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The Three Steps to Writing Your First Story

For the first time on this site, I’ve opened up a post to someone else. The following is a guest think piece written by Tim Wilkinson, who was gracious enough to lend some of his advice on writing to you guys.

Tim majored in Screenwriting in college and has taken a variety of creative writing classes on the side. He moved to Hollywood and hung out with other writers while doing freelance work on the side. During his time there, he met a lot of great (and not-so-great) writers who have helped shaped his strategy for making what you make, well, great. Enjoy!

 

By Tim Wilkinson.

A strange mistake writers make when they decide to write something is when they think they have to start by crafting a novel. If you were just learning how to sew, you wouldn’t start by making a California King-sized quilt, just like if you started running yesterday, you wouldn’t attempt a marathon this coming weekend.

Don’t get me wrong, I want you to get to wherever it is you want to be (creatively speaking). I just think you’re going to need to start by developing your tools and endurance (yes, writing a novel is an exercise in endurance) before tackling the beast.

Part the First: About Writing Itself

The first mistake that many intrepid young writers make is to think that writing is “easy.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Writing can be fun, rewarding and extremely satisfying, but I’ve never once considered it especially easy. As a result, many new writers tend to dive in and quickly flame out on their project. Or just get lost in the world they were trying to create. Then they stick it in a drawer and never look at it again.

My advice is simple:

Read. As much as you can. You can’t write if you don’t read. Don’t like to read? Guess what? You’re not a writer. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

Reading helps you develop your own voice (likely by first emulating writers you love and then growing from there) and keeps your brain in what I like to call word mode. I read every day on my commute and most nights before bed.

Write. Every. Day. This one is even harder. There are days when you’re not going to want to. Days when the words won’t come. Days when you think everything you’re writing is crap and you’ll be right.

It’s going to suck sometimes, but you’ve just got to muscle through it. All professional writers do it, and they’ll all admit to having days when they want to pull their hair out and scream until they lose their voices. But they still do it.

Study. You need to learn story structure. I’ve heard too many new writers say, “I don’t need to learn story structure because it will mess up my story” or some other line that implies that they are too “artistic” to bow to the traditional guidelines of storytelling.

If you’re one of these people, let me tell you something: you’re just like everyone else who thinks they’re a genius until that moment comes when you discover that your really cool plot twist or story structure was actually done (better) by someone before you were even born.

Writing is extremely humbling if you’re doing it correctly.

So just suck it up and learn story structure. Pick up a copy of Story by Robert McKee (it’s targeted to screenwriters, but the story elements translate to prose fiction as well) and On Writing by Stephen King. Read the crap out of them.

Then grab a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and learn it by heart. I also recommend The Little Red Writing Book by Brandon Royal. But grammar and spelling are only important if you want other people to read your work.

Find a Community (but don’t get too caught up in it). This is optional and not for everyone. I’m sure that if you’ve started writing something already, you’re a bit annoyed because writing sounds like a lot of hard, lonely work.

It is.

That’s why it’s good to have friends who understand what you’re putting yourself through.

Search for a good local writers group (lots of libraries have them, depending on where you’re located) or even online. Reddit (r/writing) is a nice place to hang out as well. These people will be a tremendous resource for you and will help you find your way—or at least be a support group that your non-writer friends won’t be able to be.

However: Note that there is a fine line between being a writer and playing the writer. People who play the writer want to have all the “perks” of being a writer—the prestige, being able to say you’re a writer to impress people at parties, etc.—without actually writing. So be sure you’re finding an actual writing group that will help you progress.

Okay, now you’ve established the building blocks. Hopefully this means you’ve started kicking out a few pages every day. Awesome. Now we can move on to:

Part the Second: About Writing a Novel

All novels start with one thing: An idea.

You need an idea that is going to keep you interested for at least a year, probably more. The idea that birthed my novel was simple: What if a teenaged boy became obsessed with capturing proof of the giant monster living in the local lake?

(Side note: Don’t be paranoid about not telling people ideas like this—you can’t copyright an idea, and even if they did steal it, their story would be completely different from yours. Just look at vampire and zombie novels if you don’t believe me).

So now that you have your idea, you’ve got to figure out a few things:

  • What genre will my novel be?
  • What is your narrator’s point of view?
  • Will you follow one character or jump around between multiple ones?

I find knowing these few things at the outset to be tremendously helpful. I’ve actually rewritten an entire project because I decided after one draft that past-tense/third person was the wrong way to go and changed it to present-tense/first person.

Now this is where things get tricky. You have to decide if you’re a gardener or architect.

Gardeners plant a story and let it grow organically, often starting at the beginning and then letting it grow as they write.

Architects plot everything out in advance so they know how to build their story.

For example: Stephen King is a gardener; J.K. Rowling is an architect.

I am very much an architect. As such, I’ll walk you through my process.

Start with a deck of 3×5 index cards. Write out each scene in one sentence on the card. If you find you’re adding more than one or two sentences, tear it up and start over.

Your sentences should be simple, like:

Jeff kicks in the door, shoots the guy on the couch and takes the drugs on the table.

Worry about the details of it when you’re actually writing. If you obsess over the details now, you’ll have nothing to keep your interest when you finally start to write.

Write all of your scenes out like this. Now lay them out and read through them. You may start to notice that this scene here would go better there, and so on.

This is why you use index cards and vague-ish scenes. So you can move them around.

Rearrange, add, subtract and generally play with it to your heart’s content. Then, once your satisfied, number them (trust me) and then type them up in a single document.

Viola! Instant outline!

Now you begin to write. Set a daily goal. My current one is 500 words a day because I work full-time and have a pregnant wife. It’s what I can do, but I make sure to do it every single day. And yes, there are plenty of days when I don’t want to at first.

Now write and write and write and write and one day it will be done.

And it will be horrible. Or at least, you’ll hate it. You’ll hate everything about it. You’ll consider self-immolation. You’ll consider taking up an “easier” artistic outlet, like painting with fresh rattlesnake blood that you procured yourself.

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams: Don’t Panic.

This is normal. Calmly put your hard work aside and do not look at it for at least one month. Maybe longer. Fight the urge to tool around with it. Start something new. Go have an adventure. Just don’t touch it. Right now, your manuscript is a wad of dough, and it needs time to breathe and rise. Which brings us to…

Part the Third: Turd Polishing

After enough time has lapsed, go back and read it.

Don’t start rewriting immediately. Read it.

All the way through.

Tough it out. It might hurt in places, but you’ll also notice little pockets of prose that you don’t hate. Feel free to keep a notepad handy, but don’t spend more time writing than you do reading that first time. Re-acquaint yourself. Note any large plot issues, but save the finer stuff for later.

After your read through, it’s time to rewrite.

Start by fixing any gaping plot holes and work down to the smaller details. Take good notes. A good rule of thumb I’ve learned is that your second draft should be 10% shorter than your first draft. Usually, this can be easily achieved by editing out extraneous words.

One thing we should talk about here is grammar, which is literally the last thing you should worry about. Your first draft (as well as everyone else’s) will be a hot, steaming turd. You don’t ever want to polish a fresh turd. Your successive rewrites will act as a coat of varnish on your turd, making it nice, shiny and less horrifying.

Once you’ve applied several coats of Rewrites™ brand varnish, you’ll be able to polish (or, if you prefer, proofread) without getting dirt under your fingernails. Besides, what’s the point of correcting spelling and grammar if you might just rewrite that whole section anyway?

Now it’s just a matter of banging it into shape until you’re happy with it. Once you’re satisfied that your story is absolutely as good as it is going to get, then you can fix your grammar and spelling. Once you’re done, find that one friend of yours who, when asked for story feedback, only ever points out your typos.

“Uh, it was good but you misspelled butt cheek like six times in chapter nine.”

All writers have this one friend, I promise you. Right now, he’s your best friend.

Now you’re finally ready to show your bad boy off. Ask a few trusted friends to read it and give you feedback. This will likely spur another round of revisions—again this is totally normal.

Also, be sure to give a copy of your manuscript to your mother (or whoever loves you unconditionally).

Because who doesn’t occasionally need to hear how great they are? Just don’t expect it from anyone else. You’re going to have to earn it from everyone else.

I really hope you find this piece helpful. If you’re a little freaked out now, that’s good.

If you still want to write a novel, that’s very good.

One final note: Find what you’re comfortable writing on and stick with it. Clive Barker writes his novels longhand and then types them up. I use a program called OmmWriter to do my daily 500 words, then paste it into Scrivener, an amazing (and cheap) writing program that has its own index card system (which I now use instead of actual index cards).

Just find what works for you and do it.

 

Thanks for reading! You can follow @Tim_Wilkinson on Twitter.

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If ‘Up’ Was Directed by Michael Bay

Well. This happened.

Honestly, I’m only bringing myself to share this because it actually made me laugh out loud and hate myself at the same time. What else on the Internet can do that?

Let’s all take a moment of silence and thank Pixar for choosing Peter Docter (not Michael Bay) to direct Up. Also, was that Linkin Park playing in the trailer? Well done MrStratman7 for making this.

up directed by michael bay

The Pixar Detective, Chapter 10: The Peculiar Professor

Hey everyone! Welcome to The Pixar Detective, a serial novel I put together based on the Pixar Theory. The following is a fictional story that explains the theory that all of the Pixar movies are connected and exist within the same universe, using original characters and artwork. The story answers a lot of questions you may have about this theory, but through its own ongoing narrative.

The story originally launched in April, and we’ve recently completed Part 1!

It is available as an iBook on iTunes, which you can check out here. If you can’t use iBooks, you can also download the PDF version. 

Once you’re finished, check back to our Table of Contents, where we’ll be continuing the story through Part 2. A new chapter is released every two weeks on Tuesdays. And please be sure to leave your feedback in the comments for us to read through. Enjoy!

chapter 10 pixar detective

 

PREVIOUSLY, ON ‘THE PIXAR DETECTIVE.’

pixar detective chapter 4

Stevin Parker, Wallaby Jones, and Alec Azam (the Peculiar Professor) have teamed up with a small, purple monster named Mr. Sumner in their pursuit of their missing friend, Mary. They’ve traveled in time to 1935 and have found themselves inside a government facility called “the Hexagon,” which is run by a maniac named “the Maestro.”

pixar detective chapter 8

After splitting up, Stevin and Mr. Sumner were captured by the Maestro, who revealed his pet project to them: a girl named Sadie who has incredible powers and is known as the first “super.” Her power, which the Maestro calls “Dominion,” allows her to transform parts of her body and senses into animals, giving her incredible strength and speed.

sadiebird

Meanwhile, Wallaby made his way to Level 9, a research lab filled with strange cages and experiments. He was discovered by Willem and Flo, two of the Hexagon’s deadliest agents who are also a part of “Project Superlative,” which involves Sadie. Though they captured him, Alec showed up just in time to distract the agents and give Wallaby time to flee through a metal door that may contain more answers than even Wallaby realizes.

Use the prompt on the sidebar to subscribe for updates, or you can just follow me and Kayla on Twitter to stay connected – @JonNegroni – @KaylaTheSavage

The Last Four Movies That Will Star Robin Williams

By now, you may have learned the tragic news that celebrated actor Robin Williams tragically passed away today at age 63. One of my personal favorite actors growing up, Williams is best known for his wide range of talent as both a comedian and dramatic powerhouse. The word to best describe him, honestly, will always be memorable. His films simply left a lasting impression.

Films like AladdinMrs. DoubtfireGood Will HuntingGood Morning Vietnam, and of course, Dead Poets Society will be remembered as some of Williams’ best work. But there are still four more films to be released that feature the deceased actor. Here they are:

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

The third film of the Night at the Museum movies (about a museum where the exhibits come to life) will see Robin Williams reprise his role as Teddy Roosevelt.

The movie will be released on December 19th of this year, and you can watch the trailer below.

Merry Friggin’ Christmas

Another comedy coming this holiday season is Merry Friggin’ Christmas, which stars Robin Williams and Lauren Graham. In it, Williams plays a man who visits his dysfunctional family at the holidays, only to realize he left his son’s gifts at home and must travel back home with his own father to make it back in time.

Christmas opens on November 7th, 2014.

robin williams merry friggin christmas

Boulevard

Williams stars in this indie drama alongside Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad). It debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and will be a drama centered around a married man who must confront his “secret life.”

A wide release date has not yet been announced.

the-boulevard-robin-williams

Absolutely Anything

In what will likely be his last onscreen offering, Williams lends his voice to “Dennis the Dog” in this film about a man who discovers he has magic powers. The film also stars Simon Pegg and Kate Beckinsale in live action roles.

The film will open sometime next year.

robin williams absolutely anything

Of course, several other projects were “in the works” for Williams, including a possible sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire. The actor had tough year as of late due to the cancellation of his CBS comedy, The Crazy Ones.

It’s hard to say goodbye to an actor who has meant so much to so many people. It’s even harder to say goodbye so suddenly. But I hope that you will make the trip to theaters to finish Williams’ work. I know I will.

Chivalry Isn’t Dead. It Just Looks Different.

Chivalry means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But it certainly isn’t “dead.”

The popularized version might be. That is, if you define the merit of a concept by how it permeates culture. In that sense, many of us (myself included) would concede that the “mainstream” version of chivalry as defined by “knights in shining armor” and a strict code of etiquette is certainly an afterthought for most people.

And if you only define chivalry literally, then I suppose you consider it to have been dead since the days of medieval knights in shining armor.

But that’s not the type of chivalry we’re talking about, and it’s not even close to what our elders would call it.

The widespread view of chivalry comes down to various types of acts that are influenced by a holistic attitude. The acts in question are things like opening doors for others, taking someone out on a nice date and exercising manners.

As I said before, these acts are influenced by an attitude that begs them genuine. The attitude is a layer of sincere respect for the person receiving the kind acts you’ve bestowed upon them.

Put that way, it’s easy to see why chivalry doesn’t have to be constrained to just one gender or even role someone may play.

Chivalry can be an extension of how you treat your parents, friends and neighbors. Not just your lover. But that’s getting out of focus.

Sticking with just the lover thing, chivalry is commonly placed on the shoulders of men, and I believe rightly so. That doesn’t mean men are the only members of society to be chivalrous. It just means that chivalry is expected from men by men.

We set the example, basically, and it’s no one else’s fault when we fall short (no matter what Elite Daily tells you). Women shouldn’t have to tell men that they need to step up their manners, for example. Men should be telling each other.

Now, this is the part where we lament over how men are no longer chivalrous. It’s “dead” or something. But I think you’re talking about something else. The acts we associate with chivalry are falling by the wayside, maybe. Fewer men seem to be willing to evoke the symbol of a “modern” gentleman, whatever that means (because it’s so difficult to easily define what a modern gentleman is or is even supposed to be).

chivalry

The idea of doing things to prove that you’re chivalrous isn’t as popular these days for a lot of reasons. But that attitude of respect and dignity toward the opposite sex? If you pay closer attention, you’ll find that many men and women still exercise this. No one has to tell you that respect is a good thing. It’s something we still expect and appreciate when we see it.

Over time, I think it’s been easier for women to see through the empty, fake chivalry that men use to receive a reward. That is, men who use chivalry as a tool, instead of a lifestyle, to win the woman’s body over her heart.

So men have adjusted. Many aren’t as quick to “fake it” and be a nice guy because they know it’s futile. You either have that attitude of chivalry, or you don’t. If you do have that attitude, you’re still not a perfect gentleman. You’ll still make mistakes. But you’re working toward that role when you default to the idea of being kind, over being reckless.

I see chivalry everywhere. Not as much as I see disrespect, sadly. But I still see it when men ask a girl on a date face to face instead of texting her. I see it when someone opens a door for someone else, regardless of gender. And I see it when men don’t rush intimacy out of respect for the other person and themselves.

And yes, many men exercise “traditional” chivalry honestly and successfully.

Of course, I suspect my standards might not be high enough. If you’re like me, you were raised to always go the extra mile when it comes to respecting others. Not just with your attitude, but with actions that reflect that attitude. I just wouldn’t be so quick to judge one man’s chivalry over another’s. You know, unless it’s terrible.

 

Thanks for reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

The Pixar Detective, Chapter 9: Our Doom

Hey everyone! Welcome to The Pixar Detective, a serial novel I put together based on the Pixar Theory. The following is a fictional story that explains the theory that all of the Pixar movies are connected and exist within the same universe, using original characters and artwork. The story answers a lot of questions you may have about this theory, but through its own ongoing narrative.

The story originally launched in April, and we’ve recently completed Part 1!

It is available as an iBook on iTunes, which you can check out here. If you can’t use iBooks, you can also download the PDF version. 

Once you’re finished, check back to our Table of Contents, where we’ll be continuing the story through Part 2. A new chapter is released every two weeks on Tuesdays. And please be sure to leave your feedback in the comments for us to read through. Enjoy!

pixar detective chapter 9

 

PREVIOUSLY, ON THE PIXAR DETECTIVE.

In their continued search for Mary, our heroes found themselves within the secretive (and dangerous) government facility known as the Hexagon. But Stevin and his new friend, the monster known as Mr. Sumner, have been captured by the facility’s head madman, the Maestro.

pixar detective chapter 8

Meanwhile, Wallaby decided to go his own way by sneaking into the Hexagon by himself. Unfortunately, he was discovered by the strange, seemingly unstable agent known as Flo. With a few strategic lies, Wallaby convinced Flo that he is also an agent, and she agreed to escort him inside.

wallaby

Also inside the facility is the mysterious “super” known as Sadie. A girl who has the power of “Dominion.” But what is this power and why is she important? We’re about to find out.

sadie

Use the prompt on the sidebar to subscribe for updates or just follow me and Kayla on Twitter to stay connected – @JonNegroni – @KaylaTheSavage

Creativity Winks.

I’m writing this as I ride a bus on my way to a bookstore in San Francisco, where I’ll be picking up my own copy of Creativity Inc. 

The book is written by Ed Catmull, who you may know as Pixar’s current President, along with Amy Wallace.

It’s a book about creative leadership, or to be more specific, creating an environment that allows people to create. And maybe not just create, but be incredibly creative. You can imagine why Catmull has the authority to write such a book, considering he’s been in charge of one of the most creative companies in the world (and not only when it comes to movies).

creativity winks
You can click the image to purchase the book for yourself and/or read reviews.

So I’m pretty excited to get my hands on the book, as I’m sure it will provide valuable insights into how I can foster a creative environment for myself. Which is why I’m writing this post and titling it “Creativity Winks.”

Because I certainly can’t lend anything as credible or even profound as Catmull or anyone else in Pixar’s leadership. But before I inundate myself with the wisdom of the experts, I do want to share with you my takeaway about what it means to be creative.

And that’s just it right there. Being creative is missing the point entirely. Everyone is creative, especially about things they care about. Some people try to say that “creativity” is being inspiring when it comes to a topic they aren’t passionate about. But that’s definitely not it either (they’re just confusing skill and empathy with originality).

Creativity winks at us. Our minds (depending on who you are) flash brilliant moments of incredible originality almost routinely. It’s just up to us to play those moments out. Or save them for later.

That moment when a catchy tune gets caught in my head – and I realize I’m the one who thought it up – is a “wink” of creativity that will be lost forever in a matter of minutes. Unless I take out my phone and record my humming. A few days later, I’m figuring out the chords for a new ukulele song I’m writing (yes, this is a true story).

Creativity also winks at me when I write fiction. Some of you may follow along with my serial novel, The Pixar Detective, and I’ve been asked routinely how I come up with the story and characters on such a consistent, uninterrupted basis.

Well I’m certain that if I tried to write an entire chapter of The Pixar Detective in one sitting, I’d produce something that isn’t my best work. And that’s because it takes time for flashes of creativity to arrive. For some of us, it can take hours, days, or even weeks.

What I’ve found, though, is that the frequency in which these “winks” arrive is progressively increased as we apply those ideas when they do come.

In other words: the more you create, the more creative you will become. It’s a simple, but hopelessly ignored concept.

So creativity winks at us. And I’ve learned from experience that some of the most brilliant ideas we can come up with are as fleeting as they are wonderful. But if you take the time to write them down and play them out, you’ll immediately set yourself apart.

Thanks for reading! You can subscribe to this blog by email via the prompt on the sidebar. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@JonNegroni). I’ll follow you back if you say something witty and awesome.

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