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Discipline + Imagination + Bravery = ?

Here’s another connection between acting and writing.

I found this equation in one of my drama books:

Discipline + Imagination + Bravery = Success!

I couldn’t have said it better for either acting or writing. Let’s break this down a little bit:


An actor has to be disciplined in putting in the homework to properly understand the role. You have to understand the given circumstances of the play. You have to pick apart the dialogue and understand if what the character is saying is actually true.  You have to dig deep into the subtext in order to understand your character’s attitudes, emotions, and actions at a subconscious level. And you have to do all of these things as you learn the lines, practice with the other cast members, and try to fulfill the desires of the director.

Writers: As a writer, the first part of discipline is in the act of writing. You have to do it. Regularly. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether the ideas are flowing or not. Writers have to write if they are to be called writers. Besides this, writers have to research, and have to understand historical and cultural contexts. There is a lot of disciplined work required to be a writer.


An actor has to fill-in the gaps. The script only says so much. An actor has to take the imagination and make a three-dimensional characterization that goes well beyond the written page. Actors may also have to use their imaginations to act in scenes which experience doesn’t cover. Imagination is crucial for acting.

Writing: So much of writing is imagination. A thought comes to your mind, or a vision of a character, or a word, or a name. The imagination must take that small fragment and go places which are not obvious. In my novel, I had to imagine how to get a penniless, battered, Vietnamese woman into a position where she could escape Vietnam and end up in an unlikely place as rural Pennsylvania. Writers have to go places, sometimes hard places which leads us to …


Actors have to be incredibly brave if they want their performance to be authentic. Sometimes, they need to unmask the hurt and painful moments of their own lives in order to touch that human emotion that is genuine in such a way that it will move the audience. It’s easy to see an actor who is not brave enough, or who has not put enough honest work into their role. Their performance is flat and unbelievable. But when an actor is brave, the performance can be magical and transforming.

Writing: Writers are such easy targets of criticism that to be successful, one needs thick skin, and a lot of courage to go on in the face of all of the critics. Good writers must be honest with themselves. If a writer only wants to sugarcoat subjects, I believe they will never be a serious communicator of the human condition. It is not easy. Whatever you write will be assumed to be what you think or what you have experienced, whether true or not. It’s an uncomfortable positioned in which to be placed. But good writers don’t compromise a story to placate anyone else. Good writers are fearless, willing to go places where others are unwilling to go. Good writers must be brave!

My goal is simple, I want to put this equation into practice.

Discipline + Imagination + Bravery = Success!

Writers, we control so little

I had to laugh. I got my first one-star review the other day. It’s not really funny, though it kind of is. I’ll explain in a minute.

I’ve been writing for a number of years, but I have only recently – how shall I put it? – ‘gotten into the game.’  What game? The game of indie-authorship with the sincere hope that I’ll find some readers who will like my stories.

I’m starting to realize that being ‘in the game’ means much less than I anticipated because there are only a few things that I can control.

First and foremost, I control what words I put on the page and in what order. (decisions, it’s all about decisions – but that’s another blog post for another day) The work I create, good or bad, is wholly my creation. I love this part of being an author. I get to decide where my story goes, who is in it, and what happens. I’m like my own private little dictator. (I’ve had students who claimed I had dictatorship-leanings. Hmmm. But I suppose all teachers are somewhat predisposed to fascist power grabs and authoritarianism. I’m sorry. I digress – another wonderful trait of teachers.)

Second, I can control how much time and effort I put into building a brand (don’t you hate that phrase) and promoting my work. I can contact X number of reviewers or bloggers, I can put down X number of dollars on adds, I can giveaway X number of books, and I can continue doing this for X number of months or years, but beyond that, what do I really control?

Not much.

Case in point. I got my first one-star review for my novel. I knew I would eventually. Not everyone will or even should like my work. No author can bridge the wide span of expectations and desires of the free-wheeling readership of the world. All authors, famous or indie, have their detractors.

But then I looked a little closer. My one-star review is actually a good review. The well-intentioned reviewer writes that he wishes more people will read my book. He said a few other nice things and then for some reason, most likely by mistake, just left one star.

Out of my control. But that’s fine. As someone says, perhaps it will work to my advantage. If someone wants a counterpoint for the good reviews they flip over to see another good review.

I’ve decided not to take everything so seriously. I love to write. I’m going to continue creating the stories I want to create. I’m going to control that aspect of my life, and then I will release them into the atmosphere and let them find readers where they may.

So until I get another one-star review, please allow me to savor this one.

Writers have no room for pride

Just when I think it’s good, well…

Case in point. I’m in the final lap of writing my thesis, and after my last revisions I was feeling pretty good about where it was – confident that I was nearly finished, and hopeful that I would have very few revisions yet to come.

The Committee reviewed my work and I just recieved it back. Hmmmm. Approved, but not quite done. As I looked over my professors comments and looked in detail at my paper one last time, I said to myself “what was I thinking. This is terrible organization. They are right.”

Its funny how you can read a passage 12 times the same exact way and think how flawless it is, but then on read through 13 you realize how terrible it is.

This is the pain of editing. “Ever” can be read as “every” – every single time until the one time you finally realize its missing a ‘y’.

It takes us back to that truism that every writer knows, no work is ever really complete.My professors have been right every single time. Their suggestions have improved my work in every instance.

So may pride never tell me that what I have written is good enough.  May I remain humble and keep editing and revising. I’ll probably be a better writer for it.



Drama & Writing: What’s your superobjective?

This is part two in an occasional series on the connection between drama and writing. Today’s topic: superobjective.

When taking apart a scene, there are certain specific items that any actor has to ask him or herself. First, what is the scene objective? What do I have to accomplish in the scene? The motive? Next, what is the obstacle? What is keeping me from achieving my goal? Finally, what are the stakes? How important is it for you to accomplish your goal in this particular scene?  To what lengths will you be willing to go in order to reach maximum achievement?

As a writer, all of these particular items are important to keep in mind. Every character needs an objective. Certainly there needs to be obstacles which create dramatic conflict. It’s also crucially important to understand what’s at stake? For example, in my novel Beauty Rising, when Martin’s father asks him on his death bed to take his ashes to Vietnam, Martin agrees and the stakes are extremely high. He goes to Vietnam against the wishes of his overbearing mother. He is on a quest to find redemption, and that means that he will go to nearly any length to see his father’s quest through. The stakes are what drives Martin far beyond his comfort zone – a crucial part of the story.

However, if a writer, or actor stops there with only looking at scene objectives, obstacles, and stakes, the full story and full characterization will not be realized. What comes next is the superobjective.

The superobjective in drama (sometimes called the spine) is the overarching goal or desire of the character. It is the one thing that keeps the character moving forward. Without an understanding of a character’s superobjective, an actor or a writer may find themselves twiddling around with a bunch of episodes – episodes of action only – without any clear connection between them. It may work well with weekly episodic TV shows, but it doesn’t complete the narrative in a novel (or play).

Where this gets tricky, however, is when the character does thing in one scene which goes against the superobjective. For example, if a character wants the love of a girl more than anything else in the world, he might have to give her up in one scene in order to win her back in the end. That means that the subtleties to the writing have to be true to the scene objective, but it also has to be true to the superobjective. It’s a challenge for an actor to play the scene of giving up the girl while being true to the idea that he wants the girl more than anything. Did I lose you?

Bottom line, a character may do and say one thing, but the truth might be completely opposite. This is where layers of complexities are built up on a character making them real, human, and truly intriguing.

Keeping the idea of a superobjective in your head will help keep your character grounded, moving forward, and staying true to him or herself. Back to my novel, Martin, more than anything, wants acceptance, love and a true family. That’s why he does what he does and that is why, in my mind, the ending makes sense.

So don’t forget your superobjective. Every character has one!

3200 Words on Novel 3

Chinese New Year has provided me with some down time to do some writing, which I haven’t had much of lately.

I read an article a while back which said that indie authors need to spend about 80% of their time promoting and only 20% of their time writing. Well, over the last two months since the release of “Beauty Rising” I’ve spent well less than 20% on writing. That’s bad, I know.

However, I really want to give promotion all I have.  Plus, my second novel (unpublished) is already finished, so it gave me an excuse not to write much.

But over these last two days, I must admit that it’s been nice to get some writing done. I hadn’t really planned on doing much with my third novel until June, but now I’m over 4000 words into it and it’s very rough outline is starting to take shape.  That’s exciting!

I’ve also realized that one of my ideas is probably not going to fit into this novel, so I split that idea off for a future novel – #5 – since I already have an idea for #4.

Wow, I just need time to write!

But I am glad I got 3200 words on novel 3 done in the last two days. I call it “My Last Great Vietnam Novel.”  We’ll see what happens. Hope to publish it in 2014.

Writing is pretty fun.

My INDIEVIEW Author Interview

(I’ve been interviewed by and it is now being featured on their website. Please check it out. I’ll give you a little teaser below.)

Writing Process:

Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?

I do not outline. I jot down notes and ideas of where I want the story to go but by no means do I spend time plotting out each and every detail. For me, it would be a waste of time. My ideas are generated in the moment – during the writing itself. I have these “ah-hah” moments and then tear off in a new direction. Writing for me is about discovery and not necessarily about destination, if that makes any sense.

Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?

Yes, I do edit as I go, to some degree. I might whip off a few paragraphs and when my ideas have died down, I’ll go back and look how I can reword things better. I have realized what many other writers have, no book is ever “finished.” But we must finish it none-the-less.

Read the entire interview HERE!

Fiction Thrives When Truth Abides (guest post on Cellardoorians)

I just published a new post “Fiction Thrives When Truth Abides” on Cellardoorians.  It talks about how I used my real-life experiences to help shape my fictional work. I’ll give you a teaser here and then you can read the rest on their site. Enjoy!

I’ve been asked this question a lot lately in reference to my new novel, “Was your father really like that?” In my story, the protagonist tries to carry out his abusive father’s dying wish, and it has made more than a few people question my own background to see if I was inspired by a dysfunctional past.

All of this got me thinking of the writer’s mind – which truly can be a scary place if you happen to stumble upon it at the right, or perhaps wrong, moment. Writers try to tell tales of truth or universal ideals wrapped in a fictional shroud of imagination where reality and make-believe co-exist, co-habitat, and intermingle in ways which can make it difficult to separate the truth from the fiction.

Read the rest HERE!