Tag Archives: creativite workflow

FREE Sale Ends TODAY!!!

Until midnight, you have the chance to pick up the first part of my Post-Apocalypse/Sci-Fi series Meet Me at the Falls for FREE! Yes, you can join the THOUSANDS of people who already downloaded the book today and catch up for less than the cup of coffee you’ll drink while reading it. It may even taste better (especially if it’s Charbucks).

After two years of writing, it’s been incredibly rewarding to see people going nuts downloading the book.So far the response has been incredible–with over a thousand downloads so far and we’ve climbed the ranks to become #1 in several categories and today, the second day of our FREE SALE, we are at the Top 300 spot in the Kindle Store.

We owe all of our success to YOU. As much as it is a personal journey for us, we’re writing this story for you, our loyal fans who have seen us through many adventures. Today, we invite you along for the ride totally FREE.

If you like the book, please let us know in the Amazon reviews section, and tell your friends and family about it. We’re self-published and have to do everything ourselves–especially marketing. The best way for us to share these great stories is actually through you…through word of mouth…Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Amazon, Goodreads or whatever you use. We truly appreciate any help and support, which again is why we’re making the book FREE for you today.

We spent an entire year of writing and editing Part 3, because we wanted it to really shine and be worth the wait. Part one is FREE today, so anyone can discover The Falls.

THANK YOU… Seriously and sincerely :’)

FREE SALE ends TONIGHT, so hurry on over to Amazon and download your copy today!

Part Two and Part Three are out now, and we wanted to make those just 99 cents as well!

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First Draft Tuesdays

Tuesdays are always the worst. Mondays are bad, but at least you just had the weekend. Tuesdays, though…the whole week is still ahead of you. It drags and drags and drags like that goddamn Lynyrd Skynyrd song (great song, though–seriously)

Alright, maybe it’s not so bad. Happy Gilmore started out with that song after all, right?

One thing that days like today are good for are writing. Meet Me at the Falls – Part 3 is out and in the world. I feel good about it, but the journey is FAR from over. During the editing process a big chunk of my part was left on the editing room floor. The material needs to be in the story–just not yet. Today, my task has been picking up the pieces and seeing what I can salvage. As with all good writing, most of it will change as I mold the next chapter.

I did find myself re-inspired to find my way to Part 5, though. Through a series of coincidences and merely saying “Yes” to an opportunity at work, I found myself at a bar with a woman from Amazon.com who was from Snoqualmie Falls. She quickly made me realize that our vision of the Falls may be slightly different than reality. I learned of Snoqualmie Pass, which is what happens during the winter up at the campgrounds and the ski-resort on the other side of the mountain…what the terrain is like up there…and that there should probably be some sort of avalance–er ash-a-lanch? What a terrible word. It’s a good thing our characters aren’t QUITE there yet (spoiler alert).

Part 5 is scheduled to be finished by July as of right now. The pressure is on. I should get back into Scrivener and finish my first draft of part 4 now that the Skynyrd song finished playing on YouTube.

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The Best Lecture on Story Structure Ever

Probably the best lecture I’ve ever seen on story, Kurt Vonnegut lays out the arc of the Hero’s Journey in it’s most elegant form (see video for the joke). In truth, Vonnegut is a hilarious man who knows the craft so well he’s able to entertain and enlighten the audience by poking fun at how obvious stories are. Good story structure doesn’t need much explanation. Stories are simple.

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A wise man once told me that a story is never complex. No matter how deep and complex something may seem, 99 times out of 100 it’s just a series of simple points you’ve experienced since the start of the tale. The art of the craft is making those points tie together in such a way that your story seems complex. And it is, in a way, but not by making each story beat circuitous.

All the rules I’ve ever heard from Vonnegut are pure and simple. Take his eight tips on how to write a good short story:

  1. Use a time of a total stranger in such a way that he/she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character they can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character, or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading character is, make awful things happen to them in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense! Readers should have as such complete understand of what is going on, where and why, that they should be able to complete the story themselves should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
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Every Line, a Roller Coaster

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Shrunk and White published a little book that is regarded as the ultimate guide for mastery over the written word. The Elements of Style. Authors around the globe swear by it, and while some of the techniques don’t mesh perfectly with the way modern literature is going, I swear by it too. Certain rules about grammar and construction are more fundamental than passing styles or what is considered “fresh.” Every writer should pick up a copy and study its pages well.

Among the most important is how to structure your sentence.

Basically, put the “new” part of the sentence at the end for greatest impact.* I’ve found this to be true of the sentence as much as even the paragraph itself–and on to the page, chapter and entirety of the book. It goes both ways, too, even stretching down to lines of dialogue. Cross media, cross genre, it’s a universal rule that’s rarely better when broken.

Let’s look at some examples:

When Ellen Ripley confronts the Queen Xenomorph in “Aliens”, she boldly steps in front of her and says,

“You, bitch! Get away from her!” … wait that’s not right. See how when we reverse it, it just loses it’s power? “Bitch” is the MEAT of that line. Save it to the last possible moment for most impact.

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“Get away from her, you BITCH!”

Those writers knew what they were doing. It’s bold and commanding. But, it doesn’t always have to be some exclamation. It works even in description.

“Fifteen years past, when they had ridden forth to win a throne, the Lord of Storm’s End had been clean-shaven, clear-eyed, and muscled like a maiden’s fantasy. Six and a half feet tall, he towered over lesser men, and when he donned the armor and the great antlered helmet of his house, he became a veritable giant.” –George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones.

Maiden’s fantasy” defines the rest of the sentence. Everything builds to that point and puts the line in context. The next sentence does this as well with “veritable giant,” And the two even work together. We get a sense of The Lord of Storm’s End. He’s a veritable giant out of a maiden’s fantasy. Those are the parts that really stick.

This especially works for the mundane.

“Horses were always her favorite of all the animals.”

works much better as…

“Out of all the animals, her favorite was always the horse.”

Careful ordering of words creates a roller-coaster-like experience when reading. Remove what’s being said and focus on the cadence of the sentence. You want the reader to be thinking: “What is this? What are they getting at? I think I might know. Oh, It’s coming. We’re getting closer. Wow, there’s the punch! … Okay, what’s next?”

It doesn’t have to be the subject of the sentence, but it should be the word or words that sell the idea; the part that’s really defining. The part that’s new. Different. The Oomph!

By putting this part last, it gives each line a sense of satisfaction. They’ve accomplished a TINY journey by reading it and want to know more.

Story theory dictates that the plot will rise to a climax, then drop down slightly, rising to an even higher climax at the end, until it fades off to the FADE OUT or last page. The Hero’s Journey.

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I would argue that should we zoom into any one section of that line, we would see lots smaller rises and falls. Each Act would have a climax then fall down again just before the end. So would each scene. And further each section of the scene. Each line delivery. It makes the story dynamic. The ending never drops as far as it started, keeping the plot moving along, but it definitely drops. That last bit of impact changes something and propels the story forward.

*If this really isn’t working in your text, Shrunk and White point out that “the other prominent position in the sentence is the beginning. Any element in the sentence other than the subject becomes emphatic when placed first:

Deceit or treachery she could never forgive.

Yet, even there, the sentence builds to what about deceit and treachery she could never _____.

The most powerful tool a storyteller has in their arsenal is withholding information.

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Writing Process (7 of 9)

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Final Revisions

(or How I Learned to Trust Readers, Eat Sushi and Believe in Dinosaurs)

… continued from part 6: That Dreaded Second Draft

When Michael Crichton sent his first draft of Jurassic Park to his usual test-readers, they hated it. All of them. They got angry, asking him why he would even write a book like that. But when he asked what they didn’t like, they didn’t exactly know. “They just hated it, every bit of it,” Crichton said.

There’s some sort of magic that happens the moment you set a draft in stone. Printed out, handed to a reader, or even just looking at a PDF on the same screen you were editing in, suddenly all the mistakes and ideas for re-writes spring up like rabbits. Fiery demon-rabbits from Hell. Some of my fellow writers and I are working on a term for this phenomenon. More on that here.

Letting someone else read my work, I wonder how I could have missed things so glaringly obvious, or I’m immediately embarrassed of certain sections. But this is good. It isn’t the final draft, so I can put out those fires right away, and embarrassment often means I’ve unlocked some truth — something personal and deep. It will resonate with readers who are just as vulnerable as I am. So much of writing is willingly putting your heart on the chopping block. And they’ll love you for it.

Addressing reader’s notes is more about trusting the reader than getting twenty of your friends to voice their opinion. I have three people look at my book. My two writing partners and my editor. I might show it to more people, just to illicit a reaction, but I take their advice with a grain of salt, and often don’t change much. Too many cooks in the kitchen.

Obviously if everyone starts pointing out the same problem or something lacking in the story, I’ll put those grains of rice in the cooker and make something of it. Rice … for sushi, maybe.

Obligatory photo of sushi, for good measure. You deserve some great sushi right about now — for following my silly blog if nothing else. And if you’re in the L.A. area, I highly recommend ‘Sushi Ike’ on Hollywood & Gower. Don’t be deceived by its humble facade. It’s one of L.A.’s hidden gems, as is their head sushi chef, Rick.

But I’m wary of this too … trusting test readers, not the sushi. The sushi is clutch. No, sometimes the problem isn’t the part of the story people don’t understand, but a failed set-up or pay-off somewhere else in the book. Adding in a single line ten chapters earlier may solve something in the climax. It’s important to really analyze the source of the problem and even test your new solution on your most trusted critics.

Crichton ended up writing two more drafts of Jurassic Park, but the response was the same. Just pure hate for the story. One of the initial problems he faced when coming up with the book was the excuse to bring dinosaurs back. He couldn’t see who would realistically pay for that scientific endeavor and the only thing he could come up with was for entertainment purposes. That was the only reason it took place in a theme park. Naturally, he wrote the story from a child’s point of view.

Finally, one of the test readers said they found it annoying that it was told from the child’s point of view. They told him, “I want this to be a story for me.” Crichton did a complete rewrite from an adult point of view, and that’s really all it took to save the novel. Without that simple adjustment, we would never have had the Jurassic Park we know and love.

“Writing is rewriting,” as the great Michael Crichton said.

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Continued in Part 8: DEADLINE

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Writing Process (6 of 9)

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That Dreaded Second Draft

…continued from Part 5: Critique

Aside from fixing all the grammar and polishing sentences, a good thing to focus on during a second pass are themes, character traits and general style and language. Here I really look at the story from a bird’s-eye view. How do certain characters talk? Is that consistent? Are their motivations clear and consistent? How do we see them change? Do I have convincing arguments on both sides of an issue? Is the audience feeling what I want them to feel at any given point?  How can this sentence be phrased better? How can I combine these two paragraphs into one well-spoken and concise sentence?

This pass may be the hardest of them all, and the hardest to keep track of. Use of character worksheets, location worksheets and anything else that might help keep track of things are highly encouraged.

Running through my story the second time, I keep a rather large one-sheet of notes for the polish phase … writing rules and snippets I’ve adapted over the years about things I like in good writing; little reminders for myself. Each story is unique, too, and I’ll add many notes specific to the story I’m working on in the one-sheet. It’s a cheat sheet and one should have no shame in referring to such an item.

Here are some helpful tips from some of our favorite authors:

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Seven_tips_from_F. Scott_Fitzgerald

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Writing Rules from other Authors

Author Zack Keller just recently put up a great post about Editing your book like a reader. Some really good stuff in there that I wholeheartedly agree with. I may even find myself cutting out entire chapters, as I read my story more like a reader. Certain things are just extraneous and don’t need to be there. I might absolutely love them. But deep down I know they shouldn’t be there and you just have to kill your babies for the greater good.

I polish, polish and polish the story until I am satisfied with every aspect and feel I have explored every corner of the world without going off on unnecessary tangents. This can take several passes. Patience is a virtue.

Continued in Part 7: Final Notes

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Writing Process (5 of 9)

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Critique

…continued from Part 4: Rough Draft

I finished the rough draft! I didn’t think my story would end the way it did, and that’s a very good thing. I’ve surprised myself, even if I knew roughly how it should end. So I’m done right? Not nearly. The journey is far from over. Now that I have something to work with, I must look at it objectively. I compile my massive amounts of notes and address them. I try to get everything into Scrivener and flesh out any parts that are underdeveloped. Then, once I’m satisfied, I’ll look at my general outline. This gives me a chance to really get a bird’s-eye view and switch on the story structure part of my brain.

For structure stuff, I loosely follow the guidelines laid out in the “Hero’s Journey” and even more so in “Dramatica” — but I really just make sure that it makes sense. If there aren’t gaping holes, sections missing or double-beats, I move on. Story theory and story structure are really just tools to analyze what I already have. In an extreme void of creativity they can prove useful to find a solution, but I would never start with an outlined structure in mind. How could I? I don’t know what’s going to happen in the story any more than the characters would, living it out in real-time. They will inform me of what happens next, what they want and try to do and what happens as a result of it. Story structure would get in the way, and at best it would work but come off contrived and formulaic.

Now if there ARE gaping holes or if I’m just feeling like something is missing, I might turn to the old Hero’s Journey outline and see what it might offer. There’s volumes of books and seminars on the subject.

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However, I took two years of story theory at CalArts that focused on the Hero’s Journey and I ended up learning more about constructing story from one year of Dramatica. I would urge anyone interested to check out their site, or take a trip on over to my professor Jim Hull’s blog, Narrative First (formerly Story Fanatic). Jim is an animator and story artist over at DreamWorks and really knows his stuff inside and out. He lays out the basics of the subject in his books.

Dramatica is more than a story book, however. It offers an interactive tool where one can plug in aspects of a story and it in return plugs plot holes, solidifies character interactions and helps complete your story in such a way that it will resonate with your audience long after they’ve put down your book. Worth taking a look, for kicks if nothing else. I honestly don’t use it the way it was intended, but knowing the story theory behind it has helped me out tremendously.

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Once I’m satisfied with the working outline, I’ll scrutinize the details of the story a bit deeper and get more into research. More notes, adjusting things and rearranging. Some parts remain largely unaltered, while others are expanded or improved upon based on the research I find or connections I hadn’t yet seen in the story. The second pass is perfect for making sure those through-lines, themes and foreshadowing are well-placed.

But as I said, the journey is far from over. Here is where the really hard part begins. One has to make hard decisions and really start to craft the story. A lot of the time, my rough draft doesn’t even read like a story. It’s awful, some of it still in bullet point form or a very rudimentary sentence describing the sentiment or action. Hopefully, I’ve gotten down the core of the story and answered the questions: What happens to the characters? What choices do they make? How does it all unfold? What does it mean to them? How does it affect them? Etc…

After writing out an entire novel by hand, I’ll often forget what it’s like to be a reader. Since my book really isn’t at the stage where I can read it like a reader, I find it somewhat therapeutic and informative to pick up some old favorites and re-read them just to remind myself what a book feels like. If something strikes me, I’ll make a note reminding myself to try and apply it to my own work. There is no one way to tell a story and no right or wrong way to write. Ultimately it comes down to taste. I love both Hemingway and Fitzgerald, though they’re vastly different in style. The same could be said about any number of authors. Finding what resonates with you will help unleash your own unique style as it challenges what you innately find appealing or not.

I’d really encourage writers to go with their gut. Use trial and error and pick apart your favorite stories and films as opposed to studying structure and writing. That being said, there are some other books on story structure I would recommend to at least throw into your head (but only after you’ve already written your story). I would NOT recommend the popular book “Story” by Robert McKee. It’s purely critical and offers nothing to the would-be writer — and on that note, take anything these books say with a grain of salt:

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Continued in Part 6: That Dreaded Second Draft

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Writing Process (4 of 9)

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Rough Draft

…continued from Part 3: Create Tent-Poles

Act Two is always the longest part of the adventure. The journey of writing a book is no exception. Still, that isn’t to say that ninety percent of the work isn’t done in the planning phase — because it is. And it’s nice to take a break between the planning and execution phase of your book. My mind needs time to reflect on what I’ve already done, what it all means for my story, and really whether or not I still like it. I’ll come back to my piles of notes and organize them so I can move on to the next step (see steps 1-4 here, if you missed them)

Now I actually sit down to write this damn thing. By hand, and with a pen! More on that here. I always try to work in the mornings, when my mind is fresh. I only write for three hours a day, maximum. Overworking my brain and not experiencing life would be detrimental to my story, my health and my social life. Not to mention, there has been so much I’ve included in my story as a result of getting out of my hole and taking in the world around me. It opens up doors and windows I would have never even thought of. I’m already finished with the rough draft of my novel, Wonderful World of Zombies, and I’m still taking notes when inspiration strikes.

This could go on forever, and it’s important to set goals. I’ll make myself a target word count and really try to stick to it. Every day I write I know I’ll write roughly a certain amount of words and then I can calculate a realistic deadline for that rough draft.

Another thing about working only a few hours a day is that my brain doesn’t shut off. As mentioned in that John Cleese video, the mind keeps working at problems for days on end after you’ve put in the hours and then put down the pen. I think most of my story has come out of moments driving in the car, scrambling for a notepad or my phone at a stoplight so I can get all the ideas down before I lose track of them. And let me tell you, they come in like someone opened a floodgate! Pouring out of my mind at lightning speeds, sometimes it’s hard to keep up. But by working in a method like Cleese describes, it really does allow me to find better solutions than if I were to have burned the candle at both ends. I’ve tried that method. It never works as well as I want.

I realize now, looking at what I’ve written about this part of the process, that I really don’t have much to say about how that rough draft actually gets down on the paper. And I think that’s because despite all the planning and character development I’ve done, writing is truly a loose, creative endeavor. There are no rules or guidelines that will tell you what an interesting and engaging story will be. But I do trust the process, nevertheless, and I trust my instinct.

Go with your gut!

This is play time!

I shit out the rough draft onto the page so I have something to work with, and I work in the most effectively creative way that I can. Alone in the dark of my mind, there isn’t much that would really help me except my own imagination … and no one to hear me scream! Okay, it’s not that bad … most of the time. I let myself go and open my mind to any possibility. Often times, I’ll bounce ideas off other trusted writers or just simply listen to the characters. It’s amazing when the story starts revealing itself to you by surprise. In fact, this is the part where the real magic happens. Let yourself be surprised.

Continued in Part 5: Critique

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Writing Process (2 of 9)

Even Gandalf Researches

Sketching and Research

…continued from Part 1: Develop Characters

It’s much, much easier for me to form a story when I already know who the basic cast of characters are. Even a preliminary one-sheet helps out tremendously. When I sit down to write a story, sometimes I start with images (literally a sketch of a particular moment), a potential log line or “what if” situation, or once in a blue moon I’ll start with a plot idea and go from there. Sometimes I’ll just start writing the first chapter. However, I find it’s always best when I begin with the end and work my way backward; figuring out how things ended up that way. In my experience, stories are always stronger and more impactful when they’re derived backward. It’s just like retracing your steps when you lose something.

So I’ve created this world and cast of characters, including story moments and a general idea of what might happen. Now comes the arduous task of filling the world with real research. I try to be as extensive as possible. I’ll look at images for locations, or actually go there if I can. Wikipedia and Google help my wallet out tremendously. I find inspiration. I often look to other artwork, music, or movies and novels (but I am very selective and try to turn a blind eye to anything too similar). I’ll research history, places, objects and even characters similar to my own. It’s always great to base your characters off people you know, or famous people. Write what you know! Whatever the story might possibly include: Research, Research, Research.

As the writer, I’ll know volumes more about the story than the reader would ever gather from reading it and I’m sure I won’t use all of it. In fact, I shouldn’t. Often times a writer will start a story way too early. One should start the story as late as possible! It’s part of the craft, discovering where your story really starts and where the audience needs to come in. I mean, there’s back story and then there’s back story. But doing all that R&D will inform every decision, every blink, every line of dialogue in the book.

An extreme example is J.R.R. Tolkien. He spent decades of his life building the entire world of Middle-Earth, from its creation to the bitter end, before he actually wrote out the first draft of The Fellowship of the Ring. The Hobbit was published in 1937, but it wasn’t until 1954 (nearly twenty years later) that he had completed the backstory and written up the final drafts. The man created entire languages, races, ancient locations and mythologies… even other stories that happened in distant lands, long before the events in The Lord of the Rings. It might not take me as long as Tolkien, but the principle is the same. Research! Build the world and know the characters within it. It’s important to look around you in the real world; to discover. One can only write what they know, and if all their time is spent behind closed doors or just in their head, many dead ends will be hit. By extensively researching, one will discover things about their characters and story they could have otherwise never imagined. As Tolkien put it in LOTR:

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”

By the way, the research doesn’t stop here. A good number of steps in my process are ongoing all the way till the end.

Continued in Part 3: Create Tent-poles

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