Nicholas Reicher

Writing Your Next Blockbuster Film or Novel

Category: Novels (Page 1 of 5)

The Next Steps in the Novel Challenge

Okay, in the last few days, we got the mechanical stuff set up for the novel. We’re about to really start our planning soon, but today should be the last of the mechanical stuff.

Open your project (you can actually save a link on your desktop, and open it that way too). We need to put a scene or two for every chapter. Click on the chapter in the binder (that’s the left column). It’ll show a corkboard. left click on it, then press CTRL+N. If you do it twice, you get two scenes. For now, let’s do one scene.

Did you do your 60 plot points? If you did your math, you’ll see it’s going to be roughly one plot point per scene. Now it’s just all the “He said” and “She shouted angrily”. BTW, of course, if she’s shouting, it’s… angrily. Edit the line to “She shouted.” We can infer the anger part.

If you were able to come up with 60 plot points, you’ll need two scenes per chapter. If you were only able to come up with 30, it’s going to be one scene per chapter. I’ve used up to 7 scenes per chapter. More than that, and the chapter starts to drag.

Scenes, by the way, do not have to be 1600 words long. I’ve written 300 word scenes. I tend to list them as 400 words (action snippet), 600 words (short scene), 900 words (medium scene), 1200 words+ (long scene).

This is part of “directing from the pen”. You’re going to control the pacing of your novel by choosing scene length. If your book is starting to drag as you write it, switch it up and resort to action snippets. If the pace is going too fast, you need to throw in a medium to long scene.

The same thing works with sentences. I’ve already got my writer’s voice, so my sentences tend to be uncontrolled – they are what they are. For now, start thinking in terms of writing shorter sentences to speed things up, longer sentences to slow them down. Compound sentences mean the same thing as compound fracture – something’s broken.

So, for now, make one scene per chapter, and be prepared to make three or four.

Take EACH plot point in your list, and put them in the synopsis in each scene (you have to have scenes – if you try writing your novel in the chapters, you’re in for a rude surprise when you print this thing out).

Last mechanical items you need to do:

Get Evernote if you didn’t do that yesterday. Just use the free plan for now – authors are notorious for being broke. Install the Evernote clipper plugin to your browser. Trust me on this. You’re going to do a TON of research, and you’re going to need something to hold all that research. Evernote is my default storage. it’s MUCH better than the old days when I’d save something to PDF.

Eventually, on a slow month I’m not researching something, or if they offer me the business trial again, I’m going to import every last PDF on my hard drive and get RID of them! Well, not the E-book ones I’ve paid for.

Get a pack of Tul pens. Up to you if you like blue ink or black, fine point or medium. But nothing writes like a Tul.

get a small notebook you can bring with you to jot things down with. Even if you bought the Full Focus Planner, be prepared to carry a notebook around. Get into the habit of jotting down EVERY thought you have about your novel. I’m going to talk about the writer’s notebook tomorrow, and show you how to set it up.

Writing a log line for your novel

Loglines are essential to writing movies. There are entire books and seminars about writing log lines.

Recently, I got a book from Writer’s Digest where one of the authors advocated using loglines as a blueprint for writing novels – except they were completely unfamiliar with loglines, and essentially were re-inventing the wheel.

Loglines are a one or two sentence summation of a movie. “An amateur boxer down on his luck gets the shot at the big time when a professional boxer chooses him for an opponent for a big time boxing match, and a chance at the same time to win the love of his sweetheart.”

There you go. Rocky. I’ve actually never seen it, and people tell me it’s a great movie. All I know is that Stallone set an all time record for writing a screenplay that I have to beat – he wrote the movie in eight hours, sitting up all night in front of a typewriter after watching a boxing match on TV.

So at some point, I have to write one in seven hours!

Karl Iglesias summed it up with a template that reads, “(title) is a (genre) about a (description of hero) who, after (inciting incident) wants to (outer goal) by (plan of action). This becomes increasingly difficult because (complications and obstacles)”.

That’s a little wordy for me – I tend to like action. A punch in the nose really eliminates a lot of dialogue.

so, Karl has loglines for people like me, too. “(title) is a (genre) about a (description of hero) who must (outer goal) or else (dire consequences)”.

Like… “Die Hard is an action/thriller/police drama about a cop from New York who must defeat a group of heavily armed terrorists that have taken hostages or his estranged wife and the other hostages will be killed.”

There’s a lot that’s not there. But this is where we start planning our novel!

I’m inclined to throw out another log line: “Deep Hurting is about a temp worker who is shot into space and forced to watch bad movies by two evil scientists, and must resist being driven mad by the movies or they will enslave the world.”

Mike is better than Joel.

Anyway (!), now you’ve got the formula.

This is your first step to determine what your novel will be – an actually, it’s essentially what you do anyway – but there’s no conscious decision to force the log line to plot your novel.

So, write your log line, right now. Open Scrivener, go to your new project (if you haven’t made one yet, shame on you, we did it yesterday!) and you’re going to write your log line in the right hand window of the inspector, in the window labeled “Project Notes”. If you don’t see the inspector, click the blue “I” button. 

We’re almost ready!

Getting your novel off to a right start

I’m of course always reading, studying, trying to improve. Experts tell us this is the character trait of a successful novelist and screenplay writer. It’s not something I’ve cultivated, it’s just how I am.

One of the things I’ve stressed is that if this isn’t an essential part of your personality, then you need to take steps to make that part of your personality!

Whenever I’ve taken up anything new, I try to immerse myself in it. I try to read everything on it I can get my hands on.

Writing a novel is daunting the first time you try it. It’s so daunting, such a huge job, that many people work at it for years upon years upon years and never see the end of the tunnel.

If that sounds like you, I’m telling you, it’s not as hard as your making it. You’re just floundering, and haven’t found your way. You can write a short novel in 30 days, edit it in another 30, and have it on your publisher’s desk by the end of 90 days.

What you really need is a blueprint, or a road map. Many books on writing novels will give you that blueprint, but no worries – I’m giving it to you now.

The beginning of a novel is called the set up. This is important. you must show your main character, called the protagonist, in their normal life. Why is this important? Because you want to show how their life has changed at the end of the story. This is important for the reader. You know you did your job well if they continue the novel in their imagination past the ending of the book.

The setup has to continue until you’ve firmly established this is their life – and no longer.  Usually this takes chapters 1-3, but depending on how free or sparing you are with your words, this could take less time.

Now you have to move onto the Inciting Incident. This is the one incident that motivates the protagonist to do something. Here’s a simple math formula – if your protagonist allows things to happen, book=boring. If your protagonist makes things happen, book=good.

If you complain, “but my novel needs him to sit back and wait for things to happen!”, then your book is going to be lame. Sorry, but this is the facts. Your protagonist must DO something.

What must they do? Hey, look, I’m not writing your novel for you! Well, I could, but it would be really expensive! You have to decide for yourself what they’re going to do, and how they’re going to do it.

Now you have to invent all kinds of obstacles to their getting it!

In Lord of The Rings, Frodo is basically told by Gandalf he needs to bring the Ring to Rivendell. Well, now you’ve got the 9 riders after him. Merry and Pippin are trying to get him there, but they’re prone to taking the wrong way and getting them embroiled in adventures. They end up at Bree and getting into trouble there, and the 9 riders find their rooms – but they’ve fled.

See the setup of goal, and blocks? Frodo has one simple thing to do. If he gets the Ring to Rivendell, and Elrond tosses it into a smelting forge and that’s the end of it, you’ve got a dull short story.

So add Merry and Pippin, who’re going to lead Frodo into trouble.

Add the 9 riders. There’s now peril beyond a simple journey and getting lost.

Tom Bombadil serves as the Guardian of knowledge, and helps them, but only to a point, where they can be handed off to Elrond, the next Guardian of knowledge.

They get into a scrape at Bree. Weathertop and the Wraiths.

Nothing is simple about a simple journey from Hobbiton to Rivendell.

Then, after numerous adventures, he finally gets there – and is told he’s still got to go to Mordor and toss the Ring into the volcano it was forged in.

These are the setup and blocks. Frodo has simple tasks, but the blocks preventing him are legendary. It’s why the LOTR series has sold millions. Every step of the way sounds do-able, until you get to the whole “take it to Mordor, right under Sauron’s nose and watching eye, slip past all the watchers and sentries, bypass a million orcs, and destroy the ring.” And even THEN, Tolkien gives you a giant spider, armies of Orcs, The watchers, a waterfall, battles, the lands of the dead, forests of living trees, Sauruman, the palantir, flying wraiths, etc. Every roadblock is literally increasing tension literally to the point the books fail. And you know what keeps you reading, the frank admission from one character, right at the point you’re about to toss the book, that if all this was a book, they were at the point you’d want to toss the book! clever. It’s never been done before, and because Tolkien did it cleverly, it can never be done again!

Act 1 is 25% of your book, act 2 is 50% of your book, and act 3 is 25% of your book, including the epilogue.

So here’s the important part. You need plot points, 50-60 of them. One writer likes to describe them as “Story sparks”, something that your mind seizes on and thinks, “That’s really neat, I’m putting that in my book.”  Weathertop is a story spark. Strider and the hobbits running into the stone trolls from the Hobbit is a story spark. The Barrow downs is a story spark. Technically, they’re called “plot points”. Dramatica calls them “signposts”, and the spaces between “journeys”. Whatever you call them, you need at least 40, and 60 is better. I can tell you that LOTR had more than 60 plot points in the first book alone.

“So, Do I just sit down and write out numbers 1-60, and just write down what my plot points are?”

Yup. The more you have, the better.

This is why I constantly say “plan your work, and work your plan.” Remember the 5P principle!

“How do I keep people reading?”

Promises and payoffs. If you promise something in the book, you’ve got to pay it off. My short story “The Island” had several promises – repeated references to the drowning of Mike (you knew before the end of the story that Ernie was going to drown Ruthie), the mention of the icepick in the store, the repeated information that only two could survive, and several mentions of 9 people on the island. Every murder was a payoff. The icepick was a payoff. Ernie drowning Ruthie was a payoff. The subtle antagonism between Cary and Ernie was a promise, and it had a payoff.

If you show a pistol as a decoration in act 1, it had better go off in act 2 or three. Someone’s got a bejeweled dagger? Someone better get stabbed with it. Cliff? Someone falls over it. Most of the time (here’s the joy of writing novels), you write something, and suddenly you realize you just wrote a promise of something. Now you know completely by accident that you’ve got to deliver the payoff!

Conclusion

This article alone isn’t enough to write a novel, but it’s enough to get you started! If you start going through my web site, you’ll run across a myriad of articles written to help you get your novel written.

The goal is – plan now. Because we’re writing a novel from January of 2018 through until March 30, 2018! I’ve got an entire series of writing tips on Twitter every day @NSReicher that will help poke and prod you into planning your novel, then writing it! I’ll host additional tips on my Facebook Author’s page, so check that out as well!

no more dreaming about writing a novel. You’re going to do it.

Starting your novel project in Scrivener

The first thing you’re going to do is get Scrivener, and then get the template. I’m probably going to try a mystery, because I’ve never written one. We’ll try something new together. Besides, I want to try a mystery because right now, Hallmark is accepting mystery novels. Because of Hallmark’s requested novel length, I’m going to set Feb. 15 as my deadline. It’s probably about 5 more than I need, but once you go past a 30 day goal, expect interruptions. That’s why I raise an eyebrow at the whole “Write a book in six months” concept. If it’s that long, it’s not happening.

So, file—new project—and choose a template. I usually use the 30 chapter template, because someone did a great job of assembling a workable outline. Do a search for “FREE SCRIVENER TEMPLATES”. A lot of people work against Scrivener (believe it or not) in the way they set up their templates. All of your novel MUST be enclosed in a folder called Manuscript. Some people like to rename this folder, and actually, they’re working against themselves. Any time someone follows convention and names it something else, that means they’ve got to rename that in every template they find. I literally won’t try a template if they rename manuscript. So for me, it’s either the 30 chapter template, or my own.

Choose your default location as “Dropbox”, assuming you have Dropbox. If not, don’t do anything yet – go to the Dropbox website, get the Dropbox program, sign in, and THEN choose your save location as Dropbox. There’s a reason for this. If your laptop crashes or gets stolen, or you spill water on it, your novel will be saved. All you have to do is get a new computer, install Scrivener and Dropbox, and you’ll find your novel right there! (BTW, I’m going to make the plea you get Evernote also, and that you store your passwords in it. This way, everything you save will be in Evernote as well).

Your project will now open in Scrivener.

The way Scrivener works, you  can’t write in chapters – you have to write in scenes. I had found a murder mystery template, but it was bare bones, no headlines to tell you what to write when. The 30 chapter template is set up for you. Be prepared to add notes to the synopsis – we’re going to do this soon.

Today, the important part is to get your word count in there. Because I’m planning on submitting to the Hallmark Channel, they have specific requirements of happy endings, no violence, if it’s a murder mystery it has to happen off the page, and they’ve got rules of no violence. So you can’t show the murder.

So. go to project—>project target. Hallmark’s got a target of 70,000 – 85,000 words. For now, I’ve got 80,000 entered under manuscript target. Then for word count, I’ve got 1,667. Plan on your novel being 50,000 for now.

This means you’re going to have a complete project done in 30 days. Again, this is not like NaNoWriMo, because they’re satisfied if you get the word count. We’re aiming for a complete novel, first draft. I’m going to give you a couple of Scrivener tricks that will increase your daily word count beyond the 1,667.

Today, open your front matter and give your book a title. Choose a pen name (or if you’ve got a name like Stephen King, use your own), and go ahead and fill out everything in your front matter section and back matter section. If you don’t know what to put there, that’s your dedication, your about the author, etc.

Some quick advice before we do this – if this is your first novel, if this is something you’ve never completed before, then be prepared for this – you may end up hiding this novel once you’re done. Most author’s first novels are garbage. It’s the second book that’s excellent. Stephen King and Tom Clancy are of course the exceptions. King’s first book was Carrie, and he threw it in the trash after he was done reading it. Tabitha King pulled it out of the trash, and talked him into trying to get it published. Clancy wrote Hunt for Red October, brought it to the Navy press, and behold – they and he had their first novels published. No kidding, I have a copy of the Navy Press Red October.

All right – last housekeeping chore. Go to your Dropbox, and create a folder called “Scrivener backups.” Now, go back to Scrivener. Go to File—>backup—>backup to. Open the Dropbox folder, then choose the Scrivener Backups. This is a step 99% of Scrivener users don’t do, and they think they’re backing up their project all the time. If you haven’t designated a specific folder for backups, then believe it or not, you’re not backing up at all. The Scrivener tutorial manuscript explains this.

Six Important Keys to Scene Introductions

Years ago, when I was a kid, I remember my dad going off on intro lines to books. He made a big deal about the fact the first line of your book had to be perfect, or nobody would read it.

Now, my dad read a lot, often more than I did – and I went from one book to another. So, I took his word for it.

And so I wasted countless hours in front of a Remington typewriter, trying to think of  the perfect first line to my novels. And then I’d waste countless hours trying to think of the perfect first line to every scene and chapter.

To the point that I never, ever finished a novel until the 2000’s. That’s 30 years of writing, and never being able to finish!

Things are different now. I’ve written and finished several novels, and several screenplays. Now I’ve got a foolproof way to write and get it done, and the first thing I did was ditch my father’s advice. Anything that stops you from writing is nonsense and dead weight.

When I’m writing, I’ve usually got a certain amount of pre-novel work done. I know the goal of the chapter and the scene. So very often, I’ll just write location and name in the beginning of the scene. “Carpenter and McKinney stood in the clearing, outside the shelter.”

Who: carpenter and McKinney.

What: They’re standing, obviously having a conversation or they’d be doing something. What it is they’re conversing about, we’re about to find out.

When: Obviously, immediately after the other scene. How do I say “Obviously?” because there’s no statement about when it’s taking place. The Next Day is missing. Later That evening is missing. So it must be immediately following the other scene. What you don’t say is often as valid as what you do say.

Where: outside the shelter.

Why: This is again an obvious one. They’re either going to talk about the shelter, plans for it – or they’re going to talk about something they don’t want anyone else to here. How can you derive that? It’s simple. They’re outside, and nobody else is. again, you don’t need to say everything.

how: There’s no how in this intro. They’re standing, which means they’re capable of it. But if your introduction was, “Carpenter was suspended twelve stories in the air, wondering how he was going to get himself out of this”… You’re going to need to explain how he got there, and what’s got him suspended!

The point here is, I try to write to-the-quick intro lines. I’m trying to write a scene! Get INTO the scene as quickly as possible. PLEASE don’t waste the intro to your scene with, “the glittering drops slowly rolled off the flower petals as Carpenter and McKinney stared off into the distance, each affected by the sound of the soothing rain as they struggled with their…”

Yeah, that’s good writing. Except for the fact that it’s such a compound sentence it looks more like plumbing than writing!

Setup. dialog. Response. gesture. objection. Confident answer. Lull.

NOW glittering raindrops!

Got it? Scenes breathe. They have life. If you load up the front end of the scene with baggage, the scene seems winded, like it’s got a weight on its chest.

If your intro is TOO terse – that’s why there’s re-writes. Get the scene written. There’s some essential part of that you’re itching to write, and you’re staring off into the distance, waiting for the starting gun to fire. BANG! Write that. Don’t worry about the perfect starting line. Just for now WWWWWH, in one sentence. If you don’t need to explain why, don’t!

Conclusion

It’s a sentence. Write it, and move on to the real focus of the scene!

Seven Essential steps you need to write your novel in one month

Sounds good, doesn’t it? What does it take to write a novel in a month? You and I just missed it, because Nanowrimo is essentially that – where people world wide try to write their novels in one month.

Nanowrimo is geared towards getting 50,000 words done in a month with 30 days. It’s very regimented, but we’re going to actually focus in January on writing a novel instead of getting a word count. That means you get a complete first draft, including your ending (I mean, what good is it if you spend a month writing 50,000 words in a novel that’s going to take you 120,000?).

If you want to join in and get that novel written next month…. then follow along both here and on my Twitter account, where I’ll have tips and prompts to keep you going!

Ready? Here we go.

  1. minimum 10 plot points. Gotta have this. Better to have 60 plot points. “She gets the car, then she gets the envelope, then she finds out…” Really simple. Number 1-60 on a piece of paper and see if you can write out things that have to happen to your character. If you can’t think of even 10, you don’t have a novel. Consider it a road map.
  2. conflict. Your novel has to have  conflict. Tons of it. Dripping with conflict. How do you get conflict? I’ve written a number of articles on it, but here’s the simplest way – essentially your novel is about something somebody needs or has to do or there’s dire consequences. Now throw as many obstacles in the way as possible. Keep them from getting what they need, increase the stakes, make the consequences as dire as possible, and then in the last 10% of the book you can start rewarding them.
  3. 1667 words a day. The word count’s the easy part. I can get those easily. If you’re writing a 70,000 word novel, it’s 2,333 words a day. A lot tougher, but if you know where you’re going, it’s easy to get there. I personally would plan on 50,000 words for this challenge.
  4. Scrivener or Ywriter. Unless you plan to work three times harder than usual using Microsoft Word, use Scrivener or Ywriter. The way they force you to focus on scenes and chapters is revolutionary, and exceptional. Scrivener is better than Ywriter, but the problem is, most people for some reason are adverse to spending $40 for software. Trust me, Microsoft Word costs much more and does much less. Spend the money.
  5. Hook. You need to have a hook, something that essentially tells why this novel is different. “It’s a story about”… go on… What’s the selling point? What’s your elevator pitch? You need to be able to explain your novel in just a few seconds, the length of an elevator ride. If you don’t have that, your novel lacks focus, and probably will be passed over by publishers.
  6. list of 30 chapters and their synopsis. This works a lot better in Scrivener than any other program. It forms your goals for the chapter.
  7. Beginning and ending. How does it begin? How does it end? In some novels, the ending HAS to be known (and sometimes written) before the rest of the novel, such as mysteries.
  8. Characters. Who’s in your novel? Write out BASIC character sheets – I did this recently for a book I’d already written, and I realized I’d actually skipped over showing the character growth in the novel!
  9. promises and rewards. This part starts as you write, but if you’re doing a one month challenge, a scene that promises something must have a reward. You’ve got to finish out the reward promised. Why was the triceratops sick in Jurassic park? I know the answer. But they cut the reward out of the movie, and it actually still bugs people who saw the movie years ago! A promise and reward system keeps people turning pages. If your literary agent or the reader for the publisher starts skipping paragraphs to see what the reward is… then you’ve got a book contract, guaranteed.
  10. something unique. It’s hard to think of something unique, by saying, “I need something unique about my character.” Guess what? you already probably thought about it, but didn’t realize it. Columbo was a detective who was scared of guns, and sloppy. Monk was a detective who was a germophobe and obsessive compulsive. Carpenter in my novels is obsessed about coffee, his collection of .45 pistols, and suffers from PTSD over the loss of his wife to a drunk driver. Develop the unique part of your character first. Then apply the same process to the plot. Kind of like the first time an art thief in a 60’s movie used floor wax on their back to slide under burglar alarm sensors.

Conclusion

I’ve heard many people say, “I’ve been writing a novel for the last six years”, and I’m over it. I wrote my first novel in just a few months, and I didn’t have all this information then! Let’s get your novel done. Put that other magnus opus aside. We’re writing a whole new novel, and we’re doing it in January – and you’re going to start planning it today!

Cutting words

It’s difficult to cut words from a novel.

I wrote those words. It felt right to write them.

But I have 196,000 words in my first novel, and all the experts say that unless you plan on writing an epic your first time out, cut it back to 110,000.

And the literary agents are advising that you have to be years established to write an epic!

So I sat down on Friday night and read through my words.

At first it was simply, “How can I find less words to say this?”

Then I spotted a “Nods her head” sentence. it didn’t literally say that, but it was clearly a case of peppering the soup pot – when your sentence is done, the soup is done. No need to add pepper to it.

It’s tough. I went through probably 12 scenes and was able to cut about 120 words.

Unfortunately, so much of what I wrote – even in my early days of deciding to write a novel – was so minimal, sparse, to the point – it’s hard to find too many cases of “peppering the soup” or “Nods her head” kind of sentences.

My goal is to get all this in the hands of a literary agent – at least the first three novels – by April, so I’ve got a lot to cut. I was tempted to just cut the first 85,000 words of my novel, but that would leave me halfway through the action and no set up.

You can pretty much see from my blogging, I’m often very to the point. Find 85 words in this blog post that I can cut without the blog post making little sense.

I was tempted to take much of my first novel and simply split it in two. One novel with setup, the other with action. But if you do that, you don’t get either sold. The publisher is looking for a story that makes sense and is a good exciting read, something where you put the book down and say, “Wow, that was fun!”

A book with no setup gets rejected. It’s why so many movies end up with someone arriving in the airport – you’re reassuring everyone that “no, you haven’t missed something.”

It may literally take an agent to sit down and red line a ton of stuff. My only question to him or her will be – “Does the novel make sense without it?” And then, “does the book demand the reader’s attention?” If the answers are no and yes, it may well have to get published at 196,000 words!

Your novel should be like this blog post – enough words to know what’s going on. If you don’t have a million things to write about in your book, then you should be able to stay in target. If not… you’re either too flowery, adding too much, peppering the pot, or like me you’ve got a million plot points.

Nagging

My fourth book is nagging at me. I know where it went wrong. I’m not entirely sure how to bail that part out.

There’s certain subjects I don’t like. I don’t like to write about them. And I feel like by putting them in my novel, I’ve ended up with serious avoidance issues!

Easy solution – take those parts out. I know there was one subject I really didn’t want to write about in my third novel, but it was crucial to write about it. It would be like writing a novel about native tribes in Ecuador, but you don’t want to talk about cannibalism. Well, unfortunately, it was a common thing there.

So, I’ve got to back, remove that part, and plan out when in the series that section will come in.

The rest of the book really had me excited, so I want to get back to that excitement, that enjoyment of it, and finish that book.

I want to get back to the prequel, and Rolf Offenstath, and build up that three part intro as well!

As usual, I just need the time to write.

Character Creation Sheets

Character Creation sheets run the gamut from “Name Height Weight Hair Color” to “At what age did your character first drink a soda?”

I’m divided on this myself. Usually when I come up with an idea for a book, I usually can flesh the idea for the book out in 5 minutes, flowchart it, plan it, and have my synopsis created within a day. And start writing it the next. Hence my oft-repeated “It should only take you a month to write an average novel”.

I’ve just never done Character sheets ever. I got started a little on them, but not in depth.

But the other day  I wrote about the Dramatica theory of characters, so I made up character sheets to go in my notebook. Pretty much it’s the standard “Height weight M/F (circle one)”, BUT…

I added in the eight Dramatica characters.  All you have to do is put a checkmark in the space, or write a one word note about how they are that character type.

THEN I added Michael Hauge’s bit. In his book on “Writing Screenplays that sell”, he talked about inner motivation and outer motivation. So I added that, and may revise my sheets to have more stuff in them.

Here’s how the sheets look – you can copy this and paste it into the character profiles in Scrivener.

Name ______________________   M/F (Circle One)

Height______ Weight______ Age______

High School______  College______

Inner Motivation__________________________________________

Outer Motivation__________________________________________

Protagonist ______  Antagonist______ Reflection ______

Personality Type__________________________________________

Character Conflict__________________________________________

Start of Story Situation______________________________________

Changed by Outcome________________________________________

That’s about all I have in it! I don’t get into the “Favorite book in third grade” thing, because it’s like a movie writer once said, you’ve got them in a dilemma, they’ve got conflict and you can’t see the way out of it, and now you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to put in there that they like crunchy peanut butter.

But what I’ve got above really is enough for you to get a feel for your character.

The funny thing is, once I was done with the sheets, I filled out a few, and I saw  that I’d actually neglected to put some of this into my first novel! So I could see right away the value of at least minimal character sheets.

I may update this sheet in the future!

Cotagonist______  Sidekick______ Guardian ______ Skeptic______

Logic______

7 Common Dialog Traps Fiction Writers Must Avoid

One thing I have found out is that when you say, “They can’t teach me anything”, it is a self fulfilling prophecy. Even though I’ve written several novels and written several screenplays, I still read and watch everything I can on the subject of writing.

There’s nothing more personal than writing. And none of us can be completely objective about our writing – because it came from us. And since it came from us, if someone points out that a scene doesn’t make sense, or that it;s completely unneeded, we tend to react as if the criticism was about us, not our product. Writers are the only group of people in the world who can send a manuscript to a reviewing service and get offended by the report.

Dialog is something that apparently is my strong point. When I challenged out of a college class using a chapter from a novel I was writing, the English teacher made a comment that my dialog was strong and believable. Well, if you spend your youth doing more listening than talking, that’s going to happen.

Dialog often remains the one area that separates unpublished writers from published writers. So what can you do to improve your dialog?

  1. Stilted dialog. This happens to people who don’t realize that dialog not only has a rhythm, but also has pitch. I used to mimic human speech musically, to show people how this is done. You need to improve your dialog to the point that it has, even on the written page, the same spoken rhythm. The best way to do it is read your dialog out loud. If it seems awkward when you’re reading it, then it’s because it isn’t fitting the common rhythm we associate with it.
  2. Repetitive dialog. Yes, indeed. It repeats. And says the same thing over and over again, echoing what it already has said, mimicking itself. As Robert McKee says, dialog is subject to the law of diminishing returns. Saying it once has maximum effectiveness. Saying it twice has less effectiveness. Saying it a third time is now yielding limited effectiveness. Saying it a fourth time has no effect. “I need to talk to you.” “Go away.” That exchange is done. We’ve expressed that IDEA. To repeat that idea is to now start making the reader agitated. “You need to listen to me!” The next line had better be, “All right, but I don’t know how you’re going to change my mind”, or you just ruined the scene. Or, “Well, I’m going to talk – you can either listen and get this resolved, or you can walk away and lose everything we’ve worked so hard to build.”
  3. useless dialog. Sometimes, writers resort to dialog that simply doesn’t say anything. “How is mother?” Okay, you’ve got a great, great opportunity here to suggest something’s wrong with mother. “Mother is… you know mother.” Three or four word narrative sentence to show the subtext message is received… then, “Yes. We all know.” That dialog did something. But, “How is mother?” “She’s fine.” is useless, unless for comedy effect. If you’re writing dialog that does nothing for the sake of two people having conversation, you’re wasting precious white space on your screen. Dialog must have PURPOSE. We could even change the exchange to being more powerful. “How is Mother?” He looked away, not meeting her gaze. “You have to even ask?” He answered. “You know we’re still… Look, skip it.” See, that dialog has purpose, subtext, and it pushes the plot along.
  4. Dialog with no purpose. Dialog must push the plot along. The people in your book or script are having many conversations between pages that you’re not writing down. They’re stopping at the Wawa to buy a salad and a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, and chatting with the bored kid behind the register in his red shirt. It doesn’t need to be in your novel, unless it somehow is part of your story. For instance, how many times in any Tom Clancy novel did Jack Ryan fill his gas tanks? He drove around a lot. And he probably said something every now and then to the people at the gas station. And Jack Ryan was married, and had a daughter. But we rarely saw him speaking to either of them – unless it pushed the story forward, or was part of the plot.
  5. Flat dialog. Dialog has emotion. I got very good at insistent communication when I was young. We call that “Whining” today. Plaintive communication, sorrowful, reluctant – there’s a million different forms. Flat dialog is dialog without any emotion. This too can be used for effect, to show someone is beyond caring or over it. But if your whole book is full of flat dialog, go do something exciting, then come back and write. When someone is talking to someone else n your novel, they want something, whether it’s asking or giving. There’s emotion involved in that. “How’s Mother?” “Why do you keep asking about her? Leave it be!” That’s dialog. “How’s mother?” “Fine, just fine.” Flat.
  6. Excessively wordy dialog. If your character just talked for four pages about shoelaces, um… chop that. Yes, I know War and Peace was eighty nine billion words, but you’re not Tolstoy, and I don’t think Tolstoy could get away with that even today. If you suffer from this, get a Twitter account – that will fix it. Or write on a piece of paper in your writing space, “What’s the shortest way to say this?” and the famous ONW – “Omit Needless Words.” If you have friends, you’ve learned to speak to them in the shortest way possible. If you have no friends, ding ding ding ding!!!
  7. Pretentious Dialog. The obsessive need to write something because it sounds like great literature. If you can elevate your writing craft over ten years to being someone who writes great literature, that’s a beautiful thing and I’m envious. But if you’re on novel one and you’re trying to write Wuthering Heights… um… take baby steps first. Write dialog that sounds real. Write narrative that communicates powerful actions, describes things with cinematic focus. Let age, maturity (maturity??? We’re talking writers, here!), and experience naturally give you the great literature skill. Don’t sound like Hyacinth from “Keeping Up Appearances” trying to write a novel!
Conclusion

Okay, I went about 400 words over the limit on this one. But I wanted to seriously talk about dialog because some people just don’t get it. If you’re a writer, I want you to get published. If you’re a reader, I want you to know how to read and understand the inner language of the novels you read. Character dialog is a powerful tool, if used effectively. Use it effectively!

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