Write On…with Steve Gottry!

November 10, 2010

“Backstory” Is a Vital Part of a Character’s Story.

Filed under: General Writing Tips,Storytelling,Writing Your First Book — gottry @ 1:36 pm

In order to create compelling characters, it’s important to develop and fully understand their backstories. “What happened to the character prior to the beginning of the story or film? What was the character’s life like…birth, childhood, throughout school, etc.? What past relationships have influenced the character’s attitudes, beliefs, and goals?”

Naturally, a person born in New York City will have a different backstory than a person born in Midland, Texas.

• Their heritages will likely be different.

• Their cultures will be different.

• They will have differing educational experiences.

• They may come from different religious backgrounds…or none at all.

• Their parents may be divorced, remarried, or widowed.

• They may have many siblings, or few or none.

• Some siblings may be adopted, some may have disabilities.

Yet, the New Yorker and the Texan will likely share more things in common than with, for example, someone from the Darfur region of Sudan, Africa, or someone from Afghanistan or Pakistan.

It’s important that you consider as many of the aspects of your characters’ backstories as possible. You do not have to REVEAL the character’s entire backstory, but you must KNOW it all.

If you are writing fiction or screenplays, you have to know your characters intimately to bring them to life and make them believable. If you are writing news or feature articles, backstory could be relevant to current behavior. It could easily explain why people act the way they do.

I mentioned “influential relationships” in my opening paragraph. One of my personal influencers or, more accurately, “encouragers,” was Ole Loing, my seventh grade English teacher. He will always be a memorable part of my backstory, because he convinced me that writing is fun!

You might want to create a detailed fill-in-the-blanks form for each character, in which you make notes about family, upbringing, education, friendships, hobbies and interests, likes and dislikes, past medical issues…anything that makes your character the person he or she is today.

“Know them to write them” is my motto!

Write On!

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Reserved.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/steve.gottry

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Looked for me on LinkedIn, IMDB and Filmixer.





October 29, 2010

And Now for an Unpaid Word from My Nonpaying Sponsor…

Filed under: General Writing Tips,Screenwriting — gottry @ 1:57 pm

This is a non-commercial blog. Which means I don’t monetize it through the sales of ads, nor do I get commissions when I promote products sold by others. (I’ve been told, “That is really dumb on your part, Steve,” but I do this for fun, not profit.)

So, today I’m going to tell you about some deals at www.writersstore.com in Beautiful Downtown Burbank, CA. Most of this stuff will be for screenwriters and aspiring screenwriters, but the first one is for anyone who throughputs his or her words to a laser printer.

VISUAL THESAURUS. $29.95. Screaming deal. Limited offer. If you don’t have this, you are wasting way too much time with Roget. I have purchased three copies at $39.95 or more, so this is a great price. (I’m one of those guys who believes that, if I have three Mac computers, my software should be legal on each and every one of them. So it is. “That is really dumb on your part, Steve.”)

Second deal: FINAL DRAFT 8, starting at $79.00 for the upgrade, with $50.00 off on the full version. This is amazing screenwriting software, and worth every dime. Hurry! Offer may not last!

Next: LEATHER SCREENPLAY COVERS with really classy black fasteners—$29.95. They normally sell for $69.95 each, I’ve purchased several at $49.95 each, so this is a deal. I just ordered four. I use them for “archived versions” of my work, because, in my mind, it adds value to my scripts. Sort of like writing daily thoughts and new ideas in leather-bound journals only. And yes, I do that, too.

And if you want a “thinking cap” (baseball-style), that bears the word “Writer” on the front, it is only $9.95. Works equally well at both formal and casual events.

I’m still trying to learn how to use CONTOUR ($39.95) for story development, and I am seriously considering ordering NARRATOR FOR MACINTOSH ($34.95), a text-to-speech program…but I DO have a budget. Maybe if I’d sell ads….

As I mentioned, these deals are set to expire, so order before midnight tonight.

I’m really not expecting a commission check from The Writer Store, but tell ’em “Steve” sent you. That’ll keep them up at night!

Write On, Smart Shoppers!

P.S. You asked about my latest downloads of iBooks to my iPad. OUTLIVE YOUR LIFE by Max Lucado and OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell. “Why yes, as a matter of fact, I AM a bit behind in my reading.”

Yet another P.S.: My stage play, THE BITTER SEASON, opens for 8 performances, Thursdays through Sundays, on November 11 in Phoenix. For details, send an email to gottry@mac.com.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Deserved. I mean, Reserved.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/steve.gottry

Twitter: www.twitter.com/gottry

Looked for me on LinkedIn, IMDB and Filmixer.

October 6, 2010

The Core of Character Development: Temperament

Filed under: Screenwriting,Storytelling,Writing Your First Book — gottry @ 11:21 am

A few years ago, I acquired some invaluable information from my friends Scott Blanchard and Stephanie Rogers that has changed my life. Actually, this information has been around since ancient Greece, but they framed it in a way that made it really useful for authors and screenwriters—even though that was not their original intention.

Scott and Stephanie took many of the concepts related to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Dr. David Keirsey’s Personality Profile (www.keirsey.com) and distilled it so that it could be easily applied in the development of characters.

In a nutshell, they explained that there are four basic human temperaments. Each of these temperaments can be defined by the “core needs” that are their driving forces. Here they are, along with what Scott and Stephanie suggest are their “mottos.”


Core needs:

• Meaning and significance.

• Unique identity.

Motto: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”


Core needs:

• Self-mastery.

• Knowledge and Competence.

Motto: “There’s a logical explanation (or at least a reasonable theory) for everything.”


Core needs:

• Membership and belonging.

• Responsibility and duty.

Motto: “But we’ve always done it that way.”


Core needs:

• Freedom to act on impulse.

• Ability to make an impact.

Motto: “Carpe Diem! Seize the day!”

While these descriptions are obviously abbreviated, you can sense that because people of different temperament types have different core needs, as characters they would bring different objectives and perspectives to your story.

I highly recommend Dr. Keirsey’s book, PLEASE UNDERSTAND ME, TOO, along with Chris Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, if your goal is to populate your story with interesting characters.

Write On!

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Reserved.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/steve.gottry

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Look for me on LinkedIn and Filmixer.

Material from Scott Blanchard and Stephanie Rogers Copyright © 2000, 2010 by

The Blanchard Family Partnership. Used by permission.

September 22, 2010

Four Keys to Creating Memorable Characters

My most recent posts have been focused on story development. Of course, great characters are essential components of great stories. What follows is my “can’t miss” approach to character development.


With apologies to Aristotle (POETICS) and Christopher Vogler (THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, 2nd Edition), I offer my personal thoughts on the topic of character development.

The four cornerstones of well-defined characters are:


For more than 2,000 years, writers and philosophers have discussed four basic temperaments (natural dispositions) into which all human beings fall. In future posts, we will refer to them as Idealists, Rationals, Guardians, and Artisans, and will discuss their core needs and how their actions, behaviors and emotions relate to those needs.


Even if you’re crafting a contemporary story, your characters have pasts. How does each character’s past impact his/her present life situation? In upcoming posts, we will discuss heredity, environment, successes, failures, relationships, emotional and physical challenges…and so on—and the importance of knowing the character’s backstory so completely that you can “live out” that story in the pages of your novel, screenplay, or “business parable.”


What does each character want, need, or desire? What is driving him/her? How far is he/she willing to go to attain those desires? What does the Protagonist want? What does the Antagonist want? What does the Mentor character want? What do the Allies want?


Everyone has flaws. Flaws can either DESTROY the character, or they can ultimately RESTORE the character to a higher plane. It is up to you to best determine how to “play out” the various characters’ flaws…all in the best interest of the story. Will the reader/viewer continue to dislike the character and his/her flaws, or will the character somehow redeem himself/herself in the mind of the reader/viewer?

Take the time to develop every aspect of your characters’ personalities. I always create detailed “bios” of every character I include in a book or screenplay. “KNOW THEM TO WRITE THEM” is an effective approach to character development.

Write On!

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Reserved.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/steve.gottry

Twitter: twitter.com/gottry

Look for me on LinkedIn and Filmixer.

September 8, 2010

More of the Story on Storytelling.

Filed under: General Writing Tips,Storytelling,Writing Your First Book — gottry @ 2:17 pm

First, a reminder:

• “It’s not a Story unless Something Happens.”

• “It’s not a Good Story unless Something Interesting Happens.”

• “It’s not a Great Story unless Something Interesting and Unexpected Happens.”

Now, with that in mind, we can discuss CHARACTER, SETTING, STORY, CONFLICT, ARC, AND RESOLUTION!

These are the six essential elements in storytelling, be it in novels, screenplays, stage plays, news reports, or short stories.

1) CHARACTER: Who are the people in the story? What do they do/will they do to propel the story forward? (Character development will be discussed in depth in subsequent posts.)

2) SETTING: In what era will the story unfold? (Bible times, Civil War, the future?) In what geographic location? (Big city, small town, foreign country?) In what specific settings? (A prison, a university, a church, a family’s home, on a ship?)

3) STORY: What is the genre? (Romance? Action? Mystery? Comedy?) How is the story structured? What events take place? What happens to the characters? What things do they make happen? What relationships exist? What bonds are forged with other characters? What elements of storytelling technique will be employed?

4) CONFLICT: Without conflict, there is no story. Which characters want what? How far are they willing to go to get what they want? Which characters want to prevent that from happening? What strategies and tactics will they use to frustrate the goals of the other characters?

5) ARC: What situations change over time? What happens to change them? (Story Arc.) Which characters will grow? Which ones will remain about the same? Which ones will regress/get worse? (Character Arc.)

6) RESOLUTION: How does the story end? Is everything resolved satisfactorily or are there “loose ends?” (Some loose ends are acceptable, of course.) Do the characters achieve their objectives? Is there some logic/plausibility to the ending? Will the reader/audience be satisfied with the outcome?

As you begin to write your first, or next, work of fiction—a screenplay, stage play, short film, novel, or short story—”think on these things!”

Write On!

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Reserved.

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August 23, 2010

“Great Story…Engaging Characters…I Loved It!”

“Great Story…Engaging Characters…I Loved It!”

Admit it! You want to hear those—or similar—words of praise about your first (or next) novel or screenplay. You want to turn on your TV or pick up a newspaper and get smacked in the eyeballs by effusive reviews. You want readers or viewers to go totally “gaga.” (No, not “Lady Ga-Ga.”)

To have a whisper of a chance of reaching that goal, you’re going to need two things: a compelling story, and characters that captivate the reader or viewer.

My next few posts are going to be about Story and Character, based in part on a new series of books I’m writing with Mark Victor Hansen, the “Chicken Soup” guy. (One of the Chicken Soup guys, anyway.)

We’ll begin with the discussion of Story, and the big question:


A story is the retelling of an event or the telling of an imaginary event in the past, present or future. It may or may not be told in the order in which the components of the event took place…or could take place. If it is told in order, it is a linear story. If it is told out-of-order (e.g. with flashbacks), it is a non-linear story.)

The five components of most stories are:

1) Characters

2) Events

3) Actions

4) Conflict(s)

5) Outcomes

Simpler stories, such as those told through paintings, may not depict one or more of these components. (Yes, I believe that paintings tell stories!)

• CHARACTERS are largely responsible for ACTIONS.


• CHARACTERS may be in CONFLICT initially, or EVENTS or the characters’ ACTIONS may lead them into CONFLICT.

• OUTCOMES are the result of what happens to the CONFLICT because of the ACTIONS taken by CHARACTERS in response to EVENTS. (In most but not all stories, the CONFLICT is resolved.)

Many stories involve an EXCHANGE. We were all raised on stories that are based on a proposed or executed exchange. The frog says to the princess, “If you kiss me, I will become a handsome prince.”

THE WIZARD OF OZ and the original STAR WARS illustrate nearly every point in any discussion of great storytelling, because events thrust the hero or heroine (protagonist) into action, which leads to conflict. The murder of Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle was the event that propelled him into action and led to conflict with the Empire. The outcome (or “resolution”) of this story is that the Death Star was destroyed. And a sequel could be made. As well as another sequel and three prequels. (We all dream about such a scenario!)

Very honestly, when I taught this material in “ENG 498: Writing as a Career” at Grand Canyon University, some of my students observed, “This is so simple.” I replied, “Yes it is. But can you do it?”

You, too, may think that the next few posts are simple. But when you get to the last one, print them all and you will clearly see their intent. And, if you apply the things you read, you should experience great reviews down the line!

Write On!

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Reserved.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/steve.gottry

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August 11, 2010

Grabbing the Reader’s Attention: The “First Five.”

Filed under: General Writing Tips,Writing Your First Book — gottry @ 4:47 pm

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a non-fiction book, a novel, a short story, or an article for a periodical—it is vital that you capture the reader’s attention immediately. The best way to do this is through what I call the “First Five Rule.”

Here’s the idea behind it…

• Incompetent writers NEVER capture the reader’s attention. (I came across a recent novel wherein the first line of dialogue appeared on page 45. I stopped reading at page 8, but then I counted the pages until I reached the first “spoken words.” Worse yet, the 44 pages of description that preceded those words were horrible.)

• Average writers may (or may not) capture the reader’s attention in five pages.

• Good writers will likely capture readers in five paragraphs.

• Better writers can hook readers in five sentences.

• The BEST writers can do it in five words!

The “First Five” rule is somewhat flexible. It can be five words, seven words, ten words, four words. Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Twelve words. But a great “hook.”

The first book of the Bible begins with, “In the beginning, God created…” Only five words, but what a perfect setup for publishing’s all-time bestseller!

This principle applies to music, too. Think about the opening guitar riff of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. Classic hook!

Or consider Beethoven! He hooked us with just four notes! (“Dit, Dit, Dit, DAAAAH!”)

Here’s the key. The more chapters and paragraphs to which you successfully apply the “First Five Rule,” the more likely it is that your readers will remain engaged.

But, nearly equal to the “First Five Rule” is the “Last Five Rule.” The words you employ to end a chapter keep the momentum going. Your objective is to create a “page turner!”

One other suggestion: Never, ever, begin a book (or a chapter) with “As…(comma).” “As he walked into the room,” or “As she stepped back from the grave.” That kind of writing is both lazy and boring. We both know you can do better than that!

Write On!

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Reserved.

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July 27, 2010

The Power of Collaboration—”Journal of a Ghostwriter.”

Filed under: General Writing Tips — gottry @ 5:39 pm

Despite my long-held belief that committees can’t write books (and shouldn’t try to), and committees can’t design book jackets (and shouldn’t try to), I have a newly forged respect for the notion of collaboration.

The reason I haven’t written a new post in a very long time is because I’ve been deeply involved in ghostwriting a book for a client in Chicago. This project has consumed my time and my mind. And, on occasion, it has also tested my patience and forced me to ask myself whether I’m a “competent” writer or not.

The way this unfolded is that “they” had their well-orchestrated, opinion-rich internal team, and “I” had a team (mostly myself) that was often at odds with them. Right from the start, I preached my axioms: 1) Committees can’t write books, and, 2) We are all focused on the same goal and are working toward a positive outcome…so let’s all get along.

It was difficult at first, because we all had to learn how to collaborate. We had to learn how to incorporate the best ideas from all concerned, without turning the book into a disjointed “committee project.” It took time—and literally hundreds of emails—but I think we succeeded!

Later in the process, I brought in my own team of collaborators. I recommended that the interior pages of the book be designed by one graphic designer, and the cover be designed by another graphic designer. Both graphic designers had once worked for me at my ad agency in Minnesota. But even though we folded the agency in 1994, I have kept in contact with both of them, and send as many projects their way as I possibly can. Because I know their strengths, I know which one should get which project.

The real reason I have called them in on numerous projects over the years is that they both understand the true nature of collaboration. It’s not about ego. It’s not about “my way” or “your way.” It’s about the good of the project.

As it turns out, the client is happy. The book goes to press tomorrow. The designers are pleased with their work. I am pleased with the written content. And nothing about the book or the cover feels, reads, or looks like it was created by a committee. That’s the power of collaboration!

Write On!

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Reserved.

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June 12, 2010

Why the Write Environment Is So Important.

Filed under: General Writing Tips — gottry @ 2:38 pm

When it comes to puns and plays on words, sometimes I just can’t help myself. Nonetheless, I’m going to share an important—yet obvious—thought with you. Where you write impacts how well you write…and often your environment affects how much you write.

I just returned to Phoenix from five days in Sedona. We stayed in a timeshare condo on Oak Creek. This is one of my favorite places to write, because it meets all my “Environmental Standards.”


Where I write is very important to me, because I like to work in extended, uninterrupted sessions. And that means avoiding distractions. Example: I can’t actually get any writing accomplished in my home office, because I am distracted by things that need to be done: filing, cleaning, bill paying, accounting, calls that should be returned. In Sedona, or in San Diego or LA, I don’t have to do those things. I am free to focus, even though I know they will be waiting for me when I return home.


Sedona is wonderful because of the magnificent Red Rock views. San Diego is wonderful because of the bay and the ocean. The same for LA. And if I ever got the opportunity to write on the coast of Oregon or Washington, I’m guessing those views would amaze me. When we lived in Minnesota, I often wrote in a small A-frame cabin in Wisconsin. The view of the lake was wonderful, and occasionally, a deer would cross my field of vision.

The one place I can work at home is on the back patio. It’s shaded, and I have a view of the pool, several Mexican fan palm trees, and bushes covered with colorful flowers.


Maybe it’s because my Dad was a musician (as was my Grandmother), but I need music in the background practically every minute. (That’s one reason why I believe that the iPod is one of the greatest inventions ever!) I like all kinds of music, too. But for writing, mellow is the best. These days, I prefer India.Arie, Sade, and Norah Jones. I also have some local/regional favorites, including Patrick Ki, Yves Vincent, R. Carlos Nakai, Grady Soine, and Vinhas Kendzia. Mellow, mellow, mellow!

When I’m on a break, I lean toward U2, old Motown, Selena, Vivaldi, or Mozart…all extremely rewarding in their own ways.


I should be on a low-fat, low-carb, 2,000 calorie-a-day diet. But when I’m on a writing binge, I tend to binge on food, too. Steaks on the grill. Hearty pasta dishes. And maybe some ice cream! Hey, I’m working hard! I need rewards!


When I take my wife, Karla, out of town so I can write, she likes to occupy her time beading. When we both need a break, we go for walks, take a swim, or play Scrabble® or backgammon. But we both know when the break is over and it’s time for me to get back to work. I have deadlines, you know!

There you have some of my thoughts on writing productivity. But enough blog-reading! Get back to work!

Write On!

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Reserved.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/steve.gottry

Twitter: twitter.com/gottry

Look for me on LinkedIn and Filmixer.

June 2, 2010

Writing Books that Sell: Is There a Formula for Success?

Filed under: General Writing Tips,Writing Your First Book — gottry @ 10:42 am

For several years, I’ve been trying to come up with some core reasons why some books by unknown authors “take off” while other books, even those by well-known authors, die on the shelves or in eBook Etherland.

Of course, thoughts such as “Fresh,” “Different,” and “Unique” come to mind. But most books are fresh, different, and unique.

Then, I decided it had to be “Luck,” “Great Marketing,” “Word of Mouth” or “Oprah.” I don’t really believe in luck, though, and word of mouth and an appearance on “Oprah” have to be earned.

Finally, I concluded that it had to be something specific and quantifiable about the writing itself. So I made a list of the ones I could identify. In reviewing the list, I decided that a book does not need all of these characteristics to succeed— but the more the better. Tell me if you agree or disagree!


1) SUBSTANTIAL: Presents solid core ideas.

2) FANCIFUL: Often, but not always, presents a whimsical subtext. May awaken “the Hero” or “the Champion” in the reader.

3) FACTUAL: Offers supporting data, interesting stories, illustrations.

4) RELATIONAL: Connects with the reader on a personal level.

5) EMOTIONAL: Elicits deeper responses; more than yes/no.

6) APPLICABLE: The ideas presented can be clearly understood…and can be either accepted or rejected by the reader.

7) ACTIONABLE: Brings about change through a call to battle, personal reflection, new thinking.

Please send me your feedback and I’ll post the best ideas I receive…and credit you, of course!

Here’s my email address: gottry@mac.com. Thanks!

Write On!

Copyright © 2010 by Steven R. Gottry

All Rights Reserved.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/steve.gottry

Twitter: twitter.com/gottry

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