Tricks of the Writing Trades (5 of 5): “Faking Authenticity”

From the concerted efforts of writers on major motion pictures to comics creators, novelists, travel bloggers, copywriters and others in between, writers are using an arsenal of techniques, methods and tricks in the shared pursuit of capturing the emotions of the audience. 

The creativity of it all is fascinating. So here are my thoughts on…

Researching to “Fake Authenticity”

All writers need to research a subject in order to create a level of authenticity — ya know, faking it until ya making it! That inherently leads to a level of authoritativeness as well as whether the reader will finish reading what you wrote. Readers want to learn and they have a 6th sense about whether or not they’re being bullshitted to.

The best thing writers can do is research everything humanly possible on a subject. Books from the library, videos on youtube, blogs, magazines, word of mouth, infographics, movies, songs, anything you can think of. Each source may present something new and fresh on the matter. Research is essential.

In fact, a friend of mine is a travel blogger. She’s probably visited just over half the places she writes about. The rest of the time she fakes it. I know, right! But she’s so good at creating authenticity that readers eat it up. Her research is phenomenal and because she’s travelled so much, she knows what to look for in her research to draw out the authenticity of a destination. It’s why her blog is an authority on travel. Impressive, right? Though, if she knew I was talking about her dirty little secret, she would 100% murder me.

Regardless, all writers fake it to some extent. We have to. But that research pays off. In fact, you no longer just feign authority, you become an authority. A prime example would be science fiction writer Ray Bradbury who was enlisted by NASA because they found he knew more about future stuff than they did. Cool, no?

Anyway, that’s it. I hope this very short series of tricks of the writing trades has helped you a smidgen. I’m not expert on it all but I do have experience – and at the end of the day that’s what matters.

Oh, I have to turn the handle.

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Tricks of the Writing Trades (4 of 5): Mastering Headlines

From the concerted efforts of writers on major motion pictures to comics creators, novelists, travel bloggers, copywriters and others in between, writers are using an arsenal of techniques, methods and tricks in the shared pursuit of capturing the emotions of the audience. 

The creativity of it all is fascinating. So here are my thoughts on…

Mastering Headlines to Strike Today’s Readers Into Action

When you’re on social media or say the iPhone News app, you’re mostly scrolling the headlines until something catches your eye. Then by the gravity of the headline you dive in. Did it pay off? A lot of the time no. So become a good writer to answer that question and master writing an excellent headline to strike readers into action.

Copywriters know this. Screenwriters too, with writing loglines. 

You should probably go out there and check out various How To’s on writing headlines or writing loglines. It’s good to understand how each form works, why they work and how that knowledge can work for you.

Once that’s done, write down 7-10 headlines in a specific field of knowledge – B2B Content Marketing, Video Games, Literature Reviews, Physics News, etc. –  and then think about their worth, their weight in idea-gold. Do the headlines capture the attention of the intended audience? Some examples:

  • Here’s why Marketers Are Obsessed with Twitter
  • Cities should embrace free WiFi and embrace Digital Services
  • This Strategy Can Help You Reach Level 99 in 60 Min
  • New Laws Changing America in 2017, from Healthcare to Public Fares

Would you click them? Well, what about writing content for them? Personally, I have no idea about half that stuff, but as a working copywriter I have to research the shit out things to make sure the article or blog or whatever is to an extent authentic, authoritative and keeps reader’s moving from the first sentence to the end.


If you pursue this exercise daily, testing yourself against what’s out there, you will get good at it. For writing something that feels authentic? Well, check out the next and final part in this series. See below:

Tricks of the Writing Trades (2 of 5): Dialogue + Layout = Mood

From the concerted efforts of writers on major motion pictures to comics creators, novelists, travel bloggers, copywriters and others in between, writers are using an arsenal of techniques, methods and tricks in the shared pursuit of capturing the emotions of the audience. 

The creativity of it all is fascinating. So here are my thoughts on…

Using Dialogue in Conjunction with Layout to Develop Mood

Yes, this falls under Show Don’t Tell, and overlaps into prose, copy writing, blogging, etc. too. But for this post, I’m focusing on storytelling in comics.

Remember: in Western comics, you read from top-left to bottom-right in a zig-zag motion. Now, check out this page from Marvel Presents: Weapon X by writer/artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

I shouldn’t of had candy before bed.

Pretty cool stuff, right?

With this page, while the zig-zag motion is in fact tight, like a snake coiling in a Nokia, you can also read it loosely because of the layout and dialogue placement. Your eyes are trying to make sense of this scary-weird scene, automatically moving to panels that don’t necessarily fit a linear reading of the dialogue, creating its incoherent, dream-like feeling.

This is because the outer panels orbit the inner three of Logan waking up. We gather he’s having some sort of bad dream or hallucination. The following pages begin to reveal it’s a bit of both as Logan is dreaming while being operated on – the infamous operation that gave Wolverine his indestructible skeleton. And we begin to suspect something fishy by the last panel, which shows Logan leaning on what looks to be, perhaps, an operating table (in similar colour and fashion to the tech in the adjacent panel with the scientists).

There’s so much to explore in this one page. What’s important here is that the talented Mr. Windsor-Smith captures the mood of this point in the story poignantly. He shows us fear, despair, paranoia, confusion, and more — grabbing our attention. The dialogue works inline with the structure and artwork, it serves it, and that’s important.

You see this in other writing too. Dialogue comes second to actions in screenwriting. Dialogue is surgically injected into prose or used as a narrative guide. Dialogue shows us the end of a point made in copy writing or punctuates a feeling gathered from a paragraph or two as a caption in blogging. And that’s just a small set of examples.

Dialogue atop layout can finish off setting the mood. So file this away as a trick to be aware of next time you sit down to write the shit out of something. And guys, that goes for first dates too!


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Tricks of the Writing Trades (1 of 5): Specific Ethnic Characters

From the concerted efforts of writers on major motion pictures to comics creators, novelists, travel bloggers, copywriters and others in between, writers are using an arsenal of techniques, methods and tricks in the shared pursuit of capturing the emotions of the audience. 

The creativity of it all is fascinating. So here are my thoughts on…

Writing Characters to Specific Ethnicity to Expand Your Audience

You may be noticing the expanding diversity of actors in movies. More African, Asian and Women actors are appearing on the silver screen every year. While a lot of this is in response to the cry for greater diversity in movies, which is great but a tad late, certain character diversity is governed by the Top Brass at the studios wanting to expand into burgeoning markets, such as China, now the world’s biggest film market.

To stay in focus, let’s concentrate on two bigger examples, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Rogue One. In Episode 7, you may have noticed some Asian pirates after Han, Rey, Finn and Chewie in that scene on the Millennium Falcon, who didn’t do much other than posture a non-threat. ‘So what?’, you say. Well, these damn talented Filipino actors are actually the stars of two of the best Martial Arts action movies of the past decade – The Raid 1 and 2. Thus, some of the audience or market was expecting more from them.

Quite recently, Rogue One enlisted Chinese Martial Arts and Action movie legends Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang to play the roles of a Kung Fu monk and his big-ass gun carrying comrade-in-arms to, well, fight and die. Sounds… err… kinda cool, right? Well, no. Not really. See…

‘Die, You Imperial First Order Scum!’

…what I want you to take away from this is that these roles are developed and given to non-white actors in order to capture the attention of foreign audiences. Hell, it works to a certain extent, until it fails miserably because the characters don’t resonate, are hollow, don’t fulfil expectations, etcetera etcetera etcetera. In these two cases, the characters:

  • In Episode 7 – fail to serve the story (because the movie sucks)
  • In Rogue One – feel forced in (pun) to a hollow endeavour

For you screenwriters going for those big buck flicks, remember, if you’re writing in roles for foreign stars, make sure the actor gets to do what he or she is famous for – which is most likely kicking butt (especially nowadays). And the same goes for writers wanting to add some diversity to their own stories. Make sure the each character serves the story and not the backdrop or the needs of the powers that be.

‘I swear! Show the sub, get the hipsters!’

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2 Books to Read in 2 Weeks

After finishing Memo From The Story Department (Chris Vogler and David McKenna) this morning, I discovered two new novels through work – of all places – 2 read in 2 weeks (it’s a thing):

Why I’ve chosen these books?

Reading graphic novels can help you develop your plotting, which is what the artist chooses to show of the narrative, how it plays out, for you dear reader, including the angles they choose for each panel.


For the Brussolo book, apparently it’s the best Neo-Noir post-Blade Runner. I’ve been dying to read a good scifi and the work Librarian said it’s the bees knees.

I read a screenplay every 2 weeks between reading fiction or non-fiction. I’m reading The Hospital by Paddy Chayefsky at the moment – very funny. I mention it because that’s a pretty shit time limit I set myself. It should be 1 week. So, I’ve set myself 2 weeks to read these two books atop my screenplay read. Yes, I know I’m kinda cheating ’cause the graphic novel will take me no time at all – screw it.


The important thing to remember is: Can I do it?

I’ll let you know.

No, the real important thing to remember is that setting a time limit for yourself – use your iPhone calendar alarms – to read or write something helps you get shit done — and forces you to grow, learn and whatever else.


82 Guiding Lights to a Better Life

The following is more self-help. But I find myself checking this list every time I need some direction in life, writing or creativity.

  1. Ground your attention on yourself. Be conscious at every moment of what you are thinking, sensing, feeling, desiring, and doing.
  2. Always finish what you have begun.
  3. Whatever you are doing, do it as well as possible.
  4. Do not become attached to anything that can destroy you in the course of time.
  5. Develop your generosity ‒ but secretly.
  6. Treat everyone as if he or she was a close relative.
  7. Organize what you have disorganized.
  8. Learn to receive and give thanks for every gift.
  9. Stop defining yourself.
  10. Do not lie or steal, for you lie to yourself and steal from yourself.
  11. Help your neighbor, but do not make him dependent.
  12. Do not encourage others to imitate you.
  13. Make work plans and accomplish them.
  14. Do not take up too much space.
  15. Make no useless movements or sounds.
  16. If you lack faith, pretend to have it.
  17. Do not allow yourself to be impressed by strong personalities.
  18. Do not regard anyone or anything as your possession.
  19. Share fairly.
  20. Do not seduce.
  21. Sleep and eat only as much as necessary.
  22. Do not speak of your personal problems.
  23. Do not express judgment or criticism when you are ignorant of most of the factors involved.
  24. Do not establish useless friendships.
  25. Do not follow fashions.
  26. Do not sell yourself.
  27. Respect contracts you have signed.
  28. Be on time.
  29. Never envy the luck or success of anyone.
  30. Say no more than necessary.
  31. Do not think of the profits your work will engender.
  32. Never threaten anyone.
  33. Keep your promises.
  34. In any discussion, put yourself in the other person’s place.
  35. Admit that someone else may be superior to you.
  36. Do not eliminate, but transmute.
  37. Conquer your fears, for each of them represents a camouflaged desire.
  38. Help others to help themselves.
  39. Conquer your aversions and come closer to those who inspire rejection in you.
  40. Do not react to what others say about you, whether praise or blame.
  41. Transform your pride into dignity.
  42. Transform your anger into creativity.
  43. Transform your greed into respect for beauty.
  44. Transform your envy into admiration for the values of the other.
  45. Transform your hate into charity.
  46. Neither praise nor insult yourself.
  47. Regard what does not belong to you as if it did belong to you.
  48. Do not complain.
  49. Develop your imagination.
  50. Never give orders to gain the satisfaction of being obeyed.
  51. Pay for services performed for you.
  52. Do not proselytize your work or ideas.
  53. Do not try to make others feel for you emotions such as pity, admiration, sympathy, or complicity.
  54. Do not try to distinguish yourself by your appearance.
  55. Never contradict; instead, be silent.
  56. Do not contract debts; acquire and pay immediately.
  57. If you offend someone, ask his or her pardon; if you have offended a person publicly, apologize publicly.
  58. When you realize you have said something that is mistaken, do not persist in error through pride; instead, immediately retract it.
  59. Never defend your old ideas simply because you are the one who expressed them.
  60. Do not keep useless objects.
  61. Do not adorn yourself with exotic ideas.
  62. Do not have your photograph taken with famous people.
  63. Justify yourself to no one, and keep your own counsel.
  64. Never define yourself by what you possess.
  65. Never speak of yourself without considering that you might change.
  66. Accept that nothing belongs to you.
  67. When someone asks your opinion about something or someone, speak only of his or her qualities.
  68. When you become ill, regard your illness as your teacher, not as something to be hated.
  69. Look directly, and do not hide yourself.
  70. Do not forget your dead, but accord them a limited place and do not allow them to invade your life.
  71. Wherever you live, always find a space that you devote to the sacred.
  72. When you perform a service, make your effort inconspicuous.
  73. If you decide to work to help others, do it with pleasure.
  74. If you are hesitating between doing and not doing, take the risk of doing.
  75. Do not try to be everything to your spouse; accept that there are things that you cannot give him or her but which others can.
  76. When someone is speaking to an interested audience, do not contradict that person and steal his or her audience.
  77. Live on money you have earned.
  78. Never brag about amorous adventures.
  79. Never glorify your weaknesses.
  80. Never visit someone only to pass the time.
  81. Obtain things in order to share them.
  82. If you are meditating and a devil appears, make the devil meditate too.


9 Points for Developing a Narrative

Do you ever get stuck in developing a narrative? Once upon a time, I’d get stuck at the most unexpected stage of the story and then sit there tapping my teeth – it’s a thing – for hours. Imagine what my dentist thought.

Since this sort of thing happened as often as the postman visiting your mum, I decided to find a reliable framework to resolve me issue. Thus, these 9 points for forming a narrative. Don’t ask me where I found them, because I forgot.

The idea is to ask a question that is also the running theme for the story. Then you kind of answer that question in 9 stages or acts — similar to a Vaudeville show. Check this out:
What happens if we could change destiny?
And one man’s in charge of it
And he spends his time preventing murders
Now, there’s no murder
Until the day that man’s setup!
Now he’s forced to solve: Who set him up?
And he discovers it was the one man he could trust 
And we learn – after he stops this man: humanity cannot have the power to change destiny
Because humanity would abuse that power
— Minority Report
You can apply this framework to other movies too — give it a go. I applied it to Tarkovsky‘s Stalker and learned a lot about how its narrative actually works within the film, which is incredibly visceral.
Now, I’ve used the framework over a dozen times and it’s given me some invaluable insight into crafting narrative. Remarkable! 
You can even change things around. I won’t tell you how, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
Of course these 9 points wouldn’t work on every story — that’d be like having the Key to the Universe — Oh Master of the Universe, strike thy lightning upon our souls! But it does work for a lot of movies and shows too.
You’re thinking: At last! Well, once you try it, drop me a comment to let me know what you think. What did you change? What did you do different? Often the writing will reveal secrets of the story that you can use to enrich the work — Sensational!