On Writing: Character Development — Secret, Wall, Loss, Desire

I’ll start with the usual MW caveat, though I wonder if I even need to bother. In talking about any aspect of writing we have to remember that there is no single right way to do anything. This is particularly important to remember when it comes to character work, since this often tends to be one of the more idiosyncratic aspects of writing a book or story.

I have written before about developing characters and doing the background work that I find necessary to make them alive for me as I write. You might want to check out this post. And maybe this one, too. I know as well that others have written extensively about character in this space, and those posts are worth re-reading, too. Character is, for me at least, the most important part of everything I write; it is THE critical factor in whether or not I […]

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Writing Life: Reassessing Goals For the Year

The other day my 12 year-old made a remark that brought me up short. We were talking about plans for the fall, and she said something along the lines of, “Well, you know, the year is basically over.”

Whoa! Hold on there, Sweetie!

I suppose she’s to be forgiven. School starts for her today, and so as far as she is concerned, summer is gone and the rest of the year promises to be a slog until Christmas break. But those of us who are old don’t like our lives being trimmed that way. And, more to the point for the purposes of this post, those of us who have work to do and goals to meet don’t like giving up a full four months out of the year.

So, rather than take her comment to heart and spend the rest of the year eating Oreos and watching Buffy reruns, […]

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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 X: Pacing Your Novel Musically

How many of you have ever seen the movie The Fugitive? My wife and I first saw it in the theater many years back, and it quickly became one of our favorites. The opening sequence is particularly stunning — the way the screenwriters (Jeb Stuart and David Twohy) and director (Andrew Davis) managed to fill in the back story and set a breakneck pace for the movie in the span of just minutes. I remember watching the scene with the train wreck — breathless, my pulse pounding — and commenting to my wife “They’re not even done with the credits yet!” If you’ve never seen it, you should — amazing stuff. The movie never flags; the pace is unrelenting, and the result is exhilarating.

That said, I would argue that while this storytelling approach works terrifically well for a movie, it is less effective in a novel. Pacing a movie […]

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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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