Monday, February 20, 2017

Strong Inciting Incidents Generate Strong Stories

Janet here. In my January post, I talked about the importance of strong inciting incidents to hook the reader. For those who might have missed that post, I’ll repeat the definition of an inciting incident.

An inciting incident is an event or situation in the story’s opening that brings change and spurs the character to action. This change should threaten the character or his goal or his self-concept or all three. The threat needs to be something readers can relate to, something that will make readers worry about the character, something that will lead readers to ask questions that will keep them turning pages to find answers.

In response to that post, Villager Vince Mooney pointed out that expanding on the inciting incident creates the story, eliminates the problem of the 'sagging middle' and brings a satisfactory conclusion. Vince's points are important. Important enough to merit another post. 

Strong inciting incidents aren’t just a gimmick writers use in the opening to hook the reader. Strong inciting incidents trigger the entire story. The event or situation that threatens the character forces him to act. His actions produce conflict that makes things worse. The character then must regroup and take another action, moving the story forward. This action/reaction is repeated time and time again, but each time the stakes need to be raised.  

I'll use the inciting incident in my novel The Substitute Bride to show how it triggers and produces the mail-order bride story I wanted to write. 

A strong inciting incident triggers the story. I wanted to create an inciting incident that would put the heroine between the proverbial rock and a hard place. So I gave Chicago debutante Elizabeth Manning a father who is determined to marry her off to an old geezer who promised to pay his gambling debts in exchange for his daughter’s hand. Set in 1899, the story opens on the eve of Elizabeth's wedding. The clock is ticking and since the groom turns Elizabeth's stomach, the stakes are high. If Elizabeth stays, tomorrow morning she’ll be trapped in a loveless marriage and her little brother Robby will be sent to boarding school. This is the “So what?” Dr. Mobry spoke about here.

With no money and not much of a plan, Elizabeth decides to run, promising Robby she’ll return for him in a month, before the bank forecloses on their house. Elizabeth’s promise to her brother becomes another ticking clock. I raised the stakes for her by taking away the little money she had (her father had taken it out of her purse) and the support of her aristocratic friends who turned their backs on the now penniless Manning family. Though the story is laced with humor, this inciting incident hopefully builds sympathy for Elizabeth, hooks readers and makes them worry. 

Strong inciting incidents involve hard choices, raised stakes, dramatic action and when possible, ticking clocks. 

So how does this inciting incident get Elizabeth into the mail-order bride marriage I want and trigger the entire story?

Elizabeth’s a strong, determined woman. She has no one to run to for help so she goes to the railroad station, figuring somehow she’ll find a way to board a train. After a night spent on a bench in the depot, Elizabeth comforts a weeping young woman and learns that Sally is a mail-order bride with cold feet. In exchange for the ticket to New Harmony, Iowa, all Elizabeth has to do is switch places with this homesick farm girl and marry her farmer groom. Elizabeth has no interest in marrying anyone, much less a total stranger who might be worse husband material than the old geezer she’s running from. So why would she switch places with Sally and give me the mail-order bride story I want?

Motivation is the key. To motivate Elizabeth I take away her options by bringing her father and the old geezer to the station. When Elizabeth sees them heading her way, she grabs the identifying silk flower, the ticket, and then boards the train, certain that once she arrives in Iowa, she won’t marry the groom. Do you see how a strong inciting incident and a motivated character creates the action? In this case, the inciting incident forces Elizabeth to choose between two bad scenarios.

This is a romance novel so what’s my hero’s motivation for marrying a stranger?

Widower Ted Logan can’t take care of his two young children and work his farm. With no eligible women in town, Ted advertised for a mail-order bride. In the letters he exchanged with Sally, she assured him she can cook, do chores and take care of his children. Ted has no idea that the woman stepping off the train is a pampered debutante who’s never done more than boil water.  

This "fish out of water" heroine is not what Ted ordered. This mismatched pair guarantees things won't go smoothly if Elizabeth marries Ted. Of course, Elizabeth plans to do no such thing.

Which brings me to another point…

Strong inciting incidents require strong characters. Except for his gambling addiction, Elizabeth is like her determined father. She’s capable of taking drastic measures to get what she wants, including lying. She’s got a lot to learn about God, but that’s not the point of this post. Except to say, strong characters are not perfect characters. They have weaknesses, make mistakes and fail. In fact, you’ll want to make sure they do.   

Now that Elizabeth is safely away from the trouble motivating her to run, how does the inciting incident keep the story going?

Again strong motivations make characters act. In the story’s opening, Elizabeth’s younger brother Robby yearns for life on a farm with animals, especially a dog. Elizabeth had promised she’d get him a dog once they are settled. Ted can give Robby both. Even if Elizabeth had the skill to get a job in this small farm community, which doesn’t appear likely, she’d earn only enough to rent a room in a boarding house. She wants to give her motherless, insecure little brother a good life. For Robby’s sake, she decides to marry a stranger, but can't go through with it until she tells the truth about her identity. Though Ted’s shocked and angry about the switch, he's desperate to have a caretaker for his children. He asks Elizabeth three questions. Satisfied with her answers, the town preacher marries them. Their wedding is one of the most entertaining scenes I've ever written. I still grin when I think about it. Desperate characters taking desperate actions can create a suspense or comedy, anything the writer chooses. To keep this story from becoming slapstick, I give Elizabeth and Ted deep-seated wounds. Wounds that create internal conflict and keep them from falling in love. Strong characters need depth. Their pasts need to cause them as much trouble as their present.

Though Ted is willing to wait for Elizabeth to love him, he’s stunned by her inability to handle his home and children. The strong inciting incident leads to Elizabeth’s daily struggles, especially with Ted’s daughter’s hostility, and ensures that the middle of the story doesn’t sag. Elizabeth’s goal is to keep the marriage going so she can bring Robby to the farm. But she keeps his existence secret until she admits her plan in the middle of an argument. Though Ted is keeping secrets of his own, he is livid. Things get worse when Robby arrives and doesn’t fit any more than Elizabeth. Elizabeth even takes Robby and moves out for a while. This "time out" is important to the story, as it gives Elizabeth time to heal, to find out who she is and what she wants. Both she and Ted miss each other, but still have a lot  to overcome. 

So how does a strong inciting incident make for a satisfying ending? 

The satisfying ending is the result of the characters overcoming the obstacles that the inciting incident created for them. Ted and Elizabeth married without love, without knowing one another, without sharing their pasts or secrets. Elizabeth was woefully unprepared to be a wife and mother. The inciting incident threw them together but the odds were against them, Through the actions they take and the lessons they learn, characters are forced to grow and change. That growth is the result of the inciting incident's strong call to action. 

Another point: The happily ever after ending works best when it mimics the inciting incident in some way. By that I mean, we writers can use the elements that forced the character to act, to now give them their happy ending. Elizabeth's father arrives, a changed man thanks to events that happen during the story so the man that created the situation is now the man who shares in their HEA. Ted purposes to Elizabeth and they will renew their vows. This time they know each other, are keeping no secrets and choose to marry because they're in love, not because the inciting incident forces them to. 

When we writers create strong inciting incidents, they will propel the characters through the book, eliminating a sagging middle and giving the satisfying ending we all want. 

Think of the inciting incident in your work in progress or in a book you’ve read. Did these situations or events move the characters to action? Trigger the entire story? Keep the middle from sagging? Bring about a satisfactory ending? 

Share an inciting incident that worked for you for a chance to win an eBook of The Substitute Bride.

I brought coffee and tea, fresh sliced peaches, homemade biscuits and crisp bacon. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Weekend Edition

Welcome to the Weekend Edition!
"Look How Far We've Come!"

If you are not familiar with our giveaway rules, take a minute to read them here. It keeps us all happy! All winners should send their name, address, and phone number to claim prizes. Send to

Weekend Edition Chocolate winners are: Phyllis Wheeler, Walt Mussell, and Cate Nolan.

Monday: The winner of a copy (ebook or print) of Alone by Edie Melson is DebH!

Tuesday: Four winners today! Cindy W. is the winner of the heart-shaped pencil holder. Winnie Thomas is the winner of Myra Johnson's novel Castle in the Clouds. Caryl Kane is the winner of a $10 Starbucks gift card. Stacy Simmons is the winner of a Seeker book of choice.

Wednesday: Debby Giusti lead us in a discussion of "The Mentor's Role in The Hero's Journey." The winner of a copy of "The Writer's Journey," by Christopher Vogler is Meghan Carver.

Thursday: Winner of a print or ebook copy of Dr. Richard Mabry's  latest release, Medical Judgement is Connie Queen.

Monday: Join Love Inspired Historical author Janet Dean for her post "Strong Inciting Incidents Generate Strong Stories." Leave a comment for a chance to win an eBook copy of The Substitute Bride. 

Tuesday: Dr. Dennis Hensley is our guest today sharing his expertise as both a writer and college teacher of creative writing with his post on writing dialogue. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of one of his craft books or one of his fiction books.   

Wednesday: Join Love Inspired author Glynna Kaye for "Training vs Trying: The Benefits of Perspective" and an opportunity to be entered into a drawing for a copy of her May 2017 release, The Nanny Bargain. 

Thursday: Karen Witemeyer returns to Seekerville with her fun post, "Using Readers for Story Inspiration." One lucky commenter will win an autographed copy of the book that started the Ladies of Harper's Station series – No Other Will Do.

Friday: Best of the Archives: "Never Miss a Chance to Speedbo" with Tina Radcliffe. Comments are closed on Fridays so we can catch up with our reading and writing.

COVER REVEAL! Glynna Kaye’s May 2017 release of “The Nanny Bargain” – a "Hearts of Hunter Ridge" series inspirational romance set in mountain country Arizona. Pre-order here!

Concerned for his orphaned twin brothers, outdoor-gear shop owner Sawyer Banks urges new employee Tori Janner to apply for the nanny position their grandparents are advertising…and spy for him. With plans to start over in Hunter Ridge and dreams of reviving her quilting business, Tori takes the job—but refuses to report to Sawyer unless the boys' welfare is in danger. But soon it's her own heart that's in jeopardy. Because after spending time with the committed bachelor, she starts to see the depth behind his easy charm—and begins to imagine herself as his wife.

Debby Giusti invites Seekerville friends to join her at Romancing the Smokies  March 17 - 18. Knoxville, TN. A getaway weekend filled with authors, readers, books, yummy food and lots of fun!

Thanks for the link love!

TBL Details and the Contest Score Sheet Can Be Found Here!

 9 Statistics Writers Should Know About Amazon (Jane Friedman)

Book Marketing: What to Expect in 2017 (Ryan Zee)

Inner Conflict (Michael Hauge's Story Mastery)

5 Ways to Help An Author You Love (PR by the Book)

How to Protect Your Creative Work (The Creative Penn)

The Secret of a Successful Mystery: Making the Reader a Participator (Writers Helping Writers)

Remove the Barriers in Fiction (The Steve Laube Agency Blog)

Quiet Doesn't Cut It: Why Your Brain Might Work Better In Silence (Fast Company)

Naming characters: 5 steps to find fictional character names (Now Novel)

Got Galleys? What They Are and Why You Need Them (Writer Unboxed)

All About Beta Readers: 7 Ways They Can Improve Your Book (Anne R Allen)

8 Ways to Troubleshoot a Scene–and 5 Ways Make It Fabulous (Writers Helping Writers)

Writers Police Academy Registration Opens on Sunday. Details here. 
Sisters in Crime is once again is offering a $150 registration discount to all SinC members attending the WPA for the first time. The WPA Golden Donut Contest, a fun, prestigious 200-word short story contest also opens this Sunday. The winner of the 2017 contest will once again get a FREE registration to a 2018 WPA event in addition to the cool trophy.

Seekerville is getting ready for 2017 Speedbo. Read the rules here and prepare for the sign up that begins TODAY! Everyone who signs up by 11:59 pm March 1,  is included in a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card

For each additional fifty participants, We toss another $25 gift card into the mix. Weekly prize giveaways for WRITERS & READERS are listed here. All prizes on the list may be claimed April 1. During March we WRITE!

Don't delay.  Get ready for Speedbo NOW!

To prepare we're giving away three copies of 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron. (for Kindle) Let us know if you want to be in the sneaker for this book! Winners announced in the next Weekend Edition.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Best of the Archives: "Grab Your Hard Hats! We're Building in Seekerville!"

Originally there was a picture of Mike Rowe here, RIGHT HERE... but then I got worried that Mike might find the picture and sue us and then all of these years of hard work are for naught!!!! because Ruthy used a Mike Rowe picture. (Big Sigh Here.) If I had random pics of guys in hard hats wandering around the farm, I'd post one. Alas, that's out of my farm girl wheelhouse! But I do have a great shot of Farmer Seth guiding one of our big rototillers through God-given soil... And he's even cuter than Mike! Either way, the Ruthy lesson provides great info, regardless, so here you go, another look at "Building Characters" because that's one of the things I love best about storytelling.

A hero should always be able to get the job done, conquer obstacles in his path, figure out what needs to be accomplished and then do it. Even if it's scary. Or draining. Or life-sucking. Like those snakes in Indiana Jones and the Temple Whose-a-ma-jiggy. Whatever.

And then take a shower.

Building characters is like building a house. Or a business. Pretty much anything you put your hand to. Ya' gotta start with a firm foundation. Now I lost my firm foundation about fifteen years ago, but that's a whole other blog and I'm pretty sure Life-style Lift won't lift what's gone south.

Let's start with Colt Stafford from "Back in the Saddle" because I know him well, I've fielded lots of drooling e-mails about him and he's a great guy to begin with because we've talked about unforgettable heroes. What makes them tick. What makes us want to 'fix' them. Care for them. What makes them stand out. 

Building analogies WORK for visual learners:

A sandwich....

Bread or roll = book's beginning and end
Filling: Layers... meat, veggies, cheese, mayo, peppers, tomatoes, onions, Italian oil... Picture these as your scenes. Your "content" to bridge from one part of the roll (beginning) to the second part of the roll (end)

If you're not into sandwiches, how about this building analogy:


No matter what else happens in life, you can never go wrong with cake. Promise.

Plain cake is well... Plain. Boring. Don't try to convince me otherwise, you're wasting your breath.

Jeeps creeps, are ya' kiddin' me?


Another great analogy.

Cake...frosting....pudding....jelly....ganache (look it up, it's SOOO worth it)...custard....fudge sauce....more cake....frosting and decorations.

Again, it's the layering that pumps in the conflict and scenes needed in the middle.
Picture weak conflict as cake without eggs.
Using brown and white eggs is an amazing teachable moment about skin tone. Inside: it's an egg. Color makes no difference. Lovely lesson.

That is the only FLAT analogy I'm giving you except maybe Matza bread.
Matza bread is also flat. (that reminds me there is now a SESAME STREET SHALOM show that teaches about Jewish customs. Great learning opportunity. Adorable. Beautifully done.
Okay, off topic.)

I wanted to do a secret baby story ever since I heard about West Point's policy on marriage and parenthood: Cadets cannot be married or responsible for a child. So what if the heroine hides the child because the hero will lose his West Point appointment?

That's a good beginning. It makes sense to me. Stupid reasons for secret babies annoy me. But self-sacrifice? I can believe that.

OR: a threat to the child if fatherhood is revealed? I could be convinced of that as well, because certain men draw dangerous interest. Safety of the child would come first to a mother, right? But to make it real I can't just SAY IT. Although I'd like to. It would make my job easier. And I'd have more time for bon bons and foot rubs.

But the boss won't let me, so I have to build that platform, that foundation. And that's where "WHY?" comes in.

Why would going to West Point matter that much to anyone?

Here's a list:

Family honor
Love of country
Love of service
Pride in the appointment
Give-back mentality
Need for respect
Need to prove one's self
Love carrying major league cool weaponry
Babe magnet

The military academies are in a class of their own. A friend whose son was a West Point graduate told me stepping onto that campus was like entering another world. A world of right and wrong, respect, integrity, work ethic, equality, faith and honor. She said it amazed her how openly people worshipped, how respectful everyone was to guests and one another, and the overall feel of being there was something she'd never forget. So for Trent I combined a 'Give Back Mentality' with "Need for respect" and "Need to prove one's self".

And the babe magnet aspects aren't too hard to take, either!

But that only begins my platform. Again: WHY does he need to give back? Is it a personality glitch? Is it atonement for past wrongs? Is it payback?

WHAT happened to him that made him want to serve? To be recognized, although humble? Be a leader?

His parents dumped him as a four-year-old child. Trashed him. Led him out into a field along I-86 and drove off, leaving him to wander in the cold and snow. A pair of hunters rescued him, and the whole town kind of adopted him, their boy. Their little man. The 'town' son. So he's surrounded by love, but abandoned by the one person who should love him most: his mother.

Now my platform is spreading. Thickening. It's becoming more supportive, like building a nice basement, but you've gotta have some solid 2X4 action going on to lay subflooring, right?

Trent longs for respect. He longs for a family. He needs to prove himself.


Being dumped messes with the ego. His fragile sense of self is wounded. He started out the day with parents and a little brother, and ended it with no one. Nothing. Abandoned and left to die. That's a tough thing to hand a kid.

And then he had to identify his little brother's remains because Mom and Dad dumped little Clay two counties east of where they dumped Trent.

Now we have guilt. Sorrow. Loss.

Four-year-old Trent is pretty sure he could have saved Clay if they'd dumped them together. That's a lot to put on four-year-old shoulders, but I'm sure we've all known kids like that. Kids that carry old souls in young bodies.

Trent is an anomaly. Sure, he grows up in a nice town with a lovely foster family. He's a football star, a town favorite, a grid-iron magician that sets hearts on fire every Friday night under the lights as he leads his hometown team to a state title.

But everyone knows his story. Everyone watches. Everyone shares the pride in his success, and a part of him would just like to be normal, with a typical family, a normal boy, then a normal guy.

He falls in love with the boss's daughter in high school. Things go too far, and he realizes he disrespected her because it was HIS JOB to shelter her. Not take advantage of her. So when she leaves him and goes off to school, his GUILT from Clay, from enhanced responsibility, from that inner-ego makes it seem justified to him. He'd let her down by making love to her.

She was right to leave.

Bringing Trent back home was easy. He "OWED" the town. They'd saved him. Cherished him. Loved him. Watched over him. So the very thing that set him apart while growing up, became his reason to return.

Honorable men pay their debts.

Helping the hometown climb out of an economic downturn was the least he could do.

External conflict was easy-peasy: She'd taken his child and lied and he'd be totally emasculated to trust her again.

Internal conflict had to show why he grew up to be who he was, what he was, why he was. And that started a long, long time ago.


Come on inside. Easy breakfast this morning because time's short today! Grab a bagel, fixin's on the side, yes, fish and onions and cream cheese and fruit and garlic spread and olives. I love cream cheese and green olives on toasted bagels. To die for.

Oh, so delish!
Comments are turned off today to give you and us some writing time... but you can always find me on facebook or e-mail me at, because I love talking about books and writing!

Multi-published, award-winning, bestselling author Ruthy Logan Herne loves God, her family, her country, coffee, chocolate, dogs and all kinds of pretty flowers... and she loves to talk storytelling! Tucked in her upstate New York farmhouse (where if she fixes one thing, she breaks two more!) she's facing a winter of mud, not snow...  She's got five books coming out in 2017: "Their Surprise Daddy," (Love Inspired) "Peace in the Valley", (Waterbrook Press), "A Light in the Darkness" (Mysteries of Martha's Vineyard, Guideposts) "The Lawman's Yuletide Baby" (Love Inspired) and "Welcome to Wishing Bridge" (Amazon/Waterfall Press).... So she's feeling particularly blessed these days! 

Stop on over to her website friend her on facebook as RuthLoganHerne 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Makes a Story Great?

“It isn’t a story until something goes wrong.” Wow, that’s a one-line course in writing a novel that will hold the attention of the reader. But surely there’s more to it than that.

After I read those words about what makes a story, I started thinking about all the elements that really do make a story. How do you put words and thoughts together to produce something a reader can’t put down even though the clock says morning will come in a hurry. Is it the plot line? Could it be the story arc? Are the characters holding the reader’s attention—does he or she identify with them? The answer to all these questions is, “Yes, and—“

One of the first Christian writers’ conferences I attended was held at Mount Hermon, California. I could name all the great writers from whom I learned at that conference and later, and there were a lot of them, but I’d probably forget and leave someone out. Let’s just say that I owe any success I’ve enjoyed in my journey along this road to writing to lots of people. But let me focus on one person and one phrase because this helps illustrate the point I’m trying to make.

I asked Jeff Gerke to take a look at my work in progress and give me some suggestions to improve it. We sat down on a sofa in the lounge, and I began to sketch out what I visualized. Jeff listened attentively for a couple of minutes, and then said, “So what?”

I tried harder to explain what the novel was about, and again, Jeff said, “So what?”

This went on for ten or fifteen minutes, with me going into greater detail on the storyline, telling him more and more about all the things that were going to happen, and Jeff responding with those two words that, by now, infuriated me. “So what?”

Then, as though a light bulb had been lit above my head, I got it. What Jeff was saying was the same thing other mentors have said in different words. What was at stake? If the hero or heroine failed at their task, what would happen? And, just as important, would the reader care?

In his excellent book The Writer’s Journey, Vogler says that every good story, from the time of Beowulf onward, includes most of the twelve steps he lists. At the beginning, we see the problem or the prize that stands before the hero (and here I’ll use the masculine form but we’re talking heroine also). They must achieve a goal, overcome a flaw, learn a lesson, do something or there are consequences. In some of our stories, they must succeed or die. In others, they have to navigate stormy waters to achieve true love. But whatever the driving situation of the story, the reader must quickly see the answer to the question Jeff Gerke posed to me: “So what?”

Looking at it another way, the reader fairly quickly must be invested to the point that they are rooting for (or in rare cases, against) the central character. The goal must be one that’s fairly obvious, not only to the hero or heroine but also to the person reading about it. This brings up another characteristic of a great story, one that’s as important as “so what?” A good story must be populated by characters with whom the reader can readily identify.

In my case, romance doesn’t drive my story—suspense or mystery does. In my genre, the protagonist faces “death” in a number of ways—physical, emotional, or professional, to name the most common forms. In one of my books, the physician has allegedly made a mistake in a prescription that may kill a patient and/or cause the doctor’s suspension. In another, the female physician finds that someone wants to do away with her—but she doesn’t know who or why. In a third, the protagonist finds that her fiancĂ© isn’t actually who he seems to be—he’s in the witness protection program, and his true identity can’t be leaked.

The stakes are such that if the hero or heroine doesn’t succeed, they’ll be “dead” in one of the ways I have listed. The problem may be presented fairly quickly, or if we are to follow the outline presented by Vogler, there may be an initial refusal before the protagonist’s hand is forced and the plot moves forward. But whenever and however it’s made clear, the goal must be achieved, or…so what?

Although I’m a confirmed devotee of “writing by the seat of my pants,” I generally start with a one-line hook: something like “A disillusioned sea captain continues his lifelong search for a white whale.” Then I populate the story with the hero and/or heroine as well as other major characters. I pick an inciting incident, craft what Jim Bell calls a “knockout ending,” and decide on a couple of twists along the way to keep the reader interested. These may change, but I can’t start a novel without them. And I’d recommend that—whether plotter or pantser—the individual who wants to write a compelling story do the same.

Sometimes after I’ve written several thousand words, I find that my opening scene or even the initial chapter don’t hold my attention, despite the brilliant prose I’ve written. So I look into the first several scenes or chapters, find one that grabs me, and (with a great deal of anguish) start over in media res. In other words, the best first scene is often the second or third scene, or even the second chapter. What went before can either be inserted as backstory or consigned to the trash bin, thus upholding the oft-repeated advice to “murder your darlings.” To reiterate, write something that will get your reader’s attention, even if it means starting over a couple of times. The end result will be worth it.

So, to review, I believe the keys to a successful story are these:

(1) “So what?” There has to be something at stake so that if the hero or heroine doesn’t succeed, they “die”—physically, emotionally, professionally, or whatever.

(2) Characters with whom the reader can identify, making a journey that counts. We’re told that all protagonists are flawed, and the transition they make as the novel progresses is something that keeps the readers engaged. I’d add that it’s not always the central character that changes the most. 

3) The hand of God. I know this is trite, but I believe it is true. There are times when I go back and read one of my earlier novels and think, “I don’t remember writing this—but it’s good.” Then it dawns on me—as Mother Teresa said, I am but a pencil in the hand of a writing God. And that’s an honor I feel fortunate to have. My prayer is that you will have that same honor. Now go write.

But first, tell me this—what do you think makes a story great?

*        *        *
Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician, now writing “medical suspense with heart.” His previous novels have garnered critical acclaim and been finalists for ACFW’s Carol Award, the Romantic Times’ Inspirational Book of the Year, the Inspirational Readers Choice, and the Selah Award. He is a proud member of the ACFW, the International Thriller Writers, the Christian Authors Network, and the FHL chapter of the RWA. Cardiac Event will be his eleventh published novel. 

You can learn more about him at his website, his blog, his Facebook fan page and/or his Twitter page.

Seekerville is giving away a print or ebook copy of Richard's latest release, Medical Judgement to one commenter. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.

Someone is after Dr. Sarah Gordon. It’s been tough trying to recover from the traumatic deaths of her husband and infant daughter, but now someone is stalking her and has even set fire to her home. Her late husband’s best friend and a recovering alcoholic detective assigned to the case are both trying to solve the mystery, but both are also vying for her affections. No wonder she continues to live in fear and distrust with her only help coming from unreliable suitors. As the threats on her life continue to escalate, so do the questions: Who is doing this? And why? And how will her faith help her through this time in her life?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Mentor's Role in The Hero's Journey

By Debby Giusti

Any conversation on mentors starts in 8th century BC Greece when Homer composed The Odyssey. His epic poem takes place ten years after the Iliad, Odysseus has not yet returned home from the Trojan War and his twenty-year-old son, Telemachus, needs guidance. The goddess Athena--disguised as a character Homer named Mentor--is sent to help the lad and provide the wise counsel he needs. Since Homer’s time, the term mentor has been given to all characters serving in that role of guide and/or counselor.

Mosaic depicting Odysseus, villa of La Olmeda,
Pedrosa de la Vega, Spain, late 4th-5th C AD
(CC BY-SA 3.0. File: Villa Romana de La Olmeda Mosicos romanos 001 Ulises.jpg. 8 June 2011)

The mentor character type has often been portrayed as a wise old man or woman who offers advice like a loving parent. An example that comes to mind is the fairy godmother in Cinderella. Mentors frequently are former heroes, such as a coach who excelled at a particular sport and now instructs the young star on the ins and outs of the game.  While usually a seasoned veteran, the mentor can also be a young person—even a child—who offers words of wisdom and/or information the hero needs to successfully achieve his goals. Think of the teen computer whiz who might help a statesman or government bureaucrat, especially if the cyber security of our nation hangs in the balance. For anyone old enough to remember Shirley Temple movies, the child-star always provided simple, yet logical advice that spurred the older characters to take the high road when conflicted about a certain decision.


What’s an archetype? provides this definition: The original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.

An archetype is a character used repeatedly in fables, tales and myths. Since the mentor has universal appeal and is found in stories and fables down through the ages, it is considered one the basic literary archetypes and thus an important tool for writers.

The following archetypes are frequently found in literature:
Threshold Guardian


Interestingly, Carl G. Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology in the early 1900s, wrote about archetypes as being “constantly repeating characters or energies which occur in the dreams of all people and the myths of all cultures.” Jung claimed that these characters sprang from the collective unconscious common to all humankind. If there’s any truth in what Jung espoused, then it would behoove us as writers to tap into the universality of the archetypes as a resource to ensure our stories resonate with readers.

Carl G. Jung, Orstsmuseum Zollikon,
artist unknown. (PD-US)


How do we know that these basic literary archetypes, including the mentor, are universally found in stories? We can thank Joseph Campbell, a writer, professor and mythologist, born at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Campbell studied mythology extensively and deduced that all myths, whether passed down as oral tradition or written expression, contain the same basic format. That same basic format and character archetypes are found worldwide, and are common in all cultures, tribes, peoples, races and nationalities. According to Campbell, this universal format is, indeed, the journey taken by man and is at the heart of who we are as human beings. He named the structure The Hero’s Journey and published his findings, in 1949, in a book entitled, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” 


While taking classes at USC in the 1980s, Christopher Vogler was introduced to Campbell’s work and instantly connected with The Hero’s Journey and the mythical elements common in all stories. Vogler recognized that those films that followed the mythical structure, such as Star Wars, were box office hits.

Eventually, Vogler accepted a position with Walt Disney Company as a story analyst. It was there that he penned a seven-page memo, which he titled “A Practical Guide to The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” The memo circulated through Disney and then traveled to other Hollywood studios as more and more people recognized the formula for successful story creation into which Vogler had tapped.


Vogler expanded that first memo into an excellent book called The Writer’s Journey, which provides a more in-depth look at the mythical structure. The book, now in its third edition, is a favorite of mine, and one I believe every writer would be well served to read and review often in his or her own writing journey. I’m giving away a copy to someone who visits this blog today and leaves a comment. Let me know if you’d like to be in the drawing.


Vogler identifies the following functions of the mentor. I’ve provided examples, although I’m sure you can think of many more.

Teaching – Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid
Gift-Giving – Fairy godmother in Cinderella
Inventor – Doc Emmett Brown in the movie, Back to the Future
The Hero’s Conscience – Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio
Motivation – Mary Poppins, a teacher but also a motivator 
Planting—(information, a clue, a prop) “Q” in the James Bond movies (“Q” gives  007 gadgets early in the movie that will be needed later in the story)
Sexual Initiation--(provides advice on love) Alex Hitchens, a date doctor, in the movie Hitch

Examples from my own stories include the following:

In Nowhere to Hide, my debut novel, the heroine, Lydia Sloan, hides out in her beloved aunt’s oceanfront home. Although the aunt is traveling in Ireland, the two women keep in touch by phone. The aunt’s kind and loving advice, as well as gifts she provides for Lydia and her son, help Lydia feel at home in her secluded hideaway. Even more important is the aunt’s stitched sampler bearing the words, “Jesus, I trust in you.” When danger looms, Lydia reflects on her aunt’s faith and draws strength from the short prayer.
Everyone has a secret in Countdown to Death. The hero’s kindly aunt provides sage advice and clues to a decade-old murder that has bearing on why five people in a small Georgia town come down with a rare, deadly disease.

The hero’s sister in Stranded shares insights into the hero’s character and reveals information about his past that positively impacts the relationship between the hero and heroine.

When characters have already learned the lessons they need to achieve their goals, a real-time mentor is not necessary within the story. The hero can reflect on a past mentor, such as a military instructor or a favorite chaplain who has brought him to faith or has provided life lessons that will save the hero in time of danger.  

In Scared to Death, the heroine lovingly remembers the grandfather who raised her as she tries to uncover the truth about an old friend’s untimely death.  A missing cross given to her by her grandfather is found and serves as an external sign of her grandfather’s love and the faith he taught her.

The first two stories in my new Amish Protectors series both have mentors that help the heroines learn about the Amish faith and way of life. In each instance, the concern and acceptance of the caring Amish women—one is the hero’s sister and the other an innkeeper—help the heroines make the transition to the plain world.

Who are the memorable mentors in the stories you love to read? In what ways did they help the protagonist? How did their presence add depth to the story? Have you used the mentor archetype in your own stories? What did your mentor teach your protagonist? Or what function did the mentor provided in the story?


Note to self: Check the archives before writing a blog post!

Finding blog topics for Seekerville is becoming a challenge. After ten years of sharing writing tips and techniques, it’s hard to come up with something original.

When I needed to select my blog topic to insert in the last Weekend Edition, I looked in my writing toolbox and pulled out THE MENTOR, thinking the topic would provide an interesting discussion. I should have checked the archives. Tina Radcliffe wrote an excellent blog in 2014 on “Understanding The Mentor Archetype.” Cross my heart that I didn’t read her post until after mine was written, which means that Tina and I must think alike because we both shared similar information found in The Writer’s Journey. Check out Tina’s blog HERE, but be sure to come back and take part in today’s discussion. Remember, leave a comment to be entered in the drawing for a copy of The Writer’s Journey.

Happy Writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti

By Debby Giusti


Miriam Miller barely escapes the ruthless attacker that killed her mother and kidnapped her sister. Running deeper into the woods, she’s running out of hope…until she falls into the arms of an unlikely bodyguard—a peaceful Amish farmer. Something about Abram Zook inspires her trust, but even in bucolic Willkommen, Georgia, Miriam faces danger. Both from the men pursuing her and from her growing feelings for the caring—though guarded— widower who protects her. Because if she falls for Abram she’ll have to embrace his Amish faith as her own—or lose him. With each minute, her abductor creeps closer, pushing Miriam to an inevitable choice: stay and risk her heart…or leave and risk her life.

Pre-order HERE!