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 difference, or 20% of the books account for 80% of the library’s checkout. It’s interesting how often that breakdown is useful to thinking about how events work out. Continue reading “Doing Things Right”

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. Continue reading “Surprise vs. Suspense”

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. Continue reading “Embracing the hard parts of a writing project”

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 in Time, which is, as many of you know, “It was a dark and stormy night.” I don’t believe every book needs a single killer first line. However, it’s worth a writer’s time to edit a first line and the whole first paragraph.

Here are some first lines from books pulled randomly off my shelves. Continue reading “What makes a good first line?”

Making Time to Write

How do writers make time to write? They use a regular schedule.
Make time to actually write

I’ve been reading blogs by writers at various stages of the publication process. They’re anxious because 1) they’re looking for agents, 2) they have an agent but haven’t sold a book yet, 3) they’ve sold a book but the initial sales aren’t what they hoped, 4) their first book(s) sold well but now their agent or editor says they need a big book to keep their career going. And I’m asking myself where’s the happy stop on the writer train? Continue reading “Making Time to Write”

Four Doors into a Book

Readers can prefer plot, character, setting, or language as doors to a book. Open as many doors widely as you can.
Readers enter a book in four ways: plot, character, setting, and language

A while back, I read an article suggesting that readers come to a book through four doors: plot, character, setting, and language. Any door can be more or less open, and different readers will prefer different routes. A book that appeals to a lot of readers probably has several door opened more widely. Continue reading “Four Doors into a Book”

Recent reads–Adult fiction, Adult speculative fiction, YA speculative fiction

Recent reads
November/December

Adult fiction

The Ghostwriter
Alessandra Torre
The central character in this book is a writer who’s been given three months to live and decides to hire a ghost writer to help her tell the story of some mysterious event over which she’s agonizing. She doesn’t want the book published until after she dies, so there’s nice word play on “ghost writer.” The characterization was strong. The central character is unlikeable but we come to understand her, and I, at least, sympathized. There are also interesting comments on writing and being a writer. Continue reading “Recent reads–Adult fiction, Adult speculative fiction, YA speculative fiction”

The Problems of Writing Sequels

writing, sequels, series
Some stories need sequels

I’m currently writing a sequel to The Wind Reader, the book coming out from Inspired Quill in September, so I’ve been thinking about sequels and wondering what makes a good one.

Specifically, two questions arise, one having to do with the outer arc of plot and other with the inner arc of character development. Continue reading “The Problems of Writing Sequels”

Plot vs. Chronology: What’s the Difference?

The calendar is ending! We are all doomed!

My middle-grade fantasy, Finders Keepers, turns partly on the struggle to avert a disaster that will occur when the calendar changes to the year 4000. As the story approaches New Year’s Eve, 3999, a plague kills more and more people, earthquakes swallow buildings, and floods threaten to drown the city. All will be lost unless the book’s 12-year-old hero, Cade, is willing to risk his own well-being to save everyone else.

I got the idea for that plot point while I was drafting this book in 2012. The internet was abuzz with speculation over what might happen on 12/21/12, the last date on an ancient Mayan calendar. Speculation that the world would end was so common that NASA did a podcast explaining why it wouldn’t.

The furor reminded me of similar fears when the calendar rolled over to the year 2000, and we endured the so-called Y2K panic. Even some rational people feared civilization would collapse because of computer problems caused by the date change. Given how dependent we are on computers, it was hard to say people had no reason to worry, but a portion of the population entered into the panic with gusto, buying guns and stocking up on food and fuel. They generalized from a computer glitch to a gigantic social meltdown, and in a few cases, the end of the world.

Why do people put so much weight on the change from one page of the calendar to the next? After all, dates are a humanly created and somewhat arbitrary system. Why do we lend them such significance? Continue reading “Plot vs. Chronology: What’s the Difference?”

The value of subtext and how to achieve it

Subtext, how to create subtext
Subtext is below the surface

Lately I’ve been musing on subtext, the things that aren’t explicitly in a text and yet are present by implication. Readers and movie goers like subtext because it allows them to speculate and thus involve themselves in the storytelling. They like it so much that Hollywood has a saying that if the scene is about what the scene is about, you’re in trouble. Continue reading “The value of subtext and how to achieve it”