August 12, 2020

Know Where Your Story Is Going?

Susan Shapiro Barash / pen name Susannah Marren 

I have always believed that when a reader gets hooked immediately it’s off to the races.  Each chapter propels the story forward and provides a cliff hanger by the last few paragraphs. The story heightens as it unfolds and that, combined with the voice of the narrator, is what creates the drama. I’m not one to spend time on fluffy scenes, so even if there is a description of a party or an outfit, it is there for a reason.

Before I begin a novel, I write up the characters in detail. I know everything about each of my main characters, from their taste in food to their favorite color to their secrets to their politics. I write down ideas and thoughts on slips of paper if I’m out and about and when I get back to my desk, I add these to my notes. I keep a file for each character, and I don’t start the novel until each is fully fleshed. Their emotional terrain is incredibly important to me as are their interpersonal relationships with others. Sometimes I find myself asking how one of my characters would react to a real-life circumstance. Because I have written nonfiction books (under my real name), documenting the lives of a diverse group of women in terms of how they feel as mothers, wives, single women, sisters, friends and colleagues, when I work on my female characters, I consider how women are positioned in society. The behavior of my female characters reflect how women navigate a path in the workplace, among family members and in their female friendships. All of this is considered in terms of cultural expectations.

While I am aware that some authors like their stories to evolve and their characters to lead them, I am not among this group. Rather I like to know where my story is going when I first begin. I know the ending from the start, and it informs the entire story, it is my compass. That doesn’t mean it’s an easy journey from start to finish, more that I know what the finish line is. This provides clarity for me and a roadmap. I also like to outline my fiction, and while some writers aren’t in favor of this, I find that the more detail I have, the more I am immersed in the writing, and the more the story fills my head.

I also make notes on the place where my novels take place. For me the place is almost another character in the story. I write about places that I know well. For A Palm Beach Wife (2019) and A Palm Beach Scandal (2020), I chose the locale because I knew it so well. I had grown up being there and my parents were residents for decades. I would go out to lunch with my mother and wonder about what really was going on in a town that exuded perfection. How could anyone be unhappy amidst such beauty, surrounded by opulence? Except, of course, that isn’t the case. These books are about what lurks beneath and how women deal with their truths versus their lies.

Part 2 tomorrow.

Susan Shapiro Barash is an established writer of thirteen nonfiction women’s issue books, including Tripping the Prom Queen, Toxic Friends, and You’re Grounded Forever, But First Let’s Go Shopping. Her fiction, Between the Tides and A Palm Beach Wife, are published under her pseudonym, Susannah Marren. A Palm Beach Scandal comes out on September 15, 2020.

She has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The Chicago Tribune, Elle, Marie Claire, and has appeared on national television including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC. Barash has been a guest on national radio including NPR and Sirius Radio. Visit Susan at

Photo by James Maher 

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