Archive for the ‘Writing Advice’ Category

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…

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…