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.

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