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On Book Covers

On Book Covers

Book covers are supposed to serve as little billboards that tell the reader what kind of book they are and invite the reader to pick them up and examine them further. Read the back cover copy, maybe, or browse chapter 1. What makes a good cover? I’m probably not the person who should be answering this question because I’m not very visual and am terrible at telling good covers from bad. I’m so bad that my writer friends laugh at…

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First Drafts: First Paragraph Edition

First Drafts: First Paragraph Edition

On “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert occasionally does a bit called “First Drafts.” He shows greeting cards and then what he claims were the first drafts of those cards, all of them hilariously wrong. I’ve written before about how often the first draft of a book’s first paragraphs go wrong, usually in ways I don’t find hilarious. So I thought you might be interested in seeing early and final drafts of the openings of some of my novels. I can’t show…

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Character-Driven versus Plot-Driven Stories

Character-Driven versus Plot-Driven Stories

You sometimes hear people talk about character-driven versus plot-driven stories. Generally, plot is more important in genre fiction, though I would say that character is important in every story. I like plot. I miss it in a novel that seems to drift along. But it’s character that makes me love a book, remember it, reread it. That being said, the difficulty of creating a good plot is underestimated. Part of the difficulty is just coming up with something unexpected and…

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A Visit to the Sixth Grade

A Visit to the Sixth Grade

I recently visited the sixth grade at a school in Cedar Falls, Iowa to talk about being a writer. Ninety eleven- and twelve-year-olds sat on the floor in the central area of an open space classroom while I gave a talk I ambitiously called “From Idea to Book.” Ninety Sixth Graders? Help! I won’t lie. Ahead of time, I found the event a little scary. In all my years teaching, I never taught anyone under 18. Even among readers of…

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Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Recently, someone tweeted a question for published writers, asking how many books they published before they quit their day job and wrote full time. I didn’t read the answers. Mine would have been don’t do that. Every published writer I know has either a day job or a partner who helps support them. Obviously, there are exceptions. J. K. Rowling doesn’t need a day job. But for every Rowling, there are thousands of working writers who don’t make enough to…

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The Lost Wax Process

The Lost Wax Process

Today’s post is by a guest, John Manchester, author of the mystery thriller Never Speak. He writes about how composing music and writing fiction both seem to him to share a kind of creativity he compares to the lost wax process. The post first appeared on John’s blog in May. If you click on over there, you’ll find other interesting posts. Take it away, John! __________________________________ If you’re born a lemon-head, make lemonade. I. Growing up my parents often smiled, saying, “You’re so…

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Problematic Plot Elements

Problematic Plot Elements

Judging by drafts I’ve critiqued lately, two commonly used plot elements automatically come with problems because they tend to be low tension. These are meetings and travel. Meetings It can be tempting to deliver exposition by staging a meeting between characters. The meeting can be formally held around a table or casually placed at a campsite. It mostly doesn’t matter. A meeting is a meeting. How riveting do you find meetings in everyday life? Not very? Then why write them…

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Yikes! I don’t have enough words!

Yikes! I don’t have enough words!

Every writer is going to be different, but I tend to write first drafts that are very bare bones. I find a first draft painful to write so I try to get it down quickly, planning to revise. As a consequence, my first drafts are often short of the 60,000 words that are usually the minimum for a young adult novel. I know that some of that brevity is due to things I have to work in later. One is…

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On Writing Groups

On Writing Groups

Over the years, I’ve been a member of a number of writing groups that provide me with understanding, support, and most important, feedback on my work. Feedback helps me notice places to improve my writing that I’m too close to see myself. If you’re looking for feedback, you could try a writers group. Ideally, the members would be writers who are at the same level or above you in skill. They’d be kind and aim to make one another better…

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