Demystifying Expertise

expertise-equation

Each of us tends to undersell (or completely disbelieve) our expertise on subjects that are near and dear to our hearts. Expertise, we believe, is something other people have.

And yet, I am convinced that we are more expert than we think. And fortunately, we are living in a time where methods to convince others of our expertise has never been easier.

Watch my recent Facebook Live video Demystifying Expertise and see if you agree.

 

Story is everywhere

[First part of a weekly series related to my new story analysis service So, What’s Your Story.]

bookshelf

Even the most esoteric subjects have story, with all the elements of a fictional novel or screenplay…even text books about business or biochemistry or writing.

There’s no story in text books!

Yes, there is.

Only here, plot is less about action sequences and more about the interplay of the different aspects of your subject and the causes and effects that drive your theses or perspectives forward. This can be reflected in the cadence of your descriptions, as you walk the reader through your arguments, leading them to your conclusion.

Likewise, your characters are less about personalities and more a sense of the…you guessed it…characteristics of your subjects. In the broadest sense, the conflicts and synergies between the component parts or ideas of any topic are what effectively humanize the topic, providing a familiarity to the reader or viewer.

Without story, your manuscript or presentation has no narrative drive, nothing to draw the reader or viewer forward. Instead, it reads like a specification sheet or spreadsheet; a series of minimally connected facts and figures that provide information but only to the most intrepid reader.

Story is one of the reasons why you can have hundreds (thousands?) of different versions of the same facts, and how publishers and book retailers stay in business.

So, if you’re working on a nonfiction manuscript or presentation, let’s talk and see how well you are bringing your ideas to your audience.

Reach out and tell me: What’s your story?

Twitter: @createdbyrcw

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/storyanalysis/

Website: [to come]

12 Days of Gratitude – Ned

Ned Hickson

I’d like to introduce you to my friend Ned, perhaps the greatest man that I have never met…well, not in person or on the phone at any rate.

A great wit in a world stuck in the Witless Protection Program, Ned is a loving father, husband and friend who not only writes heartfelt humour but also gives of his time to protect his community as a volunteer firefighter. And yet, for as much as Ned gives, you are never left in doubt that he has time and energy for you.

I look forward to the day Ned and I finally meet in person…and likely discover we hate each other’s guts.

P.S. You can follow Ned’s insane perspectives on life on his blog: Humor at the Speed of Life (also the name of his book, available on Amazon)

(Part Six of my 12 Days of Gratitude…because the rest of the news sucks)

Besotted Voce – A few (hundred) words on character voice

Voices-graphic-2

No matter with whom you speak, to an outside observer, the two of you sound different.

I’m not talking about the pitch or timber of your voices—although those likely are different—but rather those other factors that make your speech distinct: cadence, word choice, sentence structure, etc.

For five years, I worked as an editor and writer on a couple magazines in Washington, DC, and over that time, I found that I could tell which of my workmates wrote which articles without looking at their bylines…even without our names, the pieces had our fingerprints all over them.

How Mark Lesney opened an article was very different from the way Nancy McGuire would.

Mike Felton explained his thesis very differently from David Filmore.

And the two Randys were polar opposites in sentence construction: Mr. Frey being pithy, while Mr. Willis would wax poetically at the drop of a proverbial hat.

Some might argue that these differences reflect variations in style, but I believe the situation is less superficial than style. Instead, it reflects who we are as individuals; our personalities, our experiences, our beliefs, and our feelings both emotional and physical. We speak/write as the people we are at that particular moment. I as me and you as you (this sentence screams for a “Goo-goo goo-jube”).

Ideally, this same variety of voice should occur in the fictional characters we create, whether for screenplays, novels, short stories, sketches or whatever.

With all but the shortest lines of dialogue, a reader or listener should be able to tell which lines correspond to the same speaker even in the absence of any overt identifying marks such as the character’s name.

A simple example: Despite achieving the same goal in response to another person, the following lines say them differently:

“You’re nuts.”

“You are insane.”

“You’re one crazy motherfucker.”

“That, sir, is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard.”

* silent stare *

With these five lines, we see differences in:

  • Relative status (e.g., tone)
  • Degrees of personal control (e.g., length, use of contractions)
  • Emotional state (e.g., length, word choice)
  • Possibly educational or social background (e.g., vocabulary, use of jargon)

It can be a challenge for one mind (the writer’s) to create several distinct voices. It is a form of consciously willed multiple personality disorder. Thus, early drafts of a literary work may sound flat because too many of the characters are speaking with the writer’s voice rather than their own.

In theory, this is an easy thing to fix during revisions. Simply take the sentence and knowing what you do about your character—his or her emotional and psychological state, status, social and educational background, life experiences, physical challenges—make the line more accurately reflect how the character would speak.

One complicating factor is that a seemingly simple change in response by one character may elicit a change in the response of the dialogue partner(s). I am likely to respond very differently if presented with any of the five reactions above. And thus, the writer has triggered a change-reaction that reverberates through the scene.

A second complicating factor is that the change in dialogue may also need to be paralleled with a change in physical action. A high-status character is more apt to be purposeful in her actions and responses, whereas a low-status character may be more physically erratic or perhaps flinching in his response. And again, the change-reaction echoes through the scene.

This may sound daunting. It isn’t…but it is a lot of work.

The trick is becoming comfortable with the many voices you need as a writer. We all start with our own voice, the omnipotent godhead that creates the fictional universe; but the trick comes in developing the skills to inhabit other bodies, other souls as you create other characters and then being able to shift back and forth as required without going insane (well, not fully insane, at any rate).

My best advice to any writer who struggles with this is not to take yet another writing class, but rather to take an improv class or several. Despite the terror that this advice may elicit in some (most?) of you, I can think of no better way of understanding—and more importantly, exercising—the differences between different characters.

You’ll quickly find improv is not about funny; rather it is about truth. And once you’re comfortable with experiencing the truth of a character, the rest of this is much less daunting.

 

As seems to be a routine now, today’s post was prompted by the amazing words of Marsha Mason and the Why The Face blog she posted earlier today.

PS The magazines from my Washington days were Modern Drug Discovery and Today’s Chemist At Work (because Today’s Chemist in the Boudoir was already taken).

You never “no”

Because my mother refuses to throw anything away, but prefers to store it in a drawer or cupboard until I come for a visit, I was reminded this past trip to BC about a phase in my writing career that kind of occurred sideways.

Several years ago, I was in desperate need of a job (wow, some things never change). So desperate, in fact, that I decided to take a flyer on and leverage my background in science writing and magazine editing for a job as editor of a manufacturing automation industry trade magazine published by CLB Media.

It should be noted, I knew and to this day know nothing about manufacturing. But I can write and I can edit and I have a good idea for design. I also have a fondness for money.

It was obvious throughout the interview with the magazine’s Publisher and Director of Sales & Marketing that I could write and knew magazines well, but that if I got the job, I would have to scramble to understand the issues and lingo of a completely alien industry. They were kind, but it was obvious the job and I were not a match.

When I finally got home, I was in the middle of discussing the interview with my wife when I received a phone call from the company VP, Publishing who said my interviewers had mentioned me and that the company had a medical humour magazine (Stitches) and companion consumer pub (Stitches for Patients) that were in need of a new editor. Would I be interested in talking to him and its Publisher the next day.

Uh, yeah!

The job didn’t last very long–the magazines had been in a steady decline for years before they found me and never recovered sufficiently to keep operating–but it was a great experience, and not only allowed me to write nerdy medical comedy but also allowed me to eventually add the title Associate Publisher to my resume.

And all because I was desperate enough to apply for a job for which I had few qualifications but showed general competence and a willingness to listen and learn.

I offer the covers of my first three issues of each magazine below (thanks mom).  The insane covers are the work of the amazing illustrator Max Licht under the direction of the equally amazing Art Director Graham Jeffrey.

Kid Lit publisher/illustrator needed

Looking for recommendations for a Kid Lit publisher for a new story I have written but do not yet have illustrated. Story is aimed at 3- to 5-year-olds.

Alternatively, looking for an illustrator who is used to working for no cash and can work with me on this to find a publisher.

In my head, the imagery for the story could be along the lines of any of the books in the image below, but I am open to other styles as well…this is just what resonates in my head.

In my head, these styles could work with my story, but remaining open to other ideas!

In my head, these styles could work with my story, but remaining open to other ideas!

Ultimately, I will go to the usual sources for these types of things, but thought I would check with my loving, supportive and talented social network to lend a hand, an ear, an eye…whatever you’ve got, really.

Any recommendations or thoughts, Universe?

Feel free to DM me…happy to share the story with people….thanks…Randy

White space

blank-paper

Earlier today, I read a blog post by my dear friend Marsha Mason, the latest in a series for Why The Face. In today’s post, she touched on the subject of use of white space in writing, whether a screenplay, query letter, whatever.

“The goal of white space,” she explains, “is to never be at the detriment of your story…but to force you to condense, to economize, to pack as much punch as you can into less.”

I agree with her conclusion, but question if the goal of white space isn’t so much bigger.

For the uninitiated, white space is literally the empty space between lines of text and/or images, the complete absence of content which appears white on the printed page or computer screen.

As I suggested in my response to Marsha’s post, I have worked for several years in careers such as magazine publishing, web design, advertising and now screenwriting, and in all that time, I have found that white space is easily the least understood and most underutilized aspect of creativity.

For whatever reason, people seem to believe that an absence of something is an absence of work. Marsha’s comment about the need to be concise and economical in your word choice partly puts the lie to this conjecture, but it doesn’t go far enough.

We live our lives like we fill our pages, with mostly useless things designed to ground us but which, in fact, anchor us and restrict our movement. It is a restriction that we accept voluntarily and without which many of us could not function, or at least fear we couldn’t.

At this moment, I have five browser windows open and yet am ignoring all but one, and only because that one is playing music. And at the same time that I write this post, my mind is on several other posts and some projects I am neglecting.

Nature abhors a vacuum. True. But think of the greater image.

More than 99.99999% of the known universe is actually NOTHING! Only the absence of ubiquitous light keeps it from being literally white space.

In screenwriting, white space is there to let your reader run free with his or her own interpretation of your work. Restrict their thoughts with clutter, and they resist. Prevent their thoughts with too much specificity, and they disengage.

Let your story breathe, as you yourself should. Your readers will be happier for it. And so will you be.

(Image is property of owner; I stole it.)