"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: April 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How to Structure a Story

Dear Fellow Writer,

I've been building a free app for mobiles and tablets.

To be honest it's a bit of challenge for me - and is probably a bit of a mess at the moment. I'd like your feedback.

If you want, you can see what I have so far HERE.

(Only click on the link if you're using a mobile or a tablet!)

Keep writing!
Write From the Start


How to Structure a Story

Rob Parnell
Easy Way to Write subscribers often ask me if there's a structure they can use for stories that works pretty much every time.

Yes, would be my answer. I suggest a few in my genre writing courses - but there's always room for flexibility and a degree of originality. 

Plus, you often need to come up with something yourself before you have any real attachment to it.

Having said that, here's the process I often use for constructing a story.

Generally I'll come up with an idea or something interesting will occur to me - usually a character in an interesting situation against a backdrop (a setting.) 

The character and the backdrop are usually the easy bit - a person in a place or at a particular moment in time. 

It's the interesting situation that's usually the inspired bit - and the reason for wanting to tell the story.

Often there's not enough in the initial idea to fill out a whole story, so where do I go from there?

Well, I know that the character most likely has an issue that needs resolving - and will face a series of obstacles to that resolution. 

But what will the obstacles be?

Next I brainstorm - and try to think of scenarios that either help or hinder the main character's journey through the story. 

I like to come up with other characters that will make the story more interesting - in that they have agendas at odds with the main character.

This makes the hero's quest more difficult and therefore the resolution hopefully more satisfying.

Plotting should always be character driven. 

I never plot in a vacuum or try to force a plot onto a character - that way madness lies - and stories that won't work. 

Besides, letting your characters plot your stories is so much easier.

You just need to ask, "What would they do now?" and make note of the answer. 

And then, "What now?" and keep going until the 'end' of the story.

Finally, when I'm convinced I've thought of all the angles on the story - and rejected the ones that don't seem to further the story or act as diversions from the main point - I'm ready to begin writing.

Not everyone works this way. 

Indeed, I don't work this way on all of my stories - just the ones that need expanding. 

But at some point before the actual writing, I believe the structure of the story should be in place - even if only in its vaguest form.

When it comes to structure I write down headlines that I will later expand into paragraphs or whole sections. 

The headlines are easy to manage because if I have say 20 or 25, I can juggle them (cutting and pasting on a Word doc) until I have them in the most pleasing and logical order: the order that makes sense of, and enhances the main story idea.

The hardest part is resolving all - or at least most - of the character's agendas in the last part of the story. 

Now, many writers choose to resolve everything after the climax but this is where I differ I think. 

Because what I like to do is make the climax of the story the very reason why the character's agendas are resolved.

It's really worthwhile brainstorming a story to make sure this happens. 

It gives a 'point' to the story in a way that simply relating words  and clunky messages disguised as plot cannot.

To me this makes the climax not only exciting and meaningful in the context of the characters - but also more satisfying to a reader. 

It also means I don't have to waste words after the climax 'winding down' and tying up all those loose threads.

I hope this (very) little explanation of how I sometimes structure stories helps you in your own work.

Keep Writing!
 rob at home

"The trouble with the well-trodden path is that there's usually a logjam of people in your way."
Rob Parnell

Thursday, April 18, 2013

You Already Know What To Do

Dear Fellow Writer,

Take a look at my new channel trailer on YouTube:

It's just a short 'hello' kind of thing. YT only let you have a minute or less, so it's hard to know what to say and what to leave out.

Anyway, I'd love to know what you think.

Keep writing!



You Already Know What To Do

Rob Parnell

lap top girlPeople are always asking me if there's a surefire road to success.

And, if one exists, can I please email it to them!

The fact is there as many roads to success as there are people.

Everyone one of us is different. Therefore every path will be different. 

Plus, we all have different definitions of success.

Whilst having a blockbuster novel at the top of the NY Times bestseller list may be a lot of authors idea of success, this is often a nebulous, unexamined goal with little chance of actually happening.

It's right and proper to have big dreams. They keep us going.

But when a dream becomes a specific goal, we need to get real.

The more you research your own potential success path, the more important the smaller goals along the way become - and the more in touch with reality you are as a result. 

But no amount of research and advice can help you when it comes to motivation.

You either want to do something or you don't.

It's pointless going after a long term goal if you don't feel a daily compulsion to complete the intermediary steps.

And I would suggest that if you don't want to do the little things that will take you towards your big goal, then you should examine whether you really want the big goal at all!

Jettisoning big unwanted goals from your life can be liberating.

It can help you focus on what you really want.

And it may prevent you from being depressed about not having what you actually don't really need in your life!

The human mind is a marvelous thing.

We have the ability to attach emotion to objects, images and even words. We use these emotional triggers to dictate our actions all the time - because this is how we give meaning to our decisions.

If something feels right, that is, if a decision creates a positive emotion in us, we tend to follow through.

Conversely when something feels wrong, we back away.

If we didn't have these innate emotional responses, we wouldn't know which paths to take.

The intellect, like a machine, is a crap decision maker.

Sometimes our emotional response is so slight we deliberately override it. Often this results from the intellect overwhelming our intuition.

Intuition is such a tiny voice in the mind sometimes that it's easy to ignore.

But we shouldn't.

Your intuition is a very handy little tool. It's basically the voice of the subconscious - which has carefully weighed up all the pros and cons of options from its vast reservoir of knowledge and data - and handed you its verdict.

It's up to you to listen to that verdict.

It's more potent than an intellectual rationalization.

Intuition is guidance from within.

And when you're on the road to achieving whatever you regard as success, you need all the right guidance you can get.

Sometimes you'll think you want something and you'll seek out advice, from friends, family or from information online or in a library.

(A library... what's that these days? They're all closing round here!)

But sometimes you get so overloaded with information and advice, you don't know what to think anymore. You mistake tiredness for frustration. You get confused.

Because you're looking too hard.

Because you're seeking all the answers from outside. 

When all along the correct course of action for YOU is inside, and already known to you.

The individual steps towards a goal may be small and seemingly trivial but over time will amass into your particular yellow brick road.

Yes, many people may have gotten there before you. But they weren't specifically you.

YOU must find your own way.

And you don't need other people to tell you how to get there.

You already know.

Your subconscious already knows what your next step should be.

So listen to your intuition - the small voice inside your mind that is really your secret weapon.

Because when you act on your intuition you'll find that your life will begin to change.

You do what you're meant to do.

You reject what strikes you as dull or worthless.

You become more focused - and your mind becomes clear.

You become more productive - and more involved in what you do.

You care more - which improves your creativity.

You intuition keeps you on target - and ensures you have integrity.

It can be very hard to live up to impossible goals - especially if you're not sure they are right for you.

Give yourself a break.

Drop everything from your mind that you don't feel is absolutely crucial to who you are, what you do and what makes you happy.

Anything that doesn't make you happy is destroying your energy and sapping the lifeblood from you.

Let go.

Follow your instincts.

Listen to other people, sure, but don't let them rule you.

You know best.

But then - you already knew that, right?

Keep Writing!

 rob at home


"Literature flourishes best when it is half a trade and half an art." William Ralph Inge

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "Don't Limit Yourself

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Don't Limit Yourself

Dear Fellow Writer, 

A few people have asked me this week: What is a supposed writing guru doing suddenly putting out all this music?

What can I say? Just toying with my roots I guess. I love the idea of having my own iTunes page.

And anyway, the release of "The First Cut is the Deepest" is really only a way to help promote my new movie, First Cut...

To me, it's all about writing.

Books, Film, Music - they're all products of a writer's mind.

And I don't like to limit my definition of what a writer does... as the article below explains.
Keep writing!


Don't Limit Yourself

Rob Parnell
The great thing about money is that it allows us to specialize.

Instead of worrying about hunting or gathering food all day and fighting off savages to get a cave to sleep in, we can do things completely unrelated to basic survival, get paid in money and then go out later and secure the things we need to live.

Think about it. This is a marvelous arrangement - specialization means that we can engage in pretty much anything we feel like doing - as long as it's of perceived value to someone who will pay for it.

That's the catch of course.

Because the problem with having an artistic bent is that our work is not always seen to be valuable - in real money terms - at least at first.

Many writers, artists, musicians and filmmakers have to struggle with the idea that their efforts are not going to secure cash in the short term - and for many, in the long term either.

Persistence is the key. As Mick Jagger once said, the longer you do something, the more successful you'll be - and the more rewards you'll receive for sticking to what you're best at.

But until you're successful, how do you know what to specialize in?

Fact is, you don't. You can't, unless you're so focussed on one thing (and have a wealthy benefactor - or a very patient partner) you can't know what's going to work until it happens.

Four out of every five new businesses fail within the first two years.

The proportion is probably a lot higher for artists. 

My guess would be that 99 out of a hundred artists fail to support themselves within five years. 

Many fall back on some other skill they have - or just keep grinding away at the day job until their urge to be creative is either strangled out of them or naturally fizzles and dies.

If you want to be successful, my advice would be: Don't specialize too soon.

You need to find your niche - the thing that people respond to - before you 
throw yourself wholeheartedly into perfecting your passion.

Many writers start in one genre only to realize that it's not going to pay the rent. They might switch from fantasy or romance to crime thrillers for instance, simply because there's more demand for crime novels.

Musicians attracted to jazz may also find themselves playing dance music - 
because far more people respond to beats than lots of twiddly notes.

It's not about selling out. It's about finding a solid platform from which to communicate your individuality.

Once you've found the niche that people respond to, you can then use all of your creativity within the context of that niche - and fully develop your ideas.

There's nothing worse than being an artist, a writer, and not receiving feedback or encouragement. 

And these days, feedback means money - getting paid, because money enables you to continue.

Without 'greenback feedback' you're not going to be able to develop yourself in any meaningful way - nor be able to build a relationship with your fans, customers and/or subscribers.

You need to try many things - within reason - and not limit yourself to one thing that may not work out for you.

Over-specialization is a problem in the work force too.

Many middle aged workers with lots of experience in a specialized office job or a specific factory process find themselves completely unemployable when they're made redundant by their employers.

We live in an ever changing world that requires us to be able to adapt. 

And sticking to what you know is fine until the world moves on and leaves you asking: "what just happened?"

My dad experienced this when computers started taking over the world in the eighties and nineties. He literally fought against the machines - out of principle. He hated the idea that his job could be replaced by a computer - and ironically, because he didn't embrace technology, it ultimately was.

Many 'old world' writers who have lived 'comfortably' from publishers advances are now feeling the pinch of the Internet - and resent the new world writers who are more self reliant and tenacious.

The Net is a great equalizer.

It's also the market economy in action.

Online success is about instant greenback feedback. You can see what's working and what isn't immediately.

In the future, when increasing numbers of us are being 'supported' by the Net and new technology, we'll have lots more opportunities to be creative and find ways to occupy ourselves meaningfully - rather than relying on 'employers' to dictate what we do with our time.

Are you ready to be more self sufficient?

How many things are you good at?

How many interests do you have?

Just how many activities satisfy you?

These are the questions you'll need to ask yourself if you want to survive and prosper in the upcoming brave new world.

You can't fight change.

We're adaptive creatures - at least we were until the industrial revolution tried to homogenize us into worker drones.

I see the future as an exciting place, where individuality is nurtured and cherished - and education focuses less on facts and figures and more on creating self motivated people.

Self reliance is about self education and being tenacious enough to adapt our goals - and follow through with commitment and conviction.

Besides, you don't really know if you're going to be any good at anything until you try it.

Don't specialize too soon.

Try all kinds of things - all the time.

I would go so far as to say don't specialize ever - but remain open to new opportunities.

The people we respect - artists we aspire to emulate - remain relevant because 
they never lose touch with what's happening around them.

Don't limit yourself.

Be creative - but also be realistic. 

Follow up on what's working and be adventurous with it.

But don't be afraid to walk away from what's not working.

Most of all, take it easy, have fun and then, I'm positive, everything else is bound to follow.

Because if something's no fun, it's never going to work - for you or anybody else!

Keep Writing!
 rob at home
"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backward." Lewis Carroll

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Easy Way to Write an Article

Dear Fellow Writer, 

Trying to write through a cat this morning - he seems to think that pacing in front of my keyboard is a good way to get my attention!

I think he's just trying to avoid the dog - whose wide slavering jaws are less than a few feet away!

Anyway, my new single Soul On Fire was released this week - it's now available on iTunes. Just imagine - you can now own a piece of me and put it in your pocket!

Here's my latest MUSIC publicity pic:
Rock Rob

The moody Rob Parnell rock and roll shot!

Keep writing!

The Easy Way to Write an Article

Rob Parnell
Feeling a bit foggy this morning - not quite sure what to write about. Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to explain how to write an article if you're not feeling up to it.

People often email me to ask how to go about writing blogs and articles. It seems many people struggle with what to write about - and whether there's some trick to being able to write good articles quickly.

My best advice is to just do it.

Researching ideas for articles seems to get in the way, to be honest. And it can often make for dry and contrived sounding writing anyway.

Years ago I realized that article writing is not primarily about the subject matter - as any magazine editor will tell you. 

No, it's more to do with the attitude of the writer.

If you have a strong voice and a couple of opinions, your article will often be at least readable - which is generally the most important aspect of a piece that may grab a casual reader's interest.

Planning an article should be a fairly easy process - ideally a five point outline. 

Like this:

1 Opening gambit - a compelling fact/opinion/observation to pull the reader in

2. A proposition - an idea that you want to figuratively 'sell'

3. Discussion of that proposition - which you might further break down into around two or three 'bits'

4. Proof that your proposition is valid

5. The implications of your premise - and a witty/profound/startling last section to finish off.

You can apply this simple template to pretty much any subject matter - and once you've written a dozen or so articles, it can become automatic: you won't have to think about this structure when it's entrenched into your psyche.

For instance, if you wanted to write an article about cats, you might make a template that read like this:

1. The ancient Egyptians thought cats were gods

2. We don't train cats - they train their owners (the proposition)

3. Examples of typical cat behavior

4. Examples of your own cat's will and power over you

5. Cats understand that keeping you healthy and happy is part of their role in your relationship.

You can then use this template as a starting point.

My feeling is that you should then free write anything that comes into your head without too much conscious thought.

How is this done effectively?

Before you start writing, close your eyes and breathe slowly for three or four minutes; try to clear your mind.

Then call upon your subconscious to help you write the first thing that comes into your head - and to continue doing that for around half an hour until you've reached the end of the article.

Then open your eyes and start writing. Quickly if you can - at least as fast as your thought process.

Stop when you've run out of things to say (about the article's subject matter!)

A magazine article may be anything up to 5000 words. Follow the guidelines stipulated by your magazine/ezine editor.

But how long should a web article be?

For blogs you only need between 500 and a thousand words - sometimes as little as 250 words, so the writing process shouldn't be at all taxing.

If it is, you're probably not doing it right - and the writing will sound forced and contrived.

For the same reason you shouldn't work slavishly to notes. There's nothing worse than reading a dry rendering of facts.

The most important aspect of article writing is making a connection with your reader. You do this by imagining at all times what it's going to be like to read your words.

Will it be fun? Entertaining? Interesting? 

Will there be a sound logic that flows from one point to another?

Is there too much information?

There's a flow to writing that goes in cycles. Are you making the right points at the right time in your article?

Sometimes you won't know until you get feedback.

I'm often amazed on what people pick up from my articles. They'll focus on something I said at a particular point - something I considered trivial - but then miss what I thought was a crucial point.

Usually because of this cyclical nature - the rhythm of the prose - has led the reader to feel more empathy for a 'point' on the upswing of the cycle and less for a point made during a trough.

All fascinating stuff.

But really the trick to writing articles is to develop an authoritative voice. This comes with experience.

The best part is that once you have the voice, you can write about pretty much anything and still sound like an expert. And if you're ever worried about your facts or opinions, then say so boldly in the article.

And if your article's premise and its propositions rely on actual facts, then check them before you send the article off to print - or post it to your blog.

I tend not to check facts before I write an article - because that would interrupt the writing process - but I always check facts after the article is written.

Luckily I have the kind of mind that remembers the thrust of facts, even if I don't always remember them specifically. I'm often amazed at what my mind has remembered!

As far as inspiration for articles is concerned, it's best just to train yourself to think.

Thinking about what you experience - and trying to make sense of things and people and events - and how they interconnect - is all you really need to do to get ideas for articles.

It's really no more difficult than that.

And the more articles you write, the easier this process becomes.

In fact, if you think that writing articles is hard - it only means you're over-thinking the process!

Trust yourself. Trust your mind to always have something to say in writing - and then write the first thing that comes into your head.

It's often the best writing anyway (after you've edited it later of course!)

I hope this little article has helped you.

And yep, it took about half an hour of free writing based on all the principles outlined above!

Keep Writing!
 rob at home
"It's a poor sort of memory that only works backward." Lewis Carroll

The Writing Academy

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