What Comes Before Editing: Planning the Work & Working the Plan

With the nickname of  The Evil  Editor (TEE) – said with affection, remember! –I bet you think I’m all about editing.

Not true.

I’m also a writer.

Which means I’m also about writing.

But even before the writing, which comes before the editing, I’m about planning. I can see all you  seat-of-the-pantsers (SOTPs) out there in the blog-o-sphere rolling your eyes.  Thinking:  Not another writer who chains herself to scripting out every last word of  her novel, detail by infinitesimal detail. You think there’s nothing better  than letting your story run away with you, surprising you with unexpected twists and turns as a character kisses someone unexpected – or maybe kills them. But even a SOTP has to plot something. Beginning, middle, end. The Disappointments (Ds). Maybe resist putting hands to keyboard and discern your characters’ Lie and the Truth that will set them free?

Any and all of this is planning the work.

As you read this blog post, I’m  deep into writing my second novel.

Once my editor approved my synopsis, I  could:

1. Start writing

2. Plan the work.

Believe me, with a deadline looming and a word count that rivaled the national debt, writing was ve-ery appealing. But planning the work was the wise choice. And so I charted my main  characters’ emotional journeys. I deepened my subplot and determined what  character would have a layer threaded through the story. I zeroed in on my  villain – yep, got one of those – and made him one nasty guy, disguised in a  layer of charisma. I conferred with my mentors and Weston, my beloved Book  Buddy.

Ten days later, I opened a Word document, typed the words Chapter 1, Scene 1, and started writing. And you know what?

I’m having a blast!


I took the time to plan my work – and now I’m working my plan.

 MBT’s Skills Coach, Beth K. Vogt provides her readers with a happily ever after woven through with humor, reality, and God’s lavish grace. Her debut novel, Wish You Were Here, will be published in May 2012 by Howard Books. She’s also written Baby Changes Everything: Embracing and Preparing for Motherhood after 35 for Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) International and is a consulting editor for their magazine, MomSense,
and a bimonthly columnist for MOMSnext, an e-zine for moms of school-age children.



P.S.  Would you like 24-hour all access to the Team Member Locker room and all the perks of the MBT Team Membership? Sign up for Thursday night’s MBT Open House and get the next 24 hours free!  Sign up HERE and you’ll get your access registration link on Thursday morning.










Quick Skills: Make your Hero/Heroine unique

How do you make your hero or heroine unique? Have you ever written a hero or heroine and thought…oh, they seem just like the last character I created? It’s easy to do – you can only pick so many creative combinations for your character…UNLESS…

…Unless you go about character creation from the inside out. I’ve talked at length about finding an identity for your character unique to him, and then building the “outside” to match that inside identity. However, I have a quick trick to help make him even more unique. To make him stand out on the page without going over the top.

Yes, we’re going to start with identity again, but this time we’re going to focus in on his greatest fear. We’ve asked him about his dark moment of the past, and discovered that fear, and now we’re going to build a FLAW out of that fear.

Consider this: A man’s greatest fear stems from the dark moment in his past when his father’s drunk driving accident killed a man in their small town. Our hero always walked around with this stigma, and feared, one day, doing something to brand his own family.  His fear is disgrace. So, his flaw stems from that – he is overly conscious of “doing the right thing.” So much so, it actually immobilizes him because he fears saying the wrong thing. He is often tongue-tied, maybe even wishy-washy, maybe he even runs himself ragged trying to be all things to all people. And his flaw is that he never really gets angry (even when he should) because he fears it.

Now, lets take it one step more. I am going to create One Mannerism that shows this character flaw. Maybe he presses his hand to his chest, taking a deep breath when he is confronted with a problem. Maybe he stutters. Maybe he gets migraines so he is always rubbing his temples. Maybe he drinks milk whenever he goes into a bar. The key is I’m trying to connect his behavior with his flaw with his fear.

Now, I’ll use it in the story in a couple ways.

  1. First, I’ll have the character simply behave this way as a part of his character makeup. I won’t explain it away with some sort of backstory narrative, I’ll simple embed it into his characterization.
  2. And, somewhere in the book, I might have someone mention it. “I think you need something stronger than milk, Jerry,” the bartender says to him when he sits and simply stars at the milk in the bar as his life falls apart. Or he is in his office with his head in his hands, rubbing his temples and his secretary brings him a glass of milk and aspirin. “You’re allowed to get angry, Jerry. Preferably before your head explodes.”

Whatever the mannerism may be, now you’ve made it a believable element to your hero, based on his unique fears and flaws.

Quick Skills: Find your character’s fear and ask: What flaw results from this fear? How can I manifest this flaw in a mannerism or behavior? (Or even a physical attribute?)

Have a great writing week!

Susie May

Conversations: Walking your Hero onto the page

“Today, you write,” I said to Sally as she plunked down her bag. She appeared frazzled today, her blonde hair pulled back into a frizzy ponytail, and she wasn’t wearing makeup.

“Good, because I need some writing therapy,” she said as she sat down on the chair.  “After week with the kids home from school, it’s time to escape.  In fact, I might have already started.”  She handed me four pages of her manuscript.  “It’s the first scene.”

I scanned it.  “No, it’s not,” I said.  “It’s a smattering if the first scene and a lot of backstory,”  I handed it back to her. “But it’s a great start.  And you’ve done what I would have suggested you do – sit down and start writing that first scene.  I expected you to do just this – start telling the story, loaded in with backstory and narrative about your hero.”

“But isn’t that information important? Like knowing where he went to college, and his job, and why he went into the military, and how he wants to be a doctor, but he can’t afford the training, so he is a medic?”

“Yes, it’s important…later in the story.  And that’s what we’re going to talk about today – delivering your hero or heroine to the page in a way that makes them seem alive and three-dimensional.  Your goal here is to let your character walk onto the page fully formed, thinking and acting as if you suddenly dropped in on him in the middle of his day.

“Consider this.  I saw you walk into today, and even though I didn’t know what your life was like this week, your demeanor and appearance told me you’d had a rough week.  If I were writing this, in your POV, I might have said.  “She just wanted one hour without the kids hanging on her.  Sally slid into the chair at the coffee table and managed to untangle her bag from her shoulder, realizing she still had enough kid supplies to last her  and her brood stranded by the side of the road for a week. Real business-like. She’d have to figure out how to balance her four kids, a tired husband and her decade long hope of being published.  She slid into the chair and took out her notebook, pushing away the thought of the mounds of laundry at home. For this hour, her time belonged to her.”

“That sounds about right.”

“Now, if you were a reader, you’d know a few things about Sally. She is married, her kids demand a lot from her, and she has some conflicting values between writing and mothering.  We also know that she is pursuing a life-long dream. We don’t really need to know any more than that – and it’s told through her eyes as she walks in.  I can teach you some storyworld techniques later to layer in her emotion, but for now, think of it like this.

As you walk into the scene, you’re in your character’s head.  Everything your characters sees, thinks, and feels filters through her POV.  Your job as the author is simply to BE that character.  Don’t tell us what the character is thinking, just think it.  Don’t tell us what they feel, just react to it.  Open your mouth and speak and let the character come alive.

“Think about it; do you know someone from their bio, or from experience the journey with them?  This is what you’re offering your reader as you open your story – a taste of the journey and an invitation to come along.

“You’ll give them a hint at what is at stake, and the kind of person they’ll spend time with, and even the goal and main problem you want to solve, but that’s all.  Don’t bog us down with a bio about your character and who he is – which is what you wrote in this first scene – get us into the story.

Here’s a tip – if you feel you have to write the bio for the sake of understanding the character, that’s fine. Just start the story in chapter two, then file chapter one in the “for the author only” file.  Your story starts when your character stops explaining who he is and what he’s done to this point and gets up and begins to engage in the journey.”

She nodded.  “I think I get it.”

“Now here’s a few things you need to get across in the first chapter. First, we need to know who your character is   – and what I mean by that is, what is personality is, what he believes about himself, and life, and what he wants.  You do this through his mannerisms, what he says, what he thinks and how he treats the situation he is in.  This is showing and is the best way to get the story across. Oh, and don’t make him perfect – he has to have a flaw and a fear is he is going to be real.  Something that comes from  his dark moment, and fueled by his greatest fear. By the way – you need to do the same thing with the heroine.”

She was looking at her manuscript, circling things, crossing out others.  “I think I understand.  It’s like I’m just starting the story on the day of his life, cutting into the action, not introducing him like he was speaking at a seminar and then opening the story.”

“Yes.  Remember, you’ve already done the hard work of character creation – figuring out their identity, their dark wound, their happiest moment, and all the added character elements about him.  Now, you just need to let him walk onto the page. Next week, we’ll talk about the two different kind of romance structure.  Now….go write.”

Truth:  Your character needs to walk onto the page without any backstory baggage to get the story going quickly, and you do this best by getting in the skin of your character.

Dare:  Try writing the scene without any backstory at all.  When you’re finished, hand it to a friend and only answer the backstory questions they have at the end with some line of inner thought or dialogue information.

Tomorrow I’ll give you a little trick (or challenge) to helping your character be unique from all his friends on the page!

Happy Writing!

Susie May

P.S.  Would you like 24-hour all access to the Team Member Locker room and all the perks of the MBT Team Membership? Sign up for Thursday night’s MBT Open House and get the next 24 hours free!  Sign up HERE and you’ll get your access registration link on Thursday morning.




A Love Affair with Your Writing Dream, Part Four: Keep the Love Alive

For decades I’ve counseled with couples who started off their relationship with a flame as hot as lava in a volcano. Time and neglect cooled the fire, until all that remained was a few embers begging for a breath of air to fan the flame that long ago flickered out.

It’s sad, really, especially when it doesn’t have to happen. Scientists say our sun will eventually burn out and there’s nothing we can do about it. I don’t know whether that’s true but I do know that our love is a choice and we have complete control over whether the flame burns bright or is extinguished altogether.

The same is true with this love affair with our writing dream we’ve been talking about all month. We’re driving the relationship. Publishers, editors, agents and naysayers don’t. They are powerless to spray water on the fire that burns in your soul unless you let them. You and you alone can extinguish the love you have for your dream of being an author, or it can squelch it, choke out the oxygen and kill the dream.

The choice and power are yours. Isn’t that great? You choose whether or not you will love your dream or divorce it. You decide whether you’ll grow the dream and fan the flames of passion. You are in charge of your own love and where you choose to place it.

When you make the decision to love your dream, it becomes alive to you. It occupies your thoughts and fills your day. You yearn to grow with it and deepen the relationship. When you’re apart, you ache to be reunited with it. When you’re neglecting it, you feel ashamed.

If I could stitch this month’s life coach lessons together, they will form a fabric that is that of your writing dream. Just like the love you have for your spouse, your children, parents, pets, you decide whether or not you are going to commit to loving your dream of being a writer.

Embrace it. Breathe life into the dream. Make it a necessary part of your very existence. Give it the attention it desperately needs. Nurture it and get to know it intimately. Know it’s every feature, its weaknesses, what it needs from you as its partner. Get so close to your writing dream that you think its thoughts, know its next move, feels the beat of its heart.

That is what will grow your dream and keep the love alive. When we love, life is grand. Love your dream and your writing will grow by leaps and bounds, and will contain a thread woven deep into its fabric. It is the three-strand cord of love and it won’t be easily broken.

You can do it. I believe in you. Why not share your stories of your relationship with your writing dream on the team member forum? I’d love to read them. You can also email me privately at reba@mybooktherapy.com. I look forward to hearing from you. Links to Part’s one through three are here:http://www.mybooktherapy.com/?p=5218  http://www.mybooktherapy.com/?p=5228 http://www.mybooktherapy.com/?p=5242

Dr. Reba J. Hoffman, Member Care CoachAUTHOR BIO: Reba J. Hoffman is the MBT Member Care Coach. She has a PhD in clinical counseling and is the founder and president of New Hope Institute of Counseling. Reba uses her gift of encouragement to help writers overcome negative emotions so they can live their dream of being a writer. Her works appear in publications such as Running for the Woman’s Soul by Road Runner Sports and The Good Fight by Donna Hicken. She is the author of My Book Therapy’s Dare to Dream, a Writer’s Journal. Contact her at reba@mybooktherapy.com.