Novel Preparation 101

By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

We writers have habits, some quirky, that help us get started on new writing projects. Today I’d like to share with you how I organize my thoughts and preparations before writing chapter one, line one of a new novel. I’m mostly an organic/pantster writer, but some things I have to know before I begin.

  1. Idea! Oh, these come from so many different places—from a movie, a current happening in the news, overheard conversation, a what-if from everyday life, and dreams.
  2. Prayer. Not sure about you but if I’m not onboard with God, then my story will fail.
  3. Premise. This is what guides me to create a story line. For example: What if a young woman chooses death if she learns she can no longer be with her beloved? Or . . . What if a man is framed by a sheriff for a murder he didn’t commit? Or . . . A young woman finds herself in charge of ten little girls after a tornado wipes out a wagon train.
  4. Character. Who is the hero or heroine of the story? Why would working through the premise and storyline (plot) be difficult for him or her? Why would this character be the only person who could walk through this story? What are the character’s weaknesses that make this journey necessary? What motivates my character into action? What happened in the character’s backstory that shaped who this person is in chapter one?
  5. Characterization sketch. This is a continuance from question number four above. The most important part of any story is the character. A powerful story is one in which the writer knows the character inside and out. We live with the character, breathe, suffer, rejoice, embrace truth, run, and the list goes on. A complete characterization sketch should be completed for every POV character.
  6. Setting. Where is the best place to set the story? What setting forces my character to change and grow, catch the character unaware, and generally make life miserable.
  7. Research. This covers a lot of ground from the character’s occupation, the problem or goal, setting, and even dialogue according to the character’s personality and background.
  8. Summary. I despise writing a synopsis because my story will change in the writing process. But my editors need an idea of where my characters are going and why.
  9. Spreadsheet. Yes, writers, I create a spreadsheet that I will use long after the manuscript is turned into my editors. I have columns that read: Chapter, Scene #, short scene summary, blog ideas, contest ideas, Facebook post, Giveaways, Hashtag, Pinterest Board, Speaking Topics, Tweetable, Video, Images/Memes. I only use the first two columns during the writing process, and the others are completed during the final line by line editing to help with promotion efforts.

Once I have these things completed, I’m ready to place my fingers on my computer keyboard and create. 

What about you? How do you plan to write?

Novel Preparation 101 by Diann Mills (Click to Tweet)

9 Things Even a Panster Must Know Before Starting To Write~ Diann Mills (Click to Tweet)

Some things I have to know before I begin~ Diann Mills (Click to Tweet)

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an

adventure. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.
DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure.

She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Firewall, the first book in her Houston: FBI series, was listed by Library Journal as one of the best Christian Fiction books of 2014.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is co-director of The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference and The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on Facebook:, Twitter: or any of the social media platforms listed at

Ready for Middle Grade Novels?

by Ron Estrada

We’re constantly told to write what we love to read. Easier said than done, because I find that most writers read a wide range of genres. But I had a long discussion with myself late last year and was forced to admit that I love YA novels, even the contemporary, nearly romantic ones.

But it didn’t end there. I think somewhere around the time I read Moon Over Manifest, I realized the frightening truth.
I’m a middle-grade geek.
Here’s the other cold hard truth I realized: actual middle-graders who love to read are honest to the point of cruelty and don’t give second chances.

Mind you, middle-grade covers a wide range of reading levels. The silly Diary of a Wimpy Kid type books are a far cry from the aforementioned Moon Over Manifest, which has been equally popular among adult readers. Both, however, are considered MG. Perhaps there are writers who can cover that range. But I think it’s safe to say that the new MG novelist should choose his or her narrow audience and write to that level. Middle-grade aged children develop at a rapid rate, many will go from chapter books to adult novels within a one year span (I was reading Stephen King at 12…my nightmares were spectacular!).
However, there are some commonalities that cover the accepted middle-grade range of 8 to 12, specifically differences between YA and MG.
  • An MG character will tend to be very self-centered. The world revolves around 8 to 12 year-olds, as any parent can attest. A YA character, in her high school years, also tends to be self-centered, but will begin to see the world through the eyes of others. In fact, that’s a common character arc for a teen protagonist, from “it’s all about me” to “I’ll sacrifice for you.
  • MG readers want snarky humor. Even if a horde of zombies is about to invade his living room, the MG character will think and say humorous things. Dialogue, especially, will be filled with one-line zingers. For boys, yes, potty jokes will always be the rage (try it, say “fart” in front of a group of ten year old boys and watch them erupt into laughter).
  • So the drama. What adults see as minor blips in their day, MG characters must see as end-of-the-world scenarios. Her BFF didn’t “like” her Instagram photo of her first day of school outfit? Call the Marines and Dr. Phil.
  • A great deal of tension (and we love tension, right?) is gained from the clique-ish behavior of middle-school kids. Split your characters into groups and set them against each other. Most of us can remember it. Yes, it’s still that brutal.
  • MG readers are pretty darn smart. If they’re reading, they can handle three-syllable words. But they like a fast pace, lots of action, and–shall I mention it again?–humor.  Of course, action is easy when every little thing in the MG world is high drama.
  • Adults can be present, and even major characters, but they cannot solve the protagonist’s problem. Just like in adult fiction, your MG protagonist must be clever, smart, and move the story forward herself to its final conclusion. Mom cannot save the day at the end.

Those are a few of the tips I’ve picked up while delving into MG fiction. It’s a fantastic world where we can dig deeper and release that youthful voice that we must often restrain in our adult novels. It’s not easier writing by far. Some of us have to reach back quite a few decades to find those feelings we shelved on our way to adulthood.

But when you do it well, it’s magic. And when your “slightly” older middle-grade readers latch on to a piece of their childhood through the words you’ve written, it’s like you’ve tapped into a whole new world.
As Christian writers, of course, we have another responsibility. Secular YA is already plagued with the world view, especially when it comes to sexual relations. Many also included a skewed version of Christianity. We have an opportunity to use our gifts and talents to reach children while they’re still developing their beliefs and opinions. We can impact that for God’s glory.
So how about you? Are you considering middle-grade for your next novel? I’d love to hear from you.


Ron Estrada has multiple published magazine articles, including a regular column in the bi-monthly Women2Women Michigan. He also freelances as a technical writer, specializing in white papers for manufacturing and consumer products. He writes spec fiction, hovering somewhere between post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction (he prefers the term pre-Last Days), but has also dabbled in Mystery and Suspense. Turn-ons include long walks to Frosty Boy and dinner by Kindle light. His real-writer’s blog can be found at You can e-mail him at or catch him (at pretty much any time) on Facebook. Twitter handle is @RonEstrada. CB handle is God’s Gift.

Title Photo Copyright: pressmaster / 123RF Stock Photo

Throw Your Words into the Refiner’s Fire

by Lynette Eason @LynetteEason

Perfectionism is a lofty goal. It’s not a bad goal, just not a very realistic one. That’s not to say we should have the attitude of: “Well, I’ll never get it perfect, so I should just give up.” Absolutely not. We should strive to do the best possible work that we can do, but not become discouraged because it falls short of perfect.

I remember taking gymnastics lessons and I would work for hours just to get the form right. We practiced in front of mirrors and I had to consciously think about how to hold my body, was my form right, were my movements smooth and graceful? And my instructor would correct, reposition—and encourage. But I never got it perfect.

And you know what I learned? Practice doesn’t make perfect.

Yep, I said it. LOL.

That’s the bad news. But, the good news is, practice does bring improvement and growth and skills we can implement. Every time we practice, we come closer to “perfection”.

The above words can be applied to anything in life, but for this purpose, let’s apply it to our writing. A lot of people think their writing has to be perfect before an agent or editor will be interested in signing or acquiring it. Guess what? It doesn’t.

That is not to say, it doesn’t have to be good, maybe even great, and that one doesn’t have to develop the skill to write in a way that capture their attention, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.

I look at it like this.

Someone is always going to know more than I do about writing. Someone has already walked where I’m getting ready to step. If I’m willing to listen and to soak in that person’s wisdom and have the attitude of: I want to learn and grow as a writer, therefore, I’m going to be teachable and follow the leading of my instructor, then growth is going to happen, my skills are going to sharpen, and eventually, someone in the publishing industry is going to sit up and take notice.

That’s my experience anyway. I had mentors, I went to writing conferences, I learned from the best in the business—and eventually, people noticed.

I say all that to say this. Be like clay in the hands of a master.

Malachi 3:3 says: He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.

Zechariah 13:9 says: “I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.”
A refiner uses a fire to heat metal to a molten state, then skims off the dreg that floats to the top. The dreg is worthless. It’s trash that needs to be discarded. But underneath is pure silver, a metal that can be made into something beautiful, something worth noticing, something valuable.

I think this is a wonderful way to look at writing. Let those who’ve gone before you be like the refiner. Be willing to immerse your words into the fire so that the dross can float to the top and be discarded leaving you with a piece of work that, while maybe not perfect, is beautiful, valuable and noticeable.

What do you think about this? Have you had someone in your writing career who has been your refiner? How did this person make a difference in your writing career or life?

Happy New Year!!


Throw Your Words into the Refiner’s Fire by Lynette Eason (Click to Tweet)

Practice doesn’t make perfect~ Lynette Eason (Click to Tweet)

Be willing to immerse your words into the fire~ Lynette Eason (Click to Tweet)

Lynette is also the award-winning, bestselling author of almost forty books. She writes for Revell and Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense line. Her books have finaled or won awards in contests such as The Maggies, Inspirational Readers Choice Award, The Carol, ECPA Book of the Year, and The Selah. She is also the 2016 Daphne du Maurier Award winner in the Inspirational Romantic Mystery/Suspense category and Overall Daphne Winner this year. Her most recent achievement is placing in the top 10 out of thousands of entries in the James Patterson co-writing competition. Lynette and her husband Jack live in upstate South Carolina with their two teenagers. Lynette can often be found online at , @lynetteeason (Twitter) , and

Lynette Eason just released her first Indie novella called Lethal Homecoming. It’s a short read, but packed with suspense and romance. Feel free to check it out here:

Six years ago, danger sent Callie Ainsworth running, and now all she wants is to go home to Tanner Hollow. She’s received word that the danger is over, so she is free to be reunited with her mother and sister. When someone tries to kill Callie before she even reaches the driveway, she realizes she’s made a horrible mistake and danger still lurks. But this time she’s not running away.

Nolan Tanner had loved Callie as a teenager and has never gotten over her sudden, unexplained departure. When he rescues her from a killer on her first night home, old feelings come rushing back. Still angry at her for leaving him six years ago, he soon realizes she had good reason for taking off–and that he’s still holding out hope for a future with her. Can he catch the person who wants her dead and convince her she needs to stay home for good?

A New Perspective on Goal Setting

 by Susan May Warren

I woke up this morning to a layer of fresh grace on the evergreens, sparkling in the rising sun, Lamentations 2:23 in my mind. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.

Phew. Because with the relatives gone, the Christmas tree down, the ornaments packed away for next season, I’m sitting on my sofa looking out at the snow-laden trees and beyond, into the new year, realizing that 2016 passed with blink.

And with it, my goals. Every year I spend a few days putting together the action plans of My Book Therapy and Susan May Warren Fiction – what do I want to accomplish, how do I hope to touch lives?

Did you spend your weekend looking at last year, and figuring out what you want to do differently in 2017? Did you look at your strengths, areas of growth, of where you are in your dreams?

Maybe you picked one word for the New Year, or a verse for the year. Did you set up goals, projects and plans?

I can admit that sometimes my New Year planning feels a little I’m loading up my year with a pile of to-dos akin to Robert DeNiro’s character hauling around his load of penance weapons in The Mission. (Do you remember that 1986 movie? If not, it’s worth seeing again!)

I’ve been in the publishing industry for over a decade now, and I’ve discovered something that helps me put my sales and projects into perspective…none of it matters unless I am a better person because of my writing journey. If I turn into a frenetic, stressed-out, amazon-obsessed author, always comparing myself to others, I’ve missed out on the point. God doesn’t really care if I’m published, but he does use the journeys of our life to change us, draw us closer to Him.

And maybe that should be the point of goal-making.

So, instead of setting up objective goals about sales and NYT lists (although, yes, we all want that), I could plan from the inside out, with a different perspective:

1. What unexpected thing did I do this year that I loved? Often, our hidden strengths are found in doing something unexpected. For me, this year, it was my swimming and yoga classes. Although I wasn’t a regular, sneaking away for an hour to exercise recharged me. This year, I’ll make a better effort to invest in my “escape” time and let my mind recharge.

2. Where did I find deep contentment? Life seems to blow by faster every year, and I find I don’t have time to invest in things that leave me empty. But I’m often surprised at the things that “fill me up.” This year, my daughter had a baby, our first grandchild. I am CRAZY about being a grandmother. Sadly, two of my four amazing children live far away, so it makes me ever more committed to working hard so I can sneak away and get that quality time. It makes me determined to utilize my time well.

3. How did I expand my reach/skills this year, and what did I learn? For me, this was all about taking a look at my gifting – teaching and writing – and seeing if I could fine-tune this. I love helping people tell their story, and make an impact in their world, so I dove into teaching a series about Impactivity and designing a life that isn’t just productive but impactful. This next year I’ll be honing my skills at helping writers up their game through powerful storytelling.

I also took a look at my writing – and this year I went hybrid. I published a short ebook series (Montana Fire) designed to prep readers for my bigger series (Montana Rescue). My readers responded so well, this year I’m going to respond to a few reader requests and go back to Deep Haven and connect the Montana Fire and Deep Haven series with a few crossover book. What this taught me—listen to your reader base!!

4. Did I fall deeper in love with Jesus this year? I know that feels like a personal question, but it’s something, as a Christian, that matters to me. If not, I need to take a look at why – and is there a way I can pursue God more? This year, I picked a number of books to add to my quiet time reading. (Have you found, Jesus is Better than You Imagined yet?)

5. How did I measure success last year? This question has been the most important I consider as I look back onto 2016…and into 2017. Is success making more money? Upping my sales? Or maybe, success is something more intangible, but produced by asking the questions: Am I a better wife, friend, novelists, teacher…and most importantly lover of Jesus because of my choices this year? And, will I be with the plans and goals I’ve put together for 2017?

Not your typical planning list, I know, but perhaps, if you’re like me and a little tired of the SMART goals, and the Action Plan lists and feeling like you’ve just given yourself a load of luggage to haul around in 2017, try planning from the inside out, with the bigger picture in mind.

It just might set you free.

Have a blessed 2017!

Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels with Tyndale,BarbourSteeple HillSummerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-time Christy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of theInspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: Contact her