The Basics of Fiction

I taught a fiction class in Columbus Saturday (and by the way Columbus, did you have to make Exit 108B unreachable both north AND south? not that I’m bitter), and then I went to Wapak for a family day (Callie is two, can you believe it?), and then I came back and realized they were delivering a refrigerator this morning and the downstairs is still completely torn up so I had to . . .

Never mind. Here are the notes from the class on basics of writing story. I’ll get them cleaned up and put into a PDF later, and they’ll be posted on a section of the website called Class Notes, but for right now . . .


I. The Central Conflict

Every story is a battle.

(P)________________________ must have (G)____________________

(A)________________________ must have (G)____________________

The story is launched when the protagonist pushes to achieve her goal.
The story is shaped when the antagonist pushes to achieve his goal.
The back-and-forth cause-and-effect pushing and blocking of goals is the fuel for the story.
For the story to have a tight structure and focused central conflict, the actions of both the protagonist and antagonist must directly block their opponents’ pursuit of their goals.

To determine if you have a conflict lock, run a conflict box (thank you, Michael Hauge).

1. Fill in your protagonist’s and antagonist’s goals in the first column.
2. Fill in the events/actions that block them from obtaining their goals in the second column.
3. If your conflict is tight (conflict lock), the events that create the protagonist’s conflict are caused by the antagonist’s pursuit of his goal, and the events that cause the antagonist’s conflict are caused by the protagonist’s pursuit of her goal. That is, if you draw an arrow from the Protagonist’s Goal to the Antagonists conflict, the actions in the antagonist’s conflict box should be what the protagonist is doing to get what she needs. And if you draw an arrow from the Antagonist’s Goal to the Protagonist’s Conflict, the actions in the protagonist’s conflict box should be what the antagonist is doing to achieve his goal.

II. Plot Structure and Character Arcs

Aristotle: A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Classic Plot Structure:

Exposition (Prologue)
Inciting Incident/Initiating Event
Rising Action
Falling Action
Resolution (Epilog)

Modern Plot Structure/Film Structure:

Initiating Event
Rising Action broken by Turning Points

Turning Points:
1. The Trouble Gets Worse, Higher Stakes
2. Point of No Return, Irrevocably Committed
3. Crisis or Dark Moment, Going to Hell
4. Climax or Obligatory Scene or Final Battle

Units of conflict, smaller stories within the novel that end in turning points except for the final act which ends in the climax.
Acts are made up of scenes, mini stories within the acts of the novel that end in turning points except for the last scene which ends in the climax.
All units of conflict are constructed in the same way.

Character Arc Drives and Derives from Plot Arc
Character and plot are inextricably intertwined because who the character is determines the course of action he or she takes, and the actions and consequences of those actions shape the character and change him or her.

Ten Sentence Synopsis:

1. Initiating Event/The Conflict Begins: The story starts when the protagonist . . .

2. Act One: That event propels the protagonist to do this and the antagonist to do this, escalating their conflict and changing them until . . .

3. First Turning Point/Conflict Gets More Heated/Stakes Get Higher: The event or action that is the climax to the first act, throwing the protag and antago into . . .

4. Act Two: A stronger, tighter, more desperate conflict escalating until . . .

5. Second Turning Point/Point of No Return: The event or action that changes the protagonist so dramatically that she is no longer the person she was at the beginning of the story and that throws the protag and antag into . . .

6. Act Three: An even more desperate conflict, escalating more quickly because of even higher stakes, changing the protagonist even more drastically until . . .

7. Third Turning Point/Crisis/All Is Lost: The event or action that appears to doom or defeat the protagonist, classically the point at which the protag suffers a symbolic death by descending into hell, leaving her with nothing but a last desperate attempt to save her life which thrusts the protag and antag into . . .

8. Act Four: The final fight to the finish, escalating rapidly until . . .

9. Climax/Obligatory Scene/Final Confrontation: The event or action which brings the protag and antag into direct conflict from which only one emerges victorious, after which there is nothing but

10. The Resolution, the Return to Normal, the Coda to the Story.

Write a sentence for each of those, and then flesh it out with necessary, concrete, specific details of plot and character arc in the now of the story (no back story, no character explanations, just STORY) keeping it under two double spaced pages.

III. Theme
Theme is the central idea of the story. It is a full statement, subject and verb, that sums up what the story believes is true about the human condition. It is not a moral, it’s simply a statement.

Crime does not pay.
Crime does pay.
Family will sustain you through your darkest time.
Family will destroy you if you don’t separate from it.
You can’t go home again.
You can go home again.

Begin with “What is this story about?”

Plot (concrete, specific, external): “This story is about a woman trying to save two children from ghosts.”
Meaning (abstract, not a moral): “This story says that connection and family leads to love and salvation.”
Theme (statement about the human condition): “Taking the risk to love and connect leads to salvation and security.”

The Lajos Egri Theme Cheat Sheet:

_______________________________ leads to ___________________________________

Theme is developed through character change and plot escalation, not through somebody in the book saying, “You know what, family will sustain you through your darkest time.”


After your first draft, when you have the story on paper with all the emotion and truth you can muster, then you must make it clear for your reader, you must shape it and focus it for clarity.

1. Identify your protagonist and antagonist and their goals.
2. Run a conflict box to see how to tighten and focus the conflict.
3. Analyze your plot for acts and turning points.
4. Cut any scenes that do not move the plot AND show character changes.
5. Title each act so that you can recognize the story it tells.
6. Shape the acts so that they grow progressively shorter, with higher stakes and more tension.
7. Make sure that each scene propels the plot and changes character.
8. Resolve any subplots before the climax.
9. Make your climax the obligatory showdown between protag and antag from which only one can win.
10. Revise the first scene, the place where the conflict starts, so that it reflects/bookends/sows the seeds for the climax.
11. Determine your theme and revise again to subtly reinforce that central idea. Remember, be SUBTLE. No theme-mongering. It’s annoying.

81 thoughts on “The Basics of Fiction

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I’ve already printed out 3 copies. I’m sorry about the previous post. I was on the phone with a friend from Alabama who was trying to teach me to say “daawwg” instead of “dog”. I’m a poor multi-tasker.

  2. Sorry to be a pain, but I noticed a typo in the second conflict box. In the bottom right hand box it states, “The actions the protagonist takes to achieve her goals that block the protagonist from achieving his goals” but it should be “The actions the protagonist takes to achieve her goals that block the antagonist from achieving his goals.”

  3. This is awesome. Bookmarking AND printing.

    Granted, it’s also a bit overwhelming/disconcerting. I’m in Lani’s Discovery class right now, and I’m not even sure what my central conflict is going to be. I have an idea, but it’s not concrete and I have no idea who my protagonist is going to be. I’m making myself put this (very useful) stuff away until I’m done with discovery. Otherwise I’ll freak out. 🙂

  4. “Revise the first scene […] so that it reflects/bookends/sows the seeds for the climax.”

    Will there be some details about this in the pdf? I *think* I know what this means, but I’m not entirely sure. It can’t mean just a simple repetition of things – same location, same conflict – so in scene one you get heroine vs villain on her doorstep arguing about the villain’s dog, and in the climax you get all this again except this time the heroine wins. What I *think* it means is a repetition of what the conflict of the scene is about, things like a fight for autonomy, a refusal to adapt to changes. Sorry if I’m clogging up the comments with this. I’ve been wondering about this thing for quite some time.

    1. It can be anything–setting, conflict, characters, actions, whatever you want.
      In the first scene of Tell Me Lies, the protag finds another woman’s underpants under the front seat of her husband’s car and hides them so the neighbors won’t see. In the last scene she takes off her underpants and hangs them on her front door because her lover is coming to her and she’s flaunting it the face of her neighbors.

      1. Thank you, Jenny. Now I understand. I remember Tell Me Lies. The underpants thing worked as a quick reminder of how far the protagonist has come (at least it did for me), even though I never consciously realized that this had something to do with the first scene. Aaaah-haaaa, that’s how it works… Thanks for answering that question. Lots of good writer karma to you!

        Oh boy, am I going to have fun with this technique.

  5. Do you believe it is essential for the protagonist to “change”?

    I’ve been working on a first draft, and really the story seems to be about how everyone and everything changes in response to the protagonist’s actions. I only have about 8 scenes left, but a while back, I realized it was a little like “Alice in Wonderland”. The character is put into specific, often bizarre, situations and she responds to each situation as only she would.

    Her character (her ideals, beliefs, responses) seems to be constant. Even though she makes friends, discovers truths, falls in love, and makes difficult choices, I don’t know that she’s actually “changing”, so to speak. Her story doesn’t seem to be about her “learning to trust” or “opening her heart” or “healing old wounds”. It seems to be more about her presence prompting a growth or change in others.

    Is some sort of emotional development of the protagonist critical to successful fiction? Does he/she need to experience an epiphany or some sort of emotional growth in order to make the journey worthy of the reader’s time?

    1. The problem with a protagonist who doesn’t change is that her lack of change means nothing significant happened to her. That is, nothing in the plot threatened her enough that she had to change to meet the challenge. Which means either you’ve got a plot in which nothing important happens, so the important stuff happens to other people so she’s not the protagonist.
      Or not. Many roads to Oz.

  6. Thank you so much! This is fabulous. I can do this! I know it’s been said before, but it deserves repetition- you are the best!!

  7. I can never see this too many times. Thanks!

    And, I didn’t understand the comments from the last post either. 🙂

  8. Thanks doesn’t seem to say enough and as a writer I should be able to come up with something better, but I got nothing.


  9. It was a great class and an experience to share oxygen with such a great author (dare I say, “Hero?”). Well worth the drive (the husband and three kids tagged along). I brought and forgot to give you (starstruck), the article from the Milwaukee paper on “Touchdown Jesus.” He made the news three states away. Small world. Thanks again for sharing your pearls. They wouldn’t have been the same presented by anyone else.

  10. I love this. Thank you. While it’s similar to what you taught at the Sydney conference, I don’t think you included the ten sentence synopsis at that one, and it is fabulous. Makes me want to go and write one, and I suck at writing them.

  11. Jenny – This is wonderful. Thank you so much. I never seen it all written out so clearly. It reminds me of those old-fashioned dance instructions where the feet patterns are on the floor. If only diagrams can make you a dancer and a structure could make you a writer. Stil, it’s fascinating to see it so well-thought out.

  12. I asked some questions earlier, but I did want to add a “Thank You!” for sharing this here. It really is insightful and clear. Very helpful.

    Thanks again.

  13. You are all very welcome.

    I’ll probably revise the PDF before I put it up on the website to make it clearer, but this is pretty much it.

    And now I must go do all of this stuff to the Liz book. We were doing twelve days, weren’t we? I pancaked. Apologies all around.

    1. Yeah. You can tell we were really bored by the intervening posts, since we they didn’t really generate any conversation at all. No excitement or participation there.

  14. Thank you, Jenny! You are a wonderful mentor to us all.

    I saw you were teaching that course and was regretting that I couldn’t manage a trip to Columbus just now. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  15. If this is what happens when you pancake may I suggest a steady diet of chocolate chip pancakes. Just kidding. Then we wouldn’t have wonderful Jenny books and Jenny blog stories about her life to read.
    Seriously – thanks so much for this.

  16. If we ask questions here does it bug you that we didn’t pay to ask these questions in person?
    If so, please ignore since you already provide so much free advice.

    I’m confused on the antagonist thing. I know what an antagonist is in theory. In many of the Amelia Peabody books, it’s the Master Criminal, right? But what about when the big problem in the heroine’s life is that she’s sick of her rut. I assume Quinn’s antagonist is Bill because he’s the one who attacks her and tries the hardest to keep her in her rut. So if the story is about someone getting out of her rut and making changes, the antagonist is the person fighting to keep the protagonist in her rut and needs a compelling reason to keep that protagonist there in that rut? I know Bob is opposed to weather and life being the antagonist so I’m guessing the antagonist can’t just be “all the people who give protagonist a hard time about trying to change” and am confused.

    1. No, it doesn’t bug me that you didn’t pay to answer them. The people in the class get a much better deal because I do a lot of explanation and discussion and we talk about their work. This is just the outline and believe me, none of it is original to me. People taught me and I’m passing it on.

      Antagonist question:
      The antagonist is the person whose pursuit of his or her goal block the protagonist in the pursuit of his or her goal in the external plot. The external plot is the delivery system–Indiana Jones has to get the Ark of the Covenant–for the internal plot/character plot–Indiana Jones won’t be whole until he understands and accepts the value of spirituality and in his own way becomes a spiritual person.
      So Quinn wants a new life as embodied her dog and her house and Bill who wants her to stay in her own life rightly sees the dog and house as symbols of her freedom and tries to destroy them as he tries to force Quinn back to him. Quinn’s internal growth and evolution is the internal plot, but it doesn’t mean anything unless it’s played out in action on the page with the dog and the house and eventually with Nick. The protag and antag do not have to be after the same thing but their goals do have to cross directly (see conflict box).

  17. I think you are the BOMB! It was so nice to meet you. I truly enjoyed your perspective, your passion and that crystal clear ability to get right to the point. I suck at pitching and more than anything else, I was hoping to discover something concrete to strengthen my weakest area. That 10 sentense synopsis did not dissappoint. THANK YOU! Ps -that was the fastest 3 hours in history. If I could only get my other instructors to get to the point. Hope our paths cross again. Good luck with your other projects! C-

    1. It was great meeting you, Carletta, and especially great having you in the front row to bounce things off of. (How am I doing? Carletta’s still smiling, so pretty good.)

  18. Bethany, you are asking GREAT questions. I will defer to Jenny on this, but I know in school I learned conflict as Man V Man, Man V Society, Man V Science, Man V Nature. This is something I struggled with as well. But Bill is a great example. Quinn wants to get out of her rut, but Bill emboidies the rut for the reader. He escalates the tension because he goes nuts. He is a very real threat. There are stories that pit Man V Somethingnebulous, but for me, writing a real person to act against helps me conceptualize the protagonists goals.

    1. Yeah, I really think it has to be Human vs. Human. I know there are stories where the guy climbs the mountain and gets in trouble, but you know, he knew the mountain was high. Also, mountains do not fight back, so they can’t escalate the tension. You can do Man vs. Society (see The Matrix) but you need a Mr. Smith to represent Society.
      So Quinn’s goal is to reclaim her life and start living it for herself, not other people. She doesn’t care what Bill does as long as he leaves her alone because if she goes back to him, she becomes the woman he wants her to be instead of the woman she is and she dies a psychic death.
      Bill’s goal is to get Quinn back because he’s built his life exactly as he wants it and it has a slot in it marked “Quinn.” When she leaves, she challenges his world view. If he doesn’t get her back, he’s not the person he thought he was living in the world he though he knew. So if he doesn’t get her back, he dies a psychic death.
      So it’s a fight to the death.

  19. Thanks to Jenny & Julie. In Discovery and suddenly realized upon seeing this that I had cute scenes and character development/growth, but no clear antagonist and went “Well Shit”
    Now to pour some godiva liquor and think about it.

  20. Can I ask who the antagonist is in Pride and Prejudice? Is it Wickham? Or is Darcy both the hero and the antagonist to Elizabeth’s Protagonist?

    (if I get annoying, just ignore me or tell me to quiet down)

    1. darcy. he is the one who blocks what Lizzie wants (Jane’s happiness thru marriage to Bingley) by spiriting weak willed Bingley off to London. Wickham’s meddling with Lydia (who was just a knocked-up sister waiting to happen) is more of an obstacle to Darcy getting Lizzie than to Lizzie getting Pemberley..uh, I mean, Darcy.

    2. I think Darcy’s the antagonist because he challenges everything in Elizabeth’s world. Their climax is a compromise, both change, but it’s so beautifully written and you love them both so much, that’s what you want.
      Contrast that to Moonstruck where Ronnie completely destroys Loretta’s world so that she’s reborn. He doesn’t change (except for falling in love practically at first sight and coming out of his isolation to be the most demanding lover in film), but she dies and is reborn again (watch the scene at the end where she comes out of the closet: birth image). We’re doing this one for PopD and I can’t wait. Fantastic movie.

  21. this is so cool and informative. thank you!!!! i am starting revision on my long ass first draft and i will fill these in to try to tighten and focus (which just sounds like a really dirty exercise dvd, by the way)

  22. (-: Thumbs up. (I’d like to give double thumbs up to literary Kegels, but that sounds really filthy (-:.)

  23. Oh Lord, you guys are funny!

    This post is very timely as I am just finishing the first draft of Glimmer Girls, or whatever it ends up as. (I’ve never had so much trouble with a title. Seems good for a while and then I go Meh!)

    Back on track here – I’m thinking I don’t have an antagonist. Or maybe Clara is the antagonist and Johnny the Protag. – or maybe it’s Johnny’s little sister (embarrassingly enough I nicknamed her Dilly and haven’t been able to come up with a proper name.)

    Anyway, I’ll do all the above and see what I can discover about this crazy book. I’m REALLY loving writing it. More fun than the other two put together and coming along soo fast. (Four months, must be some kind of record!) But jeez, if there isn’t an antagonist I’m up a creek, aren’t I?

  24. OK, I have a question that I didn’t think to ask in class — does the protagonist always have to be the main character? In my current WIP, the main character would be (I *think*) the antagonist. Her son is the one who pushes change to happen, but it is HER journey/change that I’m interested in and that ends up being most of the story. But she’s not the “pro” — the first push.

    Is that OK? Can the main character be someone other than the protag? Or am I (quite likely) mis-identifying things in my story and she HAS to be the protag and I just am not seeing how at the moment? (It’s a bit — though not really — like the Moonstruck example, where she just wants to stay in her comfort zone.)

    Oh, and I thought I had another question, but I’ve forgotten it somewhere between Columbus and Portland, OR. Whoops!

  25. Okay for all protag/antag questions, here’s the theory.

    The reader is looking for somebody to follow as she enters the text on the first page. She wants somebody to root for, somebody to worry about, somebody to be her ride through the story. So is it a good idea to have more than one protagonist? No, because that dilutes her emotional involvement in one person and makes her care significantly less about the book because it becomes more distant from her.

    So one protagonist, whenever possible the first character she meets in the book. (And you’re the author, so you make it possible.) And that protagonist is the protagonist throughout because that’s the person she cares about.

    The antagonist is the person who keeps the protagonist from attaining her goal right up to the climax. The antagonist is the person who, if you removed her or him from the book, would cause the conflict to collapse because he or she is the source of the conflict. If several people are beating up on your protagonist, the outrage at the injustice (remember, we’re rooting for the protagonist in most stories) is diluted, not to mention the reader begins to wonder what’s up with this woman that she has so many enemies. It’s not a good sign.

    So one protagonist, one antagonist.

    Or not. Your book, do it your way. There are many roads to Oz.

    And now I must get some sleep because it’s 6AM and I haven’t been to bed yet. Because I’m manic. Sometimes that’s very usual but right now, it just means I’m in for a very groggy day, although right now I am wide awake. Lucy/Lani should be up by now but she’s two floors away and probably on the phone.

    Anybody else got a question? Anybody else AWAKE?

    Fine, I’ll go take a Benadryl and see if that knocks me out.

    1. OK. So my mother is the protag and the son is the antagonist, even though he’s the one who sort of starts the action/movement. She just wants to stay still. Got it.


      Sleep! Rest well. I’m with you on the sleeping thing; got in to Oregon at midnight, which isn’t so bad, but that’s 3 a.m. Ohio time. AND I only slept 3 hours the night before. I’m currently pushing my hotel time for all it’s worth, sleeping in blessed dark and quiet without a cat on my head.

      1. You have to be careful about protagonists with negative goals, aka “I just don’t want to change,” “I just don’t want to deal with people, leave me alone,” “I just don’t want . . .”
        The problem is that she’ll spend the whole book trying not to change, saying no to things, and it’s going to be difficult to keep that goal sympathetic through a whole book. An active protagonist who is pursuing something concrete is more fun to watch than a protagonist who’s doing nothing because she doesn’t want anything to change.
        Or you can recast it as “preserving a way of life” or “protecting her security.” It’s still hard to make active, but if you think of her as DOING things instead of just wanting to stay still, she’ll be more fun to read (and write).

  26. I think you are the BOMB! It was so nice to meet you. I truly enjoyed your perspective, your passion and that crystal clear ability to get right to the point. I suck at pitching and more than anything else, I was hoping to discover something concrete to strengthen my weakest area. That 10 sentense synopsis did not dissappoint. THANK YOU! Ps -that was the fastest 3 hours in history. If I could only get my other instructors to get to the point. Hope our paths cross again. Good luck with your other projects! C-

  27. Oh sure, go off to bed before I can explain my entire plot, outline the main characters, and ask what the heck I’m doing wrong! You need sleep? Good Lord, there goes my hero worship right out the window! 🙂 Sleep well.

    BTW, how can I be getting it SOOO wrong, when I’m enjoying it so dang much? Makes no sense.

  28. Don’t worry about it Kate G — just keep writing. You can worry about structure in edits.

  29. KateG – I feel your pain. I’m reading this, realizing how right all of it is, and much my draft is lacking.

    I have 8 more scenes, then the first draft is done. It’s so tempting, after reading htis, to go back. But I’m pretty sure I should stay on track, get the first draft done (I’m totally kitchen-sinking it), take a hatchet to it, then pull out my sewing kit and stitch it together.

    I’m planning on taking 4 vacation days to focus on the first edit.

    Must. Stay. Focused.

  30. Gosh, I’m quite glad I write non-fiction. Not that that’s easy, but it’s different. No protagonists and antagonists, for a start… Plenty of conflicts, though, with different hypotheses.
    😉 😀

  31. Question, Jenny –

    When you are going through the process of editing your draft and trying to tie all of the pieces together, do consult others? Do you have a single “go-to” person who helps you work through any stumbling blocks?

    Is there a point in the process where you feel feedback (community? editor? friend?) is essential?

    1. When I’ve got the book as close to finished as I can get it, I go to beta readers like Molly Haselhorst (who should beta read for money, she’s just that good) and Lani and Krissie and any of the Glindas (my critique group) I can harass into helping. You want to send to readers more than writers, but since most of my friends are writers, that’s not possible (except for Jill; hi, Jill!). Readers can tell you the parts they loved, the insights they had, the places where it dragged or didn’t make sense, the questions they had, etc. And yeah, I think it’s essential. You can’t get a clear look at your own book any more than you can take out your own appendix.

      1. “You can’t get a clear look at your own book any more than you can take out your own appendix.”
        This is SO TRUE, whether one is writing a novel or a textbook. Readers and editors are essential. With the best will in the world, no writer can assess her own work with the necessary degree of detachment.

  32. One other question about feedback/readers (open to anyone willing to answer): Do you typically look for readers who like your genre?

    For example, I had my dad read my first 80 pages. He was TOTALLY rewriting my book the way that he would want to see it happen (I told him to write his own darn story; then I quickly asked him to collaborate on another story… cause, you know, he’s my dad). He mostly reads historical fiction; he’s published a non-fiction war memoir. My book is sort of a romantic fantasy/adventure.

    I wonder – do you find you get the best feedback from people who are already inclined to buy your genre of book? Or do you find that anyone willing to read your work has something positive to contribute?

    1. Audience is important to a certain extent. If you’re writing a romance and your beta says, “I don’t like this mushy stuff,” you’ve got the wrong reader. But I don’t think you need to find a romance fan to read your romance, just someone who is open to the kind of story you want to tell.

  33. Yay me! Thank you, you!
    So, I trimmed my six page (double spaced) synopsis down to a one page single spaced, and hit all the points you mentioned. I think it makes sense. We’ll see. I’m now going to enter a contest where a one page synopsis is required.

  34. You can’t see it, but I’m bowing to your writing prowess and gereral awesomeness right now. Between you and Lani, I may get this book finished yet. Thank you, thank you, thank you. If you’re ever in New England, let me know. I’ll bake cookies.

  35. Jenny +/or writers out there- I’m in revisions with Lucy right now. I’m loving it. I’m learning so much. One thing worries me, though. I’ve made so many changes to make structure because I knew nothing about structure before. Sometimes I’m afraid that by the time my book is done it won’t feel like my book. Did that ever happen to you?
    (It seems wrong somehow even to think like this because with all the changes so far, my book is a much better book than it was before.)

    1. I think as long as you’re not doing anything you think is wrong for the book, that doesn’t feel right to you, you’re all right. It’s when it doesn’t feel like your book that you’ve gone too far. You say you’re afraid it won’t feel like your book when it’s done. Does it feel like yours now? Stop when it doesn’t.

  36. Thanks Jenny. It does still feel like mine so far. I think maybe part of the problem is, because I didn’t know structure, I’m working against my nature right now. By nature I am a very methodical person. It probably would be more natural for me to have the structure in place first. Not knowing any different, I’m doing the opposite with this book.

    When you write do you have your structure (anchor scenes, etc.) first or do you pants and then go back and put in structure?

    Cause whatever you do, it certainly works for you.

    1. It really is whatever works for you.
      I write my first drafts as discovery drafts. At some point I see turning points and start grouping scenes into acts and then when the first draft is done, I diagram like crazy trying to figure out what the book is about and how the structure reinforces that. But there really are many roads to Oz.

  37. I’ll put in my vote for the revision class. I’ve learned more in the first three weeks than I’ve learned in three years through other workshops/ecourses. THIS is the stuff I’ve needed and thank goodness Lani is generous enough to share it. Thanks to the two of you, I may actually write a publishable book!

  38. Fascinating to read but yikes! Just realised my current romance plot sucks. My heroine has enlisted the help of the hero in achieving her goal, which he does. The conflict (I had thought) is in her trying not to fall for him and vice versa.
    Should I burn it now?

    1. Well, maybe that is the conflict, and the thing you thought was her goal is a subplot. Don’t panic.
      Although here’s the bad news: “Not falling for him” is a negative goal and they’re almost impossible to make sympathetic. See if you can change it to a positive goal: Fighting to . . .

  39. This was the most fabulous, clear-cut, nitty-gritty illustration of how to get to the gist of your story I’ve ever heard! You’re a genius, Jenny. Can I have your autograph? I bet people request that all the time…

  40. This was extremely helpful! Thank you for providing this. I’m getting ready to sub my first full length contemp. romance and the 10-sentence synopsis was especially helpful. 🙂


  41. Hey Jenny – this should really be under yesterday’s post, but as we’ve all moved on…

    My editor doesn’t think my brilliant cover is as brilliant as I think it is. It’s simple, clean, eye catching (I think, but what do I know? Not much.) But the image doesn’t connect with the title at all. It connects with the story, tho. (That’s my point.)

    Now, I’m lucky, my editor will use this cover if I insist on it, but I’m inexperienced. Can I ask your opinion? Does the cover image have to make sense in the context of the title? (I think the answer is no – if you’re Jenny Crusie, but what if you are an unknown?)

    If you click on my name you can see the image if you want to.

    1. Your editor is right.
      The cover image has to tell the reader what kind of book it is before she even gets close enough to read it. I couldn’t tell just by looking at the cover until I saw the “mystery”tag at the top.
      So you need colors and an image that say “mystery.” I don’t know what kind of mystery it is, but if it’s a cosy, I’d go with deep blues and greens that are warm but still dark enough to read “mystery.” If it’s a noir, I’d go with black and red, or any dark dramatic colors with shadows. If it’s a comedy, brighter colors, but not pink. Pink all by itself doesn’t read as a mystery, you need a strong image that says “mystery” if you want to go pink. And the skunk ain’t it.
      So again depending on what kind of mystery it is, you go for images or illustrations that communicate the kind of story it is.

      If it’s a cosy, put your skunk much much smaller here so it’s overwhelmed and threatened by the landscape:

      Romantic suspense? Try this:

      Noir? Maybe this:

      A romp, something like this:

      Just go to iStockphoto and put “Mystery” in the keywords section and search until you get what you need. But it has to communicate the kind of mystery you’re writing. The fact that there’s a skunk in the book is irrelevant. What you’re going for is look and feel.

    2. Oh, and it doesn’t matter whether your name is Jenny Crusie or not, the cover has to communicate what’s inside. That’s why there are hearts on the dice.

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