INFOGRAPHIC TIME! 22 Ways to Create Compelling Content

Sometimes I need a little help from my friends.

As you already know from my previous posts, I don’t like writing rules very much.

However, my dislike is aimed primarily at guidelines that limit a writer’s arsenal; arbitrary rules like “never use adverbs!” or “only use the verb ‘said’ after someone speaks (‘I hate rules,’ he said)” get little respect from me.

Having said that, plenty of other guidelines exist that actually expand what a writer can bring to the table, and I always keep my eye out for the sage advice of fellow writers.

Take this handy-dandy infographic the folks at Copyblogger created not long ago.

Entitled 22 Ways to Create Compelling Content When You Don’t Have A Clue, this infographic will prove valuable when your head’s empty but your fingers are itching to type. Granted, it deals primarily with writing blogs, but since we’re all bloggers as well as aspiring novelists and poets, I just had to share it with all of my kindred spirits out there.

Enjoy, and share any ideas of your own for coming up with content!

Pixar Minimal Posters: When Less Means More

I’m a huge fan of Pixar animated movies; Monster’s Inc and Finding Nemo are probably my favorites.

There’s a lot to be said about the kind of storytelling that appeals to kids and adults, but that’s not what this post is about.

A gentleman named Wonchan Lee created several movie posters for Pixar movies; each poster is spartan in detail: he chooses a color and one image from each movie and, well, see for yourself . . .

 

 

If there were ever an argument for achieving an affect using less instead of more, the above is it. 🙂

You can check out and even purchase Wonchan Lee’s affordable posters here.

Watching Groundhog Day Will Help You Understand Fiction Writing Better

Phil: I’m a god.

Rita: You’re God?

Phil: I’m a god. I’m not *the* God… I don’t think.

Oh, Phil, how right you are. If I may, however, I’d like to add another group to your pantheon: writers.

That’s right, writers are godlike. But before you begin jotting down your commandments and demanding calves be burned in your honor, keep in mind that our powers are limited to the blank page (sorry!).  Let’s discuss what Groundhog teaches us about godhood and writing.

Know Your Worshippers-er-Characters

After reliving February 2nd several times over, Phil Connors knows quite a bit about everyone in Punxsutawney. He’s gotten them to share their beliefs, desires, and memories; he knows some of them so well that he can manipulate them to do what he wants.

Phil learns everything he can about his co-anchor Rita, from her love of French poetry to her dislike or white chocolate, in order to woo her properly, to get the desired result he wants.

Writers, take note: if you’re looking for a reaction from your characters, know what motivates them. Learn everything you can about them. It doesn’t have to be all at once—some writers prefer to write an entire history of their characters; others favor developing the character as they go along.

Either way, a clear understanding of who your character is can be helpful: what he or she likes, how she’d react if she received white chocolate instead of milk chocolate, how her past has affected her growth as a person. Otherwise, you may find it difficult to keep the character’s actions consistent throughout the story.

Your Will Be Done

In Groundhog Day, each day plays out exactly the same . . . until Phil does something to change the routine.  In one version, he’s taking money from the back of an armored truck. In another, he’s trying to make a homeless man’s life as enjoyable as possible.

Without Phil’s input, the day would go on as usual. Each choice he makes creates a different outcome, and he’s able to go back and try something different the next day.

Phil is basically living several different narratives based on what he does and to whom.

Your characters and story are exactly the same. Different actions = different reactions. Does your character kiss the girl or push her away? Will he take that job in Paris or won’t he? Is he going to accept the pact with the demon or reject it?

Personally, I like to write out mini scenes that branch out from a single choice. If my main character’s talking to someone, I’ll let him agree with her in one version and disagree in another; the outcomes should be and are very different, and like in Groundhog Day, it’s only when I hit that sweetspot that the day/scene progresses normally.

So the next time you’re in front of your digital page, remember what Groundhog Day teaches us: you’re a god.  Learn everything you can about your characters, then poke them and see how they react.

Or try the reverse, poke them, see how they react, and learn from it.

Want to learn more cool stuff? Fill your braaaaaaain with  What Zombies Can Teach Us About Writing.

Music is My DeLorean Time Machine

Aaron looks up at me with brooding eyes and sighs.

Something’s not right.

Usually, he’s clever and confident, ready to cut anyone down to size with his rapier wit.

He doesn’t feel depressed, nor does he whine, which is what he’s starting to do right now. He’s complaining in the middle of a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of demons, werewolves, giants, and other supernatural creatures. They’re itching to toss something heavy at him to shut him up.

Then it dawns on me: Aaron, the main character in my novel, hasn’t changed a bit—I have.

I’ve run across this problem more than once during my writing. I’m the kind of guy who writes and polishes a scene over the course of a few days, not in one sitting. I’ll start my journey into a decrepit shopping mall on Monday and won’t leave until Wednesday or Thursday (note: it’s pretty scary in there).

Unfortunately, life isn’t always the most understanding of forces, and emotions do shift throughout the week. So what I felt as I started the scene on Monday may be quite different on Wednesday.

I don’t know about you, but my emotions affect all that I do, including poor Aaron who’s wondering what’s going on!

But! I have just the solution for times like these: start up the old DeLorean Time Machine. I call her Spotify, and I’m eager to hop into the back seat, tap the flux capacitor, and push her to 88mph until we’re back to a few days earlier when I was in a different place emotionally.

I feel the bass of “Feel Good Inc” by Gorillaz, and I’m back in the groove. Suddenly, Aaron isn’t taking crap from anybody, and I’m smiling again.

If your writing starts to look a bit off when you come back to it, if you’re making changes that you normally wouldn’t, stop! Take a step back. You might be in 2015!

It’s time to travel back to 1955 and make sure Biff doesn’t kiss your mom!

Well, uh, something like that.

“But Doc!” you might ask. “What if we run out of uranium, and we’re stuck in 2015?” Emotional ruts can happy to anyone.

I’d suggest looking for an alternate energy source. Pour your writing into another scene entirely to take advantage of your newfound emotion. Maybe there’s a darker scene written from the perspective of your novel’s villain.

Or, perhaps you have a side project–a short story, a poem, or even another novel—that has a very different tone from your current one. This could be the perfect opportunity to work on it a bit until you’re at the emotional level you need to be to write your novel again.

Before you know it, you’ll be back where you belong!

The journey of a writer is a difficult one, but we’re strong enough to make it. When the road gets bumpy, remember one thing: where we’re going, we don’t need roads. 🙂

So what’s your DeLorean Time Machine when you find yourself in a rut?

Writing Rules: 10 Experts Take on the Writer’s Rulebook

Mana from heaven. I had to share this article with all of the aspiring writers out there.

It tackles exactly what I’ve been writing about these past couple of days: should we follow the rules of writing or break them?

It presents a pretty damned even handed approach to the issue: One writer explains why he/she is for a particular rule (Hook your readers on page one, Show don’t tell, etc.) and right under it another author writes why he/she is against it.

It’s a great read if you’re still on the fence of whether or not to follow a creative writing guide. (I’m pretty squarely on the BREAK IT side of the fence myself 🙂 ).

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/writing-rules-10-experts-take-on-the-writers-rulebook

What Zombies Can Teach Us About Writing

He doesn’t really know how to work a keyboard; he probably read Shakespeare when he was in college (and alive), but he can’t remember any of the lines in King Lear. Ask him to tell you a story, and you’ll get the one about the “braaaaains.” The ending kind of sucks to be honest.

Yet this hungry, shambling corpse has a few things to teach aspiring writers if they’re willing to look past his rotting exterior and keep their minds open.

Well, not TOO open.

Typing Zombie

Perseverance

Zombies just don’t give up. Even if a band of humans have holed themselves up in a church with shotguns and torches, zombies will keep clawing at every door and breaking through every window.

They don’t stop to wonder if they should turn back and find something easier to eat like a bunny; nor do they question whether they’re really any good at this whole “undead/infected” thing. Zombies will keep trying to kill until they (re)die or they’re feasting on sweet survivor rump.

Living writers should be ashamed when they give up! You’ve most likely been reading books since you were a kid, and you’ve dreamed of crafting a story that everyone can enjoy. Zombies don’t even have that kind of a history; as soon as they’re bitten, they devote themselves to the task of biting others.

You as a writer have a far stronger desire to write than a zombie does to eat brains. Don’t give up! Make it a matter of life or death that you write that novel; make the novel the most important thing in the world to you, and shamble your way towards it even if doubt and writer’s block try to snipe you in the head.

Tempo

Some zombies shamble methodically.

Others run like a rat on fire.

Very few do both.

Zombies have learned that they can go at their own pace and still get at your delicious insides. They don’t try to run when they’d rather walk, and they don’t force themselves to walk when they really want to swarm you and your family.

Writers, take note: you can write at your own pace.

Some writers prefer to write nonstop without editing their work until they have a working first draft.

Others like to take it slow, editing scene by scene for maximum impact before moving on to the next chapter.

Either way is fine as long as it’s the way you want to write. Never try to force yourself to match the advice/tempo of a creative writing book (plenty say to just write and write and write without editing). No one knows you better than you know yourself; do your own thing and trust in your ability to get things done quickly or slowly.

Infect Them All

Zombies would make the best social media experts. Before Facebook and Twitter, they were networking like crazy! With a nibble here and an arm rip there, they spread their values, beliefs, and habits to as many other people as possible. Statuses were updated frequently, and it was clear that they all “liked” brains.

Writers now have a lot more power to share, market, and publish their own ideas and works than they did even 15 years ago. Make good use of blogging and social media sites to spread your thoughts and works-in-progress to other bloggers, to get inspiration and advice from other writers, and to build a network that you can rely on once you’ve published your first book.

It’s a brave new world out there that’s open to us writers; we have to take advantage of every method of spreading the message. At least until they invent a way to pass on ideas just by biting someone.

Facebite?

So what else do you think zombies can teach us about writing or even life in general?

The Secret To Writing A Better Story

7,000 words. It took over a tenth of a decent sized novel (50,000 words/200 odd pages) for me to realize that I hated my writing.

The culprit? My style; it was a long finger that made me want to vomit up a better novel.

It all boiled down to one simple thing: authenticity, or the lack thereof. I wrote what I thought would be “good.” I tried to follow my writing idols a bit too closely instead of trying to produce my own unique voice.

It’s a natural tendency: you love reading Terry Brooks; you’ve inhaled every book he’s written, and he’s a successful fantasy author, so when you sit down to write, you emulate his style.

The problem is, of course, that you aren’t Terry Brooks. Or J.K. Rowling. Or Stephenie Meyer. Or Tom Clancy (phew!).

You are you. And I am me. Seems like the start to a Saturday Morning special (or a Weight Watchers commercial), eh? But in all seriousness, there is nothing wrong with your style. It’s unique, it’s authentic, it’s … you!

And it’s the root of your happiness as a writer.

Check out this paragraph from my 7,000 word draft:

“Aaron waited for the storm to subside; it only grew worse, and the low rumble of thunder was traveling closer. He stood near a window in a small side room; he pressed his forehead against the cool stained glass, his arctic blue eyes scanning the streets outside, and sighed. The hairs on his neck wouldn’t relax, and a heat was climbing up his stomach and spreading under his skin. He wanted to smash the window and inhale the rain.”

Now, the paragraph is grammatically correct, and it’s sort of interesting in that the weather is ominous, and we can tell something’s bothering dear old Aaron. It’s not terrible (I hope).

But, and here’s the important part, it’s not Michael. Not really Michael (I’m Michael by the way).

THIS is me:

“Aaron was trying to decide how sorry he felt for the kid.

The little boy sat naked and crying on the doorstep of a rundown house. He cradled his knees, and with each sob he rattled his bony frame. He’d probably been roaming the streets by himself for days, trying to find his parents or his lost dog, Oatmeal. That sounded like a name a kid would give his dog.

Whimpering. Filthy. Starving. Imaginary pet. A solid eight on the sympathy scale (tens were reserved for maimed children with weak, hopeful smiles). Aaron sighed, walked up the crumbled cement walkway, and sat next to him.”

It’s like night and day, isn’t it?

Maybe I was embarrassed to write in my own style (which affected my characterization of Aaron above); I can be pretty sarcastic, and my own views on morality are somewhat … looser than most people. I’d try to think of my imaginary readers and how they’d react to my writing.

I’d think to myself “I can’t write a protagonist who thinks like that! He’s gotta be pure and knightly and good and …”

Bland. Utterly bland.

I wasn’t writing the way I really wanted to, and I was MISERABLE when I sat down in front of my pc to reach my word quota for the day.

So I did the best thing I could ever do in my life: I told Microsoft Word to create a blank document, dug deep into my twisted brain, and produced something closer to my own style.

Is it groundbreaking? Nope; am I going to sell a million copies? Who knows? But I can say with certainty that I am LOVING every minute that I spend writing this new novel, and those 7,000 words that took me a couple of weeks to get down are nearly reclaimed after 4 DAYS.

The moral of the story: write how you love. If you’re not happy and excited when you sit down to write, then chances are you aren’t writing what you want to write.

Of course, we all have our off days when we don’t even want to look at a sheet of paper. We’d rather play videogames (Skyrim *ahem*) or read a book. But when your off days become every day, then you know you’ve got a problem.

Trust yourself, my fellow writers. You can’t anticipate how your readers will react. You just might find that someone out there digs your writing.

Hopefully, a million someones. 🙂

Share your thoughts guys.

Warning: Writing is Fun, But Books on Writing Are NOT

I’m curious as to why every person who’s ever written at least one novel believes they can distill writing into “rules” that other writers should follow.

  • Don’t use adverbs; write the action in detail.
  • Don’t explain: show through action instead.
  • Don’t use flashbacks; stay in the moment.

These “rules” are supported by claims that your readers will know something is wrong with your novel, even if they can’t explain it in words, or that your writing will seem lazy, or that you take your readers out of the experience and they’ll want to put your book down in boredom.

Yet how many books have you read, perhaps even your favorite books of all time, that violate these rules again and again, like this little gem:

“He’d forgotten all about the people in cloaks until he passed a
group of them next to the baker’s. He eyed them angrily as he
passed. He didn’t know why, but they made him uneasy. This
bunch were whispering excitedly, too, and he couldn’t see a single
collecting tin.”

Hand this paragraph over to an editor, and he’d slash the adverbs out immediately–“Don’t tell me he eyed them angrily, show me he did it!” or “What does ‘excitedly’ look like? Show me!”

Surprise! The paragraph above was taken from one of the best selling novels of all time: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.

Does it being a best selling novel make it great? Of course not, but plenty of people love the series, adverbs and all, and Rowling will even spend time explaining things in detail rather than showing it through dialogue or actions. Oh, and I’ve NEVER wanted to put one of her books down because of it.

The same applies to Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. His characters go on in length about long dead kings, traditions that the inhabitants of his world still followed, and explanations of the environment. And you know what? I love it, and so do plenty of other people.

The same with Steven King’s novels. Seriously, I’m not making this stuff up. Some of the most influential writers of all time–if not all of them–have violated the rules that many of these “books on writing” claim are gospel.

If any aspiring novelists are out there, please take my advice: don’t read books on writing. They’re filled with opinions, not facts, about the craft of writing. There is no one way to write, and men and women have written hundreds of novels before anyone thought to write a “book on writing,” many of which are considered classics.

Write how you want to write; put your heart and soul onto the written page, and forget what those writing books have to say. Look to your favorite authors and learn from their works.