Pro Writer: Start Writing 4

Strong protagonists, twisty antagonists, and clever surprises (the focus for Start Writing 4) drive great story-telling. These three give all writers angst. When writers do their writing right, they also give their readers angst.

Here’s the next two bits of advice that I gave my former student who wants to write his first novel.

9] Work in two betrayals. Have one early (before the 20% mark) and the other before the ¾-mark of the story (around 60-75%).

a] People hate betrayal. They remember it like acid burning their memories and their soul. Some people never quite recover from betrayal. Others keep waiting on the traitors to redeem themselves—that might could happen, mostly doesn’t.

b] The betraying character is often called a Shapeshifter. We have two forms:

      • The character who seems to be working for the antagonist but is not. Either this character was trapped into the appearance of alliance with evil or this character is working on redemption.
      • The other Shapeshifter is a true traitor, the double agent, the one who appears to support the protagonist but has been working for the antagonist the whole time.

c] Save the exposure of the true traitor for the latter part of your novel. As part of Start Writing 4, I’ll advise you to know who this character will be from the very beginning.

10] When you’re trying to think of how to surprise the reader and your protagonist, you need to reject what most people would think of. Think harder.

a] Always think outside the box of what normal people would do. That’s the major advice for this part of Start Writing 4.

b] People were shocked by Gone Girl and The Sixth Sense. I figured both out from the promotions, but then I’ve taught story structure and character development for decades. It’s hard to surprise me.

c] Tilt your head sideways with your betrayals and antagonists and angst and surprises.

Surprises are usually more like SHOCKS–maybe it’s appropriate that we’re doing these blogs as we head toward our Monstrous Month of October.

Shameless Self Promotion

For more on Betrayals, Shapeshifters, and their Importance, check out Discovering Your Novel, a guidebook to writing your novel in one year–or work faster and refer only to the sections you need.


Pro Writer Wannabe: Start Writing

6 / 7 / 8

from the List of 13 Bits of Advice to Start Writing Your Book

You can’t have a wonderful protagonist unless you have a twisty wicked antagonist. This is the key to the Start Writing 3 blog.

Dystopia that offers the dream of Utopia

When a former student recently asked for advice on how to start writing his first novel, he shared the cranial bone of his idea which gave a strong hint about his central antagonist. I’ll share the bit of bone here, since many stories, including the recent Hunger Games series and the 1970’s Logan’s Run, are built on the same brain bone.


BTW, that’s the reason ideas cannot be copyrighted, only the form that your idea takes through the words you put on the page. When someone steals your words, word after word after word, page by page, scene by scene, then that’s breaking copyright . . . and you can go get them!

So, in the bits of advice for him that I’m sharing with you in Start Writing 3, the conflict characters come after the primary characters.

6] Your antagonist sounds like the institution running the supposedly Utopian society, which means you have a masked dystopia—always fun to write the dawning realization by the protagonist who then must convince the allies of the dystopia and rally them and others to fight!

Side Excursion to Logan’s Run

a. Logan’s Run does this exceptionally well. As flawed as the film of the novel is, the film did an excellent job of shocking the audience with the switch from Utopia to Dystopia.

Typical Patriarchy: Man fully clothed, Woman in skimpy clothing

b. Along with the protagonist, the reader has a double -surprise following that realization followed by a second double-surprise with the protagonist’s allies. Then comes the quadruple-obstacle of escaping the dystopia—problem, problem, problem, problem—and still the writer is not finished with surprises. Escape only starts up a whole new set of shocks.

c. If you want to understand surprising the audience, you need to study Logan’s Run.

      • The film is highly dated and chauvinistic and therefore offensive to modern sensibilities.
      • If you want to see how much society has changed in less than 50 years, the film is the exemplar as a product of its time and the patriarchal mindset, to be much derided now–but fun to watch and point out the changed way of thinking while throwing popcorn at the screen.
      • However, it’s also a well-written story with constant movement that gets the necessary surprises right.

7] Besides this major antagonist, you will need minor antagonists more “local” than the mastermind. Make each antagonist more difficult to defeat as the story progresses.

8] Defeating the institution will seem impossible—defeating each antagonist should give a key to unlock the walls guarding the institution.

Be careful as you consider this blog’s three bits of advice. They may seem simple; they’re not. Many great writers have whole novels fall apart when they haven’t created strong antagonists. And the weaker the antagonist, the weaker your protagonist.

Surprises keep stories moving and readers reading. When you can tie multiple surprises to your antagonists, you have great story telling.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Understanding Protagonists and Antagonists and developing great characters is the focus of my writing craft book, Discovering Your Characters, second in the Discovering set and all part of the Think Like a Pro Writer series.

Discovering Your Novel goes far beyond characters and the initial start to your writing. From World Building and Character Motifs, to the Big Push of the Draft, and on to the Proof-Plus before publication, this will guide you through your first year of writing AND completing your first novel.

Completing the Novel is HUGE, BTW.

Pro Writer: How to Start Writing? Part 2

Start Writing

I’m sharing advice that I recently gave to a former student. He wants to start writing his first novel. He shared the cranial bone of his idea and wanted to know what to do next.

In the last blog, I shared with everyone with the first two bits of advice that I gave to help him start writing, the first two things that everyone wants to know:

How do I put the words on the page?

What will my story look like?

Now I’m back with the next bits of advice, this time on his primary characters.

3] People connect to characters they like. Develop a like-able protagonist (you

People like people like Aragorn

know, a real person with honor and humility, dreams and goals, a bit of crazy wildness, and a whole raft of kindness).

Don’t forget to give that protagonist angst that can be overcome.

4] The protagonist’s allies need to be like-able, too. Especially since we might kill a couple of them off during the course of the book.

Killing characters give our readers angst.

5] If the characters grab the story and you feel like you’re just along for the write, celebrate! That’s inspired writing. The angels have graced those words.

a] Sometimes writing can seem like a real slog. Then you have those moments—minutes, hours—when the story takes hold of you, and the words just fly. When you finish the session, you look back and realize you may need to flesh things out a bit, yet the ideas that appeared from nowhere are great.

b] Always celebrate great writing achievements: completing the draft, finishing the proof-plus on the book, getting a great cover, publishing the dang thing, discovering the next great story idea, having the inspired writing moments—these are all extremely important. In writing, the rewards (which are rarely monetary) come few and far between, and there’s a great reason that cliché developed.

Shameless Self-Promotion

My most recent writing craft book, Discovering Your Characters, looks at all the aspects to keep in mind when constructing primary, secondary, and tertiary characters. From individual archetypes to team roles, from character angst to the couple bond, this book helps all writers learn (and remember) ways to turn the simple image of character into a fully fleshed person with skeleton and flesh and organs, especially the heart.

Pro Writer How-To: Start Writing?

Pro Writer Advice

A former student recently contacted me for some advice. After the shock, I read his text. He wants to start writing a novel. He’s got a great idea and wanted a little guidance about how to start writing.

I spent my teaching years telling my students much more than they ever wanted to know in our daily lessons. I did the same thing with him. Couldn’t help myself. A List of 13, in no particular order.

I thought I would share them with you here in late August and September. Why not? If you wanted my advice about writing and how to start, I would tell you exactly the same as I did for him.

I’ve added a little to my basic text back to him. Well, I’ll be honest. I added a Lot.

First, how to get the words on the page? Second, how to control the story you’re writing? Here we go.

  1. Format the manuscript just like you did for your essays. That means 1-inch margins, double-spaced, no additional space between paragraphs, use automatic wrap, set tabs at .25, center your title and all headings, use page
    Hand Typing Retro Typewriter Machine Work Writer

    numbers. A change to formatting that I would make would be to use STYLES on the HOME ribbon: pick normal for body text, Heading 1 for Book Title, Heading 2 for Chapter Titles. When you finish the manuscript, create a table of contents using the automatic generator then head over to Amazon’s KDP page and read through their templates to make any additional changes.

  2. Use the Archetypal Story Structure. I advised my former student to check out Christopher Vogler’s Writers’ Journey, easily researched on the internet. That’s an excellent resource for any beginning writer.
    1. Most of the new “stuff” about writing that has come out since Vogler’s seminal book just builds on the same source that Vogler did—Joseph Campbell, who built on Carl Jung. You can’t go wrong with Jung.
      • It’s like the Master Teacher stuff, four versions that I endured during three decades of teaching: the same information just re-packaged to look new and shiny with lots of new jargon to make you think you’re getting new until you look closely and see all the similarities with a few minuscule differences. When I think of all those hours in meetings about the re-packaged new-old that was pushed! Let’s just say I could have taken several long vacations every five years or so.

Want Books about Writing and the Writer’s Life?

I could have advised my former student to check out my recent Discovering Your Novel, which has all sorts of helps to get a newbie writer from idea to finished manuscript in the year. Week to week guidance, with charts! A one-stop reference on world building, character development, plot structure, revision, and proofreading. Beginner writers don’t really need anything else . . . .

Unless they need to change their mindset from hobbyist to Pro Writer. In that case, you also need my Think like a Pro, seven lessons that will help you change your mindset and move you from dabbler to—well, thinking like a professional writer.

Discovering Your Novel: Just Released

What kind of writer are you?  Planner or Plotter?  Pantster?  Puzzler?  Muse Muffin?

Whether you use the mosaic method or a chronological one, whether you outline every scene or let the words flow, the method does not matter.  What matters is the end goal.

So, what’s the end goal with your writing?  Just to write?  To publish?  Fame and fortune?

Plenty of frittery flutter-bys write and write and go nowhere.  As for fame and fortune, those can’t be guaranteed.

However, when your goal is publication, Discovering Your Novel is the guidebook to help you overcome the Sisyphean task of first word to publication.

With the goal of completing a novel in 52 weeks, this guidebook can be self-paced or tracked week by week for persistent success.

  • If you have a half-completed manuscript that you’re lost in, use the Foundations and Visioning sections to work your way out of the labyrinth.
  • If the story’s a mucky mire more like quicksand than a novel you can build on, use the Analysis section to clear away the mud and weeds.
  • Like a long ball of string, the multiple charts will help you keep track of where you’ve been and where you will head next. Printable charts are available for free at the website address provided in the guidebook
  • When you complete the manuscript, what do you do next? The sections on Harvesting and Finishing answer these questions as they guide you to creating a professional career as a writer.
Launch your writing journey at your current location on the publishing road—incipient idea or character sketches or story plan or struggling manuscript or completed novel looking into publication.

Track your progress with daily word counts recorded on the charts.

Learn the devices and definitions that pro writers have swirling in their heads.

Maintain the discipline and preparation that keeps pro writers at work, no matter the interruptions.

Writer M.A. Lee meandered along the road of unfinished manuscripts and completed novels with nowhere to publish for many years before she decided to drive to her own destiny.  If you’re tired of gatekeepers and pay-to-play schemes, if you’re weary of elitist traditional publishers and you’re eager to jump on the self-publishing juggernaut, then Discovering Your Novel will give the guidance you need.

Sample pages are available at

No ghostwriters or work-for-hire writers or other collaborators are ever used in the writing of M.A. Lee’s books.