Mulling Over The Story

Rachel Hauck, Once Upon A Prince, royals, Kate Middleton

I mull.

I need time to think. Time to let the story simmer.

Even in the corporate world, I’d have to leave a meeting, mull, and come back the next day with a brilliant response or answer.

Of course, by then it was too late. My brilliance only a dull light bulb. 🙂 But you know, I mulled, I spoke, I was happy.

So when I start a new book this month, I had to create space in which to stare. Ponder.

I had mull, mull, mull.

In the writing world writers are often categorized as a plotter or pantser.

I’m neither. I’m a plantser. I need to know under what umbrella I’m building my sandcastle. Then I sit on the shore with my knees to my chest and watch the waves, dreaming, “Just what kind of sandcastle am I going to build?”

My stories start out bland. Typical. Cliche. But as I gather my building blocks, the story begins to take shape.

I never start writing until I’ve answered these questions:

1. What’s the story about? Yes, I try to pinpoint some kind of theme, but even more, what is the outer journey that causes the characters to experience an internal change?

2. What does the protagonist(s) want? This is so critical for me. My heroine is a small town Texas police officer. Her twin brother was killed in Afghanistan. So, what does she want? She’s been hiding from life for the past five years. Who would she be if her brother hadn’t died? I put both the hero and heroine through this building block.

3. What can they do in the end that they can’t do in the beginning. This is so critical. I had my heroine’s story nailed down except the answer to this question. And it was bugging me. Because if I don’t know what she can DO in the end she can’t do in the beginning, how do I set up the beginning? It’s important the protagonist does something internal as well as external.

For example, if the protagonist finally forgives her parents for abuse, then what external move can she make to prove she’s really changed? In my story, I had to understand how reckoning with her brother’s death would change her life, her job, her vocation, her heart.

4. What’s the dark wound of the protagonist past? What the lie she believes? What fear has she developed as a result? Then, what’s the secret desire of the heart that’s yearning to push to the surface and change the protagonist’s life?

5. What’s the black moment? If I don’t know this who do I know what to write toward? If the heroine is running toward getting her life started again, what stops her near the end? What scenario will make the reader think, “All is lost?”

If I don’t have an idea about the black moment, then I need to do more work.

As I wrestle with these questions, more arise. As I plot out answers, the characters come to life and the story takes shape.

In the mean time, I’m mulling, praying, researching.

See, in the beginning my first story plot sounds great. Feels good. I have all the reasons “why” the characters are in the state they are in but as I take time to mull and answer the building block questions, the story begins to deepen.

Or I realize, it’s not quite deep enough. If I can’t answer “what does she do in the end she can’t do in the beginning?” I’ve not done enough work up front.

I’ve just spent 10 days on backstory that will only hit the pages in little splatters here and there but it is the entire crux of the story.

So, my story sandcastle is taking shape. I’m happy.

What about you? What process do you need to find the gold thread in the bedrock of your idea?

***

Rachel Hauck, Once Upon A Prince

Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story.

With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novels.

She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship for their annual conference. At the fall conference in Indianapolis, she was named ACFW 2013 Mentor of the Year.

She is also the Book Therapist for My Book Therapy.

She lives in Florida, where she is also a worship leader, with her husband and mini schnauzer.

Her novel, The Wedding Dress, was named Romantic Times Inspirational Novel of the Year. Her latest release, Once Upon A Prince, earned starred reviews from Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly.

Glad To Be Here! What’s Your Story?

Hey Rocketeers!

I’m so thrilled to be a part of this amazing Novel Rocket team.

Thank you Gina and Ane for inviting me. So many of my friends are here. Especially you, Jim Rubart!

What’s my story? Isn’t that such a common phrase?

“What’s your story?”

“What’s his story?” Or “Her story?”

With Robin Jones Gunn

All of life is a story.

Recently at the ACFW conference, the lovely and fabulous Robin Jones Gunn started each of her keynote sessions with, “I want to tell you a story…”

That simple phrase moved me to the edge of my seat. What was she going to say?

With emotion and depth, humor and tears, Robin shared how God changed her dreams to be His dreams.

She moved me from laughter to tears every time.

I’ve known Robin for years but we don’t get to see each other often. Yet every time we do, it’s love! We are sisters of the heart. And we are also sisters of the story.

When she tells a story, my heart comes alive. Not only because of her storytelling ability, but her amazing love for Jesus.

Robin inspired me. Touched me. Healed me with her words. Challenged me. As all good stories should whether written or spoken.

Clowning with Frank Peretti

So what’s my story?

I started writing in ’93, a year after I’d married my darling husband, henceforth known as Hubby.

Christian fiction was in it’s infancy. World War II novels were all the rage.

Frank Peretti was wowing us all with This Present Darkness, and Lori Wick was the queen of romance. Brock and Bodie Thoene were the king and queen of historicals.

We purchased our first computer and I sat down to write. And I wrote and I wrote, for two year, on an epic WW II saga.

It was well rejected.

So, I found myself back in the corporate world and the season of writing subsided. However, I attended a couple of writer’s conferences and joined American Christian Romance Writers. Yep, ACFW started as ACRW.

Eventually, I sold my first novel through a partnership with author Lynn Coleman.

I left the corporate world in ’04 to write full time and bless the Lord, I’ve been at it for nine years now.

You see, writing is a process.

We want it to be quick, don’t we? We want everything to be “now!”

We envy those who have a “fast rise” to the top. But some of those fist rises also quickly fall or stall.

Novel writing takes time, discipline and heart. Readers grow over years with each passing book. 😉

I’ve had some tough lessons in this publishing gig. Been disappointed. Felt kicked in the gut a few times.

But I knew one thing — there was no place I’d rather be.

In the middle of writing a difficult book, the Lord gave me a verse. Isaiah 41:13:

For I am the Lord your God,
who upholds your right hand,
Who says to you,”Do not fear, I will help you.”

Wow, I was encouraged. The writing was going to get easy now.

Nope.

A few month later I said, “Hey, Lord, I thought you said You were going to help me.”

He said, “What makes you think I’m not?”

I hammered the table. “Because it’s hard.”

Then I burst out laughing.

Ah-ha, I understood. Just because something is difficult, hard, requires long suffering does not mean God is not in our midst, helping.

We have to see with those “spirit eyes” Paul talks about in Ephesians.

Look, life is a story — with a beginning, middle and end.

It’s what we do with the pages in between that matters.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

So, what’s YOUR story? I’d love to chat with you about your life? What’s going on?

***

Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story.

With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel loves to come alongside writers and help them craft their novel.

She is on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship for their annual conference. Recently, she was named ACFW 2013 Mentor of the Year.

She is also the Book Therapist for My Book Therapy. Otherwise, she lives in Florida, where she is also a worship leader, with her husband and  dog.
Her novel, The Wedding Dress, was named Romantic Times Inspirational Novel of the Year. Her latest release, Once Upon A Prince, earned starred reviews from Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly.

Guest Blogger ~ Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck is a multi-published author living in sunny central Florida with her husband, Tony, a pastor. They have two ornery pets. She is a graduate of Ohio State University and a huge Buckeyes football fan. Rachel serves the writing community as a member of the Advisory Board of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW).
Brainstorming & Up the Tension
Last year while visiting with Ane Mulligan, we brainstormed her work-in-progress.
Her story centered around two women and a wonderful supporting cast.
As we discussed one of the main characters, I asked Ane, “Tell me about her husband? What’s his issue?”
“Oh, well, he really doesn’t have one.”
“Give him a problem. All characters need a problem.”
Ane took my advice, gave the husband a problem and it added depth to the heroine’s story.
It sounds kind of simple to say, “All characters need a problem,” but it’s so easy to forget.
While writing The Sweet By and By with country artist Sara Evans, I created a secondary character, Lillabeth, who worked in the protagonist, Jade’s, vintage shop.
Initially the teen was to be a sounding board, someone Jade could talk to and tell her story. Lillabeth was cute and sweet, but kind of boring.
My editor asked me to give Lillabeth an issue to deal with⎯ a secret, a want, a problem.
As I worked out her story, it hit me. Every character has a problem.
Here’s how it changed my story. Lillabeth went from a lively, basketball playing teen who came to work on time and empathized with Jade to a worried young woman who quit the basketball team and asked Jade to let her work as much as possible. Money became a part of Lillabeth’s dialog whenever she was on the page.
Why? She’d wrecked her friend’s car and didn’t want her parents to know. She needed money to pay for the repairs.
Not a big issue right? Wouldn’t knock the literary world on it’s ear, but it did change the way my secondary character filled the page.
She was more interesting and impacting to my heroine. After awhile, Jade confronted her and learned the truth.
This problem rounded out the story and added a texture that made the story more interesting and fun to read.
Writing Lillabeth’s scenes and dialog became more engaging to me.
Take a step back from your work. Do you have secondary characters with no goal other than round out the protagonist life?
Even a receptionist at your hero’s office can have a problem. Every morning he walks in the lobby and greets Betty. Great if all she says to him is “Hello, have a nice day.”
But what if Betty quits greeting him with any life in her voice? What if her roots are growing out in her hair. Does he notice she’s lost a lot of weight? Or gained weight? Has she gone from a cheerful disposition to one of sadness?
Finally, the protagonist asks her, “Is everything okay?”
And her story floods out.
We like a hero who cares about others. Especially when things in his life aren’t going well. But we also take advantage of a minor secondary character to add texture and layers to the story.
My mom used to needlepoint. After she’d popped the needed and thread through a thousand tiny holes to make a picture, she back stitched the design with black thread so the image became clear and distinct.
Giving every character a problem in a story is like backstitching. It’s a technique, a texture, that enables the main characters and story stand out.
Considering if your secondary character needs a problem:
1. Evaluate the role of your secondary characters. When in a scene with your protagonist do they have significant dialog? Then they need a problem. Walk on characters like the mailman or UPS driver don’t need a problem.
2. Are you struggling with tension when your protagonist is talking to a secondary character? In Ane’s story, she was struggling with her protagonist when she was in a home setting. I suggested giving her husband a problems and it raised the level of tension.
3. The story feels flat. Every morning your protagonist walks into his office building and says “Hi” to the receptionist. By the time you’ve finished the book, he’s said hi to her thirty times. Give her a problem.
4. Perhaps you’re really good at giving your characters problems. Consider creating a character without problems but who acts as comic relief. She’s always doing something crazy or suggesting a wild adventures to the protagonist.
5. When you find yourself not caring about a secondary character. Eliminate him from the story or give him a problem
Hope these humble tips help. Happy writing.
Jade Fitzgerald left the pain of her past in the dust when she headed out for college a decade ago. Now she’s thriving in her career and glowing in the light of Max Benson’s love.
But then Jade’s hippie mother, Beryl Hill, arrives in Whisper Hollow, Tennessee, for Jade’s wedding along with Willow, her wild younger sister. Their arrival forces Jade to throw open the dark closets of her past–the insecurity of living with a restless, wandering mother, the silence of her absent father, and the heart-ripping pain of first-love’s rejection.
Turns out Beryl has a secret of her own. She needs reconciliation with her oldest daughter before illness takes her life. In the final days leading to the wedding, Jade meets the One who shows her that the past has no hold on her future. With a little grace, they’ll meet in the middle, maybe even before that sweet by and by.

Guest Blogger ~ Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck is a multi-published author living in sunny central Florida with her husband, Tony, a pastor. They have two ornery pets. She is a graduate of Ohio State University and a huge Buckeyes football fan. Rachel serves the writing community as a member of the Advisory Board of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW).
The Romantic Obstacle of Newness
The summer between ninth and tenth grade, I fell into twitterpation. Working as a cashier at a south Florida Publix, I fell for a dark-eyed stockman who winked at me when he walked past, flashing his Eric Estrada smiled.
I lost twenty-five pounds in a month. I went to work early, hung around after I clocked out. I wrote pages and pages in my diary of what each little wink or nod meant to me. Between those pink pages are cash register receipts of my thoughts and feelings, oh, angst galore.
This was in the ‘70s, so I couldn’t text or Facebook him. The only time I saw him was at work. Oh, what a dreadful day when the manager posted the new schedule on Thursday and I saw my-man and I worked opposite shifts.
He was a flirt and liked to tease me. Our at-work teenage conversation swam in the shallow end of the baby pool.
“Hey.”
“Hey.”
“What are you doing?”
“Watching you.”
Giggle, blush, fiery flutter behind my ribs.
As a romance writer, I work to find all kinds of internal and external obstacles to keep my hero and heroine apart.
For example: She’s already in a relationship. He’s recently widowed. She’s wounded. He’s too career minded. She is raising her nieces. He’s trying to reestablish is professional credibility. Or, a favorite of mine, he’s attracted to her but can’t stand her. She thinks he’s an arrogant buffoon.
As writers, we need to find real obstacles to keep our H/H from declaring their love too soon⎯thus wrapping up the story⎯while convincing the reader, “these two need to be together!”
Over on Billy Mernit’s Living The Romantic Comedy blog, he advices that the real purpose of a romantic story is to show the reader or viewer WHY these two people need to be together.
Often, writers spend too much time showing why the hero and heroine need to be apart. But what readers want it to be convinced there is no one for Harry but Sally.
While writing my newest romance, Dining With Joy, I realized something simple but profound: the newness of my hero and heroine’s relationship provided plenty of internal and external obstacles.
I didn’t need to scale mountains or leap over city walls to build a believable conflict.
Think about the first time you met your spouse. Or think back to your first major romance. Even if sparks flew at first meeting, it took time to let down your guard and discover each other.
In the beginning, it was hard to determine how much the relationship meant to you. Was h or she worth your time and effort?
The idea of changing your schedule to met his wasn’t a priority. If he called, that was cool, but you didn’t wait by the phone. She might have stopped by your work to say hi, but you merely smiled, said it was good to see her, then met your friends at a restaurant.
All of these “newness” factors provide wonderful, believable conflict.
By nature, men are emotionally modest. They only open up when they feel the woman has become their friend. Women are physically modest. Even in this modern sexual world, we are shy about first kisses and touches.
How does this translate to your romantic story? It is very plausible to show your hero and heroine testing each other, wondering about their motivation and character, standing back to wait and see.
Is she sincere? Can I trust him? If I share my deepest thoughts, will she still love me? If I allow him to kiss me, will he want me tomorrow?
New relationships are fraught with complications and misunderstandings by the mere fact two very different people are trying to merge their lives.
There’s the fire of the first kiss. Emotional and physical temptations. Combining social activities and sharing friends. Meeting the parents. Realizing you’re in love but afraid the feelings may not be reciprocated. Breaking up. Getting back together. Finding the common ground on which you might build a life together. What goes, what gives, what takes?
In the movie “500 Days of Summer,” Tom and Summer meet while working at the same greeting card company. He’s too shy to ask her out. She’s bohemian and enticing. As the viewer, I was hooked with the idea of “newness.” How will he ask her out? Will she accept? I know they will get together, but how?
After a few dates, Tom gushes, “It’s official. I’m in love with Summer. I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck. I love it when she sleeps.”
Newness! The discovery of Summer drew Tom to a place of love. At this euphoric point, she is perfect to him!
What a excellent set up for a great romantic disaster. Boy meets Girl. Boy thinks Girl hung the moon. Girl can’t believe she met the last good Boy on earth. He takes her to his favorite hang out. She drives him to her favorite picnic spot.
Readers go along, too, believing these two people are destined for eternal happiness. THEN, it happens. Disaster. The power of newness has worn off and becomes⎯for our storytelling purpose⎯the obstacle.
Tom loves Summer, but she doesn’t believe in love and ever after. Their ideas and life experiences begin to pull them apart.
Tom quickly changes to say, “I hate her crooked teeth. I hate her 1960s haircut. I hate her knobby knees. I hate her cockroach-shaped splotch on her neck. I hate the way she smacks her lips before she talks. I hate the way she sounds when she laughs.”
The loss of “newness,” and the eye opening truth of who Tom and Summer are become the very obstacle that drives them apart.
As you plot your next romance, brainstorm all the emotional and physical obstacles the hero and heroine face from the moment they meet. Then build in a story world that adds to their conflict⎯he’s blue collar, she’s blue blood⎯then weave in all the trouble of being “new” to one another.
Brainstorm ways the newness wears off. What is the fall out of the relationship when that “fresh” feeling fades? How vulnerable are your characters when the relationship ends after confessing their love and pouring out their hearts to each other?
Brainstorm the obstacles and possible conflict that arises after worn-off newness. He stops sending her flowers. She stops shaving her legs. He forgets to call when he’s late for dinner. She admits she can’t stand his best friend.
But remember⎯these two belong together. As you work the newness factor through your story, remember to keep in the shadows of the disaster why these two need to are ultimately a match made in heaven.
In Notting Hill, William Thacker is perfect for Anna Scott because he sees her for who she really is, not the superstar actress. In While You Were Sleeping, Jack is the same kind of dreamer as Lucy. In The Proposal, Drew and Margaret share a love for the written word. And deep down, Drew gets Margret’s vulnerability. She admires his determination and strength.
So, let’s recap. Newness is a huge factor for our romantic leads. Have fun dreaming of the discoveries and conflicts a couple just starting out faces. Yet, keep to the real heart of any great romance⎯convincing the readers there is no man for the heroine like the hero. No woman for the hero like your heroine.
Write well.
Visit Rachel’s website to learn more about her books.