Is Following a Writing Model a Good Idea?

Though using a pattern to inform our books’ structure has merit, it may lead us to a troublesome end

There are multiple guides we can follow to properly structure the books we write. Perhaps the most common is the three-act structure, but there are many others as well.

There’s enough to make me dizzy, so I won’t start to list them. Besides, this post isn’t to promote these various models as much as to share my concern about them.

For example, I know that when watching a movie, I should expect a plot twist about three fourths of the way into the show. The incident may be trivial, could have been telegraphed too much earlier in the movie, or come as an unexpected shock, but one thing is certain: I know that something is about to happen, so I brace for it.

Because I expect this plot twist to pop up, it seldom delights me. I know that this annoyance is just one more hurdle for the protagonist to jump over before I can enjoy the ending—and I better enjoy the ending.

This happens in books too, but because I’ve watched more movies then read books, I’m more tuned in to it with movies.

While I think it’s important we know about these writing devices and be able to apply them when needed, I worry about slavishly following them.

Why is that?

Computers.

Computers and artificial intelligence.It won’t be long before computers will write passible stories and even books. Click To Tweet

Even now computers can write. And it won’t be long before computers will write passible stories and even books. Just enter a couple of characters, a story arc, a conflict, and a few other key parameters. Press enter, and a finished story emerges, following an established writing model.

This technology will one day make most writers obsolete. And I think it will happen much sooner than most people expect.

What computers and AI software will have trouble emulating, however, is the truly creative writers who don’t follow the writing models that the computer programs follow. These writers—and I plan to be one of them—will still be in demand, because computers will struggle to produce a truly creative book that transcends its writing-model programming.

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for Writers

What writers can learn from the life and career of Carrie Fisher

A Salute to Carrie Fisher and a Lesson for WritersOn December 26, 2016 my wife and I went to see the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The next morning I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. Like most people I knew her for her iconic performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Her obituary revealed so much more:

  • Worked steadily as an actress from 1975 through to her death
  • Author of several semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge
  • Wrote the screenplay for the film of the book
  • Starred in an autobiographical one-woman play
  • Author of the non-fiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on her play
  • Spoke about her experiences with bipolar disorder and drug addiction
  • Mental health advocate
  • Script doctor

All these items are impressive, but the last one caught my attention: script doctor. As the title suggests, a script doctor is someone who comes in to fix the screenplays of other writers. In short, when a screenplay is good but not working as well as it should, a script doctor reworks it to make it shine.

Carrie Fisher’s Wikipedia page says she was “one of the top script doctors in Hollywood.” Who would have thought? According to her Wikipedia page and her IMDB bio, here are some of the movies she worked on as a script doctor:

  • Hook
  • Sister Act
  • Lethal Weapon 3
  • Last Action Hero
  • The River Wild
  • The Wedding Singer
  • Coyote Ugly
  • My Girl 2
  • Outbreak
  • Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
  • Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
  • Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
  • Milk Money
  • Love Affair
  • Made in America

I’ve seen all but one of these flicks. In a lot of them she worked on dialogue or to develop a specific character. She worked as a script doctor for about fifteen years and said that at that time it was lucrative work (but apparently not so much anymore).Carrie Fisher was an actress, author, script doctor, and advocate. Click To Tweet

Carrie Fisher was known primarily as an actress, but she was also an author of books—both fiction and nonfiction—and screenplays, a script doctor, and an advocate. From her example, I have four takeaways for authors:

  1. Diversify our income stream. (She earned money as an actress, author, and script doctor.)
  2. Write in multiple genres. (She wrote fiction, nonfiction, and scripts.)
  3. Capitalize on our strengths. (She had a knack for dialogue and character development.)
  4. Use whatever platform we have to be a voice for what we’re passionate about. (She was able to use her popularity to talk about mental health issues and substance abuse.)

Thank you, Carrie Fisher. You entertained me and taught me about writing.

10 Tips to Improve as a Writer

To progress as an author requires hard work and diligent focus

10 Ways to Grow as a WriterI’ve been writing my entire adult life. In the early years my primary goal was to write faster, but for the past decade or so, my focus was on writing better. As I attended to learning the craft of writing, my writing has steadily improved. Along the way I have also begun to write with increased speed.

Here are my ten tips to improve as a writer:

  1. Write: The most essential step is to just sit down and write. Some aspiring writers put off this tip waiting until they are ready. Guess what? I doubt anyone is ever ready. Not really. So start writing. Do it on a regular basis. Take it seriously. Make your writing time sacred. When I did this, my writing blossomed.
  2. Study Writing: We must study the art and craft of writing. I read about writing, listen to writing podcasts, learn from the masters, and go to lectures. If you’re in school, take writing classes.
  3. Read Broadly: Reading informs our writing. We see what other authors do. We learn what we like and don’t like. We need to read in our genre and outside it. Read for fun, and read to learn.
  4. Watch Movies: Cinema informs my writing almost as much as reading. Movies reveal insight about plot development, effective openings, memorable endings, character development, effective dialogue, and more.
  5. Attend Conferences: Writers often complain about the cost of conferences: registration, airfare, hotel, and incidentals. I get that, but tap into local conferences to eliminate the travel and lodging expenses. Some events are even free.
  6. Participate in Groups: Join a critique group, support group, accountability group, or some collection of other writers who have a shared goal of improvement.
  7. Pay for Help: If you need help, don’t be afraid to pay for it. This may be for edits, critiques, story development, or any other area where you struggle. What if you can’t afford it? Find a way. Be creative. Swap services. One enterprising writer “paid” her editor by cleaning her house.
  8. Give to Others: Share what you can with other writers. Give to the industry and the industry will give to you.
  9. Work in the Industry: If you have the opportunity to find employment that intersects with writing or publishing in any way, grab it. This may be part time or full time; it may pay well or little (and some gigs are volunteer). But the key is to put yourself in a position to interact with other writers. You will learn from your environment; by osmosis you will grow.
  10. Write: I end my list with the same tip I began with. That’s because too many aspiring writers become so busy, so fixated, on tips 2 through 9 that they skip the writing part. They don’t have time, become too distracted, or put it off. If you’re serious about writing, never stop. Writing is the most critical step to being a writer.

Writing is the most critical step to being a writer. Duh! Click To TweetFollow these tips to become a better writer. Pick one and implement it. Then add another. Keep going until you are doing all ten. You will be amazed at the results.

How to Blog Your Fiction Book

Last week we discussed ways to connect our blog with our book, which works well for memoir and nonfiction but not so much for fiction. While the vision is clear to blogging a memoir or nonfiction work, it’s murky when it comes to fiction.

With fiction, we can’t simply blog excerpts from our book because we will either end up posting the complete book online or leave readers frustrated over gaps in the story. Besides, who wants to read an entire book in blog length sections? Doling out the story in too small of segments, over too long of time, will fail to engage readers.

That doesn’t mean fiction writers can’t connect their blog with their book. Though I’ve not written a fiction book (yet), here are some blog ideas to consider.

  • Blog about the era: If the novel takes place in a different time, be it past or future, blog about the period. For historical settings, you have researched this thoroughly, so reveal what you’ve learned. For futuristic novels, share about the world you’ve created.
  • Blog about the location: If the story takes place in another country – or another world – give details about the setting.
  • Share deleted scenes: Just as movie DVDs often have deleted scenes, your book likely has scenes you didn’t use. Share these with your fans. Do they wish the deleted scene stayed in the book? The one caution is if you want to save the unused scenes for a sequel.
  • Disclose character profiles: Most novelists write character profiles for the protagonist and antagonist, as well as for supporting characters. It’s rare to use all those details in your book, so share the complete profile on your blog.
  • Reveal more backstory: Often there is background information, which although interesting, doesn’t move the story forward. Blogging unused backstory is one more way to engage readers and build excitement for your book.
  • Post short stories about your characters: Have you ever finished a book and wanted to read more about the main characters? Or perhaps discover more about an interesting but ancillary character? Short stories can fill that need in readers, building interest in the book without revealing too much.

The timing on when to post these ideas varies. Some work great as pre-publication buildup, whereas others lend themselves to post-publication promotion. The key is that fiction writers can support their book with their blog.

Happy blogging.

What ideas would you add to the list?

Finding and Fostering Writing Ideas

Each week I write five blog posts. Each month I write one magazine article, three newsletter articles, two more blog posts, and usually one press release.

That’s a lot of writing, requiring a lot of ideas. Yet I never have writer’s block. Why is that? Because I’ve cultivated a method to discover and develop content ideas. So when it’s time to write, I already have an assortment of items to pick from.

Here’s what I do to keep stocked with ideas:

Maintain a List: When I had one or two writing projects in my queue, I kept a mental list of ideas. As the number of writing commitments increased, I needed to juggle more ideas, but my memory didn’t keep up, and I lost too many good ideas. Now I keep a written list in a Word document, with a heading for each blog or publication. Under each heading is a bullet list of content ideas, some of which are partially developed. This morning I had seven possible topics to pick from for this post. I chose the one that most resonated with me today and am now writing it.

Know When Inspiration Hits: Ideas are most likely to form when I first wake up. Now that I’m aware of that, I need to be ready to capture those ideas. If my computer isn’t close by, I jot a quick note before inspiration flees.

Understand Creative Situations: There are two instances when content ideas are likely to show up: during a nature walk and after watching a movie. While I’m not intentional about using these activities to generate ideas, I’m aware it could happen and am ready to listen.

Mentally Write: I often work ideas over in my mind before I write. For example, this morning I looked at my list and selected today’s topic – then I ate breakfast. The four points of this post materialized as I prepared and ate my food. The shower is another great place for me to mentally write, while bedtime is the wrong time as it stimulates my mind and chases away slumber.

This is what works for me – and works well. Each writer is different, so adapt these ideas to what works for you – and chase writer’s block away.

Five Ways to Create a Legacy

I’m a movie buff, enjoying most genres and all eras, including silent movies and especially Buster Keaton films. One of them, Our Hospitality, set in 1830 Appalachia is a classic tale of boy meets girl, who only finds out too late that her family is set on killing his. Will love prevail or will their family feud end all chance for happiness?

I digress.

Buster Keaton codirected and starred in Our Hospitality. Released in 1923, the flick is ninety years old. That’s incredible.

Though I don’t know Buster’s motivation, I suspect he merely wanted to earn a living, using art to do so. I presume that creating something enduring – outlasting him and becoming his legacy – was not his goal, but just a happy outcome.

This gives me pause. Will my writing survive ninety years? Will people still read my words in nine decades? It’s a laughable thought, ridiculous as well as arrogant. While I do suspect some of my work might resonate more with the next generation than this one, lasting longer is unlikely.

Yet, I do want my writing to be my legacy, to outlive me and benefit future generations. While this isn’t something I can orchestrate, I can be intentional:

Avoid the Short Term: In my first blog, I’d often write about sports, politics, and the weather. These topics have a lifespan measured in days, not years. I want my writing to mean something in the future, so I’ve stopped covering current events, instead writing about biblical spirituality.

Make it Meaningful For Today – and Tomorrow: I try to make my writing practical for now, as well as applicable for later. This means taking a long-term view. Although harder to do and time consuming, the results are more likely to remain.

Focus on What Will Last: Even if I could pepper my prose with pop culture references and use trendy jargon, in ten years my words would emerge as nonsense, at best, and incomprehensible, at worst. I strive for relevance, while avoiding words and references that will date my work and limit its long-term value.

Produce Your Best Stuff: Good art lives on; people dismiss mediocre output and forget average work. I strive to always do my best, while working for continual improvement.

Know When to Push Boundaries: One reason Buster Keaton’s work prevails is that he did things no one else was doing and did so with brilliance. I marvel at his genius. Teachers instruct writers on what to do and how to do it, that opposing norms will doom our work. This is true, yet breaking away from the status quo may be what makes a work unique – and lasting. The key is discerning whether deviations from the expected are gimmick or genius. Often we won’t know until later.

It’s unlikely anyone will read my words, or even have access to them, in ninety years, but I work to do what I can to provide the potential for that to happen.

13 Movies About Writing

There are a lot of movies about writing and even more when you consider movies that have writers as characters. Here’s my initial list:

  • Paris When it Sizzles
  • Alex & Emma
  • The Muse
  • My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
  • Never Been Kissed
  • Finding Forrester
  • Finding Neverland
  • Stranger Than Fiction
  • As Good as it Gets
  • Limitless
  • Romancing the Stone
  • Nim’s Island
  • Paris After Midnight

What movies would you add to the list? What are some of your favorites?

Tips on Writing Book Reviews

Last week I shared of my foray into writing movie reviews. It wasn’t long before I began penning book reviews as well. However, unlike my short-lived tenure writing movie reviews, book reviewing is a practice that has continued. So far I’ve written 53 (it takes longer to read a book, so the numbers accumulate slower.)

The best time to write a review is within a day of finishing the book or watching the movie, allowing for some time to process it, but not enough to forget important details.

For example, after watching “The Life Before Her Eyes” it was several hours before I actually “got” the ending — and some reviewers hadn’t — so had I written immediately, I would have been one of them.

However, waiting too long is never good. I have six books sitting in my “to be reviewed” pile that were read in the midst of working on a big project (my dissertation) and set aside for a later review. I hope to get to them, but fear that I have already waited too long.

I just finished reading “The Reluctant Prophet” by Nancy Rue, which I hope to review today.

Like my movie reviews, about half of my book reviews have also been posted on my A Bible A Day website; the other half are patiently sitting in my computer, awaiting their eventual liberation. I plan to also add them to my soon-to-be-relaunched PeterDeHaan.name website.

Let’s Watch a Movie…to Improve Our Writing

I don’t recall who recommended Kristen Lamb’s book to me about blogging, Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer, but I am most appreciative. It’s packed full of practical information that is actually feasible for writers to implement.

Through her advice, I picked up some useful blogging tips and learned what I’m doing right.

In her opening remarks, she shares some general writing insights. As, I’ve noted before, she affirms the need for writers to be avid readers, but caught me off guard with the admonition to also “watch a lot of movies.” I think I’ve got that one covered. In fact, I sometimes think I watch too many movies.

The purpose in watching movies is to learn from the dialogue, the story’s pacing, the plot development, the stakes, and so forth. And the best part about learning from movies is we can actually “work” as we watch them with our family and friends!

After the encouragement to read and watch movies, Kristen then says that we writers need to blog and be involved in social media, hence the impetus for this book, as well as her prior one, We Are not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.

Kristen offers much advice, and I have much to learn.