Writers, Are You Missing an Opportunity to Foreshadow?

One of the early stories I wrote, I had a character who received a family heirloom from his mother early in the story. Then in the remainder of the story, we never hear about this family heirloom ever again. Looking back now I wished I could have tied the family heirloom to an event later on in the story.

Your story might have many moments like this as well: where a character, item, or place is introduced only to be completely forgotten about in the succeeding chapters.

Those are missed opportunities for foreshadowing. The item didn’t create tension in any way, and if you want to write a page-turner, you’ll have to. Yes, maybe it lets the character know a bit about his mother, it was a vessel for backstory or even a flashback, but it’s not foreshadowing.

There is a term Chekhov’s Gun, a concept introduced by Anton Chekhov which says, if you show a gun in act one, the gun needs to go off by the last act. There needs to be a payoff. That is foreshadowing. It sets the stage and prepares the readers.

If an event at the end doesn’t have a setup (such as a foreshadow), it can be jarring. For example, if I did the opposite; if I wrote that the solution to all the character’s problem was to trade his family heirloom for a million dollars, but the heirloom was never introduced. Then the story doesn’t make sense.

An effective foreshadow links two events together like a joke. A setup and a punchline.

The thing is, a good foreshadowing isn’t obvious to the reader. While reading my story, the reader can assume that the heirloom was simply an inheritance that he will treasure. However, in the third act, the heirloom will return and saves the day.

Nevertheless here is what you need to do when incorporating foreshadowing into your story.

  1. Outline first, make it subtle, don’t force foreshadowing into a story that doesn’t need it
  2. Give some distance between introducing the subject of the foreshadowing and when it is revealed. You want the readers to be aware, but not have it close enough so that they can connect the dot themselves.
  3. There must be a payoff: If there is a gun in act one, it needs to go off at some point in the story…

Want more writing tips and inspirations? Follow my writing journey on YouTube! 

4 Funny Books You Should Read

It always amazes me when a book can make me laugh. But there is no doubt that a one-of-a-kind type of laugh in life is the kind that comes from reading something, processing it in your brain, and emoting it through your body.

A great writer like any great artist or musician can make you feel emotions simply from the mastery in their craft. The problem is, there aren’t that many writers that have made me laugh through their stories.

Nevertheless, I have highlighted four of the funniest books I have read, and I’m going to share it with you today.

My Custom Van by Michael Ian Black

Michael Ian Black is best known for his role in Stella and Wet Hot American Summer, but few know him as a writer, even though he has written a few books now, including children’s books and some movies. Black also has a podcast where he interviews amazing people called How to Be Amazing, and if you look through the archives he did a revolutionary podcast series called Mike and Tom Eat Snacks.

When people talk about a book that changed their lives they usually talk about some self-help or emotionally impactful book, but this one really did.

This book is a collection of absurd essays. Some of them questions only a really famous celebrity like Michael Ian Black would know such as What I Would Be Thinking If I Were Billy Joel Driving to a Holiday Party Where I Knew There Was Going to Be a Piano and Hey David Sedaris — Why Don’t You Just Go Ahead and Suck It?

Michael Ian Black does such a great job playing with different genres in these essays such as erotic fiction, letters, and even a chapter from a novel that is sponsored by Barqs root beer. Each one of them is simply drenched in Black’s snarky humour and although I am certain it will go over the heads of some, it is all laced with intelligent observation of the modern world… or at least the world in 2008.

It’s hard for me to pick a favourite story from this book, because it’ll be trying to pick a favourite song from Green Day album American Idiot, but if I had to choose, I would say A Series of Letter to the First Girl I Ever Finger… where Black, as a middle age man, tries to reconnect through mail correspondence with the girl he had a temporary relationship with in summer camp as a child. It sounds uncomfortable, but that is the quintessential Black comedy that you can expect from this book. I’ll say no more.

A Load of Hooey by Bob Odenkirk

Yes, that Bob Odenkirk — or better known as Saul from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Odenkirk has had a long history in comedy, and it is so refreshing to see, even when he has achieved the pinnacle of stardom with his dramatic television role, he still give his comedy fans something to sink their teeth into.

A Load of Hooey is a collection of short stories, poetry, comics, and unabridged quotes from famous individuals, including Walt Disney, Winston Churchill and Isaac Newton.

The beauty of this book is the commentary that Odenkirk has about the lives of those that have achieved and those that strive. What’s it like to be someone creating and what it is like to be someone aspiring… struggling… and critiquing. Believe it or not, I think we all fall into one of those categories, and that is what makes it such an approachable book.

By far the story that stands out the most in this book for me is the reimagining of what it must have been like that day the Beatles wrote the iconic song Blackbird. It amplified the drama within the room between an arrogant McCartney (who is said to have written the song solo) and the rest of the band (who leeches off his brilliance).

Please, if you are looking to kill a few hours in an airport or simply have nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon, pick up this book, instead of rewatching The Office.

One More Thing by BJ Novak

Speaking of The Office, BJ Novak also writes books… and they’re pretty awesome. One More Thing is a collection of stories that touches on a many subjects including celebrity escapades, relationships, and the complicated yet mundane decisions we are dared to make in our daily lives.

Novak is a compelling storyteller who is supremely witty. He finds the nuances of everyday interaction and injects it into his story, reminding us of our idiosyncrasy. While unlike Black or Odenkirk, Novak’s writing style is a bit more refined — not necessary better or worse — but I can actually see some of these stories appearing in literary magazines or in the New Yorker.

My favourite piece from this book, or at least the one that has really stuck with me, is one called If I Had a Nickel, which goes through the narrator’s thought process as he tries to figure out how he can get rich if he gets a nickel for everytime he spills coffee on himself. As someone who is always thinking of a way to make more money, this one just hit the right note for me.

This along with many other stories proves that BJ Novak is more than simply a background character in a television show and Inglorious Basterds, he is a witty writer and genuinely relatable.

Sick In the Head by Judd Apatow

I don’t understand how so few people know about this book. Let me explain. You know Judd Apatow, the guy who produced Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up, Forty Year Old Virgin, and Girls. Apatow is a comedic legend, no doubt about it — but he is also a fan of comedy.

Since an early age, he had a fascination with comedy royalties. A memorable story is that he was once driving with his grandmother and passed by Steve Martin’s house, with Steve Martin outside. Judd got out and asked him for his autograph, which Martin declined. He later wrote a letter to Martin pouring his heart out, saying he was a big fan and bought everything he had and the least he could have done was give him an autograph. In the end, Martin wrote him back saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was speaking with THE Judd Apatow.”  

As he got older, the task of sitting down and speaking with his peers and idols became easier.

Yes, this includes Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, John Stewart, Seth Rogen, Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey… and it goes on. If you have any interest in, what I feel is, the golden age of screen comedy then you need to pick up this book.

There you have it, those are 4 funny books you should read. Please let me know if you have a book that always makes you laugh. I’d love to read it.

Looking for some books to read? Follow me on my journey as I read a book in every subgenre of every genre. There might be one for you?

Spelling and Grammar Apps Review

Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, Expresso, and After the Deadline

Some may think that using a grammar or spelling app as a writing tool is akin to using auto-tune as a singer. In a way, you’re bypassing important skills and disciplines of writing, such as having a good handle on the tools and structure of the written language.

Yet, in this day and age, to not use any given tool available would be a foolish move. It can be debated that what is important is the ideas being communicated, and if there is a way to ensure the communication doesn’t get disrupted by spelling and grammar mistakes, shouldn’t we take advantage?

Personally, I’m a proponent of spelling and grammar apps.

First off, writing is not editing. The task of an editor is a complete shift in the creation process. In a short timeline, it’s sometimes hard for a writer to make that transition. As a writer, you would want to have another set of eyes — even robot eyes — to have a look at your work before you share with your company. Additionally, writers who don’t use these apps still have access to them. It’s like walking instead of taking the bus. Yes, walking is healthier for you and you might save a few dollars, but the bus is still an option. You are by no means a hero.

With all that off my chest, I would like to share 4 free online spelling and grammar tool with you. And as a bonus, I will give a little review of them, showing off what they are capable of.

A Paragraph with A Lot of Writing Errors

In order for me to evaluate the apps, I needed a sample with as many types of errors I can think of. Inspired by the city I live in, I wrote the most heinous paragraph ever. Which, it may come as a surprise was actually pretty hard to do. Give it a try, try to purposely write a paragraph with some spelling and grammar mistakes.  

This is what I came up with:

They’re is a lot to see in Vancouver. Lets explore what there is to do. If your traveling hear on a sunny day, I recommend you go to stanley park. This park is bigger and better. It’s a beautiful place. The sea wall is enjoyed by runners and joggers every day. In the park, you can find a nice field to relax and bring a picnic to have with a friend or you can even go to the aquarium or take the horse-drawn carriage and tour the whole park. There is a much more to do in Vancouver. A historic neighbourhood, you can go to is Gastown. On a busy day there are to many tourist but if you go during off season you don’t have to worry about that people. However don’t wander aimlessly too far east or you might end up in Downtown Eastside. I insure you, that it is not where you want to be.

This is the best (and the worst) I can do apparently. Let me know what you think and if I have missed any other notable errors.

4 Spelling and Grammar Apps

Now that I have a sample, I’m going to start plugging it into the apps and websites to see what results I get.

PolishMyWriting.com (After the Deadline)

I pasted the paragraph into the text box and clicked “Check Writing” and a bunch of squiggly lines appeared beneath some of the words and phrases.

As you can see, PolishMyWriting.com missed a lot of spelling errors and the run on sentences, but picked up on complex phrases and words that could be omitted. Sort of…

Overall, this app is good for final touch ups after a more thorough edit. It missed a lot of mistakes and definitely won’t save you from embarrassment if you are relying solely on it to fix your first draft.

Hemingway App

The first notable insight that the Hemingway app provided is the readability score. As you can see, my horrible paragraph would be accessible to a third grade audience.

This app did a good job catching all the extraneous words and run-on sentences, but missed all the spelling errors. This app is definitely not a spell check and should not be relied on as such.

If you are writing content for a wide audience and want your ideas to be communicated as clearly as possible, then the Hemingway App is a great product to help you achieve that.

Grammarly

Of all the apps I’m reviewing today, Grammarly is perhaps the most popular. It’s worth mentioning that I am not looking at any of the paid versions, I am only reviewing the free version.

And here is how I feel about it:

Grammarly did a good job catching most of the spelling errors and punctuation mistakes, but was not helpful in catching passive voice, run-on sentences or vague descriptions.

If what you want from a spelling and grammar app is to double check your work as you move quickly through your draft, then Grammarly is a fantastic choice and has been one of my favourite tools.

Expresso App

The Expresso App is an interesting product because it is not designed to help you correct errors but help you understand certain trends that might be appearing in your writing.

This app has a lot of details and can be a little confusing to use especially if you are not too confident with spelling or grammar in the first place. I recommend clicking into each category individually and understanding why this word or phrase is highlighted. Not every highlight is a suggestion to change, it’s more or less just telling you why it’s noted for you to consider.

Paste some of your writing in and see if you can spot any notable and you get to decide how you want to use that information. Good luck.

There you have it, those are 4 free spelling and grammar apps that can assist you as you write. My personal favourite is Grammarly because they offer a Chrome Plugin. What’s yours?

Are there other apps or tools that you are using? I’d love to check it out. Please share.

For more tips on editing your writing, check out this YouTube playlist: Editing Your Epic Novel

Is Reading a Creative Process?

debby-hudson-544369-unsplash

When you sit down and read a book — a novel specifically — are you being creative? This is a question worth debating. On one hand, you aren’t really creating anything. There is nothing visible to show for it when you close the book and put it aside. On the other hand, the ideas you are getting from the book, the visuals you are weaving and constructing in your mind, are all intangible materials that you can be applied to your creations.

With that being said, is watching a television show being creative? Is listening to an album being creative? Is watching a hockey game being creative? Where does one draw the line between entertainment and creative research?

For me, the creative process is an intent-driven process. You are present with all that is happening. You aren’t simply walking through an art gallery, but you are stopping to admire each painting and sculpture along the way. You are processing it.

If a novel, a television show, or an album is being consumed with the same frame of mind as one simply moving through it as quickly as possible, as a means to an end, then it is not a creative act. However, if one pauses occasionally and consider why the writer, cinematographer, or artist chose to use this word, this lighting, or that note, then what is being done is perhaps the most important aspect of being a creator.

Yes, I consider reading a creative process, but not everyone does. Some will simply read for pleasure. A filmmaker will watch a movie and consider it a part of the creative process while a mere civilian will watch a movie as a means to escape.

There is this hallway and you get to walk through it at your own speed. That is how I see a piece of work. What you get out of that experience is up to you.

 

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How to Write a Page-turner like Game of Thrones and Goosebumps

Have you ever read a Goosebump book by R.L. Stine? Maybe when you were a kid? Remember how they were structured? At the end of every chapter, there is a cliffhanger. You know, to keep your young mind reading.

R.L. Stine was a master at doing this, however, as we got older, we became more suspect — you can only trick us so many times with a “sound coming from behind a door” page-turning trick, and have it turn out to be a cat or something else inconsequential.

Example:

Last line in Chapter 26: I suddenly felt a chill. A dark shadow slid over me. And I realized I wasn’t alone in the house.

 

First paragraphs of Chapter 27: I spun around with a gasp.

Was it Shockro? Some other scary creature?

A tall figure leaned over me. I squinted in the darkness, struggling to see his face.

“Dad?”  I cried as he came into focus. “Dad I’m so glad to see you.”

-Shocker on Shock Street – RL Stine

goosebumps

You can do better. Yes, better than RL Stine.

When you write your compelling story, you can structure it in much of the same way as a Goosebump book. A cliffhanger at the end of each chapter. However, not every cliffhanger should be life or death. There needs to be a variety. You need to balance it.

 

The 10-Episode Structure

The structure I want to share with you today is taken from modern day 10-episode-seasons-television series, such as Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad.

At the end of every one of these episodes, you get emotionally invested. You have to keep watching. It’s not even a question. However, the only reason that you are emotionally attached to the story is that each chapter or episode itself has a Freytag’s pyramid to build up the tension.

When it is done well and when you reach the end — call it a cliffhanger or call it a hook, either way — you are hanging on until the very end of the season (for an ultimate hook that gets you anticipating the next one).

So like a novel, a television season has a story arch. From episode 1 to episode 10, John Snow or Walter White goes through an inevitable and surprising change.

What’s interesting is the way each episode when pulled out of the rest, can be analyzed and found to have its own story arch.

So you have the season’s story arch, which spans all 10 episodes and looks something like this:

story archAnd, each episode within itself will have its own story arch. Like this.

story arch10So each episode should begin with an inciting incident, followed by a raising action, culminating in a climax, and then a denouement where you can hint at the next inciting incident, which is why we never return to the same level of drama as the beginning. Things have changed.

Take, season one of Game of Thrones. I use this example because this season is as close to the book as you will find in any adaptation.

There are two main stories happening:

A) Ned becoming the hand of the king

B) Dany becoming Khal Drogo’s wife.

 

Game of Thrones (Season One) Endings Breakdown

Episode one: We start off by introducing all the characters and what their objectives are. Robert Baratheon arrives and encourages Eddard to leaves Winterfell. And that is the main conflict in the episode, will Ned leave his life or not. We find out that he does, and the episode ends with Bran getting pushed out of the castle window by Jamie. That is an epic cliffhanger.

Each episode after that offers a little more details and increases the stakes. Each ending with another cliffhanger.

love

Episode 2 ends with Bran waking up (oh no, is he going to reveal who pushed him?)

Episode 3 ends a shot of Ned watching Arya train, the sounds of real blades clashing, echoing in his head. (uh oh, he’s getting worried… what’s going to happen to him)

Episode 4 ends with Catelyn Stark arresting Tyrion Lannister in a tavern, accusing him of being the one who hired the assassin to kill Bran, concealing the Lannister’s secret. (this is surely a mistake, but is it?)

Episode 5 ends with a battle between Ned and Jamie out on the streets, Jamie has discovered that his brother has been captured. Ned ends up being stabbed in the knee.

Episode 6 ends with the B story about Daenerys in Essos. Remember what I said about building cliffhangers with variety. This is what’s happening, now it follows another character. The Dorathkis give her brother a golden crown, pouring gold on his head, thus freeing her from Viserys. And so the plot thickens on that end.

crown

Episode 7 ends with Joffrey claiming the throne after his father’s death and Ned accusing Joffrey of not being the rightful heir. Thus watches his men get slaughtered and Ned arrested for treason. (at this point, we still think Ned is the good guy and he can surely get out of this mess).

Episode 8 ends with Sansa begging mercy for her father to Joffrey. And Joffrey seems reasonable, offering that all Ned will have to do is confess his crime. (oh good, surely Ned will come to his senses)

Episode 9 ends with Ned having his head chopped off. (this is probably the most intense cliffhanger in the history of television.)

Episode 10 ends with Daenerys’ dragons hatching in the fire of Khal Drogo’s pyre.

dragon

End of season 1.

In the end, the story we set out to understand is made clear. We find out about Ned Stark’s journey as the hand of the king and we find out Daenerys experience as Khal Drogo’s wife, a Khaleesi. But as two stories are resolved, many more are revealed.

 

Exercise

Once you have the first draft of your story, you can start breaking it apart like a television series. Finding the micro story arch within the macro story. Once you have that you can create little cliffhangers at the end of each chapter or part, increasing the stakes each time.

Give this exercise a try and let me know how it turns out in the comments.

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