Turning Your Great Idea Into a Book

I can’t count the number of times an aspiring writer has told me, “I have a great idea, but I don’t know how to make it into a whole book.” Or, “I started this book with a great idea, but I’ve reached a wall that I can’t get over. I don’t know where to go from here.” I’ve been in that same situation more than once myself, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that if you’re a born story-teller, you can write your way through almost anything.


With all the preaching we get about “pantsters” vs “plotters” and “goal-motivation-conflict” – and that we must obey all the rules of writing and that we always need a solid outline, I worry that new writers are the ones who fret too much about the “rules” of writing. They end up making statements like those above and they want answers. My answer to that is … FORGET ALL THE RULES! One thing that seems to be ignored in all the talks we listen to and all the workshops we go to is you just plain have to SIT DOWN AND WRITE! I can’t imagine how many valuable writing hours have been lost to newer writers who spend too much time and drip too much sweat over whether or not their story idea will follow all the writing rules – trying to plan ahead for goal, motivation and conflict – plotting and plotting, not sure if the story will really work out the way they want – writing and re-writing the synopsis rather than working on the book itself.

When my numbers went down a few years ago over the fall of the western romance genre, I went a few years without selling anything, even though by then I had over 50 books published and those were still selling. I was told by my “then” agent that I had to change genres and try to write something different. Not only that, but she wanted me to submit the “old fashioned” way – a synopsis and the first three chapters. Not only did I hate the idea of changing genres (my heart lies in the Old West), but I TRIPLE-hated writing synopses and deciding what to include in those first three chapters.

I WASTED A GOOD FIVE YEARS fretting over what to write and struggling with these synopses and first chapters. I am a total pantster, and I truly HATE KNOWING WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN MY STORIES BEFORE I WRITE THEM! By the time I am done with the synopsis for a story and have written those first three chapters, I feel like I’ve already written the book. The excitement and enthusiasm for my story is gone. Even if the book were to follow the genre I love, I would have trouble with writing that synopsis and those first three chapters. Inevitably, when I do finish a book, the original synopsis has been thrown out the window, and because by then I truly know what happens and know my characters deeply, those first three chapters almost always go out the window along with the synopsis.



It wasn’t until I sat down and WROTE A WHOLE BOOK FIRST that I finally SOLD AGAIN! And do you know why? I simply sat down and started a story (PARADISE VALLEY) and I let the story-line, the basic time-line and situation, my “idea,”and ESPECIALLY the CHARACTERS play out the story all on their own. And always, always, when I have finished a book – guess what? Goal, motivation and conflict fall right into place without me planning and plotting and worrying if I’m fulfilling those rules. Only when I FINISHED my book did I THEN go back and write the synopsis (because I thoroughly knew my story) and I used those first three chapters for my submission. And BECAUSE THE BOOK WAS FINISHED, that was a huge selling point in approaching the publisher (Sourcebooks). Editors/publishers love it when a book is already finished. It saves them bundles of time – and the author in turn is paid her ENTIRE advance all at once, rather than half of it to buy the “idea” and the other half up to six months or more later after the finished book is turned in and accepted.

The subject of this blog is “turning your idea into a book.” My advice, if you are having trouble fleshing out your idea for a story, is to stop trying to zero in on your idea/subject. Make it a more subtle, underlying theme. LET THE CHARACTERS write your story FOR you. Let your idea/theme be a PART of their lives, and don’t sweat over constantly keeping that idea the highlight of your book. Readers want to get involved in the CHARACTERS - not in your idea or your theme. I promise you, if you stop wasting time re-writing your synopsis and those first three chapters and just SIT DOWN AND WRITE THE STORY, everything you were fretting over will work out.

WRITING is the key to finishing a book.

WRITING is the key to getting through your sagging middle.

WRITING is the key to getting over the walls that rise in front of you and the problem of not being sure what should happen next and of wondering if you even have enough going on in your plot to build your story into a whole book.



WRITING is the key to actually having something to submit to an editor. When you are brand new, that editor can’t be sure that you are actually capable of finishing a book, so start out with a finished book as proof that yes, you CAN write a whole book. When I first started writing, I finished each book before I submitted the ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT to various publishers, rather than a synopsis and chapters. I wrote and submitted nine books that way, and it was the ninth book I finally sold (SWEET PRAIRIE PASSION). And because it was finished, and because the editor liked the story and characters so much, she asked if I could continue the hero and heroine’s story – thus I immediately sold FOUR BOOKS rather than just the one I submitted. The editor could see that I was capable of finishing a book and was pretty sure I could write another and another. The fun part was that I had NO idea what would happen in ANY of the books and I was not even asked to first submit a synopsis. My editor saw right away that I was a total pantster and story-teller. And as I wrote each book, the characters took care of each story as they grew and progressed, and new characters just walked into the stories that helped me expand the series.

Ideas are great. I have drawers full of notes and articles on which I scribbled, “Story Idea.” The same note probably shows up hundreds of times in all my research books. I would highlight a certain sentence or paragraph and write, “story idea”next to it. But never once have I sat for hours or days or weeks playing with that idea and trying to figure out how I could make it work. I simply sat down and started my story with that “idea” in mind. I almost never even know the background of my hero and heroine. I work on that as I write the book. I don’t fret over their goals and motivations, and usually the conflict takes care of itself, especially if the story is set around an historical event that would naturally create conflict (culture conflict - Indian wars/Mexican war) – (political conflict – Civil War/Revolutionary War) – (family conflict in a family saga) – (financial conflict – wealthy hero or heroine meets destitute hero or heroine) – (personal relations conflict over unrequited love or a love triangle) – (emotional conflict over a woman having to leave her family to follow her husband west, or where they should settle, or the man wanting to leave to search for gold or to join a war, or a heroine blaming the hero for the loss of a child) and the myriad of other types of conflict we all know about and many of us have experienced in our own lives.

Setting, situation, location, event, time line – all play a part in goal, motivation and conflict. You don’t necessarily need to have it all down pat when you start your story. Time and again, when I have struggled with something like this, if I keep writing, or sometimes do just a bit more research, the answers come flowing in and the story takes off. In fact, it just happened to me in the book I am currently writing. I was worried it would be far shorter than I wanted, and also worried about the conflict. Just a tad more research as well as bringing in a man who challenges the hero for his wife’s love broke everything open for me. Now I know the story will be big and dramatic and realistic and will fit right into my basic “idea,” which is to set a story around the infamous Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado in 1864. It’s a sequel to CAPTURE MY HEART (which I call A WARRIOR’S PROMISE), so the challenge for me regarding hero and heroine was that they are already married and very much in love, so to create conflict, I had to find a way to drive a wedge between them without ruining the love they share. My basic “idea” to use the Sand Creek Massacre mushroomed into a fresh love story about challenges that face any marriage, as well as a great historical saga that will dramatize a real historical event and HOW THAT EVENT AFFECTS HERO AND HEROINE. The way it affects them creates the conflict – and both of them have the goal of getting through their cultural differences. (The hero is half Cheyenne and very “Indian”at heart – the heroine is white and very independent.) Their motivation to make things work is their deep love for each other in SPITE of their differences.

This is how you develop a simple idea into a full-fledged novel without sitting for weeks trying to figure out how to do that. Everything in this book happened through me SITTING DOWN AND WRITING rather than staring at historical facts and trying to figure out how to get my characters involved.

It all comes down to the most BASIC, most IMPORTANT tool to writing and finishing a good book. SIT DOWN AND WRITE! This past summer I’ve had some huge emotional (family) challenges of my own to get over. It really put a halt to my writing, but I have discovered that the only way to get over that was to listen to my own advice and to SIT DOWN AND WRITE in spite of my heartache. The deeper I get into my story and characters, the more involved I get in both, which all helps me forget my personal troubles and helps me pay attention to my story instead.

So quit wasting time trying to figure out where to go with your story. Just SIT DOWN AND WRITE and let plain old human nature take over when it comes to your characters. People are people, and your characters should behave and react to the situation in which you get them involved just like any humans react. Throw in their particular conflict and set it all against your basic idea, and you have a story!

What Makes Your Hero and Heroine Real and Memorable?

I have written articles and blogs on creating “real” characters for years, but I’ve never been able to pinpoint the answer to an often-asked question: “What is the secret to creating characters that to you and your readers are so real and memorable that you and they both feel these people really lived?” 


I generally get so deeply involved with my characters that when I am writing them, the hero truly feels like my husband and I walk right into the heroine’s shoes. I’ve often commented that I feel Jake Harkner from my Outlaw series standing or sitting right beside me. Certain of my characters are so real to me that I sometimes think I will meet some of them when I die. I feel them with me all the time. Readers and other writers ask me how I reach that point. Soon after I start a book I don’t feel like the author “creating” a story any more. I feel like the spirits of people from the past are telling their stories through me. I don’t see them as author and character. I see them as me and some people I used to know.

And no matter all the ways I’ve tried to explain how I manage to create such characters, I’ve never been able to pinpoint it.

Well … of all things … recently I found the answer in SOAP OPERA DIGEST. I was reading the August 21 edition and came across an article on Eric Braeden, who plays the legendary and very rich Victor Newman (I’ve watched this soap whenever I can for a good 35 years, maybe longer). The article is about a book Mr. Braeden wrote about his life, called I’LL BE DAMNED (which I intend to buy because I really like and respect this man’s personal life and his acting). As the article continues, Mr. Braeden and the interviewer start talking about soaps and what it takes to create iconic soap characters that become “super couples” or in some other way long-term, memorable characters that the show can hardly do without. Victor Newman is one of them, and although he can be ruthless and mean, he has had a long, long relationship with his lovely wife Nikki (a stripper when he met her!) and they became a super couple. Even as they have aged over the years, they remain a favorite couple on the show and even still share romance (much like my Jake and Randy in my Outlaw books). And in spite of Victor’s ruthlessness (again, Jake Harkner can be an extremely ruthless man when someone harms someone he loves), there is something about Victor that fans love – and that Nikki loves – and in return something about Nikki that fans love – and that Victor loves.


Well, after all my searching for the right word that describes WHY these characters are so loveable and memorable and why viewers can’t quite let go of them is … VULNERABILITY. Thank you, Mr. Braeden, for your description of what makes fans empathize and fall in love with certain characters over others. For some reason, I never nailed that word as the one primary necessity in creating memorable characters. The answer came from Mr. Braeden himself. In his words, “Essentially what people react to, I think, is vulnerability in the characters they watch. I don’t care how mean they are, how ruthless they can be or whatever, but there is a vulnerability, and there’s a vulnerability in Victor’s relationship to Nikki and vice versa. I think that is what people respond to. Some actors protect their vulnerability enormously and don’t allow you to get in, and others do.” (I think here Mr. Braeden is saying it’s those actors who expose their characters’ vulnerabilities in a real, empathetic way, who make memorable characters the viewers fall in love with. Thus, some become soap icons, and some don’t.)

As most people know, it’s the actors who seem to BE the character they play who create the biggest icons. Some soap actors get hate mail because the character they play is so mean and devious, while other actors are loved because fans love the character they play. Fans identify the actors with the character they play, forgetting that it’s just acting. And most people empathize with the vulnerability of the characters they love or don’t love. They will put up with and even root for a mean and nasty character if they understand what happened to make that person the way he or she is. In the case of Victor Newman, he was abandoned at an orphanage at a young age and never knew real love growing up. He soon learned he could depend only on himself if he wanted to survive and succeed, and becoming rich helps him feel safe and protected from that world that hurts so much. When you’re rich, no one can get to you.

I have sometimes mentioned that deep down inside my character, Jake Harkner, desperately wants to be loved, and needing that love is his vulnerability. Miranda loves him beyond measure, in spite of his ruthless past and mean nature – because she understands the deep-seeded reasons for his behavior. He experienced a terribly brutal childhood, to the extent that he ended up killing his own father. Seeing his mother and little brother murdered by the man (when Jake was too little to stop him) left Jake with a desperate need to protect those he loves later in life – the family that his beloved Miranda has given him. In return, Miranda’s vulnerability is needing the wonderful feeling of safety she realizes when Jake is by her side. She was afraid and alone when she met him and he helped her go west to find a brother. On the way, Miranda grew to depend on Jake’s strength and his ability with fists in guns to protect her. Jake in turn found a woman with a big heart who was willing to forgive his past and love him in spite of it … and the longer he helped her on her journey, the more that need to protect grew in his soul, as did Miranda’s need to FEEL that safety and protection.

So yes, I have referred to vulnerability as a necessary tool to memorable characters, but something about the way Mr. Braeden put it seemed to make it even more clear. I never thought of vulnerability as possibly the one and only characteristic that brings our characters to life to the point of falling in love with them, caring about them, and in the long run hating to ever leave them (which is why I’ve written several series stories and trilogies).

When I think about it, some of my characters are far more vulnerable to loving and needing to be loved than others; and it’s those who were the most vulnerable and with the most tragic (and believably so) pasts that became the most real to me and to my readers – and the ones of whom I had the hardest time letting go.

The biggest clue to creating genuine empathy on the part of your readers is to make whatever tragedy your characters have experienced real and believable; and the characters’ words and actions and decisions throughout the story should relate to whatever it is that happened to them. And think about what that character’s vulnerability would be due to his or her past.

We are talking psychology here, and I don’t think you need a PhD to understand natural human nature and what makes our characters tick. Ask yourself what YOU would do and think and say if you’d experienced something like what your character(s) experienced. Human nature is human nature, so don’t be intimidated by not having a college degree in psychology. Most people have a pretty basic understanding of tragedy and disappointment and what that can do to a person.

This takes me to my own additional clue to creating real characters. Besides vulnerability, you need (as the author) to BE THAT CHARACTER in your heart. You are not TELLING the story. You are letting it happen through the CHARACTERS and they are using you to reveal their story. You must REMOVE YOURSELF from the story as the omniscient author. Readers should not “see” the author telling the story. They should see and hear only the characters, much like you would in a movie. You must tell your story totally through your characters’ words and actions and thoughts. The story belongs to the CHARACTERS, not to you, the author. You are simply the vessel through which your characters open themselves to your readers.

I try for total reality in my books, and in doing so, in my first 7-book series I ended up deciding the hero had to die toward the end. By then I and my readers were so attached, that the hero’s death was incredibly traumatic and tragic. I almost chickened out, but I knew this was the only way a man like Zeke Monroe should die – in battle. He had crippling arthritis by the last book and I was not going to let him die that way. I sobbed when I wrote his death, and balled for the next couple of chapters when Abbie learned about his death. I felt like I’d lost my own husband. I still cry every time I re-read that part of the series. But in the end, I have a beautiful, dreamy scene wherein the heroine also dies and she walks through the light to find Zeke, young and strong and handsome again, as she is young and beautiful again. It’s a lovely ending that helped me and my readers accept what had to be.

Still, I now have readers so attached to outlaw/lawman Jake Harkner in my Outlaw books that they are begging me not to kill the man off. He has become as real to them as someone living next door – or perhaps their own husband – and they can’t stand the thought of losing him to death. That’s when you know you have created a memorable character who has become totally real to your readers. I can’t promise Jake won’t die, because he ages with each book and he, too, is a man who definitely cannot be allowed to just die in bed from old age. No way. Jake Harkner needs to go down with guns blazing! I want to write a fifth book, and I know what will happen, but I haven’t decided if it will go as far as a final gunfight. I will make up my mind as I write the story. I never plan that far ahead.

At any rate, that comment from Eric Braeden about what makes a memorable character just nailed it for me. As I said, I have used the word vulnerability, but always with other explanations for memorable characters. I never thought of it as the one, primary necessity for memorable characters. For some reason, the way he put it just made it so clear to me.

So in my estimation, if you want to create a character or characters your readers will attach to and remember for years after they finish your book, think about that character’s vulnerability … and come up with a strong, believable reason for it. Human kind understands that and will empathize with it.

Happy writing!

The Long Journey

I have been writing books since 1979, when I penned my first novel - a 3,000 page disaster called WINDS FROM OREGON! I took a couple west on a wagon train, and anything and everything that could happen to people heading west in the 1850’s happened in that book. Those two should never have survived! And I didn’t know how to skip time, so it was practically a day-by-day blow all the way to Oregon. Hence, 3,000 pages! I never sold it, but it was a real learning experience, and I know now that I’ve used bits and pieces from that story in my later books.

The Benefits of Blogging, Social Media and Facebook Parties!

I remember when, probably at least fifteen or twenty years ago, a former agent told me I should create a blog.

BLOG? What a weird word. I wonder who invented it. I had no idea what she was talking about and I never did anything with the idea – was still new to just using a computer and the programs for writing books. I had just registered an e-mail account, knew nothing about web sites and blogging, and things like Facebook weren’t even born yet. I knew nothing about the internet and figured e-mail was handy but I’d never go any farther than that.


400 Years Of Publishing and Hardly Anything has Changed for Authors!


We live in a world of progress, from the Pony Express to Skype; from covered wagons to planes and drones; from long hand-written scrolls to today’s instant messaging through texts and e-mails. I’m sure our ancestors would faint from shock at traveling down the highway at 80 MPH, or being able to talk to a loved one through cell-phone face time, or share pictures and news through Facebook.

Are You a “Writer-Holic?”


I’ve always had a somewhat addictive personality, which is part of the reason I don’t drink. I quit smoking about 50 years ago (boy, that’s a hard one!). If I have surgery or some other reason for pain pills, I stop taking them as soon as I can. I once took pills for depression but didn’t like what they did to me (no feelings at all!), so I weaned myself off of those too. I’ve never EVER tried street drugs because I’m terrified what they would do to me. I’ve never even smoked pot, and I come from the 60’s generation. I also tend to be a “shop-a-holic,” and I actually turned to shopping once when life handed me a big blow that was hard to deal with. Shopping helped me forget my troubles and new clothes and jewelry made me feel good … but the shopping got me into credit card trouble, so I’ve stopped that too … well … at least not the big stuff. It’s still hard for me to turn down a great deal!

When life hands us some unexpected events that are hard to deal with, it’s so easy to turn to whatever makes us feel great and forget our troubles. I can most certainly attest to that. But there is one habit that comforts me that I’ll never give up, and that’s WRITING! I recently posted a blog about how writing can be a catharsis, a form of meditation and medication. I guess this blog runs along those same lines, but it’s because writing is something I could NEVER give up, I’ve realized that it’s another one of my “addictions.”

And what a wonderful, pleasant, soothing addiction it is!! Something recently gave me another blow to my emotions – such a blow that for the last two months I haven’t written a word. But things are better, and time is a BIG healer. I am treading lightly as far as feeling confident our troubles are over and taking one day at a time, rejoicing in each good day. For a while I thought I might never write again … but how can I stay away from the most wonderfully healing habit I have? WRITING!

I’ve been posting weekly excerpts from THE LAST OUTLAW, my fourth Outlaw book coming in September, and that has been a big help in making me want to get back into writing. I’m having fun reading through the MS and looking for some good excerpts to share with my readers. As I do so, I find that revisiting one of my stories has reawakened that need to write. I am planning the first chapter to a new book I proposed to my publisher (still waiting to hear from them) and I’m ready to work on some books I want to write strictly for Amazon. My Amazon book CAPTURE MY HEART sold in really great numbers, so now I’m excited to write more books strictly through Amazon rather than a publisher. I hope to continue with Sourcebooks and that eventually they will take a fifth Outlaw book, but whatever happens, I will KEEP WRITING as long as my body and brain allow it. Of all the addictions a person can have, I can’t imagine any as wonderful and fulfilling and comforting as WRITING.

Are you addicted to writing? More power to you! Don’t break the habit!

Writing Can Be Your Meditation


At first I was going to call this blog Writing Can Be Your Medication, but I realized that meditation is a better word. I can’t count the number of letters and e-mails I have received from grateful readers who have told me that reading my books helped them through bad times, whether emotional upheaval or surgery or an illness. I am always grateful in return to hear their comments. It makes sitting for hours at a time in front of the computer and pulling ideas and plots from my often-tired brain worth the effort.

The Dangers of Writing a Series


Anyone who has been reading Rosanne Bittner for the past 30 (+) years knows how much I like to write series-type stories … family sagas that take you through 30-45 years with the same hero and heroine and their family. My first series was SAVAGE DESTINY, seven books about the settling of Colorado and how white settlement affected the Southern Cheyenne. Through writing those books I fell in love with the hero, Zeke Monroe, and he has lived in my heart ever since.

Retaining Your Inspiration

The Free Dictionary describes inspiration as “the excitement of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.” Nothing could better describe the feeling a writer has when a new idea hits, or he or she comes across a specific subject or character they just know they should write about. I have always said to “write from the heart,” because it is in our hearts we harvest the inspiration for the stories we want to write. And the more “inspired” you are about your story, the better it will be. 

PTSD – Yes, Even Writers Get It


Image result for writer emotional

Fellow Mid-Michigan RWA member and good friend Lucy Kubash recently e-mailed me a copy of an article by author Jeanne Kisacky, who writes non-fiction and teaches college. The article was called “Writer Unboxed: Post-Project Depression and Recovery.” She posted it on her blog February 21, 2017.