Monthly Archives: April 2012

Staple This To Your Forehead

All writing tips are not created equal. 

Or, among us writers, equally.

Some are so huge, so obvious, that they don’t resonate.  This one is like that. 

Nobody is above it.  Which means, if you missed it, you’ve missed the point.

As someone who reads unpublished manuscripts for a living, and seen the results of this truth not being honored as it should be, I believe it should be a daily manta.  I recommend you write it backwards and staple it to your forehead, so that every time you look in the mirror you are reminded of this massively huge, diabolically subtle storytelling OMG truth.

I’ll settle for you pasting it right above your monitor.  Read this, notice this, every day you sit down to write.

You may recognize your own dance with this issue right off.  If you can’t see the wisdom in it, then you need to pay attention and discover what it means.  Because on the list of things that will tank a story, this one is right at the top.

It’s all in the italics.

If you don’t connect to the sub-text of the italics in the next three paragraphs, you’ll miss the point, And the point is career-changing.  Here it is, one of the most important writing tips you will ever hear, rendered in three parts:

The objective of storytelling, the point of it all, isn’t to write about something.

The idea isn’t even to write about something.

The highest goal of your storytelling is to write about something happening.

When you can execute the last one and still make your story about something… then and only then will you have elevated your story to the level of art.

At any given moment in your story… in each and every scene of your story… ask yourself: what is happening here?  Right now?  How does it connect to what’s come before… how does it relate to what will happen next, and thereafter?

You should begin with that last piece as your goal.  And then evolve your story to allow it to embrace the first two.

So rather than asking (or answering, when asked) “what’s the story about?”… ask and answer this instead: “what happens in your story?”

When you know the difference, you’ll have crossed a threshold that will empower your stories, and perhaps your writing career, to greatness.


Filed under getting published

Genre Mash-Up — a Guest Post by Art Holcomb

NOTE: have a couple of quickie things for you (below) following another killer post from Art.

by Art Holcomb

I love a good mash up story . . .

You know the type, where the author has taken two or more genres or storylines and has crushed them together in a way that they, while still familiar, seem strangely unique. 

They are a blast to write, not only because the writer gets to go deep into different genres, but because this kind of writing always stretches the imagination to produce possibilities and directions that hadn’t thus far been considered.   While television and the movies have had a long love affair with mash-ups, there are a number of novels out in recent years that have sparked renewed interest in the approach.

Typically, mash-ups fall into one of a couple of categories:

CLASSIC MASH: This combines a pre-existing text, such as a classic work of fiction, with a certain popular genre.

Consider a few of the following recent efforts.

          Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith)

          Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (Grahame-Smith)

          Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (Austen and Winters)

          The Eerie Adventure of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe (Defoe, Lovecraft and Peter Clines)

NEW MASH: Sometimes a mash-up uses a classic story, but it needn’t be that way.  It can be just two or more genres sent in counterpoint to each other

In my career I have created such stories as:

          FINAL DOWN – an NFL / disaster film

          4EVER – a religious afterlife / thriller set in a tech future

          The AMBASSADOR – a Sci Fi / Mobster story 

          FRANKI & JONNI – a Frankenstein myth / high school drama

          Oliver and the Four-Piece Regency-Style Bedroom Set of Death  – a YA mystery/comedy

 . . . Although, I admit, that last one may have gone too far.

RE-IMAGININGS: Another fun approach to stretch your writing horizons is to reimagine an earlier story or set of characters in a completely new or updated way

           The BBC recently did this with SHERLOCK, a re-telling of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories –but set in modern-day London.

          In WICKED, it is the wholly recognizable story of THE WIZARD OF OZ, but told as a parallel novel from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.  Old story – new viewpoint. 

New possibilities.

RETELLINGS: are all about drawing the inspiration and flavor of the source material and making it live again.

          The movie, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU is a retelling of the Odyssey myth.

          Certainly, many of the Disney stories are, in fact, retellings of classic fairy tales.


PREQUELS, SEQUELS and the CONTINUUM OF STORY: A subset of re-imaginings really, this is the most available of all mash-up possibilities, and perhaps the most freeing.  Here, a writer will take a piece of work, character or setting and imagine it years previous to or years after the time of the originally piece. What was Captain Ahab like as a boy? What was Phillip Marlowe like as an old man?  What was Tom Sawyer’s world like at the turn of the century?

A good example of this was the television show The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.

This type of story allows you to just find a character you like and trace them back to their suspected beginning and their possible ends to see what excites you.

Now, it’s your turn . . .

Why not try to make up some mash-ups of your own?

Here are a list of genres, tropes and categories to choose from.  Mix and match to your heart’s content using some of the exercises below.


Action/Adventure, Advice,  Adult, Animal, Arts, Biographical, Children’s, Circus, Comedy, Contest, Crime/Gangster, Cultural, Dark, Death, Detective, Drama, Educational, Emotional, Entertainment, Environmental, Erotica, Experiential, Family, Fan fiction, Fantasy, Fashion, Finance, Folklore, Food/Cooking, Foreign, FriendshipGay/Lesbian, Genealogy, Ghost, Gossip, Gothic, Health, History, Hobby/Craft, Holiday, Home/Garden, Horror/Scary, How-To/Advice, Inspirational, Internet/Web, Legal, Magic, Medical, Melodrama, Men’s, Military, Music, Mystery, Mythology, Nature, News, Nonsense, Occult, Parenting, Personal, Pets, Philosophy, Political, Psychology, Regional, Relationship, Religious, Research,  Romance/Love, Satire, Sci-fi, Scientific, Self Help, Spiritual, Sports, Suburbia,  Supernatural, Technology, Teen, Thriller/Suspense, Tragedy, Transportation, Travel, Tribute, War, Western, Women’s, Writing Skills, Young Adult.


Don Quixote, Pilgrim’s Progress, Allan Quartermane, Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein,  The Count of Monte Cristo, David Copperfield, The Man in the Iron Mask,  The Three Musketeers, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Captain Nemo,  The Scarlet Letter, Moby-Dick, Alice in Wonderland, Doctor Moreau, Fu Manchu, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes,  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Great Gatsby, The Big Sleep,

TROPES (Genre Mainstays)


Vampires, Aliens, Werewolves, Ghosts, Monsters, Disaster, Psycho, Nightmare, Serial Killers, Torture, Satanism, Demons, Cannibals, Haunted Houses, Zombies.

Science Fictions

Alternate Universe, Aliens, ESP, Time travels, Spacecraft, Robots, Cyborgs, Space Travel, AI, Steampunk, Space Opera, Superheroes


Dark Lord, Magic, Quest, Medievalism, The Ancient World, Dragons, Witches, Other Races, Creatures, Barbarians, Damsels, Swords, Rings, Prophesy-

Oh .  . give it a try!

Exercises Number 1: “Name & Job”:    Pick a character and a genre / trope at random and see what this new combination stirs in your imagination. Possibilities could go something like:

          “Ask Frankenstein, Advice columnist” (Frankenstein / Advice)

          “Donkey Ote” Knight Burro (Don Quixote/ Medieval)

          Captain Ahab, spokesman for PETA (Moby Dick / Animal)

          “I was a Vampire for the FBI” (Vampire / Crime)

While such mash-ups often create comedic or farcical characters, I’m often surprised what people come up with.  There is a film columnist that I respect quite a lot who writes under the moniker FILM CRITIC HULK!

Exercise Number 2: “Fill in the Blanks”: This is a tool screenwriters use to create and pitch new ideas for shows.  Just take any two of the genres or tropes and plug them into the sentence below:

“________ meets __________”.

Television especially loves this one, as in:

          Serial Killer meets Family = Dexter

          Detective meets Magician = The Mentalist

          Writing Skills meets Crime = Castle

          Alternate Universe meets Scientific meets Detective = Fringe

          Vampire meets Soap Opera = Dark Shadows

          Vampires, werewolves and ghost meet Suburbia = BBC’s Being Human

          Vampire Cop = Forever Knight

Just off the top of my head as I was writing this, the following possibilities came to mind:

(1)    Fantasy Detective

(2)    Alien Soap Opera

(3)    Gothic Time Travel

(4)    Haunted Circus

(5)    Zombie Fairy Tales

(6)    DIY Haunted House Repair

(7)    Questing Mobster

(8)    Lawyers for Aliens


Not all winners to be sure, but I took a shot at fleshing out a couple of them as illustrations of where you could go:

“Once Upon a Crime Spree” – Grendel Jones was born in the shadow of the great castle, rumored to be the son of a witch and an ensorcelled prince. He was raised on the hard streets of a fairy tale land content to help solve his neighbor’s little problems until the day he is asked to trade his magic and skills as a detective for a chance to learn the secrets of a past he never knew he had. (Fantasy Detective)

“Asta” – Harrison Quell, Esq.  is a bitter and disillusioned attorney who stumbles across the case of a thousand lifetimes: a chance to represent an alien who has been living among us for 100 years.  Can Quell keep the creature alive and safe – from the military, the press and a mysterious secret organization that has been hunting the visitor for generations –just  long enough for it to talk to the President of the United States before it’s too late? (Lawyers for Aliens)

“1-800-Got Creepy?” – Deke and “Big Tommy” Perez have a successful TV show built around their reputation as Haunted House Flippers – taking spooky wrecks and turning them into profitable rentals. The network has given them their biggest challenge yet for Sweeps Week: turn a two hundred year old terror around in a week.  But is this nightmare – with its eerie glow and forbidding past – more than they bargained for? (DIY Haunted House Repair)

Now it’s your turn!

Give it a shot yourself and share in the Comment section anything you find interesting (or feel free to keep it to yourself for future use). I’ll be monitoring the post for a couple of weeks to see what you come up with.

The more story notions you come up with, the more keepers you might find.  

I think you’ll find this to be a great way to keep your creativity and imagination in tune.

Art Holcomb is a successful screenwriter, comic book writer and frequent contributor to  A number of his recent posts appear in the Larry Brooks’ collection: Warm Hugs for Writers: Comfort and Commiseration of The Writing Life.  He appears at San Diego Comic-Con and other writing and media conventions and begins teaching screenwriting and graphic novel writing classes at the University of California in Fall 2012. His most recent screenplay is FINAL DOWN (a NFL team disaster film) and is completing a workbook for writers.


PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE… for the second year in a row has been named to the Writers Digest “101 Best Websites for Writers” list (May/June) issue, the Big Daddy of writing site lists.  Thanks to you all for making this happen!

Next Up… the beginning of a deconstruction series on The Hunger Games both the book and the film.  If you haven’t read it yet, or seen the movie, I recommend you do soon within the next few days, as this is a clinic in all Six Core Competencies and the skillful optimization of underlying story physics. 

RECOMMENDED: my agent, Andrea Hurst, is giving another Writers Digest tutorial, this time on “story structures that sell” (see why we get along?).  Check it out HERE.



Filed under Guest Bloggers