Writing Tools

Writing is easy. Becoming a polished and published author and pumping out content is not. As The items on this page are not mine. They are ideas and concepts that I’ve gleaned from reading, writing, and studying other writers. Some of the items are concepts found in other books about writing. The purpose of this page it to store helpful tips and tools I can reference as I write, and to share them with others who love to write.

Authors With Great Writing Advice

Helpful Links

Some quick tips

  • Know your market
  • Plot your story before you begin
  • Include politics, culture, the environment, technology, violence, racism in the story to add depth
  • Use all 5 senses
  • Create Universe Laws
  • Ask Random Questions about plot, story, characters to help revive the story
  • Interview your characters to know them
  • Don’t introduce all your characters at once
  • Read a lot of books
  • Avoid well-known cliches (be original)
  • Add your own creative twists to well-known cliches.
  • Balance world-building, plot, and character development
  • Include shades of grey …all good or all evil characters seldom exist.
  • Show Don’t Tell
  • Characters need a compelling goal or purpose … and this goal needs a visible finish line
  • Get story ideas, character ideas, plot ideas from [personal experience, news headlines (weird stuff), books, movies, true stories etc.]
  • Great literature [textured writing, lots of interior thoughts, feelings, and descriptions, lots of symbol and allegory]

Four Stages of a Story

  • The Story Concept: the single sentence or two that identifies the hero of the story and what he or she wants to accomplish.
  • The Characters: the people who populate the story.
  • Plot Structure: the events of the story and the order in which they occur
  • The Individual Scenes: the way the words are laid out on the page and the kind of action, description, and dialogue that will increase the reader’s emotional involvement.

Five things that make a movie profitable

  • A hero
  • Empathy – reader must put themselves inside your character
  • Hero Desire – at least on specific objective that the hero wants to achieve
  • Conflict – Hero must overcome
  • Risk – potential of failure .. put it all on the line.

World Building

World Building is the first leg of a good story and is the act of fleshing out the world where your story takes place. Below are a few ideas to build a rich world full of imagery and life.

  • World Building should always be enjoyable. If it stops being fun, set it aside for a bit.
  • World Building is used to keep track of almost everything in a story: Fauna, Flora, Groups, Magic, Objects, People, Places, Species, etc. This helps build consistency in your story. Readers will see if your fictitious creature has 5 legs in one chapter and 4 in another.
  • Media wiki is a great tool for world building. I create a page for every person, every place, all groups, every species to give a brief description about the object, where it first appears in the story, how many times it appears.
  • Sometimes World Building follows writing. As you write, you’ll have an idea you want to put in your document. Sometimes World Building can help jump start a sleepy plot. Just start thinking about what your world looks like and stories can flow from that.

Plot Advancement

Plot advancement is the second leg of a good story. Plot is the external problem blocked by the internal conflict.

keep a notebook, and look everywhere for plot ideas…all experiences are possible story material

  • personal experiences
  • Headlines
  • Other movies or books

Scene – A good scene advances the plot, develops the character, adds to theme, provides tension and conflict, reflects a change. A scene ‘shows’.

  • Scene/Summary
  • Dates/Setting
  • Character Emotional Development
  • Goal
  • Dramatic/Action Plot
  • Conflict
  • change
  • Thematic Details

Scene also can be split into these groups (goal, conflict, disaster)

  • goal is something character is trying to achieve
  • conflict is what is standing in the way
  • failure can be ( fails to achieve scene goal … fails to achieve scene goal and learns of another problem … achieves the goal but finds another object standing in the way )

Sequel follows scene … sequel has (Reaction, a Dilemma, and a Decision)

Summary – is often needed to break up scenes. It narrates those events that are not important enough to the overall story to show in detail. A summary ‘tells’. Two types of summary ( circumstantial – describes general circumstances ) (sequential – compresses time).

Incident – is a scene where the character attempts an action with no resistance. Can be used sparingly.

happening – brings people together but is non dramatic. Can be used sparingly.

MRU – is known as motivation-reaction unit and is a smaller writing structure that builds scenes. Motivation is objective and external, and can be a single paragraph….the warrior pulls the sword from its sheath and hold it high above his head waiting to strike. Reaction is internal and subjective, and happens in the following paragraph or paragraphs. It is more complex. It happens on a timeline of immediate feeling, to first steps, to final steps. Example might be: John’s heart beat itself against his rib-cage. He lunged forward, blocking the sword hand with his own, then throat punched his enemy while yelling, “Not today!” Parts of the reaction (feeling, reflex, rational action and dialog)

Plot – is a series of scenes (sequences, happenings, incidents, and summaries) arrange by cause and effect to create dramatic action filled with tension and conflict to further the character’s emotional development and provide thematic significance.

Today’s writing uses more show … less tell. More Scenes … less sequels. More here on Scene vs Sequel. Writing today is much faster than in the past.

Three Acts to any screenplay (first level of plot structure)

  • Act 1 … establish setting, characters, situation, and outer motivation of hero
    • Introduce your hero
    • create empathy with hero
    • show hero living every day life
    • begin revealing the hero’s inner conflict
    • present the hero with opportunity
  • Act 1 … grab readers attention in first 10 pages … entice them
  • Act 2 … build the action, suspense, pace, humor, character development, and character revelations. (Hero starts to follow outer motivation)(building up of all hurdles for the hero) (must end with some huge trial…looks like hero will fail.)
  • Act 3 … resolve everything for both your hero’s inner and outer journey. (One final attempt…finally success & resolve)

you can also look at acts by length 1/4, 1/2, 1/4 ( one, two, three).

  • Act one should give a snapshot of the hero’s life before the trouble
  • Act three should also give a snapshot…after the hero’s journey…what’s it look like.

Ways to start Act 1

  • action hero intro – start in the middle of action scene. (saving private ryan)
  • Every day life of the hero
  • New arrival
  • outside action that does not involve hero (Trinity …before neo)
  • prologue (story that happens a while before main story)
  • flash back

The ending

  • Ending must be satisfying and emotionally fulfilling
  • a good ending is critical
  • has two parts ( climax & aftermath)
  • climax always last half of act 3
  • climax is where hero faces greatest visible obstacle
  • if hero has 2 visible goals…both must have a climax
  • climax must be the most emotionally satisfying of all events

Theme is a universal statement the movie makes about the human condition, which goes beyond the plot. Theme is when the outer problem leads to internal conflict resolution, which also leads to external conflict resolution. Combined resolutions to the inner and outer conflicts is theme.

  • A short definition for the theme is: Story (Action) + Plot = Character Development Yielding the Theme
  • Theme is a writers prescription for how to live in order to be more fulfilled.
  • Theme emerges when here’s similarity to the nemesis and difference from reflection are revealed.
  • Character growth begins when the hero recognizes her own similarity to the nemesis and difference from reflection
  • Theme grows out of the writer’s unconscious, is developed through the character’s unconscious, and is received by the audience’s unconscious.
  • Theme must grow out of the story concept; it must never be imposed on it.

Some simple ideas for theme ( Love, coming of age, Justice, Sacrifice, Humanity vs Technology, Redemption, Resurrection, Prodigal Son, Transformation, Vengeance, Innocence, Justice, Sacrifice, Jealousy, Friendship, Fate)

Character Development

Character development is the third leg of a good story. It is the inner struggle blocked by misguided goal or idea catalyzed by external conflict.

  • People go to a movie or read a book to have the experiences the characters do. Use character development to try to elicit emotion in the reader
  • Enable a sympathetic character to overcome a series of increasingly difficult, seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve a compelling desire.
    • Motivation must be visible, must have a defined end point, must seem impossible to accomplish, hero must pursue it all the way, must desperately want to achieve it, hero must put everything on the line to achieve it,
  • Hero needs to pursue a goal with a clearly defined finish line (hero’s outer motivation).
    • It’s a story about a _________________ who wants to _______________.
  • Characters have these traits
    • Physical make up: age, height, etc.
    • Personality: intellectual and emotional make up
    • Role: current state
    • Background: their history
  • Create your hero
    • Rough outline for the hero
    • Create empathy-readers feel the hero’s emotions – Use some of these:(sympathy, jeopardy, likeable, highly skilled, in touch with own power, familiar setting, give them familiar flaws). Conflict causes emotional ties to the character.
    • Make the hero the eyes of the audience
    • Make your characters original
    • Give all characters motivation
      • Inner motivation of all characters is optional
  • Types of primary characters (characters cannot occupy more than one of these, or change categories)(these are defined by hero’s outer motivation)
    • Hero
    • Nemesis
    • Reflection – supports hero’s outer motivation (sidekick, mentor, friend, coworker, spouse, etc.)
    • Romance – romantic (hero must be trying to win their love to be a romance)
  • Secondary characters
    • Can be a mix of the types above…but should add logic, humor, complexity, depth, reality to the writing

You can chart these for each Character (outer is primary) Outer motivation, Outer conflict, Inner motivation, inner conflict

Outer vs inner motivation

  • Outer
  • visible
  • desire for outward accomplishment
  • revealed through action
  • answers the question: what does this character want to do by the end of the story
  • related to plot
  • Inner
  • invisible
  • revealed through dialogue
  • answers the question: why does he want to do that
  • related to character growth and theme

There are differing Characters (positive, negative, flat) (transformational … nobody to hero) (growth arc – not a complete change but the character grows during the story)

Positive (example Bilbo)

  • The Goal (help the dwarves regain their home)
  • The Lie (Hobbits belong in the shire)
  • The Truth (Heroism is about facing your obstacles…no matter who you are)

Negative (Anakin in Star Wars)

  • starts as innocent boy, tries to grow into the hero
  • Arrogance…believes he can play with the dark side to save Padame
  • The dark side takes him, and its no longer even about saving his wife.

Building A Magic System

I’ll start off with a link to C.R. Rowenson’s talk on making magic systems.

You can also find his website here.