Monthly Archives: November 2009

Puzzles, Propositions, Pitches and Other Holiday Stuffing

Yesterday I challenged you to do the impossible.  Oh, did I mention that the puzzle is, in fact, actually not solvable? 

And it looked so easy, too.  Just like your killer idea may look like an easy winner at a glance.

Well, I’m either a smug bastard or I had a reason for doing that.  Let’s opt for the latter.

Several of you Googled the thing — it’s called the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg (thank you Steve Smith)– and responded with solid, research-reinforced rationale as to why this thing doesn’t work as planned.  A few others confessed that they tried and gave up the ghost.  And thankfully, nobody faxed me their proud example of doing what nobody else in the history of mankind has ever done (sometimes that happens in my workshops within one minute), forcing me to break the news.

Aside from the momentary entertainment value, I offered this as an experiential exercise in how you think.  All you research analysts out there passed with flying colors, in that if you bring that same need to substantiate the validity of an idea before trying it out – as in, your story’s concept – you’ll be on solid storytelling ground going forward.

Mission accomplished.  Thanks to all for playing.

Coming in December…

Look for my ten-part series entitled: “The Strategic No-B.S. Guide to Finally Getting Published.”  Or something like that. 

Tell your writer friends to subscribe, you won’t want them to miss an episode.

And if you think you’ve heard it all on this subject, buckle up, I’m about to rattle a few cages containing the conventional wisdom.

Writer’s Digest Magazine’s “101 Best Writing Blogs on the Internet” – a Call for Nominations

If you’re in a nominating mood, here’s the contact: send nominations for next year’s list to  Be sure to include“101 Websites” in the subject line (deadline is Jan. 1, 2010).

I’m just sayin’.

Great New Site for Women Who Write

It’s run by a friend who has launched a lovely lifestyle site and is soliciting content from women with stories to tell for their Strong Women Series.

It’s called… I recommend you check it out. 

Feedback Sought

Sometimes a little guidance, combined with accountability and milestone management, is what it takes for us to reach our goals.  Thus…

It’s been suggested to me several times that I consider launching a members-site (with a nominal fee) for the purpose of offering a guided page-one-to-finish novel writing and coaching experience.  It’d cover a three-month span before starting over with a new crop of inductees, with personal feedback on outlines provided, as well as process-specific coaching through articles and tips. 

The result would be a completed and submission-ready manuscript, written in accordance with the principles of story architecture.

Wondering what you think, and what you think it’d be worth.  Thanks for the assist with this.

The most recent review of Story Structure – Demystified

… can be found HERE.

Most Importantly Today…

Here’s wishing you a very warm and happy Thanksgiving, hopefully with your family and/or friends.  I love sharing what I know about writing with you, and am thankful for your support and feedback.

See you Friday, with a guest post from Bill Johnson on creating compelling and memorable characters that drive our stories to a higher level.


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Have You Written Yourself Into a Corner?

Let’s have a little fun today.  Maybe at your expense, too.   Or maybe at mine if this pisses you off, which it might.   There’s a little exercise for you at the end of this post.  But first, a little context.

Sometimes an idea seems so good at first.  We bolt upright at night with it, we walk around with it in our head for days, and finally we sit down and try to write the thing.

Sometimes we write it without properly exploring it first.   Or even knowing how to explore it first.  And then, when it isn’t working as well as we’d hoped, we try to force it into something that does. 

One of the hard truths about this business is that there really are ideas, however compelling at a glance, that just don’t make for good stories.  And when that happens, we have two choices: we can resign ourselves to that truth and move on, or we can keep pounding on the idea until it evolves into something that will work.  At least in our very unobjective opinion.

But for that to happen, we first must recognize that the current iteration isn’t cutting it.  And that’s the problem.  That moment of recognition can be daunting.  And for those writers who haven’t been wrong about anything since the Clinton administration, it may never come at all.

Then again, maybe it isn’t the idea that’s the problem at all.  Maybe it’s you

If you don’t understand how to turn an idea into a viable story — newsflash: they don’t always organically grow from a seed into a full blown novel or screenplay — then the corner into which you’ve written yourself is entirely one of your own design.

One of the most formidable obstacles we writers face is the way we think

Some writers fail because they are unwilling to change something.  Either relative to their story or their writing process.

Is that you?  Are you stubborn that way?  Do you believe that any spark of an idea can become a viable story?  Especially in your capable hands?  That if you just twist it and pound on it long enough, you can wrestle it into submission?

Maybe, maybe not.  The point is, if you don’t recognize the moment when you need to re-engineer your idea, or perhaps even abandon it altogether, you will be in for a lot of frustration and pain.  Which usually arrives in the form of a rejection slip.

Because even if you don’t recognize it, someone else will. 

Remember…  the idea, the concept of a story, is but one of six core competencies that go into the writing itself, at least if the thing is to be successful.   If you haven’t mastered the other five… well, that corner awaits. 

And perhaps worse, if you don’t get that, you may never understand why your story isn’t selling.

Here’s an exercise designed to help you understand how you think about solving problems. 

If you take on this challenge, make sure you notice how you are thinking about it.  Will you solve this thing, come hell or high water?  Will you believe you’ve actually succeeded after only a few tries?  Will you give up after one?  Or not try at all, based on the suspicion that this will be a lot harder than seems?

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most impossible to conquer.

How you respond to this just might be a window into your creative process.  Are you someone who, after giving it a shot, recognizes the brick wall and moves on?  Or do you force your will on the thing and end up believing you’ve succeeded, no matter what?

Let’s find out.  Read the instructions carefully, they are key to this experience.  If you believe you’ve done it, copy it and email it to me, or fax it to me at 503-557-8082, with your email.  Win or lose, I’ll get back to you.  I’ll post the “solution” in a day or two.

Below you’ll find a diagram consisting of a box containing five other boxes, some sharing common walls.  In total there are 16 line segments that combine to form these boxes — 9 on the perimeter, 7 on the interior.

The objective is to draw one continuous line (you can work from either end, as long as the line ends up as a single “rope”) through each line segment (all 16), without omitting any, and without going through any single segment more than once.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it.  Just like your story idea sounds, if not simple, clearly doable.  So simple, in fact, that you’ll think you’ve succeeded… when in fact you haven’t. 

I suggest you draw this box on scratch paper, as you’ll no doubt try it several times before you either quit or decide you’ve done it.  (By the way, I do this in my writing workshops, and there are always those who are sure they’ve succeeded, sometimes within the first few seconds.  I’m just sayin’… whatever your experience here, you’re not alone. )

The box is shown here with a failed attempt in place (in this example there are four line segments that were not bisected).  Just draw this box without that curving, rope-like line as your starting point.

Have fun.  Learn something.  And don’t shoot the messenger.

paint box 5


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