How to Deliver Backstory

How to Deliver Backstory

Writing has ruined me as a reader. It used to be that when I stumbled in a book, I thought it was my fault. Now I usually blame the writer. I notice and nitpick things I used to let slide. One of those things is delivering backstory. What Is Backstory? Backstory is whatever happened before the book starts, so all books have backstory. In science fiction and fantasy, backstory sometimes also include information about the world that the character already…

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Writing a Strong Beginning

Writing a Strong Beginning

If a writer wants readers, it’s important to give a novel a strong beginning.  Here’s some of the advice you see scattered around in craft books. Start Where the Story Starts Miss Snark used to critique pages for her blog readers, and one of the things she did most frequently was cross out a few paragraphs or pages and say, “Your story starts here.” Readers need less preparation for the story than writers think they do. Start where something changes….

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Quality in Young Adult and Middle-Grade Fiction

Quality in Young Adult and Middle-Grade Fiction

I recently had some trouble enjoying a middle-grade book, so I went over to Goodreads to see if anyone else reacted the same way. One negative review started off: “This was a book for kids, so it didn’t have to be great literature or anything.” At that point, my blood pressure shot up, and I stomped away to do laundry. Dismissing whole genres Let’s try that sentence out on other kinds of books. It was a mystery, so it didn’t…

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What Keeps Me Reading

What Keeps Me Reading

I toss aside unfinished maybe a quarter of the books I start. Today I was analyzing what keeps me reading. I’ve blogged about what one critic calls the four doors into a book (language, character, plot, and setting). My variation on the ways that draw me in would be theme, character, plot, and setting. Theme I like a book that’s about something, and for me that seems to mean a thematic element. Not a moral, i.e. not advice about how…

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Doing Things Right

Doing Things Right

I once heard an editor say that developing writers comes to a point where they stop doing most things wrong but aren’t yet doing enough things right. As a writer improves, learning to write better gets slower. The Pareto Principle I see this as related to the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. That rule says things like 20% of the people make 80% of the problems, or the last 20% of the effort makes 80% of the…

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Surprise vs. Suspense

Surprise vs. Suspense

Prompted by an old episode of the TV show “Castle,” a middle-grade book I’m reading, and a chapter I’m trying to write, I’m still mulling over the comparative value of surprise vs suspense in a story. The difference is illustrated in a bus bomb comparison. If the characters are riding along in a bus and it blows up, that’s surprise. If we see the bomb being placed and the watch the characters ride, that’s suspense. Surprise Last night, my husband…

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Embracing the hard parts of a writing project

Embracing the hard parts of a writing project

Usually I blog about what I’ve learned as a writer, hoping to be useful to someone else. But in this entry, I want to write about two problems, one small and one big, that I’m currently wrestling with. I don’t pretend to know what to do about these problems. I do know that often the problematic parts of a story show you where you can do interesting stuff if you can figure out how.

What makes a good first line?

What makes a good first line?

How important are a book’s first lines? Watch what book buyers do when they pull books out at Barnes and Noble. They most often glance at the front cover, read the blurb on the back or inside flap, and then skim the first page. In Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, a character says she judges a book not by its first lines by its single first line, and the central character then quotes the first line of A Wrinkle…

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