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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Early Xmas Specials - Free Newsletter

Dear Fellow Writer,

Here's a complete list of all the Easy Way to Write resources now on special offer, all re-packaged to make them super easy to download.

If you'd like to purchase all of my writing resources in one extra special deal,
go here.

Click on any of the links below to access the special deals!

Keep writing!


How An Author Disappears From View

Rob Parnell

There's a 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.

The main reason why we don't always trust preachers, politicians and spin doctors is not that they lie - though clearly they often 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...

The modern spin doctor will point out benefits to seemingly bad events, or minimize the impact of bad news by diverting 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 reflect our own agendas.

But what about opposing views? 

Don't they need a fair hearing too?

If we 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 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'm talking about balance. 

On a simplistic level, where you have bad guys, you need heroes. 

Where there is evil behavior, you need salvation. 

Where there is overt faith, you need godlessness.

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.

Your writing will be stronger for it.
Keep writing!
 rob at home

"A professional is someone who respects his trade, tries as hard as he can to perfect his work, and realizes that one failure isn’t the end of the world. Or two…or three." Nathaniel Benchley

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Joss Whedon on Writing

Writing Advice from a Living Legend 

Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director of The Avengers has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.


Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.


Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, colored pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.


This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, What does it feel like to be those guys?’


Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.


Here’s one trick that I learned early on. If something isn’t working, if you have a story that you’ve built and it’s blocked and you can’t figure it out, take your favorite scene, or your very best idea or set-piece, and cut it. It’s brutal, but sometimes inevitable. That thing may find its way back in, but cutting it is usually an enormously freeing exercise.


When I’ve been hired as a script doctor, it’s usually because someone else can’t get it through to the next level. It’s true that writers are replaced when executives don’t know what else to do, and that’s terrible, but the fact of the matter is that for most of the screenplays I’ve worked on, I’ve been needed, whether or not I’ve been allowed to do anything good. Often someone’s just got locked, they’ve ossified, they’re so stuck in their heads that they can’t see the people around them. It’s very important to know when to stick to your guns, but it’s also very important to listen to absolutely everybody. The stupidest person in the room might have the best idea.


You have one goal: to connect with your audience. Therefore, you must track what your audience is feeling at all times. One of the biggest problems I face when watching other people’s movies is I’ll say, ‘This part confuses me’, or whatever, and they’ll say, ‘What I’m intending to say is this’, and they’ll go on about their intentions. None of this has anything to do with my experience as an audience member. Think in terms of what audiences think. They go to the theater, and they either notice that their butts are numb, or they don’t. If you’re doing your job right, they don’t. People think of studio test screenings as terrible, and that’s because a lot of studios are pretty stupid about it. They panic and re-shoot, or they go, Gee, Brazil can’t have an unhappy ending,’ and that’s the horror story. But it can make a lot of sense.


Write the movie as much as you can. If something is lush and extensive, you can describe it glowingly; if something isn’t that important, just get past it tersely. Let the read feel like the movie; it does a lot of the work for you, for the director, and for the executives who go, ‘What will this be like when we put it on its feet?’


Having given the advice about listening, I have to give the opposite advice, because ultimately the best work comes when somebody’s fucked the system; done the unexpected and let their own personal voice into the machine that is moviemaking. Choose your battles. You wouldn’t get Paul Thomas Anderson, or Wes Anderson, or any of these guys if all moviemaking was completely cookie-cutter. But the process drives you in that direction; it’s a homogenising process, and you have to fight that a bit. There was a point while we were making Firefly when I asked the network not to pick it up: they’d started talking about a different show.


The first penny I ever earned, I saved. Then I made sure that I never had to take a job just because I needed to. I still needed jobs of course, but I was able to take ones that I loved. When I say that includes Waterworld, people scratch their heads, but it’s a wonderful idea for a movie. Anything can be good. Even Last Action Hero could’ve been good. There’s an idea somewhere in almost any movie: if you can find something that you love, then you can do it. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how skilful you are: that’s called whoring.
Keep writing!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Responsibility in Writing

Dear Fellow Writer,

Just spent the week filming my new short movie: First Cut.

It was fascinating to see the script become real. The actors - Cherie and Adrian - actually became the characters in the story: they spoke the parts and moved - and bled profusely! - around the house (which doubled as our set!) and we all had a blast as we cobbled my horror story together in over 300 individual scenes into what will hopefully become a fabulous piece of (albeit short!) gritty cinema.

Now it's all down to editing the thing together - which might take a while - as these things do.

If you want to see what happens when a piece of writing actually gets filmed, then I can't recommend making movies highly enough.

Keep writing!


NB: Apologies to everyone who sent me emails with questions that I haven't been able to answer recently. It's been a busy week!


Responsibility in Writing 

Rob Parnell

Curiously, a few published writers tell me that I'm far too honest about being a scribe - sharing the realities of maintaining a living as a working writer and revealing some of the tips and tactics you can use to make make writing anything - fiction, non fiction, ebooks etc - a whole lot easier.
Almost as if there was something wrong with honesty, like I'm betraying some sort of unwritten 'code' amongst published authors!
Once upon a time I used to marvel at the way some published authors behaved as though they were privy to some 'secret' that the newbie wasn't allowed to know.

At local writers groups I noticed too that published authors tended to band together and would actively avoid talking to those not in their clique - the unpublished in other words.
A long time ago I vowed never to be like that. 
I've always thought that writers, whatever their status or fortunes, should stick together and more especially, help each other toward success - whatever that means to you.
I apologize now if I offend anyone by trying to do that!
It's often said that writers write to find out what they think about things. 
To create some sort of order out of chaos. 
To clarify their views on life, morals, emotional pain, whatever.
What's curious is that this process seems not only to have a healing effect, it can help us realize that we don't feel quite as strongly about something as we thought we did. 
Writing has a way of objectifying the issues.
For example, we may feel anger and resentment towards a person who has hurt us. Writing about that person - or fictionalizing them - can often help us see the other person's point of view, thereby making is easier to deal with our pain.
Quite often I find I didn't know I had a particular opinion about something until I wrote about it. 
Writing helps me organize my thoughts, helps me clarify where I stand on issues, people, beliefs and other's agendas - often to the point of finding common ground between seemingly disparate standpoints.
I think this is a good thing because it means that writers, whatever their personal prejudices, have an opportunity to present points of view that are reasonable and morally sound. 
In fact, I would argue that writers have a duty to do this.
When you look at the history of mankind, with its constant wars and political disasters, you can often trace terrible events back to a misguided piece of writing - produced either by fanatics, zealots or simply irresponsible people who should have know better.
"Malleus Maleficarum", The Witch's Hammer, was first published in 1486 and, it could be argued, led to the death of around nine million people, persecuted by the Catholic Church during the Inquisition.
It's also been argued that "Mein Kampf" and some of Nietzsche's writings led indirectly to the two great wars of the last century.
And God only knows how many people have perished in defense of so called 'holy' books.
I believe writers have a responsibility to be rational, clear and circumspect in their writing, to uphold certain moral and decent values and societal mores. 
In our writing, we should strive to be calm and objective at all times. 
And never feel the need to incite hate or anger or bitterness.
The last thing we want is for our words to be taken out of context and misinterpreted and worse, used to justify any kind of violence against another person.
Writers should be the good guys.
The calm in the eye of the storm.
The glue that holds the world together.
Keep writing!
 rob at home

"The literary-type writers, I admire them. I wish I was smart enough to write a book that's hard to read, you know?" Jerry Jenkins

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The New Reality of Publishing

Dear Fellow Writer,

Welcome to this week's newsletter.

It's that time of the week again! See below for a brand new article.

Murder, mystery, love, loyalty and two friends with awesome psychic powers! 

Currently I'm running a masterclass on plotting stories. Click on the picture below for more info!

Story Plotting

The New Reality of Publishing

Rob Parnell

Last week's article provoked a slew of emails from writers and would be authors about this whole question of 'getting published' and what it means in this Brave New World of Internet dominance in our lives.

Many writers still feel as though getting published online is somehow cheating the system - and either won't or can't do it without feeling as though it's perhaps too easy or doesn't properly reflect the seriousness with which they regard their own work.

As though, unless their work is immortalized in an actual paper based book, then it's not really being published at all!

My suspicion is that many writers don't want to know how many books they might sell - or, more pointedly, might not sell - if they 'go it alone'.

Perhaps many writers don't really want to know whether they can actually sell any books - so, by saying they want a 'real' publisher and enduring years of rejection, they're just forever putting off finding out the truth!

Okay, it's true that 'self publishing' has a stigma attached to it - even now, when perhaps a million new writers are getting money for their work in a way that was impossible before the Internet.

The stigma has to do with lack of validation from external sources. 

The feeling is that unless an author's work has been vetted and given the thumbs up by corporate conglomerates, in-house editors and media critics, then it won't have the necessary gravitas or quality associated with 'books on shelves.'

More, that an author's attempts at self editing are perhaps not quite good enough for the mass market.

Many self published authors do have badly edited manuscripts on sale to the public - not, sadly, that many people seem to notice these days! 

And yes I do agree that it's very important for self published authors to do their utmost to make their manuscripts clean and error free before they put their work out there - something I go to great lengths to stress and deal with in The Write Stuff Program.

But there's also a reality check issue here that needs addressing.

It may be that you really want to see your real world book out there, sitting on a book shelf. That would feel good, right?

But as a 'real world' publisher myself, I have some news for you.

In many cases, that's exactly what will happen to your book.

It will sit on a shelf.

Overall book sales (not including online) rose by 6% last year - but the increase in book sales was limited to the bestseller list of the top 100 books. Most authors - 99% - saw their book sales fall.

Indeed, fewer authors than ever were signed to publishers last year - down 30% on the previous year - while publishers are trying to consolidate exactly what the impact of the Internet and Amazon in particular might have on publishing in the years to come.


The trouble with offline publishing is that it's ruthlessly commerce based. In fact it always has been - only now authors, for the first time in history, have a viable alternative.

Here's what typically happens when you get a traditional publishing deal:

First, there's the wait.

Six weeks to a year to get a book accepted.

A further year or two before it gets a print run - usually just a few thousand copies.

Then it goes out on a sale or return basis to book stores.

If your book isn't an immediate best seller - and the majority are not of course - then all of those books sitting on shelves are returned to the publisher. For pulping or mark down or selling off cheap to the author before the book is withdrawn from sale.

Basically you have a window of three to six months to sell your masterpiece and then - the party's over.

It's rare that publishers will 'develop' an author these days - that is, let their first books flop while publishing more. That doesn't make short term commercial sense.

But it does make sense online - where your books are always available for as long as you want them to be. Many online authors find that the more books they publish with Kindle, the sales bloom as their online presence increases over time - and their older books start selling more too.

It's interesting to me that more and more online authors - like those Kindle bestsellers we keep hearing about - are writers who had offline publishing deals and grew tired of the traditional publishing merry-go-round.

It's easy to feel crushed when your publisher tells you they won't be taking up that option for your next book - because of those 'disappointing' sales. But it is from this point that many new online authors start.

They know that, if you want to write for a living, you can't rely on the vagaries of traditional publishing to pay the rent - or not - when you can more easily and with greater urgency, be in direct contact with your readers and fans by self publishing online!

And ironically it's how an increasing number of authors are actually getting publishing deals - by proving they have saleable books online first!

To me, the great thing about the Net is that it's a very quick and effective way of finding out for yourself what's commercial and what isn't.

If you want to be a successful writer, you have a duty to discover what the public actually wants to read. And then write it.

It's no accident that your favorite authors write thrillers or fantasy or romance. As publishers have always known, people like genre fiction. They feel comfortable before they pick up a book if they think they know what they're getting.

And even the best literary authors in the world know that, by shifting their mindset just a tad towards the market, they can attain serious commercial success, without losing any credibility whatsoever.

After all, what's integrity when you're mired in obscurity?

Better to sell your books - and have readers who actually want to listen to what you have to say, right?

Want more positive info about getting to be a succesful writer?

Do yourself a favor.

Go visit The Write Stuff.

 rob at home

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Tricks From Old Publishers

Dear Fellow Writer,

Welcome to this week's newsletter.

It's that time of the week again! See below for a brand new article.

Murder, mystery, love, loyalty and two friends with awesome psychic powers!

Currently I'm running a wonderful masterclass on plotting stories. Click on the picture below for more info!
Story Plotting

New Tricks From Old Publishers

Rob Parnell

The latest publishing news is that Random House and Penguin are joining forces to form an Amazon type online book megastore.

If you're burying your head in the sand about the importance of online ebook sales and the Internet as the means by which you sell your books, rest assured that the traditional publishers are not!

It amazes me that so many would be authors still aspire to the fantasy - that a dream agent and publisher will come along one day and publish their books and make them famous.

This old world version of how you might achieve writing success is becoming more and more unlikely as time goes by.

Online book sales are increasing exponentially while ordinary book stores close and publishers scramble for anything that look like a bestseller - while rejecting more manuscripts than ever before.

Well, not always rejecting - but now seeing an opportunity to exploit writers (again!)

Because both Random and Penguin are also moving into vanity publishing.

Instead of just rejecting an author, they now want to offer you an alternative: pay to be published.

This is a worrying development to many writers as it seems to go against the sanctity of traditional publishing. But the fact is, with publishing houses bottom line shrinking all the time, the most logical thing to do is make money from the ever increasing hordes of wannabes that want to see their name in print - especially with such seemingly prestigious publishing houses.

But don't be fooled - these old school publishing giants just want to use the same model as the online publishers (like Trafford) who, usually for a huge fee, will simply print up your book and sell you copies - and then move on to the next sucker.

When this becomes commonplace, having Random House or Penguin on your book cover - if that ever happens - will mean next to nothing - except to you personally perhaps.

The sanctity of the traditional publisher is a myth. It has been all along - they're all just money grabbing toe-rags and always have been! At least now it's becoming more obvious.

Traditional publishing has always been about exploiting writers - that's why they see no conflict of interest in now making money from authors directly - and not bothering with the tedious affair of having to sell books to the masses.

But, if you follow my newsletters and courses, you'll know this is old news from me. I keep saying it - and it seems that nobody listens!

The ONLY way authors can, should and do survive these days is to sell their own books.


Or at least have a publishing deal that reflected reality - that is the author should get the majority of the royalties on a book sold and not the paltry 5% or 10% they offer these days as standard.

Dickens used to get 90%. At least through Amazon, self published authors can get 50% to 70%. Most Author Organizations are fighting for more like the Dickens percentage - because it better reflects the work involved in creating novels, books and ebooks.

For years authors with traditional publishers have been bemoaning the fact that you can't live on the advances and royalties you get from traditional publishers.

Yes, the bestsellers can - but they only make up a tiny proportion of the working writers, authors and novelists out there.

Most professional writers, it's been proven, make less than $10K a year from their publishing contracts. And this figure comes from the tax office - so you know it must be true!

But this is not the case for the growing band of enlightened ones who are self publishing online.

The fact is, if you know what you're doing and you know how to self edit and format manuscripts correctly, and you can write a half decent commercial book, you don't need a publisher anymore!

I have a theory.

That most wannabe authors fantasize about having an agent and a publisher because they know, deep down in their heart, they're writing books they wouldn't have the courage to publish themselves.

Perhaps the next time you send off a submission to a publisher, you need to ask yourself: would I publish this book?

Do I believe it's a bestseller?

Or do I think that somehow the sheer size of the market must mean I would sell enough to retire?

Which is not the way it works, by the way.

Publishers don't magically make books sell. No, they only promote books that would sell anyway!

And if they'd sell anyway, you might just as well sell them yourself.

Traditional publishers increasingly look at what's selling online.

It makes sense to do this. Instead of plowing through hundreds of dud submissions, why not grab a book that's selling well already?

That's why Fifty Shades of Grey got a publishing deal - not because it was a great read or because it was well written but because it was already selling a truckload!

The main argument traditionally published authors have for maintaining the old status quo is that they say, rightly, that traditional publishers protect the integrity of writing - that there's a certain standard that is upheld by having an industry that vets what ends up in the marketplace.

They also say that having lots of authors like me and few others publishing their own books somehow undermines that integrity.

Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys!

Seriously, the world is changing. The number of people reading is actually dropping. Less than 40% of the population ever read a book these days. Did you know that?

But, strangely, many more people are buying ebooks - PDFs, Kindles, ePubs etc. Did you know the average person, reader or not, has over 20 ebooks on their computer or mobile device? Many have hundreds.

What would you rather: to be part of many people's digital library? And part of history?

Or to spend thousands of dollars on a book that only you and your family and your pet ever saw?

Answers on a postcard please...

(It's a rhetorical question by the way.)

Okay, that's the lecture over with for this week.

I just keep trying to help you see the light!

Just don't let all this brave new world of publishing happen and get left behind. Or end up spending a fortune on something that you yourself can do for free these days.

I don't want to have to say, I told you so!

Do yourself a favor.

Go visit The Write Stuff.

 rob at home
"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious and anything self-conscious is lousy. You cannot try to do things. You simply must do things." Ray Bradbury

The Writing Academy

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