Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The 9 Ingredients of Character Development

(I got this in an email. I want to sure it with everyone. It is written by a professional who is making the very statements that I have been telling writers.)

Today's guest newsletter comes from the Guide to Literary Agents blog and is written by Tom Pawlik.
I remember back when cameras had something inside them called film that you had to get developed. For those of you college-aged or younger, that’s where a technician would treat the film with some chemicals inside a mysterious darkened room, and an image would magically appear on the special paper. But if the process went awry, you could end up with an underdeveloped image that was dark or fuzzy, or one that was over-exposed and therefore too washed out to see clearly. The key to getting a crisp clear photograph largely depended on how the technician developed the film.
If we want readers to have a vibrant mental image of our characters, we have to spend some time in the dark room. And that is what’s called a metaphor.


I don’t write character-driven novels. Heck, I’m not even sure what the term means. I used to think it was when an author spent hundreds of pages muddling around inside a character’s head just to fill the gaps between a couple paragraphs of action.
I prefer to write plot-driven suspense thrillers. But how does the low-brow thriller writer create good characters? I’m still a novice on the subject so this is by no means a definitive exposition, just 9 ingredients I jotted down to make a clever acrostic: CHARACTER.

1. Communication style: How does your character talk? Does she favor certain words or phrases that make her distinct and interesting? What about the sound of her voice? Much of our personality comes through our speech, so think about the way your character is going to talk. Her style of communication should be distinctive and unique.

2. History: Where does your character come from? Think out his childhood and adolescence. What events shaped his personality? What did his father do for a living? How about his mother? How many siblings does he have? Was it a loving family or an abusive, dysfunctional one? What events led him to the career choices he made? You may not need to provide all this background to your reader, but it’s good to know as the writer. It helps give him substance in your mind as well.

3. Appearance: What does she look like? This may be the least important ingredient to make your character a person to the reader, but you should still know it in your own mind. Not every character needs to be drop-dead gorgeous, by the way. Most people aren’t.

4. Relationships: What kind of friends and family does he have? How does he relate to them? Is he very social or reclusive, or somewhere in between? People can be defined by the company they keep, so this can be a good way to define your character.

And ... for more INGREDIENTS OF CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, click here.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How to Push Your Characters to Their Limits

How far can a character go before she's "out of character"? Here's how to use the interplay of context, conflict and contradiction to your story's advantage.
Click to continue.

10 Questions with Humor Writer Dan Zevin, Author of Dan Gets a Minivan

As part of my 10 Questions Series, humorist Dan Zevin took a minute to talk with me and answer 10 fascinating questions about humor writing-covering the writing process, finding an agent, important advice for aspiring humor writers and more-that anyone who has ever considered writing humor should check out.
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How to Write a Novel: 7 Tips Everyone Can Use

Here are some basic tips that you can use (no matter what genre you are writing) to help improve your novel.
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Monday, May 13, 2013

5 Ways to Make Your Novel More Suspenseful

Today's guest newsletter is from Hallie Ephron, author of Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Order Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel (or anything else from our shop) today and save 30% off the price with the code WD3013. (Sale ends May 11.)
"A character who unknowingly carries a bomb around as if it were an ordinary package is bound to work up great suspense in the audience."
 -Alfred Hitchcock
Suspense happens when a scene becomes charged with anticipation. It's the possibility of what might happen that keeps the reader on the edge of her chair.
Think of the classic suspense scene in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Suspicion. The Joan Fontaine character believes that her charming, wastrel husband, played by Cary Grant, is an embezzler and a murderer who is now out to poison her.

There's a long shot as Grant mounts the stairs, and then the camera focuses on the nightly glass of milk he carries up to her. Everyone in the audience is wondering: Is it poisoned? To heighten the threat and foreboding, Hitchcock had a light bulb placed inside the glass to give it an eerie glow.

To create suspense, your job is to do the literary equivalent of what Hitchcock did by putting that light bulb in the milk: Build dramatic tension by making the ordinary seem menacing.

The writer's tools for achieving this are sensory detail and the slowing down of time.

1. Turn up the Sensory Detail.

By focusing on the right sensory detail, you can heighten the sense of potential menace in everyday objects.
Take this example from my co-written novel, Amnesia. Peter Zak and Annie Squires approach a house where they suspect one of Peter's patients is being held captive.
Tall bushes shrouded a shadowy front porch. Only a sliver of light between drawn drapes suggested anyone was home.
Someone had made an effort to dress up the house for Halloween. On the small lawn, dried cornstalks were teepeed around a lamppost. A pumpkin grinned from the top of a wheelchair ramp. Opposite the pumpkin was a little barrel of chrysanthemums. Beside the front door, barely visible in the shadow, a scarecrow dummy wearing a cowboy hat was slumped in a chair. I exhaled, realizing I'd been holding my breath.
Annie got out and eased the car door shut. I did the same.
We moved up the side of the house, crouching as we passed under the dark windows. I was conscious of every sound-my own breathing, traffic whooshing up and down the adjacent streets, the far-off pulsing wail of a siren. At every step, the sound of leaves crunching underfoot seemed thunderous.
Here the traditional trappings of a New England autumn, like a pumpkin and a scarecrow dummy, seem ordinary and ominous at the same time.
Now let's take apart the pieces and look at what happens, alongside the sensory details that are used to create the suspense ...

For the rest of 5 Ways to Make Your Novel More Suspenseful, click here

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Find, Develop, and Write a Gripping CRIME Script

Veteran crime author with 24 books published, Fred Rosen shares with our readers his insights into writing great crime screenplays. 

Don't miss Fred's Find, Develop, and Write a Gripping CRIME Script webinar next Wednesday. Now ON SALE until May 12, 2013!
In my night job, I showed Bonnie and Clyde and In the Heat of the Night, both 1967 Oscar nominees for script and picture. I'm an Adjunct Associate Professor of Film at the New York Institute of Technology. I was teaching my graduate seminar. The scripts from both films blew away my students. 

That year, 1967, film changed, as Mark Harris has written eloquently in Pictures in a Revolution. What changed, to this day, is the use of authenticity of character to tell the story. Robert Benton and David Newman's Oscar-nominated script forBonnie and Clyde was based on fact. Benton was from Texas, knew people who knew the real Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow and did his research. 

Sterling Silliphant had adapted John Ball's novel into his script for In the Heat of the Night. What I noticed watching the film last week was that Poitier's "Virgil Tibbs" character was acting as his own forensic expert. Forensics?! In a 1967 film? Way ahead of its time. It helped establish "Tibbs" as a pro, while the people he was dealing with were amateurs. And it won Silliphant the Oscar for "Best Adapted Screenplay." 

Silliphant did his research. He had been the creator and writer of The Naked City, the first realistic depiction of an NYPD detective squad on the small screen. Which all leads to the Webinar I am teaching this Wednesday, Find, Develop, and Write a Gripping CRIME Script

I've done it. I've written a crime script. It was optioned and made me money. Oh yeah, I still haven't told you what my day job is. I'm a veteran true crime author of twenty true crime books, including Lobster Boy, in which it was my detective work that led to the conviction of one of the killers. That book is one of two I currently have under option and have already gone to script. 

Couple that with my film background, which also includes a Master of Fine Arts from USC's famed film school - Yes, I've met George Lucas; he's short - and my teaching experience as a college professor for 25 years, wow, am I looking forward to teaching my live webinar next Wednesday! 

If you want to write with veracity about crime and criminals, I'm your huckleberry! Here's what you'll learn. 

What do you look for in a gripping crime story based on fact? Where do you look for information? Do you need to get life story rights? You will discover how to gain access to unique information sources that will help you create marketable scripts and stories with vivid characters based on strong detail. Using the examples of successful crime scripts based on fact including Bonnie and Clyde, In the Heat of the Night, Heat, L.A. Confidential and others, we'll look at what elements can and should be fictionalized or even left out from the real case to make the story work. 

Do some topics sell better than others? Discover answers to these questions (and many more!) and learn how to develop crime stories into scripts and treatments (and books and articles!). 

Fred Rosen is a veteran true crime author with 24 books published world-wide, including the true crime classic, Lobster Boy: The Bizarre Life and Brutal Death of Grady Stiles Jr. (Pinnacle, 1995). Film and TV rights to this book have been sold to "Avatar" and "Clash of the Titans" movie star Sam Worthington's Full Clip Productions. Dateline NBC did a whole segment on the case he wrote about in his book Trails of Death: The True Story of National Forest Serial Killer Gary Hilton (2011, Titletown Publishing). On the Discovery, Investigation Discovery and TLC channels, he's been On the Case with Paula Zahn (twice), Wicked Attraction, Sins and Secrets: Anchorage and Blood, Lies and Alibis. A former columnist for Arts and Leisure Section of The New York Times, Rosen has a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema from the University of Southern California's famed film school. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Film at the New York Institute of Technology.

Learn more about writing crime stories like a professional »

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Long Time On See

Hello, Everyone!

It has been a long time since I wrote an entry to my blog. I have been so busy. I have been working for one client after another since March. I don't know why, but this time of year is the busiest for screen writing. I have not been able to work on my own writing.

I figured I need to make a post on the blog to let everyone know I'm still around. I'm here. Tomorrow I'll make another post.

Happy May!

Hello everyone,
If you plan to enter a screenplay contest and would like to have your script proofread or critique by a fresh pair of eyes, I am offering a discount on my  service:

Edits: $43.00   Contest discount

Critiques: $53.00   Contest discount

Edit and Critique Combo: $ 65.00   Contest discount

 Not entering a contest but need help with your writing?         Try my services at regular prices.

Film Scripts Service
Edit and Critique combos: $75.00 discount flat fee.

Edit - covers proper formatting, grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure.

Critique - cover the follow:
- Development
 -Character development
 -Mid point development

Turnaround time is 3 weeks

Edits and Critiques will continue to be offered separately if a writer just wants one or the other.

Edits: $48.00 flat fee
- covers proper formatting, grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure.

Turnaround time 2 weeks

Critique: $58.00 flat fee
- Development
 -Character development
 -Mid point development

Turnaround time 2 weeks
Query letter Service

I provide query letter writing service for scripts and books.

Query Letter: $28.00 flat fee

Turnaround time 2 weeks
Book Consulting Service
I only provide Critique service for fiction novels. Why fiction only? Because fiction is my strong point.

Critique: $87.00 flat fee

Turnaround time 3.5 weeks

I do not edit books. I only critique them. Editing books requires a lot of time consuming detail.

Payments are made by Paypal. If you do not have a Paypal account, payments may be made as cashier checks or money orders by postal mail.

If you are interested in my services, feel free to contact me at or call at (360) 696 - 4298

I will be happy to work with you.

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How to Create Tension Through Misdirection

This guest newsletter is by William Noble and is excerpted from Elements of Fiction Writing: Conflict, Action & Suspense.
A car engine breaks the stillness of the night ... the smell of seaweed intrudes on an afternoon chess game ... an unopened letter slips behind couch cushions.

These are what we might call "plot-hypers," in that they add elements of uncertainty and tension. They create a rise of anxiety by injecting an unexplained event or circumstance. What makes plot-hypers especially helpful is the relative ease with which they can be used and the impact they can have on a story.
Plot-hypers create uncertainty that might-but doesn't have to-complicate things. They raise the tension level. What plot-hypers require is a sense of proportion that tries to keep the cat in the bag while opening the bag enough so the cat can breathe.

We speak of subtlety and misdirection because the story moves with veils and whisps and bare outlines, and there's no attempt to ring a bell or blow a whistle so the reader's attention can be lassoed like a runaway calf. What this type of writing requires is a careful assessment of how much or how little to offer the reader, keeping in mind that we don't want to be unfair, and we don't want to obfuscate beyond a reasonable point. It means that we must come up with at least one plot-hyper, and we must plant the key somewhere in the text.

Why do we use subtlety and misdirection in the first place? And do they really enhance the way we build action and suspense? The answers lie in the simple equation that becomes an element of the partnership we develop with our readers: The longer we keep our reader guessing, the more attention they will pay to what they are reading. And subtlety and misdirection are two of the most effective tools available to keep the reader guessing and reading. It's as simple as that.

Take a look at this example:
The blackened mask had two slits for the eyes and a triangular hole where the nose would fit. Lips pierced by claw-like teeth were painted where the mouth would have been, and my mind screamed the question ... would I be victim or victimizer this time?
And compare it to this one:
"I didn't know you'd gone to acting school," she said.
He laughed. "My father's idea. I only lasted two months, and I was pretty bored." He pushed himself from the chair. "What about that pizza?"
Assume that both of these selections come from a scene that deals with the same suspenseful topic-a sinister mask, and how it affects the person who is wearing it. The selections come from different directions, but both seek to develop suspense. In the first, there's no attempt to hide the horrible implications; the mask is described, as are its possible effects. No subtlety here, no misdirection, only a straightforward depiction of a suspenseful event.

 For the rest of How to Create Tension Through Misdirection, click here.