Calendaring Your Story (Guest by author Mindy Obenhaus)

When does your story take place? Does it span days, weeks or months? So many events transpire during the course of a book, but how do you keep them all straight?

We all know about plotting a story, but have you ever kept a calendar of your story?

I’m a visual person, not to mention somewhat detail-oriented, so trying to keep up with what my characters were doing and when they were doing them became a challenge. I got tired of scrolling back through my story to see when this or that happened. Then, one day, I spotted a calendar from years past and inspiration struck.

I could use that calendar to lay out the events of my plot. I’d know exactly what day of the week the Inciting Incident happened or if there were any holidays I could incorporate into the plot.

Today I use downloadable/printable calendars. Whether you’re an old-school-give-me-a-hardcopy type or an I-have-it-on-my computer person, they’ve got you covered. Calendar Labs is my go-to site, but you can Google “printable calendars” to see what site works best for you.

One option I like is that I don’t have to use the current year. Sometimes a story calls for something to happen on particular date, but I need that date to be on a certain day of the week, so I’ll look for a year when those two things coincide.

(Don’t worry if you didn’t follow that. The blonde brain can be a difficult thing to understand.) 

Once I have my calendar(s), I lay out the events of my plot that will then become scenes. And I always pencil them in. Because as we writers know, nothing is ever cast in stone. Sometimes a scene you thought would happen in chapter ten seems a better fit for chapter seven.

Often, I skip days, in which case I need to make sure to address that passage of time when I start my next scene. But one look is all it takes for me to know how much time has elapsed since the last scene.

Needless to say, calendaring your story isn’t rocket science. It does not take the place of my synopsis/plotting chart. It’s merely a visual aid, an at-a-glance reference to keep me on task and make sure my timeline is correct. And it also satisfies that detail-oriented person lurking inside that likes to drive me nuts.

So what do you say? How could my quirky calendaring benefit you?


It took Mindy Obenhaus forty years to figure out what she wanted to do when she grew up. But once God called her to write, she never looked back. She’s passionate about the craft of writing and touching readers with Biblical truths in an entertaining, and sometimes adventurous, manner. Her debut novel, The Doctor’s Family Reunion, was named a finalist in American Christian Fiction Writers’ 2014 Carol Awards and her second novel, Rescuing the Texan’s Heart, is a finalist in the 2015 Carol Awards.

Mindy lives in Texas with her husband and two of her five children. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, reading and spending time with her grandkids.




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You Don’t Have To Do It Alone – Brainstorming Help!

As writer’s we are constantly learning new things to improve our craft. That being said, brainstorming is one of the harder aspects of the writing journey for me. It’s amazing, I can help other writers with plotting but when it comes to mine, I get stuck. I was astounded (and greatly relieved) to find out I could get help.

Last week I met with my craft buddies and we had a fantastic time brainstorming. Not only did we flesh out our next novel but Gabrielle Meyer was an awesome hostess. She planned the schedule and created the perfect atmosphere of brainstorming and relaxing. For the most part, we worked in the mornings and played in the afternoons. Listen, if I didn’t love where I lived, I would move to Little Falls Minnesota. Thank you Gabrielle!

If you want to brainstorm with a group, here are a few tips.

  1. Have Clear Expectations. Like anything else, you want to go into a project with clear expectations and communication.Time is precious and you want to maximize it.
  2. Set a schedule. You want to make sure everyone gets equal time. We scheduled about three hours per person to brainstorm.
  3. Voice Recorder. Utilize a voice recorder or the recorder on your smart phone. I promise you won’t be able to type notes quick enough. Ideas can come fast and furious and they can change just as quick. A recorder ensures that you catch it all.
  4. Be flexible. Remember, you are brainstorming with people who have different perspectives and experiences. Listen to the ideas; you never know what may come from it. One idea leads to another and before you know it you’ve hit upon something that works!
  5. Speak the same lingo. The group of people you brainstorm with should speak the same writing lingo as you. Translated? If you follow the Lindy Hop, then they should know exactly what that means. If they follow a three act structure, you should know what that means. It helps ensure all needs are met.

These are just a few benefits I receive from our craft group.

  • Perspective. Each person has different talents and experiences. In our group alone we have a copy editor, a journalist/reporter, a grant writer and a historian. Throw the four of us together and we came up with awesome goals, disappointments and absolutely awesome love stories to write.
  • Lindy Hop. We utilized the My Book Therapy’s framework to plot a book and we were able to walk away with our next story almost complete. After I get home I plug everything into an Excel chart and then review it with The Book Buddy. Use whatever works for you, but I’ve found these two tools help ensure I haven’t missed any key points in plotting.
  • Friendships. We’ve developed awesome friendships because of our common passion of Jesus and writing. What a blessing to call these ladies my friends.

What about you, what experiences have you had with brainstorming?

Conversations: How to start your Scene

“How is your NaNoWriMo manuscript going?” I set my coffee down at the table where Sally sat waiting for me, drinking coffee and eating a cookie. A light frost tipped the grass outside, the lake frothy along the rocky shoreline.

“I think my brain is shutting down. I’ve written about two thousand words a day, but I am running out of ideas on how to start my scene.” Sally broke off a piece of her monster cookie, the fresh-baked smell enough to make me wish I hadn’t eaten breakfast.

“Have you done your scene preparation?  Figured out Layer One: what kind of scene it is, and the 5 Ws’?”

“Oh, that’s the easy part. And Layer Two isn’t so hard either. Creating Tension is easy once you understand the equation: a Character we care about who has a goal, as well as something to lose who meets obstacles that feel insurmountable so much so that we fear they’ll fail.”

“Right. The equation is: Sympathetic Character + Stakes + Goals + Obstacles + Fear of Failure.”

She broke off another piece of cookie. A M&M dropped onto her napkin. “But finding the first line and getting going that is stumping me. I feel like the words should just come to me, but…I’m staring at the blank page.”

“I understand. Let me teach you my first line/hook technique that is simple and fast to get you going into the scene. This is Layer Three and it’s simply about making the Hook SHARP.

“S stands for STAKES. What does your character have to lose? What can go wrong? You must have this element or there is simply no reason to have this scene, and especially no reason for your reader to stick with the story. In an Action scene, it’s something that could happen. In a ReAction scene, it might be making a bad decision. To find this, ask: What is the worst thing that could happen to your character right now? What does he/she fear?

“H stands for Hero/Heroine Identification. Why should we care about your character? What about your character makes us understand or even sympathize with him? To find that element ask: What do I have in common with my character? What need, or dream, or situation, or fear, or past experience do we share? And what about that can I extrapolate that fits into my story? Giving your character a realistic, sympathetic situation and realistic emotions is the key to creating that connection between your reader and your character.

“A stand for Anchoring, or Storyworld. Use your inner journalist to create place. By the end of the first paragraph, and for sure the first scene, you should have anchored your character into the scene by using the five W’s. Who, What, Where, When and Why? Then, add in the 5 senses. The Facts and Feelings work together to establish place and evoke emotions. The right storyworld can give us a feeling of happiness, or tension, even doom in the scene. Ask: What is the one emotion you’d like to establish in this first sentence, paragraph, scene? Using the five 5’s, what words can you find that conveys this sense of emotion? Use these in the crafting of your first paragraph.

“R reminds us to start your scene: on the Run. Writing craft instructor Dwight Swain in Techniques of the selling writer says that “a good story being in the middle, retrieves the past and continues to the end.” Your scene should start in the middle of the action, as if drawing back the curtain on the scene to find it already in action on the stage. Ask: How can I start my scene with the characters already engaging the problem of the scene?

“P helps us to identify and weave in the Thematic Problem, or the Story Question, in the scene. You will have one story question, or thematic question that drives your book. This question permeates all the decisions your hero and/or heroine make throughout the story. Ask: What thematic question is my character grappling with in this scene? How can you weave in the theme, or some part of it?

“Once you have identified all these pieces, climb into your POV character’s “skin” (or head) and stand at the edge of the stage, looking at all the activity and ask: What am I (as the character) thinking right now? Not what am I thinking about, but what am I thinking?

“Use this sentence to start your character in the scene. You can change it later, but at this moment, you’ll be in your character’s skin and able to go forward in their POV and write the scene. (Because you’ll know the goals, stakes, obstacles and even the thematic problem they’ll struggle with in the scene). (For Premium Access Members, you may want to refer to this post to

“What if I get the wrong first line?”

“Sally, there’s no wrong first line. But at this point, you’re just trying to get words on the page. Try it – you’ll be surprised at how the words just start to flow out of you once you figure out these elements.”

“I don’t know. I like to let the scene just…flow out of me. Organic. Seat of the pants.”

I looked at her cookie as she finished it off. “When you make cookies, you use the same ingredients for almost every kind of cookie. Sugar. Flour. Eggs. Salt. Baking soda. However, have you ever started making cookies and realized you’ve run out of one of the ingredients? Suddenly you have to run to the store, and your baking is stalled.

“The same thing happens when you are creating a scene. First, you assemble your ingredients. If you skip this part, you don’t know what you’re missing and you’ll suddenly be stalled in your creation process. This way, you’re pulling your “scene ingredients” out of the cupboard (your head) before you start mixing it together. You’re still writing the scene “Seat of the Pants” but you’re using specific ingredients to help you build it. And since you’ve assembled them before hand, you can flow without having to stop and figure out what you’re missing.”

“You’ve been eyeing my cookie all morning haven’t you?”

I laughed. “I put a Scene Starter Infographic last week. It’s still open to the public, so if you want a guide to building your scene, click HERE (” I got up from the table. “I need a cookie.”

Truth: Success with scene building and maximizing your writing session is about preparation and gathering your ingredients before you begin. 

Dare: Do your prep work before you begin your writing session. An hour of planning will save you and hour of staring at an empty page!

Have a great writing week!

Happy Writing!

Susie May

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling
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Drop and Give Me Twenty! Okay, One.

All right, writers. I’m going to say a word most of you will hate: exercise. Yeah, I know, the excuses are long and many.

“I hate it.”

“I don’t have time for it.”

“It’s too cold.”

“It’s too hot.”

“My legs hurt. My arms…”

“I sprained my eyelashes.”

Okay, I get it. But as writers, we need to take care of our bodies as much as our hearts and minds.

Sitting all day is hard on writer. A few years ago I realized my entire body hurt. I was starting to think I was going to have to life with pain in my shoulders, hips and back the rest of my writing life. While I wasn’t happy about it, I wasn’t sure what to do.

Other than hot baths.

And over time, those didn’t work as well. I had a neck warmer thingy with beads in it that I’d heat up in the microwave. Until I finally burned up the insides.

Then I found Tony Horton’s P90X. I’ve always been an exerciser – biking, lifting weights, running, spinning, aerobics – but I wasn’t purposeful.

Tony Horton made me more purposeful. His P90X program is intense. Not for everyone. And the routines are long so it’s hard to fit in an average day, but along the way, I learned a few strengthening tricks that eradicated my pain.

One, I got a good chair. I’d been sitting in an Executive chair for years. The kind where the seat and back are concave. But the sides of the seat were padded so half my back side was down, half up, shifting my hip out of whack.

The lack of support on my back caused me to hunch my shoulders and arch my back. Over time, I knotted up and stayed knotted.

I splurged and bought a nice, ergonomically correct chair. I love it and do not miss my Executive chair at all!

Two, I started working out with Tony Horton. He had me doing dips and push-ups, and all kinds of mean squats, but my shoulders and arms began to get built up.

My hips and buttocks got stronger so sitting all day wasn’t such a strain.  I sit and stand straighter now.

I couldn’t do one push up when I started. Now I can do ten – military style.

Another routine I added is yoga. I’ve been very leery of this discipline for years because of the spiritual aspect behind the practice. But I found a good class at my gym that leaves out the spiritual stuff and focuses on stretching and breathing. If they start talking about “opening your mind” or whatever, I fix on Jesus. Or pray.

I can’t believe how much I sweat in a yoga class. The routines strengthen my legs and back, and core.

Core. Let’s talk core. Very important. And probably the last place most of us focus. Core is from you neck down to your thighs. Sit ups and crunches, push-ups, squats, all the stuff we did in elementary P.E. class is core for our cores!

Because I’m on deadline, I’m crunched for time. So, if I can’t get to the gym, I do push-ups and squats at home, and put in Tony Horton’s Ab Ripper X DVD and work my core for fifteen minutes.

I see results almost immediately. A strong core also helps us lose and keep off weight.

Lately I’ve been seeing an ad for ten minute exercises by Tony Horton. I’m thinking of getting them because I can spare ten minutes. And, what a great afternoon break activity! Get my blood and body going by doing another ten minute set.

What are you doing to keep your body strong? Are you going from the bed to the car to the office chair to the dining room table to the couch and finally back to bed?

Do you have joint and muscle pain? I think you can rid yourself of some of it with a few good, purposeful exercises.

Here’s some tip recaps.

1. Get a good chair. If you can’t afford one, pray for the Lord to give you one. It makes a huge difference. A good mattress too. We got a new mattress and my last hip pain left.

2. Drop and give me one! One good push up. Work up to ten or more a day. By push up, I’m legs extended in the plank position. Not on your knees, girls.

3. Do some squats. Stand with your feet a few inches apart and sit down into a squat, raising your arms in front of you. Do that five or ten times, building as you go. I do 25. Or squat by sitting into the squat, touching your fingers to the ground. That’s harder, but really works you. Stand with your feet a few feet apart, squat, bring your hands toward the ground between your

feet. Stand, raising arms over head and repeat the squat. If you get ambitions, you can jump for the last few squats.

4. Work your core. Sit ups, crunches, oblique exercises.

5. Really, get a good work out DVD or go to a good class at your gym and learn tools you can use at home when you’re too pressed to exercise.

6. Improvise. I’ll put on a fun worship CD and boogie around the house, maybe do some “whacky-jacks” in the midst of it, work my obliques.

7. Try yoga or Pilates.

8. Try to eat a bit healthier. Have fruit on hand for snacks instead of chips. I love chips. But I’ve been buying less chips lately.

So, what changes can you make to start building your body to be a better and stronger writer?