A Writer’s Best Friend

The secret to good writing, like anything else, is practice. The more you do it, the better you become at it. You find your favorite words and develop new tricks. You create images no one has experienced before, and you refine them by creating them over and over again.

It’s not a question if you should write, but when you should write. The answer is anytime you can. The more you practice, the better you get, so you should always be practicing. That’s why every writer needs to carry a journal.

I know it feels silly. People look at you scribbling into your little moleskin and giggle. Are you writing a diary entry? You must be a childish fool. But who cares if you are? Whether you’re brainstorming for your next story or writing to your diary, practice is practice. If that bit of practice is all you need to become the next greatest writer, then screw them!

Besides, you never know when inspiration will strike. It’s easy to say you’ll remember an idea, but it’s hard to do. If you have a journal on you, then you don’t need to worry about remembering. Just write it down.

And I’ll let you in on a secret: if you take out a journal in a restaurant, your service will immediately improve. You may simply be writing a grocery list, but no one needs to know the truth. To the waiters you look like a food critic. Stare at them for a second, shake your head, and then jot something down in the journal. Now the pressure is on. They can’t look bad in front of the food critic. I guess the journal isn’t just a writer’s best friend, but also a diner’s best friend too.


The Talent Dilemma

Whether you’re a writer, a painter, or a musician, you never know if you’re any good until you’ve made it big. Sure, your friends and family tell you that you’re talented, but of course they do. They’re meant to support you and they would never tell you that you’re bad even if you were the worst artist ever to taint this world with your breath.

You need to look elsewhere for critique, so maybe you submit your writing online or enter your work in a local exhibit or perhaps sing at a local bar. Once you do, a few will tell you how good you are. Their praise seems like some sign of worth, but you think, “What do they know?” They’re just a couple of strangers that happened upon your work. They never studied your craft. At the end of the day, they’re just being nice.

So you take a class. You tell the instructor you want a few pointers to improve, but really you’re looking for praise from someone experienced. And they give it to you. They can see you’re not just some bored housewife looking for a hobby. You have talent and they tell you so. They’re an authority on the matter, so it must be the truth.

But if you’re talented, why aren’t you successful? It seems like the world is playing a joke on you. Everyone’s in on it: your friends, your family, those strangers, and that instructor. They’re all in on it. You’re not actually that talented because if you were, you’d be rolling in dough by now. And you get upset because not only are they wasting your time by giving you encouragement, you’re wasting time by listening to it.

Even so, you look at some current market successes. You look at 50 Shades of Grey and wonder how someone could approve such garbage. “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.” Or something…what utter trash, and someone published this. Worse, someone decided to make it into a movie. Even worse, both the book and movie raked in millions.

Talent must have nothing to do with the industry. You don’t need to be good to succeed. Maybe you’re not the next great, but you’re better than 50 Shades…or something. So why aren’t you successful?

I don’t know. I have no idea. If anyone can tell me, I will be delighted to hear. It seems so arbitrary who or what catches on. So if you know the secret, please share. Thank you!

The 7 Story Types

There are so many great stories out there. In fact, there are too many to list. But what if I told you there were actually only 7 stories? What if I said that we’ve only ever repeated those same 7 stories? Here they are:

1. Overcoming the Monster

A monster threatens the protagonist or the protagonist’s homeland, so the protagonist sets out to defeat it.

Image result for emperor palpatineThink of Star Wars. The Sith threaten to destroy planet after planet with their giant, laser-shooting Death Star. To save the galaxy, Luke Skywalker must destroy the Death Star and the evil Sith that control it.

2. Rags to Riches

After the poor protagonist comes into wealth, power, or a new mate, he loses it all and must get it back by growing as a person.

Image result for aladdinFor this one, think of Aladdin. He is a poor man that falls in love with Princess Jasmine, but cannot marry her because of his low social class. With the help of a magical genie, Aladdin becomes a rich prince so he and Princess Jasmine can be together. However, Jasmine is not impressed. In fact, it is only after losing his wealth and power that Aladdin realizes love was all he needed to be with Jasmine. And when he finally marries her, he gets the wealth back. Rags to riches to rags to riches.

3. The Quest

The protagonist and usually some companions set out for an important relic or location. Along the way, they face several obstacles or temptations.

Image result for mount doomLord of the Rings is my favorite version of this story. Frodo and the Fellowship set out for Mt. Doom to destroy the ring, but in their way stands Sauron’s army of orcs that threatens to conquer all of Middle-Earth. To reach the fiery mountain, Frodo must evade sure death from all manner of monster including his own friends that have been tempted by the ring’s power.

4. Voyage and Return

The protagonist journeys to a strange land. There are dangers to be sure, but the protagonist survives and returns home with experience.

Related imageThe Odyssey is possibly the most famous example of this story type, even if The Odyssey focuses mostly on the return. Having left home to fight in the Trojan War, Odysseus must find his way back. To do so, he must face hideous, horrible creatures and also some beautiful, seductive women…the he lives and has sex with for years…despite having a lovely and faithful wife. Regardless, Odysseus makes it home with experience…and with that experience, decides to kill everyone. Such a weird story. Weird. But classic!

5. Comedy

Yeah, it seems more like a genre than a story type. However, comedy isn’t humor. Instead it is a story focused on triumph over adverse circumstances. The conflict becomes more and more confusing until finally all is resolved in one simple, happy ending.

Image result for mr. beanMr. Bean often finds himself in this sort of story. Because he is a clumsy, bumbling idiot, Bean makes things worse and worse. Whether ruining a turkey dinner or a famous painting as in the 1997 film Bean, Mr. Bean turns everything to chaos. But it all works out in the end, miraculously.

6. Tragedy

In this story type, the main character is hero whose great flaw or mistake leads to his inevitable downfall. It is an emotional story as we see a good character gradually fall apart.
Image result for walter white before and afterThe best modern example is Breaking Bad. Walter White, a brilliant teacher and a loving father, turns meth kingpin. While Walt goes into the meth business to make money for his family before he dies of cancer, he becomes consumed by his greed and his ego. Although he earns more money than he can count, Walt loses everyone and everything he has. As viewers, we love him for what he was and despise him for what he’s become.

7. Rebirth

The final story is the rebirth. In this type, the main character changes their ways and becomes a better person after a motivating event. It’s more a metaphorical rebirth than a literal one.

Image result for the grinch seussThe Grinch is a great example. The green and grouchy cave creature plots to steal Christmas from the Whos in Whoville. But Cindy Lou shows him that Christmas is more than just presents and feasts, and his heart grows three sizes.


Now that all the stories have been listed, it’s important to note that the 7 stories are not limitations. No writer is trapped by these forms. Rather, the writer uses these classic forms and twists, distorts, and combines them in whatever way he chooses to create something that is both familiar and yet, never before seen. Can you figure out which story type your favorite story fits into?

4 Reasons Writers Love Orphans

Sometimes it seems all fictional characters are orphans. Think about it. Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, James Bond, Star-Lord, Batman. The list goes on and on. So what’s the appeal?

1. Laziness

Image result for asleep at the deskWriters consider themselves visionaries and when they have a vision, they don’t want to change it. That vision is their baby and no one wants to kill their baby. But family changes a man. Would James Bond get with so many women if his parents educated him on STDs? No. But his proclivity towards beautiful women is a key part of the James Bond story. It’s part of the vision.

So why go through the trouble of adding parents? Maybe you could keep the vision and the parents, but then you’d need to alter the story. You’d have to add more writing to explain why the main character did something stupid despite his parents’ lectures and nagging. It’s just too much effort. Instead writers just get rid of the family. Way easier.

2. Emotional Gut PunchImage result for ugly crying gifThe vast majority of us grew up with a loving family that cared about us and supported us through everything. As a result, anything else seems unnatural. Where would we be without our father, our mother, our siblings? I know I’d be an emotional wreck, poor and alone somewhere. We shudder to think what our lives would be like without our loved ones. The thought alone drives us to tears.

Writers can amp up the drama, too, by showing us how the character got orphaned. That might mean we get to witness a murder or a slow, painful death by cancer or some other sickness. And again, we attach the story to our own lives and imagine how we would feel watching our parents die. It’s a clever trick to create an emotional reaction.

3. The Quest

Related imageEach individual has a different method of finding meaning in their life. One common source of purpose is family. As I said, family is a dominant factor to the majority of our lives and to be without it is seemingly unnatural. Without family, an orphan often feels empty. To fill the void they must go on a quest. Save a princess. Kill the Dark Lord. Return peace to the world. By serving a purpose higher than themselves, orphans find fulfillment where once they had none.

The quest is such a great story by the way. It’s a classic story on which many of our favorites are based such as Lord of the Rings or The Odyssey. In search of an important prize or location, the main characters faces several obstacles along the way. Along the way, the character grows into a glorious hero capable of surpassing the final and toughest ordeal that will lead him to the prize or location. Some might consider the quest a cliche, but I think it is a classic form for success. Anyways…

4. The Big Reveal

Image result for darth vader i am your father gifWhen a story tells you a character is an orphan, you see the character as an orphan. You believe the story. You have no reason not to. Do you see a parent? No. So there probably isn’t a parent. You run through the entire story seeing the main character as a sad, lonely orphan…

But then, suddenly, Darth Vader is standing over your favorite orphan Luke Skywalker and he says, “No. I am your father.” Your mind melts. You scream at the TV. Luke screams too. “THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!”

The drama is intense. You were looking at the story all wrong. At first, you Darth Vader as a one-dimensional, evil character, but now he is a parent. It’s not a battle of good vs. evil. It’s a battle of son vs. father. With just one line, Star Wars blew its viewers’ minds and added a layer of depth to the story. You can’t have a big reveal if the character already has parents. You need an orphan.