Category Archives: Book Secrets

Story Writing 101: The 3 Essentials of a Page Turner

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JerryJenkins blog.artToday’s guest post is from Jerry Jenkins. You might know him as author of the Left Behind series or other books. I only know his author blog roll, and it is full of useful, punchy insights and reminders. This is one of my favorites.

Story Writing 101: The 3 Essentials of a Page-Turner

Story writing is hard.

Budding authors ask me all the time how it’s done. Is there a trick, they want to know—a formula?

I wish there were. Beware writing coaches who promise shortcuts.

If you’ve spent much time on this site, you’ve read this before: If story writing were easy, anyone could do it. You’re here, I hope, because, though you know it’s hard, you still dream of doing it, and doing it right.

Not Easy, But Simple

I’m happy to say, however, that there is a handy and memorable way to look at crafting a story.

Picture your finished product as a car—any model you want. Make it as sleek and flashy or as solid and efficient as you wish.

All you really need are three essentials for this model:

  • An engine
  • A driver
  • Fuel

And since this dream car is a metaphor for what you want to write, here are the parts your story needs:

Concept—Your Story’s Engine

Simply put, you need a great idea. Tell a story that would keep your interest, keep you turning the pages.

If it accomplishes that, you can be sure there’ll be plenty of readers out there like you.

Just as your dream car goes nowhere without an engine, your story fails without a compelling idea that grips your reader from the get-go.

“Judith’s mother remarried two years after her father died…” is an anecdote.

“Judith hated her mother’s new husband…” is a story.

Character—Your Story’s Driver

Readers care about, fall in love with, and remember characters.

Good story writing means infusing your characters with sass and attitude and voice. They must be decisive and proactive, not ambivalent and reactive.

A memorable character learns and grows and rises to meet challenges. That’s who you want behind the wheel of your story.

Conflict—Your Story’s Fuel

What’s the point of owning a dream car—or writing the story you’ve always wanted to—and forgetting to fill its tank?

You’ve opted for a great concept as your engine, and a dynamic character serves as your heavy-footed driver.

So for fuel, you need conflict to keep your reader flipping those pages.

To keep every scene crackling, inject it with conflict. One character will counter another—argue, blame, criticize, fight.

Or a problem, challenge, danger, or life-and-death quest must present itself.

Conflict supercharges your engine when your driver floors the accelerator.

It’s Not That Complicated

Remind yourself to view your story as a car, and make sure you equip it with the best engine, driver, and fuel.

You’ll soon find yourself writing the stories you’ve always wanted to write.

And maybe soon we’ll see your name on the bestseller lists.

See more writer advice from Jerry here:

Going with the flow…

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I planned to work with Ivy Jean this morning but Haines kept showing up… so I wrote the other into both their chapters. Sometimes I’m surprised by the ways my people connect. I love this work.

go with the flow

Big Adventure

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I’ve realized these last weeks that if I want to shine a big old spotlight on how much I don’t know, I only need to step out there with something concrete like a date I’ll be able to sell you a book. Blame it on the learn-as-you-go lesson plan.

Please stay tuned however because No One Can Know will still be released in the spring of 2013. It’s just that she came back from editing kind of skinned up and with her confidence shaken, and we won’t debut until she’s ready.

So with all the intense revising going on, I haven’t had the chance yet to focus on posts about my JFK Assassination research. Work has begun on the series, but in the interest of staying visible on the web, I’ll offer an update on my D.I.Y. adventure today.

Revision Treadmill

Did you know that in a traditional publishing firm such as HarperCollins or Knopf, before a book ever gets proofread for typos, it is put through three levels of line-by-line analysis, performed by a “precision perfectionist?” (my word for staff book editor)? Neither did I until recently. Here’s what I understand:

1.   Developmental (or substantive) edit is for tightening and cohesion of the plot arc, character arcs, and book themes.

(Author then rewrites to fix the identified problems, crafts a stronger manuscript and puts it back in queue for round two. Each step of the editing is followed with a detailed rewrite by the author.)

2.   Line edit is for tweaking to achieve clearest conveyance in both the text and the structure of the story. Also, grammar and word usage are refined.

3.   Copy edit is polishing of the text (capitals, quotation marks, italics, etc.), plus the curing of potential liabilities like using the words “Jim Beam.” Depending on the book, Copy edit is sometimes performed at the same time as Line edit.


Good old proofreading isn’t done until a sample book is pressed and cut.

No wonder a publisher’s pipeline is two years out.

I’m committed to delivering a quality product and I finally grasped that achieving it requires me to engage a professional editor. On that matter, my book needs me to wear the business hat, and be willing to invest real money… and hear painful truths. I’ve realized it’s not fair to ask a friend to perform the job of dotting my i’s and crossing my t’s in their spare time. Who has spare time?

Last August a publishing pro I admire urged me to engage an editor. “A freelancer with a track record at Manhattan publishing houses,” she specified. Finding such a person is a tricky chore and involves very little personal interface. Also, for a book my size, each of the three edit rounds can also cost anywhere from $900 to $9K (in my experience, paying more doesn’t always mean better value).

The best connection I’ve made so far came recommended by an agent I met at a conference. The agent liked my pitch and story premise, but candidly said the manuscript wasn’t ready. So I asked him to refer me to an editor.

She is the one focused on my manuscript now and we’re both committed to quick turns. I’m learning a ton! Even when it smarts.

A Gift of Time


Some very generous readers have helped me shape and improve No One Can Know through the years. Thoughtfully commenting on sometimes horrible drafts that always cost them chunks of time. I know that my fabulous early readers, critique group members, author friends, and beta readers will thank me for first involving the pro in upcoming projects. I humbly thank each dear person… for making this first leg of my journey not just a companionable adventure, but an inspired learning experience.

New Frontiers

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37-Spanky Writer.3

Six years ago I typed the first words of a novel that I am now in the business of getting published.  True to my timing patterns, I’ve arrived at the musty world of publishing in the very moment technology is flipping all that tradition on its literal head.  But I think it bodes well for authors because now we have a chance of meeting our readers much earlier in the process.

A mere year ago if a novelist sought a paper and paste book deal, a gauntlet of gatekeepers stood between the manuscript and its readers. Protocol meant query letters en masse to agents, hooked up to acquisition editors interested in your kind of book (finding that information BTW is an irritating, mind numbing process).  From two paragraphs in this structured query letter, said agent would fall in love with your story, instantly think blockbuster and pitch it to his or her colleague at one of the “big six” (publishing houses).  IF you were lucky and managed to progress beyond the first two gatekeepers and get deep into the gauntlet you’d finally encounter a handful of humans, armed with mysterious and fiercely guarded formuli, who determined what all American readers wanted and therefore would be fed.

That has all changed now, and it’s not a pretty e-volution.  For more about the upheaval, read publishing biz observer Jane Friedman’s summary at LitFlow 2012

Agents, like the rest of us, are being forced to redefine their role and their business model.  2013 agents don’t even look at a manuscript from a debut author who isn’t already established with readers.  Platform is the word and they expect your connections to be evident online.

Now in the nonfiction world an author is selling expertise: a nutritionist writes a diet book, coach writes a how-to-win guide.  They know people who know they know how to cook and how to win = platform.  Fiction on the other hand makes for lively discussion as to platform, because we fictionados make things up as we go along.  It might be seventeen or thirty rewrites down the road before we decide who the story suits.

Fact is, a book’s success is, was, and always will be about READER DISCOVERY.  The internet makes it easier for authors and readers with common interests to find each other.  My role has evolved and extended to finding readers, and the idea sensibly impacts my business plan.

No One Can Know is set in 1964 Texas and centers on a manhunt triggered by JFK’s assassination. A coincidental bystander in Dealy Plaza becomes a target and unknowingly brings a family into the crosshairs.  Naturally I became a student of the times.  I soon discovered the politics and psychology of the Sixties offer up a mother lode of people stories.  And fascinating plots.  I’m not alone in being entertained by the era and culture.

Creating fan base is effectively accomplished online the same way it is done live.  By reaching out, sharing, and being accessible.  This is me stepping out with a blog where I plan to share and invite discussion about my political and historical research, and my experiences on the New Frontiers of publishing and literature. I’ve spent two years polishing NOCK through various critique groups, gentle gratis editors and three rounds of beta readers, all of whom enthusiastically encouraged me.  At two writer conferences last summer I pitched the pros face-to-face then engaged seasoned professional editors for my manuscript.

I’ve decided not to tread farther into the old, mysterious publishing machine during its current state of flux.  I’m calling on my pioneering spirit as I have always been enamored with new frontiers.  They call us indie authors.  A term I like with a cutting edge ring.  The ‘how’ of finding my fan base is a moving target until the dust settles, but I’m going for the adventure today.  My inner Supergirl is used to functioning as a work-in-progress anyway.

Please tour my website and see if two or three new posts per month appeals to you.  When you encounter announcements like a FB Fan Page I hope you’ll participate.  You can choose Facebook, Twitter or email — just register somewhere with me so we keep in touch.

I will have a book in your hands soon.  And I want you at the launch party.

Coming to online booksellers 2013

Coming up post (est. 3 weeks):  Dallas and JFK: My home town’s tragic romance

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