Saturday, August 27, 2016

Writing Your Novel, from WYBWM

  Let’s address here some other aspects of the novel.

Themes: What is the point of your story? The unifying idea? You may even have some sub-themes.

Plot: Evans (2015) likes eight ways (the Chinese also think eight a lucky number) and presented “eight ways to develop your plot,” to wit: 1. Have a goal. 2. The goal should entail consequences, gains and losses. 3. Mini-goals, requirements, must be satisfied along the way. 4. Forewarnings, events that suggest ultimate failure, should occur. 5. Costs must be paid in pursuing the goal. 6. Rewards will come, too. 7. Prerequisites, sub-goals, must be achieved. 8. Preconditions, plot complications caused by others, will intrude. Finally, the protagonist clearly succeeds or clearly fails, so the reader has the basic question resolved. 

Settings: Your scenes occur at specific times and places. What are they? Describe them clearly and consistently.

Characters: Write up for yourself a dossier on each one, know each well and write some of what you know into the book as description or motivation. Evans (2015) gives eight ways to develop compelling characters: 1. Introspection, show them thinking to themselves. 2. Make them opinionated. 3. Put them at risk. 4. Set up a love triangle or similar competition. 5. Have them behave differently in their group than they might if alone. 6. Give them some weaknesses if they are heroes and some virtues if they are villains. 7. Give them grudges, scores to settle. 8. Have their everyday interactions become unglued.

Action: We get from one scene to another often through action. Events and actions create problems and opportunities.

Dialogue: The characters come alive in their interactions, including talking to each other. Dialogue can also give the backstory in bits and pieces, by allusions to events in the past. Conflicts develop and get resolved partly through speech. Word choice and diction can tell us about the intelligence, education, even some of the experience of the characters. If you have a good ear, and I don’t, you can try to capture the particulars of dialect, but make sure your reader can understand what is being mumbled or said with a drawl or a brogue.

Arcs: An arc is a curve. A story with an arc will have a starting point, improvement or impairment, and an ending point. If it is U-shaped, the character will start high, hit a low, and eventually recover. For the inverted U, we have someone in trouble, rescued, only to fall back. Sometimes the arc will be wholly rising or wholly declining. It has been said that the problem with “middle-class tragedies” is that the hero has nowhere to fall from. Over time, the protagonist or the situation or both must change. Some element of returning has value. In Voltaire’s Candide, the “heroes” (“protagonists” in more formal terms), Candide and Dr. Pangloss return after traveling far and enduring much and decide to [spoiler alert: do not read the rest of this sentence if you plan to read the novel] tend their own gardens.
 It is said that there are four plots: hero pursues something, gets it or doesn’t, is happy or unhappy with the result. That sounds too simplistic.

Foreshadowing: Generally this is a warning. If the enemy giant is approaching, you might first see his shadow. Time to run or get your slingshot. More broadly, foreshadowing gives the reader hints about what is to come so that it later seems plausible.

Cliff-hangers: When we last viewed the hero, at the end of a chapter, he was hanging from a cliff by a rope that was fraying. We’ll get back to that, perhaps in the next chapter or the one after the next chapter, so keep reading.

Resolution: Unless you are writing a series of novels and are willing to risk the displeasure of your readers, at least some of the conflicts in your story line need to be resolved, the reader given a sense of satisfaction with how it all turned out. The reasons it turned out that way should seem plausible by the end.
   Recall I noted the value of a strong opening chapter. Make the reader wonder about the outcome of something you get them to care about. Sketch the setting and main character, giving a little background information, but making clear the issue to be resolved.
Best-selling novelist Lee Child advises: if you want to write a thriller, ask a question at the beginning and answer it at the end.       


Excerpted from my recent book, Write Your Book with Me, available from,, and its publisher Outskirts Press, in paperback and ebook formats at bargain prices. I help people write and publish their books.

Thursday, August 25, 2016


Entrepreneur Patrick Gruhn sets the stage for his advice-rich book by telling us very little about himself, “The only thing that is relevant about me is that I started with nothing and achieved everything I’ve set my kind to. I’m the guy who never gives up and I won’t accept the thought that there’s something I can’t do.”

He wrote the book over a period of 500 days, and there must be over a thousand good ideas within its 414 pages. My summary is less than 5% of his book.

Gruhn urges his readers to have the courage to aspire and to stand out, and he offers this quotation: “They laughed at me because I was different. I laughed at them because they were all the same.”

He advises his readers not to accept advice from those who have not truly succeeded. Later in the book he mentions in passing his acquaintance with millionaires and billionaires. His LinkedIn profile is mysteriously brief, but it places him in Switzerland, which I took as a good sign. Perhaps he is not a “gnome of Zurich,” an international banker, but probably a heavy-hitter.

Let’s sample from most of his chapter titles; his chapters are clear and concise:

Show Me Your Strength

Gruhn quotes Napoleon Hill to the effect that all successful men have faced temporary defeats. Adversity builds character. We learn from it. What often distinguishes the winners from the losers is their tenacity. He quotes Mahatma Gandhi, "Strength is not from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” Gruhn advises us to celebrate our successes, but stay humble, "Share your victories and you will never stand alone in your defeats."

Create Value

Business is the exchange of value for value. The more value you create, the more you will receive in return. He points to the example of Apple Computer. The higher the quality, the stronger the demand, and thus the higher price your output will command. Gruhn commends the recent book Blue Ocean Strategy (Kim and Mauborgne). He urges us, "Ultimately, by creating value for others, you will create wealth for yourself."

Visualize Your Success

“In order to succeed, you need to have a vision, just like you need oxygen to live and breathe.”

Motivation is Key!

The Importance of Perspective

On the other hand, “Life is not all about business. It’s not all about work and it’s not all about money.”

Man Up!

If success were easy, more people would succeed. There are tides that must be endured and conquered. At high tide, it is hard to distinguish the true winners from the others. “It is only when the tide goes out that you can see who’s been swimming without shorts.”

Follow Your Heart or Fail

“I consider anything short of total success a failure.” We credit Davy Crockett as saying, “Make sure you’re right, and then go ahead.” Gruhn would agree.

Be Consistent or Don’t Even Bother

Stick to it. Be reliable in speed, quality, and outcome of your efforts. Say what you’ll do and do what you say.

Being a Pioneer

The question to ask: “What’s not working as well as it should?” Solve a problem. Be curious. If you aren’t inventive, team up with someone who is!

The Business Process

Gruhn describes 18 principles for finding and profiting from opportunities.

A Business Plan Doesn’t Mean S***

To summarize, “the better you know your business, the less written planning you need.”

What is Entrepreneurship?

You must fall in love with the problem you are addressing in order to be an entrepreneur.

The Art of the Deal

“Think of making a deal like having a dance. Someone is going to lead and the other is going to follow, and you better make sure that it is you who leads and be very careful not to step on anyone's toes when you do it. The reputation of the bad dancer usually spreads quickly, and you might find yourself standing in the corner alone with nobody to dance with."

Creative Structure: Go with the Flow

Know your strengths and weaknesses and proceed accordingly.

Connect the Dots
Building a successful business will require making connections that are not immediately apparent. Be alert and flexible. Diversity helps survive recession.

Training Body, Training Mind
“…you cannot function well if you neglect your body or your mind.” Stay well, to achieve and to enjoy your achievements.

Know Your Worth
Take care to price your goods or services appropriately. Almost never do something for free. Play a little “hard to get.”

What is Your Reality?
“There is your story, my story, and then there is the truth.”

Toxic People --- Stay Away from Us!
“Don’t stand in your way.” Nor let others stand in yours.

The Ways of a Crook
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Gruhn could have added, “You can’t cheat an honest man.”

Hold Your Cards Close
Knowledge is power. Conserve and preserve yours. In business and in romance.

Be Paranoid in a Sane Way
Don’t be blinded by hopes and dreams.

Just Be Cool

It’s Not Personal
The deal is never about you, but about profits.

Why So Serious?
Gruhn quotes Gandhi, “If I had no sense of humour, I would have long ago committed suicide.”
My favorite quote on this topic is “The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.”(Horace Walpole)
Humor can lighten the workplace mood and improve productivity, but be careful to avoid mockery.

The Importance of Accuracy
Crucial. Hard to attain. Builds credibility.

Credibility Is the Only thing That Matters
Well, “only thing” is an over-statement, but credibility is crucial.

The Company You Keep
You are largely known by the kind of people with whom you associate. Hard to seem squeaky clean if you are close to tarnished individuals.

Who Are You Hurting?
You’ll get what you give. Karma.

Raising Money
This extended chapter defies a concise summary. Worth reading, though.

Make Money
“…you shouldn’t give your time or your product away for free.” With few exceptions.

It’s Just Paper
Paper money, that is. “…once you manage to succeed beyond the scope of simply paying your bills, money becomes trivial. You can look at it like a game….”

Cash Is King
Avoid debt when possible.

Once you’ve got enough, be generous! Shun greed. But be wise in how much you give and to whom. Avoid the takers, embrace the earners and sharers. Empower growth but don’t enable dependency.

Shackles and Chains
Much of our limits are due to hypnosis. Clear your mind. “When the student is ready, the master will appear, and when the master is ready, the student will appear,” Gruhn quotes. Readiness is key.

You Have to Roll the Dice
Gruhn makes the same point Buffett has made: it is better to learn by observing others than by making those mistakes yourself. In the end, though, talk is cheap, “Always put your money where your mouth is.”

No Risk, No Fun!
Being an entrepreneur is not for the risk-averse. Risk is a spice in Gruhn’s life.

To Do Or Not to Do?
Fight procrastination. Clement Stone advised, “Do it now.” If you postpone your dreams, you may grow too old to enjoy them.

Dreams versus Doubts
“Consider your doubts, but don’t let them paralyze you or keep you from achieving your dreams.”

Against the Odds
Business life is a battle and “fortune favors the brave.” Gruhn seems to be willing to bet on the lottery of enterprise. He cites Buffett’s contrarian advice, “Be greedy when everybody else is fearful and be fearful when everybody else is greedy.” Here “greedy” seems to mean “willing to invest.”

Blurred Lines of Business
As what is illegal becomes legal, e.g. marijuana, the opportunity arises for large profits. Financial regulations are similarly in a state of flux. Swiss banking privacy took a blow recently, to the chagrin of many. The costs of creating and obeying new regulations accelerate. Lately, anti-money-laundering laws are making starting some new businesses unnecessarily difficult.

Lucky Charms: Do You Need One?
Luck plays a role in success, sometimes a big role. But you’ve got to be playing in the game, “got to be in it to win it,” as the New York State lottery slogan goes. If luck comes your way, enjoy it. Don’t rely on it.

The Ultimate Sacrifice
Gruhn laments the difficulties he has found in mentoring those who claim they want to be successful, but who eventually refuse to pay the price. “Don’t waste your time on lost causes, even if they come in the form of well-dressed and well-spoken individuals.” Few are really willing to expend the time and effort required.

How Do I Do That?
This question often goes unanswered. Your friends don’t know how. Your competitors won’t tell. You have to figure it out for yourself. In the process, you may find or create something new and valuable.

Whom Do You Work for?
What makes you get up in the morning? Worth figuring out! If you don’t like the answer, change your objectives.

There Are No Stupid Questions
Be curious. Read between the lines. Ask questions, diplomatically.

The Tone Defines the Tune
Gruhn has in the past been reluctant to offer advice, partly because “most people only seek confirmation of what they already believe….” If possible, let your listeners believe they came up with your suggestions.

Don’t Feed the Greed
Don’t take advantage of special situations to get exorbitant prices. You will not create a repeat customer!

Humility is a Virtue
Of course, you don’t want to be proud of your modesty. Just do it.

Hard or Soft?
If you are naturally tough, you can go with that style, but being soft has its strengths and is less wearing on its practitioner and its recipients. The Bible advises we choose “the soft answer.”

To Lead or Command?
“…effective leadership hinges on your ability to make people choose to follow you.” Else, you have to rely on command, a subset of force. With orders, you get at best what is ordered, neither more nor less. “The key is to learn from failure, to avoid aggression and to encourage evolution.”

The World Needs Women
Women tend toward nurture, men toward battle. Gruhn wants more women in entrepreneurial positions. “I will do my best to teach my daughter to be an entrepreneur.”

From the Inside Out
Gruhn: “the change you want to see has to come from within you. The changes others request are usually in their interest, not yours. “…if your business isn’t prospering like it should, then you are the problem that needs to be fixed.”

Follow Your Heart or Fail
Be all in or get out.

The Unspoken Words You Need to Hear
People give compliments freely. They rarely give criticism, especially to those above them or those from whom they hope to get favors.

Use Your Entourage as a Sounding Board
Collect information and opinions, but weigh the latter carefully, in the light of the motives of those who offer them.

Take Nothing for Granted
“Entitlement is the most irritating trait I can think of.” An over-statement, but understandable coming from a wealthy businessman. Expect nothing from the world, especially not a free lunch.

Can You Ace the Test?
The author reports he just did ace it, in a complex situation. “…believe in yourself and try not to give up….Go get ‘em.”

The Business of Hope
“From a business perspective, selling dreams can be very lucrative….In your business you will need both: a pretty face to sell your product and a clever mind to create it.”

Always Play the Long Game
“Play your life like a game of chess.” “Don’t burn bridges!” Minimize conflict. Avoid micromanagement of others. “…kindness attracts trust and sympathy.” Plan rather than just react. I’m reminded that the long game lets one leverage the power of compound interest, where a 10% improvement per period produces a doubling in seven periods.

Diversity is Good Business
We are wise to hedge our bets, not put all our eggs in one basket. “…the average millionaire has six or seven streams of revenue.” We do want to be, at the least, the average millionaire. Several enterprises will keep your mind busy while waiting for outcomes in one or two. However, too many irons in the fire means none gets really hot.

Never Stop
“Never stop” could join “just do it” and “do it now” as pithy injunctions to keep you going toward success. Still, you need to hit the “pause” button occasionally and smell the flowers. Then you can get back to emulating Kipling’s ideal man who fills “the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”

Awareness is Essential
“A shark can smell blood in the water for miles.” Be the predator or be the prey.

Feel the Burn
Yet, avoid burn-out. Pace yourself. Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Ideas --- Write Them Down
Ideas are easily forgotten. Keep a notepad with you. Write them down. Don’t be like me---impressed by this advice, I pocketed a notepad, then left home without a pen. The Chinese say that the palest ink outlasts memory.

Mirror, Mirror
Good to know yourself. Good, also, to talk to yourself, decide what you really want and what you are willing to do to get it. Gruhn recommends using a mirror for such conversations.

Cut Your Losses
As the country-and-Western song avers, “you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to   run….” The financial equivalent is “don’t throw good money after bad.” It is not what you have invested, but what the prospects are, that counts. Same goes for your “investment” in personal relationships.

Be Effective! Be Efficient!
Effective is getting it done. Efficient is getting it done economically. Ideally, you’d be efficiently effective. “Time is your most valuable asset….”

Quick on Your Feet
Be versatile, flexible, rapidly adjustable. Life is change.

Speed v. Quality: Finding the Right Balance
The adage “haste makes waste” alerts us to the tension between speed and quality. Communication can be done more rapidly than ever. Other aspects of business are harder to accelerate safely. There’s a lesson in the great longevity of the tortoise.

Control Your Numbers
You must know your business, quantitatively as well as qualitatively. That which gets measured gets managed, I’ve read.

Get Your Facts Straight
Ignorance is not bliss! Heed the Dalai Lama who remarked that when we talk, we are repeating what we know, but when we listen, we have the opportunity to learn.

What’s Your Reward?
Though money is nice, “achievement is its own reward.” Be proud of the person you see in the mirror.

Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
Business is a big puzzle, one more easily assembled the greater your information.

It’s Lonely at the Top
“Most people will seek the company of inferior individuals because it makes them feel better about themselves….” Yet, we are advised by others that we will be much like the average of our five closest friends. “Birds of a feather….” The successful entrepreneur often hunts alone. Beware of freeloaders: “Your kindness will be interpreted as weakness, and your generosity will be taken for granted.” Try to remove material elements from your friendships, to avoid perverse incentives.

To the Victor Go the Spoils
Pay your bills. Save much of what’s left. Give generously. Enjoy the rest.

Grow It Organically
Don’t force-feed your business. Let consumer demand pull it up.

Time Isn’t Money
Steve Jobs is quoted, “It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” His premature death only underlines this. Allocate your time to what matters most.

Nothing Lasts Forever
The sages advised, “This, too, will pass.” Gruhn notes, “…entrepreneurship is feast or famine.” Don’t let doubt drag you down. No trend lasts forever. Stay lean. Minimize debt.

Go Back to Your Roots
“The paradox is that we work towards having the good life, but then we get too busy to enjoy it.” Embrace your passion, when you can.

My Appraisal

This exceptional book contains a wealth of valuable advice for those who have the courage and fortitude to become entrepreneurs and provides instruction for others who want to understand what it takes to be one of these outstanding individuals.