Write, Read and Watch—Lessons from Marvel’s Jim Krueger

Jim_CJ_Art

I got together with a couple dozen creatives over the weekend for a workshop on story. It was a great time of networking with like-minded artists. Jim Krueger, a storyteller, comic book writer, novelist and filmmaker, was the keynote speaker. He’s most known for his works (including Earth X) at Marvel. He also won the prestigious Eisner Award for Justice (DC Comics).

Jim pointed out the three things that all writers need to do each day: write, read, and watch.

WRITE

Writers need to write everyday to strengthen and mature their “voice.” Jim, who tries to write four hours every day, believes that the writing process helps us to pour out the very thing that can fix our broken world. He also suggested that we have to know ourselves in order to find those internal nuggets of value that are worthy to be shared.

He gave us an exercise to write down our top 10 films that we love followed by the top 10 films we hate. The correlation was amazing and helped us to discover the passion that stirs within us. Within the stories we hated was an internal “No” wanting to be expressed. This pensive drive reveals the “Yes” that we want everyone to embrace—the very thing we must write about to be fulfilled.

READ

Screenwriters need to read the best scripts in the genre in which they write. Authors need to read the best books in the genre they write. Studying the best allows us to improve our techniques, while also learning what has already been done. Unique character reveals, rhythms, and pacing become second nature when we immerse ourselves in the writings of the best.

Being able to spot in others’ works what makes us feel good, and why, helps us understand how to craft our own stories that inspire. This is an important base element in writing that will attract followers and build a fan base. It’s the fulfillment of a natural need, according to Jim, who said, “People need to feel good about themselves after watching your story.”

WATCH

Since our world was transformed from a literary to a visual culture, Jim recommended that writers watch feature films and long form television to study what’s being created for the market and what is well received. While he didn’t intend to do a commercial for Movie Pass (now $6.95 for a monthly subscription program), he did recommend going to the movies often for study purposes.

James Patterson, who writes first thing every morning, shared in a class that I took a couple years ago, how he heads to a theater and watches a feature film after his morning writing session. Since he goes daily, he doesn’t always stay for the entire picture, but learns what he can about the market, what’s been done in the realm of stories, and any story techniques that he can observe and capture.

After convincing us that we all needed to be writing, reading and watching, Jim shared that the rules of story must also be followed with no exception. “Rules as a storyteller are never to be broken, only worked around with loopholes,” he said. When rules are broken, the audience can’t easily follow the story and loses interest, so it’s important to make sure the core elements or the logic and reasons behind the rules are never altered.

Jim pointed out that the limitations put on the storyteller are actually valuable creative tools. “Limitations allow us to put surprise and wonder into place,” he said. Understanding how wonder plays a role in the development of entertainment gives us the fuel to explore an idea until it rises to its best version before releasing it to the audience. Jim suggested that it could take anywhere from 4-6 weeks for an idea to mature to its highest value.

At the end of the day, Jim autographed three panel original art from his next published work due out in a few months. Keep your eyes out for his work.

Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers

Emotional Beat of Story Changes Audiences

captain-americaAnimators almost have a corner on the structural elements required to emotionally impact an audience. While all filmmakers have the same opportunity to develop emotional storytelling techniques, animators were forced to learn the skills in order to give life to inanimate objects.

I produced my first animation in college. The experience caused me to stumble upon the key elements necessary to stir the audience’s emotions. The story must contain the “what” and “how” of a character to hook the audience. The “what” is the main character’s want or what he’s fighting for. The “how” is the action it takes to obtain it.

Strong stories have a proactive main character with an internal conflict. As he chases after his “what,” he experiences the internal conflict being played out in his external world. It’s not until he solves the internal conflict that he can solve the external conflict. The decisions that he makes toward this resolution not only plays out the “how,” but it also sends him on a journey that leads him to being born again—he becomes a new person.

This rebirth is also experienced by the audience, giving them the same tools for life that the main character experiences. This new life doesn’t mean the character gets his “what,” but it does mean he gets his “need.” In other words, the character doesn’t get what he was chasing, but he gets something better. He gets what he truly needed, even if he didn’t know he needed it.

The goal of every director is to entertain the audience and once they are receptive, direct their attention to the emotional core of the story. This changes the audience’s lives. Unfortunately, most rookie directors have no idea how to get the audience invested enough into the main character that his life tools become the tools of the audience.

But it’s not a secret. The core of every story demonstrates the essence of the director’s intent, whether he is privy to his own heart or not. The choice narrative in of itself holds the key.

Seymore Chatman, an American Film and literary critic said that form or narrative structure, “communicates meaning in its own right, over and above the paraphrasable contents of its story.”

This is why films like Captain America can win more people over to ideals like God and country, wholesome living, and righteous standards than most faith-based films.

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers is a “flawed man” because he lives with real and honest character traits from the 1940s. He doesn’t fit into our modern superficial politically correct society. He has to figure out if he’s going to continue living with old world ethics or change. His struggle takes us on journey. We experience people making fun of him because he doesn’t swear. He is also laughed at and makes enemies for sacrificially and unconditionally giving of himself for a friend. But by the end of the journey he decides to hold to his convictions—The audience making the same decision for their own lives.

war-roomIn the successful faith-based film, War Room, Elizabeth is not a “flawed woman,” but her husband is battling temptations. Elizabeth doesn’t have to work through any obstacles to change, she only has to learn how to pray to save her husband from temptation. As a result, Elizabeth gains one tool (the power of prayer) for her life utility belt. The audience does not accept the tool because we never see her battle and overcome obstacles that give value to the power of prayer. We see that she only needs to put in her time and God answers her prayers.

Unfortunately in real life many prayers go unanswered, or the answer is “No.” We don’t get to see Elizabeth struggle through unanswered prayers and how they change her perspective for the good, creating a greater value in prayer than a god catalog order. Having her face unanswered prayer and finding the fortitude to continue praying anyway demonstrates to the audience how important it is to pray regardless of the outcome—a tool everyone would like to have in their life utility belt.

There is, however, one controversial scene where Elizabeth speaks out loud to the devil. Some might say this is a moment of her working through a struggle to overcome adversity and reveal the power of prayer, but its not. The scene only shows that by speaking prayerfully out loud you can also succeed by causing the devil to flee. Elizabeth doesn’t overcome any flaws or grow internally through adversity in any way, thereby not passing on any life tools to the audience.

Story is about change and growth. It’s also about redemption of our flaws being reworked to make us heroes, which all audiences want to implement in their own lives. Most importantly, it’s about instilling the value of the theme in the hearts of the viewers. When each of these things is in place, audiences add significant positive change and life tools to their life utility belts.

The irony is that the makers of faith-based films know the exact tools needed for people to live fulfilling lives, yet they don’t create stories that give these great tools to the audience. In the mean time, Hollywood, who knows little about life tools, makes great stories that hand both uplifting and destructive tools to the audience.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

The 8 Powerful Techniques that Influence Your Future

CapturedI was sucked in. I couldn’t break free from the moment. It was alarming to me. After all, I understood the techniques used by the media to manipulate those who didn’t take time for conscious consideration of their media intake. It actually snuck up on me last Saturday morning.

I lounged in bed reading numerous Internet articles on my iPad. The sun had already lit up my room, the birds were singing and I was comfy enough to stay put. I easily jumped from article to article, some humorous and others curiously addicting. After about an hour, I couldn’t help but notice that I continually was captured by one particular publication.

The ezine grabbed my attention from numerous locations. It didn’t matter if I started on Facebook, Flipbook or Instagram. Every time one of their articles was shared, I felt compelled to read it. I had been captured by my own curiosity and leveraged by the marketers who published the blog entries.

The answer to being influenced suddenly popped up in an article titled The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post. Author Kevin Lee wrote about the sciences used in capturing readers and generating shares. Social Media had matured to the point of using science to influence its readers.

The techniques were simple enough and had proven effective in my life until I gave careful consideration to what I was actually reading. It was only then that I regained control of the amount of impact the influential articles could make in my life. Here are the main categories I learned about.

How to Write the Perfect Headline

The science of testing and retesting a reader’s response to headlines shows that people scan the first three words and the last three words. This suggests that a six-word headline gets perfect readership. Since this is close to impossible to achieve with many blog entries, marketers tested other aspects of headline readership and came up with the ultimate headline formula.

Number + Adjective + Keyword + Rationale + Promise = The Ultimate Headline

Start Your Post with Storytelling

StoriesBlogs that start with a story obtain about 300% more readership than a post without a story. Blogs sharing a story in the beginning of the article keep their readers 520% longer than those without a story. This makes sense to me, as by nature our society loves to hear or read a good story.

Reduce Characters Per Line by Using Images

The fewer number of characters used on a page shortens the eye movement and increases the reader’s comprehension. In other words, its better to use a picture that takes up half the column and reduces the number of words running across the page than it is to use a full column width.

Use Lots of Subheadings

The use of subheadings allows the blog article to be easily scanned. This scan ability gives the reader a quick understanding about what elements of your thoughts shared might be important to them. It also lays out your ideas in an easy way to understand much like a book or speech outline – Adding to the readers comprehension and consideration of your ideas.

Write the Perfect Length of Content

Blog posts of 1,500 words receive more shares than shorter articles. My guess is that it’s long enough to provide substantial content that’s worth sharing. This also puts the time of readership around seven minutes, which is just under the 8-12 minute window we can handle watching on TV – That’s why commercials interrupt your show every 8-12 minutes.

Add Tweetables When Possible

By making your post quotable, people will Tweet your comments. This is now done by placing a “Tweet This” or “Share This” link alongside the text. The old fashion way is to manually code a Tweet link.

Time Your Post for the Weekend

5 Steps to Take an Idea to ScriptSaturdays and Sundays get far more readership of blogs than any other day. This is due mostly to the lack of blogs published on weekends. Less competition means more readership, not to mention that weekends provide more time for people lounging in bed with their iPads.

A Call to Action

Topping off the list of techniques is a call to action. Suggesting that people do something about what they read inspires them to embrace what you’ve shared, especially if it is actionable, relatable, urgent, visual, solution-based, entertaining and definitive.

So, there you have it. The 8 techniques that caught me off guard. The only way I found to counter its effect, was to give the articles I read my conscious consideration, which put me back into the drivers seat and slowed my compulsory reading.

I hope you’ve found this information interesting and that you add these tools into your readership tool belt so you know when someone is trying to influence you. It’s only then that you can purposely take time to consider if you’ll receive and embrace the message to improve your life or discard it to protect it.