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October 2011

Reporter: Delores Topliff

Delores TopliffDelores Topliff is a freelance writer, editor, publisher, teacher, and speaker with more than 200 publications. Besides teaching at Northwestern College in St. Paul, and presenting seminars, she is president of the 130-member Minnesota Christian Writers Guild. She provides writing-editing consulting through Creative Design Services, and operates TrueNorth Publishing: A Friend to Writers.

Editor: Dawn Kinzer

Dawn KinzerDawn Kinzer is a freelance editor and a member of The Christian PEN and Christian Editor networks. Her own writing has been published in the Christian Fiction Online Magazine, Backyard Friends, and The One Year Life Verse Devotional, and featured on the radio ministry, The Heartbeat of the Home. She co-hosts and writes for the blog, Seriously Write. Learn more at her editing site.

Workshop 9: Book Therapy Live

Susan May WarrenThis live critique session by bestselling, award-winning author Susan May Warren (right), analyzing a submitted synopsis and first chapter, gave excellent in-depth understanding of story structure and writing.

Instead of Grey’s Anatomy, think Warren’s Anatomy. Warren is a pro doing laser-guided surgery, showing authors how to connect various plot parts into meaningful story arcs. Lead writing coach at My Book she is supported there and in this class by good friend and successful fellow novelist, Rachel Hauck.

Warren is gifted at cutting through to the heart of plot and story, far beyond her university degree in Communication, to slice complicated subjects into well-labeled package parts.

Write it like a police report and keep the rhythm like an action/reaction scene.

As the workshop’s description promised, Warren delivered tools for self-therapy through the in-depth analysis of a short synopsis and first chapter. In the process, Warren added great wordsmithing points: “Write it like a police report and keep the rhythm like an action/reaction scene.” She also discussed broken plots, flat characters, saggy writing, and gave solid tips to fix them. She taught the essentials for creating gripping first scenes and equipped attendees to perform our own book therapies.

Writing guidelines


  • What do they want?
  • What is their spiritual situation/lie?
  • Does the inciting incident propel the character forward?
  • What stands in the way of their Happy Ever After (HEA)?
  • What is the dark moment in the past?
  • What do they learn?
  • Do story threads and pacing provide enough conflict in the middle?
  • What other subplots/layers are present?
  • In terms of premise and believability, could this really happen?
  • Does the character have a good and believable reason for everything he/she does?

Important things to include

  • Stakes
  • External and internal goals
  • Black moments/epiphanies
  • Layering and secondary plots giving a character key scenes mirroring and expanding the story’s theme
  • Overall marketability

Additional things to look for

  • What is the character’s goal?
  • What is the conflict?
  • Hook: Am I in the POV of the character?
  • Do I immediately want to know more, and do I care (sympathy)?
  • Have I introduced the character in a way that shows his/her essential character?
  • Have I established the main emotion?
  • Hint at the lies they believe.
  • Keep the plot streamlined.
  • Is the dialogue crisp, causing tension?

If you did not attend this important workshop, buy the CD. It delivers clear and essential storycrafting skills you won’t want to miss.

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