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What an Actor Wants You to Know About Your Novel — a guest post from Art Holcomb

Hi… it’s Art here. It’s my honor to be filling in for Larry here as he finishes up working on new training videos and other materials for you, his StoryFix family of writers. He’ll be back very soon.

In the meantime, I want to tell you a story about the unexpected power of your characters.

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Studio from Art

Years ago, I was on the lot at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood for a story pitch session.  And, as I was early, I decided to grab lunch at the commissary.

Now, the commissary was one of my favorite places in the world because I never knew whom I might see – actors and actresses, directors and studio execs.

For a young writer like me, this was like having all of Hollywood in one place.

I got my lunch and found a place at a table with a veteran actor (we’ll call him Bob) and a studio executive named David, both of whom I knew from my time pitching to Star Trek.  As we ate, we talked about the business and politics and the world. Being a bit bold, I asked a question that had bothered me for some time.

“Bob,” I said, “I train writers – both screenwriters and novelists – and I’ve always wanted to know something. If you don’t mind my asking, what are your absolute favorite roles to play? The ones that absolutely draw you doing a particular script?”

It seemed to me to be the obvious question. Almost every novelist and certainly every screenwriter I had ever met had a burning desire to see their story turned into a movie and to hear their words spoken on the big screen – I know it had been a turning point in my own career. So, if I knew this, I could improve both my own work and the work of my students.

But the real question here was – how does one write a role that an actor really wants to play?

Bob thought about it a bit and said, “I guess I have three types of roles that make me want to do a picture.” He smiled and said, “And so, in the tradition of building suspense, I’ll give them to you in reverse order.”

And what he said next really surprised me.

“My Number Three choice would always be to play – The Hero.”

“Really”, I said. “Number Three?”

“Absolutely!” he said through a mouth full of salad. “In a well-written piece, the hero is the most powerful role. He or she should get all the great lines and the powerful scenes and gets most of the publicity. A movie is made up of perhaps sixty separate two- minute scenes, and it was Jack Nicholson who once said that he would consider playing any role that had for him three good scenes and one great one. Plus, when you’re playing the hero, the story is all about your journey, the focus is on you, so what’s not to like?  If it’s good enough for Jack . . .”

Made sense, I thought.

“So, yeah, absolutely,” Bob said. “But, really, the Hero’s not even the best role.”

“Okay,” I said. “What’s Number Two?”

“The second best role to play is always – The Villain.  The villain is where so much of the power and personality comes through. The range for most heroes is limited because of what they must stand for, but a villain can run the gamut. If for no other reason than the way the audience comes to hate a great villain, most great movies succeed or fail based on the power of the villain and, besides, they are always such a gas to play.”

By this time, I was a bit lost. Besides the hero and the villains, what other great roles were left?

Bob leaned back in his chair and smile wistfully. “But the absolute best role is the one that we are all trained to play, they one that gives us all a chance to show the audience exactly what we can do as actors . . .”

He paused for effect.

“I will always be attracted – first and foremost – to play any character who really suffers in the story.”

“Why?”

“Most people would say that we come to the movies or read a story or watch a play to enjoy the plot of the story. And we have always believed that plot is what draws us to the film. But the plot, from an actor’s standpoint, is only there to show the world the nature and range of human emotion through the actor’s art. Great stories, whether in films, television, or novels, are first and foremost about the truth of the human struggle.”

“I agree,” David the studio executive said. “Consider any film that you’ve really loved.  If you think about it, you were really drawn to the emotions that the characters portrayed – the pain, sorrow, anguish, elation and sheer love and happiness that you were able to connect with. It’s through that emotion that the audience bonds with that actor. Well-written pieces which always show that kind of human drama – the length and breadth of human emotion – and, it’s what makes the story a hit or a flop. From a pure craft standpoint, I would much rather play a powerful role is smaller film than the lead in a blockbuster. Fame, as wonderful as it can be, is not why most of us became actors. Humans, playing roles where the human heart stands in real conflict with itself, where pain and suffering can be shown honestly, makes that role – and that actor – unforgettable.”

I was beginning to see Bob’s craft – and my own work – in a new light.

Bob stood and gathered his belonging. And the worst part,” he said as he got ready to leave, “is that there are VERY FEW of those roles that come an actor’s way in his or her lifetime. And since the majority of movies are adaptation of novels and other materials these days, the problem lies as much with the sort of characters in novels today as they are in screenplays.

And, with that, Bob was gone, disappearing into the rush of people hurrying to get their lunch before the commissary closed for the day.

David said, “I love that guy,” and we sat silent for a while as I considered it all.

Writing for emotional impact was something I taught but had never considered from Bob’s position. Stories are, in the end, emotion delivery systems. We all come to the movies and to novels to be taken out of ourselves, to be made to feel things that we might not feel in our own lives. So the vehicle for these feelings had to be based in universally relatable emotions. We watch films and read novels for the same reason that our ancestors sat around the fire and talked about that day’s hunt. Stories were created by the elders of the village to teach the young people of the village about what their lives would be like and how to cope with the challenges ahead. All good stories invoke real emotions in the audience, and it’s that emotion that binds the stories to us and us to the stories.

Novelist or screenwriter, if a writer cannot write with emotional impact, s/he will never really reach the audience.

It was something I’d never forget.

I turned back to David as he was finishing his lunch.

“So when’s your pitch?” he asked.

“In about an hour.”

“I’ve got some time,” he said as he got up to leave.  “Walk with me back to my office. Bob really only gave you part of the story.”

And so, fascinated (and not believing my luck), I followed him out.

NEXT TIME ON STORYFIX: What Hollywood wants you to know about your next novel.

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A special offer to STORYFIX readers: We have a new slate of seminars in 2017.  We’ll be teaching you about How to Write for Emotional Impact as well as How to build your Writer’s Platform and Brand for ZERO DOLLARS . . . . PLUS news about our Summer Boot Camp that can get you up, writing, and possibly published within the next three months.

If you’re interested in these and any other of our courses and seminars, just drop me an email at aholcomb07@gmail.com, tell me you’re a StoryFix fan, and we’ll let you know about exclusive discounts we’ve created just for Larry’s loyal readers.

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Thanks for spending this time with me. Larry will be back soon.

So, until next time – Keep Writing!

Art

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The #1 Challenge Facing Writers Today

It’s not what you think it is.

And you’re already a part of it.

Art Holcomb and I — you know Art if you been here a while; if not, Art is one of the foremost writing mentors and lecturers in the country — recently made a 30-minute audio recording, a teleseminar, really, that ended up focusing on this important topic.

Important, because it can sabotage everything about your writing dream, including your learning curve… without you even knowing it.

Writers are deluged with information. Some of it is obvious. Some of it is gold.

Too much of it is less than credible, and sometimes it is downright toxic.

So when Art asked me this question in the audio interview, I ran with it.

I am passionate about writers understanding the truth about what we do, how we do it, and the liberating, mind-blowing awareness that suffering is optional.

The purpose of the recording was to introduce my new video training products to his significant following and readership. So there’s that, alongside the observations of two guys who are among all the noise out there, screaming our lungs out.

You can listen to it HERE.

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Another listening opportunity...

Last April I had the honor of presenting the Keynote address at the Las Vegas Writers Conference, after doing two workshops during the conference.  It was 74-minutes of gut- wrenching vulnerability, with harrowing tales from the writing road that made the audience wince, laugh and generally realize that I am not the grizzly bear middle linebacker of a writing guru-type that I am reputed to be.

Despite looking exactly like that in the video.

I just posted this on my new Youtube channel, if you have some time. It was shot from the audience, so it’s a little raw… as any worthwhile keynote should be.

Check it out HERE.

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The Roller Coaster Ride of Writing Professionally

You write, you publish. Then you get reviewed.

You get praised, and you get blasted.

The thing that has amazed me is the vehement vitriol that some reviewers inject into their reviews. Don’t like my novels? Don’t get my approach to writing, because it isn’t quite like what you heard from Famous A-List Author at your last writing conference? Don’t like my analogies and my lists of criteria? Don’t like all the “big words” I use to preach the gospel of craft? (You’d be surprised at how often this appears in reviews… words like “Epiphany” and “story essence” and “thematic resonance” and “dramatic tension” seem to challenge and confound some folks… which to me is like the term “load bearing” fogging the brain of an aspiring engineer; if the language of the craft confuses you — it’s not my language, by the way, it’s the language of the avocation — what are you doing reading a book intended for writers who aspire to write professionally in the first place?)

Last night I made the mistake of going onto Goodreads to see what some of the folks out there were saying about my work. The novels and the writing books.

Big mistake.

Believe me when I say, as gratifying as some of the positive feedback is, the enthusiastic blasters suck up all of one’s attention — let’s just say my evening was emotionally compromised — leaving you wondering what you did to offend or confuse those who didn’t seem to get what so many others were appreciating?

Comes with the territory. That’s the learning here. Not everyone gets you., and not everyone gets it.

There is always a lowest common denominator in any reader demographic — in the real world they are confused by four-way stops and ATMs and still believe in characters that talk to you from the page, telling you what to write next — just as there is often some real validity in the criticism that resides within one, two and three-star reviews, not all of whom are haters.

Today was better. This review showed up on Amazon for my latest writing book (Story Fix: Transform Your Novel from Broken to Brilliant), and it helped me put it all back into a healthier perspective.

Give it a read HERE.

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If you’d like to check out my new training videos — there are five of them now, with more on the way — click HERE or HERE (this one is my new site for these virtual classroom video modules).

And if you’d be interested in hearing more about a new weekly Advanced Training Shots for Serious Authors — short videos with bluetooth-able audio (5 to 10 minutes, delivered to your Inbox every Monday morning), offering high-level learning and insight that applies to the application of the core principles, rather than an introductory context for them — drop me a quick email and I’ll add you to that rollout list.

Thanks for listening and reading. I really do appreciate you.

Larry

 

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