Are you an Olympic writer?

The winter Olympic events terrify me.

Seriously. The Luge—a person hurtling down an icy trek at 100 mph on a tiny shovel-sized sled. (and have you heard of the Skeleton? Yeah, that’s the same thing, only head first. What—?) The Freestyle Skiing—aka bomb a double-diamond mogul run, (and don’t forget the two death-defying jumps in the middle). The Snowboard Cross—a free-for all down the slope that’s not unlike motocross. (and let’s not forget roller derby on skates—the Short Track event!) There’s the Giant Slalom—tuck and fly down a mountainside. Maybe touch the snow once in a while.

Even the Figure Skating pairs has me white knuckled as those tiny women fly in the air, hoping to be caught (please!) by their partners.

(By the way, that’s Alexa & Chris Knierim, pairs figure skaters who are married and happen to also be Christians. Click on their pic for their faith story.)

I love the terror. I’m an Olympic junkie. Mostly because I’m so awed by the courage and commitment of these athletes. (and I’m a Minnesotan, so winter sports speaks to my heart!)

What drives this courage, this commitment through pain and fear and struggle?

I loved the opening ceremony, but even more, the opening sequence that started with this line: When you are searching for the story of these athletes, always start with the dream.

Oh, how that truth translates into anything we do, right? Especially writing. Because without dreams, we have no fuel through the crashes, the dark nights. Nothing to pick us back up.

But I want to suggest that for you—there’s something even deeper. A calling. A calling to write a story that touches hearts, changes lives. A dream is often about a person. A calling is about the soul. About listening to that voice that refuses to stay silent.

A dream is a picture, a hope, a longing.

A calling is a purpose, a fire deep inside.

A calling is the thing that tells you to get out of the boat. (and here’s where the preaching starts, so you’ve been warned.)

This morning, I read: (Matthew 14)

Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”
But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”
Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
“Yes, come,” Jesus said.
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”

That’s a dream and a calling put together. That’s Peter, seeing the miraculous, wanting it, then following Jesus’ call to do the miraculous with him. Peter, in faith, climbing out of the boat, doing the miraculous (until he realizes what’s happening!) It’s Peter, sinking, then taking his gaze off himself and putting it back on Jesus.

I think authors who build careers start with a dream, but they follow a calling. Whether it’s inspirational or not, it’s deep inside of them. A desire to tell stories that change lives. (by the way, I think athletes and musicians and even accountants can do the same thing.)

It’s the middle of February. It’s cold out. The wind is howling. But Jesus is calling. Get out of the boat. (and don’t forget to keep your eyes on Him.)

Oh, and by the way—want to really put power into your story? Give your character a Dream (something he’s always wanted) and then a CALLING to do something he can’t resist (which translates into a Noble Quest!) [And once you have that in place, you can easily put up obstacles and create tension. But that’s a different blog. Sorry—I get carried away when I start talking story structure!]

What is your calling? It’s not just to write a story—that’s just the HOW of your calling. Dig deeper.

Then go back your computer and keep writing something brilliant.

Your story matters!

Susie May

P.S. Are you working on a story that contains romance? Whether it be a thread, or a full out story—you need to know HOW to build it. Did you know that a great romance is layered on top of regular story structure? Or that knowing the 2 basic romantic structures can streamline your entire plot? Learn this and soooooo much more in our 6 hour seminar, Learn how to write a Brilliant Romance.ON SALE UNTIL VALENTINES DAY for $100 OFF! (and yes, we have a payment plan!) Get the BRILLIANT ROMANCE SEMINAR here.

The What and Why of Writing: Noble Quest

When we read a novel, we want to go on a journey with the hero and heroine – not watch them wander through scene after scene, chapter after chapter. How do we develop a strong plot that doesn’t veer off-course by mid-book, leaving our characters lost and our readers frustrated?

We need to know the protagonist’s Noble Quest.

What: The Noble Quest is the protagonist’s goal – what they want to accomplish. When you see the term “Noble Quest,” think What?  Think quest, as in quest for the Holy Grail. (Now doesn’t that example make you want to go watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?)

Why: Discovering your protagonist’s Noble Quest is a key part of your novel. The Noble Quest is more than your hero deciding “I want to get from point A to point B.” It is an emotional journey that ramps up tension and builds stakes in your story. By accomplishing the Noble Quest, the protagonist resolves inner conflict.

To discover your character’s Noble Quest, ask three questions:

  • What does the protagonist want?  (Why?)
  • How is this expressed in an overall story theme?
  • How will he/she know when they achieve this? (Goal)

Here’s how I answered those questions for Allison Denman, the heroine of my debut novel, Wish You Were Here:

  1. Allison wants to live a mistake-free life – because her father thinks she is a mistake (or so she believes).
  2. This is expressed in an overall story theme of wrong choices and grace – and do we really believe that God can bring good out of our mistakes (like kissing our fiancé’s brother five days before the wedding?).
  3. Allison will know she’s achieved this “mistake-free” life when she marries Seth Rayner, aka “Mr. Safety Patrol Boy,” who she has dated since high school.

Let’s answer the same three questions for Kathryn Heigl’s character, Jane, from the movie 27 Dresses:

  1. Jane wants to stop being the bridesmaid (over and over and over again) – and to finally be the bride at her own beautifully romantic wedding. Why? She wants to be picked, not overlooked like she always has been because her sister is the beautiful one.
  2. This is expressed in an overall story theme of love is blind – falling in love with the wrong person – and people not seeing us for who we really are.
  3. Kathryn will know she’s achieved this when her boss (who she’s in love with) finally notices her and realizes he’s in love with her too and wants to marry her.

Consider your work-in-progress (WIP): What is your protagonist’s Noble Quest?


BethVogtisaJetsfanMBT’s Skills Coach, Beth K. Vogt provides her readers with a happily ever after woven through with humor, reality, and God’s lavish grace. Her inspirational contemporary romance novel, Wish You Were Here, debuted May 2012 (Howard Books.) Her second novel, Catch a Falling Star, releases May 2013. Beth is an established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International. Visit with Beth at her website

The Noble Quest Up Close and Personal

We’ve been talking Character creation a bit here on MBT, in the Team Member Forum, as well as on the site, and while talking with my Mentee the other day, we were trying to flesh out her heroine’s Noble Quest. What does she want? What is this story about? What journey does she embark upon?

This is an essential part of the Hero/Heroine’s journey that is key to the story.

My mentee’s first response was, “Well, she wants to start a clinic for children.”

Great goal. Very noble. But that’s not the heroines real Noble Quest. The clinic, if she accomplishes her dream, is the end result of the Noble Quest. It is her specific, measurable and realistic goal. (and if you can add a time-sensitive element to it, it ramps up the tension and stakes of the story!)  Some people differentiate the two by calling the purpose behind the Quest the Noble Cause.  It’s really one big package.

Many people have the end goal of the story without realizing they haven’t fully developed the Noble Quest. The Noble Quest is an emotional journey, seeking some inner resolve that manifest itself in an outer goal.

The internal goal drives the external goal.

Here’s a real life example:
My sister-in-law wanted to go to nursing school. But in the middle of her first clinical, she dropped out. She hated actually working with the patients. All those bed pans and germs… Oooo….

So I asked her, “Then why did you want to be a nurse?”

“Because I wanted to know what made people sick.”

She’d lost her mother when she was thirteen (if she were a character in a book, this would be the dark moment from her past.)

The death of her mother formed a driving desire in her – how to understand sickness.

That, in essence, was my sister-in-law’s Noble Quest. But she missed her desire by choosing a wrong end result – be a nurse. She wasn’t the nursing type.

So, she went back to the beginning. What she discovered was she loved to cook. Almost the opposite of being an nurse, right? But the love of cooking lead to a study of nutrition. She graduated with a degree in nutrition while being a mom of two little ones.

Because of losing her mother at such a young age, my sister-in-law wanted to understand sickness and disease which lead to her wanting to help people live healthier lives.

Noble Quest.

Now she’s a personal chef with a focus on healthy recipes and helping mothers wade through the quagmire of food allergies.
Perfect end result of her Noble Quest. But first, she had to go back to the beginning, learn about herself, her own desires and wants, then she could focus her goal.

You must do the exact same with your characters. In order to build a full Noble Quest, you have to start at the beginning. 

Let’s go look again at the protagonist who wants to open a children’s clinic. I asked my mentee, “Why?”
“Because she was sick as a child.”
“How did that affect her?”
“Her mother was over protective. She couldn’t do things the other kids could do.”
“So, she felt left out?”
“How does opening a clinic fix that feeling?”
“She’ll help other children with debilitating illnesses to feel apart of something, to be accepted.”
“Ah, so really your heroine is dealing with acceptance issues? She wants to fit in, belong, have a community?”
“How does that play into her over all journey? How does opening a clinic satisfy that need?”

Round and round we went until we understood the driving force of the heroine.

This process is how you understand your protagonist’s Noble Quest. Work from the inside out. Or work from the outside in, but ask why until you arrive at the core of the protagonist. Who she is and what she wants.

The Noble Quest must answer these questions:
1. What does the protagonist want? (and Why?)
2. How is this expressed in an overall story theme?
3. How will he/she know when they achieve this (their Goal)

And, to add in stakes, which are essential to tension:  What if the end result, a children’s clinic, is not achieved?

Find your Happy ending by asking:  What is the right end result to answer the questions and goals of the protagonist?

Check your answer:  Will final goal achieved satisfy both the emotional and physical journey?

Rachel Hauck, Write a book proposalWe talk a lot about the lie, the dark moment from the protagonist past, the greatest fear and greatest desire of the character because these elements, molded together, create the Noble Quest.

Every story is about a character on a journey – the Noble Quest. Now, do the work and figure out what your character truly wants and figure a plan to achieve it.

Rachel Hauck is the MBT Book Therapist, always seeking the Noble Quest


How to Craft the Motivation for a Noble Quest

Noble Quest, Suspense, How to write a novel, Chapter 3, Limelight, My Book Therapy, Susan May Warren, MotivationHow do you build a powerful Noble Quest for your character, launching him off into his Second Act Journey with enough motivation, yet enough reward waiting at the end?  This section of your story is pivotal because you must have built enough Want  for your character to propel him through all the obstacles and disappointments of Act 2, all the way to the Black Moment.  Often, when we don’t believe in a character, if they seem “too stupid to live,” it’s because we haven’t built enough WANT. This can be solved by using the Push-Pull Technique.

I’ve heard them called MRU – Motivation, Reaction Units.  This technique is more about building a solid motivation to convince us of the Reaction and can easily be added to the MRU technique.

Again, the PUSH is the push away from the hero’s (or heroine’s) current situation.  It is usually something negative.  Like the doctor’s appointment that informs a patient of an impending heart attack.  The PULL is the glimmer of the happy ending  before him, the thing that he WANTS, and the sense that it might be attainable.  Like a buddy who has gotten healthy and found true love.

I showed you yesterday how MacKenzie, who’s goal is to hide out, suddenly decides that she needs to do something for the hero, too, and decides to be his protector against the media who wants to destroy him.  This is her Noble Quest (because she already believes she will be safe).  I build this by showing the PUSH – her past experience with the media, and the PULL – the sense that she doesn’t want to be dead weight and wants to help him.  HIS noble quest is to be of some use. (Which goes to her character and what she wants overall – to make a difference in her world).

Luke’s scenes is posted below. (With my notes in the body).  Note how I bring Luke from a place of annoyance with her to a begrudging respect, if not even compassion.  And, keeping it in the suspense genre, I always hint at what could go wrong. 

Chapter 3 Luke with SMW comments

A Checklist for the Noble Quest Chapter:

  1. Have you established a PUSH away from something? (Or given your character a reason to leave their current situation?)
  2. Have you established a PULL toward the Happy Ending? (Or given them a glimpse of their greatest dream?) 


If you are writing a suspense, then it is also key to:

  1. Remind the reader what is at stake and what could go wrong.
  2. Leave the reader with a sense of disaster looming as they move into Act 2.


Monday we’ll Jump into Act 2 and the first step on their inner journey!

Have a great writing week!

Susie May

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