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How to Write a Romance Novel (So Good They’ll Remember It For Years!)

Romance novels are among the most popular types of fiction, and it’s not hard to see why. Who doesn’t love a love story? There’s something reliable about a good romance novel. 

Since romance novels tend to be marketed toward women, and the plots skew emotional rather than action-oriented, there is still stigma around the genre. But there shouldn’t be! 

A good romance is super comforting. Even when life is complicated, you know that the characters in a romance novel are going to overcome their difficulties and end up together. It’s that reliable, solid structure that keeps readers coming back again and again. 

This is also what makes romance novels so lucrative. Romance is currently the most profitable genre in fiction, leading the industry at a whopping 1.4 billion dollars in revenue, according to

In this article, we’re going to go over how to get started writing romance novels:

By the end, you’ll be ready to get started writing whatever romance novel your heart desires! 

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Meet-Cute: Picking an Idea 

The first step in writing any story is coming up with an idea. Think about the things you love to see in romance. Are you into love at first sight, or do you prefer enemies-to-lovers? Slow burn, or instant attraction? What are the tags you reach for when you’re looking for fanfiction? 

Romances are the perfect space to explore fantasies, and working with your own is a great place to start. It’s true of all genres that you should write something you’re passionate about. Readers can tell if the author’s excited! 

Review some of your favorite romance media and do some brainstorming to generate your own ideas. If you’re still having a little trouble, don’t worry! Whether you need a novel idea or romance short story ideas, we’ve got prompts to cover all your romance prompt needs. 

Grab your prompt, your favorite handful of tropes, or whatever else you’ve thought up. It’s time to talk about subgenre! 

First Date: Pick a Subgenre 

When it comes to fiction, everything’s going to have a subgenre. For example, Percy Jackson and the Olympians is middle-grade contemporary coming-of-age, but it’s also action-adventure, fantasy, and contains romantic plotlines as well. Romance is no exception to subgenres.

Subgenre is especially important to identify in romance because romance readers will tend to read within their subgenre. Some people stick exclusively to historical fiction romance, while others want only contemporary work. Maybe some readers want exclusively LGBTQ+ romances, and others want heterosexual ones. 

Figuring out what subgenre you want to write is going to be crucial to forming your readership. You don’t have to worry about it too much right now—write what you want!—but familiarize yourself with what subgenres are out there and be mindful of where your book falls into those categories. 

If you’re looking to turn a quick profit, you’ll want to keep a close eye on trends in subgenres. For example, in the wake of Twilight’s publication, there was a huge boom in paranormal YA romance. Trend track is more applicable for authors who write-to-market, but it’s good for every writer to keep their genre’s climate and trends in mind. 

Now that you’ve got an idea and you’ve identified your story’s subgenre, let’s start putting this novel together! 

Honeymoon Phase: Brainstorming and Outlining 

The brainstorming and outlining process for writing a romance novel is fundamentally the same as writing any other fiction novel. For a step-by-step on how to get your novel written, as well as a free novel template and tips and tricks on how to avoid burnout, check out this article! 

For romance specifically, though, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your plot. Namely, your subgenre is going to be carrying a lot of the weight when it comes to what happens in your story. 

Think about it: essentially every romance book follows the same arc. Two people meet, they fall in love, something prevents them from getting together, and then they overcome it to be with each other. That’s the feel-good formula that romance readers love, and it’s essential to a romance story. 

This means that your variety mostly comes from your subgenre. What makes your story unique? What’s your fresh take on this classic, timeless arc? Maybe you’re writing a love story between two pirates on the open seas in the late 1800’s. Maybe your romance follows two cowboys on the American frontier. A slow-burn enemies-to-lovers historical fiction will be radically different from a love-at-first-sight contemporary romance. 

Read a variety of other books published recently in your subgenre to get a sense of how readers expect these plot points to go. Obviously you don’t want to copy or plagiarize someone else’s work, but because romance novels rely heavily on following reader expectations, it’s good to have in mind what audiences are looking for when they look for your subgenre so you can take that into account while you’re plotting out your novel. 

A Detour: Sex Scenes or No? 

Romance authors often puzzle over whether they should include sex scenes in their work. There’s no right or wrong answer to this. Plenty of romance books have sex scenes, and plenty don’t, and it’s really up to the author to decide. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re on the fence about writing past that tasteful fade-to-black.

  1. Who’s your target audience? If you’re writing for teenagers or children, you’re obviously not going to include graphic sexual content. YA books might still contain sexual themes, but will often skim over the more graphic stuff with a fade-to-black or vague language, and MG and children’s books won’t include it at all. Even within adult romance, there are certain subgenres that won’t touch sex scenes—think Beverly Lewis with her Amish romance novels.
  2. Are you writing erotica or romance? Erotica is similar to romance, but instead of focusing on the romantic relationship between two (or more) people, it focuses on the sexual relationship. In erotica, the sex scenes are the point, so you’ll want to include lots of them.
  3. Do you want to write them? At the end of the day, you don’t have to include them if you don’t want to. Including sex scenes out of obligation will probably come off as forced, and there’s no need to if you’d rather skip ‘em! 

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The Long Haul: Drafting

It’s time to commit and turn this outline into a novel! Go ahead and use whatever drafting method is best for you. If you’re new to novel writing, check out the tips and tricks in the step-by-step novel-writing article linked above. 

The formula for a romance novel, as we’ve discussed, is super important, so let’s talk about the main beats you’ll want to hit as you write your book. The specific details within each of these beats are going to vary based on your subgenre. A meet-cute in an enemies-to-lovers historical fiction like Pride and Prejudice is going to be a little hostile and aggressive, while a meet-cute in a contemporary instant love might be sweeter and more dramatic. 

Regardless, your readers will be expecting a romance novel to follow a general structure, and we’ve outlined the basic formula for most romance novels here. 

  1. Ordinary Life: your story should start with a picture of your character’s ordinary life. In a rom-com, this would be our intro with a businesswoman working at her CEO position in a glamorous New York office. We don’t need to dwell long here, but we should get an idea of who our main character is and what they want. What’s missing from your character’s life, and how is their love interest going to fulfill that?
  2. Meet Cute: this is where we meet the love interest! How they meet is totally up to you, and the possibilities are endless. But this is the point where the main character’s life is changed forever, now that they’ve met their love interest. In our rom-com example, this is where the CEO has to move back to her rural hometown and runs into an old crush from high school. This is where the love story begins!
  3. Trials and Tribulations: It’s no fun if there’s no conflict—what’s keeping these lovebirds from being together? The bulk of your romance novel should be your characters struggling with these conflicts. Our CEO might be struggling internally with whether she wants to go back to her glamorous life in NYC. There should also be a solid external conflict pushing on the characters. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, Elizabeth’s repulsion to Darcy acts as her internal conflict, while the societal pressure to marry and marry wealthy is external pressure.
  4. Darkest Hour: this is where your external pressures and internal conflicts come to a head and all hope seems lost for our romantic leads. Our CEO might move back to NYC despite everything she’s been through with her old flame. In Pride and Prejudice, this is where Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s proposal because her suspicions of his poor characters have been confirmed by Mr. Whickham. 
  5. Climax: They get together! They almost fell apart, but they managed to defeat whatever obstacles were in their way once and for all. Maybe our CEO realizes her life isn’t complete without the guy she fell in love with and moves back to her hometown to be with her lover. In Pride and Prejudice, this is where Elizabeth gets the letter from Darcy and realizes he’s been in the right all along, and they confess their love.
  6. Resolution: We got a snapshot of our characters at the beginning of the story to see where they started, and now we need one of how they’ve ended up. Show your reader how life is better now that they’re together, and give them a taste of the happily-ever-after you’ve created! This is Elizabeth and Darcy at Pemberly. It’s the CEO opening the bakery she’s always wanted in her hometown. This is also where you’ll set up a sequel if you’re writing a series. 


And that’s all there is to it! 

You’ve written yourself a romance novel—congrats! These steps and guidelines will help you out no matter which subgenre you’re working in, so come back and check them out next time you’re working on a romance novel. 

Do you have tips for writing a romance novel? Share them below! 

SPS 099: 8 Figures Ecommerce Empire: How I Sold 1 Million+ Journals & Planners (And How To Create GREAT Products) with Cathryn Lavery

Catie is the journal acquisition and training manager at Oxford University Press. She has managed the onboarding and launch processes of new journal titles at Oxford University Press, from contract signature to journal running a business. In addition, Catie manages journal acquisitions from receipt of RFP to contract signature and trains and mentors new employees, company-wide, regarding best practices of the transition process.

How Catie Started Creating Journals

Having a design background, Catie decided she could design a journal that people would want to buy. She chose to Kickstart her journal creation idea to raise enough funds to produce a large-scale sale of her journals. “I thought if I could get enough people to buy it, crowdsourcing would be cheaper for me.”

She didn’t expect her business to do so well and was surprised when it took off. Giving away the PDF version of the planner for free, Catie created a buzz around her product. Getting feedback from the free version they published, Catie tweaked the first edition to make a more user-friendly second edition, which is what they sold as their end product.

Utilizing Email List for her Kick Starter Campaign

Catie utilized her email list to get the word out about her Kick Starter campaign. She asked buyers to send images of the book and how they were using their new tool. As a result, the user images outnumbered and outperformed the professional content she had created by a landslide. Catie decided to use her follower’s content for her ads as they gain much more traction.

From Concept to a Working Business Model

If you want to start your own business around a product, Catie suggests starting documenting products that you like to use. “For example, when I thought about my journals, I wanted to know what the paper felt like.” Find other items that you like to use in the same arena and think about the next evolutionary step for that product.

Listen in to today’s episode to find out the three parts of the product experience: the comparison between selling on-site and Amazon and which journals and planners sell the highest quantities.

Show Notes

  • [02:02] Catie talks about her background and how she got into designing journals.
  • [04:04] How she started and launched her Kickstarter campaign.
  • [16:53] What she did to get her Kick Starter campaign off to a good start.
  • [18:14] How Catie went from idea to concept to a working business model.
  • [21:11] Building an attachment from the product to your avatar’s identity.
  • [25:43] Selling on your own website and selling on Amazon.
  • [28:42] Top sellers for journals and planners.
  • [32:02] Avatar data – who is buying what in Catie’s company.
  • [35:15] Catie’s approach to her products.

How to Write a Fantasy Novel: The Guide to Enchanting Prose

Fantasy novels are stories set in a different universe–whether that universe is similar to our own with a few choice changes, or if it’s completely made up, fantasy novels are super fun to read and to write.

If you want to tell a story about a kid who discovers they can levitate, or a medieval story with dragons and mermaids, a fantasy novel is for you.

Let’s talk about it:

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Fantasy target audiences

Your fantasy book will dramatically change based on the target audience, particularly in the demographic of age. The two biggest things your target audience will influence while writing are: adult content and story conflict.

Age Appropriate Content

The content in A Wrinkle In Time is vastly different than the content in Game of Thrones. Imagine if George RR Martin had written A Song of Ice and Fire for middle graders. That would’ve been a drastically different book.

You’re going to make the language and content appropriate for your target audience. So, establish that before you begin writing.

Story conflict

I mention conflict because I see this problem with my own clients. The conflict in their books sometimes don’t line up with what their desired audience would be interested or invested in.

If you’re writing a book for adults, the conflict will need to be something adults find compelling. You can take a basic, low-branch plot and fill it with as much sex and cursing as you want, but that won’t make the conflict interesting to adults. It will just make your story less accessible to readers who might be interested in the conflict your book presents.

This doesn’t mean dumbing down your content, but it means crafting characters and a plot that will appeal to your target demographic.

How to outline a fantasy novel

Fantasy novels are possibly one of the most complex to write, genre-wise. In high fantasy, your world is completely fabricated. You create the political system, the religion, the culture. You build the entire world. That means it’s incredibly complicated to keep track of, so outlining in fantasy is pretty important to write a cohesive, sensical story.

Here’s an outline template to get you started.

What kind of fantasy are you writing?

There are several subgenres of fantasy, and each one operates under its own rules. A few examples are high fantasy, low fantasy, dark fantasy, magical realism, superhero fantasy, and fables. The ones that will dictate how much worldbuilding you have to do are high vs low fantasies.

High fantasy

These are set in make-believe worlds. High fantasy requires you to create the rules and systems of the universe your story takes place in. This is typically the hardest subgenre of fantasy to write. Examples of high fantasy stories are Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Name of the Wind. High fantasy usually needs the most pre-planning and revision to be sure the story follows the set rules of that universe.

Low fantasy

Low fantasy stories are typically set in the real world, but with Spice. Examples of low fantasy are The Borrowers (contemporary, realistic universe, but tiny people exist), Tuck Everlasting (realistic, but immortal water), Twilight (realistic, but vampires and werewolves exist and people are attracted to Bella Swan), Stuart Little (realistic, but kid is mouse). Writing low fantasy is comparable to writing contemporary, it’s slightly easier to plan than a high fantasy novel.

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How to write a fantasy novel in 6 steps

Writing a fantasy novel follows the basic steps of writing any novel, but with special attention usually put toward worldbuilding. Here is the basic process you’ll likely go through to write your fantasy novel.

1. Organize your stuff. 

Before you jump into your worldbuilding, character sheets, etc., establish the kind of system you’ll use to keep track of it. Whether that’s Scrivener, NovelPad, Microsoft Word documents, or even a physical binder, prepare your system and keep track of all of your ideas and developments.

Many writers keep a character sheet for each main character, a creature sheet for every invented animal/species, geographic maps, etc.

2.  Worldbuilding.

There are three main elements in creating a high fantasy world: The magic system, political system, and religion. Of course there are many other elements that go into it, but these three are the cornerstones. And they’ll usually dictate the other elements of your world and culture.

Ideally, all three of these elements work together and influence each other as a cohesive system. As you develop each, consider how they influence each other. I’ve seen instances where elements are mutually beneficial, parasitic, or mutually destructive. Your world, your elements, just keep the reader in mind.

Magic System

Your magic system includes all magical elements, objects, abilities, and laws in your story. The amount of magic depends on your type of fantasy. An urban fantasy, for example, might just be a contemporary story where everything is exactly as it is in the real world. Feel free to add a little Spice.

A high fantasy is when you create the entire world from scratch. But even within high fantasy, you might not have a proper “magic,” but magical elements exist.

The most important part of developing your magic system is establishing the rules, then sticking to them. You can do anything you want with your magic, as long as it’s consistent. For example, in the Twilight Saga–you’re either a vampire or werewolf, or you’re not. You don’t study until you become a vampire or werewolf.

Another type of magic system is learned magic, usually in an academic setting with specifically worded spells and potions with recipes. An example of learned magic is The Worst Witch. Even though some people are born with natural magical abilities. To actually wield the magic, you have to learn the rules.


If you’re making up a world, you’ll also need to make up the political system. Is it an anarchy, is it a monarchy, is it an oligarchy, or is it something you’ve completely invented?

Here are some questions you can answer to get started developing your political system:

  • How are leaders elected?
  • How long do leaders stay in power? What do their powers entail?
  • What is the outreach system like? How are homeless people treated? How are orphans treated?
  • What are your economics like? Do you have a currency? Are there economic classes? What distinguishes the upper class from the lower class?
  • Does sexism, racism, or other “isms” exist in your world? How are they perceived?
  • Is there a class difference between children and adults, men and women, et cetera?
  • Who is the most respected group of people in your world? Who is the least respected? Why?


Just like your political system, if you’re building a world from nothing, you have to come up with the religion. If there isn’t a religion, that should also be an intentional choice with reasoning, and it should affect the world you build.

Here are some questions you can ask to flesh out your world’s religion:

  • Who are the religious figureheads?
  • Is it polythesistic or monotheistic? Why?
  • What is the origin, the creation story, the lore, et cetera?
  • Do you have deities? If so, who are they, what is their lore, how do they interact with/rank with each other? Are there different deities for different purposes?
  • If your story covers a large geographical area, you’d likely have different religions–how did the different religions develop in different areas? How do the cultures of that group influence the religion?
  • How does the political system interact with the religion? Are they completely separate, or are they based on each other?
  • How do the magic system and religion interact with each other? Is the magic powered by the religious belief? Do they combat each other, like real life Christianity and witchcraft? 
  • Are there places of worship? What do those look like? What are the religious customs in the place versus out of the place?
  • Is your religion “real”? For example, in The Poppy War, warriors can summon gods, which makes their religion fact in that universe. In other worlds, like the Game of Thrones universe, there’s The Faith of The Seven, which is understood to be a group of religious fanatics, not based in fact in that universe.
  • Are there any religious customs, like certain things to be done or not done in daily life, sacrifices, ceremonies, et cetera?


The political system, religion, and magic system will heavily influence the culture, but it will be developed based on other factors of the world as well, such as:

  • Weather (if you look at the clothing, houses, etc., of a society who lives in a snowy environment versus a desert environment, those are obviously going to have major differences)
  • Geography (if you look at the gods a society who lives in the mountains would create versus a society who lives seaside, you should see the influences there)
  • Species that exist in your world (if it’s an urban fantasy and the only magical element is that cows are replaced with dinosaurs, how would that affect the culture?)
  • Resources (abundance versus scarcity among different regions will influence the culture. Think of the different districts in The Hunger Games.)

3. Characters

Your characters are going to be heavily influenced by your worldbuilding, so it’s helpful to develop them and their arcs alongside your worldbuilding.

Developing characters for a fantasy novel is a little different than for a contemporary novel, because you have to take into account cultural differences (that you have created), morality, magical capabilities (or the lack thereof–if they’re a non-magical being in a world of magical beings, how would that affect them?), and just how living in that universe would affect them.

4. Outline

Outlining a fantasy novel can be super helpful, because there are tons of things to keep in mind. However, the fantasy genre can also help because if you develop your world, the rules of it, you’ll only then need to create an interesting character. It’s much easier to just drop that character in the world and “see what they do.” Whereas with a contemporary novel, for example, there are typically fewer exciting things for the character to react to and interact with, making pantsing seem a little more contrived.

5. Write and revise

Now that you have your world building in place, your characters outlined, and your story outlined (maybe), you’re ready to write! Like I said, writing a fantasy novel has the same basic process of writing any novel, but you have a few more elements to keep track of, so remember to keep your notes on the world and systems on hand as you write.

6. Beta readers and feedback

Beta readers are volunteers who read your book, answer questions, and give you their opinions and interpretations of the book. They’re super helpful during revisions. So just like any other book, you’ll want feedback for your fantasy novel for additional revisions. With a fantasy novel, you might ask more questions than with a contemporary, like questions related to the worldbuilding and magic systems.


And when you’ve got your manuscript as clean as you can get it, you probably want to hire a professional editor. Editors for fantasy novels might cost more than the average novel, because fantasy novels typically have a higher word count.

Additionally, there are many more things to keep track of, as there are more opportunities for plot holes when you’ve invented the universe yourself. So just be sure to budget enough money during the drafting process to hire your editor when you’ve finished.

In Conclusion

Fantasy novels are a fantastic way to express your creativity in every aspect of your novel. If you’ve got a big imagination, you’re ready to write an awesome story! Stay organized, build your world in a way that makes sense and allows the different elements to work off each other, outline the book, write the book, revise the book–delicious! You’ve written a fantasy novel!

Jon Acuff Interview

SPS 098: How I Wrote & Launched 6 NYT Bestsellers…And What I’m Doing Differently With My Newest Book with Jon Acuff

Jon Acuff has been featured in INC Magazine and is a NY Times Bestseller of six books. He is a speaker, writer, entertainer, and business guru. He’s an INC Magazine Top 100 Leadership speaker and has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people at conferences and companies worldwide. 

His extensive and highly engaged social media look to him for his unique blend of humor, honesty, and hope. He lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife and two teenage daughters. His latest book, Soundtracks, will be available nationwide on April 6, 2021. Jon’s coaching and work are based on a straightforward principle: He believes in you and believes in your goals.

Why Jon Uses Books for Business

Although creating books is challenging, Jon feels that most people who want to write a book never take on the work. You can hold a physical book, which gives value to the author as it shows what they created.

How Jon Creates His Books

He finds an idea that he is willing to spend the next two years writing about and talking about the rest of his life. A best-selling book has three elements: personal passion, being deeply connected to the content, and a need for the book.

“One of my biggest changes was to take real ideas from my office and test them with people that look and think differently from me.” Jon realizes that writing for yourself doesn’t always work; you need to take other’s ideas as well to incorporate them into your content to get a truly holistic perspective.

Book Marketing Advice from Jon

He encourages people to start talking about their book months before it’s published. “If you’re talking about your book and it comes out in three weeks, you’ve waited too long.” Jon includes a free audiobook with the purchase of a hard copy.

Listen in today’s episode to find out how Jon was able to give away his audiobook with his publisher, what he has learned from using four different publishers, and what he has learned about why certain books sell the best.

Show Notes

  • [02:00] Why books are such a big part of Jon’s business. 
  • [04:00] How his process for writing books has evolved in the past years. 
  • [07:11] Why Jon tests his book ideas.
  • [09:23] Speaking advice and examples of his favorite speakers and how to be funny.
  • [13:31] How creating stand-up comedy has made Jon a better writer. 
  • [15:20] Jon’s advice on launching and marketing books. 
  • [22:05] Why your editor relationship matters the most when you go with a traditional publisher.
  • [27:13] How his online course moves books and serves his business.
  • [36:10] Breaking down the fourth wall as an author.
man in desert

How To Use the Hero’s Journey to Structure Your Book

Are you having a hard time structuring your hero’s journey? You’re not alone. 

Getting your novel’s structure down is probably one of the trickiest things to master, and it’s vital to making sure your pacing is correct. Basically, if your structure is strange, everything else is going to suffer for it. Those epic character moments might not land, or the plot might feel like it moves too quickly. This is especially important in structuring for the hero’s journey.

But don’t worry! There are plenty of existing ways we’ve been structuring stories since the very beginning of novel-writing itself. In fact, some would argue there’s one key way that most of our stories are structured.

That’s what we’re here to talk about today. 

The Basics

You may have heard of the Hero’s Journey already, either in writing classes or in conversations about film. It’s a popular story structure, and it’s one that almost any book can fit into. 

If you’re looking for some extra help getting your book structured check out this guide also. If you’re just looking to learn a little more about how the Hero Journey works, we’re here to break it down and show you how to apply it to your book! 

So, first off…

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What is the Hero’s Journey? 

The Hero’s Journey is a storytelling structure that breaks stories down to their core elements. In its most basic form, the Hero’s Journey breaks stories down into three parts: the Departure, the Initiation, and the Return. These stages describe a character existing in their current world, the action which causes them to leave it, and how they’ve changed when they come back home. 

The Hero’s Journey was originally outlined by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In this book, Campbell argues that all books and all heroes follow the same basic plot points. He also outlines a story structure that aims to categorize every story into a series of plot beats. These plot beats make up the Hero’s Journey. 

Campbell’s Example

For the sake of this article, we’ll just be covering the core elements: the Departure, the Initiation, and the Return. But the entire Hero’s Journey structure actually contains about 17 total story beats. 

It’s important to note that Campbell doesn’t require stories to follow each of these 17 beats. Also worth noting, it’s important that these beats happen exactly in order. Instead, these are just a list of things that tend to happen in each story. A writer can use this to their advantage by arranging them in the order that’s best for their story! 

Now that we know what the Hero’s Journey is, let’s take a look at those individual parts. The Departure, the Initiation, and the Return, and how we can use those points to add structure to our stories. 

Hero’s Journey Parts 

The Departure 

Every story starts with the main character living in their ordinary world. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo starts out living his ordinary life in the Shire. We get a sense of who Frodo is, who the hobbits are, and what the Shire is like. In this stage, we’re just getting to know the characters. 

It’s important to establish a starting point for your world and characters. This doesn’t have to be too long. In fact, it’s best to keep it brief so that we can get into the action as soon as possible. But to appreciate a character’s growth, we need a sense of where they started out. 

Critical Questions

Here are a few things to ask yourself when you’re setting up your story: 

  1. What kind of person is your character? What are their flaws? 
  2. Where do they live? Do they like where they live? Why or why not? 
  3. What does your character want, and why can’t they have it? 

Asking yourself these questions will help you clearly establish your character and world so you’re ready to move on to the next part of the Departure, which is exactly what it sounds like. The Departure also includes a call to action, where someone comes along and convinces the main character to leave their established setting. 


In the Lord of the Rings, it’s Gandalf who comes along and convinces Frodo to leave the Shire. This takes Frodo out of his established setting and propels him into a journey, which makes up the plot of the rest of the series. 

What’s the inciting incident that causes your character to leave their world and venture into a new setting?

 It’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean that they leave their hometown–this is just where the plot starts, and we leave the established ‘normal’ behind. In a romance novel, this is where the character meets their love interest, for example. After the meet-cute, things are never the same for the main character, and the plot has formally begun. 

After the Departure, it’s time for the Initiation. 

The Initiation 

The Initiation stage is the stage where the hero, now removed from his regular world, is thrown into the new world and has to learn the ropes. In a romance novel, this is where the characters fall in love with each other. Lord of the Rings, the Initiation stage takes up a vast majority of the series, following Frodo through Middle Earth and taking the reader with him. In Harry Potter, this part starts when Harry gets to Diagon Alley, and both the reader and Harry Potter see the wizarding world for the first time. 

The term ‘Initiation’ implies that this stage just includes that first exposure, but in fact, most of your plot will take place here. In Campbell’s full Hero’s Journey structure, this stage includes: 

The Road of Trials

the stage where a hero must navigate a set of challenges or problems in pursuit of their goal, or along their journey 

The Meeting with the Goddess

the stage where a hero runs into someone who gives him a special token, knowledge, weapons, or items to help them along their journey 

Woman as the Temptress

the stage where a hero is tempted to abandon their quest. Campbell describes this stage as a woman seducing the male hero from their quest, but this temptation doesn’t have to be seductive–maybe the hero is faced with homesickness, or they’re offered an easy out instead of having to face more suffering. 

Atonement with the Abyss

at this stage, the hero must confront the core of the conflict. In Star Wars, this is the final showdown with Darth Vader, where Luke learns the truth about his lineage. Lord of the Rings, this is when Frodo finally gets to Mordor and has to get the ring into the fire. Must romances, this would be the darkest hour where a characters experience some conflict that threatens their relationship. 


this is where the hero overcomes the Abyss, and their takeaway helps them fight in the final conflict. This might be quick–in Star Wars, Luke finds out that Darth Vader is his father and converts him to the light side in one sequence. In a romance like Pride and Prejudice, this is where Elizabeth learns that Darcy has actually been helping Lizzy’s family behind the scenes and saving their family from dishonor, all out of love for her. 

The Ultimate Boon

this is the climax of the story! The character finally defeats the villain, conquers their fears, and unlocks key information about themselves in the process. This is where the Death Star explodes, where Sauron falls, and where Darcy and Elizabeth finally confess their feelings to one another.

Again, we don’t need to include each of those story beats in our own work, nor do we need to have them in that order. Maybe a character is tempted away from the plot before facing a set of trials, and maybe the character is never tempted away from the plot at all. 

The thing all of these beats have in common, and the overall takeaway from this section, is that the Initiation is where the hero is plunged into the new, unfamiliar world, and must learn to navigate that world and rise to its challenges (or fail!). 

More Considerations

Keep these things in mind when you’re writing this stage: 

  1. What sorts of challenges does this new world bring to our character? Are those challenges exacerbated by the hero’s character flaws? 
  2. How will the hero overcome these challenges, or will they? 
  3. How Could the hero grow from these challenges, and how will that growth impact the way they face future problems? 
  4. Will the character be changed forever by the Ultimate Boon? This is the climax of your novel and the place where all the character’s experience and trials culminate, so it should have a big impact on them as a person which builds on how they started out. 

The Return 

Phew! The hero has gone on the adventure of a lifetime. The Death Star is in pieces, Sauron is defeated, and Elizabeth and Darcy are in love. Now what? 

Novels have to have a resolution. We’ve seen the character in the place they started, and we’ve watched them grow throughout the Initiation. Now, there’s been a status quo change, and the world of the story has shifted to a new normal. The hero will never be the same, and it’s important to show what this new normal looks like to really let the impact of this story sink in for the reader. 

The most literal version of this is to have your hero return to their starting point. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo returns to the Shire, but his experiences have changed and harrowed him so much that he can no longer fit in there. This leaves an impact on the reader because we saw Frodo at the start, and we know how he used to fit in and love the Shire. 

But you might not have a character literally return to the exact place they started. Elizabeth moves in with Darcy, since she marries him, and we see her in her new, happily married life, which is much more extravagant than the one we started out in. 

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What if my character fails? 

Your story doesn’t have to follow all of these beats, and these beats can take on different forms. What if your character comes to the Ultimate Boon and fails? What if they can’t return home, or what if they don’t want to? 

That’s fine! The important thing is that, after the climax of your novel, you describe where the characters are now, and how they’re changed from the start. If they fail, where does that leave them?  

A few things to ask yourself while you’re writing the Return: 

  1. How does my character make it out of the Ultimate Boon? Maybe they were injured or in a jam–Campbell describes ‘Rescue From Without,’ where characters need a little extra assistance in getting back to their original life. Think of the eagles from Lord of the Rings. 
  2. How does my character fit into their original setting now that they’ve changed? It might be that they don’t anymore, and like Frodo, they have to leave forever. Or it might be that they love it, like Elizabeth Bennet.  
  3. What image do I want to leave the reader with? Our last look at the hero and how the hero has ended up is going to leave a big impact on the reader, and often will be the main takeaway. If the hero is harrowed and sick, that leaves a very different impression than if the hero is happy and celebrating. 

And that’s really all there is to it! 


To sum it all up: the Hero’s Journey follows a hero from their regular life, watches them grow and develop as they meet the challenges of the new and exciting world they’ve been plunged into, and sees how they’ve changed when they finally beat the bad guy (or don’t). 

Try breaking your novel into these core pieces and seeing how your story fits into it! You might find that not every beat fits, but it’ll help give you a better understanding of how your novel progresses. 

Do you have any tips for people using the Hero’s Journey? Do you find it to be a helpful tool in outlining your work? Let us know!

man in mental anguish

Building Your Novel Around an Unreliable Narrator

Have you ever read a book with an untrustworthy main character? The kind of character where you can SEE that what they’re doing is wrong, but they’re justifying it to themselves? Or maybe they’re interpreting an event incorrectly because of their own biases. Introducing the unreliable narrator.

Aren’t those characters so fun to read? I personally love a douchebag main character, but I also love characters who lie to the reader. It’s like a puzzle to figure out what actually happened and why they’re misrepresenting it.

Why Add This Element 

Adding an unreliable narrator to your story creates an additional layer of conflict for the reader to sort through, which adds to the overall tension. Not only does a reader have to work out the conflict, but with an unreliable narrator, they have to call into question everything that happens and keep a sharp eye out for deception and misdirection. They can turn a tense story into a real nail-biter when they’re written well! 

And they’re hard to write well. All author-reader relationships involve an element of trust. Authors are relaying information to the reader and trusting that the reader will understand. In turn, readers trust that the author is giving them good information. An unreliable narrator breaks this rule, but in practice, they shouldn’t break that relationship. An unreliable narrator lies, but they do so in a way that adds to the story instead of taking away from it. 

Finding that balance is hard. You don’t want a character the readers don’t feel connected to. And you don’t want to mistake an unreliable narrator for a villain (though they sometimes are).

Want to write your own unreliable narrator? Let’s talk about it!

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What is an unreliable narrator?

An unreliable narrator is a character who is telling a story and, for whatever reason or in whatever way, the story lacks credibility. You’ve probably been exposed to lots of stories with this type of narration. Whether you’ve realized or not. We’ll cover some popular examples in a bit, it’s a literary device that you can apply to your own stories.

Before we get further into unreliable narrators, let’s cover the different types of narrative perspective and which ones are best suited for unreliable characters.

What are the narrative perspectives?

To start, let’s talk about different possible narrative perspectives. First, second, third limited, and third omniscient. You’re probably familiar with narrative perspectives, but I’ll briefly cover them just in case.

First person

The character themself is the narrator, so it uses the pronouns “I” and “me.” This is often considered the closest possible perspective from which to write, since you’re in that character’s head for the entire story. 

Second person

The odd guy out for narrative perspectives, and it’s not often used in creative writing. Second person establishes the reader as the character, using the pronoun “you.” You’ll see this used in books like choose-your-own adventure novels.

Third person limited

The narrator is separate from the character, but remains closely in the character’s limited perspective. It uses pronouns like she, he, and they, but the reader is still limited. We don’t get to know anything outside of what the character knows, and we don’t see anything past what the character observes. There might be multiple POV characters in a third-person limited story, but we are limited to the POV character for entire scenes or chapters until we intentionally switch to a different character.

Third person omniscient

(also called the God Narrator) uses the same pronouns as third person limited, but the narrator gets to know everything. The narration can hop to different characters’ heads and thoughts, and it knows everything that ever happened in the universe, past, present, and sometimes future.

The unreliable narrator can only come into play in those closer perspectives, like first and sometimes second and limited third. You’ll most often see it in first person narratives.

Which perspectives can be unreliable?

An unreliable narrator is a character that cannot be trusted. They might be a liar, they might not be in their right mind, or they might be misrepresenting events based on their own unintentional biases.

There are many different types of unreliable narrators, but we can break them all into two basic categories: the intentional and the unintentional.

Keep in mind that unreliable narrators are not necessarily liars, and they also aren’t necessarily villains. A character who does morally gray things might be a perfectly reliable narrator, and so might someone who’s outright evil. Unreliable just means that they’re not relaying events to the reader exactly as they happened. They’re misrepresenting them somehow. 

Additionally, not all characters who lie are unreliable narrators. Remember, it’s all about what the character is relaying to the reader. If everything is being relayed exactly as it happens, then you don’t have an unreliable narrator. 

Is your character willfully deceiving the reader, or do they genuinely believe the things they say?

Intentionally Unreliable Narrator

These narrators know they’re lying to the reader, and they’re doing it on purpose. They can have many motivations to do so, but they’re defined by their willful deceit. 

There are many ways a character might choose to conceal information to the reader intentionally. They might hide a key piece of information until the climax or not mention to the reader something which happened in their past to make them act a certain way. It’s true that all characters will act in certain ways based on their experiences. We’ll talk about that more in a minute. But, the thing that makes these guys intentional unreliable narrators is the active, motivated choice to conceal that information.

Unintentionally Unreliable Narrator

Narrators who don’t realize they’re lying can have many more reasons for doing so. They might be ignorant, they might be naive, they might have personal biases that make them see situations differently, etc. You’ll see unintentionally unreliable narration in almost every child narrator, because there is much outside of their scope. A very common and usually essential piece of writing from a child’s perspective. What do they understand, and how do they understand it?

Some people say it’s impossible to have a story in first-person that isn’t an unreliable narrator. I think that’s a great way to think of characters when writing first-person. When we’re seeing through them, it’s important to keep their perspective in mind. The experiences they have and the ways they interpret them should reflect their personality, experiences, traumas, and knowledge. Everything we see and understand is done so through a filter of our own lives, and the same should be true for the characters we write.

The effectiveness of a character’s lens will have a varying impact on the story, depending on the character, but in theory, every first-person narrator is an unreliable narrator to some degree.

Now let’s look at examples of unreliable narrators in popular fiction.

Examples of unreliable narrators

Since every first-person narrative is theoretically unreliable, there are so many strong examples of stories with unreliable narrators. We’re going to talk about three famous and notable examples of unreliable narrators: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Stetson, and The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Alan Poe.

Alias Grace

Grace is a character who claims to have lost all memory of a murder she was convicted of. A doctor takes interest in her case and interviews her years later about what she does remember. Over the course of the story, the reader might suspect that Grace is lying about having lost her memory.

I interpret Grace to be an intentionally deceitful narrator, but it’s left in a sort of gray area where it’s up to the reader whether they believe her story or not. It also takes a bit of the story before you might start to pick up that she’s unreliable. It’s hard to be certain if she’s lying, if other characters are lying, or if she’s not in her right mind and truly believes what she’s saying.

You also watch her seduce and deceive the doctor in the present story, which can lead the reader to believe even more that Grace is being intentionally manipulative.

Alias Grace is a great read if you want to study how skillful authors utilize the unreliable narrator to add layers of intrigue to the story.

The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Stetson is a great example of unreliable narration in a short story. This story is the first-person account of a woman who slowly loses her mind. While she starts relatively reliably, you know from the beginning that she is struggling with something akin to postpartum depression, and you know that her husband is dealing with it in an incredibly unhealthy, sexist way that was common in the era.

From the start of the story, we see the pieces in place for the character’s drive to madness, then we watch it unfold. By the end of it, the reader is absolutely certain that the narrator is unreliable. This doesn’t make us care for her any less—I think it makes her even more empathetic. We saw the unfair odds stacked against her and watched how her life and sanity crumbled. She is not a character we can blame for misrepresenting the truth.

The Tell-Tale Heart 

Another classic example of unreliable narrators in short stories is the main character in The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Alan Poe. He is intentionally deceitful, because he directly lies to the reader and to the other characters throughout the entire piece. Mistakenly thinks he’s doing it very cleverly and that no one can see through the lies, which adds another layer of complexity to the character. Speaks about being driven mad by an old man who has done nothing but have a gray-colored eye. He thinks he can hear demons and angels, and at the end of the story, he reveals his own crime because he thinks he can hear the man’s heart still beating beneath the floorboards.

Just like in The Yellow Wallpaper, the reader can be sure that the narrator is intentionally unreliable, and in this case, it just makes him more interesting.

The best way to learn any writing skill or literary device is by finding pieces where writers did them well, then deciding for yourself what you like and dislike about each execution, so read around!

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Why use unreliable narrators?

Having a character who is an unreliable narrator adds layers of intrigue to the story. Not only does the way they misinterpret or misrepresent events show us things about them, but it gives the reader a more active role in interpreting the story. What’s real and what’s not? Can you see the truth beneath the character’s lies? Why are they lying, and what does that say about the character and the story?

Crafting a character with the way they deceive themselves and others, intentionally or not, will give you a more realistic, relatable, and interesting character.

Do you have a favorite character who is unreliable? Let us know in a comment!

SPS 097: Crush It With Challenges: Launch Bigger, Sell More Books, And Grow Your Business with Pedro Adao

Pedro is the founder of 100 X Academy and creator of the Crush it With Challenges program that helps people grow their business and sell more books. He has led over 40 successful challenges in the past two years and has helped business owners create their own challenges to increase their client base with a low cost per acquisition.

Pedro’s Crush it With Challenge

The challenge is a time-based, virtual, live experience where there is a focused-outcome that the participant expects to see at the end of the challenge. Whether you are a coach, consultant, or course creator and want to move books, Pedro recommends a five or seven-day challenge.

Challenges are delivered as live-training primarily inside of a closed Facebook group. Clients promote their challenge, have people join in their group to take the challenge, and do the posted daily homework. In the end, you invite them into a coaching program with a membership site.

Selling Copies of Your Book with Challenges

“The number one way to acquire paying customers online is to have a challenge.” Using Pedro’s challenge program, you can acquire a large number of clients for a very low acquisition per customer.

Positioning your book in the front end of the funnel gives your book more exposure, more units sold, and gives your buyers an upsell option. “Take your book, a small mini-course or other info, bundle it up with a special challenge promotion and sell your bundle for the entire week.”

Listen in to today’s episode to find out how to create a great pitch for your hook when making a challenge, how to decide on your micro-niche, and how to choose content for your challenge.

Show Notes

  • [02:24] Pedro talks about his different programs he offers for business owners.
  • [06:00] Why the Crush it With Challenge program can sell books.
  • [09:58] How Pedro created his Crush it Challenge.
  • [14:14] Using your book content inside of a challenge.
  • [15:20] Choosing the timing to create a challenge for your book launch.
  • [19:08] How Pedro decides on his hook for his challenge.
  • [22:20] Deciding on the length of your challenge. 
  • [31:01] Digital marketing platforms Pedro is using for his launch this month.
  • [34:34] Maximizing your window before your challenge starts.
  • [39:00] How Pedro figures out his rate of return on his investment.

Best Fiction Books Ever

Who reads books anymore? Lots of people, turns out! 

There’s a popular myth that book sales are in decline. Blockbuster franchises are more popular than ever, and the ‘golden age’ of television is going strong with seemingly endless shows available on an increasing number of streaming platforms.  Additionally, social media reaches new heights every year. 

With all these leaps in technology and changes to our media landscape, you might think that people have moved away from the novel. But in fact, novels are more popular than ever! The industry’s been experiencing growth over the last few years, helped in part by a boom in ebook and audiobook sales. 

People are reading more than ever, and on top of that, a nearly countless volume of books get published every year. This can all get pretty overwhelming for someone looking to get into reading! 

Whether you’re looking for a place to start in your reading journey or you’re an experienced reader just looking to brush up on some classics or add some new books to your TBR, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most fantastic fiction out there. 

A quick note before we get started: everyone’s reading needs are going to be a little different! For the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on general fiction, and we’ll include another section specifically for sci-fi and fantasy.

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Best Fiction Authors 

One of the easiest ways to read more is to find authors you love and read everything they have. It’s always a great feeling to read an excellent book and then realize that the author’s got eight more for you to enjoy! 

Here’s a list of some of the best and most famous fiction authors out there. We’ve included a mix of old classics and more contemporary options so you can test out a variety of options to see what works for you. 

Karin Slaughter

If you’re a fan of a good murder mystery, look no farther! Karin Slaughter, an American novelist, has sold dozens of millions of copies of her novels. I thought I didn’t enjoy the murder mystery/crime solving genre at all, but when I started reading Karin Slaughter’s book Pretty Girls, I realized I was just missing a female perspective. She doesn’t pull any punches with her content, but she treats her characters with a lot of respect, and it’s so refreshing to read some page-turners where the women are written well. She’s got eighteen books out, so see if you can find one you love! 

Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas is a YA author whose debut novel, The Hate U Give, stayed on the Bestseller list for 80 consecutive weeks and has sold upwards of 850,000 copies. Her books The Hate U Give and On the Come Up both explore the experience of Black teens growing up in the United States. My favorite thing about Angie Thomas’s writing is how much she makes you feel for her characters and their families–in doing this, she makes these enormous conversations about race relations accessible, human, and impactful. 

Nora Roberts

 Love a good rom-com or soap opera? You might love romance novels! The romance genre is enormously varied and complex, but why not start with one of the most successful romance novelists of all time? Nora Roberts has written over 200 books spanning across a ton of different subgenres–historical romance, supernatural and speculative, and more. 

Charles Dickens 

We can’t forget about the classics! Maybe you read A Tale of Two Cities in high school and hated every second of it–I won’t judge you. But I’d implore you to give him a second try. Charles Dickens is one of the bestselling authors of all time for a reason! His books are definitely long, but they involve a layer of complexity that we don’t often get in contemporary fiction. If you’re the sort of person who likes to get totally lost in a long book and wrapped up in the characters, humor, and setting, try cracking open a Dickens novel sometimes. You might be surprised! 

George R.R. Martin

If you’ve already seen the HBO show Game of Thrones, then this is a no-brainer. The book series on which the show was based stands as some of the most popular fantasy in recent memory, and it’s not hard to see why. His worlds are complex and detailed, his characters are interesting, especially when they’re being evil, and his plots are cutthroat. Nobody is safe, and you’re always at the edge of your seat. If huge fantasy epics aren’t your thing, Martin has also written and edited multiple short story collections to enjoy at your own pace. 

Rick Riordan

If you’re a younger reader, something dense and dark like Game of Thrones might not be your jam. If you’re interested in middle grade and YA fiction, especially urban fantasy, Rick Riordan is definitely worth a shot. His series Percy Jackson and the Olympians follows the story of a kid from New York who finds out that he’s actually a demigod and the son of Zeus. That series alone was one of my favorites, but he’s since gone on to branch into Roman mythology. He also hosts Rick Riordan Presents, a series dedicated to featuring stories from lots of different mythologies and cultures! 

Jane Austen

Do you love the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? Who doesn’t! Believe it or not, the book is just as good. Jane Austen wrote in England during the late 18th century, and her novels often comment on England’s wealthier citizens, especially women, since they were expected to marry and marry well. That might make you think that the content wouldn’t be relatable, but Austen’s humor and storytelling have kept her books fresh for hundreds of years. 

Best Selling Fiction Books of All-Time 

We’ve talked about some of the most popular and prolific classic and contemporary authors, but we haven’t talked about individual books yet. Which books have sold the most copies internationally? 

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein 

The Lord of the Rings is credited by many to have kicked off the entire fantasy genre as we know it. Tolkein believed that adults wanted to read the same sorts of fantastical stories that we often tell children, and he set off to write a fantasy story for adults. The Lord of the Rings follows a Hobbit named Frodo as he leaves the Shire to destroy the One Ring in Mordor. 

There’s a lot to love about this story–it’s a masterclass in worldbuilding, with tons of fully developed languages, cultures, and religions to follow. It’s also a classic example of good storytelling, following the Hero’s Journey almost to a T. 

The Lord of the Rings has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling series ever written, even decades after his death. 

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote is the bestselling book of all time! Published in 1612, it tells the story of a nobleman who reads one too many romance novels and goes crazy trying to revive chivalry. It’s a longer read, but it’s absolutely packed with comedy, romance, and adventure. 

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens 

I know, I know, not everyone loves this one. But this isn’t a list of favorites, it’s a list of bestsellers, and A Tale of Two Cities has sold over 200 million copies worldwide! It’s a story about the French Revolution and personal transformation, and if you can get used to Dickens’ writing style, you’re in for a real treat. 

And Then There Were None: Agatha Christie 

Agatha Christie was English writer who wrote sixty-six detective novels, and is widely considered to be one of the very best detective novelists out there. Her mysteries are all intriguing and keep you on the edge of your seat, but her most famous one is And Then There Were None. 

And Then There Were None has sold over 100 million copies internationally. The plot has a simple premise: a group of guests arrives on a mysterious island, and one by one, people are murdered. This is one of the shorter reads on this list, and every second is packed with suspense. 

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Best Selling Science Fiction Books of All-Time 

We’ve talked about the best-selling fiction of all time, but I wanted to take a moment and focus specifically on the best-selling sci-fi and fantasy novels of all time. Some of our most treasured books are sci-fi and fantasy, and they take up so much of the bestseller list that it just made sense to give them their own little section! 

So, here we go: 

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkein 

I cheated a little bit by putting Lord of the Rings in the general fiction section, but I had a good reason! Each Lord of the Ring book has its own place in the best-selling hall of fame, so I didn’t want it to take up too much space here. But I couldn’t make this list without including The Hobbit. 

The Hobbit was the first of Tolkein’s novels, and while many consider the Hobbit to be a prequel to the Lord of the Rings, mostly because of the movie adaptation, it’s actually kind of just its own thing. Tolkein didn’t know he was going to write Lord of the Rings when he wrote it. The story follows Bilbo on a whimsical journey out of the Shire with thirteen dwarves. 

If Lord of the Rings is a little too dense or serious, you might love the Hobbit as an alternative glance into Tolkein’s world! The Hobbit has sold over one hundred million copies internationally. 

Dune by Frank Herbert 

Dune is considered one of the foundational texts of the sci-fi genre, if not the foundational text. Written by Frank Herbert in 1965, Dune has been critically acclaimed for its worldbuilding and intricate detail. If you’re into sci-fi, this is a great piece of work to check out, since most of what we see in our modern sci-fi stems from here. 

Dune has sold over twelve million copies worldwide. 

1984 by George Orwell 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 

This is another easy recommendation: if you liked the HBO show The Handmaid’s Tale, why not give the book a try? 

Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale has sold millions of copies worldwide and continues to shock readers with its insight into our contemporary treatment of women. If you’re looking for feminist literature that will really shake you up, look no further! 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

I couldn’t make any kind of a list about sci-fi without including Mary Shelley! 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is perhaps the first sci-fi novel ever written, making Shelley the creator of the entire genre. The craziest part is that Shelley was only nineteen when she wrote it. In Frankenstein, a mad scientist brings a corpse back to life. It’s a basic premise, but what makes it so good is that Shelley digs into some intense questions about what it means to be human and what it means to create life. 

With these lists of bestselling books and authors, you’re ready to do some serious reading! Are any of these books old favorites, or do you have other recommendations? Let us know in the comments!  

fountain pen writing

Top Fiction Writing Prompts to Get Your Pen Moving

Fiction writing prompts, fiction writing prompts adults, fiction writing prompts high schoolers, fiction writing prompts middle schoolers, fiction writing subgenres 


Whether you’re a seasoned expert or a brand-new writer, using writing prompts is a great way to get your creative gears turning and start on a story. Feel free to use these prompts exactly as they are to write short exercises, or to modify them and use them as a jumping-off point for your own worlds and plot ideas! 

We’ve broken these prompts up into adult, high school, and middle school prompts, and there’s a few ways to look at them. You can stick to the prompts that much up with your age group, which might be especially helpful if you’re a new writer, to make sure you’ve got prompts with experiences relatable or relevant to you! 

You can also think of them as separate genre prompts. Maybe you’re a highschool student writing adult fiction, or you’re an adult writing middle grade. Feel free to try prompts across all age groups to see what sticks! Writing for a different age group can also be a fun exercise to flex your writing muscles, so even if you don’t typically write outside your age group, use one of these prompts to try it out. 

Without further ado, here are 51 writing prompts for adults, high schoolers, and middle schoolers! 

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Writing Prompts for Adults 

Here’s a list of 20 writing prompts for adults, or anyone writing adult fiction! 

  1. Two rival coworkers get assigned to the same hotel room during a company retreat. They think they can grin and bear it, but then they get snowed in for the weekend. Do they fall in love, or do they plot their revenge? 
  2. Fresh from college, a new graduate gets their dream job. But when they show up for their first day of work, things seem… strange. And no one will tell them what happened to the last intern. 
  3. A new renter’s upstairs neighbors won’t stop stomping around during the odd hours of the night. Fed up, the renter goes to confront them, but it turns out nobody’s living there. In fact, no one has ever rented that apartment since the building’s completion. 
  4. It’s a small town, and any scandal can ruin you forever, but that doesn’t stop a woman in an unhappy marriage from filing for divorce. To make things worse, her husband is the mayor. 
  5. Mary is a happily married woman with two kids and a dog. One night, a visitor comes to her door, claiming to be her partner’s former lover. What does the visitor want? 
  6. A recently retired lawyer receives a mysterious letter calling him to return to a beach he hasn’t visited since childhood. 
  7. Write from the perspective of an old house watching a family move in and, gradually, move out. 
  8. Two adult siblings prepare to head home for a tense holiday season–Mom’s remarried, and no one likes her new husband. 
  9. An estranged family decides to meet up for a family reunion at a ski resort deep in the mountains to reconnect. As soon as they get there, things start to go wrong. 
  10. Anthony’s never heard a sound from his next door neighbors, and when he knocks, no one is ever home. One day, all the lights are on, and the front door is wide open. What does he find? 
  11. A detective duo takes shelter from a snowstorm in a small town where there’s been a string of murders. They don’t plan to stay long, but there’s something strange about the people here. Something that makes them unfriendly and skittish. 
  12. It’s been a few hundred years since the war that ended civilization as we know it. One group of people travels from town to town playing old jazz music on scavenged instruments. Write about their journey across America. 
  13. At a company Christmas party, a worker decides to finally let her boss know everything that’s been bothering her about this job. 
  14. The new resident living in 111B has been acting strangely. Write from the perspective of the landlord inspecting the apartment when the resident’s out one weekend. 
  15. A woman gets a phone call from the same man every Friday night. Eventually, she falls in love and agrees to run away with him. When she meets him at the spot they chose, what happens? 
  16. A CEO goes on an island retreat in the hopes of brokering a deal with another company. Write the emails he sends home as he slowly goes insane. 
  17. Matt’s lived in his small town his whole life. One morning, he wakes up and realizes he’s the only person left on Earth. 
  18. Write from the perspective of a woman who decides to quit her job in the big city and work on a farm in the middle of nowhere. 
  19. Everyone thinks the king has gone mad and moves to remove him from the throne, but in truth, the king isn’t mad–his son has just convinced everyone that he is. Write from the perspective of the king as he seizes back control over his court. 
  20. One day, a man decides to move his entire family to a remote island far from the American Coast. Write from the perspective of his wife. 

Writing Prompts for High Schoolers 

Here’s a list of 16 writing prompts for high schoolers, or for anyone writing young adult fiction! 

  1. Two best friends get stood up on the night of homecoming. Instead of going home, they decide to make their own fun at the dance. 
  2. It’s the night of the big Varsity football game, and one student notices that the opposing football team has been infiltrated by vampires. 
  3. Two teenagers are head over heels and things are looking good, until one of them has to move across the country for their parents’ job. Write the letters they send each other as they try to make long-distance work. 
  4. A pair of high school sweethearts are planning to go to college together. One of them gets an acceptance letter, and the other one doesn’t. What happens next? 
  5. It’s the first day of school, and there’s a new kid in town. No one knows where he came from, and when people talk to him, something seems… strange. 
  6. There’s a new French teacher every year. A group of students decides to find out why they keep quitting, and why each new hire is stranger than the last. 
  7. A new student decides to join the Chess Club to make some friends, but finds that the students are cold and unwelcoming. They decide to stay anyway, determined to defeat them in the District Tournament. 
  8. The high school marching band has earned a perfect score at competition every year, until this year. What goes wrong? 
  9. A teenaged kid gets expelled from high school, and in the hopes of whipping them into shape, their parents send them to an old boarding school on the East Coast. There’s no cell service or Internet, and at night, the kid hears strange noises on the water. 
  10. Three friends decide to start a cryptid hunting club. They’re mostly in it for the jokes, but one night, they find something lurking in the woods near the school. 
  11. Write the diary of a teenager sent to live with her wealthy, eccentric aunt shortly after the death of her parents. 
  12. Write from the perspective of the cheerleading captain as she decides to leave the captain of the football team for the captain of the dance team. 
  13. Sadie’s best friend moved out of town when they were kids, but she’s come back for their senior year of high school. They decide to reconnect over the summer. What happens? 
  14. When a zombie outbreak strikes town, the high school students and staff are locked in the high school. What happens next? 
  15. Write the social media posts that one local teenager wrote in the leadup to their mysterious disappearance over the summer. 
  16. During a tornado drill, two students break into the principal’s office and find something neither of them could have prepared for. 

Writing Prompts for Middle Schoolers 

Here’s a list of 15 writing prompts for middle schoolers, or anyone writing children’s or middle grade fiction! 

  1. Mark’s parents take him to the pet store to get a new hamster. He picks out a cute one and brings him home, and everything seems normal. But at night, the hamster acts strange. 
  2. Write from the perspective of an alien disguised as a middle schooler, sent to pick up information from a public middle schooler and relay it to their home planet. 
  3. The middle school theater kids seize control of the entire school and issue a full lockdown.  Nobody enters, nobody leaves. What happens next? 
  4. A middle schooler wakes up one morning to discover that she’s completely invisible, even to her family. 
  5. Four childhood friends have always been told never to wander into the neighbor’s yard, and to especially stay away from the neighbor’s run-down shed. When they decide to break the rule and go searching, what do they find? 
  6. Julie’s the best volleyball player on her team until a new kid moves in and outperforms her. The new kid is better at volleyball–in fact, she’s too good. Is there something more to this kid than meets the eye? 
  7. A middle schooler makes friends with the boy across the street, but his parents won’t let him sleep over at their house. Finally, they agree to let him go for the boy’s birthday party. 
  8. Write about a middle school in a fantasy world where students are trained to ride dragons. 
  9. A kid’s dad goes missing on a work trip, and he’s pretty sure the neighbors are to blame. When none of the adults will listen to him, he takes matters into his own hands. 
  10. In this town, the citizens always elect a twelve-year-old mayor. When the mayor turns fourteen, they elect a new twelve-year-old. The newest mayor doesn’t want to give up his seat. What happens? 
  11. In this fantasy world, an immortal tree keeps the kingdom alive and strong. The princess in line to the throne notices that the tree is beginning to get sick. What’s causing the sickness, and how does she save her kingdom? 
  12. Every year, the Richards go to the same cabin for a week-long vacation, and Emily is sick of it. When they get there, Emily’s mom tells her this is the last time they’re coming to the cabin. Why? 
  13. A group of Girl Scouts discovers a secret society living in the campground mountains. The citizens of this society are kind, but they offer the Girl Scouts a choice–stay forever, or never come back. 
  14. The local middle school D&D club falls into their world, and has to survive the campaign with their friend still acting as Dungeon Master. 
  15. The principal is dragging his feet solving the series of locker thefts terrorizing the middle school. One group of kids decides to get to the bottom of things and catch the locker thief red-handed. 

With these prompts under your belt, you’re ready to get started. Happy writing! 

200+ Fiction Writing Prompts in the 8 Most Profitable Genres  Come up with your NEXT great book idea with over 200 unique writing prompts  spanning 8 different genres. Use for a story, scene, character inspo, and more!  YES! GET MY WRITING PROMPTS!

Have you written something with one of our writing prompts? Share your stories below! 

john lee dumas interview

SPS 096: Launching My First Traditionally Published Book Using What I Learned Self Publishing Books & Journals with John Lee Dumas (And How I Negotiated a $350k Advance)

Joining me today is John Lee Dumas – the host of the Entrepreneurs On Fire podcast & author of “The Common Path To Uncommon Success”. 

We cover so much ground in this interview, including:
-how he got a $350,000 advance on his first traditionally published book
-the process he used to get 800+ reviews on his first self published book
-the keys to selling 100’s of thousands of journals
-how to sell bulk copies of your book (how he’s sold 7,000+ copies this way before launch)
-how to create a CRAZY bonus stack that sells more books

If you’re looking for advanced launch strategies, don’t miss this episode!

How his New Book Fits into his Current Business Goals

John boiled down his 3,000 interviews into what he found out were the 17 foundational principles that every entrepreneur possesses. “This is a 17-Step roadmap to financial freedom and fulfillment.” Spending two hours a day during quarantine, John spent a total of 480 hours formulating and writing his new book.

The Book John Had to Write

Getting hundreds of questions a day from followers who are mainly variations of the same ten questions. Although he can’t answer every question individually, he can offer his book so people can consume the content of John’s knowledge and experience.

Reasons John Went with a Traditional Publisher

“I felt like I needed an editor,” John says about his decision to publish traditionally. “I wanted to see what it was like to work with people professionally who have done this a long time.” He was excited to accept his advance from HarperCollins.

Learn what John did to get a more significant than expected advance on his book, the importance of relating your book to a famously published book, and how he gets thousands of book reviews for his book.

Show Notes

  • [02:04] Why he wrote his new book and how his book fits into his business.
  • [07:18] Why John decided to traditionally publish his book.
  • [10:54] How he received a large advance on his book from Harper Collins.
  • [13:22] His process for obtaining book reviews.
  • [15:12] Creating a solution for a common problem with the content in his book.
  • [22:48] John Lee Dumas’ launch plan for his new book.
  • [29:55] Why he is OK with losing money on his pre-order books.
  • [36:01] Special deals and offers John gives with his books.