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So far DavidHancock has created 52 blog entries.
There are no original ideas – that statement itself is unoriginal. Nothing will take the wind of out a writer’s sails faster than coming up with an idea– an idea that very well could be “the one,” only to discover a book, TV show, and movie with the exact same premise.
While you never want to copy or produce an identical product, there’s nothing wrong with bringing your idea to life and everything right with it. After all, storytelling is an art. Have you ever heard someone say, “Uh, I’ve already seen a painting with that shade of blue”?
Walk the Walk
There’s an improv exercise that goes a little something like this:
You form a line. The first person walks. The second person imitates the first person’s walk. The third person imitates the second person’s walk and so on. By the time you get to the tenth person it’s a completely different walk.
As in life, when we mimic others we look nothing like the person we’re mimicking. So if two writers have the same premise (by accident) their execution will likely be much different in tone, character, theme, and resolution.
Pick up a book you read ten years ago and see what registers today. Chances are your 35-year-old self absorbs a few things that your 20-year-old self skimmed right by.
Yes, your audience may have heard your message from someone else in some other time in some other place. But there are people who couldn’t process it at that time and their evolved brains are aching for what you have to say. Yes you. They are meant to hear it in the same way you’re meant to say it, which brings us to…
Cartoons haven’t changed much – as far as story goes – so why are such unoriginal characters sweeping toy stores across the nation? What seems boring and overdone to is is fresh and hilarious to a child. That goofy monkey slipping over a banana peel is comedy gold!
The fundamentals will never die and they shouldn’t. The world and the people in it are constantly changing so old messages need new settings and new furry characters for new ears – only then can these messages be delivered at an optimal level.
Remember the game Telephone? Someone whispers a sentence in their neighbor’s ear, then that neighbor passes it along to their neighbor and off it goes. The last person in the circle tells everyone what was said to them and laughter ensues. Why? What that person says is usually nothing like what the first person said. This leads us toward two conclusions.
- We’re terrible listeners.
- We hear differently.
What we say and what people hear can be totally different. We’ll never completely know how our message is received so let’s stop assuming everyone thinks just like us. Hiding the message we want to say for fear of sounding trite could do our audience a complete disservice. One man’s Goodwill pile is another man’s treasure.
Spiritual differences aside, most will agree that there are things in this world we cannot see, touch or explain. What if our impulses are larger than ourselves? If you have a creative urge and the need to share it, is it possible that it’s not for you? You’ve been hand-delivered a message and if you throw it away, the person it’s meant for will never receive it. What are we here to do again?
If we all spoke with the same voice and thought the same way our ideas would be just that – the same. But the only way your tribe can receive a message is through the very special way you communicate it. So don’t hold back. There are people, right now, who need to hear your unoriginal, original message.
David L. Hancock, Founder
Morgan James Publishing
Find, Define and Master Your Unique Voice
A new song plays on the radio. You’ve never heard it before but you know the artist immediately – there’s no mistaking that voice…
Writers who develop an undeniable voice reach another level of popularity. It’s not forced, it’s not selfish, it just is. The most well known figures – comedians, screenwriters, authors, actors, reality show personalities, memorable party guests – all have a voice. The kind of voice that conjures a comment like, “That’s totally something Karen would say!”
Great voices are infectious. Spend enough time with your buddy from Boston and pretty soon you’re off to “paaark ya wicked awesome caaar.” But how do you find your voice? What’s unique about your writing style and attitude? Here are some effective exercises to help not only find your voice, but to infuse that voice into a non-fiction book.
Here’s a scary truth: We all have a particular mannerism, quirk or pattern that’s nearly impossible for us to recognize. Embrace it. Ask friends and family to impersonate you. A lot can come from this exercise if everyone stays good-natured.
Ask them to make a peanut butter sandwich as you. First, enjoy the impersonation –folks love the performance opportunity and it’s hilarious to watch. Then, jot down this comedy gold. Repeat this with as many loved ones as possible.
Did your friends make fun of your fidgety nature? Did they do everything big and loud? Did everyone add fifty extra ingredients to that sandwich? Now, my friend, you have something to work with.
Look at the spirit of the impersonations and translate them into a specific tone. For example:
Actions that are quirky, nervous = Fast-paced, witty dialogue that’s always correct.
Loud, offensive actions = Write bold. Inject your sick sense of humor when possible.
Boring, lifeless impersonations = Get in touch with your sarcastic, self-deprecating voice.
Your interpretations will be slightly different – find what translations resonate. During this process start to identify familiar public figures who have a similar style as yourself. Not to copy them, but to get inspired by their overall public image – The kind of photos they post, what they support (and don’t support) and how they answer interview questions. People become familiar to us when they’re consistent. And if they’re inconsistent, they’re consistently inconsistent.
Take the qualities you know are you and infuse that into the writing. You don’t have to know everything, but begin to develop what you do know about yourself. For example, “I would never say [blank].” And “I’ve said [blank] time and time again.”
Standup is powerful because it only works with a strong POV. Comedy is the result of emotionally charged opinions unique to your personality and part of becoming a great standup (having a great voice) is defining what those opinions are. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be the next Wanda Sykes, but if you can get out of your comfort zone… Take. A. Class.
Many standup classes (full of first timers like you, btw) ask students to make a list. This isn’t a vanilla list of likes and dislikes, it’s a list about what you love and hate written a fast as possible so your instincts come out.
Not only is this therapeutic, you’ll discover what you have in common with people. And then… you’ll find out what you do not. When there’s a burst of laughter at something you said and you don’t understand why it’s funny, you’ve just struck comedy gold.
“But I thought everyone was afraid of mustard.”
These classes are challenging to introverts but if you have an ounce of courage use it to jump in headfirst. Yes, you’re pretending to be other characters but your style of humor will shine through. Comedy can come in a variety of packages and the more you understand yours the stronger your writing will be.
Are you dry and sarcastic? Slapstick, jazz hands funny? Do you transform into other characters easily? Or is your humor from being terribly unfunny?
Inspired by Julia Cameron’s infamous, The Artist’s Way, boy oh boy do we have no idea what’s going to hit the page when our pen is ordered to keep moving. The big idea is this: As soon as you wake up, set a timer for 10-15 minutes and write without stopping. It doesn’t matter what you put down. You can write, “I don’t know what to write” until the next thought comes through. The only way to fail at this is if you stop writing before your alarm goes off.
Don’t censor yourself and see what comes out. After a few days or weeks go by, reflect on your pages and notice common themes. Do you come across angry? Poetic? Or are you always hungry?
After you’ve gained a clear understanding of your voice, here’s how to immediately infuse it into your work.
If you voice record ideas, congratulations! There’s an extra tool in your belt.
When ideas flood in we feel inspired – there’s a state of discovery, energy of excitement. Don’t lose that in the transcription. Revisit the recording and make sure your creative energy is incorporated into the final draft.
Read your writing aloud. See how it feels leaving your mouth. Is that how you normally speak? Does it feel too formal? Casual? Conversational? Funny? If your tone doesn’t match the book’s brand (your voice), it’s time to do a—
TV writers use a technique called “character pass” to make sure their characters have a distinct voice. The writer reads their entire script focusing on one character at a time. This ensures the character’s language is consistent and specific from top to bottom.
Do this exercise after the technical work is complete. You certainly don’t want to get distracted with how things sound as you’re developing the overall story – the icing doesn’t come before the cake. When the time comes, do a character pass in your book to make sure everything is consistently: funny, sarcastic, cheeky, conversational, formal, or professional – whatever you’re going for.
Artists don’t stop being artists when they close their laptop, it spills over into everything they do. If these exercises are done with a spirit of creativity and play, you can’t lose. Enjoy the process!
David L. Hancock, Founder
Morgan James Publishing
6 Ways to Lose a Reader
It happened – the idea of the decade. There’s an electric buzz in the air– it’s a book for sure. You’ve been praying to the creative wizards for this blessing and boy, did they deliver.
After spilling every thought onto the page – which must happen or they’ll slip out the backdoor – it’s crucial to ask yourself one important question:
Who is this for? Who will this story inspire to think, feel, act, or escape? If there’s no immediate answer, the “who” is you.
There’s nothing wrong with writing for number one – on the flip side there’s everything right about it. Visionaries like Albert Einstein, Anne Frank, and Mark Twain poured their brilliance into a journal. Crimes occur when we throw a party, serve our guests food that only we like, and shove our vacation photos in their face – all 5,000.
Authors have a responsibility to take care of the reader. When they pick up your book they’re handing over control – and if you didn’t write with them in mind…. [*whisper] They know.
Just like you know the person chatting you up at a party hasn’t asked you one question, yet you know their occupation, they got a great deal on a renovated condo, and their mother’s name is Irma.
Writers are creative, beautifully sensitive creatures and the world needs you.
Below are 6 avoidable traps to keep you on the giving end of reader relationships.
- Demographic Doppelgänger
If your book’s demographic is just like you – forge on. A strong voice and POV is nothing to water down. But if you serve a wider audience, don’t assume everyone has the same religious believes, political opinions, values, pet peeves, and hair texture as you do.
Storytelling brings others into a world they wouldn’t otherwise step into – of course they should feel like a fly on the wall. Just be aware when you’re using language the reader might not understand and keep it intentional.
Non-fiction writers: mix in universal analogies to connect with a wider audience.
Fiction writers: create diverse characters to help tell your story.
Hop into someone else’s ballet flats, kung fu shoe, or construction boots. It enriches your story and expands the reader’s viewpoint – including yours.
Crafting word combinations that transport your message to a reader can feel like cracking the Da Vinci code. When you’ve finally done it, don’t let anything muddy the waters.
Nothing kills a party like tiny, hard to read font with page-long paragraphs and choppy sentences. Misleading language or visuals that don’t align with your story can distract the reader from your message.
If it’s a how-to book, structure is your BFF. Dump ideas like a child, then organize your content in applicable chapters so messages are aligned and clear. This is especially important if you cover a lot of topics – one rabbit hole at a time.
After your work is absolutely perfect (in your eyes) bring in a rock star editor. Even if you’re an editor, there’s no way to see the big picture from where you’re sitting. No. Way.
- Dumbing it Down
Readers are smart. Insulting their intelligence is enough to turn anyone off. Communicate your content in a clear way but don’t dumb down your message by reminding them of it again. And again.
Some of the best stories challenge the reader. Why do you think escape rooms are so popular? They’re filled with puzzles, locks, and riddles to decode with a ticking clock.
People love rising to the occasion. You’ll be praised for dropping clues and not spelling everything out.
“Look here! I’m foreshadowing.” “Here’s the definition of that big word I just used!” “That’s the sister character I mentioned in chapter one.”
Invite readers along on a journey – don’t carry them through it. Although this mustn’t be confused with
- Show Boating
Snooze. We get it, you know big words. There’s a fine line between speaking in an educated way and talking over your reader’s head. Save the fancy sentences for a Medieval Times dinner.
- Fact, Fiction or Autobiography?
Authors usually (hopefully) have some authority on the topic of their non-fiction book. While personal experiences are a stellar motivational tool, if stories are shared to make you look smart and accomplished for no real purpose, the reader will drop you like a hot potato.
Unless you’ve achieved celebrity status (and even if you have), most aren’t reading to learn about the author’s life – save that for your autobiography.
- False Advertising
Like a blind date who looks nothing like their picture (tip: if they never show their teeth, there’s a reason!) know what your book is and what it is not.
A catchy tag line and book title can lure in new readers, but if you don’t deliver the goods you’ll never earn their trust back. Let curious readers know exactly what they’re getting. You want a quality audience pumped to read your book.
David L. Hancock, Founder
Morgan James Publishing