Hooking Up The Train Cars of Your Story

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Last week I went to the Montrose Christian Writer’s Conference hundreds of miles from my home. I could have driven, but I fall asleep in the car–even when I’m driving. So I decided to fly. But flying out of our little city isn’t easy and often times planes are delayed and connecting flights are missed. More than once, my luggage never made it to my final destination.

So I learned a while ago to only pack a carry-on bag. Which means I can’t bring my favorite things like–my pillow, hairdryer, hair products, extra shoes and chocolate.

Going to these writer’s conferences takes me out of my comfort zone because I tend to be a bed snob, food snob, and nicely stated–a princess Yes, I have a wonderful home life and leaving without all my comforts isn’t always fun for me.

Don’t get me wrong–the classes and the people at these conferences are a blast once I get there, but getting me there is tough. This trip was no exception.

When a bird flew into the plane I was supposed to board, the trip was delayed and my connections were missed. I came close to returning  home, but kicked myself in the butt and waited. (I force myself into these situations because it’s healthy and always worth it.)

Luckily, my pen-pal, FB friend and fellow bouncer, Janelle Leonard, rearranged her schedule to pick me up or I would have been stranded. She was the highlight of the trip. We met on FB years ago and had never met in person.

Of course the conference was well worth my time away from the comforts I’m used to. (All except the centipede in my room who insisted on sharing my bed. Eek! Frightening moment.)

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Tracy Higley, author and instructor at the conference, taught “Creating a Page-Burner.” She has a guarantee with her books. She guarantees that if you’re not happy she refunds your money. She’s THAT good at writing page-burning fiction. She shared the secrets to her PAGE-BURNING SUCCESS by using TRAIN CARS as a visual metaphor. These cars showed how to construct a novel. I found it helpful and hope you will too.

Before trains can move on the track the track must be built. Before you can connect the scenes in your novel, the foundation must be built too. You need these:

1. Story goal   a.) Concrete or external goal and b.) Abstract or internal goal. The external goal might be to save the animals in the world, but the internal goal might be to find the courage to do what it’s going to take to accomplish that story goal. What has to happen to your main character for the story to end? Make sure your story goal is compelling enough. Finding the “right” guy is probably not enough. Finding freedom in a world where women have none is more compelling, especially if we raise the stakes to where that woman will lose her life if she asserts herself.

2. Obstacles that stands in the way of the goal. This can be a thing, situation, person, self,  God, the weather–anything that gets in the way of them achieving this story goal.

3. Conflict in overcoming that obstacle. What does your character do to overcome the obstacle in that scene, keeping in mind the story goal?

4. Ending. Tracy Higley used the example of a sneeze. Have you ever been interrupted in the middle of a sneeze? It’s such an incomplete feeling, isn’t it? If you don’t end your story in the right place it’s like having to sneeze but being caught in the middle of it. It’s unfinished.

Endings matter. Readers often like happy endings, but you get to decide if a happy ending fits your character’s goal. In the book, MESSAGE in a BOTTLE, one of the characters dies in the end. Readers hated that, but the author chose that ending.

Sometimes the trains switch tracks though. In the end, your character might discover that what she thought she wanted isn’t actually what she wants. But she learned something about herself along the way. This might be her character journey.

Dragging scene: If you have a scene in the middle of your book that seems boring, ask yourself this question: Is the story goal clear in this scene? If tension is deflated then the story goal might be missed. It’s painful to cut scenes, but if your goal is to keep the reader reading then it might be necessary to delete those words. (They’re only words. You can always write more. Lol.)

Each scene needs a unit goal where the main character tries to achieve their story goal. To hook up the cars, or the scenes in your novel, and get them moving, try this:



In order to achieve ___(Story Goal)________, she needs to achieve ___(Unit Goal or scene goal)______, but _____(Obstacle)________ is in the way, so she takes on the _____(Conflict in action)________. But things only get worse, because ______(Disaster)______ happens. After thinking through her ______(Reaction)_________, she realizes she must achieve the __(Next Goal)____.

I’m going to give it a go using my first novel, CACHE a PREDATOR. The underlined phrases below show where I added the story.

In order for Brett to obtain custody of his five-year-old daughter, he needs to convince the judge that he’s a good father, but his history with anger gets in the way, and the child is placed with her mother, so he  must convince CPS that he’s the better parent. But things only get worse, because a deranged vigilante kidnaps Brett’s daughter thinking that she’s a victim of abuse. Now Brett must find the kidnapper to save his daughter before he can obtain custody.

Your turn. See if you can do this with your novel before I show you the next steps. Let me know how you do. Fill in the blanks and include a planned scene in the comment section below.

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Tracy Higley

Check out the video to her latest release below:

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  1. This is very workable info. also taught in parallel fashions by some of the best writer/author individuals or groups out there, including the retreat where I first met you, but it’s good to be reminded of this again in every form, because these tips will take us to our destination–er, train station.

  2. Janelle Leonard says:

    So glad you came!! Thanks for posting this…great refresher course from WC.

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