Monday, March 27, 2023

How To Discover Your Character’s Flaw To Create Strong Story


Photo Credit: / darksouls1

Why does your character need a flaw?

The more you can humanize your character, the better your reader can relate to them, which deepens your reader's connection to the entire story.  

When you can take this flaw and tie it into the core TRUTH of your story, it will grab them and keep them reading to find out what happens next. 

The best part is that flaw your character has helps generate meaningful conflict for the story, and helps you push past bumps or moments of being stuck. 

Flaws can be misbeliefs or lies the character holds about themselves or others. Maybe your character grew up in the foster system and believes themselves unlovable.  

This makes them feel unlovable and unwanted.  

  • They might spend their whole lives trying to prove themselves worthy or lovable. Every choice they make, even the simplest, can affect every action and motivation derived from the flaw to drive the story or create active conflict. 

  • Maybe they pick the wrong people to involve themselves with and get in trouble proving that point to themselves over and over, and this leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy.  When, in fact, it is their unwise choices or negative perspective of life that create these situations. 

  • Or the opposite: they push away when other people  get too close, which proves to the character they are unloved and unwanted. 

This can create a nice growth ARC for your character throughout the story, and it helps generate conflict connected to the story core. 

The flaw can also help you maintain character consistency and give them internal motivation to help you create a deeper reader experience. 

A flaw might be that your character is stubborn, strong willed, and determined to do everything alone rather than ask for help. 

  • Maybe they get angry easily and are quick to judge.

  • Or perhaps a deep need to control everything stemming from a childhood trauma, which puts their relationships, job, or mission in jeopardy. 

This character flaw carries the story arc for the character, teaching them the lesson they need to learn, which is to work as a team, and/or to trust others to succeed.  

I just saw a good example of a story flaw (which is a disability) on a TV series, The Good Doctor, season six, episode 16: The Good Lawyer. 

She has a disorder called OCD. She freezes up sometimes in crucial situations, for example, a sound or something else that doesn't go in cycles of three. It totally debilitates her, causing her angst or hardship. 

They linked this disability to a childhood trauma and fear, even though the character knows it is not totally rational. It affects her behaviors, choices, and shapes the life she is currently living.    

How knowing this can help?

Knowing the flaw can create strong motivation and internal conflict for your character. This causes them to act out their choices by taking action, which can create external conflict and situations tied to the flaw or misbelief. 

In the example above for the OCD lawyer, why did the character want to overcome her flaw?  She wanted to be normal and a trial lawyer.  She wanted to be a lawyer, not just a researcher for lawyers. 

Another way to find the flaw is through the theme. 

A novel can have many themes throughout the tale, but there is only one through-theme that drives the story to the end. That through-theme can be represented in your character’s growth arc.  

Finding the character theme is simply the way the theme affects your character at the beginning of the story vs who they become by the end of the story.  

What is the story theme?

Abby Emmons says, “The theme is universal, and the theme means truth.” Here is a great video about the theme. 

Google and Oxford Languages: Theme noun

  • 1. the subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person's thoughts, or an exhibition; a topic.
    "the theme of the sermon was reverence"

Theme examples from NFI.EDU: 

  • Love

  • Death

  • Good vs Evil

  • Revenge

  • Survival

  • Prejudice

You will want to break these down into components. Figure out why they are meaningful to your character, how they shaped your character and motivate your character. (Check Abby Emmons' video linked below in the next section to learn more.)

Connect your character's deep need or desire to a theme, and then flip it on its head to show the polar opposite. You can use it to show drive and motivation through choices and false beliefs about their world or other people. 

In the OCD example, the character’s deep need was to help people.  She was a trial lawyer because a lawyer helped her as a child, but because she has OCD, she thought she could never do that, so settled for being a researcher for trial lawyers. 

In the beginning, the choices she made were around avoiding people and she focused on research. However, this left her frustrated, until she acted despite her flaw, and it became her strength which made her a better trial lawyer with a unique perspective.  

A tip for finding the flaw. 

Abby Emmons says, “Flip the theme to find your character's flaw. Look at your story's truth via the main theme, flip it, and make it a LIE.”  More in this video about why. (More study related video ref: Enneagram.)

We can sometimes use tropes and cliches in the same way as themes to find the flaw.  

Example tropes: 

  • The Chosen One: FLIPPED: The character is the chosen one, but doesn’t believe or know it, or just shows up as an unlikely hero/heroine. We often see this trope in fantasy. 

  • The Girl Next Door: The girl next door does not believe the boy she is crushing on would look at someone like her.  Because she sees herself as ugly, overweight, or wears glasses or something, she thinks, makes her not attractive enough.  In reality, it is a confidence thing—her character flaw is low self-esteem.  All this connects back to the theme and drive within a story often seen in romance or women’s fiction. 

Example cliches: 

  • Too Good To Be True–The Jaded One. Things are too good to be true, so they do not accept the love that is offered or friendship, or they create conflict via mistrust and being difficult to deal with. We might also consider this a trope or theme. 

  • A Loose Cannon. The character might have anger issues that cause them problems and embarrassing situations. Or maybe they are too impulsive which causes them to act without thinking, putting them into dangerous situations, or shows a lack of good judgment. These things can also be a character arc connected to the theme. 


Understanding your character's flaw and how it connects to your main truth or theme, can help build stronger characters and stories. Knowing that connection helps you leverage conflict and story arc to drive the story through to the end and keep the reader engaged.  

Monday, March 20, 2023

7 Ways to Rekindle Your Enthusiasm/Regain Your Motivation for Your WIP (and fall in love with your novel again) by Derek Murphy

Writing a book follows a similar pattern: joyful exhuberation at the initial prospect followed by soul-crushing despair as the work becomes overwhelming.

It’s a little like digging out a buried city with a small shovel.

You get a small thrill with each precious, hard-won detail, but it isn’t enough to sustain the many empty days of difficult progress. Especially when you begin to sense just how much work lies buried beneath the surface and calculate how much time it’s going to take to finish everything up before you publish.

So here are 7 very important things to keep in mind when working your novel that might help you rekindle your enthusiasm.

1. This is normal.

I see tons of comments by new insecure writers when they first discover that writing is difficult. It started as fun and easy. It used to be pleasurable. They’ve written short stories. Everybody always told them they were a great writer. But now they find a book is just not as fun and easy as they had assumed; and doesn’t give them the same easy frivolous joy that writing short stories used to.

This is normal. There’s nothing wrong with you, or your book.

Finding the motivation to sustain long-term efforts is *always* a problem for the vast majority of writers, even those with experience. Negative feelings will sabotage your motivation if you let them, but only if your writing depends on a false positivity. Most new authors have more enthusiasm, because they have unrealistic expectations of their own greatness that have yet to be checked by marketing conditions. The more you write, the more critical you will become of your own work, and this is normal, too.

2. The soggy middle

Another thing that tends to happen when authors “run out of steam” is that they are mired somewhere in the middle of their story and they know it feels weak and flimsy. This is mostly due to the majority of plotting guides based on a 3-act structure, that don’t give enough structure for the middle sections. I tried to help with that by making a detailed 24 chapter outline, but even a simple 9 point plotdot can help you find the momentum in your story.

On a smaller level, you probably have a lot of great characters or background or scene descriptions, but maybe you don’t have much plot. Dramatic story thrives on conflict, so you need to lessen the information and focus on the conflict – this doesn’t just mean action scenes however. Intrigue is the absence of information, so you can create conflict simply by withholding your explanations or infodumps until much later, when they become relevant.

In my experience, those weak, filler scenes where nothing much seems to be happening, are actually the critical stages of a novel because they allow characters to develop relationships and have some low-stakes fun that demonstrates the world is worth saving. However, these scenes often feel insecure, empty and vapid in the first few rough drafts, and they only really start to shine in the very late editing stages when you know everything that happens and start beefing up the intrigue, conflict and subtle emotions. Even so, try to keep in mind that each scene should be building towards one thing that happens.

One change, one reveal, one thought, whisper, conversation, attack… something new and unexpected. 

TLDR: you may lose enthusiasm because you feel like your story sucks, or don’t know what happens next. The solutions are: going back and using a plotting template to tighten your narrative threads; and/or adding in conflict and intrigue by making sure that something happens and you aren’t slowing down the momentum by giving away too much information. All (important) information needs to be withheld, fought for or sought out. It needs to resist attempts to capture it. Similarly, you can add conflict simply by setting a prohibition or conditions against whatever your characters are about to do next. Each next goal should include challenges or obstacles.

3. Editing woes

Another thing that is always more frustrating than it should be, is editing and revision. I tend to write 3000 words an hour, if I’m lucky… but I can only do that once per day and my brain is fried. Still, writing can seem fun and effortless, because you’re *in* the story in your head and seeing it play out.When you finish a rough draft, you will feel like celebrating – it’s so exciting to have finally finished! But then you realize, revisions are going to take a long time. I can do detailed line edits at about 3000 words an hour as well: so it takes as long to edit as it does to write. But that’s actually only one pass, and my books go through as many as seven rounds of editing before all the pieces start to line up.This slow progress can feel like a huge waste of time, when you just want to get the book out there. Especially if you have a deadline or you’re eager to start working on the next creative project (this why many authors skip around and never finish what they start.

This is easier, if you start with a strong outline, but only a little: and I know some pansters who can just write a great draft quickly and send it off to a proofreader and be done with it. You’ll probably find yourself somewhere in the middle. Plotting isn’t the only way to write a strong novel, but it can shave time off the revision process.

4. Writing habits and rituals

This is a huge topic, but motivation and discipline can be helped by familiarity. It takes at least 20 days (some people say) to form a habit. So if you’re attempting Nanowrimo, for example, you can’t expect to have 30 great writing days when most of the month is only about getting comfortable with the habit. I suggest you start in October and try only to establish a daily writing habit so you can actually write good material for Nanowrimo.

Find a time and a space. Set a timer and commit. Figure out how your brain works. For edits, I need my desktop, but for drafting/sprinting, I do better relaxed on the couch with netflix or youtube (music) in the background and a simple bluetooth keyboard and the AI writer app; or something like the travel writer or alphasmart (simple keyboards that only allow you to see a few lines at a time). You can even try closing your eyes. You want to get away from the editor, big picture brain, and vividly see the scene in your mind. Personally I can’t write it until I’ve seen it.

Also keep an eye on your diet and mood. You need a specific relaxed, creative focus – lots of coffee might not be the best thing, but maybe green tea or matcha instead. You can even reward yourself with fancy drinks or treats to honor your writing time.Try to find the emotion

This might change depending on the scene you’re writing, but try to find music or youtube videos that get you to feel the right feelings; happy, hopeful, tragic, sad etc. Sometimes a great piece of art is enough. I’ve been having a lot of fun with AI tools for character creation and scene design; because I can play around until I get a compelling image and that activity will leave me inspired and determined to write the story.

6. Realistic expectations

This one is tricky; a lot of my big-earning author friends are fans of “the secret” or positive manifestation – seeing yourself being rich and successful. And that can definitely work, to give you confidence and enthusiasm to keep doing the work.

But it’s also the reason a lot of authors fail: they depend on their positive thinking to the exclusion of their market or audience. In other words, they don’t consider their genre, the common cliches or tropes readers love and expect, and write something vaguely novel shaped that doesn’t read well.

Craft is a learnable skill, but only if you intend to get better – and objective quality depends on market reception. If you believe you’ll sell a million copies (magical thinking) and then can’t even sell a dozen to friends and family, the dissonance can be destroying to your confidence.

You do want to stay positive and think big, but you also want it to be grounded and realistic. I know that my novels are kind of good enough and fit well enough in the right genres; and I have hundreds of reviews that let me know readers are enjoying them. But that doesn’t mean they’ll sell well, without the right covers, blurb and marketing. Even having one perfect book isn’t enough, because you might not break even on adspend until you complete a whole series, boxset and audiobooks.

I’ve been writing fiction for six years without much success (sure I sold 100K+ copies but not much of that is actual profit) – but I’m also pretty confident things will escalate quickly once the work is done and I hone all my materials and can advertise profitably.

7. Practice in public

This one is a bit weird, since a lot of authors will tell you, don’t share too early or don’t listen to the marketplace. And it’s true you shouldn’t allow the will of the majority to dictate your creative expression… but it’s rewarding to share little pieces of success as you go along, to start building traction and test out ideas. That could be as simple as sharing AI art or characters you’ve made; short excerpts or teasers; early reviews or feedback; anything you’re excited about. Create or find a space you can share these things. But don’t get too hung up when you feel frustrated.

I believe most creative fear is based on two concerns:

Value (does anyone want this?)

Quality (is it good enough?)

The first you can alleviate with research, and by making sure not only the story premise is interesting to readers, but also that your book’s structure conforms to the core basics of storytelling (regardless of the genre, there’s a certain way to write books that keeps readers reading, and most authors don’t find it). The second, isn’t as important as you think on the surface. The writing quality as in the sentence structure or word choice, won’t actually make a huge difference in sales or reader enjoyment. Sure it should be clean, but the words don’t matter as much as you think they do. The story matters, and the structure of that story in a way that unfolds and keeps intrigue, so readers continue reading to find out what happens next.

So that’s it: seven simple tips to regain your enthusiasm. But I’ll leave you with a final tip: writing can be exhausting. It’s the most challenging thing I know how to do. I could work for twelve straight hours on something easier, but two hours of writing or editing and I’m brain dead. In other words, writing a book drains your brain-battery MUCH faster than anything else; sucking up your serotonin and other neurotransmitters can cause happiness and satisfaction. So it’s normal you will feel bad about yourself and your writing, just about all of the time. Make sure you give yourself at least equal time to rest and relax. Also, willpower is a finite, limited resource. If it takes you all day of procrastination and feels like a huge hurdle to just start working, you’re burning up all your energy on the wrong thing. This is where habits can really help. Once you form a habit or process, some of those things may become automatic.

For example: put on a certain feel-good song, light a scented candle, dim the lights, put on your lucky thinking cap, use a special dish for your snacks or a special mug for your coffee. Surround yourself with an armor of pleasant things you treasure, that make you feel good.

Derek Murphy Author

Find out more about Derek at

You can see a video of this article here:

Monday, March 13, 2023

Between Writing The End and Those Reviews

The writing has kept you actively engaged for weeks, months, years. You've created a great manuscript.

Now, you get to wait to hear from those beta readers, to hear from your editor, and if you're going traditional, you have the added joy of perhaps waiting to hear from your agent, then the publisher, then the public who will weigh in on your book with reviews. 

If you're an Indie, then you have a very full plate, and you have to shift gears from creating a story you love to selling it.

In my case, no matter if I'm going traditional or doing it myself, this period also involves a touch of angst. My coping strategy involves two things: lots more exercise, like upping my walking and yoga and anything that keeps me moving. Then I plunge into another writing project, or I double down on my promo strategy, which, of course, I've forgotten from the last time, but that's another post.

Shattered was my last book, and I've done exactly what I've described. I'm now at the part of this process where I'm knuckling down and starting another project, so the cycle is complete...until the next time.  


Shattered by C. Lee McKenzie

I thought that I'd find out how other authors managed this time between finishing a story and reading the reviews, so I asked a few. Here's what they said in order of their responses.

L. Diane Wolfe

Since I’m also the senior editor at Dancing Lemur Press, that between time is spent focusing on our other book projects. (And sometimes my own.) I’ll focus on ads-badges-covers, promo, getting reviews or reviewers, setting up book tours, etc.—I cope by keeping very busy.

In Darkness the Vampire by L. Diane Wolfe

Alex J. Cavanaugh

I’m not one of those authors with multiple manuscripts in the works, so I rarely write anything in between. Instead I focus on my music (I play guitar in a Christian band). Once the manuscript hits my publisher and starts going through the steps, I start looking at ways to promote it.

Cassa Dark by Alex Cavanaugh

Yvonne Ventresca

After each major writing project, I take time to reorganize before beginning a new one. This means clearing out files I no longer need, categorizing the info I’ll keep (character notes, setting research, etc.), cleaning my desk, and reviewing next goals. Resetting this way between books provides a mental break and helps me to stay productive and organized.

Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca

Having a book at the publisher usually means having unstructured time while I wait for edits or formatting, and have nothing essential to do, except plan my marketing activities, and begin to work on the next project. Thankfully, my critique group demands some writing every week, which makes me produce new words.
Planning marketing means looking at what I did to promote an earlier book and adapting it for the current one. Doing that brings me peace of mind, as does keeping extensive to-do lists. I add every little thing, just for the joy of crossing them off! 

A Beginner's Guide to Starting Over by Gabi Coatsworth

In my case, there’s hardly been any downtime between books these days because I tend to work on multiple projects at once, at different stages of their life cycle.  
I’m forever dreaming up new characters, so by the time a novel reaches the copyedit stage, I’m beginning the threads of another, working on outlines and pre-writing. I’m also working on the marketing of the one that went before---trying my best not to let my platform go to sleep. By the time reviews trickle in, I can look at them from deep within the creative cocoon of another project.

The Blue Bar by Damyanti Biswas

Monday, March 6, 2023

The Most Common Writing Mistakes Agents and Editors See by Mary Kole

Writing can be a daunting task, and when you’re writing creatively, it can seem even more overwhelming. That is your baby on the line, and you have hopes and dreams for it. But you’re also not exactly privy to what everyone else is writing or doing with their work outside of your critique group. So how do you know whether you’re turning out fresh and engaging prose … or stumbling into familiar potholes on your journey to publication?

As an editor, I see many of the same problems again and again. From plot issues and character development problems to more mundane (yet important) elements of writing, there are some mistakes that appear all the time. If you can avoid these issues—or at least be aware of them—you will be better off as you work toward your publishing goals. 

Mary Kole
Mary Kole

Grammar and Punctuation Errors

This is perhaps one of the most common issues that agents and editors have to deal with. You would think it wouldn’t be an issue at the submission level, but you would be wrong! Poor grammar and incorrect punctuation can take away from the flow of your piece and confuse your reader. To avoid this issue, always double-check your work for any errors before submitting it for editing or publication. Additionally, read your work aloud as if you were speaking it—this will help you identify any awkward phrasing or poor sentence structure that needs to be addressed. (This is especially true for picture books and other work for intended for young readers.) The good news is that a lot of AI-assisted tools like Grammarly exist to point basic errors out to you. That being said, a writing aid won’t catch everything. A word could be spelled correctly but used incorrectly so you need to apply a careful eye and some common sense, even when you don’t see any squiggly lines. (The robots aren’t coming for writers’ jobs just yet!)

Passive or Flat Characters

Characters are so important to story, and writers often feel like they know their protagonists and other fictional people well. But you want to make sure that the character is doing something in the story, not just being witty or a thinly veiled analogue for you, the writer. The first step to creating compelling characters is to define what they want and why they want it. What are their goals? Why do they feel driven to achieve them? It’s important to make sure that these goals are relevant to your story, or else readers won’t care about the character or whether they succeed. For example, if a character wants to save his family from an alien invasion but he doesn't show any real attachment or connection to his family throughout the story, then readers won't be able to invest in his goal.

You may have heard of passive characters, and this means characters who don’t really drive the action forward. The way to avoid this pitfall is to give your protagonist (and the other characters, to a degree) agency and power over their own decisions and actions. This will help create a sense that the characters have some kind of control over their destiny—even if things don't go as planned—instead of leaving them helplessly adrift in a sea of fate and circumstance. 

Giving your characters purpose, autonomy, and a proactive outlook will also help develop tension and suspense within your narrative. Readers will become invested in each decision your characters make and how it will affect their outcome.

Muddled Plot

Another common issue that agents and editors encounter is weak plot structure. For every scene in your story, ask, “How does my plot move forward? What purpose does this element serve?” You need to keep the story moving, also. For many readers, getting lost in the story is one of their favorite aspects of reading. However, if you give them too much information at once or don't provide enough context for them to understand what's going on, they will quickly lose interest. Same for stories that are all information and no action. Make sure all plot points are clearly laid out and easy for readers to follow. This brings us back to character, and to needing those distinct motivations for each action. This is the glue that binds character and plot together.

No great story has ever been told without conflict or challenges for its protagonist or protagonists to overcome. Without meaningful obstacles standing between them and their goals, there is no tension or drama. Make sure that there are plenty of opportunities for your protagonists (and antagonists) to face problems head-on throughout your story so that readers remain engaged. A good rule of thumb when writing a novel or screenplay is “no problem, no progress.” In other words, if there’s not a problem standing in someone's way, then nothing happens. Go back to your character’s objective and motivation. Can they do anything to proactively pursue their goal at the moment? If not, it’s either the wrong goal or the wrong moment to include. Go back to the drawing board.

Ineffective Dialogue

All of these building blocks of story are carried on a river of language. But it’s not necessarily the beautiful, descriptive language that writers tend to imagine when they sit down to be Wordsmiths With a Capital W. Actually, dialogue does a lot of the action for you when it comes down to scene and story. (Dialogue also helps a lot with pacing, or the reader’s perception of how quickly the story is moving.)

Dialogue should sound natural—not stilted or contrived—and should always move the action forward while revealing character traits and motivations along the way. Each character should always enter a scene and bout of dialogue with a goal that is either met or stymied. Then the character must adjust their approach or goal once the scene ends. With this new understanding, they must enter the next scene, with either the same character or some new ones. And just like this, block by block, you construct your plot in a way that deeply matters to your character and their goal.

No matter how experienced you are as a writer, there is always room for improvement when it comes to creative writing pieces! By taking steps such as double-checking for grammar errors and ensuring that each element of your story—such as plot structure and character development—is fully fleshed out, you will avoid some of these common pitfalls of manuscript writing. If you take the time to work on your craft, you will stand out in the slush (or entice indie readers) for all the right reasons.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

It's That Time Again!! IWSG Posting Day

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the March 1 posting of the IWSG are Diedre Knight, Tonya Drecker, Bish Denham, Olga Godim, and JQ Rose!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Remember, the question is optional!

March 1 question - Have you ever read a line in novel or a clever plot twist that caused you to have author envy?
All the time! Too often to count. But behind that envy is respect that humbles me. It shames me for all the times I have torn through a manuscript with more concern for hitting a deadline than making a story as good as I can make it. Not to say that I could ever match one of those greats, but it inspires they inspire me to try.