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November 23, 2018

Like most books about writing, Albert Zuckerman’s Writing the Blockbuster Novel doesn’t say much you haven’t read elsewhere. But some of that may be because he said it first; the original version was published in 1994. He also structures his advice in a way I found helpful.

Instead of rehashing the three-act structure, Zuckerman—a literary agent and author himself—analyzes several successful novels and zeroes in on what he thinks makes them work. His basic principles are that “big” bo...

February 19, 2017

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is more an example of good writing than a manual for how to produce it.

Don’t get me wrong: there are useful tips inside. If your novel seems too large to tackle as whole, divide it into short assignments. Or go even further and tell yourself that, to begin, all you have to do for a given scene is describe what you can see through a one-inch picture frame. Give yourself permission to write bad first drafts. (They don’t ...

October 17, 2016

It’s tempting to say the best thing about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! is the title. (And the cover—don’t let go, kitty! HOLD ON!) But there’s some good stuff about the craft of writing inside.

If you haven’t read a book about story structure, Snyder’s prescriptions for writing a screenplay (or novel) could be illuminating. If you have, his breakdown of the standard three-act formula won’t seem terribly new—it’s basically Aristotle’s beginning, middle, and end, plus some tweaks. (Most...

August 9, 2016

Here's the text of a post Janice Hardy kindly allowed me to make on her excellent Fiction University site:

Some authors plot their novels before they write them. It’s clearly a nefarious practice, so we call them “plotters.” Other authors navigate their first drafts by the seats of their pants. The risk of pulling down said pants while using them to steer is high, so we call these writers “pantsers.”

Except… most authors are actually a bit of both, right? I know I am. I outline my st...

April 23, 2016

Character creation’s hard.

For me, at least. Plotting comes relatively easy, whether I plan it, pants it (i.e., improvise it by the seat of my pants), or plan my pants. But finding the right voice for each character? That can be tricky. Like, beating-Battle-Toads-on-the-original-Nintendo tricky. (That game is still my white whale. Stupid toads.)

Part of my issue is that, like many authors, I prefer to write in third person. It feels more natural to me than other narrative styles—it’s...

February 6, 2016

Chuck Wendig’s The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, & Earn Your Audience won’t change your writing life. But there are some useful tips inside, and at some point, he’ll make you laugh out loud.

As the subtitle suggests, The Kick-Ass Writer proceeds in list format: each chapter (originally a blog post) contains 25 rapid-fire pieces of advice about a given topic. This approach results in some repetition, and prevents Wendig from doing deep dives or provi...

April 29, 2015

It’s easy to assume (and maybe even hope) that Stephen King isn’t a good writer—surely someone so prolific, popular, and obsessed with the supernatural can’t be much of an artist, right? But he is. He really is.

I was reminded of this several times while reading On Writing, King’s pseudo-autobiographical musings on how to author quality fiction. Some of the book’s more memorable lines:

- (On his uncle’s toolbox) “Inside the top was a silk lining, rather odd in such a context and made...

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I write mostly speculative fiction. Usually fantasy, with historical elements mixed in. Sometimes there's a bit of mystery too, or (shhh!) even a little romance.


But it's weird—it's always weird. Consider yourself warned.