Welcome to my courses: Your guide to the

Character-first method

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What is The character-first approach? 

You take your writing seriously, and you enjoy learning new skills, new approaches. That's one of the reasons that I love working with writers like you.

However, perhaps you've been feeling stuck, or that your story keeps wandering off track. No matter what you do, whether it's keeping your backside in the chair and trying to just keep going, or studying one planning approach after another, you don't feel like the story is developing the way you want it to.

Alternatively, maybe you've finished a novel or two (congratulations!) and now you think: the next book needs to be the breakout one, the story that takes my work to the next level.

I have two pieces of good news. The first is that you're much closer than you know. You're already much farther along than you probably think. In my experience, by the time writers discover my site, they've already invested a huge amount of time reading the novels they love, figuring out the kind of story they want to tell, and often they've read a range of how-to guide and craft books. Many of the writers I speak to have compiled binders of research, who have imagined every detail of their protagonist's extended family, or who have drawn deep on their own life experiences to create their tale.

This hard work puts you in a great place to make big progress.

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Here's the second piece of good news: I think I can offer you the help you need quickly.

Because in my experience, the reason why so many writers are struggling to finish their first book, or their current book, comes from a gap in their storytelling skills. In other words, there's something you're missing about storytelling, about fiction writing, about the kind of contemporary novels that 95% of the writers I meet want to write.

This "something" is not taught in Creative Writing MFA programs and you won't hear about it in "the hero's journey," either.

I call it the "character-first approach." That's what my courses teach, and that's what has made the difference for so many writers.

testimonial image

"I cannot tell you how much I value and still think about your writing advice and strategies. The book I wrote after we worked together landed me my agents at InkWell, and back in May, we sold two YA fantasy novels to Wednesday Books/Macmillan. The first one comes out in early 2021!"

To other writers considering this course: Daniel truly has a gift. He’s one of the most patient and encouraging teachers I’ve had. He gives the type of feedback that energizes rather than discourages, the kind that makes you feel like you can rebuild your novel—and rebuild it stronger."

- Allison Saft, author of Down Comes the Night (forthcoming)

The character-first approach: on three levels

The character-first approach is easy to explain. Do you mind if I just describe it to you now, quickly?

The central premise is this: readers arrive at your novel with a number of desires and hopes for your book. Some of this is universal (good spelling, legible printing), and some of it is genre-specific, style-specific, industry-specific.

Some readers expect insightful examinations of adult life. Some demand magic swords and pitched battles. Some long for the protagonist to get back together with their former lover.

In the character-first approach, we treat all these reader desires as valid. The framework doesn't ask you to change the kind of book you want to write.

HOWEVER, the character-first approach does, on the other hand, made a strong claim about your reader: all those reader demands, the ones we just mentioned, are dependent on something else, and you have to deliver that "something else" first, or the reader won't stick around.  

In other words, the reason why you are struggling to write your book, or to write it to the level you deserve, is that you aren't doing enough of this one thing.

What is it?

While your reader may want and expect many things from your story, they need one specific thing: a relationship with a main character. 

If you can establish that connection quickly, the reader will get comfortable. And if you can use your plotting and chapter design and writing voice to deliver and develop that relationship, plot point after plot point, scene after scene, paragraph after paragraph, the reader will feel GREAT. They will keep turning pages. 

And -- perhaps more importantly -- so will you. You are a reader, too, of your own work. You're the first reader, and you know what you like. So you know when it's working or not working. This means that you need to create that "reader - protagonist relationship" for yourself, too, as the writer of the story. 

Now, as I said, the approach is easy to explain. However, because it is such a profound shift, it isn't simple to actually do it. Although many writers feel a huge relief to start writing the way they always wanted to, the framework does ask you to let go of a few old beliefs and truisms -- to re-think the months, even years, you've spent trying to get this ****** book finished.

To speed up the process for you, I've divided the approach into three separate levels, with the most important and critical one coming first. 

In other words, I've designed three courses to guide you through a new relationship with your own fiction.

Here they are:

Plotting and planning your novel

My most popular and beloved course: learn how to plot a novel-length story that your readers will love and you'll be able to finish.


All the skills you need to write a great chapter: master narration, dramatic build-up, paragraph flow, and character development. This is the character-first approach at the level of the scene, the individual moment, where even though your story keeps shifting and turning, the reader is always able to keep up.


Develop your writing voice with clear, vivid sentences. This course isn't about abstract grammatical rules: you'll learn the most valuable writing skill of all, which is communicating your vision and passion for the story to your reader. 

Plotting and planning your novel

A plotting method that plays to your writing strengths, turning your vision and inspiration into a gripping, engaging, chapter-by-chapter plan for your story.

  • Seize Your Reader's Attention
  • Know Where to Begin
  • Learn From Famous Authors
  • Master the Art of the Plot Twist

Plotting and Planning your Novel will equip you to tell one great story after another.

Writing great chapters

A course that will help you write great scenes and chapters that keep your reader turning pages.  Develop the confidence that you are delivering great dialogue, thrilling drama, and meaningful conflict.

  •  Hide Information In Plain Sight
  • Build Tension And Engagement
  • Create Intensely Real Characters
  • Present A Compelling World

Writing Great Chapters will help you write a scene that readers can effortlessly enjoy and understand.

transform your writing style

Techniques to help you blend forward motion and vivid description on every page. Guide your readers through your most personal descriptions and ideas.

  • Be Clear And Easily Understood
  • Charm Your Readers And Win Their Trust
  • Describe Vivid Scenes, Full Of Rich Details

Transform your Writing Style is your master toolkit, your voice coaching lesson, to deliver your unique voice on the page.

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Julia Brown testimonial

Julia Brown

author and literary editor

"Not all good writers are good teachers, but Daniel (a talented, thoughtful writer himself) is a terrific instructor.

If you can take a class with him, do it!"

tawni waters bio pic

Tawni Waters

ILA award-winning author of Beauty of the Broken, Siren Song, and The Ride Home

"He respected my work and vision but also had a keen editorial eye and a stroke of literary genius that took everything I’d written to the next level."

Michael Noltemeyer


"Daniel really is the novel whisperer, the literary midwife. He's everything his other clients have said he is. It’s all true. This program really is that helpful. He really is that good."