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August 2018: Writing Advice
~ Helen C. Johannes ~

CTR asked:
QUESTION: What is the one piece of writing advice that has stuck with you and why? (Something other than ‘write what you know.’)

Helen C. Johannes said:
Best Writing Advice: Make Sure Your Reader Knows How to Keep Score

Not knowing what’s at stake for the characters in a story/scene is like watching a game in a sport where you have no idea of the rules or even the teams. There’s a lot of noise and movement, but if you don’t know what it means—who’s winning and who’s losing—you’re soon bored and ready to leave.

If you don’t want the reader to put down your book and leave it, you need to establish these: Scene Goals and Story Questions.

Scene Goals: Early in each scene, establish the point-of-view (POV) character’s goal. What does he/she want to accomplish, expect to happen, or intend to avert by his/her actions in this scene? If the reader knows the POV character’s goal, the reader can cheer when the character succeeds, boo mistakes, or cringe at sudden threats. For instance, two characters go to dinner, a rather innocuous situation of small talk—except one character is desperately trying to avoid revealing he/she knows the other is planning to destroy a mutual acquaintance’s reputation at the same time he/she is trying to inveigle details of the plot. Set up the goal at the beginning of the scene and we the readers will sweat every remark, glance, and gesture.

Story Questions: Now that you’ve established the POV character’s scene goals, end each scene with a Yes, No, or What the hell? Yes is a win for the character. No is obviously a loss, failure, or rejection. What the hell? is something unexpected that may leave the character blindsided. In the above example, a win would be escaping unscathed with a tantalizing piece of information. A loss would be as simple as getting nothing to a disastrous unmasking. Something unexpected would be the wronged party swooping in and pulling a gun in the crowded restaurant.

Each Yes, No, and What the hell? scene ending sets up more story questions in the reader’s mind. Now that this has happened, what will the POV character do next? The reader has to turn the page because, no matter how late it is or what appointment beckons, he/she has to know how the story turns out. Once you’ve established how to keep score, you’ve hooked your reader.


Bloodstone by Helen C. Johannes cover


[Fantasy Romance]

What if looking at the face of the man you loved meant death?

Years ago, warrior Durren Drakkonwehr was cursed by a mage. Now feared and reviled as the Shadow Man, he keeps to himself, only going to town to trade rare bloodstones–petrified dragon’s blood–for supplies. Though he hides his face, he can’t hide his heart from the woman who haunts his dreams…

Needing bloodstones for a jewelry commission, Mirianna and her father journey across the dreaded Wehrland where the beast-men roam. When their party is attacked, only the Shadow Man can save them. Strangely drawn to him, Mirianna offers herself in return for her father’s rescue.

Living in the ruined fortress with the Shadow Man, Mirianna slowly realizes that a flesh-and-blood man–not a fiend–hides there in hoods and darkness. But are love and courage enough to lift the curse and restore the man?

Available in Ebook:

Wild Rose Press


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