So you can read my books

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

WRITE THE JACK SPARROW WAY! Insecure Writers Support Group


Your reader may think she knows what the problem is.

If you've done your work right, they are wrong.

The problem is really a McGuffin
(a term coined by Hitchcock):

The McGuffin itself was not important to Hitchcock,

he only was concerned that "˜it be, or appear to be,
of vital importance to the characters.

In North by Northwest (1959) Hitchcock blatantly places the McGuffin
 in front of the viewer

and yet he himself acknowledges that what you see is "his emptiest, most nonexistent McGuffin."

  The plot of the film concerns espionage and a man's (Cary Grant) mistaken identity as a spy. 

Halfway through the film,
Grant is at an airport and finally has the opportunity
to question a Central Intelligence Agent about what is happening to him:

Grant: "What does he (the lead villain) do?"
Agent: "Let's just say he's an importer and exporter."
Grant: "˜But what does he sell?"
Agent: "˜Oh, just government secrets."



Freedom from the mundane world that encloses them.

Create a story that an enthusiastic reader can talk about quickly.
Can the story be summed up in a few sentences? 

How do you fire that enthusiasm in a reader?

Fire their imagination.

Make them want to live the adventure with the MC:

A unique setting.

Stellar writing.

An ending that rewards the journey.


Anyone who likes a good story will tell you
that what drives them to read on

is wanting to know what happens to that central character.

They want to follow this person’s journey from
the first page until its final conclusion.

And in order to make the reader want to remain loyal to this person,
they need someone who is compelling,
who is charismatic and more importantly,

they want someone who is filled with intrigue and personality.

Not just a plain persona made out of the heroic mold.

They want someone who they can relate to, someone perhaps they can see themselves as being:

Odysseus, who longs to return to his family and kingdom;

Frodo Baggins, who desires to spare his homelands from the ravages of war;

Harry Potter, who must face a destiny that is beyond his control;

or even Henry V from the William Shakespeare play,

who must prove his maturity and ability to lead a nation in the fires of war and death.


No one wants to read about someone perfect.

Flaws make a hero.
Character is destiny.

Perhaps your heroine believes a lie that colors her whole life
until she discovers the truth about herself.


Usually it helps with the story, and with the character’s drawing power,

if the back-story is influential in what their personality is during the story.

Learning what happens to a man’s family is important to
why they are on a journey of vengeance, for example.

A man searching for redemption to a past sin
is another good one.

To give your character reason for doing what they are doing.

For urban fantasy plots,

the more realistic and heartfelt the backstory,

the easier the reader will accept the fantastic elements.


While a physical obstacle is usually required for the MC to have to face in the novel,
I always like it when the worst enemy that MC has to face…

For a reader to read about someone who must face themselves

as well as a ‘traditional’ antagonist can strike
a very personal chord within the reader.

Captain Jack is certain he knows women
and couldn't be further from the truth!

Humor in books– especially children and teen books– is crucial.

It is the most important thing you could ever have–

barring a plot, literacy, a minimum of one character and possibly a functioning mind.

 But you can get by without most of those–
you cannot get by without humor.

The kid in all of us sees things as funny.

It sees the world as funny.

It has a knack for pointing out the ridiculous and the silly.

 There is no greater comedian than the child in all of us.

It doesn't understand why something should be structured–

so it does whatever, whenever.

It doesn't understand what exactly the point of a conversation on one particular topic is–

so it spouts out whatever pops into its head.
This is the basis of randomness.

Barry Cunningham, editor for Cornelia Funke, Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams,

former editor of JK Rowling, and founder of the Chicken House publishing company,

put it the best way in an interview:
“I think humour is so important in children’s books  
and you find children laughing
 when they are scared and crying when they are happy."

And I cannot think that there is anything in life which is not essentially humorous.

Life and death and everything else.

That is the central portion of the child in me.

I absolutely believe everything comes as part of something else.

Like everything serious is funny as well,

everything sad is funny as well,

everything scary is funny as well.

Did you know that The Hobbit is better liked than the Lord of the Rings trilogy?

You probably did.

Do you know why it’s liked better? 

If you have a modicum of Jack Sparrow in you,
you can probably deduce the answer from the context:

 I remember laughing my head off at Tolkien’s explanation of how golf came to be.

The three trolls Bilbo Baggins burgles
 have a hilarious conversation
about how to eat the hobbit and dwarves.

Gandalf cracks a joke or two occasionally.

 And all of this makes The Hobbit that much better than the Trilogy,
even though the Trilogy has
so much more appeal fantasy-wise.

Victor Standish quips during the darkest times.
He is the clown prince of Snark.

I use humor to relieve tension,

To connect with the reader.

To lighten the mood of the preceding scene.

To hopefully have the reader tell a friend of one of
Victor's one-liners,
increasing word of mouth.

Do you feel comfortable with writing humor into your stories,
or do you tend to shy away from it?

What do you think is most difficult about writing humor?

{Jack Sparrow is a copyrighted Disney character. I just bribed him with rum.}


  1. Hi Roland. As I read through your post I had lots of comments in my head, and then I saw at the end that Johnny Depp had spent those hours reading to the kids in hospital. I forgot everything else. I've always had a soft spot for Johnny, now more so. He's Down Under at our Gold Coast movie studios making the latest Jack Sparrow flick. Maybe I'll run into him, hahahahah...

    Nevertheless, I loved all your other writing pointers. Who wants to read about perfect heroes? Unless they move over to the Dark Side...:-)

  2. Denise:
    Anakin, anyone? Yes, Johnny has a soft spot for children ... as does Chris Pratt. I hope this next Jack Sparrow film picks up his career. His last few have hit pot holes.

    Hey, anything is possible ... you may run into him. I'm glad you liked my writing pointers. :-)

  3. I loved the Jack Sparrow quotes. I agree, a book should provide a reader with freedom. I personally don't like reading stories that are heavy and leave me feeling depressed after. Also, I try for humor in my books, but I don't thinks it always comes across. I should try harder. Thank you for sharing your great pointers with us. I know I will use a few from now on.

  4. So much wisdom can be found here, as usual. The quotes from Jack Sparrow are especially good and remind me of Noel Coward. For me, humor has become increasingly essential in both my life and my writing, and nowadays I only read novels with characters I care about (which means I've given up on some serious "literary" types like Updike and Beatty). No wonder both you and I are serious Mark Twain fans.

  5. All great points. As a reader, I love to sink into a story and leave my world behind for a little bit.

    I recently had a beta reader tell me she hates me heroine. Oh, that hurt. A lot. She was already relatable and flawed, but my beta reader thought she was mean. And that's the nice way of putting it. I've since worked on her and hope she's more likable to my readers.

    With one of my works I've been trying to get an agent for, there is back story and no one liked it. I had to figure out clever ways to add it, and I hope it works.

    P.S. I love Jack Sparrow! :D

  6. His own worst enemy - that was the first one I ever used.
    Lots of good things to consider. The writer who can cram it all into one story has a winner on his hands.

  7. Murees:
    I am with you: no depressing books for me. I can get depressed for free. In fact some days insist on it for me!

    Crises are all right: I love Spenser novels for the way he makes me laugh even when the going gets very, very rough. He influenced my Victor Standish. :-)

    Well, you, Murees, and me are kindred spirits. Stolid, downer stories can be gotten for free on the news -- which is why I seldom listen to the nightly news!

    I like to read John D MacDonald's Travis McGee adventures (though I skim through the grim parts!) and it is like going back to the 60's -- the thing that struck me is when Travis grumbles about the headlines on the radio news, they are mirror almost exactly the threads in our current news headlines!

    Yes, I love Twain which is why I included him as an actual character in three of my novels so far and as a constant guest poster here! :-)

    I believe the traditional publishers and agents what only more of the same -- which is no way to strike a new chord and hit the new media sensation. Go with your instinct. Think THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY -- not your nice guy by any means. But the book sold and made two movies!

    I remember Byron. :-) As Mark Twain and Frank Herbert advise: use all your good stuff in every on every page, in every chapter. Saving the best for last sometimes means readers leave your book first!! Ouch!

  8. Very hard indeed to put all that into a story, and get the reader to understand it all.

  9. How much rum did you use to persuade Captain Jack? ;-)

  10. You packed a lot into this post. Every one of these is an important point to consider and remember. I think the bottom line is that a written work is a mind trip. The writer is part entertainer, part educator, and part tour guide. The writer must manipulate the readers perception of the imaginary world presented to him and make them believe. A writer is like a magician--when the writing has been well performed we don't see how it was done as much as be amazed and believe what we saw.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out