Monday, February 7, 2011

Stephen King On Writing~A Memoir of the Craft

Plot Driven vs Character Driven ala Stephen King

I have mentioned often enough here that I’ve never read a ‘How-To’ book on writing.

Or rather, I never read one until I got published.

I did do other things. I took on-line classes. I belonged to a critique group. I entered contests. So I studied, just not by reading books on how to write.
(I think it’s fair to interject here that it took me TEN YEARS to get a book published so I’m probably better used as a bad example in this case. Maybe if I’d read a book I would have sped things up.)

I’m going to talk just a bit today about the one book on writing I have read.
On Writing ~ A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Now, let me issue a warning. This is a totally secular book. It’s fascinating and most of it just confirmed things I’d already learned, so I’m not telling you to run out and get it. And if you DO, well, it’s written by Stephen King so be AFRAID.

Still, it’s a really solid craft book, interwoven with a biography of King’s weird life. And he didn't get rich overnight. The man really struggled. He worked so hard for so long. He wrote nights and weekends while teaching school, was really poor. The moment when he sold his first book, Carrie, is oh so sweet. He earned $2500 and any aspiring writer is right there with him, feeling the elation, the thrill. And King captures it beautifully. Then a year later when he sells the paperback rights to Carrie for $450,000, it’s just perfectly written and the thrill is one we can all imagine.

So, with the caveat that I really believe the best way to learn to write is to READ great books--I mean NOVELS, not how-to books, and keep writing yourself, finish a book and start a new one. Apply everything you’ve learned. Keep at it… I will tell you what I took away from King’s book.

I’ve read 2 1/2 half books by Stephen King--3 1/2 if you count the memoir. I read Carrie, Firestarter and half of Misery. It's just not my thing. I remember someone saying once, about Cujo, that if you want to see a woman and child terrorized by a mad dog for hours upon end, nobody does it better.
Like I said, not my thing.
My gut level reaction to King’s success is that he was first. Simply put, he was first. He tapped into the horror genre, created it really, and his real accomplishment was getting away with the edgiest horror of anyone ever to that date.

And the reason he got away with it is: character. (one woman's opinion)
He writes truly mentally scarring horror, but he does it with such a gift for character that we forgive him. (well, maybe not all of us...)

The perfect example of this is Carrie. I don’t know if any of you have ever read it, but many have probably seen the movie. The key to Carrie is that Carrie, when she finally snaps, kills EVERYONE. Get that? Everyone dies. Those who have been bad to her and those who have tried to protect her. She just brings fire and brimstone down on everyone’s head in an out of control murderous rampage.

And after she does all of that, we still care about her.

And that’s the secret. King creates a character we know so intimately that we know why she did this and we can still root for her, hurt for her, wish happiness for her.

That’s his genius. That and unrelenting gore.

And yet in his memoir he talks about story. Story is fundamental. You’ve got to have a story to tell. We talk about book length conflict a lot but to me that is a nuts and bolts way of saying we need to have a STORY to tell. Forget the mechanics and tell me your story.

I think of myself as a storyteller. People ask me if I write plot driven or character driven books and to me that’s another nuts and bolts statement.
Those two are inseparable.
Let me repeat that.
Those two are inseparable.

A better way to put it (and aren’t we all always looking for a better way to put into words something that is just fundamentally HARD to put into words) A better way to say it is:
Internal conflict is character
External conflict is story.
Your book needs both. Your characters are defined by how they react, so you create them to react as you want them to. And their reactions set into the plot creates the external conflict--or STORY.

I’ll add here that the HALF book I read, Misery struck me as this:

Getting in trouble James Caan-tortured Escape

I read until I got the idea. Skipped 300 pages of torture, then read the end.
I may have missed nuances, but I always figured I got the drift. And James Caan, that's the movie, I know. I watched about half of that, too.

Tell a story.
What is your story?
The heart of the 30 word blurb is your story.
Most writer's block stems, I believe, from not knowing what story you want to tell.
So, anyone want to tell me their story? You can go on longer than 30 words. And you don't have to tell me at all, but you need to know it yourself.
Have at it.
And to get your name in a drawing for a signed copy of Sharpshooter in Petticoats
go to Trish Perry's blog HERE


  1. Mary - this is the line that stands out today: Forget the mechanics and tell me your story. Love that.

    I do NOT like horror either. Hence the "horror" when my cousin sent me "The Eyes of the Dragon" by King.

    Apparently his daughters wanted him to write something for them that "wasn't icky"... (or something like that)...

    I thoroughly enjoyed it!

    Recently Pat Conroy has come out with "My Reading Life". I read an excerpt and learned quite a bit.

    MY current story is for middle grade readers (and animal lovers of any age).

    A small Schnauzer escapes an abusive home and moves with her adoptive family to the country. Here May contends with a grouchy big sister, a snake and a hawk. She meets a family friend and her four-footed partner, who (shhhh) are undercover operatives in the K9 Spy Service. They realize May has useful qualities for their mission and invite her to assist in thwarting an attack on the nation's capital.

    Will be out this summer! YAY!

    Longer than 30 words... :)

  2. Mary, I liked this:
    Internal conflict is character
    External conflict is story.

    Makes a lot of sense. Both are essential and work in tandem. Well said. =)

  3. I have King's book "On Writing." It's the only King book I own. I know he's a great writer. I've just never read anything he's done. Granted, that genre is not for me either.

  4. I love King's story too, Mare.

    And can't read his books. Read one: Bag of Bones.

    Too much imagery is bad for my sleepless nights. I actually like to doze off once in a while.

    "Trent Michaels returns to Jamison, NY, ready to help the struggling community, but when he stumbles across his first love, he discovers a new love: a son he never knew existed. Can he find it in his heart to forgive Alyssa's deceit or are some things simply unforgiveable?"

    Leaving coffee set-up and brewing. Oh my stars, IT'S MONDAY!!!

  5. Wow, excellent post! It makes me feel better that I haven't read craft books either, though every know and then I read a chap of Stein on Writing (It's the only one I have)
    I love that you put story and character are inseparable!
    And I've never, ever read King. The cover of the movie Carrie let me know that I wouldn't be able to stomach his books. *shudder*

  6. Mary, I listened to Stephen King's ON WRITING as an audio book. Each day for a week or so, I climbed in my truck and Stephen talked to me on my way to and from work. Yes, he was the narrator of his audio book.

    That week, with just the two of us, I learned a lot about writing, about him and about myself. I hope some of it stuck.

    I probably need to read/hear it again. Jeff Gerke's Plot vs. Character book also helped me correct the imbalance.

    You've just pulled it all together nicely!

  7. Is it really Monday? Someone say it ain't so.


    But if it IS, I brought pumpkin pie bars along for you guys to try. Made 'em with the Kraft recipe that was around a bunch of years ago.

    They are not gory, but they are inspirational and you can eat them while you chat with Mary and discuss horror or lack thereof.

  8. Morning Mary, I tried to read Stephen King years ago and couldn't because as I've always said, his writing is too good. He scares me to death.

    I have wanted to read his book on writing as I've heard really good things about it.

    Thanks Debra for the idea of getting the audio version. Makes sense. I do the same thing with conference CD's I listen to them while driving.

    Okay Mary, I do read craft books so why did it take me ten years????

    This business is crazy!!!!

    Ruthy the pumpkin bars are yummy.

  9. Mary,

    The only book I've read by Stephen King is a Memoir of the Craft. I, too, can't get into the gore in horror books. But I would recommend his memoir because a writer on any level of their career could relate to this book.


    PS. Yes, Ruthie, unfortunately it is Monday...all day....

  10. Loves 2 Read Romance - LauraFebruary 7, 2011 at 8:11 AM

    I don't like the horror stories myself. I don't mind a thriller but please leave the blood and gore to a minimum. As well as I typically have to have a romantic story to follow as well. Have a good week everyone!

  11. Ruthy, I'm sorry, but it's Monday. To prove it, I should have left in all the typos I made writing that. Yes, it's Monday and a thin veil of fog hovers over the freshly-turned field, shrouding the dark woods beyond it.

    Working on condensing my story into a few words. Pass a cup of that coffee, will ya?

  12. Great stuff, Mary. Character and plot are inseparable...novel idea!

    I used to like Stephen King movies, I could turn away at the gory stuff and they were done in two hours. The books? I could never get past the first chapters. Especially IT. That whole storm drain opening still has me seizing up.

    Talk about opening hooks. The man is a master.

    Like Sandra, I did read how-to books and it still took 16 years to get published, LOL!

    Great points, Mary. I love reading the blurbs everyone is coming up with. Blurbs and synopsises = evil things.

    We have a break in the weather today. So how about some pineapple smoothies out on the deck...oh wait, the clouds are moving it. Better get back to hot chocolate with tons of whipped cream.

  13. Kids are back to school today [thank God] and I'm back to work tomorrow [not sure about that one]. It's snowing again and we may get up to 9 more inches tomorrow.

    Fun times.

    If DS3 is still asleep when the girls get on the bus, I'm going back to bed.

    I've got leftover Chick-fil-A nuggets. A couple kinds of queso. And the whole veggie tray is left.

    I have to start being good today because in five weeks I'm headed to Denver with DH for a conference/second honeymoon.

    So books... what they're about...

    Here's my two tags. The first one is Unbreak Her Heart which is with the editor of an indie publisher now. The second one is the as yet untitled Romantic Suspense from last year's Nano.

    Unbreak Her Heart
    Mandie Jackson thought she'd finally found love again, but when she calls off her wedding she's immediately faced with three challenges: learning to be single again, her twin sister's engagement, and dealing with Nate – the twin brother of her sister's fiancé and the childhood sweetheart who shattered her dreams.

    As Yet Untitled RS
    One three AM phone call forces Nick to live in two worlds he never wanted to visit: the seamy underbelly of mob kidnappings and contracts and suburban life, complete with white picket fence and Bible believing wife.

    Now if the bus would just get here I could go back to bed but it's running late b/c of the roads...

  14. Oh wow, Mary.
    LOVED this quote:
    "Internal conflict is character
    External conflict is story."

    Ding! The lightbulb went off. Well, of COURSE!!
    Thanks for this.
    I bought King's craft book at a yardsale for 50 cents, and have read the first chapter. But I'm usually reading about 5 different books at the same time (by different, I mean VERY different. Totally different subjects)

    Ooo, I'll have to think of one of my new stories to use for the 30-word blurb.
    Be back later.

  15. Btw, Keli and I think alike.
    did you notice?
    I'm sorry, Keli

  16. Oh and Stephen King? /shudder/

    Not so much.

  17. Hi Mary,
    Love your post. I loved Stephen King's, A Memoir of the Craft and like Deb Marvin I listened to it on audio. Then I read it and read it again. Loved it! I tried to read The Stand. Couldn't get past page 100 or so. Too much for me. But I have finished some Dean Koontz books and new blog buddy Mike Dellosso's books.
    I think I've read a zillion craft books, loved a lot of them, but James Scott Bell and Stein On Writing and Donald Maas are some of my other favorites.

  18. I liked King's book, On Writing. I enjoyed it but thought of it more as an autobiography than a book on the craft of writing. I would never read his other stuff, though. I don't like to be scared. It's not thrilling for me. I don't watch R-rated movies or horror movies or even thrillers. My mind is too fragile. Just give me a sweet romantic comedy.

    On Saturday, I got to see my new cover for my Beauty and the Beast story, The Merchant's Daughter. The good news is that I love this cover so much I am IN LOVE with it. Infatuated. Besotted. I LOVE IT. The bad news is, my book doesn't come out until December so I really can't show it to anyone yet.


  19. Woohoo! Congrats, Melanie.
    How fun is THAT!! Can't wait to see it.

    Here's my stab at a blurb for a BRAND NEW BOOK. Seriously, I just developed it over the weekend. I went to tour a house for sell, a lovely, 100 year old house. And in the attic was a box letters from the late 1800s. AHHH!!! Boy, did I want to swipe them. I want to buy the house just for the letters...and the attic. TOTALLY 'Little Women-ish"

    Anyhow, here's the blurb (around 50 words)

    Jake Lincoln wants his family’s one-hundred year old home back from widow, Abby Marshall. Besides having a sordid past, Jake doesn’t trust the reclusive single-mom. When Abby finds a box of seventy year old love letters tucked away in the attic, Jake must find a way to buy back his inheritance before he loses it forever.

  20. Stephen King?

    Glad I waited until morning to read your post, Mare. I didn't sleep well, and I wouldn't have slept at all! lol

    My doomed love affair with Stephen King books started when I was about 12. I got Carrie from my much-much-much older, married sister-in-law's house. She probably didn't loan it to me, I just picked it up, took it home with me, and started to read.

    Well, daddy found it and HE SCARED me so bad, I've never read another Stephen King book to this day.

    Daddy was a lot more intimidating than Stephen King! lol

    Seriously, I'm like Mary, I don't do horror. I don't even read Peretti.

    Writing in a nutshell: Tell your story.

    Yep, that about sums it up.

  21. Aw shucks, guys. Am I the only one who tucks herself in at night and reads Mr. King's books?

    Guess that speaks volumes.

    I also loved how you put it:
    Internal conflict is character
    External conflict is story.

    I always thought I was more character driven. You've changed my mind. I think I'll post that on my laptop. Along with all the other notes. Who needs writing books when you have sticky notes all over your computer?

  22. I just realized some irony. I say my mind is too fragile for horror and scary stuff, but I wrote a Beauty and the Beast story with some rather scary moments, and The Healer's Apprentice has a few hair-raising moments with a scary bad guy. (Although the vast majority of the book is sweet and romantic--light, not dark.)

    Hmmm. A little irony there.

  23. Good morning everyone.

    Am I getting this right?

    We are having pumpkin bars and queso for breakfast?

    This has something to do with Super Bowl leftovers, right?

    But as usual I don't have anything prepared. I've got one piece of frozen pizza. And you can have that, but in the interest of full disclosure, it sat on my table overnight.

    I also have bread that is only three days old and peanut butter and Diet Coke.

  24. KC, I love the K9 spy concept. It sounds really fun. Do you have a whole series in mind? Because it could definitely spawn sequels.

  25. I haven't read any of King's novels. As you said, they're just not my thing. However, I LOVE his writing memoir.

    My current story is something like this:

    A frontier preacher falls in love with an actress, and his congregation forces him to choose between his calling and his heart.

    Can't wait to see you on Saturday, Mary! :D

  26. Walt, I once told a writer's loop my theory that the real reason King exploded was because he was first.

    I really got scolded for that. The guy who responded most vehemently told me it was CHARACTERS that had made King famous. He was brilliant with characters and I was being flippant to say it was just cuz he was first.

    So, okay, when he said that, I thought of Carrie and he was right that I cared about the little murderous right til the end.

    But I still think it had a lot to do with being first.

    People who are first usually get crazy rich.

    They're usually extremely talented and get people to give them a chance on something new because of that talent.

    I thought of Ted Turner, who pretty much invented cable television (or rather proved it could be profitable). Hellow billionaire.

    Rush Limbaugh who proved there was an audience for non-local talk radio.

    Bill Gates--he didn't INVENT software, he just perfected the owning and distributing of it.

    Colonel Sanders and get the idea.

    These guys were first. So was King.

    I'll add here that if you ever read Dean Koontz's Velocity. When you get to the words THE FIRST WOUND....for the love of all that is holy....SKIP IT.

    You do NOT want that in your head.

    And Koontz is another man with immense talent. I think his writing rises to the level of poetry quite often and I liked Odd Thomas. But Velocity...seriously I woke up SCREAMING three times in the night and I NEVER do that.

  27. My husband has respectfully requested i not read Koontz anymore for the salvation of my husband's sanity.

  28. Sandra, okay, you read craft books. I find that comforting that I probably couldn't have sped things up one bit.

    Sad but comforting.

  29. Mary,

    Just want to start by saying I finished "Doctor in Petticoats" over the weekend. LOVED IT! That poor tortured Alex (talk about a lot of blood imagery!). The way Beth was literally his salvation was written so beautifully. Good job!

    As for Stephen King - no thanks. Went to see The Shining as a teenager and sat with my coat over my head for most of the movie!

    I did read his book on Writing and it was interesting - but I did enjoy reading about his life more than his writing tips.

    My mother-in-law LOVES Stephen King, and almost any other mystery type book, but hates Romance! LOL. Yet she's my biggest supporter! Love her!

    Trying to keep spirits up in this GLOOMY (where is the sun?) weather. Snowing AGAIN!!!


  30. CarolM, I like the sound of Unbreak Her Heart. I think I've got a thing about twins. Good luck with it.

    This one:
    One three AM phone call forces Nick to live in two worlds he never wanted to visit: the seamy underbelly of mob kidnappings and contracts and suburban life, complete with white picket fence and Bible believing wife.

    This sentence here:
    the seamy underbelly of mob kidnappings and contracts and suburban life

    I don't quite understand this sentence. Mob kidnappings and contracts.
    And Suburban life.

    You mean contracts like a hit man, right? I sort of stopped as I was reading it and I suppose that's not good. Maybe put a comma in or change the second AND to versus or make it a clause unto itself somehow.

  31. Pepper, I love the sound of your book. I really do.

    HOWEVER, are you finishing the old books before you start the new ones? You've got so many idea buzzing around and it's wonderful, amazing really, but make sure you're FINISHING.

    Maybe you are, I'm just sayin....

  32. Mary,
    I'm not starting the new ones. Just storing away ideas for later.
    And YES, I'm working on the old ones right now.

    (although I have 5 new ones I've 'stored' in the last month. Sigh)

    BUT... I AM taking Mary Connealy's sage advice, and sticking to my originals first.
    So there - are you proud of me? :-)

  33. Susan Ann, thank you so much for the kind words about Doctor in Petticoats.

    My husband MADE me watch Wolf Man Saturday night. I mean he really insisted, like he was hurt I wanted to go off to my computer.

    (as I type this I realize he might have been afraid, I didn't consider that) But it was Anthony Hopkins and he's always good right? (think Silence of the Lambs) Creepy but good.

    So, fine, I'll watch Wolfman with you, honey.

    Let me say here that I've rarely seen flying severed limbs so fully and beautifully depicted.

    And tendons snapping.

    If that's your thing, then you will enjoy this I think.

    Except for the dreaful hopelessness of the ending of course.

    And the relentless dark.

    And the torture.

    And the overwhelming need for everyone to please, please bathe.

  34. Hi, all! Haven't been around since the family came down with the flu. Taking a breather for a moment to check in. The writer in me is beginning to get depressed from deprivation. LOL

    GREAT post, Mary!!! Love it! And I SO agree with you about character/plot driven books being inseparable. I think the first few times I heard that question I got really confused because how can you have one and not the other? How can one be more important than the other? They are like two sides of the same quarter.

    Here's my story in a nutshell:

    "Finding Beth" -
    A runaway bride-to-be…
    A Southern boy-next-door…
    A possessive fiancé determined to make her his – one way or another…


  35. Yes Mary - for sure a series. Might be just two, but yes! Thank you! :)

    (May just shuddered when you asked for everyone to please bathe.)

    Y'all seriously - King's The Eyes of the Dragon - NOT NOT NOT a scary story!

    Melanie - that IS interesting. Maybe it's because you know it's going to turn out ok? Can't wait for The Merchant's Daughter!

    I've been hanging out in Seekerville about a year now - thanks for putting up with me. THIS is the best "craft book" there is going!!!

  36. I have to agree with KC on Seekerville being the best "craft book" on writing! Thanks for all you do,Ladies!


    PS - CarolM...Love the mob story - at least the part I know about. ;D Can't wait to read it.

  37. That's what I get for just typing it and not finding a version that's got like, punctuation and stuff.

    One three AM phone call forces Nick to live in two worlds he never wanted to visit: the seamy underbelly of mob kidnappings and contracts, and suburban life, complete with white picket fence and Bible believing wife.

    Does the comma help? He ends up living in both...

    Nick is Tony DiNozzo if you will. With one phone call, he gets involved with the mob [the bad side of it; the they're out to get you side] and Debbie [the ex-girlfriend turned Christian and ends up living in suburbia]. No one wants to be on that side of the mob and Nick has no intention of ever settling down. Ever.

    Though I know that if I have to explain it, that's not good /sigh/.

    3yo crawling all over me, though I'm grateful he let me go back to sleep for a bit. Should go eat breakfast...

  38. Linette -

    Thanks! I'm glad someone is! First I gotta figure out if I can pull of Romantic Suspense :p.

    Oh - Mary - figured you'd be intrigued by the twin thing after reading Calico Canyon... ;)

  39. Great post, Mary.

    As a teen/college student, I couldn't get enough of Stephen King's books. And Dean Koontz?! Don't even get me started. He's still my absolute favorite writer to date.

    I agree about Koontz's writing bordering on poetry at times, but he still scares me so badly I sometimes have trouble sleeping (his book Intensity had me sleeping with a baseball bat for a month!)

    Even if gory isn't your cup of tea (and honestly, it's not really mine either, it's more like a hold-over from my youth) there are definitely lessons to be learned about the intricate weaving of character and story from reading their books.

  40. Good morning Mary and everyone!

    I loved your post. It gave me a lot to think about this morning...but the boys are waiting for me to get off the computer and start school. Okay, not really. They're more than willing for me to take my time. So here are some of my thoughts -

    King wasn't the first in the horror genre - but I think he defined the modern horror genre. Before him there were guys like HP Lovecraft and Poe - I can read their horror stories. But King? I think you hit it on the head when you said that his characters make all the difference. He's able to reach inside each of us and touch that bit of evil that lurks there and it resonates - he makes his readers live inside his characters' skins. That's how he redefined a genre, and that's what makes him a great storyteller...

    So how does that translate into making a Christian writer a good storyteller? Do we try to reach inside people and touch that bit of the image of God that lives there? Just rhetorical questions....

    30 words? Okay, here goes: A young Amish widow meets a man who is trying to re-enter the community after twelve years in the English world. Can she trust him? Can she trust God again?

    (30 words is really hard...)

    I don't have any Super Bowl leftovers to bring - my boys are 17 and 18. 'Nuff said. But I pulled some cinnamon rolls out of the oven just in time for breakfast.

  41. Linette, I like the runaway bride/boy next door/obsessive fiance story. Excellent.

  42. HI DENICE!!!!!

    I haven't heard from you in a while.

    I've got a daughter who just enjoys the thrill ride of a horror movie.

    To me, that's just not fun. For some people it is.

    So I don't get to vote on what YOU like.

    I watched the King novel/movie The Green Mile and it was fantastic.

    No horror to be found anywhere.

  43. Jan, good point. Yes there was horror before King.

    Poe, Mary Shelly's Frankinstein. Ray Bradbury. And who wrote Dracula? This are old and well established genre. But King definitely brought it into resurgency.

    And as I type this, I vaguely remember reading The Dead Zone. or did I watch the show on TV. I think I did read the book. So that's 4 1/2 King books.

    And Firestarter was good. It didn't seem so much horror as more sci fi, but I could just be making excuses for myself. :)

  44. Jan, I saw the word Amish and knew you had a bestseller. No more info needed. Get that book to a publisher, girl!!!!!

  45. Great post, Mary! I read early King books (Carrie and several after). Loved the movie Carrie as well. And like Debra, I listened to On Writing in the car. Be warned! Little kids can't be around as it has some colorful language!

    I loved On Writing. Very inspiring. I would also stop the car sometimes and take notes. :)

    Melanie, congrats on the cover!! I can't wait until you can share!!

  46. CarolM, I love that second blurb especially!

  47. My one liner for my upcoming LI, A Family for Faith (April)...

    A coffee shop owner, enlisted by the twelve-year-old next door to play matchmaker for her widower police chief dad, finds she might be falling for him herself.

  48. Thanks, Mary! I actually had a few friends helping me out on that one. It took a lot of thinking through and condencing. Now, I'm trying to come up with Tiffany's tagline to share.


  49. That is, I got help on the tag-line. The story is all mine. ;-)


  50. I agree, Mary, Stephen King's On Writing is a great book!

    But like so many others, I CANNOT read his novels! I tried once, maybe 35 years ago, and even just reading it in the afternoons in full sun, I was scared silly.

    Although, like several others here, I will admit to enjoying the movie versions. I think it was Audra who said you can sit through 2 hours and look away during the gruesome parts.

    Actually, it's been looking a lot like the setting for The Shining in my neighborhood lately. Snowdrifts, icy/slushy roads, people going crazy from being cooped up for so long.

    And NO SCHOOL again today!

    And another big snowstorm expected starting tomorrow!


  51. Haha, Mary! Just wanted to say that's the best 'Misery' review that I've read... ever. I read half of 'Pet Cemetery' in 8th grade and swore I would never get close to another King novel. :P

  52. What's the strangest thing you guys have ever done for research?

    Mary may have shot someone. Julie - Lord only knows. Linette may have run away from her wedding. KC became a Schnauzer and solved crimes.

    And so on.


    I just emailed a pastor on Grand Cayman to see if he'd help a couple elope while their cruise ship is docked there... /sigh/

    Hey! Andrea helped!

  53. We are on the same wave length today Mary! My blog post today is all about finding your story through writing your logline and is inspired by the screenwriting book, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

    Here's my logline:
    To raise money for a disease that has plagued his family, a photographer who quit the intoxicating world of high fashion must team up with a woman who epitomizes it.

    30 words on the dot! Do I get extra credit for that?

  54. I liked King's book on writing, but I can't stand horror so I've never read any of his novels or seen any of the movies. But it must be great to practically start up a genre.

  55. Speaking of horror...

    How many of you have seen the preview for Roomate? Oh. My. Gosh. Just the trailer terrifies me. No way will I go see that.

  56. Nope...didn't run away from my wedding. ;-) The craziest thing I did was ask questions of a former fellow employee who was once my police chief to read part of my ROMANCE manuscript to see if I wrote the crime scenes realistically. For my reward, he said he loves answering police questions and can't wait to read my book. ;-)


  57. MISSY--Colorful language? that's understating it a bit I'm afraid.

    But I did notice while reading the memoir that he would write for a while and be so fluent in the use of the language, so enticing and vivid, then he's throw in a line that was just vile. Potty language is putting it nicely.

    I decided that was a shock factor that was probably part of his gift. Those shocking, sudden departures from deep and well written stuff to this RAW language.

    Anyway, I'm not King. I don't even use the word GOSH.

    Oops, I just did. :)

  58. Katie your blurb sounds great. It's really a solid foundation for a book. Setting up solid fundamental conflict...and only TRUE LOVE can overcome it.

  59. And you DON'T get extra credit for exactly thirty words, Katie.

    All of a sudden this is an episode of The Price is Right.

    The one who gets closest without going over. :)

    But it's a great blurb.

    Way to go find those professionals to give you advice.

    The tricky part to doing research is the stuff we think we already know.

    Small things we just write down and don't even think of looking up.

    I can think of a few examples from my own work but I'm too busy cringing to write them out.


  61. CarolM, I would like to state for the record I only shoot people in FICTION. I completely disapprove of it in real life. Shooting people is to be avoided at all costs if at all possible.

    I think that's like....a commandment.

  62. Thanks for the words of wisdom, Mary. I can't read horror myself, I don't sleep at night if I do. However, I love what you wrote about Stephen King's genius is that he makes the readers know his characters so intimately that we care about them, no matter what atrocities they've! Character and plot are inseparable...I love that! It's all about story. How simple and yet so profound!

    Here's my story...

    As a young peasant girl in early 20th Century Russia, Annaveta is surrounded by a world of poverty, abuse and rejection. Her father's merciless abuse and the lecherous demands of the garden estate overseer where she labors, leaves it's dirty marks on the soil of Annaveta's heart. She is rescued from the evil clutches of her foul taskmaster by a strong young man, Alex, who lives with his family in the forbidden neighbouring colony of Frank. A great tragedy forces her to seek help from Alex and his family. Her heart, which has been hardened from all the hurt and rejection, begins to thaw in the warmth of this family. She begins her journey towards God's love and freedom.

    ...sorry this is longer than 30 words...but that's pretty much it in a nutshell. I'm thinking this could turn into a series of three books...?:)

    Anyway, thanks so much for your words of advice and wisdom...needed to hear that:)


  63. Hmmm. Trying to come up with a quick blurb for The Merchant's Daughter. It's set in medieval England.

    A formerly wealthy merchant's daughter, Annabel is forced to become a servant for the new lord, a disfigured widower whose temper is as frightening as his appearance. But when Annabel's life is threatened, he is willing to sacrifice everything to save her, even his own life.

    I know I've come up with a blurb for this story before, but I can't find it. I need to go search my files again.

  64. Hey, Mare, I'm with KC -- LOVE the line: "Forget the mechanics and tell me your story." Of course, you don't want ME to do that because nobody has that much free time in a day. Once in the car, poor Keith asked me what this one scene was about that I was excited over, and somewhere around 20 minutes in, he politely turned to me and said, "I just wanted the gist in a few lines, Julie, not the book."

    Like you, Mary, I have not read a lot of craft books, less than a handful, actually, the most influential one being "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maas, which changed my whole approach on A Passion Most Pure.

    To me, characters are everything because true characters ALWAYS have a story to tell, at least to me, so I am first and foremost a character-driven author. My philosophy is: follow a crazy character, and you're in for a ride. :)


  65. Okay - I take it back Mary ;).

  66. Lorna Faith, that's a great blurb. It sounds like a wonderful story, full of the things that keep two people, destined for each other, apart.

    ahh true love

    I'll only say here that a historical romance set in Russia is going to be a very tough sell. It's outside the box. That doesn't mean it won't sell, but maybe, when you've finished it, you should go ahead and start a romance set in 1875 Kansas, or another way to go, Amish.

    And guess what? I gave this same advice to Melanie and here she is with her second book coming set in what?

    16th Century Germany?
    Or was it 6th Century Germany?
    All I remember thinking for sure about the date is, 'If they get an infection, they're not gonna survive until penicillin is invented.'
    And it's wonderful. So as usual, take all my advice with a huge grain of salt.

    When you're telling me your story here today, I don't want you to be bound to the 30 words.

    What you wrote is beautiful Melanie. I already want that book desperately.

    Is this a stand alone book? Or does it have characters in it from The Healer's Apprentice?

    And I use my covers ahead of time. I figure especially, once they're up on Amazon and your publisher's website, it's okay to show them off.

  68. So Mary, you're saying that an Amish story set in 1875 Kansas would be a sure thing? I think maybe if there were a few cowboys thrown in....:)

  69. Mary,
    Good stuff, as always! I've read two King books. Can't remember the first one...too long ago, I guess. Christine was my last. Do I have the right title? The car that came to life. Oh, my gosh! I decided that had to be my last. He was too far over the top for me. And that car did seem real. Too, too spooky. Plus, I'm easily frightened.

    But his book on writing might be interesting.

    As has been mentioned, loved what you said about internal and external conflict relating to Story and Character. You are spot on, as some say!

    BTW, your stories are delightful. Rich in character, plot, conflict and with a strong moral premise.

    A second BTW, if anyone hasn't heard, a SAMS Club opened in my local area and Mary's books are positioned with all the STARS of Christian fiction and right next to Francine Rivers. Yay, Mary.

    Lucky Francine, right?

  70. I like this quote by Mary:
    People who are first usually get crazy rich.
    They're usually extremely talented and get people to give them a chance on something new because of that talent.

    So, Mary, since I am the first person to write Christian medieval YA fairy tale retellings, that means I'm going to get rich! Yeehah!!! I'm pumped! Must go tell the hubs... Won't he be excited???

  71. Sure go tell him, Melanie.

    I always say when you're making things up, go big.

    Tell him the check is in the mail.


  72. You know, Jan, you mock me now.
    But when I went to a publisher and said, "I've written a suspenseful, historical western, inspirational romantic comedy." they weren't all that excited.

    Now you can invent Post Civil War Amish Praire Cowboys.

    Maybe call it Americana


    Okay...I went screaming out into the hall. I'm back now.

    Men are coming with nets.

    I may be a while leaving my next comment.

  74. It was 14th century Germany, Mary. That was The Healer's Apprentice. My Sleeping Beauty retelling.

    This one, The Merchant's Daughter, is 14th century England. This is my Beauty and the Beast story. Full of angst and longing and delightfully Gothic. Think Jane Eyre but with more yummy-ness, bittersweet yearning, and romance.

    Yummy-ness. I just made up a word.

  75. I wish these comments had a "like" button the way Facebook does!

  76. Melanie
    You hooked me with the line "Jane Eyre with more yummy-ness"
    Golly GEE!! I'm in.

    and Mary,
    Totally finishing the first books. Just placing all the ideas in an 'idea' file for...whenever.

  77. Okay, I just said my book is better than Jane Eyre. I am blushing. That is just ... ridiculous. Nothing and I mean NOTHING, is better than Jane Eyre. Except, possibly, Pride and Prejudice.

  78. Pepper, you KNOW I'm proud of you.

  79. I mean to add, Pepper, just make a file. I promise when you've got 20-ish books published you'll be going to that file thinking, "What am I gonna write about next?"

  80. I happen to love Jane Eyre, except for the occasional ten page sermons.

    HOWEVER a little more yumminess can only help.

    Those Bronte sisters had a pretty dark view of things.

    Uh, charlotte? You blinded him in a fire? Okay, he can see again, a LITTLE. But he was a sinner so it's okay and phew, his wife burned to death.

    And Emily, honey, it's not really a happy ending if Heathcliff and Catherine are both dead.

  81. LOL, Mary! Okay, yeah, Jane Eyre without the dark stuff, dead heroines, and completely blind heroes (although my hero is blind in one eye after saving someone from a wolf attack, but this happened before my story starts).

    But yumminess, yes. I must have the yummy factor or it's no fun to write.

  82. I do so LOVE Seekerville.
    You make me SMILE!!!

    (and Carol M - I didn't actually BECOME the Schnauzer... She exists and does fine all on her own - check the website - ha!)

    Melanie - the more I hear about TMD, the more I want it too!

    Seriously y'all - seriously

    The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. I would NEVER read one of his books - never even saw the movies, except for The Green Mile (there was some horror in there Mary - think about it) and I really truly enjoyed this book. He wrote it for his kids who didn't want anything "icky"... :)

  83. I may have reflexively covered my eyes even for the Green Mile. I don't remebmer horror.

    I do remember a disgusting little MOUSE. That alone is horror and would keep me with my eyes covered.

  84. Great post, Mary. Lots to think about. Here's my stab at getting to the heart of my story...alas I nearly tripled your 30 word count.

    Jayne Nolan has been running all her life but now she wants to stop and dig deep roots into a loving community – a place of caring neighbours who can help bring a sense of belonging to her fatherless child.

    Quinn Donahue might have left the police force, but he can’t leave a mystery alone and the new town librarian is as mysterious as they come.

    Will Jayne risk everything to stay and face her past or will she bolt when Quinn gets too close to the truth?

  85. I'm on Pepper's blog today talking about where I get my ideas.

    Go check it out.


  86. I've read exactly one King novel. The Green Mile. I loved it.

    I've watched exactly two of his movies, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption (which was actually based on a short story). Enjoyed both.

    I think they both go along something like this: Some really bad things happened to a wonderful, loving, innocent man, and that was REAL bad. BUT the bad guys definitely got theirs in the end.

    It's very important for me that the bad guys get theirs in the end.

    Oh, yeah! I did see Carrie. Again the mom...bad guy gets hers in the end.

    I've never attempted to read any of the gory books. Can't do horror. Chucky gave me nightmares. Strangely Freddy didn't...

    But I digress...

    Mary~ the commandment specifically says "kill." I don't think that prohibits things like knee-capping and nicking the fleshy parts. :)

    I think you're right about him being first. I read an interview with him where they asked if he paved the way for people like Stephenie Meyer. He said "Yes!" He's probably right, even though her stories aren't exactly horror. King made the strange customary to much of the reading public.

    My story, hmmm, I don't know if I can do a "blurb" I'm very longwinded.

    When Stephen dies, basically in his arms, Calvin decides that his wife Rose, also a dear friend of Cal's own late wife, deserves more than letter telling her of Stephen's death. He decides to deliver Stephen's belongings in person.

    As Calvin and Rose mourn their losses together, they face their own differing feelings about God and love. They face disapproval from jealous friends. But they overcome these trials to find healing faith in God and lasting love for each other.

    Definitely more than 30 words, but there it is.

  87. LOL, Mary! Come on! You've got to give us at least one thing. I started to do the same thing with the heart episode. We've had so many heart problems in the family that I thought I knew enough. But, I did go and check it out just to make sure I didn't look like an idiot. :D


  88. My story was inspired by Johnny Cash's song "Give My Love to Rose."

    Please tell me I'm not the only one here who knows that song.

  89. ...I promise that character's name was already Stephen, I didn't just name him that in honor of Mary's post.


  90. CarolM that sounds like a good story! got my attention anyways!

    Mary I think it's ok to shoot someone just not kill 'em (there's a commandment 'bout killing)

    munching on pumpkin bars - these are health right?! vitamin A and fiber...

    for the record my totally chicken wussified self actually read Carrie (and Intensity but some other dude) and I'm not sure how I got through either of them(esp that other book) but I managed. I can finally sleep and almost forget about that other book(til I see an RV on the road..shudder..) other than that the scariest I've gotten through has been The Bourne Identity and Tim Downs' bug man series(still wanna cry about that lab). something about those books compelled me to keep going even though they were NOT my thing and I knew it..just couldn't put them down or if I did put them down I had to get back to them. Same with Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers..not sure if the reason was your topic but all these I was sucked into almost immediately and couldn't walk away from.

    thanks for the pumpkin it time for belgian waffles again?! :-)

  91. Susanna and it.

    Just wing him.


    And Susanna everyone knows pumpkin bars count as a vegetable.


  92. Oh, I just hate being late to the party. :(

    Mary, I just started reading King's "On Writing" this weekend even though I haven't read ANY of his books. (Yes, I'm a fraidy cat.)

    I completely agree that character and plot are inseparable. One without the other makes for a very dull story.

    Since you asked, here's the tagline (story) for "A Great Catch" in 22 words.
    If a never-grow-up baseball player strikes out with a spunky suffragette, Independence Day may take on a whole new meaning.

  93. Linette, the one that comes immediately to mind is that, in doctor in Petticoats I had Alex perform a tracheotomy on Sally.

    I said he cut into her esophagus.

    Oops. He cut into her TRACHEA. Thus the name of the surgery.

    The weird part is, I just never thought about it. I never debated in my head exactly WHERE he cut. I mostly said throat, as everyone was horrified that he was cutting her throat.

    Adn I never said tracheotomy because my research indicated that they didn't have a name for that surgery back then.

    But I think twice I said esophagus.


    I turned myself in to my publisher and am hoping to get a fix on the next printing.

  94. @ Mary - ok so pumpkin bars, carrot cake, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie - those all count as veggies right?! let's go vegetarian tomorrow!

    and you can wing him as many times as you want - just dont kill 'em..or covet their wife or steal anything from oughta be covered then! :-)


  95. Lorna, you're reading it RIGHT NOW???

    That's almost....almost....almost an EERIE COINCIDENCE WORTHY OF A STEPHEN KING NOVEL.

    Almost but not quite.

  96. Susanna, I'm creating an excel spread sheet for do's and don't's right now.

    And have you ever driven by a field of cane sugar or sugar beets?

    That is totally a leafy green vegetable, too.

  97. Yes, I'm reading it now. Well, not this moment, because I do have work to do, but it is the book I'm working on reading. It was quite a surprise to see you posted on it.

    And I thought for sure you'd notice I had a book title ending in the word "Catch" and my tagline was 22 words. Maybe I need more sleep. :)

  98. Did anyone else see how many exclamation marks Mary put beside my name?

    Just sayin'

    Chocolate chip cookie pizza is up for grabs. YUM

  99. I lied. I read The Green Mile.

    Loved it. Very different from the norm. Loved the movie too.

    Hey, we need supper. I've got Kentucky Fried Chicken on board. Grab it while it's hot, no Chick Fil A around these here parts, dagnabbit!

    And try this mashed potato casserole. It's like eating the inside of a twice-baked potato. So stinkin' good!

  100. I lied a third time. Shawshank was King????


    Freakin' brilliant premise.

    Loved it. So well done. I'm going to go THROW STONES at my cute little books.


    Right after I eat some of Pep's cookie cake thingamajiggy.

    And Susanna, I vote with you. Total veggie diet tomorrow, what you listed... :) THAT'S MY KIND of diet, lol!

  101. Mary if I ever drove by a field of sugar cane or beets I wouldn't have known it if there wasn't a big huge sign saying so! and here I live right next to Sugar Land(yep really named that because they used to have Imperial Sugar right downt he road from me but now it's kaput)I think I can identify corn from the road but that's 'bout it I'm afraid.

    here - I have chick-fil-a to go with the kentucky fried! they just opened a new one right near me!


  102. Mary, really good post!

    Sorry I'm not sharing anything today, I got a request for a full ms and can't seem to think about anything else :)

  103. Last minute update.

    To get your name in the drawing for a signed copy of Sharpshooter in Petticoats

  104. Eva Maria!!! That's awesome news! Yay for you!!!

  105. Loved King's book On Writing. I liked the fact that he worked hard and struggled. Makes me feel so much better about myself. ;)

    Okay, so my two books so far are too out of the box. But I figured my first stories will never see the light of day, so I can practice on them in joy!

    Here's my blurb for my "speculative" story. (I saw that the Genesis has a new speculative category...very interesting, I think!)

    Stumbling upon a magic frame which brings her drawings to life, a middle school art teacher sets out to create the perfect boyfriend, but soon finds perfection can’t always be framed - and just might be packaged differently than what she envisioned.

    Okay, so 30 words is difficult. I say give Katie an award for staying under the limit.

  106. I used to read more King than I do now. I'm just not that much into horror these days. I can tell you, however, that The Stand reigns as my favorite book of all time. In some ways, it's not even a classic King book because it's not overly gory; it's not about some psycho losing it and trying to kill his family (The Shining); it doesn't have a clown that preys on little children (It); and it isn't about a grieving family who buries their son in a pet cemetery that causes the child to come back as a demon(Pet Sematary).

    The Stand is the battle of ultimate good versus ultimate evil after a biological accident kills much of the American population. Those who survive are left to recreate society. Some people end up in the midwest with Mother Abigail and others end up in Las Vegas, Nevada with Randall Flagg. At some point, you know these two camps are going to face off.

    Jillian said she couldn't get past 100 pages, and I understand that. It took me 600 pages to fully understand all that was going on and how the pieces would come together; but by then I had so much time invested in the book, I wasn't going to stop until I read the last page. As Mary pointed out, however, King's characters are, well, they're king. With The Stand there are a lot of them, and most, you end up caring about, wanting to know their stories, and once you're done you'll be happy you spent some time with. Randall Flagg and some of his buddies are pretty much there to be despised, but for some characters that's their purpose; though I tend to like sympathetic bad guys.

    Like Mary, I tend to use reading novels and kid's books to help with my stories rather than reading craft books, but I did read King's memoir, the memoir by Jerry Jenkins, and a few craft books along the way. Last year I bought Donald Maass' books and I hope to dig into those soon if my reviewing schedule loosens up a bit.

    Thanks for the great article.


  107. Really loved this post!

    This is more than 30 words but I'm so excited to see Mary explain why there isn't really character or plot driven books and I think it's a good thing now my craft book wasn't working so I could figure out which my story is lol. Or Jonathan's I should say.

    From the blood soaked sand of the Roman arena, a divine destiny will rise. For as long as Jonathan can remember, everyone has wanted something from him. His brothers want him dead. His master’s wife wants his innocence. The gladiator dealers want him to fight, and die, for their greed. Rome’s most famous prostitute wants his love. The humble slave girl that tends the wounds on his body and the hidden ones on his soul wants him to return to his faith in God. God wants something from Jonathan too. Something more than anyone could even imagine. What Jonathan wants is simple… freedom. The young warrior’s journey will push him to the very limits of human endurance and teach him the only true freedom is found in Christ. The greatest battle Jonathan will have to fight will not come in the arena, but deep within himself, when he is forced to choose between revenge and forgiveness, knowing the fate of all he holds dear hangs in the balance.

  108. Sherrinda, I love the story.
    Create the perfect boyfriend. It's intriguing. And there is spec fiction out there, don't give up.

  109. I've heard other people say The Stand is the best book ever written.

    I've never been willing to make the commitment to that long of a book.

    I read a little compulsively, tend to get hooked and stay up hours too late, so I really avoid super long books. Same reason I've never started the Twilight series, though I have read the Harry Potter books.
    Maybe someday.

  110. Nancy, your blurb gave me chills. It's really well done.

    Is the book done? Have you pitched it anywhere?

    You've got to.

  111. Thanks Mary.
    It's not done and if I would stop doing edits and rewrites of the first 2/3rds lol, i'd get more of my missing scenes done.
    It started out my first NaNoWriMo at thanksgiving and I made my 50K in 37 days.
    Then I stopped obsessing about word count when a character fell from the sky and DEMANDED to be included (which she solved my last remaining plot problem) but we're probably at about 60K right now, which is why the rewrites to bring word count down because I don't want to exceed 90 and certainly not 100K or no one will touch it lol, not for a first timer.

    I'm polishing up the first chapters so much to enter GENESIS this year, also my first time.
    (I don't count the little short story contest I won last year with something else). I haven't pitched it to anyone other than family and friends who are currently screaming for the remaining chapters (gave the 1st 3 as Christmas gifts haha). I've learned a lot about imprints, publishing, etc. in a short amount of time since it appears that maybe the story that began just for me has the potential to really be used to impact others.

    Appreciated the compliment, really encouraged me and I'm so glad do have discovered seekerville and hope to get to reading some of your books soon! I can only reread Francine Rivers and DiAnne Mills so many times =)

  112. Thanks Mary and Pam! I am super excited!