Writers Tips #101: 17 Tips from Writing the Blockbuster Novel

Great advice for writers!


When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

When Albert Zuckerman wrote his acclaimed book, Writing the Blockbuster Novel (Writers House Press 1994), he made no apologies for directing this how-to-write book at those who want to pen the big story, the one that vaults a writer to the fore of his art, the script that makes movie makers drool. All novelists aspire to that (in the way all children aspire to be President), but few will achieve it. Nevertheless, the tips he shares serve every story well, even the niche novel that only appeals (though rabidly) to a cult of…

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The Interview: Tips from Professional Journalists

Common Core Standards for conducting interviews:


  1. What is the difference between an interview and a conversation?
  2. What is Tavis’ one rule if you want to be a good interviewer?
  3. What is a generous listener?
  4. What is the difference between leading or following a conversation?
  5. What does Tavis mean by “doing your homework”?


  1. What does Katie suggest to make the interviewee comfortable?
  2. How does body language and tone affect the interview?
  3. Why does Katie suggest not using questions that require a “yes” or “no” answer?
  4. Why is it important to be a good listener and use following up questions?
  5. Why does Katie suggest in remembering who you are serving? What is the goal of an interview?
  6. How does Katie know her interview was effective?

Other resources:

Basic lighting techniques (studio photography)


  • Traditional, three point lighting
  • Flat lighting
  • Ratio lighting – deep shadow lighting
  • Rim lighting
  • Light meter
  • Key lights
  • Fill lights
  • Hair light
  • Boom
  • Soft box
  • Banding

Guiding questions:

  • What is the distance a camera should be placed above face?
  • What is the relationship between the type of lens and the distance from your subject?
  • For these lighting scenarios, answer:
    • 1) When is this lighting used? (What kind of photography?)
    • 2) What F stop setting do you use for the fill or key lights?
      • 1:1 ratio lighting
      • 2:1 ratio lighting
      • 3:1 ratio lighting
      • 4:1 ratio lighting
      • 5:1 ratio lighting


  • Highlight
  • Shadow line
  • The core
  • Background
  • Fill card
  • Motion blur
  • Diffusion material

Guiding questions:

  1. When do you achieve the ideal ratio?
  2. How does the key light help your subject transition between lighting positions?
  3. How do you use a fan for hair?
  4. What kind of lens did he use?
  5. How did they use diffusion material?

5 different portrait positions for light

  1. Rembrandt light
  2. Split light
  3. Broad light
  4. Butterfly light
  5. Loop light


Experimenting with light height – use of reflector and Rapid Box

“The bigger your source–or your modifier–in relation to your subject, the softer the light.” – Joel Grimes


  • Reflector
  • Soft light
  • Hard light

Guiding question:

  1. What types of light are produced when you move the light source forward or backward?