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Some Simple but Revolutionary Maxims for Writers

Any writer who wants to be successful with readers — even if the only reader is himself or herself — should pay attention to the following fundamental maxims:

1. Project vacuums. Good writers project vacuums — absences, gaps, holes, emptinesses, risks, threats, losses, unknowns. They do this partly to maintain a resonance with readers, whose imaginations respond to vacuums as physical objects respond to gravity. The action of projecting vacuums should become a primal habit. Anything which indicates a departure from an ideal is a vacuum: a missing parent, a lost treasure, a crownless king, a country at war, a man in doubt. Replace the parent, find the treasure, crown the king, bring peace to the country and find certainty for the man and you have filled the vacuum and ended the story.

2. Spotting that good (and great) pieces of fiction are constructed of projected vacuums is the beginning of the mastery of fiction as an art form.

3. Hooking reader attention and emotion is, on a mechanical level, a triggering of vacuums. Take an ideal scene and suddenly remove a key component: readers’ attention will be fall into the story as surely as if you had dug a hole beneath them.

4. One of the first things that writers who want to be successful should do each day is project vacuums onto their major characters, their plots, their settings, their minor characters. They should check through their work in order to define and enhance the vacuums of that day’s work; they should paint vacuums into the futures of their characters.

5. Importantly, they should learn to use these created vacuums to motivate characters through the action of the book — characters (and therefore readers) are pulled along by fears, anxieties, projected unknowns. Characters are driven by the impulse to restore the missing ideal scenario: find the father, pursue the treasure, crown the king, fight the invader, end the uncertainty — and so are readers.

6. Human thought is constructed around vacuums. This universe of space/time, matter and energy is constructed around vacuums. Quantum physics tells us that particles might not even be there; the future is a giant emptiness, waiting to be filled. A work of fiction can become good and even great by using these huge truths to draw in more and more attention and emotion.

My book, How Stories Really Work, gives you more clues on how to use these things.


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