101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and Screenwriters

Writing is writing, and the means by which it finds wings is still the product of,  for better or worse, a process. This book is all about empowering that process.  ~ Larry Brooks

Every so often I discover and resonate with a new blogger. It’s not just because of the concepts they convey in their content or comments; sometimes we share a common life view or I find their personality engaging and I start to care. Most of this happens through the medium of writing, with the odd photo or podcast thrown in.

Does your writing engage folk like that?

Can you lead readers into your life, make them hungry for the skills you share, inspire loyalty and cause them to care if you reach a crisis point in your blogging or your life?

Larry Brooks of Storyfix.com, a guest writer at Write to Done and Copyblogger, can help you do that with your writing and your blog. Better still, if you want to make your living as a writer, he can help you boost your creativity and sell what you write. The first draft of Larry’s debut novel was bought and published ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­- with only slight revisions – and went on to become a minor best seller. His screenplays have been optioned.

storyfixebooksmallHe’s recently published an ebook called 101  Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and Screenwriters: Innovative Ways to Jack your Creativity and Sell What you Write.  I’d recommend you buy it, print it off, study all 141 pages and scribble notes all over it. Unless, of course you have a shelf full of published novels, a portfolio of produced screenplays, an enviable life style paid for by your writing and an agent who adores you because you make their life easy.

Larry’s writing voice is strong  – often humorous – and the ideas are clear, fresh and easily applied. His ebook and blog posts have inspired my teenage daughter to write better stories for school by giving her structural templates she can explore and experiment with; they’ve enabled her to tap into her love of film and TV drama in order to analyse what makes a compelling story.

Many tips struck me as innovative, some are classics worth rediscovering and there are a few I disagree with. Most of the ideas, though, resonated with me, made a lot of sense or inspired me to action. Here’s a random sample of the kind of chapters the book covers; most of the topics provide rich material for bloggers as well as help for budding novelists.

  • Less really is more.
  • Pay attention to song lyrics.
  • Watch Dr.Phil.
  • At any point in the story you need to be able to answer this question: what is the reader rooting for and caring about?
  • Forget most of what your high school creative writing teacher taught you.
  • Imagine your novel as a movie. Or imagine your screenplay as a novel.
  • Nothing you write is ever wasted. Ever.
  • Don’t sweat your prose. Do sweat your story.

You’ll find an even more detailed list here:

This isn’t a how to of grammar, punctuation and slick prose. You’ll still have to work hard on your own style and hone your skills – but you do that already, right?  It will encourage you to discover what makes you special as a writer and show you how to learn from writers who have that special X-factor. It will help you structure your writing in such a way that you can’t fail to improve everything you write, from a paragraph to a screenplay.

At its heart is Larry’s belief in structure – the architecture of good writing – and the importance of constructing a story with pivotal points, drama, conflict, tension and emotional resonance.

The term “story architecture” refers to the sequence of an unfolding story according to an accepted – and expected – sequence, complete with certain milestones, timing and criteria. In effect, a blueprint.

Mess with it and your story will suffer. As will your readers.

Music has architecture. Sculpting and painting have architecture, even the most obscure pieces. All art is based on some form of structure, even if the lack of structure is what defines the art.” ~Larry Brooks

I’m a fairly organic writer, but I know the value of structure. I’m not a novelist or screenwriter – my background is language study, translation and song writing – but an awareness of essence, empathy and emotional resonance has been vital in everything I do.

For a story to work, it must have stakes. You can have character and plot without stakes – stakes are what makes the reader care – but if you do, what you won’t have is a book contract or a movie deal.” ~ Larry Brooks

Larry’s belief in the importance of knowing what’s at stake in any piece of writing drew me to his work. That, and his passion for incorporating music into the writing process.

Great writing has rhythm to it. A lyrical sensibility. And nothing says rhythm and lyrical sensibility more than music…

…And in case you think I’m speaking only to screenwriters here, you’re wrong. Novelists need visualization and emotional resonance every bit as much. In fact, because novelists have to paint the sky with words instead of stage direction, music can be an even more powerful tool for getting there.” ~Larry Brooks

I’ve watched movies and good TV series all my life and I’m a consumer of the kind of novels that sell millions of copies. I can tell in five minutes if a film will bomb. Most of us have an innate understanding of the structures that sell; we all know the kind of heroes who engage our empathy and create our concern.  Larry’s blog, ebook and tips show us how to craft that unconscious competence into something we can leverage in our own work.  Even if we baulk at the idea of formulae and structure, he articulates how we can blend the organic and the structural to marry art and craft.  

I could say more about what’s in the ebook, but I don’t want to spoil your pleasure. It is, after all called 101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips. I wish this book  – and Storyfix.com – had been around when I taught creative writing classes. If I could have written an ebook as succinct and practical as this, trust me – I would have. Larry’s work has got me reaching for my old screenplays and manuscripts, thinking “I wonder…”

This ebook could be exactly what you need to make some of your writing dreams come true. It may take less than you think.

May you find at least one idea that helps you move forward toward the birthing of the best story you can write. If I can deliver that, then you won’t be asking for your money back and we’ll both be delighted with the outcome.

That’s any writer’s dream. If you can touch one heart outside of your own, you have succeeded. ~Larry Brooks 

36 thoughts on “101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and Screenwriters

    • Thanks for visiting, Lance. I lost a lot of readers and commenters after my time away, and it’s made me appreciate the folk who still visit even more. I hope you get something from the ebook if you do buy it. It really energised me and my daughter, and you know I wouldn’t promote something if I didn’t feel it had value. Larry’s blog makes a great contrast with the homemaking, spiritual and personal development blogs I visit. I love its energy and I especially like the chats Larry and I have about film and TV as well as writing. As I’m a bit of an organic writer, many folk might wonder why I find his thoughts on story stucture so compelling, especially as I don’t even write novels, but I do love analysing pattern and structure and an awareness of them can be applied at every level. I’m also hooked on good movies and TV dramas and I love investigating what makes a story compelling. If I ever write My Novel, I’ll be getting Larry’s input.

  1. Hi Janice
    I’m working with a writer now on a sequel to his first novel, Music with Dancing. Can you tell me anything more about what incorporating music into the writing process means? “And nothing says rhythm and lyrical sensibility more than music…” (?) Thanks.
    .-= Brenda´s last blog ..On Security =-.

    • Serves me right for taking a few lines out of context! If Larry pops over later, I’m sure he could explain what he meant better than I can, but I’ll try.

      Music, like writing, works within structures: it has varied volume and rhythms, crests and valleys, passions and pauses. It can sweep us up and carry us away with its power, manipulate every single one of our emotions, or jar us till we want to run away with our ears covered. Music manages all of that with a relatively limited collection of possible notes, like we do with words. But it’s how composers are inspired to arrange and combine those available notes and silences, the structure they choose that makes each one unique, in the same way that musicians and singers express and interpret each note through the filter of their own essence, giving each piece of music the potential for unique power and beauty. Writing’s like that.

      In films, the music sets the tone, expands our sensual pleasure, creates expectations, identifies individual characters, drives a plot, creates tension, relieves tension and heightens conflict.

      In novels, we have to write in such a way that we create that ‘soundtrack’ for the reader, manipulating and creating emotion, using syllables, silences, punctuation, meter, words, sentences, juxtaposition and poetic and stylistic devices as our voices, instruments, harmonies and notes.

      For me, if writing doesn’t have musicality, if it’s all ‘concept’, it’s like watching a film with no sound or eating food with no taste.

      This may not make sense in an hour’s time, Brenda, but it seemed to when I wrote it! You’ll have to tell us more about this novel sometime.

      • Thanks Janice. Makes perfect sense. I was confusing music with song. I’ve been encouraging my writer friend to have more music playing in the background when what I meant was more songs. You’re talking about music as a construct, not as a song. My bad!
        .-= Brenda´s last blog ..On Security =-.

        • You visit this blog – so no way can you be bad in any way. Tolerant, kind people come here, bear with me and wade through the ramblings! Larry’s quote covered a whole load of things. I just subjected you to my own rambling thoughts on how, for me, music and writing are inextricably connected. 😉 In one of the first comment chats I had with him, Larry mentioned how he encourages folk to play music in the background as they write.

          • “My bad” is an idiom school children here use when they mean “my mistake, sorry.” My mistake was confusing music with song. You weren’t talking about song. You were talking about the music of language (“manipulating and creating emotion, using syllables, silences, punctuation, meter, words, sentences, juxtaposition and poetic and stylistic devices as our voices, instruments, harmonies and notes”).

            My writer friend has music/songs playing in his house all the time. I was encouraging him to do the same with the setting in his novel — have music/songs playing in the background to create, literally, a soundtrack for a novel about a musical prodigy. The soundtrack you describe is different from that literal one.

            Anyway, we hope to use both soundtracks in the book. I appreciate your thoughts on musicality. Your Scots ear hears the music.
            .-= Brenda´s last blog ..On Security =-.

  2. Thank you, Janice, for your lively post and recommendation.

    I’ve forwarded to writer friends and clients, saying you’re no promoter ~ too much integrity for that! ~ so Larry’s resource definitely has your honest stamp of approval.

    • Hello, m’dear! Good to see you back here after your break! I’m thrilled you’ve passed this on, especially as you’re such a mine of great gems and resources for writers and creatives. As you know, I love reading about the creative process, especially books that writers have written about their writing process, but I love the interaction the internet gives me with other folk who are as passionate about the process as I am.

      Some folk are inexplicably antagonised by Larry’s insistence that structure is vital if you want to get published and aren’t one of those natural geniuses whose ’something special’ is enough to capture the attention of agents and publishers. But he’s never advocated a cookie cutter approach, always stressing that you still need talent, writing skills, inspiration and hard work.

      As you know, a lot of writers start strong and inspired, then their passion wanes and projects peter out. But a little bit of structure goes a long way.

  3. Excellent review, Janice. I am seriously considering buying this. I went to his site and read his letter concerning this e-book. The very last sentence was the clincher: “It’s like having a live-in writing trainer. But without the gym shorts.”

    Thanks for recommending his website. I’m glad you found it for me. 🙂
    It’s been bookmarked already. I can use all the writing tips I can get.
    .-= Randi´s last blog ..Thoughts of a Twitterless Thinker 9-23-09 =-.

    • You, my dear, are a novel waiting to happen. You write beautifully – naturally and beautifully – like many of the folk who comment here. But more than that, you make us smile and you have a gift for grabbing life’s details and making stories about them. You see stories. I’m rubbish at telling stories with compelling plots, one of the reasons I have no novel in me, but you can hook folk in whether you’re discussing necklaces or drowning tragedies. Check out Larry’s series of posts on story structure. They’ll have you itching to take one of those novels out of your head and get it to a publisher.

  4. I just DIED when I read this :

    “In effect, a blueprint.
    Mess with it and your story will suffer. As will your readers.”

    I love romance novels, specifically Harlequin romance novels. Eeeevery once in a while, they sneak a story in that is trying to be ‘real’ fiction and it drives me nuts! I don’t want ‘real’ fiction, I want the blueprint! That quote was just perfect.

    You article does remind me of what I can improve on regarding my writing. I consider myself an organic writer and I don’t give much thought to structure though, if you look at the blog, it clearly exists. I don’t put much thought into the mechanics of authorship and that probably could use improvement.
    .-= Hayden Tompkins´s last blog ..How to Dance =-.

    • Spooky! As I was writing to Randi, above, I was thinking about the rapport you and Randi have when things make you both laugh or outraged, and about how many naturally gifted bloggers I know, writers who can organically produce balanced, compelling pieces.

      I’ve bookmarked Larry’s posts because his sensible way of looking at architecture and structure gives me hope for the day I decide to attempt longer pieces again, for the day I send you one of my romantic novellas to read – yes, I used to write short stories before I discovered Latin lovers and the real thing. 😉 I wish I could shrink the next bit into a teeny, weeny font, so that people won’t be too shocked. I bought a few bargain Nora Roberts books to see what her patterns are, and her patterns are so rigid, a robot could be writing them. But they still sell, because if folk like the formula, they know they won’t be disappointed.

      A film loses me in the first five minutes if the main character doesn’t make me want to watch more, and that’s another thing Larry’s good at highlighting.

  5. Hi Janice,

    Thank you for the information. Sounds really interesting. The tips that you did share make total sense. The one about Dr. Phil made me laugh but there is truth to that. In order to write well, a person must know their audience and the various issues that may be a part of their lives.

    Like you, I am an organic writer too. Structure just sort of happens for me but then again, I think it is because I have been doing this for so long. When you have been writing for so many years, you kind of just know what to do without really thinking about it too much. I know that you can relate to that for sure. 🙂
    .-= Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog ..The September Issue of My Life =-.

    • Hi there,
      You’re one of those writers, too, who can carry me along and engage me while we navigate our way through anecdotes and personal opinions, metaphysical issues and pop songs with equal ease. But to be honest, I also think you have amazing consistency and determination and that, as well as your talent, will get you published in the non-fiction world. A lot of writers can produce inspiring pieces, but lack the passion and drive to keep going and do the hard graft that’s necessary when they want to make writing their life’s work.

      You and I are fairly organic in the way we write, and we both share the view that if you follow your bliss, hone your skills and work hard with determination born of inspiration, success will follow if it’s meant to. Because we write about ourselves and our lives, the million details that send us lessons, it also means we have a neverending source of inspiration, too. But for those folk who want to write and publish novels and create fiction every day, Larry’s approach is both comforting and energising. It makes the process feel do-able and manageable. His site, and Collective Inkwell, where Sean and Dave write serialised fiction, actually inspire me to want to write fiction again!

    • You’re welcome, Dani. I always find Larry’s insights either thought provoking or useful, even though his blog is primarily for folk writing novels or screenplays. By the way, congrats on the post over at Tiny Buddha. I was there checking out Nadia’s post today.

  6. Janice,

    Perfect timing! I’m in the midst of writing two books – one just for stepmoms and another that tells my story from the end, to the middle, to a new beginning. I’m printing off your post and going to check out Larry’s ebook.

    THANK YOU!!

    Peggy
    .-= Peggy´s last blog ..The Scar =-.

    • You’re very welcome!I loved your anniversary post, so if the books are anything like that, they’ll be real tearjerking heart warmers! If you get the chance, pop over to Larry’s and print off his wee mini series on structure. Sometimes it reads like a maths equation but it does all make perfect sense when I superimpose the ideas over the structures of highly successful films and books I know by heart.

    • The clincher for me was how my teenage daughter was able to digest and enjoy so many of the tips. She’s also printed off some of his mini-series. In an age where everything is interactive and I spend lots of time finding out things by myself, or reading blogs with content that’s already very familiar to me, it’s refreshing to be ‘taught’ for a change! I get that same feeling over at a site with advice and learning for bloggers, and one where I’m learning great martial arts tips!

    • That’s one of my favourites, too, Tess. I really believe everything is fuel for writers. Nothing’s ever wasted if you can write about it. We’re lucky to know folk who genuinely appreciate authentic self expression, and that gives us, within reason, a blank canvas to share what moves us. No-one wants a daily diet of wall-to-wall angst or unrelenting jolliness, even in the most specific of niches. Humans aren’t built like that.

    • Oh I’d love to reproduce the whole section here but that would probably be naughty! He basically says that watching programmes like Oprah and DrPhil, as well as reading popular psychology books is a great way of helping novelists with creating characters and back stories, of understanding how folk outside your immediate experience tick, instead of tackling it at a superficial level. It helps you develop credible plot lines about what it takes for a character to overcome stuff or get real.

  7. Hi Janice. This sounds like a great ebook. I just tweeted this and have favourited the link for my future reference. Great job on the review. I feel like one day I could actually write a book. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Having read your holiday chronicles, I think that book’s nearer than you think! Thank you for tweeting this – to be honest, I keep forgetting I can tweet things. I joined Twitter before the ‘burnout’ and keep meaning to learn how to make friends with it and promote the people whose blogs I read and enjoy. The comments on this post have reminded me of one of my original dreams for Sharing the Journey; I really wanted to pass on anything I’d loved or found useful.

  8. I have been told several times that I will write at least 2 books and I will know what to write when the time comes.
    Your review makes me want to just pop right over and purchase the ebook and get out pencil and paper…then again I do not believe I am a good enough writer….I don’t seem to engage many readers on my blog and I think that is indicative of not giving the reader what they want.

    I tweeted your post because I think so many folks believe that they have at least one book inside them ready to get out.

    I don’t think I have a book inside that people want to read. I just love to write and I write volumes for myself. Always have.
    I maybe a case of wasted writing!
    .-= Patricia´s last blog ..I LOVE THIS MAGAZINE =-.

    • Thank you for tweeting this – I must get back into tweeting! I’d forgotten how much pleasure it can give folk.

      Please do buy the book, if the thought’s ocurred to you that it might help you write those books. Or wait till I finish my next review – I just read another cracker that’s upped my creativity again! It’s not the book, it’s the state it creates in you.

      Larry’s writing always makes me feel energised, enabled and empowered. Books about writing always improve my life, even if my writing stays in a rut. Blogs and posts that help me with life’s practicalities always make me feel grateful and stop me losing momentum. Blogs where I enjoy the writer’s unique voice and passions always make me feel like I’ve had a great coffee and a chat at a café or a wine fuelled heart-to-heart at a party.

      I hope you were being tongue in cheek when you said the volumes you write might be wasted; you know how I feel about that so don’t make me come over there and smack you if there’s the least bit of non-joking self-doubt there! Write a book for yourself, your grandchildren, your friends and family. Leave a bit of your heart and soul in it for the folk who love you to treasure. Expressive writing is never wasted. Whether it’s a comment to connect or a post to inspire or inform, whether it’s for therapy or connection, for self exploration or self expression, it’s never wasted. If you’re worried that you’re not engaging your readers, maybe there are other questions you might be living and exploring in your journal writing, questions, too, that you might ask your regular commenters. A lot of folk seem to be going through phases of not commenting or reading regularly. I know I’m one.

  9. Hi Janice .. thanks for Larry’s ebook .. already bought on JD’s (I think your daughter’s name is JD??) recommendation! So please tell her from me – I’m really looking forward to looking through these 101 tips.

    Great to have the storyfix.com site too

    I like having sites to refer to where you’re given good ideas etc

    Thanks – Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Garnets, Tolkein, Silver and Gold …. =-.

    • I ramble so much in comments that I’d forgotten I’d mentioned it before! I’m so glad you and others have found this useful.

      I’m feeling a lot better at the moment after writing a few pieces about what I’ve been going through. One of the things this blog suffers from is the lack of direction and consistency of topics, but the overall patchwork is crafted from my life and all of my interests and passions, so like you on your blog – and to be honest, most of the bloggers in our ‘community’ – I guess we’re the canvases that hold our blogs together, not just a niche topic or a theme.

      I like pointing folk to useful sites and writing reviews; I like writing about my family and about writing but I also like sharing what I’ve learned on my coaching and self help/personal development journey. I’m obsessed with domestic arts and crafts, organisation and design. I could devour and write about music till the cows come home. I’ve considered trying to produce something that’s always uplifting, positive or useful, but I couldn’t manage it. Right now, I’m happy just to be me, to write when I feel like it and to have readers and online relationships I value.

  10. Hi Janice .. thanks for replying .. I saw the reply – but didn’t realise it was a reply to my comment til I came back here – you’ll see my email I sent yesterday I think .. (I thought). I’ll wait and see if you pick it up.

    I love your writing, even though I’m new to come across your blog – and it’s good to have a Scottish blogger link.

    One other questions! Am I right in thinking that you and Davina are going to share how to do Avatars? – if so could you include me in too – so I can pick that knowledge up .. thank you!

    All the best – have a great week – sounds like winter really is on its way now ..Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Relocating – to Melbourne, to a Lily Pond, back just 156 feet ….? =-.

    • I haven’t been to my email boxes yet – a deliberate attempt to focus. Sorry! I saw that Davina had a new gravatar and asked her for input on how to upload one. I think it’s so important to be careful what we use as images on comments as that’s what gets burned into folks’ memories. I’ve spent ages trying to find photo of me I can live with every day I use it.

      • Hi again, Hilary.
        I haven’t received your email; I’ve been keeping an eye out.

        Davina said she’ll send me an email talking me through how to do a gravatar/avatar when I’m ready. I’ll keep you posted.

  11. Hi Janice .. I went to your contact button and sent the email. You do put there it might be in spam ..

    Don’t worry about the first .. I’ve just done another .. send 15.45pm Friday .. so should arrive.

    I’d be interested just to have the info re the gravatar/avatar .. for information and so I can do the same when I’m ready.

    Thanks – have a great weekend .. cheers Hilary
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..£230,000 for one in a billion? A refrigerated one in a million? =-.

    • Still no sign, I’m afraid. Maybe you could get my email address from the comments section of your blog and send it direct? Weird WordPressy things are happening. I didn’t get a notification from WordPress about your comment above or Patricia’s pingback.

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