Saturday, June 11, 2011

Moving Your Book Through 3 Acts

Most who teach the craft of novel writing show you how to move your book through 3 acts:

Act I: The opening scene may take multiple chapters. At this stage the author is introducing the reader to the lead character’s world, and helping them connect empathetically via some sort of disturbance that rocks that world. This disturbance affects the lead character’s normal life, requiring them to either ignore or take on the force behind the disturbance. To make for an interesting read, their choice must thrust the character onto a path of no return.

James Scott Bell (, in chapter 2 of Plot and Structure, talks about the disturbance and the doorway, or what we often think of as the point of no return, the plot point, or crossing the threshold. Below summarizes his main points as I understand them.

The disturbance disrupts the status quo. There must be some kind of threat or challenge which will build the reader’s immediate interest in the characters and the story. Bell reminds us of Alfred Hitchcock’s axiom: A good story is life, with the dull parts taken out. The disturbance is not the plot, as there has been no confrontation, and it is also not the doorway. The disturbance may be a phone call in the middle of the night, someone being rushed to the hospital, the boss calling the character into the office, the death of someone, the witnessing of a murder or an accident, a spouse who disappears or walks away from the marriage, a suspicious fire, and so on.

Bell refers to the point of no return as a doorway that the character is being thrust through. The disturbance creates an unavoidable situation that forces the lead character into motion, causing them to begin a journey that requires change. Once thrust through the doorway there is no way back to the status quo, and the character is now in the middle of the conflict, and with no way out. Being pushed through the doorway is THE END of ACT I and passage into ACT II.

Questions to ask yourself of ACT I:
1.     What is the status quo like in the lead character’s world?
2.     Have I shown their normal world vs. telling or describing?
3.     What is the disturbance that disrupts the status quo?
4.     What force is behind that disturbance?
5.     Does the scene show the disturbance rather than describe?
6.     What event forces the lead character through the doorway and into the middle of the conflict?
7.     Can the lead character walk away from the plot or the center of the conflict, and go on as if nothing happened? If so, you’ve not found the doorway.

Bell offers some exercises that are very helpful in discerning the differences between the disturbance and the doorway. For example he suggests analyzing some novels or movies to identify the disturbance in the leads ordinary world, and at what point is the lead then thrust into the center of the conflict. Can the lead walk away and go back to his or her life undisturbed?

For more exercises and a greater in depth look at this topic, pick up Bell’s book from Amazon:  

In my next post I’ll summarize ACT II and III. For more writing tips go to our publishing website: 

Write on!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Creating Vibrant Characters

It is quite possible that over the next month I'll be writing a slew of posts where I quote or refer to James Scott Bell as I am reading his book on Plot and Structure. Fabulous book for writers who are ever growing, ever reaching.

Though Bell's book is not about character development per se, I was struck today as he talked about establishing a bond with the reader through the lead character.  He says that he "happened across Lajos Egri's advice about living, vibrating human beings being the secret of great enduring writing. Egri suggested that if you truly know yourself deeply and intimately, you will be able to create great, complex, and interesting characters."

I spent a few minutes thinking this through before the obvious occurred to me. I am the source of my characters. If I know me, then I have a rich well from which my characters can react to circumstances or engage in genuine dialogue. If I am honest with me about me, then their responses can be deep and rich, rather than stiff or contrived. Wearing a character's shoes may be quite the worthwhile exercise.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Love Letters to Miscarried Moms

Below is an article I wrote for the OCCWF (Orange County Christian Writer's Conference) on Samantha Evans, author of Love Letters to Miscarried Moms.

Last year, the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award was inaugurated in memory of Beverly Bush, former Co-Director Emeritus of OCCWF, who went home to the Lord in 2009. The first recipient of the award, in the form of a scholarship, was Samantha Evans. As we anticipate this year’s conference, we contacted Samantha to see how her writing progresses.

Samantha’s first book, Love Letters to Miscarried Moms available through and, is a testimony to God’s faithfulness and the significance He bestows on our life, despite the circumstances that seem to say otherwise.

Samantha experienced the joy of becoming pregnant, the wonder of a baby developing in her, and the devastation of a miscarriage. On the night she miscarried, God laid the phrase, “Love Letters to Miscarried Moms” on her heart, and she knew she was writing a book. In the midst of deep sorrow, she sat at her keyboard and let the Lord move her fingers. Little by little, as the book emerged, so did Samantha, from the depths of a dark place.

Samantha is a minister and a writer. Her mission is to “be a pen in the Master’s hands.” She has certainly accomplished this in Love Letters to Miscarried Moms. She employs wit and transparent sincerity to convey the depth of her experience. With stories and encouragement that make you laugh and cry, Samantha will walk the grieving mother through her own process to experience all her heart holds.

Samantha was both excited and shocked to receive the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award. She entered without expecting to win. But the Lord used the encouragement of this award, and circumstances that opened her time, to position her to finish the book this past summer. With one out of every four or five pregnancies ending in miscarriage, this is an important work on a topic rarely addressed.

In addition to birthing this book, Samantha again conceived and is expecting a valentine baby. She says, “Through all of my trials God has reminded me with a wink that He is the best story-teller of all. My baby, my Valentine, a love letter from God.”

You can read excerpts from Samantha’s book on her blog: You can also visit her Facebook page named: "Love Letters to Miscarried Moms”. I encourage you to get a copy for yourself and one for the precious woman in your life that needs to be heard and understood in her own journey back from a dark place of loss and grief.

Register for your opportunity to be this year’s recipient of the Beverly Bush Smith Aspiring Writer Award at

~~ Susan Skommesa ~~

Author Simon Tolkien, Grandson of JRR Tolkien, Keynote Speaker at OCCWC

Southern California writers! The OCCWC (Orange County Christian Writer's Conference) is coming April 29 & 30. Go to for details & take advantage of the early-bird registration. Keynote speakers are Simon Tolkien & Vinita Hampton Wright! Hone your craft as you glean from speakers, workshop presenters, and fellowship with established authors. The conference is a great opportunity for the novice as well as the seasoned.  See you there!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

When was the last time you made yourself something?

Last week I went to leave the house and noticed my coat, hat, gloves, and scarf all were mismatched. Up here in the mountains, where winter includes snow and cold, these items are a necessity. As a girl who loves her accessories, I couldn't believe I didn't have any matching sets!  So the other day I couldn't sleep, and started thinking about my mismatched winter apparel. By 2:00 am I had a foot worth of a beautiful cable knit scarf started. I can't remember the last time I made myself something.

When was the last time you made yourself something?


Thursday, September 30, 2010


This year is my 30th high school reunion. For the first time in as many years I am connecting with my former classmates. I didn't enjoy high school. It was filled with too many dramas and hurts, even within my closest circle of friends. Both inside and outside that circle, I felt an enormous pressure to be a certain way. Debilitating judgments were made basically against everyone, and by everyone. We labeled each other based on those judgments. This overall lack of acceptance amongst us wreaked havoc with my self-esteem. As I now reconnect with those class mates I'm discovering that many had a similar perception of our high school years.

Of course as I trip down memory lane, and I think about the offenses against me, I realize that I still own hurts, grudges, and judgments from those years. Yet, in the midst of these memories, a freeing thought suddenly blazes through my mind. As I begin to realize what's lurking in my heart, as I take stock of the sins that were committed against me, I become acutely aware that these are the very sins I've committed against others. This is wildly liberating as all the monsters of my past melt into kids who where as hurting, immature, and defensive as me. Their judgments against me were not about my value, but about their perception of their own value.

And if this isn't enough, another realization zooms in and makes my heart giddy: The enemy of my soul wants to use my past to destroy my present by keeping offenses alive that no longer exist, except in my unforgiveness. Without forgiveness, I live in the chains of yesterday's resentments, judgments, and hurts today. The Father knows forgiveness is terribly difficult, so Jesus meets me in my hurts and resentments, and takes me through the process of forgiveness: realization, acknowledgement, surrender, apology, release, and freedom. Sometimes this process happens in lightning speed, as in this case. Other times I find myself walking through a long process of pealing the onion, layer by layer, in order to get to the sweet core. Either way, true and honest forgiveness is His door to my freedom.

Friday, July 23, 2010


by Susan Skommesa

Is an old bridge
Swaying ruthlessly
Between two weather eroded
Cuts of land
Old rope handles
Bitten into by the elements
Missing at intervals
Swallowed by the churning river below
Each bank
Wearing away
Loosening its grip on the bridge
Till finally
The bridge plunges to the rocks below
Leaving behind
Two broken cuts of land