Archive for the ‘Writing Advice’ Category

Feedback on your novel: A closer look

Feedback on your fiction is, on the surface of it, a sensible thing. You’re writing for readers, and people reading your draft and giving opinions is bound to be helpful, right?

Not always.

Sometimes we end up feeling undermined or, conversely, falsely assured. Feedback can be useful at times, but for reasons that are often invisible to writers, may fail to help us. In pursuit of the deeper truth about feedback, here are some observations.

Motivation and self confidence

  • We writers are in an insecure vocation. Connecting with readers can seem unfairly difficult, even random. In such an environment we may turn to others for feedback. But we may not be ready to handle criticism, and this can weaken our intention, especially if we are already lacking in writerly confidence.
  • If you’re really ready to hear honest opinions, then it might be a good idea to get feedback. Personally, I tend to avoid feedback (except under strict conditions), because I find myself susceptible to doubt and confused by too much input.
  • I know I’m being a bit contrary, but give it some thought. At a deeper level, you know why you want feedback, and you may well be right about whatever decision you come to. But: Sharer beware.

Read More…

Keeping Track of Series

The novel being constructed.

Here I go again, getting all organized about things. Writing things, that is. But even for you organizational skeptics, you must admit that to write a series, you gotta keep track of stuff.

During the writing of my first series, The Entire and The Rose, I found that no matter how blindingly clear story elements were as I wrote, I got fuzzy on, or outright forgot many of them while writing subsequent books. With my next series, The Dark Talents novels, I was forewarned. I employed some tracking tools that I had used on stand-alone novels, but which proved to be even more critical with a series.

When I recommend these tools to my writing students, sometimes they give me pitying looks, as if to say, Really? If we did this stuff, we’d never get any work done!

But I maintain you’ll save a ton of time if you keep track of your series with a few handy documents. For instance, you won’t go chasing through your document trying to find a term or place name, a character’s name, and expressions. Read More…

The wandering novel

A novel is complex, if only because it’s so long. It can so easily wander off course, fall into episodic events and feel scattered.

To maintain unity in a story, create or discover the novel’s dramatic purpose, whether it’s the human value at stake or the theme related to a human value. To write at our best, the challenge is to know in the simplest terms, what larger issue the story is about.

This dramatic purpose can shape our decisions about what events to portray and which to leave out. Making it more likely that readers will experience a cohesive, fulfilling story.

Getting to Meaning

Examples of human values explored in novels: The Kite Runner: atonement; The Titanic (film): to be loved for oneself; The End of the World Running Club: spiritual renewal; A Discovery of Witches: self-knowledge. These are universal human issues. In these best-selling stories, fictional events and characters are chosen to dramatize these human issues. Read More…

Character in a nutshell

Can you describe your character’s essence or their raison d’etre, in a short phrase? How about Sam Gamgee’s “Some things are worth fighting for.” Or Scarlett O’Hara’s “I’ll never be hungry again!”

Our major characters are usually so deep we need a whole novel to flesh them out. But haven’t we chosen a character because she or he embodies a specific dramatic purpose? If this is true, we should know what that is. We should know it so well, we can say it in a phrase.

Sounds hard, but bear with me. Ask yourself what does my character want or believe in their very core? Read More…

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…