Monthly Archives: January 2014

How Michael Connelly Writes… and What He Drinks When He Does It

An interview with the undisputed best crime novelist on the planet.

I wish I could tell you that the interview was with/from me, specifically for Storyfix.  But this link is from The Daily Beast  (click it to get to the interview, people are MISSING THIS, so I’m bolding this… so YOU won’t) was sent to me, and I’m honored to share it, typos and all (those aren’t mine, either).

In case you still missed it, CLICK HERE to read the article.

I’m particularly happy to see that he calls out one of “my” six realms of Story Physics as key to making a novel work (and not remotely to the exclusion of the others), using the exact same key word.  This is like putting forth a theory and hearing Einstein echo your thoughts… which doesn’t make you Einstein, it just makes you relevant.

I’ve never met Michael Connelly, whom, if you aren’t familiar with him, you should Google.  Or check him out on Amazon.com, where his Author Page provides a nice 101 on his ouvre, which will enhance this article for you.  There is no bigger contemporary name in the bookstore… any bookstore.

I do have three tenuous connections with him, though. 

Okay, two, and one of my own concoction.

I saw him well over ten years ago at a signing at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR.  There were about three hundred folks awaiting his arrival, most with multiple books in hand for signing, which I estimated would take him until dawn to complete.  I remember him strolling in, Starbucks in hand, looking surprised and sheepish when he saw the size of the crowd.  I thought that was cool.

Someone in the crowd asked about film adaptations of his book (this was before Blood Work in 2002, and long before the Lincoln Lawyer, which he discusses in this article).  He said they’d all been optioned, and – with a  poker face – said those options had paid for his Los Angeles house.  I thought that was cool, too… as if anyone in the room could relate to that.

Not long after, in a stunning feat of naivete, I emailed him (through his website; no, I don’t have his personal email, fat chance) prior to the publication of my first book (Darkness Bound, which has just been republished by Turner Publishing), asking for a blurb.  That happens all the time to A-List writers, by the way, and unless you have a personal connection you have, like, ZERO chance of it happening.  Didn’t happen for me, either (though the publisher, Penguin Putnam, scored a couple of A-minus list blurbs), but here’s what was amazing: he answered me.  Unlike about 20 other known names who couldn’t and still can’t dust the guy’s keyboard, who didn’t answer.  I thought that was classy.  I’ve since learned — as you are about to experience — that everything the guy does and says is classy.

And finally, the third one is… well, let me know if you can figure it out (because I can barely speak it aloud, much less write it down).  It’s a connection through reference, that’s the hint.  Free book to anyone who gets it.

Enjoy the article.  Worth the time if you’d like a peek behind the curtain of process for a writer whose work will be remembered for decades after he, and us, are gone.

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Useless but fun sidebar: if you’re a reader here you probably have read the posts by Art Holcomb.  If you ever wondered what Art looks like, I’ll just say this: he’s a dead ringer for Michael Connelly.  Like, twins separated at birth kind of close.

Also… speaking of interviews… I have recently completed an interview with Phillip Margolin, who it could be argued is the Michael Connelly of legal thrillers (lawyers writing mystery/thrillers about lawyers).  Look for that here in about a week.

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Art Holcomb’s Favorite Bits of Storytelling Advice in 2013

If you aren’t familiar with Art Holcomb, use the search function (right column) and be amazed.  He’s a regular contributor to Storyfix, with some of the best content here or anywhere else. 

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The advice business for writers can be a minefield. 

Some things work, some don’t. But we always seek to give writers bits of knowledge that will mean something when the moment comes and they need inspiration the most.

I’m no different.  Neither is Larry. 

Writing is a lonely task and we all need guidance from time to time. I know I do.

As a gift for the New Year, I want to share with you 20 pieces of advice that I have found most helpful in my own writing in 2013.  They come from teachers such as Xander Bennett, Scot Myer, Michael Hauge and others. They made a difference in my writing.  Perhaps they’ll find a home with you as well.

Lessons from 2013

1.      Every once in a while, step back from theory and plot structure to think about your story’s place in the overall culture. What do you want your story to say, and why do we need that message right now?

2.      What you write belongs to you. Every word is a decision, and every decision is a reflection of yourself. Never forget that.

3.      Actors are trained to think in terms of scene goals, and you should too. If a character is speaking and acting at cross-purposes with their goal, it’s probably because they’re being influenced by some unspoken inner need.

4.      Everyone knows the villain is supposed to act like she’s the hero of her own story. But so should the romantic interest, the henchmen, the mentor and the supporting characters.

5.      Don’t cater to the slower members of the audience. Move fast and force them to keep up.

6.      A character should either A) strengthen what we know about them, or B) challenge what we know about them. If it doesn’t do either, maybe it doesn’t need to be in the story?

7.      Don’t feel bad about destroying large parts of your story world. You created it; you can un-create it.

8.      If you don’t like a character, nobody else will. If you’re not attracted to a character, nobody else will be. And if you don’t hate the villain, don’t expect the audience to either.

9.      Your job is to convince others that what you see in your mind’s eye is important, feasible, and makes narrative sense.

10.  A great idea is nothing without great characters.

11.  Good villains don’t just make it worse for the protagonist. They make it personal.

12.  You’re the one in control, not your characters. If they start “doing something you didn’t plan”, make them stop. Inspiration is great but not if it wrecks your carefully crafted structure

13.  Act Three (also known as “Part 4” in the Story Engineering model for novels… it’s the same thing exactly) doesn’t necessarily have to be bigger. It just has to feel bigger to your protagonist.

14.  A story without real emotional moments will ultimately feel hollow. Remember to slow down every now and then to let your protagonist feel something.

15.  The more fun your villain appears to be having, the more the audience will hate her (and love her at the same time).

16.  The first thing your protagonist says is at least ten times more important than how they look. Write accordingly.

17.  When writing a historical story or biopic, try to put emotional truth before literal truth.

18.  When it comes to difficult story problems, start by assuming that everything you already think you know is wrong.

19.  Be honest with people about your schedule and how quickly you can write. Under-promise and over-deliver. That way if you miss a deadline you only have yourself to blame.

20.  Each time – Every time – show us something we’ve never seen before.

All the best in the New Year – and keep writing! 

Art

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Art Holcomb is a screenwriter and comic book creator. His most recent comic book property is THE AMBASSADOR and his most recent project for TV is entitled THE STREWN.  His new writing book is tentatively entitled “SAVE YOUR STORY: How to Resurrect Your Abandoned Story and Get It Written NOW!” (Release TBA.)

Larry’s add to Art’s bio: when he’s not on set doing rewrite work or chasing a deadline for a studio script assignment, he’s also a major screenwriting teacher at the University level, a story development coach and a sought-after workshop facilitator at writing conferences around the world.

 

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