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How to Write a Novel in 30 Days or Less

Seven Steps, 30 Days (no mental breakdowns required)

 

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by Nick Stephenson in Books and Writing

It’s that time of year again. With November just around the corner, tens of thousands of would-be authors, publishing novices, seasoned veterans, and those who fall somewhere in the middle, come out of their writing caves – blinking into the light – to join the global furour that is NaNoWriMo (otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month).

NaNoWriMo challenges writers to complete 50,000+ words of a novel in just 30 days. But the problem is… they don’t have to be “good” words.

Meaning 99% of authors (and soon-to-be authors) will sit down and try to hammer out 50,000 words of “whatever comes into their heads”.

Now, while I appreciate the goal of NaNoWriMo (getting people writing), I believe there is a better way to write a book. Instead of just sitting down and “hoping for the best”, I always advocate having a plan of action.

 

 

So for this article, I’ve enlisted the help of Joe Nassise (pic above) – a NYT Bestelling author of over 40 novels (in several languages – and with over 1m books in print) to share his process for writing like a speed demon, without sacrificing quality. This is all part of a process we call Story Engines.

So, whether you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo or not, you can use this process to significantly increase both the speed and quality of your writing. And, if you’d like to get some more detailed training, make sure you join us on Saturday 14th October for a live “NaNoWrimo Special” Workshop, “The start-to-finish 7-Step Blueprint to write a blockbuster book or novel in 30 days or less”.

And in the meantime, let’s dig into the detail (and we are switching between UK and US grammar and spelling now – so any grammar hounds out there, please keep it clean).

Enter Joe…

For so many authors, the idea of writing a 50,000+ word novel in 30 days is enough to get them worked up into a frenzy of stress. And while writing a full draft in 30 days might seem like tall order, it is actually very doable if you approach the process from the right perspective and have all your ducks in a row before hand.

To be certain that you do – have all your ducks in a row, that is – I’m going to walk you through the very process I would use if was intending to tackle a challenge like this. Am intending to use, in fact, because I’m going to be participating in NaNoWriMo myself this year. I’ve got a new urban fantasy series that I’d like to kick off and there’s nothing like a deadline to get the creative juices flowing and the fingers flying over the keyboard.

Before we dive into that process, though, let’s be clear on what we need to accomplish to reach our goal. To hit 50,000 words in 30 days, we need to write 1,667 words per day. Believe it or not, that’s pretty manageable. If you set aside and hour or two per day, you’ll be surprised how much you’re capable of [EDIT FROM NICK: A little FYI… This article is 2,500+ words long and it took Joe about 2 hours].

Doesn’t sound all that tough when you put it like that, now does it?

“But wait!”, I hear you say. “How do I know which specific words I need to write each day? Who are my characters and what’s their story and how do I put it all down on paper and not get lost in the telling and…and…and…”

Breathe, Grasshopper. Breathe. (And an extra ten points to those of you who get the reference)

You are going to know which words you need to write each day because you and I are going to figure all of that out ahead of time. When Nov 1st rolls around, you’re going to have your entire story planned out, using the “Story Engines” process we’re talking about in this article, and you’ll be set to hit the ground running with nary a worry.

So how do we do that?

My process is simple and it involves seven specific steps.

  1. Idea
  2. Premise
  3. Characters
  4. Brainstorming and Ordering My Scenes
  5. Verifying My Structure and Confirming My Final Scene List
  6. Writing the First Draft
  7. Editing, Rewrites, and Polishing the Final Draft

Each step moves you along the path and confirms the “rightness” of the step before it, so you don’t get halfway through the project only to realize you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. The process is designed to save you the time and effort needed for massive rewrites and to keep you moving briskly forward toward completion. You need to complete steps 1-5 before Nov 1st. Steps 6-7 are what keep you moving briskly forward once the challenge kicks off.

Now, bear in mind – each of these 7 steps will involve building your story around a specific story structure. That is, making sure your book consists of “the right scenes in the right order”, to give your story the right pacing and impact (to keep readers hooked). We’ll talk about that more in steps 4-5.

So, let’s take a look at them one at a time…

 

Step One: The Idea

This sounds almost elementary, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with a student who really doesn’t know what they are writing about. It’s damn hard to write 50,000 words on a given subject if you don’t really know what that subject is.

The first thing you need to do is figure out what you want to write about. Don’t get fancy, just generalize. Maybe you want to write a novel about the discovery of a lost continent. Or one about a kid growing up in the Wild West. Or perhaps the story of a princess who has a terminal illness and the prince who valiantly tries to save her.

The ideas can even be combinations of existing ideas, presented in a new way. Eg:

Samurai in Space: Star Wars
Time Travel and Sherlock Holmes: Dr Who
Dances with Wolves on a Different Planet: Avatar

You get the gist. It can, quite literally, be anything as long as it is interesting to you and captures your enthusiasm. Without that, you’re going to have a hard time keeping focused.

 

Step Two: The Premise

A premise is a working summary of the story you want to tell honed down to a sentence or two. It effectively answers the question “What is your novel about?”

In this step, we take the general idea you came up with in step one and give it specifics. When done properly it should tell you who the main character or hero of the story is, what they must do to win the day, and both the nature of the opposition and the stakes at risk if they fail.

One simple way of doing this is to plug your information into a simple formula:

(Novel Name) is about (character info) who must (goal that needs to be achieved) in order to (stakes and opposition)

For example – The Heretic is about a modern Templar knight who must retrieve an ancient artifact from a powerful necromancer before it can be used to create a literal hell on earth.

See? We’re turning the “idea” into something more fully fledged by adding characters, goals, opposition, and stakes.

Character: the Templar Knight.
Goal: retrieve ancient artifact
Opposition: powerful necromancer
Stakes: hell on earth

Introducing the opposition and stakes also brings conflict into your story – which is incredibly important (without conflict, the story is dull). And fun fact: you can use your premise to write your book description or “blurb” later.

 

Step Three: Characters

Now that you have your premise, you know who your hero and your villain are. It time to flesh them out a bit, to bring them to live in your mind so you can figure out what the story you intend to tell about them will be.

I always do this be asking myself a few specific questions about each of them (and about any other major character I want to detail at this point.) Those questions are:

  • What does the character want? (What is their specific, concrete goal?)
  • What drives the character toward that goal? (What motivates them?)
  • How will they change during the course of the struggle? (What do the learn or discover about themselves?)

It is key to remember that stories are about conflict. Without it, you’ve got nothing more than a slice of life. In order to have conflict, the goals of your hero and your villain need to be diametrically opposed to each other. Let me say that again – the goals of your hero and your villain need to be diametrically opposed to each other.

 

Step Four: Brainstorming and Ordering My Scenes

The act of creating your premise and detailing your characters will no doubt get the creative juices flowing. You’re probably already seeing individual scenes in your head featuring these characters. That’s good – that’s exactly what we want.

Without editing yourself in any way, start writing down those scenes. I tend to use a set of index cards and just jot down whatever comes to mind, one scene per card. They don’t have to be too detailed; the idea here is to just capture the scene so that you don’t forget it.

A scene card from a recent novel of mine looked like this:

“Cade’s presence in the reliquary sets off an arcane warning system set up by the Templars when they abandoned the facility and a squad of knights are dispatched to investigate.”

Every scene I envision goes down on a card. Doesn’t matter if I know where it fits in the story yet or even if it sounds utterly ridiculous at the moment – if it comes to me, I write it down. I’m basically doing an uncensored imagination dump, just letting my subconscious throw stuff up to the surface and getting it down on paper (note: you can write these down on actual “cards” or use software, like Scrivener).

 

Step Five: Structure and Final Scene List

Next, I lay out all my cards and start trying to build a story around them. I identify or create my three game changing moments as per the Story Engines structure:

  1. The Preparation Phase (introducing the characters, setting, and creating a connection with readers). Here, you get a glimpse into the “daily life” of your hero or heroine – making them more relatable and helping to establish an emotional connection.
  2. Game Changing Moment (GCM) 1: The “event” that forces the hero or heroine out of their “daily life” and pushes them into reacting. Eg “Luke Skywalker’s family is killed”.
  3. The Reactive Phase: The protagonist “reacts” to events, rather than directing them. Think about the movie Se7en – this is the phase where the detectives are “running around like a chicken with its head cut off”.
  4. GCM 2: A second event that pushes the protagonist into a more active role. Think “the killer leaves a vital clue” or “the lovers share their first kiss”. The stakes are raised.
  5. The Proactive Phase: the hero or heroine now takes control (as opposed to in the reactive phase) and gets closer to their goal.
  6. GCM 3: The final game changing moment. Here the hero or heroine finds what they need to finally meet their goal and overcome the main conflict of the story.
  7. Conclusion Phase: all the loose ends are tied up, the ending is established. You might even decide to sneak in a cliff-hanger…

This progression of “story elements” is what binds your story together. With the right structure, you avoid “the muddy middle”, and you can anticipate which scenes need to go where, and which ones might not even fit in your story (eg – you can cut them out).

So, using the Story Engines structure listed above, next I’ll organize my selected scenes in chronological order (either physical cue cards or using software – like Scrivener). I will add new cards to help flush out the flow of the story as necessary, working to balance my four major phases and three game-changing moment (again, per the Story Engines process.)

In the end, I will have a card for each scene in the proper order of their appearance in the story. I will be able to see if my story is balanced and containing the right elements by comparing my cards with the 7 key elements of the Story Engines system. And, more importantly, I will know exactly what to write when during my thirty days of NaNoWriMo because my novel will be completely mapped out from start to finish.

And if you’re more of a “pantser” (eg – you write “by the seat of your pants”) that’s okay too. You might just choose to include a little less detail for each scene or use “roadsigns” instead of a full-blown map and GPS system.

 

Step Six: Writing the First Draft

With all of my planning out of the way, I’m ready to start writing my first draft. I know what the story is about. I’ve got a good sense of my characters and what they want. I know why they will end up in conflict with each other and how that conflict will resolve. I even know what happens in each scene. In short, I have everything I need to get underway.

Writing for me is a question of focusing, so I use another system called sprinting to get my words done each day. I set a timer for 25 minutes and write during that time. No distractions with research or checking details or playing on social media – I just write. Just raw production without worrying about how good it sounds or if I could have said something better. Editing is for later; this part of my process is just for getting words down on paper.

When the 25 minutes are up and my timer dings, I get up and do something else for five or ten minutes. Give my brain a break. Then it back at it for another sprint of twenty-five minutes and so on. I try to four to six sprints a day if I can manage it. I average anywhere from 500 to 1500 words per sprint – depends on how my day is going, how focused I can remain throughout, etc. You’ll have your own rate, perhaps better, perhaps worse than mine. It isn’t a race, so no need to compare yourself to my pace. Just set your own and stick to it.

 

Step Seven: Editing, Rewriting, and Polishing

Once the draft is done, I print it out, stick it in a three ring binder, and settle in to start the editing process (printing it out helps me see mistakes I wouldn’t see on the computer screen.

Your ear is a far better gauge of how well you’ve written than your eyes are (because your eyes see what you think you wrote, rather than what you actually wrote), so I settle in with a pen for note taking and start reading my manuscript aloud to myself. I listen for clunky phrasing, poor descriptions, place where things just don’t make sense, etc. I’ll make notes right on the manuscript, reminding myself what needs to be done where to bring the work up to the standard that I have set for myself.

The Story Engines process is all about planning your story out ahead of time and so I rarely have to do any major rewrites because I already know that the story works as I’ve planned it out. That doesn’t mean I’m not cleaning up the manuscript; my first drafts are as crappy as anyone else’s. But it does mean that I’m not throwing away 30% of my draft because I didn’t understand the essential conflict in the novel or I wandered down a bunny trail that had nothing to do with the main plot.

With my editing notes right there in the binder next to me, I sit down and begin the final step of my process – polishing the manuscript. I’ll correct the errors, clean up the clunky phrasing, add details where needed, all the little things that take a rough draft and turn it into a clean, readable manuscript.

So, that’s seven steps, each with a specific goal and each moving your novel project further in the direction of completion. By the time you are done, not only will you have a completed draft, but you’ll know holds together like a finely-tuned machine and will take your readers on an emotional journey that will keep them coming back for more.

Remember:

99% of story problems are down to structure. Use the seven-stage Story Engines structure above to keep your story pacing along, with the right action beats, in the right order.

When preparing your book, come up with a few “ideas”. Use the formula I shared with you to turn these ideas into premises – and those that hold up to scrutiny are good to go.

Next, brainstorm some scenes – just a headline and a few brief bullets – and arrange them in the correct order (using the Story Engines structure). When each of your phases has enough scenes, you can move on to writing.

When you write the book, try “sprinting” to improve your speed and focus. Save research for later. Don’t edit as you write. Carve out parts of the day just for writing.

Finally, go back and re-write those parts that need a little tweak, edit up the grammar and spelling, and you are good to go with a manuscript that’s ready to be sent off for final edits and proofing, and – shortly afterwards – publication.

Back to Nick…

If you’d like to learn more about the Story Engines process – including the structure of a blockbuster novel and the seven-step process to write your novel in 30 days – join me and Joe for an exclusive NaNoWrimo special one-off training event this Saturday 14th October at 3pm Eastern (US). We’ll go through everything we’ve talked about today, and we’ll be running a live “Story Clinic” where we’ll answer your questions live on the line.

This is the first time we’ve ever run a workshop like this – and we know it’s going to be fun. Just click the button below to register your spot (no replays, sorry).

 

Now, I need to hear from you… What’s your #1 struggle when it comes to writing your books? Do you get stuck in “the muddy middle”? Do you give up half-way through when you realise something “just doesn’t work”? Do you struggle to find the time?

Let me know your #1 struggle with writing your books in the comments below – I read every single one.

83 Comments
  1. Heidi says:

    Excellent article. Thanks guys!

  2. Wendy says:

    My #1 struggle. Easy. It’s the fork in the road. More specifically, I am confronted with multiple ways to move the plot from “A” to “B” and I spin my wheels trying to decide which way to go. or I need something to happen, but I can’t decide if it would work better before “A” or after “B.”

    I’ve got this story (“Man vs environment” type, potential to be a multi-volume saga) I’ve been working on off and on for the last 10+ years. I’ve got the premise polished to a mirror-shine, the preparation and GCM, edited to a millimeter of their lives, and three or four milestones my characters have to get past. But they just sit around the fire and won’t move form one milestone to the next.

    1. Mark says:

      It sounds like you have the most difficult parts solidified! It’s so hard when you don’t know how to get your characters up off the logs and onto the next GCM, and as a result you just sit around the fire as well. 🙂
      The “sitting around the fire” scenes are great times to let readers get to know the characters better (to see how they reacted to the previous GCM), see how they will make decisions going forward, and to foreshadow and propel to the next GCM.
      I like linear stories, too, that lead (for example) from one GCM, then sit around the fire and talk, next GCM, then sit around another fire and talk some more, then next GCM, etc. This can happen quickly, without too much needing to happen during these “slow parts” of the story.
      Can’t wait to read your book! I hope we don’t have to wait 10 more years!

    2. Joe Nassise says:

      Wendy,
      That’s a good problem to have, and there’s actually a relatively easy answer to your problem. Whenever your characters hit the fork in the road, and you’re not sure which direction to choose, choose the one that will generate the most difficulty for your characters. This will keep the tension and the stakes high throughout and will keep your readers engaged with the story.

    3. Michelle Weidenbenner says:

      The fork in the road … I tell writers to pick one. You can’t lose. Yes, you might lose time if you decide later that you should have chosen road B option and you chose A, but you’re growing as a writer, so your words aren’t lost. Before you chose A – make a note in the margin (I put five XXXXX’s there so I can return there later). In the notes, remind yourself that you’re choosing option A, but write down a brief synopsis of option B. Later, you might go back and choose B later, but invariably, I make A option work. Go with your gut.

  3. Travis A. Chapman says:

    Thanks for the inspiration to buckle down with the herd during November! Even for the out-there author, I definitely need a deadline, and this is as good as any. My hurdle? Could say it’s Resistance, could say it’s conscious choice to let something stew, but I know it’s not having a crystal clear Why for my characters at this point in their journey (Book 3). What got them here won’t get them there, and I’ve stagnated on clarifying that. All the What’s are aligned, the pace, the arc, but I couldn’t give two poops less if they accomplish it because the Why isn’t strong enough. Looks like I’ve got 19 days to figure it out, huh?

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Lack of oomph with your “why” typically means your stakes aren’t strong enough, Travis. Focus on giving the stakes specific relevance to your characters to drive them deeper into the story.

  4. Anthony Mondal says:

    My biggest problem is finding enough time so i can give my 1/3 finished novel the attention he deserves. If i had uninterrupted time for even 30 days I know i will finish the first major draft of the novel. But financial commitments to survive first and then get my story told is a mega distraction and annoyance.
    Anthony Mondal(Poet/novelist)

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      I had the same issue when I started my career, Anthony. The day job, the family, assorted other commitments – they all kept me from writing. My solution was to find extra time day; time that wasn’t being used productively that I could then devote to writing. I ended up writing from 10 p.m. to 2 p.m. every night, because during those hours I didn’t have any other demands on my time. If you can find even 15 minutes each day to devote to your writing this time next month you’ll be that much further along. Suggestions might be to write during your lunch break, right during your commute, skip a half hour of television, get up a half hour earlier, go to bed half hour later, the permutations are endless.

  5. Rosanne M Licata says:

    Thanks for the preview of the Seven Steps. Even though there’s an “I knew that!” in my mind, the steps organize my thinking and my story much better than if I were trying to do it otherwise. I’ll be there Saturday with bells on.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Glad to hear it was helpful, Rosanne!

  6. Kurt says:

    Time is my biggest issue. Like Joe I’ve had to write late at night. Even so I’m my own worst enemy- always critical of my words to the point where I grind to a stop or at least a slow crawl. This just adds to the time shortage.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      That’s one of the reasons I never edit anything until I am done with the first draft, Kurt. I vomit it all out on paper first, to see the story in its entirety, and only then do I go back and start editing, polishing, etc.

  7. C. says:

    I think my biggest hurdle is working out the details. Coming up with general concepts and milestones is easy, but figuring out what scenes need to happen to get from one milestone to the next, let alone how to make those scenes play out in the right way to get where you need it to go, that’s where I always get tripped up.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      C – Understanding story structure and applying that understanding to your work in progress will go a long way to helping with that issue.

  8. Alyson Mary Green says:

    My biggest hurdle? Being my own worst critic! My rewrites are “endless” because I’m never truly satisfied with what I wrote!😳🙄

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Not much I can help you with on that end, Alyson. You need to learn to trust your writing instincts and let go!

  9. Anna says:

    When to stop research and start writing

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      I give myself a specific timeframe for research, Anna, and then I start writing no matter what. I write a World War I series and my research could literally be endless as I love to learn about that time period and the exact details of each conflict. By setting a specific deadline (two weeks for research, for example) I keep myself from going down the rabbit hole. 90% of what you think you need you never end up using anyway.

  10. Bob Lenson says:

    Great blog, guys! I was thinking of doing Nano this year but, you know what? I really need the push! I’m engaged to the most beautiful lady who I have no clue what she sees in me, a beautiful 1 1/2 month old daughter who is too young to fall off her bed yet (sorry, Nick! Hehe!), and a ton of things we are trying to get done together before we marry (baptism, rent a house, etc) so time is something I need to make.

    But that’s not my real problem. No, my problem is that once I accomplish the feat of writing the next great novel, I put it aside and just can’t get interested in getting the rewrites done. My first draft is usually almost good enough for publishing (almost, I did say!) but getting that last bit done, well… If only there was a Nano for final drafts..?

    I’ve signed up for the big event on Sunday at 3 am (Philippines time… I’ll be the guy yawning in his expresso)… Nah, it won’t be that bad for me. I normally get up at 4 am to start writing…

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Will see you there, Bob!

  11. Marie says:

    Great article. My biggest struggle? The muddle in the middle! Getting 30,000 words in and finding my premise isn’t holding up, or my characters are going in circles. Maddening.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Marie – this is the primary reason why I am an advocate of mapping out your entire story ahead of time. If you do, you tend to avoid the massive rewrites you are talking about because you know that the story will work – at least from a structural standpoint – before you write word one.

  12. Tania says:

    #1 Struggle while writing a novel is that, I have the plot, I know the story and everything but I struggle at writing the fillers and if suppose I want to write a chapter, then what fillers to write in that chapter. That’s it, these are stopping me from completing my novel.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Tania,

      What, exactly, do you mean by “the fillers?”

  13. Mez says:

    Lovely, simplified explanation of the process – thanks!

    My biggest struggle is probably the psychological mayhem that comes about midway through the book. Even with my plan in place, I inevitably start to question the quality of the plot & lose all objectivity, getting stuck in a “woe is me!” wallow. Any advice for curing writer’s slump?

    Looking forward to the Webinar!

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Mex – what, exactly, is it that your are questioning? Whenever I get to the 30% point in any novel (and I’ve written over 40 so far!) I absolutely hate what I’ve done. It’s a natural part of the process to do so. But I also know that when I reach the 50% point, I start to like the book again. All I need to do is grit my teeth and keep going and my natural pessimist seems to take a back seat.

      1. Joe Nassise says:

        Sorry, typo – that should have said Mez.

  14. Catherine Greenall says:

    Great article I use something similar to outline the plot, the twists. the characters, who they are what they like etc. I jot down plot ideas as they occur to me then reorder them by cut & paste. I also keep a running plot detail record so I know what happened & when. Greatest challenge? Finding time and not getting distracted by social media, email, life, research etc.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Catherine – Focus can certainly be a difficult problem. The springing method I mentioned in the article can be a good way to combat this. Assigning small rewards to give yourself after meeting your word count for the session/day can also help.

  15. Amy Waeschle says:

    This is excellent. Thank you for all of these great ideas. I can’t make the webinar this Sat. so this is a lovely substitute. I especially like the scene cards idea and can’t wait to use them. It took me many years to write my last novel, and I know I can’t take that much time this time around, so this method is a game-changer.

    My main struggle is not enough conflict. I think I can rely on the characters and scenery (I write about surfing, so there’s lots of action) but forget to have a strong conflict or bad guy. It was the reason I had to throw out 40% of my last book’s draft. This time around, I’m aware of this and can plan ahead. I love the line about how the antagonist has to have goals that are exactly opposite of the protagonist’s. So simple yet brilliant. The one thing not covered here is how do you know when you have enough scenes to start writing? Last book was too long (85,000). I’m writing this book to be a free “magnet” book, and want to keep it at 70K max. I’m afraid it’ll be too short or too long. Any tips for know the correct number of scenes to hit this goal?

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Glad the article was helpful, Amy!

      Novel length has changed so much in recent years that I’m not sure there is an exact answer to your question. A commercial genre novel typically runs about 80-85k words right now, so you’re last book was right on target. Independently published books can get away with being shorter – 50-70K seems to be about average for many self-published writers these days.

  16. Elodie Colt says:

    Most of the time, my struggle is to connect point A to B and to find logicial explanationas how A comes to B. So, you know the end of the story but you have no idea how to get there without skipping important parts or turns in the story, and to keep a logicial flow. But I guess this is just the essence of story writing and everyone struggles with it 🙂

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Elodie,

      Working through a story structure process like the one outlined in this article (and in much greater detail in the Story Engines course) will help you figure out how to build your story one step at a time and to be sure that it flows in a logical manner.

  17. Lillith Black says:

    This was Excellent! I own a ton of books on writing, writing faster, structure, etc, but None of them described the process in such a simple, straightforward, and more importantly, non-scary, doable manner! I am a big-time pantser because thinking of pre-building the story used to give me anxiety. This post actually inspired me to plot out my next novel and I will be doing it exactly the way you have outlined here. Thank you a million! Lillith (10K student)

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Good for you, Lilith! Knowing where you are going makes the writing process so much easier.

  18. Jacqueline Burrows says:

    I write romance and women’s fiction. Could you tell me whereabouts in the 7 steps the moment that I’ve heard called ‘dark night of the soul’, ‘all is lost’ moment. ie the scene were the couple are parted, mainly due to their own actions and it seems will never get it together comes in? I imagine it would be between the proactive phase and the GCM3. Is this about right? Thanks.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Jacqueline – it is usually just before GCM#3, which reveals to the hero the information they need to take on the opposition one final time.

  19. Jenna says:

    Lately I’ve been struggling with how to stay motivated when I don’t see great sales. A lot of the strategies you talk about don’t work because I’m not indie (I’ve published with 2 different small publishers, focusing on ebooks), but when my novel has sold 69 copies since May, and the Amazon rankings are steadily dropping, I sometimes wonder if I’m deluding myself into thinking my career will ever take off.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Jenna – Not sure I’m following you You say that “a lot of the strategies I talk about don’t work because you aren’t indie.” What strategies are you referring to? Those I included in the article are all relative to writing and that’s something that both indie and trad writers have to deal with.

      As for help with motivation, I would dive into Steven Pressfield’s excellent book, The War of Art.

  20. Nicole Mackey says:

    I’m not sure you will be able to help with my #1 problem. It is battling the pain and fatigue to get something coherent on the page. I suffer from fibromyalgia and it is sooo hard to follow a plot and layer in subtext when you are in too much pain to think straight. And unfortunately, most remedies either don’t work or make me even more sleepy! Other than trying to schedule my writing time for the “best” part of my day, I am at a loss. Suggestions welcome, especially from anyone else dealing with chronic pain.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Nicole – my daughter has fibro and my advice to you would be the same as what I tell her with regard to her schoolwork. Make use of your good days to get as much done as you can. Dictate everything that you can possibly get away with dictating, so that you don’t have the impact of keys on your fingertips. Plan ahead so that you know where you are going and what you need to do when the good times happen. And, perhaps most importantly, don’t beat yourself up when you have a bunch of bad days in a row. This is not a race nor a competition, so working at your own pace when you do feel good is perfectly acceptable.

      1. Nicole Mackey says:

        Thanks, Joe. Happy to hear advice from someone who “gets it.” I think trying to capitalize on my good days is a good idea. I usually use those to catch up on housework. I struggle with dictation. But maybe I can get used to it. It’s worth trying.

  21. Nikki Broadwell says:

    My struggle is not with writing and editing–I put out a good product–my struggle is getting my books seen by the right people and read! What is the point if I can’t sell my books? (18 of them now)

  22. Anne says:

    I outlined and wrote my first short story (12 pages). As I was writing my story it became a different story then what I outlined. Original characters took a back seat to new characters and scenes. I like the finished product, but how do you stay true to your original story after you’ve spent so much time organizing it? it’s as if the muse has a mind of its own.

  23. Joss Landry says:

    Okay, I usually take a month, four weeks, to write a 100,000-wd story. How? Simple. When a story comes to mind, the genre and the idea of the main characters, I first take a couple of days to look for the characters online. Pictures. Then, I write biographies–detailed ones. Next, I search for an area, a place to locate my story. I look at fun things to do in that place, schools. Sometimes I’ll use google world to stroll around the avenues. I catalog all this into Scrivener. Once this is done, I begin my story–not in the middle, but somewhere interesting, then the characters I’ve gotten to know do the rest. They literally write their own story. Wish I could type faster, but I can only do 100 words a minute on my Mac. So, there you have it. I do one chapter in the morning, approx 3,000 words, and then I submit it to a Grammarly test, then the next morning, go on to the next one. Of course, I reread often to make sure all the hooks and story scenarios line up. Hope this helps some of you. Have fun!

  24. Lynne Murray says:

    Thanks for the helpful seminar!
    My #1 struggle is balancing genre with my incorrigible need to turn things upside down as a storyteller. I’ve got 12 books out–6 with a small press (don’t ask). Most are one-offs and two 2-book “series.” I just completed “My Year of Writing Paranormal Romance”–aka The Year of Futile Endeavor. I did finish 3 PNR books, abysmal sales (who knew that fans of The Bachelorette don’t read PNR with dragon shapeshifters? Also that PNR fans hate reality TV even with dragon shapeshifters?). This past year taught me that I don’t love PNR enough to write more. I do love Urban Fantasy and that’s what I’m plotting to jump into now, but I fear my series stamina may be lacking or scuttled by my uncontrollable need to smash stereotypes.

  25. Ronald Newton says:

    I’m primarily a nonfiction writer 14 books so far. I’ve written two fiction books. They had a plot and subplots. I took a college course which said to do the following:
    The following was not simple for me. I am outlining a book from the Oregon Files series. From that I hope to learn the techniques of fiction writing. That is my biggest hurdle not knowing what I need to know?

    Open to suggestion(s) you may have.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Ronald – your message seems incomplete. The course said to do…what? It’s missing so I can’t offer any advice about it.

  26. Jan Almas says:

    My biggest problem with writing my current book, 3rd in a series, is that I can’t imagine my main character in the role that I want to cast her into. I don’t know how to take her from a paid companion to the Lady of the Manor. Does this make sense?

    1. Nicole Mackey says:

      Perfect. But try this. If you are having trouble with the transition, imagine how much trouble your character is having adapting to her new role! Make it part of the story. Put your struggle on the page. It’s worth a shot, at least.

      1. jan almas says:

        Ok. great idea, I will try that.

  27. Tracy Gregory says:

    Great information! It looks like finding time to write is a common problem. I’m in the same boat. I have one novel under my belt, but the second one is a slow process. I too have the full-time job so I write late in the night. Thank you for the seven-step process. I’m going to use it when I write the third book in the series. I think it will keep me more on task and focused.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Good for you, Tracy! Good luck!

  28. Johnny Frazier says:

    좋은글 잘보았습니다 감사합니다 저가 한 말씀드리겠습니다 글을 쓸수만 있다면 얼마나 좋을까요 글이라는 것은 마음에 약식이죠 글도 좋은글 수많은 사람들을 감동시킬수있는 글을 쓴다면 구독자 분들이 얼마나 희망이 되고 위로가 되고 용기가 될까요? 좋은글 소설 혹은 누군가를 비판하는 글을 쓰는 저자들도 참으로 많치요 즉 누군가를 감동을 주고 용기를 J.F.Lover 처럼 사랑도 주고 그런 멋진 한권에 책? 편안한 마음에 어느정도에 환경이 주어진 다면 글좀 아는 사람 글좀 써본 사람이라면 좋은글 은 얼마든지 나오죠? 즉 쉽게말하자면 글도 머리를 굴일줄 알아야하죠 저는 한국에서 어려서 부터 글쓰는것을 좋아 했어요 글짓기 대회 독후감 대회 시를 젂는것 또 내가 던진 편지한장으로 운명이 바뀐 여자 혹은 남자 마음이 어느정도 안정되고 화려하지도 않고 멋지지 않아도 소박하더라도 어느정도 환경이 주어진다면 또 마음에 안정된다면 얼마나 글쓰기가 좋을까요 그리고 배고플때 쓰는글 배부를 때 쓰는글 차이가있죠? 누군가를 사랑하고 여러사람을 사랑한다는 것은내 자신을 사랑하지 않는 다면 불가능하죠 매일 하루 하루가 안자있는 것이 갓이 방석이고 심적으로 불안하고 초조하고 불면증에 시달리고 하루에 한끼 먹는것도 힘든 상황이오고 한번도 가본적 없는 지은 죄 조차없는 미국을 사랑해서 내가 가장 존경하는 God father 도널드 트럼프 대통령님을 선택하무로 나에게는 유일한 피부치 나에 분신과도 같았던 내 아들 내 딸 그리고 내가 10년동안 다른 여자와 잠짜리 한번 한적없고 나하나 만을 믿고 대학교 2학년 학업을 중단하고 9살이나 어린 내가 사랑했던 내 와이프 cannabis 사업할생각 하면 나를 떠나겠다고 하던 와이프 한국에 계신 부모님은 나한테 미치놈 이라고 하시고 연락두절되어 버리고 5월13일 내가 미정부 소속이 되던날 부터 나는 가지고 있던 모든것 빼앗겼고 그 이후로 지금 까지 내가족 얼굴은 한번도 보지못했다 아들 생일은 7월30일 딸 생일은 10월2일 나 하나 믿고 영어한마디 못하는 애들 와이프 미국이 좋아서 아메리칸 드림을 꿈꾸며 2016년 5월23일 인천 공항에 미국행 비행기에 몸을실고 이륙했다 그리고 2017년5월13일 이후 나에게 말한마디 남기지 않은체 떠나같다 그리고 아빠로서 애들 생일 선물하나 못해준게 마음이 아파 어제 딸아이 얼굴이 아른 거려 힘든 3일도안 거의 못먹고 못자고 걸어서 땀을 뻘뻘흘리며 학교앞에서 1시간이 넘게 서서 학교 종이 3시5분에 땡하고 치는데 4시까지 기달려도 딸아이 얼굴은 나타나지 않아서 오피스에 들어가 물어보자 나한테 항상 친절하게 이야기 해주던 학교관계자 분들은 나에게 아무런 정보를 줄수없다고 그렇게 말을했다 그런데 알아낸 결과로 애들은 다른곳으로 학교를 옮겼던것 한국에서 내가 오기전만 해도 내 몸무게는95킬로 였는데 너무 못자고 못먹서 지금은 와이프가 입던 반바지가 지금은 내가 팬티로 입는다 그래도 내바지는 흘러낼려 조금걷다가 올리고 올리고 지금 아지도 여기 스타벅스 에서 아침8시 부터 앉아있는데 좀금있으면 저녁 7시에들간다 여기 사람들은 모두 커피를 마시고 있는데 나는 물만 계속해서 마시고 있다 지금 졸리고 배가너무 고프다 그리고 자꾸 코피가 난다 어제 밤에도 잘곳이 업어 스타벅스 밖에 아침 5시까지 컴퓨터하고 지금 핸드폰이 없어 아이패드 설정도 못하고있고 아침에 너무추워서 쫏겨난 아파트에 들어가 코인 란쥬리 에서 아침 7시에 나왔다 거기역시 추웠다 오늘밤이 또 문제다 셰르프 디퍼트먼트 에서 들이닥쳤을때 총을 겨누며 5분시간 주니까 빨리챙겨 나가라고 계속 소리치는 바람에 거의 못챙겨서 나왔다 반팔을 입고있어 새벽에는 너무추워서 덜덜떨다가 감기가 걸려 지금은 콧물이 줄줄 저는 현재 하루하루 너무힘들어요 여러분 해답을 주신다면 저가 지금 할수있는 일이 과연 무엇이라 생각하시나요? 이상입니다. 감사합니다 J.F.Love💕

    1. Cheryl Currie says:

      Johnny, I translated your comment. Your story is in your comment. A good story has conflict and your comment has a lot of that. If you follow Joe’s structure and build a character around those motivations and conflicts, you would have a great story. It could be therapeutic for you, too. A family in Korea, love for America, never seeing your loved ones, suffering from depression, going hungry–great stuff for a story. We are all suffering from something. I wish you the best.

  29. Karen says:

    Hey! I’ve had an interesting life as a popstar and my biggest struggle today is that if I write a book about my adventures and also my bandmembers, show pictures of us etc, do I have to ask them a permission before my autobiographical book release and pay them royalties or not?

    Please let me know what do you recommend.
    Thank you!

    With best wishes,
    Karen

    1. Cheryl Currie says:

      I would like to know the answer to Karen’s question, too. My brother worked for the Fire Department near Miami. He has a ton of amazing stories as the head of a rescue team. The only reason he isn’t writing a book is his concern about “telling tales.”

    2. Joe Nassise says:

      If you are writing about true events that you experienced, no, you do not need permission to include those that were there. Nor do you need to pay them royalties.

      You might bear in mind that you can be sued as a result if the information is detrimental to any of those present.

  30. Kelly says:

    My premise is inspired by an old movie. I want to steer clear of copyright issues. 2 questions: should I use completely new character names and traits or can I twist the names into something a fan of the original might recognize? And if I loosely follow the original plot setup how much do I need to do differently to avoid mine being a rip off? Thanks

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Making it resemble the original is a recipe for disaster, Kelly. Steer clear and come up with your own project.

  31. Jon Howard says:

    Following on from the Amazing webinar I did have one question – with regards to the three game changing moments in the 7 phase structure, are they always contained into a single scene or can they span several scenes.

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Jon – they usually are, but if you can pull it off across multiple scenes without disrupting the flow of the story, there isn’t any rule against it.

  32. Charlotte says:

    Joe, are you limiting the number of spaces for the advanced option of the story engines course?

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      At the moment, no, Charlotte.

  33. Cheryl Currie says:

    My #1 problem is age. I feel the pressure of the time constraint. I spent more money than I made on the first book which I can at least say is published, but it took me a year and $1,000 to edit, promote and design. I’m writing my second one now. This article is a HUGE help. I want to believe that I can pop out books within months, not years and that they will sell.

  34. Ess says:

    Joe, Thoroughly enjoyed the presentation today. (10/14/17) Thanks! Would you mind telling us again your great advice concerning not scrapping one’s first draft and finding the phases in the draft…( I wrote notes as fast as I could while you were speaking… But didn’t get it all. ) Loved your encouragement and tenacity of holding on to that messy first draft! Thank you sooooooo much!

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Of course, Ess – I would break the work down into chunks based on the 7 story elements. Go through each section with an eye to being sure it meets the goals of that section. So the setup phase should introduce the character, the setting, the story problem and possibly foreshadow the opposition. Knock that chunk into shape and then move to the next part, game changing moment #1, etc

  35. Julie Woos says:

    Darn, I missed it. I need to be better at double checking the time zone….EDT is not me….so I’ll hope you offer another chance at this webinar, I’m sure it was great for all of you who are better at time conversions!!

  36. Deborah says:

    Nick AND Joe,
    This is a definite for me BUT only after the other 3 courses (each differently specific) I already own and am working through. I’ll catch you guys next time around. Thanks for the great information (and entertainment).
    Deb

  37. Elodie Colt says:

    The webinar was great! Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay until the end so I don’t know if this question was answered, but I’d like to know how to use 7 steps for a series. I mean, I’d say every book that’s part of the same series needs something like an introduction phase or a conclusion phase, but the approach is somehow different, especially when the story ends on a cliffhanger. So what’s the best way to use this concept for series? thx in advance 🙂 elodie

  38. celena wittman says:

    My number one problem with breaking my writing flow is research. Whenever I stop to research something, it could be twenty minutes or five hours. Obviously, after hours of research, I’m pretty burnt out. So, I have decided to jot down a note in the story whenever I come to a point where I will need to investigate the details of a setting or the science of how a particular thing works. Write the story then fill in the gaps later.
    I do write consistently, but I am challenging myself to write at six in the morning every day for the next thirty days and see how that goes.

  39. Ess says:

    Hi, loved the seminar today -Thank you! Still a bit mystified by the definition of “scenes”. I’ve looked “scene” up, but I get even more confused. Really want it from a Story Engines perspective so I know we are talking about the same thing. Joe, you said you would typically use 40 scenes and each scene is a chapter, but Nick said someone like Dan Brown might have several scenes in one chapter. I don’t think I am grasping…a “scene”. Is it pretty typical to have one scene be a chapter? How long are your chapters typically?
    Thank you! I got a great deal of knowledge from today’s presentation! Loved the template for the Premise! Thanks for investing in us! Hope the reno goes smoothly! :)))

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Ess – A scene is a single unit of action. Your characters come on the “stage” of the story at a specific time and place and one action occurs. The minutes you change the location, the time, or the point of view, you have changed to a new scene.

      Some novels have multiple scenes per chapter. Some have a single scene per chapter. (I prefer the later, but that’s just a personal preference. Either way is correct.)

      1. Ess says:

        Thanks Joe!!! Have gleaned a lot of info from reading your answers to these questions. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions as well learning from all the other answers to everyone’s questions!

  40. Noel Gama says:

    I have never written fiction (I’m a published nonfiction author) but writing a novel has been a dream of late. However, I’m a bit hesitant about enrolling on the SE course as I’m not fully convinced it’ll take a newbie like me from blank page to a bestselling novel in 60 days. Do you really think I could pull this off?
    I’ll wait for your reply before I decide to enroll/not enroll.
    Thank you,
    Noel Gama 🇮🇳

  41. Mark Davey says:

    Hi Nick and Joe,
    Really sorry I couldn’t make the webinar – didn’t check email till too late!!!
    Just wondered if there was a replay recording by any chance????
    Thanks for all you do,
    Mark

  42. Steph says:

    I’m not sure exactly how to word this question correctly, so…here goes. Let’s say your prologue or your first chapter is a scene that throws the reader into the hero’s chaos, right from the get-go. That’s the hook (and yes, I’m biased, but it’s a great hook!) But that scene is actually the reflection of a game changer for the hero…technically. So in a way, it’s like the reader’s coming in a little late to the story and it’s intriguing as all heck, but now I’ve got to catch the reader up so they’re invested and not lost. Right?
    Okay, so… in this scenario, where you’re starting off with a moment where the hero’s like “what the heck just happened…now what?”… in order to make the novel work as a whole, I would basically need to set up the rest of the story to start off with the preparation phase (which is going to give the reader some of the backstory they need to become invested) and then introduce a NEW catalyst/gamechanger, moving into that 7 piece story structure in order to take the reader through the whole deal? Correct?

    Or… is this why my story is falling apart in the “muddy middle”? Unfortunately, the action scene is best served as a prologue, because of the nature of the story, but I’ll admit it is making it hard to build up the rest to support such a pivotal beginning for my hero!

  43. C W says:

    Nick, I received your email where you said, “If you weren’t able to come live, or if you didn’t get your questions answered, please leave a comment on the blog right here and we’ll get back to you ASAP.” I really wanted to be present for it but was unable. If I just look at the slides will I get the main information from the webinar? Is there some kind of accountability group that you guys are offering for the NaNoWriMo?

  44. Frank says:

    I wanted to sign up for the Story Engines course and I’m getting a Kaspersky web page warning of “Phising” on all of the order links.
    Please advise,
    Is there another cleaner / safer link to order on for full payment?
    Thank you,

    1. Joe Nassise says:

      Frank – If you haven’t solved the issue yet, you can email support@yourfirst10kreaders.com and they should be able to help you out.

  45. Linda Wilson says:

    Scheissen Hausen! Wish I’d read this before shelling out a shed load of money on ‘the holy grail’!

    I’m new to writing, after spending 30+ years writing…yes, that’s what I mean. I wrote professional reports – often epics – for use in a whole host of different legal proceedings. Each was was basically the story of someone’s life; their strengths and weaknesses; their opportunities and struggles; their why’s, wherefore’s and what ifs. The reports all followed the same structure; had the same issues addressed to some greater or lesser degree; and their conclusions drawn. I’d throw in a bit of psychologising about the person’s specific story and add a dose of opinion (seeing as that was what I was being paid for!) Average length of report 8-10k; 6 reports per month – and a day job too.

    Now I’m an aspiring writer – nothing creative…I write people’s stories. They’re narratives, with a structure that’s easy to follow – decades in their lives; the highs and lows; what they learnt and what they regret…and why; where they think they’re going in the future; what they want the reader to take away..their reflections on their life story. 4 ‘on the go’; 2k words per day on any 2 of the books; keep them snappy and get them done ASAP.

    I’ve been hunting for the formula for creative writing. Bought the books; listened to the webinars; even bought into the online training packages. I don’t need telling how to write – big headed I may be, but I know I can write and write well. I never do more than an initial draft – that’s the book completed. I have a bunch of avid reader friends who ‘edit’ as I’m going along – usually we’d like to know more about…so I shove in another paragraph or so as required, but nothing else gets changed. All the ‘how to courses and books etc’ are full of the stuff I neither need or want.

    What I’ve learnt from your article, is that I already have the formula. Ok, it may require a bit of tweaking, but nonetheless I already have it. Thank you so much, your help has really been appreciated. Now I’m free to pursue the real challenge – how to get these scripts published, marketed and sold!

    All suggestions gratefully received 😬

    Current titles
    A Streetkid Called Steven: the rise of an abandoned toddler to CEO of a charity.
    Toward Rainbow Bridge : a life cruelly cut short.
    Living with spirit : why out of 10,000+ did it have to be me?
    Angels in disguise : the stories of the streetkids of Uganda

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