Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

A Smattering Of Stupid Writer Tricks

• A simple formula for writing: take the story from high intensity (action, argument, manifest tension, drama) to low intensity (dialogue, simmering tension, concerted character development). Nothing should be without tension, and conflict should carry throughout. A film like Die Hard does this well — period of calm, then period of action. Calm, action, calm, action. You can play with the timing and the length of these sections, too. Requiem for a Dream does slow, fast, slow, fast, too. But as it goes on, the slower periods begin to winnow. The sharp, fast, nasty patches get sharper, faster, nastier. The last ten minutes are a roller coaster ride through human depravity, addiction, and tragedy.

• Another simple formula: character wants something, something or someone stands in their way, character is tested on how far she’ll go (and what she’ll do) to accomplish her goals.

• Another simple formula: shit happens, shit gets worse, shit gets complicated, shit twists, and maybe just maybe the shit gets cleaned up.

• After today’s writing, ask: what was the conflict, what were the stakes?

• Create an outline as you go. As you finish a day’s worth of writing, open a new document, and write a short paragraph (50-100 words) of what transpired during the writing. Er, not what transpired in and around you personally (“I felt grave existential dread and suffered unruly crotchsweats”), but what happened in the story. Then, by the end of your effort, you will have a rough outline detailing the course of events in and around the story.

• After today’s writing, ask: does my character have agency? Did she push on the story more than it pulled on her? Could she be replaced with a potato being passed around? Is she a little paper boat on the river, or is she the goddamn river? (Hint: she should be the river.)

• Chart your story. Use graphs. Give a number (1-100) to a particular aspect of the story (tension, drama, character development, pacing, physical/social/emotional, pornographic quotient, instances of the word ‘indubitably’). You can use use spreadsheets to create graphs.

• After today’s writing, ask: why do I care? What about this is engaging me? Why will it engage others? Explore the give-a-fuck factor. Challenge yourself.

• Don’t name your characters similar names. Even starting with the same initial can be confusing. I mean, you don’t want to assume your reader is so dumb that they cannot distinguish between “Davenport” and “Darren,” but if you have characters named Dan, Don, Dave, Dale, and Dom — then you’re going to confuse us. Though Wes Anderson could probably pull it off. He’s so quirky!

• After today’s writing, ask: what happens tomorrow when you write? Not to you — you cannot predict that my pet tiger, Lucius, will rend you from teeth to taint. (Well, I guess you can predict it now. Spoiler alert.) Figure out where the story will go tomorrow when you sit back down. Think about it. Maybe write a couple words to remind you.

• Got writer’s block? Skip the section you’re working on. Nobody said you had to work in order. Writer’s block might also mean something is wrong in the story. You might need to cut the last section you wrote because something in there is off-kilter and your writer’s soul can feel it. Maybe go back, stop writing prose and outline the thing. A hasty, chickenscratch, combat-landing outline — zero fuckery, just a quick scrawl of what the story should look like.

• After today’s writing, ask: what if? What if it doesn’t go the way you think? What if you do something different? It’s like the TV show, Survivor. Sometimes, you have to make big, unexpected moves inside the story. Sometimes it has to stop going the way it seems to be going and turn sharply in another direction. You sometimes have to fool yourself to fool your audience. Sometimes, some unwitting fucker gets voted off the island. Blindside the characters. Blindside yourself. Blindside the readers.

• Answer the question: “WHAT IS THIS STORY ABOUT?” Answer it in a big way but with a short sentence. One sentence only. What are you trying to say with this story? Not, “what’s the plot,” but the intense, gut-wrenching question of what is this story really motherfucking about? When you answer it, write it on a Post-It note. Stick that post it note from your monitor. Let it remind you as you write. Doodle a dong and/or boobies on another Post-It note. Because why not?

• After today’s writing, ask: why now? Why does this story happen right now? What events lead to it? What matters about this moment in time that the story has to exist, has to play out this way?

• Don’t just read your work aloud. If you hit an uncertain point, let someone else read it aloud. You’ll hear things in the way they say it. The story is written in your voice, yes, but it’s written for other people. What does it sound like coming from someone else’s mouth?

• After today’s writing ask: was I bored today by the work? If so: why? Fix that shit.

• Assure that you have STORY NOODLIN’ TIME. Every day. In the shower. On the lawnmower. While gutting your enemies and tanning their flesh for your leathery manskin bedsheets. Find time every day to just think about the story you’re telling.

• After today’s writing, ask: where are my pants?

• Before writing today, read the last page you wrote. Just one.

• After today’s writing, ask: who is my audience? Am I writing for them? (And also remember: your primary audience is you. Write first for yourself. Tell the story you want to tell.)

• Write for 45 minutes. Stop for 15. Repeat while able.

• After today’s writing, remember to save everything. Redundant backups. Extra saves.

• If you’re not sure about a word, sentence, or whole section, don’t fiddle with it right now. Writers start fiddling, they fiddle for hours while nothing else gets done. Highlight it in big bold yellow. Then move the fuck on until it’s time to edit.

• Cut the first chapter of your story. Cut the first paragraph of a chapter. Cut the first sentence of a paragraph. Be on a quest to tighten. Assume your job is to tell as little story as possible to get the point across. How little can you tell, how late can you enter, to still ensure that people a) understand what’s going on b) feel something about it c) think about it after they’re done?

• To understand story in a new way: study comedy. Study the shape of a simple joke — a joke is a story with a twist ending. Study magic tricks. Study how people tell stories. Study commercials. Study anything that has a narrative flow.

• Get some sleep. Sleep is brain food. You need your brain to write. Get some sleep.

Now go write.