Thursday, July 27, 2017

What is a Story Premise and Why is is So Important?

Once you know your premise, it will make writing your story much easier and quicker.

Using a premise as a starting point is about creating a CONCRETE idea that will not allow you to drift and wallow in self-indulgence.

A premise is a rudder and a steering wheel.

It’s a road map for your fiction writing.

Let me explain why in terms easier to understand.

In the visual arts, that is: TV and the movies, the premise is EVERYTHING.

People will give you millions of dollars for a great premise for a show BUT it must be specific and compelling.

Think about the TV shows you love and then summarize them.

A bestselling author and a female New York cop investigate murder mysteries and their relationship deepens over time. CASTLE

A Smithsonian anthropologist and an FBI agent investigate murder mysteries and their relationship deepens over time. BONES

An ex Baseball player and a private eye investigate murder mysteries and their relationship deepens over time. PRIVATE EYES

Notice any kind of pattern here?

As you can see, there doesn’t have to be anything particularly original about a premise.

Besides, original doesn’t mean what you think it does.

In many ways, ORIGINAL really means the SAME but DIFFERENT.

Do these above examples help us understand a premise? Perhaps.

A dictionary definition is more specific:

         “A premise is a proposal from which a conclusion can be drawn.”

Actually, a bit like a s scientific theory: a mix of “ingredients” that will result in some kind of magical formula - for a hit show or a bestselling book.

In this definition, the premise is the concrete idea that drives a story. It’s a story’s reason to be. The inspiration and MORE - the end result becomes inevitable BECAUSE of the way the PROPOSAL (the FORMULA) plays out.

And as we all know, the deepening of these various “relationships” MUST end in consummation and often marriage EVEN THOUGH this will always destroy the original premise!

Think of a premise for a story now.

For instance, a character finds a magic stone that makes him invisible.

He decides to rob a bank with it and become rich.

Now, if you’re any kind of fiction writer, you can see where this is going.

It will no doubt end badly.

But already the premise is suggesting a structure - even a character type and possible scenario.
PLUS, if your ultimate message is going to be that having a magic stone will get you put in prison, your message - and your moral code - is already going to be intrinsic to your story outlines.

Now, if you follow the modern trend and make your protagonist somewhat successful in his first “evil” endeavor, then you’re indulging in a kind of moral ambiguity - and perhaps eliciting sympathy for a bad guy before his “inevitable” downfall. This is good, to be expected.

Here, by thinking through our premise, we’re beginning to touch on THEME - which is really an expression of our internal world - and a reflection of our ethical viewpoint.

If you were writing this magic stone story, where would you stand?

Can the magic stone be good?

Can the character be IMPROVED by having a relationship with the magic stone - without your story seeming trite and predictable?

This is a great time to test your story for originality - BEFORE you write it.

And you do that by asking pertinent questions about your theme and premise BEFORE you start the
writing!

Try it.

Invent a premise Then ask yourself:

Is it BOLD? Which means:

Is it Believable?

Is it Original?

Is it Logical?

Is it Durable?

Finally, ask yourself:


What can I do to make the premise better, more interesting, more compelling - but still in line with my value system? 

Keep Writing!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Aim For Perfection - Nine Writing Tips




Writing is not a race. Nobody wins it by getting something out there first.

The work that succeeds is often not the most original. It is the work that is finely honed to perfection before it gets released.

There's really only one duty writers owes to themselves and their readers - and that is to constantly strive to improve.

Ask any seasoned writer and they'll tell you that getting better at the craft is probably the most fulfilling aspect of writing. Because you are effectively getting better at communicating your ideas - and placing your worldview into the minds of others. To me, this is an almost magical concept.

So - constant improvement - how does one achieve it? Here are nine tips:

1. Read Like it's Going Out of Fashion
You've heard it a million times before. You can't love writing without first loving to read. Read a lot. Read everything. Analyze writing and writers. Study what works, what doesn't, wonder why and learn from it.

Realize too that the published writing you see has probably been worked and reworked over and over to appear effortless.

Don't assume professional writers get it down perfectly every time.

They do not.

Their work has been analyzed, edited and beaten into shape by themselves and other editors.

2. Study Your Own Writing
Study every word, every sentence, every phrase. Are you maximizing the effect of your words? Could you say the same thing a different way?

Don't just blindly accept your words as perfect. Professionals know there is always another way of stating something, setting a scene, capturing an emotion.

Many novice writers fall in love with their words, refusing to accept there might be a better way to get to what is true.

3. Learn to Love Criticism
When we start out, criticism hurts - big time. We've bared our soul. We've agonized over our words and are proud of what we've said. Off-hand comments about our work can feel like a body slam, an attack on our capabilities, our character, our integrity.

But that's not what is going on. People love to criticize - it's human nature. Even the best writers are criticized. The point is to learn from criticism and rise above it. Listen to what is being said, make changes if necessary but do it for yourself. You are the final arbiter - but don't be blind or sulky about it. Take it all on board.

4. Read Aloud to Others
Reading out loud can highlight the strengths and weaknesses of your writing. Especially in the areas of rhythm, wordiness, and dialogue. It's a great test.

Read to friends and family, yes, but also read to other writers. Let them make comments. Enjoy the process.

Try this.

Read a short piece to a group of friends/writers. Make note of how your writing sounds to them. Listen to suggestions. Make changes, read it aloud again. Keep doing this until everyone involved thinks the writing - every word, every phrase - is perfect.

5. Try Different Styles
It's too easy to get stuck in one area of expertise. If you're a fiction buff, try writing magazine articles or screenplays. If you're a journalist, try free-form fiction. If you're a literary type, try writing advertising copy. Don't limit yourself. All types of writing are good in their own way and experimenting with them can teach you little tricks that help you become a more mature, fully rounded writer.

Novice writers tend to think they shouldn't experiment, that somehow it might taint their art.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

6. Take Courses, Read More Books on Writing
The process of being taught, of exposing yourself to the ideas of others, cannot be underestimated. Even if you disagree with what is being said, it all helps stretch you and give you a deeper understanding of what is good and right for your writing.

When you take lessons in writing, study hard, do the exercises, listen to the feedback, act on it and write some more. Your writing will improve the more you do it. Don't sit and fret over your writing.

Thinking about writing is NOT writing. Just do it.

7. Seek Out Good Advice
I often hear novice writers complain that they're learning nothing new about writing from the various authorities they consult. They sound disillusioned, as if perhaps there's more pertinent information out there, somewhere, if only they could find it.

Odd. considering I've never met a seasoned writer who didn't love to debate the absolute basics of word-play, grammar, sentence structure and all the other little things that novices seem to grow so weary of hearing - and doing nothing about!

Remember. You can never hear good advice too many times.

8. Give Back
Share your knowledge. Teach what you have learned about writing to others. Too often novice writers can feel there's some sort of clique of professionals who don't want to talk to them or associate with them.

We writers, whatever our abilities, must learn to see ourselves as a community with similar aims - to actively enhance all our writing - to raise the bar and to act for the betterment of all writers.

9. Constantly Want More From Yourself
Stretch yourself continuously. Find new ways of expressing yourself.

Writing is sometimes a strange past-time. A writing project that begins like an adventure can quickly become an obsession that ends up feeling like some self-inflicted curse!

But all writing experience is good, whether it's fun or not. Not all of your writing is going to be joyful and fulfilling. Some of it may be a hard slog or a nuisance. 

This is okay.

If you want to succeed in writing, it should become your life, your passion, your reason to be. It's a fine and noble way of life. If you want it, embrace it, and your writing will benefit enormously.

Best of luck and - whatever you do - keep writing!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Who's Your Antagonist?


 When writing fiction, writers are forced to consider the protagonist and his or her agenda. We need to ask what our hero's goals are and where they want to end up as people.
Now usually, there is an antagonist whose desire to thwart the hero's goals is at least as strong, if not stronger than the hero's.

But what about writers? Who is our main antagonist?

Alas - usually ourselves.

When it comes to writing, there's that little guy inside your head who wants to criticize - endlessly. His voice reminds you constantly that you have no special talent, that your writing is average at best, and that you should never, ever show your work to anyone because, well, it's crap.

Helpful little fella. And to think, he lives inside of us!

Suppressing the inner critic is a necessary part of the writing process. If we couldn't silence the little rascal, we'd never write anything. Indeed many writers get stuck on page one because they can't ignore the nagging doubts the inner critic has no qualms about repeating and reinforcing every time they sit down and write.

Much of my teaching is about dealing with your internal critic because I think, especially for the first draft, he's not very helpful. The inner critic's job comes later, after the main thrust of the story is down - from beginning to end.

Because one of the main problems with the inner critic is that he stops you from finishing anything. I know many writers who never finish anything because the critic takes over their thinking before they get anywhere near the end of their stories or pieces. Not good.

Disastrous in fact.

It gets worse. 

Because even after you've completed your work, polished it, worked hard and let yourself believe you have created something of value, the critic is still there. 
You have the submission envelope in your hand, ready. But he's waiting by the door, arms folded, foot tapping, looking at you with that nasty smug expression, saying, "You've not actually going to send that out are you?"

And you're forced to wonder:

Just how embarrassing would it be to send this out?

Just how bad is my writing?

What will people think of it?

What will people think of me?

None of which is helpful to you - or your potential career.

Well, there's hope. Because the fact is, it doesn't matter how far you get, that inner critic never goes away. So while you can consult with him on technical issues and listen to his advice sometimes, you really just have to shut him up, lock him away in the shed, when the time comes to submitting.

You need to develop a brave and cavalier attitude towards your work once it's done. Get it out there.

What's the worse that can happen? 

You get rejected. So what? Join the ranks of the writer. We all get rejected all the time, for all the wrong reasons - and only occasionally for the right ones!

I remember a story from the music business (my favorite sources of anecdotes) about Marianne Faithful. She was a pop star in the sixties and had a fling with Mick Jagger if memory serves. Well, at one point she was making a comeback single with the Pet Shop Boys and got very angry with herself during the vocal take.

In the studio, she started crying, beating herself up for being less than perfect. At which point Neil Tennant said to her, "Hey Marianne, get it together, it's only a song."

There's a lesson here. Your submission is only a story. You might attach all kinds of significance to it but, really, it's just another bunch of words that, if you never send them out, are not going to be read - or missed.

So again, what's the worst that can happen? 

If you get rejected, write some more. Send those words out instead. Any successful writer will tell you that the more you send out the luckier you seem to get. And better probably, simply because you will not give up.

You don't have to be superb anymore. You don't have to be literary. You just have to be out there. 

You have to catch the tide of popularity - and find your own fans.

They're out there. Waiting for you.

You just gotta believe it.

Keep Writing!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Finding Your Author's Voice


A writer friend asked me the other day, "When I read, I find I'm influenced by other authors. Depending on who I'm reading, my writing style is either playful, deep sounding or whatever. How can I stop writing like other writers and find my own voice?"

(She also added that I might want to write an article based on my response - hence what you're reading now!)

Before we get on to practical tips, we should cover some basic preconceptions about voice.

First of all, your voice should never be some affectation you acquire or work on. I think you know what I mean. When we're at school or in the office, we're told there's a way to say things - a style we must adopt to conform to the medium.

Many novice writers think the same applies to fiction - that there is perhaps some predetermined mental attitude and/or demeanor one should adopt - usually a 'superior, more learned' version of ourselves - to sound more authoritative when telling stories.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

You should always write in the style that is most natural to you. It may well be different from your speaking voice but should always reflect the way your mind works.

Secondly, your voice doesn't have to be 'original'. You can waste years of your time wondering what 'originality' is and trying to define and acquire it.

When critics, publishers, and agents say they want 'originality', I believe they have no idea what they mean. They merely confuse writers by demanding something so nebulous and indefinable. I think what they should really be asking for is 'honesty'.

The simple truth is you already possess all the originality you need. You are already unique. No-one else thinks and writes like you do - trying to undo your own originality by constantly striving to be anything less than yourself is counter productive. Trust yourself.

Trusting yourself is probably the hardest trick you'll have to learn as a writer - but it is absolutely essential to your growth. Because it's only when you trust your ability to say what you mean with honesty and integrity, that your voice will start to come through.

The real test of a good authorial voice is consistency - it is as strong and recognizable at the beginning of a story as it is at the end.
So how do you achieve this consistency? How do 'get' your voice?

It's a process, of course - and here are some practical tips to strengthen and consolidate your own:

Practice

Consciously practice different styles and categorize them. Write using different voices - some that are deliberately difficult to sustain. This will attune your mind to noting differences in style. Try writing highbrow and lowbrow articles, egocentric columns, playlets, short dispassionate biographies - anything that stretches you. These pieces don't have to be publishable - they are designed to help you 'play' with the writing medium.

Detach

Try to write without thinking for short bursts. If this sounds too hard, try writing for ten minutes just after you've woken up in the morning - before you can think straight, just write anything.

Later, try looking up words in the dictionary at random and write for ten minutes without stopping on those words. Force yourself to write, whether you're inspired or not - this is a great technique for getting in touch with your subconscious voice (i.e. your true voice.)

Avoid

During writing spells, especially first drafts, don't read anything - no books, newspapers, magazines, cereal packets, nothing. Starve yourself of influences so that you can concentrate on just your voice and, not only the things you want to say but, how you want to say them.

Affirm

When you've written sections you're convinced are beginning to reflect your most natural and compelling voice, read them into a tape recorder and play them back. The very process will help - you'll probably find your best passages easiest to read. If not, delete the clumsy words, the extra adverbs, the overlong sentences and try again.

Experiment

Try writing two different versions of pieces - like short stories. Write one with all the literary might you can summon and write another with just a little casual indifference. Post out both to magazine publishers or read them to your friends to see what they think.

Strengthen

Consciously remind yourself every day that you are a writer, that you are thinking writers thoughts and you're determined that your writing will truly and accurately reflect your thoughts. Do not hide behind fear of honesty or the thought that exposing your inner psyche is in any way bad. It's not.

The real you is what your readers want, respect and deserve.

Until next time, sign up for free stuff at my Academy - then:

Keep writing!


The Easy Way to Write

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