Hi readers! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family. I very much appreciate you and your willingness to read my little reviews and other thoughts. One of my favorite delights is giving back to the writing community, and this week I had the opportunity to be the “expert” for a local student’s 8th Grade project. She presented me with a whole host of questions which I answered for her, and I thought maybe, as a reader or writer, you might be interested in some of the answers I gave. Therefore, mixed in with my Endorser Spotlights on Fridays, I’m going to share the answer to a few of her questions and then add them to my writer’s resources tab. I’ve edited it to fit the general population, as she also had specific questions about her particular story.
How do you write a book most people would find entertaining and enjoyable?
The first thing to understand is no book is for everyone. Each reader has their own preferences for what they like or dislike in a book. No matter what you write, there will always be someone who thinks it’s the most awful book on the planet and it should never have been written. However, there are people who will adore your books and call you their favorite author because you write what they like. A person who loves horror books along the lines of Stephen King is not going to enjoy a romance book by Nicolas Sparks.
That being said, if you know who your target audience is, you are more likely to write in such a way as to make them happy and enjoy your book. Every reader who picks up a certain book type has specific expectations that match the genre.
So for a reader who picks up a historical romantic suspense novel like my book, they are going to expect to have a hero and heroine set in a historical time period with rich details and a plot that puts them in danger as they fall in love with one another. Readers are going to expect a villain, dangerous situation, and a happily ever after that leaves them satisfied.
In a mystery story, the reader expects to have something happen right away that leaves your characters trying to answer that question for the rest of the book. For example, who stole Mrs. Clark’s favorite songbook from her choral collection? Readers expect to have the questions who, why, and how answered. The character who stole the book must have believable means (How did they commit the crime? What abilities did they have?), motivation (Why did they do it?), and opportunity (When did they do it?), and the reader must have all three answered by the end of the story.
Keep your target reader in mind. What things do they like? What things would they be upset if you included in the story? Avoid those. If your target audience is 10-15 years olds, you are going to want to have main characters who are likely in high school and encountering some of the things high schooler students encounter as a teenager–mean teachers, too much homework, friend drama, family drama, awkward moments, sports, or anything else that works well with your story.
Your job as an author is to know what your target audience wants in a book and to provide it. You aren’t going to please everyone, but you want to strive to please the ones who enjoy your type of story. Even then, you won’t make everyone happy.
Question for readers:
What books do you like to read? What do you expect to find in those books?
Question for Writers:
Who is your target audience? What can a reader expect when they pick up your stories?
Okay, so I’m really breaking away from my normal routine of posting about historical fiction. I still haven’t gotten back into reading anything new (and I’m really really really tempted to revisit some old favorites), but I DID read an awesome writing craft book which was written like a fiction story.
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, is an entertaining read whether you are an author or not. Using characters from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, as well as other fairy tale stories, Randy Ingermanson explains his method of preparing for a story in an incredibly entertaining way.
How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson
Plot: Goldilocks has always wanted to write a novel, but everyone told her it was an impractical dream. So she followed the practical route of life only to pursue writing once her kids began school. To learn what it takes, she attends a writing conference where Baby Bear introduces her to the Snowflake method. On her journey through plotting her story, she makes friends with a wolf with a bad reputation, investigates a murder, and is placed in mortal danger when the answer is revealed.
Honestly, it is the FIRST non-fiction book EVER for me to read in two days. I probably would have read it in one, had I the time. So whether you are a reader or a writer, I actually recommend reading it.
It’s not my typical blog post, but hey! It’s Thanksgiving craziness and I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction in preparation for another story. Next week I am going to post the top ten books I am thankful for, so be thinking about your top ten. I may or may not have a giveaway in mind. 😉
Have you struggled with flat characters? Difficult to plot stories? A lack of knowledge on how to correct these issues?
Oh my! I must admit I fall very solidly in this category. After the ACFW Conference, I realized just how much of a beginner I am. It feels like I have scrapped my story for the umpteenth time, but this time I have a solid plan.
One of the many benefits of attending the conference was connecting with Susan May Warren, a wonderful author and teacher. She has created this wonderful online community that is lesson based. It does require a membership, but the investment has been definitely worth the cost so far.
Due to the fact I do pay a membership, I have been hesitant to share what I have learned. I would not wish to break any copyright laws nor infringe on what Susie has spent so much time creating.
But lucky for you, one of the most helpful sets of lessons has recently been transcribed into a book that, even with access to the courses, I have added to my library of resources.
The Story Equation: How to Plot & Write a Brilliant Story From One Powerful Question by Susan May Warren
Susie’s wonderful method is based on developing your POV characters from the inside out. I will not steal her thunder, for the information is not mine to share, but I will say this has become my new favorite method to work my story.
It is organic and naturally encourages great depth. The plot, theme, and premise developed around my characters with surprising results. My story already feels stronger with the use of the Story Equation (SEQ).
I will not lie. As a beginner, I have spent many hours doing the courses, redoing them, and reading the book over and over again, working my characters as I did so. My characters are finally (mostly) solid and I am working on developing my major plot points.
The Kindle Edition of the book costs only $6.99. Let me tell you, this is an AMAZING price for an invaluable book. It is a quick and easy read, and easy to apply. If you can afford a monthly membership to her community, The Novel Academy, I would HIGHLY recommend that as well.
Below is the book blurb from Amazon. If you have any questions or experiences with the SEQ or Novel Academy, please comment below. I am so excited to share this resource with you!
“Discover The Story Equation!
One question can unlock your entire story! Are you struggling to build a riveting plot? Layered characters? How about fortify that saggy middle? Create that powerful ending?
You can build an entire book by asking one powerful question, and then plugging it into an “equation” that makes your plot and characters come to life. You’ll learn how to build the external and internal journey of your characters, create a theme, build story and scene tension, create the character change journey and even pitch and market your story. All with one amazing question.
- The amazing trick to creating unforgettable, compelling characters that epic movies use!
- How to create riveting tension to keep the story driving from chapter to chapter
- The easy solution to plotting the middle of your novel
- The one element every story needs to keep a reader up all night
- How to craft an ending that makes your reader say to their friends, “Oh, you have to read this book!”
Using the powerful technique that has created over fifty RITA, Christy and Carol award-winning, best-selling novels, Susan May Warren will show novelists how to utilize The Story Equation to create the best story they’ve ever written.”
– Blurb from Amazon
In my search for the perfect story structure and plotting, I have read many books and continue to do so. However, so far, Michael Hauge’s 6 Stage Story Structure has been my favorite. I love his linear, clear-cut structure.
Mr. Hauge’s structure is centered around script writing and is very formulaic. Although the percentages are more a reference to script writing, they can be loosely used for novel writing.
Stage 1 – Setup or “Everyday Life” (0%-10%)
- Introduce your hero in their everyday world
- Create identification with 2 or more of the following:
- put them in jeopardy
- make them likable
- make the hero funny
- make them powerful
- The hero exists completely in their identity.
- Their identity may be centered on what they do, their religion, or how they want others to see them.
- Their identity is what protects their core essence. (People pleaser vs “I am fine the way I am.”)
Turning Point 1 – Presented with an Opportunity (10% marker)
- Creates in the hero a desire to move into a new situation, something new
- This is not the desire for the true endpoint.
- Hero gets a glimpse of what it would be like to live in their essence
- They refuse the call to change
Stage 2 – New Situation (10% – 25%)
- The adjustment
- What are the new rules?
- How can I get along?
- Usually, hero believes it will be easy.
- Hero gets a glimpse of what it would be like to live in their essence.
- Reject living in their essence.
Turning Point 2 – Change of Plans (25% marker)
- The visible end goal is established.
- The character realizes, “No, I have to do this.”
- A foot in who their initial identity is and a foot in who they really are – their essence.
- They struggle back and forth with who they are and what they were.
Stage 3 – Progress (25% – 50%)
- The plan seems to be working.
- There must be conflict, but the obstacles are avoided, overcome, delayed, or by-passed.
- They are still straddling the fence of their essence and identity.
Turning Point 3 – The Point of No Return (50%)
- When the hero is closer to the goal than the start, and they have become so committed they burn their bridges, making it impossible to turn back.
- The hero’s life as he knew it is over.
- Their identity is stripped away.
- They realize their essence and begin pursuing it.
Stage 4 – Complications and Higher Stakes (50% – 75%)
- It is more difficult to accomplish the goal, but also more important to accomplish.
- They have more to lose.
- They continue pursuing who they really are.
Turning Point 4 – The Major Setback (75%)
- The reader has the sense that all is lost.
- The plan they had is out the window but they can’t turn back.
- They must make one last push or die while trying.
- The hero has fully committed to living in their essence but now the outside world starts coming in and frightening them.
- The hero retreats back into their identity. They run away from who they are.
Stage 5 -The Last Push (75% to ?)
- Do it or die while trying.
- Everything is put on the line.
- They realize they don’t like who they were anymore. They have had a taste of who they truly are and they have to go after it.
- They have to find their destiny, even if it means risking everything to get what they want.
Turning Point 5 – Climax (% Depends)
- All the problems are resolved.
- The hero can fail, succeed, or change their mind.
- The length of the climax depends on how many problems you have to resolve.
- The moment they fully realize who they are.
Stage 6 – The Aftermath
- Responding the climax emotionally.
- The wedding, reconciliation, etc.
- The hero is going to live their new life as they truly are.
Interested in examples and learning more about either Mr. Hauge’s structure or the hero’s journey? I highly recommend buying the audible recording of his and Chris Vogular’s presentations. It is worth every penny. I have listened to it half a dozen times already and plan on listening again as I drive to Nashville for the ACFW Conference next week.
Michael Hauge’s website also does a great job showing examples.
Tell me what you think about this plotting format? Does it make sense to you? Are there any movies or books you can identify with this plot structure?
Do you remember those days in school where your teacher made you come up with all these ridiculous synonyms for said? As a fifth grade teacher, I taught my students that said was a boring word. We even had a funeral for said.
“Said is dead!” he cried.
“He is no more,” she whispered.
We had a whole funeral script written, and we did this for all the overused words, like asked, went, good, and nice. Our classroom ceiling was littered with the tombstones of forbidden words.
When I first began writing my novels, I was the queen of synonyms. Never could you claim to find one of those dead words in my books! No way! No, sir! My characters screamed, interrogated, and cheered. I was proud of my vast use of dialogue tags.
Imagine my surprise and shock when I discovered this was the mark of an amateur. Let me tell you, friends, everything we have been taught and graded on in elementary through high school is wrong! (And it isn’t your teachers’ fault, they were taught this is correct, too!)
Said is a Zombie
Writing fiction- whether a short story, novella, or novel – is a completely different beast than the works we were forced to draft in school. The truth for authors is this. Dialogue tags should be kept to a minimum, and when they must be used, simple words like said and asked are best. Why? Because they create the least amount of author intrusion.
Therefore, it is time to resurrect said and asked from the dead. But beware! You want as few of these zombies as possible roaming through your stories.
Controlling Your New Zombie Friends
The more zombies you have in your story, the more danger you are in. So how do you keep their numbers to a minimum?
Use descriptive beats. You know? Those statements around the dialogue which let you know what the speaker is doing?
Examine the two examples below. Which one draws you in and helps you understand the characters emotions?
“I understand, Father. I will abide by your wishes,” Amelia said.
Amelia twisted the napkin in her lap as she stared at the tablecloth. “I understand, Father. I will abide by your wishes.”
In both examples, Amelia is saying the exact same thing. Not a word of the dialogue has changed, but notice how the depth of understanding changes with the dialogue beat. I don’t know about you, but I for one can hear Amelia’s tone of voice and see her reserved submission.
Check out your favorite contemporary author, I bet you will find even more examples of how the author pulled you deeper into the story with the simple use of dialogue beats.
Now It’s Your Turn
Are you up for a little zombie slaying? Here is a conversation below where the zombies have taken over. Use your imagination and change the dialogue tags into dialogue beats. Share your results in the comments section.
“I don’t think this is a good idea, Jamie,” Henry said.
“Why not? What could go wrong?” Jamie asked.
“I can think of about a dozen things,” he said.
“If you are chicken, you can always head back to the car. I can do this by myself and probably quieter, too,” she said.
“But what if you get caught?” he asked.
“Me? Get caught? I don’t think you have to worry about that. Old Man Pinkerton is deaf as a bat,” she said.
“Bats aren’t deaf. They actually have amazing hearing,” he said.
“Whatever,” she said.
Happy writing! I look forward to reading your zombie slaying skills,