Monday, June 18, 2018

Are You Serious?

Today, I have a simple question:

What steps are you willing to take to get from where you are now 
to where you want to be?

Because when we're serious about our dreams, we set goals. When we're serious about the goals we set, we break them down into manageable steps. Once they're broken down, we make plans to accomplish them. We rearrange our schedules and pencil in time toward achieving these goals, marking our progress as we go. 

We do whatever it takes.

We overcome whatever stands in our way.

We stay strong and resilient. 

We stay focused on the finish line.

"I want to write a book," she tells me.

"That's awesome! How serious are you about that?" I ask.

Be Brilliant! ;)


Thursday, June 14, 2018

On Minor Characters Who Matter -- Writing Tips

As you're bringing your minor characters to life, remember to:

1. Counter our expectations.

2. Use contrast, but don't go for the obvious.

3. Make them human and give them their own conflicts to deal with.

4. Focus on the effect they have on the main character and the effect the main character has on them.

5. Use them to help advance the storyline, twist the plot, offer relief, or convey information, but then move them out of the way. If your minor characters become more fascinating than the main character, you may be writing the wrong book. ;)

Be Brilliant!


Monday, June 11, 2018

On Being Self-Directed

Chances are no one is standing behind you with a weapon to your back forcing you to write. Sure, you may have a deadline--self-imposed or otherwise--but if you didn't sit down every day for at least fifteen to twenty minutes to write, the world would keep on spinning.

Wouldn't it be kind of great, though, if we did have that kind of motivation? If writing suddenly became a life or death matter? Because if our lives actually depended on getting one thousand words on the page, we would most certainly rise to the occasion under that kind of pressure.

But life doesn't quite work that way, and if you really want to get one thousand words on the page you might just have to say "no" to something or re-arrange your schedule or get up early or stay up late.

We have to act in our own best self-interest, doing the right thing (writing) for the right reasons. We don't have to write; we want to write. We get to write. We choose to write. 

No one is going to force our butts in the chair. The Scrivener file (or MS Word or Mac Pages document) isn't going to open itself. The words won't pour out until we turn the faucet on. 

It's all up to us.

Be Brilliant!


Monday, June 4, 2018

Workshop: Premises (Part 1)

The following post originally appeared in the May 2018 newsletter. If you're not already a subscriber, the link is in the sidebar. -->

In one of my favorite books on storytelling, John Truby discusses the idea of premises. The premise, he says, “is your story stated in one sentence.”

Many publishing houses prefer “high concept” premises, or those stories that can be reduced to a simple description that audiences will both understand and want to see. In film, this is known as a “logline.” In publishing, it’s sometimes referred to as an “elevator pitch.”

According to Alexandra Sokoloff, the premise “should give you a sense of the entire story: the character of the protagonist, the character of the antagonist, the conflict, the setting, the tone, the genre. And – it should make whoever hears it want to read the book. Preferably immediately.”

Here are the three movie premises she provides as examples:

1. When a great white shark starts attacking beachgoers in a coastal town during high tourist season, a water-phobic Sheriff must assemble a team to hunt it down before it kills again.

2. A young female FBI trainee must barter personal information with an imprisoned psychopathic genius in order to catch a serial killer who is capturing and killing young women for their skins.

3. A treasure-hunting archeologist races over the globe to find the legendary Lost Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s minions can acquire and use it to supernaturally power the Nazi army.

Chances are, you know exactly which movies she’s referencing just by these simple (one-sentence) descriptions.

Book/story premises work the same way. Here are a couple of Truby’s examples:

1. A boy discovers he has magical powers and attends a school for magicians.

2.  When an Egyptian prince discovers that he is a Hebrew, he leads his people out of slavery.

Often, as writers, we fumble over the ideas when someone asks what our book is about. After all, a lot happens in two hundred pages. But the clearer we can be about our novel’s premise before we begin writing, the better.

The premise for Cross My Heart:

A young perfectionist falls in love with the proverbial “bad boy,” making her rethink everything she knows about life and love.

And for Collateral Damage:

A young cop falls in love with a classmate while he’s working undercover, inadvertently dragging her into the crossfire as he tries to take down a local drug dealer.

Nailing down the premise before you start drafting is prudent because

if the premise is weak, nothing else is going to help the story.

So how do we come up with a million-dollar premise (or, at the very least, a premise that people will want to read)?

Truby suggests:

1.  Write a story that will change your life.

“If a story is that important to you,” he says, “it may be that important to a lot of people in the audience.”

2.  Examine every possible story path.

“Don’t jump on a single possibility right away, even if it looks really good,” he says.

Explore your options, don’t censor yourself, and choose the best one.

3. Identify and analyze the story’s potential challenges.

You’ll have to confront and solve these problems early if you want to tell the most effective story. Otherwise, Truby says: “be prepared to confront any narrative challenges as the story unfolds.”

4. Find the Designing Principle

The designing principle is your story strategy, or how you will tell your story.

“The designing principle is what organizes the story as a whole. It is the internal logic of the story, what makes the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than the sum of its parts. It is what makes the story original.”

This is a bit more abstract than the premise, but Truby has a great formula for determining the designing principle.

Designing principle = story process + original execution

Here are two of his examples:


Premise: When three ghosts visit a stingy old man, he regains the spirit of Christmas

Designing Principle: Trace the rebirth of a man by forcing him to view his past, present, and future over the course of one Christmas Eve.


Premise: when a man prepares to commit suicide, an angel shows him what the world would be had he never been born.

Designing Principle: Express the power of the individual by showing what a town and nation would be like if one man had never lived.

To Be Continued. . . .


Alexandra Sokoloff. “What’s Your Premise?” Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. 2010

John Truby. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Faber and Faber. New York. 2007

Thursday, May 31, 2018

On Heroes -- Writing Tips

In every story, your hero should:

1. Be real.

2. Be inspiring.

3. Have something to hope for, a cause to chase, a reason to push on, and/or someone to save.

4. Have the capacity to change.

5. Face unsettling problems.

6. Have a past or a secret.

7. Have an impact on the world and/or the people around them.

*Fewer things should happen to your main character, and more things should happen because of them.

Be Brilliant!


Thursday, May 17, 2018

On Time

This wasn't what I was planning on blogging about today, but it's too important not to share.

From Seth Godin in “The Difference Between Time and Money”:

“You can't save up time. You can't refuse to spend it. 
You can't set it aside. 
Either you're spending your time. Or your time is spending you.”

There are a lot of excuses floating around as to why we’re not getting our projects completed (or starting them in the first place). The biggest?

“I don’t have the time.”

But what if you made the time? What if you cut something from your schedule that wasn’t currently serving you or adding value to your life? What if you replaced that with genuine, focused work toward your goal or dream? What would your life look like then?

What if?

Be Brilliant!