Basics of Writing, part XII: Creating Minor Characters

We write a lot about main characters here at MW, and, of course, we spend a good deal of time discussing villains as well. And there are good reasons for doing both. A believable, compelling protagonist can carry a story a long way. There are few things more fun in literature than a truly frightening and evil villain.

Today, though, I’d like to shift attention away from the stars of our books to the secondary characters, the people who spend as much time in the background of our books as they do in the limelight. Because while the protagonists and villains may drive the narrative, it is often the secondary characters who are most memorable.

Unfortunately, there are also times when, while reading a novel, I’ll find that the main characters have been crafted with care, but the secondary characters are flat, like cardboard cutouts. Just as well-drawn minor […]

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Basics of Writing, part XI: Keeping It Fresh

Dog days. It’s ninety-two degrees. It’s mid-summer (at least it is for those of us who live in school districts that end the academic year in May and start it back up in August). You would much rather be doing just about anything else other than working. The Women’s World Cup is on the tube, your kids are bugging you to go to the local water park (which sounds incredibly inviting), and there is a six-pack of beer in the fridge, not to mention that bottle of Marlborough region Sauvignon Blanc hanging out in the refrigerator door. Writing or revising a book is pretty much the last thing you want to do.

Any of this sounding familiar?

It certainly sounds familiar to me. I think that has been the story of my last seven or ten or fifteen summers. But this year has been different. I have been having […]

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Basics of Writing, part IX: How to Revise a Manuscript or Story

It’s been a few weeks since my last “Basics” post, and with Ed’s post on Saturday about responding to rejections and working on rewrites, I thought that a post on revisions might be in order.

In recent discussions on self-publishing, both here on MW and also at ConCarolinas, I made a point of saying again and again, that writers cannot edit their own work. That, of course, is a ridiculous statement that I should have clarified. Yes, we can edit our own work. We can revise and cut and polish and make our work read better. What we can’t do is be our own sole editor. We can’t possibly catch everything that is wrong with our own manuscripts. We’re too close to them, we know them too well, and more to the point, we know too well what we meant to write even if that’s not actually what found it’s […]

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Back to Basics, part VIII: Opening Lines

Continuing the “Back to Basics” series, I would like to use today’s post to focus on the opening lines of our novels. Yes, I know: I’m not exactly moving in order here; rather, I’m jumping around a bit, talking about research, submissions, writing to a certain length, etc. To be honest, I’m choosing my topics week to week, essentially on a whim. I also realize that opening lines is not exactly a new topic; we’ve touched on this before. And we will again, I’m sure. But today I would like to try talking about book and story openings in a slightly different way. I can never tell if using examples from my own work helps or not, but that’s what I’m going to do here. Hopefully they’ll serve as illustrations for what I’m trying to convey.

Let me begin with a confession: I obsess over the first lines of my […]

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Back to Basics, part VII: Anatomy of a Butt-Kicking

Today’s post, while continuing my “Back to Basics” series, takes a slightly different tack. I have a good friend to thank for this idea (Thanks, April). She asked me the other day how my current book was coming, and when I told her that the book was basically kicking my butt, she said something along the lines of “Oh, you should write about that. Lots of us would like to hear about what a professional does when a book is beating him up.” So, here you go.

I’ve written posts in the past about troubleshooting a manuscript, or dealing with problems as they come up. This post is sort of like those. Only more so.

There are so many ways for things to go wrong with a manuscript, so many reasons why a writer might find himself getting a figurative butt-kicking from his work-in-progress, that it’s really hard to pinpoint […]

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Back to Basics, part VI: Submitting Our Work

A couple of weeks ago, when I posted my contribution to the “Success and Failure” discussion we’ve been having here on MW, Lyn Nichols, loyal MW reader and commenter extraordinaire, mentioned that knowing our markets can be helpful in avoiding the sort of rejections we were talking about. At the time, I already had it mind to post a “Back to Basics” essay about how to handle submissions, and so I thought I would offer that this week, to follow up on both my last post and Lyn’s excellent comment.

As I mentioned in that last post, submitting work in and of itself should be seen as a success. Taking that step — putting one’s ego on the line by sending out work to book publishers or short story markets — is not at all easy to do. If you’re in the process of submitting work for the first time, […]

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Back to Basics, Addendum: More on Success and Rejection

A few weeks ago, in the third installment of my “Back to Basics” series, I posted about maintaining self-confidence and touched on some of the difficulties we encounter as writers. I focused more on the day-to-day struggles of process than I did on market-related issues, and when I did deal with the business side of things, I did so in the most cursory of ways, vowing to return to the subject the following week. I didn’t. In the meantime though, Stuart offered this incisive, honest post on defining success.

I thought that I would build on Stuart’s post a bit because recognizing our successes and dealing with our “failures” is probably the most difficult and most important thing that we writers have to do. And I’d like to begin by sharing three brief observations that at first blush will seem to have nothing to do with writing.


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