Writers in the Storm

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4 Story Moments that Don’t Need Conflict

by Becca Puglisi 

Conflict in every scene. 

It’s popular advice because it’s true. Conflict ratchets up the tension for readers because it makes the character’s success less likely, and readers start worrying about the hero’s ability to win. Will she find true love? Can he overcome his demons and move forward into fulfillment?

Conflict is also desirable because of the emotions it stirs. To engage readers, you have to engage their feelings, and a surefire way to do this is to threaten, humiliate, undermine, or sabotage the protagonist they’ve come to know and love. This is where emotion amplifiers can be especially useful.

Emotional Amplifiers

An emotion amplifier is a specific state or condition that influences what the character feels by disrupting their equilibrium and reducing their ability to think critically.

If you’ve done your job as the author, your character’s journey will be difficult enough. But add an amplifier like illness, pain, sensory overload, or burnout, and their situation becomes more tenuous. As the character’s volatility rises, their ability to think clearly and rationally drops. The result? Mistakes and mishaps that push them farther from their goal. And readers who feel their pain because they’ve been there and have experienced those same uncomfortable emotions.

So amplifiers are great vehicles for providing the conflict that will further your story and propel the protagonist along their character arc. Which is handy, because if every scene must have meaningful conflict, you’ll need a lot of it to get the character from Page One to The End

That being said, there are times when struggle and strife will actually get in your way. Here are 4 key story moments when it’s best to hold the conflict.

1. The Resolution Phase of a Scene or Plotline

Successful stories have a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end. The same formula applies to strong scenes.

The beginning of a scene is an opportunity to show the scene goal, the thing the character is hoping to do that moves them toward their overall objective. 

But then conflict arrives in the form of obstacles, adversaries, or dilemmas; the middle of the scene is dedicated to the wrestling match with that conflict. (This is the perfect place for amplifiers to augment tension and complications.) 

The end of the scene shows whether the character is successful in reaching their goal. Hint: most of the time, they aren’t.

A visual image of the tension in a scene might look something like this:

graphic of what story tension looks like

Tension rises as the protagonist encounters conflict that makes it more difficult to get what they want. After a prolonged climb, the tension reaches a peak before dropping off as the scene is resolved and comes to an end.

New conflict applied during the end stage would ramp things up again, delaying the resolution. But this is the time to de-escalate the situation, not fan the flames. Once you reach this point in the scene, resist the urge to add conflict and or any amplifiers.

But what about cliffhangers? you ask. Half the chapters I read end with serious conflict, high tension, and a character smack in the middle of a sticky situation.

Ah, but in this case, you’re talking about chapters, not scenes. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they’re not the same.

Scenes are the basic building blocks of a story. Every scene should follow a defined structure, and the scene is not complete until all the elements have been included. The arc above is a visual representation of that structure.

Chapters, on the other hand, are used to divide the story into manageable chunks for readers. Rather than adhering to a certain structure, the end of each chapter is arbitrarily determined by the author, a choice that depends largely on style.

A chapter might encompass a complete scene, or it might end in the middle of one. In the latter case, the chapter could end with high tension because it hasn’t yet reached the end of the scene. Ending a chapter at this point often results in a cliffhanger, and there are good reasons to do that. But conflict should be avoided at the completion of a scene, whether it coincides with the end of a chapter or not.

2. In Revelatory Moments

As characters trudge along in their growth journey, you’ll be throwing every difficult thing imaginable at them. In the beginning, they won’t respond well because they’re stuck in their old dysfunctional, ineffective habits. But as the story progresses, they’ll experience periods of introspection (often following a big event) that lead to a light-bulb revelation. They’ll realize they’ve been believing a lie, or the shielding behavior they thought was a strength is their greatest weakness and is holding them back. These moments of clarity push the protagonist to rethink their methods and make much-needed changes that help them succeed.

At times like these, characters need to be thinking clearly. If their thoughts are fogged by an amplifier like arousal, intoxication, or exhaustion, the likelihood that they’ll come to a logical conclusion is low. Save amplifiers and conflict for the events that lead to these introspective interludes and you’ll put your characters in the strongest position to become self-aware and embrace change.

3. During Zen Times

If you’re doing your job as the author, the protagonist will spend a lot of time frustrated, angry, afraid, or uncertain. Amplifiers are great for creating situations that escalate to those emotions.

But a story in which the protagonist is always emotionally activated can grow tiresome for readers. It will also lessen the character’s authenticity because they’re unable to experience a complete range of feelings.

Since amplifiers and conflict influence a character’s emotions and make them more volatile, they’re not so effective at eliciting relaxation and inner peace. When the protagonist needs to be chill, hold the conflict.

4. When a Character Can't Take Any More

Authenticity is crucial when writing realistic characters. In every way possible—their motivations, fears, flaws, strengths, quirks, and so on—characters should imitate real people. Just as we each have our own breaking points, your characters have theirs, too.

So how far is too far? This often becomes obvious during drafting. As you continue abusing the protagonist, you’ll realize you’ve crossed a line or are close to doing so. Critique partners will also let you know when things have gone on long enough. Either way, that’s the time to stop. Drive the protagonist right to their breaking point, but stop short of pushing them past it.

Conflict and tension are vital pieces to a successful story puzzle, so it’s necessary to keep turning up the heat on our characters. The moments discussed above are good examples of times when conflict and amplifiers can work against the story. Leave them in the toolbox until the right moments so they can do what they need to at the right time.

Can you think of other times in the story when conflict hinders instead of helps?

About Becca

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and other resources for writers. Her books have sold over 1 million copies and are available in multiple languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online resource for authors that's home to the Character Builder and Storyteller's Roadmap tools.

For more information on amplifiers and how they can generate conflict (and steer story structure, contribute to character growth…the list goes on!), keep an eye out for the 2nd edition of The Emotion Amplifier Thesaurus, releasing on May 13th

Writers Helping Writers

Descriptive Thesaurus Collection

One Stop For Writers


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Author Affirmations for the Editing Phase

by Julie Glover

As I write this article, I’m halfway through my developmental editor’s comments on my manuscript and making the necessary changes to help this book shine. That sounds like a great endeavor, right?

In actuality, it’s a grueling task that makes me wonder, once again, if being a toll booth operator would be more rewarding than this job.

Okay, I may be guilty of hyperbole! But editing is rarely an easy endeavor, and at some point in the process, most writers find themselves frustrated, discouraged, or overwhelmed.

I’m Good Enough…

In such moments, I could use a Stuart Smalley speaking into my ear. Don’t know who that was? Stuart Smalley was a character on Saturday Night Live played by Al Franken in the 1990s whose emotional state was always fragile but he adopted daily affirmations in an attempt to deal with his struggles. He typically ended with the affirmation: “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

For an author, it’s more about whether people will like our book, but since our selves are so wrapped up in the writing, maybe it’s spot on as it is.

In the editing phase, though, I might rework it to:

  • I’m good enough to edit this book.
  • I’m smart enough to edit this book.
  • Doggone it, people will like this book when I’m done!

Does that feel silly to you? It might, especially if you remember the Stuart Smalley character!

But affirmations have their place in life, including for us authors. We might call them something else, but we need those reminders that we can accomplish our goals, we can produce an excellent book, we will reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

Affirmations from Other Authors

How about some encouraging words from other authors who’ve been there, done that?

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” – Dr. Seuss

“I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” – Vladimir Nabokov

“Dream with your heart.
Write with your soul.
But edit with your head.”
– Jennifer Spredemann

"The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear." – E.B. White

“The first draft is black and white. Editing gives the story color.” – Emma Hill

“Let the reader find that he cannot afford to omit any line of your writing because you have omitted every word that he can spare.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Only God gets it right the first time and only a slob says, "Oh well, let it go, that's what copyeditors are for.” – Stephen King

“Let’s face it: The ‘genius’ stuff happens in the editing process. Most successful writers go through a tedious process of drafting and shaping their content to get something worth sharing.” – Jeff Goins

Affirmations You Can Use

Besides reminding yourself that editing is part of any quality author’s process, how can you find the focus and positivity needed to finish the next draft? Here are a few personal affirmations I recommend:

  • My characters deserve to have their story told.
  • I want to give the reader the kind of book I want—without plot holes or speedbumps.
  • I’ll be happy with the final version when I finish.
  • Someone out there needs to read my story.
  • I know how to write, and that includes rewriting.
  • I’ve come this far, and I can keep going until it’s a great book.

Rewards Are Affirming

Affirmations needn’t all be verbal. You can affirm yourself in the editing phase with external rewards as well.

I once motivated myself to finish a final edit on a novel by dangling a roller coaster ride as my personal reward. I was thrilled to complete the book, but the thrill of the Boardwalk Bullet in Kemah, Texas was like whipped cream on my ice cream sundae.

Some rewards that can feel affirming:

  • Watching a TV show or movie after a certain number of pages have been edited
  • Scheduling a massage for when the manuscript is done
  • A weekend getaway with your significant other or friend when the edit is complete
  • Editing outside on your back porch or another beloved setting
  • Small purchases as you hit targets or a bigger purchase when the book is finished

You surely have your own ideas on what would feel like affirmation to you! Just come up with something that reminds you that you can do this, the edit is worth it, and you’ll be happy with the effort you expended when you see the final (gorgeous) manuscript.

What affirmations during editing have worked for you, and/or what do you want to try in the future?

The best affirmation is a writer's retreat at sea! Join Cruising Writers as we sail the Caribbean from Galveston on February 22 to March 1, 2025 with special guests Mark Leslie and Erin Wright leading a deep dive into the world of self-publishing. You’ll come away with invaluable insights, but also great memories as you connect with other writers and explore charming ports of call in Roatan, Honduras; Costa Maya, Mexico; and Cozumel. Space is limited, so book your spot today. Check it out HERE.

About Julie

Julie Glover is an award-winning author of young adult and mystery fiction. Her debut Sharing Hunter placed in several contests, including the much-touted RWA® Golden Heart® YA. Her follow-up, Daring Charlotte, was released last year, and Pairing Anton is coming soon! She has also co-authored five supernatural suspense novels and two short stories in the Muse Island series under her pen name Jules Lynn.

Julie has taught conference workshops and online courses, served as a host of the Writers in the Storm blog, and is a sometimes-host for Cruising Writers, an incomparable writers’ retreat at sea.

Learn more about Julie and her books at her website: julieglover.com.

Top image credit: ©lamaip at depositphotos.com

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Writing Fast or Slow, Deep Editing is the Way to Go!

By Margie Lawson

Want to write four or more books per year?

You can still use many of my deep editing techniques!

Writing one book a year?

You can use more of my deep editing techniques!

Deep Editing

In this blog post I’ll share three of the 3749 deep edit goodies I teach writers to use. That may be hyperbole, or not.

  1. Use Power Words and Phrases
  2. Write Fresh, Avoid Overused Phrases
  3. Use Slip-ins for Backstory 

Let’s dive in!

1. Use Power Words and Phrases

These are words and phrases that carry psychological power. They carry a psychological message.

But they aren’t just active verbs. Most active verbs are not power words. They may work well, but they don’t carry a psychological message.

This Could Be Us, Kennedy Ryan, Immersion Grad, USA Today Bestseller

I turned to a random page, which was page 31. 

The power words and phrases are bolded.

I’ll show you what Kennedy Ryan COULD HAVE WRITTEN first.

We stare at each other in the awkward silence. Then Judah startles me with a soft touch over the bruise where Edward grabbed my wrist.

I snatch my arm away. 

I counted 8 power words and phrases in what Kennedy Ryan could have written.

I considered awkward and silence as separate power words. I considered Edward grabbed my wrist as one power phrase.

Here’s what Kennedy really wrote.

We stare at each other in the awkward silenceAwkward for me at least. He seems completely comfortable insulting my husband to my face. I’m still formulating an appropriate response and realizing there isn’t onewhen Judah startles me with a touch.

It’s a soft brush of long, strong fingers across my wrist. A dark bruise is already forming a small shackle whereEdward gripped me too tightly. I draw a sharp breath and snatch my arm away like his light touch was fire.

I counted 20 hits of power in that passage, compared to 8 in the tighter version.

Here’s another example from page 71.

The Set Up:  The wife is talking to her husband on the phone. He was taken to jail the night before. The FBI is accusing him of embezzling six million dollars.

What Kennedy Ryan COULD HAVE WRITTEN.

“Edward,” I whisper. “What have you done?” 

Nothing they can prove.” 

He did it. He really did it. Oh, my God. 

Bits of his lies fly around in my head. I don’t know if he’s done everything Judah accused him of, but he’s done something. Until this moment I had held out hope that it was all a misunderstanding.

I counted 10 power words and phrases.

Here’s what Kennedy Ryan really wrote:

“Edward,” I whisper. “They mentioned offshore accounts and a summer houseWhat have you done?”

Nothing they can prove.”

He did it. He really did it. Oh, my God. 

The world as I knew it falls apart yet again, bits of his lies and deceptions flying around my head, projectile, sharp, cutting at everything I believed about life, about our past. About our future. Dread gathers in my belly and slithers up my throat while the silence elongates between us. I’m rendered speechless by his arrogance, by his recklessness. I don’t know if he’s done everything Judah accused him of, but he’s done something

Until this moment I had held out hope that it was the misunderstanding he had claimed, that they had the wrong guy. But Edward’s evasivenesshis refusal to assert his innocence confirms a horrible suspicion that’s been lurking in in the back of my mind since the FBI showed up on our front porch.

I counted 39 power words and phrases in that passage.

Your numbers may be different than mine. But the real version has almost four times as many power words and phrases.

Amplification adds power by sharing more content and deepening characterization, as well as providing a chance to add more power words and phrases.

When emotions run high, amplify! 

And be sure you load up on power words and phrases when you amplify.

2. Write Fresh, Avoid Overused Phrases

Sometimes writers forget to write fresh when it comes to faces and voices and visceral responses. But fresh writing carries more interest and power than phrases readers have read hundreds of times.

See how Becky Rawnsley and Laura Drake write fresh.

Demonseer, Merlin’s Children, Book One, R. P. Rawnsely, 3 Time Immersion Grad

  • My heart stutters, and the swirling heat in my stomach goes wild.
  • His grief rips open my heart. Shock, wonder, confusion, loss, pour into the wound. 

Look at all the emotions Becky Rawnsley packed into those two short sentences.

  • A rushing sound tears through my head. And the wild magic, my dheas, my deadly, dirty secret, surges fierce and furious deep inside my belly. 

Notice the triple alliteration in that example. D’s and S’s and F’s.

  • My belly twists like I swallowed a snake.
  • The hostility in his tone, the fury in his gaze pins me down, leaves me nowhere to hide.

Dialogue cue and facial expression -- followed by sharing impact on the POV character.

BTW – I have a webinar on that topic on my website:

Game-Changing Power: Sharing Impact on the POV Character.

Amazing Gracie, Laura Drake, 4 Time Immersion Grad

  • Her lungs tightened, laboring to pull in the molten air. Panic shot down her nerves, sending her heart into overdrive.
  • Her row was called and she followed the line to the stage, her stomach jumping like it was full of crickets.
  • She’d never seen a cow shot with a bolt gun to end its life, but she now knew the look. His eyes filled with confusion, then pain, before anger swept them away. “You came here. To tell me that?” His tone was low and deep, the warning in a wolf’s growl.

A fresh, big-time amplified look. And a fresh amplified dialogue cue too. 

  • “If you don’t have any dreams, I feel sorry for you—but you’re not killing mine.” Her words had sharp points and her closed face was as firm as a rock wall. 

Fresh dialogue cue and fresh facial expression!

      3. Use Slip-ins for Backstory 

Slip in facts readers need to know. Things like setting, who’s who, your POV character’s age or age range, and how something emotionally impacts them. When needed, amplify.

Let’s look at the first paragraph of Piper Huguley’s recent release.

American Daughters: A Novel, Piper Huguley, 5-Time Immersion Grad

Chapter 1, Portia 

New Haven, Connecticut

October 1901 

The egg I had for breakfast this morning didn’t taste rotten, but these days, it was not always easy to know about the state of the food one ate because of the many ways merchants could mask spoiled food. Dear God, please don’t let me be bilious in public. I swallowed hard, harder, not wanting to draw attention or suffer the humiliation of being ill in public. I could not leave the hotel mezzanine and miss Father as he greeted the president. I sat next to some large potted palms, enjoying, for once, the feeling of invisibility, of not being seen or noticed. Of not being in the spotlight as Booker T. Washington’s only daughter.

Love those slip-ins!

She’s in a hotel mezzanine.

She’s waiting to watch her father greet the president.

She’s used to being in the spotlight and enjoying not being noticed here.

Backloaded the first paragraph -- she’s Booker T. Washington’s only daughter. 

Plus, she opened the book with a universal truth that grabs readers. None of us want to throw up in public.

Skipped a few paragraphs. President Theodore Roosevelt invited her father to dine at the White House. He’d be the first Negro to be an invited guest.

America—or better said, white America—was not yet ready, more than thirty years after the emancipation of enslaved people, to have a Negro dine openly at the White House with the president. No one, not even the horrified press, could be soothed that Father, with those gray eyes of his, had half-white heritage. His father, my grandfather, whoever he was, was whispered to have been a member of the legendary First Families of Virginia, the FFV, those white people who had settled the Virginia wilderness in the wake of Jamestown in 1619. After all, Father’s middle name was Taliaferro—an FFV name. 

The problem came from his other half, from the bloodline of the Negro cook and washerwoman known simply as Janey, my dearly beloved and adoring grandmother whom I had never met.

Piper slipped in that history in such a smooth, beautiful, empowered way.

So now, it was wonderful happenstance that the schedules of these two famous men would overlap just one week later here at Yale. I leaned forward, staring down at my father fretting with the rim of his top hat, circling it in his hands, waiting, waiting, waiting on his new friend, the president of the United States, who was due to come through there on his way to the auditorium for his speech. 

Piper oriented us to the setting again. Slipping in Yale and her father waiting for the president. She used the rhetorical device epizeuxis – waiting, waiting, waiting.

Then, the whirlwind better known as President Theodore Roosevelt walked into the lobby, surrounded by a cadre of other white men, who all had very stern looks on their faces. Father stepped out toward his friend, hand extended, and . . . 

And . . . 

And? 

And. 

The president passed my father right by without any kind of look, acknowledgment, or awareness of him as a human being.

Piper gave the readers a visual of the president ,and the white men with stern looks, and her father, hand extended. Then she used more white space power. 

Notice the punctuation after each “And.” That clever punctuation gives us insight into Portia’s changing emotions. I’ve never seen that before. Love it!

Wrapping Up 

This was just a tiny taste of my deep editing. A miniscule morsel. 

Check your WIP for power words and phrases.

Give your readers fresh writing. It’s worth using a few more brain cells.

Slip-in backstory and keep your pacing going strong.

Look for places where the emotion in the scene warrants amplification. And do it!

I shared three things that work for writers who write one or multiple books per year. There are lots more deep edit tips and techniques that work for writing fast. Check them out in my online courses and webinars.

Thank you for being here today! 

Post a comment, or say Hi, and you’ll be in a drawing for a lecture packet from me! 

About Margie

Margie Presenting

Margie Lawson left a career in psychology to focus on another passion—helping writers make their writing bestseller strong. She teaches writers how to bring emotion to the page. Hundreds of Margie grads hit bestseller lists. 

A popular international presenter, Margie's taught over 200 full day master classes in the U.S., Canada, France, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as multi-day intensives on cruise ships in the Caribbean. She’s taught over 220 5-day intensive Immersion Master Classes across the U.S. and Canada, and in France, Scotland, and seven cities in Australia too. 

She also founded Lawson Writer's Academy where you’ll find over 30 instructors teaching online courses through her website. She developed 39 webinars that share her deep editing techniques and more! To sign up for Margie’s newsletter, visit www.margielawson.com.

Check out the online classes offered by Lawson Writer’s Academy in May!

  1. Giving Your Chapters a Pulse
  2. Conspiracy Theories in History and Writing
  3. Virtues, Vices, and Plots
  4. The Fiction Writer’s Future
  5. Deep Editing, Rhetorical Devices, and More
  6. Making Endings Pop, Deep Editing Style!

Don’t miss the 39 webinars in my Dig Deep Webinar Series!

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