When I’m writing a novel my train of thought needs to stay on track. If I loop around to edit I run out of steam. So I keep shoveling coal into the engine and words onto the page. Sometimes there’s nothing but rails all the way up the horizon. Sometimes curves in the mountains keep me from seeing where I’m going. Some routes are ideal while others are just serviceable.
The process forces me to wear many hats. I’m both the conductor and the stoker, tasked with staying on schedule and fueling the creative process. If I overthink the path the crankshaft screeches to a halt. So I keep chugging along until the first draft is done. No sense in letting writer’s block derail me.
When I write dialogue I get a sense of where the scene needs to go and let my cast say the first things that come to mind. I let their upbringings, attitudes, and professions dictate their speech patterns. For the characters I pick up along the way I try to find their voices while writing. I’m not too worried if I can’t on my first try because all writing is rewriting and I know I’ll be back this way again.
These are the most important lessons I’ve learned while tightening up dialogue for the second draft. Continue reading How to Tighten Up Your Dialogue
We live in a world where we ask, “How’s it going?” as a “Hello,” not as a inquiry into someone’s wellbeing.
Happiness is so revered it seems mandated. If a fellow employee asks, “How’s it going?” and you respond with, “I’m alright,” a common response is, “Just alright?”
If you’re one of those people who says, “Just alright?” know that you’re not coming off as someone who’s concerned so much as someone who’s enforcing an impossibly high standard of positivity. Those of us on the receiving end of that question see you as one of those screamers from the end Invasion of the Body Snatchers, calling us out for our nonconformity.
If this isn’t your intension consider the following: if the person you’re asking, “How’s it going?” says they’re alright flatly leave it at that. If they say they’re alright with a pensive downward inflection ask if anything is going on. Those are you options. Continue reading Why You Should Let Your Characters Blow Their Tops
Before a runner can take on a marathon they have to increase their millage over time, running a little more every day, building their muscles, and getting their bodies ready to go the distance. Before a writer can take on a novel they have to increase their word count, writing a little every day, building mental strategies, and getting into the habit of putting words on paper.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve run a marathon before if you’re taking on another you have to put in that leg work again. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already written a novel, if you’ve been out of practice, your brain will need a workout before its up to the task.
These are the exercises I do to get myself going again. Continue reading Quick Exercises to Beat Writer’s Block
When writing your first draft author John Steinbeck recommends you “write freely and as rapidly as possible… Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.”
If you stop to edit the chapter you’re working on you’ll get stuck in a perfectionist loop, keeping you from moving forward and breaking your stream of consciousness. If your emphasis is on quality too early you’ll ensure there’s no quantity. The first draft is an marathon not a gymnastics routine. You can’t worrying about being too graceful on your way across the finish line.
Of course, when you do go back to edit, you may realize you’ve inherited a mess. I did when I went back to revise my current work in progress. My story features a narrator and the first person testimonies of four other characters. Continue reading How to See Through Someone Else’s Lens
I was a script reader in a past life. My job was to read all the screenplays an independent production house received, summarize them, estimate their budgets, and gave them grade. My “pass” or “consider” rating system determined if the producers gave more than a passing glance at the material that was sent to them.
When I got to work their were two piles: priority screenplays, solicited scripts with talent and directors already attached, and then there was the other pile, the pile I had to dig into when I ran out of the stuff my bosses wanted me to read. These were the mystery scripts with hieroglyphic fonts, foreign formatting, and dialogue blurbs that stretched on over several pages. These were the unvetted works from screenwriters who’d yet to find agency representation. This pile was a dangerous game of reading roulette. Continue reading How Writers Can Remix the Past
There’s a new trend happening in the part of the web that reports on popular films. Those crazy fan theories that once resided in the darkest shadows of the Internet are being put in the spotlight, and the once most aggravating geeks are now churning out click-bait.
Some of these theories are interesting examinations of the foreshadowing techniques, visual language, and symbolism of franchise films. Others find meaning in the supporting materials. Star Wars fan theorists riffle through novelizations for descriptions that differ from what they saw on screen. They scan the notation of a films’ score for meaningful melodies. They interpret concept art for scenes that were never filmed. They deduce plot points from toy line advertisements. Continue reading How Writers can Use Their Crazy Fan Theories
The Phantom of Truth appeared at the foot of my bed. His black robe draped over the mattress. His boney knees made the springs squeal. He pinned me to the pillows with a crocked finger as thick as a broom handle.
The Phantom did not fade in and out like a waking dream. He was a real tangible thing, buckling the floorboards, scrapping his hunchback against the ceiling, getting dust all over everything. He was a giant whose every movement shook the room. If he jumped he’d take the whole floor down with him.
It occurred to me that his long black robe was made from scales. I thought the robe might’ve been stitched together from snakeskins, until I saw it puff out on its own like the sack beneath a frog’s neck. The cloak had no seams. I couldn’t tell where it ended and the creature’s long arms began. Continue reading The Phantom of Truth
New Year’s Enigma
The more I tell myself New Year’s Eve doesn’t matter to me, the more I realize it does. That’s the power of negative suggestion. The more you tell yourself not to think about something the more you do (quick, try not to think of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man).
I try to roll my eyes at the Calendar, thinking the New Year is just another number; an arbitrary changing of the digits, a human construct with as much meaning as daylight savings. It’s still going to be cold in Minneapolis on January 2. Nothing significant is going to change, but that’s the thing that always gets under my skin. It isn’t merely about the festivities of the evening. It’s about how much distance I’ve put between this version of myself and the one from the year before. Continue reading How to Make Practical New Year’s Resolutions
In honor of Star Wars: The Force Awakens I wanted to explore world building in fiction. I’m going to talk about how mapping your world can can guide you out of writer’s block. This map not an outline of your story, nor is it a bible filled with character details. It’s a cultural guide for your community, an anthology of your universe’s mythology, and an atlas of your setting.
Don’t think of this writing exercise as a satellite image, fixed and defined, think of it as dots on a treasure map with space for further details. Your world map isn’t meant to chart your story’s space. It’s meant to give you options worth exploring. Not only is it a great way to get ideas off the ground, when you don’t have a premise, it’s a great way to help you come up with the next story in the series. Continue reading How Writers can Create Their Own Galaxies Far Far Away
Plot driven stories focus on external conflict. Character driven stories focus on inner turmoil. Plot driven stories are more situational than personal. While characters may evolve in plot driven stories, they never change as much as the world around them. Plot driven stories are action oriented. Characters don’t have the luxury of self examination before they make decisions. Their situation is too urgent.
The plot driven story approach is ideal for fast paced globe trotting adventures, sci-fi fantasies, and anything with a clock counting down to Armageddon. That’s why most blockbuster movies take the plot driven approach. It keeps the characters in danger and makes the audience feel like they’re on a rollercoaster.
The problem with plot driven stories is when their fast pace leaps over gaps in the plot. Continue reading What’s My Motivation? Why Writers Need to Motivate All of Their Characters