Monday, July 15, 2019

What Makes a Good Story?

A good story is made up of:

1. A time or place the reader can lose themselves in.

2. An unforgettable character--someone who is real to them; someone they can relate to.

3. A memorable/extraordinary event.

The best stories contain characters with which we identify, experiences that impact us in visceral ways, and messages that change the way we see the world.

This makes "storyteller" one of the most powerful positions on the planet--a responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Be Brilliant!


Monday, July 8, 2019

Four Things I've Learned

1. Don't write what you know about; write what you care about, because if you don't care, why should anyone else?

2. We live in the age of Google and Wikipedia--anything you don't know, you can research. Do the research, then let your imagination fill in the blanks.

3. Write what you enjoy reading, because if you enjoy reading it, you should enjoy (to some degree) writing it, and this will show up in your storytelling, making it more likely readers will connect with you.

4. No author is universally loved. Find the people who love you and write for them. 

(And always) Be Brilliant! 


Monday, July 1, 2019

On Reasons

For everything, there is a reason.

--Not in life, necessarily--but, when writing fiction, there had better be a clear rationale for why your character said what he said or did what she did.

Actions and reactions should be linked from page one all the way to three hundred and one. Each scene and/or event should logically progress from one to the next.

Dig deep, and know your character's "why" (even if he or she doesn't know it at the time.) 

In novels, things don't happen "just because." 

There has to be a reason.

Be Brilliant!


Monday, June 24, 2019


In fiction, neutrality is B-O-R-I-N-G.

Readers want to feel something, and if there's no emotional weight involved in what's taking place on the page, the reader (sadly) won't be affected.

Man: "I made plans with my mother on Saturday. Do you and the kids want to tag along?"

Woman: "Whatever you want."


Man: "I made plans with my mother on Saturday. Do you and the kids want to tag along?"

Woman: "Absolutely not. I told you last time that I was never stepping foot in that house again."

In truth, reality is often "Whatever you want," but exciting fiction is not neutral; it's a determined "yes" and a firm "no." A "whatever you want" or the appearance of a neutral position would only work if something is happening behind the scenes to make this character pretend to be agreeable; even then, the reader will understand that "whatever you want" is still a firm "no."

So give your characters opinions and desires. Put them at odds with the supporting cast. Start those fights. Raise those stakes.

Above all: Be Brilliant!


Monday, June 17, 2019

On Expectations

What is your character hoping will happen?

Is this clearly expressed on the page?

In a 300-page novel, there will be any number of choices for your main character to make, the results of which will comprise the plot of your story.

If we don't know what your character expects to happen or is wishing for, how will we know she's getting what she wants? How will we know when her hopes have been dashed?

Expressing our character's desires is a great way to raise the stakes in our stories.

Missing the 8 o'clock train out of the city isn't a big deal if one is coming along at 8:30 . . . unless your character has been given an ultimatum and has to be at her spouse's boss's home for a dinner party at 8:30 or he's leaving her for good.

If we don't know that, despite getting off work late (again) and getting stuck in city traffic (again), she's desperate to make that train, we're (as the reader) unlikely to feel the appropriate amount of pressure.

On the flip side, the character's actions and reactions would be very different if she was looking for a reason not to make that train.

Use your character's desires to keep your readers invested, and make sure her expectations are clearly stated so we know if she's progressing or facing setbacks. 

Be Brilliant!


Monday, June 10, 2019

First Person Narrators

Novels narrated in the first person are super fascinating to read because they make for a very immersive experience since we are, in effect, inside the storyteller's head.

Writing a first-person narrator, however, can be tricky, since two different narrators witnessing the exact same event would give us two (sometimes very) different stories.

As a result, it's a limited and nuanced perspective (some might even say it's "self-centered").

With first-person narrators, opinions/viewpoints affect everything. Everything the character tells us has some kind of meaning (otherwise, why would they say or think it?). The details included are the ones the narrator feels are most important, and this adds a new depth to the story being told (especially if the reader is unsure if the narrator is trustworthy). 

What kind of information is being presented? How is it being presented? What is the character leaving out and why? How do the other characters feel about this? The first person narrator, after all, can't tell us what others are thinking and feeling. They can infer, but there's never any certainty. 

Think about the story you want to tell, then imagine putting on a pair of glasses with blue-tinted lenses (representing your narrator's point of view). Once the glasses are on, everything you see will be affected in some way. The sky would still be blue, but a deeper shade. The trees that had green leaves would now have a prussian tone. Sand might be powder blue. It's still the sky and trees and sand, but the lens affects how it appears according to the narrator's thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

Your Story

Your Story According to Gary (or Rose or Emma)

If you're going to tackle the first person narrator, remember to put on those color-tinted glasses. It isn't about how you feel or your reactions, but how your narrator feels and reacts.

(It goes without saying that this requires knowing a lot about who your narrator is before you ever begin writing.)

Be Brilliant!


Monday, June 3, 2019

Five Ways to Ruin Your Story

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about what we can do right in our writing (or how to make what's not working work again).

But what about the flipside?

Whether you're writing page one or three hundred and one, here are five easy ways to ruin your story: 

1. There's no clear protagonist.

On page one we have Bob and Betty and Mildred and Flo. Bob is pissed at Mildred and she and Flo are icing out Betty, and then Ricky comes along and decks Bob for no reason at all, and Oh My God I have no idea who I'm supposed to pay attention to or even root for in this situation.

It's okay to start your story in the middle of the action; it's not okay to throw tons of information at your reader at once. If people are yelling and tossing punches on page one, it needs to be made absolutely clear that Ricky is the hero of this tale.   

2. The protagonist doesn't have a goal.

We know we should be paying attention to Ricky, but we have no clue what it is that he wants (except to punch Bob in the face). Maybe he doesn't even know . . . though wanting to know is, in fact, a goal. . . . but I digress. It should be very clear within the first few pages not only who your protagonist is, but what he's working toward. This, of course, can change as the narrative progresses, but readers subconsciously pick up a book with the resolution in mind. How will we know the story has ended if we don't know when Ricky has accomplished what he set out to do or even what, exactly, he wants to accomplish?    

3. There's no inner conflict.

Sure, Ricky is great at throwing punches, and he clearly hates Bob, but if he's the same person on page three hundred as he was on page one, then the reader is likely to feel cheated. Along with an outer conflict, there should be an inner conflict. After a litany of fight scenes, a story where Ricky hangs up his boxing gloves and turns to meditation to control his anger might be a journey worth following.  

4. The plot doesn't align with the goal.

We know about Ricky and his beef with Bob. We know he's intent on bringing Bob down. We know he has anger management issues he's trying to deal with. Now the plot (or the scenes that follow) needs to show a realistic progression from where Ricky is at present to who he's going to become. If you lose sight of the story question, the reader will be left scratching his or her head, wondering what shopping for leeks at the grocery store has to do with anything. (The answer? Nothing. Leave it out.)  

5. The character isn't believably attached to the goal.

Ricky says he wants to stop fighting with Bob, but he's made zero progress and we're moving into the final chapter of the story. Are we sure that's what he wanted? You know I love a good plot twist, but even these need to feel inevitable.

No protagonist, no goal, no conflict, irrelevant commentary, no attachment to the ultimate outcome. . . . These are five of the best ways to ruin your story for the reader. . . . 

Unless, of course, you write esoteric literary fiction. 

In that case, #$%! the rules.

Be Brilliant!