Wednesday, March 14

Writing: The Starburst Method, Part 1


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!


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.
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!

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

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

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

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

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. 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

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.

- 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

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

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.