Pow! Zap! What Short Stories Can Teach Us About Writing Novels

POW-WeddingsBy Lisa Birk

Novels are my second love, the roast beef in my diet. And I relish the meal. But I down short stories like chocolates. For their density. For their Pow! of feeling and their electric insight.

I’d venture to say that much of what you need to know about writing a novel can be learned through reading and analyzing short stories. If I want a quick reminder on effective starts, I’ll look at novels, but I’ll also turn to short stories–even for more complex matters like voice. In the time it takes to read and analyze a novel, you can read say ten short stories and see ten different approaches to a given problem. Read More →

Friday Feast: Tolstoy’s Mac & Cheese, Taipei’s Bookstore, Rejection, Success, and Rewrites

mac n cheese
There are some great links this week, but all I can think about is macaroni and cheese. Homemade mac and cheese. Kraft mac and cheese. Mac and cheese with breadcrumbs, hot dogs, tuna …

Nothing else matters. You can find your way to the other links.


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Counting Characters: A Lesson in Diversity

By Kelly Ford

My Novel Incubator instructors loved to tell us to kill our characters. Most of us came into class with drafts bloated with characters who served no purpose, so it was sound advice.

During revision, I created a giant diagram of all my novel characters and mapped their connections to one another with red, yellow, and green lines to indicate their interpersonal tension. I even cast the characters. The casting of characters was simply a matter of procrastination. All of this effort was, really. But the character map was helpful because I could see tangible evidence of character bloat. But that cast of characters in the diagram showed me something more important than that. Read More →

This Draft Sucks Part II — Take A Break

By Carol D. Gray

This Draft Sucks – Part I ends with the following advice: if you think your draft sucks, put it away. Don’t look at it for a month and hope when you return with fresh eyes it won’t suck as badly as you thought.

I do not want to follow this advice. My book has been hanging around for twelve years. I want to finish it. But I force myself to take the month of December off. I tell myself it’s good timing since any other year I would have killed for extra time around the holidays. But this year all I feel is cranky and ungrounded from not writing. I wrap Christmas presents and feel like Santa’s slave elf. Read More →

Friday Feast: Retweets, Publishing at Any Age, Literary Legalities, and Body Language

Amelie sad eating
I retweeted a bit of praise, and now everyone thinks I’m a jerk… I’ll never publish my novel, and everyone knows it… I used the word “shrug” 432 times in my novel, and now my writing group thinks I need to go back to school…

Refute such foolish notions with this week’s featured links. Also: An important discussion about what happens to your literary estate when you’re gone.*
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DIY Retreat: Rev Up Your New Writing Year

By Amber Elias

December is a minefield of writing distractionsparties, presents, way too much egg nog, and not nearly enough silent nights. Fortunately, January is the antidote. The indulgent holiday spirit is replaced with a refreshed sense of discipline, ambition, and self-improvement.

What’s that you say? You didn’t start the new year sprinting to your keyboard? The anemic daylight and bitter cold have you huddling under a blanket, cursing that perky weather girl? You still feel weighted down by the inertia of a lost month? Read More →

The Beginnings of a Meditation Practice for Writers

Kelly Robertson

I don’t know much about meditating but have been aspiring to do so for years ever since I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Over the years, I’ve tried. I went to countless classes, got an iPhone app, looked longingly at my husband’s meditation cushions but was never successful. I just didn’t get it. Was I supposed to think of nothing, a word, a mantra, focus on my breath? What happens when a thought does get in my brain? How exactly does one briefly think about it and then just let it go? I’m sure if I had ever practiced long enough, these answers would have come to me, but I could never get my mind to shut up long enough for any sustained period to figure it out. (I know. I know. This is why I should meditate.) Then I read studies on the benefits of a regular meditation practice, especially for nurturing creativity. I’m writing a novel. I need all the nurturing of my creativity that I can get. Plus, Natalie Goldberg did it. I started searching for classes again. Read More →

Friday Feast: Song Lyrics, Writing Road Trip, Autofiction, and Dogs Dressed as Authors

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The January freeze is on here in New England. Perfect excuse to stay inside and get those fingers dancing across the keyboard with new stories or with revisions of the old ones.

This week: writing prompts from song lyrics, how to read more, writing in New Orleans, Autofiction, and shelter dogs dressed up as famous authors.


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Jane Austen, Allen Ginsberg, and My Descent Into Madness

By Michael Nolan

I had a teacher once at Stonehill College in southeastern Mass, and he was a pretty good teacher. It was a long time ago. Mr. Lawrence (pseudonym) taught me to love Conrad. He showed me how to read Joyce’s “The Dead.” He told me, too, that, “anyone who wishes to understand the modern-day, English-language novel must understand Jane Austen, specifically Pride and Prejudice.” He was a truly inspired teacher, Mr. Lawrence. Still, I wish he’d kept the part about Jane Austen to himself.

I didn’t get around to Pride and Prejudice until after college. I don’t remember much about that first read. There was a grand ballroom, and there were dashing, marriageable young officers all over the place. On p. 19 (my edition), I underlined, “They [the ever-eligible Bennett girls] could talk of nothing but officers.” In truth, I never finished the book. I did, however, underline copiously, figuring to someday return to it, and make sense of it all. That never happened. Sadly, the plot and the characters, however well crafted, put me in mind of what it might be like to chew on cardboard. Read More →

Getting to Know You: POV Lessons from Jonathan Lethem

By Patricia Park

Jonathan Lethem once said in an interview that he wrote early drafts of Motherless Brooklyn, a first-person novel from the POV of a character with Tourette’s, in third person. The interviewee was shocked. And in disbelief. But Lethem insisted he wrote the whole darn thing from several perspectives, knowing full well he would return to the first-person.

I heard that interview while I was stuck with my own novel Re Jane, also a first-person narrative. My protagonist Jane moved through scenes like a robot. Everything she observed was reported, with due diligence, but with none of the delicious stains of a strong, compelling narrative voice. “I don’t know what she’s thinking,” a writing professor once, crushingly, told me. “Maybe this book should be told in the third person.” (For what it’s worth: my very first drafts of the novel featured a sassy-pants narrator who simply knew too much and had nowhere else to grow. Perhaps her new-found reserve was an over-correction.) Read More →

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