Tag Archives: writing advice

Kill Your Tropes: Give Them a Goal

Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

“Every character should want something. Even if it is only a glass of water.”

– Kurt Vonnegut

The castle looms on the horizon. Its shadow stretches across the kingdom, a beast with many heads, each poised to devour the villagers below. Its walls are aglow with an aura of amber. They lose their definition, as the sun dips behind the mountains. The spires disappear into the dusk. They join the stars, as the guards ignite their lamps.

Down below, the embers flare. The tavern owners light their lanterns. Revelers spark bonfires. Lighthouse keepers throw kindling into their furnace. They aim their mirror out over the harbor.

Still, no light in all the land can compare to the one that shines from the bell tower. The windows are lined with candles, a rainbow of wax that bleeds over the sides.

Villagers try to make out a silhouette, but all they see are the flames dancing across the giant bell, a blinding reflection, a second sun.

Lords and ladies gather around the fountain. They exchange crude telescopes. Some claim to see movement. Others say it’s a trick of the light, shadows at play.

The town crier announces, “Our grand tower has been topped with yet another ornament tonight.”

Offenders try to follow the plot from their place in the stocks. They shake the tomatoes from their ears. Peasants whisper of “The King’s trophy,” as they go to find a better view from the gallows.

The moon rises above the tower, a halo of white light. It reveals the gargoyles perched among the shingles. It brings clarity to their horns, to the curve of their wings, but not to the figure inside. Continue reading Kill Your Tropes: Give Them a Goal

Grift the Words Out of You (Audio Blog)

Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

Writer’s block doesn’t always come from the lack of inspiration. Sometimes it comes from the abundance of inspiration, from having too many ideas to choose from. It’s hard to know which ones will leave you with a sense of accomplishment, and which ones will leave you feeling spent. Why invest the time, if the time is going to payoff?

Writer’s block is a fear of failure. If you never try you’ll never fail. The trick is to get yourself to try without realizing that’s what you’re doing. To grift one of those stories out of you and onto the page.

This 13 minute audio blog runs through all the cons I use to get the job done.

(Download the instrumental version here)

The instrumental version of Grift the Words Out of You is the perfect background music to write to. There are layers of ascending melodies stacked over ambient synths, with a rugged a trip-hop beat. The blog entry itself mentions The Cure’s Pictures of You. That song rubbed off on the soundtrack. Depeche Mode and M83, rubbed off on it too for good measure.

The Memory Palace Mystery

An author tries to solve a mystery from inside the pitch of his own story.

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My story’s pitch starts in the parking lot. The lot is empty apart from a lone convertible, a rusty old stepladder, and a thick layer of slush from last night’s snow.

The convertible is a classic, fully restored to its original mint green. Too bad someone thought to wheel it out in this nasty weather. The fenders are caked with black slush. There’s an awful mess in the interior. The windshield does little to hide the line of cocaine on the dashboard. There’s nothing but powder from the wheel to the glovebox. It looks like last night’s blizzard happened on the upholstery. A log sits on the passenger seat, too small for a support beam, too large for kindling. It leans forward. Its bark is nose deep in the fresh fallen blow.

I pace around the vehicle and wonder why the log was staged to look like it overdosed. This is the weirdest damn crime scene that I’ve ever seen. What business does a log have with such an epic line? Then it occurs to me. This is a terrible pun. It’s a “log-line.” Every pitch has got one.

A logline is the main idea sentence of a story’s pitch. It’s the bait that get’s the audience on the hook. I must have staged this mobile drug den to remind myself to lead with my logline. Continue reading The Memory Palace Mystery

Don’t Just Read More, Watch More (Audio Blog)


(Download the instrumental version here)

Writers are always told to read more. I say, they ought to watch more movies. Why? Good films do not slip into the same pitfalls that so many novels do.

Good films do not tell you what a character is thinking. The audience has to make observations of their mood, and draw their own conclusions. Good films do not just launch into backstory. If there are flashbacks they appear as scenes. Good films put the events on display, they don’t just put them into a character’s mouth, and expect you to take their word for it. Good films show and don’t tell.

Writer’s could take a cue from this. Just because our medium allows for free form exposition, that doesn’t mean we should use it.

The limitations of film force it to tell a more compelling story. These are limitations I urge novelists to try to bring to their work in progress.

The above audio blog gets into the nitty gritty of the benefits of watching movies. The background music is like a scary movie score put through a trip-hop filter. I’ve heard it described as electro-goth. If you’re looking for good music to write to, you won’t go wrong with the instrumental version of the song.

Seduce the Words out of You (Audio Blog)


(Download the instrumental version here)

This piece first appeared on Loren Kleinman’s blog on writing. Check it out at lorenkleinman.com, and follow her on Twitter @LorenKleinman. The above photo was taken by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned.

Seduce the Words out of You

Writer’s are told to draft everything before rushing in. We’re told to have an outline to refer to when we get stuck. It’s a good check against writer’s block. It’s hard to lose the plot, when you can see every link in the chain. You know what happens next. You know your responsibilities. Your role in the relationship is defined. Continue reading Seduce the Words out of You (Audio Blog)

Carnival of Goals (Audio Blog)

Photo by Keane Amdahl, follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl, follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

This is a story about my first attempt to wow people with my work. I was a kindergartner hosting a Halloween carnival in the middle of July. I poured my heart and soul into the project and got negative returns.

There’s a lesson to be learned in failure: if at first you don’t succeed, you’re doing it wrong. If humiliation teaches us anything it’s how to wear humiliation better. Every artist has to learn to take feed back. Every artist has to develop a callus around their heart, a skin so thick they could stop bullets with it.

This is a piece for those people brave enough to put themselves out there. The ones who go out among the trolls seeking validation. The ones whose bright eyes never dim. The ones who no matter how many times you knock them down, they scramble back up to their feet, and brush their shoulders off.

This is for the people who look to the Internet and say, “I have something valid to contribute and I’m going to keep trying until it finally resonates with someone.”

If this makes us fools. Let’s be fools together.


(Download the instrumental version here)

For those of you who prefer the straight vocal recording, without the music, check out the link below.

Spare Your Darlings (Audio Blog)

(Download the instrumental version of the song here.)

This was originally posted on lorenkleinman.com a source of much inspiration. This whole piece is the product of a conversation we had on Twitter. You should definitely follow her at @LorenKleinman

Photo by Keane Amdahl, follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl, follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” –William Faulkner

What are Darlings?

When Faulkner says, “Darlings” he’s talking about the poetry that wanders into our novels. He’s talking about the colorful descriptions in our black and white detective stories. The hyperboles that get lost inside our stark realism. The esoteric language that finds its way into modern thrillers.

The Darlings are the details that no one needs to understand the plot. Continue reading Spare Your Darlings (Audio Blog)

Soundtrack for Writing

Statue with Headphones

This entry was inspired by my friend Rachel’s writing playlist on her website celenagaia.wordpress.com. Check it out here. Follow her on Twitter @Raishimi

Music can be a writer’s best friend. A stopgap for the noise pollution around us. A check against the gridlock orchestra laying on their horns, against the food court percussion section scraping the food out of their instruments, against the mouth breathing choir in line at the DMV. Music provides a way to tune out all that chatter and turn up your internal monologue. It adds tone to discord, order to abstraction.

When I write spooky stories, I prefer songs that draw out the tension, rather than rush to the crescendo. I need my conductor to move with a slow and steady hand. To lure my mind into the cellar, to tug me down a long narrow corridor of nightmares.

I prefer atmospheric soundscapes to orchestral scores. I prefer rain and thunder to a bombastic brass sections. I prefer synthesizers to string sections, programmed beats to kettle drums. I prefer beats because they repeat. They keep my mindset consistent. They give my words a rhythm. Continue reading Soundtrack for Writing

Don’t Just Read More, Watch More

camera and book
If you look closely you can read two pages from Joe Hill’s NOS4A2

This entry was inspired by a piece on my friend Rachel’s website celenagaia.wordpress.com. Check it out here. Follow her on Twitter @Raishimi

Writers are always told to read more. Read enough good stories and one might rub off on you. Don’t worry about taking notes. Don’t worry about deconstructing the text. Just read for pleasure and your subconscious will absorb everything in the background. The meaning will be found for you. Take your imagination for a walk and your subconscious will count the steps.

Let the story pass by. Read it on autopilot. Don’t worry about following the plot. The twists will present themselves in due time. You’ll recognize the land marks and feel brilliant once you arrive at your destination.

If writing is the act of sending telepathic messages, then reading is the act of receiving. You have to listen to the language before you can speak it. You have to discover someone else’s voice before you can find your own. You have to turn your internal monologue down and let another’s take over. Continue reading Don’t Just Read More, Watch More

If You Can’t Make Them Read it, Read it to Them (Audio Blog)

Having trouble getting people to read your story? Do they get five hundred words in only to turn tail and run? Have you tried reading it to them?

This is my advice on home recording. It’s for writers who have done everything they can to get new readers, and are willing to try to get new listeners instead.