Stories Grab and Germinate Inside a Writer – A Writer’s Journey

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is now available. See details below.

Ordinary World 

I’ve happily written inspirational contemporary romances. I center my blog posts on the writing craft, and I have a nonfiction out on writing.

Call to Adventure

Inciting Incident: Early one morning, I woke and a story plot came to me. Writers are told never to pitch a book with the spiel, “God gave me this story.” Although I’d never say that in a pitch, I consider God and me co-authors. And the story entered my consciousness fairly complete.

Refusal of the Call

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The story had a speculative bent. I’d write historical romances before I wrote a speculative novel. Besides, writers are told to stick to one genre so their readers won’t feel betrayed when they read a book outside the author’s usual genre. The speculative idea was intriguing, but I discounted it as a project I’d pursue.

For days, the storyline would enter my mind, and I’d toy with a possible scene. Then for my Word Weavers group, I was expected to bring something to be critiqued. But I was in promotion mode for two released books. Needing something, I fleshed out a Hero’s Journey outline for the speculative idea.

Meeting the Mentor

In the Word Weaver meeting, a member read my submission aloud. I surprised the group that I’d write a speculative book, but the ladies told me I must write the story.

Crossing the Threshold

Then my husband and I attended a writers conference. I planned to enjoy the conference because I wouldn’t be pitching to an editor—a nerve-wracking experience. Then I noted one publisher sought speculative fiction. Strangely compelled to discuss the story with an editor, I signed up for a fifteen-minute appointment.

During the appointment, I confirmed the publisher wanted speculative fiction. The acquisition editor said his publisher would accept only an extremely well done speculative. I said I was seeking only his feedback on my germinating idea. Animated, I relayed the plot.

When I finished, he stared at me for several beats, then he said, “I like it.” Another beat. “I like it a lot.” Another beat. “But I don’t want them to ____ (no spoiler). We brainstormed that point. Then he told me to send him the completed story.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

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The next morning while I stood in the breakfast line, I heard someone behind me speak. It was the acquisition editor. He said he kept thinking about my story. He agreed the novel would be much work, but he thought I should write the book. We brainstormed another story point until we reached the eggs and bacon.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

In a workshop on imagery that day, I saw a cockroach crawling over the guard’s boot in the first scene of my speculative.

At home, I feared the work, but I believed I was to attack the novel.

Someday.

Then came pokes. 

  • From one devotional: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Mark 8:33
  • From another devotional: “For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:37
  • In the dentist’s chair: one of the framed pictures on the wall was the perfect prop for a scene in the story.
  • From a reading, I discovered the perfect voice for a character.
  • An interesting inset on a brick house sparked a whole scene.

Since the story wouldn’t leave me alone, I told my husband, “As soon as three obligations stop for the summer, I need to take a sabbatical, go to our lake cabin for a month, and write the book.”

He agreed.

(The 5 remaining stages of my personal Writer’s Journey are yet to come—Ordeal, Seizing the Reward, The Road Back, Resurrection, and Return with the Elixir.)

Can you share how something similar happened to you?

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author



Cut Useless Scenes

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My guest today is Sara L. Foust. Sara will tell us how to recognize scenes that need to be cut. More about her new book, Rarity Mountain, follows her post.

Sara: How do you know if you should include the scene you’ve just written or—gasp—cut it? First, let’s define what a scene is.

Definitions of a Scene

  • Google’s dictionary defines it as “a sequence of continuous action in a play, movie, opera, or book.” 
  • Dwight V. Swain, in Techniques of a Selling Writer, says a scene is a unit of conflict, an account of an effort to attain a goal despite opposition.” According to Swain, scenes are then followed by sequels. Sequels are more thoughtful reflections on the part of the character about what just happened in the scene.
  • I’ve come to think of scene a little differently, and it relates to the characters’ goals. 

Scenes Based on Character’s Goals

The overall, overarching story goal is the big picture goal that continues throughout the book. Each character’s action brings the character closer toward that goal. And within the story, there are stepping stones the characters must achieve (or be denied) in order to move the story forward.

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Example:  If my goal is to get a doughnut, I have steps I have to take in order to make it happen. I have to find my shoes, get my keys, drive to the store, and pay for my doughnut. My main goal is to get the doughnut, but the stepping stone goals (shoes, keys, wallet) must be achieved in order to succeed.

Before I write, I decide each character’s story goal. Then as I write, I make sure each scene has its own stepping stone goal too. So, for me, a single scene is the unit of action the character takes toward their individual scene goal. This includes the character’s reflection that occurs before, after, or during the action. Every time the character’s stepping-stone goal changes, I start a new scene. 

When to Cut a Scene

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If I find my characters are lollygagging around not accomplishing much of anything, I know I’ve failed to include an appropriate scene goal and need to re-evaluate that scene.

In her writing craft book, Goal, Motivation, Conflict, Debra Dixon advises that each scene included in the final draft must have three reasons for being there. One of these reasons must be goal, motivation, or conflict. She elaborates that the other two reasons should show:

  • the character’s progress toward the story goal or setbacks they must overcome, 
  • pit the character against the antagonistic force, or 
  • give the character an experience that strengthens their resolve. 

When I cut a scene, it means I believe the story is actually stronger without the added fluff that particular scene gave. A scene needs to be cut if

  • it isn’t vital to the plot, even if it’s beautifully written and eloquent,  
  • the character doesn’t have a scene goal, 
  • the story can move forward just fine without the scene, or 
  • it’s boring. 

I always paste cut scenes into a separate file so if I change my mind they’re still available. Or if I just need to shed a few more tears before I completely say goodbye. It isn’t always easy to cut scenes. But I hope this helps shine a light on when they should be. 

If you or your editor cut a scene in your story, what was the reason?

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On the surface, SIMON FINCUFF and FERN STRONGBOW have nothing in common. Simon has served his sentence, but his past conviction still haunts him. Fern is a veterinarian and grew up on an off-the-grid homestead. The one thing they share? Each has a dark secret they would do almost anything to protect.

When their current careers are yanked away, they are left scrambling to pick up the pieces. A reality television show falls into their paths, offering a life-changing opportunity that tests their resolve and their faith. These two unlikely partners must battle to survive for thirty days in the untouched wilderness of Rarity Mountain with only a handful of survival items and a director who is out for drama, no matter the cost. With their lives and their carefully guarded skeletons on the line, they will discover how far they are willing to go to win the million-dollar prize for Survival Tennessee. 

Sara is a multi-published, award-winning author and homeschooling mother of five who writes surrounded by the beauty of East Tennessee. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Tennessee and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is the author of the Love, Hope, and Faith Series, which includes Callum’s Compass (2017), Camp Hope (2018), and Rarity Mountain (March 2019).  She also has a story, “Leap of Faith,” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Step Outside Your Comfort Zoneand a novella, Of Walls (November 2018). Sara finds inspiration in her faith, her family, and the beauty of nature. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, camping, and spending time outdoors with her family. To learn more about her and her work or to become a part of her email friend’s group, please visit www.saralfoust.com.



Dangling Modifiers Don’t Have the Right Word to Modify

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Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is now available. See details below.

Two weeks ago, I gave examples of misplaced modifiers. Today we’ll look at examples of dangling modifiers: phrases or clauses that are not logically related to the words they modify. They jar and confuse readers.

Participial phrases can be dangling modifiers. Watch out for those -ing verb forms.

Examples

1. Confusing: Listening for the cat, the feline scratched the door.

This says the feline was listening for the cat. Unlike misplaced modifiers, dangling modifiers take more work to fix.

Clear: While I listened for the cat, the feline scratched the door.

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2. Confusing: Taking photos of the barn, my camera fell into manure.

Here, my camera was taking photos of the barn.

Clear: I snapped photos of the barn. When I stumbled, I dropped my camera, and it fell into manure.

3. Confusing:  Looking at the sea, a ship battled the waves.

This sounds like the ship looked at the sea.

Clear:  Jim looked at the sea. A ship battled the waves.

Not all Dangling modifiers are participial phrases. Sometimes adjectives have no noun or pronoun to modify.

Examples

1. Confusing: Tired, the bed was inviting.

Because no person is mentioned, the bed was tired?

 Clear:  Tired, I wanted to crawl under the bed’s covers.

image by SchoolPRPro

2. Confusing: Wary, guns were drawn.

Hmm. Guns were wary.

Clear:  Wary, police officers unholstered their guns.

Or how about an adverbial phrase.

3. Confusing: After a few unsteady steps, the dish flew from Gordon’s hand.

Here, the dish took a few unsteady steps.

Clear: After a few unsteady steps, Gordon tripped, and the dish he held flew from his hand.

Opening modifying phrases need to have something to modify in a sentence, or they modify something else.

Can you share a humorous example of a dangling modifier?

The Kindle copy of Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is now available! Buy link.

Buy Link

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is TYFMI30D-Print-5.75x8.89.jpeg

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. —Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  —Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! —Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author