McCarthy Organizes Fiction Editing

Zoe_McCarthy_20191219Zöe M. McCarthy. 2019. Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. Galax, VA: Sonfire Media LLC.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of my goals for 2020 is to begin writing my first novel, which I have tentatively entitled: Transition. Because I need to edit my current manuscript and need to blog ahead to find the time to write, it will be a couple months before any real work can proceed. Meanwhile, I can lay track to be ready. A good starting point is to look to the experts on how to proceed.


In her book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days Zoe M. McCarthy, writes:  

“The writing method in [this book] works for any fiction genre. It’s designed for the writer who has at least a draft of a completed manuscript. The goal is to shape a not-yet-submitted, rejected, or self-published manuscript with low ratings into a book that shines.” (xv)

McCarthy acknowledges that this book draws on her experience as a blog (link) focused on providing fiction writers with advice on how to improve their craft. I picked up a copy of her book at the conference bookstore for the Virginia Chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers (link) after hearing her present on a related topic.

The title of this book suggests that it is perfect companion to the popular writer’s challenge: “National Novel Writing Month [NaNoWriMo] began in 1999 as a daunting but straightforward challenge: to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November.” (link) Several author friends of mine have participated in NaNoWriMo to produce their first novel.

Background and Organization

Before becoming a full-time author and speaker, Zöe M. McCarthy was an actuary, which suggests that she studied statistics during her first career.

McCarthy organizes her book according to daily activities over thirty days. She writes in twelve chapters, divided into four sections:

Section 1: High-Level Perspective – Days 1-7

Send Your Characters on a Journey

Will the Real Characters Please Stand Out?

Plant Your Character (and Read) in a Setting

Season Your Story with Voice, Pace, and Humor  

Section 2: Scenes: Book Building Blocks – Days 8-14  

Make a Scene of Your Scene

Add Suspense to Your Scene—Scary or Otherwise

Lure Readers to Commit Identity Theft with Your Characters

Where to Add Zing to Your Story

Section 3: Delight in the Details – Days 15-18

Build Story with Words—the Right Ones

Compose Palatable Paragraphs  

Section 4: The Rest of the Story – Days 19-30  

End Your Story Well to Sell

Read, Reviews, and Revise—Edit Pages Beyond Your SAMPLE (xi-xii)

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and an instruction and followed by an afterword, indices, and an about section.

Theme, Plot, and Characters

McCarthy starts with a discussion of theme. Why? She writes:

“You’ll want to be ready to state your theme when you write a proposal, pitch to an editor, write a back-cover blurb, and have conversations with readers.” (3)

Many writing guides gloss over theme, but for Christian writers theme is more important because entertainment is not our only goal. Life itself is experienced on more than one level. God’s hand is on all that we do even when we do not realize it.

McCarthy describes plot as taking the protagonist on a physical, emotional, and spiritual journey (6). She then outlines the hero’s journal following Christopher Vogler’s twelve stages:

Act 1: Separation

Ordinary World

The Call to Adventure

Refusal of the Call

Meeting the Mentor

Crossing the Threshold

Act 2a: Descent

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Approaching the Inmost Cave  

Act 2b: Initiation

Ordeal, Death, and Rebirth

Seizing the Reward  

Act 3: Return

The Road Back


Return with the Elixer (9-24)

McCarthy looks for both main and secondary characters to resonate with the reader (28). Main characters should have something that they care deeply about. Most scenes are told from the point of view of the main character who should have flaws, but underlying integrity (28-29). Secondary characters should help highlight the main character’s identity, advance the plot, and give the main character someone to talk to (31).


Zöe McCarthy ‘s Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days helps organize the many tasks facing the beginning writer as they edit their book. I often forget to return to the basics when I edit so having reminders eases the task. McCarthy is short and to the point, which I appreciate. Perhaps, you will too.

McCarthy Organizes Fiction Editing

Also see:

Warren Writes to Grow Characters

Penn Attracts Readers to Books

Sacks: Why Stories Sell; Why We Care, Part 1

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:


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