Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Writing Secrets From Osama Bin Laden

Regardless of your political, religious or moral view of him, Osama Bin Laden has captivated the world for the last few days. Some would say for the last 10 years.

Whatever your opinion of the man himself, we can learn several vital writing secrets from the recent events surrounding his death. Consider how the following ideas may enhance and enlarge your fiction, wether you write short stories, plays or novels.

Writing Secrets

1) Osama is a riveting character. While many revile him as a murderous villian, others defend him as a charismatic leader with clear vision and organizational genious. Like any good character, he is loved, hated but never ignored. He has multiple dimensions. His actions and values created a violent rift between friends and enemies. He had power, wealth and a ruthless determination to survive.

-How can you create a character that has two opposing sides?
-What can your characters do or believe that would gain them both violent opposition and strong support?

2) Osama was a symbol. Through a potent blend of truth and lies, part myth and part man, Osama transcended the average criminal. He was the most hunted man on earth. To many, he became a symbol for violence, terrorism and even evil itself.

-What qualities might boost your bad guy(s) from average to unforgettable?
-What can your characters symbolize in your story? (Hate, fear, Evil, etc)
-Finish this sentence: "My character is the most...in the world." Most what? Murderous? Ingenious? Fanatical?

3) Osama had world scope. Far from being a small town villian, Osama affected the entire world. He was bigger than life, full of mystery. His personaliy, beliefs and actions crossed culture and time zones.

-How can you increase the "scope" of your villian/antagonist?
-How does your character affect a larger population, even the world?
-What can your character do to affect even more people?

Remember, unforgettable characters jump off the page and linger in the reader's mind long after the last page of the story. These characters crawl into our subconcious, their dark, slithering roots snatching our attention and fascination.

Put these three strategies to use in your stories and you will go a long way to creating your own memorable, larger-than-life villians.

Friday, April 15, 2011

5 Fatal Setting Mistakes

Of all the story elements, there is one that is often overlooked, ignored, downplayed, forgotten about, mistreated, degraded and discredited.

It also happens to be the hidden rocket-fuel to launch your book to bestseller status.

The Hidden Powerhouse of Setting

Think about it: setting frames, shapes and backdrops the action in your story. Without setting you have a time-less, place-less series of actions. Imagine a movie without scenery, a blank canvas upon which characters interact. Setting is the vehicle that moves, highlights, and focuses action, that brings meaning, that adds realism, and that draws the reader into the fictional world of your novel.

The 5 Fatal Mistakes

  1. Choosing settings at random. Some authors take the "Quick and Easy" approach to setting. They simply use the first setting that comes to mind, or use the city they live in as a default setting for every novel. This approach is actually the "Quick and Easy" way to rejection and floundering in the wasteland of the unpublished author. This fatal flaw is often revealed when the setting either distracts from the story, or doesn't add anything to it. When choosing a setting, be as selective as choosing a life partner. Ask many questions of your potential setting, challenge it, see how it feels in the story, test it out and be extra picky. When choosing the setting for your story, or for an individual scene, consider how the setting relates to character, plot, conflict, theme, symbolism and the overall story goal or question.
  2. Only Using Setting in One Way. The second common fatal flaw is a temptation even for the most practiced writer. To be sure, this flaw is a step up from the first, but not very far. In this flaw, the author carefully selects a setting that somehow adds to the story - but only in a single, limited way. Instead of pumping the setting for all its worth, the author parks the setting after it has been used only once. To avoid this fatal flaw, try to find at least three ways to use the setting in your story. Consider how your setting can reveal something about the characters that live in it. Ask yourself how your setting can challenge the characters. Perhaps your setting can trap the characters and force them to stay in the narrative fight of your story. The possibilities are endless. Repeat this process with each setting in your story, as well as the overall setting.
  3. Not establishing setting early enough in the story or scene. If you wait too long to describe setting, you risk reader confusion, and confusion is an easy transition to closing your book and never coming back. Readers want to be mystified and intrigued, not confused. There is a difference. A significant one. Confusion is often the result of a writer poorly guiding readers through the story with few, if any, details. The balance of which details to reveal and which to withhold separates novices from pros. Read bestselling novels and pay attention to how they handle this important topic of writing. You'll soon discover a pattern that works for you. A good rule of thumb is to give your reader at least three details about setting in the first few paragraphs of a story or scene. The earlier usually the better. Once a reader is grounded in the "place" and "time" of a story, they are free to release their imagination to your loving care.
  4. Dumping Setting on Readers all at once. This fourth fatal flaw is really the opposite extreme of fatal flaw number three. In an effort to reveal setting, some authors spend pages cataloging every nuance and pinpoint of light in a their setting. This "setting dump" is an easy way to alienate, frustrate and bore readers. Boredom is confusion's uglier cousin, and both lead to the reader walking away - sometimes for good. Instead of dumping all the setting details in at once, take a more patient (and longer) approach of dribbling details in here and there, just enough to fend off confusion, but not enough to make readers think your story suddenly turned into a thesis on architecture. Setting should be subtlety felt, but not overtly noticed.
  5. Not Evoking Emotion with Settings. Settings in bestsellers heighten emotion and deepen feelings, both for the characters in the story and the readers, too. This fatal flaw leaves readers disappointed, even if they don't know why. Committing this fatal flaw is akin to fighting with swords when an arsenal of guns hang unused on the wall. Why not use the firepower you have available to you? Setting underscores emotion when both the conflict in the scene and the setting both elicit the same type of feelings (i.e., two soldiers argue during a firefight or an abandoned child is lost in the woods at night).

Knowing these fatal flaws, and avoiding them in your fiction, puts you on the path to bestsellerdom.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Touch Secrets of Bestselling Writers

Bestselling Authors and Touch

What if you uncovered how bestselling authors view touch differently, approach touch differently, and apply touch differently than unpublished and even mid-list authors? What if you could pull back the veil on this set of powerful sensory secrets?

Now you can.

How Bestselling Authors View Touch

Bestselling authors view touch as a visceral portal to a reader's imagination, a kaleidoscope of kinesthetic opportunities to reveal character traits, relationships and changes in the story.

How Bestselling Authors Approach Touch

Bestselling authors not only view touch differently, they approach the sense of touch differently in the story. To a bestselling writer, touch offers a playground of opportunities. Touch is a versatile sense that can be engaged in a variety of ways in stories. Touch is a powerful scene builder and story changer. Bestselling authors know this and, therefore, approach touch with thought and care and much deliberation.

How Bestselling Authors Apply Touch

Here we get to the meat of the article, where theoretical understandings of touch meet the written page. Bestselling authors apply touch in a plethora of ways in the story to accomplish multiple story goals.

Touch reveals character traits.
Bestselling authors use touch to reveal information about a character. Instead of simply telling the readers that "Joe loves his son" we see Joe hugging his son and teaching his son how to hit a baseball. We learn about the father, Joe, through the way he physicaly touches his son. In another story, we may learn that a character is aggressive and abusive when he or she threatens, grabs, pulls, or slaps another character. Touch helps us "show not tell" who characters are in the story.

How does the main character in your current story touch others? What does that reveal about him or her? Somewhere in your story, find a place where you reveal a character trait through touch.

Touch distinguishes characters. The way someone touches others can distinguish one character from another. For example, one character may be very "touchy feely" and always be touching others. Another character may be standoffish and hardly touch anyone at all.

How do different characters in your story touch others? Do they all touch people the same? How can you make the differences even more clear?

Touch reveals character relationships. By watching how couples touch (or don't touch) we learn how close or distant they feel to each other. Think about it. Characters who hold hands, hug and kiss each other affectionately probably have a close, meaningful relationship. Couples that don't look at each other, who stand far apart, and who don't touch probably are in serious trouble.

How do the characters touch each other in your story? What does that say about them? How can you more clearly reveal relationships through touch? Try to come up with five times in your story where touch speaks to character relationships.

Touch reveals relationship changes.
As people grow closer emotionally, they tend to also grow closer physically. They touch more frequently and more lovingly. Bestselling authors often show relationships changing by how touch changes over the course of the story.

How does touch change in your story? Does the way two people in love change in your story? (grow closer or farther apart)

Touch reveals character change.
Bestselling authors also apply touch to show a character arc in full swing, such as when a cold-blooded killer first slashes his way through a upper-class neighborhood, then eventually hesitates before he kills, and finally leaves a survivor.

How can you use touch to show how a character changes in your story? Try to insert three (or more) paragraphs or entire scenes in your story where the way your characters touch others communicates internal personality change.

Extra Tips on Touch

1. The way a character touches any object (i.e., washes a car, punches the wall) broadcasts internal feelings about the object, or emotions in general
2. Characters can move from positive to negative or from negative to positive touch
3. Characters may touch differently in differently situations (i.e., at the gym, at home, at the office, etc).
4. Figure out what your character would never touch and then force him or her to touch it in the story.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Sensuous Story


It's a word that conjures up a constellation of images, ideas, thoughts, memories and feelings. It's a word that describes some of the most powerful moments of life: falling in love, a wedding, the birth of a child, etc.

It's also a word that describes bestselling fiction.

Does it describe your story?

Check out this opening paragraph from Dean Koontz's novel, Frankenstein: Lost Souls:

"The October wind came down from the stars. With the hiss of an artist's airbrush, it seemed to blow the pale moonlight like a mist of paint across the slate roofs of the church and abbey, across the higher windows, and down the limestone walls."

If you're like me, descriptions like that set off explosions of sensory delight in your head. The words expertly draw you into the story through the doorway of your senses.

How to Become a Sensuous Writer

You, too, can write with such poetic magic. Part of Koontz's blockbuster success is owed to his ability to engage the reader's senses.

In that short excerpt above, Koontz managed to activate three of the five senses (i.e. sight, sound, touch, taste and smell).

Sight = stars, airbrush, pale moonlight, mist of paint, slate roof, limestone walls, high windows

Sound = hiss

Touch = blow...across the slate roofs, across the high windows, etc.

You become a sensuous writer by imitating Koontz, by tapping into the senses in every scene of your story. Stephen King has suggested that aspiring writers include three sensory details in each scene to ground readers in the sensory experience of the story.

The Sensory Cheat-Sheet

Sight: colors (yellow, blue, red, green, turquoise, brown, black, white, etc), rough, smooth, flat, bumpy, jagged, rugged, tough, flimsy, tall, short, fat, thin, massive, tiny, twisted, ropey, damaged, bubbly, calm, etc.

Sound: beep, clink, clatter, chirp, bam, bang, clang, chatter, fluid, smooth, jazzy, screech, scream, whisper, melodic, angelic, floating, pop, etc.

Touch: harsh, cold, hot, warm, soft, hard, blow, brush, slam, jam, scrape, scratch, move, deliberate, clumsy, loving, tender, brackish, sexy, spongy, etc.

Smell: moldy, nasty, sweet, gross, delicious, sexy, fresh, overpowering, overwhelming, hint of..., etc

Taste: chewy, soft, hard, slippery, salty, spicy, hot, cold, warm, delicious, gross, sweet, crunchy, stale, etc.

More Tips on Sensuous Writing

1. Use a thesaurus: don't settle for the first word that comes to mind. Be unique and come up with a fresh new way to immerse readers into your story world.
2. Combine two or three senses into a single paragraph, or even a single sentence, as Koontz does in the above excerpt.
3. Spend five minutes a day listening and paying attention to and recording the everyday sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and "touches" around you. Use them in your stories. Take a notebook or recording device with you.
4. Transfer the information on the notebook or recording device to your computer. Create a file of sounds, sights, tastes, etc.
5. Review your "sensory" file often as you write and edit your stories. Your file may spark new and surprising ways to lure readers into the sensory world of your fiction.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The 30-second Commercial Test

Has your novel, book, script, or short story taken the 30-second Commercial test?

If not, don't write another word until you read the rest of this article. It's that important. Bestselling writers know something that other, less successful writers don't: they know how to craft mind-tingling stories that readers crave. They are literary drug dealers selling high moments of fear, love, anger, disgust, tension, horror, jealously, and more.

They know about the 30-Second Commercial test.

Now you will, too.

How to Take The 30-Second Test

1. Have a specific story, book, novel or screenplay in mind.
2. Set a clock or timer for 30 seconds.
3. Start the timer.
4. As fast as you can, write down the big scenes of your story, the one's you would put in a commercial, only the biggest, boldest scenes of the entire work.
5. Stop writing at the end of 30 seconds.

Go ahead and stop and take the test now. Really. Go ahead. I'll wait.

OK, if you took the test, you now have a list of the high moments in your story.

Secrets From the Test

Now let's look at what the test results tell us. Here are a few things to consider from the commercial test experience.

How hard was it to come up with this list? If it was very difficult and you didn't finish in time, that might tell you that you might not have a clear picture of your story. I suggest that you put in some time fleshing out the story, especially the high moments, those scenes that are most memorable, often involving violence, conflict, and love.

How many high points do you have listed? If you have at least ten, you are doing well. If you have less than ten, I strongly encourage you to examine your story with this question in mind: "How can I squeeze more high points into this part of the story?" Often the answer will include adding another layer of conflict, a new twist or obstacle that prevents your main characters from reaching their goals. If you have 20 or more high points, you are either writing an epic fantasy novel or you might be trying to cram too much into one novel. Consider breaking your story into two or three parts and writing a trilogy or series.

*Hint: In the end, each story, and sometimes each genre, dictates the number of high points.

Additional miscellaneous tips about the 30-second Commercial Test

1. Stop and think about the commercials you see on TV (or your computer, smart-phone or other new advancement in technology.
2. Commercials cram as much information, visuals, movement, humor, etc. as possible into the shortest amount of time possible. Seconds equal money.
3.Visualize a commercial or movie trailer for your story. What events are included? those are your high points or major scenes.
4. An additional benefit of taking this test is that now you have an outline of your story, an a good primer for your query letter and synopsis. You might even be able to parlay this information into a back cover blurb or use it on promotional materials in your book marketing.

Enjoy your writing!


Friday, January 7, 2011

The Boo Radley Factor

Boo Radley.

Boo is the mysterious and unforgettable character lurking in the background of the perpetual classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. As a highschooler, I fondly remember this book as one of the first that ignited my passion for reading. The story is fast-paced, funny and utterly suspenseful. It's so good that I still can't believe they call it homework.

Many of the best stories I've read, or seen played out on the silver screen, include what I call the "Boo Radley" Factor. There is this element of suspense that hangs over the entire length of the book, mysterious and threatening. Often, we readers don't find out the "truth" about this element until the end (or near the end) of the novel.

In the movie, The Terminal, Tom Hanks carries around a small box for the entire movie, only occasionally referencing it, just a note of added suspense to a good movie. This small extra element increases interest, engagement and adds another layer of suspense to the story.

Note from both of my examples that the element you use for suspense can be a character (a person, animal, the weather, creatures, etc) or a physical object (box, bomb, etc). The possibilities, as they say, are endless.

In what way can you add the "Boo Radley" factor to your current or next story? Is there some small element of suspense you can use to ratchet up the thrills?

To consider this issue deeply, here are some final thoughts and questions to ask yourself:

1. Is there a character in your story that naturally fits the "Boo Radley" mold?
2. If so, how can you maximize the suspense with this character? How long can you hide him or her before you make the big reveal? (hint: the longer, the better)
3. Is there an object in your novel that naturally creates suspense? How can you increase the suspense level? How can you make your readers wait longer to understand what the object is or what it means?
4. How can the character or object reveal new plot information, double as a reversal or reveal a new side of a character? How many ways can you think of to use the character or object? Try to come up with at least two.