Thinking of a Scene In Paragraphs

(yes, this blogpost is going up ahead of Tuesday morning, but that’s because Tuesday is a travel day for me, and I won’t have internet access for 15+ hours of it)

Last week I did a tweetstorm about treating sentences like cameras.  Today on the blog I want to go into more detail about that, and show you want it actually looks like.

Yes, I understand that our particular writing styles and choices are going to be (and should be) different, but I’m hoping the point comes through to you all the same. I believe very strongly in the idea that you have a responsibility to put the clearest broadcast of your art into the mind of the other person and that no matter what your art is, it will be filtered and affected by not only your biases and experiences as a creator, but by the biases and experiences of the audience. The best way to pierce this chain mail of expectation and perception is through clearly getting the idea out and across.

Don’t confuse clarity for simplicity or brevity. You don’t need to be simple or brief to be clear. And don’t mistake this for an argument about having more ‘tell’ than ‘show’, because it isn’t. Show and tell work together as concepts to help deliver the art into the person’s head. But that’s for another tweetstorm and another blogpost.

While today I’m using a scene from a movie, for your own work, I want you to picture it as visually and completely in your head, as if you’ve paused it and like some bad CSI CG scenes, you can fully walk around and through it.

To start off today, we need a scene. Let’s go grab a screenshot from whatever I’m watching on Netflix.

We’re gonna use this one. I like this scene.

This is a moment in Rogue One that I particularly like, though I chose it for the combination of dialogue, numerous things in the frame to describe, and its staging.

To get you thinking like a camera, here’s how I teach it.

  1. Make an inventory of things (not characters) you want to definitely write about in the scene.
  2. Make a list of all the characters you want to write about in the scene.
  3. Make a list of actions that happen in the scene, paying attention to both who does what, but also the order in which these actions happen.
  4. Make a list of stakes, goals, and things risked in the scene
  5. Make a list of all expectations each character in the scene.
  6. Write the scene.

Now if that sounds like I’m asking a lot of you for simple paragraphs, I don’t mean it to. But for those of you who have never done it like this, or you’re looking for a better road map so that you can better at it, I’m purposefully breaking the list out so you see how these things weave together to build something narratively sound.

Inventory of non-character things

This is objects in the scene that aren’t people. These can be the things held by people, but they’re also things like what’s in the background or furniture or the ground. Just so that there’s no confusion about my handwriting, here’s what that inventory would look like typed out.

Not a complete list, but it works for the example

Remember, these notes are just for me as the writer. No one’s going to check them out, and really I’m writing them down to keep myself on track as to what I definitely want to say either as components of a sentence or as a sentence entire.

No, the order I write this list in doesn’t matter, and no, the order I write them in doesn’t translate into the order I’ll write about them in the text. I’m just making a list, stop overthinking it.

List the characters

Again, just a list, no special order or attention. The paragraphs and the choices I make about how to write it will dictate where I put attention. Right now, I’m just corralling all the possible beings I could talk about.

I’m sure each trooper has a name, but this is my example. You go do your own.

It’s worth pointing out here that you can do this list before the item list. The order isn’t super critical, so long as by the time you get to the writing, you’ve got all the components organized. I tend to do the item list first, because I tend to skip over things in early drafts and don’t like having the “why did I leave this out” conversation with myself during later drafts.

Some of you are thinking, “Is it just a list of names?” and no, it doesn’t have to be. It can be whatever character associated information you need or want, but since this particular example scene happens well into the movie, let’s assume I’ve already covered the physical descriptions and traits elsewhere.

If this were the intro-to-the-characters scene (and you can argue that this moment in Rogue One is, but you’ve previously seen Chirrut one scene prior), then I’d attach to each item in the list a descriptor or two so that I can establish the details about the characters when they come up.

List the actions

Now that we have all the physical objects of the scene listed, we can figure out what’s going on with them. In a scene, nothing happens without affecting the time and space around it, and nothing happens that doesn’t somewhere have a documentable reaction.

I’ll break that down. If you’re going to have a character do something, the world around him and the characters around him will react in some way, even if that reaction is “nothing changes because of what’s happened.”

For instance, if the Hulk throws a building at you, presumably you’d be crushed by the building and the space where the building was would no longer have a building in it.

Actions are about what happens and what results because of the things that happen

I tend to write this inventory in the order I want the events to happen in the scene. This is the first time I start making decisions about the structure, since the later items on the six-part list will cover things like tone and atmosphere.

What this does not mean is that the first things listed will naturally take more focus or line-space than the later things. In every paragraph in a scene there’s at least one key piece of information that you want to get across to the reader. In this case it’s the Chirrut dialogue and the fact he just straight walks out among them.

The second item “no one shoots him” is a reaction to something else that happens in the scene. Reactions are actions too, so don’t exclude them. I’m sure someone will say they should go on their own list, and yes, I can see how that helps, but action and reaction will likely end up being their own blogpost, so for now, let’s stay on what we’re doing.

Stakes, goals, and things risked

For the next two items on the list, we have to get past the physical objects of the scene and look at the emotions and psychology of the moment. No one walks into a scene without having a goal and risking something to get that goal. No one gets out of a scene without some element(s) of the scene affecting them. Characters take their past forward, every time.

Every character or group of characters has a goal.

I know expectations are the next thing on the list, but don’t include the expectations into this list. Goals are objective, expectations aren’t. A goal of “I want a sandwich” is impacted by the expectation that I have the means to make a sandwich. Actions are bred more from expectations than goals, since they’re more immediate and more variable.

So why don’t expectations go first in our list? Because stakes are derived based on the situation and goal(s) colliding, which means expectations are the character’s assessment of how likely the goal is based on the situation.

What we choose as the goal is part of the overall character arc, since no arc is introduced and resolved in a single scene or beat. And yes, every character has a goal, even if they go unstated at a particular point in the story.

Expectations

Expectations are subjective because they’re the factor in character development where the skills and perceived risks come into play. I might be a fantastic golfer (skill) but I’m not sure I could play my best when my clubs are made of snakes (perceived risk), so my expectation might be that I won’t win the championship in this snake golf tournament.

Here in my Rogue One example, I’m going to make a clear decision as to what the scene is about based on what expectations I list and which ones I don’t.

Expectations shape actions because they’re the fluid influencers to achieve fixed goals

Write the Scene

Armed with all these pieces, we can write a scene.

The smoke and dust had barely settled when his voice filled the post-explosion silence. 

“I am one with the Force, and the Force is one with me. And I fear nothing.”

Odd, thought Stormtrooper C, that this blind man, this blind fool, could just walk into this moment, his moment, and start yapping. So he watched. 

Chirrut moved in a balletic way, The soft footfalls and the crunch of gravel and sand underscored the sort of grace that stood against the explosion. There were still the smells of burning concrete and flesh. But Chirrut seemed to not notice. Or if he did, he wasn’t letting on. 

And no one seemed to fire on him. It would make sense to, to flood the air with blaster fire and turn this blind fool into swiss cheese. But no one did. Not C with all his bravado. Not B with her itchy trigger finger. Not A with their eagerness to please. 

There was just this guy, standing there, talking at them.

It’s not a great moment when I write it out. It’s an example, and I could do a lot more visually with it. I could frame the explosion while slowing down time. I could take more space to talk about C and B and A individually.

There are loads of choices to make, and that’s one thing I want you to remember – the decisions you make matter.

Practice this. Watch things. Pause it and try to describe it in whatever way you’d rewrite it.

 

Happy writing

 

InboxWednesday – Social Media

Holy mother of chicken fingers, Wednesday crept up on us pretty quick there. Next thing you know, it’ll be Friday and I’ll get a tweet from someone about to get turnt up for the weekend. (The first time I heard that phrase, I thought someone said turnips, and pictured someone having a really good weekend playing Stardew Valley.)

But we’re not there yet, creatives. So until then, let’s do what we do on Wednesdays and grab a question from my inbox. Remember, you can ask me any question you want, because even the ones that don’t go on the blog get answered.

Let’s do this.

John, I’m a 57-year-old man writing his first novel. My two kids are in college, my wife works full-time. I am financially stable, and I thought writing would be a good thing to do. My question is: what’s the point of social media? What good does it do me, when I’m not a teenager or not really good at it, and what platforms should I use for what purpose? My schedule in the evenings and weekends is open, so time is not a problem, but how do I best use these apps? – J.

J. (you asked not to use your real name, no sweat), thanks so much for your question. Congrats on taking the dive into writing. What you’re asking is big and good and it’s got some moving parts, so let’s do this in pieces.

These are my opinions, other people may disagree, and that’s totally alright. I want you to first know that you need social media. NEED it, like critical in the modern day NEED, because the traditional publishers aren’t going to dump buckets of money at your door to do the marketing for you. You know your book, and you know who you are way better than they ever will, so there’s freedom to being your own marketing machine. You can develop a system that’s custom  to you, and because it’s playing to your strengths, you’ll use it with less difficulty.

What I’ll do is breakdown each platform with a definition, an example where I can, and the pros and cons. Then I’ll use my social media as a case study. J., follow me on this, this is gonna be a lot of words, but you can do this, it’s just one step at a time, it’s not overwhelming unless you let it be. Don’t quit on this, let’s rock and roll.

Can I give you two ground rules? These are important. Write this on a post-it note. Carve them into the foreheads of your enemies:

1. Social media IS NOT just sales link spam. There’s a reason it’s called “social” media – being a person who does X (in your case, writes books) is the honey to the sales spam vinegar when you’re building a group of people you interact with.

2. Practice using it. Regular use, even if you’re just goofing around with filters or hashtags or puns or whatever will help you get better when you do have something important, like links to a blog post or a fundraising page or a promo for an event you’re attending.

Primary Platforms
What I call a “primary platform” is the social media where you’re the most comfortable. Maybe you’ll develop more than one of these, and that’s awesome. A primary platform is where you can reach a certain number of people, and you’ll know you can reach them without having to do anything that you haven’t already done before.

Secondary Platforms
A secondary platform is social media that’s new to you. You’ve never used it before, or you barely use it, and if you gave it more time, and did a little research, you could get better at it, but you’re maybe okay with it being more on the perimeter of your social media stuff.

I’m going to spot you one free primary platform – email. You’ve written emails before. It’s pretty comfortable. And along with the ability to write emails, you’ve got a list of people to sends email to, so that’s a prepped audience. I know what you’re thinking, “John I can’t email these people that I’m writing a book.” And I’ll go ahead and ask you what about being creative is so bad that these people would run from you like your a clown on fire handing out mayonnaise and guacamole? It’s okay to let the world know you’re creative.

With me so far? Let’s look at specific platforms then. Each platform is going to take some time, especially when you’re just learning how to use it. No, you don’t have to be perfect at it, there is no perfect at it, but you’re going to need to take seconds/minutes to write things occasionally. Even if/when they’re wholly unrelated to the specifics of the book you’re writing.

Facebook
For me, professionally, Facebook isn’t my best option. It’s great when I want to tell people about work like we’re sitting on the porch with drinks and I’m just chatting about the day, or I want rant a little about video games or my weird neighbors, but I have a hard time turning that into sales. That’s not to say it’s impossible to do it, I know plenty of people who make that happen, but I know just as many people who keep the sales off Facebook, and use it more as a social pool for communication – one more way they can be a person first and a selling entity second.

The Pros: Everyone’s on it. Okay, not my mom, not that one guy I know who believes in chemtrails, lizard people, and nanochips inside vaccines that will one day activate and subjugate us, but like, loads of other people. Whether you just have an account for yourself, or you get a Page together where you specifically interact with an audience because of something you do or a way you identify (an author, a publisher, a whatever-er), you can communicate with other humans. It’s pretty easy to use, you just type in a box at the top of the page, you click Post, and boom, done.

The Cons: There’s a lot of people on it, and they’re going to talk about everything from politics to babies to work complaints to strange anime references to screeds about how they deserve preferential treatment to questions about robot apocalypses. That signal-to-noise ratio can be tough to parse through, and something as earnest and interesting as your “Hey I started writing a book” can totally get blown out of the water by your friend Sharon going on a rant about how the brown people are ruining this country and how we need to feel guilty about something that happened three hundred years ago that started our alleged national dumpster fire rolling down a hill.

Twitter
Twitter is my jam. I love Twitter. Each tweet is 140 characters, and that includes spaces. Yeah I know, there’s talk about expanding that, but even if they did, I’d keep it to 140. The concision Twitter has trained me to develop is critical when I’m speaking and editing – words are potent, and having to pick and choose how I describe something means I put a premium on clarity over flashy vocabulary.

The Pros: You can find a lot of like-minded people on it. I follow a heap of writers, creatives, editors, agents and people whose opinions and ideas interest and encourage me. Also, because of its fluid nature, I can jump into conversations or start my own pretty easily.

The Cons: It can feel like you’re shouting into the Grand Canyon while standing in London fog. You may have no idea that your words are reaching anyone, and especially at the beginning, it can be discouraging. But every once in a while, you may get surprised about who reads what you’re saying, who replies, or who shares what you say with their heap of people. (I have had a few “Oh shit, that person knows what I write!?” moments in the last year, they’re awesome).

If you do go with Twitter, and need a person to start with, start with me

Google+ (Google Plus, G+)
I have to admit J., I fell out of love with Google+. We grew apart because we both changed – G+ changed its layout, I found my groove with Twitter and other platforms. But Google+ is a viable longer form platform that you can use and build circles of people with. These communities share interest (you can build a writing circle), and there are large and active groups of people doing the same stuff you do, but as with any large mass of people, check that signal to noise ratio and don’t let the negative people poison your progress.

The Pros: It doesn’t have the glut of extraneous content the way Facebook does. It isn’t capped at 140 characters the way Twitter is. You can say a lot on a topic, you can read a lot about a topic, and you can get eyes on what you say. It sounds ideal, right? But …

The Cons: In a world where you’ve got other, more visual social media popping up, where there’s more immediacy and speed and interest, G+ can become an afterthought. Even with this blog, G+ is just one more place where I put posts, and occasionally chime in to specific groups, but otherwise, my attention is elsewhere.

Snapchat
This is a new one for me, as in I really started getting serious about it less than a week ago. This is the first of three platforms I’m going to talk about where you can use stills, video, and audio to get a concise message across. I’m hugely in love with the concept, and it’s easy to use once you check out how other people are using it.

The Pros: Again, concision is valuable. Short video can be personal and effective. Captions and filters can help put together an idea and package it for the current moment.

The Cons: A lot of snapchat is aimed at fashion or celebrity, and a lot of snapchat (at least when you google people you should follow on snapchat) skews younger than you or I, J. But don’t let that throw you off, because you don’t have to interact with that userbase if you don’t want to. It’s not the most intuitive interface, so you might have to fumble a bit early on to get a handle on it, but the good news is that the snaps you do send out only last 24 hours, and so there’s no great lasting shame in the snap of the inside of your pocket while you went to the grocery store, as happened to me earlier this week.

Instagram
There’s an intimacy possible in the visuals we present to the world. They’re a glimpse into our lives that goes beyond “buy my thing”, and I think the sharing of you-see-what=I-see is super important if you want show that what you do is not mysticism or impossible, and that you’re grateful for life. Instagram is tons of photos, it’s primarily visual, and it’s a great tool for showing (literally) more than telling.

The Pros: The peek behind the curtain is interesting. It’s honest, or at least it should be. It’s got a great interface, you can knock it out with a few clicks on your phone. Getting comfortable with hashtags (think of them as indexing tools) will make your production that much easier.

The Cons: If you’re like me, you suck at taking photos you’d call interesting. This is in part due to a lack of practice, and also due to a pressure I feel from the signal-to-noise discussion that Instagram is “supposed to be” all pictures of lunches and random bragging selfies of people better looking than me doing things I can neither afford nor have the means to do.

Periscope
Here now we’re at the fringe of my expertise. Periscope is a video broadcasting tool, that allows you to stream video to an audience. It’s not something I’ve really gotten my hands dirty with yet, but I’m going to be changing that over the course of this week.

The Pros: Streaming video! Live broadcasts! That’s huge. Gone are the static walls of text (said the guy writing the blogpost), and interactivity is at a premium. This is a big deal if you have something to say and want to get it out with immediacy and emotion. But …

The Cons: Building an audience to check out the broadcast takes time, as it does for any of these platforms. Also, given the projected nature of this content, you’ll need something to say or show – a lot of “Uhh” and “Um” won’t hold an audience’s attention. No, I’m not talking production values, I mean pure content. Figuring out what your content is goes a long way to helping steer it out of your head and to other people.

Anchor
Another new one for me, it’s an audio platform where you record short notes and receive other short notes or responses in return (they’re called waves, because nautical theme). I have barely tried this once, and haven’t even set myself up yet, but that’ll change over this week too.

The Pros: If you’re like me, you tend to have a logjam of thoughts that sear your mind and need to be let out, and quick bursts of audio are great for me when I’m feeling particularly laden with urgent purpose. And because you don’t have to see me, I don’t have to feel as awful about being one of the not-pretty people as I do what I do (note: this discomfort comes up for me on Snapchat something fierce) I need to play around with this more.

The Cons: If you’re like me, as you talk, you gesture. You work in the visual space in front of you, making air quotes and hand-based diagrams. They don’t always translate to audio, because despite allegedly having moves like Jagger, you can’t hear my hands make the “so this is like this and that’s like that” gesture.

Pinterest
Pinterest is a repository for static content (like blogposts), where you can collate information about a particular topic. You can have a board (a group) of pins (links) about whatever topic you want, although I have to say they’re a little draconian about butts, curves and intimacies.

The Pros: If you’ve got a lot of blog content to give out, if you want a lot of content to read, Pinterest can be a gold mine. With one of the big two browsers (Chrome, Firefox), you can get an extension to allow you to pin stuff through a simple right-click context menu, and it is an easy way to have a lot of resources at hand.

The Cons: It can be a swallower of your time. There’s so much stuff out there, and so much of it more signal than noise that you can blow a day pinning material one thing after another, stepping away from that writing that needs to happen because “just one more Pin” turns into “three hours later” pretty quick.

Blogging
I was on the fence about calling blogging a form of social media, because social media is becoming more and more conversational and concise, and blogging can range in length and frequency of use. But blogging has a communal aspect, so it’s social media for our discussion.

The Pros: You can say what you want, how you want, as often as you want. Your blog can be a home base for what you’re doing, giving you an unfettered and uninterrupted space to paint your internet real estate how you like.

The Cons: Audience growth is slow, and you can get discouraged by staring at views and thinking you’ll never get past ten or thirty or whatever. You can, you will, you just need to consistently put out good ideas in clear ways. Good content gets read, so make stuff that expresses clearly what you want to say and how you feel.

*

So let’s use me as a case study. Out of the nine social media platforms I just talked about, I’ve got accounts on all nine, but I would call Twitter and this blog my primary platforms. I’m more comfortable here and at 140 characters professionally than anywhere else. Facebook sees daily use, but that’s more personal or anecdotal. I talk about what I do, but I don’t really do what I do with the people on Facebook. It feels weird to me, like I’m asking my family if they want to help me out, and I suppose that idea will need to change, but right now, I like this divide between pro-John and off-hours-John.

Snapchat has been my new vector for socializing, and my small as all get out following is clients, friends, a few celebrities who don’t get annoying, and professionals I learn from. My goal there is to get better at using the service, and I’m not going to do that without giving it a go myself. If you want to find me on Snapchat, I’m at johnwritesstuff.

Instagram and I don’t really know what to do with each other. It’s there, I am following some interesting people, but I don’t post much, mainly because I don’t know what to post. I don’t work visually, so I struggle to put up anything other than various doughnuts or foods I’ve eaten, which perpetuate that social pressure and make me feel bad, so then I use it less, and onward and onward that cycles. But I’ve got a youtube video queued up to watch after I write this post, so maybe I’ll learn some new stuff.

Pinterest is my recipe and idea hole. It doesn’t seem very conversational, but it’s a great education tool for me. Want to learn about business strategies,  enchiladas, candle-making, and old movie posters? I can do that all in one fell swoop.

The remaining platforms are on my “To check out” list, and I said on Twitter the other day that I wanted to try Periscope later this week, I’m thinking Friday. Hmmm.

On the whole, I divide part of my workday into check the various feeds, but not all at once. I’m on twitter throughout the day, I check Facebook in the morning and while I eat lunch, I snapchat now when an idea hits. I blog three times a week. I pinterest or read pinterest usually after work, because some of that relaxes me.

Because time is the most precious business commodity, I’m picky about allocating it. Were I new and starting out, I’d pick one or two platforms and get comfortable. I’d give myself a wide deadline of like 3 months with daily experimentation to see how it fits for me. If a platform didn’t work out, I wouldn’t go back. You don’t need to have all of them going in order to market your work successfully, and you certainly don’t want a pile of responsibilities that take you away from the writing when they’re supposed to be supporting it. So, J., you do what works for you, and if that’s one thing, awesome, if it’s eight or more (because there are more platforms I didn’t cover), awesome too.

I believe you (and anyone regardless of age or gender or genre or whatever) can learn to use this stuff and connect with other people both professionally and personally. It might not be instantaneous, but it can be done.

Hope that answers your question J.

I’ll see you guys on Friday for more blog times. Have a great middle of your week, don’t let the jerks get you down.

Happy writing.

Self-Promotion Is Not Mayonnaise Or Clowns

Welcome to Friday. Hope your week was good. How’s the creating going?

We’re going to talk today about self-promoting, which means we’re going to talk about what we’re doing and talk about talking about it. We need to distinguish a vending business (like you’re going to make sandwiches or knit hats) from an arts business (writing a book) because the vending business has a greater overhead like utilities and building costs that I can’t document as effectively, but I can talk at length about writing and creating art.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I don’t discuss dealing with contractors and permits about electrical code, or the overhead costs of acquiring refrigerators. It’s not something I’ve dealt with directly, so I won’t pretend to discuss brick and mortar business. We’re talking business, yes, but we’re going to talk today about talking about your business.

We start though by establishing some boundaries for the conversation. I hate mayonnaise. It’s a disgusting color, texture, smell, and substance, sort of like a sad hobo’s ejaculate or third-rate tile grout that people elect to slather on perfectly good meals.

And I hate clowns. They’re not human, they’ve long since traded their souls for greasepaint and supernatural powers previously held by dead teenagers, tortured souls, and things with jagged bloody teeth.

I’m telling you about mayo and clowns to point out the extremes of my scale. Nothing. no activity, no conversation, no job, nothing in this world is as bad as mayonnaise and clowns. Self-promotion is scary, yes, but it’s not mayo or clowns. Meaning you can do it. Meaning you should be doing it.

Where To Start
We start with some rules.

1. What works for one person may not work for you. There are a lot of methods to self-promote, even if we compare them while only talking about one medium. Sure, you and I can both tweet about what we’re doing, but we’re doing so in different ways. I’m going to sound like me, and you’re not going to sound like me. If we try to ape each other, then despite all our best efforts, we’re still lacking the authentic, realistic construction and communication people have come to know from us. A trial-and-error approach is going to be optimal here, at least until you build a comfortable repertoire.

2. Who you are and how you identify are only barriers to promoting what you’re doing if you choose to let them be barriers. Your gender. Your age. Your race. Your identity. Your faith. Your orientation. Your socioeconomics. Your political affiliations. Your social life. Your kinks. Your preference for snacks. There are plenty of people in the world who will judge you based on these things. There are plenty of people in the world who will tell you for one reason or another why these choices of yours are limits as to how or why you promote yourself and your work. And maybe, if enough of these voices congregate or get loud enough, you may start to believe them. But that doesn’t make them true (hint: they’re not). You’re going to erect your own barriers, and there are plenty of humans who are counting on you doing that so that they won’t feel as insecure or threatened or annoyed that they’re the only people playing whatever sandbox. Fuck those people. Just fuck them with a fiery mayonnaise covered sex toy and leave them for the clowns to eat. Don’t buy into their applesauce. Don’t think they’ve got any right or ability to govern how you are or what you do because they disagree with it. (If anything, that difference is precisely the reason why you need to promote yourself)

3. You’re not going to be, and you don’t have to be, perfect at this right off the bat. Self promotion is difficult, and if you’ve never been in the habit of talking about yourself, it can feel like you’re gargling burning ball bearings while walking a tightrope being chased by laser weasels. I used to think Twitter was another way to send text messages. Seriously. I used to think Twitter was a great way to tell people where I was in a large crowded club or wherever. It didn’t occur to me until way later that I was completely wrong about it. You’re going to use things incorrectly. This doesn’t mean you’re stupid or that you should sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done while the rest of the village gathers around to shame you, it just means you need to change from one way of doing things to another. You’re not serving time in a penalty box, just try again. You don’t need to hold yourself to some ridiculous standard and pressure yourself to only deliver the best premium super good material or else the universe will end.

4. You need to do it regularly, not constantly. Unless you’re selling me cans of soup at my local grocer’s, you need to promote yourself more often than once a season. The distance between promotional bits (and I’m distinguishing between promotion and communication here, but we’ll cover that in the next section) can be jarring. Like you see a trailer for a movie months in advance, but you never see any other material for it, you may forget that you wanted to check it out. On the flipside, if all you’re doing is seeing advertising for the same thing over and over again (I’m looking at you, 5-same-commercials-during-football-playoffs), you get put off from engaging with the material, no matter how actually good the product is. There’s a balance to strike there, and that’s best done through a schedule (something else we’ll talk about later on).

With these 4 rules in place, it’s time to pick your media. This is more like picking your avenues for broadcast and less like picking what weapons to duel with, because you’re not locked into these decisions. Remember the trial-and-error part? It also extends to how you promote.

Maybe you want something concise and conversational? Try Twitter.
Maybe you want something targeted and partially unobtrusive? Try paid Facebook or Google Ads.
Maybe you want something semi-dynamic, or at least audience-facing? Try a Facebook page.
Maybe you want the space to write and interact at length? Try a blog or Google+.

Is that list comprehensive? No. I just picked promotional sources off the top of my head. Aside from the Facebook or Google Ads, I picked free ones, because I think it’s easier to engage without cracking open the checkbook and adding some kind of pressure to deliver, especially when you’re just figuring out what to do.

No matter what media you pick, get a sense for how they work. Go check them out. Go watch some videos about Google Ads. Go read some Twitter. Check out some blogs. See what elements you like, see what you do, see what you’d do differently. Do this homework.

What Comes Next
Now that you’ve picked how you’re going to promote, you actually have to go do it. Yes, you can totally farm this activity out to a human, but you need to pay that human, and you may find it’s cheaper to do it yourself once you get a handle on how to do it. Also, for me, it seems really silly to pay someone $45 an hour to write 5 tweets that took maybe 30 seconds  each to develop.

As we’ve talked about in the past, you need a schedule. Schedules are great ways to introduce a new habit with some structure. The boundaries on a schedule also mean you know the activity your doing is only happening for a certain window of time, and that you can go do something else the minute it’s over.

Building that schedule means picking times of the day or days of the week, or otherwise dicing up your time and allotting some portion of it to talking about what you doing. Maybe you promote every morning at 8:30, before you go have a second cup of coffee. Maybe you do it on your lunch break from the day job you can’t wait to leave. Maybe you only do it Tuesdays and Thursdays before you attend your support group for people who think they should clone Daniel Radcliffe.

Pick some times. Put them into your existing schedule. Start small and work your way into a more comfortable groove. Don’t come at this like buckshot and say you’re going to do it eleven times a day every day for 3 months. That’s a great way to burn yourself out. Build up to that. Build up to a comfortable competent fluency.

What To Talk About
The big question that comes up when you talk about promotion is some flavor of, “What do I say?” While I can’t give you a super catchall answer, I can point out some elements:

a) If you’re wanting to draw people to a site (like a blog), you need the URL.
b) If you’re offering a promotion, include any promo codes
c) If you’re talking about progress you’ve made, include word counts or percentages
d) If you’re showing physical progress, include photos
e) If you’re selling something, include a link to where the item can be purchased

And I’ll include two precepts:

i. Sound like a person
ii. Know when to shut up

Sounding like a person means you’re not just filling a tweet with links to where someone can buy your book. Sounding like a person means you’re actually doing more than just offering a commercial break so that people buy stuff before they get back to the regularly scheduled lives. You’re a person, communicate like one. In the course of using SOCIAL media, among all the things you’re talking about, talk about what you’re making or selling.

Knowing when to shut up means you know when not to talk about your product being available for purchase. You know how you wouldn’t roll up at your grandma’s funeral and start talking about how someone can get a great deal on windshield wiper blades? There’s a time and a place to talk about products and availability. Learn how to gauge the landscape, sound like a person, and pick and choose your spots. Sometimes it really is best to let there be a little pocket of silence in conversations, even when they’re digital.

How you talk about what you’re doing is going to entirely up to you. I can tell you what I do, and maybe it’s both a cautionary tale as well as illustrative. I tend to be great at speaking broadly about things (follow me on Twitter and get a ton of writing tweets) or speaking about personal things (mental health, chronic or terminal illness, food, films), but completely not great at talking about business things (that I have books available for sale, that you can hire me to help you become a better writer or creator). Maybe that’s my fear of success, maybe that’s my over-analysis about sales and sounding like a cliche car salesman always out for a buck.

You’ll figure out what to say as you practice. You’ll see what works and what works based on the reception you get. You’ll get inspired by what others say or how they do things. Allow yourself to be influenced that way, but remember that you can’t do what they do and expect the same results. Take what you see others doing, put your own spin on it. Trust yourself to be savvy enough to do that. (I believe in you, you should too)

Anything else?
Yeah. Don’t give up. You may not see a sea of people rushing to throw billions of dollars at you right away. You may have long gaps where you’re sure it’s not working. Don’t give up. Don’t beat yourself up. Yeah, I know, it’s super tempting because there aren’t those results hot and fresh in your hand. I do it. I sit here and have these exact same thoughts.

We’re going to make mistakes. We’re not going to let other people dictate how you we talk about what we’re doing. We’re going to do our best. We’re going to be okay.

See you next week.

FiYoShiMo Day 9 – Character Weaknesses

Welcome to FiYoShiMo Day 9. We’re still working with characters, and whereas yesterday we talked about their skills, today we’re looking at their weaknesses.

Not every character is supposed to be, or even can be, good at everything. Are you good at everything? I’m not either.

When we talk about weaknesses in people, it’s easy to become judgmental or critical, assigning some power dynamic or superiority to one person or the other, so that the weakness is some shackle or proof of the not-fun-kind of bondage.

As my many therapists and caregivers point out to me on the regular, weaknesses are only limitations if you let them be so. They are not the bars on your prison cell, they are just activities you do where you don’t do them as well as other things you do. I like that definition, even when I struggle with any associated inadequacy.

So let’s be objective about weaknesses. Let’s not fall into the spiral of whose weaknesses are worse or which weaknesses aren’t really weak, and let’s break down the types of weaknesses characters have.

Yes, there are types of weaknesses. When I first heard about it, I never really thought about it, I thought weaknesses were just one group of sucky things. But in finding out there are classifications, I also found that weaknesses in fiction characters need to be there, so that the good parts of characters can stand out in contrast. Contrast is critical in building relatable characters.

Should we define what a weakness is? A character weakness is a reduced capacity or inability to perform or function due to belief, skill, existence, or environment. This definition is clinical, but it also sets up the classifications for weaknesses.

Wait, let’s pause here to talk about why flaws aren’t weaknesses. A character flaw is a defect of some size that may or may not impact the rest of the character. A character might be blind, but they can still be a spouse. A character might fear aging, but they can still be a bus driver. Flaws are not weaknesses because flaws don’t stop a character from taking action. Weaknesses are where there’s a reason a character can’t do something. Flaws are the things that keep a character from doing something perfectly.

A weakness of belief is where a character thinks they can’t do a thing, so they can’t do it. It’s Neo unable to jump across the rooftop. These weaknesses are all about perceptions, how the character views the moment and views themselves in that moment. These are often the most emotional of weaknesses, and they’re great fodder for emotional beats.

A weakness of skill is where a character can’t do a thing because they don’t know how. It’s the character on the first day of a new job, it’s Crocodile Dundee not understanding bidets. When you use this for comedy, this is where we get fish out of water situations. When you use this for drama, you’re often highlighting how serious the action needs to be, and you’re showing the character as brave or gritty or strong for trying to do it.

A weakness of existence is where a character can’t do a thing because they’re physically unable. Like a toddler can’t slam dunk or reach the gas pedal in the car while sitting behind the wheel. Sure, some people are going to get all screamy about privilege here, or that any character should be able to do whatever they want, because they’re not defined by what they can’t do … and yes, that’s true, but we need the character to not do these things, so that when they try and succeed, we celebrate. Their inability (not their disability) is why we invest in their story.

A weakness of environment is where a character can’t do a thing because of something external. This is Superman and Kryptonite, or Indiana Jones and snakes. Some element of the story, often an object, is inhibiting the character’s success. When the element is a thing, it’s an “object of weakness”, when the element is a circumstance (like the guy who books two dates at the same restaurant at the same time, and tries to keep the two people from catching on), it’s a “situation of weakness”, because it affects the power dynamic and control of a scene (we’re going to talk more about that starting on Day 13, when we talk plots).

The above list isn’t comprehensive, there are other classifications for weaknesses or other names for the classifications, but there’s enough here to get you started.

Write out your character’s weaknesses. Then see if you can apply these types to them. No, a character doesn’t need one from each type, and chances are your character is only going to have one or two of these weaknesses at best, when we talk about their best skills or strongest personality traits.

So far, we’ve mapped out a character’s motivations, philosophies, skills, and now their weaknesses. We’ve looked at what they do, how they do it, how well they do it, and how they don’t do it. So what’s next?

Tomorrow, we talk about why they do it, when we talk about character goals. See you then.

4 Things To Look Out For

I edit things. I help authors make stories. I help authors make them better. I see a lot of manuscripts at a lot of stages in their life, and when I see mistakes, they tend to be pretty universal, regardless of genre or manuscript length.

Today I’ve collected four mistakes, offered examples, and have some ideas on how to solve them.

I. Skipping on the fundamental genre elements so that you can “stand out” or “write a book people talk about.”

Examples: A hero’s journey with no mentor; a western without either romance or a sense of scope and connection to the land; a dystopia with no sense of loss; a mystery without a clear crime

There are practical requirements based on the genre and type of story you’re telling. First-person means you’ll use “I” when talking as the narrator, in an action story, there’s always a moment where the hero is at the villain’s clutches. You can’t get away from these, because they’re central to the story’s development.

Not having these components will make your story feel “off” to a reader. It might be okay to read, it might be complete, but it won’t feel satisfying, it won’t engage or “click” with the audience. Yes, sure, people will talk about the book, but not in a positive hey-check-this-out way, more like an avoid-this-book-unless-you’re-trapped-in-the-wilderness-and-need-to-start-a-fire-or-need-to-wipe-and-you-can’t-find-pinecones way.

Novelty, uniqueness, distinguishing your story from others is important. And not just because agents, publishers, and editors tell you that it is, or that it correlates to sales. It’s important that your story be in its best shape if for no other reason than people are going to read it, and they deserve your best work, regardless of whether or not they’ve paid for a book or you’re emailing your friend something you scribbled down.

Omitting critical elements in a story and then wondering why the story doesn’t work is like trying to make ice and omitting the water. It’s not functional ice without the water. It’s not a functional story if you take out the building blocks.

As for what those building blocks are, they’re numerous, probably too numerous for a thousand years of blogging. You likely know them from whatever media you enjoy, you might not know their technical names, but you know the scenes where they really work – and the ones where they don’t. Technical names aren’t important, really. I mean, they’re helpful when we talk broadly about story construction, but it’s far more important that you can break your own story down into its constituent beats regardless of their label, since labels can be applied later.

Your story needs those foundational pieces, no matter how boring you think it may be to write a scene where people patch up their differences or ride off to gear up before shooting the badguy in the face at noon.

II. Far too many pronouns

Example: Madison looked at the sandwich on Dakota’s plate. She was hungry, and she knew it. While she was chewing, she thought she looked dangerous. With a sly motion, she slid a knife to her lap, ready for a fight.

Okay, that’s some lousy melodrama. Do you have any idea which character I’m talking about whenever you see a “she” or the “her”? I wrote it, and I barely could tell.

Too many pronouns isn’t increasing your casual relationship to your reader, it’s confusing. It’s really confusing. And a confused reader will try to keep up, but if they can’t sort out what the hell you’re saying, they’re going to go elsewhere.

The fix is both simple and hard. Instead of laying down a buckshot of pronouns, name-check a character here and there, especially when characters of the same gender are interacting. Yes, you can find some other ways to describe the character(s) – call out their physical traits, for instance – but if you only do that as your pronoun-alternative, you’re just making “blonde” or “the short one” substitute for “her”.

The tougher fix, the fix I tell clients to make, is write new sentences. Different sized sentences. Fragments. Big long sentences with clauses like kraken arms. It can be hard have that feel okay as a writer, so often we fall into patterns, especially when we get deeper into a manuscript. But it’s important for moving the reader’s eye down the page, giving them more words and ideas to engage with, and painting the clearest word picture possible. So, practice.

III. Mass produced, cookie cutter writing, heavy on the patterns

Examples: Looking at the number of sentences that have three to five words, then a comma, then three to five more words; how often “and then” appears in text; all the paragraphs are four lines long

Part of my job is pattern recognition. Patterns tell me a lot about a writer. I can often see how they were taught to write, what their attitude is as a writer, how they feel about what they’re putting down, how they feel about the reader, or even what they’re trying to avoid saying. We all have patterns. We favor some words more than others. Or certain sentence styles over others. These markers are fingerprints and illustrate critical elements that editing or even coaching can work on.

For many writers, this isn’t an issue. These indicators don’t stick out like sore thumbs and don’t dominate the story being told. Sure, if you scrutinize anything long enough you’ll find a pattern (for instance, how many sentences have I started with a single word followed by a comma?), but there is very clearly a tipping point where story becomes secondary to how the story is being told, because the constructive scaffolding is dominating the creative landscape.

The fix is to read more. See how other writers use the language. Do they let sentences run long, nearly to some imaginary breaking point, before paying them off? Are the sentences little staccato gunshots that punch their way onto your brain’s canvas? Do they let commas act like hinges in sentences? Do they love starting paragraphs with a word? Are many of their paragraphs seven lines long (I’ll wait here, you go count in this blogpost)?

Manipulation of language, using it for full effect, to the best of your talent, is going to connect you to readers far more than you think. Oh, it’s totally easy to churn out everything in four line chunks, but after reading that for pages, do you think a reader won’t glaze over, no matter what the words are?

IV. Thinking readability is a huge damned deal way bigger than it really is

Examples: Having some knowledge about what reading level the average consumer has and adjusting up or down to suit them; assuming that since the NYT bestseller list written at a certain reading level, that in order to get on it, you have to write at that level.

Readability or reading level was for many years a huge red flag for writers and English teachers. Even today, news outlets trot out charts and quick stories about how smart we are as a society, and maybe they do so with a sigh or with a chuckle.

Obviously I’m not saying your first grader is going to really enjoy the hell out of the New England Journal of Medicine article about accelerated foot fungus, nor is the college professor going to all swoony for Hop on Pop, but those are the extremes. And I’m not talking extremes. I’m talking the middle ground, where people hunker down in these unproductive trenches and hamstring themselves into apoplexy over whether or not they’re going to be understood.

Guess what? If your writing is evocative, engaging, and draws parallels to your readers’ experiences, you’re going to be understood.

When we talk readability, this conversation often comes to a crossroads – do I dumb down or stretch up?

Dumbing down is when you simplify your language. People think this makes them more relatable and genial, but do any of us like being patronized or belittled? Because that’s what people are doing with the simple and slow sentence structure that reads like it’s a pat on the head. Yes, you’re reaching a very wide audience, but so does screaming at a kindergarten class. Treat your readers with more respect, treat yourself with more respect, and if your word choice sends someone to a dictionary or the internet to look up a word, that’s NOT a bad thing to be avoided.

Stretching up goes the other way. Rather than writing something simple, every word (or as many as possible) get the thesaurus treatment so the manuscript (and by extension the writer) seem smarter.

Is it important for you to appear smart, dear writer? Is that why you’re telling the story you’re telling? Is appearing smart going to earn you that validation you’ve been hunting? Will you feel better if someone calls you smart? (Okay, you’re smart, now what?)

The tricky part here is that instead of patting your audience on the head, you run the risk of making them feel stupid. One or two words per manuscript that they need to look up is alright, but do scene after scene and you’re just showing off. And is that why you’re writing, to show off?

Tell your story your way. Don’t do the readers’ thinking for them, don’t assume them stupid or smarter than you, just focus on telling your story your way.

Keep writing. See you later this week.

RECIPE: Sriracha & Beer Chicken / Peaches in Butter Rum Bacon Sauce

One of the things I love most about summer is that I can stand on my patio and fire up my large grill and create meals. There’s something very childlike to it, even though I can’t recall eating that many meals outside as a kid (thanks mosquitos!). As I write this post, it occurs to me that recipes for the grill tend to be less measured than in my kitchen, giving the meal a more mad-scientist-chemistry-set feel that somehow seems to impart more of the relaxes atmosphere of summers in my backyard.

What follows today are two recipes: dinner and dessert. I will point out that dinner is best when marinated overnight, though if you’re pressed for time, even an hour or so makes difference. If you’re super pressed for time, and don’t mind less flavor, you could skip the marinade and just make the glazed over chicken.

I’m also assuming that you’ve bought a pack of chicken, rather than a whole bird you hacked with a cleaver to vent your frustrations and loneliness. I mean, either works.  This dinner feeds 4, or three very hungry adults.

For the Chicken:

    • 2 cups Buttermilk (note: I had to split the chicken into multiple ziploc bags, so I used 5 cups to make sure everything got covered)
    • 12 ounces beer (note: Use any beer you want. I am not a beer snob, and really, I’m just using beer for the sugar and yeast)
    • 2 tsp kosher or sea salt
    • 1 tsp smoked paprika
    • ¼ tsp cayenne
    • ½ tsp cumin
    • 1 tbs brown sugar (in the absence of brown sugar, you can also use a squirt or two of maple syrup)
    • 1 white onion, sliced
    • Sriracha, as much as you are comfortable with
    • 2 lbs chicken drumsticks and wings (or however much chicken you want to make. For every two additional pieces of bird, add more of each element, by eye — no seriously, you cannot do this wrong)
    • Cilantro, minced (optional)

For The Glaze:

  • ¼ cup Sriracha
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • ½ cup beer
  • 2 tbs fish sauce (or soy sauce + pickle juice)
  • 1/3 cup mirin (or sake or flavored vodka or horseradish + rice wine vinegar)

Directions

  • In a large bowl whisk together the buttermilk, 12 ounces beer, salt, smoked paprika, cayenne, cumin, and brown sugar. Add the onions and chicken to the marinade. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight. For best results, periodically flip and shake the contents around after you’ve put them into large ziplocs, in a bowl so they won’t drip on your fridge that you just cleaned.
  • Just prior to grilling, make the glaze. In a saucepan over medium high heat, whisk together all the glaze ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 8 minutes.
  • Remove the chicken from the marinade, discard marinade.
  • Place the chicken on a preheated grill, brush with glaze, cook for about 2 minutes, flip and brush with glaze. Continue to flip and brush with glaze every 2-4 minutes until chicken is cooked through, about 20-25 minutes (depending on the size of your chicken). Transfer chicken to a serving platter and sprinkle with cilantro. Do not eat the chicken straight off the grill, we’re not savages, we live in a society with rules.

Let’s talk dessert. You need dessert. You deserve dessert. Have some.

A note: You can do all of this in a wok, on your grill. No seriously, go wok and roll. Or a small skillet and a saucepan in your kitchen, I don’t judge.

Ingredients

Bacon, and its delicious fat
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
about 6 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
about 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 ripe peaches, peeled, halved, pitted, each cut into at least 8 wedges
about 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
about 2 tablespoons dark rum (you can use light rum, but it’s not the same)
Vanilla ice cream

Preparation

Make bacon. Don’t care how much, there’s no wrong answer (other than zero). Make sure you get some good bacon fat in the pan. Crumble bacon ONCE IT IS COOL. Smaller bits are better, and I won’t tell anyone if you eat some while you work.

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add sugar and cinnamon and cook, stirring often, until sugar begins to dissolve (mixture may clump together).

Add peaches and crumbled bacon and fat. You know, for flavor and science.

Add vanilla. Sauté until peaches are tender, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in rum. Return skillet to heat and cook until sauce thickens, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Spoon peaches and sauce over ice cream.

 

Enjoy your meal.

Two Queries, Deconstructed

Continuing our theme for the week, I’ve got two queries here (one for a book, one for a game) and I’m going to take them apart to show you (and them) what is and isn’t working. The query is going to be italicized, and my comments are going to be in red.  (In both cases I’m skipping the writer’s address and info, and just dealing with the meat of the letter)

We’ll start with the book query.

Dear Sourcebooks Editor,  (actually followed guidelines – no names given.)
The italicized note is the author’s. This is significant because usually there’s some kind of personalization. The fact that there isn’t tells me immediately that queries get dumped into a large pile and who knows whether the reader is going to be an intern, an assistant, and agent or the nice lady who gets bagels every Thursday.
 
Quakes across the country intensify, threatening the environment, the economy, and families. Amber and Paule struggle to convince the military leaders to prepare the people of New Mexico for the worst. The danger is real. The devastation will spread. The distance is unknown. Lives will be lost. How many depends on the military’s decision.
 
Okay, there’s kind of a good opening here. The first stumbling block here is ‘intensify’, which means that the quakes have already been going on, and now they’re getting worse. BUT, there’s no mention of quakes before this, so I don’t know how to measure that. The second is that Amber and Paule are dropped into the front of the paragraph, but not given any explanation. If their reveal were to come later, then we could feel like these two people are victims caught up in all this chaos, but because they show up early in the text, (sort of like the opening of a movie trailer) this is telling us that these are our heroes. Also, the fact that they’re talking to New Mexico’s military leaders suggests that they’re just not two people – they’re people with means to make a difference. 
Going one step further, I can’t tell what the important part of this paragraph is. I would imagine it’s supposed to be how Amber and Paule are going to survive the earthquakes, since those are characters with names, but the end of the paragraph tells me that I should care about the military. And there’s this sentence about distance that makes no sense, because there’s no mention of a journey or travel. 
I’d suggest a rewrite here to find the important thing and either put it at the front of this paragraph (Maybe even start it with “Amber and Paule race against time as earthquakes intensify and the people of New Mexico do nothing” or at the end (talking about the earthquakes and how bad it is and THEN bringing up Amber and Paule.)
An opening paragraph that doesn’t have a clear important element or a set up to encourage me to keep moving my eyes down the text is kind of like yelling a stream of facts at me when I just wake up – I can’t process much of anything, and yelling is just going to make me grumpy, disoriented and tell you to stop.
Amber intended to join her mother at the Parkfield, California earthquake research center as a paid assistant during her seventeenth summer. Instead, New Mexico beckons, as activity along the New Mexico San Andres fault, where lava plumes push the Magdalena Peak upward faster than in recorded history.
Wait, what happened to Paule? And why isn’t ‘earthquake research center’ capitalized? Note the vague ‘her’ in the end of the first sentence that either tells me Amber is 17 or that her mother has been at this facility for seventeen summers. But then I stumble over ‘beckons’. Beckons means that I have to leave where I am and get to a place, but the first paragraph sort of made it sound like I was already in New Mexico. But now this paragraph maybe tells me I’m in California, or maybe I’m not in either place, since Amber has to go to Parkfield to join up with her mother. I’m confused. And confusion means rejection. I don’t even get to enjoy the lava plumes. 
Here again is a paragraph where there’s no visible important element. Is the important part that Amber is supposed to see her mother? Or is it that New Mexico is more important? And by extension, more important for whom? Her mother has a reason to go, but why does Amber?
Lastly, I assume that while this event is happening, they’re recording it. So “recorded history” is misleading, since really we’re talking history before this moment. 
I’d rewrite this paragraph much like the first – find the important part and if you wanted to keep the sort of ticking-clock element (seismologic unease isn’t as intense as VOLCANO EXPLODES) I’d oppose one against the other, (“As the San Andreas fault buckles and devastation looms, Amber goes not to her mother, but into the face of danger” Or something.)
I’ll also point out that when two paragraphs get rewritten back-to-back in a query, it almost always translates to  “this query is going to see more rejections than acceptances”.
 
Kilauea expert, Paule, joins her in the search along the Rio Grande fault lines and the Magdalena Peak. Undiscovered fault lines and developing calderas spread across the desert. White Sands and other military bases are in danger of lava inundation. Military and mining leaders fear a panic, and insist on chain of command through red tape data before notifying the public.
Google tells me that Kilauea is in Hawaii. And again, we have a vague ‘her’ so I’m either talking about Amber or her mom, and I’m not quite sure what the Magdalena Peak is but I guess it’s important, since it’s come up twice now. And lava inundation is totally bad news, but wait, the people INSIST on red tape? Now hold on there, this might be more than a problem with the query, this might be a problem with the story. ‘Insist’ tells me that these leaders are rigid and this is their protocol. I don’t have explicit information that they doubt Amber/her mother/Paule (because the query doesn’t say so), so I can’t say any insisting is done because “there’s no hard evidence” (cliche, but let’s go with it a second). Now, I haven’t seen the manuscript, but without a sense of implied doubt, I’m not sure I see a believable reason to require bureaucracy. You would think that once the lava starts flying around, or the earthquakes rumble the ground, people would panic. 
This lack of clear antagonist motivation would not only throw a wrench in the querying process, but even if it did get accepted, it’s absolutely something that would come up in editing. Now I know I get a lot of flak and complaints when I bring this up, but getting some edits done early in the process could clarify this and make querying easier. I’ll just float that thought out there and surely someone will come along and cry poor. 
Here, unlike the other paragraphs, I see the important part. I just don’t feel it. And feeling it is SUPER IMPORTANT. Feeling it is what’s going to encourage me as a reader of queries to read your manuscript. And feeling it conveys not only a sense of urgency in your created work, but also a sense of urgency and excitement about your created work. It’s like seeing a movie trailer and saying, “I want to see that, right now.” versus seeing a trailer and saying, “Oh I’ll just skip it.” Be the first, not the second. How could I feel it? A rewrite that emphasizes the disbelief, and that puts the danger at the front of the paragraph.  This is the final paragraph about the manuscript, so this should be the highest point of tension in the query and should lead me to read the manuscript to see how things work out. 
 
TRAILS THROUGH THE FAULT LINES is a new adult apocalyptic novel at 83,000 words. It is the first of a three pair series, each pair set in its own time and place. The second pair is set two hundred years in the future. The third pair will involve time travel, reference earlier novels, and go further back in time.  Series synopsis available upon request.
 
Oh boy. Okay, pump the brakes here. Wave the giant red flag. The first sentence, is awesome, it delivers me a title and a word count. Personally I’d chop out “new”, because you’re writing a query letter, and I’d assume it’s for a new novel. But the rest of the sentences? There’s a presumptive nature to saying “I’ve got a whole series, this is just the start”, because if the first book doesn’t take off, then did you waste your time putting together all these other stories? The largest problem here is that these sentences talk about books that aren’t the one you’re querying. It’s like going on a date and telling the other person about the other dates you’ve got lined up in the coming weeks. It doesn’t help your current situation, and while it’s nice to know that you’re forward thinking, keep the focus on THIS book. On a more specific note, if each pair (pair of what, I don’t know) is its different time and place, it’s sort of hard to market this as a series, unless we’re doing a set in like an anthology format or slipcase or something. The TV show True Detective can get away with saying “each season we’re going to feature different cases and detectives”, but that’s because they’re saying it not while promoting their on-going current story. It sends a mixed message to the reader – which story are we talking about here? 
Start your relationship with a publisher/agent/other person off on the right foot. While it’s great to be ambitious, don’t overlook the importance of the manuscript in front of you.
I have published MOLLY’S SECOND CHANCE, a short story, in Beyond Centauri – October 2010. I am [NAME], and [PERSONAL INFORMATION DELETED]. Three cats, a dog, and a husband keep me busy with a garden and housework to complement my writing. Recently diagnosed as legally blind, I am working at retaining what vision I still have.
 
Thank you for your time and consideration.

 Everything here is groovy, (I took out the name and personal info – there wasn’t anything wrong with it, it’s just not something the author wanted splashed around) except for the last sentence. It’s well-meaning, but it’s placement is telling. Last sentences leave an impression. And by telling me you’re blind, you’re sort of passive aggressively telling me that if I reject you, I’m rejecting a blind person. Why not just tell me that when you were younger, your dog died? Do I need to know you’re blind? Do you start every conversation with new people that way? Maybe, yes, okay, you’ve become defined by your blindness, and I’m sorry if that’s become your identity more than other things about who you are, but unless you’re looking to make that a key point in your “writing persona” (the way some writers are known to be drinkers or only wear white or are recluses), this detail isn’t actually in your favor. Cut it out, and keep the focus on your writing. 

Ready for a second one? Now I’m going to warn you, this one is TEN paragraphs long. And we’re talking block-of-text paragraphs, so buckle in. Also, this isn’t for a book, but for a game, so the tack we take in dissecting it will be different.

On the edge of Nidal the [PLAYERS] are sent to deliver a message from one brother to another. This is a journey through the Mindspin Mountains at the onset of winter. The hazards of the mountains include orc tribes, harsh weather conditions and (unknown to many) a Hag with her witch protégée. Agents of the Aspis consortium want to get hold of the letter, and will stop at nothing to obtain it. The [PLAYERS] are subject to a series of seemingly unrelated incidents, but at each turn some subtle marking of the consortium can be seen. Finally, when none of their machinations have succeeded, consortium agents confront the [PLAYERS] and attempt to seize the letter.

Alright, so this first paragraph, that’s a pitch. I’ve used [PLAYERS] here as a surrograte for player-characters as well as for the vernacular of a game that I’m not quite sure I can just toss around casually. I like this paragraph. It’s quite good. It tells me what I need, and should I want more information I know I can look for a paragraph about these orcs, a hag, maybe the weather and something about a group of consortium people. At best, I’m looking at 4 more paragraphs. What I get is nine more. 9> 4, and already I’m throwing red flags. 

Reinard and Metheo, lesser sons of the Arch Duke Egamen and minor members of the Umbral Court, hated each other. Neither had any prospects of inheritance with older brothers in line, and so both looked to a life of adventure to cure their boredom. When Metheo decided to join the [PLAYERS] society, Reinard took that as a cue to make friends within the Aspis Consortium.

Okay, so this is set up info. If the PCs are supposed to deliver a letter from Point A to Point B, it would help to know about why they’re doing so, because invariably someone’s going to ask. Now, if I were a fan of this game, I’d probably know that this Consortium is a big deal and that’s bad. I don’t need to be a fan of the game to gather that from this text, which is a good sign that it’s well-written. I’m not yet questioning why I need to know this, which is another good sign.

The brothers excelled at what they did and became reasonably high ranking within their respective organisations. For their part both the Decemvirate and the Patrons kept a close eye on the brothers. After a few years of adventure, both brothers got bored and returned to their pampered lives. Both organisations kept up their watch though, and planted their agents.

Okay, now I am asking why I need to know this information in a query. In the text of the adventure, this is backstory, and I’d expect to see this in a sidebar or as character history detail. But since I’m supposed to be caring about what the players do in relation to these two non-player characters, I’m not sure how the players are supposed to gain this detail and use it in play.

Recently the Arch Duke died, leaving a valuable artefact unaccounted for. Reinard has information about the artefact but he cannot acquire it alone, his only choice is a coalition with his brother. Jealous of any claim the Aspis may make on his discovery, there is only one group he can trust to get the letter safely to Metheo: the [PLAYERS].

I have no idea why this matters or why I’m reading about it. This is a pretty big clue to me that the writer is nervous and just throwing details at me until something catches my eye. 

The scenario begins as the PCs arrive to meet with Reinard. He is coy, and does a bad job of hiding his contempt of the [PLAYERS]. Once the mission has been accepted, he impresses upon the PCs that time is of the essence. The letter is urgent and winter is setting in. If they delay they will face severe, possibly deadly weather in the mountains. The Aspis Consortium spies know something is the matter the moment the [PLAYERS] gain audience with Reinard, and set out to stop them.

OH THANK HEAVENS, we’ve gotten to the exciting bit. It just took four paragraphs that likely can be collapsed into this one, which would require a rewrite AND show the writer to have an ability to make words count in a concise way. Now, for me, for my gaming, I’m not pleased with being told how to play a character in a query. Give me some bullet points or direction in the adventure itself, but if you’re trying to make me say yes to writing the adventure, focus on the exciting parts. Weather reports are not exciting. And I would hope the mission gets accepted, because that’s the point of the thing you’re writing. If the mission wasn’t accepted, what was the point in writing it? 

The first challenge is a bridge, destroyed by the Aspis men to delay the [PLAYERS] while they set up further problems down the line. Unbeknown to the Aspis though, is that the bridge hid the home of a witch (or Green Hag, or both depending on tier) who now thinks the [PLAYERS] destroyed her home, and is not amused. This encounter is intended to be defeatable without fighting. The encounter begins as a simple skill test, how does the party cross the ravine without the bridge? As the party makes it to the bottom or the other side they are confronted by the Witch. The Witch, although angry, is not inherently antagonistic, and the Hag can be bribed. The encounter delays the PCs, and negotiating with the witch could put them far behind schedule.

Remember where I just talked about exciting bits? If you’re ever curious about how to make something not exciting, all you have to do is explain how it works or how best to overcome it. For example, I can say, “Watch out for speeding cars!” and that should give you a sense of fear that cars approach. But if I say, “You can avoid the speeding cars by either walking down the street or by taking the bridge,” then the tension is gone. And if the tension is gone, I have little reason to want to see how things resolve in your manuscript – because you already told me. 

Further through the mountains, a group of orcs attack the [PLAYERS], paid by the Aspis to kill them and take the letter. They carry goods (weapons/armour) of better than usual quality for orcs, marked by the Consortium. This encounter takes place on a narrow path and into a cave; An obvious ambush point. The orcs have cunningly set some tribe members within the cave which otherwise looks to offer a tactical advantage to the PCs.

An optional encounter as the weather closes in and winter takes hold can occur here. A small flash flood, as part of a storm takes over the PCs, unless they can find shelter.

Again, the purpose of a pitch for anything (a book/a game/a movie/a webseries/a TV show/ A whatever) is make you want to check it out. Let’s say you and I are going to watch a TV show that you’re a fan of, that I’ve never seen. Are you going to walk me through the whole episode before you press Play, or are you going to mention a few things in broad terms so that I’m interested and have to watch in order to know more? If you give me all the details, it’s going to backfire because all the “Ooh I want to know more” is gone. 

Finally, the [PLAYERS] are confronted with the Aspis men themselves, who have set up ambush a short distance from the [PLAYERS]’s destination. This is a fight to the death as the Aspis seek to recover the letter, and leave no trace of survivors.

Defeat of the Aspis agents, means a successful arrival at the home of Metheo. Metheo is pleased to see the [PLAYERS] and greats [sic] them as old friends. He rewards them amply, but does not reveal the contents of the letter.

I haven’t said this throughout this second dissection, but the language here is flat. Flat like paper. Flat like old Coke. It’s joyless. It is not sparking any interest in me, and reads in this sort of monotone that I usually reserve for academics, church services and old people complaining about taxes. You want me to read a thing? Want me to care about something? Arrest my attention. Keep me interested. Play with sentence length and word choice. Use active verbs and evocative language and encourage me to picture these things you’re saying in my head. Compare these two sentences:

“I think it would be a great idea to diversify your stock portfolio.” versus “Are you such a big fan of poverty that you’re not going change your stock portfolio?”

One is a sentence I hear from an old man with bad teeth who I don’t think has felt any happiness in his life since Ford was president. The other is a shocking statement that some windbag on TV said last week. During the first one, I tuned out and thought about tacos. During the second, I argued with the TV. I felt something, and responded. That’s the secret to a pitch, making people feel something. 

*

As for how you do that, the key is language. Word choice. Sentence structure. Fragments. Long sentences with descriptors. Using that push/pull effect we’ve talked about to keep people paying attention, you have ONE PAGE (not 10 paragraphs) and about 250 words to develop an idea that makes someone want to solicit more information from you in a more comprehensive form.

Is it easy? No. Can you get better at it? Yes. You can write and rewrite. Come at ideas from different angles. Ask people (like me!) for help on what makes a good query. You don’t have throw your hands up and say, “I’ll never get it, publishing is out to get me.” because publishing doesn’t know you.

Practice. That’s the best strategy. Practice, refine, keep at it.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about “aggressive language” and some key words you’ll want to keep out of your queries.

Happy writing

One of the Note Card Tricks

Hello everyone. Hope you’re well and enjoying your creative processes.

I get a lot of questions about “the note card trick” since I talk about it a lot, and usually only demo it in person at workshops or to clients, because it’s easier to see it in person. What I’m going to show you now is a scaled down version, mainly because it’s easier to explain in small bites. I’ve got some pictures here that should help you follow along. You can do this spread for protagonists, antagonists, plots and even whole book series if you wanted. I’m going to show it for protagonists, because that’s an easy place to start.

You’re going to need notecards. A lot of them. Way more than you think is reasonable for any person to own. I’m only showing up to 16 here, but I’ve used these for scripts and stories and had upwards of 100 as needed, if the story calls for that many things to be happening. The note cards that follow have numbers on them, so that you can see their locations.

To put it sort of math-y (I’m sorry, I know I said I’d try and keep math away from this, but I swear this flashback won’t take long), we’re going to make an X/Y axis, where cards spread horizontally and vertically from the beginning to the end of the story. For the example story, let’s suppose we have 4 chapters, but you’re going to have likely way more than that in your book. If so, just keep moving down that horizontal axis as you have to.

We’re going to start at the 0.0 point with a note card, like this:

This is a note card. It is the building block of this system

This is a note card. It is the building block of this system

Notice how I’ve put it at the corner of my table, so that I have a whole lot of real estate to work in. Ignore the holly jolly tablecloth, it was the first one I grabbed out of the closet. On that note card you’re going to put a fact/statement/phrase about your protagonist.

The important thing to remember about this trick is this: When we go to the right, we’re going through the story beginning to end. When we go vertically, we’re adding more details.

The first card is the Physical level of description. So Card (1) is what the character looks like. Is she short, tall, nearsighted, skinny, athletic? If you were to look up from your cards and see your character staring at you, what are the first things you notice?

Now let’s give her some more details. We’re going vertical:

We're going up from Physical, to Mental, then Social, then Aspirations

We’re going up from Physical, to Mental, then Social, then Aspirations

 

Card (2) describes her Mental level of description. Is she nervous? Arrogant? Passive Aggressive? If you were to have a conversation with your character, what’s the first thing you’d notice about your conversation together?

Card (3) describes your protagonist’s Social perceptions and skills. Does she socialize? Does she date? Is she extroverted? This level addresses the question “How does your protagonist interact with the world, and how does the world respond?

Card (4) addresses the protagonist’s Hopes and Dreams. What would make her happy? What goal is she striving for? Remember, this isn’t just talking about the plot of the story, I’m asking you to think of your character as a fully formed person who has more than this particular story’s plot going on in their life. Does she want to own a farm? Does she wish her father paid more attention to her? Does she want a deluxe apartment in the sky where she doesn’t have to wear pants and can eat guacamole all day?

You can go higher. Card (5) would cover a character’s Fears and Doubts. Card (6) would be Closest Relationship and Card (7) would be Relationship to Rival or Enemy. I’ve never gone above (7), because I’ve both run out of space and never thought past those tiers of character development. Feel free to substitute your own as you like, just be consistent with it. And if you do try new stuff, please PLEASE let me know. I’m always on the look out for new methods.

Let’s go to the next part of the story. For me that’s Act 2. For you that might be chapter 2 or part 2 or the next episode. In fact, you can take this time to lay out the horizontal for the whole project or the next chunk of chapters if you want:

Notice that in each chapter/section/whatever, I've got a Physical element represented

Notice that in each chapter/section/whatever, I’ve got a Physical element represented

 

Throughout my four acts here I’m going to mention more physical elements of my character. Not that I’m always going to say she’s a redhead or that she’s got green eyes, but I’m going to talk about some sort of relationship between her physicality and the world – she’s going to get banged up, bruised, a car is probably going to explode and maybe she’ll get muddy. That relationship spreads across the book, so it’s represented in these cards. So, on Card (2.1) I’m going to put down a fact about how she deals with fistfights, because at some point she’s going to hit a dude (play passes to left) (hashtag a-joke-not-enough-of-you-understand).

Add a card with some detail(s) at each level per each part/chapter/act of your story. Remember, this isn’t repeating the same things over and over, it’s about writing down different facets of the relationship the character has on that level to the rest of the world you’ve created.

This means you’re going to regularly ask yourself:

  • How is my character acting and reacting physical to the environments on a scene-by-scene/beat-by-beat basis?
  • How is my character handling the mental stresses/doubts/successes/strains on a scene-by-scene/beat-by-beat basis?
  • How is my character interacting with other people? Is anything developing? Is that development good or bad? Will someone pay a price in the end?
  • How is whatever my character is doing affect their hopes and dreams? Are they moving towards them? Has the plot put the goal on a shelf? Has it changed?

The answers should help you understand (conceptually) what the mindset and experience of the character is, so that you can translate it into words on paper so that other people can read it and relate in the same way.

So this is the story after more cards go down on the table:

This is all four acts mapped out.

This is all four acts mapped out.

 

What you’ll see in that picture are gaps. They’re intentional. A space like (4.2) or (3.4) means that the element doesn’t come up in that section of the story. And that’s an important point. Gaps create importance, and so long as the gap isn’t too wide (I’m sort of stretching it with (1.4) and (4.4), then that re-emergence of the idea makes us take notice – like the guy who keeps a key in his pocket only to remember he has it when he reaches the locked door. It makes both the first instance and its return matter to the story.

However, you might not feel comfortable doing that, so here’s a complete grid for you:

Here's a story where every possible slot has a card for it. This runs the risk of being congested.

Here’s a story where every possible slot has a card for it. This runs the risk of being congested.

I’m going to throw a flag on the play, and not just because I numbered these cards differently. A full story where everything is explored in every chapter can be MONSTROUS to contend with. It might slow down. It might get wordy. It might get confusing. Your mileage varies of course, but please PLEASE don’t think you have to fill every spot, especially if you run cards all the way out to 30 or more.

As I said before, you can do this for a protagonist, or even the antagonist. You can do this for the plot, but then the tiers become more about the impact of the problem on physical, mental and social levels, leading to sort of a zoomed-out picture of the story.

Hope this helps. If you have questions about it, catch me on Twitter, or write me an email.

What The Hell Did I Just Watch: Hostages

Good morning. I hope you’re enjoying your Saturday. I totally was, until I watched Hostages.

Now, this isn’t a review blog or anything by any means, but I admit that I do watch television with an eye on the writing. I know what you’re saying, that writing for network television is a totally different animal than writing a book, and I agree (else John Rogers will appear on my twitter feed and remind me of this, in intense terms), it’s just that bad writing is not limited to medium or genre. And I love to talk about bad writing, and how it could be made better.

Hostages is a new show on CBS, a network that has a few things I like (Person of Interest, Elementary), and a whole spate of things I cannot stand (all the CSI procedurals and variations). I miss Murder She Wrote. Watching this new show this morning made me miss it more.

So here’s what I knew about the show before I pressed ‘Play’: A doctor is taken hostage and has to kill the President of the United States during surgery. That’s all I knew. I didn’t knew who was in it, who wrote it, or anything else. I’d like to point out that an American television season is anywhere from 10 to 22 episodes, and requires a through-plot (a big overall plot that covers the whole season from beginning to end) you can divide up across a whole season. The premise of this show seems at best like it’s a Movie of the Week, or that it should be like a miniseries divided up into: Family Gets Attacked, Doctor Has To Perform Surgery, Doctor Either Does or Doesn’t Perform Surgery, Attackers Either Kill Family or Family Fights Back And Saves The Day. What’s that, like four parts? Maybe two parts if you use big chunks of time?

A weak premise is a hallmark of poor writing. When someone asks what’s your fiction about, you should be able to express the idea broadly (Sherlock Holmes solves crimes in modern New York; Government agents save the world from evil superheroes; A master criminal helps the FBI catch other criminals; etc), but when you can tell me the whole active premise as “A Surgeon has to kill the President or else her family dies”, that’s like … an episode. In fact, that WAS an episode of Person of Interest in the first season. They wrapped that whole sucker up in 43 minutes, and the surgeon wasn’t even the focus of the show.

I will disclose that after watching it and before I started writing this, I did go online to do more digging, and found out that this is an American version of an Israeli show that will be out soon. That fact, that this show is based on a show that isn’t out yet, was the red flag that jump-started this writing.

Generally, when you have an American version of a show (The Office, The Bridge), the original show has been out, and you can find enough material to compare the two side by side. And you can say things like, “In the original…”, because there’s time between the source and this version. Here though, we’ve got some Time Lord, Doctor Who chicanery because this show is based on a show that isn’t even out yet. This is a lot like me saying my new game is based on a game I’m releasing in five years. How does time work again?

That aside, let’s get into the meat of the episode.

The Characters

The Surgeon – I don’t know a lot about her, other than she’s a surgeon, and apparently good at her job. At first blush, she doesn’t seem to be clueless or a poor parent, though she doesn’t know about some of the things her family is doing, but not in some way that she’s completely out of touch or in denial. I also found out that this character has some kind of brain inflammation or tumor because she has random outbursts of really inexplicable behavior, and there’s no rational explanation.

The Husband – He’s a real estate broker or corporate guy, I know this because he has an office and a secretary. He’s played by the guy who I remember as the guy who played all kinds of sporty jerks in the 80s and 90s. I think at one point he was on Matlock as a tennis player who killed someone, and I think he was a jock bully in some bad movies. Either way, this actor is familiar to me, and that’s kind of comforting, since I know so little about this show.

The Son – I don’t know who this is, I don’t like this character. He’s way too into his dog, he’s got a weird poorly defined B-plot (a plot that’s parallel to the main story, often centering around a single character’s growth or actions), and the kid can’t act.

The Daughter – I kind of like this character. She’s got a clear B-plot, and she’s at least able to show some emotion. But I don’t know much else about her.

Dylan McDermott – He’s Dylan McDermott. He’s been in other shows (there was that show where he was a lawyer, and as an unconventional cop), but I always get the sense that he’s always going to play Dylan McDermott. Like if you’re writing something, and you need a guy with stubble who squints a lot, just get Dylan McDermott. He has the most confusing arc out of all these characters, but hey, he’s Dylan McDermott.

The Show Breakdown

00:01 We’re shown suburbia at night. Night is frequently used to show mystery or danger, because there’s still something primal in us that makes us afraid of the unknown in the dark. Sure, it’s a little cliche, but whatever, it’s an opening shot.

00:19 The camera pans across a family on the couch. We see the mother, and the son, both are looking down and away from the television playing in the background. That’s weird, you might think, why aren’t they looking AT the television, or at each other? The camera continues to pan to the husband, WHO LOOKS UP AND AT SOMETHING CLEARLY ABOVE HIS EYELINE. This is the first clue we get that something’s wrong, and also the first clue that the husband is the one who can act.

00:33 Surprise! There’s a group of four masked people surrounding the family on the couch at gunpoint. One of them, clearly the ringleader, even does a dramatic slow-walk to the middle of the couch after turning off the TV and we see he’s a white dude, with stubble. This makes me wonder: Has ski mask technology not advanced in forty years? We know the bad guys are bad because (a) they’re in masks (b) they’re in black and (c) they’ve got guns. Any two of those elements would be sufficient, but CBS tends to be really aggressive in the “We Want You To Understand What’s Going On” department sometimes.

My rewrite – The show opens in surburbia, at night. The camera tracks in through a big window or glass patio door to a family about to eat dinner. We see a mom at the table, laughing with her kids, a teenage daughter and maybe a younger son, and in a nice reversal of trope, the dad dressed casually in an apron bringing dinner to the table. They appear happy, enjoying each other’s company and everything seems great. Until the dog starts barking. And until the door gets kicked in. Two mooks in masks with guns come in, and order the family to freeze. Once one of them yells “Clear!”, two or three other mooks in masks with guns arrive, and finally an unmasked man strides into the room, and sits himself down at their dinner table. He fixes his eyes on the family, and maybe the camera pans to show us their reactions, and he says, “Hello Doctor [Family’s Last Name], we need to talk.”  CUT TO TITLES. 

01:04 We’ve flashed back 12 hours, because the titles told us so, and we’ve seen a motorcade leave Washington DC, because we’ve seen the Capitol building, but we’re taken to a press conference at “Maryland College Hospital”. Now, don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it, because it’s not real, but that’s only one of the problems in this opening.

Before we dissect the visuals, let’s talk about some basic facts.

Presumably, the motorcade is carrying the President. We have to assume that, since the show is about the President’s surgery. But doesn’t the President either (a) have a hospital that will take care of him (Walter Reed National Military Medical Center) or (b) have the ability to go to ANY actual hospital we the audience may have heard of? Like, can’t the dude pick up the phone and say, “Take me to Johns Hopkins, I want the best” or something, because he’s the leader of the free world?

And why are we holding a press conference on the front lawn of this fake hospital? Isn’t this something that the White House Press Secretary should be announcing from inside the White House? You know, from like inside a safe place? (you’ll see why I say that in a second). I suppose we’re holding it at the hospital so that we can see that Surgeon-Mom is a big deal and that we remember she’s a surgeon.

Here’s the shot.

Image

Here’s what we can see:

1. The guy in the dark suit and purple tie is likely the President.

2. That’s the Surgeon-Mom at the microphone.

But let’s look at some problems (aside from the fact that we’re at a fake hospital)

i. The white dude and the black dude who are book-ending the shot (no, this is not a subtle metaphor for race relations), I guess they’re supposed to be Secret Service. But they’re facing AWAY from the crowd, or at the very least facing a crowd we can’t see. If the attack came from somewhere we couldn’t see, the audience would be deprived of a sense of danger to the President, and that’s really sloppy writing and shooting in a fixed-camera shot to have an attack leap-in from off screen. That’s like amateur hour filmmaking class.

ii. Look behind the group. There’s one guy with his back turned, over on the left. I don’t see that guy’s counterpart on the right. So there’s this big open space BEHIND the President of the United States, and there’s literally a whole side of the shot unprotected. I think I know where I’d attack from.

iii. Who the fuck are those people in the background? Sure, the two people in labcoats must be doctors (remember costumes = characters), but what’s up with the Tommy Wiseau-looking guy dressed a little like he’s an extra from a Russian submarine movie? And why is there a haggard woman in a green coat behind our Surgeon? Is she the tired Queen of the Hospital? Is she the Ghost of Surgeon Future? Who staged and blocked this shot?

My rewrite – We flashback now, 12 hours, to the White House Press Room. The Press Secretary is speaking to a room full of reporters about the President’s condition. The Secretary announces that Doctor-Surgeon-Mom will now answer a few questions. The Press Corps goes nuts as Surgeon-Mom walks to the lectern and nervously answers questions in a very textbook, medical and technical fashion. The reporters hound her again as she retreats to a different room. Waiting for her is an aide who says the President wants to see her. She’s nervous, but is escorted to the Oval Office. The President is there, and he introduces his Chief of Staff, THE SAME GUY WE SAW IN THE OPENING AS THE ONE WHO CAME INTO HER HOUSE WITH ARMED GOONS. The three of them talk about the surgery and what needs to be done, and eventually Surgeon-Mom leaves, but not until the camera lingers a little too long on the Chief of Staff who eyes her as she exits. 

01:15 JARGON! We know the Surgeon-Mom is good at her job because she’s using medical terms. And doesn’t the President have his own doctors? You know like people who are incredibly vetted? And why is the Press Corps so quiet? Wouldn’t they, like have a lot of questions like “Who’s gonna run the country while this happens?” and “What’s the chance for survival?” and “What the hell does thoracoscopically mean?”

01:32 The President wouldn’t end his own press conferences. That’s what he has a Press Secretary for.

01:53 “Glad to know you care so much …” The President is in the limo with “generic staff guy”, and the camera hangs out a little too long on him. That’s basically TV code for “THIS GUY IS A BAD GUY”, although the dialogue should have telegraphed so the camera didn’t have to. So let’s call him BAD GUY, because I have no clue what his White House job is.

02:03 We’ve cut to a ‘Hostage Situation’, as though the snipers and armed cops surrounding a building couldn’t tell us that. The cut from the limo to over the shoulder of a sniper was crazy jarring, since the color palette doesn’t match, there’s no audio transition and there’s nothing to clearly link any of the first part to the second part. This is like taking a section break in your chapter and moving us from a scene about puppies to an elevator repairman in an office building.

02:42 “I did. I’m the Agent in Charge now.” This whole terrible scene reminds me of this. Also, I want you to get a good look at this face:

HOSTAGES02

 

This is the squinty face of Dylan McDermott. You are going to see this face throughout this episode, This is how you know the man means business, but plays by his own rules. The only way this could get more irritating would be if it somehow turned into this.

04:39 “What if you’d been wrong?” “I wasn’t.” Dylan McDermott has ended the hostage negotiation, not by squinting, but by shooting the hostage taker who traded clothes with the hostage. Because he forgot to change his shoes (something the camera didn’t show us until after the guy was dead), Dylan McDermott dropped him with two shots to the chest. The fact that shoe reveal came post-shooting deprives us of connecting to Dylan McDermott, and the fact that he quips and exits the scene makes me think that Dylan McDermott’s job in this show is to be the loose cannon hero, who might save the Surgeon’s family by disregarding the rules. In a show called “Hostages”, this is a guy who rescues hostages, so THIS IS OUR HERO.  This is further told to us because there’s a BITCHING GUITAR RIFF THAT UNDERSCORES HIS DEPARTURE.

My rewrite – We cut to a police or FBI office, where we hear someone yelling at someone else before we see them. A boss figure, let’s make her a woman, is yelling at and ultimately suspends Dylan McDermott for “an incident that costs lives”. She makes it sound more like an expense, that the people didn’t matter, but we can see that Dylan McDermott is clearly haunted and not wholly paying attention to his suspension. We don’t know what the incident was, just that it was bad. This ambiguity will let our minds wander. He is ordered to take a month off, with no pay, until the investigation clears him. He tosses his badge and gun to her just before he silently exits. Dylan McDermott hasn’t said a word in this whole introduction scene. 

04:54 We are reminded again that Surgeon-Mom is really good at her job, because she talks to Generic-Black-Lady-Doctor-Friend about how her boss resents her being picked for this assignment. With all the clarification of how good she is at her job, was I supposed to doubt it? Should I be doubting it now?

05:04 Surgeon-Mom who we learn does have a first name (Ellen), sees a bald maintenance guy, who I’m pretty sure was either a skinhead in Breaking Bad, or a backup Nazi in American History X or maybe an Observer on Fringe, exit her office. This is suspicious, because she has paused to stare at them, then she rushes to her office to see what’s up. No, wait she doesn’t do that. She doesn’t immediately check to see what’s up. She sighs, picks up the phone and calls her husband. Her husband answers, saying he’s got a big deal (that surprise! goes south on him midway through the conversation, but he doesn’t tell his wife — intrigue or just decision-making?) and lacrosse practice tonight, so the two of them hang up the phone, not feeling very satisfied in this conversation. She does notice FINALLY that a photo from her desk is missing.

Good news everyone! I wasn’t satisfied by this conversation either. If two characters talk to each other, they’re supposed to be conveying their emotions to each other about what’s going on in their lives at that moment. She maybe should talk about the maintenance guy, or the missing photo, or how, I don’t know, she’s nervous about Presidential surgery. And he should, I guess, reveal to her that the deal fell through, or maybe go the other way entirely, and stay upbeat and supportive, and then have gotten the news post-phone call. The lack of satisfaction on the end of this call means that I’m supposed to see their marriage as troubled. But since this is the first time I’m seeing their marriage, I don’t know how to feel about it. This is why context and SHOWING (rather than telling) are critical when you’re trying to express a relationship to your audience.

My rewrite – Surgeon-Mom is on the phone already when we cut back to her, the phone is ringing and finally she gets to talk to her husband, who is at the center of a really busy office, making all these deals at his big corporate job. But rather than play it like he’s an oblivious corporate dad, the minute she starts telling him how nervous she is, he zeroes in on her, and supports her. During this conversation, she realizes that a family photo is missing off her desk, and she tell hims so, before nervously hanging up. 

If you’re following along at home, we haven’t had any action beats. Sure, Dylan McDermott shot that bank robber, but that’s not relevant to the Surgeon-Mom plot. The family hasn’t done anything other than talk to people or be surrounded by bad guys. Something needs to happen, else I’m going to either go play GTA V or read random Wikipedia pages.

06:30 “This will be an in and out operation.” This line is said by a guy in an electrician’s van. So you know he’s not an actual electrician, but you don’t know who he is. The fact that he’s using the word ‘operation’ might suggest he’s a leader of some sort, but we know from the opening that the hostage-taking leader is a white guy. So maybe this is his second-in-command? He’s talking to an attractive woman who’s complaining about her code name, humanizing her, which I guess is going to pay off later, otherwise why introduce it.

06:52 “You trust this guy we’re working for?” The attractive woman says this to the black leader guy before he exits the van and breaks into a house, which I guess we’re supposed to see is the Surgeon’s house, but the angle doesn’t match up, and in daylight, that jump in logic isn’t clear. But come back to the line, and what it means. So she and the black guy are working for someone else (a guy), and she doesn’t know anything about him and doesn’t know if she should trust him. She’s asking the black guy, suggesting that he knows “the guy” and that based on whatever response she gets, she’ll trust him too.

What does this tell us? That’s she’s new to whatever endeavor she’s working on. That’s she’s a new team member. That she doesn’t have a whole lot of contact with the actual guy in charge. That’s she’s not directly affiliated with whatever group other people are. Maybe she’s a terrorist-temp. Maybe this is Take-Your-Kidnapper-To-Work Day. If you were going to do something nefarious, would you recruit inexperienced people? And would any of those people be new or unknown to you? What if they’re idiots? What if they’re moles or spies or narcs? Who the hell arranged this ‘operation’? Clearly they’ve never seen a heist movie or played Night’s Black Agents.

My rewrite – I cut all of this out.

 07:19 “The chemo is hard on your wife.” This line is said by a nurse (Delores) to Dylan McDermott, who still hasn’t shaved, but at least changed his clothes. My problem here is that Delores has said “your wife”, which I know is supposed to tell the audience what’s going on in the scene, but if Dylan McDermott’s been coming to the hospital regularly enough that he can ask how “she’s doing today” and that he knows the nurse’s name, then she would presumably know him and his wife enough to call the wife “HER”, BECAUSE THAT’S HOW HUMANS SPEAK.

This is why you should read your dialogue aloud, and make sure other people read it too – it should sound like actual people saying actual things. The conversation should go like this:

“How’s she doing today?”

“Chemo was rough on her this morning, but there was a little improvement. Go on in. She’d love to see you.”

Because in that conversation both speakers have a pre-existing relationship with “her”, and the writer is trusting the audience enough to get what’s going on – that someone has cancer, it’s rough, but that both characters care for the sick person.

My rewrite – Suspended from his job, Dylan McDermott arrives at the hospital to see his stricken wife. She’s weak, but conscious, and smiles when he walks into the room and holds her hand. He kisses her on the forehead before a doctor pulls him out in the hallway. The doctor delivers some bad news: maybe she needs another surgery, maybe this round of chemo isn’t working and she needs something more aggressive. He takes it in stride, then goes back to his wife, all smiles and happy. She tries to make him tell her what the doctor says, but he lies and says she’s doing great, that her test results look promising and he’s really proud of the progress she’s making. She looks relieved and asks about work. He again lies, saying everything’s fine and that he talked today to his boss and he thinks maybe he’ll get promoted real soon, and then, when she’s feeling better, they’ll go on that vacation they always wanted. She smiles at this fact and closes her eyes to rest. He wipes tears out of his eyes and gives her hand a squeeze. 

08:03 Surgeon-Mom returns home, just as Black Guy and Attractive Woman are wrapping up the installation of surveillance equipment. Given the premise and the opening scene, the amount of premeditation here is staggering. I mean, it’s nowhere near Skyfall, Loki’s Avengers Plan, or The Dark Knight for levels of complexity and coincidence, but still, if you were going to hold a family hostage and make someone do something, wouldn’t it be far easier to piggyback their internet traffic, bug their phones, track their cars and stick armed guards on them? Do we really need a near-Truman Show camera setup? Is this going to be regularly intercut with footage, the way CCTV is used in Person of Interest (a touch I really like on that show)?

My rewrite – Collapse this scene into a later scene when we cut back to present time and show the family with the masked people. Show the masked people doing this work then, not in advance. 

09:13 The first introduction of the Daughter.  This scene doesn’t do anything for me.

09:25 The first introduction of the Son. I actually got up and got a cup of tea here. It’s 10 minutes into the show, the pacing is glacial, the tension was all the way back about eight minutes ago, and I’m busy thinking about what I want to do for dinner tonight.

10:11 Dad confronts the team about a large bag full of cash he found. His Son and a Teammate lie about what its purpose is, and after Dad departs, Teammate and Son argue about the lie being told. This teases the Son’s B-plot, without actually saying what it is. I’m still bored, unless the kid was getting bribed to take a dive or (I can only hope, but I doubt) that the kid was in on the hostage-taking by giving up the family’s schedule.

My rewrite – I’d either make the son younger, like elementary school age, or I’d remove him entirely. One child (a teenager) and their B-plot is more than enough. 

10:40 Dylan McDermott is a bad (?) father. He’s got a daughter that has some kind of custody arrangement with his wife’s father. I have no idea if the daughter is really tall for her age, or somehow disabled, but she’s clueless as to her mom’s condition. This is annoying trope that does not make me care at all about Dylan McDermott’s arc. She’s whiney, and she goes from “I don’t want to go” to “OMG Grandpa!” took quickly.

My rewrite – Cut this.

15:08 I’m skipping ahead because I want to bail on this show, but I’m writing this blogpost. I feel like I’ve been watching this for easily 40 minutes, but no, we’re FIFTEEN minutes in. All the B-plots have been brought up: The money Dad found, the money Son owes, the Daughter have teen pregnancy problems. Also, she’s got a boyfriend on the side that I thought attractive woman was going to shoot, but that doesn’t pan out. Dear sweet deities, please let this episode end soon.

15:41 “I’ve got the dog.” The family dog runs afoul of the hostage takers now surrounding the house. Now we’re led to believe that they’re going to kill the dog, as if I needed another reason to stop watching the show. It’s not that I care so deeply about dog shooting (kids, don’t kill your dogs), but because it’s really corny to shoot the dog to prove either you’re a bad guy or that you’re thorough in your actions.

Also, I’d like to point this shot out:

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This is two hostage takers talking. In the dark. Wearing black. At night. I don’t know who is who, or which one is speaking. I’m not entirely sure that there aren’t three people in this scene. I have no idea what’s going on.

19:15 Finally we’re back to the same timeline as the opening, where the family is together on the couch and the leader has turned off the TV. He unmasks, and it’s DYLAN MCDERMOTT!

Holy shit. Not like “Holy shit, I didn’t expect that” more like “Holy shit are you kidding me?”

See, because up until this moment, we thought he was a hero. He saved those hostages. His wife has cancer. But, no, he’s the badguy. We just spent about half the show following the badguy, not knowing he was the badguy. That’s supposed to come off as crafty or clever, but instead I’m confused. Because when you have a badguy, you’re also supposed to have created enough of a hero to oppose them.

When we reveal Moriarty, we’ve already spent time learning and siding with Sherlock Holmes.

When we reveal Loki, we’ve spent other movies with the Avengers.

In this case, we spent all this time learning about Dylan McDermott, seeing him do his job, seeing his family life. And who’s our hero? The Surgeon? We know more about how good she is at her job than her family life. Her conversation with her daughter is mundane. She is pretty silent when she’s told her son is going to buy alcohol with a stack of cash. She’s pretty tepid about her husband. This is our hero? Where’s her toughness? Where’s the evidence of her strength or courage or cleverness?

When I ask the question, “How is the hero going to overcome the opposition?”, I should be able to at least see the possible avenues for this to happen. Maybe she’ll poison them. Maybe she’ll turn one against the others. Maybe she’ll alert the cops. The obvious solution here is that she’ll not botch the surgery, because we’ve spent so long hearing how great she is. But if she doesn’t botch the surgery, wouldn’t that mean the hostage takers kill her family, and doesn’t that mean she loses?

Oh good grief, we’re only about half way into this show.

My rewrite – Back to the “present”. The Chief of Staff informs the Surgeon that she’s going to kill the President, else they’ll kill her family. And if any of them alert the authorities, guess what, they’ll kill the other family members. The Chief of Staff further monologues to inform them that they’re going to be watched 24/7, and then orders Attractive Woman (who is still masked!) to collect their phones and then bug, tap, or clone them. He orders the family to finish dinner, that his team has work to do and when the Surgeon asks “How am I supposed to kill the President?” he slides her an ampule of some liquid, a contact poison derived from concentrated blah-blah-blah, that’s untraceable, etc etc. He then says that he’s posting guards in every room in her house, including her bedroom, and that they should sleep tight. He exits, leaving the masked guards to watch the family quietly and nervously eat. 

In my rewrites, I’m nearly done this episode. I could care less what happens in the actual show, because I’ve set up all the tension of the procedure, without actually doing it. I don’t want the procedure to happen just yet, because that’s the high point of the plotline – once the surgery happens, the hostage takers will either have killed the President or the Surgeon and her family, and then the show should be over. And I wouldn’t make the procedure happen TOMORROW, I’d schedule it for down the road, so that I could keep this show going more than just two weeks (pre- and post- surgery).

But no, I’m not writing this show, so on we go with the breakdown.

34:55 The hostage takers learn all the B-plots, because now we’re just filling time. We’ve had some standoffs with armed gunmen, but basically you can summarize all the scenes with “Family starts to fight back or argue, and then voluntarily backs down.” Because the kids confess their plots (debt and pregnancy, respectively) and because the husband accedes to blackmail (he’s been having an affair, or he had one, it’s unclear) and because the wife won’t cut off her finger (??), the hostage takers are still in charge.

There’s a strange moment here where Dylan McDermott, who’s gone a whole two minutes without squinting, calls his wife’s father to inquire about his daughter. They have a weird conversation, where it’s revealed that the grandfather is either being held captive by the President’s Guy (from the Limo!) or they’re partners who also happened to be the real masterminds behind killing the President. I kind of want them to be masterminds, But this is CBS, and I doubt they’ll make a gay couple over 55 who isn’t either flaming or comedic. Sigh.

35:32 One of the family members (I wasn’t paying attention) says, “What about school?” implying that if the kids are forced to stay home and be hostages, that the school will get curious. The response is given that. “It’s been taken care of.” And now I know I’m waist-deep in sloppy writing.

You know our old friends SHOW vs TELL? Here, I just got TOLD that a major plot hole (or what could be a possible plot hole) has been resolved and that both the character (and the audience) shouldn’t worry about it. I didn’t see the school get told this. I wouldn’t have really given it much thought, but since it was introduced, it had to be dealt with, and since the writers didn’t really want to deal with it, they hand-waved it away.

Writers – It’s not bad writing if you don’t address everything. No one talks about the bullets cops fire, or the paperwork after they arrest someone. No one shows the CSI labs getting cleaned by janitors. No one is going to ask when action stars stop to eat meals or shower or pee. It is bad though when you introduce something (like kids needing to go to school) and rather than make a point of it (that might further show how thorough the badguys are), you handwave it away. That’s where the bad writing happens. If you don’t want to deal with something, don’t introduce it.

41:04 It looks like Surgeon-Mom is going to go ahead and kill the President, having switched the drug with the vial of McGuffin Dylan McDermott gave her about six minutes earlier. We see her make the switch while she’s explaining (the typo I had there was ‘expaining’, and I thought it was really accurate) AGAIN that she’s really good at her job. Now the last line of the scene is “A nurse will right in to start your IV”, and for a brief second, I hoped that maybe she’d frame the nurse for killing the President (making her partially less guilty?), but NO.

Because the next scene is the Secret Service arriving en masse and the Press Corps saying “I heard something’s wrong.”

HOW. What sort of security leak would allow a journalist outside a building, surrounded by agents to somehow discover, intuit or be told something is wrong. The Secret Service wasn’t even told anything was wrong!

So that line is there to tell the audience that things didn’t go according to plan, which is nice information, if the goal of the show is to deflate our enthusiasm and tension.

41:54 We find out the rest of the tension-wrecking along with the characters, who get TOLD this via newscast. The Surgeon double-crossed the hostage takers and gives a press conference about how she’s not discouraged and “doesn’t give up that easily.” A line which makes ZERO sense in the context of a press conference (it just makes her sound arrogant) and only works as a warning to her hostage-takers that’s she’s going to be the heroine who will stop them, even though we have no idea how, and while she’s being all brave, her family should be catching bullets with their faces, as per the earlier threats.

So we’re lead to believe that either she doesn’t really care about her family, or that somehow between switching vials and walking outside, she gathered all the bravery in the world to stand up to people who may or may not have killed her family.

Thankfully, the show goes to credits after showing us one more squint for the road.

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Yeah, I’m so glad we got one more in there.

My rewrite – The Surgeon returns to work the next morning, and discovers that people she normally sees – the guy at the garage, one of the orderlies, the security guard, have all been replaced by people who give her a knowing nod – they’re all in on it, and they’re watching her at work. She goes into her office, and find a camera wired to her computer. She turns her computer on and gets an email with a video in it – her family is still held at gunpoint, and one of the masked gunman, maybe the leader says, “We’re watching you.” the video goes black, but we hear a gunshot before it ends. Surgeon looks horrified, and sits back at her desk, and the camera cuts to CCTV footage of a webcam in her office, showing that she is being watched. CREDITS. 

One thing I forgot. Remember when someone was going to shoot the dog? The son discovers this —

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and we’re led to think “Wow they did kill the dog, that’s cold.”

But later, his assigned guard reveals to the kid —

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“The drugs will wear off by tomorrow” (32:23) … wait, drugs? What drugs? Are the hostage-takers using tranquilizers and not bullets? So that all these guns we’ve seen are just for effect and at best dispense knock-outs? Is this supposed to humanize them?

I’m calling attention to this because if everyone is humanized, who are we supposed to root against? I know the trend is all for blurred lines of sympathy, but in a premise where people want the President killed, it’s okay not to like them.

Final Thoughts

Nope. There’s way better things to do with my time, like patch holes in socks, watch infomercials and play amazing games with my friends.

I sincerely hope that whatever you’re writing and creating is better than this show. And frankly, it wouldn’t be that hard.

 

My Work Process

I just wrote out my process to explain to a friend how I do what I do. It was a great chance for me to think objectively about how I do what I do, and I thought you guys on the blog might like it too. So here’s the post, with some additional formatting.

OTE: Assume everything starts at about 9am EST or as close to it as possible. 
NOTE: I work faster than most people. I know this. This isn’t me bragging or inspiring competition, it’s just sort of a given as to how I work. Accepting that was a huge step forward in going even faster and thinking even more creatively when facing problems. 

Step 1. Look over the notes I’ve left for myself from the night before. They are handwritten, usually on a notecard or pad to the left of the keyboard. I try to leave them in the same spot every night. 

Step 2. If I haven’t left the PC running a diagnostic or something overnight, I boot it up. In that minute, I go fill up a pint glass of water. 

Step 3. While I’m filling the glass and while I get back to the desk, I’m prioritizing the notes (sometimes it’s a to-do list, sometimes it’s a reminder about a meeting or an appointment) 

Step 4. In order, I turn on Spotify, Janetter (Twitter), and Chrome.  I look for any emails or notes on Facebook/Twitter that would derail anything from last night’s notes. Usually, it doesn’t, but sometimes when new things come up I insert them into the priority list for the morning. 

Step 5. I find a good playlist on Spotify. This is NOT code for “I troll Spotify to find the “perfect” list”, this is more like I take a mental snapshot of my mood and know which music I want to hear. NOTE – if I need to build a new playlist, I make a note to do it after work. 

Step 6. I check in on all the critical social media – Google+ groups, Twitter, etc. This can take anywhere from ten to twenty minutes, and if I feel this is taking “too long” (like if I’m antsy because I know there’s a ton of work ahead), I’ll break this into chunks and skip what I don’t need and do other parts later. 

Step 7. I minimize Chrome and pull open the first item of work. I get out of the chair one more time to make sure the dog has food and water and a toy. Unless she’s asleep next to me already, at which point I just get to work. 

Step 8. I work. In twenty to thirty minute chunks. My phone and tablet are on the desk, but both are face down, covered and on silent. I won’t check either of them until lunch. 

Step 9. I work in bursts (I can’t easily describe HOW I work – imagine a tagcloud of constantly swirling concepts and ideas that rotates and flashes while I build a document in my head and then copy it onto the screen).

Step 10. When I need to refill the pint glass, I check the phone. If there’s no missed calls, it goes back down. If there are any, I make a note (mentally) to call them back either at lunch or later in the day.

Step 11. I’m pretty good at mentally tracking time, so either 1 project for the day gets done or it’s been about an hour or so. I take the dog for a walk and lay out in my head the next two or three things I have to do when i get back to the desk. This is also my first chance to eat something since breakfast. I pick small things that won’t leave my fingers sticky and that I can eat from a plate or dish to the left of the monitor, that I don’t have to really look at to chew. Usually that’s carrots, cherry tomatoes, celery with peanut butter. Yesterday it was cold roast beef with horseradish on toast bits. (I had it in the fridge). I practice mindful eating while I sit at the desk. Or as mindful as you can be while thinking about the next two or three things to do.

Step 12. I repeat the bursts until lunch time. I check the phone again, cross items off my notes and make sure I’m fully away from the desk while I have lunch. If I go out (like I will today, to pick up a salad), I make sure that when I get home, I DO NOT EAT in front of the PC. I realized that when I do that, I tend to overeat and get anxious. What I’ve been doing lately is reading a book while eating. I spend about 45 minutes eating and reading. This is also when I figure out what video I want to record next, and if possible, talk my way through it a time or two to see if it doesn’t suck. 

Step 13. I return to the desk and note the time. I don’t work past 3pm unless we’re near a convention or if I’m doing a workshop that night. I work until 3, then wrap things up.

Step 14. My wrap up process involves starting notes for the next day, invoicing what I need to and making whatever phone calls I need to. Once all that is done (I’ll finish the notes for tomorrow before I go to bed, so the list isn’t set in stone), I walk the dog again, usually longer, then come home and either do some housework or something creative to stretch my brain but that I’m not getting paid for — I think of new games, I explore an idea in my Idea Folder in Dropbox, I watch something stimulating or play a video game (lately this has been Tiger Woods golf). 

Step 15. Before I go to bed (about an hour before), I sit back down and go over the day. I weigh my successes out, celebrate them, and note the negatives, but don’t kick my own ass about them. They’re awesome things I just haven’t gotten to yet, but I will. I finish the notes for the next morning, then go read a book for an hour. 

By this point I’ve lined up the next day’s work pretty clearly and balanced all the other demands on my time. I sleep well because of it. 

The new camera equipment arrives at some point today, so I think the video I record either later tonight or tomorrow will explore these ideas more completely.

Rock on.