The Starting Point for your Character’s Inner Journey

I am up north at the writing cabin this week, getting ready for next week’s Deep Woods Writing Camp.

It’s gorgeous here, quiet and last night I was able to catch up on one of my television indulgences, Blue Bloods. In the season premier, wise police commish Frank Reagan sat at the dinner table and talked about the loss of one of the main characters in a freak accident (I’m not telling you who). He said, essentially, that we sit for a while at the table, sharing the journey with our fellow hungerers, and it’s during this ‘meal’ we make an impact. When we leave, our empty chair is noticed, and not easily filled.

We sit among the hungry.

The book business can be overwhelming. I do a lot of “sample downloading” before a trip, then read through the samples to find the books I’m going to relax with on the plane, or on a boat, waiting to dive, or even early in the morning, on the beach. I’m picky with my time, my content…I want a book that will entertain, help me escape and leave me feeling nourished. The books that linger with me are those that leave me strangely healed, at least for the moment.

Healed. It’s not like I walk around with gaping wounds, but like everyone, I have little lies, painful emotional nicks and scratches and when I read a book filled with truth, whether it’s a romance, or general fiction, or suspense, I feel as if I’ve been fed. Someone at the table has offered me a morsel of nourishment on the journey.

Why are we here? More importantly, why do we write?

We sit among the hungry.

I attended a women’s retreat last weekend, and the speaker pointed out Matthew 9:36. When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Harassed. Helpless.

Hungry.

Hungry for grace. Hungry for forgiveness. Hungry for Hope. Hungry for love.

What have you hungered for? What has nourished you?

Grace? Hope? Redemption?

If you’ve hungered for grace—write a story about grace. If you ached for second chances—write a story of redemption. If you are hungry for hope…you get the picture.

Because if you hunger for it, so do others.

(and by the way, giving your character a hunger is the starting point for understanding his/her inner journey!)

Your job in this world, and especially as a novelist, is to pass the potatoes–to nourish those at your table with the nourishment you’ve been given.

Your seat at the table matters. Your story matters.

Go, write something brilliant.

Susie May

P.S. We are all about going deep in a novel, to understanding not just the plot and characters, but the life-changing themes a novelist layers into their work. If you want to learn how to write books that change lives, then you’re a good fit for our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat in Florida, Feb 23-27. We just opened registration. Payment plans available. Click HERE for more details.

The two things every writer needs to succeed (and it’s not talent or marketing!)

My husband has a girlfriend. And I really like her. She’s cute and even I enjoy spending time with her. Her name is Lilly.

She’s a 1978 vintage Alfa Romeo Spider.

 

Okay, that was a little tongue-in-cheek but he is spending a lot of time restoring her, from the inside-out. And that included a weekend trip to Iowa get a junker Alfa for parts.

Which left the remote control in MY possession on Sunday. Since the Vikings don’t play until tonight, I roamed the channels searching for something to fill the gap until the Outlander season premier.

I landed on Hacksaw Ridge. Yes, I’d seen it before, but something about the courage of Desmond Doss, the medic who saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa stirs my own courage. Makes me want to save people, or at least clean the kitchen.

But it also made me think about being a writer, and the fact that it takes great courage to expose our hearts and get our work out there for the world to scrutinize.

In fact, the courage of Desmond Doss grounded me back into my long held belief that writers must have two essential tools if they want to succeed.

  • Conviction
  • Grit

16 years ago today I was in Russia, watching with horror as the news played out the events of 9-11. I was a missionary, an ex-pat living in far east Russia and in that moment, I just wanted to go home. I ached over the tragedy in our country and grieved with my fellow Americans. But I was held in Russia by my conviction that God had called me to be a missionary. That conviction rooted me to my cause over two terms of service, through illness and danger and injury and fear. It kept me from flying home when I was on my knees, overwhelmed. It gave me a purpose and a vision and a focus.

 

We came home a year later, and God changed my focus to writing. But he never lifted my conviction. In fact, he deepened it. He transferred it to writing and to teaching writers—expanding my reach to 11 countries and into the lives of other writers who are like minded and convicted to write life-changing stories. (you!)

A writer has to be convicted that they are called to WRITE. To tell a great story. To write a story that matters. Because it’s not easy. It’s lonely, it’s exhausting, it’s sometimes thankless (hello Amazon reviews!) and in the beginning, not very profitable. But writers write because they must. They can’t escape it. They are convicted that they must write.

But what about Grit? “Just one more, Lord, just one more.” Desmond said this over and over as he dragged the injured to safety, and admittedly, although I’m not in peril, I sometimes say this when I begin a scene. “Just one more scene, Lord.” Because half-way through the story, I’m mucking about in the middle, hoping that my plot is working, my conflict and motivation are realistic and my characters likable. And when the book is done…I need to write another one. Because that is what career authors do…they write. And write. Just one more…

I recently watched this fascinating Ted Talk on the power of passion and perseverance. (aka, conviction and grit!) I encourage you take a look over your lunch hour: https://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_grit_the_power_of_passion_and_perseverance

Grit keeps you moving forward when the world tells you to give it up. Grit settles deep inside you and says, keep going…you’ll surprise yourself. Grit says, it is worth it. Grit believes. Grit gets it done.

Conviction and Grit. It’s the stuff heroes…and writers…are made of. Don’t give up. Your story matters!

Write something brilliant this week!

Susie May

P.S. If you’re the kind of writer who likes pushing yourself to new depths in your writing, who likes the power of brainstorming and enjoys the beach in February, you’ll fit right into our annual Deep Thinkers Retreat! Registration is now open—get the early bird discount price of $50 off until November 1st! (use coupon code at checkout: EarlyBirdDT18)

Hope to see you there!

That time we changed the world in our pajamas…

So, every time I teach someplace, people say to me–Hey! when are you going to publish a course on how to write a romance?

Good question. I LOVE teaching on how to write a romance. Because writing a great romance isn’t just about a boy who meets a girl, falls in love and lives happily ever after. A powerful, heart-tugging romance goes deeper. The romance that moves us is the one that heals the deep wounds of the characters, grants hidden dreams and helps them become better people.

Makes an impact on our world.

Image result for braveheart romance

 

C’mon–even BRAVEHEART has a romance. Deep down we all love a romance that overcomes dire obstacles and wins the day. And because of that, a great romance is about the expectations. We expect to fall in love, just a little. To feel something when we close the book.

And yet, people think romances are easy to write, simply because there are so many of them. (did you know that romance is the #1 selling genre?) And yes, there are plenty of bad, sappy, poorly written romances out there. But, there are also romances that deeply move us, change us, spark hope in our jaded hearts. And those…the ones that matter…take thought, deliberation and skill.

But here’s the truth..yes, romances all use the same powerful ingredients. How they are combined, along with powerful characters and an author’s unique voice makes each romance a different story. Still, it behooves us to learn the ingredients and how to combine them to deliver that powerful story.

A few years back, I gathered aspiring romance authors together and taught them all my secrets. Many of them are now published. (Waving to you, PT Bradley, Beth Vogt, Melissa Tagg, Lisa Jordan and so many more.) But as my schedule got crazy, and hotel prices went up, I thought…there has to be a better way.

What if…what if taught a class on line? So students didn’t have to leave their homes. They could even, I dunno, wear their pajamas to class.

And, I could make it cheaper, because no one has to travel!

Soooo….

I’m super excited to announce an online course on How to Write a Brilliant Romance! (Excited? Me too! Click here for details!)

Learn in your pajamas. In your house. Or cabin. Or apartment. Or dorm room…wherever you are, right?

If you want to learn how to write everything from a thread of romance to a full out romance, this course is for you!

You’ll learn:

  • How to structure your romance
  • How to create heroes and heroines readers will fall in love with
  • How and when your hero and heroine should meet
  • How to make two characters fall in love
  • How to write a sizzling kiss
  • How to create believable conflict
  • How to keep the tension high in the middle of a story
  • How to put romance on every page

Most of all, how to write a romance that makes an impact.

AND, amazing, brilliant, NYT best-selling author Rachel Hauck to help me. SUPER AWESOME!

Click here to read more about the Brilliant Romance Seminar.

This was first presented as a seminar, so it’s like we’re having a conversation –a fun one, with you on how to write that romance.

AND, here’s the best part…Since this a brand new course on Novel.Academy, we’re offering it at $100 off the regular price!

To make this easy, simply click HERE for your IN on that awesome discount!

And…that’s not all!! Scroll down on the page to see the EXTRAs you get with this amazing course. (classes to make your story brilliant, compelling and off to a great start!)

Your romance matters! Let’s write something brilliant!

 

Susie May

Novel.Academy

Why readers fall in love with your stories

Hope you’re writing week is off to a great start.

Me…I’m in a show hole.

You know, that darkness that you fall into when you finish a great show and you know that nothing, not even reruns of Quantum Leap, will fix it.

But, the darkness does allow you time for contemplation as you mindlessly flip through Netflix offerings. Why, oh why, did I love that show so much.

So, I confess, the show I am missing today is Hell on Wheels. I know, I know, it has some historical issues, and before you judge me on the violence, I watched it with the hubs, who loves cowboy shows. And this is about as cowboy as you get.

But I watched it for the lead, Cullen Bohannon.

Image result for cullen bohannon

If you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to give anything away, but I will say that it’s not for the fainthearted. It’s a rough-edged western about the building of the transcontinental railroad. I’m pretty sure not a lot of it is factual, but who knows.

Let’s skip to the important part—Cullen Bohannon. Aside from being darkly handsome, I loved the deeply layered character who came to the page, with all his issues, his unshakable honor (although one might have a conversation about what his definition of honor is) and his determination to build the railroad. Most of all, I love how the writers took Cullen from a stereotyped, angry former confederate soldier with a jaded, broken heart, bent on revenge to a man who won the hearts of his workers, found compassion and finally followed his healing heart to the woman he loves.

It took five seasons. And I can imagine that the writers started with a prototype, not unlike we do when we start building The Story Equation. They began with an adjective and a noun. Angry Former Confederate Soldier. Angry—why? Because he’d lost his wife and child to Yankee bandits. The Former Confederate Soldier description brings in all sorts of external images—stoic, a southern accent, a sense of upper-crust breeding (he was a plantation owner) reflected in his clothing (he always wears a vest with a pocket watch). Still, he’s a renegade with long hair, a beard and a quick draw.

When you’re building a character, start with an adjective and a noun. The adjective helps you understand your character’s state of mind as he walks onto the page, and helps you discover the inner journey. The Noun gives you his externals.

But that’s just the beginning. As you write your story, the goal is for the reader to discover your hero’s essence. Who is he on the inside?

As Cullen moves the railroad west, he has a few love interests, and each of them get a glimpse of the essence of Cullen Bohannon. One sees the wounds he suffered, as well as the gentleman in him. Another sees the fierce protector as well as the wanna-be family man. The last sees his good heart, that he really does want to do what’s right. In fact, she tells him, “I see you.”

At his heart, Cullen is a hero, a man deeply affected by his times, but someone who is willing to sacrifice anything to do (what he considers) is the right thing.

Your job, as an author, is to bring the essence of your character to the surface. To reveal him, through his actions and choices. To help the reader “see” your character.

One way I do this is to ask: Can my character do something at the end, that he can’t at the beginning? And, if so, why? (and can my reader see the why, that motivation?)

Telling a great story about an epic event like building a transcontinental railroad is only as good as the characters who embody your story. Start them out with an external identity…but slowly reveal their essence, and I promise you, readers will fall in love.

Now, anybody have any good shows they’d like to suggest?

Your story matters! Go, Write Something Brilliant!

 

Susie May

P.S. If you are in a “career” hole and don’t know what to do next, may I suggest checking out the Author Mastermind Summit? It’s a 2-day, online event (you can register for the recordings if you think you’re going to miss) that coaches you on writing, platform development and effective marketing (even time-saving techniques) from 7 Masterminds who I know and trust. There are some pretty fantastic give-aways and I know this online summit will be an amazing boost to your career. Check it out, and if you have any questions, shoot me an email! susan@mybooktherapy.com.

P.P.S If you are interested in The Story Equation, how to build a layered story by asking one essential question, check out the book on Amazon, or our full classes at Novel.Academy