Monday, March 24, 2014

8 Writing Lessons from Supernatural (Part 1 of 2)

by Misha Crews

I was first introduced to Supernatural by my friend Michelle Carlbert, who I met at Comicon in 2010. If you're not familiar with it, the show is about two ridiculously handsome brothers cruising around in a vintage car slaying demons. (I write this with tongue firmly planted in cheek: that's pretty much the premise of the show, but it transcends that shallow description.) The brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, are played with heartfelt authenticity by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Although the concept seemed fun, I kind of doubted that there would be much artistic merit in the show itself. I was wrong about that (first time for everything) and I've made up for that error by talking about Supernatural at pretty much every available opportunity to anybody who will hold still long enough to listen.

After reading Nicole Christoff's post Muppets and More, and  Evie Owen's post on the movie It's Complicated, I started pondering the ways in which popular television and movies have influenced my writing. And since I'm going to my very first Supernatural convention in May, this seemed like the perfect time to dive into the lessons I've learned from a show which has become an unexpected source of inspiration.

1. The core is in the classics. In the case of Supernatural, this means urban legends and religious mythology. And in modern popular fiction, we've seen a huge resurgence in mythologies over the past few years: vampires, super heroes, werewolves. We've also seen the classics being resurrected over and over again: especially with books like Rebecca, Pride and Prejudice, and A Christmas Carol. And of course, how many times have we read modern versions of Shakespeare? Not just Romeo and Juliet, but Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew, and too many others to mention? Incorporating the classics allows an artist to touch a nerve that resonates on many different levels with her audience, whether that means viewers or readers.

In this clip from the show, Sam and Dean slay a dragon. It doesn't get much more classic and mythic than that!

2. Don't be afraid to go deep. Over the nine years that Supernatural has been on the air, Sam and Dean have been to both Heaven and Hell – literally. And they've saved the world on at least three occasions (probably more – apologies to the superfans out there for not knowing the exact number!) In a show where the protagonists have battled every type of entity, from angels to demons and back again, you'd think that their interior highs and lows might not be that important for the writers. Not so. One thing that this show definitely demonstrates is how the plot's external ups and downs are mirrors of the characters internal ups and downs (and vice versa).

3. Conflict, conflict everywhere. Writers are always taught that conflict is the fuel on the fire of any great story, and Supernatural knows how to work conflict into their plots. Personalities clash at the least convenient times, and old hurts are woven seamlessly into new plot twists. In this clip from Season 1, Sam and Dean have an argument that encapsulates their entire history up to this point. As a result of the argument, the brothers split up for the remainder of the episode, and that period of separation has ramifications which we're still feeling today, nine seasons later.


4. Family is not just the heart of the story, it's also the bones. The heart of this show is the relationship between Sam and Dean. The family bond is is both their greatest strength and their most dangerous weakness.

And in addition to influencing the characters, the individual episodes and season-wide story arcs are also built around family. The brothers are together, then apart. They're at odds, then in accord. In fact, the entire first season was structured around the two of them reuniting after a long rift and looking for their father. So family is not just the heart, it's also the bones: it's the structure around which the framework is constructed.

Here's a video that emphasizes the importance of family in this show. And it's interesting to note that the family isn't just restricted to blood relations. As Bobby Singer (the wonderful Jim Beaver) so eloquently says, "Family don't end with blood."

On Monday, April 7, we'll be back with lessons five through eight. In the meantime: are you a Supernatural fan? In what way do you think the show has influenced your writing?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Muppets and More: Childhood and the Stories Grown-Ups Crave

Kermit the Frog is the reason I became a broadcaster. In his tan trench coat, with his microphone in his long, green fingers, Kermit popped up all over Sesame Street, getting to the bottom of stories such as Humpty Dumpty’s demise. And on The Muppet Show, Kermit kept his cast of Muppets from galloping toward chaos as the ultimate stage manager, producer, and director.

As a result, my brother and I made up our own radio broadcasts and styled our own variety shows, recording our work on a General Electric tape recorder that was so old, Ray Dolby’s ideas about noise reduction and chrome alloy cassettes were a distant dream to us.

When I was five, one of my mother’s friends gave me my very own Muppet. I can’t remember his name, but he was purple and he wore a striped sweater and he came in a box. He came with a wardrobe of facial features, too, that stuck to his face with Velcro. I loved his glasses and his squishy orange nose. Soon, he began starring in the variety shows we recorded on those old GE cassettes which, come to think of it, were a lot like the tapes Mr. Rogers later showcased on his show and in the recent PBS video, “Garden of Your Mind.”

With all this, then, is it any wonder that I’m a veteran of broadcast news or that the heroine in my latest novel wears glasses?


In fact, the books, songs, movies, and TV shows that touched us when we were kids continue to shape us as adults, too. They influence what we value in the stories we encounter today. But to paraphrase LeVar Burton of that childhood staple, Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it. Chris Carter, creator of the 1990s runaway hit, The X-Files, said he wanted that show to recreate the feelings he had a as a kid in California when he watched Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Kolchak quit investigating the weird and the wonderful in 1975, but during the height of The X-Files’ popularity, a short-lived reincarnation starring Stuart Townsend and Gabrielle Union came to life and you could even catch the original episodes on some cable channels. Sure, those old episodes seem a little campy by today’s standards, but to a child of the ’70s, they were probably as thrilling as The Twilight Zone was in the ’60s or Fringe has been recently.
The bottom line is that Carter carried Kolchak with him into adulthood--and into what it means to have a great story. And I've carried the Muppets, Mr. Rogers, Nancy Drew, and even Remington Steele with me. With that said, I'm excited to see what stories may come from generations moved by Veronica Mars, Firefly, or Pretty Little Liars.

And I'd love to know what favorite childhood books, songs, movies, or TV shows have stayed with you. Which ones taught you what to look for in a story today?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Can't See You

Last night I got together with some writer friends and we analyzed a movie. We've done this every year for five years now. This year we analyzed "It's Complicated."  

I can't speak for all of us, but for me, personally, I'm fascinated by structure, and since I (nominally) lead the movie discussion, structure is always our jumping off point.

Over the years I've collected several structures for us to look at. Michael Hauge's Heros Journey; Blake Snyder's Save the Cat; the fabulous Leigh Duncan's plotting arch; and this year we added Victoria Lynn Schmidt's heroine's journey from her book,  45 Master Characters, Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters.

Every year it gets easier to pick out the different elements (e.g., Theme Stated, Turning Points, Dark Night of the Soul). I like to think I'm learning these elements along the way. I'm not a detailed plotter, which is to say that I don't sit down and plot my story out scene by scene, turning point by turning point, before I start writing. So my hope is that by going over the structure this way in other stories, these elements will come out more naturally in my own stories.

One of the most fascinating twists in our yearly movie discussions is the question of whether or not the things that work in a movie can work in a book. And of course the answer is often no. Movies are visual. Books are internal. But sometimes you can achieve the same effect using a different technique.

The thing that stood out to me this year, in "It's Complicated," was the way that Meryl Streep's  character, Jane, couldn't see Steve Martin's character, Adam.

Michael Hauge calls it "the journey from identity to essence." According to Hauge, in most good stories, a character starts out fully rooted in their identity and ends up fully in their essence. He often uses the movie Shrek as an example.

In "It's Complicated," Jane's journey is kicked off by her youngest daughter leaving for college. As for many women, the empty nest has Jane questioning her identity. One of the ways she addresses this is by starting the process of getting her kitchen renovated. Adam is the architect assigned to the project, but until Jane has started to progress from her "identity" toward her "essence" she overlooks Adam. The way he has to keep re-introducing himself to her is a running joke and it was, for me, a lovely element of the story and an elegant way to show Jane's progress along the way to her happy ending. 

I've been trying to think of a book that uses a similar device but it was a long weekend and my brain is tiiiired, so I'm throwing it out to YOU, dear reader. Can you think of a story where the hero/heroine overlooks somebody/something important until they change enough to be able to recognize what's good for them?

What about Marianne and Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility?

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour: One Writer's Way

This week I'm part of a Writing Process Blog Tour, so I figured I'd share my post here with our R8 audience as well as on my own blog at At the end of this post, you'll see that I tag three other authors who will post about their writing process next Monday on their own blogs, thus continuing The Writing Process Blog Tour! Please follow them as they tell their tales.

A   T H A N K   Y O U  T A G

Thank you to the talented Evie Owens for tapping me for The Writing Process Blog Tour, a tour where authors talk about their process and why they write what they do. Evie Owens writes paranormal romance set in the real world. She likes to create worlds where you actually believe the hot guy next door can speak to dead people. And she does it oh so well with a twist and flare all her own. Believe me, you don't want to miss her hot stories! The Psychic Detective, a novella that's part of the Once and Forever anthology is available now, and her YA paranormal, Witch Boy, will be out soon.

To learn more about Evie, read her post from last week at:

M A C K E N Z I E   L U C A S

What am I working on? 
I'm always working on multiple projects, because I get bored and need to switch gears often. However, since Essence my contemporary romance published with Soul Mate Publishing debuted in January, I've been focused equally on writing and promotion. Last week I completed a month-long virtual book tour. It was a fun tour, where I interacted with readers at every stop. And a few days after I finished that blog tour, I hopped on another to promote my Dragon Shifters of Derkesthai Academy series. The newest book out is From This Day Forward, also released in January.

As far as new writing projects go, I just finished final edits on an anthology piece called Matchmaker's Moon about a matchmaker who doesn't really believe in love but who is given a second crack at finding true love when her ex comes back to town.

I'm also editing my next full-length contemporary romance novel, called Every Heart Sings. It's the story about a rock star who's lost his way and the small-town community that helps him find his way back to the heart of his music. Bring in one heroine with an aversion to anything that smacks of the entertainment business and who is determined to run interference for her music-crazy nephew and you have enough trouble to keep everything hopping on this small North Carolina island.

I just started writing the first draft of my next category length (50,000-word) contemporary romance, Tricks. This is the story of a national snowboard champion who must face her biggest fear to qualify for the next Winter Olympics. Sparks fly when she encounters small-town police chief and SAR first responder, Eli Scott, when he's forced to rescue her during a freak blizzard.

Finally, I'm working on a new adult erotic romance called The Boy Next Door. When twenty-one-year old Gwen Sanders comes home, she wants only one thing . . . to get the attention of Brody Thompson, the boy next door, who she's secretly loved since she was sixteen. She'll do almost anything to find out what the sexy recreational sports tour guide does with his clients at his clandestine monthly Barn Bash. She's about to find out. One way or another.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
There's a lot of excellent contemporary romance out there. I love writing stories set in small-town communities where a quirky cast of characters gets involved in bringing two people together. My stories are also hot. I don't close the bedroom door. I love lots of sexual tension and steamy sex in my books. And, there's usually one protagonist who is trying to overcome or heal a past wound. Often, that protagonist's love interest is integral in helping him/her complete that process.

The tagline I've claimed for my brand is "contemporary and paranormal romance with heart and passion." Even in my paranormal romance, you'll find the same familiar contemporary romance tropes I employ in my contemporaries. There's a huge overlap. The only difference is that in my paranormal romance you'll find a touch of magical realism along with the small-town contemporary romance.

Why do I write what I do? 
I'm a small-town girl. Born and bred. I now live in the suburbs of Washington, DC. I miss the small-town way of life. It's amazing to me how much we crave community today. And I think that's why lots of readers love small-town-based contemporary romance. I know it's why I read it. I'm looking for characters who connect with their neighbors and learn how to navigate the sometimes sticky ties of dysfunctional family life. As always, I'm writing stories I want to read, because I always run out of titles and good authors to read.

How does your writing process work?
I’m what they like to call a Plan-ster. I do some initial planning, then I’m a pantser--I wing it. I know at least one character when I start out. I know the opening scene, and I know the ending. I usually plan a few high points between, but other than that, that's all I know when I get started. I enjoy the discovery process that comes for me during the creative writing of a story too much to worry about planning out every little detail of my book first.

So what I usually do is I come up with the core concept of the story and write a little blurb about it, combining a Michael Hauge and a Bob Mayer type of process. Once I have my short paragraph--maybe twenty-five or so words. I’ll come up with a list of plot points. Things I know need to happen in my story from beginning to end. It’s everything I know about the story. It can be in order, or it can be out of order, it doesn't matter. At times I've done this on the computer then printed the plot points out and taped them onto individual index cards. That way, I can shuffle the points around and move them as I need. These are the tent poles, as Jenny Cruise calls them--the plot points that hold up my story.

When I have my plot points written down. I sit and write an in-depth character sketch of my main characters, usually the hero and the heroine. So that I begin to get to know them. Understand their motivations and backgrounds and wounds. Something I've recently added to my process is that I write down each of their arcs. Where they are at the beginning of the story and where they are (usually emotionally) by the end of the story. This way, I know how they change. I may not yet know what changes them. But I see them at the beginning and the end. I've also begun to note the arc they have in their relationships with others beyond the main character. Say, for example, the arc my heroine has with her grandmother who is a secondary character.

Then, it’s time to begin writing in earnest. I open my word document (or sometimes Scrivener) and I begin … Chapter One. The beauty of my process is that it works for me (for now). Every book is a little different. And, sometimes, the process changes slightly. But I get down everything I know first. Then, I begin to write from one known point to the next, and as I do, fun and interesting things pop up to make my story richer and bring it alive. This is the part I love. It’s the dating phase. The discovery phase where we know each other well enough to go out and share a meal, but as we sit and have a conversation, we find hidden depths and fall just a little more in love with each other. So that by the time I’m finished with the story, there’s not a nuance I don’t know about the story I've just told.

T A G G I N G   T H R E E   O T H E R   A U T H O R S

Thanks for stopping by today to read about my writing process. Now it's my turn to tag three other authors to talk about their process and why they write what they do. Let's send The Writing Process Blog Tour viral, make sure you continue to follow these authors' posts next Monday--March 10, 2014--to learn more about them and find a whole host of new books to read! Here's who is up next:

 M I S H A   C R E W S

MISHA CREWS has been nominated for the Bronte Prize for Romantic Fiction and Kindle Book Review's Best Indie Book Award for her romantic suspense novels that perfectly blend romance and mystery while providing a twist on timeless tales of home and heart. She writes heart-warming stories set in small towns where intrigue and suspense intrude on her characters' lives. Her novels include: Still Waters, Homesong, and Her Secret Body Guard. She's written novellas for A Spirited Season and for At the Cafe and Other Stories.

Check out Misha's blog post on her writing process at:

M E G   M I M S

MEG MIMS hails from Michigan and is an award-winning writer of the western mysteries Double Crossing and Double or Nothing. She's one-half of the D.E. Ireland writing team, whose series of cozy mysteries will be published by St. Martin's later this year. Meg has also written two successful Christmas novellas, Santa Paws and Santa Claws.

Learn more about Meg's writing process by visiting:

N I K K I   H O P E M A N

NIKKI HOPEMAN writes a fascinating blend of horror and mystery. Her debut novel, Habeas Corpse, is about a zombie forensics technician forced to turn amateur sleuth when an alarming series of murders threatens his community and everything he stands for. She's also published an intriguing horror short story called "Blackbird" in the Mistresses of the Macabre anthology.

To find out why Nikki writes horror and mystery, check out her blog post at:

H O W   A B O U T   YOU?

So if you're an author, what's your process and why do you write what you write? If you're a reader, tell us what kind of stories you love to read and a few of your favorite authors, and why you love to read those stories!

Thanks for reading!