Archive for the ‘Writing Advice’ Category

Is This Scene Worth It?

Don’t let tepid scenes suck the juice from your novel.

One simple step can save you time — and perhaps your novel.

Recognize this situation? You’ve just re-read the last scene written, and now it’s time to write another. You have a sort-of-good idea for it. And maybe when you write it, it will improve “in the telling.”

On the other hand, you’re thinking, you could just explain the action in a narrative bridge. Or perhaps tuck the information bit by bit into several scenes? In other words, you’re not sure the scene is worth it.

So how can we decide whether to bring this nugget of action on stage in a scene?

“Forward the plot” is the usual scene advice. But even following that criteria it’s  easy to write tepid, low-interest scenes.

Let your intuition help.

Here’s a quick way to help you judge if your idea for the scene is good enough: Give it a title. (You won’t use these titles in the manuscript, this is just a quick test for drama.)

The title doesn’t need to be catchy or meaningful to anyone else. But to you, it reflects the dramatic essence of the next story bit. Examples from my planning notebook for a recent novel:

Blood on the silver screen Read More…

Crossing that chasm in your novel

Sometimes we writers (you know who you are) hit a blind spot in the novel. Not really a bout of writer’s block, but a serious question about What Comes Next.

We might nobly feel like writing but we can’t quite picture the next sequence. Even when we have confidence in the overall plot, sometimes a section is like looking across a chasm where the bridge is down.

All the light goes out of the room, and we may find ourselves sullen and resentful. This is not what we signed up for. Writing flows, it doesn’t require construction work, for crying out loud. We begin to think: My planning didn’t work, my plot is too thin. I am one of those writers whose time is, sadly, up. My novel hates me.

As we get a grip on this hissy fit, we eventually conclude that it’s time to do some deep, methodical plotting. We’re going to have to think through this sequence of the story in excruciating detail.

And truthfully, we’d rather put pins in our cheeks.  Read More…

15 questions to guide your novel

Sometimes you just gotta get methodical. Novels are big and unruly, but chaos does not need to reign. Here are 15 framing questions that can help you discover and define what you what to write. I’ll use one of my books to give examples.

Questions 1-4. The main “handles” readers will use to discover your book.

1. What genre? Some aspiring writers are surprisingly conflicted about what type of story to write. My only advice is to read in likely genres. Read a lot. Learn what stories you adore.

For my book, the answer to the genre question was Fantasy. But there are so many types of fantasy, and some form popular subgenres such as gaslamp, sword and sorcery, grimdark, folkloric. So we drill down. (For examples of types of fantasy, see my post Landscapes of Fantasy.)

2. What kind of fantasy? In the case of the book I had in mind, it was historical fantasy with psi-powers. Read More…

Pitching your novel

How do you pitch a novel? And why lavish time on it? Is it just so that we won’t be caught flat-footed when someone asks what the story is about?

The Point of Pitching

While it’s true that an intriguing, quick blurb for a novel makes us look more professional–and saves us the embarrassment of stumbling through a confused rendition, a pitch also has a deep marketing purpose.

A  pitch positions your novel amid the world of books. It gives instant perspective on the story, pinpointing genre, tone, and unique features. Publishing today depends on branding and brevity. For better or worse, we’re in the world of entertainment and marketing with its thirst for audience definition. Read More…

Writing a novel synopsis

The two-page synopsis is one of the toughest things I have to write. Yes, even harder than the chapter outline.

I mean, if I have 20 or so pages to convey my story in a detailed way, it’s kind of like writing a short story. The old line “Sorry this response is so long, but I didn’t have time to make it short,” carries a hidden truth. In many cases, long is easier than brief.

So, yes, I do think the two-page synopsis is murder. I like to start long and gradually pare down. (There are people who can pound out a synopsis in one sitting, but these people can never be my friends.) Read More…