Write a Story Using These Five Narrative Modes

Is a scene not working? Are you failing to create intrigue, establish tone, or captivate an audience? Consider what narrative mode you’re using to tell your story. 

If words are the building blocks then narrative modes are the design of your story. Whichever ones you pick will yield a different construction, and therefore, a different experience for your readers. 

There are five narrative modes: description, dialogue, action, thought, and exposition. Today we will look at these five forms and how you can experiment while editing to determine which works best. 

To put it in context, we’ll explore how different authors use varying narrative modes to start their stories—but this approach works anywhere: beginning, middle, or end. If something isn’t working, change the narrative mode and see what happens. 

Let’s get into it! 

Description  

Descriptions are great for establishing a setting or character

It’s most effective if it’s an intriguing image. If you waste too many words describing something obvious or mundane, you won’t hook your audience or keep them turning the pages. To write effective descriptions, activate the senses: what do you see, hear, smell, feel, or taste? What’s unusual? 

Alternatively, you can use descriptions to establish context, for example, a before or after image. Take the beginning of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Amazon). He starts the story with a description of an average house before the chaos and destruction: 

The house stood on a slight rise just on the edge of the village. It stood on its own and looked out over a broad spread of West Country farmland. Not a remarkable house by any means — it was about thirty years old, squattish, squarish, made of brick, and had four windows set in the front of a size and proportion which more or less exactly failed to please the eye.
– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Dialogue

Starting a story with dialogue can grab the reader’s attention. It jumps right into the middle of a scene, introducing a character and building a connection. Hearing a character speak makes them more personable and is often more engaging than having the writer paraphrase what’s been said. When it’s well-written, dialogue can give a sense of who the character is, where they are, and what they want. 

However, bad dialogue can confuse readers because they don’t know who’s talking or why they should care. Don’t begin with your characters making small talk or a boring conversation that the reader may have in their own life. If you’re opening your story or maintaining narrative momentum, make sure the dialogue is compelling. If you want to hit your reader with something unexpected, dialogue is a great way to do it. Check out how Douglas Coupland opens his novel Jpod (Amazon):

“Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel.”

“That asshole.”

“Who does he think he is?”

“Come on, guys, focus. We’ve got a major problem on our hands.”

– Jpod by Douglas Coupland 

Action

In medias res is Latin for “in the midst of action” and that’s what you should consider when writing an action scene. Start your scene in the middle of an event and create stakes, tension, and strong pacing that will hook your reader while still giving them relevant details like time and place. It doesn’t mean you begin at the climax or the most intense part. It means you place your readers at a link in the continual chain of cause and effect: Because this is happening, this is happening — and because that happened, this is now happening. 

In an energetic action sequence, use active voice and remove filter words, such as saw, felt, and thought. Writing a good action scene doesn’t need to include characters, although a goal or a conflict is necessary. Action is great, but always ask: Why should the readers care? 

Take a look at this opening to The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum (Amazon). 

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 waves rose to goliathan heights, crashing into the hull with the power of raw tonnage; the white sprays caught in the night sky cascaded downward over the deck under the force of the night wind. Everywhere there were the sounds of inanimate pain, wood straining against wood, ropes twisting, stretched to the breaking point. The animal was dying. – The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

Thoughts

A story that opens with a thought, is a story that opens in the past, a reflection, a flashback. How is this effective? 

Thoughts allow the readers to understand a character. By seeing how they think or relive a significant memory, readers learn about their motivations and personalities. We view the conflict from their perspectives. Thoughts allow the author to convey the theme quickly. With thoughts, you can establish a pivotal scene, like a murder, a love loss, or an important lesson, and have that guide the character for the rest of the story. 

A great example of this is The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (Amazon). The narrator, Nick Carraway’s thought has nothing to do with the plot directly, but it shows his principles. The opening gives him the integrity he needs to tell the story and for us to trust him.  

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ – The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

Exposition

We are told that expositions should be avoided because they’re info dumps. Unskilled authors use them to give the readers all the information they need to understand some convoluted plot. Think of the opening crawl of any Star Wars movie where the floating text sets the stage for the galactic confrontation. Phantom Menace literally begins by explaining the details of space tax and trade routes. 

While exposition has a bad reputation for pushing the readers out of an emotional or visceral experience, it’s a reliable mode for explaining a character, a historical event, or a critical mission. With that said, here are a few notes to consider when using expositions for your story: 

  1. Make sure the details are intriguing: don’t share information that the reader can assume. 
  2. Create a sense of place: ground your story and connect it with a specific scenario. 
  3. Pay attention to the tone and mood: Just because it’s an info dump, doesn’t mean it should take the reader out of the story. When writing ask: how do the characters feel about these details? Is it dark and scary, or is it hopeful like at the beginning of The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom (Amazon)? 

This is a story about a man named Eddie and it begins at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It might seem strange to start a story with an ending. But all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time. – The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Whether you’re editing the beginning, middle, or end of your story consider the narrative mode. Remember, you are not tearing down your house, you’re redesigning it so that everything works better together. If you’re stuck and a section isn’t working, consider changing how you deliver the information. Switching the narrative modes can give strength to different aspects of the story; you change the pace, mood, and intensity. Practice each one, because you never know when a dialogue scene can work better as an exposition, or an action can become a thought.

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

My Current Writing Fears and Struggles

2022 has been a tough year. One of my saving graces has been my creative projects. If you’ve been following my channel, you’d know I’m deep in some pretty big projects, including my novel and short stories.

However, even my passion project comes with its struggles. As with all daily grinds, some days it feels like I’m making progress, and other days it feels like I’ve wasted my time, regressed in my skills, or even set myself up for embarrassment. When this happens, I want to shut it all down and give up. 

Now, I’m no expert in overcoming struggles. As much as I appreciate stoic philosophy, it’s not easy to practice it in real life. Sometimes I find myself frustrated and confused, but I always get myself back onto the metaphorical horse. In this article, I’ll share my most notable writing fears and struggles and what I might do to overcome them. 

Comparison with Others

As I follow more and more artists, writers, and all-around successful people on social media, I often notice the jealousy that brews beneath the surface of my cheerful exterior. Every day, I see writers celebrating their milestones, showing off their book covers, and getting profiled by publications, while for the past few years, I’ve been in the weeds with my work. 

Seeing others celebrate while I’m still in the middle of the grind is painful. I’m putting in all this effort, but where is the payoff? This is, of course, a dangerous mindset. When these feelings bubble to the surface, I repeat a quote that has always stuck with me, and that is: your success is your success, not my failure. 

We can sometimes see life as a zero-sum game. For my team to win, the opposition needs to lose. If someone buys their book, then they won’t buy mine. When they win, I lose. But when it comes to creativity, that is not true. When people read, when people watch videos, and when people appreciate others’ creative work, it elevates all of us. 

I try to hold onto that whenever I see others achieving their goals. I want to be someone who rises and meets them at the top, not someone who tears others down so that they are in the pits with me. None of us will succeed that way. 

Comparing yourself with others is dangerous, especially when you think they are stealing from you. They are not, they are on a different journey, and their work doesn’t impact yours. Don’t compare your work in progress to someone else’s finished product. It’s all a distraction. I could be jealous, or I could be inspired. Examine their work, see how they did it, and maybe we can learn something. 

Fear of the 1-Star Review

While I struggle with the success of others, I also struggle with my failures, and nothing epitomizes that more than the fear of getting a one-star review. 

This fear is irrational because I haven’t even completed my novel yet, and here I am, anticipating the criticism and haters. Jumping to a conclusion can lead to a lot of anxiety, and that can throw me off. It creates unnecessary pressure that causes me to second-guess every word I write and every piece I publish. 

Here’s the thing, I’ve yet to get a one-star review for my work. One day I will, but for now, I have no real experience. While I’ve gotten negative comments from instructors and on social media and can imagine a similar pain, I don’t know what I’m dealing with. It’s that unfamiliar negative feeling that scares me. It’s like anticipating a car crash while your friend is driving; nobody feels good about that. 

We, as humans, put more value on negative comments than on positive ones. We’ve all been there. We share our work with someone, and they praise us for this and that, but end with one thing that they didn’t understand or a suggestion. All the nice things they said disappeared, and now we’re fixated on that negative comment. What hurts the most is that there is truth to that comment. But I try to look at it this way: isn’t it kind that they gave you any feedback at all?

Reviews are important for creative writers, especially in a saturated market. It’s painful to work on something for so long only to have someone trash it. But as Gary Vee would say, ignore all of it. Good and bad. None of it matters. Take constructive feedback when it’s offered, but when it’s unsolicited, criticism is a gift you don’t need to accept. You don’t need to apply it to your work. 

Fear is not a bad thing. The fear pushes me to work hard, do everything I can, and make sure it meets my standards. Once it does then it doesn’t matter what other people say because I approve of it. I stand behind it. I can’t make everyone happy, but I can hold my head high. There are bound to be people who hate my work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It sucks that they have to give me a one-star and hurt me, but hey… it wasn’t made for them. But here’s the good news, they chose to engage with it, and that’s worth celebrating. 

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

The Reward May Not Be Worth It

From the start, people have told me that there isn’t a lot of money in creative writing. Only a small percentage are lucky enough to make a comfortable living, while others need to hustle or subsidize their creativity with other jobs. This is the reality all writers need to understand when they pursue this craft. The reward at the end may not be a pot of gold. The reward may be just more creative work

While that may sound fruitless to some, and money causes stress, it can also be a positive. If you’re a writer chasing fame and fortune, good luck. However, if you’re a writer who wants to be able to write consistently for your whole life, then you should reframe your mindset. 

You’re not writing to make money, you’re making money to keep writing. The act of writing is the reward. The fact that you get to wake up every morning and work on something you’re passionate about is something you should be grateful for. Everything else: the money, the accolades, the fans, the New York Times bestseller ranking, the movie adaptation, and the lifetime achievement award — all that is a bonus. Don’t deny it when it comes, but don’t put those expectations before your work. 

When I get caught focusing on what writing can bring, I don’t pay enough attention to what writing does. The act of writing is a friend. Our friend is there with us through good and bad times. Our friend is kind and reliable. What our friend isn’t is someone that pays us regularly for showing up to hang out with them. We don’t expect anything in return for chilling with our friends. We should be so lucky to spend time with them. And so it goes with writing. At least, that’s how I try to see it when my word count increases, but my bank account stays the same. 

We, writers, are vulnerable, optimistic people. We put our hearts on the line every time we sit down to create in the hope of impacting our audience. With that pursuit come fears and struggles beyond story structures and typos. These are things I deal with daily, if not on an hourly basis. It’s easy to get caught up in our heads. Of course, it is! We are writers… we live in our imaginations. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

Write the First Draft of a Novel in 3 Steps

For some people writing the first draft is the easiest part, but for others, a first draft is never complete. First drafts are where so many of my projects die. Recently I’ve been able to push past that stage and get my projects closer to completion — or at least publication. 

I break my first draft writing process into three different steps so that I can finish the story, get it down on paper, and make sure I’m ready for the second draft. 

Step 1: Write Longhand

When working on a first draft, I find that turning on a computer, locating the file, opening it, scrolling down to the part I left off (which doesn’t take long, but every second counts), and then finally starting is a long time between going to write and writing. This friction daily is enough to throw me off. 

That is one reason why I prefer to write in a physical notebook. All I have to do is open it and continue where I left last. I don’t get distracted by the Internet, I get to take a break from screens, and above all, I can’t easily hit the delete key and erase everything I wrote. 

Writing a novel takes a long time, and when you’re working on the first draft, your goal is getting the story written. You can’t do that if you’re deleting ideas at this step. You need to keep moving forward and figure it out as you go. If you have an outline, keep following it until the end. 

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Step 2: Transcribe to Computer 

Now that I have the first draft on paper, I can prep it for the second draft. Some may consider transcribing the story onto the computer as writing the second draft, but I don’t. I don’t plan to make any major changes because I don’t want to put that pressure on the process. My main goal is to experience the story for the first time as an active audience member, not as a critic. 

However, during the transcribing phase, I may fill in blanks or make small changes that I couldn’t focus on while I wrote. When I’m writing, I need to move fast. While I still move quickly in the transcription stage, I do have a bit more time to look around. Updates such as changing characters’ names, attributing dialogue to different characters, or removing repetitions are all small changes I can make without delaying the process. 

While transcribing, I don’t spend too much time editing. But when something critical comes to mind, that’s great! I’ll add it and let future me smooth it out later. Nevertheless, the primary objective of this phase is to get it onto the computer in an editable format. 

Step 3: Read, Highlight, and Comment

Once all the words are on the computer, I can start the second draft and go into making changes. But wait. Editing a novel is a massive project that can be very discouraging. This is a process that will take weeks, if not months. I want to prepare and go in with momentum and a clear idea of what to do each time I sit down to work.

In this step, I read through the whole novel and make comments along the way. Anything that occurs to me, I’d leave a note. This can be something along the line of “describe more” or “rewrite sentence” or “cut” or “can I move this earlier in the story?” 

I don’t need to make the changes at that very moment or touch the delete button at all. I just need to mark down how I felt while reading. I can come back to work on the draft later and get a second opinion. Do I still feel the need to cut or make the change? Or does it read better on the second visit?

Comments and highlights give you a focus when you sit down to work. Without that focus early in the editing phase, you may get stuck adding and removing commas for hours. 

Writing the first draft may sound easy. It’s just one task, write. While that may be true, I believe a process with multiple steps helps me move forward and reach the bigger milestone. Not only do I want to get it done, I also want to prepare it for the next phase. I want to set it up so well that if I die, another person can take all my notes and work on it the way I wanted them to. I see it as creating a plan for myself in the future. And with personal projects, the future me is another person. 

There you have it! That’s my first draft writing process: Finish it, make it editable, and prep it for the second draft. Remember, there are as many ways to write the first draft as there are writers. The key is to find a method that works for you. If you’re stuck, give this approach a try or check out these videos here. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

What To Do When You Write Yourself Into A Corner

In an interview with Ali Abdaal, Brandon Sanderson, the author of Mistborn and The Way of Kings, shared productivity tips for writers. One that stood out to me was “outline backward, write forward.” By outlining backward, he knows how his story will end, and he can work to fill in the middle and the beginning to get there. This way, when drafting, he will always have forward momentum. 

I love this tip because it’s so effective, especially when working on a complicated storyline like a murder mystery or a thriller with a big reveal. This method allows you to lead your readers to that critical moment while misdirecting them with red herrings and weaving a story full of twists and turns. The better you know your direction, the better you can deliver a satisfying yet surprising ending. 

By outlining backward and writing forward, you have a destination on a map, which is what you want before you leave for a big trip — or start a big project. 

This links with another piece of advice I love, which is that “writing is like traveling at night, all you need is for your headlight to see a short distance ahead, and gradually you will get to your destination.” 

Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

As a pantser, I’ve written many stories traveling by a dim light. All I needed was to know where the next chapter was going, and eventually, I’d get to the end. When I write, I don’t always have a destination. I just set out and go. I like it. It’s exciting. When traveling, I like getting lost in a new city. Sometimes that’s the most thrilling experience. Other times you wander into a sketchy neighbourhood and need to get out quickly. The same goes when writing without an outline. It could lead to fun exploration or anxious backtracking. 

Most recently, I’ve been using outlines when I get stuck and write myself into a corner. When people ask me what’s the hardest part of writing, I like to say “Act 2”. The beginning flows easily, and the ending is exciting to write, but the middle is the bridge that holds the whole story together. The thing about my bridge is that it can split off into a bunch of exits, causing me to stray off course. That is if I didn’t have a map. 

When I get stuck, that’s when I’ll outline and figure out how to reach the end from the midway point. Often, I find that I’m not too far off. I’m usually four to five major scenes from getting to the climax or conclusion. What a relief. I’m not as lost as I thought. Thank God for the map for that peace of mind. Otherwise, I might’ve given up. 

Outlining backward and writing forward is not only a great method for starting a project, but it’s also a great tool for getting unstuck. It’s a lifeline that I rely on, regardless of the scope of my story. 

As a discovery writer, I can work on a story forever. I can keep sending the protagonist off on bigger adventures, adding more characters, and giving them more obstacles to overcome, but what’s the point if it doesn’t lead anywhere? 

If you’ve ever watched a tv series and found the first few episodes encapsulating, but then in the middle, it felt repetitive, and by the time you reached the end, your interest was gone? That’s usually the cause of a meandering second act. If you’re not careful with your second act, you can go from building tension and increasing the stakes to repeating scenarios that don’t add to your characters or plot. 

The second act is an excellent point to outline backward and ensure you’re on the right track to wrap up your story. I believe that a piece of solid advice can work in balance with another piece of solid advice. You increase your arsenal of writing tools and knowledge, so regardless of what you want to use, you are well-practiced in using them. 

If you’re a discovery writer like me and you sneer at the idea of starting with a complete outline, consider this: start writing, go as far as you can and discover all the twists and turns along the way, but once you reach the middle, once your character is deep in a crisis, jump to the end and outline backward. See where you want to finish, and wrap up your story. 

Much like being lost in the real world, sometimes it’s better to stop and think. We can keep writing and writing, hoping that more words can get us out of a jam, but even if we do, it’ll be a pain later during the editing stage. To avoid cutting out large passages, outline backward and write forward from the midway point. When it comes to stories, it doesn’t count unless they are finished. So get to the finish line and bring your story home. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

Why Censorship Can Be Good for Creativity

Censorship destroys ideas. Take, for example, a creative writing workshop where a small group deems a topic offensive and out of bounds. When that happens, a line is drawn, and the room for exploration is limited. Ideas that could’ve been will never be. In this new world where we’re redefining how we should speak and what subjects are appropriate, we writers need to walk that fine line without stepping on others. 

This type of sensitivity within a trusting group doesn’t only harm writing workshops but also workplaces, friendships, and even families. When one side is considered correct and the other wrong, even in the realm of creativity and art, the fun of creation is gone. But is it? 

In an interview with J Thorn on the Writers, Ink podcast, author Chuck Palahniuk describes how this type of censorship caused the demise of a writing group he had been a part of that lasted almost thirty years. 

“It’s a tragedy,” said Palahniuk, “but nothing lasts forever.” 

Values, words, or perspectives that you considered appropriate today can be offensive in the future. All it takes is a culture shift. 

Palahniuk recalled that after 9/11, transgressive fiction fell out of favor. Transgressive fictions are stories that focus on characters that feel oppressed by conformity and the expectations of society. Stories like Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, and, of course, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (Amazon) are all examples of transgressive fiction. 

In early 2000, the culture no longer wanted to be associated with a whole genre — not just a word, but an entire creative style. These novels suddenly looked terrorist-y, and anyone reading them would appear to be promoting real-world violence. Authors were worried about being labeled terrorists because of themes in their books, much like how someone today can come across as racist, sexist, homophobic, or body-shaming because they used a word or phrase. Transgressive fiction faded from the shelves, but as Palahniuk illuminated, in its place came horror fiction. 

Photo by Freddy Kearney on Unsplash

Transgressive fiction also fell out of style at the end of the ‘60s. While serial killers such as Charles Manson and the Zodiac killer were terrorizing society, the public tried to come to terms with those events. This climate led to a slew of paranormal horror, slasher, and thriller movies. When there is a void, creativity will fill that space. People will always be curious about the darkness within a person’s soul. And while some genres make it raw and blatant, horror focuses less on the subject and more on the emotions during those frightening times.

Those who wrote transgressive fiction to share their message could now communicate through horror. Horror fiction acts as a cloak for those darker themes without directly reflecting the realism of current events. 

We can approach all censorship the same way. 

“A certain amount of censorship is creative,” said Palaniuk. “Because it does allow writers to veil their message. So their message needs to be a little more indirect.” 

Should your work ever be targeted by censorship, know that it’s not a war you could win. Instead, learn to cloak your message so it’s palatable for a greater audience. Your idea gets shared, but it’s not a confronting act. 

Give it a shot. If you’re exploring a topic that is frowned upon — something you wouldn’t talk about at a party — something political, religious, or your readership would be sensitive to, try to hide the message below the surface. Make your point without screaming it at the top of your lungs. Refrain, cloak, and see if you can write great work that makes a point without doing more harm. 

There is a lot of evil out in the world today. Although censorship might not be the cure for all of it, censorship can be a bandage that helps people heal. You don’t need to be the one to pull it off. But you can tell your story without causing scars. Do that by masking your message within another genre and allowing your creativity to conceal the reality of our troubled times. That way, you can convey your ideas and explore the topic you’re interested in, and nobody gets hurt in the process. 

Good art comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. Good art does not do unnecessary damage. Learn to dance with censorship and see it not as the enemy of creativity but as a road less traveled. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

5 Productivity Tips For New Creative Writers

New creative writers, if you’re struggling to find the balance between living life and writing, I’m with you. I’ve been chipping away for a while, and most recently, I got into a good writing flow, producing a lot of work and making solid progress. I wrote these five tips as a reminder for myself in those moments when I need to grind, but I hope you get value from them, as well.

1. Don’t Wait:

If you’re waiting for the perfect time to write? Don’t. A perfect time may never come. You’ll need to work with imperfect time. The time you can sneak in. That’s the best way to finish a big project, bit by bit, a little every day. Be consistent, and over the course of a year, those hours will add up, and you will look back and see the progress you’ve made. But you won’t make any progress if you wait.

2. Always Be Learning:

At many points in the journey, you’ll feel doubt, like an imposter, but I assure you, those feelings are normal. In those moments, don’t be discouraged. Stay humble. There is no secret formula for what you’re pursuing, and it’ll take experimentation: trial and error. Through the successes and the failures, you’ll learn. And from there, your craft will improve. Have compassion for yourself and always be learning.

3. Schedule It In:

When working on a personal project, you’ll need free time. The thing about free time is that it can fill up fast if you don’t prepare for it. When Saturday comes along, and you don’t have any commitment, it’s easy to get distracted by chores, errands, and outings with friends. While you can still do those things, you must set aside time to work on what you had wanted to do all week. Be disciplined with the time you’ve set aside for your side project. Schedule it in. If you find that your free hours are constantly slipping away, mark them down in your calendar and block them off.

Photo by Zan on Unsplash

4. Set Small Milestones:

Chipping away at a big writing project can mean going days and weeks without seeing any progress in your work. That can be discouraging. Too many days where you feel like you’re going in a circle can cause you to quit. But don’t. Instead, take a step back and view your project as a whole. Then break it up into smaller, manageable milestones that you can hit on a foreseeable deadline. Once your start reaching milestones, you gain confidence and see progress. By seeing progress, you will have evidence that you can achieve your goals

5. Be Unborable:

In any Rocky movie, the training montage is the shortest part of the film. When in fact, it should have been the longest part of the film. Imagine if Stallone decided to make that sequence in real time. You’d probably be bored. That’s the thing about training: it’s long and tedious. But it’s an essential part of the journey. Life is not a movie, and you can’t just have Eye of the Tiger playing in the background, and once the song is over, you’ll have reached the next level. You cannot expect your work to exist in a short montage burst. You must be present, enduring the struggle, battling the bureaucracy, and overcoming the boredom of work.

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

How Do You Make Something So Bad It’s Good?

When there’s a fight scene in a cartoon, exaggerated kicks and punches with “POW!” and “KABLAM!” popping up are expected. 

Or if you’re watching a cartoon and there’s a horror scene and the monster eats the cheerleader — and her body is bloodied and gushing. That’s all right. 

Or you’re watching a cartoon of a detective standing over a dead body, realizing a critical piece of evidence on the crime scene. And when he pulls off his glasses and says — “Well, I guess he died of a broken heart!” — that won’t be too jarring. 

However, when these scenes are happening in a live-action movie or television show, with actors portraying these exaggerated characters, you can describe this experience as campy. 

Cartoons are inherently over-emphasized. That is the nature of the medium. A key principle of animation, after all, is “exaggeration”. However, when we watch real people in the real world, behaviour and emotions are often dialed down. Generally speaking, people are subtle. 

Subtly is great! Subtly is The Godfather saying, “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” without causing us to cringe. 

Subtly is in Gone with the Wind when Clark Gable says “Frankly My Dear, I don’t give a damn!” and we feel the pain. 

Subtly is the snow globe falling out of Charles Foster Kane’s hand and being an emphasis without it being exaggerated. 

The refined nature of a subtle performance or design is often regarded as high art, and it can be associated with a bit of pretentiousness. 

As you can already tell, campy is the opposite. Campy is not subtle. Campy is flashy. Campy is exaggerated. And because of this, it’s often perceived as being in bad taste or ironic. 

The argument against camp is that it’s the result of incompetence and inexperience. If they can’t do it well, so they’ll do it bad. To say you’re trying to make something campy is to say that you want to make something poorly by being ostentatious, sensational, and excessive. That’s why many campy cult classics are described as being “so bad it’s good.” 

Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

Proponents of campiness will tell you that the style, in fact, challenges the audience, pushing them to experience the genre, theme, aesthetic, and milieu in an unfamiliar way. It’s not trying to replicate life, it’s attempting to stretch the boundary of our comfort and security. It allows us to lower the mask of seriousness we constantly hold up to the world. 

For many years, “camp” was the style adopted by the gay culture. It was a catalyst to have a deeper conversation about the narrow-mindedness that a middle-class society could often trap itself in. 

In Susan Sontag’s essay entitled “Notes on “Camp” [Amazon], she describes camp as the love for the unnatural. It is not fake elegance but rather a surreal occurrence of beauty, and it can be applied with intention.

Today, there is a slight difference in usage between the terms: campy and camp. “Campy” describes the misuse of an exaggerated element in a piece, while “camp” is a well-thought design emphasis or aspect that offers an unconventional view.   

It’s this gray area that causes many campy works to be so polarizing. Was The Room by Tommy Wiseau a masterpiece created by a visionary of camp? Or was it a troubled project built upon rudimentary plot devices and unfit performances? 

Yes, while it’s common for critics to hate campy entertainments, audiences often flock to them. 

Horror is one of the most popular genres that thrive on camp. One reason is that we go in not taking it too seriously. We watch horror movies through a cartoon lens, distancing ourselves from the actors on the screen and accepting that those people aren’t real, and their certain demise will not be a tragedy. We can just sit back and enjoy the blood and gore. 

Of course, not all horrors rely on camp. Some resemble the anxiousness of reality. Slow and tense.  That’s a physiological thriller. That’s Silence of the Lamb. That’s not an amusement ride the way a campy horror movie is. 

Audiences love campy movies because it’s not serious. It’s fun — and the moment you start analyzing it is the moment you kill the spirit. However, people are smart, and they can often tell if an element of camp was intentionally added or if it was a clumsy mistake. 

A poorly dubbed movie. An out-of-placed romance. An over-the-top fight scene. 

Campiness can also ruin an experience when the audience’s expectations are not met. They would wonder what was going on if the actor gives an exaggerated performance in a moment that was supposed to feel real.

Photo by Marc Schaefer on Unsplash

That’s why campiness is best done with the audience in mind. You cannot throw a campy element into a piece and expect everyone to respond in the same way. Campiness, in its nature, is a bright color or an eye-catching pattern. So when you use it, make sure it’s pointing the attention at the right thing, because the viewers will notice. 

So, let’s get back to the ultimate question. How do you make something so bad it’s good? There is no secret formula. But being purposeful with camp is certainly one strategy. 

When you’re judging a piece of work, ask what criteria you’re using to evaluate it. Those that will criticize a movie as campy are those looking for elevated conventional traits. Anything outside of those bounds is deemed bad. They’re comparing it to great movies of the past. However, a good campy movie isn’t like anything they’ve seen before. 

Those who appreciate a campy movie are analyzing it through a completely different lens. They are seeking something outside of convention. A novel ride or the surrealness of beauty. If you want to reach this crowd, ask what hasn’t existed before and then bring it to life — and make it fabulous. 

Campy has a bad connotation. And it’s not fair, because while something may not be to your taste, it may also not be made for you. So whenever you see camp, ask yourself, “What is the artist trying to portray?” Examine whether it’s done intentionally to make a statement or to give you a surreal experience. Or perhaps it was just a sloppy exaggeration. 

Entertainment is riddled with camp. The longer you search, the more you will find. By seeking out camp, you begin to recognize your own taste for genre and style. How can you use camp to highlight a point in your next story? 

And for more in this series, check out these articles here:

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

How to Stop Your Passion From Becoming Soul Sucking

I used to think I had this curse: every hobby I have, I turn it into work. I want to monetize it. I want to make a living doing it. I want to be revered and celebrated. But what I actually want is to be able to do it every day and get progressively better. Understanding the distinction between wanting to make something a job so you can make money is very different than wanting to have time to practice every day. 

It may seem that the best way to do something consistently is to make it an obligation or a responsibility, as we would with work. Because we need money, a job forces us to punch in and out even when we don’t want to. Additionally, there’s no better achievement than to make a living — maybe even a fortune — doing what we love. Even if we just make enough to get by there is something to be said about becoming a professional. 

The thing is, turning your passion into work is a dangerous transition. Yes, there is this quote, often attributed to Confucious, that goes: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” What tends to happen is that choosing a job you love will make what you love a soul-sucking endeavor, especially when your passion is art and creativity. 

If you want to monetize your passion, you risk “selling out” and “chasing the market.” You probably heard these two phrases before. Selling out refers to compromising your integrity or principles in order to make more money. While chasing the market means following trends and copying others’ successes in hopes of reaching a bigger audience yourself. 

While both can offer a nice payday and some level of fulfillment, you may potentially lose sight of why you’re pursuing your passion in the first place. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad about making money. Money is essential to survival, and while you might not be able to buy happiness, you can buy convenience and comfort. Still selling out or chasing the market is an apt way to turn your passion into a soul-sucking venture. 

In a biography about the director, Martin Scorsese, he says, “Do one for them; do one for you. If you can still do projects for yourself, you can keep your soul.”

What Scorsese means is that when you pick your projects you should choose one for money and one for art. That way, you don’t lose sight of what you love and why you’ve gotten into this craft. 

As a writer, making a full-time living off of your creative work is challenging. Many writers supplement their earnings by taking on copywriting gigs, teaching jobs, or writing articles on topics they aren’t interested in. But they need to remember not to solely pursue these commercial projects but also to find time to work on their art. 

You see this occasionally with actors who sign on to one movie to leverage or finance another. One example is Bill Murray. It was said that Murray only did Ghostbusters so that he could play the lead in the adaptation of The Razor’s Edge, a 1944 novel by W. Somerset Maugham about a WWI pilot. That’s not a movie that crosses your mind when you think of Bill Murray. But it was an amazing performance.

I need money, but I also need to prevent my passion from becoming a soul-sucking endeavor. That’s why I hold this tightly as I move forward. One for them and one for me. This approach is essential in helping me distribute my resources, energy, and time

Photo by DENYS AMARO on Unsplash

When I see a piece take off and become successful, I ask myself if that is something that gave me pleasure. If not, I will only do it once in a while to appease the market and reach new audiences. I acknowledge and appreciate the success, but I don’t sell out to it, and I don’t continue chasing it, because it’s not what I’m only here for. 

Take this YouTube channel, for example. My top-performing videos are notebook reviews. I understand their popularity. They serve a purpose. This could easily become a notebook review channel, but that’s not what I want to do all day. I want to write in those notebooks, not just review them. Will my channel be more successful if all I did was review notebooks? Maybe? Maybe I’d be as famous as Ryan Gosling. But that would become a soul-sucking job. Not Ryan Gosling, notebook reviewing. With all that being said, if you want a new notebook, check out my reviews (lol). 

There is time to make money, and there is time to make what you want. You must strike the perfect balance to live a fulfilling life and prevent your passion from becoming soul-sucking. When you pursue money, look at the numbers. When you pursue art, numbers don’t matter. Turn your head away and look inwards because it’s not about selling out or what the market wants. It’s about what you want. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

Finding Time to Write When You Can’t Have Deep Work

I used to wait for the perfect time to write, those precious days when nothing was scheduled. Nowhere to go. Nobody to bother me. No obligation or responsibility. I imagine being alone in a cabin, free from all the world’s distractions. These precious days are the best days to write. Deep Work [Amazon], as author Cal Newport calls it. However, these precious days are fantasy. They’re imaginary and not real. 

Even if I had such a precious day, alone in a cabin, would I really spend the whole day writing? Would I really want to sit at the table for hours, or would I end up walking to the lake or relaxing by the fire? 

These precious days aren’t as productive as we think they are. If we await these days to start our project, we’ll be sorely disappointed when we finally get one, because these days aren’t as long as we think. Even if we write all day, it’s not enough to accomplish any big project.

If you only write on these precious days, it’ll take you much longer to complete your work than if you were to do a little bit each and every day, regardless of how precious they are.

Writing a little every day, regardless of the schedule, is the best way to stay consistent, keep the momentum going, and chip away at a writing project. Writing takes time, regardless of what subject, story, or genre you are exploring. If you spend one Saturday — a precious Saturday — each month working on the project, you will only have 12 days to work on it in a year. Let’s say you spend 8 hours that day working on it as if it is a full-days job, that means in a year, you’ll only have spent 96 hours. 

Alternatively, if you spend 1 hour every day working on your writing, whether first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, or right before you go to sleep, you will end up with 365 hours a year working on it. Over three times more! 

If you want to write, write as much as you can as often as you can. Don’t wait for those precious days, days when you have nothing to do. Don’t quit your job and expect that there will be full days of writing. There won’t. You’d do other things, like worrying about your next paycheque. 

Don’t save your creative projects for precious days, because those precious days should be spent with loved ones, relaxing, exploring something new, and creating new memories. As a writer, creating new memories and experiences is as important as writing itself. New memories and experiences are new colors, shapes, textures, and patterns you can add to your writing. Once you reach my age, new memories take effort. It requires you to go out of your comfort zone, and that requires your energy. 

I love precious writing days. I love spending a whole day working on my projects. At least, I love the idea of it. But once I get started, after a few hours — 2 or 3 — I’ll get tired and need to rest so I don’t burn out for the rest of the week. I’d like to spend time with my wife and my dog, and maybe even spend some time reading outside. 

It’s been ages since I’ve gone to school, and I often romanticize all-nighters. I definitely view my past cramming sessions and work-athons through rose-colored glasses. Only until I sit down and start writing do I realize that I don’t have that stamina anymore, and nostalgia quickly fades. Saving up my productivity for a precious day is an overestimation of my abilities. It’s showing up to a game but never going to practice. It’ll take me an hour to warm up, it’ll take me another hour to get the words flowing, and then by the time I get into the zone, I am ready for a break. 

We are humans, and we are creatures of routines. We cannot conserve our energy and release it in one long burst. Like sleeping, we cannot lose sleep for a month and expect to get it all back after one night. 

You don’t need to change your life for writing. Don’t quit your job. Don’t buy a cabin by the lake. Don’t cancel all your plans. You can fit your project into your current schedule. A little every day, every once in a while, whenever you can. Just do it as much as possible, and don’t wait for a precious day. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!

Write Short Stories After Novel Draft

Writing a novel is a long process. Writing a trilogy is even longer. Recently I finished the first draft of my second book. While I wrote that draft, I had all these other ideas bubbling. I’m no stranger to the shiny object syndrome. If you’ve been following this channel, you know I like to try different things. While I’m aware that focus is important, momentum is also important. I must keep writing, keep editing, keep publishing, and keep putting my work out into the world for approval or rejection. If I only work on my novel, the journey from beginning to end will take years. In order to get a sense of completion, I take breaks to write short stories. 

I get new ideas all the time, I record them, and then I put them aside. While working on my novel, I can feel these ideas stirring in the back of my brain. I consider these ideas as treats, and I save them for after dinner. Working on these ideas are rewards, and I can only start them when I finish my novel’s draft. 

It’s hard going from a drafting phase into an editing phase. It’s such a shift in mindset. Reading your draft is a painful experience because there is often a lot to fix. But by writing on the side, I can still indulge in the pleasure of creating without being completely bogged down and overwhelmed by the editing phase. 

While writing a novel, I spend a long time living in a specific world with specific characters. That tone stays with me like an aftertaste when I start working on something else. Writing a short story — or a bunch of short stories — after finishing a draft of a novel is like cleansing the pallet. You clear out all the derivative ideas that you have lingering by bringing them to life in some form. 

Writing a short story is also about experimenting. You can try something new that you might not be able to do in the novel that you have carefully outlined and structured. A short story is a practice where you can work out something you want to improve on without compromising a larger piece of work. For example, if I want to write an emotional dialogue scene, I can do that in a short story. Or if I want to tell a tale that jumps between characters and time, I can do that in a short story. 

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

There is no better feeling than finishing something. But when you are working on a big project, the satisfaction of crossing something off the list doesn’t come often. By working on a short story, you put yourself in a position where you can complete something in a shorter timeframe and pat yourself on the back. I allow myself to feel the reward of finishing a task regularly, especially when I’m also working on something long. 

A short story is also a great way to get feedback. When working on a novel, in order for someone to get the full experience, they have to read the whole thing. But in a short story, someone can digest it in a few minutes to an hour. It’s a much shorter commitment, and therefore, a much easier way to gauge whether your writing is effective or not. 

Before I completely wrap up my novel-sized project, I have a plan for my return when transitioning to a new smaller project. I don’t want to just write the first draft of my novel, put it aside, and then work on short stories forever. I need to come back and finish. It’s all a waste if I don’t. The short stories should only act as a break, not a permanent change.

The way I do this is by setting a limit to the number of short stories I can write before I must go back and commence editing my novel. Last year, I embarked on a month-long challenge where I tried to write and submit 1 short story every week for four weeks. If you’re interested, check out this video right here

During those four weeks, I used word association with the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire as my inspirations. This approach was something that the author of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury did. I found this experience to be refreshing and productive. It forced me to pick up my pace and complete a piece while staying within a theme. 

This time, I thought I’d do seven short stories during my break, and what better inspiration than with the 7 sins. I don’t want to put pressure on myself to submit my work this time, but I do want to write. So the goal of this little break between drafting and editing my novel is that I’m going to write the first draft of 7 short stories. Once I write these 7 short stories, I will return to my novel and start editing that. 

The plan is not to strike it big with one project, that’s unlikely to happen. The plan is to be prolific and maintain momentum. The plan is to have a project to look forward to. The plan is to sustain enthusiasm without burning out. I find that this method has been really helpful with my writing process. And I recommend giving it a try yourself. 

If you want to follow along on my novel and short story writing journey, please hit subscribe so you don’t miss any videos. Once completed, I hope to share many of those stories, so stay tuned for that as well. For now, check out these videos here. 

For more writing ideas and original stories, please sign up for my mailing list. You won’t receive emails from me often, but when you do, they’ll only include my proudest works.

Join my YouTube community for videos about writing, the creative process, and storytelling. Subscribe Now!