Tag Archives: storytelling

The Secret Writers Don’t Want Idea People to Know

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: every story you’ve ever read was concocted by a secret society of Iron Age academics called the Illiterati.The Illiterati determined that there are only 7 types of stories.

  • Besting the Beast
  • From Nothing to Bling Bling
  • Fetch Quest
  • Go over there then come back again
  • Rebranding in the wake of a public shaming
  • Pun based Prop Comedy
  • Too bad, so sad

The Illiterati, in their hallucinogen-fueled brainstorming sessions, imagined every possible permutation of these plotlines, and inscribed them on a parchment that’s been passed down through generations. From the Oracle of Delphi to George R.R. Martin every story you’ve ever heard came from this tattered document.

This is because the Illiterati vowed to keep the literary tradition in their bloodline. They wanted their lineage to sculpt the world’s imagination. That’s why every fresh voice to ever take the publishing world by storm was descended from these shadow figures (ask any of us to our faces and we’ll vehemently deny it, but it’s true).

I admit storytelling was never my calling. I wanted to be a Radon technician, but as a first born son of an Illiterati member the tradition was thrust upon me.

From the age of eight I was lead through the sewers to a subterranean lair where I was taught the secret formula for writing fiction. The Master Storyteller walked us through the 12 steps of the hero’s journey, charted the dynamics of balancing hope and dread, and the strict architecture of plot structure (I’d share these secrets here but I don’t want to be “disappeared”).

The beneficiaries of this recipe for riches rarely appreciate it. For us, writing is more of an obligation than a creative outlet. We’re not driven to do it so much as we’d rather not face the consequences.

Sure, from the outside looking in our lives must look like fun. You see us wading in the wave pools of our penthouse grottos and think that must be so swell, but when you look past the blood sport cage matches and masked orgy key parties you’ll see our routines are pretty boring.

The Truth About Storytellers

The title storyteller loses its luster when its assigned at birth. That’s why novelists are the least engaging artists you’ll ever meet. We’re grunt workers. We’re basically groundskeepers raking plotlines together.

Once you know the formula then novels pretty much write themselves.

Authors lie in interviews. We say we come up with the characters and they take over. We act like we’re just as surprised as our readers. We’re not. We say we write by the seat of our pants, because there’s a joy in discovery. It sounds magical, doesn’t it? But really it’s just some warm and fuzzy bullshit.

I have never discovered anything that wasn’t preordained by some long dead desert sage.

I’ve never feared forgetting a dream before I could jot it in a journal. I’ve never run out of the shower to scribble something down, and I’ve never made myself chuckle from a snappy line of dialogue.

I’m so grounded by the Illiterati’s teachings that I’m certain I’ll never feel the true jolt of inspiration.

The Creatives Every Writer Envies

With enough time any caveman could knuckle out a manuscript. Western storytelling is more procedural than cerebral. It takes a true philosopher king to will a NEW idea into being.

That’s why every writer I know envies Idea People.

Idea People have a natural ability to conjure up stories without enduring the decades of programing and ritual abuse that name authors go through.

They’re not burdened by the Illiterati’s private protocols, because Idea people never write their ideas down. Theirs is an oral tradition. They pitch entire adventures in the time it takes to ride an elevator.

If brevity is the soul of whit then novelists are a pack of drooling dullards and Idea People are the ones who are truly inspired. Idea People never water down stories by stretching them out into scenes. They don’t tangle themselves in sequences either. Hell, they don’t even believe in acts.

Idea People Cut to the Heart of the Story

Idea People keep the focus on the best part of the story: the premise. Never mind what happens. Idea People are able to dazzle us with the set up. They prove it’s not the journey or the destination, it’s the brochure that matters. It’s the seminal scenario with the billion dollar box office potential. That well-put what if?

What if penguins and dolphins banded together to take over the northern hemisphere?

What if wars were fought with bipedal drones operated by trash talking gamers?

What if climate change made whales fly for some reason and it turned out they all has laser eyes at the same time?

No cast. No tedious character growth. The dramatic question plays out entirely in your mind.

The brightest Idea People turn this question into an equation: What if this megahit met that one?

The Exorcist multiplied by TitanicequalsLegion Liner: Woman and Children Cursed.

Death Wishmultiplied by Titanic equals Die-tanic:Vessel of Vengeance.

The Terminatormultiplied by TitanicequalsCy-Berg: Rise of the Tip.

Real Heroes Have Nowhere to Grow

Idea People are efficient storytellers. They utilize time tested conventions to evoke familiar connections.

“He’s like a John Rambo type.”

Boom, right there you know exactly who you’re dealing with. Idea people waste no time dressing complex characters in shades of grey.

What flaw do these heroes need to overcome? They saw some shit.So they’re coping with post-traumatic stress? No, it made them a certified badass.What drives them? I don’t know, someone killed their wife or their daughter or their dog or something. All that matters is that they get shit done.

Idea People Talk a Better Game

As an author I get so hung up writing dialogue that furthers the plot and reveals my characters that I fail to realize what people really want to hear.

Idea People don’t twist their tongues on all that chit chat.

They speak entirely in the kind of quotable catchphrases preteens love to parrot. They invoke a nostalgia for times when action heroes knew just what to say before peppering a warehouse with machine gun spray. Back when men wore their hearts in their mouths and kept things too real for subtext. Back when people said shit that would play well on t-shirts.

The Best Storytellers Tell no Story Whatsoever

The most powerful stories leave room for the audience’s imaginations. The monster in the dark is only as scary as viewers let it to be. The love scene in silhouette is only as steamy as viewers let it be. The love scene with the monster is only as raunchy as viewers are willing to imagine.

We novelists always nitpick over which parts to cut. We lose sleep every time we’re forced to kill one of our darlings.

Idea People have no problem murdering their beginning middle and end in order to focus on pitching a situation. They enable their audience to fill the rest of those pesky details themselves.

Closing Thoughts

We writers get lost in our own linguistic machinations. We prattle on and on about symbolism, structure, and themes, because we are beholden to a mystic fraternity’s designs for humanity. Had the Illiterati’s influence not been so entrenched Idea People would be molding future generations. Perhaps they will when the written word is rendered obsolete.

Continue reading The Secret Writers Don’t Want Idea People to Know

Why You Shouldn’t Fear Writing About Writers

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.

Why?

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.”

Guillermo Del Toro’s life sized Edgar Allan Poe sculpture. Photo by me

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.

Closing Thoughts

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?

A Storyteller’s Guide to Public Speaking

I used to have a nervous tick that manifested whenever I spoke in public. My leg shook like a cartoon bunny. The severity of the tick increased the worse I thought I was doing. If my audience folded their arms, checked their watches, or rolled their eyes my brain sent a message to my thigh, “It’s rattling time!” The worst was when the momentum rode up my spine all the way to my neckline. I turned into a chatter-mouthed bobblehead. My words came out in a pulsing vibrato like I was talking into a desk fan.

I went into rabbit mode when I read an essay in class and mispronounced one of my fifty-cent buzz words. It happened when I pitched a script and the producers rolled their eyes toward each other, and when I gave technology tutorials and my coworkers interrupted to ask questions about what I’d just covered. Continue reading A Storyteller’s Guide to Public Speaking