Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Story Equation

with guest Rachel Hauck.

Working on my 25th novel, I feel less of an expert on novel writing than ever. How is it the things I teach seem to elude me when I write?

Before starting a novel, I spend about a month dreaming and developing the characters.

Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, knowing who you are writing about from the start is paramount.

Readers don’t really care about plots. They care about characters. The depth and detail in which you create your protagonists will determine the details of your plot.

Being writing partners with Susan May Warren for the past twelve years has taught me a lot.

We’ve matured together in our knowledge of the craft, but Suz is a master at putting ideas together in a teachable form.

For years we’ve taught the Lie Journey then formulated it into the Story Equation. Better known as the SEQ.

I never start a book without this little gem.

This graphic is the basic Story Equation. We’ve added are a few more “dots” along the circle but this basic formula should inspire your creative genius.

I know, it doesn’t look like much of an equation — I call it the story cookie — but the factors (ha! like how I did that?) you find here will help you develop strong characters to drive a compelling plot.

As you can see, the wound, lie, and fear surround the Dark Moment.

The Dark Moment is that “thing” that happened in the past to your protagonist. OR something she did in the past. This moment and the wound it created is what will heal in your protagonist as the story progresses.

The DM can be anything from parents divorcing, abuse, physical trauma to a broken heart, to neglect or outright rebellion.

The Dark Moment must be specific, relatable and poignant. 

Usually, the best Dark Moment happened to the protagonist when she was a child. Children cannot process events like teens or adults so trauma impacts them significantly. It changes their world view. 

 Death, divorce, abuse, seeing something they shouldn’t are all good DM launches. But remember, it must be specific, relatable and poignant.

This DM then forms a wound. From the wound, a lie develops.

One of my characters, Susanna, from Once Upon A Prince was a young girl when her parents divorced. Until then, they fought bitterly, throwing plates and four letter words at each other.

During these episodes, Susanna hid in her closet and pretended it was a beautiful garden.
As a result, she developed a wound: her parents did not love her or each other. Her world was unsafe.

This wound became a lie: she must take care of herself. No one else will.

Which matured into a fear: she could not let go of her securities, her plans, her very ordered life.

She grew up to become a landscape architect and a planner. She wanted her world orderly and safe. So when her long-time boyfriend breaks up with her, she is thrown back into those turbulent childhood wounds and lies.

Make sense?

I’m skimming the surface a bit with Susanna’s story but you can see how the DM from her childhood formed her thinking and impacted her world view.

These elements hold your character back from realizing her dreams. (P.S. You need to do this with your hero as well.)

However! The Secret Desire is dying to be released and realized. 

But it’s buried deep in your protagonist’s soul. It’s the thing she longs for — the hope of God has given her — more than anything but is terrified to attempt. 

The inciting incident awakens this desire and it comes knocking. “I want out. I want out. I want out.”

Make the secret desire the opposite of the fear. Again, the more specific you make these elements, the more dynamic the character. 

So there’s your basic Story Equation: Dark Moment of the past is an event that creates a wound which leads to a lie which develops into a fear. But the God-given secret desire is about to change everything.

This journey formulates the epiphany and a profound change for your character by the end of the book. 

Now, check out my new release The Writing Desk to see if I accomplished this in any way shape or form. (Snicker!)

Do you have any questions about SEQ? Can you see your story fitting into The Story Equation?

To find learn more about the SEQ visit



Know your character
Know what they want
What the story is about

  • Find the through line - Robert McKee ( a theme or idea that runs from the beginning to the end.) Knowing your character and what drives them and you can define it in one sentence, then you know your character and you know your story.


Dining with Joy

She wants to win her dead father’s approval. So she takes on his show. She thinks she wants OUT of the show but she can’t until she discovers how much he loved her.
Benjamin Martin in the Patriot 

Wanted to keep his family safe. Peace. It drove him. So war comes to his front yard and demands he participate to GET what he wants.  


Keep the characters moving and talking. Not musing in their heads.


What is going on in the world around them? 
It can't be Nothing. 
Have to enter into their NOW world. What’s going on now?


What do they want and what’s keeping them from it.


Dining with Joy

She wanted out of the show. She couldn’t cook. But people were counting on her. Her family. The show. Some pleasure in having fame. And to keep her promise to her Daddy.

The Proposal (the movie)

She wants to stay in America to keep her job. He wanted a promotion. Each scene builds around these overall WANTS. Something keeps the protagonist from getting what they want.

Opening scene: Drew’s tension. He is late for work. The whole opening shows Drew’s want and tension. He’s late. He spilled coffee. 

Her opening is she has to fire Bob is and called a Bee-ach. There’s tension in how she’s in command. But when she’s told she is being deported, which she bought on herself, we get how devastating this is to her. Story tension must drop down and create scene tension

What they want + obstacles = scene tension


Words count.
Mean things.
The dialog has to tell the story.
“Tell the story between the quotes.”
  Use the dialog to up the tension.
Say what they’re thinking.

Keep the pacing up. Don’t spend too much time in detail. Or describing things. 
Don’t write in circles.


Dining with Joy


Short, choppy sentences with active verbs signal tension. Think of the text mirroring your protagonist's racing heart. Long, meandering sentences filled with adjectives and adverbs imply a relaxed pace. Varying the format of the text will shoot tension into key moments of each scene.

The more personal the better. 

Make it as personal as possible.

  • SEQ
The reason you want to discover your characters and your story is because you want to know where you're going so you CREATE the right tension. It is a more efficient use of your time.

Leave a comment today to win a copy of The Writing Desk. Two winners. One copy of The Writing Desk is up for grabs in ebook and one in print. Winner announced in the next Weekend Edition.

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Wedding Dress comes a new captivating novel of secrets, romance, and two women bound together across time by a shared dream.

Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway bestseller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?

With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, and make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.

Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

Special Bonus!! "The USA Today HEA blog unveiled the cover of Second Chances, a romance anthology arriving Sept. 12 from Romance Writers of America and featuring stories from some of your favorite authors. They're also sharing an excerpt from Rachel Hauck’s included story, Love Is in the Air." Check it out here!

Rachel Hauck is an award winning, New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author.

Her book The Wedding Dress was named Inspirational Novel of the Year by Romantic Times. She is a double RITA finalist, a Christy and Carol Award Winner.

Rachel sits on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and is the comical sidekick to Susan May Warren at My Book Therapy. She is a worship leader and speaker.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, Rachel is a devoted Ohio State football fan. She lives in sunny central Florida with her husband and ornery cat.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Capturing a Story from the Headlines!

By Debby Giusti

Newspaper articles and nightly news reports provide story fodder. Some headlines inspire an entire manuscript. Others add interesting plot points or human interest angles to our writing. Today, let’s consider a headline that grabbed my attention.


Saturday, July 8. My daughter saw the first messages on Facebook and called the next morning to tell me what had happened. I did a google search, read an article that had appeared in a local paper and knew it was headline news waiting to be developed into a full-length manuscript.


What better place to brainstorm an idea than on Seekerville. That’s what I’m encouraging us to do today. Brainstorm the “rest of the story,” so to speak, or in other words, we’ll use the news article as a springboard that will lead us to our own story, a fictional tale worthy of an editor’s attention.


Why did this particular event catch my attention and wouldn’t let go? 

Hubby and I had taken our family to Panama City Beach for a weeklong vacation over the Fourth of July.  Synchronizing schedules and getting our three adult children and their families, including four grandchildren, together can be a challenge. I wanted to ensure our week was perfect so I covered it with prayer.

God heard me and responded. Our oceanfront condo was lovely and spacious. The water was crystal clear, and the weather each day was sunny and bright. Storms had been predicted but never materialized. We splashed, we swam, we tubed and paddle boarded, and when we weren’t in the water, we made sand castles, collected seashells and took walks on the beach.

Saturday, as we were checking out, the sky darkened. Thunder rumbled overhead and strong winds gusted, blowing beach chairs and umbrellas across the sand as storms rolled into the area.  We left in torrential rain, rejoicing that our week in the sun had been picture perfect and fun, fun, fun.


So what about the news report?

At about 6:30 PM on Saturday, the day we left, a family was enjoying the water just as we had done. The mother had come in to shore, heard screams and turned to see her two sons, ages 8 and 11, caught in a rip current. Mom, dad, a nephew and grandmother raced into the water to save the boys and were caught in the current as well. Four additional people were also swept up in the riptide for a total of nine folks literally in over their heads and struggling to stay afloat.


About this same time, a couple, who had decided to stop at the nearby pier for dinner, took a walk along the beach. The woman, an avid swimmer, salvaged a boogie board from one of the trash cans and then noticed a crowd gathered at the water’s edge. Thinking someone had spotted a shark, she and her husband approached the gathering only to see nine people flailing in the ocean, unable to swim back to shore.

Beach patrol arrived on the scene but refused to enter the water until backup arrived. Thankfully the woman took matters into her own hands. Knowing the victims were in imminent danger of drowning, she grabbed the boogie board and paddled toward the struggling family. Her husband quickly organized the people on shore into an 80-person human chain that stretched far into the water.  

Working together, the Good Samaritan couple got the children onto the boogie board first and swam them to the waiting arms of the closest person in the chain. That person handed off the children to the next person in line and the next and the next until the boys eventually made it back to shore.

The grandmother suffered a serious heart attack while in the water. The father and nephew kept her head above water until the boogie board team transported her to the waiting chain of hands that got her to shore as well. Paramedics stabilized the grandmother and then raced her to the nearest hospital. 

Within an hour, all nine people had been saved by the quick thinking couple and the human chain of Saturday beachgoers, who were willing to get involved.

Here’s a video  by Inside Addition that shows the human chain.

Click HERE to read one of the many article about the amazing rescue that appeared in numerous papers in the Southeast and was featured Monday on national news. (I’ve tried to include the most accurate information in this blog post, although details differ slightly from article to article.)

I find this story amazing on many levels. The woman found the boogie board only a short time before she realized people were thrashing about in the water. She was an accomplished swimmer and willing to risk her own life to save those in danger. Her husband had the wherewithal and organizational skills to encourage weekend beachgoers—folks who didn’t know one another and who had no connection to the victims--to work together to save nine strangers caught in the riptide.

I’m a sucker for a happy ending and this one certainly ended well, if not a bit miraculously.

Let’s see how a story—or many stories—can be created using this one news headline as inspiration. In my opinion, the rescue reads like the exciting climax of a story, yet the rescue could be the opening, inciting incident that hooks the reader and makes her want to turn the page.

List of Characters

We’ll use fictitious names as we plot our tale.

Disclaimer: We’re making up a story to surround this beach rescue incident. The characters are fictional and the story created is totally made up. Anything we mention has nothing to do with the actual people involved in this rescue. 

The story doesn’t need to involve as many people or a family. As mentioned above, we’re using the news article as a springboard that will lead us to our own story.

The Samsons are trapped in the rip current.
Mom – Susan Samson
Dad – Carl Samson
Grandma – Grace Hodges
Nephew – Dan Samson
Youngest Son, age 8 – Tommy Samson
Eldest Son, age 11 -- Billie Samson

Lady with the boogie board – Ann Carlisle
Husband of the lady with the boogie board – Jason Carlisle

Brainstorming Questions to Ponder

Who’s the protagonist?
       The woman with the boogie board?
Perhaps her husband?
A man on a surf board was mentioned as having joined in the rescue effort. Could he be the hero?

Is this a romance?
Who’s the love interest?
What’s the backstory of the hero and heroine’s

Explain the hero and heroine’s GMC?
Goal—what he/she needs (something tangible)
Motivation – reason he/she needs it
Conflict – what stands in his/her way

Don’t forget internal conflict?
A deep-seated wound or belief or misconception that holds the character back from living an authentic life.

What’s his/her greatest fear?
Fear of water?
Fear of deep water?
Fear of drowning?
Fear of rip currents, and if so, why?

Do any secondary characters have their own stories to tell?
Does someone in the human chain need to prove
Did someone fail to get involved in a previous life and death situation that turned deadly? Has she carried that guilt for years, maybe since her youth?
Is there someone who was never good enough or strong enough or liked enough to be part of a team? Will that person join the chain?

What about the beach patrol?
Were they ordered to remain on shore?
Or was that a decision they made?

Are there secrets that need to be revealed?

Why did the Samsons come to the beach?

Why’s grandma with them?

What made the Carlisles stop at this particular pier?
How’s their relationship?

What about the Samsons?
Is their marriage strong or on the rocks?

Now it’s your turn. Start adding details to this amazing true-life rescue scenario. You don’t have to provide an entire story line, just throw a few ideas into the mix, and we’ll see what develops. By the way, everything is up for grabs so you can use anything we discuss today in your own stories.

Leaving the beach is always hard, but we'll be back next summer.

Two creative commenters will receive a copy of my Publishers Weekly bestseller, AMISH REFUGE, the first book in my Amish Protectors series, as well as a coloring book and colored pencils, along with a copy of The Writer's Prayer and The Reader's Prayer. I’ll also include a coupon for $1 off your next Love Inspired book purchase.

To fuel our creativity, I’ve stocked the breakfast bar with muffins, bagels, fruit, sausage and grits. The coffee’s hot. So is the tea. Pour a cup, fill your plate and start brainstorming.

I'll be attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference next week in Disney World. Let me know, if you’ll be there.

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

By Debby Giusti


Miriam Miller barely escapes the ruthless attacker that killed her mother and kidnapped her sister. Running deeper into the woods, she’s running out of hope…until she falls into the arms of an unlikely bodyguard—a peaceful Amish farmer. Something about Abram Zook inspires her trust, but even in bucolic Willkommen, Georgia, Miriam faces danger. Both from the men pursuing her and from her growing feelings for the caring—though guarded— widower who protects her. Because if she falls for Abram she’ll have to embrace his Amish faith as her own—or lose him. With each minute, her abductor creeps closer, pushing Miriam to an inevitable choice: stay and risk her heart…or leave and risk her life.

Order HERE!

Undercover Amish
By Debby Giusti
October 2017

After Hannah Miller’s mother is murdered and her sisters go missing, someone comes after her. Now the only way she can survive is to entrench herself in an Amish community…and rely on Lucas Grant, a former police officer who is planning to join the Amish faith, for protection. But finding refuge for Hannah— disguised as Plain at a secluded inn—pulls Lucas back into his old life. And when Lucas discovers the criminals after them may be the people who killed his partner, the mission to take them down becomes personal. With the assailants closing in, though, can Lucas stop them…and finally put his past behind him to start an Amish life with Hannah?
Pre-order HERE!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

How To Build Your Fire When Your Wood's Still Wet

with guest Cynthia Herron.

Hi Friends ~ 

I’m delighted to join you today! Thanks so much for inviting me as your guest.

To kick off our fun, I fired up the stove. Scoot close. You can almost smell it! We have chicken fried steak with lots of “crispies,” hash brown potatoes, omelets made to order, and of course, angel biscuits with country style gravy. Oh, and there’s coffee, tea, and juice to wash down all the deliciousness. (And don’t worry about calories. I prayed those suckers right out. 😊)

Now, let’s get started!

When I jumped back into writing several years ago, a lot had changed. My craft was a tad rusty, but even more daunting? Social media. Tribe-building. Blogging. Branding. Website-wrangling. All those crazy, wonderful things that comprise a writer’s platform.

What on Earth did I know about THAT? In addition, I’m pre-published. Just how did one build something like platform from scratch? How did I start? What to do first?

As I toyed with various ideas, I remembered a funny analogy. (Except…not so funny at the time.)

Growing up, Sis and I had chores while our parents worked. Since she was several years younger, she got the easier tasks (isn’t that always the way?) My responsibilities included supper prep, laundry, and general housekeeping odds and ends. Also, in the winter, if the fire was lit, it was my job to keep it going.

Daddy schooled me in safety measures, but of course, he didn’t really have to because I was a teenager. And you and I both know, teenagers know everything.

That’s exactly why, when the wood box got low, I tramped outside in the snow and gathered a few more logs. But I didn’t use the dry logs—the ones underneath the covered tarp out back. Nope. I collected some logs in a different pile because it was closest. Easiest. Also, wettest.

Well, drat.

I hauled the wood indoors and tossed a few of those wet logs on the dying fire. Kerplunk. 

Well, wouldn’t you know it. Those buggers all but doused what was left of the fire. 

“But Daddy said you should use the other wood. I’m telling!”

“You won’t have to, Miss Know-It-All.” I glanced at my sister. “I have everything under control.”

I poked and prodded the remaining embers until, wonder of wonders, new flames sparked to life.

Hallelujah! I raised a fire from the dead! *cue the cymbals*

“See? Not so hard.” 

And then, God smiled. And…probably shook His head.

A few hours later when my eyelids started to swell and my skin broke out in a mottled, pink rash, Daddy didn’t mince words.

“Cindy, you didn’t use that wood out back I set aside? The wood I told you not to use?”

For crying-out-loud, how’d my beloved daddy know? It had taken a while, but I’d brought that measly fire back to life—and the house was toasty warm due to my efforts.

“…Because there was a reason I told you not to use that wet firewood. Besides being wet, those are the logs I wasn’t going to use. The ones with the poison ivy vines still attached.”

Oops. Should have listened. 

Little did I know, one day, that lesson would serve me well as I built my author platform.

It’s possible to build a fire from wet wood, but it takes time to catch. Usually, you first have to arrange dryer pieces of kindling beneath the wet logs. The idea, of course, is to dry out the wet ones, creating the ideal environment for a successful burn.

Let’s equate this to writing.

In this technologically-minded world, bells and whistles abound. For those who aren’t particularly tech-savvy or social-media competent, life’s an adventure. Add writer to that (especially one who’s still a little wet behind the ears and in the initial platform-building stages) and it’s an emotional roller coaster. 

Here’s what I did:
  • I followed experts in various fields and gained confidence through knowledge. A word here. Many refer to themselves as “experts” and aren’t. My rule of thumb is to always choose three or four reliable sources and see if their recommendations are similar and factual. 
  • I joined professional writing organizations such as ACFW, ACFW MozArks, and RWA.  Connecting with other writers is important as we advance our craft and grow our sea legs.  
  • Because every writer needs an online home, I initially built a simple WordPress site. I’m not too proud to admit I bought WordPress for Dummies to help me with this. (Later, I partnered with Jones House Creative who designed a fresh, new website with a whiter, cleaner presentation.)
  • I purchased my domain name. If yours is already taken, use a variation that lets the world know you’re Jane Doe Author. (For instance, mine is, not to be confused with another Cynthia who is an artist.)
  • I started a blog. At first, my topics were all over the map. When I nailed down Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction as my tagline, I shifted my thoughts to encouragement-focused content. Ozarks trivia, slice-of-life vignettes, and motivation remain near and dear to my heart. No—blogging isn’t a must and you don’t have to do it. Writers write books, so that trumps blogging, however, be aware your online home is yours. Not some other medium’s whose algorithms are ever-changing. 
  • I started a Facebook author page. Many writers feel comfortable with just enabling the “follow” button on their personal profile. This allows your fans to follow your public updates so that’s an option if you’d rather do that. 
  • I opened a Twitter account and set up TweetDeck (to better organize my connections). 
  • I created a LinkedIn profile (which lends a sense of professionalism) and I connected with authors, editors, agents, and industry contacts. Let me add—I don’t accept every invitation that comes my way. Call me a meanie, but a “professional clown” and I don’t share the same goals and objectives. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, LinkedIn isn’t the place to post personal updates. It’s a tool best used to showcase your attributes, accomplishments, work experience, publishing credits, etc. We might share blog posts or encouraging graphics, as well.
  • I joined Pinterest. Since my tagline is Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction I create boards and I pin with that in mind. Some of my boards are fun and creative, while many provide story inspiration and motivation. And yes—I do use secret boards for story ideas. So. Much. Fun! 
  • I entered writing contests. Contests are a wonderful (unbiased) way to improve our writing and boost our self-confidence.

Now, let me just say, these are ways I chose to build a platform from scratch—things I felt I could successfully navigate without wrecking my writing time and without being a total slave to social media. You may choose other avenues that better suit your needs and personality. Totally okay. (As of July 2017, here’s a list of the Top 15 Most Popular Social Media Sites via Dreamgrow.)

As other Seekerville guests have mentioned, writers needn’t (and shouldn’t) feel like we must master it all. If our heart’s not in it, it shows. Dazzling Dinah may be all that and a bag of pork rinds, but some of us have different tastes and that’s where we’ll excel. 

Here’s what I learned:

  • Listen to those we trust, those with a little more expertise. 
  • Ask questions. 
  • Learn from our mistakes. 
  • Increase our odds of success by trying proven methods.
  • Embrace what works. Discard what doesn’t. 
  • Create something new.
  • Adjust as we grow. 
  • Reinvent as necessary.
  • Don’t try to be Wonder Woman.

Here are some additional insights: 

Here’s the bottom line:

  • As with anything worthwhile, a writer’s platform isn’t built overnight. Rarely, do we burst on the scene with an immediate following. Connections, real connections (not just numbers) take time. No worries! We’ve all been there. We grow our presence by blessing others first. 
  • My personal motto? Dedicate→encourage→serve→ bless. 
  • And remember—there is no dumb question. (Over the years, I’ve asked a ton of questions!)

What about you? How did you build your platform and grow your presence? What tips would you share? Any pet peeves concerning social media? What things can we help with you with today? 

If you’re a reader, what draws you to an author? Besides great stories, what makes you want to know them better? 

Leave a comment for a chance to win lunch, coffee, and books on me!
(Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.)

Original Image Credits: Pixabay

Author Cynthia Herron writes Heartfelt, Homespun Fiction from the beautiful Ozark Mountains. A hopeless romantic at heart, she enjoys penning stories about ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. 

Cynthia has a degree in psychology and a background in social work. She is a member of ACFW, ACFW MozArks, and RWA. 

She is a 2017 ACFW Genesis Finalist, a 2016 ACFW Genesis (Double) Finalist, and a 2015 ACFW First Impressions Winner. Her short story Words from the Heart appears in The Story Anthology (Karen Kingsbury/Family Fiction) via Salem Publications, 2014. 

Besides writing, Cynthia enjoys spending time with family and friends. She has a fondness for gingerbread men, miniature teapots, and all things apple. She also adores a great cup of coffee and she never met a sticky note she didn’t like.

“Cindy” loves to connect with friends at:

She also hangs out here:

For love, fun, and encouragement ~

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