So you can read my books

Thursday, December 2, 2010


"At the age of fourteen

I discovered writing as an escape from a world of reality in which I felt acutely uncomfortable."

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, Forward to Sweet Bird of Youth

*) Tennessee gives us the first clue :

Readers usually first discover the world of books for the same reason Tennessee found the realm of creating his own worlds :

Something was lacking in their daily lives.

Like the hunt for the mythical will-o-wisp, the hunt for the fulfillment of that lack drives them even today to read.

In childhood, we often feel different, feel outside the group, feel weak, and feel unloved.

Those same ghosts haunt many into their adult lives.

Give readers a protagonist that they can identify with,

whose goals and hurts echo their own,

and dangle the fulfillment of those aims in front of them being threatened -- well, you've certainly gotten their attention.

Which brings us to the real number one.

1.) Learn the lesson of Madonna :

Before you can get them to read your book, you have to get the reader to pick it up.

Your Title :

When Madonna chose her name it was controversial, attention-getting, and short.

Same for the title of your book. It must be short, grab the eye from the endless titles on the book shelves, and be jarring :


Tell me you wouldn't at least pick up those books to flip a page or two.

Which leads to our second path to Best Read of the Year.

2.) Each page may be your reader's last.

Think channel surfing.

Have you ever surfed the TV, just listening for a second to each program you passed?

One would have a snippet of dialogue so jarring or funny or both that you just had to stay and watch.

Another would have a scene so riveting,

you leaned in close on the edge of your seat to see what would happen next,

hoping to be able to catch on to the story as it progressed.

Each page of your novel has to be like that.

You have to turn the browser into the buyer. You have to keep the reader burning to turn the next page. Arthur Miller has a clue to how we can do that :

"One had the right to write because other people needed news of the inner world,

and if they went too long without such news they would go mad with the chaos of their lives."
ARTHUR MILLER, "The Shadows of the Gods"

3.) Be like Madonna's plunging cleavage or minuscule hem line : eye magnets.

Suspense. You have to keep them guessing. How?

4.) Sow the dragon's teeth, water, then reap the deadly harvest :

a.) Show a ring of black mushrooms in the neighbor's yard in whose center lies your MC's dead cat.

b.) A little later have your neighbors invite your MC to dinner. They are eating those black mushrooms stewed. Your MC politely declines that item on the menu.

c.) A few chapters later, the rings of black mushroom are in everybody's yard but hers. And everybody has stopped talking to her.

d.) One evening as she's coming back from her nightly jog, she sees a mob of zombie-like neighbors trudging to her door, each carrying a tray of those black mushrooms.

You get the idea : Suggest a puzzling problem. Let it blossom strangely. Have the harvest come out of the darkness to threaten your MC.

4.) When a good writer is having fun,

the audience is almost always having fun too.

STEPHEN KING, Entertainment Weekly, Aug. 17, 2007

Make the readers laugh.

The laughter will make the following harrowing adventures that much more intense.

Work to give your characters one-liners that the reader will repeat to her friends.

Making your readers chuckle along with your heroes will endear them to her. So when one cries or makes the ultimate sacrifice for the others, the reader will mourn as if for a real person.

Your novel will have the semblance of real life even if it is a fantasy or horror story.

Humor is the glue that holds the reader to the next page :

"As we understand it, the surest way to make a living by the pen is to raise pigs."

5.) Don't forget the music :

"To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the music the words make." Truman Capote

Have each page contain a paragraph of prose that rolls like billowing fog in the awakening dawn, catching the heartstrings of the reader.

"I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions." James Michener

"In conversation you can use timing, a look, an inflection.

But on the page all you have is commas, dashes, the amount of syllables in a word.

When I write, I read everything out loud to get the right rhythm."
Fran Lebowitz {Which is great advice.}

6.) Love is not a four letter word in writing.

Most readers live loveless lives in this country. Sometimes the loneliest people in America are the married ones.

At least give them the dream that real love can exist between two intelligent people.

Give them love that survives the bed sheets and goes with the couple into their daily lives.

Give that loving couple struggles that draw them together not pry them apart. A true, lasting love is like driving a car at night.

You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.


  1. Love this. After awhile of writing, it begins to sink in - little by little, paragraph by paragraph, you begin to understand the struggles and wants/needs of the human emotion and what it takes to keep the reader, and writer, going, pushing through the words to the climax. Maybe a continuum on that path, always.

  2. Dude! You just totally stressed me out!
    No. I'm kidding. I've been going through things I've written and pretending that the one chapter I'm on is the ONLY one that an agent will see. I've been meticulously taking them one at a time. It's exhausting but hopefully worth the effort.

  3. Jolene : Hey, I'm a guy. It's our role in life to totally stress ladies out. LOL. It really is true. The page that you're currently writing may be the only one a browser will ever read. It has to have a hook, be it a one-liner or a riveting scene, that will make the reader want to read more. It is a lot of work. But it keeps us from letting down in the middle of our novels.

    Erin : Yes, each page is another layer to our characters that the reader gets to know and hopefully to root for.

  4. WOW. I'm going to start editing over christmas break and that's a great idea - make every page riveting because it may be someone's last. Definitely something I need to work on and make sure I have. I don't want to give anyone a reason to put my book down!

  5. Melissa : The idea occured to me as I was browsing the book aisles one day and read a page of a book and was unimpressed. I thought later on that night how much work that author must have put into that novel. Perhaps that was one of the pages he rushed through to get to the good part -- but I never got to the good part because he did not put his heart into that one page I did read.

    It made me re-think my whole way of writing! I'm glad it helped you, too. Have a great end of week, Roland

  6. Hi,

    Bums! I'm now seriously doubting my profile blog to be a good idea: two chaps of historical ready to post up. You know, I think I'll go Christmas shopping first and have re-think on whether it's a good idea to post work online. No seriously, as I said to Elle S,

    I've got a similar post ready to go in reference to similarity and differences in scene presentation re novel and that of scene takes re movies: good advice given me by a screenwriter. But, I'm supporting Elle's Writing with the Stars blogfest because few others have taken up the challenge, so won't post the scene setting post for a few days yet.


  7. Thank you for this excellent reminder that the whole package, from the outside in, is what makes a book excellent! It makes me think about my titles...

  8. Heather : Titles are so important. It's what grabs the agent from the header of your query to the browser in the bookstore. I'm glad I helped in some small way.

    Francine : Good luck with the Christmas shopping. Just write from your heart on what interests you. No one can write from your own unique perspective but you. Think of how differently both Monet and Da Vinci would paint a horse on a sloping green hill.

  9. The cover art and title are what first draw me to a book. But so true, it's what's inside that counts the most. The writing.

    I like the "eye magnets.":)

  10. Yep, a good title is imperative (cover too)!! Great post, Roland. And I love this quote:
    "I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions." James Michener

  11. All of these are so important. Sometimes I'm glad that I'm still writing the first draft and now editing/revising so I don't have to think about these kinds of things. But I'll definitely have to keep them in mind!

  12. Hi, Roland.
    Just paying a visit to say thank you for visiting my blog.
    I do find mistakes in past proposals/letters I wrote to publishers.
    I can't look at them without hissing. :-)

  13. Anne : I guess it just goes to show that we're human, right? And it never hurts to just go over our queries just one more time Thanks for the return visit. Roland

  14. Great advice, Roland. I totally agree.

    (and I totally love the mushroom should write that one, lol)

  15. Tessa : Glad you found my advice helpful. That story just came off the top of my head. I may incorporate into the saga of Victor Standish or Sam McCord in some future novel of theirs.

    LOL. That's if I can ever get a publishing company for their adventures.

    Getting an agent is only a third of the battle. Then, you have to make enough of an impression on a struggling editor to brave the purchasing agents of the firm. Then, you have to convince those number-crunchers that your book will be a high-seller from day one. After that, you have to establish world peace.

    Just joking with that last. LOL