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A revised manuscript finally wings its way out the door. I’m posting this so you can see 1) this funny cartoon and b) the time stamp on the e-mail.

From: Susan Wiggs Sent: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 4:55 AM
To: my long-suffering editor
Cc: my cheerleader of an agent
Subject: Daisy v. 2
Importance: High

Count that among the questions a writer least wants to hear. Even my computer hates this book.

Error Message

What would you risk in order to get the one thing you truly desire? Seriously, what would you risk? (I’ll post my personal answer to this at the end of this series.) Today, let’s talk about it in terms of your character.

life shrinks or expands according to one's courage

life shrinks or expands according to one's courage

According to story expert Michael Hauge, the inner conflict is the struggle between identity and essence. (See yesterday’s post.) The character arc is the character’s departure from her identity and her journey to live in her essence.

Clinging to her identity–who she thinks she is, the way she wants the word to see her–keeps her emotionally safe. She believes her identity is who she is. Scarlett O’Hara is a great example of this. She believes she’s a Southern belle, destined to have a society marriage and a conventional life. You don’t need to read too far into the book to realize she’s deceiving herself.

Pencils out! Complete this KEY STATEMENT for your character. Imagine her speaking the words–how would she fill in the blank?:

“I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal.
Just don’t ask me to __________________,
because that’s just not me.”
As the writer in charge of her destiny, you need to reply, “You can achieve your goal, but in order to do it, you’re going to have to kill your identity and live in your essence.” Each scene you write should address this transformation, even in a small way.
(Example–in Lakeshore Christmas, Maureen, the town librarian, is surrounded by books, so when I show her at work, I can have fun with the books she handles. While shelving a book, she comes across this statement from Anais Nin:

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

…which is pretty on-the-nose, but librarians notice things like that.)

Your character has a choice–she can be safe and unfulfilled or she can be fulfilled, her true unvarnished self, but scared and vulnerable.

The inner journey is structured the same as the outer journey (see earlier post):

  • In Stage1, the character is living fully in her identity, hiding her essence.
  • In Stage 2, she is still fully in her identity but she gets a glimpse of what living in her essence might be like. (In Lakeshore Christmas, Maureen sees Eddie, the love interest, flirting with women, and imagines what it might be like to be in love.)
  • In Stage 3, turning point #2, the hero moves into her essence but it gets so scary that she retreats into her identity. This can happen repeatedly, until she reaches the Point of No Return. She retreats in an attempt to go back to her identity, but discovers she cannot retreat.
  • In Stage 4, she finally leaves her identity behind and is fully in her essence. The outside world starts closing in. This tests her commitment to her essence. Here, some characters might go back even if it means she’ll die trying.
  • In Stage 5, she defends her right to be in her essence, probably facing resistance from friends, family and enemies alike. The arc is completed right before the climax. The hero has earned the right to attain her goal.
  • In Stage 6, she gets her resolution–maybe she’s rewarded for embracing her essence. Maybe it’s a failed journey and she dies, leaving the reader with a larger appreciation. Or maybe she abandons what she thought she wanted. Just make sure the aftermath is true to the story you’ve told.

The aftermath (Stage 6) is a glimpse of what it’s like, living in her essence. Stories rarely fall apart due to a flawed aftermath, but you still want the reader to say, ahhhh….

Sometimes the hero doesn’t achieve the goal. He might find the courage to attain it, but is fulfilled on a different level. In Stand by Me, the hero finds the body, which he set out to do so his parents will notice him, but he chooses to report it anonymously rather than grabbing all the glory. This is one reason both the movie and novella (“The Body” by Stephen King) are so terrific–that arc of learning what’s really important, the character becoming the person he’s meant to be, is powerful.

  • In a sad story (like Titanic), the goal is achieved (Rose gets her life of passion and freedom) but at a huge cost (Jack).
  • In a happily-ever-after, the goal is achieved and all the hard work of growth pays off. (Pretty Woman, Beauty and the Beast, etc.)
  • In a tragedy, the hero lacks the courage to stay in his essence. (Brokeback Mountain)
  • In a love story, there is a shared goal–the characters want to win each other’s love.
  • In a buddy story, characters might be on 2 journeys but they share a common goal.
  • In a group or ensemble story, characters are on different journeys but they are together for a common purpose (funeral, reunion, knitting class, book club…)

What kind of story are you writing? How does the plot mesh with the struggle between the character’s identity and essence?

Tomorrow, there will be a brief rundown of other characters and story elements.

I’ve decided to post my notes from the Michael Hauge workshop. They are rough, undigested notes on the day, but I thought they might be of interest to the writers out there. Michael is one of the best lecturers I’ve ever heard. If you ever get a chance to see him in action, run don’t walk! My notes include asides about Lakeshore Christmas, my work-in-progress. Doing this always makes the story sound so pedestrian! But it’s a good exercise. It’s lengthy so I’ll post it in parts over the next few days. Here goes:

first draft - not a pretty sight

first draft - not a pretty sight

The hero is the story’s protagonist. It’s a generic term so the gender pronoun doesn’t matter. Briefly, the hero is the one whose goal drives the story. His goal is the finish line the reader wants to see the hero reach.

The ultimate goal of a story (fiction, narrative nonfiction or memoir, film, drama) is to elicit emotion. This is achieved by creating a character who has a powerful desire, facing a conflict that keeps her from fulfilling that desire.

A story’s first audience–agent, editor, first reader, etc.–wants to know how this story is going to sell. Who are we rooting for? The most consistent problem with stories is that they are overcomplicated. The solution? Make it simpler. How? By understanding plot structure.

A story exists on two levels, the outer (visible) journey and the inner (emotional) journey or arc of growth (or deterioration/failure).

In the outer journey, the desire is visible. It’s a journey of achievement or accomplishment. What tangible thing does the hero want? It should be something the reader can see. (In Lakeshore Christmas, Maureen wants to save the library.) There is a visible finish line, and the hero’s outer motivation is also visible.

The conflict must also be visible. (Again in LC, the library lacks the funds to stay open and the facility is going to be sold to a developer.)

There are 4 general types of goal/conflict setups in most commercial stories (including novels, narrative nonfiction and films).

1. To win – a sports contest (Rocky), the love of another character (most romances)

2. To stop something from happening –most thrillers seek to keep a disaster at bay

3. To escape–character must get out of a bad situation (The Count of Monte Cristo, anything with “escape” in the title)

4. To retreat–quest stories in which the character must go and get something and return with it.


Michael calls these the 4 basic Hollywood goals.

This is the outer plot. There is also a second level underneath the visible plot–the inner journey. A journey of fulfillment and/or transformation.

The love story is a great tool for developing a character arc.

Who is your character and what does he desire? What sort of plot will your story follow?

(In Lakeshore Christmas, Maureen Davenport is the town librarian who wants to keep the library solvent. She’s also in charge of the annual Christmas pageant, and she has to work with bad-boy Eddie Haven, who has been court-ordered to help her as community service.)

Michael created a chart showing a 6-stage plot structure in 3 acts. There are 5 key turning points in a story. Tomorrow, I’ll post his general structure for the OUTER journey.

Real quick–I’m posting a free online writing workshop entitled “Plotting From the Inside Out.” In other words, how to write your way into the heart of your story. Come join in the fun!

Where was I? Yes–How The You I Never Knew made it from my head to the printed page. It’s convoluted; bear with me.

So I had this big finished manuscript, around 120,000 words, a story from the heart that I really liked. But it was neither fish nor fowl. It wasn’t a historical romance, where I was finally finding some success. And it wasn’t one of the currently popular romantic suspense novels. It was…just a novel. But a good one, I thought.

My agent at the time (1996; we parted ways shortly afterward and I signed with the perfect-for-me agent) was in charge of pitching the book. There was a serious lack of communication about this process and according to this agent, no offer was forthcoming from my current publisher, so the plan was to take the book elsewhere. After several more mismatches (remember, I don’t believe in rejection, only in mismatches), it wound up in the hands of a really terrific editor who was then at Warner. (Now Grand Central Publishing.) Claire Zion is thoughtful, creative, meticulous and hands-on, which worked very well for me, particularly with this new direction. There were several things she did so wonderfully for this book. First, she acquired it for the publisher. Then she meticulously edited it–and then edited my rewrites. I switched part of the book from a first-person, present-tense narrative to third-past. She sent it to copy editing twice. I know many writers who would rather set their hair on fire than go through the wringer on a book like that, but I like a lot of input, particularly when I’m trying something new.

Finally, after quite some time, we got the book whipped into shape. The rest is a snap, right? The heavy lifting is over. This is when the writer gets to kick back, relax and enjoy the ride to the bookstores, right?

Sometimes, that’s exactly right. In my case, it was dead wrong. Disaster struck–stay tuned. I’ll post about the disaster and rising from the ashes tomorrow.

Jay took this shot in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. I don't think he's writing but I like the shot.In his watershed writing memoir, On Writing, Stephen King discussed his process. Early on, when I’m getting the draft down, I write with the door shut.

I’m active in two very dynamic writersgroups and I regularly bring material for critiquing. But not the first time around. The door-shut time around. A novel is complicated and confusing enough with one writer trying to juggle everything. I can only have my head filled with so many voices at a time, and the first draft belongs to the fictional voices–my characters. This is where they take on a life of their own, but the magic only works if I shut the door and listen.

How do you write? Door open? Door shut?


Field’s End Writers’ Conference 2008Photo by s.j. luke, onsetimagery

WHO: This year’s line-up of authors and speakers includes: Roy Blount, Jr. (keynote speaker), Stephanie Kallos (opening speaker), Knute Berger, Alice Acheson, Lyall Bush, Laura Kalpakian, Thomas Kohnstamm, Rosina Lippi aka Sara Donati, Jennifer Louden, Nancy Pagh, George Shannon, Charley Pavlosky, Sheila Rabe aka Sheila Roberts, Suzanne Selfors, David Wagoner, and Timothy Egan (closing speaker). Professional actor Ron Milton will be on hand for the Page One sessions.

WHAT: Third annual Field’s End Writers’ Conference, “Writing in the Garden of the Gods.”

WHEN: Saturday, April 26, 2008
9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

WHERE: Kiana Lodge
14976 Sandy Hook Rd. NE
Poulsbo, WA 98370

DETAILS: This one-day conference, held at the spectacularly beautiful Kiana Lodge near Bainbridge Island, is a combination of lectures and breakout sessions presented by an eclectic group of people in the literary world.

The day offers three groupings of breakout sessions. Guests will select three workshops to attend according to their interest (literary fiction, poetry, nonfiction, screen writing, dialogue, genre, travel writing, editing, journalism, historical fiction, and commercial fiction). Each breakout session will also offer a Page One workshop, where conference guests can anonymously submit the first page of something they’ve written for possible live reading and critique by the guest authors.

Lunch is provided and there will be an early evening wine and cheese reception and book signing providing conference guests, authors, and speakers a chance to mingle. Shuttle buses will be available to carry walk-on ferry passengers to and from Kiana Lodge.

Registration begins February 1, 2008. Early registration is recommended as the conference is limited to 250 guests and has sold out in the past. Cost to attend is $135 if you register before February 28, 2008 and $150 after March 1, 2008. Groups of 5 or more can register for $130/person. To register for the 2008 Field’s End Writers’ Conference, visit

Founded in 2002, Field’s End is a writers’ community whose mission is to inspire writers and nurture the written word through lectures, workshops, and instruction in the art and craft of writing. Located across the Puget Sound from Seattle on beautiful Bainbridge Island, Field’s End is an affiliate of the nonprofit Bainbridge Public Library, which is located at 1270 Madison Avenue on Bainbridge Island. For more information, call (206) 842-4162 or visit


Kirsten Graham
Concept 2 Launch
(206) 890-3435

kirsten graham
c o n c e p t 2 l a u n c h, LLC
creative consultants

In further news about my apparel, 5000 sailors saw me in my jammies when an aircraft carrier went by my house.


It’s pretty common to see a carrier in this part of the world, but I also live in a spot where the carrier can see


Which is a tad disconcerting when you are standing in your yard, blinking at the dawn, having been awakened by an insistent puppy with a very small bladder.

A passing aircraft carrier is surprisingly quiet, even surrounded by tugs and Coast Guard vessels. It glides by, barely leaving a wake, and on a very still morning at about, say 5:30a.m., sound easily carries across the water.

But I still think Navy guys are hot.


I put two recipes on my web site this summer, along with the promo for my August book, Dockside:

Lemonade cake

The small Catskills town of Avalon, New York, on the shores of Willow Lake, is what I think of as a “Velveteen Rabbit” of a place. It has become real because we love it there. Thanks to everyone who has visited my fictional town in the Lakeshore Chronicles. Dockside is a story for everyone who’s ever dreamed of making a life at an idyllic lakeside inn. Researching this book, I met so many innkeepers who shared not only their passion for hospitality, but some pretty amazing innkeeping secrets as well.

Each section of the book is introduced by a snippet about the Inn at Willow Lake, followed by a hospitality hint from a working innkeeper. They’re little grace notes, the sort that make a guest’s stay just a little sweeter. But the real sweetness comes from the unexpected romance of single dad Greg Bellamy, and the town’s former mayor, Nina Romano. In fact, expecting the unexpected is a major theme in this book.


  • Thanks to all for asking about Just Breathe, originally scheduled to be published in 2006. It is now tentatively slated for September 2008, and I promise, it is worth the wait!
  • By popular request, I’ve added a link to the recipes from my books. Finally! Click here:
  • As always, you’re invited to join in at the message board. If you have a question, ask it there, and I promise to respond right away. Since it’s a public forum, pride compels me to be prompt so I don’t look like a slacker.
  • Also, please check out “The View From Here” (Themed photo shows, including   Barkis the Wonder Puppy, at
  • My local bookstore, Eagle Harbor Book Company, will send autographed copies of my books anywhere you want, personalized however you like. Check it out here: Eagle Harbor Book Company.
  • You can get a Printable List of my books, which includes related books and series by clicking this link: Printable List.
  • You can also subscribe to my occasional newsletter by sending a blank e-mail to
  • Check out the most mysterious site on the Web at
  • And below, the promised recipes. Enjoy!

Happy Reading,

Susan Wiggs

*Note: I couldn’t make up my mind which recipe to post here, so I’m giving you two. Please, try them both. They’re unbelievably delicious:


  • 6 oz. can frozen lemonade concentrate
  • 1 pkg. lemon cake mix, without pudding
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • Small package lemon-flavored instant pudding
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 c. cooking oil

Mix lemonade concentrate with sugar and stir well. Mix the remaining ingredients and beat with electric mixer for 3 minutes. Bake in greased and floured 9×13 pan for about 35 minutes or until done when tested. While cake is still hot poke holes all over cake with large fork and pour lemonade glaze (1T lemon juice + 1 cup powdered sugar) over top. Leave in pan until cool. Dust with powdered sugar. If you’re feeling artistic, lay a stencil on the cake and then dust with the sugar to make a pattern.


  • 1 prepared angel food cake
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream
  • 1 6-ounce can frozen lemonade (keep this semi-frozen–slushy)
  • 1 small carton Cool Whip, flavored with ½ tsp. lemon extract
  • grated lemon peel, for garnish

Slice cake cross-ways into three even layers. Soften ice cream just enough to thoroughly fold in the lemonade. Spread the bottom layer of the cake with ice cream. Add the second layer, spread with the remaining ice cream. Add third layer and spread entire cake with the Cool Whip. Freeze cake in the freezer. Take cake out of the freezer about half an hour before serving time. Garnish with grated lemon peel.

“Wiggs’s uncomplicated stories are rich with life lessons, nod-along moments and characters with whom readers can easily relate. Delightful and wise, Wiggs’s latest shines.”

Publishers Weekly review of Dockside

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