Ahh, the ‘topshelf’ stuff. For more general writing advice, I recommend the other sections. For delirious character-centric joy, I recommend the ‘Character section.
But this area is for something more, for the high level tips and tricks I would have shook my head at and eschewed in my earlier days. I don’t intend or expect all of these to make sense to you but they are some of the most awesome and exciting stuff going on these day for me and I hope you’ll find something to get excited about too.
Note: Since this is a new site, I’ll be adding more to this over time.
Top Ten Most Exciting Ideas of Writing Extraordinary (for right now)
- Characters interviewing each other.
- Using everything but the ‘Oink’ in your writing.
- Writing like you’ve already beloved.
- Treat everyone like the hero, villain, love interest, and innocent they are inside.
- Trust yourself. To be. A weird freak.
- Share the dark recesses of your love.
- Grab two things you love and mass’em together (the peanut-butter-and-chocolate-solution).
‘Wobble’ is the idea of taking a strong story, character, idea and being willing to add a little bit of instability into it. The idea being that a ‘perfect’ story might be A, B, C, D, and adding a bit of wobble is A, B, C, H, D — what!?! Is it less satisfying? Does it still make sense? These are valuable questions.
But when done right, for me, wobble adds a bit of reality, of interest, of wake-up-juice to the story world. I still remember in Tolkien’s LOTR when Aragorn passes through The Paths of the Dead and into a tunnel —
‘Within this cavern lay the skeleton of a man, richly garbed, with a golden helm. Before him were a stone door, shut fast where the man once attempted to enter; his notched, broken sword lay near and his bony hand still clutched at the cracks.’
Who is this man? I’m no Tolkien expert, but to my memory, no answers are forthcoming. He is simply part of the world, a tiny part of a memorable journey. Weather your wobble is simply story world, a line from your main character that doesn’t quite fit their personality, or a line that is weird but right to your ears, be open to the wobble.
Like a spinning plate, your story won’t fall, but it the wobble might add quite a bit of excitement.
Characters Interviewing Each Other
I’ve only done this a few times, but it has been very exciting (what? How do you spend your Friday nights?).
The idea here is to use the ‘interview format’ to learn new things about your character but by making the interviewer a character too, you open them open to interesting revelations of voice and ideals. It look like this —
Hallium: How did your mother fail?
Zillah: Like, in every way possible. She was — is — sort of a professional failer. Which, if that was a job, would deserve credit. She failed with Lord so-and-so, she failed with Geon, she failed with me. I just felt like, if she moved faster, tried harder, she could win spectacularly.
H: What does ‘winning spectacularly’ look like to you?
Z. Success. Houses, jewels, servants.
H: I don’t believe you. Geon doesn’t have all of those things and I think, you think, he is a winner.
Z: I’m surprised you don’t think he’s a winner. He lives life by his terms. Not many people can say that.
(I wouldn’t actually slow down the conversation by making the names bold but this is for dramatic effect for the website 😉 ). I have found that playing around and finding the right, slightly adversarial character can really open them up to being pushed to say really interesting things.
I haven’t felt the need to do this with most of my characters and stories but it’s been pretty amazing with the ones I have. I’ve heard favorite lines, learned shocking fates, and surprising origin stories. And if two characters don”t work together, try another pairing.
Convergence is when two or more things come together to form a new whole, like the convergence of plum and apricot genes in the plucot. Convergence comes from the prefix con-, meaning together, and the verb verge, which means to turn toward. — vocabulary.com
For me, putting more than one thing I love together is exciting. And the more parts I love, the more exciting it gets. For my A Bold Bit of Dickery story, I’m combining magic, the 1800s, beautiful coastal cities, monsters, honesty, and questions about what makes someone interesting or lovable.
In some way, this isn’t new stuff, but it’s so exciting to bring things together. Like, ‘Dickery‘ is about lying and being a charlatan, but the convergence for me happened where I got a great book called ‘Trickster Makes This World‘ by Lewis Hyde. The book is beautiful and all about mythology — which I already love! So suddenly my ‘liar’ story is also how my lead is connected to a rich history of tricksters (Rabbit, Raven, Loki etc) and it means the story suddenly means even more to me.
It the same way, I stumbled upon a new character when writing my unicorn knight story who is often depressed. Suddenly, my exciting fantasy world also has a character that I really connect to and think can bring some insights for people who are or love people who are sometimes depressed.
Using everything but the ‘Oink’ in your writing.
I used to think a lot about genres. And I knew I ‘could’ be funny, or serious, or thoughtful, or crazy. But I kind of thought I brought out certain ‘me’s for the right occasion. But now, especially after I’ve returned to screenwriting, I’m all of myself, all the time (like using every part of the pig but the ‘oink’).
Genres really exist for marketing reasons and as a writer, they are of limited use, especially early in the process. I’m not saying they’re of no use, but it’s much easier to decide to market your story as a zombie love story (‘Warm Bodies’ — wootwoot!) after you’re written it instead of limiting yourself before.
So be open to using all your humor, all your knowledge. Give your character the same fascination with dirigible airships that you have, or breeding iris, or anything else. Invent your own language, or add songs. Be aware or the rules of your world and characters but open. I recently made a character who speaks like he walked out of Shakespeare — which was a lot of fun. Mostly, just use all your talents all the time. Give the drama characters funny lines, give the comedy characters emotion and precision with they words.
You have so much to use — bring all of your joy, and passion, and beauty to everything you do.
Writing like you’ve already beloved.
It not always easy to follow your heart in your writing. It can be hard to have faith in yourself or your abilities. But one of the things I’ve been trying to do more and more is to imagine you already have a crowd of fans who are just crazy to see what you do next.
You’re amazing. Fantastic. Think of how much awesome, weirdness Neil Gaiman brought to The Sandman comic. He was still pretty early in his career, and he was taking chances and creating work people loved.
I think the key here to to create stuff you love, weird stuff you’re not quite seeing anywhere else, and put hard work and heart into it. Polish like you have everything to prove, but create like you’re already a legend…
Treat everyone like the hero, villain, love interest, and innocent they are inside.
This is probably good advice for life too, but I’m thinking more specifically of characters here.
Like with genres, I used to think that characters each fit into a role in your story. But I’ve really come around to a way of thinking mentioned in ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Christopher Vogler. He talks about the masks of the Greek stage and how different characters wear the masks — of heroes, villains etc — at different times.
I am more and more uninterested in having characters that only show one side of their story. Their story. The ‘villain’ gets to have a history, a weakness, relationships that drove and changed him. The hero can screw up. The trickster can wear a hero’s mask for a minute, as can a guardian.
This doesn’t mean they can’t fill a role in your story — just realize that even as they’re being cast, they can bring a lot more to the performance. A villain can bring beauty, order, glamour — just look at Hannibal Lecter. Imagine your villain as someone’s lover, or as their best friend.
Your love interest is a love interest, but they are also so much more than that. The love story will be much more interesting if they can also be a hero, or flawed, or a trickster in their own moments.
And at their center, every character is sympathetic, and human, and wants to be appreciated — however off kilter their path has become and where their place is in your story today.
Trust yourself. To be. A weird freak.
As you grow as a writer, you come to the edge of a No-Mans-Land, a place where the successful and the sane place abandoned or gone around. There are stories and characters tat you wonder if you dare to write about — terrorists, killers, a man who burned his family to death and is now the nicest guy in your story, his background lurking like something crammed into the crawl-space of a basement, waiting to unsettle future viewers/readers.
Or maybe it’s the topic itself that you’re afraid to touch… the world is full of the taboo, the third rails, the ‘in bad taste’. Maybe you have been told that you’re not the sort of person ‘allowed’ to tell that sort of story.
Or maybe you just want to tell jokes about people soaking baby bunnies in alcohol and almost eating them (my ‘Rick & Morty’ spec script).
In like, we often ‘play nice’ and don’t want people to think we’re too weird. And I certainly don’t endorse writing in a way that calls out and hurts any group as a whole. The world is already hard and I believe we should be as kind to each as we can.
But I think you also need to be brave. Think of the quote, “Is everything you do Truthful, Necessary, and Kind?” If your writing meets these criteria, then you owe it to yourself and the world to share the uncomfortable, weird, and wonderful insights and stories that come to you.
Share the dark recesses of your love.
This is similar to the last one, but more about what we find when we look into the darkness. Most people look at something they love (a genre, a character, a story) and share the light of it, the contours, the easy parts. But I encourage you to share the other side too — the shadows, the sorrows, the bits of things you found hidden in the gaps and crevices of what you love.
I really like and connect to love stories but I have also learned that there’s a lot of beauty in not-love-stories — tales featuring heartbreak, loneliness, and delusion.
I also believe in improvement and human potential. But what about the villain who continues to ‘improve’ himself in the darkest and most unsettling ways?
If you love something, peer deeply into it, and know it for all the beauty and terrible glory it is capable of.
Grab two things you love and mass’em together (the peanut-butter-and-chocolate-solution).
I love novels and I love screenplays and right now I’m working on finding a way to put them together to make something amazing and unique to me. I hope to bring part of the literary style I’ve loved over into screenplays. It sounds crazy but crazy is what we do here.
Whatever your passions, consider if there’s a way to bring the best of two different hobbies, ideas, etc into one creation. Maybe drawing and writing. Or music, storytelling, and podcasts. Or even just the genres of thriller and comedy. Whatever you love and are good at, look and see if there’s a place for the two to join forces and become something even more weird and wonderful.
I hope wherever your writing takes you, you keep pushing limits, trying new things, and seeing yourself as magical, extraordinary, and destined for greatness! Because you are. ❤