Expanding your writing

by rob on September 10, 2014

So, if you are following along, you might remember that the last post was about The Big Lebowski. If you were reading carefully you know that it wasn’t about the Big Lebowski at all, but more about the plot idea the Coen brothers use, which is someone solving a problem in the worst possible way.

catch22“The worst possible solution” is a great starting point, but all novels or scripts really end up revolving around a single sentence and each sentence is made up of (at least) a noun and a verb, so you can think to yourself that really this whole book, script, play…whatever… has a key word or two.

These words may not be repeated ever again, but the fulcrum of the plot – the tipping point, if you will, comes down to something pretty simple. What is your idea? What are you writing about?

Let’s look at an example like “brain cloud.” This is the pivotal phrase in the script and movie “Joe vs the Volcano.” (A great movie which never found an audience while it was in the theater.)

So the movie is not about Joe’s brain cloud, but the brain cloud causes Joe to make a series of bold decisions that change the course of his life forever. The movie is about the way a character changes when his outlook on the world changes. This is also expressed in real life by the phrase “your inner world creates your outer world” which is so true.

If you take a character, a mundane character and force change on them, suddenly their world opens up and things happen. Plot is all about ‘things happening.’ Maybe this is overly simplistic, but there it is.

In my first book, Someone Else’s Tomorrow, Roger is accidentally killed off by the computer network that forms the foundation of that world. He is still alive, but he can’t live his old life anymore. He loses his job, his apartment and his old life. His new life could take him anywhere.

I think most stories that people get engrossed in are about personal growth. Whether it’s Luke Skywalker discovering his destiny,  Stella getting her groove on, Katniss Everdeen becoming a leader, Frodo facing unimaginable fears, Harry Potter becoming a wizard or Yossarian trying to get a discharge, great stories are about people growing and changing.

All that starts with a single sentence.

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The Big Lebowski

by rob on August 17, 2014

I was watching a documentary called “The Achievers” which is about fans of the movie “The Big Lebowski.”

There are events out together that are called Lebowski Fests where fans get together have costume contests, recite lines from the movie and generally just bond with each other, all around a movie which did really poorly at the box office, but then went on to become a ‘cult classic.’

pinsSo why am I talking about The Big Lebowski and Lebowski Fest? Well, number one, the Coen brothers are masters at what they do. They write character based movies that people either love or hate. Either one is okay with me, as eliciting emotions is what writing is all about. Love and hate are strong emotions. No one wants someone to be indifferent about their work. There is enough ennui in the word.

But the real reason (number two, if you are keeping track) is a tidbit; a throw-away line in the documentary. This is paraphrased, but basically someone said that Coen brothers movies are all about “someone having a problem and solving it in a horribly bad wrong way.” And off you go.

So think about that for a second. The character relationships are hugely important. When I do improv, I was taught that the best scenes are about two or more characters who are somewhere (doesn’t matter where) and they have a real connection, a relationship, and the background ends up being just that. The characters aren’t talking about their cutlery if they are in a kitchen (unless the cutlery is just a metaphor for how they feel about each other – maybe one is sharp and one is dull?)

The scene, the background, is just a setting. The relationship is what makes you care, but the plot is about a problem.

A problem can be something simple. Your mother hates me and it impacts our relationship.

How do you solve this problem?

a) You sit with your mother-in-law and have a discussion and try to hash out your differences. Boring (but likely in the real world).

b) You divorce your wife, so you lose the MIL problem.

c) You buy your MIL an around the world vacation and arrange a rendezvous with a foreign lover, so she moves to Paris and becomes a seldom dealt with fly in your marriage ointment. While in Paris she gets kidnapped by the lover’s incensed ex-mistress, and you have to go rescue her and realize she is an interesting person. You fell in love with her and divorce your wife and now you have  a DIL who hates you.

I don’t know that that plot really works, but the point is, you have a problem that is solved in a way that is abnormal and then the solution drives the movie (or the book.)

What drives your writing? What is the plot point or points that sets your book apart? What makes your voice something that people want to revisit?

I don’t know how the Coen brothers do it, but this little piece certainly got me to thinking. Hope it does the same to you.

Happy bowling, my little Lebowski urban achievers!

Behind the scenes look at the Coen brothers and the Big Lebowski here.  (affiliate link. thanks for clicking)

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Write What You Know

by rob on August 10, 2014

It may sound like a cliche, but write what you know, or research until you truly know a subject inside and out. Live it, if possible.

When I wrote my first novel, Someone Else’s Tomorrow, I set most of the book inside a quirky little restaurant, El Pollo Loco. (Years later a restaurant opened with this exact name. )

One reason I did so was because I worked in a restaurant in college for about a year. I knew the backside of the restaurant business. (Yes,eggs2 backside. It fits, believe me.) I don’t know how to run a restaurant, but I know employee habits and how things get set up and turned over. One of the comments I got from numerous people was how they recognized the little details that I included.

When I included things like breakfast prep work I had no idea that people would recognize the truth in the actions I was typing about. It just was part of the scene.

So this isn’t to say you can’t write sci-fi, or about a foreign country, but do research and keep the details true to things you do know. Most writing really is about relationships, not the background, so good fiction or good science fiction is about people and how they inter-react.

Keep writing and honing your craft and keep it real.

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Lot 23 Zombie Romantic Comedy

by rob on July 16, 2014

What do you do to promote book sales?

This is a part of the process that presents challenges. We are creative people; we think, we write, we publish. We wait for sales to start pouring in. But really for unknown authors the sales aren’t going to just pour in. They trickle in, at best, and you hope people will write book reviews on Amazon and gradually word of mouth has people clamoring for, not just this book, but more work from you.

The general thought (from the experts) is to write series of books. People fall in love with your characters and want more. Many of your favorite authors recognize success (think Harry Potter or 50 Shades of Gray, or Hunger Games) and follow up.

I’ve even gotten the advice to write a series of three books and release them all at once. I don’t have the patience, but it certainly is worth thinking about.

So what do you do to promote book sales? Social media, friends and family, Fiverr for bought reviews?

I am looking at doing the podcast circuit and just talking, but I also got these fantastic cards designed to drop off at libraries, book clubs and even book stores…











What do you use? comments welcome and encouraged. Let’s succeed together.




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The Big Other

by rob on June 4, 2014

There is only one thing that makes a read (or a movie) interesting and that is the challenges to the hero. Usually these are in the form of problems he or she needs to solve and there is one problem which stands out as the ‘mother’ of all. That is the “Big Other.”

If you don’t have a big other in your writing there won’t be peaks and valleys, which need to exist to hold someone’s interest.

In “Blaze Motors” the big other was the oppressive government agents, first in the form of the Nazis and then the Polish Secret Service. There were many other challenges, such as the flight from Poland to the USA by the families and the enigmatic statements of a secret diary, bu the “Big Other” was the government interference in freedom.

casablancaIn more familiar territory (for people who haven’t read Blaze Motors) in Casablanca Rick has to deal with the bureaucracy of a divided city in North Africa, but the real Big Other in the story is the love triangle between Rick, Ilse and Victor. How will Rick overcome the circumstances and allow Ilse to escape and have love in her life?

Look at your story and make sure there is a defined Big Other (along with a series of connected or unconnected ‘little others’) to make sure the story has victories and challenges built in for the heroes. If not you may need to add them.

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On Set – Bite Nite

May 17, 2014

I wrote this a few years ago when I was on the set of an independent movie. I played the priest. I capture small vignettes of circumstances. You never know when the thoughts of that moment might come back and be useful. Maybe they will come into play down the road or maybe they might […]

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Rewriting and Reviewing

May 3, 2014

I was talking with a friend of mine, name of Isabella, who is in the process of writing her first book. Her mother had asked me to take a look and give her some advice; words of wisdom or something along those lines. Isabella has written about, oh, I don’t know, maybe thirty pages and […]

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Developing Character Profiles

February 20, 2014

I belong to several writer’s groups; some online and some that ‘meet-up’ at coffee shops and bookstores. Although I don’t participate in person very often I feel that online forums and emails sometimes help in the writing process and lately my one meetup group has been having a discussion on character development. A problem many […]

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This one weird trick to write a book fast

December 4, 2013

As the author of five books and a former ghostwriter I know a lot of ways to get quality writing done quickly, but most people don’t ever consider this one weird trick on how to write a book fast. It’s an old trick which pre-dates computers and even word processors and it has been used […]

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Blaze Motors – Some Secrets Don’t Stay Buried

November 26, 2013

Blaze Motors is my second novel and is available on Amazon. There is a pretty interesting back story to this and that is the reason that I am sharing. All good stories have some basis in truth. I think that humans can tell when a story is fake and it ruins things for us. Even […]

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