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 What and Why of Writing: Layer or Subplot

There are so many details that go into plotting our stories – one simple way to think of plotting is  everything that happens to our hero and heroine: The Inciting Incident(s). The Ds (Disappointments) or obstacles, that force them to face Ys in the Road and ask the question, “What do I do now?” over and over again. The Black Moment, which is a repeat of the Dark Moment of the past. And the long-awaited Happily-Ever-After, where our hero and heroine ride off into the sunset …

Sorry. I lapsed into a romantic cliché there, didn’t I?

It’s vital to plot a strong main story, but while you’re doing that, remember to deepen your story too. How? Weave in an intriguing Layer or Subplot

What:

A story Layer and a Subplot are two different elements:

  • A Layer adds depth to the plot and enhances the character’s struggle – and eventually his/her Epiphany.
  • A Subplot is its own distinct story. It has an Inciting Incident, Obstacles, a Black Moment, and lessons learned (and hopefully a Happily Ever After).

Why:

A Layer deepens the theme of the story. Remember: theme is the overall idea of your story and can usually be summarized in one word such as courage or forgiveness or grace. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings one of the themes is power. Tolkien weaves in the layer of Saruman the wizard to show what happens when power is corrupted.

A Subplot can mirror the main plot, and even intersect with it, but it has its own main characters, its own arc, and if pulled out of the story, could stand alone as a mini-story.

In the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, the main story is about the ex-convict Jean Valjean. Hugo wove many subplots within Les Misérables: Fantine’s story, Cossette’s story, Eponine’s story – and interestingly, when he wrote Les Mis, Hugo divided the novel into volumes highlighting each character’s storyline.

The main thing to remember is that you are deepening your story as you weave in a Layer and/or a Subplot. If you add a Layer to your story, keep it simple, asking yourself which character might act as a Voice of Truth for your hero or heroine to teach them something new about the theme.

When you build a Subplot, allow it to be a testing ground for “what if.” What happens if a certain choice is made – or isn’t made? What lesson are your hero and heroine learning? Is there a smaller lesson, or a piece of that lesson, that you can highlight through the Subplot characters?

Consider your work-in-progress: Can you deepen the story by adding a Layer or Subplot? 

[Tweet “The What and Why of Writing: Layer or Subplot by @bethvogt”]

Hey, Maybe It’s Time To Move On…

Rachel HauckWhile everyone is in the throws of NaNoWriMo, some times we have to pause and take stock of where we are in our current WIP. Some of you… it’s time to move on.

“How do I know when it’s time to move on from a story I’ve been working on for so long?”

Great question! I worked on my first book for two years. I tell you, it discouraged me because I wondered how I could ever make any kind of living if writing took so long!

But it was my learning book and at least half of those two years were spent with me editing the book from a complicated, multi-plot story to a straight up romance.

I sent it out and received rejections. It was in the late ‘90s and there weren’t many options, but the doors I knocked on replied, “No thank you.”

By then, I was tired of the book. I didn’t know what else to do with it. It was time to move on.

Another idea came to me while sitting at a high school football game and I got to work on that right away. It was fresh, fun, alive in my heart.

I also changed my strategy. I decided to write a Heartsong Presents. With the first book, I tried for a Bethany House WWII saga. Rightfully, they turned me down.

So for my skill level, maybe a smaller, more focused story – romance – was the answer.

That story became my first published novel! In e-format. Yep, I sold it to an e-publisher.

By now, the Lord had connected me with a published Heartsong author and we collaborated together to create the Lambert series.

So, I was on my way.

The first book slept peacefully in my closet. Later, when I needed parts of a novel for Love Starts With Elle hero, Heath McCord, I pulled from that book.

So, where are you with your novel? Is it your first? Your fifth? Tenth? Are you struggling to keep going? Do you have vision or a passion for the story?

Is it time to move on?

Here’s some guidelines for sticking with a story:

  1. Good feedback from editors, agents or other knowledgeable writers?
  2. Your vision and passion remains high for the story.
  3. You can see clearly how to improve the manuscript.
  4. You’ve not rewritten it so many times – based on feedback – you can see the original heart of the story.
  5. You final in contests or get manuscript requests from editors or agents.

 

Here’s when you need to move on from a story:

  1. You’ve changed it so many times – based on feedback – you don’t recognize the original vision.
  2. You’re heart and passion for the story couldn’t fill a thimble.
  3. You have no idea how to improve the manuscript. If you have an idea, you’re not sure you want to do it.
  4. It’s been rejected by everyone you’ve submitted to and your mentors are suggesting a new, fresh idea.
  5. Your contest scores indicate you have a long way to go.
  6. You’ve learned much more about the business and know your book will not readily fit into the current market. That’s cool! Move on.

There are stories all over the map about the publication journey. Author Tamera Alexander worked on her first book for four years before it got published. On the other hand, author Jill Eileen Smith had ten or more closet manuscripts gathered up over twenty years.

Charles Martin had 120+ rejections before he sold The Dead Don’t Dance. Susan Warren wrote four or five novels before she sold a novella to Tyndale. When they asked her, “What else do you have?” She pulled out and polished those closet manuscripts.

There’s no end to possibilities. To closed and opened doors.

What is God saying about the book that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere? It’s okay to put it away and start over.

Here’s what I find on a rewrite – when I try to edit what I’ve already written, I tend to stick with that story and accept the weaknesses. But when I start over from scratch, I craft the story with stronger elements. I work through the weaknesses. The story isn’t as fun or flowing as the first draft because I’m actually thinking through and working out the problems.

So often, when trying to rewrite or improve a first novel, or a well-rejected novel, we can’t see what really needs to be changed to make the manuscript sellable.

If that’s where you are, start over. Sometimes we don’t want to start over because we don’t want to wait for publication. But it could be on the first or rewritten-rejected manuscript, we could find ourselves waiting forever.

Only you can determine if it’s time to set a manuscript aside, but if you do, do so with confidence and give your whole heart to your next work!

Happy Writing.

 

 

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

Rewards

Desire

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!

 

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