Quick Skills: Sellability

Raise your hand if you’ve seen the new movie, The Vow. I haven’t, but I’m intrigued because it contains a twist on the premise of my new book, The Shadow of Your Smile. A wife loses her memory, and her husband has to woo her all over again.  My story is different in that my hero and heroine have been married for 25 years, with a family and life.  However, their marriage is on the rocks…so while they have a lot to lose, there’s also that sense that they’ve already “forgotten” each other.

Still, as I was building my story, I thought – how will this be different? How can I make this story more powerful, with bigger issues to make it stand out in the market?  How do I make it more sellable than another story with the same premise?

I did this by adding in four powerful elements: Acts of Heroism, Sacrifice, Redemption and Justice.

Acts of Heroism is the journey of a hero or heroine from selfishness to selflessness. In my story, I had a hero who had given up on his marriage because his wife shut him out. He had turned to ice fishing (remember, we’re in Minnesota).  His goal is to stop serving himself…and learn to serve his wife, even if she never remembered their lives together.

Sacrifice is that element that makes a hero sympathetic. It may be at the end of a journey, or at the beginning.  In my story, I put the Sacrifice off stage – my hero and heroine have lost their only daughter in a tragic crime before the book opens.  Worse, they’ve never recovered from this loss.  As the story progresses, the hero must confront the idea of not telling his wife about their daughter in order to help her heal, and thus, lose his daughter all over again.

Redemption is that piece that heals their wounds. It’s the love they find again – but also Eli stepping in to be a real husband, one who engages and protects his wife. He has the opportunity to repeat his sins – or conquer them.  I put Eli in a potentially adulterous situation where he can start over again…with someone else.  And then I let him choose what kind of man he’ll be.

Justice is something everyone craves in a story – for the wrong to be set right.  The bad guy captured, and the memory restored.  (maybe. ) I added a suspense plot into this story so I could create a sense of Justice for Eli, the former police chief. And, I layered in a way to “heal” the family despite all their wounds.

As you’re creating your story, build in these four elements by asking:

  • What are my hero/heroine’s heroic acts, and how do they become less selfish every time?
  • What does my hero/heroine sacrifice at the beginning, that they can repeat at the end? Or, what do they sacrifice at the end to finish their heroic journey?
  • How are my hero/heroine redeemed of his/her mistakes by allowing him/her “another chance?”
  • How will Justice prevail in the end?

With these four elements, your story will have a strong foundation and increase its chances of surviving the whirlwind of the submission pile.

Quick Skill:  Build in the four pillars of a powerful story to keep your story from crumbling.

Susie May

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling Novel.  A quick class on those foundational elements ever editor is looking for!  Sign up at: http://forms.aweber.com/form/35/866611135.htm

P.S.  As you might already know, MBT is now offering an advanced membership!  And, we have one more week of preview.  Go to:  http://teammemberpreview.mybooktherapy.com to find out more and sign up for your free trial membership.  No obligation, you get to join in the fun, and you’ll get an invite at the end of the month to join at our reduced rate! Hope to see you on the team!

Conversations: The Four Pillars of a Best-Seller

I was drinking an extra tall vanilla latte, blinking back the sand in my eyes as Sally came in.  A glorious Monday morning, the sun winking off the frosty waves of Lake Superior, the sky a triumphant eggshell blue, the snow glistening under all that grandeur like diamonds.

Good thing, too, because I’d stayed up late watching both Casablanca and Pearl Harbor to prepare for our conversation this morning. I knew, after meeting with Sally for three weeks, she took our conversations seriously and wanted to be on my game.

She sat down and pulled off her knitted mittens.  “I started a notebook from last week, like you suggested.”  She pulled out a hardbound journal with a leather cover and handed it to me.  I opened it and to my delight found copied phrases and sentences, analysis of plots and notes to self as to why she liked them.

“This is perfect.  Have you discovered something about your voice?”

“Yes. I love the poetry of words, how they string together, and I like to use them in unusual ways.  I like stories about sacrifice and unrequited love.  And I love snappy dialogue, the kind that cuts at the heart of a character. A lot of the passages I copied where examples of these.”

“Excellent. Continue to study how the masters do it, and then try it yourself – in your own voice, of course.  As you get further along writing your novel, we’ll talk about some tricks how to do that.  But I’m sure you’re wondering when you’ll get to start writing?”

“My character keeps talking to me, and he’s getting louder,” Sally said.  “But I don’t know how to start really developing him.”

“We’re going to start working on him this week, I promise.  You’ll have homework that will help you learn the specific things you need to construct his journey.  However, today I want to talk about the four elements you have to put into your book to make it a best-seller.”

“I just want to get it written, first.”

“But you do want it to be powerful, right?  So you need to look inside the framework and produce the four elements that every reader craves. It’s these four elements that draw us to movies like Pearl Harbor and Casablanca.”

“Besides Humphrey Bogart and Ben Affleck?”  She winked.

“They help, that’s for sure.”  I winked back. “But if you think about both those movies, embody four essential plot and character elements  –  Acts of Heroism, Sacrifice, Justice and Redemption.”

She was writing these down.

Acts of Heroism aren’t just about men or women doing heroic things, like saving a child, or going to war.  It’s about moving your character, step by step, from selfishness to selflessness.  You have to cause him to want the good of others by the end of the movie.”

“Like Rick sending Ilsa away.”

“Yes.  And like Rafe wanting Danny to live to be a daddy at the end.  And of course, Danny telling Rafe that he should raise his child.  It’s these elements that show us what true heroes are and make use love the characters despite their mistakes and sins.

The second element is Sacrifice.  Obviously, a hero sacrifices, and building that element into your story shows the true heroic nature of your character. It can be a sacrifice of love – like Rick, or a dream – like Rafe. Or it can be a sacrifice of a friend, a job, a business.  A sacrifice can be something at the end of the journey, or it might be something at the beginning of the journey.  Like Harry Potter losing his family before the stories open. A sacrifice makes your character just a little bit more sympathetic and likeable, and makes a reader root for them.

The third element is Redemption. We need to see that your character, or some major player is redeemed. That by his actions he has found a measure of salvation.  Rick is redeemed when he discovers that Ilsa did love him, and would rather stay with him.  He has to “do the thinking for both of them,” and when he does – and makes the right decision – he’s redeemed from being a “guy who never sticks his neck out for others.”  Rafe is redeemed from losing Evelyn to Danny when he realizes she will “never see another sunset without thinking of him.”  He knows she loves him, and he is able to step away from her and let Danny have her.  Redemption comes as a result of the epiphany and helps them right the wrongs they, or others have done to them.”

The fourth element is Justice.  Human beings crave justice, and we want it in our stories. And frankly, it’s what allows us to like the endings of Pearl Harbor and Casablanca.  Although Danny dies, we all know that Evelyn really belonged to Rafe, and Rafe realizes just how important Danny is in his life.  This ending brings Justice to the wrongs perpetrated in the story.  And Rick…he knows Ilsa doesn’t belong to him, even though he has her heart.  We find justice for him – and all of France – when the Prefect of Police says, “round up all the usual suspects” and we realize that Rick is going to get away…and perhaps even get involved in fighting the war again.”

“The truth is, without these four pillars holding it up, your story will be uneven, and even shaky. So, as you’re creating your character this week, think about how you’ll weave in Heroism, Sacrifice, Redemption and Justice.”

She finished writing. “And I supposed you’re going to tell me to look for these in every book and movie I see.”

I smiled.  “And then write down some ideas.”

“Like losing the girl?”

“Or, since it’s a world war 2 movie, he could lose a leg or an arm. Or a best friend. But we’ll get to finding the right sacrifice as we build your character.  Right now, I just want you to be thinking of this as you build your story. Your dare for this week: come up with a list of ideas for each of these elements.  And then…I want you to name your character.”

“Like Joe, or Butch?”

“No.  Use a metaphor that captures his essence, his personality.  Ask him how he sees himself.  That will help us build his identity.  And, bring me a picture of your hero. I want to see what he looks like.”

“Ben Affleck won’t do?”

“Oh, he’ll do just fine.”


Truth:  To build a strong story, you must have Acts of Heroism, Sacrifice, Redemption and Justice built into the plot and characterization.

Dare: Look for these four elements in your WIP or favorite stories, and add them to your storycrafting checklist.


Commitment: Your Key to Success Part Four: Believe in Yourself

What’s belief got to do with commitment? In a word, EVERYTHING! God designed our heart and mind to only commit to that which we believe in. If we believe in our ability as a writer, we’ll commit to it. If not, we’ll run from it. Simple as that.

Here’s the truth. If you were not a writer, you would not be reading this article. It doesn’t contain jaw dropping, heart stopping, gotta-turn-the-page material. It’s not a New York Times best seller. Its literary magnificence can’t be the reason you’ve made it these hundred words. No, you’re hoping to gain insight to help you reach your goals as a writer.

I believe in you. I believe in your dream. But I’m not the one who’s under the gun in your dream. You are. And you’ve had a lifetime for your imagination to conjure up all sorts of false reasons you should not believe in yourself.

1) Your uncle Bert said you were crazy to think of being a writer because you had the talent of his goldfish. You know, the scaly pet that died when you were seven.

2) You could never score higher than a B+ on your compositions no matter how much time you spent writing and rewriting.

3) Oh, and those twenty three rejection letters scream blood curdling I told you so’s every time you sit down at the computer.

No wonder you have trouble believing in yourself. Not only are those painful experiences imprinted in your self esteem, they hurt like a popcorn kernel stuck in your gums. Every time you try to take a bite out of your word count, it hurts.

Rejection hurts and is the most damaging event that a writer suffers through. It’s hard to remember how talented you are as you read, “We’re sorry but your manuscript is not what we’re looking for.” Makes you want to write back and say, “I’m sorry but your rejection letter wasn’t exactly what I was looking for either!”

While that wouldn’t win you any brownie points, you’d sure feel good doing it, right? Well, there are some specific things that you can do that will make you feel just that good, and will help you believe in yourself throughout the year. Here are just a few:

1) Take the time to settle, once and for all, who you are in the eyes of God. Let it sink deep into your heart and spirit. God didn’t create any knockoffs. All His children are name brand quality.

2) Listen to what your thoughts tell you when they think you’re not listening. Let me explain. Say I was just rejected. It will sting like someone punched me in the nose. But then, as the hours and days go by, I stop consciously listening to my thoughts of rejection. I pick myself up by the bootstraps and continue on my pursuit of authorship.


Suddenly, I realize I’m rehearsing conversations like, “Well, if that editor thinks I’ll remember him when I’m a best-selling author, he’s dead wrong. I won’t even give him the time of day.” Or perhaps, “If that critic thinks my book will tank, maybe I’ll just repay the compliment when a book she gives the thumbs down to sells millions of copies!” Oh yeah, that’ll show them.

Wow! Those thoughts that crept into my heart unawares are revealing, aren’t they? Suddenly, I’m headed down a dead end road called sour grapes and I can’t remember where I made the turn. As a result, I believe I’m not worthy of acceptance. I might as well smash my computers with a sledge hammer. I won’t need them in my new home in Self Destruct neighborhood on Sabotage Street.

3) Tell yourself the truth. Don’t blame others. It doesn’t help. Most of the time you shouldn’t even blame yourself because you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s not a crime to be developing in your craft. Perhaps you have a ways to go before Love Inspired and Thomas Nelson fight over your manuscript. That’s fine.

Are you working hard, learning from the pros and practicing plotting? Then you have every right to believe in yourself.

Continue reading “Commitment: Your Key to Success Part Four: Believe in Yourself”

Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home devotional book

A Note from Susie May:

When I was reading this devotional, I thought of how helpful it might be, not just for those who have loved ones deployed, but for those with any family away from home.  (and I thought of my parents, when we were missionaries).  A powerful devotional to help in every challenge of life – a reminder that God is always there, always holding us.  Edie’s writing will minister to those seeking peace in challenging times.


About the Book:

Having a son at war was not something Edie Melson ever thought she’d have to face. But that was exactly what happened when her oldest announced he was bypassing college and enlisting in the Marine Corps.

Edie understands what it is to face adversity and come out triumphant on the other side. Her years as a wife, mother and ministry leader have given her a unique perspective to reach out to others facing the same struggles. As a full-time writer, she’s always concentrated on telling the stories of others. In this book, she continues with those stories, but also shares her own challenges and the way God gave her the strength to endure.

BUY THE BOOK:  Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle

About the Author:

Edie is a member of numerous civic and professional organizations, including the Blue Star Mothers of America, the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, The Christian Pen, The Christian Writer’s View I and American Christian Fiction Writers. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and Southwest Christian Writers Studio, as well as a popular faculty member at numerous others. Edie is also the Assistant Acquisitions Editor for ChristianDevotions.us. She’s also an assistant copy editor for the Voices E-zine, a publication of My Book Therapy and a part of the My Book Therapy Special Teams Blog and The Social Media Coach for the My Book Therapy Core Team www.mybooktherapy.com.


Fighting Fear, Winning the War at Home brings hope and comfort to the families left behind when a loved one is deployed. — Gina Holmes, bestselling author of Crossing Oceans and Dry as Rain.

Edie Melson, author/editor, presents an honest, helpful book for those with family members serving in the military. She writes from experience and with heart, having faced the fear and anxiety that comes with having a family member overseas. — Alton Gansky, author.

Few life events can be more unsettling than sending a loved one off to war. This book captures so vividly the fear, doubts and anxiety that go along with deployment, but more than that, each devotion leaves no doubt as to God’s presence with us in the midst of it all.— Ann Tatlock, award-winning novelist.

Touches the heart. Nurtures the soul.— Jack Cavanaugh, novelist.