Writing Tips

_ Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ansi-language:#0400; mso-fareast-language:#0400; mso-bidi-language:#0400;} The following is excerpted from the one-hour workshop version of my Planning Your Novel class.

What It's All About Good writing helps, but you've got to have:

  • A unique twist (high concept)
  • Your own voice--which you discover just by letting it flow, brain to fingers, don't let your editor get in the way, save that for revisions
  • A simple, sound story structure, with at least a couple of twists at the ends of acts one and two, and preferably more.

Logline One or two sentence description.  Include the Hero, Opponent, the Inciting Incident, and Hero's Story Goal.  Include no or minimal setup or backstory.  For characters, use "adjective noun" - ambitious executive, disgraced former cop, etc.

After a cyclone blows a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home.

When (adjective, Opponent) (Causes Inciting Incident), (adjective, Hero) must (Story Goal) or (Consequence).


Two Storylines Outer Journey

Heroine must have a visible, concrete, specific Story Goal, one you could photograph as she achieves it.  For example, not find love, but get married to Phil-or at least get a ring.

Inner Journey - Character Arc

Give your Hero/Heroine a need or flaw she must overcome in order to solve her external story problem so that she changes by the end of the story.

Heroine has a "ghost" or "wound" in her past - she responded incorrectly to this incident, resulting in her assuming a mistaken belief, preventing her from living a good life, e.g., you can't trust people, they will hurt you.

Key Elements of a Novel Special World

Who wants to tell us what the Special World is?

The middle part of your story, where character leaves her Ordinary World and most of the action takes place:

Give me some examples?

  • Oz
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Axel Foley in Beverly Hills
  • Running from dinosaurs
  • Business competitors forced by circumstances to work together, fighting mutual attraction

Concept, logline

Inciting Incident

Someone tell us what the Inciting Incident is?

An opportunity or threat that causes Hero to formulate her story Goal.

When should it occur?

Strongly consider beginning you novel on page one with the Inciting Incident.


To.rnado blows Dorothy to Oz

  • R2D2 plays Leia's SOS message
  • Elle Woods is dumped by her boyfriend
Story Goal

Outer Journey that forces Hero to confront Flaw:

Photographable, specific!


  • Return Home to Kansas
  • Destroy Death Star

The perfect person to force Hero to confront Flaw.  May embody Hero's dark side.  Darth Vader, Wicked Witch

Flaw / Inner Need

Ghost/Wound (single incident)

Mistaken Belief

Inner Conflict



Who can think of examples of a character's inner need that a story address in the outer action?

Keeping Hero from living a good life.  Ex:  Need to appreciate home or trust the Force.

Vertigo:  cop falls from rooftop

Life is dull, no one has time for me

Duty to stay on farm vs. adventure

Trust the Force

There's no place like home


Hero achieves the Story Goal by overcoming her Flaw

Other Elements
  • Ally:  Sidekick or Mentor:  a confidant to reveal exposition through dialogue
  • Romantic Interest:
    • For a Romance, this is the main storyline, and the external journey is the subplot
    • In a thriller, Romance is the subplot
    • In a love triangle, one lover represents the Hero's mistaken belief, the other represents who she can be if she overcomes her flaw
  • The Plant-plant early, use later, like Checkov's gun on the mantle in the first act that will be fired in the third act.
    • Hero's Strength
    • Mentor's Gift (Magic Sword, Ring, etc.)
    • Provided by B Story
Hook the Agent or Editor - Add a Twist Before investing your time creating a well-written book that the agent "just isn't enthusiastic enough about to sell,"  play with your concept.  Come up with one unique aspect, a twist that makes it different from other novels and implies a fun world to explore:  not just a fantasy, but a boy in wizard school or a thriller where dinosaurs are the villains.


For your current Work In Progress or a practice novel, create Key Elements:  Jot down the first thing that comes to mind.
  • Special World
  • Inciting Incident
  • Story Goal
  • Opponent
  • Hero's Flaw / Inner Need
  • Climax
Story Structure These resources discuss the universal pattern most good stories follow.

·  The Hero's Journey - The Writer's Journey, Christopher Vogler

·  Michael Hauge's Structure:

·  Save the Cat, Blake Snyder 

·  The Hero's Two Journeys DVD - Hauge and Vogler

·  The Screenwriting Formula or How to Write High Structure, High Concept Movies,  Rob Tobin


Character Arc

Give your Heroine a character an "inner need" she needs to fill or a flaw she must overcome in order to solve her external story problem.  Create her "Opponent" and the Inciting Incident so that they force her to confront and overcome her flaw.


Begin With Inciting Incident

Start your novel where the story actually begins, the Inciting Incident, in the first scene, page, paragraph, or sentence if possible.


Conflict in Every Scene

Determine the purpose of every scene.  The Heroine should start each scene with a goal and encounter obstacles, and fail or only partially succeed.  She formulates a new goal-or, in a reaction scene, she responds to her failure and then comes up with a new goal.  See Debra Dixon's  GMC:  Goal, Motivation & Conflict.


Smart Revisions

Make revisions an exciting process of creating art-and cut the time needed-by doing it in two stages:

  • Reread your novel and make notes of issues to fix, passages to add or delete, etc.  Then trace one character or issue at a time through only the relevant scenes in the manuscript.  Don't go through the whole book looking for all issues in one pass.
  • Then edit, clarify, and pretty up the writing, applying the great voice you've developed by the end of the book.

Crystal Ball:  Technology will make books shorter Digital books, especially those targeted to phones, will bring about the rebirth of the novella.  Combined with people's lack of spare time, the tightly focused on-the-go delivery medium will drive content creation, producing bite-size content for our ADD society, used to fast cutting in films.  Authors often seem to struggle to meet the mandatory 85,000 - 100,000 word count novel form, which is driven by paper-and-ink business models, their plots often meandering and episodic.  Many genre books, such as romances, already provide manageable reads, as low as 65,000 - 70,000 words.  This trend will accelerate with the melding of digital content delivery channels.  The short story and factoid-like nonfiction will rule, and bring down novel word count as well.  Additionally, non-fiction books with an idea that could be expressed in a very long magazine article, currently bloated to achieve word count of traditional publishing delivery media (printed books) will be trimmed to provide the essentials without the filler.  The price will fall, and we'll be able to purchase and read far more books, increasing our knowledge while still providing a wider revenue stream to publishers and authors.


Essential References The Elements of Style , Strunk and White
The Writer's Journey , Christopher Vogler
Save the Cat, Blake Synder
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
Screenplay, Syd Field
GMC: Goal, Motivation & Conflict, Debra Dixon
On Writing, Stephen King