words on paper.
This process occurs during the first draft. I do go over every
page before beginning a new session. I make my notations; slash
things out and cram things in. I usually try to stop work when I
have a strong feeling about what will come next
Laughing, about a playwright who wrote a smash hit and had
trouble writing a second play until he moved back into the povertystricken
life he was living when he wrote his hit play.
Q. What tactics do you recommend for overcoming the dreaded
only person to come up with illegal solutions to their woes? Don
Corleone. And in the next sequence we see them reverently
approach the Don himself with their pleas and see him solve their
problems savagely. And later that day, we hear Kay, another minor
Each area had to be researched. If Gene O'Brien was to work in the
Vatican, I needed to be very sure I knew what his physical
surroundings would be and what his daily routines would
encompass. I consult my research notes until I'm thoroughly
her mother's loving embrace by two big men on camels. Her old
grandfather, who shuffled after them, looks on helplessly. This
incident is meant to draw an emotional response from the reader.
At the end of the chapter Meena's found by an American couple in
decision based on who she was and what she had learned in
the story. Through this decision and the resulting action
(climax), her problem was resolved (resolution) in either a
positive (happy ending) or negative way (unhappy ending).
The first step to und
vacuum is never enough. You have to combine facts and action
with emotion to create an illusion of reality. Here's an example
from The Rest of Life by Mary Gordon.
She gets into the train, one of the first to board, [action and
fact) Everything is still a
develop or reveal character, or give the reader necessary
information. A single plot flaw can make your entire story unravel.
Establish a definite point of view. You may wish to write
dialogue from one character's viewpoint, allowing the viewpoint
"I ain't gonna tell ya."
Eddie's lie has no real purpose, but the fact that he chose to tell
this particular lie in this particular manner reveals something about
his character. Not everyone's playfulness is malevolent. Have your
characters lie about smal
When this traveler looks at the gorse, she sees thorns, not
blossoms. When she looks at clouds, she sees no faithful shapes,
only the threat of rain to add to her troubles. She wants to get out
of this situation, while your reader is on the edge of his se
MAKING EVERY WORD COUNT IN YOUR
By Diane Lefer
YEARS AGO, WHEN MY STORIES STARTED COMING BACK IN THE MAIL
with written comments instead of form rejection slips, I was both
elated and frustrated. "Needs tightening," I read again and again. I
A dangerous murderer will be dead, and Diana will remove the
threat to herself and her unborn baby.
Diana doesn't say anything, and James blows his brains out.
James really is dead, and Diana is cleared of his murder.
So if you aren't as brave a writer as
feelings in a notebook and using them for your characters. Here are
some examples: paragraphs all broadcast to readers how they
should feel. In general, short sentences and paragraphs heighten
the drama, whereas longer, more leisurely writing gives the re
Just as the playwrights did and do (and, one hopes, more subtly
than the above example), so can novelists and short story writers
use minor characters to let the readers in on who the protagonists
are and what their problem is.
Homer knew the significant
dogs and the cats; I stared at the television; I knitted; I read books.
When and how did that book get written?
At that point, I have to just let the whole thing go. It's out of my
hands. It belongs to others now. I need to get free of all emotion
we begin to impose attributes too early, we squelch other
possibilities and eliminate surprises. We place a template over the
story and insist it has to go a certain way, tugging and pulling it into
place. Sometimes the less you know when starting out, th
"Help me up," Richard Aaron shouted over the sound of the
hooves hitting against the earth. "Just help me up."
A person's words may be a smoke screen, but her voice, facial
expression, and gestures can be a dead giveaway. Notice how Gail
Godwin does this
sharply. Be aware that the best details of a setting give off strong
emotions, providing atmosphere for your characters to move
around in. The way they respond to their environment will help
define who they are and what they do.
Development of a theme
From the way the waves pound against the beach, it's obvious a
major storm is brewing. The very thought of bad weather makes
him nauseous, as does the stench of rotting seaweed (he doesn't
think of it as "kelp") and dead fish.
Each of these characters' pe
times. Novels considered classics have admirable features, but the
language and style come from a world very different from our own.
Many writers, trying to model their own writing on work they've
been taught is great, end up writing in old-fashioned lang
Quite naturally, we were tempted to abandon house hunting, for
that day anyway, but we decided to forge on, and now I'm glad we
The third house was perfect, or close to perfect, more expensive
than the house I imagined for Sophie and her parents, but
religious, political, and ethical beliefs the character has. Expand the
list until you feel you know as much about this fictional person as
you do about your best friend. You may not use much of this
material in the actual story, but it gives you the back
Thinking about the radio's meaning for me, I remembered the
warm relationship I'd had with the person who gave it to me. The
radio also re-acquainted me with country songs I later came to
associate with an important character in my novel, my young hero's
listening in on other lives.
Private eyes and spies provide unbeatable "eavesdropping"
opportunities on the printed page. Who could confuse a character
from P. D. James saying, "That was preternaturally slow," with one
from Elmore Leonard asking, "Wha' to
simultaneously. When I write a novel, I work only on the novel.
Q. Do your books ever take unexpected twists as you are writing
them? How far should a beginning writer follow a tangent when it
presents itself in the course of writing a novel?
A. The twist
Or she says:
"Here, I'll read it for you. I think you left your glasses on the
dashboard. You like that soup, remember? The sort of borsch. It
agrees with you, you said last time."
From here, it's just a matter of a phone call to Mom, in which we
JERROD: "Constance, I'd like you to meet my friend, Peter
Harrar." CONSTANCE: "I'm glad to meet you."
PETER: "The pleasure is all mine, my lady. (He tries to read
her mind.) Oh,
that was dumb!"
JERROD: "I agree!"
PETER: "I apologize, my lady."
a party, the writer gazed across the room and her eyes locked with
those of her nemesis. She stopped still and just stood there silently,
racking her brains for an approach as the other woman began
walking toward her. What to do?
Should she start the conv
flood and whose continuing emotional wound is invisible to those
But what they perceive as tranquility, Francine experiences
as a sort of unpleasant limpness, her heart a slack muscle, as if
after having delivered an outsized grief, it never q
or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed
The narrator in Gatsby also serves as sort of a Greek chorus,
briefly summing up the meaning of the novel, and ending with the
So we beat on, boats against the