I’m thinking of self-publishing a collection of my Onion-style bad writing advice columns. The following is a book proposal in that character’s boisterous quasi psychotic voice. If you’re interested in reading more PLEASE LET ME KNOW.
THE LAST BOOK PROPOSAL YOU SHOULD EVER READ
Bookstores are teeming with so many texts on writing they have to cram the extras in vertically. Most of these fire hazards are written by name authors: your Stephen Kings, your Kingston Stevens, and your Stefano Kingsleys.
Meanwhile your Instagram feed is clogged with bestselling authors hawking Masterclasses. Neil Gaiman is teaching writing. Margaret Atwood is teaching writing. James Patterson is teaching ghostwriting. You find yourself wondering: how I am supposed to develop my own voice if everyone is looking in these same directions?
For a unique source of inspiration you need to turn to someone who looks like a failure to the untrained eye, like a Van Gogh, a H.P. Lovecraft, or a Corey Haim. Someone with decades of experience blogging in obscurity. Someone whose publisher once told him, “You look good, you should do YouTube. That might work actually for you.”
Don’t be seduced by authors who tell you storytelling is all about challenging flawed individuals into becoming complete human beings, that structure is a means to a spiritual transformation, and that your duty as a writer is to create a change within your readers’ own self-perception.
Listen to the literary light that’s brave enough to tell you: writing is about one-upping hipsters at cocktail parties. It’s about cutting in when someone is overanalyzing a movie with an allegorical ending and shutting that shit down. It’s a card you play when you want to steer the conversation in your direction.
Allow me to teach you how to be the noun (a writer) who rarely ever has to do the verb (write). Let me to teach you how to be a social media sociopath, someone who clogs their extended family’s feeds with blog spam. Let me teach you how to beat writer’s block by writing badly.
I’ll be the devil on your shoulder.
“Go on, use all those sweet delicious adverbs. I won’t tell Stephen King if you won’t.”
“You should take a big fat exposition dump right here. It’s at the beginning of a chapter. No one will mind.”
“Oh who are you kidding? The twist was always going to be that your hero has a split personality. Lean into it.”
Follow me and I’ll teach you how to:
gracefully handle rejection by standing outside a publisher’s house in a clown mask.
use the miracle of insomnia to unlock your imagination.
promote your novel by interrupting first dates.
know if your cat is actively sabotaging your writing.
guilt your parents into reading your novel.
bait the NSA into following your blog.
write a literary masterpiece with a paper fortune teller.
purge proof your writing space.
and how to trick beautiful people into asking if you’re a writer.
Established authors are all too happy to separate fools from their money, to convince them there’s room on the bestsellers list for everyone, and that their methods for success can be reproduced.
But be honest. You’ve been struggling at this writing game for a while now. Isn’t it time you turned away from your superiors and started taking advice from a peer, someone who understands you not because they’ve surpassed their failures, but because they’re still in the throes of them?
Join Drew Chial on this journey into oblivion and together you will get there faster.
Today I’m participating in a blog hop called “Why I Write.” Thanks to Síofra Alexander for tagging me in her brilliant intensely personal entry. She’ll be a tough act to follow.
I started writing lyrics when I was twelve years old. My early efforts were journal entries confined to rhyme schemes. They overused hole/soul, skin/within, and love/above way too often. While I spent my teens singing my feelings, something strange started happening. I found myself asking a question that had less to do with what made me tick and more to do with my imagination: what if?
What if aliens invaded by posing as demons?
What if a cyber mob drove a girl to suicide only to find her ghost haunting them online?
What if a man discovered his depression was actually a person in a parallel dimension where happiness is frowned upon?
What if an exorcist challenged a possession victim to a drinking contest and the final shot was spiked with holy water?
The answers to these questions didn’t fit into a verse chorus verse structure so I let them float back up into the ether. I passed on my ideas, only to see them watered down in other mediums. I’d be playing a video game and realize it was using one of my ideas badly. If only I’d put it down on paper and gotten it out there.
Every one of us has a marquee full of blockbusters in our brains, but so few will ever get to share them. For many, the only time they share their ideas is to fill a lull in conversation, their story might be a fan theory for a franchise that’s already in production, or it might be something that shouldn’t be forgotten.
I started writing because I wanted to answer that question.
Sometimes I posed it in a way that applied to my life, “What if I’d told her how I felt when it mattered?” Sometimes I let it venture outside the realm of reason, “What if I traveled back in time to tell her how I felt only to accidentally kill my past self?”
Either way, the question was worth asking, because…
Writing Gives You Super Powers
Stephen King says that writing is telepathy. Neil Gaiman calls reading a form of empathy. The process is a shared experience that turns the imagination into something tangible, something real.
Writing is time travel. It allows us to bring clarity to memories, to refine our past into stories, or to alter it to play out the way we wanted it to be.
Writing is playing God, sometimes cruel, sometimes kind, but always in mysterious ways. We build worlds. We break characters down. We do the impossible: we create a situation that forces a person to change.
Writing is immortality. It’s more reliable than cryostasis, less committal than vampirism, and cheaper than uploading your consciousness to a server. It’s a way of telling future generations, “I was a thing. I happened. I may be gone but my thoughts live on.”
Sometimes writing is the only way I can take control of my feelings. Paper seems as good a place as any to vent, to put my nightmares to work, to have a breakdown without making a sound. The page is a place for fear to pose its arguments so I can refute them.
I’m too frightened of public speaking to be a comedian. Fiction is how I smuggle my humiliation to an audience. It lets me laugh with them.
With all the social graces governing my behavior, sometimes writing is the only way my thoughts get out there. With all those tell-off speeches bubbling up inside me, sometimes I need a place to say the things I’d never speak. With my ego wounded, I need a place to chronicle all the power fantasies I use to inflate it.
I write because I don’t want those ideas to stop at my brain. I’ve got the foresight to write them down and the audacity to think other people should read them. Call it an inflated self image, call it delusions of grandeur, call it sociopathic narcissism. Whatever.
I know I’m not special. Anyone can ask, “What if this crazy terrible weird thing happened?” I just put my answers into words.
Daydreams are only a waste of time if you never jot them down.
Hope you enjoyed reading my long winded explanation for why I’m in this writing game. I nominate the following folks to answer the same question:
On Twitter @MarkTConard, Mark takes the inspirational quotes authors use as filler tweets and adds things that change their tone, like “and shit” or “bitches” which he uses to punctuate Shakespeare’s dialogue under the hashtag #ShakespeareBitches.
Jessica has one novelette and two short stories for sale on Amazon, and her blog houses a massive library of Flash Fiction, this is because Jessica participates in every writing challenge known to twitterdom. I have lofty daily word count goals and Jessica regularly kicks the crap out of them.
Follow her @West1Jess to find out what she’s working on.
Writers are always asked where our ideas come from. Our answer is usually a deflection in case potential rivals are listening in. If we told the truth, everyone would be making a play at our game.
Of course we know where our ideas come from, we just want to keep our inspiration in house. We have a monopoly on our muses, exclusivity deals with our delusions, and first rights with our figments of the imagination. Our creativity is under contract. We lie to keep poachers off our lots, to keep talent thieves from ensnaring our rising stars, to leave headhunters scratching their own.
Writers are the rulers of our own entertainment empires. We keep our spark moving through our internal studio system. Non-disclosure agreements forbid us from discussing our process, but today I’m feeling generous.
The majority of my ideas come from Daydream Agents tirelessly pitching their clients. My job is to choose which one I want to spend the next several months with. Writers are really producers deciding which bright ideas to green light.
Hearing Pitches from Daydream Agents
As a producer, I don’t live behind my desk, nor do I need a room full of Evian swirling executives to tell me when a story has potential. I hear elevator pitches everywhere I go.
When I page through the terms of service on my brand new tablet, a Daydream Agent appears in the reflective surface.
Leaning over my shoulder to scroll through the fine print, he smirks. “What if there was a clause that claimed your soul just by tapping the ‘agree’ button, maybe just a fragment of your spirit so you wouldn’t notice it was missing? You go about your routine until you realize something about you was gone. Not a memory, but a sense of understanding.”
Having whet my appetite, the agent earns my business card. We set up a meeting for whenever I’m having trouble sleeping.
Later that day, I’m at the bookstore looking to expand my library, when I overhear a pair of women talking about how a certain memoir ought to be labeled as fiction.
Flipping through the pages, a woman shakes her head at the book in her hands, “Go Ask Alice was written by a psychologist trying to make a cautionary tale for teenage girls. She dressed it up as this anonymous diary to make it more authentic than an after school special. I’m telling you, she wrote a whole series of these. Her next one, Jay’s Journal, was about this dude who got seduced into a Satanic cult. It read like a bad found footage movie.”
Watching the women through the bookshelf, I’m startled to find I’m joined by someone else: a Daydream Agent with a stack of memoirs in her hands.
Snapping her fingers, she turns to me. “What if someone hired a ghostwriter to forge a memoir, but instead of scaring teens straight it kills them with a curse? It’s Go Ask Alice meets The Necronomicon.”
Grabbing the Agent’s shoulder, I shush her. “You had me at a curse that kills teenagers.”
Ensuring this idea has an opportunity to build a rapport with me, we schedule a meeting for the next time I’m stuck in a long line.
That night I’m out at the bar, listening to a group of hipsters talk about the dark side of viral video: gross-out porn, gore memes, and the disturbing snuff footage posted by trolls in random comment sections.
A Daydream Agent slides into the stool beside me. He speaks without making eye contact, like a confidential informant. “What if someone shot a snuff film and a tech savvy viewer set out to exact revenge on behalf of the victim?”
I roll my eyes, “Like in that Nic Cage movie?”
The Agent raises his finger, “This is different, because it turns out the hero’s online allies, the ones helping him track down the killer, are the producers of the original feature. Our hero unwittingly helps them make a second, delivering them another victim.”
I sip my beer like it’s a fine wine. “Sounds complicated.”
The Agent rubs his hands together, “That’s because there’s a twist. Our hero realizes this group has been in the snuff business for some time and according to their pattern he’s slated to be the star of their next production.”
“That’s pretty downbeat.” I cock my head, he has my ear but it’s on the move.
The Agent slaps the bar in a desperate attempt to keep the energy up. “Okay, knowing that he’s marked for death, the hero stages evidence that points the next vigilante patsy to the creep that showed him the footage in the first place. The producers accepts this dummy offering and our hero goes into hiding.”
“Sounds like a novel.” I rub my chin. “Right now, I’m more into producing smaller features.”
The Agent snaps his fingers, “How about a novella? No subplots. No more than nine chapters. We could give it a micro-budget and streamline the whole thing.”
I shrug. “Now that’s something I could see happening.”
A person like me doesn’t get the luxury of going for a run with headphones on. I have to be available to hear pitches everywhere I go.
“What if a boogieman stalked a little girl only to find he was being hunted by her imaginary friend?”
They pitch me in the shower, they pitch me on the John, they captivate their captive audience before I even put my clothes on. They pitch me in my sleep, but dream logic always needs a few dozen rewrites before it ever makes sense. It’s hard to suss out substance from the surreal. I buy the rights to a few visual elements and leave the story to float back into the ether.
My favorite Daydream Agents are the ones that comeback without a callback. I want a fantasy with the confidence to knock on my door after my assistant has told it I’m out. The kind of idea that doesn’t care if I’m working, driving, or in the middle of a conversation.
The best daydreams are the ones I remember without having to write down, the ones with staying power. They’re memorable but timely enough that there’s an urgent need to rush them into production. After all, every author running a private entertainment empire has a slew of summer release dates to lock down.
Ideas are the Easy Part
When readers ask, “Where do your ideas come from?” they don’t realize they’re asking the wrong question. The right one is: “Where do you get the tenacity to flesh your ideas out?”
I’ve been warned that I shouldn’t share my ideas with strangers. I say, why not? There are no million dollar ideas, they’re a dime a dozen. A good idea doesn’t write itself on its own. You still have to write scenes that flow into acts that fit together into something greater.
Hearing story pitches is the easiest part of a writer’s job. It’s putting them into production, keeping them on schedule, and getting a final edit that’s the real challenge. Anyone can say they want to tell a story, it takes skill and dedication to finish it. A good idea doesn’t guarantee memorable characters, witty banter, interesting settings, or good pacing. That’s the real work writers do.
The internet is changing. Readers are spotting sponsored content on the pages they frequent: advertisements inside the margins, formatted to look like headlines. Commercials have moved from popups to the page, from banners to block quotes, from expanding ads to the editorials themselves.
Sidestepping filtering measures like Adblock Plus, marketers are going undercover, posing as endorsements by real writers, hoping reader’s won’t realize one of these articles is not like the others. Resizing their photos to the site’s dimensions, companies show themselves in a positive light. Composing their text to match the site’s layout, companies leave no room to read between the lines. Curating comments, they muzzle descent.
Tech blogs feature glowing reviews of the latest smartphone, long before the editors get their hands on demo models. News outlets endorse corporate mergers, before their business journalists get a chance to weigh in. Secular magazines find religion, before the staff can decide on the right one.
If your advertisement is going to pose as an article, it needs an angle. It needs conflict, death, and sex. It needs a writer with the courage to criticize every aspect of your business, but still make it look squeaky clean by the end.
That’s where I come in.
As someone who’s built a brand criticizing bad netiquette, I’m in a unique position to pander for payments. I’ll disguise your native advertisements in the same off-color tone as my own rants. My mockery is waiting to be monetized. My contempt is waiting to be cashed in on. My sarcasm is for sale.
Who better to shill your products but someone critical of the practice?
Let my smug mug be your pitchman, hawking your wares with back handed compliments. Let me drag you down to my level, to help raise brand awareness. Together, we’ll test the theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
As the Emperor of the sovereign nation of Blogsylvania, I assure you there is no division between the church of currency and the state housing my stories. I have the moral flexibility to bend over backwards. So let’s get this limbo party started.
Here’s a title that would make an endorsement of Scientology sound a little more plausible:
“I think L. Ron Hubbard was full of shit, but some of my best friends are Scientologists”
Right out of the gate, a little profanity adds a lot more authenticity. The client takes one step back, to take two steps forward. It’s a patient form of manipulation, planting seeds for delayed gratification. It tricks the reader into thinking this cynical asshole is coming around to the religion. It’s a subtle bandwagon argument, from someone who appears to be above that sort of thing.
Anyone can pay for celebrity endorsements, but to get an aging Gen-Xer’s approval, that’s an accomplishment.
Not all advertisers are offering salvation. Some of you are snake oil salesmen, exalting a magical elixir that doesn’t do a thing. The very names of your products get flagged as spam. Our brains are conditioned to skim past them. That’s where my reverse psychology smear campaign can do wonders for your brand.
If I tell my readers that your all-natural male enhancement supplement causes bloody diarrhea, they’re more likely to believe it does what you claim. How could it be a placebo if it causes irritable bowels? After all, side effects mean it does something. Let’s pile a bunch on so they take up half the advertisement. It’s hard for customers to be skeptics when they’re too busy weighing the costs and benefits. Now that’s clever marketing.
Ideas just like these are up for auction. If an advertorial sounds too good to be believed, readers know it probably is. It’s time to add authenticity to your sales pitch by passing it through the filter of my self-righteousness.
I know what you’re thinking, who’s this guy to spit in the face of our strategy? I’m someone who raises interest in the hardest product in the world to market: a personal blog.
I’m thinking of entering into the world of video blogging, but I don’t want to be another run of the mill media critic. I need a gimmick, a hook that let’s the viewer know that I have no shame and I’m not afraid to prove it.
The following is a collection of v-blog pitches, some are sheer brainstorm brilliance while others are train of thought train wrecks. At the end, you can vote on which ones are which.
Genre Fiction Mad Libs
Author, Christopher Booker believes writers keep recycling seven basic plots. Let’s prove him right. Collecting over-used film tropes I’ll outline the templates for making a romantic comedy, a home invasion horror movie, and a dystopian teen empowerment fantasy. I’ll compose five minute mad lib plot lines and invite the audience to help fill the character details in. A week later we’ll see the results unfold.
Viewers suggest the worst movies they can think of and I’ll pitch them like they’re awesome, polishing these steaming turds into Oscar statues.
Listen to me pitch The Phantom Menaceas a political intrigue thriller. Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan without a country, assumes the role of bumbling imbecile to trick members of a religious order into saving his world from a genocidal conspiracy.
Listen me intellectualize The Room as one woman’s descent into terminal narcissism, an unflinching examination of how personality disorders play into infidelity, a film that holds a mirror to society, forcing us to take a critical look at ourselves.
Listen to me call Giglia shocking exposé of the mental healthcare industry, a rallying cry for the handicapped, and a mature look at sexual identity.
Listen to me nominate Troll 2 for inclusion in the Criterion Collection, calling it a film with a strong message about the environment.
Nostalgia Nostradamus predicts which beloved children’s cartoon will be turned into Michael Bay’s latest series of sunsets and tracking shots. Thunder Cats? Voltron? Gargoyles?
The trick in Nostalgia Nostradamus’s tricorn hat is his ability to predict how producers of these reboots will get everything wrong:
– He-Man cries, “I have the power” as he raises the barrel of his new lightening gun.
– She-Ra’s wind resistant skirt is replaced with pants.
– Filmation’s Ghostbusters get’s rebooted. Not the team with Egon, Ray, Peter and Winston, but the one that drives around with a gorilla in a talking ghost car.
Feminize a Video Game Franchise
I come up with plots for female leads in male dominated video game series. For example:
An Assassin’s Creed game starring Vultur, a Romani woman struggling to save her family from the Spanish Inquisition. Vultur uses theatrical weapons to strike fear into the hearts of Templar witch finders.
A Zelda game where Zelda takes the starring role. The sorcerer, Ganon abducts Hyrule’s princesses to use their blood to open a doorway to the dark world. Breaking out of her cell, princess Zelda works her way through Ganon’s dungeons, collecting weapons, freeing her fellow captives, and ascending the dark lord’s tower for a final confrontation.
A God of War game that takes place in the aftermath of Kratos’s resignation. Goddess of War follows a Spartan woman who stumbles upon the Blades of Olympus while the minions of a new crop of Gods burn her village down.
Stock Photo Theater
Original programing made with unoriginal pictures. Stock photo sites are all too happy to provide the cast, their blank business figures are begging to be turned into actors. All I have to do is supply the dialogue.
Shutterstock already has so many images of people laughing, isn’t it time they put out a sitcom? How about a whodunnit? Turns out the boardroom meeting, in this picture, is a gathering of all the suspects. How about a science fiction series where angry desk jockeys fight their technology? With all the shots of people shouting at their screens, we already have everything we need.
Batman or Ingmar Bergman
A game where viewers guess whether a line of dialogue came from a Batman movie or a film from existentialist director Ingmar Bergman.
1. “… the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.”
2. “One day you stand at the edge of life and face darkness.”
3. “I wake up from a nightmare and find that real life is worse than the dream.”
4. “There is something out there in the darkness, something terrifying, something that will not stop until it gets revenge… Me.”
I pitch reboots for your favorite ailing film franchises, raising Hellraiser, reviving Highlander’s immortality and calling Howard the Duck back to earth. Find me a series that’s at death’s door and I’ll bust out the defibrillator. Just call me Dr. Drew.
I list all the dirty tricks I use to ensure my output, like describing a setting before I know the characters or conflict that will fill it, writing dialogue with the intention of discovering the action, or planting the setups for my plot twists in later edits.
I’ll confess everything from how I spare my darlings to how I repurpose fan fiction.
I recommend low budget, soon to be cult classics, for you to uncover on Netflix. They’re not always great movies but they’re entertaining enough for a Wednesday evening.
Clickbait Writer’s Room
A sketch comedy series, where a team of freelancers set out to ruin journalism, in order to rase their demon master Mammon. Writing titles with cliff hangers, the clickbaiters target would-be Nobel Prize winners, distracting them from their discoveries. Upsetting viewers with the first half of their captions, the clickbaiters promise to restore the world’s faith in humanity with the other, but they never do.
This coven of content creators will churn out listicles, slideshows and viral videos. Casting darkness over everyone’s newsfeed. Once they’ve sacrificed enough of our time, Mammon will rise up and claim his digital dominion.
This is my first round of ideas. Please vote on the ones you like and leave suggestions in the comments.
When I first started writing fiction, my scenes had long intermissions, ellipses in place of dialogue, holes in place of plot. I’d skip chapters, write out of sequence. My ideas didn’t have legs because they weren’t fleshed out. They lacked focus because they weren’t developed. It was hard to keep my tone consistent, when I wrote in fractured moments. It was hard to keep track of who said what, when my characters had yet to be named.
Idea Man flew so far away, I couldn’t decide if he was a bird or a plain. Soaring through the thought clouds, he was neck deep in inspiration. If anyone could break my writer’s block, it was him. I realized I’d have to devise a scheme to bring him down to my level.
Coming from a poetry background, where stanzas can be made from lists, I tried the technique in the long form. Rather than dive into the action, I over described my locations. I’d log the evidence of an event, until I realized my police reports weren’t drawing down Idea Man. He wouldn’t make an appearance for atmosphere alone.
Mouthing both sides of a conversation, I’d come up with clever bits of banter. My subconscious did the talking, while my fingers went a-walking. Rather than direct my dialogue, I’d play stenographer, honoring the first words that came to mind, occasionally shoehorning in one-liners. My muse wouldn’t stop speaking long enough to draw breath, my fingers tripped across the keyboard. It felt like I’d finally channeled my hero until I realized it was his evil twin: Mediocrity Man.
I thought I’d written radio plays that were just waiting for visual accompaniment, but they were too conversational. They had nowhere to go. It turned out, the best dramatic discussions didn’t follow real speech patterns. They revealed character details while serving the plot at the same time.
Luring Idea Man into an Outline
Using my talent for writing lists, I decided to outline everything. I didn’t stop at “Character drives” and “goals,” my ideation was all encompassing.
I fired a chain of bullet points at my background research. I knew how my hero’s public habits contrasted their private peculiarities, even if the audience never got to make this discovery. I knew how their psychological profile effected their clothing style. I knew how their sense of humor showed in their posture.
Not only did I know my characters’ names, I knew their upbringing, economic backgrounds, education, religious beliefs, professions, and political leanings. It didn’t matter if their parents didn’t get any screen time, they had their own paragraphs on my outline. It didn’t matter if we never saw their humble abode, I’d still describe it down to the last pillow.
My dogmatic draft predicted the page number I wanted every plot point to happen on. It was a map that refused to acknowledge shifting terrains. Assuming character motivations would always make sense, the plot dictated their actions. They entered a scene, not because of their powerful drive, but because the story needed them to.
When I finally started writing, Idea Man came, but his contributions lacked passion. I’d already introduced him to all the characters, I’d already scouted all the locations, we knew the timeline for every situation. Without the thrill of discovery, Idea Man was just going through the motions. I hadn’t given him any wiggle room, I hadn’t left him space to make a contribution. He shuffled his way through a draft, before flying off, never to return to the story again.
Idea Man Unleashed
It took me years to realize, the more I drafted the less I finished. The more I edited as I went, the less likely I was to get to the end. So I tried a different approach. I wrote my stories without a net. I developed the cast on the page. I came up with interesting situations, in the hope that the rest of the story would tell itself:
A dead body is found in a locked room. The killer used a timed poison and special appearing ink to leave his mark. His next victim may already be doomed.
A drunken lawyer staggers into the woods, interrupts a trial for a man’s soul, represents him and wins.
A teenager finds messages from his future self in his journal, only to discover that his future self is sabotaging his life.
Idea Man dragged a trail of thought clouds from the heavens, interrupting my work in progress with a slew of better ones. I was walking through a smog of thought clouds, not so much a daydreamer but a sleepwalker lost in a brainstorm.
This is what I got for writing commando, like Stephen King without a tight binding outline.
Idea Man kept making deliveries, but I was running out of places to put them.
Drowning in Thought Clouds
The sheetrock was cracking, the oven tilting, my back burner was filled with too many things. The refrigerator door hung off its hinge, weighed down by post-it notes, IOUs for material I’d yet to get to. There was a ceramic dust pattern on the table, an outline of a plate with one too many things put on it.
The exits to my memory palace were blocked. There were too many big ideas in the way, I was wading through them. The dam had broken, my writer’s block had flooded my brain. I was drowning in thought clouds.
I needed to sort through the backlog, to find my focus, to pick a project, but Idea Man kept the deliveries coming.
In the maze of my mental map the paths forked into all directions. I walked into a short story, hoping it would spit me out in the middle of my novel. I ran through a journal entry, hoping it came out as an article. I ventured down one path, praying it could get me to my career goals.
It was hard to see the light when I had so many bright ideas. Each bulb orbited my head demanding to be acknowledged. It was hard to hear my thoughts when they made so much noise. The toys in the attic were all wound up, they were having a parade.
I used to wait for Idea Man to breach my fortress of solitude, now I was waiting for him to leave me a moment of clarity.
I needed away to harness him without taking every thought cloud he had to offer. I needed to hold his attention without trapping him in a kryptonite cage. Idea Man needed an outline that allowed him the freedom of discovery.
The Hybrid Outline
Knowing the fundamentals of plot structure, I shouldn’t spend too much time at the drawing board. All I need to get a story started are the bare bones of a good summary, like:
Character: Who’s the lead? What is their drive? Break in the Routine: What pulls the rug out from under them? What goal do they acquire? Does the conflict with their drive set them on the path to a personal change? Situation: What’s the premise? Where does it take place? Conflict: Who’s the antagonist? How does their goal interfere with the hero’s? Plot Point 1: When is it too late for the hero to turn back? Mid Point: Do the alliances shift? Does the hero learn a lesson that signals the beginning of a change? Plot Point 2: What’s the hero’s lowest possible moment? When they acquire their goal, do they discover it wasn’t what they wanted? Do they seek a new one? Climax: How does their personal change prepare them for the final battle?
Resolution: When the dust settles, has the hero grown as a person?
Starting a story, I keep these plot points in mind, while leaving everything else open for discovery. Even these points aren’t set in stone. If Idea Man delivers a thought cloud that suits the story, I’ll use it, if it’s out of place, I can cast it away without feeling like I’m losing something (I’ve made a habit of storing these ideas in other documents).
To paraphrase some words of wisdom from Trey Parker: this plot point happens therefore this plot point happens, but then this one happens, therefore so does this one. His stories are collections of “therefores” and “but thens.” Each scene comes with a reason, you have to pop all the extraneous thought clouds that start with “and then.” Everything better be connected or it’s out of place.
I can avoid referring to a draft by linking all these plot points in my head. I cover this process in great detail in my blog on How to Build a Memory Palace Pitch. The trick is to make the essential connections early on, then you’ll have an idea of where everything should be heading.
It’s this combination of outline and free form strategies that’s kept Idea Man on task and interested at the same time.
Are you afraid of someone accessing your passwords? What if they got access to your person? The Heartbleed bug isn’t the most vulnerable part of your online identity, you are. Forget about someone hijacking your accounts. What if someone used your online profiles to replace you in the real world?
There’s more than one way to steal your identity.
If someone vague-booked on your behalf, would your friends know it wasn’t you? If someone took control of your tweets, would your followers realize you’ve been compromised? If someone commandeered your Instagram feed, would your friends notice a change in your point of view?
This story takes those questions to a whole new level. This is a preview of my work in progress, a millennial mystery, a social media thriller, a cautionary tale for those with a high connectivity clout score.
Valentine’s Day is here. For some it’s the biggest date night of the year, a time for hard won reservations, and subpar service. When collective expectation is at a fever pitch. A time to feel put on the spot by romantic peer pressure. A day when one-upmanship makes lovers jump through flaming hoops to prove their feelings.
For some it is a day to abuse social media with forced romantic sentiment, a day for contrived vows that could only feel genuine if delivered in person. Some clog news feeds with couple’s selfies, while others clean house with mass-unfollowings.
After Christmas and New Year’s, Valentine’s Day is the last note in a overwhelming chord. For some it’s a victory lap, a day to celebrate the love they’ve been given. For others it’s the last stretch of a gauntlet of loneliness. V-Day is when they cash the last of their resolutions in.
Permit me to speak from the heart, with some help from the gut, with a little bit of bite, and a twist of the tongue.
My volatile Valentine’s vendetta derives its viewpoint from a bevy of vulgar visuals. Vapid vagrants with malevolent intent, visiting taverns to vocalize a variety of vacuous vows, proverbs with vanilla verbiage voiced verbatim, inviting victims to venture beneath their duvet for a vigorous vault through venerial viruses.
Avoiding reverence, evasive lovers veto verses, and revoke overtures. Vexed with a variety of vultures vying for votes, vixens avert involvement. My vehement vows provoke vagabonds to vanish. My devotion advances vamps through a vortex. Their verdict delivers a violent vivisection of vital vascular valves and vessels, leaving a vacated void, a victory for the villainous, a vasectomy of the virtuous, a vestige of St. Valentine’s venture.
A memory memory for the 14th of February, the Saint beaten beheaded, left to rot, I see no reason, the real reason for the season should ever be forgot.
This year, I’m one of those bah-humbuggers. To quote Placebo, “I’m killing time on Valentine’s. Waiting for the day to end.” For me the day completes a trilogy of unhappy holidays. Some days I believe in love at first sight, sometimes I want to tell Cupid where he can stick his arrows. Today is one of those.
If you’re at home reading blogs on Valentine’s, then I think I know which camp you’re in. If you’re looking for something to read, that hits that bittersweet spot then I’ve got you covered. Be you a hopeless romantic or a ceaseless cynic, I’ve got something for you.
May I present my best posts on romance, be they short stories or blog entries, poems or podcasts, I’ve got something to make the time pass.
For those of you unfamiliar with Highlander, it’s the story of a five hundred year old Scotsman drawn into a deadly contest that’s raged for centuries. Connor MacLeod and immortals like him, fight for a prize some believe to be godhood. He is a reluctant participant in this game. Seeking the protection of holy ground, MacLeod fights for survival. Claiming the heads of those who try to take his own, MacLeod grows stronger through a merging of souls called “the quickening.” He’s done this ever since his mentor, Ramirez, taught him that in the end there can be only one.
Duncan MacLeod is Connor’s kinsman. While Connor represented the franchise on the silver screen his distant relative became one of the most enduring characters to dominate Saturday afternoon television. While the film series lost it’s way, claiming the immortals were reincarnated fugitives from the planet Zeist, the TV show kept the mystery interesting. When Connor and Duncan were reunited in Highlander: Endgame, fan favorite Duncan was put in a situation (MAJOR SPOILERS) that forced him to claim Connor’s head. This gave him the strength he needed to face a bigger foe. The series collapsed after that (stumbling back into Zeist-like planetary alignment territory in Highlander: The Source).
The problem with the currently proposed reboot: The screenwriters are stuck on retelling the story of Connor’s battle with the Kurgan, the strongest of the immortals. They want to bring back Ramirez, and give us an updated clone of the first adventure. Their additions have Connor swapping his iconic katana for a sniper rifle. They have the Kurgan exploiting a bureaucratic loophole to deconsecrate a church in order to fight on holy ground. Apart from Connor taking on one of his opponent’s physical ticks, after a claiming his head, it felt like this interpretation had nothing to add.
Controversial Fix: Keep the concept ditch the hero.
Connor MacLeod is not without his charm, but he’s no Indiana Jones. Connor was upstaged by his television counterpart Duncan, the romance novel cover model of the series. Both characters have established histories that come with a lot of baggage. I think the premise has more staying power than the protagonists. If we want to modernize the franchise, we’ll need a new MacLeod, one whose past, present, and future are mysteries to us.