Tip #20 in the “Art of War for Writers” from James Scott Bell is: “A gentle reminder can deliver great force at just the right time.”
Sometimes as we’re writing we fall into ruts, and we need reminders to shake things up, so that we keep things fresh and on track. So Bell uses post-it notes around his writing station to hold him accountable. The notes he mentions in today’s reading are the following:
Emotion, Emotion, Emotion.
Translation: Remember that the primary objective of novel-writing is “to give the reader an emotional ride”, says Bell. This is important to remember if you’re a “Christian” writer hoping to inspire readers to draw near to the Jesus you love. If in my passion for conveying “truth” I fail to stir the heart of the reader, then I’ll fall short in my quest.
When I write a screenplay, I have to keep telling myself, “This is show business.” I have to be mindful of how to draw an audience. Producer Mike Nepoliello says, “If what we write is funny, can I make it rolling-on-the-floor funny? If’s it’s a naibiter, can I make sure the reader wants to bite their fingers off? If my story can lift a hundred pounds, can I make it benchpress two hundred?” When someone says to him, “But my story’s gotta be about truth,” Mike replies, “Fine, but can it be about truth under pressure?”
Be dialogue happy.
“Let the dialogue flow,” Bell says. You can pare it down later.
Sadly, if your book looks like a Dicken’s novel with oceans of narrative, the modern reader is likely to pass. In screenwriting, it’s said your script should look like “bird footprints in snow” (in other words, lots of white space.) It’s just the way the world is right now, so don’t rage at the machine. Make your peace with it, and write more dialogue.
Surprise me now.
“Whenever the story even holds the hint of dragging, I want to create a surprise,” advises Bell. Do what Raymond Chandler always did, he says: Bring in a guy with a gun. (!) You get the point.
I’m reading a biography on DaVinci right now, and while it’s technically accurate, I’m 200 pages in with 300 to go and I’m about to say bye-bye. If you can’t make the life of Leonardo Stinkin’-DaVinci remotely fascinating, shame on you. How much more in a novel is this a requirement?
This is just a sampling of writing reminders we could leave ourselves. For me, I’d add the following: Give me 5,000 words a day! Use Power Words! Show, don’t tell!
If you were to stick post-it notes around your writing area, what reminders would you leave yourself?
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