Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Many of my closest friends are liars. But they might prefer the title storyteller extraordinaire. Tale-weavers. And whether the literary yarn they spin is set in an actual place or based upon real life events and historical characters, they are authors of fiction. I am too. And as novelists, we have chosen to write fiction, not fact. But even so, is the story we weave truly and completely made up?
Not the best stories. All compelling fiction resonates with readers. Why? Because the best stories are rich in truth.
Why has Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell camped on bestsellers’ lists? Why has it inspired movies and spin-offs? Why is Gone with the Wind a classic? Because the story told the truth. Even though Scarlet’s tale wasn’t necessarily formed in actual reality, the setting and characters, action and themes offer a tapestry of honesty that can make a work of fiction feel more real, at times, than life itself.
You and I can tell the truth in our novels too. Using those four central threads of fiction, you and I can create an honest story world and premise that will provide a platform for truth. I say we take a longer look at how we might best use them to deepen the realness of our fiction.
As the backdrop for the action, the setting anchors your story in time and place. How can setting add truth to your fiction? You and I are affected by the location in which we find ourselves. We react to our setting on physical, emotional, mental, and perhaps even a spiritual level. Sometimes we’re aware of our reactions, other times they take place in our subconscious. .
Where is your story set? At a plantation in Georgia? Tell me more. Actually, it’s Tara, a cotton plantation Scarlet’s father named after the hill of Tara, once the capital of the High King of ancient Ireland. When? Through the Civil War and into the reconstruction period. That’s more like it.
The time period in which your story unfolds has everything to do with the setting. And that’s true whether it plays out in a historical time and place or whether it’s contemporary. Setting isn’t limited to a pin on a map, but also provides a cultural, social, and political context in which the characters act, interact, and react. Consider the West Coast of America in contrast to the South. Ireland in the1600s and the USA in that same time period. What about settings where women are finally able to vote? And post 9/11? These events will be considered and remembered differently, depending upon the setting and situation in which the characters experience them.
So think about it . . . what is your main character’s surface and gut-level reaction to the details and fullness of their setting? If you and I are being true to the time and place, a clearly defined setting will impact our characters, and, consequently our readers because they will recognize honesty in the setting.
Scarlet O’Hara was fake only when she chose to be to serve her purposes. Otherwise, she was one of the most “real” characters we’ll find in literature. An individual through and through, Scarlet was bathed in the truth of human nature—replete with strengths and weaknesses, self-centered pursuits and dogged determination in the company of tragedy.
In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass says, “Inner conflict is what makes a character truly memorable.” I would add that a character’s inner conflict is what invokes honesty.
Margaret Mitchell imbued Scarlett, a multi-dimensional character, with a clearly defined goal—to win Ashley’s heart, and then to save Tara and win Rhett Butler back. We watched Scarlett’s desires unfold and change and deepen, along with the setting in which she found herself.
How do you draw truth out of your character? We saw it with Scarlet. It’s through the fascination and friction inherent in human relationships (fictional ones included) that reveals true character. And that’s true whether those secondary characters are love interests, antagonists, sidekicks, or mentors. They provide a means for the reader to see the main character’s vulnerabilities and strengths.
So what does your character want? What must he or she achieve or overcome? Why? Where lies their motivation? What is at risk if he or she doesn’t meet their goal? What will happen if their objective changes?
If you “flesh out” the character and her journey and outcome, you’ll be writing truth in
The story plot consists of a series of actions inspired by a character’s goal and motivation, driven by the interactions with others, and deepened by the roadblocks they face, which may in part be inherent to the setting they find themselves in.
For instance, Two Brides Too Many, Book One in my Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek Series, is set in a mining camp in Colorado in the late 1890s. There are many truths intrinsic to the time, place, and culture of the Wild West mining camps. Ore fever, most definitely. Prostitutes, certainly. In that time period, most of those towns were still made of wood. Those that were went up in flames at least once and, most of them, many times before the town’s people chose to rebuild using brick and stone. Kat Sinclair encounters one of those fires in Cripple Creek, which serves as a key plot point in her journey, fueling action on her part and on the secondary characters with whom she interacts.
Here’s what Donald Maass had to say about plot, “What is plot if not an account of the many complications thrown in the way of your hero? Complication can be inner, psychological, and private, or they can be external, unprovoked, and public.”
Basically, plotting is the action your character takes to overcome the obstacles and work through the conflict that stands in the way of him or her reaching their goal. Gone with the Wind is resplendent with such action.
Have you used setting honestly in plotting your story? Is there truth in the reactions and actions of your character?
The theme provides the walk-away value in the story. What central truth do you want your readers to recognize in the setting, the characters, and the action and take with them when they close your book?
In Plot & Structure: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting a Plot That Grips Readers from Start to Finish, James Scott Bell writes, “Develop your characters fully and set them in the story world where their values will conflict with each other. Allow your characters to struggle naturally and passionately. Theme will emerge without effort.”
Margaret Mitchell didn’t break into the story to tell us the themes of Gone with the Wind. Through setting, characters, and action, she showed us triumph over tragedy and there is strength in love. In Two Brides Too Many, I showed God making a way through the wilderness for those who placed their trust in Him.
The message or moral of your story will only ring true when your characters carry the theme with them on their journey from goal through conflict to resolution. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass adds, “If authentic, theme is not something apart from story, but something intrinsic to it. It is not embedded, but rather emerges.”
What truth about themselves, the world, God, and others will your reader take with them after reading your story?
Where is the truth in fiction? Yes, it is in the details. But it is birthed deep within you—the writer. I’m trying to dig deep to create stories rich in authentic settings, characters, action, and themes. Join me?
1. Think about the books you’ve read. To what book do you attribute honesty, a certain truth in the storytelling?
2. What aspect—setting, character, action, or theme do you feel contributed most to the story’s honesty? How?
Leave comment today (and your email address) and be eligible to be entered in a drawing for a copy of Two Brides Too Many!
MONA HODGSON is the author of Two Brides Too Many (May 2010) and Too Rich for a Bride (October 2010, available exclusively at Walmart), the first two books in the Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek Series (WaterBrook Multnomah). Her writing credits also include 28 children’s books, Real Girls of the Bible: A Devotional, Bedtime in the Southwest, and four Princess Twins books. You can follow Mona here at Twitter and become a Facebook fan at the Mona Hodgson Fan Page. To read the first chapter of Two Brides Too Many, go to, click on Mona’s Novels then on Sneak Peek.


  1. Good Morning! I'm making scones this morning but you'll just have to use butter and jams (I brought peach butter too) 'cause I didn't pick up any clotted cream at the store last night...

    Thanks, Mona. I love this post. It's going in my print off file. I've been deep in edits in a very emotional chapter this week or three and I read your post with an eye to this in particular.

    And GONE WITH THE WIND? Oh my! I could go on and on about that.

    I just called for delivery. I'm not so good at Southern breakfasts. Is it okay if I use instant grits?
    At least I can start the coffees and teas.

  2. Ah, Deb... coffee. Wonderful!!!

    Good girl getting breakfast on! I think you're a champ, girlfriend!

    Mona, this was enriching. What a great, easy-to-follow demonstation of how-to re-invest your reader into the story from all directions.

    You rock. Umm, and THAT COVER?????

    Oh. My. Stars.

    Tell W/M I said they outdid themselves. If you hadn't said a word, if I hadn't a clue as to the contents, I'd want that book based on cover alone. Those young women. Those looks.


    Thank you so much for being with us here this morning.

    I see Deb brought instant grits.

    Which is okay, because I don't eat the danged things, instant or otherwise. But I do see the catering van pulling up to the door. Oh my, Deb, you went all out!!!

    Yay!!! The Greek Family Diner has just delivered a full banquet of breakfast beauty... Scrambled eggs. Sausage. Bacon. Lean ham. Texas toast. Fried-to-a-crisp home fries... Oh, my..... Danish, Bagels and croissants.

    Deb. Send me a bill. I'll forward it to Mary. ;)

    Mona, cozy up and enjoy the food. It should be a lovely day in Seekerville!

  3. I am all over those home fries. In fact, I read over Mona's post again and I'm afraid I got a little grease on the keyboard. But mmmmm, goood.

    Glynna, thanks for bringing Mona in today.

    Speaking of characters' inner turmoil makes me thing of Winter's End. Spectacular job, Ruthy!

  4. Thanks, Mona, for the great advice. I'm beginning to understand just how many layers there are in this craft of writing. You all make it look so easy -- come up with an idea and start writing, book published in a couple of months -- right? LOL.

    As I read this post, certain books come to mind and now I'm starting to 'get' what sets them apart. It's those elements of truth that resonate with me and make them memorable.

  5. Your books sound wonderful.

    Thanks for the insightful post.


  6. Good morning and welcome to Seekerville, Mona! It's only 5:25 a.m. here in Arizona where we both reside,so we'll see if Mona's an early bird -- or not! :)

  7. Very informative post. I've been reading great reviews on your book. Would love to read.

  8. Hi Mona,

    This post is a keeper! So many elements go into making a story a great book.


    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  9. "The message or moral of your story will only ring true when your characters carry the theme with them on their journey from goal through conflict to resolution."

    So true. I can't tell you how many books I have read that I have enjoyed until the last few chapters when the theme is dropped for a tidy ending that doesn't ring true at all.


  10. What a great post! Mona, you definitely have the heart of a teacher, and for that, I am grateful! So often I've felt like I needed to "add something," and wondered if I needed more action, or more dialogue - and what I really need to do is just let my characters REACT! I've wanted to read your book ever since I read the title - what an intriguing one!

    As for grits? This Southern girl can't stand them, but I'll trade anybody my share of grits for their home fries. :D

    Thanks, ladies, for such a wonderful place to visit each morning!


  11. Okay, Mona, I LOVE first lines that reel you in, and girl, yours in this blog was a gem: "Many of my closest friends are liars." PRICELESS!!! And, coincidentally, most of mine are too. :)

    And, boy, DO you ever know how to hook an Irish drama queen -- peppering this wonderful blog today with a name I truly revere: Scarlett O'Hara!! You had me at "Gone With the Wind" ... uh, me AND Deb that is, GWTW freaks both!!

    This entire blog was rich in excellent information, but I especially thank you for including the quote from James Scott Bell:

    "Allow your characters to struggle naturally and passionately. Theme will emerge without effort.”

    WOW. I tend to beat myself up because I'm one of those clueless authors who really doesn't know what the themes of my books are ... uh, even after I've written them, I ashamed to say. But that quote from JSB this morning made my day because that is what I feel and hope I do -- create characters who struggle naturally and passionately, and God willing, a theme emerges that will not only profoundly affect the reader, but inspire them as well.

    Mona, you're never gonna believe this, but I am 3/4 of the way through Two Brides Too Many right now, and I am loving it! I really enjoy your easy and clever style of writing, and I sometimes stop in the middle to savor a particular line. You say this is a series about the Sinclair Sisters -- will it be a 4-book series??? Because my publisher absolutely refuses to do anything more than a 3-book series, which is why I had to split my "Daughters of Boston" up into two series since there are four daughters.

    By the way, YOUR setting in Two Brides Too Many is very rich and real, and I truly feel as if I am there, which means you definitely practice what you preach, girl, and very well!

    Thanks for joining us in Seekerville today.


  12. Julie -- I told Mona she'd make a fan when she mentioned Gone With the Wind in her blog post. :)

  13. Ooo, ooo, ooo!!!!!

    (Remember Horshack in the back of the class, hooting to get Mr. Kotter to call on him in Welcome Back, Kotter???? That's me right now!)

    Jules, I meant to mention that line from James Scott Bell too...

    "Allow your characters to struggle naturally and passionately. Theme will emerge without effort.”

    He succinctly said what I soooo believe and trip my tongue over trying to explain. If your characters 'feel' the reader will 'feel'... Their journey intertwines, their hearts meld like a Vulcan mind-meld and the rest takes care of itself.

    See, this Bell guy is smarter than I am, more well-spoken, but I GET THIS!!!!

    I love it when smart people actually make sense to me!

    Hurrah!!! 'Tis a day of wonder no doubt in the Ville of the Seekers!!!


    I'm grabbing fresh coffee. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!!!!

  14. I liked reading this post--very informative. And the book sounds great! Please enter me in the drawing:

  15. Mona,

    Thanks for this great information. You're so right about setting. I think that was one of the things about Tamera Alexander's books that gripped me. That whole frontier feeling - so good!

    Your book looks wonderful, too. Another to add to my wish list.

    Have a great day!

    sbmason (at) sympatico (dot) ca

  16. Hi all! Wresling with my Google Password, but I can't wait to get it figured out before Ijump in here.

    I'm in it for coffee, Deb. Instant grits work for me. Maybe a little honey? And how fun that GONE WITH THE WIND resonated with you.


  17. I know, Ruth. That cover, well, I'm still doing cartwheels over it. Want to know a secret? Kat's (the one with the dark hair) blouse belonged to the Director of Marketing's great-grandmother.
    Pass the home fries and scrambled eggs.

  18. Thanks to all who have joined me for breakfast this morning. I so appreciate your comments. I had fun thinking through the article. I was working through my last edits on TOO RICH FOR A BRIDE, at the time and made me stop and think through setting, character, action, and theme in a different light.

  19. No, Glynna, I wasn't an early bird this morning. Woke up at 6:00 and turned back over. Bob and I took a day off yesterday and went to the Wildlife World Zoo--great fun, but exhausting.

  20. Hmm. What a great post and ties right in with what I was learning from Susan May Warren this last weekend. :)

    I think that Hidden Places by Lynn Austin is a great example of what you were talking about at the end. Authenticty and believablity in the fiction she writes. :)

    Has the fruit salad arrived yet? I can bring that. Sweet melons too. SO ready for summer. :)


  21. Thanks, Regina, I do love to teach. I've had SO many who do the same for me.
    I hope you get to read Two Brides soon, I hope you all do. Sorry there's only one book for the drawing. (:

  22. Julie, Julie, Julie girl, refill your coffee cup and pass me the raspberry chocolate creamer. We need to talk. Wow what a rich post.
    Must say, I love that hook line too. Didn't know what I was going to write about until I had that first sentence. It directed the article.

    James Scott Bell's books PLOT AND STRUCTURE and REVISION AND SELF-EDITING are full of meaty quotes.

    Oh, my, a fan. I love it. So glad you're enjoying Two Brides Too Many. Clever, you say? :) I don't have contracts for Books 3 and 4 yet, but we're headed that direction. I hope I get to write Vivian and Father's stories.

    I so appreciate for your encouraging words.

  23. I agree, Susan, Tamara Alexander does a great job in her books (on all counts, I think), but her setting contributes so much to the authenticity of her stories.

  24. Casey, I almost have the refrigerated watermelon cut up and ready. You can dig in first.

    I'm with you...Lynn Austin does a fabulous job delivering truth in fiction.

  25. Hello Mona:

    You really woke me up this morning!

    Like most of life, ‘honesty’ and ‘truth’, in themselves, are usually boring. Also, I find the idea that fiction writers ‘lie for a living’ to be particularly disingenuous.

    A lie is a statement meant to deceive that can be, in principle, objectively either true or false. Fiction, on the other hand, can be objectively false and yet subjectively true. In this sense, fiction and lying are polar opposites.

    I believe that fictional truth exists not in ‘honesty’ and ‘truth’ but in which instantiations of ‘honesty’ and ‘truth’ the author chooses to edit into her story.

    I fully agree with your comments on fictional truth and the goal of achieving authenticity. I just wish there was more history in historical fiction.

    The best example I’ve read of implementing authentic settings, characters, action, and themes is in the novel Autumn Rains .by Myra Johnson. In this book everything is so real I felt embarrassed at times – it was as if I was spying on real people’s lives. Also in Autumn Rains the weather plays an important role which dramatically enhances the impact of the story’s climax. I think Autumn Rains is a perfect example of the important points you made in your post.

    Of course, now I just have to read your book, Two Brides Too Many, which is available on Kindle after May 4th! Yea! The American west from 1873 to 1899 is one of my favorite story settings.


    vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

  26. So much great information! Thanks Mona.


  27. Hi Mona, Welcome to Seekerville.'

    Glynna, thanks for inviting Mona to Seekerville. Its always a good thing when local authors support each other.

  28. This book is on my "wish" list...please enter me! Thanks!!!
    Love Seekerville!

  29. Vince, I appreciate your comments. And for recommending Autumn Rains by Myra Johnson. I'll look for it.

    Here's hoping you enjoy the "history" in Two Brides Too Many. I had fun digging into it.

  30. Mona, thanks for a great post. You point out some vital story elements: CATS.

    Characters we love
    Action that keeps things moving
    Themes with take-away value
    Settings we can see, hear, and smell

    (I'm a cat person who likes acronyms, so I couldn't resist. I'm also a liar, er, storyteller. :)

    I savored Two Brides Too Many. It's an enjoyable read will all the elements of a great story in a delightful mix.

    (Please don't enter me in the drawing since I already have the book. I snagged it at Walmart the first time I saw it several months ago.)

  31. Keli, I love the CATS acronym. And thanks for the endorsement for Two Brides Too Many.

  32. This is a great post, Mona. Thanks.

  33. a fabulous posting...enjoyed reading all of the comments, too. thanks for the chance to read this wonderful novel :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  34. Thanks, Mary and all who have commented. I appreciated the opportunity to join you all here for the day.

    "If your characters 'feel' the reader will 'feel'... Their journey intertwines, their hearts meld like a Vulcan mind-meld and the rest takes care of itself."

    Oh, AMEN, sistah!! If we're not blubbering on the keyboard (or having palpitations over the hunks), how can we expect our readers to??? GREAT comment!

    And, GLYNNA ... oh, so you cheated, eh, giving her a shoe-in for at least two of her blog readers (me and Deb!). Good job, girl! :)

    And finally, dear MONA, so you didn't know what you were going to write about until you had that first sentence?? Boy, are we two peas in a pod!! Definitely seat-of-the-pants writers, if ever there was! And, girl, you have NO worries about selling the sequels if book 1 is any indication -- you're a shoe-in! God bless you in this project.


  36. Thank you so much for the insightful post! So much to ponder...

    Please add my name to the giveaway! Thanks!

    EvaMariaHamilton at gmail dot com

  37. Great post! This sounds like a wonderful read!

  38. Welcome to Seekerville, Mona! Thanks for the interesting, in-depth post on bringing truth to fiction. Definitely a keeper post I will look at often! I especially enjoyed seeing those aspects as they related to one of my favorite books and movies--Gone With the Wind!

    Thanks for the scones, Debra!


  39. Is there any watermelon left? It'll be my first of the season.

    The Narnia books are rich in all so it's difficult to pick just one... ACK!

    Character or action - I suppose character. Each of the 4 kids in Lion, Witch, Wardrobe are so different and obviously in conflict. Then you have Aslan - what can we say about Aslan. Wow. And secondary characters too. All these serve to weave story with timeless themes.

    I can re-read repeatedly and get something "new" every time. (I'm not sure what that means but there it is, and though I'm a story teller, that's the truth!)

    beautiful cover - how amazing about the blouse!

    ksf895 at citlink dot net

    Thanks for being in Seekerville today! Going to sign up for your blog too!

  40. Ummm Casey, you're ready for summer...I'M ready for summer! It's SNOWING here in Vermont, ladies and gents. Yes, snowing. All day, actually. Ruthy, you get any snow?

    KC, the Narnia books, what a perfect example!! Lol! I LOVED those books....begged my mom to buy me the boxed set out of a book order in 3rd grade *heehee*

    What a spectacular post on a cold, wet, snowy day! I agree with Julie that your opening line was great. I bet your books have killer openers ; )

    Your book looks wonderul, something nice to snuggle up to on a winter(ish) day, like today!

    What are your writing plans for the near future?

    For the few scragglers left here tonight, I've brought hot Chicken Parmesan, crisp salad with all the toppings you can image, green beans, and homemade garlic bread. Then, we've got chocolate covered strawberries and hot chocolate (odd combo, I know!) for dessert. Mmmmmmm.....can't wait! Please help yourself or I'll eat it all! And I shouldn't do that, I won't be able to play in the tennis match tomorrow! Lol!

    Talk to you all later,

  41. Thanks everyone! Having fun reading your comments. And, KC, thanks for reminding us about the Narnia Books. More good examples of what Keli referred to as my CATS principle (Character, Action, Theme, and Setting.

    I so appreciate you all puting Two Brides Too Many on your wish list.

    Happy reading and writing.

  42. Oh, Hannah, you don't want to know how nice it is here in central AZ. Cold and wet and snowy, you say? Ugh. Wish you had Kat and Nell's story to cuddle up with.

    Count me in for some of your homemade garlic bread and chocolate covered strawberries. I'll bring the tacos and watermelon.

    My writing plans for the near future? Vivian's story as Book Three in the Sisters of Cripple Creek Series, a contemporary romance perhaps, and a historical for middle grade readers. Now we'll see what God has planned.

  43. Mona, what an outstanding post.

    I especially liked how you explained theme.

    So there are no scones left AT ALL..not even crumbs???

  44. Oh please, Mona, help yourself!! There's plenty and I'm stuffed!

    Well, let's just say I wish I was with you right now, lol!

    : S

    That's great. I'm definitely going to have to check out your first book : )

    You're welcome to have some of my food *grin* Or I can whip up some scones right here, right now for ya, girl *wink* LOL!
    Talk to you later,

  45. Ya know, Vince is a great salesman.

    Came back to catch up on comments and print this off. I've been thinking about Jane Eyre and Mr. that man had some conflicts to work out.

    Thanks again. Good stuff!

  46. Thanks for all the great information, Mona. I'm going to print it out and re-read it when I'm less tired. (It's 9:15 and I just got home from work!)

    I (and the rest of Seekerville, I'm sure) appreciate the time you took to blog today.


  47. My pleasure. Thanks, again, for the wonderful hospitality here in Seekerville.

    God's best to you all!

  48. I'm sorry I'm so late! I've been finishing a book today. Mailed it off this afternoon!!! Whew! :)

    Great post, Mona! Thanks so much for being with us!

  49. My pleasure, Missy. Congrats on sending off the book today. Woohoo!!!

  50. Hi! I love this post. Please enter me.

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