The difference between a good Scotch, a good wine and a good sentence has a lot to do with being a good mechanic
This post is the first in a series on what makes any story’s – flash through novel – opening line great. Let me know what you think are great opening lines and I’ll include them in the series provided you explain what makes them great.
Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One is a good, fun read.
Fish writes about beautiful sentences and how they’re constructed. He offers that Strunk&White is useful only if you already know lots of grammar and such. I’ve got no problem with that (have you read Strunk&White? It’s a treasure trove. Are you an author or author-wannabe? Do yourself a favor and read it).
Strunk&White is basically a mechanic’s manual for producing clear, understandable content in the English language, meaning unless you’re willing to get a set of wrenches and such and unless you’re willing to open the hood or climb under your sentence, don’t read the book, you won’t understand it and will probably do both yourself and your prose harm if you do.
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 1 – Introduction)”
Reality Makes Fiction Believable. Threat makes things interesting.
Deveraux stared at the calendar on the wall while he waited: a pastoral farm scene above a month of days and dates. Young men haying in the foreground, scythes in hands, an older man – broader back, heavier build – guided a horse-drawn cart. A few passes remained. In the distance a setting sun. One of the field hands stood wiping his brow with a bright red neckerchief. Another leaned on his scythe, watching him. A white-sided farmhouse and barn with two towering red silos in the distance, at the far end of the field.
Why didn’t they start here and finish at the barn? Wouldn’t it be less work that way?
Under the picture a woman’s delicate hand wrote over specific dates: anniversaries, birthdays, doctors and vet appointments – cat? dog? He hadn’t seen any pets when he walked in – school meetings, church cookouts. Two gold stars where kids won awards. A red heart on a Friday, a church holiday. He’d have to step carefully when he explained why he was here.
Someone approached, a woman, her step light, delicate – the same woman who marked the calendar? The smells of fresh washing line-hung to dry, a lemony furniture polish, a light soap and talcum came through the door before the woman did, wiping her hands on her apron as she did, speaking his name as a question, welcoming a guest yet unsure of his purpose, her voice rising at the end, “Lieutenant Deveraux?”
He held his gray fedora in his hands, his fingers on the brim, spinning it slowly like a kaleidoscope showing nothing but dull browns and blacks and grays.
Now consider this:
Continue reading “Setting Scenes with Props”
Make every word your characters speak count
I reviewed William Noble’s Make That Scene on both Goodreads and in a bit more detail on my blog. That book was a gem, so I picked up Noble’s Shut Up! He explained and settled in for some good learnings.
Truth is, I’ve read the book twice in two years and will easily read it twice if not thrice more in the next few years. It’s that good.
Truly amusing to me is how little I retained from my first read. Of all that’s in the book, I locked on the gem about having characters ask each other questions to keep dialogue interesting, engaging and moving. Probably because I was writing lots of dialogue for a work-in-progress, Ritchie and Phyl (A Celebration of Life). That wonderful piece of advice became my big hammer for several dialogues in several works-in-progress. It’s an incredible tool all by itself and worth the price of admission.
But that, as noted, was what stuck with me from my first read. My second read had me dog-earing pages starting at 5 and several pages in each chapter thereafter.
For authors working on realistic, believable character exchanges – the book covers more than dialogue but dialogue is the main focus – it’s a must.
Continue reading “William Noble’s “‘Shut Up!’ He explained””
Like a tightrope. Around your neck. Cutting off your air. Your eyes popping out. Your brain screaming for oxygen? That’s what you want your readers to feel.
What is “tension”?
1. (psychology) a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense
2. The physical condition of being stretched or strained
3. (literature) a balance between and interplay of opposing elements or tendencies (especially in art or literature)
4. (physics) a stress that produces an elongation of an elastic physical body
5. Feelings of hostility that are not manifest
6. The action of stretching something tight
1. Put an object in tension; pull or place strain on
Have you ever read James Blish’s short story Surface Tension (originally published in the August 1952 Galaxy Magazine and muchly anthologized)? It deals with people striving to break through the surface of water. Any liquid creates a surface where it meets something other than itself. This surface creation is why two drops of water meeting bond into a larger drop rather than staying separate. The permeability of the surface is called “surface tension”. Doesn’t seem like much of a story, does it? People? Water?
Continue reading “Tension”
Lots of reading suggestions, lots about the business of writing, but…
This book is an interesting read and dated, both in a number of ways. The two main takeaways seem to be “Publishers are Evil…but not all” and “Read! If you want to write, read!”
There’s no question that Koontz is a bestselling author so one would think he’d have a lot to offer. I didn’t find much revelatory in this book. Definitely a lack of advice re technique, character, plot, dialogue, … Definitely lots of suggestions for whom to read to learn technique, character, plot, dialogue, …
There’s a lot about the business of writing in the book, specifically how bad publishing drives out good publishing (read “lots of bad books drive out good books”) and he gives several examples of poorly written, edited, printed, …books taking up bookstore shelves so there’s less room for accomplished writers to put their wares out.
Makes one wonder what he’d have to say about the self-publishing industry.
Continue reading “Dean Koontz’s “How to Write Best Selling Fiction””