Storytelling is something that is known in every culture and has always been a central part of human existence. But what makes it so?

last updated: 12 January 2020; tags: culture 

There’s a Napoleon Bonaparte quote: “I know he’s a good general, but is he lucky?” Was Napoleon right? Is there luck—or is luck just a matter of skill and hard work paying off?

last updated: 5 September 2019; people: Napoleon Bonaparte  tags: luck 

Lies are part of our everyday currency. Sometimes we tell untruths with the best of intentions, however, usually our motives are less pure. Whether a lie then matters is a combination of many factors. But how do we think about lies in novels which are, by definition, …

last updated: 7 July 2019; tags: truth  lies 

The Maltese Falcon is seemingly a chase for a valuable statue, but when looked at through the lens of five questions the story can be seen as a quest for justice.

last updated: 31 March 2019; people: Sam Spade  Humphrey Bogart  tags: five questions  The Maltese Falcon 

On first sight, Chinatown feels like a story about political corruption, corporate greed, and financial shenanigans, but as the story develops it becomes far more about the exercise of personal power. By asking five questions we can get to the central core of the story.

last updated: 29 March 2019; people: Jake Gittes  Roman Polanski  Jack Nicholson  Faye Dunaway  tags: five questions  Chinatown 

Where Eagles Dare could be mistaken for a straightforward World War II action/adventure movie. Scratch below the surface—and ask five questions—and it’s an espionage piece, looking at who can be trusted, and how you flush out the bad guys.

last updated: 27 February 2019; people: Richard Burton  Clint Eastwood  Mary Ure  tags: five questions  Where Eagles Dare 

Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare’s best known plays. Traditionally, it is viewed as a tragedy, but it could be viewed as a crime story and the interrogated with five questions.

last updated: 24 January 2019; people: Macbeth  tags: five questions 

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley introduces Easy Rawlins, an African American World War II veteran who has just lost his job and needs money to pay his mortgage. By asking five questions we can get to the heart of the story.

last updated: 22 January 2019; people: Easy Rawlins  tags: Devil in a Blue Dress  five questions 

The Day of the Jackal is a story about a failed assassination attempt. Five questions can explain the central premise on which the story is built.

last updated: 5 January 2019; people: Claude Lebel  tags: The Day of the Jackal  five questions 

I outline my stories before I begin writing and as part of that process I outline each scene. I have a simple template to put some structure around my thoughts for each scene and to ensure I hit the key points. This note includes my starting point template for scene …

last updated: 21 November 2018; tags: outline  scene 

As an author, I outline my stories before I begin writing. When I begin to outline, it helps to have a template to put some structure around my thoughts and to work as a framework where I can assess and understand the ideas I’m pushing around. This note includes …

last updated: 21 November 2018; tags: outline 

There is much to commend the three act structure, but it can also be too unspecific, and for this reason, I like to break the acts down into smaller more manageable chunks when I think about writing stories.

last updated: 21 November 2018; tags: three act structure  inciting incident 

For the reader, the first scene is literally the first thing they will read after they have committed to trying a book. For an author, this is the point where they have to start delivering on the promise—they need to deliver on the expectations that led the reader …

last updated: 18 November 2018; people: Jack Reacher  tags: first scene  The Midnight Line 

A scene is the basic unit of a story. It is a self-contained element of a story that can exist on its own and is the minimum viable self-contained unit of a story. A novel is—in essence—a series of scenes.

last updated: 25 October 2018; tags: scene 

Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, astronomer, and physicist who is reputed to have formulated his theory of gravity while watching the fall of an apple. In 1687 he set out his laws of motion. While these laws may have originated from scientific research, …

last updated: 24 October 2018; people: Issac Newton  tags: character  physics  laws of motion 

Five questions can reveal the core of a story. These five questions are my canary in the coal mine—unless I can answer the questions, then I don’t have a grasp on the story. And once I do have a grasp, then these questions are my map and guiding star to …

last updated: 6 September 2018; tags: five questions  story kernel 

It’s very easy to come up with a situation for a novel. It’s much harder to come up with a story. People often confuse the two and the difference is significant.

last updated: 12 June 2018; tags: Bag Man  conflict  stakes  ghostwriter  situation  protagonist  antagonist 

In any story, the protagonist needs to fail—at least on some level. Here’s one aspect of my approach to protagonists.

last updated: 14 February 2017; tags: hero  failure  protagonist  Bag Man  internal story  external story 

From time to time I get asked the question: How do you go about writing a book? Is it just a case of sitting down and typing? For me, I outline the entire story and only once I’ve got an outline in place do I start writing. But before I can really get to the …

last updated: 13 December 2016; tags: story ideas  story kernel