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October 2012

Reporter: Chandra Lynn Smith

Chandra Lynn SmithSmith is a professional dog trainer, owner of Best Friend Dog Training in Littlestown, PA. Chandra writes “Letters from the Dog House,” a weekly column for The Evening Sun. She is a member of ACFW and writes for the online CFOM publication and the ACFW Journal. She lives on a small farm in South Central Pennsylvania with her husband, four sons, two dogs, and one cat.

Presenter: Susan May Warren

Susan May WarrenWarren is the RITA award-winning author of 35 novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill, and Summerside Press. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, the ACFW Carol Award, and is the founder of

Presenter: Chip MacGregor

Chip MacGregorMacGregor is the kilt-wearing president of MacGregor LIterary, Inc., a full-service literary agency that works in both CBA as well as the general market. Chip has been working in the publishing industry for three decades, and made his living as a freelance writer and editor for several years. Last year he represented more than a dozen books that hit various bestseller lists, including multiple #1 bestsellers, and landed his authors more contracts than any other literary agent in the United States.

Workshop 23: The Four Pillars Of A Bestselling Novel

Four pillarsAccording to instructors Chip MacGregor and Susan May Warren, every best-selling novel or blockbuster movie has four key elements that make the story great: heroism, sacrifice, redemption, and justice. Using blockbuster movies and best-selling books as examples, in their ACFW conference workshop The Four Pillars of a Bestseller they taught us how to put them in our manuscripts.


Acts of heroism take the character from everyday life toward a noble sacrifice. Little choices, made consistently over time, begin the process of heroism. Even if the character makes selfish choices for a while, at some point the journey becomes noble.


When a character’s journey moves into the heroic, there will be a sacrificial moment. In that moment, the character faces either giving up or doing something he would never do. As the writer, ask:

  • What is the one thing your character would never give up or do?
  • What would make her do it?
  • How can she sacrifice her dream in the story?

Then it is up to the writer make that very thing happen.


Within the moment of sacrifice, the character is changed and made ready to face the final battle. Redemption is found in the climatic end. As the character faces the toughest challenge, he must experience a loss so great it derails the quest. Then he is reminded of how he has changed. The reminder can be from another character, from within, or from something happening externally.

Either way, it is in remembering how he has changed that he is enabled to win victory over the battle. Redemption is built within the story from all of the things the character must put right. And, it needs to be personal to him.


After the redemption, readers need justice. The ending may not always be happy, but it must be believable. At this stage, look at your novel. What injustices in the book bother you? Then decide how to bring justice to each situation. Then and only then, the novel ends with a satisfied reader eager to spread the word about the amazing book.

Column image courtesy of Idea go/



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