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Extreme Character Makeover: Goal Building and the secret sauce of motivation

Who are you and what do you want?

I’m reading a fantastic book right now in my personal life – Mark Batterson’s All In: You Are One Decision Away From a Totally Different Life  I heard him speak at the ReWrite Conference this past February and the book’s message and timing in my life is spectacular.  It talks about going “all in” for God – but also, the power of devotion to something.


“When your life is over, the world will ask you only one question: ‘Did you do what you were supposed to do?’” That’s not just a good question. That’s the question. Did you do what you were supposed to do? It cannot be answered with words. It must be answered with your life.”  (Mark Batterson, All In)


So, in other words, a GOAL.

Last week, I talked about nailing the Character Change journey (http://learnhowtowriteanovel.com/blog/2015/04/13/extreme-character-makeover-nailing-the-character-change-journey/) and how a great novel is about the character, and how the plot affects him to change and grow.

We talked about the Story Equation, a tool we use at MBT to understand our character and get the plot on the page, and how it all starts with asking WHO is our character.  Which then leads, eventually, to a Dark Moment Story – that pivotal story in your character’s past that shaped him and made him into the person he is as he walks on the page.

But we’re not done.  See, to create a great story, your character needs a GOAL. Why? Because if he has a goal, then the author can create obstacles to that goal, both internal (fears, lies) and external (flaws, villains, etc.).  And it’s the intersection of a Goal and an Obstacle that make good tension, right?

Almost. Behind every good Goal is two things:  A WANT and a WHY.  See, a character without a strong WHY behind their goal will fold at the first sight of an obstacle.  They need the WHY to power up their actions.  And the WHY causes the WANT, that formless desire that then translates into an external GOAL.

WHY + WANT = GOAL vikings_2013_tv_series-HD

Our family, being Vikings (our school mascot, our MN Football team, our heritage) loves the show VIKINGS.  Yes, there are times when I have to walk out of the room, but it’s an interesting show rife with character layers.

(*spoiler alert!* If you are also a fan and haven’t seen last week’s episode, stop reading here)


In recent episodes, King Ragnar has decided to attack Paris.  Why?  Because a monk he captured in season 1, and with whom he became great friends, cast a vision about the magnificence of Paris.  Ragnar became obsessed with seeing Paris.

MonkThen, the monk was killed by one of Ragnar’s close henchmen, thinking he was securing the favor of the gods.

Ragnar was devastated, took the monk’s cross off him, and began wearing it as he marched off to Paris.

Three episodes later, the Vikings have tried, twice, unsuccessfully, to capture Paris.  Ragnar has been seriously wounded, nearly lost his son and his brother and has sacrificed over 1000 of his men.  Still, he is undeterred in his quest.

By this time, the audience (me) is thinking – dude, it’s not worth it.  I’ve been to Paris, and yes, while it’s pretty awesome, it’s not worth losing your life and your son’s life. Go home already!

The Parisians are starving, so they send terms out to Ragnar – we’ll give you gold and riches to go away.

Ragnar seems undeterred. . .and I’m baffled.  Until he sneaks off to meet with them, and we discover what’s driving all this.  His WANT and his WHY.

He’s dying.  And he, more than anything, longs to be reunited with his monk buddy.  But they have different gods, different heavens, so, in a crazy unpredictable twist, Ragnar agrees to leave Paris alone if he is. . .wait for it. . .BAPTIZED.  Ragnar wants to become a Christian (sorta. Let’s not go overboard here).

That’s what’s been driving his relentless pursuit of Paris.

In other words, Ragnar went all in to attack Paris, with the goal of being reunited with his buddy in heaven.  Why?  Because out of all his henchmen, wives, children and kingdom, (and because he’d been betrayed in some way by them all,) the monk proved to be his most trustworthy friend.

Simplified:  WHY – true friendship (something that often eludes a King).  WANT – to be reunited in heaven. GOAL – take Paris and be baptized by their church.

Now, it makes sense.


Does your character’s goal make sense?  Is it fueled by the secret sauce of Motivation: The Why and a Want?


This weekend, best-selling novelist Steven James and I chatted about about storycrafting principles on his awesome new show, The Story Blender. We talked about how to get into character, connecting with the reader, common mistakes of first time authors, and how to bring your writing to the next level. We also touched on how to create powerful tension and put together all the key pieces to powerful storytelling.

Most importantly, we talked about creating powerful character emotions and tension by understanding what drives your character.

(you can download/listen to it here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2015/04/18/the-story-blender-with-special-guest-susan-may-warren)

If you want to nail the character change journey, you need to give your Character an Extreme Character Makeover, starting with the Dark Moment Story and ending up with a powerful Why + Want = Goal.  Because once you have the goal, you can really start having some fun.  (insert tension here!)

Go! Write something Brilliant!


Susie May

PS – if you liked this blog, you might want to check our our LIBRARY of free articles.  AND, get our 5 Secrets of a Best-selling novel.

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Featured Fiction Friday with Julianna Deering

Today we’re continuing our Featured Fiction Friday series, and celebrating one of the authors that helped make the our contest possible. Introducing Julianna Deering!

Q: Julianna Deering, can you tell us a little bit about your new book?

When a celebrated ACTOR IS FOUND MURDERED IN HIS DRESSING ROOM, all signs point to Drew’s old flame. But behind the curtains nothing is what it seems and this quickly becomes his MOST puzzling case YET.

Just as Drew Farthering thinks his life has calmed down some, Fleur Landis, a former girlfriend, reappears, in dire need of his help. She’s married now, no longer an actress–but the lead actor in her former troupe’s production of The Mikado has been murdered, and Fleur is the police’s number one suspect.

Drew would rather focus on his fiancée, Madeline Parker, and their upcoming wedding, but he can’t leave Fleur and her family in the lurch–even if she did break his heart once. As Drew, Nick, and Madeline begin investigating, they discover more going on behind the scenes of the theater troupe than could ever have been imagined. It seems nearly everyone had a motive, and alibis are few and far between.

Both the murder case and the presence of the beautiful, exotic Fleur put a heavy strain on Drew and Madeline’s relationship. Will their still-young romance survive the pressure?

“Deering gives us an enchanting mystery set around an England country estate in the 1930s… Rules of Murder is a wonderful, inspirational novel for those of you who love a good murder mystery.”–Fresh Fiction

This is Book Three of the Drew Farthering Mysteries. New readers might want to start with Book One, Rules of Murder, to get the most impact.

Q: Do you have any writing advice for the MBT Audience?

Set goals! Even if you miss them, you’re almost certain to have made more progress toward them than if you had set no goals at all.

Intake is as important as output. You need to fill up your creative tank with good writing, good movies, good music, good art, good worship. You can’t create great stories if your well is dry.

Don’t forget to play!


Julianna Deering has always loved British history and literature and is particularly a fan of the classic mysteries written by Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. She graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas and, as DeAnna Julie Dodson, has also written medieval romances and contemporary mysteries. She lives outside Dallas, Texas, where she loves to quilt, cross-stitch, and watch hockey. Learn more at www.juliannadeering.com.

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Letting Our Characters “Get Tired of It”

Last weekend was one of those longtime-coming-but-so-worth-the-wait kind of events. After 18 months of planning, best-selling author Rachel Hauck spoke at Write in the Springs, the annual conference for the Colorado Springs ACFW group.

One of the first things I did when I became president of ACFWCS was to ask Rachel to be our 2015 speaker. Her yes was immediate and enthusiastic. The result? Two days of writers being taught – equipped and encouraged – by a woman who knows story and who wants other writers to succeed.

In between taking photos and checking on things in the background, I typed a few notes of my own. These two lines about developing characters stand out:

  • I am tired of being behind this Fear.
  • I am tired of this Wound.

Here at My Book Therapy, we’re all about creating compelling characters. And we start with the Dark Moment, which leads to a Wound, a Lie, and a Fear. The Dark Moment, Wound, Lie, and Fear affects our characters’ relationships with God and with others. As we write our stories, our characters fight against the pain of the Wound, the trap of the Lie, and the Fear that holds them back from being their true selves.

But there comes a time in our characters’ lives when they have to say:

  • I am tired of being behind this Fear.
  • I am tired of this Wound.

And this is when we, as the author, allow our characters to change. They have to change. Who wants to read a book where the characters remain the same from beginning to end?

Dark Moments, Wounds, Lies, Fears – they are not just craft elements created to help us write better stories. Each one of us has our own Dark Moment that resulted in a heart wound. We believe lies about ourselves and about God. Each of us is afraid. Of someone. Of something.

We have to grow up, embrace faith and the strength of God to say, “I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of letting this wound of my past control today and strangle my future.”

And as authors, we build those life-changing moments into our stories too. Allow our characters to move from fear to courage. Bring imaginary people into their fictional lives who help heal their wounds – who teach them to trust God again, or maybe trust Him for the first time.

Consider the story you are writing. When do your main characters get to say, “I am tired of being behind this fear” and “I am tired of this wound”?

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