The Doctor Is … In

You’ve been there, I know. Those moments of extreme manuscript fatigue. You just want … to stop. I get these emails. Stop me if you’ve heard this one. :)

You: I will never finish this book. And it doesn’t matter, because it’s no good! In fact it’s crap! The writing’s crap! The plot’s crap! The dialogue’s crap! I think I’m just gonna stop this writing torture and take up knitting. Gaaah!

Me: I understand. I do. Come over here and sit by me, sweetie. (Pats couch.)

You: I’m really struggling with the last couple chapters of [name of YA novel].

Me: Mmm-hmmm.

You: My other books had such purpose. Child abuse. Single mom. Teen bullying. They have messages. But [name of YA novel] doesn’t. At least, not yet. I guess if I had to stretch for it I’d say it’s to help teens believe in themselves, to find what they’re good at and use their abilities no matter what’s in style or how dangerous it is. But is that enough? After my other books this one feels so trite. (sighs)

Me: Yes, it is enough! First, some of us are weary to death of issue-driven fiction. We just want to be entertained. And entertainment is enough. All it really has to be is a great story. I’ll repeat that: All it really has to be is a great story. Second, what is the message of Harry Potter?

You: Uh—

Me: It’s that anyone can be a hero, even the least of us. Even the orphan, even the chubby kid, even the “mixed-race” kid, even the poor kid, even the loner. Short and simple.

You: Oh … kay.

Me: That was my editor answer, but let me tell you one more story. My first husband’s youngest child is a girl genius (no joke). Likes to read. Some years ago I was working on some YA that was very, very dark. I disliked it, frankly, but my personal preferences don’t matter, really, when I’m editing. The elements of a good story and good writing are what they are. But there was something about it that concerned me, and I asked her if she’d read it for me. I said, “It’s dark.” And she looked at me and smiled, like I’d missed something obvious, and said, “Some of us like the dark stuff, Jamie.” Honestly, it was a revelation.

You: So I should just finish it and see …?

Me: Yes. My point is, there’s a novel for everyone. Don’t overthink this. Write the story that’s asking to be written.

You: But it’s so hard to push on. I sit at the desk and nothing comes. Am I just sick of it? Is that normal?

Me: Yes, and yes. It’s OK. You’ll move past it in the natural flow of events. The Boy—a professional musician and a music educator—told me at some point in between his undergrad and starting grad school that he was sick of his instrument and he might not go on with it. I quietly freaked out and then called his professor (with whom I have a friendship) and repeated this, and he just laughed. “They all say that, Mama,” he said. “Don’t worry.” He was right, they do all say it and some of them mean it, but the Boy didn’t, and you don’t either. I know you’re just floating a trial balloon. (We humans have to role-play. That’s why reading fiction is so good for us.) You will be reenergized at some point.

You: Is there anything I can do to get to that point sooner?

Me: I’m a fan of the “look away” method. Stop thinking about it, take a break, set it aside. When I’m writing blog posts, if I realize I’m not making headway, I stop working on it and work on something else instead. (Something that doesn’t feel so much like work.) I have articles that get set aside for weeks, months. I know you have other writing projects to work on. It would be even better, though, to walk away from the desk entirely. Julia Cameron advocates taking Artist Dates to refill your creative well. But just take a break.

You: I think you’ve helped me. Thank you.

Me: Oh, no, thank you. I enjoy these little chats we have. :)

Tweet: I sit at the desk and nothing comes. Am I just sick of it? Is that normal?
Tweet: Stuck? It’s OK. You’ll move past it in the natural flow of events.
Tweet: Don’t overthink it. Write the story that’s asking to be written.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Your Editor Says … | Tagged as: , , , ,

Short Saturday: If You Love an Author … Don’t Say This

Not too long ago I wrote a post called “How to Love an Author”—about how to help an author you love when he or she has just published a book. This morning a friend of mine directed me to this article from the folks at Bethany House: “Ten Things You Shouldn’t Say to Authors.”

The list is spot on—

1. It must be so relaxing to have a job you can do on the side, at home.
2. So, you write novels like [Insert Famous Author Name]?
3. You mean people still read novels these days?
4. Let me tell you about my idea for a novel!
5. Are your books any good?
6. Since you’re just sitting at home writing …
7. Will you present my manuscript to your agent/publisher?
8. I only read real books, not [your type of book].
9. When will the book be on sale?
10. Why don’t you hurry up and write the next one? How hard can it be?

—and anyone who has ever admitted that she or he is a writer has had to contend with tone-deaf comments like these.

Some of them are so utterly rude they make me cringe. I work from home myself, have publicly admitted I am an editor, and have personally heard 1, 3, 4, 6, and 7—to which I would like to answer On the side from what? Every day. Only if you pay me. I can fit a quick cup of coffee in three weeks from today; now hang up and leave me alone. No. Sorry. (Not really.)—as well as the inevitable mashup of “I’d love to work from home in my sweats, and I like to read. How do I get in to your line of work? Can you give me some tips and introduce me to your network?” I won’t tell you how I’d like to respond to that one. :)

My friend—author Becky Melby—noted that she’d add two more things to this list:

11. When are you going to be on Oprah?
12. Are your books at the library? (Said at a book signing.)

If you’re a writer, I bet you’ve heard a few doozies yourself. If you’re not a writer but find yourself face-to-face with one, for the love of pete, please don’t say any of these things!

Tweet: So utterly rude they make me cringe: don’t say this to a writer.
Tweet: “Are your books at the library?” & other insensitive things writers hear.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Authors & Other Writers | Tagged as: ,

The Writer’s Defining Twitch

I have just started Joseph Brodsky’s book On Grief and Reason. Let me say I have only read one essay in a collection of thirty, and I flipped through the book, sizing up the chapters, actually counting the pages, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7—yes, this one’s good, it only has seven pages. This hardly counts as being familiar with Joseph Brodsky, reading seven pages and the jacket bio, yet I can tell you that his essay In Praise of Boredom is one of the best things I have ever read; that I think you would be stimulated and moved by it; that I’d be happy to direct you to a copy of it; and that I know know this of Brodsky: he really liked Robert Frost. He was particularly infactuated with the line The only way out is through. He quoted it in this one essay, and then when I flipped through the book looking for another essay I wasn’t intimidated by, I found the same quote again.

That’s how it is. That’s how it always is. In a handful of pages we can see a writer’s defining twitch: One has a fondness for ellipses; one constantly references his jumpiness (Thurber); another fancies single-word sentences; another has a sloppy habit of overusing the word surprisingly; still another leans on a Robert Frost quote. Perhaps Brodsky never thought the two essays, which contained that reference, would end up in a bound volume. (One would have hoped the editor would have picked up on this, and at least separated the essays more substantially. It’s tragic, really. When my work is left to be poked through, will it be painfully obvious that I gravitated toward semicolons, and frequently wrote about coincidences and doughnuts with sprinkles?) If Brodsky used that quote in those two essays, we can be sure he brought it up at dinner parties; at a literary conference in Turin; over coffee with an old chum from the University of Michigan.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal, “Brodsky, Joseph”

Transcribed by me (much as some of those extra commas pained me) from pages 42–43 of my first edition copy of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life [Volume One], © 2005 Crown Publishers (Random House), New York.

 

Tweet: One-word sentences; overuse of ellipses; word repetition: what’s your twitch?
Tweet: A collection of essays reveals a writer’s habits.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in The Writing Craft | Tagged as: , , , ,

What If You Don’t Like My Book?

“You talk a lot about books you’ve read that you liked (or didn’t like). But how about books you’ve edited? Do you have to like a book to edit it?” An author friend of mine asked me this question not too long ago. “I’m just curious about how you do that. How do you set aside your personal feelings if you realize the book isn’t appealing to you?”

It’s an interesting question, and I can see why it would concern an author.

The short answer is: No, of course I don’t have to like it. I’m a professional, and I enjoy the mechanics of the work. I take pride in the quality of the work I deliver. I enjoy, also, teaching and encouraging writers, coaxing something wonderful out of a manuscript that may not be so wonderful at first glance. There’s been more than one manuscript cross my desk that I wasn’t crazy about when I started, but that then redeemed itself in one way or another.

In fact, you might get a better (more thorough) edit from me if I don’t love it so much.

I often get work from a publisher who publishes current event–type books, often those that espouse viewpoints from the opposite side of the political fence from me. And that’s precisely why I get the work: the managing editor knows me well, knows my political leanings. She also knows that I take my work very seriously. She hires me, she’s told me, to keep her authors “honest,” to make sure they’re not just spouting hot air but are backing up their claims with facts and research from good, unbiased sources..

I don’t have to like the content or purpose of these books to do good work.

Another managing editor admitted over lunch one day that he sends me the novels he knows are going to need a lot of work. He sends me “the hard ones.” I groaned, because I’d been suspecting as much for months. Why? I asked. Why, why, why? “Because you’re thorough,” he said. “I know you’ll get the most out of it. You’ll find the good.”

Frankly if a managing editor is describing an upcoming edit as “hard,” that usually means the manuscript has some issues; it isn’t great yet. Ergo, I won’t like it very much. But I will work very hard to find the good. Regardless of the novel’s story or structure, there are plenty of “marks” an editor wants a manuscript to hit, and we can work on those things, whether or not I find the story appealing.

Furthermore, I will learn a lot from it. I learn from every manuscript I work on, for real. But working on books I didn’t much like has taught me a lot, for example, about how to talk to creatives. It has taught me to recognize good ideas, good words, good lines when I see them in the middle of something less-than-good. It has taught me how to make the most of these things. It has taught me a lot about human nature. It has taught me a lot about myself.

Tweet: Do you have to like a book to edit it?
Tweet: I don’t have to like the content or purpose of a book to do good work.
Tweet: Working on books I didn’t like has taught me a lot about how to talk to creatives.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Short Saturday: #AtMyBookstore

Last night I went to a book signing at Parnassus Books in Nashville. I had a really good time, which I often do at these things. And for a variety of reasons (which I’ll no doubt blog about later), I came home and checked in at the Parnassus website, where I stumbled upon this.

It’s a great post about bloggers who talk about books—and there’s a lot of links for booklovers to check out.

But what really caught my eye was the opening paragraph:

Have you spotted the #AtMyBookstore hashtag online this week? If you have, you’re seeing a campaign dreamed up by Nicole Brinkley of YA Interrobang, a site where YA bloggers gather to discuss the books they love. The idea? To get book bloggers out from behind the screen for a moment and into local bookstores to browse books in real life.

I liked the hashtag—#AtMyBookstore—and regardless of any campaign to win prizes for using it, I think it’s a worthy pursuit. (As you know.)

Bookstores are not dying, but they are not as ubiquitous (in this country) as they once were. But there is one in Nashville (pop. 658,602) and two here in my town too (both chains). I patronize all three of them and consider them “mine” (as in #AtMyBookstore). I encourage you to keep your local bookstore in mind: get out from behind the computer and go visit! You never know what or who you might see—so use the hashtag to tell us about it. :)

Have a great weekend!

Tweet: Bookstores are not dying! #AtMyBookstore
Tweet: Last night I went to a book signing #AtMyBookstore—Parnassus Books in Nashville.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: , , ,

The Childhood of a Writer

The childhoods of writers are thought to have something to do with their vocation, but when you look at these childhoods they are in fact very different. What they often contain, however, are books and solitude; and my own childhood was right on track. There were no films or theatres in the North, and the radio didn’t work very well. But there were always books. I learned to read early, was an avid reader and read everything I could get my hands on—no one ever told me I couldn’t read a book. My mother liked quietness in children, and a child who is reading is very quiet.

Because none of my relatives were people I could actually see, my own grandmothers were no more and no less mythological than Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, and perhaps this had something to do with my eventual writing life—the inability to distinguish between the real and the imagined, or rather the attitude that what we consider real is also imagined: every life lived is also an inner life, a life created.

A good many writers have had isolated childhoods; a good many have also had storytellers in their lives. My primal storyteller was my brother; at first I featured only as an audience, but soon was allowed to join in. The rule was that you kept going until you ran out of ideas or just wanted a turn at being the listener. …

Around the age of seven I wrote a play. The protagonist was a giant; the theme was crime and punishment; the crime was lying, as befits a future novelist; the punishment was being squashed to death by the moon. But who was to perform this masterpiece? I couldn’t be all the characters at once. My solution was puppets. I made the characters out of paper, and a stage from a cardboard box.

This play was not a raging success. As I recall, my brother and his pals came in and laughed at it, thus giving me an early experience of literary criticism.

Margaret Atwood

Transcribed by me from pages 7–9 of my hardback copy of Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, © 2002, Cambridge University Press, UK.

 

Tweet: Writers’ childhoods often contain books and solitude.
Tweet: Margaret Atwood on the childhood of a writer.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Authors & Other Writers | Tagged as: , , ,

Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas? (Part Eight)

I wrote some fan fiction once. When I was twelve. It was a story about a young girl—she was pretty and smart and clever—who meets the Beatles. (Don’t laugh, now. They were hot—actually, cool—back in the day.) You can imagine who my protagonist was modeled after. :)

Of course, back then they didn’t call it fan fiction. I suspect other folks were writing this sort of thing, but there wasn’t any way to share it with strangers. Thank goodness.

But there’s fan fiction … and then there’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Have you ever read the play by Tom Stoppard)—or seen the movie? Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

The play expands upon the exploits of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The action of Stoppard’s play takes place mainly “in the wings” of Shakespeare’s, with brief appearances of major characters from Hamlet who enact fragments of the original’s scenes. Between these episodes the two protagonists voice their confusion at the progress of events of which—occurring onstage without them in Hamlet—they have no direct knowledge.

The first time I saw it I laughed ’til I cried. It’s brilliant.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is what you might call, you know, really good fan fiction. (I know I’m pushing the definition here, but work with me, OK?) It uses literary characters you already know, but places them into a different story.

These characters are in the public domain, which means anyone can use them. And many talented writers have done so:

Gregory Maguire started with Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and has added three other Oz stories in addition to Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and many more.

Jasper Fforde published The Eyre Affair, in which a literary detective pursues a criminal through the world of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and now has an entire series called Nursery Crime.

Jo Baker’s Longbourn takes us to the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but tells a story from the Bennet family’s servants’ standpoint.

• The Sherlock Holmes character has been in the public domain in the United States since 1923, thus there have been many reimaginings of the character in film (see: Robert Downey Jr.) and literature (one notable story is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Or On the Segregation of the Queen by Laurie R. King).

The corollary to this is to retell (or re-version) a public-domain story, such as a fairy tale. This is also a well-worn path to writing success. Consider these examples:

Amy Heckerling wrote a screenplay that became the 1995 movie Clueless; it is loosely based on Jane Austen’s novel Emma.

Joel and Ethan Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? screenplay is a modern satire loosely based on Homer’s epic poem Odyssey.

• Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer, by Sena Jeter Naslund, takes references to Ahab’s young wife from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and builds another epic tale.

Madeline Miller refashions the legend of the Greeks at Troy in her prize-winning novel The Song of Achilles, featuring Patroclus and Achilles.

Cynthia Ozick’s sixth novel, Foreign Bodies, is a loose retelling of The Ambassadors by her literary hero, Henry James.

Copyright law is at the center of this sort of writing, so unless you want to spend a lot of time and money obtaining permissions (think of the sequels to Gone With the Wind released before the copyright expired in 2011), stick to the public domain. The US Copyright Office at the Library of Congress offers this handy brochure to help you determine the copyright status of works, and provides a searchable database too.

Borrowing—characters or stories—from the public domain, as you can see, is a time-honored tradition. And one advantage to using PD characters is the built-in audience for the older work. Do your homework, read up, and get started!

There are other articles in this series: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Tweet: Borrowing characters or stories from the public domain is a time-honored tradition.
Tweet: Anyone can use characters that are in the public domain for a new novel.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in The Writing Craft | Tagged as: , , , ,

Short Saturday: Every Dialect Has a Grammar

You know I’m endlessly fascinated by accents, regionalisms, and linguistic diversity in general. And every once in a while I find something that tickles my dialect interest.

In “The Grammar Rules Behind 3 Commonly Disparaged Dialects,” linguist Arika Okrent (isn’t that a fabulous name?*) discusses the dialects of—

• Appalachia
• the American South
• African-American English

It’s fascinating stuff. And yes, these dialects are often disparaged, but Okrent says:

People who speak this dialect don’t learn these rules from a book. They know them implicitly, even if they can’t describe them, the same way you know “I gave him a dollar” sounds good but “I donated him a dollar” sounds bad (even if you’ve never heard of linguistic argument structure). Their use of the dialect is not whimsical and random, but governed by those rules. Someone who doesn’t follow those rules, e.g., in a hamfisted attempt to mock the dialect, can be said to be speaking ungrammatical Appalachian English.

I think you’ll enjoy this one. Have a great weekend!

* Her website says: “‘Arika’ because her parents made it up” and “‘Okrent’ because her Okret (with a nasalized ‘e’) ancestors added an ‘n’ somewhere on the way over from Poland.”

 

Tweet: Every dialect has a grammar—a rule-governed system.
Tweet: I’m endlessly fascinated by accents, regionalisms, & linguistic diversity in general.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Words & Language | Tagged as: , , ,

The Tao of Morning Pages

In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it. I ask you to do this by an apparently pointless process I call the morning pages. … Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness: “Oh, god, another morning. I have NOTHING to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday?” Blah, blah, blah …” They might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions. …

Very often, a week of [morning pages] insights will be followed by a week of sluggishness. The morning pages will seem pointless. They are not. What you are learning to do, writing them even when you are tired and they seem dull, is to rest on the page. This is very important. Marathon runners suggest you log ten slow miles for every fast one. The same holds true for creativity. …

Thanks to the morning pages we learn what we want and ultimately become willing to make the changes needed to get it. But not without a tantrum. And not without a kriya, a Sanskrit word meaning a spiritual emergency or surrender. (I always think of kriyas as spiritual seizures. Perhaps they should be spelled crias because they are cries of the soul as it is wrung though changes.)

We all know what a kriya looks like: it is the bad case of the flu right after you’ve broken up with your lover. It’s the rotten head cold and bronchial cough that announces you’ve abused your health to meet an unreachable work deadline. That asthma attack out of nowhere when you’ve just done a round of caretaking your alcoholic sibling? That’s a kriya, too. …

In twelve-step groups, kriyas are often called surrenders. People are told to just let go. And they would if they knew what they were holding on to. With the morning pages in place and the artist dates in motion, the radio set stands half a chance of picking up the message you are sending and/or receiving. The pages round up the usual suspects. They mention the small hurts we prefer to ignore, the large successes we’ve failed to acknowledge. In short, the morning pages point the way to reality: this is how you’re feeling; what do you make of that?

And what we make of that is often art.

People frequently believe the creative life is grounded in fantasy. The more difficult truth is that creativity is grounded in reality, in the particular, the focused, the well observed or specifically imagined.

Julia Cameron

Transcribed by me from pages 9–10, 75, 81–82 of my tenth anniversary edition of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity © 1992, 2002, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, NY.

 

Tweet: Morning Pages: dump the junk, clear the way for creativity.
Tweet: “Creativity is grounded in reality, in the particular, the focused, the well observed…”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Creativity | Tagged as: , , ,

Study This: Us

I’ve written about David Nicholls before.* If you’ve been around here long, you’ll know I truly loved—loved—One Day, but the fact is, I’ve read all his novels, in order, and I’ve enjoyed them all. In brief, having just reviewed those old articles, here’s what I said:

• felt real; 1980s; had something to say about humanity; satisfying ending
• hilarious; 1980s; profound; moments so painful and real they made me cringe
• funny and so true it makes you squirm; ending is shocking and perfect

Do you see? I notice there’s a theme that I’ll call human truth: the books felt so real that I cringed and squirmed and (not admitted in any of these posts) cried over characters with whom I connected deeply.

I felt the same way about Us. Though the action happens mostly in the present, it’s a story that had its genesis in the 1980s, and Nicholls visits those early years. (That said, “Us reflects the more mature concerns of middle age, parenthood, and finding a way to knit together the damage the march of time does to a romantic relationship,” the Telegraph tells us.)

Here’s the Guardian’s synopsis:

Us, for which readers and booksellers have waited with growing impatience in the five years since One Day, puts another couple to the test. One night, Douglas Petersen, a 54-year-old industrial biochemist, is woken by his art gallerist wife of almost a quarter of a century, Connie, and informed that she thinks their marriage may be over. This is bad news for Douglas – not only because he still loves Connie madly, but because they have recently booked an expensive grand tour of Europe as a final family holiday before Albie, their 18-year-old son, goes to college.

Luckily, continuing the way in which Nicholls’ characters often have one eye on psychological plausibility and the other on narrative possibility, Connie agrees that the trip will go ahead anyway, with an announcement of her decision on divorce delivered … when they get back. Inevitably, Doug, in the manner of an electioneering politician announcing that voters have four weeks to save the NHS, treats the holiday as a campaign to sway his wife’s mind.

But there’s so much more. :) Nicholls is a keen observer of humanity. He’s also a skilled writer of screenplays (which has taught him plenty about keeping a story moving forward) as well as novels (Us was longlisted for the Man Booker in 2014). When you read Us, take note:

• Watch what he does with “chapter” titles (some chapters are only one paragraph long). Remember that Douglas is a self-described maker of lists.
• Observe how he treats the passage of time, moving gracefully backward and forward (and note that you’re never, ever confused).
• Look at the last page, the last chapter title, and see how he offers the denouement (without writing a single word!).
• Pay special attention to the way the narrator, Douglas, synopsizes his own story two completely different ways (in “chapter” 173). It’s too long to transcribe but you writers will see plot, subplot, and another story you hadn’t even imaged.

And there’s something else. I’ve been struggling to write an article for this blog that discusses the admonition to authors to write what you know (if I ever manage to finish it, you’ll be the first to know). The writer David Nicholls is writing what he knows; he even tells us so in this 2006 article he wrote for the Guardian:

[F]ive years ago, searching for a subject I could write about with some passion, I started to think back to that time, trying to summon up what had made the experience so intense, simultaneously romantic and mortifying. The result was a comic novel, Starter For Ten … I should confess now that both book and film are a fairly accurate account of my feelings and behaviour at that time.

It’s not autobiography, though, that makes Nicholls’s books such good examples of WWYK. It’s that a reader instinctively knows, just knows they are—as I noted above—real, with moments so painful and true they make you cringe. This is something every writer should aspire to.

* On British Books; In Case You Wondered: One Day, and Quick! Quick! Before the Movie Comes Out.

 

Tweet: My Study This series continues with David Nicholls’s “Us.”
Tweet: The books felt so real that I cringed & squirmed & cried over characters I loved.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

Posted in Authors & Other Writers, The Writing Craft | Tagged as: , , ,