start with the goosebumps

Here’s a whole slew of writing advice from a 6-week workshop that a writer called Sam J. Miller took recently.

This column is in no way promoting or endorsing the workshop he took, and as he doesn’t attribute any of the quotes he posted, I won’t either.  I also paraphrase here and there.

Here are my favorites, the ones I find particularly useful.

Start with the goose bumps.

Magic – or any world – needs a system. You need to be able to intuit one rule from another, and when we learn a new one it needs to make sense AND be surprising.

In an alternate history, we need to know the point of divergence.

Character Interviews. Have someone sit you down and ask a bunch of questions, and answer them as your character. It’ll help you figure out stuff you need to think through, to bring them to life more. This can be scripted or unscripted. Works especially well if you’re really tired and silly.

Let the inexplicable be the inexplicable, and focus on your characters.

In a public place, write a one-sentence autobiography for everyone who walks in the door.

Every choice you make has to make the character’s last decision more difficult.

Checkerboarding—screenwriting term for intercutting necessary background information and detail with dialogue and character development.

General Romance Progression: Meet Cue. Acknowledgement of Feelings. Deeper Moment. Dark Moment. Resolution.

Romance is an engine of tension that has nothing to do with plot.

Concrete grounding and detail help us follow you through the zany.

Each event, especially the big and tragic ones, have to feel as if they could not be other than they are.

Hide the key to the plot on the first page, before the audience is oriented.

Have a trustworthy character misread a key piece of information.

Rule of thumb: stories begin when their problems become critical for the protagonist.

If we don’t know something important, there should be a reason we don’t know it.

and my current favorite:

One of the most important things I’ve learned here is that the shit should always hit the fan. THROW SHIT AT THE FAN.


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