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NOW through Thursday, June 24

From the view port of your lately-returned spaceship you see: A physics-defying crystal mantle shrouding the Earth.  Welcome home.

A finalist for the Philip K. Dick award.

To purchase:

“A uniquely powerful tale.” —Booklist

“Full-bodied characters, palpable environs, layered mystery and heady suspense combine like the many facets of “Ice” in this sparkling SF novel.” —Publishers Weekly

The Speed of Story

Lately I’ve been giving zoom workshops on a few critical novel-writing subjects. Topics that I think are under-taught and under-optimized by writers. One of these topics is pacing. Here are some tips from my pacing workshop, Move Along, Folks.

Pacing is the speed at which you tell your story. How quickly you’re forwarding and deepening the plot. Is it too fast, appearing rushed? Too slow, losing the reader’s interest? Usually, the problem is the latter: set-up paragraphs at the start of scenes, aftermath sequences where we consider what just happened, scenes flailing at character development or background, too many words, saying things twice, plus repeating yourself. And then there are the really tough pacing issues.

Pacing can be hard to judge. It’s part of your style. It’s dictated to some extent by your material and the style of book you’re writing. None of this excuses us from working at pacing, though.

I tend to write longish and cut back in the rewrite. But also when planning and writing, I try to forestall slow pacing using a few diagnostic questions like these:

  • How proactive is my major character? Will she be able to power the story’s pacing with her action-orientation?

Read More…

To Be Brief

I’ve just finished the third draft of my work in progress–(which, since you ask, is a dystopian science fiction novel) and among my goals was homing in on wordiness.

In third drafts, I bear down on sentences and paragraphs. Not only to smooth them out, but with an eye to brevity. I eliminated 11 pages worth of sentences and paragraphs. Because writing better often means shorter. As in these examples:

Passive voice. I believe there are times when passive voice is excellent. Just not very often, since it is like sand in the gas tank. Don’t need it, and it does damage. TRY: A computer search for the word was (and were):

  • Each branch was talking. vs: 
Each branch spoke.
  • Entering the hall, she noted that he was not at his usual sentry duty.
vs: Entering the hall, she noted his absence from sentry duty.

Saying things twice. As in stringing together clauses that repeat the thought. “She was restless, couldn’t sit still or keep her mind on the lecture.” This is first draft stuff. Cut, cut, (I told myself.) Read More…

My latest top ten writing tips

If you’ve ever tried to write a novel, this picture may speak to you!

Every few years I post my top 10 writing tips here. Why do I keep changing this list? It might be because my list is influenced by the latest unpublished manuscripts that I’ve critiqued for conferences. Does this imply that writers are making different mistakes than previously? I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just changed my mind!

Kay’s top ten, sure-fire, writing tips:

1. Work harder on an original premise: The Napoleonic wars with air power from dragons; a murdered girl relates her story from heaven; an alien universe that tunnels through our own. Respect your ideas, but deepen them. Read More…

Four Things a Novel Must Have.

Think of all the things a piece of fiction must have. Who can ever get it all right? For example, we’re told to excel at plot, character, setting, point of view, dialogue, conflict, tension, pacing, and style. If it’s science fiction, add cool science ideas and scope. The list is long and demanding.

The good news is that a novel doesn’t have to have everything right.

Remember Randall Jarrell’s wonderful line: “A novel is a narrative of a certain length with something wrong with it.” So here’s Kay’s Rule of Imperfection: You don’t need to do everything supremely well. Optimize what you can and forgive yourself for the rest.

Because the pursuit of perfection leads to many an unfinished novel.*

So where does this leave us in our writing process, our current novel? For starters, we can look at our strengths and capitalize on them. Read More…