path of the storyteller / blog

fix the flatness

writing craft Nov 16, 2021

In last week’s livestream, I mentioned the concept of writing with dimension. Here’s what I mean by that:

Some writing feels flat on the page. It’s two-dimensional. There are words aplenty and characters who talk about this and that. Events are alleged to happen and feelings are alleged to result.

It’s not that the words don’t make sense. From a grammatical standpoint, it’s all perfectly correct. But the writing is bland, voiceless, and the reader’s engagement is hard-won, if it’s won at all.

Really skillful writing has the opposite effect. It seems to have a life of its own. Even as you read the first sentence, it feels like some living consciousness is sweeping you into a fully dimensional world. 

You feel more a participant than an observer. And the characters? Realer than the people you know in real life. You find...

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what holds writers back: my top ten


It’s NaNoWriMo time, again!

I started this blog (and soon afterward, my weekly YouTube livestream) last year right around this time, as it seemed like there was an extra need for writing mentorship out there.

So many blog posts and livestreams later, I am amazed at how this ongoing exploration of writing good fiction continues to deepen. It’s a lifetime practice for sure.

And how has your writing grown this year?

While you you formulate your answer, I want to give a shout-out to all the Path of the Storyteller alums who finished a draft in 2021.

TRUMPETS OF VICTORY SOUND! Some have never finished a book before. Revisions are now in progress, and I am so very proud of each and every one of these awesome and dedicated writers! 

Accomplishment feels good. Setting goals and moving steadily toward them feels fantastic.

But being stuck, thwarted, or in despair because all your efforts seem to be going in circles does not feel so good, am...

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keep writing, be happy


Does writing make you happy?

Does writing make you frustrated?

Does writing make you dream big?

Does writing make you envious?

Does writing make you feel full of purpose?

Does writing make you wonder, why bother?

This list could go on and on. Feel free to add your favorites! My point is this:

All writers have feelings about writing, and those feelings are all over the map. 

This is not a bad sign. As I often tell my Path of the Storyteller students when they hit one snag or another: That is a professional problem! 

Creative work triggers all kinds of reactions. If your thoughts, feelings, and opinions about writing sometimes take a ride on the wanna/don’t wanna seesaw, welcome to the club.

From the many complexities of getting the work done (and done well), to navigating how to launch a career out of all that creative labor, to surfing the waves of a career-in-progress, the writer’s path poses fresh invitations for...

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the “likeability” trap


My dear storyteller, I hope no one has said this to you, but if you’ve heard it, please console yourself with the knowledge that you’re not alone. Buckle up and let’s get it over with:

“I just didn’t care about your main character. You need to make her more likeable. More relatable!”

Bah, humbug! I had to say it. Yet how many earnest writers have heard this all-too-common bit of feedback, licked their wounds for a minute, and then bravely proceeded to revise their draft to remove every character defect, cross word, and unpleasant facial expression from the manuscript?

Then, after all traces of humanity have been stripped out, the poor writer who’s fallen into the “likeability trap” throws in a saving-kittens-from-the-floodwaters scene for good measure, and perhaps adds a charming dollop of self-doubt and dorkiness to amp up...

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this plot is bananas!


I took myself on an artist date this weekend and saw a production Il Trovatore at the LA Opera. Now, operas are prone to melodrama, but Il Trovatore? That plot is bananas!

I had a terrific time at the opera, but it did get me thinking about plots with so many moving parts that even a program full of footnotes can’t begin to explain what’s going on. In opera, one can arguably get away with this. In fiction, not so much!

Some writers struggle to come up with plots in the first place (a little story structure expertise will fix that), but others have a tendency to over-engineer their plots until they resemble tottering Rube Goldberg machines, in which elaborate sequences of cause and effect are inserted to make one domino tip over the next. 

How do things get so complicated? Why is it hard to trust simplicity? That's our topic this week. 

My weekly livestream about story structure, writing craft, and the mindset of the working writer happens...

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the two kinds of stuck

process working Oct 10, 2021

Stuck is one of those short, sharp, Anglo-Saxon-derived English words that give such a nice, rhythmic punch to our prose.

Compare it with something of a more romantic flavor, like, say, “immobilized.” A fine word, but you do get more bang for your buck with stuck!

The power of choosing one-syllable words (look at the last sentence of the previous paragraph for an example) is a great topic, but it’s not our topic this week.

This week I want to talk about being stuck. Immobilized. Not making progress. 

There are two kinds of stuck: Not writing stuck and writing stuck.

The not writing kind? We just stop working. We abandon a scene, a chapter, a project. We may have a lot of mental chatter about it, from the blithe “I'm just too busy at the moment” to the mean-spirited “I am undisciplined and unworthy of the name WRITER!” Either way, you're not writing! That’s stuck.

The other, and perhaps trickier...

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your hero’s finest hour


Today we’re going to look at some writing advice from—wait for it—Winston Churchill. 

He didn’t intend it as writing advice, by the way. Churchill was a terrific writer, but the quote I want to discuss teaches us more about storytelling than prose style:

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”

—Winston Churchill

Churchill is talking about real life, but what is storytelling but a way to understand life better? That “special thing” he mentions is what I call the hero’s mission. It’s the stated purpose for all the hero’s efforts in the second act. 

As Churchill notes, these missions are not distributed...

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feedback without tears


Remember the famous baby shampoo ad? No more tears!

That this sudsy slogan is what today’s topic makes me think of is reveals a lot. Getting feedback on our writing can be overwhelming in a way that feels disproportionate. Depending on what that feedback is, it can make our day or keep us up all night fretting.

Consider how often you’ve heard this bundle of advice: Because writers “lack objectivity,” you must share your work for feedback, be in a critique group, have beta readers pore over your final draft, and/or pay for a professional edit, and you must rewrite, rewrite, rewrite to "fix" all the flaws found by this ragtag army of critics. 

But when does all this input start to be counterproductive? What if the feedback is contradictory, or just feels off? How do we know which notes to take and which to ignore? 

To give feedback on other’s work is a delicate task; to receive feedback...

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how to pop the (dramatic) question


Ah, the suspense! Some questions are big ones, with potentially life-changing outcomes. Waiting for the answer makes our hearts race a little faster than usual!

That rush of energy readers feel when a high-stakes question is finally answered is an essential part of good storytelling. In stories, we call these dramatic questions. There's something the readers are waiting to find out, and the outcome matters a lot. Discovering the outcome is why they keep reading. 

Dramatic questions can be peppered all through a narrative, in small, medium, and extra-large sizes. In a well-structured tale, there’s almost certainly a central dramatic question propelling the whole book, from first page to last. 

And yes, I do mean first page! It’s never too soon to let your reader in on what the book is about. But you have to know what that question is, first.

Do you know what the central dramatic question of your book is? Does your reader?...

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delivering the news


News overload is a common complaint these days. The world is changing rapidly, and the steady stream of reportage is a lot to keep up with. 

Stories run on news, and by news I mean information. Think about it: everything about your tale is news to the reader. You have to spell it out clearly, from the first line of page one. Who's this story about? What are the rules of the world?  What happened in the past that’s necessary for us to know to understand the present?

Words like backstory and exposition describe the wealth of information you have to somehow get on the page where your reader can see it. But in a forward moving story the news keeps pouring in, as your hero is besieged with unexpected developments, reveals about the true motives of others, clues to mysteries, and plot twists of all kinds. 

Writers need strategies for adding new information on every page. We call this storytelling energy the herald archetype. Herald energy can be as simple...

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storytelling is golden

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