Learn four key skills to get you started in writing.

How to be smarter

I was named “brainiest” in high school. I don’t know whether it was because I had great grades or awesome 1970s mutton chops. Today, I find that intelligence isn’t as easy to define. There are people who are very smart about the technical details of their jobs but very stupid about personal matters. (The former director of the CIA comes to mind.) And there are people who seem to be short on formal education but make very smart decisions about how to run their lives. What does it really mean to be smart and how can you be smarter?

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What if you couldn’t vote?

A recent Gallup poll estimates that voter turnout will be down for Tuesday’s US elections. But voter turnout hasn’t topped 60% for a presidential election since Nixon and Humphrey went at it in 1968. We Americans do take voting for granted. We consider it as pleasant a duty as serving on a jury or getting an oil change.

But what if we couldn’t vote? Many people around the world can’t. What if our right to vote was taken away?

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Horror movies: Fantasy lessons for the real world

I avoid horror movies for the same reason I avoid roller coasters. There are enough things to be frightened of in the real world that I have no desire to scare myself more than is necessary. But this is Halloween, the time when we Americans recognize our mortality, or at least our desire for “fun-size” candies and “sexy” costumes. So, we like to celebrate by watching horror movies. (Well, others besides me.)

I do like some horror movies. Those movies do more than freak or gross me out. They actually say something valuable and have moral lessons. Some are deeply touching. Here are my favorite horror movies and why horror movies have value in the modern world.

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How a chronology can help your writing

To prepare for revising my new screenplay, I’ve been reading The Screenwriter’s Problem Solver by writing maven Syd Field. One of the takeaways I’ve gotten so far is the need to write backstory. Although very little, if any, of this information appears in the script, the backstory helps writers understand and develop their characters and story.

One of the backstory documents that I’m using, and have found useful in the past, is a chronology. I write a table of all of the events that happened to the characters leading up to the story. It helps me identify what shaped these characters and what motivates them to act the way they do.

So, why do I use a chronology instead of writing biographies? It comes from my belief that stories are told in time.

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What “Keep Calm and Carry On” really means

It is a 73-year-old meme. My son has a copy of it on his wall. There have been countless parodies of it. (My favorite is the blue Cookie Monster one that says “Keep Calm and Eat Cookies.”) But what does “Keep Calm and Carry On” really mean? When you look at the history of the poster, you’ll see it is not merely a suggestion to mellow out.

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