Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My writing buddy Simon, who really got the ball rolling with our critique group, now has a blog. He's an insightful reader and emerging talent--I look forward to his contributions to the blogosphere.


His initial post on openings got me thinking about one of the most helpful writing books on my shelf: Les Edgerton's Hooked.

This book proved very helpful when I'd been spinning my wheels for months trying to craft an opening for a sequel novel and getting way too bogged down in back story. That alone made this worth the $15. Edgerton uses loads of examples from several genres, which made his advice far more applicable than many other books that advise writers rather generically how to get a story started. His observations about the changing literary landscape also seemed spot-on.

On the minus side, this book feels repetitive. The most helpful, unique advice resides in chapters two and three. The chapters that follow are largely just variation on the themes of these two chapters. I think it would have been helpful to include a chapter about specific genre conventions--what elements are essential for successfully starting up not only literary stories, but also SF, YA, historical, mystery, romance, etc. Readers' expectations for each are quite different, even if on a structural level stories should gear up in a similar manner.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 Laurel Garver
My writing buddy Simon, who really got the ball rolling with our critique group, now has a blog. He's an insightful reader and emerging talent--I look forward to his contributions to the blogosphere.


His initial post on openings got me thinking about one of the most helpful writing books on my shelf: Les Edgerton's Hooked.

This book proved very helpful when I'd been spinning my wheels for months trying to craft an opening for a sequel novel and getting way too bogged down in back story. That alone made this worth the $15. Edgerton uses loads of examples from several genres, which made his advice far more applicable than many other books that advise writers rather generically how to get a story started. His observations about the changing literary landscape also seemed spot-on.

On the minus side, this book feels repetitive. The most helpful, unique advice resides in chapters two and three. The chapters that follow are largely just variation on the themes of these two chapters. I think it would have been helpful to include a chapter about specific genre conventions--what elements are essential for successfully starting up not only literary stories, but also SF, YA, historical, mystery, romance, etc. Readers' expectations for each are quite different, even if on a structural level stories should gear up in a similar manner.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says many plots lack integrity because the author doesn't have her characters acting at their maximum capacity.

What does he mean exactly? When a character hits a problem, some roadblock keeping him from his goal, he'll do everything in his power to reach the goal. Characters who become easily stymied by their problems lose readers' sympathies and their desires and drives won't seem particularly compelling. The Harvard-educated investigator, for example, won't just sit around wringing his hands when he doesn't immediately understand something--he'll make use of all the intellectual tools at his disposal to research and probe. Likewise, even the "cannon fodder" expendable characters should go to a lot of trouble to avoid dying, unless the author has characterized them as suicidal or deeply stupid or proven some motivation for a death wish. "Maximum capacity" will, of course, vary from character to character. An 8-year-old protagonist in a middle grade adventure will have fewer resources than the Navy SEAL/brain surgeon in a techno-thriller. The trick is to know one's characters thoroughly.

In every scene, Frey says your character's actions and reactions have to pass the "would he/she really ____ ?" test. Does the action/reaction fit her personality? Is he making full use of his personal resources, know-how, experiences? I've been amazed at how these lines of questioning open up plot to intriguing new possibilities.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 Laurel Garver
In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says many plots lack integrity because the author doesn't have her characters acting at their maximum capacity.

What does he mean exactly? When a character hits a problem, some roadblock keeping him from his goal, he'll do everything in his power to reach the goal. Characters who become easily stymied by their problems lose readers' sympathies and their desires and drives won't seem particularly compelling. The Harvard-educated investigator, for example, won't just sit around wringing his hands when he doesn't immediately understand something--he'll make use of all the intellectual tools at his disposal to research and probe. Likewise, even the "cannon fodder" expendable characters should go to a lot of trouble to avoid dying, unless the author has characterized them as suicidal or deeply stupid or proven some motivation for a death wish. "Maximum capacity" will, of course, vary from character to character. An 8-year-old protagonist in a middle grade adventure will have fewer resources than the Navy SEAL/brain surgeon in a techno-thriller. The trick is to know one's characters thoroughly.

In every scene, Frey says your character's actions and reactions have to pass the "would he/she really ____ ?" test. Does the action/reaction fit her personality? Is he making full use of his personal resources, know-how, experiences? I've been amazed at how these lines of questioning open up plot to intriguing new possibilities.

Friday, September 18, 2009

My "flash fiction" novel excerpt, "Swan Moment" has been published on the e-zine Maternal Spark. You can read it here.
Friday, September 18, 2009 Laurel Garver
My "flash fiction" novel excerpt, "Swan Moment" has been published on the e-zine Maternal Spark. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Most of the folks in my critique group write short stories--something I haven't attempted or marketed in years. When they ask why, I usually trot out the explanation that the characters crowding my brain have stories that are too big to fit in 25 pages or less.

I'm beginning to rethink that excuse. In reality, I think my evasion of short stories stems from a fear that if I don't spend every ounce of writing energy on novels, I'll never finish. But a novel is a huge commitment with almost no rewards for years and years. The marketing process with novels is so slow and rejection-filled, it's enough to take the wind out of one's sails for good.

Many of the books on marketing novels stress the importance of having numerous publishing credits. I'm realizing now that this is a good idea not just to get one's name out there, but also because small victories are important for morale. And low morale is a creativity crusher.

To that end, I'm looking at retooling some novel excerpts as short stories, and, even better, starting a whole new short piece with a new character in a different genre. Meanwhile, the WIP novel can continue simmering in my subconscious.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009 Laurel Garver
Most of the folks in my critique group write short stories--something I haven't attempted or marketed in years. When they ask why, I usually trot out the explanation that the characters crowding my brain have stories that are too big to fit in 25 pages or less.

I'm beginning to rethink that excuse. In reality, I think my evasion of short stories stems from a fear that if I don't spend every ounce of writing energy on novels, I'll never finish. But a novel is a huge commitment with almost no rewards for years and years. The marketing process with novels is so slow and rejection-filled, it's enough to take the wind out of one's sails for good.

Many of the books on marketing novels stress the importance of having numerous publishing credits. I'm realizing now that this is a good idea not just to get one's name out there, but also because small victories are important for morale. And low morale is a creativity crusher.

To that end, I'm looking at retooling some novel excerpts as short stories, and, even better, starting a whole new short piece with a new character in a different genre. Meanwhile, the WIP novel can continue simmering in my subconscious.