get Becca to come by and post--you guys would love her. She's not in Canada, but rather New York. We met online many years ago at on online critiquing site and have been fast friends ever since. The thing I love is how deeply you can connect to someone online, and Becca and I are the perfect example. We write books together, we have 2 businesses together, we talk every day through email or skype...and yet we've only ever met in person 3 times. Once we spent the day together at Magic Kingdom because I was vacationing there with my family and she lived in Florida at the time, once we met in a mall for 2 hours because we were both in the same city at the same time briefly (I was flying in, she was flying out), and once she came to Calgary to do an all-day workshop with me. Total time we've spent together is probably 48 hours. Crazy!

@Sharee, it's quite a change going from a big city to the country isn't it? I'm in the same boat, but I do love it here in the sticks. If only the wi-fi was a bit better, haha!

@Marianne, I am still thinking about that chocolate croissant and the French toast and then looking at my smoothie. It just isn't the same, lol!

Thank you all for the warm reception as always. You guys are terrific! <3

Chill N said...

Hi Angela!

I like to read books in which the setting is almost as much a part of the story as the characters, even better if I can't imagine the story happening in any other setting. So much fun to be so involved in the story that I experience it.

Don't enter me in the drawings. I have all the books -- and they have been a tremendous resource, the Emotion Thesaurus particularly helps to show instead of tell. Thanks to Becca and you for all the help your books have provided. Now I'm looking forward to the human needs thesaurus :-)

Nancy C

Mary Connealy said...

This is one of the reasons I love setting my books in the Rocky Mountains. The mountains become a villain...a beautiful villain.
Between cliffs and blizzards and grizzlies, there's all sort of drama you can toss into your book, before you even get to the human bad guys!!!

Sherida Stewart said...

Good morning, Angela!

First I want to thank you for your website...which gave me inspiration for a recent manuscript by understanding the care giver personality. Your Emotional Thesaurus sat by my computer as I wrote that manuscript. Excellent reference! I'll be adding your other thesauri as my "Swiss Army Knives" of storytelling craft books. ;)

The two new ones sound great! Thank you for the post today highlighting setting. Love the "seeding" idea for fully using setting. In many of my stories, I use the challenges nature presents along hiking trails since I've experienced trials along the trail. Great information today! Thank you!

Angela Ackerman said...

Glad it helped Edwina!

@Chill N (best handle ever!) I am so with you on feeling involved in the setting. feeling part of a character's inner world only has impact if I feel connected to the outer world too, and vice-versa. We're looking forward to the Needs Thesaurus too. This should help writes in a new way! First post goes up on Saturday! :)

@Mary, I live about 30 minutes from the mountains--Banff is my backdoor and I love it, so I am with you there!

@Sherida, thank you for the kind words. I also love natural challenges. A great novel that did this was The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King, which is a "young girl gets lost in the woods" story. Great stuff. :)

Carol Moncado said...

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!! I didn't know these two existed!!!!! I have the others, but these are now in my Amazon cart!!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

See how happy Angela has made everyone today!!!!! HAHAHAHAHA!

Tina Radcliffe said...

That's amazing about you and Becca. I am going to start planning a day for you two to be in Seekerville together in 2017.

Magic Kingdom huh? You must be Canadian if...

We call it Disney.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Have you two ever done workshops at RWA? If not? Why not?

Angela Ackerman said...

@Carol, LOL, I approve of your liberal use of exclamation points, hahaha!

Tina, LOL, yes I said that one as MK was the park we toured together that day. It was quite the story too as this was the first time we'd met in person, and I was worried I wouldn't find her in such a huge place. If you're interested, have a read--Fate played a hand that day and this type of stuff continues to happen between us--it's quite funny.

Yes a few times. I was the international speaker in Melbourne (Australia) last year at their RWA conference, Becca and I both did an all day workshop for RWA here in Calgary, and I am working with a RWA group in Dallas for a Spring 2017 date. I love RWA groups, because they are very talented and really focus on learning their craft.

Melissa Jagears said...

Tina, I'm not sure the writing gig will be long lasting, I think it has a lot to do with me being a writer than an innate desire, though she is quite imaginative. The fact that she avoids long hand writing whenever possible is not very promising for the career BUT she has Dragon Speak and uses that often. But she surprised me this week and wrote a long poem for no reason whatsoever long hand, so who knows!

Tina Radcliffe said...

You need to apply for RWA National Conference in Disney World 2017. Applications will be on the web site soon.

Tina Radcliffe said...

MJ, your daughter has Dragon Speak????? Really?????

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Tina, I saw your comment from this morning about missing the weather . . . you're always welcome to come back to Colorado for a visit. I have a guest room. ;)

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks for the heads up, @Tina. Disney would be awesome!

It's tempting, but I'll have to think on it as it will be a busy year (I have a workshop in Dallas in April, a 3-day conference at the start of August, a writing cruise in October) plus I will be travelling in January and also gone for a month in May (Italy--can't wait!)

Cynthia Herron said...

Hi, Angela! Love your books! The Emotion Thesaurus is a fave, and your two latest sound like must-haves, too. Wow!!! :-)

I love rural settings and homey atmospheres. They evoke certain "feel-good" memories for me and take me back to the hometown I grew up in--where everyone knew everyone on the pretty little tree-lined streets. (...Now sometimes the people inside those white picket-fenced homes weren't so pretty, but their lives were interesting.) I think that's why I enjoy using rural areas as the backdrop for my stories--setting can be used to an author's advantage when used correctly as you mentioned.

Ahhh... I think it's time a Walton marathon. ;)

Tina Radcliffe said...

A writing cruise and Italy. Oh, my gosh. You poor thing. That has to be tough on your psyche. I will be thinking of you.

hahahahahahahahaha....okay in 2018 it's in Denver.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Jeanne! Thank you.


Mary Connealy said...

And you've managed to survive, Angela! Good deal! :)

Mary Connealy said...

Well, Tina, you can't have a cliffhanger without a cliff.
(okay the term doesn't have to be literal!)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Can you tell us about Writers Helping Writers and what it encompasses for the newbies out there?

How did it begin and why do you give so much free good stuff away?

Tina Radcliffe said...

I'm working on a snappy come back, Connealy.

However it may take some time. I'm getting older you know.

Tina Radcliffe said...

And by the way, did everyone notice that Angela and Becca mentioned me in their book?

Yes. Look at the cover of Rural Settings. Upper left corner. Initials TR.

That's a secret code, nod to me.

Thanks, ladies.

Tina Radcliffe said...

What's the difference between Writers Helping Writers and One Stop for Writers??

Julie Lessman said...

ANGELA, WELCOME BACK TO SEEKERVILLE, AND I HAVE THE EMOTION THESAURUS AND LOVE IT!! I must admit that I'd not visited Writers Helping Writers because I didn't know about it, but I definitely will.

LOVE this post, especially the emotional triggers!! Like Megan, I didn't realize I was doing it either until this post, so thank you for making me even more aware -- always a good thing!

I need to go check out your website ...


Angela Ackerman said...

Woot, lots of great questions! Okay kids, huddle around the fire... :)

More on Writers helping Writers

Waaaay back in 2007, I heard this mysterious word, "platform." Apparently, if you had one, publishers and agents would PAY ATTENTION TO YOU. Ah! The miracle I needed!

So, experts said, start a blog. Er? Okay. Angela starts a blog called "The Bookshelf Muse." She posts one post, stares at it for an entire day, gets terrified, and immediately tells Becca she should do this mystical blog thing with her, because PLATFORM!

(Thankfully Becca agreed. *pats self on back* Terror recedes.)

We decided to make helping writers our focus because it's what we knew, and we have a passion for helping others. In hindsight, this wasn't the best choice to build a FICTION author platform, but in light of where our strange little path took us, it turned out to be a good thing. :)

One of the areas we struggled with the most was emotion. Our characters were always rolling their eyes, shrugging and smiling. At a critique site, Becca and I along with a few other friends we had there had started brainstorming body language for different emotions to spark ideas, and so we thought, why not do this at the blog too, and maybe help others too?

We had no idea so many struggled with emotion too, until we started posting these entries. People went bananas. So we kept going. And once we exhausted our ideas on emotion, we turned to other areas of description. I think we did Settings next, then character traits, weather, symbolism, physical features, colors, textures, shapes emotional wounds...I think we have 12 in total.

Along the way, we learned a lot about each area of description, so we'd blog and share. Again, this goes back to who we are--we help. It's what we do. Each of us writers knows how hard writing is to learn, how hard publishing is to break into. My life mantra is pretty much "If you can help, do." So, I did, we both did. :)

We never intended to create books of these topics, but the demand for it was so great we decided to do it. Plus, we had bills. I hate bills. But maybe we could help with that too.

Along the way, we outgrew our blogspot blog and moved to wordpress, and rebranded our site, "Writers Helping Writers." And we took that job seriously, and began amassing articles, tools, lists, you name it to help writers. We also trademarked the name.

So new writers, developing writers, expert writers...hopefully all three can find information on whatever they need, especially as it pertains to description. I also have a few handouts and articles on Marketing, social media and platform building, because again, I'm all about sharing what I know. (If you check out one page at the site, make it the Tools For Writers Page--many goodies there for you!)

So why do we give so much away? Because Becca and I firmly believe in paying it forward. Many helped us grow as writers, and we want to be part of the chain. And I am a writer, not a seller. I suck at selling. I excel at helping. I excel at determining what my audience (writers) need. So, I do my best to create things I believe will help, be it a book, tool or article. I trust if people like what we do, they might tell others. I turst in human nature, in the best parts of people and just worry about my end of it: creating something amazingly helpful and unique.

At the end of the day, I like the idea of us being one big community, one that helps each other however we can, and reaching the finish line together. I know this probably sounds SUPER corny, but it's honestly how I feel. :) We all have such passion for stories, and to me, this seems like the best way to honor this love we share for fiction.

Myra Johnson said...

Well said, Angela! That's exactly what Seekerville is all about, too!

Angela Ackerman said...

Okay, now onto One Stop For Writers. But before I begin, please understand this isn't a sales pitch--again, I hate selling. This site is a subscription site, with a free limited version. If you want to check it out, feel free, but yikes, no selling here, I swear. ;)

One Stop is new, not yet a year old (October 7th!). It is a site that Becca and myself, along with Lee Powell, the creator of Scrivener for Windows, decided to build. If you read the last post, give yourself a medal! And if you did, you probably have gathered Becca and I are all about making cool things we think writers need, especially things that don't exist. Well, we found our third musketeer in Lee Powell, and he's a developer genius to boot.

One Stop, as you can imagine from its name, probably has many things going on. And it does. We call it a library, but basically it is a playground for Becca, Lee and me to create even more useful tools for writers, but on a "software" or "app" scale. It's about taking our lists, our blog handouts, free tools, our books...and taking it all up the next level.

Right now, this is what you can find:

Almost all of our thesaurus content (the wound thesaurus is being uploaded), much of it upgraded for One Stop. For Example, the book form of the Emotion Thesaurus contains 75 entries. One Stop has 98.

Why should anyone care, especially if they have the books? It's all in one place, not multiple books to pull off a shelf or cue up on kindle. It's all linked, so you can zoom from entry to entry, thesaurus to thesaurus. It saves time. And that's a big mission for us at OS--to save writers time, because there's never enough of it.

An Idea Generator. Not one of those weird ones that spits out a story idea about chaotic-good elves taking fire swords from the Evil vampire Ledo and freeing the sand ants of Mekerdon Swamp. Nope, this lets you brainstorm ideas for useful things, like wounding events. Fears. Plot complications. Secrets. Likable qualities. Quirks.

Worksheets and templates. You can build, save and export all sorts of tools on character building, scene structuring, setting planning...and so much more. Like my tools at WHW or the ones in our books, but way better.

A Story Map. This tool lets you structure a novel by leading you through the stages of structure and character arc. It helps you plan a book and the inner journey for three types of arcs: Change (transformation), Static (more action-based, little to no change), and Failed (tragedy). Comes with lessons and terminology help for each step of the way.


Angela Ackerman said...

Tutorials. We have a tutorial on every thesaurus topic (emotion, setting, flaws, etc.), something much more in depth than what you'd find in a blog post.

Lessons: We have created lessons around major elements of description delivery. Basically all the "Techniques and Devices" listed in the Setting Thesaurus books and all the "Resulting Effects" from the same entries all have tutorials to teach you how to describe better.

Timelines (releasing soon.) This tool lets you plan novels if you are a pantser, or you can use it to track backstory delivery, important dates, events or times in a story, use it to track family trees, or worldbuilding events (holidays, rituals, lunar cycles, whatever you like).

Scene Maps (releasing soon) this is like story structure for your scenes. We offer two different types of structure templates for scene planning so you hit all the important notes in each scene--your character's goal, what stands in his way, the stakes, emotions, challenges, etc. It's beautiful--I can wait for this to go live.

World Building Tool (developing). Imagine the most amazing questionnaire ever for all genres of world building. BOOM.

A Word Smithing Tool (top secret) this thing is huge. and amazing. It will be a tool that will help you evaluate your writing and strengthen it in a multitude of ways. It's not a grammar tool or an editing tool, although it will have these functions. it is a "make your writing stronger" tool. :)

Like I said, One Stop is a library of sorts, because it has everything writers need all together in one place. They spend less time looking for helpful resources and more time writing.

We're constantly evolving it, adding new things. We love writing books, but our books are heavy. And big. And the more we write, the more room they take up. As an ebook, you have to scroll several pages to see just one entry. So one aspect of One Stop is it acts as a virtual bookshelf for them, all the entries, all easy to access, read and move from one to the next through links. Plus we can show you what to do with our books on this site too, integrating the content into our tools in a way that we can't do with books.

One Stop is something completely different than what you'd find out there in the writing universe. Becca, Lee, and I are having a lot of fun dreaming up new things and making it better and better. It hardly feels like work because we're all just so into building it and seeing what else we can do with it. :)

Angela Ackerman said...

Okay, that was A DOUBLE MARATHON. So, missed comments: Cynthia, I feel the same way. And I think others do too. Becca and I wondered if we would see one book sell more than the other because of how we've split settings into Urban and Rural/Home locations, and the Rural one is ahead. :) I think we all love reading about places that make us feel at home, or one with the world. That said, they work best together. :)

@Tina, Dang our secret is out! Now you're going to think Becca and I are total stalkers because we put you on the cover!

Julie, I love your all CAPS. You rock! Do check out WHW. There's just so much there to help you. Take what you need!

Thanks, Myra. I figured you guys at Seekerville would be on the same page as far as community and just being genuine and plain good to each other. Life is too short for anything else. :)

Rhonda Starnes said...

Thanks for this blog post, Angela! I love your Thesaurus books, and I most definitely need these two new ones. Incorporating setting into my stories seems to be my biggest weakness. Please put my name into the drawing!

May the K9 Spy (and KC Frantzen) said...

Lots of great ideas here, Angela.

Thank you.

Hadn't thought of setting with the little seeds in quite that way before.
Thank you.

And wow, who wouldn't love a Thesaurus. Yes please! Will take a look at the others available too. Thanks for being in Seekerville today.

I've been lurking more these past months, but still around. :)

Cynthia Herron said...

Angela, just signed up for your newsletters and blog! Yaaaay! :-)

Nicky Chapelway said...

Everyone's talking about your thesaurus books and about how they've read them, loved them, and use them without fail. They're making these books sound like the writing Ten Commandments for crying out loud. Yikes! I've never even heard of them till today. Yeesh... I'm so uncultured, I think I'm just going to go crawl back under my rock...

Laura Conner Kestner said...

Wow, this was such an interesting post! I'm off with the grandkids today, but I can't wait to go through my WIP and see where I can improve on things using these tips - thank you, ANGELA!

Tina Radcliffe said...

You know, I haven't signed up for the newsletter. Thank you, Cynthia. Will do that now.

Tina Radcliffe said...

"At the end of the day, I like the idea of us being one big community, one that helps each other however we can, and reaching the finish line together. I know this probably sounds SUPER corny, but it's honestly how I feel. :)"

ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? THIS IS THE ESSENCE OF HOW SEEKERVILLE WAS BORN. We started as contest divas competing against each other and decided to join forces and pray each other into publication.

YES. I love this.

Melissa Jagears said...

Tina, yes, she has Dragon Naturally speaking as an educational accommodation.

Tina Radcliffe said...

And she figured out to use it. I have tried and couldn't figure it out, MJ.

Seriously, this kid is smarter than I am. Okay, I left myself WIDE open on that one. Let's not say anything too hasty.

Crystal said...

I love books where the setting is an active challenge for the character. How you use your setting can really make or break a scene. I have been examining my current setting for ways I can use it to really add another layer to my story. I purposefully chose fall 1883 and winter 1884 for the time frame of my book because in the spring of 1883 there was a record breaking flood followed by an even worse flood in January/February of 1884. It has been so much fun to twist the experiences and make my characters relive them in challenging new ways while trying to catch the "bad guy." The setting creates so much opportunity for trouble on many many levels. :-) BTW I have slowly been collecting your thesauri (?) and they have become an invaluable resource. I was just using my Negative Trait Thesaurus yesterday to help me develop my hero a little better. Please put my name in the drawing as those two are still on my wish list.

Nicky, don't feel bad about never having heard of them. I stumbled upon them by accident. Now that you have heard about them, crawl back under your rock with the samples you can download from Angela'a website or Amazon.

I am definitely going to have to check out One Stop. I didn't know it existed. Time to lengthen my Check These Tools Out pile. :-)

CatMom said...

Thank you, Angela - - this is an EXCELLENT post and what I needed right now on my WIP! I have - - and LOVE - - your EMOTION THESAURUS. :) In fact, I've used it SO much that it's a bit ragged and coffee-stained (the true sign of something I use a lot is if I've spilled my ever-present mug of coffee on it at some time or another, LOL). ;) Now I'm going to need to get some of your others too!
Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo

Debby Giusti said...

I'm late to the party. Had pages to write. My reward was getting to Seekerville. I made it! Loved your post, especially the triggers that influence a chacter! Excellent.

I must get your research particular the one on emotion.

So glad you could be with us today!

Paula Mowery said...

Always have my Emotion Thesaurus nearby! Love it.

Kelly Goshorn said...

Great post, Angela! Like Paula, my Emotion Thesaurus is a staple on my desk. My son borrowed my copy so often I bought him his own last year! I'll definitely be putting the others on my Christmas list!

CatMom said...

Stopping back in to place a warm Georgia Peach Cobbler on the table - - with birthday napkins and balloons.....because tomorrow is

And since comments are closed on Fridays, I wanted to get an early start in wishing
Miss T a wonderful birthday!!

Hugs, Patti Jo (A Big TINA RADCLIFFE Fan) :)

Tina Radcliffe said...

Patti Jo. When you are old you start counting backwards!

Debby Giusti said...

Happy Birthday, Tina!!!

Are there candles on the cobbler, Patti Jo? Love the balloons and party napkins.

Hope your birthday is delightful in every way, Tina, dear!!! Eat chocolate, enjoy specialty coffee drinks and pamper yourself with whatever makes you smile. :)

Hugs and love!

Angela Ackerman said...

Rhonda, thank you! If you struggle with settings, the teaching content in both volumes will really help. lots of people shy away from description because they worry about the pacing, but if your setting description always has a purpose, and sometimes does several things at once, like show emotion, set the mood, characterize, etc., it makes every work work hard and be meaningful. :) It's so much more than just giving readers description so there's a sense of place, you know?

May, we love lurkers. I have been known to lurk!

Cynthia, welcome aboard! I don't send out a lot of newsletters, but they always have value when they do come. :)

Nicky, ROTF. I think people get excited because our books are not exactly books. They are these strange hybrids, but hopefully helpful. :)

Laura, enjoy your grandkids!

Tina, I think people who feel the same tend to find one another somehow and somewhere. That's why I like this place so much. :) And OMG, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!

Crystal, that's very cool that you're weaving in a real event. I think something magical happens in storytelling when things come from a place of truth. That might be a setting we know intimately, a belief we have that we give the character, or a backstory that is actually our own, or something else. But readers feel it's something special.

CatMom, you have made my day. I love hearing that our books are marked up, corners folded, coffee stained, and bedazzled by post its! That's the best compliment you can give! :)

Debby I hope you got some good words in. :)

Paula, it loves you back :)

Kelly, that is awesome! I love it when writing is in the family.

Renee McBride said...

Happy Birthday, Tina!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Dear Angela, Thanks so much for joining us today. What a great day you had. Really found your post interesting and informative.

Thanks again and have a great week.

Janet Kerr said...

Great post, Angela
I have been ignoring setting. This gives me information to work on.
Thank you.

Jeanette Hill said...

Wow! This has explained a lot for me. Being a playwright who is new to writing novellas I struggle with using description and setting a lot. This has given me so many new ideas on using the setting as a character....the back room at Shorty's Bar and Grill. The hundred year old church. This is like taking a mini writing course! I will be putting this to great use today. Thank you!

Rebecca McLafferty said...

This was a great lesson. Thank you so much! Obstacles are such fun, especially when they're unexpected because of something in the surrounding environment. Love it!!

Angela Ackerman said...

Sandra, thank you and everyone for the warm welcome and for geeking out with me over setting for the day. :)

@Janet, very glad this will help!

@Jeanette, so glad this was helpful.

@Rebecca I love using obstacles within the character's location too--especially ones that aren't the "usual suspects" but totally fit and so are a nice surprise and great roadblock to overcome!

Happyw riting everyone!

Adam Nicholes said...

As a new author spreading his proverbial wings I appreciate your advice on utilizing settings to create the mood and tension in my stories. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

Angela Ackerman said...

Happy to help, Adam!