This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers at any stage of their career can talk about seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning. This installment is from crime writer Kirk Russell.
Kirk Russell is the author of six crime fiction novels. He lives in
Berkeley, California with his wife Judy Rodgers, chef-co-owner of
San Francisco’s Zuni Café. More at kirkrussellbooks.com
1. With my first novels I wrote my way to the beginning of the story, which is say I wrote stuff that led up to the beginning but wasn’t where the really novel started. Leads to a lot of rewriting. Now I hang onto an idea longer before starting a novel. I’ll drive around with it. I’ll turn it in my head. I’ll think about it and with the crime fiction I’m writing a lot of life has already happened to the characters, so it’s an awful lot about stepping into the action at the right moment. That moment has to have weight and charisma and connection to everything that comes next.
2. No matter how small the character’s role in what’s happening, try to get their voice in your head. So if you met them you could walk down the street with them and talk. That’s not easy because invariably you’re drawing on yourself plenty as you write, but it’s a big deal, it makes it much easier if you get all the characters’ voices. If you know how they sound and move everything goes together more naturally.
3. I still tend to overpopulate my novels but I’ve learned its dangers. Each time you invite someone new into the boat it sits a little lower in the water. It takes more of a forward rush of energy and narrative drive as you add people. There’s probably a mathematical formula in there somewhere. New characters can appear as a plot turns but they shouldn’t be the crutch you lean on to make it turn.
One of Kirk Russell’s earlier crime novels,
SHELL GAMES: A JOHN MARQUEZ CRIME NOVEL,
has been selected by Amazon for promotion in its Kindle
Daily Deal on Wednesday, April 25, 2012. For one day
only, this ebook will be priced at just $1.99.
4. If you’re two thirds in and the novel stalls, the problem is more likely behind you than ahead of you. I’ve learned to go back and find the things that are not quite right or dead wrong, and many times that will clear the
You’re at lunch when your smartphone buzzes with an e-mail from your boss: “Don’t forget, we have a meeting in 10 minutes.” Of course you did forget, so you rush out of the restaurant and attempt to make it before it starts. But a crazy chain of events stops you from getting back in time for the meeting.
Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.
Want more creative writing prompts? Consider:
The Writer’s Book of Matches
For today’s prompt, we’re faced with the final Two-for-Tuesday prompt of the month, which means we’re faced with these two options:
- Write a love poem.
- Write an anti-love poem.
Here’s my attempt:
In the morning, when we’re stumbling
like zombies through taking showers
or making lunches, I sometimes
vent about how tired I’m feeling,
even though we both know why our
young children slept more than us, but
our lack of sleep is always worth
understanding how we’re feeling.
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While fad advice in the writing world comes and goes, some wisdom is so novel that it’s withstood the test of time. Culled from 91 years of WD articles, interviews and essays, here are 23 of our favorite writing quotes of enduring advice and inspiration. Enjoy.
“If you have a story that seems worth telling, and you think you can tell it worthily, then the thing for you to do is to tell it, regardless of whether it has to do with sex, sailors or mounted policemen.”
—Dashiell Hammett, June 1924
“The writing of a novel is taking life as it already exists, not to report it but to make an object, toward the end that the finished work might contain this life inside it and offer it to the reader. The essence will not be, of course, the same thing as the raw material; it is not even of the same family of things. The novel is something that never was before and will not be again.”
—Eudora Welty, February 1970
“You yearn to turn out a book-length, your typewriter is silently shrieking abuse, you are itching to go. First read! Read the work of top-notch writers in your field. They know how! Read first for entertainment, then reread for analysis. Soak yourself in their stuff—for atmosphere, color, technique.”
—Fred East, June 1944
“One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off.”
—Lawrence Block, June 1981
“The trap into which all writers have, will, or should fall into, of writing The Great American Watchamacallit, is such an uncluttered and inviting one that from time to time I’m sure even the greatest have to pull themselves up short by the Shift key to remind themselves that it is story first that they should write.”
—Harlan Ellison, January 1963
“It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you start to go with that; you get some footage of that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion and as you’re watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up. So, in order to exploit one thing or another, you may have to do research. You may have to find out more about Chinese immigrants, or you may have to find out about Halley’s Comet, or whatever, where you didn’t realize that you were going to have Chinese or Halley’s Comet in the story. So you do research on that, and it implies more, and the deeper you get into the story, the more it implies, the more suggestions it makes on the plot. Toward the end, the ending becomes inevitable.”
—Kurt Vonnegut, November 1985
“Don’t expect the puppets of your mind to become the people of your story. If they are not realities in your own mind, there is no mysterious alchemy in ink and paper that will turn wooden figures into flesh and blood.”
—Leslie Gordon Barnard, May 1923
“If you tell the reader that Bull Beezley is a brutal-faced, loose-lipped bully, with snake’s blood in his veins, the reader’s reaction may be, ‘Oh, yeah!’ But if you show the reader Bull Beezley raking the bloodied flanks of his weary, sweat-encrusted pony, and flogging the tottering, red-eyed animal with a quirt, or have him booting in the protruding ribs of a starved mongrel and, boy, the reader believes!”
—Fred East, June 1944
“We writers are apt to forget that, as the gunsmoke fogs and the hero rides wildly to the rescue, although the background of t
Pacing is a crucial component of fiction writing. After all, it’s important to keep your readers “hooked” throughout your story. Whether you are just getting started in writing or looking to break into fiction writing, you’ll need to know the basics of how to pace a novel. Read today’s tip of the day from Crafting Novels & Short Stories. In this excerpt written by Jessica Page Morrell, she explains what pacing is and seven ways to keep your story moving at the right pace.
What is Pacing in Fiction?
Pacing is a tool that controls the speed and rhythm at which a story is told and the readers are pulled through the events. It refers to how fast or slow events in a piece unfold and how much time elapses in a scene or story. Pacing can also be used to show characters aging and the effects of time on story events.
Pacing differs with the specific needs of a story. A far-reaching epic will often be told at a leisurely pace, though it will speed up from time to time during the most intense events. A short story or adventure novel might quickly jump into action and deliver drama.
Pacing is part structural choices and part word choices, and uses a variety of devices to control how fast the story unfolds. When driving a manual transmission car, you choose the most effective gear needed for driving uphill, maneuvering city streets, or cruising down a freeway. Similarly, when pacing your story, you need to choose the devices that move each scene along at the right speed.
Seven Literary Devices For Pacing Your Story
You need speed in the opening, middle, and climax of your story. Sure, you’ll slow down from time to time, especially to pause for significance and to express characters’ emotions, but those times will usually appear just before or aft er a joyride of skin-tightening speed.
There are lots of tools to hasten your story. Some are better suited for micropacing—that is, line by line—and some are better suited for macropacing—pacing the story as a whole. Let’s take a closer look at each device.
- ACTION. Action scenes are where you “show” what happens in a story, and, when written in short- and medium-length sentences, they move the story along. Action scenes contain few distractions, little description, and limited transitions. Omit or limit character thoughts, especially in the midst of danger or crisis, since during a crisis people focus solely on survival. To create poignancy, forgo long, descriptive passages and choose a few details that serve as emotionally charged props instead.
- CLIFF HANGERS. When the outcome of a scene or chapter is left hanging, the pace naturally picks up because the reader will turn the page to find out what happens next. Readers both love and hate uncertainty, and your job is to deliver plenty of unfinished actions, unfilled needs, and interruptions. Remember, cliff hangers don’t necessarily mean that you’re literally dangling your character from a rooftop as the scene ends. If your characters are in the midst of a conversation, end the scene with a revelation, threat, or challenge.
- DIALOGUE. Rapid-fire dialogue with little or no extraneous information is swift and captivating, and will invigorate any scene. The best dialogue for velocity is pared down, an abbreviated copy of real-life conversation that snaps and crackles with tension. It