Sunday, June 16, 2019

Behind the Scenes: How One Well-Published Writer Structured Her Memoir

This week, I'm sharing another great article--very different from the words of Ira Glass, last post, but equally inspiring for anyone writing a memoir and confused about structure. 

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich has written a memoir not for the faint-hearted, about capitol punishment and her own difficult past, called The Fact of a Body:  A Murder and a Memoir.  This article from The Rumpus interviews her about the structure of her book and how she wove the two threads of frontstory and backstory.  Check it out here.  (If the link doesn't work, go to www.therumpus.com and search for the book title or the author's name.)  Thanks to Cherste for passing this on!

Friday, June 14, 2019

Bridging the Gap between Taste and Skill--Ira Glass Wisdom Revisited


Something must be in the water this week.  Maybe the air.  I'm hearing from discouraged writers, at every stage.  And by serendipity, I also came across the brilliant short film by Daniel Sax with Ira Glass speaking to this very problem.  So this week's writing exercise is short and sweet.  Watch, listen, take to heart these words.  (If the link doesn't work, go to www.ThisAmericanLife/extras and search for The Gap).

And for those who want to read/see more, check out this wonderful article from Brainpickings based on Glass's wisdom. (If the link doesn't work, go to www.brainpickings.org and search for Ira Glass). 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Getting Great Blurbs for Your Book--Three Published Authors and an Agent Weigh In on How, When, and Why

Blurbs are those snappy testimonials that line the front and back of published books, enticing readers to buy and read. Blurbs mean a lot to me as a reader--often I'll go for a new book because an author I respect has endorsed it.


Agents love when a writer approaches them with a few good blurbs in hand.  It's normal for blurbs to wait until your book gets closer to publishing, but it's also good to begin your list of blurb-worthy authors even as you approach final revision. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Importance of Comps (Competitive Titles) for Your Book and How to Find Them

Many years ago, when I was starting the search for my current agent (after my former one retired), I took an online course on publishing.  It was taught by an agent and her author.  One of our coolest classes they led was a Q & A session.  We got to ask them anything about publishing, about the process of querying, about what made agents say yea or nay to a manuscript.  The agent was somewhat familiar with our work by that point in the class, so her answers were relevant and specific.

I was curious about comps: are they needed?  Do agents require them?  Do they help your book in any way when you are querying?

Friday, May 24, 2019

What Is Narrative Voice and Why Does It Matter?

My last post was about agents wanting more than good writing.  This week, I'm going to give the other side of the story:  why a special something called narrative voice matters a lot if you want to attract an agent's attention.

One of my students emailed me about a discouraging response she got from an agent she queried.  The agent wrote back "the subject is so intriguing, but I just didn’t fall for the narrative voice as I’d hoped I would." Ouch.  

So what does this mean? What is narrative voice and why would an agent need to fall for it?

Friday, May 10, 2019

Beyond Good Writing--Two Agents Talk about What Else Matters If You Want to Get Published

Many of my students and private clients are good writers.  They've taken classes to hone their writing, learned to revise, are adept at choosing that perfect word or phrase to make the reader melt.  

But there's a lot more to writing--and publishing--a book than just expert wordsmithing.  In my classes, I teach the other side of books, the structure, because I've found it harder to learn and practice.  It's not taught that much in schools or even MFA programs.  Good writing is, but structure is not. But you know my concerns about (obsession with?) structure if you've followed this blog for any amount of time or taken one of my workshops.  It just matters so much, if you want to publish in today's market.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Setting as Character--How to Create Emotion from the Setting in Your Book

Rita is working on a MG (middle grade) novel. She wrote me this week with a good question about how much to use setting in her book.  What's not enough, what's too much? And most important of all, does a story's setting need to be as developed as its characters?
Her story is set on Mars, a hostile environment ("Think adventure movie," she says, "with avalanches and earthquakes." ).  The setting produces challenging events which cause her characters to react.    
She wondered if placing these events (the big earthquake, for instance) at the height of story's dramatic moments might also represent the character's strength or inner conflict.  "The stuff of myth?" she asked.

Friday, April 26, 2019

How Your Character's False Belief Weaves through a Storyboard--Creating the Narrative Arc

Character in fiction and memoir is built on the convoluted pathways of false belief. As readers, we witness the journey along these pathways: the unconsciousness of a character at the start of the book, the changes as they grow more aware, shedding their limited views of self and life.  It makes for a great structural model for story, both memoir and fiction, and this week I want to share how that false belief pathway is built, using the W storyboard.  

I began working with the concept of false belief, or false agreement, about eight years ago when I wanted to understand how my characters could show this growth.  If they started out unconscious, maybe victim to their limits, you could almost say they have a certain agreement with the status quo.  They follow certain ideas, beliefs, creeds, to get along. A story starts when that status quo begins to break up. That's the triggering event or inciting incident. (This video explains more.)

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Task of Writers to Awaken the Fresh View of Life--Like Traveling to a New Place

I remember pitching one of my novels to agents at a writing conference.  They'd read a few chapters ahead of time, a nice perk at that particular conference, and one of the best compliments I got as I listened to the feedback was:  "This is very fresh."

I asked more about what that meant.  From the response, I gathered that agents look for writers who present a fresh view of life.  Akin to the wonder we might have, traveling to a new place, readers also want to view life differently because of your memoir, novel, or nonfiction book.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Building Your Book Structure around Key Questions

Your writing exercise this week is a simple but powerful one that I teach in my storyboarding classes.  Ask yourself this:  What's the primary question of each chapter in your book? 

Then ask:  How do those questions transition, one to the next, creating a flow that easily carries your reader through the story?