How to Write a Book (For Beginners)

Back to basics. I recently had a request for posts specifically geared towards beginners. For those aspiring writers you have an idea and a dream but aren’t really sure how to take that next step. I’m going be breaking down the writing process step by step. It’s important to understand that everything in this post is a general overview of the process. I don’t want you to get the impression that this is something that can be done overnight or in a hurry because you couldn’t do this overnight.

Each individual step is a process in and of itself. Depending on what type of book you want to write it can be easy or hard. It can take a lot of time and a lot of dedication. These steps will at least give you the general idea of what direction to move in and will hopefully give you the basics that you need to get you started.

Here are the five steps for how to write a novel.
Step number one: come up with an idea. This may seem like the easy part, but in my opinion this is one of the more difficult steps of the process. You have to come up with an idea that has substance. It needs to be something that you could write an entire novel about. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with an idea and thought it was brilliant only to discover later that it was problematic that there wasn’t any conflict at the heart of the story or there was no true antagonist or it simply wasn’t compelling enough to write enough words on it.

So how exactly do you come up with these ideas. Well, it’s kind of up to you. Every writer has their own process for coming up with ideas, for some it’s very organic. They just get an idea and it works and they run with it, or others it’s a little bit of inspiration/manipulation. I’m typically inspired by something around me, whether it’s something I see in the world or a feeling that I have and want to explore. Perhaps a song lyric or a painting that really speaks to me. I usually get some sort of basic idea from that and then I think about okay what could be the story here.

If you think about all of the elements that make up a good story, it’s really easy to take your idea and manipulate it into an idea that’s worth writing a novel about. Decide who is your protagonist, who is the antagonist, what’s the conflict of the story, what journey is the character going to go on what are their goals and motivations once you start thinking about all of these and sort of filling in all of the blanks. You should be able to tell if you have a novel worthy story on your hands. If you are finding that you’re struggling to make the pieces fit then, that may not be an idea that you want to continue developing. You just keep being creative and keep thinking what if, what is and then eventually you come up with an idea that you know is what you want to write your story on.

Step number two: planning. Some people consider themselves to be planners when it comes to writing. That basically means that they take their idea and sit down and just write completely by the seat of their pants and that really works for them. That is awesome.
some people are plotters. If you’re just starting out with a writing journey, I really encourage you to consider doing some planning before you start writing. You need to know who your characters are and where your story is going before the first word is even written. Think about it like this, it would be like going to a brand new place that you’ve never been before and trying to navigate that place without the help of a map or a GPS or directions from a local. It could be done, but it would be rather difficult.

When you’re first starting out, you want to make it as easy as you can for yourself. That’s why planning is really important and highly encouraged. I recommend that you do character charts or profiles for each of your main characters and an outline. Your character turns don’t have to be anything fancy, they just have to serve the purpose of allowing you to get to know those characters as if they were real people. You have to get inside their heads, after all and in order to write truly convincing characters you have to know and understand exactly who that character is and what makes them tick. Their fears, their motivations, their goals, their aspirations, their dreams, their likes, their dislikes, etc. This is a step that you do not want to skip. Once you’ve got your characters down, then it’s time to move on to your outline. You have to know exactly where your story is going so it’s a really important step. Stop, sit down, and figure it all out before you just dive right into the writing.

I can recommend Freytag’s pyramid to outline. It is by far one of the most helpful methods that I have found. By using that method the stories feel much more developed and fleshed out and the actual writing of those stories feels a million times easier than when I used to write without it. You need an outline, you’re the writer, it’s your story, and you have to know all of the inner and outer workings of that story before the first word is ever written. Take some time flesh out your characters and your plot and once you’ve done it’s time to start writing.

Step number three: write the first draft. Here’s what you do you put yourself in a chair, put your fingers on that keyboard and you write that story no matter what. Stop letting self-doubt be a distraction or an excuse. Stop trying to make things perfect. Just write your story. First drafts are usually crappy. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good of a writer you are. This is your first draft. You have a place to start editing. Get the bare bones of your story down on paper.

Step number four: celebrate. You just wrote a novel and that is amazing. So many people say they’re going to write a book and never actually accomplished it, but you did. It’s a good idea to take a little time away from the manuscript, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you so while you’re celebrating and recharging your batteries put the manuscript away. When you are ready dive back in with fresh eyes. Once the rest period is over, it’s time to pick up that manuscript and start revising. At this point, you’re not worried about all the little stuff like grammar and mechanics, you’re focused more on the structure of your story, the development of your characters, the advancement of your plot, and so on.

You may find yourself deleting entire sections and chapters. You may find that you need to rewrite a lot of things, you’ll move stuff around and rename things and do a whole lot of changing,. This can be a good thing and is actually part of the process.You get to take your idea and really start chipping away at it until it becomes something that you’re really proud of. This may also a really great time to enlist the help of beta readers and critique partners. Beta readers and critique partners are invaluable when it comes to feedback.

This is the perfect opportunity for you to take that draft you’re revising and really making the story shine. Send it out to people and get the feedback you need to make that story ten times better than it is. A lot of writers consider this step optional.

Step number five: polishing. Once you’re sure the content of your story is a solid as you can make it, then the next step is to go through and make edits. This is where you’re focusing on those little things where you’re looking for grammatical errors and sentence structure issues, you’re removing filter words and changing up dialogue tags, etc.

At this point, you really should not be making any significant content changes, just fixing those tiny little errors and tightening things up. Once you’ve done that, you have a finished and polished novel. Remember no matter how tough things get just keep writing. Don’t give up, you can do it!

13 Steps To Help You Write

So you want to write a book. I know the feeling I’ve been writing books for many years now. There’s a lot of people out there on the internet and elsewhere, that will try to tell you that writing a book is easy, you can do it fast, they’ve got five steps to writing a best-seller.

I do have 13 foundational steps that you’re going to need to follow if you’re going to write a book. Speed is not the point. Quality is the point.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is establish your writing space. You should never say that you don’t have a place to write, you can write anywhere, but you want to establish what you need. If you need solitude, make sure you find a place in your house where you can shut the door, turn off media and you can have privacy and silence or whatever you need to write. The more you can afford, the better you’ll do as far as equipment and space.

A second important step is to assemble your writing tools. All you need is a notebook and a pencil or your laptop and a comfortable chair. Learn what works for you: if you are out somewhere do you need to take cushion from home so you can sit up straight your back? Your neck are important to your writing too. You’re going to be spending a lot of hours with that notebook or in front of that computer, so don’t scrimp on your computer. When you’re home don’t scrimp on your chair. Make a list of all the things you’re going to need while you’re especially at home. If you need paper clips or a stapler or whatever make sure you have all those within arm’s length so you don’t get distracted by having to look for things.

A third important thing you want to do is to break the project into small pieces. The reason that writing a book seems so colossal is because it is writing a book. Break the task into as many small pieces as you can. Your manuscript in the end is made up of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Just doing one thing at a time, that’s the way to get a handle on it.

Number four is to settle on your big idea. It needs to be a big idea if it’s book worthy. It’s going to be big concept. We don’t have any room in the marketplace anymore for small concept book ideas. If it’s small, use it for a blog or an article. If you tryed to write a book before and you ran into a roadblock at the 20 or 30 day mark or maybe the 20 or 30 page mark, it could be because your idea wasn’t big enough. How do you know if your idea is big enough? If it has legs, it stays with you. If you tell your friend what your book is about and every time you tell them it gets bigger, that’s a book that’s going to last in the marketplace.

Step 5 is to construct your outline. Even if it is on one side of one sheet of paper, give yourself some direction of where you’re going. Now some people especially if you’re a beginning writer, your editor or your agent may need to see an entire synopsis of your novel idea so you’ll have to do more of an outline than you might have done later. Agents and editors demand outlines for nonfiction. There’s no writing a nonfiction book without an outline. They want to know what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, where you’re getting your information, and what your points are going to be. Now we often talk in fiction about the marathon of the middle and how that stops everybody. That’s one of the places that you might begin to wonder, why did I ever think I could do this? That’s the marathon of the middle. You can’t just survive it or endure it, you have to thrive in it because the reader is right with you. If it seems boring to you, your reader is asleep. This happens to be true of nonfiction as well. Now you’ll take care of that with your outline, and for nonfiction you’ll know that your middle has enough good stuff in it. In fiction be sure you’re saving a lot of big setups and payoffs for that marathon in the middle. You can do the same in nonfiction. In fiction you don’t have the same number of elements as far as tension and conflict and dialogue. You still need to set up in the payoff for your non-fiction book. Say you’re writing a nonfiction book about how to build a model ship. You need to set it up so that it looks impossible until your specific solution comes through, that’s your setup and payoff. Don’t be intimidated by an outline, your outline serves you not the other way around. If you’ve got an outline and you find yourself drifting from it or you think the book is working in a different, better direction, make your outline work for you.

Number six and that is: to set a firm reading schedule that includes a firm deadline. That hangs up too many beginning writers if they don’t have a publishers deadline. Set your own and notice if you we to fudge on our own deadlines. Make sure you don’t do that. Keep your deadline firm. The way you do that is to figure out roughly how many pages you’re going be writing for your book. 300, 400, 500 and divide that into the number of days you’re allotting yourself to write. This may change once you get started and realize how many or how few pages you can write per day. If you schedule yourself for 10 pages a day and you’re really not comfortable with more than four or five, change your schedule, change your deadline. Once you get it locked in, keep it firm. As a publisher I found that only about 1 in 100 writers literally meet their deadlines. If you just do that, you set yourself apart from ninety nine out of a hundred writers. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re going find the time to write. You need to schedule the time you need to get your writing finished. Schedule your days right on your calendar and keep those appointments.

Seven is to conduct your research. A lot of people miss the fact that research is just as important for fiction as well as nonfiction. If you miss a small detail of history or aircraft or weaponry, you can be sure readers are going to point this out specificity. Having the details correct lends credibility to fiction and fiction needs to be believable. Once you’ve done your research, you might be tempted to show that off to the reader. You want to resist that urge. Your research is not your main course, the story is the main course. Research is the seasoning that adds that specificity that gives you credibility and believability.

Number eight is to write a compelling reader first opener. Give it the time it deserves because if you can pull off an important compelling first line, it will set the tone for your entire book. You probably won’t write a more important line than that first one. Most first lines fall into one of these categories: surprising, dramatic statement, philosophical, or poetic. By making your reader first, every decision you make in your manuscript goes through that filter. Reader first not you first, not editor first, not agent first, not reviewer first, not critic first, reader first. You want that first sentence to be the best, most compelling, most moving, most emotional experience they’ve ever had. It will keep your reader reading more.

Number nine is to fill your story with conflict and tension, readers crave tension and yes, this applies to nonfiction as well. Almost every time a writer shows me their manuscript and says, “I don’t know where to go from here”, it’s because they got to a point where the people on the page are agreeing with each other too much. We like that in real life. It’s nice to have pleasant conversations, talk with your spouse or friends over a meal. There’s nothing more boring in fiction than that, so what you want to do is inject that. Have one of those characters say something totally off-the-wall, maybe once this isn’t it a beautiful day and the other one says “oh sure, you would say that”. All of a sudden the reader and that character are going, “what was that about? Where did that come from?” That’s conflict. What’s the problem in their relationship, what’s the underlying tension that caused that conflict? That will keep people turning the pages and you want to do that on every page even if it’s just a matter of someone setting up an appointment. They need to see the doctor tomorrow. There’s an implication there that something’s coming up otherwise why would the author put it in there? Now in nonfiction, how do you do that? You don’t want unpleasantness. It doesn’t have to be something negative. It doesn’t have to be a battle or a war or a fight. Conflict and tension come up in nonfiction simply by promising and then delivering, setting up and paying off. Some of the best nonfiction writers and ones who have spent the first several chapters promising you what you’re going to get when you finish reading this book and then they deliver.

Step number ten is to turn off your internal editor while you’re writing your first draft. Most writers I know are perfectionists. When you have that inner critic sitting on our shoulder telling you what’s wrong with every word you write, that inner critic just needs to be told to shut up. Now is not the time to be criticizing your own work. Always save your editing until the next day at least and the longer you can wait between when you write it and when you edited it the better for the end product. Turn off that internal editor, get your story down, and then tell yourself that the next day you can put your perfectionist cap back on and have at it.

Remember in point number five when I mentioned the marathon in the middle? I want to make that point eleven and hit that again because if there’s any place you’re gonna quit, it’s going to be during the marathon in the middle. This is the toughest spot for everyone. When you hit the marathon in the middle you begin to wonder why did I get into this business? The problem with the marathon of the middle is we’ve all got great ideas to start and we can’t wait to get to that big finish, but now we’ve got a couple hundred pages in the middle to fill. If you just start padding it in fiction with extra scenes or nonfiction with extra points your reader is going to drop off the page. This is where you don’t just survive, you thrive.

Number 12 is to write a resounding ending. You want your book to end the way a Broadway play ends when that curtain comes down with a satisfying thud. You make sure your ending doesn’t fizzle, you give it the time it deserves. Don’t settle for second best if it takes longer to write your ending than the rest of the book so what? Do whatever it takes to make it work. If you’ve got several ideas for how what might be best, go for the one that is the most emotional because readers remember what moves them.

Last and most important point step 13 is that you need to become a ferocious self. What does it mean to be ferocious? You know what it means, it means to be aggressive. Everything else is for naught if you don’t polish your manuscript to the point where you’re happy with every word. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect or that you don’t need an editor or if you should place it with a publisher. You need to polish that thing until it sings. Why, because agents and editors can tell within two minutes whether your manuscript is going to be worth reading or rejecting. That doesn’t sound fair and maybe it isn’t fair, but they have so many things to read, the competition is so vast, they’ve learned to be able to tell within a page or two whether this has potential or not. That puts all the onus on you to self-edit. If you pay an editor, what is the publisher buying? Your work or someone else’s? Learn to edit yourself.

Fun Exercises for Creative Writers

New prompts for creative writers to help get you writing.

Select an object, place it on a table in front of you and write for a few minutes from that perspective. Get up and move to another place at the table. That allows you to see the object from a different perspective and write a few minutes from that perspective. I particularly like puzzles when doing this exercise and moving around the table so every side of the puzzle can have a few minutes written from that perspective. This also helps you put a puzzle together when it seems you are not able to spot where the pieces belong. Seeing the puzzle from one of the other views will help you begin to work on puzzle placement again.

Observation on an object. This one you can begin by doing on a small object and work your way up in size. Take any object from your room: your bedroom, your living room, your dining room, your bathroom. Place it on a table or a chair or a stool in front of you sit in front of it and observe this object. As you observe the object write about the object. For some people this will work as a straightforward description of it as an object. Then describe it as what your mom would say, or your dad, or one of your other family members. You will find everyone will have a different observation because they bring their own psychology, their own philosophy, their own inward feelings, their own outlook, and they project this onto this object. This can give you an insight into your own self, but it also gives you an insight into the environment and what this item can mean to different people. Now work your way up to a bigger object. Try it with different objects, take it out onto the street and observe a building.

Pretend you are serving in an apprenticeship: ex: there are many apprenticeships, plumbing, carpentry, sculpting, painting. Ask yourself what might be the things you would learn from each of these apprenticeships. Use those descriptions in your writing.

  • Make a list of 10 people, occupations, jobs. You can have banker, baker, carpenter, electrician, dentist, artist, football player. You get the picture.
  • Second list is a place. So 10 places. Like a restaurant or cafe, being in bed, book shop, bank, airplane, an airport, a ship.
  • Next is a list of things. Objects, noise, a baseball bat, a mobile phone, a candle, a hammer, a guitar, a balloon, a packet of gum, again you get the idea.
    The next part of the exercise is: take your ten people, cut the list up, put each name into a hat and you draw out 1 person. Then cut up your list of places, put them all in a hat and draw out 1 place. Cut up your list of things, put them in the hat and draw out 1 thing.
  • You then have a person, in a place doing one thing. Write about that. Keep going until you have the ten of them as a start to little adventures, little stories, little short projects. It could develop into an idea that sparks off a whole story or book for you. Great for you to practice creating your skills for stories about person, place, thing.

Next is called I am this. What you do is your version. Must contain metaphors. Ten lines with metaphors that tell us who you are. EX: Detroit you know what you are _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ who you are _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Remember use metaphors. This is a good exercise for getting you into knowing how to use figurative language. Try different cities, events and situations.

Next exercise is the sounds of your neighborhood, or your childhood, or the place where you grew up. You can, of course, use it for the place where you live now and what you do there. This will help you in describing places and what is important about them.

Sound is a thing that is often underused or overlooked in creative writing. Think of the sounds of your childhood, of the place where you grew up, of your mother’s voice, of your father’s belching, of your grandmother’s laugh. Sounds that may no longer be around, kids games that are no longer played, music that you heard growing up.

Next is called the difference of place. You go to a place let’s say a restaurant or a museum and you write down (bring a notepad or your iPad or your phone or whatever you use) a description of this place. When you describe the place don’t just give a straightforward description of the architecture, for instance. Give us the sounds, give us the colors, give us the details, give us the textures of the place, give us the atmosphere of the place, the energy of the place. Places have a feeling, places have a life of themselves so go to this place, this museum, describe it in detail, in immense detail as much as you can write down.

Read it to yourself, go through it, edit it down, rewrite it, and put it in your descriptions file. Then as you go next week to another place, a place that is very different than the museum or the cafe. It could be a park, it could be a church, a church that’s empty or a church that’s full you could do both of those one after the other and what’s the difference between a full and empty.

Have a look you have these two different descriptions and you’ll see the difference that different places have. What is the setting of your novel, what is the setting of your book, your character may emerge from this, a story may emerge from this, a whole book may emerge from this.

Creative Writing Techniques

In your introductory paragraph and in all of your paragraphs there are some techniques you can use to make your writing more interesting.

Replace words to see if you can add more interest to your story.
I ran away from her, I sprinted away from her as fast as I could, or she dashed behind me.

I hid behind a tree, I peeked out slowly, she was wandering in between the trees, it’s much more interesting than she walks, she walked. It just adds more interesting rhythm to your story

How about another word that we use a lot. Look or see. How about some other interesting words for look or see. Observe, stare, spy, to spy, your spy, peek or peep, gaze, glimpse. If your character is seeing something for the first time. Notice, if I’m really looking for something really hard and I can’t find it, I’m looking for my keys. I’m searching.

Think of different ways that a person could say something because of the tone of voice, so someone saying something really loud rather than they said that softly. What word could you use instead of said? Shout, something that’s really loud, someone saying something really loud.

Exclaimed, excellent, these are excellent, scream. How about if someone’s really sad, oh they might whisper, cry, cried, sobbed, sob, whimper, whimpered.

If you were saying something like you were really proud about it, super proud, brags, bragged, boasted, told when often they really mean ask.

Asked, asked questions, acknowledged, added, admitted, advised, decrees, denounced, answered, approved, called, claim, command, commented, complained, cried, decide, lied, mentioned, moaned, mumbled, murmured, nagged, noted, notified, objected, ordered, pleaded, pointed out, preyed, predicted, question, reassured, related, repeated, replied, responded, requested, stated, revealed, roared, ruled, scold, scream, shouted, shrieks, snaps, teared, sobs, stammered, storm, suggested, taunted, thought, told, urged, uttered, vowed, wailed, warns.

When you’re using dialogue, when there are two characters speaking to each other please pay attention the punctuation. Use the free version of Grammerly to help you with this.

Another important area are transitions. Think of some other transitions that might relate to time. If you had a whole bunch of events you were talking about, how could you help your reader get from one event to the next. If it’s happening right now, immediately, immediately afterward. There are so many transitions that can be used to make the writing stronger.

If you wish you may start your story with a prompt where you may begin it in a way that suits you.  EX: in the village of, or town or city. Then write the name of the character that you’ve chosen. The rest of your first paragraph you’re going to do the introduction, you’re going to give us the setting, taking a moment to close your eyes, picture what you’re seeing. If you use your five senses when you write it really helps to create that picture. Rather than just telling, your showing.

You’re showing so if you’re thinking about the forest where he lives, think about naming a few of the flowers, you might see or the different kinds of trees, the vines that are dangling down from the ceiba tree, something like that.

If you’re describing what he’s wearing, he lives in the forest so his clothes are not going to be all ironed and starched and cleanly washed. If you describe what he’s wearing, his coffee stained shirt was tattered and torn, tucked into pants that were to short, his boots caked in mud. You can picture that it’s real.

Your first paragraph if you could have at least five or six sentences that are giving the who of the character traits of the character you’ve chosen. Where you would see this character, where you would find them, and a little bit about what they do in the setting where they live. Pretend your reader has no idea who any of these are, they have never heard of them ever. Begin writing and just enjoy it have fun with it

How To Create A Great Character

What makes a great character? This is a very open-ended question for which there is no one answer. Your characters have to be likeable. The trait that every good character shares is that they engage the audience in the story that’s being told and by extension of that they are interesting. This is what it comes down to, can you make this character interesting.

Here is a way to create interesting characters. When it comes to creating a strong character there are three qualities that must be addressed: likability, competency, and activity.

Likability: how much will the audience like this character?
Competency: how good are they at what they do?
Activity: how much do they persevere?

Additional questions to ask.
Do they affect the plot or does the plot affect them?
Would you enjoy having a conversation with that character in real life?

Two rules you need to understand:
1) your character must be good in at least one of these areas of likeability, competency or activity.
2) they cannot be good at all 3.

The reason why is when you do that you create a flawless character they have no fundamental character flaws. The lower they rank in these factors, the more numerous and fundamental their flaws. If you have too many flaws, they may cease to be an interesting character.

How To Make The Audience Or Reader Cry

Re read the screenwriter post and have the elements in mind. It will help you in this post to recognize how the elements played out in the stories being compared. It will allow you to see how writing for the movies can be so important for following the story. The most powerful moments in cinema are when we see the characters feel the emotion. If we cannot see the characters showing their grief, then it is hard for us to share that grief alongside.

Up, The Green Mile, and Interstellar. These three films have one thing in common: they could make an audience cry. Let’s analyze why these films can deliver such powerful emotion, to help you apply their traits into your own works.

The opening sequence of “Up” pretty much makes everyone cry.The director manages to bring an audience to tears using nothing but the camera and music. An example of how the camera is used to convey emotion, is in the brief sequence where the audience is shown that the two characters are expecting a baby, but for some reason the child dies. The first shot is wide, bright, and full of colour, but the second shot, where the tragic news is conveyed, is narrow with the harsh, white light, only taking up a small sliver of the screen. The color palette also being far less vibrant, this all in stark contrast with the first shot. The narrow framing of the second shot makes the viewers’ subconscious feel uneasy and claustrophobic. This helps us to empathize with the characters, as the use of the lens is making us feel emotion without us even realizing. There is also a consistency between most of the short transitions, as whenever a shot is changed, the focus of the viewers’ eyes does not move or, if it does, it moves only by a little.

This essentially makes viewing a far more fluid experience and makes it just that little bit easier for the viewer to understand what’s going on. A confused viewer is never going to cry. This technique isn’t just essential in good montage, but also to film in general. Truly, the most powerful shot of the montage is the last one, where he is alone at his wife’s funeral, holding a balloon. Now, why is this such a powerful shot? First, it is a direct call-back to the first shot of the montage — their wedding. The contrast between the two shots is a large part of why it is such a good one. The first is full of color and light. The second is a deep, dark, red. In the second shot, the subject is much smaller in the frame than in the first one. This makes him feel tiny and alone.

If you look beyond the lens and into the actual context, there is also a powerful contrast — In the first shot, Carl has his youth; a large family and a loving wife to live for. And in the second shot, he has nothing. Absolutely… nothing to live for and give his life purpose. It isn’t a coincidence that the montage opens and closes in the exact, same church. And from a very similar angle too. The fact that these two shots are polar opposites, brings the sequence full circle.

To summarize in one word why the sequence is such a sad one, it would be… Injustice. How Carl has been a good person, lived the life without sin. Yet, despite all that, he has had everything taken away from him. And now, through no fault of his own has nothing left to live for.

Now let’s look at “Interstellar”. Midway through the film’s runtime, is a particularly powerful scene.Cooper has been out in space for what is for him only a few months, but due to time dilation, has been 23 years for his family back home. He sits down to watch decade’s worth of videos from his children, as they have grown up without him and both, in their own ways, comes to hate their dad for leaving them.

In terms of cinematography, there is only one thing worth mentioning — how as the emotion in the scene grows. The camera also comes closer to the subject’s face. This is to give the connection between the audience and the subject; much more intimacy. The real tragedy of this scene is not just in how his children (whom he loves), completely have grown to hate him — but because they are justified in doing so. Cooper left Earth to protect his children, but in leaving Earth he has caused a tremendous harm upon them.

In this scene it finally dawns on him how much so. You once told me that when you came back we might be the same age. Today I’m the age you were when you left. So it would be a real good time for you to come back. This right here is the most powerful part. When his daughter, whose face is that of a stranger, reminds him that he just broke the only promise he ever made to his scared and vulnerable daughter. Not only there, but there is also a strong sense of injustice; how the character has been denied the right to ever even see his children grow up. Unfortunately, a large amount of people can empathize with. And all of that, the injustice, the broken promises, how we completely and utterly empathize with the character, all of that adds together to create a powerful scene.

Finally we have “The Green Mile”. One of the characters (John Coffey), has been sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. The guards know that he is innocent, as does the audience; but with no choice, the guards have to execute him anyway. The real kicker in this scene, it’s how John is an extremely likable character. He is kind to everyone around him and despite his massive size is incredibly gentle. Without doubt, the biggest reason why this is such a sad scene is the injustice. The fact an innocent man, who the audience likes immensely is wrongly executed, is the most powerful example of injustice you will ever find on film.

Also, what plays a large role in making this such an emotional scene, is the fact that up until this point it has been a happy film. While there were some sad moments, the vast majority of the movie is lighthearted, dealing with troubles and prisoners in funny ways. The characters finding joy in a simple amuse that comes in and start doing tricks. If you ask me the fact that so much of the film is so happy, is what makes it such a sad one; because the contrast from extremely happy to immensely sad, give so much more of an emotional fall for the viewer. So, the sad moments have a great deal more potency.

Now that we’ve analyzed the three examples, let’s compare them and ask what traits do they all share. Well, it’s a simple one — Injustice. Injustice is an integral part to any sad scene, as if the characters are happy or in any way shape or form, get what they deserve it compromises the sadness that you might be trying to convey. Of course, injustice is only a one small part of what makes a sad moment. A lot of people would argue that you need to be sympathetic towards the characters. But I respectfully disagree. In “Interstellar” Cooper is crying because he has been robbed of his relationship with his daughter. You might be saying I don’t have a daughter.

How can I be sympathetic towards him? And enough, it is sad because Carl has lost his wife. How am I supposed to feel sympathetic towards Carl? Rather than being sympathetic, I would argue it’s far more important to be empathetic towards the character. Creating a sad moment is not easy. There is no formula or single trick you can use to make the audience cry. But, there is one integral thing you need to know before you make that scene a tragic one.

In each of the examples, what is the singular, most powerful shot? The one moment that makes the audience burst out into tears. In “Up” it is this one — Carl mourning over his dead wife alone. In “Interstellar” it is this one — The moment Cooper breaks down crying. In “The Green Mile” it is this one — Please, boss… don’t put that thing over my face. – Don’t put me in the dark. – I’s afraid of the dark. The moment the guard cries giving the final order to kill John Coffey.

The most powerful moments in cinema are when we see the characters feel the emotion. If we cannot see the characters showing their grief, then it is hard for us to share that grief alongside.

3 Questions a Screenwriter Should Ask When Developing A Story

In writing look for something that’s pretty basic. Does your story grab your reader and does it flow, does it have a natural flow? Does it make the reader want to turn the pages?

Learn the techniques that you can actually use. There are tools you can use to keep the audience engaged, but beyond something that grabs you and keeps your attention. Add to that the cleverness of the writing and the way the characters are so sharp. Does the writing have a fresh voice. Maybe that’s too strong? Maybe it’s not too strong.

The mode of production at least for big movies is a problem. Because when you have a big movie there is just so much pressure that it work. There is so much at stake that it has an effect on the product and it can become incoherent. There is always going to be (even in the best of circumstances) you can have a great writer, director, producer, cast and script and it can still fall flat.

Storytelling tends to flatten out in these situations because one of the element of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is, of course, what Alfred Hitchcock used it to create suspense, to create a story that involves withholding some information from the audience, withholding some information from the characters when you reveal it. That requires someone who is really watching it and imagining it in their own mind at the time. If you want to be a screenwriter be sure the audience is going to get what you are writing. If it’s too clear, it risks being boring.

The three questions that still apply to any story are: 1) what does the main character want and what are they trying to avoid? 2) What does the main character know and what does the main character not know? 3) what does the audience know? What does the audience not know?

Most writers realize that you have control over those second two. The audience doesn’t have to know everything all the time. And the characters don’t have to know everything all the time. You can withhold some information, you can play games. Sometimes applying constructivist psychology to the storytelling process adds to the story. That simply means that most of our experience in life, most of our experience in reality is based not on knowledge but on inferences we make based on clues. So that you have what is called top down processing. Top down is you see something in the world and your brain automatically compares what you’ve experienced before with what you are seeing and then you make a conclusion.

Bottom up processing is you see things and it goes into your brain and you make note of it and you store information. There are short cuts that we’re doing all of the time. You’ve never seen the back of this chair but you’ve seen chairs so you assume the back looks like any other chair. It would be a surprise twist if the back of this chair had a dragon hiding out there because that’s not normal (what you’re normally associating with that concept).

When you’re telling a story, if you understand that is how audiences are responding, how they experience a movie is they are looking for clues and they are going to put them together and they are actively involved in constructing a reality.

You are the one as a screenwriter you are giving them the clues, you are turning them, you’re making them the smartest person in the room. You are making them brilliant because they are seeing all of these clues. You are the one actually giving it to them. But they think they are figuring it out and they are going to try to anticipate where you are going because they have seen movies before.

This is a conceptual framework called a schema. They’ve seen a movie. They know how movies are. They know they tend to have a character that does this or that. When you know that you can play games with them that’s the most fun thing about screenwriting. Creating worlds and driving people crazy and getting in their heads. You can learn how to get into their heads.

Just a very simple example, suppose I show you a movie and there’s a husband and he’s buying his wife flowers, chocolate and an anniversary card on his way home from work, okay? Then meanwhile you see the wife has got something she’s hiding in the bedroom drawer. What are you going to think? Well it’s pretty obvious isn’t it? He wants to make love and she has other plans. That’s where the audience is going to go and you could play it off where he comes home with the flowers and she pulls out a knife when she is with him. Or you could then disclose later that he’s a knife collector and the surprise is this is a present for him. This is something he’s been looking for. She saved up for it and she wants to give it to him as an anniversary present. And then you find out that he poisoned the chocolate.

You just told a twist which is telling two stories at the same time. The one the audience thinks its seeing and the one it is actually seeing. You are relying when you do that kind of thing on the audiences propensity to figure it out and be smarter than you and once you’ve got them going that way you can have all kinds of fun.

Steps for How to Write a Book

So you want to write a book I know the feeling. I’ve been writing books for many years now and I have a number of foundational steps that you can follow if you’re going to write a book. Speed is not the point, quality is the point.

To begin, establish your writing space. Establish what you need so if you need solitude make sure you find a place in your house where you can shut the door or you can turn off media and you can have privacy, silence, and whatever you need to write. The more you can afford, the better you’ll do as far as equipment and space.

The next important step is to assemble your writing tools. Learn how that works for you.Your back and your neck are important to your writing. You’re going to be spending a lot of hours in front of that computer so don’t scrimp on your computer and when you’re home don’t scrimp on your chair.

Make a list of all the things you’re going to need while you’re at home. If you need paper clips or a stapler or whatever make sure you have all those within arm’s length so you don’t get distracted by having to look for things.

Another important thing you want to do is to break the project into small pieces. The reason that writing a book seems so colossal is because it is writing a book. Break the task into as many small pieces as you can. You have to realize yes it’s a 4 or 500 page manuscript in the end. That’s made up of sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Just doing a step one at a time that’s the way to get a handle on it.

The next step is to settle on your big idea. It needs to be a big idea if it’s book worthy. It’s going to be a big concept. If it’s a small idea use it for a blog or an article. It has to be big. I can’t overstate the importance of this. If you try to write a book before and you ran into a roadblock at the 20 or 30 day mark or maybe the 20 or 30 page mark it could be because your idea wasn’t big enough.

How do you know if your idea is big enough and if it has legs. If it stays with you, if you tell your spouse, or your friend what your book is about and every time you tell them it gets bigger that’s a book that’s going to last in the marketplace too.

Next construct your outline. If you are a pantser (one who writes by the seat of your pants) you can have some sort of idea where you’re going, even if it’s on one side of one sheet of paper. Give yourself some direction of where you’re going. Now some people especially if you’re a beginning writer, your editor or your agent may need to see an entire synopsis of your novel idea so you’ll have to do more of an outline than you might have to do later. Agents and editors demand outlines for nonfiction. There’s no writing a nonfiction book without an outline. The agent or editor want to know what you’re going to say, how you’re going to say it, where you’re getting your information, and what your points are going to be.

Every time you get to the halfway or 3/4 point (what is referred to as the marathon of the middle) remember the reader is right with you. If it seems boring to you, your reader is asleep too. If this happens you’ll take care of that with your outline.

In nonfiction, you’ll know that your middle has enough good stuff in it. For fiction, especially if you’re a panther, you better be sure you’re saving a lot of big setups and payoffs for that marathon in the middle. You can do the same in nonfiction. The same structure works for nonfiction. In fiction you don’t have the same number of elements as far as tension and conflict and dialogue and that type of thing but you still need to set up in the payoff. Make your non-fiction book say you’re writing a nonfiction book about how to __________. You need to set it up so that it looks impossible until your specific solution comes through. That’s your setup and payoff.

Remember don’t be intimidated by an outline. Your outline serves you not the other way around. If you have an outline and you find yourself drifting from it or you think the book is going in a different direction, better change the outline. Don’t change the book, make your outline and work from it.

The next step six is to set a firm reading schedule. That includes a firm deadline that you keep firm. This is a thing that hangs up too many beginning writers, they don’t have a publishers deadline so they have to set their own. Sometimes an author tends to fudge on our own deadlines. Make sure you don’t do that. Keep your deadline firm. The way you do that is you figure out roughly how many pages you’re going be writing for your book. If it’s 300, 400, or 500, divide that into the number of days you’re allotting yourself to write. This may change once you get started and realize how many or how few pages you can write per day. If you schedule yourself for 10 pages a day and you’re really not comfortable with more than four or five, change your schedule. Change your deadline. Once you get it locked in, keep it firm.

Statistics show that only about 1 in 100 writers literally meet their deadlines. If you just do that, you set yourself apart from ninety nine out of a hundred writers. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re going to find the time to write. When you have to write you have to have something taken out of your schedule. Is that an hour or two of sleep at night, is it a concert, is it a ballgame, is it a movie, is it a favorite TV show? How bad do you want this. Schedule your days right on your calendar or on your computer. Keep that deadline firm.

The next step is to conduct your research. Everybody knows that you need to do that automatically for nonfiction. You have to be an expert in what you’re writing about and not just drawing on your own experience. Show that you immersed yourself and all the writing in your field is accurate.

A lot of people miss the fact that research is just as important for fiction. It could be even more important if you miss a small detail of history or aircraft or weaponry. You can be sure readers are going to point this out specificity. It establishes credibility to fiction and fiction needs to be believable. Once you’ve done your research, you’re going to be tempted to show that off to the reader. You want to resist that urge. Your research is not your main course, the story is the main course. Research is the seasoning that adds that specificity. It is what gives you credibility and believability.
Make sure your research becomes seasoning and that it’s right, because readers notice.

The next step is to write a compelling opener. Give it the time it deserves, because if you can pull off an important compelling first line it will set the tone for your entire book. You probably won’t write a more important line than that first one. Most first lines fall into one of these categories: surprising, dramatic statement, philosophical, or poetic. A dramatic statement keeps the reader reading. The first decision you make in your manuscript should go through that filter of reader first. Not you first, not editor first, not agent first, not reviewer first, not critic first, reader first. Writa a sticky noteto yourself reminding you that you wanted to be the best, most compelling, most moving, most emotional experience your reader has ever had. Think reader first, not anybody else first, so think reader first, last, and always.
The next step is to fill your story with conflict and tension. Readers crave tension and yes, this applies to nonfiction as well. Almost every time a writer shows a their manuscript and says I don’t know where to go from here it’s because they got to a point where the people on the page are agreeing with each other too much. We like that in real life. It’s nice to have pleasant conversations or talking with your spouse over a meal. That you’re talking about how nice a day it is and what you’re going to do, there’s nothing more boring in fiction than that. What you want to do is have one of those characters say something totally off-the-wall. Maybe this isn’t a beautiful day and the writer writes in a conflict. What’s the problem in their relationship, what’s the underlying tension that caused that conflict. That will keep people turning the pages. You want to do that on every page, even if it’s just a matter of someone setting up an appointment. They need to see the doctor tomorrow, there’s an implication, something’s coming up otherwise. Why would the writer put it in there? In nonfiction, how do you do that, you don’t want unpleasantness, it doesn’t have to be something negative, it doesn’t have to be a battle or a war or a fight conflict. The tension comes up in nonfiction simply by promising and then delivering. Setting up and paying off are some of the best nonfiction writing and ones who have spent the first several chapters promising you what you’re going to get when you finish reading this book and then they deliver.

The next step is to turn off your internal editor while you’re writing your first draft. Most writers lean towards being perfectionist(s). That inner critic sitting on our shoulder telling you what’s wrong with every word you write. That inner critic is just you or me and that critic needs to be told to shut up. Now is not the time to be criticizing your own work. Always save your editing until the next day at least or longer. You can wait between when you write it and when you edit it the better for the end product. This is the opening pages of a work-in-progress.

Next if you wouldn’t show this first draft off to your worst enemy, don’t worry about cliches, redundancies, or lacks of logic. Get the story down and turn off that internal editor. Get your story down and then tell yourself that the next day you can put your perfectionist cap back on and have at it.

Remember the marathon in the middle? Look at that again because if there’s any place you’re going quit, it’s going to be during the marathon in the middle. This is the toughest spot for every writer. Yo will wonder and ask yourself, why did I get into this business? The problem with the marathon of the middle is we’ve all got great ideas to start and we can’t wait to get to that big finish but now we’ve got a couple hundred pages in the middle to fill. If you just start padding it in fiction with extra scenes or nonfiction with extra points, your reader is going to drop off the page. This is where you don’t just survive, you thrive. Set up your payoffs so well in the middle that you can hardly wait to get to the ending. The ending will work better because you didn’t just persevere through the marathon you arrived.

Next is to write a resounding ending. You want your book to end the way a Broadway play ends when that curtain comes down with a satisfying thud. Even nonfiction has to have that great ending. How do you make sure your ending doesn’t fizzle? You give it the time. If you rush it or just don’t know how to make it work keep at it, don’t settle for second best. If it takes longer to write your ending than the rest of the chapters do whatever it takes to make it work. If you’ve got several ideas for how what might be best, go for the one that is the most emotional. Readers remember what moves them.

The last and most important point is that you need to become your ferocious self. What does it mean to be ferocious? You know what it means it means to be aggressive. Everything else is for naught if you don’t polish your manuscript to the point where you’re happy with every word. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfect or that you don’t need an editor. If you should place it with a publisher, you need to polish that thing until it sings. Why because agents and editors can tell within two minutes whether your manuscript is going to be worth reading or rejecting. That doesn’t sound fair and maybe it isn’t fair, but they have so many things to read the competition is so vast, they’ve learned to be able to tell within a page or two whether your manuscript has potential or not. That puts all the pressure on you to self-edit. Learn to edit yourself, cut, or add power. go you

Writing Using Google Docs

I set up all my writing in Google Docs. That way regardless of the computer I’m on I can write. With this set up I’ve written on my desktop, laptop, iPhone and iPad. Essentially, it allows you to write anytime you have a spare minute or couple of hours… for example, last month I was flying back home and was able to crank out 1500+ words on my iPad because I had access to the Internet and my manuscript.

I keep up with my word count. In Google Docs if you hit Ctrl + Shift + C it will provide your word count. I note this at the start and the end of writing sessions. I write at least 1000 words. I sometimes come up short on this number but often I far exceed it, but keeping track of my words helps motivate me and gives me the boost of energy that is so important in establishing a habit.

I keep a separate Google Doc with ideas for future books. I find if I get my ideas written that my subconscious mind starts working on them so that when I do begin the next writing project the ideas and connections just flow and the process is much more effortless.

I write at least one sentence. On the days that I absolutely do not feel like writing or the words are just not flowing I do not let myself off the hook. I write at least one sentence. Often when you set the bar this low, one sentence leads to another one and another. Pretty soon instead of the 15 words on the page that would constitute a sentence I’ve written 400 or 500 words!

How to Get Short Story Ideas

Techniques to come up with short story ideas.

The fun thing about short stories is that there’s such a compact and flexible medium. It’s pretty easy to jump in without much planning. Short stories are pretty much all essentially about change. Really stories in general are about change. No matter where your idea comes from or where it starts what you’re looking for is change either within the character or the readers understanding of the character. Look for a way to add goals, tension, conflict, and antagonistic forces.

The first technique would be to start from a character. A lot of stories start with a character. Often this isn’t a fully fleshed out character, but just a character type. Sometimes this detail starts with someone you observe in real life while people watching, someone you know or it’s just a more general detail or type that you find interesting.

Some examples of a character type would be a teacher or a dog walker. These are character types but they’re not really characters yet. However, if you have one you want to write about you can turn that character type into an idea.

None of these character types lend to stories in themselves, so what you have to do is complicate them, add another element to take this idea from a character type to an original character with a story. Combine this character type with something unexpected to ignite the story and the conflict and find that change you’re looking for maybe your teacher is also a dog walker and accidentally loses the dog. Now they have to scramble before the end of the day when they have to return the dog to their owner. Now you have a specific situation you can work from. You can also use a similar process a setting whether you want to write a story set at the bottom of the ocean, or a medieval castle, or the edge of a volcano.

Setting can be a really fun place to start a story idea. Setting is especially a good place to start if you’re a really visual writer and you tend to work well from imagery or atmosphere. Drop a character into your setting and see where it takes them. You have a character type you want to work with and a setting you want to work with combine them to see how they clash and see what the setting can bring out of the character. Similarly to working from characters, you could also try working from a character relationship. It’s quite common for a short story to explore the essence of a single relationship. The nice thing about this is because with two characters it gives you tons of opportunity for conflict.

Common relationship types you could explore would be friendships, parent-child relationships, romantic relationships, sibling relationships, and even these more familiar relationships we see often in fiction can be really interesting from a new angle. Try to add in some sort of contrasting element to ignite the conflict. Maybe you want to talk about the rival returned friendship of two gardeners who work on opposite sides of a hedge and only communicate by talking through the hedge. They have never actually met.

You could also try working from form. Normally you would create your form to match your story but the fun thing about short stories is that they can really do wacky experimental things and you don’t have to commit to it for the full span of a novel. You could do something really wacky like second-person future tents from the point of view of a light bulb. Instead of having to plan out how this is going work and play out technically for ninety thousand words you can just see where it goes. The puzzle now is creating a story to fit the form you want to work with rather than the other way around. If you have an idea for a form that’s really intriguing to you, it can be a fun way to write.

Finally you could try writing from a prompt if you’re really stuck. Prompts can actually be a great way to start writing. You can use anything as a prompt. I often like using photographs as prompts. I’m a very visual writer and my ideas usually start from some random image. Sometimes it helps if I just seek out the image instead of trying to create one. If you really like music you could use songs as prompts. You can really use anything or you can try using actual writing prompts.