Sunday, June 26, 2016

Reads for Writers: Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.


In his book Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate, Brian McDonald shares brilliant insights about writing using well-known movie screenplays as well as novels as examples. Once you become aware of “invisible ink”, you will see it wherever it appears. If you truly take in what McDonald reveals, your writing will take on new dimensions.

McDonald discusses “visible ink”—dialogue and language—readily seen by the reader or viewer versus “invisible ink”—how events are ordered, what events occur, how characters behave—not easily spotted by readers, viewers, and listeners. (page 2)

The greatest truth in this book: Invisible ink is the writing below the surface of the words. Most people will never see or notice it, but they will feel it. If you learn to use it, your work will feel polished, professional, and it will have a profound impact on your audience. (page 3) What more does any writer want than to make a profound impact on his or her audience?

McDonald writes in a simple straightforward style. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you already know what he is talking about. He has spent years studying “invisible ink” so follow his instructions to find it by re-watching movies, reading screenplays, or rereading novels. Simple does not mean easy. His advice is worth the effort.

Here are a few of McDonald’s examples:

In Finding Nemo, the father desperately tries to keep his son safe by never letting him out of his sight…What happens? His son is taken away…This is his personal hell.

This is one of the ways to apply invisible ink to your work, but it will yield powerful results…Find the thing your character would rather die than do and make them do it. (page 60)                                        

Because the scene with Don Corleone and Bonasera is the first scene in the film [section of The Godfather screenplay is included in book], it becomes invisible ink. The audience has no idea that this scene will help them understand the rest of the film. Like all forms of invisible ink, it works on a subconscious level. (pp. 64-65)

You want to see truth in fiction? Watch Jimmy Stewart’s breakdown in It’s a Wonderful Life, just before he decides to kill himself. It’s about as real and truthful as anything you will ever see on film. Capra is known for being lighthearted, but when he got dark, he always told the truth. If you want to affect people deeply, tell the truth. (page 76)

          Here are a few of McDonald’s insights:

Writers with the least experience and skill think that the more complicated something is, the better. But…their work comes off clumsy and unfocused. If you want to come off like a mature writer, be precise. (page 21)

The worst of us has good in him and the best of us has some bad. That is a truth that many of us want to deny, but as storytellers it is the truth we must illuminate.

The truth will always be sadder, happier, funnier, scarier, and more profound than the best lie. More importantly, the audience never “sees” it, but does feel it. (page 78)

Invisible ink is all about communicating with your audience clearly and getting it to feel and think what it needs to so it will experience your story. (page 116)

          I highly recommend this book to all writers! Also read Brian McDonald's Ink Spots, his blog as well as a book.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Reads for Writers: Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home by Susan Hill

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          Readers always have books they haven’t read nearby whether in stacks by the bed or on bookshelves for someday. If you have new ones entering your life via the library, friends, or bookstores, some day can quickly become some year.

          English novelist Susan Hill certainly found this to be true.

“It began like this. I went to the shelves on the landing to look for a book I knew was there. It was not. But plenty of others were and among them I noticed at least a dozen I realized I had never read.

I pursued the elusive book through several rooms and did not find it…But each time I did find at least a dozen, perhaps two dozen, perhaps two hundred, that I had never read.” (page 1)

          She also found many books she would enjoy rereading and so began a journey through her own library which she turned into a book entitled Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home.

          As a lifelong reader in her sixties, an author, a reviewer, and a judge for literary awards, Hill has a great many books so it’s easy to imagine that one or more could be misplaced. What fun to come across so many unread books and old favorites then decide to read or reread as many as she could in one year and write about them. Another of the joys of this book is the commentary from Hill as she recalls meeting authors at parties or while interviewing them for the BBC.

          Hill is partial to classics and literary novels, but has a fondness for murder mysteries and a few children’s books, too. Among them, she recommends My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (page 55), The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald (page 74), The Bell by Iris Murdoch (page 115), and The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen (page 141).

          She also enjoys diaries written by The Reverend Francis Kilvert (page 83), Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary (page 92 & 128), and The Journal of Sir Walter Scott (page 93).

          For a challenge, Susan Hill ends with a list of forty books that would last her the rest of her years on earth (pp. 235-236). Taking up the challenge, I made my list of one hundred books as I am younger with more years to read—hopefully. It’s a painful challenge as I sit surrounded by thousands of books that I love.

We only had one book in common: Shakespeare. I went with Shakespeare’s complete works as they are published in one volume. Hill chose to pick “Macbeth” since his work was not published together until after his death. However, I’m currently reading The Blue Flower since she recommended it so highly—perhaps we will have two books in common.

Have fun reading Howards End is on the Landing, discovering authors new to you, and making your own list of books to last for the rest of your life.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Inspiration vs. Deadlines

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I don’t need inspiration to write my assigned articles. I know who I’m interviewing and why. I have a deadline and a need for a paycheck so the writing gets done. That’s not to say I’m not inspired while writing, just that the deadline is the driving force in these cases.

          For this blog, my magazine essays, and my facebook column for the magazines I edit, I can choose my own topics. While there is a weekly or monthly deadline, inspiration plays the bigger role—at first. If I don’t have any ideas and deadline is approaching, then the deadline pressure squeezes thoughts out of me because I never miss deadlines.

          As I write this post, I’m three weeks ahead for this blog plus I’ve written two other pieces for later this year. I’m a week ahead for the facebook column, too. At this time, magazine deadlines are ten days away so there is no deadline pressure now, but I have time to write. However, I’m not inspired. I also don’t feel the need to be inspired.

          I don’t feel the need to be inspired. That is an uncomfortable but true statement. It’s why I’m forcing myself to write this piece. I like to think I always have something to say on topics that interest me, but after writing six pieces (now seven) in nine days seemingly effortlessly I need a break.

          I enjoyed writing these pieces. I love wrestling with words and thoughts and organization. I was energized by the ideas and work, but now I’m not. I’m going to read instead then walk the dogs.

          Writing is demanding. Deadlines are essential. Inspiration is elusive. Rejuvenation is required. Downtime is necessary.

          I’ll write later—today, tomorrow, when deadlines are imminent, and when inspiration strikes again.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Reads for Writers: On Story: Screenwriters and Their Craft edited by Barbara Morgan and Maya Perez

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m always on the lookout for TV shows about writers and authors. PBS has a show entitled On Story based on the Austin Film Festival. Various hosts interview mostly screenwriters who either wrote original works or adopted them from books. Even if you are not writing a screenplay, hearing writers discuss their work is inspiring.

          On Story: Screenwriters and Their Craft, edited by Barbara Morgan and Maya Perez, is a book based on these interviews. A wide array of writers, many of them award winning or Academy nominated, give good advice.

Here are a few excerpts:

…To me, the life of writing is the life of nurturing your own enthusiasm, your own passion for writing. You’ve got to nurture it…

                                 --Randall Wallace (page 24)

                                 Credits include: Secretariat, Braveheart

…Screenwriting is much more like writing poetry—the real juice is not in the lines but the space between the lines. If the lines are done right, the audience makes the jumps. If you tell them everything, they’re just observers. If you do it right, they’re participants. That’s what you want. That’s what all great art does…

                               --Bill Wittliff (page 28)

                               Credits include: Legends of the Fall, Lonesome Dove


…What I learned was about 70% of my first drafts were awful, but there was 30% that was better stuff than I ever would’ve gotten on paper if I was limiting myself because of fear of what people might think. I’d urge young writers, first write for the content of your heart. Don’t worry about what other people might think. Just cut loose…Find a way to get it on paper…

                                                     --Bill Wittliff (page 32)

                                                     More credits: The Perfect Storm, The Black Stallion

Conflict was the major thing. I used to have this huge sign over my typewriter that said, “Conflict, Stupid.” Nine times out of ten if you’ve got a scene that’s not working for some reason, the characters are not in conflict. They’re just giving out information. They’re wandering around and not going anywhere.

                           --Nicholas Kazan (page 67)

                           Credits include: Bicentennial Man, Reversal of Fortune

I can’t remember who said—it may have been Hitchcock—that books are written from the beginning to the end, and screenplays should be written from end to the beginning. The ending of a movie is crucial…I think the ending is so important that if you don’t know the ending when you start, you shouldn’t do it.

                                      --Steven Zaillian (page 163)

                                      Credits include: Awakenings, Schindler’s List

Helpful advice for almost any writing project you are working on.