Tag Archives: novel

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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#WordUse Series:
Words I Never Want to See in Your Novel. Please.

When I get to the end of an edit, I generally make a list of the author’s “favorite” words and phrases—words he or she used over and over without realizing it. It’s quite instructive. Usually they are words like so and well used at the beginning of sentences of dialogue. Often it’s amazing (and you know how I feel about that!). Smirk shows up […]

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Looking for Good Writing

How much or how little “natural” ability anyone has is nearly impossible to gauge. When Emily Dickinson composed the lines that filled the pages she kept in her lonely desk, she could not know that her pure apprehension of the language, her immutable style and breathtaking line breaks would forever change the landscape of American […]

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Possible … Not Probable

Some years ago in a weak moment I fell victim to some mediocre book marketing—“follow-up to the international best-selling Pillars of the Earth!”—and purchased Ken Follett’s World Without End, a one thousand–page historical novel. I’d read and enjoyed his early work*—Eye of the Needle (1978), Triple (1979), The Key to Rebecca (1980), The Man from […]

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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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Short Saturday: The Paradox of Voice

I’ve written some about finding your voice (there are links below). Many people have. And you’ll hear lots of different opinions … which makes it difficult for young or inexperienced writers to figure out. What is voice in writing? And how do you identify yours? It’s a mystery until you one day find yourself writing […]

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The Irony of Books for Everyone

The first half of the [eighteenth] century had witnessed a massive surge in printing and the appetite for print. Books circulated freely thanks in part to the new commercial lending libraries, and second-hand copies could be picked up cheaply from dealers who traded from stalls or barrows. Even those on modest incomes could afford chapbooks, […]

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Short Saturday: Beautiful Sentences

This has happened to you, I’m sure: you’re reading along and an exquisite sentence stops you in your tracks. Sometimes it’s in a novel full of perfection; sometimes it’s in a novel where it shines like a diamond in a pile of coal. This list came across Facebook this week, and I couldn’t resist taking […]

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8. Step Away from the Vehicle

You can ignore everything else in this lecture except number eight. It is the only absolutely twenty-four-karat-gold-plated piece of advice I have to give you. I’ve never taken it myself, though one day I hope to. The advice is as follows. When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority, if you […]

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Short Saturday: Bram Stoker

About this time every year, articles about Bram Stoker appear, and I’d saved one just for curiosity’s sake (“Bram Stoker: 9 things you didn’t know about the ‘Dracula’ author” from the Christian Science Monitor): • Stoker was a sickly boy up to age seven. • He admired Walt Whitman and they later became friends. • […]

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