As a Writer, Has This Ever Happened to You?

At work this evening, a coworker of mine asked me what I was doing this weekend.  I told them I was working on my second novel, to which they replied, “You’re still working on that?  What’s taking so long?”  I started to laugh, telling them that writing is a process that takes time.  As I was talking, a classic scene from Family Guy flashed into my mind, which I promptly found on YouTube and showed to them:

No matter where you are in the writing process, people often will be amazed that you’re still working on something.  But the important thing is that YOU ARE STILL WORKING ON IT.  In progress is better than no progress, and what matters most is that you know that work is being done and that you will finished with it when you know it’s ready.

So, that novel you’ve been working on?  Keep writing, and never stop creating!

Farewell to Chuck E. Cheese’s Animatronics: My 80s Flashback


Chuck E. Cheese’s as most of us knew it is no more.  Recent news articles have reported that the animatronics in most locations will be removed, a dance floor installed in the main room, and tokens will cease to exist.  And while it appears that costumed versions of the character will be around, the singing, blinking, and pivoting robotic characters that have always been a staple of Chuck E. Cheese’s will slowly fade into entertainment yesteryear. 

This news made me a bit nostalgic, and it prompted me to write about my favorite memories from Chuck E. Cheese’s/Showbiz Pizza as a kid.

My family and I were frequent guests of Chuck E. Cheese’s/Showbiz Pizza back in the 80s.  The car dealership that my dad worked for at the time would have Sunday night pizza parties there when sales when they met their sales goals for the month.  And most months were would end up spending Sunday evenings there.

I remember entering the building, the air thick with cigarette smoke – this was the 80s before smoking was banned in public buildings – and the smell of fresh pizza.  It was loud, chaotic, and frenzied, and I loved every minute of it.

One of the thrills as a kid was taking a couple bucks from my mom or dad and feeding them into the token machine.  One dollar produced five tokens.  It was like hitting the kid lottery, and I had come to play!


The arcade area floor was covered in dark green carpet with Chuck E. Cheese’s face plastered all over it.  My favorite video game was Tapper, a game where you’re a bartender that has to run back and forth to serve people drinks.  If you fail, you either spill the beer on the floor, or get run down the bar and out the door by an unruly patron.  I’m sure that game wouldn’t fly for kids today.  Here’s a gameplay clip:

But the thing I loved most were the animatronics that performed every fifteen to twenty minutes in the main dining area.  At the time I was going through a phase where I was obsessed with puppets, Muppets, and all things puppetry. 

And during these peak years as a lover of puppetry, I was fascinated and mesmerized by these animatronic figures that populated Chuck E. Cheese’s/Showbiz Pizza.  I was never afraid of them, they never freaked me out; I thought they were really cool.


In the 80s, the characters were up in a wooden balcony.  From left to right were Mr. Munch, Jasper T. Jowls, Chuck E. Cheese, Helen Henny, and Pasqually.  This was the era with the Warblettes, and the flags around the perimeter of the main room that waved when the show got to its finale.

And, I cannot forget to mention The King, a giant lion who sang Elvis songs in the lounge area of the restaurant.  I remember sitting on these black metal stools that bobbed up and down as he performed. 

The clip below is from one of the summer shows of 1988.  I remember this as if it were yesterday!

I watched them in awe.  Loving the shows.  Wondering exactly how they moved and operated.  And one day, I finally found out.

It was a weekday afternoon during a summer in the late 80s, and I decided that I wanted to find out how the characters worked.  I think I remember asking my mom if I could ask someone to show me, and she said okay.  I found a woman – who was probably 18 at the time – and asked her. 

8-year-old me, circa 1988

Next thing I knew, 8-year-old me was being taken to a door next to the stage.  Inside was a wall-size computer with a reel-to-reel set-up.  A folding metal chair was in front of the console.  The woman showed me how they loaded the shows and told me that the characters were operated by compressed air.  Just seeing this technology – even if it was 80s tech – I was even more excited to learn how these characters came to life.

And back then I also knew I was one of only a handful of kids who probably knew how it all worked!

As my love of puppets faded over time and our visits to Chuck E. Cheese’s became less frequent, I still remembered that day and those fun times we had there.  And while I know from YouTube videos and news articles that the place has evolved and changed both in its aesthetic and in how the characters are designed, I will never forget the smoky pizza place where I learned how the animatronic magic happens.

What are your childhood memories from Chuck E. Cheese’s/Showbiz Pizza?  Leave a comment and let me know!



Are You Holding Back in Your Writing Because of Social Media?

In a world where people seem to be offended by anything and everything, it can be a daunting task for a creative person to navigate the choppy waters of what will and won’t evoke controversy hour-by-hour.  No matter the topic, it seems like someone can find a way to twist it into their own meaning pretzel with plenty of negative connotations.  And when the world seems to be backfilling with these types of oftentimes innocuous offenses, many creative types may be afraid to truly express themselves.

The solution: Don’t allow hashtags and comments on social media to dictate what you want to express in your story.  If you have an idea for something a character does or says, then you start to think about how Twitter or Facebook of Reddit will react, the trolls have won even before you’ve expressed yourself.

You can’t let that happen.

You have a story to tell.  And you cannot let anonymous people online dictate what you want to say in your story.  You just can’t allow that type of false pressure to squelch your creativity.  Even before the internet there were people who hated and were offended by things they read or saw.  Just because those people have a larger more vocal platform now doesn’t mean you should allow them to get into your head and beat down your ideas.

Maybe your story has controversial elements or themes.  Maybe you explore domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, or other hot button topics.  Maybe you have a character who is a racist or sexist; who uses language that you wouldn’t use but they do.  As a creative person, you need to do what’s best for your project.  If it evokes anger, offense, or hashtags against you and your work, so be it. 

Hey, you can’t please everyone.

And that’s the main thing you have to remember.  More people when they dislike something are likely to comment on it than those who like or enjoy something.  And what is odd is that usually when reviews or comments are negative, people tend to want to find out the truth for themselves instead of just going off of what some person has posted online.

And example: Joker.  Here’s a recent film that was maligned in the press, by many critics, by people online, and other groups for weeks prior to its release.  The star and director were hounded with questions about the film’s violent content, the red carpet premiere did not allow the press to ask questions, and the fear of the film spawning violence led to the U.S. military issuing a warning, and some theaters adding extra security.

All pretty negative things against the movie, and yet it was the highest grossing film for an October release and is set to break other R-rated film box office records.  There’s also Oscar buzz around Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Joker. 

The filmmakers didn’t hold back.  They didn’t listen to the critics and edit the film down to a safe PG-13.  They stuck to their vision of the film and released it as is.  And the results were effective and the negative outcry probably had a positive outcome for the film overall.

Joker is the perfect example of how as creative individuals we need to do what’s best for our story.  We need to tell the story we want to tell.  Tell the story you want to tell without the fear of social media backlash churning in the back of your mind. 

Tell your story.  Not theirs.

Do you find yourself editing and toning elements of your story down due to fear of what may be said about you or your story on social media?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Using Empathy & Sympathy in Your Writing

What’s the difference between Empathy and Sympathy?  When it comes to writing, should we use one over the other?  Should we use both?  Do they even matter? 

The short answer is yes.  They do matter.  And both can help your reader connect with the problems and conflicts faced by your main character over the course of the story.  So, let’s define each word.

Empathy – the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.


Empathy allows the reader to jump into your main characters shoes and experience what they are experiencing even if they never have.  It helps create an emotional bond between the reader and character.  A way to connect them on a deeper level that in turn keeps the reader caring about the main character and their situation.

Sympathy – an affinity, association, or relationship between persons or things wherein whatever affects one similarly affects the other.


Sympathy allows the reader to feel bad for the plight or situation of a character even if they can’t directly identify with the experience.  This is much more surface level emotion, while empathy digs deeper into the feelings and emotions of the reader.

If you want your reader to have a full immersive experience in your story, ensuring that they can either empathize or sympathize with your main character is key.  Whether the reader has gone through a similar situation as your main character or not, making them invest their emotions and feelings into the struggles and conflicts your main character is going through will keep the reader engaged and invested.

It all comes down to the concept of caring.  Does the reader care about the characters?  Do they have a level of compassion for them?  Do they hope they succeed and want to be there with them when they achieve their goals?

If you as the author don’t care about your characters, the reader won’t either.  Take the time to give your characters emotional weight and put them in situations that will create a sense of empathy or sympathy for them with the reader.  Readers need someone to root for and identify with in a story, and adding these levels of emotional connectivity can ensure that your readers and characters will connect over the course of the story.

Do you utilize Empathy and Sympathy in your writing?  Is one more important to you than the other?  Is it important for the reader to empathize or sympathize with your main character?  Leave a comment and let me know.






Keeping Your Characters Off-Balance

Should your main characters ever feel comfortable?  Should they ever feel like everything is okay and their life is going just fine?  Of course, the answer to these questions – especially when dealing with fictional characters – is an emphatic NO.  Over the course of the story, it is your job as a writer to keep them as off-balance as possible.

In the real world, we often have a strong desire for balance and calm in our daily lives.  Too much stress or anxiety can take its toll on the human mind, body, and spirit, so we often escape to places where we can refresh and recharge.  With fictional characters, this sense of calm should be a constant struggle to obtain.  It not only can make them more in-depth as characters, it can also make for a better story.

The old adage is that Conflict = Drama.  And drama is what drives the story forward.  Like most writers, I tend to want to protect my main characters from harm.  But in doing so you do a great disservice to your characters and your readers.  Putting your characters in harm’s way, giving them impossible situations to get out of, and relentlessly giving them obstacles to overcome makes for a better story and can help strengthen and add dimension to your characters.

This is where the concept of the Character Arc comes into play.  Your characters should evolve and change over the course of the story, and keeping them off-balance and having to find ways to try and resolve their problems helps them grow as characters.  Don’t forget that your main character should go through some sort of change or metamorphosis over the course of the story.

Granted, you want to give the reader a sense of what is a normal day for your characters before the inciting incident turns their world upside down.  That’s fine.  It’s what Joseph Campbell refers to as The Ordinary World.  But once that Ordinary World is thrown off, it’s time to take your characters on a very bumpy ride. 

Your main character’s primary goal – aside from the goals your set forth for them once the story gets underway – is to return to their normal as fast as possible.  Don’t let them get there.  And even once the goal of the story has been achieved and their world seems to be back to normal, the journey they have taken over the course of the story has forever changed them ion some significant way.

They can never return to the Old Normal they had before the story began.  And that’s a good thing.  They have grown as a character.  They have overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  And they have come out the other side a stronger, more realized person because of their journey.

It is often during times of great stress or trauma that real people show their true colors.  It is your job as a writer to create these types of situations for your characters to keep them off-balance.  It doesn’t have to be a life-threatening event, but it should be something that will forever change them for the better…or worse.

What do you think?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Also check out my article: “Don’t Be Afraid to Rough-Up Your Protagonist.”

When Writing a Novel, Don’t Rush Your Story

We live in a society where the majority of people want things fast, and they want them now.  From food to other products, people demand immediacy, and any time period above that can often result in one-star Yelp! reviews or complaints on social media. 

Even with entertainment or news we’ve become accustomed to soundbites, YouTube clips, and quick hits on the News app on our phones, giving us the gist with no real depth or further information.  And the majority of society is just fine with this.

So, what happens when you are planning out a novel or screenplay with that mindset of how the world is with its lack of attention and need to get things fast?  It can make a writer think they have to deliver story, character, and more at a breakneck pace, which is contradictory to what the point of a novel is.


Your story can be fast-paced, but if you start to rush through chapters just to get to what you think is the “fun stuff” it can cheat your reader – and yourself, the writer – out of delving deeper into the world you are creating.  Take your time and deliver chapters that have meaning to the story, develop character, and bolster the themes you want to communicate.  Don’t be afraid to slow it down a bit.

As a writer, I often find myself doing this, especially if I know that something really fun, action-packed, or exciting is coming up soon.  You get the feeling to just gloss over things in order to get to the fun stuff.  But if you cheat the story, you cheat the reader, and that’s the last thing you want to do. 

The big sequences should be earned, and the reader needs to feel that they have taken a journey with the characters where both get the big sequences when they are deserved in the story.  Not because the author got impatient and wanted to jump ahead.

That being said, if you are a writer – like myself – who likes to write those sequences when they pop in your head, don’t be afraid to just write them.  You can always write the connective tissue that comes before and joins the fun stuff to the rest of the story.  This can also help you as you write the chapters prior to the scene create momentum that drives the story and the reader toward the big event.

It’s also key when you’re writing to give your reader as much information about what’s going on as possible.  Utilize the five senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.  And also the sixth: thought.  As the author you can describe all of these things and use them to teleport your reader into the world you have created for them.  Put the reader there with your characters, in their heads, and make them feel like they are part of the story.

Novels are meant to be long.  They are meant to take their time to tell stories that have a lot of moving parts, the delve into the psyches and inner-workings of the characters, and give the reader an immersive experience.  While we do live in a world where it seems like less is more and faster is better, don’t forget that novel readers don’t want to take a trip in a car going 150mph, they want to take the train with it slower pace and multiple stops. 

Take your reader on a journey they don’t mind being on for a while.  They’ll be happier when they get to the final destination, and as the writer you will be satisfied that you wrote them a quality that took its time a really delivered.

What do you think?  Does taking your time and developing story, character, and description still matter?  Or have readers become impatient with novels that take their time?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Check It Out: The Animated Book Cover of The Field Created by @byMorganWright!

I was on Twitter the other day and came across a Tweet about having your book cover animated by a woman named Morgan Wright (@byMorganWright).  I inquired, paid, and a few days later, I received this amazing animation of the cover of The Field!

If you are an author and would like Morgan to animate your novel’s cover, you can contact her the following ways:


I highly recommend her work!

The Field Receives Book Award Finalist Honor from Readers’ Favorite!


I’m excited to announce that The Field has received the Book Award Finalist honor from Readers’ Favorite in the category of Children – Coming of Age!  I am very excited and happy to have taken part in the contest, and look forward to seeing what happens next with the book!

Thanks to everyone who has read and enjoyed The Field!  I look forward to you reading the next adventure in the series coming early next year.

If you haven’t reead it yet, buy a copy of the paperback HERE.  Use the Promo Code BIKE25 and save 25%!

Also available as an ebook at BookBaby, Amazon, and Barnes&Noble.

You can also check out the Readers’ Favorite page for The Field HERE.


Drafting The Wizard of Oz (1939) – Ten Writers, Hundreds of Ideas, and One Classic Film


It’s crazy to think that MGM’s The Wizard of Oz is 80 years old this year.  For eight decades, audiences have enjoyed the story of a young girl from Kansas who is swept away via cyclone to the magical world of Oz where she meets three unique friends and must team with them to reach her goal of returning home. Adapted from the L. Frank Baum novel, this timeless and classic film went through quite a journey to become the film we know and love today.

The adaptation process that was used to write the screenplay for 1939’s The Wizard of Oz can be summed up in two words: disjointed collaboration.  Ten (yes, ten) writers had a hand in bringing the world of Oz to life.  Unlike today, these writers were assigned by MGM to work on the project, then removed at the whim of the studio and quickly replaced. These ten writers included: Herman Mankiewicz, Ogden Nash, Noel Langley, Herbert Fields, Samuel Hoffenstein, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf, Jack Mintz, Sid Silvers, and John Lee Mahin.


I recently read, and highly recommend, a great book – aptly titled The Making of the Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz –  that breaks down how the iconic film was made.  One of the chapters discusses the writing process and the many drafts, changes, and edits that were made over a tumultuous year in the life of Oz’s screenplay.  For this post, I wanted to focus on a few aspects of some of the drafts that would have made the film entirely different from the classic film we know today.

Screenwriter Noel Langley is credited with creating the “forty-three page treatment [that] included much of what would be the framework of the finished film,” but that doesn’t mean all that he wrote was used (33-34).  While he added the concept of the two farmhands – Hickory and Hunk –  becoming the Tin Man and Scarecrow in the Oz sequence, the third farmhand, Zeke, was not in the treatment.  According to Harmetz:

“In Langley’s treatment, the Cowardly Lion was strictly an Oz character – handsome Florizel, fiancé of Sylvia, a beautiful girl held prisoner by the Wicked Witch of the West. Florizel had been transformed into a lion by the Witch in order to force the girl to marry her son, Bulbo.  It was Florizel, released from his enchantment, who killed the Witch by cutting her broomstick to pieces with his sword in a mid-air duel” (35).

Whew!  There’s a lot to unpack in that passage, but the main question I have when reading it is: Where’s Dorothy?  This seems like a totally different film in the same Oz universe, but has nothing to do with Dorothy’s journey through Oz and her objective to return to Kansas.  And who names their son Bulbo?


So, unlike Baum’s book where Oz is a real place, Langley’s treatment made it clear that Oz was a dream Dorothy had after being hit in the head during the cyclone.  Langley also follows Baum’s plot points – which are also in the completed film – up to a point in his treatment, then (like the paragraph above) he goes a completely different direction:

“The traveler’s [Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, the Wizard, and Lizzie Smithers] disguise themselves as a traveling circus.  They try to start a revolution against the Witch.  True love triumphs in the end” (36).  In case you’re wondering, Lizzie Smithers worked at the soda fountain in Kansas and told Hickory he was heartless.  Somehow, she pops up in Oz and falls in love with Hickory/Tin Man after he gets his heart.  At least Dorothy is a part of the story here, but still not the main driving force of the narrative.

Another interesting aspect of Langley’s script is the famous Ruby Slippers, which were initially silver as they are in Baum’s novel:

“They appeared in Langley’s March adaptation, but served no magical purpose.  They were not used – as they are in Baum’s book and the final movie – to enable Dorothy to return to Kansas.  He wrote them out of the script.  They were back in his second script as some vague magical object desired by the Wicked Witch” (40). 

Remember, Langley’s initial treatment became the blueprint for what would eventually become the film, so it’s crazy to think that the Ruby Slippers were at one point an afterthought. The fact that they were even written out of a draft is even more bizarre given their importance to Dorothy in the final film.


Again, based on what was mentioned above, Dorothy “was peripheral to much of the action” in Langley’s treatment and scripts, and “[t]he Witch seem[ed] much more interested in conquering the Emerald City than in doing anything to Dorothy” (43).  Here’s where the story takes a turn from just a fantasy to full-on epic:

“[The Witch] send ‘ten thousand men, four thousand wolves, and two hundred winged monkeys.’ The men are ‘dressed in Japanese ceremonial armour, the ugly wasp-like death’s-head type, which half suggests skeletons.’ The Witch is attacking the Wizard because she wishes to place her half-witted son, Bulbo, on the throne” (43-44).

So, now this simple story of a young girl who goes on a quest to return home had become a Lord of the Rings, Avengers: Endgame-level epic film with a monstrously huge final battle. But again, what’s missing is Dorothy being part of the any of it.  She’s merely a participant in the action, not the driving force of the action. Throughout the treatment and drafts she is passive and has no real significance to the story other than her being there and witnessing the drama and the battles taking place between the Witch and the Emerald City.


Plus, I can’t even imagine what the budget would have been to pull off this final battle in a film made in 1939!

As writers we can learn a lot from Langley’s treatment and script drafts.  He went there with his ideas.  He thought above and beyond what could technically be achieved by the filmmaking tech of the late 1930s, and yet we have proof that it was part of the drafting process for The Wizard of Oz.  Despite the huge ideas, the grandiose set pieces, and the giant battle sequence, the heart and soul of what became the classic film was buried in Langley’s initial treatment.

And that’s an important thing to take away from this: the heart of your story, the life force that gives it meaning and substance is in there somewhere.  Even if you have action sequences or fantastical battles, dig deeper into your material and find the heart of the story.

Langley also shows the importance of not sidelining your protagonist.  There seems to be no need for Dorothy throughout most of what is shown, and the deletion of the Ruby Slippers lessens her importance even more. As you write, whether it’s a screenplay or novel, keep track of your main character. 

It can be easy to go off on a tangent with another character, but ask yourself if that character’s story has significance to the overall plot and has any effect on the main character.  If not, you may want to create a new story for that character.  Or, if this character is far more interesting than your protagonist, switch out who the main character is.

Langley was one of ten writers who crafted The Wizard of Oz into the film audiences have loved for eight decades.  Through a disjointed collaborative process and the creative talents of everyone involved, the film has become a timeless classic. 

As you write, remember that even if your draft seems crazy, illogical, or isn’t working, you have the power and ability to rewrite, edit, and fix it until it’s at its best level of quality and entertainment value.

You can order a copy of The Making of the Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz here, or grab a copy of the newest Oz book, The Road to Oz: The Evolution, Creation, and Legacy of a Motion Picture Masterpiece by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman (can’t wait to read this one!) here.


What’s your favorite scene, song, or line from The Wizard of Oz?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Citation:  Harmetz, Aljean. The Making of the Wizard of Oz. Chicago Review Press, 2013.