"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: March 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Walled Garden Syndrome

Dear Fellow Writer,

I've updated R&R Books Film Music to better reflect where we are with our entertainment projects. Take a look if you like.

This week's writing masterclass is on The Hero's Journey. Go here to get a freebie: "Writing With Confidence"

Have a great weekend.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell


The Walled Garden Syndrome

Rob Parnell

I read an article his week about an apparent new danger called The Walled Garden Syndrome.

This is where people only involve themselves in what interests them and rarely venture outside of their own sphere of influences and shun experiences that they don't deliberately choose.

The article suggested this was a bad thing...

We all do it to a certain extent. Once we have a circle of friends that satisfy us, we tend not to interact with those we consider outsiders.

Plus, technology allows us to limit our experience of movies, books, websites and TV programs to those we like and want to be part of our lives.

The article suggested this was a bad thing...

We live in a world now where we don't have to do - or be subjected to - what we find distasteful or unwelcome. We can effectively shield ourselves from things like the news, if we want, and politics, as we'd prefer, even advertising, though of course that's much harder!

Because this is the issue. Politicians, the media and advertisers don't want us to live in 'walled gardens' because they can't reach us so easily - and if they can't reach us, their power base is undermined.

And this is a bad thing?

I like the idea of being able to shut out the news and politicians if that's what I want to do. 

Fact is, the more you do it, the more you realize how little those things matter and how unimportant those people really are. 

Just a lot of noise and bluster over self aggrandizement.

Imagine a world where nobody expressed any interest in another war. Would our leaders bother if they realized there were no votes in it?

We live in the safest world we've ever known and yet the media and our leaders conspire to keep us in a state of fear. Imagine if we were immune to their urgent, polluting messages...

Anyway, the point I wanted to make was about originality.

And how living in a kind of 'walled garden' can help your writing.

Publishers often complain that writers submit the same kind of manuscripts at the same time.

To me, this is not just synchronicity. It's more probable it's because we're often subjected to the same influences at the same time, are inspired by the same things and people and end up writing about the same things as lots of other writers.

The result being your writing has to compete with a vast herd of other writers penning the same sort of thing.

Now, if you live in your own, self imposed, walled garden of influences, isn't that far less likely to happen?

Originality comes from uniqueness of vision. And the more you isolate yourself from everyday influences, the more unique your view of the world is likely to be.

You see this play out often. 

Books and movies that appear with whole new worlds fully realized and developed are far more effective and successful than the same old same old. Especially when they're rich in original ideas and unique ways of looking at the world.

We honor artists most that are capable of shutting off the need to be like other creators. We like originality.

And to me the best way to be original is to create your own walled garden. 

Because inside your own world of chosen influences, you can FOCUS!

The media is about distraction - and the bigger the apparent crisis, the more distracted you become. And as we all know the enemy to creativity is distraction - and believing that the outside world is more compelling than our inner worlds.

Which, my friend, it's not. 

Your own personal journey through life is what's important.

Your own journey towards wisdom is what will inspire and focus your creativity.

And make you more original - in your thinking and your work.

Of course politicians and leaders and advertisers want you to think the way they do - and focus on what they think are the real issues - because it's in their interest to do that. They want to distract you from your journey and focus on theirs.

Don't get sucked in!

You need to focus on your own work, your own writing, if you're ever going to produce something of value.

Don't worry about relevance.

When you do something fine, it often becomes relevant on its own.

True brilliance shines with its own light.

And just like a diamond, you need to cut and polish your brilliance in private for a long time before you unveil it to the world.

And if you want your work to shine, then focus - and try to shut out distractions as much as possible.

Only then can you make your work shine.

And be truly original.

Keep writing!
 rob at home

"When other people define your game for you, they are likely to define it incorrectly."
Kim Goodwin

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Love Your Writing

Dear Fellow Writer,

Thanks to everyone who joined my masterclass on story writing this week. There's still a few spaces left here.

Thanks too for your support of my latest video

By June this year I will have completed a 90 minute documentary I plan to sell to the cable networks. More on that soon.

Fear not. Whatever happens, The Easy Way to Write will always be a huge part of my life - thanks to you, my dearest subscriber.

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell


Love Your Writing

Rob Parnell

There's no getting around it. You have to love what you do. Especially if you want to be any good at it - and be successful.

I would actually go further - or further back, if you like.

In order to be successful, you only need to love what you do. You don't necessarily have to be any good at it - at least when you start.

Over the years I've seen this play out frequently - especially in writing.

Technical proficiency and literary mastery pale into nothing when compared to sheer enthusiasm and drive.

I've seen terrible writers go on to become hugely successful.

I've seen fabulous writers disappear or self destruct or simply stop.

The difference is the energy you give to your most loved occupation.

If you love and adore writing and can't live without doing it, you have all the qualifications you need to become successful at it.

Conversely, if you're very good at writing technically, despair at other people's attempts or look down on your peers, you'll more than likely lose the love you need to propel you forwards.

I see it all the time. 

Don't ever lose sight of the fact that love for your job is more important than anything. Love is what makes you good. 

I was reading a blog this week. This guy was encouraging artists to JUST DO IT - and GET IT DONE. A worthy message you'd have thought.

I was stunned when I read some of the comments below the blog - over 70 of them - from people complaining the blogger was encouraging bad art, crap writing and shoddy movies. 

To me, he was doing nothing of the sort.

The blogger was merely highlighting that in his career he'd seen two types of people:

Type One: they talk earnestly about artistic projects, intellectualize over the duty and responsibility of the artist, the need to be pure, well versed, and say something meaningful, all that kind of b*ll*cks...


Type Two: the ones that just go out and do it - and finish their books, manuscripts, screenplays, movies, whatever.

Fact is, if you don't finish anything, you'll never be in the running. 

You may be an intellectual superior but who's ever going to know?

And just talking about writing - and criticizing other people's  - while never getting around to producing anything you can show anyone, is just wasting everybody's time - mostly you're own!

There was a thread in the blog's comments that talked about the artist's duty to improve the state of art. That there was so much crap out there...

The blogger (who'd done a great job of answering his critics) pointed out that was true but at least the crap was out there, up for discussion. Those writers / directors etc were at least working...

The blogger's detractors countered that it was painful to have to witness bad writing, bad directing, bad books and movies...

To me, this was the real issue.

Because successful, working writers and movie makers don't feel this way about crap. Only critics and wannabes place these kind of value judgments on other people's work.

Real writers, artists and film-makers will enjoy other people's efforts, no matter how bad - because they realize that it's the finishing of the project, and the LOVE that propelled the completion of it that is more important than the final result.

An armchair critic may despair at the piece of mediocrity he's forced to endure but anyone who's actually completed a book or a film will be far more positive about someone who at least tried.

Don't get caught up in the 'dinner-party' mentality where some people seem to think it's okay to diminish this writer's work or that director's movie. Being a harsh critic says more about you than it does about the artist you are criticizing.

As Native American Indians say: Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.

It's not clever to criticize.

Love means always seeing the good.

In your own work and in others'.

Celebrate those who have completed something they are willing to show the world.

Most of all, celebrate what you have done.

And love what you do with all your heart.

Keep writing!
 rob at home
"We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." Henry James

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mark Twain Would Have Loved The Net

Dear Fellow Writer,

You know I'm committed to helping writers and artists achieve their dreams. I think I do that best by teaching - and example. It's my job to inspire and empower you through writing and creativity.

Two main projects on the go at the moment, actually three.

1. Editing a short story collection of mine I want to get out.

2. Mixing a new song I want to make a video for. 

3. Writing a screen short I want to make soon.

Busy? Nah!

Just a normal week...

Keep writing!
Rob Parnell


Mark Twain Would Have Loved The Net

Rob Parnell

Steve Jobs predicted a day when everybody would become an artist.

Steve's prediction is to do with the way he viewed people. He believed they were inherently creative - that they know what is good and bad and want to 'improve' on life and toys to increase their satisfaction level.

He invested millions sometimes into software that would help people make their own animated movies for instance - something that just didn't appeal to the average punter.

Steve's predictions were based on his own world view - and his love of fiddling with other people's inventions, improving on them, making them perfect. Simply put, he believed everyone out there was really not unlike him.

The fact that he created a vast corporation - and most of us don't - proves his world view to be, to some extent, false.

The average person, while creative in a mundane sense, is not truly an artist in the sense of say, Michelangelo, Coelho or Spielberg.

Most people's lives are way too complex to have the luxury of dedicating their time to vast creative projects like paintings, books or movies.

Much of Apple's success has to do with people NOT being overly creative but wanting to purchase things that are - or appear to be.

All this is a round about way of saying that artists, like yourself, are still a rare commodity. And will always be.

If you're a writer, you're in a minority.

If you're a writer that finishes their manuscripts, you're in a TINY minority.

In fact, as the online population grows, the percentage of creative writers compared to the average surfer is actually getting smaller.

During the 1990s for instance, the number of writers online made up about 10% of its users. Now it's less than 1%.

So you can immediately see that, despite the seemingly huge numbers of other writers out there vying for the attention of readers, you should still consider yourself, if you have any creative leanings, as 'special' and to some extent, unique.

To be creative in an artistic sense is a rare privilege.

Does that make you feel better?

I hope so.

Okay, competing in this world is becoming harder.

Getting a book published by a major trade publisher is probably harder now than at any other time in history.

But that's okay - because the writer's world has changed.

You can do it all yourself.

The Net allows you to get your writing out there - and interact with your readers in a way that was impossible twenty years ago.

Plus, you don't have to pander to the whims of agents, publishers and marketers who, let's face it, are also not very creative either. If they were, they wouldn't be doing what Steve did - which is basically to take other people's ideas, fiddle with them and then call them his/their own.

Modern writers are now in control. 

It's curious to me that in US TV shows, the writers invariably become the shows' producers. It makes sense to me that the writer/producers are the only ones who really know why a show works - and can actively demonstrate HOW it works by writing it.

I think the days of the producer who doesn't write are numbered.

And I think one of the reasons why Amazon is so helpful to unsigned writers is that for years publishers have arbitrarily decided which writers are good in a way that doesn't always reflect what readers actually want.

Now - the tables have turned - and writers can show us, through their success, that they don't need to suffer from constant rejection. They can PROVE that they know what they're doing by circumventing the system!

What a wonderful time to be alive.

Mark Twain I believe would have loved the Internet. His FB page would be the most popular in the world!

Dickens would have had a field day with Twitter.

And just imagine Shakespeare blogging during the writing of his latest play. We'd all be in bated breath!

Seriously, we tend to imagine that 'real' writers are austere types, too professional to stoop to lowly things like public popularity.

This is patent nonsense.

All writers and artists are engaged in a public validation process from the moment they have the courage to show their work to anyone.

And what better validation than public success - whatever that means to you.  

Take control of your writing career.

This is the most wonderful time in history for a writer to be alive.

Make the most of it.

Keep writing!
 rob at home
"The last time somebody said, 'I find I can write much better with a computer.', I replied, 'They used to say the same thing about drugs.'" Roy Blount Jr.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to Make a Book Trailer

Dear Fellow Writer,
Where do ideas come from?

Having an agile mind? One that sees connections between disparate concepts? Or the ability to see immense mileage in the mundane?

Perhaps the opposite. Being so foggy you think other people's ideas are you own? Like producers often do...

Or perhaps as many artists believe, ideas are delivered by spiritual muses from some kind of creative dimension outside our own. 

I prefer to think inspiration is that little spark of God inside all of us.

The one that makes us want perfection.
Keep writing!

Rob Parnell

How to Make a Book Trailer

Rob Parnell

An esteemed subscriber suggested I write an article on how to make a video book trailer. After all, the big publishers are jumping on this bandwagon now, so it must work...

You probably saw we just did one for Robyn's new book, Maya and the Crystal Skull, here.

Lots of people have been in touch to say they thought it's a powerful way to get the book across. But really, I just put it together because I like doing that kind of thing.

In the old days you didn't need technology to sell a book. It was thought that because people like to read anyway, then books would sell themselves. Alas, if that were true, they wouldn't need covers...

You can't judge a book by its cover, they say, but of course, we all do.

These days we judge a book by its media presence.

We want to be part of the hype.

Anyway, what's the process for making a video trailer?

Of course, it all starts with the writing.

The script for the Maya video was about two pages long. I wrote it in Final Draft 8 because that let's you know it's a visual project. I'd read the book of course but had my own ideas on what to focus the trailer on. The darker side basically, because that's what I like.

Also I don't believe in talking down to children or making things 'softer' for them. Children, I've discovered, are way more savvy than we often give them credit for.

It was interesting because we ran a competition of sorts to get kids to pick the cover for the book. 80% of them went for the dark creepy cover you see on the book today. The other one was light and airy but was considered 'boring' by the majority of kids. Fascinating.

When I'd written the script I ran it past Robyn to make sure it reflected her understanding of the book. I'd included a few lines of actual dialog from the book's text to ensure I was being faithful to her vision - and to flatter her ego of course.

Never forget the power of flattery in creative work!

Then I made a list of all the shots I'd need - about fifty in all. Quite a lot for a one minute video... but about right I think.

We called Leila Clendon, a 14 year old actress we knew from Kool Kafe - the play I put on last year. She was brilliant in that. Plus, we thought she had the right look for Maya - fragile but sassy. 

She came over with her dad and we shot some green screen - then went out and filmed her at the beach and in amongst some trees. 

The car shots were done in our driveway - and to give away a little trade secret - the car is not actually moving. I used a few tricks I've seen Spielberg employ to just make you think it's moving.

That took a day - not forgetting to get her parents to sign a "talent release form". This allows me to use Leila's image legally - and prevents anyone from coming back to sue us later if, for instance, the book's picked up by Hollywood and they want to make sure we have a clear chain of title on the project.

I also spent half a day filming Robyn's crystal skull - and lighting fires in front of the camera to get those shots of the skull through fire. That was fun. We also then filmed the bits with Robyn and I playing two of the characters from the book. Me as the bad guy of course.

The video took about a day to slice together and I showed the rough draft to Robyn before I did a proper edit. To be honest I think she was probably a bit bemused. It looked very dark and edgy at that stage!

Then I recorded the music on Mixcraft 5 - which allows you to see the video as you're recording. Ah, the marvels of technology. Took an evening over the music because I don't like paying for stuff I know I can do myself.

Next I put on the text captions, edited from the original script to make them shorter and punchier.

Initially I'd intended using a narrator - me - but it sounded a bit cheesy with me doing Morgan Freeman impressions. I decided the captions were more effective.

Last of all I put on the sound effects. They're the kind of thing you don't notice - unless they're not there. The crackling of the fire, the motor revving on the car, the sound of the wind on the cliff - they were all put on last. Oh, and the gunshot too.

All the post production tweaking probably took about two days when I got down to it. Actually less time than I expected.

I showed the final version to Robyn, who just said, Wow, and then I knew it was done. And like all good Internet directors, we stuck it on YouTube immediately for all the world to see.

There you have it.

All up - because we have lots of other stuff to do of course - it took about three months from idea to finished trailer. If I'd been working on it solid it would most likely have taken about a week.

Best part? Didn't cost a dime.

So now you know how it's done, it's your turn!

Okay, so I've got a nice Canon camera these days but you don't need a great one. In the past I've recorded pop videos with the internal camera on a laptop! And even most mobiles now record usable video.

As the saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way,

Keep writing!
 rob at home

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation." Graham Greene

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Writing Suspense Fiction

Dear Fellow Writer,

Funny old world, isn't it?
Just when you think you've got it sussed, or something important suddenly seems clear, life has a way of throwing you back into the dark.

Despite our best efforts, none of us can really second guess the future. Not marketers or stock analysts or even psychics can accurately predict what will happen next.

There's no such animal as a sure thing. Writers and publishers know this better than most - and we are as surprised as anyone else when a bestseller emerges - against all the odds and for seemingly no special reason.

But still we must persist, just in case our next work is the one.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell


Writing Suspense Fiction

Rob Parnell

There are three keys to writing suspense fiction - and a few practical considerations we will look at later in this article.

Key One: The writer knows more than the reader

In any kind of suspense fiction it's important that the writer has a clear idea of the twist and turns his / her story will take - and hide their inevitability from the reader. As soon as the reader can second guess the plot, the element of suspense is lost.

You have to understand that when readers are absorbed in your book, they are actually reading two stories: the one you put on the page and the one inside their heads. Your job is to make the reader believe the story in their head is the correct one, while introducing twists and turns they could not have predicted given the information you've presented.

There's fine line between credibility and innovation. An unbelievable twist won't work - you'll break the fictive dream. But turns that are too obvious will have the reader yawning and wondering why they're continuing to read.

Stephen King says he likes to write without knowing what's going to happen. The logic being that if he doesn't know what's coming, then the reader won't see it either.

James Patterson takes the opposite tack. He plans his stories minutely, building in shocks and twists right from the planning stage.

Either way, the element of suspense is an implicit key element in the storytelling.

New writers have a tendency to want to put everything in, to fill the pages with their genius - and hold nothing back.

More experienced writers know that often the less said the better. You need to let the reader do some of the work - because they like doing that. In the simplest terms this is why crime authors often don't explain what police acronyms mean anymore. Not to show off or to confuse - but to allow readers to become part of the fictional world.

Even more experienced writers know that it's a game - that by deliberately misdirecting the reader, you create in them a kind of awe at your writing prowess - because they can see it's not all about the words. The reader is impressed that it's the storytelling journey you've taken them on that's clearly more important to you, the writer.

I like to think I used a combination of Stephen King's and James Patterson's techniques when I wrote PSI Kids: Willow. From an early stage, before the writing, I had the plot down - filled with unexpected but credible plot turns - but I didn't know the exact ending. 

The big twist at the conclusion occurred to me as I was writing - about five chapters from the end.

It was an invigorating moment because I knew I had successfully hidden the end twist from view by simply not knowing it myself!

The ending has the advantage too of making sense of the entire story - giving PSI Kids: Willow a beautiful symmetry - the kind of thing I love when I read other great writers.

Key Two: The protagonist knows less than the reader

The easiest way to visualize this key in action is to imagine those scenes where the good guy is walking slowly down a corridor, gun primed, not knowing if there's anyone in the house BUT the reader knows the killer is already there - or at least thinks he probably is!

In more sophisticated fiction where action and adventure are important, you'll often see the protagonist heavily involved in hunting down clues, saving villagers and maidens and chasing bad guys, while at the same time, the writer is showing you the authorities making plans to help or thwart the hero without his knowledge.

This technique has two advantages.

One, the reader feels a sense of objective control - and can root for hero when the odds are against him. This is the equivalent of the armchair news reader who likes to keep up with daily intrigue. It's the same mentality involved, hence the success of writers like Frederick Forsyth and Tom Clancy.

Two, the protagonist always has the element of surprise up his sleeve. Robert Ludlum uses this technique all the time. A seemingly impossible scenario is solved by the sheer grit - and often physical prowess - of the hero. 

Of course, in these types of stories, the writer knew all along how the hero was going to react in any given situation. And even the more modern, vulnerable, workaday heroes like Logan McRae in Stuart MacBride's fabulous novels can end up using his tenacity in ways the reader finds unexpected - but totally credible.

Key Three: A combination of the above two keys

Since Dan Brown helped popularize the way we experience thrillers with The Da Vinci Code, modern suspense writers have understood the importance of plotting for shock value. And ending on a twist.

One of the major results of this way of writing is that the reader has to do more work.

Imagine you're in a new environment and you have nobody on hand to explain exactly what's going on. You see the action, you listen to people talking and you try to understand what's happening...

Viola. This is what you must do in your suspense fiction.

You don't need piles of exposition to explain who is who, what they're talking about or why anything is happening. You just need to show it all - and let the reader figure it out.

The reader will trust you if they sense you know what you're doing.

And the way to achieve that trust is to work hard on your plot and characters and story before you begin the writing. Know your story inside and out, upside and down before you begin.

And even if you're not sure of everything, don't labor over explanations or try to justify anything the reader might not get, at least at first.

I guess it's about not talking down to your readers.

Regard them as peers who understand what you mean without baby talking them through every scene.

We all implicitly understand character motivation these days. We see it all the time in movies and on TV. We don't need a translator on hand to explain: this is a human, he has needs, goals, he will be tested etc. We get all that. 

In your suspense writing, have the courage to leave information out. Either stuff that is implicit or obvious or things you want to shock the reader with later on.

Suspense is not just about what's on the page. It's about what you don't write too.

Oh, and remember to edit fiercely after the first draft. Especially when you need to remove the author, namely you, from your story.

There's nothing more irritating to a reader than to be constantly reminded the story was written by a 'writer'.

As Elmore Leonard famously advised: immediately strike out anything that smacks of 'good writing'!

Good suspense writing is that which appears effortless - and comes from the characters and never, these days, from the omniscient author.

Keep writing!

 rob at home


"The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude of mind."
William James

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Welcome to the official blog of Rob Parnell's Writing Academy, updated weekly - sometimes more often!