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.

Conversations: In defense of Genre

Ice crusted the parking lot as I slipped my way to the coffee shop. The warm spell we’d experienced over the weekend had turned frosty with the blizzard sweeping across middle America, turning the pavement to a black skating rink.

I should have expected the cold, but the sudden spell of warmth caught me off guard and ignited my hope of spring. Worse, I now nursed a cold because winter hadn’t followed the rules.

Which was exactly what I was going to talk to Sally about today – following genre rules as she writes her first novel.

She waited at our table, beside a crackling fire, reading her Nook.

“Hey,” she said as I slid into the seat. Blessed Kathy walked over with my mug of vanilla latte.

“What are you reading?”

“A romance. Taking notes on why I like it, like you suggested.”

“Perfect. Now, tell me, what do all romances have in common?”

She put down the Nook. Thought for a moment. “A hero and heroine. A common thread that pulls them together. Conflict that pushes them apart. A breakup. And a happy ending.”

I pulled out a tissue. “And if you don’t have one or more of those?”

“Then it’s not a romance. I feel cheated as a reader.”

“Exactly. You’ve just defined the difference between a genre novel and a literary novel. Genre novels come with expectations embedded. A mystery always has a dead body in the beginning and the goal is to find the killer. A thriller always has a catastrophe looming at the end, and what we call a “lit fuse” or ticking clock to heighten the sense of danger. A fantasy has other world attributes that we need to understand, and women’s fiction is a story about relationships and a woman’s journey as she confronts an issue in her life. We expect these things when we open a genre book, and if an author tries to step out of them, instead of being innovative, they are simply breaking the rules.”

“But aren’t we supposed to be innovative? To do something unique?”

“You’re supposed to give a fresh twist to the story by adding in a unique plot element, or character, but when it comes to genre expectations, you have to stick to the rules. Unless you’re writing literary or general fiction. But even they have a standard story arc. The truth is, to be a great writer, you have to adhere to the structure of genre and story. You’re innovation comes in how you deliver the story within those rules.”

“Like, the Super bowl. The Giants play the game one way, the Patriots another, and yet they all have to follow the rules of the sport.”

“Correct. Think if like a building – every building has to have a foundation, walls, a roof. The interior is where the innovation and uniqueness happens. But this works to a novelist’s advantage. Instead of looking at it as confining, consider it as a way to keep you headed in the right direction. When you learn story arc, and then the elements of genre, you have a road map to developing your story. It actually becomes a sort of checklist to make sure you’ve created a powerful story.”

“So, what is standard story arc?”

“I’ll give you a checklist when we get further along, but every story has the same arc. It starts with your character in home world, or their status quo. Then, something happens to change this, called the inciting incident, which has the effect of sending your character on a figurative, or sometimes literal journey we call the Noble Quest. During this quest, he’s forced to make decisions that challenge who he is, and may change him until he comes to the Black Moment – his worst fears coming true. At this point, he has an epiphany, which changes him, and gives him the power to do something at the end that he can’t at the beginning to ‘save the day’. This is the point of the story – to change your character and tell some truth in his life. They end the story in a new home world, a changed person.”

She picked up her Nook. “Yes. I can see how even a romance does that. My hero learns that he needs love in his life.”

“Exactly. All the genre elements build on this main story arc. This week, in your reading, I want you to outline all these steps for every book or movie you read. And then, because you want to write a romance, also identify those elements that create a powerful romance. If you’re looking for a resource, I have a book called Kiss and Tell: How to write a romance that also identifies and teaches you how to do this.”

She pulled out her folder from her bag. “And what about him, my hero? I brought a picture.”

Cute Ben Affleck was pasted to the page. “Did you give him an identity?”

“He’s a healer who lost his best friend. He’s besieged by guilt.”

“So he’s lost his confidence.”

She nodded.

“Okay, that will work. Next week we’ll talk about how to develop a plot around him, by giving him a dark moment in the past. So, your homework this week is to ask him: What was the worst thing that ever happened to you? Write it down, like a journal entry. I promise, you’ll use it in your story. And then, find yourself a heroine, and do the same.”

“And in the meantime, read as many romances as I can find?” She put her nook away. “My family may never eat again.”

Truth: Genre writing is about expectations. Fulfill the expectations and you’ll satisfy your reader. Thus, all great novels have a heroes journey story arc, and all great genre novels follow the rules of genre.

Dare: Does your current WIP follow the rules of story and genre? Discover what they are, work your story into the structure, and then add the innovation and uniqueness.