I can’t speak for other writers, but all my ideas came to me after I’d signed a contract with a strange fellow named Mr. Scratch.
A group of guys in my improv class had dragged me to a cabana party in the Hollywood hills. We found ourselves in an endless pool with a breathtaking view of West Hollywood. This was at the Chateau of a big director with an appetite for young actors. He was snorkeling through the shallow end dressed like a lifeguard. My buddies didn’t mind. They were hoping the situation would score them a role. I was hoping to score a drink. Good thing there was a bartender in the water. I drank until I was good and beached-whale-drunk. I propped myself up in my palm as everyone gossiped around me.
“Hey Drew, what do you think of all this Lindsay Lohan controversy.”
“I literally couldn’t give a shit.”
“So you’re constipated then?”
“You said that you ‘literally’ couldn’t give a shit. So I took it to mean that you were incapable of shitting due to your use of the adverb literally.”
I found myself wandering through the woods in my swim trunks, ranting about how I’d be hot shit too if only I could put my thoughts into words.
“I’d literally be the toast of Hollywood, or wait, does that mean I’d be burned to a crisp?”
That’s when Mr. Scratch staggered into my path. He walked with a limp, because one his legs had been replaced with custom cloven hoof prosthesis.
MeetNoelle, a Hollywood transplant who’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.
Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.
Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.
Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?
Clash BOOKS invites you enter a zone in-between afternoon and midnight, a place if unnamed does not violate of copyright. You’ll find it in a tome of forbidden knowledge, a book called He Has Many Names.
A thought cloud forms overhead. Lightning flashes and you’re struck with the perfect premise, an eerie locale, and a clever twist. The idea is electric. You want to write it down before this thought cloud rescinds, but you’re convinced you need to write some quick character bios before you commit to draft.
Something tells you that your hero needs one of those jobs you’ve see on TV like a detective, or a lawyer, or doctor. Not because your premise demands it, but because it will feel familiar to readers. The only problem is writing about those careers requires knowledge you don’t possess.
You have no clue how to survey a crime scene. You have doubts about what the law considers a reasonable doubt, and you couldn’t do CPR to save your own life. Now before you move away from your inspiring thought cloud into a tunnel of endless research considering making your hero a writer.
Now I know, writers writing about writers is a cliché as old as writing itself, but there are a lot of benefits to centering your adventure on an author.
It’s What You Know
Writers write what they know, but all too often the subject we know most about is writing. This is why Stephen King has written so many stories about writers (I was going to count them all, but there are only so many hours in a day).
Writing is a subject you can talk about with authority. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been published, if you’ve had meetings in New York, or pitched in Hollywood. You know what it’s like to wrack your brain over a single sentence that keeps giving you a hard time. You know what’s it like to draw inspiration from life events, from friends, and your surroundings. You know how writing makes you look at the world differently. You see stories in every anonymous interaction, scan your environment for hidden meanings, and see evidence of fate after the fact.
Writers are Sympathetic Characters
Writers are insufferable, grammar checking our friends. We’re longwinded, even though we know that brevity is the heart of wit, and we dominate conversation by turning them into impromptu pitch sessions. Writers may be jackasses, but we are sympathetic jackasses.
Most aspiring writers will fail. And… They… Know… It. Yup. Failure makes characters endearing. Even successful writers have a tall stack of rejection slips in their closet. Audiences find driven characters endearing, and driven failures are sympathetic.
It’s also must be said the being a writer is a lonesome vocation. Everybody gets lonely, but a writer has to be. Chuck Palahniuk may, as he claims, write at parties, but the rest of us have to go into anti-social mode to get our two thousand words daily in. Even in public we have to tune out the noise in order transcribe our internal monologues.
How many Disney movies star solitary dreamers aspiring for something more? (I was going to count, but there are only so many hours in a day). Writers, even middle-aged ones struggling to get out from an unsatisfying career, are endearing, because they cling to the hope that somehow someday someone will read what they’re working on.
Writers Know A Little About A Lot
Well-read writers have a wealth of knowledge (surface level knowledge, but enough to be useful on trivia night). If your hero is a writer, and you’re writing in the first person, your hero can educate your audience directly. They can discuss story-telling mechanics as a foreshadowing technique, and explain plot devices moments before they happen.
If you ever have to explain how your hero knows something outside the field of their expertise, you can always say they picked it up researching a story.
“I picked up knife throwing skills when I wrote about an underground circus with life and death stakes.
“I learned how to count cards when I wrote about a back alley casino where players bet souls.”
“My lock picking skill came from that story I wrote about the stalker.”
Writers Have a Mixed Relationship With the rest of Humanity
Writers are fascinated with people. That fascination isn’t always full of childlike wonderment. We’re interested in people but we don’t necessarily love them. In fact we find them perplexing. They often act outside of their interest. They undercut their best efforts, and casually hurt one another with no consideration. Their capacity for empathy blinks off then roars back on. We want to understand people because we struggle to understand ourselves and that’s endearing.
As long as your curmudgeonly wordsmith is curious about the human condition readers will find them compelling.
Everyone Wants to be One
Everyone wants to be a writer or thinks they have one good novel in them if only they had the time to write it down. They may have even kicked at the tires of drafting something. That said they might have a pretty good idea what the writing process is like or yearn to read about the extremes another author’s methods require.
Just remember: the more extravagant your hero’s writing process is the more driven they’ll seem.
Writing about a Writer Opens the Door to Meta Storytelling If your hero is a writer they can explain what it means to be an unreliable narrator and then turn around and be one. They can backhandedly refer to scenes that they decided to cut. They can point to a plot hole and promise to fill it or suffer the wrath of the reader’s intellect. They can call out their own clichés before putting a fresh spin on them.
When your hero is a writer you get to play with storytelling mechanics, break the forth wall, and put the reader on the spot. A first person story staring a writer is a dangerous thing. At any moment the hero can go rogue and tell the reader that their theories about the twist are wrong.
Making your hero a writer might feel like a cop out, but it will make your story feel authentic because you know what the job is like.
…and frankly don’t we have a enough stories about doctor, lawyers, and detectives already?
Over the last few months I’ve been editing a novel We the Damned, a novella The Devil You Don’t Know, and a novelette (name TBD, actually I could use your help naming it). I’ve decided that material is too long to share here. So I’m pursuing all avenues to get those stories out there: digital, print, independent publishing, traditional publishing, and carrier pigeon.
However, I will share excerpts and concept art for all three projects here. I’m also planning to get back into a regular blogging schedule (I swear on a stack of cat calendars).
2016 has been a trying year for everyone. I’ve found myself a lot less compelled to interact with people online. It seems like everywhere you go there’s a minefield of napalm covered eggshells to tiptoe on. I’ve wanted to share more of my personal thoughts on the US election, without raving like a madman at a bus stop shouting at street signs, but it is challenging. Hopefully I can relegate my thoughts to artistic allegories, like my last story (shameless plug, go read it now, then tell your friends and have them tell their parents about, go go go).
I have a lot of other blog ideas in the pipeline too:
An article about what to do when you realize your story is exactly like another one you’ve never head of. I’m thinking of calling it Showing Up to the Party in The Same Dress.
A long overdue spoof of Joel Osteen, televangelist, positivity Puritan, and self help superstar. If you’ve ever seen one of his book covers then you know I could have a lot of fun Photoshopping myself into similar posses with less than motivational titles of my own.
I have an article called What Storytelling and Algebra Have in Common for you writers who are currently discovering the “joy” of editing.
I have an article on the role of coincidences in writing (here’s a hint: they work at the beginning of your story, but not at the end)
I have an article on writing accessible prose. I compare flowery writing to bands who get carried away experimenting (i.e. musical masturbation).
I have an article on how to use screenwriting tricks to make your novel harder to put down.
And many many more. So stayed tuned. I’ll be back with you soon.