I’ve finished the experiment with asking my email list which story they wanted me to tell based on Concept alone.
If you’re not sure what concept is, here are a few examples.
Superman is a CHARACTER
Dan Brown’s Dante’s Inferno is a PROPOSITION
The Hunger Games includes an ARENA
The Help is a TIME PERIOD
Here’s the concept I gave my email list:
Deep right? Well, it’s not supposed to be. Concepts are high level. They pique the interest, so that readers, producers, publishers, etc can get a feel for the “idea” of the story before even seeing it. The “challenge” is delivering on “idea.”
I ran a quick experiment. I wanted to offer three concepts to my email list and ask which they would like to read first. I have a small list, and 12/47 votes casted. Decent turnout for a list, I guess. Those who did vote chose the concept above. So I wrote it. The story wrapped up in the mid length range, so it’s a novella.
Every three scenes or so I emailed the story to my list. I encouraged feedback and criticism. Of the 12 who voted, I actively emailed back and forth with 3. I lost 1 at about the 15k word mark. Then the final two stuck it out until the end.
I do have to say that I’m eternally grateful for all those who participated. I love telling stories, and it helps to have readers.
What did I learn from this?
#1. Asking an unsegregated list to pick between three options segregates them pretty quick. For those who voted, I got a sense of genre and even sub genre for the readers who voted. Very helpful.
#2. Asking to pick your favorite concept, segregating readers, and then delivering on only one of the three concept results in a percentage of readers disengaging or even checking out (unsubscribing). If I ran this type of fun project again, I would have asked for them to vote, segregated on my own, and then delivered genre/sub-genre specific stories to the divided lists.
#3. The world owes me nothing. I say this with a growth mindset because I have to prove my stories are worth reading to those who may be interested in the genre I’ve chosen to write in. For those who don’t read the genre I’m submitting stories to really have no place on my list. Unless they’ve decided to hop on over to the dark side, reaching out to them is a waist of time on mine and their part. If I’m writing high concept fantasy, and they read commercial thriller… Well, trying to sell them elves, dwarves, magic, and dragons probably won’t go over well.
Test. Experiment. Pivot. Choose a target, focus all your energy and powers towards it. Shoot a few times. Analyze. Then adjust. It’s really that simple.
For the longest time I went to movies and read books and said to myself, either that was good, or that was bad. I had no technical basis on why I said that. It was simply intuition and personal preference. I would also watch any genre of movie or book, simply to enjoy it.
But something changed about two years ago. I discovered story structure. I discovered concept, premise, character, and theme. I even discovered something called voice. I won’t go into detail what all of these are, but if you’re interested check out Larry Brooks. He’s the one who I stumbled on searching the internet late at night looking for a solution to my rampant imagination and lackluster understanding of storytelling.
Fast forward about twelve months >
…after finding Larry’s stuff. I’m still struggling to write. I can’t find a groove. I see all these professional writers pounding out stories as if a gun were to their head. I still reeked of emotional and mental fear. Who am I to jump on the scene and write stories? No, I didn’t have a confidence issue. I believe in myself. I feel it in my gut every day that I need to be writing something, somewhere. I’ve simply chosen fiction as my outlet (and now this blog). My issue was the instinctual gut check whenever a story went off the rails.
Fast forward another six months >
I’ve written and published my first short story on amazon. I won’t lie. It was an extremely emotional experience. Not the story, but facing the fear and angst inside of me to do something I’ve always wanted to do. Tell stories and have people purchase it. In college more than three years ago now, I took a few creative writing classes, and I always got a split audience in the class. There were a handful who thought I was a abrasive or too straightforward with my stories, and then I had another half who thought I was the butter to their bread. At the time I took it personally, because if I was good, I could make everyone happy… incoming life lesson on people pleasing and art… Soon I discovered that if you have a consistent wave of haters and lovers of your work, you’re doing something right, but I could never figure out what it was.
Fast forward another six months >
Now, I’m fully aware of the things Larry teaches in all books and films I experience. I tend to force myself to enjoy them and not tick off the plot point and pinch point marks in my mind. I have to force myself not to lean over whenever I see a try/fail cycle and tell whoever is next to me that in two more tries, the character will figure it out and all will end well based on the plants and inciting incident that came prior to the moment in the story. It’s tough. However, I’m still struggling as a storyteller myself.
What do you mean? You write every day!
I do write every day, but it doesn’t mean I’ve found me yet. Of all the things I’m stuck on still, I have trouble with character wants/needs and the motivations for them. It’s a very slippery slope for me. So I tend to spend an extra amount of time on it before I start writing, ensuring all is well and in alignment.
I also struggle a bit with high level concept. I can point at a concept and say, “Hey, that’s concept.” I can point at a premise and say, “Yes, that’s premise.” However, when it comes to me taking my own idea into the figurative atmosphere, I struggle. It’s almost as if my brain says, “Keep it real, man.”
To bring this back around to why I share this with you, reader. I’ve been writing with intent to tell stories for nearly three years and I’m two short stories in, and I still struggle. This isn’t a pity party, but it’s a sense of reality for me to look back and reflect on what I’m doing and what I can do better. I recently took the mental dive into the figurative pool of professional writing, and It’s a goal to produce more and learn on the fly. Hopefully you enjoy it as much as I do!
Today started out without writing, which was odd. I hit snooze on my alarm this morning, and then I slept right up until 15 minutes before having to leave for the day job. So I rushed to get dressed, eat on the way out the door, and make my way to work on time. I did, however, grab the laptop and get a horror story developed, mostly, on the way to work, since I don’t drive most days, not by choice but by seniority.
The horror story is coming along quite nicely. I’ve got a concept, premise, a batch of fun characters, and a theme.
I’m still working on the structure, since there are seven characters, not including foreseen support. It’s exciting.
Work was light today. We started a new project, which means heavy equipment and a few shovels. Basically, we dug holes today. I digress.
We ate Chipotle today. I’ve been contemplating whether Chipotle or Quidoba is the better burrito joint. So far the Q is on top. Sorry I’m not sorry, Chipotle.
After work and the drive home I sat down with a family member to discuss their business startup. It’s exciting to see how growing an email list for fiction and growing an email list for another industry are eerily similar. The content and the products are the difference, so far.
Today was a good day. It was hard but good. The morning started off with the deer you see in the featured image. It’s a group that hang out around the place I’m staying in at the moment. In total, we’ve counted eleven. Two buck, five doe, and 4 fawn.
Nature reminds me to keep my sights set on the essentials. Just as those deer move, eat, and sleep, I tend to keep the same principals in mind. I move towards what I want/need, I eat as needed, and I sleep a little less than the average human being, I think (been cutting back to get more done in the day).
I spent a quarter century getting my eight-to-ten hour nights. It’s time to strap in and see what I can do with a few extra hours along side readjusting priorities and goals.
The day job beat me up today. I spent nearly four hours on a roof, tearing off metal and then adding new metal. Then another hour or so on smaller projects around the job site. Although it was only four hours of work on the roof, it was definitely tough. I grew up working construction with my parents. It’s the family bread and butter. Then I spent nearly a decade not working. I was in high school, college, and a few years beyond. Now that I’m back in the family business, I’m reminded of all the hard work I have not been doing in my own life and career. The time not spent on writing. The time not spent on building an email list. The time spent on not going all in on myself…
Most would look at me and ask if I’ve lost my mind, but I enjoy physical labor at the moment. It’s refreshing. It’s challenging. It’s… work.
A quick progress report. I’ve started in on a new horror story. I was going to start a soft science fiction story, but this horror story jumped at me yesterday evening, so I’m going to write it. If you’re interested in reading it, join my email list. I will send out an update to them as soon as it’s ready for beta readers.
For all of you who read, continue. For all of those who write, continue.
Just finished a one act play, and it’s in the realm of beta readers. I’m excited because it’s the first installment of what I can see as a string of plays. It’s also potentially being produced by a bunch of middle school students (the best talent out there, obviously). I’m ready to witness the beats, the inflections, and the jokes get slaughtered on stage… Oh the joy.
On a serious note, I’m extremely excited to have the opportunity to see my work on stage. It’s humbling and fulfilling all at the same time. Best of luck to those kiddos. I know they’ll try their little hearts out.
So here are the details:
Title: The Legacy of Zus
Time: ~30 minutes
Pages: 30 pages
Concept: What if a board game helped those who’ve lost loved ones cope with their absence?
I had a riot writing this play. I’m sure there will be some feedback to upgrade, update, or change some things, but it was still fun.
Here’s the story behind the story:
I play video games as much as I can. It’s tough to balance life, writing, and games all in the same day. I became friends with a few colleagues at my last day job, and we played video games together. Then we started in on this board game fix. It was fantastic. Then Dungeons & Dragons was mentioned. What? The only time I’d heard about this game was when my father told stories of this specific group of kids at his high school who played every day after school (cue stranger things) eons ago (no he’s not that old, but I like to justify all the wisdom in his brain-case). But now the fifth edition manual was on the table in front of me. It’s a game, it’s played with friends, of course I’ll try it.
This lead into a string of long nights slaying kobolds, defending castles, and sneaking around hay barns to flank enemies. It was epic fun.
This game coincidentally coincided with a friend who was reading a script (the theatre teacher who’s considering this one act for her students’ competition in 2017). She was reading “She Kills Monsters,” and she asked me to help her cut it down to one act length. I read it twice, cut quite a bit out, and still missed the mark. The cut play ended up being around 50 pages. Not short enough. So that one was off the table.
A few months later the theatre friend hit me up and asked if I wanted to write a play instead of helping her cut it down. I said yes. This spawned a second play being written for her, too. So two plays in total over the course of maybe three months. Crazy!
So a few things to note here: D&D, Friends, and “She Kills Monsters” spawned this one act play: The Legacy of Zus
Insanely grateful for this opportunity, and I hope it all works out so the play is produced. If not, I’ll just submit it to my alma matter for their play competition.
And if you haven’t found him yet, one of my beta readers is this guy here. He’s written a few things in his life, and I would really appreciate you going over and giving him some support, too!
It was a clear day. Blue sky. Warm. The wind was gentle. Everything seemed to be out of the way for me to think, which is odd to consider nature being in the way of thinking. Nonetheless, I pondered quite a bit today. No photos, unfortunately. But a few thoughts.
The first thought…
We as a species are finite. A majority of us do not see past our own senses or perspective. What do I mean by this? Consider this situation:
A man is walking down the street in a downtown area. Let’s say Denver (if you haven’t been to Denver, think of your nearest downtown city, add a few skyscrapers, and a bunch of people walking the sidewalks and crossing streets. Cars. etc). This man bumps into another person on accident. Said person is a woman. She’s just been laid off. Her eyes are full of tears. She’s not only embarrassed, but she is furious, not at the world but at herself. A rough day thus far.
The man bumps into this woman. He turns to apologize, but she beats him to it. Instead, she yells, “Watch where you’re walking.” The man has a choice to make. 1. Apologize anyway, considering the woman’s anger isn’t aimed at him for a mere accident, or 2. Get angry at her for being rude. What would you do knowing about the woman’s situation? What would you do if you did not know the woman’s situation?
Depending on the man’s choice, a basic choice to make, it determines where he’s at as a person. The finite will become enraged at the woman’s rudeness for a mere accident. The infinite understands to one degree or another that this woman may be having a horrible day, and she’s simply projecting those feelings onto the world, because she’s still processing. How does this affect us as a species? It breeds compassion. Once you understand you have bad days and that others do too, you begin to understand when people act/react in certain ways it’s usually not because of you or anyone else. They’re dealing with something. We as a species become more compassionate, we become more united, which means more epic things. I’m totally down for epic.
Here’s another example:
A woman wants to quit her job and be her own boss. She wants to start her own publishing company, write her own books, and travel the world on tour. Crazy, right? No. Completely possible. How? I’m not sure, but you do not need to know the how to accomplish your goals. You simply need to take action in the direction of that goal. The how is history. Action is now.
The finite individual will visualize their dream and see success. The finite will see their dream in someone else’s life. The finite will find ways their dream can’t be accomplished. Essentially, the finite will see where they are and where they want to be. However, the gap in between here and there is a dark chasm no one can cross. It’s too wide, or too deep, or too scary to consider trying. But you see others on the other side. The finite is worried the universe will not deliver on their request to be who and what they want to be. Consider Jim Carrey’s speech below. He’s talking about asking the universe for what you want. How do you ask? Take action!
How do you go about becoming infinite?
It’s a process. I’m still going through it. I’m expanding daily, because I challenge myself daily. I’ve altered my perspective on life. I consider myself the King of my reality, not the servant.
Here’s the three steps I’m taking daily to expand: 1. Accept life as it is, 2. Challenge my fear, 3. Taking action daily towards my big picture goals.
How do you accept life as it is? Take a look at your life. What does it look like? Be candid with your assessment. Is it where you want to be? Yes? Great, keep doing you. No? What is the change you want? Great, now what are the next three immediate steps you can take to alter your current situation in life? Start there. Once you complete those steps, what are the next three?
How do you challenge your fears? Face them. I still have anxiety speaking in front of crowds. However, back in college I started staring that fear in the face and saying, “I acknowledge you; however, thousands before me have done this and thousands after me will, too. I have courage. I have strength. Let’s go.”
The first step towards embracing this fear? I got involved in writing lyrics for music. And I insisted, even though I felt sick to my stomach because of it, that I perform the chorus on stage in front of a few hundred people. Perform. On stage. A few hundred people. Up until this point, the only stage I’d been on was in baseball as a pitcher. I’d had years of practice with that, so it had been cake to me. But this: “singing” a chorus, a specifically designed reading of poetry to a beat… What the hell was I thinking? I’ll tell you. Fear said, “No. Don’t. You can’t. What will they think? Who are you. Stop. No.” And I said, “Fear, I see you, but I am doing this.” So I did it. I failed miserably. I got through the first two sets, but the third I choked up and couldn’t read the chorus the third time… What happened? People came and congratulated me for doing something new. The ones who didn’t like it never spoke to me. I’m sure there were a handful who thought I was an idiot for trying something new, but they never approached me about it. What did I learn?
Fear is what I perceive to be a threat, not what is the truth. Fear is a precursor to something happening. It’s a preparation for something to happen. Once you’re in the moment, the fear dissipates, and different emotions arrive.
The second example of facing fear? I was a moderator for a panel conversation on the topic of prejudice and racism. What does this mean? I was the one who asked the questions most people rarely asked themselves or loved ones about our overwhelming perpetuation of hatred in this country. It was in front of an auditorium of about 200 people. The scariest part: I didn’t sit on stage to do the moderating. I walked the aisles with a microphone of the auditorium while the panel sat on stage answering the questions. This meant I was available for people to ask their questions, too. The audience was anywhere from 18-60 in age. This means at least two generations were participating, potentially three. The panel were college students of different studies. The tension in the room was palpable. It was like 90% humidity in Texas, where you could cup a handful of water out of the air in front of you. However, the conversation was uplifting and inspiring enough to get a standing ovation after we were finished. How did I face my fear? I engaged in a topic no one really wants to engage with. I put myself in a vulnerable position. What happened? We as people came together and created awareness and a plan of action.
I love Morgan Freeman’s take on this topic. I watched the video below recently, and it made me think:
Bringing this back around: Facing your fear starts with action.
The third daily step? Take action towards your goal. The first question I get is this: How do you take action towards your goal without knowing how to get there? I respond like this. When you’re going somewhere new, like on road trip, do you use directions? The answer is usually yes, so this example works. How did you find those directions? The answer is similar to this: “I used my phone.” Great, the understanding that you can find a way is embedded in all that you do. You understand that if you are find your way to a new place, you can use your phone for directions. Prior to following those directions, you take action to get those directions. You think about your next step and you execute, even though you’re not 100% sure the step you’re taking will work. You’re simply moving towards your end goal: make it to the destination. Now, what if your phone doesn’t have service? The typical answer: “I ask someone if they’ve ever been there.” Great, so you try one step, and it doesn’t work. So you move on to another step. What if no one you ask knows? Typical answer: “Then I try to get service, or find a computer to look it up.” Awesome, you’ve taken three steps without knowing how they will turn out, and you’re getting closer to your goal. You’re also learning new things or practicing old ones. The how is in the past. It’s a recorded history of what one person did to get to a specific destination. What did that person do to get to that destination? They took action towards the bigger picture. You’ll never have all the answers between here (your now) and there (your future). What you do have is your will and your drive to act.
Onto the second thought…
People rely too much on “guarantees.” What do I mean by this? Take a 9-5 job. People believe that the check they receive bi monthly is a guarantee. It’s safe. Unfortunately, it’s no more safe than you working for yourself. Sure, as an employee, you have a set of responsibilities you’re used to and familiar with. However, as a self employed individual, you take on a lot more than just create report, save report, send report. I’m in no way attempting to deface employment. What I intend to show is the false feeling of safety the “corporate industry” creates for employees. If you’ve ever been fired or laid off, you’ve experienced this. If you’ve never been fired, congrats. But I hope you understand that there is a choice to make. I’ve been an employee for a short time compared to others, and I’m now self employed. I prefer to be the captain, nothing less. That’s just me. When I left my job to do things on my own, it energized me. I understand others prefer to be employed, and that’s fine. Just know that you have a choice.
And that’s it. For some reason those hit me, and I felt like sharing them. As a human being, I’m always expanding and growing. I hope you are, too.
I believe Stephen King says this when other writers ask him how to do what he does. I also took this advice and have been writing and reading as much as each day allows. However, a short article I found added a dimension to this statement, which demands attention.
I hope I’m not the only one who assumed when King said “…read a lot” he meant fiction. I certainly don’t read as much as he states he does. But I certainly get into the upper double digits each year for fiction books read. The reason I took King’s statement this way, to read fiction as much as possible, was to enjoy and learn how storytelling works.
I get it now…
I understand story. I understand conflict. I understand the importance of opposition. I understand motive, backstory, and character arc. Applying all of this and more is what all the professionals call craft. I’m currently practicing my craft as a professional. Yippee!
There is a piece missing in my system, and I’ve been struggling to fill it ever since I started writing fiction… It’s the ideas and the concepts. I tend to be heavy on technical story development. I get the parts, plot points, sequences, acts, etc. I understand theme: what the story is about. I understand character depth. Nonetheless, idea and concept are at the front of the chain; without them, none of these other tools get used.
King said read a lot. So I read a lot of fiction. I still do read it. However, something did catalyze a change in my search for story. What if a story was already semi-outlined, and all I had to do was add my fictional touch to it to make it great? This is possible, and I just now realized how this works.
I believe nothing is brand new. Everything at this point in the information age is a derivative or deviation of something that came before it. So with this in mind, it’s my job as a storyteller to find the edge and write the next derivative or deviation. Yes, I can still be original, but it will be seen in style and perspective.
How does this look/work? Read a lot… Read everything you can: fiction, poetry, news, memoirs, etc. Focus on non-fiction work that relates to the genre or topic you write in. For example, I’ve witnessed a handful of Science Fiction writers who read science news, magazines, and pop culture articles daily. What does this do? It gives your creative brain some material to work with. You also learn faster reading about the world than you do reading about a fictitious world. I would argue once you have a grasp on the general structure of story, cut your fiction reading in half for the year and fill it with non-fiction news, opinions, and articles.
Here’s an example…
This morning I drank coffee and ate breakfast like usual. However, after realizing the mistake I’ve been making for some time now, I pulled open the news app on my phone. I searched crime, since I enjoy reading mystery and crime novels. The first article: Hacker comes back to reality. It piqued my interest so I opened it. In rough detail, here’s what the article was about:
A hacker, who allegedly worked for or with Anonymous, found a way out of hacking and into the real world. He made a plea bargain with the FBI to remove himself from the world of hacking. He also wouldn’t give up his old hacking team members. Instead, he worked with the FBI. He served some time. Then he had to work with his family’s tow truck business for three years, because he wasn’t allowed to touch a computer. Then he started making money through the bug bounty programs for places like Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. Now he works with a handful of others in cyber security, hacking companies and sending them invoices for their efforts if they find anything.
What did I do after I read this? My brain went wild. What if his old group put a hit out on him, and the FBI wanted to use him as bait to catch the others? What if the hitman went after the ex-hacker’s family? What if the hacker had a bad reaction to his work in the real world, and the CEO of some huge company sent someone after the Hacker to eliminate him? Where would this hacker turn? FBI denies his existence. Old group wants him dead. Now a company helped save from malicious attacks online wants to snuff him out for crossing the line/revealing something much worse than a way to hack a company’s intranet. The possibilities are nearly endless. Sure, it’s another hacker/cyber story, but how you or I twist it will determine which story belongs to who.
The One Act Play I mentioned a few days ago is nearly finished. I have two scenes left to write. Then I’ll send it off to some beta readers for a test run. I know the story will work, but I hope it grabs them enough to illicit a one of a specific range of emotions I intended to evoke.
So I’ve committed to an earlier wakeup call in the morning. It was slightly rough this morning, but I think after a few days, it will start to feel normal. The reason being for this change is to get more done. I have trouble focusing on one thing when other things are happening around me. For example, I find it difficult to write a blog post when a movie is playing in the background. The closest thing I can get to noise while writing is music without lyrics (and even this can be distracting). So the solution: Get up earlier while everyone else is still asleep.
An Altered Focus…
I recently attended an online webinar. Bryan Harris, an email list building and product launch expert, explained the importance, six techniques, and what to do next to build an email list.
An email list? Yuk. Who uses email anymore?
Apparently everyone uses email. I know, right? Social media is the big communicating platform, blanketing various sites, like Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. It’s a flurry of options. However, Bryan explains email as the one thing you can control. Social media is on a company’s platform. Email is your own.
I agree. So this prompted a new focus in my day to day growth as a small business. Yes, I write fiction, but I want my fiction to support me financially. This means I need to align my business first, then write stories.
What is this change in focus? I am doing two things daily and to the best of my effort:
1. build my email list.
2. write fiction that works.
Sounds too simple to be true, right? What about building a community on social media? What about attending national and local conferences?
The questions go on. Questions I’ve asked myself after changing my focus, and questions I’ve seen other people ask those who focus on these two aspects of their business.
Simply put: I want people to purchase and enjoy my fiction. How do I do this? Create a direct line to these people without forcing them into anything. How do I do that? Have them opt into an email list to receive letters from me about a few things: updates, releases, and give aways (Yes. I plan on doing freebies).
If you missed it, there’s a freebie ready for you to claim: Sign Up!
And, finally, once these people have willing joined the email list, I can offer them (in non-spammy ways) the info they need to purchase or get the stories I write.
Simple as that.
Now, to get people to sign up to the list… Challenge Accepted.
I’ll be keeping track of this process somewhere. I just don’t know where yet.
Here’s the sunrise this morning:
Happy Bday to Grandma…
Today is my grandmother’s birthday. We celebrated with dinner and some of her favorite cheesecake. She’s a wonderful woman with wonderful stories. I enjoy listening to her tell me about her life and how she lived it.