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.
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 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.