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The No. 1 Rule for Flashbacks in a Story Opening

Rule No. 1 for flashbacks: until and unless you’ve invested us in a scene, don’t flash back (or away) from it! The point of a flashback is to illuminate the scene from which it digresses, to add dimension and tension to it.

writing about addiction

Writing About Addiction: It Often Takes Two Perspectives

Writing about addiction is tricky business. While most stories have a single protagonist, addiction narratives are usually about two people: the addict deep in the throes of their addiction, and the recovered narrator looking back objectively on the experience.

bicycle handlebars

Art’s Highest Purpose: To Complicate Our Feelings

Now and then my students and I broach the unavoidable question: What makes a work of art? The question can be stood on its head: What makes art work? They’re the same question, really, with (to me, anyway) the same answer: a true work of art is something that doesn’t merely elicit our emotions. It confronts us with emotions that don’t quite fit into any of our ready-made boxes.

Looking Back: A Retrospective Narrative That Appeals to the Senses

The only stories that matter are those we inhabit personally, not just with our minds, but through our senses. Remember: the fiction writer’s job (or that of any storyteller) isn’t to report experience, but to create it. And experience is processed in the mind by way of the senses.

Throat Clearing: When Your Story Opening Is in Search of Itself

Some story openings happen to get the author’s pen rolling, to blow some warmth onto the icy blank page, to get the narrative blood flowing. Those not charitably inclined will call it “throat clearing.” However it’s characterized, throat clearing should be cut. It’s there for the author, not for the reader.

Where to Begin: The Search for the Inciting Incident

Where to begin? Of all the questions that harass novelists and others with a story to tell, it has to be the peskiest. The question comes down to structure. Not what happened, i.e. the series of events that make a story, but the order in which those events are conveyed.

How to Use Adjectives Wisely and Judiciously

With modifiers, you want to choose your battles. Just because every noun offers itself up for modification(s) doesn’t mean you should modify it. Think of adjectives as ketchup or hot sauce; put it on everything and it quickly wears out its welcome.

True and False: Two Kinds of Narrative Suspense

“True” suspense raises the question, “What’s going to happen next?” It arises organically and authentically from characters and their actions as conveyed to us through a firmly established, consistent viewpoint. “False suspense” is generated by an author who, intentionally or otherwise, withholds information.

In Storytelling: Never State What You Can Imply

Telling readers what to think or feel is the job of a propagandist. A storyteller’s main purpose, on the other hand, is to create experiences for the reader, to involve us so deeply, so convincingly, so authentically in those experiences that we feel what characters feel.

The Pleasures of Genre

Literary fiction’s subsumption by other genres and vice-versa has become so pervasive one must wonder what distinction if any can still be claimed by “pure” literary fiction beyond pretentiousness.

Inhabiting Our Scenes: Information Versus Experience

One reason behind the supremacy of the writing rule “Show, don’t tell” is that telling is, frankly, harder. To gain and hold a reader’s attention through action and dialogue is one thing. To do so through exposition is another.

dead narrators

The Challenge of Pulling Off a Dead Narrator

I have had mixed feelings about ghost narrators. As narrative sleights-of-hand go, it strikes me as a little too easy, a bit too glib. It also requires suspension of all four laws of thermodynamics.