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.

When The Journey Seems Long

I like to think of myself as a patient person. I think we all like to believe we possess the characteristic of patience. But what happens when we’re faced with a huge virtual stop sign that holds up our plans?

That’s what I’m facing right now as a writer. As I struggle with the daily-ness of raising my family, supporting that family – circumstances become an unsurpassable roadblock living out my writing dreams.

Mind the Timeline

When we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband planned a surprise weekend in the hill country of Texas. (Yes, we have some hills.) While there, we stopped by this amazing prayer garden called “The Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden” in Kerrville, Texas. It’s 23-acres garden, that contains a 77-foot steel cross, along with many other works of donated art.

The garden has a huge sign that delineates the time frame from conception of the idea to its completion. I couldn’t help but notice the time span: December 2001 to July 2010.

Then I thought about Biblical heroes who had to wait for their promises. You know that guy Noah? He built an ark and waited for rain. Conservative estimates are at 75 years. He carried out the task of building the ark and didn’t even know what rain was! He served faithfully with a looooonnnnggg wait time included. Hmm … is my wait really that long?

Recently, I bemoaned how little time I have to write and my ever-present competing responsibilities. My writer-friends gently encouraged me to see outside my narrow gray-colored lenses. Okay, it was more like a loving whack upside the head, but hey, it worked. I thought I would pass their insights on to you.

  1. Write. Keep taking baby steps. Write that sentence. Write the next sentence. Write the paragraph. Write the scene. Write the chapter and then the next. You will soon have a book. Large blocks of writing time in this season of my life won’t happen. (I’m writing this as I wait for my daughter at the dentist.) Take whatever time you can. Write from your phone if you have to, but write.
  2. Don’t compare. Several friends started on this writing journey at the same time as me. Today, some of them have an even dozen books written and published. God had to remind me, my timetable is not His timetable.
  3. Prioritize your priorities. My Mom went to heaven when I was two years old. That event has colored every aspect of my life today. She had four young children and within a year cancer had taken her life. I know we are not guaranteed tomorrow and I cherish the time I have with my kids. For me, during this season, writing comes after time with my children.
  4. Leave the rest to God. I’m striving for obedience to the calling He’s placed in my life. To write the stories He’s given me. I’m working to do what I can, learn what I can, and leave the rest in His hands.

 

 

Rainy Days and Mondays

It is 56 degrees in Minneapolis today. And raining.

Here’s a glimpse of my gloomy backyard.

But…all is well because I’m leaving in two days for sunny Destin, Florida, for our annual Deep Thinker’s Retreat. This year, again, we have a full house, and about half of our retreaters are repeaters (say that fast five times!) Why? Because although we change up the retreat classes every year, we always offer the same essential content: Encouragement. Brainstorming. Fellowship. And, most of all, a clear path to plotting your novel.

We watch and dissect movies. We read passages from books and discuss why they work (or don’t) and we brainstorm everyone’s story from the inside-out, putting their plots on giant pieces of paper (like these).

Our goal is to give people tools to help them build brilliant books.

Our biggest tool is The Story Equation. It’s a cool technique that I developed, with the help of my writing partner, New York Times bestselling author Rachel Hauck to help get the story on the page.

Randy Ingermanson, author of the Snowflake Method and Fiction for Dummies called it pure genius. And my writing heroine, Francine Rivers said she wished she’d learned this method years ago.

Yes, I’m flattered, but mostly I’m just super happy that it works. That it takes the complicated process of storycrafting and drills it down to the bones, makes the process logical and organic.

And did I mention, fun?

Frankly, although storycrafting is hard work, my favorite part about the Deep Thinker’s Retreat is the fun we have together as we bring a story to life, watch it emerge from the dark corners of our brains and onto the page.

I remember, years ago, when I was starting this writing gig, I said to myself, “Suz, if you want to make a career out of this, you need to figure out a way to write a brilliant book, every time, on deadline. A system, a plan, a technique, a process.” Now 54 books later, I use the SEQ for every single book. Meet every single deadline. And write stories that readers enjoy.

What is your process? Your method? How do you get the story on the page, meet your deadline and build a career even when life feels gloomy? Whether you use something like the SEQ, or a combination of many great techniques (e.g Randy’s Snowflake Method, which is a super way to get started!) (or James Scott Bell’s LOCK method) you need to develop something to help you write consistently excellent books.

(And it helps to get away with friends who understand this method brainstorm, too!)

So, my encouragement for you today is figure out YOUR method. Your process. Develop it, hone it, master it. Make it work for you even when the muse is tucked under a blanket, refusing to emerge.

Your story matters. Go, write something brilliant!

Susie May

P.S. If you’d like to check out the SEQ method, you can pick up the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LWXKLZV/

And, by the way we have a mini-course that teaches the SEQwith 2 free lessons to get you started! http://novel.academy/p/theseq

I admit I’m a little spoiled

For years, I’ve attended churches with preachers who dig deep into the Word, dissect the meanings of verses with a scalpel and basically train their congregants in theology like we might be attending Dallas Theological. And this is a good thing…we need to know what we believe and why.

But, every once in a while while I’m travelling, I’ll attend church where the preaching is more, well, let’s say basic. This week, while I was in Montana, the local church had a guest speaker—not their usual preacher—but a troubadour whose strengths were in his musical abilities.

They asked him to preach.

The sweet man gave a simple sermon about the miracle of Christmas, of God coming to man to rescue him.

Simple. But powerful. No exegesis. No digging deep into the etymology, no commentary connected to other scripture. Just a retelling of why Jesus came to earth and why it matters today.

He said, “Christmas is the beginning of God’s rescue mission.”

And then we sang carols to the strum of his guitar. Joy to the World, The First Noel, Silent Night.

Again, familiar. But as our voices raised with the simplicity of the accompaniment, the words became the focus, and I was overwhelmed with the simple joy of being rescued.

There’s nothing wrong with simple. With focusing on the basics.

In fact, a great story starts out with the basics.

A person with a problem, who wants something, for a good reason. Goal. Motivation. They run into obstacles as they pursue it, and this causes Conflict.

GMC, we call it, and every story starts there.

All the rest is the accompaniment—the storyworld, the dialogue, the emotional layering. And then we add the exegesis—the themes, the backstory, the transformation.

But it’s the basics, it’s that simplicity of focus that create the powerful story. The Goal. The Why behind the Goal. The obstacles standing in the way.

The happy ending.

Most of you just finished NaNoWriMo (YAY for you!) and are looking at your story, still cooling after the rush of creation. You might be worried it doesn’t have the layers you need, or the plot twists, or the scene tension.

Don’t panic. You’ll get to that. But for now, start with the basics, and keep it simple…Goal. Motivation. Conflict.

Happy ending.

Storytelling doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Nor does your writing career. As you head into the new year, keep your goals simple:

  • What is your goal. Why?
  • What obstacles do you see ahead of you? How will you conquer them?
  • What does a happy ending look like for you in 2017?

If you have a solid foundation there, the rest will fall into place.

Your story matters. Go! Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

PS. If you’re interested in learning how to write a story, simply, organically, starting with the character, check out my how-to book The Story Equation!

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