Passion versus Publishing…which to choose?

The MBT 2011 Deep Thinkers
The MBT 2011 Deep Thinkers



I receive a lot of questions from aspiring writers and this one caught my eye.


Q: Have you ever had a story that you wanted to write, a spiritual message you wanted to share, but it won’t let you just yet?

A: Yes, I have a couple stories sitting in my heart that I haven’t had the opportunity or perhaps the divine timing to write yet. 


I’m a firm believer that God will work out the story in the right time, so I continue to collect ideas, impressions, do research and let those ideas soak, waiting for the right timing. 

But sometimes I’m not ready – emotionally, or even professionally to write it.  Maybe I don’t have the skill level yet.  And I certainly don’t want to waste my swan’s song on mediocre writing!  Or, maybe the market isn’t ready for my brilliant idea.  So, in the meantime, I move onto the stories I have the ability to write right now.


This is what happened with my “Josey” series.  The story of my hilarious happenings in Russia simmered in my heart years before God opened the door to write it.  And when He did, the timing was perfect.  (My first book in that series, Everything’s Coming Up  Josey was a Christy finalist).   The same thing happened with “Nothing but Trouble.”  I cooked up my heroine PJ Sugar four years before I saw it come to publication.  And I’m glad I waited – I was able to write a deeper story than the one I had originally envisioned. 


I’ve always loved historical fiction, but I had to wait until I had the time to do the research, as well as the ability to pull them off.  I envisioned something more literary, so I had to grow into those skills, reading widely and doing a thorough scrutiny of my writing.  My first dive into the historical genre was Sons of Thunder (which won the new Inspy Bloggers award!) 


I think a lot of writers believe they have to write the stories on their hearts…but perhaps they’re also not ready to write that story yet.  I think it’s wise to ask God if it’s time…or if there is another story that could hone your skills in the meantime, in preparation for that heart story.


So, don’t give up on your heart story, but consider that you’re not quite ready to write it yet.  Or, maybe the market isn’t ready for it yet.  Or both.  Wait on Him, and be open to working on something else in the meantime.




God Bless you on your writing journey!

Susie May






Does your protagonist have a Super Power? You bet!

During the My Book Therapy Deep Thinkers Retreat I threw Beth Vogt a curve. “What’s your heroine’s super power?”

She looked at me like I was crazy. But I had a plan. A purpose.

In Beth’s story, her heroine left a high powered job to work with a poor community. As the character realizes her limitations on a local mission field, I suggested she jump to her super power.

“And what would that be?” Beth asked, brow arched, lips twisted with dubiosity.

“She can raise money,” I said. “She knows how to get money from people. She’s gifted. She has the contacts, the connections, the right talent to pitch ideas.”

Ah, so lights began to dawn. Now, I’m not sure Beth is going to use this super power, but it was the one thing her heroine could do NO ONE else in the story could do.

Another case. I was reading a synopsis for another author friend and her protagonist was a dedicated, driven doctor. When she had opportunity to “save” a small town, she chose another avenue besides medicine. Now, she had a great story. She had a great “saving” thread, but why not use the heroine’s super power? Medicine.

She was the only one in town who could use medicine, her abilities and connections to save the town from a medical epidemic.


The super power is the protagonist’s talent or gift that NO ONE else in the story has. The super power is so much a part of them they don’t even realize they possess it.

Let’s look at some examples:

Dorothy in Wizard of Oz — through the power of her own heart to love, she draws together three misfits and helps them over come their own fears as well as her own. Dorothy’s ability to love others and see beyond herself enable the Scarecrow, the Lion, the Tin Man to overcome their fears and find courage. SUPER POWER: Seeing souls for who they could be rather than who they are not.

Coach Boon in Remember the Titans — his love of football and driven desire to win, seeing himself as a winner, enabled him to take one of the first racially mixed football teams in the south to a national championship. He saw beyond the skin color and formed a team. SUPER POWER: Ability to bring teen boys together to create a great football team, bucking racial traditions.

Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice — her courage to reject societal norms in regards to men and marriage enabled her to pursue her heart’s desire for true love. SUPER POWER: Ability to speak her mind in a time when women were demure and quiet.

I just finished a book called The Wedding Dress. The heroine Charlotte Malone owns a wedding shop and can “see” how to dress a bride. But it’s not until she finds an antique wedding dress can she “see” how to dress herself.

In Dining with Joy, Joy Ballard charms thousands through a TV camera, a convincing cook show host, but all the while hiding her endearing flaw. She can’t cook. SUPER POWER: Her charm is genuine and in the end, wins true love.

A super power doesn’t have to be extravagant. And it doesn’t have to take over the story. But if your character is a business woman, let her use her business prowess to prove her competence to herself and to the world around her.

If she’s a doctor, let her medical knowledge “save the day.”

If she is a singer or songwriter, let her vocals and lyrics bring healing to her own soul.

If she’s a vintage shop owner, like Jade Benson, in Softly and Tenderly, let her see the value in old things, people and places. Let her see the value in knowing our roots to the past. Let her bring that truth to the story.

Even though Jade was wounded by her hippie mother, she values her mother’s life and past. Jade knows “antiques” even human antiques, brings value to our lives. And she’s not one to consider them junk. SUPER POWER: See the value in things and others!

A super power is an innate ability the protagonist doesn’t realize he possesses. But when he’s in a bind, it’s the very thing that drives him, pushes him forward, causes him to bring healing or help.

So, what’s your protagonist super power. What can she or he do no one else in the story can do. Now listen, don’t go pulling something out of the air.


Medical doctors chose the field for a reason. There’s something in their core character that draws them to medicine. A business person is drawn to marketing, selling, developing products.

A writer is drawn to tell stories.

A lawyer is drawn to justice or defense of the weak. Perhaps he’s drawn to making a lot of money. But when he learns of a child dying from contaminated water, he jumps in with his super power — understanding of the law — to save the day.


Once you figure out some kind of super power for you protagonist, you may have to adjust your story some. Or, you may have the story you want but learn that your character’s super power is a bit different than you realized.

In The Wedding Dress, I didn’t want Charlotte’s super power to be a good eye for antiques. No, she’s not an antiques kind of girl. So when she finds herself drawn to an ugly old trunk, and spends  $1000 purchasing on it, she’s out of her element. It’s her super power of recognizing a unique, gorgeous wedding gown that drives her to answer her own story questions.

All right, now you know about super power. Does your character have a super power? Some of them are obvious. Some, not so much, but find some kind of super power for your protagonist. Use it to deepen and advance the plot. Help them become heroic by finally realizing and engaging his or her SUPER POWER.

Change the character, or story, if need be. But find that super power.

How to cause a little trouble: the how-to’s of peripheral plotting

How do you find those Peripheral Plotting elements?

Yesterday we talked about Peripheral Plotting – a great little trick to widening your suspense plot.  How, however, do you find those elements?  

Look around you – each one of us has people and things we care about in a widening circle. This is our periphery.

 Let’s say my goal is to get to the airport so I can get to Seattle to see my mother for Christmas. In a linear plot, all that might stand between me and my goal might be transportation, or perhaps money. Maybe getting time off from my job. But let’s do some peripheral plotting.

 Let’s say that I get a call from the principle of the school. My son has had a fight on the playground and they can’t find his father (who is supposed to pick him up). I must get off work early and go to the school. Now, my son has been pulled in from the periphery.

 After meeting with the principle, I call my husband and discover that he never showed up at work today. Let’s add more stress to the plot and say that we are estranged. Now, do I go find him, or do I drop my son off at my sister’s house? In plotting, I could pull in the disappearance of my estranged husband into the periphery.

 But let’s say that I decide to ignore him, and head home to get my bags and drop my son off. When I get home, I discover that my house has been broken into. I must call the police, and one of the answering officers just happens to be an old boyfriend I haven’t seen in years.

 Now I have two more peripheral elements – the ransacked house and the old beau.

 See how the story is widened already?

 Now, a missed call and cryptic message on my cell phone from someone I don’t know, but who says she knows where my missing ex-husband is, pulls in another element and raises the stakes even more. Especially when I convince the old beau to come with me to meet this woman…and find her dead!

 See how pulling in peripheral events suddenly creates more tension? I might then also turn the focus back onto the main goal by having my mother call, and tell me she is on her way to the hospital with chest pains.

 Now, this is an intriguing story.

As you’re plotting, ask: What is the worst thing (within reason) that could happen, right now, to someone or something in your periphery that would derail your own quest in life?

 Another way to figure out peripheral stakes is to do Visual Plotting: Create an idea web, with your character at the center, and a web of the things he or she cares about around that central hub. Then it’s easy to see the big picture and create scenarios or “what-ifs” for each of these things. From there, you can develop the Peripheral Stakes. (I often use Inspiration Software, a brainstorming program, to gather my thoughts.)

 Note: Peripheral Stakes are not Subplots, or even layers, but additional devices used in the main storyline. But, peripheral plotting can help you find those layers or Subplots you may want to incorporate into the story. (We’ll talk about Subplots and layers next!)

 Pick someone or something in your character’s periphery and create trouble. Something that could potentially divert your hero’s attention, or even damage him. As he races to solve this peripheral problem, of course, the larger stake is affected, and worsens. He is forced to choose between two equally good Primal Instincts and your reader is on the edge of their seat. 

 Finding Peripheral Stakes opens up new scenes, new secondary characters, new plotlines and new opportunities for character growth and widens your plot!

 Now, go cause some trouble.  🙂

 Susie May





Peripheral Plotting – a trick to widening your suspense plot

You need to employ some Peripheral Plotting!

Peripheral Plotting is the technique of pulling in ancillary elements and using them to create more tension in your plot. Ideally, they will make your character have to tap into a more noble instinct and push them along their journey.

How does Peripheral Plotting work? 

I’m going to veer away from Cellular and Eagle Eye for a moment – only because they are such straightforward plots, and look at Live Free or Die Hard the latest in the Bruce Willis saves the world saga. Live Free or Die Hard is a perfect example of peripheral plotting.

 Basically, through the Internet, the bad guys are trying to take over all the transportation, finances and utilities in the United States, and if they succeed, the entire world as we know it will collapse. Fascinating, big stakes, and the Primal Instinct here is survival. The problem is, that after a while, we as the viewer become bored or hardened to these larger stakes, and the Primal Instinct to save the world – and survival gets old.

 Ultimately, we only care about stories that touch our hearts, and frankly, survival of the world, while important, just feels untouchable. Thankfully, the creator chooses to make it personal, to require John McClane to become more noble by making the situation personal. He kidnaps John’s estranged daughter and threatens her life.

 Suddenly, there are new stakes to the story. By putting pressure on John to save his daughter and abandon the quest to save the world, we now have a twist that re-engages the reader into the storyline. He has to choose between two Primal Instincts – survival of the world, or saving his daughter. And only one is more noble. Therefore, when he chooses his daughter, he becomes more heroic. Now, of course, he could have also sacrificed his daughter (but we’ll get to that element in a second), but that would make him less heroic.

 The technique of reaching beyond the main storyline to find those fringe elements and using them to exert pressure into the story is called Peripheral Plotting. The creator could have used a stranger off the street and threatened their lives – but this wouldn’t have been personal to John, and therefore wouldn’t have touched our hearts. He could have decided to threaten the life of the president, but this is too far out of the periphery for John. Peripheral Plotting requires that the plot element be Personal and close in Proximity.

Another great example of Peripheral Plotting was the television show 24. Notice how, at any given point, Jack Bauer had two or three other issues to deal with, on a personal level, along with saving the world? In the last season I saw (I’m a bit behind), Jack was trying to find a terrorist (of course) who was trying to keep the president from sending troops into an African country. This is a noble goal, but it doesn’t touch Jack’s life, unless you saw the prequel, where Jack is in the African country and sees his friends killed.

As the season opened, Jack was standing trial for his many “crimes” but was pulled away because of his personal knowledge of the situation. (Why!) As we get further into the story, Peripheral Stakes begin to weave into the story. Suddenly, Jack discovered he must save his best friend from being sucked into a terrorist plot. Then, he was required to save the president’s life and another friend is killed. Then, Jack contracted a biological disease and was going to die, which brought his estranged daughter into the scene. When she was threatened, he would do anything to save her.

The gem of this plotting is that all of these things are happening at the same time, making it harder for Jack to complete the big picture task.  Most of all, all of these plotting elements conspire to raise the stakes and keep the adrenaline flowing in the story.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how to find those perpipheral plotting elements.

Susie May