Archive for March, 2012

March 29, 2012 2 comments

Mr. Bell’s books on the writing craft have made a huge difference in my learning curve. Long ago I discovered mood music for writing/imagining scenes. When I read his thoughts on this it was great to see the confirmation to what I was doing. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard original scores are my favorite soundtrack composers.

My Memories of a Future Life

‘This wonderful, startling alchemy when music meets the writer’s brain’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by bestselling suspense author and writing coach James Scott Bell @JamesScottBell

Soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann, Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell, Thomas Newman, Hugo Friedhofer, Mark Isham, Jerry Goldsmith, Alfred Newman, Steely Dan, Steve Miller Band

‘Of all noises,’ Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘I think music is the least disagreeable.’ I’ll go along with that. I like to write in public, mostly at Starbucks, with a little bit of ‘white noise’ around me. But when I have to get deep into a project or scene, I pop on the Bose headphones and fire up iTunes.

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Categories: Book Progress

The Hunger Games: A Quick Commentary on Cliché and Story Structure.

March 24, 2012 Leave a comment


The movie was full of cheesy teenager moments, but I loved it. The world creation had a bit of the Star Trek (The James T. Kirk Generation) papier-mâché look, too clean, too slick in some places. I think they tried to create the look of an authentic world, but the attire looked like something the people stepped into just before the camera rolled.

Even so, I did enjoy the movie. The female lead was a realistic protagonist. She wasn’t some bimbo hottie chick that stuns muscle bound men with a single karate chop of her petite hand (i.e. Angelina Jolie in SALT).

There was, however, a small dose of political correctness. I can usually tell you right away, who the bad guy is going to be in teenager movies. He will be tall, blond, and handsome…the ideal member of the Hitler youth. Remember, Hollywooders exchanged the Muslim terrorist for Neo-Nazis in Clancy’s Sum of All Fears? Hollywood and artsy fartsy types just can’t seem to rid themselves of this worn out stereotypical antagonist. It’s as common as the evil catholic priest. This is a cookie cutter bad guy that I’ve seen since Biff , in Back to the Future.  This antagonist has a rival cliché; it’s the tough hottie chick. So, I got one cliché character.

I try to look beyond all this. I go to movies first to enjoy. A close second is to analyze and see what I can learn. As a storyteller, I like to get under the hood of a movie and see why it runs so well. This movie ran well, which makes its clichés and cheese somewhat bearable.

The structure is perfect. Understanding story structure was the game-changer for me as a writer. At my core, I am an outliner – plan ahead, but I started my first book as a panster – just type by the seat of your pants and see what happens. Pantsing was out of character for me but I had believed all my life that stories were pure inspiration and a little perspiration. Imagine how I felt after two years of writing. Finally, I watched an interview with Larry Brooks . He wrote a book called, Story Engineering. He asserted that there are four distinct parts to a good story: Setup (25% of the story), Response (25%), Attack (25%), and Resolution (25%). If a movie doesn’t succeed at the box office, it’s usually because it lacks a pole that’s supposed to uphold the tent of story structure. The first tent pole comes between Setup up and Response – 1st Plot Point (A life altering decision). The second tent pole comes between Response and Attack – Mid Point / Context Shift (the bigger picture and commitment). The third tent pole is found between Attack and Resolution – The 2nd Plot Point (After the “all hope is lost moment” the protagonist is willing to die to achieve the goal).

I bought Story Engineering and studied it. It has made all the difference. Now I have six books outlined. The first is nearing completion. It’s not quite like coloring by numbers, but akin to it.

Structure provides focus, to not only the writer but also the audience, even if the audience has no idea about structure. The Hunger Games has this core requirement. If you see the movie take note, what I say here will prove to be true. Look for it.

When Procrastination Pays Off

March 15, 2012 2 comments

I was at my hangout working on the book. There’s no WIFI at the diner. So, I don’t dally on facebook. The drawback is I can’t save to my dropbox. I’ve stopped relying on a flashdrive. I had just finished making huge changes to the fifth rough draft. Driving home, I tell myself I need save to dropbox and my external hard drive. Don’t procrastinate!

At home, laptop plugged in, I go get a drink. Nagging thoughts of my adapter’s suspicious behavior bug me. ADD kicks in. I return. Laptop’s dead. The adapter went legs up. It hadn’t been charging the battery at the diner. All changes locked up on a powerless laptop.

So, gas is $35,000 a gallon and Best Buy is 20 miles away. Furthermore, I’m in a financial crunch (Did I say gas is $35K a gallon?). Best Buy has an adapter at $59. Amazon has it for $25.01. Need I explain? It’s headed to me overnight for $29 total.

That was yesterday. There I was with time and a fist-clinching drive to do more. I’m close to the end of writing the book. I’ve been putting off brainstorming about the next book. But, I was so angry with the situation I gave up and worked email, facebook, and twitter. Meanwhile the goal to have three books finished this year is slipping away.

I launched myself out of bed this morning, grabbed blank paper and pencil. Daddy O’s diner here I come.  Sipping coffee in back, breakfast ordered, I started scribbling a rough outline of the beginning of the next book. I summarized the prologue. I kept going until all the crucial events for story structure were present. The epic story was succinctly put before my eyes, front and back of formally blank piece of paper. I tucked it in my folder and left for my walk, where listen to soundtracks and brainstorm over the children of my mind.

While walking I check my email after I’ve started the tunes. Amazon notified me that UPS had some shipping issues. My adapter won’t be in today. Grrr! But wait! I’ve just outlined my next book. Rejoice! My luck has been great. I roll the dice again. With Hans Zimmer playing, I constructed the next book in my head while I walked. All the plot points in place!

Now, I have a solid outline for the next book on paper and a soon-to-be-written-down outline in my head of the one after that.

Procrastination can pay off.

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