Monthly Archives: March 2015

Catastrophe Looms – Riverton Road Monday

Excerpt from A Wrong Way Home by Alice Orr.

Dramatic North Country SkyMatt had to get back to Kalli Corner and tell Kara, but first there was one more thing he needed to know from Junior Dawson.

“Why are you telling me all of this?” Matt asked.

Dawson shrugged.

“Let’s just say my loyalty was to Tony Benton. I got no loyalty to nobody else. I could have helped this damned fool, but he wasn’t smart enough to do what he had to do to make that happen.”

“What did he have to do?”

Dawson rubbed his greasy fingers together in a gesture Matt recognized to mean money, probably a lot of money.

“I gave him a chance, but he wouldn’t come across,” Dawson said. “So I’d just as soon see him go down.”

Matt remembered what Kara had seen through the window. Dawson being threatening, except that maybe Dawson didn’t have solid evidence like Benton did. If that was true, Dawson’s threats would have been as empty as his eyes were now.

Telling all of this to Matt could be Dawson’s way of getting even. He was left out in the cold now that Benton wasn’t around to offer a cut in his dirty deals in return for whatever equally dirty jobs Junior was willing to perform. He’d tried for a final payoff, but that hadn’t worked out either. Now Dawson was having his revenge.

“So did you get what you came for?” Dawson asked.

Matt hesitated before answering. He couldn’t help feeling a little dirty himself from just talking to this guy.

“Yeah, I got what I came for.”

Matt didn’t say thank you. He walked fast to his truck and drove away even faster. Away from Vincent’s Garage and Junior Dawson. Matt drove with one hand and clicked Kara’s number on his cell phone with the other. Several rings later, she answered, but it was only her recorded message.

“Leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you.”

Matt reacted to the sound of her voice by pushing the gas pedal closer to the floor.

“It’s Matt. I’m on my way home. Call me when you get this.”

Matt put the phone on the dashboard and concentrated on piloting the speeding truck in the direction of Riverton Road and Kalli Corner. Something told him he’d better get there soon, not just because of what he had to tell Kara or even because of how much he missed her. Like a premonition, something told Matt that Kara needed him, and she needed him right now.

He spun the steering wheel and roared into the Kalli driveway with gravel spraying from his truck tires. The front door of the house flew open, and his mother hurried across the porch and down the steps. One look at her face made Matt’s heart clench with the terrifying recognition that his premonition had been correct.

“Kara’s gone,” Angela shouted as he screeched to a stop. “I thought she was resting in her room, but I just went up to check on her and she’s gone.”


My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at This is my 12th novel and this post is a dramatic excerpt.

 Alice Orr –


All’s Well that Ends Well – Ask Alice Saturday

Question: How do I make my story ending sell my book?

Casablance ending Answer: The ending of your story doesn’t sell this story as much as it sells your next story. Have you ever finished a book and wanted to throw it across the room? Or maybe actually did throw it across the room? Very often the book’s ending made you do that. And also made certain you wouldn’t buy that author’s next book. Avoid being thrown across the room. Avoid losing a reader for your next book and the ones after it. Create a story ending that doesn’t frustrate. Create an ending that satisfies.

The end game of your story is a danger zone. Partly because you’re most likely tired of these people and their situation by now. In fact your head and heart are already deep in your next story. So you must be careful not to write the end in this rhythm. Gallop – Gallop – Gallop – The End. That ending does not satisfy. That ending lacks the essential Big Bang.

I’ve used the film classic Casablanca in earlier posts to illustrate the Dramatic Opening and the Middle That Moves. Casablanca is also a great example of the Ending That Satisfies. The story has two threads – an action suspense thread and an emotional suspense thread. Both are tied up with a bang at the ending.

The action climax is an actually audible bang when arch villain German Major Strasser is shot dead. The emotional climax is more drawn out and that slightly slowed down pace is part of what gives it impact. Rick – played by Humphrey Bogart – tells Ilsa – played by Ingrid Bergman – why she must take the plane to Lisbon and safety not with him but with her husband Nazi hunter Victor Laszlo.

The plane engine rumbles to life in the background. A single tear trembles on Ilsa’s perfect cheek. And Bogie says some of the most memorable lines of his career. Later on he’ll walk off with Vichy Captain Louis Renault who has suddenly discovered his inner good guy. But the Big Bang really happens when brooding cynic Rick finds his own true heroic nature and sacrifices his heart for the good of the world and his soul.

We could hardly be more satisfied and it all looks smooth and easy but don’t be fooled. To carry off an ending that works like this well there has to be a plan. To create a Big Bang ending for your story you must plan the climactic scene in detail. Don’t write a word till that plan is perfect. Plan mostly action and dialogue and keep all of this action on stage in the immediate present. There are more steps as well.

How to Plan Your Big Bang Ending

  •  Plan mostly action and dialogue, very little narrative.Plan to keep all of this action on stage, in the immediate present.
  • Plan dialogue that is spare, to the point and memorable.
  • Plan on intensifying the pace, faster than what has gone before.
  • Plan lots of physical movement in the scene.
  • Plan lots of intense sensations – sight, sound, smell, texture and more.
  • Plan to plunge your protagonist into peril.
  • Plan one more obstacle to arise for your protagonist.  Make it formidable.
  • Plan a confrontation between your protagonist and antagonist.
  • Plan on milking that confrontation, while keeping up the intense pace.
  • Plan for your protagonist to cause action, not merely be overtaken by it.
  • Plan to communicate your protagonist’s feelings, with impact, to the reader.
  • Plan on incorporating fear, even terror, among those emotions.
  • Plan the presence of real danger to your protagonist in this scene.
  • Plan an outcome in the balance.
  • Plan that outcome as crucial to your protagonist.
  • Plan for your protagonist to be nearly vanquished in this scene.
  • Plan for your protagonist to be racing against time.
  • Plan for your protagonist to triumph in the last possible moment.
  • Plan for your protagonist to triumph by the narrowest of margins.
  • Plan for this triumph to be uplifting and inspiring.

The purpose of a Big Bang ending is to reverberate after the last page is turned. To lodge in the psyche of the reader and be remembered. All the way to the bookstore or the Buy Now button and the purchase of your next title.

You must stage your final scene the way a choreographer stages a dance. The result will be a powerful Dramatic Ending at full circle from what will have to have been your Dramatic Opening. And equally or even more thrilling. Find out how to write that Dramatic Opening in my previous post “Well Begun is Well Done”.

Now you must recognize that your story is over. You and your protagonist have exploded out of the explosive situation you exploded into on page one. You must resist the temptation to hang around a while longer. You’ve taken your reader on an unforgettable ride. Leave before she has a chance to catch her breath. Leave before he’s had enough. Leave them wanting more.  No Epilogues Please.

When you’ve accomplished all of that – Here’s looking at you kid.


 My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at This is my 12th novel and it does have a dramatic ending.

Alice Orr –


In Praise of Fierce Women – Orr What? Wednesday

There’s no force as fierce as a woman with a purpose she’s determined to fulfill. This was true as ever last weekend at Liberty State Fiction Writers’ Conference in New Jersey. So much impressed me there but I was most impressed by the fierce women who made the event speak to me in ways I needed to hear.

The first of these women was Rayna Vause the Conference Organizer – fierce with service from my initial sighting of her in the morning until my last after the final workshop was done. Rayna tends to be mild mannered but ferocity is mostly about dedication to a goal rather than personality. Rayna’s goal was to help the rest of us.

She was answering someone’s question when I first spotted her and doing the same when I saw her again at late afternoon. In between – the day Rayna had orchestrated spun around us all. She was fiercely determined that we would have an amazing experience and we did.

After lunch I moderated a workshop titled “Raiders of the Lost Arcs” with Kathryn Craft – a woman who is fierce with knowledge. Her complex subject was story structure and lunch had run long. Kathryn had to capsulize a lot of information into an impossibly short time and she did.

I took so many notes my wrist hurt. I also had an epiphany about my own writing process and how emotional arcs keep a story moving. Or slog to down if not artfully portrayed. Kathryn was determined to enlighten us and we were enlightened.

It was dinnertime when Liz O’Connor – who writes as L.G. O’Connor – joined us at a corner table in the hotel restaurant. Liz and I had been alphabetically slotted next to each other at the book fair earlier. Her energy and enthusiasm were evident from the start and continued through our dinner conversation where I discovered that Liz is fierce with encouragement.

The two other authors with us are at the beginning of their careers. Liz couldn’t have been more generous with her long experience and fund of facts about both traditional and independent publishing. Liz was determined that these new writers would be armed with information for the battle they must wage to become published and they were.

On the train back to New York City I was tired but filled with my own ferocity. Fierce with gratitude for the women with fire in their spirits that sets the rest of us aflame.


My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at This is my 12th novel and the heroine is definitely a fierce woman.

 Alice Orr –


Can We Go Home Again? – Riverton Road Monday

High School ReunionEvery story is a conversation with myself as the author and myself as a person. I usually don’t recognize what that conversation is about until I’m at least halfway through the writing. Or maybe not until after I’ve typed The End.

In A Wrong Way Home I knew all along that Kara’s dilemma has been my dilemma for decades. Can we go home again? Can we return to the place that birthed us and nurtured us? Or – as is the case with Kara – the place that failed to nurture us.

The answer is more difficult when we’ve had a hometown experience like Kara’s – the non-nurturing kind and the hurtful memories that go with it. For Kara those deep dark memory pits have to do with two things – her family and her past relationships with men. She doesn’t want to fall into either of these pits again.

Yet she can’t seem to stay away from one of those men even though she knows for sure that seeing him again will mean heartache for her. Matt Kalli is like the sore tooth we can’t keep from flicking with our tongue. Maybe we do that to make certain the pain is still there.

Isn’t that true of most of us when – for example – we can’t stop ourselves from signing up for the high school reunion. We shop long and hard for the perfect outfits to display ourselves at our best advantage. We have our hair styled. We struggle to lose weight. At my age we wish we could afford a facelift.

We’ve got unfinished business back there. Battlefields we didn’t conquer the first time around. The mean girls. The lost boys. The warm friendships that went cold. We long to write an alternate ending to those stories.

“Look at me,” we’d like to say. “See how special I am now. Don’t you wish you’d been nicer to me back then? Sorry. You’re too late to make up for it now.”

That’s the best case scenario. What will the real scenario be? We can’t resist finding out. We can’t keep our tongues off that nagging sore tooth memory. So we clean up as pretty as we can get and trek back home again.

I’ve gone to two high school reunions. One was a disappointment – no closure to be found. The second was very different. Why? Because I stayed away from the mean girls and boys I’d lost and the bad friends. I hung with the folks who’d been my true besties and I had a marvelous time. I also took my husband. He cleans up nice too.

Like Kara I found out that we can go home again. We just have to choose our stopping points wisely. We have to do that choosing with our warm hearts instead of our broken ones.


 My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at This is my 12th novel and it’s all about going home again.

 Alice Orr –


Nobody Wants a Sagging Middle – Ask Alice Saturday

Question. How do I keep the middle of my story moving at a fast pace?

Answer. The struggle in your story is the drama of your story. That struggle must begin at Casablanca - middleyour dramatic opening and continue forward without letup. The course of the struggle is the course of your plot. The more intense the struggle – the more intense the plot.

That’s all there is to writing a page turner story. Escalate the power – intensity – drama of your main character’s struggle and you’re in the winner’s circle. Until you get to the middle where you might find a muddle. Because the middle is where the story line is likely to sag.

When your story loses momentum in the middle you must make a crucial assumption. You need to know more about your characters. You need to ask three crucial questions.

  • What hidden relationships could there be between your characters?
  • What further conflict lies beneath the surface of their relationships?
  • What further secrets do they have and why have they kept them from you?

In “Well Begun is Well Done” my blog post about the Dramatic Opening I used the classic film Casablanca as a story example. Let’s continue with that.

At the dramatic opening we found Rick – played by Humphrey Bogart – bitter and disillusioned. But we’re well into the story before we learn the source of his bitterness. Near the opening there were hints at the problems in Rick’s history but we still don’t understand what’s up with him. Then beautiful Ilsa arrives – played by Ingrid Bergman – and Rick reacts.

We would say he overreacts because we still don’t know what’s really going on inside him. Ilsa is with her husband Victor so we don’t get an explanation until she returns later to the closed café where Rick is alone. Now we find out about Paris and the love affair between Rick and Elsa that sent him soaring then smashed him back to earth.

We are hooked as the suspense plot becomes a love story too. We’re hooked in the heart even more deeply than our adrenaline was pumped by the danger. We’re also at the middle of the story and there’s no sagging anywhere. Because we’ve learned more about the characters. Hidden relationships – deep conflicts – secrets that had been kept from us.

Want even more momentum? Make another crucial assumption. The hot water you’ve put your characters in needs to get much hotter. Now you must ask three more crucial questions.

  • What additional misfortunes can happen to your characters?
  • What potent dangers surround your characters?
  • What can happen that will jolt your main character?

Casablanca has the mother lode of misfortune and danger – World War II and Nazis. And a potent villain in German Major Strasser. Nothing accelerates story tension better than a truly evil bad guy. There are high stakes too. Ilsa’s husband Victor must be smuggled to neutral territory or be captured and tortured and his heroic anti-Nazi work will end.

The jolt to main character Rick comes via the Letters of Transit. They are what Alfred Hitchcock called the Macguffin. The thing everybody in the story wants for good or evil reasons depending on who they are. Rick has these letters. They will decide Victor’s fate. They will also decide the fate of Rick and Ilsa’s rekindled passion. Da Da Da Dum!

Drama – high stakes – an uncertain outcome. The middle of Casablanca provides all of this and more. Make your story middle do the same by digging beneath the surface of your characters as you see them now. Excavate your own mother lode. When you find it all sign of sag will disappear and never return. Plus – you’ll always have Paris.


 My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series – Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at This is my 12th novel and the middle doesn’t sag. The same is true of A Year of Summer Shadow launching May 15th.

 Alice Orr –


Where It’s At with Matt – Riverton Road Monday

AliceOrr_AWrongWayHome_POD[1][1]My name is Matthew Kalli and I’m not usually an angry guy. Most people think I’m the steadiest most stable of my three brothers plus Bobby Rizzo who might as well be our brother. There’s just one thing in the world that makes me as angry as I am right now and her name is Kara Cartwright.

I love my life in Riverton, New York. I had a great time growing up in the North Country and it’s still a great place to be. Or it was anyway. Until Kara came back. She took off nine years ago and I said good riddance to her. She’d left me even before that to be with one of the lowest bottom feeders in town. So – like I said – good riddance.

Okay. I’m supposed to be honest here. Tell it straight from the hip. That’s my assignment. Which I guess means I have to admit I’ve thought about her every day since she left. But that doesn’t mean I want to think about her. It only means I can’t help thinking about her.

Every time I see a certain color of blue-green I can’t keep myself from seeing her eyes. Every time I see somebody in those heavy boots she used to clunk around in I can’t keep myself from remembering how slim her ankles are when she takes them off.

It didn’t help that I never stopped visiting her Aunt Dee in the big old house on Flower Street. I called her Aunt Dee too and loved her too. Then she passed away and left the house to Kara. Now I can’t drive by the place without missing Dee and knowing Kara lives there.

Both of those things damned near split my heart down the middle. And – since I don’t seem to have a choice but to be straight up here – I’ve also got to admit I know that’s why I’m mad. What man wants to let anybody see that his heart’s split in two? It’s better to be mad as hell. That way I don’t look like a sad sorry piece of crap.

So that’s where it’s at with me. By the way my mother said from the beginning Kara would bring me loads of trouble. You should listen to your mother. She’s usually right. Now that bottom feeder I mentioned – Anthony Benton – got himself murdered. Good riddance to him too.

Discover more about Matt in A Wrong Way Home – Matt & Kara’s Story – Book #1 of the Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series featuring the Kalli family, the Kalli brothers and those who find safety and a warm welcome at Kalli Corner on Riverton Road. Buy this book at A Year of Summer Shadows – Book #2 out May 15.

Alice Orr –


Well Begun is Well Done – Ask Alice Saturday

Question: How do I make my opening sell my story?

Casablanca - RickThe opening of any story is crucial. A potential reader may be standing in a store aisle scanning the first few pages or reading the free sample offered on an electronic device. The situation is the same. A storyteller gets one chance to make a first impression and mustn’t squander that chance.

So – begin with a Dramatic Opening. That doesn’t mean you have to start out with a murder scene the way I like to do in my romantic suspense novels. Your opening can be more subtle than that. But it must be dramatic. Let me use an example from a favorite film of mine – Casablanca. Which is in my opinion one of the great romantic suspense stories of all time.

By the way – I’ll often use movies as storytelling examples. Maybe more often than I use books. I do this because I find that more of us have seen the same movies than have read the same books. And I want all of us to be able to relate to the examples I use. You also have easy reference to these examples because you can stream most of them on your computer.

Casablanca came out in 1942. Already the world was immersed in the most dramatic of times. The opening taps directly into that with a map of Europe and then Africa and Northern Africa beneath the credits. Maps meant something very significant in WWII. They ran in newspapers almost daily alongside stories of heart-stopping events. Battles – even troop movements if they could be made known. Maps were a life and death visual to a 1942 audience.

There’s also music. Exotic at first as the map moves toward North Africa. We’re headed for a world distant and different from our own. A complicated and possibly incomprehensible world. We need to be on guard and maybe even afraid. On an abrupt beat the music changes. Loud and rousing – La Marseillaise makes our hearts beat to a different tune. Even more dramatic and affecting than what we’ve already heard. And we’re not even past the credits yet.

We aren’t even at Rick’s Café Americain with Rick himself at the bar. Brow furrowed – cigarette stub smoldering – weight of a heavy wound beneath the square shoulders of his white dinner jacket. Want to see what a romantic hero – or any kind of hero – looks like? Screen this scene ASAP. Plus in the next two minutes you’ll see his inner character nailed as well.

A story’s dramatic opening has a lot of work to do. A lot of weight to carry beneath its square shoulders. This film does that in spades as clear and unmistakable as the ones on the cards the croupier turns in Rick’s gambling den. Does your story opening carry that weight as well? Why don’t you ask it if it does? Here are the 10 Crucial Questions to use in that interrogation.

1.   At this moment my protagonist must be plunged into a situation where she feels as if her world is being yanked out from under her. Is that happening and how does it happen?

2.   From this point on his life will never be the same again. How, specifically, will his life be changed?

3.   From this moment on, my protagonist will be engaged in struggle. How specifically does that struggle begin in this opening scene?

4.   This scene must begin in the middle of something dramatic already in progress. How specifically is that the case in my story?

5.   I need to describe what my main character looks like. I must describe her or him via a couple of significant details rather than by interrupting the dramatic action of the scene. What specifically are those significant details?

6.   This scene must at least suggest that something important is at stake for my character in this story and preferably for others too. What specifically are the dire circumstances that will result if my character fails to succeed in this story?

7.   Obstacles to that success must already be evident in this scene. What specific obstacles to that success are already evident or at least hinted at in this scene?

8.   My main character must make a conscious decision to act in response to the situation in this scene and that decision sets the story in motion. What specifically is that decision and how does it set the story in motion?

9.   My character must be a person with whom the reader will wish to identify – motivated to act by something the reader can relate to and find sympathetic. How specifically does my character fulfill these expectations?

10.   The action of the story must begin immediately in this scene. How specifically does that happen in my story?

Re-read these 10 Crucial Questions. Think about them in terms of your story. Be hardnosed with yourself and with your story as you answer each one. If your responses aren’t solid and dramatic – your story opening isn’t solid and dramatic. Make it so.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed – stream the opening of Casablanca. Take notes on how simply all of this is managed there. And be specific yet again.

While you’re doing that. “Here’s looking at you kid.”


 My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at This is my 12th novel and it has a dramatic opening.

Alice Orr –


All Scarlett All the Time – Orr What? Wednesday

Scarlett O’Hara was a bad influence on the way I experienced real life romance in my younger days. A dark growling brute carries you to bed and pretty much rapes you. So you fall straight off in love with him. My first marriage got me over that screwed up way of thinking because I’d pretty much found that brute. Which wasn’t the least bit romantic after all.

On the upside – Scarlett will never stop being a positive influence on my romScarlett O'Haraance with life. My favorite Gone With the Wind scene isn’t the one where Rhett hefts Scarlett up the wide staircase with her red dressing gown trailing. The truly indelible scene for me is at the end of the first act just before the Intermission. I’ll bet you remember it too. Who could forget?

Scarlett stands on a hillside as daylight fades. She faces the devastated landscape of what was once her beautiful Tara. In the distance she sees the war ravaged wreck of the gracious antebellum mansion where her story began. She was beautiful then too with her waft waist and ivory complexion and perfectly coiffed hair. Now she’s ravaged too. But she is not devastated.

Scarlett balls her fist tight as she clutches what looks like a grimy radish root. She’s taken a bite of this filthy root then spat it out. With the vile taste of defeat in her mouth she finds what she will need to raise herself up from this rock bottom moment and the patch of scruffy earth where she now stands. She lifts her fist toward heaven and cries out.

“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

The first time I heard that I knew instantly what it was – a warrior cry. Even as a little girl I understood somehow that this was the spirit I would need in life – a warrior spirit. I was exactly right about that because it is the spirit we all need. We must be warriors on behalf of ourselves if we are to rise above our own inevitable scruffy-dirt-patch experiences.

What Scarlett failed to recognize of course is that one of the most effective ways of lifting ourselves is to lift others also. To become warriors on behalf of one another. Especially on behalf those whose fingers are trembling too badly at the moment to make a fist and brandish it at heaven. We take hold of their shaking fingers. We lift them high with ours and cry out.

“As God is my witness, we’ll never be defeated again, because we’ll never be alone again.”

So – we must work our fingers until they are strong and able. We don’t need a squashy ball either. Life offers lots of opportunity to exercise muscles of resistance. We practice making tight fists by shaking them at every obstacle in our path. We grow our own version of Scarlett’s warrior spirit and have it at the ready as we strike out toward each new scary challenge.

And if the pushback pushes back too hard at times and we have to go to ground for a bit. We simply say. “Fiddle dee dee. I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Because tomorrow is another warrior spirit day.


 My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series  –  Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at This is my 12th novel and – believe me – it took a warrior spirit to get here.

Alice Orr –

Kara Comes Clean – Riverton Road Monday

Some people think I’ve got a chip on my shoulder. But really I have a wound in my heart. In my head I associate that wound with Riverton, New York a place everybody else seems to love.

My memories of Riverton are mostly painful. From my tortured mentally ill mother to my own torRiverton Downtown stock phototured connection with Anthony Benton. He is a cruel man who preys on the vulnerability of others – especially women. I was one of those women when I made the worst choice of my life and turned to him.

I’d lost the man I loved and I was shattered. Anthony Benton promised comfort and protection. He gave brutality instead. Until I was able to escape from him and Riverton and every unhappy memory here. Unfortunately that meant I had to leave Aunt Dee – the one person in the North Country I truly cherished. Besides Matt Kalli the man who had destroyed my heart.

Now Aunt Dee has died and left me her wonderful old house on Flower Street. But there are strings attached and I’m tangled in those strings. That’s why I’ve come back to Riverton where hard memories assault me the minute I drive into town. I’ve remade myself and my life since I left here. I’m no longer shattered or vulnerable. Quite the opposite in fact.

Still all the old hurt and confusion return in an instant. Maybe that explains the impulse to call Matt Kalli. In Riverton less than a half-hour. Already making foolish choices. And I don’t even know yet that Anthony Benton has been murdered.

Discover more about Kara in A Wrong Way Home – Book #1 of the Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series – Matt & Kara’s Story. Love and danger feature the Kalli family, the four Kalli brothers and those who find safety and a warm welcome at Kalli Corner on Riverton Road. A Year of Summer Shadows is Book #2 in the series and launches on May 15, 2015.

Find my books at

Alice Orr –

About the Humanity – Ask Alice Saturday

Benjamin Braddock in The GraduateQuestion: What is the most important element of good storytelling?

Answer: Mike Nichols was a master storyteller. I saw him in an interview where he was asked this same question and here’s his answer. “All we care about is the humanity.” And that’s a direct quote.

He was saying we must put the core of what makes us all human into the characters in our stories. Their dreams and hopes. Their disappointments and losses. Especially how they FEEL. All portrayed in some well written scenes.

Look at Nichols’ film The Graduate. All of that is there. Benjamin Braddock spends the entire story trying to figure out what his dreams and hopes might be. He stumbles into disappointment – mainly a big one he creates for himself by a huge error in judgment with Mrs. Robinson.

That blunder sets him up for the loss of his life – Elaine Robinson marrying somebody else. It FEELS like the loss of his life and that’s what matters. How it FEELS to the character. He triumphs in the end and we FEEL it with him even though he’s still as confused as ever.

The entire story is Benjamin Braddock. It could have been titled The Adventures of Benjamin Braddock. Each of our stories could be titled The Adventures of ________ (fill in the name of your main character). Or more accurately The Emotional Adventures of ­­­­­­________.

Because what our audience or our readership really cares about is the humanity of our characters. And how that humanity acts itself out – behaves and talks and most of all FEELS – in the story. In other words they care about the character’s Emotional Truth.

Emotional truth is what’s really going on in your story. The real truth of what’s happening to your characters. What your characters allow us to see and hear on their surfaces can conceal what they are truly feeling. Great stories are all about TRUE FEELINGS REVEALED.

This is exactly like real life and real life is the mother lode from which you mine your own emotional truth and refine it into storytelling treasure. The deeply felt emotions that are the beating heart of your story. The deeply felt emotions that make your reader feel deeply too.

I write romantic suspense novels. Scary things happen in my stories. The main character of the story I’m currently writing is assaulted by a brute. That happened to me once. My character and I both survived. Now we both benefit from my emotional truth of that awful experience.

The powerlessness while it was happening. The shock and numbness after it was over. The way others reacted. I didn’t need to take notes. All of that was branded on my humanity in indelible emotional ink. Now it is branded on my character’s humanity.

Unfortunately we’ve all had similar indelible experiences. We’ve been changed by them – traumatized by them – sometimes stopped in our tracks by them. Now we get to convert them into the very raw material of intense and dramatic and powerful storytelling.

You know what these stories are for you. Write them the way your heart FEELS them to be true which may differ from factual truth. Facts are verifiable. Feelings are not. Someone else’s emotional truth may vary from yours. That doesn’t make your truth any less valid.

Emotional Truth is individual. Your characters’ truths are what they honestly FEEL. That honesty gives your story authenticity. That authenticity gives your characters their humanity. It’s what makes your story really matter – to you as you write it and to your readers as they read it.

So dig down and dig deep. You’ll know when you hit the humanity mother lode because it will zing straight to your heart – just before you zing it straight to the page.

Find my books at

Alice Orr –