Plan to Write Every Day 

Deadlines help us reach our goals.  We plan our goal:  brownies, racing, church service.  Then we listen for the ding of the oven that lets us know the brownies are ready.  Or we look for the checked flag at the finish line of the Brickyard 500.  We bow our heads for the benediction at the end of a service, when some people have their hearts already out the door. 

We aim for the deadlines and drive and drive until the end.

public domain image from Shutterstock
Chocolate and Coffee, the best combination

Our reward, beside chocolatey goodness, is the completed project in our hands along with the knowledge that we can send that project into the world.  All that measuring, all that stirring, all that waiting and we have fudgy, gooey brownies to drink with our afternoon coffee.

I have previously shared the work process needed to turn ideas into a completed manuscript, from original prep of character and plot development.

However, that work process can be a long slog through mucky mire, with red clods sticking to our shoes and following us everywhere.

So, the deadline is not enough.  We have to commit to the deadline.

And re-commit to that deadline every single day.

Plan the Work

First, we have to know what needs to be done.  What story stage have we reached?  Still sketching ideas?  Still developing characters?  Got 50 pages of the draft done? Yippee!

No, wait, don’t start revising yet.  Don’t polish it up.  Don’t run through a final edit.

I need to introduce you to Robert Heinlein, famous writer of pulp fiction and science fiction.  

Heinlein wrote a lot.  Really, a LOT.  He had 5 Rules of Writing, the first two of which are very important for us.

Rule # 1:  You must write.

Rule # 2: Finish what you start.

In other words, write every day.

Focus your writing on the SECTION of the work that you need to complete.

And complete that SECTION before you move on to the next focus.

Google Search reveals
screenshot of Heinlein’s cover after a simple search


Yes, yes, we can squeeze in a little work here and there: 15 minutes waiting at the doctor’s office, 30 minutes waiting to pick someone up, a blessed hour of silence when the words pour out.

We have to use that time to achieve our goals.

Work the Plan

Sketching and Planning

First step of any project is the creative preliminary look:  the Sketch.  This is the sparked idea, the one that excites us, the glimmer of the final project that we see shining at the top of the great pyramid.

The final project may not look anything like our glittering wondrous creative spark–or it may.  This is the starting point.  Let the ideas pour out.  Ignore every language rule you ever learned.  Ignore spelling and capitalization and sentence structure.  Basically, ignore anything that anyone has ever said about writing novels.

And when you sit back with a sigh and say, “Yes.  That’s it.  That’s what I want,” then this idea is sparked.

This may take an hour or two.  Or it might be a sentence in a journal that you come back to later and spend a time exploring.

Get the ideas on paper rather than some electronic device.  Be able to hold the idea in your hand.  That tangible connection creates a bond with your mind.

The Plan includes character and plot development.  Research for anything special fits here as well;  you want that special thing swirling around embryonically generating ideas.  You’ll need a large block of uninterrupted time, but the parts of the Sketch can be broken into SECTIONs.

In other words, don’t get fascinated by Protagonist’s Greatest Stress Point (plot) when you haven’t finished considering your protagonist’s personality (character).

Look back at the blog on “Dreaming into Reality”, Feb. 25, if you need reminders, or look in Chapter 1 of Think like a Pro [shameless promo ;)].


The basic bulk of the project in a workable form that presents a view of the finished project:  the Draft is the hardest part, no matter what profession you are in.

The Draft will never look perfect (unless you’re the genius we all hate and churn about 1,000s of perfect words each day).  It has flaws;  let it bask in those flaws.

Remember, we’re writers.  Writers write.  And re-write.

The draft, though, is the very thing that most wannabe writers never complete.  It’s the importance of Heinlein’s Rule # 2.  It’s finished.  And once finished, it can be improved.

Much like the Sketch, when you’re drafting, don’t worry about your English teachers and professors.  Ignore them.  Toss them out the window.  Get that story on paper.

Then print it out.  Hug the draft to you.  It’s your child, birthed by you through much labor.  Give it love.  Because in just a little bit, you’ll have to give it Tough Love.

Revising and Proofing

In these two stages of work, you are turning back on your old English teachers and professors.  Yep, you do have to listen to them.  Occasionally.  For the basic rules of Standard American English or whatever Standard language form you are using, you need to pay attention to the punctuation coding and spelling and capitalization and sentence structure and paragraphs and dialogue tags.

Your readers certainly will spot your errors.

The story may be powerful enough to hold them through the errors in order to reach the end.

But we need them to come back for the next book.

At the end of our writing career, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a screenshot image like Heinlein’s above?

Now that your manuscript has had its love, time to give it some discipline.

Revising requires a return to creativity.  You are adding new scenes, judging the remaining, gutting the useless, and enhancing all that stays.  Tweaking descriptions and sequences takes time and creativity.  You have to check the flow of scenes and sequels.

Slip in little twists of characters.  Tuck in clues and foreshadowing.

And you are playing with the language without creating sacred cows that must be sacrificed.

Add it.  Correct it.  Then read the manuscript as one great gulp to check for more.

Proofing requires another re-read through of the manuscript. Turn off the creative side of your brain.  Turn on the editor.  Be cold.  Be logical.  Hate the words.  Hate the commas and push them around where they go.

All so that your readers will love the story as much as you do.

A Plan Creates Magic

Let’s do Math!

Most manuscript pages should follow standard size.  That’s a letter size page with one-inch margins written in Times New Roman (yes, I know it’s ugly) font size 12.

The average number of words on a single page set up for standard is 250.

250 words x five pages = 1,250.  Can you write 5 pages a day for four days a week?  That’s 5,000 words.

5,000 words over 10 weeks (two months and two weeks) is 50,000 words.

Now, that’s a novel.

It’s not an epic, but it is a novel.

Let’s up it to 5 pages for five days a week?  Give yourself a couple of days off.  One for a day of rest (Even God rested.  Who do you think you are?) and one for emergencies or errands.

250 x 5 pages = 1,250 x 5 days = 6,250 words a week x four weeks (a month) = 25,000 words.

And you’re not even pushing.

6.250 words a week for 50 weeks of the year (take a one-week vacation and have the other days for relationship commitments and generate 312,500 words or 1,250 pages.

Now, that’s an epic.

Robert B. Parker, writer of the famous tough guy & poet Spenser series, wrote five pages every day but Sunday.  In a year that’s 1,565 pages or 391,250 words (at about 250 words per page).

 Admittedly, some–MANY of those pages are revisions of other pages and some of those pages have to be gutted and re-worked, but STILL!

Drips and drips will fill up a bucket.

Word by word, that’s how novels (and blogs) are written.


[I put the bold in ;)]

You commit to the BOLD in your writing life and see what happens.

It’s simple.  It just takes commitment.

For more on the Think like a Pro lessons, head to Amazon.

P.S.:  I don’t know when I first ran across the saying “Plan the Work, Work the Plan.”  I know that it was in a publication by Dale Carnegie.  My mother gave me the book years and years ago.  I wish that I had kept that book.  I wish that I had done more than just read the words.  Do more than just read;  commit!


Dreaming into Reality

Knowing Where to Start =

Knowing How to Start

Before we launch into Planning and then Writing, let’s briefly discuss the 3 Sevens for Dreaming a Novel into Reality: 7 Characters to Know, 7 Plot Elements, and 7 Work Habits.

  • These are what to know before you get started, so you start with what you know.

Dreaming up 7 Characters to Spark Ideas

Free templates abound on Pinterest and the internet to help you develop your primary characters.  Use them for all of your primary characters and most of your secondaries.  Not your tertiary / walk-on characters.  Just make a brief list for them.

Here at the start, don’t spend too much time working out these characters in detail.  Get the basics then fly through the basic templates as well as these descriptors.

The Two Main Characters
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The best Dracula portrayals created sympathy for this classic villain.

Protagonist:  your major character, male or female.  Describe them physically, intellectually, emotionally.  What do they want?  What’s in their way?  Where do you want them to wind up?

Antagonist: Repeat the information for the protagonist.  Your antagonist is as important—and many say MORE important—than your protagonist.

Two More Essential Characters

Confidante:  Who will keep your protagonist going when s/he is mired in the mud?  The confidante is the best friend, the one who knows the protagonist’s secrets (not the heart secrets, but all of the others).   Describe them.  How did they become a confidante?  Will they remain a confidante?  If no, why not?  Will your antagonist have a confidante?  Know their wants and conflicts and end result.

Seeming Ally:  The SAlly character is more important than the confidante.  This is the archetypal shapeshifter:  the character who begins trusted but then is not.  The alternative form of the shapeshifter is to begin as UN-trusted and then become so.  A SAlly, however, is purely devious and manipulative.  You may want to research the cunning and manipulative sociopath if you are seeking a villainous character in addition to your antagonist.  The sociopath would undermine your protagonist until the protagonist understands just what the SAlly is.

4 Last Required Characters

Blocking Figures:  Often well-intentioned family and friends who see the protagonist on a different path than the one s/he has chosen.  These characters can supply guilt as the protagonist is pulled between the old, easy path and the newer, challenging path that leads to her/his desire.

Foils: characters who mirror the protagonist and proceed along the same path only to fail, often tragically.  They foreshadow what may happen to the protagonist if s/he does not make the dynamic changes necessary.  The dynamic changes are tied to three major discoveries:  the desired goal rather than end result, the betrayal of the SAlly, and the true heart of the antagonist.  Learning these three clarifies the nobler path of the protagonist.  Otherwise, s/he is merely a foil.

Walk-Ons:  True stereotypes, these characters merely come on stage to provide information or provide an obstacle.

Cameos:  characters from previous books in a series.  Similar to Walk-Ons, they should not take an active role and interfere with the protagonist as the main character.  However, a Cameo can be a blocking figure, a foil, a confidante, or even a SAlly (as long as the Cameo remains true to the personality you created for him previously).

Dreaming up a Plot 7 to Get Started

These are out-of-order for a purpose.  The Plot 7 will give you a sketch of your story, enough to know if you have a novel in the making.

Open and Close
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Opening and Closing the MS in the same place creates a circular construction that the reader’s subconscious will recognize and delight in.

Beginning:  What do you want the protagonist to be doing when the reader first meets her/him?  What exhibits the protagonist’s dissatisfaction with life as it currently is?  What represents the dear desire that the P wants so very much?

Ending:  How do you want the protagonist to end up?  In what physical / intellectual / emotional state?  How does the P react when s/he has the dear desire in hand?  How will the reader know that the P has triumphed?  (Even in a series, the P has to triumph at the end of each novel.  Why else does a reader keep reading?  Because a well-liked P has won once and will need to win again.)

Danger, Danger, Danger

Protagonist’s Greatest Stress Point:  How will the protagonist feel at her/his lowest point?  What event will put her/him there?  How will s/he recover?  How will the P react in a different manner than the Antagonist to losing?  Why would this be the blackest moment in the entire book?

Antagonist’s Early Triumph over the Protagonist:  The antagonist has seemingly won, either in preventing the P from achieving the dear desire or in simply blocking the P from a major step on that journey to achieve it.  What occurred? How does the P react?  How does the A?  Where will each go from here?

Final Battle:  What sets up the final encounter between the protagonist and the antagonist?  How is this the ultimate encounter?  Set the stakes high:  this is the defeat of the representative of evil by the representative of honor.  Life and death, whether the death is bloody and absolute cessation of life or merely the complete loss of reputation and standing, the death struggle will be the ending of all conflict between the P and the A.  What special skill or learning will the P have that allows her/him to defeat the A? Make a note of where that skill / learning will be acquired during the course of the story.  What will the P and the A do at the end of the final battle?

Two Planned Ironies

Early Twist:  What the Protagonist Expects Doesn’t Occur.  You are working with early irony here.  The protagonist needs to expect an event that will be helpful to her/him.  What or who will prevent this early event from occurring?  Do not confuse this event with the Antagonist’s Early Triumph.  While you will answer the same questions, the event will be a completely different scenario.

Seeming Ally’s Betrayal:  This is another scenario presenting irony, usually occurring before the Protagonist’s Greatest Stress Point (and often setting it up) or occurring before the Final Battle.  The purpose of the SAlly’s Betrayal is to show the P’s ability to keep pursuing the dear desire, even in the face of betrayal.  Study the meaning of the word “betrayal”.  It is not disloyalty.  Or broken promises.  Or simple infidelity or unfaithfulness.  It is treachery.  It is as deep as a heart stabbed from behind when the P expected a hug.

Once you have the Plot 7, shuffle them into order.  You now have a Sketch of a manuscript.

Dreaming through 7 Work Procedures

These Work Procedures are the ones that will build a strong foundation for your story and then for your book.

1st: the Rough Draft

No tinkering, no editing, just writing. 

Take the Plot 7 and write the intervening scenes that lead from one to the next.

Launch into that book.  About 40 pages in, you will realize if you have a working story or not.

If the story doesn’t work now, set it aside and start with another one.  The time for Project 1 may not be now.  Try Project 2.  Try Project 3.  Don’t try Project 4.  Go back and try to determine what was wrong with 1 or 2 or 3. 

2nd: Finish.
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Finishing the Draft is BIG. Most wannabe writers never finish one manuscript.

Many, many wannabe writers have dozens of stories, but they haven’t finished one of them.  Drafting a book is exceptionally difficult and very important.  Many wannabes abandon the draft, or they keep writing and re-writing the beginning or favorite scenes.  Finishing is KEY.  Stick with one of those 3 projects until its conclusion.

That note you made about a special skill / learning:  where does it go in the course of your story?  What needs to happen?  Who needs to help the protagonist achieve that skill / learning?  Where does that character come into the story (more than once, please)?

What other special skills / learning needs to occur to set up escape from the Greatest Stress Point?

What foreshadowing about the SAlly’s betrayal needs to occur?

3rd: Add to the Draft.
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John Keats works out problems.

Once you have a complete manuscript, now you can revise. 

Add in descriptions of characters and settings.  Expand on events.  Provide the viewpoint character’s thoughts and feelings during scenes.

These additions enrich the story and present your voice.

P.S.  Some people can do the added information as they write the rough draft.  I can’t.  I need a separate step.  (Oh, I know!  I wish!)

4th: Discover Plot Holes.

Re-read the whole manuscript.  Try to complete it in one afternoon.  Make notes about plot holes and more hidden clues that need to be added in.  Then add them.  And read the whole thing again.

5th: Keep Characters on Firm Ground.

As you read through, you may discover character discrepancies.  Ensure that every character’s personality is set from the beginning, even the SAlly’s personality.

A character who changes mid-book or book to book is extremely irritating to the reader.  Don’t irritate your readers.  Woo them.

6th: Foreshadow Sly Evil.

Add in early examples of the Antagonist’s villainy or outright evil. 

The A’s minions need to show up as bad people.  They can avoid evil, but they definitely need to be people who have chosen the wrong path. 

Ensure that your SAlly has three touches that hint at her/his true character allegiance to something other than the Protagonist (whether or not that allegiance is to the antagonist).

7th: Enhance your Writing.

Every fifth manuscript page, work in an example of figurative language or a special sentence structure.  These touches will make you the writer stand out.

Figurative language includes but is not limited to simile, metaphor, personification, and symbolism (color symbolism is easy to work in).  An implied metaphor can be a simple as “life is a road with its many junctions and curves and hills”.

Special sentence structures include antithesis (juxtaposition), chiasmus (a personal favorite), alliteration (easy to exhibit), asyndetons / polysyndetons, zeugmas, anaphoras / epistrophes, and auxesis (often called climactic structure).  Most people haven’t learned about sentence structures beyond declarative / imperative / interrogatory / exclamatory.

Here’s a quick easy website: and here’s a complex one:  

Don’t overload the MS page with these enhancements.  That’s injecting yourself into the story which can be jarring to the reader. (The reader will think, Oh, yeah, we got an artsy author who thinks highly of her/himselfNot certain I like that.)

Some writers are known for their lyricism:  Robin McKinley comes to mind.  Cormac McCarthy.  Mary Stewart.  They are few in number.  If you are a poet at heart, keep the poetry to every fifth MS page until you get a following of readers.

Coming Up

Lesson 2 = Chapter 2: Work Every Day.  How do you manage that?

Well. . . .

You’ve planned the work, now work the plan.  That’s a chiasmus, BTW 😉

~~M.A. Lee


Deadline on a Dream

Dream the Plan / Plan the Dream

Three years ago, when I made the decision to Think like a Pro, the approaching deadline for one of life’s major transitions drove me to consider it.

Life’s transitions include job changes, marriage or divorce, moving, children, taking on the fulltime care of a parent, and retirement.  Making a commitment to live a worthy life, changing diets to gluten-free or vegan, deciding to avoid all plastics, turning a dream into reality:  these are also life transitions. 

Often, very often, these last three are the hardest changes.  They require a re-commitment every day, every minute, every second.  They are individual changes, perhaps prompted by family and friends but dependent on the sole self to maintain the commitment.  And they require re-thinking constant aspects of life that most people never even consider.

Deadline: Junction on the Journey

Transitions are like junctions in our life’s journey.

The question we ask ourselves is this~ Where do I want to go when I reach that junction?

Creating my own Nest: a little dream from 2011

Two years before the Think like a Pro decision (now that’s five years ago), I had moved.  That move began changing my life.  I was happier with less stress.  I was creating my own little nest rather than living (and dealing with) a house that was never really mine.

In moving, I had to consider HOW and WHERE I wanted to live and WHY I wanted to live that way.

When I saw that major life transition approaching, I decided that I no longer wanted to drift.  I wanted to consider my life choices instead of unthinkingly going through life, doing the next thing.  WHEN that change came, I needed to have my personal change already in motion.

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“What I tell you three times is true.” ~~ Alice with Humpty, colorized from the original in Through the Looking Class

Knowing me, if I didn’t get ready for it, the time for the change would approach then pass by without me really noticing it.

Here’s WHAT I wanted ~

  • one: to become healthier via diet and exercise.
  • two: to become minimalist–although I was already halfway to this one.
  • three: to become a published writer.

This blog is about that third change.

Deadline:  Become a Published Writer

For many, many, many years (“What I tell you three times is true”) I tried the traditional publishing route and collected a thick file of rejections from editors and agents.  I also accumulated several completed manuscripts.

Looking back now, I admit those manuscripts were badly written and horribly constructed.  No grammar errors.  Engaging characters.  Interesting plots.  But they didn’t really “work”.  Truly, madly, deeply didn’t work.

I gave up and decided I needed to learn more about writing and genres.

In the intervening years, while I dealt with other life changes, I did learn even as I kept writing–but the writing was more like dabbling.

Here are the best three books that guided my learning:

  • Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, from 1965 and still relevant.  A small portion of the book is about Scenes and Sequels.  Books are made up of Scenes and Sequels.
    • Scenes require goal, conflict and disaster.
    • Sequels require reaction, dilemma, and decision.
  • Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict gave me an epiphany:  All primary characters and most secondary characters need their own GMC.
  • Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, explaining both character and plot, led me on a circuitous route back to Carl Jung’s character archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s archetypal monomyth.

Deadline: Dabbling at the Dream

And then I reached 2013–with that life transition looming ahead.  Four years away.  More than enough time.

Or so I thought.

I resolved, as I normally resolved, to become published.

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Sputtering Dreams

That resolution went the way of other resolutions:  I had a major push which gradually sputtered and nearly stopped.

By summer, I was angry with myself.  “Here, you resolved this!  What have you done?  Nothing!  Nothing!  and Nothing!”

What I told myself three times was true.

By the first of November, after dabbling away at my dream and still without a plan, I was even angrier.

Advent (no, this is not a non sequitur) is a special season of the year for me.  Raised in a stripped-down church that barely recognized the liturgical year, my first introduction to Advent was eye-opening.  The miraculous four-week season before Christmas remains as glorious as that first occasion years before.

Knowing Advent was coming, I decided that my writing needed to have its own New Advent.

I needed Writing Goals.

I would need a Website once I was published.

So, Advent 2013, I set my goals.  I was so eager, I didn’t wait for the first Sunday of Advent.

By the Saturday before the second Sunday of Advent, I realized my first problem.

I still wasn’t writing, not enough, not consistently enough, to produce words that would lead to my goal: TO BECOME A PUBLISHED WRITER.

Just Dreaming the Dream and Dreaming about the Plan for the Dream wasn’t Accomplishing the Dream.

Deadline: Dreaming the Plan

That Saturday before second Sunday of Advent, I realized that I needed a plan.  I needed to stick to the plan.

I growled about publishers and agents who had rejected me in the past.

And then a box arrived from Amazon.  It contained my first Kindle.  A Kindle Fire.

I fired up the Kindle and bought my first book.  And read it.  Finished it Sunday morning.  Did my personal Advent service in my own little nest.

And had another epiphany.  (I know:  I don’t get them very often.)

That Kindle book was by an author I didn’t know but had been at an extremely reasonable price to try.  It was Steampunk Fantasy, which I knew was currently “BIG” in the writing marketplace.  I had also bought a Jane Austen, Winnie the Pooh for the illustrations, a cookbook (which I asked Amazon to take back because it didn’t load properly–and Amazon did!), and a couple of cozy mysteries.  But the unknown author was the one I read first:  Lindsey Buroker, The Emperor’s Edge.

As I finished my Advent readings, I realized a couple of major things:  Buroker had uploaded her own book.  She didn’t have a “Traditional Publisher”.

Which meant I COULD DO THE SAME.

I had research before me.  How did she format her manuscript?  How did she develop her cover?

I scrolled through the Amazon Kindle store and realized very quickly:  Several books were self-published (Indie!).  Many covers were crap.  Some covers were very, very good.  I wanted a very, very good cover.

I was going to have to research a cover designer.  (That search took 18 months.  I thought it would take 3.)

I knew I would need a strong start because I am such a slow writer:  so I planned to put three books out over the course of three months.  It would take maybe a year.  I gave myself a little leeway and said, “August 2015 I will publish my first book.”

Which meant I had to stop dabbling away at four different manuscripts (yes, I had that many MSs in the works).

Deadline:  Planning the Dream

Three Books for the Back-to-Back

By the third Sunday of Advent I had selected a manuscript to finish first.  It was a story that I wrote during the worst three years of my life.

New Cover, by Deranged Doctor Design! Available on Amazon Kindle

I decided how long its revision would take.  Smugglers and Spies became Secrets at the Hawthorn Inn became A Game of Secrets.  I know:  Revision is difficult.  It took longer than I anticipated.

I had a half-finished manuscript idea for its “sequel”, and I thought I would give myself six months to work on that book.  A Game of Spies took nine months.

The third book that would tie-in with the first two became A Game of Hearts.

August 2015 was the month I set for my first Indie publication:  this would be the practice run.  October and November and December 2015 for my second, third and fourth Indie publication.

By the fourth Sunday of Advent I diagnosed my first two problems:  

  1. Not sticking to my deadline.
  2. Not writing every day.

Later on, I diagnosed additional problems:  These became the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro:  A New Advent for Writers, first a blog series on this website and then the handy little manual you can buy on Amazon Kindle.

Deadline for The Practice Run

With August 2015 looming close, I pulled out a manuscript that I thought would be a good practice run.  It was a different genre from the back-to-back books.  A fantasy would need a pseudonym:  Edie Roones was born.

I selected my second oldest completed manuscript (I have older book starts, but only one manuscript completed before this one).  This book began life as The Sword of Treasach then became Castle Warder then became Steel and Blood and finally developed into Summer Sieges.  (I know!  Revision is HARD.  This book had FOUR revisions, each one a nearly complete gut.)

I put the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro into action during the revision of Summer Sieges.  Those lessons worked!  Especially the third lesson about PLOT.

Barely, barely before August, as I slaved through the revision of this old, old manuscript, I found a cover designer I thought would work, based on a Lindsey Buroker cover.  (I owe Ms. Buroker a LOT!).  Deranged Doctor Design:  I love those people!

At the very beginning, for A Game of Secrets, we had one major glitch, my fault since I didn’t tell them enough about what I wanted and didn’t want, but they rolled with my requested change.  They have delivered BEAUTY every time since.

August hit.

DDD delivered the cover:  exactly what I wanted. (BTW, they talked about branding.  I had more research to do.)

I finished Summer Sieges.  Edited it.  Corrected it. (If you found any errors, please tell me!) Uploaded it.

I made that deadline.

Deadline: Accomplishing the Dream

Since August 2015, using the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro, I have published these:

Summer Sieges / Edie Roones: drastically revised manuscript / 2015

October:  A Game of Secrets / M.A. Lee: revised manuscript / 2015 

November:  A Game of Spies / M.A. Lee: revised then finished manuscript / 2015 

December:  A Game of Hearts / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2015 (my third favorite book, thus far) 

“A Matter of Trust” / Edie Roones: previously published short story / my first ever published work / 2016

Digging into Death / M.A. Lee: revised manuscript / 2016 (my second favorite book, thus far)

Autumn Spells / Edie Roones: drastically revised manuscript:  began life as The Tower of Lannoge, became Green Wielder then Green Magic, White Sword. / the first book I ever completed / 2016

January:  The Dangers of Secrets / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017 (my most favorite book, thus far)

February:  The Dangers for Spies / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017  

March:  The Dangers to Hearts / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017 

Weave a Wizardry Web / Remi Black (a new pseudonym for a different fantasy genre): a drastically revised manuscript / 2017

Dream a Deadly Dream / Remi Black: revised manuscript (fourth favorite)

Christmas with Death / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2017

The Key to Secrets / M.A. Lee: new manuscript / 2018 (I had fun writing this one: 5th fav)

I’m currently working on another extremely drastic revision:  Winter Sorcery / Edie Roones followed by Sing a Graveyard Song / Remi Black then the next M.A. Lee / The Key for Spies.

With more ideas and revisions still to come.

Deadline’s First Step: Decide your Dream

Whatever you want to do, the first thing you have to do is Decide what you WANT.

What is the dream you can reach out and almost, almost grasp?

How badly do you want it?

When are you going to take hold of that dream and start turning it into reality?

Do you know what you need to do once you have hold of that dream?

Should writing be your dream, then the Seven Lessons of Think like a Pro will surely help you.

~~ M.A. Lee


3 Must-Have Deadline Tricks

Here are the 3 Must-Have Deadline Tricks.  I call them Tricks because they help turn dreams into reality. 

These Deadline Tricks work not only for writers but for anyone tackling major projects.

Setting the Deadline is the first procedure that anyone starting a project must determine.

Every project has a deadline.

Very simply, a deadline means “When is this sucker due?”

For indie writers, their novels and stories and blogs could be due . . . whenever.  But “whenever” is NOT thinking like a pro. 

Pro professionals, pro artists, pro athletes:  all know when their project deadline is.  For the professional, the deadline is the day the case starts or the client arrives.  The pro artist anticipates the gallery preparation.  Pro athletes train for the first day of training camp which comes long before the start of the official pre-season games which lead to the real season, and all of those lead to the Bowl Games and Major Tournaments that culminate an athletic season.

And then, gallery showing and seasons over, case done, projects complete, everyone looks at the next project.

For indie writers who want to go pro, publication is the deadline.  Publication is not a nebulous dream.  We’re turning dreams into reality.  The time for drifting and dreaming is over.  We have determination, and determination means we set deadlines.

Trick 1

Determine your Daily Work Routine

Your Work Routine means how much you can reasonably accomplish when all works well.

  1.  Key Words “When all works well”.  This is not “when everything’s going great”.  Determine a basic meet-able goal.  For writers, this is an achievable word count.  For athletes, the number of hours that can be devoted to training on each day.  Even artists consider the amount of work on a canvas that can be achieved over a course of days.  Lawyers consider the time needed for preparation of the upcoming case: witness statements, interviews, official depositions, law research, scene mapping, and on and on.
  2. Note Well:  In the examples above, all of the goals are TIME-BASED.  Your reasonable writing goal is not a sprint, not a squeezed-in segment.  If you had an uninterrupted hour, how many words can you reasonably churn out?  How many hours can you reasonably work each day?  How many days per week do you lose to other, more pressing concerns?
  3. Do the Math: What is the word count for your project?  For writers, novels and novellas and short stories and scripts and blogs, all these have specific word counts.  Genres have specific word counts.  Are you writing an epic fantasy of 120K?  Are you writing a romantic comedy of 45,000K?  When you know what you need to write, you have your first working number.
    • Divide the total expected word count by your daily writing goal.  This gives you an estimate of the number of days needed to complete the project.  (Yes, I hate math, too!)

Trick 2

Determine the Steps Needed to Achieve your Goal

Just like any project, writing has a lot of hidden steps that outsiders-looking-in never see.  Writing is much more than pouring the words onto the page.  Novels, especially, are very involved and very messy projects.

Factor for the Following~
  1. Prep-time to set up the necessary background information.  
  2. Building that world prep-time.
  3. Research prep.
  4. Planning the basics.
  5. Planning at the Mid-Point . . . because “life” happens even in stories and blogs.  Characters change.  The plot falls apart.  Your mind throws you a twist that improves everything you’re doing.
  6. Revising.  Oh, BTW, will you revise as you go or revise at the end?  Both?
  7. Editing
  8. Cover development:  the graphics and the blurb
  9. Correcting the editing
  10. Getting everything ready for publication … the “yippee” step.

Trick 3

Count the Days for the Whole Project

Get out a calendar.  A physical calendar, not a digital one.  Don’t have one?  Print one.  Draw one.

You may be totally digital.  I like digital.  Yet blocking out a calendar is best done, however, on paper.  Trust me on this one.  That small screen hides things and hides the big picture.

A deadline is “big picture”.

It’s like depending on a small-screen map-app vs. seeing a plat of the roads you will actually drive.  Map-apps are convenient, but it’s easy to get lost unless you are a complete robot.

Not that I’m prejudiced against robots.

That calendar, in your hands, creates a mental process that begins a brain change.  When we’re moving from drifting dream to determined reality, brain changes are necessary.

Start blocking off days to create your deadlines.
  1. This many days for Factors 1 to 3. 
  2. So many for Factors 4 and 5. 

    Still from the famous film “Four Weddings and a Funeral” with Andie MacDowell and Hugh Grant
  3. Start running the Word Count Days. 
  4. Give yourself two handfuls of days to fall behind for unforeseen circumstances:  like the flu, like a car breaking-down, like a friend coming to visit, like four weddings and a funeral.  Remember:  “life” happens.
  5. How many days for Factor 5?
  6. How many days for 6?  Expect problems.
  7. Factor for Editing, #7.  How many times?  How many people?  OMG, how many interruptions?  And definitely be a Pro here:  if you ship out your editing, what will you work on while you’re waiting for the manuscript to return home?
  8. Factor for 8.  The blurb is extremely important.  It’s more important than your first chapter.  How many days did you set aside for the first chapter?  Schedule that number of day for your blurb.  While you’re working on and re-working on and revising your blurb, take a break from words to consider what you want the cover elements to be.
  9. Factor for 9.  When you spend sufficient time on Factors 1 to 4, correcting the editing should fly.  If you’re a pantster, editing shows up problems that will affect the entire manuscript.  If you’re a planner who’s also a pantster, like me, you’ll have a few problems but not the major chaos that I’ve heard some people talk about.  (And I’ll admit to a little gloating that I didn’t have that back-end chaos.  Nope, my chaos was at the beginning.)
  10. Factor for 10.
Now, pull out that handy digital calendar and input the major deadline dates:
  • Finishing Prep
  • Finishing Draft
  • Manuscript Finished
  • Revision Done
  • Editing Completed
  • Corrections Over
  • Cover back
  • Publish!

When you have all of these days on your calendar, you can start.

You can start before you have these days on your calendar.  You can never write these steps down.  But–big BUT–I betcha  have a mental deadline that the analytical side of your brain throws at you.

Want to know more about Deadlines, their importance, and how to set them?

Read Think like a Pro.

BTW, “New Advent” means a New Year, a New Opportunity, a New Way of Viewing the World.  Have a New Advent for Writing.

Deadlines is Lesson 1 in Think like a Pro

And deadlines is One Scary Word.

How do we transform ourselves from hobbyist to professional?  How do we change the mindset that our Think like a Pro: New Advent for Writers by [Lee, M.A., Dunn, Emily R.]writing is for escape or entertainment?  If our goal is professional writer, how do we become a disciplined Pro?  The first lesson is Deadlines.

In our long “Winter of Discontent” with our writing, we need to follow the example of the crocus:  emerging from frozen snow to new life.

To help newbie writers achieve that goal, New Advent for Writers: Think like a Pro presents seven lessons as a guide for this transformation.  Like a two-hour seminar, these lessons will seem easy, but the practical application takes focus, persistence, and clear thinking.

Chapter 1 covers deadlines (One Scary Word).

The second chapter presents the importance of daily writing, or as Tolstoy kept on his desk: Nulla dies sine linea (One Latin Phrase).

Chapter 3 examines the models or patterns that every writer depends upon (One Guiding Decision) while Chapter 4 reminds us to learn from those who’ve gone before (One Ancient Greek).

In Chapter 5, entitled One Simple Injunction, the authors preach the great heresy of no excuses.

Chapter 6 (One Slice of Advice) explores how creativity can be sparked.

Chapter 7 discusses determination and resolutions.


Drinking Elixir with the Gods

Return with the Elixir: last Stage of the Archetypal Story Pattern and the last blog on characters and mythic story structure.  We’re drinking elixir as we toast the last of the novel.
The gods are drinking elixir and dining on ambrosia. Time for us to join them.

Return with the Elixir, the conclusion of our novel, is certainly not a toss-off that we complete with our writing eyes closed.

As writers, we have slaved to create intriguing characters, unexpected twists in plot, enthralling details with symbols, motifs, and setting and motifs, and captivating elements of word craft on every page.

None of it matters if the last scenes don’t deliver.

It’s a Return = 1st.

The last three stages—the Road Back, the Resurrection, and the Return with the Elixir—belong to the greater ASP segment of Return and Re-Integration.

Our protagonists return to their Ordinary World / Stage 1, their starting point.  They have changed, transforming like an acorn into a mighty oak.

The roots they sent deep into their souls to discover who and what they are have become the honor and ethics that guide them.  Their trunks (their inner strength) are sturdy.  Their limbs reach into the sky.  And they are fulfilled with the potential for more and more and more, each year a new harvest of acorns.

They know how they are different from the antagonist as well as from the rather ordinary people of their OW.

They are no longer ordinary people facing extraordinary events. 

By facing those extraordinary events, they have become extraordinary.
Perfectly Happy
  • Harry Potter destroys his connection to the Elder Wand, a decision neither Ron nor Hermione understand. No one needs that much power ~ even though Harry has that much power within himself.  (Remember?  Voldemort tried to use the Elder Wand to defeat Harry / Harry defeated Voldemort AND the Elder Wand because of the power within himself.)
  • Aragorn, the returned king, releases the cursed Dead Men of Dunharrow.
  • The Iron Man no longer needs the rush of power from his suits.
  • Elizabeth and Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) no longer depend on the world to determine who they are and what they want.
Our protagonists have succeeded

How do they now re-integrate with the OW that they left behind?

For they must re-integrate.  No one—not even protagonists—can live perpetually in Alt.  The humdrum daily world intrudes.  Life;) happens.

That settling back into the OW helps the reader/audience settle the story in their mind.  Deny them that re-integration, and they will be “unsettled” about the story.

It requires an Elixir = 2nd.

An Elixir is the drink of the gods.  Better than honeyed nectar, the gods’ elixir is magical and miraculous.

The Elixir is tied directly to the Reward which harks back, all the way back, to the original Dear we destroyed at the Call to Adventure (C2A / Stage 2).

The original Dear drove the protagonists into their journey.  That desire transformed and mutated as much as our protagonist did.

At the Reward / Stage 9 the protagonists grasped their new and renewed Dears, a first opportunity to celebrate with the Treasure that sustained their persistence through tribulations and motivated them to continue through the ultimate battle.

Now, the protagonists have the transformed Dear.  The Return of both to the OW is a celebration.

Tangibles and Intangibles

Depending on genre, the Elixir takes various forms, but all contain the duality of literal and figurative.

Protagonists and audiences need a tangibile Elixir, not a symbol or metaphor.
  • The King Crowned
  • The Broken Sword Restored
  • The Ring on her Finger
  • The award or diploma or lectern that represents the Pinnacle Achieved.

The intangible is all that those items represent:
  • The King’s Crown: authority, status, respect.  Wow, I just learned that the Elixir can help improve a character’s motivations all the way back to Stage 1, OW. (This is the reason for planning, rather than pantser-ing.  [Is “pantser-ing” a word?])
  • The Restored Sword: veterans appreciated, wounds healed, rank re-acquired
  • The Betrothal Ring: love and devotion, commitment and truth, health and home.
  • The Pinnacle Achieved: esteem from others, recognition for work and persistence, adulation—which sets up the next book, doesn’t it?  As the protagonist struggles with personal pride and extreme adulation.

Wrapping Up

I hope this year of bi-monthly blogs has enlightened you as much as it has me.

Archetypes seem simple—they are not.  They are not stereotypes, not cookie-cutter models.  They create a framework for our delving into causes and motivations, fears and fortes, and desires and needs for our characters.  These six—causes, motivations, fears, fortes, desires, needs—these create individuals from flat character outlines.

Archetypes build a foundation.  Exploring the character types and the elements of each stage of the ASP build stories with unexpected depths that please our audiences.

And when our audiences are pleased, we are, too.

What’s Next?

Not quite certain.  I’m sure I’ll think of something.  I always do.

Resurrection:  the return from the dead.

Although famous authors have played with the idea of resurrection, our protagonists don’t have to turn into zombies.  Neither do our antagonists.

Resurrection is not new life.  It is the reanimation of the old life, the former problem, the continuing central conflict of the entire story.

Stage 11 of the Archetypal Story Pattern is a dual resurrection.

Before we go into exposition, let’s look at three famous resurrection scenes from the world of film.

“What I tell you three times is true.” ~ “The Hunting of the Snark”, Lewis Carroll

Kill Bill

In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, the bride is buried alive.  Grave-deep, encased in a pine wood coffin.  Her enemies believe she is “dead and buried” with no hope of resurrection.

Yet she wakes, assesses her situation, and implements a plan.  She punches through the soft pine then kicks and crawls out of the grave.  Her resurrection shocks an old man.

More shocks await the audience.

Her enemies have turned on each other.  The Black Mamba (Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver) killed the loyal brother Budd, and soon she is destroyed by the Bride (Uma Thurman as Beatrix Kiddo) in a battle that was voted in 2005 as “Best Fight” at the MTV Movie Awards.

We are shocked when the Bride snatches out Elle’s remaining eye—just as Pai Mei snatched out her first one.

3 Lessons from Kill Bill

Lesson 1:  the Resurrection must shock.

Lesson 2:  the Resurrection, whether for the protagonist or the antagonist, must be parallel to another event in the story.  It should not be deliberately foreshadowed;  however, it should mirror the event.  In the audience’s afterthought, the parallelism will become a logical foreshadowing.

Lesson 3:  the Resurrection must present poetic justice.  Elle Driver killed Pai Mei, whom she hated because he snatched out her eye.  Beatrix Kiddo kills Elle Driver, not only in defense but also because Elle killed Pai Mei, whom Beatrix “loved”.

Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter’s Deathly Hallows part 2 gives us a resurrection of the protagonist after J.K. Rowling played throughout the entire series with the resurrection of the antagonistic force.

Because of the philosopher’s stone, Harry does not die.  In his Reward, he is re-united with Dumbledore and discovers victory is not only possible but nigh.  In the Resurrection stage, he returns to his body.  Voldemort is celebrating.  Hagrid is grieving.  Yet we the audience see the beginning tatters of the Death-Eaters’ collapse, as Draco Malfoy’s mother actually lies to Voldemort.

Her lie tells us that Voldemort is not omniscient.  Those who are not omniscient are also not omnipotent.

The mano y mano battle between Harry and Voldemort is intercut with scenes of Hermione and Ron tackling Nagini, the horcrux-holding python.  Hermione and Ron can seemingly do nothing against Nagini.  Harry seems equally matched to Voldemort, neither able to get an advantage over the other.

Enter Neville Longbottom.
Neville kills Nagini

Two events are juxtaposed.  Neville’s unexpected defeat of the snake precedes Harry’s expected defeat of Voldemort.  Neville is the surprise in this parallel resurrection scene.  Nagini’s death receives our audience’s exultant shout while we merely celebrate Voldemort’s disintegration.  We glory in Harry’s power overwhelming Voldemort, but we are not punching the air in celebration.

3 Lessons from Deathly Hallows

Lesson 1A:  If the protagonist’s battle with the chief antagonist will contain no shock, then another character playing an unexpected role should step forward.

Lesson 2A:  The parallelism of the resurrection scene can be with other characters besides the protagonist or antagonist.

Lesson 3A:  The poetic justice occurs with Voldemort’s defeat and death.  The best part of this scene is his horrified look at the Elder Wand.  Now, at his end, he realizes it does not answer to him as he expected it would.  His richly-deserved death almost seems anti-climatic:  deserved yet subdued, pitiful while we feel no pity, almost beautiful in his dissolution.

Return of the King

Golem’s re-appearance in J.R.R. Tolkien’s culminating resurrection scene for The Return of the King is a necessary surprise.  The surprise occurs because Frodo and Sam left Golem behind.  Golem’s participation in this scene is a necessity because the Ring has finally corrupted Frodo’s intention.

Like Rowling’s Voldemort, Golem is a “dead” creature throughout the series.  He lived off the dead goblins who fell into the abysses of the Mines of Moria.  His old Hobbity self warred constantly with his evil self until the Hobbity self died completely, letting only the evil self alive.

His disappearance seemingly “removed” him from the immediate storyline.  Then he re-appears to fight Frodo in the lava-filled doom of Mount Mordor (just as Bilbo had his own mental battle with Golem in The Hobbit = parallelism!).

Because Golem once possessed his precious, he understands how to find a wearer of the Ring.  No one else in the series has understood this.  Yet, for the audience, it is still a shock when he leaps upon the invisible Frodo.  They fight, a staggering stumble of pummels and buffets on the edge of the rocky spit over the lava river.  The second shock occurs when Golem bites off Frodo’s finger to get the Ring.  He dances to his death.

And with the Ring’s destruction, Sauron’s entity is destroyed.  The trapped Eye of Sauron’s essence frenziedly tries to tear itself away from the destroyed Ring but cannot.

3 Lessons from RotK

Lesson 1B: Golem’s surprising return, his shocking ability to “see” Frodo as well as biting off his finger (mutilation to the hand is somehow more horrible than other grievous bodily harm).

Lesson 2B: Frodo and Bilbo had parallel battles, physical and mental, against Golem.  Bilbo outwits Golem;  Golem “defeats” Frodo.

Lesson 3B:  Golem dances as he falls to his death.  And with the Ring’s destruction, Frodo is returned to his “pure” self;  his innocent intent is resurrected.  Sauron bonded his essence to the Ring.  He believed in the Ring’s indestructibility.  With its destruction, he discovered he break the bond.

Four Compass Points of the Resurrection
an old compass rose

The Resurrection requires from us writers four important points as we begin wrapping up our story.

Aim North = 1.

The protagonists face their own mortality, whether it is a brief brush or an imminent danger or an actual death.

How the protagonists confront death is the salient point.  Facing death reveals the extreme importance of the protagonists’ desire to achieve the ultimate goal that set them on this journey.

The goal may have changed.  The original desire has not.  The Dear may have changed—and should have.  The desire that fuels the old and new Dear will not have changed.

Contrast the Bride with Frodo. 

She is fully conscious;  he is under the influence of the Ring.  She is driven;  he becomes aimless.  She visits poetic justice twice upon Elle Driver:  the eye snatch and her presumed death from the viper she used to kill Budd.  Frodo receives no ironical justice:  Golem defeats him then falls to his death.  Frodo is ring-less and ring-finger-less.

Our protagonists’ honor and nobility shine through when they face their mortality and still plunge into the last battle.  Death may occur.  They willingly face it.  Why?  Their desired goal is more important than their own self.

Drive Southward to the Doom = 2

The antagonists face their own mortality.

To kill an antagonist who does not realize he is being killed creates a sense of futility.

And the antagonists’ response to impending death is diametrically opposed to the protagonists’ response.  The antagonists fear death.  Voldemort hid parts of his soul in the horcruxes then hid his horcruxes in a bid to live on and on and on.  Unlike the Energizer bunny, however, his life is more in danger because of his piecemeal soul.

Obsession and Fear

Golem’s obsession with his precious Ring is so powerful that he is blind to his own danger and death.  He “died” years and years before.  His obsession with the Ring gave him purpose.  Its loss restored him to the upper world.  The new ringbearer almost—almost!  What a pitiful word!—resurrected his humanity.  Only in Golem’s last blink does he recognize death is on him.  Then we see a brief glimpse of his terror.  In the next blink he disintegrates.

The death and destruction of Sauron’s Eye, however, gives us the essential realization of impending death.  The Eye’s frenzy becomes more powerful than Golem’s blink.

Head to the Expected East = 3

The Resurrection is both destruction and re-creation.

The antagonist is destroyed.  The antagonistic force is defeated.  The evil is stuffed into a coffin.

Writers who want a sequel need to take lessons from Tolkien and Rowling:  each book must have its own antagonist to be defeated while the series’ antagonist must be completely defeated in the final book of the series.

No hiding additional horcruxes.  Give the story up.

Love your protagonists too much to let them live happily ever after?  Start a new series.  Years on, with a completely different antagonist.

Re-creation is as important as destruction

Harry is his own self and more.  He breaks the Elder Wand and tosses it into an abyssal canyon (the film.  In the book, he restores it to Dumbledore’s tomb, still a severed connection).  Harry refuses to wield the great power gifted to him.  He refuses to allow power to corrupt him.  (Thank you, Lord Acton.)

Frodo’s own self is restored—yet wearing the Ring has also broken him.  He must leave with the last elves.

The Bride is now free to seek her daughter, restoring the connection and creating a future with her daughter.  Her battle with Bill is not titanic although it is matchless.  It allows the Elixir which is the last Stage of the Archetypal Story Pattern.

Skew West = 4

As noted in the lessons, the Resurrection must shock the audience.

Not with gore.  Not with a new twist.  A new twist only continues the story longer.

The shock must be something the audience didn’t anticipate yet in hindsight truly appreciates.  No foreshadowing for the shock.  We have to build the elements in such a way that we logically accept their occurrence even as we emotionally celebrate them.

This shock is particularly hard to write since the early-on Stage 2 set up our anticipation of the final battle.

Neville’s chopping off of Nagini’s head is the shock.  Voldemort ripped Neville’s “soul” away when he killed his parents.  Neville has had to rebuild his “soul”.  How fitting that Neville kills the last holder of Voldemort’s piecemeal soul. 

As for the audience, well, we anticipated Voldemort’s defeat.

Careful with Shocks

Knowing the antagonist will be defeated is not where the shock will occur.  Unless our audience is reading one of the so-called “edgy” new series in which the protagonist is killed.

(Killing the protagonist is not edgy, BTW;  it infuriates the audience.  It’s a cheap way to be edgy.  We writers are better than that.  Find another way.  Keep the audience reading to your next series.)

Quentin Tarantino gives us an unexpected relish with the eye-snatch.

Golem’s reappearance surprises.  The SHOCK occurs when he takes both ring and ring finger from Frodo.

And then we nod, at Neville, at the Bride, at Frodo.  Yes, that is symbolic parity.

Wrapping Up

Remember the 3 Lessons and the 4 Compass Points when constructing the ultimate battle scene of destruction and resurrection.  The expected and the unexpected will satisfy the audience.

Not only will they keep reading to the end of the book;  they will also buy the next and the next and the next.

We’re driving the Road Back to our protagonists’ Ordinary World.

As we head into the Road Back of the story we’re writing, how are we doing?

Let’s see:  In the past 80% of story, we’ve

  1. Transformed the protagonists.
  2. Changed their goals into new Dears.
  3. Provided a transformed Dear to the protagonists as Rewards.
  4. Given them worthy allies.
  5. Defeated villains and elements of the antagonistic force.
  6. Overcome fears and evils, exterior and interior.

My goodness, what else must we do?  The hardest thing.  We must truly defeat the antagonist.

And then find our way back home—whatever “home” now represents.

Easy enough.

Well, no.

And not because the antagonist is still out there, a maelstrom of chaotic evil.

Here’s our big question:  How do we find the right Road Back?

Driving with the Old Dear

SPOILERS ALERT:  If you have never seen Castawaygo watch it now.  It will be a pivotal and enriching experience in your life.  I am also warning you that I give away many, many crucial details about the end of the film in the remainder of this blog.  Tom Hanks should have won the Academy Award for Best Actor for this film.  This is his landmark role, not Forrest Gump and not Philadephia and certainly not The Green Mile, all great films but not of the caliber of Castaway.

The official Movie Trailer:

The Dear destroyed at the Call to Adventure is not the Dear of the Reward.  This Dear is transformed, just as the protagonist is transformed.

The transformation is clearly evident in Castaway, the film with Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.  Hanks’ character Chuck survives deprivation and extreme loneliness only because returning to his lost love (Hunt enacting Kelly) became his goal. 

Yet he transformed:  he learned to be in the moment—instead of always working toward a future deadline.  He learned to appreciate the smallest of miracles and to heed obscure signs.The protagonist Chuck needs someone as his Dear who is also open to these hidden yet highly significant realities. 

Kelly is not that person, and we discover that in the scene where he is reunited with her.

Two Story Stages:  Road Back and Resurrection

In Castaway the Road Back begins with the celebration at the airport then continues through his visit to her house.  That visit to her house also launches into the Resurrection, the stage of story where evil recurs that endangers the protagonist. 

Since the two stages are so closely intertwined in this film, I’ll discuss both.  Just know that the Road Back is their attempts at re-connection while the Resurrection is the acceptance of the need to part.

Chuck Doesn’t Match to Kelly

  • At Kelly’s house, Chuck is in the moment of their reunion.
    • >> Kelly can’t face their reunion. First, she is not able to meet him at the airport.  Then, when he comes to her house, she is continually “doing” as a distraction—showing him a car and a map, fiddling with housework.  She is focused on him but also on all the things between
      • Twice she looks hard at him, as if not able to believe that this man before her is her old love returned to her. He is physically changed.  He is also mentally and spiritually changed, although these changes are not as easily observed.
  • Chuck comments on the miracle of her child.
    • >> Her response is a criticism. Children are miracles, not things to be managed.  They are the blessing of the future with the wonder of the now.  Instead, Kelly dismisses any conversation about her child by saying something like “She’s a mess.”
  • Chuck heeds the signs.
    • >> Kelly is blind to them.  She must blind herself to them or abandon the life she had built without him.  She makes her decision.  Yet when he drives away, she still clings to her past and calls him back.  She kept “their car”, another sign of her clinging to the past.

The Problem with Kelly

Kelly is static, stagnant, bitter with the losses, not transformed by them.  She abandoned her greatest goal without saying goodbye to it.

We admire Kelly.  We want her to reunite with Chuck.  They are each other’s “love of my life”.  But they’re not right for each other.  Maybe they never were, even before Chuck transformed.

We grieve with them as they part.

Driving the Right Road Back 

We don’t grieve at the end of Castaway when Chuck meets the Angel-wings lady.  We want him to connect with her.

See, we know he doesn’t belong with Kelly.  Look at his brief yet revelatory encounter with the Angel-wings lady.

Chuck is “in the moment”.
  • She is “in the moment”.
    • When giving directions, she focuses on him, she makes eye contact, and then she flows forward like water and time.
Chuck is connected to the miraculous.
  • She appreciates blissful moments.
    • Art is itself a blissful miracle, and she chose as her mark the double-haloed angel wings.  Her FedEx package marked with the double-haloed angel-wings is the only package that Chuck does not open.
  • Even with the break-up of her marriage (exhibited by the sign at the ranch’s entrance, with the ex-husband’s name obliterated from it), the Angel-wings lady maintains her connection to the miraculous.
    • Just as Chuck’s survival was a series of miracles, their meeting here at the film’s end is another example of a hidden significance that could be easily overlooked.
Chuck sees and heeds signs.
  • She heeds the signs. She recognizes Chuck as being direction-less.  Without giving him a direction, she ensures he “knows” the way. 
    • The broken ranch sign bears witness that she saw the signs of her husband’s infidelity and took action.
  • In a neat circular construction, our evidence of the husband’s infidelity occurs at the film’s beginning.
    • A Russian FedEx worker delivers an Angel-wing package to a man in a cowboy hat and bathrobe.  He, however, has a scantily-clad woman with him.  He even comments that the package is from his wife :: bad cad!
Chuck survived deprivation.
  • The Angel-wings lady has faced a similar devastation—although not as extreme or traumatic as Chuck’s.
    • The ranch sign reveals the anger of her husband’s betrayal and their divorce.  Living on the desolate prairie, she understands deprivation and priorities.  Yet she chooses beauty over bitterness.  Chuck will choose it as well.

Castaway deprives the audience of an extended Elixir ~ but do we really need it?  Our imaginations work just fine.

How to Find that Right Road Back

The task is not as difficult as it seems.

  • In The Deathly Hallows part II, Harry just has to return his soul from the white station to his body in the forest: easy peasy.
  • For 13th Warrior, the Wendol come to the Northmen who have prepared with the same courage as before.
    • We do have that lovely Invocation of Blood as they call on preceding generations of warriors, male and female, to strengthen them and to inspire them.  For a clip with the Invocation—“Lo, there do I see my people, back to the beginning”—you can flip back to the previous blog on Rewards: Click here to open that blog in a new tab.
  • With Return of the King, Aragorn releases the Dead Men of Dunharrow, rejecting arrogance and corruptible power—which Gimli doesn’t understand but Legolas views with awed approval.
  • Pride and Prejudice has Darcy force Wyckham to marry Lydia. Elizabeth has the culminating battle with Lady Catherine de Burgh.
The Road Back starts the protagonists’ journey to the Elixir, the ultimate Reward.  What is necessary to gain that Elixir?

1st Step:  Start tying up the loose ends now.  Determine the best sequence: 

  • What needs to remain until the ultimate battle? 
  • What would provide humor after that battle? 
  • For the secondary characters, what angst can they encounter before the last battle begins?  Or going into the last battle?

2nd Step: Never forget that the antagonist believes his way is the right way.  Audiences who become transfixed by antagonists might need a reminder of their particular evil—as well as that evil’s effect on the protagonists, the team of allies, and the Dear goal.

3rd Step:  Has a secondary character taken precedence and deserves the sequel?  Set up the sequel now with little hints of a driving goal.

4th Step:  The arc of the protagonists should be complete.  Has that transformation been completely shown?  Where is the protagonists’ Dear?  Safe?  Or still in jeopardy?

Castaway Breaks the Mold but still Teaches the Pattern

Castaway packs a lot into the extended scene that becomes both Road Back and Resurrection which then shifts to the culminating scene that concludes the film.  The Elixir also breaks into two parts.

  • The Road Back is Chuck’s workplace reunion at the airport followed by his reunion with Kelly at her home. 
  • The first part of the Resurrection is his rejection by Kelly.
  • In the second part of the Resurrection, Chuck talks with the friend that he didn’t realize was so loyal.  To him, he grieves for his loss of Kelly, and his friend listens and sympathizes and empathizes.
  • Chuck shares that Kelly was his goal.  He lost her, his Dear, when he washed up on that island.  He lost her all over again when she chose her fallback life rather than the difficulties required to restore a life with him. 
    • This presents both 1st and 2nd Steps, the sequence needed to cut the ties to his old life (his Road Back) and the antagonist that deprives him of the Dear he wanted (Resurrection).
  • Then we see Chuck’s transformation:  he apologizes to his friend for not being there when his friend’s wife died of cancer. 
    • This 4th Step (there is no 3rd) shows that he is no longer driven for work.  He had barely acknowledged this information at the beginning of the film.  His transformed self, however, reaches out to the miracle of friendship.

And then Chuck’s on the road, drinking water, heading to his own unexpected and miraculous end where he will have the chance to drink the Elixir of the gods.

The scene with Kelly is Chuck’s Road Back.  Yet it is also the Resurrection of Evil that deprives him of his cherished goal.

For a brief moment, we the audience want Kelly to be with Chuck.  We grieve with Chuck. 

And then Angel-wings lady helps us realize that Chuck and Kelly no longer “fit”.

Wrapping Up

When we consider the protagonists’ transforming journey and the new Dear they now treasure, the Road to bring everything Back home should pave itself.

Like the fabled yellow brick road, the Road Back becomes a curving journey to the Elixir.

Yet a horrible obstacle remains:  the Resurrection of Evil.

Join us on December 10 for an examination of the duality of the archetypal Resurrection.

Endurance Requires Rewards

When Voldemort kills Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows part II, Harry enters a Threshold existence, a “waiting station”.  Dearly beloved Dumbledore is there, and we and Harry discover three things.

  1. Voldemort, the Half-Blood Prince, is half-dead.  His horcrux soul attached to Harry is dead;  only the horcrux in the python remains.  Once that is destroyed, Voldemort’s physical being can be killed.
  2. Death is a transition. Harry can choose to move on or return and fulfill all of his destiny.
  3. Everything that has happened—the tortuous years at Hogwarts and with his aunt and uncle, Hermione’s wiping her existence from her parents’ memories, Dobby’s sacrificial death and the multi-layered loss of Sirius Black—all have purpose. The multiple sacrifices of the Dear will lead to a greater, freer existence.

Friendship, loyalty, and love brought Harry through the battles.  These three are the ultimate reward:  a reward that Voldemort mocks.

Someone said, in reaction to the white station scene with Dumbledore, “It’s all been worth it;  now we know.”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

The Treasure that Helps us Endure

  • For Anne Eliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Frederick Wentworth’s renewed love will help her endure the last few days with her atrocious family. Through the Ordeal, she intellectually and emotionally divorced herself from her old life.  In the Reward, she looks to the potential of the future.
  • In The 13th Warrior, the Wendol Mother is dead. The warriors escaped from the inescapable lair.  They lost comrades;  their leader is dying;  they must still battle the Wendol leader.  But they can taste success, and they begin to reap the rewards.  This is especially true for Ibn, who did not understand the Warrior Code.  He understands it now.  When the culminating battle approaches, he now fully understands the purification prayer he was taught and the Northmen’s Invocation of Blood.

As audience, as writers, we relish the moment of the Reward even as we anticipate the last three stages:  the Road Back, the Resurrection (of the Evil and of the Protagonist), and the Return with the Elixir.  It’s time, we may think, for this to be over.  We want that first sip of the Elixir.

Hold on.  Stay in the Reward moment.  Our audience, our protagonists, and we as writers:  we all need that Reward.

The Reward requires the same consideration as the Approach to the Inmost Cave: Click here to refer to that blog in a new window.

In Approach, our protagonists acknowledge their increasing transformation as they reject any return to the Ordinary World and their former Dears.

The Last Reward

Here, in Stage 9, our protagonists achieve the last necessary change to themselves, to their goals, and to their desires.

“Achieve” does not mean a change occurs.  Instead, protagonists can grasp their transformed goal, their new Dear.

In Approach, that goal and Dear were merely contemplated as the once-enticing old ones were rejected.

Now, the lover embraces his beloved, the king steps foot in his restored realm, the fighter sees justice again in play instead of trampled under vengeful foot.

The Reward is tangible, a living and pulsing reality that proves “It’s all been worth it;  now we know.”

Ordeal vs. Reward

As the Ordeal was all-out hatred, the Reward is all-out love.  The protagonist basks in celebration at achieving the new Dear.

And the new Dear is welcoming, joyful in contemplation of union with the protagonist.

To continue any conflict between the protagonist and the new Dear is to frustrate the audience.

This is the power of Dumbledore in the Reward of The Deathly Hallows part II.  He proves all points of the juxtaposition of Harry with Voldemort in the Ordeal.

This is Anne Eliot’s return home in Persuasion, in the old world as she anticipates the new and quite happy as she reject completely the old.

13th Warrior gives with one hand as it takes with the other.  One great defeat waits upon the next;  one heroic victory waits on an heroic death.  Buliwye is rewarded—oh, not with King Vortigern’s promised treasures and great funeral bonfire that a hero deserves.  “There is more, Little Brother,” as Herger says.  With the queen’s quick look around at the king’s promise, we know more than gold and weapons will pass with Buliwye through that bonfire into Valhalla.

A similar both-handed Ordeal and Reward occurs in The Return of the King with Eowyn.  As she killed the Nazguhl and its rider, she lost her beloved uncle.  In her Reward, she has wounds to recover from and a worthy man to recover with.

The Difficult Reward

For protagonists (like Harry Potter) who did not defeat the antagonist during the Ordeal, the culminating conflict occurs in Stage 11, the Resurrection.

If the protagonists failed spectacularly in the Ordeal, they are now prisoners of the antagonistic force.

Continuing to live is not the Reward.  Sorry, writers;  it’s not that easy.

The Reward provides opportunities for the miraculous, the foreshadowy magical (hinted at but never seen until this moment).

A beloved ally sacrifices himself to save the protagonists (Dobby).

The stone heart finally cracks; the ice finally melts.

Or information so desperately needed earlier becomes available now.

Or the untrusted Shapeshifter becomes trustworthy;  the trickster’s earlier trick percolates for hours, days, weeks and finally works out, exploding the imprisoning cage.

The impossible escape becomes possible through the others that the protagonist gathered earlier:  the thunder cliffs of 13th Warrior.

To Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, episode 7, the professor reminds her that she studied with the finest Constitutional scholar of England.  “You know all the fine points of our Constitution,” he tells her.  “You know more than anyone else.”  And this young woman, whom the world perceived as weak and lesser and not intellectual, realizes that she is more than anyone imagined, anyone including herself.  Elizabeth reaches an understanding that she had but didn’t comprehend:  “It is not my job to govern, but it is my job to ensure proper governance.”

Wrapping Up

The Reward is for our protagonists, our audiences, and ourselves as writers.

Be in the moment and don’t race through it.

The last three stages belong to the last segment of the Archetypal Story Pattern: Return and Re-Integration.

  1. The key to the antagonist’s ultimate defeat is found.
  2. The protagonists have their Dear and a new resolve and determination to achieve their goal.
  3. The protagonists think as individuals, not as the group taught them to think.

Join us on November 20 for the Road Back, Stage 10 of the 12-Stage Archetypal Story Pattern.  We’re almost done.

First Off:  a new cover for A Game of Spies,

the second book in the Hearts in Hazard series

by M.A. Lee. 

Originally published in November 2015, the cover needed updating after M.A. Lee’s HnH books 4, 5, and 6 came out in Spring 2017.  Here’s a first look at the new cover.

Giles Hargreaves is hunting a French spy who somehow manages to steal government documents.  Josette amuses herself playing whist at salons hosted by her sister-in-law.  When Giles and Josette met, they are attracted immediately. 

But he believes she is connected to the French spy.

And she thinks he will break her heart.

Giles and Josette have their first serious conversation on a settee under a stairway in the Sourantine house.  The cover models perfectly capture that scene from the book.

The cover designer at Deranged Doctor Design combined the old cover with the new in a clever way.  The playing cards and the sealed letters from the old cover along with the dominant color image transfer from the old to the new while the focus is on the couple.

Here’s the former cover image.  I still love it, but I love the new one more.

A Game of Spies by M. A. Lee
After Publishing, What’s Next?

For a writer, it’s freaky hard to go to a site that has THE BOOK for sale, type in the name of the author, and nothing comes up for three or four pages.

A writer with part of my name shows up first in the Amazon Kindle store.  And then, oh the ignominy, the other writer with exactly my name shows up before my books do . . . and this after I did research before my first published book to ensure that no other Amazon writer was using my name.

Oh well.

Okay, all is not lost.  We can do a search for the title.

Digging into Death . . . Bam!  Got it in one.

A Game of Secrets . . . not on the first three pages.

A Game of Spies . . . 2nd page!  Yippee!

A Game of Hearts . . . Wow! 1st page.

The Danger of Secrets . . . 1st page.  Yippee!  Yippee!

The Danger for Spies . . . Success!  1st page, second one listed.  Wait, the first book doesn’t even have The Danger for Spies as a title.  🙁

The Danger to Hearts . . . 1st page, first one listed.  2nd Coming of Happiness!  Bliss Again!

But my author page doesn’t come up quickly unless you find one of my books and then click on my name.

And you can find the Hearts in Hazard series just by typing “Hearts in Hazard”.

Indie Challenges

Indie Writers face many challenges long after they have a story they believe is ready for print.

We want to present the best manuscript, one that is polished and as error free as possible.  100% perfection is not possible . . . so we strive for the highest level that is.

Then we can make a cover for ourselves or find someone who can do it at a cost we can afford.

I knew I couldn’t make a good cover.  I am artistically creative as well as verbally so, but a professional designer knows to look for things and add things in and use balance and proportion in ways that I never thought.

Plus, a professional designer knows the photoshop program they are using.  I would have a huge learning curve.  Shouldn’t I spend my time writing?

It took me 18 months to find a cover designer that fit my aesthetic.  I found Deranged Doctor Design by sheer luck . . . for a “God wink”.  They are life savers, believe me.  During my 18-month search, I worked on other books, which enabled me to put out three books back to back, October and November and December in 2015: my first three books, the first three in the Hearts in Hazard trilogy, a one-two-three punch.

DDD is the BEST!  I love working with them.  Their covers are lovely, no matter in which genre they are working.  They provide options and previews, and they are willing to switch things around.  They are clear in what they can and cannot do.  DDD works within a time frame that I understand.  They have a great template that pulls from the author the information they need to work with.  DDD is brave for working with Indie Writers.


After the writing and the editing and the cover designer, the job of an Indie Writer is not over.  Marketing comes next.  I am still working on this one.

Discoverability is now on my ToBeRead list.  By Kristine Kathryn Rusch, it discusses what a writer needs to know about getting their works to the audience in the current state of the reading marketplace.

Getting the book out there, getting the name out there, attracting attention with the right cover and the right blurb and the right audience, these are the five essentials for all Indie Writers.

But I’ll keep writing, and hopefully the “God wink” will happen soon. 😉

I did drink the water in Greenville, MS!

~ M.A. Lee