Should I Write My Story? Advice From A Pro

Should I Write My Story?

Should I write my story? Why should I even bother telling my story?

This is the one question that a prospective client is bound to ask during an initial interview. Why should I go through the time and expense of crafting a book version my story?

I call it the “drop in the ocean” conundrum.

Story has a recuperative property. Not just for the reader but for the storyteller. I like to respond to clients with “why not tell your story?” Saying no is turning your back on a bigger opportunity than you can know.

Here are three reasons to say yes when faced with the “drop in the ocean” conundrum.

Should I write my story #1 – Your Story Is Unique:

It can be easy to dismiss story. After all, something like it has likely been told before. Love lost and love found, betrayal and redemption are universally held story concepts and odds are, your story has something like that at core.

What is unique is your unique relationship to that broader, archetypal story concept. The story of your lost love, for example, has something to add to the universal phenomenon. Why not add it?

Should I write my story #2 – Readers Go Back For More:

Here is something that is not a well known fact but should be. Readers go back to what works, over and over again. If someone likes to read, for example, stories about Vietnam then odds are they’ll read another.

If we know that readers are loyal, what does that tell us about the book market? That tells us this: if a book is well-written and authentic, the audience for it should be well established.

Choosing not to tell your story is tantamount to cheating your audience.

Should I write my story #3 – Story Is Recuperative:

This is more for the teller than anything else. Telling an intensely personal story is a form of therapy. Often my clients step back from the process with new insights into the experience we’re writing about.

Choosing not to tell your story is also tantamount to cheating yourself out of a unique opportunity to grow and sometimes heal with your past experience.

The answer to the “drop in the ocean” conundrum is not easy. And the task of writing a high quality book that is sellable in a competitive market isn’t as simple as it might sound. But it is an important task.

 

 

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How to develop setting in your story

How to develop setting in your story

In this post I want to give you some writing tips to develop setting in your writing. To get started, let’s take a look at one of the most popular television shows of all time – Star Trek.

“To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Star Trek offers an exciting premise, maybe the most exciting in television history. A universe of boundless possibility exists within that brief description. And for more than half a century the science-fiction property has delivered good on that promise over and over again.

How is that enduring quality possible? Setting.

Star Trek has benefited from a cast of memorable characters. Captain James T. Kirk. Spock. Data. Khan. Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Even science-fiction deniers will recognize those names.

The dynamics are rich too. Kirk and Spock work off of each other in fascinating ways. Their dynamic provides an endless pool of conflict from which the writers can draw. With Kirk passionately built on swashbuckling instincts and Spock grounded in that Vulcan logic, those two could do anything on-screen.

Without an inter-stellar setting however, even memorable characters like these would soon fall flat. Dynamics between Kirk and Spock could only carry the series so far into television lore.

But by setting these engaging heroes on board a moving spacecraft and giving them the mission of exploring whatever they find out there beyond the stars, the writers of Star Trek created a deep well of opportunity to present problems and broaden relationships.

Setting should open a door for your characters. Wait. That’s wrong. If you develop setting and execute it correctly, it should open many doors. In an episodic medium such as television, setting needs to open enough to develop character over many seasons.

What accounts for the success of hospital dramas like ER and Gray’s Anatomy? Like outer space, almost anything can happen in a hospital setting. Writers all too often merely scratch the surface in crafting a wide world and stop short of utilizing that world for all of its many promises.

If you’d like more help or ideas to develop setting in your manuscript, get in touch! Working with a ghostwriter is easier than you think and it could make the difference that turns your story into a masterpiece.

 

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Writing good dialogue – Ghostwriting Tips

Tips For Writing Good Dialogue

Advice from a pro

Writing good dialogue, authentic dialog is tough. People talk in nuanced ways that aren’t always easy to capture on the page. They say you need an ear for it.

How does someone hone that ear though?

Playwright David Mamet’s advice on the subject is famously simple and abrupt. The great Mamet once advised a room full of eager creative writing graduates to eschew graduate school. Instead, he said, find a bar, preferably a pool hall without a television where they could sit down and listen.

Seems simple. Replace tuition with bar tab.

I have taken David Mamet’s advice to heart. I do not play pool (at least not well) but I do take frequent trips to a comfy stool at the quiet bar down the street and simply listen to what people say. It has proven to be the best means of achieving dialog that sounds like real people.

Writing good dialog comes from refinement.

Here are five truths and tips to refining your character dialog to achieve that authentic tone.

Read It Out Loud:

This may sound simplistic but a lot of writers that I know are afraid to do it. And why?

Because their dialog sounds hammy and on the nose.

If you want that real voice, read it out loud and avoid adding your inflection at all costs. This is a critical step, especially if you’re writing a screenplay, which is in large part a performance of your dialog.

Think In Negotiations:

All dialog is a negotiation. Think of what you say on a day to day basis at work or at home. Verbal communication is an expression of desire or purpose, all with the intent of affecting someone else.

This applies even when a character is talking to themselves. Self-talk is grooming for future interactions.

There is a very simple exercise to sharpen this sense. Put two characters in a room. One wants something that the other has but they cannot name or ask for it.

Write it and see all the ways allusion and suggestion enrich the conversation.

Negative Space:

Allow for negative space in your dialog. People don’t always say everything they are thinking. Omissions are as important as inclusions. If your character conversations begin with a hearty hello and end with their chosen means of good-bye, your dialog is probably overwritten.

A way to get this down is follow a simple rule: arrive late and leave early.

Conversations Are Rhythmic:

Straight line conversations simply do not exist. I cannot express this more emphatically. No one walks into a room, announces their purpose, gets what they want and walks out.

One of the ways I work on this is recording conversations. Get permission then record a normal conversation and you’ll see that it’s a rhythmic construct of all the above elements.

Introductions. Negotiations. Negative Space. Repeat.

Mamet Is Correct:

The core truth in Mamet’s statement applies. You cannot learn to hear real dialog a from TV or movie. Writers must find their story subjects in the world and listen to how they talk, interact, negotiate and feel.

An easy tip for writing good dialogue: Go out. Find that barstool. Sit. Listen.

If you’re having trouble writing good dialogue, or with any other area of your work, it may be beneficial to consider working with a professional ghostwriter. A ghostwriter works with you behind the scenes to take your writing to the next level. Considering it? Get in touch!

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Three ways to develop characters – Advice from a pro

Three Ways To Develop Characters

Advice from a professional writer

As a ghostwriter, I get asked a lot by other writers for advice on different ways to develop characters. Human beings are dynamic creatures by nature. We get restless when things are the same for too long. Why then do most writers shy away from infusing their creations with an element of change?

When I read a manuscript or work on developing a story, I am frequently shocked at how writers refuse to shake their characters up. They stubbornly adhere to that first description. A character that looks the same at the end of the story as they did in the beginning probably did not endure much of transformation. They act the same and do the same things regardless of how much chaos the writer has crafted around them.

Here are three very simple ways to shake up your characters out of stasis and give them life.

APPEARANCE:

Perhaps the simplest of ways to develop characters that transform through the story is a change is in their appearance. Take a look at Walter White. Throughout the course of Breaking Bad, the writers alter his look in subtle ways and each one signals a massive shift in his character.

Goatee.

A rumpled fedora.

The shaved head goes from the result of chemotherapy to gangland persona.

After six seasons, White is physically different than the man who first got that awful diagnosis. Each subtle change effectively builds anticipation in the viewer, leaving them wondering what might come next.

All too often, writers put their character in an imaginary costume and leave them in one place. In some ways I can see how this tendency makes sense. A character takes time and energy to design. A dynamic and interesting character isn’t the promise of stasis though. They are the promise of change.

Signal that change to your reader. Show what’s happening on the inside with a change on the outside. Foreshadow. Does your character cut their hair an episode or chapter before their big announcement?

Little things like this keep readers reading and viewers viewing.

ROUTINE:

Routine is nice. We all have them. Get up at a certain hour. Eat lunch at a certain place. Most people I know break their routines in a routine way too. When they go out for a beer they hit the same bar.

Stories are not about the status quo. They are about people that challenge the assumption of same. “American Beauty” tells a story of little more than this, a man whose day to day strangled him.

Not every story about routine change features a Lester Burnham character. Your character can choose to walk instead of drive to work. They can steal a bike. A simple flat tire can put your character on the bus to work and the melting pot of a city bus can offer up new obstacles and opportunities.

Challenge their routine or your begging for their dismissal.

RESPONSE:

The last of the three ways to develop characters is a little more subtle but can be an equally effective of demonstrating character change. Say your downtrodden hero goes out to coffee every morning and the barista always seems to screw up the order, and every morning your character sucks it up, takes the wrong cup and walks away.

Maybe your story isn’t about the coffee, but showing your character standing up for themselves signals a bigger change to come. I like to use the little interactions in a story as a gateway. Maybe standing their ground and asking for the right cup of coffee sets in motion the main action that is asking out a cute boy.

These are three ways to develop characters that will keep your writing fresh and bring your characters to life. If you’ve got a good story, but just need little help to push it over the hump, let me help. As a professional ghostwriter, I solve these issues all the time and I know I can do the same for you.

 

 

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Writing Tips From A Ghostwriter – Developing Setting In The Story

Writing Tips From A Ghostwriter

Consider these writing tips when you’re in the process of developing your story. These considerations and the others you’ll find here provide valuable insights into writing a compelling story!

How to successfully use setting in your story.

All too often in story, setting comes as an afterthought. This is unfortunate because a unique, well designed setting offers rich opportunities to increase the stakes and aggravate character journey. On the other hand an answer to “where” can serve as a means of enabling that character’s journey.

Think of Breaking Bad. Perhaps it’s an old example but once again it applies.

The desert southwest of New Mexico is evocative of lawlessness. The cowboy myth is engrained in our storytelling fabric. When a story opens on a tumbleweed, a viewer feels as though anything is possible.

The wide open spaces offer Walter and Jessie room to do their dirty work. Through the first few seasons, we find the awkward business partners working in their Winnebago, parked on a dusty desert road.

Look at this way and the wide open space enables Walter. If the story were set in a bigger city (their lab surrounded by crowds of nosy neighbors) White’s struggle could be less compelling. Walter would be just as interesting as a human being but Albuquerque ups the stakes around his ascent considerably.

The desert also allows the burgeoning conflict between Jessie and Walter to manifest in unique ways. Often the two men shout at the top of their lungs at one another. Could they in an suburban setting? Frequently we find Walter and Jessie reaching the heat of a conflict, only to step out of the Winnebago and have everything out, right there in the open air.

As you can begin to see, New Mexico was not random. The writers chose it.

Other writing tips involve examining the ways in which setting limits the characters. For example, the desert southwest serves to inhibit Walter White as well. Albuquerque is hot. A hostile climate means if something goes wrong (and it does go wrong) the environment can threaten their lives. When the drug lab Winnebago breaks down on the side of the road one series of problems presents, but that same camper broken down on the side of a scorching hot desert highway amps that up considerably.

Another way that setting inhibits Walter is its close proximity to the Mexican border. This gives the writer access to a different breed of drug dealing antagonist that is only a short drive away from our hero’s door. It doesn’t take much engineering to introduce bad guys like Tuco and Hector Salamanca to the story.

Setting is not strictly city, state and town. Micro settings exist within the larger setting. I keep coming back to the drug lab Winnebago. Why? It is unforgettable. The writers could have given their characters access to a safe house, but the Winnebago as a memorable micro-setting makes the story more iconic.

On the surface, setting may not seem critical. Some writers set it up like a plain white curtain backdrop. The assumption there is that basic allows the characters to shine through.

This is short sighted.

Think about setting in a deeper way. Challenge setting to become its own character. Some stories simply must take place in a certain location. You can’t tell a New York crime story without New York.

Whenever you can though, look at ways to enhance and diversify a story setting. Take a step back from the characters and their situation. Ask the simple question of where does this take place?

How can a few twists on setting create memorable scenes and unexpected opportunities? The answer to this may be the difference between a story that works well and a story that your reader can’t put down.

I hope these writing tips help you on your journey to completing your story! If you’ve never considered working with a professional ghostwriter, now might be the time. Let’s talk about how I can help you turn your dreams of a published book into reality.

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Develop memorable characters – Ghostwriter secrets

Develop Memorable Characters

A ghostwriters secrets for character development

The right character sets a trajectory that is capable of carrying your story the distance. To achieve three dimensional depth for that character requires careful design though.

Memorable characters are rarely happy accidents.

When we describe a well known protagonist such as Breaking Bad’s Walter White, we start with the most basic terms. Walter is a bedraggled family man and high school science teacher who upon discovering that he has a rare from of cancer decides he must come up with a way to pay for his expensive treatment.

This is a classic set-up. A guy with a problem that he has to reach far outside himself to solve. White could have curled up in a ball and accepted his fate, but that would not make for very interesting story telling.

Walter makes the informed decision to start cooking methamphetamine in order to make that kind of money. White is a science teacher. That means he can’t go and ask his boss for a raise. He has to reach outside of his world to drum up any serious cash. His job inhibits him on one hand but it enables him too. White he knows chemistry. Beakers and flasks and gas masks are his native environment.

To develop memorable characters, keep in mind that they must have something working against them achieving their goal. It should be insurmountable. It isn’t enough that White has to buy a broken down old Winnebago and lie to his wife in order to do cook up his drugs. The complications must escalate further and in a unique manner.

Walter White can cook the meth but he doesn’t know the first thing about selling methamphetamine. So, Walter is forced to enlist the help of his former student, Jesse Pinkman.

Herein you find a unique seed of conflict. White is an absolute control freak. The linear trajectory of his plan to manufacture and sell drugs is complicated by Pinkman’s more chaotic nature. The guy is a total screw up. His bumbling academic incompetence is precisely why he stuck out to White in the first place.

How do we escalate a story problem from the main character like in Breaking Bad? Here are a couple of questions I like to ask when I develop memorable characters to get to a deeper level.

Who Is The Character’s Natural Opposite?

I ask this question often throughout the story design stages. Who opposes my main character and their journey? Answering this comes both inside and outside of that character’s team.

In Breaking Bad there are enough competing street toughs and DEA agents to complicate White’s ascendance to meth kingpin. Those are complications from outside of White’s circle.

Character becomes interesting when you antagonize from inside of the protagonist’s circle as well. Pinkman is as much an antagonist as he is sales associate. Jessie offers a natural personality conflict to the power hungry White but they must struggle to work together. Neither White nor Pinkman can thrive in this new world without the other’s skill set.

Who Is The Character’s Story Doppelgänger?

Here is where this can get even more interesting. When creating a character arc, I like to look into the story at who is so similar to my main character that their purposes intersect and complicate one another.

Take Skyler White, Walter’s loving wife. At first the reality of her husband’s drug dealings are abhorrent. The taste of money and control gets to Skyler though. It feeds her in a way that is new and exciting to her.

Much of Breaking Bad is spent in a cat-and-mouse game between Walter and Skyler. Early on he does whatever he can to keep this revelation from her. The series becomes even more interesting (and I would argue attains legendary status) when they become two cats after the same mouse.

If you’d like to get to know how a professional ghostwriter can help you develop memorable characters for your stories, get in touch! Developing a good relationship with a ghostwriter can make the difference between getting published and wishing you could!

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Work With A Ghostwriter

Ready to work with a ghostwriter?

Think you’re ready to work with a ghostwriter?

Unfortunately, there is no checklist or online quiz readily available to determine your readiness, but in my experience critical moments arise that may mean it’s time to make a call.

First way to know you’re ready to make that call is simple. You have a story that needs telling. A narrative that haunts you. A life experience you can’t put down.

Obsession is fodder for good story telling. When Alice Sebold sat down to write her breakout 2002 novel, The Lovely Bones it was because indeed Susie Salmon’s voice was so visceral that she had to write it. You don’t need to reach the point that you’re being kept up nights by your story but if you can’t put it away, it may be time to investigate how you can work with a ghostwriter.

The second way is the age old friend advice: you should write a book. Since I started out in ghostwriting ten years ago, I have lost count of how many times a client came to me off of that very spark of advice. They were out at a party, or at dinner, and after telling a life story, some well meaning friend leaned over and whisper those words.

Some might argue that’s just a friend doing what they’re supposed to. There is another, more critical way to view that moment though. That friend is your first audience. When you question whether that story is worth ghostwriting, think of that friend as your first proof of concept.

Another critical means of knowing whether it’s time to write a book is, you recognize your story is unique. It may be hard to believe but there are stories that have not been told yet. I’ve met numerous clients whose stories were one of a kind, or took a unique view on history.

Publishers and editors have bottomless appetites for untapped stories. If you have something unique and want it told well, be bold and realize, looking into how you can work with a ghostwriter may be what allows you to bring that story to life.

If you’d like to share your ideas with a seasoned professional who knows the ins and outs of the writing business, get in touch with me and let have a conversation!

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Building A Story – Mentoring From A Pro

Building A Story

A professional writer offers guidance.

Building a story is not like building a house. There are no codes.

Every writer comes with their own bag of tricks for fleshing out story. While I would venture to say that while there is some natural overlap, no two bags are going to be the same.

One of the places I like to begin development is through character. Whether or not you are writing a piece of commercial fiction or screenplay, your personal memoir, or a business book, character is the driving force behind your manuscript. Building a story is almost always about someone.

Character is a dynamic entity. Interesting personalities are rarely vague. There are critical elements that enhance a one dimensional figure into a dynamic character that can sustain an entire book.

My first strategy is to ask, what do we know about this person?

It’s amazing what we take for granted in describing a person. Usually though, we know a basic defining characteristic of that lead character. He’s a Dad but he’s also a science teacher. She’s a cheerleader but she’s caught between two men. They are a US Navy Seal but he has a family back home.

Even basic descriptions allow a ghostwriter to narrow down the range of possibilities. No one is as basic as those descriptions. Dad and science teacher doesn’t seed a dynamic element.

There are other shades we need to cast on those characters and those come in brainstorming.

To get there, next, I go the other direction… what do we not know about this person?

Is our main character just a Dad and science teacher as we assumed? Or does he go to sleep each night pondering what might have been? Does your cheerleader harbor a secret life?

A US Navy Seal at the end of his tour is an entirely different character than one just earning his stripes. Take that a step further, you can portray him as a soldier deciding whether to re-enlist for another tour. Now he is caught between obligations and loves: family and country.

The difference between the first character assumption and the second might seem like a small one, but in truth they are enormous. That difference is the one between memorable and forgettable.

That Dad who pines for what he missed is Walter White from Breaking Bad. Our cheerleader with a secret is none other than Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks. That Navy Seal? Chris Kyle from American Sniper.

If you’ve seen any one of those stories, the driving characters don’t need further elaboration.

The question of what we know and don’t know is only a basic development tool. You can see though, how answering even the basic question opens doors wide for crafting memorable characters and building a story.

Effective ghostwriting is about evolving that character concept beyond assumption.

If you’re reading this article and would like my professional input, don’t hesitate to contact me. Whether you’re stuck in the process or need an editorial set of eyes on your manuscript, I can help you reach your writing goals.

 

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Assessing the freelance writing business

Assessing the freelance writing business

Wile most people consider money a taboo topic, for freelance writing business money is an unavoidable consideration. It is quite simple. You have to earn enough of it to survive. After all, a ghostwriter has to balance their earnings in order to keep their family from going broke or they’ll end up back at their day job in no time at all.

Unfortunately, too many end up failing, which makes money a taboo worth breaking.

Something that is often missing from the freelance money conversation is where money is spent. In order to be a successful ghostwriter, you have to spend money and not just throwing cash around blindly.

You need a spending plan.

Every year about this time, I sit down to do my taxes. I don’t do them myself because I have sadomasochistic tendencies, or I’m too cheap to hire an accountant. Rather, I do my own taxes because I want to see where my money goes.

Here are four questions that I ask myself about my freelance writer spending:

How Do I Value My Time?

A look at the simple bottom line earning tells you how much you make per year. Often this number comes across as a shock, and through the years, I’ve been shocked both ways.

Look at how much you made and give an honest assessment how much time you spent getting to that number. Are you valuing your ghostwriting time correctly?

An answer of “no” here should lead you to make necessary price adjustments.

Am I Delegating?

This was a big revelation for me three years ago. Looking at my bottom line, I realized that I was spending too much money (in the terms of time) trying to learn things outside of my immediate skill set, like web development and graphic design. More valuable uses of my time would have been developing the ideas and concepts, and spending a measured amount of money on paying a professional for their skills.

These days, in the “gig economy” you can baby step into larger expenses. For example, go check out Fivver for basic conceptual ideas before hiring a pro through Thumbtack.

What Is My ROI On Client Capture?

This is perhaps the most important bottom line consideration for the burgeoning freelance writing business. Sober looks at your taxes should answer the question: did you spend $5,000 to secure a $2,500 client?

Be honest with yourself here though. Building a presence takes time. It’s the long game. Writers who are impatient with this process and pull the plug early on this end up losing in the end.

On the other hand, focus your efforts and dollars accordingly. Smaller investments in finding clients through places like Linked In and Thumbtack can build professional rapport and they’re cheap to get into.

Am I Really Going After The Big Fish?

This is one I ask myself every year. Am I investing in getting the jobs that I want? Getting paid and doing work you love are two different things altogether.

That is a strange reality, but get used to it.

Look at your bottom line. Think of your time. More than this, think of your energies. Are you investing enough professional energy into projects you want to do? You need to answer this because more than anything else that sustains the long term writer’s life, doing the projects you love is the most important.

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NaNoWriMo And Your Ghostwriter Consultant

“Do you do NaNoWriMo?”

This is one of the first questions people ask me when I tell them I am a writer. My answer? No. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo but I am all too familiar.

For those unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Taking place every November, the project helps new and aspiring writers write a novel in a single month.

50,000 words. 1,667 per day. Every day. A daunting task.

NaNoWriMo is as much about support as productivity. The umbrella site organizes local groups. It encourages writers with positive words. On almost every social media platform NaNoWriMo groups post daily word counts and sprint together under hashtags.

On one hand, it is one of the most inspiring times in writing.

Our culture is fascinated with marking off processes with chunks of time. Consider the RPM challenge, which is an album written and recorded and released all in February. In April there is a monthlong script sprint. The shelves of every bookstore in America are teeming with books in which an author takes a period of time to abstain from or indulge in something.

Sometimes I wonder whether anything takes on its natural process anymore.

As a ghostwriter, I am particularly fascinated by NaNoWriMo for a couple of distinct reasons. For one, it gets people thinking about writing. Anything that accomplishes that makes me happy. Another aspect is the sheer audacity. Asking participants to wake up on November 1st and produce 1,667 words when they likely have not produced a single line of fiction in their lives is crazy, perhaps dangerous. Would you encourage the guy in the cubicle next door to run a 26.2 mile marathon without training simply because he wore tennis shoes on Fridays?

Writers are readers and readers buy books. The sheer act of staring down 50,000 words raises the bar for everyone in the business. When I am asked, I usually caution writers who want to take part in NaNoWriMo to perhaps consult with a ghostwriter or manuscript consultant first. Get an idea of your story. Flesh out some of the uncertainties. Give your concept a much needed test run and see if it works out. Not everyone wants to do that with their mother or wife or a brother who are likely going to be nice no matter what you have.

Get in shape first. The advice applies to marathons and NaNoWriMo. Bring on a ghostwriting professional to bring it into shape before you try and bring it to life.

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