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Where Do Ideas Come From?

One of the overused questions asked of writers is where do their ideas come from. It may be too trivial, too basic, but too important not to be ignored.

Writers, like other artists, maximize the use of their five senses and translate them into their art. Writers, like other artists, are keen observers. So keen that they know what color is on top of the traffic light, how many tines are there in a fork, or what is inscribed at the bottom of a paper bill — simple, everyday objects that seem too obvious for ordinary people to take notice of. Aside from the use of the senses, here are other sources of ideas:

Newspapers

The old-fashioned broadsheet or tabloid is still a good source of story ideas. Scan the news and even the other parts of the newspaper like the classified ads, you’ll get an idea or two to jump start a story or an article. An article about a female college student/prostitute who killed her “sugar daddy” gave me an idea of a scene I wrote a few months back.

Magazines

The glossy magazines feature different kinds of stories, so varied that some of these magazines became specialized or focused into a particular niche. Scan the stories, even the fillers, you’ll get some catchy phrases and intriguing ideas to add into your writing. For example, an article I read about freelance writing inspired me to write my opinion on it. Also, catchy phrases become titles of a future article or novel.

Books

Reading not only hones your vocabulary skills, but also inspire you to write your next story. Reading a not-so-familiar book many years ago triggered me to write my novel, Number One Fan.

Biographies

Lives of other people show us how was it living in their own time. We get to see not just a character but also a lifestyle different from ours. Somehow their lives inspire us to write a story for others to learn from.

Stories and legends

There are some stories that keep on burning because they don’t die and people remember or mention them repeatedly. Folklore, fables, and even urban legends could be an inspiration of your next novel.

Dreams

Believe it or not, dreams could also be a good source of story ideas. My husband’s dream became my inspiration of a comics manuscript I’m planning to write.

Songs

I used to write down nice phrases that came from songs. The lyrics of Randy Crawford’s “People Alone” inspired me to write I’m Greg, Short For Gregarious.

Ask “What if?”

 Asking this question somehow challenges you to provide possible answers and in the process creates a possible story.

 Overheard remarks

Eavesdropping for the sake of getting ideas? Why not? I write these overheard remarks and make them patterns for dialogues.

Once I got an idea, I put them down on writing. As a writer, I should not rely on memory because there are times memories fail. A writer is a journalist and therefore should have a handy notebook and pen to jot down these ideas that burst abruptly.

Now, it is your turn. Go get yourself a notebook for the sole purpose of jotting down ideas. The size and thickness should suit your need and desire. I suggest that you put tabs to separate different sources or categories. Make it a habit to write it down and don’t let it escape your memory. Happy idea hunting!

Let me know if you have done this and how did it work for you. Let me know, too, if I have missed anything, I’d appreciate your feedback. And if you like to read more about freelance writing, productivity, or creative writing, please do subscribe to my quarterly newsletter and join the tribe.

Make The Time To Write

Writing is a juggling act. A writer juggles his job, family, friends, recreation, and writing. Some writers grow weary of the constant juggling act and give up writing. Others like me struggle to keep going.

How do you find time to write?” has been a common question to writers or among writers. The answer depends on each one of us. Some writers write during their free time while others have a fixed schedule. Some of the well-known authors started writing their novels while having a job of their own. Other famous writers had the luxury of spending their whole day writing.

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. – Stephen King

For Stephen King, constant reading keeps the writing going. Even professional writers have their own ways of delaying their writing tasks. Arranging their bookshelves, doing some art & crafts, binge-watching are some of them. But in the end, once they find the impetus to write, they do write on their desk.

The secret is forcing yourself to write everyday, either measured by page count or by word count. The important thing is showing up on your desk and write. But when delays turn from a few minutes into a few weeks, or even months, that becomes a big problem.

One of the reasons why “writers” don’t write is they don’t love writing. They like referring themselves as “writers” but they hate the hard work that goes with it.

But there are other writers who would hit the typical writer’s block. They struggle daily on how to go through with it, and then have a breakthrough moment and leap back to work.

Like any other writer, I experience writer’s block. I spend my time on other activities other than writing. And when I realize that I have deadlines to beat, I decide to make things work in my favor. So I devise a plan: make a schedule and make it work.

Fifteen years ago, I was still single then and starting my career as a freelance writer. I wrote from 9 am to 6 pm and made a schedule that had become my daily routine. It made me more focused and productive.

But everything changed when I gave birth. Taking care of a baby became a handful that I don’t have the time to write. Then an employment in the corporate jungle came along. I wrote reports not novels for the next seven years. Until I decided to return to writing in 2012 and started working from home.

Finding time to write is forcing myself to write everyday. I have to write something be it a chapter of a novel or a blog. It’s like showing up for work on my desk.

Always remember that it’s how frequent you write each week and not how many hours a day you spend in writing. Spending three times a week, 2 hours per day writing is much better than writing 4 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. I guess, this has something to do with the momentum. Try not to lose the momentum when there’s a story running in your head.

There are 3 P’s we gain from this kind of scheduled writing:

Planning

This is the most difficult part of writing. This is the stage where you set up everything from settings to characters to plot. By having a consistent writing schedule, you have the time between writing sessions to think about what you’re going to write next.

Pressure

Having a consistent writing schedule puts a pressure on you not not to write. Even if you’re able to write a single paragraph, you’ll be back tomorrow to write again, no matter what. Compare it if you’re just going to write once or twice a week. That one paragraph will probably stay as one paragraph in the next two weeks because you stopped somehow. And that will get you in serious trouble.

Practice

They say that practice makes perfect. It’s the repetition that trains the mental muscles and extract creative juices. You will notice that your writing improves with time.

But since people are different, one method doesn’t fit all. There are two ways of making a writing schedule. Both are effective so you can choose which one works best for you.

Gridlock Method

This is a rigid schedule of writing that you must adhere religiously. Using a grid, fill in every hour that you have commitments or activities. Then look at the empty blocks and try filling the blocks where you are absolutely positive you can write. Be realistic and don’t overbook yourself. Three to five times a week for two hours a day is fine. If you can’t find reasonable number of hours for writing in a week, examine your priorities. Once you have workable schedule, stick to it. Let other members of the family know that you have to follow a schedule and you’re serious about it.

Spare Change Method

This involves establishing goals for each day and week. Your goal is not putting in a certain amount of time, rather, producing a specific number of pages each day or week. Decide if you are going to adhere to a daily or a weekly goal. Take a calendar and write down a daily goal or at the end of the week, write the page number you expect to achieve on that day. Don’t worry if you’re uncertain, or if it keeps on changing as you write. The point is to establish a goal and work towards it.

True, writing is a juggling act. But the main hurdle in becoming a successful writer is finishing a writing project — be it a novel or a short story. Making a schedule and finding time to write will help you do that.

How Much is Fair in Fair Use?

Before I get into my topic on fair use and copyright, let me tell you a story.

Just before my second trimester in a school I was in, a department head told me that I’ll be teaching a new subject. I thought I heard him right so I said, “Oh, copy writing. Okay, I’m in.” Weeks later, I realized that the new subject I was about to teach was “Copyright Laws“.

Anyway, I taught Copyright Laws and Multimedia Arts Ethics for a trimester and it was a good learning experience for both me and my students. We tackled fair use which is today’s topic.

It is okay to quote a few lines from a novel just as long as you are within the context of fair use. But before we discuss fair use, let’s start with the basics of copyright.

THE BASICS

Copyright laws were created to promote the progress of arts and sciences. These laws protect the original works of inventors, authors, artists, and other “creatives”. These also covers the exclusive rights to copy, to adapt, to display or perform, and to control the first sale of their works to the public.

Once a person fixes an original expression of an idea in a tangible form, that person can claim copyright in the work but with certain limitations.

SO, WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS?

Copyright only protects the form of expression but not the ideas. Therefore, an idea like a love story of a cat and a dog may have different forms of expression. One author may express it in a short story. Another creative may express it in a song. And another artist may express it in a comic book. So you cannot just say, “Hey, someone stole my idea!” unless you have put that idea on a tangible format.

The copyright owner controls public but not private displays or performances. Therefore, anything you use at a personal level like singing in the bathroom, or sharing a book to your child does not constitute copyright infringement. But if you perform or display it publicly for financial income purposes, then you have to ask permission to use the copyrighted material first.

This is where the YouTube reaction videos get strikes due to copyright infringement. As you all know, anyone with a YouTube account can earn as soon as you hit more than ten thousand subscribers. A person can earn money from YouTube depending on the number of subscribers, clicked ads, etc. And most YouTube accounts I see online bask in the popularity of reaction videos — reacting to TV shows or performances — without realizing that they’re violating a few principles of fair use and copyright.

The copyright owner controls the first sale but not the subsequent sales of each copy of the work. Writers need to understand this part. Selling your work to a publisher already gives that publisher the right to sell and gain income from the sale of your work. Unless specified in the sales contract, you may or may not receive anything else.

Copyright usually lasts for 50 years, and once the 50 years has lapsed, the work becomes a public domain. But not all works past the 50 years mark are public domain. Heirs of authors or other creatives might have taken over the copyright of the author’s works. So check it out first.

The copyright owner’s rights are limited by the “fair use” doctrine.

WHAT IS FAIR USE?

The fair use of copyrighted works includes reproduction in copies, mostly in part, for purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, or research, and is not an infringement of copyright.

Reaction videos on YouTube are usually covered under this fair use doctrine, although this situation is tricky as I’ve mentioned earlier because part of reaction videos is displaying a copyrighted material for financial income.

Fair use is always going to be a gray area, and it should be. We need to allow for things we can’t see yet.Robin Gross

FACTORS TO BE CONSIDERED IN FAIR USE

  • Purpose and character. If the purpose of copying the work in part is for non-commercial research, for educational purposes, for critique, and for news reporting, then the act is considered fair use. Most reaction videos on YouTube will cite this as fair use.
  • Nature of the copyrighted work. Non-fiction works like science and history may receive less protection than fictional works because facts need not be copyrighted. For fiction, quoting for the purpose of book review is generally fair provided the amount taken is reasonable.
  • The amount and substance of the portion used in relation to the work as a whole. Take into consideration the quality and the quantity of the words taken from the work. If the “heart” or the main essence of the work or its full context was taken, this is not fair use even if the number of words copied are few.
  • The effect on the market. The degree of fair use now depends on the impact of the new use on the original work. If the use is minimal and for a valid purpose, then the author of the original work may consider it fair. But with today’s social media, it’s easy to know the impact. People who are active on the Internet can easily tag a work as “plagiarized” if they know something about the original work.

It’s easy to say that your work is “inspired from” another. But it’s difficult if you’re accused of plagiarism.

PUTTING FAIR USE TO WORK

  • Always remember that ideas, themes, and facts are not copyrighted. However, events in a fictional work should not be taken as facts.
  • And if getting a permission to quote is something practical on your part, better get it from the author.
  • Play safe by quoting as little as possible. It is safe to quote up to 10 percent of the work or less.
  • Do not quote or use the “heart” of the original work or its full context.
  • Refrain from substituting the original words and pass it as something new. Be careful in re-wording or paraphrasing texts from your research. Always check your work with a plagiarism checker after writing and before submission.
  • As much as possible, keep the borrowed portion insignificant or undetectable.

THE POOR MAN’S COPYRIGHT

This is a simple procedure to prove that you own a piece of original work. All you have to do is mail your manuscript to yourself. The date and time stamp on when it was sent and received serves as the copyright date. However, this process may not be accepted in other countries. I suggest that you file your copyright to proper government agencies in your area.

SONGS ARE TRICKY

Unlike novels, quoting a line of a song can be tricky especially if you want to use it in your novel. To be on the safe side, ask around or consult a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property or copyright laws. If you can’t afford to pay for the rights, your next best bet is to compose a song.

Idea Is Not Just a 4-Letter Word

Have you ever thought how authors come up with their ideas for their novels?

You may have browsed writing books and magazines and have been told that an idea comes from an endless list of sources. But how do authors come up with a novel from an idea?

In this article, let us see how it works by spelling idea itself.

I – IOTA OF TRUTH

Always remember, for every idea, absurd or otherwise, there is an iota of truth behind it.

Take for example the idea of Superman. Clark Kent may be an alien who grew up on Earth, but there is a scientific truth behind clairvoyance, intuition, and other extrasensory human powers that were magnified in the Superman story.

They say that truth is relative, so what may be truth for you may not be an acceptable truth to others. Do not fret. You do not need to please everybody with your writing. Just believe that your idea has somehow an iota of truth in it.

So have that idea ready and let’s move on to…

D – DEVELOPMENT

Of course, we have entertained so many ideas in mind that we do not know which to choose. They say that there are only eight stories in the world. If that’s the case, then try the mix-and-match method and see if an idea or a mixture of two or more ideas work.

The Bestseller by Lila Ramsey plus The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie plus the nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star produced a story about a mad serial killer who wants his victim to guess who will be his next kill.

If you look at stories, books, and movies, you would notice that most of them combined an idea or two from some old stories, books, and movies, too.

So now that you have developed an embryo, let’s try to…

E – EXPERIMENT

How are you going to express the idea?

The format — be it prose or poetry, novel or screenplay, full-length or short feature, — depends on your choice. Experiment on how you would present the idea. Some stories are better on film, some on print, and some made well in both.

Trust your gut feel when experimenting. Not only on the format but also on the way it is presented. Would you go linear — beginning, middle, end? Or would you go a la Quentin Tarantino style — middle, end, beginning, middle? Would you present it in the first person point of view or the third person point of view? Do not be afraid to experiment.

And now we go to the…

A – APPLICATION

At last, you have decided on what you plan to do with the idea. The last step is to apply the idea by writing. Once you see the words appear on paper, you will see and feel how the ideas take shape into a good yarn of a story. Write everything down at first. Revisions and editing would come later.

Be a sculptor by starting with a large chunk of wood and slowly carve out the unnecessary parts to form the best literary art — your novel.

Start writing something and the ideas will come. You have to turn the faucet on before the water starts to flow.Louis L’Amour

So if you have a story idea that you would like to write, go ahead. If you think there’s a truth in it, and you can develop it, don’t be afraid to experiment and express it in writing. Good luck!

quote on plot and suspense

7 Ways of Suspense

Readers should keep turning the pages and will not put the book down. That’s what novelists have to create: novels that are natural page-turners that critics will rave.

Writing a novel requires constant forward movement to get the readers excited to move on the next page. In order to sustain that forward movement, writers need to create suspense. But in order to make a novel suspenseful, we have to use strategies that inspire curiosity. If curiosity can kill a cat, these tips could be worth practicing.

1. Keep secrets

Secrets make us wonder who, what, and why? Hiding something within the chapters can solicit intrigue. If the secret is fairly minor, you may withhold it for the time required to turn the page. But if it’s intriguing though, you can hide it for several chapters, taking advantage of the forward movement created by the readers’ curiosity. This way, you can keep the wonder flowing by occasionally referring back to the mystery. If you introduce a secret in a prominent position, make sure the question the readers will form inside their head is thematically relevant. The question should not be a mere device to prod readers forward. Remember, we want to manipulate the readers without making them feel manipulated.

2. Make plans

A character’s plans are future-oriented and inherently suspenseful. When you force your character to announce what he wants, you guide the readers’ attention to his motives and how he plans to achieve it. Readers will keep asking if the character will succeed or not.

3. Announce arrivals

New characters create complications. When you introduce them at the chapter’s end, you give the character a big entrance, followed by a detailed introduction on the next chapter. This indicates his importance and contributes to the forward movement of the story.

4. Schedule departures

Just as arrivals predict change, so do departures. When something leaves or ends, life changes, too. Emphasizing ends and conclusions compels us to think about the possible consequences in the following chapters. Often, some stories start with something leaving, closure, or ending. Not only because it introduces a change in the character’s life, but also because it opens an opportunity for conflict.

Plots may be simple or complex, but suspense, and climactic progress from one incident to another, are essential.H.P. Lovecraft

5. Reverse expectations

When characters fail to behave as we expect, they surprise us and the readers, too. Having said that there are only a few basic stories to tell, we begin to expect possible endings as well. Plot twists are great, but when you reverse expectations, take care to maintain credibility.

6. Ask a question

Usually these questions are implied, but they don’t have to be in your story. You as the narrator should pose a powerful question by phrasing it as an interrogative statement. Readers don’t have the answer yet but you are forcing them to respond inquisitively.

7. Introduce a new problem

Creating fiction requires giving characters goals and flinging obstacles at them. New problems stimulate forward movement. You want readers to take heed, to anticipate the conflict this problem is bound to cause. One of my mentors told us in our scriptwriting workshop to push the character in one corner until he or she couldn’t do anything but to fight back.

There you have it, seven ways to keep your novel suspenseful. But take note, there will be times that you need to slow down, too. Vary your movements. Good books require both fast pace and slow moments.

 

bookshelf

Being Paid to Read a Book and Write a Review

I’ve been reading books since grade school but I’ve started doing book reviews in 2012.

I remember when I revived my old Webs.com account and started a blog category I named “My Bookshelf”. The original plan was to write a review on each book that I have on my bookshelf literally.

However, technology has introduced us to e-books. Scrolling on a tablet or cellphone made reading much easier for me. And I enjoyed reading both printed and electronic book formats since then.

2012 was also a time of social media frenzy.  Out came the social media platforms for book lovers.

BookLikes and Goodreads

I’m not sure which I got first: BookLikes or Goodreads. But I’m sure, it was during around this time I created an account on each platform. The good thing is, they both work in sync. So whatever book I rated on the one platform, it will appear on the other. And if I posted a book review on my blog, I would just provide a link on these platforms that will lead the readers to my website.

However, there are web visitors who prefer staying on one site rather than being led to another with a click on a link. I tried to provide a written review but the fear of doing a duplicate content prevented me from doing so.

Being Paid to Read

Recently, I got the opportunity to be paid or rewarded to read a book and write a review on a website. The pay could be the book itself (which is also available on Amazon for a price) or it could be a minimal amount (in US dollars) depending on one’s reviewer score. I just started out and have posted a few reviews already. Those reviews I’ve submitted will stay on their website and if ever I’ll share it here, it would be just a link to that page or I’ll tell about it.

I’m Open to Any Book Suggestions

Also, as I’ve mentioned in one of my pages, I accept requests for book reviews. And last month, I received an email from a publishing company to review one of their publications. I’m so honored.

If you would like to send me books for me to read, send it to: Marissa N. Uycoco-Bacsa Professional Services, McArthur Highway, Poblacion 1, Moncada, Tarlac 2803 Philippines or if e-books, send it to: info@issabacsa.com (for PDF and e-pub formats) or creativemixedmediafreelancing@gmail.com  (for Kindle format).

Just so you know, I read both fiction and non-fiction. For fiction, I prefer mystery, crime, suspense thrillers. Although I also read romance, historical fiction, comedy, fantasy, and sci-fi.

For non-fiction, I prefer biographies, autobiographies, self-help, psychology, health, true crime. Although I also read about food and travel. It seems that I can read almost anything except fan fiction.

8 basic plots

Did You Know That There Are Only 8 Basic Stories in the World?

I’ve mentioned this before, I attended a screenplay writing workshop in 1999. A few months or a year after, I bought a book Teach Yourself Screenwriting by Raymond G. Frensham. Unfortunately, someone borrowed the book and never returned it to me.

Anyway, I remember the first part of that book. It mentioned about the eight basic stories. Frensham said that there are only eight stories in the world in which other plots — be it film, TV, books, and even games — were based upon.

When I first read about it, I said, “What?!” And then, I thought it made sense because I kept on seeing films and TV shows that have similar plot lines.

In this book, Frensham listed down the eight stories as follows:

ACHILLES

One of the stories in Greek mythology, the plot depicts Achilles as a strong hero but with a flaw which is also the cause of his own downfall. Thus, the phrase “Achilles’ heel” connotes a weak spot. This only proves that nobody’s perfect and almighty. There will always be something that could go wrong which leads to a failure or even death. Examples of this story include Superman (the kryptonite), Samson and Delilah (when his hair was cut), and the Titanic (they said it was unsinkable).

CANDIDE

The character is based on Voltaire’s 1759 novella, Candide, ou l’Optimisme.  The plot depicts Candide as a good and innocent hero that could never be put down. His optimism kept him rising up despite the challenges around him. Examples of this plot include Forrest Gump, Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Mr. Bean.

CINDERELLA

Who doesn’t know the Cinderella story? Based on an old folk tale, the plot depicts a persecuted heroine and the typical rags-to-riches or dream-come-true story. The protagonist started as someone common, unrecognized, and unfortunate, finds true happiness, fulfillment, or reward in the end after many ups and downs. Examples of this kind of plot include Pretty Woman and Rocky.

CIRCE

In Greek mythology, Circe is an enchantress who uses her knowledge of potions and her magic to transform her enemies into animals. The plot depicts a cunning character who seduces a naive character into a trap as a form of revenge. This type of plot could either show the chase, the innocent and the victim, the spider and the fly, or the hunter and the hunted scenarios. Examples of this plot include Othello and Dangerous Liaisons.

FAUST

Faust is the protagonist of a classic German tale who made a pact with the devil in exchange of unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The plot depicts a theme of the debt that must be paid when fate finally catches up with the protagonist. Examples of this kind of plot include The Devil’s Advocate and Bedazzled.

ORPHEUS

Orpheus is a poet and musician in Greek myths and legends. When his wife Eurydice died, he grieved and went to the underworld. His music softened the hearts of Hades and Persephone that his wish was granted with one condition: Orpheus and Eurydice should walk back to the upper world with Orpheus going ahead of Eurydice. He should not look back until both of them reach the upper world. However, when Orpheus reached the surface he looked back and saw Eurydice fade away. The plot depicts a protagonist who has everything and everything is taken away at an instant forever. Examples of this story include Dr. Zhivago and Rain Man.

ROMEO AND JULIET

Based on Shakespeare’s play of the same title, the plot depicts the tragic love story. It follows a formula: boy meets girl, both belong from opposing sides, boy loses girl, then boy finds girl again. Examples of this plot include West Side Story and When Harry Met Sally.

TRISTAN

Based on an Arthurian story, the plot depicts the typical love triangle. Tristan was one of the Knights of the Round Table and was assigned to fetch Isolde whom was about to marry Mark, the King of  Cornwall. Examples of this kind of plot include Fatal Attraction, The Graduate, and The Wedding Planner.

In 2004, a book from Christopher Booker entitled The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories discussed nine archetypal plots, but only approves of the first seven. However, three of those nine are considered genres (comedy, tragedy, and mystery) and not plots.

I believe that it is good for writers to be familiar with these basic stories. A good mix and match would do the trick in coming up with a new story to tell because come to think of it, even if these were already told, there are still unique ways on how to tell them.

Do you agree with this list?

 

the first trilogy

The First Trilogy (in Original Filipino Text)

Looking back from where I started, I couldn’t help but smile. It brought back memories and at the same time it showed me a pattern — either a pattern of growth or a pattern of style. In 2015, I decided to release in e-book format my first trilogy which I wrote in December 2001 to April 2002.

Publishing an e-book online gave me a big challenge: translation. I tried several times to translate the trilogy into English but I realized that it would be better for me to stick with the original Filipino text.

The first novel, Kȕng äng Txt i My CȕPdö (“,), was full of text messaging jargons and misspellings and translating these into English might diminish or worse, taken out of context the meaning and nuances of the “language” prevalent at that time.

By now, you can no longer see available copies of Kȕng äng Txt i My CȕPdö (“,) and Can I Use My Love Line? Also, the third novel, I’m Greg, Short For Gregarious, was never published because of its homosexual story. At that time, the romance genre and the Philippine pocketbook publishing industry were not comfortable in releasing romance stories about gays.

18 years have passed and many things have changed. I guess it’s about time to let my readers know about my first trilogy. You’ll read I’m Greg, Short For Gregarious for the first time.

This trilogy is also important to me in three ways: (1) it opened the door to the world of freelance writing, (2) it paved way for me to explore other writing formats, and (3) it only affirmed my resolve that everything comes in threes.

The first book was published in April and the second one in June 2002. Actually, I had no idea that I’ll be writing a trilogy.

Right after submitting Kȕng äng Txt i My CȕPdö (“,) that was the only time I thought of a “what if” situation which turned out to be the story for Can I Use My Love Line? And while writing the second novel, I thought of another “what if” situation and decided to unify them all. Thus I wrote I’m Greg, Short For Gregarious.

Reading this will bring back memories of Nokia 5110 and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? It also brought out a part of my character. Laugh and cry as you read along. So go ahead and download your FREE copy now.

writing myth

Don’t Be A Victim Of This Writing Myth

Once upon a time, we believed that writers get a stroke of inspiration from the muses. They sit down and pour out their emotions and transform them into words on paper. It was the stroke a an Inspired Genius.

But like the muses, those writers were just myths. Writing doesn’t work that way. And if ever you believe in this kind of myth, you’re harming yourself as a writer.

Writing is hard work with blood, sweat, and tears. Behind successful novels is a process. And when we talk of a process, it has stages that we have to go through. But those who believe that the Inspired Genius myth exists, they don’t know what is really happening behind the scenes. Instead, they see the finished product and wants to get there fast.

What happens when you believe in the myth of the Inspired Genius? You’ll show the three signs of writer’s block.

THE PRESSURE

Because you believe in the inspired genius myth, you start to do the same. Sit down, wait for the muse to inspire you, and once stimulated, write. But what if you’re not yet inspired? You get up, look for inspiration somewhere else. And you end up doing something different other than write. This is one reason for procrastination. And it’s hard to get back to sit down and write. Fear sets in and you’ll get scared to try again.

Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. – Sylvia Plath

LOST STEAM

They sit down, write brilliant prose, then run out of steam in the process. You’ll reach the point where you don’t know what to write next.

SELF-DOUBT

Believing in the Inspired Genius myth can make you doubt yourself in the process. You’ll lose confidence in your writing once you compare your piece to someone else’s novel. “How I wish I could write like that!” But what you don’t know is, you’re being unfair. You’re comparing your failed draft to someone’s successful novel. What a big disparity!

So what do you do once you have these signs? Accept the harsh reality of the writing life. Authors don’t wait for inspiration. They show up on their desk, sit, and write like it’s the only work they know. A brilliant piece of writing comes from a pile of messy drafts. Writers spend months or years planning their novels. Even those writers who join NaNoWriMo plan first before starting to write their draft.

Joining NaNoWriMo can be an exciting challenge. Write and reach the 50,000 word count by the end of November and you’ll have your first draft. But if without a plan, you’ll end up revising a lot to the point of losing steam and starting all over again.

So start planning your novel now in time for NaNoWriMo. I’ll try to make one, too. I can’t let myself feel the pressure, lose steam, and cast self-doubt now. Writers who are susceptible to this myth’s trap should bounce back.

10 Commandments in Writing

The Fiction Writer’s 10 Commandments

When it comes to creative writing, no commandments are carved in stone. Any writer can bend, twist, stretch, crush, or shred any of the rules of writing that has been handed down by mentors and known authors we all want to become.

However, there are still “laws” that are common among all writers that to break any of these would be punishable by rejection of publication.

Here are the 10 Commandments every writer must follow.

1. Thou shall take thyself seriously.

This is the most difficult to follow yet the most critical because it deals with yourself as a person and as a writer.

You must say to yourself and show others that writing is part of your life. It is a career. It is not a hobby. It is a profession.

Many struggling writers feel guilty for working so hard but not well-paid enough. Also, they make friends and family members think of writing as a harmless hobby, only to be encouraged if it doesn’t interfere with their family affairs. To make it even worse, these writers don’t prioritize writing as part of their daily lives. So how would other people take you seriously if you yourself is not convinced?

2. Thou shall act like a professional.

If you want to be taken seriously, then act like a professional. It’s like preparing and going through a tough job interview. Prepare your manuscript, follow the standard manuscript format, check for spelling errors, and double check the publisher’s guidelines regarding query letters. Present yourself like a professional and feel like it. Other people will sense it anyway.

You only learn to be a better writer by actually writing.Doris Lessing

3. Thou shall write about thy passion.

Write what you like to convey. Don’t follow the bandwagon. Just because films about superheroes are on top these days, you’ll write about superhero fantasies when you’re not even comfortable with the genre.

If you’re into romance, go write a romance novel. If you’re into mysteries, then begin writing one. Start with something you’re passionate about and slowly explore other possibilities once you’re there.

4. Thou shall love the writing process.

There are some people who love to be called “writer” but doesn’t love the process itself. The writing process starts with the pre-writing, writing, revision, proofreading & editing, then it ends with publishing. The first three are the hardest stages because it takes much of the writer’s time. The last two could be done by third parties like a publishing companies. But for self-published authors, the five stages has to be experienced.

5. Thou shall read a lot.

 If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. – Stephen King

Read a lot, not only of your genre, but also other genres as well. If you saw something on TV or in the movies, write it down, too. Writers, as artists, should be open to inspiration and learning.

6. Thou shall stick to a schedule.

Have the time to write. Create a writing schedule and stick with it. Perseverance is what makes a true writer different from someone pretending to be a writer.

7. Thou shall be critical of thy work.

Embrace the inner critic in you. Know if you feel that your writing is contrived and predictable then change it right away. As you progress as a writer, your critical eye develops as well. You’ll develop the instinct of what works and what doesn’t. Although this statement counteracts a concept of creativity, you as a writer would know when to put the inner critic on and off.

8. Thou shall develop thick skin.

Learn how to be rejected and criticized many times and deal with it. Haters gonna hate anyway, so why bother? Always remember that famous writers felt rejected many times before hitting it big.

9. Thou shall trust thy editors.

Most editors are writer mentors and published authors. Maybe a few are frustrated writers, but we’re not talking about them.

In general, editors are there to show you the flaws of your work since you’ve been working too close with it that you haven’t notice the flaws. You may disagree with your editor but most likely they have your best interest at heart. So think over their suggestions first and see if it works out for your novel or not.

When I was writing Guilty, my editor told me to change the last two chapters because it was too heavy for a drama. I became convinced on his opinion that I revised the last two chapters right away using his suggested ending.

10. Thou shall believe that nothing is certain.

In the entertainment industry, no one knows what may sell or what may not. The trend changes as seasons do. But if you believe in your material, then trust your instincts and go for it. Finish what you’ve done.

So there you have it, the 10 Commandments writers should know by heart. Let it guide your writing ways and lead you to good publishing deal.

Do you think I missed something? Let me know by writing down below. For more updates on crime fiction writing, subscribe to my newsletter.

book series episodes

When They Say That Your Writing is Episodic

After winning Honorable Mention in a screenplay writing contest, I lent my screenplay manuscript to a  co-worker for her to read. When she returned to me the manuscript, she said, “…the story is good, but it’s episodic…”

Hearing the word “episodic”, I immediately agreed because in my thoughts the story was also based in some episodes of a TV series, given that there are five stories running parallel to each other in one full-length narrative film.

Actually, “episodic” means the novel or story is made up of a series of events or episodes that are loosely tied together and only the main character connects them all. This is one way of constructing a plot but this technique ends up having no character change.

Episodic writing dates back even before Cervantes wrote Don Quixote. Episodic writing also graced TV series of the ’60s and the ’70s. And growing up during the ’70s and seeing those TV series, it somehow influenced the way I write.

So how would you know if you’re writing something episodic?

1. The character is reactive rather than proactive.
2. There is no story question.
3. The reactive character does not operate from his strengths

Now that you know how to spot them, what can you do to save it?

1. Give your protagonist (and antagonist) a goal.

In episodic stories, the main character is put in an adventurous situation (more likely a quest) and goes to finish it. However, the goal tends to be shallow that the reader would ask, “so what?” Therefore, you make the main character proactive, making him decide for his actions by himself and not from other characters’ influence.

2. Give your two main characters (protagonist and antagonist) significant strengths and some weaknesses.

Make them more human. Balance the strengths with a few flaws that readers can relate to. Readers would also relate to the antagonist’s motives if the characterization is done well.

3. Decide on the obstacles that the characters will encounter on their way to their goal.

Make the protagonist’s goal difficult for him/her to achieve so that the readers will start to ask, “will he/she fail or not?” Just be careful not to make it contrived or coincidental.

4. Decide how your characters will react to these obstacles.

Let the protagonist and antagonist think and react to every problem that comes their way. I remember an advice from a famous writer that we need to push the protagonist to the corner until he/she couldn’t do anything but to fight back.

5. Make sure the scenes move the story forward and logically flows from one scene to the next.

One good characteristic of an episodic writing is its being fast-paced. However, since episodic writing are loosely tied, it tends to slow down the whole story overall. Look for loopholes and tie those loose ends!

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character archetypes

Are Your Characters Running On Empty?

 

You have seen this cycle before. You’re writing a novel or screenplay. You have a great idea, so great that you dream it will become the next bestseller or award-winning film. You spend days outlining and writing the first few pages. Then… you lose steam. It becomes harder to write. The momentum goes down. Writer’s block sets in. You lose excitement. You tell yourself, “I should work on a different story because this doesn’t work.”

The problem is not you

Most of the time, the problem isn’t with the story, but with the characters. How can you move the story forward if your characters are running on empty? How can you tell exciting discoveries about your characters if they’re stereotypes? Did you think about how these characters will react to those plot points you put them into?

The characters’ reactions should drive the story forward, not the plot points. A character doesn’t need to get into a burning house because you want him or her there. The character gets into that burning house because it’s in his/her nature to do so.

A story is built on characters and reason.Steven Amsterdam

Archetypes

Archetypes are blueprints for building well-defined characters. It defines protagonists, antagonists, antiheroes, or supporting characters. 16 personality types based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are good archetypes . Each type defines a role and a strategy on how their type of character act on things.

THE ANALYSTS

  • The Architect (INTJ – Introversion-iNtuition-Thinking-Judging)
  • The Logician (INTP – Introversion-iNtuition-Thinking-Perceiving)
  • The Commander (ENTJ – Extraversion-iNtuition-Thinking-Judging)
  • The Debater (ENTP – Extraversion-iNtuition-Thinking-Perceiving)

THE DIPLOMATS

  • The Advocate (INFJ – Introversion-iNtuition-Feeling-Judging)
  • The Mediator (INFP – Introversion-iNtuition-Feeling-Perceiving)
  • The Protagonist (ENFJ – Extraversion-iNtuition-Feeling-Judging)
  • The Campaigner (ENFP – Extraversion-iNtuition-Feeling-Perceiving)

THE SENTINELS

  • The Logistician (ISTJ – Introversion-Sensing-Thinking-Judging)
  • The Defender (ISFJ – Introversion-Sensing-Feeling-Judging)
  • The Executive (ESTJ – Extraversion-Sensing-Thinking-Judging)
  • The Consul (ESFJ – Extraversion-Sensing-Feeling-Judging)

THE EXPLORERS

  • The Virtuoso (ISTP- Introversion-Sensing-Thinking-Perceiving)
  • The Adventurer (ISFP – Introversion-Sensing-Feeling-Perceiving)
  • The Entrepreneur (ESTP – Extraversion-Sensing-Thinking-Judging)
  • The Entertainer (ESFP – Extraversion-Sensing-Feeling-Perceiving)

I use these 16 personality archetypes as an invaluable tool. Their essences give me a general idea of who they are but still force me to delve deeper into the characters. I don’t see them as Character 1 or “the policeman” but as a person who responds to a conflict in a specific way.

As a writer, I’m guilty of creating characters who act like me. Archetypes will help us avoid this. Each personality has its own set of motivations, fears, and cares that move him/her as the plot forward.

After selecting an archetype, other details follow. The details will shape how the character expresses that essence. Details like the physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of a character shapes their actions in the story.

Most memorable characters in books and in film are not bland and one-dimensional. They invoke strong emotions in us that either we want to be like them or completely the opposite. What makes them memorable is not the story they’re into but the depth of their characters. They are not perfect, they have flaws, own defense mechanisms, and a dark side that make them human, complex, and interesting.

A character arc shows the changes he/she goes through during the story. The character needs to emerge at the end as a new person who has learned something from the journey. It’s the archetype that inspires the discoveries and details that make it interesting.

Stereotypes vs. Archetypes

But beware of stereotypes, which are the complete opposite. Stereotypes are oversimplified generalizations about people usually stemming from one person’s prejudice. Archetypes stemmed from the entire human race’s experience of people and psychological studies.

Describing a character as a “typical librarian” makes you assume that all librarians are quiet spinsters and shows the writer’s sloppy characterization. Stereotypes may be used to describe an archetype but a stereotype is only a shallow imitation.