Friday, February 13, 2009

How to avoid dead plots

Dead plots are actually a symptom of dead characters. Too many writers have characters that are not alive, and yet the feedback they receive from editors, friends and family is related to the plot. The plot is rarely the issue. Depth of character reveals plot. Do you think about the “plot” of your life on a daily basis? Most of us don’t, however we find ourselves in the middle of drama everyday because we are defined characters. When situations get tougher and pressure is applied, that character and the fears and desires we are chasing on a daily basis flare up and cause us to behave in the most fascinating ways. It is the same with your characters: the more definition and the higher the stakes, the more intense the plot naturally becomes.

So be very careful when trying to diagnose a problem with your story. Cancer can make a patient sluggish, but the doctor’s job is not to just treat the exhaustion, that would be absurd. In most cases, the cancer of a story is rooted in character and a lack of depth. Invest time in really bringing your character’s to life and you’ll create a vibrant story.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Growing the Business

I just read a wonderful posting by an agent I’ve been following in the blogosphere named Jessica Faust. Her blog entry Rolling With the Punches mirrors the internal changes that form the daily landscape inside our own company. Currently in our third year, we’re successful, but we’re still working incredibly hard on a daily basis to define ourselves and then articulate who we are to our audience. I believe that it is this willingness to dive into the insanity every single day that makes the ride such a blast. Some days are up and others are down, but every one is full of raw emotions: joy, terror, pain, sorrow, fear, splendor and a regular dose of anxiety. I look forward to our five year birthday and truly believe that will be the time we really settle into who we are. For those of you on this crazy journey called entrepreneurship (as an artist or as a company), please weigh in on the challenges you’re facing. I’d love to hear.

Friday, February 6, 2009


I just read a posting from a writer who was afraid to rewrite a chapter. They couldn’t muster the courage to do it and wanted to know if it was okay to just redevelop the plot around a chapter that didn’t work so they could avoid rewriting. I’ve never heard such a lazy sentiment. Writing is rewriting. If you’re afraid of rewriting, you’re not really even writing yet! Sometimes I’ll rewrite a chapter 12 times. You do what the story tells you needs to be done. Great writing is not produced, its arrived at. If you’re not sweating your story…your logline…your marketing copy…your bio…then you’re not really writing. You’re just putting some words together and hoping they have the intended effect. That’s like diving into a pool and hoping you can win a medal. Who does that? Writing is rewriting, so get in the pool and start swimming laps with your words.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

YOUR LOGLINE: How to write back of your book copy that will SELL your book!

Writing your logline is an imperative step to writing your “back of the book” and other marketing copy that will inspire audiences to buy your work. Here are the steps necessary to create an exciting logline!

Step One: The Goal
Write down your main character's Goal. Do NOT make this theoretical. It must be a tangible goal. "To get the girl." "To find the treasure." "To walk on the moon."

Step Two: The Motivation
Write down your character's motivation for achieving this goal. "To save his mother from losing her home." "To prove to his father that he's worth something." "So he can apply for a job with the university."

Step Three: External Obstacles
Write down your main character's major three external obstacles. These MUST be tangible obstacles, not emotional obstacles. "Her angry ex-boyfriend and his shotgun." "A speeding train." "A little old lady with a 12 foot alligator for a pet."

Step Four: Internal Obstacles
Write down your main character's major three internal obstacles. "Her fear of opening herself back up to love." "His desire for power." "Her refusal to betray her faith."

Step Five: Setting
Now write down a description of the setting. "A quiet town in Montgomery Alabama." "A haunted mansion on the hill." "An underground river beneath Mt. Whitney."

Step Six
Now take all these goodies and find a way to cram them into a single sentence. Yes it will be long, but you can do it! 

"In a young man's attempt to get back his girl from a haunted mansion on the hill, he must battle her evil ex-boyfriend and his shotgun, a speeding train, and her grandmother's 12 foot alligator if he wants to prove to his father that's he's worth anything and overcome his fear of opening himself back up to love."

Tips & Warnings
  • You'll probably need to rewrite this a dozen times before you get it right.
  • Once you've got it, show it to other people and ask for their candid opinion -- would you see this movie?
  • If you are not getting it right, pay someone to help you - this logline will be used in all of your marketing!
  • Bad loglines are the kiss of death, so spend time on this!
  • Do not get theoretical. Stick to the facts.

If you need help with your logline, we offer an affordable service to assist you! Work directly with Corey Blake. Contact Lauray at for more details.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Four Secrets to Artistic Success:

I developed this four-pronged system years ago and have taught it to actors, writers, fashion designers, dancers, interior designers and musicians. If you’re trying to generate income from your creativity, you have to consider each of these four areas with equal time and discipline:

Development of the craft: You have to put yourself in situations where you are growing your craft. Whether you are working for free or in a class, put yourself in situations where you can develop your artistry. This can include reading, rehearsing, practicing, exercising and meditating. Consider the mental and emotional components of development; not just your technique.

Marketing: Everything you use to present yourself must be impressive. This happens through a process of evolution; continually crystallizing your message and presenting it more and more professionally. Your marketing materials might include a photo (or headshot), web site, resume, postcards, brochures, and even products like books and videos. They are materials that sell you to those who have never heard of you before. They are your first impression. Anything less than an exceptional representation of your core values is just going to confuse people. These items should reflect your true spirit within two seconds time.

Networking: Everyone you meet is either someone who can hire you, or someone who can become a member of your fan club. Get everyone’s contact information and keep it in a database that you can access when you have important news about your career to share. Consider that it takes time for people to buy into your talent. The first time they meet you they’ll probably forget you immediately. The second time they’ll think to themselves, they look familiar. The third time, they’ll say, “Yeah we’ve met before.” The fourth time is the first time they’re actually paying attention. Not until the fifth or sixth interaction with you will people actually start becoming interested in what you do. That’s when you begin to become three dimensional to them. So you have to have a way to contact them over and over again with information about your craft, so that they can build this impression over time.

Public relations: What are you doing to get yourself seen? Now that you are building your network, what are you doing to keep your work in front of others? Do you have a newsletter? Do you have a blog? Do you make announcements of your successes in press releases? If your audience doesn’t hear about your little victories, they cannot participate in your success. If they are a possible employer, it is imperative that they hear about what you are doing so they can eventually think about you when they have a job that you can handle for them. If they are a member of your fan club, keeping them in the loop will encourage them to buy your product when you have a piece of work that is up for sale or a performance to attend.

With so much competition for people’s attention, you have to be great in every one of these areas. That’s how you change people’s lives. And that’s how you generate income from your creativity. Get to work!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to make a positive first impression when it comes to your writing

Here’s the reality: your first words are a loaded gun that is going to shoot one of two people in the face: your reader or YOU!

What do you with your first sentence? With your first paragraph? With your first page? With your first 5 pages? With your first chapter? If you have not been strategic and put tremendous thought into each of these, you are kicking yourself in your special place! Is that a saying? Look, people are inundated with writing. The internet is beyond full of it. Readers take about two seconds to determine if they’re interested and then they either give you two more seconds to impress them further, or they move onto something else. When it comes to the words you choose, you have to be so intentional! If you’re writing fiction, you had better start in the middle of a “holy shit” moment of conflict. If you’re writing non-fiction you had better knock my head off with a fact that I never would have believed had you not shown me the light!

Disclaimer: When you’re a famous writer with tens of thousands of devoted fans, you’ll get a little bit of leeway. People will be willing to wait a bit longer for your brilliance. But if you are grinding out your readership one at time, and if new readers are imperative to the building of your brand, you have to pull them in quickly. Anything less is the kiss of death. And THEN you have to give them a twist to keep them on the page! Drop a bucket of butterflies on their head. Wouldn’t that feel pretty — all those butterfly kisses? Or stab them in the belly with a six-inch, hot blade and gut them up through the chest. Evoke emotion! But wield that knife with tender care, a surgeon’s precision, and the smile of circus clown. I just creeped myself out!

People appreciate authenticity, too. So don’t be afraid to be your whacky, insane, or offensive self when you write. As long as you have a point and you lead them to it! Don’t be cheeky without a point – that’s simply irritating. Writing is a place where you should have fun and say all those things that are inappropriate in real life. I learned that actually as an actor. All of the arts are the same. Self-expression must be uninhibited to be full of the life that makes it worth experiencing.

So enjoy. Access that part of yourself that scares even you. And write. Write every day. String those words together until you’re impressed. Then call it drivel, throw it away and try again. Repeat that recipe a dozen times and you’ll probably be onto something…

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Dimension of Character

A one dimensional character is one who does not have an arc throughout the story. They are the same at the end as they are at the beginning. Many characters in a typical novel or screenplay are one dimensional. They fill small roles and are minor components that reflect the changes the main characters go through. Every "main" character should have more dimension--more of an arc. If your characters are coming off as one dimensional to your readers, that means they are predictable--they repeat the same behavior throughout. Very few people ever do this in reality. Ask me what my wife would do in any given situation and I'll always have an opinion, but somehow it rarely turns out to be a correct predictor of her behavior; life is just more complex than that. If you have not prepared thorough backstory for a character, they often turn out one dimensional in your mind and therefore comes across that way on the page. I have yet to meet an "evil" person. A "bitch" who believes she is truly a bitch. I have yet to meet a person who is only full of "love". I meet many people who are well intended, but who become overwhelmed by different aspects of life and then act out in ways that others label.

Consider this:

An older woman in line at the grocery store yells at a young teenager who tried to check out ahead of her--in the 10 items or less line--with a full cart of groceries. The teenager apologizes and says he had not seen the sign. The old woman accuses him of lying and says, "I hope you don't make it home tonight."

Only knowing that much, you might consider the old woman a coldhearted, grumpy old bitch. If you are never made privy to other aspects of her life, you are left with a one dimensional impression.

However, if you later find out that the older woman was attacked the previous week by a group of teenage boys who mugged her, knocked her down and took her purse, you might have a differing opinion of her as a person. You might maintain that her attitude in the store was still bitchy, but there is now another dimension that has been added to your understanding of her as a person and where that "bitchy" behavior might have stemmed from.

Repeat this process over and over again and you'll build multi-dimensional characters that your audience will root for or against and feel emotionally connected to.

Monday, January 19, 2009

How well edited should my manuscript be before I start submitting to agents and publishers?

Most of my work has gone through 15 to 20 drafts before I send it to an agent. It also gets proofread 3 to 5 times, 2 of which I typically pay for. If there are roadblocks that get in the way of the story, you're shooting yourself in the foot, so you have to neutralize that simple stuff.

As far as spelling, grammar and punctuation, what you have to realize is that the proofreading process is not foolproof. When you're talking about 75,000 to 100,000 words or more in a manuscript, 100% accuracy is nearly impossible. Also consider that when a proofreader makes a single change, it affects the entire piece. Change a "character name" to a "she" in one place and it might cause a domino effect throughout the next several paragraphs. Consistency in fantasy or sci-fi can be tricky, too: is it the bluestone of Avalon, or the Blue Stone of Avalon? This is not a perfect science, but if you want to be taken seriously, have everyone you know look your work over and pay a couple of professionals, too! Anything less and you'll be tossed into the trash. It's just the reality. Accept it and meet those standards!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ways we sabotage our writing success.

Wow. This topic really causes me to think back to my entire career; first as an actor and then as a director/producer and writer. In my own career, confidence, or the lack of it, has been the major killer coupled with trying too hard, which reeks of desperation. When I was younger, I wanted to be successful so badly that I became a less than nice person at times. I was consumed with competition. As I have aged and continued to grow within my art, I have become more comfortable labeling myself as an artist, letting my work speak for itself, and recognizing that the value of my work will be created over my entire lifetime, as opposed to through a moment's recognition. But it is still difficult and I work on it everyday. I was talking with one of my business partners recently about where we have come. Both of our resumes are pretty impressive, and yet we always feel that around the corner someone is going to poke a hole in us, like the big secret will be let out of the bag - that we really have NO talent! This is a rather common occurrence among artists I have come to find, but the point here is that such fear can be very detrimental to the growth of the work.

From what I have seen in the industry, it's typically the nicest people who rise to the top. People who are not burdened with the immediacy of success. They have an easier time living in and appreciating the moment and that makes them a pleasure to work with. I have a very strong memory of Zachary Levi, who I met through mutual friends in LA when he was on Less than Perfect. He actually came out and spoke at a workshop for artists that we had created. At that time, Zach wanted to shoot feature film he had been working on for awhile and we sat down a few times to discuss our group producing it for him. While that never materialized, I always thought of Zach as one of the nicest guys I had ever met. It's easy to see why his career has exploded in the last couple of years. He's just a guy that everyone would love to work with: kind, intelligent, strong but empathetic. A guy you could relate to. Another actress I have known for some time is Annie Wersching, new star of 24 this season (season 8). I went to college with Annie and was friendly with her when she moved out to LA. Though I was never a super close friend of Annie's she was always such a blast to hang out with. Silly, sweet, sassy, sexy and sophisticated. She's good people. And good things happen to good people.

Here are a few ways to stay balanced:

1. Forgive yourself when your art is imperfect.
2. Allow yourself to celebrate when your art moves people.
3. Never stagnate - always push yourself to grow in new ways.
4. Practice your art every single day.
5. Step away from your art every single day.
6. Promote your art every single day - you deserve to be successful.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tips to creating believable dialogue.

Realistic dialogue is not necessarily good dialogue. Yes we all say "well" and "so" and "um", but I get enough of it in the real world. I go to the theatre, see a movie or read a book to escape the real world. Good dialogue is concise dialogue. It's not repetitive and it does not reflect subtext.

People rarely say what we think. We contradict ourselves all the time. That’s what makes us interesting. Your writing should not be a reincarnation of what you wished you had said in an argument. I'd much rather hear what actually came out of your mouth -- as idiotic, inappropriate, or rude as it might have been.

Keep your characters real by having them put their feet in their mouths frequently. And then don't explain their bad behavior or rude commentary. Let us try to do that!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Finding your audience

Finding your audience is an art, not a science. You aim for a general ballpark, but there comes a point where the ball is going to fall where it falls. Consider what you're writing and start to daydream about who you are talking to. Remember that each person who reads your work has a one on one relationship to it. So while you might be speaking to many people, you're actually speaking to one at a time. Take time to envision them one at a time. Post a picture of who you're writing for at your desk.

Once your material is ready for viewing, put together an excerpt or the full piece and deliver it to free or paid readers with a survey of questions, some multiple choice, some fill in the blank. This process will tell you who your real audience is. For a free copy of a sample standard survey, write me at!