How to Hook the Reader in the Opening Paragraph

As a writer, and a reader, I love opening lines. I’m always curious as to how myself and other authors choose to start their books — chapter one, first paragraph, opening sentence. There can only be one opening line, and for that I’m fascinated by them.

In this chapter, I’ll go over what makes a good opening line, and show you some examples of my favourite opening lines, and why they work for me.

Why opening lines are so important

Have you ever read the opening line of a book and been completely captivated? Just from that one line, you’re hooked, you’re engaged, it draws you in and can’t wait to read on?

Or, have you ever read the opening line and immediately knew the book wasn’t for you?

In either case, opening lines are really important. They can either draw a reader in or turn them off completely.

The reason why having a captivating opening line is so important is because people are really quick to pass judgment, and I don’t blame them. Their time is valuable.

Let’s face it, there are a million things competing for people’s attention and their time is limited. They may have only a few hours per day to dive into something of interest, and if it is one of our books, then we need to hook our audience immediately and keep them engaged.

Our book has to be more captivating than TV or movies, more engaging then video games, deliver more gratification than social media and YouTube, be better than going outside and doing something, more interesting than hanging out with a friend, better than relaxing, and better than any other book they could be reading.

Attention is the asset we’re all vying for.

To do this, we need to understand broadly what captures people’s attention. While I’m not an expert, I thought about what elements go into making great opening lines.

1. Dramatic or shocking

A dramatic or shocking opener is something a reader may not typically expect. It’s a juxtaposition if you will. It’s like getting hit in the face with a cold bucket of water. It wakes you up and engages you.

Here are some examples of dramatic or shocking openers that  I like.

“Not every 13-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.”

— 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.

“The telephone was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room but the corpse.”

— War in Heaven by Charles Williams.

2. Philosophical

Philosophical opening lines make you think about something in a new way and challenge your current beliefs. They can be profound and not fully understood, and for that it creates a sense of mystery and wonder.

Here are some examples of philosophical openers.

“Nothing ever begins.”

— Weaveworld by Clive Barker.

“Right here and now, as an old friend used to say, we are in the fluid present, where clear-sightedness never guarantees perfect vision.”

— The Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub.

3. Poetic

As with most writing, poetic or pleasing sounding prose can often engage a reader. You want your words to flow effortlessly so that people can ease into the story. This could mean using descriptive language, a metaphor, alliteration, or playing with sounds of the words.

Here’s an example of a poetic sounding opener.

“The trawler plunged into the angry swells of the dark, furious sea like an awkward animal trying desperately to break out of an impenetrable swamp.”

— The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum.

4. Unanswered questions

This one is similar to the philosophical element — unanswered questions push people’s curiosity button and makes them investigate further to satisfy that curiosity.

Here are few examples of openers that leave more to the imagination and invite people to question why something happened.

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”

— To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

“Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.”

— Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

5. Simple

Often the most powerful openers are the simplest. They say something provocative in as few as words as possible, and for that it creates an impact and captures my attention.

“First the colors.”

— The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

“A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.”

— Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

What you don’t want to do

We looked at some examples of opening lines and what makes them work. Here are some things that tend to turn me off. This, of course, is subjective so take my comments with a grain of salt.

1. Expository

I tend not to like exposition in opening lines. This is where the author goes into detail about who the character is and maybe even describes what they look like.

“Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.”

— The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

2. Wordy

Again, I’ll preface this by stating that this is just my opinion, but wordy openers tend not to work for me. Here’s a very famous example from Charles Dicken’s ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, which is perhaps one of the most well-known opening lines in history.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

In the interest of time, and making my point, I’ll stop it there. I cut it at about the halfway mark. It goes on like this. Now, yes this is considered a classic, but I don’t think this would hold up today. Modern writing has evolved to a point where it’s much less dense and wordy. For me, this is overly wordy and gives my brain too many things to think about too soon.

3. Confusing

The last thing that I don’t like about opening lines is when they are confusing. I get that mysterious, obscure openers could create a sense of intrigue for readers, but for me, I’m usually not invested enough to continue on if the opening line is confusing.

Here are some examples of confusing opening lines.

“How to explain? How to describe? Even the omniscient viewpoint quails.”

— A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

“Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity–Good.”

— Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.

Opening lines don’t just appear on page one

Opening lines aren’t just used for the beginnings of books, they’re important for every chapter. Each chapter is an opportunity for a reader to lose interest, put your book down, and find something else to occupy their attention.

For this reason, I try to have compelling opening lines for all my chapters. I even try to make the last line of chapters captivating and engaging, making people want to turn the page and devour the next chapter.

Don’t overthink it

When it comes to writing the opening line of you book, it’s best not to overthink it and try to come up with the perfect sentence. This can be a huge roadblock for a lot of writers. I’ve said this a million times before and I will say it again, the real work of great writing is in  editing. To quote the late great writer Michael Crichton, “Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten.”

A tip for writing great opening lines

One thing I like to do is start with an opening paragraph. Write the whole thing and then come back to it. You can actually do this at any point in the writing process, it doesn’t have to be in the beginning.

Sometimes what I find is the best opening line is the last sentence in my opening paragraph. I just cut and paste it. As it’s in the wrong order in which I wrote it, it often lacks context, but in more instances than not, it works. It almost has this inherently mysterious quality about it.

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about this topic. I love opening lines and pay particular attention to them whenever I read other author’s work, and especially in my own writing.

What are some of your favorite opening lines? Let me know in the comments.

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Why I Write

Why do I write?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself for years. I slave over these stories, coming up with interesting characters and plots, spending countless hours in a room, alone, typing feverishly away at a keyboard, giving up so many of life’s pleasures such as freedom, relationships, sunshine… I invariably get to a point where I ask myself, why do I do this? What’s the point?

So in this post, I’m going to go through the reasons why I write and more broadly, why is art important.

What is art?

I come from a philosophy background so I will attack this problem using the tools I’ve been taught.

As with any philosophical inquiry, we must first define our terms. We need to know what it is precisely that we’re speaking of. In this case — art.

Art is a very broad term. I actually took an entire course at UBC called the philosophy of art, and after a full semester, countless discussions, essays and readings, I’m no closer to defining what is art and what is not art.

As it turns out, anything can be art.

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Art has intentionality behind it, art is what people label art, art depends on where it is displayed.

In 1917, artist Marcel Duchamp famously submitted a piece to the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, called Fountain, which was nothing more than a urinal with the words R. Mutt printed on the side of it. This submission challenged the art world’s preconceptions of what constitutes as art.

My definition of art is the creative expression intended to evoke an emotional response, aesthetic experience, entertain, or spread ideas. Or another simpler definition that works is, you’ll know it when you see it.

There’s also good art and bad art. To me, good art is that which requires talent skill, technique, mastery, and creativity. Bad art exhibits less skill, talent, technique, mastery, and creativity.

Art can take many forms from film, music, podcasting, cuisine, theatre, painting, dancing, comedy, sculpting, architecture, typography, graphic design… all of which aim to entertain and make people happy and spread ideas about how a society should think and feel about a subject.

Stories are art, and often aim to make you feel some kind of way, pass on lessons or distribute thought-provoking ideas or information.

Why is art important?

In philosophy, when we want to test ideas, we create what’s called thought experiments, or hypothetical scenarios if you will to challenge ideas and see if they withstand scrutiny.

I’ll be arguing that art is in fact important and meaningful for society, and to test my hypothesis, I will assume I am speaking with someone who fundamentally disagrees with me. My goal is therefore to convince this person that my view is correct, and the view in which they hold, the opposite of mine, is in fact incorrect.

First, I will request you set aside any ideas you have about the world and imagine if you will a world completely devoid of art. There’s no literature, no paintings, no music, no movies, no dance, no fashion, no sculptures, no cuisines, etc.

Imagine further that in this world, there is no creativity of any kind that does not produce some meaningful utility to society. It is outlawed, non-existent, nor do people practice art in secret.

Of course there must be buildings, but the architecture is completely utilitarian and only serves a practical purpose for which it is built. Colour is only permitted if used to convey a deeper meaning like a stop sign or to indicate a hazard.

Now, ask yourself, is this a world you’d want to live? Would you suppose this is a society where people are happy and free to express themselves and communicate with each other how they wish; a place with progressive ideas, forward progress, and innovation?

I would suspect for most of you, the answer is no.

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If that’s true, then we can conclude that art, on some level, is indeed important. There’s value in sharing ideas, creative expression, entertaining through different mediums, and displaying objects for no other practical reason other than the purpose of beauty, creating an aesthetic experience, or to elicit an emotional response.

Okay, so we’re all likely to agree that a world with no art is not ideal, but on the other end of the spectrum, can there be a world with too much art?

Perhaps a world overflowing with art may similarly not be ideal? I’m not sure, but I’m open to that possibility. I would have to assume so since too much of anything is usually bad.

If you’re interested in this subject, there’s a ton of information online by some really smart people who have some interesting ideas about what is art and why it’s important. I encourage you to check them out.

People love stories

Stories are a powerful tool with a longstanding history in human civilization.  They entertain us, pass on lessons and ideas, shape our values, and help ground our understanding of the world.

Facts and figures are hard to remember, but if they are incorporated into a story, where we can form an emotional connection, they seem to be easier for us to remember. It’s almost as if our brains have evolved to remember stories, find patterns, learn lessons, and so on.

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According to researchers, stories stimulate both the logical and creative parts of the brain, which means viewers comprehend the information factually, visually and emotionally.

Why I write

The joy of writing for me is in the storytelling. As mentioned previously, storytelling is a powerful medium and is the perhaps the ultimate form of creative expression since it is so deeply rooted in language. The writer alone gets to decide who’s in their story, what they say, how they interact with their environment, the world in which it’s set, how everything plays out… all of it, you’re in charge. There’s something powerful about that. It has been said that writers get to play god — we create worlds and decide what happens.

Ideas are also powerful and stories are a mechanism for sharing ideas. Ideas are an interesting thing — they spread like viruses, infecting minds, changing perceptions and altering behaviour. They are literally responsible for every human invention from cell phones to sneakers to the internet — everything was once just an idea. Stories are filled with ideas and provide a platform to show the reader how these ideas can take form and shape the world.

Most children have wild imaginations and over time, that creativity often gets squeezed out of them and replaced by more practical knowledge. Adults rarely pretend and play, instead they are content with watching movies or television, listening to music, or reading for entertainment. I like those things too, but I find much more joy in dictating the action — crafting a story in a way that suits me and sharing my ideas.

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The other joy for me is that writing is very challenging. It takes many, many years of practice to be able to craft coherent stories, find the right words to describe what’s in your head, create interesting characters to act out your scenes, etc. But you also need to be disciplined, and work hard. Discipline and creativity are different skill sets, which are not mutually inclusive — meaning you could have one without the other. For instance, you could be the best writer in the world — the best crafter of sentences and have the richest vocabulary, but unless you have good ideas and are discipline, then you have nothing.

A question I sometimes ask myself (and others) to determine my true passion is: suppose I had $100,000,000, what would I do with your life? For me, I would still learn, I will still be creative, and I would continue to explore. Money wouldn’t change that.

To me art is more than just a skill set, it’s a passion, a way of life; it’s who I am and how I define myself. I don’t do it for money or fame, I do it because it’s in my DNA to tell stories. It’s also difficult to master so I’m constantly improving.

I’m fascinated by the idea that I haven’t written my best work yet and one day I will write the perfect story. Of course, art is subjective so that is unlikely to happen, but for me at least, I would hope to write something that even I couldn’t possible top, and if and when that day comes, I’ll walk away.

How to Overcome Consumption Obstruction in Writing


What is consumption obstruction — and more importantly, what can you do to overcome it?

Our Goal as Writers

Your goal as a writer is not to impress your friends, or to carry around this air of arrogance so when you meet people at a party you can tell them that you’re an author in hopes that you appear more sophisticated (I’ve met plenty of these people).

Your goal is the same as my goal, which is also the same as every other content creator — it’s to capture consumer attention.

That’s the asset we’re all vying for.

We want someone to take time out of their busy day and consume our content whether its a blog or a YouTube video a film or a book, and let’s be honest, there are a lot of other things trying to compete for that attention.

When you write a book and bring it to market with the hopes that it gains an audience and a loyal fanbase, you are essentially asking someone to forgo all the other options they could be doing with their time from hanging out with friends and family, exploring the world, listening to music or podcasts, watching YouTube videos, movies, online shopping, playing sport, practicing an instrument, creating art… there are a million ways people can entertain themselves.

And let’s be fair, reading a book isn’t an easy thing to do.

My guess is that most people read less than 50 book in their entire lifetime and there are millions of books already in existence, and every day new books are entering the market, competing for that limited resource known as attention. In most cases, let’s say the average person can read a book, cover to cover, in 10 hours.

They maybe get 30 minutes to an hour per day, usually before bed, to escape the stresses of the day, be entertained, be engaged, fall into a world, and be so consumed with the story that they forget about their troubles for a moment and don’t want to put it down. This is the so-called page-turner effect. This is what we want to create.

So why did I go on this big rant and what does it have to do with consumption obstruction?

The reason is simple.

Our Jobs as Writers

Our jobs as writers is to:

  1. Write a book that stands out amongst all other entertainment options. To do this, we must, at a minimum, have an:
  • Interesting premise
  • Intriguing title
  • Captivating cover art
  • An opening line that hooks the reader’s attention

While all of this is extremely difficult and becoming more and more difficult everyday, let’ assume we are able to do that. A reader has one of our books in their hand and they are interested in exploring it further.

Our job is not done. We still need to:

  1. Keep the reader’s attention all the way until the end, and then have the book payoff in such a meaningful, uplifting, inspiring, life-changing, perception-altering way that they recommend it to their friends, leave a positive review, buy our next book, become advocates for us.

That’s the business we’re in.

Avoiding Consumption Obstruction

How we do all this is to understand what I call consumption obstruction.

In other words, evaluate your book and ask yourself — what, if any, obstructions or barriers are there for someone reading my book?

The first step is to identify them, the second step is to eliminate as many as possible.

Now, I’ll admit, I’m guilty of breaking some cardinal consumption obstruction rules obstruction rules in some of my novels. In my book Prodigy, I open with a lengthy introduction setting up the world, and it’s also written with very academic language. I mention things such as “Pyrrhic victory”, which most people probably aren’t going to know what that means.

After the introduction, I still don’t get into the story, I have a prologue, which is additional story setup.

However, I felt that the intro and prologue were necessary to establish context and that information didn’t really fit anywhere else in the story.

Nevertheless, despite all this, Prodigy is by far my most successful book and I think it’s because it has a number of things going for it that overcome consumption obstruction.

  • Short book length
  • Short chapter length
  • Intriguing premise
  • Interesting title
  • Captivating cover art
  • Initial hook
  • Gets into the story as quickly as possible
  • Not overly heavy handed on descriptions
  • The plot isn’t overly complicated — it’s easy to follow
  • Not too many characters
  • Recaps to calibrate the reader

I’ll go some of the items on this list in a little bit more detail and explain what I mean and why it’s important.

Short book length — I try to write short digestible books, usually around 60,000 words. I feel attention spans are getting shorter and I don’t want someone to be put off with an 800 page epic. That’s be an obstruction for a lot of people. If I have more story to tell after 60,000 words, I’ll just write a sequel.

Chapter length — people don’t always have loads of time to read. They may be waiting for a bus, or have 20 mins before bed. If you have super long, complicated chapters, that can turn a lot of readers off. I try to aim for 800 – 1500 words. I feel that is a reasonably digestible chapter length.

Getting into the story as quickly as possible — ask yourself this, “What if I removed chapters 1 and 2 (or 10) and my book started on chapter three, would I lose anything necessary for the story? I try to get as deep into the story as possible and anything relevant can always be brought up later. Any time there’s a lengthy, convoluted set up where the reader has no idea who the main character is and what’s at stake (we’ve all read books like this), that is a consumption obstruction and is going to turn a lot of people off (me included!).

Also, try to avoid opening with an intro and a prologue — get to the exciting stuff as soon as possible and hook your reader. Make them invested and care about your characters or plot.

Initial hook — your opening line or paragraph should pull them into a world. It’s generally recommended not to start with dialogue or cliches such as — the alarm clock blared and so and so woke up…

Descriptions — this is obviously personal preference, but I tend to go a little lighter on descriptions simply because I feel the reader’s brain is pretty good and filling in details that aren’t on the page. I don’t usually describe how the character looks with the exception of name, gender, and age. Other details such as height, weight, race, hairstyle, clothing, attractiveness, etc. I let the reader fill that in.

Once I received a comment about my book The Art of the Hustle from this black guy and he was like, “I love your book, especially since the main character is black.” In the book, I never mention race, but in his mind, that’s what he envisioned.

Interesting concepts — have a plot that pulls people in and continues to deliver. Show the reader something they’ve never seen before. Keep them guessing, keep them anticipating what’s going to happen. Books with boring, predictable, flat, uninteresting, uninspired premises are a consumption obstruction.

For the last two points, I’ll briefly say this:

Reading fiction actually requires more work from the reader than non fiction.

Fiction isn’t a passive thing that you can read casually. It requires balancing many different characters, anticipating where the author is going, following along on this journey and juggling various plot points that may not be fully revealed until later. Therefore, your job is to know your audience, what their comprehension level is, and to find that balance between not having it too simple and predictable where they get bored, and not being overly complicated. If you have a too many characters, they have weird names that are hard to pronounce, their relationships are complex, these are all barriers.

In some of my books, I’ll go back and recap what has happened. Before I move on to the next part, I’ll have one character explain the past ten chapters or so in a few short sentences. I’ll have one person say, “Hey, wasn’t it crazy when that happened, then this happened, we met that guy, and he gave us this crucial piece of information that’s going to help us go there and do that.” Having these recaps is a way to get everyone is on board with what’s happening so that we can all move onto the next bit together. In other words, the reader is calibrated to the story. I may even do this several times through the book, just to really make it easy for the reader.

Notice in this very blog post you’re reading, I made it easy to consume. I have short, inviting sentences, add bolded phrases to make certain text pop up and be highly scannable. I created numbered lists with bullet points to avoid large blocks of text. Headings further separate the wall of text, inviting the reader into smaller scannable and digestible chunks. Heck, I even included a video!

You can incorporate this same philosophy in your writing as well.

How to Plan and Outline a Novel

So you have an idea burning a hole in your mind — a story that must be told and if you don’t get it out, you might just explode.

But you don’t know where to start. Perhaps your ideas are flooding in faster than you know what to do with them, like trying to drink through a firehouse, it’s just this explosion of just…well, you get the point.

You decided to write a novel and need some help planning. As a professional writer of over ten years, I’ll tell you how I go about writing a novel. I’ll go over my planning process and hopefully some of it will resonate with you and give you an idea of how to create your own plan.

While it’s possible to write a novel without planning, it isn’t advised. For one, you may encounter the dreaded writer’s block — you dive in full of enthusiasm and good intentions, and get a few chapters in before you hit a wall. You step back and ponder how your story will unfold. You reach a place in the story and then ask yourself that fateful question, “What happens next?”

If you don’t have an outline, you may waste a lot of time mulling over all the possible scenarios. In the end, you may become discouraged and give up with your idea all together faulting the idea and not your own habits. You may convince yourself that your idea is flawed and the next one will be different. But, chances are, it’s not the idea that is flawed, it’s the lack of preparation.

Look, I get it, it’s exciting to write and create art, but we need to set ourselves up for success. If we try a bunch of times and fail, we may feel we are not cut out for being a writer and quit.

Also, without charting your course in advance, you are liable to get lost along the way and may end up ‘writing yourself into a corner’ so to speak. In other words, you write in a way that doesn’t leave open a lot of possibilities. You’re forcing the story down a particular path – one that you may not have envisioned from the start, and one that no longer aligns with the ending you had planned.

So, I recommend spending time before hand to get an idea of where you want to take the story. A good analogy would be an artist would roughly penciling in their drawing before making it more permanent with ink or paint. It’s the same technique that we writers use. We want to roughly pencil in the basic form or structure, before we put hard lines down on the page.

All writers have different styles when it comes to planning a novel—some like to write their ideas on flashcards and organize them like a puzzle, while others meticulously plot out every detail in their head. Do whatever works for you. My approach involves the following four steps:

  1. Notes
  2. Character profiles
  3. Outline
  4. Storyboard

Step 1. MAKE NOTES

For me, when I come up with an idea, I usually wait a few months before even writing a single word of the story.

In those preceding months, I immerse myself in the story and make a lot of notes. Whether I’m walking, working out, or dreaming at night, I’m thinking about the story, the characters, and the conflicts.

I write notes on my phone notes app and email them to myself, or I speak into my Dragon Dictation app, which transcribes my voice into text, then I email the notes to myself.

I compile all those notes into a master file, something like: The title of the book + notes (e.g. The Art of the Hustle Notes).

Step 2. MAKE CHARACTER PROFILES

Part of the planning process is to think about what characters are going to be in your story.

What I like to do is create character profiles for each of the main characters — and I usually have about five or so main characters depending on the story.

I like to visualize what the character might look like, then find a picture online that resembles my image. I then think about the characters’ strengths and weaknesses, their hobbies, their likes and dislikes, friends/family, a couple quotes, where they live, where they work, their skill level, education level, and a few paragraphs on what an average day of each person would look like.

You can add as much or as little detail as you need until you flush out who the characters are. Once I do that, I can get inside the characters’ heads, figure out how they think, how they speak, how they interact with people, and what motivates them. If you are telling a story from a particular character’s perspective, it stands to reason you know who the character is inside and out.

Here’s an example of a character profile:

TREVOR MORRISON

  • 17 years old – single.
  • Lives and works in Banff, Alberta.
  • He likes skateboarding, karate, and comics.
  • He dislikes bullies, authority, school.
  • He gets frustrated when people underestimate him or blame him.
  • He is skilled in the art of deduction and charm.
  • He is a high school graduate.
  • He wants to be rich one day.
  • He is honest and has integrity.
  • He is a hard worker, hustler, and is persistent.

I then put together a few paragraphs that reiterate his characteristics. Writing it out this way helps the character seem more real.

Trevor is very independent. He spends most of his time skateboarding or watching movies. He doesn’t put forward his best effort in school despite him being intelligent. He has issues with his parents, who are divorced. His brother still lives at home and goes to school. He is a natural leader, and does not like to follow others or to listen to authority.

Trevor gets along well with people, but feels he doesn’t always fit in. He is optimistic and wants a better life for himself, but doesn’t know how to get it. He gets frustrated with his station in life, but just sucks it up and deals with it. In his mind, he imagines a scenario where an opportunity presents itself, perhaps winning the lottery so he does not have to work ever again.

QUOTABLES:

  • “I need to get out of this town!”
  • “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”
  • “I would really like to be a rich one day.”

Step 3. MAKE AN OUTLINE

It is my belief that writer’s block comes from a lack of planning. They charge ahead and begin writing without first creating an outline for their story. They figure they have an idea and they just want to get it out.

But sometimes what happens is that a few chapters in, they begin to run out of steam or write themselves into a corner. They become consumed with the dreaded question, “What happens next?” and for some, the endless possibilities of how a story can evolve and the direction it can take can be paralyzing if they haven’t say down ahead of time and worked out all those details.

If that’s your style and it works, go for it. I’ve written a few books this way and it has worked out fine, but an outline just makes things way easier. You may have heard of this term: planner vs pantser. Planner is obviously one who plans, and the latter is one who writes by the seat of their pants.

I have a file on my computer with a default outline that I use for each story. The outline is based on a five act story arch. There’s also a three act story arch that is common – The setup, the conflict, and the resolution. I like the five act story arch because it helps me break up the story more. Here is a sample of the template I use:

Every story is comprised of a conflict between either:

  • Man vs Man
  • Man vs Environment
  • Man vs Self

First Act

  • Introduction to character
  • Attitudes/ personality/ opinions
  • What are character’s wants?
  • Relationships
  • Ignorant to duty

Second Act

  • Instigating incident
  • Call to adventure
  • Refusal of the Call – “You must stop them,” – but what can I do?
  • Subplot of bad guys

Third Act

  • Meeting the mentor
  • Cross some threshold
  • Enemies/ allies/ tests
  • A crucial new piece of information is discovered
  • Big fight looming
  • Gather a posse
  • Equip themselves with knowledge

Fourth Act

  • Point of no return
  • Supreme ordeal
  • Some kind of reward
  • There must be a change in character’s personality (for the better – maybe recognizes their duty)
  • Fails before succeeds
  • Climax

Fifth Act

  • Journey home
  • Resurrection
  • Satisfying ending

If you need a copy of this template, send me an email at Edward@EdwardMullen.com and I will be happy to send it to you.

Okay, so I have my outline template. From there, I use the notes and my imagination to start to roughly plot out the story. It’s okay to deviate from your outline. There are many ideas I’ve had over the months, some good, some bad, and some that just don’t fit the story.

Another important thing to mention is that while outline is important, I want to remain flexible enough to chase whimsies. During the writing process, I may get a new idea and decide to go down that path to see where it leads, just because.

Step 4. MAKE A STORYBOARD

Okay, so I have my character profiles, I created an outline using my notes, and now I’m ready to start writing. But before I do that, I need to create a storyboard.

storyboard

What’s a storyboard?

To follow up on the analogy I used earlier where I talked about an artist penciling in a rough draft, a storyboard is slightly darker lines with more detail, but still not committing to anything substantial.

What I do is take a legal pad and draw squares on it— say three across and three down so I end up with nine squares.

Each square represents some arbitrary grouping, perhaps a chapter, or a series of events, it doesn’t really matter. Inside each box will be a slightly more detailed breakdown of the next series of events.

This allows me to navigate the story and remain on course and also acts as an agenda, so when I sit down to write, I know roughly what I need to do for that day.

To give you an example of how it works, suppose I have nine squares drawn out. In my outline I have a bullet point that says “Introduction to Trevor”. But that isn’t much detail at all. So in my storyboard, I’ll say.

  • Trevor in school
  • Gets in trouble for throwing a snowball
  • Has conversation with principal about his future

Now, in the actual book, I obviously need to flesh this out in more detail, but a least I know the beats I have to hit.

Once I finish writing all the content in the boxes, I draw nine more boxes, fill them in, and continue the process until the story is done. Again, this is a rough sketch of the story, it can always change if need be.

An important point to consider is that I very rarely know how my story will end. I usually have a rough idea, but all the little elements and complexities are discovered as I write. Some people may not do it this way, but this is the way I’ve always done it.

So while it’s good to create an outline, don’t let it confine you or else that may take the fun out of writing.

How to Come up with Good Ideas for your Novels

In this post, I’ll be talking about ideas. Not just any ideas, ideas in the context of writing fiction. I’ll cover:

  • What’s the difference between a good idea and a bad idea?
  • Where do good ideas come from?
  • How can you produce more good ideas?

What is a good idea and how does it differ from a bad idea?

First, let’s define what is a good idea.

As it pertains to writing, good ideas have three things:

  1. Interesting
  2. Sufficiently original
  3. Has proper scope

What are interesting ideas?

An idea is interesting if it captures the attention of the audience, it intrigues them and pulls them in. It spawns curiosity and imagination. It makes people go, huh, that’s interesting.

A really good example of an interesting idea for me is the movie Annihilation. The premise is this strange bubble mysterious engulfs this part of the world. They try to send in drones and satellites to study it, but the signals are lost. Everyone who goes in never comes out. I won’t go on further in case you haven’t seen the movie, but my point is, that is interesting to me. It has captured my imagination, and it continues to do so throughout.


Sufficiently original — why is it ‘sufficiently’ original and not purely original you might ask? Well, frankly, it’s rare to come up with an idea that’s completely original. In all likelihood, your idea will resemble parts of other stories in more ways than one. And that’s okay.

This is actually an important point to consider. Be original, but don’t get discouraged by the fact that someone before you already wrote a similar story. Unless you blatantly plagiarize them, your story should be fine.

Take Stephanie Meyer for example, she wrote a series of very successful vampire stories. There have been countless other vampire stories before hers, but she added her own elements to make hers sufficiently original. She made her vampires day walkers who sparkle in the sun and who are hunky. So, old ideas with a new twist are okay.

My book The Art of the Hustle for instance — it’s a classic rags to riches story, but it’s uniquely based on my life and the stories within are solely from my own experience.

So while the themes are not necessarily original. It has a unique perspective.


Finally, I talk about having a proper scope. Why is scope important, and what does it have to do with good ideas?

I’ll let you think about that for a minute and we’ll come back to it.

First, we’ll talk about bad ideas. As you may be able to guess, bad ideas are the opposite of good ideas — they tend to be uninteresting, unoriginal, and lack proper scope. An example of a bad idea is boy who receives a fidget spinner for his birthday. And that’s it. That’s not particularly interesting.

I mean, I suppose it’s sufficiently original, but the idea lacks scope. In other words, nothing eventful happens. Can you write an entire story about a fidget spinner? Maybe. I know the movie inception has elements of a spinning totem, but the movie is so rich is interestingness, if that’s a real word, and originality, and it has a ton of scope. It’s not just about a spinning totem, that’s one element in a very complex story.

So you’ll want to explore your idea to determine the scope.

You want to figure out all the plot points to see if you have enough material to write a full-length novel, which is usually around 70,000 – 90,000 words. If not, you can develop it into a novella (30,000 – 50,000 words), or a short story (under 10,000 words).

To do this, you should make an outline and have it as detailed as possible. In another post, I share with you my outline and some techniques I’ve learned.

Great ideas

We talked about good ideas versus bad ideas, but what about great ideas? What constitutes a great idea? There’s a saying, good is the enemy of great. Don’t stop at good.

I would say great ideas are ones that share all the elements of a good idea, but are more interesting, more original, and yes more rare.

So where do good ideas come from?

Good ideas come from exploration. Imagine a house cat, who never leaves the confines of a tiny apartment. All they have is a very and a basic understanding of the outside world. Their experience is so limited. It would be very difficult for that cat to think beyond its experiences. How could it imagine an elephant it it’s never seen one, or a spaceship, or the ocean.

Now consider a bird who flies around all day. It visits the city, the countryside, the ocean. It interacts with other things, has relationships, and overall more rich experiences.

Which do you think has better dreams at night, the cat or the bird?

Similarly, you need to have a vast reservoir of experiences to pull from. In terms of being young, I would say that there’s really no way to gain life experience without time. You can accelerate your knowledge and experience by doing different things, hanging out with different people, listening to podcasts, reading books, watching documentaries, and movies, saying yes to different experiences that you may otherwise say no to (while still being safe).

Perhaps the most important of all is…

Be ready!

Ideas are often fragmented and incomplete. You may have an idea for one part of the thing one day, and the next part of the thing three weeks later. You need to be ready to capture your ideas, store them somewhere, and when the time comes, stitch them together into a cohesive narrative.

Most of us have good ideas throughout the day, obviously some better than others, but we may not always recognize when lighting strikes or know what to do with it when it does.

To me, ideas are like currency, and I treat the next idea that comes into my head as a potential life-changing idea that could garner me millions of dollars, respect, admiration, early retirement, and so on. So treat yours ideas with care.

Today, I read an article that talked about some advancement in technology that gave me an idea for one of my books. I wrote down the idea and emailed it to myself. Had I not clicked on that article, I may never have come up with that on my own.

This can happen not only with articles, but anytime throughout the day such as when you’re walking your dog, watching a movie, talking to a friend, or even dreaming at night. If an idea comes to mind, grab it and write it down as quickly as possible. Don’t ever think, “I’ll remember that.” Because you won’t. If you don’t write it down, ask yourself this, “Am I okay with losing this idea?” If you’re not, take the time to capture it.

The final thing I will say about ideas

If you’re young and just starting to write, you can always write about what you know and exaggerate it. Write about you family, your school, your sports team. Explore alternate ways the scenario you know well could have happened. What if your family had superpowers, what if you were the most popular kid in school, what if you got drafted from your sports team to play with the pros. The more you do it, the better you will be at expressing your ideas into words.

Edward Mullen’s Big Brother 20 Predictions

With Big Brother 20 starting last week, I decided to make some picks. I’ve seen the first episode, which introduces all the characters, shows a bit of their backstories, their social interaction, their game play, etc. There’s very little to go on, but that also makes picking this early on fun and exciting.

So without further ado, here are my #BB20 picks starting from the first eviction all the way to the winner. To learn why I made these decisions, please check out my video:


Big Brother 20 Sam Bledsoe

Sam Bledsoe

Age: 27

Welder

big brother 20 Rachel Swindler

Rachel Swindler

Age: 29

Vegas entertainer

big brother 20 angie rockstar lantry

Angie “Rockstar” Lantry

Age: 34

Stay-at-home mom

big brother 20 steve arienta

Steve Arienta

Age: 40

Former undercover cop

big brother 20 tyler crispen

Tyler Crispen

Age: 23

Lifeguard

big brother 20 chris swaggy c williams

Chris “Swaggy C” Williams

Age: 23

Day trader

big brother 20 bayleigh dayton

Bayleigh Dayton

Age: 25

Flight attendant

big brother 20 kaitlyn herman

Kaitlyn Herman

Age: 24

Life coach

big brother 20 scottie salton

Scottie Salton

Age: 26

Shipping manager

big brother 20 kaycee clark

Kaycee Clark

Age: 30

Pro-football player

big brother 20 faysal shafaat

Faysal Shafaat

Age: 26

Substitute teacher

big brother 20 angela rummans

Angela Rummans

Age: 26

Fitness model

big brother 20 winston hines

Winston Hines

Age: 28

Medical sales rep

big brother 20 jc mounduix

JC Mounduix

Age: 28

Professional dancer

big brother 20 haleigh broucher

Haleigh Broucher

Age: 21

College student

bb20 WINNER

big brother 2 brett robinson

Brett Robinson

Age: 25

Cybersecurity engineer

Prodigy graphic novel is finally available!

Today marks a very proud day for me — the graphic novel of Prodigy is finally available!

I posted Prodigy on Wattpad a few years ago and the book exploded to #1 on the charts. It was the #1 sci-fi and the #1 mystery thriller for 6 months straight. Then remained in the top 5 (often returning to #1 for several days or weeks) for the next 6 months. I was beyond thrilled by the response and continued on in the series. Before the success of this book, I had never considered writing a sequel, but I now have several sequels to some of my books. Last year I released The Art of the Hustle 2.

To date, Prodigy has over 3.6 million reads on Wattpad and has been mentioned in some major publications. I appreciate all the support, but my ultimate goal is to see Prodigy on the big screen one day (or Netflix)… just want to put that out into the universe 🙂

What’s Prodigy about?

For those unfamiliar with my Prodigy series, here’s the blurb.

The greatest tragedy the world has ever known turned out to be the ultimate catalyst for change. In the wake of World War III, which decimated most of the world’s population, the remaining survivors vowed to not continue to repeat the same mistakes of the past. Fortunately, they had something previous generations did not have – advanced technology.

The year is 2117 and this once shattered civilization has become prosperous again. Innovative forms of technology have enabled them to abandon the old model and re-engineer a better way of living for all. Brain implants and genetic modifications have made an entire population educated, healthy, and kind.

Despite the benefits of this technology, it has created some unforeseen side effects that threaten humankind’s existence. When technology proves to be inept at solving the world’s problem, a new hope emerges in the unlikeliest form – a young orphan girl.

Where can I get it?

Check out the graphic novel on comiXology! — http://bit.ly/2k5hOub

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