Writing Fighting

By popular demand, I’m putting up an article I wrote several years ago about writing fight scenes.

I hope this helps!


Writing Fighting

Some basics about death, violence and hand-to-hand combat for writers.


We all have something sacred to us that we hate to see butchered in books and movies.  For my wife it’s horseback riding.  She can’t stand a poor rider and loves Viggo Mortensen because of his horsemanship (okay, there are probably other reasons she loves him, but I won’t admit them).  For me, it’s fight scenes.

I’ve been a martial arts student and teacher for twenty-nine years and have studied everything from the traditional combative arts (Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Hapkido, Silat) to ring sports (boxing, Muay Thai, Savate) to the peaceful arts that focus on self cultivation (Aikido, Tai Chi) to grappling and groundwork (Brazilian Jujitsu, Combat Submission Wrestling) to Filipino weaponry (Kali, Eskrima) to Bruce Lee’s blend of combat and philosophy (Jeet Kune Do).  I love training, teaching learning, and creating with the martial arts and I love everything from cheesy Kung Fu movies to bar room brawls in westerns.  There’s just something about a good fight scene that really seals the deal for me in a film or book.

So, you can imagine just how much I cringe when I run into a disappointing fight in a film or a book.  Whether it’s a fight with no real motivation or one that has unbelievable techniques, or doesn’t make use of its setting, or is just plain boring, I regard bad fight scenes as one of the most heinous crimes in all of storytelling.  And if I can help just one writer write one story that has better fight scenes, then I’ll sleep well tonight.

Let’s jump in and look at the uses of a good fight scene before we get into the particular techniques.

Motivation and Character Building

One of the saddest fight scenes is one that isn’t earned in the story or one that doesn’t make sense.  This isn’t too common in books, but some of the martial arts genre films from both Hollywood and Asia fall into this trap.  They give us one dimensional villains and heroes and then expect us to care who wins.  I, for one, generally root for the villain in these cases.

But, if you can plant the seeds of discord early enough and deep enough in your story, the fight scene offers unparalleled visual and emotional opportunities to pay off dramatic tension in one of the most exciting, satisfying and primal ways known to readers and movie viewers anywhere.

To achieve this primal release, you must not only give your characters reasons to fight, but incorporate the fight itself into their character arcs.  This is why revenge plots and stories about heroes who refuse to fight until they are forced at the very end are so popular.  Without incorporating the fight into the character’s development, the violent act stands as an almost sociopathic occurrence in the story.  Deep down, we need to feel consequences of such an act, even if the consequences are positive.  To go without this change leaves our fight scene and our audience empty.

Believability – Planting the Skills

Not only do we need to give reasons for our characters to fight and need to show how it changes them, but we also need the way that they fight to make sense.  One of the most disturbing occurrences in a bad fight scene is a character who inexplicably has an uncanny ability to fight and do supposedly cool looking martial artsy moves.  On the other side of the coin, it’s just as annoying to see a formerly unbeatable villain suddenly do something really stupid or clumsy to give the obviously lesser hero a chance to win the day.

If they are going to fight like Bruce Lee, let us know how they got that way.  Gang members, cops, even special forces soldiers know little about martial arts style fighting.  Most people are better suited to picking up a garbage can and using it as a weapon than kicking someone in the head.

Which brings us to…

Using your environment – Going Hong Kong

Look at this from a film perspective.  American movies are famous for the scene where the good guy gets trapped by a horde of baddies and…like a freakin’ idiot, the good guy just stays there and fights them all.

Don’t write that scene.  It’s tired, it’s overdone, it needs a really long rest.

Instead, just watch one Jackie Chan movie…any Jackie Chan movie.  Watch how he gets trapped by the horde of bad guys and tries to get the hell out of there.  The fight moves from one location to another, with more and more mayhem at every turn.  The location becomes a character that your heroes and villains can interact with.  Remember that every prop in your story is something that can be used as a weapon or shield.  One game an old teacher of mine would play was to spot how many objects at Chinese restaurants could easily be used as weapons.

Try it, you’ll be surprised, and it will probably give you some fresh story ideas.


I’m gonna make a request here, actually two requests and they both have to do with knife fighting.  Never have a character do an X block against a stab and never ever have a character kick a knife out the attacker’s hand.

Here’s why.

The X block (wrists crossed to stop an attack between them) is something from traditional martial arts like Tae Kwon Do and Karate.  It’s an incredibly slow move that depends on a rather fixed posture being able to stop a knife attack.  The problem is that knife fights are about speed and fluidity.  If the attacker has ever picked up a knife before, they know that quick movements with the knife produce more damage than big, obvious stabs and that when their attack is stopped by an X block, they can easily flow through the block and slash away at the defenders arms and body.

As for kicking a knife out of someone’s grip…I talk about this with my Kali students occasionally and every time I do, I repeat the same line.  I tell them that if I see them kick a knife out of someone’s hand, I will pick up the knife and stab them myself.

It’s that bad of an idea.

There’s a maxim in the martial arts that your hands are five times faster than your legs and that your legs are five times as strong.  If you’ve ever been kicked, you’ll see there’s some wisdom to it, and this saying reveals the problem with kicking a knife out of someone’s hands.  The legs are just too slow.  Imagine that you are the bad guy and the hero is doing that same old crescent kick (the one that comes up in an arc and hits with the outside of the foot) to smack the knife out of your hand.  Will you just leave your hand there to be kicked?  No!  Just move your wrist a few inches and turn their foot into steak tartar with your blade as they try to kick you.  They deserve it!

If you want your characters to do the wrong thing in a fight, have them do those moves, and have them pay for it.  Have the other character be smart enough to whip around these slow counters and cut them up.

In other areas of defense, it’s important to think of two main concepts: meeting the force and passing the force.

Meeting the force is any block or counter that tries to stop the attack head to head or covers up the target to take the hit with another body part like the arm or leg.  This is what many martial artists call a hard style block and it’s useful for a character who is focused and motivated to get from point A to point B in a fight as quickly and directly as possible.  Muay Thai and Kyokushin Karate are some of the most aggressive hard styles.

Passing the force is thought of as a soft style response to an attack and it generally redirects the opponents force.  Aikido and Tai Chi are great examples of soft styles.  This type of response is much more fluid and fits a character who is less interested in harming the villain.

One last thing to remember about defense is that it’s very natural, much more natural than attacking.  People will tend to go on defense in a fight and the most common defensive reaction is to turn your back on the attacker and cover or turtle up.  Just imagine the consequences of this defense against a motivated villain.  The defender is completely vulnerable in this position.  That’s why martial arts spend a lot of time drilling in better responses to attacks.

The basic fist fight

Block, punch, bad guy goes down and the fight’s over.  How many westerns and classic black and white movie fight scenes worked this way?  More than I can count.

How many real fights work this way?  Not nearly so many.

The thing to remember about fist fights is that the bones of the hand are pretty small, and while a huge bad guy can throw his fist pretty damned hard, those bones tend to break when slamming full force into someone’s skull.

Don’t get me wrong, it hurts plenty to get punched.  And a heavy shot can really make the world go dark, fill your ears with the roar of the ocean and make the room spin too fast to stand up straight.  But, remember motivation.  If your character wants something bad enough, he will take an amazing amount of punishment to get it.

All that aside, here are a few techniques to add some authority to your fist fights and boxing scenes.

The jab is the lead hand straight punch.  It can be light and fast…a jab that probes, or a heavier jab that is meant to do some damage.  But the jab will never equal the power of the rear hand punch.

The cross is the rear hand straight punch, and because of the way that the torso turns and the body unloads, the cross has an extra eight to ten inches of reach.  Seriously.  If we’re fighting and I can barely reach your nose with my jab, then my cross will reach the back of your skull, even though it’s my rear hand.  This difference in reach translates directly into more power.  So, not only can I hit you from farther away with my rear hand, but I can hit a lot harder.

The next most common punch is the hook, which aims for the side (or ear) instead of the front of the target like the jab and cross.  A well thrown hook that uses the power of the body and leg is one of the heaviest punches you can throw.  The hook is usually thrown in tight with the elbow bent ninety degrees, but if the character throws from farther out with a straighter arm, it’s a haymaker.

A cousin of the cross is the overhand, which tends to be a bit slower, but comes down onto the face at a vicious angle.  This punch is also good for sneaking over a defender’s hands.

The key to any good punch is transfer of power, and this comes from the feet and the knees.  A character can’t throw a good punch with feet planted (sorry traditional martial artists!).  But when the character rotates from the ground up, turning on the ball of the foot, twisting the knee in and down, then power launches out from the whole body instead of just the arm.

Don’t forget that most people generally go to a boxing style lead in a fight with the strong hand back.  This tends to provide more power for the rear hand.  And, if any amateur Jeet Kune Do student tells you that Bruce Lee fought with his strong side forward, tell them that Bruce changed to weak side forward after studying Muhammad Ali.


Remember we talked about kicking someone in the head earlier?  Don’t.  It’s a great way to lose your balance, and it takes power away from the kick.  The most powerful kicks are aimed at the waist or lower.

Kicking is the area where Tae Kwon Do students love to take all the credit, but don’t forget that they are the ones who are all for kicking knives out of people’s hands.  For a little variety, do some research on Muay Thai or Savate.  Heck, if you want some really weird kicking, check out Silat.  This Indonesian art incorporates a great amount of trips and sweeps into its kicking.

When it comes to kicking, try to stay away from it unless your characters are full blown martial arts weirdos.  Most people are better suited to stomping and to throwing the occasional knee to the groin than to whipping their foot out at light speed.

And, when it comes to kicking with the feet, those toes break really easily, trust me!  Plus, a hard round kick with the top of the foot is a near guarantee for a sprained ankle.  Muay Thai uses the shin as the primary weapon for its round kick, and it makes for a formidable kick.  But even the shin can break, and any of those injuries can hobble your character for weeks or months.

Kicks generally come in two directions, straight in and around.

The round kicks can hit with toes, the ball of the foot, the sole of the shoe, or the shin, and can snap out quickly or swing from the hip like a baseball bat, but they all follow the same circular arc to their target.  Savate round kicks are like jabs that can reach around an opponent’s defense and ping in at the back of their head and Muay Thai round kicks are like sledgehammer hits that deaden nerves and can make someone throw up just from the rush of pain.

Straight kicks can be thrown with the toes pointed up or to the side.  When the toes are up, we call it a push kick, or if it snaps, a front snap kick.  When the toes are to the side, it’s called a side kick.  These kicks can be focused on snapping, piercing, stomping or just for pushing and gaining distance.  The biggest target for any of these kicks is the groin or midsection.

Are there other types of kicks?  You bet!  Martial artists have come up with as many strange ways of kicking as there are shapes of snowflakes.  There are crescent kicks, axe kicks, spinning kicks, tornado kicks, jumping kicks…the list goes on and on.  But how many do you really need to write a vivid, engaging fight scene?  Probably none of them.

Going to the Ground

Remember that exciting fight scene at the end of Lethal Weapon?  Yeah, I don’t either.  Why not?  Probably because they spent a lot of time rolling around on the ground and the fight ended with a triangle choke (which uses the legs to choke an opponent).

Most readers and viewers still regard groundwork as slow and uninteresting, which is unfortunate, but is also pretty true.  Grappling and groundwork is a nuanced area of fighting that doesn’t translate as well to the page or screen as a stand-up fight.  But there are a few things you need to know.

Takedowns are the start of any fight on the ground and they are something that our wrestling and UFC raised audiences can appreciate.  The most dynamic and visual take down is probably the high double leg.  This takedown is like a bear hug where the arms grab around the top of the defender’s thighs and the attacker uses the power in his legs to lift the opponent up into the air and then promptly slam them down into the floor, coffee table or through a conveniently located piece of sheet glass.

Another fairly popular throw in movies is a small joint (it attacks small joints instead of large ones like the legs) throw, the wrist lock throw.  In this one, the attacker grabs the meat of the opponent’s thumb with a mismatched hand (right to left) and then applies pressure in an upward and circular motion to the back of the opponent’s hand to throw them.  Done with speed and force (and with a really good stunt man) the opponent’s legs will sail through the air as they cartwheel through the fall.  This looks cool on the big screen, but it is very hard to translate to a scene in a book.

After the takedown, the fight can go into the aforementioned stomping, or into other quick ways of doing something nasty to the opponent.  We’ll get to choking in a moment, but first, we need to mention Sambo.

Sambo is a Russian battlefield art that focuses on breaking limbs.  The theory behind it is that if you break one man’s leg, two of his compatriots will be forced to carry him away and three soldiers will be taken off the field of battle.  Good theory in a very nasty sort of way, and the art is particularly effective.  The most famous Sambo move is a knee break where the attacker tightly hugs the opponent’s ankle up by their own ear, with their leg’s wrapped around the thigh of the opponent, securing it.  This puts the opponent’s kneecap right up against the attacker’s belly button.  With a forceful thrust of the hips and arching of the back the knee hyper-extends.  Snap.  Ow!

But, the grappling range attack that we are most familiar with is the choke.  Right off the bat, forget the old school Frankenstein choke that uses the hands with both arms extended.  It’s just too easy to get out of.

Instead, if someone has to get choked in your story, go for the rear naked.  The rear naked choke is a blood choke (cuts off blood supply instead of air) that traps the opponent’s neck between the biceps and forearm.  The attacker stabilizes the choking arm by grabbing the biceps of the free arm with the choking hand.  Amateurs try to apply this choke by squeezing the arms, but the pros know that the real power is from the muscles of the back.  Once the choke is in position, the attacker simply shrugs or rows the shoulder blades together.  The opponent will struggle violently for about five or six seconds and then go limp.  The choke can be let go then and the opponent will wake up with a headache, or it can be kept on, with obvious results.

Just one thing to remember about the rear naked choke…there is no snapping noise!  Nothing breaks, they just pass out.  If the choker is nice, then the chokie gets a chance to wake up.

Sticks, Swords and Knives

This is where things get wild.  With an incredible array of weapons out there, it’s important to focus on the different facets of the style of attack.  With any bladed weapon, there are two basic methods of attack, slashing and stabbing.  That said, some types of blades are made much more for one than the other.

An easy rule to judge this is to focus on how curved the blade is.  A straight blade, like a stiletto or rapier, is used primarily for stabbing and piercing.  Only the very tip is good for slashing, so it isn’t very effective for any attack other than stabs.  On the other hand, a knife or sword with a long curve, a scimitar for example, is no good for stabbing but its broad cutting surface is ideally suited for slashing things open and making deep cuts.

Here’s an odd but important tidbit…what’s the single most influencing factor on the development of a martial arts system (in this case a knife fighting system)?  It’s probably not what you think.  It’s the weather of the location where the art is developed.  In colder climates, people wear layers of heavy clothing and slashes have a hard time getting through to skin and vital organs, but stabs pierce through.  In hot climates, bare skin is much more accessible, so the devastating damage of slashes comes into play.  Where is your character from?  That will tell you how they use a knife or sword.

Now, add the character element to these slashes and stabs.  Is your character an enraged barbarian type?  Then don’t make them move with a lot of finesse and quick darting strikes.  Instead, let them smash or hack away repeatedly with the same strike over and over and over again.  Think of Conan or Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi.  But, if your character is on the cunning and crafty side, they won’t take the barbarian’s route; they’ll move quicker, be more precise, and will probably have a smaller weapon.

With all of that in mind, the most fundamental way to improve your weapons fight scenes is to talk about targets and the best ways to do damage.

Everybody who’s seen a gory movie knows about the arteries in the throat.  It’s a prime target in films and with good reason.  There is a lot of stuff in there that calls for gallons of fake blood to spurt out of hidden tubes.  You can slash the neck, stab it, and the results are always gruesome.  In books, authors love to talk about blood pulsing out of arteries, and here is where most of that would happen.

But, let’s not forget some equally deadly targets.

One of the least known targets for a bladed attack is the femoral artery.  The location of the femoral artery is in the inside of the thigh, near the groin.  The femoral carries blood for the leg and is a major blood vessel.  Plus, it’s under tension.  This taut artery, if severed, will snap deep into the leg on both sides of the cut.  There’s no tourniquet or pressure bandage that will save the victim from bleeding to death.  There’s a scene in Black Hawk Down where they try to save a guy who had this artery severed.  It’s gruesome and accurate…and the guy doesn’t make it.

In the torso, slashes or stabs to the gut can be equally effective attacks.  A deep slash can open up a spilling wound, while a stab, especially one that is directed upward through the diaphragm into the lungs or heart is another show stopper.

In terms of defense, knife disarms are notoriously tricky and difficult to pull off.  Save those for your martial arts-experts characters.  The old fashioned struggle for control of the knife is generally good to fall back on, but there are things you can do to show that your character has a few working brain cells.

Remember the finale of Saving Private Ryan where the German soldier is pushing down on the knife while the American soldier, on his back, is trying to push the knife up.  In that case, gravity and the German won, but there is a simple solution for that situation or any knife struggle…leverage.

This is a little known secret that not many martial artists study.  We call them stab-backs.  The basic idea is that in an encounter where both people are struggling for control of the attacker’s knife, all the defender has to really do is to place the flat of the blade against his forearm (he might get a tiny cut from the pressure of his arm against the side of the blade, but it’s very minor) and then use this very strong lever to redirect the point of the blade back into the attacker.  This is bizarrely easy to do and because of the force of the leverage, a weaker defender can redirect a knife held by a much stronger or bigger attacker.

If you’re in a CSI kind of mood, here’s a tidbit about stab-backs.  The defender never touches the handle of the attacker’s blade.  No finger prints anywhere.

One final note about weapons and knives in particular.  I have students who think that knowing dozens of leg breaks is the height of coolness, but they get squeamish at the thought of training with the knife.  Bladed weapons have a visceral quality that hits us in our subconscious.  We know, deep within our most primitive selves, that being cut or stabbed is a very bad thing, so use knives judiciously in your stories.  Take time to show the threat, and the payoff will be a big one.

Be Careful Who You Talk To

Martial artists are notorious for being closed minded.  Traditional martial arts students are taught that their art is the only art worth practicing and if you consult them on your fight scenes, they may not recognize a particular technique or strategy that you are describing and will pass judgment on it without understanding.

This is similar advice to what I tell self defense students.  I tell them to be cautious who they practice techniques with as it takes some time to build competency and confidence in how a technique works.  If they practice with someone who isn’t a good partner, a very viable technique can come across as useless because the partner resists too much, when all the student needs is more practice time to learn the nuances and to build the muscles and timing to pull it off.

So, don’t necessarily rush off to your black belt friends with your new fight scenes.  Better to practice on your own, review them, and then find a reader who’s never put on a starchy white uniform and jumped around in their bare feet to review your story.  Ask this reader to review your fights for clarity and see if they find them understandable, vivid and exciting.

And once you have that, a fight scene that is clear, vivid and exciting, you’ve got a great new way to add some, uh…punch…to your stories.




Writing – The Basic Outline

One of the tools I think is most useful when you are starting a book is a strong outline.  This is the blueprint for the story you are building and when you spend a little time on it, it can show you new opportunities  and twists and turns that you hadn’t thought of before.

Some people say that writing outlines stifles creativity.  I think that’s pretty silly.  Those writers that just dive in and write the whole book without planning beforehand are actually still outlining…it’s just that the first draft is their outline.  Then, they have to start over, once they know what is going on.

Imagine, instead, that you work on a regular outline and make all your missteps and figure out your big ideas before you write 100,000 words.  That would save a lot of time and frustration, right?  Why not use a tool that’s going to help you?!

So, let’s get down to it and see what you can put in your basic outline…

Three Act Structure (Thank you, Syd Field!)

The basics of three act structure are very simple…beginning, middle and end.  Another way to look at it is set up, development and resolution.

What you get between each of these sections is what most screenwriters call a plot point.  It looks like this…

Act 1…beginning/set up

Plot point 1

Act 2…middle/development

Plot point 2

Act 3…end/resolution

If you put those down on a piece of paper and start to fill them out, then you’ve got a start on your outline!  But…you may need a bit more detail to make it really helpful.

Act 1 generally has two or three parts.  The very beginning shows the status quo of the world you are building and introduces the protagonist.  Then, something happens that gives us a hint of upcoming problem or opportunity that the protagonist has to figure out.  This is the inciting incident.  Remember that this is still Act 1 and that there is still some developing to do.  If you present the problem and have the hero tackle it immediately, then you don’t have much of a story.  Instead, take the time to give us a little more information about the hero.  Maybe they are reluctant to tackle the new problem (a reluctant hero is a pretty common theme and it can make the protagonist a little bit more relate-able.).  So, give us a chance to know the character a bit and give us some more info.  Like…

The antagonist…make sure we meet the antagonist in Act 1.  This character helps us know what the hero is up against and what is at stake.  Plus, you don’t want him or her to show up out of the blue later on…that’s pretty boring.  The antagonist needs to be present and after the same goal as the protagonist in order to be a threat.

Then, what separates the set up from the development in Act 2 is a moment when the hero is locked into the quest or struggle to figure out the problem that is hinted at in the inciting incident.  This point where the hero can’t turn back is Plot Point 1.

Then you’ve got the middle…the giant, hard to fill middle.  But, this is also where the fun stuff comes in.  Here you get to brainstorm all the painful things that happen to your protagonist and all the ways that she tries to solve the big problem.

Remember, at this point, you’re just doing a rough outline…so you don’t have to have the whole middle figure out yet.  I’ll give you some strategies for that later, I promise!

Then, when it’s time to get things wrapped up, you’ve got the point where the development ends and the resolution has to start.  This is Plot Point 2.  To keep this simple…PP2 is where the protagonist gets locked into the last struggle to solve the problem or achieve the goal.  Often, it’s a low point, when the goal looks out of reach.  Sometimes, it’s a bit of new information about the problem.  Play with it and make it your own, but just think of it as the moment when the hero places all her bets on one last strategy.

Then, all you’ve got left is Act 3.  In this last bit of the story, you’ve got two main elements, the climax and the conclusion.  In the climax, you’ve got the last, biggest struggle of the story, and if the hero wins, you’ve got a happy ending (probably mostly happy…as there was some sacrifice along the way, right?), and if the hero loses, you have a tragedy.

After the climax, there’s the conclusion.  In this, the hero may have learned something or gained something that can be brought back home to help others or maybe the protagonist just walks/rides off into the sunset.  Either way, this is the final wrap up and it gives the reader a moment to breathe after the big ending.

So, one last time with what your outline would look like…with a bit more detail…

Act 1…beginning/set up of initial situation and what the world is like. Meet the protagonist and antagonist

Inciting Incident…get a hint of the big problem or opportunity.  The hero might be reluctant to go after it.

Plot point 1…Hero is locked in on the journey.  This is the point of no return.

Act 2…middle/development.  Here, the protagonist has to try to solve the problem, but the antagonist puts up roadblocks and they struggle in new and interesting ways.  Things generally don’t go well for the hero.

Plot point 2…The moment the hero decides to launch into one final struggle to solve the problem.

Act 3…end/resolution…First there’s the climax, where everything is bigger and badder than ever before in your story.  This is the part that your reader will remember more than anything, so make it good.

Finally, there is the conclusion, where things are mostly wrapped up.


Remember, the outline is a tool to help you figure your story out, so you have less rewriting to do.  Remember the Jeet Kune Do maxim about absorbing what is useful and find out just how it can help you!


Talk to you soon!


Loglines…Polishing the Rough Idea

Okay everyone, let’s start to dig into the first steps of writing your novel.

At this point, you may have a rough idea of what you want to write and you may have some particular scenes worked out in your head or in notes.  Maybe you’ve jumped into the writing itself.

These are all great steps, but let me ask you a quick question…have you written the logline yet?  Actually, I should ask this instead…have you written and rewritten and re-rewritten the logline for your novel?

If you haven’t, let me make a friendly suggestion.  Do.

There are lots of approaches to loglines, and lots of definitions, but basically a logline is a tool that helps you describe the heart of your story in the shortest, clearest way possible.  And it seems like everybody has a different way to do this.

One of the best that I’ve studied is from Blake Snyder, a screenwriting instructor and very good guy who sadly passed away in 2009.  His recommendations for a good logline were simple and direct.

In one sentence (maybe two) describe the protagonist, the antagonist and what’s at stake.

Want to practice a bit?  Think of your favorite movies and books.  Write a quick logline for each, then work on honing them until they’re interesting and capture the heart of what’s going on.

Though it’s simple, it’s definitely not easy.  But it’s worth the time it takes to practice and hone the skill.  Because once you have, this simple little logline will give you a much better idea what is going on in your story.

Here’s how it works and what you can get out of it for your own story…

One of the biggest problems that writers run into is the feeling that their story is stuck.  It usually happens about 100-200 pages into the book (30-50 pages into a screenplay), somewhere between the first act and the midpoint.  Some people call it writer’s block (which I may just rant about in another post), but what it really is is a lack of clarity about what is going on in the story.

And a good, clear logline is the first step in getting that clarity.

You see, your logline has a description of your protagonist, so you know something of the heart of your main character.  It also has the stakes, which tells you what the hero is after and how important it is, and the antagonist gives you a good idea of what the hero is up against.

Knowing what’s important to the protagonist not only gives you a goal that points to the plot, but it also informs you about the theme or underlying meaning of your story.  This can even influence subplots and character design.

In short, this is a very useful tool that can help you in many ways.  Plus, it’s very useful for queries and describing your book to people that you meet (a short description to a stranger is much more enticing than a whole plot summary, trust me!).

One final piece of advice I would have on loglines is to rewrite your logline at every stage of writing.  Start the process with a logline, do one after your first outline, after your final outline, after your first draft and even after you’ve polished the manuscript.  It can help you at each stage.

Talk to you soon!  Please don’t hesitate if you have any questions!


Writing – Absorb What is Useful

Have an idea for a story, but aren’t sure what steps to take or how to do it?  Don’t worry.  You’re not alone.

It’s hard to start a new writing project, and looking for advice on how to tackle your story might even make it worse.

Now, I don’t want to come off as a doom-and-gloom writing instructor…what I’m really talking about is the fact that there are many different ways to approach your story, and because people are human, most everyone loves to shout about how their method is the best and only way.  It makes it hard to pick which way to go.

But here’s the thing…while it seems that there are dozens upon dozens of different approaches to writing, they really break down into two different camps: structure and style.

The structure people say you have to outline, outline, outline and figure out each little thing before you start writing.

The style people say you need to learn how to write decent sentences.

And boy, can these two camps hate each other.  The style people say that all the outlining takes all the spontaneity out of writing and make it formulaic.  The structure people say that the style writers waste tons of time because they don’t know where anything is going and will have to do endless rewrites.

Most literary fiction writers tend to fall into the style camp.  Most screenwriters tend towards structure (I did say most…not all).

As for me, I’ve been lucky.  When I was working on my MFA, I studied both approaches, and after my grad degree, I continued to study both…and I think I know why I did this instead of picking one over the other.

I’ve been doing martial arts almost all of my life.  It’ll soon be 30 years of study I’ve put in, with the vast majority of that time spent in Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee’s martial art.  I’m also honored to be an instructor under Guro Dan Inosanto, who was Bruce Lee’s top student.

And one of the things that has made the biggest impression on me, aside from how to take a punch, is what Bruce Lee said about absorbing what is useful.  Here’s the full quote…

“Research your own experience.  Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.”

You see, the great thing about Jeet Kune Do is that it’s not just about how to win fights.  It can teach you some great ways to approach life…and writing.

I won’t belabor each point of the quote.  You can do your own research about different ways to approach writing, you can discard what doesn’t work for you, and you can add in what specifically and uniquely helps you the most.

The one I do want to talk a bit about is how you can absorb what is useful.

Whether you are working on your MFA or writing a screenplay, know that you aren’t stuck with just one approach.  If you are working on a literary novel, do some outlining, so you know where your characters are headed.  If you are stuck on a spot in your outline, start writing that scene and see where the prose leads you.

Jeet Kune Do stresses the individual over any particular art or approach.  Do the same with writing.  Put yourself and your process ahead of any particular school of thought on how to write.  Just remember to have fun.

And I want to help.  While I’m releasing my novel Schism here on the blog I’ll also be posting information on both structure and style, so you can absorb what is useful.

Let me know any questions you have along the way!


Writing – The 6 Month Novel Challenge

I’ve got a challenge for you.

This year, I’m working with a group of High School students and over the next 5 months, they are each going to write a novel.  I’ll be joining them, and I’d like to challenge you to join in as well.

Doesn’t matter if you’ve never written more than a short story, of if you have novels published, join in, write alongside us and see that you can write and start to polish a novel in 6 months.

Here’s the basic schedule…

2 months to plan and outline

2 months to write (6 pages a day for 60 days = 360 pages, a perfect length for publication)

2 months to do the first 2 rewrites

Does this sound hard?  Yup!  But if you can squeeze in 1-2 hours a day, you can plot, write and begin to polish a novel in that time.

And…you won’t be alone…

Along the way, I’ll be talking about loglines, characters, plot, outlining, theme, style, dialogue, subplots, the myth of writer’s block…and everything else you need to write a kick-ass novel.

So, no matter what your favorite genre or idea, come and join us.  Send me a note, let me know what you are going to write, let me know what questions you have or problems you’ve run into in the past.

Talk to you soon!


Writing – How To…Or a Peek Under the Hood


As I work on getting the podcasts ready to release, I also want to start sharing something else with everyone on the site…writing advice…particularly, how to plan, structure and write novels and feature screenplays.

These posts are both for writers wanting to learn more or get a different perspective and also for readers who just want a peek under the hood of how the writing process can work.

I’ll be sharing things I learned in my MFA program and also what I’ve learned in all the other classes I’ve been taking for the last six years since then.  I’ll also throw in approaches that I have come up with on my own after writing a dozen screenplays and two novels.

So, please get your questions ready…this will be a lot of fun.