So you can read my books

Friday, September 21, 2012


That's right. Dare to be bad.

1.) Ernest Hemingway said it :

All first drafts are shit.

He was a genius. And if his first draft was bad, ours will most likely be less than sterling, too.

Which is a relief.

It takes the pressure off us to write that masterpiece right out of the chute.

We know what we write will be bad. Then, with the rough foundation laid, we can get down to the fixes.

2.) The Zen of Writing :

Write in the moment.

Have your goal for the chapter you're creating up on the chalkboard of your mind. See it as a mini-three act play :

One : build-up with tension and foreshadowing

Two : the dominoes fall into place, sometimes flowing into an unexpected pattern.

Three : the bottom falls out of someone's expectations or plans.

With that mini-three act play in your mind write the first things that occur to you.

Flow with the internal logic of your words, set your sail with the mood of the winds of your muse and travel across your fictive world.

3.) Finish Your Vegetables :

Complete your chapter -- hopefully with a cliffhanger.

(You do not want to give the agent a convenient stop point. Make her want to turn the page and keep on reading into the wee hours of the morning.

If she can't stop reading, she will feel that the publisher and reader will not be able to stop either.)

4.) Bad prose is just a problem to be solved.

Every prose problem has a solution. Perhaps not a perfect one but an improvement of your earlier prose.

Look at your finished chapter. Correct what mistakes you see on the computer monitor. Print out the chapter.

Read it silently, correcting as you go. Read it aloud.

Slash through clunky sentence, writing the improved version above it. Read it aloud, listening to the flow of the words. Is there lyrical magic to them?

No? Read them again, slashing as you go. Try to see if you can make the mental images clear and vivid in your mind. It can be done. Sometimes simple prose is best.

Write the simplest version of the trouble sentence you can.

Write the first words that come to mind. Like the first answer to a difficult test question, it will more than likely be the right choice.

5.) Every prose pothole you stumble across can be fixed.

You don't have to be a genius. You don't have to be Pulitzer Prize material.

You just have to care ...

about writing at your highest level.

about how people interact and how they hurt and heal one another ... sometimes one act right after the other.

You're a writer.

You've observed people around you. You've reflected upon your own words and actions on the job, at play, and at home.

Use those observations to lend depth to the interactions in your novel.

6.) Put Tab A into Slot B :

A frequent agent complaint is that your story doesn't hold together.

What does that mean any way?

It means the individual parts don't fit.

At the start of writing your novel, write what you believe will be your last chapter. Tie up all the loose ends you plan to dangle along the course of your narrative.

Present your protagonist, having learned all the hard lessons he picked up in the heat of the crucible. Have him admit to his failings of the past. Have him stand proud and laughing or silent, strong, and humbled by his hard-won wisdom.

Then, using this chapter as a guide, write your first chapter. Show the flaws in your protagonist that have been mended in the climax. Spotlight the areas where growth is needed, especially the ones to which your hero is blind.

Introduce the theme of your novel :
Love makes lust seem pale and unsatisfying.
Life is more than success.
True friends are your real wealth.
Family is the yin and yang of life, both pain and healing.

As you write the meat of your novel, keep your creative eye on both of these chapters to time your pacing, tension, laughter, foreshadowing, and ultimate victory.

*) If you dare to be bad, your novel will be very, very good.
{Image courstesy of the fabulously talented Leonora Roy!}
In an attempt to counter the advances of the mysterious Indigo towards Victor, Alice performs this song in Meilori's.
Victor almost swallows his tongue!


  1. Excellent advice, as always!
    This might surprise you, but I don't divide my book into chapters until the final edit. It's at that moment I decide where the cliffhangers exist.

  2. Alex:
    Unique idea. But I am a believer in short chapters and them being mini-three act plays. It's easier for me to do that if they are separated into chapters.

    Listening to DUMA KEY taught me new ways to write chapters. King is a master for a reason.

    Thanks for visiting and caring enough to chat with me! :-)

  3. I like the idea of the 3 act play, and I think I've come across it before, as a construction technique.

    As a planner, I like a skeleton format at the least, but I keep my outlining map flexible. I write in chapters, to get the first draft down. It allows me to jump around if I want. I enjoy your writing tips, thanks for sharing.

  4. D.G.:
    Each chapter is a chapter in a serial for me, able to stand alone in a sense. I'm pleased you get something out of my tips. It is my hope to help my friends in some small way. :-)

  5. I really loved this post. Most of it reiterates things we already know as writers, but sometimes forget.

    The ending the chapter on a cliffhanger hit me hard. The wording you used: Don't give an agent a convenient place to stop.

    How is it that I didn't realize until I read this that I did exactly that on my first chapter? The chapter wraps up so nicely that it just felt like a good stopping point. Which would be precisely why it's a bad stopping point. Thank you.

  6. Tweeted and FB'd. You're instruction style is genius.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  7. Tamara:
    Ben Franklin said most of us do not need to be taught ... only reminded. :-) Stephen King reminded me of the cliffhanger chapter rule while I was listening to his DUMA KEY audio book. I'm glad you got something neat out of this post.

    You are a rare gem of a friend. Thanks for FB'ing and Tweeting this post. Wish you the highest sales f or SECONDHAND SHOES! :-)

  8. Being bad used to come naturally, I wonder what happened when I decided to write a novel?

  9. Being bad comes naturally to us all, doesn't it? :-)

    Write a situation and a response to it that you've always wanted to see but no one would give you. Have the "nice" girl slug the bully with a two by four in gym class! Or something like that. LOL.

  10. Excellent post. I would say - reading your story OUT LOUD is probably the one single thing that you can do, if nothing else, to improve it. Places where you stumble - that's what you need to fix. It helped me tremendously.

  11. Excellent advice and a post I've bookmarked for future reference. Any author that says it only took them two weeks to write their book is either a) lying or b) written a pile of poop!

  12. But, but my first drafts are golden...
    Great advice.
    I do like to write chronologically, but sometimes I'm not in the mood for the scene and ready to write the next one. Solution? What you said -- to write the simplest version. Sometimes it's just dialogue back and forth with nothing else.

  13. Ksenia:
    Thanks for visiting. Your post on how take critques was excellent.

    Or both! Yes, anything of quality takes planning, careful execution, and time!!

    Mark Twain thought very highly of his first drafts too, so you are in great company! :-)

  14. Of course! And you made me blush...