Nicholas Reicher

Writing Your Next Blockbuster Film or Novel

Month: September 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Writing Your Novel 5: Conflict and Character

The essence of your story is this:
Your logline.

A man with a problem is having an okay life, when suddenly he something and needs something. The villain plans to stop him. Everything the hero tries does not succeed until with one last ditch effort, it happens, the villain is defeated, and he lives happily ever after.

What does this boil down to?
Someone wants, needs to do or needs to prevent something.

Your job is to stop them from getting it for as long as possible. In essence, you, the author, are the real villain. You’re just foisting it off onto some dude.

There’s two essential frameworks – Event trigger, or time trigger. A time trigger means you have a deadline. 3 Days of the Condor was a movie like this, based upon Seven Days of the Condor, the book. There was a real deadline. If this is your first time on this blog, you’ll find out this is literally one of my favorite movies!
Event triggers could be, I skipped school, and someone saw me. Now I have to get home before they do, so I can tell my mom first it’s not true.
Then you throw every last thing in the way, your character grows and matures through all the nonsense, gets home seconds before the other person and says… mom, I skipped school today.

A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan shows that you can write one that literally is a combination of both. It starts with needing to capture all the bridges in Holland in three days. Quickly the framework changes from deadline to plot trigger, as the 3rd SS Panzercorps under Bittrich and Model begin to surround the British forces on day 8.
Yes, day 8. The frightening thing about the book is – it’s nonfiction! By the way, let me get on a soapbox now and say that putting American troops under British command is the wrong approach. Put everything under American command, and you win the day! Pay attention to the scene where Field Marshal Von Rundsted and Model are talking, and Model predicts Patton will be the general to attack Holland. Von Rundsted agrees, saying, “I would prefer Montgomery, but even Eisenhower is not that stupid.”
Montgomery led the attack.

Conflict is story. No conflict, no story. My Countdown to Armageddon story is both plot Trigger and deadline. It’s mostly deadline, as there’s a looming 7 years until the end, and that deadlines creeps and creeps and creeps… every day…
And it’s plot driven, as drastic events such as plague, earthquakes, genocides, etc. Begin to decimate the population of the earth.

Let’s talk about character. Story framework is fine. Set up your conflicts, figure it out to the nth degree. But if you don’t have the right character, it falls apart.
Last Man On Earth with Vincent Price featured a Vincent Price character as the last man on earth, among people who are driven to kill him, because he’s alive and they’re dead.
Change the character to a Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry type character, and you have the Omega Man. Same story. Just a change of the lead character.

You have your story. Characters drive the story. If your story is not going, you haven’t defined your character.
Some people believe in writing out 60 page analysis of who your character is, where they grew up, etc. I’ve found one or two of those that are good, but I end up having to edit them, because morals in todays society seem to be nonexistent, and not everything needs to be analyzed in your character. If you have to delve into that in your novels, then you don’t have much of a story.
Take the high road in your story morally, at all times. As an author, you subtly influence lives and thinking.Much of my values growing up were imparted by Robert Heinlein, a man with little in the way of moral structure (his pre-1960’s books were good – something happened in the 60’s to change Heinlein, sadly)

Make your character strong, Make them memorable. Make them someone people want to be or emulate or love.
Then make them flawed.

Carpenter in my first draft of my novels was strong, a Clint Eastwood type. Aggressive, blunt, a leader.
As I re-wrote the books, something happened. He became flawed. Devastated by the loss of his wife, he is a haunted man, struggling to find things to fill his empty life, desperate to not break down sobbing every night over the loss.
Suddenly he’s real.
Essentially, I put myself in Carpenter’s predicament – what would happen to me in that situation?
I’d end up going through the motions, unwilling to talk to people, just trying to find things to keep me going minute by minute, paralyzed by bouts of grief that nobody else knows exists. So, that’s what I did to Carpenter.

Your characters drive your stories. If they’re not driving it, they’re the wrong characters.

Writing Novels Step 4: Save The Cat

On to step 4 of how to write novels!
We’re going to talk about the Save The Cat and the 21 point template now. I’ve talked about those before on this blog, but this is an appropriate spot to talk about it again!

When I first began working on my screenplays, I somehow got it wrong, and read that you need 4 acts. So, I wasn’t making any real progress. Then of course, I kept running into references to Blake Snyder and the “Save The Cat” book.

I would have been more skeptical if I’d done research on Blake Snyder first. See, he’s sold several movies!

Only two of them ever got filmed, both for Disney. But he made millions during the time that Paramount began trying to do a takeover of the movie industry, and spec scripts were selling for millions and never got filmed. Like “Nuclear Family”, written by Blake Snyder and sold for 1.8 Million. Still sitting in a Script Vault somewhere.

But one thing Snyder is really good at… is writing how to books.
Was this his way to make money in between million dollar movie deals? You betcha.
And his system is GOOD.

1 — Opening Image 0:00:00
A visual or scene that sets the tone of the story and introduces the protagonist.

2 — The Theme Stated 0:05:00
A scene that sets up or teases the message or essential truth of your story.

3 — Set-Up 0:00 to 10:00
Scenes that introduce the characters’ world, introduce supporting characters, and point to changes to come.

4 — Catalyst / Inciting Incident 12:00
The surprise moment that turns the protagonist’s world upside down and kicks off the main plot.

5 — Debate 12:00 to 25:00
Tension mounts and the protagonist ponders whether to undertake the journey. What is at stake?

6 — Break into Act II 25:00
The protagonist chooses to take action and the journey begins; protagonist enters a new and strange experience.

7 — B-Story 30:00
The protagonist learns about the theme, usually with the aid of a mentor, friend, or love interest

8 — Fun and Games 30:00 to 55:00
The conflict kicks into high gear: bad guys attack, lovers fight, mysteries deepen

9 — Midpoint 55:00
The second big turning point: Goals are achieved… but a reversal upsets the plan. This story is far from finished.

10 — Bad Guys Close In 55:00 to 75:00
Troubles pile up in the fallout from the Midpoint, either from literal “bad guys” or the hero’s flaws and doubts.

11 — Crisis / All Is Lost 75:00
The opposite moment from the Midpoint: A disaster that makes the goal appear to be impossible

12 — Dark Night of the Soul 75:00 to 85:00
In the aftermath of the Crisis, the hero hits rock bottom emotionally as everything falls apart.

13 — Break into Act III 85:00
The B-Story [7] returns to provide fresh ideas or a new inspiration, derived from the Theme [2].

14 — Finale 85:00 to 110:00
The protagonist tries again, drawing on experience and understanding of the Theme in the climactic sequence.

15 — Final Image 110:00
The flip side of the Opening Image [1], showing how the protagonist and the world have changed.

This is the Save The Cat template. I got this summary of it from the Evernote template (sorry, I don’t know who to credit for this!). If it works for MOVIES, it’ll work for BOOKS.

So someone made a Excel spreadsheet calculator for Save The Cat for novels. You’ll have to google search, because I have it saved but I don’t remember where it came from (Jami Gold?). You can use that to plan out your novel.

Now, these beats are NOT sufficient! If you rely solely on this to get your book written, you’ll fail miserably.
So, do this…
Act 1
Act 2
Act 3

Now add Scenes 1-7 in between. This is my 21 point template. You need roughly 40 beats to complete a movie, and that’s a good structure starting point for novels.
Act 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Act 2
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Act 3
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1
Scene 1

My experience shows me that if you put the Save The Cat beats in there, you now have about 9 beats or so to fill in. It’s getting better!

Now, you need about 19 more beats to complete your story.

This is where the corkboard in Scrivener shines! You fill in your save the cat synopsis (and your story specific details) in each index card. Make sure you do your 21 cards, then… add 19 more.

Once you have your synopsis written on all 40 cards, it’s time to start. Don’t worry! You’ll know if its working or not by a sudden slowdown in your writing! That means what you’re writing is not conforming to what you put on the corkboard! So… change the corkboard to make it work!

If you want concrete examples of how to do it, Blake Snyder’s website has many movies broken down into their Save The Cat. But I recommend even novelists getting Save The Cat to study (the book, not the program!).

This is your last phase of planning the story.

Writing Novels Step 3: Planning your Novel


Pant’sers and planners.
Every writer tends to be a little along the line of a pant’ser. You’re writing by the seat of your pants.
“What happens next?” “Won’t know till I write it!”
But if you want your book to succeed and get finished, you’re going to have to plan it. Otherwise, you end up with what Jerry Jenkins calls the “Maunder of the middle.”
If you want to avoid writer’s block, then planning is also your best friend.
Take your cork board, and on every scene, write a brief one or two sentence synopsis on it. If you’re using the 30 chapter template, put it ABOVE the summary that’s already there. That way you see what it has to say, PLUS how you plan to do it.
“Quint buys piano strings.”
“Hooper loses the tooth.”
“Chief Brody makes faces at his son” Etc.

This step will ensure you don’t get partway through and abandon it.

Two phrases to get in your mind!

Proper planning prevents poor performance.
Writers block only means you have nothing to say.

If you get halfway through a novel (like I just did) and hit a stopping point – you didn’t plan it. There’s two pieces of software that will help – Dramatica (VERY expensive) and Contour. Contour is more aimed at writing movies than novels, so you’re kind of stuck, unless you manually do it.
Take your characters, and notate in your research sections the following thoughts.

“How will character A be impacted by Character B?” And so on. Most of the time, the answer will be, “They won’t.”
But there needs to be some interaction between characters. Your protagonist usually has someone who helps them or focuses them, or they change in some way, assisted by the impact character. In the case of detective fiction, not really – but they need someone to hire them to solve (something). That’s your impact character.
So, usually, you’ve got

  • Protagonist (hero)
  • Antagonist (villain)
  • Impact character.

Now, there’s a whole gamut of character archetypes that you can use. The Wanderer, the teacher, the wise man, the mystic, the fool, the dropout, the thief, etc. I’m really not going to go into all that here. Other people have done that research, and since I haven’t, I’d be plagiarizing. If you’re interested, then study that.

Suffice it to say, you should know what’s going to happen in every chapter, every scene. You need to know how to get to Scene 16 from 15. If you know all this, plan it out. Your book will write itself VERY quickly.

How quickly?

Two months.

Writing Novels Step 2: Setup Scrivener

After getting Scrivener registered, here’s what I suggest… go and do two searches on the internet.

  • Free Scrivener templates
    Free name files for Scrivener

You’ll find some of both. You’ll also find someone who’s charging for his templates. Okay, I guess, but most of us prefer our templates to be USED. The “Free name files for Scrivener” search will yield a gentleman who spent a LOT of valuable time compiling more name lists for Scrivener. You want those. Install those on a day when you’re doing something. Some name files take up to 30 minutes to install.

Now, you want to start a Scrivener project. I’ve learned from one man, who suggests using the fiction templates even for non-fiction! Well! That’s actually a really great idea!

Try a project from each template. Save your first project to Dropbox. The rest after that should automatically try to save to Dropbox. (important – you don’t want your computer to crash and lose EVERYTHING!) The template I like the most is actually not even mine – it’s the 30 chapter template! That one has great info on how to set up your novel’s pacing, and it showed me where my first novel was broken! I may contact the author, and ask if I can import his headers (or variations of them) into my setup.
Try one of each. See which one you like best.

Next, I like to go to the View menu, and add icon color to… almost everything. I don’t like it in the outliner. Aside from that, I like it colorful. It inspires me. Although when I’m writing a longer scene, I’ll often go to full screen mode.


This part’s pretty easy to do. Under the file-backup menu, you’ll see “back up to…”. Choose that. Go to Dropbox, and create a folder called “Scrivener Backups”. Set ALL of your projects to back up to that directory. They’ll create a zip file of your project to use in case something goes wrong.

Now, you’re ready to start writing!
But first…


Create a folder in your My Documents – pictures for stories. You can’t directly save any images you need for your novels into Scrivener. They have to be imported from a folder INTO your story. Not the best way to do it, but okay. Some people apparently like to have an image on the fullscreen mode.
I do in one novel, don’t in the rest. In my character profiles, I do import pictures for some characters. Well, only one. But it was important. And I have images for the locations. Yes, you want to fill all that out!

But we’ll talk about that more in the planning section.

Writing Novels: Step 1: Buy Scrivener

This is the essential first step. $40. That’s it. That’s all there is between you and your first book.

Not $150, not $250 like you’re buying Final Draft! Just $40. If you save ten dollars a week by bringing a bag lunch and skipping morning coffees from 7-11, you’ll have the money in 4 weeks.

I’ve abandoned every other program for writing, at this point. I’m so connected with Scrivener, that I see the interface and I know I’m ready to write.

When you buy Scrivener, they give you a license number. Save that. I printed it to PDF, saved it in my email, and later, added it to Evernote. I want to make sure no matter what, that’s preserved for me!
Here’s the official information you need to get Scrivener started.

Scrivener is download-only, so if you have not done so already, you will need to download and install the trial version:

1) Download the trial version by clicking on the download link on the product page:
2) When prompted, choose to save the file to disk (it is usually better to save it than to run it directly). If you are not prompted, your browser will most likely save the file to your Downloads folder.
3) In Windows Explorer, navigate to the location you chose to save the file in step (2) and then double-click on the file entitled “Scrivener-installer.exe”.
4) Follow the on-screen instructions.
5) Once you have followed these instructions, launch Scrivener via the Windows Start menu. (Scrivener will not start automatically after install.) You can now delete the Scrivener-installer.exe file if you so wish.
When the trial launches and you get to the nag box that tells you how much of the trial period you have remaining, click on the “Enter Licence…” button and enter the user name and serial number exactly as they appear above. (Note that the serial number is tied to the user name, so it is a good idea to copy and paste both, being careful not to copy any extra blank spaces at the end of the serial number.) Alternatively, while running Scrivener, yo u can select “Registration…” from the Help menu. Entering your licence information into the trial version turns it into the full version (that is, removes the time limit).
We strongly recommend that you go through the interactive tutorial project (available from the Help menu inside Scrivener or from the “Getting Started” section of the project template chooser panel) to get up and running and learn Scrivener’s major features before starting your own projects. The interactive tutorial is by far the fastest and best way to get to grips with how Scrivener works.

Please also feel free to ask any questions on our forums:
This order confirmation contains both your receipt and registration details, so please be sure to save this information and keep it somewhere safe. (Please note that because we are a small shareware company, we are unable to provide printed receipts via the post.)
Happy writing!

I’m going to tell you the most important parts of the above… copy and paste your user name and serial number. BE AWARE that there’s always an empty space at the end of it. DO NOT COPY THAT SPACE!!! It’s going to really irritate you because you won’t be able to register it if you do.
Second… DO NOT DELETE YOUR INSTALL FILE! Keep it. Move it to Dropbox. That way, no matter what, you’ll always have Scrivener ready to install.
We’re ready to begin writing!

Banishing Fear… Write your Book!

I’m kind of surprised to read that a lot of people want to write books, and just don’t. There’s apparently a very real fear of “What if I’m not good?”
Okay, let’s deal with that. How were you the first time you rode a bike? Were you like Lance Armstrong, going at a high rate of speed up and down hills? Or was it a wobbly fear filled jaunt?
The first time you tried Martial Arts, or even Tae Kwan Do (Yes, I wrote it that way on purpose!)? Were you Chuck Norris, or were you a clumsy embarrassed person?
Same with swimming. Dog paddle, or did Mark Spitz climb out of the pool, vowing he’d been bested?

The point is, the first violin lesson doesn’t make you Niccolo Paganini. Everyone starts somewhere. My first movie script was terrible! The novels I started and never finished are… probably best left that way!

You have to sit down at your computer, open Scrivener or YWriter, and write… “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Write! You’re not Schwartzeneggar the first time you lift weights! And you’re not Hemingway (who I’m actually not that fond of) the first time you write either!

Buy Scrivener. If you’re living hand to mouth like most writers are, then get Ywriter until you can afford it.
One word at a time. One scene at a time.
Will you be terrible? Of course! NOBODY is amazing the first time out!
Will you get better? Of course you will! The more you write, the better you get! Schwartzeneggar got stronger as he lifted weights! Chuck Norris got better every time he practiced!
Will it be good enough for other people to want to read? Nobody knows the answer to that question. I don’t know if MY fiction is good enough. I’ll know when a publisher reads my stuff and says, “Sign here.”


If you’ve got a story to tell, tell it. It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough – the idea is, you want to write. You’ve got a story. Tell it.
Then write another one.
Then another.

The only difference between successful writers and unsuccessful ones is often just this – the successful ones tried to hone their craft.
Get Better.

I’m told that there’s a very successful author who subscribed to Writer’s digest, studied and highlighted a lot, and then began to review his writing, applying it. He ended up getting signed, then putting out one book after another, getting on the bestsellers’ list every time.
Some guy named John Grisham.


Will the first novel be good?
Heavens, no!

Will it get better? After a couple of re-writes, YES!

Will you get published? Maybe. Maybe not. A lot of good books never get published, and a lot of bad ones do. I’ve ranted lately about needed changes in both the movie industry and the publishing industry.

Write short stories. Write novels. Work on your craft.
And stop denying yourself this.

Trying to make sure my commenting system works…

Can someone please post a comment so I can see if my commenting system is working?

5 Must Have Computer Programs for the Novelist

Like Michael Hyatt, I strongly believe in recommending programs I use a lot. I’ve found if I keep silent about a program, it just… disappears! Like Quicksite Website Builder. I loved that program back in the 1990’s.
So what am I using, and for what? Let’s take a look!

Scrivener. I can’t talk enough about how great this program is. I’ve written blog posts both recommending it, and trying to expose the madness of trying to use Libreoffice, Open Office or Microsoft Office to write a book. Scrivener has a million features that speed up the writing process alarmingly. No more “seven years to write a book”! Scrivener has a corkboard to pin ideas and scenes on, templates for locations and characters to fill in descriptions and bio’s, and more! I also write this blog in it. The eBooks I’ll be giving away in the future will also be written in Scrivener. And once I take the plunge into social media, I’ll be planning my writers’ platform campaigns on it.
Dropbox. Dropbox is more than just a cloud backup service. If you connect to a publisher or a producer via a shared folder, they know when you’re working on something. Just enough to make you paranoid when you get the dreaded message, “so and so edited your shared file…”. A recent corruption of my Windows and the mess from resetting everything has made me a sincere believer in Cloud Storage. I save all my movie scripts and my Scrivener writing files to Dropbox!
Evernote. The description of this I got from Michael Hyatt really wasn’t enough. He described it as a “note taking research tool” – but Evernote’s staff describes this as “Your brain on the internet”. They’re not wrong! I used to print PDF’s on my hard drive for later study and research, but that stopped when I got Evernote. Many Evernote users are transferring to OneNote, which makes no sense to me… I’m finding a million uses for Evernote. Seriously, I hope this service keeps going for another 50 years, so I don’t have to live without it! I clip images, web pages, Zillow house listings, articles, bookmarks! I make to do lists, notes to my self, journal entries (when I remember to! Aaaugh!), ideas, lists, appointments, contact info… and a hundred other things I’m forgetting.
Final Draft. There is no substitute for writing Screenplays. I think that Screenplay writing is a necessary skill for novelists to learn – nothing else will teach you how to be CONCISE with your words, and hard hitting with dialogue, beats and emotional impact. I know there’s other software out there for writing Screenplays… but this is really the only one you should get. Save up for it, and try Fade In until you can afford Final Draft.
Dramatica. It’s huge, bulky, poorly explained it its documentation, clunky, ugly… and there’s no substitute to make you THINK your way through your novels! It asks a million really annoying questions about how your characters interact. Your supporting character has a character arc … so how does that impact the protagonist? ARGH! A Million questions like that! It’s great. Expensive. Use Contour while you save up for it.


These are the five programs I cannot do without as a writer!

What programs do you use and recommend? Do you have a different use for the ones above? Discuss it below!

Life Saving reasons not to speed!

Back in the 80’s, I was a new driver. Living in New England, unless you have to drive a long distance, you really didn’t need to drive. No kidding, I was 20 before I learned to drive.

So, driving to college, I was in the left most lane, doing the speed limit because I was scared of getting a ticket. I shortly had a car with a Massachusetts license plate tailgating me, the driver making gestures, honking, and shouting. His face was red, eyes bulging, and if he had any risky cell walls in his brain, he was dangerously close to an aneurysm from sheer rage.
He was able to get around me, then tried to slow to about 40 miles an hour. If this was you reading it, I’m getting my revenge by outing your really dangerous behavior!
I simply changed lanes and kept driving the speed limit. He roared past me, unable to keep harassing me.

Why should you drive the speed limit?

Simple math gives you the reasons to slow down. The conversion rate is roughly 1.34 or so… round up slightly to get a more accurate figure. Driving 45 miles an hour is roughly 67 or so feet per second. You need to add reaction time as well. It takes roughly 1.5 seconds to react to anything. At 45 miles per hour, that means that you will have traveled around 105 feet by the time you recognize something has changed, and you must take action.

At 65 miles an hour, the numbers of course are much higher. Its now almost 100 feet a second, and you will travel 150 feet by the time you realize something is wrong and try to react. That’s half a football field, if you need to visualize that.

You’ve gone from one end to the very middle.

At 75 miles an hour, to react to something, you will travel almost 180 feet before you start to react. You’re outrunning headlights at night, and literally by the time you see the broken down car in your lane at that speed you’ve hit it – and probably killed whoever was inside it, plus yourself.

Another Reason to drive the speed limit – and avoid the left lane

Road rage is not isolated anymore, like my incident. In my city, two people have been murdered over road rage. Several others hacked up with knives, others shot. In my case, smart driving and understanding traffic pressures removed the problem (not to mention I was wearing a T shirt extolling Karate, which was visible to him as he passed by me, and probably dissuaded him from trying to turn it into a roadside brawl).

Avoid being a “left lane bandit”. If you drive the speed limit or slower, choose the right lane. Road Rage incidents are up drastically over previous years. You’ll still get to your destination in the right lane! It’s not worth someone shooting you. And they will.

Tailgating and brake checking gets people killed. Don’t do it. Stay in the right lane, listen to relaxing music, drive with a smile on your face, and avoid ANY eye contact with any other driver. Be in your own little world, stay alert, stay safe.

And stay alive.

The Unseen Benefit of Daily Journaling

I try to do daily journaling in Evernote. Right now, it’s hit or miss. I guess really what I should do is come up with my own template, since the two I found for free are pretty… I don’t know. If the flow, format and functionality of something doesn’t work for me, I end up not using it. It’s one major reason I use Evernote and not OneNote (the other reason being – remember LiveWriter? Shut down. Remember Microsoft Money? I’m sure two years from now, OneNote will be gone as well).
But why journal? In my case, I’m carrying around a little notebook with me everywhere. I write down ideas as they come to me. Journaling is an extension of this.

You can get more ideas for stories as you journal. Writing is an exercise. Every time you do it (especially if you’re reading books on it) you should be getting better.
You can flesh out scenes as you journal. “Should I have Captain Hook swing in on a rope, or just kick in the door?” Further journaling will reveal the difficulty of a one handed man swinging on a rope.
It records plans that you may otherwise forget. Reading what I’ve noted later on often reveals plot twists I’d completely forgotten about later!

Give it a try. As a writer, you’re writing anyway!

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