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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mulling Over The Story

Rachel Hauck, Once Upon A Prince, royals, Kate Middleton
I mull.

I need time to think. Time to let the story simmer.

Even in the corporate world, I'd have to leave a meeting, mull, and come back the next day with a brilliant response or answer.

Of course, by then it was too late. My brilliance only a dull light bulb. :) But you know, I mulled, I spoke, I was happy.

So when I start a new book this month, I had to create space in which to stare. Ponder.

I had mull, mull, mull.

In the writing world writers are often categorized as a plotter or pantser.

I'm neither. I'm a plantser. I need to know under what umbrella I'm building my sandcastle. Then I sit on the shore with my knees to my chest and watch the waves, dreaming, "Just what kind of sandcastle am I going to build?"

My stories start out bland. Typical. Cliche. But as I gather my building blocks, the story begins to take shape.

I never start writing until I've answered these questions:

1. What's the story about? Yes, I try to pinpoint some kind of theme, but even more, what is the outer journey that causes the characters to experience an internal change?

2. What does the protagonist(s) want? This is so critical for me. My heroine is a small town Texas police officer. Her twin brother was killed in Afghanistan. So, what does she want? She's been hiding from life for the past five years. Who would she be if her brother hadn't died? I put both the hero and heroine through this building block.

3. What can they do in the end that they can't do in the beginning. This is so critical. I had my heroine's story nailed down except the answer to this question. And it was bugging me. Because if I don't know what she can DO in the end she can't do in the beginning, how do I set up the beginning? It's important the protagonist does something internal as well as external.

For example, if the protagonist finally forgives her parents for abuse, then what external move can she make to prove she's really changed? In my story, I had to understand how reckoning with her brother's death would change her life, her job, her vocation, her heart.

4. What's the dark wound of the protagonist past? What the lie she believes? What fear has she developed as a result? Then, what's the secret desire of the heart that's yearning to push to the surface and change the protagonist's life?

5. What's the black moment? If I don't know this who do I know what to write toward? If the heroine is running toward getting her life started again, what stops her near the end? What scenario will make the reader think, "All is lost?"

If I don't have an idea about the black moment, then I need to do more work.

As I wrestle with these questions, more arise. As I plot out answers, the characters come to life and the story takes shape.

In the mean time, I'm mulling, praying, researching.

See, in the beginning my first story plot sounds great. Feels good. I have all the reasons "why" the characters are in the state they are in but as I take time to mull and answer the building block questions, the story begins to deepen.

Or I realize, it's not quite deep enough. If I can't answer "what does she do in the end she can't do in the beginning?" I've not done enough work up front.

I've just spent 10 days on backstory that will only hit the pages in little splatters here and there but it is the entire crux of the story.

So, my story sandcastle is taking shape. I'm happy.

What about you? What process do you need to find the gold thread in the bedrock of your idea?


Rachel Hauck, Once Upon A Prince
Best-selling, award-winning author Rachel Hauck loves a great story.

With a love for teaching and mentoring, Rachel comes alongside writers to help them craft their novels.

She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship for their annual conference. At the fall conference in Indianapolis, she was named ACFW 2013 Mentor of the Year.

She is also the Book Therapist for My Book Therapy.

She lives in Florida, where she is also a worship leader, with her husband and mini schnauzer.

Her novel, The Wedding Dress, was named Romantic Times Inspirational Novel of the Year. Her latest release, Once Upon A Prince, earned starred reviews from Booklist and Publisher's Weekly.


  1. Thanks for sharing this journey with us. I can relate.

  2. Girl, you are talking my language! I love the term "planster" and I'm adopting it! Of course, since it was you who turned me onto much of this type of planning, credit is always given.

    I'll never forget you sitting next to my desk and asking me, "What's the husband's problem?" I probably looked like the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights, but ever since, all my main characters (POV or not) have to have this type of planning.

    As I've dug deeper, my characters open up and reveal their lies, their wounds, and secrets. I'm a muller, too. And I love hearing you say that!

  3. Yep, you need time to mull, think, let your stories simmer....kinda like a nice hearty pot of soup on the stove. Ya gotta let it simmer and let those spices soak in and do their job. Try and eat it too early, it's not as tasty! :-)

    A good story takes time, and it's important to have those questions answered - it's proof that you've done a great book!

  4. Thanks for joining in the "mull" pond with me, y'all!!


  5. For the book I'm writing now, I created the last chapter first. I know how the second to last chapter will turn out as well. Getting there is a marvellous journey of discovery. So I guess I'm a planster too. Outlines? What's an outline?

  6. This is a terrific post. I do so love the idea of mulling. I do a lot of that, too, but have not focused on addressing specific questions as you suggested. You can bet I am going to change the way I mull from now on. LOL

    Would you consider sharing it at the Blood Red Pencil blog? If so, e-mail me at mcm0704 (at) A group of editors and authors offer writing and editing tips over there and the blog has lots of followers.

  7. This is great. Wonderful words, fantastic point. But I mull WAY too long ... or is that just procrastination? LOL

  8. Thanks for this. I'm "mulling" my WIP, which is one-fourth written, as preparation for NaNoWriMo.

  9. A 'plantser'. I love it! I'm feeling encouraged that I'm not the only one who needs time to mull. Now I'm mulling what my heroine can do at the end that she couldn't do at the beginning ... hmmm ...

  10. Yes! Love this. I mull a LOT. And "plant" in plantster style. I feel legit now. LOL!

  11. Yeah, I'm late!! But this is a great post. Especially because I don't plan anything and am starting a new story. Appreciate this!! I really connected with what can she do at the end that she can't do at the beginning. Hmmmm.....mulling....:) Thanks!


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