childhood trauma

Why Your Character Needs a Secret Identity

Secret identities—they’re not just for superheroes anymore.

The secret identities we’re familiar with from comic books represent extreme contrasts of personality. Wonder Woman conceals her wild Amazon powers in the buttoned-up persona of Diana Prince. Batman shrouds his vigilante anger in the glib playboy personality of Bruce Wayne. Superman hides his alien invincibility behind the role of mild-mannered, bespectacled Clark Kent.

(Although I never quite bought that last one…a pair of heavy-framed glasses do not a clever disguise make.)

Giving your hero or heroine a secret identity is a great way to add complexity and depth. But to make it believable, you’ll want to go with something a little bit subtler than you’d find in a comic book.

Let’s say your heroine, Alexis, is a lawyer who’s burning the candle at both ends to make partner…but she volunteers to teach disadvantaged children how to read on the weekends. To her coworkers, she’s the hotshot prosecutor who never loses a case. Her colleagues would be shocked to learn that, each Saturday morning, Alexis becomes the nice lady who helps Tommy sound out all the words in Where the Wild Things Are.

The key is to choose a secret identity that contrasts with the character’s primary role—something that demonstrates a contradiction in her personality. What’s the primary quality Alexis is displaying in her public identity? Ruthlessness. So we want to reveal the opposite quality in her secret identity: compassion.

Once you know the character’s secret identity, you need to find a way to reconcile it with her public identity. How can she be both ruthless and compassionate?

Maybe Alexis struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia as a child, and was humiliated by a bad teacher for her poor reading skills.

Or maybe she was seen as a problem child by the principal, because her illiterate mother wasn’t able to write her an excuse note when she was sick or sign off on her progress reports.

You can probably think of a dozen other reasons a lawyer might volunteer to teach reading to children.

If we’re talking about a minor character, just giving them an interesting secret identity and reconciling it with their public identity is enough.

But for your main characters, you’ll want to go a step further: tie the secret identity to the character’s flaw or wound via a defining traumatic event.

What’s Alexis’ flaw? It has to be something that fits with both her public identity and her secret identity.

Let’s say you decided Alexis was dyslexic. What if she flunked fifth grade, and had to repeat it while all of her friends advanced to junior high? What if all of those so-called friends snubbed her while she repeated fifth grade and bullied her when she followed them to junior high a year later? What if all the rumors those bullies spread caused the boy of her dreams to publicly reject Alexis when she asked him to the Sadie Hawkins dance?

You can see how Alexis might fall prey to the belief that she’ll never be good enough. And how she might swear that she will do whatever it takes to become good enough.

The negative belief is her flaw, and the vow she takes is how she compensates for that flaw. The reason she’s so aggressive in the courtroom and so competitive with her colleagues is because she’s desperately trying to prove to everyone (and herself) that she is good enough. She’s trying to prove that those ex-friends who bullied her were wrong.

At the same time that this flaw gives rise to her public identity, it also gives rise to her secret identity: Alexis knows how painful it is to be called “stupid” for not being able to read, and she can’t bear to stand by and watch it happen to others. The same experience that drives her to be ruthless at work also compels her to be compassionate to those she perceives as being like her.

To sum up, here’s a series of questions to help you create a great secret identity for any character:

1. What is this character’s public identity?

2.   What is the primary quality or trait that the character displays through their public identity?

3. What is the opposite quality or trait?

4. What kind of secret identity would exemplify that opposite quality or trait?

5. How can I reconcile the character’s public and secret identities?

6. How can I tie the character’s public and secret identities into his or her flaw via a defining traumatic event?

Write Faster, Write Better with Acupressure

You’ve probably heard of people using acupressure to numb themselves for surgery instead of anesthetic, or heal sprained muscles faster, or relieve hay fever symptoms.

And yes, being healthy does make it easier to write in general.

But can acupressure really help you write faster and better?

There’s a subset of acupressure which uses the mind-body connection to change a person’s psychological state. It’s called meridian therapy, and it’s been used to successfully treat depression, addiction, childhood traumas like physical or sexual abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

But you don’t have to have a big psychological trauma in your past to benefit from meridian therapy. It’s also possible to manage your mental state with acupressure for greater creativity and productivity.

Of all the systems of meridian therapy out there, one of my favorites is Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT), invented by Tapas Fleming (

TAT is extremely simple to use, it’s highly effective, and you can do it to yourself, no equipment needed.

There are many protocols for applying TAT, but the most basic version is to hold four acupressure points on your head while thinking about the issue that’s throwing you mentally out-of-whack.

To assume the TAT pose:

  1. Place one hand on the back of your head, so that the center of your palm is resting on the bump at the back of your skull.
  2. Take your other hand and gently pinch the corners of your eyebrows (at the top of the bridge of your nose) with your thumb and your ring finger.
  3. Place your middle finger over your third eye point.

You can close your eyes if you like, or look at something that’s symbolic of the issue at hand.

After a minute or two, you may find your muscles starting to relax (TAT is great for reducing stress levels). If you need to sit in a more comfortable position or even lie down to hold the pose without straining, feel free. If you’re lying down, you can put a pillow under the elbow of the arm that’s touching the face points for support.

You can find a diagram of the points (great for printing out) here:

If you prefer a video, here’s the inventor of TAT, demonstrating how to do the pose:

So how can you use TAT to be more creative and more prolific?

Clear your mind before you start writing. Just let your mind wander for a few minutes while you hold the pose. When I do this, I find myself thinking about things on my to-do list and life’s little annoyances, whatever is bugging me at the moment. I know I’ve held the pose long enough when I find that the stuff that was bugging me suddenly seems boring, and my writing project seems more interesting. Clearing my mind like this before writing usually makes me harder to distract while working.

This is especially good to do if you’ve got some negative mental associations around your work-in-progress: a cutting critique from a writing partner who wasn’t as gentle as they could have been, doubts about the marketability of the story, frustration that revisions are taking longer than expected. To clear away these negative associations before your writing session, hold the TAT pose and stare at the manuscript (or the open file on your computer screen). If you feel moved to voice some of your negative thoughts about the project, go ahead.

Dissolve writer’s block. Think about the part of the story you’re stuck on while you hold the pose. You might ask yourself a question out loud, to help yourself focus on the real problem:

“Why does this scene feel wrong to me?”

“What’s holding me back from writing the next part of the story?”

“What would I rather be doing?”

“What do I need to figure out before I can continue writing?”

“What am I trying to say here? What’s my point?”

“Is there something else in my life I need to deal with in order to get unblocked?”

After you ask the relevant question, continue to hold the pose and listen for an answer.

Turn off your internal editor while brainstorming new ideas. The fastest way to stifle your creative flow is to be critical of new ideas as your subconscious throws them up to you. Brainstorming while holding the TAT pose can help quiet that inner editor so that the ideas flow more freely.

Start your brainstorming session by asking a specific question:

“How can Kedry get out of the meat locker before she freezes to death?”

“What are the deeper reasons Jill refuses to let herself fall in love with Jack?”

“What am I trying to say with this story?”

“What are the worst things that could happen to Alex in this scene?”

Then listen for the answer. When I do this, I usually go through several iterations, writing down half a dozen answers and then reassuming the pose and asking the same question again, until I’ve generated a long list of options. I’m often amazed at how many different solutions come to me after only a few minutes of brainstorming.

Release emotions that are keeping you from focusing on writing, like jealousy of others’ success or frustration about a rejection. Sometimes it seems easier to bury these unpleasant emotions and pretend they’re not a problem. But suppressing your unhappiness is not only unhealthy; it can also strangle your creativity, leading to burnout or writer’s block in the long run.

TAT is a safe, gentle way to deal with those emotions directly and let them go. All you have to do is hold the pose and allow yourself to focus on your feelings. Don’t try to censor your thoughts—let them bubble up into your conscious mind, no matter how awful or depressing they seem. Feel free to say them out loud if you’re alone. If these voiced emotions turn into a rant, vent away! Follow the flow of emotions wherever it takes you.

“It’s not fair that all my critique partners are getting agents when I’ve been writing longer than they have.”

“I’m so mad that agents keep rejecting me and they aren’t telling me why.”

“I’m never going to get published. I feel like giving up.”

“Revising this draft is driving me crazy. I want to tear it up and start over again with a new story.”

“I hate that reviewer! It doesn’t seem like she even read my book!”

You may discover thoughts and feelings that you weren’t even aware of having. It’s not unusual to cycle through the same thoughts over and over.

As you continue to hold the TAT pose and let the emotions run their course, you’ll start to feel more relaxed and detached. The emotional charge on those negative thoughts will fade, and it will become easier to think about that rejection or the savage review without feeling furious or devastated. You may start to feel lighter or less burdened, or even experience an upswell of positive emotion.

If the emotions around a particular issue or event are particularly intense, you may need to do more than one session in order to completely let them go. You didn’t accumulate all those negative thoughts and feelings at once, and you don’t have to let go of them all at once. Do TAT for them at whatever pace is comfortable.

I’m not claiming that meridian therapy will guarantee you a spot on the bestseller list or turn you into the next Nora Roberts. But it can help you handle the psychological obstacles of the writer’s life more quickly and easily, so you’re free to focus on what you really want to do—write!

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The Writer’s Guide to Getting Organized: Take Control of Your Writing Career 10 Minutes at a Time

Writers are different. We don’t always think in straight lines. We take leaps of logic, we think metaphorically, and we know that in order to make something beautiful, you might also have to make a mess.

You’ve probably tried to adopt at least one organizing system already. Maybe it was in a bestselling book written by someone in a suit. Or maybe it was the system that works for your brother the accountant or your naturally-neat co-worker. Whatever system you tried, it was probably very logical and made total sense, until you tried to force yourself to fit into it.

Did you come to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with you? That you’re naturally disorganized? That creativity and organization can’t coexist?

First the good news: you’re not broken, and it is possible to be creative and organized at the same time.

Any functional system of organization for writers must be designed around the writing process. And every writer’s process is a little bit different.

This book shows you how to analyze your writing process and set up your tools and resources in a way that feels natural and supports you in being more successful in your writing career.

Available at: Smashwords (, Amazon (, Apple/iTunes (, Barnes & Noble (, Diesel (, Kobo (