Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Key Ingredient in All Great Stories

Nice to see ya. To see ya, nice.

Finally moved to our new home in the country this week. Been packing and humping boxes and furniture for days and everything aches!

Which is why I'm a bit late getting my latest course up on The Writing Academy. Should be ready sometime next week.

It's a good one: Secrets of a Freelance Writer, a massive video course that contains every tip, tactic, and trick I've employed to make a great living over the last 25 years - being only a freelance writer.

Look out for that soon!

Keep Writing

Rob Parnell
Your Success is my Concern
The Key Ingredient in Great Stories
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During some sleepless-night downtime recently, I was thinking about stories and what made them work, and what made them satisfying to read.

I mean, pretty much anyone can sit down and write - but it takes a little extra thought to write a story that other people will care about.

And I wondered what that was.

Was there a secret ingredient?

And, if so, is there one word that could sum up what makes a good story?

I believe there is.

It's not form or content. It's not characterization or plotting. It's not even talent.

I believe you can sum up what makes a story compelling in one word:

Survival.

It's clear to anyone that studies short stories and novels, even autobiographies and other literary forms that good stories are made up of characters overcoming obstacles.

Without obstacles, there's no point in telling a character's story.

Without something to fight or yearn for, or dream about, the reader can't identify with and / or get involved in a hero's plight.

Think about it.

If you're introduced to a static character, you know that something is probably going to happen TO them.

But if you're introduced to a dynamic, thinking character with an agenda and something to overcome, you pretty much know that something is going to be done BY them.

And we like characters that take action or respond positively to adversity.

It's human nature.

Whether the characters are beset by natural disasters, personal tragedy or is simply being pursued by bad guys, we want the heroes to triumph, to survive...

Because I think survival, in whatever form, is at the heart of the human condition.

We are programmed, as a species, to carry on, to keep seeking wisdom, truth and enlightenment.

And unless you include these elements in your stories, you're not creating writing that readers will enjoy reading.

I remember having trouble writing when I was young.

I wrote, sometimes a lot, but I couldn't quite understand what was wrong with my writing.

It seemed unsatisfying.

I wrote about real people, fictional people, antiheroes mainly who were perceptive and challenged - but my stories never seemed to go anywhere - and when they did, left my readers cold.

But I realized after a while that my early attempts at writing weren't really ABOUT anything.

There was little for readers to enjoy because I hadn't grasped that readers want purpose and resolution to stories.

They want characters that are more than ordinary, more than real.

Simply observing and recording reality, then tinkering with it to make fictional stories isn't quite enough.

That's only half of the writer's job.

The other half requires that you show, through your insight, that there is a POINT to your tales.

That not only do they explore themes, you try to make sense of them too.

Readers, writers, every human wants to feel as though there is meaning out there.

And that, whatever happens to us, we will continue to grow, learn and gain wisdom.

Because a life with no meaning, no hope, no purpose, is no real life at all.

And to survive is not just to carry on living,

it is to overcome whatever life throws at us. To partake in the game...

...and win.

Keep Writing!

The Easy Way to Write
Keep Writing!
The Easy Way to Write
rob@easywaytowrite.com

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What Makes a Pro Writer?

Already half way through February and our new year's resolutions are looking vague and somehow inappropriate for 2017. 

Funny how that works. You get all excited about new projects one minute and then the next, you wonder what it was that inspired you.  

It's all part of being a creative artist. You need to focus, make decisions based on moments of clear thinking, and follow through - whether motivated or not.

If you wait to be "in the right mood" before you start, you'll never get anything done!

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
What Makes a Pro Writer?
Yay!

They say writing is more than a skill, a pastime, or a way of making a living. 

It is a vocation - like being a nurse or missionary. 

In order to commit yourself, and impress those that would read your work, you have to want to do it for nothing.

Indeed this is how many of us become writers - it's something we feel compelled to do, whether asked to, required to or not!

Certainly I've noticed that when you first start dealing with publishers, your enthusiasm, commitment and talent are of primary concern. Any talk of money too early in the process will see you ostracized very quickly.

You're supposed to want to write for yourself - for Art's sake - first.

I guess it's about trust. The people that would help us get our work seen - in other words, published - need to be sure that our motives are sincere. That we write for some purpose other than just to make money.

Tosh!

Robyn and I have discussed this aspect of the writer's dilemma many times - and we have a counter argument.

Writing is time consuming, hard work sometimes, and almost impossible to sustain a good living at for most writers - 97% make less than $10,000 a year according to the last survey I read.

It's clear that if writers don't get paid, they can't continue writing- at least not without considering poverty as a career choice.

Given the vast millions that publishers make, I've always thought that they should pay new writers to submit work - but of course that's never going to happen! There's simply too many would be writers who are willing to chance it based on nothing more than a vague possibility of success.

But This is To Your Advantage

Because for every one hundred writers that try and fail - either through discouragement, the apathy of publishers, or the sheer force of having to pay the rent - there's one, like you, that ain't givin' up!

But how do you sustain the momentum - the will and the courage to continue?

Easy. Get obsessed. Dream about your writing success. Fantasize about it every moment of every day. Create a compulsion within yourself that cannot be undermined.

Be insane. Be illogical. Be unrealistic!

Because...

Over the years I've noticed something very telling. The writers with the most talent don't always rise to the top. But the writers who don't stop and won't take no for an answer, and just keep going regardless of criticism and bad experiences, are the ones that make it - every time.

Reflection Strengthens Determination

Actively thinking about your writing is not just about trying to improve or responding positively to feedback, it's about organizing your thoughts and reactions to to what people say about your writing. You can take criticism well or badly. It can fire you up or destroy you. It's your choice.

I used to think I wasn't good enough to be a professional writer - and my lack of success reinforced that view.

But I had it all wrong. What I failed to understand at the time was that, if you just keep going, respond to feedback and keep plugging away at new projects, you become good enough over time.

Your technique improves. You begin to write more effectively and tell better stories. But none of that matters if you don't have the single minded drive to overcome the apparent obstacles to your success.

It's too easy to get discouraged. The system is designed for that to happen - to weed out those that are not determined.

Take heart, if you are fully committed, there are no obstacles that cannot be overcome, there are no barriers - real or imagined - that you cannot triumph over.

In the words of a very old cliche - and things become cliches, remember, usually because they're true:

"There is nothing you can't do once you set your mind to it."

So, this year -go for it!

Keep writing!
Rob@easywaytowrite.com
Creating Better Writers

The Easy Way to Write
Keep Writing!
The Easy Way to Write
rob@easywaytowrite.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentine's Day Price Massacre

Everyone talks about Black Friday - but I thought, "There should be another crazy sale at this time of year!"

So here it is: 95% OFF everything until midnight tonight.

The St Valentine's Day Price Massacre: see below for prices as low as UNDER FIVE BUCKS for entire writing courses!

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write
Keep Writing!
The Easy Way to Write
rob@easywaytowrite.com

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Your Mother Should Know. Yeah, Right.



Welcome to this week's uncertain world.

I don't know about you but when I listen to the news, I think the world is becoming more like George Orwell's 1984 every minute.

This morning Trump said, "We will not allow intolerance."

Does anyone else hear the absurdity of that statement? It's Orwell's Doublespeak. 

Anyway, this newsletter is about improving your English, rather than corrupting it!

Write From The Start - From Inspiration to Publication and Beyond

Keep Writing,

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern


"Getting paid for writing is a triumph of tenacity over intelligence."

I love this quote - it's one of my favorites - not least because it's one of my mother's.

Mommie dearest has always regarded writers as odd sorts.

The idea that we would spend a large portion of our day knocking out words for no obvious reward has always struck her as, in her word, silly.

A waste of time basically and not the sort of occupation for a sane person.

She may be right but that doesn't stop it from being a compulsion for me - and most other writers I know.

I remember once when she came to visit me - which only happens about once a decade.

I was at a particular low point. Can't remember why. I think I'd just lost my way after a deal fell through. One of those times, you know?

It was with great glee and insistence that she leaped on my misfortune and told me the situation was a God-given sign that I should give up all this arty stuff and settle down - get a proper job and be normal, as though that's a cure for everything.

That one time, I mistakenly thought she was on to something and I got a job as a purchasing manager for a big city investment firm.

God how I hated that place - although the experience of working 9 to 5 did teach me a lot about human nature - more especially the dark side of my own!

Three years, a broken marriage, and a nervous breakdown later, the City and I parted on bad terms and I vowed, "Never again." 

Like you do.

I shouldn't have listened to my mother but I did.

It wasn't her fault.

I guess she thought she knew best but didn't really get my total inability to work for other people.

As I say, not her fault. Mine entirely for not understanding that you really do have to follow your own instincts, even when they seem 'contrariwise'.

A decade later I was able to tell mom about some of my paid writing credits and the quote above erupted from her.

She meant it in a derogatory way, as mothers often do, in case you were wondering. Implying the intelligence that would have me 'settle down' was again being corrupted by my 'arty' side.   

So be it. At least now I'm happy... probably all the more for having hovered near the abyss of the rat race and backed away from its empty allure before too much toxic exposure.

Yes, you need for an almost blind faith in yourself as a writer. But a faith that is moderated by the feedback you get.

And I don't mean feedback on your writing.

I mean the experiences you encounter.

There are many sharks out there - not all of them evil.

Some just want you to work for nothing because you're there - and they think that's what writers on the Net do.

Working for free is okay sometimes - if it's going to lead somewhere.

Most times it doesn't. Especially online.

It takes a particular tenacity (that word again) to recognize good opportunities - and profit from them as a writer in a world that is set up to regard writers as odd arty types who will (too often) work very hard for nada.

For a long time, I've been preaching that real writing work - and the real money for it - is off-line but I know this is not what modern would-be authors want to hear.

They want to believe the hype they hear from certain writing gurus.

Especially now that the Net is such a big part of many writers' lives.

Many of us need to believe that the Net can help - and it can, wonderfully, IF you know what to do, how to use it, and when, and why - but never rely on it to provide for everything.

In the meantime, my best advice would be: "Don't take advice from your mother!"

She doesn't always know best.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Plotting Perfect Stories


Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Duration: 2 hours approx
Delivery: PDF. Text based
Rob Parnell and The Writing Academy present:
When it comes to writing stories, once you have a good grasp of character creation, you can then move on to the tricky part: creating a great plot for your novel, short story or flash/fan fiction.
Plotting is fundamental to story. It can make or break the impact of your writing.
A plot is not merely a sequence of events - in the same way that a series of diary entries is not a story. A plot is something much more involved - it implies a coherence that goes way beyond a simple relating of 'story points'.
A good plot is a thing of beauty. It has symmetry and a solidity that goes far beyond what most writers even try to accomplish…
So what makes a good plot?
Here's your chance to find out in Rob Parnell's: Plotting Perfect Stories
Course includes:
Module One: Introduction
In which we examine the parameters of an effective plots and what makes them work. We also examine types of plots and how to create maximum engagement.
Module Two: Genesis of an Idea
In which we identify why plots fall apart and what we can do about it. Plot versus narrative, taking ideas and expanding on them using character, conflict and other writers' experience as anchor points.
Module Three: Development of the Framework
In which we examine story creation and the many different ways of outlining a template.
Module Four: Creating a Masterpiece
In which we learn about a complete fourteen question and answer session that reveals your plot to you almost automatically.
BONUS Item: The 7 Story Patterns
A unique look at how to create classic children's stories by J Moore with lots of examples to prove the author's point!
A good plot is an exploration of theme, character and observation - it is about creating a complete virtual world in which your thoughts and ideas are expressed with clarity and boldness.
Rob Parnell says: "I can confidently predict that after you study this course you will NEVER have problems plotting ever again!"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How The Author Disappears From View

I've been getting some lovely feedback recently regarding my Writing Academy. People seem to love it, which pleases me greatly.

There's so far almost one thousand students enjoying twenty live courses, two of them free, with eleven more writing courses due up over the next couple of months.

After that I'll be making a course about creating a course of your own! (What's the point of learning how to do things unless you can teach others to do the same?)

Anyway, a new mini course is out today, This one is specifically about Character Creation for fiction.

And it's only $7, down from $97. Go here for that.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success is my Concern
How the Author Disappears From View
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​​​​​​​There's a profound difference between a preacher and a commentator, a politician and a journalist, a spin doctor and a critic. And what is that?

One word. Agenda.
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The main reason why we don't always trust preachers, politicians, and spin doctors is not that they lie - though clearly they sometimes do - it's just that they generally only give us one side of the truth. The truth as they see it. In effect, their agenda dictates the message.

A preacher will tell you only he has the facts - and you'd better listen to him or watch out...

A politician may want you to believe his version of the state of the economy - so he will deliberately withhold contrary facts, distort any opposing argument and/or belittle his detractors - sound familiar?

The modern spin doctor will point out benefits to seemingly bad events, or minimize the impact of bad news by diverting your attention to something else. All very clever - but is it right?

If we're paying attention, we should be able to see these people's agendas at work - and choose to either ignore what they say, take them with a pinch of salt - or perhaps agree, because they reflects our own agendas.

But what about these opposing views? Don't they need a fair hearing too?

If we (as consumers) are to make wise decisions based on the facts, we surely need to be able to see a situation from all angles, to appreciate all factors in order to view things with objectivity. Because only from wise decisions can our lives be enriched.

As a writer, and therefore as a purveyor of truth, you need to be fair and objective. You mustn't hide from the truth, or try to negate certain facts or play any cheap tricks with words. Even in fiction.

The way to do this is to, as far as possible, 'remove' yourself from the writing. A reader should not be constantly aware that there is an author trying to tell him something. You do this by effectively 'hiding' your opinions and your agendas from the reader.

If you have a character with a particular agenda, it's important you have the opposing view outlined somewhere else in your text. It's not your job to force one view of the world on to readers. You must gain their trust and you can only do that by being seen to be objective. Start to preach and you'll lose the reader, I guarantee it!

A good piece of writing will be a measured argument. It will contain both sides of a debate. When you choose a theme for your story, make sure you're going to show both sides of the issue. Your eventual story resolution may imply a certain truth but you should not overtly suggest that it is the only truth - or that you have some kind of monopoly on it!

As a serious writer, it is your job to speak with authority - to imply that you have a kind of omniscient wisdom - that you see all, present all but without judgment - and that you are leaving the ultimate decisions about what's right and wrong to your reader.

For example, in an article for a magazine, the best way to speak with authority is to leave your more extreme opinions - and your agendas - out of the piece. For example if you are presenting an article recommending store items or different products, you can't be seen to favor just one - you will then be accused of having a vested interest - or receiving some kick back.

The same applies to fiction. You cannot be seen to favor one character's viewpoint to the exclusion of all others.

I guess what I'm talking about is balance. On a simplistic level, where you have bad guys, you need heroes. Where there is evil behavior, you need salvation. Where there is war and despair, you need hope.

On a practical level, where you have characters that espouse extreme views, you need other characters that endorse contrary views, so that you don't get accused of using your writing as platform for sermonizing.

As far as you can, strive for balance in your writing. Whenever you feel tempted to make an issue of one of your own personal agendas, think it through - try to imagine and incorporate the opposing view.

I think you'll find your writing will be stronger for it.

Of course, the one exception - where you're 'allowed' to express biased opinions - is advertising. In fact, it's where all the rules of good objective writing are often deliberately broken.

But that's for another article - to come later no doubt!

Until next time,

Keep writing!
The Easy Way to Write
Keep Writing!
The Easy Way to Write
rob@easywaytowrite.com

Thursday, January 12, 2017

If In Doubt Leave It Out

Did you get the free course on writing your own autobiography? It's here:

Today's article is about how to make your writing more professional-looking.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell
Your Success is My Concern
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You probably won't be surprised to learn I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts. I also read a lot of published work. Are there some glaring differences between the two? You betcha.

The fact is most beginning writers write too much. That's okay for the first draft but when it comes to editing, you need to give that delete key a thorough work out!

Good writing is about pacing, about taking the reader on a journey and keeping in step with them along the way.

If you get the pacing wrong, the reader will stumble and begin to lose interest because it will seem you are more interested in writing the words than telling the story or relaying the information.

Here are some tips on how to cut down on unnecessary verbiage!

The Art of Description

With the advent of global communication and visual media, we all know what most things and even most places look like. It's no longer necessary to spend more than a couple of sentences establishing what things are, where scenes are set, and what the weather is like, if that's important for mood.

Many readers nowadays will actually skip descriptive passages because they find them dull and interrupt the flow of the text. So don't beat yourself up over getting all the details across - that's what the reader's imagination is for!

Qualify That

Sometimes we write scenes etc., we're not sure the reader will understand - so we add extra words to explain ourselves, resulting in more confusion than clarity. For instance, look at this:

"With the divorce weighing on his mind, and his fears about losing his job, John was having difficulty deciding what to do with himself. Could he face going out, knowing that Pete would probably spend the evening ribbing him over his inability to get along with his boss and his problems with his estranged wife?"

Clearly this is clumsy and confusing to read. Much better to remove the qualifiers and simplify:

"The divorce was weighing on his mind. Did he want to go out? John wasn't sure. Pete would probably just want to rib him."

In the above version, even though the propositions are only loosely defined, the reader still gets it. You don't always need to explain every little nuance to get a point or two across. Quite the opposite in fact.

Room to Breathe?

When you write you make a contract with your reader, whom you must regard as your equal. Not someone who is slow to understand and needs to be carefully led, shown everything, and generally talked down to.

It's perfectly okay to leave out obvious - and therefore redundant - details. You don't always have to explain exactly who said what, what happened where, why, and for how long it happened.

Too many writers clog up their stories with unnecessary backstory, linking scenes, plot justifications and long, complicated explanations of issues the reader already regards as clear.

If you write with honesty and intelligence, your reader knows what you mean. When you over explain, you insult the reader. Don't do it.

Direction

Quite often writing suffers because the reader doesn't know where you're going. They wonder why you're focusing on certain characters and details - especially when you haven't first hinted at the 'point' of your story.

When you open a piece, you need a big 'sign' that tells the reader you're going THIS WAY, so that the reader knows what to expect along the way. You need to define your objectives - your purpose - in some way on the first page.

For instance, if you're writing a murder mystery, don't spend the first chapter following the protagonist around doing her laundry. Get on with the story and as soon as you can, show us the body!

Play By The Rules

Especially in genre fiction, you have to adhere to certain rules, because that's what the reader wants. Horror stories need to be at least a little horrific, right from the start. Romance requires that you have lovers at odds with each other by page two. Science fiction and fantasy require the elements of their genres too.

Publishers often say that, though many writers are good, they often write themselves outside of any given genre in their desire to be different or original - thereby, alas, disqualifying themselves from publication!

Of course it's important to be original - but if you can do that within the confines your reader expects, your chances of success skyrocket.

Focus

What you're looking for is sharp writing that relays the facts. When you go back and edit for sense, go for simplicity rather than exposition. If you waffle on about the intricacies of conflicting thought processes or meander through long descriptions of the countryside, you lose all sense of tension.

Pick up any popular novel. The best ones have no words that are about writing. They're all about story.

Speech tags

Okay. Speech tags - you know: all the he said, she cried, they exclaimed blah de blah. I'll keep this advice simple and precise. Unless you're writing children's fiction, lose them. As many as you can. It's the way of the modern writer.

The way to do this is to use other, more subtle ways of suggesting who is saying what. It's easily done, it just requires a little thought.

You can refer to character's actions just before or after dialogue, or use different styles to suggest different people.

Just as an experiment, try editing out all of the speech tags from your next MS. I think you'll be surprised and... master this technique and readers will love you for it!

Adverbs

Yep - we all know we're not supposed to use them, especially after a speech tag. They really are mostly redundant and add little to the story. Repeat to yourself three times before bedtime: I will edit out every word that ends in 'ly'! (I just noticed there are three in this paragraph - oops!)

Well, I could go on like this for hours - 'do this, do that, don't do that' etc., - I take writing very seriously, as I'm sure you've guessed. I hope these few tips will help you the next time you edit your final draft.

The general rule, by the way, is that at least 20% of your MS is probably surplus to requirements! And that goes for all of us!

The Easy Way to Write
Keep Writing!
rob@easywaytowrite.com

The Easy Way to Write

Welcome to the official blog of the Easy Way to Write from Rob Parnell, updated weekly - sometimes more often!