On Writing: Transitions and Chapter Breaks

I have been wanting to post about transitions for ages now, and I haven’t been sure how to approach the subject. Faith has posted about them before — a pair of posts that you can read here and here — and she did a masterful job of talking about using prose to smooth us through those moments mid-chapter when we need to relocate a character or show the passage of time in a way that does not upset the flow of narrative and that does not rely on clunky crutches. What I want to talk about is a little different: Today we’re going to focus on chapter breaks and how to make the most of them.

Let me start with a definition: A transition in a book or story is pretty much any passage or device that bridges moments of discontinuity in our writing. Changes in time, changes in setting, […]

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On Writing: The Value of Ambition

“…This hardworking if glum and unambitious debut might just–but only just–keep a nostril above the flood of mediocre fantasy currently sloshing about.” — Kirkus Reviews, on Children of Amarid, by David B. Coe

Okay, not my favorite line from the many reviews I’ve received over the years. In truth, there was a lot in this review that bothered me, including a comment about the birds of prey in the book (who are the foundation of the magic system) being “merely a nuisance.” I also didn’t like them calling my book glum, nor did I appreciate the damning-with-ever-so-faint-praise ending. But to this day, the word that bothers me most is “unambitious.”

Ambition for writers comes in many forms and works on many levels, and I am proud to say that I am ambitious in every way imaginable. I believe that my various sorts of ambition serve to better my work […]

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Back to Basics, part IV: Worldbuilding and Research

So far the “Back to Basics” series has focused on aspects of writing life that provide the foundation for the actual work we do — “Being a Writer,” “Organizing Time,” “Self-Confidence.” Now it’s time to get into the meat of what we actually do as writers. And I thought I would begin by revisiting a topic we’ve dealt with before: worldbuilding and research.

No matter what we write — fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance, Westerns, mainstream literature — we need to set the scene for our work. More often than not this is going to involve worldbuilding and research. “Wait,” you say. “Worldbuilding? In romance? In mainstream lit?” To which I reply, “Absolutely.”

Unless your entire story takes place inside a cardboard box, you are going to need to build the sets for your story, much as a theater company would for a play. Actually, I take that back. You’ll […]

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Descriptive Passages, Part III: Action

For the past two weeks, I’ve been writing about descriptive passages and Vernor’s Law, trying to make clear that a description is most powerful and most effective when it does more than just describe. These passages should also reinforce character, backstory, narrative, etc. Character descriptions should tell us as much about the character doing the describing as about the character being described. Descriptions of setting should reinforce all those other story elements that we’ve mentioned. And I’ve been quite dogmatic in saying that in order to keep your book from languishing you must be doing several things at once (character development, plot advancement, background deepening) with all your scenes. I’m about to contradict pretty much all of that.


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Descriptive Passages, Part II: Character

I used last week’s post to introduce the topic of descriptive passages. I focused on setting, but my point was one that works for all aspects of storytelling, as I hope this week’s post will demonstrate. Keeping in mind Vernor’s Law (at any given time in a book we should be accomplishing at least two and preferably all three of the following: furthering plot, developing character, filling in background) I tried to show with last week’s novel excerpts how a descriptive passage, rather than slowing down narrative progress, actually allows us to reinforce the work we do on plot and background.

I’m going to touch on many of the same themes this week as I discuss character descriptions, but I’ll also bring elements of point of view and character development, drawing on some of the stuff Edmund mentioned in Saturday’s post. I would also refer you to a couple of […]

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Descriptive Passages, Part I: Setting

Writers often speak of different aspects of our work in a way that makes them sound compartmentalized. We develop characters, we establish setting, we advance our narrative, we sprinkle in healthy doses of action, we write descriptive passages. The truth is, though, that if we handle these things correctly, there is nothing compartmentalized about the result. Character and narrative development feed on one another, propelled forward by those action scenes, and meshing seamlessly with the worldbuilding or research we have done to make our settings come to life.

Descriptive passages, on the other hand, often seem to get short shrift in these discussions. They are mentioned as an afterthought, a necessary evil, something that we throw in now and then to connect one scene to another, or something we have to write so that our characters have faces, and our settings have something more to them than a bland landscape […]

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Musings on Ideas and Creative Process

[Be forewarned: This is kind of a weird post. It’s as much an attempt on my part to work through issues in my own creative process as it is anything else.]

There’s someone new in my life.

I don’t know much about her; I don’t even know her name. At least not yet. But I know that she’s unlike anyone I’ve known before, at least in the intimate way that I hope to know her. She’s not beautiful in any conventional sense of the word. Nor does she have an exciting job or really anything that makes her stand out upon first meeting her. She seems a little plain, actually.

But that’s terribly misleading. She is utterly unique, and through her eyes I am discovering a whole new world.

Who is she?

Well, I believe she is the point of view character for a new book. I say “I believe” […]

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