Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
April 27, 2012

13 Step Starter Guide to America’s Next Top…Novel?

by Tiffany Lawson Inman

I know, I know. I usually get on here the last Friday of the month and stretch all of your neurons in 6 directions at once. (you are very welcome!)  Today’s post is a little different.

I’ve got my brain buzzing with wrapping up Madness to Method , revving up for 77 Secrets to Writing YA Fiction that Sells, editing a paranormal, and going to this weekends’ ACFW retreat.

What does that mean?

Tiff’s busy brain is getting a little punchy.  It also means I’m unlocking a few creative doors that only open when I’ve reached this point of sleep deprivation.


Today, I’ll be using America’s Next Top Model as a tool to teach you about writing great fiction.  Let’s make it impossible for the Pulitzer committee to pass us by next year. Sound good to you?

Without further ado...

1.  Modeling is More Than Mastering the Beauty Shot.

Make sure your writing has more depth than just good bone structure and make-up.  You want readers to think about these characters and your story long after they read the first page.

2. Flexibility in Your Posing.

Expand your body language repertoire – fresh writing is so much more than shaking heads and raising eyebrows and crossing arms and hands on hips.  Give us something we’ve never read before.  It can be done.  Tyra Banks coined the word Smize as being the smile with your eyes.  What kind of body language or facial emotion will you write that is totally unique to your characters?

3. “Ugly-pretty” Shot.

There is something to these stories we are drawn to. Are you showing and using your character’s flaws to your advantage?  How are you presenting them to the reader? Does it make us want to look closer or turn away?

4.  Play the Awkwardness and You Will Book More Jobs.

Unless the genre begs for over sexed or over quippy, pun, and cliché filled language, work to write natural dialogue and prose.  You don’t want your readers giggling about how cutesy your characters speak to each other.  How the flowery quality of your writing takes away from the story. It might sound awkward and raw at first.

That’s ok.

We don’t want our novels sounding like Gossip Girl or a Bruce Willis movie.  It’s NOT reality and it definitely won’t land your writing in the Pulitzer pile.


At some point you are going to look at your character and want to give them a makeover. It happens, and it’s ok.  Do it!

Just make sure you have a reason, more than just wanting a different hair color for the-fun-of-it.  Don’t under think these details. 

A girl who wears pigtails has a much different personality than one that has a Mohawk.  And a man that gets hi-lights might not go to the same bar as the one that only trims his mustache when it hits his bottom lip.  This goes for clothing choices as well.

6.  Know Your Fashion Designers:

Nothing makes Tyra Banks more angry than a model that doesn’t know the fashion industry.

When we are writing characters and stories with extensive backgrounds in fields unfamiliar to us in our daily lives, make sure you know your research! Get to know that world inside and out. Names of people in the field, technology being used and how to use it, terminology used between coworkers and with outsiders, etc.  Nothing pulls a reader out more than an incorrect detail.

7.  Relax but keep the tension.

Tyra gives this note a lot. Usually when she says it, the models eyes glaze over.

What does she mean?

Don’t try so hard to be perfect.  Don’t fall under the spell of contest-itus or deadline-itus and write a stiff, fast novel.   This is art. Have confidence that you know what you are doing and let go.

8.  Look at Your Angles and Find Your Light.

Don’t just go with what is easy. Don’t just go with what you wrote in your first draft.

Would your story benefit from a different POV in a few chapters or the whole novel?  When you are in a particular POV, are you showing too much all at once?  Do you need to back off until page 108 for that part of the plot? Do you need to attack the plot from a closer or further focus to best guide the reader?

9.  Not all photographers are the same.

What does their lens see?  Characters will focus on different parts of an issue or event.  Make sure you are giving everyone a specific lens to go along with their vision and voice. Relish in the variety of character reactions.  This will give us depth and connection to all of your characters.

10.  Elimination Day.

What are your characters grateful for when they are faced with death?  Do their personalities change towards the end of life or toward the end of a relationship? Did their lives show any warning signs for such behavior?  Or are you trying to make them something that they are not?

11.  Too Much Drama in the Top Model House!

Don’t let melodrama take over your character’s reactions or the pacing of your story!  Remember there are specific moments to draw out the dramatic and other moments to move forward with the story.

Not every paper-cut deserves a full Motivation Reaction Unit unless your character suffers the paper-cut on the fiancés living will that names his ex-wife the main beneficiary if he dies and it’s just been drawn up 3 days prior to your character’s finding it.

That deserves drama!

12.  Who Said Winning a Top Model Challenge Was Easy?

What kind of challenges have you set up for your characters? Are they designed for them to succeed or struggle?

I’ve read mediocre books where characters are set up for loss after loss after loss.  The reader watches them struggle for a second and then the story does a quick flip and the character succeeds without so much as a skinned knee.  Then we see another obstacle.  Same thing happens.  If it continues the level of dramatic danger is zero and the reader stops rooting for the character.  Don’t let this happen!

However, don’t make the challenges or obstacles SO SO SO over the top that it’s obvious you are setting them up do nothing but fail.

**for a giggle  -  check out this clip of the Top Model walking-in-a-human-sized-plastic-hamster-bubble across-water-challenge.   The picture to the right shows a model standing up…she doesn’t stay that way!

 13.  You Are Only As Good As Your Last Photo.

A novel lives a little longer than a magazine cover.  But not by much.  So keep learning.  Keep writing. Keep connected to your readers. And keep improving.

I’m not just talking about those of you with small contracts or almost contracts.  I’m talking to you big bestsellers too.  In fact, you, maybe even more so.  I’ve had some disappointments in my recent NYT bestseller reads lately.  Not going to name names, just shaking a finger at you in general. You are making buttloads of money on your big fancy hardcovers and kindle downlowds – write BETTER! *puppy-dog-eyes*

Bonus.  Her Runway Walk Is Fierce!

According to the Urban Dictionary , Fierce is a term that gay men used in the late 1990s and early 2000s to describe absolutely everything that was of "exceptional quality.”  Tyra uses the word a lot.  Like, a lot a lot.

Ask yourself: Is every sentence, paragraph, character, shown emotion, conflict, action scene, and climax worthy of the word, fierce?

Thank you all for tuning in for another Last Friday post here on WITS.  I always enjoy my time with this group of talented writers.  I promise that next month's installment will be much more academic and will require you to bring a 2 cups of coffee, pen, and paper!

Comment below and tell me what other lessons we can learn from America’s Next Top Model. I didn’t hit them all - I still have a full file! This was just the Starter Guide. *wink wink*

If you comment, your name will be in the hat to win a free spot in one of Tiffany’s online courses offered through Lawson Writer’s Academy.

Courses taught by Tiffany Lawson Inman:

Want to learn from me in person?  I will be presenting a workshop at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference this year. Registration is open!

Tiffany Lawson Inman (NakedEditor) claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. Here, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. She teaches for Lawson Writer’s Academy and presents hands-on-action workshops. As a freelance editor, she provides story analysis and editing services.

You can find Tiffany at her website or on Twitter @NakedEditor. Tiffany blogs here at Writers In The Storm the last Friday of each month!

0 comments on “13 Step Starter Guide to America’s Next Top…Novel?”

  1. Wow Tiffany, that clip was PAINFUL! Mostly because I've done embarrassing pratfalls. A lot. Great plot fodder, right? Especially the mortifying giggles from the crowd. Ugh.
    Great tips, thanks!

  2. Hi Tiffany,
    I watch America's Next Top Model and absolutely LOVED your clever way to compare all those modeling rules to writing. Watching Top Model, I've seen that while it appears easy to pose and look pretty, the photos that stand out were anything but easy to achieve. Stand out writing is the same way. Those who don't write think writing is easy. But those of us who do it for a living know great writing is a skill achieved through hard work. Loved your post. Thanks!
    Sharon Struth

    1. Thank you Sharon!

      I admit I turn on the ANTM marathon some days as background noise. It's a nasty addiction! I almost peed my pants when I started writing this post. I know it's a silly way to look at writing, but it makes sense. 🙂

  3. Tiffany, all I can say is that you are "fierce," or the "bomb." The hardest thing for me is to be absolutely sure that my characters don't all end up "looking" alike, that the plots when you peel away the first layers are not replicas of each other. Hacking is what drives me nuts with some successful writers. NYTBS's who have lost it or who think they can slide by on their names and become lazy. It is what we need to fight against. BTW, this pigeon-toed, left-handed clutz would not have stood for two seconds in that thing 🙂

    1. So glad to see my crazy fun knowledge sinking in 🙂
      There are ways to make sure your characters have different layers. It does take work!

      I know the Pulitzer committee is going to have their hands full next year.

      Writer retaliation!

      ha! I kept waiting for one of them to pop the bubble. There was another challenge in a different season, just as cruel - they were in fancy dresses and SUPER high heels and their runway was a HUGE fast moving treadmill. It was pretty horrific to watch.

      Power to the models that pulled it off 🙂

  4. Great article. I don't watch this show, but I did watch an episode of America's Top Designer and many of the same principles apply. Only one not mentioned which came through loud and clear on Designer was "Pay Attention To Your Mentor."

  5. Fierce! I love it!!!!! On the Ruby blog we always say Write Ferociously! And, yes, every sentence. Working on that now. 🙂

    Great post!

  6. I thought it was funny, using the comparsion of Top Model and it did help light up some of the ideas so that I could see them better. Thanks for another excellent blog past Tiffany! You have given me lots and lots to think about. Always a good thing!!!
    I'm still thoroughly enjoying your Madness to Method
    Yvette Carol

  7. Funny! and so crazy true! An absolutely fabulous writing analogy! I've tweeted and emailed it to my friends. Cracked me up and made me think all at the same time. Thanks!!!

  8. Hi Tiffany, that was such a cool article, I LOVE America's Next Top Model and the way you applied the lessons to writing, very creative. I enjoyed reading it, thanks for sharing.

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved