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?

Friday, April 5, 2019

Why We Procrastinate as Writers--A New Perspective

One reason I take classes or go to writing conferences or join a writing group is to set artificial deadlines for myself. I know, after years and many books, that although I'm fairly disciplined with my writing, I need external accountability to get a big project done.  No matter that I set goals, and often meet them, writing a book is a long commitment that is easily sidetracked. 

Like most of you, I can procrastinate like nobody's business when I want to.  With me, it shows up as either cleaning or food. I don't usually go in for internet or Netflix comas, but let me loose with a bag of chips, and watch out. 

Friday, March 29, 2019

Root-Cause Analysis--the "Why" Question for Your Characters

Maggie, one of my past students, sent me a fun email this week.  She has been using a great technique for getting deeper into her characters.  I wanted to share it this week, while I'm teaching on retreat, so you could try it.  

Friday, March 22, 2019

Reading as a Writer--Why Reading Other Authors' Books Helps You Learn Your Craft

This weekend, I'm traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to join fifteen emerging (and already published) book writers for my week-long retreat. I've asked each to bring along two books in the same genre as the book they're working on. 

Sometimes this raises questions--"I want to work on my writing, not read other people's."

Friday, March 15, 2019

Creating Believable Characters on the Page--Tips for Fiction and Memoir Book Writers

I've been struggling with my antagonist. That might sound like a normal situation--antagonists create conflict--but my challenge is less about what he does than how believable he is on the page.

One editor told me:  "He's too much like the other nasty guy."  Another said, "It's just Bad and Badder."  My agent said, "The antagonists need to be as believable as the protagonist."

Friday, March 8, 2019

How Does Your Book End? Here Are Some Great Ideas

Thanks to Rita who sent the link for this week's writing exercise.  Scan these best endings and pick your favorite.  Why do you love those and what might it tell you about how you want your own book to end?


Do you prefer a lyrical ending, rich with image?  A factual wrap up?  An ending that hovers or one that really concludes?


If you assume an ending answers a question or quest posed at the start of the book, what might that question or quest be for these ending lines?