This changes things.

I’m not a deeply intentional fiction writer. Mostly, I want something I can read aloud. The pacing and characters are based on my ability to act out the parts and read the descriptions of the sword fights. Chapters have a target of 3,400 words about 20-25 minutes for me.

(And no, I don’t use speech-to-text dictation tools. I’m also a non-fiction writer, and that’s very traditional finger-to-keyboard.)

Today I saw some writerly advice that opened my eyes to more intentional writing.


Think about your character: What does she desperately want? What would she never do (and why would she never do it)? Then force her to make a choice between the two. (Doesn't have to be dark or scary. Could be funny. So many possibilities!)

Plus this, which is more-or-less the gold standard:


  1. What does your character want? (Tension)
  2. Why do they want it? (Motivation)
  3. What stands in their way of getting it? (Conflict)
  4. What happens if they don't get it? (Stakes) I always ask myself these four questions, and they always help.

While searching for related advice, I found some other tweets including the following. These feel a little less compelling to me.

  • What does your character want? What do they actually need? This essentially is the conflict.

  • What does your character want? What happens if they don’t get it? Follow-up question: do they get it by the end of the story?

This leaves me with a new question as part of a revision pass: “What would they never do?” I like the idea of exploration to begin with, and this sets out bright lines a character has to cross to commence and complete their journey.

When we look at the three-stage hero’s journey, there are two bright-line boundaries:

  1. A hero often refuses the quest. This establishes what they would never do.

  2. A hero may refuse to return to their original world. This means that the quest establishes a new bright line for something new they would never do, now that they’ve received the “ultimate boon.”

The ultimate boon is often guarded by a variety of “trials”. There are six steps within the Initiation stage of the journey. One is the “road of trials”, four are specific kinds of trials (Love, Temptation, Reconciliation, Apotheosis.) I don’t think these can be the same kind of bright line things the MC would never do. Crossing too many boundaries dilutes the drama of making the crossing.


Rereading the I finally started studying the three paragraph pitches for each series. Each, of course, is either finely-polished marketing or a quote from the book, depending on the book’s place in the #EpicFantasy canon.

This changes things.

I’ve got to revisit the Mage and be sure it’s clear where their boundaries are and why the Red Knight’s offer is almost antithetical. Then I can redo my query a few dozen more times and pick the best of those. New queries will go out in a few weeks.