The Craft of Writing — November 2021
THE CRAFT OF WRITING — NOVEMBER 2021
The Conflict Thesaurus
CONFLICT! We avoid it in our personal lives, but as authors, we embrace it. And today, I am thrilled to welcome Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi to the Craft of Writing blog to talk about their new thesaurus: The Conflict Thesaurus.
For those who may not be familiar with Angela and Becca, they have produced nine thesauri to help us write our books. From the very first one, the wildly popular Emotion Thesaurus, they have provided us with the tools we need to keep our readers turning the pages.
In addition, Angela and Becca host the Writers Helping Writers website, at https://writershelpingwriters.net/
The last time they appeared on the Craft of Writing blog, we played a game where readers could test their skill at identifying a particular emotion based on description. This time, they’ve created an interactive game for you to go on an imaginary journey with the two of them. It’s called The Conflict Challenge, and your result will depend on the choices you make along the way. There’s a link in the last question of the interview to take you to the game.
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Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are writing coaches, international speakers, and co-authors of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Available in eight languages, their guides are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold 750,000 copies.
Long-time writing partners, Angela and Becca are passionate about helping others, especially writers. To this end they co-founded the popular site Writers Helping Writers, a description hub for writers and One Stop for Writers, an innovative creativity portal for one-of-a-kind tools that give writers exactly what they need to craft unbelievably rich stories and characters.
Please visit them at the sites above because they love to connect with people in the writing industry. And if you’re ready to see your writing skills take a giant leap, give the free trial at One Stop for Writers a spin.
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Welcome, Angela and Becca, and thank you for joining us!
What prompted the two of you to develop the series of thesauri?
Angela: After the response to our flagship thesaurus and book, The Emotion Thesaurus, we realized that writers needed help with more than just describing emotions. Their struggle in this area was a part of something much bigger: understanding what show-don’t-tell truly meant and how to apply it across all elements of storytelling via description.
What was the first book, and when did it come out?
Becca: The Emotion Thesaurus was actually first, and it started at our blog. When we began Writers Helping Writers (then, called The Bookshelf Muse) in 2008, we started posting about a new emotion each week, highlighting the physical cues, thoughts, and internal sensations associated with each so writers would see how to show those emotions instead of telling them to their readers. We didn’t know at the time what a universal problem the telling of emotion was; this became clear as our following grew and people began clamoring for more. Based on the response to The Emotion Thesaurus, we decided to publish it in book form in 2012. An expanded and updated 2nd edition followed in 2019.
Why did you decide to write The Conflict Thesaurus?
Angela: Our mission is to show writers how to strengthen their storytelling, and this means diving into all elements that power great fiction and showing writers how to activate them better. Conflict is a primary, must-have story ingredient because it supplies resistance. For a story to be compelling, we need problems, challenges, and adversaries (outer conflict) that force the character to fight for what they want and cause the outcome to be uncertain. We also need personal struggles (internal conflict) that provides a chance to look within at the maelstrom of fears, beliefs, needs, desires, and pain that may be shaping their decisions and actions. As they say, knowledge is power, and the character understanding themselves better and making necessary changes can be the difference between success and failure. Written well, inner and outer conflict will hold readers captive until the last page is turned.
Tell us about The Conflict Thesaurus.
Becca: The Conflict Thesaurus explores different conflict options in a variety of categories from relationship friction to no-win-scenarios to moral dilemmas and temptations. Each conflict entry looks at the minor complications, potentially disastrous results, and internal struggles that could arise in that scenario, as well as exploring possible positive outcomes and attributes that could help the character cope in the meantime. These entries are what most authors are looking for, because they offer brainstorming options and explain how each scenario could wreak havoc in the story. But we believe that the instructive front matter is just as vital, because it provides a tutorial on what conflict is, its role in a story, and how it fits into the character arc. It even provides a database of possible adversaries that can help stir the pot. So there’s a lot here for writers wanting to either find possible conflicts or learn more about this important storytelling element.
Can you give us some examples of conflict that are included in your latest book?
Angela: There are 110 different conflict scenarios represented, and each can be endlessly adapted. It’s all about finding a complication that takes things from bad to worse. Maybe a character finds themselves fending off an Unwanted Romantic Romance, or they discover they’ve Been Manipulated. Possibly they Break Something Important, Cause an Accident, or Confide in the Wrong Person. It could be they’ve been Given an Ultimatum, their Deadline Has Been Moved Up, or they are faced with a painful choice: Sacrificing One Thing for Another. Whatever the conflict, we provide ideas on what the fallout would be, everything from minor complications to an array of disastrous results. The list of scenarios we cover can be found here, along with a few sample entries that you can see as an example.
What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?
Becca: My best piece of advice is for new authors to set clear goals. For most of us, writing started out as a hobby. I think this is why so many people want to write a novel but never do: because hobbies are low on the priority list. Make your writing a priority by deciding what you want to accomplish and setting reasonable but challenging goals. This could be a daily or weekly word count or time-based goal, a deadline for finishing your first draft, a certain number of query letters you’ll send out each week, or a five-year overall goal that clearly defines what success will look like for you. Knowing what you want and setting related objectives will put you on the path to getting where you want to go.
Where can we find out more about you and your work?
Angela: We love helping writers develop their skills, and we have two powerful ways to do that: our Writers Helping Writers site where we blog about writing craft and you can find out more about our books, and then One Stop for Writers, which is a bit of a writer’s utopia as we provide all the tools, resources, and step-by-step help a storyteller will need. to plan, write, and revise their way to a best-selling book. Even better? It shortens the learning curve as just by using our tools, you grow your writing abilities.
Okay. It’s time for the game. Please tell readers about The Conflict Challenge.
Becca: This challenge puts you in the hot seat as the main character in our fun and campy story. Like the protagonists in your own books, you’ll face a series of conflict scenarios and will be given choices about how to respond. Choose poorly, and you probably won’t make it. Choose wisely, and there are prizes to be won! Here’s the premise:
You’ve been invited to join Angela and Becca on a writing retreat in Alberta, Canada. They’ve rented out all the cabins of an old summer camp that closed down ten years ago only after a single season…which is sort of odd, but this remote Rocky Mountain location with no cell reception seems like a perfect place to get some writing done. Will you accept the invitation to join them at Deadwood Falls Summer Camp?
Readers, click here to take the challenge. Don’t forget to come back and let us know how you did!
Thank you, Angela and Becca, for sharing your expertise with us!
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