Friday, March 20, 2020

The Simple 5 Step Secret To Great Fiction


Stephen King says he starts his novels with a "What if?" question. What if a woman and child are trapped in a car by a rabid dog? What if a family pet buried in a Pet Semetary came back to life? What if a young girl could start fires with her mind?

I have also heard many other bestselling novelists such as Jodi Picoult, Janet Evanovich, and Nicolas Evans lay claim to the same thing.

And I have heard others say they just saw an image in their mind or had a persistent sentence knocking on the inside of their brains, and they just followed that to where it leads them.

And while their insight and tutelage is invaluable, when I was a budding writer it left me with another question.

What's next?

It's all good and fine to have a starting point. In fact, a starting point is imperative. But in answering the question of "What next?" you will lift your novel from "What if?" to "Howzat!"

So in answer to the "What next?" question, I defined the five essential elements of any good story, whether it's a novel, a short story, a play or a screenplay. Use these five elements to plan your story and you're guaranteed to write a bestseller every time.

Step One: Desire

It is essential that your main character wants something. Even if it’s only a glass of water, they must have an “object of desire” to pursue. It can be anything from a way of escaping their predicament, or a way to bring their world back into balance, but the key is that your main character must want something. Without that, you will not have a story.

This “desire line” is the golden thread that will run through your story.

For example, in a love story, the object of desire is beloved. In a story of illness, the object of desire may be anything from a medical specialist who can treat the patient, to a specific medicine guaranteed to cure. In a failing marriage, the object of desire could be the best divorce lawyer in town or an apartment of their own. It’s your choice and will be dictated by the type of story you are writing.

Step Two: Conflict or Opposition

You will undoubtedly know that nothing ever moves forward in the story except through conflict. So once your main character knows what they want, there has to be something or someone around to stop them. And the most powerful person, or thing, to oppose the main character is the one who can put the most pressure on them and force them to change.

It’s critical to remember this: the strength of any story is directly related to the strength of the opponent. If it’s easy for the main character to reach their goal, then where’s the challenge? Where’s the drama? Where’s the struggle for growth and change?

The Harry Potter novels kept us on the edge of our seats for seven books and ten years because of the promise of a showdown between Harry and Lord Voldemort. The success of Star Wars hinged on the multilayered battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. The Bourne series enthralls us because it's one man against the CIA.

In our earlier examples, the opponent in the love story is always the lover. If a boy meets a girl and they get together and live happily ever after, where is the story? There isn’t one! So the lover must resist in some way. In the case of the illness, the main opponent could be a government department that is withholding approval for a drug that will cure you, or it could be a lack of funds to travel overseas to see that one specialist who can treat you. And in the failing marriage, the opponent would be the other marriage partner, who is either trying to send you broke or stopping you from moving out.

Really take the time to explore your opponent. They can often be the most interesting character in the story!

Step Three: Moral Dilemma

The conflict must build so that your main character is forced into a corner, where they must make a decision that challenges their values.

There is only one question you need to ask yourself at this stage, and that is, “how can I push my main character into a place where they feel as though they are stuck between a rock and a hard place?” The decision they make here must be a true test of their core values, and whatever decision they make needs to tip them into the most intense conflict of the story, where they battle the opponent in a do-or-die climax to your story.

For example, in the love story, your character may be forced to choose between love and security, or love and family, as they enter new territory in the relationship stakes. In the illness story, your character may need to choose between health and authority, or health and pride, if they are forced to ask for charity to finance their overseas trip. And in the case of the divorced couple, your main character may be forced to choose between freedom and control, or financial security and love, depending on the scenario you choose.

One way or the other, your character has to make a choice and this choice sends your story into its most intense conflict.

Step Four: The Battle or Climax

You are now entering the most intense conflict of the story and the action here must take place between your main character and the main opponent. This is the classic “fight” scene, or where the great revelation comes out, where you can otherwise surprise or shock your readers. Push it out there! Allow whatever comes out to come out onto the page. Remember you are just exploring your story here. If it goes too far you can pull it back in the writing or the editing. Just remember that the most powerful climax will be one that brings about absolute and irreversible change.

It’s a good idea to explore your character’s highs and lows at this time. By this I mean look at how they can behave really badly, as we often do when we are pushed into a corner. Does your character come out swinging, or do they submit and surrender? Neither answer is wrong or right. It will depend entirely on your story.

Step Five: Resolution

Every good story asks a question at the beginning. Whether it's a Stephen King "What if?" question, or something entirely different, it's imperative that you answer the question here. How can you show your character having learned their lesson? How are they seeing themselves clearly for the first time? What impact does that have on those around them? What is the "solution" to your story?

I recommend not spending too much time planning this final step, as it almost always simply comes out in the writing. Stories that you are meant to write have a way of just coming out the way they need to and too much planning of the ending will make it seem contrived.

So those are our five simple steps to great fiction. Have a character who wants something, add something or someone who tries to stop them, put them in an impossible situation, watch them fight their way out and see what they learn in the process!

Simple Really!


The Secret Power of Words

If the best way of communicating with prospects and existing customers was through sign language, we’d all have to learn to sign. Or if the best method of communication proved to be some kind of mutually understandable code, we’d all have to learn that code in order to say anything. Thankfully, our communication process is much more simple…or is it?

A salesperson has the benefit of meeting his prospect face to face and will be able to gauge his pitch according to visible response signs displayed by his prospect. An experienced salesman will instinctively know from the facial expressions and body language of his prospect, whether he’s hitting the right buttons. This is usually indicated by the prospect’s head nodding up and down combined simultaneously with a beaming smile and wide-eyed appreciation.

A telesales person has much less to go on. They can only judge response to their sales pitch through the prospect’s answers to questions and the actual tone of their voice. Most telesales people find their job easier when they try to imagine the look on their prospect’s faces while they’re talking to them. But, the deciding factor will almost always come down to the tone of voice deployed by both parties.

The Internet and Direct Mail Marketer have no such advantages over their prospects. They can’t see them and they can’t hear them. Their only weapon in their armory of sales pitches is their written word.

How we communicate through our written words holds the absolute key to successful selling online and offline. Whether it’s a sales letter, an email or ad, the written words must convincingly convey the sales message directly into the prospect’s mind. But first, you have to get your prospects to actually read your message, and usually, this very first hurdle will claim many, many casualties.

Getting someone to read your sales pitch will almost certainly depend on your headline. Your headline is your introduction. Your ‘hello’, your ‘hey you’ and your ‘listen up’. If your headline doesn’t grab the attention of your prospect within two seconds, it’s goodbye and farewell.

Other important aspects of a ‘killer’ sales message are sub-headings. Sub-headings are generally used to maintain interest throughout the copy. But they’re also included for the benefit of prospects that first scan your message before deciding to read it in full. To some degree, they’re almost as important as the headline itself.

Then there’s the body copy. It’s here that your copywriting talents and skills should really shine through. Here you have the opportunity to use any words in the English language to describe and explain in fine detail, the benefits and features of your product or service on offer. And the English language is positively rich in adjectives, so there can be no excuse.

But the real secret to creating captivating copy is to use ‘sense’ words. That is words that arouse the senses. Touch, see, smell, taste and listen is what we instinctively do every day. They represent our human survival mechanisms and for the most part, we trust them. Other mammals rely on them totally.

When you use sense words in conjunction with emotionally fuelled trigger words,   you can elicit all kinds of responses, which can be carefully channeled into the heart of your message for maximum impact. Harnessing words for profit in this way is a skill, and it’s a skill that every online and offline marketer needs to fully comprehend.

Learning to write outstanding and emotionally charged sales copy is not an essential requirement for business success, but recognizing the effectiveness is.

Never underestimate the secret power of words.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

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Monday, February 10, 2020

A Beginner's Guide to Writing a Novel



No one is born as a novel writer. But do you believe that we all have the capability to be writers? Impossible as it may seem but the answer is yes! If we have a passion for it and if we strive to make it happen, novel writing can be as easy as writing ABC. Writing is actually not a very complicated thing. It is just like drawing, painting, and even cooking. It is art! Your imagination is all that it takes to get it started. What makes it hard is not writing itself but how people make it hard than it really is.

The first key to writing a novel is the ability to dream and imagine. Think back to when you were a little child and dreamed. Your imagination took you to places you've never been to before. It made you do things you never thought you could do. Having superpowers...being in strange places...the conditions are limitless. Writing a novel is actually imagination translated into words. You close your eyes and let your thoughts drift while creating a web of consequential ideas. Afterwhich, you write them down on paper.

The second key to writing is formulating the premise of your novel. Let's say you'd start with a huge asteroid moving about in space. Then suddenly it collided with another asteroid and instantly created an explosion. Some of the explosion's debris fell down into the earth's atmosphere. By accident, a person comes in contact with it. These sequence of events could be your initial start in which you let your mind take hold of and run with to produce the succeeding events.

The third key would be creating a stream of spontaneous ideas. Once you have the initial idea, sink down into it and allow yourself to be completely absorbed. Let's say after the person comes in contact with the asteroid debris, he gains supernatural powers! And then he notices some new changes in his being, not just physically but also emotionally and psychologically. This is where an avalanche of new ideas start coming in. You will notice that you are no longer directing your story but your story is directing you. That makes writing now so easy. You don't need to analyze anything because the story now starts to play like a movie. All you have to do is put them into words as the story plays in your head.

Next, make sure you are able to retain your daydreaming and concentration as one event goes after another. This state is now called the "alpha state". According to Judith Tramayne-Barth, this is the place between consciousness and sleep. Time stands still when you are in this state. Words keep coming to you until you start to feel pain in your legs and in your waist and then you suddenly flick consciousness and you become flabbergasted because you've not only written one or two pages but five or more without even knowing it!

The next key would be to practice flipping in and out of the "alpha state". You can do this by rereading what you've written and internalized it as if it was your first time. It might take you time, as much as hours or even days before you are able to go to your "alpha state" again but once you're adept at going into the zone, it would only be a matter of minutes before you start writing a new dialogue.

So, you've finished your story! Now it's time to do the final touch-ups. There is still one last thing that you need to do. Yea, you guessed it. You need to check the entire story again for spelling, punctuations, grammar, correct word usage and coherence. You might even need to revise it a few times before you are able to arrive with the final output. But don't fret, it's not much work really compared to writing the entire novel. What's important is you now have your own novel, written by yourself, using your very own imagination. How much more proud could you get?


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Carving Out A Home Writing Retreat


Credit: Uknown

The phone rings. The laundry pleads to be stuffed, cycled, dried and folded. Chaos reigns in the kitchen, e-mails queue for attention. Our lives are at once mundane and undeniably seductive at the same time. When we sit down to write at home, suddenly everything that marks our existence as tedious becomes compelling. Writing at home can seem tantamount to training for the Olympics past age nineteen.

Yet carving out time to write at home is possible. You can even design a home writing retreat. This weekend, I have staved off all other obligations and have Friday and Saturday free. I look forward to delving into my writing revision with hours of uninterrupted time. How to make sure I don’t veer into work mode. I’ve developed a strategy for an at-home writing retreat. Here are the ways that you, too, can carve out space for uninterrupted writing bliss.

Look ahead a month or two in your calendar. Find a day or two that are free and X them out for your retreat. When people suggest a get together on those days, say no. They’re full with something more important. It is vital to guard these days.

The week before, act as if you are going out of town. Take care of all the work and home obligations that need your attention. Think about what needs to be taken care of when you are flying the coop – pet and plant care, clothes for the trip, etc. Make sure your work is done by the day before so you can take the time guilt-free.

Devise a plan. Consider your ideal writing retreat. First, think about what you are retreating from. Make a list of the roles you play in life: mother, spouse, employee, and writer. Give yourself permission to take time off from those roles to focus on one role. This weekend, I will set aside business owner, writer and teacher to be novelist for two days.

Have a focus for your time. You may wish to work on one creative project or several but know beforehand what this time is devoted to. This will help when you enter the writing zone to get down to work right away.

Enroll allies. Alerting your people to your plans will make it easier to keep your boundaries. If your retreat means simply that you are stowed away in your bedroom or office while the rest of the family goes about their day, make sure they know that your do not disturb sign means just that. Better yet, help plan an outing for them so they can have their own adventure while you write. Who do you need to let in on your plan so they don’t inadvertently try to thwart your efforts?

Get your vittles lined up. Plan for your nibbling needs. Make sure to have healthy snacks on hand. Prepare meals in advance or plan to order out so you can eat well but not get distracted by food preparation.

Be more than a walking head. Have a plan for being embodied. You may plan walks into your retreat, simple yoga or your regular workout.

Commit to tuning out. You may want to unplug the phone, commit to leave your e-mail program off for the day and silence your cell phone. What other things do you need to set aside to be on retreat?

Give yourself a break with evening recreation. You’ll want a break by evening. What activities will nurture your writer? You could rent a film about a writer or artist to inspire you. You could have a juicy book waiting to read.

Consider other activities that support your writing. If you went to a retreat center devoted to writers, what would you want to see? Inspiring books about the writing life or writing craft, favorite quotes, photos of writers who are role models may all be part of your writing retreat. Background music that encourages your creativity might help.

Being on retreat doesn’t mean being holed up at home. If working in a cafe or at the library supports your writing, plan for excursions out of the house... Watch out for the errand monkey, who will try to yank you around town on a bunch of his missions!

Give yourself permission to step out of your norm. Take this time to focus and be in full creative mode. A retreat of even a few hours can be a huge boon to progress on your writing. Have fun and make it work for you.