MBM: Premise vs Plot – Which Do You Have? by Janice Hardy


Welcome to the last day of


If you’re new to March Book Madness, it’s an excuse for me to discuss everything about writing, editing, and reading books with some amazing authors and readers. If you’ve missed any days, make sure to catch up. It’s been awesome.

Continue reading “MBM: Premise vs Plot – Which Do You Have? by Janice Hardy”

MBM: The Power of Storytelling, by Christopher Rosche

Welcome to the eighth day of MARCH BOOK MADNESS!

Today, Christopher Rosche is talking about the amazing power of storytelling.

Chris has lived the kind of life us writers write about: journalism, terrorism consultant, congressional staffer. He’s had some amazing experiences, so I feel very lucky to not only know him, but to glean some knowledge from him in our new writing group.

And today.

He and his wife are the nicest people you can imagine — his kids, too. I’m so excited he’s writing a novel. It’s going to be amazing.

I’ll let him take over and educate you on the human brain. Very cool.


The Power of Storytelling, by Christopher Rosche

The First Attempt

Back in 2003, an opportunity opened up in my life that allowed me to finally launch the book-writing career I had dreamed about since I was nine years old.

One Monday morning I drove to our local library with my laptop and a stack of new Levenger notepads. I found a somewhat isolated corner desk with a sunny picture window facing a neighboring park, turned on the computer, and typed “Draft I.”

Five hours later I returned home for dinner, opening the front door to see my wonderful wife with her beautiful smile. “How did it go?”

“Well,” I sighed, pausing for a moment as I stared down at the hallway’s hardwood flooring. “The writing thing isn’t working,” I declared. “I’ll start looking for a new job first thing tomorrow.”

Thoroughly disappointed with myself, I had spent endless hours in the library staring at my laptop screen. The total output:  two sentences. This really hit me—I had no idea how to write a novel, let alone where to begin.

My wife and I still crack up when we recall that day. Incredibly naïve about the intricacies of writing a novel, I assumed my entire book outline would be done in an afternoon.

Since that day, my goal to publish fiction always lingered in the background. At the time, I was a consultant to the Defense Department and various intelligence agencies during the decade after 9/11. Every day at work gave me another two or three plot ideas that I filed away and sat on for years.


Escape From the City

Recently, our family took a major step to escape the Beltway and move back to the Midwest so that I could make a serious stab at a fiction-writing career while continuing to consult part-time.

Armed with a new IMac, Scrivener writing software, numerous plot ideas, character sketches, and about 10 books on how to write books, I launched into my first real novel.

Along the way, I’ve stumbled over a plethora of challenges, fears, road blocks, and self-doubt. I’ve seriously thought about quitting this crazy train ride at least once. Well, I need to be honest here, a more accurate number is around five.

The truth is, I can’t quit. And if you’re a writer with a story to tell, struggling away late into the early morning hours on a regular basis, you can’t either.

I’ll never be a Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, or H.G. Wells—all personal favorites of mine. But writers like you and I have something important to say. We clack away on our keyboards in dark winter rooms late at night, gathering courage to type out a story that might bring a smile, a tear, or, perhaps, trigger empathy in a reader.

Stories, you see, are very powerful. What we are trying to accomplish has implications far beyond our home office.


How Stories Motivate

A significant aspect of my consulting over the years focused on the questions of what motivates people to action. Whether they are employees in a company or federal agency, members of a private organization, or even terrorists planning attacks, people are mentally impacted the most when they read or hear a great story.

Not just any story, but a particular kind.

Many of us, when we attempt to influence people or change their way of thinking, arm themselves with facts, figures, charts, and scientific studies. Logic, Mr. Spock (I know that dates me a bit) and the latest technological advancements, always win in the end. Right?

I’ve seen this effect up close and personal dozens of times, especially in my early years as a consultant. Companies hired us to find creative solutions to challenging problems. After months of study, we would build massive PowerPoint presentations filled with bullets, facts, and numbers to present a way out. But for more times than I care to remember, the cold hard facts did not always motivate our clients to change.

Beginning around 2004, we found a much more effective approach. We still conducted interviews, research, and formulated solutions that made sense. The method of analysis remained largely the same.

What did change was the way we presented the solutions. When we told our clients a well-designed story that illustrated the correct set of solutions,  there was an incredibly marked difference in the reception. As we developed this narrative or story-based approach, we saw employees, corporate executives, and military leaders far more receptive and motivated to take on tough changes to their old behaviors.

Other consultants also were catching on to this style of storytelling to solve problems, including Nancy Duarte, a highly regarded communications expert that has advised Apple, Cisco, Facebook, GE, Google, HP, TED, Twitter, and the World Bank. Her firm, Duarte, Inc. is one of the largest consulting firms in Silicon Valley, as well as the 5th largest woman-owned employer. Her TedX  East Talk from 2011 on the secret structure of great talks has received more than 650,000 views.


Ironically, these same storytelling techniques designed to motivate our clients also hold interesting implications for understanding the deep power that telling a story holds for readers and societies at large. A body of scientific evidence developed over the past 15 years reveals that making deep shifts in our thinking requires the same techniques that authors, screenwriters, and movie directors use in their forms of storytelling.


The Impact of Fiction 

WfS_LisaCron_2012Last year, Lisa Cron, a story consultant, literary agent, and writing instructor at the University of California-Los Angeles, published a book, Wired for Story, where she noted:

Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of   seducing us into paying attention to it. In other words, we’re wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world. [1]

Some very recent studies confirm this.

MRI images reveal that our brains act very differently when you show a fact-filled slide presentation than when you tell or read a story. Flash a boring slide of facts to an audience and only one area of the brain—the part that processes words—is affected. When narratives utilize literary tools like metaphors, allegory, and parables, the test subject’s brains light up.

The effect is quite profound. Utilizing certain literary techniques that have been around for thousands of years, telling or reading a story has an enduring impact on our brain and influences the way we act.


Last year, Annie Murphy Paul wrote in The New York Times:

Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

Even more profound, and critically important to fiction writers, is the notion that the most powerful, long-lasting effects of storytelling follows a particular pattern.


The Patterns of Story

In the early stages of outlining my first novel, I ran into a road block. Ever the strategic thinker, I prefer to create a rough outline of my book to give me a general roadmap on where I am going. As I started drafting early chapters, I realized that something was seriously wrong with the plot but couldn’t put my finger on it.

 A friend recommended a book, The Hero has a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Campbell spent decades gathering and categorizing ancient fables from civilizations throughout history and discovered a similar pattern and structure.  Campbell argues this basic story structure is a component of human nature, a set of principles that guides our lives.

When I read through the basics of Campbell’s paradigm of a particular myth he called the Hero’s Journey, I quickly noticed what was missing from my novel. In addition, I was surprised to see most of the essential elements of the hero’s journey embedded in my book although in a different manner. (To learn more details about the Campbell’s hero’s journey see here.)

I’m convinced there is more to this pattern. Why, for instance, have the parables and stories of the Bible or the Koran, both utilizing the various literary tools mentioned in this article, had such a powerful impact a millennia after they were written?

Willa Cather once wrote:

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

In that same manner, all the great stories—the myths, legends, and epics that have survived through the ages and continue to be repeated today—do have a form.

Applying aspects of the hero’s journey helped me uncover a significant weakness in the overall structure of my novel. But the hero’s journey taught me something even more important..


The Power to Change the Future

Telling and writing stories is powerful. The myths, legends, and scriptures handed down to us over the ages contain essential elements of truth about who we are and where we came from. It helps us identify who we are and where we are going.

Stories help us see that the problems we face today are similar to the ones our ancestors faced. They also provide solutions. Maybe not the exact answer we are looking for, but the key principles that can guide us to the next step.

Writers like us have something important to say. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be staring bleary-eyed at the monitor at 2:30 am trying to figure out how our hero will face her challenge and save the human race from the great catastrophe about to take place.

So you see, you can’t give up. No matter how hard it might be. Perhaps what you have to say today will change the direction of our future, or our children’s future. Some day the epic novel you are writing may be the source of legend tomorrow.

  • [1] Cron, Lisa (2012-07-10). Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence (Kindle Locations 86-87). Ten Speed Press. Kindle Edition.        



Christopher Rosche spent 25 years in the fast-paced environment of Washington, DC building a career that led from journalism to a congressional post and then to corporate and government consulting. Christopher and his family decided to escape from the nation’s capital last year, returning to his family roots in the Midwest.  While Chris is a creative planning counselor who helps clients develop strategic public affairs and communications programs, he is also pursuing a life-long dream of writing his first novel. Since he was nine, he has wanted to write mysteries, and now is deep in the details of his first espionage thriller.  Chris is married to his amazing wife, Christy, has two children, and a vivacious Shetland sheepdog—the ever spirited Kai. 

Find Chris: LinkedIn, Twitter



That was so fascinating, Chris. As I think back to the many lectures and lessons I’ve sat through, I definitely like the ones that include stories the best. I just never realized why.

Wow. I’m feeling empowered as an author.

*picture me sitting at my laptop in deep thought*

For a long time, I’ve believed that all of us have a story to share that only we can share. I’m not talking plot, because there are a thousand ways to write a vampire story. Don’t believe me? Go to your nearest bookstore.

I’m talking more about the stuff that happens below the surface. The emotions. The inward struggles. The life lessons. You know, the good stuff.

We all come from different sets of circumstances that allow us to tell the hero’s journey in a very unique way. Like Chris writing an espionage thriller. He can do it in a way I never could. If we can just recognize it and get out of our own way, who knows; we might just change our world — or at least, one reader who will then change the world. I can think of several books that have affected the way I view things and people around me.

Hmmmm…more thinking…

Yep. I’m motivated.

Cereal for dinner, kids. :)

What are your thoughts? How do you see the power of storytelling around you? Has a good story ever changed the way you’ve viewed the world? Join the discussion below.



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If you’re new to March Book Madness, it’s an excuse for me to discuss everything about writing, editing, and reading books with some amazing authors and readers. Fun, fun, fun!

Here’s the schedule:

The collective talent listed above . . . Wow! If you’ve missed any days, make sure to catch up. It’s been awesome.

Check out last year’s MARCH BOOK MADNESS here.

Continue reading “MBM: The Power of Storytelling, by Christopher Rosche”

LDSM Midwest Conference Notes: The Hero’s Journey

I’ve been typing up my notes from the LDStorymakers Midwest Conference two weeks ago. Finally. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned. I’ll start with a class I took from Don Carey on The Hero’s Journey

Sadly, I’d never heard of The Hero’s Journey before. If you haven’t either, here’s what I understand it to be:

A guy named Joseph Campbell gathered the best stories from around the world and throughout history. He found a pattern in the stories, both in outline and characters. He summarized those patterns for us.  (Read more about it here. Also, Christopher Vogler has done a lot more work on this concept. You can see his in depth website here.)

Breakdown of characters in most major stories:

  1. Hero: main character
  2. Shadows: bad guys—or could be an enemy within
  3. Mentor: great coach, teacher, or guiding principles
  4. Allies: help hero reach goal, sidekicks, buddies, girlfriends
  5. Herald: brings news of change—could be a person or event
  6. Threshold Guardians: blocks hero from reaching goal—forces or people
  7. Shape Shifter: people or things that start good and end bad, or vice versa
  8. Trickster: clowns, mischief makers


The hero embarks  on a journey that has several stages:

  • The Ordinary World: Sympathetic overview of the hero, giving background, and showing a need for a change.
  • The Call to Adventure: Something changes the situation. The hero must face the possibility of change.
  • Refusal of the Call: Hero turns away from this change (or someone close to the hero expresses fear of change).
  • Meeting with the Mentor: Hero meets someone or something that gives him training, advice, or equipment to make the journey.
  • Crossing the Threshold: Hero commits to leave the ordinary world for something extraordinary.



  • Tests, Allies, Enemies: Hero is tested and meets with experiences to teach him where his loyalty should rest (this is a significant bulk of the story)
  • Approaching the Inmost Cave: Hero and friends prepare for significant challenge
  • Ordeal (about ½ way point): Hero confronts death or faces greatest fear. Out of this challenge, comes a new life.
  • Seizing the Sword, or the Reward: Hero takes possession (control) of treasure won in ordeal. Celebration, but danger of losing treasure again.



  • Road Back (about ¾ point): Hero leaves special world to bring treasure home, often involves chase
  • Resurrection (climax of story): Hero severely tested near home. Give one last fight, battle, and hero resolves conflict
  • Return with Elixir: Hero returns home with treasure. Ordinary world is transformed.


That sums it up.

Don Carey did a great job of showing how this works in two well-known stories, Star Wars and The Sound of Music. I won’t do it here, but I would suggest you try it when you’re done reading this post. It’s a great exercise as a writer to chart the characterization and outlining of these two completely different stories to see how perfectly they fit into these explanations. By the end of his class, I felt like I could do it for any favorite book or movie.

Since the conference, I’ve done a “Hero’s Journey” for the book I’m working on, just to see how it pans out. My book, Augustina, is in the final stages of writing, yet pinpointing the signposts of my story really helped me see where the story was weak and needing more plot. And stronger characters.

It helped a ton.

The other outlining method I really like is beat sheets, specifically Blake Snyder’s, Save the Cat.

The idea is similar to The Hero’s Journey in that all stories and all hero’s follow a similar path.Without going into too much detail, this method is used for screenplays, but it translates well into fiction. In fact, there are beat sheet calculators online that I used to help me pace Augustina. Instead of minutes in a movie, I used pages. A 300 page novel would look something like this.

  • Opening Image :1
  • Theme Stated :14
  • The Set Up:1 to 27
  • The Catalyst:33
  • Debate:33 to 68

Break into ACT II

  • B Story:82
  • Fun and Games:55 to 150
  • Midpoint:150
  • The Bad Guys Close In:150 to 205
  • All is Lost :205
  • Dark Night of the Soul:205 to 232

Break Into ACT III

  • The Finale:232 to 300
  • Final Image:300


I like this method because I can see how long (approximately) each section of my hero’s adventure should be. I hope it helps you, too. Read more about it here. Or calculate your beats here.

When I started out writing fiction, I never really intended to write fiction. I just sat down and wrote. A pantser’s approach.


Flying by the seat of your pants


Since then, I’ve decided I need to do a little outlining. I’m not necessarily organized when I outline. As I mentioned, I came home from the conference and outlined my mostly-written book. But even if your book is not started, semi-written, or in the perfecting stages, I would suggest taking a look at the items listed above to see how your story fits in.

Readers have certain expectations when they pick up a book–many subconscious. As authors, we should fulfill most–if not all–of them. 

These two systems help ensure we’re doing that.

How about you? Do you outline? Have you used The Hero’s Journey (or beat sheets) to help? Or do you use something else to pace?

Comment here.

MBM: Plotting vs. Plodding with Tobi Summers

Today, I have my second guest, Tobi Summers, here for MARCH BOOK MADNESS. I’m excited for Tobi’s post since it’s all about plotting (outlining before writing) versus plodding (just starting and plowing through until you hopefully find an end). Both have their advantages, so I’ll just let Tobi jump right in on the subject. 

Tobi: I have a love-hate relationship with the plot of a story.  Before 2011, I’d finished three novellas (at the time I called them novels).  The first was written in middle school and probably should be discarded for the purposes of this conversation, but the other two shared one thing in common—they had no plots. 

Oh, it kind of looked like they did for awhile.  Merry-Go-Roundwas about a married couple remembering their past after receiving an invitation to their childhood friend’s wedding.  Peter James was about five kids and their babysitter who discover a magical, Neverland-esque world in their basement.


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