Top 10 Soundtrack Composers

A lot of you NaNoWriMo participants are sharing your Spotify playlists. I’d share mine, but I’m super picky about what songs I add, so I want to build it up a bit more first. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to count down a list (because who doesn’t love lists?) of my favorite score composers, since that’s where I find most of my writing music. Not all of them are from my NaNo playlist, but a lot of them have a song or two or ten in there.

#10 John Williams

I include John Willams in the list mostly out of respect. He’s such a talented composer! Personally, I’m not a huge fan of his style, but the mob would throw bricks through my windows if I didn’t at least mention him.

In case you don’t know who John Williams is, he’s responsible for the music in a little production called Star Wars.

#9 Alexandre Desplat

Two words: Harry Potter. Why is Desplat so low on the list? Well…the Potter soundtracks are fantastic, but when you listen to them all in a row, they start to blend together. Maybe that’s just because they’re so long? Either way, Lily’s Theme (Deathly Hallows) is definitely my favorite track.

#8 James Horner

Of all the entries in the list, Horner is probably the composer I listen to least frequently. He takes the eighth spot because a few of his tracks really stand out to me (namely a handful from his Avatar work). I really like the tribal feel in that score.

#7 Steve Jablonski

If you ask me, the Transformer movies are pretty bad. For a lot of reasons. The soundtrack, however, is not one of those reasons. Jablonski is an amazing composer.

#6 Trevor Rabin

Rabin makes the list as the only non-fantasy style entry. I refer mostly to his work for National Treasure, which is one of my favorite films of all time. The adrenaline-packed soundtrack is a big reason why.

#5 Thomas Bergersen

Okay, so Bergersen doesn’t compose strictly for soundtracks, but his work does find its way into a lot of trailers, so that counts, right? I mean, come on. The guy’s amazing. Just check out his albums called Illusions and Sun, among others.

#4 Harry Gregson-Williams

The lack of Gregson-Williams music on Spotify always disappoints me. He did such a brilliant job in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Why is that soundtrack so stinking hard to find anywhere?

#3 John Powell

This guy is all over my NaNoWriMo playlist. Simply amazing. So emotional, all over the spectrum. I can’t think of very many soundtracks more perfect than How to Train Your Dragon, can you?

#2 Hans Zimmer

You thought Zimmer would take the top spot, didn’t you? Well, not quite. He is, however, the absolute master when it comes to film scores. He’s everywhere, and he always delivers the best of the best.

#1 Hajime Wakai and Koji Kondo

Two people in one spot? Nate, you wretched cheater! Hear me out. I gave the top spot to both Wakai and Kondo because of one single soundtrack: Skyward Sword. No other soundtrack, film or game, has made me feel so many emotions so intensely. Never. Not once. While Koji Kondo did most of the music for the whole Legend of Zelda series, he only supervised for Skyward Sword, leaving Hajime Wakai (and a few others) to direct the bulk of the soundtrack. Hence, they share the spot.

Who’s on your writing playlists? Do you have a favorite soundtrack composer or two? Let me know! In the meantime, have a great day.


Don’t Put Off Learning New Things

Today I’m not talking about writing. I’m just tipping over a paint bucket with some of my thoughts from the last few days. As the title suggests, those thoughts have been about learning new things.

You see, while writing fiction is definitely my main passion, there are two things I’ve always wanted to do that, as of now, I can’t. The first is to sing. I’ve more or less accepted that as a no-go, which is fine. The second, however, is digital art. I love digital artwork, especially when it comes to character inspiration for my stories. I admire and respect the talent digital artists possess.

Now, I’ve been into drawing (off and on) since my teen years. With a pencil and paper, I’m decent. Not amazing, but decent. But for the last few years, I get an itch in my creative soul every time I see a work of digital art that I truly like.

It’s always been a “Man, I wish I could make art like that…but” sort of thing. I assumed that sort of artistic skill was out of my reach, and I settled for wishing. I’m not really sure what brought this about, but last week I got fed up with wishing and decided to do something about it.

What, exactly? Well, I consulted a few artist friends and ordered a graphic drawing tablet (a Wacom Intuos). It arrived this Monday, and I started what looks to be a long process of learning digital art.

Let me tell you, it’s hard stuff. I’m going to have to work a lot and exercise loads of patience and diligence in order to get to where I want to be. But I’m glad I took the leap. Sure, digital art probably won’t ever be more than a hobby, but why should I settle for wishful thinking when I have the chance to tackle a new (albeit daunting) endeavor?

I guess this post is a glorified encouragement note. If there’s a skill or ability you wish you had, and if you want it bad enough, go get it. Try, try again, and see where the process takes you. I wish I had acted upon my wishing much sooner, but hey, it’s never too late to start, right?

If something tickles your interest, give it a shot.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Have a great day, everyone.

5 Signs a Character Might Die

Killing off characters is a facet of storytelling that writers look forward to with glee treat carefully. A character death can pack such an emotional punch, and a lot of the time we plan ahead exactly how, when, and where a given character will kick the proverbial bucket. We try our best to keep those character deaths a surprise until the time is right.

There are, however, certain trends I’ve noticed that potentially give away which character will die next. Obviously, this isn’t always the case, but next time you see a character exhibit some of these signs…well, don’t get too attached to them, just in case.

They talk wistfully about home

Ironically, the characters that talk or reminisce the most about the home and family they left behind to go on their quest are the ones who seldom make it back. Here are some key phrases to look out for:

  • “When all this is done, I’ll go home to…”
  • “Right before I set off, my wife told me…”
  • “I long to return home and meet my newborn son…”
  • “I miss […] but I’ll be there again soon.”

They get married

Characters who get married  just before or during the main conflict will probably leave their spouse in a lonely conundrum. Writers are just cruel like that. Happiness is for the single.

They have humble dreams and goals

If a character starts to talk a lot about their dream of owning a farm, or of visiting a certain place, or of witnessing a certain event…yeah, not gonna happen. Their lowly-yet-relatable ambitions make them the perfect candidates for a sacrificial and emotional end.

They dislike the protagonist at first

Ah, this guy/gal. The ally that spends the first two-thirds of the book hating our hero for questionable (if any) reasons, then makes a sudden change right around the start of Act III. You know what’s coming: they take the ultimate redemptive step by sacrificing themselves for the hero or the hero’s cause.

They embrace the concept of death

I mean, it’s kind of fitting, I guess. The character that views death as ‘the start of another journey’ or ‘not the end, just the beginning’ is, in fact, the first to get their ticket punched. Hey, at least they got a head start on that journey, right?

What are some of the clues you’ve noticed that might (or might not) give away which characters have their days numbered? Let me know! In the meantime, have a great day!

The Writer’s Life According to Donald Trump

The following is intended for entertainment purposes only. Thank you, and come again soon. 

What you look like when you listen to music while writing in public.
When you meet your daily word quota in one sitting.
When someone criticizes your story idea.
When your NaNoWriMo characters are hyped to fight the villain but it’s still October.
When you kill off a fan-favorite character.
When you get a good review.
When you buckle down to start editing.
When you try to write before coffee.
That one scene that you spent days writing, only to delete it during edits.
When someone points out a cliche in your story.

Have a good day, everyone!

How to Outline Your #NaNoWriMo Novel

We’re just about halfway through October, which means those of us participating in NaNoWriMo this year are up to our proverbial necks in preparations (the #NaNoPrep trend you’re sick of seeing me tweet about).

I recently ran a poll on Twitter regarding outlines, and it turns out the vast majority of writers that responded do use some form of outline before writing a first draft. I also had quite a few Twitter followers tell me that they want to start outlining more but that they’re not sure how to go about it.

And I thought to myself, “Say, what a wonderful topic for a blog post!” And so here we are. Now, please understand that I’m not a writing expert. My methods aren’t universal or honed to perfection. However, when it comes to outlines, I do feel like I’ve got plenty of experience under my belt, and that’s what I’m going to share with you.

But why outline?

I definitely encourage some form of basic outlining, even if you consider yourself a pantser (a writer who prefers to create the story as they write). Here are the main reasons why:

  1. Outlining saves a lot of rewriting in later drafts.
  2. Outlining gives your story a healthy structure before you start writing.
  3. Outlining provides a solid sense of direction and a path to follow.
  4. Outlining helps avoid the “I don’t know what to write next” days.
  5. Outlining provides a surefire way to get all your ideas down in an organized, easy-to-follow way.

Important: outlining does not remove organic growth or development from your story! Many writers make this assumption, and it’s simply not true. 

The most important part of outlining (as with any part of the writing process) is to find what works best for you and develop your own strategies. Here’s my method; follow it to the degree that you wish.

Note: I follow this method for most of my writing, but I tweaked it a bit for maximum efficiency in preparation for NaNoWriMo. Just thought I’d point that out! 

Pre-outline: Brainstorm

This step could take hours or days or weeks. You need time to think. Your goal here is to understand your story from start to finish. You don’t need all the details, but you should come up with a solid plot and a cast of characters to work with.

Step 1: Write a one-page summary

Summarize your novel from start to finish, and keep it to one page. Try to do this in one sitting. Don’t focus on details. Don’t use paragraph breaks. Just keep writing one sentence after another until you’ve told your story. Make sure you’re implementing all of your characters as well (the main cast, anyway).

Step 2: Mark your three-act structure

Here I recommend printing out a copy (or several) of your one-page summary. A print copy is always easier to work with. Grab a colorful pen and separate your summary into the three acts.

If you don’t know what a three-act structure is, do some research online. It’s not a complicated topic, but it’s an essential tool for giving your story a proper structure. 

Next, highlight, circle, or underline the sentences from your one-page summary that correspond to the following elements:

  • The status quo (how things are before the conflict; this should be the very first sentence of your one-page summary)
  • Inciting event (the event that initiates your conflict)
  • Major disasters (the plot-significant events that make things worse for your characters). Usually, there will only be one per act, and they will normally take place towards the end of their respective acts.
  • The crisis and/or climax (the final confrontation of your story’s main conflict).
  • The resolution (how things have changed after the conflict).

Now you have your story’s basic structure marked. You’ll always know what major event or turning point comes next.

Step 3: Develop a summary for each act

Act by act, develop your summary. Don’t edit the one-page summary! Keep that, and start this step in a new document.

Here you can go into more detail and explanation. You can go as long as you want for each act, but remember, you still just summarizing. Don’t narrate every single bit of action.

If you’ve read up on the TAS (three-act structure), you’ll know that Act II is usually the longest, followed by Act III, with Act I being the shortest. Look back at your marked one-page summary. Do your act divisions line up accordingly? Revise if necessary.

Step 4: Create a visual, scene-based outline skeleton

This is where your “actual” outline begins. Personalize this step as much as you want. You may want to draw a timeline (give yourself plenty of space to work with!), or you may prefer an academic outline approach, or maybe bullet points work best for you.

You already have your major events identified from Step 3, so put those in their proper place first. Something like:

Inciting event – major disaster 1 – major disaster 2 – major disaster 3 – crisis – climax – resolution. 

Of course, your end result will vary according to how you’ve done the previous steps.

Step 5: Fill in the visual outline with each individual scene

Now go through your extended, act-by-act summary and fill in your outline with as many individual scenes as you have to identify. The purpose of this step is to establish which events you will show in your story and how to combine them into solid scenes. Generally speaking, each sentence or cluster of sentences in your summary will form an individual scene.

Now you have a start-to-finish visual outline with no gaps, no question marks, and relatively few hiccups. As you write your first draft, you’ll always be able to reference this outline to check what event comes next and how it relates to the broad structure of your story.

Step 6: Create an index card for each scene

Your outline is done, but this additional step will be a huge help during later drafts, so I’d urge you to get it done now. Following your outline, create an index card for each individual scene. Include the following information:

  • Scene number
  • A one-line summary
  • POV character (if your story includes multiple POV characters)
  • A spot for word count (to fill in after you write it, of course)

…as well as anything else you think you might need to be able to quickly reference.

Make sure to leave plenty of space on the front or back of the card, because it’ll be super handy to jot down edit notes later on!

If you’re the artsy type, color coding certain elements of your index cards can be fun and helpful too. For instance, I assign a color to each of my POV characters and mark a border around each card with the corresponding color. Or maybe you’d want to color-code your cards according to what act they belong to, or whatever tickles your fancy.

What you end up with

A one-page summary: your big-picture reference, and a handy precursor to your synopsis (though they won’t be the same thing!).

An extended, three-act summary: a complete narration of your story, a great resource for an overview of character development, subplots, and other nuances that don’t fit in your one-page summary.

A visual outline: your guideline to follow while writing the first draft.

A stack of index cards: a fantastic resource for subsequent drafts and editing. You can reorder scenes and make edit notes without having to mess around with a long document.

And remember…

Outlines don’t remove organic growth from your story. Quite the contrary! Each of the aforementioned steps gives you a chance to change your story and discover/add new elements. Just think, following all the steps probably takes a few days or a week, at least. During that time, you’ll constantly think about and mull over your story, so new ideas will surface naturally. Don’t be afraid to go back and change your work at any point!

Also, your outline won’t be a rigid ruler to follow. Even when you write your draft, you can explore new options and change your outline accordingly. You’ve created guidelines, not boxes.

So…this post is pretty long, but I hope it helps you understand outlines a bit more, and how to create your own! As I said before, my strategy isn’t the only one, and it may not be the best for you. Mix and match my steps with your own as much as you want, and find what works best for you.

In the meantime, have a great day!

The Loss of Real Love in Fiction

This is a slightly modified repost. I originally shared my thoughts on this topic about a year ago, but it’s important enough to bring back around. I’m not a love expert (insert Olaf gif here), nor do I claim authority over you as a writer. The following is meant to get people to think and to make changes according to their conclusions. That’s all.

Love has been a core element of fiction since…well, since forever, I guess. It drives and unites characters, it pushes plots forward, it distinguishes good from evil, and it’s an integral part of what makes a story real to us.

Romantic love certainly isn’t the only manifestation of this force, but it is a prevalent one. It’s a trend I don’t foresee readers ever getting tired of because it resonates so much with the human heart.

But genuine love is disappearing from today’s fiction.

A culture that soaks up visual stimulation like a sponge has replaced selfless, sacrificial, protective love with meaningless mind-candy.

Pick up any given book with a love plot or subplot and you’re just about guaranteed to find perfect bodies (featured on the cover to make sure the book sells), personalities characterized by immaturity, and instant-relationship formulas that completely misrepresent what love is.

Writers and readers, have we forgotten what real love between authentic characters looks like?

Genuine love takes time, effort, trust, and truckloads of selflessness. It hurts, forgives, fails, and learns. It starts small and grows into something beautiful despite forces that hammer against it. It has pure intentions and puts the other person’s needs first. It does not rely on physical attraction to keep readers turning pages.

Too many writers stoop to billboard standards, and  we’re stuck with guys whose understanding of love is reduced to I want that hot girl and girls who mindlessly fall for guys who downright abuse them (just to name a few results).

These characters and other similar types set horrible examples for the young people gobbling up the books they’re in. 

What people call love in a lot of today’s fiction is manipulative, selfish, lust-driven, uncontrolled, and thinly veiled by shallow character development. And it never grows past that.

The sad part is that those stories sell. It’s what the market wants. Writers are all too willing to take the easy route, and readers get brainwashed by a culture that thrives on the cheap, the quick, and the easily-obtained.

Unless we as writers seriously consider the messages we send through our stories and make changes accordingly, real love will disappear from fiction, and shelves will be stocked with empty shells of characters grasping for meaningful love in all the wrong places.

My next post will return to my usual lighthearted tone, I promise. In the meantime, have a great day, everyone.

Diving into NaNoWriMo Preparations!

As many of you have seen on Twitter, I signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. In case you don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, a yearly event in which tons of writers try to reach 50k words (usually) in one month. That averages about 1667 words each day for thirty days straight.

Sound crazy? Yeah, I think so too. But hey, it’s a challenge.

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo before, but when I asked about it on Twitter, you guys practically exploded with all kinds of reasons why I should join, so I decided to give it a go!

That was a few days ago, and since then I’ve been getting the hang of the website ( and planning some preparations for the month of October (since the event doesn’t start until November).

Now, I like to plan everything in advance, even preparations for a plan, so I decided to share what I’ll be doing to get ready for NaNoWriMo 2016. Keep in mind, this is my first year participating. If you’re looking for a Top 10 Strategies To Guarantee NaNoWriMo Success, I’m not the guy to ask. I’m simply sharing some of the fun stuff I (and others) will be doing to be as ready as we can!

1. I’m writing a sequel

Cheating? Maybe. Sort of. I don’t think so. As many of you know, Where the Woods Grow Wild is coming out later this fall, so NaNoWriMo is the perfect chance to knock out a huge chunk of the sequel, Where the Trees Grow Taller (temporary title).

The benefit of a sequel is that all the returning characters are good to go, so I won’t have to spend a lot of time starting character development from scratch. It also means the story world and a plot premise are in place for me as well.

2. Outlines. Outlines everywhere

I love me some outlines! I firmly believe in letting my story grow and change organically, so my finished products rarely look much like my outlines start out as, but I still map everything out before I start writing no matter what project I’m working on.

Nothing against you pantsers out there, but it’s just not for me. Personally, I need to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there before I walk out the door. Besides, I think outlining ahead of time will save me quite a few headaches during NaNoWriMo…right? *nervous gulp*

3. Pinterest boards

I’m a visual person. I understand and work with concepts better if I have a physical reference to look at. In other words, by the end of October, I’ll have a Pinterest board full of character references, location inspirations, random information graphs, etc. I’m keeping this board secret, of course.

4. Spotify playlist

I know this one’s pretty popular, but I’m creating a whole new playlist for my sequel. Where the Woods Grow Wild got its own soundtrack, but I want to start with fresh music for this project. Though, on second thought, I’ll probably have to shell out change for a premium account to dodge those aggravating reggae adds.

5. Assorted notes, charts, etc.

I have a whiteboard in my writing shed and oodles of sticky notes and notebook sheets. I guarantee they will all be full of CSI level tracking boards by the time NaNoWriMo rolls around. Anything that’s not an official outline will join the stack! Again, I like to plan. A lot. And I’m visual. So…yeah, it’s gonna get messy.

6. Coffee

Lots of it.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo 2016? How are you getting ready for this year? Have you participated in previous years? What was it like for you? Any tips for a first-timer? Talk to me in the comments, friends!

And in the meantime, have a great day.