Do you think writing is more effective with a formula?

Of course! Formulas are buried in every book, movie or play. 

Take the Pixar movies! Who doesn’t love the little train that could? Or the little fish that doesn’t quit? Our hearts go pitter-patter when boy meets girl and live happily ever after. And what about the underdog who keeps plugging along until he wins. We love to cheer for Rocky Balboa, Scarlet O’Hara, the Great Ali, Harry Potter, and yell run Forest run. The list could go on to “infinity and beyond.” buzz lightyearI think you get the idea.

So what do I need to know about formulas that are repeated over and over in books and movies?

Do they work?


Yes! They work if we understand how to apply them. How to make them ours.

Here are 22 Rules of Storytelling from Pixar to get us started.

What did I learn from these formula rules?

  • A character that I cheer across the finish line, you may boo.
  • My readers may not think basket weaving is fun.
  • Forcing a theme on my characters may not work.
  • Whatever makes my character a star, steal it for a time. hehe
  • A formula works because it is tried and true. Once upon a time….
  • KISS, (keep it simple) until I reach the end. There is always time to go back and flesh out the details second round.
  • Characters have opinions, might as well let them speak.
  • Give the readers a reason to cheer or jeer.

What do you think?

Can you spot formulas in your writing?

Is there a formula that works for you? 

When you get stuck does a formula put you back on track? 

Tell me I’d love to know!

Leave me a comment – I love comments.

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Please stop by and say hey! The lights are on, and I’m waiting.


How to layer your story with secrets, mystery and illusion

DAN ALATORRE gave me a lot to think about when he asked, “…if you were going to write a story like Harry Potter, how would you do it?” 

The HP books are some of my favorites. I mean, who wouldn’t want to write like JK Rowling?

Dan’s post discussed the art of layering a story. Layers add mystery, intrigue, and magic which keeps the reader guessing.


Ms. Rowling opens her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, adding a sense of mystery in the third paragraph with a secret.

Does the character in your WIP (work in progress) have a secret?

Do you agree that a secret, mystery or illusion gives a story layers?

Is it enough for the main protagonist to have a secret or should there be multiple secrets scattered throughout the story?

Read the rest of Dan’s post and tell me what you think about layering.

So… Not the beat this J. K. Rowling thing to death, but… You have to ask yourself: if you were going to write a story like Harry Potter, how would you do it? First you have to come up with an idea.…

Source: How To Write Better Stories: Layering

In case you’ve been in WITSEC or living underground for the last few years and haven’t read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone hop over to Amazon and grab it while it’s still available through the KU program.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by [Rowling, J.K.]

Inquiring minds want to know. Leave me a comment and tell me what you think.

But now I’m gonna go and add some layers to my WIP.

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To connect with me, click the “write me” tab or find for me on Twitter @jeancogdell, Facebook at jeanswriting and, stop by and say hey! The lights are on, and I’m waiting.

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How To Write Better Stories: Red Herrings and More Tension

I love how Dan is taking these books apart. If like me, you are writing a mystery this post will be invaluable.

Keep reading!

I’m using Harry Potter and the Chamber Of Secrets to show examples of great storytelling that you can use in your writing. The transition from chapter 11 to chapter 12 is a split scene really…

Source: How To Write Better Stories: Red Herrings and More Tension


Reading the right stuff can make you a better writer

This is not “breaking news.”

Every writer understands the importance of reading and keeping, those reference books close by.

However, are you reading the right books or stories?

I know, I know there are only so many hours in the day. cold-156666_640

Yes, there are days when reading or writing is just not in the cards. Yesterday, allergies had my eyes swollen to mere slits so sitting in front of the computer or even reading a book was impossible.

We all have our favorite genres. Me I love YA books. I’m a big Harry Potter and Hunger Games fan. But I also love historical novels like The Outlander Series, or on a cold winter weekend I enjoy a good Steven King that will keep me up all night, but then I’m gonna need a light humorous read like those written by Janet Evanovich to shake out the hee bee jee bees. So you can see my tastes are as varied as an all you can eat buffet.

But what about contests?

Books that I enjoy reading for pleasure are not going to help me with a short story or flash fiction contest.

Stop don’t hit that enter key yet!enter key keyboard-956465_640

Read these tips first, maybe they’ll help:

  • Read, reread and then read again the contest and submission rules.

I know sounds logical but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve missed something in the rules section.

  • Read about the contest judge.

Read everything you can about the judges. If they have a website, if they have published articles, stories or books then read them. These things will give you an insight into the style they enjoy. Judges are objective but they are also human.

  • Read stories and articles published on the magazine website.

Study what type of stories the editors gravitate toward.

  • Read past winning stories.

Not just the last one but go back a couple of contests. This may require you buying the editions. The investment will be worth it.

Now after all of this homework, you may discover this isn’t the right place for your story.

Writing for contests and magazines can be rewarding and fun but it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a good place to hone your writing skills and grow a thick skin as the rejection slips fill up your email box. I opened up a file folder to save all mine in, as a reminder to stay focused.

I enjoy writing short stories and love Flash Fiction but I no longer devote so much of my writing time to submitting to every contest that pops in my email box. Like I said there is only so many hours in a day.

Do you read and research before submitting to a contest?

Do you have any winning tips to share? 

What is your experience with writing contests?

Do you have a favorite magazine or website you like to enter? 

Check the links at the bottom of the post, because if you’re ready I’ve added some links that host writing contest. I’m sure there are tons more, but this should get you started.

Let me know if you enter!

I’d love to hear from you! Click the “write me” tab or contact me on Twitter @jeancogdell,Facebook at jean.cogdell and, stop by and say hey! The lights are on and I’m waiting.

Please remember to share this post with your Twitter  peeps and Facebook fans.

WOW Women on Writing Deadlines 

FlashFiction Online 


Shortstops Competitions 

Let's Write a Short Story! by [Bunting, Joe]
Click to Read Sample
Crafting Novels & Short Stories: Everything You Need to Know to Write Great Fiction by [Editors of Writer's Digest]
Click to Read Sample