MichaelBarnett-2016-4

Is Your Story Smarter than You Are?

Have you ever felt that the story you’re writing is wiser than you? If so, I suspect you’re lost or stuck. It also means that you’re writing something worth reading. I became deeply lost while writing Story Structure Expedition—Journey to the Heart of a Story. We were exploring up the Congo River in a steamer […]

Give your Muse a Break: Let Fear Fuel your Fiction

Do you wait for the muse to ignite your imagination? And wait, and wait, and wait— Then, consider fueling your fiction with an ever-ready  source of inspiration. FEAR. Our characters lead us places we’d rather not go—that’s the fear I’m talking about. Of course, we don’t want to go down that road, but then why […]

Great Escape

All Stories Are Escape Stories

“Every story is an escape story.” I’ve taped that slogan to the wall of my work station. It clarifies my character’s trajectory. It helps my story “come true” because it acknowledges a fact of our human condition: We are all escaping something. That notion hijacked my brain after a decade of professionally assessing and writing […]

SS2D4 new cover

Why the Hero Must Die

I teach the “2-story” story. Never mind the three-act structure, the best stories can be said to consist of two stories separated by a bottomless hole. Where the hero “dies.” STORY ONE—from the opening line to the protagonist’s loss of faith in him/herself. STORY TWO—the protagonist emerges from the hole armed with the moral authority […]

Reading a story

So, You Think You Know What a Story Is

If you do know, for God’s sake, tell me. I’m teaching a course in the fine art of blitzing a 1st draft and it occurred to me that I ought to know what a story is. A definition of story, I’ll start with that. A writer who knows exactly what a story is will write […]

On Writing

“How to” Will Never Create Art

“It’s only when a man gets to the point of a gun in his mouth that he can see the whole world inside of his head. Anything else is conjecture, conjecture and bullshit and pamphlets.” Welcome back, Charles Bukowski. The “poet laureate of L.A. low-life” doesn’t pull punches, nor should any writer, or what’s the […]

Why You Shouldn’t Worry about Thinking outside the Box

No one should worry about thinking outside the box. Because THINKING is the box! Worry about that, instead. As fiction writers, we needn’t worry personally about the existential angst that “thinking is the box!” might stir up. But we should concern ourselves with how “thinking” relates to the journeys of our characters. And it goes […]

Portrait of Syrian girls sleeping on the refugee train

On the Road with the Refugees

I snapped this shot as I traveled from Budapest to Munich last week. I look at the photo now with some shame. After days worrying about getting caught up in migrant mayhem—of perhaps getting trapped in Budapest and meeting with violence and missing our flight home—what finally did I discover at the dark heart of […]

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