The Great Debate! Story vs Structure

So, here we are, Susie May and me, after the Christy Awards sitting in the Marriott Hotel with greats Ted Dekker and Steven James, fellow Christy Award nominees.

(Congratulations to Susie for her second Christy win! And also congrats to Ted!)

Among our company that night was Ted’s daughter, who is also a new, contracted author with Tyndale.

As talk goes among writers, we edged our way to talking about craft. Steven James just came out with a book Story Trumps Structure.

I get what he’s saying. Books are about stories, about people doing amazing things.

No one ever came up to me and said, “Rachel, I just thought of a great structure!”

All writers are dreamers of story.

But James contends too many writers get wrapped around the axel on structure and forget about story.

As you know, here at MBT, we are all about BOTH.

As the conversation rose to a debate and we pleasantly bantered around ideas, I realized it boiled down to an approach in terms more than true disagreement.

Steven asserted people make an outline then try to write to the outline and end up with a bland story.

Agree! “Steven,” I said. “Outline is NOT structure.”

Ted’s daughter, Rochelle, chimed in with me. “Right, it’s just an outline.”

So just what are we talking about here?

James asserted a writer should write themselves into a corner. (My worst nightmare!) Then write themselves out of it.

Ted fell somewhere in between free flow and pre planning a story.

Susie asserted we don’t proclaim a story must be all planned with no new discoveries, but a writer should know where the story is going. And I piped up, “You have to know what the story is about!”

I think, if we’d had more time, we’d have found a lot more common ground. Though I’ll never confirm writing oneself into a corner is a good idea. I mean, it’s how a lot of new writers end up failing.

But what is the balance between story and structure?

Well, story does trump all! What the book is about? What kind of story are you telling? What is the heart and essence you want to communicate.

Books are about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Overcoming fear, besetting issues, defeating evil and mending broken hearts.

But what is the best method or approach to putting this all on paper?

James said, “Look, I was five days from deadline and discovered I had he wrong killer. So I called my editor and told her I could fix it, rewrite the book an make it much better but I needed two more months. She said, “Do it.”

He contends pre planning wouldn’t have helped in that moment.

Isn’t that the beauty of writing? Discoverability. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve discovered some new truth at the end of the book.

Sometimes I go with it. Other times I do not. Not all last minute discoveries work. They don’t necessarily make the book better.

Susie “tells herself the story” by writing a long synopsis. Based on her gifts and talents, she pretty much sticks to that synopsis. Because by writing the story out “and this happened, then this” she discovers problems as well as nuances.

I know I’ll never write a book again without writing out the whole story. Foregoing that exercise for How To Catch A Prince messed me up.

I don’t do well writing by the “seat of my pants.” I write 400K words to get 90K. Ha! Not an efficient use of my time.

The conversation that night was all over the place, as you can imagine, but in the end, it was great time of fellowship and discussion. I think the group around the table that night more or less agreed with each other… if we came to common grounds on terminology.

We’d all say:

Develop a great story.
Come up with tension and what-if scenarios.
Consider what can go wrong. Do that only worse.

Structure is important so you, the writer, has an idea of where you’re going. Structure doesn’t have to be complicated. James is opposed to the 3 Act Structure. I get that… suddenly novelist have to behave like screenwriters.

But novel structure is simple:

Home world, every day life with a hint of the story question.
Inciting incident that launches the story.
The journey. The Noble Quest. This comes from the story question, what the character wants.
Disappointments and trials. Things don’t go well.
Choice. What are they going to do now?
Epiphany. “Oh, I get it now.”
Black Moment
Happy Ending

Is that too much structure? Naw… come on. If you want to make your writing job easier, at least plug in some of these factors.

Know where your story is going and what it’s about.

Story does trump structure. But a story without structure is like a building without a foundation. It’ll topple.

Happy Writing

Research For Today’s Writer

I’ve been preparing for my next wip and like every professional writer, I want to make sure and present all of the information accurately. Why I picked a photographer for my next character, I will never know. But when you’re brainstorming with craft partners along the river, it all sounds fabulous and totally easy.

Not! Somewhere in the back of my mind I figured hey, my brother is a photographer. He can fill in all the gaps. Um, no. Even photographers have their areas of specialty. Guess, what? My brother specializes in photographing events – not places.

I wanted to take a fresh look at how to research novels. I polled some of my writing buddies both unpublished and published and got some great ideas for researching.

Home Improvement?

If you’re trying to write a home improvement scene and are totally repair challenged, try

Crazy Psychopath People?

This is obviously for people who write suspense. The FBI website offers research for you to profile your villain(s). Not for the faint of heart.

Local law enforcement as part of their job normally hold informational seminars throughout the year. Contact your local law enforcement to get more information.

The Library.

Believe it or not, I still think libraries are a great source of information. Now, you don’t even need to leave your home. Find out if your library offers the ability to loan out books digitally. I know our library in Montgomery, Texas, utilizes a third party. When I borrow books from the library it’s sent straight to my Kindle. Welcome to the age of technology!

Word of caution though — check the publishing date on your reference information to make sure your information is up to date.

Professional Questions.

Look around you. Who do you know that works in that field?  You’d be surprised at how big your circle of friends can be. When I took stock of people I could interview, I was surprised. I know teachers, CPA, attorneys, doctors, nurses, EMTs and physical therapists. Take them out for coffee and give them a chance to talk about the profession they love. One of the key questions I ask: What was the worst day on the job? Worst case you experienced? Those are FANTASTIC dark moments for your characters!

Local Workshops.

If your character is going to get stuck in an avalanche or a tornado, search for a disaster preparedness workshop. If your character is going to be an entrepreneur and the bottom will fall out, you can look into the Small Business Development Center. Check the local Chamber of Business. They have many opportunities available as well.

Steampunk Anyone?

Museums. Try to find one with Victorian exhibits. I’ve heard The Victoria and Albert Museum online is great. Hey, why leave your house if you don’t have to? 


You can of course, research online. I sat down next to one of my teenage sons and started asking questions. They gave great answers. Word of caution though — don’t ask any questions during the season playoffs.

What research tools have you found helpful?




Social Media Minute—Basic Building Blocks for a Strong Online Platform

Anyone who reads this blog knows I believe it’s possible to build a strong platform through social media. I should, I did it. Beyond that, I’ve helped hundreds of other writers do the same things.

But with all the posts I’ve shared over the years, I haven’t lately laid out the basic building blocks, all in one place. Today I’m going to do just that.

Basic Building Blocks

  • Blogging
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

That’s all there are, just three. But when you work them together you can capitalize on the synchronicity that results, here’s how:


You need to be blogging regularly somewhere. Your interactions on Facebook and Twitter are brief, because of the nature of the sights. Think of them as place to gather for short, casual conversations. On the other hand, blogging is a place where your readers get to know you better. They can sit and have a cup of coffee with you. You choose one of two places to blog regularly:

  • Your own personal site.
  • A group blog.

If you’re blogging on your own site, you need to be posting a minimum of once a week. And that once a week needs to be a regular schedule. If you expect readers to visit your site regularly, then you must be there when you say you will. Think about it. How many times will you visit a business if you aren’t sure whether they’re open when they say they will be. It’s the same thing with a blog.

If you’re a part of a group blog, you must be blogging there a minimum of twice a month. Again this needs to be on a regular schedule.


At this point in time, unless you already have a thriving professional page, I strongly urge you to stick with a personal profile. If you want to know the reasons I recommend this, I did a post on How to Use YourFacebook Profile Professionally as well as Personally

So how often should you post to FB? I recommend posting a minimum of 4 – 5 updates a day, 4 – 5 days a week. I also recommend commenting on a minimum of 2 posts a day, 4 – 5 days a week.


This one’s a bit easier. I recommend a minimum of 5 tweets a day, 4 – 5 days a week.

Beyond that, I haven’t relented on my single hard-and-fast rule for social media:

Edie’s 5 to 1 Rule

For every 5 social media updates on a given network, you may only send out 1 about yourself or your product. Your product would be an article, blog post, book for sale (or offered for free), etc.

Updates that aren’t about you include favorite quotes you share (as long as they’re not yours), Bible verses, questions, or general comments.

You may add other networks to your social media plan, but these are the three I believe fall in the  have-to-do category.

Now it’s your turn. What questions do you have about building an online platform? Be sure to leave them below.


2014 Frasier Bronze Medalists!

I remember the days of submitting to writing contests…if I didn’t final, I wanted to know…how close was I to the top 5?

Because writing is a journey, and we’re always about improving our craft, we want to celebrate those who earned the spot of top 15, right behind the Finalists. Great Job!

Frasier Bronze Medalists 2014

Piper Huguley A Virtuous Ruby
Londa Hayden Jasmine in Bloom
Cindy Stewart Only One Life to Give
Dee Bright Murder Between the Lines
Jennie Atkins One Last Miracle
Lorna Woods Storm Tossed Heart
Delores Topliff Cruising Down the River
Sally Pitts Surprise Marriage
Christina Suzann Nelson Torn Edges  
Erin MacPherson Painting Home
Jennie Atkins Black-Eyed Suzie
Chandra Smith The Turtle Box
Jennifer Dyer The Secret of Shelazon
Heidi Chiavaroli Abram’s Rock



And don’ t forget to attend the Award Ceremony and Pizza Party at the ACFW Conference in St. Louis!

Store Icon for Pizza Party 2014

Hope to see you there!

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