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Exactly fifty years ago, noted futurist Alvin Toffler wrote one of the most widely read books about the future called Future Shock. It was a legendary work, and the inspiration for the team at the Abundant Future Institute to seek out 50 top futurists to each contribute a chapter to a book celebrating Toffler’s vision and offering new thoughts for a new era. I was honored to be among those who added their insights to the curated selection.

The book is now available on Amazon and my contributed chapter is titled “The Non-Obvious Appeal of Vicarious People.” Here’s an excerpt …

I once purchased a tweet from Kim Kardashian.

Admitting I bought a forgettable endorsement from a forgettable person on a forgettable platform hardly seems like an appropriate story to share in a book co-authored by some of the world’s foremost thinkers on the future. But it points to a seeming contradiction in my interests: For someone who has spent most of his professional life trying to not-so-gently nudge companies and leaders back toward embracing their humanity, I have an unusual fascination with fake things.

I attribute this interest to my experiences working in advertising for the first decade of my career, before I shifted my focus toward trying to predict and describe the future. While I was developing creative persuasion strategies to sell everything from orange juice to cloud computing, I became a student of human behavior.

The team I used to lead would regularly talk to people and pore over reports from global analytics firms to develop consumer insights. Our goal was to create “personas” that would neatly describe large categories of people in terms of their beliefs, passions, and motivations—no matter how mundane or unexpected.

Why do people pick up the second magazine from the rack instead of the first? Why do they worry about climate change yet still buy bottled water? And why do they mistakenly place so much trust in false information, manipulated media, and fabricated celebrities?

It was this last question that fascinated me most: In a world of near-perfect information, why do certain people hold such power to influence us despite sometimes being demonstrably fake? We trust and follow people who are famous simply for being famous, or believe in the experiences of perfect strangers who post product and experience reviews online. We get duped over and over again by self-serving politicians and fame-chasing celebrities.

Thanks to the internet, we have plenty of resources that should allow us to instantly debunk any half-truth or anyone peddling half-truths. Fact-checking is at our fingertips. Despite this easy access to information, somehow people continue to be easily and deeply manipulated on a daily basis.

This invisible force is a potent fixture of our culture, but it isn’t new. Writers have been exploring and imagining its effect for much of the past century.

In Manipulation We (Often) Trust

In 1928, in his seminal book Propaganda, Edward Bernays described the “conscious and intelligent manipulation” of the masses by governments, mostly achieved through imperceptible methods of persuasion designed to keep citizens in line.

Nearly a quarter-century later, noted science fiction luminary Frederick Pohl imagined a future where advertising agencies manipulated public perceptions and capitalism ruled the world in his dystopian novel Space Merchants. Both believed outside entities like governments or organizations shaped what we believe to further their own ends.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler extended this idea to suggest individuals were influencing us, too. He used the term “vicarious people,” such as artists, television personalities, and even fictional characters, to describe the outsized effect that both people and fictional characters were having on our identities and personalities. We model our behavior after theirs and increasingly use their examples to moderate our own beliefs and shape who we are.

As politicians preach more xenophobia, online influencers chase views, and the media curates sensationalism, we the people get assaulted by the fake all around us. And sometimes we reflexively create it ourselves through what we share online.

How can we live in a future where we might overcome—or at least better manage—this parade of fake personalities to become better versions of ourselves instead of indulging our darker impulses? To start, we will need to more deeply understand the nuances behind it. I have spent considerable time trying to do exactly that, usually by doing something that most futurists are loathe to do: focusing primarily on the present.

If you want to read the rest of my chapter, you can download the entire excerpt here >>

Buy your copy of the full book here >>

If Your Writing Submission Strategy Isn’t Getting You Published, Try This | Writer’s Relief

Submit To Our Review Board

Our Review Board is now open. Submit your prose, poetry, or book today!

DEADLINE: Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Most writers realize it can take many hours (even months or years!) to polish and perfect their poetry, short stories, or book. But when it’s time to submit this carefully created work to literary editors or agents, these same writers often make the mistake of spending hardly any time finding the best markets, or of making their submissions in random fits and spurts. Well, here’s a wake-up call, writers: It takes more than great writing to get published! You also need a smart writing submission strategy. At Writer’s Relief, we’ve been helping writers make effective submissions for over twenty-five years, and today we’re sharing our proven tips and advice.

Here are some of the most common submission strategy problems—and the fixes that work.

How To Get Published By Fixing Your Submission Strategy

Problem: You’re sending out lots of submissions but haven’t had any luck.

Try this: Be sure you’re submitting to the right markets. How do you do this? Research, research, research! This is especially important if your writing is a bit unique in voice, style, or content.

There can be hundreds (even thousands) of potential markets for your work. You need to thoroughly review genres and submission guidelines. Along with determining which markets are the best places for your work, it’s just as important that you eliminate the literary journals or agents that are NOT right for your work.

If you simply send work to any and every market without taking the time to do the research, you’ll be guilty of “submission spam”—sending a romance to a horror market, poetry to a short story venue, a 6,000-word essay to a journal that requests 3,000 words max, etc. This is a big publishing industry no-no! Being a submission spammer is the fastest way to get your work rejected—and to get a bad reputation among editors and literary agents.

At Writer’s Relief, we are constantly researching and updating our information on the thousands of markets we follow so we can accurately pinpoint the best markets for our clients’ work and get results. We follow ethical writing submission practices and never promote submission spam.

Problem: You send out one or two submissions, then wait months for a response.

Try this: Send out more submissions on a regular schedule. Getting an acceptance is a numbers game. In this very competitive publishing industry, even with strong work being submitted to well-targeted markets, it can take 100 submissions to get a true assessment of the response to your work. So we recommend sending work to 25 – 30 carefully selected markets every two months. As the saying goes: Lather, rinse, repeat!

When you’re submitting work on a consistent schedule to multiple markets, two things happen. One: You’ve immediately boosted your odds of getting an acceptance faster, because your work is getting into the hands of more literary editors and agents. Two: You’ve taken the bite out of rejection. Maybe a few markets have said no thanks, but there are plenty more out there that may say yes! So there’s no need to get down in the dumps over one rejection when there are still plenty of fish in the sea. Speaking of rejection…

Problem: Your submission strategy is nonexistent, because you are paralyzed by the fear of rejection.

Try this: We know it seems daunting, but take a deep breath…and send out submissions anyway. Rejection is common for EVERY writer who submits work. As writers ourselves, we know it’s not the best feeling—but we’re also here to tell you that a rejection letter doesn’t mean your writing isn’t any good! Sometimes work is rejected simply because the literary journal or agent has just accepted a piece similar to yours. Think about the author of your favorite book, short story, poem, or essay…odds are, that writer’s work was rejected at some point. If they can survive rejection and go on to get an acceptance, so can you.

Here’s an insider tip from us to you: A rejection letter can actually be a good thing! In a business where many rejections are form letters, a personalized response—even if it’s a nice no thank you—shows that an agent or editor was interested enough in your work to personally reach out to you. And getting a rejection letter also means that you’re being brave and putting yourself out there. So instead of letting rejection stop you, use it as fuel to keep going.

Problem: You don’t have time to research and make submissions (and would rather be writing anyway).

Try this: Reach out for help! Life gets busy. If you don’t have hours available for researching and choosing markets, and then more time to spend making submissions, you can ask friends and family for assistance. Or better yet, contact a submission service like Writer’s Relief to research and target the best possible markets for you! Our proven submission strategy works: As of this article’s writing, we’ve helped our clients get over 20,000 acceptances since 1994.

And try this: Submit your work to our Review Board today! Right now, the Writer’s Relief Review Board is reading for new clients in the genres of poetry, short stories, essays, and novels/memoirs. If you’re ready to fix what’s broken in your current submission strategy, send in your work today and find out how we can help!

We are reading for new clients in the following genres:

        • Novels and memoirs
        • Poetry
        • Short creative prose

Submitting work to our Review Board is free, confidential, and incurs no obligations. If your submission strategy could use some first aid, STAT, send your writing for consideration today! 


Question: What is the biggest hurdle you face with your submission strategy?

Drop a link below if you’ve found anything cool for authors!

Readers love great characters. Think back to your favorite stories of all time. You might remember the story points, or you might not. You might remember the best bits of dialogue, or you might not. You might remember the setting descriptions, but let’s be honest, you probably don’t

 Character Development - Create Characters Readers Love

But the characters? You’ll remember the characters for the rest of your life.

How do you do that? How do you create great characters? The short answer is character development, but what is character development and how can you use it to create characters readers love?

That’s what we’re going to talk about in this article.

Ready to get started with this characterization lesson? Let’s do it.

What Is Character Development?

Character development is the process of creating a character and then throwing them into a story so that they evolve and display their full personality.

Note that one of the first things I mentioned above is to throw your character into the story. 

Some writers spend months or years building a character, figuring out their every personality trait, filling out long surveys about their favorite foods and what kinds of clothes they love to wear. 

They spend so much time on characterization, they never write their book! And if they try, they can’t figure out why their character doesn’t feel like the ones in their favorite novels.

That kind of characterization is fun, but it can easily veer into navel-gazing. 

Instead, put your characters to the test.

The best form of character development is the following:

Five Steps of Character Development

  1. Give your character a goal.
  2. Make it hard for them to achieve that goal.
  3. Set up a difficult choice, a dilemma, for your character.
  4. Have your character choose.
  5. Show how your character’s life is different after the choice.

Interestingly enough, those are the same five building blocks of a story. 

Below, we’ll talk more about how to accomplish each of those things, but for now, just remember this:


Create a Character Sketch

One of the best tools for character development is a character sketch, or character profile. This is where you record details about a character to better understand them. 

I’ll summarize the process below, but for a full guide, you can read about how to create a character sketch using Scrivener, one of our favorite writing tools, here. (By the way, if you haven’t heard of it, here’s a review about whether Scrivener might be for you.)

You can mix and match elements to create your own character sketch template, but here’s what a character sketch might contain:

  • Character name
  • Photo (I just find something on Google image search to serve as a likeness)
  • Character type (see 8 types below)
  • One sentence summary
  • One paragraph description (including a physical description, occupation, flaws, good attributes, and mannerisms)
  • Goals (what do they want)
  • Conflicts (what keeps them from getting what they want)
  • Narrative (what do they do in the story)

Remember, the best way to do character development is to throw characters into a story. Don’t sketch characters for their own sake, but to find where they fit into the story.

8 Types of Characters

This is obvious, but most stories contain many types of characters, not just one. Below, I’ve listed the eight types of characters.

When you’re creating your character sketches, write what type of character they are beside their sketch.

  • The Protagonist. The protagonist is the character at the center of the plot whose choices drive the story and whose fate determine the story’s outcome.
  • Point of View Characters. Some stories have multiple central characters, e.g. Game of Thrones. The term for a central character when there are multiple ones is a Point of View character. These characters carry the narrative, and in a story told in third person limited point of view they will be the only character whose thoughts and emotions the reader can see.
  • The Villain. Not every story has a villain, but for the ones that do, the villain is the chief source of conflict. Also known as the antagonist.
  • The Mentor. The mentor is a character who steers the protagonist, helps get them out of trouble, and provides chances for reflection. A mainstay of the hero’s journey plot structure, in many types of stories, without a good mentor, the character’s journey will end in tragedy (e.g. think about Hamlet, who had no mentor).
  • The Sidekick. A sidekick is a character who supports the protagonist. Besides the protagonist and villain, they have the most opportunity for characterization, and provide dialogue opportunities and an insight into the character’s mindset. Sidekicks appear in all genres, from romance (e.g. Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet) to adventure (e.g. Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings) to mystery (e.g. Inspector Beauvoir from the Inspector Gamache series) and more.
  • Side Characters. Side characters often have fully developed personalities, long interactions with the protagonist, and perhaps even deep backstories. However, they rarely make decisions or change throughout the story.
  • The Chorus. A term from playwriting, these side characters may have names and vague descriptions, but they do not have fully developed personalities and are chiefly there to serve as bystanders.
  • Suspects. Specific to mysteries and thrillers, suspects have fully developed personalities and they serve as objects of exploration for the investigator. They should all have motives and appear at least somewhat guilty of the crime, if only to serve as red herrings

For more on each of these character types, check out our guide, 6 Character Types Your Protagonist Needs Around Them.

What Makes a Good Character

On my podcast, Character Test, my cohost and I have found that there are four criteria that you can use to evaluate a character, to test and see whether a character is good or not.

Here, I’m not talking about whether they are morally good, but whether they are interesting, relatable, entertaining, and worth following. In other words, this is about figuring out will readers love them.

Also, this is what makes a good character. If you want to know how to make a good character, scroll down to the Character Development Steps section.

1. Good Characters Have Goals

Good stories are about characters who want something and experience challenges to get what they want. 

Desire is central to good stories, good characters, and to the human condition itself. Good characters have deeply held desires and are willing to make sacrifices to achieve those desires. 

That being said, those desires don’t have to start out as anything big

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”


2. Good Characters Face Challenges to Their Goals

As nice as it would be for your character to get everything they wanted without having to do any work, it would make for a very boring story! 

I like what bestselling author Kristina McMorris told me: “I only give my characters a happy ending if they’ve worked really hard for it.” Kristina’s novel Sold on a Monday was on the New York Times bestsellers list for twenty straight weeks, so she knows what she’s talking about!

3. Good Characters Make Decisions

Good characters take control of their own fate. They take action. They make choices, and they suffer the good or bad consequences of those choices. 

Bad characters let life happen to them. Bad characters allow others to make choices for them. They never take action in their own lives, and it’s their lack of decision-making ability that makes them boring.


4. Good Characters Are Epathizable 

I made this word up but I think it’s going to stick!

Editorial note from Alice: Stop trying to make “empathizable” happen, Joe. It’s not going to happen.

You can empathize with good characters. Even if they are villains (especially if they’re villains), you can understand where they’re coming from, and maybe even relate. 

Good characters, in other words, are human.

Bad characters are so foreign or perfect or evil that you can’t relate to where they’re coming from. 

Bonus: Good Characters Change

Many will argue with this, but not all good characters change. In fact, you can tell a great story where the protagonist doesn’t change. 

Take James Bond. In a few novels and films he changes (e.g. Casino Royale) but in most, James stays the same stoic, cocky person he started out as. And the novels are still great!

Or Inspector Gamache, my favorite detective from the series by Louise Penny. Inspector Gamache starts out as the perfect gentleman, thoughtful leader, and unerring investigator and ends each novel the same way. There are a few individual books where he goes through deep inner turmoil, but even then he re-emerges the same, amazing person, just a little bit stronger and surer in his ways.

There are many great stories where the character changes. It’s especially a hallmark of the hero’s journey (which is itself a form of character development). But it’s not always a requirement of a good character.

Character Development Steps

Now that we’ve talked about what makes a good character, how do you actually develop a character readers love? The answer is that you lead them through a good story.

You might think that you, the author, creates a good character. And to some extent that’s true. But the story tests the character, forces them to reveal the deepest, darkest, best, and most intimate aspects of their character. 

Without a great story there would be no reason to get to know your characters. 

Even more, from a writing perspective, it’s the storytelling process where we first discover who these characters we’ve made are. It’s by putting them through conflict, giving them difficult choices, and seeing how they solve those problems that we see what our characters are actually made of. 

That means you can’t start this process soon enough. 

Instead of spending all your time dreaming up individual traits of your characters, throw them into the story and see what happens. That is how you will get to know them.

One quick note: I’m indebted to Shawn Coyne and Story Grid for much of my thinking of each of these five steps. To learn more, visit Shawn’s guide, Storytelling’s Five Commandments.

1. Desire. Find something your character wants right away.

What are your character’s goals? What does he or she want? 

There are two types of desires: felt needs and deep-seated desires.

If you’re like most people your character will want many things. At the same time, they probably want one or two things that are deeply held, maybe even subconscious. 

For example, a character might say she wants an outfit so she can be cool. That would be an example of a felt need. But in reality, whether she’s willing to admit it to anyone or not, she might want a family, since her parents were killed in a car crash. That’s a deep-seated desire. 

Often a scene, chapter, or even book will begin with a felt need, but then center on the deep-seated desire in the middle and climax of the story.

In my memoir, Crowdsourcing Paris, I began with a felt need to go to Paris, but the book centers on my deep-seated desire for authenticity and self-acceptance.

What does your character want?

2. Conflict. Make it hard for them to get what they want.

The established storytelling advice is appropriate here: “In the first act, put your character up a tree. In the second act, throw rocks at them; in the third act, bring them down.”

To take the analogy further, it’s their desires and goals that put the character up a tree. It’s the conflict you create, perhaps through an antagonist, that functions as the rocks. 

What obstacles do you need to put in front of your character to keep them from getting what they want?

And what lengths is your character willing to go to get what they want?

These challenges build and build until finally, the character has to do something. They have to choose.

3. Dilemma. Setup a difficult choice, a dilemma, for your character.

Choice is the heart of character development. THIS is the real test of our character, and the moment where we see their true self.

Shawn Coyne says there should be a crisis, or a dilemma, in every scene. That’s a lot of choices for your character! But it’s brilliant, because their dilemma is both what drives the drama of the story as a whole and also what 

The choice must be difficult. This isn’t a choice between whether your character wants pizza or hamburgers for dinner. 

Instead, the dilemma is between two very good things—for example, love or money—or two very bad things—would you rather be struck blind and never get to see the love of your life again, or have the love of your life maimed before your eyes.

In Crowdsourcing Paris, I faced the difficult choice between whether to do a series of very embarrassing, uncomfortable, and, in the end, life-threatening adventures; or give back the $4,300 my audience had given me to complete the adventures and not go to Paris. Tough choice!

How can you give your characters a major dilemma? 

If you want to know more, read about the all-important literary crisis moment here.

4. Choice. Have your character make the choice.

The climax of every scene, act, and book as a whole is when the character who has been faced with a dilemma finally makes the choice and takes action.

Yes, that’s right. Your character has to take action. 

A character who passively allows situations to carry him or her through the chaos of life doesn’t make for a good character.

No, your character must choose and take action on that choice.

This is where your character shows who he or she is, which also means this is the best example of show don’t tell.

5. Change. How is the character’s life different now?

Now that your character has made a choice, how is their life different? What has changed? Are things better? Or are things worse?

Resolve the tension you’ve built and show the change.

Those are the five steps of character development. Note that if an average novel is fifty to seventy scenes, that gives you a lot of opportunities to develop your character! 

However, that’s also the point, because character isn’t revealed all at once, but slowly, challenge after challenge, choice after choice.

Character Development Tips and Tricks

The five character development steps above show you how to reveal your character through story, but over the centuries, writers have figured out a few shortcuts to help us create even better characters. 

Here are a few character development tips and tricks. Check back for more as we update this list!

1. Flaws

Every good character is broken in some way. Why? Because every person is broken in some way, and it’s our flaws that make us human and relatable (maybe even empathizable!).

As the saying goes, “Success builds walls. Failure builds bridges.”

What is wrong with your character? It might be deep-seated, like inherent selfishness (e.g. Han Solo), or it might be something simple, like they can’t help but spill food on themselves (e.g. Clara from Inspector Gamache).

2. Orphans

There are ten times more orphans per capita in literature than in the real world.

I made that statistic up, but think about it:

  • Luke from Star Wars
  • Harry Potter
  • Frodo from Lord of the Rings
  • Pip from Great Expectations (or pretty much every Charles Dickens hero)
  • Jane Eyre
  • Every superhero ever (Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Supergirl, all of them)
  • Kvothe from The Name of the Wind
  • At least half of all Disney characters (Bambi, Aladdin, Frozen, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella)
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Any Roald Dahl protagonist
  • Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow (and pretty much every other character in Game of Thrones eventually)

Every one of these characters is an orphan. If you expand it to losing one parent, the list goes on even further.


Why do writers love orphans? For two reasons, I think: because they’re immediately empathizable and because they are the masters of their own fate (see step four above!).

3. Highlight Strong Appearance Traits

Whether it’s a very long nose (Pinnochio) or vast physical strength (Jean Valjean from Les Miserables), we often remember characters by one specific trait that they have. 

When you’re describing your characters, don’t describe every aspect of their appearance. Choose one or two physical traits that are especially striking and focus on them. Your reader will fill in the rest with their imaginations.

4.  Voice

Good characters have their own unique voice, their own unique way of talking.

Perhaps they speak with a Long Island accent with lots of slang, or maybe they insert profanity every other word. Whatever it is, find a few verbal ticks that your character has. Even better, keep track of them on your character sketch so you don’t forget!

Note: this is often one of the hardest parts of character building. George R.R. Martin talks about how he has to write several chapters from each of his point of view characters’ perspective before switching to a new character because it’s so difficult to transition into a different character’s voice.

5. Your Character’s Fate Is Often Determined by Their Mentor

For your protagonist, the mentor figure is often the most important character. In fact, the presence or lack of a mentor often determines their fate. A hero with a good mentor will often succeed, whereas a hero without a mentor or with a corrupt mentor will fail.

Choose your mentor carefully!

Character Development Writing Exercise

Now that you know everything about developing characters, let’s put your new knowledge to practice! Use the creative writing exercise below to practice developing a strong character.

And if you’re to create a character sketch for your novel, check out our guide on how to create a character sketch with Scrivener.

Good luck and happy writing!

What is your favorite characterization tip above? Are there any I missed? Let me know in the comments.


Let’s put your character development to use with this creative writing prompt:

  1. Choose one of the character types above and spend five minutes sketching out their character using the character sketch template above (Character Name, type, one-sentence summary, goals, conflicts).
  2. After your five minutes are up, write about your new character as he or she goes through a scene using the five character development steps: desire, conflict, dilemma, choice, and change. Write for ten minutes.

When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, be sure to give feedback to at least three other writers.

Happy writing!

The post Character Development: Create Characters That Readers Love appeared first on The Write Practice.

What’s the most intriguing email strategy you’ve recognized this month?

Editor’s note: Are you a writer? Do you speak a second language? To make money translating other authors’ works (or your own), then, might be an unexpected income stream… Many writers focus solely on their own writing projects, honing their craft over the years and pursuing that goal of making a living from writing. Few […]

The post How to Make Money Translating Other Authors’ Works (or Your Own) appeared first on WTD.

How will you implement the knowledge from this post?

Having trouble viewing the text? You can always read the original article here: When should you invest in Conversion Rate Optimization? I asked a Competitor

It’s a big question. “When should I invest in conversion optimization for my website?” Even though I’ve been preaching the benefits of CRO since 2006, I don’t consider it an obvious decision. Instead of telling you what I think, I asked a competitor to tell you, just to keep me honest. We have answered the […]

The post When should you invest in Conversion Rate Optimization? I asked a Competitor appeared first on Conversion Sciences.

How will you utilize the tips from this post?

In 2020:

  • 250OK says open rates were much lower than ESPs report.
  • The Only Influencers list hosts a discussion about the value and use of open rates.
  • A potential client contacts me asking if I can get their open rates to a certain percentage.
  • A client shows me evidence of 100% inboxing but wants to improve their open rate.
  • An industry group runs sessions at multiple meetings discussing how inaccurate open rates are.

The industry needs to stop obsessing over open rates.

As measured by senders, an open means a particular image was loaded. This sometimes corresponds with an email being opened and read by a user.

There are a number of ways open rates can be wrong, though.

I mean, I get it, I use opens are easy to measure and easy to use. They’re a start for looking at a number of things. But we have to remember the data is, at best, an approximation. There are lots of folks opening and reading messages that never load a pixel (hi! is me!). There are also some people who show as opening the mail but have never looked at it.

At Gmail someone can open a mail, and then immediately mark it as spam. As I said recently, in some cases an open can hurt your reputation. “If they opened it they’re engaged with the mail” has always been an assumption. It’s become part of the delivery

They’re a data point. They’re not the be all and the end all of data points. In order to effectively use them you need to understand what they mean and what they don’t mean. They’re inaccurate at best and can be very misleading if you’re not paying attention.

We need to stop spending so much time obsessing about open rates and more time worrying about how accurate our data collection processes are.