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”.
Presented by EpicReads! These are just my favorites, click on the link above for more!
In the past, I have always been a 1-book-at-time gal and enjoyed it that way. For the past few years, I’ve gotten into reading two books at a time, one in paper and one on audiobook. I’m naturally a focused individual, not the greatest multitasker. Focusing on one thing at a time helps me get things done faster and to better quality. Thankfully, my mind can separate my paper book from my audiobook quite easily BUT I never read two paper books at the same time. If I begin a new book while in the middle of another, I’m unlikely to ever pick up that original book again.
I have always been hesitant to quit a book. I don’t like quitting (or taking breaks) in the middle of projects, whether its reading a book, mowing the lawn, or writing a story. But lately, I have encouraged myself to be more open to deserting bad/uninteresting books. There are too many great books out there to waste my time on something I’m not enjoying or learning from.
See my previous post on the subject, When to Drop a Bad Book.
Pros and Cons of reading multiple books at once, compiled from random blogs/articles:
Pros of Reading Multiple Books
Desire to read – One boring book won’t minimize your desire to read.
Flexibility – Being able to read more than one genre/story/author at a time. Choosing the book that matches your current mood.
Portability – Some books are more easily slipped into a purse or bag.
Cons of Reading Multiple Books
Split focus – As I am constantly deciphering the writing as well as the story, this is a huge disadvantage for me. I like to study the arch and structure and consistency of the voice while reading a book and switching between multiple books would make this difficult.
Memory – The more books you read, the harder it is to retain all the information you’ve read. If you leave sit too long, you may forget what is happening.
Less invested – Personally, I’m less likely to get enchanted by a story and its characters if I’m juggling multiple stories.
Encourages Short Attention Span – Reading is one area that still requires concentration on one thing for a long period of time. Reading multiple books at once will drop reading into the I-need-it-NOW-and-QUICK culture.
The AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference begins TODAY in Minneapolis!! The build-up has been unreal here in the Twin Cities and I feel very lucky to be attending the conference Friday and Saturday.
Check back in the following weeks for recaps of the best panels, readings, and events I attend during the conference.
There are many opinions and ideas of what an opening line should include/accomplish but there is one thing everyone can agree on; an opening line should intrigue the reader enough that they want to continue reading. Trying to figure out how to do that is where the opinions come in.
Here are a few things to consider when drafting that first line of your story.
The opening line should leave the reader with questions and those questions. Who is this character? Why are they in this predicament? Where are they going? What just happened? Of course an outstanding story can follow a poor opening line (or a poor story follow an outstanding first line) but as a writer, you want to hook your reader as soon as possible.
Example: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
Set up voice
Have you ever absolutely loved a book but can’t exactly explain why? The plot was mediocre, the characters were relatable but there was just something extra special about the book you can’t pin down. It was probably the voice, the personality of the writing. Without exception, that personality should begin in the very first sentence and carry a similar feel throughout the entire piece.
Example: “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Set up (writing) style
If a novel is a facts-based story with minimal details, the first line should reflect that. If a novel has a lot of description and wandering narration, then a long-winded description of a farm landscape and the sound of the character’s boots crunching gravel. The length of the sentence can have a big effect on this. Also, the POV should become clear in the first sentence.
Example of straight forward writing style: “Mother died today.” —Albert Camus, The Stranger
Example of stylistic writing style: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.” —James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Reflect the novel as a whole
This encompasses the two previous suggestions but also every other aspect of the writing and story itself. If the story is set in the 1800’s you don’t want to use 21st century slang. If its realistic fiction, don’t begin with a science-fiction metaphor. If you want to create a reliable narrator, avoid an opening sentence like Slaughterhouse Five‘s, “All this happened, more or less.” Whatever a piece of writing is about should be reflected in the opening line.
Example: “It is a fact universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Make a bold statement
An option but not a requirement.
Example: “I am an invisible man.” —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.
Set the (action) scene
Some common advice you might have heard is to begin writing a story in the middle of a compelling scene. This can be an attention-grabbing option but (considering the above) if the story is not based around tons of action, this might not be the best option.
Example: “They shoot the white girl first.” —Toni Morrison, Paradise
Introduce a character/setting
This is present in most first sentences but is rarely the main point of interest or focus.
Example: “My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I am not sure why you should care who I am or that I exist.” —Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas
What great advice have you heard about writing an opening line?
What is one of your own favorite opening lines?
Here is a fun article from Stylist.co.uk
I think the title explains it all. All I have to add is…..
HAVE A VERY
Theme is not something I try to put into words after I read a novel. Of course there are books when a theme is so central it can’t be ignored, but even then, I prefer to focus on things such as characterization and structure. Its the combination of small scenes, character traits and character’s actions that make the theme something larger than a lesson to be learned. When done to the highest standard, the theme of the book will haunt you for a long time. Contradicting myself, I regularly think about theme when I’m writing my own work. Focusing on the bigger picture I want to get across helps me focus the tone and decipher the characters actions vs. intentions.
Picking out the theme of a book can be tricky. Often there are multiple angles one can look at a single book from, causing the theme to adjust to each reader’s opinion. That is why getting an author’s quick answer on what a book is really about is true magic. And when that account matches your own, you feel like the best reader to ever walk the library’s halls. At least that’s how I felt when I stumbled upon this synopsis about the theme of one of my favorite books, Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz.
Odd Thomas is a novel about perseverance in the face of terrible loss, about holding fast to rational hope in a world of pain, about finding peace–not bitterness–in the memory of love taken by untimely death.
This quote came from Dean Koontz’s memoir of his golden retriever, a big little life, which is another great read!
Have you had such a moment with one of your favorite books/authors?
The short story “Tall Tales From the Mekong Delta” by Kate Braverman has one of the most authentic and complete tones I have ever encountered. It plants a creepy, dangerous, addictive feel. That feeling becomes palpable; so real I could slice it with a wire-thin cheese slicer.
The story is filled with short, quick sentences that are jarring at first. As the story goes on, those short sentences zipped through my mind like secrets I was never suppose to overhear. They quickened the pace of the read, which matched the quick pace of the plot, a plot that gives you no time to think about its plausibility. My heart beat quickened as I read this story, as I worried for the character’s safety.
The story begins when our main female character, who is 5 months sober, meets a curious man outside her AA meeting. This guy, Lenny, is instantly suspicious. He knows details about the girl’s life even though he just met her. Acting like he is on drugs, he can’t stop talking and reveals things he shouldn’t. He talks in very quick, short sentences, often using filler words like “yeah” and “okay?” and rarely lets the woman speak. The plot and the tone compliment each other, both giving credibility to the other and intensifying that feeling of being on the edge of disaster.
“Tall Tales From the Mekong Delta” is a great read and at a mere 19 pages, you have no reason not to read it! Writers specifically should read this story (probably multiple times) and absorb as much as they can. The tone is encompassing, and the increasing creepiness of Lenny throughout the story only intensifies the tone.
The story can be read in full on Kate Braverman’s website.