Wednesday, 2 December 2020

To Plan or Not to Plan

It's an old debate - one that never ceases to divide writers. Should you make a plan before you write - or should you just start and see what happens?

An esteemed subscriber recently raised the issue again in the context of 'types' of writers. It seemed to her that genre fiction writers probably needed a plan in order to deal with the complexities of plotting - and cut down on editing in the subsequent drafts.

However, she maintained, it was the more 'literary' writers that insisted that planning somehow stifled creativity. And that a good literary writer didn't mind editing for sense and structure after the first draft was down.

She asked me which I thought was the best approach.

Do Plans Work?

It's hard to imagine a business succeeding without a plan - but clearly some do. Even very large businesses - which surely don't intend to go billions into debt, though it seems to happen all too often nowadays.

Some would say that many marriages survive without a formal plan - just a commitment is enough, as long as you work on it every day. But there again, how many marriages actually last? Less than 50% was the last figure I heard quoted.

Most anything that has a definite end-date needs a plan - a military operation for instance or an expedition to climb Everest.

But what about writing novels, books and short stories? Are these activities too precious, too human, to warrant taking the spontaneity out of the effort?

Clearly, it depends.

Many Ways Lead to the Source

There are as many ways to write as there are writers. Some choose the hard way, some the easier, but each chooses the way that seems right for them - at the time.

My own opinion whichever way is based on the evidence that those without a plan tend to have more trouble finishing what they start.

To me, it comes down to your definition of the word 'writer'. You could argue that anyone who writes is a writer. You might also contend that a planner - or a daydreamer - is not strictly a writer until they start writing. But that someone who finishes their book, whether they had a plan or template or not, eschews the definition, and becomes an author.

An author is one who makes their dream real.

If it's true that some literary writers are less 'ending' orientated, then perhaps being a full blown 'author' is irrelevant to them.

Let's face it, the romantic ideal of 'being a writer' is sometimes more appealing than actually doing the writing - and having something to show for yourself is perhaps too much of a frightening prospect for many would-be authors.

Am I being too harsh?

I know there are 'plan-less' authors who do finish their work.

Similarly, there are many genre writers who, despite meticulous planning, can't seem to get more than a third of the way through their novels.

So really, there's no definitive answer.

The Three Cs

I believe that writing and finishing a novel requires three important elements, all of which, conveniently, happen to begin with C!

1. Commitment

Whether you have a plan or not, you need to make a mental, even sometimes spiritual, commitment to actually finishing your stories.

Most anyone can write a few lines - or many lines - that have no immediate impact without context. It's the context of the whole that defines a work's relevance and enables the reader to make a decision about the author's art or talent.

(Perhaps this is why so many writers fear finishing their work - lest they be judged! Scary indeed.)

2. Compromise

I'm not talking about artistic compromise here. Of course you should do your best and what is right for the work.

But I have noticed over the years that many writers feel they can never live up to their own expectations - and consequently struggle, often to the point of blockage. This is really not doing you any good.

Sometimes you just need to let go and write - and be happy that you're doing your best. Turn off your inner critic - he's usually wrong anyway. Have faith - and get the first draft down without beating yourself up. I would contend your work is ALWAYS better than you think it is.

3. Combination

Writing is often fun and rewarding in its own right. But also it can be difficult and exhausting too.
Sometimes you need to find new ways of inspiring yourself to keep going.

Sometimes planning is a good idea - to help get those juices flowing. Sometimes being spontaneous is more inspiring. It depends on the project - and how far along you are with it.

I don't so much plan as use 'triggers' - especially in longer works.

Before I begin, I often write a list of dot points that suggest a structure that I can use as a template, if I want to. Then I let my literary mind take over and write whatever comes to mind.

This, to me, is the right mix - and while it doesn't restrict my creativity, it does allow me to focus my energies. I recommend it.

It's Your Call

The goal for any writer is to keep writing.

And whatever keeps you writing is the right answer - for you.

So don't spend precious writing time wondering what the best way forward might be. We all have revelations about certain aspects of writing from time to time. Some help us, some do not.

The important thing is to keep the words flowing onto the page.

And perhaps the best reason to have some sort of plan, whether it's written down or not, is so that you know when to finish a project - and move on.

Because only when you know you can finish projects, do you realize you've progressed from being a mere writer, to becoming a real live author!

Keep Writing!

© Rob Parnell

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Ideas - And Where They Come From

This must be the single most fascinating issue amongst new writers - and non writers.

Throughout their careers, authors are consistently asked the same question: Where do you get your ideas from? As though there is some secret locked store-room full of them, hidden away,
and that only the best writers are mysteriously given the key.

If you're one of those people that has apparent trouble coming up with ideas, let me reassure you right away. You already hold the key to the 'idea store'. Just like any other writer or creative person, the ideas are inside your head - and all you need is an easy way to tap into them.

Something I'm just about to give you.

You may not be conscious of it now but your subconscious is a swirling mass of ideas just waiting for your attention.

The problem for most long term writers is not 'Where do I get ideas?' but 'Which one of the thousands I have am I going to work on next?' The dilemma then becomes 'When am I ever going to have enough time?'

Because once you gain access to the 'idea store', you'll most likely never have problems coming up with ideas again.

Gaining Access to Ideas

The notion that ideas are plentiful - and you already have them - is comforting to know, right? But you're probably still wondering how to unlock that store.

Easy. First of all, try this exercise.

Write at the top of a page: "Ten Ideas for Stories"

The simple act of doing this begins to open your subconscious mind. Let it do its magic, you really don't need to force it.

Let me explain.

Your subconscious mind is dumb. It cannot distinguish between fact and fiction, real and imagined, true or false. It is constantly taking in information and impressions from the conscious mind and trying to make sense of what it sees and hears and experiences.

It takes the data it has and tries to understand it, quantify it and file it away for reference later.

During this process it compares and contrasts different notions, sees if they fit and when they don't, continues. Most of the time we let the subconscious do this without question, without even knowing it's happening.

The KEY is to interrupt this process and let the notions that don't quite fit come to the surface of your conscious mind.

The Old 'What If...'

Ideas, as in scenarios and interesting propositions that are worth a writer pursuing, usually come in the form of two disparate notions that wouldn't normally be melded together.

For instance. 'A person with a lisp' is not strictly an idea worth pursuing. Similarly 'a person giving an important speech' is not necessarily an intriguing subject. But - 'a person with a lisp giving an important speech' is an idea with potential.

Another example? 'Aliens taking over the earth' is fairly tired subject matter for fiction writers nowadays. As is, 'kids have fun skateboarding' I would suggest. But what about 'Skateboarding aliens having fun taking over the earth?' Now THAT's an idea!

Open your mind to possibilities. Let impressions come in to your mind, let them ferment in your subconscious and take a sidelong look at how your subconscious deals with them.

Ask yourself, what if I put this fact with that fiction? What if this person were in that situation? What would happen if this notion were true? This imaginary place existed, or this particular scenario happened? How would that affect people, my characters, me?

Do this and soon, you'll be scribbling down ideas for stories in no time.

Practice Makes Productive

If you deliberately ask yourself every day to come up with ideas, you'll find that your brain will start to do it automatically.

You will begin to think laterally and see connections where previously you thought there were none.

One the things that helps this process immensely is the simple act of writing.

Many new writers think they can't start writing until they have an idea. Consequently they may never start. This is wrong thinking.

Most ideas only come AFTER you begin writing. As a useful metaphor, it's like turning on the tap. You have to get the water flowing BEFORE the ideas will come.

Writing a story is about letting images and thoughts form as you write, and being open to your subconscious, which is literally bursting with ideas all of the time. But if you don't turn on the tap, you'd never know it.

Don't ever stop writing because you think you have no ideas. Write anyway. And if you get stuck, write about that. Keep asking your mind for ideas, even if you have to write: 'I need an idea. I need something to write. Hey, brain, give me an idea.' You'll find the subconscious reacts well to this kind of stimulus. It works far better that staring out of the window - every time!

What's a 'Good' Idea?


You may be tempted to wonder whether an idea is 'good' or 'bad'? And what's the difference?

Again, this is upside-down thinking. There is no difference between a good idea and a bad one if you never put either of them down on paper. The 'good' idea is anything that gets you writing - and finishing a piece of work, whether that be a paragraph or a novel.

A bad idea is simply one that doesn't get written down.

It's about your personal preference. You may have a great idea that doesn't inspire you to write.

You may also have a dumb idea you find endlessly fascinating, that keeps you writing for hours.

The good idea is the one that keeps you writing.

And out of the wilderness, I hear the mournful cry:

But I Can't Think of Anything Original!


So what?

Many new writers have this idea you can't write unless you have an original idea or some momentous new thought.

Tosh! There's no such thing as an original idea. There's nothing new. Nothing.

What's original is your particular way of writing. What's 'good' is your unique way of thinking - and expressing your ideas. And by the way, you're already unique - just because you're you.

Don't ever think that it's your ideas that define your originality. It's not. It's your ability to get them down on paper that is far more important - in any writing arena.

Are we inspired yet?

Good.

Now go and write down those ten ideas for stories!

Keep Writing!

© Rob Parnell

Friday, 9 October 2020

Five Painless Self Promotion Tips

The joy of being a writer is that you can spend a lot of time at home, safe in your own little world, trying to create something meaningful and communicate through the best way possible, that is: through words on a page.

Many writers choose this career because either a) they're shy or b) they prefer their own company anyway or c) the world seems a crazy mixed up place that doesn't need much of their involvement.

I've spent time in the past with large groups of people who desperately need each other's company - and often - to even begin to function.

I've known unfortunate souls that cry unceasingly when they have no friends to call on, or live in torment until they can chat with another. It's called being gregarious, apparently.

Thankfully, like most writers, I'm not so afflicted.

I've always liked my own company - even when I craved fame in my twenties. I used to forsake the local bars in preference to my guitar or my notebook. Many creative people are like that. We love humanity as a concept but aren't so impressed with the actual process of being a part of it.

So it comes as a great shock to writers nowadays that they are expected to not only write but then miraculously become a shameless self promoter, bouncing around like some Ritalin enhanced extrovert, telling the world about themselves and their work - and supposedly enjoying it!

Writers Do It In Private

Writing is not a spectator sport. If it was, we'd have Saturday Night Writing Live or somesuch on TV. Writers have no choice but to spend time alone - which has its own rewards - but that doesn't necessarily endear ourselves to the media.

So how then are we supposed to suddenly change character and go out and actively promote ourselves?

Publishers and agents, as a matter of course, ask us, "What do you do to promote yourself?" To be a writer is apparently not enough. We have to draw attention to ourselves too - something most writers actively avoid!

A famous writer said to me recently that, despite his acute shyness, he found that media people seemed to find him fascinating. "I only wish I was," he told me. "I spend all of my time writing. How interesting can that make me?"

I know what he means. You probably do too.

To the average writer, the interesting stuff is what's on the page. But the media needs people...

What's the Answer?

My feeling has always been that if writers are to do things that draw attention to themselves, it should be on their own terms

Writer's write.

So here are some easy ways to promote yourself from the safety of your own home:

1. Use Press Releases

I use two methods. I have a list of email addresses and fax numbers of various media outlets. If I'm doing a localised press release, I'll use that. Otherwise I use PR Web, to blitz the world about something I'm doing. Either method ensures publicity without the need for me to actually speak to anyone.

2. Have a Website, Blog, MySpace, Facebook Page etc

Obvious this. A Net presence allows people to find out about you without the need to call you and ask questions. You can even thwart the media's initial intrusions by:

3. Having a Readymade Press Pack

This allows you to have all the questions anyone in the media might ask you, already answered. A press pack should also contain recent glamor shots of you and anything else you think might make an interesting angle for a news reporter. Put the link to your press pack on your website, free to download.

4. Use an Assistant

All celebrities have one. Why shouldn't you? The media doesn't have to know it's your mum or a good friend. Get someone to fend your calls and tell people you're busy, uh, writing is a good one. Either way, put distance between you and the media - they'll think you're more fascinating if you do!

5. For Interviews, use Technology

If someone wants to interview you, use the phone or Skype or a webcam. It's much easier to talk on the radio or give a lecture to a school etc if you're doing it from home. You can always use the old excuse that you're too busy to make the venue - or your chauffeur is sick, whatever - and you'll save heaps in gas too.

And if someone is absolutely desperate to interview you in person, tell them they can come to you! TV crews get paid expenses for these things and news reporters like a day out. Make them work to get you on tape and they're more likely to use your interview anyway.

Hope this helps

Keep Writing!

© Rob Parnell

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

DLB - The Only Good Advice You'll Ever Need

Are you the kind of person who dwells on the past?

We all do it to an extent. Some of us more than others.

But have you ever found yourself getting stuck in a groove, replaying a mistake in your mind, over and over, ten, twenty, even thirty years after the fact?

You know the old maxim: "You get what you focus on." Has it occurred to you that when you dwell on past mistakes, you're setting up yourself to fail - again?

We all make mistakes. That's why there's a delete key on your computer. If everything we did was perfect first time out, our lives would be bland and most likely, unmemorable.

Our mistakes, our errors in judgment, our embarrassing interludes, help us grow and learn and become wise. But replaying them in our minds, cringing and wishing they'd worked out differently is a surefire way of ensuring the same kind of result in the future.

Don't Make Excuses

Have you ever noticed that most people have a hundred reasons why they shouldn't pursue their dreams?

Worse - they have a hundred reasons why you shouldn't pursue your dreams.

It's like some unspoken pact between 'ordinary' people.

They will present 'evidence' that supports their cause. Evidence that comes from experience, advice, feedback and watching TV. Evidence that seems compelling - but only if you happen to be in a negative frame of mind.

Super-successful people don't do this. They look for evidence of the opposite.

Super-successful people know that in amongst a thousand ordinary folks determined to live their lives 'hanging on in quiet desperation,' there are others who refuse to believe that life should be simply endured.

Opportunities hit all of us, all of the time. Trouble is, we're so wrapped up in our own little worlds, we ignore them or rationalize them away, even reject them.

Don't You Look Back

Stop for a moment.

How much time every day do you spend thinking about past events? I'm willing to bet the older you get, the more times you do it - almost automatically.

If you find yourself thinking about the past more than two or three brief times a day, you're holding back your dreams.

As an experiment, make a log - whenever you catch yourself thinking about something that happened way back, note it down - and resolve to correct this limiting habit.

Why? Because your past is irrelevant. Outside of your own mind it doesn't even exist. Mostly, it's just junk that clutters up your brain.

And slowly destroys you...

So - what's the answer?

Easy.

If you want a fun, exciting and super-successful life from this point on, you have to start thinking about tomorrow.

Seek Wisdom

You meet them all the time - people with rigid views about everything. People who can list all the reasons why things happen, why individuals and groups act and react the way they do, and why certain things are possible and why most wonderful things are impossible.

These are the same people whose lives are over. They've stopped learning and keeping their minds and hearts flexible.

Our lives are a series of events from which we learn and adjust. But to believe that one opinion holds true forever is a myth.

Tomorrow is another day and new truths, new evidence will emerge that disproves the past, again and again.

The generation before us was convinced that safety and security were all there was to aspire to. And what did they experience? Hardship, depression, two world wars, disease and poverty, violence and cruelty that caused more suffering than at any other time in history. And they tell us they were the good old days?

Don't Be Fooled

We live in our most exciting time. And that time is now.

Wisdom is not just knowledge. The pursuit of wisdom involves a willingness to absorb the future and its endless possibilities. True wisdom is never closing your mind to believing you can improve, excel yourself and follow your dreams, whatever your age or skill level.

There are no limits. You are only ever limited by what you believe.

Start believing that tomorrow can and will be different. That there is hope - and a chance for us to make a better world, where we can fulfill our destinies, if only we choose to do that.

Let Go of Your Past

The past is holding you back. It's like a large stone fastened to your neck that won't let you move forward. But remember: you have always had the key to your own shackles.

You don't need to keep living in a phantom place that only you created. Unlock the ties that bind you. The key is in your thoughts.

Consciously decide you will no longer let the past absorb you. Whenever you find yourself dwelling on past events, deliberately reject the associated thoughts and images. Replace them with musings and uplifting visualizations on the future - the forever undiscovered country.

Make a commitment now to take every negative thought you have and turn it around. See the positive. See the benefits. See the bright light of hope and opportunity that exists for all of us, all of the time.

The past is gone. It has no hold over that you don't give it.

Believe in yourself - and your dreams.

DLB - Don't Look Back.

Trust in the future and...

Keep Writing!

© Rob Parnell

Monday, 17 August 2020

On Patience and the Writer

As a writer, time can be your greatest ally or your most dreaded enemy, depending on how you look at it .

The publishing industry works at a snail's pace. As author and screenwriter Richard Curtis once said, 'Most writers can write books faster than publishers can write cheques.' Oh, how true.

I get a lot of emails from writers who have urgent problems they want fixing NOW. I myself have to sometimes drop everything to do some research, to find answers to technical issues or just to get some advice.

But publishers don't work this way. Ask them a direct question and they behave like my ex.

Either they don't answer at all, give you the brush off or make you feel small and grubby for daring to bother them with your pathetic request.

It can be very frustrating to have to wait for a reply that may never come - but such is the life of a career writer.

Life as Bottom Feeder

As a writer, you're the lowest in the foodchain. The most abhored, the most misunderstood, the most avoided and yet, ironically, the most necessary component of the publishing industry. How else do publishers get to be huge conglomerate monsters, slavering over cash and fighting over each other's riches?

Simple, by publishing the outpourings of all us, 'Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beasties', - to quote the great Scottish poet, Robbie Burns.

On the upside, you do get some kudos for being a good writer sometimes from agents or other people who want to cash in on something you've written.

But even then, writers often complain they feel like gatecrashers at their own parties. The film and publishing industry love to congratulate themselves on picking winners and bestsellers but seem to find it hard to even acknowledge the creators who get them so excited (and rich) in the process.

"You think writing is hard," they like to remind us. "You should try production and marketing - now that's hard!"

I guess it is. But how many glittering award ceremonies are there for writers? One or two? And how many of them are televised? Um...

Time is its Own Reward

Personally I like the way writing industry professionals take their time getting back to me. It gives me more time to write. I think that's the trick - and the answer to the problem.

You can't afford to write and then contact people. Contacting people is part of the ongoing process. Waiting is a futile and frustrating way of spending your time - especially if you're doing nothing but biting your nails and fretting.

Use your time wisely.

Keep writing.

If there's any delay in someone getting back to you, don't think you have keep bugging them until they answer. That won't work. It will only make them more resentful of you. Send out your query and then get back to work.

And keep writing.

In the process of getting published, you will face many delays - it's all part of process of editing, formatting, proofing, printing, marketing and promotion - all of these things involve people, which means it takes time. And the one thing all of these people hate is an impatient writer. The answer?

You must keep writing.

And if you think getting published takes forever, try waiting for royalty checks to come - now that takes forever!

So now you know what to do. Altogether now,

Keep Writing!


© Rob Parnell

Friday, 10 July 2020

Getting a Publishing Deal - Is It Really Worth It?

Getting published is every writer's dream. It's what we want, it's what provides the motivation and gives us the spark to keep going - and keep writing and submitting until we finally crack the big one: a publishing deal, a proper one, with a trade publisher who will promote our books for free - and pay us royalties every six months for the rest of our lives!

Now that's the dream, right?

But how close is this to the reality of being a modern working writer?

Certainly having a bestseller can change your life. Desk bound introverts can become movie moguls (Dan Brown). Single-parent mothers can become very rich media celebrities (JK Rowling). And advertising executives can become household names (James Patterson).

But having a bestseller is not the only definition of success.

Just because the average person in the street hasn't heard of a writer doesn't mean that they aren't rich and successful.

As authors, we get this all the time. You're judged by the fame of your work. If you say you're a writer and the stranger you're talking to doesn't recognize any of the titles you throw at them, they seem to be of the opinion you're not really an author!

Which is crazy. And it's a trap that we, as writers, must not let ourselves fall into.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of professional writers out there who make a living, many are even very rich and successful, but whose names wouldn't raise an eyebrow.

Not everyone can be in the media spotlight. All those TV and movie writers out there who get paid by the script or series get very wealthy doing it - but you don't see their names plastered all over the tabloids.

Look at the average publishing list of ANY publishing house - and you'll see at least 100 names you don't recognize to every one that rings a bell. Do think these 'unknown' writers are unsuccessful?

Why do we associate success with fame? And fame with success - when clearly some people are famous just for being famous - and not particularly talented?

I think we need to get over this idea. Because it's the only way to see our own success in perspective.

If someone could wave a magic wand, what would you ask for?

Financial independence brought about by writing? Most writers I know would give their mother, grandmother, and firstborn for JUST this, never mind fame or a chat with Oprah!

Which brings us back to getting a publishing deal. Because sometimes writers are very disappointed by the reality of having a deal with a trade publisher.

Rather than being the end point at which a writer can relax, kick back and enjoy a steady flow of money inwards, most new writer's experience is very different.

Getting published is not an end point - or even a starting point most times - it's a signpost on the journey of a writer's life. It's just one of the many signposts that indicate your success.

Other signposts might include winning a writing prize or self-publishing - or giving a talk about yourself or meeting with a movie producer. There's no particular order of things that you MUST follow in order to achieve writing success. It doesn't work like that.

You are the best judge of your success. You decide whether you're getting somewhere or you're not.

Many writers I know start writing and releasing ebooks AFTER their publishing deals - for two main reasons.

1. Fame and riches do not necessarily follow from having a publishing deal.

2. They look at internet writers of Kindle books and notice that, far from being 'lower' on the pecking order, they're better off and more respected nowadays.


No longer is there a stigma attached to writing for the net - nor with self-publishing. In fact, technology has revealed the secret that publishing companies have been holding on to for centuries - that THERE IS NO SECRET.

An independent author has just as much chance of creating a bestseller than does a publishing company, most of whom grub around in the dark wondering what will sell - rejecting authors out of hand for no good reason - simply because they don't really know what they're doing!

Most publishing companies HATE writers because we think we know what we're doing - and we don't listen to them. They like to give us the brush off because they have hundreds of other projects that don't make money - and don't have time for another that might.

The writing industry is entirely geared to say 'no' first, last and everywhere else in between.

Sure we've had great success - but we sometimes feel that the hacks who are supposedly there to help writers, basically lack the passion and commitment that are the prerequisites of being a working artist. They just don't get it.

I guess the point of this article is to encourage you not to think of agents and trade publishers as the be all and end all of your life. There are a hundred, maybe even a thousand, other fine ways of becoming a successful writer.

And, like us, you should be targeting those too!

Keep writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Saturday, 20 June 2020

What Makes a Great Book Title?

I received a lovely email from a treasured subscriber this week.
 
She noted that I don't have anything on what makes a good title for an article, book or novel - or indeed how to come up with one.

Never one to shirk an opportunity to help writers, here's my advice on how to come up with compelling titles.

Use Magic

For the purposes of my fiction writing, I study magic, astrology, numerology, witchcraft and various other arcane subjects. I find it interesting - and revealing about human nature.

There's a little known philosophy amongst mages (yes, they exist!) that holds to the idea that the very sound and rhythm of certain letters, words and phrases is magical. Which I think is actually why the word 'spell' has a double meaning...

Anyway, what you can learn from this is that certain consonants like 'D' and 'P' and 'B' are more resonant on a listener (or reader) than other less 'dramatic' letters like 'M','N' or 'V' for instance.

Also, that phrases (and names) with an odd number of syllables - 3, 5, or 7 etc, as opposed to even numbers, tend to be more compelling and authoritative sounding.

Hence, The Da Vinci Code, (5 syllables and the hard consonants), The Horse Whisperer (5), The Celestine Prophecy (7), have a standalone strength that comes from the rhythm of the title.

Similarly, names are thought to be more solid sounding when configured around 3, 4 or 5 syllables, as opposed to 2 or more than 5, which apparently sound less authoritative - or simply put less 'catchy'.

Use Common Sense

You want to have titles that make sense. A long time ago I wrote a short story called 'The Concomitant of Isis'. I thought I was being very clever until my writing group complained that the title didn't make sense, sounded pompous, and didn't help a reader work out what the story was about! I changed it to 'Forever Dead.'

You need to use words that are clearly understood individually - even if the phrase they're contained in is not so transparent. Titles that fall into this category might be: The Joy Luck Club, The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and The Hunt for Red October.

ASIDE: Book cover designers are said not to like the word 'The'. if you've ever studied book covers you'll note that designers often try to hide the definite article by making it smaller than the rest of the title, sometimes so small you can't even see it from a distance!

Be Mysterious

There's nothing wrong with being intriguing by using a phrase that suggest 2 or 3 interpretations, even meanings that sound cool but have little to do with the work.

I once heard that a Hollywood studio had a list of a dozen potential titles for an upcoming movie and herded some punters off the street and tried out the titles on them. 'Which movie would you go and see, based solely on the title?' they asked. I'm not sure how it turned out but the story gives you some idea of the power of a title alone.

The title 'Quantum of Solace' (note the 5 syllables) would seem to have this quality of inspiring the response 'What the h*ll is that about?' As does Nightmare on Elm Street or The Sting or Fatal Attraction or Identity etc. All great sounding but, unless you've seen the movie, mysterious.

Be Evocative

Professional copywriters and marketers are very aware that certain words create automatic, largely subconscious reactions in people. Words like summer, happiness or success on the up side of emotions and on the down, words like cry, despair and fear create a Pavlovian response in the listener which the astute writer can use to their advantage.

Words like brilliant, beautiful, bride and blonde (notice all the 'B's there) provoke emotional responses. As do deadly, damaged, direct and disaster.

Be Helpful

When it comes to article writing and self help books, the competition for a reader's attention is fierce. The best you can do in these situations is be right up front, even outrageous with your title. Which would you rather read - an article called 'Gardening Blues' or 'Six Ways to Clear That Crud!' Possibly neither but I'm sure you get the idea.

The average person's attention is subjected to 1000 advertising messages a day. In amongst that they are actually seeking useful information. How does anyone differentiate between the myriad of incoming data?

You need to be specific nowadays. You need your title to tell people exactly what your message is or if not, be intriguing enough to warrant a second look.

7 Habits of Successful People, How to be Your Own Life Coach, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and Chicken Soup for the Soul fall into this category.

Brainstorm

There really is no better way of coming up with titles than to deliberately set writing time aside to brainstorm them.

Okay, great titles sometimes just come to you. They have an inherent insistence you keep returning to. But mostly, you'll have to juggle words and phrases until you find titles that appeal to you - and others.

Robyn and I do this around the pool table. We'll have a glass of wine and, while potting balls, brainstorm movie and book titles, even character names. Many are not great (we'll laugh and giggle about the bad ones) but one idea can lead to another, one word that is right can carry you on to combinations that sound better. Completely unpromising starts can lead us to a title or name that seems definitive, sharp and compelling.

Try it yourself with a friend - because most of all, you should...

Have Fun

Writing is about transferring your thoughts, words and ideas into the mind of another person - without you actually having to be there with them!

Remember that your interest, passion and enthusiasm for your own writing comes across. On some deep mysterious level, your reader can pick up on you, the writer - and trust you if they know you're sincere.

Make your titles reflect the joy you feel towards you work. Use your titles deliberately to pique a reader's or editor's interest.

Be mischievous, be clever but most of all, be honest.

Hope this helps.

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Friday, 22 May 2020

How to Write - Even When You Don't Feel Like It!

One question I get asked all the time is, "How do I write when I'm not inspired or have nothing to say?"
Many new writers feel good about what they do and can work on pieces of writing because they are inspired. But many times they are taken aback when the inspiration fades and they are left with the 'task' of simply finishing a story, an article, a book, or a novel.

It can be quite alarming to feel like a writer, know your writing is good, but dread picking up where you left off on that manuscript!

Rest assured, this is normal.

It's not possible to be inspired, excited and even happy writing all of the time. Sometimes the work just has to be done.

Here are a few tips on maintaining your enthusiasm for writing.

Develop Multiple Projects

Diversify your writing portfolio. Be open to new ideas and commit to 'having a go' at different types of writing. Sometimes, when the idea of finishing a large project is too daunting, a sense of achievement can be gotten by completing smaller tasks - like an 800 word article, or a short story.

When Hemingway was uninspired he wrote short paragraphs - and spent hours editing them to finish up with 100 to 200 word vignettes. This is good practice - and can give you a great sense of accomplishment.

Make Lists and Schedules

We all know the importance of having goals. Without having something to aim at, how can you ever hit a target?

Sure, write down your objective. But go one stage further, break the process of achieving your goal into smaller chunks. Make a list of the baby steps necessary to complete a project. Put them in order and commit to spending ten minutes or half an hour, today, on at least starting your list of writing-things to do.

Dream, Focus, Fantasize

There's nothing wrong with imagining your success, and visualizing how you will feel and what might happen as a result of you finishing a project. It might be that 'seeing' your book published in your mind's eye is exactly the impetus you need to keep writing, especially when the process is slow and painstaking.

Attach Rewards

Reward yourself every step of the way. Everything from a nice cup of tea at the end your next page to a glass of wine - or three - at the end of a writing session.

Promise yourself a treat on completion of a chapter, or give yourself a holiday at the end of a novel. Consciously associate the reward and the work in your mind, let each inspire the other.

Do What You Enjoy Most, First

Why break your back and your spirit doing the most difficult tasks first? Do the thing you enjoy first and you'll feel happier and more energized when it comes the next item on your list. (You do make lists don't you? It's long been proven that the most successful people in life are those that list their objectives, daily, if not hourly!)

Write Out the Problem

First understand that there's no such thing as writer's block. You're either writing or you're not, there's no middle ground.

A builder who is not doing anything does not have builder's block. He is a lazy toe-rag charging me $95 dollars an hour to drink my coffee on my veranda.

The best way to overcome a writing block is to write down what you think the problem might be - and keep writing until you have written past the block. No other solution works as well as this.

Do Something Else

This is my secret weapon. When I can't think of what to write, I get up and walk around, or go sit in the garden for a bit. Other times I'll cook, or clean the dishes, or Hoover the carpet - it surprises me just how quickly ideas come when I take a short break.

Hm. What would happen if I got a cleaner in? Actually I know. In the past, I've always ended up helping them!

What I don't do nowadays is put on some music or have the TV going in the background. It never really helped and was way too distracting.

Deadlines

I've noticed that I'm very productive when something absolutely has to be done, whether I want to do it or not.

Sometimes a producer or publisher will need to have a manuscript in by a certain time and, against the odds, I'll be able to come up with thousands of words I didn't know I had in me.

Try setting artificial deadlines. Create your own sense of urgency and write, whether you want to or not, right up until the project is done. Sometimes this is the only way to complete the project.

When All Else Fails, Fake It

Whatever your mood, go to your manuscript, start working on it and keep going for ten minutes.

Pretend to be enjoying yourself. Pretend that what you're doing is important. Pretend that your writing absolutely needs to be done - for whatever reasons.

I guarantee that after just a few minutes, you will feel your mind 'catch up' with the pretence - and you will begin to enjoy the writing process.

It's weird how this works - but it does.

If this doesn't work for you - or indeed, if all of the above fails to work for you - it's probably time to consider an alternate career, as Mark Twain once famously said, like chopping wood.

In the mean time,

Keep writing!

Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Friday, 1 May 2020

Have You Plotted Your Story Before Writing It?

The writer, who doesn’t have the time to plot, always finds the time to rewrite.

Sound familiar?

I’ve been guilty of this too, back in the early days of my writing apprenticeship. I was so eager to get stuck into writing my story that I wouldn’t bother with plotting.

Plotting gives you a sense of direction. It’s your map, which will lead you to write your story. Leaping into the unknown rarely works. Without a plot several things can happen….

 Our stories aren’t focused

 We lose our way

 Our characters don’t come to life because we don’t take the time to develop them

 We get stuck

 The story strays from us

And all this happens when we haven’t figured everything out first.

Your plot is the foundation of your story. It’s the skeleton, which will hold your story together. Your plot is there to work everything out first – to see if it can be worked out, and then flesh out that skeleton with other elements that make a story.

Plotting is the difference between writing a story for yourself and writing one for an audience. Writing for ourselves doesn’t require too much strain because we only have ourselves to please. It’s when we have to please our readers that the hard work begins.

If you are aiming to sell your stories, plotting is a must.

Have you plotted your story before writing it?

© Nick Vernon

Thursday, 9 April 2020

The Art of Writing

I've been studying drawing recently (I'm trying to teach myself movie storyboarding) and came across a great quote from comic artist Klaus Janson. He said, "Every creative person I know works from the ground up, from the big to the small, from the general to the specific."

Many writers forget this when they're writing.

They get so absorbed in details that they forget about - or can't see - the importance of the big picture.

In the past I corresponded with a writer who obsessed over her opening chapter so much that she never wrote her novel. Months went by and no matter how much I encouraged her to move on, she couldn't. To her, if the first three thousand words weren't exactly right, she couldn't let herself continue with a story that she might never finish.

Now, I know this is common.

It's also dumb.

Because writing stories is about context. The big. You cannot know what is good about a story - even down to the tiniest word or sentence - unless you write the whole thing first.

It's like getting preoccupied with a few rivets on a steel hull when you should be concerned with whether the boat actually floats.

Take my last novel as an example.

I decided early on to open the story with a long chapter about how a bad guy escapes from prison.

I did the research. Did prisoners escape from jail? Yep, apparently all the time.

How? In a variety of ways. Robyn and I discussed the whys and hows and what would be believable. I decided I would have the bad guy fake a suicide and then overpower a guard. Fine - not overly inspired but I thought I could make it seem real in the context of a low security asylum.

I wrote the first chapter and included descriptions of two other characters and lots of dialogue, action and suspense. I thought it was good - a great way to open a novel.

Then I spent the next few weeks writing the first draft.

I let the story rest on the hard drive for a couple of months.

I came back to the story fresh and looked at the whole thing. I rearranged some chapters, changed some of the events and characters around and brainstormed a bit with Robyn over the plot. She suggested some inspired twists and I made notes about what to include and rework on the second draft.

Then I realized something important.

That opening the story with the bad guy didn't work. I realized it would be better to open with the heroine - and to hide the identity of the bad guy until much later on in the story.

So I had to drop the first chapter. Delete it.

Around 5000 words of good writing gone - perhaps not forever but at least for now.

Imagine if I was still obsessing, like my lady writer, about the first chapter. I might have spent years working on something that never appeared in the final version.

Consider that.

Remember it the next time you get stuck writing a small section.

Write past tricky bits - or decide to work on them later.

Get the whole story down first before you try to construct beautiful and meaningful prose.

You're wasting time if you're describing leaves and stalks that may need to be hacked back or uprooted.

Editing is not a chore: it is the writing that readers see.

Your job is to create something worth editing first.

Hope this helps.

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Have You Tested Your Plot?

Our plotting stage is our testing area.

Everything in the plot should be tested for its effectiveness before we put in into our stories. If you believe something in your plot could be better, make it better.

Figuring everything out in your plot will save you time rewriting later.

So how do you test your plot?

Start with everything that has gone into it.

For example...

 Are the events interesting?

 Does your plot contain problems for the character to solve?

 Have you given your character a goal?

 Is the conflict strong?

 Is the resolution of the conflict interesting?

 Is the character interesting?

 Is the setting of the story interesting?

 Will the incident or situation be interesting to your readers?

 Etc

Make a list of what your plot contains. Comb through it carefully and tick off each item. If you find that some things need to be worked on some more, work on them.

I know to some this might be tedious work, but…

“Every one-minute you spend in planning will save you at least three minutes in execution.” Crawford Greenwald

© Nick Vernon

Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers’ funny stories. Visit http://www.we-recommend.com

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Secret Attic

Opened up a new website for writing contests!

Take a look, hope you take part!

https://www.secret-attic.co.uk

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

What Can Go Into A Plot?

We all tackle plotting differently. How you plot will be individual to you, it is with every writer.

Below is an outline of what can go into a plot. How much you choose to develop each point is entirely up to you.

So some basic questions to ask are…

1. Briefly what your story is about

2. The theme?

3. Main Characters

a. For main characters it’s best to write a full biography of them.

4.Secondary Characters

a. Who are they?

b. What will their role be?

c. What is their relationship with main character?

5. Beginning of the story

a. Viewpoint – who will be telling the story?

b. Setting – where will the story take place?

c. How will you introduce main character?

d. How will you introduce other characters?

e. How will the story begin?

f. What will happen in the beginning?

g. What is the conflict?

h. What is the character’s goal?

i. How will the conflict prevent the character from reaching his goal?

j. What’s motivating the character?

6.Middle of the story

a. What will happen in the beginning section, of the middle of your story?

b. How will this be tied to the beginning of your story?

c. What will happen in the middle section, of the middle of your story?

d. What will happen in the end section, of the middle of your story?

e. What events are going to occur?

f. How will you show your character’s personality?

g. What problems are you going to introduce? (List each problem and how the character solves it)

h. How are you going to make things harder for your character?

i. What will happen in the climax?

7. End of the story

a. Will the character achieve his goal?

b. How will he or won’t he achieve it?

c. What’s going to happen in the end?

d. How are you going to end your story?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Or if you prefer you can plot in scenes…

First, figure out how many scenes your story will contain. Then plot each scene.

Scene one

a) Setting

b) Introduce characters

c) Introduce conflict

d) Introduce goals

e) What will happen in the first scene?

f) How will your first scene develop the character and the story?

Scene two

a) Introduce first problem

b) What does the character feel about this? What does he think?

c) Have the character solve the problem

d) Begin making things harder for him

e) How will the second scene develop the character and the story?

Scene three

a) Throw another obstacle in your character’s path

b) Have him solve it

c) How will the third scene develop the character and the story?

Etc…

How you plot doesn’t matter. The most important thing is To plot.

© Nick Vernon

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Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers’ funny stories. Visit http://www.we-recommend.com

Monday, 9 March 2020

Follow Your Instincts - Way to Go!

We spend a lot of our time distracted by our daily chores and commitments. So much so we tend to ignore what our instincts are telling us.

You know how it goes. You spend your time working or, unpaid and traveling to and from work.

You spend time dropping off and picking up the kids. You use up invaluable hours of the day preparing food, eating, sleeping, relaxing with your loved ones, watching TV, socializing, caring, volunteering, whatever.

All the time in the back of your mind you have this little voice that says: You really should be writing, you really should be writing...

Your instincts know what you want but your activities are committing you to a lifestyle you don't want. There's the writer’s dilemma. How do you stop doing what you don't want and start doing what you do want?

Simple - listen to your heart.

I believe there's a reason why we have instincts - they are there to tell us what we really want.

They are there to nag at you to deal with the things that are lacking in your life.

Think for a moment about your dreams – the one’s you have at night.

Your brain needs balance. Your life may be focused on certain activities, relationships and commitments and these alone may seem to be enough stimuli for your waking hours. But during sleep, the brain needs more - it needs to be stimulated to take in a more fully rounded life experience.

So it compensates for missing life experiences by 'making them up' in your dreams.

It's a natural coping mechanism - designed to keep you sane.

On a subconscious level, the brain is taking in, assessing and dealing with all the information it receives - real or imagined. It processes everything, striving for balance.

But what if there is something left over, something found wanting in your life, how would that manifest itself?

I believe it manifests itself as instinct. It's an intuitive yearning that is telling you that you have an emptiness that needs filling - a feeling that something else or some other direction is right for you.

And, for your own good, it's something you must respond to.

For the sake of your writing, you must begin acting on instinct.

Learn that being selfish is most times okay - and in everybody else's best interest and not just yours!

Even flying in the face of logic, you must do the things that your reasoning mind might regard as crazy. You must begin to follow your heart, rather than always listen to your rational brain. For a healthy and fulfilled life, you must begin to do what your instinct is telling you to do.

And guess what?

It will work for you. You’ll be happier than you've ever been. More successful than you could have ever hoped for. Every day you’ll be doing more of what you love - taking life as it comes and doing what your instinct tells you to do at any given moment.

And you will be rewarded.

Is this path reckless? Irresponsible? Impossible?

Maybe – but do you really want to spend your life letting what other people say influence your need for more creativity? Do you really want to spend your days running around after other people instead of responding to your desire for more ways of expressing your true self and finally living your life with integrity?

Just because other people want you to do things, be places, and honor commitments they forced you into, doesn't mean these things are important. Most likely, in the great scheme of things, they're really not.

Since when was anybody else the boss of you?

Sure, things may get sticky. For me, when I first resolved to start listening to my heart instead of my head, I got sacked from my job. My old boss said outright: "You and I know you shouldn't be here, you should be doing your own thing. Just think of me as the bitch who made it happen!" Sweet lady.

But really, it turned out for the best because my old boss forced me to come to terms with my life. She'd given me no choice but to confront my destiny.

I could have panicked and got another job. Done what everyone else was telling me - seek security, seek boredom, seek a living death.

But no - this time - I refused!

I knew then I had to be a professional writer - what my instincts had been telling me all along - and that I had to make it happen, then and there - or die trying.

So that's what I did. I woke up every morning from that day on and just did what my heart told me to do: write a book today, set up that website now, teach this writing genre, start that writing school, become a publisher, write screenplays for Hollywood, whatever felt right. And it's what

I'm still doing to this day.

Simply responding to my instincts.

(And I guess it's worked out pretty well!)

So, if you have some nagging voice in the back of your mind - listen to it - and act on its advice. It's doing more than just nagging.

It's showing you the way to your destiny!

© Rob Parnell

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

You Get What You Focus On

It's easy to feel negative.

The media is always telling us we're on the brink of economic collapse - that it's only a matter of days before the biggest slump since the 1930s Depression takes away the value of our property, our savings and our livelihoods.

Many would-be writers are tightening their belts, ignoring the call to write in favor of the day job. They're giving up their dreams in droves, convinced that it's all too hard...

Uh, did I miss something?

Doesn't anyone remember basic economics from school?

I thought it was well known that economic activity goes in seven year cycles - apparently something to do with the sun - and that boom and bust years are natural and inevitable.

Smart stock market people know there's never a bad time for investors - there's just alternate opportunities. While some stocks slide, others climb. When the market is overpriced, it adjusts itself by devaluing. When stocks and interest rates are high, people stop buying. When stocks are cheap, new investors snap them up and the investment picks the market back up again. This is how it works. The world economies have been surviving like this for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

So why is it that now, today, it's supposed to be so much worse?

Could it possibly be because we're collectively making it that way?

That by tightening our belts we're actually starving the economy of the investment it needs?

Maybe you think I'm naive - but I did study Economics! And one thing I learned well is that much of the stock market is driven by good old human fallibility - and perception.

What the market focuses on is what it gets. Boom and collapse become self- fulfilling prophecies - every time - because, as humans, we believe that's how it should work.

Prosperity and hardship, security and scarcity are all illusions. They are not real concrete things - they are merely 'feelings' you have about yourself and the people, the world around you.

Real success and genuine happiness have got nothing to do with money. You either feel good about yourself, your situation, your world, or you don't. Prosperity comes from within.

Do you have less chance of being a professional writer now than you did last year?

Of course not.

If anything you have a better chance - because so many other writers are throwing in the towel!

Don't you be one of them.

Stick with it. Be positive. Fight back. Come up with new angles. Write more, submit more, be the exception.

Often, to make progress, we just need to change the way we think - and remove our own negativity when all around us are in train wreck mode.

If you really believe we're heading for a crash (to continue the metaphor), get off the train. Go for a walk in the sunshine. Move towards your goal feeling light. Remind yourself that when you believe in yourself and your talent and capabilities, things always work out for the better.

It's self-doubt and lack of motivation that will kill your ambitions every time.

I'm convinced that if we all got together and decided the crash wasn't going to happen and even if it did, so what - the apparent looming crisis would dissolve, as if by magic, overnight.

Don't buy into the doom and gloom hype.

It's not real.

And if it's not real, surely it can't hurt you.

Be happy, be grateful for what you have, make big plans and move into the future with confidence.

You have a duty to believe in your dreams, and take action consistently.

To quote the old 80s pop song: "The Only Way is Up!"

Keep Writing!

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy

Monday, 3 February 2020

Writing Fiction For Dummies

 

Writing Fiction For Dummies
Writing Fiction For Dummies

So you want to write a novel? Great! That’s a worthy goal, no matter what your reason. But don’t settle for just writing a novel. Aim high. Write a novel that you intend to sell to a publisher. Writing Fiction for Dummies is a complete guide designed to coach you every step along the path from beginning writer to royalty-earning author. Here are some things you’ll learn in Writing Fiction for Dummies:

Strategic Planning: Pinpoint where you are on the roadmap to publication; discover what every reader desperately wants from a story; home in on a marketable category; choose from among the four most common creative styles; and learn the self-management methods of professional writers.

Writing Powerful Fiction: Construct a story world that rings true; create believable, unpredictable characters; build a strong plot with all six layers of complexity of a modern novel; and infuse it all with a strong theme.

Self-Editing Your Novel: Psychoanalyze your characters to bring them fully to life; edit your story structure from the top down; fix broken scenes; and polish your action and dialogue.

Finding An Agent and Getting Published: Write a query letter, a synopsis, and a proposal; pitch your work to agents and editors without fear.

Writing Fiction For Dummies takes you from being a writer to being an author. It can happen—if you have the talent and persistence to do what you need to do.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

How Are You Plotting?

Writing is a creative process and how every writer chooses to create, is individual to them. Likewise, with plotting, every writer plots at a level they are comfortable with.

Some just plot the bare essentials. They have a firm idea of the story they want to write and have a good memory to be able to memorize everything.

Others go into more detail. These writers prefer to figure everything out before they write the story.

How you plot will also depend on your level of experience. For the beginner, it’s recommended to plot thoroughly.

Before writing, think of every possible situation. Plot events thoroughly, plot scenes to the last detail and generally leave no questions unasked or unanswered. This way you will always know where you’re going.

__________

Are You Using The ‘What If’ Technique When Plotting?

Your short story of 500, 2.000, 10.000 words or whatever word length you choose to write, will spring from a single idea - Perhaps a one-sentence idea.

So when you are still in that one sentence stage, using the ‘What If,’ technique is a good way of generating ideas to build on that initial story idea.

While you are in the plotting stage, experiment. Your aim should be to write the best story you can. Experiment to see what bits and pieces you can put together to write the best story ever.

So using ‘What If,’ ask yourself questions then answer them…

 What if the character was like this?

 What if this happened to him?

 What if I placed him in this situation? How would he react?

 What if I took this away from him?

 What if his worst fear came true?

 What if he doesn’t get what he wants? What will he do?

 What if I placed this obstacle in his path? What will he do?

You’ll be surprised what you come up with, if you take the time to experiment.

© Nick Vernon

--

Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers’ funny stories. Visit http://www.we-recommend.com

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Do You Know What A Plot Is?

What a plot is and what a story is can be sometimes confusing. If you think they are the same… They are not. A plot is the outline of your story. The story is everything included.


I will illustrate the difference by asking you to visualize two pictures…

1.Visualize a skeleton.

Then

2.Visualize a body.

The skeleton is your plot. It’s the outline of your story. It won’t be visible when we flesh it out but it will still be there, holding your story together.

The body is your story. It’s everything, which our story will contain, including the plot. The story is the plot fleshed out.

What does it mean to ‘flesh it out?’

Let me show you.

I’ll take a brief plot…

A man meets a woman and they fall in love. They encounter great difficulties because their family are against the relationship.

This is the outline of the story.

Now we are going to flesh it out and make it into a story. Fleshing it out means adding things to make this basic plot into a story. To do this we will add the rest of the ingredients such as…

 Setting – Where will our story take place

 Dialogue – What will be said and by whom

 Characters – How many characters will our story contain? Who are they? What is their role?

 Problems – What and how many problems will the couple encounter

 Goal – What is the couple’s goal?

 Conflict – What is the conflict?

 Climax – How is the conflict going to come to its peak?

 Ending – Will their love win in the end?

 And anything else I’ll need in my story

Once we have written up all these ingredients, this will be our plot fleshed out into a story.


© Nick Vernon

--
Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers’ funny stories. Visit http://www.we-recommend.com

Monday, 6 January 2020

Theme and Premise - What's the Difference?

I was asked this question by an esteemed subscriber this week and thought it might make an interesting article.

In the publishing and movie industry the terms theme and premise are bandied around liberally - and it's assumed that writers know the difference, even if agents, publishers and marketing people are not so up on the precise meanings.

Basically the premise to a story is your starting point. It's the idea behind it - its reason to be.

I've seen members of writer's groups ask the question: "Can you write a story without a premise?" I would have to say you could try - but fairly soon you'd run out of things to say. You need a premise to give a story legs.

Besides which, most writers are able to sum up what their story is about - or going to be about - in a short sentence of two.

So what makes a premise?

Mostly an intriguing idea, a what-if scenario or a justaposition of two disparate notions fused together.

The premise is usually an 'original' idea - in that it's sufficiently different from other ideas - already written and explored - to warrant further interest.

Theme is altogether different.

The theme is the overall thrust of the story - what it explores. It's the end result and may have little to do with the premise.

Unlike the premise, your theme doesn't need to be particularly original - there are only around a dozen or so themes to explore anyway.

How about some examples - to help clarify all this rhetoric?

Take Romeo and Juliet. The premise is two young people from warring families fall in love. The theme is star crossed love leads to tragedy.

What about Harry Potter? The premise is a young boy discovers he's a wizard. The theme is anyone can become a hero.

The Da Vinci Code: the premise is that the Catholic Church has a secret agenda. The theme is that it's time to change the way we feel about organized religion.

Pride and Prejudice: the premise is that a feisty young woman needs to find a husband. The theme? Love conquers all.

The premise to Crime and Punishment: a young man kills an old lady for her money. The theme: sin leads to redemption.

As you can see, theme and premise are usually related but not always in a way you'd expect.

When people ask you what your story is about, they normally want you to explain the premise first, followed by your theme. Writers have a tendency to think in themes - especially when they're working on a story - but themes are fairly dull to relate. The premise is the interesting part - the thing that excites a listener or reader.

When pitching a novel or a screenplay to a publisher or producer, focus on the premise.

Consciously write and rework a sentence or two to get the premise into a short and snappy description of your story.

If you don't have a compelling premise, chances are you won't generate much interest in your story, no matter how good it is.

That's the reality of the modern world: distillation.

Learn how to distil your story ideas into sound bytes, and you'll go far.

Robyn and I have had to do this a lot in the last couple of years, since we've been involved in heavily pitching our ideas to publishers, agents and producers. It has a downside.

Sometimes you'll be talking to a movie producer and she'll say "Got any ideas for stories?" So you pitch the premise to your most beloved story.

Time passes while she considers it.

"What else have you got?" comes the eventual reply.

This is not because the idea is bad but more to do with their personal bias or commercial expertise. You can pitch another premise and she'll like that one - and will then listen with interest to its theme.

The modern media focusses primarily on the angle - the sidelong glance at a topic that piques the interest quickly. This is not such a bad thing for the writer, so long as you understand it and use it to your advantage.

It's not unusual to end up working on a project where you pitch a premise that you haven't begun writing yet. You're encouraged to develop the idea because the premise is compelling.

You may, like many writers, have only one or two themes that you explore in all of your work.

But the trick is to make those themes seem fresh and exciting by having a premise that makes readers want to read on.

Hope this helps.

Rob Parnell's Writing Academy