Monday, February 7, 2011

"Planning to write is not writing. Outlining--researching--talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing."
(E. L. Doctorow)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Plant that knife

Once upon a time, I was writing stories. I was trying to make them memorable. Things were exploding. People were dying. Knives were used. Guns were fired. Laser thingies were disintegrating aliens. Blood was splashed against stainless steel walls. Tears were never far.

But alas, no matter how many amazing tools and situations I was using – nothing felt truly dramatic. Every explosion, every knife planted in poor schmucks’ backs, every laser thingies looked like armless plastic artifacts.

And then… Bingo! I discovered the power of PLANTING AND PAYING OFF.

From that day on, using a knife, squashing an alien, or blowing a head felt great!

The concept is easily understandable and magical to use: If you’re going to use any dramatically charged tool or skill (a knife, an ability to throw things, a gun, a bomb, Aunt Liza apple pie), you need to plant it casually earlier in your story.

In other words...

If you’re going to kill the landlady with an axe, better present this axe way before splitting up the landlady’s head with it.  

If Cathy Ames is going to shoot Adam Trask in the shoulder, it will work as a dramatic jackpot if you already clearly established that Cathy was a monster and a time bomb ready to explode.
Easy, isn’t it?

Planting and paying off: use it. And killing stuff will never feel so fine.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are. - Somerset Maugham

Happy writing!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Trust this mysterious voice in your head

You’ve planed enough. You have a clear set-up, development and climax. You’ve sliced your project into sequences. Your plot and subplots are clear and cohesive. Your characters are motivated. Their objectives are comprehensible. Their goal set.  

Fine!  What to do next?

Well, forget about all you’ve planed and ignore all the rules!

When it’s time to write and struggle against the white pages, no advise, no expert, no script doctor or MFA can help you -  all you need is to fine tune into this voice in your head.

Just like Joan of Arc right before she charged the Brits!

Louis Ferdinand Celine called it his little music…And writing is the ability to tune into your inner music.

If you can’t tune into this voice of yours – your very own style -,  if you don’t feel that voice within you, and don’t get excited and moved into action by it, writing a full manuscript is going to be very difficult - by my experience, impossible.

We all have stories to tell. Great stories, really. Packed with actions and emotions. Twists and turns. But that doesn’t matter - because stories, and writing in general is not about what we have to say or report. It is NOT about how dramatic the situation or how original the set up.

It’s all about how we say it. How we hear it. When we follow and trust that voice in our head.  

So fine tune into your mental music… and dance…

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Oh baby we really need to talk about Love

Don’t worry. I’m not about to get on my knees and babble about the inevitability of us.

This post is not about being in love (though I wish it was), this post is about the need of a strong romantic subplot in any given story.

You can’t escape it. Even if your story is an action packed intergalactic slasher affair, they will be an element of love. The main question here is not if you need a romantic subplot in your story – because you do – the real problem is to build and intertwine it with your main storyline so they flow harmoniously and naturally together.

The best way to do that is by connecting the main events in your storyline with the main event in your romantic subplots.

Let me explain:

When you map your project, you can build a timeline connecting all the major events that form your story.

If you’re writing a survival story, all the major events on your main timeline will be related to surviving a given ordeal. If you’re writing a crime story, they will be related to finding who committed the crime, etc.

Beside the main timeline, you can build a set of secondary timelines, where you list chronologically all the major events that form the romantic subplots of your story.

For example, if you’re writing a story where all the major events relate to surviving a giant ape and escaping Skull Island, you can also build a set of secondary timelines (or romantic subplots) strictly focusing on all the events related to the developing love between Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll as well as the destructive love between an ape and the girl.

You’ll find yourself with series of timelines that would look something like this (that’s my own timelines and subplots for How I Stole Johnny Depp’s Alien Girlfriend, by the way - and there's my chin and fingers too ;) :

The trick is to connect all the major events in the main storyline with all the essential turning points in the romantic subplots.

For example, Kong kidnapping Ann Darrow is definitely a major event in the main theme of surviving and escaping Skull Island. But it is also a main event in the romantic subplots concerning Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll (Jack decides to go after the girl and save her) as well as in Kong and Ann subplot (the Beast meets the Beauty).

If the major events in your main storyline are disconnected from the romantic subplots, there are big chances that the love story within your main story will feel artificial, unbalanced and somehow unmotivated.

Your work as a writer is to connect the dots between the different timelines and make sure that every major event in your main storyline says something about your romantic subplots.

If you do so, you can successfully convince people that a girl can fall for a monkey.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Further slicing: sequencing your story

When you’re writing, there are tools and tricks that will help you sail through this vast chaotic ocean that’s a first draft.

Slicing your story into comprehensible and clear segments known as "sequences" is one of the important tricks I learned as a student of the late Frank Daniel.

Frank Daniel thought that any story could be divided in smaller units that carried their own coherent dramatic spine.

Sequences are like the building blocks of your story. I like to think of them as "mini-stories" with their own conflict and resolution.

Each sequence's resolution creates the situation which sets up the next sequence, moving the story forward. Basically, it means that when you start working on your story, instead of sailing off into an endless ocean of situations and words, you step out into a carefully mapped collection of short stories.

Each short story will be a single coherent step in the full journey of your character.

Personally, I like to divide all my projects into 8 “mini-stories” of about 5 to 10,000 words each (an arbitrary habit I developed while working as a scriptwriter - but the number of sequences needed to tell a story really depends of the particularity of any given project.) 

All my “mini stories” play an essential part in my manuscript, but I write them as if they stood alone.

What’s the point in that?

It allows me to ignore the fact that I’m sitting down to write a daunting 80,000 + words novel.


Divide your work into smaller pieces. Drive your character from one resolution to the next. And you will be right as rain.

And if your goal is to write the next Great American Novel – plan your work as if you were writing the Great American Collection of Short Stories ;)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Are you a surfer or a writer?

Why do we do it?

Why do we spend countless hours typing words and chasing a dragon no one really cared about in the first place?

We don’t do it for the hard cash (for those of you thinking there’s plenty of money in publishing, I’d advise turning to more profitable enterprises, like waiting tables, car washing, or lawn mowing).

It’s not for the fame – I mean, your uncle Wayne has more chances of getting famous for eating 66 hot dogs in a row than you’ll ever be for getting published.

It’s not to shine.

Not to be different.

Nor to find a place in the world.

No, we do it for a reason no one would have ever suspected: we do it for the love of paddling out there, struggling and fronting the waves.

Writers and surfers have a lot in common.

Sure, there are a few writers and surfers becoming famous, enjoying PiƱa Colada with other celebrities while gazing at the grey blue ocean.

Most surfers and writers will never get famous - but then again I'm convinced most of us don’t give a dam about pictures, celebrity, money, or the quality of the rum in our cocktails.

We just want to do it.


Paddle. Rise. Surf.


I don’t know…

I guess it’s what we were meant to do. Writers. Surfers. Struggling. Paddling, Finding the perfect momentum for the perfect wave and… whoosh… off we go, like Icarus to the sun.

"Sometimes in the morning, when it's a good surf, I go out there, and I don't feel like it's a bad world."