Balancing Conflict in Romance Stories

by Jami Gold on January 22, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Surfboarder balancing on a wave with text: Balancing Conflict in Romance

Last summer I attended a great presentation at the RWA National conference on the nature of conflict in romance stories. NYT bestselling author Sarah MacLean gave a workshop called “Mastering Conflict,” and I meant to do a post about the workshop but forgot in the chaos of post-conference time.

I was reminded of Sarah’s presentation when one of my commenters asked a great question related to a post last week. In the comments of my post about using characters’ needs and goals to appeal to readers, Sam Blankenburg asked:

“So, in a romance story, does it make sense that the couple’s needs are the same (or very similar) although their goals may be different? …which would make them ideal together, right, because they’d each fulfill the other’s need?”

That’s a great question because it gets to the heart of the balancing game we have to play when writing romance. The characters have to be perfect enough for each other to make a believable couple, but there also has to be enough conflict between them to sustain a story.

In This Corner…Not Enough Conflict

One pitfall in romance writing is so common that it’s been given its own name: The Big Mis—otherwise known as The Big Misunderstanding. We see this pitfall in stories where the only source of conflict between the characters is that they don’t sit down and talk through whatever misunderstanding they have about each other.

We need more conflict keeping the couple apart than just “she thinks he doesn’t like her” and vice versa. At the very least, the story needs tangible reasons these two aren’t simply comparing notes and discovering their true love on page 11. Their families are enemies, their goals are incompatible (developer and environmentalist, etc.), they’re from different “worlds” (noble and commoner, etc.), and so on. They should be antagonists to each other.

In some romance subgenres, readers expect even more conflict. Romantic suspense often includes a physical threat that the hero and heroine* have to avoid. Paranormal romance often includes a threat from a more powerful enemy. Without those elements, stories in those subgenres might feel too light or fluffy for many readers.

* or whatever combination the relationship entails

And in This Corner…Implausible Couples

On the other hand, some stories include so much conflict that we don’t see why these couples are together. Their relationship doesn’t seem to have any basis for existing. Sure, the author might write them a happy ending, but without something to show them as a good couple together, the ending feels forced and unrealistic.

I’ve written before about the elements that make a relationship believable. These elements indicate compatibility in some way: sense of humor, interests, respect, trust, chemistry, communication, etc.

Or as Michael Hauge teaches, characters should fall in love not because the plot needs them to, but because the other character sees their true essence and loves them for who they really are. Without at least some of those elements, readers won’t believe in the Happily For Now, much less the Happily Ever After.

The Balancing Act

So for a great romance story, we have show how these characters are perfect for each other and how they overcome real obstacles to be together, selflessly sacrificing for each other. There are a couple of tricks we can use in our story to make this balancing act come together.

Technique #1: They Fulfill Each Other’s Needs

Getting back to my commenter’s question, Sam came up with one answer already. The key is not so much that the characters have the same (or similar) needs, but that the characters fulfill each other’s needs.

From my earlier post about goals and needs, I linked to a site with a great list of 10 basic human needs:

  • Physical: air, water, food, and sleep
  • Security: shelter, cleanliness, safety, and control over our situation
  • Attention: both to give and to receive, to feel special or noticed
  • Autonomy: independence, control over our life and choices
  • Emotional Intimacy: emotional and physical closeness, acceptance
  • Sense of Belonging: shared perceptions, identification, support
  • Alone Time: opportunity to process thoughts and reflect
  • Achievement: competence, feeling good at something
  • Status: validation, feeling valuable to others
  • Purpose: spiritual needs, search for meaning, understanding, or growth

Many of those needs come into play in a relationship. For example, one character might need a sense of security, and the other might need acceptance (intimacy).

Obviously, these are two very different needs. However, a good relationship is not about the needs being the same, but about whether the other person can deliver. As long as person B could give A acceptance, and person A could give B security, the relationship can work and feel believable.

Tip: This technique can be used to make a relationship work, even with “too much” conflict.

Technique #2: Conflict Is Both the Cause and the Cure

Sarah MacLean’s RWA presentation (link is to the slides of her workshop) dug even deeper into this concept. She talked about how conflict must both drive the hero and heroine together and break them apart.

Whatever the hero and heroine want, the process of getting what they want must involve the other. At the same time, the hero and heroine must be blocking the other’s internal or external desires.

She suggested that we think of what the hero and heroine need, and then think of how the other character is the only one who can deliver that to them. This works even if the characters think they need something other than what they really need.

For example, in one of my stories, the heroine thinks she needs to be noticed (attention), and the conflict that drives the story makes the hero notice her. However, what she really needs is to feel valuable (status) and loved (intimacy), which again, the hero can deliver on some level, but in ways that come with even more conflict baggage. It’s only when they’ve worked past their issues and made sacrifices for each other that her needs are fully met.

Tip: This technique can be used with any situation, too much or too little conflict.

Technique #3: Intimacy and Essence

A character’s essence is who they have the potential to become. Their emotional armor is the mask they wear to prevent others (and sometimes themselves) from seeing what’s real.

In our stories, we can tie intimacy and essence together to show how a couple would be good together no matter how much conflict we throw them into. In other words, even when the conflict looks too impossible to overcome, we can still give the characters (and readers) the motivation to want the relationship to work.

As I talked about in one of my Michael Hauge posts:

  • The characters should become closer (intimacy/love scene/etc.) after they’ve taken an emotional risk—unwittingly showing their essence.
  • The characters should have more conflicts and fights after they’ve retreated behind their armor.

We can use my Romance Planning Beat Sheet to plan these steps forward and back in our plot.

Tip: This technique can be used with any situation, too much or too little conflict.

Some combination of those three techniques should make our couples seem ideal for each other, even when the conflict gets in the way. It’s far better to write a story with seemingly too much conflict than to write a story without enough conflict.

In a romance, we want the couple to have to work for it. It’s by seeing their effort and determination that we’ll really believe that they’ll be able to maintain their happily ever after. *smile*

Do you struggle with writing conflict? Do you usually have too much conflict or not enough? Have you used all these techniques before or just some? Which technique applies best to your stories? Do you have any other tips to share?

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What Milestones Do You Watch for?

by Jami Gold on January 20, 2015

in News

Badge for 100 Best Websites for Writers: Award 2015

As we go through life, we often struggle to recognize our progress. That’s especially the case when life feels like a giant treadmill that goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing. Milestones are one way for us to mark our progress, and they’re also great for reminding us to stop and celebrate the little (or sometimes, not so little) things.

Writers might recognize their first finished draft, first query sent, first contest final, first offer of representation, etc. Published authors might recognize their debut release, first royalty check, reaching a bestseller list, etc. Bloggers might recognize their 100th post, anniversary of their blog, 10,000th visitor, etc.

I passed one of those milestones yesterday with my blog. The Write Life recognized my blog in their “The 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2015″ post. Yay!

My blog has appeared on various lists before, such as Molly Greene’s “Best Websites for Self-Published Authors,” but this is the first time I’ve been on an “official” list—with a badge and everything. *grin*

So thank you to all of you who make blogging worthwhile. I appreciate the opportunity to support other writers in this journey, and I hope I’ve been helpful along the way.

I apologize that I don’t have a big post today (deadlines have been crushing me, and I’m working on so little sleep that I’m barely coherent), but I wanted to share my thanks and see what milestones matter to you.

We’ve been talking a lot about goals lately, and some of our milestones might be related to our goals. But other milestones we watch for might be out of our control.

In other words, some milestones might not make good goals because we can’t force them to happen, but we still hope they come to pass (and celebrate when they do). Candidates in this category might be things like selling so-and-so number of books or earning such-and-such from our writing.

It’s good to have a mix of milestones that are goals and dreams. The more realistic goals can help us feel like we are accomplishing something, while the milestones that are closer to dreams or “stretch goals” can inspire us to continue and push harder.

If the only milestones we recognize are the practical, under-our-control goals, we might miss the opportunity to dream bigger. On the other hand, if the only milestones we recognize are the wistful, not-in-our-control dreams, we might fail to recognize the progress we are making.

So here’s to the unexpected milestones. May we all encounter a few of these along our journey. *smile*

Do you stop to recognize milestones? What milestones have you passed or are you looking forward to passing? Do you think a mix of goals and dreams is best for our milestone list? Have you checked out any of the “Best of…” or “Top 100…” lists for writers? Did any of your favorites make it onto The Write Life’s list?

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Cue ball lined up on billiards table with text: The Importance of Goals *and* Needs

When we first start learning about writing, we’re often faced with a whole new language. Words like “beats,” “tension,” and “conflict” take on new meaning within the writing world.

beat is no longer just an aspect of music. Tension isn’t just about your shoulders hunching with stress. And conflict isn’t just about people yelling in each other’s faces.

We struggle with other writing-related words because the meaning changes with the context. Do we mean “blurb,” as in a quote from another author to place on a cover (“Don’t miss this spellbinding tale!”—Jane Doe, Bestselling Author of Major Book)? Or do we mean “blurb,” as in the back-cover (or product) description of a book? Sometimes, only context can tell us. *smile*

Such it is with the words “needs” and “goals.” We know what those words mean outside of the writing world: Sometimes, I need to eat unhealthy amounts of chocolate, and some days, my only goal is to survive the day. See? Easy.

But once we enter the writing world, those words become infused with extra meanings related to plots and character arcs. Yet at first glance, we might not understand how those concepts differ and what that difference means for our stories.

What Is a “Goal” in Writing Terms?

In stories, “goal” can refer to story goals or to character goals. (And those may overlap.)

Story Goals

Story goals define the plot. What point, showdown, confrontation, accomplishment, etc. is the story working toward? The story—and the plot—generally builds toward the Climax, and during the story’s Climax, the protagonists will succeed or fail with that goal.

Character Goals

Character goals can be similar. But the overlap between character goals and story goals usually isn’t perfect.

For one thing, characters often have multiple goals, perhaps one for the external conflict and one for the internal conflict. Also, characters goals frequently change over the course of the story. Our characters might start off with relatively selfish goals and adopt the story goals later, maybe after they see the consequences of not taking action. Each scene should have mini-goals for our characters too, which give each scene a purpose.

Goals Are Tangible, Measurable, and Necessary

In both cases, goal refers to something tangible, something concrete, something readers can pin a finger on and think, “The protagonists win if they succeed at xyz, and they lose if they don’t.” If we don’t do a good job of establishing the goals, the story will feel adrift.

Without goals, the story will lack narrative drive, and the pacing will suffer. Without goals, the stakes won’t be clear (what consequences are they trying to avoid by accomplishing the goal?). Without goals, story events will feel random.

Story goals are often a major aspect of the feedback I provide with developmental edits. It’s shockingly easy to mislead readers to the wrong story goal because subtext often plays a part in defining these goals.

Even in published books, we’ve probably seen some stories that reach what we thought was the story goal midway through Act Two, and then we wonder “Now what?” Or we thought the story goal was one thing, only to discover that was the series goal, and so this story feels unfinished. Receiving feedback about goals is yet another way editors, beta readers, and critique partners are so important.

What Is a “Need” in Writing Terms?

In stories, “need” refers to what characters long for or what they want. Unlike goals, needs don’t have to be tangible or specifically measurable. In addition, characters don’t even have to be consciously aware of their needs.

Needs can be related to a character’s internal conflict, but they don’t have to be. Needs (or sometimes called a character’s Longing) might be as intangible as “fitting in” or “feeling worthy.” There’s no definitive measurement for success in those cases (and they might not succeed at all), and characters might not know what they want.

Like goals, needs are important for stories. But just like the needs themselves, the reasons for that importance can be a little more intangible.

Readers Relate to Characters through Their Needs

Goals are very specific to the story. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t done most of the things characters do in stories. I haven’t fought Voldemort, I haven’t faked my death, I haven’t battled zombies, etc.

But needs are more generic. We can identify with wanting to be loved, to be safe, to be respected.

In other words, we usually relate to characters through their needs more than their goals. Even in a plot-driven story, we still respect the unemotional vigilante hero’s need for justice. That’s why we care about them capturing the bad guy.

Characters’ Motivations Develop through Their Needs

In addition, those needs often drive the goalsWhy does the character decide to do xyz? Because they care, because the goal is a step toward their needs.

Going back to the vigilante hero, the hero doesn’t chase the bad guy because it’s their job. They chase the bad guy because they burn with the need for justice, and that means stopping this guy. If the hero didn’t care about justice, they wouldn’t get involved.

Stories Should Include Both Goals and Needs

A story with goals and no needs would be strictly plot-driven—to the point that readers wouldn’t necessarily care at all. Only the most cardboard cutout of characters wouldn’t have needs or longings or care about anything. (And if the character doesn’t care, why should the reader?) The plot twists and mysteries might be sharply well-written, but the story would lack any emotion.

On the other hand, a story with needs and no goals would be strictly character-driven—to the point where it feels like navel-gazing. Only the most passive characters wouldn’t have goals or be striving toward anything. The imagery and thematic metaphors might be beautifully well-written, but the story would lack a point.

Instead, the best stories will contain both goals and needs. A balance will preserve the tension and the pacing and the meaning and the emotional connection and the “so what?” factor and the… Yep, the right balance is important. *smile*

Potential Problems (and How to Fix Them)

If we receive feedback that… Or if we struggle with…

  • a protagonist who is too passive, ensure the character has a goal they’re striving toward
  • a story where nothing seems to happen or wanders aimlessly, ensure the story is building to a goal (a point)
  • a story that feels unfinished (especially in a series), ensure the story goal is clear to readers and matches the subtext
  • a character that feels forced, ensure the character’s needs support their motivation for the goal
  • a story draft that feels forced, ensure the story and character goals are clear and match what the draft is building to so far
  • a protagonist who is too generic (or lacking voice), ensure the character has identifiable and relatable needs that are driving the motivation of the goals (what do they really want? what are they struggling with?)
  • a protagonist readers can’t relate to or identify with, ensure their deeper needs—the universal ones—are hinted at in the story

Bonus Tip: Try to at least hint at the protagonist’s need in a query or back-cover blurb. Remember that readers (and agents/editors) will relate to the character’s need more than the plot in many stories.

Needs and goals are both simple enough words, but when it comes to storytelling, we have to understand all the implications of what those words mean within the writing world. Hopefully with that knowledge, we’ll be able to write stronger stories and more interesting characters that leave readers turning pages and finishing the book with satisfaction in their heart. *smile*

Do you disagree with any of the definitions here? Do you struggle with including needs more than goals in your stories or vice versa? Have you read stories where the goals or needs weren’t strong or clear enough? Do you agree with the explanation for why they’re both important? Do you have suggestions for other issues to watch for (or advice for how to balance them)?

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How Do You Handle Negativity from Others?

by Jami Gold on January 13, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Megaphone on a security fence with text: Do You Listen to Negativity?

At some point, we’re likely to run into negativity in our lives. Maybe we have a friend or relative who likes to complain—loudly—every time they go out to eat, to the point that we’re embarrassed to be seen with them. Maybe we have a boss who berates us publicly in meetings with our co-workers. Maybe we have a parent or spouse who tells us we’re not “good enough” to succeed at something.

It sucks. And quite frankly, it can be a form of emotional abuse.

Unfortunately, we’re likely to run into negativity in our writer-lives as well. Feedback might be filled with cruel “give up” put-downs. We might be attacked by internet trolls. Reviews might rip apart us, personally, instead of focusing on our book.

That kind of negativity sucks too. And I don’t think anyone would blame us for trying to avoid it as much as possible.

So the question then becomes, how do we want to avoid it? What are we willing to do? What’s our personal policy for how to handle negativity from others?

Negativity Surrounds Us—Now What?

It’s near impossible to avoid all negativity. Most sources of news focus exclusively on the bad, and we often can’t completely check out from current events and all connections to family, friends, or social media.

At the same time, the internet has created more paths to negativity:

  • “Don’t discuss religion or politics” has often been advice for getting along with others—and many ignore that advice on social media.
  • Worldwide social media can lead to more culture clashes.
  • Social media and blogs and comments have given everyone a voice—which leads some to feel entitled to be heard.
  • Anonymity leads some to say things they’d never say in person, or to not have to treat the name on the other end of the screen as a real person with feelings.

It’s inevitable that we’re all going to have to face negativity, so we have to decide how to handle it. Some people choose to avoid sources of negativity, whether that means not reading reviews of their books or staying off Facebook or Twitter during events that stir up negativity, and some people proclaim certain aspects of their lives safe spaces and defend them vigorously.

There’s no “always right” answer because we’re each going to have a different line of discomfort. Some hate confrontation, and some revel in it, etc.

We each have to find what we’re willing to live with, from the perspective both of how to combat and/or avoid negativity and of what we’ll put up with to maintain connections to others. Only we can make that decision.

Negativity, Opinions, and Free Speech

In the U.S., the importance of free speech is sometimes explained with a quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall (this quote is often misattributed to Voltaire, but actually comes from Evelyn’s biography of Voltaire, where she summarized his beliefs):

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Whether you believe in that or not, that quote gives us a start in examining how we might want to interact with those we disagree with, especially if they’re full of negativity:

  • Does “defending to the death” mean people should be allowed to say whatever they want, wherever they want? Or should we be able to control our own online spaces?
  • What about in public spaces? Is it okay to try to remove the platform of someone spouting views we disagree with (such as by trying to get their media platform canceled)? What if the only way to take away that platform would be to destroy their life (dragging them through the mud in every way possible)?
  • Should we always try to disagree in a respectful way? How does that affect our choices?

There are no easy answers to those questions, but I’ve often reminded myself that free speech doesn’t guarantee that anyone will care about someone’s opinions or prevent others from invoking the right to not listen. The freedom to say what we want doesn’t mean anyone is owed a platform.

Negativity Example #1: The Entitlement Problem

That attitude about not owing someone a platform goes double when we’re talking about our online spaces. Nora Roberts, mega-author of both romance and futuristic suspense stories (as J.D. Robb), posted last week on her blog about her struggle with creating a virtual positive space on her own blog and Facebook page.

No matter the conversation topic, someone will feel the need to dump negativity on Nora and her readers. When confronted, they’ll reply:

“It’s just my opinion.”

Everyone has opinions. That’s not special. Having an opinion doesn’t give anyone the right to be rude, especially in someone else’s spaces. No one is entitled to spout their negativity anywhere and everywhere. No one is entitled to be heard.

My Decision: My Blog Is Not a Platform for Others

I’ve seen this myself on my blog. About six months ago, someone started leaving comments on my older posts—disagreeing with every post topic. According to them, head-hopping is wonderful, showing is awful, both character and plot-driven stories are insipid (theoretical ideas only, please), intrusive omniscient narrators are the way to go, info dumps are to be applauded, etc.

At first I shrugged. I don’t take offense when people disagree with me. I wished this person luck with their writing and with finding an audience who appreciated their style.

But as the comments rose into the double digits (and continued over weeks and months), the comments started feeling like graffiti on my blog. I went into “maybe you should visit a different blog with advice more to your liking” mode. They didn’t take me up on my suggestion.

Finally, as the number of comments continued increasing, and as this person’s comments insulted my other commenters and my guest posters, the reality of the situation dawned on me:

Some people just want to be negative in someone else’s spaces.

I don’t have to put up with that on my blog or my Facebook wall. No one is entitled to my or my readers’ attention, and I don’t have to give it to them. So I deleted all their comments.

I didn’t put a *smile* after that line (even though I thought about it) because that decision didn’t make me happy. But the truth is that we’re allowed to create policies about negativity for ourselves and our spaces.

My blog or Facebook wall doesn’t have to be someone else’s platform for spouting their views. They’re welcome to start their own blog and create their own spaces for that.

My decision isn’t about censorship, shutting down freedom of speech, or saying someone isn’t entitled to their opinion. They’re absolutely entitled to their opinion. But their platform for sharing that opinion doesn’t have to be here.

Negativity Example #2: Opinions Are Subjective

The second issue Nora brought up in her post is that some people leaving their opinions on her spaces try to tell her how to do her job. “You should write this way.” “You shouldn’t write those kinds of stories.”

In other words, they’re full of opinions. Storytelling, thy name is subjective.

These aren’t readers pointing out factual issues (typos, historical errors, etc.). Nope, just opinions—that they are bound and determined to tell the author. They demand that the author listen to their opinions. When questioned, those posters’ defense of “It’s just my opinion” usually include a “You should learn how to take constructive criticism” tone.

To those with “constructive criticism” opinions, Nora again says:

“Bite me. … The reader is not my employer… Not welcome. Not asked for. Not accepted. … A book doesn’t come with a suggestion box, and the writer is not obliged to sculpt a story to your specific needs.”

In one of my Facebook groups, we discussed whether this response was too harsh. After all, for indie authors, the reader is the customer.

But no matter how much we respect readers, we can’t treat them as customers in a “The Customer Is Always Right” way because what some readers love, others will hate. Even if we’re not published yet, we’ve probably seen this with conflicting feedback from beta readers or critique groups.

Multiply that by thousands of readers, and we have a situation where we do have to ignore our readers’ “constructive criticism.” Just because something doesn’t work for one reader doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Opinions stated as “this thing I didn’t like means something is most definitely wrong” are inappropriate to post on an author’s blog, Facebook wall or page, etc.

Those readers can vent away in their own blogs, Goodreads groups, reviews, etc. There are plenty of reader spaces, and out of the millions of sites on the internet, they’re being asked to avoid negativity on less than a handful.

The only reason they’d seek out the author’s spaces to state their negative opinion is if they felt entitled to have their opinion heard by the author. They want to hijack the author’s spaces as a megaphone to spread their opinion.

Now, some of us might choose to listen to readers through reviews or whatnot, just to get a feel for whether there’s an issue of something not working at all. But we could seek out review sites for that information. We don’t have to invite that feedback into our spaces unless we want.

I’ve written before about how we have the right to decide how our spaces are run. We can come up with spam policies, moderation policies, commenting policies, etc. Having a negativity policy is just another way to control our spaces. We might not be able to avoid negativity everywhere, but if we think of our spaces as our online home, we get to decide who we let in the front door. *smile*

Do you try to avoid negativity, and if so, how? How do you handle those you disagree with? Do you try to prevent negativity in your spaces, and if so, how? Do you think I was wrong to delete those comments? Do you agree or disagree with Nora Roberts’ attitude toward constructive criticism from readers?

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Branding 101: What’s Your Story?

by Jami Gold on January 8, 2015

in Writing Stuff

Quilled paper snowflake with text: What Makes Us Special?

With the posts I did last week, about figuring out what went wrong and what went right last year, I mentioned that coming up with the “success” list might be harder for us. That we may feel too boring, too untalented, too full of self-doubt to come up with the good in our lives.

We often see inspirational quotes about how we’re the only one who can write our story. But sometimes we might look at that quote and think we’re not anyone special, so our story wouldn’t be anything special either.

Bah! I don’t want those negative thoughts to hold any of us back. So let’s talk about how we can discover what makes us special. Why might someone care about our stories?

Branding 101: What Is a Brand?

Yep, this is a branding thing. Sorry. *smile* However this isn’t rocket science. Remember that our brand is simply the impression others have of us.

Or as I’ve discussed before:

“Our brand is how we and our stories relate to others. Or more accurately, it’s how others relate to us and our stories.

Do our stories make our readers feel good or frustrated, enlightened or disappointed? Do our social media updates make us seem friendly or whiny, helpful or self-absorbed? Do our blog posts make us seem informal or formal, amusingly crazy or crazy-crazy?”

Before Christmas, I tweeted a link to a great post by Seth Addison that explored this idea. Here’s my favorite line from his article:

“Your brand is the relationship between you and your customer, not a logo or a product.”

Yes. Or as the keenly missed Maya Angelou said:

“People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

In other words, our brand is how we relate to others, how they relate to us, and/or how we make them feel. Long after the specifics of our words, characters, plots, stories, websites, avatars, color themes, etc. fade, people will remember how we made them feel. That’s the impression that matters.

The Steps of Building a Brand

So if we create a brand, simply by existing, how do we get the brand we want out in the world? How do we make sure that the impression we want others to have of us is the impression they get?

Eh, I’ll be honest. There are no guarantees. We don’t have the power to control others’ perceptions. But we can try to influence their impression. *smile*

Step 1: Decide Who You Want to Be

This step can be a lot like our high school years. But it’s important to make conscious decisions and not just go along with our previous self-concept:

“If we never ask ourselves who we want to be, we’re extremely likely to let our teenage self-image dictate our lives. If we thought of ourselves as a loser in high school, we’re likely to still think of ourselves that way, no matter how much we accomplish—unless we consciously recognize and create our adult self-image. …

As teenagers, we struggled to figure out who we were, but too many times, we let others dictate those labels. As adults, especially in the online world, we have more power and ability to label ourselves, but only if we make these conscious decisions.

Once we know those labels we want for ourselves, we have our brand.”

Step 2: Define Who You Want to Be

If we agree that writing down our goals helps us focus our efforts, we might see how writing down our self-definition can similarly help us focus our sense of our brand. And what is that self-definition called in the context of the writing world?

Our author tagline. *smile*

“Author taglines help make us more memorable and tell potential readers who we are and why we write what we write:

  • The Who: What overall image do we want our audience to have of us and our work? What makes us, us? How do we want to relate to our audience?
  • The Why: Why should our audience care? What benefits will they get out of paying attention to us? What will they feel or learn?”

Step 3: Be Who You Want to Be

Going back to my post about what a brand is:

“Our brand is the ultimate in “show, don’t tell.” If we want people to think we’re X or our stories are Y, we have to actually be those things.

Our brand isn’t about us, and it’s certainly not about our type fonts or colors. Our brand is about our readers, what they think and feel about us. Who we are—our attitude and our worldview—comes through in everything we do, and once we understand that, we’ll realize that we don’t have to build a brand. The only thing we have to do is show who we are.”

You—and Your Story—Are Special

Great! Maybe we’ve gone through all those steps, but we still don’t feel special. Who are we that others should listen to us?

I’m going to tell you a secret. Remember how people want to relate and feel things—not just see a faceless, emotionless brand? That means that as long as we’re passionate about something and can convey that, people will be interested because we’ve given them an answer to the “So What?” question.

Not sure what that means? Let’s relate this back to the situation where we may have multiple story ideas and need to decide which one to work on. One way we might decide is by figuring which story has a stronger “So What?” factor, which one has:

  • a stronger emotional heart,
  • a more unique premise, or
  • a more memorable, enlightening, or challenging point?

The same concept can apply to us. People will find our passion interesting if there’s a “So What?” factor.

Meaning can come from our stories themselves, but it can also come from us. Our passion, our worldview, our values, our way with words. Our story. Not just the story we write on the pages, but the story we’ve lived, the story we carry in hearts.

That’s what’s unique, that’s what drives our passion that others can relate to. That’s the genesis of the feelings we engender in others and makes us memorable. That’s what creates an impression of us.

Our “So What” Answers

So if we’re not sure what makes us special enough that others should listen to us, think about what creates the story of us. (I can’t remember the source of these great questions, but these give us a start.)

  • What do we love to do most—and why?
  • How did we make the choice to do what we’re doing?
  • If we could share only one thing with the world, what would it be?
  • What was our lowest point or greatest challenge?

Those answers will be unique for each of us. Those answers create our story. Those answers prove that we have a special passion to share with the world.

And that’s the answer to “So What?” when we doubt ourselves and whether we have anything worthwhile to say. We do have something unique to share with the world, and the story of us will come through in the passion we share in our work. *smile*

Have you ever doubted whether or not your story mattered? Have you completed all the steps of building a brand? Do you feel like you have passion to share with others? Or that you have something to say with your stories? Do you struggle with any of these aspects of branding?

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How Do You Stay Organized?

January 6, 2015 Over-Achieving Perfectionist
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With a new year, we often want to start on the right foot. We don’t want to repeat last year’s mistakes. (Let’s make new ones instead, right? *smile*) So to get and stay organized, I’d love to find a time management approach that helped me track everything.

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Happy New Year! How Can We Create More Success?

January 1, 2015 Random Musings
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Happy New Year! To concentrate on good things for the new year, let’s talk about what things worked for us and what we want to continue in the new year. We need to recognize those successes to give ourselves credit, to ensure we don’t let our good habits fade by the wayside, and so we know how to push our successes through into the new year.

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Wrapping Up the Year: What Didn’t Work?

December 30, 2014 Over-Achieving Perfectionist
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I want us all to have an even better year in 2015, so we might need to work on our weaknesses or identify what didn’t work for us this past year. What decisions, processes, or priorities held us back? The better we understand ourselves, the more likely we are to know how to succeed in the future.

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Merry Christmas! Have a Cookie…

December 25, 2014 Random Musings
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If you’re celebrating this week, I hope your plans all unfold smoothly, your travels all go safely, your family members all behave perfectly, and all your dreams for the New Year come true. Before I go offline for the holiday, I wanted to leave you with some fun (and yummy) gifts.

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You Have a Superpower—Use It!

December 23, 2014 Random Musings
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This is a crazy and chaotic time of year for many of us, and this stressful time of year can also bring out the worst in people. Luckily, we all have a superpower. We have the power to make someone else’s day better. Or at the very least, we have the power to provide a bright spot in their otherwise crappy day.

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