Tuesday 16 February 2016

Four Questions to Strengthen Your Plotting and Branding

If your writing was a smoothie, what would it be?

Do you know your own likes, dislikes, passions, and if-I-even-get-a-whiff-of-banana-I’m-gonna-throw-up?

Writers need to know what ingredients go into their favourite stories, so we can create delicious masterpieces of our own. If we don’t, our second act could end up a mash of milk, orange juice, spinach and blended Happy Meal. And the inconsistent branding won’t be much better.

To identify the ideal ingredients for your writing smoothie, ask yourself these questions:

·         What titles are in the stack of books that inspire me?
·         What DVDs have the least dust on my shelf?
·         What are the elements of these stories that most appeal to me?
·         What in life makes me angry?

Drill down into the details of these questions, and look for patterns between movies/books you admire and your own writing.

To use myself as an example, here’s my ‘smoothie’:

Ingredient 1: Storylines involving families.

Examples: While You Were Sleeping, Admission, Just Go With It, Blended.

Ingredient 2: Comedy.

Examples: Any book by Jenny B Jones, Janet Evanovich, Sophie Kinsella, and pretty much any sit com on TV.

Ingredient 3: I’m not sure how to describe this, except to say ‘authentic’, ‘real’, or ‘no filter’.

Examples: Any book by Christa Parrish. I can smell, taste and feel her books like no one else’s. For movies, I’d have to choose ‘You Instead’ (also released as ‘You’re Mine Tonight’), which was actually filmed in 5 days at the Scottish music festival where it was set. It’s hard to describe, except to say that most movies are kind of like Instagram pics with filters, while this movie was filter-free.

Ingredient 4: Teamwork and banter.

Examples: Castle, NCIS LA, Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Ingredient 5: Messiness.

Example: This one comes from real life. Something that really affected me growing up was the split and rapid decline of my childhood church - a reality that was drastically different to the picture-perfect churches I read about in Christian fiction (not that there's anything wrong with that, I just noticed it due to my particular life situation at the time). This experience means I like to express the complicatedness of real life and the church, while also showing God’s faithfulness.

These five ingredients, combined with a sweet base of romance, mean my writing can be summed up as ‘romantic comedy in a messy world’.

Knowing these ingredients helps me to develop my storylines, produce more consistent marketing, and to identify what new book ideas are likely to sustain my interest.

From a reader’s perspective, knowing an author’s passions helps me to connect with them more, and to tell if I’m likely to be interested in their work.

So, how about it? What are your favourite ‘ingredients’, and how do you like to combine them to create a masterpiece? What inspires you?

Share your smoothie in the comments below! 

Jessica Everingham is a 24 year-old Aussie who writes romantic comedy for a messy world. Her manuscript, Hating Jeremy Walters, was a finalist in the 2015 My Book Therapy Frasier Award and runner-up in the 2015 Australian Christian Writers Contemporary Romance Contest. 

Jessica loves it when readers and writers connect with her on social media or email. Smoke signals are also acceptable.


  1. Hi Jess, what a fascinating way of looking at one's genre and brand. The smoothie. I'm a green smoothie type - all that green spirulina, kale and such like, but that doesn't relate to my writing.

    I'm fascinated by how the Lord transforms our hearts, how evil poisons us, and an involved complex story that generally travels the globe with a dollop of romance.

    I'm looking forward to reading your stories, Jess. Messiness - I like that. We so often try to cover it when there's such treasure to be found in sifting through it.

    1. Thanks Ian! I've heard it said before that authors should 'bleed onto the page', so whatever is messiest in our own lives is great material for writing. Even if it's not the literal situation, just the emotion attached. I took one of the emotions I felt from my church situation and explored it in one of my stories, but in a totally different context - a family breakdown. Even though that's something I've thankfully not experienced, it helped to remember the feeling of betrayal and amplify it in the story.
      Your writing sounds exciting! Best of luck with it!

  2. I like my characters being human, Jess. Strengths and weaknesses ... just like all of us.Yes, I enjoy a small amount of dry humour. Lots of love interest. Some tragedy and finding the inner strength, with the Lord's help, to overcome.
    So my smoothie does contain a nice banana and some strawberries and always cinnamon.

    1. Yum yum, your smoothie - and stories - sound great! I like that you're a fan of dry humor, I feel that humor is under-explored as yet in Christian fiction. And next to a touch of tragedy - if a reader laughs and cries, that's awesome. Sounds fantastic!

  3. What are these "DVDs" you speak of?

    Seriously, I think my ideal novel is similar to your smoothie. Witty banter, with real characters in a messy world. I also like non-US settings. Not because I don't like the US (I do!), but because God is bigger than the US, and our fiction should reflect our big God.

    1. Oh yeah, witty banter is awesome! And the real characters in a messy world give so much room to explore. When the good guys do bad things and the bad guys do good things, everything is instantly more interesting. I think that's part of the reason why 'train wreck' television (shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, etc) have been so popular lately, because they're free to explore the bad (sometimes to a scary degree!)
      How do you go with your non-US settings? I tend to have Australian and American characters in my stories, mostly because it's just so much easier to have a touch of Aussie (familiar is so much easier!), but I always have a strong USA influence so that I don't alienate that audience. How do you handle it? How do people respond? I'd love to know!

  4. Hi Jess - love your post and smoothie idea!

    I think my smoothie is very similar to yours. Mine must have romance, wit, realism and mango.

    Hope we get to read your book one day!


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