"" Rob Parnell's Writing Academy Blog: May 2015

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How to Write a Story That Will Sell

Write a Story That Will Sell

The difference between a good story and great story is like the difference between a pop song and a symphony.

While many pop songs work well, are catchy and appealing, and you may even fall in love with them for a time, a symphony is something of far more weight, depth and significance.

In a symphony, the composer takes a theme and explores it, breaks it down, reinvents it and shows it in many different lights until the listener is aware that the composer fully understands his art, and can relate in musical form the reasons for him wanting to develop a particular musical idea in the first place.

A symphony is not just a tune or three strung together, it's an exploration and a celebration of the human condition.

So it is with writing stories - or should be.

A simple story is one dimensional: A character has an agenda that is thwarted once, twice, maybe more, until his goal is achieved. 

That's it. 

Easy to follow, appealing and satisfying, like a pop song.

A great story is one where there is a theme, but it is explored, broken down, turned on its head, reinvented, and seen from differing angles.

A great story might take a simple theme but there is nothing simple about the way it is handled.

Bonfire of the Vanities takes the simple theme that 'power corrupts' but amid the character relationships and plot twists there are a myriad of different perspectives on the theme. 

Tom Wolfe - a truly great writer - is good at this aspect of story construction.

He takes an idea and twists and turns it, considers the implications of everything and then shapes a story that is epic but focused. This is probably why he writes a novel only once every five or ten years, while other, less complicated authors can pump out two or three books a year!

Don't get me wrong.

I'm not saying that one way of writing is better than the other. 

I love Tom Wolfe's books. I'm in awe, and not a little humbled by his talent. 

But I also enjoy James Patterson and his finely crafted stories that may not even be written by him nowadays!

We can't all take years to write a masterpiece.

Especially while the demand for stories is huge - and growing.


Nowadays, we have to be masters of the craft of storytelling quickly - now, while we're working. 

In order to compete in the marketplace, we need to know how the masters do it. 

We have to know what may have taken a lifetime of writing for them to learn.

There is Art - But There is also Formula

You only have to work for some time in the writing industry - anywhere from books, to magazines, to screenwriting - to know that everyone these days works within accepted formulas and literary conventions.

It seems that on some level, everybody knows what works and what doesn't work. 

There are far more critics out there than writers. 

Pretty much anyone has an opinion. 

Curiously, when a piece of writing isn't working, everyone from a janitor to a CEO can tell you what it is they don't like.

It's up to us poor writers to understand our craft well enough to deal with criticism - and often we do it well, or at least try to.

What's interesting to me is that when a writer systematically deals with all the criticisms, they may produce a work that is suddenly heralded as genius!

But what has happened is that the writer has simply honed his CRAFT to such an extent that is has slip-streamed effortlessly into a perceived ART.

Because, yes, I believe the CRAFT and the ART and ultimately apparent GENIUS in writing can be learned.

Writers Must Master Craft to Create Art

Just like master composers like Mozart or Beethoven - writers need to hone their skills like musicians: learn the basics first, practice and practice, gain familiarity with all of their influences, learn from others diligently, over and over, until they can eventually emerge with their own style and begin to use their own personalities to develop ideas and themes and to finally express themselves artistically in a way that is perceived as genius.

Genius is not always innate. 

But it can be learned with practice.

I think what really makes a genius is commitment and perseverance - and not a little obsession. 

Learning from the masters, writing every day, listening to the marketplace, responding appropriately, and being determined to improve, will all help in your quest to write stories that will sell.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell



    Sherlock Holmes 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

7 Tips to Cure Writers Block

writers block

I've always been loath to tackle the subject of writer's block for personal, largely superstitious reasons - but still I get asked what writers should do about it, all the time! 

So here goes:  

   1. Crisis, What Crisis?

First off, you need to deny that there is any such thing as writer's block. This debilitating condition can only hurt you when you give it the privilege of a concrete name. Take away its name and you begin to take away its power over you.

Tell yourself, there is no such thing as writer's block. There is writing and not-writing. Only writers have a name for something they're NOT doing.

Think about the absurdity of builder's block, or doctor's block, or pilot's block. Any kind of inability to write is similarly absurd.

Writing is like breathing - something you learned to do a long time ago without thinking. Stop thinking about it - and just do it.

   2. Stop! In the Name of Love.
If you've run out of ideas or you're struggling over the next sentence, take a break.

Many writers agree that a short pace around the garden, or a quick stint at housework, taking a shower or partaking in a brief period of meditation can help to shift your mindset away from a block.

You need to interrupt mental stagnation by briefly doing something else. Again, you need to stop thinking about the writing and give your mind the space to develop another way in.

A short break will give you a new perspective. Don't think about the writing, focus on the ideas, then go back to your desk and put those thoughts on paper, or the screen.

  3. Everybody Say, Word Up.
Play with words. Make a game of it. For instance, take two unrelated words from the dictionary and make a sentence out of them.

Make a list of cues to pin on your wall. My first kiss, my best train ride, the last time I saw Paris etc. When stuck, use your cues to kick start your mind. Don't write, simply notate your thoughts.

Describe anything in your room. Describe someone you know from memory. Anything to get images on the page.

Again, don't think about the words, think about the thing you're describing - the characteristics, the emotions evoked, the conclusions made - and put those impressions onto the screen.

The quality of the writing is unimportant. Getting your thoughts out is all that matters.

   4. Twas a Dark and Stormy Night...

Every writer has been there before you. See how they made it through by taking a book and copying out a paragraph, word for word.

Edit it. Try rephrasing some of the syntax, the clauses, the dialogue. When you do this, you're in another writer's mind.

Not so different from your own, is it?

All of us writers live in the same place. Some of us - the more prolific - are just better adjusted to the environment. They see the reality within and behind the words. Don't let the words get in the way. They're not important. What is important is relating the thoughts and impressions that the words represent.

Get past the words, leapfrog them, to get to the images in your mind. Don't say you don't have any ideas because your brain is full to the brim of them - and the more you write, the more you'll realize the truth of this phenomenon. 

   5. Gah! You Cannot Be Serious.
There's nothing quite like reading something terrible to make you feel you could do better.

Choose a dire paperback, read and scoff, then get back to your desk.

Whatever you do, don't stop and think about writing. Thinking about writing is not the same as writing.

The only time I ever got blocked was around ten years ago when a writer friend told me a story of mine didn't make sense. It took me a whole year to realize that no amount of thinking was ever going to improve the story. I sat down then to fix it.

More writing and editing is the only way forward. Stop writing and you die a little, and your writing dies with you.

  6. I'll Have What She's Having

If you can't raise the enthusiasm to write, fake it. 

Habit is king when it comes to writing. The more you do it, the easier it gets - because you lose the inhibitions created by lack of practice.

Plus, when you spend ten minutes writing, even if you're not really enjoying it at first, then somehow the subconscious kicks in and begins to write for you.

You've got to bypass the logical rational mind - the critic - and go to the source of your creativity, the subconscious - that never-ending well of ideas that is always bursting for a means of expression.

From childhood we are taught to suppress out imagination. As writers, we need to consciously become kids again. Let your inner mind run free and make mischief.

  7. Take This and Come Back in a Week

Here's the solution to writer's block that always works.

Write it out.

When you're blocked, tell the page, I'm blocked. Ask for guidance,in writing. Work through your block on the screen, typing one painful word after the other if necessary.

"Come on, brain, you've got to help me. What should I write now? Just one more line, that's all I need to get me back on track."
Don't stop until the block has passed. ONLY stop when you feel you could write more. Always leave a little extra writing in reserve for the next time. Tomorrow.

In general, whatever you do, don't wait for inspiration. 

Not only does this approach not work, it's messing with your brain and giving it all the wrong messages about writing being some kind of special activity. It's not. 

Writing should be automatic to you. Just something you do, like eating, breathing or sleeping.

Now, I hate to put a downer on stuff at this point but if none of the above seven strategies work, then maybe you need to give up.

Because, simply put, if you're not writing regularly, you're not really a writer - and maybe you never will be. So stop beating yourself up and shut down that avenue. Stop torturing yourself and go back to chopping wood for a living.

Does this idea scare you?

It should. Because at this point you have two choices.

Stop now, for good - or go write something!

Best of luck, my friend. 

I know you can do it.

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell

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    Sherlock Holmes 

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