Category Archives: A Writer’s Life
“Part of the beauty of love was that you didn’t need to explain it to anyone else. You could refuse to explain. With love, apparently you didn’t necessarily feel the need to explain anything at all.”
–The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
I cannot pass by one without pausing to admire it. If it’s within reach, I cannot resist touching it. I trace the retro curves and mechanical angles before finally letting my fingers settle reverently on the keys. Glass and lacquer, enamel and chrome, Bakelite and celluloid – the keys are the most irresistible part of […]
A random stroll through the library or bookstore can turn my whole day around. I love the randomness of the books that catch my eye, and trying to figure out why that title or that book cover drew me in.
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing recently caught my eye at the library because 1) we’re a list-loving society and 2) I’m a writer always trying to improve my craft.
The book is small, filled with few words and many illustrations, and can be read completely in 10 minutes. The advice is solid and witty. You may want to take another 10 minutes to read it again.
#3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
#4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…
These are ones I’ve heard many times but a reminder is always nice.
#9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things — I can’t agree more. There are certain authors I love but at the same time, I despise their lengthy paragraphs of description. Get to the point or I’m going to skip a few pages and then be frustrated when I realize later on that I missed an actual plot point!
Which leads us to the tenth rule of writing that can not be argued with…
#10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
Obvious, right? But what are those parts and how do we, as writers, know when we’re boring our readers? Check out the book during your next local library stroll to get Leonard’s take on this.
Interesting Fact: This book was originally published in the New York Times in July 2001 as “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”.
After reading Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, I wanted my next read to be lighthearted and plot based. So, I picked up an old Dean Koontz novel, By the Light of the Moon. The two books could not be more different. Of course genre plays a big part, but the difference in writing styles is striking.
Koontz’s writing style is heavy in description and his plot moves forward minute by minute. Wolff puts the bare bones on paper, jumping right to the action and cutting all unnecessary description, plot, characterization, ect. I don’t think This Boy’s Life contains a single wordy sentence. Koontz, on the other hand, loves lengthy metaphors and diving deep into characters’ thoughts, even during heated action scenes.
Koontz and Wolff are two of my favorite writers but their styles could not be more different. Reading their books back-to-back really opened my eyes to those differences. Let me show you some specific examples.
Here are a few sentences that begin chapters in Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Koontz’s By the Light of the Moon.
- The sheriff came to the house one night and told the Bolgers that Chuck was about to be charged with statutory rape.
- My father took off for Las Vegas with his girlfriend the day after I arrived in California.
- When I was alone in the house I went through everyone’s private things.
- Shortly before being knocked unconscious and bound to a chair, before being injected with an unknown substance against his will, and before discovering that the world was deeply mysterious in ways he’d never before imagined, Dylan O’Conner left his motel room and walked across the highway to a brightly lighted fast-food franchise to buy cheeseburgers, French fries, pocket pies with apple filling, and a vanilla milkshake.
- These were extraordinary times, peopled by ranting maniacs in love with violence and with a violent god, infested with apologists for wickedness, who blamed victims for their suffering and excused murderers in the name of justice.
What difference do you notice? Length? Who is more action-oriented? Who is more introspective?
By the Light of the Moon: 140 pages into the novel less than three hours have passed in the plot with very little background/flashbacks. A high-speed car chase (not really a chase but a mission) that lasts approximately 10 minutes in real time, stretches 15 pages in the book. At times, I forget the chase was even happening because the side tangents and in-depth character thoughts were so dense.
This Boy’s Life: the plot skips large chunks of time, covering approximately eight years in total. In the following sentence Wolff captures the entire time frame of 7th grade (aka puberty): “I kept outgrowing my shoes, two pairs in the seventh grade alone.” Of course Wolff does go into normal-speed scenes in his memoir, but they are strongly action-based with little filler.
Which writing style do you enjoy more?
Does one style draw you in more than the other? Why do you think that is? I personally enjoy both. Certain months I relish the bare bones of Wolff, Carver, and the like. Other months I crave the second-by-second, in-the-mind-of-the-character stories of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and others.
Comment with two writers who are very different, yet you love them both.
Below are a few book-to-movie adaptations I’ve recently read and/or watched.
Into The Wild – I have not read the book but the movie blew me away. The main character chose a way of life that many of us only dream about.
Life of Pi – LOVED the book! Disappointed by the movie.
Hunger Games Trilogy – I love both the books and the movies. I think the film adaptions have done a great job at capturing the world of Panem and the cast is exceptional! I recently reread the Hunger Games series in preparation for the release of the final movie adaptation. **SPOILER** The only part I didn’t like about the movie adaptation was the prologue at the very end. The characters seemed much too happy. The ending of the book holds much more wonder and darkness.
The Kite Runner – I fell in love with The Kite Runner novel this year. The characters spoke to me; their actions infuriated and inspired me. Its a novel that will stay with me for a long time. I have been avoiding the movie adaptation because I hold the novel so high, there is no way the movie will meet my expectations. (Or am I being too pessimistic?) If you’ve seen the movie and read the book, please comment with what you thought.
The Great Gatsby – As one of My Favorite Books of All Time I made sure to see the 2013 movie adaptation in theaters. I thought it was a great adaptation with an excellent cast and superb staging/scenery.
Pines – I watched the ABC TV series, Wayward Pines, this summer and LOVED it! It was one of my favorite TV shows of the year and I’m glad to hear they are coming out with a second season, even though they created the first assuming it would be the one and only. After watching the show, I read the Blake Crouch novel it was based on and was sourly disappointed. The novel was poorly written and contained large sections that I found irrelevant to the story. See my full review here.
Here are two EXCEPTIONAL novel intros that immediately hooked me. Please let me know what you think in the comments. What are your favorite first chapters?
Log Entry: Sol 6
I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Six days in to what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned in to a nightmare.
I don’t even know who’ll read this. I guess someone will find it eventually. Maybe a hundred years from now.
For the record…I didn’t die on Sol 6. Certainly the rest of the crew thought I did, and I can’t blame them. Maybe there’ll be a day of national mourning for me, and my Wikipedia page will say “Mark Watney is the only human being to have died on Mars.”
And it’ll be right, probably. Cause I’ll surely die here. Just not on Sol 6 when everyone thinks I did.
This intro does so many great things:
Bold use of “fuck” in the first sentence. A sure way to gain the attention of your reader.
It quickly explains the situation. Our main character is alone on Mars after some kind of accident.
It sets the mood. Dangerous. Life-threatening. Unhopeful.
It develops character. An astronaut. A survivor.
It sets the tone of casual, journal entry format. Fragment sentences and the use of “cause” instead of “because.”
Its develops setting. On Mars, obviously. And the Wikipedia reference sets us in recent time.
If this genre in any way interests you, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to pick up this book!
I woke up shaking.
I panicked at first, thinking I was having a stroke or something. Then I opened my eyes, relieved, as I remembered it wasn’t me that was shaking, it was my apartment.
Outside the wall of dusty, industrial-style windows beside my bed came what sounded like a regiment of giants rhythmically striking concrete with their rifle butts in a parade drill. But it wasn’t the jolly green marines. I knew it was the elevated number 1 Broadway local, rattling to shake the dead back to life next to my new fifth floor Harlem loft apartment. Hadn’t gotten use to that train yet.
I winced, covered my head with my pillow. Useless. Only in New York did one have to actually pay for the privilege of sleeping beside an overpass.
But I was so broke I couldn’t even afford to complain. I sat up. I couldn’t even really afford to sleep. I couldn’t even afford to think about money. I’d spent it all and then some; my credit was in the sewer. By that point, I was in tunnel-vision mode, focusing my entire life on one desperate need: to figure things out before it was too late.
(False) shock to hook the reader. The world is shaking!
Character- building. A broke New Yorker with something to prove.
What is the first thing you think of when you wake up? Whatever it is, it will tell us a lot about your current life situation. The same is true for fictional characters, and Patterson gives us that before we even know our character’s name.
Sets the tone. An honest first-person narrator open to telling us his struggles.
Develops setting. A dingy New York apartment next to the train tracks.
This entire novel is a good quote but here are a few I picked out that specifically pleased me. Enjoy!
“I wish I could convey the perfection of a seal slipping into water or a spider monkey swinging from point to point or a lion merely turning its head. But language founders in such seas. Better to picture it in your head if you want to feel it.”
“When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.”
“…Hindus, in their capacity for love, are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.”
“Ten thousand trumpets and twenty thousand drums could not have made as much noise as that bolt of lightning; it was positively deafening.”
“I cannot think of a better way to spread the faith [than leaving sacred writings like the Bible where weary travelers might rest their heads]. No thundering from a pulpit, no condemnation from bad churches, no peer pressure, just a book of scripture quietly waiting to say hello, as gentle and powerful as a little girl’s kiss on your cheek.”
“It was as unbelievable as the moon catching fire.”
“At moments of wonder, it is easy to avoid small thinking, to entertain thoughts that span the universe, that capture both thunder and tinkle, thick and thin, the near and the far.”
“There were many seas. The sea roared like a tiger. The sea whispered in your ear like a friend telling you secrets. The sea clinked like small change in a pocket. The sea thundered like avalanches. The sea hissed like sandpaper working on wood. The sea sounded like someone vomiting. The sea was dead silent.”
“Life on a lifeboat isn’t much of a life. It is like an end game in chess, a game with few pieces. The elements couldn’t be more simple, nor the stakes higher.”
“If we, citizens, do not support our artists, then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams.” -from the Author’s Note