While there are a lot of frameworks out there for structuring your novel, almost all fiction has a central thesis: your character must transform.

With Thanksgiving so recently past for those in the U.S., I thought I’d share a short & sweet strategy on how you can use thankfulness to craft or clarify a character arc.

Simply ask this question at two different times in your story, and ensure the answers are different:

What is your protagonist thankful for on Page One?

What are they thankful for on Page ‘The End’?

Thankfulness on Page One…

Your character is going to start the story in…

When Do You Introduce Backstory?

This came up twice in the past week, once in a blog, once with a coaching client, which made me think, “Clearly EVERY WRITER IN THE WORLD IS DEALING WITH THIS ISSUE,” so I thought I’d do a little post about it.

A Question To Ask

When trying to decide if you really need that beautiful, angsty backstory tidbit right now, ask:

“How will this bit of backstory info make the character’s situation more difficult — or their success more questionable — in the very next scene?”

Why It Can Help

It can prevent us from dropping in unnecessary bits of backstory, or dropping it in when we…

Plot Isn’t About Plot

Writers spend a lot of time plotting.

It may be when we first start writing — or even before we start :eyes plotters with an envious gaze: Or it might be 50% (or 100%) of the way through, when we stop writing ‘hot,’ look back over the story, and realize with a sinking heart, “OMG, I need a plot…”

But at some point, we plot.

It’s not enough to come up with a nasty, cruel plot that gives the protagonist a vital goal then makes it impossible to accomplish.

For great stories, you need more than that.

Or rather, you…

Ever write a story where the secondary characters take over?

Struggle to pin down a clear arc of change for your protagonist?

Got a lackluster Act III?

Have a plot that doesn’t push the right buttons? Where the main, biggest plot events happen to someone else, and your protagonist is more of an avid bystander?

Have a sinking suspicion that your story is just, well…boring.

You might be telling the wrong story.

Fixing it can take a lot of time, especially if you do small tweaks. Sometimes what we really need to do is hit the reset button. …

Last time we talked about how every scene has an implicit question related to whether the character will get what they want.

This is how you build tension, which is the key to powerful storytelling, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, or any other kind of story.

The Questions…

A brief refresher on Scene Questions in fiction.

There are 2 questions in every scene. If you’re writing romance, make that 3.

You can’t avoid them. I’m sorry, but you can’t. Trust me, I’ve tried, and written crappy scenes as a result, only I didn’t know this is why they were crappy until later.


Actually, three questions!

Every good scene implicitly plants a story question, then answers it.

The ‘questions’ fall into one of three realms, or axes, but at its core, the question is always: “Will they get it?”

The Three Axes

(Can we all agree the plural of ‘axis’ should be ‘axises’? Because this pluralization is just silly.)

Most fiction has two implicit story questions running through any scene, running along two axes/continuums.

Everything that happens in the scene pushes the character nearer to one end or the other of each axis.

  • Plot axis (aka: Story goal. …

Even in a pet shop in the dark of night…

Image Credit: Bundo Kim, Unsplash

Today I have kittens and puppies for your happiness.

Also…for Story!

I’m going to show you how tension works.

First, the kittens and puppies….

Kitty On A Mission

Here’s our story. Check it out.

Tension Is Story

Any time we’re invested in someone (such as a kitten), and that someone is in pursuit of a goal they care about (be free, little kitty!), and we’re uncertain of the outcome, you get…TENSION.


That’s Story. Right there, that little arc, in this one minute video.

We want this kitten to make it out of…

I just discovered you can clap more than once for a Medium article on purpose.

The first time I double clapped, I thought, “omg, I broke Medium.”

My second was that maybe my VPN wasn’t delivering its packets of veiled information fast enough, and Medium hadn’t yet caught up with the fact that I’d already clapped.

That didn’t make any sense, but I’ve been all trained up by other social media sites: clearly, you can only ‘like’ something once.

Honestly, I felt like I’d done something wrong by double clapping. …

In every story, your characters are fighting the giant.

You know the story of David and Goliath? The under-equipped, outmatched underdog going out to fight the dominant, stronger, more powerful opponent?

At its core, this is what fiction is all about. Fighting the giant. Storming the castle.

The ‘giant’ is the thing we can never win against. The thing that definitely, obviously, certainly can’t be overcome. Everyone knows it. It will always be more powerful than we are.

Until it’s not.

This is what your protagonist-en-route-to-becoming-a-hero is battling.

The giant can be unconcerned with your characters (nature), maliciously intent on them (bad guys), or living inside them, eating away…

So…let’s talk Game of Thrones….

The first episode of the last season aired last night, and I was…underwhelmed. Seriously underwhelmed.

If you haven’t watched it yet, look away.

I admit, I had high expectations, and too-high expectations can make even tiramisu taste meh (what??) so I accounted for that. Producers & storytellers can’t live up to imaginary perfection. But even so, I think….I think they lost their way.

As a storyteller, and a story-receiver, I was incredibly disappointed. I hesitate to even comment on it, because they’re clearly master storytellers.

I don’t think I’m even going to tag this post…

Kris Kennedy

USA Today bestselling author of historical & contemporary romance. Owner of Romance Writing Lab. Devoted wife & mom, apathetic cleaner. Eats Story for dinner.

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