Master storytellers share their experience and expertise.

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Looking to take your writing to the next level? Here are some tips from master storytellers.

Christopher Vogler, author of the bestselling book “The Writer’s Journey” and an internationally known development executive for Disney, Warner Brothers and Fox, offers a structural framework to build your story. Here’s some guidance to get your Act I underway.

Introduce the main character in their ordinary world. Whether your main character is a grocery store clerk in a small town in Iowa or a mechanical engineer on a spaceship traversing another galaxy, show how your character goes about their everyday life.

Call to adventure. The call to adventure, also known as the inciting incident, is a change that sets the story in motion. For example, the grocery store clerk wins the lottery or the alien mechanical engineer meets an attractive stranger.

Refusal of the call. Change is hard, and characters, like people, usually have some level of discomfort when it occurs. Maybe, the store clerk hides the prize money under her mattress or our alien engineer ignores his attraction and works double shifts.

Meeting the mentor. On their journey, your character will meet many people. Make one of them a mentor. A mentor may offer advice, training or a special gift. In our examples, the store clerk with the big winnings meets a financial planner that helps her set up an annuity or our alien engineer gets dating tips from his sister.

Crossing the threshold. At some point, your main character must commit to moving forward. Our store clerk decides to use the money to open a homeless shelter; the alien mechanic gets up the nerve to ask the stranger out for dinner. And so ends Act I.

This is just a sampling of the key scenes Vogler teaches in his landmark work, “The Writer’s Journey.”


Donald Maass is the founder of the Donald Maass Literary Agency and author of bestselling writing book “How to Write the Breakout Novel.” Here are some of his tips on how to take your book to the next level.

Show the reader the deeper level emotions using subtext. Human reactions are complex and often not directly communicated. For example, an employee who has just scored a promotion may have a fleeting sense of trepidation. Is he up to the task? Try showing his mixed feelings through subtext. Maybe he puffs up when the announcement is made, then slinks off to the men’s room when he spots his co-workers glaring at him.

  • Use small details to evoke big emotion. Instead of telling your reader the character is sad, show it through their actions. For example, we’ve all seen grief scenes at a grave site. Is there a small poignant gesture that can suggest the magnitude of feeling? Perhaps the grieving wife tastes the ashes of her husband or a child tucks the collar of a dead pet under his pillow.

Bestselling author Cherry Adair tells authors at her plotting workshop the best way to finish their book is to put their butt in a chair. Chris Fox of “The 6 Figure Author” counsels that the best marketing tool is to write your next book.

You can learn more from these instructors and others at the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association’s Fall Conference (Sept. 13 – 16, 2018).  The PNWA has a robust line up of master classes. Why not sign up today?