Wednesday, October 11, 2017

One Question That Will Unlock Your Entire Story


By Susan MayWarren, @susanmaywarren
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could plot your entire story by asking one question?

You can.

Over the past 12 years and 55 novels, I’ve discovered a “Story Equation” that helps me discover and build into a story all the essential pieces. And the center of the equation starts by asking ONE powerful question:

Who are you?

From that question, the equation pulls out two key elements: Identity and the Dark Moment Story.  From that Dark Moment Story we’re then going to pull all our essential ingredients to create our compelling character and riveting plot: The characters greatest fear, his lie, his flaw, his competing values, his wants, his wounds and the big why that drives the entire story. In the advanced layer, we’ll also find our secret desire, his greatest dream, and the other elements that help us build our plot.

WHO are you?

The SEQ starts by asking the character, “who are you?” Often, we bring to the story what we call the story seed. This is the naked story idea that has sparked–probably from something we’ve heard or read about, a big question, a situation, a historical figure or event, even a great what-if.

Owen Christiansen: Troublemaker

One of my favorite characters to develop was the final character in my Christiansen family series. I’d already explored all his other siblings, but I had no idea who Owen, the family troublemaker was until I got to his story.

I needed a SEQ.

My conversation with Owen went something like this:

Who are you? “I’m a prodigal fisherman.”

Why are you a prodigal fisherman? “I’m a fisherman because this is the job that I could get. I’m working on a crabbing boat. It’s a short term job, temporary. I don’t have to commit to it. I can just work hard for a season, get money and go on because I’m a vagabond. I’m on the run, hence why I’m called a prodigal.”

Why are you a prodigal? “Well, because I don’t want to live in the life that my parents don’t really want me to live but I can’t go home.”

Why can’t you go home? “I sort of made a mess of things at my sister’s wedding when I was visiting.”

Really, what happened? “I don’t know really what happened but my brother, Casper, got freaked out on me, got really upset, attacked me in the middle of the wedding and we got in a huge fist fight. I don’t know what his problem was. Or . . . actually I do. Apparently he fell in love with this girl that — okay. Yes, I had a one-night stand with. I realized it was probably a bad thing but I did. He fell in love with her and when he found out we’d slept together, he took it personally and got angry. I got mad too and we got into a huge fist fight. I realize now that probably I handled it badly.”

Why did you handle it badly? “I’ve had a rough go of it because I–you might not know this about me but I used to be a professional hockey player and I had the whole world and then — well, my brother-in-law actually hit me with a hockey stick and he made me blind in my eye. My whole career is destroyed. What do you expect from me? I had this life and now I don’t anymore. So thank you very much. This is my life now.”

Perfect. Now, as an author, I have a little picture of Owen. I also have a hint of the dark moment story–which is probably losing his eyes.

I can also build on that and easily ask: what is his greatest dream and secret desire? He wanted to play hockey. He wanted to be somebody.

Now that I’ve drilled down the adjective, I’ll move over to the noun. Fisherman. This gives me a hint of what Owen looks like on the outside. He’s got an eye patch because he lost his eye. And, he’s working the high seas, so we can attach a pirate vibe to him. He’s probably a hard worker because he needs to earn money. Probably also a bit unkempt, scruffy beard from being at sea for a month. He doesn’t really care what he wears, old it-shirt, old sweatshirt, this sort of thing.

We can go even deeper and ask: What’s his attitude? Who is this guy who’s now working on a fishing boat? He’s named himself a prodigal. A person that’s named himself a prodigal probably has a little bit of regret. When the story opens, Owen knows he’s not doing the right thing but he feels like there’s no way back. He probably wears a small chip on his shoulder, and most likely feels very alone. Perhaps he feels that he can’t get close to people because he feels guilty about hurting his brother–which means he might even regret his womanizing ways. Perhaps he’s even tried to amend his actions, but still feels like he can’t go home.

However, based on this analysis, his secret desire is definitely to go home.

(By the way, get Owen’s story, You’re the One that I Want here!)


Give us a Dark Moment Story

The goal is to get to the heart of your character by asking why, until you land on a Dark Moment Story.

The Dark Moment Story is the core of your SEQ; it’s the secret sauce behind what all the stuff that your character does. The Dark Moment Story gives your character motivation, it combines with the greatest dream to find out what he wants, which then gives him a goal, establishes his lie, and helps develop your character’s flaw. (Which we’ll expand on next time) All the pieces of your equation come from this dark moment story.

We can find a dark moment story in almost every great movie.

In Braveheart, William Wallace’s Dark Moment Story is played in out in the first 20 minutes of the film. First his family dies and then the woman he loves, his wife dies.

In one of my favorite movies, While you Were Sleeping, the Dark Moment Story is told by the heroine, Lucy, to Jack during their walk home through Chicago. (Hint: it’s the story of her father, always wishing to go somewhere, and her never taking a trip because he got sick and she had to take care of him. Her wound is her empty passport. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves!)


Three essential elements to a Dark Moment Story

  • The Dark Moment Story is a specific event.

Often, when authors develop character, they sum up their past with an overview: “Well, his parents got divorced or his mother died or his brother ran away or he was bullied in school . . .” These are certainly traumatic, life-changing events, but none of us clue us in to what shapes your character. As an author, you have to create a specific event in which that seed a rejection fear, unforgiveness, bitterness took place.

It needs to be something that happened, something they remember, and something they can detail. And often, it isn’t the main event, but an ancillary event that really matters.

  • The Dark Moment Story is Relatable

You’re looking for something poignant, something that will tug on the heartstrings. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, or even that dramatic. It could merely be the day when no one showed up to your character’s seventh birthday party. Or the day your character thought he was going fishing with his father, and he got left at home. Sure, it might be powerful–the death of a family member, for example. But often we jump to the dramatic when, in fact, it’s the small things that wound so deeply.

  • The Dark Moment Story is Poignant

You, as the author must be able to dream it up and feel it first. Have your character tell it to you in first person, and write it down in detail, so you can hear and feel the inflection of their voice, their words, and their emotion. Once you make that emotional connection with the story, you can share the deeper layers of it–and your reader will connect with the emotion and story as well.

The magic of the Dark Moment Story isn’t just in developing character; it’s also a tool you’ll use in the story to develop the bond between characters and between the character and the reader.

In most cases, you’ll insert that story in dialog in your second act to help solidify the motivation for the Noble Quest as well as build the Character Change journey. Yes, you might modify the story in the retelling on the page, but getting the foundation down now is the key.

Once you have your Identity and your Dark Moment Story figured out, you have the tools to build the rest of the SEQ.

If you are a true organic, and you just can’t bear to do any more planning, then stop right here. You know who your character is, and what motivates him.

Or . . . you can keep going and start to pull out the plot. For more information on the SEQ check out my book The Story Equation: How to Plot and Write a Brilliant Story with One Powerful Question.

Go write something brilliant!
 
GIVEAWAYS!! 

Leave a comment, and you're in the draw for TWO giveaways, winners' choice of Susan May Warren's excellent writer's resource, The Story Equation, or her latest release, A Matter of Trust.


Discover The Story Equation! One question can unlock your entire story! Are you struggling to build a riveting plot? Layered characters? How about fortify that saggy middle? Create that powerful ending? You can build an entire book by asking one powerful question, and then plugging it into an “equation” that makes your plot and characters come to life. You’ll learn how to build the external and internal journey of your characters, create a theme, build story and scene tension, create the character change journey and even pitch and market your story. All with one amazing question.

And


Champion backcountry snowboarder Gage Watson has left the limelight behind after the death of one of his fans. After being sued for negligence and stripped of his sponsorships, he's remade his life as a ski patrol in Montana's rugged mountains, as well as serving on the PEAK Rescue team. But he can't seem to find his footing--or forget the woman he loved, who betrayed him.
Senator and former attorney Ella Blair spends much of her time in the limelight as the second-youngest senator in the country. But she has a secret--one that cost Gage his career. More than anything, she wants to atone for her betrayal of him in the courtroom and find a way to help him put his career back on track.
When Ella's brother goes missing on one of Glacier National Park's most dangerous peaks, Gage and his team are called in for the rescue. But Gage isn't so sure he wants to help the woman who destroyed his life. More, when she insists on joining the search, he'll have to keep her safe while finding her reckless brother, a recipe for disaster when a snowstorm hits the mountain.
But old sparks relight as they search for the missing snowboarder--and suddenly, they are faced with emotions neither can deny. But when Ella's secret is revealed, can they learn to trust each other--even when disaster happens again?


ABOUT SUSAN MAY WARREN: 
Susan May Warren is the USA Today bestselling, Christy and RITA award-winning novelist of over fifty novels. An eight-time Christy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Carol Award.

A seasoned women’s events speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: The Story Equation.

She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, and Novel.Academy, a school for aspiring novelists. You can find her online at www.susanmaywarren.com.




190 comments :

  1. This is brilliant!!

    I'm in the throes of prepping for NaNo tonight and took a moment to check Seekerville to give my brain a quick break. And instead I found an amazing tool! I was so excited I had to go ask my protagonist who he was right away before coming back to comment, and I learned so much about him in just a few minutes.

    I'd love to get a copy of The Story Equation so I can dig into the equation even more.

    Thanks for sharing with us villagers today, Susan!

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    1. Megan, yes! I agree this is really helpful.

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    2. Hey, Megan, I hear you!! Susie is my guest today, so I had to read and post her blog, and WHOA ... she nailed a problem I was having on my current WIP, so this truly is an "amazing tool"!!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    3. Hey Megan. Yes I love the Story Equation! It's the foundation for all the stories I create. I always start with the dark moment story, right after I figure out my story seed. It just opens up the entire story for me. It's a fantastic plotting to and characterization tool. Let me know if you have any questions!

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  2. Susie, welcome back! What a great post! I'm in the beginning stages of a story, still feeling my way around the characters and first chapters, and this was such a great reminder. I realized I need to back up and do a little more character work.

    I love your Story Equation book! Thanks for sharing some of it with us today.

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    1. This was so timely for me, too, Missy! :)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Hey Missy! So delighted to be here today. Yes whenever I do the story equation for my characters I really discover whether or not I've built a strong character or not. It helps me look for those weak areas and then fill in the blanks. When I finish i have a strong three-dimensional character.

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  3. Great post for our authors here! Since I'm a reader, I found it interesting :-) Now I know what a "dark moment is" and how it plays a vital role in any book I've read.

    No need to toss my name in for "A Matter of Trust" as I've already read & reviewed it being part of your team. I have "Troubled Waters" waiting for me at home (Ian and Seirra's story, finally!). They will have to wait a while longer since I have other books ahead of it. But I like the idea that they are there whenever I'm ready to read their story :-)

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    1. Wow, Trixi ... you're a busy girl! ;)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Thank you, Trixi!! Nice to see a Superstar here. :) Yes, you can now look for the Dark Moment story in all your favorite books and movies!! Thank you for reading!

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    3. Julie, I'm always a busy reader...lol! I'm never without a book :-)

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  4. Welcome back to Seekerville, Susan. Wow, this is perfect timing for me as well, as I work on the synopsis for a WIP! Thank you for sharing and for helping us celebrate our 10th birthday!

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    1. Delighted to be here Tina! Thank you for having me, and happy birthday!

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  5. And boy, you got some hunka hunkas on those Montana Rescue covers. Merely an observation. (!!!!)

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    1. LOL, Tina, I'm with you on that! HUBBA HUBBA on the HUNKA HUNKAS!! ;)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Thanks for pointing that out, Tina. Otherwise I would have missed it. NOT!

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    3. I wonder if Susan got to get in on the photo shoots. I recognize one of the heroes in the series covers as the guy from Survivor two seasons ago I think. Ken McNickle. From DENVER!!!!

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    4. I know, right? I do get some say in the cover models. They send me a list, or rather they send me pictures and I get to look through them. A really tough part of my job. Agonizing. :) I usually pick out two or three and then let them choose the one they like. Although, I did pick out Ken I admit it. I actually asked for him. Such a hunk! And the story that goes with it is pretty fun too. It comes out in January.

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  6. Hi Susan,

    I love your post! I was just listening to Michael Hauge's talk from this summer's RWA in my car on the way to work yesterday, and he talked about the importance of knowing character conflict, wound, and identity.

    Since I am a total pantster, I find it hard to do too much planning ahead of time, but I love the ideas you present about character sketching by interviewing your characters with this one story equation question until you get identity and the dark moment flushed out.

    Do you do this for your hero and heroine before you begin each book? Also, have you found it beneficial to do for secondary characters as well?

    Thank you again and happy writing,

    Jeanine

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    1. Hey, Jeanine, thanks for your question. Susie should be by sometime today to answer it, okay?

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Jeanine. I have read your work and am stunned you are a pantser. I am a total Hauge groupie, but this method does incorporate Hauge too

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    3. Hey Jeanine! Yes I do it for all my principle and subplot characters--anyone who has a POV, or even someone who I know I'll use later. I need to understand their motivations, goals and values so I understand how they'll make decisions. I nave never listened to Michael Hauge, but I know he works a lot with wound and identity. The SEQ is such an organic method--and you can use it to find your big pieces of the story (since you're a pantser), like the Black Moment, and the Epiphany. If you're a plotter, you can actually apply it to your entire plot and lay it all out before hand. (I am a plotter/pantster--I plot my story, but then let my scenes spool out when I get there). Hope that helps!

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  7. Thank you for the great post Susan. What a great idea to interview your characters to flesh them out. Thank you for sharing.

    Happy 10th Birthday Seekerville!

    Blessings,
    Cindy W.

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    1. Thanks, Cindy -- hard to believe it's been ten years, isn't it?? And thanks for being such an important part of Seekerville!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Thanks, Cindy. It's a technique that has really changed my storycrafting. :) Glad to share!

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  8. Would you consider the dark moment to be the catalyst?

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    1. Hey, Mary, Susie should be by to answer your question sometime today, so keep your eyes peeled ... ;)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Mary Preston? Are you writing too? Or has all this writer talk got you dissecting the reading now?

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    3. The Dark Moment Story is the point at which his character is formed. So it happens back in their childhood and forms their lie, wound, greatest fear, and can also play into their want/goal and values as they get closer to the start of the story. Often, there will ALSO be a recent story, that is a result of the DMS (lies, wound, etc) that acts as the catalyst. But it is also NOT the inciting incident, which happens either right before the story, in the first chapter, or shortly thereafter to launch your character on his/her journey.

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  9. How nice to have you here to celebrate, Susan. What a great post! Apart from writing the dreaded synopsis, I'm not much of a plotter, but I love getting into my character's head by journaling. Your book, The Story Equation is a fantastic resource. Thanks for visiting today!

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    1. Hey, Jill, "journaling" sounds like a great way to get into your character's head, so you go, girl!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Hey Jill!! Delighted to be here! Yes, journaling is a great way to get into your character's head. I often keep a journal for my character as I write the story, just to STAY in his head. :) Thank you for your sweet words for the Story Equation. It's changed how I write, for sure. :)

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  10. Susan, it's so fun to have you here to celebrate our 10th birthday! I enjoyed seeing you at CFRR 2017... great coffee, food, authors, readers... that's my idea of a great weekend!

    Enjoy your day here, the place has been totally rocking this month... and I'm passing out party hats right now!

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    1. Hey, Ruthy, can I have a party hat with sparkles please?

      HUGS!!
      Julie

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    2. Thanks for having me, Ruth! So delighted to see you at CRFF to!! XO!

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  11. Yesssss! I’ve been struggling with the plot of my new WIP and this...this is exactly what I needed. To see you work through the interview of your character opened my eyes to how to dig for truth and lie of who they are.

    So when you are questioning, is there always a noun and adjective they use to describe themselves? What is the purpose of the two?

    No need to put my name in the hat. I just went and purchased the book so I can start reading on my lunch hour today!!!!

    Thanks so much for sharing! God Bless! And I have to agree with Tina, the heroes on your covers are always swoon-worthy.

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    1. WHOA, Sherrinda, you don't mess around, do you! And I just bet I know what you bought that book with ... ;)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. YAY!! So...the adjective helps me get to my character's EMOTIONAL state. I drill down to find out why he/she describes themself that way...and usually that leads me to the DMS. The NOUN helps me see my character as he is NOW...externally. It helps me know his/her talents and skills, what they look like, what their daily activities might be. If I need help with the DMS, I might also ask...why did hero become NOUN? That will help me get into their psyche, and also build a timeline for their backstory. You know, if you read a Danielle Steele book, she does this DMS backstory narrative right on the page in the first couple chapters. :) Not necessarily recommended (although it works for her!) But it gives you a good idea of how to create that narrative if you need help. Thank you for purchasing the book!!! I hope you like it. (and I agree with you about my heroes!!) XOXO!

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  12. Good morning, Susan, and welcome to Seekerville. I purchased Story Equation a few months back, and I'm currently working my way through it plotting my next story. It's been a great help!

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    1. SO glad to hear that, Rhonda!

      When you get a chance, give me an update on what we were discussing a while back, okay?

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Oh, I'm so glad to hear that, Rhonda!! Yay!! Let me know if you have any questions!

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  13. Welcome to Seekerville, Susan! What a great post. It's going in my 'keeper file.' Thanks so much for sharing!

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    1. Hey, Jackie, it's definitely a "keeper," so smart move! :)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. YAY!! :) Let me know if you have any questions!

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  14. Good Morning, Susan!

    Great stuff here. I'm going to print this out and refer to it often.

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    1. Good idea, Rose -- me too! :)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Thanks, Rose! Let me know if you have any questions!! XO!

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  15. Susan, this is a good post, a keeper. Please enter me in the drawing.
    Kathy Bailey

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    1. Consider yourself entered, Kathy, so GOOD LUCK!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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  16. Good morning, Susan, and welcome back to Seekerville to celebrate our 10th birthday!

    Thank you SO MUCH for this timely post--I'm in the middle of planning a new series and am currently seeking out the dark moments of my hero and heroine in each story.

    I have all your "How to Write a Brilliant..." coaching series on my Kindle and love how your tips make me think more deeply before I launch out into my story.

    By the way...I LOVE your covers. Your heroes look like REAL-life men.

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    1. Glynna, I couldn't agree more on your comment about her heroes looking like "REAL-life men! I think so too.

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Thanks Glynna! I agree with you about the heroes. :) I like me a REAL man! And I'm delighted the books have been helpful! Don't be afraid to keep honing those DMStories as you write, too, to keep peeling back the layers of your characters. That's what makes for powerful stories!! Thank you for reading. XO!

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  17. Good morning, Susan! Talk about starting my day off with a BAM! Love this! I'm currently struggling with one of my characters and just reading this post started the brain juices flowing! So now I shall have my coffee and start asking her who she is. LOVE IT! Please through my name in for the drawing. I have your book "Conversations With a Writing Coach" and love it!

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    1. Hey, LeAnne, you're in the hat, girlfriend, so GOOD LUCK!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. OOH, LeAnne, tell us about that book too! Pretty please. It's always good to get a referral on a writing book from a good writer.

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    3. Thanks, LeAnne!! And glad to get that creativity going!! Hope your interview was successful!! XO!

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  18. Back again. This and other posts and books on story structure have made all the difference in my own writing. The Story Question, three-act, seven-step, Hero's Journey etc. I make up worksheets on each plotting method (IN MS WORD, I"M A DINOSAUR) and when I'm plotting a novel, I print them out and fill them in. My former crit partner, Peggy Rychwa of Arizona, distilled it all into a method she calls "The W," and I graph my plots on that too.
    You can't be friends with someone in real life if you don't know anything about them, and you can't write about somebody if you don't have their backstory, the more the better.
    Frameworks are really freedom, you can develop YOUR story within the framework, and it will still be different from everyone else's.
    This is especially true in genre fiction. I'm always impressed with all the work that goes into developing characters and making them memorable. These are truly Not Your Mother's Harlequins.
    I am careful and troubled about many things, be back later.
    KB

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    1. LOL ... no, they are definitely NOT our mother's Harlequins!

      You said, "You can't be friends with someone in real life if you don't know anything about them, and you can't write about somebody if you don't have their backstory, the more the better."

      Excellent point, my friend!

      Mmmm ... I would love to hear more about "The W" method, maybe in a 1- or 2-line nutshell?

      Uh-oh ... hope not TOO troubled, Kath! 😳

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. I have heard of W plotting.If you Google W plotting method it shows the basics.

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    3. I'm so glad, Kaybee! I'll have to google the W method. Interesting!!!

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  19. Susie, welcome back to Seekerville and joining us for our 10th birthday celebration!

    SEQ changed the way I understand my characters and help me write their stories rather than the stories I want to write and sticking them in, LOL. I've read and re-read SEQ, and each time, I discover more ah-ha moments. I actually know - well continue to discover - my characters and understand why they do the things they do.

    Complete awesomeness!

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    1. Wow, Audra, that's quite an endorsement since you are one of my favorite writers, so thanks for giving a shout-out for SEQ.

      HUGS!!
      Julie

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    2. Audra!!! That IS a great shout out!! Thank you!! BTW, me too--I feel like every time I do a SEQ, I get better at it, and learn more about my characters, and build a better story. We have to keep growing as writers, right? I love how you have switched from writing stories and sticking characters in to writing your character's stories. Those are way more fun to write (and discover!) Thanks for your sweet words. XO!

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  20. This is great info Susan. Thanks for being in Seekerville today and sharing about SEQ. This is a keeper post for sure

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    1. Agreed, Cindy! I think quite a few of us will be "keeping" this one!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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  21. Hi Susie
    Having a little trouble with Blogger, so hopefully this'll come through.
    I echo fully what others have already posted. I think I need to get a couple of your craft books. What you shared isn't necessarily new - but it still packs a wallop of "why didn't I do that?"
    Thanks so much for sharing/celebrating Seekerville's birthday month. Please put me in the draw. I have to agree that your book covers provide nice eye candy...

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    1. LOL ... ah, yes ... "eye candy"! Some of my favorite types of sweets and NO CALORIES!!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. I like that--eye candy covers. You know, we all have to do our part to make the world a better place... :) No--it isn't new, but the method of pulling it together is something that I developed and that works for me, and hopefully others. The SEQ is simply a really handy, organic plotting and characterization device. Thanks for posting!

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  22. Susan, Thanks for sharing this really good path to story. It's perfectly timed for me, too and has my brain in hamster mode. It's a relief to know that all those conversations with my characters aren't so abnormal after all and inspires me to start probing again.

    And yeah, about the hunks on the covers? Sigh

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    1. LOL, Barbara ... "hamster mode" ... LOVE IT!!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Not abnormal at all!! Necessary, actually!! Keep talking to yourself (or rather, the people in your head!) :)

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  23. Good morning, Susan.
    You know, I've always read posts suggesting giving your characters an interview, but I never "got" it. Your example brought it home for me.

    Makes perfect sense.

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    1. It does, doesn't it, Connie?

      Hugs!!
      Julie

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    2. I agree, Connie. In the past, I have poo pooed that idea, but this is a bit different or I'm getting more flexible in my mature age. I like these questions. I don't care what Owen's favorite vegetable is, but I do care WHO HE IS AT THE CORE!

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    3. Oh good!! That's right, Tina. I HATE the interview lists...but I do love getting down to the DMS. That is what makes a character!

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  24. Hi Susan. I found this to be fascinating and I must read more about Owen!
    Thank you and Blessings!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

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  25. Susan, what an awesome post! I've been waiting for it, and you didn't disappoint. Having trouble with my hero, and after reading this post, I'm going to sit on him...er...sit him down, and really find out who he is.

    I agree with the ladies, there's nothing wrong with having eye candy for breakfast! Less calories!

    Now, I can't decide if I want to read a good book, or write a good book...just enter my name!

    Blessings,

    Marcia

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    1. p.s. I've decided I want to read a good book! Just purchased the SEQ, so please enter me for the hunky cover book! :)

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    2. Marcia said: "Now, I can't decide if I want to read a good book, or write a good book...just enter my name!"

      LOL ... too cute! Right now I want to write one, but have too many things on the ol' plate today, so first things first! ;)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    3. Well, Mr. Stephen King says we must do both, so save a few minutes before bedtime to read a great author like Susan May Warren. She's doing something right/write. Thus the accolades and it pays to emulate great authors.

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    4. You. Are. So. Right. Tina. I just finished If Ever I Would Leave You, and Wowza!!! I do get Susie's newsletter, and love it. She makes writing look so easy! My SEQ is arriving on Saturday, and the Sampler whetted my curiosity. Can't wait!

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    5. Aw, thank you, Marcia!! (and Tina!) AW, writing isn't easy...but it can be a fun despite the work, right? Thanks for reading my newsletters, Marcia!! (and for picking up the SEQ. Let me know if you have any questions!!). You guys are too sweet. XO!

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  26. SUSIE MAY -- WELCOME BACK TO SEEKERVILLE, MY FRIEND!!!

    And like I and so MANY have said in their comments above, this is SO timely for me because I am really struggling with characterization in my current WIP for the first time in my life and not sure why. True, it's a novella, so that means less time and space to really dig in to a character, but this post made me realize you probably need an SEQ all the more to nail characterization quickly and thoroughly, so thank you for that insight.

    Will definitely be applying this today!

    Hugs,
    Julie

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    1. YAY!! I'm glad it's helpful! So delighted to be here today!!

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  27. Susie, welcome back to Seekerville! Thanks for sharing the specifics of your method in this terrific post! Was great fun to "watch" you interview Owen and see how you got to his core identity and dark moment story. I've taken your workshops at conferences. Your methods and teaching style make sense to me. Off to purchase Story Equation.

    Janet

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    1. Smart move, Janet, for all of us! :)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Wow! Thank you Janet! Thanks for letting me be here today! (and that's high praise coming from you!!) XO!

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  28. Thank you Susie!

    May God bless you and all of Seekerville!

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    1. Thanks, Phyllis, and right back at ya, my friend!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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  29. Susie, this is such a great post! As a reader I appreciate learning about the writing process.

    I'm currently walking out my "dark moment" and trusting the Lord to bring me through.

    Please toss my name in the pirate's chest for a copy of A Matter of Trust.

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    1. Caryl, saying one for you right now in your "dark moment," my sweet friend! Hang in there, darlin'!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. I'll be praying your Dark Moment results in truth and light for you. Hang onto the Lord.

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  30. Welcome to Seekerville, Susie! LOVE your books. (And yes - please throw my name in for Story Equation.)

    SO many great points! My husband and I recently saw The Mountain Between Us based on the book by Charles Martin. Wow! Talk about wounded characters. I won't reveal spoilers for those who haven't seen the movie or read the book, but everything you said is spot-on.

    Fantastic post! Way to prime our pump today - thank you!

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    1. LOL ... those pumps definitely need primin', my friend, especially the old, rusty ones like moi! ;)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Thank you Cynthia for your sweet words. So...now that you've seen the movie, (me too), you can see how the DMS really adds to their motivations. I would have liked to have gone deeper with the heroine, to discover why she became a journalist...I'll bet there is a deeper DMS for her. And they could have done more to add in their wounds, but it was a good story overall. You can only do so much with a movie. :) I liked it. Thanks for posting!

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  31. You are a wealth of great info, Susan. Just yesterday I went through what you said about how to keep scenes from sagging. Thanks for all you do to help writers glorify our Lord.

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    1. oh, you're welcome, LoRee!! Thank you for those kind words!

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  32. Hi Suaie!

    This is a great post, and one I need to print out and read over again, highlighter in hand!

    My strongest characters have a deep black moment in their past. It turns a sweet, pretty heroine into someone with depth and emotions. Thanks for the reminder to bring that out in my current WIP!

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  33. Hello Susan, you’ve brought a lot of information in to a coherent and easy to manage system for brim our characters to life. I love Owen already! Please throw me in the draw for SEQ and I’ll scour amazon for Owen’s book. Thank you for a wonderful keeper post as we all head in to the last months of the year.

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    1. No need to scour. The link is provide above to the left of his hunky cover. :)

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    2. Laurie, Tina's right -- the links are all over this page, so it shouldn't be hard to find on Amazon, where you'll also see Susie's Author Page with the wealth of books she's written.

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    3. Hey, Laurie, by the way, you won one of my e-books in one of my giveaways, so can you shoot me an email via my website or through a FB message? Thanks, sweetie!

      HUGS,
      Julie

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  34. "Know Thy Self"
    Great Oracle of Delphi saying.

    "The unexamined life is not worth living."
    Socrates

    Knowing who you are is very hard to do. Often painful. Often difficult. Often clouded by self decption and wishful thinking. It's like the eye seeing itself without the aid of reflection.

    Your SEQ is also a central question of philosophy. I need to get your, "The Story Equation: How to Plot and Write a Brilliant Story from One Powerful Question," and read it as philosophy. It is said that philosophy (and science) is more a matter of asking the right questions than it is in getting the right answers. As such it would seem that to know who you are you would also have to know all the right questions to ask. Does you SEQ book contain those questions?

    SIDEBAR: One of my great regrets was missing your Saturday workshop in Tulsa years ago. I called to make a reservation and the secretary talked me out of it. She said it was really for women writers. I got the feeling she would not sell a ticket if I asked. So I didn't ask. (And here I am actually pretty well behaved. (Mostly.) )

    QUESTION: I noticed your very highly rated, "If Ever I Would Leave You: A Montana Rescue Prequel", is free on Amazon. How is having a free prequel working for you? That question comes up on Seekerville from time to time. I know Julie has done it. Would you recommend doing this?

    Please place me in the drawing. Also, next time I have the opportunity to attend one of your workshops, I'm going!

    Vince

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    1. Oh, GREAT quotes, Vince, as usual, and great question about the free prequel. Without question, I would say it has been a winner for me, so I imagine Susie would say the same.

      HUGS!!
      Julie

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    2. Vince! I am so sad to miss you in Tulsa! We had men and women there--and it's NOT just for women writers. GRR. The Story Equation really centers around WHY...the fact is, if you can get to that central WHY, and drill down to a story, then all the other questions are answered...what are they afraid of, what do they believe about God or a higher power, about life. What do they feel they must do to protect themselves, what values do they hold...all these central pieces that drive a character through a story. but it all starts with asking WHY. As far as the prequel goes...I've had over 100K downloads on Kindle, and added quite a few people to my newsletter list too. I think in this age of publishing, it is good to have something to whet the whistle of a potential reader. I wanted to hook them into my series, too, so that's why I built the prequel. It's just another way to entice a reader to take a chance on you, and the barrier to entry is really small, so I found it to be successful. Hope to see you at a future workshop!!! (I'll have a special section for men where we ALSO have the game playing on CC television, serve wings and toss a football around. (hmm...I'll be sitting there with you, come to think of it...)) XO!

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  35. Thanks for the great post, Susan. I definitely need to interview my characters. This might help my novel. Please put me in the drawing for either book. A Matter of Trust looks great.

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    1. Hey, Sandy, you're in the draw, girlfriend, so GOOD LUCK!!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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  36. Welcome to Seekerville, Susie!

    I love starting with a simple "Who are you?" and building your character from that.

    But then I get bogged down when I turn to the opposite protag (hero or heroine) and start their "Who are you?" and try to figure out the parallels that make these two the worst AND the best match for each other.

    Well, at least something that's big and bold and brassy enough to carry a whole novel. It can be equally fun and frustrating to figure that out!

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    Replies
    1. I would agree with that, Pam, but then I'm easily "bogged down" as well. ;)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Try and get all the way through the SEQ, (I do them on separate big sheets of paper) and then I start to compare/contrast. That's where I start to see the overlap, as well as the why/why nots. :)

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  37. Glad to have you as our guest today, Susie! This is a post I'll be referring back to again soon. Great reminder that the story all relates back to the characters--who they are now and how they've been shaped by their past.

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  38. Wow, Susie - this is GOLD. Especially for character-driven love stories. I love the interview style questions. I'll be applying this to my WIP-STAT.

    And downloading Owen's story, too!

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    Replies
    1. Agreed, Josee -- this IS gold!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. thanks, Josee!!! Sweet words. I hope you enjoy Owen's story!! XO!

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  39. Hi Susie,
    I lost my book BEFORE I got to the gate for my flight overseas, so I rushed into the bookstore and found Wild Montana Skies. I'm enjoying it and it's like a tutorial of your writing advice put into action on the page. Thanks for the post today!

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    1. YIKES, Lyndee, that's where a Kindle comes in handy for this girl, but I'll bet you're one of those paperback lovers, aren't you? Which means you're not half blind like me ... ;)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. I'm super excited to start this series and I have some uninterrupted reading time scheduled for marathon series reading during the holidays. And books are non fattening.

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    3. Aw, thank you Lyndee!! And I'm delighted you found the book at an airport!! FUN! Thank you for picking it up (and I hope you had a good trip overseas!) Thanks, Tina for reading--I agree reading them in one big sitting is fun. We are trying to get the entire series out within 5 months of each other...so that's pretty fast, too! Thank you all for reading!!!

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  40. I love your books and try to read them all. Please put me in for A Matter of Trust...I have the others in that series and am anxious to read this one!
    THANKS

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, Jackie, you're in the draw, girlfriend, so GOOD LUCK!

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. Thank you Jackie!! WOW!! XO!

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  41. Hi Susie,
    Thank you for this interesting piece. I'm totally stuck on planning my novel as we speak and I think this will help me a lot. What perfect timing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Peggy, you made it -- YAY!! Good luck in the contest, my friend.

      Hugs!!
      Julie

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    2. Yay, Peggy!! If you need more help, head over to www.learnhowtowriteanovel.com - we have a ton of FREE articles on every part of the writing journey (characters, plotting, scenes, editing, etc.) Let me know if you have any questions - we love to help!

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  42. This is something I needed. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL ... me, too, Wilani, so move over! ;)

      Hugs,
      Julie

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    2. I've always considered the idea of an interview of my character to be rather blah, but by specifying, "Ask why," the concept made just enough of a pivot to give me an entirely new perspective. As soon as I write this response, I'm going to my main character and will start asking her lots of why questions! Which will bring me to her dark moment, which will help me focus on the real story, which will...
      Thank you! Please add me to those who are hopeful to win one of your books. While I'd love to read A Matter of Trust, Story Equation is a necessary textbook!

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    3. Great minds, Linda. HA@! See my comment below.

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    4. Thanks, Wilani!! And Linda...just ask why to the BIG questions, until you get to the DMS. The character interviews only get you so far--you need to get into the core of the character, which is the Dark Moment Story. (and then use the SEQ to build a plot!) Let me know if you have any questions. XO!

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  43. I've just been reviewing the line of questioning with Owen above. Really helpful to see how you do it in action. Thank you!

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  44. Replies
    1. No. My parents do. :) And I love it there!!

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  45. Wow, this is so helpful! I really appreciate the way you let us follow along as you dug through the exterior of Owens story to find the core. I also appreciated how you demonstrated the dark moment from films -- I'll have to watch movies at a whole new level!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really helps to analyze movies, Susan. It's funny how you'll see this as soon as you start looking for it!

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  46. Susie,

    Great stuff! Rachel has shared some of it with me. Always more to learn. You rock!

    So glad you could be with us during our 10th Birthday Bash!!!

    Hugs!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for having me! Yes, Rachel is a pro at the SEQ. :)

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  47. I love how you broke that down. Thanks for the insight!

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  48. I highly recommend Susie's book "The Story Equation"! It has really changed the way I plot my stories!
    Happy Birthday, Seekerville!
    Cheers,
    Sue

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Susan!! XOXOXO!!! Glad it's been a help! :)

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  49. Susan, thank you so much for your ministry! I love your books!!!

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  50. Susie, I love the way you describe SEQ. And reading your questioning process was fun and helpful. His answers give a hint of his voice on the page.

    I will say, The Story Equation book has been so helpful for me as I discover who my characters are.

    And it's fun to help others brainstorm out aspects of their character when we know the SEQ pieces. Knowing a dark moment of a character has really helped me define my characters (and help a couple friends do the same).

    Great post, Susie!

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    Replies
    1. Jeanne, you're really getting good at the SEQ...I've been impressed with your stories! And...here's a hint--helping others develop THEIR SEQs actually makes you understand it more. So...great job!!

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  51. I love this idea for getting to know your character and his/her story! Thanks for sharing Susan. I look forward to reading your book.

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  52. This is an awesome post! Thanks for breaking the story down to a question. Will be printing this!

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    Replies
    1. Great!! Let me know if you have any questions! XO!

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  53. Hi Susie, great post. Lots of ideas for developing a story. thanks for being on!!!

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  54. Every time I read or listen to you I get a greater understanding of writing. Thank you for sharing today. I have a copy of the story equation so put my name in for A Matter of Trust only. Have a super day everyone.

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    Replies
    1. What a kind thing to say, Bettie! Thank you!! (and thank you for reading the SEQ!)

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  55. I love this post so much.

    Who am I? The dark moment... I remember when I first stumbled upon those things and realized what they meant to my story consciously. My heroine's parents divorced and her father walked out of her life, so now she had relationship issues- she tried to refute John Donne and be an island, as well as always running away from her former best friend whenever she felt like it. Who was she? A little girl who'd grown up to fast in every aspect except the one she couldn't: relationships.

    Also, I'd like to go in for The Story Equation please.

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  56. Thanks for the great advice!! I will be using this for sure!

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    1. Let me know if you have any questions, Ashton!

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  57. Susie, I had the pleasure of attending yours and Rachel's Post-Conference ACFW2016 Workshop in Nashville. Ever since then I've been drawing circles during my plotting stages and delving into some of the questions you and Rachel discussed in the workshop in regards to my writing. Thank you for today's post.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for attending--that was a fun workshop! And it sounds like you've been diving into some great plotting. Let me know if you have any questions. :)

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  58. Thank you for stopping by, everyone! If you are interested, you can stop by www.learnhowtowriteanovel.com for over 1000 free articles on how to write. Or stop by Novel.Academy and get training to take your writing to the next level! Have a great night and go write something brilliant!! Xoxo, Susie May

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  59. This is such an interesting post. I'm preparing for NaNoWriMo and I think this will help. Thanks so much!

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  60. Thanks Susie May and Julie Lessman for this post. As a reader it's very interesting to know some of the ways authors come up with well rounded plots and characters. Thanks for the info. Also want to say Happy Anniversary Seekerville!

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  61. I knew I was tired when it took me a second to figure out that SEQ referred to Story Equation. I've always heard about interviewing your characters to learn more about them. However, this seems to take it a step further than what I'd always heard before.

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  62. Stopping in late (as usual, LOL) but still wanted to say THANK YOU for this awesome post, Susie May! Going into my Keeper File!
    Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo

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  63. I enjoyed seeing you on one of the panels of CFRR. I enjoyed reading your article. Thanks for the chance to win.
    Becky B.

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  64. What a fantastic post! You just may have saved my writing! Thanks, Susie!

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  65. That was really interesting! If I was an author that would help me quite a bit. The people that wants to be authors and the new authors need to read this because it might make things a lot easier for them. Congratulations on 10 yrs Seekerville!

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  66. Awesome post! Loved your examples!

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  67. Very interesting idea. I sorta do this but I like the end result you explain. Also want to read Owen's story now.

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  68. Thanks for the post! As a reader, I've never paused and thought about why I like certain books, characters, authors. After reading each post on Seekerville, I am gaining insight into my reading preferences. Thanks for making me a better reader!

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  69. Thanks for a thought-provoking post! I've used character interviews before, but I like your idea of going deeper! Thank you for showing us how.

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    1. Let me know if you have any questions, Hope!

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  70. I learn so much from authors here.. reading just gets better as you learn about the authors you read..
    Congratulations on 10 yrs Seekerville!

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  71. I'm working on my NaNo prep and this post was just the thing I needed to amp it up. Thank you so much!!

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