Quick Link: A Tale of Two Writers

Quick links, bringing you great articles on writing from all over the web.

I have to admit I am more pantser than plotter, but I do actuality-sort-of have a general outline. I will run story arcs in my head and organize them before I write. That said I am a big believer in learning the dynamics of good story telling, and a massive believer in lots of editing. So while Larry Brooks’ post at Kill Zone seemed a bit biased towards plotters, the real take away is that it is important to learn the essentials, because you may write it but there is no guarantee anyone will read it.

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A Tale of Two Writers

Posted on June 27, 2016 by Larry Brooks

Guess which one is the evil one?
Guess which one is the evil one?

Adam and Brent (who go by A and B, respectively here in analogy-land). Both have a novel in their heads. Both have big dreams for their books. Both can write sentences that would make the ghosts of Hemingway and John Updike exchange high fives.

Which is why they became writers in the first place.  The reason many of us took up that sword.


Adam’s book is about a guy who loves a woman who doesn’t love him back. That’s all he knows about it when he sits down to write. It’ll come to him. He trusts his gut and the creative process, which is isn’t sure how to explain, because someone told him it is not describable. He’s not really sure why he trusts his gut, but he does.

He’s never read a craft book (other than that damn Story Engineering, which suggests there is actually a wrong way and a better way to structure a story, based on the forces of story that always apply, for better or worse, so screw that…) or been to a writing workshop. But he’s hung out on online forums full of writers who have, who sound like they know what’s up, none of whom have sold anything but are self-published because, as if they could be if they wanted to be, quoting all kinds of folks who say publishing is dead anyhow. These same folks have all read On Writing and hey, if Stephen King can write a novel out of the right side of his head, so can they. And him. Besides, he once saw a DVD based on a Nicholas Sparks novel and he;s pretty sure he can do better.

Adam believes that if you just write, no matter what you write, everything will turn out fine.

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If you liked this article, please share. If you have suggestions for further articles, articles you would like to submit, or just general comments, please contact me at paula@publetariat.com or leave a message below.

I Smell Your Rookie Moves, New Writers

This post by Chuck Wendig originally appeared on his terribleminds site on 8/26/15. Warning: strong language.

I am occasionally in a place where I read work by new writers. Sometimes this is at cons or conferences. Sometimes it’s in the sample of work that’s free online or a fragment from a self-published work. Sometimes I just roll over in my bed and there it is, a manuscript by a new writer, haunting me like a vengeful incubus.

I would very much like to yell at you.

Now, listen, before I begin the part where I scream myself hoarse about the things you’re doing wrong, I want you to understand that we’ve all been there. We’ve all done it poorly. Doing it poorly is the first step to, well, not doing it poorly. I have written my fair share of HOT PUKE, and it’s just one of those things you have to purge from your system.

(Though here we also enter into another caveat: HOT PUKE is not actually a delicacy. You do that shit over in the corner, barfing it up in the potted plant so nobody sees until morning. You don’t yak up today’s lunch in the middle of the living room and then do jazz-hands over it: “Ta-da! The Aristocrats!” What I’m trying to say is, your rookie efforts are not automatically worth putting out into the world, especially if those efforts cost readers money to access them. The mere existence of a story is not justification for its publication. Don’t make people give you cash for your inferior efforts. Get it right before you ask money to reward you for getting it wrong.)

Here, then, are some things I have noticed in drafts by new or untested writers, and these are I think standard errors — and they’re ones also that tested authors sometimes stumble into, so peruse this list, see if you have stropped up against any of these sins like a randy tomcat, and then fix your business. Get it? Got it? Good?

Let the yelling commence.


Read the full post, which includes many specific writerly mistakes with illustrative examples, on terribleminds.


How to Use the Passive Voice Correctly

This post by Kimberly Joki originally appeared on the Grammarly Blog.

The passive voice is a misunderstood entity in the world of writing. It is unfairly judged by many authors. Some writers, without taking the time to get to know this grammatical structure, avoid it at all costs. Others use it ineffectively because they do not understand how it works. How can you get to know this mysterious literary device?

First, let’s start with an explanation of what passive voice is. Passive voice sentences mention the thing or person receiving an action before mentioning the action itself, and may omit the actor altogether. For example, consider this sentence:

The leaves were blown by the wind.

The leaves receive the action of being blown. In the example, the agent is specified with the preposition by. However, the agent could have been left out of the sentence: The leaves were blown.

When is it proper to use passive voice? Consider these instances.


Read the full post on the Grammarly Blog.


Understanding the Flashback—Bending Time as a Literary Device

This post by Kristen Lamb originally appeared on her blog on 6/15/15.

Last time we talked about flashbacks and why they ruin fiction. But, because this is a blog and I don’t want it to be 20,000 words long, I can’t address everything in one post. Today, we’re going to further unpack “the flashback.” I think we tend to use broad literary terms to encompass a lot of things that aren’t precisely the same things, and in doing this, we get confused.

In my POV, the term “flashback” is far too broad.

We can mistakenly believe that any time an author shifts time, that THIS is the dreaded “flashback” I am referring to and the one I (as an editor) will cut.

Not necessarily.

We need to broaden our understanding of the “flashback” because lumping every backwards shift in time under one umbrella won’t work.

My favorite example is the term “antagonist.” I’ve even been to conferences where experts used the terms “antagonist” and “villain” interchangeably as if they were synonyms, which is not the case. A villain is only one type of antagonist. It creates a false syllogism. Yes, all oranges villains are fruits antagonists, but not all fruits antagonists are oranges villains.


Read the full post on Kristen Lamb’s blog.


How to Create a Believable Fictional Universe

This post by Georgina Roy originally appeared on e-Books India on 6/11/15.

A fictional universe is the world where your story takes place. Your story can happen anywhere from prehistoric Earth, to a futuristic world filled with flying cars and funny colored aliens. Even if you decide to set up your story in modern day Earth, it is still a version of Earth that will exist only in your imagination. However, sometimes we can get carried away when creating our stories and come up with worlds that are so extravagant and extraordinary they cross the line of logic and become unbelievable. This is why there are some things that you, as the writer, have to think of when you’re creating your world.


1. Decide on a theme

What kind of a world do your characters inhabit? Modern day Earth, a fantasy world, or do they live in the distant future or outer space? This is important because not only do you have to find the way your world figures into the plot of your novel, but it will also determine your target audience and the genre of your book. The crucial thing to remember is that you have to stick with the theme throughout your book. The world building is always a mark of a great book, and that means that the theme has to be consistent on every page of your novel.


Read the full post, which includes four additional specific steps, on e-Books India.


The Mystery Writer's Toolbox

This post by by Shannon Roberts & Renni Browne originally appeared on The Editorial Department on 4/21/15.

A look at what’s inside and its relevance to all genres

Questions. Motives. Clues. Red herrings. Villains. Suspense.

All of these are elements in any good mystery. And all of them should be elements in your novel—whether it be science fiction, literary fiction, family or historical drama, horror, romance, or something else entirely.

Any good story is driven by QUESTIONS, the most important being: What do the protagonists want? Why can’t they have it? Then there’s the villain—what drives your antagonist? If there’s a MacGuffin, who will find it—and how? Why did the brother do that? What is the secretary hiding? And so on.

This gets us to MOTIVE. It isn’t just for cops and crooks—it’s for every character in every story. All of your characters have (or should have) interesting motivation for what they do, and often those motives are mysterious to the reader. Wanting to figure them out or understand them is part of what keeps us reading, so you want to keep at least some of your characters’ motives hidden. Your protagonist, of course, needs to be highly motivated—and being a hero or a heroine is not a motive.

Protagonists should have a personal stake in events of the story—they or someone close to them is in danger or vanishes, something of great value to them has been lost or stolen, a horrific secret needs to be uncovered or kept secret. Such stakes most often show up in mysteries, but the principle is just as important for fiction in other genres. Make the stakes high and personal for your main character.

On to CLUES—how they work and why you need them.


Read the full post on The Mystery Writer’s Toolbox.


A Study of Reading Habits in the Age of Aquarius, or, The Novel as Time Machine

This post by Greg Olear originally appeared on The Weeklings on 3/4/15.


IN MARCH OF 2011, I was on a panel with three other novelists at the Quais du Polar literary festival in Lyon, France. We were there, if memory serves, to talk about strong female protagonists in crime fiction, but the discussion wound up encompassing much more than that. At one point, we were asked about the utility of the novel. In a century of smart phones and dumb tweets, with attention spans shorter than ever, what possible purpose could such an analog medium serve?

I had no ready answer for such an existential question. Fortunately, the French novelist Sylvie Granotier was prepared. It is exactly the analog nature of the form that makes the novel so necessary, she said. In a world of ADHD, she explained—in English as fluent as my French was not—the novel, alone among the art forms, demanded more, not less, attention from its readers. Only the novel could combat the erosion of our collective ability to focus. And it did this by insisting that its readers move at the deliberate pace set by the novelist.

“The power of the novel,” she said, “lies in its ability to stop time.”



In his column in The Believer some years ago, Nick Hornby wrote in praise of the short novel—the work of fiction that, as he put it, if you start reading when the plane taxis along the runway at LAX, you will be just wrapping up as the wheels hit the tarmac at JFK. His novels all meet this criteria. So do mine. Indeed, the lion’s share of fiction churned out by the big publishing houses seems to be written with the sole purpose of amusing the bored business traveler.


Read the full post on The Weeklings.


How Mad Max: Fury Road Turns Your Writing Advice Into Roadkill

This post by Chuck Wendig originally appeared on his terribleminds site on 5/26/15. Warning: strong language.

Said it before, will say it again: Mad Max: Fury Road is the dust-choked rocket-fueled orifice-clenching crank-mad feminist wasteland batfuck doomsday opera you didn’t know you needed. It’s like eating fireworks. It’s like being inside a rust tornado. It’s like having a defibrillator pad applied directly to your genitals but somehow, you love it?

It’s not a perfect movie.

But it’s amazing just the same.

And part of — for me! — what makes it amazing is how easily it flaunts its rule-breaking. Writing — particularly the very-patterned art of screenwriting — comes with all these preconceived sets of “rules” or “guidelines,” and like most creative rules and guidelines, they’re half-useful and half-dogdick. It’s great once in a while to be reminded why the rules work. But it can be even more illuminating to realize when something works in spite of those rules — in direct contravention to what you expect can and should happen.

And I wanna talk about that just a little. Real quick.

Hold still. *fires up the defib pads*



Begins With Action And Then Action Action Holy Fuck More Action

Beginning with action is hard. Because a lot of the time, you need context. You jump right into some actionstravaganza and you feel lost — unmoored, drifting, caught up in OMG THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE EXCITING BUT MOSTLY IT FEELS LIKE ACTION FIGURES BEING FIRED OUT OF A CANNON AGAINST A WALL BECAUSE I DO NOT YET HAVE A REASON TO CARE. It’s all whizz-bang-boom, but ultimately? Hollow as a used grenade. Shallow as a puddle of sun-baked urine.

Fury Road is like, “Yeah, fuck you, mate,” and then instantly there’s a car chase? And then like, five minutes of setup and another car chase that goes until the middle of the movie? And then a sequel to that car chase that ends the movie. On paper, that shouldn’t work. On screen, it roars like an engine and drags you behind it like you’re chained to the goddamn bumper.


Read the full post on terribleminds.


10 Odd Books That Will Improve Your Writing

This podcast from Demian Farnworth originally appeared on rainmaker.fm.

You don’t have too look far to find a list of the best books a writer should read. This is a benefit for new writers, no doubt.

Unfortunately, those of us who have been around for a number of years often own every book that tends to make these lists. And we read them. And re-read them.

Not only do we own them, we’ve absorbed them into our bloodstream.

It wouldn’t be so bad if that list changed from year to year.

But it doesn’t.

So while the usual best-books-writers-should-read lists are fine for the greenhorns in the field … what about the rest of us?

What about those who want to go from undergraduate to graduate work? Who want to inject a tangible and seductive element in their writing that growls “You better take notice of me”?

What are the best books they should read? And why?

As you might guess, I have an answer.

In this 9-minute episode you’ll discover:
– The authors of this 1604 Bible edition made language their slave.

– Award winning producer delivers some of the best tips on how to inject emotion into any story

– The book you’ll walk away with some magnificent metaphors, if you read it

– Imitate the ebb and flow of people-centered tales in this book to make what you write memorable

– The real reason I want you to read these books


Listen to, or download, the full podcast on rainmaker.fm.


Better Writing Through Tabletop RPGs

This post by Claire Ryan originally appeared on her Raynfall blog on 5/9/15.

Everyone asks, how can I become a better writer?

The answers are usually something like: read more books in the genre you’re writing, write as much as you can, get feedback from other writers and readers. Yes, you should do all those things, and they will make you a better writer in general. But something that’s often overlooked (perhaps because it’s incredibly nerdy) is tabletop roleplaying.

RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons are amazing tools for focusing the mind on the process of storytelling. By running and playing in an RPG, you’ll develop skills and habits that will make your writing better – or at least easier!


Being a GM, or gamesmaster*, for an RPG is an interesting experience, and it has a steep learning curve to it. It starts with the setting of the game, which could be D&D, the various White Wolf games, Call of Cthulhu, or oldies like Rolemaster. You’ll get to grips with a setting and run games within it, but eventually, once you’ve got some experience and confidence, you’ll want to make your own setting.

*Publetariat Editor’s note: in the U.S. we call them “Dungeon Masters”

This is where things get crazy – and useful. Worldbuilding for a novel and worldbuilding for an RPG setting are exactly the same thing. You create the setting from the top down, laying out the land, races, magic or technology, and politics at a macro scale before you ever get to cities, groups, and individuals. As a GM, you never need to make the characters – those are your PCs – but you’ll have everything surrounding them locked down and ready to go long before the story ever begins.


Read the full post on Raynfall.


The Shared Space Between Reader and Writer: A Case Study

This post by Brenda Miller originally appeared on Brevity on 1/17/15.

I often teach classes on the form of the “hermit crab” essay, a term Suzanne Paola and I used in our textbook Tell It Slant. Hermit crab essays adopt already existing forms as the container for the writing at hand, such as the essay in the form of a “to-do” list, or a field guide, or a recipe. Hermit crabs are creatures born without their own shells to protect them; they need to find empty shells to inhabit (or sometimes not so empty; in the years since I’ve begun using the hermit crab as my metaphor, I’ve learned that they can be quite vicious, evicting the shell’s rightful inhabitant by force).

When I teach the hermit crab essay class, we begin by brainstorming the many different forms that exist for us to plunder for our own purposes. Once we have such a list scribbled on the board, I ask the students to choose one form at random and see what kind of content that form suggests. This is the essential move: allowing form to dictate content. By doing so, we get out of our own way; we bypass what our intellectual minds have already determined as “our story” and instead become open and available to unexpected images, themes and memories. Also, following the dictates of form gives us creative nonfiction writers a chance to practice using our imaginations, filling in details, and playing with the content to see what kind of effects we can create.

I’ve taught the hermit crab class many, many times over the years, in many different venues. So, often it’s tempting for me to sit out the exercise; after all, what else could I possibly learn? But after just a minute, it becomes too boring to watch other people write, so I dive in myself, with no expectation that I’ll write anything “good.” In one class, I glanced at the board we had filled with dozens of forms. And my eye landed on “rejection notes.” So that is where I began:


Read the full post on Brevity.


The Three Kinds of Scenes, According to Mike Nichols

This post by Dana Stevens originally appeared on Slate on 11/20/14.

“There are only three kinds of scenes: a fight, a seduction or a negotiation,” the protean director Mike Nichols, who died yesterday at age 83, liked to say. It was an idea he often returned to in interviews, often appending as a coda this bit of advice from his former comedy partner Elaine May: “When in doubt, seduce.” It seems an astonishingly simple formulation on which to base a six-decade career spent moving effortlessly from stand-up comedy to theater to film and back to theater again, racking up landmark achievements in every field while always somehow keeping a finger on the pulse of what America was ready to see, needed to see, at that political and cultural moment: the sexual frankness and chilly suburban satire of The Graduate, the impassioned labor activism of Silkwood, the anguished vision of HIV-ravaged gay culture and Reagan-era indifference in Angels in America.

The best scenes from Mike Nichols’ films are seductions, negotiations, and fights all at once. He delighted in moments of high theatricality, intricately blocked verbal showdowns between characters with multiple clashing agendas unknown to each other and sometimes to themselves. But he also excelled at framing such moments cinematically, making the camera movement and music and editing all matter as much as the (always excellent, often world-class) acting.


Read the full post, which includes illustrative video clips, on Slate.


Magical Thinking: Talent and the Cult of Craft

This post by Michael Bourne originally appeared on The Millions on 11/18/14.

In August 1954, just months after he graduated from Harvard, John Updike had his first story accepted by The New Yorker. He was 22 years old. Three years after that, having spent a year studying drawing in England and two years as a staff writer at The New Yorker, Updike gave up his office job and set out his shingle as a freelance writer. For the next half century, he pumped out a steady stream of award-winning novels, poetry, criticism, and stories, often averaging more than a book a year.

Updike was an excellent student — all A’s from 7th to twelfth grade, summa cum laude from Harvard — and a ferociously hard worker, but he had little formal training in the craft of writing. In fact, as Adam Begley notes in his recent biography, Updike, the future two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner was rejected, twice, in his bid to take English S, Harvard’s most prestigious creative writing class taught by Archibald MacLeish. Yet from 1957, when he left the staff at The New Yorker until his death in 2009, Updike supported four children through two marriages without ever holding down a job other than writer.

Interestingly, Updike’s mother, Linda, was also a writer. Like her son, Linda dedicated her life to the craft of fiction, spending 25 years revising Dear Juan, a ponderous historical novel about the Spanish explorer Ponce de Léon, which remains unpublished to this day. She did eventually publish 10 stories in The New Yorker, along with two story collections (one posthumously), but Begley goes to some length to assure readers that without her famous son’s help rescuing her stories from the slush pile, they likely never would have been published. “I had only a little gift,” Linda once told an interviewer, “but it was the only one I got.”


Read the full post on The Millions.


The Problem of Entitlement: A Question of Respect

This post by Steve Almond originally appeared on Poets & Writers on 8/20/14.

This past spring I took a position as a visiting writer at a well-respected MFA program. My students were by and large intelligent and serious, but there were a few moments when I found them—what’s the word I’m looking for here—exasperating.

One day before the fiction workshop, for instance, we got into a discussion about the Best American Short Stories series, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. To my astonishment, a number of students made comments indicating their disdain for the annual anthology.

“Wait a second,” I said. “The stories in those collections are always great.”

There was an awkward pause. Then one of them said, “You’re being ironic, right?”

At this point, I sort of lost it. I told my students that they had every right to dislike particular stories, but that dismissing them entirely was foolish. Then I added something along the lines of, “Why don’t you guys publish a story in Best American and then you can sit in judgment of them.”

It was not my finest moment as a teacher. (And, for the record, I later apologized to the entire class.) It was an impulsive reaction to what I’ve come to think of over the years as the Problem of Entitlement.

I mean by this that a significant number of the students I’ve encountered in creative writing programs display a curious arrogance toward published authors, as well as an inflated sense of their own talents and importance. The same attitudes often prevail in those online precincts where new and emerging writers congregate.


Read the full post on Poets & Writers.


On Plot

This post by S. Andrew Swann originally appeared on Genrewonk.

What is a “Story?”
(SF or otherwise.)

A character with a problem.

Every story is about a character trying to deal with some sort of difficulty. Characters who have happy lives, who are content with their lot, and who have achieved their goals are not good fodder for fiction. The people we read about are people in trouble.

The central problem.

Most genre stories can be thought of as revolving around some central problem, or problems. The central problem(s) can be considered to be, in some sense, what the story is “about.” Will the mystery be solved? Will the protagonist survive? Will the rebellion succeed?

Begin with a crisis…

Whatever the length you’re dealing with, short story or novel, you want to begin with a character in crisis. The reader should find characters in difficulty within the first chapter, the first page, and ideally, the first paragraph. Structurally, it may not be possible to have the story’s main problem begin on the first page, but every story should begin with some problem, often with the first line.

…end with a resolution.

If the story is organized around a single central problem, it ends naturally when you’ve resolved that problem. If the story deals with a series or complex of problems, it ends when the last problem is dealt with, or when all the problems identified as most important are solved. A story can persist as long as there are problems to deal with.


What makes a Story SF?


Click here to view the full post, which includes a thorough analysis of not only plotting but also characterization and pacing, on Genrewonk.