All posts in category Mechanics

A Thing for Nostalgia

Why did you call your book “Those Days,” I once asked writer Richard Critchfield, known for his narrative description of village life and disappearing times. He shrugged and said that “in those days” was the phrase he heard most in his interviews. It was what people wanted to talk about—the past, who they were, where […]

Prayer—or Plan?

There are those who will dispute this, and they have a point, but mostly I am a proponent of planning your story. Is it the only way to go? No. But ambitious projects—if they are to go smoothly from start to “the end”—benefit from planning. The better the plan, the better the project will go. […]

7 Questions on Memoir

Where should I start? You could start at the beginning, if you can find it. You could also take a more fool-proof approach and list your significant moments—forks in the road, times of change, the great highs and terrible lows—and start with any of these. Just write the scene. And then write another, and another. You […]

How to Write a Good Villain

What makes a good enemy, someone you love to hate? 1. A good enemy is a complex, nuanced character. Like all complicated people, a villain has streaks of good mixed in with all that bad. He is, in some way, vulnerable. Some people may sympathize with the villain. Some may even like him. 2. Ordinary […]

Do You Need to Know the Ending?

This is a “yes, but” situation. Yes: If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you chart a course to get there? A whole lot can happen in the middle, some of which might take you by surprise and affect the ending, but when you pull out your star charts, and man the ship’s […]

19 Reasons Why You’ll Never Finish

Spoken from my been-there, done-that, know-it-well life, here is what can complicate a nice, clean run to the finish: 1. Your brain has turned to gelatin. Your muscles are mush. Fatigue sets in. No energy, no writing. 2. Anything is easier than writing. The ironing. The kids. The vacuum. The correspondence. 3. Email and social […]

7 Stories I Won’t Tell

I had a professor in law school, a terrifying guy who nonetheless managed to leave me with one key teaching: the business of the law is to draw lines. That certainly turned out to be the case and I figure it’s the same for writers. Where do you draw your line? For me, here are […]

How Long Does It Take?

Many, many decades – The esteemed Elizabeth Bishop, on one line of poetry, the comma moved back and forth. 25 years – Steven Spielberg, on his latest film “Red Tails.” 30 years – Frank McCourt on Angela’s Ashes. 2 months – Richard Paul Evans, author of eleven New York Times best-sellers, including Finding Noel and […]

9 Really Useful Tips

Want to improve your writing?  Try these suggestions culled from my decades at the craft: 1. With few exceptions, stay in the moment. Use your chronology and don’t get ahead of it. 2. Don’t save anything for later. Bring whatever you have right here, right now. 3. Each time a character appears on-stage, some aspect […]

The Value of Routine

Almost everyone has his or her own version of what it takes to get to work. Do you start fitfully like Michael Lewis? Do you stay in bed for a while and have your papers brought to you on a silver tray like Lady Antonia Fraser? Though you may not see another soul all day, […]

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