Writing a Short Story - A Tragic Double Reversal

The double reversal, basically all of the popular movies have it, but they usually have a happy ending. "There Will Be Blood" is a famous exception. Today, I think the tragic version will be fun to write. Let's see how it goes.

First, let's remind ourselves of the basic structure.
Something is bad, something is good, something is bad.
Next, we add something a little more specific; but what? Do I want to go a little more fantasy or a little more reality? I think something more on the "real" side will do. Who's reality? How about a lost child? That sounds pretty intense. That is good. This may be hard to write with a tragic ending.
A child is lost in the woods. Which direction is home? unknown. Running and racing and yelling, but there is no answer. It's getting late. A roof in the distance. Someone to help. No, an old and empty barn with holes in the walls and leaks in the roof. A storm is coming. The thunder is rolling in. Lightning and rain. Alone in…

Writing a Short Story - A Single Reversal and a Happy Ending

Where to begin? Many dynamic stories contain a double reversal. Things are going well, then they are not, and then it ends well, or; it is going poorly, then it seems to be going well, then it ends horribly. Before the double reversal, there was the single reversal. Let's work on building one of those.

The plot of a single reversal is very simple. For a happy ending it is - something is going bad, then it goes well. For a tragic ending it is - something is going well, then it doesn't. So . . .
Something is going bad for someone, then it gets better.
Now we need to add a little more context. Do we want it to be about money, career, love, survival, or something else? Let's do a struggle of a person against themselves and see how that goes.
A man is afraid that his son will not like him, maybe it would even be better if they never met, if his son never knew. He hired a genealogy expert to find out more about his ancestry. What he didn't know is that she would find out that…

Generating Ideas for Writing - Novels

What's the difference between writing a short story and a novel? The size. Does that mean we should take a different approach? Maybe.

There are two main approaches to writing a story. On one hand you can just start, just take a situation and begin. A great example of this is Stephen King, he talks about how he does this in his wonderful book on writing, On Writing. A person that flies by the seat of their pants is usually called a pantser.
Opposed to the pantser is the plotter/mapper/planner approach. James Patterson is known for this approach (and working with co-authors). I have seen the plan for one of his books before it was filled out. He writes a paragraph describing each chapter (he has lots of short chapters). I am not sure exactly where he starts and what the process is to reach this point.
When Stephen King starts writing he is not sure what he is going to end up with. Sometimes he ends up with a short story, sometimes a novel. When James Patterson's co-author start…

Generating Ideas for Writing - Starting with a Theme

How do you start writing if all you have is a theme? How do you make something that doesn't seem contrived and two-dimensional? Let's imagine that we want to write something about a dragon. Why a dragon? I saw a picture of one today at a bookstore. So . . . how would we do that? Let's find out.

Do we want the dragon to be a good character or a bad character? I don't know, and I don't want to decide right now. Either way the dragon has to have an intention. What should the dragon want?
A dragon defends something.
I feel like it makes sense to either have the dragon defending something or attacking something, and I feel like defending will help us to be more sympathetic towards the dragon, but what should the dragon be defending?
A dragon defends its nest.
Nest is good. Babies can be in nests. An animal can be very ferocious in defending its nest, and I understand that. What is the dragon defending its nest against? Let's add another character, with a colliding na…

Dissecting the Beginning of the Greatest Novel of All Time

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.
That is a strong first sentence, I like how comfortable it starts out, how casual it seems. Then, bam! Where is the story even going to go after that sentence?

"We need--" she'd said, and he never heard her say just what it was they needed, because something heavy seemed to slam against his chest, crushing the breath out of him. The phone fell from his hand and cracked the glass paperweight on his desk.
Thoughts mixed with actions. Partial sentences that leave us wanting to know more. It's so vivid in so few words. Smooth flowing metaphor combined with just enough detail.
Just the week before, she'd said something similar, had said, "Do you know what we need, Jeff?" and there'd been a pause-- not infinite, not final, like this mortal pause, but a palpable interim nonetheless. He'd been sitting at the kitchen table, in what Linda liked to call the "breakfast nook," although it wasn…

Breaking-Down The Teaser of the "Breaking Bad" Pilot

Why does the "Breaking Bad" pilot have a teaser? Because the show would start out very slow and almost nobody would watch it long enough for it to get interesting, basically, it would suck (at first). Let's break it down and see why it works so well.

There are some fairly major changes from the spec script (which is what I have) to the final cut that we watch on television. The first one you will notice is that it was originally set in California, not New Mexico. Either way, this was going to be a great teaser and I want to know why it works. Let's break it down by scene.
Deep blue sky overhead. Fat, scuddy clouds. Below them, black and white cows graze the rolling hills. This could be one of those California "It's The Cheese" commercials.
Except those commercials don't normally focus on cow shit. We do. TILT DOWN to a fat, round PATTY drying olive drab in the sun. Flies buzz. Peaceful and quiet. Until...

Generating Ideas for Writing - Short Stories

The blank page (or screen). It is an intimidating sight, to begin with nothing. You can do anything you want, except you can't, because you want it to be good. So... sit, you stare, you wait, you worry, you go get a drink, you take a walk, you read, you watch a show, etc, etc.

To begin you must have an idea, luckily it doesn't have to be a good idea. I am going to attempt to create an interesting idea for a short story, right now, as I write this. It will not be good, at least in the beginning.
What to begin with? It is possible to begin with a character, or a place, or a time, or an intention, or an obstacle, or the stakes/motivation, and some people even begin with an idea for an entire narrative. I will begin with this.
A man wants to get milk.
Seems reasonable, seems boring. It is a simple and easy intention; or is it? What do we need to add to it? I could add an obstacle, but instead I am going to add a motivation.
A man wants to get milk because he is thirsty.

Generating Ideas for Writing - Memoirs

What should I write? That is a difficult question that requires some serious thought. I am going to go through the process of generating a few ideas for myself.

I have mentioned the different types of writing that I want to do in a previous post. So it seems reasonable to break it down by category. Memoir ideas will be first.
It seems a little overly self-involved to write a memoir to me, at least about me. That being said I have had some interesting adventures and when I start to tell people about them they usually tell me I should write a book.
The two big ones are climbing Mt. Rainier and the week in Kenya. The reason these stories are both interesting is because they both went horribly wrong. I still think both were really good plans very poorly executed. There was also the two-month road trip through the western US, overall that went a little better.
I had just finished my training for EMT-Specialist at college and had a couple of grand saved up for the next semester. As …

Stephen King, James Patterson, and Methodology

Stephen King has one methodology of writing. James Patterson has another methodology of writing. They are completely different.
Stephen King focuses on character. He takes a character and drops him or her into a weird situation. Then he writes what comes naturally. If the situation resolves itself quickly he has a short story, if it takes longer he has a novel. He is known for his unusual characters and situations.
James Patterson focuses on plot. He takes a plot idea and begins filling it in. A lot of times he ends up filling out an outline that is around fifty pages long. Often he works with one or sometimes even more co-authors. He is known for his fast-paced plots.
Which one is right?

I have no idea, but you can explore it with me at

Re-Creating The First Five Minutes of "There Will Be Blood"

"There Will Be Blood," is an amazing movie. One amazing piece is how captivating it is even in the first five minutes while there is not a single word spoken by the single character that we have seen. What follows is my attempt at re-creating those first five minutes of script from watching the movie, then I will put the first five minutes of the actual shooting script, it will be an interesting comparison.


There Will Be Blood (white on black)

Ext. Desert - Day

Fade from black to desert with hills in the background. Ominous sound building slowly to high chaotic pitch. Cut.

Int. Mine Shaft

Pick sparks as it strikes the rock. A dark shaft just large enough to work in. He strikes again, and again, and again... Cut.

Int. Mine Shaft - Continuous

C.U. of him running a file along the blade. Pan up and he begins striking the rock again. Cut.

Int. Mine Shaft - Continuous

C.U. of him looking through the broken rock, looking up. Cut.

Int. Mine Shaft - Continuous

He climbs the ladder to the…

Experiments in Story

Life is a series of defining moments, with a lot of other boring stuff in between, mixed up in an order that doesn't seem to make much sense. A story is just the series of defining moments.

It took me a series of unusual events combined with chronic illness over a period of 17 months to realize how much I like stories. I have consumed my fair share of stories in books and television, and I have collected my fair share of stories in life. Here is a picture of me in a hospital bed in Kenya after vomiting blood, but before having to work on a farm to get a ride to the airport to escape.

There were times over these past 17 months when watching television was the most active thing I could do. I couldn't walk all the way across the room without having to stop and take a break, but I could sit on the couch in a mental fog, hands shaking, heart pounding for no apparent reason, seeing stars, with an intense migraine, and watch a show. Granted, the sound and light did hurt, but you can …

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