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Copyright Notice

Copyright 2010 Andrea Rains Waggener (Living On The Up Beat,


All rights reserved.

All part of the work contained in Novel Writing Made EasyHow to

Plan A Novel So It Practically Writes Itself belongs to and is the sole
property of Andrea Rains Waggener and Living On The Up Beat. The
whole of this publication may not be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical. Any unauthorized
use, sharing, reproduction or distribution of this e-book is strictly

Note: The purchaser of this e-book is permitted to print ONE copy for
his or her own use.

Legal Notice

While I have attempted to verify all information provided in this e-

book, I do not assume any responsibility for errors, omissions, or
contradictory information contained in this book.

This book is not intended as career or financial advice. The purchaser

or reader of this e-book assumes all responsibility for the use of any of
the ideas or information presented in this e-book. Andrea Rains
Waggener assumes no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any
actions the purchaser or reader takes because of this e-book. Andrea
Rains Waggener provides no guarantees or warranty that by following
the advice in this e-book, you will complete and sell a novel.
Individual results may vary. Please use due diligence to determine the
effectiveness of all advice given before you apply it.

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By investing in this e-book, youve taken the first BIG step toward
putting together a blueprint and building the foundation that will lead
you to the end of your novel manuscript, right into submitting it to
editors, and eventually possibly to seeing your book on bookstore
shelves. What youre about to do is stop and start at the same time.

What in the world does that mean?

Youre about to STOP:

Telling everyone about your idea

Just thinking about your plot
Vaguely thinking about the possible characters you could create
Wondering how much research youll need to do
Procrastinating on planning
Resisting writing

Youre about to START:

Brainstorming the what ifs of your idea into intriguing story

Turning your idea into a plot layered with mesmerizing conflict
Creating characters so real that youll start having imaginary
conversations with them
Making a clear list of your research questions and beginning to
find the information you need
Stuffing your novel planning binder full of everything you need
to write a great novel
Diving enthusiastically into writing your novel manuscript

I have an idea for a novel, a woman told me when I spoke with her
on the beach one day.

Ive always intended to write a novel, a salesperson told me when he

found out I was a novelist.

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I plan to write a novel one day, many of my readers say.

If I had a dime for every time someone has said one of these
statements or something like them to me, I wouldnt need to worry
about getting royalty checks. Id be rich.

In my old lifebefore I came to my sensesI was an attorney. You

know how people have a tendency to ask what you do for a living
when you first meet? For some reason, thats a lead question in our
society. What do you do?

When I was a lawyer and I told people what I did, very few people,
very few, said Ive always wanted to be a lawyer. Or I plan to go to
law school one day. Not many people are dying to be lawyers. Go

I left the legal world, and I began writing, and from what Ive
experienced, I think half the people in the world who have other jobs
would like to quit and become a writer too.

Theres something about the idea of writing a novel that intrigues

people. Its compelling. Its an adventure many people can imagine

Not all of these people, though, will go from imagining that adventure
to actually embarking on it. But by reading this e-book, youre making
sure that you WILL be one of the people who actually undertakes the
novel-writing adventure. And youll have a wonderful time! Also, if
you work hard and you have talent, youll even find a treasure at the
end of your adventurea novel you can sell.

A novel is a huge undertaking, and if youve put off beginning yours

until now, thats perfectly understandable. Dont beat yourself up
about it. Whats done is done. Youre going to start now.

If you have started a novel but got derailed at some point, thats okay.
The reason you lost track was because you probably didnt prepare
fully enough. You can get that preparation done now and get right
back on track.

If you have written a novel but it didnt turn out the way youd hoped
it would, dont despair. One bad novel, or two, or three, or even ten,
doesnt mean you dont have a great novel in you. When a meal turns

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out poorly it doesnt necessarily mean the cook was badit could have
been a bad recipe.

What youre going to be learning in the eight chapters of this e-book is

a recipe for novel writing success. You are going to start taking little
steps, which will lead you to bigger steps, then bigger steps, and by
the end of this e-book, if youve done the tasks I set out for you in the
Taskbook that goes along with this e-book, youll be all revved up and
writing your heart out.

Thats pretty exciting, dont you think?

I dont know if you feel this wayI hope you dobut getting a novel
published has always been one of my biggest life goals. Ive wanted
to be an author since I was a little girl. You cant possibly imagine the
off-the-charts exhilaration I felt when I sold my first novelto none
other than Bantam Dell, one of the biggest publishers in the world!

I want you to experience that thrill too. Thats why Im teaching this
course. And thats why youre taking it, right?

So, get ready.

During the next few weeks or months, you are going to, excuse me,
Emeril, for borrowing your line, Kick it up a notch. Youre going to
dive into your novel idea and take it from the seed it is now, plant it in
the rich ground of your imagination, nurture it with your creative skills,
water it with your efforts, and grow it with your enthusiasm and talent
into the new sprouts of a novel.

It takes action to get anything done in life. You know that, right?

But do you know that theres actionand then, theres ACTION?

Let me give you an example of what Im talking about:

Lets say Joe wants to build a house. He has a great idea for a house.
He can see it in his mind. Its two-story, shingled with big picture
windows. Hes excited about his idea for this house. He knows how to
build things, so he wants to jump in and get started on the house.

Joe runs down to the building supply store and orders lumber and
concrete and nails and pipes and sheet rock and siding and windows
and all kinds of stuff, and he piles it up. Then he just randomly picks

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up some wood and starts hammering it together. He has no plan. He

has no foundation to build the house on. He just has bare ground and
all this stuff. He works hard, day after day.

Now Bob, who owns the lot next door to Joe, wants to build a house
too. Joe thinks Bob is a little silly. While Joe piles up the building
supplies and start hammering, Bob is just sitting in a chair with a piece
of paper. He has some survey equipment and a measuring tape and
every once in awhile he gets up and wanders around and looks at his
lot and measures stuff. Joe thinks Bob is wasting his time. But finally,
Bob goes away and comes back with an architects drawing, and he
begins digging and then he pours a concrete foundation. Joe has
already built several walls, and hes feeling quite pleased with himself.
All Bob has is some concrete footings.

Who is going to have the better house?

Im hoping youre thinking, Bob, because thats the right answer.

Some novelists are like the first guy and they are so brilliant, so gifted,
that they can actually pull off writing an amazing book without any
planning whatsoever. Wally Lamb, who wrote Shes Come Undone and
I Know This Much Is True, both Oprah Book Club picks, said all he had
in his mind when he started writing I know This Much Is True, was the
image of two brothers driving down the road in an old pick-up truck.
One brother had a mental illness, the other didnt.

Now, he wrote an incredibly long book just following this idea. Oprah
loved it. I bought it and wasnt as impressed. I thought it rambled. I
thought it was boring in many places. But then, my own novel hasnt
been picked by Oprahso what do I know?

The point is that some writers have the ability to jump in and start
hammering. Most of us, though, simply arent that brilliant. A writer
friend of mine recently told me about a writers group she belongs to.
She said one of the members of the group is working on a mystery
novel, and the way the writer is writing the mystery novel is to simply
make it up as he goes along. My friend said the story is boring. The
characters are boring, and the writing is awful. Not surprising. This
writer is one of us ordinary folks who needs a plan.

When we have a plan, we have focused action. When we have focused

action, we create a finished product. So when I say theres action, and

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then theres ACTION, the ACTION Im talking about is the kind of

action you need: focused action. Action with a plan.

Before move on from this introduction, I want to be clear that there

are a lot of ways to plan a novel. One writer friend of mine does her
planning on poster board. She puts plot points in bubbles on the
poster board and then links them together. I know people who do all
planning on index cards. I know people who do it all on the computer.
There is no right way. There is only the way that works best for you.

I didnt always plan books the way I do now. I tried a lot of different
ways of working on novels. I wrote five novels before I put this
method together on my sixth novel. It was that sixth novel, Alternate
Beauty, that sold to Bantam.

I made a lot of missteps along the way to getting my first novel sale,
and even though youre reading this e-book, youll probably make
some too. But its my hope that because youre reading this e-book,
youll make fewer missteps than I did.

Okay, were about to dive in. But first, lets get physical. What I
mean is lets talk about the physical items youll need to put together
your novel plan.

Your Novel Planning Binders Etc.

The point of what were doing in the first seven chapters of this e-book
is to prepare what goes into two important items that will become your
best buddies during the course of your novel planning and writing

1. Your novel planning binder

2. Your scene card file

So if you dont have whats on this list, get what you need from an
office supply store:

A three-inch binder (more than one if your novel is going to

require a lot of research)
Lined binder paper
A three-hole punch
Post-it index tabs

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4 x 6 lined index cardsyou may need up to 500 (OPTIONAL) I

actually prefer using the Word Document Scene Template I
included in your Novel Writing Made Easy System.
A plastic index card file big enough to hold 4 x 6 index cards
(ALSO OPTIONAL, see note above)

Your binder will have five sections:

1. Plot
2. Characters
3. Setting
4. Research
5. Scenes (if you use the Word doc template

Your scene card file will hold all your scene cards. (You can also do
your scene cards on the computer, print them out, hole-punch them,
and put them in a binder as wellwhatever works best for you.)

Are you reader to get started?

Then lets get started.

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We writers all bandy around the word, plot, easily. But what is plot

Plot is simply the plan of your story. Its the movement of the people
in your story through situations and through settings to get to certain

Every plot starts with a simple idea.

For example, in my novel, Alternate Beauty, the idea I had was about
an alternate universe where fat is considered beautiful. I thought that
would be an interesting situation to explore.

Most ideas are like thistheyre about a situation. Murder mysteries

generally start with the idea of someone getting killed. Thrillers
usually start with the idea of some disaster about to happen that the
hero or heroine needs to stop.

Some ideas, however, start with the character. You wont have any
notion of what your character is going to do, but youll have a clear
picture of that character in your mind. This is what happened for me
with my novel, The End of the Beginning, a paranormal sci fi thriller
that Im currently shopping around.

Kali Madison popped into my head one day with about as much
confidence and power as she has in my novel. I could see her
clearlyher face and I could hear her talking. I knew she was a kick-
butt, no nonsense woman who was determined, tough, and stubborn
but also compassionate and honorable. I knew I wanted to put her in
a really unusual situation and give her a formidable and quite out of
the ordinary opponent. That was the idea I started with that
eventually became an over 900-page novel.

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Im assuming that if youre reading this e-book you have at least the
grain of an idea. Now, youre going to learn how to take that idea and
turn it into a plot.

You do this with what I call the seed question for your plot.

Ask What If?

Your seed question is What if?

Youre going to ask this question over and over and over and over.

So, going back to Alternate Beauty, I took my idea about an alternate

universe where fat is considered beautiful, and I asked, What if a very
obese woman from our universe ended up in this alternate universe?
What would that be like for her? What if she suddenly was considered
a drop-dead gorgeous in this alternate universe? What would that be
like for her? What if she started losing weight? What if by losing
weight, she ends up as unhappy in this universe as she was in the one
she left behind?

For the Kali Madison idea, I did the same thing. What if Kali saw
something that made no sense to her at all? What if she left her job
as a homicide detective because of what she saw? What if she was
drawn to a new place and she met a witch who told her things that
Kali thought were totally insane? What if a murder investigation shed
been on before she left her job followed her to her new home? What if
it seemed like the murders had something to do with her personally?

Do you see how this works? Youre playing with what if.

Another question you can ask to put your plot together is Why?

Ask Why?

Novelist, Margaret Chittenden, has this to say about the question,


To me, the most important question in a book is WHY.

Im very interested in the reasons why people do things
their motivations. I find its a good idea to keep asking
people why. People who change jobs, or houses, or their
husbands always have reasonsand the reasons can fill a

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You can apply this why question to your what if scenarios to flesh out
your plot ideas.

For example, one of my what if questions for Alternate Beauty was

What if my main character started losing weight? To flesh out (oops,
excuse the pun) this what if, I asked, Why? Why would she lose

The why takes me back to what if. What if she lost weight because
she was so happy that she no longer ate to cover her pain?

That what if led me to another why: Why, if she ate to cover pain,
wouldnt she just eat again once she started losing weight in the new
reality? Wouldnt that make her unhappy enough to binge again?
Why wouldnt she just go back to eating a lot?

That why, again, took me to a what if: What if she no longer wants to
eat to cover painsomething in her experience of this new universe
has changed her. She just doesnt know what it is.


What if?

Do you see the process?

You ask what if. That gives you information. Then you ask why. That
gives you information, which leads you back to what if.

Its impossible to structure the novel plotting process much more than
this. Its a general brainstorming process that requires your mind to
be free and full of possibility.

Brainstorming is allowing your mind to go into bizarre places. Let your

thoughts lead you around and up and down and in and out. Dont
dismiss anything. Make sure you write down whatever comes to you.
You may not (in fact, you probably wont) use it all. But write it down.
You dont want to miss anything good. So write it down. It doesnt
have to be neat or orderly or even make any sense. Write down what
comes to you: Fragments. Words. Pieces of thoughts and then whole

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Ill tell you toward the end of this chapter some ways that you can
enhance your brainstorming process, but first, you need to know a
little more about plot.

The Elements of
of Plot

There are three main elements to plot:

1. Conflict
2. Story question
3. Theme


A lot of beginning novelists make a huge mistake in their writing.

They think that things happening, people doing stuff, and characters
interacting is plot.

This isnt plot. This is just stuff happening.

Remember how theres action and then theres ACTION?

Well, similarly, theres story, and then theres STORY.

Let me tell you a story to show you what I mean:

Mirandas husband, Peter, is dying of a rare disorder.

Mirandas doctor is a spiritual guy, and though he cant do
anything with Western Medicine to save Peter, he tells her
hes heard of a spiritual healing that could work. Shell do
anything to save Peter, so she asks her doctor what the
healing is. He tells her that its an ancient healing, and
hes only read about it. In order to perform it, he needs
her to get the Pentacle of Rorah, which is on the top of
Mount Kilimanjaro.

Miranda says okay and kisses her husband goodbye and

heads home to pack. She calls the travel agent, buys a
plane ticket, gets on a plane and flies to Mount
Kilimanjaro. Once there, she looks for and finds a guide to
take her up the mountain. By coincidence, Miranda is in
very good shape, so she can make the climb easily. She
and her guide get along great, and they enjoy their time
together as they climb the mountain. They swap stories,

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and Miranda tells the guide how much she loves her
husband. They climb and climb, and they finally get to the
top of the mountain. They look around and they suddenly
spot it: The Pentacle of Rorah. Its shiny and gold and
beautiful, and it slips easily into Mirandas backpack.

Miranda and her guide climb back down the mountain and
she gets on another plane and flies home. She goes
straight to the hospital where she finds her husband still
hanging on to life. The doctor takes the Pentacle of Rorah
and rubs it and chants some words that he just happens to
know, and the Pentacle emits a beautiful light that fills the
room, and Mirandas husband is healed.

Thats a story, right?

But whats wrong with it? You DID see something wrong with it, didnt

Im hoping it bored you as much as it bored me to write it.

Why was it boring?

Because it had NO conflict. A story has conflict.

Conflict is the process of a need or want meeting face to face with an

obstacle. Conflict is the core of good story telling.

In the story I just told you, there is no conflict. Miranda faced no

obstacles. Yes, she had little problems to overcomein order to save
her husband, she had to find the Pentacle of Rorah. She did have to
do something. But it was way too easy for her to do what she needed
to do.

In real life, going after what you want and getting it easily is desirable.
Thats what youd like to have, right? You go after something. You
get it. Easy as pie.

Just because its what you want in real life doesnt mean its what you
want in your novels.

If you want to write a good novel, you need to become a truly evil
creator. You need to be so mean and nasty and downright ornery that

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you delight in creating awful situations for your characters. You want
to throw every problem you can think of at your characters.

Okay, with this in mind, let me tell start the story of Miranda again,
once more, with conflict:

Mirandas husband, Peter, is dying of a rare disorder.

Mirandas doctor, Doctor Roberts, is a spiritual guy, and
though he cant do anything with Western Medicine to save
Peter, he tells her hes heard of a spiritual healing that
could work. Shell do anything to save Peter, so she asks
her doctor what the healing is.

Doctor Roberts smiles and shakes his head. Ill tell you,
he says, only if you agree to have an affair with me. He
tells her hes been falling in love with her, and he wants
her. He tries to kiss her. She has to fight him off. She
begs him to tell her what the healing is. He refuses.

Distraught and disheveled, Miranda leaves Doctor Roberts

office. In the hall, she runs into a wizened old man, a
janitor, who motions to her. He tells her that he has
overheard the doctor talking to others, and he knows what
the healing is. The old man tells Miranda that the healing
requires an object called the Pentacle of Rorah.

Unfortunately, the old man has no idea where the Pentacle

of Rorah can be found. Miranda rushes home and gets
online to research. She cant find anything about Rorah.
She calls experts. She cant find anything. She goes to
the library. There, finally, she finds a book that mentions
the Pentacle of Rorah. Excited, she goes searching for the
author. She finds a phone number, after some struggle,
and she calls. The woman who answers the phone tells
Miranda that the womans husband, the author of the
book, is dead.

Miranda wails, How will I EVER find the Pentacle of Rorah

and save my husband?

The woman on the other end of the line sucks in her

breath. Dont say those words out loud? What if
someone hears you?

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Miranda asks why that would be bad. The woman hangs

up the phone.

Miranda calls the woman back and gets a busy signal.

Shes in despair. She goes to see her husband. Hes
weakening. She returns home, in tears.

When she gets home, she finds a white-faced woman

waiting for her. Its the authors wife. The wife scurries
into Mirandas apartment and tells Miranda, in hushed
tones, that legend says the Pentacle of Rorah can be found
on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Great, Miranda says. Shes a recreational climber, so

shes up for a climb.

But, the other woman says, no one who has ever tried
to retrieve the Pentacle has ever survived. Thats why
her husband didnt talk more about it in his book. Even
people who -discuss the Pentacle usually end of up dead.

Just as the woman explains this to Miranda, a spear comes

flying through an open window and impales the woman
through the heart. Miranda scrambles behind the sofa just
as another spear strikes the wall above her head. She
huddles there and finally looks up when nothing else

Attached to the spear is a note with these words:

Do not attempt to find the Pentacle of Rorah. If you do,

you will lose your life. And your husband will suffer eternal
torment. We are the Pentacle Protectors. We will not let
you succeed.

Miranda is terrified, but shes still determined. Her

husbands life is at stake. She must at least try to find the

She calls her best friend to tell her friend whats going on
and to ask her friend for money to help pay for the trip.
Her friend tries to discourage her from flying to Mount
Kilimanjaro to find the Pentacle, and her friend wont give
her the money.

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In the meantime, Mirandas husband, Peter, is sure that

hes being watched. He also thinks that someone is trying
to hurry him along toward death. One of his nurses
appears to be something that shes not. He realizes he
must try to get out of the hospital. He tries to convince
Miranda of this. She thinks hes delirious because of
painkillers hes on. Shes so focused on finding the
Pentacle that she doesnt realize the danger hes in.

Okay, I could go on, but Im hoping you get the picture. A good story
has conflictproblems that the character must overcome to get what
she or he is trying to get.

To figure out the conflicts in your novel, you need to know two things:

1. What does your character need or want?

2. What is in the way of your character getting what he or she needs

or wants?

Lets to back to Alternate Beauty for a moment. The main character in

the novel is Ronnie Tremayne. What does Ronnie want?

She wants to be beautiful. She wants to be happy. She wants to be a

successful fashion designer. She wants to be head over heels in love.
She wants great sex. She wants to be accepted.

Whats in the way of her getting what she wants?

Several things, actually.

There are three types of obstacles that your characters can face:

1. People
2. Situations (nature and society)
3. Self

Ronnie faces all three in Alternate Beauty.

Her obstacles are:

--Her mother
--Her boss

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--Her friends
--Society in general
--Her relationship with food
--Ronnie herselfher beliefs about herself

She has other obstacles too, but these are her main ones.

Each of her main obstacles will break down into problems that she has
to solve. A good novel is filled with problems. The problems will be
caused by one of the three obstaclesby a person, by a situation, or
by the character him or herself (by the characters own actions or
ways of thinking).

This is what you want in your novel. You want what is called layered
conflict. You want your main character or characters facing so many
obstacles and problems to getting what they want that it takes a whole
novel for them to overcome all the struggles.

In Mirandas story, for example, just so far in what I shared with you,
there are conflict layers. Miranda needs to save her husband.
Already, shes in conflict with the doctor, with the Pentacle Protectors,
and with her friend. Shell face other obstacles too as the story goes

And notice in Mirandas story that her husband is facing obstacles too.
He needs to stay alive. Hes in conflict with the unseen watcher, with
his nurse, and with his wife, who doesnt believe him.

When you have a story with multiple viewpoints (more than one
person telling the story), each viewpoint character will need conflict
needs stopped by obstacles. Every viewpoint character will need
layers of conflict. These other characters and their conflicts will create
your subplots (which well talk about in just a bit).

So, while youre brainstorming your plot with your what if and your
why questions, you also create these needs vs. obstacles conflicts.
You create layers of conflict for each of your characters who will be
telling your story.

A good way to do this is to make lists as youre working with your plot
idea. List your characters and their needs/wants and the problems
your characters could face in trying to get their needs/wants met. Ive
provided a place for you to do this in the Chapter One section of your

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Taskbook. I recommend that you use the Taskbook to help you make
your lists.

As you list the obstacles and problems, keep in mind that as one
problem is solved, another one needs to be right around the corner.
Things just need to keep getting worse and worse until finally your
character reaches what is commonly called the crisis point.

The crisis point is the place in the book where it seems like your main
character is ready to give up. He or she almost loses. The obstacles
have nearly defeated her.

This is where you bring the story to a head. Its the do or die point of
the book. Will your character win or lose? Triumph or fail?

Heres where you get to make a choice.

Your choice is known as the climax point of your novel. Its where
your character either wins or loses.

If youre writing a tragedy, you will knock your character down once
and for all. You will have your character ultimately fail to get what she
wants. Her obstacles defeat her. Shes done.

Most of the time, youre not going to end your novel so bleakly. The
vast majority of popular fiction ends with the character overcoming his
or her obstacles. I dont know about you, but I much prefer to read
this kind of novel. I like the good guys to win in the end. (Happy
endings are easier to sell to publishers tookeep that in mind.)

If this is the kind of novel you want to write, then the climax point is
when you finally get to be the good guy in the plotting process.
Instead of being mean to your character, you get to bring her back
from the brink of destruction. You get to allow her to resolve her
problem, defeat her obstaclesbe they people, situations or herself
and finally win.

Now, you dont just do that by using coincidence or a heavy plotting

hand. You do it by putting into play the circumstances that youve
created in your plotting and the character traits youll be developing in
the next two chapters. Your climax must flow naturally from your plot,
not be hammered into place like a square peg into a round hole.

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Using the Miranda example, if you were going to have Miranda defeat
the Pentacle Protectors, get the Pentacle of Rorah and return it to the
U.S. to save her husband, youd need to make sure she has the
qualities needed to defeat her enemy. Shed need to be strong and
determined and smart. Youll have had to put her in situations that
show thats what kind of person she is. If shes not, then youre going
to have to make sure that she has some awfully good people at her
side to help her overcome her problems. You cant take a wimp into
battle and have the wimp suddenly become a warrior at the end of the
scene unless youve explained why the transformation might be

In other words, your climax must be satisfactory to your readers. You

must be able to explain why your character was able to do what she
did to defeat her obstacles.

In Ronnies case, for example, I use the problems shes faced

throughout the book and the insights shes gained from those
problems to explain why shes able to finally change the way she sees
herself and the world.

When you have a satisfactory conclusion to your plot, your readers will
understand your character better at the end of the book than they did
at the beginning. Theyve grown to accept and get your characters,
and thats why the story conclusion is satisfying.

Its creating conflict (the needs/wants vs. obstacles/problems) that will

turn your plot from just stuff happening into a story.


The second part of creating a great plot is creating story questions.

Now, when I say story question, Im not talking about the questions
youre asking in the brainstorming process. Dont confuse the What
if? and Why? questions of plotting with the story questions in your

Story questions are the questions you are raising in your readers
mind. Every novel needs to raise questions that keep the reader
turning pages.

A good novel raises questions on the first page and keeps asking
questions (or doesnt answer the questions already raised) until the
last page of the novel.

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Here are the opening paragraphs of Alternate Beauty:

Even now looking back on it all, having living through it, I

still have trouble believing it. I havent told anyone what
actually happened. If I struggle to accept it, who else
would believe me?

It happened, though.

But just in case I talk myself out of believing itsometime

in the future, when it becomes a memory growing more
faint with timeI want to be able to go back and touch it
again, remind myself of it. Because it transformed my life,
and its a transformation I dont want to lose.

If I did my job right, which I hope I did, that opening raised questions:
What is it? What happened? Why hasnt she told anyone? Why
would no one believe it? How was her life transformed?

In Mirandas story, several questions have been raised. These include:

How does Doctor Robert know about the ancient healing technique?
Who are the Pentacle Protectors? Why dont they want people to find
the Pentacle? Who is watching Peter?

When youre creating your story questions, you need to find a balance
between raising questions and answering them. Dont just keep
raising questions without answering any. Thats a great way to drive
your readers crazy.

Have you ever read a book where 100 pages into it you still have
absolutely no clue whats going onnone whatsoever? I dont know
about you, but I have a low frustration tolerance. If I dont get some
answers, at least a few, I get fed up and I dont want to keep reading.

So you need to answer some of your questions as you go through your

plot. So, for example, in Alternate Beauty, I answer the question of
what it is that people wont believe by page 50. People wont believe
that Ronnie actually landed in an alternate universe. And at that
point, even though one question is answered, more are raised. How
did she get there? Will she stay there? What will her friends be like
there? Her mother?

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You must eventually answer all your story questions OR at least

explain why youre not answering the questions. Dont just leave your
readers hanging.

For instance, in Alternate Beauty, I dont answer all the questions

about how Ronnie got to the alternate universe. But I do explain to
the reader why I cant answer the questions. Its okay to leave
questions unanswered. Just acknowledge that youre doing so.

As youre brainstorming your plot and moving your characters through

your story, keep in mind raising questions in your readers minds. You
want your reader to have to keep going in order to answer the
questions youre planting in their heads.

So as youre plotting, write down the questions your plot is raising.

Make a list of your story questions. When you do this, you can look at
the list and compare it to whats going on in your plot to make sure
that theres at least one question that needs to be answered at the
end of the book.


What is the point of writing a novel? To tell an entertaining story, of

course. But thats not all youre doing, right?

Dont you have a message in your idea? Isnt there something youre
trying to say about the human condition or the world?

I hope you answered that question, Yes. Because this is the last
main element of plot.

Your plot needs a theme. The theme of your novel is some sort of
statement about human nature or about life. Its your message.

For example, in Alternate Beauty, the theme is about the danger of

looking outside yourself for happiness. I wanted to leave readers with
the message that happiness, beauty, and love, are choices. They
dont happen to you. You go get them. You either accept them or
reject them.

What might be the theme of Mirandas story? Hmm. I hadnt thought

about that. Im making up Mirandas story as I go. So how about we
make the theme something about the necessity of letting go of control

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in order to allow the universe to weave its magic and put everything in

If that theme sounds like a clich, thats okay. There arent that many
themes in the world. They can be used over and over again without
any harm. The message is as strong as the story that conveys it.
Your theme will resonate with your readers if your story is rock solid
under your theme.

Some plots will raise theme naturally. Some plots dont raise much
theme, and youll have to think about the message you want to share
with your readers and work it into your story. Remember that theme
is subtle. Dont beat your readers over the head with it. Just let the
story suggest the theme.

So these are the elements of plotconflict, story question, theme.

You keep these in mind as you brainstorm from your idea through your

Before I tell you some good ways to brainstorm, let me throw one
more plot concept at you.

So far, weve been mostly talking about whats called the primary plot
of a novel. The primary plot is the main stuff happeningthe main
conflicts, questions, and theme.

But every good novel doesnt just have a primary plot. It has a
subplot or subplots too.

Every Novel Needs At Least One Subplot


What are the subplots? Theyre the little story lines going on
underneath your big story line.

Let me give you a subplot from Alternate Beauty to illustrate what I


While Ronnie is in the alternate universe, she begins to notice that

there is an organized and concerted effort to force skinny people out of
positions of power or authority. Its not just any ordinary prejudice
its focused. She eventually finds out that an organization is behind
this focused, concerted effort, and she has to decide what to do about

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This subplot isnt essential to telling the main part of Ronnies story.
The main part of her story is her learning to find happiness inside
herself. I didnt really need a subplot. No novel really must have a

So why have subplots?

Because when you have a lot of characters in conflict with each other,
you end up with lots of little stories. If you want these stories to meet
up and make sense, you need subplots.

Also, subplots create more problems. More problems make your novel
more interesting. They add depth and texture to your story.

Subplots also help reveal character, and they help grow and change a
character. Ronnie discovers something about herself as she deals with
the anti-skinny organization. Facing the discovery and doing
something about it helped her character grow and shift.

Subplots run parallel with the main plot. They contribute to the main
plot usually in two ways:

1. By contributing to the characters growth or change in the novel

(Ronnie became stronger and learned more about herself in having to
deal with the discriminating organization).

2. By complicating the problems that the character faces (the

organization made it harder for Ronnie to get the success she wanted
in her fashion design business).

As youre brainstorming your plot, make a note of your subplots.

Think of them as the baby need/want vs. obstacle/problem scenarios.

Going back to Miranda for a minute, we could make Peters attempt to

get out of the hospital on his own a subplot. Or we could give Miranda
the problem of becoming physically attracted the guide she hires to
help her climb up the mountain. The sexual tension between her and
her guide could be a subplot that would play into the scene where
Miranda tries to get the Pentacle.

Okay, to round out your plotting, Im going to take you to one last
series of questions. Some of the questions are simply reviews of what
weve talked about already. Some are a little different. Youll
recognize these. Theyre from your old high school writing

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assignments. Because youre familiar with these questions, they may

help you with your plotting.

The Basic Five Questions



Who are the most important characters in your story? Who are the
minor characters who will help move your story along? Make a list of
your characters as you plot. You dont have to name them yet. Youll
do that in the next chapter. But at least label them. For example, in
Mirandas story, I have, so far, the authors wife, the guide, the
dangerous nurse.


What are the main problems facing your characters? The what is just
another way of looking at your obstacles.


Where does your story take place? Well cover this in the fourth
chapter on setting, but as you plot your story, keep in mind that you
need to place your story somewhere.


When does your story take place? Now? In the past? In the future?
Keep your where in mind as you plot.

I find it helpful to make a timeline as I plot. If the story stretches out

over a long period of time, I print out calendars and fill in plot
happenings on the calendars.

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Ive already explained one way to use the why question. You can also
use it to explain why your characters needs/wants are so important.
Why does your character want what he or she wants?

Now, before we get to your assignments, let me give you some ideas
on the actual brainstorming process.

Brainstorming Methods

You can brainstorm either alone or with one or more other people.
Ive done it both ways. Both work.

1. Brainstorming with the help of another person

Ive found my best brainstorming comes when I do it with one other

person. Nowadays, that person is my husband. I used to ask a friend
to help.

You need to be able to completely trust this person who is going to

help you brainstorm. This person cant be someone who judges or
makes fun of you. This person must be supportive and kind.

When youre brainstorming, youre going to be throwing out all kinds

of silly ideas. You cant have this person laughing at you. What you
need is for the person to throw out his or her own ideas or to simply
say yes or no to yours.

To brainstorm with another person, just ask the person to sit and
listen to you and then throw out anything that comes to mind.

Lay out what youve thought of so far and then explain where youre
stuck. Dont have enough obstacles for your characters? Start what
if-ing on that. Maybe youve created obstacles, but you have no idea
how your character can overcome them. Start what if-ing on that.
Dont have enough story questions? Focus on that.

Take notes. Write down everything you or your partner says.

2. Brainstorming on your own

You can do this in many ways. Here are three that work for me.

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A) Talk to yourself.

Do this either out loud or in your head. Ask yourself what if and why
questions and jot down ideas.

B) Visit your inner wise person

Get paper and pen. Have your general plot idea in mind, then close
your eyes, get into deep relaxation (counting backwards and
visualizing yourself going down a flight of stairs works well, so does
tensing then relaxing all your muscles in turn).

Once youre relaxed, imagine yourself in a special place of great

wisdom. It can look like whatever you want it to look like. My place is
a clearing in a beautiful meadow.

Once youre in that place, invite your inner wise person to visit you.
Again, this person will look any way you want him or her or it to look.
My wise person is a Native American woman who, oddly enough,
wears no clothes. Shes very old and has long gray braids. Strangely,
her lack of clothes doesnt bother me. Im usually focused on her
brilliant blue eyes and on what shes telling me.

Once you are in your place and your wise person has arrived, tell your
wise inner person about your plot and ask him or her to give you
conflict or story question inputor whatever input you need. Sit
quietly after you ask your question. Wait until you feel compelled to
open your eyes and pick up your pen. Then do so and write whatever
comes to your mind. Dont censor it. Just write.

Youll be amazed at what kind of great stuff you can get from this

And by the way, you can use this method to solve personal problems
too. Ask your personal questions to your wise person and youll get
answers that will help you.

C) Use your dreams to help you plot

When you go to bed at night, make sure you have a pad of paper and
pen beside your bed. Before you go to sleep, put your novel plot in
mind and think about whatever parts of it you need to work on. State
your intention in your head that your dreams will give you something
that will help you work out your plot.

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Now go to sleep. When you wake up, write down whatever you
remember from your dreams.

If youre not used to dreaming and paying attention to dreams, it may

take awhile for this to work. You will have to, first, get used to
remembering dreams and writing them down.

To do this, set your intention each night to remember your dreams.

Get in the habit of scribbling down whatever you remember of your
dreams. It wont take long before youll get used to remembering
your dreams and youll remember more and more of them.

Youll also start noticing that certain things will repeat in your dreams.
For example, I often dream of houses, and Ive learned that these
houses symbolize my own psyche, and I can learn things about myself
by paying attention to whats going on in the houses in my dreams.

When youre used to using your dreams for creative input, youll find
that you get a lot of plot ideas while you sleep. How about that for
efficient use of time?

And once again, your dreams can help you solve personal problems

Okay, you have a start on your plotting. I highly recommend you do

all the tasks suggested in your Taskbook for this chapter. It will help
you with the next part of your task, creating a foundation upon which
to build your whole story.

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Once youve done the plotting work set out in Chapter One, you have
everything you need to put together a great story. But, what youre
going to discover in this chapter will take your story to the next level.

When I wrote the first edition of Novel Writing made Easy, I was able
to articulate the method by which you put a plot together, but I wasnt
able to put it all into a manageable box that made it TRULY easy to
construct your story. The reason for this is that when I constructed
my own stories, I did it without any real conscious thought about what
I was doing.

After I wrote the first edition of this e-book, I suffered a severe injury
that took me away from my writing and my work as a writing coach. I
was bedridden and then in rehab for nearly a year. During that time, I
needed something to distract me from my troubles. I began studying
screenwriting, and when I felt well enough, I started writing

Screenplay structure is a lot tighter than novel structure. Screenplays

and plays are generally written in three acts: an opening act that sets
up the problem the characters will face, a middle act in which the
characters wrestle with their obstacles, and a closing act in which the
characters figure out how to overcome (or they give into) their

Within this three act structure is an even more detailed structure. Its
that more detailed structure, which I studied for weeks by watching
movies and reading screenplays, that revealed to me the true framing
of a good novel.

After watching about a hundred movies and reading that many

screenplays, I started noticing a sort of staircase that takes the

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viewer/reader from a landing at the beginning of the story to a view

destination at the top of the stairs, the end of the story. When I broke
down the parts of the readers/viewers journey up those stairs, I
realized that this was the underlying structure of a good novel as well.

To confirm my idea, I read dozens of novels and compared the stories

to the staircase structure Id discovered. The vast majority of them
(especially the good ones) fit this structure.

Youre about to learn The Staircase Method of framing a novels plot.

Its a process that will make it easy for you to turn the plot and
subplot lines you came up with in Chapter One into a truly wow story.

To freewheeling writers, the specifics of this method may be an initial

turn-off. Youll probably ask, why should I be so aware of where the
story is on a particular page? Keep in mind that the paging aspect of
this method isnt set in impermeable ink. What Im providing here are
guidelines. If you use the guidelines, youll find it MUCH easer to write
a tight, compelling plot.

Overview of The Staircase Method

Okay, so let me give you an overview of the staircase youre going to

build. Then well break down its parts. The page targets Ive provided
in this overview are based on an 80,000 word novel on 320 manuscript
pages (thats 250 words per page, which is about average when you
use Courier New font, double spaced, and 1.5 inch margins). I chose
80,000 words because novels longer than that are rather hard to place
with editors in todays market. Of course, your novel could be shorter,
and Ill explain how to figure out your own page targets at the end of
this overview.

Here are the fifteen parts of your story staircase:

1. The Landing: This is the opening of your novel.

2. The Steps Surface (page 14): This is your novels theme.

3. The First Steps (up to page 29 of your manuscript): This is the

foundation of your story, the introduction of your characters and

4. The Pivotal Step (page 30): This is the springboard for the rest of
your story, the event that sets the remainder of the story into motion.

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5. The Do I Really Want To Do This Steps (pages 30 through 72): This

is the vacillation part of your novel, in which the characters resist
taking the action necessary to achieve their goal.

6. The Okay, Lets DO This Step (page 72): This is the point of
commitment in your story, the point at which your characters are
locked onto a course of action.

7. The Whats This? Step (page 80): This is the distraction point of
your story, where your biggest subplot shows up.

8. The Gotta Rhythm Going Steps (page 80 through 160): This is the
where the characters really get into it, the meat of the growing

9. The Halfway There Step (page 160): This is the halfway point of
your story, the point at which something shifts and the story begins to
go in a usually subtly new direction.

10. The Getting Tired Steps (pages 160 to 218): This is where your
characters efforts begin to pay off less and less; failure is a

11. The I Cant Do This Step (page 218): This is a BIG step, one that
is so tall that your main character(s) feel like they cant go any
further. It seems like defeat is at hand.

12. The I Think Im Going To Be Sick Steps (pages 218 through 247):
Your characters keep trudging ahead, but they feel lousy; the mood is

13. The I Have A Plan Step (page 247): This is a shallow step, and it
has a little wise man perched on it; your characters have an aha
moment and know what to do now, so they get a second wind.

14. The Rest of the Steps (pages 247 to 320): This is a burst of energy
that is the climax and resolution of the novel.

15. Ta Da! The Top (page 320): This is the ending scene of your novel,
where you wrap up the character(s) journey and give your reader
emotional satisfaction.

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Calculating Page Targets

Before we move on to discussing each part of The Staircase Method,

heres how you do the calculations so you know where these staircase
elements will fit into your own manuscript.

Yes, I know, Im asking a writer (right brain and all that) to do math.
Bear with me. Its worth it.

Decide on a novel length. If youre story is pretty straight-forward

without a lot of subplots and characters, you can aim for the low end
of the novel page range, about 55,000 words. The more complex you
get, the longer your novel will be. Obviously, you wont know for sure
how long your novel will end up until you write it, but its good to have
a target.

So lets say your target is 60,000 words. Decide on a font and find out
how many words are on a typical manuscript page in that font. (You
can count them or use the count feature in Microsoft Word by clicking
on Tools on the Tool Bar, then Word Count from the drop down menu.)
Once you know the number of words on a page, divide 60,000 by that
number. This gives you the number of manuscript pages you will
have. In this example, lets say you get 300 words per page. This
means your manuscript will be 200 pages long.

To figure out your page targets, use the targets I listed in the fifteen
parts of the staircase and the number of pages I said were in my
target manuscript in the following equation:

The equation youre creating is this: Page target in each staircase part
is to 320 as ____ [your page target] is to 200 [the number of pages in
your manuscript].

So, for example, the equation for the second part is 14 times 200 and
that amount divided by 320. So thats 2800 divided by 320, which is
8.75 (this is a target, remember, so you dont have to have the theme
show up exactly of the way through page 8; youd make your target
page 9).

You do this for every page target in the staircase. The second target
is page 29 (in the third part of The Staircase Method). So you multiply
29 times 200, which is 5800, and divide that by 320, which gives you
18.125. So your next target is page 18 of your manuscript.

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So, to repeat, you multiply the page target I list in the method by the
number of pages you expect to have in your manuscript and then
divide that result by 320. Do this for every target in the staircase and
youll know where to plug in staircase elements in your own story.

Now let me explain how these elements work.

The Staircase Method Broken Down


The landing is the first scene in your novel. Its where you hook your
reader. This is your first impression. Bore your reader here, and your
reader wont want to climb your staircase. He or she will put down
your manuscript.

The best place to start a novel is in the middle of the action. Leave
the back story for later. Jump into the middle of your characters life.
Draw the reader into the world.

In Chapter Seven, well talk about creating scenes. In that chapter, I

include a few sample scenes for Mirandas story. For the first scene, I
describe the conflict this way: Miranda asks Roberts to tell her what
hes going to do next to help Peter. Roberts says no Western medicine
will help but there is one thing. Miranda wants Dr Roberts to tell what
one thing could help. He says theres a spiritual healing that could
work, but he refuses to tell her what it is.

If this is our novels first scene, how do we want to open the novel?
Id do something like this:

Sun refracted through the meshed glass office windows,

sliced across Dr. Roberts soft brown eyes and, for some
strange reason, turned them into murky amorphous holes.
Miranda Perrin frowned. For the first time, she saw him
for what he really was.

Why wont you tell me? She threw the words at him and
cringed at the strident tone. It betrayed her panic and
made her sound vulnerable.

Dr. Robertss plush burgundy leather chair crackled, as he

pushed it back and stood. His movement released an

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overpowering clash of cinnamon and antiseptic soap into

the room. Theres a certain, ah, confidentiality involved.

He was lying. Miranda knew him now. He was no longer

the caring doctor who had been treating her dying
husband. He wasnt the savior who was going to offer a
whisper of hope to soften his pronouncement that Western
medicine had nothing more to offer Peter.

Fine, she said. I wont tell anyone what you tell me.

He shook his head.

She balled up her fists. Hitting him wasnt the answer of

course. But she had to do something.

This isnt perfect, and Id spend a lot more time on it than the two
minutes I just used to write this opening. But what I want you to see
is that we started right in the middle of the scenes action.

We didnt start by explaining that Peter is in the hospital and that hes
dying. We work that information in after we get into the action.

Notice also that I included detail and emotion. Your opening can have
dialogue and/or actual physical action or not. But it MUST have detail
and emotion to draw your reader into the story. Instead of the
camera used to capture the opening image of a movie, youre using
words to create a visual image for your reader. If you dont provide
detail, your reader will have a blank screen in his head.


We talked about theme in Chapter One. Your theme will come out as
your story plays out. But you want to hint at it early in the book. In a
way, a novel is a premise that you pose to the reader, and the story is
your argument for and against this premise.

To state your theme, you have one of your characters (and its usually
not the main character) say something that suggests the theme.

For example, in our Pentacle of Rorah story, I said the theme was
about giving up control. So on page 14 (or thereabouts) of our 320
page manuscript, the janitor might say to Miranda, Ive found things
work out best when I dont work too hard at them.

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Obviously, you need to have your characters comment fit seamlessly

into the action of the story. It shouldnt be obvious.

By stating your theme early, youre setting up the rest of the novel.
The story then becomes the pros and cons of the theme, the debate
that allows your reader to come to the conclusion you would like to get

If you dont have a thematic purpose for your novel, the novel wont
hang together. Be sure you know why youre writing this manuscript.
Then state it early so you can build on your WHY as you tell the story.


This part of the novel is where you introduce your main characters.
Show us who they are now and what they need to change. This story,
if you do it well, is going to transform your story people. Now is when
you reveal their flaws so we see what theyre going to have to
overcome to achieve their goal.

Have your characters interact with their setting in a way that shows
the reader your characters vulnerabilities. Show us how their life isnt
working for them right now. Whats lacking? Whats a mess? What
do they long for?

These foundational steps need to get your reader to care about these
characters so your reader will want to climb the staircase (read the
novel) to see if the characters can change and grow.


This is the part of the staircase that launches your story. Up to this
point, youve been drawing us into your characters world. Now
something needs to happen to propel your character into the events of
the novel.

In screenwriting, this part of the story is called the catalyst or inciting

event. Something happens to change your characters life, and the
change is something your character MUST respond to. Your character
has to decide to do something about it or not. But he or she MUST

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In Mirandas story, the Pivotal Step would be the moment when the
spear kills the authors wife. This is when Miranda knows that shes
getting into something much more dangerous than just taking a little
trip to find a way to heal her husband. She realizes shes going to face
a formidable foe if she goes ahead.

The Pivotal Step shifts the story. Its an event that shapes your
characters decisions from this point on.

Think of it this way. Up to this point on the staircase, youve shown

the reader your characters world, their nice ordinary (for these
particular characters) world. Now youre going to shake up that world,
turn it upside down. In one moment, everything changes.

For Miranda, the notion that shes going to easily get help for her
husband is speared as thoroughly as the authors wife as soon as the
attack occurs.

Your novel doesnt have to have a murder or fight or explosion or

anything like that to have an effective Pivotal Step. A Pivotal Step can
be as simple as meeting someone. And often, in romances, meeting
the guy or girl IS the Pivotal Step.

Whatever it is, a killing, a job loss, a new person, or whatever, the

event has to change the characters life in such a way that she or he
now faces a decision.


Your character has lived through the Pivotal Step. Its calling for her
to take action. But should she?

This is the part of your novel in which your character vacillates back
and forth. Should I face this challenge or shouldnt I?

In a romance novel, this is the tug-a-war between your characters

attraction to the new guy or girl and your characters negative
reactions to the new guy or girl.

Should I? Shouldnt I?

This part of your novel starts building the tension. Your character is
going to have to get beyond his or her limitations to face whats
coming. This part of the staircase is where the character struggles

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with what its going to take to tackle the changes that will surely come
if she faces the challenge.

And dont get me wrong here. This part of the novel is not pages and
pages of inner debate. In a 320 page novel, this part of the staircase
is 42 pages long. No one wants to read 42 pages of can I do this or

You still have scenes and action in this part of your manuscript, but
they all serve one goal: to show how your character is dealing with the
decision at hand.

For example, in Mirandas story, once the spear kills the authors wife,
Miranda has to decide whether shes ready to take on a murderous
group of anonymous killers who are hell bent on stopping her from
finding the Pentacle of Rorah. To make this decision, what would
Miranda do?

Shes probably going to visit her husband. Is he really dying? Does he

really need this Pentacle of Rorah? Maybe she doesnt have to deal
with these spear throwers.

Her husband is getting worse. Okay, so she has to do something.

She tries to find out more about these protectors of the pentacle. Is
there a way to pacify them?


She traces the spear, and it leads her to an abandoned building in

town. She has to fight a shadowy figure who nearly kills her. Shes
shaken. How can she help her husband if shes dead?

Do you see how it works? Back and forth. Back and forth. The
scenes in this part of the book show your characters struggle with
accepting what shes going to have to do.


Something BIG needs to happen at this point in your story. Some

event must occur that spurs your main character(s) to decide to face
the challenge in front of them. This is the decision point of the story.
This is where your character commits to what is coming.

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This is a PROACTIVE point in the story. In other words, your character

has to choose to move forward. He or she cant be dragged, kicking
and screaming, into the rest of the story.

Something makes the character decide that, yes, I must do this.

The event that leads to this decision has to be major. Here are a few
examples from well-known movies: Neo takes the pill in The Matrix,
Lukes aunt and uncle are killed in Star Wars, the aliens destroy the
helicopter in Independence Day, Sally meets Harry again in When
Harry Met Sally. In each of these examples, the event changes the
main character(s) lives. They are launched into the conflict of the rest
of the story.

In Mirandas story, what would make her decide once and for all to
take on these protectors and go after the Pentacle? Hmm. Lets see.
Well, remember the janitor? How about we kill him in a particularly
horrid way? Miranda discovers the body. And on the body is a note
filled with odd symbols. One of the symbols looks familiar to her. She
knows it from someplace in her past but she cant remember where.
She realizes that a search for the Pentacle of Rorah may lead to more
than just a healing tool for her husband. Something more is going on
here, and it relates to her past. She has to find out whats going on.
Shes committed to continuing. She CHOOSES to find a way to defeat
the protectors of the pentacle and get the pentacle to use for her
husbands healing AND find out how all this relates to her past.


Remember that in Chapter One I said that all good novels have a good
subplot or two or three? This is the point in your story where you
introduce the main subplot.

The reason you wait until now to bring up this secondary story is that
you have enough to do up to this point without dealing with too many
strings. Now that youve gotten your reader this far up the staircase
by introducing your characters and getting them past the Pivotal Step,
the should I or shouldnt I phase of the story, and youve committed
them to the rest of the story, you can step aside for a second and
introduce your main subplot.

In the Miranda story, were going to have two subplots. One will be
Mirandas attraction to the man who came to her house and who will
ultimately guide her to the pentacle. The main subplot, though, will be

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Peters story. So this is the point in the story where we have him
realize hes being watched. We introduce his story line.

This point in the story often introduces new characters, and thats fine.
In Peters subplot, well meet the nurse he thinks may be something
other than what she claims, and we may meet a fellow patient who will
help him get out of the hospital later.


Now that your character is committed, shes going to really get into it.
Shes going to get into the meat of the growing conflict.

This is the heart of your novel, the place where you deliver on what
youve promised up to this point by setting up the story. If your novel
is a romance, this is the part of the story where the flirting, first
kisses, and push/pull of fighting and attraction occur. In an
action/mystery such as Mirandas story, this is the section of the novel
where things really heat up. This is where Miranda gets into whatever
adventures will help her get to the pentacle and solve the mystery of
why the pentacle is related to her past.

This part of the book has to fit with what a reader expects it to be. In
a funny book, this is the funniest part. In a detective story, this is
where the bulk of the detecting goes on. In an adventure like ours,
this is where the exotic events start happening. Miranda, for instance,
is going to have to be on the road in this part of the book. Your reader
will expect an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro, and this is where that
expedition will happen.

If you think of your novel like a concert, this is the part where the
musical group plays its hits and satisfies its audience by giving them
what they came for.


Halfway through your book isnt just halfway through your book. Its
more than that. This is a subtle turning point in your story. Its not a
huge event like the commitment part of the staircase, but its still

In a good midpoint, there is a false high or a false low. Either your

character thinks things are going great and victory is at hand (but its

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not), or your character thinks things cant get much worse (but they

In screenwriting, they say that the stakes are raised at the midpoint.
This is where we start getting down to business. The climax is
coming. We need to get the reader ready for it.

In our Pentacle of Rorah story, the midpoint would probably be

Mirandas arrival at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. She thinks shes
done it! Shes here. All she has to do is get the pentacle and all will
be well. No protectors in sight. Shes outsmarted them. Shes

Of course, shes not. And in the next part of the staircase, well see
how wrong she was.


This is the where things start to slide beyond bad for your character.
Its been a struggle up to this point, but now things are slipping away
even further. If you think of your novel as a long chase, this is the
part where the pursuers are starting to close in on the quarry. Things
that were bad before are getting worse.

This is where doubt starts to hit your characters. In a group of

characters, dissent arises. The bad guys (obstacle characters) become
even more annoying as they redouble their efforts to defeat your hero
and/or heroine.

So for that brief moment, Miranda thought shed beaten her foe to the
Pentacle. But they appear and surround her, her guide and their
helpers. The protectors kill the helpers but Miranda and her guide
manage to get away. They have the pentacle, but they as they flee (in
this storys case, this section of the staircase really is a chase in this
story, but it wont always be in every story), their troubles compound.

Though it wont often be a literal chase, in this part of your novel, you
need to start the downhill slide for your main character. The series of
events in this section of your story pull your character inexorably
toward defeat, even though your character is scrapping like mad to
avoid that.

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Your characters are slipping toward defeat and here it is: defeat. This
is the point in your novel where it looks like your characters are done
for. Its all over. Theyve lost. Theyre defeated.

This is the wreckage of your story. Theres no hope in this part of your
novel. It appears death (whether literal or symbolic as in the death of
a love affair or a persons dream) is imminent.

In a romance, this is where one part of the couple decides it will never
work and leaves. In a mystery novel, the solution appears totally
impossiblethe essential piece of information is missing. In a coming
of age novel, this is where the main characters dreams are seemingly
destroyed by failure.

In our Pentacle of Rorah story, this is where the protectors reclaim the
pentacle and prepare to kill Miranda and her guide.

Of course, the protectors dont kill Miranda and her guide immediately.
That would end the story, and we dont want that. So they keep
Miranda and her guide alive long enough to torture some information
out of them.

But Miranda feels defeated. Shes lost the pentacle. She realizes that
not only is her husband going to die, but she and this other man shes
come to love are going to die too.


In this part of your manuscript, your character is being pulled along,

still breathing but not happy about it. If you were really climbing a
series of steps, this would be the section of the climb where youre
pretty sure youre going to be sick. This part of the novel is the giving
into despair.

In a romance novel, your character is sad or angry or just going

through the motions, trying to accept his or her loss. In a mystery
novel, your detective is trying to accept his or her defeat.

In our story, Miranda is limp and numb. Shes dragged through the
snow and tied up. She doesnt resist. She screams in pain and cries
her frustration and anguish. She deals with what the protectors are
doing with no energy and no hope.

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This is the moment weve all been waiting for, the moment when your
main character reaches deep inside and pulls out that last ditch idea
that could possibly save the day. This is where inspiration hits your
character (either with a big idea he or she comes up with on her own
or with a little help from another character).

Remember our subplot(s). Even though I havent mentioned them

since the seventh part of the staircase (The Whats This? Step), they
have been going on throughout the rest of the story up to this point.
Now, if youd done your job well, the subplots can help your character
come up with a solution to the main problem.

For example, in Mirandas story, Peters need to escape the hospital

and his belief that someone is trying to kill him was the main subplot.
Lets say that up to this point, as Miranda got herself to the top of the
mountain and found the pentacle, Peter has been looking for clues to
why someone is out to kill him. Lets say hes been texting Miranda
messages that mean nothing to her, messages that she even finds a
bit annoying.

In the protectors lair, the guide now says something that makes
Miranda think of those text messages. And something the protectors
do links up with one of those messages. She has her aha moment.
She now knows that if she can get her hands on her phone (which isnt
nearby but she has an idea how to get it), she can defeat the

I have no idea what the message would say or how it relates, but you
get the idea. A part of Peters story has come into Mirandas story to
help her get the idea she needs to overcome her final set of obstacles.

She knows what shes going to do!


And here we are at the climax, the final showdown. This is the big
scene. This is where your character implements his or her big plan.
This is the last battle, the last push to achieve the goal. Its the
culmination of your characters efforts, the burst through to the
resolution of your story.

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In a romance, this part of the book is usually one characters wild rush
to find the other and profess his or her love. In a mystery or thriller,
this is where the mystery is solved.

Here is where the good guys and bad guys face off. And if the bad
guys are attitudes or feelings, this is where the character deals with

In Mirandas story, this is the final battle with the protectors. This is
where she figures out what all this had to do with her past.


Heres the final scene of your novel, the end of the character(s)
journey. Here is where you wrap things up with a nice bow on top and
give your reader a much deserved view at the top of the steps, i.e.,
emotional satisfaction.

In Mirandas story, this scene would have to be her reunion with her
husband and his healing, thanks to the pentacle. It would be her
realization that she has attempted to over-control her life and her
decision to relax a little from this point on.

And there it is. The story has reached a conclusion, and the theme
has been proven. Youre done. The end.

Why And How To Use The Staircase Method

So why do you want to use this method to organize your novel? Who
needs this much structure?

A novel is a cumbersome critter. It can easily get out of control. As a

writer friend of mine says, its easy to write your way down a rabbit

Even when you have a plot laid out, it can be a huge challenge to turn
that plot into a tidy package that holds together on the page. The
Staircase Method of organizing a novel is a powerful way to make sure
you have a tight, compelling story that contains all the essential story
elements that make for a great read.

And do you have to stick to the page targets Ive set out or those you
come up with for yourself using the equations Ive given you? Not

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These targets are just guidelines, something to steer your story by.
When youre writing, you may find that your theme doesnt get stated
until page 20 instead of 14. Thats okay. Youre close enough. But if
it doesnt pop out until page 80, you have a problem.

The rule of thumb is to try and put your staircase sections within 10 to
15 pages of your page targets. If you do this, youre going to have a
story that hangs together.

I have coached writers through novels with and without The Staircase
Method, and I can tell you that the writing always goes easier and
ALWAYS turns out better when writers use the method. Ive had many
of the people to whom Ive taught this method tell me that it was a
breakthrough for them, the pivotal piece of information that helped
their story fall into place.

Do yourself a favor and be sure you fill out the staircase sections in
your Taskbook for this chapter. At this point, you can fill in the
information in generalities. Well mold the sections into actual scenes
when we get to Chapter Seven.

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If you did all the tasks in your Taskbook for Chapter One, which I truly
hope you did, you now have several pages of plot notes. This is what
you should have:

Your main idea

A list of the main characters (not their names, unless you
already know them, just who they arenurse, doctor, guide,
mother, sister, etc)
A list of your main characters wants/needs
A list of the obstacles/problems that your main character will
A list of how your character will overcome the obstacles and/or
solve the problems
A clear description of your crisis point
A good description of your climax point and an understanding of
what your satisfactory conclusion will be
A list of your story questions
A description of your subplot or subplots
A one or two sentence explanation of your novels theme

If you have done all this work, you have taken a HUGE step toward
planning your novel. Now youre ready to move on to the next part of
your planning processgetting to know your characters.

This chapter and the next one will focus on preparing the character
section of your novel planning binder. In this chapter, were going to
focus on your main characters.

Before we go on, you might be wondering how many main characters

your novel needs.

As a general rule, you need at least three main characters:

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1. Your hero or heroinethe main protagonist in the story

2. The antagonistthe main opponent to your hero or heroin

3. A supporting character who can interact with your hero and heroine
and youre your hero or heroine someone to interact with and share
thoughts with.

A complex story will have more main characters, but start with at least

Novel characters are not, or at least ideally they arent, as complicated

as human beings. If they were that complicated, novels would be
incredibly boring. You cant possibly tell enough about a character,
enough history and enough inner thoughts, to cover everything that
makes up an ordinarily complex human being. Although some authors
try. The ones who try usually end up writing very deep, slow-moving
books that are rather tedious to read.

Remember, a complete character study of an individual is not a story.

Its just a character study. You can overdo a real character and go
off the deep end with too much complicated psychology.

The opposite end of the character mistake extremes is not attempting

to explain characters actions at all. When you simply make your
character a collection of a few factsa face, some quirks, a little
historyand then have the character do whatever you want the
character to do, you havent created a real character. What you have
is a paper puppet. Paper puppet people in novels make for very bad
novels. You dont want to do this.

The way to find the happy medium between too much and too little
character development is to focus on the basis of human behavior.
You want to focus on your characters motivation for action.

People dont take action for no reason at all. One of the biggest
mistakes you can make as a novelist is to forget this statement.

So Ill repeat it.

People dont take action for no reason at all. Said a different way:
People take action for some reason, either conscious or unconscious.

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Before we talk about your novels characters, lets look at real people
for a second. If you want to create a believable fictional character,
you need to understand real-life characters, right?

Think about yourself for a second. Why do you do the things that you

You do them because you have some motivation.

Websters Dictionary defines motivation as the act of process of


That doesnt help us much, does it? Okay, how about the word,
motivate? It means to provide with a motive.

Fine. So lets take a look at motive: [S]omething (as a need or

desire) that causes a person to act.

Ah ha. There it is. This is why you do everything you do.

Every action you take is preceded by something that is causing you to

act. There is a reason that you do the things you do.

This reason may not make sense to other people all the time, and
sometimes it may not even make sense to you, but the reason is
there. The reason is related to your needs or desireswhether those
needs or desires are conscious or unconscious. Being aware that
much of human motivation, and therefore human action, is
unconscious, i.e. not something that were consciously aware of, is a
big key to being able to create believable, rich characters in your

Beneath needs and desires is the real source of your actions. This
source is your beliefs. It is your beliefs that create your needs and

Let me give you an example to show you what I mean.

Lets say you desire chocolate. In fact, lets say you need chocolate.
(This is an example I can really relate to.)

Where does that need come from?

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It comes from one or more beliefs that you hold. Here are a few
beliefs that can lead to a desire or need for chocolate:

Chocolate tastes good.

Chocolate is comforting.
Chocolate gives you energy.
Chocolate is sexy.
Chocolate can make you forget your troubles.

Notice something about these statements. Its possible that if you

agree with any of these statements, you think of them as not just
beliefs, but facts.

We often feel that way about beliefs. We think our beliefs are the
truth about the world. Thats how powerful beliefs are.

In truth, beliefs are simply conclusions weve drawn about the world
based on our experiences. They are choices that were making about
how we see the world.

Once we make those choices, i.e., take on our beliefs, we then form
our beliefs and desires. Its our beliefs, then, that are at the core of
our impetus to act. It is our beliefs that are at the foundation of all of
our motivations.

Heres another example:

A woman needs to find a husband. Shes 33 years old, and shes

never been married and she desires to have a family.

What beliefs underlie this womans need and desire?

You shouldnt have to go through life alone.

Families are good things.
You cant be truly happy unless youre in a relationship.
Women are meant to have children.
Marriage is a good thing.

There are more beliefs that would create a womans need to be

married and desire to have children, but you get the idea. A persons
wants are created by that persons beliefs.

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Now, think for a second about the last chapter. Remember that at the
core of your plot, youre concerned with conflict. And whats conflict?
Your characters wants coming up against obstacles.

So in order to make your novel rich and believable, your characters

wants must make good sense. How do you make sure that they do?

You create believable, compelling character desires and needs. When

you do this, you in turn make your characters motivation believable
and compelling.

The way youre going to determine your characters motivations is by

creating for your main characters two essential pieces of background

1. Major Motivating Experience (MME)

2. Major Motivating Belief (MMB).

Before I tell you how to create a MME and a MMB, let me explain why
you only need to do this for your main players in your story. Minor
characters, the ones that play peripheral roles in your novel, dont
need to be as complex as your main characters. If you make all your
characters complicated, your story will get bogged down.

Think about one of your favorite TV shows for a second. Since I like
Lost, Ill use it as an example. Even though there are at least a couple
dozen survivors of the plane crash on the island in Lost, we dont know
much about most of those characters. We see them. They
occasionally interact with the main characters, but theyre mostly in
the background.

That works because if we knew a lot about every character, the story
would move way too slowly. So the writers of the show have picked
the characters they want to focus on, and theyve let those characters
needs and desires be at the forefront.

This is what you need to do in your novel as well. So you only need to
know the Major Motivating Experiences and Major Motivating Beliefs of
your major characters.

Major Motivating Experience (MME)

The MME is the most important experience or experiences your

character has had in his or her past that explains why he or she is

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going to act the way he or she acts in this novel. This is basically
complex psychology simplified tremendously.

In real life, all of us have multiple MMEs that then create multiple
MMBs. But for the purpose of a novel, you want to only create one or
two for your main characters.

Let me give you an example of Major Motivating Experiences from my

life. One is negative and one is positive. One is from early in my life
and the other is more recent.

1. When I was a young teen, I was trying on clothes with

my mother. Although I wasnt fat (I was 5 7 and about
120 pounds), I had trouble getting the waistband closed on
a pair of size 7 pants.

My mother said to me (and this wasnt the first time shed

said it), Your waist is bigger than mine was at your age. I
had a 24 inch waist until I had you. Then it was a 25 inch

My waist was 26 inches. My stomach was flat, but it was

bigger than my mothers had been when she was my age.

2. Five years ago, I had a dream about a boy I knew in

high school. Tim was a sweet boy who I dated for a month
or so during my freshman year of college. Tim and I lost
touch, but I never forgot him because he was the kindest
person Id ever known.

After I had the dream, I felt compelled to find Tim. I did a

search online and found 4 men by his name in the country.
I didnt want to pick up the phone and call all four men (I
was too hesitant and shy), so I kept looking online. I
found, and I signed up for our class. Tim
wasnt there. Not a surprise. We had over 700 people in
our graduating class.

So I stopped looking and decided that if I was meant to

find him, something would happen to help me.
Apparently, I was meant to find him.

Less than two weeks later, I got an e-mail from letting me know that new people had

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signed up in my class. I went to the site, and to my

amazement, Tim had signed up. Within 2 weeks of my
doing so.

I sent him an e-mail. He was in North Carolina. Even

though we had numerous obstacles in the way of our
reuniting, we did reunite. Just a month later, he moved
here to be with me.

People in my life thought I was insane. I was taking a

HUGE risk, they said. What if Tim had changed in the 20-
some years since Id seen him? My friends were afraid I
was getting into a bad situation.

But I wasnt. Tim and I merged our lives easily. We got

along perfectly from the very beginning. We are head over
heels in love, and we are now happily married.

Youll see how these Major Motivating Experiences impacted my life in

just a bitafter I tell you the resulting Major Motivating Beliefs and
show you how those beliefs influence my actions.

First, let me give you an MME for a fictional character.

In my novel, Alternate Beauty, the main character is Ronnie. Her

boyfriend in our reality is Gilbert.

Gilbert loves Ronnie deeply, and he thinks shes beautiful. He doesnt

care about the fact that shes obese. He doesnt care about her flaws.
He sees her inner light and that reflects on how he sees her.

I didnt want to just create a plaster man who feels warm and fuzzy
about a 300 pound woman without explaining why. At the start of
Alternate Beauty, Ronnie isnt the most sympathetic character in the
world. Its not abundantly clear why a man would love her. She starts
the book out a bit whiny, and I havent revealed her good qualities
yet. So why would this guy see past her exterior?

To explain that, I gave Gilbert this MME:

Gilbert has a younger brother who was the star athlete in

high schoolreally good looking, quite a walking ego.
During high school, the brother had an accident that
resulted in him being severely burned and disfigured.

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Gilbert, who wasnt close to his brother before the

accident, helped his brother through the suicidal despair
and they became quite close.

After the accident, Gilbert saw his brother as a far more

attractive human being than hed been before the accident
because his brother was no longer hiding his natural
warmth and sensitivity beneath big-time jock posturing.
Gilberts brother was at his core, warm and creative, and
Gilbert was finally able to see that.

This experience didnt happen until Gilberts teenage years. Gilbert

probably had major experiences before then, but for the purposes of
my novel, this one was the most important, so this is the one I used.

The when of the MME isnt important as long as it happened long

enough ago to make a major and lasting impact on your character.

Now, as a result of the major experience, the character forms a belief.

Major Motivating Belief (MMB)

Our beliefs are created by our experiences. As a result of the things

that happen to us, we begin to see the world in a certain way, and we
begin to believe certain things about the world and ourselves.

Your characters Major Motivating Belief is the most important belief or

beliefs your character took on as a result of his or her Major Motivating
Experience. To show you how this works, lets go back to the two
MMEs I shared from my life. The first one was the one where my
mother told me that her waist was 2 inches smaller than mine when
she was my age.

As a result of that experience, I formed conclusions. These

conclusions became beliefs.

Here are a few of the beliefs I took on as a result of that experience:

A 26 inch waist is too big.

Im fat.
I need to lose weight.
I need a smaller waist in order to be okay.

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The second MME was the one where I looked for and found Tim and I
took a huge risk by inviting him to come be with me even though I
hadnt seen him in over 20 years. That experience created new beliefs
and solidified some beliefs that Id been trying to form before that:

Amazingly wonderful things happen when you take risks.

Long odds can be overcome.
Miracles are possible.
When you really want something, you can have it.
When you follow your whims, great things happen.

Now, take a look at the beliefs that Gilbert formed as a result of his
experience with his brother:

A persons exterior is irrelevant.

Real beauty is on the inside, not the outside.
You cant tell what a person is like by the persons exterior.

Do you see how this works? Your character has some pivotal
experience. That experience causes your character to draw a
conclusion about him or herself, about others, or about how the world
works, or all three. This conclusion is a belief than then drives her
actions through the course of the novel.

So heres how you put the MME and MMB together to form character

The Reason Behind The Action

Remember what we talked about at the beginning of this chapter?

What a person believes determines what the person needs or desires
in other words, beliefs determine wants.

Wants determine action.

Lets apply this equation to the MMEs and MMBs I shared about my

In the first example, the beliefs I had about my body created my

desire to be smaller than I was. So what action did that want create?
Dieting. Exercising. Constant obsession with my body size.

It may seem simplistic, and even a bit silly, when you dissect behavior
this way, but years of actions can often be traced back to one little

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event. And you see how the MME isnt always something earth

The MME can be a truly traumatic experience. But it can also be a

seemingly innocuous experience. Certainly any fly on the wall in the
dressing room the day that my mother made her comment to me
about her waist size wouldnt have predicted that that apparently
inconsequential statement would drive my actions for years to come.
And certainly, if I had been conscious of what was motivating my
actions, I would have thought the whole thing ridiculous. My mother
didnt mean to put me on the road to years of dieting and bingeing
when she made that statement.

But this is why humans are so complicated. We are brilliant at turning

molehills into mountains.

The second example I shared with you from my life had a more
positive impact. The beliefs that I have about miracles and following
whims has created in me a desire to take risks and go after what I

Since Tim came into my life, I have worked harder and been more
focused on my goals than I ever was before. The result is that Ive
sold 4 books since then, and Ive begun many other projects that I
wouldnt have started if I didnt now believe that when you really want
something, you can have it, and when you follow your whims, great
things happen.

Do you see how this works?

In Gilberts case, his belief that beauty is found within makes him want
to be with a woman who is, at her core, warm and loving. Even
though Ronnie weighs 300 pounds and is currently complaining about
everything, he sees past that to her warmth and kindness. Thats
what he loves, and thats why his action is to keep loving her even
when she tries to put her body size between them (figuratively, not

Okay, so you see how this works?

MME + MMB = Wants

Wants + Motivation = Action

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So how do you put these equations to work in your novel?

Determining Character Motivation In Your Novel

In real life, MMEs come first. MMBs come second. Wants come next.
Motivation follows wants, and actions are the result.

In the world of creating a novel, the process is backwards. Why?

Because you have a specific story to tell. You have conflict and story
questions to create.

Youve done this already, in Chapter One. So what you need to do

now is go back to all that work you did in chapter one and use it to
figure out your MME and MMB.

You need to think about what your character is going to be facing,

what her obstacles will be and what youre going to need her to do.
You walk through your plot and think about the story you want to tell,
and you create your MMB and MME so your characters actions will be

Heres an example of what I mean:

In a paranormal novel I wrote and am currently shopping around, my

main character, Kali Madison, gets drawn into a very bizarre situation.
Its quite an annoying, dangerous and weird situation, and I needed to
know why shed be willing to get involved with it.

In order to make my story work, Kali has to put her life on the line for
a bunch of people she doesnt even know. Why would she do that?

This is the question I needed to answer when I created her MME and

Heres Kalis MME:

Growing up, Kali had a best friend who had disfigurements

caused by birth defects. This friend was a smart,
wonderful girl, and Kali loved her dearly. After Kali and
her friend became adults, the friend became involved with
and married a man Kali didnt trust. Although Kali
suspected that the man was abusive, she didnt do
anything about it.

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The friend was badly beaten by this man, and she fled her
husband. Kali took in her friend, but the husband came
after the friend and murdered her.

Heres Kalis MMBs:

When Kali doesnt act on what she knows to help someone

who is weak and in need, something bad happens. Its
Kalis responsibility, as a strong woman, to stand up for
those who arent strong enough to stand up for
themselves. People who take advantage of or try to hurt
the weak must be stopped. All people have value, and
people who dont look right or who arent as smart or
capable or strong as others shouldnt be devalued. The
strong have an obligation to help the weak.

You can see why, given this experience and these beliefs, that Kali
would get involved in a complicated and bizarre situation that she
hated if it would help the weak, even if she didnt know the weak
people personally.

Remember the story we looked at in chapter one, the story about

Miranda and her dying husband and the Pentacle of Rorah?

Lets walk through the process of creating an MME and MMB for this

Heres the information youd need from that story:

The main characters. As we have them so far, the characters are

Miranda, Peter, maybe the doctor, the nurse who Peter thinks is
something other than what she appears to be, and probably the leader
of the Protectors. As the story goes on, the guide that Miranda has
help her climb the mountain will probably be a main character too.

For now, lets just focus on Miranda.

The next thing you need to know is your main characters


What does Miranda want? She wants to save her husband. She needs
to find the Pentacle of Rorah.

Okay, now you need to know the obstacles.

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Miranda faces the Protectors. She has to figure out how to get to the
top of the mountain, which wouldnt be a picnic even if the Protectors
werent out to stop her. She needs money for the trip.

Now you need to know how the character will overcome the obstacles.

We didnt get this far in Mirandas story in the last chapter. So let me
think for a second.

Okay, lets say that Miranda needs to find out who the protectors are
exactly and how they can be stopped. And lets say that they can only
be stopped with some kind of mind control.

Thats one thing shes going to have to learn how to door shes at
least going to have to find someone to do it for her.

Shes also going to have to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. And
shes going to have to get money.

Now you need to know your crisis point, climax, and satisfactory
conclusion. Lets say the crisis point is when the group of people
Miranda gathers face off against the Protectors for one last battle. The
climax is when this group defeats the protectors. The satisfactory
conclusion is when Miranda finds out that she needed to listen to her
husband and not try to do everything on her own and be so stubborn
in order to get the Pentacle of Rorah to save his life. Remember that
in a good novel, your main character grows, learns, and changes.

Now you need to be aware of your subplot. The subplot we came up

with was Peters attempt to get out of the hospital because he is being
watched and the nurse is something other than what she appears to
be. Part of this subplot is Mirandas unwillingness to accept her
husbands problems as real. So this subplot has two aspectsPeters
conflict with the people after him, and his conflict with Miranda.

Even though Miranda loves her husband, she obviously has issues
about trusting him or giving what he says credence.

Okay, now that you have all these aspects of your story in mind, what
kind of MME and what resulting MMB does Miranda need in order for
her to be a believable character in the story were creating.

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Miranda is taking on a pretty significant task here, one that would

intimidate most normal humans. So, as I mentioned in the last
chapter, she needs to be pretty darned determined. Why is she this
determined? Where does her strength and ability to persevere come

We also need her to be strong enough physically to climb a mountain

that has defeated many a seasoned climber. What kind of experience
from her past and resulting belief would have led her to develop that
kind of strength?

And she needs to be smart and resourceful. She has to get money
and find out how to defeat the Protectors, right? She also needs to be
open-minded if mind control is going to be part of how she defeats the

So keeping all this in mind, how about this MME?

When Miranda was a child, she and her parents moved into
an old house outside of a small town that was rich in
Native American history. Soon after they moved into the
house, odd things began to happen. Mirandas pet
hamster died. Her mother had an accident that left her
with a broken leg. Her father, who was already an angry
man, prone to drinking, started drinking even more. And
other accidents began happening, each one more serious
than the last.

Mirandas mother wanted to leave the house, but her

father wouldnt agree. Things kept getting worse and
worse, and Mirandas mother became determined to find
out what was going on.

It took a lot of research at the local library, and a lot of

talking to old-timers in the area, but Mirandas mother
finally found out that the house they lived in was built on
the site of an old Indian Reservation. Most of the Native
Americans who had lived on that reservation died after
contracting a disease that was passed to them from white
men. The house sits on the site of the chiefs residence,
and legend had it that the chief cursed the white man just
before he died.

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Because Mirandas mother wont leave Mirandas father,

she has to figure out how to lift the curse. So she keeps
searching until she finds a shaman who says he will do a
spirit dance to face the chief in the afterlife and get the
chief to undo the curse. He warns Mirandas mother that a
significant amount of danger is involved with this, but she
agrees anyway.

Several people need to be there in order for this spirit

dance to work. Miranda and her mother have to talk some
of their friends into being there, and its not easy to do.
One of the friends who shows up is a neighbor, a woman
who is a renowned adventurer and mountain climber.

The father, in the meantime, thinks the whole thing is

stupid. He is angry and gets even drunker.

The night of the spirit dance arrives, and during the

ceremonial dance, the house begins to shake and start to
break apart. The people who are gathered start to flee
all of them go except the mountain climbing neighbor. The
shaman keeps dancing, but before he can finish, a large,
heavy armoire falls and pins Mirandas father and mother
to the floor.

The neighbor rushes forward and works to free Mirandas

parents. The shaman tells her that she and Miranda need
to leave the house because anyone besides the shaman
who remains in the house for the rest of the ceremony
wont survive.

The neighbor manages to free Mirandas mother but hasnt

freed her father when the shaman demands again that the
neighbor remove Miranda and the mother from the house.
Theyll all die if they dont leave.

Mirandas mother refuses to leave. Even though she found

the shaman, she doesnt fully believe what the shaman
says, so she insists on staying with her husband. Miranda
tries to stay too, but the neighbor picks her up and carries
her out, even though Miranda isnt small.

The neighbor gets Miranda outside, and tells Miranda to

stay. Miranda tries to run back in. The neighbor whips off

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a belt and ties Miranda to light post to make sure Miranda

doesnt try to go back inside, and the neighbor rushes back
in. Even though Mirandas mother is resisting, the
neighbor manages to drag the mother out.

The shaman comes out a few minutes later. The curse is

gone, he says.

They all go back in and find the father, dead. But the
curse is gone, and after that, nothing odd happens in the
house again. Unfortunately, Mirandas mother is never the
same. She doesnt get over the grief of losing her

Okay, so this was a pretty traumatic MME, but that works for this
story. Do you see why? Mirandas story is an action/adventure. It
makes sense that a traumatic event would have shaped her.

Do you understand how it shaped her?

Here are her MMBs:

Miranda knows that she wouldnt be alive today if her

mother hadnt been willing to keep looking for answers
even when her father thought it was all stupid. So she
believes that you have to be willing to dig to get the
information you need.

The experience was pretty extreme and unusual. She saw

a shaman get rid of a curse and saw the ceremony kill her
father. So shed be pretty open-minded.

She also saw a strong woman save her and her mother
and do whatever it too, including tie Miranda up, to get the
job done. Miranda learned that physical strength is an
important quality, and inspired by the neighbor, she takes
up mountain climbing just to prove to herself that shes

She also believes that men have a tendency to be stupid.

Her father was close-minded and unaware of the dangers
around him. This explains why she may not listen to her
husband as she should.

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She also believes that when you love someone, the grief of
losing them can ruin your life.

She also believes that she must be strong and persevere

to get what she wants, and that often, the strangest things
are necessary to solve problems.

These MMBs will guide Miranda to the actions we want her to take in
the story. They will move her to find out about the Protectors. They
will make her capable of climbing a mountain. They will give her the
resourcefulness to get the money she needs. They will give her the
will to keep trying to save her husband until the very end.

Even though Miranda will be doing extraordinary things, her actions

will be believable. Why? Because weve given the reader the
information to explain Mirandas motivation and thus her actions.

Id like you to notice something about what Im doing with Mirandas

character. As I formed the MME and the MMBs, I kept in mind the way
I wanted Miranda to grow and change in the story. Im making
Miranda a tough, no-nonsense character who is pretty stubborn and
has a tendency not to listen when it doesnt suit her to listen. Im also
making her relationship with her beloved husband something other
than ideal.

Although Miranda loves her husband dearly, so much so that shes

willing to do whatever it takes to save him, she isnt the best wife she
could be. She has a tendency to over-control him and not take his
opinions seriously.

As you create your characters, you want to be thinking about how your
character needs to change. And then, you want to think about what is
going to motivate your character to make that change.

In a good plot, the events of the plot will combine with a characters
beliefs, which form his or her needs and desires, to bring about the
characters change. So in Mirandas story, in order for Miranda to
succeed in getting what she wants in this story (and what she wants is
to save her husband), she will need to let go of the need to control,
and shell need to listen to someone shes never listened to before.

If I was really writing this story, Id probably give Peter an MME and
MMB that will allow him to be the one who gets Miranda what she

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needs to defeat the Protectors. Im not sure what that would be, but I
hope you get the idea of how all this fits together.

Where To Get Ideas For MMEs And MMBs

I just made up the MME and MMB for Miranda in about 20 minutes.
Why was I able to do it so quickly? I drew on several resources. You
can use the same resources to create MMEs and MMBs for your

1. Personal experiences.

When you think about how your own experiences influenced your life,
it helps you come up with scenarios for your characters. A good
exercise to help you get the hang of MMEs and MMBs is to make a
quick list of MMEs from your life. Write out things that have happened
to you that have resulted in beliefs that guide your actions today.
Then list the beliefs and list the actions you take as a result.

2. Experiences of other people

Think about why the people you know or the people you read about or
hear about in the news do what they do. Try and find the motivating
experiences and beliefs in other people. This will give you oodles of
material to work with in creating your characters MMEs and MMBs.

3. Novels, movies, and TV shows.

Think about memorable characters from novels, movies, and TV

shows. What kind of back story did the novel, movie, or TV show offer
to explain the characters actions? (If they didnt offer anyit wasnt a
good novel, movie or TV show.) Pick a fictional character you love and
describe something from the characters past that the author or film
director revealed to explain the character.

Think of this as dissection. Youre taking something apart to see how

it works. This will help you put your MMEs and MMBs together.

So thats the process of creating your characters motivation. Once

youve done this, you can rest assured youll be creating a compelling,
realistic character when you write your novel. In the next chapter,
well fill in the rest of what you need to know about your characters
both main and secondary.

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One last thing before we leave the subject of your main characters.
This is a good time to figure out who is going to be your main
viewpoint character or characters.

Character Viewpoint

You have three basic choices for how youre going to tell your story. It
depends on which of your characters heads you want to get into.

1. Single character viewpoint.

In this kind of novel, you tell the whole story from one viewpoint. In
other words, you are inside the head of only one person.

It is through this persons eyes that we will see and hear everything in
the story. You cant ever describe something that this person doesnt
see. You cant tell the reader what another character feels or thinks
unless that character tells the viewpoint character.

There are two ways to tell this kind of story: First person (I
viewpoint) or third person (he or she viewpoint).

Using I is the easiest way to write a single character viewpoint

because it reminds you to never tell the reader anything that the I
character doesnt know or see or experience him or herself.

Even so, sometimes he or she just seems to work better. This is

fine. Just be sure you dont suddenly forget and start talking about
something your character couldnt possibly know.

So, for example, if we were writing Mirandas story from Mirandas

perspective only, we could never have a scene like this:

The doctor watched Miranda leave the room, and he

wondered if shed what it took to find the Pentacle of
Rorah. It was going to be entertaining to watch her try.

We cant know what the doctor is thinking if the story is only being
told from Mirandas perspective. If you wanted to get across that the
doctor was thinking this, youd have to have someone overhear the
doctor saying that he thought this, or youd have to have Miranda
guess, based on her observation of his facial expressions and his
actions, what she thought he was thinking.

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We could also never have a scene like this:

Mirandas hair shone in the light coming in through the

window. Normally auburn, her hair suddenly looked like it
was on fire.

Never mind that the above paragraph is clichd. What else is wrong
with it?

Miranda would never describe her hair that way. For one thing, she
wouldnt even see it unless she was looking in a mirror.

When youre writing in first person, I, you probably wont make

mistakes like this. So a good way to check for these mis-steps in your
story if youre writing from third person, he or she, is to switch the
scene to first person just to see how it sounds.

So the above paragraph would become:

My hair shone in the light coming in through the window.

Normally auburn, my hair suddenly looked like it was on

This sounds a little silly, right? It sure does, unless youve established
that youre standing in front of a mirror.

Use I in substitute for she or he to make sure that you arent

giving information that the character wouldnt know or wouldnt share.

2. Multiple character viewpoint.

In this kind of novel, more than one character can tell the story.
Multiple viewpoints can be useful in a novel with a lot of action and
subplots. If a lot of things are going on outside of the main
characters view that the reader is going to need to know about, youre
probably going to need more than one viewpoint character.

You will need to be careful if you use multiple viewpoints because you
will switch back and forth in your scenes between viewpoints. Youll
need to let your readers known which viewpoint youre using. And
youll have to make the switches seamless.

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For example, lets say we have both Mirandas and Peters viewpoint in
Mirandas story. Heres the way youd write a scene that switches the

Miranda cringed as the doctor stuck the needle in Peters

arm because she knew he didnt like needles. She was
surprised that he didnt flinch. She looked away from the
needle and raised her gaze to his eyes.

Peter concentrated on ignoring the stinging sensation in

his arm, and he kept his gaze on Miranda. He was sure
she was worried, and he didnt want her to be aware of his

By shifting from Mirandas reaction to Peters, the scene makes it clear

whose viewpoint is being used.

3. Omniscient viewpoint.

If you want to get in everyones head and tell the reader everything,
youll need to step back and pretend that youre God telling the story.
The only time you want to choose this viewpoint is when youre writing
some very complicated, epic story where you need to get into the head
of dozens of characters.

Even then, I think novels are usually more compelling if you use
subjective viewpoint, i.e., tell the story from the perspective of one of
the characters. The reason for this is that if youre using viewpoint
well, the way you describe the scene will reflect the character.

For example, Miranda, being a strong character, would probably

describe the scene in which a spear comes through the window and
kills the authors wife like this:

One minute the authors wife was about to tell Miranda

what Miranda wanted to know; the next minute she was
dead. Miranda dashed to the window and looked out. The
street was still. Grinding her teeth in frustration and
feeling someone guilty for the fact that she was more
upset that her source of information had been silenced
than she was that she now had a dead woman in her living
room, Miranda gazed at the blood staining the womans

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Lets say Mirandas friend, Joanne, was present for this scene and wed
established that her friend was a worrier and was quite emotional.
Heres the way the scene would read if it was written from the friends

The spear came out of nowhere, right through the open

window. Joanne screamed and froze. Next to her, the
authors wife grunted and then was still. Joanne screamed
louder. She felt tears spill from her eyes as she watched
Miranda rush to the window.

Dont do that, Joanne yelled. There could be more of


Joanna looked at the woman next to her. The womans

eyes stared sightlessly. Joannas tears came faster, and
she had trouble getting her breath. She gulped in air and
gasped, Close the window.

She wanted to shake her friend when Miranda left the

window open and turned to stare at the dead woman.

What are we going to do? Joanna wailed.

I guess well have to find someone else who knows what

we want to know, Miranda said.

Joanna cried harder. Sometimes she didnt understand

how Miranda could be so cold.

See? Same scene but totally different because it was told through a
different characters eyes.

Viewpoint and writing it well is another reason why you want to know
your characters motivations. When you understand what they believe
and what makes them do what they do, you can make your scenes
come alive with real human action and reaction.

Okay, thats it for the basic psychology of your main characters


You want to make sure you do this part well because the rest of your
characterization will fall flat if your characters motivations are unclear,
or worse, are false or make no sense.

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I highly recommend that you stop right now and do the Chapter Three
tasks in your Taskbook. Youll have trouble getting any further with
your characterization if you skip this step of the planning process.

I hope you have a lot of fun with this. If youre like me, youll
probably learn a lot about yourself as you go through this MME and
MMB process too. Thats good. The more you understand your own
motivations, the better youll be at creating great characters.

Also, heres a little bonus for you. You can use this MME and MMB
technique to help you in your personal life too. Heres how you do

If you have a behavior/habit that you dont like, trace it back to a MME
and then look at the MMBs that you formed as a result. Now, think
about how you can change those MMBs. Keep in mind always that
beliefs are choices and can be changed. You can modify unwanted
behaviors in your personal life by using this process.

You didnt know that novel writing could lead to personal growth, did

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If youve completed the tasks for Chapters One, Two and Three,
youve made a good start to planning your novel. In the last chapter,
we began working on preparing the character section of your novel
planning binder. In this chapter, well finish what you need to know to
complete that part of your binder.

Its time to get to know more about your main characters AND get to
know the rest of your characters. In this chapter, Im going to give
you a character creation method that will help you turn your
characters into complete story people, and Ill teach you how to use
that method so you have just what you need to make your characters
come to life on the page (and in your head and in the heads of your

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this chapter, think for a second
about the novels you love. What makes them so great?

Well, of course, they have compelling plots, but even the most
compelling plot wont make a great novel if the plot isnt populated by
great characters. Wonderful novels are filled with characters so real
that your readers will react to those characters emotionally. You want
your reader to either love or hate your characters. You want your
reader to sympathize or disagree with your characters. If your
characters are this real, theyll come to life to your readers, and your
readers wont be able to forget your characters (or your novel).

When I wrote my very first novel, Memories and Murder (a book that
has yet to be publishedbut not because of its characters ), I gave
the draft of it to my parents to read. When my dad finished the
manuscript, he handed it to me and shook his head regretfully. Im
sorry, he said, I didnt like it.

I was crestfallen. Why not? I asked.

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I didnt like the main character, he said.

He then went on to describe in great detail what he hated about my

main character. She was too outspoken, he said. She was too
smart-alecky. He hated the way she dressed, and he hated her

The more he went on, the better I felt. I realized that he didnt dislike
the book because the writing was bad or the story was bad, he disliked
the book because my main character came to life for him, and he took
an intense dislike to her.

This was good news. It meant Id created a real character.

The truth is youre not going to please every reader with your
characters. The type of person I like may not be the type of person
you like. But if you can create a character that gets a reaction out of
your reader, good OR bad, youve created a good character.

Part of creating good characters is thoroughness. Part of creating

good characters is brevity. These two things would seem to be
contradictory, yes?

In a way, they are. It comes down to balance. You must give your
readers enough information to make the character multi-dimensional
and complex. But you cant give your readers SO much information
that you bore them to death with too much information. You need to
get it just right.

This isnt as difficult as it sounds. Im going to give you a system that

will guide you. Im going to give you a fill-in-the-blanks process to
help you get just what you need for each character.

I call the preparation needed for characters character sketches.

Theyre basically word sketches of your characters physical, mental,
and emotional traits and your characters history.

I think creating character sketches is pretty fun. Its sort of like a

human puzzle.

To be sure you get just enough but not too much for your characters, I
highly recommend that you use a template. You can use any template

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you desire. Many books on creating story characters have character


The one Ill be describing to you in this chapter and the one that youll
find in your Taskbook is the one that works for me. Ive taken bits and
pieces from different templates Ive tried over the years and come up
with the one that has a good amount of character informationthe
amount that gives that balance I said you need to find with your

I actually use two templatesa major character template and a minor

character template. Basically, the minor character template is the
major character template with some sections missing. This is because
you dont need to know as much about minor characters. Ill talk more
about this in a bit.

As for how detailed your character sketches need to bejust to give

you a ball park, most of my main character sketches are 15 to 20
pages typed double-spaced. My protagonists sketch is usually 25 to
35 pages or so. Minor characters are generally only 3 to 6 pages or so
long. Other characters, depending on the role they play, get sketches
that are someplace in between.

Rememberyoure going after balance. You want your sketches to be

complete enough so you know this person as a real person but not so
much that you could write the persons memoir.

One more thing before I move on to the templates and how to fill
them inheres the tough thing about these sketches you need to
create for your characters: You wont use about of what you create
in your sketches. Most of the character background and other
information will never make it into the novel. You wont need it.

So why create it?

Because as I just said, you need to know this person as if he or she

was a perfectly real person. If you dont know all this stuff about your
characters, youre not going to make the character behave believably
in all situations. Youll slip upI guarantee it. If the character is real
and complete, the character will only do what that character would
naturally do.

To understand how this works, think of someone you know with whom
youre VERY close. Your spouse, a parent, a sibling, a best friend.

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Now consider how much, on any given day, this person reveals of his
or her personality, emotional state, mental state, and/or background.

The amount is tiny, isnt it? Especially when you compare it to what
you know about this person. In most life situations, most people dont
reveal even a of what makes them the people that they are.

Your novel characters are similar. In fact, they reveal even less of
themselves, unless you want to write a REALLY long book or a boring,
tedious one.

Okay, so here are the sections of your main character template

Major Character Sketch Template

NameFirst, Middle, Last

Age and birth date
Physical Appearance
Physical imperfection would most like to change
Movement/gestures/facial expressions
Voice/pet sayings/speaking style/laugh
Race/ethnic group
Religion/philosophy of life
Friends & pets
Crucial experiences/trauma/psychological scars/painful things
(including MME and MMB)
Skills/abilities/talents/hobbies/sports & interests
Personality (Including Zodiac sign and Personality Type)
Bad Habits/vices
Prejudices/pet peeves/gripes
Things that make uncomfortable/embarrassed
Stands on political/social issues
TV Shows/movies/books/music
Places visited (travel)

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Sex/opposite sex/turn ons and offs

Im going to go through each of these template sections and explain

what you need in each and give you the occasional hint about where
you can get help with filling in those sections. Then Im going to give
you some examples of the kind of information that you want in each
section by using Miranda from the Pentacle of Rorah story Ive been
playing with in the last couple chapters.

Before I go on, let me remind you of Mirandas story and what Ive
determined about the plot and Mirandas character so far after chapter
one and chapter two:

The main characters in our story are Miranda, Peter,

maybe the doctor, the nurse who Peter thinks is something
other than what she appears to be, probably the leader of
the Protectors, and maybe the guide that Miranda has help
her climb the mountain.

Miranda wants to save her husband, and she needs to find

the Pentacle of Rorah. Her main obstacles are the
Protectors, the mountain climb, and how to get money for
her trip to the mountain.

To overcome these obstacles, Miranda will need to find out

who the protectors are exactly and how they can be
stopped. Because they can only be stopped with some
kind of mind control, Miranda is going to have to either
learn how to use mind control or find someone who can do
it for her. Shes also going to have to climb to the top of
Mount Kilimanjaro. And shes going to have to get money.

You need to keep in mind your crisis point, climax, and satisfactory
conclusion as you create your characters, so let me remind you what I
came up with for Miranda:

The crisis point is when the group of people Miranda

gathers to help her faces off against the Protectors for one
last battle. The climax is when this group defeats the
protectors. The satisfactory conclusion is when Miranda
finds out that she needed to listen to her husband and not

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try to do everything on her own and be so stubborn in

order to get the Pentacle of Rorah to save his life.

You also need to keep your subplot in mind as you create

characters. Heres the one I came up with in Mirandas

Peter is attempting to get out of the hospital because he is

being watched and the nurse is something other than what
she appears to be. Part of this subplot is Mirandas
unwillingness to accept her husbands problems as real.
So this subplot has two aspectsPeters conflict with the
people after him, and his conflict with Miranda.

Even though Miranda loves her husband, she obviously has

issues about trusting him or giving what he says credence.
That will need to be part of her character sketchthis trust

In Chapter Three, I developed Mirandas MME and her MMB. I

decided, based on the plot points for the Pentacle of Rorah story, that
Miranda needed to be very determined. I needed her to be strong-
willed and strong physically, and I needed her to have a drive to
persevere. I also needed her to be smart and resourceful. And I
needed her to be open-minded.

I gave her a history to explain why she would be all of these things. I
wont repeat that story here. I would suggest, though, that you flip
back to that part of Chapter Two to find the experience we gave
Miranda. From that story, I gave Miranda these Major Motivating

She believes that you have to be willing to dig to get the

information you need. She believes that the bizarre and
unusual can easily happen. She knows that physical
strength is an important quality. She also believes that
men have a tendency to be stupid. And she believes that
when you love someone, the grief of losing them can ruin
your life.

These MMBs will not only guide Mirandas actions in the story, they will
help me create the rest of her character sketch. Remember as I
create the sketch, that I built her MME and the MMB in such a way that
Miranda will be able to grow and change in the story. I decided that

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Miranda is a tough, no-nonsense character who is pretty stubborn and

has a tendency not to listen when it doesnt suit her to listen. I also
decided to make her relationship with her beloved husband something
other than ideal. Ill need to keep this in mind as I fill in her character

Although Miranda loves her husband dearly, so much so that shes

willing to do whatever it takes to save him, she isnt the best wife she
could be. She has a tendency to over-control him and not take his
opinions seriously. As you create your character sketches, you want
to be thinking about how your character needs to change.

So with all of this in mind, Im going to build a partial character

sketch. (Doing a complete sketch isnt needed here. Youll get the
idea with partial examples. Everything Ive created for the Pentacle of
Rorah story Ive been making up as I write these chapters, and it
would be overkill for me to do a full character sketch for Miranda.)

Heres how you fill in the template:


This one may seem like a no-brainer. But if you want to create great
characters, dont give short shrift to this part of your character sketch.
It will help you create a more real and layered character if you know
how your character got her name and if she likes it or not and whether
its origin is important.

Miranda is Latin name that means deserves admiration. This is a

good name for a woman who will do the amazing things we need
Miranda to do. Now, I could just give Miranda any old middle name,
but I want to reflect her heritage.

Because I need her to be determined, and I know she needs to be

quite strong-willed, Ive decided to give her some Irish heritage. To
reflect this, Ill give her the middle name, Casey, which means brave.

Given what I know of her MME, Id say the Irish heritage is on her
mothers side. Her father was more malleable. I believe Ill give him a
British heritage (no offense to anyone with such a heritage), and
therefore Ill give her a maiden name of English originHuntington.

I want her husband to be a bit more of a romantic than she is, so for
fun, Ill give him a French heritage and that will make his last name,

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and hers, Perrin. Which, by the way, means rock, which I think is
appropriate given the stubbornness issues going on here and the fact
that Miranda will have to climb a big rock, a mountain, to save her

Miranda likes her name because its a bit out of the ordinary, and that
gives her a sense of strength.

Do you see how the naming aspect of your character isnt as simple as
you might think? If you do it well, your naming process will help you
build a great character.

The book I used to help pick these names is The Writers Digest
Character Naming Sourcebook, which I list in the Resource section at
the end of this e-book.

Age and birthday

Here again, dont just phone this section in. Choose an age that
makes sense for what your character needs to do in your story.

As for birth date, you dont always need this, but it can be helpful.
One tip Im going to give you in the Personality section below is that
the Zodiac can be a big help in building believable personalities for
your characters. It doesnt matter whether or not you believe in the
Zodiac. Just think of the 12 signs and their related characteristics as
personality blueprints. If you find one you like, that would fit your
character, at least in part, use it.

If you do use it, it means you need to choose a birthday that will fall
within that Zodiac sign. Because I want Miranda to be an Aries, Im
going to give her a birthday of April 3. (Aries is the Ram. This is my
signI know it from experience. Aries tend to be stubborn and
determined.) I want Miranda to be young, but not too young. Ill
make her 28 years old. The year of her birth will depend on what year
the story will take place.


This is basic info, but it can have a big impact on your story. In
Alternate Beauty, for example, Ronnies weight of 300 pounds is
integral to the story.

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For Miranda, I think I want her to be a substantial woman, even

imposing. So Ill make her 5 11, 180 pounds.

Physical Appearance

This part of the sketch is the body type, size etc. Create a clear word
picture of your character, but dont belabor minor points.

For example, Miranda is quite muscular. She has muscular definition

in her legs, arms, back, butt, and belly. She has long legs, a short
torso, by comparison, broad shoulders. She has large hands with
short fingers. (Im giving her these short fingers because I think that
could play into a climbing obstacle at some point in the story. Do you
see how even minor character qualities can have an impact on your

If I was doing this sketch for real, Id give at least another paragraph
of detail on Mirandas body, but this is enough to give you an idea of
how you need to create a body to fit what the character must do in
your story. Make the body work for the character AND against the


Your characters skin color and skin quality can make your character
more interesting and also cause obstacles or help for your character.

Im going to make Miranda very pale-skinned and freckled (in keeping

with her Irish and her English heritage). The fair skin will make her
appear weaker than she is, something she can use to her advantage.
It could also be an obstacle in climbingshe could easily get wind- or

Im not going to go into greater detail here, but keep in mind things
like birthmarks, blemishes, moles, etc. when you describe this aspect
of your character. Also is your characters skin soft or calloused, dry
or greasy? How does the skin smell?


The same guidelines that apply to physical appearance and skin apply
here. Make these details work for and against your character.

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Im going to make Miranda blonde. It will work against her in that

people may not take her as seriously as shed like. It will work for her
because she may be able to use flirtation as an asset.

Ive decided Miranda will be quite beautiful. I want her to be against

type. Youd expect a mountain-climbing, determined woman of 5 11
to be a bit rugged. Im going to make her feminine-looking. So Ill
give her cornflower blue eyes, high cheekbones, a heart shaped face, a
soft, round chin, a dimple about an inch above the right corner of her
mouth. Ill give her full, wide lips and very white teeth. But so shes
not TOO perfect, Ill make her teeth a little crooked.

I could go on here, but do you see how Im sculpting some

consistencies and some contradictions. Also notice how I used details.
I didnt just give her blue eyes; I gave her cornflower blue eyes.

Want help with colors and other features? I suggest Word Menu, a
book Ive included in the Resources section at the end of this e-book.
Ive also listed another character reference book, Building Believable
Characters, than can help you with facial features and hair colors.

Physical imperfection would most like to change

This is a small part of the template, but it can be telling.

For example, I could make Mirandas height the imperfection shed like
to change. That would mean shes uncomfortable with her power and
with standing out. But thats not in her character. I think Ill make
those short fingers the imperfection she doesnt like. Its not because
shes self conscious about the appearance of her fingersits that the
imperfection causes her logistical problems. This helps establish
Miranda as a no-nonsense woman more about action than the way
things look.

Notice that all these little details help tell the overall story of who your
character is.

Movement/gestures/facial expressions

Your characters are not going to stand still. Theyre going to move
and talk and think. You need to know what they look like when they
do these things.

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Now, you dont have to know how they look when they do everything
that they do. Just pick a few choice details about movement, a few
choice gestures, and a few specific facial expressions.

For example, Miranda walks with a fast gait but shes extremely
graceful. She could be a model if she wanted to beshe glides
quickly. She keeps her arms still at her sides when she walks. Thats
her movement.

For gestures and facial expressions, as a rule of thumb, I try and pick
three or four of each for main characters.

Miranda, for example, often points at people like shes shooting a gun,
when shes talking. She also frequently rubs her jaw line with her little
finger. One of her facial expressions is a raised eyebrow grimace that
expresses doubt or impatience. These are just a couple of examples,
but they should give you an idea of what you need to do for your

Voice/pet sayings/speaking style/laugh

This is how your character sounds. How deep or high is his or her
voice? Does the voice have a vibration, a hesitation, a stutter? Is it
smooth or rough or something in between? Does your character tend
to talk loudly or softly? What phrases does he or she often use? Does
he or she use a casual speaking style or something more formal or
something in between? What does your characters laugh sound like?

Miranda has a soft, almost whispery voice. It doesnt fit her stature or
her personality. On the phone, she sounds like a petite, shy woman.
She often says, Make me and Thats the way it goes. She speaks
in short sentences most of the time but often throws in large words
that people dont understand. Its a way of getting power. She has a
deep laugh thats loud and tends to erupt suddenly.

This is just a few tidbits; Id get far more detailed in a full sketch, but
it gives you an idea of what you need here.


How does your character dress? Whats in his or her closet?

Your characters fashion sense, or lack thereof, can say a lot about his
or her character.

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Miranda, for example, mostly wears jeans or cargo pants and t-shirts,
but she likes dressing up in sexy dresses to go out once in awhile.
This suggests that shes no-nonsense, which she is, but she does have
a feminine, playful side.

Race/ethnic group

This is your characters heritage. Miranda, for example, as Ive said, is

Irish/English. For her complete character sketch, Id explore her
family a bit more and complete this. I could give her some Native
American in her heritagethis could explain her openness to the spirit
world, for example.

Religion/philosophy of life

You need to know how your character sees the world, the spirit aspect
of the universe. Does he or she believe in God? If so, what God?
What beliefs does your character have about faith and how the
universe works?

Miranda, for instance, has a lot of New Age philosophies. She believes
in spirit guides. She believes that there is a divine being but she
rejects mainstream religions and their limited way of thinking.

See how the way your character thinks about religious/faith/spiritual

issues will have an impact on your story? I chose Mirandas beliefs so
theyll fit what shes going to do to defeat the Protectors. They also fit
with her backgroundas we know it from her MME. (Remember, you
cant just choose qualities and background to fit what you want the
character to do. You need to make the whole thing work together as a
package that makes cohesive sense.)


What is your characters family history? You dont need to get too
carried away here. Usually grandparents, parents and siblings will
work. Sometimes youll need to know more about aunts, uncles, and
cousins, but for most stories, generalities on the size of the extended
family will do.

What is your characters background? Where did he or she go to

school? Was he or she in the military? Has he or she been arrested
for a crime?

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I usually start with a bit of history about the characters parents and
grandparents. How did the parents and grandparents meet? What
kind of people, generally, were they? What did they do for a living?

Then I move on to a general statement about childhood. For example,

Miranda was a quiet child. She loved to read, and she spent a lot of
time alone. She has no patience for stupidity, so she didnt make
friends easily. Other kids thought she was stuck up.

Then I go on to later childhood and the teen years. Miranda becomes

further ostracized from friends as she gets older because shes so
much bigger than the other kids. She has to learn to be self-sufficient.
She spent a lot of time playing make-believe in her back yard and in
the fields near her home. She befriended a lot of eccentric adults.

Then I move on to adult years. Miranda went to college and got a

degree in botany. She was going to go into research, but then she
met Peter in college. His father owned a nursery that was left to Peter
when his father died of a sudden brain aneurysm. Miranda was
attracted to Peter because of his sense of duty and loyalty and his
steadfast determination to succeed. Hes also quite good-looking and
charming, and she is physically attracted to him. The idea of marrying
a man and running a business with himone that they owned so they
could be in control, and one that required physical labor and allowed
her to be outdoors much of the time appealed to her.

I would go on with this adult history to fill in quite a bit of detail about
Mirandas history with Peter. That history will play into the story, so I
need quite a bit of detail about it. Id also describe jobs shes held in
the pastnot just focus on her current career of running the nursery
with Peter.

Your characters job or career often reveals a lot about him or her.
Usually, your characters career or job will be obvious to you, but if
youre having trouble choosing one, Careers For Your Characters,
which I list in the Resources section at the end of this e-book, can help

This section of the character sketch is generally pretty lengthy. Youll

always want WAY more background than youll use.

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Friends and pets

Does your character have a lot of friends? Not many friends? What
kind of people are they? How about pets? Any dogs or cats or
pythons that your character had or has?

Your characters interrelations with others reveal character.

Miranda, for example, has dozens of acquaintances but only a couple

close friends. She tends to be bossy still, and it takes peaceable
people who dont mind being controlled to be friends with Miranda.
She has never had a pet, and doesnt see the point of them.

See how the people and animals around your character reveal the

Crucial experiences/trauma/psychological scars/painful things

(including MME and MMB)

Once youve created your characters MME and MMB, which you
learned to do last chapter, youve done much of the work of this
section. Youll also need to ferret out some trauma or note that your
character has experienced no trauma. Either way, those facts will
leave their mark on your character.

Miranda, for example, has experienced the trauma of losing her father,
and shes seen how that affected her mother. Its part of her MME and
MMB. Trauma often is part of the MME. She might also have some
lesser betrayals. I think, for instance, Ill give her the history of a
climbing partner who let her down on a climb and it caused an
accident that nearly killed her. This would make her less likely to trust
her guide when she goes after the Pentacle of Rorahit creates
another obstacle.

Know what the highlights are of your characters lifeboth good and
bad, but especially bad. The bad tends to stick to us longer and have
a more profound impact, sadly enough.

Skills/abilities/talents/hobbies/sports & interests

What can your character do? What interests him or her?

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Miranda climbs mountains. Shes a champion arm wrestler. Shes

strong, but shes never learned how to fight in hand to hand combat.
She is good at tying knotsshe dated a guy who liked to sail when she
was in high school. She has a great memory. She loves to read.
Shes a fast runner. She jogs daily. She loves to cook ethnic food.
She likes to refinish furniture.

You need to give your character a combination of interests that serve

what your character will need to do in the book and talents/interests
that simply create a memorable character. Mirandas ability to refinish
furniture may not play into the plot, but it could create a memorable
scene if she is working on furniture while shes thinking about what to
do next. The best characters have interesting hobbies/talents.


If you know all the information you worked on in chapter one, all the
stuff on those lists I had you make, you know how to fill in this
section. You know what your characters goals are.

Miranda, for instance, intends to save her husband. Her goal is to get
the Pentacle of Rorah. She has other goals too, Im sure, but the ones
that matter most are the ones relevant to the story.


Just as your chapter one prep filled in the last section, it fills in most of
this one too. Mirandas main needs have to do with what will
overcome the obstacles shell face in the story. But she also needs to
be in control. She needs to keep the people she loves safe.

Personality (including Zodiac sign and Personality Type)

As I mentioned above, in the age section, Zodiac information can be

very helpful to creating a characters personality. There are a lot of
online resources that describe the personality characteristics of various
signsIve listed a couple of them in the Resources section below.
Using these Zodiac descriptions can help you create a consistent

For example, here is what www.astrology-online has to say about


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The young ram is adventurous, ambitious, impulsive,

enthusiastic and full of energy. The Arian is a pioneer both
in thought and action, very open to new ideas and a lover
of freedom. They welcome challenges and will not be
diverted from their purpose except by their own
impatience, which will surface if they don't get quick

See how that fits Miranda?

Later on in the online Aries description, it says this:

You make good athletes and climbers, doctors, explorers

(of new ideas as well as uncharted territory, the latter in
these days including adventuring into outer space),
soldiers, sailors and airmen, and leaders, though awkward
subordinates, in industry and politics.

Fits, again, right?

Notice how this information has helped fill in Mirandas personality with
not a whole lot of thinking and work on my part.

Heres another great way to fill in personality:

One of my favorite character sourcebooks is The Writers Guide to

Character Traits, which is listed in the Resource section at the end of
this e-book. In that book, youll find a list of 21 personality styles that
give a complete overview of a personality.

For example, of the styles in that book, Id choose the Problem Solver
style for Miranda. Once I choose that style, the book tells me that
Miranda would be resourceful, disciplined, reliable, healthy, and would
be a high achiever (among other qualities). The book also lists the
interpersonal skills associated with a type. Miranda, for instance, if
this type, would be good under fire and not easily disturbed. That
fits her.

Not all the traits in a style will fit your character. Thats okay. No one
is perfectly predictable. Your characters shouldnt be either.

Another good resource for personality is the Building Believable

Characters book I mentioned earlier. It has great lists of character

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Or simply think about the people you know. Think about yourself.
Think about people in books and movies. Pull a little of this and a little
of that. Just be sure you create a character who makes sense as a

If you keep in mind the characters MME, MME and background, youll
pick traits that make sense. And if you keep in mind your plot
conflict, question, etc., youll pick traits that allow your character to do
whats needed in the story without behaving like a paper puppet.


This could be part of personality, but I like it separate because it

allows you to pinpoint a few things that make your character really
stand out. For instance, Miranda meditates daily, while standing on
her head.

This is pretty quirky and eccentric. But I would make it relevant to the
story, and it reflects her self-discipline and her will.

You only need to pick one to three quirks for a main character. Or you
need to acknowledge that your character completely lacks quirks.

Bad Habits/vices

Does your character have an addiction or some other bad habit? I

hope so. We all have bad habits. Having a bad habit or two or three
or more makes a character more believable.

Miranda, for example, tends to hang up on people. She also doesnt

listen. She craves peanut butter and gets really grumpy when she
doesnt get it. She chews on her fingernails when shes thinking.

Some characters will have more serious bad habits/vices than others.
It will depend on your characters personality.

Prejudices/pet peeves/gripes

Know what your character hates and complains about. This will help
you keep your character real, and it will also help you create obstacles
for your character.

Miranda, remember, hates stupidity. One of her pet peeves is people

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who are slow to act and who are simple-minded. She often complains
about how lazy people are. Shes prejudiced against people on

These qualities dont make her particularly appealing, do they? But

they are consistent with who she is, and theyll play into the story.

Things that make uncomfortable/embarrassed

What makes your character feel uncomfortable or embarrassed? You

need to know so youll know how shell act in particular situations.

Miranda, for example, is uncomfortable with illness. So shes going to

act strained in the presence of her sick husband. Making a mistake
embarrasses her. She hates making mistakes. So shell act a certain
way when she makes mistakes. She might act rashly, lashing out in
an attempt to cover her embarrassment, which could make her
situation worse (always a good thing in a novelremember you want
to give your characters lots of obstacles).

Stands on political/social issues

Often, this wont come into play at all in your novels, but if you know
how your character feels about these things, youll have a better
understanding of your character.

Miranda, for example tends to be conservative politically, even though

shes open-minded spiritually. She doesnt like social programs
because she believes in self-sufficiency.


This section has to do with opinions that go beyond the scope of

political opinions. For example, Miranda believes that good friends will
do anything for each other, even if they dont agree with what the
other is doing. She thinks bright colors in clothing are obnoxious and
the sign of someone seeking attention.

A characters opinions will have an effect on the actions a character



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What is your character afraid of? Fears can create motivation and

Miranda, for instance, is afraid of losing her husband. This explains

her motivation to do anything she can to save him.

I could give her a phobia about heights, which could make her an all
the more impressive character. A climber afraid of heights? Even
though shes afraid of them, she forces herself to climb anyway to
prove her strength.

TV Shows/movies/books/music

What does your character like to watch, read, or listen to? Your
characters tastes will reveal your character.

For instance, Miranda loves adventure movies and paranormal books.

She listens to hard rock.

Places visited (travel)

Where has your character been? This can have a big impact on a
characters actions.

A character who hasnt traveled much will behave differently on an

adventure than one who has traveled a lot.

Miranda hasnt traveled outside the country before. She doesnt think
it will be all that different than the travels shes had in the U.S. This
could create some problems on her trip to Mount Kilimanjaro to get
the Pentacle of Rorah.


What does your character like to eat and drink? Where does he or she
like to eat out? Or does he or she not like eating out?

Miranda tends to be a junk-food-aholic. So shes annoyed when the

Protectors tell her that cleansing her spirit with a raw foods diet is

Aspects of your character like this one can be an interesting way to

add obstacles and interest to your story.

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Sex/opposite sex/turn ons and offs

Knowing this will determine how your character will act with the
opposite sex. Who will he or she be attracted to? Who will he or she
be repelled by?

Miranda is completely turned off by wimpy menthey remind her of

her father. She hates men who drinkagain a reaction to her father.
When she finds out her climbing guide is a hard drinker, shes going to
be predisposed not to trust or like him.


If the characters home or surroundings is going to be one of your

settings for your book, dont do much with this part of the template.
Youll have a whole section on this in the Settings part of your binder.

If your characters home or surroundings wont be a setting, you do

need to fill this in at least some. A characters surroundings say a lot
about the character.

Mirandas surroundings tend to be a bit Spartan. She chooses neutral

colors. She has an area for her furniture refinishing and a place to
store her climbing equipment.

Shes slept in hammocks on hikes and climbs, and she likes how it
feels, so she has one in her living room.


Like a characters surroundings, his or her car reveals a lot as well. Is

it an SUV, a luxury car, an old beater?

You dont need great detail here unless the car is an integral part of
the story. But you do need to know what the car is.

Miranda has an old Nissan Pathfinder. Its beat up and rugged, but the
engine is in perfect condition.

Okay. I hope this gives you an idea of what you need to create a full
character sketch for a main character.

Always keep your plot in mind as you do your sketches. It will help
you create your characters.

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For minor characters, your template wont have as many sections.

Minor Character Sketch Template

NameFirst, Middle, Last

Physical Appearance
Movement/gestures/facial expressions
Voice/pet sayings/speaking style/laugh
Race/ethnic group
Religion/philosophy of life
Friends & pets
Crucial experiences/trauma/psychological scars/painful things
Skills/abilities/talents/hobbies/sports & interests
Bad Habits/vices

When you fill in these sections in the minor character template, you
can put in at least half as much or less information. Instead of giving
a full description of each part of your character, just pick out one or
two details. All you need is some general information in each section.
Notice that the Crucial Experiences section of the minor character
sketch template doesnt include an MME and MMB as the major
character sketch template did. You dont need that background for
minor characters. (If you have it, though, by all means, use it.

To choose the right details for your minor characters, keep in mind the
story. What will your minor character need to do in the story?

If a character is only going to be in one scene and play a very minor

role, you dont need a character sketch at all. Just give the reader one
or two physical traits and a personality trait to describe the character
and move on.

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Thats it for your characters. I recommend that you stop at the end of
this chapter and do the tasks for this chapter in your Taskbook. When
you follow the template and keep your story in mind, and youll find it
relatively easy to create great story characters.

I hope you enjoy this character-building process. Its fun to create

people. Talk about powerits the only time in your life that youll be
able to get people to do what you want them to do.

Well, this is true to an extent. If you build good characters, you wont
be able to fully control them. Theyll take on a life of their own. And if
they do, youve done your job well.

Have fun building story people

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If youve done the tasks for Chapters One through Four, you now have
your plot work done and your character work done (or at least you
know how to do it, and if its not done, you know what to do to get it
done). Now its time to learn how to do the preparation work for the
place part of your novel. Its time to work on setting.

In this chapter, youre going to learn how to avoid a common mistake

that many writers make with regard to their novels setting. Youre
going to learn a fun technique to get at least some of your readers
excited about your setting, and youre going to learn how to pave the
way to creating rich detail in your novel.

How To Avoid A Common Setting Mistake

Many lesser writers, especially beginning writers, make this big

mistake with regard to setting: Setting is an afterthought.

The writer creates the plot and then plunks it in a convenient setting.
If you could put your story in any setting and the story wouldnt
change, you are making the same mistake.

To avoid this mistake, you must be able to tie your story and your
characters to your setting in a way thats compelling. You need to
make sure that your setting is important to the story youre telling and
the people in your story.

You can assure a compelling setting by doing two things. First, make
sure the setting helps move the plot. Second, make sure the setting
helps develop your character (at least one of them, if not more).

1. Linking setting to plot.

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Every good story has a context.

Sure, most stories could be told in a vacuum, without regard to time

or place, but the best stories are inextricably linked to whats going on
around the story.

For example, think about Gone With The Wind. Romance stories are a
dime a dozen. Love triangles are a common story technique. The
story of Gone With The Wind isnt unusual. In fact, its rather

So what made Gone With The Wind such a success? What made
Scarlet OHara and Rhett Butler so memorable?

Was it their charactertheir qualities? Not likely.

Scarlet is a spoiled, selfish, manipulative woman who expects to get

what she wants and eventually learns that she needs to work hard to
build the life she wants. Sound like a unique character, something
youve never heard of before and wouldnt forget? Hardly.

And Rhett? Well, hes not much of a character at alljust the rugged
ladys man.

So why was Gone With The Wind such a hit?

Because of its context. Scarlets story played out against the backdrop
of the Civil War. The setting provided a powerful context that made
the story and the characters unforgettable.

In order to create this kind of compelling context for your story, you
need to do two things:

First, know why your story must be told in the place youve chosen for
it. Why is this THE setting for your story?

Ill give you two examples of a setting being THE one for a story. The
first example is the setting in my novel, Alternate Beauty.

Alternate Beauty is set in Seattle. Why Seattle?

Ronnie is a fashion designer, but shes not a successful oneat least

not at the beginning of the book. Shes unlikely to be a highly

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successful designer because shes a large woman, and shes designing

for large woman.

Ronnies story needs to be told in a citya city with enough of a

fashion community that Ronnies fashion dream has a chance of
succeeding but with not so much of a fashion community that Ronnie
could never hope to break in.

The story also needs to be told in a beautiful city, a city where

aesthetics are important. Seattle, The Emerald City, is such a city.

This metropolitan setting is essential to Ronnies story. Had I tried to

set her story in a small town, it wouldnt have been the story I told. If
Id tried to put her in a larger city or one with a different attitude, like
say, New York, or Chicago or L.A., the story wouldnt have been the
same story. The plot I created had to take place in Seattle.

Okay, now Ill use Mirandas Pentacle of Rorah story as a second

example. Before I choose a setting for Mirandas story and show why
its THE setting for her story, let me review briefly what we know of
Miranda and the plot of her story.

The other characters in Mirandas story are her husband,

Peter, maybe the doctor, the nurse who Peter thinks is
something other than what she appears to be, probably
the leader of the Protectors, and maybe the guide that
Miranda has help her climb the mountain.

Miranda wants to save her husband, and she needs to find

the Pentacle of Rorah. Her main obstacles are the
Protectors, the mountain climb, and how to get money for
her trip to the mountain.

To overcome these obstacles, Miranda will need to find out

who the protectors are exactly and how they can be
stopped. Because they can only be stopped with some
kind of mind control, Miranda is going to have to either
learn how to use mind control or find someone who can do
it for her. Shes also going to have to climb to the top of
Mount Kilimanjaro. And shes going to have to get money.

The crisis point of the story will be the battle between

Miranda and her helpers and the protectors. The climax is
when this group defeats the protectors. The satisfactory

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conclusion is when Miranda finds out that she needed to

listen to her husband and not try to do everything on her
own and be so stubborn in order to get the Pentacle of
Rorah to save his life.

The subplot in our story is that Peter is attempting to get

out of the hospital because he is being watched and the
nurse is something other than what she appears to be.
Part of this subplot is Mirandas unwillingness to accept her
husbands problems as real. So this subplot has two
aspectsPeters conflict with the people after him, and his
conflict with Miranda.

Even though Miranda loves her husband, she obviously has

issues about trusting him or giving what he says credence.
Mirandas MME and MME have made her very determined,
strong-willed and strong physically, and theyve given her
a drive to persevere. Shes smart and resourceful. And
shes open-minded.

She believes that you have to be willing to dig to get the

information you need. She believes that the bizarre and
unusual can easily happen. She knows that physical
strength is an important quality. She also believes that
men have a tendency to be stupid. And she believes that
when you love someone, the grief of losing them can ruin
your life.

Although Miranda loves her husband dearly, so much so

that shes willing to do whatever it takes to save him, she
isnt the best wife she could be. She has a tendency to
over-control him and not take his opinions seriously.

When I did part of Mirandas character sketch in the last

chapter, I established that Miranda has stubborn Irish
heritage. Shes beautiful but big and muscular. Shes a
little quirky, has New Age beliefs, and is down to earth
she doesnt worry about appearances.

Okay, now let me put Miranda and her story in a setting.

You might think that the setting for Mirandas story is a no-brainer.
Its Mount Kilimanjaro, right?

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Well, yes, and no.

Yes, thats where Miranda ultimately has to go to do what she must do

to get the Pentacle of Rorah. But the bulk of the story wont be her
trek up the mountain. It will happen before her trek, when shes
trying to figure out how to get to the mountain.

Where should this part of the story be set?

Well, I could plunk it in pretty much any city, couldnt I? That would
give me lots of places for interesting happenings.

But I think for this story to work really well, I need some juxtaposition.
I need the story to take place in a highly unlikely setting.

Mirandas story is a bizarre story. It has an element of the

paranormal. The story itself is unusual. Lets put the story in a
usual place to make the story seem even more unusual.

Ive decided to set Mirandas story in a small Midwest town. Im going

to create a fictional town, a town of about 10,000 people. Ill call it
Granger, after its conservative founding family. Granger is a farming
community. Its a down-home community. Its a straight-laced,
normal community. And it will provide a delightfully mundane
backdrop to Mirandas quest to find out who the protectors are and
how to get past them.

Im going to create a town that has a subculture of spiritualists. Im

going to create a town that has mostly sunny days but occasionally
gets tornados and hail storms. Once Im done with this town, it will be
obvious why much of Mirandas story MUST be told in this town.

Now as for Mount Kilimanjaro. Ill be honest, when I was originally

creating this story to use as an example of the concepts Im teaching
in this e-book, I plucked Mount Kilimanjaro out of thin air.

But lets analyze it and see if it would work as a setting for Mirandas

Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania. Its climate varies from

equatorial jungle at the base to a rocky, snow-covered summit.

Kilimanjaro is a giant volcano with an elevation of over 19,000 feet.

According to a website I found, other names for the volcano are:

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Kilima Dscharo, Oldoinyo Oibor (white mountain in Masai), and Kilima

Njaro meaning shining mountain in Swahili. The volcano hasnt been
active in modern times, but it still emits steam and sulfur.

Sound like a good place for Mirandas trek to find the Pentacle of
Rorah? I think so.

The shining mountain reference suggests some kind of miracle at the

top, yes? So its reasonable that the Pentacle of Rorah could be there.

The volcanic history of the mountain gives it an air of eruptive danger,

which will be perfect for the adventure we want Miranda to have. The
mountain has a high elevation, which will make it a challenging climb.
This story requires an extreme challenge.

I think this mountain is THE mountain for this story. So I plucked a

good setting out of the air after all.

To figure out why your story must be in the setting youre choosing,
think about the type of story youre telling. Think about what your
character needs to do and what obstacles will get in his or her way.
Also, think about the kind of person your main character and other
characters are.

In other words, use all the work youve done in the first three chapters
to help you figure out the best setting for your story. Let your plot
and your character be big neon arrows pointing you in the direction of
your perfect setting.

Heres a real life example that might help you through this process.

Lets say you want to have a party. You decide that the theme of the
party will be a country barbecue. (Thats the story of your party.) You
decide that the food will be ribs, cornbread, corn on the cob, baked
potatoes, baked beans, salad, beer and apple pie for dessert. (These
are the characters of your party).

Now, where are you going to have your party?

Are you going to choose a fancy hotel? Are you going to have this
party in your living room?

Probably not. Youre probably going to have a party like this in your
backyard or in a park someplace.

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Figuring out this party setting wasnt hard, was it, once you knew the
partys story and characters?

The same will be true of your novels setting too.

The second thing you need to do to create a context for your story is
you need to be able to draw connections between your story and the
mood of your setting.

Every place has a mood, a tone, an emotional feeling to it. For

example, I live in a beach town thats a retirement community and
tourist destination. The mood here is light and relaxed.

That mood here is a truly palpable thingso much so that once you
get about 20 minutes away from here, the mood shifts noticeably.
When you get 1 hours from here, to the Interstate 5 corridor
between Olympia and Seattle, the mood shifts even more. It becomes
hectic, sometimes even frenetic. It becomes purposeful and

In Alternate Beauty, I drew many connections between the mood of

Seattle and Ronnies story. Seattle is a busy, confident city. Its a
rugged city. Health is a big deal in Seattle. Movement and action are
big deals in Seattle. Seattle is powered by enough espresso stands to
caffeinate a small country. The city has enormous energy. Its a
liberal city, an open-minded city. Its the home of many innovators
and adventurers.

Ronnies story is a story of incredible energy. Ronnies despair at the

beginning of the novel has so much power that its capable of
somehow vaulting her from one reality to the next. Suddenly, Ronnie
is caught up in a busy, active world that is forcing her to develop
confidence. Talk about adventure and innovation. What could be
more of an adventure and more of an opportunity for innovation than
going to an alternate universe?

Do you see the connection, the parallel, between the mood of the
setting and the story itself?

Lets analyze the connection between Mirandas story and the town I
chose for the setting of her story.

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Granger, remember, is normal, relentlessly so. Its a steady town of

family values and loyalty. The mood of the town is no-nonsense,
maybe even a little determined.

Mirandas story is a relentless story. Her loyalty to her husband, even

when she doesnt take him seriously, is what drives her to do whatever
must be done to save him. Her quest is a no-nonsense quest of
determination. It is this attitude that will keep her anchored in the
midst of all the weirdness shell have to face to overcome her enemy,
the Protectors.

See the connection between her story and the mood of the setting of

Now think about the Mount Kilimanjaro setting. Doesnt the country of
Tanzania evoke an aura of mystery and adventure? I think it does.

The country is as foreign to Midwest U.S.A. as you can probably get.

That contrast between the so-called normal life that Miranda is trying
to hang onto (by saving her husband) and the bizarre quest she needs
to go on to save him is well reflected in the mood of the country that is
host to Mount Kilimanjaro.

Now remember that party I mentioned? The barbecue?

A really great setting for that party would be an old barn filled with
hay and old rusty pitchforks, dont you think? Wouldnt that be

Why? Because such a setting is connected to the story of your party.

Its a country setting and youre telling a country story with your

This is how you connect setting mood to story. You weave them
together like youd weave the dcor and theme of a party.

Now that youve linked your setting to your story, you need to go
further. You need to link it to your character (at least to your main
characterand ideally several of your characters).

2. Linking setting to character.

Even if your setting is beautifully linked to your plot, it wont be a fully

compelling setting if you dont also link your setting to your character.

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To link setting to character, you must be sure your characters relate to

the setting. They must respond or react to it in some emotional way.
In other words, you need to have the setting impact your character

The way you do this when you write your novel is by always describing
your scenes through the eyes of a viewpoint character. Remember
viewpoint from Chapter Two?

When you have a character describe his or her surroundings from the
unique perspective of the character, your descriptions have more
power. They also have the ability to make your settings compelling if
your descriptions reflect how the settings are impacting your

Here are a couple paragraphs from Alternate Beauty. Notice now

Ronnie reacts to the setting shes in (Seattle on a rainy day.):

Seattle got a bad rap for its weather, but I loved it. I read
somewhere that Seattle got an average of only seventy-
one totally sunny days a year, so I guessed it was
understandable people whined about it. But I found
something comforting about gray skies; they were like a
security blanket. The sun was so demandingan insistent
taskmaster, a bright yellow drill sergeant forcing people to
go through their paces. In Seattle, sun made you feel like
you should be out doing something. Maybe if it were
sunny more often, it wouldnt have seemed so imperative
to be in action on clear days.

But in sun or rain, Seattle simply was a city of actiona

place of beauty and success. It drew people who knew
what they wanted and wouldnt be stopped from getting it.
As such, Seattle was a city I never felt like I really
belonged in. A true Seattleite didnt run from her dreams.
Every day, I was surrounded by reminders of the good life,
and every day, I hid from them.

The setting here is Seattlea typical rainy Seattle day. Now, I could
have simply said it was a rainy Seattle day, or I could have described
the rain hitting Ronnies face, but instead, I focused on her REACTION
to the rain.

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I linked that setting to Ronnies feelings about herself and her life. Do
you see how a setting reveals your character and helps tell her story?

By reading the two paragraphs above, you understand that Ronnie has
been hiding out from the world, and shes not real pleased with herself
about it. She feels guilty for not being in action toward her goals.

Another character might have groused about the rain and waxed
eloquent on how wonderful sunny Seattle days are. That would reveal
something about that character, too.

Powerful scenes that describe your setting come from setting that
scene through the eyes of your character. When the setting evokes an
emotional reaction in your character, youve created a compelling

If I were going to begin describing the town of Granger that Im

creating for Mirandas story, Id want to describe Granger through
Mirandas eyes. Lets say Im going to describe the main street of the

Main Street of Granger was as straight as a street could

be. It was a street that reflected its unimaginative name.
Nothing unusual about it. It was such an ordinary street
that it could have been a clichd movie set created by a
set designer in a hurry.

Miranda stared at the cracks in the pavement in front of

Franks Drugstore. She wondered what was under those
cracks. Ever since shed moved to Granger to be with
Peter, shed suspected that something lay beneath the
surface of the towns calm, no-nonsense faade. Was it all
that it seemed to be?

Or was something bubbling beneath the often crumbling

cement foundations? Did the pale blue skies hover above
a hive of secrets?

Now, I just made this up, on the fly, so its not perfect, but do you see
how Miranda is reacting to her setting?

I could have written this scene much differently, just matter-of-factly

describing a typical Midwest town. But by showing how the town

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impacted Miranda, how it made her feel, Ive linked the setting to my
main character.

The bottom line of choosing the right setting for your novel is that if
your setting is linked to your plot and your characters, youve chosen a
compelling setting. This is the essential first step to preparing your
novels setting. If you do this step, youll avoid the mistake many
authors make with setting, and youll be well on your way to a great

Once youve chosen your setting, you need to create it. The actual
creation of setting in your novel has two parts. You need to create a
Big Picture Setting(s), and you need to create Little Picture Settings.

Big Picture Setting

The big picture setting of your novel is the town or region or towns or
regions that will play host to the story. This is the overall settingthe
main stage of your story.

In Alternate Beauty, Seattle is the big picture setting. In Mirandas

Pentacle of Rorah story, Granger, and later, Mount Kilimanjaro are the
big picture settings.

For big picture settings, you have two choices. You can either use a
real place or you can create a place.

In Alternate Beauty, I used a real place. For Mirandas story, I created

a town for one of the big picture settings.

The way you do your setting research, i.e. preparing your settings, will
depend, obviously, on whether you choose a real place or an
imaginary one.

When youre using real places, this is what youll need to prepare your


Youll want to have detailed street maps, area maps, and

topographical maps so you know how the setting lays out. Youll need
to move your characters around your setting. Dont do this without
knowing the lay of the land.

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You can generally find a website for almost any town, certainly every
city. These sites have a lot of census information that will tell you the
make-up of the population. This is important. You dont want to have
a huge Hispanic population in a city that has a small percentage of
Hispanic people. Get your facts right.

General information

Travel books and websites can tell you a lot about a place. What are
the areas of interest? Are there tourist attractions? Claims to fame?
Know the history and background of the setting you choose. This
history and background can play into your story. They can provide
obstacles for your characters or perhaps ways of overcoming

People who live in the place of your setting

Interview residents of your setting. You can get great background

information, mood ideas, and details this way.

Contact the Chamber of Commerce of your setting, or if your setting is

a National Park or Forest, contact the Ranger. These organizations
often have information packets they can send you, and theyre quite
cooperative about answering questions.

These aspects of your setting research you can get even if you never
leave home. If you really want to nail your big picture setting down,
however, the best thing you can do is on site research.

Remember I said at the beginning of this chapter that Id teach you a

fun technique to get at least some of your readers excited about your

This is it. Do on site research and nail your big picture setting. When
you actually go to the place where you intend your novel to take place,
and you actually look around, youll see little details that you cant find
in books.

Using these details in your novel is a great way to thrill your readers.
Readers love to spot places in novels that they know in real life. When
you get the details right, youll delight your readers, and theyll want

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to keep reading to see what other familiar places theyre going to spot
in your story world.

We all love the familiar. It makes us comfortable. You can make your
reader more comfortable by making your settings recognizable with
great detail.

To get that detail, GO to your big picture setting. Eight things will help
you get the most from your visit.

1. A camera. Digital cameras work best. Youre going to take

hundreds of photos. Getting these photos developed can get very
expensive. If you have a digital camera, you can simply download
your pictures onto your computer and then print them onto regular
paper. You dont need high quality for your purposes. Then you can
hole-punch the paper and put your pictures in your Novel Preparation
Binder. You can also make notes on the paper next to the photo
images. It makes for a great combination of visual and written

Pictures are your best friend when it comes to big picture settings. I
dont care how careful you are about paying attention to your
surroundings when you visit a setting; you wont remember all the
details. Take LOTS of pictures. Take way more than youll need. If
something catches your eye, take a picture of it.

When I did the setting research for Alternate Beauty, the

communication towers on Queen Anne hill in Seattle caught my eye. I
took pictures of them. Those pictures helped me create the details
and mood of a powerful scene late in the book.

When you take pictures, be sure you note what picture numbers go
with what locations. Before I started noting this, Id come home with
pictures and say, Whats this a picture of? You think youll
rememberyou often dont.

2. A video camera. If you can afford one, get one. Cameras will
work, but a video camera can capture how things relate to each other
better than pictures can.

Also, you can make verbal notes when you use your video camera. As
you pan your camera around an intersection, for example, you can tell
yourself which is north, south, etc. Its often easier to get oriented
with a video camera.

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3. A clipboard with lots of paper and a pencil. Graph paper is great.

It can help you get dimensions right. Youll want to diagram the
location of many places in your big picture setting.

For example, I have several fight scenes in my paranormal sci fi

thriller. One takes place at Kalaloch, a beach north of where I live.

Now, Ive been to Kalaloch a dozen times, and I have a lot of pictures
of the place. But I knew I wanted a pivotal fight scene there, and I
wanted to get the details right. So my husband, Tim, and I drove up
to Kalaloch, and we hiked up the beach to the rocks where I
envisioned the scene, and I took pictures of the rocks and then
diagramed where my characters would be during the fight. This
helped me make my fight far more compelling and realistic.

4. A map of the area youre researching. Even though youll be taking

pictures and drawing diagrams, youll want to put all that in a larger
context. The map can help you do that.

Mark locations on a map with numbers or letters, and then note which
diagrams and which pictures relate to that location.

5. A person. If you have a spouse or a friend or family member who

is willing to visit your location with you, youll find it much easier to do
your setting research.

Tim is my driver when I do setting research. Since hes behind the

wheel, I dont have to worry about traffic. I can concentrate on taking
pictures and drawing diagrams.

Ive done setting research by myself. It can be done. But its much
easier with a partner.

6. A watch with a timer or a stopwatch. One thing you need to do

with on site research is to pay attention to distances and travel times.
If you have your character going from one part of the town to the
other, and they do it in five minutes whereas in real life it couldnt be
done in less than fifteen, youre going to look silly.

7. A working odometer on your car. Again, you need to know

distances. Take note of how far it is from one place to another.

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8. A tape measure. You may need to know how far it is from a

restaurant to the nearest fire hydrant. Most of the time you can eye
it, but have a measure handy just in case.

Now, obviously, you cant always visit your setting. Time or money
issues can make that impossible.

For example, much of Mirandas story will take place on Mount

Kilimanjaro. If I were to write this novel, I wouldnt go to Mount
Kilimanjaro and climb it. Not enough time, money, OR inclination.

When this is the case, stick with your other sources, but still work to
get the details right.

If you dont think you can do justice to your setting without visiting it,
you have two choices.

One choice is to pick another setting. Even if youve chosen a setting

essential to the story, you can choose a different one. Youll just need
to make sure that your new choice fits just as well.

Ill admit that one of the reasons I chose Seattle for Alternate Beauty
is that its within driving distance. But so are a lot of other places. I
picked the one that fit my story.

Your other choice is to make up the setting. Create it from scratch.

This is what I would do with Mirandas Granger.

When you make up your big picture settings, you still will need many
of the sources I just described. Having information like that about a
setting similar to the one you want to create will help you create a
more believable fictional setting.

Once you have background information on a place similar to the one

you want to create, you need to get the details of YOUR version of the
place. Because you cant purchase a map, youll need to draw one.

Dont get too carried away with this. You wont need to know every
street and every topographical distinction of your place. Most of the
town or city wont ever be visited by your story or character.

So draw a general diagram, and then figure out what area will be the
focal point of your story. For that area, get very detailed in the street
locations and names and other landmarks. Know what businesses and

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homes are in the area. What are their names? What do the buildings
look like? If your characters are going to be in an area, you need to
know all about it.

I draw my diagrams on large drafting paper. You can use whatever

you want. Just be sure your diagram is easy to read and also capable
of being adjusted. The great thing about writing novels is that you get
to change your mind and play God. Be sure you diagram in pencil so
you can move things around.

If your novel is science fiction or fantasy, youll be creating entire

worlds and maybe even universes. Youll have to understand the time
and place of all aspects of the world youre creating.

But still, dont get too carried away. Ive known fantasy writers who
spend years creating the fictional world, and they get so caught up in
it that they never get around to actually writing the novel.

Once you have your big picture setting created, you can move on to
the more specific locations, the places where your scenes will take
place. The houses, the businesses, the gardens, the fields, the actual
specific places where scenes will take place. You need to lay the
foundation for most of these by creating them before you start to
write. These are the Little Picture Settings.

Little Picture Settings

Although youll sometimes use real places for little picture settings
places like restaurants or storesmost of the time, youll be creating
your little picture settings from scratch.

To figure out where your little picture settings will be, think about your
story and your characters. In order to do what your characters will
need to do in your story, where will there need to be?

In what houses or businesses? In what yards or gardens or streets?

In what cars?

If youre going to use an interior or specific setting more than a couple

times in your novel, you need to have it prepared. Dont just wing it.

Ive tried winging it with little picture settings. Although you can do
this for settings you only use a time or two, its dangerous for ones
you use often.

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Well, imagine youre writing along and you put your character in a
grocery store on page 20 of your novel. She has a conversation with a
man in aisle 12 on the left side of the store. She picks up a can of
green beans while she talks to him.

You keep writing, and now youre on page 222 of your novel. Your
character goes back into the grocery store. Shes in aisle 13 on the
right side of the store, and she picks up a can of peas.

See a problem?

It is SO easy to do stuff like this when youre writing if youre flying by

the seat of your pants. Think of it as the difference between moving
around a house youre not very familiar with in the dark and moving
around it with the lights on.

Having your little picture settings prepared helps you get the lights
turned on so your character can move around without bumping into
things. It makes your job as a writer SO much easier. You dont have
to think so much as you write. You simply refer to the work youve
already done.

I suggest you diagram all of your major little picture settings. Know
the floor plan of your houses and businesses. Know the layout of your
parks and yards.

An easy way to diagram houses is to get house plans off the Internet.
I used to draw my own house diagrams until I discovered a great
website that Ive listed in the Resource section at the end of this e-

Once you find a plan you like, print it out, then use white-out to
erase dimensions or other words on the plan. You can also get rid of
walls that dont suit you---you can make rooms bigger or smaller.

For businesses and yards, youll usually have to diagram them from
your imagination. But you can use existing businesses and yards as
examples to jump off from.

Remember, settings can also include cars. If you have several parts of
your story taking place inside a particular car, be sure you know the

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interior of that car. You can get information on car interiors online
see the Resource section at the end of this e-book.

Once you have your little picture diagrams, you need to fill them in.

Furnish your houses. Decorate them. Put plants etc. in parks and
yards. Know what is where. In businesses, know what merchandise is
on what shelf.

A great way to fill in houses and businesses is to use catalogs and

magazines. Collect furniture and interior design catalogs and

When youre designing a setting, flip through the catalogs and

magazines until you find furniture, rugs and accessories that are what
you have in mind. Of course, you can use your imagination to come
up with these details too, but using real pictures makes for a bit less

When you put your little picture settings together in your planning
binder, have a section for each little picture setting. Put the diagram
first. Then as you find furniture or accessories that you want in the
setting, number them, and place the number on the appropriate
location of your diagram.

I suggest you sketch in the general location of furniture and other

large items. With smaller items, just put in numbers and refer those
numbers to pictures youve cut out or to descriptions you write.

For example, lets say I was designing Mirandas living room. Id find a
house plan online, and Id then decide what furniture Miranda would
have. Id sketch in squares, rectangles, or circles to place that
furniture on my diagram. Then Id either write a line or two on a
separate piece of paper describing the furniture (if Im making it up),
or Id cut out a picture from a catalog or magazine, and Id assign a
number to the descriptions or pictures and then put those same
numbers on the rectangles or squares or circles that represent that
furniture on my diagram.

In the paranormal thriller I mentioned, I have one character living in a

subterranean home. Her home is filled with Wiccan objects and
mythological sculptures and sketches. I needed to know what was
where, so I made a list of specific items (many of which I had pictures

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of). I numbered the list, and then I placed the numbers around the
characters home.

This way, when I wrote a scene, and I had another character looking a
particular direction in the room, I knew exactly what the character
would see. I didnt have to try and remember all this stuff and keep it

The novel draft for that thriller is over 900 pages long. If I had tried
to keep all my setting details in my head, I would have quickly gone
crazy AND probably made a mess of my scenes.

At the beginning of this chapter, I said that I was going to teach you
how to pave the way to creating rich detail in your novel. The way to
do that is to create the sort of setting roadmap that youll have when
you do the work Ive outlined in this chapter.

Thinking about and delineating the details of your settings before you
write will guarantee that you will fill your novel with rich detail. In
fact, your problem wont be having ENOUGH detail; it will be having
TOO MUCH detail.

So heres that same bit of bad news I gave you in the last chapter.
Just as with your character sketches, you wont use even of the all
this setting preparation that you do.

At least, I hope you dont use it. If you do, youre not going to write a
very compelling book. Youre going to bore your reader to death if you
tell the reader everything you know about your settings.

You need to choose your details carefully when you write. So youll
only focus on a few items in the rooms you create.

For example, even though I knew where all of the three dozen or so
pictures and sculptures were in that subterranean house I mentioned,
I only referred to a few in the manuscript.

So why know them all? Two reasons.

First, when you really know a place, its easier to understand it well
enough to be able to nail it down with one or two details. Heres an
example of what I mean:

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Because I know my house very well, if I could only share a few details
with you to give you a good visual on what my house is like, I know
which ones to pick. Id tell you that the house is nestled in a forest,
surrounded by trees. Id tell you that the house is dog-friendly, wall-
to-wall carpeted and full of comfy dog-hair covered furniture. Id tell
you that the 100 or so stuffed animals I collect perch all around the

Now, I could give you a lot more detail, but that gives you a sense of
the place, doesnt it? Do you get the image of a fun, friendly place
that is meant for comfort and not show? I hope so.

As with your characters, when you know everything, its easier to

choose what someone else needs to know.

Second, remember the example of the grocery store I used earlier?

When you dont know the details and you try and make them up, youll
mess up. Make it easy on yourself. Clear the path so you dont trip
yourself up on the details.

In Chapter Seven, well be going over what it takes to write this novel
youve been preparing. In that chapter, Ill discuss the use of details
in a novel. For anyone who has read my other writing e-book, How to
Become a Writer ExtraordinaireThe Beginning Writers Roadmap To
Writing Success, much of Chapter Seven will be review; but trust me,
you can never go over these techniques too much. Repetition drills
them into your mind, which makes them easier for you to use

The same, by the way, goes for the details of your novel. One of the
reasons all this preparation works so well is that it gets the information
so solidly into your head that the story, the characters, and the setting
come to life for you far more vividly than when you just touch on these
elements as you write.

In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, author and agent, Donald
Maass lists these elements of a breakout novels setting:

Story with a context

Psychology of place that captures how a point-of-view character

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A breakout novel is a novel that has big salesone that catapults an

author into the big time. When you use the techniques Ive
suggested, you increase your odds of writing that kind of novel.

All of this setting preparation of course takes time and is a lot of work,
but it SO simplifies the writing process. Instead of having to sit and
think about the setting as you write it, you simply look in your binder
and turn what youve already done into a scene on the page.

I recommend you stop now and do the tasks associated with this
chapter in your Taskbook. Do your settings work!

I think creating settingsdrawing diagrams, doing on site research,

etc. is one of the most fun parts of novel planning. I suspect it takes
me back to my paper, crayons, and scissors childhoodwhen Id
spend hours drawing, cutting, and pasting.

Have a blast with diagramming and creating your settings. Let your
inner kid come out and play.

Novel writing is a enjoyable and rewarding, but its also a lot of work.
Relish the kid parts of the process!

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Congratulations. Youve made it to the halfway point of this e-book.

If youve been doing your chapter tasks, give yourself a pat on the
back. You have come a long way from the idea you had at the start of
the reading this e-book. Youre halfway to completing your novel plan
and being ready to write your manuscript.

This means you are WAY ahead of the vast majority of people who
come up with an idea for a novel. Youre taking action.

You now have your plot work, your character work, and your setting
work done (or at least you know how to do it, and if its not done, you
know what to do to get it done). Now its time start filling in the
cracks, so to speak. Its time to figure out what questions you still
need answered in order to write this book and figure out how youre
going to find the answers.

In this chapter, Im going to teach you how to determine the amount

of research you need to do, how to plan your research so youll have
an easy-to-follow, organized blueprint for your research, and Ill give
you some cool tricks to help you find the information you need.

Before I go on, though, Im going to answer a question you might

have right now. If youve looked at the chapter titles of this book, you
know that creating your novels scenes doesnt happen until the next
chapter, after youve done your research. Why is that?

Well, Ive done it both wayscreating scenes before I research and

doing it after. I can tell you that doing it after is FAR more effective
and in the long run cuts down on the amount of work you need to do
and on your time invested.

Doing scenes after research works better for two reasons.

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First, what I discovered is that if you do your scene planning first, you
may plan a scene that simply wont work. Either what you want to
have happen isnt possible or it must be done in a way that doesnt fit
your scene.

Second, when you do your research first, the information you discover
in your research can help you create better scenes. Youll stumble
over facts and figures and other information that adds pizzazz to your
pacing. Do your pacing (scenes) first, and youll miss out on some of
the magic treasure youll discover during your research.

Okay, so before you can finish outlining your novel and creating its
scenes, you need to do your research. The key is doing just enough
research to help you write your novel while not doing TOO much.

Determining The Right Amount Of Research

The fourth and last section of your novel planning binder is research.
For many books, youll actually be able to fit your research into the
binder. For others, youll need a separate research binder. For the
900-page thriller I wrote, I had 6 two-inch binders full of research
material, and three shelves full of books tabbed with Post-it tabs.

Was that overkill on research? For that book, no. The book involves
an enormous amount of science and metaphysical concepts that
required a lot of background reading.

When it comes to research, you can go wrong in two ways. You can
do too much, getting so bogged down in research that you never get
around to starting the book. Or you can do too little, thinking you
dont need all the details and then telling a story that has no sense of

Lets go back to my novel, Alternate Beauty, for an illustration of what

Im talking about. When I found out Ronnie wanted to be a fashion
designer Actually, let me interrupt myself. Notice that I said, WHEN
I found out.

This is character stuff, so Im slipping back a couple chapters for a

second. But a good, real character is going to tell you what he or she
does for a living. Sometimes youll be able to choose this sort of
thing, and youll choose it to fit the story. But most of the time, the
characters career will come to you as if the character simply answered
the question, What do you do for a living?

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Now, back to the point.

So I found out Ronnie was into fashion design. And boy was I NOT
happy. I dont care a whit about fashion. To me, fashion is a color I
like in a style that doesnt look goofy on me and in a cut and shape
that is comfortable to wear. I knew I was in for some major research.

The first thing you need to do when you realize that youre going to
have to know about something you dont currently know is make a list
of EXACTLY what you need to know. Get a focus before you start
just like this whole process is getting you a focus before you start your
novel. If you dont zero in on what aspects of a subject you need to
know about, youre going to get buried under way too much material
to handle.

To figure out exactly what you need to know, read over your plot
notes and your character sketches. Start jotting down what aspects of
your subject youre going to need information about. Get beyond the
broad topics and start finding what specific parts of the topics you
need to know about.

The subject of fashion, for example, is a HUGE subject. I could have

spent years just learning about fashionthe history, the business, the
trends, etc.

But I didnt need to know all of that. Given what I knew about my
character and my story, I figured out what parts of fashion I had to
find out about.

Because Ronnie was a designer but worked in fashion retail, and Id be

talking about her background and career choice, I needed to know how
you learn design and retailing. Because I was going to have Ronnie do
some designing in the story, Id need to know the design terms she
would use.

Because she was selling clothes and designing them and would be
talking about clothes, I needed to know what kinds of fabrics are
commonly used in womens fashion. I needed to be able to describe
the clothing in Ronnies store and the clothing she designed.

I decided I didnt need to know much fashion history, but someone

who was as interested in fashion as Ronnie was would throw out the

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occasionally fashion historical fact. So I made a note to get at least a

few general historical facts I could draw on.

The plot of the book involved Ronnie starting a design business. This
meant I needed to know how the design business worked. How do
you get into it? What is the start-up process?

Do you see how you go pare down your research topic?

Think of it like a salad bar.

The broad topic is the whole salad bar. When you go to a salad bar,
you dont eat the whole thing, do you? Of course not. You only take
what you can eat.

And you probably dont take even a little of everything at the salad
bar. You pick and choose. Do the same with your research.

The way to determine the exact right amount of research you need to
do is to do a careful examination of your plot notes and all your plot
preparation and your character sketches and your setting preparation.
If something is going to be in the book that you dont know anything
about (or that you dont know enough about), you need to research it.
You dont, however, need to know everything about that topic. Learn
only what you need to know to write a believable scene in a book.

Whats too much and whats not enough?

Let me give you two versions of a scene to answer this question. In

this scene, our hero (Brian) needs to get his gun cleaned and put back
together in time to use it when the bad guy (Wayne) comes through
the door of a warehouse where our hero and his wife (Sharon) are
hiding out. The gun got gummed up when he and Sharon made their
way through a swamp.

The warehouse just happens to have gun cleaning supplies (dont you
love it when stuff like that happens in fiction?I wouldnt allow such a
coincidence in a book but I can do it for this completely made-up
example.) As an aside, in a novel, if you needed to have something
like gun cleaning equipment be serendipitously available, youd need
to lay the groundwork early on for how that might be possible. For
instance, in this example, you could have a scene where two
teenagers were in the warehouse to clean guns and had to run out and
leave their supplies when some drug dealers showed up.

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But back to our scene. Brian has to get this gun cleaned to save
himself and his wife.

Heres version one:

A loud thud sounded against the warehouse door. It would

only be a minute before Wayne burst in. And once he did,
if the Brian didnt have the black Glock 9mm that was
manufactured in Germany in the 1990s in a batch of
handguns that were considered to be the best in the world,
he and Sharon would be toast.

Brian wiped sweat from his eyes as he laid the gun

cleaning supplies out in front of him.

He was pleased with the cleaning kit he found in the

warehouse. It included a three section aluminum cleaning
rod of appropriate diameter for the caliber purchased (one
section if it was a pistol cleaning kit), two tips to hold
patches, cloth cleaning patches, a bore brush, a bottle of
liquid powder solvent, and a bottle of gun oil. It also had a
small tube of gun grease, and since it appeared to be a
shotgun cleaning kit it, it also had a bore swab.

Brian looked over the kit. Would it have everything he


The thudding on the door got louder, and he forced himself

to focus on the materials in front of him. Yes, it was all
there. The kit had the patches, tips, brushes, and cleaning
rods that would work for his 9mm. Cleaning rods were
generally available in diameters for .22 rifles (and pistols),
center fire rifles (and pistols), and shotguns. Some
shooters preferred to purchase one-piece steel cleaning
rods, which were better but more expensive and less
portable than the jointed aluminum kind. Whoever put
together this kit had chosen the jointed aluminum rods.

Normally, Brian liked to use a silicone cloth to wipe off his

gun after he handled it. This was better than an oily rag.
Silicon cloths were excellent protection against "rust
prints." But all he had in the warehouse was an oily rag.
It would have to do.

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Hurry, Sharon urged as a particularly loud bang rattled

the warehouse.

Wayne was getting closer. Brian had to hurry. He picked

up the Prolix total gun care product, the proprietary
cleaner, lubricant, and preservative that could replace both
traditional powder solvent and gun oil. He was glad to
have it. It came in 16 ounce plastic bottles with "trigger
squeeze" tops, or bulk jugs. Prolix was a one step gun
cleaner that wouldnt harm wooden stocks, but normally it
was suggest that you test it on plastics before use.
Thankfully, it didnt attack the polymer used in Glock
pistols. Brian had first read about Prolix in Peter Kasler's
book GLOCK: The New Wave in Combat Handguns. Prolix
was the chosen cleaning product of Glock armorers. It
contained industrial grade solvents that penetrated and
removed fouling. He was lucky that this was the cleaner
that the kit had. Maybe things were looking up.

A crash sounded, and Wayne bellowed into the warehouse.

Normally, Brian would spray Prolix down the barrel to

remove fouling, let it sit for a short time, and clean the
barrel if using a normal powder solvent. But he didnt have
time to wait.

Heres version two:

A loud thud sounded against the warehouse door. It would

only be a minute before Wayne burst in. Brian gathered
up the gun cleaning supplies that Sharon had found stuffed
under the workbench.

He got them out and started taking the gun apart. The
thudding got louder. Brian worked faster.

Hurry, Sharon urged as a particularly loud bang rattled

the warehouse.

Brian starting cleaning the gun. A crash sounded, and

Wayne bellowed into the warehouse. Brian cleaned even

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Now, these were extreme examples, but Im sure you can tell that the
first one was the porridge is too hot example and the second one
was the porridge is too cold example. The first example, which by
the way, I owe for the most part to the information I grabbed off of
the website,, is a
great illustration of what happens when you go overboard on research.

The problem with doing too much research is that you feel compelled
to put it in your manuscript. I mean, you know all this stuff, right?
You want the world to know you know it.

Unfortunately, too much information, however impressive it is, makes

for a boring book. That first scene wasnt very compelling, was it?

Then again, neither was the second one. It just kind of laid flat on the
page, didnt it? It was like reading a See Jane run childrens book.

The problem with too much and too little is that you cant write
compelling scenes with either amount. To write truly reader-grabbing
scenes, you need enough information so the reader feels like he or she
is there, but no so much that the reader feels like he or she has gone
back to school.

For our gun scene, I got too much information. All I really needed to
know was what supplies would be in a gun cleaning kit and how would
you use them. And I didnt need to know all the supplies. I certainly
didnt need to know why some supplies are better than others. And I
had no need for historical information of any kind.

Thinking about how youre going to write your scenes and about how
much information you need in a scene to make it believable and
compelling will help you get the right amount of research done. See
the scene in your mind, like youre watching a movie. Where will the
readers imagination camera be aimed?

I suggest you err on the side of too little research instead of too much.
Do what you think youll need, but even if you think you still dont
know enough, stop. Youll often find that you need less in the story
than you thought you did.

For example, when I did my fashion research for Alternate Beauty, I

bought a paperback dictionary of fashion terms and history, and I
skimmed the whole thing and highlighted much of it. I only used a
tiny amount of that information. If Id done more than buy that

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dictionaryif Id interviewed fashion designers, for example, or Id

read several books on the subject, Id have been making way too
much work for myself.

Many writers make research an excuse to put off writing. They love
saying, Im working on a novelIm doing the research, which
basically means that theyre reading everything they can get their
hands on and filling binder after binder with material because its
easier to research than it is to write.

Dont use research as a delay tactic. Think about what you need to
know, go after that and only that, then move on.

Researching a novel is not the same as researching a paper like you

did in high school or college. Its not the same as researching a
nonfiction book either. Youre not trying to make a case for anything.
Youre simply getting enough information to tell your story believably.

Writers get in trouble with research when they try and write a treatise
on a subject within their novel. Maybe Tom Clancy and James
Michener can get away with that, but most of us mere mortal authors

A great way to stay on track with your research and get just the right
amount is to plan your research. You need to make a research to do

How To Plan Your Research

In order to create that easy-to-follow, organized research blueprint I

mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, you need to refer again to
your plot notes, character sketches, and setting plans. Use these
notes, sketches, and plans as a guide as you go through the four steps
of the planning process.

1. Make a comprehensive question list.

Anything you dont know about what youre going to be writing about
becomes a question. Write down everything you can think of, from
the smallest question to the largest.

To show you how this is done, lets figure out what research wed need
to do for Mirandas Pentacle of Rorah story. (I can only do this to an
extent because I havent completely planned out this plot or all the

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characters, but Ill just use what we have so far to show you how to
make your research question list.)

What we know about the Pentacle of Rorah story so far is:

The storys characters (the ones we figured out anyway)

are Miranda, her husband, a doctor, a nurse, the leader of
the Protectors, and the guide who will help Miranda climb
the mountain.

We know Miranda has to raise money, find out how to

defeat the protectors, and climb a mountain. We know
shes going to have to find out how to use mind control.

We know that the crisis point of the story will be the battle
between Miranda and her helpers and the protectors, and
the climax is when this group defeats the protectors. So
we know that there will be a battlea physical
confrontation (with or without weaponswe didnt decide
that yet).

The subplot in our story is that Peter is attempting to get

out of the hospital because he is being watched and the
nurse is something other than what she appears to be.

We know that Miranda is strong-willed. Shes an

experienced climber. She refinishes furniture. She runs.
She has New Age beliefs.

We know that the setting for the story is the fictional town
of Granger, in the Midwest and Mount Kilimanjaro in

So, given what we know, heres a list of questions. Notice that theyre
in no particular order. I wrote them down as they came to me. This
question list is a big brainstorming process. Dont try and make it
linear. Let your subconscious mind guide you pulling out all the
questions you need answered:

--How do you get to Tanzania?

--What airline flies there?
--What transportation do you need after you get there?
--How much does it cost to get there?
--Is Tanzania dangerous?

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--How do you find a guide to take you up Mount Kilimanjaro?

--What does it cost to hire a guide?
--How long does it take to climb the mountain?
--What kind of climbing is it? Will they need to repel, free climb, etc?
--Are there any animals on the mountain that would be dangerous?
--Whats the weather like? What kind of storms might come in?
--What kind of gear would be needed?
--Are there lots of people climbing to the summithow well would the
Pentacle of Rorah have to be hid so others wouldnt have found it?
--What are some hand to hand combat techniques that could be used
in the final battle? What weapons could be used?
--What equipment is in a hospital?
--What do the nurses do? What kind of shifts to they have? What
kinds of nurses are thereRN, LPN, etc. and what do they mean?
--What are the doctor terms that our doctor would use?
--How do you use mind control? Is it possible? What research has
been done on it?
--What kind of spiritual beliefs could the Protectors have?
--What kind of magical powers could the protectors have?
--How do you borrow large amounts of money?
--How do you embezzle money?
--How do you refinish furniture?
--How do you do long distance running?
--Whats the best way to stand on your head for long periods of time?
(Remember this was one of Mirandas eccentricities.)

Okay, I could keep going, but I think I have enough here to work with.
The idea is to write down every little question you can think of that
youll need to answer to tell your story and describe your characters
and their actions.

2. Make a list of the general topics that youre going to have to


Once you have your list of questions, you can begin organizing them.
Start looking for general topics and make a new list. This will be your
master topic listthe main areas youre going to need to research.

Looking at my list of questions for Mirandas story, these are the

general topics I see:

--Mountain climbing
--Mount Kilimanjaro
--Travel info to and from Mount Kilimanjaro

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--Hand-to-hand combat
--Furniture refinishing
--Borrowing money
--Mind control
--Doctors and medical terminology

Now that you have this main list, you can further refine your research

3. Break down your topics further.

Under each general topic, have sub topicswhat specific information

you need about that topic.

So for our Pentacle of Rorah topics, wed end up with a list like this:

--Mountain climbing
*Physical ability needed
*How to get the training

--Mount Kilimanjaro
*How to get there
*How to find a guide
*Some history
*Number of visitors
*Terrain, especially at summit

--Travel info to and from Mount Kilimanjaro

*Ground transportation

--Hand-to-hand combat
*Military type combat

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*Martial arts


--Furniture refinishing
*Chemicals used
*Materials needed

*How to
*Possible targets

--Borrowing money
*Finding investors for a trip
*Loans from banks

--Mind control
*Government use of
*Research thats been done

*Intensive care set up
*Equipment in rooms
*Lay-out of a hospital

*Types of nurses
*Their duties

--Doctors and medical terminology

*Doctor routines with regard to hospitals
*Terminology associated with intensive care

Mapping out your topics like this makes your research far easier and
far more effective.

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A really good way to waste time researching is to dive in with no real

plan. If you just start reading willy-nilly or asking questions as they
occur to you, you may discover some interesting information, but
youll do far more work than is necessary.

Diving in with no plan is a great way to miss things in your research

to. You cant find the holes in your research if you have no big picture
to look at.

I learned all this the hard way. When I wrote my first couple books, I
did the dive in approach. One of those books was a paranormal book
in which my main character visits a ghost town and has flashbacks to
his childhood, which happened in the late 1920s. The ghost town had
been a logging mill town. So I needed to know about logging, mills,
ghost towns, and what technology was around in the 1920s. I just
dove into the subjects and ended up reading a couple dozen books.
Most of what I read didnt help me, and by the time I was done, I still
didnt have some questions answered. I think maybe I was still in the
avoid writing mentality at the time.

Once you have your list of subtopics, youre ready to figure out where
youre going to get the information you need.

4. List information sources for each subtopic.

In the margins next to subtopics, note where you think you can find
the info.

Do you know of a book? Can you get it online? Do you need to go

someplace? Do you need to talk to someone?

I have a pretty extensive home library, so I start a lot of my research

with books I own. If I dont have what I need, I move to the Internet.

If I cant find what I need on the internet, I go back to books. I either

get them from the library or I buy them, usually from some online

I prefer to own most of the books I use for research because I like to
put tabs in them. I can mark on the tabs the topics that I need, and I
know right where to go in the book to get the information as I write.
So if I can afford it, I will buy what I need.

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Much of the information I use, however, doesnt come from books. I

get a lot of it from the Internet, and Ive learned some tricks to finding
what I need quickly.

Cool Research Tricks

In the Resources section at the end of this e-book, Ive provided you
with two book references that describe in great detail how to use
traditional research channels. Im not going to go into any of that in
detail here. Instead, Ill tell you some of the more offbeat ways to get
the information you need.

Here are a few Internet sources that Ive found very helpful:

1. For any information relating to the government, try this site:

2. To find current events info, do searches at online newspapers. My

two favorites are:

(I subscribe to both of these sites and have daily headlines sent to my

e-mail inbox. It often gives me ideas for novel plots and other writing

3. A great directory to online periodicals is

4. To find an expert, go to: You can

download a no-cost PDF list of experts. Or, on the site, you can click
on a subject and find a list of experts related to that topic.

5. You can also find experts by contacting companies that are related
to the subject you have in mind. For example, if you want to speak to
someone who knows a lot about laying carpet, contact a carpet store.

Be careful with this though. Some topics can get you in trouble.

When I was researching a thriller, I needed to find out what happened

when a cryogenic container blew up. I didnt know if it would explode
like a gas tank or like a building or if it would be an entirely different

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kind of explosion. I tried all my usual research sources, and I came up


So I found a cryogenic company online. They had a Contact Us

section (which is a handy section on company and newspaper
websitesa great way to get in contact with someone who knows what
you need to know).

I sent an e-mail to the company. I told them I was working on a novel

and that I needed to know what would happen when you blew up a
cryogenic container.

I didnt get a response, which was disappointing. I usually have very

good results with this research technique.

A week or so later, however, I did get an interesting phone call. At the

time, I was still writing a column for a newspaper. I got a phone call
from my editor. He told me that an FBI agent wanted to speak to me.
Apparently, the FBI had called my editor to see if I was for real or if I
was a fruitcake. My editor said he told the FBI agent that I wasnt
too much of a fruit cake (thanks a lot), and he promised the FBI
agent that Id call.

I called. The agent was very nice. He told me that it had come to
their attention that I was inquiring about destroying cryogenic
containers. He asked me a bunch of questions about whether I was a
terrorist or was associated with any terrorists. I assured him that I
wasnt either one. I gave him the name of my editor at Bantam to
confirm that I was indeed a novelist, and I told him why Id sent the e-
mail that I did. He thanked me and hung up.

I never did get my question answered, and Im sure Im now on the

watch list. The moral of the story is be careful about the e-mails you
send out there.

6. Often when youre researching, youll need law enforcement

questions answered. Ive found it quite useful to befriend a police
officer. I know two. Im able to pick up the phone and call them to
ask my questions. Find out if your local police force has a public
liaison. Most do. That person can connect you with someone who can
answer your questions. Many larger forces also have websites now.
You can get information there.

7. The same is true of the armed forces.

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8. Another way to get research materials is to do a search on your

subject at Amazon. Even if you dont purchase the books, Amazon is a
great place to research because they have an excellent search
function. Search books on your subject, and find out what subtopics
are available.

9. Another place to do research thats a little offbeat is Yes, ebay. By searching some of the products
that could be related to your topic, you can find people who know
about your topic.

For example, if I was looking for climbing informationinfo on

supplies, I would do a search on climbing equipment on ebay and then
contact a seller that has a lot of stuff for sale. Its amazing how willing
most people are to help you get information on a topic. People enjoy
sharing their expertise.

10. Another place to find people to talk to is usergroups on the

internet. My favorite place to go is Search
for your topic and post a question in the group.

Need to set your book in some other year besides the present?

11. Create a calendar for any year at

12. Find the phases of the moon in a specific year at

13. Need statistics? Try these sites:
(For stats from over 100 federal agencies)
(For crime and justice statistics)
(For health statistics)
(For labor statistics)

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Remember that the public library isnt your only offline source of
information. You can get research help from:

Academic and community college libraries

Historical society libraries

Museum libraries (Also talk to museum curatorstheyre

excellent sources of information)

Company libraries (Big companies often have extensive libraries,

and though they may not be willing to give out info to the public,
they can often steer you in the right direction to find it from
another source.)

Special collections and special libraries (A great place to find rare

and unique resources.)

Local branches of federal and state governmental agencies

(Many government agencies are very helpful with information.)

Hospitals and clinics (You can often get doctors and even
patients to talk to you.)

Consulates or embassies (You can get info about other countries

this way.)

Trade, professional, and other organizations (A great way to find

expert information on many subjects.)

Chambers of Commerce (I mentioned in the last chapter that

you can get setting information from a Chamber of Commerce.
You can also get historical and other background information for
your novel.)

Here are some other tips to help you get the most from your research:

When youre researching books, dont judge a book by its title.

Look inside. Often the perfect information can be found in a
book that would seem to have nothing to do with what youre
looking for.

Dont rely on just one book on a broad subject. Youll find

different perspectives in different books. If the book is on a

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general topic for which you have multiple subtopics, get more
than one book. I, for instance, have at least a dozen books on
Wicca that I used for my paranormal novels. Some of it is
overlap, but I have found tidbits to use in every one of those

That said, dont get too attached to finding a particular book.

Ive been known to spend money or time trying to get what I
think will be the book only to find out that I got most of the
information I needed from another book. If you find what you
want, dont keep pushing to get that book you thought you

When you seek out experts, ask for help correctly. The way you
ask for help can have a big impact on the kind of help you need.
Dont ramble. Dont give your expert the whole plot of your
book. Shes busyshe doesnt have time to listen to your great
plot. (Besides talking too much about your book before you
start writing it can suck the creative energy right out of the
book. Keep your enthusiasm to yourself so you can harness it
for writing.)

When you ask for help, simply state what you need to know.
Ask your question as narrowly as possible. For example, dont
say, I need to know about firearms. Say, I need information
on automatic weaponswhat kinds there are and what kind of
ammunition they use and where to go to learn to use one. Tell
the person what you already know and what holes youre trying
to fill in, and give a BRIEF explanation of why you need the

Be sure and follow your intuition when you research. Pay

attention to hunches and whims. One day when I was
researching for books on quantum physics, I stumbled upon a
book called The FieldThe Quest For The Secret Force of the
Universe. I wasnt sure why, but I knew I needed that book. I
bought it, even though it was hard back book and not cheap.
The information in that book ended up playing a pivotal role in
creating my paranormal thriller.

When at all possible, copy the information you need. Dont take
notes. Notes can be misinterpreted, and if you tend to scribble
when you get excited about something like I do, they can be
hard to read. Use the copier. Print out pages from the internet.

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Copy pages from books (you can do this if youre not going to
distribute them). Hole-punch all of this and put it in the
Research section of your Novel Planning Binder.

Whether you copy or take notes, be sure you note the source.
Copy the title page of a book to go with the pages you copy from
the book, or write down the title and other information. You
may think you wont need it, but you might have to find the
source again.

Once you get all your research materials, organize them in you
binder or binders by general topic, and within those general
topics, by subtopic. Tab the pages so you can find the
information easily.

A great way to drive yourself crazy is to simply pile up books and

notes and other information. Your office may look impressivelike it
belongs to a person who is very serious about research, but youll
never be able to find what you need when you need it. Stay organized
when you research.

Please stop at the end of this chapter and do the research planning
tasks in the Chapter Six Tasks section of your Taskbook. And start (or
even finish your research!)

Ill admit that research isnt my favorite part of novel planning. I get
impatient, I think. I want to know everything right now! I want to get
to the writing part, and research slows me down. I have, however,
learned a lot of fascinating things from my novel research.

And whats fun is that the research for one book can give you ideas for
another book. Its all fuel for the creative engine.

So have fun planning your research, and if you get started on the
actual research, enjoy that too. Just think of all the things youre
going to learn. (Maybe you can be on Jeopardy someday.)

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You may think that once you have a plot, character sketches, setting
diagrams and descriptions, and you have your research done, youre
ready to start writing your novel. Wrong!

If you were to start writing now, you probably wont write a very good

Why? Because youve yet to address one of the most important

qualities of a great novel. In this chapter, youre going to learn what
that quality is and how to get it in your book

So what is that quality that every great novel needs?

Good pacing.

Pacing is the rhythm of a novel. The ups and downs. The fasts and
slows. Get too much frenzied action for too long and your reader will
start feeling uncomfortable and not know why. Too much down time
and your reader will start feeling discouraged. Too fast for too long
and youll wear your reader out before the end of the book. Too slow
for too long and youll bore your reader to death.

A good novel has the right balance of up, down, fast, and slow.

To get that balance, you need to think of your novel in terms of


According to literary agents who read hundreds upon thousands of

manuscripts each year, most of which they reject, one of the most
common mistake would-be novelists make is getting the pacing wrong.
On average, maybe two to three percent of submissions have pacing
thats too fast. The writer has rushed through the story, skimming
over the events in the novel so it reads more like an extended

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synopsis than it does a manuscript. About 95 percent of submitted

manuscripts have the opposite problemthe pacing is too slow. The
writer has included too many unnecessary scenes that do nothing to
move the plot along. In other words, the writer has created a boring

You do not want to make either of these mistakes. You want to find
that perfect midpoint between too fast and too slow.

How do you do this?

By keeping conflict in mind.

Conflict is what drives pacing.

Remember conflict from Chapter One? To get conflict, you have a goal
and an obstacle.

Pacing is layering your conflicts, keeping at least one conflict active at

all times, in all scenes. When you have conflict in every scene, and
you order your scenes in such a way to build on conflict and resolve
conflict in just the right way, you have a book thats paced well.

Novels are like puzzles. Theyre a collection of scenes, interlocking in

such a way to make a whole picture. Put the wrong piece in the wrong
place and you get an unsatisfactory picture.

The best way that Ive found to make sure your novel puzzle goes
together in a way that creates dynamite pacing is to create your novel
scene by scene. Instead of just sitting down to write your story like
one long narrative, you lay out your story in chunks. Each chunk is a

Each scene is like a mini-story, with conflict and purpose. Each scene
has a reason for being. It has a purpose. Its there because it does
something to reveal character (and its revealing character because
revealing that character drives the story along) or it simply establishes
part of the novels action. But it must have a reason to be there.

If you create your book in this way, scene by scene, you will stand a
far better chance of avoiding that dreaded end result that all novelists
want to avoida boring book.

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In case you think youre above creating a boring book and you dont
need to bother with scenes, let me tell you about a book I recently
read. It was by an author who I wont name but who is VERY
successful, with dozens of published books, many of them bestsellers.
This woman has been writing and publishing for years. Youd think
she wouldnt make such a mistake.

What did she do? Well, let me tell you about one of the scenes in the

In the scene, her main character, a detective who Ill call Jim, was on
a plane. He was flying from his home to meet with another detective
to help investigate a murder. The scene included a detailed
description of what he read while he was on the plane, what he ate,
and what he looked at from the plane window. The scene was three
and a half pages long.

From what Ive described, do you notice anything missing?

How about conflict?

The scene had no conflict. It also did nothing to reveal Jims

character, at least nothing we didnt already know. And it did nothing
to tell us more about any of the story events. Basically the scene read
like a diary entrywhat I did on my plane ride.

I was shocked to read such a scene in a successful authors book, and

I was even more shocked when I found that it was only one of several
in the book. I wasnt shocked that I found the book boring and barely
managed to get through it.

I dont know for sure, but Im betting that these do-nothing scenes
made it into the book because of laziness. The author has gotten a bit
cocky over the years, and she probably thought she could just wing it.

Dont be cocky. Dont be lazy.

Write your book scene by scene and plan your scenes and youll never
have a boring scene that has no reason to be in your novel. Im going
to explain exactly how to construct a purposeful scene and how to
order them. Ill also discuss two specific aspects of scene purpose
foreshadowing and flashbacks.

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What Is A Scene?

So what exactly is a scene?

A scene is basically just a small unit of plot that has a purpose of

advancing the story in some way.

Some writing teachers use the analogy of railroad cars to explain

scenes, that each scene is a car on the track. Link them all together
and they can move forward. Its a pretty good comparison. If you
think of the links between the cars as the transitions, you have a
useful picture of how scenes work and how scenes create pacing in
your novel.

The amount of conflict you have in a scene depends on what youre

trying to do with a scene. There are two basic types of scene
dramatic scenes and non-dramatic scenes.

Dramatic Scenes:

A dramatic scene has action. Something is happening in the scene.

The scene has some kind of confrontation.

The confrontation in dramatic scenes doesnt have to be intense. It

can be as simple as a wife telling her husband she wants a divorce. It
can be as complex as a full-scale war. The drama in a scene can have
two people or two million.

The drama just must be conflict and action. Something must be

happening, and that something must be very important to the novels
characters. It also must be important to the novels plot as a whole.

Some beginning novelists make the mistake of thinking that just

because a scene has action, its a good scene. So the novelist might
throw in a knock-down, drag-out fight or a bomb explosion or a
murder or an earthquake or a big storm.

The problem is that if these big dramatic events dont move the plot
along in some way, they wont work. The scene will mess up the
pacing, not enhance it.

For example, think about Mirandas story for a minute. Lets say that
Miranda is on the plane heading to Mount Kilimanjaro. While on the
plane, the passengers begin to feel ill. Miranda starts feeling sick too.

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Soon, everyone is lining up to use the bathroom. Seems that the

peanuts are making everyone illand the main symptom is diarrhea.
Because everyone needs the restroom, the passengers began fighting
with each other over who gets to go first. A bunch of fights break out.
Miranda finds herself in a free-for-all in the main cabin of the 747.

This is dramatic, isnt it? It has action, right?

But what does it have to do with the story? How does it move the plot

It doesnt. It doesnt delay Miranda. It doesnt reveal anything about

the Pentacle or Rorah. It doesnt allow her to encounter someone who
can help her meet her goals. It does nothing.

Now, if the scene did do one of these thingscause a delay in her

quest that puts Peters life in further danger or someone tells her an
important bit of information about the Pentacle of Rorah or brings a
new character into the mix, one who will play a pivotal role in helping
Miranda reach her goal (or prevent Miranda from reaching her goal),
then the scene would be worth including.

But, you see? Drama for dramas sake and action for actions sake
does not make a scene good for your book.

The events in your dramatic scenes need to have some impact on your
characters. What happens must have some emotional consequence to
someone in your story.

As I said, dramatic scenes require confrontation, but the confrontation

doesnt have to be physical. In fact, most confrontation is
psychological. The confrontation is in the emotions of the characters,
not in the physical actions of the characters.

Non-dramatic scenes:

A non-dramatic scene is one where there isnt much active conflict

between characters. These scenes can have just one character
present or multiple characters, but either way, there isnt a lot of stuff
going on. These kinds of scenes often include characters deep in
thought, struggling to come up with a solution to a problem or
characters discussing possible courses of action.

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The purpose of a non-dramatic scene is to provide a little breather for

the reader. You can use one of these scenes either before or after a
dramatic scene to react to a previous conflict or pave the way for
conflict to follow. When you precede and follow very dramatic scenes
with these more thoughtful, quieter scenes, you create a sequence
that allows your reader to savor the emotional impact of your dramatic

To understand how this works, think about a good action movie. One
of my favorite, fun and mindless action movies is Independence Day.
Although Independence Day is full of action, it never feels frenzied or
rushed. Why? Because the action scenes (dramatic scenes) of aliens
blowing up cities and airplanes firing at the alien ships are interspersed
with quiet non-dramatic scenes.

For example, early in the movie, just before the aliens unleash their
powerful, city-destroying weapon, one of the characters is shown
playing chess with his father. Its a quiet, non-dramatic scene that
plays a powerful role in the movie. Its very mundane quality perks up
your attention. You know the quiet is simply the lull before the storm.
The scene also reveals charactershowing the type of relationship one
of the main characters has with his father. That relationship will play a
role later in the movie. The scene also reveals the main characters
brilliant mind, and it foreshadows future events in the movie. One
very quiet, non-dramatic scene gets a lot done.

No matter whether youre writing a dramatic or non-dramatic scene,

youre going to need certain elements in your scene.

Here are the six elements of a scene:

1. PlaceWhere does the scene happen?

2. TimeWhat day is it, and what time is it (sometimes youll need to

know a specific day and time and get that across in your scene, but
most of the time you just need a general idea of time, as in Summer,
two days before the dance, in the morning.)

3. Character ViewpointFrom whose perspective does this scene

occur. In a novel that has only one viewpoint, this will be the same in
every scene, obviously. But when you have multiple viewpoints, be
sure you establish which character will tell the events of the scene.

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4. ActionThis is what is happening in the scene. In every good

novel scene, a character is trying to do something. Either its actual
physical action or its an internal psychological something. But there
must be a purpose to each scene. A character wants something. Will
she or he get it or not?

The action in a scene is divided into three parts: goal, opponent, and

--GoalThe goal in a scene is what the focus character wants. What

is he or she trying to accomplish.

--ObstacleThe opponent is whats in the characters way. What or

who is stopping the character from getting what she wants.

--ConfrontationThe confrontation is the events of the goal facing the

obstacle. What exactly happens when desire meets opposition?

5. PurposeEvery scene, as Ive said, must have a reason for being.

What does the scene do for the story? In a dramatic scene, the
purpose is usually about addressing some problem with action or
direct confrontational dialogue. In a non-dramatic scene, the purpose
can be to allow a character to digest events or plan for more action.
These scenes often help a character understand dramatic events better
or they warn of problems to come.

6. Sequel (Result). Every scene needs a resolution. Even scenes that

seem to be open-ended have a sort of resolution. This resolution is
called the sequel to the scene.

Every good scene has a smooth conclusion, one that acts as a

transition to the next scene. The sequel is this transition. You can
also think of sequel as the result of the action or events in the scene.

A scene sequel can be something a character does, something a

character says, or something a character thinks. Whichever of these
character actions you chose, it must pave the way for following scene.

A good sequel is subtle. A heavy handed sequel is the mark of a poor


Lets look at a scene from my novel, Alternate Beauty to see how this
subtlety works. Ill put the scene is as I wrote it first and discuss its

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sequel, then Ill change the sequel to show you what a heavy handed
sequel looks like.

The tears arrived, sliding down my cheeks like slick


I flicked off the bedside lamp and curled into a tight a ball
as I could imagine, ignoring the crumbs. Oprahs wrong,
I told Cindy, whod tiptoed over to sniff my tears. The
key to happiness is living in world where fat is beautiful.

The tears came faster. My body shook so hard the bed

vibrated, and Cindy jumped off and left the room. I
gasped for breath and wiped my nose. If only, I thought,
and closed my eyes.

Okay, Ive only given you the end of the scene, but the conflict in the
scene was psychological. It was Ronnies attempt to come to terms
with her size and her inability to do so. She ends the scene defeated.
The sequel is the one line, If only, I thought, and I closed my eyes.

Why is this a sequel? Because it suggests what is to come.

Doesnt that one sentence make you think that something is about to
change in her world? Doesnt it hint at something interesting

Thats all a sequel needs to do. Its like a little whisper, a small

Now, heres what a heavy handed sequel would look for that scene:

I gasped for breath and wiped my nose. It seemed like I

would never be happy, but what if I could be? What if it
was possible to love in a world where fat is beautiful?
Wouldnt that be wonderful? I went to sleep praying that
my dream would come true.

Do you see how this sequel goes overboard? Its too much. It
practically tells the reader whats to come.

A bad sequel is kind of like a poor movie trailer or a poor series

preview. When they tell you too much about whats coming, it takes

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some of the fun out of it, doesnt it? You want to be teased and
titillated, but you still want to be surprised.

Some scenes are VERY subtle. They have the sequel built into the
action. This kind of sequel is common in a multiple-viewpoint novel.

For example, lets say you have your main character chasing a
suspect. At the end of the scene, the suspect vanishes, right in front
of the characters eyes (this is actually a scene from one of my
novels). If you want to keep your pacing quick, youd stop the scene
when the subject vanishes. The action itself is your sequel. The fact
of the vanishing tells the reader that something mysterious is coming.
You dont need your character to think or do anything in response at
that point. You can choose to switch scenes abruptly and move on to
another, which is an effective technique for exciting pacing in multiple-
viewpoint stories.

Okay, now that you understand the elements of a scene and how
scenes are used to create pacing in a novel, you are ready to create
your own scenes. Although this can be done in many ways, the most
effective way Ive found by creating a numbered scene template within
the manuscript draft document.

I used to hand write my scene cards on 4 x 6 lined index cards. Then

I put my cards in an index card file. I liked doing scene cards this way
because it allowed me to shuffle the scenes easily when I thought they
needed re-ordering. It also made it easy to write the novel draft. I
just pulled out one scene card at a time and I had in front of me what
I needed to write the novel. You may want to use this method to
create your scene cards.

You can also do your scene cards on the template provide on page #
of your Taskbook. Simply make copies of the template page, as many
as you need for as many scenes as you create. Then you can hole-
punch them and put them in a binder. These can be shuffled around
as easily as index cards.

The template method I use now puts the scene cards right into your
manuscript document. When you purchased the Novel Writing Made
Easy System, you received a Word document that includes this
template. The template puts the numbered scenes, with all elements
included, in italics. Between these scenes, the document formatting is
double-spaced with a paragraph indent, which is the format needed for
manuscript submission.

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The document I included has 70 scene cards or instructions in it. You

can have more, but I dont recommend it. Publishers are shying away
from longer novels these days, especially for first-time authors.
Seventy scenes are plenty.

Just type in the information for each of the scenes elements. Theyll
be in italics so you can easily spot them as youre writing. When you
start writing your manuscript, you can write the scene itself between
the scene instructions, or you can write it above the scene instructions
and delete the scene instructions as you go along.

Creating Scene Cards

This way of writing is as close to paint-by-numbers simple as you can

get in novel writing. Of course, you need to fill in the details of the
scene, but having the cards or template gives you a structure for each
scene so you never find yourself writing meandering, boring pages
that do nothing to move your plot along. Remember that these are
the kind of pages that mess up a novels pacing.

When you do your scene cards, youll be creating a shorthand

blueprint for your scene. Number your scenes. If you have just one
character viewpoint, you can number them 1, 2, 3, etc. If you have
more than one character viewpoint, number the cards sequentially for
each character as well. For example, in the Pentacle of Rorah story,
youd have a Miranda card 1, 2, 3 etc. and youd have a Peter card 1,
2, 3. Use an initial to designate the character. So M1, M2, M3, and
P1, P2, and P3 etc. This initial will tell you who the viewpoint
character is for the scene.

If you hand write your cards, use initials to designate the action part of
the scenes:

G is for goal.
O is for obstacle.
C is for confrontation.
P is for purpose.
S is for sequel

This helps you keep your scene elements straight as you lay out your

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To show you how this works, lets do a couple scene cards for our
Miranda idea. Before we do, let me remind you of whats going on at
the start of her story:

Mirandas husband, Peter, is dying of a rare disorder.

Mirandas doctor, Doctor Roberts, is a spiritual guy, and
though he cant do anything with Western Medicine to save
Peter, he tells her hes heard of a spiritual healing that
could work. Shell do anything to save Peter, so she asks
her doctor what the healing is.

Doctor Roberts smiles and shakes his head. Ill tell you,
he says, only if you agree to have an affair with me. He
tells her hes been falling in love with her, and he wants
her. He tries to kiss her. She has to fight him off. She
begs him to tell her what the healing is. He refuses.

Distraught, furious, and disheveled, Miranda leaves Doctor

Roberts office. In the hall, she runs into a wizened old
man, a janitor, who motions to her. He tells her that he
has overheard the doctor talking to others, and he knows
what the healing is. The old man tells Miranda that the
healing requires an object called the Pentacle of Rorah.

Using this plot information, heres a possible opening scene card for
the Pentacle of Rorah story:

Granger Community Hospital in downtown Granger M1

July 9, 10:05 a.m.

GFind out the one thing that could help Peter

ODr. Roberts
CMiranda asks Roberts to tell her what hes going to do next to help
Peter. Roberts says no Western medicine will help but there is one
thing. Miranda wants Dr Roberts to tell what one thing could help. He
says theres a spiritual healing that could work, but he refuses to tell
her what it is
PEstablish Mirandas problem and how much she wants to solve it
and establish Roberts as an opponent
SMiranda is angry She demands Roberts tell her what could help

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Granger Community Hospital in downtown Granger M2

July 9, 10:05 a.m.

GGet Roberts to tell her what the healing is

ODr. Roberts
CMiranda demands to know what the healing is. Roberts says hell
tell her only if she agrees to have an affair with him. He says hes
falling in love with her and he tries to kiss her. She fights him off and
begs him to have compassion and tell her what the healing is. He
PEstablish Roberts character and the extent of Mirandas problem
SMiranda furiously storms out of Roberts office. She stops in the
corridor, trying to decide what to do next. A janitor is mopping the
floor nearby.

Granger Community Hospital in downtown Granger M3

July 9, 10:05 a.m.

GFigure out how to get the information Roberts wont share

Oshe has no idea how to do that
CMiranda battles her fear and anger and tries to calm herself. She
ponders how shes going to get Roberts to tell her what she needs to
PEstablish character. The scene will reveal her determination and
SMiranda cant figure out a solution. She stares at the janitor, and
he motions to her. She shakes her head. She just wants to go home
and come up with a plan

Granger Community Hospital in downtown Granger M4

July 9, 10:05 a.m.

GGet past the janitor

OThe janitor stops her. Shes frustrated, but then he tells her he
overheard her conversation and he says he knows what the healing is.
He tells her the healing requires an object called the Pentacle of Rorah.
PEstablish Mirandas ultimate goalthe Pentacle of Rorah
SMiranda is thrilled that she has the answer, but now she realizes
she has to figure out what the Pentacle of Rorah is and how to get it

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Now, you may be wondering why all this took four scene cards. Isnt it
just one sceneof Miranda in the hospital? To the reader, it will seem
that way. But laying it out this specifically, in such small chunks helps
you get very clear about what your goals are with the events in the

Of course, the Pentacle of Rorah story is absurd. I made the whole

thing up in a couple minutes, and I havent thought through the plot
and characters as fully as you have with the plot and characters of
your book, but you get the idea of what youre doing here. Each scene
involves laying out the plot conflict in a way that builds little chunks
you can link together to pace your plot.

Notice that the first two scenes were dramatic scenes. Miranda was in
actual direct confrontation (as in intense dialogue or actual physical
action). The third scene is a non-dramatic scene. It acts as a bridge
between Mirandas initial disappointment and the hope that the janitor
offers. If Id gone directly from the second to the fourth scene, the
emotional impact of the janitors revelation would have been

Also notice that the sequels in all these scenes are subtle. Theyre all
small actions that are there just to suggest what is to come next.

Now that you how to construct a scene and you know how to create a
scene card, lets look at a couple ways you can use a scene other than
to just to describe action or character. You can also use a scene to
foreshadow coming events or to flashback into the past.


Foreshadowing is the technique thats used to tie one incident to

another that occurs later in the book. Think of foreshadowing as a
hint or a clue.

Effective foreshadowing, like sequels, is subtle. Good foreshadowing

isnt noticed until the later event occurs. Bad foreshadowing screams,
Pay attentionthis will be important later. In other words, good
foreshadowing is a hint that isnt immediately understandable. Bad
foreshadowing is a hint that gives too much away.

Heres an example of good foreshadowing from the movie, Lethal

Weapon II. In that movie, Mel Gibsons character, Riggs, a police
detective, is messing around in the squad room early in the movie.

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Riggs character is a jokester, a cut-up. In the scene, hes wearing a

straight jacket, and hes made a bet with others that he can get out of
it. While his buddies look on, Gibson pops his shoulder out of its
socket and easily gets out of the straight jacket. When they all cringe
and ask him how he did that, he says he has an old injury that makes
it easy to slip his shoulder in and out that way. Everyone yuks it up
and his partner tells him hes crazy, and we move on.

This scene is connected to a future scene in the movie when Riggs has
to use that same move to get out of a situation where hes bound
underwater. If we hadnt watched him do the shoulder thing in the
early scene, his getting out of the underwater predicament would
seem way too convenient. But the scriptwriters foreshadowed the
later scene with the squad room scene.

That foreshadowing was good because the hint was quite subtle. It
just seemed like part of the joking around that Riggs did. He did other
things like that too.

Bad foreshadowing would have been if after he got out of the

straightjacket in the squad room, one of his buddies said, Thats a
handy little trick, Riggs. I bet that could help you out of a bad

Too many writers make one or the other mistake with foreshadowing.
They either miss it so that later solutions to problems seem to come
out of nowhere and therefore arent believable or tell too much so they
telegraph whats to come.

Foreshadowing scenes include all the usual scene elements. Their

purpose is to lay the groundwork for some later scene.


A flashback is jumping back in time to show a scene out of order. The

best rule of thumb for flashbacks is dont use them unless absolutely

If youre not a very adept writer, flashbacks can often seem clumsy
and intrusive. They can also be confusing.

Sometimes, though, flashbacks are necessary. In a mystery novel I

wrote, for example, I had to use flashbacks to fill in information.
When I originally wrote the manuscript, I told the story in

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chronological order, but that delayed the discovery of the dead body to
somewhere around page 150. The editor said that was too late. She
wanted to see the dead body by page 50 or so.

I couldnt cut the events of the other 100 pages because they were
integral to the plot (lots of foreshadowing and character revelation and
conflict). So I ended up starting the story later in the chronology and
then filling in with flashbacks.

When you use flashbacks, be sure you use good sequels in the
previous scene and in the flashback scene itself. In other words, give
the reader clear guidance about what is coming. Be sure your reader
knows youre in the past or present.

Using the last scene card above as an example, lets say we want to
flashback to a time in Mirandas life when she had to hunt for
something. At the end of scene, M4, the sequel would include
Mirandas thought that the situation reminded her of the time in
college when she needed to find her roommates secret. This thought
will pave the way for a flashback scene.

When you start a flashback scene, use the past perfect tense. In other
words, youd write something like this:

Miranda had been furious with her roommate from the

moment shed arrived in her dorm room at the start of the

This had been past perfect tense cues the reader that youre flashing
back. Use it once or twice at the beginning of a flashback to help the
reader follow you. At the end of the scene, be sure you lead the
reader back to the present with a sequel. For example, you could end
this roommate secret scene with,

Leaving her college memories behind and staring at the

wet floor the janitor left behind, Miranda realized she had
another secret to find.

A flashback scene has the same elements of a regular scene. It simply

occurs in the past but is written as if its happening now.

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Questions Connect Your Scenes

Now that you know how to construct scenes, you can start putting
your novel together. As you write your scene cards, be sure you keep
the just right goal in mind. You want to keep your reader engaged
all the way through the book.

Remember the story questions you came up with when you were
putting together your plot? Now is the time to use them.

Keep story questions in mind as you build your scenes. You want to
raise questions and answer them in a way that always keeps your
reader wondering about something but not making your reader wonder
about everything until the end of the book.

Write a couple scenes that raise questions. Then answer one while
raising more.

For instance, in the scene cards I created above, I raised these

questions: Can Peter be healed? If so, how? What is the spiritual
healing that could help him?

I answered the first question, but not before I raised the second one.
And then I answered the next one, what is the spiritual healing, but at
the same time, I raised a new onewhat exactly is the Pentacle or
Rorah and how can Miranda get it?

If you keep story questions in mind as you create your scene cards,
youll create powerful pacing that keeps your reader going through the

Also, if you mix non-dramatic scenes with dramatic scenes, youll

avoid going overboard on either side of pacingtoo fast or too slow.

Obviously, creating scene cards takes time. But not as much time as
you might think.

If youve laid out your plot and you know your characters, youll
actually create your scene cards pretty quickly. I did the scene cards
for my 900-page novel in less than three daysall 400 of them.

Although of course its possible to write a good novel without scene

cards, I highly recommend that you use them. If you do, you have
two very important things going for you.

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First, when youre writing, youll never be asking, Whats next?

Youll never get stuck.

Second, youll never have one of those dead-time scenes in your book
like I described near the beginning of this chapter. Remember the
detective on the airplane? That scene was dead time. Such scenes
are bad for pacing.

Knowing what the goal, obstacle, and confrontation are in every scene
will prevent that sort of dead-time scene. Avoiding dead-time scenes
will give you a much better book.

So take what youve prepared so far and use it to help you craft well-
structured scenes. Layer those scenes together in a way that
continues to raises and answers story questions and in a way that
balances action with non-dramatic moments, and youll create a
manuscript with great pacing.

I recommend that you stop at the end of this chapter and do the tasks
for this chapter in your Taskbook. Get those scene cards done.

And remember, have FUN with this. This isnt supposed to be a

stressful process.

The beauty of scene cards is that you can always change them or
delete them. You can also add new ones.

If you think of setting up scene cards as playtime, youll be more

relaxed about it, which will help your creativity flow. The reason I love
scene cards so much is that they remove an enormous amount of the
pressure in the manuscript drafting process.

You wont ever find yourself staring at a blank page wondering what
you should write. Your writing instructions are right there in front of
you on your scene cards.

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Well, FINALLY! Its time to start writing.

Bet you thought wed never get to this point, huh?

Well, if youve done all the assignments in your Taskbook, youre

ready to begin your first novel draft. Before you start though, get
yourself in the right mindset.

Heres what I do. I tell myself, This is a draft. Its supposed to be

complete garbage. I have total permission to write junk.

This may sound like a set-up for failure or a self-fulfilling prophecy, but
its not. Its freedom. Youre giving yourself the freedom to write by
saying this to yourself.

These words also create a playground. I know Ive emphasized fun

before, but Im going to do it again. You really can have fun writing a
book. In fact, youll write a much better book if you are having fun.

If youre not having fun, you might not even be able to finish the draft.
It takes a disciplined person to plow through a novel, even when its
fun. If its pure drudgery, youll have a tough time making yourself
stick with it.

So get ready to play. Put any ideas of perfection away for the
moment. (If you have a very well-developed inner critic, tell him or
her that he or she is welcome to return when you start rewriting the
manuscript. Send your inner critic on vacation.)

Now, even though youre playing and you have permission to write
garbage, you really do want to write the best quality first draft you

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can. This chapter will give you the nitty-gritty writing information you
need to do that.

There are two main aspects of great fiction writing. They are:

1. Using Detail RightCreating the right balance of details in your


2. Creating EmotionGetting your reader to feel.

Using Detail Right

There are four areas of your story that require attention to using

1. Mood/tone
2. Character
3. Setting
4. Dialogue

Getting the perfect balance of detail is necessary for every one of

these aspects of your writing. The process of finding that balance is
similar with each, but there are some variations. So first, Im going to
describe the process of getting the details just right; then Ill apply
that process to these four areas.

Getting the details right is a three step process. You need to:

1. Keep the senses in mind.

Details in writing relate to our senses. The point of picking the best
words to add detail to your work is to evoke a response in the reader.
To do that, you want to plug into the human senses:


Of course, you wont use every one of these senses in all your writing
pieces, but being aware that at least one or more of these senses is
what youre trying to activate with your detail helps you be more
specific with your word choice.

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Many writers get stuck on two of the senses. They focus on sight and
sound. Really one-dimensional writers focus just on sight. They only
describe things people see.

If you want your writing to be rich and detailed, you need to stay
aware of all of the five senses. When creating detail in your writing,
the more senses you draw on, the more clear the picture youre
creating will be.

2. Choose the best wordsgo for specificity and originality.

When it comes to word choice, as with emotion, youre focusing on two

thingsthe specific wordsnouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbsand the
metaphors or similes that you use (the comparisons).

Consider these two words:


Theyre pretty close to each other, right?

If you look happy up in the thesaurus, youll find the word pleased.
The thesaurus gurus clearly see happy and pleased as synonyms,
which they are.

But are they the same thing?

When youre pleased, are you also happy? Sometimes. Probably not
always. Happy is a little further along the smile scale than pleased is.
The words are close together, but theyre not the same thing.

When it comes to getting the details just right in your writing, close
enough isnt good enough. You need to find the right words to
describe the right thing. Is your character pleased or happy?

Let me give you some more examples.

Fat is close to obesebut not the same.

Skinny is close to emaciatedbut not the same.
Hot is close to swelteringbut not the same.

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Then there are the words that mean the same thing but they come
across differently.

Consider car vs. automobile. Same thing. But one sounds more
casual than the other.

Family tree and genealogy are the same thing, but again, one is more

The word or words you use to describe something can have incredible
impact on those four aspects of your writing that I mentioned above
mood/tone, character, setting, and dialogue.

Words that arent chosen carefully can not only blur the meaning you
intend, they can ruin an entire piece of writing.

Im going to give you examples of how to choose words for every type
of word or phrase youll use.

Before I do, heres a passage from my novel, Alternate Beauty. Ill be

referring to it as I take you through a discussion of each of the four
types of descriptive words youll use in your writing.

Breathing heavily, I pushed the fleshy side of my thumb

against the Tupperware lids edge. My bright red polish
looked stark against the clear plastic. I grimaced,
struggled, and finally popped off the lid. Grasping the
container in one hand, I yanked open a drawer to grab a
fork with the other. The silverware clattereda comforting
jangle of metal against metal.

I attacked the lasagna, cold and congealed. As I cut

through limp, pale pasta and rubbery white cheese, red
sauce oozed from between the layers and a chunk of
sausage about the size of the end of my index finger shot
out and hit the side of the container. I recoiled. For an
instant, I considered tossing the whole thing down the
disposal or at least sticking it in the microwave to warm it
up so it looked more appetizing. I stared at the cylindrical
chunk of sausage. Fat shimmered over its surface.

Okay, lets first look at some examples of carefully chosen NOUNS in

this passage. Ill show you how specificity creates more detail and
how that detail creates images in the readers mind or creates mood.

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For example, instead of using container in the first sentence, I use the
word, Tupperware. Why? Two reasons. First, it gives the reader a
clearer mental picture of the container than if Id just said container.
Container doesnt evoke any particular image. It isnt detailed
enough. Tupperware brings up a picture.

Now, heres where balance comes in. I could have said, one of those
new Tupperware containers with the blue lids and the pressure seal.
That would certainly be more detail, but is it necessary detail? No. If
I used that much detail for every noun in this scene, the scene would
quickly get boring.

The second reason I use the word Tupperware is that Im revealing an

aspect of my characters personality. She likes orderappearances
are important to her. She would choose Tupperware over a reused
margarine container. If she was thrifty, I might have gone with the
reused margarine container.

The next time I refer to the container, in the next sentence, I refer to
the side of the plastic. I also use an adjective, clear, which Ill talk
about in a minute. Using the word plastic, is another example of
detail. I could have written, against the side of the container or
against the side of the Tupperware. But just in case Tupperware
didnt evoke an image, I get more detailed with the word plastic.

Now move down to the first sentence of the second paragraph. I use
the noun, lasagna. I didnt have to do that. I could have said pasta.
But that wouldnt have given the reader a specific picture. So I use a
noun that creates a particular image of a specific kind of pasta. And
once again, I could have said spinach and beef lasagna made with
garlic red sauce. But this isnt a scene about culinary delightsits a
scene meant to evoke the frantic compulsion of Ronnies binge.
Bogging down the scene with too much detail about the food itself
would have made the scene less compelling.

In the second sentence of the second paragraph, I use the word

chunk. Chunk of sausage. I could have used piece. But chunk gives
you a better picture, doesnt it? It also has a more insistent sound to
it, fitting in with the mood of the scene.

In the last sentence, I use the noun, fat. Why did I use fat? I could
have used grease or oil or lard. I chose fat because it ties in with the

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way Ronnie feels about herself. I chose the noun very carefully to
create not only an image, but a feeling (remember emotion?).

Now, lets look at some ADJECTIVES.

In the second, sentence, I use the word fleshy. Im describing the

underside of a thumb. I could have said underside. But see the
theme here? Fat, heavy, fleshy. Im choosing words carefully to keep
the scene consistent. Also, fleshy creates a clearer image than
underside or bottom of my thumb.

I also used the word clear to describe the plastic. I did this to give
the reader a better image of how the food looks in the container.

In the first sentence of the second paragraph, I use the words cold and
congealed as adjectives. They describe the noun, lasagna. They
evoke a pretty clear picture, right? And they dont make the lasagna
sound appealing, do they? That was my intention. Would I have
created the same picture if Id used the adjective uncooked with
lasagna? It wouldnt have been as powerful, would it?

Now consider some of the VERBS in the passage.

In the fourth sentence of the first paragraph, I use the words,

grimaced and struggled. Those give you a mental picture, right?
What if Id used the verbs frowned and worked? Theyre close, right?
But like we talked about above, theyre not the same. And they dont
evoke as clear an image, nor do they create the same emotion. I want
the reader to understand Ronnies intense feelings in this scene, or
more accurately, her determination to cover her intense feelings with
food. Its far more powerful for her to grimace than it is for her to

In the next sentence, I have her grasping the container. Why grasp?
Why not hold? Why not hang onto? The word, grasp, creates an
image of intensity, doesnt it? A person who is grasping is more
emotional than someone who is holding. Again, the words are close,
but they create different images and different moods.

In the last sentence of the second paragraph, I use the word,

shimmered. Fat shimmered. Why not Fat lay? Or Fat was on its
surface? Well, again, shimmer is more specific than lay. And was
isnt specific at all. It creates no image whatsoever. Which leads me
to an important part of using verbs.

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Lets talk about versions of the verb, to be for a second. Is, was,
am, are, were, etc. are not very powerful verbs. They dont create
images. They dont create emotion. They arent specific. But theyre
easy to use. So easy, in fact, that they tend to show up when they
shouldnt. They can be used effectively, but they can also be the sign
of lazy writing. When you can avoid them, avoid them.

Sometimes thats not possible. For instance, I just said, in the

previous paragraph, theyre easy. Im not too worried about using
are in that sentence.

Often, though, using a form of the verb, to be, will dilute your writing.
For example, I am hot can be I feel hot or better yet I bake. Or
even better, I sweat. He was afraid can be He feared. Or even
better would be an image like, He trembled.

Heres a good place to insert the old adage that all writers need to
remember: Show, dont tell.

Do not tell the reader whats going on. Show them. So, you dont tell
the reader that someones hot. You show that theyre hot by
describing the sweat or the red flush of their skin. You dont tell the
reader that someone is afraid. You show the reader that a person is
afraid by describing how he trembles or how his face turns white or
better yet, how he blanches. Notice, I didnt say His face is white.
Thats another of those to be verbs.

A great way to make sure youre using words with specificity is to go

through your writing and find the to be verbs. See if you can make
them more descriptivesee if you can create more detail with them.

Now lets move on to ADVERBS.

First, notice that I use only one real adverb in the passage. Adverbs
can be useful, but they should be applied very sparingly to your
writing. If you can choose a specific verb, one that gets the detail you
want right, you dont need an adverb. The same is true of nouns, too,
to some extent. Try and get your nouns as specific to get the detail
right as possible. But adverbs can clutter up your writing faster than

The one adverb I use is in the above passage is in the first sentence:
breathing heavily. I could have used another adjective like quickly

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or deeply. Again, I used the word that created the mood I wanted.
See the theme of fat and heavy? Ronnie is feeling huge and ugly and
fat. This scene reflects that. I chose this adjective accordingly.

I could have used a specific verb in this sentence and avoided the
adverb altogetherI could have said, panting or gasping, but
neither of those got the detail the way I wanted it. In this case, an
adverb created the most detailed image that fit the mood of the

I hope youre getting a sense of how to choose your words for

specificity to create the mood or image you want.

Now, lets look at METAPHORS and SIMILES.

One of the best ways to describe things in your writing, to get the
details across, is to use comparison. This is like this. Or this IS this.

The first, using like or as to make a comparison, is known as a

simile. The second, describing something as if it IS something else, is
a metaphor.

Examples: A woman is like a rose is a simile.

A woman is a rose is a metaphor.

The trick to using comparisons like similes and metaphors is avoiding

clichs and overused phrases, phrases like these:

Tired as a dog
Hot as hell
As jumpy as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs
Innocent as a child
Soft as a babys, uh, ear
Running around like chickens with their heads cut off
Dark as night

You want to come up with fresh, new similes and metaphors as much
as possible. When you look at your comparisons, check for two
thingsfirst are they creating the detail you want to create? Second,
are they original or at least not horribly overused.

Here are a couple comparison examples from Alternate Beauty:

Example One--My shoulders had been screaming since my lunch

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Shoulders dont scream as a general rule, right? This is a metaphor.

Its used to get across a specific detail of pain. Its more powerful
than if Id said, My shoulders had been hurting or My shoulders had
been causing me excruciating pain.

Metaphors add style and interest to the details in your writing. Just be
careful with them.

Writers who try and get too creative with metaphors end up writing
humor when they dont intend to. What if Id said, My shoulders sang
an aria of pain. Thats a metaphor, but not a very good one.

Keep your metaphors in context. Another thing writers do is create

inappropriate metaphors. Heres an example: Youre writing a love
scene. You want to get across that the lovers are hot for each other.
You write, They were the blackened edges of a steak left on a flaming
grill. This is a metaphor for hot, but it doesnt fit the situation. Now,
if you were describing the heated emotions between two men who
were competing in a grilling competition, you might have a good
metaphor there.

Do you see? Fit the metaphor to the scene.

Example TwoDonna Everett, my downstairs neighbor, had her arms

wrapped like a boa constrictor around the neck of a man.

This is a simile. I could have said, wrapped tightly. Notice thats an

adverb, and I like to avoid adverbs as much as possible. I could have
said her arms were just wrapped. But I wanted to get the detail of
how tightly her arms were wrapped around the man. I wanted to
evoke an image of shocking intensity to the embrace. This is why I
used the comparison to a snake.

I used the comparison for another reason too. Snakes have a certain
connotation for most peoplesomething not particularly well-liked. I
wanted to get across Ronnies feeling about her neighbor in the scene
that this comparison is in. Shes alone and seeing her neighbor with a
handsome man, and shes jealous and feeling unfriendly. The snake
simile created a mood in addition to an image.

Example ThreeHer long blond hair swung through the air like a
streak of light.

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I wanted to create a vivid detail herethe image of light hair standing

out sharply in the night. I could have said the contrast of her light
hair against the dark night sky was sharp, but thats not only an
awkward phrase, it doesnt create the image or the mood I wanted to

When you choose your comparisons, think about them carefully.

Often, the first one that will come to mind is a clich or an overused
phrase. Thats okay. Put it down. When you rewrite, you can go back
and get more specific and original.

Now that youve taken a look at using words with specificity to create
detail, well move on to using the right number of words, step three in
the process of getting the details right.

3. Pick out the most important details to paint a picture or create a

mood, and leave the rest out.

This is one of the most important parts of getting details just right.
And its also one of the trickiest parts.

One of the most enjoyable compliments I receive about Alternate

Beauty is that the people and the locations are very real. Readers
have told me that they can easily visualize and sense what I write
about, but they also tell me that I dont bog them down with detail.
They dont ever find themselves skimming past detail. That is high
praise for a writer, something writers love.

It makes me happy to have accomplished this because I have read my

share of books, stories and articlesboth fiction and nonfictionthat
are either too light on the detail so I dont have a clear sense of
situation or person or that are too heavy on the detail so I find myself
skimming to get to the good stuff. Im sure youve read writing like
this too. My intention here is to help you avoid either detail faux pas.

Here is the opening paragraph of Chapter One of Alternate Beauty.

Its heavy on detail, but the details were carefully chosen.

At noon on a Tuesday in early April, I hesitated in the stark

archway separating the lobby from the muted dining room
of one of Seattles downtown, upscale restaurants. Pale
white silk-textured walls relieved only by shining
mahogany chair rails enclosed a roomful of identical tables
that held gleaming white, gold-rimmed plates and polished

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silverware, spotless stemmed glasses, and napkins folded

like little tentsall placed just so. I sighed and scanned
the room.

Can you see this restaurants dining room in your mind? I hope so.
Did the paragraph bore you? I hope not.

Now Im going to rewrite the above paragraph to put in a whole lot

more details. Then, Im going to rewrite it to leave out most of the
details. Notice the profound difference in the impressions that the
paragraphs leave with you.

At noon on a rainy and windy Tuesday on April 7, the day

after they held the Seattle Derby at Green Lake, I
hesitated, adjusting my skirt and scratching my ankle, in
the stark, tall and rounded-off archway separating the pale
white-walled lobby full of plush gold-upholstered chairs
from the muted dining room with the tall ceiling and the
big picture windows of La Coterrie, Seattles premier
French cuisine restaurant on 5th Street on the corner next
to the steak house that served great fries and had good
specials on Friday nights. Pale white silk-textured walls
with those little fabric knobs dotted in vertical lines were
bare except for intricately molded mahogany chair rails
that had been recently polished and still smelled like lemon
polish enclosed a roomful of identical square tables
covered in pale lemon-colored cloths that draped about 10
inches below the tables edge. Each table held gleaming
white, gold-rimmed china plates that were 12 inches in
diameter and quite heavy when you picked them up. The
silverware was of an ornate patter with S-shaped swirls
along the handles. The stemmed glasses were tulip-
shaped and had large, round bases. The napkins were
white with faint, intricate stitching near the edges. They
were folded like little tents and placed in the middle of the
plates with the pointed end facing away from the chairs.
Each table had tall mahogany chairs. The baseboards
were thick and about 3 inches high. The carpet was thick
and green and had a complicated pattern. Twenty-three
diners wearing fancy suits or dressers sat at the tables.
Fifteen of the diners were women. The rest were men,
ranging in age from early thirties to late sixties.

I could go on with the above, but I think you get the picture.

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Heres the detail-less version:

At noon, I paused for a second before I entered the ritzy

restaurant. The dining room was top of the line.
Everything was expensive and pretty.

Okay, how did I find the balance in the paragraph as I wrote it for the
book? Obviously, the second one was too much. The last one wasnt
enough. If I did my job right, the one thats in the novel is just right.

The way I created that paragraph was by using the techniques of

Perspective, Goal, Focus, and Slant/prioritizing.

PERSPECTIVE, as it applies to picking details, means to be clear on the

picture youre trying to create or the message youre trying to send.
This is simply a broadening of the emotion youre creating with your

In this scene, my perspective was that upscale places are a little over
the top. To get that across in the paragraph, I wanted to focus on the
high-class elements of the roomthe silk-textured walls, the
mahogany chair rails, the gold-rimmed plates.

In the longer version I wrote above, youll notice that the perspective
isnt clear. I talk about the upscale stuff, yes, but I also linger on a lot
of other details, like the steak house next door and the weather
outside. Its muddled. And in the last, short version, the perspective
isnt discernible at all.

GOAL is what you want to accomplish with your words. My goal with
the above scene was to create a background of crisp formality. I
wanted Ronnie to feel a little out of place, a little uncomfortable.
Thats why I used words like stark archway and muted dining room
and identical tables.

In the longer version, again, the goal is unclear. Its just a grab-bag
of detail. It has no goal, just to mention as much detail as possible.
The short paragraph has a goalto get across that youre in an
expensive restaurant, and it does that, but not in a very interesting

FOCUS is where you want the reader to look. If you think of your
words as a camera, what do you want the lens to capture? My focus

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on the passage above was on the upscale, above the rest nature of
the place. This is why I used words like gleaming, shining, polished,
spotless, and placed just so. I zeroed in on what was bright and
showcase-like in the place.

Notice that in the longer version, the focus is all over the place. Yes, I
mention the upscale stuff, but as with perspective I get off track and
mention other aspects of the room too, things that dont have
anything to do with my focus, like which way the napkins are pointed.
And in the short paragraph, there is no focus. The camera isnt
pointed at anythingits telling the reader information, not showing
anything. Remembershow, dont tell.

SLANT is how you present information. Whats your take on the

scene? How do you want to prioritize what you present with your
words? My slant in the dining room scene was to create a feeling of
hushed superiority. This is why I led with the stark archway and the
muted dining room, the pale walls and the identical tables. I moved
on to napkins folded like little tents. If Id started with the little tents
image, the scene wouldnt have had the same slant.

In the longer paragraph, I led with the weather and a detail about the
date and the Seattle Derby and Green Lakethese things were not
only irrelevant to the scene, they draw attention away from what I
want to prioritize. In the short version, there is no slant.

So when youre trying to get the right combination of details, you do it

by being clear on your perspective, your goal, your focus, and your
slant/priorities. Keep those things in mind and youll avoid the detail
dump syndrome that my longer paragraph demonstrated. Youll also
avoid writing boring, blah prose like the shorter paragraph.

Okay, now that you have the three steps to getting details just right
you know to keep all five senses in mind; you know to use words and
phrases that are specific and as original as possible, and you know to
pick out the most important details to paint a picture or create a
mood, and leave the rest out, youre ready to think about how to use
these details in the four areas of your writing that require that detail.
Remember the ones I mentioned at the beginning? Theyre
mood/tone, character, setting, and dialogue.

The process is similar for character and setting. Each, however, has a
different pitfall to avoid.

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Lets apply the three-step process Ive outlined in this chapter (evoke
all senses, choose the best words, and use the right balance of details)
first to character.


When you want to paint a word picture of a beingwhether that being

is human or otherwise, you want to give the reader enough detail so
that person or being (Im thinking animal, not alienbut you might
write about aliens someday) comes to life for the reader. But you
dont want to give the reader so much information that the reader is
bored to tears.

So you apply the steps. First, you remember the senses.

Before I go on, I want to make a point about the example I used

above, the dining room scene. That was just the opening paragraph of
the scene. Youll notice that it only accessed the sense of sight and
none of the others. This wasnt an oversight, uh, excuse the pun, on
my part. Later in the scene, I touch on the other four senses too.

When youre describing setting and people and setting a mood and
using dialogue, it isnt a linear process. You dont first do one, then
the other, then the next. Writing is weaving with words. You have to
loop one aspect of your story (whether the store is real or made-up)
into another aspect and keep going back and forth between all

Writers who arent adept with detail and havent practiced style, have
a tendency to start a scene with a description of the room or place,
then they go on to describe the mood, then they describe the people,
then they get to the dialogue. This sort of writing is cumbersome and
quite contrived.

Good writing integrates the detail into the action of the scene or the
information. If you want more examples of how to do that, read a lot
of books in the genre youre interested in. Youll probably find that the
books youre drawn to the most are ones that weave detail into the
work quite well.

So in my opening scene, I do put in sense details. I just work them

into the action. Heres a short examplethe next two paragraphs of
the first chapter of Alternate Beauty:

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Why did I say yes? I hated being away from the shop
during the busy lunch hour. But when Audrey called, the
called rushed forth.

A hum of polite conversation ebbed and flowed around me,

accentuated by the irregular tinkling of silverware against
china. The civilized aroma of butter and basil drifted my
way. I swallowed the saliva that came unbidden, like I
was some distant relation to one of Pavlovs dogs.

Notice that in these two paragraphs, as I begin to tell Ronnies story, I

accessed the senses of sound, smell and even taste (imaginary taste
see the simile in the last paragraph?). A couple paragraphs later, I
access touch too.

A good rule of thumb is that in the whole of a scene, try and touch on
all the five senses or hit at least three.

Okay, back to characters. Here is the biggest pitfall to avoid with

character: A common mistake when describing characters is to focus
only on what the character looks like. But how about how he or she
smells or how he or she sounds, or how he or she feels? Only in love
scenes will you probably talk about the taste of a person, but that
sense can come into play too.

When you choose your words and phrases to describe a person, use
that specificity and originality we talked about. Dont say light hair,
say blonde. Better than blonde is ash blonde or streaked blonde. Or
use a simile or metaphor. Just dont use clichs such as hair like
spun gold.

When you decide how much to tell about a person, think about those
four considerationsperspective, goal, focus, and slant. Whats your
perspective on this character or person? Whats your goal in
describing this person? What is your focuswhat do you want the
reader to know about this person? Whats the most important
information about the personwhat do you need to describe first?

And keep in mind that you dont have to tell the reader everything
about your character. Work it into the story. Give out your details bit
by bit as you reveal the other information you need the reader to

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Applying the steps to SETTING is very similar to the way you apply it
to character. You keep all the senses in mind. You use words with
specificity and originality. You get clear on your perspective, your
goal, your focus, and your slant.

When you want to paint the picture of a scene, you want to give the
reader enough information so they can imagine being thereyou want
them to feel like they ARE there. The most important pitfall to avoid
is the detail dump that I demonstrated with that long paragraph
rewrite of the opening of Alternate Beauty. It is NOT necessary for the
reader to know every detail of the room to feel like he or she is in it.

If youre not sure, still, how to nail down the setting without going
overboardthe situation or the place of your writing, think about what
you tend to notice in your own life. Consider that you never notice all
the details of a place. You never are aware of all aspects of a situation
at the same time. That would be sensory overload. You cant process
all that information at once. Neither can your reader. Dont
overwhelm your reader with too much information.

If you link a place or situation to a couple of the senses, and you pick
out the most important details using the four balancing techniques of
perspective, goal, focus, and slant, youll be able to choose just those
details necessary.

On the flip side, remember, dont ever TELL your reader what a place
or situation is like. Dont say the room was scary. Dont say the
situation was tense. Dont say the house was uninviting. Dont say
the situation was sad. SHOW the reader these things by giving them
details that create a scary, tense, uninviting or sad scene.

Okay, the last part of your writing that requires use of detail is


Writers often forget that detail is required in dialogue. They pass up

an opportunity to paint vivid pictures with the words that characters

Here are two examples of dialogue. Same conversation, just written


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Example One

I need to borrow your car, and Im in a hurry.


Because Im in danger.

What kind of danger?

There are these guys chasing me.

Example Two

Throw me the keys, will you. I need your Jeep. Now!


Im going to have a few broken ribs and a swollen eye if I

dont get away. Give me the keys!

Okay. Here. Its almost out of gasyoull need to fill it.

Whos going to give you the broken ribs and black eye?

Remember that bet I made last week at the casino? I

borrowed five large to pay it off. Will you hurry up? The
big dudes I borrowed it from arent very friendly, or
patient. They want their money.

Forgive me. I just wrote that on the fly. Its not great literature. But
I hope you see the difference. In the first exchange, the speakers
stayed with generalities. In the second, there was detail that made
the interaction come to life more.

Think about your own conversations. How often do you speak in

generalities? Probably rarely. You talk in detail.

The trick with dialogue, as with all other aspects of writing, is to put in
just enough detail to make the dialogue rich and not so much that its
stilted and boring.

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A rule of thumb for dialogue is put in a little less than would sound
normal in real life. Real people ramble. Dont let your characters
rambleunless rambling is an essential aspect of your character.

One last note on using details in dialogue when it comes to fictional

characters. Remember those examples I used at the beginning of
words that mean the same thing but come across differently? Car vs.
automobile. Family tree vs. genealogy.

One of the most important places to keep these differences in mind is

in your dialogue. Always be aware of the personality of the person
who is talking. For instance, if youre character is an eight-year old
child, she isnt going to say genealogy. Well, she might, but only if
shes aware of the word for some reason, and if she is, you have to
make sure the reader knows that she is.

A more educated person might use the word automobile, but that word
would sound ridiculous coming out of the mouth of an inner city teen.

Remember who is talking and make the details match the personalities
youve created.

Ive tried to lay the process of using detail in your writing in an orderly
fashion, but as you write, it wont be so organized. Youll throw in
detail and get too much, and youll have to go back and cut. Youll
write several pages and realize you dont have enough detail, and
youll go back and add it.

You can do this as you write or you can just wait and make these
adjustments to your second and third and subsequent drafts. I do a
combination of both.

When you write, youll think you have a good balance but then notice
that you havent chosen the best words or phrases. Then youll go
back and change them. This is okay. Its part of the process.

The process isnt linear and organized. Remember youre weaving.

And often, youre starting with several balls of yarn that are all tangled
up. (That by the way, was a pretty clichd metaphorlets see if I can
do better). Remember that youre building a car and youre starting
with a jumble of bolts and a pile of unmolded metal. Better? You be
the judge.

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Creating Emotion

Good fiction writing makes the reader feel. You want to evoke
emotion with your words.

Ever heard anyone say about a book, I didnt like it much. It left me

What the person means is that the book didnt move them at all. It
made them feel nothing. When a reader feels nothing, a reader is
bored. You cant capture a reader without getting the reader to feel

Creating emotion in your writing is a topic that I actually spend an

entire chapter on in How To Become A Writer ExtraordinaireThe
Beginning Writers Roadmap To Writing Success. Im not going to go
in that much detail here. Well cover the two most important parts of
creating emotion in fiction writing: how to use words for emotional
impact and how to use rhythm for emotional impact.

1. Using words to create emotion.

Words, obviously, have emotional impact. If they didnt, why would

we get insulted when someone calls us stupid or fat or ugly. Those
three words are just a collection of simple little letters, but they have
enormous power.

Evoking emotion from your reader hinges on your ability to use words
with skill. When you use a word, you need to think about the probable
impact it will have. Does that impact create the emotion you want
your reader to feel? If so, youve found the right word; if not, you
need to look further.

There are two aspects to word choicepicking the best nouns, verbs,
adjectives and adverbs to create the emotion you want your reader to
feel AND using the right metaphors or similes (comparisons) to create
the emotion you want your reader to feel.

Heres an example, taken from Writing from the Heart by Leslea

Newman, of how word choice can completely change a readers
emotion. Its two versions of the same room. The writer uses
different words to describe the same scene.

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Version One:

The walls were a putrid green and smelled like piss. The
ceiling was old and cracked; I was afraid it would fall on
my head any second.

Version Two:

The walls were the same comforting green of my

elementary school of long ago and there was a sticky,
sweet smell in the air. The ceiling was old and cracked,
like an ancient, much loved tea-cup held between two
gentle hands.

So what was the emotion that the first version evoked from you? If
youre like me, you were disgusted or repelled. Right?

Now what about the second version? This version left me feeling
content and comforted. Same for you?

Now, why did these two versions have such a different emotional

Look at the words that Newman used in the first version:

To start, look at the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

Adjectiveold, crackled
Verbswas afraid, would fall

Now look at the simile:

Smelled like piss.

Now look at the words that Newman used in the second version:

Nounelementary school
Adjectivesticky, sweet

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Adjectiveold, crackled (this is the same as version one but notice
how the metaphor softens the words)


Like an ancient, much-loved tea-cup held between two gentle hands

When you dissect out the word choices, its pretty easy to see how the
different emotions were created, doesnt it? When you keep the
reader in mind when you choose your words, you will be able to
choose words that evoke the emotion that youre aiming for.

2. Using rhythm to create emotion.

Although the choice of your words is your most powerful weapon for
getting your reader to feel emotion, you have another available to
you: the rhythm of your words.

A sentence is not a sentence is not a sentence. Sometimes its a

sentence. A paragraph is not a paragraph is not a paragraph.
Sometimes its a paragraph.

What do I mean by this?

Well, did you notice a rhythm in that paragraph I just wrote? The
repetition of pattern created a beat, didnt it?

In fact, if you look at all the chapters in this book, youll notice a
certain rhythm. I vary my sentence lengths and paragraph lengths.

Sometimes just to mix things up I throw in a sentence fragment. Or I

use a one word question.

I dont just do this haphazardly. I do it on purpose.

Im trying to evoke a certain emotion from youIm aiming for at the

very least, interest, and at the most, excitement. By changing up my
rhythm often, I hope to create that emotion.

Long sentences tend to lull the reader, calm the reader. This is true
especially if the sentences are uninterrupted by a lot of punctuation.
Clauses that are set off by commas, like this one, break up a sentence
and change its rhythm.

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Short sentences tend to perk a reader up. Theyre more energetic.

This is true unless you string too many short sentences together at
once. If you do that, it can get simply grating.

To see how rhythm works, take a look at this passage from one of my
nonfiction books (you can use rhythm to evoke emotion in both fiction
AND nonfiction).

My dog, Muggins, has a boyfriend. His name is Jake,

and he belongs to Dianna, a good friend of mine.

I can understand why Muggins loves Jake. Hes sweet and

loving, cuddly and handsome, gentle and cooperative. But
Jake, unfortunately, isnt as enamored of Muggins as she is
of him. He doesnt dislike herits just that he has other
things on his mind. Jake is all about the ball. Jakes a
yellow lab, and labs live for balls, not for black-and-white
springer spaniels who have the hots for them.

Mugginss unrequited love aside, you ought to see Jake

rivet his attention on a ball. When you have a ball in your
hand, Jake is right there keeping an eye on it. Every
nerve ending, every muscle, every cell in Jakes body is
focused on your hand. He is rigid and quivering. His ears
are perked. His head is up and cocked to one side. His
eyes are bright. His tail is alert. Just try and get that ball
past him without him knowing about it. Cant be done.

Okay, so maybe being so focused on balls isnt something

to which you need to aspire, but the manner in which Jake
focuses on balls is a quality you do need. Jake is a poster-
dog for being attentive.

Notice how I start this piece with longer sentences. Not real long.
Just long enough to get my reader feeling relaxed and in hopefully a
good, peaceful mood. Even though Im talking about a dog obsessed
with a ball, I want my reader to feel good about it.

The emotion Im going for in this piece is a sense of joy and

amazement. Look at how I go from long sentences to shorter ones to
raise the emotional level. In the third paragraph, I go for a staccato
effectI fire out the sentences. Why? I want the reader to feel Jakes

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energy. I want the reader to be inspired by Jakes excitement level for

the ball.

Did it work? I hope so.

Experiment with your writing. Write a couple paragraphs of a scene in

your novel using only long sentences. Now rewrite it using only short
sentences. When you do this, I guarantee youll see how the
paragraphs evoke different emotion depending on what sentence
length you use. Now, with those same paragraphs, mix up the
sentence lengths. Do you notice an even different emotion evoked by
the words?

To keep this idea of rhythm in mind as you write, think about music.
Slow, lingering notes held for a long time create certain emotion.
Quick notes that are never held at all create a different emotion. The
mix of the two create something else entirely.

When you keep these two aspects of writing in minddetail and

emotion, youll be well on your way to creating a powerful opening to
your novel followed by a compelling manuscript that agents, editors,
and all your readers wont be able to put down. Just rememberdont
obsess over perfection. Just put the goals of using details well and
creating emotion into your head, and then just write. Trust your
creativity and your unconscious mind to use what youve learned to
create good writing.

Keep in mindyoure writing a draft. Rewriting comes later.

Before you start writing, though, I suggest you make a plan. Dont
just assume that youll get the novel done here and there, fitting it in
around your daily life. You need to take a look at your activities and
figure out how youre going to get this novel done.

If youve been working on the planning tasks whenever you can grab
some time, thats fine. But once you start writing, you need some
consistency and structure.

Your novel will be terribly disjointed if you just write on it in spurts.

Take the time to look at your schedule and make a plan. Set a goal of
so many pages a day and stick to it. Dont waver from your schedule
unless you have an emergency (and a sudden need to curl up with a
good book and some chocolate is NOT an emergency).

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Try and schedule starting your novel when you dont have something
coming up that will take you away from your novel for longer than a
couple weeks. Youll have a hard time keeping the continuity if you do

Be sure your schedule fits with your writing speed and your lifestyle.
How many pages a day is good? It depends on you.

I write 35 to 40 pages a day when Im writing a novel, but Im very

fast. And it took me a few years to get up to that speed. When I
stared, a good day was five pages.

Dont be hard on yourself. Remember that if you write one page a

day, in a year, you could be close to finishing a draft. On the other
hand, dont be too easy on yourself either. Push a little bit.

Do, however, set a goal date. That date will help you stay on track.
Leave your finish time open-ended, and youre giving yourself
permission to procrastinate.

To help you keep your eyes on that goal, try a few motivational tricks
to keep you going. First, post the goal date where you can see it.
Second, make a mock up of your novel cover. This makes your goal
tangible. Third, repeat daily, Im writing a great novel that Ill sell to
a big publisher. Or go further, Im writing a bestselling novel.

Before I end this chapter, a word about rewriting. I highly recommend

that you dont polish as you go. Just get the draft done.

After much trial and error, Ive found a method that works very well:

Write your pages for the day without rereading what youve done at
all. The next day, start your day with a read of the pages you wrote
the day before. Make small tweaks as you see fit, but dont agonize
over the words. Youre just reading to get the flow, so you can jump
back in. When youre done reading, start writing your pages for the
day. Do not keep messing with what youve done. Get something
down and move on. You can polish and fix things later.

Now, stop and do the tasks for this chapter in your Taskbook.

And once again, have fun!

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Planning and writing a novel, though a huge project, is only half your
job if you want to get your novel in the hands of readers. Once your
novel is completed, youll need to sell it. Youll need to find a

Although many authors are opting for self-publishing or print-on-

demand (POD) publishing these days, I am not a big proponent of
either of these methods of getting your novel out into the world. Yes,
some authors have been tremendously successful starting with a self-
published novel. One of my favorite success stories is that of author,
M.J. Rose. Her first novel, Lip Service, was rejected by multiple
mainstream publishers because its genre couldnt be categorized. She
self-published the book, and it did so well, that a mainstream publisher
eventually picked it up. She is now a regularly published author
whose books are published by mainstream publishers. So, yes, it can
be done.

But for every M.J. Rose, there are thousands, if not hundreds of
thousands of other authors struggling to sell a few dozen copies of
their self-published book from the back of their trunk. If you do
decide to go the self publish route, be aware that youre in for a lot of
work. A self published author has to do all the book distribution and
promotion. Its a tough road.

Ideally, you want to find at least a small to mid-size mainstream

publisher to publish your book. You can do this either by looking first
for an agent or by going directly to the publisher.

I sold Alternate Beauty directly to the publisher, Bantam, which was a

stroke of incredible luck (or perhaps it was the result of using all the
techniques I teach in this e-book???). Bantam, at the time, was the

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last large publisher to accept unsolicited and unagented manuscripts.

It no longer takes unagented work either.

The only publishers youll be able to get to directly are the small to
medium sized publishers. If you want to go after the big guys, youll
need an agent.

Whether you submit to an agent or a publisher, you will need two

things. Youll need a query letter and a manuscript synopsis. In this
chapter, Ill teach you how to write a professional, compelling query
and synopsis that will greatly increase your chances of finding a
publisher for your novel.

And I dont want you to wait until youre finished with your manuscript
before you write your query letter and synopsis. Why? Because
writing a query letter and synopsis helps you clarify your novels focus.
It solidifies the story in your mind and puts your hook in the
forefront of your creative effort.

Ill explain what your hook is in just a minute, but first, let me talk a
bit more about why you want to do your query letter and synopsis
now. I want to do a little more convincing because, if youre like me,
you might be dismissing my advice.

When I first started, I also got this advice from a published novelist,
and I ignored it. Query letters and synopses are very challenging to
write. You need to distill your 400+ page story down into one or two
pages for a query letter and about 10 pages for a synopsis. Thats
tough to do. So its natural to resist the undertaking.

But in this case, the tough job you want to avoid is a job that will
make your other job, writing the manuscript itself, a lot easier. It is
VERY easy to get lost in the middle of writing a novel. Even after
youve done all the work Ive taught you to do here, you can lose your
focus when youre in the middle of writing. Having your query letter
and synopsis done will help you stay focused.

And what if you end up changing the novels plot or the characters or
anything else? No problem. Thats what computers are for. Just go
back and make your query letter and synopsis changes when youre

Oh, and one more thing before we get into the meat of this subject.
Dont submit your query letter and synopsis until youve finished your

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manuscript. You might be tempted to send it out right away if you

know how slowly the publishing world works (VERY slowlyit can take
a year to get a manuscript read by an agent). Dont do it. Fiction
submission sales are very rarely done with partials (part of a
manuscript). Nonfiction sales can be done with partials (usually a full
outline and three chapters), but thats rare too for first time authors.

Okay, so lets get to it. Lets talk about what goes into a query letter
and synopsis.

Query Letter

A query letter must contain these five elements:

1. A brief description of your novels genre (mainstream, sci fi,

romance, mystery, etc.). If youre not sure what your genre is, check
out the list of genres in Novel & Short Story Writers Market, and pick
the one that fits your book the best.

2. Word countthe length of your novel. You can easily get the word
count if youre using Microsoft Word. Just click on Tools, then Word
Count. If you need to get word count the old fashioned way, count the
words on one average-looking page and multiply by the number of
pages. (Obviously, if youre following my advice and writing the novel
before you write the manuscript, you wont know the word count. But
put in your target word count. A good target for most books is around
80,000 words. Get over 100,000 words, and youll have trouble selling
the manuscript unless its very impressive. I made this mistake when
I sold Alternate Beauty. It was 160,000 words. Luckily, the editor
liked it enough to buy it anyway and then she had me cut it. I had to
cut it down to 105,000 words. Ughcutting that much of a book is
like trying to decide which leg to cut off.)

3. A description of the book. This description can only be one to four

paragraphs or so depending on whether the agent or editor accepts
one or two page query letters. A one page query letter is preferable.
In that length query, youll only have one or two paragraphs to get
across the essence of your manuscript.

4. Publishing credits and credentials. If you have published in any

regional or national publication, mention it. Of course, the bigger your
credits, the more theyll be worth. Mention the rest of your
background only if its relevant to why youre the right person to write
this book. For example, even though I have a J.D., a law degree, I

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rarely mention that when I submit fiction. I do mention it sometimes

when I submit nonfiction because the degree is relevant to my ability
to write with logic and clarity. You can mention personal details if
theyre relevant to your ability to write the book. For instance, when I
submitted Alternate Beauty, I mentioned that my struggles with
weight because that novel is about a woman who is dealing with size
and body image issues.

5. A closing that explains what youre submitting and to whom youre

submitting it. Always submit what the publishers or agents
guidelines, as listed either on their website or in Novel & Short Story
Market, request. If the guidelines say a query letter only, just send a
query. If guidelines say query, synopses and three chapters, also
called a partial, thats what you send. Never send more than what the
agent or publisher wants. You can include here that you can send

If you are submitting your query to more than one agent or editor, you
must say so. A simple, This is a simultaneous submission or I am
querying other agents [or publishers] simultaneously, will work fine.

Now you want to assume the close. Instead of asking if you can
send a partial or a full manuscript, say, I look forward to sending you
the full manuscript of My Great American Novel.

Now, how do you put these five elements together in a way that grabs
the editor or agent to whom youre submitting? You do it with three
part plan of attack:

1. Grab the reader with a hook.

Your hook is your attention-getting statement. If you had to sum up

your novel idea in one catchy statement or question, what would you
say? This is your hook. This hook must be a grabber. You want your
reader to sit up and take notice. Youre hooking the readers attention
so he or she will have to keep reading.

The most effective way of getting your hook in front of the reader is to
start your query letter with your title centered in bold and the hook
centered below (youll see what Im talking about in the sample query
letter Ive included below).

A hook should make the reader want to know more. You either ask a
question they cant answer or suggest a situation that is unusual or

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hint at a mystery they cant solve. You can also make your hook a
one-sentence summation thats humorous or sassy.

2. Hold your reader with appeal. In your description paragraph, you

want to paint a picture of your story thats absorbing and appealing.
Draw your reader into the novels atmosphere and situation. Make
your reader want to dive into the story and get lost in it.

This part of the query is probably only going to be a couple of

paragraphs, so you really have to work to condense your great story
into something that will make your reader want to see the whole thing.
If youre not sure how to do this, think book jacket copy. This is the
type of information you want in this part of your query letter.

3. Impress your reader with marketing awareness. If you know of

any marketing or promotional tie-in for your novel, mention it. Agents
and editors want to know why this novel will sell well.

Also, letting the reader know that youre aware of the need for a
marketing angle tells him or her that youre promotion-savvy. You will
establish yourself as a professional writer with this awareness.

Okay, those are the elements that youre aiming for. Lets see how
they look in action. Heres the query letter I used to sell Alternate
Beauty to Bantam (notice that the title is differentBantam changed
the title after acquiring the manuscript (this happens a lot)):

Publishing House
Street Address
City, State, Zip

Dear Ms. Editor,

What if you woke up in a world where big is beautiful?

Have you ever wished you lived in a different world, one where, say, teachers make more
money than football players? Maybe youve wished you lived in a world where having a
potbelly makes you more popular than Winnie the Pooh. Veronica (Ronnie) Tremayne
not only did wish for a different world, she got what she wanted. After a particularly bad
day, she goes to sleep thinking the key to happiness is living in a world where fat is
beautiful. The next day, she wakes up in such a world.

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At first, Ronnies experience is perfectshes considered a drop dead beauty in the new
reality and shes inundated with attention from men; shes finally able to achieve her
dream of being a fashion designer; she moves in the glitzy circles of the rich and famous.
Unfortunately, Ronnie begins to lose weight (not because she wants to), and she cant
seem to stop losing weight. As she is judged and rejected as much in this world as she
was in her old world, she finally has to take a hard look at her beliefs and what shes done
to create her own unhappiness. Will she finally be able to accept herself, or will she be
unhappy in any world?

Inside Out is a 160,000 word womens fiction manuscript for any woman who has ever
struggled with her body imagewhich is almost every woman in the U.S. With the
media spotlight aimed so often at actress weight issues and the diet industry growing
yearly, its the perfect time for Inside Out.

In addition to having a B.A. in Psychology from The College of William and Mary, I
have personal experience with using food to replace self-esteem, and I have both gained
and lost large amounts of weight. My insight into the struggles of the obese has helped
me create a sympathetic and believable character in Ronnie Tremayne. I write a weekly
column, The Up Beat, which has been running in The Daily World, Aberdeen,
Washingtons daily paper, since January 2000. I have published column reprints, poetry,
and short stories in various magazines.

I have enclosed a synopsis and the first 50 pages of Inside Out for your review. This is a
simultaneous submission. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to sending
you the full manuscript.


Andrea Rains Waggener

Now take a look at how I did with the elements of a good query.
Notice, first, under the book title at the top, my hook: What if you
woke up in a world where big is beautiful? Its a question that
suggests an unusual situation. Obviously it was unusual enough to
keep the editor reading.

In the first sentence of the first paragraph, I appeal to the reader,

asking her another question to get her thinking the way Id like her to
be thinking. You dont have to do this. You can just launch into your
story if you want.

The first two paragraphs summarize the story. Notice that I dont
dwell on details. I write the paragraphs like the cover copy of a book.
Notice also that I didnt give away the ending of the book. Youre not
trying to tell the whole story in your query. You just want to suggest
the plot and the characters struggle.

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In the third paragraph, I state the genre and the word count. I
actually got the genre wrongthe editor decided to market the book
as chicklit. When I wrote this query, I had no idea what chicklit was
and even when I did find out what it was, I didnt think thats what my
book was. But youll find, once you sell a manuscript, that the author
doesnt know much at all, according to editors. You basically lose your
right to control much of anything. As Ive mentioned, my title was
changed, and I had to cut over 50,000 words of the manuscript too.
But hey, when one of the largest publishers in the world wants your
novel and theyre paying you a nice advance for it, you let the
publisher lead the way.

One aside here, though. Dont give up ALL control. Dont do anything
that doesnt feel right to you. When my Bantam editor first read my
novel, she wanted me to rewrite the book in a way that felt totally
wrong to me. I did some thinking and came up with a way to address
her concerns but rewrite in a way that felt right. Basically, we

Okay, back to the query. The paragraph that states the word count
and genre also has marketing awareness. I mention how the topic of
the book is a focus on the media.

The next paragraph has my credentials. At the time, I hadnt sold any
books, so I put the writing credentials I had. Notice that I didnt list all
the publications in which my work had appeared. Since none of them
were terribly impressive, I felt it better to stay general. Also, I didnt
mention my law degree. Although a credential, its not relevant to my
ability to write a novel about a woman in an alternate universe where
fat is beautiful.

The last paragraph explains what I have enclosed, states that the
submission is a simultaneous one, and assumes the close.

Notice that the query is single spaced. I recommend using font, Times
New Roman, in query letters. Its smaller and allows you to get more
on a page. If you absolutely need to, you can go to 11 point font, but
dont go smaller than that. And a little trick to get more on a page,
make the lines between spaces a smaller font, like 8 point font, and
you can usually gain a line or two of space.

Okay, now that you have your query letter, youre ready to move on to
your synopsis.

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A synopsis is essentially a description of the main points of your story.

Basically its very similar to an outline. Its simply a narrative outline
told like a story instead of told in snippets like you might put in a
working outline.

A synopsis must have the feel of your novels content. In other words,
if your novel is very serious, so must be your synopsis. If your novel
is sassy, your synopsis needs to be sassy. If your novel is a thriller,
your synopsis better be thrilling.

You start with two to four paragraphs to set the stage for your story
and then continue to lay out, in story-telling form, the events of your
novel. You do this using present tense. Unlike most novels with use
past tense, a synopsis must be written in present tense.

Unlike in a query, in a synopsis, you DO have to tell the ending. You

must tell the whole story. How is your novels conflict resolved?

Youre aiming for ten to twenty-five pages, double-spaced with a

synopsis. Just be aware that some agents and editors set a page limit
for synopses, and youll have to adjust yours to fit those limits if you
submit to such an agent or editor.

I know youre probably feeling some level of panic right now. Youre
wondering how in the world youre going to get all novels critical
points in that amount of space. Dont worry.

The agent or editor knows you cant get everything in. He or she is
just looking for the big picturethe plot movement, the manuscripts
structure, and the characters realism. He or she also wants to see the
conflict and how that conflict is resolved.

Here is the synopsis I used for Alternate Beauty (note that the font is
Courier New, which is the recommended font for manuscripts and

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Andrea Rains Waggener


Twenty-six year old Veronica (Ronnie) Tremayne may be

intelligent, funny, and kind, but shes also grossly obese,

weighing in at close to 300 pounds and barely fitting into

a size 28. Though she has much for which to be grateful,

its all overshadowed by her weight. She hates her size,

and she believes its the reason shes unable to be

successful and happy. She compensates for her unhappiness

with a love for massive amounts of food.

Ronnies mother, Audrey Candless, is a skinny, wealthy

socialite whos ashamed of Ronnies appearance and misses

no opportunity to let Ronnie know. When, in April, Audrey

informs Ronnie that Audreys friend, Ronnies wealthy boss,

Cheryl Landing, has threatened to fire Ronnie, Ronnies

world begins to crumble. Ronnie is the manager of Luscious

Landing Large Womens Clothing Boutique in Seattle,

Washington, a city Ronnie sees as confident and in action,

a city in which she feels out of place. Under Ronnies

care, the shop has brought in outstanding revenues. But

Cheryl says Ronnies getting too fat to properly do her


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Ronnie, amazed she could be considered too fat to run

a fat womans clothing store, soothes her nerves with more

food and meets her boyfriend, Gilbert Brown, for dinner.

In the tight quarters of the restaurant, she keeps bumping

into people with her large body. Disgusted with herself,

she thinks, who needs the Three Stooges? I can provide all

the comic relief these people need. A swish of the hips

here and down goes a purse, a jostle of the thigh there and

over goes a cocktail glass. Here a spill, there a spill,

everywhere a.

Ronnie is so unhappy, even kind and loving Gilbert

cant comfort her. She cuts the evening short and returns

to her apartment. In her home, she binges on junk food and

watches an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in which Oprah

says the key to happiness is loving yourself. Ronnie,

enraged and distraught, throws her food at the television

and goes to sleep, mumbling that the key to happiness is

living in a world where fat is beautiful.

When Ronnie awakens the next morning, she feels a

little odd, and as she moves into her day, encountering her

downstairs neighbor, construction workers on the street and

clients in her shop all acting strangely, she begins to

suspect something amazing has happened. Eventually, she

realizes shes no longer in her normal reality. Somehow,

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and she has no idea how, she has landed in some alternate

reality where fat is the standard of beauty.

With each encounter Ronnie has that day, her

acceptance of her changed world solidifies. Her mother is

attentive and obviously proud of Ronnie and her

accomplishments. Her boyfriend, Gilbert, treats her with

something approaching awe, though hes obviously not her

lover in this reality. Her best friends, Bonnie and

Alanna, tell her theyve always been impressed at how

untouched she is by her extraordinary beauty. Bonnie, who

is slender, also mentions she sees a lot of discrimination

against slender people. Ronnie is in shock.

Ronnie enters her new world tentatively at first,

trying out her role as a beautiful woman by dating many

men, who lavish her with flowers (one even sends her a

tree) and compliments. Part of her sane, old self,

attempts to reason with the wild, new Ronnie whos sowing

enough oats to start a million-dollar breakfast cereal

company; but new Ronnie shushes old Ronnie. Im not

listening to you, she says. Im getting laid. Like it or

lump it. And so Ronnie sleeps with most of the men she

goes out with, and she practices being what her mother

calls belle of the ball by attending dozens of upscale

parties. At one of those parties, at Audreys mansion, she

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meets Senator Theresa Porter, a kind woman who intercedes

when a fat party guest berates a slender waitress. At

another party, at Cheryls home, Ronnie overhears some men

talking about the WWSP and wonders what that is.

By accident, Cheryl sees Ronnies fashion designs,

previously a closet hobby for Ronnie, and gets excited

about starting a design business, Original You Designs.

Cheryl, who is manic depressive and quick to jump into

action in her manic phases, creates a business plan for

Original You Designs and has her lawyer draw up a contract

establishing a partnership giving Cheryl, who will finance

the company, 51% interest and Ronnie, who will design the

clothes, 49% interest. Ronnie, distracted by her work and

social obligations, signs the contract.

Though Ronnie makes a new friend in fellow chic

designer Paige Tracey, Ronnie has no time for her old

friends, Bonnie and Alanna, who she begins to ignore.

During this time, Ronnie barely notices she has little

interest in food.

In July, Cheryl expands Luscious Landing, which in

this reality is a cutting-edge fashion boutique, and she

hires famous fashion photographer, Jason Saunders, to take

fashion photos for advertisements. When Jason meets

Ronnie, hes enchanted by her beauty, and he says she will

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model the clothing for the shoot. A couple days later,

Jason and Ronnie go out for dinner and later make love.

At the beginning of the photo shoot, the assistants

have to take in the size 28 clothes Ronnie wears for the

photos. At the end of the shoot, Ronnie and Jason go out

again, and he invites her to move in with him. Ronnie,

overwhelmed by his charming attentions, agrees. The next

day, Ronnie picks out new clothes from the shop, all in

size 24.

During Jasons and Ronnies outings, Jason treats

Ronnie a bit like a trophy, often barely listening to what

she has to say, but showing her off to everyone he sees.

Ronnie begins to feel a little on edge. Part of her still

is connected to her old societys standards, and part of

her has begun to accept this new societys standards; so

her perceptions are confused.

Still, Ronnie basks in Jasons attentions, even if he

does occasionally annoy her, and she also begins to develop

a friendship with her mother, who is not cool and aloof as

she had been in Ronnies old reality. When Audrey looks at

Ronnie warmly, Ronnie thinks, forget alternate realities.

She figures theyve moved on to body snatching because

whoever occupies Audreys body is not her mother, at least

the one she has known and grown to hate.

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Ronnies workdays are busy with work at the shop and

the design business. But she has time to go to meetings at

the girls club where shes a volunteer. At one such

meeting, the clubs accountant pulls her aside and tells

Ronnie funds are being diverted from the club into

something called WWSP. The accountant wants to know if

Ronnie knows what the WWSP is. Ronnie remembers hearing

the letters before, but she doesnt know what they mean.

In between these meetings, her work and her time with

Jason, Ronnie sometimes runs into Gilbert, who owns the

mens shop next door to Luscious Landing. Hes always an

attentive and supportive listener.

In September, Jason comments on Ronnies weight loss.

Hes upset with her smaller size (shes wearing size 22s by

now). But a couple weeks later, Ronnie tries on more

clothes at the shop and discovers shes even smaller, a

size 20. When Cheryl sees Ronnie, she tells Ronnie if she

gets smaller, Cheryl will have to let her go. Paige also

tells Ronnie she needs to eat more, and Ronnie tries. But

she no longer craves rich food and cant seem to eat much.

Shes even more confused about size and beauty.

In October, Ronnie and Jason attend a fundraiser with

Audrey, and Jason is aloof and impatient with Ronnie.

People at the event make comments about her weight loss;

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but Senator Porter, who is at the party too, tells Ronnie

not to let the people get to her.

In November, Ronnie tries on size 18s, and they fit.

Ronnie is elated about her weight loss and upset at the

same time. All those years of trying to eat only until she

was full, she thinks, and she finally has to get it now.

Talk about bad timing.

A couple weeks later, she sees Gilbert and tells him

she cant seem to eat more. Hes sympathetic and tells her

not to force herself to do something she doesnt want to

do. He says what counts is whats inside.

At Jasons loft one Sunday, Ronnie feels so out of

place she decides to go the arboretum, where she sometimes

finds peace. There, she runs into her old downstairs

neighbor, Donna, a slender woman, who in the old reality

ran a successful bakery. Donna tells Ronnie Donnas

business is failing because fat people are boycotting

businesses owned by slender people.

After Christmas, when size 18s become too loose and

Luscious Landing doesnt have clothes small enough to fit,

Ronnie goes to the Small Womens section of a department

store. Part of her is exhilarated to be buying size 16s,

something she's always dreamed of in the old reality, and

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part of her is ashamed. When she brings home her new

purchases, Jason asks her to move out.

Ronnie moves in with Audrey, who, disgusted with

Ronnies dwindling size, tries to force her to eat. In

January, Cheryl fires Ronnie and buys Ronnie out of the

design business. Although Ronnie consults with a lawyer,

he tells her the contract gives Cheryl the right to fire

her. At the law office, Ronnie sees an elaborate fabric

weaving that, from a distance, looks like a painting of the

Seattle skyline. Up close, the weaving is just a mass of

threads, a tangled weave of blue, gray, green and brown.

Just color. No structure.

Its perspective, she says. Get too close, and it

loses form. Back up, and its crystal clear. She wonders

how she can get that crystal clear view of her own life,

which feels like a jumble of threads. Work, love, play.

All a tangle. She doesnt know how to separate herself

from the events tugging at her. Shes just a thread

knotted up with other threads, and she doesnt know where

she fits into the big picture.

Audrey is unsympathetic, and Paige wont return

Ronnies calls. Ronnie becomes depressed, upset that shes

screwed up in this world just like she did in her old

reality. In late January, Ronnie runs into Bonnie, and

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Bonnie forgives Ronnie for her long silence and invites

Ronnie to stay with her until Ronnie decides what to do

next. Ronnie goes to Original You Designs to pick up her

personal belongings, and she sees a memo on the new

designers desk thats about WWSP. She sees the letters

stand for World Wide Sweep Project, and its a group

focused on removing skinnies from prominent positions in

business and government because skinnies dont have the

self-control to eat enough. Ronnie is upset and wonders

what to do about it.

At Bonnies place, Ronnie is at loose ends. She tries

on size 12 clothes Bonnie bought when shed once managed to

diet up from a size 8 to a size 12, and they fit. Gilbert

calls to check on Ronnie, and they go out for dinner.

Ronnie is reminded how nice Gilbert is and why she loved

him in the old reality.

Finally, Ronnie begins to pull herself together. She

decides to use her buy-out money to start a designer

clothing store for skinnies. Audrey, who comes to visit,

is appalled Ronnie is so thin and even more upset about

Ronnies business plans. Ronnie tells Audrey she doesnt

care what Audrey or anyone else thinks anymore. Ronnie

feels strong and powerful. Kind of like a warrior

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princess, she thinks, or maybe more like Dorothy in the

Land of Oz. She has stood up to the wicked witch.

Ronnie then calls Senator Porter to tell her about the

WWSP. Remembering the senators kindness at the parties,

Ronnie hopes the senator will do something to help.

Senator Porter says shell see what she can do.

A couple weeks later, after buying a few new clothes

in size 10, Ronnie has dinner with Gilbert at Bonnies

apartment while Bonnie is out. During the evening, they

see on TV a press conference Senator Porter is giving about

the WWSP. The senator says shes exposing the group, which

is attempting to quietly ostracize slender people.

Ronnies thrilled. She and Gilbert make love, and shes

even more thrilled with him. After he leaves, she cant

sleep, and she tries to sew a dress shes designed. When

she keeps making mistakes, she becomes enraged and cuts the

material into shreds. As she stares at the pile of

material, she sees the beauty in the color and texture and

realizes its lovely even though it isnt a piece of

clothing. Suddenly, she sees the core of real beauty and

understands she has the same core within herself. She

knows she has created her own unhappiness with the way she

has seen herself.

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Too excited to stay in the apartment, Ronnie drives to

Seattle to see Donna. Once there, however, she realizes

its the middle of the night and she cant visit Donna. So

she starts walking aimlessly in her old neighborhood. The

next thing she knows, shes in a police station. Audrey

arrives and is happy to see Ronnie because Ronnie has been

missing for over a year. Audreys thrilled with Ronnies

weight loss.

After being checked out at a hospital, Ronnie goes to

Audreys mansion because Audrey has emptied Ronnies

apartment and stored her belongings. At Audreys mansion,

Audrey wants Ronnie to see a doctor about her memory loss,

and she suggests a light breakfast so Ronnie will stay on

track with her weight loss. Ronnie dismisses Audrey,

telling her, Im not going to keel over or wander off or

put on 40 pounds in the next ten minutes. Then Ronnie

calls Alanna and Bonnie, who rush over. They talk about

her disappearance and get excited about her weight loss.

Finally, Gilbert arrives and tells her he never gave up on

her. He says nothing about her smaller size.

Ronnie doesnt know for sure what happened to her.

But shes finally content. Shes so full of joy, she no

longer needs to fill herself with food.

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If you were to read Alternate Beauty, youd notice that the tone and
style of the novel is mimicked in this synopsis. When my editor read
this synopsis, she had a good idea of how Id written the book.

Writing your own synopsis will help you establish your own stylethe
one you want for your novel.

Now that you have a good query letter and synopsis, you have both a
sure target to keep you focused during your writing AND the essential
arsenal of what you need to land an agent or publisher when youre
done. The actual market research process, submission process, and
agent-choosing or editor-negotiating process are beyond the scope of
this e-book. I do, however, offer guidance and advice on these
aspects of your novel career to the writers who I coach. You can find
out more information my coaching service in the conclusion of this e-

To close this chapter, I will offer just a couple more query tricks to
keep in mind when it is time to actually send the query letter:

1. Be sure you target the right agent or editor. Do your market

research well. Dont just send your book to any old agent or editor at
an agency or publishing house that accepts your type of manuscript.

Make sure you pick the best agent or editor at the agency or house. If
you cant find this information on the agent or editor website or in your
Writers Market book, call the agency or publishing house and describe
your genre and ask for the name of the appropriate person to contact.
DONT ask to speak to that person. That is a HUGE no-no.

2. Make it easy for agent or editor to respond. When submitting

anything, you always enclose an SASEself-enclosed stamped
envelope. Better than that, though is a prepaid self-addressed,
postage paid, postcard with these choices printed on it:

____Please send sample chapters.

____Please send complete manuscript.
____Idea doesnt interest me at this time.

You will get more and quicker responses when you make the response
process easier for the agent or editor.

2010 Andrea Rains Waggener/Living On The Up Beat, llc

Novel Writing Made EasyPage 191

Once you have your query and your synopsis done, youll feel great.
Trust me. Youll be charged up and ready to keep working on your
manuscript until its complete!

So before you get any further with your novel draft, please stop and
do the tasks associated with this chapter in your Taskbook. Once
youve done them, heres a little motivational trick for you: I suggest
is putting your query letter and synopsis where you can see them
every day. Its a great way to help you keep an eye on your goal of
finishing your manuscript.

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Novel Writing Made EasyPage 192


If youve done all the tasks I laid out for you in your Taskbook,
applying what you learned in this e-book as you did the tasks, you
now have the foundation of your novel completed. Now, dont just let
your foundation sit there!

You have a great start on a book. Keep going!

As Ive said many times in this e-book, be sure you have fun with all
aspects of planning and starting your novel. This is fun stuff, if you
allow it to be.

Remember that its normal to get discouraged, to feel lost, and to be

unsure of yourself as youre writing. I felt that way in the middle of
every book I wrote, and Im sure other authors have felt the same

Have you ever done a big remodeling or big re-ordering of a room or a

home. Everything looks okay before you start and then you tear
things out, stack things up, throw things around, and when you're in
the middle of it, it looks AWFUL. It looks like you've made things
worse. Much worse.

If someone were to walk into your home when you're in the middle of
reorganizing or remodeling, they'd think you were a total slob. If you
judged the end result by what you see in the middle of the process,
you'd be sure it would be a total failure. But then you keep working,
and pretty soon, everything starts falling into place and you finally end
up with a beautiful room or home that's far better than what you
started with.

Writing a novel is exactly the same as this. So if you experience any

fear or discouragement in the middle of your novel planning or writing
process, its the result of looking at the mess you have around you and
thinking it's an indication of what's coming.

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Novel Writing Made EasyPage 193

This is totally normal, and Ive done the same thing. Many of the
writers Ive counseled have felt a version of this middle-place
uncertainty. You must find the day-to-day courage and determination
required to write a novel. Keep redirecting your thoughts to what you
want to create, the vision you have for it, not the mess you currently

It would be so lovely if we could do life in time-lapse photography like

they do in movies, wouldn't it? Everything just zips along to the end,
beautiful result. It just doesnt work that way.

Just remember that any apprehension and uncertainty you may feel
about your novel is just your response to being in this middle-place. It
doesnt have anything to do with your ability to write this book or how
good the book could be when you're done.

So stick with it and again, have fun!

2010 Andrea Rains Waggener/Living On The Up Beat, llc

Novel Writing Made EasyPage 194


Help With Characters

The Writers Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon

with Hal Blythe and Charlie Sweetthis is an EXCELLENT resource for
naming your characters. It lists character names by heritage so you
can choose French names, Celtic names, German names, etc.

A more simple character naming resource, but also useful is The Best
Baby Name Book by Bruce Lanskyfull of great names.

The Writers Guide to Character Traits by Linda n. Edelstein, PhDthis

is a wonderful book that describes human personality types and their
associated traits. My copy of this book is on my desk at all times.

Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheonthis book has a

template that is far more extensive than what I gave you in this
chapter. I find his template to be too involved. But the book also has
some very helpful informationlists of physical traits and personality
traits that can help you build your people.

Careers For Your Characters by Raymond Obstfeld and Franz

Neumannthis is a great book that describes 101 professions and
gives information on the education needed for them and where to find
more information about them. This can really help you figure out what
job to give your characters.

For Zodiac information, check out


Help With Settings

You can find almost any kind of house plan you could possibly want to
help you sketch your scenes here:
You can search for home styles and home sizes on this site.

2010 Andrea Rains Waggener/Living On The Up Beat, llc

Novel Writing Made EasyPage 195

Get detailed information about carstheir interior colors and

dimensions and specifications at

If you dont get a lot of home dcor or furniture catalogs, you can find
them here: This site organizes catalogs by
subject. You can find catalogs on home dcor, rugs, office furniture,
yard and garden, etc. Many catalog subscriptions are free. Some
have a nominal cost. I highly recommend that you subscribe to as
many as you can. They will prove invaluable in helping you create
rich, believable scenes.

Help With Research

The Facts On File Guide To Research, by Jeff Lenburg. Written for the
student, it has some information that you wont need, but its a
comprehensive discussion of the resources you can find in a library.

Facts in a Flash: A Research Guide for Writers, by Ellen Mette. This

book is a thorough discussion of using all kinds of sources, from
libraries, newspapers and the Internet to scholars, experts and

Help With Writing

Random House Word Menu by Stephen Glazierthis is an incredible

book with lists of things like colors and noises and textures. It has
ways of running and walking and talking and all sorts of other
synonyms. This is FAR more than a thesaurus. It will help you get
your details right.

Help With Marketing, Queries, and Synopses

Novel & Short Story MarketThis resource lists the major fiction
markets and many of the agents who represent novels. It also has
advice on how to write queries and synopses..

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Novel Writing Made EasyPage 196


Andrea (Ande) Rains Waggener is the author of both fiction and

nonfiction. Her books include Healthy, Wealthy, & Wise52 Life-
changing Lessons for the 21st Century (Hazelden 2005), a self help
book that teaches people how to develop inner qualities that pave the
way for a quality life; Alternate Beauty (Bantam 2005), a novel about
an obese women who wakes up in a universe where fat is considered
beautiful; and Dog ParentingHow to Have an Outrageously Happy,
Well-adjusted Canine (Adams Media Corp. 2006), a lighthearted look
at how to give a dog great dog care.

A former attorney and legal writing professor, now author, writing

coach, upbeat life advisor and dog care advisor, Andrea has given
workshops and personal instruction to both beginning and advanced
writing students. Andrea has been a guest on numerous radio
programs. Her books have been featured in newspapers such as the
Seattle Post Intelligencer and in national magazines like Shape
Magazine. Shes been a guest on FOX News Networks, Fox and
Friends, as well as on the Pacific Northwest, ABC TVs Northwest

Andes writing how to e-books include How to Become A Writer

ExtraordinaireThe Beginning Writers Roadmap to Writing Success
and How to Become A Writer ExtraordinaireThe Beginning Writers
Roadmap to Writing SuccessTHE TASKBOOK (available at, as well as Novel
Writing Made EasyHow To Plan A Novel So It Practically Writes Itself
and Novel Writing Made EasyHow To Plan A Novel So It Practically
Writes ItselfTHE TASKBOOK (both available at

Ande lives in Washington State, on the coast, with her husband Tim
and her dog, Ducky.

2010 Andrea Rains Waggener/Living On The Up Beat, llc