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!

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

What are you reading?

What are you reading?

I asked this question to approximately 40 aspiring writers this weekend as I sat across from them at a table during our private one-on-one sessions at the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference. A few of them would tell me of a story that they were reading, a bestseller perhaps or some obscure book from series they liked. And then I would ask them is this story in the genre you are writing?

Only a couple nodded. The rest sort of shrugged and said, “well, no, I actually don’t read in my genre.”

What?

They followed up with, “I really prefer this genre over the one that I’m writing.”

“Then why are you writing in that genre?” I asked. “Because if you don’t love it then why spend all that time writing in it?”

And, honestly, I was astounded at those that admitted they weren’t reading. They were simply writing.

Writing is GOOD, very good for a writer. But…how will you know what to write in the genre, if you’re not reading in that genre?

Becoming an author isn’t an instinct…it’s a craft. It’s something you need to be proactive about. But you can’t be trained by simply going to writer’s conferences, or reading books on writing. (Although, I do understand that I have a writing website, and teach people how to write on it! So I definitely want you to stop by and take a look!)

Of course learning the craft through classes is essential as you pursue your writing craft. But you need application as well. Which means you need to learn from those who are already exercising the craft. Reading a writing book is fantastic when you then take those lessons and apply them to a book by, say, John Grisham. Or Stephen King. Or Harlan Coben. Or Nora Roberts. Or any of the bestsellers that we find on the New York Times, USA Today, Amazon, CBA, and ECPA bestseller lists. You must look at those who are already good at their craft, already making sales, already connecting with their audiences, to understand how to apply those writing techniques.

Analyze, then turn to your own work.

The learning curve is steep for an aspiring writer. You must learn how to plot, how to create great characters, how to layer in metaphors, how to create scene tension, how to create storyworld, how to make sure the middle doesn’t sag, and do it all in a way that doesn’t stunt your voice. Don’t make it tougher on yourself by having to learn a genre that you’re not already familiar with. When we read, the elements of the genre we’re reading naturally sink into us. Those who write suspense instinctively know they need to set up a problem, illustrate that problem by having a danger or a dead body at the beginning of the book, create a trigger that ignites the suspense plot, add a deadline and utilize a number of other elements to create the suspense. But because they’ve invested in reading suspense, they already understand these elements. They just need to learn HOW to implement them (cue: writing classes!)

Same with romances. All romance writers know they need a “meet cute” at the beginning. They need a reason for the hero and heroine to spend time together. They know there needs to be at least a breakup even if they don’t know how to create it or why. And they know there needs to be a happy ending.

Reading in your genre is essential to understanding that genre.

Summer is busy. Family vacations, kids at home, visiting relatives. It can be hard to study the writing craft. Instead, I give you permission to turn to novels. Read a novel in your genre. Get it into your heart, if not your head. You might not have time to analyze it but if you’re reading it you’ve already learned something.

I have a strategy. During the week I read for work–I read research books, biographies, and novel about my topic. Right now I’m reading a novel in a first person voice, similar to one I’m working on.

On the weekends I read for pleasure. I find a book that’s going to delight my heart. On Monday I go back to reading in my genre—my work.

Here’s the secretwhen someone asks me what I’m doing when I’m sprawled on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon, listening to music, my feet up, the laundry undone and supper forgotten, reading a book, and eating bon-bons (really, what are bon-bons, anyway?) I can turn to them and say… I’m working! Can’t you tell?

So, pick up a book and read something brilliant this summer!

I have a couple great events coming up.

One of them is a career building event that will help you figure out how to launch your writing career. It’s a summit I’m involved with along with a number of other masterminds in the industry. It’s awesome and it’s only $99 during the early bird! You don’t want to miss it because it will ignite your publishing career.

The next thing you might want to take a look at is our Deep Woods Writing Camp! It’s an intense week of writing for authors at every level. (If you’re new, you might have some prerequisites for you to prepare, so check with me first (susan@mybooktherapy.com)) If you’re a little farther down the road, spend a week with me in the north woods of Minnesota, writing, getting feedback on your stories, and brainstorming with other authors. I can’t wait to come alongside you and help you write your brilliant story.

Your story matters! Go! Write something brilliant!

Susie May

www.learnhowtowriteanovel.com