Six impossible things

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Landscape vs. setting

Earlier this week, Minnesota Public Radio replayed  an interview with novelist Richard Ford, and some of his comments (around 23 minutes into the broadcast) got me thinking about landscape. First off, landscape isn’t the same as setting. They overlap, of course, but one can tell an urban […]

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Sharjah

So I’m back from five days at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival in the United Arab Emirates and beginning to recover from the hideous jet lag and nearly 24 hours of travel (each way, counting layovers and plane delays) that it took to get there. Since I’m […]

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Tin Ear

One of the worst criticisms that can be leveled at an author is “He has a tin ear for dialog.” In short form, it means the writer in question doesn’t do dialog well; in the longer version, it means the writer has no sense of the rhythms […]

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Rifles and fishing rods

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”  – Anton Chekhov, quoted in Shchukin’s Memoirs At […]

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Beats and games and instinct

Beats and plot points aren’t the same thing, though they sometimes sound as if they ought to be. Basically, plot points are about content; beats are about rhythm. Beats make a pattern; plot points make a causal chain. They support and depend on each other, but they’re […]

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Hooks

Every story needs to open with a hook, or so says conventional writing wisdom. Conventional writing wisdom, unfortunately, seldom goes on to address the obvious question: Just what is a hook, anyway? And how do you write one? There are three things everybody seems to agree upon […]

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Boston

The first I heard about the Boston Marathon bombing was when my father called Monday evening to tell me my nephew was uninjured. My nephew goes to school in Boston, and had been watching the race, but not at the finish line. I’d been driving home from […]

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Best and worst advice

The other day, somebody asked me what the best and worst writing advice I’d ever gotten was. The best was easy: “Learn to type.” My mother was the first to give me that particular bit of writing advice, though I’ve seen it since coming from a variety […]

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Plot points

The other day somebody asked me what a plot point was, and I had to stop and think about it. As usual, when I have to stop and think about anything writing-related, I end up doing a blog post to clarify my thinking. “Plot points” are one […]

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Prewriting

As near as I can tell, “prewriting” is a trendy catch-all term for “everything a writer does before they actually sit down and start writing the story.” Even that definition is a little dicey, given how many writers go through a stage where they’re writing down bits […]

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