Seeking Certainty

posted in: Writing Craft | 29

Fiction writing is an awkward compendium of art and craft, and one with very few absolutes. A physicist can drop something off a roof and know with certainty what gravity will cause it to do under all conditions. A writer has dozens of rules, conventions, alternatives, options, and style choices. Having written, we then hear from critiquers, readers, editors, and publishers that the work is, or isn’t, cohesive, engaging, properly punctuated, correctly formatted, in the currently preferred style and point … Read More »

Story Logic

posted in: Writing Craft | 10

You read a book or see a movie, set in our own time, in a setting with which you’re quite familiar, one populated by fully realized, complex characters. After finishing it, you think, “Well, that was unbelievable.” Then you read something far removed from anything in our experiences or our history. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, for example. Filled with hobbits, orcs, flying dragons, walking and talking trees, wizards, elves, and magic. You finish it, and think, “Wow, loved … Read More »

Where Does Your Story Begin?

I read a lot of book manuscripts, and I’m here to tell you there are some story openers in danger of being used more often than “once upon a time.” Here are some beginnings I see frequently: • Character waking up • Character looking out a window and thinking about the weather • Character thinking about the setting, reviewing the objects in a room • Character thinking or saying out loud, “This isn’t happening.” • Character pondering her life, her … Read More »

Better Left Unsaid

posted in: Writing Craft | 4

When we write dialogue in a first draft, most of us try and make it sound informal and natural. Conversational, because it’s supposed to represent a conversation. But not too conversational, of course. If you transcribed verbatim almost any real conversation you hear in a day, you’ll read it back and realize it sounds much like incoherent blather. So you attempt a better version of the real thing. When revising dialogue, though, I find myself cutting and cutting, trying to … Read More »

Write What You Know. Well, Sort of…

posted in: Writing Craft | 4

The first lesson we typically learn as writers is to write what we know—good advice. After all, we want the reader to step easily into the story, sensing its truth and authenticity. But that idea can also stifle a writer. A woman I was coaching told me she would only be able to write about her divorce. “I really don’t want to re-live it,” she said, “but it’s all I feel qualified to write about.” First-hand experience may be a … Read More »

A Lesson from Writing Nonfiction

posted in: Writing Craft | 6

I’ve been a writer for nearly all my adult life. Chemistry texts, books on metaphor in science, the authority of science in society, human influences on global climate, how to create conditions that promote effective interdisciplinary research. Of late, I’ve been writing fiction, and I’ve found myself in different territory. Much could be said about the distinctions between fiction and nonfiction. I’m fascinated, though, by something they have in common: the role of story. In fiction, story is everything. Great … Read More »

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