Tag Archives: writing

How to write the plot of a story

So many people want to write a book, but have difficulty in structuring their story.  The Infographic below is more than just how to write a story plot – it reads like the plot summary of a typical fiction story, or even an epic non-fiction story.

I am sure you can easily read adventure, fantasy and sci fi into the plot outline presented, but for the most part even a romance or detective novel follows this formula. Or the screenplay for a romantic film or even many comedies or other movies.

A story need not use all these elements, or place them in this exact order.  But most fiction (and some non-fiction) books on the New York Times Best Sellers list include most of these elements in roughly this order. A complex story will have many of these elements repeat, sometimes several times.  In fact, a complex story might have several plots moving along simultaneously.

I was just reading Son of a Witch: Volume Two in the Wicked Years by Gregory MaGuire (highly recommended, but best to read Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West first), and the first half of the book runs through two threads, one past and one present, and the present thread divides in two to follow Liir along one and the two traveling maunts along the other.

One of my favorite books of all time, The Eight by Katherine Neville, follows two stories, one in present time (during the oil crisis of a few decades ago, and one historical, during the French Revolution.

Both these books use pretty much all of the elements presented in the plot outline below multiple times, and at times simultaneously along the different threads. Great reads, both, for students of how to write a book with multiple plot lines.

A generic story plot summary


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Must the Plot of a Story Be so Dramatic?

This is just a generic plot summary.  Mark Twain once said, “Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.” Nevertheless, in real world story plots (our own lives), we never find such superlatives. There is good and kindness in everyone, and there is mischief and ill-will in everyone, too. And even in the most fantastic of stories, we like to see a little balance shine through.

  • We like to see our Valiant Hero vulnerable, perhaps a bit socially awkward or over self-confident, or caught off guard. We like to see him doubt his ability to prevail, or fall hopelessly in love.
  • We like to see the Forces of Evil are not all evil, that somewhere inside remains a seed of compassion and tenderness…seconds before our Valiant Hero annihilates him.

It is true that not every story has all of these component, nor are they always so clear-cut. Sometimes there are more than one Valiant Hero, and they are sometimes working at cross-purposes. Sometimes there is an ambiguous character, who is neither good nor evil – or is somewhat of both.

And the evil might not always be “evil”, but it might simply be an incredible obstacle or a natural disaster.  Or a bumbling fool who always gets in the way or tips the apple cart.

And the Quest is not always obvious from the outset.  In fact, sometimes we near the end of a story before realizing what the Quest really is about.

Writing a book or a screenplay is not always that simple, and even if you hire a ghostwriter it helps if you already have the structure of your tale pretty much organized.  There is plenty of room to play with the plot of a story, plenty of room for creativity in putting your own plot outline together. But if you start with this model, you have a great structure on which to build your story.

Hire a ghostwriter for your book

A Generic Story Plot

Transcription of the image above.

The End of the World!

The world is heading for cataclysmic disaster. Perhaps the planet will explode. Perhaps somebody’s true love will leave. In the context of your story, this is surely the End of the World.

The Noble Quest

Hold on! The End of the World will have to wait. Our Valiant Hero is off on the Noble Quest to save the day (and the world)!

The Roadmap to Victory

The Noble Quest to stave off the End of the World entails certain steps that must be taken, a checklist of challenges. This is the Roadmap to Victory.

Insurmountable Hurdles

Alas! The Forces of Evil conspire to ensnare our Valiant Hero and thwart the Noble Quest.

Supreme Personal Sacrifice

Only by acts of Supreme Personal Sacrifice can our Valiant Hero overcome the Insurmountable Hurdles and proceed along the Roadmap to Victory.

Impending Doom

Confounded! The Insurmountable Hurdles have nevertheless delayed our Valiant Hero. Impending Doom is imminent. Surely these forebodings mean that the Noble Quest fails.

The Stars Aligned

Somehow all the stars in the heavens incredibly align against all odds at half a second to midnight, so that Our Valiant Hero can save the day and delay the End of the World…at least until the sequel.

Unforeseen Rewards

So busy was our Valiant Hero battling the Forces of Evil, that he did not realize how he has blossomed as a result of the Noble Quest.

A New Kind of Normal

With the End of the World now in the past, people return to their business and things return to normal. But “normal” has changed; nobody touched by the Noble Quest remains unchanged by it.

* Special thanks to Forest Parks for helping me assemble the Infographic when I got stuck.

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Contest to help you write your book for children

It is contest time again, and this one will interest anyone who has ever wanted to write a children’s book. So if you know anybody who fits that description, please let them know.

Today (well, in two weeks, actually) we are giving away to one lucky winner a free copy of Write a Marketable Children’s Book in 7 Weeks by award-winning authors, Shirley Raye Redmond and Jennifer McKerley. They have authored more than 30 children’s books and are published by Random House, Simon and Schuster, Gale-Cengage and other houses.  You can take a peak at their Write Children’s Book website here.

You will note that the authors of our giveaway prize are well-placed to provide guidance on both fiction and non-fiction books, which they do.

In fact, here is what one book reviewer (Kathi Linz) has had to say: “If you want clear, concise, easy-to-understand directions, then pick up Write a Marketable Children’s Book in Seven Weeks by Shirley Raye Redmond and Jennifer McKerley.”

Here is what another reviewer (Rachel Burns, writer of young adult books) has had to say on Amazon: ”Jennifer McKerley is a true professional who knows the ins and outs of children’s book writing. From researching story ideas to revision methods and everything in between, Jennifer can help you get your book on the right track.”

How to enter

There are three ways for you to enter this Rafflecopter Giveaway contest (the more times you enter, the better your chance of winning!):

  • Tweet about this contest, so that more people will know about it.  You can do this once each day during the contest (which gives you more chances to win!)
  • Follow me on Twitter
  • Share our free Character Description Cheat Sheet for Children’s Books  using any of the buttons on the right of that page (you can do this one more than once, too – share on each of your social networks).Just remember to use the Rafflecopter widget below to tweet, follow and record your sharing.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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What is a ghostwriter?

This question pretty much tops the questions people have about ghostwriting, so let me give a very complete explanation, which I will break down into three parts.

  • Definition of ghostwriter/ghostwriting.
  • What a ghostwriter does – and doesn’t do.
  • Who needs a ghostwriter – and who does not (in what situations is a ghostwriter your best option?)

 Definition of ghostwriter

What is a ghostwriter?  Simply put, it is a writer who is not seen.  A writer who is not credited or acknowledged.  A writer who is invisible – like a ghost.  You read a book or an article and you never know who the real writer was, because it was ghostwritten.

You would be surprised at how much is ghostwritten.

Almost any autobiography of famous people is written by a ghostwriter. Think about it; it makes sense.  Somebody might be a great statesman, or a great scientist or a successful businessman.  But that does not mean he is a good writer and more than a good plumber or a good teacher.  For teaching, he sends his kids to school and lets a professional handle the job.  For plumbing, he calls a plumber to fix his leaky pipes – a professional who knows what he is doing.  For writing, he calls a professional ghostwriter.

Most speeches you hear have been ghostwritten.  Busy political and industrial leaders have neither the time nor skill to write their own speeches, so they hire speech writers.  For important addresses, very often they will edit and send back for several drafts; but most of the writing is done by a ghost.

What does a ghostwriter do?

A ghostwriter does the writing.  The ideas come from the “author” or the speaker – the client.  Done properly, the writer picks the words that best express how the client would write or speak if he had the time and ability to pick his own words.  This is not always easy and sometimes not completely possible.  But it is the ideal goal.

The ghostwriter does not make things up.  OK, sometimes a ghostwriter and/or PR department and/or political handlers do make a lot up.  When I worked for a politician, there was a fair amount of material that I wrote on my own initiative, guessing what my boss would have said.  But in such cases, the ghostwriter has a “regular” client and can make such guesses based on previous experience.

  • The ghostwriter might do research.
  • The ghostwriter does keep in the shadows.
  • The ghostwriter does not reveal her identity.
  • The ghostwriter does not take credit.
  • The ghostwriter does not (usually) get royalties.

When do you need a ghostwriter?

There are three factors that you need to factor in when deciding whether to hire a ghostwriter or to choose some other alternative (which you can probably guess without even looking at the list):

  • Skill
  • Time
  • Money

Skill is the biggest show-stopper.  If you can’t write well, you need to outsource, the same as you probably need to do with plumbing and teaching and growing wheat for your bread.

Skill is not a black and white factor.  It is pretty complex.  There are many people who simply can’t write.  I could show you reams of partially legible emails I receive. And there are many people who write quite well. And there are many people who write passably – they can communicate their ideas, but they do not inspire or pull the reader along.

But one’s skill at writing depends also on what one is writing.  I write good quality blog posts.  I write great how-to and self-help material, and I can write excellent humor.  But if I wanted to write a novel, I would outsource the project.  Yes, a writer hiring a ghostwriter.  I simply do not have the skills required to write convincing fiction.

And then there is speaking.  You might be surprised how many people have difficulty with highly personal speeches, such as for accepting an award of some sort or  best man or other wedding speeches.  They often call on a speech writer.

Time is also a big deal.  Many of our clients are hard-pressed business leaders who simply do not have the time to put all other things out of their heads and focus on writing their business book or autobiography.  Some have the skill, many do not, but none have the time.

Time is money, so if you don’t have the time to spend, it might even be less costly to spend the money.  Better to spend $12,000 in ghostwriting fees than $100,000 in lost time.

Speaking of money, ghostwriting does cost money.  Here is a list of some “typical” pricing.  In real life, plenty of high end ghostwriters charge more, and plenty of low end writers charge less.  But you have to be careful, because you will discover that at the bottom end the quality really suffers.  We try to keep our prices below average, at least to the extent that it does not sacrifice quality.

If you can’t afford the cost of writing your book, your screenplay, your letter or your speech, you might have to spend more time and write it yourself.  You might have enough money to hire a writer to edit your writing, which costs much, much less.

But a word of caution: if your writing skills are not fairly strong, your manuscript might not be good enough to edit.  You won’t save much money if the writer has to rewrite your material from scratch.  So, as I said above, skill is the show-stopper.

If you don’t have the money, you might be able to inspire some wealthy relations.  Maybe they will hire a ghostwriter for you.


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Writers Blog Commenting Carnival #1

On our SEO blog we began a tradition of presenting blog commenting carnivals, and we’ll be carrying that tradition over here. I comment on a lot of blogs about writing, and often the comments are quite substantial. Why let those comments go to waste, when I can share them with our readers, too?

Over at Common Excuses For Not Starting A Blog, I tackled the five excuses, one by one…

1. Everyone is a writer.

2. There is no such thing as writer’s block. When you have something to say, there is no block. When you have nothing to say, you should not be blogging.

3. You don’t have to be creative; just write what comes to your mind during a normal “day at the office”.

4. OK, it is true – blogging is too time consuming. But if it is worth doing for your business model, then it is no more time consuming than all the other time-consuming things you do.

5. All the good ideas have been taken…yeah but “so what?” All the best music has been written, and they keep writing more. All the best books have been written, but they keep writing more. Just write what you think and you will find elements of originality in your blog posts.

I expanded on point #2 above at How to Blog for your Business – 4 helpful tips!

Generally some good advice, but I disagree on keeping to a schedule. I have never heard of someone removing a blog from their RSS reader for not having received a post in a while. I can see why someone would remove a blog that posts too often and they are inundated with posts in their RSS reader (making it hard to find posts from other blogs), but there is no reason to remove something for not bothering them. I believe a schedule is a very poor way to decide when to blog. A much better way is to blog when you have something to say. A single really good post is worth more than a hundred on time posts.

And on the fun side, I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and added to Time Management For Freelance Writers

Oh, not just for freelance writers. Anybody who works from home will be tempted to surf, tempted to keep marketing, tempted to just hang loose and avoid timing himself or handling the bookkeeping. My personal temptation is blog commenting…and…uh…oops, I guess I should be getting back to work.

I was not bored when Martha Griffin told us Why Most Blogs Bore Me. So I responded…

Nothing new is being said. That is the one that makes me cringe. When you spend as much time as I do in social media, reading, partially reading or just suffering through the same repetitive headlines over and over (Do I really want to read yet another blogger’s review of the same plugg-in?), you start to wonder where is the imagination, where is the passion, are they people really enjoying blogging, or are they just trying to fill their page and keep to an arbitrary publishing schedule. Which brings us to the second one that makes me cringe, “The blogger didn’t show up. ” and “Lacks passion”, which really are the same thing in my eyes.

Jane writes at BlogEngage about Why Should You Blog About What You Know .  Apparently, I agree…

Yes, yes, yes. About what you know AND about what you are passionate about. You should never have to worry about writers block or not knowing what to write about. You should only be writing when there is something inside you, something just bursting to get out!

Martha Giffen writes that Keyword stuffing is not a blogging tool.

I am afraid that using common sense is highly under appreciated. Best to write your post for the readers and for yourself – just because you have something to say. Then add in your keywords a couple times where it makes sense …if it makes sense. Then choose a title for your post. If possible, include your keywords in your title – but if the title didn’t attractive and doesn’t draw readers and (ultimately) linkers, there is really no point to the keywords in the first place.

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So you want to be a freelance writer…

Last July, one of our writers was featured on PT Money Blog.  Philip interviewed Miranda Marquit, who happens to be one of our freelance writers.  Miranda writes mostly on financial matters, helping our clients with online content and also having written a number of finance-related books for business clients.

The podcast, which I am running below with permission, asks Miranda about the business of freelance writing and what it takes to become a freelance writer. As an aside, when you work from home, you are not working in some antiseptic office environment, where almost everything is artificially controlled. At home, office life and real life collide ion the most unpredictable of ways, especially when there are children running around. In the case of this podcast, you hear the doorbell ring at one point. My comment to Miranda after I had listened to the interview was, “Next time instead of a doorbell, maybe you could have a motorcycle followed by a scream and a crash.” That would be much more entertaining.

Here is the podcast, as it was first published.

Miranda offers much more incredible advice for budding freelance writers, so take a few minutes to listen to the full podcast.

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What writing services do people want?

Every now and then, I get asked this question: “What do people want written?” And I usually answer that people come to us for a lot of biographies and fiction manuscripts. But is that the most accurate answer?

I decided to do some number-crunching. And I cam up with three sets of data. First, here are the types of services people seek…


As you can see, biographies are the most popular project people seek.  Everybody has a story to tell.  Yes, most “biographies” are in fact autobiographies.

There are a lot of people who come to us with manuscripts – including websites and marketing materials, but mostly books – to edit.  These include biographies, as well as every other genre.

The three other popular genres are business manuscripts, online writing and fiction manuscripts.


Breaking it down a different way, 46 percent of people come looking for some form of book to be written.  Twenty percent of people seek some form of editing and 12 percent seek copy for use online.  Everything else is pretty minor.

Breaking down the books into the various types, you can see just how important biographies are – how many people have a story to tell.


If you have a story to tell or a book you want to help promote your business or career, we’ll be happy to help you.

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Was my writing stolen?

Was my writing stolen?

I invited Briana Myricks to write this guest post.  When I heard her story, I knew that all writers – not just blog writers – will relate to what she experienced.  I am curious to hear your comments once you have read her post.

Have you ever written a blog post that you put your figurative, or even literal, blood, sweat, and tears into? If you are a blogger, chances are, you have on numerous occasions.  Most other writers have, too.  What about a post you spent hours researching and perfecting to be not only logical and understandable, but also fun and entertaining? Writers and bloggers everywhere are probably nodding their heads in unison. Think back to how proud you were when your hard work was noticed by your peers, your supervisor, and even other media. When your writing was featured in roundups and bigger blogs, you probably patted yourself on your back for a job well done. You were getting the recognition you’ve always thought you deserved.

Now think of a time when someone stole either your idea or your work outright. How furious were you? If you’re a blogger and your content was scraped onto a spammer blog, you may or may not have even flinched. But what if your work showed up on a more authoritative site with a large readership, a more expansive reach, and higher SEO value than your site? You wouldn’t feel too good, would you?

A few weeks ago, my childhood came to an end with the final movie installment of the Harry Potter saga. I felt that I had learned so much from the Hogwarts students, and was compelled to blog about it. I took to StupidCents, a personal finance blog that I’m a staff writer for, and explained to readers the financial lessons I learned from each Harry Potter story. I spent hours doing research and writing the post, wanting it to be accurate and a quality post, rather than simple link bait. My diligence paid off; the article was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance, the Best of Money Carnival, and even Canada’s largest national newspaper, Globe Investor. The post is the most popular on StupidCents.

Friday, I was going through my RSS reader and found that Business Insider’s War Room had a post about financial tips from Harry Potter. I was excited, assuming that my post was also featured on the huge news site. As I read the article, I saw that there were several points that I mentioned, but another person as the author with no credit to my article. I was livid! Was Business Insider stealing my content? I left a comment voicing my suspicion, and I consulted several friends and colleagues to compare the two posts. After reading both posts, they felt that although my post may have heavily influenced the one featured by the War Room contributor, it was not stolen. I felt a little better about it. I was put a bit more at ease when the author pointed out differences in our articles with a reply to my comment.

This situation got me thinking: how many other times has this happened in the blogosphere? No doubt, there are sites that exist specifically for content scraping. Content farms, where high quantity and low quality are the name of the game, were also known for taking quality articles from other sites and passing it along as their own. Thankfully, Google’s Panda update has discredited thousands of those sites, including content farms like Associated Content, AllBusiness and HubPages. Of course, there’s going to be articles that echo many of the same lessons, much like there are so many articles offering mostly the same tips on “how to save money on gas”.

What are the odds that you get several of the same personal finance lessons from 4,195 pages (from the US edition of the Harry Potter books) and 19.6 hours of film?!

Another issue is when your content is featured word for word on a higher authority site. I was in this situation a year ago. I wrote a post on my now defunct Internet marketing blog about why “Facebook Quit Day” was a flop. I was a tiny blog getting very little visitors, and a small blip on the Internet radar. I was also a member of Social Media Today, and had my blog feed imported. My article was featured on the website, word for word, and received tens of thousands of page views…on the Social Media Today site. Sure, there was a link to the “original article” but who’s really going to go to a little known blog to read the exact same article on a bigger site? Even the number of tweets was more than I could imagine but I didn’t prosper, as my Twitter profile was not connected to the auto-tweet. So was Social Media Today not stealing because they linked my original article? It’s tough to say.

It’s understandable that people look for research online and can come up with similar ideas, or even base their posts off another one. I even understand that as unique as you may think your idea is, someone could have the same idea as you without it being content theft. Internet publishing still doesn’t have the same rights and protections as physical works like magazines, newspapers and books. However, if you are using another story or someone else’s ideas in your creative work, always give credit where credit is due. It’s common courtesy at the very least.

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New Year’s Resolutions for your Ghostwriting Project

Today on New Year’s, everyone makes resolutions for self-improvement. This year, more people are making resolutions that involve helping others.

One of the resolutions on your mind this year may be: I will write my novel/memoir/how-to/screenplay/business ebook, even if I’ve never written in my life and don’t particularly enjoy it. And after all the champagne and celebration, you might just add enthusiastically, “And I’ll hire a GHOSTWRITER! That will make it easier!”

By hiring a professional, you have just followed one of the experts’ tips about keeping New Year’s resolutions: Be realistic.

Think of it this way. If you want to get fit and toned/lose weight/stop smoking/get organized, you hire a personal trainer, consult your doctor or call a professional organizer. A ghostwriter is no different. Ghostwriters are the personal trainers of the written word.

After you make that resolution, however, I strongly suggest reading the following articles from The Happy Guy Marketing:

  1. Are You Ready For a Ghostwriter?
  2. Working With your Ghostwriter
  3. How Ghostwriters Can Help You Get Published

The next step is to resolve to gather your thoughts and any materials you’ll need. Here’s a tip: If you think you don’t need to tell about the murder suspect in a mystery or what the hospital smelled like when your identical long-lost twin, who you’ve just reunited with, was born, write that detail down.

Some experts recommend making a list of a series of small steps to achieve your goal. Your list might look like this:

  1. Read about ghostwriters
  2. Investigate ghostwriting agency
  3. Begin gathering thoughts and any documents (for fiction as well as nonfiction)
  4. Contact ghostwriting agency
  5. Discuss project with ghostwriter by phone or e-mail
  6. Organize ideas with clustering techniques
  7. Ask your ghostwriter about publishers, agents, producers

While it may sound like a lot of work, the steps you’ll put in (according to my experience) will bring you closer to your goal within weeks or the first two months of 2009 than you would be if you hadn’t made a list of steps and if you hadn’t resolved to hire a personal trainer for your manuscript.

Whether your project is a mystery plot you’ve been dying to write or something that will benefit mankind (or at least help someone through a difficult time), the goal is important to you. So make your New Year’s resolution specific, actionable. Investigate ghostwriting services or put your thoughts down on paper. Then you can look back on next New Year’s Eve and say, “I did it.”

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