Extreme Book Makeover: Reconnecting with your Story

I wrote a story 5 years ago that I didn’t finish called Limelight. A project for what I called our “Blog-A-Book” series, Limelight was a teaching novella that put application to the theory of writing by deconstructing the story-crafting process step by step. I worked with our blog and MBT Voices audience to pull together characters, a plot, the inner journey and then went scene by scene . . . until I hit Act 3.

Then I landed an unexpected writing project and something had to give.

The novella sat unfinished, my hero and heroine on the verge of their Black Moment Event, their Epiphany and their Triumphant Ending, free-framed, waiting for me to find the time.

Find. The. Time.  Right!  As time wore on, the story flow began to subside, and although I still loved the story, whenever that elusive “time” showed up, getting back into the character’s heads, the emotion and flow of the story seemed overwhelming.

Until . . . two weeks ago.  I pulled out Limelight to teach as series for our MBT Premium Members called “Build-A-Book” where we start with an idea and end with a publishable book.  As I started to read the story (and realized I still liked it), I knew I had to finish it.

But how to get into the flow again?

Summertime can be such a challenge for writers—vacations, kids camp schedules and house repairs cut into our writing time and we can find our writing flow disjointed, our minds scattered and our ability to identify with our characters stunted.

I discovered, as I went back to my writing chair with this story, a few tools to help me get back into the current of the story.

  1. I pulled out my Synopsis. Whether a story is contracted or not, I always “tell myself the story” in a rough synopsis form whenever I finish plotting and doing my character work.  Although I give myself freedom to veer from this plan as I see fit, having that outline helps me know:
    1. If my Plot makes sense
    2. What research I’ll still need to do
    3. If I’ve completed the character’s inner journey
    4. If I’ve build the romance correctly.
    5. If I’ve capped it off with a sufficient happy ending

After I write the synopsis, I separate it into chapters so I can see, roughly, what I need to accomplish in each chapter.

I dug up the synopsis for Limelight and tracked down to where I’d left off.  Now I had a game plan.

  1. I pulled up my Character Layering and Essential Scenes Guide. The synopsis gave me an external blueprint of the story. But I still needed to dive into the character and discover how much of himself he’d revealed to the reader—and the other characters. Character layering (and unlayering!) is a powerful way to reveal backstory naturally, mimicking the way we get to know people. In this way you can save character secrets and their dark moment story until exactly the right time for the reveal to move the story forward.  Although I read the story over to get momentum, I still needed to catch up to what the reader knew about my characters, and take the next logical step.


My Character Layering Chart helped me track this revelation, and the Essential Scenes told me what I’d accomplished . . .  and what I still needed to write.


  1. My Character Change Journey Chart. Along with my character revelation, I also needed to track my character’s inner journey.  While it can sometimes feel like an organic process, the character change journey is actually a step-by-step process, something I plot out in the story.  Grabbing this chart helped me figure out what scenes I still needed to write.


MBT Character Change Journey/Chart

Act 1
Snapshot of DreamInvitation to change

Need to change


Act 2
Attempt and failureCost consideration



Attempt and mini-victory

Training for Battle


Act 3
Black MomentEpiphany

New Man (& Testing)

Happily Ever After



  1. I re-read the story, without editing. Although I love to dig into scenes and create a more powerful emotional experience, I needed to “feel” the story, to step into the storyworld and reacquaint myself with the characters, to worry about them.  Stopping to edit would only slow this down.  (as an aside, I did take rewrite notes and asked questions to answer later, after I’d finished the story.)  I am an Outliner AND an Organic writer, meaning I create a plan, and set up the right structure for my scene, but I also love to “feel” my way into a story and let my characters take over, so reading the story gave me that final push into the flow of the story.


  1. I told my writing partner the story. Nothing helps keep you on track like a story partner with whom you can discuss the overall flow and brainstorm the next scene.  Hearing yourself talk it out will assist the scene in coming to life.


  1. I blocked out a huge chunk of writing time. Knowing it would take a bit to get my legs into the story, and estimating it would take about 15,000 words to finish, I scheduled 3 full days to write, stocked the fridge and warned my family that I would be “going dark.”


The good news is that I finished the book.  And I can’t wait to put it together for the MBT audience (although with my creation notes).  But if you are working on a story this summer, and need to stay “in the flow” despite your crazy schedule, here’s a few tips (in summary)


  1. Tell yourself the story (so you have a game plan)
  2. Keep a copy of the Character Layering Chart and Check off your Essential Scenes as you write them.
  3. Plot the Character change journey and assign each step to chapters, so you know (generally) where you are (so you can pick up where you left off)
  4. Read the scene just before the one you are going to write, without editing, at the top of your writing session.
  5. Keep your writing partner current with your story so they can brainstorm with you and give you ideas (and help keep you on track)
  6. Block out time to write, even if it isn’t every day. Stock the fridge, trade babysitting with a friend, send the kids to camp . . . whatever.  We all know that time is valuable, so even if you don’t keep a regular schedule, don’t just give up—hunt for and protect that time.


Writing a great book doesn’t just happen.  And when we have to fit it around summer fun, it has to become intentional.  But with the right strategies, you can get that chapter written—and go to the beach, too!


Go! Write Something Brilliant!


smw sig without background

The Physical and Psychological Story Journey

Rachel HauckOne of the ways you an improve the appeal and power of your characters for the reader is to create a realistic psychological journey that is mirrored some how in the physical journey of the protagonist.

Is your heroine learning to trust? Then show how her external world challenges her trust issues. Maybe she has a job where her colleagues constantly let her down. Perhaps her family says one thing but does another.

Every reader will be able to identify with not being able to trust someone.

What if your hero is dealing with identity issues. He’s a failure. He believes he can’t succeed at anything. Develop a world around him that proves, at least for a little while, what he believes is right.

In the movie Die Hard, John McCain is a tough NY cop who wants to do what’s right. He’ll fight for justice. When he decides to fight for his marriage – a bit of justice going on there – he finds himself defending a hostage company against terrorists.

John McCain’s psychological journey is mirrored in his physical journey. At first, it’s easy for him to play the hero, fight for his wife, until the battle intensifies and ultimately he has to make a decision to save himself or save his wife.

We see and feel his psychological, or inner journey, come to life when he’s willing to give everything for love. The external journey pushed him to make that choice. And we cheered him for it.

In The Proposal, Margret Tate’s psychological journey to love and trust is mirrored in the physical, external journey, when she convinces her assistant editor to marry her in order to keep her in the country.

She doesn’t realize it but she’s leaping before she thinks. Her heart is leading her mind and body in to a place she’s not quite prepared to endure.

But as she physically acts out the plan, she psychologically – emotionally – changes. She cannot lie to the people she loves. She cannot trap a good man like Andrew Paxton in to marrying her for her own gain.

We love her for this. She’s chosen the right thing to do.

In my book The Wedding Dress, the 1912 heroine, Emily, is marrying the man she thinks she’s supposed to marry. This external journey reflects her internal belief that she must marry well, take her place in society and honor her family.

But, she knows deep down her fiance is not the right man for her. This psychological element is reflected in the physical element as Emily fights to get the wedding dress of her choice. In doing so, she crosses the very social and cultural boundaries she claims to be abiding by in her marriage choice.

We cheer her for this. We love that she wants to make her own choices no matter what society says.

Take a look at your characters. Are you mirroring their physical and psychological journey? This is one of the major issues I see when working with new writers.

Many times my main input from a therapy session is to work on the “story spine.” In other words, line up the physical and psychological journeys.

How do you do this?

  1. Spend some time thinking about your character. What do you want him or her to accomplish in this story? How is it best reflected externally?
  2. How is your story goal best reflected internally? What internal conflicts will the protagonist bear?
  3. Sit down with your favorite books and movies and write down how the psychological journey was reflected in the physical. Start looking for these things as your read and watch.
  4. If your protagonist is bad at love, create a world that reflects her weakness. Look at Bridgett Jones in Bridgett Jones Diary. She was bad at love, bad at her weight and eating goals, bad at her job, but she stayed with it.
  5. Create a “story spine” where you create a high level outline of what you want to happen in this story. This is the physical journey. Then create a corresponding psychological journey and attach it to your story spine.
  6. Keep it simple. Write a log line. Write the positive and negative virtues of your character. “Leslie was bad at love but she never turned her back on a friend.”
  7. Take your time to develop this. Improve it as you work on other parts of your story. These interlocking elements will make your story shine.


3 Tips for Plotting with a Pantser

I was in Bermuda last week on vacation with my husband Rob, visiting with our friends Cathy and Stephen West. Yes, that Cathy West — author of Yesterday’s Tomorrow and Bridge of Faith — and newly contracted with HarperCollins. In between walks along the beach, swimming in a sea-filled cave, and watching the sunset during a sailboat cruise, Cathy and I talked story.

Two writers together for an entire week? Of course we’d talk about writing – specifically the story Cathy has just started writing. We faced one challenge: Cathy is a pantser – a writer who likes to be surprised and who writes by the seat of her pants. I am a plotter.

But after introducing her to what I called “My Book Therapy Lite,” by the time I boarded my plane back to the States, Cathy had a basic plot for her story – and a short synopsis.

I learned a few things while Cathy and I talked story. When you’re plotting with a pantser, remember to:

1. Give pantsers room to breathe. Seat of the pantsers like the freedom to follow their story wherever it may lead them. Plotting feels like you’ve shackled their creative muse. I talked Cathy through the basic steps of The Book Buddy, the work-text created by Susan May Warren, but I didn’t insist she follow it page by page.
2. Tell pantsers that yes, what you’ve plotted can change. Say this repeatedly. Pantsers want freedom, remember? When Cathy and I would plot out a scene, or maybe come up with a possible Disappointment or Y in the Road for one of her characters, I always assured her, “This sounds good and it fits with your character’s Wound, Lie, and Fear. But we’re flexible. If we talk tomorrow and want to rework this, we can.”
3. Encourage pantsers that plotting helps build a framework for their story. By developing our main characters’ Dark Moments and Black Moments and Disappointments (Ds) and spiritual journeys – all the things we talk about in My Book Therapy – we’re giving ourselves something to work with. When I helped Cathy plot scenes, I reminded her that we weren’t plotting every last little thing in her book. What we developed was a good foundation or framework. She could change it – yes, I said that a lot – and she would definitely add scenes we hadn’t talked about. But she had something good to start with.

When our week was up, Cathy had:
11 pages of notes
• a Story Question
• a short synopsis for her story – including a hook and a premise

I asked her if plotting had benefitted her at all. Her reply?

“Plotting with you got the wheels churning. It got the movie going in my head. My books start playing like a movie in my head – now I have an outline to line up with the scenes. I’ve never had that before. I’ve read so many books on plotting and tried to do it myself. It helped to talk it out.”

What about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser — or a little bit of both?

Social Media Minute—11 Tips to Get More Comments on Your Blog


Even today—with as many blogs on the Internet as there are—blogging is still a valuable part of building and maintaining an online community. But it’s rare for a blog to take hold and grow, if it’s not a place where comments proliferate. Almost no one likes to be lectured, and that’s what a blog can feel with it the conversation is only one-sided.

I’ll go one step further and add this comparison. Your blog is your Internet home. And because it’s your home, you are responsible for being a good host and making people feel welcome.

Facilitating conversation is just one of the duties of a good host, but it’s the one I want to concentrate on today as I share tips to get more comments on your blog.

  1. Give your readers someone to relate to. This means making sure they know who wrote the blog post. Ideally your blog post should have a byline—like my name at the top of this post. But at the least, end with your name. (A byline also helps with your name recognition on search engines, but that’s a post for another time.) It’s very hard to join a conversation when you don’t know who you’re talking to.
  1. Keep your post focused and don’t wander too far away from your topic. If you try to cover too much area, people won’t be comfortable commenting.
  1. Make sure your post isn’t too long. If you take up too much of your audience’s time, they won’t be able to stay and chat.
  1. Watch your blog formatting. Even with interesting posts, people will still do some skimming. If you have headers, bullet points and/or lists they can still join the conversation.
  1. Try to end your post with an open ended question. People don’t always know what’s appropriate to share. By asking a question, you give them the direction they need to chime in. Remember, as a host, it’s your job not to just facilitate the conversation, but you’re responsible for starting it.
  1. Ask readers to share an experience that relates to the post. Sometimes a blog post won’t lend itself to a question. In those instances we can encourage our audience to share their experience.
  1. Ask readers to add to a list of suggestions or tips that have been shared. I do that a lot on here. (And I’ll do it at the end of this post.) Again, if a question isn’t appropriate or feel right, ask them to contribute to the topic already introduced.
  1. Avoid using the pronoun you. This is especially true if the post is pointing out something negative. Using the word you carries a finger-pointing connotation that we want to avoid. For example, in point number 1 above, I would never say, “you must make sure the answer to the question isn’t just yes or no.” Instead, I phrased it, “We must make sure the answer to the question isn’t just yes or no.”
  1. Share your own personal experience. If we’re asking someone else to share, we need to make sure our blogs are a safe place for that. Going first rarely feels safe. So I always try to make sure I share my own experience before asking my readers to share theirs.
  2. Don’t ignore your guests. If people are kind enough to comment, you need to return the favor and continue the conversation. There are exceptions, if you have more than 20 comments, or if they are very similar, it’s find to answer a couple of people at a time.
  3. 11. Remind your guests to leave a comment below. Don’t apologize by saying, “if you feel comfortable” or “if you want.” Just tell them what you’d like them to do. Sometimes that’s just what someone need to be able to work up the courage to join in.