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

by | Writing | 10 comments

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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.


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

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American Christian Fiction Writers

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  1. Marcia Lahti


  2. Joanie Walker

    The nudge from the Lord’s elbow hit me during Praise and Worship at our church a year ago this month. I suddenly knew who the main character would be in a sequel to my debut novel, as well as his romantic interest. Since I hadn’t planned to write another book, this information was both surprising and exciting. I looked back to book one, read what I had written about this minor character there, and realized he was perfectly cast in the lead for book two of what I now thought would become a series of three called Cold War Conquests. As I write the novel, set in 1967, so many situations relate to what is happening in the world today. It is all surely a “God thing!” Now I can’t wait to get the “nudge” for book three.
    Your new book will be wonderful. Have fun at the cabin writing it this summer. Joanie

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Joanie, I understand what you mean. I’ve heard bits of your stories, and I can see how good the character you picked from Book 1 is coming across.

      • Joanie Walker

        Thanks, Zoe. I appreciate your insightful critiquing.

  3. Jane F Thompson

    Wow, that is exciting! I can’t wait.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Jane, I can’t wait to tear into the story and research.

  4. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.

    Zoe, thanks so much for this blog posting. I was thinking about writing a Hallmark sweet romance, and started by looking at their list of what not to do versus what they like. I looked out my window one July afternoon and thought, “they like Christmas.” I typed- Lydia noticed that the snow was beginning to fall. By where was she? What do you do when it’s snowing? Stay inside. Doing what? Decorating a Christmas tree…..the story of Lydia’s Love just built on itself after that. I am currently re-writing it for submission this fall…(I went too far afield and lost track of Lydia, so I’m dumping everything not related to her story.)

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Sheri, thanks for your recount of how Lydia’s story came about. It sounds like the seed has germinated and now you’re are pruning it so that it will bud.

  5. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.

    Yes, and I am being brutal as I cut out all of the extraneous matter and keep my focus totally on the matter at hand…:)

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