Tag Archive | writing life

March 11

Today is the birthday of: Douglas Adams, Jerry Zucker

Tip: Who are the main characters in your book? There should only be one or two—three at the very most. The other characters are secondary. Make sure your mains have the majority of the scenes.

Thought: “Desire is creation, is the magical element in that process. If there were an instrument by which to measure desire, one could foretell achievement.” – Willa Cather

Teaser: A “Tom Swiftie” is a pun-like adverbial tag and should be eliminated. i.e.: “We need a new lightbulb,” he said darkly. Write a short scene where you use as many Swiftie’s as possible.

March 10

Today is the birthday of: James Herriot, Johanna Lindsey

Tip: Sometimes it helps to have something in the ending reflect to the beginning of the story. You can do this with an object or situation that mirrors something in the beginning. For instance, if there’s a blackout at the beginning and the heroine has trouble finding candles or a flashlight, at the end, you could have another blackout, but this time, she has light handy.

Thought: “Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam.” – A Whitney Griswold

Teaser: You’ve moved into a new home. While doing some cleaning, you find a loose board in a closet. You pry the board up and find….

March 7

Today is the birthday of: Georges Perec, Donald Barthelme, Paul Preuss

Tip: Check the way you begin sentences, especially dialogue. Do many of them start the same way? Do you have favorite phrases you overuse? Read over your manuscript and make a list of repetitions (and then fix them!).

Thought: “One had better not rush, otherwise dung comes out rather than creative work.” – Anton Chekhov

Teaser: Your character is creating a new drink – what is it? Alcohol or not? Fruit based? Flavors? What would it be used for (casual drinking, parties, kids, etc.)?

March 5

Today is the birthday of Michael Resnick (science fiction), Howard Pyle (children’s books), Frank Norris (naturalist), Charles Fuller, Jr. (playwright Pulitzer)

Tip: Turn off the internet. And games. And put away any other distractions. One game can lead to an hour of missed writing time. Looking for that one piece of research on the internet can cause you to lose hours in “oh, look at that” distractions.

Thought: “When I sit down at my writing desk, time seems to vanish. I think it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life.” – Erica Jong.

Teaser: Go to your nearest public library and browse the stacks. Check out areas you don’t normally go. What can you find that’s new and different for you?

March 4

Today is the birthday of Alan Sillitoe (British poet), Johann Wyss (Swiss folklorist – Swiss Family Robinson)

Tip: Always carry a notebook and pen with you. Or have a phone you can make notes on (either visually or verbally). That way, when you get that brilliant idea for a plot twist, you’ll have a place to record it.

Thought: “The muse whispers to you when she chooses, and you can’t tell her to come back later, because you quickly learn in this business that she may not come back at all.” – Terry Brooks

Teaser: What is your book about? Boil the answer down to no more than two sentences. This becomes the basis for your pitch to editors and agents.

March 3

Today is the birthday of Thomas Otway, William Godwin, James Merrill, Patricia MacLachlan

Tip: Introduce all your characters in the first third of the book. If you bring someone in at the end, especially if they “solve” the plot problem, the reader will feel cheated and won’t come back to you.

Thought: I know some very good writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. – Anne Lemont

Teaser: If you are not hearing impaired, try watching TV without the sound on, using closed captioning. What do you feel like you’ve missed, if anything? Next, try blindfolding yourself and listening to TV? What do you think you’ve missed this way?

March 2

Today is the birthday of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), John Jay Chapman, Tom Wolfe, John Irving.

Tip: Describe your characters in a few words, but actions are better. And please, don’t use a mirror. That’s cliche. A couple examples: She braided her hair, letting it hang down her back to where it touched her waist. John had always loved the dark length but now there was more gray mixed in with the dark strands. Or: She loved the way she could tuck her head under his chin. It made her feel small–something that rarely happened. Not many could handle her nearly six-foot height.

Thought: Sometimes it’s simply best to rip it all up and start over – Chuck Leddy

Teaser: This is the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Write a short scene ala Dr. Seuss – in rhyme. And don’t forget the silly words. But make it mean something.

March 1

Today is the birthday of William Howells, Lyndon Strachey, Ralph Ellison, Robert Lowell Jr., Richard Wilbur

Tip: Write your first draft as if you’re on a deadline. Set your goal and work at it.

Thought: Writing can’t be taught, but if the natural talent is there, it can be improved. – Rod McKuen

Teaser: This is National Elve’s Day. Imagine you are an elf. What kind are you? Are you the tall, willowy kind as in The Lord of the Rings? Or small and pixie-like? Do you have magical powers? What are they? Are you kind? Or nasty? Where do you live?


February 11

Tip: Go for a walk or do other exercise for at least ten minutes – more is better. Medical studies have shown that people who regularly exercise have denser, more active brain matter than those who don’t. Plus, the break will do you good. Sometimes as authors, we forget about our bodies—and brains. Often a short break will stimulate and refresh you so you can go back to work feeling renewed.

Thought: “Books are the carriers of civilization…. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.” – Barbara W. Tuchman

Teaser: Your character finds a genii, but instead of three wishes, she can have only one. What does she wish for and why? What happens?

The first chapter…

In reading over several manuscripts, I ask myself, how does this writer introduce information about the characters? How much belongs in the first chapter?

Handling background information is one of the trickiest parts of writing. The general rule is to include only what’s needed up front, then gradually provide additional details. The problem is, how do you know what’s needed?

You want to involve the reader immediately with the story and characters. Anything that slows down that process, unless the information is essential to the scene, should be pared. However, the reader needs to feel grounded. Where are we, in what time period, and roughly how old are the characters (just a hint — don’t have to be specific)? Gender’s important, too, especially if you’re writing in the first person.

Don’t drop information in an awkward lump. It can be subtle. We know it’s present day if a character uses a cell phone. If she’s an atypical eighty-year-old who text messages, provide other clues.

Warning: avoid the cliché of having the hero or heroine see him/herself in the mirror. If someone’s shooting at the heroine and she’s running for her life, she might reflect that, beneath the streetlights, her blonde hair is probably turning her into a target. Or, in a different situation, she might compare herself with someone. For instance, she considers her friend’s shiny dark hair much more striking than her light brown curls. Or have someone else comment on her coloring, height, etc.

Make sure details reveal character. To say the heroine’s wearing a business suit or a cocktail dress is often sufficient, but if she’s klutzy, she’ll have a stain on that outfit. If she’s wearing a business suit at a cocktail party, perhaps she’s a workaholic, or an absent-minded exec.

Furnishings, too, should be relevant. If she’s an impoverished heroine in a Regency romance, show the threadbare sofa and chipped porcelain bowls.

Drawing the reader into the story immediately is essential these days. Unlike in the 19th century, when novels could begin at a leisurely pace, we have to compete with TV, DVDs, videogames, and cell phones. In commercial fiction (literary fiction has its own rules), what are we trying to accomplish on Page One?

Make the tone fit the genre. If it’s scary, make it tense or eerie. If it’s funny, keep the tone light. Aim for sparkling prose and dialogue. Prune clichés and chitchat. In a romance, introduce a hero or heroine that the reader can care about. If we can’t tell the protagonists from the secondary characters right off the bat, you’re in trouble. Establish a clear point of view. Try to keep it to a single point of view per scene. Watch out for frequent shifts, also known as head hopping, especially on the first page.

What you want to do is make your beginning draw the reader in. Actually, you want to do this with the entire book, but it’s especially important in the beginning. If you don’t get them then, you’ve lost them completely. Most people don’t have time these days to wade through a hundred pages to get to the good stuff. Put the good stuff up front, and keep it there throughout the story. That will win you readers.