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A Novel Recipe by author Dani Pettrey

Today, I'm excited to introduce author Dani Pettrey who is joining us with a recipe for fiction. Prior to publishing her debut novel Submerged, Dani finished as a finalist in several contests: ACFW’s Genesis, Heart of the West, Where the Magic Begins, Golden Acorn, and the Daphne du Maurier. Please give her a warm welcome.

A Novel Recipe
by Dani Pettrey

Today I’d like to share a novel writing recipe. It is in no way intended as a recipe for formulaic writing, but rather a list of fiction ingredients necessary for any story. How you approach these steps and the order you work in is completely up to you. Have fun!

Ingredients for Writing a Novel:

Also called the storyline. Look up the definition of plot and you will get a number of different answers surprisingly enough, but the most concise and barebones definition I’ve found is: the arrangement of events that make up a story. Plot is intricately tied to story structure: the way in which characters, events, reactions, goals, attempts, and outcomes are organized together to create a cohesive plot. I believe every novelist needs to understand story structure.  There are a ton of fabulous resources out there on the topic, but my personal favorite is Story by Robert McKee.

Characterization: Include at least one protagonist and one antagonist.
Protagonist: In romantic suspense you often have two protagonists—your hero and heroine. Without characters you have no story. Your protagonist should be someone the reader falls in love with, someone the reader can identify with, and someone the reader can root for. Some of my favorite characters include Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice), Aragorn (Lord of the Rings), and Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mysteries Series—22 novels and I still can’t get enough, now that’s phenomenal characterization). 

Antagonist: Every book needs a baddie. Most often it is in the form of a villain (Sauron, Professor Moriarty) but can be nature (The Perfect Storm), society (1984), self (Red Badge of Courage), machine/technology (Terminator) or supernatural (very common in comic book characters—X-Men). It’s impossible to be heroic without opposition which leads into our next ingredient conflict.

Conflict is what keeps your reader engaged in your story, it is the obstacles that force your character to grow and become heroic. Without conflict, there is no growth, no change, and no reason to keep reading. Conflict is what keeps your character from reaching his goals, or at least attempts very hard to.

Point of view: Or POV is who tells your story. Traditionally your protagonist is your point of view character. The story is told through his/her eyes. It is who you live the story through.

All stories take place somewhere. It is amazing to me how profoundly setting impacts story. For example, what if the legend of King Arthur took place in space or Cinderella took place in the Wild West? Authors should work to set their story in a location that will best allow the action to unfold.

Dialogue: The speech of fiction. It is the conversations your characters have. Good dialogue should move the story forward, reveal character, and elicit reader emotion.

Theme: It is the message or takeaway value of your novel. Examples include: Sacrifice (The Green Mile), Love (The Notebook), Revenge (Macbeth).

The beauty of writing a novel is combining these ingredients in a way that will result in a wonderful creation.  

DaniPettrey is a wife, a homeschooling mom and author. She feels blessed to write inspirational romantic suspense because it incorporates so many things she loves--the thrill of adventure, nail-biting suspense, the deepening of one's faith and plenty of romance. She's a huge fan of dark chocolate, is always in search of the best iced mocha and her dream is to one day own a little cottage on a remote stretch of beach. She and her husband reside in Maryland with their two teenage daughters. Her debut novel, Submerged, will be a May 2012 release from Bethany House. You can find her online at

Submerged is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble,

Other links:  Blog   Twitter    Facebook Author Page


Thanks, Dani. I'm sure writers visiting the site will appreciate your recipe and benefit from such a wonderful dissection of a story's basic but necessary elements.  

And to my visitors, thanks for stopping by. We'd love to hear your comments. 

Hope to see you next week!



  1. A nice, concise articulation of the elements necessary for a good novel. How do you choose the settings and primary characters for your stories?

    Can you tell us a little about Submerged? The cover certainly looks intriguing!


    1. That cover does look intriguing. I'm dyin' to read it!
      Thanks for visiting, Laura. = )

    2. Hi Laura,

      So glad you enjoyed the post! I choose my setting based on where I think will best support the story and characters. For example, in Submerged I wanted a location where my hero's adventure outfit company would have plenty of room to work. I wanted a landscape that was beautiful and vast, and had an inherent level of risk involved (if you aren't properly prepared). As for characters, they come first or right about the same time as the premise. Each story is different, but for Submerged, I watched a movie about cave divers and became fascinated with them, and Cole McKenna was born. Here's the back cover copy for Submerged (thanks for asking):

      A sabotaged plane. Two dead deep-water divers. One single clue.

      Bailey Craig vowed never to set foot in Yancey, Alaska, again. She has a past, and a reputation--and Yancey's a town that doesn't forget. She's returned only to bury a loved one killed in the plane crash, but then dark evidence emerges and Bailey's own expertise becomes invaluable for the case.

      Cole McKenna can face dangerous rescue dives. He can face the fear a murderer may be threatening his town. But facing the reality of Bailey's reappearance is a tougher challenge. She broke his heart... but doesn't seem to be the same girl who left Yancey ten years ago. And he's not the same guy she left behind.

      Racing against the clock and a rising body count, Bailey and Cole must move beyond the hurts of their pasts to work together until the truth of what is hidden in the depths finally surfaces.

      Best, Dani

  2. Great advice! I still love Sue Grafton's series, as well. Sad that we're winding down to the final letters. I wonder what she'll do next?

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

    1. Thanks for visiting, Shannon. = )

    2. Thanks, Shannon. So glad you enjoyed the post. I know...not sure what I will do when Sue Grafton stops writing about Kinsey.

  3. This is a really nice breakdown of all the essential parts of a good story. :-) Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love this recipe! I have a feeling it's one I'll keep coming back to and sharing with my kids. Thanks Dani!

    1. Thanks, Kristin, for dropping by. So glad you enjoyed the recipe :)

  5. Thanks, Katie. Had a lot of fun writing it.

  6. Great recipe! I'll certainly be pointing writers (especially new ones) in this direction. :)

    1. Thanks, Carrie. I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipe :)


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