December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas! A Gift for You…

Christmas ornaments with text: A Gift for You! A New Worksheet

I’ll be mostly offline for the rest of this week, but I wanted to leave you with a gift before I disappear. I’m a huge fan of Christmas, but I interrupted my Christmas to-do list to put together a worksheet based on the Essential Elements list I covered in my last post.

If you’ve ever wondered if a completed story had good “bones,” hopefully this worksheet will help. So sit back, enjoy, and have a cookie.

(Seriously, have a cookie. Every year, I bake hundreds of cookies to share with my neighbors, friends, and family, and this year, even though I swear I was trying to cut back, I made over 750 cookies. This year we made Russian Tea Cookies, Butterscotch Bars, Fudge Oatmeal Bars, Chocolate Puddle cookies, Chocolate Fudge, and Chocolate Bark.)

Christmas Cookies (2)

Introducing the Essential Elements of a Story Worksheet!

This worksheet contains two pages covering seven elements that create good story “bones”:

  1. Premise & Character Arc
    What will make this story appeal to readers and feel worthwhile?
  2. Introduction & Opening Hook
    What will make the story beginning compelling for readers?
  3. 25% Mark
    Will readers understand the story’s purpose by the 25% mark?
  4. 50% Mark
    Will layers change the context of the story goals or problems by the 50% mark?
  5. 75% Mark
    Will readers worry the story goal is in jeopardy by the 75% mark?
  6. Final Act
    Will the story goal and problems resolve in the final act?
  7. Story Flow
    Will the story flow pull the reader along?

The questions on the worksheet are all about ensuring the bones of our story are good enough that we can then flesh out a great story. If we have all these elements, we likely have a story—and not just any story, but a story that’s already strong, has a purpose and arc, and can be made even stronger by bringing out the aspects that will create resonance within readers.

We can reference the theme in echoes throughout the story. We can emphasize the protagonist’s inner struggle and changes. And we can sharpen the turning points to deepen the disasters and dilemmas the characters face. Etc., etc.

(Note: As I mentioned last time, these tips will probably apply best to positive-arc stories. In the standard positive-arc story structure, the purpose of the plot is to reveal the character arc—how do plot events force the protagonist to change? With a flat arc (where they don’t change) or a negative arc (where they don’t get a happy ending), some of the character-focused elements might need to be tweaked or deemed irrelevant.)

Page 1 (click to view full-size image):

Page 2 (click to view full-size image):

Click to download the Essential Elements of a Story Worksheet – MS Excel ’07 version (.xlsx)

Click to download the Essential Elements of a Story Worksheet – MS Excel earlier versions (.xls)

(Note: If you’re not familiar with MS Excel or how to enter text, check out my Beat Sheet 101 post. If you’d rather have this worksheet in MS Word, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do.)

Feel free to use this worksheet however best works for you. Brainstorm with the questions to mentally double-check your story, replace the questions with your answers, or duplicate the worksheet (see Step 2 in my Beat Sheet 101 post) to create a reference copy of the questions on another tab.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions for changes to this worksheet. Also, let me know if you’d like further information about any of the elements. I’m happy to explain more. *smile*

A Christmas Bonus to Spread Good Cheer

Now, because the holidays shouldn’t be just about writing and work, I want to share a bit of Christmas fun. One of my favorite childhood Christmas memories was the Heat Miser song from The Year Without a Santa Claus TV special.

Unlike other Christmas specials, this one wasn’t shown very often, and in the years before the powers-that-be released it on DVD (or even videotape), those who remembered this song felt like they belonged to a secret club.

Of course, since my childhood, I’ve moved to Arizona, and 101 degrees is nothing now. Summers here regularly reach 112 and up. But I still get a kick out of the songs. *grin*

If you’re celebrating this week, I hope your plans all unfold smoothly, your travels all go safely, your family members all behave perfectly, and all your dreams for the New Year come true.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not,
I wish you all the best during this season.
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!
And take some cookies… Please! *smile*

Do you have any questions about this worksheet? Do you have any requests for other worksheets you’d like me to make? How are your holiday preparations going? Do you have any favorite holiday memories you’d like to share?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Julie Glover

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t believe I haven’t watched the Heat Miser and Snow Miser songs yet. That’s a tradition for me too. (I get the heat thing as well living in Southeast Texas, where it was 84 degrees yesterday.)

Plus more great resources and cookies. I feel extra-gifted this year. Have a lovely Christmas, Jami!

Angela Ackerman

Merry Christmas, Jami. I feel blessed to know you, and hope you get loads of goodies under the tree from Santa. 🙂 Here’s to a wonderful 2016, too!


Christina Hawthorne

Merry Christmas to you, Jami, and thank you for a wonderful gift. Since I read the original post I’ve been wishing for what you’ve delivered from your sleigh. Too, after having snow most days for the last two weeks we’re looking at a white Christmas here. I’m not going to complain, and I’ll see you further down the timeline. Enjoy the holiday week with your family!


Jami, thank you! I swear I’ve sent this to nearly author I work with, and now I can send them the worksheet, too.

And I’m going to use it myself, of course.

Honestly, you’ve become one of my top three go-to/always-read blogs, and I hope the coming year will confer blessings and opportunities equal to your high level of skill and generous spirit!



Sandra Stiles

Perfect timing for this info. I’m spending the second week out of school working on revisions. This will definitely help. Thanks for the videos. Very appropriate as the temp here is 85 today. Have a very Merry Christmas.



Thanks for the Christmas Eve post! I had no idea you are in Arizona. We’ve been here since 1999, with a 2-year stint in South Carolina to help my mother. There’s no sight more welcome than the mountains of the ‘Valley of the Sun’ — my favorite is Red Mountain, even though my wife thinks it looks like a turd (her precise word!).

Thanks again for the new sheet. I already use your Larry Brooks Story Engineering sheet and love it! Have you seen Joel Canfield’s “Your Novel in 12 Sentences” on his site I’m using that method right now; it might be a ‘sister’ to your Essential Elements.

Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays to you,


Val Bower

Merry Christmas! And thanks for the awesome worksheet. I’m still doing some last minute baking but when I’m finally done, I want to take some time and watch your song. Your blog is one of the main ones I look forward to reading each time. Thanks for all you share, and look forward to the new year with you!

Gloria Chadwick

Hi Jami,
These worksheets are awesome!! What a really great X-mas present for novelists… 🙂 And thanks for the cookies, too!
I’m going to be doing a novel-writing workshop on my writing blog (for the new year) and would love to reblog and/or link to this. Will send you an email.
Happy Holidays!!


Merry Christmas, Jami! The worksheet looks wonderful and I look forward to using it on my revisions. Thank you so much. The cookies look delicious. You have a wonderful New Year, too.


Mr. Green Christmas has taken up residence in my part of New England. Not even a spot of snow and here it is the day after Xmas.

Thank you Jami for making my year better; my wish is that your next year will be filled with whispers and shouts from your muse and lots of cookies and family and friends to share them with. Jon

Laurie Evans

Thanks for the worksheet, and Merry Christmas to you, too!

We have no snow up here in New England. It’s very strange.

Emerald O'Brien
Emerald O'Brien

Thank you, Jami! Merry Christmas!!


[…] (Tangent: Did you see the new worksheet I added over the holidays? Ensure your story includes all the essential elements.) […]

Diana Beebe

Jami, I just saw this (I’m sooo behind on my reading!). Thanks so much! I love your worksheets! I wish you a very wonderful and Happy New Year!

And I think I just used up all my exclamation points for the year. 😉

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