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E2A 009: Round Out the First Draft 

 June 29, 2021

By  Scott A. MacMillan

We have the first draft of your new book!

Yes, it’s rough around the edges…but you’ve got a solid foundation.

In this episode of The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, your host Scott MacMillan teaches how to add crucial supporting content…the bells and whistles that bring your manuscript to life.

He also shares vital storytelling tips and techniques that engage, enlighten, and entertain readers.

And what about visuals!? Do you need them? You’ll find out along with where they’ll best fit.

Listen to Episode 9 of Entrepreneur to Author now and discover how to take your first-draft manuscript up a level, and closer to bookshelves.

Episode Links

Three-Act Story Structure Worksheet

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Episode Transcript

Scott A. MacMillan:

You're listening to the Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, episode number nine.

Mike Manz:

Welcome to the Entrepreneur to Author Podcast. The podcast that brings you practical strategies for building authority and growing your business. And now here's your host, Scott MacMillan.

Scott A. MacMillan:

The first draft, you've done it, it's written. I know, I know, it's not pretty, at least not yet. And it's nowhere near ready for the prying eyes of your readers. Fair enough. In fact, that's the whole point at this stage, to get the words out of your head and onto the page. And now you have your first draft. How does that feel? Pretty good I'd imagine. Of course there's plenty of work to do so let's take stock. Think of this point in the authorship journey a bit like working on an assembly line in an automotive factory. We're building a car and now we've created the base model.

Scott A. MacMillan:

No extras, just four wheels, a body and a steering wheel. It's a solid car, functional. It's fine, it gets the job done. Now it's time to add the bells and whistles, the upgrades that will make the driving experience comfortable, enjoyable, thrilling even. For your book these bells and whistles can be all kinds of things. In this episode, we'll discuss supporting content and storytelling, important elements that will help make your case and your book much more compelling. They'll strengthen your arguments and engage your reader, helping to keep them on the journey that you've planned out for them. I'm so glad you're here. You must feel a sense of excitement too, because your book is really starting to take shape. I'm Scott MacMillan and welcome to this edition of Entrepreneur to Author.

Scott A. MacMillan:

Supporting content, let's pause on that. What is supporting content? What does the term mean to you? The term itself does a pretty good job of telling us. Supporting content, it's the content that helps to support the points you make in your book. And with that perspective, it can be a lot of different things, can't it? It can be informative or it can be engaging. It can be quantitative, or it can be qualitative. It can be factual or illustrative. It can be textual or even visual. And I'll get into some of those possibilities in a moment but when you break it all down, supporting content really falls into three categories. There's descriptive content, evidentiary content, and then interactive content. Let's begin with descriptive content. Descriptive content is used to explain topics, ideas, concepts. Some examples of descriptive content include explanations, comparisons and contrasts, examples whether those are real or hypothetical and even simple definitions. A metaphor is a type of descriptive content that helps you read or relate a new concept to something they're already familiar with.

Scott A. MacMillan:

For basic concepts or topics you may need little more than a quick sentence or two to describe what you're covering, but the less familiar your reader is with the topic, the more you'll need to bring it to life for them, perhaps over several pages with multiple types of descriptive content. You might start by defining a term briefly explaining it with a metaphor and then sharing an example of how it plays out in the real world. Now, another type of supporting content is evidentiary content. Evidentiary content is really hardworking. It offers qualitative or quantitative proof points that back up your arguments or claims that you've made in your book. This might include individual statistics or entire data tables. It might be quotes from experts offering third party validation of your point of view. That can be really compelling evidence. You might include excerpts from studies, or articles, white papers or reports.

Scott A. MacMillan:

And of course, case studies make excellent evidentiary content. They demonstrate the effectiveness of your approach or philosophy in getting real results in the real world. Now, this is important. So if you're multitasking right now, take a break from whatever else you're doing and make sure to understand this. When it comes to evidentiary content or said differently, proof points, you need to match it to the burden of proof needed for the point you're trying to make and to the audience that you're making it to. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean that the more controversial your argument and the more skeptical your reader, the more evidence or proof you need to include. To bring this to life let's consider two examples. If I tell you that I'm wearing jeans today, you'll probably say, "Okay, fine. I believe you, you're wearing jeans, Scott, thanks for sharing that compelling tidbit."

Scott A. MacMillan:

But if I tell you that when an entrepreneur wears jeans to the offers every third business day, it results in them earning much more revenue than if they were a suit. Well, then you'd rightfully demand that I back up that assertion with evidence, a Harvard study would help, a time series comparison of jean wearers to their suit clad counterparts, that would go a long way in convincing you that there's something to my assertion, but even then you might question correlation versus causation. So I might need to quote a psychologist who can explain the psychological impact of informal attire on an entrepreneur's attitude and on that of their customers in terms of the selling dynamic. With that, I might convince some of my readers, but I've probably still got work to do to bring most along on this one. But do you see what I mean?

Scott A. MacMillan:

The first point was uncontroversial, so I didn't need to back it up very much, but the second point was entirely controversial. But you can overdo it too. Imagine if I quoted experts, shared survey results and included five pages of photographic evidence to convince you that I did in fact wear jeans today. Well, not only would that be unnecessary, but it would be entirely useless and you'd quickly get frustrated and disinterested. Match evidentiary content to the burden of proof and to how skeptical your ideal reader is likely to be. Another type of supporting content is interactive content and this is where you involve your reader directly. Interactive content engages the reader to do something, to take action. And it's especially useful in how to books. Some examples of interactive content or questions to reflect on or exercises to complete, quizzes to take or to-dos to, well, to do. These are often explicitly included at the end of chapters, but you can use them less obviously throughout your book.

Scott A. MacMillan:

Next time you're writing I'd like you to pause after making a point and think about what action your reader might take. And then add that in as interactive content. Now, did you see what I just did there? I just added a form of interactive content to this podcast episode, by asking you to do something. This type of content is important because it helps your reader absorb your book's lessons and put them into practice in tangible ways. Does that make sense? Descriptive, evidentiary, interactive, three types of content to help you make a more effective and more compelling case. But there's one more type of content that we really need to talk about. Content that speaks less to the logical part of your reader's brain and much more to the emotional part, to their soul. Facts and figures are rarely enough to engage a reader. To really spark action, you need to speak to their heart too. And as humans, our most effective tool for touching a reader emotionally is storytelling.

Scott A. MacMillan:

Story can capture both the reader's emotion and their imagination. And to do that, there has to be a little bit of sizzle with the steak. Sizzle that gives it some flavour, some colour, some interest. We have to find ways to hook the reader and keep them hooked through to the end. So how do you do that in your book? Well, think of your favourite story or any interesting story for that? What makes it interesting? Well, there's nearly always conflict of some kind. Isn't there? Difficult decisions, elements of surprise. All these layers make for compelling storytelling.

Scott A. MacMillan:

Now, if it sounds a bit ephemeral or intangible, more art than science, well, that's true. There's an art to storytelling and the masters of storytelling have a real gift, one that they've nurtured over time, often over a lifetime. Fortunately, for those of us who have not been honing our storytelling skills for decades, for the purposes of most expertise based non-fiction books, your reader isn't expecting Pulitzer Prize winning narrative from you. You can craft a good compelling story using a proven structure that will reliably get the job done for you and your reader, the three act story structure.

Scott A. MacMillan:

It's a structure that gives you the author a proven way to write a story. One that has a beginning, a middle and an end, and it includes the components needed to pull your reader in. In act one, you set up the story, you need to introduce the main character and that may be you, or it might be one of your clients or even a well-known personality. And you need to set the stage for what's to come. You need to provide some background, a setting and context about the main character and their initial situation. Act one is the once upon a time there lived a boy named Jack who lived with his mother and they were very poor part of the story. And that's it. We know the story's about Jack, we've got a little bit of background about the initial situation that we find him in.

Scott A. MacMillan:

Everything sounds pretty normal, pretty stable. But right at the end of act one, we need to disrupt our hero stable situation with some sort of challenge. Something happens that turns the tables on the status quo and that something must demand that the hero take action. Maybe the hero gets fired or gets bad news from their doctor, perhaps it's a relationship breakdown, or maybe our hero's given a powerful gift that he doesn't fully understand and is ill-equipped to use. After the once upon a time part of the story, this challenge part is the part that often begins with one day, or after a while, or, but eventually they found out that, and so on. So let's get back to Jack. One day Jack's mother told them to take their only cow to market and sell her so that they could afford to eat. But on the way, Jack met a man who bought the cow in exchange for a handful of magic beans. Throughout act one, you set the table and then you flip it over, leaving your reader to wonder, "Oh my, what's going to happen next?"

Scott A. MacMillan:

So now not only are Jack and his mother very poor, but now their cow has gone and Jack has nothing to show for it, but a handful of beans. What's his mother going to say? Well, let's find out. Next comes act two. With the hero's world turned upside down, act two is all about conflict and tension. And the more you can ratchet up the pressure on the hero, the more you'll draw your reader into their journey. Think about how you can make the challenge more intense. What further obstacles could be introduced? If the stakes are already high, could they get higher? Now for Jack, let's hit some quick points in rapid fire. So Jack's at home, his mom is livid. She grabs the beans and throws them out the window. Jack goes to bed crying, but wakes up to a huge beanstalk that has grown outside the window all the way up to the sky.

Scott A. MacMillan:

So he climbed the beanstalk through the clouds and find a beautiful castle and goes inside. Okay, so we've got some intrigue, but now let's add some tension. Jack hears a voice, "Fe, fi, fo, fum." He runs into the closet to hide. An enormous giant comes in and sits down at a table with a hen and a golden harp on top of it. "Lay," says the giant and immediately the hen lays a golden egg. "Sing," he exclaims and the harp begins to play as the giant falls asleep. Golden eggs, a singing harp, a mischievous smile spreads across Jack's face.

Scott A. MacMillan:

So the presence of a giant, that adds tension. Right? But now we've upped the stakes too. Jack sees an opportunity to improve his luck in life. But let's [inaudible 00:13:22] that up some more. Jack jumps out of the cupboard. He grabs the harp and the hen, but all of a sudden the harp starts singing and wakes the sleeping giant. "Fe, fi, fo, fum," shouts the giant as he lunges for Jack. A chase ensues, Jack starts climbing down the beanstalk with the giant hot on his heels. Okay. Let's pause again. By the end of the second act, our hero needs to reach a breaking point, a do or die moment or decision where he or she must face the ultimate test. This is known as the climax of the story and the action or decision the hero takes in the climax should change their entire trajectory.

Scott A. MacMillan:

So what difficult decision must the hero make? What action could they finally take that makes all the difference? How can they right the ship, destroy their inner demons, or in this case, fell the giant? Let's keep going. As Jack scrambles down the beanstalk, he missteps and falls down 10 meters, barely catching a branch with one leg. So he's left dangling upside down with harp in one hand, hen in another and a massive giant getting ever closer. Should he drop the harp and the hen and cut his losses? Should he face the giant right here right now? But Jack knows this is his one chance to change his luck in life. He's got one shot, one opportunity. As Eminem's Lose Yourself starts playing in the background, jack lets go of his grip on the branch, twisting his body around and landing right side up on another branch.

Scott A. MacMillan:

He scampers down the rest of the beanstalk, grabs an ax from beside the house and chops down the beanstalk. The giant falls and crashes to the ground. Jack is safe. Okay. That was pretty intense. Wasn't it? That's the story's climax, so it should be. Now after the climax comes act three and in act three you need to resolve the story for your reader. Tie up loose ends, land the lesson for our hero and by extension, for your reader and leave things in a better state than when the story began. For Jack act three is simply this, nobody ever saw or heard from the giant again. And with the hen and her golden eggs and the magic harp Jack and his mother moved to Beverly Hills. Jack bought an Aston Martin and they all lived happily ever after. Happily ever after, a new better future. That's the three-act story structure. It's pretty neat. Huh? It's not the only way to tell a story, but it's a clear structure and it's effective, which is why I recommend you use it especially if you're writing your first book.

Scott A. MacMillan:

Now I've created an easy to follow, easy to use three act story structure worksheet for you that you can download for free and use each and every time you're sketching out a story for your book and I'm going to put a link in the show notes for that. But can you see how this structure can work? Whether you have a few sentences, a few paragraphs or a few pages to work with. The more space you dedicate to the story, the more you can elaborate to bring it to life. But the bare bones don't really take too much space at all. Beginning, middle, end. But how do great storytellers take that bare bone structure and really make it sing? Well, I want to share with you six great tips for telling better stories in your book. These are some time tested techniques that really do work and the more you use them, the better you'll get at it.

Scott A. MacMillan:

The first is, start with a hook. What's that mean? Well, the term hook in literary terms is just that the narrative hook is intended to grab and keep or hook your readers attention at the beginning of your story and make them want to stick around and read on. There are more than a few effective ways to do this. For example, you could start in the middle of a story or even at the end. By doing that, you'll immediately spark curiosity in your reader. Alternatively, you could begin with a bit of dialogue from the main character that leaves the reader wondering, why they said what they said. You could start off with something ominous, unexpected, or contradictory. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. More simply an interesting fact or thought provoking question can be all that's needed to pull your reader in at the start of your story.

Scott A. MacMillan:

Okay. So that's one way to tell better stories by starting with a hook to grab your reader's attention. Here's the second way, engage all the senses, sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. When writing a story, try to engage all five of them. The more your reader experiences, the more memorable your story will be to them. People remember what they feel and people feel when you engage all the senses. Here's the third, build the stakes. The higher the stakes for your hero, the more tension will build. The more tension your reader experiences on their journey, the more engaged they'll be. Increase the stakes by introducing more obstacles, more risk, more consequences for failure or greater rewards for success.

Scott A. MacMillan:

The fourth way to tell better stories, have a clear so what? Don't tell a story just for the sake of it, what's the purpose of your story? What does the reader need to learn from it and take away from it. Answer those questions before crafting the story and you'll stand a much better chance of making it meaningful to your reader. The next on our list of how to tell better stories, make act two the longest. You remember our three act story structure, you'll do well to make act two the longest of the three. Now there's no hard rule to this, but act two is where the bulk of the action happens. So if it's not the longest act, then the story may feel like it drags on. You see, act one sets the stage and act three resolves everything. So act two then is really the meat of the story, it does the heavy lifting as far as storytelling goes. Right?

Scott A. MacMillan:

It carries our hero from their original situation to a new and better place. So spend most of your time and your words on act two. And finally tip number six for telling a better story, test it and refine it. Ask your friends and colleagues to read your story and give you feedback on it. Ask for honesty not flattery. The more input you receive, the better you'll be able to hone your story and your storytelling skills. Six solid time-tested storytelling tips, you'll find valuable as you craft your content to round out that first draft and really bring it to life.

Scott A. MacMillan:

Now, the crux of your book is based your expertise. After all, you're a professional sharing your experiences and you've got years of valuable insight to share. And although you can likely write much of your book from what's in your head or from existing content and materials you've collected from within your business, there will invariably be some subjects that require additional research. Now, research is important for a number of reasons. You will have knowledge gaps, even for an expert certain topics or subtopics maybe necessary to cover but not at the core of your experience. So you'll address that by researching those topics to get yourself up to speed. Research can also validate hypotheses. So when I'm writing, I'll often write something that I believe to be true and that makes sense in the context of the point that I'm making, but before committing it to eternity, I need to research it and validate whether it's actually correct or not. So in that case, I'll just leave a comment in the margin to make sure I don't forget to come back to it.

Scott A. MacMillan:

And finally, research can beef up and support your credibility. There's value in third-party validation and by layering in research from other well-known and well-respected sources, an author can often connect themselves to those sources in the reader's mind. Now, you should consider both primary and secondary research. Primary research refers to any research that you collect directly and might include things like surveys, or focus groups, or interviews. Primary research is valuable because it's unique to your book, it's exclusive and it supports your credibility as a thought leader in your industry. Secondary research is research that's already been done by somebody else that you then reference in your book. Now, the power of secondary research is it provides external validation of your message from external sources. But one word of caution about secondary research, don't overdo it. If you're only using external research and not adding your own valuable thinking, you may come across as less of an authority on your subject matter and more of a good curator of other people's ideas.

Scott A. MacMillan:

One last point before we wrap up this episode, what about the use of photos or other visuals as supporting content? Well, that's a great question. The right visuals in the right place can be really impactful, especially when explaining tricky concepts. Now, not all books need visual content, but most will benefit from at least some explanatory graphics. Remember our three types of supporting content? Visual content can be grouped in the same way, descriptive, evidentiary and interactive. Descriptive visuals might include photos, diagrams, screenshots and the like. Evidentiary visuals might include charts, graphs, data tables, even press clippings can be good evidence.

Scott A. MacMillan:

What about interactive visuals? Well, in a book interactive visuals might be worksheets and templates, for example. Any visuals that help the reader get directly involved with and engaged in the topic. Visual content in nonfiction books don't need to be complex, but they do need to be professional and they need to be clear and consistent. If visuals are necessary, include a placeholder in your manuscript, a simple sketch or a rough mock-up, then engage an artist, photographer or your publisher to help create the publish ready artwork. When you see the finished product, you'll be very glad that you did. When it's time to round out your first draft manuscript, remember this.

Scott A. MacMillan:

Supporting content and storytelling are so important to writing a great book. They make your book more interesting and your arguments more convincing. They bring your book to life. They level up the quality of your writing and the readability of your book for your reader. And with that, we've taken another big step towards authorship and that's a pretty great feeling. Now is the time, time to write, time to publish and time to grow. I'm Scott MacMillan, until next time.

Scott A. MacMillan


Scott A. MacMillan is a speaker, international best-selling author, entrepreneur, and the President and Executive Publisher at Grammar Factory Publishing. He and his team help expert entrepreneurs write and publish books that build their authority and grow their business.

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