These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coats, Pixar's story artist. Number nine on the list—when you're stuck, make a list of what wouldn't happen next—is a great one and can apply to writers in all genres.
1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
2. Keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
3. Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about until you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
6 . What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
7 . Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
8. Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
9 . When you're stuck, make a list of what wouldn't happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
12. Discount the first thing that comes to mind—and the second, third, fourth and fifth. Get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
14. Why must you tell this story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
17. No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on. It'll come back around to be useful later.
18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best and fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
20. Exercise: Take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How do you rearrange them into what you do like?
21. You must identify with your situation and/or characters; you can't just write "cool." What would make you act that way?
22. What's the essence of your story? The most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Here are five tips for scaling the editing wall:1. Do not read too many editing books while you are editing.
A book I would recommend for editing your own drafts is Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. It's a fantastic book and should help in many ways. The other book I would recommend is Donald Mass’s Writing the Breakout Novel. This is like a Bible for authors. Especially first-time authors who want to knock their first book out of the park. Donald Mass is brilliant and his book is excellent, but reading it while you are editing will put the pressure on. It makes you really want to do the writing equivalent of hitting that home run in the bottom of the 9th–in the World Series.
Imagine learning baseball and expecting that kind of performance. But really, wouldn’t you have to learn to play baseball first? That might mean hitting a lot of flyballs.
Truth is, there are tons of great books on editing, tons of websites giving advice. If you want to read them, do, but take it in small doses. Read one chapter or maybe two, and do a round of edits. Then rest and read some more.
2. Give your manuscript time to breathe.
One of the first pieces of advice I got was to wait at least a week before reading the manuscript. I waited a day. As a result, I had no objectivity and overwhelm came in pretty quick. You have to give your manuscript time, which means slowing down.
3. Switch to a different tactile sensation.
Lots of us spend time in front of our computers. Too much time. Take time away. Print your MS on paper and read it. Make notes in the margins. Use colored pens. Then read it again. This time, make chapter scene notes on index cards (it keeps you brief). Write it on colored paper, with colored pens. Then you can arrange things and see if the order needs changing. I don’t have the science behind it, but it seems to bring about a kinesthetic approach, which is good for adult learning, and opens up new ways of thinking.
4. Take time off and be physical.
Go for a walk. Go do some yoga. Go for a run or to the gym, or even get a pedicure or massage. Letting off some steam not only helps you deal with stress, but it will pull you into a different state of mind, one that will process your story differently and give you more perspective. I also find that doing something physical reminds me of the world around me, which we forget when we’re in the minds of our characters. But if we don’t experience the world, we can’t experience it for them.
Seriously, live a little. It’s good for you.
5. Put your unconscious mind to work.
You know the old expression, “sleep on it”? Apparently, it really works. I read somewhere once about a study showing that people make better decisions if they meditate or sleep on something. Take a nap, a hot bath, or meditate. There’s a great article on how meditation increases creativity here.
Above all, the best way to avoid overwhelm is to trust yourself and your process. if you are creating or doing things that are new to you, it will be uncomfortable at first, but that’s all part of learning how you work. You are the best at figuring out what works for you. It’s an ongoing thing.
Thanks for visiting today! If you have have tried any of these tips and they’ve worked for you, please share in the comments below. Or, if you have worked through editing overwhelm in a different way, please let me know. I’m always looking for new ways to improve my own process.
Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of
The following is taken from a lecture by Elana Johnson
, who in turn used information from Blake Snyder
's Save the Cat.
4 STEPS -
1. Beat Sheet 2. Write Novel 3. Board it Out 4. Revise
The following is taken from a lecture by Elana Johnson
, who in turn used information from Blake Snyder
's Save the Cat.
Okay, Act 3 isn't very big, but it is very important. Let's take a look at it:
- Act 3 consists of only 2 more beats: the "Finale" and the "Closing Image."
What happens is that the hero figures out what to do and has a final showdown. After that it's the closing image, which is simply the resolution following the showdown.
The final image is important, however, since it has to clearly demonstrate how different the Main Character is compared to how we saw him on page 1.
BEAT 14 - FINALE (pp. 255-330)
The Finale actually consists of 5 very important points:
1. Gathering the Team
The allies, or friends of the Main Character have to come back together. They may not be on speaking terms because reconciliation is a painful process, but they're back because ultimately loyalty rises to the top. Either way, they have to find a way to work together.
2. Executing the Plan
This is the "storming of the castle" - so-to-speak. It must be challenging but at this point in story, it also has to feel foolproof. It should feel like, "There's no way we can actually do this," but they are going to try it anyway. As the story unfolds the reader should be thinking, "I can't believe it! They might just pull this off!"
A great example is in the movie Independence Day when Will Smith and Jeff Goldbloom are actually considering flying an alien spaceship up into outer space, entering the mother ship, infecting it with a computer virus and getting out of there in one piece.
As it looks like they are actually going to pull it all together, this is where the growth of the minor characters pay off and satisfy some arcs. It might even appear that perhaps "this is too easy..."
3. The High Tower Surprise
Think of the archetypical story where the hero reaches the high tower where the princess is being held - or where he believes she is being held - and he gets there to find NO PRINCESS! Surprise!
We see now that we have become over confident in our plan. The bad guys may have even known we were coming the whole time. It is at this point that traitors are exposed. Our brilliant plan was nothing more than a trap set by the Bad Guys.
No matter how much the Main Character has endured, suffered and accomplished, in the end, it was simply not enough. The real challenge of what the hero must do, the tests he must pass, become clear.
4. Dig Down Deep
The whole point to the finale is now revealed and it is not what we expected. All human solution is exhausted. There's no back-up plan, there's nothing. It is all down to the hero now - and he's come up short. It is now up to the hero to strip everything away, and find the last ounce of strength in order to win.
This is the point in the story where Obi-Wan says, "Use the Force Luke!" It's the point at which the Main Character must abandon the natural world and go into the world with faith unseen.
5. Execute the New Plan
The answer comes from a place we've all hoped is real, and when the hero trusts enough to use it, HE WINS! And consequently, so do we.
It was only by stepping into the unknown - and trusting it - that the Main Character (now truly the "Hero") could find the way to triumph.
BEAT 15 - FINAL IMAGE (p. 330)
This is where we end the book with the Main Character now, transformed into a synthesis of the two beings he has been throughout the story: the original lump of clay, then the twisting and forming of his character through the last two Acts until he is a combination of the two.
Think of Peter Parker who by the end is both Spiderman and Peter Parker, a fused new character.
My next posting will discuss outlining using the 15 Beat System. Then a bit about how to organize and work on re-writes once you have a first draft completed.
The following is taken from a lecture by Elana Johnson
, who in turn used information from Blake Snyder
's Save the Cat.Okay, let's get on to...
ACT 2 -
This Act will include the next 6 Beats (7-13).
It is in Act 2 where the transformation of the main character really takes place. We will take our lump of "clay" from Act 1 and start to beat it down and soften it up so that it can be formed into what we want it to eventually become by the end of the story. We will watch the main character enter this Act one way, but by the end of it, he will leave the Act forever changed.
BEAT 7 - "B" STORY (p. 90)
This is where we get into the "B" Story, or the subplot that runs along side our overall plot line. Generally this is the "love story" part of your book. It doesn't have to be romantic love, however. For example, in the movie Despicable Me this is the part where Gru starts to fall in love with the little girls.
This part of the story is also where we find the theme of the story being developed.
During the "B" story, we generally also take a break from much of the more
action-packed "A" story where all the debating and action have been taking place.
Upside Down World of Act 1
Act 2 is also where we introduce some new characters. They will be the contrast to the world the main character knew in the first Act. Think of this as the upside down version of his first world.
BEAT 8 - FUN AND GAMES (pp. 90-165)
This is where we really break out in the story. We deliver on what was promised from the premise of the story. If you were looking at a movie poster and saw all this great action, this is where it takes place in the story.
We don't worry about the advancement of the story itself so much as having some fun in discovery. This might even be why we started reading the story in the first place is for this part of it.
For example, this is the part of the story - or movie - where Spiderman begins to really experiment with his new found powers. This is where your character develops his inner/outer abilities and we enjoy his new-found power.
BEAT 9 - MID POINT (p. 165)
At this point of the story the main character is going have some sort of peak. He is going to be at the top of his game, or, he's going to fall to some sort of low where it seems that his world is falling apart around him. In either case, Up or Down, it will be a false high or low. As the author you will need to decide which direction will help your main character drive toward his eventual goal.
In the case of an "UP" this is where the main character seems to be getting everything he wants. There may be a party at the midpoint. He is receiving love and acceptance and it looks good. In the case of the movie Ironman it is the party scene where he almost kisses Pepper.
Here we see the hero seem to lose everything he was after. He could be completely disappointed or embarrassed or put in his place by an opponent. In the movie Legally Blonde, Elle Woods appears at a part dressed up like a ridiculous looking bunny. She is the only one dressed this way and feels like an idiot.
REAL OR FAKE
During this Midpoint, the main character is trying to discover if he really is what he is "pretending" or trying to be. During the Fun and Games section he's been experimenting with some new things. Now he is asking himself if he is "real" or "fake."
STAKES ARE RAISED
This is the point of the story where the stakes are now raised. The Fun and Games come to an end
and the main character is forced to return to his original task. He has to figure out what he does now and where he goes from this point on.
BEAT 10 - BAD GUYS CLOSE IN (pp. 165-225)
Our bad guys have now regrouped and are going to send in the heavy artillery. Now the main character's team/friends start to disintegrate due to internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy.
The forces against the hero (internal and external) tighten their grip. That's what really happens in this Act. Evil does not give up.
The Main Character eventually finds himself alone with nowhere to turn for help and he is heading toward a huge fall, a place that leads to . . .
BEAT 11 - ALL IS LOST (p. 225)
This is the point labeled “false defeat”. It looks total, but it’s just temporary.
Look to put in a "WHIFF OF DEATH," a place where one of the strongest allies of your Main Character can actually lose his life. Very dramatic, the floor drops out beneath him.
For example, this is where Obi-Wan dies in Star Wars. What will Luke do now, without his mentor?
It doesn't have to actually be a character that dies, either, especially if it doesn’t make sense to the story. But put in a reference to something dead here. Something dead should be highlighted even if it is symbolic. In fact, it is supposed to have reference to the old world, the old character, the old way of thinking actually dying. It clears the way for the thesis of Act One – what was – to fuse with the antithesis, Act Two – the backward version of what was – to fuse into the Synthesis of Act Three, that being a new world, a new life.
Another example of this is in the movie ELF, this is where Will Farrell stands on the bridge and contemplates suicide, because he’s gotten himself into such a mess with everything in New York. The whiff of death.
BEAT 12 - DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL (p. 225 - 255)
This is the darkness right before the dawn. It’s the point just before the Main Character reaches way down deep and pulls out the last, best idea that will save himself and everyone around him. But at the moment, that idea is nowhere in sight.
We have all experienced a moment like this in life. We have all felt – hopeless, clueless, stupid, sitting on the side of the road with a flat tire and no money, late for an appointment that would solve all our problems. We have been beaten AND WE KNOW IT.
This is where you have the All is Lost Moment and the dark night of the soul is the hero’s reaction – how do they feel? – about what they’ve just lost. That’s the moment you’re looking for here.
BEAT 13 - BREAK INTO THREE (p. 255)
This is the break from the upside down world to a blending of worlds. A Synthesis. This is taking what the MC knew and what he learned and blending them into “the third way”. These three worlds force a change in the hero.
We set him up: Act One.
Throw him in a blender: Act Two.
And he emerges as something brand new: Act Three.
This is where the hero can learn from the bad guys closing in, see a solution, and the B story characters can provide the rest of the clue. It’s a blending of the A and B stories to present a solution to the problem and create a “third way” of living.
The following is taken from a lecture by Elana Johnson
, who in turn used information from Blake Snyder
's Save the Cat.When I was in a college music class, we learned that there were these complex rules that composers of each time period followed when writing music. As these rules changed from Classic, to Romantic, to Baroque, the composers began to follow these new rules. You could dissect their music and see that they actually did follow these extensive set of rules. What the teacher went on to explain is that the composers at the time never thought about the rules; they were simply writing music. It didn't occur to them to do what they did because the rules dictated that they must - they simply composed.
Well, like it or not, no matter how imaginative and creative you are, when you write a story you follow a set of complex rules as well; you just don't realize it. Just like the composers mentioned above, you write your story. If you go back over what you've written you'll see that indeed, these structure points are all there.
So, to begin with:
All good books have 3 Acts, 2 "Break Into" Points, and 15 Beats. These beats make up the complex rules that writers follow when they write a good story. And beats are critical because they are the turning points in the story which make it satisfying to the reader.
The first Act is outline below.
ACT 1 -
This is the beginning of the story where certain things take place, including the first 6 Beats.
During Act 1, we are introduced to our main character and the world he lives in. The author will let us know about several (possibly 6, though the number may vary) things that need to be fixed, either
in the character or the world he lives in.
I like to think of Act 1 as the point at which the main character is a mass of clay. He could be or do anything at this point. All we know is by the end of the story he will be fully formed, whereas right now
The following also lists the approximate page numbers where these beats occur in an average 330- page book.
BEAT 1 - OPENING IMAGE (p.1)
This is the starting point where we get a snapshot of our main character, and other characters that play a part of his life. He is unaffected, at this point, by the events the story is about to force on him.
It is here that you introduce your main character and world he lives in. As part of that you have to help the reader learn the rules of this world. It may be a bit slow at first, but don't worry, this beginning is necessary.
BEAT 2 - THEME STATED (p.15)
Every book has a theme, some sort of moral it will address through the telling of the story. It is as this point the theme of the story is revealed. Usually, it isn't the main character who expresses it. It will be someone else, like his best friend, or a parent. They'll make an off-hand comment like,
"Be careful what you wish for,"
not knowing of course that they are subconsciously placing the theme into the mind of the reader.
BEAT 3 - SET UP (pp.1-30)
Not only is this section (roughly pages 1-30) where you will use exposition to explain things, this is also the part of the story where several other things get "set up."
Things That Need Fixing:
This is where you will identify (not necessarily in so many words) the things about the character, or the world - that need fixing. It could be items your main character needs to overcome. It could be weaknesses of his which need to be made strong. These things are up to you, but these "6" things (more or less) are the set up for what you are promising the reader he will see taken care of through the course of your tale.
Main Plot or "A Plot":
This is also the section that makes up your "main plot" or your "A" plot. We find out how your characters see the world. How they act with each other. Also where they come from, why they do certain things, who their parents are, etc. Perhaps introduce some things which will motivate or dictate some of their later actions.
Make Promises to the Reader:
It is at this point that the writer should be setting the reader up for many cool, exciting, interesting and wonderful things that are to come. Make your promises to your reader here. It's important that expectations be made, and of course, finally, realized.
BEAT 4 - CATALYST (p. 36)
The "Catalyst" is the element or event in the story that propels your main character into a new world. In the Wizard of Oz it would be the tornado. In your book it could be just about anything: someone's death, the loss of a job, viewing a meteorite hurling toward earth, discovering that your dog can turn invisible....whatever. It changes things forever. It shatters the world that your character knew up until that point.
In the case of Harry Potter, it is the letter from Hogwarts. For Spiderman it is when he is bit by the spider. There is always some event that changes things.
BEAT 5 - DEBATE (pp. 36-75)
This is the part of the story where the main character has to decide what he's going to do with what happened to him. Should he move forward into a strange new world, or not? He debates this within himself, he looks at the angles. The writer lets us see the process, and the pain of the process. As you can see from the page numbers recommended above, it may take some time to go through this process. And it can be interesting... you can really open up your character in this section.
BEAT 6 - BREAK INTO TWO/ (The Second Part) (p. 75)
This is the moment the main character decides to leave the old world for the new one. It is a distinct moment, there is an act of some sort that defines this decision. We see it happen, it cannot be subtle.
The decision to move into this new world must be the character's; he can't be forced into it. The decision to do so must be his and his alone.
This "break into 2" is where the main character moves on and begins his journey.
Okay, that's it for Act 1. I'll have Act 2 posted soon.
Young Adult (YA) fiction seems to be taking over the writing industry. Consider some of the blockbuster books to be published and turned into movies in the last 10 years: The Harry Potter series; Perseus Jackson: The Lightning Thief, the Twilight Series, Hunger Games, and this trend will no doubt continue. YA fiction is generally fast paced, has interesting characters and is emotionally charged. This is both fun to read and watch in movie form. If you want to write YA fiction, you may want to consider these steps in order to be successful.
1. Main Character Must be a Young Adult.
I say young adult, because I think you can have quite young protagonists, younger than teenagers, and a bit older, into their early twenties. This is a magical age in anyone's life. It is also a bit of a trying time for many. Socially, it is difficult for almost everyone. There is a lot of self doubt and fear. Strong emotions hit hard at this age and must be dealt with for the first time. Falling in love really hard with someone for the first time usually also happens at this point of life and can be rather mystical, magical, amazing and horrible all at once. Young adults sort of start narrating their own lives at this point. They see their lives as an adventure book where wonderful and awful things happen. And, for most of them, they hold out hope that things will get better if they hang in there.
2. Invent Some Screwball/Original Characters.
No need to go through the lengthy list of original, interesting and bizarre characters in the Harry Potter series, other than to point out how successful those books were in great part due to those extremely identifiable characters. The thing that really makes a book interesting isn't magic, werewolves or love between a human and a vampire; it's the characters. Funny, silly, scary, weird, fanatical, characters. Once you have some of those your story will take off without you if you're not careful. Young adults love to read about characters they believe are more off-kilter than themselves. Quite often they feel like the weirdo; give them someone else to identify with and laugh at.
3. Put Your Characters in Danger.
Danger Will Robinson! If your characters aren't in trouble for their lives, find a way to put them in some. I know there are some really great YA books out there where their lives aren't in danger, but perhaps their sanity, or reputations are. Something must be at risk. But putting their actual lives in danger, if you do it believably within the confines of the universe you've created, it makes the book much more exciting. When kids are young, they loved to be chased. Running away from danger is exciting. Turning and facing it is even more exciting. I'm just saying, real danger creates the adventure both kids and young adults crave - (especially if they can safely read about it within the confines of written book).
4. Create a Sympathetic Hook.
If the reader doesn't identify with your character(s) for one reason or another they won't really care about them. You can put them in danger all day long, but it won't matter if the reader doesn't like them. One great way to do this is to hurt them somehow. I know, it doesn't sound nice, but if your protagonist isn't struggling in some way (their parents are dead; their only friend is moving away; they don't know where their next meal is coming from; they're suffering from severe acne, you know, the kind that scars) it's hard for teenagers, who already don't feel like they fit in, to relate.
5. Add a Fantastical Element.
This isn't always necessary, but it helps. Almost every adolescent in the world feels powerless.
They are forced to go to school by parents who don't understand them; they have to relate to heartless, cruel peers who are out to ruin their lives daily; they have piles of homework to complete each day from 38 different teachers. It's nice for them to fantasize about having power. It could be invisibility, it could be magic, it could be sucking blood from people and staying out of the sun, but something that gives them a sense of power. It's liberating.
Okay, lets go with Lesson 2: Setting.
I used to always want to have the settings of my stories in space, or in some fantasy land. That way
no one could tell me it wasn't real or authentic. Plus it seemed to increase the possibilities for the story.
Then I remembered the old adage about writing about what you know. Nothing makes you feel more stupid and less interesting than trying to write about what you know. Assuming most people are like me, you feel like your life is relatively boring and uninteresting. As I've gotten older
I've come to appreciate the lack of drama in my life, but as far as writing a story that will hold someone's attention goes it doesn't provide a very deep well to draw on.
Most of the books I enjoy reading take place in either a big city in which I've never lived, or the main characters race around the world to locations I've barely heard of let alone spell correctly. There's something exciting and fun watching Indiana Jones in exotic locations. Though I'm writing YA books right now, I personally enjoy thrillers and spy books and that means international intrigue. So, what do you do?
I know very little about the world outside my hometown. I currently have a sort of interesting job that has broaded my understanding of people. I teach English to people in foreign countries. I work for a company called "TellMeMore," based in France. I contact, either by Skype or through the Internet, students who live in France, Italy, Germany, Spain, China, Korea, Poland, Morocco, Venesula, Columbia, Russia, Canada, and Mexica. It has been fun to not only teach them English but to discuss other subjects with them ranging from politics and religion to when a person should start dating or get married. This input hasn't necessarily increased my "setting" knowledge about places, (although it has improved my geography a bit), but, it has given me an insight into people around the world. Lo and behold, we really are all more alike than we would ever believe. I've met great and wonderful people every where and come to discover that what they really want out of life is pretty much the same as what I want out of life. And that knowledge does help in its way.
Well, to swing this thing back into settings, I have a some-what developed view on the write what you know about concept. Whatever setting you write about, you have got to be able to describe it well enough that a reader feels like he/she is there. And more importantly that you know what you are talking about. Consider a book you've read where the action takes place in a foreign city; they don't tell you about everything. They give you just enough details to make it feel right. They usually include a little anecdotal story about a place which really makes them sound like they have researched the place or perhaps lived there for a while. But, I don't think that is necessary. I've even come to think that reading these stories is sometimes part of my background search. I'm not talking about plaigarizing their material, but using it as a framework.
I read a blog by Stephanie Meyers where she said she picked the "Forks" location for her story by doing a Google search for where it was rainiest in America. She then did some research and wrote her story. I don't know if she ever visited Forks prior to the release of Twilight, but I don't think she did. So, in short, I don't think you have to be a world traveler to set your story in a foreign location. I think it would help immeasurably, but it's not a do-or-die proposition as long as you sound like
you know what you're talking about.
You can probably create that overall setting feel by doing research and dropping key descriptions along the way. Even referring to a fence as being "red" can give it the right feel when done at the right time and place. What you can't skip, however, is detail. By detail, I'm referring to a specific place where any action in your book is going to take place.
Let's say you are writing a shoot-out scene in a house. That house may be down your street, or in Timbuktu, but where ever it is, you must have a very detailed idea in your mind as to what it looks like. Where do the halls go? What is on the walls? Carpeting or hardwood? As the action moves through that location you need to know exactly where the characters are and what they are doing in
relation to the world around them.
Now, having made a pitch for a setting any where in the world, I'm going to now make a pitch for writing a story that takes place where you live or in a location you know very well.
Bewitched, (at least in this first book) takes place in Smithfield and Logan, Utah, where I live. I used to shy away from where I live because I thought, Utah? Nothing happens here! That's not as true as it used to be, but lets assume it is true. Let's say you live in a back water no place. That's sometimes exactly what your story needs or wants. Your monster doesn't always have to terrorize Tokyo. You can even make the story itself depend on the fact that it is taking place in a small town, or (where ever you live). In Bewitched, the characters are searching for a spell book that was hidden thousands of years ago. The location was purposely remote. Now the reason it is here in an out-of-the-way place all makes sense. It HAD to happen here. No where else would have made sense. (The TV show True Blood is in a small town in the south called Beau Temps. I don't
even know if it is a real place, but the description is great.)
As far as Bewitched goes, I took a little car ride around town to find a location for Samantha
and Clara's house. I even wrote down the turns I took and which little town I was in. I don't think these things have to be exact in a work of fiction (though it doesn't hurt) but it should be detailed enough to sound right. I took pictures of the local trees around the house I decided to make theirs. I
asked my mother-in-law what they were called since she knew and I didn't. I wrote down a description of the house, but I then played with that a little. As a matter of fact while I was out in front of this lady's house taking pictures and writing notes, she came out to ask me what I was doing. I felt kind of stupid, but I told her what I was doing and she was happy to help out and
answer any questions I had.
I did the same thing with Sky View High School. Since the high school actually exists and is just down the street from me I figured I better go and check it out. Someone from the office showed me around and answered my questions. I also asked a student a few questions. Some of the action that
takes place below the school I made up (if there is such a place under Sky View they didn't tell me and I didn't ask), but the rest of the description of the school and the Rec Center I took from the actual place. In my mind when I drive by the school I see the "mausoleum" on the west lawn. :)
That doesn't mean you have to go to a place you want to use, but I would suggest drawing a little map. For another book I'm using I actually took photos of some girls I went to junior high with right from our old year books to use as I described what the characters looked like and how they acted.
Well, I know I've rambled my way through most of this, but I hope it was helpful. The next lesson
will be about....Plot or Character....perhaps both. :)
I thought this might be a good place to do something I've thought about doing for some time: teach
how to write a story. There's a lot that goes into doing it that doesn't always come naturally to a person. There are other parts I think you continue to learn or fine tune throughout your life.
So with that in mind, here is lesson 1: The Idea
This you would think would be automatic. I have an idea, now what? Well, I think you need to coax ideas, play with them. In many ways they're the best part of writing. I want to write a story about a boy who can fly. Great! Now play with the concept. Has he always been able to fly? When did he find out he could fly? Does he use wings? Does he fly in some other way? What is going to happen to him? What is the conflict? What does he do with the ability to fly? How can I turn this into a premise?
A premise is term I use to mean a basic outline of a story. It isn't a complete outline, it is more the idea with a bit of a conflict and perhaps even a conclusion, but not much else. Using the example above I would say if you started with the idea of a boy who could fly, your premise would be what if
there was a boy who could fly who escaped from a secret laboratory and is being chased by his creators who want to exploit him? or kill him? That's the difference. A premise is an idea with a direction.
Now, you may look at the idea above and say, "Fine, but come on, a boy who can fly? The idea has been done a hundred times, there are even movies that have done it." True, but it doesn't necessarily make it a bad story idea. I'm not sure there are really any new ideas out there. If you have an idea you can be certain someone else has thought of it, written about it and made a lot of
money off of it. What makes it worth writing about is how you change the idea. Your unique wrinkle will make an idea into an excellent premise from which to make a book.
Look at vampires. They are the most overused idea in the world right now - unless it's zombies. Usually when the idea of writing a vampire story occurs to me I tell myself no - no way! It has been
done into the ground. Then I think of how I could do it differently. What if I wrote a story about a vampire who is blind? Or what if the vampire catches a disease from those he feeds on? What if he has AIDS because of someone he's bitten? What if he enjoys surfing? Anyway, you get the idea. There are ways to mess around with your intial idea so that it becomes a fresh new premise for a book. (By the way I did just recently write a short story about a vampire trying to date for the first time.)
This is all fine when an idea occurs to you out of no where, but what about when there is an assignment, or a contest you're interested in and you need a new and creative idea now? How do you get it to appear in your head? Easy, play the little game I call, "What if...?" What if vampires fought aliens who invaded the earth? The vampires end up saving the planet because the alien's
weapons won't kill them and they don't know to use wooden stakes? (Now I'm mixing ideas, vampires and aliens, but that's okay too).
I had an assignment and decided I wanted to write a short story about a genie. Well, once again, what could I do that hadn't been done a hundred times? Well, what if the person who rubs the lamp can't see the genie because he's blind? And let's make it more interesting than that, what if
he's also deaf, so he can't hear the genie? He doesn't even know he's released a genie from a lamp because the genie can't tell him, or show him. Now we have an interesting idea. The premise would be, what does the genie do? Does he grant the kid a wish or sneak off? If he grants the wish, would it be to restore his senses, or is that what the kid would really wish for?.....and we're off.
That concludes the first lesson. Lesson 2: Setting will be the next blog entry.