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Need Story Ideas? This 5-Step Process Works Every Time

It happens. You’re sitting in front of a blank page, you dip into your well of inspiration, and you come up with nothing.

Nada. Zilch.

At most the moldy remains of an idea you had in seventh grade.

I’ve been there time and again, until by chance I attended a panel led by Orson Scott Card.

A strategy for developing good story ideas

In that panel, he opened my eyes to what a good story idea looks like, and how to generate story ideas without any effort.

With time, I’ve included my own little twist on his method. The result? A five-element story idea generator that will rarely fail you.

Here’s how to come up with good story ideas.

The First Element: Character

A story cannot take place without creating complex characters. The character might be a chair (I wrote one like that!), but it has to be there.

If you don’t have a specific idea for a character, make one up randomly. Choose the following:

  • Race (e.g. human, alien, salt shaker)
  • Gender (if applicable–and isn’t that a story idea in itself!)
  • Age (from toddler to elder and even eternal)
  • Marital status (single, married, divorced, three-year marriage contract…)
  • Family status (parents, brothers, pets, etc. but also nationality and ethnicity)
  • Circumstances (profession, work)
  • And, of course, creative character names.

Interesting combinations make for richer stories, so keep that in mind as you fill out your character’s background.

The Second Element: Desire

Your character must have some desires in life. What drives her? What makes her get out of bed in the morning?

It can be an active desire, like running a marathon or getting a promotion. It can be a less active desire, like wanting to be left alone.

But it has to be a specific, attainable desire that will move your character throughout your story.

Can’t think of a good desire? Re-read your character’s background, try to get into that person’s shoes and think of what you would have wanted in her stead.

infographic on how to develop story ideas

The Third Element: Resistance

If your character wanted something and got it right off the bat, you wouldn’t have a story, would you?

So the next critical element is the roadblock that stands in your character’s way.

It can be physical, emotional, spiritual or cultural. It can be another person or a group of people.

It can be a question of legality or consensus. It can be the very elements of nature.

Whatever it is, make sure the resistance matches the character. If you have a strong character, you will need a powerful obstacle to stand in her way — otherwise, the reader won’t be convinced that the struggle is real and desperate.

With these three elements, Orson Scott Card claimed at that panel, you have a solid story idea that can be developed into any media and length.

I like to add two more elements to the mix.

The Fourth Element: Change

A story is all about the character’s journey, and that journey is all about change. If the protagonist is the same at the end as she’d been in the beginning, something is missing.

For short stories, the change can be as simple as a single trait:

  • A shy man overcomes his shyness in order to pursue true love.
  • A skeptic woman must learn to believe before she can attain the career of her dreams.
  • A haughty salt shaker must learn humility in order to find peace in its life.

And so on. The longer the story, the more scope you have to mold your character in new ways.

The Fifth Element: Settings

The settings of a story are more than a backdrop. It is often a character in and of itself. It impacts the way your protagonist thinks, feels, and behaves.

Choose an interesting backdrop that will really challenge your protagonist or highlight her journey.

For example, if your protagonist is on a journey of inner and outer peace, why not paint her story against a background of war, strife, or unrest?

Character, desire, resistance, change and settings. Pick them deliberately or randomize them completely; either way, you’re sure to get some interesting story ideas.

How’s that for your very own story idea generator? Now go make up some good story ideas and write!

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

The post Need Story Ideas? This 5-Step Process Works Every Time appeared first on The Write Life.

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Want to Build an Email List? 8 Newsletter Platforms to Choose From

How many times each day do you check your email? Five? 10? More than that?

If you’re tuned in to your inbox all the time, you know how powerful email is — even after all these years — for connecting people around the globe. And if you’re not reaching out to your readers via email, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to connect with and build your audience.

If you don’t already have an email newsletter, it’s time to start thinking about it as a part of your marketing efforts to build an author platform. It will go a long way toward helping you land writing gigs and sell books.

Which newsletter platform is right for you?

So whether you’re just starting to build your brand as a writer or already have a loyal group of fans who keep asking what you’ve written lately, it’s time to consider growing an email list.

Here’s a peek into some of the most popular email newsletter tools, plus pros and cons for each.

1. ConvertKit

For beginners? Yes

Initial cost: Free

This service specializes in email services for bloggers and authors. Key features include easy organization of sequenced courses, customizable automated messages and integration with the ecommerce platforms bloggers favor. Most users say it’s easier to use than the other platforms on this list, so it’s a good starting place for beginners.

ConvertKit recently rolled out a free plan, though free accounts don’t have access to all features. If you want to send emails to your list, you’ll either have to invite other new users to sign up or pay their starting rate of $29/month.

One other cool feature of this platform is you can easily create landing pages. That means you don’t even need to have a website to get people to sign up for your list.

ConvertKit has been growing steadily since its 2013 launch. We moved to this platform in late 2019 and have since enjoyed an increase in subscribers to our email list. 

2. MailChimp

For beginners? Yes

Initial cost: Free

MailChimp is one of the most popular email services for new businesses. Some users think MailChimp is cute, but it can be clunky during the editing process. The big perk is that it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 10,000 sends per month, which makes easy to commit.

Even for users who are just starting an email list, a full-service program like MailChimp offers lots of options with room to grow.

If you want to send automated messages to your readers — known as autoresponders — you’ll have to pay up. Add-ons start at $10 per month, with the “recommended” package priced at $14.99 per month.

3. TinyLetter

For beginners? Yes

Initial cost: Free

TinyLetter is a MailChimp product, and its focus on text makes it a popular choice for writers. And unlike MailChimp, TinyLetter is completely free to use. The only catch: You’re capped at 5,000 subscribers.

“TinyLetter is to MailChimp what Tumblr is to WordPress: It’s newsletters for dummies,” Rebecca Greenfield explained at Fast Company. “Unlike MailChimp, which caters to businesses and offers all sorts of testing and analytics features, TinyLetter provides just the basics. Writing a message is just like writing an email in Gmail, meaning the process takes only as long as crafting the body text.”

Noted early adopters of TinyLetter include freelancer Ann Friedman. Since she writes for several publications, her weekly newsletter guarantees that fans never miss an article. (Ed. note: Friedman has moved up to TinyLetter parent MailChimp. You can read more about her experience here.)

4. Campaign Monitor

For beginners? Maybe

Initial cost: $9 per month

Only planning to send occasional emails to your readers? Maybe writing is your side hustle, or you only want to send emails when you have a new book coming out.

Pricing plans for more frequent senders start at $9 for 2,500 emails — not subscribers — per month. If you want to send unlimited emails or automated messages to your list, pricing starts at $29 per month. Campaign Monitor gets mixed reviews for usability, similar to concerns about MailChimp.

5. AWeber

For beginners? Maybe

Initial cost: $19 per month

Many big-name bloggers swear by AWeber. It was once the DIY choice, as it didn’t have pre-designed templates like many of the other platforms. But AWeber has gotten more user friendly since we first shared this list. In fall 2019, the company launched Smart Designer, which analyzes your website to quickly create an email template that matches your brand. 

Pricing starts at $19 per month for unlimited emails to up to 500 subscribers. From there, you’ll pay $29 per month for up to 2,500 subscribers.

6. Constant Contact

For beginners? Yes

Initial cost: $20 per month

Constant Contact is geared toward businesses, so if you’re growing your brand, this option might be a good fit. After a 60-day trial, your fees start at $20 per month for a list of up to 500. All plans feature unlimited emails. 

And if you’re not tech-savvy — and maybe don’t have time to even want to learn — Constant Contact offers additional services ranging from account setup to designing blasts for the copy you provide.

7. GetResponse

For beginners? Yes

Initial cost: $25 per month

GetResponse offers a free 30-day trial. After that, $15 per month will cover you for up to 1,000 subscribers. Like many of the platforms we describe here, the company offers customizable email templates and landing pages.

If you just want to send emails to your community, GetResponse may not be  your first place to start. But if you want to build a marketing funnel and sell products, this is a an all-in-one option for you. 

8. Substack

For beginners? Yes

Initial cost: Free

This one’s a little different from the rest. Instead of paying a fee to send emails through Substack, your readers pay to receive your messages. Every time you publish, you decide if it’s for all subscribers or just for those who pay a subscription fee you set. If you have paying subscribers, Substack keeps 10% plus about 3% for payment processing fees.

If you want to share primarily promotional updates, Substack’s probably not right for you. But if you want to monetize your writing beyond traditional or self-publishing and you already have a solid following, it may be worth considering. 

Regardless of the tool you choose, remember that readers won’t open your emails unless you’re writing interesting content that provides value. So before you sign up for one of these services, think strategically about how you’ll communicate with your network.

Which email service do you use? Which feature is your favorite?

This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.

This post contains affiliate links. That means if you purchase through our links, you’re supporting The Write Life — and we thank you for that!

Photo via Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock 

The post Want to Build an Email List? 8 Newsletter Platforms to Choose From appeared first on The Write Life.