Thursday, March 29, 2012

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 4

101 Dalmations, Glenn Close

Welcome to part four of my series on The Starburst Method. In this section we're going to put our summary aside and meet our characters. We're going to find out how old they are, what their traumas are, whether they like chocolate (of course!), and how they like to relax when they're not working.

This section builds on our three previous sections, which you can find here:



Let's get started!

4. Over the next day or two write one page of description about each of your main characters and half a page of description about each of your supporting characters.

But wait! There's more:

4.1. Character Stats. Comb through your synopsis, completed in Part 3, and write down all the character names you've used and begin a character sheet, or half-sheet, for each one. It's up to you what to include in this, but I like James Frey's division of character traits into the physiological, sociological and psychological. [2]

Physiological:
Height, weight, age, sex, culture, skin color, physical scars, beauty marks, allergies, overweight/underweight/average, hair color, eye color. What sort of clothes are hanging in your character's closet? What kind of clothes does your character wear at work? At home? When out with friends?

Sociological:
Were your character's parents wealthy? Is your character wealthy or barely making ends meet? What kind of neighborhood did your character grow up in? Did your character go to a public school? A private school? Is your character a liberal or a conservative? Are they apolitical? Is your character religious? Do they regularly attend religious gatherings? Where did your character grow up? Do they still live there? Where do they want to live?

Psychological:
 Is your character intelligent? What is their IQ? Extraverted? Introverted? Has your character ever been in a serious relationship? Are they in one now? If no, do they want to be in one? Does your character have a phobia or intense fear of anything? Is your character ambitious? Does your character feel an overwhelming sense of guilt about anything? What does your character have an aptitude for? Does she have a special ability? What habits does she have? What sort of things irritate her?

Now that we've got a good basis to work from, let's discover your character's role, motivation, goal, conflict and reward. Then we'll write a very short summary of it all; a mini-story.

4.2. Role. Begin your character sheet with a sentence or two that summarizes the character's role in the story. For instance, in my story, Sir Henry is the aristocratic head of the expedition. He's the leader, the mover and shaker who brings everyone together. Although he doesn't have the money to mount the expedition himself, he has the will and the social standing to bring all the character's together. He is the catalyst. [1]

Other roles a character might have in a novel: Protagonist, Antagonist, Mentor, Shadow, Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Trickster, just to name a few. Here's a link to a post I made yesterday that lists dozens of character archetypes.

4.3. Motivation. Write one paragraph about your character's motivation. Characters, like the rest of us, are motivated by one of two things: First, by something they want and, second, by something they would like to avoid. For instance, in The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble (played by Harrison Ford) is motivated to escape from the people guarding him by a train crash -- he needs to flee or he'll die. Another motivation to act is found in love stories. The hero must act in order to win the affection of his beloved.

4.4. Goal. Write one paragraph about the character's goal. Motivation generally looks backward while a goal looks forward. For instance, a character's goal might be to kill the man who bankrupted her father. The bankruptcy of her father, an event in the past, is the character's motivation, while her goal is an event planned for the future.

4.5. Conflict. Write one paragraph that develops the main conflict in the character's life. Conflict generates narrative drive, it moves a story forward. Two things that create conflict are, first, anything keeping a character from their goal and, second, raising the stakes.

Let's say that our heroine wants to kill the man (this is the antagonist of our story) who bankrupted her father. The antagonist has no idea who our heroine is is or what her plans for him are. Or so she thinks. As she closes in on the villain, the man becomes alerted to her intention and makes plans to flee (heroine is separated from her goal). Before the antagonist flees, though, he sets a lethal trap for his pursuer (raising the stakes).

Another example of raising the stakes might be: At first our heroine wants to execute the man who bankrupted her father, but then she decides that she isn't a cold-blooded murderer, but someone involved with organized crime threatens her life if she doesn't stick to her plan.

4.6 Reward. Write one paragraph about what the character's reward will be. The reward is often different from the goal. For instance, if a character's goal is to keep a church from closing her reward should be more than just the church not closing. Since she has been motivated (let's say) by the wonderful memories she had as a child coming to church with her family, her reward might be working with a philanthropist to help save other endangered buildings from the jaws of a nefarious developer. That is, I view the character's reward as broader than the goal.

4.7. Summary. Summarize everything you've discovered about your character in 100 words or less. Essentially, you want to create a short story -- a very short story -- about what happens to them. This is what I think of as a character arc.

I was going to illustrate these points with a character I have been developing though these lessons, but since this article is getting rather long I'll make that a post of its own.

In the next part of this series we will use our character sheets to expand our story. Now that we know our characters better, we will go back to the 5 paragraph plot synopsis we made in Part 3 and expand each paragraph into a page. Not a bad start!

Notes:
1. A number of years ago I had the good fortune to buy "The Weekend Novelist Writes A Mystery," by Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick. Wow! Great book. One of the things that helped me enormously was the four roles the authors advise an author to create first, before they do any serious writing: Killer, Victim Sleuth and Catalyst. See chapter one of "The Weekend Novelist," for more details.
2. How To Write A Damn Good Novel, by James N. Frey.

Character Archetypes

The Matrix

Here (see below) are two links to pages that have an amazing amount of information on character archetypes.

I'm working on the fourth segment on my Starburst Writing Method (I must have a sweet tooth!) and went looking for examples of archetypes. These pages were too good to keep to myself so I'm sharing them with you.

1) TV Tropes: Archetypal Character
This site not only gives a definition for each archetype but it gives examples from Anime and Manga, Comic Books, Film, Literature, Theater, and so on.

2) Christopher Vogler's Character Archetypes
Here we find a list of Vogler's seven archetypes as well as the 12 stages of the hero's journey. If you haven't read Vogler's book, The Writer's Journey, I highly recommend it, but this page serves as a very nice summary.

Cheers!

Photo Credit: Story Fanatic; The Matrix

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vanity Publishing for the rich: a ghostwritten book for 'only' $100,000

Want to write a book but can't find the time? Venture Press will set you up with a ghostwriter, edit and publish your book, for a mere $100,000 dollars. In case it wasn't obvious, my tongue is firmly in my cheek.

It's funny, I was watching Shark Tank, I can't remember which season, and someone made a pitch like this -- unsuccessfully I might add -- I wonder if it's the same person.

The Los Angeles Times has an article on Venture Press: Self-publishing for the 1%.

Thanks to Passive Guy for the link to the article.

Photo Credit: Spontaneous Combustion, Thoughts on Self Publishing

Links:
 - Venture Press
  - Self-publishing for the 1%

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How To Start A Blog


Thinking of starting a blog? Great! Now all you have to do is choose a blogging platform, a topic, a name for your blog, register a domain name, design the look of your blog and post regularly. Don't worry though, you can do it, you just have to take things one at a time.

Blogging Platforms
What I hear from most bloggers -- okay, ALL of the other bloggers I've read or talked to about this -- is that Wordpress is, hands down, the best platform/content management system to use, whether Wordpress.com or Wordpress.org. That said, my blog is currently hosted on Blogger.com and I'm very happy with my choice. I've had good integration with search engines, which isn't surprising since Google owns Blogger. And Blogger is not only free to use but free of ads; you can choose to monetize your site and, if you do, you keep 100% of the proceeds. That said, many folks have had good experiences with Wordpress.com, which is also free, although you do have to pay if you'd like the site advertisement-free and if you'd like to use your own domain name.

To complicate matters, Wordpress.org and Wordpress.com are two different sites, each offering their own version of the same content management system (CMS). You can download the Wordpress CMS from Wordpress.org for free, but you have to host it on your own hosting site and install it yourself, or get someone to do it for you. If that seems daunting, you might be better off going with Wordpress.com, which is like Blogger in that you can easily and quickly get your website up and running. Also, for a reasonable fee, Wordpress.com will help you move your blog to your own hosting site, if you decide to do that in the future.

Another blogging platform is Tumbler. Like Wordpress.com and Blogger.com, Tumbler does not require a newbie to invest any money up-front. I don't currently have a Tumbler blog, but I've been meaning to start one just to see what it's all about. I've heard that it's a cross between Twitter and a traditional blog, so folks can make shorter blog posts more frequently. Also, it makes it easy to share photographs, audio files, and so on. (Update: I've created a tumblr blog, and had fun doing it!)

Other blogging platforms are MovableType, SquareSpace (not free), Posterous Spaces (free), Joomla! (free, but you need a hosting site). I'm sure there are many more blogging platforms out there, but these are the ones I've come across most often.

For anyone interested in reading a more in-depth article about the different blogging platforms, take a look at, Five Best Blogging Platforms, by Lifehacker.

Choose A Topic
If you already know what you're going to blog about, great! If not, keep in mind that you'll want to choose something that you will be interested enough in to blog about for, possibly, years to come. If you are thinking about becoming a professional blogger, the situation becomes more complex and I'll leave that for another blog post.

Choose A Name
The agony! Nothing about starting a blog is harder than choosing a name. I don't know why it's so hard, but it has always taken me ages to decide on a blog name. (You may be wondering what could be so agonizing about using my name as the title of my blog; okay, this blog was the exception!).

A good blog name is short, unique and witty. Keep in mind that you'll likely want to create a Twitter account using your blog name, or parts of it, and a Twitter user name can be no more than 15 characters long.

Register Your Domain Name
After you've chosen a name, quick! Register it. Although I don't use it for this blog, I've had a hosting account at 1and1.com since 2000 and I couldn't be happier. Also, and more to the point since we're talking about domain names, 1and1 sells .com and .net domain names for $10.00 a year. (And, no, I'm not part of 1and1's affiliate program, so I won't benefit if any of you sign up.)

If you're looking for a hosting site, I've already mentioned 1and1, but I've also heard good things about BlueHost and WebHostingHub. Additionally, Wordpress.org has a page of recommended hosts: WordPress Web Hosting.

Web Design and The Absence of Ugliness
When you first start a blog you might not want to spend money to hire a designer. It may sound odd, but one thing I keep in mind when I design something is that I don't want it to look ugly. To me that means I strive for simplicity. That may sound underwhelming, but it has served me well in the past. Ultimately, though, I think the best advice is to do what works for you, what expresses your unique personality.

Post Regularly
You don't have to post every day, or even every week, but if you want to build up an audience you do have to post regularly. Even if you only post once a month, make sure that you post at the same time each month.

As I write this I'm reminded I stopped blogging for a few months due to the illness and eventual passing of my father. So, like all advice, take this with a grain of salt. A blog shouldn't be a ball and chain. Some bloggers are up-front about not having a blogging schedule. They blog whenever they are inspired to do so, and that seems to work out well for them. Perhaps the important thing is to be up-front with your readers about your schedule, even the absence of one.

Above all: Write!
Being a blogger is another way of being an author, a writer. Most folks have heard about the 10,000 hour rule, that to be successful in any field takes about 10,000 hours of practice. Well, blogging is excellent practice! The more you write, the better you'll be at it.

Some folks I've talked to don't want to put up anything on their blogs because they're worried that future agents or editors will come by, see their flawed early efforts, and judge them unworthy of attention. Of course this could happen but, personally, I think that most folks would be forgiving of the occasional typo or grammatical gaffe.

At least, one can hope!

Now I have to practice what I preach and work on part 4 of my Starburst Writing Method series.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Terry Gilliam's New Movie: The Wholly Family


A few years ago I watched Monty Python: Almost the Truth -- Lawyer's Cut, and can't recommend it highly enough to anyone who enjoys Monty Python, as well as to anyone who is thinking of sending their own work out into the world, hoping to make a go of it financially. It helps to learn that even the talented individuals in Monty Python had bad luck, critics and setbacks.

I decided to check out what Terry Gilliam has been up to lately and discovered that he is pushing the envelope of digital publishing. He has written and directed a short 20 minute movie, The Wholly Family. According to IMDB it is about "An American family in the streets of Naples." Gilliam's daughter, Amy Gilliam, was a producer for the project.

Here's a description of The Wholly Family from IMDB:
About half a year ago, Terry Gilliam started shooting in Naples. The little boy Jake in the film was played by a child who went to the same school as me in Rome. Because I knew him, I was able to snag a DVD copy of the film when it was released.

When a troubled family of three take a vacation to Naples, it will take the efforts of the Pulcinella to show the family just how special they really are.

The main actors all do a fine job in portraying a family that has been torn apart, but the supporting actors shine as the inhabitants of Naples. The abundance of actors familiar with their location all help it to be more believable. Obviously the real star is Terry Gilliam, and this short if full of his trademark wide-angle shots, surreal visuals, and dark humor. Not all of it is to be taken seriously, but certain images presented in this film are sure to leave an impression. The scene where the Pulcinella carry Jake on the bridge cutting into the sea is something I probably won't forget any time soon.

Overall, if you ever manage to find a copy of this short film, I highly recommend giving it a view. It's very entertaining, and might be the best short film Gilliam has ever directed. I give it four Ben 10 action figures out of five.

(Keep an eye out for two small baby-masks from Brazil during the baby doll scene).
- by Nickolas-Devito
This was the first time I'd heard about an artist exclusively distributing their own film from their website, but apparently I'm behind the times. In 2007 Radiohead published and distributed their 7th album, In Rainbows, as a digital download that customers could order for whatever amount they wished to pay.

Comedians Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari have followed in Radiohead's footsteps. The choice to offer a digital download from his website paid off for Louis C.K. since he made a million dollars in the first 12 days!
So far, the business experiment has paid off, with C.K. making $1 million in sales within 12 days, which he split between production costs ($250,000), bonuses to staffers ($250,000) and donations to charities ($280,000), keeping just $220,000 for himself. And now other comedians are following C.K.'s digital footsteps by applying the small-business model to their comedy acts, skipping the middleman and shaking up the studios and corporations that have traditionally profited from these comedy specials.
- Louis C.K. Video Inspires New Business Model For Comedians
You can also read about Louis C.K.'s financial success on the website where he is selling his digital download: Louis C.K.'s digital download.

The success of these artists makes me think that perhaps established authors would do well to offer a book or two from their websites.

Thanks for reading.

Links:
- Terry Gilliam's new movie: The Wholly Family
- The Wholly Family on IMDB
- Monty Python on IMDB
- Terry Gilliam on IMDB
- Louis C.K.'s comedy special: Live at the Beacon Theater
- Aziz Ansari: Dangerously Delicious

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How To Use Your iPad to Subscribe to a YouTube Channel

I love my iPad, and I love watching YouTube videos, so naturally I wanted to use my iPad to subscribe to channels I liked. It seemed as though it should be simple, but for months exactly HOW to do this eluded me. Finally I figured it out.

Imagine you're watching a YouTube video, perhaps one of John and Hank Green's Truth or Fail videos, and you decide you want to subscribe to the channel. How would you go about doing this?

1) Press the blue "Done" button in the top left-hand corner of the screen.


2) Press the "More From" menu button in the top right of the screen (it's beside "Related" and "Comments")


3) Just under the "More From" button you'll see "Move Videos from " and then a "Subscribe" button.


Thanks it!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

7 Laws of Productivity


1. Don't hesitate. Don't get bogged down in the planning phase. Act and you'll get valuable feedback that only comes with DOING.

2. Start Small. Start small, test your idea/concept out, work out some of the bugs, get more funding, THEN go big.

3. Avoid project creep. At the beginning of your project set out what you want to accomplish. Don't add things! Do what you set out to do and then move on to the next project.

4. Maintain momentum. Work on your project a little bit each day. It can also help if you work on your project at the same time each day.

5. Don't try to do it all at once. If your project is going to take years to accomplish -- for instance, writing a novel -- break your project up into phases and just concentrate on finishing one phase at a time.

6. Don't slavishly follow any set of rules, even these. Know when you need to take a day off and do your own thing. You need experiences to feed your creative side and renew your will to finish your projects. Experiences stoke our creative energy.

7. Have fun!

My seven points were inspired by Behance Team over at 99% and her article, the 10 Laws of Productivity.

Photo Credit: bornstoryteller

Monday, March 19, 2012

Adobe Story: From Script to On Set Production


Ever wanted to write a script and, magically, have a list of shots generated from it? That's the promise of Adobe Story. And, better yet, it's free! At least for now.

If you want to take Adobe Story out for a test drive head on over to the Adobe Site and, if you don't have one already, create an Adobe ID. After that you can begin using the program. There's an online component -- this allows you to collaborate with other screenwriters on the same script -- and there's software you can download to your desktop.

If you're interested, get the software now since it's only free for a limited time.

Links:
Adobe Story
List of training videos for Adobe Story

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 3


Today we are going to continue our discussion of what I've been calling the Starburst Method. Previously, we formulated a one or two sentence description of the story and expanded it into five sentences which roughly follow the 3-act structure of a play. For your convenience, here are links to part 1 and part 2:

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

3.Turn each of your five sentences, or mini-paragraphs, into individual paragraphs.
Keep the following points in mind:
3.1. Each paragraph should contain conflict.
3.2. The first four paragraphs must end with a problem, something that creates conflict.
3.3. Have last paragraph tell how the story ends.

I love it when other people give examples, so I'm demonstrating these steps by writing a short story. I'm a bit self-conscious about putting my writing out there, but this is just an example and it has been rather fun to do. Perhaps a few of you will follow along and write your own stories with me!

Here are the five sentences I came up with in part two:

1) A wealthy English aristocrat dies of a heart-attack after breaking the seal on the tomb of a long-dead Egyptian pharaoh. The aristocrat's death is quickly followed by the death of two men who were with him when the seal was broken: A wealthy American financier and the financier's nephew.

2) Afraid that her son will be the next casualty, the aristocrat's wife hires a private detective to uncover the true cause of the deaths, whether it is an ancient Egyptian curse or something more mundane. The detective accepts the commission and he and a college travel to Egypt to investigate.

3) As the detective arrives at the camp a renown archeologist, one who was present when the seal on the tomb was broken, dies in the most agonizing of ways. The man, an Egyptologist, was competing with an equally renown colleague from another institution. Could his rival have taken advantage of the situation to off his rival and blame it on the curse?

4) Although everyone discounts the possibility of an ancient Egyptian curse being the cause of the deaths, they spurn the detective's efforts to arrive at the truth. Did these men die from natural causes or from an ancient curse, or perhaps someone among on expedition is systematically killing people.

5) In the end, the detective uncovers the cause of the deaths: greed. The greed of someone who stood to inherit a great deal of money from the nephew, and sole surviving heir, of the wealthy financier. The archeologist was killed as a red herring.

Now I need to expand these mini paragraphs.

1) Sir Henry Winthrop, a wealthy English aristocrat leading an expedition in The Valley of the Kings, dies of a heart attack after breaking the seal on the tomb of a Egyptian pharaoh. The locals believe the man triggered an ancient curse and now the entire party is under a death sentence. For the most part, the scientists in the expedition do not believe the murmurings of doom – Sir Henry was elderly and in a state of excitement before he died, not the best thing for a man with a bad heart -- and put talk of a curse down to local superstition. After a day or two life around camp begins to return to normal. Then Mr. Kevin Reid, one of the men who broke the seal on the tomb and the money behind the project, takes ill and dies. Once again, the cause of death is, apparently, natural – septicemia. But what lies behind the disease itself? Something natural or, perhaps, supernatural?

2) Afraid her son will be the next casualty, Sir Henry's widow hires a private detective, Hexanon Pennystripe, to uncover the true cause of the deaths, whether it be an ancient Egyptian curse or something considerably more mundane. Her only interest is the well being of her son and only child. The detective accepts the commission and prepares to travel to Egypt with his intrepid colleague, Dean Armandale, to investigate. Before our crime fighting duo travels to meet up with the expedition in The Valley of the Kings, Armandale flies to New York to speak with Mr. Martin Reid, the nephew of the recently deceased Mr. Kevin Reid, and his sole heir. Upon arrival he finds himself too late, for Mr. Martin Reid has taken his own life. Has the ancient curse of the pharaoh claimed yet another life?

3) Haxanon and his sidekick, Mr. Armandale, arrive in the Valley of the Kings just in time to witness the agonizing death of renown archeologist, Dr. Paisley Blue. Dr. Blue had contracted Tetanus some days ago and nothing Doctor Brian White used in treatment was effective. Dr. Blue, a world renown Egyptologist, had been competing with Dr. Marie Bruster for the prestigious chair of antiquities at Yale. Was this really a job to kill for?

4) Most people on the expedition publicly discount the possibility of an ancient Egyptian curse causing of the deaths and view Hexanon's willingness to entertain the possibility with distain. In fact, the one thing that seems to unite the expedition is their distrust of Hexanon Pennystripe and his good friend and colleague Dean Armandale. They are the newcomers, the outsiders. Hexanon wonders whether it is simply that those on the dig do not appreciate strangers in their midst asking impertinent questions, or whether it is something more sinister. Are these deaths all from natural causes, as they appear, from an ancient curse, or is there an all too human hand behind everything?

5) At the end of the story Hexanon uncovers the cause of the men's deaths: greed. The greed of someone who stood to inherit a great deal of money from the nephew, and sole surviving heir, of the wealthy financier. Sir Henry died of natural causes, Mr. Kevin Reid was killed and his money passed to his nephew, Mr. Martin Reid. Martin committed suicide and the money was set to pass to the murderer. The archeologist was killed as a red herring. The murderer was medical doctor, Dr. Brain White. He was the common thread between the men. He was the one who infected Dr. Paisley Blue with Tetanus.

Notes: There are several things I need to do:
- I need to develop the background of Doctor White and make it clear that he was at school with Mr. Martin Reid, nephew of the wealthy Mr. Kevin Reid. I also need to hint at the incident that led Martin to leave all his worldly possessions to the good doctor.
- I need to put more emphasis on the role of the detective.
- Most important of all: Thing of a better name for the detective!

In Part 4 we will flesh out the characters we've created.

Thanks for reading!

Photo credit

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 2


Yesterday (see Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 1) we looked at crafting a sentence that summarizes your story and which has all the elements of your story in it, only compressed. Today we are going to expand that sentence into five sentences which embody the 3-act structure of a play.

2. Expand your one sentence into a five sentence paragraph.
There are two provisos here:

2.1. Take NO MORE than an hour to do this.
2.2. Have your paragraph mirror the 3-act structure of a play.

The 3-Act Structure of a Play
Let's discuss the 3-act structure of a play. Briefly, in the first act the reader is introduced to the world of the story and the characters who populate it, especially the main character, or protagonist. In the second act, or at the very end of the first act, the protagonist encounters an obstacle they must overcome and in the third act the protagonist overcomes the obstacle and enjoys their reward.
Of course that is a stark oversimplification – for starters, there can be, and often is, more than one main character and he or she does not always overcome their obstacle. But you get the idea.

There are many excellent books on screenwriting that discuss the three act structure of a play (and it isn't always three acts). Here are two I have read and enjoyed:

Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition

There are oodles of screenwriting books on the market, but these are two that I've read and can recommend. The Writers Journey is perhaps a bit more tailored toward novel and short story writers as opposed to screenwriters.

So, let's begin! Here, again, is the sentence I put together in the first step:

The death of a wealthy English archeologist sparks talk of a curse when two other people involved with the expedition die from seemingly unrelated causes.

Here's my first attempt at expanding my sentence into a paragraph:
A wealthy English aristocrat dies of a heartattack after breaking the seal on the tomb of a long-dead Egyptian pharaoh. The aristocrat's death is quickly followed by the death of two of the men who were with him when he broke the seal: A wealthy American financier and the financier's nephew. Afraid that her son will be the next casualty, the aristocrat's wife hires a private detective to investigate the possibility that there is a curse at work and to protect her son from whatever is happening. The detective accepts the commission and he and a college travel to Egypt to investigate. As the detective arrives at the camp a renown archeologist, one who was present when the seal on the tomb was broken, dies in the most agonizing of ways. Although everyone discounts the possibility of an ancient Egyptian curse being the cause of the deaths, people seem united in their desire for the detective to find out whether the deaths are all from natural causes or whether someone among on expedition is systematically killing people. In the end, the detective uncovers the cause of the men's deaths: greed. The greed of someone who stood to inherit a great deal of money from the nephew, and sole surviving heir, of the wealthy financier.

Okay, that's nine sentences, not five, and it doesn't mirror the 3-act structure of a play.

Here's what we need:

1st sentence: Sets the stage.
2nd sentence: 1st conflict of novel
3rd sentence: 2nd conflict of novel
4th sentence: 3rd conflict of novel
5th sentence: Gives the outcome.

Let's give this another try:
I didn't do this sentence by sentence, but here are my five sentences:

1) A wealthy English aristocrat dies of a heart-attack after breaking the seal on the tomb of a long-dead Egyptian pharaoh. The aristocrat's death is quickly followed by the death of two men who were with him when the seal was broken: A wealthy American financier and the financier's nephew.

2) Afraid that her son will be the next casualty, the aristocrat's wife hires a private detective to uncover the true cause of the deaths, whether it is an ancient Egyptian curse or something more mundane. The detective accepts the commission and he and a college travel to Egypt to investigate.

3) As the detective arrives at the camp a renown archeologist, one who was present when the seal on the tomb was broken, dies in the most agonizing of ways. The man, an Egyptologist, was competing with an equally renown colleague from another institution. Could his rival have taken advantage of the situation to off his rival and blame it on the curse?

4) Although everyone discounts the possibility of an ancient Egyptian curse being the cause of the deaths, they spurn the detective's efforts to arrive at the truth. Did these men die from natural causes or from an ancient curse, or perhaps someone among on expedition is systematically killing people.

5) In the end, the detective uncovers the cause of the deaths: greed. The greed of someone who stood to inherit a great deal of money from the nephew, and sole surviving heir, of the wealthy financier. The archeologist was killed as a red herring.

Our expanded sentence is not perfect but now at least we see the skeleton of a story begin to emerge. In the next post in this series we will transform each of our five sentences – or, in our case, mini-paragraphs – into individual paragraphs, keeping in mind that each paragraph should itself reflect the three-act structure of a play.

Thanks for reading!

The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

Photo Credit

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 1

Starburst

We've all developed our own writing methods. If there's a million writers in the world then there's AT LEAST a million methods. No one method is better than another, just different. This method might suit you and it might not. My hope is that you'll find something in it you find useful.

A few months ago I sat down at my writing desk after a particularly grueling shift at my day job and tried to write but the words wouldn't come. I asked myself, "How do I write a story?" How do I approach the initial idea and transform that into a story? That's when I began putting this method together. If you like it, try it out!

THE STARBURST METHOD

There are about 10 steps to this method so, to keep the size of my posts manageable, I'll roll it out over the next several days. Today, we'll take a look at the first step.

1. Formulate a one sentence description of your story

This comes from two screenwriters, Blake Snyder author of Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need, an iconic book on screenwriting, and Michael Hauge, author of The Hero's 2 Journeys. One thing these men have in common is the advice that, before you do anything else, formulate a log-line or a one-line; a sentence that summarizes your story.

Why do this? Why start from a one-sentence summary of your story? For one thing, it will help prevent you from straying from your initial idea and drifting off point. That said, if you intentionally decide to change your story's focus because you discover the idea isn't working for you, that's fine.

Also, and this is from Save The Cat, you need to make sure that your idea for a story creates a "compelling mental picture". In order to do this it needs to have all the elements of the story in it, only compressed.

Now, I'm not sure that Blake Snyder meant exactly this, but one of Nathan Bransford's posts was enormously helpful to me in understanding this technique, specifically his excellent post Query Letter Mad Lib. Here is Mr. Bransford's formula for how to compose your one sentence description:
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].
For instance:
Hexanon Pennystripe, a man who describes himself as the greatest detective on earth, has just accepted a case no one believes he can solve -- including himself. But when an ancient curse takes another man's life, Hexanon knows he must put his vanity aside and capture the killer in order to restore order to the world.
or
The death of a wealthy English archeologist sparks talk of a curse when three other people involved with the expedition die from seemingly unrelated causes.
Now, I'm sure you can do much better than either of those examples, but you get the idea.

Next time we'll talk about the next step: expanding your sentence into five sentences that, taken together, mirror the 3-act structure of a play.

Thanks for reading!

Links:
The Starburst Method, Part 1: Creating a one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 2: Developing our one sentence summary
The Starburst Method, Part 3: Creating a five paragraph summary
The Starburst Method, Part 4: Developing characters
The Starburst Method, Part 5: Creating a five page summary
The Starburst Method, Part 6: Developing scenes
The Starburst Method, Part 7: The character grid
The Starburst Method, Part 8: The rough draft and narrative drive

Monday, March 12, 2012

Should I Monetize My Blog?


This is a debate I've been having with myself for some time.

On the one hand, I don't want to alienate any of you. On the other hand, I'm a writer at the beginning of her career so ever penny counts!

I've decided to go head and put a few ads on my site -- hopefully tasteful, inconspicuous ads. No pop-ups.

If these ads bother any of you, or you feel that they are diminishing your experience of my blog, please let me know! You can leave a comment here or contact me through my contact form (there is a tab, up top and to the right).

Thanks for reading!

Photo Credit

JJ Abrams, Mystery and TED

JJ Abrams, Mystery and TED

JJ Abrams: The Mystery Box


What do these three things -- JJ Abrams, Mystery and TED -- have in common? JJ Abrams' TED talk, appropriately entitled, "The Mystery Box" (I've embedded the video at the end of this post). It's a great talk, informative yet personal. He's an amazing speaker.

If anyone knows about mystery it's Abrams. I looked him up on Wikipedia to research this post and was--the English have a word for this -- gobsmacked (love that word!) by the number of his accomplishments.

Did you know he created Alias? I knew he co-created Lost and Fringe, as well as Person of Interest and Alcatraz. Which means he has had a role in creating just about all my favorite TV series!

His list of credits goes on, and it's well worth the read (click here for JJ Abrams' Wikipedia page), but what I thought was the most interesting was the way ... well, his TED talk was different.

I've seen my share of TED talks, and they have all been inspiring and informative, but Abrams did one of the best I've seen. Not only did he talk about Mystery and the role of mystery in his work, his writing, but he wove a story into the talk itself, cleverly manipulating the viewers' emotions and then, when you least expected it, when you had been lulled into a feeling of security ... BAM! You felt the emotional punch of what he was saying.

He reminded me that good writing manipulates the emotions of your audience. I've never read one of Abrams' screenplays, but if he writes like he talks, then he's one heck of a writer.

Here's JJ Abrams TED talk, The Mystery Box:


Other posts you might like:

- Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 1
- Self Publishing on Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing
- Self publishing on Smashwords

Photo credit: "George Lucas and JJ Abrams" by Joi under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Post-PC World


I need a new computer. It's been about five years since I powered my current machine up for the first time, a fact which makes it positively geriatric. The first question I asked myself was: Do I want/need a laptop or desktop?

That was the beginning. That was the moment I started to notice that most of my friends, the overwhelming majority, did not have a desktop. Of course I had seen them all with laptops at the library, at writing courses, and so on, but I just assumed that, like me, they had a desktop at home.

I guess I'm an old fashioned girl -- or perhaps I'm just cheap! -- but I like having a big ol' thing to plunk down on my desk, combined with a sprawling, and very comfortable, ergonomic keyboard. I like playing around with photos and video, and it's nice to have a high-end computer. Of course there are laptops with the computational oomph to get the job done, but the user experience just isn't as good. Perhaps it's the keyboard, perhaps it's the smaller screen. I suppose I'm used to using a PC.

In any case, this is what was on my mind as I opened up my Flipboard app and read the following:
Apple CEO Tim Cook this week talked about a “post-PC world.” Many people treated his comments as controversial, exaggerated or outright marketing lies.

In fact, everything Cook said about it was literally true and perfectly accurate. He said the post-PC revolution “is happening all around us at an amazing pace and Apple is at the forefront and leading this revolution.”

He didn’t say we currently live in a post-PC world, or that in the future PCs would not exist. He specifically said “we’re talking about a world where the PC is no longer the center of your digital world.”

What he didn’t say — so I will — was that the transition from the PC world to the post-PC world involves a transition from a Microsoft world to an Apple world.

....

Once companies launch and become successful, the only way to maintain their success is re-invention. As the conditions that enabled their initial success fade into history, they have to remake themselves into a new kind of company.

This is so hard to do that very few companies actually achieve it. The reason is that you often have to kill your most successful products while they’re still successful in order to take a gamble on the products that aren’t making big bucks yet.

Apple managed to skirt this problem. The whole iOS forest was started with a tiny seed: The iPod.

The iPod in no way overlapped with or competed against Apple’s main business, which was integrated PCs. Apple leveraged the iPod and iTunes universe to launch the iPhone, which they used to launch the iPad.

By the time the iOS devices were competing against Apple’s Macs as an alternative for users, they were already bringing in more revenue for Apple.

It will be easy for Apple to “sunset” Macs, to put them on the back burner and focus on iOS devices, because iOS devices are already the core business.
- Why Apple will Crush Microsoft in the Post-PC Era, Cult of Mac
I found this especially interesting because I had been considering buying an iMac. Not the current iMac, the next one. I've seen the current one -- and there's absolutely nothing to dislike about that beautifully huge 27-inch monitor. There is no denying that it is a high-end machine, but there hasn't been a new iMac for a while.
Multiple news outlets are pointing to a leaked Intel roadmap slide which puts Ivy Bridge chips in the late Q1-Q2 2011 timeframe, indicating a March or April 2012 release at the earnest.
- 9to5Mac
I'd been wondering why Apple hasn't come out with a desktop computer sooner, but I think the simple reason might be that PCs are no longer as profitable as they once were. Many people only need a computer to check email and surf the internet. They can do that with a smart phone or tablet, why have a big computer at home taking up real estate?

Whatever the case, I'm still a PC gal. I've decided to build my own computer -- or at least to try! I'll blog about my efforts and let you folks know how it goes.

Thanks for reading.

Photo credit

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Justice Department and Agency Pricing


The Justice Department has warned Apple Inc. and five of the biggest U.S. publishers that it plans to sue them for allegedly colluding to raise the price of electronic books .... [1]
-- The Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2012, by Thomas Catan & Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg.
The US publishers in question are:

When I read this I started hearing Chris Isaak's song, "Baby I did a bad bad thing." I know, I'm strange.

What could this mean for writers? Well, for starters, lower prices for books.

The real question is: would cheaper books be good, or bad, for writers? I don't think there's a clear cut answer. If I was published by one of the publishers in the above list -- and keep in mind that these are amoung the biggest publishers in North America -- I would be worried that I would find it harder to get my books accepted and that I would earn less for the books that were. On the other hand, if I was published by an epublisher like Samhain, I don't see how this would affect me.

Last year at a writer's conference I had the pleasure of dining with one of the editors at Samhain. She mentioned that, unlike many other publishers, Samhain has been experiencing growth. In fact, a few months ago, she had been an editor at another well-known publisher, one who was known for print books, and one who was currently in a financial slump.

I think that the future is bright, and will remain so, for people -- writers included -- who are willing and able to embrace change and work with the old ways of doing things while accepting the new.

Thanks for reading!

1. The Wall Street Journal, March 9, 2012, by Thomas Catan & Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The new iPad


No, not the iPad 2, the NEW, new iPad.

I just finished reading a text stream of the opening presentation in San Fran. I have an iPad 2 and, while there are a lot of new and notable features in the iPad ... the new iPad ... I think that my dollars are going to remain in my bank account, awaiting the release of the iPhone 5 or perhaps a new iMac.

What's new about the new iPad?
The biggest change seems to be the to-die-for retina display, coming in at 2048 x 1536 pixels. I've only seen pictures of pictures -- I'm heading down to my local Apple store later today in the hope of getting my hands on one -- but they looked amazing. Combine that with a twice-as-fast processor and you've got one very nice tablet.

Engadget.com has a table comparing the old iPad to the new one you should check out if you're interested in the details: The new iPad vs. iPad 2: what's changed?

I'm trying to get into the app store to download iPhoto. It would have been nice if Apple had given us a new port so that photos (video, etc.) taken on the iPad could be easily uploaded onto a computer, but, still, iPhoto looks like software worth having. And, hey, it's fun!

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Martin Picard: A genius at being remarkable


After I wrote my blog post, Seth Godin: The best thing since sliced bread, I talked to a fellow foodie about the importance of doing something remarkable.

Talk about synchronicity, just that morning he'd been reading a Globe & Mail article about Montreal chef Martin Picard's latest cookbook: Au Pied De Cochon Sugar Shack in which he has recipes for, among other things, squirrel sushi and beaver tail. Whatever you think about the cookbook, the chef has to be given credit for at least not letting anything going to waste. He stuffed the beaver with its own tail and organs and then cooked it with maple syrup and duck fat.

If that isn't a remarkable recipe then I don't know what is! Pretty much every recipe in the cookbook is ... well, insane remarkable.

But, you might wonder, what are his sales like? Here's what the Globe and Mail article had to say:
Yet this isn’t stunt cooking or a ironic postmodern art project. Mr. Picard and his collaborators printed 40,000 copies in advance of the volume’s release this week. If history is any guide, they will almost certainly need to do a second printing before long. The cookbook from Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon, Mr. Picard’s original place on Montreal’s Duluth Avenue East, has sold an estimated 50,000 copies since its publication in 2006. (Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon is available for $70 on the cabane à sucre’s website, as well as at better bookstores.)
Not bad. On top of all that, he is self-published and, as far as I can tell, only sells his book through his site and a few bookstores, Chapters among them.

Links:
- Squirrel sushi? 'That's a very, very good meat,' says Montreal chef Picard
- Au Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack on sale at Chapters.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Kristen Lamb has a vlog!


Yes, this is the Kristen Lamb with the marvelous blog. She's always saying to try new things so here she is, trying vlogging.

Here's her first Vlog-cast. :-)

Is your writing any good?


The short answer: If you're worried about it, then if it isn't 'good' right now, if you keep working at it, it will be. One day. At least, that's what Eugine Cross says, but I think he's onto something.

Eugine Cross writes:
I took an Intro to Creative Writing course and was introduced to the work of Louise Erdrich and Yusef Komunyakaa, Lewis "Buddy" Nordan and Raymond Carver. I fell in love and I fell hard. I left inspired and signed up for as many more writing and literature courses as I could cram into my schedule. I started writing and workshopping with my peers and when I did, I reached another important discovery. I was no good. My work was crummy. It was nowhere near as moving or beautiful or polished as the published work we were reading which was understandable, but it also felt weak in comparison to my peers' work. And comparing was what I did. Constantly. I was convinced that each class I enrolled in held only two or three "real" writers and that I was never among them. I perpetually worried about whether or not my stories lived up to those of my classmates when what I should have been worrying about was whether or not they lived up to themselves. What they were capable of becoming. I was consumed with doubt. Was it possible that I had found my calling only to discover that I really sucked at it? Could the world be that cruel? I was certain it could. But somehow, whether from sheer stubbornness or a refusal to accept what I believed to be the truth, I stuck with it. It was not until years later that I would understand that doubt is oftentimes a good signifier of talent, that it actually is talent. As the amazing Richard Bausch puts it, doubt is an indicator that you have an ear for the way the work should sound and that you realize it's not yet there.
Read the rest here: A Powerful Sort of Doubt
Eugine Cross has a short story collection, Fires of Our Choosing.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Seth Godin: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

I love reading Seth Godin's blog and watching his videos but there's one video I keep coming back to, his TED talk: Sliced Bread and Other Marketing Delights.



Here are a couple of highlights:


Ideas that spread, win
Take this idea/phrase: The best thing since sliced bread. When the technology to slice bread was developed in the early 1900s no one cared about it. For 15 years no one cared about it, not until Wonderbread came along. They spread the idea.

Don't market to the masses, market to a few people who are completely obsessed with something
Another thing Seth says -- one that seemed counter-intuitive to me at first -- is don't market to the masses, market to a niche, to folks who are completely obsessed with something.

- Lionel Poilane. He sold bread to people who not only cared about eating great tasting bread, he sold bread to people who cared immensely how it was made.

- Aeron Chairs When Herman Miller designed a chair for himself, he wanted something comfortable and inviting to look at. Most of us want that as well, but at about $900 per chair it's a niche market. (Can you imagine Kevin's reaction (Kevin of Dragon Den fame) to this idea? I can just see him asking: Who's going to buy an office chair for $900 when I can pick one up at IKEA for $100?). Some people really want a comfortable chair that is great to look at. That's Herman Miller's niche.

Tiffany & Co. Everyone knows this company name, but it sells things that only a few folks can afford and that absolutely no one needs. Yet, in 2012, when many companies are closing their doors, Tiffany's is showing record profits.

Don't be very good, no one will notice
This is outrageously counter-intuitive, at least for me. So I started hunting for examples. I didn't have to look far. Here's what I thought of:





Good for Rebecca Black, but her success does illustrate a point. Something doesn't have to be very good in order to succeed.

As always, thanks for reading.