The Mark Blog

Writers' Reel: How To Write A Strong Beginning

In this week's Writers' Reel, watch Michael Arndt, award-winning screenwriter of Toy Story 3, break down how to write a strong beginning using Pixar films as examples.

Here are his first three tips:

1. When you introduce a character, show them doing the thing they love the most, the thing that defines them as a person.
2. Your character needs a flaw. What's key here is that your character's flaw comes out of his or her grand passion.
3. Create trouble for your character by introducing conflict in the form of an outside force.

Boo! Mark: The PEN Staff Picks Their Favorite Scary Lit

Oh, the horror! The PEN staff picks the stories and poems that have kept them up all night. Click on the pictures of PEN staff members in their best Halloween getups and get ready to be terrified. Happy Halloween!

Libby "Loathsome" Flores
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" by Joyce Carol Oates
“ARNOLD FRIEND! This is a nightmare scenario. Like the “Misfit,” Friend is one of the most memorable fictional predators I have ever read. Note: Never read this in an empty house.”

Grant “The Ghoul” Hutchins
"Game" by Donald Barthelme
“I chose this story for its claustrophobic sense of doom. Barthelme explores the circumstances and contingencies that undergird human violence.”

Daniel “Demonic” Lisi
"The Call of C’Thulhu" by H.P. Lovecraft
“I don’t typically get scared by horror stories. H.P. Lovecraft uses enough detail for your brain to fill in the gaps.”

Michelle “Malevolent” Meyering
"Batty" by Shel Silverstein
"What's scarier than the dark? The light!"


Lilliam “Lucifer” Rivera
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
"Missing limbs and a hideous smell. That’s all I need to be completely freaked out by this particular scene in the book."

Adam “Afraid” Somers
Christine by Stephen King
“If you are into cars—this is scary.” *Note on picture: “When I was eighteen. I wanted to go as a car, but it didn't quite work out.”

Stacy “Stone-Cold” Valis
"The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe
“This story has continuously scared me since eighth grade.”

Writers' Reel: Ta-Nehisi Coates On Writing And Failure

"Breakthroughs come from putting an inordinate amount of pressure on yourself and seeing what you can take and hoping that you grow some new muscles," says Ta-Nehisi Coates. Watch the award-winning senior editor of The Atlantic and MIT professor Ta-Nehisi Coates talk candidly about his own battle with stress and how writing is closely related to the act of failure.

Read more about Ta-Nehisi Coates here.


Bookmark This: Faulkner's Best Writing Advice

Bookmark this Huffington Post list of William Faulkner's best writing advice. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Writing is not about the author, but the product.
Faulkner said in an interview with Paris Review:

"If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us. Proof of that is that there are about three candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. But what is important is Hamlet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, not who wrote them, but that somebody did."

2. There's nothing wrong with borrowing.
In a lecture to a writing class, Faulkner said the following:

"I think the writer, as I’ve said before, is completely amoral. He takes whatever he needs, wherever he needs, and he does that openly and honestly because he himself hopes that what he does will be good enough so that after him people will take from him, and they are welcome to take from him, as he feels that he would be welcome by the best of his predecessors to take what they had done."

3. The best writers are insatiable.
In the same Paris Review interview, the author remarked rather boldly:

"Ninety-nine percent talent... ninety-nine percent discipline... ninety-nine percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself."

Click here for the full list.

Writers' Reel: Harryette Mullen's 11 Tips on Tackling Revision in Poetry

Harryette Mullen, a 2013 Emerging Voices Fellowship mentor, discusses her method of revising her pieces of work. Our favorite tip includes reading your work aloud. "I might go one round just looking for the rhythm," she says. "Reading it aloud. Hearing where the stumbles are." Her latest poetry collection, Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary, is a Los Angeles Times top pick.

Bookmark This: Remembering Pulitzer Prize Winner Oscar Hijuelos

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Oscar Hijuelos passed away this week. In this New York Times essay, the Cuban American novelist reflects on his lost childhood.

"To this day it is hard for me to speak about possessing any real sense of a home, at least during my childhood and adolescence. Or, to put this idea more precisely: whatever sense of a secure home life, of belonging, that I once felt as a boy was whisked out from under my feet at a tender age.

I was born in the summer of 1951 in Manhattan, at Woman’s Hospital in Harlem, the first four years of my life passing serenely in our ground-floor walk-through on West 118th Street, where my parents, fresh up from Cuba, had settled in the mid-1940s. What few and primitive memories I have from those years are of a busy and boisterous household, with relatives and newly arrived boarders constantly filling the spare beds and cots we kept in a back room; and of crawling along the floors during the many weekend parties that my papi, a spendthrift Cubano to the core, often gave. On such occasions, our living room, facing the street, became a cozy, if smoke-filled, dance hall, replete with dim lights, music, food and booze — fetes that attracted Cubans and other Latinos to our home from every part of the city.

These were family affairs, with folks of every age, from old abuelitas, or grandmothers, to mothers with newborns. As songs like “The Peanut Vendor” by the Cugat orchestra gushed out of the record player, and people ate plates of arroz con pollo with tostones or some crispy lechón, others — mostly young couples in love, like Frankie the exterminator and his fiancée — took to the dance floor and mamboed away."

To read more of the essay, click here.

Writers' Reel: Man Booker Prize Winner Eleanor Catton

Recently announced Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton discusses the pitfall writers have of writing a plot-driven novel and losing the literary form. Eleanor explains how she set out to write her sprawling book, The Luminaries, as a challenge to tackle that struggle. 

Bookmark This: 22 Rules of Storytelling Visualized

Bookmark this list of 22 rules of storytelling visualized with Pixar animations from Fast Company. Here are a few of our favorites:

See the full slideshow here.


Writers' Reel: Storytelling in the Digital Age

Writer and producer Mark Boal, winner of the 2013 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Screenplay, discusses the making of Zero Dark Thirty with editors William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor at the Academy event "Turning the Page: Storytelling in the Digital Age.”

For more information on the 2013 PEN Center USA Literary Awards, click here.



Bookmark This: 30 Awesome Book Dedications

Today's Bookmark comes from Thought Catalog's list of thirty awesome book dedications that are possibly better than the actual book
Here are some of our favorites:

Pedram Amini, Fuzzing: Brute Force Vulnerability Discovery
"I dedicate this book to George W. Bush, my Commander-in-Chief, whose impressive career advancement despite remedial language skills inspired me to believe that I was capable of authoring a book."

Carl Sagan: Cosmos
"In the vastness of space and immensity of time, it is my joy to spend a planet and an epoch with Annie."

George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords
"for Phyllis, who made me put the dragons in."