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.

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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

The What and Why of Writing: Bookends

If I asked you why you used bookends, what would you say?

Envision that long line of books and how those first six books are staying in place … but then the last few stragglers won’t line up. Bookends create order – helping a row of books stand up straight.

While we sometimes need a pair of bookends tucked around the outside of a collection of books, have you ever utilized bookends between the book covers of the story you’re writing?

What: Bookends are the “mirror elements” of a novel’s 1st and 3rd acts that causes a character to face the same issue, situation, or conflict and reveals the character’s growth.

Why: The main characters readers meet in chapter one of a novel are not the same (imaginary) people by the time readers reach “The End.”  If they are … well, you’ve wasted both your word count and your readers’ time. A novel should include a series of events (scenes) that the hero and heroine confront – and in the confronting, they change.

One way to show your characters’ change is to throw them back into a similar situation to one they faced at the beginning of the story – but show them handling it differently.

Examples: In the opening of Almost Like Being in Love, my new destination wedding novel, my heroine makes a rash decision based on her father’s actions — because she is searching for his approval and feels like, once again, she hasn’t gotten it. At the end of the book, she once again makes a decision about her future based on her father’s actions — but is she still caught up in the same seeking approval cycle? You’ll have to read the book to find out. 

What about the movie The Proposal? At the beginning, Sandra Bullock’s character, Margaret, and Ryan Reynolds’s character, Andrew, have a adversarial work relationship – and Margaret , who is Andrew’s boss, always wins. She even bullies him into pretending to be engaged to her so that she isn’t deported to Canada. At the end of the movie, they have a final showdown in the office. But guess who wins this time? That’s right: Andrew! Both he and Margaret have changed because they’ve fallen in love with each other.

Consider your work-in-progress (WIP): How can you work bookends into your story?

[Tweet “The What and Why of Writing: Bookends via @bethvogt #amwriting #MyBookTherapy”]

3 Idea Sparking Tips To Jumpstart Your NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner and it is time to prepare to complete the rough draft of your novel in a month. Maybe you’ve never tried to write a novel in a month before. This year is the perfect time to start flexing your writing muscles with a new challenge.

If you’ve tried before and failed, this is your year!

What makes this year different? You. You are stronger than the last time you took this journey. More resources are at your fingertips.

It is never too early to plan for a success. Time to brainstorm what you need to finish a novel in thirty days. You’ll need more than caffeine, bon bons, and popcorn.

A support team, resources, and a game plan are all essential. Here a few ideas to get you started.

3 Idea Sparking Tips To Jumpstart Your NaNoWriMo:

Gather your team of supporters and look at your calendar. Each week find ways to have them help you along the thirty-day novel journey. Here are a few ways they can help.

*Gather an Encouragement Task Force- Have family and friends sending encouraging cards or letters during November. Assign weeks so you have at least two encouraging notes a week to read when you are struggling, or have them send to you at the beginning of the month and choose when you need them most.

*Gather a Family Task Force- Recruit a few friends or family members who could help with household/family responsibilities. A few hours of babysitting, dinner duty, cleaning, car pool, etc. Plan these things ahead by calling them in now.

*Gather a Writing Craft Buddy- Find a writing buddy to travel the journey with is huge. Someone to hold you accountable and encourage you not to give up on the really low days is often the difference between quitting and reaching “The End.” Together you can celebrate the successes and talk all about the voices in your head.

Are you planning to join NaNoWriMo or the thirty-day novel journey this year? What do you plan to do to prepare?

Looking for more Idea Sparks to help write your novel in a month?

My newest release: Idea Sparking: 30 Idea Sparks to Write a Novel in a Month is a great way to help you spark your novel.  Why?

Idea Sparking: 30 Idea Sparks to Write a Novel in a Month accompanies an author on a thirty-day novel journey. Daily idea prompts assist authors in finding the inspiration to write. With personal experience insights and goal setting reflections, this book is the perfect resource for the writer who wants to write a novel in a month, or the author looking for a resource for their everyday writing journey. What you will find in this incredible resource:

*A weekly inspirational focus to get you ready to write

*Daily Idea Sparks to spark your creativity and get you writing

*Mini writing craft tips that enhance your writing

*Daily Mid-day Milestones with thought-provoking questions to improve writing habits

*Weekly Check-Ups to retune your process to set you up for success

RAFFLECOPTER – Prizes are $50 Amazon Gift Card and 1 hour phone brainstorming session with Michelle Lim

Join the Idea Sparking adventure:

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Michelle-Lim-blog-pixAuthor Michelle Lim is the Brainstorming/Huddle Coach with My Book Therapy Press and the Midwest Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers. Michelle’s Genesis winning romantic suspense is represented with Books & Such Literary Agency. Michelle’s New Release – Idea Sparking: 30 Idea Sparks to Write a Novel in a Month releases October 27th. Since her nonfiction book release, Idea Sparking: How To Brainstorm Conflict In Your Novel, through public speaking and online chats Michelle helps writers discover the revolutionary power of brainstorming to bring new life to their stories. Connect with Michelle on Facebook, Twitter at @MichelleLim24, or my blog at www.thoughtsonplot.worpress.com .

Do I like you? (creating LIKEABLE characters!)

I’ve been on quite a few planes lately as I travel to conferences, and one of the blessings is meeting new people. And every once in a while, I get lucky and sit next to something not only unusual and fun, but who is a hero.

Such was the case last week when, travelling from Minneapolis to Dallas, I sat next to a guy named AJ.  Who was a. . .firefighter!  Not a volunteer, but a professional, full-time firefighter for a town in New Jersey.  And, he was willing to talk about his profession and give me a plethora of great story ideas.

It wasn’t just his profession, however, that made him heroic. . .that was just the foundation. It was his quest.  AJ was flying down to Dallas to pick up a DOG of a friend who had passed away and driving that dog to a new home back in Jersey.

Sweet, I know.

We’ve been studying the Character Change journey over the past few weeks (http://learnhowtowriteanovel.com/blog/category/search-by-series/extreme-book-makeover/extreme-character-makeover/).  We started with understanding the steps, and building the Story Equation, staring with the Dark Moment Story.  Then, we added a Goal, fueled by the Why and the What.

But it all starts with the WHO.  Who are you and why should we like you? 

When your character walks onto the page, this is the first obstacle an author must address. . .making a reader LIKE your character.  Often, a reader resists going on a journey because they simply don’t like the character.

It’s a delicate balance because the flip side is that your character must have a FLAW.

The Flaw is key because it is through the flaw that we understand your character’s change.  A flaw is the outward, behavioral expression of a character’s fear.  We avoid relationships because we are afraid of getting hurt.  We are overprotective because we don’t want our children to be killed.  We make rash decisions because we fear losing opportunities.

(I’ll bet if you look at your flaws, you can trace them to either a past fear or a future fear).

Because a great story confronts a hero’s greatest fear, and offers an epiphany, which then heals his flaw.  It’s a visible character change.

But if we don’t like the character enough in the beginning, if his flaw is too great, we’ll never stick around to see the change.

Which brings us back to likeability.  Often authors start too strong with the flaw.  They know their character has issues, and they start with him in that dark place.  Danger! If he’s too much of a jerk, the reader immediately thinks:  why should I hang around with this oaf of a guy (or gal.) They’re suddenly looking through the free books on their Kindle.

Let’s fix that.

Enter, AJ.  I am sure the guy has flaws – I didn’t hang around with him enough to know, however.  But he made a great profile for a character. Someone who, at the core, was heroic.  And that core propelled him to a heroic purpose.

When you’re creating a character, you must start at the core of your character – WHO he is, drilling all the way down to the Dark Moment Story.  But don’t stop there.  Ask your character his Happiest Moment Story as well. This is the opposite of the Dark Moment Story, but it functions on the same way.  It is something in his past that produces a greatest dream and helps cement his WANT.  (You can also use this to determine his happily ever after ending.)

AJ’s father was a firefighter.  There’s a story there, I know it.  (I didn’t want to make the guy ask for a seat change, so I didn’t pry that deep.)  But something in his past – probably good – propelled him to be a firefighter.

The Dark Moment and Happiest Moment stories comprise his core.

Now, everything he does emerges from that core.  Like saving people  (as AJ mentioned, he’s not there to save a house, but to save the lives in that house).  And, saving a dog.

So, how does this translate onto the page?

  1. Start with the core of your character. (Dark Moment Story/Happiest Moment Story).  Who are they at the core?  Teacher? Healer? Rescuer?
  2. How does that translate into a Noble Quest? (saving the dog!)
  3. How can he SHOW that core element at the beginning of the book, just a little (for example, as I was putting up my bag, I saw AJ glance my direction, as if willing to help. . .in a book, the hero might take that step, even if it might be reluctantly.) I call it the Boy Scout moment.  (James Scott Bell calls it Pet the Dog, or Save the Cat (Blake Snyder)).

Now you’re free to add in the FLAW.   Show him helping the gal with her bag, (maybe it’s about to fall on him) and when she turns to thank him, he shrugs it off . . .not willing to engage in conversation.

Characters should be complicated – because people are complicated.  But they also need to be likeable.  Start your journey with a hero (even just a hint of one) and your readers will sit down with him and hang out all the way to Dallas.

Go! Write something brilliant!

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