Story Writing 101: The 3 Essentials of a Page-Turner

Convertable CarStory writing is hard.

Budding authors ask me all the time how it’s done. Is there a trick, they want to know—a formula?

I wish there were. Beware writing coaches who promise shortcuts.

If you’ve spent much time on this site, you’ve read this before: If story writing were easy, anyone could do it. You’re here, I hope, because, though you know it’s hard, you still dream of doing it, and doing it right.

Not Easy, But Simple

I’m happy to say, however, that there is a handy and memorable way to look at crafting a story.

Picture your finished product as a car—any model you want. Make it as sleek and flashy or as solid and efficient as you wish.

All you really need are three essentials for this model:

  • An engine
  • A driver
  • Fuel

And since this dream car is a metaphor for what you want to write, here are the parts your story needs:

Concept—Your Story’s Engine

Simply put, you need a great idea. Tell a story that would keep your interest, keep you turning the pages.

If it accomplishes that, you can be sure there’ll be plenty of readers out there like you.

Just as your dream car goes nowhere without an engine, your story fails without a compelling idea that grips your reader from the get-go.

“Judith’s mother remarried two years after her father died…” is an anecdote.

“Judith hated her mother’s new husband…” is a story.

Character—Your Story’s Driver

Readers care about, fall in love with, and remember characters.

Good story writing means infusing your characters with sass and attitude and voice. They must be decisive and proactive, not ambivalent and reactive.

A memorable character learns and grows and rises to meet challenges. That’s who you want behind the wheel of your story.

Conflict—Your Story’s Fuel

What’s the point of owning a dream car—or writing the story you’ve always wanted to—and forgetting to fill its tank?

You’ve opted for a great concept as your engine, and a dynamic character serves as your heavy-footed driver.

So for fuel, you need conflict to keep your reader flipping those pages.

To keep every scene crackling, inject it with conflict. One character will counter another—argue, blame, criticize, fight.

Or a problem, challenge, danger, or life-and-death quest must present itself.

Conflict supercharges your engine when your driver floors the accelerator.

Story Writing Isn’t That Complicated 

Remind yourself to view your story as a car, and make sure you equip it with the best engine, driver, and fuel.

You’ll soon find yourself writing the stories you’ve always wanted to write.

And maybe soon we’ll see your name on the bestseller lists. 

Tell me in the Comments below how you’ll outfit your next story to run as smoothly as a new car.

Related Posts:

How to Write a Short Story That Captivates Your Reader

How to Write a Book: Everything You Need to Know in 20 Steps

How to Write a Memoir: A 3-Step Guide

  • philipparees

    Simple and well put- a good story in this. Lean, to the point and applicable.

    • Jerry B Jenkins


  • Janelle Spiers (The Story Girl

    Thank you, Mr. Jenkins. I really like this illustration of what a quality story needs. I use your ideas as a checklist against my current draft to see what I might be missing or could add. Thanks for your insight!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thank you, Janelle.

  • Laurie Kehoe

    All three of our books use this formula. I started out with an idea, each one is based on a scripture actually. We spent a lot of time building up the characters so that they would impress on the readers and each book has little hooks throughout leading to a dramatic conflict. I so appreciate reading your blogs. It either teaches me something new or reaffirms that what I have done is the right way to go. And I’m surely hoping to be on that list some day!!!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Laurie.

  • Renette Steele

    Thank you Mr. Jenkins for this great comparison.
    Now everytime I drive around in my yellow bug i will be dreaming things up even more.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great, Renette. I owned two red bugs. :)

      • John Morgan

        I had red bugs once. Got rid of them with Absorbine Jr. Ouch????

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Rim shot.

          But true story: One of my two red bugs almost did me in. With the first I hit two horses head-on. 120 stitches to the face (thus the beard). Missed my own brother’s wedding.

          • John Morgan

            Wow! Bug Bug bloody! Talk about a page turner!

          • John Morgan

            WoW! Not one but two horses! I know you survived but how were the horses?

            I’m actually writing a book called “War On Fear.”
            I want it to be compelling.

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            BTW, it was a pleasure meeting you some years back, John. All the best with your book.

            And you make it 100%. Every person who hears my horse accident story asks about the horses–including the judge and the jury in the personal injury case–making me glad the negligent farmer settled just before the case was tried. They were killed, of course. One had to be put down by the police. (The horses, that is, not the jury.)

          • John Morgan

            Now that’s a story with legs..And an engine!

  • autonomous

    Very concise.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Your name fits my metaphor. :)

  • Love metaphors… It always helps to have that image in your mind as you write, and this one is great! I need to ‘fill up my tank’, and add some more conflict in. I’ve been working on that, and I think my story’s getting to be pretty good. Thanks for this!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      You’re welcome. :)

  • Janice G

    Your metaphor is perfect! To expand on it, the car needs to be going somewhere new, somewhere that the character has not been before to meet a unique challenge, to hit the conflict head on, and to find a way through that the reader would not expect. You asked how to outfit the next story to run smoothly as a new car? With both GPS and maps to new destinations, on and off the road, and hopefully with a Bible or Christian companions for discerning spiritual direction.

    • Ashanda N. McCants

      I like that addition. Thanks.

      • Jerry B Jenkins

        Me too. :)

  • Lisa Glasgow

    Your emails are presents in my inbox. Thank you. :)
    At the moment I am working on delaying closure when my characters face obstacles. We’re trained to solve problems quickly in life. In writing it’s boring. Better to delay resolution and even compound the problem when possible. Old habits are hard to break but this is part of the story’s fuel, isn’t it?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Lisa, and yes, it’s good to remember a novelist’s mantra: ‘Make ’em wait.’

  • Thanks! I linked your article on my blog. It helps to think in those images, love it.

  • Adrienne LaCava

    What everybody else says. Simply… excellent.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Adrienne. :)

  • Jim Toner

    I found this to be a good analogy of story writing.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Jim.

  • a powerful concept engine, a driver with attitude, and a tank filled with conflict. You can’t beat it.

    • Jerry B Jenkins


  • Excellent. I write nonfiction, but I find I love to glean what you have to say b/c so often I open with or include stories even in nonfiction.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good, Lisa!

  • Horace Martin

    Thanks Jerry, the idea of conflict in every scene helps tremendously in the novel I’m writing. :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great, Horace. Thanks!

  • Judy Peterman Blackburn

    Really liked the analogy. The story I’m working on now is back in the early 1900’s, not many cars yet. lol My characters are galloping by on horseback or driving a wagon with a team of horses. Thanks for such an excellent post to help keep the story in conflict and focus. :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Ha! Hope the analogy still works. Careful of the exhaust though. :)

  • Ashanda N. McCants

    I’m working on the second book in my middle grade series and I’m already making my characters edgier. I wanted more depth to their personalities the second time around, especially since they are a home school family. Also, conflict. There will be more rivalry between the ‘us’s’ and ‘them’s’ of the book. My struggle: I still want to make the story lighthearted and message driven and don’t want to weigh too heavily on the pet for comic relief like in the first book. We’ll see how it goes, I’m only on Chapter 3.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good, Ashanda. Lighthearted stories still need conflict–it’s just defined a little differently. Just like hugely dark stories need humor. That was my challenge in the Left Behind series–how to lighten things up once in a while with all the chaos and mayhem. I resorted to using bureaucrats as buffoons, and people loved it.

      In your case, the conflict might be over seemingly trivial things, but they are important to those in conflict. Maybe girls fight over a boy; boys compete for a sports championship, etc.

      • Ashanda N. McCants

        I remember that. I was pregnant with my first child and read about 8 or 9 books in the series in two days. Those were the days, when I had time to spend reading like that. I can’t read like that unless the book is just that good. But Nicolae and Leon (with that ridiculous outfit) tripping over one another was hilarious.

  • Jessica R. Wakefield

    Hi Jerry,

    Love your advice. It’s clear and easy to comprehend and follow. I’ve just finished my first draft of my first novel and am letting it sit for a bit before I launch into major edits. I feel like a teacher with a subject I’m still learning about that I have to teach the next day. I’m also the student. I’m reading up on structure etc and then making myself learn it as I go along!

    Thanks again

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thank you, Jess.

  • Frances Wilson

    Jerry I too like and appreciate the advice. I particularly like the explanation about simple and easy. I have done the oil check, I have checked the exhaust, the engine and the tires. For over a year, I kept on editing. At one point, I even turned off the inner editor stopped listening for problems in the engine..
    There comes that point where I must put the key in the ignition. I will be doing that as I submit my first manuscript this week. Thanks again Jerry. I appreciate you.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Appreciate your kind comments, Frances.

  • Carolyn McBreen Gibbs

    As usual, very informative and easy to follow! Thank you!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Carolyn.

  • Elizabeth

    I liked the illustration. I think I need a professional editor at some point, or a professional critique, but before that I want to make sure to tight things up quite a bit. ….Learning (I was going to say “I really liked ” but I remembered the advice: “don’t hedge” and indeed if I think about that, without hedging it sounds more sincere than hedging. Isn’t that interesting? One more case where less is more :) I read somewhere that plots should be simple, but I guess most writers are complicated enough to make it messy and then go back and erase 90% of it…I just need to learn to be in a position where I only need to erase 10%… I just need a little more talent…everything else I got!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Elizabeth. When am I going to get to that point? Every morning I edit what I wrote the day before, and I’m pretty sure I cut way more than 10% of yesterday’s today. And this is my 188th book. :)

  • Robert Murphy

    Thanks – put that together with your “show” not “tell” tip and I think my writing has reached another level. On the second draft of my book, I rewrote the prologue twice and still wasn’t happy with it. After scrapping most of it, I took a complete different approach and that seems to be working. When I stopped telling about it and showing it, similar to your engine example, the story began working. I also found that a lot of my struggles come when I write about something of which I know little, or have doubts about what I’m writing.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Great, Robert, good to know this is working for you.

  • MofPennsy

    Thinking of a guy who will certainly not be “allowed” to maintain his armor of Scientific Detachment…

  • Character development.

  • Elizabeth

    God bless you! ( would exclamation mark be correct here? If not just pretend you didn’t see it LOL.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      You’re about to find out how complex fiction writing is. :)

      The answer to this seemingly simple question is this: it depends.

      Who is speaking? What gender? How old? How much noise is in the room? What is the hearing capacity of the hearer? What is the intent of the expression? (sincere? sarcastic? happy? angry? in response to a sneeze?)

      That’s the fun of being a novelist. You get to decide. If a man sneezes in front of his little granddaughter, she says, “God bless you!”

      If a woman trudges past the pastor on her way out of church and says, “I lost my job, and my daughter left home for college this week,” he might take her hand in both of his and whisper sympathetically, “God bless you.”

      If it’s simply you saying “God bless you” to me in the Comments section here, I’ll accept it with the exclamation point and respond, “Thanks! And the same to you!”

  • Glenda

    I’m finding that fiction writing can be as complex as real life. A memorable character learns and grows and rises to meet challenges. As writers we have to be on point with our message and consider all the angles of a story as we race readers- pedal-to-the medal to a satisfactory finish w/o crashing and burning. :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      It had better be as complex as real life or it won’t ring true, which is what will make it memorable.

      And that would be ‘pedal to the metal (referring to the floorboard).’ :)

      • Glenda

        Won’t make that mistake again! :)

  • Glenda

    Does my character thank someone who wishes to remain anonymous?
    Does that deflate the joy of a kind deed…that’s conflict…

    • Jerry B Jenkins


      A: “I’m doing this under the condition that you tell no one, promise?”

      B: “Promise.”

      C: “Did you do that for her?”

      A: “Why do you ask?”

      C: “She told me you did and that you insisted on anonymity. You’re so wonderful!”

      A: “B, did you tell C I did that after you promised you would tell no one?”

      B: “Yes, but she promised she wouldn’t say anything, and you were so kind, I just had to tell someone!”

      A: “See if I ever do anything for you again!”

      B: “You can’t be mad at me for being so grateful to you…”

      That’s conflict.

      • Glenda

        I did that for my character, yes. But sadly, she missed the subtle details of the delivery, and contacted the only people she knew might have been the gift-giver. What she is learning, I think, is to PAY ATTENTION to the details. They all matter. She was so overcome with gratitude though, that like Mary the mother of Jesus, she stored up all these things in her heart.

        That last part… probably wouldn’t resonate with many readers, though, huh?

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Curious as to why you speak of her as if you have no control over her.

          • Glenda

            Point taken! ;)

          • Glenda

            Mr. Jenkins, I have a question. If you were Larry,
            would you:
            A. Fire her
            B. Throw the flowers in the trash
            C. Forgive her

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            According to your synopsis:
            A: I couldn’t fire her because I’m not her boss.
            B: I wouldn’t have the flowers; she would.
            C: Forgive her for not knowing my initials? Sure, but I’d question her future in radio. :)

          • Glenda

            When the Stars Aligned: Divine Appointments of Faith

          • Glenda

            Or D: Tell her she should consider a career in fiction?
            Btw-this is multiple choice. Cleverer people are better at word problems (as in Math) and I welcome your answer in that form….

          • Jerry B Jenkins

            She’d be great at fiction if she initials that don’t include an L and think Larry sent them. :)

          • Glenda

            I’ve never had a better teacher. An earthly one that is.

          • Glenda

            Mr. Jenkins-We are so blessed (here at the Inspirational Market). You give so much, I pray you know that your sharing your very self (like the apostle Paul) has encouraged me more than any thing. Thank you, for listening. Writing is my joy. It’s beyond-belief to be read. :)

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          I’m having trouble making sense of this synopsis.

          Larry is a seasoned pro, on staff, takes her under his wing, gives pointers, chats amiably, is like a big brother, genuinely cares about co-workers.

          Doesn’t sound like the type who would anonymously send flowers. Sounds like the type who would overtly encourage. Also sounds like the type who could be easily asked, “Did you hear my debut and what did you think?” Or, if he didn’t mention the obvious shout outs, that would make it plain he hadn’t heard her debut.

          If her co-worker (fellow co-worker is redundant, btw) got flowers from him, sending flowers anonymously is obviously not his M.O.

          It doesn’t make sense that a man’s wife would send flowers to another woman anonymously and run the risk she would think they were from him.

          If the assistant did it, she was told to do it, so they would still be from him and she would have been instructed not to say anything.

          Leaving the message, “Was it you and if so why are you ignoring me?” sounds so juvenile it’s beyond credible.

          Mentioning initials on the card after having established that the flowers had come anonymously is a jarring surprise and makes her look worse that clueless. That proves it wasn’t Larry and takes all the air out of that mystery.

          Her worrying that Larry will brush her off seems strange. If he sent her flowers, why would he give her the cold shoulder. But since the card bore initials other than his he’ll more likely ask her what in the world she’s talking about.

          Why is she worried about her job if Larry is just a seasoned pro? Are we to see him as her boss now?

          She sees this as a spiritual problem why–because she thought it was Larry despite that the card did not even bear his initials and she left that desperate message on his phone?

          “It only matters that a kind deed was done.” No, in that case what matters is that she imagined a scenario that didn’t exist.

          I know I’m sounding picky, but I think those are the kinds of questions readers will ask.

          • Glenda

            Yeah, this story is a bit of a stretch. It was poorly written…Wadding it up now, and throwing it in the trash. Thank you for taking the time to critique it.

      • Glenda

        My scene has been edited and ready for review…is it too long for a post?
        I respect your time, and know there are other students, too. I try hard to say what I need to say as succinctly as possible… But if you are available, I would appreciate your input on this piece. (I don’t know how to move the edited post “up” to this one…) From five hours ago.

      • Glenda

        Hint: The reply from five hours ago.

      • Glenda

        This character has been found dead. R.I.P.

      • Glenda

        The new character replacing her will be far wiser.

  • Glenda

    Does anyone else struggle to write about characters who have good traits and yet to insert conflict, they say hurtful and mean things? I have a character who is befriending another because of a relationship between their children. And it’s going south fast, but for the sake “of the kids” the lead character is working overtime w/o much success to maintain good boundaries. Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes. We can overlook that. But what about a character who can be clueless (as above) how far will a reader go, with that character? is there a way to gauge that? This IS tough.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Sure, Glenda, I do. You always have to have counterbalancing characters who, in essence, play the role of the reader and ask questions the reader would. “Why are you being this way? I’m only trying to help! Why must you always be so mean?” And the clueless character responds poorly even to that, and the reader becomes even more sympathetic to the character trying to make peace. It makes for DELICIOUS conflict and keeps the reader turning the pages.

  • Meredith C.

    Love this! Thanks for sharing, Jerry.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks, Meredith.

  • Another example of real sounding dialogue of a smart character caught up in a lifestyle where she does not belong.

    Lisa despised the fact that she was hired into a nonrated, mindless job on a production line.
    “Do you know I am assembling heat sync units that are put into missiles meant to blow up entire cities? So does that mean if the missiles are ever launched—I will have the karma upon my soul from killing millions of people? Maybe they should use monkey’s to perform my job since it is so mindless”, Lisa said to Joe.

    “You make no sense, Lisa. It’s a job that pays money. That’s all that matters”. Joe said after exhaling his cigarette smoke.

    “You know—a conversation with you is as bad as talking to the white trash single ex-welfare mothers I work with. Having a conversation with these women consisted of vocabularies laced with profanity”. Lisa said in a frustrated tone of voice.

    “What?” Joe said with a chuckle.

    “Nothing”. Lisa replied.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Good, and brave, of you to post here for a little input and critiquing, Laura. And the idea of a character who is, as you say, caught up in a lifestyle where she doesn’t belong, carries built-in conflict, which always adds a page-turner element.

      Now, if I may, let me turn an editor’s eye to this and add my comments in brackets:

      Lisa despised the fact [I would delete ‘the fact’] that she was [avoid state-of-being verb construction, like ‘was’; even ‘had been’ would liven this a bit] hired into a nonrated, mindless [always choose the best of two adjectives, in this case the second, as the first is vague to the uninitiated (like me :)), so go with just ‘mindless’] job on a production line [you always want to omit needless words to tighten, so that phrase could be ‘production line job’]. [Then think of the logic of the sentence. Does she really hate that she was hired on, or that she took the job? I’d rewrite as follows:]

      Lisa despised that she had settled for a mindless production line job.

      “Do you know I am [actually I don’t think this sounds like natural dialogue; wherever you can, chop dialogue to the bone and it will sound more natural; this has a feel of trying to tell the reader specific information; this starts too formally; try starting with ‘You know I’m…’] assembling heat sync units that are put into missiles meant to blow up entire cities? [do people really converse in complete sentences like that? seems this would sound more natural if she said ‘…putting together stuff for missiles, Joe?’] So does that mean if the missiles are ever launched—I will have the karma upon my soul from killing millions of people? [‘I can’t help thinking I could be helping kill millions of people. That’s some heavy karma.’] Maybe they should use monkey’s [‘monkeys’ would take no apostrophe here] to perform my job since it is so mindless” [what’s the relevance here? that hardly seems as important as the angst she feels about the lives of millions] Lisa said to Joe. [this dialogue attribution comes way too late and is unnecessary anyway if you have her use his name and have him use hers in response. So, I’m suggesting her dialogue look like this:]

      “You know I’m putting together stuff for missiles, Joe? I can’t help thinking I could be helping kill millions of people. That’s some heavy karma.”

      “You make no sense, Lisa. [your dialogue attribution should come after the first phrase] It’s a job that pays money. That’s all that matters”. [this should be a comma and should go inside the quote marks, preceding dialogue attribution] Joe said after exhaling his cigarette smoke. [avoid describing action as part of dialogue attribution; better to use it instead, like before he speaks, then you don’t have to say who’s speaking because the reader knows, like: Joe took a puff on his cigarette. ‘You make no sense, Lisa…’]

      [the problem is the above dialogue from Joe is on-the-nose, making a sort of caricature of him; if you’re not familiar with that term, here’s a blog I wrote on the topic that might be helpful: I would render his dialogue this way:]

      Joe took a puff on his cigarette. “Don’t think about it, Lisa. We need the money.” [that gives the reader credit for being able think on their own and understand what he’s saying without your having to be so overt; she has a conscience; he doesn’t]

      “You know—a conversation with you is as bad as talking to the white trash single ex-welfare mothers I work with. [again, the dialogue sounds stilted and wordy] Having a conversation with these women consisted of vocabularies laced with profanity”[you put this inside the quotes, as if she said this to him too, but it reads like commentary to the reader]. [again, this should be a comma, not a period, and should go inside the quotes, and the attribution comes too late] Lisa said in a frustrated tone of voice [‘of voice’ is redundant, but adding that she sounded frustrated should be unnecessary if you choose the right words for her dialogue, which I would suggest rendering like this:]

      She shook her head and waved him off. “You sound so white trash. Just like the foul-mouthed single mothers I work with.”

      “What?” Joe said with a chuckle.

      “Nothing”. [comma, inside the quote mark] Lisa replied. [‘replied’ is archaic; use ‘said’; but in this case you don’t need any attribution; the reader will know who said it.]

      Laura, this can be a colorful bit of poignant dialogue, but I would drop the line about the mindless assembly line job, because that isn’t really the issue, is it? He problem is what her work is contributing to.

      • Sorry it took so long to reply. Thank you so much for the critique; it was an eye opener for me.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Hope it was helpful. Join us for the free webinar Thursday.

      • Grace Potts

        Thanks for the reminder! The classmate from 50 years ago who I’ve patterned a cameo character on used to say, “Ak’-chu-ally,” almost twice per sentence. Don’t know if I’ll use that, but it certainly helps with picturing the cameo in my own mind. :) Grace Potts

      • Spirit Plumber

        Thanks! I’m one of those learns-by-example types, and this helps a lot in general.

  • Jane E Osborn

    Funny thing about life. It can be so amazing that my husband and I are always saying, “If we wrote this into a story no one would believe it.” We have unfolding concepts based partly on life’s twists in our wild and wooly western world. We have characters, oh yes. And conflicts are inevitable. So I totally like and grasp this car concept. Among many hats he wears, my husband is a professional driver, so he’ll love this. Here’s my question: Is it OK to base our stories on these almost unbelievable circumstances and characters, or should one tone them down so readers don’t throw them out with the bathwater? Or are they just incredible to us?

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Insightful questions, Jane, and your instincts are right. That’s the funny thing about fiction and nonfiction these days. Their definitions have flipflopped. To succeed, fiction has to be believable and nonfiction has to be unbelievable.

      As you imply, put the crazy things that happen in real life into a novel and readers will say, “C’mon, that would never happen!” Put it in a nonfiction book and they say, “Wow, that actually happened!”

      So, you decide. If you’re writing a novel, you can use real scenarios to flavor and season your story, then make the outcomes realistic enough to serve your plot. If you want to knock the socks off your reader with the actual craziness, tell the true story and label it as such.

      • Jane E Osborn

        Thank you, Jerry. I didn’t know this flip-flop with fiction and non-fiction. Fascinating, and I will ponder how to proceed, because most of what I am working on is fiction. I better become a gourmet cook who drives. Flavored and seasoned Writing 101 style.

        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Jane, this is borne out in the bestseller lists: nonfiction bestsellers are about people who have died and gone to heaven and come back to tell about it. Put that in a novel and an editor would say, “No way, get real.”

  • Elizabeth

    What a joy is to follow your mind, even if I wasn’t to learn anything. :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thanks. If I hadn’t lost it I’d try to follow it too.

  • Elizabeth

    I sure laughed with that one. Thanks. I love to start my day with a good laugh :) God bless!

  • NT

    Thanks, Jerry. I like your posts, which are witty, insightful, and very helpful for my writing. I’m revising my first novel and on the way to the third draft. Yes, writing is hard.

    I appreciate your further advice on characterization. I wonder if a character who is ambivalent and reactive at the beginning but becomes decisive and proactive at the end–or eventually faces consequences because of his indecisiveness–still makes a story compelling.

    As “a memorable character learns and grows and rises to meet challenges,” what is your thought about a character who turns to be the same person of the beginning, as his choice, after meeting all challenges? Is he still a memorable one?

    • Jerry B Jenkins


      • Jerry B Jenkins

        Was that unequivocal enough? :)

        Character arc is the point of novel writing. If the character doesn’t learn anything, that means the novelist hasn’t and neither will the reader. If the character suffers the consequences, we learn what we’ve known for thousands of years: we reap what we sow.

        Rather, inspire me with my possibilities if I learn from my mistakes and can reach my potential. That’s a memorable read. :)

        • NT

          Thank you, Jerry, for your response, quick and unequivocal. And it convinced me :)

          Your sentence said it all, “Character arc is the point of novel writing.” And your words about learning from mistakes emphasize that the character has to grow, one way or another. I feel more of writing fiction’s meaning now. That’s why people come to fiction, to find their potentials, as inspired by the character’s growth–through challenges and mistakes. Don’t you think so?
          This thought helps me a lot for the ongoing revision of my work. Many thanks again, Jerry.

        • Spirit Plumber

          How about Rayford Steele though? He doesn’t really change much after a conversion that happens very early in the series.

          (I really, really, really want to write Cendrillon Jospin’s story, not sure why. Just resonates with me. I think it’s because I have had the same struggle spiritually.)

          • He doesn’t? Never heard that before. Most critics ascribe the tens of millions of sales of the series (still selling 100k a year, 21 years since the first title released) to Rayford’s character arc through the sixteen books. He goes from being a selfish, deceptive, pleasure-seeking, egotist to being a brave servant leader.

            What would you do with Cendrillon?

          • Spirit Plumber

            Cendrillon was around for 100 years, 93 of which post-Appearing. From what little you wrote of her she seems kind, curious, thoughtful, inquisitive, and not averse to a bit of mischief – probably one of the most interesting female characters in the series (I also really like Hasina, but she mostly shows up in the kids’ series if I recall correctly). I’d like to see if there’s enough adventure in those 93 years for such a character! I do have an outline about her helping build a planetarium and start a model rocketry club at COT — admittedly because she reminds me of a friend who now works at Johnson Space Center. Plus, she’s named after Cinderella, there’s got to be room for a fairy tale in there :) Disney has put it in our heads that fairytale=happy ending, but since we already know that it’s extremely unlikely that Cendrillon gets a happy ending, let’s see if that trope can be played with.

            It seems to me that Rayford goes from being an egocentric, unrealized womanizer pre-Rapture, to being a somewhat more selfless, somewhat effective leader more or less immediately post-Rapture, to being a slightly more effective leader (at the price of regaining some of his egocentrism) by Kingdom Come. I appreciate that KC Rayford is a lot less deceptive than, say, NRA Rayford, though, and seems to have dealt with that part of himself.

            It seems to me that he experiences a massive change at the moment of his conversion, and then more or less stays the same as a character – he acts towards friend and foe the same way in Glorious Appearing as he does in Tribulation Force. I do like how he manages to find harmony with both his wives in Kingdom Come though, that’s an extremely tough subject to handle!

  • Glenda

    I want to knock the socks off my reader with the actual craziness, tell the true story and label it as such. But I will need the help of my loving heavenly Father, my amazingly patient AND generous AND handsome AND funny AND favorite person- my husband Paul. My family. my church family, George “Somebody” Borrow(?); Ann Clark-McFarland and Worthy Publishing. And obviously, the help of a good editor. :) ( And if I have forgotten anyone, please forgive me, and… thank you!)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Do you have a contract from Worthy?

      • Glenda


        • Jerry B Jenkins

          Really? Congrats! What’s the book?

          • Glenda

            May I ask a question?

        • Glenda


      • Glenda

        No. I do not.

  • Elizabeth

    Jerry, what are the advantages of using a software such as scrivener. What features you think are most helpful ( I personally think that scrivener demands more than a superficial knowledge of computers, and probably offers much more than I need, but I guess I am speaking in general terms. The features you consider most useful, I guess…here I go again, repetition, that is one of my biggest flaws when I write…not that I don’t have others just as annoying :) but for now let’s just mention this one :)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      I don’t use writing software, so I couldn’t say, but friends who use Scrivener like that it’s basically an electronic version of a 3×5 card system in which the cards are not only not limited to 3×5 but are in fact infinite.

      They can reorganize them, mix and match them, save them in their original order, look back at the progression of how the ms. came together, etc.

      Some have told me that they can makes notes on a “card, and if it grows into a chapter, great, it’s stored there and they can always access it, change it, paste it into their document, etc.

      Lots of flexibility, and while, yes, Scrivener comes with lots of bells and whistles, you use only what you want and need, and few use them all. I have some friends who use only two or three and find those worth the total price.

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks Jerry. Your input is valuable. May God bless you today and always. And may you have a peaceful and lovely Christmas with your loved ones. Merry Christmas to your team, and your students as well (if nothing else you got me to re-read my texts carefully bc in my mind I just think “Jerry is going to catch this” :) and if my husband was awake I would have him to proof read before sending, but since this is rarely an option, I have to face my shortcomings on my own, but please, don’t hesitate to correct LOL. Thanks.

  • Shannon Hazleton

    Yes! I love the simple layout of this… I can see and understand this in my own story… My problem is the gas pedal keeps disengaging when I remove bum from chair. ;)

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      That IS a cause and effect, isn’t it, Shannon? :)

  • Michael Sayre mikie

    Yes, I can see that the story I am writing has these elements and I plan to re-edit the story to show these three main elements. I can change my delivery of the scenes and bring out the CONFLICTS we faced.

    But, I have a question. What about the Characters and What actually
    happened? Do I need to get permission from each person to tell a story
    about my Alaskan experience?

    Thanks for the simplicity!

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      You don’t need permission unless you’re going to use real names and show someone in a bad or embarrassing light. In that case you might need either their written release or change their name for the story, maybe even change enough about them–relationship, gender, age, etc., so it isn’t obvious to their friends or family who it is.

  • Rachael M Colby

    You used bureaucrats as buffoons in your “Left Behind” series, huh? Well Jerry, that didn’t take much imagination did it?;) And funny you should bring them up since I have just been thrown into a battle with some, and it looks like it will be a battle till spring. The good news is, the ordeal provided inspiration for the second chapter of the story I didn’t know I was writing, “May The Source Be With You”. God can use anything, eh, even buffoons!

    About Editing:
    Thanks for the encouragement about editing. I thought there was something wrong with me. Well, there probably is, but anyway… Sometimes its so wearying and I wonder, “How many times will I have to go over this before I catch all the errors?!” I hate editing. It can be so discouraging, as I feel like time is fleeing from me and I just want to move on and write the next new thing.

    It’s so hard to see our own mistakes, as our mind sees what we intended rather than what is actually there. Same is true in our lives, you know? I guess that’s why we need each other and His Word.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      No, bureaucrats as buffoons were low hanging fruit. :)

  • Elizabeth

    This is a great article. I believe that many authors struggle in this area. It wasn’t until recently that I came to the conclusion that I needed to study the craft. Study more than I did for anything else during academia. Immerse myself in it, re-read books and concepts about writing. I know I have previously misunderstood the craft, thinking that talent would be enough. It is pretty much like saying, “Since I know anatomy or have a talent for it, I think I should try some brain surgery on my neighbor.” I don’t think that writers–of course the ones who succeeded are the exception to this rule–realize the need to study constantly the craft, and, sure, practice it as well, but practicing without a mentor, as you have implied in some of your lessons, can also lead one to re-write without any progress.

    This community has been a blessing and your sharing has been a greater blessing yet. Matter of fact, I think it was through persistent prayer that I finally understood what was wrong with my writing: Without mastering the craft I can’t deliver the story I want to tell. Now, here in Vegas is not often that one finds the response to writing groups successfully as they are in some other parts of the country. Groups here are small, but there’s always a possibility to search on line (I found one from reading one of your e-mails to someone who had asked). Thank you Jerry (I’m going to watch the seminar from which you send us a clip. It was a phenomenal seminar about editing strategies, and I truly need to watch a few times bc it seems that you think really fast, so it is good to watch a few times over, and I can :) Thank you again.

  • S.Ramalingam

    Short and sweet and to the point.I like the article the way it has been presented.I have been driving my own car with engine,fuel etc.Still I am driving my car with an L board, I mean with a learners license only.I hope to shed the LLR tag very soon.

    • Jerry B Jenkins

      Thank you, sir. You want to add a space between sentences. Also, what’s an LLR tag?

  • S.Ramalingam

    LLR tag means still I am a learner and not an adept in the craft.

  • Elizabeth

    You can see that I woke up the ‘sleeping beauty’, now she is on the sofa bc I don’t know where else to put her. I find difficult writing about the mundane aspect of life, of course, I meant doing it with talent; introducing the character and place before the bullets start flying. Chases seem to be easy to write but this is only part of the book. I’m going to jot down the concept just as you exemplified here and see if this clears my mind and leads me somewhere.