Tag Archives: character

Those Important First Pages

Sometimes you set out to do a thing for one reason … only to find it was so much more than you ever imagined. More than you could have actually planned. In this case, I learned just how much value can be wrung out of focusing on the first chapter and how it relates to […]

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Study This: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

I’ve already written about The Summer Before the War—which I read first (and which is, in fact, the more accomplished novel)—but I really enjoyed Helen Simonson’s novel-writing skills in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (the New York Times calls it “funny, barbed, delightfully winsome storytelling”) and I think there’s a lot to learn from reading her. Indeed, the […]

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Short Saturday: Why I Stopped Reading Your Book

Like author Chuck Wendig, I’ve gotten a whole lot pickier about what I read and how much time I give it before I stop. “For one,” he says, “it’s time.” Work and time and personal responsibilities all intrude. But also, he says, “I’m like a stage magician where it’s harder to fool me with your […]

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Short Saturday: The Art of the (Fiction) Con

Here’s a great article from author Elizabeth Sims about internal dialogue. (In most cases I would call it inner monologue, but that’s neither here nor there; I’ve written about it before.) I particularly got a kick out of Sims’s pointing out pitfalls— Making a character’s inner voice into a sarcastic wisecracker who won’t shut up. […]

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Short Saturday: Your Protagonist’s Inner Journey

I stumbled on this article—“Understand Character Wounds: A List of Common Themes” at Writers Helping Writers—a few months ago, and I just love the way the writer drills down to character motivation. The protagonist’s path is much like yours or mine–one that will (hopefully) bring him closer to lifelong happiness and fulfillment. In real life, […]

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What’s In a Name?

One of the fundamental principles of structuralism is “the arbitrariness of the sign,” the idea that there is no necessary, existential connection between a word and its referent. Not “rightly is they called pigs,” as the man said, but by linguistic chance. Other words serve the same purpose in other languages. As Shakespeare observed, anticipating […]

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Study This: The Summer Before the War

It’s nearly 500 pages long—and I flew through Helen Simonson’s second novel set in an English village. I never wanted to put it down. Also, it made me angry (on behalf of a character I loved), and it made me cry a couple times. This is a sign that I was fully invested—in the characters, […]

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Little Did She Know About Foreshadowing

Some months ago I read a manuscript that actually used this line: Little did I know I would come to regret those words. No kidding. Me too. I know, I know: you’re just trying to create a little mystery, a little portent. But when I see a line like this— I had no idea how […]

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The Mysteries of Fiction

I was talking to a reporter the other day and she asked me if I thought my studies in philosophy had affected my writing, shaped the forms I chose to write in. I told her that I didn’t separate knowledge into genres or categories because it seemed to me that all of us were probing […]

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Study This: A Spool of Blue Thread

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy Anne Tyler, “winner of the Pulitzer Prize” (in 1989 for Breathing Lessons) as the cover of my hardback copy says, conveniently leaving out a host of other prizes and details, including that her first college prof, Reynolds Price, once said she was almost as good a writer at sixteen—when […]

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