Highlights from the Deep Thinkers Retreat

Rachel HauckI’m sitting in my room at Destin Florida a day after the My Book Therapy Deep Thinkers Retreat.

Susie and I har hanging out. Shopping. Watching Property Brothers. And talking about this 6th fabulous retreat.

We had about 17 attendees with 4 staff. Which is wonderful for the intense help and training we give.

This year Susie revealed her secret equation to great story telling.

The SEQ — The Story Equation.

The SEQ focuses on the essentials of a story, starting with character, and fashioning all of the elements needed to make a powerful story.

In short the SEQ is the Dark Moment plotting –> wound, lie, fear, secret desire/greatest dream journey.

We took all of the SEQ elements and fitted them into the four act structure. Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b, Act 3.

The writers loved the SEQ — those with experience as well as the newbies.

The SEQ is such a great way to start every story, get it on track, and off to a solid start.

This works for both pantsers, plotters, and everything in between.

After a morning teaching session, we broke into groups: Team Susie. Team Rachel and Team Beth.

In the groups, we worked out the SEQ and stories for each of the writers-in-retreat.

Remember, stories are about people facing odds, their fears, the failures, and overcoming.

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Evenings were spent watching movies, then breaking them down to learn story, motivation, and pacing.

We watched We Bought A Zoo and 100 Foot Journey. I highly recommend both.

By the time the retreat ended, each writer left with their story formed and reformed, and ready for writing.

One of the biggest tips from Susie was to remind the writers that sometimes we have to remove “all the furniture” from our stories.

Meaning, when a writer comes to the retreat with a story already formed, he or she has to be willing o not only to change elements, but to remove them completely.

Using the SEQ, it’s easy to see if the character journey is in right alignment.

One of the beauties of My Book Therapy is we don’t just teach you what to do but how to do it. Yet, leaving each writer plenty of room to “write like you write.”

Deep Thinkers is quickly growing into a “must attend” retreat.

It’s intense, fun, lots of laughter, and even more learning.

Stay in touch with My Book Therapy to learn more about the SEQ and next year’s Deep Thinker’s retreat.

The Premium Membership is only $24 a month and chocked full of resources: video lessons and articles.

Now, go write something brilliant.

Time to Overcome by Nick Kording

I planned on writing a witty review of a writing craft book each time I contributed to the Weekly Spark. It made sense as I am now writing fiction in addition to Christian living. Also, my huddle group reads a craft book every other month and I read more in between.

But. There’s always a but.

But the last couple weeks, time – more precisely, time to overcome and write – has become a recurrent theme in my life. It’s not that I don’t have time to write, but rather that I don’t carve out that time. I write because I hear God best when I read His Word and write what He gives me. I know I’m not alone. Of the hundreds if not thousands of people I’ve met on the writing journey, the majority indicate their stories come from God.

In turn, I’ve always said I write when He gives me words. Unfortunately, I’ve also used this as an excuse not to write.

“I don’t have any words,” I say. Or maybe, “I write when I hear something and I’m not right now.”

It felt valid at the time. It felt like obedience to the gifts He’s given me. And, yet, somehow, as God has slowed down my life and given me a chance to examine how valuable each day is, I’ve started to realize that “I don’t have any words” isn’t God’s silence but my failure to write the stories, the truths, the love and grace and mercy He’s given me. I’ve always read the stories of Jesus’ ministry with the feeling that I would have followed him throughout Israel and beyond just to sit at His feet. Yet it’s easy for me to become Martha and busy myself with things that aren’t furthering the stories He’s already given me.

Or I refuse, if you will, to stretch out my hand or take up my mat to be healed – to overcome.

“… a man with a shriveled hand was there.He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.” – Matthew 12:9-13 (NIV)

So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take up your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. –Matthew 9:6b-7 (NIV)

Jesus didn’t heal the man until he stretched out his hand. Of course, Jesus had to heal the paralytic for the man to be able to get up, but the man had to try. I think the same is true for writing.

We have to try – to make the time to write even when we aren’t sure what we are to say or where our stories are going. And, yes, we also have to make time for other things. God first. Our families and jobs. But we also have to write when that’s our gift – our ministry – our way of showing His glory in overcoming the world.

It’s time. Make time. Take up your mat, stretch out your hand and overcome. Write.


Nick Kording is a writer, ghostwriter and editor.  She was a finalist in the 2014 Rattler Contest and Splickety Love’s Inaugural edition, where her flash fiction, It Does Not Envy, was published. Nick writes Christian living, Bible studies and devotionals, as well as women’s contemporary and Biblical fiction.

Writer’s Math: Prep a Scene with 5+5+1

As a novelist, I thought I’d escaped all things numerical. Fine with me, as the mention of numbers is reason to cue the white noise in my brain.

Through the years. I’ve learned that even wordsmiths like to devise equations for the writing process. Susie and Rachel have developed a variety of writer equations and — Surprise! — I’m formulating a bit of writer math myself.

I love the process of fast drafting — writing the first draft of my manuscript without stopping to rewrite, using it as an act of discovery about my characters and my plot. But how can I ensure that even my fast draft is as strong as it can be?

Simple. Whenever I write a scene, I remember the equation: 5+5+1.

5 + 5 + 1

The first 5 stands for the 5 Ws: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Before I begin writing a scene, I type out the 5 Ws of the scene. I like to do this in red so that it stands out. I list:

Who is in the scene? Specify the main POV character and any other key character

What is going on? Focus on the main action.

Where does the scene takes place? In a castle? On a boat?

When does the scene happen? What time of year is it (if that’s important) or what time of day is it?

Why is this scene important? What is the goal of this scene? Is it an Action or ReAction scene?

5 + 5 + 1

The second 5 stands for the 5 Senses: Touch, Sight, Taste, Smell, and Hearing. I consider the main character for the scene I’m writing and then run their POV through the list, one by one. (I also type this out in red.)

EXAMPLE:  What if my main POV character is a shool teacher and the scene takes place on the playground? My list might look like this:

Touch: the chainlink of a swing, a young child’s hand, some stray trash blowing across the schoolyard, an abandoned lunchbox

Sight: children climbing on the monkey bars, one child sitting by himself off to the side, a kick ball soaring over the fence into the street

Taste: bitter aftertaste of coffee

Smell: hint of autumn on the breeze, scent of cherry chapstick she applied

Hear: children laughing, footsteps running across asphalt, the sound of a school bell

Sometimes as I write out the 5 Senses I stumble upon a possible symbol to weave through my scene.

5 + 5 + 1

The 1 stands for the main emotion of the POV character in the scene. I’ve discussed the importance of determining the specific emotion the POV character is feeling in other posts. Use one word: anxious, rejected, elated, content. Write this down too — yes, in red.

Now that I’ve done my prep work, which takes 10-15 minutes, I’m ready to start writing. I don’t have to interrupt my forward motion by wondering about Storyworld — what my character might see or hear or touch — and knowing the character’s main emotion keeps the scene anchored.

TIP: You can also use the 5+5+1 Prep a Scene Equation as you finish writing for the day. Consider the scene you’ll start writing tomorrow and type out the 5 Ws, the 5 Senses, and the POV character’s main emotion for it before calling it quits. You’ll have a jumpstart on tomorrow’s word count.

[Tweet “Writer’s Math: Prep a Scene with 5+5+1 @bethvogt #amwriting”]

What I Learned from Once Upon a Time by Ron Estrada

My Netflix addiction this year is Once Upon a Time. My adult crush on the Evil Queen notwithstanding, I have good reasons to follow OUAT. Primarily, for a deeper understanding of backstory.

Yes, it’s a dirty word. So heavily shunned in writing circles that most of us don’t bother to put it in writing. I fear this has resulted in some shallow characters, especially villains.

The villains of OUAT are, in no particular order, The Evil Queen, Rumpelstiltsken, Peter Pan (yes, really), Captain Hook, The Wicked Witch, Cora, and a smattering of others, with no regard to compatible story lines.

What keeps me coming back for more is that the writers gave each of these villains a backstory, told with well-placed flashbacks. And guess what? All those villains began as good people. They had hopes and dreams. Families. They fell in love. And then…something went tragically wrong.

In a classic “state the theme” moment in season three, the Evil Queen (Regina), says to the Wicked Witch, that “evil is not born, it’s made, the same is true of good.”

Yes, I cheered.

But those clever writers didn’t stop there. Not only did they reveal the tragic pasts of the villains, they revealed the speck of darkness that lives within the “good” characters. Yes, even Snow White has her skeletons. In the cleverest of backstory reveals, we find that it was the child Snow White who got Regina’s true love killed, resulting in the feud that has lasted for hundreds of years in children’s books.

I recommend you give season one a look if you have access. The characters alone are worth a study. Especially since these are characters we’ve all grown up with and know—or think we know—inside and out.

What about your villains? What were they before their hearts turned black? What event or events turned them? And your perfect “Snow White” heroine? Surely there’s a skeleton in her closet.

If you want to write your own Once Upon a Time and give it a width and depth that goes far beyond the borders of your novel, dig deep into your characters’ pasts. If you can’t love and cry for your villain, you haven’t dug deep enough.

And, by the way, if you see an Evil Queen, give her a hug. She’s been through a lot.


Ron Estrada writes young adult and middle grade fiction for all ages. He can be found at RonEstradaBooks.com. The first of his young adult series will be released soon. There may be some supernatural stuff happening. He can’t help it. The real world is just too limiting for him.