Tag Archive for: Steven James

The Lexington (SC) Serious Writers’ Tour with Steven James, Michelle Medlock Adams, and Bethany Jett

Bethany Jett

by Paula Gail Benson

May, the local Word Weavers group, an affiliate of Word Weavers International,
brought the Serious Writer One Day Tour to the Riverbend Community Church in
Lexington, S.C. If you’re looking for excellent craft and business instruction,
I suggest you check out the offerings at http://www.seriouswriter.com.
The organization, operating since 2015, has online classes as well as the
one-day programs and appearances at conferences.


Michelle Medlock Adams

instructors who attended the Lexington meeting were Michelle Medlock Adams, a
journalist and award-winning author of primarily children’s books and
devotionals; Bethany Jett, co-founder of The Serious Writer and Vice-President
of Platinum Literary Services, whose work includes devotionals, ghostwriting,
and marketing; and Steven James, who I knew as a prolific thriller writer and terrific
writing instructor, whose craft books include Story Trumps Structure and Troubleshooting
Your Novel
. I also learned that he had written a significant number of
books for the inspirational market.


decided to attend the program because I had heard Steven James speak at Killer
Nashville and I knew he taught a highly respected novel writing intensive
course with Robert Dugoni, limited to twelve participants each year. His
presentations for the Serious Writer tour were very generous, including
specific techniques and excellent handouts to help with crafting twists,
creating suspense, and revising problem areas. While I spent most of my time at
Steven James’ sessions, I also very much enjoyed the portions of the program
where all the authors joined in to give tips about the process of marketing a
book and using social media. The day was full of good advice and fellowship.


Steven James

are some great lists of information that James provided for improving story

of Story Telling

orientation, which lets a reader know where the story takes place, then
provides the hook that gives the impetus for escalation;

crisis or calling, which is what goes wrong, turns the world upside down, and
makes the protagonist respond;

escalation, which occurs as things get worse and is in two parts: (a) the
moment of despair and darkness, and (b) the inevitable, unexpected conclusion;
and, finally, as the story ends, are:

discovery, and


recommended that every story is driven by tension and every scene should end
with a plot twist. To be satisfying, plot twists should be:

(1) unexpected;

(2) inevitable;

(3) an
escalation of what preceded it; and

a revelation of what went before.


categorized the five types of plot twists as:



complexity (example: a sting operation);

cleverness; and



listed four essentials for creating suspense:

reader empathy (that is, providing a character trait or desire with which a
reader can identify, for example, to love and be loved or to have an adventure);

reader concern (giving reasons why a reader should care about the characters);

impending danger (physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or relational);

escalating tension.


he offered four questions to ask when solving plot problems:

what would the character naturally do?

how can I make things worse?

how can I add twists or take the story in a new direction?

what promises have I made that I have not yet kept?


James said that that everything you write is a promise and that in fiction a
writer has both stated and implied promises. In distinguishing among mystery,
suspense, and horror, he gave the following characteristics:

mysteries are intellectual, not emotional activity where the detective is two
steps ahead of the reader;

suspense deals with important life matters where the reader is two steps ahead
of the characters and wants to stop the danger; and

horror allows the gruesome event to happen with the reader and characters in
the same place.


you want to read more, please check out Steven James’ website, http://www.stevenjames.net/, and his
recorded interviews with other writers at https://www.thestoryblender.com/.


if one of the Serious Writer tours or events is coming near you, you’ll find it
a great program to attend!

Checking Out Some Great “How To” Writing Guidelines

by Paula
Gail Benson


I’ve been coming across a number of online articles that express succinctly how
certain forms of genre fiction should be written. Here are a few I’ve


Palumbo wrote “
Taking the Mystery Out of How
to Write a Mystery” (https://www.writersstore.com/taking-the-mystery-out-of-writing-mysteries/).
He lists three important elements: : “1) establishing the unique character of
the protagonist, 2) making narrative use of the world in which the story takes
place, and 3) planting clues (remember, only a few) that derive from the
particular aspects of that world.” Palumbo recommends that writers consider
what makes them unique and their own backgrounds in developing their
protagonists and settings.


Wendig provides “25 Things Writers Should Know About Creating Mystery” (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/05/08/25-things-writers-should-know-about-creating-mystery/).
He describes a mystery as an incomplete equation. Even though readers know the
answer will be revealed by the end, “[a] good story traps us in the moment and
compels us by its incompleteness.” Readers want to be part of the process. “[S]ometimes
creating mystery is not an act of asking a question but the deed of providing a
clearly incorrect answer. Let the audience seek the truth by showing them a
lie.” And, it’s important for plot and character to be intricately intertwined.
“Plot, after all, is like Soylent Green — it’s made of people.”


Ginny Wiehardt gives us the ten “Top Rules for Mystery Writing” (https://www.thebalancecareers.com/top-rules-for-mystery-writing-1277089).
Her article is written about mystery novels, but the suggestions are easily
adapted to short stories. She points out that people read mysteries for a “particular
experience.” They want the opportunity to solve the crime and they expect all
to turn out well in the end. Reading many mysteries to see how “the rules” have
been applied in those stories will be helpful to a writer, and understanding “the
rules” in order to better meet reader expectations will help a writer craft a
better mystery story. Among her recommendations are to introduce the detective,
culprit, and crime early and wait until the last possible moment to reveal the


Derk explains the “
The 8
Keys to a Good Heist Story” (https://litreactor.com/columns/the-8-keys-to-a-good-heist-story).
“A good heist has a planning stage, execution stage, and an escape. They can be
in different proportions, but if your story is missing one of the three, it
won’t pass muster.” Derk says there must be complications and a reason to root
for success. Also, he suggests taking care in putting the team together and
having a reason behind the operation that is greater than monetary gain.


David Lewis Anderson gives a good description of “Time Travel in Science
Fiction” (http://andersoninstitute.com/time-travel-in-science-fiction.html).
He offers a historical analysis of science fiction stories that have used time
travel, but he also explores the elements writers have developed through those


In his “6 Secrets to Creating and
Sustaining Suspense,” (http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-secrets-to-creating-and-sustaining-suspense)
Steven James evaluates how to add suspense in mystery,
thriller, and literary stories. He suggests the key is to give readers
something to worry about, then explains how to do that.


Jan Ellison offers “9 Practical Tricks for Writing
Your First Novel” (http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/9-practical-tricks-for-writing-your-first-novel).
Two of her recommendations that I found interesting were to set writing goals
that are completely within your control and keep working on a poem while
writing your novel. The poem allows you freedom of expression and provides a way
to get started with your writing.


Have you read any
writing “how to” articles lately?