Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Story on Your Heart Is the Story Readers Want to Hear

bonnie randall, writing the novel of your heart, write the story you want to tell, storytelling
By Bonnie Randall

Part of The How They Do It Series 

JH: There are a lot of reasons not to write that novel you're itching to write. Bonnie Randall shares a lot of reason why you should.

“I had this really cool dream sequence in my story, but…dream sequences will make an agent stop reading, so I can’t.”

“I have a prologue but all the writing articles say they’re a no. So I can’t keep it.”

“I have this amazing plot on my mind, but the characters are all overdone—so I can’t write it.”

“I’ve sketched out this beautiful book of schedules, budget planning, inspirational quotes and lists, but there are so many already on the market. So I can’t write mine.”

I follow many writers on social media, and over the last several weeks this theme—I want to, but I can’t—has recurred, in variant forms, again and again. So much, in fact, that I want to scream:


Here’s a secret that should not be a secret:

The story on your heart is the story readers want to hear.

Stop buying this absolute garbage that devices like letters, dream sequences, prologues, and backstory are categorical NOs. Ignore the experts who say elves, cops, zombies, vampires, or half-naked Scottish men are cliché and that no one wants to read about them.

If your character is a Mary Sue, then for the love of honesty in your story let her be a Mary Sue.

Avid readers pick up on the intangible spirit (also known as ‘magic’) within the novels any author loved writing. Similarly, they sense the woodenness within stories that obediently checked off whichever ticky-boxes dominated the market within any given era.

the story of your heart, write the novel you want to write, bonnie randall

There are always going to be ticky-boxes. There won’t, however, always be your voice. So don’t waste it. Don’t shelve your ideas like some obedient slave. Write. Write the story or craft the book you want to read. And when your “forbidden” plot devices scare you or stall you, run them through the following tests before you save your final draft:

1. Does the scene / character / idea move your plot forward? 

If ‘yes’ keep writing! If ‘no’—how can you massage action, stakes, or an unanswered question into that scene in order to propel your plot? 

(Here's more on A Fun Test to Check Your Scene's Narrative Drive)

2. Does the scene / idea deepen the arc of your character? 

If ‘yes’, you know what to do. If ‘no’, how can you add an emotion or motive into that scene that will reveal more nuance about the character or characters? If she is a Mary Sue as referenced above—is she aware of that? Does she rail against it, wishing fervently she could be more edgy, but just not knowing how? Has life and circumstances forced a Mary Suedom upon her? Go deep, not wide. A reader will root for a Mary Sue (or any other cliché character) if they understand and can empathize with why they are the way they are. 

(Here's more on The 5 Turning Points of a Character Arc)

3. Does the scene / character /idea cloak your story in the atmosphere that best serves the mood you are aiming for? 

‘Yes’? Onward! ‘No’? Then first define the atmosphere or tone that is your goal. Now weave it into that scene you’re saving—is it through the weather? A sound? Scent? Go where the five senses are, and if that does not work, dive even deeper, into the extrasensory senses (things like sense of proximity/space, intuition, temperature, pain or pleasure, etc). 

(Here's more on How to Set Tone and Mood in Your Scenes) 

And here is another thing to remember: rules like “no dreams, no letters, no prologues” have been around for so long, and obeyed for so long, that writers truly don’t use them to the extent that is implied. In other words, everything old is new again—so by all means include that diary entry your character found within the pages of that book hidden in the wall. Your readers will eat it up—especially if it moves the plot, adds to character, or creates a mood!

What’s more: for those scenes you truly cannot include—the ones that don’t pass the test defined above—there nonetheless exists a place for them regardless of whether they’ve remained in your story proper. Keep an Archive File for every novel or story you write. Then, when your book is out and readers are reading it, craft blog posts that include these outtakes. Readers love to hear more from characters they have connected with. (And at the end of those blog posts, I need not tell you, include links to every title you have out there!).

Now: ignore the “So I can’ts” and grab your pen and paper. Trust your instinct. Trust your heart. Obey your story.

Happy Writing!


Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls. The series continues with her newest release, Within the Summit's Shadow.

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Andrew Gavin knows he's a train wreck. Before he even became a detective, Andrew’s first trauma—at only seventeen—occurred when he witnessed a gruesome suicide. Ever since, a delusion he calls The Dead Boy appears when his anxiety spirals too close to the edge…


Goaded by The Dead Boy, Andrew shoots and kills an unarmed teenage bully in what appears to be a fit of rage. Suspended from the force, and awaiting a possible murder charge, he retreats home to the Rockies. There The Dead Boy taunts him daily. Except…


Elizabeth McBrien, the childhood sweetheart he scorned, is back home in the mountains too, and shocks Andrew by revealing that she too sees The Dead Boy. Astonished that the spirit is not a delusion, but real, Andrew is further unnerved when he learns that The Dead Boy has ‘befriended’ Kyle, a gravely ill kid Elizabeth adores.

Now it's specter vs. cop in a race to save Kyle's life, and The Dead Boy insists that Kyle’s survival hinges on secrets Andrew holds about that long-ago suicide. Yet Andrew knows the entire truth will destroy him, and also annihilate any new chance he may have with Elizabeth. But they are running out of time; Kyle is dying, and The Dead Boy is ready to sacrifice anything in order to once again walk among the living…

Within the Summit’s Shadow is a paranormal romance unlike any you’ve ever read. Set in the resort town of Jasper amid the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, this novel combines love, mystery, and a persistent, deeply psychological, very personal haunting. Randall really delivers the goods with this one.”


  1. Bonnie, I just love your articles. They always seem to resonate with me. Regarding Prologues, I could never understand why the experts abhor them. I find them intriguing and enjoyable in that they arouse curiosity about the main story. Most of my very favorite books, in fact, begin with a Prologue. Regarding letters... These too, I enjoy reading as (based on the taboo about reading other people's mail) they allow the reader to enter the personal life of the character. Thanks for your encouragement and insightful articles. :)

    1. Hi Linda!

      I’m glad you enjoy my material!

      Like you, I am also perplexed as to why certain devices became industry pariahs. I love a great prologue that foreshadows an intriguing story, and I also enjoy the intimacy revealed by sharing letters or diary entries a character wrote.

  2. Love this reminder of how you can make your ideas work for you. Great post!