Category Archives: Tel Aviv Writing Events

Write Better Content

Yesterday, I attended WordCamp Israel, 2014, a day of learning and discussions for WordPress users. As a long time WordPress blogger, and a former Hollywood script analyst, I thought it would be interesting to talk about something less technical than widgets, coding, or meta tags but to really delve into why story is so important and how an appreciation of it can make your content better, no matter why you are blogging:

I started off with a sad but very illuminating story. About four years ago, my best friend lay in her bed, dying. It was breast cancer. I had just returned from Israel. Julie – she said weakly – tell me about your trip. I thought it was horrible to talk about a vacation while someone was dying!

Please, Lynn said. She was not able to even open her eyes.

I told her about the Red Sea and how warm it was. I told her you could see the hills of the Saudi Kingdom from there. I described the hot, greasy schwarma and the tender, crumbling falafel.

I felt like Sherhezade – I had to keep talking.

I described Petra and the silence in the desert. And the way the old city in Jerusalem smells a little like smoke and oil and flowers.

One tear rolled down Lynn’s cheek. It’s so ancient, she said. That was the last thing she ever said to me and that was the moment in my life when I realized how important – how truly important story telling is.

Because it transports us. Even on our death beds.

Stories only happen to those who can tell them.

~ Paul Auster

Here is a truth: Good stories – good writing – good content – is immersive, compelling and entertaining. Every time. 

You already know this. Because this recognition and ability is hard-wired within you. Believe it. But many of us do not ourselves consume enough good content online (we skim, more on that later) or we assume that it’s easy to write good content and we may not try all that hard.  quote

I learned valuable lessons about mediocrity in my ten years in Hollywood – in an environment of extremely high stakes, where NO NOT GOOD ENOUGH is a daily mantra, I learned that NO is an invitation to better and that mediocrity will never, ever make you stand out from the crowd.

I learned that asking more and MORE of your story, of your idea or concept was a way to sharpen your skills:

 NO. Not good enough. What else happens? Why is this unique?

In Hollywood this might seem like a jaded attitude but really it’s just a reaction to too much material and too little time. And so often, unfortunately, what we think is unique and interesting – just isn’t. It’s a rough environment.

Writing online is a different environment and yet asks the same of a writer – why is this different – because today we are inundated with content and information masquerading as content.

There is an ocean of information online and its easy to get lost in the crowd. How is your blog better? 

Whether you blog for personal reasons or to sell a product or service, your content is just one more piece of information floating around.  Usually when we think of improving readership, we think of SEO, hashtags, sharing on multiple social media outlets efficiently. And this is true. It is important.

But content is king.

Here’s the thing: you don’t need to have a doctorate in English (or any other) Literature to get some fundamental truths of story. You just have to know how important good content is.

Remember – story telling is innate within us. The ancients knew how to tell stories and there’s never really been any improvement on the basic construct, whether in writing or in the oral tradition: odyssey




Or – as I say – Beginning, middle, BLOODY POINT ALREADY!

We are accustomed to digesting stories in three acts – the set up, the complication and the resolution.

Today I went to the store. They were out of tahini. I found the tahini.

In and of itself – this three-part story is not entertaining. Stories have many moving parts. By changing one element we have a much more interesting story – one that begs for our attention:

Today I went to the store. They were out of bullets. I found the bullets.

Now you have my attention. You have aroused my curiosity. The fun thing about story telling is that it has so many moving parts. What point of view should you be writing in? First person? Third? What is the main point of your story? Where is this happening, what makes this unique? You have a world at your fingertips. Practice your “blogging voice” or persona until you get it right.

Imagine yourself at a dinner party. Hey everybody! You say. Hey! You’ll never believe what happened! And you get all eyes on you and you get this immediate reaction to your story. And by dint of the fact that you started telling a story, we know you want to entertain us.  Yes, some people are better story tellers than others but it’s both because they do it a lot and because they enjoy the feeling of entertaining others. There is a high and an immediate feedback.

However, when you blog, you write into the ether. You are greeted by silence. Which for many, is a relief. Many writers are shy. But – how do you know if your blog was successful? By the number of comments and shares? Yes, in part. By the number of followers and those who discuss the article? Definitely.  But there are some caveats. What makes readers share, comment on or otherwise interact with your blog?

There are a few things you should take into consideration. Chief among them is the fact that definitely attention spans are shorter. The internet has given everybody in the world a voice and there is a huge amount of content online. Ergo, writing not just good but great content is more important than ever.

Most people skim content. In the New York Times there is a great article by Karl Greenfeld, about Faking Cultural Literacy – which points to our modern tendency to glean as much information as possible as quickly and easily as possible. Further, we live in an age of “listicles” – Top ten ways to lose weight before summer! Top three things you need to know about sex!

So where does good story telling fit into the modern reading habits and attention span of those who would build our readership? How can bloggers adapt? 


In other words:

Get my attention

Tell me the authentic truth

Make it matter in my life

Here are a few ways you can study up on better content writing:

Keep a diary of what content you read and why.

What do you notice about why you clicked on or read what you read? What grabbed you? Was it relevant to you in your life? Was it written with honesty and authenticity? Was it provocative and interesting – in either the title, the piece itself or ideally both? Did what you read leave you with something you didn’t know? Did it make you want to take action – even if that just means following the RSS feed?

Learn about great content by reading it. 

Curate your Facebook Feed. Follow those publications and writers that consistently write what grabs you. Read great content and study what makes it great.

Establish a clear vision for your blog.

Why do you blog? Whether for pleasure or for business you should be able to define and describe your blog in what amounts to a tagline: Great activities for eco-hikers! Or whatever that description needs to be. When you are clear about your blog, your blog will be clearer. What, exactly, can I expect from your blog in general? And how is it different from other content?

The worst sin you can commit as a writer is to be dull and obvious. Avoid this at all costs. Don’t give me anther stupid listicle of the top three ways I can polish my cutlery. And if you do write for a cutlery business, or a medical supplier? You can still try to find a way in to that blog post that is authentic, truthful, entertaining and relevant. You can find a way.


Beginning. Middle. Blood Point Already.

Get my attention

Give me some truths; make me laugh or think or disagree with you.

Leave me with something that means something in MY life.

Now go out and blog and do it well! If you need some private lessons to improve your writing, please drop me a line. I am glad to help. If you fancy a social situation and live in Israel, come join the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon and get those creative juices flowing.


The Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon: Antagonists

The Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon is a weekly writing group that has been getting together for over a year now. Each week we meet, discuss a writing related topic designed simply to get us writing. We often laugh very, very hard, causing mild alarm in the cafe, as we share our work after we’ve written. Probably because of my deeply embedded need to laugh, the prompts usually generate comedy. But not always.

At the end of the session, after we’ve laughed til we’ve cried and maybe just cried because we’ve cried and paid for our coffee and left the cafe with hugs and promises to meet next week, I send the writers written notes from the discussion. It’s not all fun and games, there is a serious element as well. I mean – okay a little. Somewhat. We like to laugh, what can I say? Why should writing or discussing writing be so deadly serious all the time?

And by the way, if you are reading this blog and you are in high tech, if you are an entrepreneur and creative, taking some creative writing classes can really awaken a side of yourself that you draw upon, every day. Trust me on this.

I thought I’d share last week’s discussion as it pertains to screenwriters every bit as much if not more than prose writers!

Writing the Antagonist Discussion Notes

We’ve talked a lot about main characters and how your character should have some kind of arc – toward realization or change – even if it’s just slight change.

In The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Tolstoy, veritably the whole story is told from the bed of a dying man, as he nears inevitable death and howls against its clutches. In the very end – he comes to a realization and he finds peace. It is one of my favorite short novels and you should definitely be familiar with it.

But antagonists don’t generally change. They are consumed by their very badness, their need to get what they want at ALL costs.

Think of villains we are all familiar with – the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz, The evil queen in Snow White, any bad guy in any action movie – they get punished in the end. Every time. wicked

But what makes an antagonist particularly memorable? Not necessarily the method of their madness, or their m.o., but the details about them and more than that – their unfettered, logical believe in what they are doing.

The villains I just mentioned – wicked witches and the like – are by design two dimensional characters that are more symbolic than anything else. Of course they don’t change.

I was lucky enough to see Wicked, the brilliant backstory of The Wicked Witch of the West, in which we find out just what drove her over the edge. But that was not part of Baum’s original vision and it needn’t have been.

In Chronicle, an AMAZING sci-fi film that I cannot recommend enough, we actually watch a good guy turn into a bad guy and we see the causality between his experience, his new found powers and his rage.

As we’ve discussed before, every character has some kind of back story and it really depends on what you are writing, how much you need to point to it or bring it out.

If you are writing an action film called, say, Die Hard, and your bad guy wants MONEY and POWER – the medium doesn’t really call for asking WHY Hans Gruber (played brilliantly by Alan Rickman) needs power. Why? Because this is a Hollywood action film – focus on the word ACTION and we find that really, the focus in on how the hero overcomes the bad guy – period. hansgruber

In 3:10 to Yuma, the bad guy, Ben Wade, played by Russell Crowe, is a different shade of bad guy. He is intelligent, and we get the sense, through his actions later in the script, that he has a touch of cowboy/noble ethics at the end of the day. The laws of the wild west include earning RESPECT and Ben Wade gets that and winds up making a decision that surprises us.

Sometimes bad guys are just thoroughly psychotic and bad – which is fun and can serve a purpose. Cruella DeVille comes to mind. Who cares WHY this psycho wants a fur coat made of Dalmation puppy skins?

But then other antagonists come out of various books and movies like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs. Truly one of cinemas most memorable villains and why? Because he was refined, intelligent, almost charming. He plays the main character, Clarice’s foil – he isn’t the bad guy we are really after, no, that’s complete psycho Buffalo Bill – but Lecter serves a fascinating purpose, as both mentor, shapeshifter and villain in the film.

In one small moment, when Lecter is in his jail cell, speaking again to Clarice, taunting here, we see just briefly – you’d have to pause the film – that he is reading a German Vogue.

An antagonist is a necessary component of your story, no? Your main character has to have some embodiment of their challenges, someone who is thwarting their desires.

Every character has a backstory – even if it isn’t explicit. And so does your antagonist. The question is whether to make the back story explicit or implicit.

The genre you are writing and the medium as well, supply the answers to this question. What gets the highest entertainment value but also keeps the story focused on the main character and his or her arc?

An antagonist can be a fun opportunity to show off your writing chops – why have a boring old psychopath when you could have Annie Wilkes, from Misery?

Who can forget this moment? 

Notice that Annie has no problem hobbling and imprisoning her captive, James Caan, but she doesn’t curse.

The antagonist is a significantly important character in any story. You can emphasize or de-emphasize according to the genre and the medium. hannibal

Today we are going to emphasize the antagonist – the character with some kind of injurious backstory (explicit or implicit) with a definite ax to grind – something that your main character is in the way of.

Don’t forget – the antagonist has a point of view too. To them – THEY are the main character and your main character is THEIR antagonist.  They are the hero of their story – they may be thwarted or they may not. Either way, they definitely have some logic, some villain code that they go by – a belief system in what they are doing and how they are doing it.

This means, as you write, that you’ll need to write a heroic character, a nice guy – who is in the moral right – but who stands in the way of the antagonist/main character you are writing.  Have fun with it!

If you’d like to try some of the writing prompts for that evening’s session,

If you live in the Tel Aviv area (or beyond) and would like to join us, please join up our Facebook group and sign up for the next class. You’ll be in very good company.