Liese Mayer, interviewed by Stefan Merrill Block
Plot and Pacing
by Simon Van Booy
For an author’s first book, I would suggest adhering to a basic plot structure, then deviating where and if it feels right. For example, a character’s life in its entirety, from birth to death, doesn’t matter. A novel is about a very specific time in history or in the history of a character. This is what happened at this point. You need only go back and visit the character’s childhood in the book if there is some vital clue to something that is happening in the present. Often there will be, as childhood is full of clues.
So that’s it then. Plot is all the things that have happened in a place or to a person, or to people over a certain period of time. Digression will weaken your plot and the reader may lose interest.
How should an author arrange these events? Chapters. Imagine a string of pearls. Each chapter is an event that drives the narrative forward to the next event in the next chapter. Each chapter is a pearl, and the string of pearls is the novel. You don’t have to have physical chapters if you don’t want to, so long as you get the idea of key episodes that link up to form a narrative....
How to Read Like a Writer
by Gabriel Roth
The first step in writing a novel is reading novels, is one of those truistic bits of canonical wisdom. Most would-be novelists are pleased to hear this because they already read novels. Hey, they think, I’m ahead of the curve! Ha ha ha if only.
I am sorry to inform you that, although you have doubtless been reading novels since you were a baby, you have been reading them wrong. Not wrong in the sense that you’re a bad reader -- I don’t know you but I’m sure you’re a great reader. It’s just that there are (at least) three different ways to read novels, and the way you’re doing it might not be the way that’ll help you write them.
Research Your Life
by Alaxander Chee
One of the most important exercises Annie Dillard had us do when I was her student in literary nonfiction as an undergrad was to research your own life.
You want to write about your life, she said, approximately. How much do you know about your life? Do you know the major industries of your hometown? When was the town settled? Do you know the seasons, the flora and fauna, the population size, the climate… on and on she went, rattling off points for us to check. And off we went, to research our hometowns....
Tumbling Down a Hill in a House That is On Fire
by Duane Swierczynski
The best bit of that advice, and one I would take to heart as a novelist, is the idea of keeping your readers off kilter whenever possible. If they know what’s coming, there’s a good chance they’ll put down your book and move on to something else.
So how to keep your readers off kilter?
My own method, it seems, is all about keeping myself off-kilter during the plotting process.
With my first crime novel, The Wheelman, I winged it completely. Opened with a bank robbery gone wrong and just followed the aftermath. I had a vague idea about where it go, but when I sat down to write each section, I allowed the story to be the boss....
On Writing Space
by Dina Nayeri
I've been searching for a suitable writing space—a place that fits my mood, that feels sacred and creative and peaceful, that coaxes the words from my fingers—since the day I started calling myself a writer. Having decided to leave the business world to write professionally, the physical space I occupied suddenly seemed important. This was, after all, no joke; this was my job. I've been writing essays and stories and theses and papers since I was a kid, and never did space matter then. It wasn't a sacred thing, or a part of the process. I wrote at my desk at home or in my dorm room or any other place where I had a chair and a desk. If the atmosphere was noisy, I put on music. If it was too quiet, I put on music. Usually I had some chocolate nearby. That was it.
When I started writing more seriously, I'd take my laptop and a stack of books to cafés around Harvard Square. The buzz of students and professors energized me, and often I'd stop to people-watch. My stories were peppered with bits of dialogue I picked up here or there. I wasn't yet confident in my own voice, my memories, or the voices inside my imagination. When I moved to a tiny village outside Paris, cafés were no longer an option, and I worked in a basement study filled with my books. It was a cozy space but lonely, and suddenly I found myself unable to finish a chapter....
Terese Svoboda, interviewed by Tracy Young
What can students learn from each other?
Fortunately writing problems are often similar. Each of course has its own taxonomy, but generally it boils down to Is this clear? and Is this believable? The first is informational, the ability to pay out details to create a world, the second is voice, how those details add up to truth. A reader other than the writer can most easily pick up on where confusions lie but every review of every piece of work yields answers to those problems that, if a student is listening, can be applied to his own writing....
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