The ABCs of Solid Storytelling by Author Sandy Blair

Don’t miss Sandy latest release A Highlander for Christmas

Highlander for Christmas


The ABCs of Solid Storytelling


Remember those wooden ABC blocks children had before Legos became popular?  The A block, for example, not only depicted the letter but had an apple, an aardvark, etc., on it. All you needed was a little imagination and you could make anything your heart desired from an alphabet tower to a zoo train. Now apply the concept to story telling. Here are some Romance blocks to play with.


Audacity. Either the hero or heroine should have a healthy dollop. They’ll not only need it to overcome the mounting obstacles you’re putting before them, but it will also keep the reader turning pages in hopes of finding out what on earth this character is going to do next.


Think adversarial attitudes while coping with allure, of opposites attracting. 

Also think action and adventure (capture the reader’s imagination.)


Beauty, be it in your prose, characterizations or settings. People are instinctively drawn to beauty. Why else would we bother to visit Yosemite or read poetry and Vogue?


Charisma. Particularly in the hero. The reader has to want this man as badly as your heroine does. Think clever,  cool and collected. Charming when it suits him, caustic should he need be. And always capable and compelling. Burn that hero’s name and image into your reader’s memory.  


Deep emotion. Charcoal grey doesn’t cut it when it comes to the “black” moment. Don’t hold back. Don’t settle for angry when you can make the hero or heroine furious. Don’t settle for saddened when despair will make your reader cry. Desperate is good.


Energy. We live in a fast-paced, sound bite world. Few readers (or editors/agents) have patience for redundancy in either introspection (repetitive angst) or dialogue (your re-telling of information that the reader already knows as characters interact.) Keep the story moving.


Facts. Create interest by incorporating a little something that the reader may not know about a profession or time period. But be frugal and only incorporate that which the hero or heroine needs to know to meet a goal.


Geography is so much more than structure and landscape. Breathe the course of life into your settings. When the wind blows what do you smell? Fresh cut hay and roasting venison or garlic-infused sauce simmering on some unseen stove high above the rank steam emanating from a sidewalk sewer vent? What does a whipping wind carry? Pollen and the bleating of newly-shorn sheep or pages from a forgotten newspaper and a dozen discarded fliers offering free HIV testing?    


Humanity. We instinctively infuse foibles and compassion into our heroes and heroines but often forget to do the same for our villains. Don’t run the risk of taking some of the punch out of your story by creating a two dimensional adversary. Typhoid Mary took great pride in her work as a cook for the wealthy, refused to knuckle under when faced with adversity.  


Imperfection. Be it a physical imperfection or a character flaw, it’s often the very thing that draws a reader to a character because they recognize themselves.


Jealousy. A little competition is good for the soul. It forces the characters re-evaluate their position and goals.


Kissing is good but sex sells. And memorable love scenes aren’t crafted by focusing on what body part is rubbing against what other body part but by delving into what’s going on within your characters’ heads at the time. 


Love, so deep and abiding that one character will willingly die for the other.


Mischief. A little goes a long way but often makes the reader smile.


Novel. Think fresh even if your high concept is nostalgic. Take it where no one has gone before.


Opposites do attract. But go beyond the “She’s neat, and he’s a slob.” Or “She needs her large supportive family, and he’s a loner.” How about exploring conflicting outlooks on what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, faith, coping with loss, courage, money management, friendship, death, etc?


Possession (Thought I was going to say passion, huh?) Your hero has to believe to his bones that if he plans to stay sane he has to have this heroine; body and soul. Your heroine (wiser, knowing those steely pectorals may someday grow soft,) should have a driving need to possess even more…This man’s heart/unwavering devotion.


Questioning one’s motives and goals is an integral part of character arc/growth


Riches. Unless you’re writing another Grapes of Wrath, think about giving either the hero or heroine an abundance of something your readers might desire, be it talent, land, power, courage, a close family, or whatever. Then balance that wealth by making the character deplete in something equally desirable.   


Stealth. Take the reader by surprise in the last paragraph of every scene if possible, not just at the end of every chapter. Hook ’em as much as possible.


Timing is not only a matter of story pacing but of you getting the right story on the right desk at the right time. Be tenacious.


Universal theme. This is your story’s heart, the keystone upon which every chapter stands and to which every reader can relate. Come up with it before you start and you won’t find yourself written into a corner or wondering, “Where the h*ll the story is going?”


Voice isn’t static. It matures with the writing and with time. Forget about writing that “great beginning” in the beginning. Don’t waste time rewriting that first page or first few chapters over and over. What might satisfy you now won’t necessarily satisfy you or be appropriate for the story by the time you reach the end. Just write and the perfect beginning will make itself known.


Wrangling is a mistake. If you find your characters taking you down paths that you never envisioned, don’t fight them. Give your characters the reins. Trust your muse. What’s more important: that detailed outline you slaved over or your story ringing true?


X, Y, and Zip code on the envelope, (don’t forget the SASE) and off it goes. Wishing you the best of luck with submissions.


ANY QUESTIONS? Shout them out!!




For more articles on writing check out Sandy’s Webpage –      

40 Responses to The ABCs of Solid Storytelling by Author Sandy Blair

  1. Sandy Blair

    Thanks, Eileen. I’m pleased you think it might prove useful. Wishing you the best as you tackle your WIP.

  2. Eileen Muller

    What a great post, Sandy. I am printing it out and taping it to the all above my writing desk.


  3. кpacaвицaвocтoкa

    Прикольная статья, да и сам сайт я смотрю очень даже не плох. Попал сюда по поиску из Яндекса, занес в букмарки 🙂

  4. Sandy Blair

    Hi Martha,
    It was my pleasure and thank you for passing the blog post on to other writers who might find it helpful.

    I’m pleased to hear you have A Highlander For Christmas in your TBR pile. I hope you enjoy it.

  5. MarthaE

    Hello Sandy! I am a reader/reviewer and thought this post very interesting. Then I looked at the book and realized “I have that in my TBR pile!” I passed this blog post info on to some other onlline friends who might find it interesting too. Thanks for sharing your tips! Martha

  6. Sandy Blair

    Hi Tina,
    My pleasure. If you have any more questions feel free to ask anytime.


  7. Tina Reid

    Good Morning, Sandy

    Thank you for taking time out of your day to answer my questions. I am so glad to learn that I can enter my manuscrupt into multiple contests!!

    I truly appreciate your advice.

    Tina Reid

  8. Sandy Blair

    Hi Tina,
    Look for contests that advertise “published author” as judges. Also contests with final round “editor” judges that routinely buy paranormal manuscripts.

    Some contest to consider: The Maggie, The Molly, The Prism (specializes in FF&P) and The Haunted Heart. If you’re writing Celtic paranormal there’s also the Celtic Heart. You can find a complete list of contests with submission guideline and deadlines each month in RWA’s Romance Writers Report (RWR.)

    And yes, you can enter any manuscript in multiple contests so long as it’s not already under contract to a publisher.

    Wishing you luck,

  9. Tina Reid

    Hi Sandy
    Loved the ABC’s !!!

    I am an aspiring writer- currently working on a paranormal romance. You suggested entering a contest first before sending a manuscript to an editor. What contests would you suggest? Can a person enter the same manuscript in more than one contest?

    I have read all your books and love them!!


  10. Sandy Blair

    Thanks, Crystal.

  11. Crystal B.

    What a great post. Very informative and helpful. I like how you used the ABC approach.

  12. Sandy Blair

    Hi Candy,

  13. Sandy Blair

    Hi Maithe,
    You’re welcome, and I hope he finds some tips helpful.

    Wishing your son success,

  14. Sandy Blair

    Hi Sue,
    Thanks for the compliment. Many of the ABCs are organic, are part of my innate sense of storytelling. Some come from years of reading/knowing what I found entertaining or memorable. Others (i.e. that “voice” isn’t static) came with experience.

    As for “tweaking” those I’ve published, I’d love to have an opportunity to expand the ending of “A Rogue In A Kilt.” I was on a killer deadline–had been given only 4 months to write it because another author had failed to make her deadline and my publisher needed it to fill the line up–and didn’t have the luxury of time to take Angus’s and Birdi’s story as far as I’d have liked.

    And there’s alway a few lines or words in every book that an author would give her right arm to re-write.


  15. Candy Gorcsi

    Hi Sandy,

    Great blog

  16. Maithe

    Hi Sandy! I am not a writer, but my young son is one. This is fantastic information to give him. Of course, his writing is more YA than anything else, but this is a good guide for him. Thanks for the wonderful tips!



  17. Sue A.

    Wonderful post!
    Did you have all this figured out early in your writing career? And if not do you ever want to go back a re-write some of your earlier books with all that you’ve learned since then? I’ve seen some author’s books partially re-written when being re-issued.

  18. Sandy Blair

    Hi Julie,
    I’m so pleased you found it useful. (I’m a bullet point kinda gal myself.)


  19. Sandy Blair

    Hi Breia,
    Lovely name.

    RESEARCH: I’m NOT a fan of on-line sites, much of which can be posted or edited by any kook who comes along. I am a fan of well researched texts by respected authors/historians/professors/etc.

    But books are expensive, so think about using your libraries “Inter-Library-Loan” services when possible. It’s easy to use and quick.
    I have a modest collection of great historical, fashion, medical and Gaelic/Auld Scot language texts but do use the library when I can’t find the info I need in the books I have.

    EDITING: Edit only what is driving you nuts until you type “The End.” Then wait a week, print it out and with red pen, highlighter and sticky notes in hand give it a “fresh” read. Make notes and then really edit with the public (and editor/agent) in mind.

    MYTHS: I’ve seen authors go both ways. Some keep to the script and others take a familiar concept (i.e Pandora’s Box) and create their own mythology and storyline around it. It’s really your call…and more often than not, the more exotic the twist, the more editors like it.

    Hope this helps.


  20. Julie Robinson

    Hi Sandy,
    As a “List” person myself, I absolutely LOVED your ABC’s of Storytelling. This one goes into my printed out keeper file.

  21. Sandy Blair

    Hi Valerie,
    I smiled as I read your post. I finished my first manuscript after my three children had graduated from college and married…so it’s never too late.


  22. Breia Brickey

    Very nice blog and always something I can use. I am trying to write a paranormal. My question is about research. When you don’t have a lot of money to spare what are the best places for research ? Also, should I edit as I go along or wait until I am finished? As far as world building goes, does it matter if I butcher myths completely and make it my own? or Should I try to keep it as close as possible if I am using myths that we all know? Sorry I seem to have so many questions but as you are a captive audience I am going to use you as much as I can. Thanks for a great post.

  23. Valerie

    I think I will start writing when the kids flee the nest…it’s posts like this that inspire me too.

    The only thing is, I may be half way in the grave when the last kid takes off…hehe!!!


  24. Sandy Blair

    Thanks for dropping by, Destiny. (Love your name, btw.)


  25. Destiny Blaine

    Hi Sandy,

    I loved the ABCs of Solid Storytelling. Wonderful blog post.

    RJ, the blog looks beautiful. I’ll be back to visit often.

    Destiny Blaine

  26. Sandy Blair


    You’ll know when the time is right.

    I started my first book while the kids were teens. (Dumb!) Never finished that book. But after they fled the nest I started chasing down my dream again and sold my second manuscript…so it’s never too late to begin.


  27. Romance Junkies

    I am not writing.. Someday perhaps but right now my life is way too crazy. Although I have been told not too wait forever 🙂

  28. Sandy Blair

    Thanks, Kim. What are you writing.

  29. Romance Junkies

    What a great blog. I loved reading this. Lots of good info


  30. Sandy Blair

    Hi *waving* Billie Jo!!


  31. Sandy Blair

    Hi Sophia,
    I’m happy to hear you had fun reading it.

    I know Cat is writing a YA, but what are the rest of you writing?


  32. Billie Jo

    Hey Sandy!!

    The ABC’s was a lot of fun to read!!

    Billie Jo

  33. Sophia

    What a great idea, Sandy. It was creative and informative, not to mention a lot of fun going through the letters.

  34. Sandy Blair

    Hi Pat!!!

    Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the ABCs.


  35. Sandy Blair

    Hi Cat,
    I’d query agents only after I’d put it into competion and received some feed back from published authors to be sure it’s ready for submission( doesn’t have some flaw, which would garner you rejections.)

    I’d submitted A Man In A Kilt into The Maggies. All three published judges made the same suggestion for beefing up my prologue. I made the change and then submitted it to agents…and was agented and sold within weeks.

    Many authors have had similar experiences.

  36. Chaoscat/Samantha Storm

    Should I try to get an agent or editor first?

    Ooh see I need the answer to that question 😉

    I am working on a 300 plus YA paranormal. I was sitting here today wondering when I get it done should I try for an agent?


  37. Pat

    Fun and informative. I love the new take on the ABCs. (Now I need to figure out how to print it so I can hang it on the wall and still read it!)

  38. Sandy Blair

    Thanks, Debbie and MJ. Nice hearing you enjoyed the blog (and I don’t advise using them in school. ) .

    I’m here should you have any further questions (i.e What format should I use? How long does it take for an editor to respond? Should I try to get an agent or editor first? What’s the difference between active and passive voice? The use of words like “was” and “had been”? Etc, etc.)


  39. MJ Fredrick

    What a great post, Sandy! Fun AND informative!

  40. Debby

    I enjoyed your ABCs. I wonder if I can use these at school?

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