How to Increase Tension in Stories Using Character Contrast


Contrast is one of my favorite buzzwords when it comes to character creation. Using opposites to force character growth and make characters stand out is one of the easiest and most effective ways of getting reader attention and making sure your story keeps moving.

Today I’ll give you an easy way to implement that in your own stories. It involves using what you already know about your characters and turning the tables to make those qualities pop.

Here’s how I often organize characterization:


The fun thing about characters is that, like people, they have layers, and a great way to create a layer is to create a clash or conflict between at least two elements of characterization.

Superheroes do this all the time. Take Superman/Clark Kent, for example:

1.) Appearance – Handsome
2.) Career/Job/What They Do – Saves the world (a lot)
3.) Personality – Strong and determined, generally introverted in most incarnations
4.) Motivation – classic Hero Archetype – because someone has to + because he can + to prove his worth
5.) Worldview/Beliefs – classic down-home American values combined with whatever he got from Krypton

In order to do achieve his goal and try to live a normal introverted life (which his personality demands) and to show humility/protect loved ones (which those down-home American values dictate), Superman has to lie about his alien identity and live as Clark Kent. This deception is totally at odds with the rest of his all-too-heroic demeanor and is often something played for humor and conflict as he sneaks around to save the world (and different versions of Superman emphasize the Clark Kent side vs. Kal-El side to a greater or lesser degree).

Superheroes often use dual-identity to create conflicts and layers within character, but this concept can work in any situation. All you need is to tweak one aspect of the environment or one essential layer.

Tweaking your characters’ core layers to oppose each other is a great way to create internal and external conflict (Click to Tweet).

Another example is Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games:

1.) Appearance – Ordinary
2.) Career/Job/What They Do – Takes care of family, hunts, spends time with Gale
3.) Personality – Strong and determined, generally introverted in most incarnations, not interested in being heroic
4.) Motivation – The Explorer – individualist + wanderer + freedom to do what is necessary to get things done and operate their own destiny
5.) Worldview/Beliefs – rugged American individualism, plus independence, personal freedom, and devotion to family

So of course, author Suzanne Collins plunks Katniss in the middle of a dangerous political/literal game that requires playing within the rules of a flashy world comprised of the socially-adept. Of course Katniss’s entire being opposes this, but her core worldview means that her family must be kept safe. Threaten Primrose Everdeen, and suddenly Katniss has to bite the bullet and endure a host of trials and difficulties. To make it worse, she manages to gain a following based on public perception of her personality. For this reason, I’ve always found book two of trilogy, Catching Fire, to be the most compelling, because it features the strongest conflicts for Katniss in terms of characterization.

The more you tweak a character to be out of odds with a fundamental part of their own personality, their required role, or their environment, the more tension you build into the plot, and the more you provide opportunities for growth and change.

What about you, #plothoppers?  Anything to add on characterization? Who’s your favorite character with strong contrasts?

Major Editing Giveaway!

My friend Bethany A. Jennings over at is launching her editing career, and as part of that, is throwing one massive editing giveaway! I’m honored to be part of this. I’m giving away a print copy of my world-building textbook AND workbook:


Plus, I’m giving away two hours of coaching and two ten-page comprehensive content edits! Check out my Coaching/Editing page for more details on how I help writers unlock their potential and refine their work so that it’s irresistible!

Go to the to enter to win these and other awesome prizes, including posters, a coffee mug, blurb help, and more!

FOCUS Your Writing in 2017

My word of the year: FOCUS.

Focusing is a funny thing for me. As someone who has sensory processing issues and who was once diagnosed with A.D.D., I’ve found that I actually focus better when I’m working on more than one project. The high pressure and constant stimulation of different activities keep me from losing interest.

At the end of last year, I decided to turn my multi-focused brain in my favor by splitting off into two brands: (fiction and book reviews) and (nonfiction writing help). is now exclusively a place of writing and world-building help (and sometimes guest features) from someone who was extensively educated in ALL THE WRITING RULES and through years of experience as a writer and a teacher, knows which ones to break (which is most of them if you do it at the right time and in the right place).

As a part of that, my first series is


In other news, apparently voters are a fan of both bunnies AND camels, because “put a bunny or camel in every blog post” came in second place on my reader poll. I am a woman of my word, and so here folks, is your first Bunny of the New Year! 😀


Meet Edgar the Plot Bunny! This wise lagomorph was rescued from a friend’s basement and he is eager to see the world and share all of the exciting plots he’s come up with over his years of solitude! Follow the exploits of Edgar at #EdgarthePlotBunny and #plothop for plot prompts, thoughts, ideas, and random!

What about you? Do you have a word for the year? What’s your current writing project? Please share in the comments!

Cyber Monday Super Deal!

As a part of Cyber Monday, I am super-excited to offer this limited time offer on my two nonfiction books!

World-Building From the Inside Out textbook and workbook are free on Amazon for one day only!

But wait! There’s MORE.

The print editions of World-Building From the Inside Out textbook and workbook are 40% through!

That brings the price of the textbook to about $5.50 (was $8.99) and the price for the workbook down to about $6.50 (was $9.99).

Just go to the following links and enter the coupon code:  XY7UHUDS

For the textbook:

For the workbook:

Thanks for reading! Have a happy Cyber Monday and for NaNoWriMo writers – you can do it!

How to Enjoy NaNoWriMo – Even If You’re Not Participating (or You’re a Rebel)

I am NOT participating in National Novel Writing Month this year. At least, not in the traditional sense. While I write steadily, 50K this November just isn’t a possibility, especially with working a full-time job, a part-time job, and other sundry endeavors outside this little blog post box.


However, I am doing my first ever short-story contest with my students based on NaNoWriMo. Their minimum is 5,000 words in the month of November — and they can feel free to go all the way to 50,000! As long they, y’know, actually get all their homework done and remember to sleep now and then. 😉 In honor of their efforts, I’m going for 15K-30K, picking up a steampunk/fairy tale YA novel I ditched two years ago because distraction by another story (if this happens to you *high fives* and if it doesn’t — which is incredible and awesome — *high fives anyway* ). Anyway, what ended up happening was that unfinished story kept relentlessly seeping into other stories in inappropriate (re: totally against plot flow) ways, so I figure it was time to give Touch of Green its due.

So I’m:

  • Only doing 15K-30K instead of 50K
  • Using a story I’m already 10K into (and they are actually pretty good words so I’m keeping them)
  • Working on another novel or two on the side (because the busier I am, the more inspired I am – and the less sleep I get)

Why even bother getting involved, if I’m not following the rules? Because NaNoWriMo isn’t just about the rules. It’s about having a giant creating-fest and getting all of us peeps who usually hide behind our computer screens and type OUT INTO THE OPEN.

On our computer screens (or typewriters, or notebooks, or cell phones, etc).



And since I’m one of those less-common writing extroverts, I want everyone to get in the fun! So here are five ways you can enjoy NaNoWriMo, even if you’re not actually writing 50,000 words.


Five Ways to Enjoy NaNoWriMo (Without Officially Participating or Following Rules)

1.) Do a Word/Editing/Brainstorming/SOMETHING CREATIVE Sprint

Word sprints are more than just word count. They’re about setting aside time and making an effort for disciplined focus. Don’t judge yourself by anyone else’s progress. Just do what you do and enjoy it — and then share it afterwards with someone, because these things are cool. And sharing them is also cool.

2.) Declare Your Goals

So you’re not going for the 50K. So you’re writing a short story or a novella or doing a proofread or making a quilt with letters (I have awesome quilter friends). Put it out there anyway! Let people know what you’re doing. Own it! And on the official NaNoWriMo forums there are a lot of homes for the unconventional. Although I’m not sure there’s a place for people who are sewing their words INTO quilts. But it could happen!

3.) Support the 50Kers (or more than 50kers)

They are doing epic things as well. It can be tempting to feel a little envious of those who can squeeze that in or write that fast, but hey, we’re all on our own journeys here. Get excited for them! Encouragement builds everyone up. 🙂

4.) Support All the Creatives

Find others like you and challenge each other! Use this as an extra-special time to celebrate all things writer/creative. Why not? It’s a lonely place, guys. Being a writer, artist, or creative in this world is increasingly difficult and underappreciated. If we don’t make our own parties or set milestones, who will? Besides, everyone needs a treat now and then!

5.) For 50Kers – Support Your Local Rebels

In the end, we’re all doing this writing/creative journey, just in different ways and at different paces. So let’s make this an awesome all-month party that can maybe, just maybe, last all the year round!

Which I’d totally love, as an extroverted creator. Because parties are fun – even the silent ones with lots of keystrokes and swipes and pen scratches. And whatever else you make awesome with.

Who’s doing NaNoWriMo out there? What other creative things are you up to?

Update – Fiction Book Release, Launch Party, and Nonfiction Update!

*waves* Hi there! I’ve been rather absent over the last few weeks in large part due to the upcoming release of my first fiction novella!

Now, I’m not usually down with self-promotion here, because this is all about helping y’all write your best, but you’ll excuse me a brief write-up here! Since I regularly review these kinds of books, you might even want to give this a try. 😉



What would you do if the one you loved was turned into a monster?

Melrose Durante brings order. As founder of the Houses of the Dead, he tirelessly opposes the vampires, and provides refuge for the Blood Kind, those like himself who fight against the blood curse that leads to vampirism. His medical breakthroughs have brought many back from the vampire path. After thousands of years, the Blood Kind finally have the upper hand.

Until a vampire attacks Melrose’s family, then begs for asylum. To his friends she’s Lucy, a disturbed young woman prone to incoherent rants, warning of an imminent attack by vampire leader, Conan. But to Melrose she’s something more.

His lost wife, Jane.

One thing is clear – time is running out. In five days Conan will attack Quebec City, killing or enslaving all in his way. If Melrose cannot unlock his wife’s tormented mind, even his immortal wisdom may not be enough to save Quebec City, the Blood Kind, and the Houses of the Dead (

For a week and a half there’s been a fantastic blog tour going on, offering all kinds of juicy behind-the-scenes info on the book and on the co-creators, Julia Busko and myself!

Monday, October 17th – Deanna Fugett – Interview on Quills and Inkblotts 
Thursday, October 20th – Tina Yeager – Blood Kind and Mental/Physical Disorders 
Friday, November 4 – H.A. Titus – Special Interview
There’s also an awesome launch party!
Also, work on Characterization From the Inside Out has gotten a boost as I’m working on my latest novel, Phoenix Reckoning. Expect awesome new content in the near future. Thanks for reading!

A Bit of Sunshine for a Revamped Website!

Bethany Jennings over at The Simmering Mind posted up this Sunshine Blogger Challenge. In honor of my revamped website, I figured I’d give this a shot!

1. If you could have any magical/supernatural ability, what would you choose?

This one always changes, but I’m currently keen on being psychomimetic.


By Vanessa Paxton

The user can gain/replicate the knowledge and abilities, including their mental and physical abilities, be it knowledge over a subject, a foreign language, or mastery of a fighting style. The user is able to duplicate information from creatures or inanimate mediums of data, such as books, computers, etc. by touching them or by just being near them at the time.

Sounds super handy!

2. What’s one of your happiest childhood memories?

Wow, no pressure, huh? Probably the day my family brought home Ziggy, this overweight, retired breeder basset hound we adopted from a certified breeder. She was a lovable old curmudgeon who was the BEST napping buddy–and she lived another six years!

3. What is your favorite writing spot / workspace like? Why do you like to work there best?

Usually my couch, because it’s comfortable. I was home-schooled during high school and I did a lot of work on the couch then too. Now, even though I have an office, I still like couches.

Dark blue on dark blue – super comfy and spits in the face of photos! 😉

4. What’s one thing that is close to your heart?

Writing, communicating, and helping people dive more deeply into their thoughts–while still having fun!

5. Chocolatey desserts or fruity desserts?

It depends entirely on my mood, but I gravitate towards chocolate as a rule. Although chocolate isn’t a dessert. Chocolate is an essential nutrient of life.

6. What was your favorite book as a small child?

I honestly don’t remember. I burned through books at the speed of sound as a child, and I do remember always enjoying new books.

7. What’s something you used to be afraid of but aren’t scared of (or not as scared!) anymore?

…well, I can tolerate people in giant animal costumes a lot better than I used to. Although I still find them pretty creepy. Sorry to anyone who does this for a living! I’m sure you make many people smile. Just ignore me walking in the other direction.

8. What’s your favorite kind of outfit to wear?

It depends on the situation, but I like being comfortable whether I’m dressed up or dressed down.

9. What quote has motivated or challenged you most recently?

This one. Good reflection of Psalm 86:6-7

10. How do you feel about roller-coasters? Love ’em, hate ’em?

There was a brief window in my teenage years when I LOVED roller-coasters–and then that window slammed shut and now even looking at them for too long makes me queasy. I will happily hold ALL the bags/cell phones/wallets at amusement parks and enjoy watching my family/friends scream their lungs out.

11. Do you like sad endings or movies/books that make you cry?  Why or why not?

I’ve never read a book that’s made me cry. Only two movies have made me cry: Inside Out and Mighty Joe Young. As long as the movie or book is well-made, I don’t really have an opinion either way!

Random Surprise Answer to Unasked Question

I recently co-taught a class on mycology (fungi) at an awesome science camp. I lectured on Fungi in Ecosystems and Fungi As Poison in History. Fun stuff!


Okay, now it’s my turn! Here are eleven questions. Answer any/all that you want, wherever you want (the comments, your FB page, a blog post) and toss me the link! 🙂

1.) Where is the best place to sleep or take a nap?

2.) What five foods could you live on for the rest of your life?

3.) Hovercraft, spacecraft, or teleportation? Note: teleportation doesn’t work in space and the spacecraft do NOT hover!

4.) What is your least favorite word and why?

5.) If you were given a million dollars and could donate it to any charity or charities, where would you donate to?

6.) What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? You get to define what ‘weird’ includes – no judging here!

7.) Would you own a robot pet? Why or why not?

8.) If you had to pack up and move anywhere and stay there for the rest of your life, where would you move to?

9.) What is your favorite tool or appliance and why?

10.) You have to change your eye color to something not normal for humans. What color do you choose and why?

11.) What makes you laugh? What doesn’t make you laugh?