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Developing Charisma

Over the past three decades I’ve helped a number of writers reach the point where they’ve become international bestsellers, and I’ve spotted a trend. Most bestsellers attract an audience in part because they are charismatic. But what does charismatic mean? Some people think that in order to be charismatic you need to be physically beautiful,

On the Power of Literature to Transform Others

Stories can do a lot of things. We use them often to entertain others, sometimes to elevate mood, but sometimes we use them to teach and transform. Indeed, if a story is merely entertaining, if it doesn’t have some deeper meaning, then I often feel that it is a bit lightweight. When judging stories for

The Loneliness Problem

I often look for similarities in great stories to see what works. One aspect that I see very often is that powerful stories resolve “the loneliness problem.” Normally, we are never told that our protagonist is lonely, but it’s there in the background: Scrooge is miserly old man in a musty house. Harry Potter has

Into the Swamp

Very often I like to think of the writing worlds as a swamp—a big swamp infested with crocodiles and quicksand and rattlesnakes, and deep in the heart of the swamp is buried treasure. And of course the new author is like an intrepid explorer, foraying into that swamp with a single purpose, to retrieve the

Fixating on a Story

Remember when you were young and your mother or father read a favorite story to you over and over? Or do you recall that one book or movie that you wanted to read or watch again and again? Most people have a few all-time favorites. As a toddler, for me it was “Jack and the

Getting the Niggling Details Right

Ernest Hemingway sometimes compared writing to a boxing match, and in a certain sense he was right. Whenever you step into a boxing ring, there’s an excellent chance that you’re going to get punched. In the same way, whenever you write a story, there’s someone who figures you need a beating. It might be a

Three Mistakes in Tone

One of the most common problems I see with new writers is a mistake in tone.  You know what I mean if you’ve ever played in a band.  A new kid comes in, you’re trying to play a song, and he blats out a sour note on a trumpet.  The same thing happens in writing.

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Writing Hyper-realism

Some works of fiction seem more energetic, more exciting, and more profound than others. It’s as if the author has deeper powers of observation than his or her fellow peers. The stories that have this quality are very often the ones that win major awards, and certainly as I look over the contest winners from

Trading Up on Your Problems

A lot of people who want to become professional writers think that once you become a writer, you don’t have any problems. But any writer knows that we really do have our own set of problems. Becoming a full-time writer doesn’t solve all of your problems, you just trade up for new ones. Who knew

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You and Your Dumb Ideas

A writer contacted me a couple of days ago to ask if I would read and critique a screenplay. In looking at his query letter, it was obvious to me for a host of reasons that making this particular movie would be a bad idea. No studio in Hollywood would touch it. The audience for

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