Steven James's Blog

February 20, 2016


Registration is now open for my 7th Novel Writing Intensive Retreat, with New York Times bestselling author, Robert Dugoni. This is an in-depth, intensive time of teaching and study on the craft of novel writing. For more information, visit the NWI website.
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Published on February 20, 2016 10:30 • 194 views

January 4, 2016

Quite honestly, I think that each generation of writers has the same job—to tell great stories to their audiences. As readers’ expectations continue to evolve, so should our stories. That said, here are a couple thoughts.
1 - Spend the extra time making your story great. Create a character we want to spend time with, want to cheer for, and want to worry about. Make it clear what the character wants, how far he is willing to go to get it, and what is at stake if he fails. Whether you consider your story character-driven or plot-driven, every story, at it’s core, is struggle-driven. Draw us into that world.

2 - Be concise. I’m finding that people today really do have shorter and shorter attention spans, and with the emergence of ebooks (which seem to sell better when they’re shorter), I’m afraid that we’re going to have to start telling simpler and less complex stories. Or maybe we just need to write leaner, sharper, more gripping stories. In either case, ruminating, meandering prose and long, insignificant descriptions are out; and taut, intense stories are in.
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Published on January 04, 2016 09:38 • 22 views

December 26, 2015


Hey everyone,
Every Crooked Path is a work of fiction, and yet, in a very real sense, it also tells the truth about our world today. While the characters and situations in this story are made up, the nature of the crimes is not.
As a parent, I found this book particularly difficult to write, since it involved research into cybercrimes against children. However, because of the impact of this issue on modern culture, I felt it was an important story for me to tell—perhaps my most important one so far.
Finding out what’s really out there lurking online was a wake-up call to me. Rather than describe any exploitative images in this book, I chose to show the reactions of the characters to seeing them. I’ll trust your imagination to fill in the rest.
During my research, I came across an organization called the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. It’s dedicated to rescuing children and catching those who target them. NCMEC is a nonprofit organization that depends on private donations, so please consider supporting their work. For more information, go to www.missingkids.com.
Together we can make a difference in protecting the next generation from those who would steal their innocence from them.
I think you’ll enjoy Every Crooked Path. It’s a thrilling ride, a redemptive story, and shows the power of good over evil. Let me know what you think.

—Steven James
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Published on December 26, 2015 11:34 • 20 views

May 28, 2015

Sometimes it’s a quirk, sometimes it’s a wound we all share. Most often it’s an attitude. Too many authors spend tons of time working up a detailed history of the character’s life, but usually that’s a waste. A character with an attitude is always more interesting than a character with a history.
Think about the people you like to hang around with in real life—those same traits are often present in fictional characters we like to spend time with.
Just as in real life, we prefer people who are fun to be around (rather than whiny and self-pitying), adventurous, engaging, vibrant, unpredictable and ready to admit their mistakes rather than pretend they’re better than everyone else. In his book Writing 21st Century Fiction, Donald Maass suggests that we imagine creating characters that we would want to take to prom. That’s good advice.
I also think it’s the inconsistencies rather than the consistencies that make characters interesting. So, for example, if a character is mature in every way, she’s boring, but if she’s intellectually mature but also emotionally needy, she becomes a character who’s intriguing and multi-layered.
New York Times Bestselling author Robert Dugoni suggests that to create empathy in readers we give the character an undeserved misfortune, put him in jeopardy, make them compassionate and nice, funny or witty, make them powerful and altruistic.
Sometimes I’ve started watching a TV series and then just abandoned it after an episode or two because, honestly, there just wasn’t anyone I felt like I could cheer for, no one I wanted to spend time with. When you’re creating characters, you need to create ones that people would rather spend time with than do anything else. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to grab their attention long enough for them to become engaged in your book, and enthralled enough to stick with it.
Even if a character doesn’t always play by the rules or has undesirable traits, if he’s someone intriguing and fun to be around, he’s going to be the likeable character who will attract readers.
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Published on May 28, 2015 07:54 • 17 views

January 15, 2015

Good news—I just signed a contract for a followup book to "Story Trumps Structure." It'll be with my publisher Writer's Digest Books and will focus on practical ways for authors to identify problem spots in their fiction and then solve them. Practical. Hands on. Lots of material I've taught over the years.

Even after all these years, it's still exciting to sign a new book deal.
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Published on January 15, 2015 06:03 • 166 views

December 9, 2014


Authors, you're invited to attend my Writer's Digest webinar, Abandon Your Outline and Elevate Your Novel, on Tuesday, December 16th, at 1pm. Those who register for the live event will receive an ebook version of my book Story Trumps Structure. I hope you can join us.


ABOUT THIS WEBINAR:

In this eye-opening live webinar, both aspiring and accomplished authors will learn the advantages of ditching their outlines, why they should stop trying to plot out their stories, how to trust the writing process, and how to develop their fiction organically rather than mechanically.
This is far different than “seat-of-the-pants” writing. It's all about delving into a deeper understanding of the essence of story, embracing the expectations of your readers, and asking the right questions to help shape the story.Formulas and templates can only take you so far and, all too often, they end up straightjacketing stories. But how can you really write a powerful, cohesive, emotionally-gripping story without plotting it out first? Is it even possible? Yes it is. And this webinar will teach you how.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:

3 questions that will solve every “plot problem” you'll ever have How vital, underlying narrative forces work together to drive your story forward Why context determines content and how it shapes every scene you write5 easy-to-implement steps to organizing scene ideas without using an outline Practical steps to adding a twist to your story Specific ways to listen to and respond to your story as it unfolds The core ingredients that will improve every story
WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

Writers tired of following formulas and plot templates Writers looking for a fresh approach to understanding what makes a story work Aspiring novelists intimidated by the idea of outlining an entire novelAccomplished novelists who would like to expand their storytelling depthNovelists with great ideas but no direction “Seat-of-the-pants” writers looking for practical tips Writers who would rather spend time writing a story than plotting one outWriters who've written themselves into a corner Writers trying to reconnect with the joy of creativity Writers who want to add twists to their stories




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Published on December 09, 2014 09:17 • 20 views

November 17, 2014

Troubleshooting Your Novel  
a full-day writing seminar
with the critically-acclaimed author of the Patrick Bowers thriller series,Steven James 
Also featuring New York Times bestselling author, Eric Wilson; award-winning author and freelance editor, Jodie Renner; and literary agent with the Wheelhouse Literary Group, Jonathan Clements 
  Saturday, January 17, 20158:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.This one-day conference will be filled with practical insights,dozens ofways to fix plot flaws, time-tested writing secrets,and easy-to-implement ideas that will help you improve your novel right now, no matter how far along you are in writing it. From the broad aspects of building the framework of your novel to the fine brush-strokes of line-by-line editing, this day will transform your writing forever.
Visit troubleshootingyournovel.comto register.

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Published on November 17, 2014 09:03 • 26 views

October 3, 2014




People often ask me what a scene is, what a scene includes, how long a scene should be, and if scenes are included simply to reveal character traits. Since all of these are related topics, I decided to tackle them together. Let’s see how much we can cover in this one blog post.

First of all, a scene is the account of a character, rooted in time and space, working toward an objective that he wishes to accomplish.
The scene begins when a decision on his own, or an obligation thrust on him by another, places him in this situation where he must accomplish a certain task. It might be buying a bag of Cheetos or negotiating to get a good deal on a new car, or seducing a lover, or saving a child who fell into the lake. There is a task that is related to a goal. The scene shows what happens when the character attempts to accomplish this task or reach this goal.
Scenes are made stronger when there is tension, conflict, unmet desire. Look for that; bring it out.Regardless of which draft you're in, you will want to work your scenes around objectives—on the part of the characters. I’m not a fan of bland scenes in which nothing is sought or altered, but the actions are just there “to show characterization.” This might be a scene of internal reflection or dialogue or exposition in which nothing is sought and the reader is left in the dark about what the characters really want.
The best way to show characterization is when a character is accepting to overcome something or rise to an occasion, so the scenes that best reveal characterization are those that do more than show action, they show action with intention.
Identify the goal. Let the characters seek it, fail to get it, process what just happened, and then make a decision that leads them on to the next scene.
Seek. Fail. Process. Proceed. This is what well-crafted scenes will do for you. This is the pathway your character will move through, scene by escalating scene, toward the climax.
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Published on October 03, 2014 10:14 • 17 views



People often ask me what a scene is, what a scene includes, how long a scene should be, and if scenes are included simply to reveal character traits. Since all of these are related topics, I decided to tackle them together. Let’s see how much we can cover in this one blog post.

First of all, a scene is the account of a character, rooted in time and space, working toward an objective that he wishes to accomplish.
The scene begins when a decision on his own, or an obligation thrust on him by another, places him in this situation where he must accomplish a certain task. It might be buying a bag of Cheetos or negotiating to get a good deal on a new car, or seducing a lover, or saving a child who fell into the lake. There is a task that is related to a goal. The scene shows what happens when the character attempts to accomplish this task or reach this goal.
Scenes are made stronger when there is tension, conflict, unmet desire. Look for that; bring it out.Regardless of which draft you're in, you will want to work your scenes around objectives—on the part of the characters. I’m not a fan of bland scenes in which nothing is sought or altered, but the actions are just there “to show characterization.” This might be a scene of internal reflection or dialogue or exposition in which nothing is sought and the reader is left in the dark about what the characters really want.
The best way to show characterization is when a character is accepting to overcome something or rise to an occasion, so the scenes that best reveal characterization are those that do more than show action, they show action with intention.
Identify the goal. Let the characters seek it, fail to get it, process what just happened, and then make a decision that leads them on to the next scene.
Seek. Fail. Process. Proceed. This is what well-crafted scenes will do for you. This is the pathway your character will move through, scene by escalating scene, toward the climax.
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Published on October 03, 2014 10:14 • 21 views



People often ask me what a scene is, what a scene includes, how long a scene should be, and if scenes are included simply to reveal character traits. Since all of these are related topics, I decided to tackle them together. Let’s see how much we can cover in this one blog post.

First of all, a scene is the account of a character, rooted in time and space, working toward an objective that he wishes to accomplish.
The scene begins when a decision on his own, or an obligation thrust on him by another, places him in this situation where he must accomplish a certain task. It might be buying a bag of Cheetos or negotiating to get a good deal on a new car, or seducing a lover, or saving a child who fell into the lake. There is a task that is related to a goal. The scene shows what happens when the character attempts to accomplish this task or reach this goal.
Scenes are made stronger when there is tension, conflict, unmet desire. Look for that; bring it out.Regardless of which draft you're in, you will want to work your scenes around objectives—on the part of the characters. I’m not a fan of bland scenes in which nothing is sought or altered, but the actions are just there “to show characterization.” This might be a scene of internal reflection or dialogue or exposition in which nothing is sought and the reader is left in the dark about what the characters really want.
The best way to show characterization is when a character is accepting to overcome something or rise to an occasion, so the scenes that best reveal characterization are those that do more than show action, they show action with intention.
Identify the goal. Let the characters seek it, fail to get it, process what just happened, and then make a decision that leads them on to the next scene.
Seek. Fail. Process. Proceed. This is what well-crafted scenes will do for you. This is the pathway your character will move through, scene by escalating scene, toward the climax.
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Published on October 03, 2014 10:14 • 18 views