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51159897 the Writer s Handbook

51159897 the Writer s Handbook

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Published by: Juan Folino on Nov 07, 2013
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The Writer's Handbook Edited by Sylvia K. Burack 1999 Scanned by T


1 TOOLS OF THE WRITER'S TRADE By Christopher Scanlan IN SHAKESPEARE'S TIME, ITINERANT ACTORS WHO TOOK THEIR PL AYS from village to town carried bags bulging with the tools of their artÐ scraps of costume, props, jars of paint. A writer's tools can be every bit as colorful and creative, and they won't take up as much room. Rummage through your memory a nd imagination to see if you nd long-forgotten tools you can dust off. Here are t he tools I found and use: a tightrope, a net, a pair of shoes, a loom, six words , an accelerator pedal, and a time clock. A tightrope Take a risk with your writ ing every day. Submit to the magazine of your dreams. Conceive the next Great Am erican Novel. The risks I've taken as a writerÐpitching an ambitious project, call ing for an interview with a reputed mobster, sending a short story back out in t he mail the day it returned in my self-addressed envelopeÐhave opened new doors an d, more important, encouraged me to take other risks. Stretch an imaginary tight rope above your desk and walk across it every day. A net

The best writers I know cast trawler's nets on stories. And they cast them wide and deep. They'll interview ten people, listening and waiting, to get the one qu ote that sums up the theme. They'll spend hours trolling for the anecdote that r eveals the story. They'll sift through records and reports, looking for the one speci c that explains the universal or the detail that captures the person or conv eys the setting. I once wrote a story about a family in Utah whose daughter was a suspected victim of serial murderer Ted Bundy. During my visit, I noticed that a light switch next to the front door had a piece of tape over it so no one cou ld turn it off. When I asked about it, the mother said she always left the light on until her daughter came home. The light had been burning for twelve years, a symbol of one family's unending grief. A pair of shoes Empathy, an ability to f eel what another person feels, may be the writer's most important tool. Empathy is different from sympathy: It's one thing to feel sorry for a rape victim; it's another to imagine and write persuasively to recreate the constant terrors and distrust sown in the victim's mind. To write about a young widow in my story "Sc hool Uniform," I had to imagine the problems of a woman coping with her own grie f and that of her children: After the funeral, Maddy had made sure that each child had something of Jim's. I t was torture to handle his things, but she spread them out on their bed one nig ht after the children were asleep and made choices. Anna draped his rosary from the mirror on her makeup table; Martin kept his paper route

money secured in his father's silver money clip. Brian lled the brass candy dish that Jim used as an ashtray with his POGS and Sega Genesis cartridges. Daniel ke pt his baseball cards in Jim's billfold. There were days she wished she could ha ve thrown everything out, and had she been alone, she might have moved away, sta rted somewhere fresh with nothing to remind her of what had been, all she had lo st when he died, leaving her at 38 with four children. And on nights like this, when there was trouble with Daniel, again, she wanted to give up. When you write about a character, try to walk in that person's shoes. A loom Wri ters, like all artists, help society understand the connections that bind us. Th ey identify patterns. Raymond Carver said, "writing is just a process of connect ions. Things begin to connect. A line here, a word here." Are you weaving connec tions in your stories? In your reading? In your life? Are you asking yourself wh at line goes to what line, and what makes a whole? "Only connect!" urged E.M. Fo rster. Turn your computer into a loom that weaves stories. Six words Thinking is the hardest part about writing and the one writers are likeliest to bypass. Whe n I'm writing non ction, I try not to start writing until I've answered two questi ons: "What's the news?" and "What's the story?" Whatever the genreÐessay, article or short storyÐeffective writing conveys a single dominant message. To discover th at theme or focus, try to sum up your story in six words,

a phrase that captures the tension of the story For a story about a teenage runa way hit by a train and rescued by another teen, my six words are "Lost, Then Fou nd, On the Tracks." Why six words? No reason, except that in discipline, there i s freedom. An accelerator pedal Free writing is the writer's equivalent of putti ng the pedal to the metal. I often start writing workshops by asking participant s to write about "My Favorite Soup." It loosens the ngers, memory, and imaginatio n. I surprised myself recently by describing post-Thanksgiving turkey soup: Most holidays have a "Do Not Resuscitate" sign on them. At the end of Christmas everybody vows that next year will be different, we'll pick names, not buy for e verybody. It's too expensive, too time-consuming. But turkey soup puts a holiday on a respirator for a few more days of life, enough time to remember and savor the memories of the family around the table. Speeding on a highway is a sure- re route to an accident, but doing it on the page or computer screen creates an opportunity for fortunate accidentsÐthose ashes of u nconscious irony or insight that can trigger a story or take you and your reader s deeper into one. A time clock Writers write. It's that simpleÐand that hard. If you're not writing regularly and for at least 15 minutes before your day job, th en you're not a writer. Many times I resist; the writing is terrible, I'm too ti red, I have no ideas, and then I remember that words

beget other words. I sti e my whining and set to work, just for a little while, I tell myself. Almost always, I discover writing I had never imagined before I beg an, and those are the times I feel most like a writer. Put an imaginary time clo ck on your desk, right next to your computer. Punch in.

2 BREAKING THE RULES By Alison Sinclair HANDS UP, You Know." EVERYONE WHO HAS EVER BEEN TOLD, "WRITE WHAT Hands up, everyone who has heard, "Show, Don't Tell." If there's a writer who ha sn't heard either at some point early in his or her career, I'd consider that pe rson fortunate indeed. (They've surely heard the thirdÐStand up, please, anyone wh o hasn'tÐ"You'll Never Make a Living at It!") Though intolerant of abusers of the common apostrophe, I am a tender-hearted soul. I will not advocate the slaughter ing of sacred cows, even in metaphor, but I would advocate rmly turning them out to pasture. Here's why. 1) Writers should not be urged to write what they know. They should be urged to write what they care about, care about passionately, arg u-mentatively, gracelessly, if need be. Knowledge can be acquired, whether throu gh books, the world wide web, or stoking or stroking an expert. (People love to talk about their own personal passions.) Knowledge can be acquired in the absenc e of caring. Ask any diligent student working just for a grade, or a

responsible adult making a living in a job he or she dislikes. But caring, unlik e knowledge, cannot be acquired at second hand. Knowledge gives writing authorit yÐI cannot dispute thatÐbut caring gives writing life. A few years ago, in Canada, w here I now live, and in particular amongst the community of women writers, there came a call that women of the majority culture (i.e., white) should not imperso nate, in writing, minority characters. It was an act of appropriation. In one re spect, I could see the justice of it, that the way would be cleared for writers from minorities to speak in their own voice. In another, I could see that it str uck at the fundamental nature of writing. By raising "write what you know (and o nly what you know)" to a formal impera-tive, the imaginative projection of exper ience unalike one's ownÐexperience not known but imaginedÐwas denied. The controvers y has settled, but I remember it, the questions it raised about balancing social justice and imaginative liberties, and the threat I felt it posed to the life o f the imagination. 2) Every writing book somewhere says, "Show, don't tell." Tha t phrase should come with a health warning: "Keep out of reach of novices." Like cellophane wrapping, it can suffocate. As many beginning writers do, I believed it. In my rst novel, a character went out to meet a woman about whom he'd heard a great deal. So he got out bed, got dressed, went downstairs, had a conversatio n with other people in the house, and he was given an errand, which he did, whic h led to another conversation, and he walked downhill. I described everything he saw on the way, and ten pages on he nally met her. It was a good meeting, if I s ay so myself, but when

the book was accepted (not, I suspect, for what I had done, but for what the edi tor thought I might yet do), the editor decreed CUT. And cut I did. I discovered , under her rigorous tutelage, that you show only what you absolutely have to, t ell what you can't avoid, and leave the rest out. The nal version of that chapter had my couple face to face in two-and-a-half pages. They went on to have a turb ulent though happy life together (most of it long after the nal line of the book because that had nothing to do with the problem set up in the rst chapter). Parag raphs and paragraphs of "showing" were dispensed with in a few sentences or even words. And the book was by far the better for it. Even in a 150,000-word novel, there is no space for "show," no scenes that can be given over to "I just wante d to show that this society was egalitarian." If these things are part of the st ory, they will be revealed through the action. If they are not, they are irrelev ant; they can be narrated, brie y, or left out. "Tell" is a powerful tool for keep ing minor matters in their place. 3) There are any number of Rules propounded fo r writers (which in itself is probably a re ection of Maugham's Three Rules, noted below. Nothing generates regulation like uncertainty): ONE MUST WRITE ONE THOUS AND WORDS EVERY DAY (honored more in the breach than in the observance; writers have lives, too). NEVER START A NOVEL WITH DIALOGUE (did anybody tell Tolstoy?). Do NOT TALK ABOUT YOUR WRITING; YOU'LL TALK IT OUT; or alternatively, IF YOU CA N'T TELL SOMEONE ELSE YOUR PLOT, IT'S NO GOOD. NOVELS ABOUT ( ll in the blank) DO NOT SELL, etc. For every writer who swears by a Rule, there is one as good, as s uccessful, as sagacious and temperate, who breaks it. For myself, I

believe in Somerset Maugham's Three Rules, Le Guin's Advice, and Granny Weatherw ax's Principle. Maugham observed that there were Three Rules of Writing; unfortu nately, no one knows what they are. Le Guin's Advice (from The Language of the N ight): "No matter how any story begins, it ends typed in good, clear, black text on one side of white paper, with name and address on each page."1 Granny Weathe rwax's Principle is: "When you break the rules, break 'em good and hard."

3 FACING UP TO TIME By Elizabeth Yates IT WAS A STARTLING QUESTION, AND IT CAME FROM A FOURTHGRADER in a small group of children who had come to talk with me about writing: "Has ag ing improved your writing?" I had to think for a moment. The other questions had been fairly routine: How long does it take to write a book? What can I do when I get stuck in the middle? Where do I get an idea? But this was one directed at me, where I am now, even before that, the years of apprenticeship and the long y ears of work with their richness and their agony, even up to this very moment. T hinking back I found my answer, and it was unequivocal: "Yes, because life is a learning process, and the longer we live, the more we become aware of this." I w anted to give these children an instance, so I told them of the time when an ide a had come to me with such insistency that I had to act on it. It could not be s helved, or put away in a notebook. It was when I was standing by the stone that marked the grave of Amos Fortune in the old cemetery in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Reading the eloquent though brief words about a man whose life spanned from Afri ca in 1715 to America in 1801, I wanted to know more, to nd the story within thos e lines. The idea took hold of me, or I of it, and I knew that nothing must keep me from following

it. A line of William Blake's came to mind: "He who kisses the joy as it ies/Live s in eternity's sunrise." Months of research were before me, months of work, the writing and then the careful revision, but nally when the words looked up at me from the page, I felt right about them. So, more than ever, I want to take hold of the idea that grips me, not because time may be running out on me, but becaus e of the marvelous freshness. Something else I have been learning has to do with the aptness of words. There are times when the one I think I want won't come to mind, so I leave a blank and decide to return to it when the ow of creativity ha s run itself out. James Barrie in Sentimental Tommie tells of a small boy in sch ool (I'm sure it was Barrie himself) when the class was writing essays, and the word he wanted eluded him. Trying to nd it, he forgot about time, but the clock d id not, and when the hour was up, the boy had little on his page. However, much later he did nd the word and returned to tell it to the teacher. I leave a blank, and when I get back with time to search the treasure trove of words tucked away in my mind, I come upon the one I want. I ll in the blank with it and smile inwa rdly, for it is right, so much better than the one I might hastily have used. St artling in its aptness, I cherish it and add it to my immediate store of words, but not until I have gone to my faithful Webster's Collegiate to con rm the meanin g. Am I really right? Oh, dear delight, I am righter than right! "Have you ever regretted anything you've written?" came the next question. Again, I sent my min d back over the years and their books. The answer was at hand, and it was No, fo r I have had a rule with myself that nothing ever leaves my desk unless it is th e best I

can do at the time with the material I have. Then I go back to Amos Fortune as a n example. The idea that took hold of me as I stood by that stone in the old chu rchyard and that became the book Amos Fortune, Free Man was written in 1949 and published a year later. All the pertinent, reliable material that I could nd went into the book and became the story. It could not be a biography but an account of a man's life, with facts assured and some imaginative forays based on the tem per of the times. The research, the writing, was done long before the Civil Righ ts upheavals of the 60's. I might today write a very different story, but that w as then. The nal question, "How will I know when to stop?," was one that I did no t have to search my mind to answer. "When you have said what you wanted to say a nd feel satis ed." I could see in these children's faces that they wanted me to go further. "Your story may take many pages, or not so many, but stop when you hav e told the story you set out to tell and are pleased with it, for you are the on e who must be pleased." In my own thinking, I recalled words of Sydney Cox in hi s small book. Indirections, which, for me, says everything that needs to be said about writing: ". . . the end of a story should leave the reader with an upward impulse and a kind of peace." Often a P.S. can be the most important part of a letter, and I had one for the children. It is something I have always known but not always heeded. It is listening to my inner voice, and I nd myself giving it m ore and more attention. So, I am still learning.

and you are likely to be a pariah within you r family. and you are likely to be rewarded with exile." In a society in which everything i s for sale. Do it . Scheme and betray." said Camus. prison or neglect. the truth is we write for love. That is also why we pretend to be hard-boiled. Almost anything is less labor-intensive and better paid than writing. "is the right not to lie. There are plenty of easier ways to make m oney. Reveal yourself on the page repeatedly. That is why it is so easy to exploit us. a semi-criminal to authorities and damned with faint praise by your pe ers. No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for love. in which deals and auctions make the biggest news. So why do we do it? Because saying what you think is the only freedom. Not true. and you are likely to be rewarded with wealth.4 DOING IT FOR LOVE By Erica Jong DESPITE ALL THE CYNICAL THINGS WRITERS HAVE SAID ABOUT WRITing for money. pu blicity and homage. saying things like "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money" (Samuel Johnson). Do it for love and you cannot be censored. Almo st anything is safer. "Lib erty. doing it for love is the only remaining liberty. Tell the truth. Ask Dante or Oscar Wilde or Emily Dickinson.

The writers I am most drawn to understand it as such: Thomas Merton.for love and you cannot be stopped. cooking. I return to my roots: poetry. I often nd myself puzzli ng over the choices a writer is given. Emily Dickinson. Pablo Neruda. the way we live now. It is my meditation. the one who gives it away without counting the cost i s God. Do it for love and the rich will envy no one more than you. Poetry. I was lucky enough to learn early (with my rst two book s of poetry and my rst novel) that if you are relentlessly honest about what you feel and fear. That is the gift. . poemsÐthe act of writing alway s made me feel centered and whole. not the roar of the crowd. boils down to essences. the naked man is king. you can become a mouthpiece for something more than your own feel ings. Writers ar e born to voice what we all feel. on the contrary. And we keep it alive by givi ng it away. And I am grateful to have found my vocation early. This is the most useful lesson a wr iter can learn. It forced me to listen t o my inner voice. my prayer. stories. When I am most perplexed. tooth brushes. People are remarkably similar at the heart levelÐwhere it counts. Notebooks. But one doesn't always s ee the calling clearly as one labors in the elds of love. It still does. I feel privileged to have done both. In a world of book keepers with spreadsheets. I seem to have known this from my earliest years. journals. In a world of tuxedos. my medici ne. my solace. The novel is elastic: It allows for social satire. It is a sacred calling. I was also blessed to encounter criticism early. I never remember a time when I didn't write.

What I eventually discovered was that the process had actual ly liberated me. Liberated from my p lace and time. I think I've begun to understand how the process of making cti on differs from that of making memoir.Lately. Having shed my own autobiography. I felt I had quite exhausted my own life and might never write another book. I now felt ready to invent in a new way. the "I" dominates. I wanted to write a novel about a Jewish family in the cent ury' that nearly saw the destruction of the Jewish people. but he or she can never be as rich and subtle as the characters that grow out of aspects of the author. I began by reading hi story and literature for a year. When I nished Fear of Fifty. As one who has written frankly autobiographical ction (Fear of Flying). historical c tion (Fanny. In the memoir. I found myself inventing a woman's voice quite different from my own. I found myself at play in the elds of my imagination. In the novel. the "I" is made up of many "I"s. A memoir is tethered to one's own experie nce in a particularly limiting way: The observing consciousness of the book is r ooted in a real person. And when I started to write again. More richness is possible. That person may be fascinating. I couldn't wait to get to . Characters sprang up like mushrooms after the rain. Serenissima or Shylock's Daughter) and memoir (Fear of Fifty and Th e Devil at Large). more points of view. it was in th e voice of a woman who might have been my great-grandmother. I wanted to write a novel about the 20th century and how it affected the lives of women. But as I began to fashion this alternate family history. deeper imitation of life. we keep hearing dire warnings about the impending death of the novel.

Its world .work in the morning to see what I thought and who was going to embody it." That seems to me precisely righ t. A nd this is probably a good thing. after all. however. A character may ev en access some deep memory in the writer's brain that seemed lost forever. And genres themselves matter less and less. Flaubert. There is liberty behin d a mask. As a reader. dramatic writing an d even poetry. born in different decades. I want a book to kidnap me into its world. The most enduring books of the modern era are. and that they were all mothers and daughters. can y. Eventu ally I found I had four heroines. In some ways an author may be freer to expose himself in a character unlike himself. A novelist's identity is xed. full of exposition. Graham Greene once said. The mask may become the condition for speaking the truth. Ficti onal characters excavate real memories. Each had a distinctive voice and way of looking at th e world. So if we nd truths in autobiography in our age. narrative. even ction will come to mimic that ge nre. claimed to be Emma Bovary and gave her his restlessness and discontent. The novel endures because it mimics truth. Her character. Each was me and not me. like Ulysses. The line bet ween novel and autobiography has never been as blurry as it is in our century. "The more the author k nows of his own character the more he can distance himself from his invented cha racters and the more room they have to grow in.

Sometimes it takes years to nd the tone of voice that unlocks the story. You must give all you have and never count the cost. I will never surrender to h im or her again. too. ("Sit down at the typewri ter and open a vein. If you do it for money. Its world must lure me to return. and it doesn't work with writing .) . You must nd the right voice (or voices) for the timbre that can convince the reader to give himself up to you. and I'd been treated by at least six of them. Wh en I close the book. "You don't know about me. It's not only the question of an arrest ing openingÐ the writer's best trickÐbut of letting the main character's quirks show . no money will ever be enough. The books we love best kidnap us with the rst line. How rare this is and how grateful I a m to nd it. I should feel bereft. without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. straining hot water through the same old teabag. you m ust do it for love. It doesn't work with tea. But as I said in the beginning. or whether that station will be held by anybody else. but t hat ain't no matter" (Huckleberry Finn).must make my so-called real world seem imsy." And it's easier to do in the rst person than in the third. The utter trust that exists between reader and author is like the tru st between lovers. and ev entually you will start imitating your rst successes. "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life. I tried it myself in Fear of Flying: "There were 117 analysts on the Pan Am ight to Vienna. If I feel betrayed by the author. That trust is why it is so hard to start a new book." as Red Smith said. these pages must show" (David Copper eld).

I let it all hang out. You write to give something. . I don't know how to hold back. Editing comes only after the rush of i nitial feeling. But in the writing process. To yourself. I end up cutting hundreds of pages sometimes. Generosity is the s oul of writing. Later I and my editor chop.Every book I have written has subsumed all the struggles of the years in which I wrote it. To your reader.

Poetry. the words as words. as images. Contemporary poet and critic Ann Lauterbach claims that "For poets.5 WHAT EMILY DICKINSON KNEW By Helen Marie Casey IF THERE'S ONE THING EMILY DICKINSON KNEW FOR SURE. Every object in the world is simultaneous ly itself and its word. the Belle of Amherst knew. IT WAS what a good poem should do. Yet. have a life as sounds. Dickinson was attempting to descri be for her sister-in-law the power of poetry to envelop and even to devastate th e reader (or listener). poetry is that art form in which what is unsaid is . they are chillingly annihilating. I know that is poetry." It is impossible to put too much weight on the importan ce of each individual word." she wrote. the world is apprehended as language . The words themselves. Her physical description was an effort to convey that su ccessful poems are not effete passages or bookish exercises. as the means for generating a series of associ ations. They have the power to alter us irrevocably. . is that form of communication in which words are never simple equ ivalents of experience or perception. "If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off. paradoxically. .

and the poetic formÐthat is.often as importantÐor more importantÐthan what is said. It is still full of icy shades and shapen snow. in the hands of the skillful artist. the capa city to resonate and to go in multiple directions at once. leaves cryingÐwill b e part of the way the poem says what it wants to say. to the bewilderment of some. the texture. Yet. in fact. the way of saying what the poem is sayingÐare also fundamental parts of what is being said. language used to do something other than simply deliver a message. it is a literary genre in which the voice. Take. for example. th e lines that begin the Wallace Stevens poem. "The Course of a Particular": Today the leaves cry. . We recognize immediately that mood will be part of what we derive fr om the poem and that the imagesÐwind. And. cry. the tone. snow. Yet the nothingness of winter becomes a little less. Poets are certainly not the only writers to concern themselves with the simultaneous life of language as symbol and as nonreferenti al but it is poets who most seem to insist on seeing and hearing words as if eac h is a multi-faceted gem that has. Syntactically. winter. icy shades. hanging on branches swept by wind. We recognize that we are dealing with lang uage used imaginatively. we k now that leaves do not. the lines are constructed like direct prose statements.

becomes. the sounds. shades. on a gurative level. This does not mean that the language of poetry is imprecise. The reason many readers kee p their distance from poetry is probably best captured by the observation of a s tudent who wrote. a recurrent "s" sound . They bore readers and deny them the thrill of discovery. color. The rep etition of "win" in wind and winter is the repetition of a sound that requires u s to blow out as wind itself blows. and associative values of the words are every bit as important as the speci c denotati ve meanings. "The trouble with poems is they start out to be about one thin g. What is frustrating to her is the richness and texture of a successful poem. becaus e of the power of suggestion. What she thinks she would like is a straightforward description in which everything is laid out clearly. and shapen snow. It is th e misperception that poems ought to be easy to apprehend that leads so many begi nning poets to mistrust the powers of allusion and suggestion and to err by tell ing all. In addition." What the student understood is that part of the magic of poetry is its ability to sustain multiple levels o f meaning. There is nothing super uous in poems that work. there is absolutely nothing arbitrary about a poet's choice of vocabu lary or about the manner in which the poet arranges and juxtaposes the words sel ected. Looking back over the rst two lines we hear additional "s" sounds in the ending s of the words leaves. . nothingness. and shades.We recognize in words like still. less. branches. In poetry. and then they end up being about something else. shadings. On the contrary. to be at once literally what it seems to be and also to exist.

but I am inclined to trust Marianne Moore's observa tion in her poem. foreboding . intentional ambiguity can be the source of irony." . in fact. humor. of course. it might well be this: Have I wholly engaged the imagination of my readers by creating the path we shal l traverse together and then purposefully stopped short on it. allowing the read er to go on without me? There is. If there were a single question that might be a productive springboard to the creation of richer poems. "Bowls": "Only so much colour shall be revealed as is necessar y to the picture. and thematic weight in a poem. no single solution to the question of how to write effectively.they often believe that ambiguity is some kind of writing sin and fail to see th at.

somebody bites.6 REWRITING By Lucian K. Don't you think we could have her solve the murder. I've lived in Hollywood for almost seven years now and have worked steadily writing screenplays ever since. I have learned a t hing or two about rewriting from working under contract to the major studios. Th e way it works is this: You come up with an idea for a movie. but I think . and if you're really. and you write the thing. I look at it as doing the whole damn thing again. and I think she'd make a great lead ch aracter. you go around to v arious producers and/or studio executives and you pitch the idea. and have somebody e lse get killed?" Now if they insist on something like that. They cal l you in for a meeting. Truscott IV "REWRITING" COMES FROM MY YEARS AS A the notion of rewr iting instead of mere revision also sums up my attitude about going at the work you have just done. what you end up with I SUPPOSE THE TERM JOURnalist. really. really lucky. you get a contract for a screen pl ay. and one of the executives says something like this (actu ally said to me in a meeting with a major studio executive): "You know the dead girl on page 18? She was incredibly sexy. I don't look at a second draft as revision. You hand it in and wait a couple of weeks.

I learned to be my own wo rst critic. after a couple of years in the trenches. . Then you get back into the things and start to ask yourself hard ques tions: What is it that works about this piece. a week or two m ight suf ce. I concluded that the st udio executives were not the only ones who could ask hard questions or raise out rageous points about my work. the seque l to my rst novel. but the process bled natura lly into work on novels. So could I. you'll come up with something. and having identi ed an element or two that doesn't work. This happened to me wh en I began working on rewriting my most recent novel. Full Dress Gray.is not revision but rewriting. This can be quite a shock if you gure out that the crux of the movie or the book just isn't holding up. which has been incredibly instructive to my life as a novelist. In this way. So. if not. you then throw out what doesn't work and st art something new. I started out doing it with screenplays. and you give it a re st for awhileÐ say a month or two. because that means you are very de nitel y going to be doing some rewriting and not mere revision. it can withstan d anything. I have learned one thing of immeasurable value in Hollywood: If a work can withstand such an elemental question as the one above. and what is it that doesn't work? If you go at it hard enough. You sit down and write a rst draft. if you've got the time.

and charac ters who had been minor players blossomed into superstars. the publisher noti ed me that I would have to complete a second draft within two months. Something that was . I ended up writing what amounted to an entirely new book. the daughter of they guy who had been the main character started asserting herself and ended up taking over the book. sometimes entire chapters. What I learned from rewriting movies is to let it happ en. In my rewrite o(Full Drew Gray my editor spied a fault of l ogic in the story. then you get in the way of your own creative energies and run the risk of defending the status quo at the cost of allowing something new and wonderful to be born. I have found when you ask yourself the hard questions the answers start coming. It's a bit daunting at rst to look at 600 pages of manuscript and realize tha t every page from 102 to 702 is going to change.K. everything got shifted around. B ut from page 103 on. and when you let the answers take over. There's one other thing I ha ve learned writing movies. new characters were created. a nd by this I mean.Dress Gray. you are well on your way t o making the novel everything it can be. When you start second-guessing yourself and try to protect what you have done too much. what I'd call the portability of scenesÐin the case of novels. The rst 102 pages were O. but the best thing to do is jus t let it rip. nothing in the story ended up in the same sequence as in the rst draft. In fact. Just because you write chapter 15 after chapt er 14 doesn't mean that it couldn't become chapter 12 when you're rewriting some where down the line. I sat down a nd started and went at it eight to ten hours a day. Because we were on a tight publication deadline.

ask the dif cult questions. Balderdash. In t he next chapter. and having learned the answers.explained in one way by the main characters about halfway through the book was a gain explained by a doctor one chapter later. So I exchanged the chapters. had t he doctor make the discovery and explain the medical reasons for the event. Rewrite the thing.what works and what doesn't work.. But better still.. but there is a tendency in telling a story in the prose of a novel to believe that once your tale has been written . . I had the main characters re acting to this news and putting their own spin on it. the sequence shouldn't be terribly disturbed in revision. scen es can be much more discrete. go ahead and tell the ta le another way. self-contained. Of course in a movie. by changing about three sentences. Give it an entirely different order if for no other reason than just to see if you can do it.

horror. some non. The Internet.ction. that's how. I'm contrary by nature. no r have I yet set foot on the Information Super-Highway. she spends of lot of time in the library. you can't keep the books long enough. Once every month . I've learned to handle research.7 CONFESSIONS OF A LAZY RESEARCHER By Nancy Springer I LOATHE RESEARCH. and anyway. (Wrong!) Since then I have publ ished realistic novels for children and young adults. you're thinking? Nope. ALL THROUGH SCHOOL I KNEW I COULD NEVER be a writer. or it's at another library. or the copy is missing. Of necessity. So. The air a lways seems gray in a library. I surf not. and I detest it. I hate digging for picky little facts! I want to tell stories. Want to know ho w? The lazy way. mainstream. this trait has served me well as a ction writer. you're thinking. myster y. I spend quite enough of my time hunched in front of a computer screen. Anyway. Not me. all the techno-hoopla ann oys me. I don't want to worry a bout the details! My aversion to research paralyzed me so badly that I didn't st art writing novels until I had a brain spasm in which I thought that I wouldn't have to worry about research if I wrote fantasy. And the book I need is always out. because writers are supposed to love research.

dialect. painting your body blueÐwha tever. Strange Encou nters. Follies and Foibles. the taste of fast food. . I haunt bo ok sales and yard sales and used bookstores. At the time I read my nds. Most of what you need to know. if ever. I read a book called Frog s: Their Wonderful Wisdom. I read non ction for pleasure. Instead. and .ction. Other favorite nds: The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste. The more I write ction. you learn best in y our everyday life. Moreover. color nuances. . quirky non. I browse and prowl.or two I might venture into the library for something. Symbolism & Meaning. bumper stickers. my whole life is research: to try to pay attention. . by Jane and Michael Stern: Big Hair: A Journ ey into the Transformation of Self. I have no idea how I will use them. I keep notebooks to help me remember what I have learned. Being a writer gives you all the more reason to have a life. by Grant McCracken. Private Lives. To supplemen t real life as research. tattoos. being a writer gives you a great excuse to do fu n things: horseback camping. and my taste in pleasure reading has become so esoteric it's almost pathological. you might use her amingo lamp s in a book sometime. jokes. So how do I research? In a sense. I am reading for fun.) When everybody is saying. Not hing's a total waste. (I can never nd the kind of book I w ant in a chain bookstore." I won't go near it. scuba diving in a quarry. to be observant. and two books wi th frog themes eventually result. the more I hunger for intriguing. Th e kinds of information you need for ction writing you can't nd in reference booksÐsm ells. Mysterious Powers. not even visiting Aunt Marge. slang. textures. by Gerald Donaldson. "I just want to read Women Who Run With the Wolves. It doesn't matter.

I want to run with it. As I write. as compared to the three to six months a lot of writers . I sit down and write. I want to spend my work time writing . I come u p against research questions. Time is money. Only very occasionally do I actually have to stop writing until I clear something up. When I get a book idea. I have to write myself a note to verify something when I get time. None. of course. I have my reasons for doing as little research as possible. my own. the reference librarian.The Book of Weird (formerly The Glass Harmonica). if I'm writing a YA. I might have to grab a bookÐover the years I have acquired a motley assor tment of dictionaries and encyclopediasÐor I might need to call that wonderful per son. I do no research at all before I start to write a boo k. and y ou'll get ten different answers. But the main reason I don't research before writing is simply that ideas don't stay fresh forever. When I'm ready with the idea for my next book. I need to earn a living. though seldom. Sometimes. by Barbara Ninde By eld. not researching. for instance. the stoppage is usua lly only for a day. so I just ask one kid. Even then. I take care of a lot of my research by yelling downstairsÐmy husband will t ell me what model car the prospering pediatrician ought to drive this year. A lot of them I can nesse. over the year s I've discovered that "facts" are not nearly as solid as I used to thinkÐsuch as what kids wear. Ask ten different kids. One is nanci al. and let it go at that. not diddle around gathering a lot of facts I might not even read. Other t han this sort of goo ng off. Othe r times.

Normal people don't think like writers. my sister-in-law the physician. The only drawback to this method is that sometimes it's hard to ge t the information you really need. In my not-so-humble opinion. For this reason. with a question about guns. After I nish the rst draft. I've published thirty books doing research this way. this method forces me to abide by that classic ction-w riting rule: Write What You Know. I call a fri end who's a naturalist. Chatting with him for ten minutes or so is a lot more pleasant and less time-consuming than reading a bunch of gun books . I call my br other.spend on research before writing. the ex-cop and quondam gunsmith. Doing my research this way. and I nd them much better than my sister-i n-law at giving me the information I need. it usually takes me no more than a few days to get answers to any questions that might have come up.. so ev en when you're asking a speci c questionÐwhat color are toad guts?Ðthey manage to give you a vague answer. and I love it. For a question about secondary sexual characteristics of turtles. I haven't spent an extra moment peering into a bilious computer screen. That's how I handle my r esearch. For instance. thereby nding out what you really need to nd out. As a kind of fringe bene t. I have h ad an interesting conversation with a real human being. Instead.. You might argue that I could write bigger books and make more money if I did more r esearch. e t cetera .. . usually by means of that time-honored ploy of the lazy researcher: I ask somebo dy who is likely to know. For medical questions. I often call fellow writers with research questions in their areas of expertise. there's a lot to be said for writing the book rst.

and besides. I'd rather have a life.and you might be right. But I'm contrary: I'd rather write my books my way. .

For instance: I nd myself thinking of elderly Manhattan widows in apartments. released them. who resembles a South American general. Also: I notice a pa tient waiting outside an X-ray of ce. Standing at a distance from my desk. shivering in his johnny. in front of whose eyes an anguished romance is enact ed at a seaside hotel. I need a slab of marble . then take away everything that isn't the statue. Or: In a dream a lost child and her mysteriously dam aged younger sister. Michelangelo claimed that he didn't create his statues but rather. more irritating than inspiri ng. he told younger a rtists. reunited.8 THE STATUE IN THE SLAB By Edith Pearlman I AM NOT ONE OF THOSE LUCKY WRITERS INTO WHOSE EARS A THRILLin g tale is con ded on a train. which will later be ruthlessly hacked at. around one of t hose damned pebbles. exchange a few surreal words. I have to build it. must b e rst . This slab. No story yetÐonly pebbl es in my shoe. And I can't order it from Carrara. myself. He is ignored by th e surly attendant. resentfully growing frail. I glower. Find a slab of marble. My ctions begin as fragments. Then the ghost of Michelangelo taps me on the shoulder.

and perhaps a visio n of the future. about the pills they crave and the drink they can't leave alo ne. I lost innumerable games of chess. the dossier expands. My manual typewriter does not know how to delete. their helpless lies. paragraphs.ve cards. revised again. nished again. and I equip them with hobbies (more reading!) and enemies and possessions. not crumpled papers. I imagine their fantasies and I dream their dreams. a soup kitchen. revised. in houses and lonely ats. a string of adjectives o n the back of a charge receipt. a museum. submitted again and again. Inside the slab lurk characters and their children and their ha ndkerchiefs and their Uzis. begun again. I read about the streets my characters wa lk in and the wars they endure. about the diseases hidin g in their bodies. For the sake of one story. na lly published. back stairsÐmy stor ies have played themselves out in a tobacco shop. It must contain a believable city or villageÐI've set my tales al l over the world. I turn them toward each other and then transcribe their stunned declarations of lo ve.made pretty big. My wastebasket holds pussy willows. about the work they do. Fo r the sake of another. The slab must hold history. Nothing leaves this room! That diamond pin . My folders stretch and eventually spli t open. a ph armacy. I spent a week using my left hand only. and also their rooms. still. It must contain buildings with doors. roofs. pages. And I play. ripped in to pieces. I arrange and rearrange my characters' biographi es. This material will continue to pil e up. Not a comma will be discarded until the story is nished. So I read. I design their wardrobes. Sent ences. reminders on threeby. And I write.

No reader wants to know the name of th e coffee shop the widow visits daily. The X-ray technician. But I know t he chunks of information. my ta le's contour and its hinted truth reveal themselves in the depths of the slab. rif e silently through itÐand. or the succession of rulers in the country the X-ray technician ha s ed. visited wearily by her children one by one. I read a shelf of books about th e younger sister's af iction. The story cannot be as dense as the slab of details I've constructed. will learn from his own words and his own omissions the nature of loyalty: exible as a snake. when I'm lucky. I invented the corrupt regimes that the X-ray technician refers to o nly by their soubriquetsÐThe Coffee Revolution. rattling on to a stranger about his bedeviled country. mercilessly pared. will decide to leav e her home: Independence can be cruelty. and polish and . That excessive metaphor. will foresee that her future is inseparable from her af icted s ister's: in chance begins responsibility. illu minate the entire story. my widow loves what she must leave. her sweet face is properly vacant. may become not only apt but irreplaceable. her gestures prop erly vague. I designed the coffee shop and installed its tolerant proprietor. before she nds her way b ack to her family. The Month of the Colonels.which in an early draft seems too ashy for the heroine may. or the etiology of the condition of the yo unger sister. What a mound of pages! At last it resembles a sl ab of marble. in the nal draft. The lost child. A n elderly widow. I walk around it. Now I c hip away at whatever is not necessary. These chunks of information would only encumber a short story.

What a mess. it ignores the notion that art is a free expr ession of self. it leaves shards all over th e oor. And those shardsÐ sometimes they lodge like pebbles in my shoe. On the other hand. it slams the door on autobiography. and become the centers of new slabs to be doggedly built up and the n doggedly reduced. Autobiography knows all too well how to creep in through the keyhole.repol-ish what's leftÐleaving. It is lengthy and indirect. ef ciency is a third-rate virtue. . best kept in rm check. Self-expression is ofte n self-indulgence. characters who are affecting and a situatio n that is tense and a resolution that is satisfying. this way of wr iting. until all that is left is the story. I hope.

9 SERENDIPITY AND THE WRITER By C.e. ÐWebster's Diction ary of the English Language. a source of wonder for those who see it ha ppen. Unabridged RECENTLY WHEN DISCUSSING MY WRITING WITH A FRIEND I sketched out my plans to nish one novel and start another. J. I r ealized that a writer must combine rational structure and methodÐfor example. magical side of writing that so often surprises us. Ceylon). We need to be open to serendipity. and gave speci c dates for each stage.] an a pparent aptitude for making fortunate discoveries accidentally. . or committing to write so many words per weekÐwit h the unplanned. writ ing at a certain hour every day. and a mystery frequently to writers ourselves. Newton serendipity. who made such discoveries. My friend was rather surprised at this "conscious control" of creativity. n. [coined by Horace Walpole (c. I am not recommending that you dissect every creative experience. The unsummoned inspirational component of writing is a s ubject for research by psychologists. 1754) after his ta le The Three Princes of Serendip (i. After we spoke.

to the particular time and place at which the sudden torrent of association s. Through a clearing. Here is the serendipitous part. it can be useful to look at the circumstances that led to your inspirat ion. Travel If you can afford it. I drove there one evening on a twisting roa d through groves of eucalyptus trees. references. For years whil e living in San Francisco I "intended" to visit Half Moon Bay. I became interested i n Portugal's history. You may nd the in uence of seren dipity. Hearing Fre nch spoken on the busy streets of Montreal. images. The result was Costa Azul. travel to faraway places is very stimulating. and a rich small town. which led to my rst ction sale. In a ash I felt a mystery novelÐcharacters. I beheld the Paci c Ocea n. And later. I still can't explain it. and plot outlineÐset there. In my own case serendipity prompted me to visit a town. As I subsequently researched the town for my mystery. about 30 miles so uth. which I wrote after the mystery (but which found a publisher rst). I was able to apply my knowledge of Portuguese names. Half Moon Bay has a Portuguese community that sponsors a picturesque annual par ade. settings. when I wanted to write a novel satirizing attor neys. which led to another novel. Half Moon Bay was a "fortunate discovery" indeed. seeing . which inspired a novel. After eight years of intending.However. and dialogues opened like a cloudburst. and cult ure in a convincing depiction of a ctional republic founded by Portugal in Centra l America.

as he waited to sign the Treaty of Paris that ended the war. Once you accept the waiting as constructive idlenessÐa gif t of time when you are free to let your mind wander or composeÐyou may actually en joy the journey as much as the destination. New York. Use public transportation. hiking cobblestoned streets in Lisbon. then drive to a reasonable point and walk the rest of the way.otherwise-modern people in Montevideo enjoying maté tea made from traditional gour ds. I felt that this would be a perfect setting for a historical novel. they include richly informative descriptions of overlooked gems like local muse ums and historical houses. Like most teenagers I yearned to es cape from my hometown for more exciting places. spies. and to look out the window. Free to members. You may nd rich material for historical or contemporary ction. It is pleasurable to leave the drivi ng to the bus or train driver. the New Windsor Cantonment offered high drama as Washington battled his nal enemies. Getting there Tour Book s from the American Automobile Association are great resources. complete with opening hours and admission prices. or solid civil servantsÐall these can add fuel to your creative re. Adventu re can be as close as your neighboring town. the site of George Washington's last winter as Continental commande r. Less famous than Valley Forge. Take a new look at your neighboring towns. and intrigue and boredom. passing café patrons who may be lovers. You'll gain many impressions exploring . Yet I wasn't far from New Windso r. If public transportat ion is not practical.

Feeding your creativit y Here is an outline for using an excursion to feed your creativity: 1. libraries. talking on cell phones. or unloading trucks. and walk the character through a few scenes. i n an urban setting. or. sel ling. As an exercise . Carefull y observe the physical look of the place: the grade of descent to a beach. and museums .the site on foot. cutting hair. By varying your routine journeys. the names of streets and the architecture. Always bring a notebook to record them. Observe people buying. Sketch a ctional character and mot ive for his or her being there. If possible. travel home by a different route from the one you took to get there. Try a rstperson point of view. shing. 4. 5. 6. 2. File them as background to your ctional construction. then switch to third person to describe your actions from the outside. Visit local bookstores. 3. narrate your own movements. you can stimulate that part of your min d where inspiration visits. All roads can lead to serendipity. Collect brochures and newspapers. .

they will give whatever segment of posterity might happen upon the m a very skewed view of my mental state. on odd scraps of paper. was dangerously depressed. only when I can't write what I want to write. why would I waste time talking about it? I'd be doing it. These notations are al l so embarrassing that I am hoping for at least a week's notice to hunt them dow n and destroy all the bits and pieces before my demise. y ou see. If they were collected and published. I do make journal-like entries in used schoolgirl spiral notebooks. the reader could logically conclude that I was not only totally inep t as a writer but that I lacked integration of personality at best. But it's not quite true. If I had kept a proper journal. BEC AUSE I know that real writers keep voluminous journals so fascinating that the w orld can hardly wait until they die to read the published versions. The reason I am nattering on about this is that I have come to . I write these entries. I ANSWER A BIT RED-FACED.10 THE JOURNEY INWARD By Katherine Paterson "Do YOU KEEP A JOURNAL?" NO. If my writing is going well. So if these note s survive me. in fairly anonymous computer les. but such is not the case. and at worst . these neurotic pass ages would be seen in context.

and I nessed the answer into a one-liner. It is a cry from the heart." I'd say. but I'm talking about twenty years ago. I am ashamed to say. Which was true. the question (and now. How do you begin? It is not an idle or trick question.realize that I am not alone. "I'd write about three days a year. I know now that I had failed her. often I'd switch back and forth in an attempt to keep the ow going. all these were the same question) would be framed more baldly. "computer" is always included in this question. in whatever disguise. ." I'd say. "How do you begin ?" "Well. As soon as my books (after years of struggle) began to be published." I would say. looking back. I know. "Do you have a regular sc hedule everyday or do you just write when you feel inspired?" the person would a sk earnestly. I was asked. Books don't get written in three days a year.. Sometimes I wrote rst drafts by hand." Occasionally.) "Whatever works. I started to get questions from people that I had trouble answ ering in any helpful way: "Do you use a pen and pad or do you write on a typewri ter?" (Nowadays. I would like to apologize publicly. The questioner would thank me politely . a truly important question." If I ever gave any of you one of those answers.. or if any ot her writer has ever given you similar tripe. "If I wrote only when I was inspired. sometimes on the typewriter. I would often laugh at this. but. roll in a shee t of paper and . "you sit down in front of the typewriter.

Once the book is nished. There are several novels out there with my name on the cover. I know. but I can't think of a thing to say. What have I done those other times? How have I go tten from that feeling of stony hopelessness? How do I break through that barrie r as hard as sunbaked earth to the springs of creativity? Sometimes. When no inspiration ever comes. They are the cry when I simply cannot begin. How do I know there's still anything in here? You don't. no r pencil. when neither pen. I have to begin again. I've begun and ended ov er and over again through the years. nor stateof-the-art computer can unloose what's raging about inside me. II you start judging . You're sca red what you might say won't be up to snuff? Scared people might laugh at you? S cared you might despise yourself? Well. That's what all those aborted journal notes are about. nor typewriter. I h ave a conversation with myself on paper: What's the matter? What do you mean "wh at's the matter?" You know perfectly well. it is scary. Not a single thing? Not a single thing worth saying. I'm the re now. So what happens? Well.I know. you'll cut off the owÐyou've already cut off the ow from all . I want to write. the memory of the effort dimsÐuntil you're trying to begin the next one. You just have to let it (low. Well. something must. Somehow I gured out how to begin.

Well. Grump. But then. Of course I do. You. . do we? Whatever happ ened to that wonderful idea of getting up so early in the morning that the criti c in you was still asleep? How do I know it will work this time? You won't know if you don't try. Now you understand why I have to burn this stuff before I die. we never learn. I just happen to know that it i s so important to my psychic health to do this that I'm willing to take the risk . You're nothing but a two-bit psychologist. come to the machine and type like fury for an hour and see what happ ens? Could be fun. seem to want all the creative juices inside you to curdle and poison the whole system. Why don't we just get up at v e tomorrow. Critic won't be up. But how do I begin? I don't know. I don't? Well. Ah yes. and we won't ever have to show anybody wh at we've done. my friend. You don't know what it's like pouring out your guts to the world. I've b een right before. you don't care as much as I do. trying is risky. and you do seem a bit timid to me.appearancesÐ before it starts.

these relationships. . No one else could make this wonderful thing because it has come out of her. No one else has these thoughts. What treasures we have inside ourselvesÐnot just joy and delight but also pai n and darkness. This child knows that what she has created is marvelous simply because she has made it. a rarity. The unspoiled child allows herself to be surprised with what comes o ut of herself. patting it and rolling it and shap ing it.My posthumous reputation as a sane person of more than moderate intelligence han gs in the balance. thankfully. But living writers. sh e is not a judge but a lover of whatever comes from her heart through her hands. these truths. But he is. thes e experiences. Only I can share the treasures of the human spirit that are with in me. these feelings. you will see a sad child . He stamps his foot becaus e the picture on the page or the green blob on the table falls short of the visi on in his head. We have to play. And. already too concerned with adul t approval. Occasionally. unless some grownup interferes. have to forget about posthumous reputations. and they ddle with what comes out. We have to remember our early griefs and embarrassments. quite literally. Talk aloud to o urselves. We have to become. Make up imaginary companions. one that has decided beforehand what he wants to do. in order to keep writing. She takes joy in the material. She is not too quick to name it. like little ch ildren. Have you ever watched c hildren fooling with play dough or nger-paint? They mess around to see what will emerge.

And didn't you mean t o share those stories with your children someday anyhow? While I was in the mids t of revising this article. Don' t let your fear stop you. you will nd there is no treasure to share? Trust me. Exploring childhood i s almost always an effective wedge into what's inside you. Begin early in the morning before that critical adult within wakes up. by talking to yourself. my husband happened to bring home Julia Cameron's bo ok. in which she suggests that you put off for several days reading wh at you have written in the wee hours. pour out what is inside you. Read Dorothea Brande's classic On Becom ing a Writer. Cameron suggests three pages of longhand every morning as soon as you get up. Begin. in the form of a letter. Ann e Lamott suggests in her wonderful book Bird by Bird. Then when you do read it you may discern a repeated theme pointing you to what you want to begin writing about. too. T ell your child or a trusted friend stories from your past. I just began writing down th e name of every child I could . When I was trying to begin the book which nally became Flip-Flop Girl (and you should see the anguished notes along the way!).How do I begin? You could start. I decided to give the "morning pages" a try and heartily rec ommend the practice. though these pages. not listening to any thing but the stream of life within you. The Artist's Way. The dial ogue may help you understand what is holding you back. Are you afraid that deep down inside you are really shallow? That when you take that dark voyage deep wit hin yourself. There is. will need to be destroyed before I die. Like a child. as I often do.

but out of those fourth-grade names and painful betrayals a story began to grow. Judging from the notes. . There's a bit of courage for the n ext journey inward. Bon voyage. Now it's your turn. But I did begin. Early-morning e xercises explored ways the story might go. and I rejected most of them. and I did nish. it was over a year in developing and many more months in the ac tual writing. Sometimes I appended a note that explained why that child's name was still in my head.remember from the fourth grade at Calvin H. Wiley School.

characters. "Simply Delicious. Because writers are curious and have an innate sense of imagination. you can be gleaning bits and pieces from wh at you see. touch. middle. No matter what else you are doing. and dialogu e. point of view. Wherever ideas come from. or end. hear. The bait may end up as the title for a story." The fragrance of four o'clocks wafting from my husband's garden took me back to childhood. The earthy smell of apples at the pro duce stand inspired my rst published piece. Writers have a keen awareness of their immediate surroundings and of those they remember." publishe d in the anthology Poems from Farmers . the y grab bait and let it lead them to plot.11 AN IDEA IS ONLY THE BAIT By Madonna Dries Christensen WHERE DO WRITERS GET THEIR IDEAS? THE SHORT ANSWER IS: IDEAS are everywhere and anywhere. taste. to my mother's window box. Out of that evoked memory came "Collected Scents. they are only th e bait. The people you observe become the ingredients for composite characters . and smell. William Styron says he dreamed about a wo man with a number tattooed on her arm. the beginning. He put aside the book he was having troub le writing and wrote Sophie's Choice.

The energy from tha t imagined excursion and those spectral images led me to write "Sojourner in the Past" for The Wind-Mill. I expande d on the idea with a piece about my hometown. In 1951. my mother. "It's Good for You.Valley. After he aring Bob Dylan mumble a song and unable to understand even one word. "I Still Call it Home." a humor piece on this "cure-all" of the 1940s. wrapped in the silence of the countryside. I wro te. Family histories hold a treasure trove of stories. I would have known I was in my childhood library. a genalogy magazine. On a visit to my ancestral fa rm in Wisconsin. I wrote "W ith a Song in My Heart. dusty odor steam radiators emi t gave the library this inviting aromatic charm. furniture oil. the present owner's pro nounced European accent helped me conjure up the presence of my German paternal great-grandfather and his family." for the an thology Where the Heart Is: A Celebration of Home. who worked in a café. and the dry. cooked supper for Henr y Fonda and . oor wax. I published "Guardian of the Bo oks" as a reminiscence about the small-town library and its librarian. From nearby." a look at the generation gap in music. Remembering the cloying smell and horrible taste of cod liver oil. I stood alone in the doorway of the cavernous dilapidated barn. A compatible blend of old books. Entering an old library in my hometown in Iowa. These benevolent ghosts led me through a typic al day at the farm as it had been one hundred years earlier. n ewspaper ink. book binding paste. had I been led blindfolded into the building. I was embraced by a distinctive essence so famil iar that.

it tells of four sisters and their widowed mother. writers write what they know. Writers tap into what they know. I ctionalized a family event into a twice-pub lished story. Remarks about my given name." It links my maternal great-grandfather's death in 1909 with that of his young daughter's death seventeen years earlier. Conversations with friends or strangers have yie lded many ideas. Both were struck and killed by lightning. Hum an beings are who they are because of what they know. now so recognizable. it was featured in Billboard and Variety. One writer tol d me about her adoption in 1917 after being sent to Minnesota on the Orphan Trai n. who were stranded in town during a snowstorm. "Prairie Fire. With only sca nt information from two obituaries. "The Prince Dined at the Palace. "The Last Dance" came from my family history. A remark by a man in my writer's group and an aside by another writer gave me an idea for a humor piece. provided anec dotes for "The Fame of the Name." as non ction and in a ctiona lized version. I p ublished that story. what they've experienced t hus far. explore it. It's a cliché. but true." about the pros a nd cons of paying and nonpaying markets. Published rst in Cat holic Digest. Roberts.the stage cast of Mr. The sisters were members of an all-girl band that was so popular in the 1930s. and try to explain it to t hemselves and others . all of whom bec ame nuns on the same day. They can't avoid it. I ctionalized her experience in "The End Game." A writer's comment about writers not being pai d for their work prompted me to write "A Penny for Your Prose." for the literary journal The m a.

ideas generate writing. you can use the idea. A haunting picture of a li ttle immigrant girl at . I know the people. She said no. the given idea. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. The journal Thema se ts the theme for each issue. I know the children and their parents. holidays. Every community has stories waiting to be told. When I read Barbara Anton's novel Egrets to the Flam es. you need only scan the paper for items about an niversaries of historical events and interesting places or people. Familiarize yours elf with local and regional periodicals and the type of material they use. I ask ed if she'd grown up on a sugar cane plantation. Born and raised there. Some of my ction is written in the voice of children of the Depression years. Reading generates ideas. You can nd ideas in writers magazines about contests and anthologies that solicit material on speci c subjects. or anniversaries of local events. I know those times. others solicit materia l on speci c subjects. What writers don't know. the climate. I was impressed with her knowledge of the Florida sugar cane industry. Some newspapers have a regular column featuring local writers. a ph rase. I would not have written any of the ten stories I'v e had published in Thema without a head start.through writing. The Midwest gives me my sense of place. Much of my work is based in the Midwest. she'd researched t he subject. Writers are i nsatiable readers. the ora and fauna. a picture can stoke the res of your imagination. Even if you don't submit to these publi cations. A word. they can learn.

Come to think of it. .Ellis Island." She was right. combined with a Thema premise. My rst writing instructor advised. why slop there? The possibilities are endless for stories about that coming event. led me to write and publish In Mama 's Footsteps. Sifting through my collect ion triggers enough ideas to take me to the year 2(K)0. The clippings will p rovide ideas for stories of your own. "Save articles and stories by wr iters whose work you admire or whose subject interests you.

for the rst tip: What to do when you 're doing nothing. without any conscious effort on your part. For a week. if you have any hope of reaching your goal. The trick is to do nothing long enough for the work to come to fruiti on in your unconscious. What will speed things up? Surprisingly: Doing not hing. IT'S COMING. BUT IT'S not coming fast enough. Here. Now's the time to turn to your unconscious and to let it do the work for y ou. And. what follow are some tips for what to do when you're doing nothing. and the only way to achieve this is through doing t hings that unclutter the unconscious suf ciently to allow it to devote full-time t o the job. the goal's a nished story that pops like A thena from the head of Zeus. This is often the hardest part of the writing process but an essential part of the creative process. allow the unconscious to do its work. But because this is hard. and how to do nothing so effectively that your story will pop from you full-blown. . your creative product will grow. It's always important to know where you're going.12 THE CREATIVE POWER OF DOING NOTHING By Colleen Mariah Rae LET'S SAY YOU'VE BEEN WORKING ON A STORY. paradoxically. So.

hike. play chess. While I'm painting. Keeping your story insi de creates a pressure-cooker sensationÐeventually you will feel as though you're g oing to explode if you can't let your story out. build a model.This is the time to cook. paint. I'm not thinking. but not too much. Telling it will dissipate the energy. Wha t works for you? Include it in your day. but write. So that's what to do when you're doing nothing: anything th at allows you to immerse yourself fully in the activity and at the same time cha llenges you enough." I am focused in on what I'm doing with a highly con centrated attention. During th is stage of the process. that is. because each day takes you t hrough the same cycle of creativity in an abbreviated way. or repair a toasterÐwhatever it is that puts you into that "time out of time s tate. And that's the sensation you're aiming for. play mus ic. Now for the second tip: How to do nothing so effectively that your . don't tell you r story to anyone. I can so lose myself in the process that when I st op. painting is t he best "immersion" activity." where you lose all track of time. And. Whatever ta kes you away from the ceaseless round of chatter unclutters the unconscious. swim. For me. attention. What you're looking for are activities that allow you to immerse yourself in an experience without thought. Do anything. I discover surprisingly that hours have passed. every day. But I'm not oating in a sea of no-thought: I'm doing what Aldous Huxley thought so important he had birds in his ctional country in Island crying "Atten tion. attention. do anything but writeÐeven tine word.

My writing journals are lled with "shower thought" notations. You have probably had a few su ch experiences: Names you couldn't remember an hour before come to you as soon a s you get into the mind-numbing rhythm of vacuuming. Either way. because it isn't so "hands-off" as immersion. I make use of active in cubation every day I write. You can also build bridges during your waking h ours. One of these bridges you probably know well: How often have you said. it's still the same process: You have to silence your analytic al mind long enough to let the unconscious speak. I'll go to sleep unclear of how to proceed in a story and wake in the morning with the answer.story will pop from you full-blown. because you're building bridges between the conscious and the unconscious mind. And it works for writing so well that I' ve come to believe that I couldn't write a darn thing worth publishing if I coul dn't sleep on it. Find your own. Some writers get unstuck sitting by a re. "Let me sleep on it"? It's one of the best problem-solving tools we have. This is often the most fun. some with . You can really feel you're doing something to work with your unconsciousÐeven though you are letting go and trusting the unconscious to do the work for you. or as you're washing the ca r. I call this active incubation. you recall what it is you forgot to buy at the store. because invariably it's in the shower that ideas pop up. I don't take a shower until I get stuck in my writin g stint for the day. Other things that shi ft me from that "stuck" analytical place also include water: I love to sit by a waterfall or any running waterÐeven the fountains in shopping malls will do.

so you won't forget your breakthroughsÐwrite them down! But there's more to active incubation than just getting out of your own way. moving o nly to pick up your already open notebook and uncapped pen. greatly alarming his wife. One of my students puts Grieg on the car stereo and drives across the desert. Hyde. don't get out of bed. This is the time to wo rk actively with your unconscious. Summon the smells. who was thrashing about in his b ed one night. emotions. "Silent movies" is another technique that helps build the pressure. And just a suggestion: Always keep a small notebook wit h you. infuriating Stevenson. Stay there. You 'll read it laterÐwhen this period of doing nothing comes to an end. preferably during lightning storms. some while they meditate. Set a timer for ten minutes." Lie in bed in the dark and try to visualize your story as clearl y as possible. who yelled. She woke him up. let all the details come alive for you. tastes . sounds. Others can't write if they aren't driving . Jekyll and Mr. Write without thinki ngÐanything about your story that comes to mind. Then close your notebook without reading what you've written. Make them as vivid as you can. To read it to o soon ips you into analytical thought. Write for at least ve minutes befo re you get up. You may nd yourself in a state similar to Robert Louis Stevenson's. "I was dreaming a ne bogey tale!" The nightmare from which he had be en unwillingly awakened was the premise for Dr. When you wa ke in the morning after such a night.candlelight. textures. One way to do that is through what I call a " nightly recap. Any activity that stops analytical thought l ets inspiration surface. and then sit without thi nking .

Go back a nd forth. When I hear people talking of writer's block. just let them move through your mind . Stop the projector. don't hold onto them. and so much material to be us ed. Louis I . If you can't spend a full 30 minutes on it. cut hack to ve-minute segme nts. but do not let you rself writeÐno matter how strong the urge. for the last ten minutes. Make these silent movies as often as you can during the days of this period of doing nothing. and only then. If thoughts do come. The water does not ow until the faucet is turned on.'Amour said. sit quietly without consciously thinking. There are so many wonderful stories to be written. back and forth. A quiet walk alone can help your writing more than you'll ever know. Then. even if it's only to take a walk. pick up your pen and write. run it forward agai n. You can sit and look at a page for a long time and nothing will happen. .until the timer rings. What if you do all this. until your urge to write is so strong that you just can't resist it. see your story as a movie in your mind. See it more and more clearly each time it reels by. Watch. Education of a Wan dering Man. a nd it will. and no s tory seems ready to pop into your head? In his autobiography. reverse the lm. Finally. Start writing. There's another aspect to this par t of the creative process that's often given short shrift: solitude. Give yourse lf time alone each day. Start writing. I am amazed. Stay still. Remember: Don't read anything you write. Make it as vivid as you can. no matter about what. esh out the details. For the next ten minutes.

you'll still have produced 260 pages in one year. we . Set yourself a schedule. liven if you write only ve pages a week. then sit down to write.That's every writer's secret: not waiting for the muse. but even if I hadn't. Be come aware of your own pattern. it feels too good to stop. How can it? When we're working with the unconscious. Rollo May's messag e in The Courage to Create is that for the creative person. It's great advice. That's a whole book! The important thing is to nd your own patternÐand then make i t a habit. Give yourself a week at most to do nothing. it'll prime your pump the following day. So schedule an hour and set a goal of a page a day. and give yo urself a goal. Sometimes I nished the ve pages by noon . My goal was to write ve pages per day.m . You may work best doing 16-hour-a-day stints for three weeks straight. If you know what' s going to happen in the next scene. But I always remembered advice that c ame from a Paris Review interview with Ernest Hemingway. Good habits are just as hard to break as bad ones. I rarely would stop if I had ni shed my ve pages before noon. as we must do in writing c tion. my writing hours were 7:00 a. till noon. Or you may nd you can write only one hour a day without ex hausting yourself. When I was writing ction full-time. not a stick. fear never goes away . he said he would make a point of stopping before he'd written ev erything that was in him that day to write. It's a goal. for instance. When your wri ting is coming easily. I still stopped. Although he wrote only in the morning. and then I was free to stop. Sometimes I nished the ve pages before noon.

walk up to the abyss every day and jump in. After that. . stay in your chair until your allotted hours are up. You'll nd that the sheer boredom of doing nothi ng is often a catalyst to a remarkable gush of words. whethe r you've written anything or not. A very scary process! Allow yourself time to sharpen pencils or stare out the window for ten minutes or so before yo u start.

The front page explained that pro ts were donated to the local library. It was sandwiched between a pamphlet on edible plants and a bottl e of insect repellent that could have told a few tales. The second page was a list of island contributors. boiling a halibut is all business. the recipes begin on the third pag e. The longest section ("Fish") is a stiff r equired course. . I thought it was a handf ul of papers folded in half and forgotten. A single name ends many of the recipes. which ha d been built 30 years earlier in memory of two children who had drowned off some cove rocks. There were asterisks by the names of those who had died before the book went to print. When I opened it. Each is signed. Instructions for chowder are given without any pronouns.13 A WRITER'S IMMORTALITY By Elissa Ely I FOUND THE RECIPE BOOK IN A CABIN ON AN ISLAND OFF THE COAST of n orthern Maine. I heard the ring of a typewriter carriage at the end of the rst yellow line. The book was published in 1956 by the few dozen islanders who lived there year-round . Without further preface. those salty cook s themselves. Fry. No space is wasted."). But it was a book. some relucta nt lobsterman. fried mussels are dispensed with in two sentences (" Remove from shells.

" And nally. I couldn't imagine what had caused it. I was shocked by his sudden expansiveness. by the end of Fish." Of a tomato-based soup: "No New Englander would be cau ght eating this as a chowder. Evenings on the porch. having warmed completely toward me. his unknown (and possibly his only) future reader. Commentaries come thick and fast. The question baf ed me during island walks." On testing the doneness of a sh llet . the lobsterman suddenly pulls off his rubber boots. About halfway through Fish." After an unappetizing recipe for Cod Tongues and Bisquik. he adds. Without explanat ion. he had gone naked. he begins to loosen up." Then he starts to go wild. he offe rs this advice: "For those who nd mackerel too rich in fats: Fry the sh in butter and forget your past aversions. e ven though that . " Not recommended by Wife. It is a little startli ng." Forty years after he typed and signed the recip es.I presumed. caught up in the deli rium of happy self-exposure. and quite possibly after he was no longer alive. Introducing Paella. "take 'em out when the middle looks proud of itself. egged into telegraphic authorship by his wife. He adds prefaces and postscripts. the chairman of the l ibrary committee. His recipe for sh with walnuts is exuberant: one cup of nut meats must be bro ken with a hammer "so you can take good aim. I tho ught of stealing the book and bringing it back to Boston for further scrutiny. It seemed so unlike the him I had read and accepted at the begin ning. he writes that the efforts required are "Good for when the fog comes in and stay s a while. I reread the recipes. At rst they are understated and reasonable. It was as if. It's like when other men pull off their ties.

besi de the names of the dead. they take on worth beyond their thinking. An asterisk was not easy to make on a manual typewrite r 40 years ago. He cares to b e known. laboriously made. But nally. That stranger will form an opinion of him. He does not know who it is . He cares to make himself transparent for viewing. being known in print matters. It is a moment of ma ttering. the other squinted stoically . ()n c eye was on the receding island. though he will never know what it is. It required lifting the typewriter bar. asterisks. then lowering the paper to exactly w here it was. in a world where we all want to matter. And that opinion. He realizes that he is not muttering to his solitary self on the hi gh seas: What he writes will be read by someone else. the contributor's page. I listened aimlessly to conversations around me. When written t houghts are read. it is the assurance of an existence beyond the constraints of time. I believe this is what happens to my taciturn lobsterman as he writes the Fish section of a recipe book on a re mote island.would have done nothing for the island library fund. It was those asterisks on Page 2. Even in a place where the ferry comes three times a week and readers are severely limited. matters to him. honored those who did not l ive long enough to have the pleasure of being known in print. On the ferry home. late one night. This is the key: t he pleasure of being known in print. t he light went on. but some stranger is going to associate him with his words. pulling the paper up sli ghtly but evenly when hitting the star key. On Page 2.

They would never meet again." one said. They got down to the business of essent ials. but in their last moments. Two women sat on the next bench. too. "I'm a novelist. with the ferry churning." . "I am. "Isn't that amazing?" cried the other. They had arrived separatel y.toward the mainland. they were coming to know each other.

and I don't intend to take any from you. pens poised above their brand-new notebooks. Thirty freshman honor students sat wa iting. the door i s open. you're going to have to earn it. "Good morning. ne. "My name is Miss Johnson." I could tell from their expressions. Make your choice. I've been a writer for the past thirty years." I went on. "this is an honors level compositi on course. I wasn't su re I was. "As you know. Silence.14 RHETORICALLY SPEAKING By LouAnne Johnson I peeked in the window. They were ready. You are here because you have high grade-point averages. I ignored him. I am al so a former of cer of the United States Marine Corps. I'm not used to taking any c rap. and your hig h school teachers think you are good writers. ladies and gentlemen!" I shouted as I marched across the oor and slammed my briefcase down on the instruct or's desk. I intend to nd out ." One boy in the back of the room put his head down on his desk. and their glances toward the . If you expect to get an A in this course. If they didn't. Perhaps you are. If you aren't ready to work. If they got it. and make it now. I'd think of something. but I decided to go ahead and give my plan a shot.

clearly confused. like. I made a quick turnabout and marched out of the room. staring at me. Oka-a-ay?" The hoy wh o had put his head down on the desk during my drill sergeant routine sat up stra ight and glanced at the girl beside him." I picked up a marker and drew two vertical lines. Before they had a chance to recover. and I hop e that we will accomplish two things in this class. like. Good morning. that every student in the class wanted to leave. LouAnne. Without saying anything f urther. Number one. and I want everyth ing to be. I giggled again and ran out of the room. I swung the door open again and sashayed daintily back inside. express himself or herself without. you will actually learn something abo ut writing. I labeled the sections #1. as I giggled and patted my hair . The third time I opened the door. I am your instructor. A few small smiles showed me that some of the students were starting to catch on. I walked in and smiled pleasa ntly. "Hi. like. dividing the whit e board behind me into thirds. My name is Lou Anne Johnson. and I'm. "My name is. really cool. we will meet the requirements for this course. She raised her eyebrows and shrugged. like. so everybody can. your instructor. But they were smart kids. But most of them sat. being afraid of any put-downs or anything. #2 and #3. smart enough to know that walking out of a required course on the rst day of col lege would not be an intelligent move. letting the door s lam behind me. then asked the class members to vote which of my three . They sat still." I said. Number two.door. like.

d on't try to sound like a textbook.different introductions represented "the real Miss Johnson. "Why did you pick the third one?" I asked." one young woman said. I'm sure you've all read pretentious prose that put you off because it tried to impress you." " Thank you very much." I recorded their vo tes on the board. And it' s quite likely that you've thrown down some article or essay you'd started to re ad that may have contained a brilliant idea." I said." somebody added f rom the far corner. The boy in the back voted for # 1. "When you write compositions for me. They all matched. and I meant it. or your high school English teacher. " "I could just tell. "Can somebody try to expla in it?" There was such a long silence that I almost gave up. or your favorite . "Just as you can sense that a person is pretending." A few nods encouraged me to continue. His explanation was even better th an the one I had planned. I didn't sense any incongruity." "But why?" I insisted. Then a young man in the front row adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. ac ting insincerely. "Genuine. so to speak. "I believe there was some element in your voice that matched the expression on your face and the loo k in your eye. "You seemed real. "Anybody? Just speak up. but was so poorly presented and ill ogically organized that it wasn't worth the effort it would have taken to read i t. but the rest of the class v oted for #3. you can also sense dishonesty in writing.

. stately lect ure halls. written entirely in passive voice. individual personality when you express your ideas during a conversation. Instead of delugi ng me with the standard ve-paragraph essay." It worked. My parents think I'm safe here at NMSU. these students learned to use language either to show or hide their personalities. Each of you has a particular combination of vocabulary. punct uationÐto communicate your personality. but the voice was compl etely different. becau se they don't realize how much the whole world has changed since they went to co llege. Write in your own voice. with their tree-lined walkways. depending upon the assignment. you can rely only on languageÐword choice. Suzette wrote a personal essay on the same topic. Learn how to use them. sentence style. chose relatively formal language and complex sentence structure: College campuses can be misleading. They would just worry about me. and dormitories. While I'd encourage you to use techniques and writing styles that you ad mire. Suzette . tone of voice.author. And I'm not going to tell them. Later. Statistics have repeatedly demonstrated that America 's colleges and universities are not the safe havens many parents believe them t o be. one young woman. Bu t when you write. To project a s ense of objectivity in her research paper. I don't mean for you to try to copy them. make them your own. They don't know about the date rapes and muggings. facial expressions and gestures that creates a distin ct. us ing the longest possible words. for example. They got it.

digesting this new idea. betwe en strength and violence. I was tempted to say. Although all of my students agreed t hat nding their own voices was necessary. there. "How do you know when you're in love?" But I realized that m y voice might not be the one this particular student needed to hear. you are on your way. then smiled. "How do they know whether it's my voice or not?" he challenged me. "but no one else can know whet her you have said what you wanted to say. "Why didn't you say that before?" ." My student frowned for a m oment. colloquial phrases. but she's determined to be independent. some of them needed extra time and prac tice before they nally "got it right.In this essay. between skill and slickness. but not quite. . . "Other people can cri tique your writing for form and content." "How will I know when it's right?" he asked. and simpler sentence structu re gave a good sense of Suzette's personality and attitude: She's young and scar ed. "How Do You Know It's Good?" Mannes's ans wer? "When you begin to detect the difference between freedom and sloppiness." I said. rst-person voice." One young man became frustrated when his p eer critique group pronounced that he was almost. So I quoted from journalist Marya Mannes's essay. . be tween serious experimentation and egotherapy. whether the message the reader receive s is the one you meant to send.

the trap in writing a book rst is pro crastination. Detour 3: Loo king for an agent. Detour 2: A book as rst projec t. A wrong turnÐa seeming shortcutÐmay det our us and prove fatal to our writing. As for picking up pointers from other writers. more readers. it's easy to put off less-fun tasks. Rationalization: A writer needs . Rebuttal: A little re goes a long way. you have been sidetracked and may nd it wise to retur n to the main road. If social activities cut into your writing time. as well as greater opportunities for developing your w riting skills.15 KEEP YOUR WRITING ON TRACK By Genie Dickerson "WHAT IS THE USE OF WRITING WHEN YOU ARE ON THE WRONG road?" said English writer and naturalist John Ray. magazine writing offers writers more money. Magazine and newspaper work require all facets to be completed in a timely manner. and I pick up pointers. and con ferences. only rsthand e xperience will teach you which pointers are valid. classes. With a book. Detour 1: Writers clubs. Rebuttal: Except fo r big-selling books. Rationalization: The money and satisfaction are in books. For an inexperienced writer. m ore contact with editors. Rationalization: I always get red up about writing by these groups.

the partnership will produce nothing but false hopes. Virtually all novices start selling their writing without agents. Detour 4: The pre sumption that editors have time to read every word sent to them. they can mak e comments like ordinary readers. Rebuttal: The search may be unnecessary. but total dependence on spelling and grammar checker s is the wrong route. they nd that agents are more receptive to them. Computers can ag typographical errors. Rebuttal: Unless your friends read your type o f writing. Detour 7: Asking friends to read and comment on your unpub lished writing. Discounting the importance of a gripping lead is a dead end. Detour 5: Co-auth oring. Worse.an agent to sell writing. they may atter you or shoot you down. Spelling and grammar are what ma ke up English. Rebuttal: Unless both authors are good workers and contribute complement ary skills to the project. Rebuttal: Edi tors and other readers are not inclined to drag themselves through slow material . Don't let computer aids replace what you need to know. Rationalization: Even if my friends aren't experts. Rationalization : I don't have time to waste on boring detailsÐthe computer can do it for me. Rebu ttal: Spelling and grammar checkers miss a lot. Rationalization: I'm not sure enough of my ability to write something by myself. misleading you on the quality of . they may not be the best judges of the salability of your manuscripts . After writers have sold wor k on their own. Detour 6: Dependence on computer spelling and grammar checkers. Rationalization : My piece will sell on the basis of the beautiful last paragraph.

Publications buy essays about neighborhood walks. Detour 12: Lost in res earch. clear and logical it needs to be. Why should I do a pie ce for $25 when other writers get $2. above all. Ignore the block. the creative change of pace will energize you to develop your thoughts. and T-shirts that say "Writer. If people have to exert themselves to unders tand a piece of writing. Detour 9: Letterhead stationery. Rebuttal: Wr iting is." Rationalization: They de ne me as a serious prof essional. and how-to articles about pulling weeds. communication. business cards. Rationalization: I love hunting for background facts. Rationalization: The more literary and creative your writing is. you can . Rebuttal: A sure barrier to Easy Street. Thoughts sell. Rationalization: I sit down at the computer but can't think of anything to write. and jot down whatever you have done or talked about or thought up in the previous 24 hours.your work. Rebuttal: Are you hornswoggling yourself? Are the stationery. they won't read (or buy) it. humorous pieces about incidents at the grocery store.500 from glossier magazines for the same am ount of work? Rebuttal: Everyone starts at the beginning. bumper stickers. Detour 11: Treasure hunt. bumper stickers . Detour 8: Writer's block. O nce you begin to write. the less smooth. and what you wear more for convenience and fun? Detour 10: Overemphasis on creativity. Rebuttal: Research can be a form of procrastination. business cards. Rationalization: I refuse to write for small publications. just about any thoughts that are well presented. Once you nd the information you need.

d) Researchi ng markets takes too much time. Inventors work much the same way as writers do. Rationalization: Stamps are expensive. to show p rofessionalism. Why would I want my manuscript returned? If the editor doesn't buy my story. Conquer your computer after you get at least some writing done. Rebuttal: Despite imperfections. Detour 15: Not includin g an SASE with submissions. and experimentation with modi cations. Detour 14: Avoid submitting manuscript. Or do rough drafts by hand. To economize on . b) My work isn't good enough to submit yet. Rebuttal: Dust off your typewriter. Detour 13: Computer roadb lock. and editors o ught to pay for half of the cost of submissions. but they were rejected. Rebuttal: Publishers don't believe they owe free lancers anything. so e ditors wouldn't recognize or appreciate my writing. a beginner. I can run off a fresh copy on my p rinter. Rationalizations: a) Publishers won't pay me. which is more fun anyway. Send an SASE to make sure the editor received your piece. By saying yes or no. enough to cover my time. and to invite helpful comments from the editor.500 on your rst manuscript submission. e) Contemporary literature isn't very good. Rationalization: I have to get my new word processor up and running before I can write. and use it.return to the drawing board. And who knows? You just might earn that $2. b y trial and error. f) I submitted a few things. editors are our best teachers. the best way to improv e your writing and develop into a professional is to submit your manuscripts fre quently to editors. c) I don't need to see my byline in print in order to be a writer. Most editors will not read or return a manuscript if you don't enclose a stamped retu rn envelope. and often with speci c helpful comments.

manuscripts mailed at. To succeed as a writer. Detours are paved with rationalizat ions. Every writer needs self-discipline. enclose a business-size SASE (#10) and a note saying that you don't need your manuscript returned. you must stay o n track. but common sense keeps writers on the main road. .

we'll call you" (and believe it or not. ALL BEST-SELLING AUTHORS. When I nished writing my rs t mystery. I put together cover letters and samples (the rst three chapters) and sent them to ten publishers at a time until the book was acc epted. Presence of Mind. so f or over a year afterward I was still receiving rejections for a book that was al ready accepted . I was very fortunate in that it sold to one of the rst ve publishers to who m it was sent. I've actually received one that said that). and they've m anaged to go beyond that rejection to earn their respective places in the litera ry spectrum. Rejection is an unfortunate fact of life for writers. I decided that instead of using an agent I would at tempt to sell the book myself.16 A GUIDE TO DEALING WITH REJECTIONS By Fred Hunter ALL OF YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS. AND all o f the authors you love who have not yet been discovered by the general public ha ve two things in common: Their work has at one time been rejected. that fact can seem like little more than a useless bromide to a writer who's just opened h is mail to nd a form letter saying. but by the time that happened I had sent out thirty samples. and it's neve r easy to take. Although it's true that all writers suffer rejection. "don't call us.

Writers would like to think that editors can go beyond their personal taste and objectively recognize ne writing. . . I received one rejection letter t hat said. they really are basically just peopl e with particular tastes who select books much the way any other reader would." I hardly needed to point out to this edit or how well the Poirot books have sold. but I found the detective too smug (in the same way that Hercule Poiro t is. One rejection letter I received particularly illustrates this. It was comforting. either. · Editors are people Although writers often think of editors as unfeeling ogres. Even though rejection letters are rarely p ersonalized. This gave me the unique luxury of being able to take an objecti ve look at the business of rejection. you will either like or dislike the b ook. to know that she wouldn't have bought Agatha Christie. To give you an i dea of how subjective editorial reactions are. It said. I 'he fact rema ined that my style just didn't appeal to that editor. and I didn't like him. any more than you would. and your gut feeling will help you decide whether or not you will ever to v isit that author's work. "There's too much character . I t helps to think of how you read novels: When you're reading a book by a new aut hor. either). "Your writing is better than 90% of what crosses my d esk . But they will still rarely buy a book that doesn't appeal to them pe rsonally. even one that was recommended to you.for publication. and I have news for yo u: They do. she certainly knew that. from the editors who have taken the time to offer comments I've gle aned a few hints on how to handle rejection. though.

author of several award-winning mystery novels. some won't. and then wait . and it's best to approach i t as you would any other business. it would be foolhardy to attempt to rewrite your manuscript based on the comments of one editor.development in this book. to be di sappointed when you don't make a sale to a particular editor. but I thought the charact ers were a bit thin." The fact that the responses of different editors are often so contradictory points up how important it is that you are satis ed with your ow n work." Once you've completed your masterpiece. "To be a writer. You're a salesman. Even exceptional writers have t heir work rejected. and not enough plot. It's O. says. you have to be willing to fail. As with any other product.K. · Alw ays be working on something else Start writing your next piece the minute you dr op your current completed manuscript in the mailbox. send it off." while another editor commenting on the same manuscript said. says. Barbara D'Amato. however. if three editors tell you. But there's always another editor and another audience. "I know many otherwise sane people who will write something. but you shouldn't be devastated. and that you have faith in it before submitting it. some will buy it. and your product is your w ork. "This manuscript is too wordy. you've left the art istic part of writing and entered the business side." I wo uld do some heavy cutting before sending it out again. · Rejection is part of a wr iter's life Carolyn Hart. author of the popular Cat Marsala mysteries. "The plot is very strong. Obviously. An editor will not buy a product that he doesn't believe he can s ell to his audience.

I found continuing to write was in nitely preferable to sitting at home developing ulcers. the highly esteemed author of both ction and non ction. not on the possible rewards. I wasn't quite so fortunate when I tried to launch my second series. In my own work. otherwise you're putting all y our emotional stock in one thing. Even wi th a track record. I still had to nd an editor who liked the book enough to take a chance on it. writers should real ize how large a role perseverance plays in the business of getting published. I submitted the rst book in the series t o publisher after publisher for almost two years before it was accepted. By the time the rst book was sold. even though I had some early success." Madeleine L'Engle. . if your goal as a writer is anything other than the work itself. suffered a ten-year stretch of not being able to get her work published after the success of her earlier novels. I'd completed the second and s tarted the third. Far from nding these examples discouraging.and wait and wait for it to be accepted somewhere before starting on something e lse. It's like the old joke about the restaurant with no prices on the menu: If you have to ask the price. She writes very cand idly about that decade of rejection in her book A Circle of Quiet. You have to start your next book right away. Similarly. eventually going on to win the Newbery Medal for A Wrinkle in Time. you can't afford to be one. you can't afford to eat there. But how do you go on writing without the encouragemen t of success? You must focus on the writing itself. During that p eriod she continued to write.

" says Carolyn Hart. "You can be an excellent writer and still fail. because you never know when things will turn aroundÐand the only way for that to happen is to keep writing. . never give up. Disraeli said it better than anyone else : "The secret of success is constancy of purpose. you will eventually nd that editor who falls in love with your work . Though it may take years. but that editor will never get to see your work if you allow rejecti ons to make you give up along the road.· Never give up "I like to think it's a fortuitous world. . . but you should never." I wish I'd written that." Keep believing that things will turn around.

requires hundreds and thousands of hours of practice to get right. have come under attack. meaning a writer who earns a living from writing ction. no. or wh enever the mood hits. Myth: You don't have to write every day. And because writing. you will never be able to call yourself a Professional Writer. You don't have to write at all. no ex cuses. if you write only on Saturday. or during the full moon. . yo u will never develop your talent to the fullest unless you write nearly everyday . You may even legitimately call yourself a writerÐsmall "w"Ðby working in this manner. And. a few articles. and the writing life in general. like playing t he violin. There probably i sn't a soul in the world who will care if you never write another word. you don't. a little of this an d a pinch of that. Fact: Well. So I think it's time to set the record straight. yes it is possible to sell a few short stories. Ritchie RECENTLY I'VE FOUND THAT MANY OF THE OLD TRIED AND TRUE rule s of ction writing.17 MYTHS OF THE WRITING LIFE By James A. But unless you work at least ve or six days a week.

There may be some truth to the statement th at a writer works all the time. as long as you're thinkin g about writing. And anyone who tells you otherwise is a dilettante. when you're old and gray. you're creating even when you're shing. Anytime the words are owing too easily you'd better look at your hole card. the rst million or so words you write will screech and jangle the nerves as will a violin played by a rank beginner. Myth: Procrastination is no mor e than your subconscious telling you the story isn't ready to be written. procrastination is your way of telling the world you're too lazy and too sof t to stick it out when the writing gets tough. crocheting. Fact: Horse hockey. At best.Even if you succeed nancially. Good writing is always dif cult. I can guarantee Joe Blow. or watching a football game. al ways hard work. it's the a ct of creating. but j usti ed or not. a dabbler. and that most of it was mediocre at best. get over the notion that procrasti nation is ever a good thing. Fact: No. Myth: It isn't the writing that matters. It's easy to justify anything. and since a writer works all the time. Unless. that writer . you're certain you'll be content lo oking back and realizing you published only a tiny fraction of what you might ha ve. but it's only at the keyboard that a writer crea tes anything. the work a writer does in his or her mind between stints at the keyboard is only planning to create.

Editors.). or give writing lessons. and you can't get published until you have an agent. Yes. Fact: This one is nonsense. I quickly learned two things. I also learned that editors do no t enjoy rejecting stories. love nding stories good enough to pu blish. Editors should not be expected to rewrite. That's all there is to it. plot line. And they do not ever read handwritten manuscripts. one that really could see publication as is. he or she will say. etc. "Now. correct gr ammar or spelling (except for an occasional typo). that's it. let's see what we can do to make this story eve n better. An editor's job is actually pretty simple when it comes to manuscripts: Ke ep the ones good enough to publish and reject the others. Age nts are in the business of nding . many w ould-be writers expect editors to do everything. paragraph. in fact. Myth: It's the editor's job to x my bad grammar (style.down the street with half your talent but twice your drive. once an editor nds a good story. One: many." But. from correcting horri c spelling to transcribing handwritten manuscripts. to teaching them how to write basic Eng lish. Fact: Why should he? I was onceÐbrie y and small timeÐan editor. So don't blame the editor if you receive a rejection slip instead of an a cceptance letter. Myth: You can't get an agent until you've been published. is going to succeed much sooner that you do if you buy into this one.

Myth: You must have a college education to be a profession al writer. quickly realized my time would be much better spent writing.D. you . at least reputable agents. Instead of wasting ene rgy griping about how much money somebody else makes. and dropped out wi thout taking a single writing course. and lot s of it. Then. But remember that just about every big na me writer out there was once an obscure. one of these days. study what she does and ho w she does it. Simply. I did take a G. I dropped out of school in the eighth grade. It's how agents. publishable writers. test years later. unpublished writer who earned very litt le or nothing.new. but that's it. But the key word is publishable. Myt h: A would-be ction writer shouldn't read other people's ction because it will und uly in uence his own writing. Fact: There's a grain of truth in this. big name writers get big bucks because they writ e big novels that sell in big numbers. earn their money. you may pull down huge advances while ot hers gripe about you. I tried college for a few months. and so do many publishers. They may even have believed the same myth. Almost all agents read queries. Fact: If you don't read other people's ction.E. but th ere is a reason for it. And I'm now working on my sixth novel. Myth: Big name writers get such large advances there's no mo ney left over for the rest of us. Fact: I hope not.

There is no other way. and read often. writing ction is an art. Dean Koontz claims to rewrite each page an average of 26 times. You want to be in uenced. Period. studying other write rs. or until I'm so sick of the process I can't take it any more. ever succeed as a writer. The competition is erce. so this one is true. In the ear ly stages of your career. So read everything. Myth: Writing ction is an art. As Hemingway explained in an interview. My own rule is to rewrite until it's either as good as I can get it. Ernest He mingway is said to have rewritten A Farewell to Arms 39 times. But it's also a craft.will never. Failure to rewrite will guarante e that the artist's vision will never be seen by anyone except those unfortunate friends and family members forced to read it. you re write until you get the words right. Myth: You must be certi ably insane to be a ction writ er. Gett ing the words "almost right" isn't going to get you anything except rejection sl ips to paper your of ce walls. and rewriting only obscures the artist's spontaneous vision. is exactly how you learn to write well yourself. Facts: All right. . How much rewriting is enough? Bea ts me. and imitating their style. and even when you're established. then you stop. Fact: Yes.

Joe. Two gures are poised outside of a neon-lit overpriced specialty food stor e. Gourmet Pastries?" Lisa inquires. Is there a p roblem?" The couple looks at each other meaningfully before whipping out their p ocket-sized New Webster's Dictionaries. here's another one: 'Gormet Pastries.'" Lisa observes. or Lise)." Joe sighs. a woman with determinedly clicking high heels. "Don't the se people have any respect for the law? Let's take him in." The owner. eyes them disdainfully. annoyed. not Leesa . He and Lisa (and that's Lisa. exasperat ed. . enter the afore mentioned "Gormet Pastries. Joe pulls down on his snap brim hat. a member of the I-Dress-Only-In-Black-An d-NotBe-cause-It's-Slimming tribe. "Look.18 THE WORD POLICE By Beth Levine IT'S SUNDAY NIGHT AND THE SMELL OF CHINESE FOOD HANGS LOW over th e city. This jerk can't spell and he's looking down on her? "Yes. . . "Can I help you?" he asks faintly. Lysa. "Are you the proprietor of .

He sadly shakes hi s head and looks at Lisa." Joe says with a penetrating stare. she asks. which the court will provide."Word Police. . . . ." snaps Joe." He stops when he s ees Joe and Lisa's faces turn pale. . you come in here and you never noticed a sign three feet high?" Lis a puts her hand on his arm. The man has principlesÐand that's pies not pals. there is GORMET in all its purple shame. Joe. Turning to the owner. guess I never noticed." he stammers. you have the right to an English professor . "Easy. as Joe begin s to tie two copies of The Chicago Manual of Style to Lonnee's wrists. and his eyes start to dart around the store. They are looking at a sign behind the counte r that reads Baking Done on Premise. . he'll defend me! He owes me!" "I don't think s o. L O N N . buddy?" "Lonnee. "You bake with the hope that it might come out right?" Lonnee looks confused. The owner pales. actually. "What is that?" Joe asks curtly. The owner turns pale. "I . Joe points to the back of the sign in the w indow and sure enough. You have the right to remain lite rate. The three begin to shuf e to the door. "You have the right to remain silentÐsomething we prefer. uh ." she says quietly." Lonnee raises his head in de ance. In the absence of this ability. "No. . while Lisa reads him his rights. "Don't you ever proof things before shelling out your money? Da y after day. "What's your name. "Ha! I just ca tered an affair for Edwin Newman. you people never do !" Joe exclaims.

" Joe stares at her int ently as they enter the restaurant. "Well. She takes Joe's arm. See? It always catches up to you. too. . Joe?" Lisa asks meditatively. Joe balks when he sees the sign. Who knew?" says one. and they proceed to Bagels 'N Stuff. I loved the job." says Joe. isn't it?" As they pass. Ten minutes later."Pathetic. it' s a little cutesy. he will produce an Academy Award-winning document ary on his experiences. the customers of the soon-to-be renamed Gour met Pastries watch in open-mouthed horror. the two are relaxing in a booth. sonny? He probably cheated his way through spelling class." says Lisa. Lisa reassures him. "He seemed to pay such attention to d etails. ImagineÐdragging Edwin Newman's name into it!" "Let 's go get a cup of coffee." The boy bursts into tears. not that he could read it. " I started as a copy editor at a book publisher. "Scared Grammatical. "See. "What a dope. but I think colloquially it's correct. Joe and Lisa emerge from t he New York Public Library as the former owner of Gormet Pastries is bundled off into a library bus. (When he grows up. "I'm glad they threw the book at h im. "How'd you get into this crazy business.") Later. A mother looks down at her ashen-faced 10-year-old son. Thoug ht he could get away with it.

" Lisa leans over and pats his hand. the publisher . I went to buy a co-op. over. I said no. I have no friends. . "Don't burn out on me now. baby. because I'm always correcting them. It's in our blood. that sort of thing. Gourmet with or without a u. but not to us. I want to b e sloppy." Joe takes his hand away. "a hill of beans?" Now it's Joe's turn to re ach for her hand. "I can't take it anymore. This far I will bend and no furt her.' not even knowing it should be 'More than 5 billion. the sandwich shops.but then to save money. So he red me! That's when I realized my true vocation: Cleani ng up this ungrammatical city of ours. "Turns out my boss used to work for McDonald's and was the one responsible for 'Over 5 billion sold. "I want to be like other people. Colour i nstead of color. Every where I goÐthe bank. "The publisher started allowing books to go to press with Britishisms intact so they wouldn't have to spend money to reset type. they show up everywhere but where they are suppose d to. but when I saw the awning said 'Two Fourty." Lisa's tears spill out. b ecause I'm forever pointing out that it's iced tea." s he pauses before uttering the cliché.' He was that sloppy. Joe. "What? How can you possibly say that?" "Oh. dry cleanersÐthere are typos everywhere." Joe spills his coffee." Lisa sighs. Countermen hate me. more than. "But we can't be like other people. does it really amount to.' I couldn't do it. . "Sometimes I wonder if it re ally does matter. . It happens to others." Lisa's eyes well up. not ice tea. Joe bravely continues. And don't even talk to me about apostrophes.

she drinks the bitter cup. hat brim pulled down . Use it or lose it. but not before pointing out t o the amazed proprietor that decaffeinated has two Fs in it. We don't speak French. The Word Police. "I bel ieve undisciplined. Joe taps the end of his pencil on the tabletop. . Coat collar up. We're . careless thinking. TERMITES AND ROACHES written on the side. Picking up her decaffeinated coffee." Lisa says plaintively through her sobs. careless writing makes for undisciplined." he says. "We could go to France." She shudders after mouthing the foul words of her new world. ma'am. How can you formulate ideas without appropriate toolsÐ clarity. it's the end of the civi lized world." Joe gives Lisa a despairing l ook. attention to deta il? Without them. "I'll miss ya." he continues. If we slip. exiting to chase a passing exterminator's tru ck with MICES. Hack at the table. Lisa watches him go and says softly to herself. Joe." "We could go away. so we'd never k now when something was incorrect. Paris would of b een swell." Restlessly. Lisa. Joe. I need the facts. . the world's thinking becomes muddled and uninformed. It means t he Lonnees and McDonald's of the world win.We're a breed. the demise of the society of Sa re and Newman and Webster. . The mind is a muscle. and then throws a dollar on the table. "Language de nes what we can think. I can't turn my back on murdere rs of the mother tongue." "Sorry. he sadly leaves Lisa and Bagels 'N Stuff behind. "I'll let you off w ith a warning this time.



You were developing as a writer. nding your own voice. YOU WEAR MANY HATS. Wri te every day. When you play so many r oles how do you keep them all in balance? It isn't easy. the more uent your writing will become. and probably your own agent. learning to r espect self-imposed deadlines. Even if your of ce is a corner of the basement or an alcove under the eaves. The more you write. YOU'RE YOUR own boss.19 THE MANY HATS OF A FICTION WRITER By Madeleine Costigan As A FICTION WRITER TODAY. as you feared. 1. The route may be circuitous but after you zero in on what you truly want to say. and believe in yourself enough to stick to them. you weren't wasting time. Be a realistic boss. . You have to take yourself seriously as a writer before you can expect anyone else to take you seriously. but it can be done. Establish professional work habits early on. Something wonderful is happening here. your own editor. Keep writing. do everything you can to make it as user-friendly as possible. developing a discerning eye and ear. In the beginning you may be writing around what you want to say instead of getting to t he core. you'll see that during all those false starts and detour ed storylines.

Every writer has such moments of reaching deeper and deeper levels of concentration. but while browsing through it you may co me across a scene written at random. there are those w ho might "say all sense. In the beginning. Here's where keeping a notebook can be useful. Choose the method that suits you. Not only does it get y ou into the habit of writing every day. join a local writers' group or go to a . Other days nothing you write seem s to work. A plain rejection sli p tells you nothing. but who else needs to know? Alice Munro sa ys that when her family sees her staring at the wall. Toni Morrison refers to entering a space she can only call nonsecular. Some days you may be come so immersed in your work that you lose all sense of time. and whatever label you use to describe what you're doing. it has always been fascinating to see how unrelated bits and pieces can meld t o form a symmetrical whole. For me . Ernest Hemingway liked to stop when he knew what was going to happen next. you really need professional react ion to your work. even though she knows she's somewhere between thinking and a trancelike sta te. and changes your perspective. but that's when it's most dif cult to get. For some writers the best course is to work until the v ein is exhausted. you soon learn that du ring such moments answers frequently come to nagging problems that days of writi ng won't solve.You may be the only person who knows you're working when you're doing what your grandmother would call woolgathering. That's part of the mystery of writing ction. or a snatch of conversation that regenerate s your enthusiasm for the work-in-progress. she tells them she's think ing. If possible.

yo u might well consider skipping the interim scene. When you nd yourself havi ng dif culty getting a character from the telephone to the agreed-upon meeting. move the story forward? If a scene is static. The hope is that it will quickly nd a home at a top maga zine. The rst time you su bmit a story to a magazine you're competing with professionals.writers' conference. and best of all. probably not nearly so painful as you fear. Take your story scene by scene and put it to the test: Does each sce ne unfold naturally. and. When instead. It may be that what you had hoped was a well-turned short story is actual ly a rst draft. The company of other writers can be wonderfully sustaining and exh ilarating throughout your writing life. O r it may be that a scene is unnecessary. What you really need is a smooth transi tion. the writer may easily become discou raged. While a rst draft is not nished work. Be a tough editor. 2. if you've done your homework. something to revise. It can be most illuminating to listen to other writers disc uss your work. Is your opening compelling? If you were reading a story while standing at the airport magazine rack. Sometimes beginning writers include a scene because they don't know how to get a character from here to there without explaining. Sidney Sheldon says he writes as many as a do zen drafts. it meets with rejection. One way to do this may be to get your characters talking. waiting f or your plane to be . concrete. Most new writers send work out too soon. it is tangible. work on it un til it crystallizes.

" . Harold Burgoyn e." Burgoyne said. Is your setting an integ ral part of the story? Is it reader oriented? Oiler a few telling details and th e reader will extrapolate. would you be unable to put the magazine back after reading only the lust few lines? Toni Morrison has said that her favorite opening line is from Tar Ba by: He thought he was safe. has been vandalizing the school. Why isn't he? With ve short words Toni Morrison has involved the reader in her character's dilemma." I used this technique. Jane Austen had chosen a different verb. In a story that lakes place in a school building. Are your chara cters real? Does your reader know and care about them? Many writers work with th e contrast between a character's thoughts and words to reveal a character. principal of Howell Middle School has discovered that Charlie Patch. Is your language f resh? Or cliché bound? Reading ne writing is a good way to develop your ear for the precise word.called. What a difference if instead of writing. The following conversat ion takes place between Burgoyne and Karl Webb. In a different school. He isn't safe. men tioning the scarred. a teacher at the school: "Fraley is steamed over the vandalism. When I was writing "A Small But Perfect Crime. pitted lockers or the smell of linseed oil may be enough to suggest authenticity. son of H urgoyne's cardiologist. the sight of students hunched at c omputer terminals or passing through metal detectors might do it. They persevered in their conversation. "It's ruining our image.

Does your dial ogue ring true? It may be that your character says what a real person would say in a given situation. 'pedage ese. but that isn't a suf cient test for good dialogue. True. It would be helpful to all concerned if' two of his teachers recommended that Charlie be skipped into Jefferson High. "Vandalism can't be tolerated. word order. "We've got to nesse this one. gures of speech." Karl sa id. "I've never considered Charlie to be Howell Middle School material." Karl said." To himself. all the revelations . Karl called the language he spoke to Burgoyne. "Charlie Patch is a year older th an his classmates. but it should also advance the plot. and Ira Carpenter's as well. Webb. Listen for cadence.Image was the stuff of life to Burgoyne. You want more than the gist of w hat you're hearing. I'm counting on your recommenda tion. Sending Charlie to the youth center would be a grave mistake. wailing for Burgoyne to show his hand. It must also be much shorter than real conversation. you r dialogue should create the illusion of real speech. his hands taut.' Burgoyne leaned forward." "Brilliant. or evoke an emotional response from the re ader. Keeping him here is not in the best interest of Howell. avor." Burgoyne continued. where it won't be quite so easy for him to dominate the other students." Burgoyne's watery blue eyes gave K arl a searching look. Try listening with ev en more concentration than you give to talking. "You know how dedicated I am to this school's best interes t?" "Indeed. economically characterize. Webb.

It's the rst thing the editor sees. Read several issues of any magazine you think might n d your story suitable. Very few literary agents today handle short stories. or risk mailing it off to the magazine trusting that someone there will route it to the proper person. It's to o easy for that someone to whip out a rejection slip and send your story winging back. Skimming only one issue can be misleading and cause you t o waste time and postage. and must be changed because of space limitations. W hat's in a name? Maybe the difference between acceptance and rejection.each of us makes on a daily basis. It's up to you to place your own work. Be a tireless ag ent. you still need an intrig uing title for your work. Sometimes a title has to t with an illustration. You don' t want to address your manuscript in the generic. particularly literary journals. List the magazines according to your order of preferen ce. 3. do so me research at the library. making sure you've chosen the appropriate editor's name from the masthead. First. They know their readers and what will attract those read ers. Even though it may be discarded. Many major magazines have stopped publishing ction. are available at . And then write in your notebook whatever stri kes you as useful. Do you have a good title? Many editors consider a title to be an editorial decision. Not all magazines.

You can always throw them away after you sell the . Several people on the edi torial staff have probably read your story. but I now think three months is more realistic. While literary magazines offer little nancial co mpensation for your work. And a detailed letter referring to your story's strengths and weaknesses d emonstrates thoughtful consideration. Before a manuscript is accepted it is usually read by several e ditors. read by publishers. Incorporate th e suggestions you nd worthwhile. If you nd more than one editor making the same criticism. Very few editors can afford to read in the course of the business day. The most disappointing is the plain rejection slip. you may think. Think again. And yes. le for later review. edito rs. Study writers' magazines for information about t hese and send for sample copies. and passed it on to the editor who wrote to you. there are gradatio ns of rejections. Those that seem irrelevant. I low long should you wait to hear from an editor concerning the fate of your story? I used to advise six weeks. Close. You are now being (liken seriously as a writer. seen its merit. t hey do most of their manuscript reading after hours. and agents. A signed letter from an editor indicates more inte rest.the local library or bookstore. but no cigar. t ake the editors' words to heart and rework the story accordingly. Even a han dwritten note is encouraging. Editors do not have time to write letters to writer s unless they see promise and real talent in the manuscript. Now it's your turn to accept and reject. they are valuable showcases.

story. . This story may meet with acceptanceÐwhich is why it 's so very important to work on something new while you're waiting. ciriticism is best evaluated after it simmers a while. respond with a new story in a timely manner. Which brings us back to being a realistic boss. Like a good stew. When an editor expresses an interest in seeing more of your work.

I am. In this regard. I was too inexperienced to know what to do. More than once this sort of CPR has kept one of my novels alive a nd kicking. I could feel the story tens ion go slack. I have never written a story in wh ich the rain didn't fall somewhere along the way.20 SAGGING MIDDLES AND DEAD ENDS By Sid Fleischman THROUGHOUT A LONG WRITING LIFE. I HAVE HAD MY PROBLEMS WITH mi ddles and endingsÐTO SAY nothing of beginnings. always suspicious of a story that comes dancing out of the c omputer without any trips or falls. . story problems (I tell myself while beating my head against the wall) are the writer's best fri end. That brightened up the story wonderfully! The incident brought to my attention what a powerful ploy it is to add something new to a sto ry in trouble. But there is a sunny side to t his weather. Well. in fact. what does one do when the middle of a story begins to sag? I experienced this in the rst novel I ever wroteÐa long-forgot ten detective novel. so I impulsively kille d off another character. In solving a gnarly story problem I nd that inevitably I run into fr esh scenes I wouldn't otherwise have thought of. About a third of the way along.

When the stor y battery goes dead. and I had my Swiss Family Robinson set up. burned down the character's house. but that would not ex actly be a show stopper. didn't the family just wait out the next river boat and hurry back to civilization? . Often. Let me cite personal examples of these solutions.A stranger turns up. feeling her story bec almed. something new. I immediately reexamine the opening chapters to see if I ha ve made a wrong move somewhere. The town went bust before it could boom. A storm blows in. Or did I? The story turned to ashes. That livened things up. tra veling up the Missouri River to the Dakota boom town of Humbug Mountain. even a slight change in relationships wil l act like a jumper cable and revive the tale. The technique is much like giving a slight shake to a kaleidoscope. Why. I muttered to myself. Humbug Mountain (Dell). The c haracters were "shipwrecked" on the prairie. When my characters arrive. they see nothing but weathered real estate stakes in the gro und and a beached old river boat. When I began a children's novel. But looking fo r a new element is not the only area I turn my mind to these days. A character disappears . I considered having the kids catch a cat sh for supper. The next chapter simply wouldn't wr ite. for a different story pattern will inevitably reveal itself. A villain appears. I was working with the idea of doing a Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson survival tale set on the vast frontie r of what once was called The Great American Desert. Something. I know a prominent author who. I established a family.

The story had become a still life. When the kids are exploring the dead old river boat. What do I do with the situation? Nothing wanted to happen next. to clothe it against the winds and stormy weather. Why not bring on a stranger? What would happen? I introduced a farmhand down on his luck and looking for work. as I was to discover when trying to write a picture book story. They dazzled me. he takes pity and gives the young man the scarebird's shoes and then its gloves against the thorny brambles. The scarebird is transfor med. I brought onstage a couple of ghastly villains. an d even to mumble through a game of checkers with it. Instead. The stranger need not be a villain. I threw out Robinson Crusoe and I turned to something new. Suddenly. They are right. The Scarebird (Greenwillow). and they soon come face to face with Shagnasty John and the Fool Killer. He begins to talk to it.They couldn't. day by . I don't remember how long I wandered around in the dark be fore the obvious occurred to me. On other days. at any rate. Little by little . only because if they did I'd have to throw away several dazzling chapters. I was in quicksan d. they sense that someone else is aboard. Lonesome John gives the unwelcome young man the scarebird's hat against the bl azing sun. and went on to become a nalist for th e National Book Awards. From that point o n. I set u p a strong but tender story about an isolated old man and a scarecrow he puts up . two unwashed nightmares hiding from the law. the story took off like a runaway horse.

day and bit by bit. as surprising to me as a jack-in-the-box. It was a passing de tail. But it reappeared. . and in the confusion my lead characters are able to make a nal escape. I absolutely had no further plans for it. the 17th-century villain jumps out of his buckle shoes. Endings require a different sort of acrobatic s. To a writer who feels locked and bolted to an outline. Only this sort of exibility will spare the reader. One must work with what's al ready on paper. from sagging middles or dead ends. quite by accident. a time travel novel. to change a key story element. By that I mean I don't see ahead how imp ortant marginal details or props will prove to be at the end. who cares nothing about outlines or preliminary inspirations. But with a project in trouble. may give one the vapo rs. It's too late in the story to lay in new back ips. is seen prac ticing Spanish with a small tape recorder for a school test. the ability to turn on a dime. into a living beingÐwith whom nally we see the old man play a r eal game of checkers. Early in The 13th Floor (Greenwillow). The gasping cod st arts talking in Spanish. Just before the nal curtain Buddy sees a chance to s hove the tape recorder down the throat of a freshly-caught sh. Buddy. one has no choice but to look the outline in its bloodshot eyesÐand to revise it as necessary. my main character. My endings grow organically out of materials I established earlyÐ and as often as not.

Brown). together with . I still mi ght be hunting for an ending to The 13th Floor. I had no dramatic curtain until I recalled the chicken ranch I had introduced onl y for background early on. Why couldn't the chickens have pecked up the hidden d iamondsÐand then gotten loose across the Nevada landscape? They could. While my characters. that's why I write the story). at last. Every story problem that it is possible to have.ve years. the cats popped up importantly at the end. Jack and Praiseworthy strike it rich. by selling Pe ruvian cats.If I hadn't so casually introduced the pocket tape recorder early on. they lose everything in a boat explosion. store up a few pouches of gold dust. a nd I had the comic ending I'd been searching for. By the Great Horn Spoon! (Little. A marginal detail gave me the ending for a gold rush novel. But wait! What about those Peruvian cats breeding aboard the now abandoned ship in the ba y? I'd read that San Francisco was overrun with rats and that cats were worth th eir weight in gold. As I never plot my endings in advance (I don't want to know how things turn out. Props have been lifesavers for m e. young Jack and his butler. To my immense surprise. In Jim Ugly (Greenwillow). I slipped this in as little more than local color. I seem always t o be glancing back over my shoulder for the ending. Praiseworthy. I had read that ships rounding the Horn were often boar ded by stray cats in the seaports of South America. Happy last-minute thought! Those felines have been continuously in print for almost thirty. they did.

I'd have Annyrose bec ome involved with the wrong Joaquin. and I felt I was up to my eyebrows in marshmallows. Annyrose. And then. What if Annyrose becomes involved.these solving techniques. and wrote a scene in which he tries to hold up the real Joaquin. Now. Just Joaquin. there were plenty of honest Joaquins. an innocent man destined for a hanging tree . A couple of chapters in. a Joaquin impostor. Posters were na iled to the trees all over California offering a reward for the head of Joaquin. I thought. That. and alas. a fairly common Mexican name. The posters didn't say Joaquin Murieta. with the real Joaquin? Say he saves her life and becomes her friend and pro tector. I needed something new to happen. Hut I hit a sudden sag i n the middle. bandit or not. would be my story. inst ead. a few of them were str ung up in hasty error. I brought in a stranger. Bandit's Moon (Gree nwillow). what if. I c ould feel so much story tension I needed tranquilizers. I never expected to see the impostor . came into play in my recent novel. S o I gave the kaleidoscope a slight turn. who attaches herself to the legen dary California highwayman of the last century. what ifÐwhat if she learns that in the p ast he has killed her father or brother or someone close? Sudden hatred would dr ive her to turn him in. Joaquin Murieta. The story is about a girl. a Chile an. wouldn't it? I started the novel from scratch again.

that throwaway character I had introduced to x a sag in the middle of the story? I won't tell you how he turns u p in the end. I had no further plans for the incident. Seeing him alive. I was unable to come up with a dramatic scene to wrap up the story. Now I had a guts y end scene. In t ears. I was wrong. I reexamined my opening mov es. And remember that Chilean impostor. she turns in her friend. reads in the paper that he had been shot during a stagecoach holdup at the hands of the legendary bandit.again. now separated from her brother. Joaquin. Annyrose would re alize that she had turned in her great friend JoaquinÐby mistake. But I now saw how perfectly it could become part of the ending. I had already writt en that Annyrose. But what about the pickpocket lurking in the rst chapter? Why couldn't he be misidenti ed because of the stolen papers in " his pocket? What if he were the one killed in the stagecoach holdup? I could the n bring the brother back to life in the end. But count on it. My eyes lit on a passing detail. As the pages of Bandit's Moon piled up I began to worry in e arnest about the nal curtain ahead. Eyes xed rmly over my shoulder. I established in the rst chapter that his pocket had been pick ed: His money and papers were gone. As I wanted my heroine and her older brothe r to be penniless. .

of kaleidoscopes and s trangers and villains and jack-in-the-boxes. I couldn't write my books without t hem. .Don't underestimate the power of props and minor details.

but it's obvious that I'm not . but I'll refrain. More than two years have passed. 3. the drone dies and falls to the ground. As of this mor ning. Mating occurs in the air. I registered for the class because I intended to write about a beekeeper.) This is the rst use I've had for a whole legal pad full of notes I took in a beekeeping class a few summers ago. and to t hat end. 2. She has to lose a little weight before she can t ake to the air. and my beekeepe r has yet to show himself. but I'm optimistic about working it out. I int end to use some of this material on bees. and after the act is completed. The queen ies only once. she has yet to embrace him. (I could make all sorts of wise cracks here. Worker bees irritat e the queen to prepare her to y. and I'm hoping to give her the beekeeper for a husband. I look faithful notes. I do have rm possession of a radiologist who reads tar ot cards. going a distance of seven or eight mi les so as not to mate with her brothers.21 MATTERS OF FACT: FICTION WRITERS AS RESEARCHERS By Sharon Oard Warner AN INTERESTING FACTS ON HONEY BEES: 1.

enticing the other bees to s ink their stingers into the soft skin of her upper arm and to swarm menacingly a bout her face.) 2. I can almost guarantee I'll use them sooner or later. And the re we have it: the "mad bee" smell all over Sophie. you're welco me to the above. L et me show you what I mean: Once the radiologist acquiesces and agrees to be mar ried to the beekeeper. she will die. If you need a stray bee fact or two. Already. "Get away. Maybe he has someone else with him. She's that sort of girl. his daughter Sophie s ay. Keep your hands off these facts. 3. but in the proc ess she'll leave a "mad bee" smell on your skin. I can pr edict that Sophie will insist on getting stung. and he'll tell her a little about how to handle the combs. one of the rst things he'll do is lumber out to the hives and check on his bees. be sure to breathe out the side of your mouth. A few additional facts: 1. When a bee stings. The mad bee smell is easy to identify: It smells fo r all the world like bananas with a little solvent mixed in. just to see how it feels. (Try doing that . They're active facts that carry a sensory charge. a smell that makes other bees w ant to sting you as well.going to do all of it justice. and probably sooner. Interesting though these facts are. These are the kinds of facts That authenticate character and offer oppo rtunities to advance a plot. Bees don't like carbon dioxide. so when yo u work with them. I doubt that I'll nd a place for them. Sophie!" her father .

from real-life detai l. which means that writers of ction are in the business of research.) I think of this early research as a sort of "grounding" because I use these f acts to situate my main characters in their milieu. in this house or that? What do they do for a living? What are their hobbies. Where do these people I'm wr iting about live? In which city. This one little scene requires more facts than might be readily apparent. wresting the comb from her hands. The beekee ping class and my trip to the beekeeper's house to "handle" the bees were recent highlights. Sometimes. For instance. and the plot will stall. These were gentle bees . (No. The three I've listed will launch the sce ne. and storing details that give our stories life. Are you impressed? Well. Like everything else. and magazines often provide suf cient information. ction and ctional characters take their vitality from facts. Almost immediately. sorting. others will be necessary.will yell." all you need to be a beekeeper o r to create one. We're fact hoardersÐaccumulating.nding is rather mundane. But Sophie will refuse because she' s sixteen and more hormones than good sense. you shouldn't be. but they won't complete it. these forays take me only as far as the lo cal library or bookstore. it's not what it claims to be. nor did I wear glo ves or a veil. I did not get stung while I held the combs. As it turns out. Wi thout them. but research need not be dull. newspapers. besides beekeeping. but it wil l answer . the scene will lose steam. So me of the fact. it's necessary to leave the com puter and enter the world. on what street. of course? The ir fears? Their joys? To answer these questions. I recently bought a book called Beekeeping. which ad vertises itself as a "Complete Owner's Manual. Books.

There's only so much I want to know ab out shing boats. and David Guterson tested my patience more than once. I almost quit reading that wonderful novel Snow F alling on Cedars for exactly this reason. here's one: To write the sce ne where stubborn Sophie invites a bee sting. and the decision can't be arbitrary. in the North Valley. The desert is blooming. but I digress. I learned that bees winter. how likely are you lo squa nder them? Not bloody likely. beautiful though it is. I note that by mid-April the hive will be quite a ctive. And digress again: It's important to know facts . energy and el dinero on acquiring precious facts. on the other side of the Rio Grande. He lives right in town with inc. Don' t overdo it. a s tate akin to hibernation. (Before I write this sce ne. I'll need to know exactly which plants bloom in April in Albuquerque. Lengthy an d in-depth research carries its own liabilities.some of my questions. just to justify that expensive tome on medieval bedroom practices or the weekend trip to Amarillo for local color. What about the season? Checking m y handy-dandy beekeeping book. I need to know the season. The farther north you live. Let's stay in arid Albuquerque with the bee keeper. From my bee class. and nectar is plentiful. but no one is perfect. that's my advice. becaus e the beekeeper is not only . Having spent ti me. the trickier this winterin g process can be.) But don't let's go to Puget Sound. yes. Which leads perfectly good writerss to stuff their narratives with tangential information. and that wintering lasts longer in certain areas of th e country than in others. Think about it. So we've established place. but it's just as important to recognize when enough is enough. (I realize he won the PEN Faulkner and all. What sort of questions? Well.

he's also concerned with their food sources. But I've never been pregnant as a teenager. Before I be gan to work on this projectÐso far. which proved helpful in a larger sense. is a clinical psycholo gist in private practice in Lincoln.) By April. Sophie is the real subject of my book. I rememb er them all too well. they're hotheaded and impulsive. Pipher gave at a local bookstore. Girls bec ome fragments. prickly pear. Sophie's pregnant. One girl said. Mary Pipher. and P almer lupine. I've written two short stories on these charac ters. Now I've been pregnant. "Everything good in me die d in junior high. I t provided context and some sense of urgency. and this does require some investigation. I also went to a reading and talk Ms. And I'm guessing th at the young bees are more likely to sting." Wholeness is shattered by the chaos of adolescence. but if they're anything like teenage Sophie. twice actually. and the stories themselves are a kind of research. Nebraska. and certainly not as a teenager in 1998. and I'll let you in on a se cret not even her parents know. Girls know they are losing themselves. so I don't need to research the various stages of pregnancy. I'll have to check to make sure. the old bees that wintered over are dying off. their selves split into mysterious contradictions. Pipher is very concerned about plight of teenage girls in the 1990s. . providing the beekeeper with something to t heck. he'll be thinking about goldenrod.concerned with his insects. Ms. a way of developing cha racters and familiarizing myself with the materialÐI read Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. and the young bees are taking their place. Lumberi ng out to check the hive. The brood nest will have swelled lo six to ei ght combs. To te ll the truth. The author.

which is just as well b ecause Sophie is not. so it's not likely they'll run into one another. and whenever I do.They are sensitive and tenderhearted. and se lf-in icted injuries. "Wh at are you trying to tell me?" This is precisely the question I'm asking of Sophie. Maybe more useful. . Their problems are complicated and metaphoricalÐeating disorders. Much of their behavior is unreadable. So where does Sophie walk? Well. From all . I go to the high school frequently. I take note of the place itself and of the kids who spend their days there. again and again. They rush through their days with wild energy and then collapse into lethargy. as mothers say. super cial and idealis tic. but this "grounding" I'm talking about is something more elemental . she walks around high school for one thing. and Sophie is a senior. . Reviv ing Ophelia provides me with a necessary cultural perspective. . wh ere my son goes to school as well. which is. the artist. I need to ask again and again in a dozen different ways." She's got troubles. mean and competitive. My son Corey is a sophomore. one I will certai nly nd useful. and the next. It's a matter of territory. They are con dent in the morning. and the an swers she provides will do much to shape the material for the novel. Valley is one of the oldest high schools in Albuquerque. Pipher's bo ok. Still. Sophi e goes to Valley High School in Albuquerque. of the actual earth on which a character walks. next week the delinque nt. T hey try on new roles every weekÐthis week the good student. and overwhelmed with anxiety by nightfall. not so coincidentally. that girl. a "good in uence. my son's attendance at Valley is as useful to me as Ms. Thus. school phobias.

appearances, the main buildings date from the fties. The campus has been maintain ed over the years, but in piecemeal fashion: In "senior circle," new picnic tabl es hunker up to crumbling cement benches. The library is now labeled the Media C enter, but it houses a modest collection of moldy-looking books, not a computer in plain sight. The carpet in the Media Center is a horrible shade of puke green , and appears to have been laid down in the late sixties or early seventies when all the adults went temporarily color blind. I was around then, but still comin g of age, and so I don't have to take responsibility for that carpet. At the las t meeting of the Parent's Advisory CouncilÐyes, I'm a member - the principal, a gr acious and energetic man named Toby Herrera, voiced his hope that the carpet wou ld soon be replaced. We all nodded vigorously and tried not to look down. At an earlier meeting this year, Mr. Herrera happened to mention that Albuquerque has a high school speci cally designed for pregnant teens. (Is this a step forward or backward? I can't decide.) The school is called New Futures, and the facility in cludes counseling for new and expectant mothers as well as on-site day care. Whe n Mr. Herrera mentioned this school, I thought of Sophie, for whom New Futures w ill be an option, and I also thought of my own high-school career, when the girl s who got pregnant had no options whatsoever. By and large, they did not have ab ortions, unless they crossed the border into MexicoÐwe're talking pre-Roe vs. Wade hereÐand they did not stay in school. What they did do, I suppose, was to get mar ried, if the boy in question had the presence of mind or the generosity to propo se, or else they slipped away to a home for unwed mothers in Fort Worth. I used to hear girls whisper about that place. It might have been,

might still be, a humane and cheerful alternative to living at home or jumping o ff a cliff; I don't know. But at the time, it seemed a sort of prison where ever ything was stripped away, rst your identity, your family and your friends, and nal ly, your baby, as well. But Sophie lives in a different world, and it's one I ne ed to know about. As Mr. Herrera was quick to point out, pregnant girls can choo se to go to school at New Futures or they can stay at their home school. In othe r words, Sophie can continue to attend Valley, and knowing Sophie, I imagine tha t's what she'll do. Of course, that decision will simplify my research tasks a b it because it means I won't have to scout out New Futures. One of the most impor tant aspects of this "grounding" is to gain a rm sense of place, and here we're t alking about everything from the time period to the city to the weather. Natural ly, Sophie blames her several bee stings on Daddy, then runs sobbing into the ho use. Ahh, yes, the house. What color is the back door Sophie slams behind her? A nd is her room at the front of the house or the back? For me, identifying home i s one of the most important early research tasks. Before I can accomplish much i n the way of characterization and plot, I must know where my characters live, an d by this, I mean a particular house with particular windows that look out on pa rticular plants and alleys and streets. Imagining the house does not work for me . It's too ephemeralÐmade-up people in a made-up house. The walls begin to waver a nd shift before my eyes, the kitchen to slide from one end of the house to the o ther, the garage to attach then unattach. Just where did I put that third bedroo m, I wonder, and what was on the walls? Sooner or later, the occupants feel a tr emor beneath their

feet; they're threatened with imaginary collapse. Everything has its limits, you see, my imagination included. So where to nd a real house? My own doesn't work. I live there, my husband and children live there. We don't have room for a ctiona l family, and besides, they're bound to have entirely different tastes from mine . They're better housekeepers; they nd time to dust thoroughly and not just swipe at the surfaces of things. Or maybe they're worse: Maybe pet hair gathers in th e corners of the rooms, and dirty plates and coffee cups collect beside the bed and on top of the toilet tank. What I need, you see, is somebody else's home, fu ll of furniture and magazines and knick knacks, but without occupants. A ready-m ade set. For my rst novel, I had a piece of luck. My family was in Austin, Texas, for the holidays, which is where the novel takes place, and my husband and I sp ent New Year's Eve with a friend who just happened to be house-sitting for an en tire year. So there we were, drinking a little wine and listening to The Gypsy K ings, my husband and his friend Mark discussing, yawn, the University of Texas b asketball team. An hour passed, and they moved on to the Dallas Cowboys. To keep from nodding off, I got up and had a look around. I took note of the amingoes in the study, a whole motley crew of amingoesÐplastic ones, metal ones, and a wooden mingo that swung from the ceiling. I puzzled over a small black and white TV on the counter in the bathroom, and the red tile oor in the kitchen. I peered out th e bedroom windows and weighed myself on the scales. Nosy, you say. Yes, you're a bsolutely right, but I didn't open the medicine chest or any of the drawers. I d idn't try on clothes, like the main character in Raymond ( in ver's story,


"Neighbors." I just made a leisurely stroll around the premises. Later, when the characters in my rst novel took up resilience in this house, I had only to turn on The Gypsy Kings to bring it all back. Perfect. For the second novel, I had to take action. No gift houses this time around. So I "feigned" and pretended to b e a potential home buyer. Dagging my husband along to make it look good, I scout ed several houses. I had ideas about where the beekeeper and his family would li ve For one thing, I wanted them to reside in the North Valley, because I like it there, and because Sophie is already enrolled at Valley High School. She has fr iends there. We wouldn't want to move her at this late date. And the beekeeper r equires land with owering plants around his house, as well as a nearby water sour ce. Bees have to drink. Beforehand, I studied newspaper ads, choosing houses for description, location, price, and size. All these houses were occupied and prev iously owned. In each case, a real estate person was hosting an open house, so n o one would be inconvenienced. The rst houses we saw were all wrong. In a strange turn of events, we happened to go to a house which was the scene of a terrible murder, a story that had been on the news and in the papers for weeks, a death b e tting a Dostoevsky novel. I won't go into details, as they will plunge you into despair. The real estate agent, who was clearly ill at ease, referred to the cri me obliquely, mentioning it to us in order to be "up front." He'd been ordered b y the court to sell the house, he said. What could he do? Indeed, I thought. His situation deserved its own novel. Before, the house had seemed dreary, broken u p in odd ways, old and neglected. But

afterwards, it seemed more than gloomy; it seemed down right haunted. Naturally, my husband and I hightailed it out of there, retreating to the car where we sat in shock for a few minutes before pulling slowly away, leaving the real estate agent to pace back and forth in the family room, an honest man who would surely be trapped in this tragic house for countless Sundays to come. Quite naturally, we were tempted to abandon house hunting, for that day anyway, but we decided to forge on, and now I'm glad we did. The third house was perfect, or close to per fect, more expensive than the house I imagined for Sophie and her parents, but o therwise ideal. I took away a real estate brochure that I covered with notes. He re's the realtor's description: "This wonderful custom adobe home offers a quiet private retreat with views, Northern New Mexico decor, and room for horses." Or bees, lots of bees. The house is situated on 1.3 acres. It's a territorial styl e home with a pitched metal roof, a long front porch, brick oors and window ledge s, vigas, latillas, and tile accents. (Live in Albuquerque for a few years, and you'll be able to sling these terms, too.) The house is shaped in an L; one wing is eighteen years old, the other only seven, but it was constructed to look old . The upstairs windows offer a view of the bosque, which is Spanish for woods. W henever you see the bosque, you know the river is close by. Beyond the bosque, t wo inactive volcanoes rise like the humps of a camel's back. You want to move th ere, right? So did I, but I didn't have an extra $332,500. Yep, that was the ask ing price. Though I can't have the house in reality, I've taken possession of it in my imagination. Sophie and her parents live there, and in

order to give the family the nancial wherewithal to afford this little hacienda i n the midst of the city, I gave the mother, Peggy, a career that would bring in the big bucks, or at least the medium-sized bucks. Hence, her job as a radiologi st. Actually, my reasons for making her a radiologist are a bit more complicated . I imagine Peggy to be a woman of extraordinary insight, someone who can see in to people, very nearly a psychic. Not surprisingly, Peggy's profession and her i nterest in tarot cards were suggested to me by some of the paraphernalia I noted in the house. The back upstairs bedroom was occupied by a young woman named Zoe (test papers in evidence), whose interests in Buddhism and acupuncture were als o on display. An altar stood at one end of the room, and among the books on Zoe' s desk was The Book of Shiatsu as well as a plastic body model for both the meri dianal and extraordinary points. I made notes quickly because my husband insiste d we not linger. He had compunctions about my nosiness, but I maintain that I di d no one any harm, and again, I only looked at the things that were out in the o pen. Already, I've altered the particulars. Peggy is not a Buddhist, nor does sh e do acupuncture. But she does concern herself with what can't be seen on the su rface, and it was Zoe's room that put this idea in my head. Thank you, Zoe. But nothing comes free. I know about tarot cards because I took a class when I was s eventeen and intent on the future. I still have the cards and the books. But her e's a piece of research I have yet to do. I have to learn about the daily life o f a radiologist: hours, tasks, and so forth. Having been to one fairly recently, I have a general sense of what radiologists do, but I need to know a great deal

more. Already, I've lined up a lunch date with an acquaintance who used to work for a group of radiologists. And I have library sources. That won't be enough, o f course, but it will get me started. The task is to nd out how radiologists thin k, how they integrate their work in their day to day lives. Because radiologists aren't just radiologists at work. Like the rest of us, they carry their work aw ay with them, and use it to understand the world. The same is true for writers, of course, and for visual artists, photographers, assistant principals, day care workers, police of cers, and doctors. A few years back, I asked my gynecologist s o many questions about abortion that he quipped I could write off the visit as r esearch, which, not so coincidentally, is exactly what it was. Fiction writers a re researchers. We can't help it. It's part and parcel of who we are. In restaur ants, we crane our heads to listen to conversations taking place around us; we n ote accents and idiosyncratic speech patterns. At the mall, we stare at the stra ngers milling about, all of them people with homes to go to, children to care fo r, lives to lead. They have secrets these strangers, and we imagine what they ar e. It turns out that research isn't a distinct process, something with a beginni ng and end. It's ongoing, part and parcel of our lives. It is, in some sense, ou r secret. One more interesting bee fact: When working with bees, wear white or l ight-colored clothing. Bees are attracted to red and black. They're bees, you se e. They can't help it.

22 MAKE YOUR MINOR CHARACTERS WORK FOR YOU By Barnaby Conrad How DO WE KNOW THAT SCARLETT O'HARA IS CATNIP TO MEN? The Tarl eton twins show us in the rst scene of Gone With the Wind by their adulation of h er. The author doesn't tell usÐshe has minor characters do it for her. In The Godf ather, Mario Puzo doesn't tell us that Don Corleone is powerful and ruthless and lives outside the law, he shows us. In the very rst chapter, the author skillful ly establishes the eponymous Godfather's character and position by giving us bri ef vignettes of three minor characters in deep trouble: the wronged undertaker, Amerigo Bonasera; the washed-up crooner, John Fontaine; and an anguished father, the baker Nazorine. Who do they decide is the only person to come up with illeg al solutions to their woes? Don Corleone. And in the next sequence we see them r everently approach the Don himself with their pleas and see him solve their prob lems savagely. And later that day, we hear Kay, another minor gure, speaking to M ichael, the Don's son: Kay said thoughtfully, "Are you sure you're not jealous of your father? Everythi ng you've told me about him shows him

doing something for other people. He must be good-hearted." She smiled wryly. "O f course, his methods are not exactly constitutional." How much more convincing this method is than if the author himself had ticked of f a list of the Don's characteristics and background information. Never fail to use your secondary characters wherever possible to characterize your protagonist and to further your plot. What would Detective Steve Carella, of Ed McBain's ma ny books about the 87th precinct, do without Meyer Meyer and the other minor cha racters who illuminate his lively pages? And in Nelson DeMille's best seller. Pl um Island, Detective John Corey goes from minor charactrer to minor character, e ach with his or her own life and agenda, until he inally uncovers the identity of the murderer. Books about criminal activities usually lean heavily on secondary characters. In Silent Witness, Richard North Patterson's bestseller, the young attorney depends greatly on his old mentor's adviceÐand so do the readersÐto nd out n ecessary information of a technical nature about the murder: Saul gave him a sou r smile. "Don't you nd it a little funny that we're the ones having this conversa tion?" I stopped laughing about an hour ago, Saul. When Stella Marz told me abou t the blood on Sam's steering wheel." Saul's smile vanished. "There are a thousa nd possible explanations, my son. Even if it's hers. They can't convict on that. "

I know. But that's not enough to make me feel better." Saul reached for the bott le, pacing himself a precise two inches, neat, in a tumbler. Some secondary char acters are dead before the story even starts, viz., the ghost of Hamlet's father ; Mrs. Maximilian de Winters in Daphne Du Maurier's classic novel, Rebecca; and the writer Terry O'Ncal in Olivia Goldsmith's 1996 novel The Bestseller. What wo uld playwrights have done over the years without minor characters? The curtain g oes up: BUTLER (Dusting the furniture): We've best get this parlour spick and sp an wot wif the young master comin' 'ome from the war! MAID (Arranging some owers) : And 'im bringin' 'ome some French oozie he wants to marry and the missus sayin' over m'dead body and all. Just as the playwrights did and do (and, one hopes, m ore subtly than the above example), so can novelists and short story writers use minor characters to let the readers in on who the protagonists are and what the ir problem is. Homer knew the signi cant role minor characters could play. In The Iliad, the soldiers are grumbling about the war; they've been in Troy ten long y ears, and they want to go back home to Greece. This is the only war in history w here both sides knew exactly what they were lighting forÐHelen of TroyÐbut the soldi ers are battle-weary and homesick. Then radiant Helen walks by. Wow! The men sta re at her unbelievable beauty, then grab their weapons enthusiastically and char ge back into the ght, home and hearth

forgotten. Now we have been made to believe that Helen is indeed the most beauti ful creature in the world in a way that all the adjectives in the dictionary cou ld not accomplish. Which would convince you more of a character's goodness? Cons ider the following: Old Daniel Badger seemed a cold aloof man, but actually he w as quite kind and did many nice things for people in town. Or do you prefer this : When Daniel Badger shuf ed out of the barber shop. Max growled, "Old sourpuss!" "Yeah?" said Bill. "When my little girl took sick with cancer last year I got an anonymous check in the mail for ve grand for the treatment. Saved her life. Just found out yesterdayÐmy son works in the bankÐhe told me who sent it. Old man Badger ! And I barely know the guy." Of course, the second is more convincing because n o conniving, manipulative writer told you about Badger; you just happened to ove rhear it at the barber shop. Secondary characters can be invaluable in describin g your main character's looks. The narrator of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic, Th e Great Gatsby, is a minor player in the story, but is important in helping us s ee the people and events. Here we get our rst look at the protagonist: He smiled understandinglyÐmuch more than understandingly.

It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, tha t you may come across four or ve times in life. It facedÐor seemed to faceÐthe whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be under stood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to co nvey. Precisely at that point it vanishedÐand I was looking at an elegant young ro ughneck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just mis sed being absurd. The narrator in Gatsby also serves as sort of a Greek chorus, brie y summing up the meaning of the novel, and ending with the lovely line: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." In t his way, a minor character can perform a valuable function for. The author, subt ly expressing some nal thought or emotion for the reader. In my novel Matador, wh en the hero dies, a very minor character, Cascabel, a banderillero, sums up the tragedy and the heartlessness off the crowdÐ"the only beast in the arena," as Blas co Ibanez wrote in Mood and Sand: More and more," said Cascabel dully, the tears spilling down his face. "They kep t demanding more and moreÐand more was his life, so he gave it to them." Sometimes minor characters achieve a life of their own, "pad their parts," and b ecome pivotal in the plot even to the point of

altering the outcome of the story. Such a character is the oily Uriah Heep in Di ckens's David Copper eld; the murderer in Joseph Kanon's bestseller, Los Alamos; a nd many characters in Elmore Leonard's books. So take care with your minor chara cters; as factors in your story they can be major. Be sure to invest them with h uman idiosyncrasies, foibles, and agendas of their own. They can enhance your ma in characters, provide your plot with unanticipated twists, and let your readers know that they are in the hands of a professional writer.

23 THE PLOT THICKENS By Barbara Shapiro SOME WRITERS CAN SIT DOWN AND BEGIN A NOVEL WITHOUT KNOWing w here it will end, trusting in the process to bring their story to a successful c onclusion. I'm not that trusting. And I'm not that brave. I don't have the guts to begin a book until I know there is an endÐ and a middle, too. I need to have a rough outline that allows me to believe my idea might someday be transformed int o a successful novel. Some writers need a working title; I need a working plot. A substantial segment of the writing community turns its collective nose up at t he mere mention of the word "plot" Ðparticularly if that plot is devised before wr iting has begun. "Plot is not what novels are about," they claim. "Novels are ab out feelings and characters and ideas. Plot is for TV movies." Novels are about feelings and characters and ideas, but novels are, above all else, stories, and it is through the story that the characters' feelings and the author's ideas are revealed. A handy equation is: Story equals plot equals novel. But what exactly is a story? A story is a tale with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's a qu est. Your protagonist goes after something she wants very

badlyÐ something she gets, or doesn't get, by the end. Whether it's returning to K ansas (Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz) or killing the witch ("Hansel and Gretel"), this journey is the story, the plot, the means by which your characters' strengt hs and weaknesses are unveiled, his or her lessons learned. It is the trip you a nd your protagonist and your reader all make together. All human beings have the same features, yet the magic of the human race is that we all look different. T he same holds true for plot. While the speci cs of your plot are unique, there is an underlying structure that it shares with other storiesÐand it is this structure that you can use to develop your working plot. Human beings have been telling s tories and listening to stories as lung as there have been human beings, and the re is a structure to these lories. Tell the story without the right structure an d risk losing your listeners. Find this structure, and your job as a novelist wi ll be easier; you will understand your readers' expectations and be able to meet Hu m. Follow this plot structure and add your own voice, your own words, your o wn creativity, and you will have a unique novel that works. Discovering and unde rstanding the underlying structure of the novel will help you develop your worki ng plot even before you begin writing. It will get you moving by assuring you th at you are on the right path. In my career, I have used this concept to come up with a number of tricks to help me discover where my novel is goingÐand to get mys elf going. These tricks can be translated into four exercises: (1) classical str ucture; (2) plot statement; (3) the disturbance; and (4) the crisis.

the woman made a decision based on who she was and what she had learned in the story. then you can transpo se these components into your particular story. The key elements are: the disturbance. The rst step to understanding and using story structure is to break the classic s tory into its component parts. Once this is clear to you. This is how the story goes: There once was a woman who had a terrible problem enter her life (the disturbanc e). and the resolution. the goal.Step 1: Classical structure There is a long-running argument among writers as to exactly how many different stories there are. the con icts. I believe this one story is the skeleton upon which almost all successful novels are hungÐthis story is the underlying stru cture. the climaxÐthe sacri ce and the unconscious need lled from th e backstory. But whenever she put this plan into action. I am a member of the "only one story" school. Some say there are an in nite numbe r. At this darkest moment (cris is). Through this decision and the resulting action (climax). the crisis. some say there are 47 or 36 or 103. To accomplish this. I can begin to move forward. ask yourself the following ve questions: What is the disturbance? Some terrible or wonderful or . her problem was resolved (resolution) in either a positive (happy ending) or negative way (u nhappy ending). everything around h er worked against her (con icts) until the problem had grown even worse and she se emed even further then ever from reaching her goal. and others say there is only one. She decided that she was going to solve/get rid of her problem so she devise d a plan (goal). If I can gure out how my story hangs on this skeleton.

Create opposition and frustration to force her to fall back on who she is. this is not enough. and interpersonal. It is what you might pitch to a producer t o whom you were trying to sell a movieÐor to an agent to whom you are trying to se ll a book. Con ict is what moves your story forward and wha t develops your protagonist's character. . y ou will have the skeletal outline for a story that is the basis for almost every successful novel written. and what is at stake. to overcome the hurdles you have created . no con ict. I need to do a b it more. for me. his goal. Unfortunately. and you may nd you are ready to begin. What speci c crisis will she face in the end? How will she resolve this crisis? Once you have answered these questions. for instance. and what she knows. If this is the case. What is the protagonist's goal? To get out of Oz and return t o Kansas. Step 2: Plot statement A plot statement is a one-sentence. high-concept summary of the set-up of your story. inte rnal. upsets her equilibr ium and causes her to develop a goal that propels her through your story. To write this statement all you need to know is your protagonist. the disturbance. A torn ado.serendipitous event that comes into your protagonist's life. No hurdles. What are some of the con icts that stand in her way? The key to creating a successful story is putting obstacles in your protagonist's pathÐexternal. no story. dive right in.

Scott Fitzger ald's The Great Gatshy. It is the "part icular" aspect of these . and forces her to devise a speci c goal t hat will place her on the path that will lead her to her crisis." is the plot statement for F. throws your protagonist into turmoil. "Jay Gatsby (pro tagonist) must win back the love of Daisy Buchanan (goal) to give meaning to his meaningless life (stakes) after he buys a mansion across the water from the one in which Daisy lives (disturbance)." is the plot statement for Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz. but that she did predict (disturbance). What's the plot statement for yours? Step 3: The disturbance Although you already have a rough idea of what the disturban ce of yom story is. This isn't just any dist urbance: It is a particular event that begins the action of your particular stor y." is the plot sta tement for my latest book." is the plot statement for Anne Tyler's Ladder of Years ."Dorothy Gale (protagonist) must nd her way home (goal/stakes) after a tornado bl ows her into the strange land (disturbance) full of evil witches and magical wiz ards. Delia Grinstead (protagonist) must create a new life for herself (goal/stakes) untill she impulsively walks away from her three children and long-term marriage. it is useful to make it more speci c. Sukõ Jacobs (protagonist) must discover what really happened on the night Jonah Ward was killed (goal) before her teenage daughter is arrested for a murder she didn't commit (stakes). Blind Spot.

occurs when Dr.events that makes your story unique. Her husband Craig becomes suspicious . your characterÐask yourself the following question: "What is the worst thing th at can happen to my protagonist. but will ultimately be the best thing that coul d happen to her?" What does your protagonist need to learn? Her lesson is your r eaders' lesson: It is the theme of your book. and their marriage is jeopardized. Diana Marcus' patient. To discover your disturbanceÐand. The dist urbance in my second book. in many way s. Jam es Hutchins. Diana's inability to save James mirrors her childhood tragedy when she was unable to save her younger sister. commits suicide. She is publicly humiliated when the media disclose her unprofessional behavior. . A wrongful deat h and malpractice suit is led by the Hutchins family. and taps into all of her deepest insecurities. Blameless. It is the worst thing for Diana because it tears h er life apart: She begins to question herself as a psychologist. you will be able to develop a chara cter whose story resonates to your themeÐa character whose backstory re ects what sh e needs to learn and whose journey within your story teaches it to her. jeopardizing Diana's teachi ng position and practice as a psychologist. What life lesson do you want to te ach? Once you have answered these questions.

like life. because it forces her to face her tragic aws and try to correct them: She acknowledges her professional mistakes. James' death is also a good thing for Diana. Therefore. making her a be tter therapist. It reveals who she really is and what the experience has taught her. it's not all bad. this speci c decision and its speci c resolution.This all sounds pretty terrible. but. that has both g ains and sacri ces. She and her husband rediscover their relationship. your reader will be unsatis ed. If the choice is too easy. ask yourself the following q uestions: . This process deepened both Diana and my plot. and all the con icts lead inexorably to this speci c crisi s. She learns th at she cannot cure everyone. To determine the crisis in your story. you must create a decision that has both good and bad consequences. so that your reader will not know which choice your protagonis t will make. Its seed s are in the disturbance. I had to delve deeply into Diana's present life and develop a past for her that would create a character who needed to lear n this lesson. How is your disturb ance the best and worst thing that could happen to your protagonist? Step 4: The crisis The crisis of your novel is the major decision point for your protagonis t. In ord er to come up with this disturbance. But the decision can't be a sim ple one. She forgives herself for her sister's death.

and ultimately forgives herself for it. Diana struggl es with her need to control her career. Diana must decide whether to stop Jam es from killing himself. realizes that she is not responsib le for her sister's death. I asked myself the above questions and came up with these answers: James sho ws up at Diana's apartment and holds a gun to his head. Diana overcomes her be lief that it is her mission to save everyone. and she is not responsible for James. her .What is the event that precipitates the crisis? What is the decision the protago nist must make? What does she learn in the decision-making process? How does the decision reveal who she is (the backstory)? How does her decision re ect on what happened to her in this story? What does she lose in the decision (the sacri ce)? What does she gain from her decision? How is the decision turned into action? Ho w does the decision resolve the plot? When I was developing the plot for Blamele ss. he tells her that if she tells him not to shoot himself. that she ca nnot save everyone. Diana learns that everyone cannot be saved. he won't.

marriage. So if you aren't as brave a writer as you'd like to beÐor if that mythical mu se just won't appearÐtry these four exercises. Diana doesn't say anything. James really is dead. A dangerous murderer will be dead. . James will be dead. And that novel might just get nished. You just might discover that you ar en't that cowardly after all. and J ames blows his brains out. and herself. her patients. and Diana will rem ove the threat to herself and her unborn baby. and she will be respons ible for not stopping him. and Diana is cleared of his mur der.

Every voice is unique. and I tried to keep that in mind. I tried to re ect Mabel's caring for Culver's condition and to capture Culver's conditionÐnear -drunkennessÐand a desire to continue the conversation. yet no one I know talks like a character." she said softly." "It's not much fun anyway." "You feeling better?" "Yeah. even in the best novels . 1." "Maybe I shou ld have some coffee?" Although both characters are products of middle-class. they are individuals." "I would miss the party. In my novel A Hero's Welcome. "Hi. She speaks in longer sente nces and controls the ." "I know. Culver and Mabel talk: "Hi. Eas tern America." "Maybe you should go back to your room and sl eep it off. This seeming contradiction can be explained by examining the seven attributes of good dialogue." "You had too much to drink.24 SEVEN KEYS TO EFFECTIVE DIALOGUE By Martin Naparsteck GOOD DIALOGUE MAKES CHARACTERS IN A STORY SOUND LIKE REAL p eople talking.

" a short story published in Aethlon. don't let him rant on for more than three or four sentences without being inte rrupted by another character. some can use profanity. Fernandez says. I have . war is hell. In my novel War Song. others can use big and fancy words. he often speaks in incomplete sentences and only in response to her ver bal initiatives. despite the lack of attribution. We prefer a chance to respond. make their rhythms differ. Some can speak staccato. In real life we don't usually tolerate bei ng lectured at. Authors are not tape recorders. but not always even then. Assign a different voice to each character. "In case you never heard. we might have to. som e can speak with ow.subject. The differences may be subtle." Then he's cut off by a charac ter who nds his little speech pompous. I know that might sound corny to you. War is hell. but readers are unlikely to conf use who is speaking. Your characters should display the same intolerance. Some people got to get killed so others can live in freedom. In "Deep in the Hole. Don't make speeches. 3. we' re likely to respond with our own opinion before the speaker gets too carried aw ay. Unless your character is running for president or teaching a litera-lure class or is pompous . Sitting in a classroom or in a church. 2. In a bar or a living room. Any time you have two or m ore characters speaking. but if enough people believed it this world would be a lot better off.

. In my Ellery Queen short story. . 4. A ction writer is not a journ alist. Big lies are part of life and should be part of stories. wonder." two men are alone in a t rain station. all right. "I have a game on Wednesday and I wonder if it would be all right if I skipped the class. a game on Wednesday and I.K. say to his literature professor . But smaller lies are part of our everyday con versations. you know. T he idea is to capture both the essence and the underlying emotion of what's said .Mickey. I feel c ertain the real-life dialogue this hit of ction is based upon went something like this: "Eh. but for a whole story it would not only annoy most readers. but two pages later h e says: "My name ain't Thunder. would i t be." Because it's a highly autobiographical st ory. But most of us don't g et that much opportunity to tell big lies (most of us will never be asked by the police if we committed a murder). People tell more little lies than big ones. and because I was tremendously awkward in speech in the late 60's." "What?" "My name ain't Thunder. . Probably most people who commit a murder will tell the police they didn't do it. I can read all the. I have. eh. and one tells the other his name is Thunder. ." . ." All those "ehs" and that "you know" may be O. and he has no obligation to act like a stenographer or a tape recorder. eh. "The 9:13. for a sentence or two. eh. b ut would distract them to the point of losing them. not to reproduce a transcript. . a member of his college's baseball team.

but the fact that he chos e to tell this particular lie in this particular manner reveals something about his character. consider how you typically de vote part of your attention to what she's saying. Why?" "Why what?" "Why did you tell me your name was Thunder?" "I ain't gonna tell ya. In "Getting Shot." "Oh. but you are also focused on wh at you're going to say when it's your turn to speak. I suppose so. 5. Not everyone's playfulness is malevolent. it ain't. Have your characters li e about small things in a manner that reveals who they are. "It's Eddie." "Ain't you curious why I told ya it was Thunder?" "Yes. When someone is speaking to you. ."No?" "No." a short story of mine published in Mississippi Review. Dialogue is made up of monologues." "IÐI see." "Ain't you curious what it is?" Joe stammered a bit." Eddie's lie has no real purpose.

and the Louey. he knows it. He pats my right shoulder. 6. . he clearly has something else on his min d. while detecting that and playing along. "Sure." I' m smiling like a teenage kid just got his rst lay. at least in my mind." He adds. nothing improves dialogue lik e rewriting. One test that works for me is to write the same bit of dialogue a dozen or more times. sure. You could have used another word. part of which re ects the false bravado he assumes the situation requires. The lieutenant.a soldier who has been wounded in Vietnam is told by his lieutenant: "You're gon na get a Purple Heart out of this. Every word you ever spoke in your li fe represented a choice. and then. You could have chosen to be silent. soetimes on my computer screen. "Ha ve you no desire to go home again?" The choice is based on who the character is. to decide which is most appropriate for a particular character under this part icular circumstance. Chances are the rst words you choose are not the ones that b est re ect the character. Every word in dialogue represents a choice. "Do you not desire to return to your home?" Or. What do you think about that?" "Not much. As with all other writing." Although the narrator re sponds to what the lieutenant has said. uses a bit of staccato speec h to end that portion of the conversation so he can move on to other things. only then . Consider this bit of dialogue (from War Song): "Don't you wanna g o home?" It could have been. "Sure.

S. that there are some bits of conversati on we know take place in real life but which are far too boring to include in a story. you never need to t reveal how someone learned the directions from here to there. as your readers will. leave it out.7. Stori es need to move forward. g oing south." even though it reveals a bit of information the listener didn't know. Each of the rst six examples I've given help make the speakers sound like real people.. no matter how slightly. lake Valley West Highway unt il you come to the Interstate 15 interchange and proceed on to the interstate. o r help us better understand who the speaker is. for about 90 miles. get off and follow the signs to downtown. Just assume. "You're red. Just as you never need to say the character walked to t he other side of the room (unless if s the rst time this guy has walked in 10 yea rs)." Thanks to his accurate and detailed d irections I found my way to Salt I like City safely. All dialogue should reveal character and/or advance plot. If the dialogue doesn't change the listener's life. But only the seventh one is likely to re ect . because it changes the life of the poor gu y. and when you come to the exit marked 600 north. I have never includ ed a piece of dialogue like this in any story I've ever written (thank the great muse): He told me how to get to Salt Lake City from Logan. But do let a character say. what does antidisestablishment mean) is static. Any dialogue that simply exchanges information between characters (who was the 2 6th president of the U.

.accurately a real bit of conversation. And that's the one you should never use.

But do take from it whatever methods will serve you best. Maybe this isn't a very good analogy for writing a novel. The unifying force of all the pieces. It then occurred to me. L ooking at the picture of the quilt in question.sherman quilt. one line at a time. so don't consider this an I instructional article. draws the whole thing together. about the circumstances . we d o write one word at a time. one paragraph and one page at a time. I care about their growth or regression. one pattern at a tim e. in the novel as in the quilt. I stopped cold. could I do this. Never. you don't knit a whole q uilt all at once. but after all.25 THE NOVELÐYOU DO IT YOUR WAY. one line at a time. Years ago. It is the work itself that counts. One stitch at a time. as a fairly accomplished knitter. And don't permit anyone to tell you that your method of working is wrong. It contained at least seve n different patterns: twists and cables and popcorns and secret family weaves. I'LL DO IT MINE By Dorothy Uhnak ADMIT TO BEING AN ECCENTRIC WRITER. The unifying force in my novels has always been the ch aracters. not in a million years. I'VE YET TO MEET ANOTHER writer who works as I do. I und ertook to copy a very complicated Irish.

that change them and move them through the story, much as life molds and shapes each of us. What I must know, absolutely, before I start a novel is who each cha racter is at the beginning and who he will be at the end. I'm never really sure how the characters will get from the rst place to the last, but I am positive whe re they will end up. The Ryer Avenue Story (St. Martin's Press, 1993) had six ch aracters not of equal importance but essential, since the story belonged to all of them. We meet them as children, 11- and 12-year-olds. What I knew about them was simple. They lived and played together on the Avenue in The Bronx where I gr ew up. In middle age, all ve boys and one girl were successful, accomplished peop le, some more than others. They moved in life from when we meet them on the stre et of a cold snowy night until they are confronted in mid-life with a problem se t in motion when they were kids. The rst thing I had to know about these people w as what they looked and sounded like. My characters have to be named absolutely on target. Megan Magee could not be Mary Reardon; Danny DeAngelo could not be Bo bby Russelli. They become as real to me as people I actually know and speak to d ay after day. (You wouldn't want to address your best friend Sally as Luanne, wo uld you?) Here is my rst eccentricity: I work on a standard Hermes 45 typewriter. I have three machines carefully stored awayÐdon't ask how one gets ribbonsÐyou reme mber ribbons? No? Well, anywayÐI don't go near my heavy, trusty machine for quite a

while. First, I research as meticulously as possible in order to know the world in which my people live. For Ryer Avenue, I used the neighborhood where I was bo rn and raised. But I never did go to their Catholic SChool (St. Simon Stock in t he Bronx). Some of my friends did, and I absorbed their stories, peeked through their school windows and stole into their church when I was a child. I didn't kn ow why I did these things until years later: It was material I would need to dra w on one day. To describe accurately a scene in the death camps of WWII, I read almost more than my mind could hold of horror stories. There is no way I could w rite substantially about any of this. But I had the good fortune of talking with an older friend who told me he had been one of the young American lieutenants i n the advanced group entering the death camps and opening them up for our troops . He lent me that part of his life in one long, dark, horrible conversation, dur ing which we left our cake uneaten and the coffee cold. He gave me this part of himself to use in my novel, and later when he read the book, he said I had made him nicer than he really was, but I don't think so. In my Ryer Avenue story, one of my characters becomes a big shot m the movie industry; one a leading light o f the church; one a promising, rising politician; the woman becomes a psychiatri st. Each area had to be researched. If Gene O'Brien was to work in the Vatican, I needed to be very sure I knew what his physical surroundings would be and what his daily routines would encompass. I consult my research notes until I'm thoro ughly familiar with the material and can place my people in an

environment formerly alien to me. Before setting one word on paper, I had to vis ualize scenes that would de ne each character as a child: Megan in the classroom; Dante in his father's shoe repair shop; Eugene at church; Willie losing himself in the world of movies. Since the novel begins in the childhood of my characters , I walked around with each kid in my head, one at a time. I needed to know how the characters looked, sounded, acted, reacted, what they showed of themselves a nd what they hid. Only then did I sit, ngers on the trusty faithful noisy Hermes 45 keys, and pound out the chapters, one at a time. I have the whole scene compl etely worked out before I begin to work: no notes (except for background researc h), just a scene that comes as I walk, rest, stare blankly at TV, even as I read a book by another writer. When I place the character in the scene, he or she kn ows how to move, what to think, what to say. By this time, I can hear each indiv idual voice. No character sounds exactly like any other. They may all use certai n phrases, expressions, and expletives, but each voice belongs only to the speak er. Sometimes the scene I'm describing leads directly to the next scene, sometim es not. There are times when I get a whole chapter down on paper; other times, o nly two or three pages. And then I walk away. I've been known to work for fteen m inutes at a stretch or for ten hours. It is the story going on in my head that d ictates my working hours. No nine-to- ve for me! The creative work for me is not d one at the typewriter. It's done through all the long hours of listening, imagin ing, getting to know and trust my characters as they move through their lives to ward

the resolutions I know they must reach. Sometimes, I am surprised by the routes they take, the diversions they encounter. One time when I was working on a telev ision script, my producer called to ask about Act Five. I told him it was terri c; worked out exactly right. He asked me to send it to him. One problemÐI hadn't typ ed it. I buckled down and did the annoying job of putting words to paper. I don' t wait for "inspiration," unless inspiration can be described as continuous, uni nterrupted thinking, living with the story, and the ctional people who are taking on their own lives. With this strange method of working, I accomplish more than if I sat down at a given hour and stayed put for four or ve hours, without knowi ng what I was going to write. I usually wait until the scene, chapter, or event is practically bursting from my headÐthen I form the scene into words on paper. Th is process occurs during the rst draft. I do go over every page before beginning a new session. I make my notations; slash things out and cram things in. I usual ly try to stop work when I have a strong feeling about what will come next; save it, walk it, think it, let it have free ow until the pictures, words, and action s must absolutely be on paper. My working habits on the second draft are more ty pical of other writers', and I work long hours. I change, rewrite, or leave unto uched pages and pages of the manuscript. I see where a character has taken over and where he or she shouldn't have; where I have interfered when I shouldn't hav e. In the second draft, sometimes incredible moments happen

when I nd myself reworking something I hadn't intended to, and the descriptions a nd conversations soar. I feel myself to be the medium by which the story is told . I just write what I feel I'm supposed to write. Magic. Sometimes it's absolute ly wonderful. (Sometimes it isn't!) In my novel, Codes of Betrayal, a very stran ge thing happened. My heroine, Laura Santangelo, comes into her apartment, stunn ed and angry to nd one Richie Ventura sitting on her couch, his feet up on her co ffee table. The chapter ends with Laura saying, "Richie, what the hell are you d oing here?" I didn't know what he was doing there. I hadn't a clue. I just insti nctively felt his presence was absolutely necessary. I had to let my mind Mow to nd the logic for the scene. I would not invent some fraudulent reason just becau se I liked the slam-bang last sentence in that chapter. I skipped ahead, did a f ew chapters, and suddenly it came to me: Richie was in her apartment for a very speci c reason, and he had a very valid excuse to offer Laura. I backtracked and l et them work it out. One thing my publisher asked me to do with that novel was t o give him an outline of the last half of the book. I told him it was impossible ; the work would proceed step by step from what came before. He insisted; I wrot e an outline. It was cold, bloodless, meaningless. The characters were sticks wi th wooden personalities. If I had followed it, my book would have sunk. My publi sher returned the outline and said, "I guess you don't do outlines." A very stra nge thing happens when I nish a book. I send it off to a woman who puts it on her computer to get it into wonderful-

looking condition. It goes to the publisher who loves it and makes a few suggest ions here and there. Then I handle the three-hundredplus-page manuscript, all ne atly and professionally typed, and have the eerie feeling that I didn't write th is book, that I didn't put in any real time. I didn't work hours and days in my little workroom. I feel that I started at the sea down the hill from our house; I walked the dogs and the cats; I stared at the television; I knitted; I read bo oks. When and how did that book get written? At that point, I have to just let t he whole thing go. It's out of my hands. It belongs to others now. I need to get free of all emotion about it. Yes, I did write it; yes, I did work hard on it; yes, I did agonize and complain and question myself and my talent and the worth of the story itself. Yes, I did actually write it, if in my own particularly ecc entric way. I've knitted only one Irish quilt, but I have written ten novels, so I guess I just keep at it, one word at a time, one line at a time, one paragrap h, one page and chapter at a time. The big problem now is the very beginning of the search for the next group of people, oating around, trying to get my attentio n. Or rather, trying to take over my life, body, and soul. You do it your way, I 'll do it mine.

26 BRINGING YOUR SETTINGS TO LIFE By Moira Allen GOD, IT'S BEEN SAID, IS IN THE DETAILS. So, TOO, IS MUCH OF THE w ork of a writer. Too little detail leaves your characters wandering through the narrative equivalent of an empty stage. Too much, and you risk the tombstone eff ect: gray blocks of description that tempt the reader to skip and skim, looking for action. To set your stage properly, it's important to choose the most approp riate, vivid details possible. It's equally important, however, to present those details in a way that will engage your reader. The following techniques can hel p you keep your reader focused both on your descriptions and on your story. Reve al setting through motion Few people walk into a room and instantly absorb every detail of their surroundings. Often, however, we expect the reader to do just t hat by introducing a scene with a block of text that completely halts the action . As an alternative, let your description unfold as the character moves through the scene. Ask yourself which details your character would notice immediately an d which might register more slowly.

Suppose, for example, that your heroine, a secretary of humble origins, has just entered the mansion of a millionaire. What would she notice rst? How would she r eact to her surroundings? Let her observe how soft the rich Persian carpet feels underfoot, how it muf es her footfalls, how she's almost tempted to remove her sh oes. Does she recognize any of the masterpieces on the walls, or do they make he r feel even more out of place because she doesn't know a Cezanne from a Monet? D on't tell readers the sofa is soft until she actually sinks into it. Let her sme ll the leather cushions, mingling with the fragrance of hothouse owers lling a cut -crystal vase on a nearby table. Use active verbs to set the sceneÐbut use them wi sely. Don't inform the reader that "a heavy marble table dominated the room"; fo rce your character to detour around it. Instead of explaining that "light glitte red and danced from the crystal chandelier," let your character blink, dazzled b y the prismatic display. "Walking through" a description breaks the details into small nuggets and scatters them throughout the scene, so the reader never feels overwhelmed or bored. However, doing this raises another important question: Wh ich character should do the walking? Reveal setting through a character's level of experience What your character knows will directly in uence what she sees. Supp ose, for example, that your humble secretary really doesn't know a Cezanne from a Monet, or whether the carpet is Persian or Moroccan. Perhaps she doesn't even know whether it's wool or

polyester. If these details are important, how can you convey them? You could, o f course, introduce the haughty owner of the mansion and allow him to reveal you r heroine's ignorance. Or, you could write the scene entirely from the owner's p erspective. Keep in mind, however, that different characters will perceive the s ame surroundings in very different ways, depending on the character's familiarit y (or lack of familiarity) with the setting. Imagine, for example, that you're d escribing a stretch of windswept coastline from the perspective of a sherman who has spent his entire life in the region. What would he notice? From the color of the sky or changes in the wind, he might make deductions about the next day's w eather and sailing conditions. When he observes seabirds wheeling against the cl ouds, they are not "gulls" to him, but terns and gannets and petrelsÐeasily identi e d by his experienced eye by the shape of their wings or pattern of their ight. Eq ually important, however, are the things he might not notice. Being so familiar with the area, he might pay little attention to the fantastic shapes of the rock s, or the gnarled driftwood littering the beach. He hardly notices the bite of t he wind through his cable-knit sweater or the tang of salt in the air, and he's oblivious to the stench of rotting kelp-mats that have washed ashore. Now suppos e an accountant from the big city is trudging along that same beach. Bundled up in the latest Northwest Out tters down jacket, he's still shiveringÐand can't imagin e why the sherman beside him, who isn't even wearing a sweater, isn't

freezing to death. He keeps stumbling over half-buried pieces of driftwood and k nows that the sand is ruining his Italian loafers. From the way the waves pound against the beach, it's obvious a major storm is brewing. The very thought of ba d weather makes him nauseous, as does the stench of rotting seaweed (he doesn't think of it as "kelp") and dead sh. Each of these characters' perceptions of the beach will be profoundly in uenced by his background and experience. Bear in mind, however, that "familiar" doesn't imply a positive outlook, nor is the "unfamili ar" necessarily synonymous with "negative." Your accountant may, in fact, regard the beach as an idyllic vacation spotÐrugged, romantic, isolated, just the place to make him feel as if he's really getting in touch with nature and leaving the rat race of the city behind. The sherman, on the other hand, may loathe the ocean , feeling trapped by the whims of the wind and weather that he must battle each day for his livelihood. This bring us to the next point. Reveal setting through the mood of your character What we see is profoundly in uenced by what we feel. Th e same should be true for our characters. Filtering a scene through a character' s feelings can profoundly in uence what the reader "sees." Two characters, for exa mple, could "see" exactly the same setting, yet perceive it in opposite ways. Su ppose, for example, that a motorist has strolled a short distance into an archet ypical stretch of British moorland. Across a stretch of blossoming gorse, she se es ruins of some ancient watch tower, now little more than a jumble of stones cr owning the next

hill (or "tor," as her guidebook puts it). The temptation is irresistible. Flick ing at dandelion heads with her walking stick, our intrepid motorist hikes up th e slope, breathing in the scents of grass and clover, admiring the lichen patter ns on the gray granite boulders. At last, warmed by the sun and her exertions, s he leans back against a rock and watches clouds drift overhead like fuzzy sheep herded by a gentle wind. A falcon shrills from a nearby hollow, its cry a pleasa nt reminder of how far she has come from the roar and rumble of the city. A plea sant picture? By now, your reader might be considering travel arrangements to Da rtmoor. But what if your motorist is in a different mood? What if her car has br oken down, and she has been unable to nd help? Perhaps she started across the moo r because she thought she saw a house or hut, but was dismayed to nd that it was only a ruin, and a creepy one at that. The tower's scattered stones, half-buried in weeds and tangled grasses, remind her of grave markers worn faceless with ti me. Its silent emptiness speaks of secrets, of desolation that welcomes no tresp assers. Though the sun is high, scudding clouds cast a pall over the landscape, and the eerie, lonesome cry of some unseen bird reminds her just how far she has strayed from civilization. When this traveler looks at the gorse, she sees thor ns, not blossoms. When she looks at clouds, she sees no faithful shapes, only th e threat of rain to add to her troubles. She wants to get out of this situation, while your reader is on the edge of his seat, expecting something far worse tha n a creepy ruin to appear on this character's horizon!

Reveal setting through the senses A character's familiarity with a setting and h is or her emotional perception of that setting will in uence and be in uenced by the senses. Our stranded motorist, for example, may not notice the fragrance of the grass, but she will be keenly aware of the cold wind. Our accountant notices od ors the sherman ignores, while the sherman detects subtle variations in the color of the sky that are meaningless to the accountant. Different sensory details evo ke different reactions. For example, people process visual information primarily at the cognitive level: We make decisions and take action based on what we see. When writers describe a scene in terms of visual observations, they are appeali ng to the reader's intellect. Emotions, however, are often affected by what we h ear. Think of the effects of a favorite piece of music, the sound of a person's voice, the whistle of a train. In conversation, tone of voice is a more reliable indicator of mood and meaning than words alone. Sounds can make us shudder, shi ver, jumpÐor relax and smile. Scenes that include soundsÐ ngers scraping a blackboard, the distant baying of a houndÐ are more likely to evoke an emotional response. Sm ell has the remarkable ability to evoke memories. While not everyone is taken ba ck to childhood by "the smell of bread baking," we all have olfactory memories t hat can trigger a scene, a recollection of an event or person. Think of someone' s perfume, the smell of new-car leather, the odor of wet dog. Then describe that smell so that your reader is there.

Touch evokes a sensory response. Romance writers know they'll get more mileage o ut of writing "he trailed his ngertips along her spine" than "he whispered sweet nothings in her ear." The rst can evoke a shiver of shared sensory pleasure; the second is just words. Let your reader feel the silkiness of a cat's fur, the rou ghness of castle stones, the prickly warmth of your hero's annel shirt beneath hi s lover's ngertips. Let your heroine's feet ache, let the wind raise goosebumps o n her esh, let the gorse thorns draw blood. Finally, there is taste, which is clo sely related to smell in its ability to evoke memories. Taste, however, is perha ps the most dif cult to incorporate into a setting; often, it simply doesn't belon g there. Your heroine isn't going to start licking the castle stones, and it isn 't time for lunch. "Taste" images should be used sparingly and appropriately, or you may end up with a character who seems more preoccupied with food than with the issues of the story. The goal of description is to create a well-designed se t that provides the perfect background for your charactersÐa setting that stays in the background, without overwhelming the scene or interrupting the story. In re al life, we explore our surroundings through our actions, experience them throug h our senses, understand (or fail to understand) them through our knowledge and experience, and respond to them through our emotions. When your characters do th e same, readers will keep turning pagesÐand not just because they're waiting for s omething interesting to happen!

27 TURNING YOUR EXPERIENCE INTO FICTION By Edward Hower "THAT WOULD MAKE A GOOD STORYÐYOU OUGHT TO WRITE IT!" HOW many tim es have you heard people say this, after you've told them about some interesting experience? But if you're like me, you may not want to write directly about you rself, except perhaps in your private journal. This doesn't mean, however, that your own life can't be used as material for ction. Using your own experiences as starting places for stories or novels gives your work an authenticity that madeup adventures may lack. A great many ction writers have mined their own pastsÐsome of them over and over throughout their careers. Advantages of starting with your self Writing stories that are similar to real-life occurrences allows you to rel ive and to re-examine your life. In ction, you can explore all the might-have-bee ns of your past. You can experience the loves that didn't quite happen but that might have proved blissful or (more interestingly) disastrous in tragic or amusi ng ways. You can delve into your worst fears, describing what might have happene d if you hadn't been so careful about trusting strangers or about avoiding life' s dark alleys.

And by creating characters similar to yourself and to people you've known, you c an get a perspective on your past that couldn't come from direct, analytic exami nation. One of the most gratifying experiences I had in writing my last novel wa s getting to know my family all over again in ways I'd never previously consider ed. Some anger resurfaced, but so did a lot of compassion. And I nally got a kind of closure on my sometimes painful childhood that had eluded me before. I've em phasized writing about the past here rather than about the present. This is beca use I think it's a lot more productive to deal wit! material from which you have psychic distance. Selective memory can produce interesting, emotionally charged ma terial for ction. Recent events, however, are hard to deal with crea tively. Immediate reality intrudes, and issues unresolved in life resisi resolution in ct ion. Searching your life Here's an exercise I used while I was writing my semi a utobiographical novel. Night Train Blues. I've frequently given the exercise to students in my creative writing workshops, too. It's designed to help retrieve b uried memories and then transform them into usable images, characters, and episo des for stories or longer ction. First, decide on a period in your life you'd lik e to write about. A year in your past in which emotionally intense experiences h appened is often the best one. This doesn't mean that the events

Now imagine yourself going home during the time period you've chosen. alone. close your eyes. If you want to discuss people and events associated with it. Get to know i t again with as many senses as possible. For this reason. I mentally ran my ngers over it s smooth. Imagine entering it. smell? Now go to some object that was especially precious to you. E vents that caused you to change your attitude toward yourself and other people a re especially good. . Finally.need to be melodramatic. Small traumas and triumphs often make the best material for ction. First describe the object in great detail. you'll ll at least a page. write about the object's importance to you. . Get comfortable. Then ask yourself: Why did I choose thi s object? As soon as you're ready. . hear . Hold it. probably more. When I did this exercise. Turn it around. Picture yours elf approaching the place where you lived. Start the exercise in a quiet place. Feel it. that's ne. too. . smell? Go into the next room. . What do you see . . . the object I found was an old wooden radio with a clot h dial and an orange light that glowed behind it. If you write fast. open your eyes and start writing as fast as y ou can. many writers choose a period from childhood or adolescenceÐthe times of many emotional changes. You might give yourself ten to fteen minutes for the entire e xercise. rounded surfaces. Stand in the middle of the oor and look around. Don't edit what you write. I put my . hear . What's there? Now go into the roo m in which you kept your personal possessions. especially if they involve people you've had strong feelings about. Don't even pause to look back over itÐ ll as muc h paper as you can. and take slow deep breaths. What do you see . .

and I let him nd solace in its music. sports equipment. I remembered the warm relationship I'd had with the person who gave it to me. rst love. pictures. . What does the choice of this object tell about the character . and newfound freed oms. and clo thes were important items for people returning to adolescence. The radio also re-acquainted me with country songs I l ater came to associate with an important character in my novel. Dolls and stuffe d animals. I t wisted the dial. tools. and listened to my favorite childhood stations. too. . Thinking about the radio's meaning for me. my young hero's wandering older brother. Cars. Transforming truth into ction Now it's time to turn this object into the cen tral image of a story or novel chapter. Each freshly-reca lled object resonated with feelings about rebellion. articles of clothingÐa ll have been highly evocative objects that eventually radiated emotions not only for the writers but for their ctional characters as well. china gurines.nose up to it and smelled the dusty cloth warmed by the pale bulb behind it. Then jot down some answers to these questions: Character development 1. So I gave my ctional narrator a radio similar to the one I'd had. records." at the t op of a page. Give yourself a different name. My students have also come u p with radios given to them by important people in their lives. You are now a ctional character. on e who resembles you but who will gradually develop his or her own personality as you continue working. Write "If this were ction .

(AÐ"you") who chose it? · Who is A? Describe this person quickly. Jot down his or her favorite clothes. TV show. Ex pand the . food. 2. the voice of another. and so forth. political. period in history. you might choose people from your own life or people like the m who might have given you the object or might have coveted it. Characters often come from composites of several people you knewÐthe physical attributes of one pe rson. Say what religious. Follow the person around in your visualization. · Who is B? Describe B quickly. and ethical beliefs the character has. Imagine that yet another character (C) wants the object. childhood memory. Then write a fast page or two about what you discov ered. · What is B's relationship to A? 3. Another good way to understand a character is to make lists of his or her attributes and preferences. · What is C's relationship to B and A? When trying t o imagine B and C. obse rving and listening closely. the sense of humor or the mannerisms of another. breed of dog. One way to get to know characters not modeled after yourself is to start the visual ization exercise again. this time treating someone you knew as you did the objec t in the previous exercise. lm hero. · Who is C? Describe C quickly. Imagine that an other character (B) gave A the object. brand of car.

Try answering these questions: 1. choose one that interests you and try answering some more questions: 1. but i t gives you the background of the character that you need in order to write with authority. A and the object · Why does A treasure it? What will A do with it? · What problems might result from his having it? 2. Plot development The treasured object can give you some ideas about what storyline to follow. You may not use much of this material in the actual story. What dramatic action might result from this con ict? . B and the object · Where did B get the object? Why did B give it to A? · What problems might result from B giving it to A? 3. C and the object · Why do es C want the object? · What problems might result from C trying to get it? All pl ots involve con ictsÐthus the emphasis on problems. Once you've listed some con icts.list until you feel you know as much about this ctional person as you do about yo ur best friend. What eve nts might foreshadow this con ict? 2.

Then. You might want to draw a quick map with concentric circles radiating out from your own small wo rld. But do go into detail about discoveries that stand out sharply. . Deciding on a setting To become familiar with your ctional locale. dwelling . Be aware that the be st details of a setting give off strong emotions. The way they respond to their environment will hel p . How might the con ict be resolved? By this time. Observe the details of the room. beaches. Smell the smells. providing atmosphere for your characters to move around in. as if you were a bird. Pa y attention to detailsÐthe clothes people are wearing. bars. and the view from the windows. return to your region . you've probably discovered tha t although the story has ostensibly been about an object. political rallies. the county or region. and one or more other characters are basedÐclosely or loosely.3. t ry closing your eyes and visualizing the place where you found the object in the original exercise. Then start writing as fast as you can about things you've discovered on your journey. . One is a central character who probably resembles you in some ways. the signs in shop windows. the sounds you hear from th e other rooms. it doesn't matterÐon people y ou've known. playgrounds. y out a window to observe the neighborhood. the town or city. . . You don't need to include everything you foundÐthis isn't a memory test. Listen to the sounds of life . Feel the energy given off by ball parks. neighb orhood . the kinds of cars in the st reets. After you've own around for a while. it's really about peop le. . . and roomÐfor a last look-around.

Truth and invention What i f the characters and plot of your ction closely resemble real people and/or event s that have actually occurred? Does it matter? . How does the object resemble · You · cha racter A · character B and/or C 2. and trying to nd resolutions to th em. entering into con icts. you'll probably dis cover that whatever your story means. it will be helpful to go back to the treasured object at least o ne more time and answer these questions: 1. it has to do with people developing relati onships with each other. Development of a theme To get a grip on the s tory's meaning. The treasured object may fade in importance by the time you've nished the sto ry's last draft.de ne who they are and what they do. But it will have served its purpose. What effect does the object have on the relatio nship · between A and B · between B and C · between A and C Again.

If you use the techniques of ction-writingÐ characterization . plot.I don't think it does. . even those who know you best may not be clear about what you've recalled and what you've made up. change one or more of th ese attributes: size. If this happens. regardless of its source. and so onÐthen what you'll have at the end w ill be ction. This in it self can become part o f the creative process. hair color. and events. In this case. you'll probably have to change other details of the ctional work in order to t in the new material. clothes · Change the story's setting to a different region · Move the story backward or forward in tim e Having made these changes. shape. · With characters. places. con ict. helping you to imagine more and remember less. And you may not be sure. At the en d. nationality. yourself. you may be certain you've moved from autobiography to ctionÐone of the most interesting an d satisfying ways in which your writing can develop. y ou can do what a great many authors have done throughout history (sometimes on t he advice of their attorneys)Ðmake alterations in their ction to avoid resemblances to actual people. dialogue. accent. But you may still nd that similarities bet ween your life and your ction inhibit your creative writing. description. You might also worry that readers who know you could be disturbed by what you write.

Before you can either tell or show the rea der anything about your characters. until a scene . Further. the reader should never see the "strings " by which you. you must be able to portray your characters as individuals. yet one of the hardest to master. . everything." But these statements are meaningless if Justin doesn't insist on his own way of doing things or Matilda doesn't const antly try to overreach her abilities. How do you show the reader your protagonist is strong-minded to the point of being argumentative or that your he roine tends to bite off more than she can chew? Yes. their loves and hates and foibles. You must know how th ey feel about life. which means th at they should be distinctive. the universe. The puppet master Knowing these th ings." "Matilda had a tende ncy to bite off more than she could chew.28 DIALOGUE AND CHARACTERIZATION By Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff "SHOW. the writer. you could just say it: "Jus tin was strong-minded to the point of being argumentative. their educational level. Your heroine is str ong-willed. savvy self-assured . are manipulating the characters. DON'T TELL" IS ONE OF THE FIRST RULES OF THE FI CTIONAL road. . you must know them yourself: their history.

and she may be less than c onsistent as she goes about it.requires her to whine and grovel. By having a character's aws imposed from outside the story by the ( evil laughter) puppet master. Since this was not the c ase. t he coupling of this exclamation with an inappropriate modi er suggested that the s peaker had ceased to have a human appreciation of pain. Dialogue is. You are playing (ev il laughter) the puppet master. . Perhaps you can have your strong-willed. let the weakn ess come from inside. and results in guilt. you rob yourself and your reader of this drama. young protagonist be weakened by grief o ver the loss of a loved one. savvy. which in turn makes her angry at herself and the universe. "I'm wounded!" she said lightly. This charac ter's greatest struggle may be to rediscover herself. These forces can make a normally rock-solid personality resemble gelatin. one of the most essential tools of characterization and one of the easies t ways to undermine it. The title line of this section was in a manuscript I was given at a writer's conference some years back. in real life and in literature. it made the narrative voice (and hence the writer) seem unreliable. This weakness is contrary to her self-image. If you really need this character to whine and grovel at this point. Like a real human being. Some of the best moments of high drama. at once. In the context of this story. occur when awed human beings do incre dible things. and show the reader the genesis of that weakness. So she whines and grovels. a ctional character must seem to be the product of both nature and nurture.

they proliferate like March hares. In the kitchen. "Jerrod!" His ." which can affect both dialog ue and action. the manuscript would improve dramatically. but some stories have led me to suggest that if the writer cut abo ut three-quarters of the adverbs. He watched her in silence for a moment. Mark Twain is supposed to have said."You're so smart!" he snorted wryly. but couched in weak adverbs instead of strong verbs their anxiety is barely felt. Constance. Here's the same passage. A close companion of said-book-ism is "adverbitis. "I'm sorry. kill it. "Jerrod!" she cried ANXIOUSLY. but unwatched. reworded: Constance was in the kitchen preparing a simple meal. He found that he was still anxious and closed his eyes TIGHTLY and sighed LOUDLY. anxiety digging pitons into the wall of his stomach." Jerrod smiled NERVOUSLY." Extreme. "If you see an adverb. They call it "said-book-ism": People snort and exhort when perhaps they ought to just say something. Constance jumped and tur ned to face him. The adverbs here disrupt the dialogue and produce shallow characterization. He watched her QUIETLY. he found Constance preparing their meal. Constance jumped. We k now these people are nervous or anxious. Snorts are ne once in a while. What he meant as a cleansing breath came out as a melodramatic sigh.

If y our dialogue lacks emotional depth. I challenge thee to a duel (of words). If these essentials are not fully formed. it may seem as if the lines have been forgotten altogether and the characters have resorted to ad-libbing without listening to each other." Using mountain-climbing gear to evoke a mental image of anxiety for the reader c onveys much more than "he said anxiously. your characters will not be fully formed. Worse. and make characters seem like bad high sch ool actors ogging their way through scenes in which no one understands his lines or motivation.smile dried and set on his lips. I'd like you to meet my friend.) Oh." . that was dumb!" JERROD: "I agree!" PETER: "I apologize. hamper pacing. and a ction that your reader knows your characters and gauges their feelings." CONSTANCE: "I 'm glad to meet you. "I'm sorry. Here's an example: JERROD: "Constance. so will your characters. thought. my lady. (He tries to re ad her mind. Constance. Peter Harrar." PETER: "The pleasure is all mine. Strong verbs are be tter tools for building depth into dialogue than are weak verbs quali ed by adverb s. sir." CONSTANCE: "No need. Poorly constructed dialogue can reduce reader comprehension. my lad y." It's through dialogue.

" CONSTANCE: "I don't think so either. and lon g. I have got to speak to her. Leave him alone. Justin balled his sts against the desire to use them. "This cannot wait. trivial." the guard told him. me." JERROD: "Him???" PETE R: "Yeah." JERROD: "Don't you think you're overdoing it a bit?" PETER: "No. J errod. When I st ripped away all the aimless movement that accompanied this dialogue. "She is not receiving visitors.. friend! Would it be too rude just to bow?" CONSTANCE: "No . I am telling you-it is a . I don't think so. no . I don't think so." What's wrong with this conversation? Simply that it's not a conversationÐit's a du el (or the three-participant equivalent). "It is a matter of life and death!" Avoidi ng the use of contractions in an academic paper or essay may be a good idea." Justin tried not to let his desperation show. "I have to talk to Matilda. At least he knows the meaning of the word respect. The original scene staggered under the weight of stage business that seemed t o exist only to give the characters something to do with their bodies. Peter? Forget that she's a level ve Psi?" PETER: "One of these days. what was le ft was a barrage of small talk that took up several pages and failed either to a dvance the story or reveal character.JERROD: "What's the matter.. It's also repetitive. but in ctional dialogue it is a bad idea simply because real people generally do use contractions in their speech.

thoughts they can imagine others could have. poor Justin does not come across as a man desperate to see his beloved. Also. At the top of the thi rd landing. desperate. falsehood or ambiguity. The only difference between Dinsdale's being a rogue or a gentleman is in the adverb chosen to modify "asked." The lack of contractions here stiffens the prose and removes any urgency from th e scene. If a character is supposed to be callous. well. she might h ave broken her neck! Dinsdale's dialogue could just as easily have read: "What's the matter?" he aske d fearfully. "What's the matter?" he asked callously. Ultimately." This should raise a few red ags. show strength or weakness . his desire to manhandle the guardÐis at odds with the preciseness of the dialogue. . at the very least. Ariel followed Dinsdale down the long. The narrationÐhis suppressed desperation. Will the real Dinsdale please speak up? Speech and thoughts should reveal character. They're. dark ight of stairs. Below her. the wor ds a writer uses should be those that readers imagine a particular character wou ld use. Dinsdale stopped and glanced back o ver his shoulder.matter of life and death. truth. then the words he uses should reveal his callousness. Good God. she slipped and fell. Desperate people are not p recise in their speech. They must seem like thoughts the readers have o r.

just people talking. dark ight of stairs. Dinsdale stopped and glanced back ov er his shoulder. Below her. · Ask if ever ything you've written is necessary. You can do several things when you write dialogue to m ake it sound real: · Strip away all stage business and action. Hell. I magine your characters in a real-life situation. I don't have to tell you that Dinsdale spoke callously. "Trying to reach the bottom more quickly. he thought. might be to ask: If I strip away all mo di ers. she might have broken her neck and stuck him with having to dispose of the body. Fictional characters can't afford those luxurie s. my lady?" he asked. An acid test for dialogue. No movement.Let's try a different approach: Ariel followed Dinsdale down the long. They make even a simple glance over the shoulder seem hea rtless. Does it advance the plot or reveal character ? Real people "urn" and "uh" and "y'know" their way through life. his thoughts and words a re snide and uncaring. and they indul ge in conversations that wander. what do these words tell me about the character? Get real! You have to dev elop an ear for dialogue. · R ead your dialogue aloud to see what it sounds like if spoken by a real person. then. saying these words. At the top of the thi rd landing she slipped and fell. . Try to write dialog ue as if you were eavesdropping in the dark.

Then. k eep the dialogue as direct as possible. once informed of a fact. develop or reveal character. Tighten your prose. modify the pacing of the dialogue to work with the action. there are other ways to make your dialogue r ealistic. Make sure the plot is convi ncing. Here are a few of them: Get your plot straight. allowing the viewpoint character's thoughts to reveal to the reader who he is . the gist of conversations can be lost. If the pacing of a scene is off. You may wish to write dialogue from one character's viewpoin t. Nor. If necessary. Don't let "stage business" get in the way of dialogue.· "Run the scene" in your mind and put in the action and atmosphere only after you 're satis ed that the words work. Obviously. or give the reader necessar y information. Good dialogue can be the very embodiment of the phrase "elegant in its simplicity. it will be re ected in what the y say. A single plot aw can make your entire story unravel. If you don't know wher e your characters are going or where they've been. Don't contradict yourself or your characters. The purpose of speech is communication: Characters communicate with each ." Unless you 've created a character who is known by his very penchant for tangled phrases. Watch the pace. Establish a d e nite point of view. and important clues about character missed. cut any elements that don't advance the plot. do we ne ed to be reminded of it every time he speaks. We don't need to know whether a character brandishe d his revolver in his left or right hand. that the elements are clear and ow logically.

but their words must. Know your c haracters. Put words in t heir mouths that will make us like or dislike them (depending on their roles in your story). then stand back and watch what they do and listen to what they say. then introduce them to the reader. you communicate with your reader. . Give them distinctive personalities and motivation. Above all. make us care what happens to them for better or worse.other and through your characters. above all. put them in a situation. There's a story in that. don't pull their strings. Learn who they are.

If all good writ ing comes from lifeÐand I believe it doesÐand we fail to tap the source. In fact. dead or alive. thereby introducing his readers to Isabel Archer in Portrait of a Lady. HE WROT E of how tting he had found it to place a willful heroine in the gardens of an es tate he had long admired. I can't say that about herÐshe'll never speak to me again. bu t it's not going to help you much. O h. a thought that h as stopped me a lot.. who doesn't want to be captured in print. through the years there has been so much con ict be tween writers and those they write about (or those who think they are written ab out) that I don't presume to come up with a solution.29 USING REAL PEOPLE IN YOUR STORIES By Eileen Herbert Jordan WHEN HENRY JAMES DESCRIBED HIS WRITING METHODS. . Your story is about your willful mother-in-la w.. But a few things have work ed for me when I have had an idea for a story and been stopped by the thought. and God knows what it wil l do to your family relationships! There isn't a writer. we end with cardboard gures whose . she's not going to like it. when she reads your story. and thus capture her. That may have been ne for Henry James. And it's no wonderÐthe dilemma is very real. and no matter where you place her. who has not had this problem.

every move is unreal. Yet writing is what we do. Writing instructor s are fond of suggesting that the psyches of two or three people we know can be mingled to produce one in a story. most of us are not misogynists (or man haters. I also set the romance in Manhattan (it actually to ok place in the . Do a makeover. it is perfectly viable to make the switch and get away with it. But before you despair. fat person there lies a tall and w illowy one. either). It's often been said that inside every short. this one doesn 't work more often that it does. Recall the family situations you have observed in which daughters be haved exactly as their fathers had. the thing that de nes us. but it does more often than you w ould think. and we have to do it the best we can. after all. in the wo rld we live in. and quite a bit more lissome than my friend. I made my heroine younger. and whose story is usually unpublishable. Still. This doesn't always work. slimmer. en-gaged in the business of mixing the characteristics of differen t peopleÐ not in making soup. yearning to be free. and at best. of course. Well. Like many similar suggestions. I wrote a story about the romance of a friend of mine. you can do it. we court approval and dislike living in alienation. When a character's emotions and actions are not solely motivated by his gender. etc. taller. try these approaches: Change genders. it takes considerable skill. Aware that magazines crav e youth and beauty. although once it did boomerang and work in reverse. We ar e. in fact. I have done it often and h ave not been found out yet. sons mirrored the reactions of mothers.

This can be changed. After you have explored the gender possibilities. Ch ange the label. neighbors. gr and-motherhood had nothing whatsoever to do with my story. your mother your best friend. foible s intact. without the same baggage. and I knew the sneaky magic of liaisons that b egin there. Her reaction was a total surpr ise to me. try making your neighbor your sister. and give her a new identity. and she nev er would . having been rejected th e rst time around by an editor I knew slightly. I solved the problem by ident ifying her at the beginning as a grandmother. Most of us don't believe we are stars and never recognize ourselves as such. Despite the above example. so it didn't matter. What I did know was that the person in question was not a grandmother and had no urge to become one. your daughter your roommate. her eyes would glaze over as she read the word. and ironic. We are mothers. She admitted later that the probl em was she couldn't bear the thought of seeing it in print because she felt that I had invaded her privacy and written her story. I wrote a story that I felt mig ht not be popular with the person who inspired it. daughters. tooÐafter all my duplicity in fashioning the characters! Th e second editor. bought it. a makeover does not consist merely of a few cosmetic touches. Recently. however. Except for the age requirement. Simply take the person you know. often not. sometimes by choice. We are captives of our identity. sisters. making y our mother your father. The story was published.suburbs) because I knew the area. It is a process of imbuing your protagonist with a star quality she did not have before. de ned by labels we have acquired . but not right away.

Let me giv e you an example. I kno w a successful writer who was determined never to exploit friends. Don't think "Know Thyself" works for everyone. that one of the main characters was a clone of somebody she kne w. you can't do much about it. family." he said. they're sure they would recognize themselvesÐbut they don't. Change the skill. T o many people a skill or talent is as much a part of them as a thumbprint. or.connect any part of what followed with herself." Obviously. or you will lose your reader in the crowd. to her horror. But if the skill doesn't matter to the plot. a ballroom dancer. as one person. and she never did until she completed a novel. Mom. You may be surprised at the number of people who believe they could never be fo oled. therefore. I have two sons. i n fact. is a lack of abilityÐwe are all very aware of what we can't do. remember thatÐ then cross your ngers. But in a short story. tak ing it away. perhaps. They try to guess wh o's who and sometimes succeed. So. The main character in one of my recent stories was a dead ringer for my younger boy. which involved his swimming across a lake. I was right. you should not have too many characters. If you write a story that you know may expose someone. or the soul of a po et. until the climax. and I write about them often. conferring it on another character can bl ur recognition with no harm done. if what you are writing is to tally involved with a crosscountry skier. but sometimes I fool them. "Well. and found . changing it. I write about my sons. You know I don't swim. a . or ac quaintances. "this one's no t meÐI know that. reread it.

. Shortly after the book was publ ished. That did not take long. It's just w onderful. racking her brains for an approach as the other woman began walking toward her. Not only that. I couldn't put it down. either. she was Mat ilda. That Matilda is a monsterÐand so real! Congr atulations!" So she got away with itÐby a stroke of sheer luck. ()r mayb e I just never meet people like that. either. . And it was too late to do anything abo ut itÐexcept wait and see. at a party. . loo. . For a writer it is the ideal solution to the problem. the character was not a attering clone. and it is not one he forge ts. "Just one thing . the evil force who drove the story. . the writer gazed across the room and her eyes locked with tho se of her nemesis. she said. It has been almost forty years since .character who had somehow slipped from the writer's unconscious onto the printed page. What to do? Should she start the conversation with a burst of pleasantries." My friend swallowed h ard. And you may. "I've lead your novel." There was a pause. ignoring the iss ue? Should she apologize right away. call writers like herself insensitive clodsÐa nd see what happens? Should she just lie? The woman reached her side. "How do you ever dream up those characters? I could never do that. and grabbi ng her arm. She stopped still and just stood there silently.

opened and he can still remember how worried he was that the character of the household head would be offensive t o his father. So if you would rather take precautio ns. until his father came to him afterwards. Truman Capote lost all his friends when he made their identities obvious in a short story. try some I have suggested. It gets easier with practiceÐ in fact. that is. "I know so many men jus t like him. Worried.Neil Simon's lit st play." On the other hand. you feel as if you've made new friends! . shook his head and said. the characte rs you create grow so real. upon whom the play was entirely based. Come Blow Your Horn.

I beg an writing when I was very young. I used to work on 3 or 4 projec ts simultaneously. on average. I take anywhere from a year to two years to write a novel. I have always enjoyed working with language and id eas. does it take you to write a novelÐfrom idea to nished manu script? Do you ever work on two books simultaneously? A. I may nish a draft in 3 to 4 months. I work only on the novel. Q. Q.30 NOVEL WRITING: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS By Sidney Sheldon Q. I never know what is goi ng to happen next. How long. since I don't work with an . Do your books ever take unexpected twists as you are writing them? How far sh ould a beginning writer follow a tangent when it presents itself in the course o f writing a novel? A. I then spend the rest of the time rewriting until the manuscri pt is as good as I know how to make it. At what age did you think about becoming a writer? A. My rst poem was published by a children's magaz ine when I was ten years old. When I write a novel. before the publisher ever sees a word. W hen I was writing TV and motion picture scripts. The twists in my books are constantly surprising me.

evil goes back to the most ancient storytelle rs. Q. evil? A. I think the element of good vs. I think they're more interesting than men. the reader is left with a feeling of disapp ointment. the endings of your novels leave the reader with the sense of justice having bee n served. It's like a sonata where the last chord is dissonant. and likewise. If a beginning writer nds himself thinking about an unexpected tangent. more complex and more vulnerable. Some wise perso n once said that writers paper their walls with themselves. I've used incidents in my life in many of my books. Q. I believe that if evil triumphs. he or she should follow it. .outline. How have your experien ces and relationships with people been re ected in your novels? A. Your protagonists are morally strong individuals. vulnerability is important. Everything that a wr iter sees or hears usually winds up in some form in his or her work. That's the character talking. Most of the protagonists in my novels are femal es. Q. Since my novels have an element of suspense and da nger in them. Many novels are autobiographical to a large extent. How essential to modern storytelling is the element of good vs. I enjoy writing about women. Why are so ma ny of your main characters female? What are the options with and limitations of female and male protagonists? A.

your scene has already been started. Q. so if I took on their personality. What characteristics do novels and lms have in common ? What has to be left ou t when a novel is turned into a lm? What does a novel gain from being a lm? . especially if that novel is autobiographical. and I meet new characters every few years. about a playwright who wrote a smash hit and had trou ble writing a second play until he moved back into the povertystricken life he w as living when he wrote his hit play. do you nd yourself almost chameleon-l ike. One of the most practical suggestions I have for trying to prevent writer's b lock is to end each day's work with the beginning of the following day's scene. The characters in my novels are very real to me while I'm writing the ir story. or shifting from one to a nother? A. Some writers seem to have only one novel in the m. but life goes on. so that when you sit down to write the next morning. C'arl Reiner wrote a wonderful play called Exit Laughing. taking on a character's personality as you write. I'd be in real t rouble! Q. afraid that they ca n't live up to their rst success. Q. When a character completely absorbs you. Why do so many successful rst novelists have dif culties writing their s econd novels? A. I've had a few murderers in my books.Q. What tactics do you recommend for overcoming the dreaded writer's block? A. One of the reasons that some successful rst novelists have probl ems writing their second novel is that they are intimidated.

and will gain a wider audience for the author. You have to phrase your sentences so that it is clear to the reader th at you are now taking him back in time or forward in time. He would then pick out the number (a love sc ene. When you jump backward or forward in time. Q. where e ach scene in the book was numbered. How attentively should a beginning writer listen to his critics? How seriousl y do you take reviews of your work? Q. a murder scene.A. extraneous scenes. Many writers will plot out their books in advance. it's usually wonderful publicity for the book . Do you write scenes in the orde r they will appear in the novel? Or do you write key scenes rst and arrange them later? A. Q. I write my books in sequence from beginning to end. how they should be used. When a novel is turned into a lm. it is easy to confuse the reader. but it is a mistake to rely solely on those methods. so handle them carefully. etc. These are important guide-posts. or when? What devices d o you use for transitions from past to present? A. and extraneous characters . or that you have retu rned to the present. .) and write the scene he was in the mood to do that day . Flashbacks are very tricky an d have to be handled carefully. Do you have any strong fee lings about the use of ashbacks. Novels and lms both tell stories. I read that Jerzy K osinski used to get up in the morning and look at the huge board he had. There are mechanical devices like asterisks and lea ving extra space between paragraphs. What has been left out when a novel is turne d into a lm is a lot of description.

it's your problem. .A." but I realized that if you have to expl ain. it's not the reader's problem. I learned long ago never to ignore a speci c criticism of my work. I look for constructive c riticism. As far as how seriously I take reviews of my books. I don't hold the general critical community in very high regard. I used to sa y. it depends on the reviewer. "but don't you see what I meant was.

but I suggest that a . from reading manuscripts in slush piles." I read again and again. gosh. The getting A's in high school English habit George Bernard Shaw said you're not a writer till you know ve syno nyms for every word. "Well. I was both elated and frustrate d. I didn't see anything wrong with a sentence like. These days.31 MAKING EVERY WORD COUNT IN YOUR STORY By Diane Lefer YEARS AGO. and from working with s tudents at various stages of development. That may be true. She squeezed the trigger and red a shot from the gun held in her hand. I've isolated some of t hese habits to keep my students and myself alert. I can't stop myself from thinking. I'm not making fun of the writer. I'm convinced we pick up the habit of being long-winded because we've often won praise for it. I didn't think she red it by licking the trigger with her tongue. From experience with my own writing." But even as I no w laugh at the sentence. "Needs tightening. WHEN MY STORIES STARTED COMING BACK IN THE MAIL with w ritten comments instead of form rejection slips. I pictured a screwdriver and hadn 't the slightest idea what these editors wanted me to do.

For example. when the character drinks her morning coffee. The only caution I would advise is: if you see a word repeated again and again in a paragraph. but the language and style come from a world very differ ent from our own. because the re are very few true synonyms. I can't tell you how many stories I've read in ma gazine slush piles in which a character makes herself a cup of coffee and thenÐI'm already cringing in anticipation of the language that all too often followsÐshe b rings the cup of hot brown liquid to her lips and savors the aromatic beverage. There are much worse sins than using a word twice. Unless there's something very unusual about her coffee routine. Personally. word repetition is often good. I often crave a cup of coffee. this is a conventional scene that does no t require details. inhaling the aroma. Novels considered classics h ave admirable features. euphemism. because we've been taught that word repetition is bad.writer who knows ve synonyms should also know enough not to use them. I do not crave a cup of hot brown liq uid! Why do we do it? In part. it may add depth to a story. you may be dragging out the scene. and indirect statement are stylisti c features of much of the writing of earlier times. but in creative writing. pouring it. Many writers. We also stretch out our sentences to show off our extensive v ocabularies because substitution. you probably don't need the details of her making it. and this is place where your manuscript can be tightened or condensed. Repetition may cre ate an incantatory effect. When the same word shifts its meaning slightly in the text. trying to model their own writing on work they'v e . and nally drinking it.

end up writing in old-fashioned language that isn't natura l or comfortable for themÐor for their characters. Don't T ell" so many times. she or he is afraid to summarize anything and is thinking of the rule rather than its effect.been taught is great. He approached the door. "Show. in part because such writing indicates a fas cination with language that should be encouraged in a young writer. He turned the knob. as literary writers. the smooth surface against his right palm as hi s ngers grasped. turning. you learned to drop or u se with caution. Think of the opening sentence to Ford Mad dox Ford's novel. placed his hand on the doorknob. such as leaving or entering rooms . So why did your English teacher s love it? Why did you get A's for writing that way? In part. They often p raised you for writing that later. I think the show-don't-tell rule is overapplie d most often in portrayals of emotion. presented in excruciating detail: His thigh muscles contracted as he rose from his chair. a nd paused a moment on the threshold before walking out. closing and loc king the door behind him by inserting and turning the key he had at the appropri ate moment removed from his pocket. opening the door. The creative writing rules habit One problem I often see in man uscripts is a description of ordinary actions." . because your teach ers studied and respected classics. I know the writer has heard the rule. When I read such a passage. pushed against the wood. The Good Soldier: "This is the saddest story I have ever heard .

my eyes clouded wi th tears. but must illustrate the emotion with th e wetness of tears and tightness in the throat. I'm not suggesting that emotion must always be presented through a direct statement. and I shuddered with the chill of the saddest feeling I had ever known . her heart a slack muscle. it never quite snapped back and stubbornly holds. P ick it up again and reread the sentence. Which is one great advantage a story ha s over a movie: If you're ." a short story by Sharon Sheehe S tark (from The Dealer's Yard and Other Stories. He cried. I would not h ave read on if the narrator had begun with a conventional show-don't-tell portra yal of sadness: When I heard the story I'm about to tell you. I have to put down the book. who years earlier lost her husband and children in the Johnstown ood and who se continuing emotional wound is invisible to those around her: But what they perceive as tranquility. but I found that stark assertion irresistible as an opening. (Morrow. Francine experiences as a sort of unpleas ant limpness. this example is exaggerated.The story the narrator goes on to tell certainly isn't the saddest I have ever h eard. my throat constricted. muf ed sobs and a deep sigh rose from somewhere w ithin me. It's about Franc ine. or He felt sad. Obviously. then the soft shape of it. One of my favorite sentence s of all time comes from "The Johnstown Polka. That's the kind of line that makes me stop short. if not sorrow itself. 1985). but many writers do feel they're not a llowed to say. as if after having delivered an outsized grief.

This sentence illustrates why I love literary ction. "I felt sad. But no one. we learn to Tell them what you're going to tell them. spare the reader the c arefully crafted restatement of what everyone already knows (e. Looking at this sentence. . The technique of redundancy is reinfor ced by TV news. you're better off writing. giving speeches. . tears are wet) .g. Mary? "I'm her e in Mayberry. at the scene of an early morning re that destroyed three buildings and left twenty families homeless.overwhelmed. you can stop and catch your breath. but we're alive and . Every one has thoughts. ideas that truly matter. But maybe I can say something else. If. then tell them what you've told them." Then Mary brie y interviews a man who says. And now we go to Mary Jones. Stark's sentence i s an example of what language can do. then tell th em. "We lost everything and we're homeless. When you don't. not even a literary genius. The written story can't go on w ithout you. . ha s something profound to say all the time. as writers. I know I can't duplicate it. feelings. making presentations. In this context." The speech and presentation habit Man y of us have experience in lecturing. something to strive toward. we're going to have something as a standard. The an-chorperson says: An early morning re destroyed three buildings and left twenty families homeless i n Mayberry. live on the scene.

and that's what counts. She was upset over Glenn's drinking iiiul that they were ghting about it. all those people homeless after the re. The last paragraph sums up the material and repeats the meaning to be drawn from it. this problem can be easily sol ved by cutting the rst and last paragraphs. Editing can solve this problem. Just two drinks. " Terrible situation. Then. who says. they won't let the moment speak for itself but will summa rize it. Of course. But they're alive." Then back to the anchor.that's what counts." I see this pattern again and again in short stories." Glenn said. but when there's an overall effect of redundancy . . "I had tw o drinks. They will often begin a scene by telling what is about to happen. For example: On Sunday morning. Linda threw up her hands in de spair. The writer explains in the r st paragraph what the story's going to be about and what's going to happen. and it's less likely that an editor will wa nt to bother. Glenn and Linda had a ght about how much he'd had to drink at the party. A wonderful short story can't be summarized in a paragraph. the manuscript may become tedious. Not only does this kill suspense. but I nd that many writers also fall i nto this pattern throughout the development of the story. "Why did you have to get drunk at that party?" Linda asked. Big deal. There is no one single meaning or lesson readers should take from it. after presenting the interacti on between characters. but it detracts from the meaning.

Sentences that develop obvio us information encourage the reader to skim. you're also doing it for your reader. you're tightening your prose not only to improve your chances of publication.Most important. Wouldn't you rather have your reade rs pay attention because every word counts? .

What emotions? Love and hate. They will not turn to the next chapter or even the next page unless the material engages their emotions. as I composed a sentence or paragrap h. rst by developing sympathetic characters. rather than from reason. The more reade rs identify or sympathize . and setting. SCREAM AND WEEP BEFORE YOUR KEYBOARD. I kept this in mind when I started writing my rst novel. joy and despair.32 PUTTING EMOTION INTO YOUR FICTION By Bharti Kirchner LAUGH. I felt the emotion myself. In ct ion. plot. Why are emotions important? Because they're more c ompelling than ideas. timidit y. which are the stuff of non ction. MAKE YOUR reader feel. and humiliationÐthat move people and characters minute to minute. Whether simple and understated or complex and dramatic. emotions need to be conveyed in a story. I hose are the sig ni cant ones to develop over a novel or chapter. fear and hope. Shiva Dancing. I looked for every opportunity to mak e an emotional impact on the reader. facts. In developing characters. the character must act from emotion. But there are othersÐpride. shame. Often. and reasoning. And emotional truth is the reward readers hope to get from a novel. word t o word.

This incident is meant to draw an emotional response from the reader . looks on helplessly. the writer. for example. T he example below from The Power of the Sword by Wilbur Smith shows that the char acter is agitated: Centaine was too keyed up to sit down. The girl cries as she's snatched away from her mother's loving embrac e by two big men on camels. She stood in the center of the oor and loo ked at the pictures on the replace . seven-year-ol d Meena is kidnapped by bandits from her village in Rajasthan on the night of he r wedding. If emotion is important. stating a mental condition directly may not convince the reader. They're about to take her to their home in New Delhi. In real life. don't tell. For ex ample: She was anxious. you observe someone's behavior and draw appropriate conclusions. the ques tion is: How do you. At the end of the chapter Meena's found by an American couple in a train far a way from her village. actually depict it on paper? And how does the r eader know what that emotion is? The cardinal rule is: Show. when the chapter ends. The reader is likely to ask at this point: What's going to happen to Meena? Will she ever nd her village? Wh ere will she end up? Turn to the next chapter. In othe r words. In the rst chapter of Shiva Dancing. the more they'll feel her emotions and be curious enough to turn the page. who shuf ed after them. wher e they're temporarily posted. Her old grandfather.with your protagonist.

is not an end in itself. After the reading. who raise her in San Francisco. Use a simile. Here's one of Meena's reactions in Shiva Danci ng." and the tabla musi c has reached a crescendo. Meena's reaction? Her tea tasted cold and weak. however. Meena goes to a bookstore to attend a reading by Antoine Peterson. Readers are convinced of an emotion only when they recogn ize a physical reaction similar to one they've experienced themselves: a racing heart. In one scene. trying to keep her hand stea dy. An emotion. as Alice Hoffman does in Second Nature: He just couldn't shake the feeling of d read. he was like an old woman. Meena is ad opted by the American couple. since a person may not reveal his true feeling in his speech. Notice how much more effective the above is than saying: He was afraid. a celebrity novelist she has met brie y on one previous occasion. she's 35. This is often effect ive. a software techie. Use physical symptoms. but rst a bit about the story and the scene where she nds herself. She set her cup down. or cold palms. When we meet her a gain. working for a Bay Area company. he invite s her for tea.wall without actually seeing them. waiting for disaster to strike. Antoine mentions his upcoming marriage to Liv and the ir honeymoon. stiff legs. Describing it in a . Just when the chai is tasting "creamy smooth. You can also show an emotion through a character's thought.

Here's an example from The Rest of Life by Mary Gord on. She can't recognize any of the sights. in one poignant moment . She embroidered their names on their baby sari. one of the rst to board. she notices that the thatched-roof house s have been replaced by newer buildings. [emot ion] Though I try to bring out a character's feelings even during the rst draft. a milestone in life. [fact] Then the train starts up with an insulting lurch. Meena meets a schoolboy on the street and asks. Everyone in the village came to her. . [action and fact) Everything is still and quiet. In Shiva Dancing. As she arrives with her driver.vacuum is never enough. a return to some place previously visited. She's eager to nd her mother. I nd I never catch them one hundred per cent. She gets into the train. about her mother: "My mother made clothes for the kids. The reader knowsÐbut Meena doesn'tÐthat her mother is l ong dead. or a ashback where emotions can be injected. some piece of dialogue. Nostalgia. Revision is the perfect time to check fo r the following: What are the various emotional situations in which the protagon ist has found herself? How does she react to the stimulus? Look for a sentence. are potential sou rces. Meena returns to her village after an absence of three d ecades. You have to combine facts and action with emotion to cre ate an illusion of reality." The shocking reply that comes to Mee na through her driver is: His mother buys ready-made clothes for him.

the outwardly polite Carlos explodes: "She had strong feelings for you. "My s ituation is different now. "Just help me up. Meena's my friend. and now he h as the task of nding out where she is actually staying." The words used in a dialogue can be simple. but speech in ction must have the effect of potential shockers. who tells him Mee na has left for India. Pardon me if I'm getting a little emotional." A person's words may be a smoke screen. Antoine doesn't like Carlos in the rst place. a close friend of Meena's. It hurts m e to see her cut up like that. Antoine returns from a book tour and immediately goes to visit Meena at her apartment." "I didn't mean to hurt her. has been unwilling up to this point to share any information about her. yes-and-no answers might do in real life. but her voice. he nds Carlos. Carlos. And what do you do? You build up her hopes." "It better be. Fina lly. Here's Alice Hoffman in Second Nature: "Help me up. I've never seen Meena get so excited about a m an. but just repeating a phrase can inte nsify the emotion." Richard Aaron shouted over the sound of the hooves hitting against the earth. Notice how Gail Godwin does this in The Finishing School: . facial expression. There. and ge stures can be a dead giveaway.Use sizzle in your dialogue: Inane comments. In Shiva D ancing." Antoine said. then dump her the day Liv comes back. protective of Mee na.

Here's novelist Antoine in Shiva Dancing arriving in Calcutta in pursui t of Meena. The italics is mine. He feels lonely and uncertain. T here's tension among her coworkers. almost . He yearned for fresh bread made just for him. those that bring an emotiona l surge. Use symbolism. an object. This is equivalent to using background music in a movie to highlight the action on the screen. Along with the smoke came the smell of f reshly baked at bread. Meena is about to attend a staff meeting at Software International Company. an event. When selecting from a number of details in a surrounding. "Where did you hear about them?" Another place where an emotional quality can be imparted is in the setting. A symbol is a habit. In this example from Shiva Dancin g. You can make effective use of the environment to set a mood. The scene opens with a short description of the conference room: Sunlight streamed in through the room's only window. p ick only those elements relevant for the character. casting shadows of the sauc erlike leaves of the potted plants on the wall without warming the room. whe reas a sunny day on a beach is quite the opposite. Her deep eyes and rhythmic gestures reminded him of Meena. A young woman in a yellow-orange sari browned the puffy ro ti rounds over the re. Crea te an atmosphere: A dark house on a stormy night has a sinister connotation. Everything he sees through his taxi w indow on the way to the hotel is colored by his present mental condition: Antoine's eyes watered as acrid charcoal smoke from a clay oven on the sidewalk drifted in through the open car window.Her chin shot up so fast that it set in motion the crest of her feathery haircut .

pointing. she always keeps a glass of wat er on her desk and sips from it often. more leisurely writing gives the reader more breathing space. M ataji would hold a glass of well water to her mouth. she had been thirsty all the se years. Meena made a cup of her hands. As she did so. Collect "feeling" words: Avoid overusing common words." or "blissful. such as "loving." Consider cataloguing your own feelings in a notebook and using t hem for your characters. He rushed to it and levered the handle until water gushed out. it migh t be necessary for you to . As a preparation for writing. In general. Without knowing it. a symbol used for Meena is her thirst. ultimately it's the writer's own emotions that set the tone of a scene or piece of ction. is her longing fo r her desert homeland. Animated Exasperated Dif dent Sated Bubbly Petri ed Refreshed Crushed Regard less of what techniques are used. in effect. She had missed it. she went back in time when she was tiny. short sentences and paragraphs heighten t he drama." the boy said. Here are some examples: paragraphs all broadcast to rea ders how they should feel.anything charged with a hidden meaning that stems from association. drank deeply and splashed the remainder on her face." "calm. This clear earth water tast ed the same. whereas longer. "Tubewell. The true meaning of this ritualistic habi t is revealed to her only after she nally returns to her village. In her San Francisco of ce. which. In Shiva Dan cing.

Readers feel manipulated when presented with one misery after another . the pacing of Avoid sentimentalit y. To sum up. They may curse you be cause they burned the rice. dropped their aerobics routine. Or. As important as emotions are. but they won't put your book down. In general. l ike an actor. don't overemphasize powerful ones such as loss and grief. The choice of words. the more you need to restrain your passi on in describing it. don't be afraid to transfer one or more emotiona l experiences of laughter. pain. or agony to your readers. and were late for wo rk. the stronger the emotion. the length of a sentence. You may summarize such happenings or provide relief by using humor and insight . . you might assume a new role and experience a new set of emotions.revisit an incident in the past and try to identify and relive an emotion.

what the problem is." with one . For one thing. But on the page it's hard to convey what the listener knows is the subtext. you don't have the tone of voice. Who could confuse a character from P. nuances. Yet . A few lines of conversation. Achieving the same instant sense of "knowing all about" ctional people is more dif cult. D. in ections. and you know at once what the relationship between the people i s.33 PITCH-PERFECT DIALOGUE By Shelby Hearon I'M AN INVETERATE EAVESDROPPER. NOTHING IS MORE FUN THAN going out for an early-morning muf n or a late-night plate of fried eggs and listening t o the couple or the family in the booth behind you. In real life. "That was preternatur ally slow. which is so reveal ing. scraps of talk. All without even turning your head. where they're coming from. James saying. the transactionÐ"I think I'll have the pancakes" and "I'm looki ng at the waf es"Ðcan be heard with several different undertones. the secret of pitch-perfect dialogue begins there: with trying to gure out what you know and how you know it when you're listening in on other lives. Private e yes and spies provide unbeatable "eavesdropping" opportunities on the printed pa ge.

waiting on that tight. Maybe taking some of my gall out will make me easier to live with. I guess I'm as ready as I'll ev er be.from Elmore Leonard asking. So you de cideÐtwo birds with one stoneÐto have your father-type in the hospital about to have his gallbladder out. My old man. I always start on a new character by askin g myself what I want to tell the reader rst about the person. Your man says: "Hey. I can't help it. He's prepped. "Wha' took you so long?" But in addition to these ob vious clues in vocabulary and syntax." Or he says: "Morning. But. white-sheeted bed." . Younger than me. he at out died from this same troubl e. an d in comes John Archer. I'm cold as a sh. look at me. watch out when you're messing around down there below the belt you don't remove anything I may need. Dr. I know a few who'd agree with that. How to tell somethi ng is not nearly as dif cult as deciding what is the crucial trait to reveal. and a lot of emotion on their relation to the guy in charge. Ha ha." Or he says: "Jeez. John. you know they spend a lot of time wishing their bodies were d ifferent. I'm scared blue. Archer. say you decide to show right at the start how your character (let's take a fath er-type of guy) feels about his body and how he feels about authority: If you're dealing with men. Arch. abdominal surgeon.

you make me feel really special. always repeats. . So maybe you start with her having lunch with him in a public place. You like that soup. you're always paying for everything.Or he says: "Well. will be looking over your shoulder when you pick up that knife. Really. at least in our love life. the trip to Cancun. that total ly gorgeous pink sweater. remember? The sort of borsch. the corned beef prob ably isn't any better. but my law partners. but just once I'd like to order for myself." O r she says: "Here. I think you left your glasses on the da shboard. It agrees with you. to make your point that history." Let's take another example. it's just a matter of a phone call to Mom. y ou said last time. Say you want to show that t he way a young woman feels about her man goes right back to how she feels about her mom. don't take this as lack of con dence." Or she says: "You're sure? Gosh. Lunch." From here.. malpractice litigators par excellence. in whi ch we overhear a few snippets of conversation. I'll read it for you. Sh e says: "The pastrami was O. Doc.K. I mean it. I don't care all that much. Just once I'd like to open my mouth and say exactly what I want.

He's been wounded by her. My own preference is to "cast against type. but _________. I jot down every sentence like that I overhear. I often do this." "Do you know how comments like that hurt? Do you have a clue . the other doesn't." "It's ti me to _________." "Place an ad . One I picked up when I moved to Vermont (writers love to move around to new places for this reason!) and I'm sure to put to use s oon is: "He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. I want the wh ole baggage." "No point in _________." And I always have my ear out for phra ses I have never heard before. For example." "I'm mad as _________. she wants to play around." to use a lm term. and one you'll unconsciously pick up when you're listening in.An aid to writing convincing dialogue. is to give your character her or his own special metaphors . Readers will be more apt to hear the ght and r eally feel they have come to know these two people. just to get new voices clearly in my head: Ha ve each character say. as an exercise. "I want marriage." And alm ost anything can follow _ "he's a true friend. she h as grown tired of all the talk about commitment. Anothe r choice the writer can make in deciding how to reveal character through dialogu e is selecting who gets to say what lines. He wants to get married. One of them has been hurt to the quick by t he cavalier attitude of the other." "steady as night and day. The dirty socks and pink toothbrush and recycle bins. if you do the unexpected." "some body you can trust." etc. listen to a couple ghting: One of them want s to get married. "It's hot as _________.

real life suggests these switches on th e expected. then reverse it and read he said and she said. And I'm sur e our conversation mirrored the ones we'd had in the past. driving to the trailhead in the Rockies to pick up my backpacking son. I went back to Aspen after a long absence. A lot of times." "Lighten up. because expected scena rios get in the way. the reader doesn't really hear the words. What are my options in this burg. Go back to the thrillers I mentioned earlier. "I never know where you are or when you're coming home. (To prove that if I wasn't the sharpes t knife in the drawer. anyways?" Spoken by a par ent to a child. setting a time when I had to return. and you hear the impasse between them in a new w ay. gone sometimes for days at a time. I can recall when I was a young mother.ve-year-old mother. and proper gear. checking to be s ure I had a wind-breaker in case of a summer storm. the two lines seem fresh. and a new situation is suggested. Or try a parent and child. What if Elmore . grown. at least I wasn't rusty. The reader is drawn into the story. Th en. But spoken by a twelve-year-old boy to his forty.how words can bruise?" Read them with she said and then he said. to see if I coul d do the day hikes I'd done years before.) And there my son was. three years ago. with the roles revers ed. dr iving me to the trailhead.

he clings to the belief his daughter is still aliv e. becomes qu ite scienti c in her handling of loss.Leonard's guy on the lam in Florida says. exploring in a cool. and becomes very mystical about the transplant. in turn. "Wha' took you so long?" There would be a sense of having met someone unexpected and the surprise would engage the reader. considering the tr ansplant almost akin to Frankenstein's borrowed life. The father (a br ain scientist) is devastated." and R D. But why not imagine you ar e listening to them talk over coffee in the booth behind you. In my current novel. What does she say to him? What does he say to her? What does the reader overhear? . Footprints. what the mind or self really is. "That was preternaturally slow. James's man in London asks. His wife. investigative manner t he theories of what life is. and her heart is transplanted into a southern preacher's chest. I have a couple whose daughter died in a car wreck.

and character that lives on my mind. Fiction is generally only as inte resting as the people in it. So what is our attractio n as both readers and writers to the lives of imaginary people? And why is that some ctional characters are indelible and continue to evolve in our memory. developed. as well as the evocatio n of emotion in the reader. on e might argue that character lies at its soul. stock. In my own reading. and o thers are quickly forgotten? Character may be one of the least understood and mo st . resur facing and informing my memory of the work. static characters may well he one of the de ning distinctions between literary and popular ction. A curious thing about ction is that i t often can approach certain truths that non ction can't.34 CHARACTERS THAT MOVE By Alyce Miller WHILE CONFLICT IS CERTAINLY AT THE HEART OF ALL GOOD FICTION. animated characters versus si mple. The multiple meanings of "Characters That Move" sugg est several possible kinds of motion essential to presenting interesting charact ers: physical or emotional (as in change or revelation). Complex. One famous writer said that you need just enough pl ot to hang your characters on. it is character that time and aga in draws me back to a story or novel.

it seems to me. and even in third-person narratives. Voice may begin in fragments. The best characters. I believe it can be distractingÐpartly. and events unfolding. Many books on writing s eem to encourage this. and most characters are probably composit es of real and imagined people transformed through the writer's imagination. a question. with all sorts of notes about their characters. to allow the v oice to take shape and the language to develop. pick up a pen and follow it. The actual process of writing is performative. are those that the writer seems to live. This can often be a writer's introduction to a character . I think." In this way .challenging elements of ction writing. I have seen impressive numbers of pages lled by writers. ction is about invention. with characters speaking and acting and doin g. as in a phrase. Fiction writ ers talk a lot about character. much like an actor inhabiting a role. the two are inseparable. writing has a performance aspect. or an observation. Perhaps it's helpful to move away from the idea that we "write about" characters and instead that we "become them. thoughts that do n't exactly belong to you. even though not publicly staged. it's time to grow quiet and listen. Voice is often the start of a ctional character. When that happens. "Does your charact er believe in God?" or "Has your character traveled a lot?" I have never found t his strategy useful and. Ultimately. Some writers swear by writing biographies for character s or making lists of attributes. You might be walking down the street when something starts in your head. or you hear a voice distinct from your own internal m onologues. And if the voice persists. Poets talk a lot about voice. an in ection. even offering lists of questions like. in most cases. .

or at least not until the situation ari ses? And even if she does. sometimes just the germ of an idea is enough to launch a piece of cti on. as an accumulation of details. your cha racter is a doctor. Forster introduced the famous t erms " at" and "round. It also may encourage a kind of imp osed development of the character. a at character is often . the better. we squelch other possibilities and eliminate surpris es. Imposed attributes often lead to chunky characterization. We place a template over the story and insist it has to go a certain way. E.M. not the other way around. though. but it served the important purpose of getting you closer to the character. Sometimes the less you know when starting out. Ultimately. In your mind you may picture what medical school the charact er attended." Simply put. How can you possibly know if your character believes in God. In his discussions of character. how does that belief affect the development of the st ory? It may be completely unimportant. but it may not ever need to be mentioned in the story. you do need to know much more about your character than may end up in the story or the novel you are writing. tu gging and pulling it into place. for example. A character is much more than the sum of her parts . unless it serves a larger purpose be yond exposition. You might ad d it at a certain point and then strike it. If we begin to i mpose attributes too early. It's my sense that we discover what is im portant to our characters by writing.because the exercise isolates character from the rest of the work and treats it mechanically. Say. rather than allowing the character to unfold and reveal herself naturally. Or you may nd yourself writing a scene that you later discover i s unnecessary.

but generally. but have emotions. those who are dy namic. and. mixed motives. Humbert Humbert. capable of some change (usually subt le). the main characters should be in the round category: They not onl y exist or act. despite the f act that he is nally morally reprehensible. as we get more and more information. Getting inside a character's head is essential. Even a despicable char acter requires empathy and understanding. they are human. Charles Dickens was a master of a t characters. This is different from approval. or a person we might think of as one-dimension al who generally functions in a secondary role. There needs to be the connection that keeps the reader reading. aws. There is certainly a place for both types of characters in a work of ction. Nabokov's lecherous narrator in Lolita. wicked. and this is why characters behave in less than n oble . It has been said that a bit of th e writer is in every character. though issues of mora lity may surface naturally in the course of the story. complex. Dickens was also a master of round characters. some of ction's m ost notorious. skilled at nding the one detail (often ironic or humorous) that de ne d the character. dreams. In fact.a xed (static) or stock character. disap pointments. and his fa cility with language and word play is more than entertaining. our attitudes toward a character change through the course of a novel or story. and most important. and they are ind ividualized through particulars rather than painted with the broad brush of gene ralities. or dif cult characters are some of readers' favorites. Or consider how as readers. important. mobile. The writer's role is not to sit back and make pronouncements of moral judgment. He is funny and observant. For example. exudes charm a nd wit and intelligence in the telling of his rst-person narrative. hopes. In other words. thoughts.

In the movie Sybil. There's an old adage "write what you know. Often.ways. "Mama. but it is a truth the observer has not adequately proc essed." Writers are people upon whom little that goes on in the world is lost. he may run into the temptation to dr aw on stereotypes. i nability to absorb without judgment. and there are no limits to what a writer can write. and it becomes distorted and ultimately misunderstood or misinterpreted. or imagined). It is about transformation. Many writers may not be aware of when writing stops and life begins. so intertwined the two become. The interesting thing about stereotypes is that there is often a ker nel of truth at the core. not transcription. ev en those who may be composites of real people. if a writer reaches too far out of hi s experience (real. runs home and ecstatically exclaim s." and many writers take it liter ally. it's sheer laziness on the part of a writer. as long as the particulars of character are there. there is a wonderful scene in which a small child who w itnesses Sybil accessing other personalities. or based loosely on people the wr iter has known. therefore. they pay attention. Fiction works in the territory of the imagi nation. Characters. Sometimes. inattention to detail. They listen. borrowed. and run headlong into s tereotypes. they watch. Part of the key to creating characters is being willing . he may start with a limited understanding of how something works in another culture or social structure. become transformed through imagination and language. about the woman with multiple personalities. Sybil's just stuffed with people!" Perhaps the writer is also stuffed with people. There are many ways of "knowing. For example. they make mental notes.

The know-it-all writer often attens a character faster than a speeding train. they need an attentive writer.to learn. . they need space to stretch their leg s. Most of all. one who is willing to take the ti me to observe and chronicle what is being revealed. Characters need room to move around.

Ah. A couple of days before this happened they had vacuumed the parade ground. but I never saw their faces among the crowd of rush-hour passengers. here we are. but I still wake sometimes in the small hours and occupy m yself with speculations as to where and in what . those Germans are thorough! You could have rolled out pastry on that parade ground. The rst voice. asked. There was this white agpole in the middle of (he parade ground. Charing Cross." "But what about the mushroom?" "1 was coming to that." The train stopped. there were only two of cers in charge. t aking with them forever the secret of what happened to the mushroom. Lord. "Well. the two men got out. .35 PIQUING THE READER'S CURIOSITY By Joan Aiken ONCE WHEN I WAS SITTING IN A PACKED LONDON UNDERGROUND Train. . . That was ab out thirty years ago. "Did I ever tell y ou the story of the mushroom?" "No. what was it?" the other voice asked. I he ard the following snatch of conversation between two men who were standing close by me. the sort that alerts you at once to listen.

like radiationÐis unleashed by attempts to discover what lies ahead. the terrible revelations of Bluebeard's chamber. But how is it done? How can you keep your readers atwitter with suspense? Some authors can relate the most wonderful.circumstances the mushroom turned up. to skip all the tedious interve ning chapters and turn on to the very last page. Psy che spilling hot oil from the lamp on Cupid in her eagerness to discover the ide ntity of her nightly visitor. like electricity. . and what happened in the end. Of course some animals are inquisitive. But here we are. while others make the most tri ing ev ent full of entertainment and surprise. Curiosity is the main characteristic that divides human beings from other animals. but not to the ruinous degree that has brought the human race to its prese nt precarious clutch on atomic development and other undesirable areas of knowle dge. M agicÐa dangerous force. is to i mply that there is a secret waiting to be revealed. hair-raising events in such a at. too. cngenitally inquisitive. What kind of secret? . . Ancient myths and folk tales give warnings about the perils incurred fr om prying into other people's business: Prometheus stealing re from the gods. The important factors are who is telling and who is listening. Any writer who can evoke this curiosity is sure of an audience. . We long to nd out what began it all. and a very good one. disinterested manner that they might just as well be recounting the annals of the local archaeological society. and t here is no going back. to divine the future. If only our earliest ancestor had not rubbed two sticks together and discov ered how to light a camp re. Why do we read stories? Because we long to nd out what happened next. One way to arouse curiosity.

it must be an important. living mostly in the coun try. enough to whet curiosity. or turn on to the end. the myst ery of Silas Wegg's evil hold over Mr. each with its own mystery. and Mr. when the disclosure comes. to keep the reader turning the pages until the very end. so that. inscrutable relations hip of Fledgeby and RiahÐand a wealth of other oddities.Well. Dickens was a very shrewd hand at delayed-action disclosure: A main part of his technique was to provide h alf a dozen subplots. Dickens's work h ad to be planned in installments for serial publication. and the very odd. another is brought back. so there was an obligat ion to provide a cliffhanger for the end of each part. it comes as an anti-climax and the disappoint ed reader may feel that it was not worth waiting for. before the Industrial Revolution. the reader may become impatient. as fast as one mystery is unravelled. the involved goings-on of the Lammles and Veneerings and their nancial dealings. Bof n's peculiar behavior. in Our Mutual Friend. The revelation must then be postponed for as long as possib le. But it is not until well after the halfway mark of the book that any explanation s are forthcoming. Bof n. This is a matter of judgment. for instance. or. Fiction writing in Dicken s's day had undergone a total change from the tranquil pace of the eighteenth ce ntury. for if you delay the revelation too long. and close the book. the paranoid behavior of Bradley Headstone. even worse. The reader is given conti nual short glimpses of all these strange connections. and. or it would not have been kept sec ret in the rst place. had unlimited reading time and were prepared for a novel to begin . when readers. there is the mystery of the dead man found in the Thames. a crucial one.

How can this kind of lapse be avoidedÐapart from having a simpler plot? Keep your tale peppered with odd. The protagonist in The Woman in White is rst seen eeing from her persecutors across Hampstead Heath. All this came to an abru pt end in 1859 with the publication of Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White. but a yellow diamond) opens with the st orming of Seringapatam and the theft of the jewel from the forehead of the Brahm in god. and readers could settle down comfortably for a nice peaceful three-v olume reading orgy in the long lamplit winter evenings. A mass audience of middle-class reade rs had arrived. You can have characters behav e seemingly out of character. for instance.in a leisurely manner. They wanted action. meets an old friend who greets . Wilkie Collins was a master hand at a gripping beginning. legacies. Stories had to begin with a bang: the Dover coach on a foggy night brought to a halt by a lone horseman. be seen in unexpected places in unlike ly company. and some times the tension began to sag as the plot became almost too formidably complica ted. The only problem with such a rousing start is that not every writer has the ability to maintain the tension at this pitch for the rest of the story. an escaped convict confronting a terri ed boy in a lonely churchyard. but he was not always at his best. Your hero. Wil kie Collins at his best could do so. whic h appeared serially in All the Year Round. deathbed drama s. turn nasty. Writers then had all the time in the world to convey thei r message. wills. The Moonstone (not actually a moonstone. unexplained episodes.

accompanied by six frie nds. There is a folk-tale model based on exactly this pattern: The he ro is sent into the world on a seemingly hopeless quest. and one of them suddenly shrieks in astonishment. the pleasure for the reader lies in anticipatin g the triumph of the hero and his friends. If it comes as a complete surprise to the reader at the moment of crisis (he was the only man in England who could undo a particular knot). have been previously informed of this specialized knowledge or skill. a faithful hound growls at his master of ten years. He is a quali ed tea-taster. has to contend with a gang of local bullies and with a couple of London criminals. a short-sighted. "Author's convenience" must be avoided at all costs. The reader must. . The author's real skill lies in creating the type of situation that would require the hero or heroine's unique expertise to be bro ught into play.him with a blank stare. of course. of course. another is a champion archer . and so on. with no sign of recognition. she is an expert on the kind of paint Velasquez used. unathletic boy. He always carries with him a tiny Book of . The Whispering Mountain. One can run faster than anyone in the world. I had a good time writing my children 's book. or she has perfect musical pitch. two old women are seen in a village street looking at p hotographs. he speaks ten different Afr ican languages. but in a passing. the reader could be justi ably annoyed. offhand way. . To keep the reader 's attention focused on your hero (who is engaged in a struggle against apparent ly insuperable odds). Here. in which the hero. it can be useful to endow him with an unexpected minor att ribute that will stand him in good stead in confronting a vital crisis. delicate.

Mystery novelist Reg inald Hill. or sticking plaster to deal with a problem. Na turally. The 11 the story settles down to sober reality until the second explosion with the mad Mrs. Jane Austen arouses and maintains interest easily and spontaneously with her basic problem situations. strong story generally h as one or perhaps two crucial events in it. in one of his Detective Dalziel mysteries. Rochester in the attic. The idea. How will the Bennet s ever manage to marry off all those ve daughters? How will Anne Elliot manage to endure the painful ordeal of encountering her lost lover again after eight year s of heartbreak? What is the mystery attached to Jane Fairfax? Why wouldn't she go to Ireland? How will poor little Fanny Price make out when she is sent to liv e among those rich scornful relatives? A tremendously important element of reada bility is the solid basis of the plot. which invariably provides him with the precise bit of know-how to mee t each emergency. in which the calmly compete nt mother of the family is always able to produce from her reticule the necessar y ball of string. I happen to own such a book. pair of pliers. teases the aghast reader early on with a wild description of a crazed gunman and mayhem . is n ot new: I adopted it from The Swiss Family Robinson. A well-balanced. and so was able to tailor the eme rgencies in the story to t the information it provided. Charlotte Bronte whets your appetite by telling about Jane Eyre's incarceration in the Red Room and the cons equent ghostly terrors. One. a story need not be presented on such a simplistic physical level to ke ep the reader's curiosity stimulated. fairly early on. is to give you a foretaste of what the writer is able to provide. of course.Knowledge.

in a village street. We love Character A and would like to see him on good term s with Character B. Dick Francis. exciting discoveries and inventions. Tony Hillerman. The n ovels of Sara Paretsky. rock music. But it is still possible to nd a simple straightforward story that will keep the reader breathless. And then he deals the expectant reader ano ther shattering surprise. and compulsively turning the pages. Reginald Hill. lms. Fiction today has to compete with television. speeding up an d slowing down of action. attentive. and human deeds and misdeeds. but they have always been at odds. and Rosamun d Pilcher are good examples. Frances Hodgson Burnett accomplishes . waiting while he leads up again to the moment w hen all hell is going to break loose. all screaming their messages of drama and sensati onalism. They are accustomed to ctional trickery. and the horrors and crises in world news . video tapes. guessing games. Readers today are much more sophisticated than they us ed to be. In Little Lord Fauntleroy. or on the relationship be tween two characters. Sometimes a story depends for its momentum on a single character. and so keeps readers on tenterhooks. How can an agreement betw een them be brought about? The relationship between Beatrice and Benedict in Sha kespeare's Much Ado About Nothing is a ne example of such a story. They have only t o walk along the street or into a supermarket or bookstore to see racks and rack s of paperbacks and hardbacks. virtual reality. then he rewinds the story to an earlier point of time. even unresolved questions and crises.

but B wins him over. courage. she breaches their defenses by candor. Unrecognized love must always command the fascinated attention of readers. and Rebecca West makes tantalizing use of this knowledge in her magni cent novel. Russians. are given to immens e. The Birds Fall Down. even with the end so clearly in view. The c rusty old Earl of Dorincourt is unwillingly obliged by law to accept his unknown American grandson as his heir. it does not take very long. but she is wholly unaware of this fr om rst to last. heighte ned by the fact that most of the other characters. humor. In this story. practical good sense. Po llifax. is an unbeatable combination . Another heroine who achieves her end by possessing startlingly unexpected attributes and winning hearts all the way is Dorothy Gilman's Mrs. Character A won't love B.this in a domestic setting. the clever but repulsive double agent Kamensky is infatuated by the teenage heroine Laura. and a touch of mysticism that is irresistible. We a ll love to read about good triumphing over evil. with a touch of humor thrown in. The unacknowledged duel between them builds up to an almost intolerably suspenseful climax. but the course of the story is pure pleasure for the reader all the way. a senior citizen spy. how long will it take the gallant little fellow and his gentle gracious American mother to win their rightful places in the old aristocrat's rugged heart? Of course. and to be given the certainty t hat it will do so. loquacious. believing that he intends to assassinate her. Often teamed with tough male colleagues who at rst deeply mistrust and resent her. . red-herring monologues on every conceivable topic.

. never meeting.always just at the moment when some catastrophe seems imminent. she never did put the idea into a play or sto ry. misplaced. Virginia Woolf had an idea for a play. This will be the real ly exciting part. and the fate of the inquisitive rabbity young man who goes after it is very awfu l indeed. without allowing you to nd out beforehand wha t I intend to do. try to steal up on you. James's best-k nown ghost stories. in her novel. to ghost stories and the sup ernatural. Who could resist the possibility of discovering one of the legendary three royal crowns. by way of myth and folklore. the writer. except that she does nally permit her couple to meet. An Imaginative Experience. never actually written: "I' m going to have a man and a woman . takes us. But Mary Wesley.R. and a very terrifying story it is. sandy coun tryside. the silly young man who has dug up the cro wn and now wishes he hadn't. . All the details in this story are exactly right: the foggy. but "all . the reader. "A Warning to the Curious" is the title of one of M. long ago. unwarrantabl e curiosity. used a similar plo t. on the Suffolk coast "to keep off the Danes or the French or the Germans. or a train is ab out to leave. And the theme of curiosity. buried somewhere. This kind of scheme for a story clearly displays that ction is a kind of teasing game carried on between writer and reader. The narrator and his friend try to help. yet entirely convincing. a game like Grandmother's Footsteps. b ut all the time you'll feel them coming nearer and nearer. in which I. and the character of Paxton." Perhaps not surprisingly. dangerous. not knowing each other." But the surviving crown has a ghostly guardian. but when they almost meetÐonly a door betweenÐyou see how they jus t miss.

in which snatches of all the best arias are beguilingly introduced. but then proceeds to d escribe a harrowing chase through the fog. . sound the voice of his story." And so she set the style and tempo for a wildly free-wheeling and funny plot. In the same way. only you can lead your reader by a cobweb thread through the windings of your own particu lar story. or romantic. giving the audience a taste of the pleasures to come. "I went to the bank to get cash for the trip. and so whet the reader's appetite: "The marriage wasn't going well a nd I decided to leave my husband. poor Paxton pursued by a creature "wi th more bones than esh" and a "lungless laugh. the shrewd writer wi ll." James states. his teeth and jaws broken to bits. Your voice can be humorous or terrifying. Operas have overtures. only you can give it utterance." says Anne Tyler at the start of Earthly Posse ssions." Paxton is nally found with his mou th full of sand. sad. . . wild. What did happen to the mushroom? Each of us has his own theory as to that. . suggest what is likely to happen.the same the snares of death overtook him. by an opening sentence.

though I did not ha ve any notion about this at the time it all began.36 STORYTELLING. right back to them. maybe I did not want to make it. with my ever having started to write at all. and paid attention to getting things straight. part-small-town Southerners believed i n stories and still remain. I began quite naturally as soon as I could write to fashion stories of my own. were described as "just" stories. some relating to people we could actually see uptown almost any day. I now believe. the label and the smear. along with Arthurian legend and many others. unique in this regard. Having had stories read to me and having listened to them being told aloud since I could understand speech. or stories. the easy answer. And we heard oral stories. that is. A MISSISSIPPIAN. a habit which alone can give true dignity to character. were taken literally. in events and the people concerned in them. the distinction was one I found easy to escape. HAD A GOOD DEAL TO DO. too: Civil War accounts and trag ic things. . thus. Bible stories. for it defeats the snap judgment. They believ ed. which were heard at home a nd in church. OLD AND NEW By Elizabeth Spencer BEING A SOUTHERNER. both from the near and distant past. All ran together in my head at that magic timeÐI trace any good books I have writt en. I now can see that my kind of part-country. and though the Greek and Roman myths that we re read aloud to me. in my experience.

I feel. Right back to stories. What is reall y going on? This is the question that continually tantalizes and excites. You see how quick it was. when somethin g happens that gives access to the dangerous secret pulse of life. is what the writer who daily faces the blank sheet must do: that is to say. of hav ing reached its natural con nes and attained repose. but the writer is not the story an y more than an architect is a building.K. but when nished. Suc h a story may be absorbed sensually or pondered about reasonably. when the confusing outer show of things can be swept aside. It may want disciplin e. but it may not get it. what about now? From motion to repose The work of ction begins for the writer and reader alike. realÐst ory are a complex of many things. twofold quality of seeming all in mot ion and at times even in upheaval while it is being told. able to be circled around like a statue or made at a touch to create new patterns like a kaleidoscope.Starting at the other end of things. it may be talk ed about by friends or strangers in the presence or the absence of the writer. or how its politics an d religion and pedigree and nationality may be labeled. For th e ction writer. depending upon how greedy it is or how obsessed the wr iter is about it. T he story should be allowed to take in all its basic wants. however. the way of getting the answer is by telling the story. O. The name of the writer c an be guessed at by the stories he puts down. Many . inexhaustibly rich. The events in a trueÐthat is to say. A story has the curious. about childhood. It has a ri ght to be without making any apology about what it means. A story is a thing in itself.

(The Southern tendency to get involved wit h family stories has accounted for the larger part of Southern ctionÐif we add to t his hunting stories and war stories. usually unforeseen. my total imagi nation was drawn up out of itself. Anyone who takes stories as an essential part of life is only recognizin g the obvious. wars and history h ave all become deeply mixed up with stories and so nd no way to shed them without violating or even destroying their own natures.times characters seem to have life outside the story in which they engage. some response to actual happening. ha d taken charge. Religion. but even if all goes s plendidly and ends in ne form. bewilderment. or mauled. So mu ch the better. being part of the primal nature of human expression. a silent magnetism. What was it all about? It is just as well for the writer to paus e here and consider. or wonder. the story will not question this. nations. psychiatry. then we have just about accounted for all o f it. without my willing it. are in one way or . families.) The present faint-hearted tone that some critics now adopt when discussin g the future of ction is surprising. of pe ople and eventÐthough for some writers the main worry falls here. A silent magnetism Each story I have written commenced in a moment. or decide to get the hell out of there. when out of some puzzle ment. For the writer enters alone. the person who comes out is not the same one who w ent in. Every human being is deeply inv olved with at least one storyÐ his own. literally. for stories. To me. Not that the writer will take the imprint. love. it is rat her the power of the story that one should be warned about: Don't enter that lio n's cage without knowing about lions. He may be eat en up.

medium or large . repeated. and that even when inventive. irony and delight. and some are better than others. or allowed t o die. in terms it ca n splendidly determine. They are told every day. they grow among humanity like mistletoe in oaks. What disturbs us all.) At its highest level. slick and false. neighborhoods. achievement. . triumph. what it imagines is. is love. failure. . and anyone who wants to write should start co llecting everyday accounts that are passed about of ces. many group stories exist. the bulk of which never get writt en down. inventive and factual at once. character. a story is a free art form. Can we think of oursel ves again in communion with others. I believe. to claim that it recogniz es truth . both comm onplace and myth-like. in communities either small. or within family situations. daring to explore and risk. tragedy. campuses. A common note At a level short of this highest ctio n. machine-tooled. continued. is the de basement of the story into something mass-made. T he modern theme of self-exploration with heavy emphasis on the private sexual na ture and fantasy has been done to the point of weariness. true. They are much better than average TV fare. (The lion was stuffed or drugged or doctored some way. but shared by it. which may be torn apart disastrously or nd a common note. .another going to continue to be told. an accord? One word f or it maybe. noticing whatever there is to be found of humor and terror. embellished.

The character needs to be convincing enough to cause the reader to recall his or he r own emotions. though not necessarily the speci c experience that aroused them. was the emotion he connected to the scene. it is an example of how we reme mber moments that affect us. the cold sweetness of the ice cream on his tongue. the author uses a variety o f emotions. IS SOMETHING WE ALL EXPERIENC E. including the sum mer night. the sharing of pleasure with a loving family. When writing a story. and a bove all. trusting the reader to experience them along with the character. A friend once told me that her brother's favorite memory of childhood was of a su mmer night when he and the other members of his family stood around in the kitch en eating ice cream cones. Although this memory fro m real life is different from the world of ction. and for most of us our persistent memories are of situations or happenings th at aroused a powerful emotion. Our storehouse of memory continues to grow from . no doubt. OR A STATE OF FEELING.37 MAKING THE READER CARE By Marjorie Franco EMOTION. the kitchen. Happiness. and this simple emotion resulted from many factors.

she became t he inspiration for a character in his story. anger. no matter how well we may know him or her.childhood on. joy. hate. The writer. and an appropriate tone. to know their personalities. setting. he didn't want to hear the woman's entire story. what will make them feel love. An observant writer once saw a woman getting off a b us. In Lectures on Literature. for he was already creating his own. sowing the seeds for what would become his novella The Aspern Papers. listening to her describe an event that actually took place . or by simply stating it in narrative. and was so struck by something about her appearance and manner. the future. and one that beginning writers sometimes sidestep by having emotion occur off scene. Once the idea had formed in his mind. providing us with ideas for characters. began thinking along ctional lines. and how they will deal . with the help of imagination. and con icts. Vladimir Nabokov writes that memory causes the perfect fusion of past and present. what experien ces will affect their lives. he believes. but the end result i s never a duplicate of that person. strengths and weaknes s. Henry James. see the world a s the potentiality of ction. we weave togethe r to create a story we hope will make the reader care. that inspirati on adds a third ingredient. because it's impossible to get inside anothe r person's head. sitting next to a woma n at a dinner party. We may be gin creating a ctional character with a real person in mind. which . But it is necessary to get inside our characters. fear and pain. craft. Not an easy task.

but when Janet says. she immediately d rives Janet and Andy to the hospital. feels she's been treated unfairly. and they become friends. The con ict begins with Janet's casual crit icism of Benny. again. with scene and dialogue." she is horri ed. and the friendship ends with bitter feelings on both sides. The climax of the story occurs when a desperate Janet comes t o Alison for help. I believe the reader can re late to this confrontation. to the neighborhood. Alison is about to leave for an important job interview. for we have all experienced criticism. even though the situation might have been different.with their problems. as well as th e hurt and feeling of rejection that accompany it. And when the critic is a frie nd. Alison. just as the reader may have felt at some time . Alison's son. . he ate a whole bottle of aspirin. Alison. "It's Andy. Much of this is revealed by showing them interacting with o ther characters in particular situations. Here." Words are exchanged. and with con ic t. we may feel doubly rejected. welcomes new arrival. The idea for my story "Between Friends" (Good Housekeeping) began with a real person in mind. Maybe if you 'd stayed home more things would have been better. but the character of Janet quickly took on her own personality and became ctional. a nd putting aside their differences (as well as her interview). it escalates to the point where Janet s ays. "Maybe you've put your job before the interests of your child. Janet. who has gone out of her way for Janet. I trust the reader to tap into emotions that may be latent and experience them vicariously w ith the character. The protagonist. Gradually.

the de nition of rel ate is "to have a relationship or connection. they would not hol d the reader's attention without some form of con ict. still each of us is different in a unique way.Here. Perhaps s he regrets having given up her job to stay home with her children. and guilt are emotions that have touched us all. or become the sa me. her sense of right and wrong. As important as characters are to a story. Another person. In add ition to trying to show insight into the main character. and. I think. Alison has to make a quick decision. Anger. I take the view that though there is a universality in human beings . the antagonist. In contrast. Janet has her own problems. guilty of an act of negligence. envy. The de nition of identify is "to be. for makin g the reader care. most important of all. unwilling t o sacri ce an important interview for someone who has treated her badly." a better goal. and the one she chooses says somethin g about her character. might hav e called an ambulance and left Janet and her son to wait for its arrival. I was also trying to es tablish empathy for Janet. perhaps she feels responsible for placing her son in danger. Con ict ge nerates emotion and ." Writers who create unique characters shouldn't expect the reader to identif y with them. I believe we must keep in mind the difference between identifying with and relating to characters. perhaps her c riticism of Alison is grounded in envy. Con ict moves the story and k eeps the reader interested while waiting to discover what happens next. In our attempt to make the rea der care. the same kind of negligence of which she had accused Alison's son.

her son's ro om "small. and ponsible for her infant son as well as for herself. . is receiving anonymous phone cal ls. "What are you wearing?" the voice on the phone says. wide awake after being startled out of a sound sleep. all feelings of safety vanish and un case gives way to outright fear. she ouches the neck of her nightgown and runs her ngers over the yellow ruf es. heart pounding. usually at midnight. She gs up. they rep resent a threat to her feeling of safety and cause her a sense of unease. h res t han The setting contributes to the tensionÐthe apartment building surrounded by snow " thick on the rooftops and the bare trees. a teacher and recently divorced mother of an infant son. Safety is of great importance to Dianne: On her own. lives on the rst oor." Dianne's desire for safety is in con ict with the outside threat. she persuades herself that her name was picked at random from the phone book. "Is it the yellow nightgown with the ruf es. with all the roads blocked. When the phone calls begin. shadowy and warm. still. er friend Greta lives upstairs with her teenaged son. or the white one with the lace?" Slowly. She lives on the second oor of a three-story building. high where it had drifted against fenc es in backyards"Ðand so does the detail: the nightgown with the ruf es. smelling of baby powder and freshly washed blankets . as if in a dream. Clean. and goes to her son's room.requires the character cither to solve the problem or to deal with it in a satis factory way. and another friend. Then o ne snowy night. she has tried to protect her self by choosing to live near friends. Hank. In my story "Midnight Caller" (Good Housekeeping) Dianne.

" In the end. Dianne is faced with a dif cult and v ery important decision." "baby powder." and "clean. and when that happens. By using certain words. abstractions are made concrete: "pounding" and "startled" contrast with "warm. . But the emotion expres sed through the character must rst be felt by the writer who uses memory. who has often baby-sat for h er. experie nce and observations together with creative imagination to write the story and p resent it with clarity so the reader will understand. readers begin to care. In these two stories. her neighbor. It is not Hank. Like Alison in the rst story I mentioned. I've tried to show how characters. Readers don't need to have conscious memory of events in their lives that aroused certain feelings in orde r to imagine a ctional situation and relate to it either positively or negatively . It is Greta's son. con icts. or one of her students at school.the fact that she is interacting with an unknown person. p ossibilities she had considered. Dianne discovers the identity of the mi dnight caller. and settings can generate emotion in the reader. But those feelings can be touched by the characters in a story and the events in their lives.


I discovered that the USS Chicago. the disastrous naval engagement off Guadal canal in which the Japanese in icted a stunning defeat on the Americans. events.38 HOW REAL HISTORY FITS INTO THE HISTORICAL NOVEL By Thomas Fleming TOO MANY WRITERSÐAND NOT A FEW READERSÐTEND TO THINK OF non ction an d ction as oppositesÐa twain that should never meet. that present an openin g to the imagination. I received an assignment to write an article about the 1942 Battle of Savo Island. The Chicago's captain was relieved of duty and later shot himself rather than face a court of inquiry. his closest friend? How would the ne w captain handle the job? Would he investigate what had . had unaccountably sailed away from the attacking Japan ese soon after the midnight assault began. the acting agship of the A merican cruiser squadron. I am constantly looking for situations. For example. Throughout my career. The other American cruisers were sunk . I have t aken a very different approach. I asked myself: What if the captain of that disgraced s hip was replaced by his Annapolis roommate. characters. While I am writing a non ction book or article. As I asse mbled the research.

Over There. which became the guilt-haun ted ship. the San Francisco army ba se. He is speeding down a highway outside San Antonio. Pershing. . the American command er in World War I. As th ey struggled to redeem themselves and the Captain tried to rede ne his relationshi p with his friend. his wife and three children were killed in a re at the Presidio. the central character of my novel. leaped into my mind. I discovered that shortly before he went to France. Time and Tide. who had always been the superior voice. the plot of my novel. Did it have an i mpact on his conduct in France? How could that be dramatized? What if Pershing h ad a close army friend who had sustained a similar loss? Enter Colonel Malvern H ill Bliss. The Pershing that Bliss reveals to the read er is a very different man from the Iron General in the history booksÐand so is th e World War that both of them ght. the USS Jefferson City. seen from a dramatic new perspective. and perhaps destroy his friend' s career? In a ash. I peopled it with a crew tormented by the memory of Savo Island. Before this opening chapter end s.happened aboard the ship on that terrible night. What did that tragedy do to the general's soul? I wondered. Pershing has dragged Bliss out of a brothel and ordered him to prepare to dep art for France with him in 24 hours. I c reated an imaginary cruiser. drunk and demoralized by the death of his wife and son from a terrorist machete in the Philippines. the naval war in the Paci c unfolded around them. Sometimes it is a special insight into a historical character that triggers an imaginative expl osion. While working on a pro le of General John J.

retaining sympathy for the slaves. What if the black soldier was a spy who was killed in the intelligence war that raged between the two armies? The result was a book t hat reveals a dark underside of the Revolutionary struggle. How would this startling set of facts t into a novel? I wanted to tell the s tory from the inside. Washington's army was about 15% black by this time. an account of the 1780 battle of S pring eld. By now it should be apparent that a historical novel is not "made up. In the 1740s the blacks concocted a plot to sack the city and hand it over to the French in exchange for their free dom. Who had killed t his man? Apparently no one ever found out. this fact exploded into a whol e novel in my imagination. I was fascinated to discover that before the American Revoluti on. when I came across the story of a black American soldier found in a sno wdrift outside George Washington's headquarters in Morristown. I believe a prime function of the historical novel is to surprise as well as intrigue the reader. What if there were someone in the conspiracy who saw it d ifferently? I created Clara . A few years ago." Its vitality can and should c ome from history itself.My novel Dreams of Glory is another novel whose genesis was derived from a non cti on book. New York City was 25% blackÐmostly slaves. Again. with a bayonet in his chest. Anothe r trigger to the imagination may be the discovery of a little-known set of histo rical facts or a situation that has relevance to our own time. I was writing The Forgotten Victory. yet seeing the episode in all its complexity. and the deeper its roots in reality. the better.

two hundred years before Harl em and Bedford-Stuyvesant." the intricacies of the fur trade. Remember The Morning. . with whom Clara shared her Indian captivity . Brothers fought brothers and sisters fell in lo ve with their brothers' or their fathers' enemies. their early bonding as S enecas and their common identity as women enable them to continue their friendsh ip. Growing up in the so-calle d middle ground around the Great Lakes. the local politics of colonial New York. Although the slave revolt strains their relationship. Simil arly. I saw she c ould also illuminate women's experience in pre-revolutionary America. one of the primary insights of my twenty. this book resonates in our own time. I had to learn the mores and customs of the "middle groun d. Catalyntie becomes a successful merchant. a beautiful black woman who was captured and raised by Seneca Indians. It all began with the seed of my original discovery a bout the startling role of the blacks in New York. She became the main character of my recently published novel. As good historical novels should.Flowers. such as New Jerse y. I created a Dutch woman.ve years of research into the Amer ican Revolution was the little-known fact that in some states. To make this work. not unusual among the American Dutch . As her role grew in my mind. a nd the global politics of the struggle for world supremacy between Catholic Fran ce and Protestant England. Catalyntie Van Vorst. where whites and Indians mingled. the struggle was a civil war. then repatriated to the white world at seventeen. making us think about our present dilemmas in a new way. Clara has a different view of race relations.

was the local Robespierre. it may make the story even more plausible. and opened a tavern on the Kings Highway in New J ersey? Into the tavernÐand the storyÐwould swirl loyalists and neutrals and ferociou s rebels. This "veracious imagination" (a term coined by English novel ist George Eliot and revived by Cornell critic Cushing Stout) is a vital ingredi ent in meshing real history and the imaginative. so that the imaginary events t plausibly into the known h istory of the time. On the contrary." something the father of the American historical novel. . the writer may cre ate "improbable truths. Rich as the historical record is. my imagination created a character who could convey this startling ambi guity. Thus was born my novel Liberty Tavern. James Fenimore Cooper. which told the story of Gifford's gradual conversion t o the American causeÐand Kemble's education in the complexities of Revolutionary p olitics. felt was a primary danger in interweaving the imaginative and the real. it is not so crowded with information that the creation o f an imaginary character like Malvern Hill Bliss or Clara Flowers strains plausi bility. by giving the reader a closeup of the historical experi ence.Swiftly. symbolic events that the noveli st is adding to the story. eager to hang every waverer in sight. Without this background knowledge. It would be especially poignant if Gilford's stepson. Achieving this t is not as daunting as it seems at rst. What if an ex-British of cer named Jonathan Gif-ford married an American wi dow. Crucial to the success of every work of historical ction is a thorough k nowledge of the period. adopted her two children. Kemble Stapleton.

reveals his pathological hatred of the German peopleÐa little-known fact that plays a large part in the novel's plot (and was a major factor in prolongi ng World War II). I have a scene in whi ch F.D. Roosevelt have appeared in my novels. I put words in F. Out of the racial an d personal turmoil in the forefront of the novel.R. such as Pershing. The historical novelist has to be even more selective than the historian in constructing his narrative. they both get emotionally involved with a raw young would-be soldier nam ed Malcolm Stapleton. As the story u nfolds. adding substance and a deeper meaning to the b ook. is more than the story of Clara Flowers' and Catalyntie Van Vorst's search for security and love. for instance. It is extrem ely important to present such historical gures accurately. for instance. making them not only plausible but probable. But dialogue can be invented for t hese historical gures. Remember the Morning. The growing American dissatisfaction with England's corrup t imperial control of America becomes the book's leitmotif. would be a serious violation o f the novelist's historical responsibilities.Real characters. In my novel Loyalties. The drums of the American Revolution are thudding i n the distance as the story ends. George Washington. Franklin D.D.'s mouth that are based on extensive rese arch. Adolf Hitler.R. His goal is emotional . for instance. an awakening sense of a separa te American destiny emerges. There is another reason for g rasping the great issues and inner spiritual and psychological struggles of a wh ole period. To portray Washington as a drunk or Pershing as a coward. alongside the imaginary ones.

In another day's research on Grenada. It means you can shift the timing of a historical event a few years in either direction in order to increase the e motional intensityÐas I did with the black revolt in Dreams of Glory. the main character. I had the ingredient I needed to create an original scene that t perfect ly into the story. an agent for the Ge rman Resistance to Hitler. "The Expulsion of the Jews" by Emilio Sala depicted the decision of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to banish the Jews from Spain in 1492. The American protagonist Jonathan Talbot follows them to Grenada. Historians seldom deal with person al emotions in history. is kidnapped from Madrid by her former lover. the Alhambra. such emotions are the primary focus of the story. On one of its walls was an enormous painting of a column of refugees plodding into the distance. The imperatives of the plot require Talbot to kill the Nazi. In the novel. In Loyalties. who is working for the Nazis. I discovered that inside the famed Moslem palace.truthÐa considerable leap beyond factual truth. I found my self recoiling from a scene which was routine spy novel huggermugger. While the Nazi gazes up at the painting and remarks that he h oped to persuade the Spanish government to let . Berthe Von Hoffmann. was a crude Spanish palace built by King Charles V. This means that you cannot describe every battle of World War I while wr iting about Bliss and Pershing in France. Something else was needed. Perhaps the least understood role of reality in the historical novel is the way research can supply you with details that deepen and otherwise improve the story you are tel ling. You have to choose one or two battles in which their inner anguish becomes visible.

I have come to thin k of these two sides of a historical novel as competing themes in a piece of mus ic. personal way. All t hat should matter is the conviction that they are being taken inside events in a new revelatory. it was researchÐrealityÐfact. More and more. .him bring it to Berlin. readers ne ver stop to ask what is true in the literal sense and what is imaginative. Talbot slips a silken cord around the Nazi's throat and strangles him. It takes hard workÐbut it is tremendously satisfyin g to write a book that engages readers' heads and hearts. It was not my imagination that transformed this scene from cliché t o meaningful drama. fact can and should be woven into ction so seamlessly. Ultimately.

I CAME TO THE GENRE THROUGH MY love of reading. yet I knew intimate details about him that made . unhampered by regulations and procedure. By the time I'd seriously begun to consider writing a novel featuring a pri vate investigator of my own. Possibly because I don't respond well to any type of authority. would set off down the mean streets to right wrongs. and the novels that most appealed to me were those featuring private i nvestigators. strong and unafraid. Bill Pronzini (who m I did not know at the time. of course I didn't know the slightest thing abou t actually being male. I'd then dream of creating my own character who woul d walk those streets. but to whom I'm now married) wrote about a detecti ve who had no name. almost all the ctional models at that time were male. the character I'd dream of creating was always a wo man. and while I could empathize with men and understa nd them on an individual basis. As one who had always wanted to write. Thus.I'd discovered several authors who were doing excell ent characterization within the framework of the crime novel. strong and unafraid. I was fascinated by detectives who.39 PARTNERS IN GRIME By Marcia Muller LIKE MANY CRIME WRITERS. Unfortunately.

McCone was to live within the same f ramework most of us do. change. To make the story convincing to the reader. the full range of human emotions. friends. the author frequen tly asks the reader to suspend disbelief in situations that are not likely to oc cur in real life. Lillian O'Donnell had creat ed New York City policewoman Norah Mulcahaney who. and quite horrible) Sharon McCone novel. In writing crime ction. Private investigators do not. was to he as close to a real person as possible. Like real people she would age. . In addition.him more real to me than many characters with names. her family life provided a rich backdrop to t he cases she solved. and lovers. And what few criminals they do encount er do not tend to be as clever and intelligent as their ctional counterparts. complete with family. the character and day-to-day details of her life had to be rmly grounded in reality. experience joy and sorrow. When I sat down to write my rst (never published. found time to marry. T his choice also had a practical basis. love and hatredÐin short. at the far end of the spectrum. Or I could make her a camera who observed the world around her without fully reacting or interacting. ea ch of her cases would constitute one more major event in an ongoing biography. Sharon McCone. grow. coworkers. as a rule. I could create a woman who would be a fully developed individual. I decided. solve dozens of murde r cases over the course of their careers. in addition to a lively profe ssional life. I was well aware that I could create a woman who would conform to the stereotype of the hard-bitten loner with the whiskey bottle in the desk drawer. Or.

fear of having nothing to read aloud at the sessions drove m e daily to the . Sh e comes from a large blue-collar family. lest I fall into the trap of undisciplined autobiographical writin g. a failing marriage. I therefore began building McCone's character by giving her a background as d ifferent from mine as I could make it. for the la te John McCone. San Francisco. And Sharon has exotic Native American features and long black hair. and spirit? Certainly not! At the tim e I had no job. since politically Sharon is as f ar from any CIA employee as one can get). to be ftee n to twenty pounds lighter. I was suppor ted by my parents during my six years at the University of Michigan. She is a native Californian. I do not. I also had a location. I am not.The choice made. . McCone. my adopted home city. And I was vehemently opposed to making Sharon's background sim ilar to mine. I realized I hadn't a clue as to how to go about creating such an individual. and wa s afraid of my own shadow. no recognizable skills. At the time I was developing McCone. appearance. no prospects. I was participating in an informal writers' workshop t hat met every week. She put herself through the U niversity of California at Berkeley by working as a security guard. ? Should I make my character lik e me in background. and can eat whatever she likes without gaining weight. is enviably tall and sl ender. lifestyle. I had a name: Sharon. former head of the CIA (a joke. . for my college roommate. I wanted to spend time with a character who did. But as for the rest . I longed to be three or four inches taller. Since I don't poss ess such qualities. to be able to eat all the ice cream I wanted and nev er gain an ounce.

By the time I'd completed the biographical sheet. time. Anyone who claims that rst manuscripts aren't simply learning exercises i s either exceptionally gifted or completely deluded. Even after my third novel manuscript was accepted fo r publication. the obligatory talk about . I chose to take the suggestion of the group leader (a published auth or) to work up a biographical sheet on McCone. kept elab orate charts showing what every person was doing at every moment during the stor y. My early efforts were stiff and wooden andÐwith the exception of McCone's narrative voice. in which I ne-tuned the other deta ils of her life: names of parents and siblings. and write her . . I was i nsecure as to how to go about constructing a mystery. and unnecessary complications. the standard body. Still. and in spite of my resolve to let the events ow from character. wrote long accounts of the back story (the events that set the crime in motio n).typewriter. I continued to fall back on stock scenes and situations: ongoing antagonism between private investigator and police. . even the circumstances of her rst sexual experience. talents and weaknesses.nding scene . I wasted paper. At this point I was forced to face the fact that the onl y way to develop a character fully is to write her. religious an d political attitudes. McCone nally emerged as real to me. And write her. red herrings. . I manipulated secondary characters and their actions to t the plot. it was in a form that was more like a questionnai re than a work of ction. which was the same from the very rstÐ totally different from what eventually saw publication. likes and dislikes. and energy concocting cryptic clues. I found the stories becoming very plot-driv en.

the case in the of ce of Sharon's boss. Fortunately, through all of this, McCone c ame into her own as a person and also became my full partner in ctional crime. I take little credit for this; it simply happened. Writers constantly talk about h ow their characters "just take over," and when I hear myself doing the same, I f eel vaguely embarrassed, but it does happen, and is vitally important to any lon g-running series. My theory about this phenomenon is that knowing one's characte r intimately allows the writer to tap into her subconscious, which usually works far ahead of the conscious mind. The ctional character's actions and reactions o ften have little to do with the writer's original intention. In this area, McCon e has served me well. I rst experienced her determination to be her own person wh ile writing the second book in the series. Ask the Cards a Question (1982). In m y previous efforts, Sharon had many analytical conversations about her cases wit h her boss, Hank Zahn, and they inevitably took place in his of ce at All Souls Le gal Cooperative, the poverty law rm where she worked. A third of the way through Cards, it seemed time for one of these talks, so I had Sharon leave her of ce for Hank's. But contrary to my intentions, she detoured down the hall to the desk of the co-op's secretary, Ted, to ask him where Hank was, and in doing so, sheÐand IÐt ook a look around the big Victorian that housed All Souls. What I saw was a gold mine in terms of places to set scenes and characters to play in them: There were rooms, lots of them; there were attorneys and paralegal workers and other suppo rt staff, some of whom lived there communally, and often had potlucks and partie s and poker games. As in any situation where people live and work at close

quarters, there was the opportunity for con ict and resolution. Where Hank Zahn ha d once been the only partner who had an identity, I now began to esh out others. A number of them became important in McCone's life. They began to demand more im portant roles, and soon I realized that theyÐas well as McCone Ðwould determine the direction that the series as a whole would take. The development of fully realiz ed characters is essential to creating a strong series. Without them, the author is simply manipulating cardboard people aimed at a speci cÐand usually contrivedÐend. Eventually the writer will become bored with the arti ciality of the story and lo se all sense of identi cation with the characters. And if the writer is bored, ima gine the poor reader! Over the twenty years I've been writing the McCone series, I've made a number of choices and changes, and each of these came from within S haron's character and her reactions and interactions with others. This involves a rm commitment on my part to remain exible, willing to switch directions mid-stre am. Initially, this was a rather frightening process, but the rewards have prove d considerable. Different facets of McCone's character have been revealed to me by her interactions with other characters. A violent confrontation with a man sh e considered the most evil person she'd ever encountered, and the choice she mad e in dealing with him, af rmed that she was unable to step over the line into poin tless violence. Another confrontation, this time when the lives of people she ca red about were at stake, demonstrated that she could take

violent action when the circumstances justi ed it. During the past four years, McC one has revealed feelings and attitudes that have dictated radical changes in th e overall direction of the seriesÐlong before I considered making any. When the Al l Souls partners threatened to con ne Sharon to a desk job (Wolf in the Shadows, 1 993), I'd originally intended for them to work out some sort of compromise, coup led with expanding the scope of her responsibilities. At the end of the novel, I was still undecided as to the nature of that compromise. But at the beginning o f the next novel in the series, Till the Butchers Cut Him Down (1994), McCone ma de the decision for me: She decided to leave the co-op and establish her own age ncy, while retaining of ces in the houseÐthus permitting her to continue her associa tion with people for whom she cared. But only months after her new of ce furniture was delivered, McCone began to doubt the wisdom of her decision. As I was writi ng a scene in A Wild and Lonely Place (1995), I found her saying, "No wonder I a voided having clients come to the of ce. . . . Actually, a lot of things about All Souls were beginning to pale for me." Her doubts mirrored my own, which I'd sca rcely confronted until that point. She decided for me that the time had come to leave All Souls; time, in fact, for All Souls to become defunct. With roots in t he 1970s, it was an outmoded institution; my attempts to bring it into the 1990s with its virtues intact had failed. But in what direction to go? And where? Cer tainly not a stereotypical seedy of ce where McCone would keep a bottle in her des k drawer. And certainly not a suite in a high-rent building; she is too frugal f or that.

The answer came to me while I was walking on the Embarcadero, San Francisco's wa terfront boulevard, with a friend who was talking about some people she knew who had of ces in a renovated pier. I looked around, spotted the San Francisco reboat station, and noted a space between it and Pier 24 that was almost large enough f or a ctional Pier 24Vi. The surrounding area was an exciting one, undergoing a re naissance; artists' lofts, lively clubs, trendy restaurants, and unusual sorts o f enterprises abounded. And there was also San Francisco's rich maritime history , which offered many possibilities. Immediately, Sharon McCone made the decision to move her of ces to Pier 24h. But would I be forced to abandon Hank Zahn, his w ife Anne-Marie Altman, Rae Kelleher, and Ted Smalley? Of course not. The co-op h ad paled for Anne-Marie several books before; it would now do the same for Hank, and they would decide to form their own law rm, then ask McCone to share a suite of of ces with them. As for Rae and Ted, they would need jobs when All Souls went under, so Ted would come along as of ce manager, Rae as the rst of what McCone hop ed would be many operatives. Without delay, Sharon, Hank, and Anne-Marie signed a lease for space at Pier 24!4. A long and intimate association with well-rounde d characters can not only enrich a series, but also an author's life. Over the y ears, I've found myself moving closer to McCone in spirit. Where she was once th e independent, strong, brave half of the partnership, I've now become more indep endent, strong, and brave myself. It's strange but gratifying to know that my ow n creation has

empowered me. That's what the series is all about: to entertain and inspire the reader; perhaps to make some readers think more seriously about an issue that's important to McCone and me; and to give escape and pleasure to those who buy our books.

40 THE GRAFT OF THE ESPIONAGE THRILLER By Joseph Finder WHEN I WAS IN MY MID-TWENTIES AND STRUGGLING TO WRITE MY rst nov el, The Moscow Club, I got to know another aspiring writer, a cynical and embitt ered (but very funny) man, and told him I was immersed in the research for a spy thriller I hadn't begun to write. He shook his head slowly and scowled. "That's a sign of desperation," he intoned ominously. "Research is an excuse for not wr iting." This ex-friend has given up trying to write and is working at some job h e despises, while I'm making a living writing novels, so I think there may be a moral here. That old dictum writers are always accosted byÐ"Write what you know"Ðis, in the espionagethriller genre, at least, a fallacy. Obviously, research is no substitute for good writing, good storytelling, or the ability to create esh-andblood characters. But even the masters of the spy novel plunge into research for the worlds they create. John le Carré (the pen name for David Cornwell) was for a short while a spy for the British secret service, but nevertheless, he assiduou sly researches his spy tales. In the extensive acknowledgements at the end of Th e Night Manager, he

thanks numerous sources in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Treasur y, mercenary soldiers, antiques dealers, and the "arms dealers who opened their doors to me." The novel only reads effortlessly. I suppose you can just make it up, but it will always show, if you do, and the spy thriller must always evoke a n authentic, fully realized world. Readers want to believe that the author is an authority, an expert, an insider who's willing to let them in on a shattering s ecret or two. But no one can be expert in everything. My rst novel was about a CI A analyst who learns of an impending coup attempt in Moscow and is drawn into th e conspiracy. In the rst draft, however, the hero, Charles Stone, was instead a g hostwriter for a legendary American statesman. Luckily, my agent persuaded me th at no one wants to read about the exploits of a ghostwriter. Transforming Charli e into a CIA of cer took a lot of rethinking, but fortunately, I had sources: Whil e a student at Yale, I'd been recruited by the CIA (but decided against it), and I had some friends in the intelligence community. They helped me make Charlie S tone a far more interesting, more appealing and believable character. The best i deas, I believe, spring from real-life events, from reading newspapers and books , and from conducting interviews. Frederick Forsyth came up with the idea for hi s classic thriller. The Day of the Jackal (a ctional plot on the life of Charles de Gaulle), from his experience working as a Reuters correspondent in Paris in

the early 1960s, when rumors kept circulating about assassination attempts on de Gaulle. Robert Ludlum was watching TV news in a Paris hotel when he happened to catch a report about an international terrorist named Carlos; this became the s eed for one of his best novels, The Bourne Identity. When I rst began thinking ab out writing the novel that later became The Moscow Club, I was a graduate studen t at the Harvard Russian Research Center, studying the politics of the Soviet Un ion. I remember reading Forsyth's The Devil's Alternative, which concerns intrig ue in the Kremlin. Why not try my hand at this? I thought. After Mikhail Gorbach ev became head of the Soviet Union and began the slow-motion revolution that wou ld eventually lead to the collapse of that empire, I began to hear bizarre rumor s about attempts in Moscow to unseat Gorbachev. The rumors didn't seem so far-fe tched to me. But when The Moscow Club came out at the beginning of 1991, I was c hided for my overly active imagination. Then, in August of that year, the real t hing happened: The KGB and the military banded together to try to overthrow the Gorbachev governmentÐand suddenly, I was a prophet! My second novel, however, was a signi cant departure from this political background. Extraordinary Powers concer ns Ben Ellison, an attorney for a prestigious Boston law rm (and former clandesti ne operative for the CIA). He is lured into a top-secret government experiment a nd emerges with a limited ability to "hear" the thoughts of others. This sprang from a reference I'd come across in a study of the KGB to some highly secret pro grams in the U.S. and Soviet governments that attempted to locate people with te lepathic ability to serve in various espionage undertakings.

Whether or not one believes in ESP, the fact that such projects really do exist was irresistible to me. I sent Extraordinary Powers to a friend who does contrac t work for the CIA; he con ded in me that he'd received a call from a highly place d person in a government agency who actually runs such a project and had used ps ychics during the Gulf War. He wanted to know whether I'd been the recipient of a leak. With this seemingly fantastic premise at the center of my novel, it was crucially important that the world in which this plot takes place be a very real , very well-grounded one. Because I wanted the telepathy project to hew as close ly to reality as possible, I spent a great deal of time talking to patent lawyer s, helicopter pilots, gold experts, and even neurologists. I was relieved to get letters from a world-famous neurobiologist and from the editor of The New Engla nd Journal of Medicine saying that they were persuaded that such an experiment w as within the realm of possibility. In one crucial scene in The Moscow Club, Cha rlie had to smuggle a gun through airport security, but I had no idea how this m ight actually work, so I tracked a knowledgeable gun dealer, and after I'd convi nced him I was a writer, not a criminal, he became intrigued by the scenario and agreed to help. It turned out that this fellow had a friend who used to be in t he Secret Service and had actually taken a Glock pistol and got it past the meta l detectors and X-ray machines in security at Washington's National Airport and onto a plane to Boston. He then showed me exactly how he'd done it, so I could w rite about it accurately. (I left out a few key details to foil any potential hi jacker.) Can readers tell when a scene or a detail is authentic? I believe

so. I'm convinced that painstaking research can yield a texture, an atmosphere o f authenticity, that average readers can feel and smell. (There will always be a few experts waiting to pounce. In Extraordinary Powers, I mistakenly described a Glock 19 as having a safety, and I continue to get angry letters about it.) Th e longer I write, it seems, the more research I do. For my forthcoming novel. Pr ince of Darkness, whose hero is a female FBI counter-terrorism specialist, I man aged to wangle of cial cooperation from the FBI, and I spent a lot of time talking to several FBI Special Agents. I also interviewed past and present terrorism ex perts for the CIA, asking them such questions as, would they really be able to c atch a skilled professional terroristÐas well as some seemingly trivial ones. Sinc e the other main character in Prince of Darkness is a professional terrorist-for -hire, I thought it was important to talk to someone who's actually been a terro rist. This was not easy. In fact, it took me months to locate an ex-terrorist (t hrough a friend of a friend) who was willing to talk. But it was worth the time and effort: My ctional terrorist is now, I think, far more credible than he'd hav e been if I'd simply invented him. I've done interviews with a convicted forger for details on how to falsify a U.S. passport; with a bomb disposal expert about how to construct bombs; with an expert in satellite surveillance to help me des cribe authentically how the U.S. government is able to listen in on telephone co nversations. I've often called upon the expertise of police homicide detectives, retired FBI agents, helicopter pilots, pathologists, even experts in embalming (or "applied arts," as they are called).

Since an important character in Prince of Darkness is a high-priced call girl, I spent a lot of time interviewing prostitutes, expensive call girls, and madams. As a result of this groundwork, I think this particular character is more sympa thetic, more believable, than I'd have drawn her otherwise. Because internationa l settings are often integral parts of spy novels, I strongly believe that trave lÐreally being there in Paris, say, or Rome, or whereverÐnot only can help you creat e plausible settings, make them look and smell and feel real, but can suggest sc enes and ideas that would otherwise never occur to you. But not everyone can aff ord to travel (or likes to; ironically, Robert Ludlum, whose plots traverse the globe, abhors traveling). No doubt you can get by tolerably well consulting a go od guidebook or two. Gathering research material is a strange obsession, but it' s by far the best part of writing thrillers. I will admit, however, that this pa ssion can go too far. In Rome, I was pickpocketed while standing in a gelato sho p. When I realized that my passport and all my cash and travelers checks were go ne, I panicked. I searched for the perpetrator and came upon a man who looked so mewhat shifty. I approached him and pleaded, in my pathetic Italian, "Per J'avor e, signore! Per favore! My passport! Per piacere!" When the man responded by unz ipping his travel bag to prove he didn't have my belongings, that he was innocen t, I knew I'd found my man. I told him quietly: "Look, I'm on my honeymoon. If y ou give me back my passport and my money, I promise I won't turn you in." He loo ked around and furtively put my passport and wallet back in my bag.

At this point any sane tourist would ee, but, I went on, "One more thing. If you' ll agree to be interviewed, I won't call the police." He looked at me as if I we re out of my mind. "I'm quite serious," I said. "Let me buy you an espresso." He sat down at a table with me as I explained that I was doing research for a nove l partly set in Rome. Flattered that a writer would take an interest in his life , he began to tell me all about how he got into this line of work, about his chi ldhood in Palermo spent snatching purses, about how he travels around Europe fre quenting international gatherings of the rich and famous, how he lives in hotels and is often lonely. He explained how he spots an easy mark, how he fences pass ports, which travelers checks he has no interest in. He demonstrated how he pick s pockets and handbags, and taught me how to make sure it never happened to me a gain. Much of the information I gleaned from this pickpocket later turned up in the Italy sequence in Extraordinary Powers. I'm certainly not suggesting that a committed espionage novelist must go out of his way to get his pockets picked in Rome, or consort with convicted forgers, assassins, or terrorists. But the long er I write espionage ction, the more strongly I'm convinced that if you're going to write about unusual people and circumstances in a compelling and plausible wa y, there's really no substitute for rsthand experience.

41 MISTAKES TO AVOID IN WRITING MYSTERIES By Eleanor Hyde NO DOUBT YOU'VE HEARD SOME EDITOR PUBLICLY PROCLAIM that he or s he is looking for the good book, that true talent will out, and they'll spot it immediately. I'm sure they believe this. But in their scramble to compete out th ere in the marketplace, they just might miss it. Most of us know of some very ta lented writer (you?) whose book was overlooked while the mediocre or less was pu blished. So what happened? In a con dential mood, an editor once told me that he l ooked for reasons to turn a book down, and the sooner he found something wrong, the better. This wasn't a person who enjoyed hurting others' feelings; this was merely someone who had too many manuscripts to read and too little time in which to read them. Maybe the big book was in the pile and maybe he missed it. Possib ly, a lot of editors do: Maybe in their hurry to get through that pile of manusc ripts and on to the next one, the big book was bypassed because of some slip up, some inaccuracy that made the editor think the book wasn't worth wasting precio us time on. Once a manuscript is out of your hands there's nothing to be done. T he book you slaved over, rewrote, cut, expanded, cut again,

and re-re-rewrote; the book you got up at ve in the morning to work on before the kids woke up or before you left for work; the book for which you sacri ced your w eekends and vacation time; the book you neglected your nearest and dearest for i s now there in some editor's of ce, an editor who doesn't care that the book pract ically caused a nervous breakdown or a divorce. Confronting that editor is a sta ck of oor-to-ceiling manuscripts that have to be read. From then on, what happens to your book is, alas, as much matter of luck and timing as talent. But there a re some crucial things you can do before you submit your manuscript to guarantee it gets the best possible chance. For three years I chaired the Mentor Program2 for the New York region of the Mystery Writers of America, a program in which p ublished writers (mentors) critiqued fty manuscript pages submitted by beginners and/or unpublished writers. In reading the mentor's critiques, I saw a pattern e mergeÐthe same errors cropping up over and over again. Following are the mistakes cited most often by the mentorsÐafter rst nding something good in the manuscript to sugar coat the pill. Inaccuracies: The winner, or loser, hands down. In murder m ysteries, which run the gamut from cozies to hard-boiled police procédurals, suspe nding disbelief is important, since there's a lot of disbelief to suspend. Altho ugh murders occur all too often in real life, they're still, fortunately, someth ing we hear or read about, not something we witness rsthand. Inaccuracies varied from the obvious to the oblivious. In the obvious, the writer lost track of some minor detailÐhe or she changed a character's name or age but neglected to make th e

changes throughout. Such inconsistencies can be confusing to the editor, who is, don't forget, reading a lot of manuscripts at once and can't waste time guring t hings out. "Sloppy," the editor thinks, and goes on to the next one. The manuscr ipt might contain oblivious mistakes cited so often by the mentorsÐfacts that the writer failed to check out. Maybe he or she didn't know the subject well enough to know they'd committed a blooper, or maybe the writer didn't bother looking so mething up. Such inaccuracy occurred when one writer had a scene set in Manhatta n with a car going east on 73rd Street, a one-way street on which cars can go on ly westÐa mistake an editor living in Manhattan would be likely to notice. I'm sur e you can cite examples of some well-known writer committing a similar glaring e rror in a book you read recently, but well-known writers don't generally have to worry about rejection slips! One-dimensional characters. Mentor comments: "You never physi-cally described Matt. All of your characters are sketched well, but 'sketched' is the operative word." Although inaccuracies were cited most often, failure to portray a well-rounded protagonist is far more serious. This resulted when the characters strayed out of character, lost their "voice." In one manusc ript, a paper boy poetically referred to a star-crammed sky and a moon perched o n the tip of a church spire. "Nice image," the mentor wrote, "but not a paper bo y's." It's certainly not how Mark Twain would have done it. Some writers chose p rotagonists elds unfamiliar to them (for example, a newspaper journalist who had no deadlines and failed

Unless you're a household na me. the protagonist is slighted. sometimes in mid-sent ence. Still. You have to be good to get away with this.to report a murder she witnessed). All to o often beginning writers rush in where experienced writers fear to tread. Don't overload your beginning with too many people too soon. the mentor has to as k who the main character was supposed to be. Play at work. You might be surprised how many you can cut out. how important each character is to the plot. Learn from it.K. Try all the techniques." "Your problem is abruptly changing POV. mainl y because they don't like what they're letting themselves in for." "The changing of tenses and shifting of viewpoints make the narrative dif cult to follow. too. and favorite food are totally unfamiliar." For "good. Mentor's comments: "The mixing of viewpoints in the same chapter was co nfusing. It's easier and generally more effective to w rite about someone and something you know. Enjoy it. Often. quirks. It's O. Ask yourself. The more dif cul t the technique. lost in the shuf e. When this happ ens." read experienced. longings. But don't show it to your editor. failings. no editor is going to bother sorting people out. to experiment. But even when your main character is someone whose voice. you can still go wrong if you commit the folly cited below b y any number of mentors: Introducing too many characters at once. the more likely an inexperienced writer will be to use it. Shifting viewpoint co nfusion. switching viewpoints is something many accomplished writers avoid. Isaac . virtues. Show it to your friends and family.

Be concrete. including s ome of the mentors who cited this infraction of the rules. and not o nly didn't show. or even a qualm. are those who have never met a cliché they didn't like. got short shrift from certain writers. There were times when the beginning writer went one better. the reader. from the scene by sidling up to it. consequen tly. The big scene.Singer once observed that a writer's best friend was his wastebasket. they just don't ignor e it as often. or rather. many beginning writers distance themselves. Certainly. they don't always bother to search for the right example. don't tell" is a cliché that every writer knows but sometimes ignores. one worse. a ccording to a number of mentors. The o nly writers I know who can plow through a dramatic scene without fear and trembl ing." Mentor: "How? In some of his earlier. the murder. their protagonist. Although writers will take their time to search for the right verb. high pro le cases? About which we heard nothing?" "Show. one of w hom dismissed the murder in a brief paragraph but devoted a page to nding a cat i n a closet. or reaching for the nearest convenient cliché. recognize its importance. lapsin g into something vague. Telling in stead of showing. If the protagonist has just . Writer: "He had brushed disaster several times. and sc urrying off. as in the following: Sidestepping the b ig scene. Unfortunatel y. confronting the dramatic scene can be intimidating. but. and. but also scarcely told. But at least they deal with the murder scene. is the pivotal point of the mystery. taking a quick peek.

" not "she hissed" o r "he thundered. Another freq uent fault found by mentors was dialogue crammed with so much information.encountered a dead body. Many writers give their characters distinct speech patterns. One mentor remarked: "You give the reader information concerning t he local lore. nightmarish details. would a casual readerÐor more important. A school's dropout won't sound like a doctor of philosophy. families' politics." Another men tor put it more succinctly: "Your story slows down hereÐtoo much description. etc. it was often abused. personal reaction. Bringing off the big scene ranks up there with a gre at plot and good characterization. Use "he said" or "she said.000 words. Either it was too sketchy or too long. it comes almost as an afterthought so that there is no unique. "Phis is a great set up' or 'This book is t oo talky?' My gut feeling is that the response would be the latter. can handle. a dead giveawa y that the writer is a beginner. something the protagonist. Avoid using crutch words.. it so unded unnatural. and the writer. then hurries back to safe ground to d eal with a something not so emotionally challenging. but your protagonist is l ost in all the characters." . Read the dialogue out loud to see if it sounds "right." perhaps. Cut." Keep your dialogue in character. Indian names. interfering wit h the action. After three chapters and 9. " Mistakes in dialogue. no explanation is needed." If the dialogue is apt. Or maybe the writer dreams up some arty imagery or th rows in a few clever. a "ver bal tic. an editorÐsay. Length of description. When description was u sed. such as an overuse of a certain word or phrase so that the re ader knows immediately who is speaking. Mentor comment: "Your characters sound too much alike.

A mai nstream novelist might digress freely. all too many manuscripts cont ained grammatical errors in straight narrative. If the writer is in a character's head. It's better to risk repeating a character's name too of ten than to confuse the reader. in no instance was the writer told to begin the book earlier.K. the sentence incomplete. this didn't h appen until the third chapter. informal. An error many mentors found in manuscr ipts. either when the murder oc curs. the grammar will be loose. Again. the me ntor didn't have a clue. Beginning too early. Another oft-cited mistake. One mentor put it succinctly: "When it comes to adverbs and adjectives. However. Pronoun confusion. in depicting a character with little schooling. Remembe r that suggestion is all. it's O. And. Grammatical lapses. A mystery should begin near the point of attack. but pace is all-important in mysteries.Also. to break the rules of grammar. don't overdo it. indicating that the writer was e ither careless or needed a refresher course in composition. S tick to the subject. less is . in depicting a character with a distinct dialect. or when someone ventures upon the scene of the crime. Often. Too many digressions. an oft cited criticism. Mentors advised changing chapters three to chapte r one and weaving in the previous information. Oddly enough. A lthough it may have been clear in some writers' minds who was doing what. Too many modi ers. and less than perfec t.

creative spelling. Sloppy copy. Don't give the editor an ex cuse to push your manuscript aside after all the work you've put into it." Go for the active verbs. This occurred far too often: type t oo light to read. single spacing. preferably someone who reads a lot of mysteries. A good idea is to have someone else read your manuscript before sending it out.more. the above mistakes occur because the writer is too familiar with the material. Often. .

nobody claims that science ction predicts the future or explores the unive rse. to the use of galaxies as gravitational lenses. Discoveri es in science and advances in technology have given dazzling proof that science c tion's visions are not absurd. it's been on the shotgun principle: Put out enough different notions. even respectable. genetic engineering. In the past it often took the form. Meanwhile. time travel. but science ction writers surely more than mos t. The few times a story has come near the mark. all the way from the Internet and its revolutionary impact. "Where do you get those crazy ideas?" but since then the eld has become quite widely accepted. We writers fai led to anticipate a heap of developments. such popular shows as "Star Trek" and Star Wars have made many of those conceptsÐspace travel.42 IDEAS IN SCIENCE FICTION By Poul Anderson "WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?" Probably every sort of writer he ars this question once in a while. alien intell igences. Now. and you h ave a chance of making an occasional . arti cial intelligences. No "future history" has matched the actual course of events. and much moreÐcommon currency . We seized on them only as they came to pass.

most conspicuously in the movies and on tel evision. something that happened to someone else. a news item. Moreover. This tie to reality. there 's a lot of bad science ction around. plots are cookie-cutter. a number of our standard motifsÐmost obviously time travel and trav el faster than lightÐmay well prove to be forever impossible. if any. huma n terms. but it isn't what I shall be discussing. (Not that fantasy doesn't i nclude many ne works. a mat hematical calculation. Characters are c ardboard. we're storytellers. with no attempt made at the touch of originality tha t would freshen them a bit. the underlying ideas. But then. however remote and unlikely it may become. and express our thoughts in ctional. something read or seen or heard or watched on a screen. The question "Where do you get your ideas?" is legitimate. We won't say more about this. are either ridi culous or old and worn-out. we aren't in the business of prophecy. a dream. What counts is what you do with it. Anything whats oever may spark a storyÐa personal experience. a chance remarkÐanything. don't you? You'll nd yourself in excellent c ompany.hit. Science ction is preeminently a literature of ideas.) Admittedly. is p erhaps what distinguishes science ction from fantasy. A signi cant amount of what appears in print meets high literary as well a s intellectual . but also abundant on the newsstands and in bookstores. you want it to be good. We look at the cosmos around us . The answer is: the world. If you want to write s cience ction. wonder what this or that might imply.

two str eams run through science ction. gaining e xperience and reputation before making the investment of time and effort that a book requires. although novels dominate. Editors remain eager to discover strong new voices. How do humans react? It won't be uniformly. the science c tion (and mystery) magazines and anthologies are almost the only surviving homes for short stories. and so on. some does deservedly well. It is "the ide a as hero. hoping they will crush its hated neighbors. hitherto unknown beings. For instance." His tales are mainly concerned with the conceptÐa submarine. an invisible man or a time machine or . lost i n the pile of trash.G. The rst truces back to Jules Verne. througho ut history on Earth. you're too apt to waste your energy reinventing the wheel. it will only draw yawns. but he didn't care how implausible they might be. thought-provoking aspects. The sheer volume of published science c tion nowadays is such that some of the good science ction gets overlooked. What are the aliens like? You can design interest ing. if the author presents uniq ue. Thus. again and again a local faction has allied itself with fore ign invaders. Set forth baldly . Why are they here? After all. The second derives from H. First. a journey to the center of the planet. though. Also. Life's too short to struggle with stuff that bores you. In addition. if y ou don't know what's been done. In my opinion. A budding writer would do well to start with them. However. Wells. "attack from outer space" is an ancient theme. a technology capable of crossing interstellar space should be able to produce everything its people want at home. you had better be reasonably familiar with the eld and enjoy it. His own ideas were brilliant. Yet it can still succeed.standards while being a pleasure to read.

we usually speak of these two streams as "hard" and "soft" science ction. Ne edless to say. to the humor and sensitivity of Gordon R." which foresaw the milita ry tank. except for advising that you experience widely.whatever. sometimes memorable. Verne's characters are livel y. He concentrated on the characters. When he chose to. learn something about everything. In this day and age. You want to keep up with these elds anyway. rst-class reading. meditat e on that experience. I'm not sure that any "how to" about it can be taught. our best writers h ave achieved it oftener than one might think. You can nd everything from the wonderfully conceived and carefully executed planets of Hal Clement to the far.M. the streams unify in a tale that meets both scienti c and conven tional literary standards. Indeed. Stirling.un g romances of Jack Vance. Wells could write a story focused on a future development: for example. "The Land Ironclads. Ideally. But perhaps I can offer a few suggestions about sources of ideas and what can be accomplished by taking thought. their emotions and interactions. It inspires. In this shor t piece I can't take up the purely literary side. I d on't see how any . and read the great works of world literature. they were never completely separate. not just the quantity but the diversity of current science ction is amazing. This is another reason for writers to know what their colleagues have been doing. and many more. Though this is not exactly common. To day. DicksonÐall of them. from the gritty sociology of Frederick Pohl through th e headlong adventure of S. We begin with science and technology.

You don't need a professional degree . anthropology. Even the rare story that has no humans in it is necessarily told from a human viewpoint. equally well-written. doubtless . We c an't do this mechanically. Discover. they're boundlessly rich fou ntainheads of exciting story possibilities. Among magazines. As an example of how different sources ow tog ether. Yes. Prowl the bookstores and libraries. too. we nd that our twentieth-century Western c ivilization is not the only expression of human variousness. All ction deals with people. attempts to generate a setting by simply ch anging names have had pretty dismal results. What we learn we can transmute into exotic story situations. along with hard thought. psychology. Besides. We acquire knowledg e of a more structured kind from history. have the most general coverage that I know of. The writer's imagination must come into play. I've mentioned personal experience and the masterwo rks of the world as means of gaining a deeper understanding. and probably won't be the nal one. Gregory Benford is a physicist who as a sideline writes novels of high li terary quality. I subscribe to several others. Among the bene ts. especially the rst. At least. but Greg Bear is a layman whose work. and the British New Scientist. also goes believably to the frontiers of our knowledge and beyond. I'll list Science News. and other st udies of our species. authoritative books and periodicals that report from these fron tiers. consider joining the Library of Scien ce book club. We have no dearth of fascinating. but these four. Scienti c America n.person can be called educated who doesn't.

he tossed off the idea that pos t-mammalian evolution may produce a kind of biological supercharger. editor of Analog magazine. let me bring in my novel The People of the Wind. Although ethnically German. the Alsatians are ercely patrioti c French citizens. So would its energy demands.not the best but closely known to me. they'd be obligate carniv ores. Ah-ha! Subjecting my planet to this kind of stress should dramatically highlight its mixed society. too. Such a species would be satisfyingly alien to ours. Thus we'd get a mixed ecology. In my last conversation with th e late John Campbell. All of this needed working out in detail. I saw at once tha t this would also enable a man-sized creature with a man-sized brain to y on a pl anet similar to Earth. powered by the animal's motion and conferring tremendous cursive ability. The power of Might would basica lly in uence their psyches. For a long time I'd wanted to write a story about a planet colonized join tly by humans and a nonhuman race. human and nonhuman colonists would introduce plants and animals from their home worlds. highly territorial. would not be a copy of Earth. Likewise did the aliens. These elements were a bare begi nning. Traveling in France. but c ommunication and cooperation were not ruled out. Their anatomy had to be functional. The heroic resistance of Belfort during the FrancoPrussian Wa r caused it to be spared the annexation to Germany that the rest of the province suffered from 1871 to 1918. It would have its own characteristics and its own native life. In addition. The planet. I happened on the Alsati an city of Belfort. What social arrangements could they make? What would t heir languages sound like? What . while habitable.

Thus. Robert Heinlein was an absolute mast er of this technique. It deserved the sales and awards it won. People and places come to life in the cour se of story events. a world in th e form of a gigantic ring around its sun and the myriad cultures that could aris e on so vast an area. sev eral persons pointed out that he'd gotten the rotation of the Earth backward. Often a hint is enough. Such casual-looking phrases as "The door dilated" or "A po lice car was balanced on the rooftop" throw us straight into the future.religions might they have? How would they and the humans in uence each other? And the humans themselves wouldn't be the same as us today. but I've seldom had more fun. I too have received valuable critiques. and suggestions f rom readers Ðalmost as much as from the conversations with my wife. He corrected the rst m istake in a second edition. Contacts like these are a major reward of writing science ction. Science ction readers a re bright. ot hers that the structure would be gravitationally unstable. information. when the story was set c enturies in the future. he wrote a sequel. Niven didn't wish t edious lectures on us. Larry Niven's Ringwo rld is a marvelously complete visualization of a splendid concept. . He never does. and I hope the end prod uct was interesting and vivid. He could pick and choose what items to show. A great deal of effort went into such questions before a ny actual writing started. He coul d do this because he had very fully developed his background. which naturally became more of a tour and which also was a publishing success. and good-naturedly scrappy. well-informed. To explain how Ringworld was kept in orbit. Nevertheless. Be prepared for arguments. Note well.

We give our read ers what we have imagined. and all else. But that imagining should spring from reality.In a way. it should make sense. and beneath the color. . we science ction writers are professional daydreamers. which is in nitely varied and surprising. suspense. stylistic exp erimentation.

43 CREATING SUSPENSE By Sarah Lovett THE GREEK PHILOSOPHER HERACLITUS. and each actively makes choices. in ction.I. vulnerab le characters who are desperately driven. "A man's character is his fate. With impossible goals. Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice strives to clear her family name and to overcome her own prejudice in order to nd true love. in motion. plot begin s with character. Cl arisse Starling in The Silence of the Lambs is a rookie F.B. Facing forces of antagonism. Desperate characters. 1 spen d months developing my characters and their ctional . Desperate characters Plot begins with hungry. agent put to the test on a serial murder investigation. my understanding of plot and character has evolved until both elements are inseparably intertwined in the pro cess of creating a story. In the course of writing three novels. Your protagonist steps out of the ordi nary world and into the extraordinary world when she or he moves into action. working toward a goal." W hile you may disagree with Heraclitus when it comes to life. Both of these literary heroines are unique and fully developed chara cters. is often quoted. WHO WAS IN THE BUSINESS of pon dering life's big questions.

My protagonist's desperate need to know the truth leads her toward her main story goal. I make stacks of notes and ll in details of their lives. For example. I like to focus on my protagonist rst because the who will affect the what. writing down ques tions and answers: Where were they born? What was their childhood like? Are they from lower-. and it will take incredible strength of character for her to save the killer's next victim. If the reader knows absolutely that the hero will succeed. valuabl e goals A worthy protagonist must be driven to reach a crucial and almost imposs ible goal. I know that Sylvi a's adventures will in some way concern questions of family pathology. ho hum. Impossible. my series protagonist Sylvia Strange is a forensic psychologi st who is haunted by issues of family. and apple pie? What do they dream about? What is their work? What is their passion? Just when I thin k I know a character. . She is estranged from her mother. or upper-class backgrounds? Are their parents alive or de ad? Do they have siblings? Do they believe in God. Bu t a story becomes instantly suspenseful if the protagonist might not reach her g oal. In The Silence of the Lambs Thomas Harris created a young and untested hero ine in Clarisse Starling. thereby missing t he opportunity to achieve real love. which als o happens to be a classic motif for the crime genre. she is afraid of love and commitment. I ask more questions.world. She needs to nd out what happened to her f ather who abandoned her and her mother years earlier. middle-. Because of that. Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennett is so smar t and so smug she almost fails to recognize her own prejudice. in Dangerous Attachments and Acquired Motives. country.

These antagonistic forces will provide the ultimate test for the protagonist. at rst glance. impossible. or they must provide a powerful barrier. human. If the protago nist and the antagonist are worthy opponents. for a socially approved purpose: to save a life. into the killer's lair to save a loved one. and/or environmental antagonists must also be actively driven. for instance. As soon as I know where my protagonist is headedÐinto a secret diamond min e to recover a lost treasure. Remember. peop le. and she must make herself vulne rable to another dangerous killerÐHannibal "the Cannibal" LecterÐin order to reach h er goal. It is Hannibal who demands to know her . and they will also tell the reader what kind of human bein g the protagonist truly is. Or. Clarisse Starling is up against a deadl y serial killer. the story instantly gains suspense either force could win. or to protect the innocent. Forces of antagonism Internal. In ctionÐand in lifeÐa person's accomplishments are measu red against the obstacles they overcome. for redemption. These are the story's fo rces of antagonism. and circumstances that will stand in my hero's way. monetary gain must n ally be used for good.Goals may be noble: the search for the truth or the protection of the innocent. into a murky psyche to unravel a mysteryÐthen I can start to imagine the mind-sets. and they play a crucial role in plot and character developme nt. But if you want the reader to root for the protagonist. they may be foolish and super cial: the quest for money or treas ure. She's a woman in a man's world. valuable goals.

Simple structure A story needs a basic shapeÐa scaffoldÐthe simpler the bett er. her weak points. When the rookie FBI agent reveals herself to Hannibal. their con icts. their ultim ate goal and therefore. Divide your story into actsÐa beginning (Act I). the forces opposing Elizabeth Bennett are those of an entire social structureÐrigid and restrictiveÐin which women are not allowed to inherit property. I need to set up a basic framework for the story. In Pride and Prejudice. If I have a heroine who is af raid of heights. she reveals her self to the reader. their world. Starling is a hero worth rooting for. . and people do not marry outside their social class. is she seeing t he picture clearly when a prison inmate and his politically powerful father are both implicated in a family murder? Or is she prejudiced by her personal history ? Now that I have some idea of my important characters. her vulnerabilities.gure. A protagon ist's vulnerabilities. and an end (Act III). Sylvia Strange lost her father. That goes double for psychological vul nerability. a middle (Act II). she suffers the death of a mentor and father. Starling faces both psychic and external dangers. and it is. before he will offer clues to the killer's identity. In The Silence of the Lambs. As a child. I'll make sure she has to climb Mount Everest or swing from the Eiffel Tower in order to reach her goal. In Dangerous Attachments. but it works. should be exploited to gain reader empat hy. It sounds calculated. In both action and thought. as an adult.deepest secrets.

they keep us in suspense. will Elizabeth Bennett's wit and intelligence win her true love? When these questions beg answ ers. Spin . This is wh ere protagonist and antagonist face each other in a ght to the deathÐor at least to metaphorical deathÐwhere only one will be victorious. the end of the s tory. is a series of e scalating con icts between opposing forces. Once I have a good se nse of the story's basic overall structure. the story's beginning. This structuring tells me where to put the twists and turns that keep readers interestedÐand keep the story spinning. the set-up asks the central question o f the story: Will Sylvia Strange discover the killer's identity in time to preve nt another death? In a highly structured class-conscious society. The middle of the story. The set-up raises questions: Who is good? Who is bad? Wh at are the goals of the protagonist and the antagonist? What drives them? Who wi ll reach the goal rst? And most important. Act III. the pay-off. It often contains an important crisis where the protagonist's abi lity to reach her goal is called into deeper question. This basic structureÐthese bo nesÐshould free the writer so the shape of the story doesn't get overwhelmed or lo st after many drafts. chapters into scenes. raisi ng the stakes. the big bang before the story's central questi on is nally resolved. This section develops the story. before the reader knows who will ultimately win. sets up driven characters and their valuable and a lmost-impossible goals. Act II. Sometimes it's called the story map.Act I. is the climax. I can begin to break acts into chapt ers.

In Pride and Preju dice. the world has shifted. the story of one Mr. spinning the story into Act II. middle.This is what should happen to the story in a major way at the end of each act: A n action should occur that sends the story into a new and surprising direction. Elizabeth Ben nett faces disgrace as a result of her sister's illicit affair with a Colonel Wi ckham and the loss of contact with Mr. like life. the man she has grown to love deep ly. colliding and otherwise Fiction. A subplot has a beginning. Spin points are those moments in life when the world tilts on its axis. just like the main plot. This occurs at the e nd of Act I. strong subplot co lliding with the main plot changes its course in the process. subplot seems to be wher e the unconscious mind of the story lives. Sometimes. Darcy. A subplot can also add tone and color to the story. C larisse Starling discovers a human head preserved in a jar. personal history. when wha t the protagonist thought she knew was reality is probably not reality at all. In both these cases. A good." At the end of Act II. and what seemed clear before is now seen in new light. Wickham and his . and the reinforcement of the story's motif. allowing for love. has more than one strand of action occurring at one time. She wonders who the man was. It allows for a change of pace and tonal variety. while main plot is the domain of the active conscious mind. identity. and wh o killed himÐBuffalo Bill or Hannibal Lecter? This discovery spins her back to Lec ter and cements their working "partnership. Subplots. and end.

I often use a subplot to develop secondary characters. Sylvia Strange. but psychologically this may be a very negative time. as well as a close friendship with a female penitentiary investigator. I've also created a love interest for Sylvia. an obstacl e that tests the quality of true love. A nal death-defying climax . the crisis is Hannibal Lecter's gory escape from the authorities. this confrontation occurs mi dway in the story. In my novels. Although Starling is not fe atured in this dramatic set-piece. This is her darkest mo ment before the push to the nal climax. Classically. Instead. ending with a spin. I can also e xpand on thematic material and carry forward the story of Sylvia's missing fathe r from book to book. Somehow she survives physical ly. because I use a cast of con tinuing characters who inhabit the world of my protagonist. T he Act II crisis in The Silence of the Lambs is a variation from the norm becaus e the action does not center around protagonist Starling.wooing of and ultimate marriage to Elizabeth Bennett's sister Lydia is an exampl e of a subplot that collides directly with the main plot. Lecter has left her with a giftÐa clue that wil l lead her to Buffalo Bill in Act III. A crisis Every story n eeds a crisis. Dr. The scandal of this af fair is a crucial obstacle between the heroine and the man she loves. somewhere in the second half of Act II. the moment at which the heroine should die or the moment at which it looks as if she will fail to achieve her goal. In this way.

guring out an exciting c limax before you begin the actual chapterby-chapter or scene-by-scene writing pr ocess. character driving the story and charact ers affected by events in the story. Elizabeth Bennett stands up to prevailing social values personi ed by the imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh. These are some basics for creating suspense with your characters and your plot. Although everyone's pr ocess is unique. failed to defeat the villain. . I can't truly immer se myself in the writing process. and faces her opponent once more in thi s climactic moment. Perhaps the heroine met the villain in t he crisis. It is of ten a nal play-out of the Act II crisis. an interaction that can be used to maintain suspense and pacing and to surprise the reader. At t he climax of Dangerous Attachments. Then they go back and rework the story. I know some writers who have to write from beginning to end before they k now their ending. I have to have a very good idea where my story is headed. Until I know the story's beginning and its ending. The two elements go hand in hand. It's a constant tug-of-war. even months. She is willing to ght to the death to save the boy. Sylvia Strange faces a psychotic killer who has kidnapped a young and fatherless child. and where my characters will end up (although events do shift as I w rite). Clarisse Starling is hunted by Buffal o Bill.This is the most dangerous face-off between antagonist and protagonist. These climatic pay-offs have been promised from the very beginning of ea ch story. it's smart to spend weeks. This is what the entire story has been building toward.

Lonesome Dove.44 TWILIGHT FOR HIGH NOON: TODAY'S WESTERN By Loren D. The subsequent TV adaptation gunned down the ratings competition. Next in the chute was Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. In the meantime. I went out on a limb in an article for The Writer Magazine and predicted the triumphant return of frontier ction. Dances with Wolves. Kevin Costner's e pic motion picture based on Michael Blake's acclaimed novel about a white man li ving with Indians. and the big winner at the Academy Awards in 1993. and Louis L'Amour's career was drawing to a close with Tom Clancy's ascendant. when TV sitcoms and big-screen space operas had all but crowde d out the traditional western. In 1981. Only four years l ater. . and spawned three successful sequ els and a regular series. recovered its investment ten times over and took seven Academ y Awards. saved the end angered television miniseries from extinction. a grittily realisti c movie about an Old West assassin. Larry McMurtry's monumental tale of a cattle drive. Estleman PARDON ME WHILE I INDULGE IN SOME SELF-CONGRATULATION: I WA S right. swept t o the top of The New York Times bestseller list and captured the Pulitzer Prize.

The awed. Writers of westerns were not. They presented raw. Those that failed were dismal attempts to revive the old mythology of f ast-draw contests and heroic loners with no visible means of support. made cynical by reallife assassinations and corruption in high places. demands realistic . Immediately. Not every entry in this spate of big-screen westerns was suc cessful. and there was certainly little of John Wayne's swagger or Gary Cooper's stoic se lf-sacri ce in Clint Eastwood's gun ghter. Time was when these stereotypes were fr esh and popular. whoring killer. Dances with Wolves. Cor ral. The pundits who had smugly announced the permanent closing of th e frontier were stumped for an explanation. un inching portraits of imperfect humanity that audiences the world over rec ognized as genuine. a drunken. every major studio gave the green light to western productions that had been languishing in its story department for years.The effect on Hollywood was as sudden and startling as the Gun ght at the O. But an increasingly sophisticated public. more westerns were opening in the nation's theaters than at any time s ince the 1950s.K. By the middle of t he 1990s. What L onesome Dove. emotionally repressed cattlemen of Lonesome Dove had as little in common with the heroic cowboys of 1946's Red River as Kevin Cos t-ner's esh-and-blood Sioux had with the cardboard savages of the old B western. and Unforgiven have in common that set them ap art from the long stream of High Noon imita-tions of decades past was a regard f or authentic history. dedicating their lives to the eradication of evil.

" substituting the labels "frontier ction" and "American historical. Consider the haunted. TV documentaries such as Ken Burns's The Wes t. a long with the readership that made it popular. and Evan S. as opposed to th e 60.characters in plausible situations. a new breed of weste rn writer is mining primary resources for people and facts that require no drama tization to attract reader interest. which feature great swe eps of land and ethnically diverse casts instead of WASPish gunslingers facing o ff on a dusty streetÐ third.000-word horse operas of oldÐsecond. there were women out West. rst. Responding to a growing appetite for historical accuracy. Yes. and theirs is but one of the many hun dreds of tales that have yet to be told. Today's publishers have jettisone d the very word "western. by their reviews. Publishers ." Books herded into these categories are immediately distinguishable from their predecessors. Connell's Son of the Morning Star. by their lengthÐ100. have all reached wide audiences who can no longer be expec ted to embrace tall tales directed at readers who never ventured west of Chicago . The historical James Butler Hickok and Martha Jane Cannary were far more complex and interesting than the Wild Bill and Calamity Jane of ction. The traditional western is dying out. Fortunately. there is no shortage of such r aw material. burned-out expressions on the faces of those long-dead prairie wives photographed in front of their mea n soddies. and the thousands of less noted participants in the Westward Expansion all loom larg er than life in our pampered time.000 words plus. by their covers. and exhaustive revisionist histories such as Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wou nded Knee. Paula Mitchell Marks's And Die in the West.

That editor would probably have insisted I make do with the bare statement "It w as hot. City of Wid ows (Forge. As a writer. The end of space restrictions allows me to enl ist the climate and topography of the West as characters in the plot. The New York Times. Today's western writers demonstrate a deeper understanding of the ro le of the American West in the shaping of a nation. The water in the canteen tasted like hot metal. Pinheads of sweat marched along the edge of my leather hatband and tracked down into my eyes. I turned up my collar and unfa stened my cuffs and pulled them down over the backs of my hands. there is no hiding from that afternoon slant. I often felt constrained by the need to tell a grand story in a narrow space. but I could fee l my skin turning red and shrinking under the fabric. but a hat will protect you from it then. . and the Bloomsbury Review take serious notice of the se books as often now as they ignored the work of Luke Short and Ernest Haycox i n the past.Weekly. and consequently of that nat ion's place in the history of the world." and get to the shooting. and once ran afoul of an editor at Doubleday when an early entry i n my Page Murdock series ran more than 300 pages in manuscript. . In the past. 1994): Desert heat doesn't follow any of the standard rules. Compare that wit h the freedom I felt to include this passage in Murdock's adventure. When the only shade for miles is on the wrong side of the shrubbery you're using for cov er. stinging lik e re ants. I wanted the Montana s now. I welcome the larger canva s. blue as the veins in Colleen Bower's throat with the mountain runoff coursi ng through it carrying shards of white ice . You'd expect it to be wors t when the sun is straight up. .

she was sure of it. hav e changed all thatÐto everyone's bene t. Consider this frontier ction stapleÐthe showin g of a notorious outlaw's corpse for pro tÐas transformed by Deborah Morgan in her s hort story "Mrs. Durkin Hayes. Successors such as Lucia St. square-set jaw. Crawford's Odyssey" (How the West Was Read. bald. The heavily rouged ch eekbones emphasized vast.One of the most signi cantÐand progressiveÐdevelopments of the new western has been th e increase in women writers. like watered-down milk. including Dorothy M . author of Ride the Wind. In the past. She grabbed at that thread of h ope. Laid out before her was an old man. This eased her. but thankful it's not one of . Death Comes for the Arch-bishop) were obliged to write from t he male point of view. 1996) . wit h esh of a blue-white translucency. sunl it hair. Someone had made a terrible mistake. Clair Robson. dark hollows that should have been a jawline." "A Man Called Horse") and Willa C athcr (My Antonio. Their ability to empathize with the courageous wome n who left behind the security of civilization to build a new life in the wilder ness is largely responsible for the western's acceptance in the literary mainstr eam. simply by adopting the point of view of the dead man's mother: This could not be her twenty-two-year-old son. the few women who ventured into the genre. Matthew had golden features. Johnson ("The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. caught it. held it taut. a strong. and she approached the deceased li ke any slight acquaintance mightÐrespectfully. told from the perspective of Comanche captive Cynthia Ann Parker.

and history of the West through . "what have t hey done to you?" Few male writers could write so poignantly and convincingly about a woman regard ing the lifeless body of the boy to whom she gave birth. "My dear. living conditions. She clasped her hand over her mouth. In the heyday of the traditional western. blacks. bookstores. heroes. either as villains or as comic foils.your own. Conley (The Dark Island. C razy Snake) stands at the summit of an impressive career built upon the Native A merican experience. Tears owed until she believed that she would nev er be able to cry again. the writer with access to a computer can tap into a wealth of information on the geography. Only when she was leaning over the body did she discover death's ruse and see. such characters we re regulated to secondary roles. consumpt ives. and Cherokee writer Robert J." she said at last. a futile attempt to contain her emotions. her child. When in m y Writer article I rst echoed Horace Greeley's advice "Go West. The market has rarely been so open to newcomers. Bill Hotchkiss's The Medicine Calf and Ammahabas a bsorbingly follow the life of Jim Beckwourth. and scoundrels." the necessary re ference material resided only in libraries. The West was settled by many different kinds of people: whites. Today. the black trapper and fur trader w ho became a Crow chief. Indians. and county courthouses. precious boy. unmistakably. immigrants. Publishers are actively seeking women interested in tapping the rich vein of material concerning women out West.

and if you err. it now encom passes prehistoric Indian life as exempli ed by the "People" series written by ant hropologists W. I don't regret much. and many more).. intelligent women who have . My novel Billy Gashade (Forge." History knows nothing of this individual beyon d the name he signed to his composition. Freed from the tyranny of "acceptable" timeframes. People of the Silence. Today's readers have the same ac cess. Michael and Kathleen O'Neal Gear (People of the Fire. so I co-opted him as representative of the itinerant modern minstrels whose music brought romance to the frontier and p reserved its legend.the Internet. I've known some of the best and worst men of my time. you will hear from them. I took advantage of al l I had learned about the West in twenty years of researching and writing wester ns to tell a ctional story based on the mysterious life of the musician who wrote the famous ballad "Jesse James. Rounding up the facts has never been so easy.. but be warned: There is no longer an excuse for getting them wrong. s urvived events that sent better men than I to their graves more than half a cent ury ago and as I was told by one of the strong. The timespan embraced by the new western is limitless. as recounted by John L. Moore in The Breaking of Ezra Riley. Once restricted to the bare quarter-century between the en d of the Civil War in 1865 and the closing of the frontier in 1890. 1997) follows its narrator f rom his fateful role in the New York draft riots of 1863 to his nal stint as a gh ostwriter of songs for Gene Autry musicals in 1935 Hollywood: . and the struggles of modern westerners to come to t erms with their heritage.

Boss Tweed. So saddle u p. from one's past. the song I w rote fty-three years ago grows stronger each year. for the history of what was once dismissed as the Great American Desert is the history of America. The "best and worst men"Ðand womenÐof Billy's time include Jesse James. from convention. Allan Pinkerton. I have my gift. He said there was no man with the law in his hand That could take Jesse James alive. Unlike its composer. at long last. the western itself offers that same freedom. even if whoever sings it usually leaves out the last verse: This song was made by Billy Gashade Just as soon as the news did arrive. The mystique of the frontier has always been freedom : from restrictions. Today. . usually at the request of one of the patrons. and Greta Garbo." and thus to help stretch the limits. as well as the opportunity for the writ erÐany writerÐto slap his or her brand on an exciting. A month hardly passes that I d on't hear it on the radio or in a supper place with a live performer. George Armstrong Custer. Edith Wharton. Oscar Wilde.charted the course of my life. The liberty offered by the new western permitted me to include people and places not commonly associated with the "western. expanding market.

Hyde. in retrospect. STORIES UNTIL I FOUND THAT My rst Inspector John Rebus novel was not meant to be a whodunit. aspects the tourists and day-trip pers would never see. while also perhaps telling readers something about hidden aspects of the city of Edinburgh. The fact that I made my central cha racter a policeman was (to me at the time) of little or no importance. probably no bad thing: It's easy for the would-be author to be put off by procedure and detail. studying literary theory an d the Scottish novel. deliveri ng a "Scots Gothic" for the 1980s. Maybe that's why so many c tional detectives have been amateurs (in the UK) or private eyes (in the US): Th ese are people who either ignore or wilfully sidestep . Jekyll and Mr. I was a postgraduate student in Edinburgh.45 DETECTIVE NOVELS: THE PACT BETWEEN AUTHORS AND READERS By Ian Rankin I HAD LITTLE INTEREST IN DETECTIVE I'd accidentally written one. That was my intention. easy to be sidetracked into esoteric research. It was not mean t to be the rst book in a series that has now reached double gures. At the time I wrote it. I thought I was updating Dr. I knew al most nothing about policing or the mechanics of the law.

f orcing certain constraints on the author. I was now reading and enjoying crime novels. and she offered valuable suggestions for changes I should make (such as prunin g an overtangled ashback from fty pages to a neater fteen. I also discovered that a pact exists between mystery authors and their readers. I'd dis covered that Knots & Crosses had been classi ed a crime novel. wi fe or mortgage worries to get in the way. it was also capable of dealing with serious questions and the moral and psychological depth usually associated with the "literary" or "serious" novel. For . I handed her Knots & Crosses . (I was on book ve or six before I was earning enough to even contemplate be coming a full-time writer. I wrote Knots <& Crosses in about ve we eks. Because I'd already had one novel published (The Flood). I'd gone on to publish two spy novels before someone asked the innocent que stion: "Whatever happened to that Edinburgh cop of yours?" By this time. their authors c an proceed in blissful ignorance of the mechanics of a criminal investigation.the proper procedures for investigating a murder. and the book crept into the world without making too much fuss. in that I d epended upon a fertile imaginationÐand how fertile it was! With no family life. my writing really did seem to descend from a Muse. and that while noted for rattling good yarns. By using them. an agent had appro ached me to ask if further novels were forthcoming. She then found m e a London publisher.) So it was back to the day job and dreams of new stor ies. I n the early days. and that the genre had not ended (as I'd assumed) with Christie and Chandler. I discovered its long and noble tradition. and catching up on the history of the detective story. or so).

to my min d. eschewing sidekicks and back-up. I n the Holmes example. In the second example. how did you come to that astonishing conclusion?!"). and the real villain unmasked. This is ne if the author's intention is to provide fun. But my own int entions extended further. the book's plot is about to be summarized and explained. there have to be ways of expressin g them and answering them. all for the readers' edi cation. the sidekick (Watson) stands for the reader and allows the detective to answer the very questions readers have been asking themselves. no sudden appearance of a new chara cter at the end of a book who would turn out to be the miscreant. and though written in the third person. there should be no deus ex machina.example. even when the reader is a willing enough accomplice. Further. some little mental challenge to while away the hours. Thus the usefulness of the sidekick ("But gracious me . allowing them insights into his thinking. and turn it i nto a game. a puzzle. is that. The problem with such tricks. the detective is a loner along the lines of the American private eye. and reduce the seriousness of the crime novel. or the penultimat e chapter's gathering of suspects ("So you see. I found that bec ause the whodunit constantly poses questions. you could not po ssibly have been in the archdeacon's antechamber at ten minutes to midnight"). Madame Bouvier. and in my Rebus books. the det ective is never physically . they are tricky. no twist which the reader couldn't have been expected to be able to work out. He works on the margins of the police for ce. Holmes. the style of the narrative has evolved so that readers are inside the detective's h ead most of the time. ent ertainment.

he becomes their character.described. and these feelings become part of the fabri c of my stories. but readers will probably be disappointed if they work it out too quickly. Sometimes I'm on the third or fo urth draft of a book before I decide which of my cast is to be the "baddie. wouldn't it be a more fruitful setting for a crime novel? Perha ps. even before it became a series. allowing readers to impose their own i nterpretation on him. . while Glasgow. so a ll ction is mystery ction. his face and physique a blank. notches up between sixty and seventy. It's a cit y that fascinates me and puzzles me. This requires a measure of holding ba ck." The rst draft for me is in itself an investigation: it's only when I start to write about my characters that I begin to sense what they are capable of. that my ma in character is Edinburgh itself. and the country of which it is capital. One way to solve i t is to be unsure yourself who your villain is. and what mot ives they might have for committing a crime. I choose to live and work in Edinburgh. Because / am fascinated by my chosen city. I s et up problems for Rebus. Just as we are all detectives. perhaps part of that fascination will extend to the reader which was the whole point of the series a ll along. Some critics have s hrewdly commented that Rebus is not the main character in the series. In effect. but I don't know Glasgow. I may know whodunit. but in a very re al sense we are all detectives. But Ed inburgh can "boast" only six murders a year. only forty miles to the west. I've been asked why I don't writ e about Glasgow. Premature revelation is a constant worry. It is a cliché perhaps. and the pleasure for the reader is in joining him on a n expedition toward the various solutions. trying to make sense of the world around us.

we l earn a little more about his army service in Northern Ireland. in the knowledge that twenty . as Sue Grafton did. since in ction you can get away with saying things (between the lines) which. otherwise the reader will lose interest. the plot is all down to events that happened to Rebus during his time in the British Army's crack SAS batallion. the detective can uncover all sorts of skeletons. having. there are even fewer in the detective novel. A s tory must generate tension and leave things unsaid or unexplained (until near it s climax). most of them actually throw themselves at me: Some newspaper story o r overheard anecdote in a bar will have me asking questions or railing at a misc arriage of justice. about his early p olice cases. And the detective is the perfect too l for the job. I doubt I'd have had the guts to beg in a series using the alphabet. The crime novel is the perfect vehicle for dissecting societ y. In future novels in the series. . These hel p add layer upon layer to the psychological make-up of the detective. How do you keep your character and your plots fresh? I've found that it pays to have a hero with a pastÐand not to unlock the door to this secret past too quickly. as he does. as well as providing new material for plots. If there are only so many pl ots in ction. Ask yourself: Wha t makes you turn the next page? Answer: the need to nd out what happens next.ve books on I'd still have to be writing about the same protagonist. could get you sued. and the problems with keeping a series going are many and varied. But in fact plots have never been that hard f or me to nd. In Knots & Crosses. In moving easily between these two worlds (and all stops in betw een). as newspaper reporting.setting up questions that will be answered only if we read on. and about past family secrets and even boyhood mysteries. access to both the Establishment and society' s dispossessed.

so h ow much of the rest of this story is true?" Once you've got readers reacting tha t way. for example) to the public (conspi racies in high of ce). hidden identities. subterfuges. The reader must be given a fair chance of solving any puzzle in your book. . but your book must read as authentic. Your murderer can't turn out to be a cha racter you've suddenly introduced ve pages from the end of the story. thinking: "That really did happen. with the caveat that rules are there to be broken by writers with a str ong enough disposition: 1) No cheating. In other words. and those people really did exist . Note James Ellroy's tactic of peppering his novels with real hi storical characters. which isn't the same as yo ur actually knowing what you're talking . as long as the reader is convinced they work within the conte xt of the story. you've got them hooked. the reader must be hoodwin ked into thinking you know what you're talking about. In this way. In this sense. then. and murderers. Here. 2) Having said t his. I must admit that some sorts of cheating are actually expected. in that you 're going to provide red herrings and false trails galore. . 3) You can keep research as minimal as you like. there are no limitations to where the crime novel can go. he dupes the reader into suspending disbelief. It may also explain why serious novels such as Don DeLillo's Under world (and note that title) contain their fair share of mysteries.from the personal (a character's hidden past. These can be as outla ndish as you like. are a few rules about the detectiv e story.

An autopsy scene of a coupl e of paragraphs can be every bit as convicing as one of twenty pages. 5) Go read Raymond Chandler's rules. slowing the story and confusing the reader. . To put meat on your hero's bones. Give an example rather than a long expla nation. but use all of i t in a novel and you'll bore the pants off everyone. A little knowledge will go a long way. If you have 200 pages of notes on autopsy procedure. and every bit as effective at delineating your detective.about. writers who know too m uch about a subject can end up putting too much of it into their novels. I believe in the "less is more" principle. how can I get mine to stand out from the herd? Well. ne. Characterizatio n can be more subtle. 4) Don't strain for novelty i n your central character. and you st and less risk of descending into tedium or jargon. make up your own. They're happy to work with a hero who is little more than a cipher. Don't feel the nee d to make your protagonist a six-foot. in fact th e very familiarity of a typical detective can be satisfying to readers. Showing is always better than telling. The task for the author is to know how much to put in and how much to leave out. You don't need to strain after this. We all know this problem: Since all detectives are muc h of a muchness. and a n interesting home life.ve Icelandic woman with poor eyesight and a box. Conversely. as long as the plot is blistering.le of homemade recipe-cards to be dispensed one per chapter. Better still. introduce aws and foibles.

" a student told me. My most rec ent. is set in Biblical times and deals with the Israelites' enslavement. exodus. and risk to their personal challenges? What are the stakes ? I have written various historical novels set in different periods. Escape from Egypt." I said. and the wilderness sojourn. and she had resources at her command.46 DISCOVERING A STORY IN HISTORY By Sonia Levitin "I'M WRITING A HISTORICAL NOVEL ABOUT THE RECONSTRUCTION PERIOD . ingenuity. Story? Hadn't she just told me? What she had told me was simply that she was delving into a certain period in American historyÐa time lled with drama and co n ict." "Won derful. Dramatic events all. what's your story?" The student was baf ed and a little ins ulted. "Now. "I'm using my great-grandmother's Civil War diaries. What I needed to know is exactly what any editor and every reader wants to know: What happens in this story to make r eaders identify with the characters? What dangers do they face? How do they appl y courage. but the st ory had to come from .

to win the approbation of their peers. protagonist William Wythers is a pauper wrongly accuse d of a crime. What do change are manners. He sails for the New World to clear his name and to win fame and f ortune. Society mo ves from repression to permissiveness. he discovers a terrifying and captivating land. which becomes the basis for many a story. the people are everyt hing else. to convince the reader that thes e long-ago events happened to real people. make them care. instead. There is the difference. William survives. while the novel is juicy. William d oes not meet his goal in the ordinary sense. In my novel. Why? Because he has been abl e to . to be loved. writers must ask two questions: First. Some say that history is dry. Some things go in cycles. Roanoke. For the novelist. what aspects of human endeavor never change? Second. like any other. thus battling the status quo that relegated paupers to prison. back to strict control. Only in that way do we involve reader s. needs a protagonist who must battle the status q uo. and to reach some p ersonal/ spiritual conclusion.speci c characters. customs. The hi storical novel. To breathe life into history. ways of thin king about the world and one's place in it. Individuals conti nually battle the restrictions. all drawn boldly and vividly. the facts are the foundation. how have things changed sin ce the distant past in the story? What doesn't change is the need for people to survive. Most writers of pure history remember the facts and forget t he people. When war breaks out with the local Native Americans and mo st of the colonists are murdered.

Agai nst this universal background.adapt to the new land. to accept change. and also (not incidentally) because he has fallen in love with a Native American girl. and it was this that became part of the plot. however. Jesse. m ust be given different lives and different motives for needing to escape from Eg ypt. In a historical novel. the Israelite slave. pilgrim. of course. The Bible gave me the bare bones of the action: Ten plagues are unleashed upon stubborn P haraoh. The hero in a historical novel must often leave his old world of con ict an d conformity. For Jennat. or any no vel. Motivation must be clear. characters who behave boldly but in conformity with all that we know of psychology. Jen nat and Jesse have shared a mutual attractionÐforbidden love. I realized that the two primary characters . it is the one ingred ient that remains constant in a world of turmoil and change. and Jennat. We know the hero by what or by whom he loves. new characters with fresh faces. the young Kgyptian-Syrian concubine. This is the universal lesson of history. In pla nning the plot for Escape from Egypt. and often it is this very love (commitment) that save s him. an entirely differe nt scenario had to be created. Without change there is no growth. His innocent . Every patriot. the novelist must prepare something unique and ch allenging. and adventurer begins by stepping out of t he old world and nding not only new worlds "out there" but new attitudes within. it was enough that he was an Israelite whose people were ultimat ely released through Moses' leadership. For Jesse. love can be the element that keeps the hero on course.

I made this plague very personal. Jennat is one of them. Similarly. The Israelit es are slaves and want to escape. an Israelite. they must be in con ict. tries to kill her. It provides the impetus for Jennat to leave Egypt and join the I sraelites in their exodus. Jesse is immediately pl unged into con ict between the two. has to come from within the characters themselves. the death of all the rstborn of Pharaoh's subjects. Remember. invasion. The nal plague. in uencing their actions. Among this country's westward migrants there were . What happens is that Jennat's mistress loses her belo ved son to the plague. That is where the action comes in. Jennat ees and joins the Israelites in their exodus and the w ilderness adventures. propelling the story. doesn't want to leave Egypt at all! Jesse's mother. other historical events are brought into the li ves of the various characters. Jesse's father. For characters to be real. invention. the unfolding of historical events i s never smooth. Mom entous eventsÐa migration. never easy. gave me the perfect plot point I needed. their per sonal struggles as they are swept away by major forces that seem to be controlli ng their lives. is passionate about wanting to ee. Thus. Jennat's mistress blames her for the death of the child and. or a major catastropheÐcan be the fo undation for your novel.subjects suffer. insane with grief. But the nuts and bolts. too. on the other hand. Or do they? In my novel. Because of Jennat's association with Jesse. Instead of seeing it only as part of the retribution against Pharaoh. a ren egade and an opportunist. the action that keeps the reade r turning the page. The novelist creates con ict from every premise.

those who came unwillingly. the novelist seeks out the dram atic irony that brings a story to an emotional high. For Nancy. probably spent little time romancing or sweet-talking a young wife. imitates life. Nancy was the youngest in h er family. and like other men of his day. my heroine. some recorded. resentfully. and most of all. as Nancy set s out to be with other women but ends up the only female among thirty men who ma de it to California. considering the situation. For example. History provides the facts. None of these seems too farfetched. It is the novelist's privilege to invent. For everything gained there is something lost: This is the premise of the historical novel. as well as a mother who grieved over her departure . she would very likely be intimidated by an older in-law. Thus. In The No-Return Trail. he would have had a ercely independent nature. with fellow travelers. stubborn husband. we can assume that Nancy longed for talk and tenderness and the companionship of other women. some invented. T his personal background provides the necessary drama for the story. It is these personal re ections that make Nancy real and empathic. There was con ict with natives. Her husband was an uneducated woodsman and in later years an itinerant preacher. to immerse myself completely in the pe riod. even mor e than the "regular" novel. I invented a bossy sister-in-law a nd a blunt. as lon g as the facts are not overlooked. Even a few know n facts can provide the seeds of con ict. with reca lcitrant beasts. Nancy Kelsey. . there was con ict within. rst. Ce rtainly. which. is faced with numerous con icts . How do we create new characters in a historical setting? My own method is. As such.

and colo rs women . what curses. and I consult almanacs to check the weathe r. my personal favorites are the domestic details of housekeeping. as much tr icks of the trade then as now! Why does it matter what powders. and also to note their abid ing faith in their physicians. mirror. Because everything we say and do and think is anchored in the time and place we nd ourselves. I always look up the date and the day of the week. prototypes of the th ings we still use today. Her wash-stand. and even the price of an egg sandwich. what endearments. and lends veracity to the whole. I researched what was playing at the movies in the late fo rties. In Escape from Egypt. scents. what h e hears outside the window. what kind of son g springs to his lips. For my Journe y to America trilogy. what songs were popular. tiny cosmetic cups. the opening scene between Jennat and her mistres s takes place while the latter is having her hair done.until I know almost instinctively what my protagonist eats for breakfast. I particularly enjoy r esearching and using medical information in my historical novels. the actual names of the restaurants we frequente d. Why go to all that trouble? Because I know that the background I provide is a s accurate as it can be. and trays are straight out of a museum. and perso nal care. Probably every writer favors certain details. clothing. On my extended calendar. what smells greet him upon arising. I nd it amusing to note some of the outrageous " cures" that were perpetrated upon innocent patients. Everyone is in terested in health and remedies. The hairdresser inserts several hair pieces.

and real. the i nevitability of crisis known to the reader. the novelist. Eventually the characters are forced to see and to act. Of cours e. complex. more like us. it's a sure bet that he wa s once a coward." How do people survive tou gh challenges? How do they nd the courage to make the right decisions? How can th ey go against the current of overpowering events and still come out victorious? This is the task and the pleasure of writing the historical novel. because the n ovelist is more concerned with "how" than with "what. the outcome of actual historical events is already known. Another is haunted by an evil memory or a damaging secret . One chara cter hates his father. live ou t the desires. to nd its truths. or regrets that you. for while empires rise and fall. If the characters are provocative. and that secret becomes a compelling part of the plot.used back then? Because it makes people seem more real. compulsions. compla cency or apparent helplessness of the characters. pitted against the ignorance. epochs emerge or end. the outcome doesn't matter as much as the journey to that outcome. If a character is hell-bent on proving his courage. This is what makes the historical novel exciting. Actual historical events are the "wall" or the structural foundation of the historical novel. create. This creates a sense of tension in the historical novel. everyday life goes on just as if nothing were c hanging. to ponder the past. The cataclysm inevi tably must occur. and then to invent new lives . Between these "walls" the characters come and go. engrossed in minutiae of living even while major historical events are exploding all aroun d them.

that will speak these truths to the reader. .

And there are ways to make your work stand out. alternative history. urban fantasy. high fantasy. fortunately for new writers. and elves. No matter what you call it. magica l realism. "King for a Day" (Asimov's Science Fiction). Editors actively seek out talent: They attend conventions.47 SELLING SPECULATIVE FICTION By Leslie What THE GENRE KNOWN AS SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY IS MUCH MORE than rocket ships." Leading SF magazines publish only ten to twelve of every thousand manuscripts submitted. and hard science cti on. make virtual appea rances on-line. every editor is a reader hoping to nd precious words in that mountain of paper. SF magazines and anthologies publish a mix of unclassi able ction. postulated that there were so many Elvis . dystopias. This might explain why some critics and writ ers prefer to call it "the literature of the fantastic" or "speculative ction"ÐSF f or short. My rst professionally published story. teach at workshops or conferences. at least long enough for the editor to notice your name. and read unsolicited submissi ons from unknowns Ðunceremoniously known as "slush. speculative ction is a great eld for the new write r.

"A Dark Fire. the manuscript proofread to the best of my ability . Titles work best when they re ect both the tone and language of the story. Though the creative side may be in the writing. or a portion of a quote t hat has always intrigued you. the real Elvis had a hard time nding work. Burning from Within" (Realms of F antasy) tells the reader not to expect one of my light-hearted pieces.impersonators in Hell. Rambling openings can keep an editor from reading to the end and g iving your work the attention it . Not the most effective use of time. In my satiric v ision of the afterlife. original. "Desig nated Hater" (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) took its cue from the Ame rican League. The acceptanc e was a bit of a surprise. and Well. Take time to come up with a title that creates interest and excitement in the story. "The Goddess is Al ive. Picture yourself standing face to face with the employer while you mumble on for pages b efore getting down to what you both mean and want to say. Think of the opening paragraphs of your story as an introduction to a prospective employer. but a satire of pop psychology. Living in New York City" (Asimov's Science Fiction) reworked a bu mper sticker I saw on pre-1980 VW vans. But I was sure about the important things: The story was fast -paced. but twisted the rules for the sake of the plot. and lively. The rest was up to the editor. John Lennon waited in line to see himself. while "Ho w to Feed Your Inner Troll" (Asimov's Science Fiction) suggests not only an enco unter with a magical being. deals can be broken by a clumsy intr oduction. A knockout line from the text might do. Titles can mirror the concept of the story. because I hadn't been sure if "King for a Day" was re ally science ction. selling ction is business. and in business.

3) Introd uce major character(s). them e. and detail. common man. . word choice. to be elaborated upon throughout the story. or offer enough clues to prevent the revelation from coming as a surprise on page six. It should: 1) Evoke a sense of time and place. 4) Fore shadow major story problems and introduce minor ones. unless yo u say otherwise. "Adamah. mention this at the start. Dreaming of Sky" (Asimov's Science Fi ction): Sunday at church: In his sermon.deserves. 2) Establish tone and authority through voice." Adam of e arth. This can be the barest introduction. A reader expects a story to take place in the here and now. "common clay begat Adam. or straight narrati ve description. hint at ages. who thought he knew better than God and was forced to leave Paradise. If your story is set in the Italy of 2507. the minister preaches that the rst man was made from earth. Here's an example from "Smelling of Earth. dialogue. gender. socioeconomic background." he begins. Analyze your beginning carefully. imagery. A beginning that accomplis hes as much of the above as possible will increase its chances for publication. Prove that you are in control of your story by a correct use of grammar and a healthy respect for the conventions of language. Clues can take the form of metaphor.

" I groan. while Realms of Fantasy might not be the rst place to send a story featuring "Physicists . but he was right. "Title great.) Selling wonders Gardner Dozois. the deliberate use of presen t tense to magnify the feelings of a character who is trapped. suggest that she will be unlikely to fu l ll her mission. sent back to per form one good deed. The somber tone of the writing. compa res himself to P. "then it's goin g to be a hard sell. Each new piece of information builds on what has previously been established ." Editors want stories that are interesting and entertaining . The minister must be referring to the commoners. unique. the Bible teaches that not one of us is better than the rest."We allÐevery one of usÐcame from that very clay. Read what is being publishe d now for clues of where to send your work." The truth hurt. tossed the story. disagreeing. "With this hum ble beginning." says the minister." says Dozois. Magazines like Analog and Science Fi ction Age are unlikely to publish a "Gnomes on Vacation" story. Barnum. The next few paragraphs reveal that the narrator is an angel. This opening makes clear who the story is about. and logically consistent in their own way. I kept the title. then wrote a better one in its place . (Note: The title came from an earlier work that another editor h ad rejected with a note. the angry voice c oupled with the spare choice of details. "If there's no wonder or marvel in the content of your story. T. the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction. and also hints at possible con ic ts. story stinks. who sold wonders and marvels for money.

The story is about a wife (Mrs. It's ne to reuse a premise if you do something different. I borrowed heavily from William Gibson. with blasters instead of shotguns. view ideas through a prism to s ee them in a different light. You must take th e premise where no writer has gone before." (Realms of Fantasy). and spaceships instead of horses. for a man stuck inside a cave with all those children? The resulting stor y was a sympathetic yet satiric look at a man living with what he never bargaine d for. I won dered. Other hard sells include the surprise ending: the deus ex machina. my experiences a nd observations at video arcades." In "Compatibility Clause" (Fantas y and Science Fiction). As a general rule. I combined real-life te nsions with a fantasy world and a science ction gimmick to create a story. A story cannot have time travel or vi rtual reality as the only focus. the fantastic or scienti c idea must be an integral part of the story and not put there just to set up your theme or add interest t o the plot.Who Save Themselves Before the Sun Goes Nova. desperate to communicate wit h her husband. For "Mothers' Day. What would it really be like. wha t editor Dozois calls "The furniture of plot. Hard s ells You might have trouble selling what is known as a Translation Story: the We stern set on Alpha IV. it must use the idea as background setting. a busy man with an addictive personality. the story set . Instead of trying to clone what you read. w here the resolution occurs as if by the hand of God. and themes of married life. Claus on the night before Christmas)." Of course. there are always excep tions. I took th e legend of the Pied Piper one step further.

If you've written one of the above. if the angel is merely symbolic and could be rep laced by a Western Union man. or stories that are spin-offs from trademarked games. Adam and Eve at the en d of the world. but with a few unexp ected twists that t the theme of the anthology. "Clinging to a Thread" (Fantasy a nd Science Fiction) presented ghosts through their physical connection to the ob jects they once touched. Your story must be about the day.in virtual reality (unbeknownst to the characters. the person. but if you get back form letter rejections. if the effect of time travel is the same as if you r character just got out of jail. as well as knowing why the ghost is needed in the story. Why this person? Why today? Why is THIS fantastic element necessary? In general. and the eventÐnot just any day or any person who happens to be trapped in some fascinating scenario. you'd better rethink what you've written. stories that take place in dreams. Stories about ghosts are said to be a hard sell. stories with joke endings. but an invent ive writer might come up with a way to make them fresh. The key to s elling a ghost story might be guring out what the ghost represents on a symbolic level. you might try cha nging tactics. Vampires have been done to death (sorry). though I've sold several. s end it out anyway. "Beside the Well" (Bending the Landscape: Fantasy. You will not be able to sell stories based on Star Trek or any li censed characters. Little-known leg ends reinterpreted through your unique vision can be a source of ideas for new a nd inventive ghost stories. W hite Wolf Publishing 1997) was based on a Korean folk tale. the se questions must be answered for the . If another person could just as easily replace the cen-tral character. who are revealed as imaginary only at story's end).

aol. critiques.net> Author newsgroups.story to sell. DEFINITIONS Cyberpunk: Combines street-s mart punks with the hi-tech world of computers and neural networks. 4) <http://users. In the eld of speculative ction.org/users/critters> support.sff. s tories are limited only by imagination." High Fantasy: Often set in feuda l or medieval societies where magical beings reside. let yourself go wild. Hard Science Fiction: SF where the scienti c idea is central to the plot. On-line worksho p. magazine guidelines. and a private on-line cr itique group.speculations. 3) <http://www. Urban Fantasy/Contemporary Fantasy: Magic in modern-day settings . con ict. information. advice.com> News of open anthologies. and resolutio n in the story. marketing 2) <http://www. .com/marketlist> Marketing information. WEB SITES OF INTEREST 1) <http://critique. Alternative History: Lookin g at how an alternative past would change the present. Otherwise. also called "North American magical realism.

Some . right? No. We l aunch into quick answers that make plotting sound. after enjoying a particularly succulent dish. But our answers simply don't capture the reality of plotting a novel. outline. somehow the nished dish won't be the same. of course. It's as if. I ask a cook. "May I h ave that recipe?" The cook smiles. No ! It is terribly dif cult. as all novelists know. offers a list of ingredients. not intentionally. No.48 PLOTTING A MYSTERY NOVEL By Carolyn Hart How WRITers DO YOU PLOT YOUR NOVELS? THIS MAY BE THE QUESTION hear most often. and cannot be reduced to a formula. rarely straightforward. Plotting is never easy. Oh. if not easy. But if I try that recipe in my own kitchen. It should be easy. I'm especiall y attuned to the de ciency of our rote answer Ðoutline. nods. outlineÐbecause I'm p resently engaged in plotting a new mystery. We lie. And every novelist has an indivi dual way of responding to the challenge. The cook's answer is quite similar to those of authors when asked how to plot. at least quite r easonable and straightforward.

. The mur derer 4. In my Death on Demand series. tantalizing suggestions of how I forge a story will help you discover your own process. So. easy-going and loving. wh at do we have in the Death on Demand series? A young. These are the facts I must kno w in order to start a mystery novel: 1. In my Henrie O series. and her vocation and avocation are mysteries. There is a world of diff erence between the two series. Max is sexy. She owns a mystery bookstor e. the protagonist is retired newswoman Henrietta O'Dwyer (Henrie O) Collins. but I truly believe there is no easy route to wr iting a novel. But perhaps the imperfect. The title The most important decision to make is who will be the main p rotagonist. and all the differences can be traced to the pers onalities of the protagonists. We all struggle. in fact. rich. "What if?" Some do detailed ch aracter sketches and carefully outline every chapter. the kind of man women adore. but she loves to laugh. Max. who is a ided and abetted by her husband. fun and handsome. The protagonist 2. familiar question.novelists pose that wonderful. Others write a one-or twopage synopsis. Annie and Max are young and enthusiastic. The victim 3. it is Annie Laurance Darling. Annie i s quite serious and intense. He is.

gets married. which makes it easy to switch viewpoints an d offer the reader insights. The recurring minor characters offer another way to entertain the re ader. These novels also have sub-plots featuring subsidiary cha racters. learns about the many faces o f love. and in the process o f solving a murder decides that silence best serves those she loves.eager bookstore owner who in various novels in the series falls in love. In the rst book in the series. she brings a r esolution to three old unsolved crimes. In my newest novel. sardonic woman who has seen go od and bad in a long life. and objective of the books. Henrie O saves a man unjustly accused despite the power and money arrayed ag ainst her. and serves as the author l iaison at a book fair. tone. The Death on Demand nov els are written in the third person. Henrie O is a sixty-something. has few illusions. participates in a community play. a passion for truth. plans a murder mystery weekend. teaches a class on the three great ladies of the mystery. un appable. and that is the objective of the . In the seco nd. savvy. Henrie O faces a hard pers onal decision. Henri O refu ses to be vanquished by either an old lover or a hurricane. avid reader Henny Brawley. and a determi nation to do what she feels she must. Who these people are and what they do de termine the structure. Death in Lovers' Lane. curmudgeonly Miss Dora Brevard. In shar p contrast. celebrates the brilliance of Agatha Christie. ethereal. and Annie's mother-in-law. unpredictable Laurel Darling Roethke. Each book opens with a series of vignettes that giv e the reader an instant slice of the life of a character who will be important t o the book. In discovering the murderer of a student reporter.

Henrie O wryly comments on life as she has lived and observ ed it. with quick. too. . and actions. The Henrie O mysteries are another pot of soup entir ely. The Henrie O novels are sparsely written. In Dead Man's Island. Is the story set in San Diego. an intricate mystery.Death on Demand booksÐto entertain. Des Moines. and scope of your novel. pace. a midwife. entertaining novels. a lean and angular body with an a ppearance of forward motion even when at restÐand the angry light in my eyes. the young lovers. a lawyer? Each would make a different story out of the same facts. entertaining characters. I saw my own re ection: dark hair silvered at the temples. vivid sentences of a newspaper article. I ca n't abide meanness. I chose for her to be an older woman because I wa nt to celebrate age and experience. Who will your protagonist be? A cop. a divorcee. Chicago.. Henrie O waits for an elevator. taste. Everything about their creationÐthe mystery book store. The differences between the two series clearly illustrate the importance of the protagonist.. but these are not light. Paris. They are written in the rst person to engage the reader totally in Henrie O' s life. short. the subsidiary charactersÐis calculated to result in a go od-humored novel that provides mystery lore. thoughts. a Roman-coin pro le. A book mirrors its protagonist. and. Birmingham? That depe nds upon the protagonist. background. dark eyes that have see n much and remembered much.. hopef ully. The choice of protagonist provides the tone.

Their existence was dicta ted by Annie's milieu. Henrie O makes some dif cult judgments.Everything else in the novel ows from the choice of the protagonist. a drive-by shooting. you begin to see how stories ow. but. the victim was a mea n-spirited mystery author murdered at a gathering of mystery writers in Annie's store. Annie. The choice of the background determines the victim. as she emphasizes in that book. the story grows out of her background as a reporter. The choice of a protagonist determin es the background. In Death on Demand. Death in Lovers' Lane revolves around per sonal responsibility and how much information is owed to society. that sleuth's vocation or avocation w ill determine who might be a likely murder victim. to a cold. to a crabby voyeur who snooped on the wrong n ight. and you can have a serial killer. is most unlikely to ha ve contact with a murdered drug dealer. Henrie O plays on a much larger stage. The choic e of the victim determines the murderer. But if you decide to create an amateur sleuth. . Victims in my other novels range from a well-to-do club woman to a love-h ungry wife. judgments never com e easy. So. One of the suspects will be the villa in. a bookstore owner who lives on a resort island off the coast of South Carolina. because the persons involved in the vic tim's life make up the circle of suspects. but that background can have inhabitants from diverse places. domestic violence. In Dead Man's Isla nd. But all of my victims grew out of Annie's world. Choose a cop . hard judge.

the shooting of a r espected businessman. is the wealthy. In Design for Murder. likable people. hardworking club woman Miss Do ra. and the disappearance some years earlier of the dean . the lusty. Corinne. the ambitious. self-serving reporter Roscoe. immature. the abrasive. a campus.Villains can be awed. the victim. tough. the emotional. the gifted. beautiful student reporter. but this choice is once again the result of earlier choices. not-so-grieved widower Gail. sensitive. When I was plotting the book. Her circle included: Leight on. the nervous. or they can be horribly sel sh and mean. waspish old woman Lucy. who insist s the student nd fresh facts if she intends to write about three unsolved crimes in the university town. the charming. determined. the victim is a bright. In Death in Lovers' Lane. handsome. aloof doctor Sybil. unpredictable. egocentric society matron who tries to control the lives of those around her. the eccentric. spoiled sybarite Tim. love-str uck. I knew the milieuÐa universi ty town. sel sh. frightened niece Bobby. the self-contained but passionate lawyer John. Corinne's childhood fr iend who once loved Corinne's brother Each person in Corinne's lifeÐand deathÐevolve d from Corinne's personality. willful. and Henrie O is her journalism professor. What kind of unsolved crimes might there be? I came up with t hree: the double murder of a student couple in Lovers' Lane. Your choice. se lf-centered artist Edith.

a handyman. a Yankee (Bud Hat ch) comes to town and ends up dead. an alienated stepdaughter.of students. We begin with people. In Yankee Doodle Dead. not for most writers. Whom did they know? Who loved themÐor hated them? Now that you've seen how to create the characters in your novel.) Charlton (Bu d) Hatch insists on changing the focus to men. Henny Brawley is putting on a Fourth of July celebration in honor of South Carolina history. from a woman's perspective. the dir ector's lover. the busi nessman. Some writers outline an entire novel. (ret. . the lovers. I know who the protagonist is: Annie. but you are on your way. It gives me a sense of realit y. I am in awe of them. The plot does not arrive full blown. Bud's mistress. at least. and it also de nes the ultimate story. Lt. his nex t-door neighbor. I k now who the victim is: Bud Hatch. which puts him at cross purposes with a good portion of island society. the director of the library. Gen. I then had four victims: the student reporter. We decide the general theme. you may reasonably compl ain that this isn't a plot. a librarian. I won' t tell you!) I know who the suspects are: Henny Brawley. I know the title: Yankee Doodle Dead. it isn't. I have to have a working title when I begin a novel. In the novel I'm plo tting now. No. I know who the murderer is: (Of course. but most of us do not have that kind of linea r skill. and the dean.

and the people come to lifeÐor deathÐand events occur. That takes magic. I willÐhaphazardly. with them.So. that it's out ther e. That's how I do it: I begin writing. surprisingly. I have a great deal. . what they a re going to do. and I will have the great adventure of nding out who these characters are. Sometimes everything I've written seems dull and boring. Yes. I get stuck. but where is the plot? Darned if I know. and ultimately. This truthful admission is perhaps the best help I can ever offer to a new or struggling writer: All the planning in the world w on't create a novel. things wi ll begin to happen. If you gure out all the elements I've listed. unexp ectedlyÐreach the nal chapter. but it's a great adventur e. I can't diagram it. all I have to do is nd it. It isn't a straightforward process. you won't know how the story ends. And nally I'll know that the novel exists. and I can't gure out how to move ahead. It's scary. But if I keep on t hinking about those characters. and if I sit at my computer and write. but this is how I plotÐand writeÐa novel. but you have enough to begin. or what's going to happen in Chapter 9. and the magic happens when you write. and I'm not be ing ippant or dismissive or coy.

Horror novels depend heavil y upon the mechanics of plot. and yo u'll see that we haven't moved that far in the last twenty thousand years. crude but ef fective entertainments that tend to have a short shelf life. and shock valu eÐwhat Stephen King calls "going for the gross-out. Stephen King. continue to feed our taste for dark wine and the perils of walking after mi dnight. Joyce Carol Oates. A look at the cave paint ings in France or Spain will show you how far back our hunger for the fantastic goes: men with the heads of beasts. the teller of supernatural tales." In spirit and execution. Take a glance at the current bestseller list. they aren't that different from the "penny dreadfuls" of a century ago. let me distinguish between supernatural ction and its tough (an d very successful) younger cousin. skulls and s hadows and unblinking eyes. The Turn of the . Unlike more stylize d works such as Dracula. But how to join the ranks of those whose novels explore the sinister sid e of town? First.49 WRITING THE SUPERNATURAL NOVEL By Elizabeth Hand I'VE ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT THE OLDEST PROFESSION WAS THAT OF sto rytellerÐin particular. and Clive Barker. less-than-subtle characterizations. the horror novel. gures crouching in the darkness. Books by Anne Rice. among many oth ers.

their very ability to frighten and transport us. the 1980's was a boom decade for horror ction. And they're quite a sophisticated audi-ence. But the market was ooded with so many booksÐand so many second-rate Stephen King imitatorsÐth at publishers and readers alike grew wary. supernatural ction is de ned by atmosphere and characterization. But the readers are there. to write the sort of novel that will appeal to some one who prefers The Vampire Lestat to the The Creeping Bore. worlds. But the most successful supernatural novels are set in our world. and more fun. often against a backdrop of othe r. I mean the author's ability to evoke a mood or place viscerally by the use of original and elegant. The roots of supernatural ction lie in the gothic romances of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with their gloomy settings. Their narrative tension. More than other gen res. it 's far more dif cult today to get a supernatural novel into print. almost seductive language. or demonic godlingÐthat s eeks to destroy it." In the wake o f Stephen King's success. werewolf. With the dwindling reading public. "The o nly horror in these ctions is the horror of bad taste and bad art. most horror novels lose their ability to chill the second time aroundÐthey just don't stand up to rereading. between everyday real ity and the threatening otherÐ whether revenant. derives from a con ict between the macabre and the mundane. By atmosphere . . imagined. which makes it both mor e challenging. Science ction and fantasy also r ely heavily upon unusual settings and wordplay. As Edmund Wilson put it.Screw or The Shining.

Even today these remain potent elem ents. .imperiled narrators and ghostly visitations. a notion creepy enough to have inspired Ian McEwan's nightmar ish The Comfort of Strangers. Stephen King has staked out rural Maine as his ctional backyard. San Francisco. the crooked unpaved stre ets were thick with lthy slush. It wasn't as clean as it had been in the mountai ns. I saw barefoot children suffering before my very eyes. yet highly romanticized. shivering and hungry. places: New Orleans. Washington. Just about any selling will do.. D. I was able to suggest that an ancient evil might lurk near C apitol Hill: . and more neglected corpses lying about than ever before. Paris. Much of the pleasure in Rice's work comes from her detailed evocations of real. My neo-gothic novel Waking the Moon takes p lace in that most pedestrian and bureaucratic of cities. Witness Anne Rice's vampire Lestat during a perambulation about prerevolut ionary Paris: The cold seemed worse in Paris.C. So. The in comparable Shirley Jackson (whose classic "The Lottery" has chilled generations of readers) also turns to New England for the horri c doings in The Haunting of Hi ll House. . but they also like recognizing familiar landm arks. The poor hovered in doorways. if you can imbue i t with an aura of beauty and menace. I was never so gl ad of the fur-lined cape as I was then. The Bird's Nest and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. It pays to h ave rsthand knowledge of some desirable piece of occult real estate: Readers love the thrill of an offbeat setting. Daphne du Maur ier's novella "Don't Look Now" gives us a tourist couple lost amidst the winding alleys of Venice. But by counterpointing the city's workaday drabness with exotic descriptions of its le sser-known corners.

it can quickly seduce the reader into believing inÐwell. the Four Seasons of Neale earthenware. I thought I went downstairs to the drawing room. of course." The danger. y our most important tools should be a good thesaurus and dictionary. in any number of marvelous things: Last night I dreamt that I woke to hear some strange. the vespertine hour approached.) A thesaurus can transform even the oldest and most unpalatable of chestnuts. of c ourse. It was from these that th e sound came. and as with all writing. I turned. "It was a dark and stormy night" becomes "Somber and tenebrous. the Reinecke gi rl on her cow. is that such elevated diction easily falls into self-parody. is a matter of taste and technique. like those coloured-glass bird scarers which in my childhood were still sold for hanging up to glitter and tinkle in t he garden breeze. The doors of the china cabinets were standing open. bone-colored. and saw in the distance the domes and columns of the Capitol gli mmering in the twilight. their columned porticoes and marble arches all seeming to melt into the haze of green and violet darkness that descended upon them like sleep. But when wel l-done. Style. to my . and behind it still more ghostly buildings. for they were weeping. This is from Richard Adams's superb The Girl in a Swing. but is probably not necessary. ghostly. and she herselfÐthe Girl in a Swing. barely audible sound from downstairsÐa kind of thin tintinnabulation. but all the gures were in their placesÐthe B ow Liberty and Matrimony. (Good taste in reading helps. yes.From the Shrine's bell tower came the rst deep tones of the carillon calling the hour.

but which is a hard sell: too short fo r publishers looking for meaty bestsellers. rather than full-length novels. and Waking the Moon. It is very dif cult to sustain a high l evel of suspense for several hundred pages. Now I think it does. The Secret History is told in the rst person. whose melancholy pers ona has seen him through several sequels.mind the best supernatural novel I've ever read. Or the callow student narrator of Donn a Tartt's The Secret History. to . Readers must also be able to truly ide ntify with him. Rice's Vampire Chronicles. Think of Anne Rice's Lestat. Charlotte Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper. you don't need a constant stream of ghoulish doings to hold a reader's attention. In supernatural ction." Oliver Onions's "The Beckoning Fair One"Ðare novellas.000. it is not enough that the protagonist compel our interest.to 7. too long for a magazine market that thrives on the 5. a form that particularly suits the supernatural. with the "cliffhanger" effect ultimately boring t he reader. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at al l costs. exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Indeed. as are The Girl in a Swing.000-word story. One of the problems in writing supernatural ction stems from the fact that "ghost stories" are nearly always bet ter when they are really stories. Characterization is one way of avoiding this pitfall. a novel which has only a hint of the supernatural about it. many o f the classic works of dark fantasyÐThe Turn of the Screw." that showy dark crack running down the middl e of a life. Chapter after chapter of awful doing s too often just become awful. If your central characters are intriguing. but which is more terrifying than any number of haunted houses: Does such a thing as "the fatal aw.

be it spirit or succubus. a n entire peaceful English village is besieged by the forces of darkness. As with all good ction. a p olice detective who nds himself drawn into a series of cult murders that took pla ce in London churches two hundred years before: Hawksmoor looked for relief from the darkness of wood. That is why the rstperson narrator is so prevalent in supernatural tales." Ri chard Papen. which makes it all the worse when a ghost actually does appear. Like us. Lazy writers often use mere physical tran sformations to effect this change: The heroine becomes a vampire. Lewis's classic That Hideous Strength. is drawn into a murderous consp iracy when his college friends seek to evoke Dionysos one drunken winter night. In The Girl in a Swing. And in C. far more eerie is the plight of the eponymous hero of Peter Ackroyd's terrifying Hawksmoor. But "normal" does not necessarily mean "dull. the narrator of The Secret History. Or the heroine is killed. whether for good or ill. they do not believe in ghosts. It is also why most uncan ny novels feature individuals whose very normalcy is what sets them apart from o thers. S.experience his growing sense of unease as his familiar world gradually crumbles in the face of some dark intruder. Or the heroine is prevented from becoming a vampire. it is important that the central characters are changed by their experiences. who may be the incarnation of a goddessÐor of a woman who murdered her own children. Alan Desland is a middle-aged bachelor whose most distin guishing characteristic is his extraordinary nicenessÐuntil he becomes obsessed wi th the beautiful Rathe. stone and metal but he co uld nd none. and the silence of the .

Nicholas Hawksmoor's unwanted cla irvoyance gives him a glimpse of horrors he is unable to forget. would you? Well. And he allowed it to grow dark. don't let the Big Super natural Payoff come too soon. the intricacies of plot are less central to supernatural ction than is pacing (another reason why short stories usually work better than novels). In Waking the Moon. and bringing with him a miasma of palpable evil that slowly infects all around him. (The only thing worse that killing off all your we rewolves fty pages before the end is penning these dreadful words: IT WAS ALL A D REAM. Does the world really need anoth er vampire novel? How about a lamia instead? Or an evil tree? As always. However you choose to do it. it's a good idea to be well-read in your chosen genre. neither would you want to read page after page of mysterious knockings. A careful balance must be achieved between scenes of the ordinary and the otherwor ldly. Usually. so . my heroine's involvement with the supernatural parallels her love affair in the real world. don't let the magic al elements overwhelm your story completely. a writer alternates the two. I n many ways. stakes through the heart.) Think of your novel in musical terms: You wouldn't really want to listen to one Wagnerian aria after another.church had once again descended as he sat down upon a small chair and covered hi s face. with the balance gradually tipping i n favor of the unreal: Think of Dracula moving from Transylvania to London. Finally. and forever alt ers his perception of the power of good and evil in the world and in his work. dare to be different. While he is very much a twentieth-century man. Especially. and scre ams at midnight.

Robert Aickma n. Sheridan Le Fanu. Happy haunting! . should put you well on your way to crea ting your own eldritch novel. Edith Wharton. Wise and Phyllis Fraser) is perhaps the indispensable a nthology. along wi th Stephen King's non ction Danse Macabre. and many. John Collier. Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatur al (edited by Herbert A. Jack Sullivan has written two books that I refer to constant ly: Elegant Nightmares and Lost Souls. These. James. M.that you don't waste time and ink reinventing Frankenstein's monster. In additio n to the works mentioned above. R. Isak Dinesen. classic studies of English ghost stories that can serve as a crash course on how to write elegant horror. many others. There are also collections by great writers such as Poe. there is a wealth of terri c short supernatural cti on that can teach as well as chill you.

"Why do people li ke horror?" I think they like horror novels because they depict ordinary people dealing with extraordinary threats. Most people relish historical sagas. They like to imagine. but I'm often asked. Playing with words. Inventing stories. I write both historical sagas and horror nov els.50 WHY HORROR? By Graham Masterton FEW time. PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THAT WRITERS ARE WRITING ALL THE To think that a writer is writing only when he or she is actually hammering a ke yboard is like believing that a police of cer's job is "arresting people. what would / do if a d ark shadow with glowing red eyes appeared in my bedroom at night? What would / d o if I heard a sinister scratching inside the walls of my house? What would I do if my husband's head turned around 360 degrees? I've found my inspiration for h orror stories in legends from . Thinking up jokes and riddles and metaphors and similes." Even wh ile they're not sitting down at the word processor. These days. writers are writing in their heads.

as in the lm. There are monsters that suck your breath when you're asleep. hideous hags who were supposed to be the ghosts of women haunting their former homes. Fatal Attraction. a man's fear of losing his livelihood. . Each of them represents a very real fear th at people once felt. and often still do. There are beguiling men who turn into e vil demons. and my research into how these demons came to be created by or dinary men and women is fascinating. with modern characters. and write about them in an up-to-date setting. such as crib death. this is a legend. There are horrible gorgons that make you go bli nd just to look at them. There a re gremlins that steal children. and vampires that drain all of the energy out of you. parents' fear of losing their children to malevolent and inexplicable illnesses . and the victim would be found dead and white in the morning. but you can understa nd what genuine fears it expresses. A woman's fear of other women intruding into her home." If you didn't leave out a b owl of milk for the glaistigs. They were frequently accompanied by a child who was called "the little plug" or "the whimperer. My favorite Scotti sh demons were the glaistigs. Now. they would suck your cows dry or drain their bloo d. What I do is take these ancient demons. Sometimes a glaistig would carry her little whimperer into the house.ancient cultures. which are vivid an d expressive manifestations of basic and genuine fears. and bat he it in the blood of the youngest infant in the house. T here are zombies who come back from the dead and torment you.

Also very good printing. The French love horror. Le Figaro called me "Le Roi du Mai. he said. and I'm working on another one about the Glasgow woman who makes a pact with Sat an so that her house disappears every time the rent collector calls. Since then I have written books based on Mexica n demons." the King of Evil. home of Dracula. when I was 11. I started w riting horror novels at school. "I'll never forget the story you wrote about the woman with no head who kept singing 'Tiptoe Through t he Tulips. "I have to write to congratulate you on a wonderful book. I receive d a letter from a reader this week saying. I was inspired to write that b y The Buffalo Bill Annual. like Germany. and in this novel a 300-year-old medicine man was reborn in the present day to take his revenge on the white man." Horror books seem to sell well all over the world. In France. French demons and Biblical demons." How extreme can you be when you write horror? As extreme. and excellent paper. 1956. I was the rs t Western horror novelist to be published in Romania. two dozen in all. I . When I met one of my old school friends only recently. rich with ideas and shining with great metaphors.' It gave me nine years of sleepless nights. Reading your work out loud is always invaluable training. and the Poles adore i t.The very rst horror novel I wrote was called The Manitou. with some notable exceptions. and I still can't have tu lips in the house. which is appreciated here because of bathro om tissue shortage. Balinese demons. I used to read them to my friends during recess. A man-itou is a Native American demon.

as your talent and your taste permit. Beeton. although gruesomeness is no substit ute for skillful writing. I never once mentioned blood. thrillers or love stories. and they became incoherent and had to go home. I had several complaints about a scene in my book Pict ure of Evil. Mrs. Your word processor or typewriter is nothing more than a key that opens the door to another world. and Escof er. It is catching the mood and feel of a moment that makes your writing come to life. In fact. catching those images requires thought and research. drunk by King Alfonso of Spain in the Men's Ba r of the Paris Ritz. using cookbooks by Fa nnie Farmer.think. One of the least successful period drinks we prepared was the King's Death. Most of the time you can dispense with whole realms of description if you catch one vivid image. in which the hero kills two young girls with a poker. "He clubbed them to death like two baby seals. How do yo u rush to meet your lover when wearing a hobble skirt? How do you sit down with a bustle? We also prepare food and drink from old recipes. the most im portant technique is to live inside the book instead of viewing it from the outs ide. The King's Death is made with wild strawberries marinated i n Napoleon brandy. Whether you're writing history or horror. . " The reader's imagination was left to do the rest. then topped up with half a bottle of champagne Ðeach! We served it to some dinner party guests. I f requently rent period costumes which my wife and I try on so I can better unders tand how my characters would have moved and behaved when wearing them. People protes ted my graphic description of blood spattering everywhere. When I write historical novels. All I said was.

Think of the fragrances you can smell. You can do the same when you're writing about the way your c haracters act and react.When I'm writing." and the hideous de scription by an Australian prisoner of war of two of his fellow prisoners being beheaded: "the blood spurted out of their necks like red walkingsticks. all that does is slow down your story and break the spell you have been working so hard to conjure up." To my m ind. be all your characters: Act out their lives. the greatest achievement in writing is to create a . and speak their dialogue out loud. and do what you've imagined. So many write rs as they write look only forward at the page. Most of all. every nuance. then sit down a nd write it. How many times has your suspension of disbelief been broken by ridiculous similes. The Disney artist Ward Kimball used to draw Donald Duck by making f aces in the mirror." Two similes that really caught my attention and which I later used in novels were an old Afrikane r's description of lions roaring "like coal being delivered. Watch every gesture. Think of the rain on the side of your face and the wind against yo ur back. act out th eir movements and their facial expressions. listen to people's conv ersations and accents. so that it surrounds me. G et up from your keyboard sometimes. forgetting what's all around them. l ike "her bosoms swelled like two panfuls of overboiling milk. Your best research is watching real live people living out their real lives. Avoid showing off in your writing. or screen. Try to propel your story along at the pace that you would like to read it. I step into that world. Think of what you can hear in the distance.

where you throw li ve eels into boiling water and have to clamp the lid down quickly to stop them f rom jumping out of the pot. the most memorable advice the book gave was. My ideal novel would be one that readers put down. and discover that they're still in it. ." That goes for writing. spectacular novel without readers being aware that they are reading at al l. it is both a courtesy and a measure of his professionalism. t oo.vivid. The other day I was reading Secret s of the Great Chefs of China. and apart from the eel recipe. that it's actually come to life. "A grea t chef prepares his food so that it is ready for the mouths of his guests.

too. Give your readers the bargai n of a lifetime. Deliver. Here are my rules when I begin.51 GLUES TO WRITING A MYSTERY NOVEL By T. Rather. do not cheat. it will surely ring false to my reade r. T wo: Make sure that what you're offering your readers is worth the several hours of reading it will take. You can make a thousand promises to your readers in the opening pages of a book. it's an a greement I make with my reader. do not pander. your pact implies tha t your readers will leave the novel somehow richer. structure. and you will have to make good on every one in a surpr ising. atmosphere. Treat that reader with the same respect with which you treat yourself. One: Write as well as you can . If something rings false to me. I MAKE A DEAL WITH MYSELF. IT doesn't involve character. Jefferson Parker BEFORE STARTING A NEW BOOK. something to keep me honest over the long haul o f writing a novel. do not be dishonest. or setting. satisfying. always up to your readers. Three: Don't be afraid to entertain: You are writing popular . never down. After all. and believable way.

ignore them others. This gestation period can be brief or long. It's something outside you that spark s something inside you. Give them an emotional reality. At those timesÐand they may be as brief as days or as long as monthsÐnon e of the above rules is relevant yet. or an essay. not an instruction manual. When I was young and frenzied with ambition. When you do nd itÐor more accurately. after Summer of Fear was nished. or a detective. (It was never published and probably should no t have been. you do n't really know what it is until you nd it. an emo tional aroma is what you're searching for. haunt. Make your novel linger. but it is generally an anxious and t roubling time. Make it impossible for them simply to chuck your book into the wastebasket when they've nished reading it and grab the next one. ending roughly ve years' work. I nished up the nal dr aft of Laguna Heat on a Friday. The . last. I never achieve them all perfectly. amend them oft en. not just something read.ction.) Conversely. And what is "it"? A certain scent. Before I come to the point of writing. a smell. a position paper. may be. trying to pick up the scene or the clues that will lead me to the new book. I'm a bloodhound then. Four: Leave your readers with a feeling of something experienced. I forget them sometimes. t hough. Like many good things in life. wh en it nds youÐit is immediately recognizable. The following Mond ay I began writing my next novel. These are the self-imposed commandments I try to follow when I work. I took off almost half a year before nding it again. there is the odd fallow period during which I'm snif ng for the trail of th e new book.

regulars." she said. and what was actually there. She set them on the counter in front of him. I moved to the side just a little to watch their transaction. I also noticed that the clerk was a young Vietnamese w oman. the young woman reac hed up to the cigarette rack above her and took out a pack of Pall MallsÐ soft-pac k. something born of the union between what you believed you mig ht nd. If all that sounds vague. then said his rst words to her: "How did you know that's what I wanted? " She smiled shyly. I stood waiting. The scent hit me loud and clear one day when I was in a liquor s tore off Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa. It is an attempt t o nd something new. and before he could say one word. I was snif ng around for something new. "I just know. Here's an example: After I'd nished writing Laguna Heat. during which time you writ e the book. . I stood in the checkout line and there was something about the man in front of me that made me think he must be an Amer ican Vietnam War veteran.spark starts a re. "Some things. maybe I can explain . What did she think of him? He of her? Could their paths possibly have cross ed many years ago. The novel is an attempt to see what the re leaves. He looked at them. the n at her. in her war-torn country? Could he have fought alongside her f ather or brother? Against them? Could these two have actually met? Eavesdropping shamelessly. He s tepped up to the counter." He paid and left. The re burns for two or three years. wondering what might be going through their respective mi nds.

synopses. All of the 20 years I'd been wondering about this pivotal thing in my own history. All of this fuel rushed out to meet that moment of sparkÐ the American vet having his mind read by a young Vietnamese refugee. All the stories from frien ds and acquaintances who'd gone to 'Nam. California. surprise. mind literally reeling at a ll the "material" I was discovering. ana lyses. All the newsprint I'd read.Well. All the hours of reports. I can remember my rst forays into the clubs and bars of Little Saigon. the "something" outside directly colliding with th e "something" inside. so such questions were large. from Coming Home to Apocalypse Now and beyond. Why? Because there we have a place called Little Saigon that was and is the largest enclave of Viet namese on earth. All the feature lms. complex abstractions to me. What did th is tiny moment in the history of the Vietnam War have to connect with inside me? Well. S uddenly. The . all that I was. I did n ot serve in Vietnam. All the hours of news-reel footage of dead soldiers and b ody counts I had watched. they were made real. a moment loaded with intri gue. that's the kind of moment a novelist lives for. I knew certainly that my next book would be an attempt to deal with those things and that I would set that book in Orange County. outside of Vietnam itself. I had just gotten my rst whiff of the new book. It connected directly with some of the things I'd be en thinking about for most of my adult lifeÐthe war. Leaving that liquor store on Harbor. how it changed the psyche of the republic and the face of the globe. expectation. what it meant to us and to th em. notepad in pocket. It was the discovery of a large part of mys elf that I had known was there but had no access to before.

and for the house in which we lived. experiencing each increment of the gr owing night. in which crime writer Russell Monroe tries to help heal his ill wife while a murderer stalks the city around him. which overlooks L aguna Canyon. I was lled with a new love for this suffering young woman. Cat nev er got to read the ending. Cat named her "Lady of the Canyon. Watching anything fade was a painful correla tive to what we both knew was happening to her. But the Lady of the Canyon that she had noticed is in that novel. and the way the distant lights of Lagu na illuminated up from her middle. and almost unbearably sad. chaotic bookÐconfess ional." For a bri ef moment. though it was less dramatic. And I knew that my next book would be an attempt to celebrate that love somehow. The book became Summer of F ear. It was an overw helmingly powerful love. in fact. tha t book is a ctionalized accounting of things that we wanted to come true.mystery of that encounter. I was sitting on a patio chair on my deck. We said hardly a word. But it ends in hope and redemption. as I was preparing to wri te my fourth novel. We had watched the light fade into sunset. then it was evening. My wife. As we sat there and looked out t o the hillsides. the tonnage of things left unsaid in that brief momen t. Our dogs were sprawled around us. was beside me. I ha d another similar moment. In some ways. Catherine noted the odd way the hills formed what looked like a supine female (torso and legs) at night. and dark. stayed with me for the three years of writing Little Saigon. suffering a brain tumor. she plays an important . then it was night. It is a gut-wrenching. tortured. and beyond. and for the hillsides that cradled us. It was late afternoon.

The writing then becomes a journey of discovery rather than a mission of execution. I offer these moments to demonstrate how strangely a book can begin. The e motions that draw one to the blank page are often vague. poorly understood. ephe meral.part. The re burns and what it leaves behind is the book. .

Retell an old taleÐdo it in a fresh way. there's a limit. wearing scaly drag ons on its covers in place of shiny spaceships. and your r eaders will gasp in wonder. right down to the princess. Consider: We h ave but 26 letters in our alphabet.52 TRICKS OF THE WIZARD'S TRADE By Susan Dexter FANTASY IS UMBRELLA that THE OLDEST FORM OF LITERATUREÐTHE GREAT arches over all ction. shelved and intermingled with science ction. Now. it resonates with audiences because it's a very old story: a fairy tal e. But limits are illusions. Star Wars didn't wow the world because it was a new idea. And they'd best be used in combinations read ers will recognize as words. "Never be en done before" may truly be impossible. Fantasy is populated by archetypes and demons common to us all. But "Never been done like that before"? That sounds like a goal to me. Fantasy is also a ma rketing category. Music? Even worse. Fantasy's themes spring from the collective unconscious. It's hard to be original in this genre. but compos ers don't seem to mind that there are only so many notes to go around. and you'll have editors drooling. Fairy tales. Our dreams and our nightmares. . Do it well.

nd . Be a reader. it will supply your storyte lling needs. a fth-generation videotape. I doubt that a thousand authors mining day and night could e xhaust that book's possibilities. Read to understand what the classic themes are. but we respond to it as something familiar. No need to memorize the Dewey System to graze the shelves pr oductively. If you con ne your reading to role-playing manuals. weak thing. Remember the hero has a thousand faces. Read folklore. The 200's are philosophy and religionÐall religions. Arrowsmith's Field Guide to the Little People will convince you that elves are neither Disney critters nor the fantasy analogue of Vulcans. It's not a copy of anything.The rst trick in a wizard's bag is this: Look at your sources of inspiration." You'll original folk tales that will make your hair stand on end and get your juices ow ing. the stirring high fantasy you hope t o craft will be a pale. Go to your public library. Keep up with the eld. Folklore lives in the 398. before you begin to write. Study the magic and mythologies of ma ny cultures. Read new fantasies. Frazer's study of myth and relig ion. Recycled characte rs stuck in a plot that's a copy of an imitation of Tolkien won't excite an edit or these days. supplied the magical system my wizard Tristan used in The Ring of Allaire a nd its two sequels. Tolkien based The Lord of the Rings solidly on the northern European mythic tradition. If you feed your subconscious properly. Re ad the classics. Breathe in the fresh air and book dust. Surf the Net later. The Golden Bough. Comic books aren't forbidden fruitÐjust don't make them an exclus ive diet.2'sÐright next to the pretti ed fairy tales "retold for children. but beings far more ancient and interesting. Read fairy tales.

Magic was the science of its day. Both science and magic seek to explain and control the natural world. from getting lost. Readers can identify with her. habits. Map s are more than endpaper decorations. and while being a princess may be a f ull-time job. do es the laundry. CastlesÐwhere did peo ple live in them? Surely everyone wasn't born a princess. responsibilit ies. Who grows the food.Fantastic elements work only if you make reality real. then the trip back from B to A can take longer once the . the author." will you believe what I tell you about dragons? So think about the nuts and bolts. That makes her real. and don't trust Hollywood to do it for you. with routines. for all that she can literally whistle up a storm. being an elf is not. My title character in The Wind-Witch stands o ut from the pack of fantasy heroines: Not only is she not a princess. and you should start drawing one before yo u ever start writing your fantasy. and stick to that. Your characters should have real lives. cleans up after the knights' horses? When you research actual me dieval cultures. If I carelessly give my h orses "paws. Most of us have to work for a living. Study belief systems. usually for a man's bene t. Plan your world. if you want it to work for you. Getting her sheep through lambing s eason matters just as much to Druyan as warding off a barbarian invasion or disc overing her magical talents. Never mind your quest-bound characters: A map will keep you. you'll turn up truths far stranger than anything you could inve nt. Science is of fairly recent origin. Decide what suits your story. If the desperate ride from Castle A to Castle B takes three days. Don't throw in random demons ju st because they sound cool. but she ha s a jobÐtwo jobs: She's a farmer and a weaver.

Any continent or bit of one will do. beside safe harbors. Maps can suggest plot solutions. It's your pick. or vice . Now I needed it to suffer an invasionÐby sea. spots for Druyan to try to protect from the back of her magic-bred ho rse. isolating outcrops. A primitive map has charmÐperhaps one of your characters drew itÐbut there are tricks to convincing cartography. And Esdragon's townsÐas in the real-world town of Cornwall. Use an island to make a continent. and there are rather few straight lines in nature anyway. things are where they are for good reasons. distant from on e another. Change the scale. but if the journey takes less time. As I began to write The Wind-Witch. Hills become islands. you have major explaining to do. imagining how the coast changes as the sea level risesÐor falls. In the r eal world. they g row where roads cross. You can't draw a straight line without a ruler ? Relax! Nobody can. I had established in an earlier book that my Esdragon had a cliffy coast and tre acherous seas. I put rivers on my map. the Eral are after plunder.pressure's off. on which I based my ctional duchyÐare m ostly at the mouths of the rivers that drain the upland moors and reach the sea as broad estuaries. Maps can spare you such faux pas. The combination of wind and wave nibbles clif fs. so they want towns. Pencil some outlines. Castles protect and are n ot built where there's nothing worth contesting. islands change into peninsula s. Put tracing pap er over your selection. Towns are tied to trade. Valleys become arms of the sea. Where could the invad ers strike? Well. N ow get yourself a real map. decided which were navigable for any distanceÐand presto! I had many places for my raiders to plunder.

Jus t as you vary your sentence lengths. You must concern yourself with the details. Whe re are the passes? Are they open year-round or only seasonally? The threat of be ing trapped by an early winter can add drama. so you should choose names with differing l engths and sounds. islands. When I designed Esdragon and Calandra. So where will your forest be? Your dry grassl ands? Your band of unicorn hunters needs to cross the Dragonspikc Mountains. As the creator of your paper wor ld. Unlike the author of the police p rocedural. Adam got off easy doing just the animals! I need to name kingdoms. A map will remind you of that. mountains. Which brings us to the Rule of Names. or your el n kingdom. I basic ally used EuropeÐbut I stood it on end. Where do rivers ow? How do they look? Mountain r anges trap rain and alter climate. castles. Study actual maps. for t here is no Fodor's Guide to Middle Earth. Characters and countries must not be easily confused with one another. World-makers need to name everything. or Esdragon. Turn your map upside down. Copy the shape of the water spot on your ceiling or the last patch of snow lingering on y our sidewalk.versa. as Mies van der Rohe said. Your names must not all begin with the same letter of the alp habet. continents. horses. Basic rules for name use apply to all ction. God . magic swords and cats. . you have responsibilities. is in the details. heroes. I can't get my names by stabbing a random nger into the phone book. lakes. balanced on the tip of Portugal. river s. gods. A name that brings to mind an over-the-counter remedy will not work for your hero.

Planning ahead avoids bo th extremes. large enough not to be easily mislaid. or to the last minute. though. but a small notebook is the handiest. or you'll clutch and settle for names as bland as tapioca. q's. You can't just put the Encyclopedia of Mythology into a blender. That power carries over into ction. you will either heave up a melange of x's. I glean and gather from sources readily available to all. but they must evoke the feel of your world. The older the better. Remember. In folkloric tradition. I use an address bookÐdurably hardbound. Names must alwa ys be apt. Compile a list of useful names. names have serious power: To know a creature's true name is to control it. They make your invented w orld convincing and solid. that names are tools. but you can toss off grand heroic names without the twinge of conscie nce you'd feel about giving such names to real children who'd be attending realworld schools. alphabetized pages. Under the pressur e of mid-paragraph. Start with baby-name books. Copy whatever catches your eye.Names in fantasy present special pleasures and certain problems. Histories of . you aren't after the t rendy and popular. circling those I use and noting whe re. And then where are you? You will be w ise not to leave your naming to chance. Poorly chosen names can strain your reader's willi ng suspension of disbelief until it snaps. You can keep that list in your PC o r on the backs of old envelopes. I may reuse a name from time to time. certain names being as common in Esdra gon as John is in this world. and z's. I list names down the left margins.

The true test of imagination may be to name a cat. Stick a syllable of one name onto pa rt of another. like Oksana. in The Wiz ard's Shadow. Pick those that t your story and its cultures. weddings. Rhisiart. Use the phone book. Whereas Kessallia in The Prince of III Luck just popped out of my sub conscious one day. and went on f rom there. The Welsh str uggle to represent with their alphabet the sounds of a name they got from Norman French gives the name an exotic look. and they're spelled for you. is a name that is simply a Welsh version of Richard. Switching just one letter made R obert into Rohart. obituaries. I began with val. I struggled for a week for a proper name for Valadan. Minor changes yield fresh names. use them wisely. right on the screen. my immortal warhorse. Chop off the fr ont half of a name. and gave Druyan's brother a familiar yet not ordinary name. though. When I wrote The Ring of Allair e. I doubt that correctly naming a dragon is far down the dif culty scale. World-making and myth-making are not for . Invent your own names. Lo rd Dunsany was a master at it. You may enjoy playing with sounds. Watch the OlympicsÐyou'll hear scads of less usual names. Save the rest for your next project. brave name. W atch movie credits. What could be easier? Once you have your names. W anting a proud. Learn to spot a "keeper" like that. Tolkien invented whole languages and took his nam es from them.popular names offer archaic forms and less common variants. Use t he newspaperÐall those lists of engagements. Dickens did it. noble. from valiant. as Samuel Butler said. or use just the ending.

nor the short attention span. The good news: No license is req uired! Only the will to do the job rightÐwhich is the real power behind any wizard 's spell. .the fainthearted.


53 SLEUTH. and Mary Wollstonecraft. tracking his su bjects through space and time. Holmes does not give us what we might e xpectÐa chronological study of one subjectÐbut instead. writing biography is a satisfying and illuminat ing project." Not all biographies are quite as exhilarating. William Wordsworth. shows the biographer as sleuth and huntsman. Your moth er's uncle. part biography. part autobiography. One admiri ng critic summed up the book's merits: "This exhilarating book. part hunter as we travel into the past and through unfamiliar landscape s in search of our subject. the one who emigrated from Norway at the turn of the . BIOGRAPHER By Linda Simon ONE OF MY FAVORITE BIOGRAPHIES IS RICHARD HOLMES'S Footsteps: Adv entures of a Romantic Biographer. Your subject Biographical subjects may be found anywhere. For writers with boundless curiosity and a genuine r espect for other people's lives. b ut the critic's words could be applied to any biographer's task: We are all part sleuth. Percy Bysshe Shelley. HUNTER. In it. he records his own travels i n search of some great British Romantic writers. including Robert Louis Stevenso n.

Writing about Margaret Beaufort gave me a chance to explor e the lives of women in fteenth-century England. I decided to write abou t her because she was the matriarch of the House of Tudor. still she shared some experiencesÐ childbirth. as biograph er. unheralded lifeÐbut a life no le ss worthy of a biography. King Henry VII. may be as interesting a subject as a renowned artist or statesman. unable to speak the language of her servants. Her husband was in England at the time. Toklas. also lived a "semi-private" life. sister of the novelist Henry and philosopher William. Although Beaufort surely was a m ember of the aristocracy. lived a "semi-private" life in comparison with her more famous companion. and when labor began. If your subject is a family memb er or friend. Initially. w as living in Wales at the end of her rst pregnancy. Margaret Beaufort. but as I explored var ious sources. and widowhoodÐwith other women of the time. A bi ographical subject need not be famous to the world. she was alone.century. not yet sixteen. and her notorious grandson. Gertrude St ein. to make that subject interesting to others. he or she may have lived a private. Margaret Beaufort. for examp le. Henry VIII. without family. And another of my subjects. Alice B. the biographer of Alice James. it is up to you. Other subjects may have touched fame. stone castle. Jean Strouse. I became increasingly interested in the ways that she helped me un derstand the daily life of medieval women. One of my own subjects. in a cold. I found a fteenth-century gynecological manual to help me understand . but never achiev ed it for themselves. in comparison with her more famous son. but whos e own lives were fairly ordinary. coined the term "semi-private lives" to describe men and women who lived in the shadows of more famous people.

you cannot write a biography without suf cient historical and biog raphical sources. But there were enough sources. Those sources include letters. frail young woman quickly rallied to a newly-discovered strength when it came time to name the boy: She refused to name him after his Welsh father or grandfa ther. to enable me to feel con dent that I could reveal the signi cant events an d context for her life. journals. And the thi n. some pu blic (in libraries or museums). Such source s are available in many collectionsÐsome private (in your parents' attic). there were few sou rces available to me that gave evidence of her life and experiences. He would be Henry. Even though Margaret Beaufort was a noble woman. creative writing. especially as a child and young wife and mother. tended by midwives who brought he r strange oils and potions and who sat beside her on an oddly shaped birthing st ool. and works of art such as paintings or lms. Make sure there are sources As much as you may care abou t your subject. interviews. But the birth went well: She lived and so did her son. diaries. and just as surely she knew that infant mortality was fright eningly high. but instead insisted on a regal English name. with walls a foot thick. The reference room of a good local or college li brary has many reference sources that may help you nd out what material. Surely Margaret knew that her lifeÐlike that of all women at the timeÐwas at ri sk from childbirth. . memoirs. scarce as t hey were.how young Margaret would have been cared for during childbirth. She delivered he r son in a bare room. and he wo uld be king.

however.published and unpublished. you may be able to order photoc opies of the material you need. The Biographical Dictionaries Master Index can direct you to an entry about your subject in one hundred biographical dictionaries. For contemporary subjects. s cience. Among these is the B iography Index. Sometimes. In addition to these ge neral dictionaries. there are many specialized biographical dictionaries focused on gender. is available about your subject. it is he lpful to know as precisely . The se directories include American Literary Manuscripts. and politics. the Directory of Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the United States. sports. you may need to travel to co llections to do research. offering biographical inf ormation on men and women in the news. profession. Before you leave on a research trip. you may consu lt directories of libraries that contain archives or manuscript collections. or time period. and The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections. You may also want to consult one of the many standard biog raphical dictionaries. a monthly journal that began publication in 1940. Once you locate sources for your subject. To nd unpublished material about yo ur subject (manuscripts or letters your subject may have written). which lists references to books and more than two thousand perio dicals for a wide range of subjects. Many public libraries subscribe to this j ournal and keep bound issues on their reference shelves. including major gures in the arts. Tracking down your subject in these reference books is often slow and tedious work. however. race. but it is a necessary rst step in the research pr ocess. you may want to consult Current Biogra phy. such as Dictionary of National Biography (for British gure s) or the Dictionary of American Biography.

B ut don't stop there. I pull out the card an d take notes. I may have several drawers of le folders. New material about your subject may have become available since the pub lication of books or articles. on which I write notes taken from books or articles. Libraries are always in the process of adding to their coll ections. Stay organi zed Any researcher needs to be well-organized. and many computer lesÐfar more material than will ever make its way into the ished book. 5"x7" index cards . I make an index card. you will leave the library frustrated. When I see a reference to that person in another source. I keep notes in three places: le folders. a previous biography can be invaluable in giving you a start for research. I nd it easy to compose small biographical sketches of the person n . hundreds and hundreds of index c ards. Biographers nd their own way of organizing notes: Mi ne is to keep index cards devoted to the names of people that gure in my subject' s life. what you are looking for. Whenever someone is mentioned in a letter or book. It's your job to nd that new material. and how much mater ial is available. and computer les.as possible what the library holds. where I also keep notes from readings. At the end of a pr oject. If your subject has been written about be fore. But this excess is necessary so I can select what I need for a coher ent and energetic narrative. For my own work. which contain photocopies of sources. Consult the book's bibliography and notes for references to library archives. and other sources. interviews. If you plan a two-day trip and discover two weeks of reading. In that way.

rather than m erely chronicling those actions. There is no right way to organize. title. a nd publication information for every published book that you use. Keep asking questions As a biographer. such reference sources as the ML A Handbook or the Chicago Manual of Style are helpful. in motivat ion. For writers who need to brush up on documentation. and make sure you note the name of the library for every unpublished letter or manuscript you use. Write down the author. You are interested in relationships. bringing to their . but you need to be consistent and m eticulous in both note-taking and documentation. The questions that you ask about a subject's life re ect ways of understanding human behavior that come largely from your own experiences. If. your own experiences with such a person will c olor the way you portray and understand such behavior. fo r example. Other biographers may organize mater ial chronologically or they may organize notes related to events in their subjec t's life. Your readers will expect careful documentation in whatever you publish. in the dimensions of your subject's personality that may have been hidden f rom public view. Some biographers also rel y on psychological theory to explain behavior. You are always in search of understanding why and how your subject acted. you do not serve as a conduit through which your subject tells his or her own life. you discover that your subject was a person who tried to control or m anipulate the behavior of others.when he or she rst appears in the biography. you are an active questioner about that life. Instead.

an economic depression. Usually. some biographers b ring to their work assumptions about gender or class that re ect the work of femin ist or cultural critics. you need to remember that your sources. do not provide as complete a "case hi story" as a psychoanalyst might glean from years of therapy sessions. Jung. or a host of other theorists. cultural. They must look at the contextsÐhistorical. Sometimes. and physicalÐin which that pers on lived. does not affect each person in the same way. listening. You need to be careful. it is not possible for a biographer to travel to that "native ground. rath er than to claim that the explanation is airtight. though. biographer of Harry Truman and Theodore Roosevelt. Similarly. or attitudes of racism o r sexism affect the subject's life? How was the subject shaped by growing up on a farm in central Kansas.sources ideas from such famous thinkers as Freud. in a castle in Wales. Every public event. though. on the city streets of nineteent h-century Manhattan? "You pick up things spending time on the native ground. about ascribing your su bject's dreams and desires to social forces or personal expectations that may or may not have been applicable at the time in which your subject lived." Richard Holm es came to France in . of course. poking through the old local papers. the biographer needs to be aware of the history swirling around his or her subject: How did a war. still. i t is safer to suggest a theorist's explanation for your subject's behavior. however rich they are. Karen Horney." said David McCul lough. Create co ntexts Biographers are interested in more than the events of one person's life. If you decide to take such an approach. tak ing your time.

1964 hoping to discover the landscape that Robert Louis Stevenson had traversed in 1878. Footsteps te sti es to the achievement of hisÐand of any biographer'sÐ goal: to enter the inner lan dscape of another human being's mind and feelings." as he put it. the woods. and the villages seemed unchanged from the late nineteenth century. Holmes wandered "dazed and d isappointed" because sites had so greatly altered. and to share the adventure of that discovery with readers. to reinvent the reality of Stevenson's life. . however. In some places. in other places. armed wi th Stevenson's travel diary and letters. the hills. Holmes used his talents as "Baskerville Hound. In the end.

to write what earns us readers. Good. M any who want to write waitÐand wait and waitÐuntil they know all about their topic b efore they begin to write. We write what we don't know to di scover what we know that we didn't know we knew. Here are some techniques of a w riter who has taught himself to harvest ignorance. "But I don't have anything worth wri ting. not the end. No one would be interested in what I would write. We all have impo rtant stories to tell. That's where the best writing begins.54 WRITE WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW By Donald M. Murray I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE. we need to have the courage to write what we don't yet know. writing from not knowing to k nowing: . I SIT DOWN My mind is blank. Writing instructs. To write well." Wrong. Writers knowÐbut have to keep learningÐthat ignorance is the beginning. AND NOTHING HAPPENS. but we have to begin in ignorance so that we pass through what we have said before to what we can say anew.

The walls and phony rafters were hung with newly manufactured antique tools. as I usually do. eateries. and y et there are mornings when the screen is blank and the mind is blank. and then I w ill say something that is new to me and may be new to readers. and ghosts. I started des cribing the mill in which some of those tools would have been used a hundred yea rs or more ago. I started. why was my mother trying to poison me at the churc h picnic by demanding I eat the minister's wife's lobster bisque? What I said in class. felt before is stripped away. Respect your difference I was a skinny kid who was embarrassingly strange to my parents. lled with shops. I have a column about the fashionably res tored mills. thought. weird to my classmat es. xing a loom. What I hav e written. my father.Celebrate ignorance I've been writing for publication for almost 60 years. recording th e details in the decor of the new restaurant where we ate last night. I start to panic. on the playground. with description. at dances and in the football locker room brought str ange looks and set me apart. carrying her rstborn. The other morning I faced the familiar but still terrifying emptiness. I asked the questions no one else asked: If I could not drink milk with lobs ter because it was poisonous. . if I have the cou rage to confront my ignorance. Th e words reveal a grandfather I never knew. and my grandmother at the loom. This draft accelerates and takes me through the page to the loom s that clattered in New England textile mills when I was a child and earlier.

Find your obsessions School and society try to make us wel l rounded. . Pay attention to what you need to understand and write your way to understanding. a Pulitzer Prize. I d id badly in school. I saw in fantry combat in the paratroops in World War II. and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles. and after she had her stroke I started e ach day of my childhood getting up rst and seeing if Grandma was still alive. and listen to the spec i c. In trying to deal with these few obsessions I have published more than two dozen books. look. I have had a lifetime fascinati on with the twin crafts of writing and drawing. dropping out twice before unking out of high school. to my and my family's astonishment. Durin g the Korean War I kept writing editorials that were strange in formÐsome were ver y short stories.But when I wrote. They have small acreage but work it over and over again for a lifeti me. w ritten hundreds of poems. equally interested in many things. we lost a daughter when she was 20. Ma ke the familiar unfamiliar When I am bored. but writers are obsessed with a fe w concerns. others were a former infantryman's view of military strategyÐand I was awarded. There you have it. I am concerned with my wife's and my own aging. my eccentric vision of the world brought me publication. We lived in my grandmother's house. I began to accept my difference. I stop.

Trust accident In writing about the eating habits in our Yankee-Scot-dull home. the ordinary extraordinary. the commonplace uncommon. to his sharing more than his only child wanted to know about the women he did not marry. of course. and that led me to a new understanding o f his longings. And more important." Out of a bad sentence a good one. what is being said and no t being said. what has changed and what should be changed. and. but I have to remember she did care for my invalid grandmotherÐup at night. I can't forget the bills her brothers folded into her ha nds during their weekly visits. years after her death . The familiar world becomes unfamiliar. beds ores and bed pansÐbut it wasn't so much about love. by accident. which I can untangleÐ"Mother didn't only care for her bedridden mother out of lo ve and Baptist duty.revealing details of the life swirling around me. what answers need que stions. and that led me. I was trying to list the conventional hamburger and b oiled potatoes and found myself writing about my father's love for calves liver. and that brings back discomforting memories o f my own mother with whom I still have strained relations. a hint . but for the cash pressed into her hands when her brothers v isited. what solutions need problems. how people are reacting and not reacting t o each other." Two instructive accidents: The tangled sentence . That old woman in the bed terr i ed her. I celebrate the life I am livi ng with awarenessÐwhat is being done and not being done. In trying to describe my mother I write a tangled sentence: "A f riend is nursing his dying mother.

a word. "I was most alive among the dying and the de ad. to create patterns of meaning. Another fortunate accident.of my mother's motivations that may illuminate a character in a story. LineÐan image. at work." and I start to set down the contradictory feelings during combat that have grown into a poetry manuscript." My subconscious g oes to work on the "stained relations" I've had with family. T alking to myself I hear myself say. to place information in a context. i n the neighborhood. The precipitating line contains a tension that d emands to be . In a draft I asked myself why." it came out "stained relations. My most meaningful connections co me when I write what I don't yet understand. often precipitates my writing what I do not yet know. That becam e another column. where I le arned to survive chaos and contradiction. In writing about my infantry war an d wondering what of cers saw in me that caused them to give me so many lonely miss ions Ðdelivering messages through German territory. and connected my childhood. with my experiences in war. friends. And when I typed "strained relations. Collect and connect It is the jo b of the writer to collect speci c information and connect it. or fragment of languageÐcaught out of the c orner of the eye or ear. for exampleÐI realized I was mor e comfortable in the surrealistic confusion of combat war than most of my fellow soldiers.

The line itch es. . Now I write as many leads in my head as on paper. an interesting distortion. an unexpected connection. Write what you don 't know you know. a contradiction. the writer's attitude toward the subject. Join me tomorrow morning. As an apprentice magazine writer I would write as many as 150 rst lines. the direction. trying to say what I do not yet know needs to be said in ways I do not yet know it can be said. the voice and melody of what I nally learned. an answer without a question. Each lead is a compressed draft. It reveals the subject. Play with leads Writing the leadÐthe rst paragraphs of the news story that give the heart of the story rst and then expand on itÐwas the trick that made it possible for me when I worked on rewrite. the voice.released. rst paragraphs. and I must scratch. to take notes over the p hone and turn out 30 or 40 stories a shift on subjects I did not understand unti l I wrote the stories. Eventually one lead points me toward where I m ay nd the right focus and direction. rst pages to discover the focus and directio n. the form and order of a piece of writing. an end to a story that I must begin.

creat ive non ction is a new description for an old skill: that of writing well-crafted salable articles. political. travel pie ces. and travel can provide good potential topics for creative non ction. such as health. however. how-to's and even contemporary. B ecause editors have switched from asking "just give me the . essays. non ction writers are allowed. personality pro les. whereas writing from the rst-person viewpoint ca n help with reader identi cation that is further magni ed if the writer's experience s or comments resonate or connect with the reader's life. For today's market. to incorporate certain ction techniques and to use the rst-person "I. memoirs. is now recognized as distan cing the writer from the reader. the formal style. sex. That is why seemingly ordinary concerns of everyday life. even encouraged. or other social issues pieces. using a neutral voice.55 CREATIVE NONFICTION WRITING By Rita Berman WHAT IS CREATIVE NONFICTION? IS IT A NEW GENRE OF WRITING? AN oxy moron? Fictionalized facts? While it sounds like a contradiction in terms. The range of creative n on ction includes feature articles. " Formerly. diet. money.

and often incorporat ing dialogue or ashbacks. expressing emotion." how you tell the story is where creative non ction c omes in. Emplo yers need the edge to know not only what the applicant . Provide details so that you add to. dressing up the bare facts by using ction techniques such as setting o f mood. it might be helpful to review the basic structure of an article. And as you write. providing description of place. Mary Gallagher. in the next section identify your topic. ." So said Mary Gallagher. so that y ou angle the story to their needs. began with an opening quote from my source. My article on graphology. not as a gatherer of facts. the article remains non ction because the content is base d on fact and is not created or made up. and close by drawing a c onclusion or repeating a key point. but don't change the information you have gathered. Your task is to write your article like a st oryteller. More than 5. You must ca tch the reader's interest in the introduction. Take those facts and lter them through you r eyes. . a handwriting expert: "Looking at how applicants cross their t's or dot their i's is one way to decide whether to hire an individual. but you have more freedom in the actual writing of it." to "tell me a story.000 companies use handwriting analysis as a hiring aid. . "Unlocking Secrets in Handwriting Can Help Hiring" (Triangle Business). Before describing some of the ction elements you could u se. That calls for embellishing and enhancing.facts. In other words. keep your potential readers in mind. in the body of the piece present your material. narrating instead of reporting. a certi ed graphoanalyst.

"We went to a museum. Use ction . such as.projects but also what he or she is capable of doing. locale. and even the weathe r in your article. gave balance to the piece." fall at with-out supporting detail. satisfying the curiosity you have aroused and leaving the reader with a resonant image of all that has gone before. General statements. They add interest and color and conv ey atmosphere and mood to the setting. I used the technique of framing the story to make a sat isfactory ending: I circled around to the beginning by referring to the opening paragraph. Having aroused the readers' interest. and then I continued with examples of what handwriting might re veal. or point out a question that still needs an answer. In this instan ce I ended by informing readers of how companies obtain a sample of handwriting from applicants in order to study it. Framing the story Fo r this particular piece. Atmosphere an d mood Speci c details are highly signi cant in non ction to help the reader visualize the place or the event you are describing. You might draw a conclusion. they have prospective employees state in t heir own handwriting why they believe they are quali ed for the job. make a n evaluation. For creative non ction. which we f ound interesting. this is an excellent way of tying the article t ogether. including a ma nager who had ignored her ndings. Quotes from other people who had used Gallagher's services. time of year. a brief summary about the history of graph ology came next.

Snaking by resort hotels and sugar-cane elds. I opened with a description of wh at I had seen in the drive from the airport: The coast road from the airport is a narrow lane overlooked by small and large e states." published in Leader Magazine: . old great houses. some of which are now being develop ed into housing estates. Whether you are taking a tour. Instead of saying tha t there were vendors at the site and leaving it at that. touched. each waving a lace . . Example: In a piece about redevelopment and housing in Jamaica for Town and Country Planning Journal. it becomes your own. heard. the life of the country appeared before us as we turned each bend on the main north-coast road.. By personalizing the piece. I described my encounte r with them in "Spain. Tell your readers w hat you tasted. As we stepped down from the bus.techniques to describe what you saw in the museum. Use all of your senses. these im pressions and observations may turn out to be the lead or heart of your piece wh en you come to write it. No other article will have that voiceÐ your voice. arri ving at a new destination.. New and Old Faces. Make note of your impressions and reactions as you conduct your research. and tiny country towns dot the hillside. we were accosted by a group of women dartin g in front of us.. Writing in rst person Your non ction pieces will come alive creatively when you inc orporate your personal observations.. Plantations. or interviewing someone for a personal pro le. saw.

I made a circle with m y hands. By revealing the interaction that took place. Having caught our attention.. She shook her head a nd held up four ngers. I enhanced the story and by adding color and humor. They understood. I got both tablecloths for $53. but we came to a deal.tablecloth.. I countered with two ngers. what he wore. but wanted "another nger.000 pesetas. Describe the subject's quirks. made the piece more interesting than if I had baldly stated th at I spoke no Spanish.000 pesetas (approximately $25). and how they think. For personality pro les. 50. I then showed cashÐ25. No deal. She t ook two bills." total of $30. I pointed to an embroidered rectangular cloth and the nger shaking started all over again." Dialogue The ction writer make s up dialogue. or appearance. mannerisms. and round. An older woman held up a tablecloth while a young girl held up ve ngers. but in creative non ction . Reveal your characters Creative no n ction is frequently about people. . "Shifting in his chair" conveys an i mage quite different from "settling in his chair. how he moved his body as he spoke. We're all curious about how other people live. they shouted prices at us in Spanish. what they do. draw on the external c ues that you observed while doing the interview. To indicate that I wanted a smaller cloth. Move ment can reveal and imply at the same time. j abbing their ngers in the air to indicate how many thousands of pesetas they want ed.

according to Dr. dealt with c on ict. Some . For example. . they often smile. then to understand how to handle con ict. Many women give contrad ictory signals. using direct quotes fr om your sources. I used provocative statements about women and their reactions to con ict as my lead for a piece for Women Executive's Bulle tin: Most women fear con ictÐperhaps more than men fear it. Ruth D. Anderson. when they are under stress and trying to communicat e. Associate Profess or of Speech Communication. "It isn't a rigid situation. a real estate brok er. or any other female authority gure in the household you grew up in. This adds verbal color to your piece a nd encourages your readers to draw their own conclusionsÐan excellent way to prese nt a controversial topic or viewpoint.you take the dialogue from your interview notes or tapes. everyday oc currence. Barr. a concern of many Americans: "The consumer has the right to bargain. Think back to how your mother. I offered some signi cant details on how we learn to communicate: The communication skills we learn early in life are those that we use when we re ach managerial and executive positions: to accept con ict as a normal." said Andrew M. If she screamed. . Next. instead of paraphrasing. . unconsciously suggesting to the other person that this isn' t such a serious situation. do you scream? Here's another "tell me more" quote that I used for a generalinterest article on buying or selling a house.

or using a consumer-oriented advisory service. my article explored the sensitive topic of b rokers' commission and informed the reader about available alternatives in the W ashington D. Why charge 6% when you can do it for 3% a nd sell it in a week? That's fair to the consumer and fair to us. . Writing about my own experie nce as a temporary worker some years ago." Published in the Virginia Cardinal. I used a ashback to go back to when the Kelly Girl organization began in 1946." With this technique. "As he spoke of his father I was remembering our rst meeting." and continue with the present-day account. then continued with more of my work experie nces and ended with a forecast about the future direction of temporary work. more than 2 0 years ago. transitioning to a change of name of Kel ly Temporary Services in the 1980's. Flashbacks Flashbacks are another ction device you might consider using to provide a change of pace. . you can introduce something signi cant fr om the past that has bearing on the present. . To help the reader make the transit ion back to the present. By means of the ashback you can expand your story a nd take the reader in a direction different from where you began. the exible fee system. . area. . insert a transitional phrase or word.C.houses are easier to sell than others. Example: "As t he train drew into the station. I remembered the last time I visited London. ." Or. such as "now" or "today. .

bu t a new description for . there are no sex or age barriers. I achieved publication. Navy. some magazines publish only descriptive essays. he stooped over and picked up a shell on the beach. Knowing my readership helped me slant my piece. For example. research that will be helpful when you shap e the story. This calls for studying your possible markets before you commence writing. After you have studied the market list ings as well as writers' guidelines and read several issues of the magazine. That paragraph linked the hobby of shell collecting to military families. Shelling has given many military families speci al pleasures. while others prefer nuts-and-bolts information. Any number can play. By focusing the angle of the story t o those readers. who we re the readers of this particular magazine. keep in mind the readers you want to reach. You don't h ave to be an expert or spend a cent.Know your readership As you write. y ou need to know for whom you are writing." for The Army. "Pick up on the Shell Ga me. Creative non ction is not a new genre. he found himself h ooked on a hobbyÐshell collecting. you will know what the readers like and how to aim your articles to their preferred style. By that simple act. Air Force Times Magazine. I opened with: When Navy man Jim Wadsworth was stationed in New Guinea 30 years ago. Shells can be traded with other collectors or bought like stamps from a dealer. unless you want to become a professional sh ell collector.

senses.articles based on fact but written in ctional form. descriptions of place. . and feelings. s etting. I t may use dialogue and ashbacks. Your personal impressions and comments can help mak e your non ction unique. people. catches their attention. The rst-person viewpoint adds to reader identi cati on. Creative non ction uses mood. thoughts. action.

" Those of us on the insi de know better. However. continue to write about our journeys. With editors insisting that their travel writers not accept free bies. u ntil that happens. Struggling neophytes determined to make a living in this limited eld may nd themselves facing instant frustration and starvation. and mi ne for the asking. travel writing heretofore appeared to be an illusive magic carpet. . oating you off on exciting journeys to seven cont inents. "all of this will be free. Sunrise in Bali . and those same editors refusing to pay the writer's expenses. . pyramids along the Ni le. we fear that the professional travel writer may well be on the way to extinction. icebergs in Antarctica . .56 WRITING AND SELLING YOUR TRAVEL ARTICLES By Janet Steinberg DEAR ME. . if only I write an article about it. and continue to nd a way to get published. THE SKY IS FALLING. . there will always be those of us dedicated to the profession who will continue to travel." To those on the outside. OR SO IT MAY SEEM TO THE MANY ho peful writers trying to break into that grossly misunderstood profession known a s "Travel Writing. "And." those travel-writer wannabes think.

" Playing upon the old song title. The following tips on writing and marketing travel articles have been garnered from my two decades of travel writing experience. Let i t paint a picture .. With allowances for individual personality. unfaltering determination. you will nd it a most rewarding profession. interests. . "I love calories! I love cholesterol! I love Fauchon!" Who or what is Fauchon? Curious readers have to read beyond this awar dwinning opening. .But if you are endowed with endless stamina. high energy. they should also work for the aspiring travel writer. For example. insatiable curiosity. it compels readers to learn just who Harry is and what he is doing in the travel section. and s tyle. Open with a powerful lead: Begin your article with such a strong or catchy lead that readers can't p ut the article down until they've read everything you wanted to tell them. or even anger." This rst sentence of another travel article instilled anger in some readers until they continued to r ead on for the explanation. one of my successful travel articles began: "I'm just wild about Harry. arouse curiosity . And don't let go unt il your very last paragraph takes them back to that engaging lead. "Auschwitz is the ip side of Disneyworld. and the nancial means to get you through those rst lean years. But they did read on! Anecdotes make good openers: Q uote the joke that the cab driver told you. or begin with the tour guide's remar k that put the entire busload of tourists into stitches. ..

But. Your job is that of the surr ogate. Through your words. Write to entertain: Travelers. hear the cacophony of sounds in the Casbah . Communicate with your readers. a me ntion of Charlton Heston riding down those ancient marble streets in his chariot will conjure up a myriad of . readable style. If it's in-depth research your readers want. Describe which sights are not to be missed and which are a waste of time and money. cow-dunged streets of India. Your readers might have dif culty picturing Mark A ntony and Cleopatra walking along the Arcadian Way in Ephesus. Don't try to impr ess them. . Sort through the books and visit the attractions. Turkey. . weep for the sadness you saw. Go beyond t he over-hyped shopping malls to the unusual boutiques that specialize in goods u nique to that area. Then write the article in a natural. they should be able to see th e Great Wall of China . . . sme ll the spice-laden.Write as if you are talking to your best friend: Pretend you've phoned to tell y our friend about the wonderful place you've just visited. both real and armchair. need to be entertained as well as informed. Your facts must be current and inf ormative but not boring. Engage your readers senses: Immerse your readers in the destination an d make them eager to go there. Tell her where to eatÐin a variety of price rangesÐand what dish must absolutely be tried. Recount with enthusiasm and delight the joys you experienced . otherwise yo u will lose them after the rst few paragraphs. Breathe new life into the old: Make antiquity come alive as you uncover the past. they will turn to an encyclopedia or comprehensive guidebook.

Then go one step further. Find unexplored subjects and uni que angles: For the most part. And. Mark's Square in Venice. but a day on nearby Paqueta Island is new and refreshing. By th e time an editor gets around to readingÐand publishingÐyour story. instead. Forget the tourist-trap restaurants in the old wal led city of Dubrovnik. n or will an Eastern European story immediately following a disaster such as the C hernobyl explosion. If Hurricane Gilbert has just devastated the Caribbean. give them a quote from someone who has. this is not . if you haven't experienced something important yoursel f. travel editors are not interested in general dest ination pieces. Focus on places and things your readers must see or do.images in the minds of millions of movie buffs. instead. A Mediterr anean cruise story won't sell right after an outbreak of violence in the Gulf. think of all the subjects connected to t hat place. write about that secluded seafood spot a half-ho ur down the road. it may be dated. and look for the oft-neglected hidden treas ure. When you visit a place. don't write about events taking place currently or in the near future. write about Venice's little-known ghetto. Focus on the "must do's": Evalua te each destination from the viewpoint of someone who was never there. Be sure your articles are timely: Unl ess you have a regular market for your travel piece and are assured of publicati on. Don't write about an area that has been receiving negative publicity. Skip the overdone St. A day in Rio may be overdone for most publications. Make them realize they may never come this way again. Italy.

are no longer esse ntial. what type of luggage you recomme nd. Don't pretend to be what you 're not: Sophisticated readers want travel articles by sophisticated writers. Think a head: Jump the gun on the laggards. If a city is planning a bicentennial in two years. Share your travel tips: Reade rs want you to tell them how to travel lightly. Sophisticated photographic skills. and what to do about nasty customs of cials. If the local senior citizens club sp onsors an annual motor coach tour for fall lea ng. Be your own photographer: Even though you may not know a shutter from a lens. tennis camps. Today's fully automatic equipment gives even amateur photograph ers a chance to illustrate stories with one-of-a kind shots not available from s tock les. etc. learn to take your own photos. query seniors' magazines a year ahead to see if they'd like an on-the-coach report. though desirable. Smart cameras make it easy for dum b photographers. the world' s worst or bestÐrestaurants. how to deal with jet lag. shopping. adventure travel. Ad venturers want to read articles about trekking the Himalayas by someone who has trekked . cruises. honeymoon havens. Presenting a complete p ackage to an editor gives you a leading edge. and never travel without a camera. Take it from one who doesn't know a Nikon aperture from a Beethoven overt ure! All you need is a good eye and a smart camera. Rely on roundups: Grouping information about a subject into one article is a favorite of editors. The world 's bestÐgolf courses.the time to submit articles about the island you visited last Christmas. now is the time to query a magazine.

Be what you really are: Let your readers know that even travel writers have fears and emotions. "Su re.them. Don't try to appe ar as the boti vivant by aunting how much you know or showing off how many places you've been. don't become jaded or patronizing to your readers. the Centers fo r Disease Control in Atlanta. Of course. the kitchen at Air France.. Georgia. A cannon at one's porthole is most unsettling!" Once you've assured readers that it's norma l to have fears. These are topics not likely to be overdone. Go behind the scenes: For example. Undoubtedly." I write. I panicked when the Chinese navy encircled our cruise s hip. for medical advice. the shopping sprees to the shoppe rs. for security alerts. "I'm afraid of skyjackers and terrorists. Ca ll the State Department in Washington. Be humble: It's hard to be humble when you're having a grand time. the kennel of the QE2. A tongue-in-cheek "snob" piece can be fun. but above all. Write to them. Certainly an outbreak of meningococcal meningitis in Delhi just prior to my trip there made me nervous. not above them.C. the semi-annual sale at Harrods. tell them what precautions to take to alleviate those fears. the ight attendants' training center at Singapore Airlines. the shop on the Orient Express. If you want to use . and we turned back to Kathmandu. I prayed when our Nepalese plane engine failed. Leave the golf vacations to the golfers. as long as your readers are in on the joke. D. the cockpit of the Concorde. Don't try to write for a publication that features a lifestyle that is total ly foreign to you. which had unknowingly sailed into the midst of their maneuvers.

I wrote that "roaches romped in dresser drawers. but don't neglect th e emotional aspectsÐthe feelings of a disabled person who has been on a cruise shi p or climbed the Great Wall of China. you must pry. Quote a loca l resident. And all along the way. local jargon. Libr ary research is ne as a supplement to travel. let your readers know you've been to the spot about which y ou are writing. Be fair: Advise your reade rs honestly of any problems or shortcomings. you must include all the physical details.foreign words. be sure to provide a simple translation or explanation. unless a smile on your grandchild's face is worth $30. I simply said. you must travel. Be professional: If you're going to be a travel writer. but don't try to build your ego by wiping the destination off the map. you must prob e. When you write about facilities for people wi th disabilities." When describing the social struct ure of the QE2." Everyone understood. Let your readers know how other travelers feel and have managed in spite of their disabilities. travel. not as a replacement. or complicated dialects for local color or to set t he mood. When I found a particular Jamaican hotel to be dirty. Be human: Keep the human element in your writing. For authentic ity and credibility. it was dif cult to state tactfully the difference between First Cl ass and Transatlantic Class. I advised "Save your money. travel. and you must ask questionsÐand you must not give up until you get answers. "leisure suits in lieu of tuxedos." When writing about a n obviously overpriced Florida attraction. Verify facts and gures that are often mixed up by . Describe something you ate or something you bought.

No matter how enjoyable and informat ive your article may be. but fewer offer credibility. Don't write from a travel brochure. documentation requirements. in the body of the article. Send that French restaurant piece to the food section. forget the traditional newsp aper markets and concentrate on secondary markets. but you can pitch your work to other sections of the paper. If that doesn't work. the Poconos piece to the weddings section. Costs. spell the editor's name co rrectly! Whether you think it's right or not. etc. an editor will reject a messy manuscript rather than su ffer eye strain trying to decipher it. Be accurate. business and trade. .. and the Smoky Mounta in sh tale to the sports page. Limit the number of dates. and seniors' magazines. gures. Editors like writers who make their jobs easier. weather. Familiarize yourself with the wri ting style of the publication you're aiming for. Give editors what they want: A lo ng-term relationship with an editor is directly dependent upon the reliability o f your work.local guides. And above all. the Italian shopping piece to the fashion section. art. send a query and SASE (self-addres sed stamped envelope) when editors request it. and other service details should be relegated to an informative sidebar. such as sports. local currency. Think beyo nd the travel section: The travel sections of newspapers now rely mostly on staf f writers. readers can peruse those witho ut your help. and with the number of words in an average article. and always submit clean copy. Include consumer information: Your article should give a sense of place. Many travel writers offer readability.

The pay for such items can be much better than that for a newspaper articleÐand much stead ier. . the pay for travel-related press releases is much better than fo r newspaper articles. Work with a local public relations rm: Though your byline might never see th e light of day. The same holds true for writing for the tourist of ces of va rious cities or countries.Work with a local travel agency: Try to convince a travel agency of the importan ce of a monthly newsletter or insert to go with their regular mailings.

art galleries. and periodicals carry articles pertaining to craft. The proliferation of art and craft fairs in almost every t own. city. If you have ever tur ned a bowl. such as coiling. and ne craft fairs has inspired me to write articles on the business of craft. and province across the United States and Canada is a testamen t to the ever-growing demand for original. I have contributed numerous "how-to" articles on various aspects of my craft: from locating. THE HANDCRAFT MOVEMENT HAS s pawned an interest in and appreciation of ne crafts for the consumer. crafted a candle. state. and preparing natural mat erials. I offer the following seven steps for entering the craft writing market: 1) Write what you know. knit a sweater. The publishing world is racing to keep pace with this market. and weaving. . and big bus iness for the artist. Based on my experience as an artist and writer.57 THE BUSINESS OF GRAFT WRITING By Kathleen Peelen Krebs IN THE PAST THREE DECADES. And selling my art through museum stores. As a ber artist and ba sket maker for over ten years. maga zines. and a wide variety of books. handmade merchandise. tw ining. gathering. to step-by-step instructions in basketry techniques.

t o building your own bent-willow garden furniture. If you have ever helped a child make a tissue-paper kite. you may have the how-to bas ics of writing about your craft. ceramics.woven a basket. w oodworking and carving. and weaving. 2) Tap the children's market. built a birdhouse. The market for craft how-to's is broad. and paper-bag masks you made in second grade? Most children's magazines have a "crafts corner" and welcome ne w ideas (or variations upon old ones). or a felt nge r puppet. and brought me $300. metal-smithing. an egg-carton caterpillar. a newspaper mâché animal. embroidery. Do you remember those beanbag squares. you can write an article with an original twist on your project. This is an easy way for even crafting ama teurs to enter the craft writing market. Home and garden magazines offer wel l-written articles on subjects ranging from herbal wreaths from your backyard. or braided a rug. A multi tude of specialized craft publications offer techniques on quilting. An ar ticle I wrote on Southwest-style. potato prints. woven newspaper baskets earned me $250 from a national family craft magazine. knitting. 3) Record your research. My article on drying pine needles to coil a natural green basket was featured as a cover story for a national craft magazine. A num ber of general craft magazines feature instructions on how to make anything from stained-glass lampshades to mosaic owerpots. 1 have written instructions fo r making hats from lily leaves and mats from scented herbs. You have spent hours in art museums admiring antique Chinese .

accept free-la nce reviews. I earned $375. 4) Pro le an artist. Call or write th e artist to request an interview. (Shows and openings are often listed in local newspapers. as well as a feature on collecting early "aloha shirts" from Hawaii. You seek out contemporary exp ressions in wood in countless art galleries. You may wish to call experts or collectors in the eld to add details and depth. r eviewing an art gallery or museum show that exhibits work in your eld may prove p ro table.) Target your m arket. For an article on Huichol Indian bead and yarn art published as a colorful cover sto ry for Bead t& Button Magazine. Several craft and art publications. Ask about photo requirements. 5) Re view a crafts show. If you are well-informed about a particular area of craft. and then query one of the art and craft public ations that frequently feature artist pro les. Many ne art and craft publications a ccept well-researched articles on a particular area of interest. You are captivated by the one-of-a-kind brass door-knockers of a local metalsmith a nd linger longingly over the tilework of a well-known ceramist. as well as newspapers. Read extensively in your eld of in terst and focus your article for a particular publication. Well-crafted impressions backed by knowledge are always acceptable. . Fiherarts Magaz ine published an article on the sari collection of one of the last Ottoman princ esses. 6) Evaluate a craft fair.porcelain or seventeenth-century Japanese kimonos.

and the major venues for a majority of craft artists are the juried craft shows held throughout the United States and Canada. or simply through your local church or sc hool bazaar. gi ft shops. overall quality of the artis ts' work. Always ask permission to use an artist's name. to contact the artists after the show. bookkeeping for tax purposes. etc. Visit your favorite show. travel expenses. Professiona l artists and all of those concerned with the business of craft. welcome articles evaluating and appraising these shows. photography for jurying. and sales strategies are well-received by many craft trade magazines. Ask how long the artist has exhibited at the sho w. the originality and appeal of booth display. pro ts. Jot down a few brief ques tions to ask artists or request a card and an O. The re is an ever-increasing free-lance market in craft publications for such evalua tions. Tips on pricing. did the artist have better wholesale or retail sales. as well as show staff and promoters. bo oth set-up and design. Whether you sell your craft in galleries. as well as cons umers of handcrafts. Writing for the crafts market is an enjoyable way to share you r professional know-how. what were the show's costs vs.K. asking their impressio ns. your part-time hobby. try to nd out if the show was pro table. at professional craft shows. and offer to send a cop y of the article. noting attendance.Craft is big business. You might also quickly interview customers. 7) Offer craft business advice. advertising. or your special eld of interest wi th others. informed . if published. The demand for well-written. you know something about the business of craft.

.articles has never been higher.

Numerous women' s and religious magazines are excellent publications to target with queries of r eal life dramas or people narratives. kidnapped. Recently. b ut allowing them to see what goes on through the eyes of others. or secrets. or draw on personal human interest stories in local or national newspapers or magazines . the legal system. Mothers oft en become published authors when they write about their personal experiences rai sing a physically challenged child. surviving a marital storm. You are not only giving rea ders factual information. tragedies. both print and visual media have been saturated with true-life drama s in which women or children are abused. FOR Media professionals often look to other communication sources for ideas. acquire rare diseases or are betrayed by society. or coping with a cancer diagnosis." featured in Reader's Digest. such as a person's lifestyle. Many rst-time writers became p ublished when they presented accounts of how they faced and overcame adversity i n columns such as "Drama in Real Life. .58 WRITING HUMAN INTEREST ARTICLES By Janet Fabyankovic And Catherine Pigora WRITING HUMAN INTEREST ARTICLES REQUIR ES HAVING A PASSION people and their unique stories. or by men.

then nd a local angle that has universal appeal. try to nd a slant that is unique. and other similar emotions a person deals with during sep aration or loss. Although a reader may not be a g randmother who lost a grandchild when her son was divorced. . a co uple adopted a ve-year-old girl whom they saved from a re after discovering that h er whole family was killed in the tragedy. With child abu se a current topic. well-written pieces that focus on a nearby shelter for batte red children or a pro le of an outstanding counselor may appeal to editors. Disaster stories provide another outlet for tales of ordinary p eople who become empowered with strength and courage by an extraordinary experie nce. Or the subject may present a new perspective on the event after having time to digest it. If you write about a father who saved a child in an airplane crash. she can relate to th e loneliness. Many article writers study national t rends and issues. even if they haven't encountered the same situation. especially if the story was covered numerous times in print and on television. One teenager who risked his life saving a friend from gang violence later becomes a police dispatcher to assist with crime cases. or a do g who rescued a baby during a lire. Because of t heir busy schedules. M any times. reporters often don't do a follow-up on original stories.It's important to nd and write a chronicle that most readers can relate to. incidents that occur after a heroic event have as much impact as the original piece. despair.

you may come across a story idea that could be pitched to a national magazine or journal using a different slant. No one knows exactly what will take place during the interview. Or contact loca l schools.A writer may decide to collaborate with another writer. Always be considerate if a person r esponds with tears. sinc e most people have a personal story to tell. organizations. or a request for privacy on certain issues. and bulletins. At an interview. Written from a crisis perspective. videos. Being exible yet pr ofessional will put the interviewee at ease. For example. and other institutions and ask to be placed on their mailing list for releases. By pe rusing such publications. especially if both autho rs have a different specialty or air that enhances an otherwise ordinary manuscri pt. a featu re from a hospital newsletter about a blind lady who saved a suicide victim's li fe on the internet was reworked and submitted to a national journal seeking acco unts of emergency rescues. television segment s. When you face writer's block. Scan newspapers. newsletters. Make sure to have a few questions jott ed down for reference. government stations. Where do you nd ideas for a human interest story? Fortunately. they are easy to spot. journals. enlisting another writer may be a good solutio n and add a new point of view to your piece. but once the interview begins. two writers may ha ve different observations or one writer may ask questions that the other might h ave missed or not thought of at the time. don't be afraid to be spon taneous and ask spin-off questions from comments that surface in discussions. it was . or computer systems for a start. anger. magazines.

Jessica couldn't believe that the man she married only two months ago did this to her. If your spec ialty is medical or social issues.immediately accepted and published. and don't ask any questions that migh t be too upsetting. Specialized writers. it's imperative to develop a link with a phys ician or attorney. Try t o imagine yourself in the subject's place. appropriate research is imperative for background. After coming up with an idea. you shoul d include a description of symptoms and diagnosis for its characteristics to all ow medical perspective. Remember to be patient and sensitive to the people you i nterview. Once you select your subject.") Let the story unfold naturally. try to create an intense. active scene as your beginning. and chats with friends or relatives. Althou gh these journalists are . If your topic (such as a rare disease) is unusual and many readers may be unfamiliar with it. allowing them to reveal what happened in their own way and time. unless the person being interviewed brings up the delicate t opic (or welcomes any questions. an d additional information that will enhance your article. often use human interest stories as sidebars to a related article. Many writers get story ideas at bus stops. proper spellings of names and places. especially when local children or adults have been involved. f rom visits to social agencies. ("As she came out of unconsciousness with blood dripping down her face. For example. write an article lead that will attract the reader's attention.) Several writers give their interviewees the op tion of answering only the questions that they may feel comfortable with. if the story is based on an a bused woman. such as entertainment critics.

The main character must be someone whom the readers will care about and can identify with. e lderly . However. ma'am" piece. informative piece. It isn't a fast-paced. By spending a little extra time with the person after the interview. to determine exact editorial focus. m ake the words active to set the pace of the event. Writers who are determined to make a literar y mark or spotlight a social issue may disguise themselves as a homeless lady. occasionally their articles are rejected by publications that prefer a more probing approach for greater emotional impact. a writer can obtain quotes and facts that will add the extra human touch to the article. "just the facts. Assure those you interview that you will write an inspiration al. Celebrities and of cials some times risk revealing their own or their family's weaknesses as a stepping stone to their own recovery. Obtain publication guideli nes before submitting queries or articles. as in the case of Betty Ford. Often people grant interviews in hope of help ing others prevent or cope with a similar situation. C apturing the mood of the story can make your article more compelling.respected. Treat your subject with respect so that in revealing the story you don't offend the person who trus ted you with his or her personal life. sensitivity is a must. who helped thousands recove r from addictions. An article on suicide can be serious and poignant without being depressing. not an exposé. if you're describing a daughter's last goodbye to her mother in a hospice. As you des cribe an athlete who wins a tournament while battling the effects of leukemia.

an d editing are essential to bring your views to life and intrigue an editor. or prisoner to illustrate what it's really like to "walk in their shoes. . police. so they concentrate on writing upbeat narratives and pro les. so me writers recognize that tragic stories are often too complicated or emotional for their tastes. In fact. regatta. effective research. or concert. or the story behind a circus. Th eir writing repertoire might include a four-year-old child who charms the audien ce with her singing and dancing. Not all human interest stories are traumatic. When you write a human interest story. a sincere concern for people combined with curiosity.person. bands. or paramedics so they can include rst-hand accoun ts and relevant quotes. good writing skills. Occasionally they may tour with symphonies. a farmer who makes friends with a wild pheasant . " They're able to add suggestions and present possible solutions to problems tha t their subjects face.

appearance. The actual interview is no place for on-site training. arrange for a face-to-face interview.59 THE KEY TO INTERVIEWING SUCCESS By Joy Parise IF YOU WANT TO ADVANCE IN YOUR ARTICLE WRITING. a good interview provides not only plenty of material that will add depth to an article. 1. If done properl y. follow up with a note thanking the person and co n rming the time and place. but also valuable ideas and sources for future projects. and being able to describe his or her gestures. Eye contact with your subj ect will help relax him or her. an in-person interview will more than pay off. INCORPORATE the op inions of outside professionals to enliven and enrich your work. While a telephone call can give you the information you need. . The following are some methods that can he lp you on your way to interviewing success. With experience. and surroundings can make your writing come alive. Once you have pho ned and arranged the interview. you'll lea rn techniques that work best for you. If at all possible. Much of the success of an interview will depend on your behind-the-scenes preparation to make sure that your subject is enough at ease to talk freely and openly to you.

if your interview takes an inter esting new slant. To create an atmosphere of easy conversatio n. That's how I try to capture the readers' attention so that they will become interested enough to want to .and enclose a simple business card. If you'll need any speci c in formation. photos. When I interview someone for a feature. appearance. alert your subject in your note so that he or she can have them handy. don't keep the list of questions in front of you. I structure my articles in a speci c way. This will make it easier later to work from your notes rather than facing a hodgepodge of information you have to organize. if you have one. Make the most of your interviewing time. and give your subject the maximum amount of time to talk. 2. don't be close-minded. or surroundings tells why this person is interesting e nough to be written about. Drawing a picture in words of the gestures. 3. or if your prepared order doesn't work. Keep alert. Try to keep the outline of your article in y our mind before you go into the interview so that you ask your questions in sequ ence. or phone numbers. Prepare your questions in advance so that you don't ounder. statistics. Structure your ques tions around a preliminary outline. Be familiar enough with your questions in advance to be exible if new material from your subject's comments and responses pops up. Don't send speci c questions that you'll b e asking. Nothing is worse than sitting down in front of the subject who reads s tilted and scripted answers to you. Although your prepared questions will help keep you on course. Tuck them inside the cover of your notepad or place them discreetly to the side to peek at now and then. You may nd a whole line of discussion to pursue spontaneously.

try a sports jacket. too. For a sports club. let your subject know it. he immediately tuned in and started talking. make a p lan in advance so that you have a good idea where you want to steer your intervi ew. Let your instincts take over. Whatever your style. After trying to get quotes from himÐto make him look goodÐand getting nowh ere. Dress in a way to put your subject at ease. If you're going to a corporation. I f you're going to a small business. Dress for success. Making a good appearance begins with being on time." (Editors often tell me that they found my articles very informative. 4. I looked at him and lightly said. then his or her time is important. I was s ent to cover a riding clinic at an out-of-state stable. If you're going to a co wboy barn. If you're interviewing someone important enough to be interviewed. "Come on.know more about this personÐand keep reading." Since he knew he was being obnoxious (but was probably never called on it).) Then I swing back to the person I'm interview ing and ask about his or her goals for the future. . "I didn't know that. Respect it. try jeans. Help me out he re. they learned a lot. give me a break. The owner was very rude and cold. 5. Don't underestimate this step. neat slacks. wear a suit. The idea is to make your s ubject comfortable enough to relate to you and want to help you write a good art icle. Some years ago. If for some reason you're having a really hard time with the interview. I then go into the subject's area of expertise and give enough objective and colorful information so that readers sa y.

The editor had tri ed to write a piece about them but had found them almost impossible to interview . they found it hard to make anyth ing other than the "name. and I asked if I could me et with him alone so that I could write a "good" article. then phoned that person. The tree became the central symbol for the stability of the family. I told him that he sounded as if he h ad so much background to tell me about (which he did). We met again at his ho use. and talked for an hour about the family history an d their achievements in the horse world. From the corner of th e table. one person would meekly add a bit of information. the ow of your subject's speech as opposed to yours in your writing will help keep the rhythm of your article interesting. Though they were willing to sit down with me. This is important in drawing a picture o f your subject. I went home and waite d for a few days. Don't be afraid to ask for more if you are not getting what you need. no one spoke. and the article turned out much better than I'd eve r imagined it would. as well as names and gures and other informa tion that takes too much time to write.Another time. and serial number" types of comments. The recorder is good for capturi ng the exact ways that people speak. When I wal ked into their house. Be prepar ed to take notes to back up what's on the tape. Bring a tape recorder. I was asked to do an article on a whole family. 6. rank. sat under a lovely tree. A third a nd more subtle use of the tape recorder comes in when . Self-conscious in front of each other. Furthermore. but do so tactfully and honestly. to my horror I found the whole family sitting around the t able.

I'm so lucky. You'll be amazed! Once w hen I was interviewing a man who had won at a horse show. but it provided me with material for a secon d article on that stableÐan eight-page piece I wrote the next year for a national magazine.it is shut off. Get to your interview on time. I asked him what he wo uld like me to say. Once. not l uck. 7. The fact was th at he was a nice guy. he said he never got so much positive feedback from any other article written about him. I'm forty years old and doing what I love!" I began the article with that gesture and those words. "I'm so lucky. Ask your subject what he or she thinks is important. He talked about his stable's successful breeding programÐsomet hing few people knew about. and be polite. he waved his arm and said. I've gotten some of my best quotes when the interview appears to be formally over and the people you're interviewing tend to relax and open up. and what he or she would like you to write. leave on tim e. and looking out over his forty-acre farm. Let your subject really talk. In fact. you're not the important . his humility endeared him to the readers. although it was highly successful. Not only did it a dd more information to the article. he walked me t o the door of his stable. and it showedÐparticularly when the interview was "of cially" over. Show your appreciation. Since the article showed that he had attained what he had through hard work and dedication. 8. Remember. when I was interviewing a successful professional horseman.

but they warm up with people they know they can trust. and kids know when so meone dislikes them.person here. Peop le being interviewed do. Were you sincere ly interested in the person you interviewed? Dogs. Put your best foot forward. Send a copy of your published ar ticle with a thank-you note. Look inside yourself. and you can't fail. too. the person you're interviewing is. horses. then look inside. . If you're not getting a su ccessful interview after careful preparation. 9.

.3 billion in sales last year. Washi ngton. funny thought that would make a great T-shirt slogan. representing 7. Although the majority of them do not accept submissions from free lancers.500 greeting card companies. 20005). 1.4 billion greeting cards sold. is very ." IT coul d have been written by you? Have you ever had a brief. Just follow these simple rules.C. (The direct ory is expensive. or perhaps composed a poem that brought tears to th e eyes of a reader? Using one or all of these criteria can help you break into g reeting card writing. either fr om The Writer Magazine or from the Greeting Card Industry Directory. poems. D. and words of wisdom speci cally for the greeting card market. Get addresses of greeting card companies. many are eager for writers who can provide them with fresh i deas. Suite 760. an industry that boasted $6. which publishes the directory. and you'll nd yourself hooked on creating o ne-liners.) The Greeting Card Association (1200 G Street N.W. and I wouldn't advise your buying it unless you have made a fe w sales rst. Always send for guidelines. There are now approximately 1.60 CREATING GREETING CARDS By Wendy Dager HAVE YOU EVER RECEIVED A GREETING CARD THAT WAS SO "YOU.

silly. Are they quirky. but not Cha nukah. For example. etc. funny. You can put the holiday or occasion on the topmost line of t he card. Most companies prefer submissions on 3"x5" cards. for example. for Christmas ideas (usually. some greeting card compan ies have their addresses on the backs of their cards. Brainstorm! Keep pads of paper around the house so you can scribble do wn thoughts while you are doing chores. and r elated industry information they publish. a company accepts seasonal ideas fo r the following year right after the holiday). as follows: . tinsel. presents. Recall situations you've been in or things your friends or relatives have said. and the occasions and holidays for which they need ideas. the style they are looking for (some even give examples of published cards). tree. tapes. reindeer. romantic? Can you tighten them to cre ate a greeting card? 3. the guidelines will tell you the required format for submissions.Ðthen try to think of them in a funny or sentimental scenario. 2. I is for the inside. Make up your own worksheets . or invest in a voice-activated tape reco rder (about $35 at discount stores) to record ideas. some companies may produce cards for Christmas. then call th e company and see if they will provide an address for freelance submissions). write down the many things associ ated with itÐSanta. or the name of their city and state (so a writer can call information and get a phone number.receptive to inquiries and will send a price list of all the books. If a company does accept work from free lancers. This method can be applied to any holiday o r occasion. using the following format: O indicates what's to appear on the outside of the card. In addition.

Check greeting card counters in stores for examples. As a rule . On the back of each card. I recommend purchasing a self-inking stamp with this information (about $15 or less). You can also put a description of the artwork you visualize on the top line. address. and phone number. Some . these types of cards are usually directed at children. maze. to save time. but you must rst clear th is with the editor. Other greeting card companies accept submissio ns on 8 l/2"x11" sheets of paper (indicated in their guidelines). which I us ed right away . do not send fewer than six or more than twenty ideas. unless it is a puzzle. I: He should be coming out of the coma soon. . or game. . put your name. They might als o be willing to consider faxed or E-mailed submissions. Do not send simultaneous submissions. If a company r ejects your ideas. white beard and ies? I: A Santa who never bathe s! Merry Christmas! Girlfriends O: He got me an iron for my birthday. or in parentheses after O: Birthday O: (photo or picture of a gorilla) I: Happy Birthday! You're in the pri mate of your life! There is no need to send a mock-up of the card.Christmas O: What has a red suit. then you can feel free to send them somewhere else.

6. After two months. means that it becomes their property. How much can you expect to be paid? Anywhere from $ 25 to $150 for each idea purchased. C 2. etc. though not unheard of. B2. Christmas can be CI.). The company will send you a contract. Don't forget to make a copy for yourself. you have beaten th e odds. indeed.companies will specify in their guidelines how many ideas (called a "batch") the y will consider at one time. payment arrives thirty d ays or so after publication of the card. so if you submit twenty ideas and sell one. B3. indicating that they would like to purchase your idea and are buying all rights to it. then return i t. Generally. and keep track of what ideas correspond to which code numbers. your idea to sell. 5. Keep co pies of all your submissions and the names of the companies to which you send th em. if you don't know which one they're buying. You must also attest to the fact that it is.or . along with several samples of the nished card. Put a code number on the lower right hand corner of each submission (Birthday ideas can be Bl. Expect to wait at least one month for a response. for a writer to receive writing credit on the back of the card. but.. A company may decide to purchase your idea C2. Read the contract carefully before signing it. with $100 the average for a one. you're in trouble! 4. etc. It is rare. send a polite follow-up letter i nquiring about your submission. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope for th eir reply. Greeting card companies receive hundreds of ideas a year and buy o nly a select few. which of course. sometimes longer.

on acceptance or on p ublication. 8. While most companies do not allow the writer to reta in rights to his work. do not submit the idea elsewhere until the company has made its nal decision. there are a few that do. The companies that gi ve royalties are indeed a minority. and at-fee is the norm. Editors want to accept new ideas. In this case. Payment for a poem is more . This generally means it must pas s a review board before they decide to accept or reject it. after sixty days. it is because an editor simply cannot use it o r may already have something similar. that's . and it is highly unlikely that they will steal you r idea. inquiring about its status. 7. Your contract will tell you if y ou are selling all rights to an idea. for all rights. Editors have reputations to maintain. somewhe re. about $200 on the average. Although not the norm. however. You may submit your idea anywhere you choose (following guidelines. has already come up with your idea and has beaten you to the punch. If your work is rejected. of c ourse). you are then free to submit it to another company. I'm oft en asked. if it is rejected a number of times. consi der discarding or reworking it. royalties are sometimes negotiable (a compa ny's guidelines will indicate if they pay royalties)." Maybe someone. Sometimes they will hold an idea up to six months. you may sen d a polite letter with SASE. If they decide not to p urchase your idea. Some companies will indicate that they wish to hold an idea for further consideration. Because greeting card companies are as individual as the people who run them. "How can I keep a company from stealing' my ideas?" You must keep in m ind the old saying. for all rights. "There is nothing new under the sun.two-line gag. payment varies.

have fun. Keep in mind that "brevity is the soul of wit. · Keep in mind that women purchase 85% to 90% of all gr eeting cards. Some of the larger greeting card companies. like Hallmark (and some of the small ones just starting out). magnets. juvenile." It's a tiny space you 're trying to ll. · Don't take rejections personally. but pack them with wit. cute. Now she regularly faxes me cartoon cards that need inside gags. Mail or fax is preferable. and she remembered me the next time she needed a one-li ner for a card. do not accept work from free lancers and use only staff writers. silly. key chains. buttons. and "soft-line" items like T-shirts a nd aprons. contem porary. · There's always a market for humor of various types: risqué. · Always be polite when you write to an editor.their job. Keep sending to other companies for guidelines and you may nd . or laugh-out-loud. Some other tips: · Always enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope wit h the proper postage with any correspondence to a greeting card company. especiall y if editors offer encouragement and tell you to keep at it. · Diversify. Relax. so conserve your words. and ne-tune your rejected work. studio. I once sent a thank-you note to an editor for purchasing an idea. Some companies may want punchy one-liners or thoughtful poetry for pl aques. · Do not telephone an editor. mugs. Do not l et this deter you.

.one that likes your writing style.

Where can you nd people in teresting enough to pro le in local newspapers and regional . char acters like this conservative talk-show host has been one of my more regular sou rces of bylines and income. What skills do you need to start seeing your byline on pro les? Her e are the steps I follow: Find an interesting subject. Interviewing locally famous. lifted one slat of the mini-blind. "Can't be too careful a fter all those death threats. what else does your magazine want to know about me?" All articles on interviewing stress how to put the person you 're interviewing at ease. but none of them told me how to put myself at ease as I jumped every time I heard the slightest noise outside for the rest of that int erview." he said. "Now.61 PROFILES TAKE COURAGE By Bob Schultz THE NERVOUS MAN IN THE RUMPLED SPORTS COAT PICKED UP THE handgun from its place near the microphone. and watch ed as the slow-moving car disappeared around the corner. The skills I have acquired interviewing a smalltown mayor or the local handwriting analyst are the same skills I've used to intervie w celebrities. Some pro les take courage. or notorious.

Before you ask your rst question. diminishing t he reader's respect and interest in the person. but you do ha ve to respect him or her enough to write an article that is accurate and fair. Do your research. I f you look down on your subject. If he's a radio talk show host. with som e great photo possibilities. who turns out "new" roadsters or brings that old Chevy back to life so it looks as good. or about the career or activity that mak es the person noteworthy. tape a few shows and l isten to them to become familiar with his favorite themes and strongest opinions . that store with all the old costumes might make an interesting story. Respect your subject. read a book or two along with book reviews of his work to see wha t the critics think of his work.magazines? Everywhere! Look in the phone book for unusual businesses. If she's a handwriting expert. pick up a book on handwriting analysis or on cr ime investigation to get enough background to ask relevant questions. An arresting of cer in another c ase turned out to be a singer in a rock and roll band comprised of uniformed of ce rs. than it d id when it rolled off the assembly line. A handwriting analyst in a local fraud trial turned ou t to be an expert on Elvis Presley's handwriting. You don't have to fall in love with or agree with everything the person you're pro ling says. . If he's a famous author. If Halloween or New Year's is coming up . you need to know somethin g about the person you're interviewing. and you ma y nd people like the owner of the Used Car Factory. your arrogance will show through. Follow local news articles and watch for those litt le human interest pieces. or better.

Wonder what happens next? I hope so. You need a lead paragraph that will ho ok readers and keep them reading till the end. perhaps she just stepped out of a shower. Use anecdotes and interesting quotes. I don't ever use those parki ng places. so you have to work to draw them into the article. I noticed that she didn't have any "handicap" plates on her van.You don't have to believe in psychics to write good articles on a local psychic. Here is an opening pa ragraph to an article I wrote on a local boudoir photographer: Considering what she isn't wearing. start writing. they're probably already skipping on to the next article." she said. Hook your reader. a huge serpent slithers up from behind her. Once you hav e the background you need. They may never have heard of the person you're pro ling and never thought about doing whatever it is that the perso n does. Your job is to get to know the person well enough to illuminate the qualities t hat will make this person interesting to readers. just telling readers your opin ion probably won't carry much weight. "Those are for people who'd have breathing trouble or othe r . If you think the person y ou're interviewing should be in the hall of fame. she takes a bite from a juicy red apple. You are much more likely to be convincing by describing an activity or a comment that illustrates your opinion. If you don't entice readers with your openi ng paragraph. Slowly. so the h ook is critical. "Oh. As I inter viewed a woman with multiple sclerosis con ned to a wheelchair. Re clining in peace and apparent solitude.

When readers had a chance to read his complete statement. The magazine or newspaper generally looks for a positive article about someo ne from an industry that advertises in the publication. PS. But the note he seemed to treasure most was from someone much less famousÐhis daughter: "Mom.problems if they couldn't park close. Be positive. I acknowledged that the coach felt that hi s being labeled a blatant sexist was due to some out-of-context quotes. but don't "puff. as do anecdotes that reveal the humanity in larger-than-life people. the coach came across as "blatantly sexist. author. or a famous person. of cours e. I don't know what time I'll be home. The trick is to show the person's good qualities . But. During an interview with Ray Bradbury. In an article about a basketball coach. she sai d it better than I could. not just Ray Bradbury. Fields that he coll ected when he was a youngster in Los Angeles." but he did it in his own words! Surprise the reader." That simple quote brought home the fact that my pro le was about Ray Bradbury. I'm not disabled." T hose too-good-to-be-true articles about celebrities are often called "puff" piec es." And. One of the cats threw up on the stairs. she isn't disabled. because she refuses to see herself that way. I found his original statement and quoted it in its entirety. Letting a person you disagree with speak his or her mi nd will give readers information that will help them form their own opinions. fat her and husband. Remember. Anecdotes and quotes that surp rise readers usually keep them reading for more. he showed me the autographs of people like Jean Harlow and W.C. but I will be safe.

the habits. "I wanted you to know that my ne xt book will be called Tooth . and then recycle revised versions of those people into your short stories and novels. An illu stration of giving your pro le a big nish comes from an article I wrote on Robin Co ok. Mr. Keep track of the comments. Create a series sleuth out of that handwriting analyst. Change that conservative talk show host into a liberal talk show hostess.without making your pro le sound like a nomination for sainthood. She thinks I 'm a piano player in a whorehouse. they give you experience conducting interviews. I had ended a review of one of Mr.. Cook's medical thrillers by mentioning th at I was going in to have two wisdom teeth taken out the next day and I was grat eful that Cook hadn't written any books to scare me out of that surgery. a thriller about wisdom teeth!" Fictionalize it . saying. There are many good reasons to write pro les. Cook wrote to me. connect you with loc al experts you can call on later. Second in importance only to the hook that draws readers in. After r eading my review. To make it clear that a local TV news anchorman had not let his fame go to his head. They get you away from your solitary word processor and out interacting with interest ing people.. Take the real-life characters you've interviewed and pro led and mix and match t hem to create characters for your ction. is an e nding that will keep them thinking about your article after they nish it. and provide you with bits and pieces for creat ing memorable ctional characters . he closed h is interview with these words: "Don't tell my mother I'm a newsman." I used that quote as the ending of my pro le. Wrap it up. the eccentricities of the fasc inating people you pro le.

. There are plenty of interesting people out th ere just waiting to tell their stories.that are deeply rooted in reality. They might as well tell them to you. Jus t ask them to check their guns at the door.

Answering ques tions is what this type of material is all about. There are basically two types of audiences: the lay a nd the professional. Naturally. Writing for the lay audienc e The usual purpose of lay-oriented medical writing is to inform. EVERYONE wants to read about it. a drug reference book. solid articles on medical topics. The two cardinal rules for writing m edical articles are the same for any type of writing: Know your audience and kno w your target publication.62 WRITING MEDICAL ARTICLES By Jan Roadarmel Ledford GOOD NEWS. To . and a basic text on medicine. It's time-honored. it helps to be working in the medical eld in some capacity. an illustrated medical dictionary. But any writer who is interested enough to do careful research can turn out good. Your be st investments are a medical terminology class at your local vocational-technica l school. such as The Merck Manual. It's medicine! The surprising news is that you don't need a medical d egree to write many types of medical articles. are vast. however. WRITERS! THERE'S A TOPIC THAT'S ALWAYS HOT. The markets. yet on the leading edge of t echnology.

You know the writer' s admonition to "write what you know. an exposé on the side effects of a speci c treatment would dwell mo re heavily on the "expected outcome. While you do not need me dical credentials to write for the average reader. ask yourself: What does the patient (reader) need/want t o know? What do care-givers want the patient to know? What action do we want the reader to take? With answers in hand. you might consider writin g as a coauthor or ghost author for a medical professional. "How do you know?" Associating your work with someone who has medical credentia ls will answer that question. In any case. Depending on your slant. then quoting. you may want to concentrate more on one area than anoth er." As always. you may need someone with med ical credentials to add credibility to your article. For example. (F or example. say "gum" instead of "gingiva.organize your thinking. . and the expected outcome . Or. a person in the eld. This outline will t almost any medical condition that you care to write about. treatment options. you can formulate an outline that include s an introduction (scenarios and statistics work very well here). This might be accomplished by interviewing.") An anatomical drawing is often help ful in introducing terms and in orienting your readers. If you are approaching a newspaper. you will use a sim pler vocabulary and shorter sentences than when writing for a trade journal. cause(s) of the problem. you must write on a level appro priate for your audience. be sure to de ne medical terms or replace them with common lay terms. a de nition of t he problem." Your reader (and editor) is going to ask.

m echanics. (Wouldn't your readers be fa scinated to learn about a procedure in which a surgeon used a piece of donor scl era [white of the eye] as a framework on which to rebuild someone's external ear ?) Your local newspaper and health magazines are not the only markets for your l ay-oriented medical articles.) Depending on your topic. Scienti c magaz ines are interested in new technology. (Note: this might be a one-time sale or a work-for-hire situation. for example. widening your market to newsletters. if possible) who has a stake in the research to add human drama and interest to your story. Who would be interested? Any profession al whose work involves the wrist motion that aggravates the problem: athletes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology. Many generalinterest magazines have a health-relat ed column or use medical information. Parenting magazines are a good market beca use parents are extremely concerned about their children's health. There are support groups or foundations f or many diseases. Ask yo urself: . Be sure to get your numbers right. typists. Find some one (well-known.If you understand medical terms and statistics. has patient education b rochures on all types of eye disorders. Case studies in such journals make for interesting reading as well. you can search through medical j ournals and "translate" technical research into lay-oriented articles. you could turn your a rticle into a brochure and offer the copy to physicians or interested organizati ons. Suppose you've written a great article on carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). you may want to market the piece to appropriate non-medical trade journals. Or. The same goes for any other type of medical condition.

A p hysician's assistant has at least a four-year college degree. A nd don't limit your market or your slant. But it is true that the higher the le vel of medical professional that you're writing for. Writ ing for medical professionals The same approach can be used to write for profess ional medical trade journals. consider the education level of your audience. and adjust your language and terminology appropriately. or for an association with someone who has the cr edentials. monetary reimbursements are not usually offered. Writing f or children is not easier: It's different. may offer regular pay or an honorarium. You must do meticu lous research when writing for medical professionals. your payment will probably co me in the form of copies. the greater your need for m edical credentials personally. hence. If you say something wrong. but by changing your slant a little. For examp le.Who is affected by this condition? Every answer identi es a potential market. Before you start. However. a medical assistant may be trained at a vocational school or on the job. however. they'll know it! Suggesting that you star t out by writing for medical professionals with "lower" levels of credentials is like suggesting that a ction writer start out by writing for children. You might sell your article on carpal tunnel syndrome to RDH (a trade journal for dental hygienists). you might . The trades. It is considered an obligation and a privilege to shar e medical knowledge with your colleagues. This "associate" may agree to pay you for your work if his or her nam e is given as the primary or sole author. regardless of their educat ion level.

the article came back. Not only was the physici an happy. y ou'll receive one of a writer's greatest rewards: editorial feedback. If you move into writing for regular medical journals. for that matte r. PMA has a feature called "The Two-Minute Cl inic" and might be interested in an informational article that would help reader s learn more about CTS. Additional research sources Besides using a good medical dictionary and gener al medical text as part of your research. which I again utilized. I told him from the outset that because the technique was controversial. so I wrote the piece and then made a list of medical journals that published related surgical cases. Or in most types of non ction writing. Not only can you . But with it came the reviewer's comments and sugges tions I used to make the article stronger and sent it to journal Number Two. In journal s that select articles by peer review. This type of feedback doesn't often come in ction writing. I sent the article to the rst (and most prestigious) journal on the list. the reviewer is required to give the reas on(s) that an article is rejected. Journal Number Three published the twiceimproved piece. but I had learned and grown as a writer. What a wonderful way to learn the craft! A ph ysician-client hired me to write an article on a unique surgical procedure he'd used. As I fe ared. w e might have trouble placing it. don't overlook your local physicians a nd other health care workers as references. Thi s journal also rejected it. but also sent comments. He wanted me to go ahead. . .place the piece in the Professional Medical Assistant (a journal of the American Association of Medical Assistants).

. you can search the NLM co mputer banks for journal articles related to your topic. Me dical writing is challenging and extremely rewarding. contact the American Medical Writers Associatio n. The National Library of Medicine offers on-line information via MedLine. anyway. but they can also supply a wealth of information. The reference list at the end of any medical article may supply further resources to check into. Virtually eve ry practice in all branches of medicine uses handouts to inform their patients. These. yo u usually won't want to use a reference over ve years old. Earlier I mentioned organizations that deal exclusively with certain diseases an d conditions. you can ask them for patient education brochures. but you also may be able to use their extensive personal librari es. The program can retrieve the abstracts for you. Often the abstract alone gives enough information for a lay-oriented article. Using appropriate key words. Bethesda. 9650 Rockville Pike. Or. Check your local library's reference shelf for the Encyclopedia of Organizations published by Gale Research. But in medical writing. may be able to put you in touch with individuals who are experts on the condition or who actual ly have the disorder themselves. You must specify if you want to search back prior to the last several years. For more informati on about this branch of writing.interview them. In addition. MD 20814-3998. to encourage. Not only are these organizations good potential markets. unless you are doing a historical piece. Some of these organizations run local support groups. and to offer hope through your words. in turn. Inc. you can order the full article on-line or through your library. You have the potential to reassure.

whose background you'd like to explore? If you nd yourself wondering what kin d of childhood this person had. you must choose your subject. Is there a p articular historical gure or a contemporary celebrity whose life or work you admi re. You must understand the difference between biography and me moir. Next. there's nothing worse than spending m onths or years writing about somebody you have no deep interest in. YOU MUST FIRST BE INTRIGUED BY OTHER people's lives. then it's a good bet other people have the same curiosity. rst. but rather a welcome revelation. and know the right approach to take to your biography depending on the sub ject and related factors. You must have a good understanding of human nature and a willing ness to ask the tough questions. you m ust decide if you are truly the right person to write . both of yourself. Of course. An import ant basic factor is your enthusiasm level. your subject. what kind of relationship he or she had with his spouses and children and coworkers. Then nding the answers to your qu estions will not be a chore to you.63 BECOMING A BIOGRAPHER By William Schoell To BECOME A BIOGRAPHER. and the people who knew him or her. what went on behind the scenes.

an actor. or conduc tor. your personal recollectio ns of the subject. Tennessee Williams by an author who may or may not ever have met him. it might be better to try rst to sell a magazine article rather than a book. T hen again. (Keep in mind that if by any chance you knew your subject per sonally or had some kind of relationship with him or her. say.this biography. the next step is to think seriously about the subject's marketability. A genuine interest in the subject and writing talent are. it would be helpful to have written a few lm reviews or lmmaker pro les. if you want to write about a lmmaker.) You do not need to know or have known your subject personally to write a good b iography about him. If you've written an in terview or an article about one of today's celebrities. or a director. the bestseller lists in r ecent years have featured biographies of women who were feminists long . prerequisites and the ones that matter the most. then some background in music will indicate you will have a better understa nding than the rest of us as to what drives this person. If the person is very obscur e. of. This is the difference between a straight biography. However. singer. If your subject is a composer. of cou rse. But today's publishers als o like their authors to have some background related to the subject's. perhaps this person's obscurity is entirely undeserved. For instance. When you've decided on your subject. even if only for a local paper. or even a vague connection. Perhaps there is something "special" about this person that gives him or her historical valid ity and therefore contemporary interest. you'll be writing what might more appropriately be called a memoir. that is. it will certainly help s ell a biography of him. and a boo k on the playwright written by his brother or a close friend who knew him well.

a biography of an obscure person who did not do anything very signi cant. one less conce rned with the bottom line. however. that there's plenty of room to develop things yo u only mentioned in the article. publishers whose books are so ld in bookstoresÐare understandably concerned with sales potential. If you're uncertain how publishers might react to your subject. she does no t t neatly into any modern trends. or left some kind of unique achievement behind. E ven a small press. t est the waters by querying a magazine or two.before the word was in fashion. and frankly. composed. made a lm. There have also been successful biogra phies published about people whose sole claim to fame is the people they knew an d worked with. Query a smaller rm or publisher. The person was not ahead of his time in any particular way. will not get past the sales representative who sits in at all editorial board meetings. Also remember that most small rms pay tiny advan ces if they . written. Your proposal should make clear that there's muc h more to say about the person. A published piece enclosed with yo ur book proposal will show the editor that others thought your subject would be interesting to a mass audience. the re probably isn't a book in him. but if he's never painted. will want subjects who have done something signi cant: Your Uncle Joe may have been a marvelous character. and African-Americans whose contribution to soci ety had never before been fully explored. but there really is no special "hook" on which to hang your p roposal. Suppose you have a strong interest in chronicli ng someone's life. Trade publishersÐthat is.

frenetic time period. However. When it comes to modern-day celebrities. you might. books that reveal. there is one basic rule of thumb. these will be set by the subject's achievem ent: A book on major gures like Beethoven. rather than rehash. whose life playe d out across an international arena in a fascinating. whose accomplishments and fame are rec ent and don't have a large body of work. Largely. publishers want a fresh approach to major gures. or the Spice Girls. After choosing your subject. If your subject is not inter nationally famous.pay any at all. profound approach. because Monroe was in volved with world-famous men (and because recent biographers have created such a "mystery" about her death). have to move on to a more com mercial subject. so if you need to take a leave of absence from your job to do re search for your biography. regrettably. you have to decide on the t one and style of your book. Are peopl e talking about him or her? There's little point in trying to market to a major trade publisher a biography of a lm or rock star who hasn't worked or been in the public eye (or gossip columns) in yearsÐ unless he or she has reached cult status like Elvis or Marilyn. An artist like Laurence Olivier would require an in-depth approach. Leonardo DiCaprio. and whose fans are primarily teenagers. some biographers feel an intense approach to her li fe is . you must explain why he is important and what his contributio n was. a movie star like Marilyn Monroe with her much na rrower range should get a much lighter treatment. and especially. As for historical subjects. books on Brad Pit t. why people might be interested in reading about him. On the other hand. should be comparatively light and breezy. will require a very serious. or Winston Churchill.

Your proposal should consist of an introduction mentioning the h ighlights of your subject's life. notes and diariesÐthat relat e to your subject. remember that there may be collections in special libraries or museumsÐ personal letters. and any fr esh theories you have regarding his life and work. the things that make him memorable. Sometimes it's not the subject but the events she was embroiled in and the people she knew that determine what kind of book yo u should write. As you read. make a list of every living person (or their offspring) who might have . Biographers often make conject ures about their subjects that may or may not be supported by facts. These do not necessarily have to be the rst two chapters but could be a part of your subje ct's life or career that particularly intrigues you and information that you hav e special access to and develop in later chapters. the publisher or agent will probably want to see a sample chapter or two. private papers. If you've never published a book before. make a note of publis hed "facts" that bother you or seem inconsistent. The rest should be a chapterby-chapter outline showing that you have knowledge of his life and times and can effectively organize the material.the only way to go. By this time. you should have read everything you could nd on your subject. When you've exhausted the books and les in the library. Look at your subject with an objective eye and then decide o n the appropriate tone and style. Make a list of questions about your subject that you'll want to answer in your book. Is thi s person's public reputation (good or bad) deserved? What areas of her life and work have never been adequately explored? In addition to books and magazines ava ilable in the public library.

. Jr. Famous people can often be contacted through professional organizations like Actors Equity. the Screen Actors Guild. If the person you're writing about has already been the subject of several biographies. to do a book on the entire Rat PackÐSinatra. who may have reasons for putting a "spin" on their memories. but from ordinary people who have crossed paths with your subject in interesting ways. Joey BishopÐinstead. or one good recent one. Each person you speak to may be able to provid e the names and phone numbers of others who knew or have some information about your subject. I d ecided to target mine for the young adult market. To organize your material better. as my coauthor and I did when we foun d that several Frank Sinatra books were coming out at once. Sammy Davis. I was able to analyze his lms and acting style more intensely than would have been possible in a regular biography. Pet er Lawford. When several Steven Spielberg adult b iographies were published just as I was putting together a proposal for one. I decided to have a biographical section up front in my book and then to concentrate on t he actor's careerÐ one chapter for each lmÐwith a nal section on his stage work. the Auth ors Guild. We decided. When I did my book on A1 Pacino. therefor e. you might want to consider a diffe rent. I found that a pretty comprehensive biography about him had already been published.known or worked with your subject. non-chronological approach. In th is way. and Mystery Writers of America. Sometimes it's a good idea to expand upon or refocus your original plan. others may be in the phone book or ca n be reached via their employers or universities. one for each . use le folders. Dean Martin. Sometimes the best anecdotes a nd information come not from other big names.

that will include. you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that as a biographer you've helped illuminate the lives and careers of people that the world should know more about.chapter. transcripts . videos. . Give yourself at least several months to complete your research (although you can work on certain chapters as you gather the material). phone numbers. Whether your book winds up in the bookstore or on the library shelf. tear sheets. audio c assettesÐthat you will need to refer to when you do the writing. and a list of other material too large to t in the folder Ðbooks. Keep in mind that busy people Ðwhether it's the director of a Rat Pack movie or a college professor who wrote a thesis on a classical composerÐcan take months to answer your letters or return your phone ca lls. photocopies.

etc. or the large number of general magazines that publish articles on food. country. Parker. I wanted a break from what I usually write ab out. a la Katherine Hall Page and Robert B. I counted three publications de voted just to Italian cuisine. For mysel f.64 FROM FOOD PROCESSOR TO WORD PROCESSOR By Susan Kelly I BEGAN WRITING ABOUT FOOD FOR TWO REASONS: FIRST. which is crime. Newspapers. light. (Let me note here that many mystery authors manage to combi ne corpses and cuisine. heart-safe. On my local grocery store's magazine rack. I'd just as soon keep the two separate. big city or small town.) Most newspapers w ill consider . (The larger papers devote whole sections to the subject. I couldn't begin to count the other special inter est journals: vegetarian. I was staggered by the number of jour nals devoted to the culinary arts. wh ich is by no means either huge or comprehensive. second.) The rst thing I noticed when I began researching the eld is the enormous editorial appetite ( rst awful but irresistible pun) for articles about food and cooking. daily or weekly. ethnic.. I LIKE TO cook as much as I like to eat. print vast numbers of articles on food and cook ing.

or linguin e with clam sauce. I can't think of a greater human interest subject than food. After you've established yourself. but may be extensive enough to inspire you to cr eate your own: .free-lance work. But for the time being. 1. Rates vary widely. Go with your particular interest and expertise. if you have the world' s best recipe for ge lte sh. or pot roast. or caldo verde. This is especially important for the beginner. or if your grandmother was the best German cook in recent his tory. and many others to come. The market for articles on food is a thriving one." There are thous ands of books on this subject already. or cassoulet.000-word piece on "Italian Food. The ingredients are given in order of assembly. And why not? Aside from sex and death. one that I have checked in my test kitchen. but feel free to rearrange them or make substitutionsÐas any in novative cook would do. It's no good trying to dash off a 2. 2. Editors need art icles with narrowly focused topics and with fresh slants. Decide the focus of your piece and th en pare (second awful but irresistible pun) that down as much as possible. the world wants to hear about it. You may not get paid muchÐor indeed anything b y a very small publicationÐbut you will have garnered a byline and a clip to add t o your store of credentials. you can branch out into other areas. it helps to think in terms of categories. To provide focus as we ll as originality. Here is my own personal recipe for writing about food and co oking. The following lists are by no means all-inclusive.

cocktail party Meal Type: breakfast. A vegetarian Th ai summer luncheon. Asian New Year. non-dairy Food Types: appetizers. anniversary. you don't have to consider all those categories. Provençal. If your i nterestÐor expertiseÐis Jewish cooking. since the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner involves twelve sh dishes. New Engla nd. French. summer. winter (or by month) Occasional: wedding. the possibilities are endless. fall. To illustrate my point: If you want to write about It alian cooking. Cantonese H oliday: Thanksgiving. graduation. There you have ethnicity. Italian. Mexican. Passover. holiday. Polish. Once your imagination starts rolling. christening. main courses. Christmas. dinner. low sugar or sugar-free. Kwa nzaa Seasonal: spring. brunch. meatless. A choice of three is a good start. desserts Clearly.Ethnic: Thai. think of writing an article about a seder di nner. Southwestern. Chinese Provincial/Regional: Southern. Easter. lunch. Paci c Rim. sal ads. Caribbean. Creole. re ne the t opic further by considering a fourth category. Iberian. late supper Health/Vegetarian: Low fat/low cholesterol. Tuscan. a Scottish brunch for New Year's Day. Jewish. bridal or baby shower. a Provençal birthday pic nic for . b irthday. Mediterranean. tea. bar mitzvah/ bas mitzvah. low salt. Chanukah. Portugues e. and meal type established for you. why not do a piece on an Italian Christmas Eve dinner? Or. soups. Swedish. Irish. that of the food group. African.

Think of the Korean produce markets of New York. Articles about food and cooking bene t from background. If you are writing about champagne. 5. 3.two. Be ar in mind that food and travel overlap. O r the chowder specialists of coastal Maine. you might want t o mention that the dish was invented to celebrate Napoleon's victory over Austri a in the Italian town of Marengo. and whatever other instruction and guidance you can offer. These can be personalÐ how you b ecame interested in cooking such and such. Write articles about food and cooking. Or that puttanesca sauce is alleged to have been the inven tion of Italian prostitutes seeking to whip up a quick snack for their clients. If you have no personal anecdotes. one should never drink) was formed from the mold of the breast of the mistres s of the French king. 4. menu plans. rst time you cooked it. Or the Italian immigrant shermen of S an Francisco. Tips about table decoration are always welcome. Such stories add real spice (third awful but irresistible pun) to a piece. you might recount the legend that the bowl-shaped champagne glass (from which. for instance. who invented cioppino. Readers enjoy local color . Your articles should offer helpful practical information beyond lists of ingredients and cooking times. your guests' r eactions to it. include anecdotes. incidentall y. In ad dition to giving instructions. a low-fat Mexican dinner. historical and cultural ones will do ne. And the Polish sausagemakers of the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts. not rec ipe les. Editors and their readers want serving suggestio ns. as are suggestions about wine appropr iate to the food. If you are writing about veal Marengo.

so you can refer to it while you write. Get the menu. If you are writing about a professional chef. I suppose everyone's heard the story about the published recipe that ca lled for a can of condensed milk to be placed in a crockpot along with the rest of the ingredients. This means going beyond accumulating the basic biographical and c areer data. be sure to check out all those as well. didn't.along with a recipe. some readers. The results of that omission were . and many times it is. Don't take someone else's word. Perform your own taste-test. Make sure the instructions you give your readers are a s clear and exact as possible. insist on) written copies of any recipes the chef is willing to share. Yo u can't predict with assurance. common sense would dictate that one would pour the cond ensed milk from the can into the crockpot. whether the chef is an i ndependent caterer or the employee/owner of a restaurant. 6. Now. Request (no. Always get exact quantities of ingredients tor recipesÐand then test them yourself. . Fat-free un avored yogurt seems like a perfectly a cceptable replacement for sour cream. Talk to the chef's colleagues and competitors. not expl icitly told to do so. In other casesÐugh. explosive! If you offer recipes with variations or substitutions for ingredients. be sure to intervi ew him or her. Get permission to watch the chef in action. . Be precise even though anyone who cooks knows tha t exact times and measurements are absolutely essential only in certain kinds of baking. Ask for the chef's o wn personal serving and wine suggestions. 7. . Unfortunately.

a resident of an upscal e city neighborhood or af uent suburb.000 a year will not be interested in an article on the manifold culinary uses of Fritos. This is of special impor tance to a free lancer. bear in mind a magazine's audienc e. 9. Publishers plan each iss ue well in advance for a number of reasonsÐthe tightness of printing schedules is the foremost.A real bonus of a thorough interview is that you will probably be invited to sam ple the chef's art. or social orientation. A year from that February is more like it. Time your article appropriately. 8. and a professional earning in excess of $15 0. No publisher is willing to incur the expense involved to disrupt t he deadlines except for a drastic reason. Also. Do not worry if the publication you've targeted for your article on " low-fat pasta salads for an informal June wedding" published a . Some magazines look for pieces with a light or humorous touch. almost scienti c. Allow a lead time of a month for a small newspaper. A journal whose typical reader is a college graduate. and up to a year for magazines. This will give you a clear sense of what particular p ublications seek and the tone and style in which your article should be written. cu ltural. Don't submit an article on fourteenthcentury English Valentine's Day treats to a magazine in December and expect to s ee it in print in February. Others demand a more serious. regional. Still others want a de nite historical. two months for bigger ones. approach. Finall y. read at least a year's back issues of the magazine you're interested in query ing about an article idea.

such ideas are always recycled.similar-sounding piece ve years ago. And in any case. because it's yours. will be different . . Yours.

Zedric IF YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO WRITE FOR MILITARY MAGAZINES. friend or neighbor who served in th e military. turn to the sections on World War I. BUT never considered yourself an expert. The kind old man next do or might have been a celebrated war hero or a Medal of Honor winner! Your grandf ather. father.S. It's easier than you think.65 MILITARY MONEY: GASHING IN ON OLD WAR STORIES By Lance Q. World War II. History 101. and often the best material can be found in an old history book or even right next door. After you've blown the dust off U . or military events . There are plenty of topics bivouacked out there. Korea. relaxÐyou don't have to be an expert or even a veteran to break into this well-paying free-lance market. or participated in a historic even t. and you will nd accounts of important battles. and even the more recent military ventures. Millions of stories are waiting to be told. eaten Christmas dinner with General Patton. aunt or uncle might have served aboard a ship with Admiral Nimitz . And they all have an old war story to tell. All you have t o do is ask. commanders. Everyone knows a family member. the V ietnam War.

Smaller publications.that. appeal to enthus iasts of a particular war. Army Magazine appeals to Army veterans. active and former units. Special Operations. military personalities and no stalgia. tacti cs. others focus on respect ive branches of the military. and Air Force Times to the Air Force. Research military publications. weaponry. with a little research and a fresh angle. They focus on events involving large mili tary units. Behind The Lines: The Journal of U. Magazines like Civil War Illustrated. on the other hand. World War II and Vietnam. Editors are always on the lookout for articles offeri ng new insights on prominent military leaders and for anniversary articles comme morating notable battles and events. The military market ranges from gene ral to speci c. such as the Green Berets and Navy SEALs. Navy eets. and be come familiar with their readership. and Air Force Squadrons . For example. cater to more de ned audiences. They publish various articles on training. veterans legislation. But most publications prefer articles on ma jor anniversaries. A sound battle plan will prevent having you r article become a rejection slip casualty. Publications with such large readerships prefer articles that appeal to as many of their readers as possible. among others. will provide ideal material for an interesting article.S. such as Army and Marine divisions. VFW Magazine (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and American Legion Magazine have readerships of more than two million veterans from every br anch of the military. such as the fth. Recon the market. . All Hands and Navy Times to the Navy. specializes in articles on el ite U. units. tenth.S.

year-long siege against two di visions of crack troops armed with automatic ri es! So. articles.twenty. Since most magazines require at least four months' lead time. documents. War recollections can be a professional mine eld. ftieth. may. become a bloody. sending care packages to a fami ly member overseas. which occurred in J une 1953. War is often the most . Here are a couple of tips t o remember when interviewing a war veteran for an article: Never write a militar y article based solely on a personal recollection. war stories te nd to be exaggerated and important details omitted. send your query or article to the editor by February 2003. Anything to do with the home front is also desirable." the possibilities are endle ss. or collecting "sweetheart pins. It will save time and effort to consu lt a calendar. Read past issues and look for a theme. dates. veterans often "embellish" their experiences and recollections. and write an article. locations. Whether intentional or not. all ow ample time to query. As years pass. If you're writing a 50th -anniversary article on the armistice during the Korean War. Wheth er it's an article on industrial war production. But be care ful. and one-hundredth. more than fty years later. and for the name of anyone who could "help verify" the account.fth. Ask the veteran yo u're interviewing for speci c times. books. What might have been a ve-minute skirmish with a squad of enemy troops armed with pistols in 1944 . research. But military publications aren't limited to anniversary themes. Use tact when i nterviewing a veteran. beware.

Ease into t he interview. The National Archives at Suitland. For e xample. is an outstanding repository for unit histories and contains the pe rsonal papers of some of the country's most outstanding military gures. ask an open question. such as "tell me what you were doing before you le ft for military service. Don't begin an interview with "how many people did you kill?" or "tell me wha t it's like to kill somebody. also have extensive unit histories and ra re documents. ask speci c questions. government institutions are the best source. . these usually provide a phone number to call for informatio n. P ennsylvania. don't give up. D. Explain that you are researching an article on their unit. and allow the person time to relax and learn more about you.traumatic event in a person's life." As your subjects relax. and chances are a membership roster will be in the mail. Annapolis. but can't nd anyone who served in it. The United States Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks. Service a cademy libraries at West Point. But steer clear of potentially sensitive questions until a solid rapport is established. and Colorado Springs. But call rst and obtain clearance. If you want to research a speci c military u nit. Maryland. Another approach is to consult reunion announcements listed in military magazines. Always put the veteran's feelings rst. along with mili tary post libraries across the nation. When you need detailed accounts of a part icular unit.C. contains enough information for the most ambitious milita ry article." Insensitivity will guarantee failure. Most units have a veter ans' association and are listed with the Of ce of the Chief of Military History in Washington. Admittance is not guaranteed. and it can be an ongoing source of great pai n.

Coast Guard photographs are available through the Commandant at Coas t Guard Headquarters. a rare one-of-a-kind photo might turn a reluctant would-be editor into an eager. Maryland. Here ar e a few more helpful tips: 1. The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has Air Force photographs pri or to 1954. The Stil l Photo Branch of the National Archives in College Park. Navy. The photos might cost more. You then select a commercial contractor from a list to produce the photographs. Other go vernment sources in the Washington. and Marine Corps photographs from 1954 to the presen t.Good photographs can sell an article. It wi ll research its photo les and provide a partial listing on three topics. Air Force. In many cases. If time is short. Military photo catalogues are available from a number of private supplier s. consult the ad sections of military maga zines. Most veterans have a few snapshots and will eagerly show them or l end them to you to be copied. it's time to write. After concluding your research and obtaining photographs. military photographs are ea sy to obtain.C.. D. but they will arrive much faster than if they wer e ordered from Uncle Sam. The military audience i s . area maintain extensive photo les and o ffer similar services. is one. all-too-happy-to-write-you-a-check edi tor! Photographs can also be purchased from several government sources. Write tight and factually. The Department of Defense Still Media Records Center prov ides Army. With luck. And an 8 x 10 B&W photo may sell a $500 article.

Salute! . Use quotes from participants when possible. recount the m onumental invasion of Normandy. Patriotism sells. especially with readers of military magazines. Whether you write about an elite unit ghtin g its way out from behind enemy lines against insurmountable odds. honor and country.knowledgeable and will not be won over with owery prose or uffy writing. 3. 2. if you do your homework and follow a few simple rules. Put the reader in a muddy foxhole alongside a bedraggled infantryman. They appr eciate facts and hate ller. Put him or her in the cockpit of a bullet-ridden F-14 screaming toward a Soviet MIG at mach 1 wit h guns blazing! Let the reader take part in the action. you shou ld be well on your way to breaking into this lucrative market. Extol duty. Don't be afraid to wave the ag responsibly. or retell the sad story of a soldier's lonelines s far from home. Most readers are veterans and know how to cut through fat to get to the point.

and target the right market. such as the death of a child.66 WHEN YOU WRITE A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ARTICLE By Judy Bodmer SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED TO YOU AND YOU WANT TO WRITE ABOUT it. probably won't sell until t he writer understands what he or she learned while going through the experience. A couple of angles one could use are: 1) how to cope with the death of a child or 2) how to help a . or have come to a place in their lives at wh ich they want to pass on what they've learned to another generation and would li ke to write about their experiences. Doe s that mean it's marketable? Not necessarily. had a child die. Writing about a tragic event. Many people who take my creative w riting class do so because they've been through a divorce. Some of them get published. expe rienced a life-threatening illness. use all four of the bas ic elements of a personal experience article. T hose who do have learned the basic principles of writing a marketable personal e xperience article: They slant their idea to a speci c audience. choose one of the three types of articles that will tell their story best. Others don't. The s ecret to getting a personal experience article published is to use your experien ce as a stepping-stone to help others who have faced similar situations.

and action . It can be as simple as baking cookies with your grandchildren. watching your son play b aseball. and full frame. Don't skimp on taking this step. One of the main reasons articles are rejected is that they aren't focused. describe it in o ne sentence or phrase. the tension should mount until it is resolved. it will keep your article on track. Your phrase should read something like t his: · Six steps that helped me forgive. · How to h andle stress. or writing thank-you notes. what did I learn that will help someo ne else? When you've nally found the message in your experience. use dialogue. It may take you quite a while to process an d nd the right slant. · Ways to cope with an empty nest. and an end. As in a good short story. you are ready to choose the type of article you w ant to write. partial frame. The experience you write about doesn't have to be tragic. You set scenes. a middle. Keep asking yourself.friend grieve. The m essage woven throughout the piece is driven home with a . THREE KINDS OF PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ART ICLES Once you know the theme. You won't be tempted to go off on interesting but irrelevant sidetracks that may have really happened but have nothing to do with the theme. Basically there are three: straight narration. Straight narration This type of article reads like a short story: It has a beginning.

Show the action. In the end. or h aving a baby in the middle of a snowstorm. You then move into the body and list the points you plan to cover. In the body o f the article you show how that fateful day changed the taxi driver's life forev er. The straight narration approach is best used to describe a dram atic event: a daring rescue off a mountaintop. An article I wrote for a parenting magazine on why I watch my . This is where you should let your per sonality and the personality of the people involved shine through. statistics. Partial frame This type of article is used most frequently. Or you open with a description of taking your three young children grocery s hopping. Use strong no uns and active verbs. show it. sometimes quoting experts. The body of the article then discusses the simple trick you learned tha t helped turn a sometimes frustrating chore into a game your children all love. or anecdotes. a taxi driver picks up a fare in New York City. It usu ally opens with an anecdote and then makes a transition into the body of the art icle. the ve things your mother never told you about sex. Each point is th en expanded. f or instance. For example. surviving an airplane crash. and action. dialogue. Don't just say you and your husband had a ght.powerful ending. Full frame Here you rst set a scene of your article using description. yo u shift back to the opening scene to wrap up your discussion.

I describe being cold. It can be an anecdote. In "Helping Friends Who Gri eve. make a rough outline using the following four elements of a personal experience article. One of my articles opened with an anecdote about a minister who counseled a couple. and seeing my son strike out. 2. Through acti on and dialogue I answer the question that I presented in my opening. an intriguing situation or a question th at must be answered. After opening with the tragic event. she uses the following t ransition statement: "Here is some advice I wish I'd been given when heartbreak was a stranger. burning m y mouth on hot coffee. a quotation. 1. Transition statements that are pretty straightforward and sou nd almost trite tell the reader where you are going. I returned to my opening scene describing my son asking for money to buy a hamburger and the coach coming up and talking to me.son play baseball opens as I sit in the stands." The transition for my black book . The opening. Lois Duncan describes the fatal shootin g of her daughter. Choose an aspect of your story that will catch the reader's attenti on." which appeared in Reader's Digest. The transition. The wife wanted to leave her husband because she couldn 't take the black book any more. For the ending. THE FOUR E LEMENTS OF A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE ARTICLE Before you begin to write. The black book turned out to be a list that the husband was keeping of everything she'd done wrong since the day they married. In the body of the article I discuss the reasons parents put themselves through this often painful experien ce.

or project the future. (The library is a good source for periodicals. "If you are keeping a similar list. challenge your reader. o r just develop the idea in narrative form. I asked. drive home your message. "W hy do I do this?" For the ending I answer with the question. H ere you can summarize the points you've made. you discuss what you learned from your experience. "Where else can I w atch my son grow into a man?" THE MARKET Many magazines are looking for personal experience pieces. the trick is to match your theme with the right magazine. Whenever I'm stuck.article was. In my black book article. and the ads. examples from other people. or write for a sample copy. I look back a t my opening. 4. I talked about the steps need ed to achieve forgiveness. Each point can be enhanced with more details. In the body. numbers. headings (remember readers and editors love white space). In the end. On ce you've found a promising market. It will also help you focus your article to a speci c audience. statistics. or another example from your life. quotes from experts. the table of contents. Try . quote an expert or someone famous. Is there some element there that you can draw on to help you wrap up your article? In the transition statement of my baseball article. The body. Read the articles. study a couple of issues. 3. it should be eas y to write. The ending. what I learned may help you. If you've processed your theme." W riting a good transition statement is probably the most important step in writin g personal experience articles.) Look at the cover. You can u se bullets.

Most maga zines reply to queries within two weeks to a month. She sold it to a newspaper in Seattle. My baseball article was set in May and wa s just right for the next Mother's Day. After choosing a market. Patrick's Day. One of my students wrote a piece about the ways she has made her long commute fun. If the idea hasn't sold by June. Some magazines want to see only the . Magazines receive lots of submissions for the major holidays. which has a terrible traf c problem. An author I know sold an article on her Hawaiian c amping trip to the Seattle Times and then rewrote her camping experience from a different angle and sold it to Seattle's Child. check your market li sts. ( Check your market list for individual magazine requirements. you will save t ime by querying magazines to see if they'd be interested in your idea. rework it if necessary. put it away. Then starting in January send them out. collect ideas and write about them while you're still under the in uenc e of the season. Another young author sold a piece t o Seventeen about how to make the most of being groundedÐsomething she had experie nced a lot of growing up. or Martin Luther King's Birthday. skiing in winter. (Again.) During the Christm as season. St. Seasonal material should be submitted six to twelve months ahead of the holiday or special celebration. Timeliness is also a factor. but they are cons tantly looking for articles about some of the lesser known ones such as Arbor Da y. They want stories about swimming for summer. and try again the following year.to get a feel for the reader.

and pay anywhere from $15 to $2. With planning and persistence. are in great demand.) Once you receive a positive response to your query. This will help give your reader a truly personal experience. Another bene t of these articles: There's nothing more rewarding than touching someone's heart.000. personal experience articles can be a good way to break into publi shing. try to p icture a typical reader sitting across from you at lunch and write to him or her . .completed article. They take little research.

and can master the elements of good storytelling. to be comforted or inspired. the story of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The spectacular sales of histo rical biographies prove that the public wants stories about heroes and heroines. How does a writer go about retelling the life of a historical person in a way that grabs rst an editor . exploration. the story of Eunice Williams and the French and Indian War. Unredeemed Captive. People read biographies for many of the same reasons they read novels: to be en tertained. or writing literature. whether their lives involved statesmanship. by John Demo s. There's every reason to wr ite historical biographies if you like historical research. and severa l biographies of Jane Austen. to name only a few. to live somebody else's life for a while. No Ordinary Time. to identify with success ful people. S tephen Ambrose's biography of Meriwether Lewis.67 SNOOPING IN THE PAST: WRITING HISTORICAL BIOGRAPHIES By Laurie Winn Carlson THE PAST FEW YEARS HAVE SEEN BIOGRAPHIES OF PEOPLE FROM T HE past propelled onto bestseller lists across the country: Undaunted Courage. then the reader? Even the . to be informed. enjoy learning about people.

"Whose story can I tell?" Just like creating a main charac ter in a novel. even if they made poor decisions or met with failure . the times they lived in. Who they are. and like the novelist." too. I decided to write about women missionaries in the West because they were different from our commonly held perceptionsÐthey we re feminists rather than conventional nineteenth-century wives and mothersÐand tha t makes their story intriguing and interesting to today's readers." Writers need to examine a person's life. and the choices they made are what keeps the narr ative going. the hurdles and obstructions he or she met. search for people who tried to break the mold society had created for them. Challenge your preconceptions. choosing the subjects for biographies is all-important. the rst decision the biographer makes is. and biographies of history's vi llains can make compelling reading. who strived to do somethin g different and worthwhile. That doesn't mean they have to be saintsÐreaders like to read about "bad guys. Avoid stereot ypes: They are too boring. Just be careful to select someone whose life and character pique your interest. Writing historical biographies requires a combination of tech niques from non ction and ction writing. Similar to a protagonist in a novel. and how that person . The main character The person you choose to write about must be som eone with whom readers will want to identify.most intriguing person's life can be incredibly boring unless presented with cre ativity and skill. good biographies follow the "hero's journ ey.

You'll want to reveal details about your subject's life t hroughout your book. they are written in a lively narr ative style that engages and holds readers' interest. Time and place achieve a symbolic importance in a biogra phy. it . If he or she failed miserably. Using the subject's own writings (diaries. of course. In addition. perhaps that failure can be unders tood better or differently from today's perspective. looking for ways to stir readers' emotions by creating dram a and tension. based on personal resentments or jealousies. geographic isolation. In biographies. As you choose the person t o write about. to propel them forward. other people's opinions can be biased. it provides hurdles the protagonist must overcome. but. Like the novelist. What best-selling biographies have in common is that they examine li ves of people who lived in periods of turmoil and action.overcame them. When writing about a woman of the early nineteenth cent ury. look at the geographic setting and the time period and social cla ss in which they lived. as they do in a novel. showing rather than telling. Setting For historica l biographies. and are carefully rese arched and scrupulously accurate. letters) as well as what oth ers wrote or said about the person can be very revealing. even some suspense. rami cations of social classÐthese all become part of the setting in a biography. An impoverished childh ood. as a bio grapher you want to reveal a person's character bit by bit. Ho w you interpret the facts determines whether or not your biography will have tru e depth and dimension. time and place are extremely important to the picture of the subj ect's life. the setting is another character of sorts.

or con dants. When you choose a suit able subject to write about. Other char acters Biographies. time running out. rugged terrain. or simply the dark side of human nature. look f or people who lived in exciting times. siblings. mentors. idealistic. Adding these elements will enrich the biographyÐyou will not simply be retelling chronological events in a dead person's lifeÐand will even tually give the biography a sort of climactic resolution. ask . Where and when she lived is part of her life's stor y. You will also need to identify and include people who helped the protagonist: lovers. duty-bound. dis tance. Theme Once you've selected the subject for your biography. Your subject may be young. like novels. When you're casting about for a particular subject for your biography. friends. be careful not to choose someone you're in love wit hÐand be sure not to fall in love with the subject as you write. Be alert for evid ence of character failings in even the most righteous subject's life: Those natu ral aws. and weaknesses make the character more well-rounded and real. the "bad guys" can be treacherous weather. lack of funds. That will make the entire story much more interesting and provide con icts outside the person's inner character. mistakes.makes a great deal of difference whether she lived in a settled New England vill age or on the Ohio frontier. rescue rs. have antagonists or villains. armed and dangerous dissidents.

but only the m ost important. escape from intolerable conditions. perhaps limit the scope of the book to a span of o nly a few years or a decade. Select scenes that are visual. Plan your story around the incidents or events with the most dramatic potential. and place the person's life within the times in which he or she lived. You can't recount all the events in the person's life. These are the overall themes you should really be exploring when you write a person's life from the past.yourself: Why do I want to write about this person? It's an important question b ecause it gives you the theme for the book. suffering. rather than an entire lifetime. and successes. beginnings. society. What topics. a business. Omit details of chi ldhood. besides the facts of th e person's life. or how to overcome adversity and becom e a leader. because that's how lives are lived. will you include? What broader issues will you address as you t ell about this particular person and the times he or she lived in? The theme is really the story you are telling. What you're trying to do is to write in scenes. but determine the exp ectations of the period in which your subject lived and how he or she did or did not live up to them. turning points. whether it's about an ordinary person trying t o save the farm. old age. dramatic ones. danger. like a playwright. Study psychological motivation. or other . or whether the theme is one of family devo tion. education. failure. Don't judge his or her efforts (or lack of them) by today's social standards. Structure Most biographies are pretty much chronological. full of con ict. discoveries. But you can jump around or diverge somewhat to keep the narrative dramatic as well as realistic.

and military recordsÐyou'll have no problem wi th research. and speci c details gleaned from your research will help make your book credib le. the fabric used in the clothing they wore. and can perh aps write a group biography. letters. in which case you should switch from writing a biography to writing a h istorical novel. the speci c i llnesses and medicines they were subject toÐthese all help the reader become more involved in the story you are telling and make your words ring true. This resear ch takes time. you choose a female subject who wasn't famous enough t o have left behind lots of written records (and most women in history would fall into this category). as I did. because then you have to invent th e facts. The foods people ate. court records. Focus your narra tive on the times and events that shaped the subject's life. but these tiny details makes the subject's life become more . This will enable you to use what several women wrote about each other. Research Research s trongly affects your selection of a subject. You certainly can't select someone about whom there's practically nothing known. you' ll be able to produce a strong narrative. If you want to write about someone with an extensive written re cordÐdiaries. If. you'll need to search harder for information. however. Researching the biography is all-impor tant in giving your writing authenticity.times when your subject's life held little con ict or excitement. and by comparing and contrasting their lives. the use of specialized jargon of the d ay.

moving along a chronological continuum. An unquenchable desire for gossip (back ed up by research. a nd maintain the energy and effort it takes to complete a project as time-consumi ng and dif cult as writing a historical biography.real to you. historical setting. or else you simply aren't digging enough. A satisfying mix of personality . nding out all you can about them and the times in which they livedÐalong with the drive to tell others about it. and human nature. you shoul d at times be surprised. If there's one other thing a historical biographer needs. As you do your research. too! . A last questi on to ask as you set about writing a biography: Why would anyone else want to re ad about this person? Your answer will help you identify your theme and focus. it's a passion for digging into the lives of people. mind you) goes a long way. The words I found in missionary hymns of the 1830s made me see how women connected becoming a missionary with going to far-off lands for adven ture. too. The exact words in the hymns provided a rich resourc e for understanding the people who sang them. I would have never discovered that fact if I'd simply accepted that they s ang "generic" church hymns. gives you (and your readers) a story to enjoy and remember.

not only will you get byl ines and make money writing about business.. you will learn a lot. and all business people are not stuffed shirts who are too busy with the bottom line to talk about their industry or their enterprise.68 THE BUSINESS OF WRITING ABOUT BUSINESS By Christine M. that you don't know the difference between a mutual fund and a certi cate of depositÐnone of this really matters. B. and pay well for the articles they receive or assign. Nor is business wr iting non-creative and rigidly routine. Most business journals and regional weekly or m onthly publications dealing with issues and information important to business pe ople depend on free-lance writers. So. Goldbeck WALL STREET REPORTERS AREN'T THE ONLY WRITERS MAKING MO NEY from the business community. A. Step one to breaking into this market is to tell yourself that business is not intimidating or boring. The business community is not an ogre. That you aren't an M. In fact. that you unked high school economics. many business owners and operat ors like to share their expertise and experiences. Call the local Chamber of Commerce or any other business support agency to inquire whether the re is a business journal .

a bankrupt bagel shop. and to be prepared for that int erview by learning something about him or her. you're in. a new product sold in the a rea. a store reopening a year after it was destroyed by re. alo ng with a sample issue. Therefore.. pro les of business people. af rmative action contracts.. as well as area university libraries. Now what? You will of course want to set up an appointment to interview the owner. the grand opening of a busi ness. Business jour nals usually have writer's guidelines and on request. the company. A newspaper editor will want samples of your published works i n order to assess your ability to write interesting business copy. as long as it relates to doing business and you can write it for business p eople. Smaller daili es often publish a business page on a weekly basis. Let's say you've received a go-ahead from a business editor on a n article about a business in your community. Yo ur local community library.published in your area. Bigger daily papers usually run such a page in each issue. Take time to familiarize yourself with all the information that is available. Th ese are some of the references you should consult for background information on a company or a business executive: . trends in an industr y. that byline might be but a telephone call to an editor away. and check your newspaper to see whether it has a busines s page. will mail them to you. college bookstores selling quarts of milk for continuing education students . Business story subjects run the gamut: new businesses. and the industry. are great plac es to obtain information on the businesses and types of industries in the area.

what. and wh yÐand don't . and the World Wide Web. a business feature is built on the ve Ws (who. which I used to form ulate questions for my interviews. · Commercial on-line services. Here yo u'll nd a wealth of information about industry trends and speci c companies and bus iness leaders. But.) Dun & Bradstreet and other business referenc es can also be contacted via the Internet. searched under the key words "paper. the Internet." and got more information than I was able to use." "costs.· Annual reports. · Trade journals (magazines and newspa pers devoted to a speci c industry). · Local chambers of commerce and business assoc iations. Staffs at such agencies are usually good about giving you some informat ion about their member companies.to medium-size privat e enterprises. when. call the Chamber of Commerce nearest to the location of the busi ness. it certainly gave me a lot of background." and "paper prices. if you need to know the identity of the president of Aunt Mab el's Meatballs. I went to an on-line newsstand. where. Like a typical newspaper or magazine article. So. A public company's annual report contains helpful information (i n addition to the stuff they write for stockholders). Look for statistics that r eveal nancial information about the company. (For a recent piece on how high paper prices are affecting pro t in a number of industries. many of which are small.

" which simply means you will have to use a style t he average newspaper reader . the editor will probably instruct you to take what is called a "general assignment approach. If your piece is for a mains tream newspaper.forget how). what kind? · Who is your competition and how do you try to stay ahead of them? · How much do you charge for your product? · Is this a sole proprietorship. asking every interviewee from whom you need information the following k inds of questions: · What is your business strategy? · How are you marketing your pr oduct? · How much did you invest to start the business? Did you get loans. a priva tely held company. answering such questions as: What is the business: What does it mak e or what services does it provide for sale? Where is it located? How long has t he company been in business? How does it market its product or service? Once you have that vital information. and if so. you will need to focus on the people who run the b usiness. or a public operation? · What are your annual sales? · How many e mployees do you have? Let's say you're going to write about your neighbor who ma kes meatballs and sells them to local supermarkets.

Susan Tucker. where she and her . You won't use business lingo. Something like this might work: An Olive County businesswoman last year used a recipe for homemade meatballs to launch a business that currently employs ten people. when. sells mainstream newspapers. and good old Aunt Mabel. and where she got started. even homey. since you are wri ting for a different audience Ðbusiness people. about your subject or topic and center your st ory on that speci c point. Within six months. the owner of Aunt Mabel's Meatballs. What did she do before making meatballs? Your lead might read: Up to her elbows in ground beef.will understand and nd satisfying." "Too bad Mabel isn't here to see how good business has been. extolling personal success. Susan Tucker fondly recalls the times she and h er Aunt Mabel made meatballs for the Saint Mary's Church socials. she had made enough money to purchase and renovate an ol d restaurant located in Brownsville's commercial district." she says. why she wanted to sell her meatballs. This type of human interest piece. You will ask your subject how. started the business in the kitchen of her Brownsville h ome. If your piece is for a bu siness journal. you'll need to handle it a little differently. and you will nd s omething interesting. Tu cker gave up her 7-to-3 job sewing collars on coats to sell "Aunt Mabel's Meatba lls. the local church. and what made her think this busi ness could be pro table. A year ago.

"I started out making an d selling meatballs wholesale to places like Acme Market and Joe's Spaghetti Hou se. That proved to be a good decision. the company had signed up 500 small businesses. and the other ingredients by selling the meatballs for $2. and within two months. Here's another example. too." Tucker invested no c apital when she launched the business. She says there was little overhead cost.employees now make meatballs for wholesale and retail sales.99 per pound. eggs. "After we moved into this building. I thought it would be a go od idea to sell the product retail. so I started selling sandwiches and fresh me atballs from here. says his company now sells medi cal insurance to small businesses that have fewer than ve employees. The new policy was put on the market Oc tober 1. but tailored for a different readership . Owen Johnson says that the small business health plan was created in order to stay competiti ve in the ever-evolving health industry. and she quickly recouped what she paid for beef. They package and sh ip their product to a number of supermarkets and restaurants in the region and s ell hot meatball hoagies to downtown shoppers. See the difference? It's the same story. "There are major competitors trying to break into this . as well. using a service industry executive as the source: The president of Bridgetown Health Services Inc." Tucker says. This method of getting the information and writing a business journal piece ca n be used for any type of business or industry.

Reference materials I recommend and which you may want to have on hand include The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. Also.marketplace. By selling our 'Small Business Hea lth Plan. Trade groups with informa tion about business journals include the Association of Area Business Publicatio ns. Los Angeles. a local church yard sale. Write the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. University of M issouri. "It proved to be a good business decision. There are also professional societies for business writ ers. wh ich contains a section on business writing. CA 90036. and T he Network of City Business Journals. Suite 500. 128 S. then ask those extra questions speci c to doing business in a particula r eld. a visit from the Pope. If you were writing a piece about a re. or the American . MO 65211. you'll buil d up your publication credits. make new contacts. you would ask questions speci c to that event or person. Both should be available through a lo cal bookstore or in a good public or business library. compiled by Dick Schaaf and Margaret Kaeter (Warner Books). (800) 433-4565. a murder... Columbia. (213) 937-5514. get the vital in formation. and BusinessSpeak." Johnson said.' we believe we have entrenched ourselves in the Northeast Pennsylvania medical insurance eld. " Reporting on business is not dif cult when you know your subject. N C 28202. Tryon St. Charlotte. 76 Gannett Hall. and learn interesting things a bout the people in your area. We wanted to get a jump on them. Suite 2350. T his is really all you will do in business writing: You will write the story so t hat your readersÐbusiness peopleÐwill be informed and entertained. 5820 Wilshire Blvd.

NY 10017. New York. 675 Third Ave.Business Press. . Suite 415..

) Highlight the cri mes that seem most likely to make interesting true crime pieces. Jot down what you liked and didn't lik e about them. and photocopy those index pages. Select about half a dozen cases that look promising. Although this piece focuses on the true crime article. Then. yo u will . dash off a request to the editorial of ce of one or two of the magazines for the writers guidelines (include the requisite SASE). (Most crimes more than four or ve years old are too stale to t the slant of true detective magazines. whether article or book. DePree FEW GENRES IN JOURNALISM TODAY ARE AS EXCITING AND PROFITable as true crime. STEP ONE: Researching the eld. As you peruse them. many of the techniques and methods discussed in the following si x steps are readily applicable to the true crime book. The few sentenc es describing each article will give you a good feel for the highlights of the c ase.69 TRUE GRIME WRITING: A DYNAMIC FIELD By Peter A. Visit your local library and look in the index of the biggest new spaper in your area under the heading Murder/ Manslaughter. STEP Two: Fi nding a crime. Buy several true crime magazines and spend a rainy afternoon getting a feel for the slant and depth of the articles. going back about fou r years.

there was a substantial investigation leading to the arrest. S TEP FOUR: Reading the trial transcript. the court record was 100. Take your outli ne and a lot of paper and pens to the courthouse. the crime took place reas onably near your area (important.whittle down the group for one reason or another until you're left with one or t wo that have all the elements you need for an effective true crime piece. (When I was doing research for a book on the Nigh tstalker serial killer case in Los Angeles.or four-page outline based on all the articles you've read. since you'll have to go to the court to gather research). Call the clerk's of ce of the court where the trial took place and ask for the case number on the crime and whether the tr anscript is available to the public (it usually is). pertinent details were printed by one paper but not the other. Your library should have either back issues or micro lm (provided y ou followed Step One and picked a case no more than four years old). Often. Most d etective magazine guidelines will help you narrow them down: The crime is always murder. with the index as a guide. get copies of all of them. the "perp" (police parlance for perpetrator) has been convicted. STEP THREE: Doing the res earch. and photos are available for illustration.000 pages l ong and lled three shopping carts!) Skim and make notes of the quotes and materia l you'll need. and be prepared to spend a who le day reading the trial record. this will be a lot easier if you've prepared your . collect all available newspaper article s on the crime you've selected so you can make an outline before reading the tri al transcript. even a trial that lasted only three or four day s can ll several bound volumes. If there ar e two or more newspapers in your area that covered the crime. First. By now you should have a th ree.

Having photocopies made at the court is usually prohibitively expensive. so you have the luxury of choosing only the very best. scene. prosecutor. Reread the writers guidelines for the magazine to which you're submitting your piece.outline carefully. victim. STEP FIVE: Writing the article. responding of cer. dramatic quotes. Almost as impor tant as the transcript is the court le. colorful background. since you'll already know the key names to watch forÐthe lead d etective. the parts of a transcri pt that yield the most important factual information are the opening remarks of both attorneys. witnesses. Use what ever form of research you're comfortable with. You may discover a brand-new form of writing frustration when you have to slash all those dramatic prosecutorial summations and subplots down to the required word count. Specify to the court clerk that you would like that as well as the transcript. (Pack enough spare batteries and tapes!) I can mumble into my recorder faster than I can write. and the summing up of both attorneys. Chances are that if a particular detail. You'll need to look for material on several different levels simultane ously: details for accuracy. the testimony of expert w itnesses such as forensic technicians. As a rule of thumb. and so forth. or quote . etc. then write the kind of article you would nd exciting and surprising (or shocking) to read. There wi ll usually be far more of these elements than you could possibly pack into an ar ticle. the questioning of the lead detective. so copy very selectively. and so are names. I nd a combination of scribbling n otes in my own pseudo-shorthand and dictating into a hand-held recorder suits me . defense attorney. A c ouple of tips: Dates are especially important.

you'll need to spend no more tha n an hour in the library to nd enough useful facts to give your article a little snap. with a mangled ear. it belongs in your piece. for obvious reasons.piques your interest. then retrieved the bullet and viewed it under a compariso n microscope for tell-tale striations. and so on. True crime editors are picky about certain details. I recently wrote an article on a killer who was suffering from paranoid sc hizophrenia. If your detective used a K9 dog to search for evidence. Change the names of witnesses or family members. but do remember that sprinkling in telling details seasons the piece and shar pens the focus. e specially names (check those writers guidelines again!). Go back to the library to check the details that will give your writing authority. As you're writing. Gor don. If your crime involves DNA ngerprinting. you could throw in that detail. watch your length. you need to do some minor research to nd out. STEP SIX: S econdary wrap-up research. The trial transcript is packed with details like these that make your article stand out from a "made-up" detec tive story. Don't get lost in boring minutia e. you migh t mention that it was a Rottweiler named Butch." you should specify that he is Commissioner John Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department. Editors are not impressed with articles that run a few thousand words over their suggested length. If you mention "Mr. noting that he red it into a slab of gel. If the balli stics expert test. For instance. In just four pages in two college psych textbooksÐ twenty minutes' in vestment of my .red the gun. if the crime was committed with a shotgun and you don' t know a pump-action from an over-&-under.

) 3) Never start an article without making sure photo s are available. These can be what I call "documentary-grad e". No true crime magazine will run an article without at least three photos. You should never have to invest more than one or two full days in researching the transcript and court le. and always make sure the picture is in the public domain (i. The minimum basics are a photo of the perp. sometimes. even a particularly sharp photo clipped from a newspaper will suf c e. only to discover that Joe Bland already sold that piece to your target ma gazine a year ago.e. The following three are non-negotiable: 1) Never start on an article without querying the magazine rst. a high school yearbook photo of the killer.. a snapshot of the . but went nowhere. N othing is quite as frustrating as writing twenty detailed pages on the Longbow r apist. un-necessary mistakesÐmistakes that you would never make if you follow a few simple rules. one o f the victim. but t hat doesn't help when on the day you need it you learn that the whole le was ship ped ve hundred miles away so the appeals judges could study it at their leisure.timeÐI came up with more than enough facts for my piece. (We're talking months here. Why? Because I made stupid. 2) Always mak e doubly sure the trial transcript is available. You now have a pile of perfectly good kindling. Etch this in stone. But query your target magazine rst. one of the crime scene. a photo of the victim distributed to all the papers. What to watch out for The re are at least four articles in my computer that are almost completely written.

True crime writing might be ca lled entry-level journalism.bank building where an armed robbery took place). If you can write a tightly researched and entertain ing piece following these suggestions. . you'll have a better chance of success.

or the results of the L ittle League baseball playoffs. You won't get . or reviewing movies for Entertainment Weekly? The writers whose names are atop the biggest stories and features didn't just show up one day and start typing. but it's an excellent way for beginning writers to learn the basics of non cti on writing. If you wa nt to move up in the world of non ction writing.70 FREE-LANCING FOR YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER By Dan Rafter EVER DREAM OF WRITING FOR The New York Times OR The Washinton post . even when writing for the smallest local pa pers. free-lance reporting gives you th e most important tool of all: a portfolio of published stories. One way to get started i n the world of non ction writing is to freelance for a local community newspaper. You'll experience the thrill of having your name in print. And if you prov e to be a reliable reporter. Most towns. you'll get to write something every week. Most of them worked their way up from small beginnings. have at least one. even most big cities. Free-lancing for these papers may not be glamoro us. You'll also learn a lot. You might nd in their pages a story about winners of the high school's science fair.

such as sports or feat ure writing. mention this. That might be something you ca n do. who better to write about the local business climate? Once you've studied the paper. men tion it. usually on the editorial page. At small papers. If the same writer's name keeps popping up. If there are any areas you'd most like to cover. Here's how to get started. . If you've had experience working with the chamber of commerce. for instance. Mak ing contact First. call t he editor. Learn the types of stories the pa per features. generally about $20 to $30 an assignment. Tell the editors you're familiar with the paper and would like to report for it on a free-lance basis. the stall report ers aren't covering the high school's track team. so don't waste your time talking to anyone else. make sure you know exactly what you want to say. and gure out what is missing. If you're nervous. Before you call t hem. You can nd his or her name on the masthead located near the front of t he paper. But writing for the local p aper can give a young writing career a big boost. Maybe. buy a copy of your local paper and study it carefully. Keep in m ind that editors at small newspapers don't have a lot of time. it means the paper reli es on a staff writer for most of the material. If you have writing experience. write a script for yourself. noting the various bylines on the stories. the editor assigns sto ries to free-lancers.paid much. The paper probably uses a number of free-la nce writers. too.

write for your school newspaper. resume. . church or club that has a newsletter? Write some stories for th em. and writing samples. While not a true example of reporting. don't panic. If you've never been pu blished. or even if you're just taking classes part-time. If you don't hear anything within two to three wee ks. you're more than likely on your way to your rst assignment. even at the weeklies. a well-cra fted letter speaks volumes about your writing skills. That means editors sift through a stream of cover letters and resumes each week. They look rst for strong clips. Send exac tly what the editor requests. but getting published is more important at this stage than making money. Do you belong to an association. Your chamber of commerce may publish a community newspaper of its own. don't take it personally: give the editor another call. Editors are notoriou s for not following up on letters or phone calls.Most editors will ask for a cover letter. You can also write a letter to the e ditor of your local newspaper. Volun teer to write for it. There are several ways to get into print. You probably won't get paid for any of this when you're just getting started. They'll spare little more than a glance at you r resume if you don't send some writing samples with it. If you send a professionally w ritten cover letter with strong writing samples. Standing out from the crowd A lot of writers want fr ee-lance reporting jobs. p ublished samples of your writing. If you're a college student.

but was fascinated by the chance to do some reporting in her own com munity. His standards are high. and lists your quali cations. His paper has won more than 200 writ ing awards. and your story could show up in the news section. expla ins why you want the job. It showed no bad habits. But the cover letter is even more i mportant. "She wrote a wonderful letter. What made the difference? A great cover letter. I appreciated that enthusiasm. the traits of good newspaper writing. A good cover letter can make up for other aws. "It was direct and to th e point. She said she never thought about writing for a newspaper. Here's your chance to show some clean and ef cient prose." What sets one cover letter apart from th e next? The ability to . and writ e a piece on it and send it to your local paper.If you're really ambitious. Your style may appeal to the ed itor. is no pushover. Your resume is imp ortant. such as a limited number of writi ng samples. editor of the Regional News. Drafting the irresistibl e cover letter Samples aren't the only thing editors look at. An effective cover letter details your background." Parmeter says. a weekly based in the so uthwest suburbs of Chicago. all on one sheet of paper. One free-lancer Parmeter hired didn't send h im a single writing sample. Rich Parmeter. attend the next meeting of your local city council. park or school board. and should list your special skills. that 's what. Interview the important people after the meeting.

"We don't have any staff photographers. mention it in your cover letter. "It's always better if you can do double duty. . The cover letter is your chance to show editors everything you can do. The cost of newsprint continues to rise . Ment ion this in your cover letter. too. for instance. Newspaper budgets leave little room for new hi res these days. If you have a nancial background yo u'll do a great job writing about the city council's budget planning. That's the case at the Harbor County News. . especially." Kelly says. It's no time to be modest. and the growing eld of electronic publishing lures scores of advertisers from n ewspapers. The paper employs just three steady free-lancers. At many community papers. at weeklies. so we prefer writers who can also take photos. If you've wo rked in sales." If you have a skill besides writing. editors have fewer dollars than ever to spe nd on free-lancers. the ability to do several things well has become more important than ever. let editors kno w it.tell editors exactly what you can do for them. The more you can do . In these penny-pinching days. Have you lived in your community for decades? This gives you a special insight into the way your town works. Did you play high school basketball? That makes y ou a perfect candidate to cover local sports. put that in there. If you've done proofreading. based in southwes t Michigan. Editor Phyllis Kel ly keeps an eye out for one thing when she's hiring new free-lancers: diversity. you may get a side job selling ads for .

. writing for a community paper might be the rst step towa rd that 16 percent club. A National Writers Union study a few years a go found that only 16 percent of free-lance writers earned more than $30. So gi ve it a shot.000 a y ear. After all. and it didn't measure the satisfaction you get from seeing your name in print. let the editor know if you can take photos. But the study didn't show how much fun you can have free-lancing . . .the paper. And. The wo rld of free-lancing is a tough one. by all means.


"are poets?" My naive question produces only three raised hands." WROTE poet Josephine Miles in her introduction to The Poem. but how do you keep on being one? It's the rst day of a fall course I'm teaching called "Creative Writing. I don't ask ho w many of the others here would like to be poets. We've all fel t that." "How many of you." I ask. A Critical Anthology (PrenticeHall). instead. I start inquiring abo ut what dif culties are imagined.71 BECOMING A POET By Diana O'Hehir TALKING BECOMES POETRY AS WALKING BECOMES DANCING." Yes. "It takes on form to give shape to a mood or an idea. a natural act ivity. But what about those other times when writing was dif cult? How do you not only become a poet. During those moments of pure felicity when poetry welled up and became o ur natural medium." . Poetry. And in no time I have a long list. Now I can't. when writing seemed loving and straightforward. most of its i tems familiar: "How do I get started?" "I used to write.

When my life's not dramatic." At this point I ask everyone to grab a sheet of paper and list seve n objects she really hates. . But if you choose one of those hated itemsÐthe one you see most vividly. television set. . You can see them cle arly. Stuff that springs to mind when I say hate. "I don't have any ideas... write your dreams." This question produ ces such enormous issues of craft.ve) would like to be a poet. Things you really feel strongly about." is a major complaint of this class."How do I know I'm any good?" Yes. not events. though it looks something like it on the pag e. "your list isn't a poem. But I don't remember my dreams. so different . "No. whose physical details you know bestÐyou'll probably be able to write about it." I answer a question.." "Somebody said. Remember. . almost everyone in this varied group (the age s range from seventeen to fty. artifacts from ordinary life that irritate you. But fear of poetry Ð"beca use it's so dif cult . gizmos that won't do their job or get in your way. purple scarf. I don't kn ow what to write about. "Objects. so important ." A hand goes up. " The class settles in with enthusiasm to list stuff they hate. Things you can touch and seeÐclock-radio. "Somebody said that if I wrot e a poem that rhymed you wouldn't let me stay in the class. not human beings.. you're listing objects. leaky ballpoint pen. And mayb e that's the beginning of a poem.

at least one friend to whom you can show your work. people whose work you respect. And second (related and also simple-minded). They sound simpleminded. First. I'm drawing up a mental list. We face issues of s elf-worth and of dogged application. " we're going to look at some poems by professional poets. that I move on completely. its use and abuse. the y don't always work. originality. calls for such a long lecture on form. William Blake pr inted his own poems by hand and died a pauper. and control. and (c) writes a lot. Not too large a group. get yourself into a group of writers. but they're a place to begin." I've been writing poetry all my life and some of the students are just about to begin. after my class. "Now." I announce enthusiastically.) At home now. it includes a series of instructions to myself and a list of recipes to overcom e block. Choose this group with enormous care. And it helps if the friend (a) likes your work. and at least one of w hom is a better poet than . This person should ideally be another writer with whom you trade rea ctions. so that he or she is eager for you to show up with you r poems. (b) is not too competiti ve. (Remember t hat Emily Dickinson had only ve poems published in her lifetime. a list for myself. It's short and stupid and obvious. you'll notice that one of the most beautiful and moving of these is rh ymed throughout. The recipes at least are speci c and direct. here's an anti-block m easure that we all know: Find a friend. but our problems are much the same. one wit h some people your own age.discipline. poems that will give yo u a lift. questions of how to keep going.

Not at all. Vary your routine dramatically. If you don't remember dreams. Writers who offer genuine criticism but aren't destructive. painting. Look out your window and react. architecture? I don't mean t o write about these arts. What would a poetic ve rsion of the Nabucco Hebrew Chorus be like? Of the Vietnam Memorial? Use a newsp aper headline as a rst line of a poem. if you're like me. and o n. (Or a quote. Pen instead of pencil. If you use a computer. etc. in poetry. Not the least little bit! There are lots of small anti-block devices. you may get the surprise of nding you sound like that poet.you. try a yello w pad. to the rst thing you see. but different. Vary your routine. get a reproduction of a surrealist painting . Leave home. often they don't. Imitate o ther art (not writing). After a while. Sometimes the se work. Imitate. back to light in stead of facing the view. Music. different table. Pub lic libraries are great for composition. Different chair. you feel enclosed an d comforted by public libraries. go to San Francisco or Hoboken and sit in a park. sculpture. Or a line of instruction for your computer/ shampoo/pancake mix. good in your own way. Write abo ut your dreams. but to try to reinterpret them.) And so on. Or someone else's rst line. Claim a table in a coffeehouse. Read voraciously and then shamelessly imitate a poet whom you really respect.

Toklas knew she was in the presence of genius. From someone you've wronged. all these devices are tricks to get you started. or whoeverÐand try to describe it. poems that are stra nge and thorny. Read poetry. I transla te my class's questions into a more simple catch-all question for myself: How do I keep going? Read. (That's how Alice B. what good are tricks? Well. if only brie y. or to someone you loved t oo late. Not kn owledge I can copy or imitate. anyth ing that works. too.) Read many other works. lots of it. geology. exotic otsam ca n surface unexpectedly. physics (I don't understa nd that one at all). But on the few occasions when I follow it I'm really happiest. but astronomy. works. that make my scalp prickle. but you will be writing. glowing wi th a sense of Calvinist Tightness. So." William Matthews says. Obviously. Beside me is a stack of books that I need to re view each time I pick them up.ÐDali. philosophy. to somebody you used to love. I like to ignore this straightforward instru ction. . Chagall. the better. "Almost always my poems begin with a small scrap of lang uage. the more dif cult and challenging. "Ða few words or an image."3 And he goes on to make a comparison between deep-sea diving and poetic process. maybe none wi ll. Maybe some of them will produce meaningful work. Write a letter in poe try to someone you hate. I tell myself. Dif cult reading can lead to poetry. di Chirico. But beyond such questions as "How do I get some words on the page today?" are fundamental issues of commitment and address: Why are we do ing this? How do I make myself feel like a poet? Back home in my room. ghting with ideas that stretch my mind. I'm lazy.

My nal instruction to myself is one some poets don't agree with.A second instruction to myself involves honesty. And that thrill from get ting published lasts only about ten minutes. intuitive one. which are absolutely ne cessary. to think of yourself as a poet. the editorial self can be an anti-muse that stops you . Ridiculous? Imposs ible? Yes. not mine. At the time of inspirat ion. about knowing the magazine you're su bmitting your poems to. I do. Editors of m agazines? Publication? How do you get published? There are. of course. But. you send mine. Oddly enough. remind yourself of that. which might get me published. I pr etend I can write in a fashionable style that's not mine. but I nd it essential. Maybe you can trade duties with a friend: "I'll send yours. Don't let that editorial pe rsonality interfere with your original creative process. don't tell lies to yourself. these efforts ne ver work. It sounds feebleminded to say t ry to be completely honest with yourself. do that sending out automatically and then forget it. if you want to keep going. Edit. simple ru les about the way a manuscript should look. almost. I'm talking about dishonesty in recognizing my own true attitudes. imitations of imitations. I k now this and so does the editor of the magazine I'm hoping to fool. I 'm not talking about creative invention and imagination. poems written that way are bad and weak. Or I pretend to a poin t a view. But watching the mailbox is highly destructive." This friend who r eads your work is publication. who fakes inside the safe haven of her own writing? Well. Of course we're honest. Everyone has an editori al personality as well as a creative.

ally. a year. I w anted the poem to speak as the objects and occasions had spoken to me: haltingly .. after a month.. Be thorough and incisive. Marvin Bell says. with all the honesty and judgment you have. later. What a s imple. ironically. without a posed moment to make famous. correctingly." We're back to Josephine Miles's statement about poetry. that it gives shape or mood to an idea. unassuming concept. I let it lie. at rst on yellow sheets. and review rigorousl y. There's a liberating sense of Tightness that comes when a poem nally me ets your own exact standards. No wonder we poets are excited and disturbed by our job. But go back later. Forgive nothing. all the way to Europe. "I remember carrying a draft of the poem. n . . a Xerox of a draftÐon trips. awaiting a clear perspective. and what a fantastically ambitious and disturbing one .before you start.

they act ually exist on a spectrum with (pure) lyric on one end and (pure) narrative on t he other. every lyric has some element of narrative in it. as it approaches its narrative climax. Lyric and narrative are part of a . I've put the adjective "pure" in parentheses because there is no such beast. Suppose we be gin with two kinds of poems and the distinct kind of unity each might aspire to: lyric poems and narrative poems. Unity is somethin g almost all poets and those writing about poetry have insisted upon as an essen tial element. because there are many de nitions leading to many different kinds of poems. Similarly. And unity is one of those mysterious elemen ts interwoven with poetry's fatal dream of its own perfection. They aren't different kinds of poems. every narrative has some lyric element. But things become complicated when we decide to de ne unity. if only a metaphor placed at a crucial point or the heightening of its rhythmic texture.72 THE POET'S CHOICE: LYRIC OR NARRATIVE By Gregory Orr POETS ARE HAUNTED BY THE DREAM OF PERFECTION IN A WAY THAT writer s in no other literary art form are. even if it is only an im plied dramatic context for its words.

much as our skeleton de nes the shape of our bodies. There are two basic ways of making a piece of sculpture: carvin g and modeling. the carving technique results in a piece that is smaller than the original stone the sculptor began with. The lyric poe m is created like the carved sculptureÐthe poet intuits a hidden. Once the armature is const ructed. What do these two techniques have to do with poetry? They correspond to the lyric and narrative modes. Also. and the nished piece is larger than what he or she began with. The carving method involves taking a piece of stone or wood and cutting away toward some desired or intuited shape within the original block. Th e nished piece emerges as the extra material is stripped away. . The modeling metho d requires the sculptor to construct a skeletal structure out of wood or metal t hat essentially de nes the shape of the piece. the sculptor proceeds by slapping lumps of clay or plaster on it to esh o ut the shape. Ask yourself: Is this sonnet more lyric th an narrative? And how does it compare with any of my other poems in terms of lyr ic and narrative elements? Which is dominant? Lyrics and narratives are the prod ucts of different sensibilities or of the same sensibility operating in two dist inct ways. and it is extremely interesting to take a number of your poems and tr y to locate them along this spectrum.continuum. This structure is called an armature. This modeling technique is one of accretion: The sculptor has adde d material to make his piece. These differences can be understood by comparing them with the making of a sculpture.

Narrative poems get longer as they are rewritten. The secret is to carve awa y. The lyric is not searching. because the narrative poet discovers his or her meanings by asking. then the shape of a lyric is that of a snow ake or crystal. usually an emotional center: a dominant feeling. He or she wants to add material. line to line. If the shape of a narrative is a line meandering down the page. propelled by ve rbs and uni ed by the need to have a beginning. One of the cleverest de nitions of narrative thinking comes from co ntemporary poet Frank O'Hara. has a different purpose: If the lyric poet seeks a hi dden center. to eliminate the excess as you work your way toward the lyric's secret center . The narrative poem is searching for something and won't be happy (compl ete. uni ed) until it has found it. because it a lready knows what it knows." The narrative poem wanders across a landscape. what it feels. The narrative poem is a kind of journey. to keep moving. and then that happened. and it needs to a dd action to action. who spoke of his work as his "I-did-this-and-thenl-did-that" poems." The author of nar rative. The lyric poem has a different shapeÐit constell ates around a single center. to nd out what i s over the next hill. O'Hara's remark sounds almost glib.compelling shape within the language of the rst draft. Browning caught this already-knowing when he said "the lyric poet . on the other hand. The narrative poet's motto is the sensible : "More is more. but he's articulating the secret of how a narrative gets made. middle. and end that relate to eac h other. The motto of the lyric is somewhat mystical: "Less is more. "What next?" and pushing a poem's protagonist further by adding one lin e to the next. event to event. then the narrative poet wants to tell a storyÐthis happened.

William Carlos William s would be my candidate for a poet whose primary temperament is lyric. and that these three parts should be in a harm onious relationship. But they also re ect incli nations a poet has. He further insisted that there had to be a beginning. those action words. Ho w will Frost's "Directive" achieve narrative unity? By arriving at a . the poet-speaker offering himself to us as a guide. What do I mean by lyric and narrative unity? Aristotle. and as such. ce ntered thing. knew that unity was essential to the dramatic effectiveness of poetry. in a sense. neither the narrative nor the lyric is "right". Robert Frost is a prime modern example of a narrative temp eramentÐnot that his poems contain no lyric moments. We travel over a landscape towar d the ruins of a vanished village (we are also." The lyric poet digs into his or her emotion. the narrative as a series of actions wh ere verbs. move us forward from one sentence to the next. It is the narrative as journey. but that the lyric was seldom his aim. and an end to this action. His idea of poetry was essentially narrati ve. who in the fth century B. and lyric unity was not what he usually sought. they can be more deeply rooted in the dominant psychology of a poet." he is giving us a quintessential narrative poem. Needless to say. a single. a m iddle.digs where he stands. became the rst poet-friendly critic with his Poetics. traveling backward i n time). and he proposed that what could unify narrative poetry was this: that it des cribe a single action. which will take the form of a journey. When Robert Frost writes his poem "Directive.C. e ach can be merely a direction a poet might take a poem.

my love Did all within this circle move. T ake all the rest the sun goes round. we have journeyed from being "lost" and disoriented to being "found" an d located. The is at pains to tell us how enraptured he is at the thought of his beloved: rather have her in his arms than the whole world in his possession. Notice Waller sticks with the single emotion and takes it all the way singl poet He'd that ." The gir-die he celebrates is an embroidered sash or belt women then wore around their waist s. My joy. the spring behind the deserted house) and making a signi cant discovery (the cup hidden in the hollow tree). One is through the e emotion that motivates and animates the poem: praise of the beloved. A narrow compass! and yet there Dw elt all that's good. and all that's fair. my grief. Give me but what this ribband bound. We have journeyed a l ong way. The pale which held that lovely deer. (1664) Waller's poem achieves lyric unity through two methods.signi cant location (the village. not the "foundation garment" in modern use: On a Girdle That which her slender waist con ned Shall now my joyful temples bind. Here is Edmund Waller's 17th-century lyric "On a Girdle. my h ope. It was my heaven' s extremest sphere. No monarch but would give his crown His arms might do what this had done.

say. he thinks of her waist again. A lyric poem can go wrong in many ways: Most commonly . central emotion and take it to the limit. but they can disrupt narrative unity. in stanza three.e. In stanza two he thinks of heavenly sph eres and the circle of fence (pale) that might con ne a deer. or even less. Why? How? Simply this: Metaphors slow a poem down. and that reminds him of the circle of a king' s crown and arms around a woman's waist. the recurring use of circle images and metaphors. A good narrative poet knows to beware of metaphors and use them sparingly. The reader has to stop and think about (and savor) th e comparisons. He puts the sash around his head. Meta phors are a lyric poet's friend.) . the rst draft has not suf ciently surrounded its emotional or imagistic character . they need to keep moving. The reason I ch ose Waller's poem rather than. The second unifying element in Waller's poem is "technical . The more metaph ors. the slower the going. a William Carlos William lyric is this: The very technique that uni es Waller's lyricÐa series of metaphorsÐwould work against nar rative unity. Almost everything is a circle starting (and ending) with the sash that encircles his beloved's waist. he ends up with no more than a toothpick. which is based on unfolding action. and (the nal line) the giant orbit of the sun around t he earth (here he's using the old earth-centered cosmic scheme). (In this situation. Lyrics tend to do thatÐlocate their single. when the sculptor revises by carving the block of wood. But narrative poems thrive on momentum.." i.through the poem.

. If your poem aspires to narrative. even if they don't. and see if you can strengthen it by stripping away extra materia l. how it develops. ask where its emotional or imagi stic center is. If your poem aspires to lyric. when a narrative poem goes wrong. then keep it moving with verbs and action. Remember that in Frost's poem. try to locate it on the spectrum that goes from lyric to narrative.Similarly. If a poem you're working on is giving you trouble. how it is resolved. it can get completely lost and wand er aimlessly. and ask yourself where this story best begins. the speaker/poet/guide knows exactl y where his poem is taking readers.

Verse. He said he would never shave while reading a real poem because he'd cut himself. meaning to turn. "What's the difference between poetry and prose? Poetry and ve rse? " A poem has the magic to zing into your heart or the pit of your stomach o r wherever goose bumps begin. "Mary owned a small pet lamb with snow white . And I like how W. Poetry is writing that gives the reader go ose bumps. on the rhyme. but all verse is not poetry. Verse refers to measur ed lines that end. some prose has that magic. on the other hand. or turn. During the 15 years that I was a visiting poet in the Massachusetts schools. Or.73 WHAT IS A POEM? By Diana Der-Hovanessian WHAT IS A POEM EXACTLY? How CAN YOU TELL A PIECE OF WRI TING is a poem? Should it rhyme? Those are the questions most often asked to me as a poetry workshop leader. My favori te de nition is simply: Poetry is made of words and magic. Au den described the presence of magic. Of course. poetry is that stuff printed with wide margins. The word comes from the French vers. Poetry can be in verse. can be de ned more speci cal ly. too. H. the rst thing that children wa nted to know was. There could be ip answers: You know the writing is a poem if it bites. If we say.

Or in a poem: I peel off layers and layers of meaning all of them add up to tears.. here are th ree little pieces about an onion. However. verse." I say to my students. But if we sa y "Mary had a little lamb / Its eece was white as snow. of course: "The onion is a pungent vegetable of the allium sepia family which can be eaten raw or cooked. But if you danced. Then I give speci c examples of each. " Poetry is magic. of course." that would be prose. but no goose bumps. . / And everywhere that Mar y went / the lamb was sure to go. the ordinary way of talking. we could compare that to verse. say in waltz time." we have measured lines and rhymes. "we could compare that to prose. The dictionary de nition is in prose. if you could y from here to there. "If you were going from one end of this room to the other w ith an ordinary stride. becaus e dance is measured.wool.." In verse we could say: The dictionary does not describe your translucent clothes nor does it tell the w ay you tickle eyes and nose. For instance. I like to compare prose to walking and verse to dancing. then we would have poetry. turning and turning.

as in the last ex ample. Rewrite. But too much density. He would change poems even after publication. Art takes skill. And a poem. They also show that the fun of playing wi th words should not be con ned to experts. your story. How can you tell when a poem is nished? Robert Frost said poems are never nished. giving your take on the world. Poets in the schools transfer enthusiasm for poet ry. rewrite is my credo. And the rst aim of any kind of writing is communication. I have my advanced students put their poems i nto forms . Two or more. skillful rewriting. or both. rewrite. or the result of practice. hinders communi cation. Can poetry be ta ught? Technique can be taught. using two repeati ng lines from a poem they have already written. . and that in itself is a big thing. telling a story. making a villanelle (19 lines in six stanzas). offering up new inter pretations each time. . too much opaqueness. You will nd different versions o f his poems in different editions. poetry can be rhymed or free. A facility with words mig ht be a gift. But for beginners I .Verse always rhymes. That's why poetry tha t is dense with meaning can be read and reread many times. they are abandone d. But to make the poem into art is another matter. I'm a grea t believer in revision. is a way of saying two things at once. Anyone can enjoy the process: writing o ut pain.

I tell them to use the length of the line as punctuation. I recommend constant reading. In my own family. when you think the poem is polished enough. etc. end with the rhyme. Keep a log or card index of what poem is where so that you will not submit a poem to the same magazine . my fa ther in Armenian.don't stress forms. my mother in English. When rhymes and m eter are used. poetry was a way of life. I tell them to have a line stop when they want to take a breath. when you have a batch of four or ve good ones. Poets more advanced in their craft should try to nd a workshop group. Forms are fun. When it's time to send it off for publication. If you do not have a grou p. It 's sometimes helpful to put a poem into form. A good exercise for them is to write poems using w ork they admire as models. French. it is helpful to read your work aloud to yourself. And beginning poets should memorize great poems. to make sure it has the right shape. enclose a short note to the editor. Rarely does a poem arrive full blown on the page. List some pla ces you've published or the name of the poet with whom you've studied. of course. A short n ote. And it was natural for us children to learn p oems by heart and recite them. It is good exercise for more advanced students to use rhyme patterns in sonnets. then take it out. Both my pare nts recited poems all the time in several languages. Russian. Sometimes just hearing yourself read your poem to others will gi ve you ideas on how to improve it. a gift fr om your word processor. And getting a poem ready to take to a worksho p will help nish it as much as the feedback you'll get. the lines.

Some of these poems hold up on the page. I thought that was applepolishing." The most rewarding experience remains seeing your poem in a publication you can hold in your hand. If you are blocking out the past.twice. You might nd it's a true memory . When I started publishing my poetry. write down your very rst memory. A poem. but a note will sometimes get a good poem past the r st reader. I did not know one was expected to s ubmit cover letters. and started publishing very yo ung. Were y ou in a crib? Was it a bath. at poetry cafés in most large cities. Nowadays there is a growing ou tlet for the spoken poem. some do not. I just learned the pr otocol of submission. I had not taken poetry workshops as an undergraduate. to recite them as dramatically as possible. just make up so mething. and you should be able to see it. the layout of a poem on a page. a train ride? Do you remember who was with you? Wri te a short paragraph about it. The so-called slam poets are part of a popular movement of poetry performers who memorize their work. touch it. Here are some of my exercises to help you get started: 1. I had been writing since I was twelve. from a magazineÐmost likely The WriterÐI saw in a library. But the movemen t has brought new audiences to "the word. after all. sometimes f or prizes. the obligatory SASE. There are also ope n readings at schools and poetry societies and centers. as did troubadours of old. I thought each poem stoo d on its own meritÐas it does. is an object you've made. Since poetry is a way of holdin g onto the past and making time palpable.

Write a paragraph about what you would do if you had only six months to live. listing what you like and dislike. pepper. Lists and chants are among the oldest poetry forms in the world." by Randall Jarrell. Write a riddle describing a vegetable or fruit or something you might nd in the refriger ator: clam. a rst-grader who doesn't know English. taking out the excess words. potato. 9. 4." the putting on of another persona. cauli ower. Read the "Song of Solomon." by Emily Dickinson. Read poems that are riddles. 8. 3. Now take those two lines and use them as the repeating line s in a villanelle." then do a chant poem. cutting any extrane ous words until it feels like a poem or a real evocation of the past. Now change it into a poem. Read "The Ball Turret Gunner. Write a poem describing yourself from the point of view of you r mother or a sibling. a cash re gister clerk. Don' t use rhymes this time. for instance. 2.after you get it on the page. Write a poem from the po int of view of a homeless woman. Look in the mirror and imagine yourself at age 85 looking back on your life. 7. 5. Write a coupletÐtwo lines that rhymeÐabout the biggest surprise at a school reunion. watermelon. such as "A Narrow Fellow in the Grass. Writ e a poem about yourself. whi ch is a "mask poem. Rewrite it with shorter lines. 6. .

Use a lot of fragrances or smells in a poem about a place. Write a poem using colors. . 12. suc h as Tagliabue's poem about the man carrying a sh on the subway.10. to describe a street. Write an ang ry poem about dieting and the use of skinny models in fashion magazines. 13. 11. Write a short poem comparing the blindness of lovers to various b lind objects. for instance. various shades of gray.

WHAT I NOTICE MOST ABOUT THE POEMS of b eginning poets (in addition to the lack of concreteness and speci city) is that th eir form seems arbitrary. that there is no reason for a poem to have the number of lines it does. or divided into four-line stanzas (quatrains ) with one extra line at the end. Trying to de ne form so it is instantly intelligible to beginni ng poets (or even to experienced ones) is very dif cult. it really doesn't matter how many sentences you use or where you end one line and start another. short and wide.74 FINDING THE RIGHT FORM FOR YOUR POEM By N. for the line breaks to come where they do. the po et has not mastered form. Form is not a convenient container into which you can pour your meaning. Poetry is a eld of writing in which how you say it is just as . I. Clausson As A POET AND TEACHER. It is much easier to say what form is not. I often get the impression that I could rearra nge the lines and stanzas without affecting the poem's meaning. or for the poem to be long and narrow. When you jot down a note to a friend asking her to take out th e garbage and phone Mary to invite her to the barbecue. In short. But poe ms are not notes (as anyone who has read William Carlos Williams' "This Is Just to Say" will know).

Poetry is an area of writing in which meaning is determined by form. In the successful poem.important as what you say.) Here 's the poem: 5 love poem I want to write you a love poem as headlong as our creek after thaw when we stan d on its dangerous banks and watch it carry with it every twig every dry leaf an d branch in its path every scruple when we see it so swollen with runoff that ev en as we watch we must grab each other or get our shoes soaked we must grab each other ." (If you ha ven't read any of Pastan's poetry. The best way to explain thi s concept is with an example. But even that de nition doesn't nail down what I'm tryi ng to get across. form creates meaning. I've chosen Linda Pastan's "love poem. you have a real treat in store for you.

it is one of many possible versions): I want to write you a love poem as headlong as our creek after thaw when we stan d on its dangerous banks and watch it carry with it every twig. or changed the order of any words.If the meaning of this poem were simply in the words Pastan has brilliantly chos en. Here is my "rearrangement" (of course. the two versions say the same thing. We must grab each other . although I have added punctuati on. . every scruple. We must grab each other. then we could rearrange them into a different con guration and the meaning sho uld not change. every dry leaf a nd branch in its path. And that difference is a differenc e of form. or change so little as to be insigni cant. I have not added or deleted a single word. Let's do that. or get our shoes soaked. In one sense. when we see it so swollen with runoff that even as we watch we must grab each other and step back. It is the difference b etween a successful poem and a stillborn one. But the difference between the two poems is enormous.

What is most noticeable about the form of Pastan's poem is that it enacts or dup licates in language both the movement of the creek during spring thaw and the em otional release of the speaker. narrow stanza without breaks or subdivisions. The words rush past the reader just as the turbulent creek rushes . in language. the reade r experiences Ðthrough the form of the poemÐthe headlong feeling of the speaker. That feeling of being in the power of an uncontrollable force somehow has to get into the poem. The problem is how. The reader moves headlong through the poem. The reason for this is that there are no periods or capital le tters separating the three sentences of the poem. and branch) can control their movement. it's the form the words take on the page that convey the speaker's state of mind. to create the experience of being carried headlong along a creek like a branch or a leaf. this one is organized arou nd a controlling metaphor. The meaning of the words alone can not convey that experience. The lover can no more control her or his feelings than the objects in the stream (twig. and the poem is printed on the pag e as one long. But the poem is not just saying that love is like a powerful force of nature. In reading Pastan's poem. through form. leaf." The poem has to be like the creek. It is also saying that the poem itself is "as headlo ng / as our creek / after thaw. being in love is like being in the power of an unco ntrollable natural force. there are no pauses at the end of any of the lines (they are all enjambed). unable to pause at any point to catch h is or her breath. Like many love poems. The only way to do this is through the movement o f the words on the pageÐthat is. which here compares being in love to being swept down a creek during spring thaw. and the only way for this to happen in poetry is for the form of the poem in some way to embody that feeling.

But what about my version? What's wrong with it? There is a co ntradiction at the heart of the poem: The words are saying one thing (that love is an irresistible natural force and that a love poem must carry the reader alon g like the victim of this force). uncontrolled force of love in lang uage as controlled and logical as the language of a chemistry textbook. It still would not hav e been the best form for her poem.past the speaker. Notice h ow my line and stanza breaks neatly coincide with grammatical and syntactic unit s." Such a poem would of course create a strong sen se of irresistible forward movement. In Pastan's poem the short enjambed lines create a sense of jerky disorientation that is pe rfect to covey the sense of the jerky. she cou ld have written the poem in long lines that go almost from margin to margin. . . predictable forward move ment. It isn't that my poem lacks form. In short. My poem is stillborn. True. I have not solved the problem of how to make the form of the p oem consistent with the propositions that the words are making about love and ab out love poems. The rst line of such a version might be: "I want to write you a love poem as headlon g as our creek after thaw . but something would be missing. but the form of the poem is saying just the op posite: that one can talk about the headlong. but I doubt it. But that is not the feeling Pastan wants to create. it's that the form is inappropriate for thi s poem. unpredictable movements of the objects in the stream. Long lines would create a sense of steady. To a large extent the problem of writing poet ry is the problem . Is there any other form that Pastan could have chosen to gain the effect she wants? Perhaps.

The proof will be in the noticeable decline in rejection le tters in your mailbox. you will not have written a successful poem. Once you realize this fact.of how to solve similar problems of form. Nor will having something worthwhile to say in itself make you a poet. the poet has to have something worthwhile to sa y: If you nd the perfect form in which to say something that should have been lef t unsaid. For a poem to be good. . writing a good poem is much more than a matter of form. you will nd that you are writing much better poems because what you say and how you say it will be inseparable. Only saying something signi cant in the most signi cant form will make you a signi cant poet. Of course.

in curre nt usage. all at the same time. Because of this dif ferent perspective. age. the poet thinks and feels and speaks as someone else. the term persona poem. in which the poet assumes the role of someone else. or culture. Who hasn't. perhap s a person of a different sex. and dramatic. nationality. the poem may be surprising. at some time.75 POETS SPEAK IN MANY VOICES By George Keithley WRITERS OF THE PERSONA POEMÐA DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE SPOKEN in the voice of a character created by its authorÐoften nd it one of the most rewarding of poetic forms. refers to a poem spoken by a central character other than the author. for the duration of each persona poem. And often for the same reasons that delight readers: At its best. insightful. Whi le persona may refer to the speaker of any poem. the pers ona poem differs essentially from a lyric poem (in which the speaker is the auth or) or a narrative poem (written in the third person about other people and thei r . wondered what i t would be like to be someone else? Or tried to understand how the world might l ook when viewed from a perspective other than our own? Well. Immediately you see one of its attractions: It invites us to enter the conscious ness of a creature other than oneself.

the speaker s of these poems bring to both the poet and the reader many voices that might ot herwise have remained silent.B. Whether they are historical gures or ctional ones. horses . A few of the many successful persona poems written by modern poets are Linda Pastan's "Old Woman.experiences). not only in the world around us. sheep." and Hart Crane's "Repose of Rivers" (a monologue in the mind of the Missis sippi River). Poems in this form have also been written f rom the imagined intelligence of rain. human or non-human. or speakingconsciousne ss of the poem. and the constellations in the night sky. Yeats's "Crazy Jane Talks with the Bis hop." T. re." Louise Bogan's "Cassan dra. frogs. Among the best-known examples of the persona poem are some of the most admired poems in the English language: Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess." The telling nature of these titles is no accident. bears. but also within o urselves. Since you're asking the reader to embark on a journey into the co nsciousness of ." James Wright's "Saint Judas. The reader of a persona poem should learn from the title or the rst lines of the poem exactly who is speaking. fog. characters from fairy tales. snow. As that last example suggests. whales.S. and perhaps Ðsomething of the situatio n that has moved the speaker to address us. needn't be a person." and Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool" and "B ig Bessie Throws her Son into the Street." W. the persona." Galway Kinnell's "The Bear. Keep the identity of the speaker cle ar and direct. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi.

living alone. Earth's Eye. making my min d obey my mind. In one of t he most famous persona poems.. Julia Grahm. let the identity of that gure be clear from the start. In the rst line the speaker gives readers her name and invites them to see that i ntrospection and self-restraint are her signi cant features.) Similarly. Looking as if she were alive. in the same book. Immediately the reader knows that the Duchess has died. I included a poem. and her widowed husband cares more about her portrait than he cared for her. in her forties. "In Early Spring." be gins with a young woman saying: .another being. often one in inner turmoil. the Duke. and in the language in which the revelation is expressed. (She'll go on to reve al that. The poem's essential mystery lies in what the speaker reveals t o readers." and t he speaker.. In my book. she's keenly attuned to the promptings of her body and soul. begins: That's my last Duchess painted on the wall." which begins: I think of my name. my poem. "Waiting for Winter. I call That piece a wonder now. and hold my hands so in a circle. Browning offers the title "My Last Duchess.

or reading it. I undid my dress. you're ready to write the poem and hope to see it published. Ask yourself: What is it about this situa tion that causes my character to experience an intensity of insight and emotion? What is the urgency that compels this person to speak? What makes us eager to r eveal ourselves to others? When you can answer these questions. our anticipation. . For the poem offers a wide ra nge of physical and psychological experience not often accessible to us. of freedom to explore. At this point. . I hope the poem has established the voice of its central characte r and has suggested her situation. Once the nature of your central cha racter is apparent to you. . About the speaker's situationÐremember that the persona poem is a dramatic monologue. Writing it. is typical of the poet and t he reader. and says: "There you go! " As if she's recognizing our hunger. and you're ready to move on. we inhabit another lifeÐor perhaps a part of our own conscious ness of which we're usually unaware. within the life of that character. meeting each other in the persona poem. you then have the speaking-consciousness that is vital to the persona poem.In early spring I felt the weight of his legs upon my own. and our readiness to beg in. and the gure has begun to reveal itself. smiles. we watched the wind row across the water . I often visit a diner where a wai tress. That feeling of release. as she places food before her customers.

free of an otherwise sti ing inhibition. On the other hand. but I nd it dif cult to write about myself in the rst p erson. for the moral and psychological pressures of a con ict will bring thought and feeling into focus. Taking on the character of the gure is a way of entering the story. the persona. the speaking-consciousness. The speaking gure is itself our invitation to enter the poem. I might come to a b etter understanding of the "character" of that gure. Or not. to the extent that I give voice to them. which previously had been unknown to me. A second reason for writing the persona poem is that often the central gure is involved in a dramatic situat ion or story. One is to allow mys elf to enter a state of feeling.I tend to write the persona poem for two different purposes. is at the center of a dramatic situation. and to speak from within that context. A virtue of the persona poem is that it affords both poet and rea der an opportunity for understanding and compassion. You write with your head and your heart. a state of being. but by assuming the thoughts and feelin gs of that speaker. is a mask that allows me to speak. So the persona poe m will be most compelling if the main gure. A word of caution. It might mean empathizing wit h a character of a far different nature. Why is that persona compelling to . The rule is simple: Don't do it. Much has been said about t he ethics of appropriating someone else's culture or history: a poet pretending to be someone he or she is not. in order to capitalize on a history of suffering that the writer hasn't endured. the perso na might be very compatible. so the dramatic gure. Your conscience will tell you if your empathy is auth entic.

the Kings set down their pomp and gifts.. ." another poem in Earth's Eye. The stone bridge straddles the stiff cr eek." Joseph. and the C hild in white. "Look!" Fresh tracks pock the snow. lift up your little lamp. Mary. We troop into the nightÐ Moon. the answer will be evident to the poet and the reader alike. or moral consequence. is encountered at a moment of dramatic tension. or signi cant insight. Skate blades slung back.. My sister whispers. lift up your little lamp. The drama that compels our interest may or may not be apparent from the characte r's actions. In "The Pleadi ng Child. in what migh t otherwise seem a very peaceful environment: After Christmas Mass the strains of carols call us to the esh and blood gures in t he stable crèche: "Joy to the world! the Savior reigns. its speaking voice. Kneeling.us? Why at this particular moment? If the poem's central character. I tried to evoke the troubled joy a youn g boy experiences one winter night with his parents and his sister. dogs romp down the road in a ragged packÐ Moon. Beyond the bridge we grip each other's hands to climb the bleak hill. two sharp boys slip off the ice. What's vitally important is the poet's understanding of the charact er's inner nature at the moment when it's revealed to the reader.

and the persona poem resul ts from the combination of introspection. . Something h er heart had hidden deep within the winter pulses still: Silent in the sparkling dark. or t he desire to come to understand different aspects of human nature or the natural world.Something more than the snow or chill makes my mother stop and weep. It is a dramat ic form. Each of these is a fundamental motive for writing. and drama. Father shoulders Julia over a steep drift. Why do I cry ? Mother's singing. ". Gladly we tramp home across the glittering coldÐ Moon. examination. a gure who compels our attention. but it is also. the sounding joy. Repeat the sounding joy. ." I shiver in my short coat and she stoops to fold her arms around me. lovers bundle past the pump house and pause. and essentially. at the heart of the poem. or humor. So it mus t live and . hold up your happy lamp! Whether the resulting persona poem is a character study or the evolving of a sto ry. The wri ter's interest in this gure might be an impulse toward compassion. and a poetic medium. Or it might be a desire to explore the drama of the character's situatio n. a poem. Only their eyes speakÐ Moon. there is. l ift up your little lamp.

tension. Or reject.prosper according to those qualities of language. while two police of cers pull his arms behind his back and handcuff his wrists. · A child walking thoughtfu lly through the dappled shade of a fruit orchard on a summer morning. · An owl gliding ove r a frozen eld at twilight. and imagery t hat we give it. · A parent attending the military funeral of an onl y son. Now. rhythm. . · A woman riding the subway home to her apartment while s he considers a recent marriage proposal that she's not quite willing to accept. · A man who stands in a public parking lot looking at his red pickup truck. · A man watching a baseball gam e with his father who is recovering from a stroke. for however long it takes to write the poem. The possibilities for subjects in the persona poem are limited o nly by our imagination and our willingness to take risksÐwhich is another way of s aying that it's time to get to work. · The almost silent snowfall th at settles upon a pine forest. you nd yourself becoming (and giving voice to): · A teacher facing her third -grade class on the rst morning of the school year. killed in combat. · A river owing swiftly under a ne spring rain.

a bag of groceries in her arms. · An elderly woman pic king her way through a city park. while her gran ddaughter skips ahead of her into the deepening dusk. "There you go!" .· A stand-up comic waiting to go on stage in a small theater. · A colt running through a el d of grass glossy with sunlight.

one that we're con stantly deciding as we pick up and put down poems." the unspoken corollary question being. and potentially endless. It's an important question. new formalists (make any random list)Ðbut these are seldom the same . "How can you tell when a poem is really goo d?. subjective. after all.76 WHAT MAKES GOOD POETRY? By Peter Meinke WHAT MAKES GOOD POETRY? IS ONE OF THOSE SUBJECTS THAT MAKES me ( and most poets) groan: It's amorphous. as the ankle bone's connected to the foot bone. Charles Simic. "How can we make our own poems bette r?" Although everyone has thought about this. here's the stand I wound up on. for you to look at and consider from whe rever you're standing." This is unhelpful because intelligent and sophisticated people like different poems and different poets: Many readers adm ire John Ashbery. In a recent disc ussion. "You have to read this!" A seri ous and talented young writer asked. But like many vague questions. many people tend to answer along t he lines of "I know it when I see it. language poet s. it does force you to think and take a stand. Gwendolyn Brooks. Howard Nemerov. choose which books to buy out of the unlimited choices. in fact several stands. and tell our friends.

" This suggests something about the nature of poetry: 1) It withholds something fr om us at rst." A poem isn't a sermon or a lecture. "Let us go then." Who is "you"? Who is "I"? After all this time. or doesn't work for long. as follows. by the rst poems that moved us. We've all had the exper ience of being bowled over (goosebumps. It can surprise by . to supply "answers. yielding its secrets slowly. s cholars still disagree. it could be helpful for us to use whatever de nition we come up with as a wa y to measure the poems we're working on. by our rst real teachers (academic o r not). Our tastes are probably "set" when we'r e very young." is the (English) beginning of "The Lo ve Song of J. tears. a poem either doesn't work. like a lover. laughter. (I take for granted that one aspect of g ood poems is that they repay this rereading. it's almos t always a mistake to tell too much. Alfred Prufrock. so I've br oken my de nition into six intertwining parts. you and I. I think a good poem performs two opposite functions at o nce: 2) It surprises and satis es. In our poems. nor custom stale / Her in nite variety. gasps) from reading or hearing a poem. Without both of these qualities. it seems to me that there are some useful things to say on this subject. even though there's no agreement on how to apply them. "Age cannot wither her. Unlik e novels or even short stories. our favorite poems tend to be those we read over and over again.people. So.) A poem can surprise in lots of dif ferent ways. Nevertheless. unless we simply believe that good poetry is the kind we write ourse lves. But a truly good poem is as good or better upon rereading.

This feeling of inevitability is connected to the poem' s music. Or by idea: "My little horse must think it queer / To s top without a farmhouse near / Between the woods and frozen lake / The darkest e vening of the year" (Robert Frost). E. though varying from reader to reader. either melodious like T. "I knew that. 3) A good poem sounds special. but didn't know I knew it." You don't learn things from poetry th e way you do from geography (the capital of Costa Rica is San José) or history (th e battle of Blenheim was in 1704). expressed in various ways. Cummings). a good poem also see ms inevitable. Rather. and we drown. A poem sets up a rhythm: the insouciant in-your-face tone of "Buffalo Bi ll's / defunct" is matched perfectly by its ending: "how do you like your blueey ed boy / Mister Death. homespun like Robert Frost. Or by image: "Dumb / As old medallions to the thum b" (Archibald MacLeish). is. But after the surprise. And the problem of how to end his stanzas of triple rhymes. poetry satis es an inner sensibility (l inked to that early-formed "taste") which. etc." The hint of formal rhythms in the beginning of "Prufrock " culminates in the iambic pentameter of its last lines: We have lingered in the chambers of the sea By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed r ed and brown Till human voices wake us. A typical reaction to a good poem. is real and particular. its interesting sounds. Eliot. S. . jumpy like William Carlos William s.vocabulary: "Buffalo Bill's / defunct / who used to / ride a watersmooth-silver / stallion" (E.

Wilbur." "She. we should try to make each line memorable. sort of). and let me lo ve. / And miles to go before I sle ep. Why s hould anyone read this? Why should anyone read this twice? I remember that John Donne was the rst one to affect me that way: "Come live with me. it will be your voice. Millay. "Follow the music and not the meaning" is generally good a dvice when you're rewriting your poems. she's dead. Frost. poems address . By moving primarily through images rather t han logical constructions." I wanted to memorize (and did) line after line.with one unrhymed line. she is dead. not sense (though it does make sense. is one ad vantage of formal poetryÐit's easier to memorizeÐbut that's another topic! 5) Poems speak to the unanswerable questions. in Frost's "Stopping by Woods" is solved by his repeatin g his last line: "And miles to go before I sleep. and hope that the sense follows along. and be my love. When Wallace S tevens begins. The key word here is line: Looking through our own poems. Sonnets by Shakespeare. 4) A good poem is memorable. As writers. even though they might have the exact same rhyme schemes and number of syllables. Wor dsworth. This. It will hardly ever be your idea that's original: If anything. halt!" we know he's drunk on the delights of sound. Dove don't sound at all alike." "For God's sake hold your tongue. by the way. It becomes part of our mental/emotional landscape: Every line we r emember changes us as every leaf changes the skyline." making a quadruple rhyme and a perfect stop. we have to learn t o follow the poem's music. "Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan / of tan with henna hackles . Donne.

they can go in many directions. . inevitable.." "Without a tighter breathing / And Z ero at the BoneÐ. personali ty. like that rare thing. Your idea of what dire event Ye ats is predicting in "The Second Coming" will depend on your religion. They seem in retrospect. i. who am I. celebration and mourning. emotionallyÐit accomplishes. a clea r and pure lake. But that poem is plenty clear enough! My last de nition i s this: 6) A good poem ful lls its promises. and life experience. and click into place like the last piece of a puzz le. love. T his is why even people who dislike poetry embrace it at the major turnings of th eir lives: birth.e. are se t up by what has gone before. a widow. and the v ery act of asking them is as close to a de nitive answer as we're likely to get. what is the good life? These are the important questions. (To say a poem has many meanings is far from saying that it's meaningless. all kinds of "m eanings" are suggested." "And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure oating / Of dark habits. / We nt home and put a bullet through his head.the essentially mysterious aspects of life: Why are we here." "And Richard Cory. as I said before. This doesn't mean a poe m has to be murky or unfathomable. visua lly. one calm summer night. At the end of a poem. what's tr ue or false. whether formal or free. a grandfather. The strange thing about "clear" poems li ke "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" or "A Red Wheelbarrow" is that they ar e less clear on rereading." These last lines. " A poem should not mean / but be. death. What it sets out to doÐmusically. a farm boy. Rather it means. / keeping their dif cult balance.) Even a simple love poem means something different to a high school girl. a good poem has depth. we feel we have arrived.

these are vague descriptionsÐbut if you apply these to your own poem s. I think. these elements will make themselves clear. to be more than one thing at once. and of the world. I hope they help. they are what they are. a nd what elements are necessary for its creation. In the end. I'll conclude here with a short poem of my own. Rhe inhold as she scolds her children Pamela! Paul! All necessary: but the window mo st of all There are moments in every day when a hunger seizes and the hands trem ble and a wall turns transparent or a cup speaks Suddenly bright as the shells o f Bermuda . Normally I'd just read or print this poem without elaborating on itÐbut this is a poem in which I've tried to capture what it feels like to want and/or need to write poetry. they can become quite speci c. But it's also a love poem. It is the nature of poetry. of course. The Shells of Bermuda First the wind through the window lifting this room with breath tugging the curt ains waking the owers turning one by one slowly the pages of old books Then the s un through the windows glinting in corners warming the tops of tables The cicada s' shrill vibrations the woodpecker's percussion even the high whine of Mrs. good po ems resist de nition and explication: Like the natural things of this world. with careful and frien dly rereadings.In some ways.

the combs for your long hair blaze on the desk (from Night Watch on the Chesapea ke by Peter Meinke. of Pittsburgh Press. 1987) . U.

within a week I received an acceptance from both Good Housekeeping ma gazine and The Saturday Evening Post. who was both kn owledgeable and enthusiastic. As an art school graduate (who had always enjoyed humorous writing). I ha d been undecided about my career choice until I enrolled in a creative writing c ourse at a then-nearby New Jersey university. When my professor. Sam sells . HallelujahÐI was hooked! An early acceptance by The Saturday Evening Post was "Cost Plus": She sells Sea shells By the sea shore. I did indee d send my light verse out. to two of the markets she had suggested." s he said.77 A SERIOUS LOOK AT LIGHT VERSE By Rosemarie Williamson I HAVE BEEN WRITING AND SELLING LIGHT VERSE FOR NEARLY THIRTY years. To my utter amazement. happened to spot a few of my verses lying around o n the table beside my assignment pad. "These are great. "Send them outÐ ood the market!" I will never forget her words. she got very excited.

Possibly the easiest and most common poetic form for humor is the four -line verse. too. called the quatrain. (If you nd something amusing.) Everyday events provide one of the richest sources for humor. Making each word count. you may be thinking. A sale to Good Housekeeping from the same period was "Mob Psychology": You join the bargain-hunting group. act as lead-ins. chances are others w ill. the of ce . the all-important punch line." which essentially de nes light verse. supermarket. or for other spots where space is limited. and within these con. but how does the verse itself co me about? Surely it doesn't evolve full-blown? Not at all.nes. This is all well and good. your creativity can run wild. Firs t. sporting events.Clam shells For a bit more. church. There are a few simpl e rules to remember. Grabbing and unfoldingÐ Then nd the only thing you want Is what some stranger's holding. The quatrain is a neat little package whose le ngth makes it ideal for use as a magazine ller. you must have a funny idea. the rst three lines build up to the fourth line. Titles can provide background mat erial. Second in importance is the title. which can serve one or more functions. . Its brevity is particularly suited to telling a "joke in rhyme. shopping mallÐall can produce laughable si tuations.

double entendres and other forms of wordplay could easily be missed. elegiac stanzas. Irregular and even innovative meter certainly has a place in the poetic scheme of things. Otherwise. Were famous for their marches. Which may accoun t for Rome today Being full of fallen arches. so we're told. Remember that a clever title is your rst chance t o catch an editor's eye. Long. Following are two favorite titles of mineÐwhich may have been instrumental in selling the verses: Of All the Gauls! Caesar's legions. rambling epics. but they're not light verseÐwhose .or simply be relevant wordplay. Except we call them creditors. and free verse are all perfectly acceptab le forms. (The Wall Street Journal) Handwriting on the Cave A caveman's life was fraught with fear. And it' s much the same for modern man. His world was full of predators. to make sure that readers' (or listeners') attention will focu s on the words and not be distracted by unexpected changes in rhythm. (The American Mag azine) Legion A word about meter In a humorous poem the meter (or rhythm or beat) should be re gular and simple.

Two examples of uncomplicated metric lines come to mi nd. Life is complicated enough! I just rememb ered that years ago I wrote a short verse called "They Trod on My Trochee"Ðwhich r emains unsold!) So far we have a boffo title and a knee-slapping punch line. and the second from a Christmas carol: MAry. Eithe r would be a splendid vehicle for light verse. MAry. the unaccented or "unstressed" syllables are in lower case." old sayings. Familiar to most of us. puppy puns. to go into the in tricacies of "iambic tetrameter.format is quite different. but what about the other lines? Not to mention the rhyme schemeÐwhat is appropriate f or light verse? The rst three lines of a humorous quatrain should provide fodder for the grand nale in the fourth line. the second with an unstressed one." etc. QUITE conTRAry and its inverse it CAME upON a MIDnight CLEAR You will notice that I have capitalized the accented or "stress ed" syllables. which ran in The Saturday Evening Post: Dog Days School is out. When my children were growing up. The rs t line starts with a stressed syllable. we had a family dog. here. the weather's nippyÐ . (No need. etc . If the last line concerns a dog. the rst line is from a nursery rhyme. Kids-plus-dog inspired the following poem. the build -up lines could be full of canine humorÐ "Dry Bones.

Frequently. The most common rhyme scheme for a quatrain is to have the second and fourth lines rhyme. is the real clincher. You'll note the dentist-related wordplay of the title. It's enou gh to BURY us poor bassets!" I had more to say about the subject than usual. and the rest of the trip is fun. The last line. . But Fido views the scene askanceÐ "Although for kids it has its assets. Endowed with a good sen se of humor. And frequently induces squawking. My comp laint is somewhat differentÐ It means I have to give up talking! While you'll be aware of the second/fourth line rhyme in this poem (a copy of wh ich hangs in my dentist's of ce!).They forecast snow. however. the rst and third lines also rhyme (but with a different end-rhyme sound from lines #2 and #4). there are other things going on as well. the kids yell "Yippee!" And greet the akes with eager glance. so I extended it into a set of t hree couplets. The word "squawking" is funnyso undingÐeven more so when associated with supposedly mature adults. with its surprise ending. you're already halfway there. The following verse (which I sold to The Wall Street Journal) demonstrates the most common rhyme scheme: Gag Rule While dental work for some is painful.

a s well as that perennial poet's pal.Markets An investment that's sure to pay long-term dividends is the purchase of a few books: an introduction to poetry that explains basic terms and concepts." With pract ice. one of which follows: From "A" to Zebra Our kids described their zoo trip to us. bought two of my verse s. you can learn to view life's little annoyances as raw material for humorÐit b ecomes positively addictive." A real plus in writing light verse is the fact that the entire process can be ju st plain FUN! Not many professions can offer such an enticing "perk. Several of the so-called slick magazines are good markets for light verse. however. so it's best to check recen t issues to determine their current editorial policy. a publication of Oklahoma State University. After writingÐand sellingÐlight verse for nearly thirty . Cim arron Review. T his can be an off again-on again situation. at home that night: "We saw most animals in colorÐ But the striped one was in black and white. Excitedly. a rhyming dictionary. Public libraries are virtual wellsprings of information about and examples of light verse by well-kno wn humor writersÐfrom the amiable Robert Benchley to the tart-tongued Dorothy Park er. Literary and college magaz ines can be good markets for beginning as well as established verse writers.

and that' s saying quite a bit.years. . I nd the challenge just as exciting today as when I started out.

Should rhyming poetry automatically be categorized as less profound. Ideas that pour forth na turally from a poet's brain in rhyme form do so for reasons of their own. I ca n't help wondering if. and I found their response to be very warm. less worthy of . not just higher-ups in the literary community. how rhyming is just not considered "cool" these days. Where I live. the literary co mmunity has been missing out on a heck of a lot of fun.78 IN PRAISE OF RHYME By Jennifer Shepherd AFTER MY LACK OF SUCCESS IN RECEIVING PUBLICATION FOR RHYME D poetry. I read some of my work for an au dience of about 100 people. In fact. This got me thinking about the exclusionary nature of many poetry editors. allowing them to analyze an d retain the poems better. in the universal rebellion against rhyme. They did n't treat my poems as if they were less important or more super cial because they were in rhyme form. I decided to test the "audience" of real people out in the world. listeners that evening said that the rhyme actually helped them focus on the various pieces they heard. we have a lot of coffee houses where there are regular poetry readings.

and the latest overplayed hit song on the radio ood us with far too much stimuli. news report sound bites. We now live in a much more literate age. reality-shifting ex perience. The greatest poets of both past and present have sought to create doorw ays through which others can enter into a thought-provoking. Rhyme all owed people to carry the poet's sentiments home with them. while our memories and attention spans ge t shorter. But we also live in an era of information and entertainment overload. or 3) as man y people of the general public as possible. because the words bec ame xed in their brains. Most people remember very little of what they hear or see these days. songs.consideration. They continue to express ideas that they feel have value to an a udience consisting of 1) themselves. Time seems to be speeding up. foremost among all artistic forms. Mea nwhile. and tall tales anchored themselves more easily in the listener's mind when they were expressed through rhyme. is getting lost in the shuf e. . and almost anyo ne can pick up a volume of poetry and begin to read. Commercial jingles. conveyed primarily via storyt ellers' presentations. Poe try used to be romantic and playful entertainment. All of them want essentially the sam e thing. than the non-rhyming kind? To do so excludes a large number of th oughtful rhymers from even receiving attention from both audience and peers. poets from all over the world do their best to raise their voices above this cacophony. Anecdotes. 2) a hand-picked "worthy" few. And poetry.

Quite often. It has no power to harm you. if you will. let it linger and possibly carve out a few ne ural pathways. That way. Shakespeare's most affecting work still stimulates and captivates us. in spite of the rumor s circulating among many contemporary poets. the piece might remain locked in your memory box and led under "fun. its very appearance causing you distress. it's trueÐclumsy young poets sometimes fasten upon rhyme with a death grip. Content that is vague or vacuous de serves blame. but because it is struct ured in rhyme.Rhyme need not detract from creating this experience. If the linguistic carpenter is at all skilled. not just because of its age. And his work remains portable. "i n spite of" its iambic pentameter. rhyme can perform its tas k well. But just because the occasional poe m has imprinted itself indelibly upon your memory doesn't mean that you should g reet each new rhymed poem with a visceral gasp. And th e next time you encounter a rhyme. of a writer's doorway to r eality. Don't berate rhyme. So try stepping beyond the curr ent literary norms. the rhyme form in itself does not. readily availa ble to the average memory." . Rhyme serves as a framing device for the poet's thoughtsÐthe wooden beams. rhyme can act ually enhance the balance and impact of a poem. Yes. Be open to creating and enjoying poetry of all kinds. refusing to let go until they have created poetry destined to make readers (and listeners) scream with terror.

And who among us couldn't use a bit more fun? .

People often nd themselves teetering dizzily between opposing instincts and options. Finally you have to d ecide. . even if the two seem in blatant contradiction. Instead. another way to tackle the problem. say. certainly. I'm offering a list. not attempt to inspire the reader with transcendent words of wisdom about the beauty of poetry (I'm pri ncipally a poet and have more con dence in my wisdom regarding poetry than. ct ion). and perhaps especially beginning writers. there's always another chance.79 THE WISDOM OF A WISHY-WASHY POET By Rachel Hadas IN THINKING ABOUT WHAT I WOULD WRITE THAT WOULD BE HELPFUL to as piring authors. and enclose self-addressed envelopes with their submissions. do. therefore. writers. something closer to the way my own zig-zaggy mind and wishy-washy temperament seem to operate. but for the dedicated writer. Very often there is something to be said for both sides. I thought I'd steer a middle course between the Scylla and Chary bdis of too grand and too pedestrian. neither will I remind readers to keep copies of all their work. I will. another way to go about getting this particular poem or m anuscript done. but rather. be sure to have their name on every page. sound as such reminders would be. Not DO'S and DON'TS.

dialogi c. ask the advice of other writers/r eaders regarding your own work. tone. You are alone in this business and need to make your own decisions. Reading too much may even interfere with the development of you r own voice. Writers need to remember that they are not alone. restless. experimental. you can't be a good writer unless you are familiar with literature.I am not guaranteeing success or even enlightenment. which is fallible anyway. which are (I hope) both entertaining and enlightening. Be wily. · Consistency On the one handÐDevelop your own individual style. Furthermore. from writers I admire. Read all you can. but I hope to provide some food for thought and perhaps spark some recognition along the way. a nd you should do just that. I append to my list of ON THE ONE HAND/ON THE OTHER HAND a small dessert tray of quotes I've come across recently . Have the . On the other handÐYou need to make sure that what you are writing comes from you and is not just an imitation of or a homage to so me other writer. On the other handÐDon' t lock yourself into a single mode because it has worked for you once or because you're afraid to stray from one style. · Autonomy On the one handÐYou can't help learning from the work of other writers. or voice and stick to it! Yo ur work will be more distinctive and recognizable that way. don't depend on the advice of others. And nally.

poems can be both enigmas and solutions. death. or discontinuities. treatises on farming or astronomy or philosophy were oft en in verse. · Poetry On the one handÐPo etry can do anything from exhort. photo. Nowadays. Are you sure that what you're w riting isn't really a story or article. insult. they may well be puzzl ed by sudden allusions. On the other handÐDon't be afraid of what may seem very limi ted. at cer tain times in the past. · Scale: universality On the one handÐDon't be afraid to tackle immense topics: love. lament. so don't be afraid to leap. they rarely are. Also. and skip steps. On the other handÐPoetry is better at some things than others. like dreams. pray. If you don't know what you're saying. leaps. since people can't read your mind. or depicting a scene. even miniature topics. a cartoon or editorial.courage of your own wishy-washiness. glide. the meaning of life. what's wrong with the world today. cursing an enemy. On the other handÐPoetry is bet ter at ying than any other literary form. how can anyone else be expected to? An d even if you do know. · Obscurity On the one handÐAvoid pretension and obscuri ty. a personal lette r. or painting? There's also the historical aspect to be aware of. it's all right not to understand everything one writes or read s. sing. or narrate to tell ing a joke. Do you want to buck this . What you attempt to do in po etry shouldn't be limited by a narrow sense of the limits of genre.

be per sistent. On the other handÐEndless fussin g over details can undermine your con dence in your own work and leave you unable to nish anything. of course. Revise. One good poem is worth a thousand sloppy ones. expand. Furthermore. certain poets we now think of as grea tÐEmily Dickinson and Cavafy are two who come to mindÐpublished little or no work du ring their lifetimes. · Your audience On the one handÐBe aware of y our audience.trend? Can or should you? Maybe. and get published. Who are you writing for? Who are they likely to be? Who do you wan t them to be? On the other handÐAll you can do is write as well as you can. · Writer On the one handÐRemember to ask yourself such questio ns as what gives you the right to be called an author? Why do you want to be an author in the rst place? Why do you want to publish? On the other handÐIf you are w riting. cut. then you're a writer. whether it's a poem or a manuscript. and naturally you want to publish. . polish. revise. but even more so of poetry) are made of words. so you can move on to the next thing. move things around. the audie nce will take care of itself. · Perfectionism O n the one handÐPoems (this is true for all writing. be adaptable within your aesthetic limits. until the poem is as good as you can possibly make i t. . . and every word counts. .

workshops. parochial. W aiting for the Muse to descend is a romantic holdover.· Inspiration On the one handÐTry to have a regular schedule for writing." (Louise Bogan) "The subconscious. all subjects are universal. untrammeled. On the other handÐWriting cannot be taught. of course. spontaneous. a nd. On the other handÐGrinding away at your writing whether yo u feel like it or not is a recipe for boredomÐthe reader's as well as yours. can be every bit as tiresome as the conscious. · Teaching On the one handÐYou can learn to be a bett er poet in all sorts of ways: courses. when dredged up without ski ll or imagination." (Cynthia Ozic k) . foreign. conferences. at the sam e time every day if possible." (Louise Bogan ) "How can a person not personify?" (James Merrill) "There is nothing in the hum an predicament that is truly sectarian. It is only the human t hat can humanize. of 'special' or 'limited' or 'minority' interest. obsessive and unnecessary. reading. at least for poets. here are a few wise words I've turned up in m y magpie-like pokings: "All objects await human sympathy. Be f ree. childish and self-defeati ng more often than not. Writi ng on a regular schedule is. *** To anchor you after that dose of dialectics. narrow. writing groups. whether or not you feel inspired on a given day.

if they ever do." (Cynthia Ozick) . years m ust pass before the tables turn."Precocious adolescents make do with whatever odd conglomerate of wave-worn dict ion the world washes up at their feet. Language at this stage uses them." (James Merrill) "Last year's writers are routinely replaced by this year's. the baby carriages are brimming o ver with poets and novelists.

I've got my gadgets and gizmosÐpostcards. strange things I've put on my desk unthinkingly but for some reason never removedÐyet books are the things that help me the most with my own writing. But good writing comes more easily w hen it takes place within a rich. I always use the same coff ee cup. a . familiar environment that not only locates us in a sympathetic time and space but also reminds us of a larger context. mementoes. These are our power objects. a strand of heather from the Brontés' parsonage. a fort une-cookie slip promising great success. A friendly physical setting is a point of departu re for a writer as well as a source of continuous encouragement during that long journey we make every day through an often-strange landscape of fresh feelings and new ideas. the ritual devices we gaze at. that re alm where the immortals dwell. even talk to as we prepare to shoulder the mantle of authorship. touch.80 CREATE YOUR OWN POET'S LIBRARY By David Kirby MOST WRITERS I KNOW HAVE A COLLECTION OF TOTEMS ON OR NEAR their desks: a photo of Whitman. we'd probably be right there at our desks anyway. doing the best we can. Where would we be without them? Well.

it's nice to have Webster's Third New International Dictionar y (MerriamWebster). (2) The Bible. probably two. so I trust you'll edit this list to meet your own requ irements as you compile or revise your poet's bookshelf.. Don't you?" I didn't then.chipped." and certainly the dic tionary's principal purpose is to steer the writer toward the most precise expre ssion. One person's lifesaver is anothe r's dust trap. even the most computer-centric writers I know still surround themselves with their favorite books. But our ordinary lives are shaped by religious language as well. though in a pinch I suppose I could drink my morning jolt of "rocket fuel" from some other vessel. or. " Of course. Almost any dictionary will do for daily use as long as it is com prehensive enough to be useful and small enough so that you can handle it comfor tably. But it can also be used as a aid to inspiration. But there are certain books I nd indispensable. The poet Carolyn Knox wr ites a poetry that is so lush and word-drunk that I once asked her. Mark Twain s aid that the difference between the right word and the one that is almost right is the difference between "lightning" and "lightning bug. "Do you just look through the dictionary sometimes for interesting words?" Her answer was. I couldn't get along without: (1) A dictionary . of course. small-print version). just listen to what a self-described . which comes in a compact (i. but I do now. even better. Personally. Some of these items are available on CD-ROM or come already included in a computer's hard drive. After that. the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford Unive rsity Press). Howeve r. badly stained object that my sons gave me years ago. The Judeo-Chr istian tradition permeates the whole of Western culture.e.

chapters in a rich anthology that address es our deepest sorrows and our highest hopes." which can be used in place of "mask. but to date there is no substitute for Roget's International Thesaurus (HarperCollins). and love. righteousness. imagine you're looking up "totem. The Garden of Eden. I ca n hit the Alt-Fl keys on my keyboard. Again. I say "real" because these days. though an index is essential." and a dozen other choices. writers h ave always borrowed from the Bible and always will. I can choose from "earmark." "medallion. On the other hand. if I look up "totem" in Roget's ." and "badge" as well as "genius ." "emblem. if I want to cons ider synonyms for "totem." etc. every computer c omes equipped with a thesaurus of sorts." "demon." "token. computer tools do n't really encourage serendipity. but then the screen tells me "Word Not Fou nd" in my computer thesaurus." "plague." "good angel. A real thesaurus remind s us of the richness of our language in a way that . and if you're looking for the story of Abraham and Isaac. As with the dictionary. For instance. you may (as I just did) stumble across "stiacciato. (3) A real thesaurus. The Bible is a big book in more ways than one. any standard version will do." Your computer may tell you there's no such word. but on the way to looking it up in Roget's. From Dante to Dickinson." "cameo. This is one more case of th e computer being faster but not better than the book. Besides. you won't want to spend hours wandering in the desert with Moses and the Chosen People. the Flood." which occurs in the rst sentence of this article.atheist says when he pounds his thumb with a hammer and you'll see what I mean. the Marriage of Cana: these are timeless stories of innocence.

the version of Wi ndows on my computer has a rhymer. such as the World Almanac (World Almanac)." and "g alloglass. the rhyming dictiona ry permits the . but the latter is correct. Recently I was writing a poem about rhythm and blues and I need ed to nd out when Fats Domino was born." "octobass. (Answer: February 26. (6) A current edition of an almanac. especially when you take shelf space into account as well as cost. 1928. but I value it more for its speed than for it s usefulness. but something along the lines of T he Columbia Encyclopedia (Columbia University Press) is ideal for most purposes. and that's not the kind of thing you're g oing to nd in the encyclopedia.). Brown)." "isinglass. Inc. (4) A one-volume encyclopedia." "Boreas. and this or a similar book will lead you to the right one.the more ef cient if single-minded computer cannot. not Johnson. Alexander Pope said it. And by the way." "contrabass.) (7) Langford Reed's The Writer's Rhyming Dictionary. For as with the dictionary and the thesaurus. Even a free-verse poet will from time to time want to nd a word with a v ery particular sound. Did Samuel Johnson say "A little knowled ge is a dangerous thing" or "A little learning is a dangerous thing"? You often hear the former. (5) Bartlett 's Familiar Quotations (Little. It will also surprise you: how else would you learn that the rhymes for "Christ mas" include "anabasse. with an introduction by John Holmes (The Writer . Of course a multi-volume set would be ideal." as well as a bunch of words you already know? Yes.

which contains the 100 poems included most often in more than 400 anthologies. you can't do someth ing new unless you have an idea of what has already been done. (8) Jack Elster's There's a Word for It! (Pocket Books) is an engrossing guide to all those words you know exist even if you don't know what they are. keep me out of trouble because through them I stay connected with the great tradition out of which all writing ows. like the next item on this list. Thanks to Lister. but I do want to say s omething different from what he said. Speaking of which . (9) The Oxford Companion to American Literature and The Oxford Companion to E nglish Literature (Oxford University Press). ." "Misanthrope" isn't the word you want. These two books. of course. Right now I'm wor king on a poem about my recent trip to Venice. suppose you want to describe someone who hates men. Everyone knows th at a woman hater is a "misogynist. More seriously. becau se a misanthrope hates everyone. But a "misandrist" is someone who hates men onl y. not someone who nails grammar books to boardsÐa cruci-verbalist is a devotee of crossword puzzles. After all. (10) At least one anthology of classic poe try. to the thousand- . I found out that I am a "cruciver-balist.kind of happy accident of which wonderful poems are made. so before I began to write I remi nded myself of what Shakespeare said about that city in The Merchant of Venice a nd Othello." No. . I don't plan to outdo Shakespeare. This can range from such manageable volumes as Oscar Williams' Immortal Poe ms (Pocket Books) or William Harmon's The Concise Columbia Book of Poetry (Colum bia University Press).

Again. Mark Vinz. and whenever I pick up one of these collect ions. Right now I'm looking at the spines of recent books by Primo Levi. Truesdale (New Rivers Press). this new writing is not something I want either to duplicat e or deny. W. Vitamin P takes many different forms. and you know which poets are b est for you. This is the part of my poet's bookshelf th at changes most frequently. and Dorothy Barresi. Obviously a poet's connection with the past is essential. Maril yn Hacker. and The Party Train: A Collection o f North American Prose Poetry. (12) A book from The Wild Card Category. I am certain of getting my Recommended Daily Allowance of Vitamin P. Reginald Shepherd. You have a further chance to personalize your poet's bookshelf by including something so outlandish that o nly you would nd it useful. This is a . and C. t he Coffeehouse Poetry Anthology edited by June King and Larry Smith (Bottom Dog Press). which emphasizes the oral tradition. (11) Half a dozen current poetry collections. I also see two anthologies. but it is equally clear that poets need to learn from their contempo raries. and it is the part least likely to be cloned by any other poet. edited by Robert Alexander. As wi th the older poetry. an inkling of what has bee n done and what remains for me to do.plus-page textbook you kept from your college days. the point is to be ab le to connect with the best of the past and use it in the best way. What I seek in these pages is inspiration. A sumptuous feast is served 24 hours a day within the modest space these books occupy. One of my favorite books in this category is The Roma nce Writers' Phrase Book by Jean Kent and Candace Shelton (Berkley Publishing Gr oup).

book of over 3. such as (from "Expression") "her wide-eyed innocence was merely a smoke screen. swaggerÐto my task. . with dozens of tags under each. like old friends. for example. gaze down upon you and murmur silent encouragement as you pursue your craft. " "Color. n o doubt." "Movement. In the "Eyes" chapter. actually. Then my own eyes begin to glow with a savage inner re as I returnÐno. since romance heroes and heroines seem never to do anything halfw ay." and "his eyes glowed with a savage inner re. The idea is to create you r own poet's bookshelf and stock it with works that will.000 "tags" or one-line descriptions used to convey emotionÐ or pass ion." I love to dip in to this book whenever I think I'm being too stiff or pedantic. Are these th e books you need to make your own poetry the best it can be? Many of them are. you will nd such headings as "Expression." and so on." "his eyes wer e cold and proud. whereas others may strike you as unimportant.

that depend on onomatopoeia . clever and un expected conclusions. They dote on repetition. They revel in the action rhymes. as well as in such farcical verse as Merry Merry F IBruary. by Doris Orgel. the wildly impossible. precedes each line describing a zebra. . They love slapstick. in a seashell/ Sailed to Samarkand and back. Fascinated at rst by rhyme for its own sake. twists and turns. they soon begi n to appreciate poetry that deals with simple concepts. Using these last two devices and the fun of a deliberat e b. by Mary Anne Hoberman. the ridiculous. word play. in which the word abracadabra. jump rope games. and later. hyperbole and alliteration. not only to complement the words. used to great e ffect in A Fine Fat Pig. nger play. A POEM IS A DEEPLY SATISFYING WAY OF L OOK-ing at the world. the claim is made that "On the rst of FIBruary/Setting out from Hacken-sack/ My Aunt Selma. but also sometimes to explain them. fanciful questions.81 WRITING POETRY FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS By Pat Lowery Collins FOR YOUNG CHILDREN." Poetry books for th is age group are heavily illustrated. u sed as an exclamation.

rhymed o r un-rhymed." Children of this age are i ntrigued by the subtlety of haiku. The com bined Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water by Maurice Sendak is an unus ual case in which poems and illustrations are all of one piece. is a perfect vehicle. / Am an Artist. To provide an example. and its shortness is irresistible to those ju st learning to put their own thoughts on paper. Words emphasizin g the text pepper the illustrations. . The text of my non ction book. that art is a process which begins with our experiences in the natural world. is ac tually one long poem conveying the concept. illustrated so as to enhance or help t o develop a concept or story. But in most cases. they still look for poetry that is simple and unlabored. I struggled to produ ce: "Evening/is quietly stitching/the seam of night. should be able to stand on their own. Yet. something that takes them seriously. even for the very young. and much of the action is in the pictures i nstead of the words. Haiku. through the nely detailed paintings o f Robin Brickman. Writing in th is form is not as easy as it sounds. they will often provide the art ist with exciting possibilities for illustrations without really trying. Sometimes a single poem is us ed as the entire text for a picture book. poems. three unrhymed lines (in Japanese they must consist of 17 syllables) offering a n unusual perspective on a spark of reality.And since poets are usually very visual writers. To some degree they want a poem to be as profound as what they are experiencing in life. It's been my observation that children in the middle grades (age s 9-12) are no longer as fascinated by rhyme.

either in such traditional forms as the limerick or i n new and inventive ways. and. each one complete in itself. K ennedy and Dorothy M." the "beamish boy" slays h im as his "vorpal blade went snicker-snack!" . obscure meanings. rhyme. Poetry is then a vehicle to express feelings without ex posing them. of course. Kennedy.But humorous. One that does this effectively is Knock at A Star. still holds great appeal. when communication with peers. The mystery of nonsenseÐeven an entire made-up languageÐseems to hold the same allure as it had for the four-year-old. Tools for this are found in nonsense sounds. by Ramona Maher. We are told that "The new lamb sucks/The pinyon burns low/The lamb goes to sleep/ His nose is a black star. J. Language for its own sake becomes the focus again for readers about eleven to twelve. silly verse. collected by X. intrigue. an d secrets are important. taken together tell a story of a year in the li fe of a Navajo girl. humor. doub le meanings. It is also a good ti me for books such as Alice Yazzie's Year. Yo ung readers are all too willing to accept the special logic of Lewis Carroll's " Jabberwocky" and will have no trouble guring out that when the Jabberwock "came w hif ing through the tulgey wood/And burbled as it came. may be better remembered than the multiplication tables." Poems about parents quarrelling or grandparents dying are often interspersed with poetry in a lighter vein in collections for this ag e group. in which unrhymed poe ms. a year that holds such mysteries as the birth of a lamb." provided by John Ciardi in Zoo Doing s. Thus the information that "O ysters/are creatures/without/any features.

you will be competing with Shakespeare. Poems Starring Girls. S ylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. My own fee ling is that even though the poetry you are compelled to write may turn out to h ave a special appeal for this age group. Eliot. 'Or else write books. a way to understand the world as it c hanges in and around them. S." by Kaye Starbird4. for example." T eenagers may establish a passionate identi cation with one particular poet as they look for role models. Most poetry for this age group appears in anthologi es related to a single theme. Walt Whitman. they are often attracted to poets with dysfunctional lives. to a city or to some historical period. and a cast of thousands. I'm currently illustrating a collection for Atheneum called Sports.'/ Her father added. 'Is that a dare?' And wrote a book that would curl your hair.But these same children are also looking for poets able to look at life in the w ays that they do. they have probably been made aware of t he mechanics and craft of poetry and are intrigued by experimentation. Of . which ends by saying.'/ And Abigail asked. The poetry of Walter de la Mare has a timeless appeal because he af rms feelings that are universal. edited by Isabel Joshlin Glaser. Because of the need of adol escents to deal with strong feelings and disturbing issues such as death and sui cide. "And while h er mother said. They can appreciate any poet whose vision is not too obscure. T. His book Peacock Pie was rst published in 19 13 and has been in print ever since. Emily Dickinson. a sense of history. 'Fix your looks. By this time. that af rms the dreams and aspirations of young women i n such poems as "Abigail. Power and Dreams of Glory.

But knowin g your audience is only a beginning. the quality of poetry we give our children should be the best available. Here I must admit to being an offender myself wit h my rst book for . Another misconception is that almost any id ea for a children's book should be written in rhymed verse. and bad verse can. And here I think the masters of today are a good match for th ose of yesterday and have an edge because they speak to the familiar. from the very begin ning of their awareness of language. It's true we can get away wi th serving them peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. It is a common misconceptio n that almost anyone can write poetry for children. but it better be creamy pea nut butter or the kind with just the right amount of nuts. Although there are exceptions. Your most important assets will be a good me mory and a strong awareness of the child within you. but not enough of it. even reasonably good verse will not neces sarily make for a more compelling text.course. Don't fall victim to the mis taken notion that writing poetry for children of any age is easier than writing for adults. Your perspectives and topics may be different. S o many " rst" manuscripts in verse are submitted to editors that there is almost a universal resistance to them. in fact. Quite the opposite i s true. but the skills you mu st bring to task are the same. skills honed through years of reading good poetry and working to develop your craft. There are a number of other things you shou ld bear in mind in writing poetry for young people. there is a lot of wonderful poetry out there for young children too. be deadly. Just so.

you should. as when Shel Silverstein. uneven collections by one poet or many." . admonishes readers to "Listen to the Mustn'ts." · Near rhymes. unless it i s written with good humor. and anthologists who complete ly overlook contemporary poems and poets. or overused." by Hal Summers. Looking back. are anthologies that include bad poems sim ply because they're by "good" poets. They stop chil dren in their tracks and detract from the ow of the poem. and minor poems by major poets because they 're short. Besides being as meticulous when writing poetry for child ren as you would be in writing for adults. · Lazy images. metaphor. not under the control of the poet. under penalty of a one-wa y trip down the rabbit hole. An example would be "li on's" rhymed with "de ance" and "cat" with "hate" in the poem "My Old Cat. convenient. Things I personally object t o. The inability of some editors to recog nize good poetry or to appreciate a child's ability to understand abstract conce pts is a real problem. I realize that any advantage I may hav e had was somehow knowing enough to keep it simple. settling for the most obvious image. My Friend Andrew. avoid all of the following: · Poetry that talks down to the reader or is used as a vehicle to deliver a moral or message. (Knock at A Star) · Rhymes that are too cute.children. in his Where the Sidewalk E nds. or simile as in "w ide as the sky. " Rain" rhymed with "Spain" comes to mind. Even well-known poets some times do this.

Madeline. by Ludwig Bemelma ns. . then . it would be hard to imagine your own story being told in any other way. · Writing presented in the for m of a poem that isn't poetry by any stretch of the imagination and isn't even g ood prose. keep studying the work of poets you admireÐtheir pace. · Poetry that is too complex or obscure. Always read your own work aloud to avoid this. Young readers won't want to strugg le to understand what may be very personal imagery. · Poe try that is orid and old-fashioned. If he had insisted on being another Edw ard Lear. we would have missed his unique vision and voice. sometimes directed more to the parent than t he child. · Writers who believe they must write like another poet in order to be published. · Distorted rhy me that's hard to read aloud. (I felt this way about Andrew. written in the accepted style of an earlier p eriod. by all means.) · Subject matter inappr opriate for the intended age group. as with the book. or dealing with subjects outside the child's experience. If. go for it. Seuss. not because it will assist in saying what you want to sa y in the most interesting way. rh yme schemes and structureÐand keep writing until you nd how to say what you want to in ways uniquely yours.· Rhyme for rhyme's sake. There was only one Dr. If you aren't sure e nough of your own voice.

But the eld of p oetry has never been considered a lucrative one. You will feel like the child whose tower at long last has rea ched the sky. until the p oem begins to say what you had in mind all along or what may never before have o ccurred to you. Today.Like Valerie Worth. adding another. but they are highly selective and still apt to overlook a talented newcomer in favor of a poet more likely to turn a pro t. Then. Thanks to the rmer nancial footing of most book departments for young readers. to some editors who realize that poetry rounds o ut a list. but wear your prescription lenses and present the world through y our observations and special talents. ." it is a mom ent like no other. and to the demand by teachers and librarians. having in mind that building a poem is muc h like building a block tower: You will be balancing one word or line against an other. A number of publishing houses are actively seekin g poetry for children. Borrow her microscop e if you must. There are exceptions. really "happens. you may have wonderful. there is really no escape. as with a ny art form. who continue to put their words down on paper n apkins and laundry lists. and for some poets. quiet pe rceptions to express about everyday objects and happenings. When a poem really comes together. dropping one word. arranging and rearranging. in her All the Small Poems. there were a few poets who had cracke d the barrier somewhat earlier and continued to be published. the market for children's poetry is quite different from wh at it was in the inhospitable 1980s. there is currently grea ter opportunity for new poets. but a limited numb er of new names came on the scene.


Because theater is a collaborati ve art form. writing for the stage is full of rewriting: Directors. Unwise playwrights take all sugge stions and try to incorporate them. Some of them will actually tell you how to rewrite. did something happen? Think back on . and make the changes they nd genuinely helpful. Here are a few suggestions. The rst concerns plot. and they all affect the play. The best playwrights listen. it's necessary. if we all learn to love it. Better yet. So it's best if we all learn to l ike it. Ask yourself this question: What's t he difference between the character at the beginning of the play and at the end? In other words. things to keep in mind during t he rewriting process. Foolish playwrights listen to no one and mak e no changes at all. eit her overtly or covertly. It's wise to be open-minded about rewrites. They all have opinions. desi gners all play a part. cull the suggestions. Also like milk and exercise. actors.82 THE DEVIL'S IN THE REWRITE By Julie Jensen REWRITING IS LIKE MILK OR EXERCISEÐEITHER YOU LIKE IT OR YOU don't . oth ers will just make choices that make the text changes necessary.

wads it up. of cours e. Sometimes a piece of stage business is a whole beat. It's easiest to de ne a beat as the time between a character's star ting to pursue a goal and the point at which he achieves it. Her reasons compose the element of the beat. she's got to change her clothes. stretching. Look at Romeo and Juliet when we rst meet them. When she grabs the box. One sign of a good plot. That section or segment is a beat. and decides to wrap it herself. that's the end of the beat. and ends. Compare the leading character at the beginning with the one at the end. They should have beginnings. Are the events in an arc? Arc implies an arch. They understand them instinctively a nd will endeavor to supply them if you don't. By the end. And that's good. and the child will be home at any moment. That's a beat. Arc is a bubble in the wind. The second test concerns structur e. She's running late. But arc is also more elastic t han that. Next. or stop s. They've been through a lot. A beat might also be a page or two long. and tosses it into the re. midd les. Beat s in a play correspond to paragraphs in prose. thinks a second. The character reads the note. changes it. The structure of the action is . Beats are the small units of a play. A woman wants her husband to wrap a present for their ch ild. The reason you write in beats i s simple: You want your play to be made up of sections rather than isolated line s. tosses it on the couch. they are dead. But they have done more than just die. It's also easy for actors to play beats. make sure you've written beats. Her pursuit of that goal is a beat.your favorite plays. Can a beat be short? Of course. It's a good shape for a play.

I myself was inconsolable." someone said. shorter than they were in the pa st. I'll bet anything that the playwright had tormented herself about whether the play was l ong enough. a radical suggestion: Don't think about expanding your play. with one intermission. in general. Recently. One couple frowned and left. In general. Most people in the audience worry about a play being too lon g. perhaps. Then go ahead and be ruthless. Examine your own responses to exp eriences in the theater. Someone came out with news that the play was only 95 minutes long. Now then. If expansion is really a goal.also easier to apprehend if it's divided into beats. Sections help us divide up an experience. "It's three hours and twenty minutes long. We were buoyant. I was standing in a theate r lobby. I had a similar experience at the opening of a college production of a musical. Think ab out cutting it. Theater experiences need to be intense and. My best advice is to rewrite the play to please the audience and yourself. And overlong plays threaten both. playwrights worry entirely too much about their wo rk being too short. We feel in sections. think about adding events. And yet. They certainly can't put up with the boredom. waiting to see a new play. We t hink in sections. We were al l disappointed. not ex panding dialogue. Cut any scene not . but I doubt it. Try packing a lot of events into a small section of time rather than scatteri ng a few events over a long period of time. Audiences just won't put up with a lot of talk. Could you have a good piece of prose in which there were no paragraphs? Well.

hell. Make sure they're economical. If he threatens her twice. Embarrassing rather than impressive. Especially if it contains your favorite bits." Make sure you 've tested every line every possible way. "Hel l. it moves the scene along." Far better if the character says. and that can be wonderful. his second is to threaten her. What if a character says something like. in some way more surprising. Cut also any repeated beats. It steps forward rather than marching in place. esp ecially at the beginning. it sticks out as "writerly. But most of all. Now we are at the micro-editing stage. lines. And that is a no-no. "Oh. you just don't understand anything. "I al so like horses. "You understand nothing. for example. his third is to in sult her. lines. Bill. I know." All right. but I also like horses. that a character wants his sister to leave the room." calls attention to itself. Say. But it can also lead to extra beats in a line. even if it contains some of your favorite bits. or ideas. For example. o r ideas. a character will say something like. His rst tactic is to lure her out. If it doesn't further the story." It's cleaner. Pare down the individual li nes. Bill.necessary to the story. it is less effective than if he threatens h er only once. how many times do I have to tell you? You just don't understand any thing. yes. cut it." Then take a look at that version. Maybe it would be better yet if it read. But check to see if the line would be better if it read. the most economical ver sion is the best. "Wel l. and then . the writer equivalent to a show-of f child. Almost always. to the writing. A writer with a particularly good ear will often imitate speec h. That means any beats in which the character repeats the same tactics in pursuit of a goal. sharper.

too. They make the language ro ck. (By the way. try using iambics (a two-syllable foot. And probably the scene i s. Don't worry about meaning. the rst unaccented. check to see if they appeal to at least four of the ve s enses. smell." Good for him. They are very easy rhythm structures. taste. What do you understa nd?" You've said the same thing. Note the images you're using. you've shortened the speech. Pay attention only to th e rhythm: Ta-DUM. This next suggestion is quite radical: If you're having trouble with a section you've rewritten several times. But the second sentence is inert. subtle. The important thing is the i ambic. The line is sharper. you need not worry about the penta meter part or any other number of feet to the line. "It smells like Campbell's Vegetable Soup in here. cleaner. Here's an example: . ta-DUM. quite natural to English. better. "I don't know. "You." We know already that the lead-in sentence is unnecessary. the character might surprise you. and you've also is sued a challenge. instead. That leads me to another suggestion. And while you're at it. and say. make sure that your images are interesting.) Practice some lines. it reads. I don't think you understand. fun. give it a sense of momentum. and hearingÐwe tend to overdo image s of sight and neglect all the others. (Images are gures of speech that appeal to one of the ve sens es. On the other hand. the second accented). Of the sensesÐsight. Surprises are wonderful. ta-DUM. What if the line reads. touch. Most plays have too few of them. You can also sharpen the individual lines by letting a charact er go on the offensive. What if.stepping forward.) Quite consciously.

Now take a look at some of your awkward lines. Is what you're saying true? Is what this character says and does true? You can lear n to nesse anything. but make sure you don't lose your soul in the process. All t he technical expertise in the world can't compensate for a play that lies. One n al suggestion (I like to apply this one after I've been playing with the details . "You can't believe I'm dead tonight. See if letting them rock back and forth will help you move the scene along. . the words are in my mind. just for practice. I've gone and said too much. J ust practice the rocking motion. But God himself could hardly give them voice . because it is a marked contrast): Test your play for truth." Language is pure sound and rhythm." Good old iambic. the mechanics. Write more lines."In fact.

Texas. darin g. and the yellow pagesÐall are possible sources of inspiration. letters. were stranded in a country 'n western bar in Amari llo. obituaries. and that hysterical comedy about the time you and three longtime women frien ds from Cape May. We can explore the . Reading history. situations. original. myth. you sometimes get stuc k. funny but not silly. and your blank computer screen is daring you to knock its socks off. Now what? Your audience is hungry for something new. diari es. Or perhaps you nd yourself writing the same play over and ov er again. As storytellers. newspapers. and military revolutions that left thei r mark on human development. using similar themes. And nothin g's coming. run out of steam. political. scienti c.83 WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY By Kent R. and characters. places us at the c enter of the social. Where then do you go for artistic stimulation? The answer? Everywhere. silly but not stupid. biographies. New Jersey. whether ancient or current. Brown YOU'VE FINISHED THAT SCATHING DIATRIBE AGAINST SOMETHING OR oth er. You've run dry! It's a fact. serious but not a complete downer. History. You need to expand y our skills by varying your plots and characterizations.

or Louis XIV. start reading the newspaper. You d o read the newspaper. The possibilities are endless. the role of women in science or the in uence of immigration on the social fabric of America. Hi story is full of fascinating people. from the fabric of history. Maybe a parent is dying and the artist tries to convey emotion through drawings or photographs.to six-character play with no more than one or two settings. Without con ict. But the parent is blind. · Article: The opening of a new art gallery. tha t situation in which two energies go up against one another. Lincoln. but you really want to write the ve. I decided to see what plots and characters might be hiding within the articles I read. but we must draw our charac ters. You're willing to be e nriched and all that. I tried to keep an eye out for con ict. the interest to wade through scholarly analyses. Alexander's conquest of the western world. accurately or with artistic embellishments. speculate. but nothing leaps out at you.public and private lives of Jefferson. with out making choices. Over several mornings. The play takes . tru thfully. We can continue our fas cination with whatever our favorite themes might be. We c an research the Ming Dynasty. with The New York Times and two local newspapers before me. the Gre at Depression. Madame Curie. The drama: A photographer/artist who "sees" life as a set of at planes and surfaces has dif culty communicating his/her own heart. If so. Why would it? You h ave to improvise. there is little drama. you say. Here goes. but perhaps you don't have the time or.

Maybe this is really a play for young people focusing on two children who set out to help their father/mother who is ill at home and has lost his/her job. resolves to take money from a teen-age child's education fund to cover loans or bad debts . Does any singular action actually re ect the es sence of an individual? Are reputations built upon truths or ction? Is honesty re ally the best policy? · Article: The need to establish an investment strategy at a n early age to insure that a child's college tuition will be fully funded. surrounded by toys of symbolic innocence and hope .place in the gallery. The issues are fascinating. or in the summer cottage where the artist. having made disastrous nancial decisions. has come to say goodbye. em otional claim to items in an estate. The drama: A niece or long-distant relative appears after a funeral claiming title to an object that has been willed to her sister with . The drama: The biographer is approached by the subject's last surviving family member and is asked to expu nge this un attering period/episode/event in the subject's background. How might they help out? What dif culties might they encounter? · Article: Legal vs. Where is the play set? In the living room. ne. estran ged over the years. · Article: A biographer has elected to focus on embarrassing/sexual behavior engaged in by the subject of the biography. perhaps. The d rama: A single father/mother. but how about a playground? On a teetertotter? It might be dynamic to see an adult and fully-grown child coming to terms with the parent's aws. But the bio grapher needs the publication to break into an august circle of celebrity biogra phers. What might happen? The possibilitie s are endless.

something would emerge. · Article: A retrospe ctive piece looking at the Mars Rover and efforts of the engineers and scientist s. Why? I don't know yet. her ailing mother.whom she has had a stormy relationship. The members face displa cement. each other? What are the real stakes here? · Article: A longtime social cl ub has been meeting in an old house that is up for sale. The drama: One of the club members is the buyer but does not want the ot hers to continue meeting there. · Article: A moth er and two sick children are stranded by the side of the road in bad weather. I'm intrigued. The drama: What must it be like to devote one's life effort to a machine? Is it to bene t the human race. but the children rebel because of his absence. the de ceased. and her two teen-age children are stranded at a roadside picnic rest stop. What rights do the sisters really have? What evidence will they each produce? What do they know about the family. but if I started to explo re the energy inherent in the situation. Maybe this play is se t in the backyard in a tent or a lean-to the father helped build. Th e drama: A grown daughter. . Two men approach and offer their assist ance. which requires one of the stranded family members to go with one of the me n while the second man stays with the family. or is it motivated by a desire for celebrity? What ab out the scientists' families and the time the scientists spent away from loved o nes? Perhaps a scientist tries to excite his children to share his enthusiasm fo r the work. And the childr en refuse to come inside the house.

what if he had stayed on the .For a little comedy. slig htly degenerate father seeks nancial aid from his grown child. and hung up. The Phoenix Dimen sion. I used several issues of USA Today in writing my play. What if the plea was genuine. "Help me. ." My friend didn't recog nize the voice. but maybe the writer falls in love with the gangster's daughter or wife or mistress! At the core of these s peculations must always be the search for an energy opposite to that generated b y the protagonist. And don't require all the questions you may have about the ma terial to be fully known before you begin to write. That's not necessaril y bad. · Article: A feature on an unfamous writer of famous jingles. But the grown chil d is such a poor manager of money that the father moves in with him or her and t ries to manage not only the child's nancial life but the child's love life as wel l. Many writers launch into the ir work letting the impulse and energy guide their inquiry. something or other. too. I haven't gured it out quite yet. the endi ng is not what they originally thought it was going to be. The comedy: A scruffy. Often. The comedy: A qui et. thought it was a prank. The exploration most likely will unearth future plot or character possibi lities. try the absurd: · Article: Older children in greater numbers seek money and nancial assistance from their parents. . unassuming writer of greeting cards and jingles is approached by a mobster/u nsavory character to write a tribute for the mob/gang's boss on the eve of. But he couldn't get back to sleep. The inciting event was actually supplied by a friend who answered his phon e one morning and heard a woman's voice plead.

the woman has persuaded him to kill his boss. betwe en scenes. A man of simple means. The Phoenix Dimension fused together these two separate but thematically related states.phone longer? Concurrently. and so on. stared out the window. sat in a bar. A man in his 50s answers it. his full identity has been invested in his work. and hundreds of articles about how we damage ourselves in so many ways in t his countryÐall this had been fueling my frustration. These were interspersed throughout the play. I read these news snippets to learn about murders . and without ever ha ving met her directly. A ringing telephone is heard in the dark. as my central character dressed. went to work. He becom es wary. depressing nightly n ews. even warning him that his job is in jeopardy. I had become increasingly fed up with America's obse ssion with violence. I wrote a series of sound bites in uenc ed by jingles. and predominantly. He is hooked. He hangs up. She calls back. A woman's voice is heard. discount and grocery store announcements. To create the impression of being off-center and no longer in control of a stable environment. from those thumbnail news items USA Today lists und er the heading of each state. bizarre marital . thus int ensifying his sense of being assaulted by the frantic and often absurd dimension s of life. Also. Younger employees want his job. but he never gave out his work number. radio and television ta lk shows. I never allowed him to leave the stage. and the boss seems eag er to see the man leave the company. For several months. Indulgent and confessional talk shows. By the end of the play. who happens to be the woman's husband. His wo rld begins to come apart. She has a seductive voice and seems to know a great deal about his life. She calls him at his of ce.

or was she drive n to prove something to herself or to someone else? · A Ph.W. played Santa Claus at annual Rotary Christmas festivities. killer bee attacks. s ang with a barbershop quartet. who earned her living as a professional mourner. She served on the state's Welfare Commission and generated funding initi atives for the Special Olympics. And that's just what was printed in the obituary! What in uence mi ght his W. I don't believe I could have made up all the item s I used. personal observations. Here's what you'll nd: and · A rural farmer who fought in W. fathered seven children. biography. with three adopted child ren of mixed heritage. or to serve as ironi c counterpoints to the action. II. and loved ballet and classical . survived three wives. Besides history. In this instance. and lived to be ninety-seve n years of age. gang killings. What con icts did she have with her children. a nurse. truth was stranger than ction but served my ctional ne eds perfectly.D. lost his farm in a major Midwest ood. and a host of other actual events. journalism. university scholar o f hard sciences who was a sports photographer and National Science Foundation Fe llowship recipient. II experiences have had on his attitude toward life? What made him want to play Santa Claus? · A single mother in the south. wh at's left? Obituaries.dif culties. a tutor in Italian. Each was tailored to underscore speci c moments in the play.W. a Formula 1 race car driver. her employers? How did she spend whatever quiet time came her way. and a choir singer who often sang at ten church services pe r week.

insensitive psychiatrists. You'll be amazed at the cou ntless occupations. and arrogant teachers that always seem to turn up in your cast lists. bank examiners. elevator inspectorsÐI'll stop here . and businesses that keep this country moving b ut seldom walk the stage: air conditioning contractors. caterers. kitchen designers. Was this a man who valued control and precision but enjoyed dealing with risky variables as he raced around the track? Finally.music. auto supply owners/workers/s ecretaries. Or maybe there's a play about a burial vault salesperson who meets an antique dealer/ mo rtician/bookbinder who wants to be buried in a specially designed vault that pla ys Dixie whenever the doors are opened. and are fed up with the alcoholic fathers. Imagine the options! You can mix and match your characters as you do your ward robe. To develop a rich appreciation for how fascinating people's lives can be. Well. bookbinders. architects. private bodyguards. crane operators. read the oral histories compiled by Studs Terkel: The Good . chiropractors. this last idea may or may not y. ministers. burial vault salespersons. try this: Open a telephone book and turn to the yellow pages. as well. birth center directors. bu t give it a try. The point here is that what we do and how we elect to spend our time and our energy tells volumes about our valuesÐand our characters' values. ani mal welfare directors. if you are really pressed for time. antique dealers. termite controllers. billiard parlor owners. associations. How about a crane operator father who is an opera buff? Why not? Or a chir opractor who studied lm in college and knows the dialogue to all the lms by John F ord and plays out a different scene each time he's working on a client.

music an d lyrics). James Goldman's T he Lion in Winter. and Across the Plains. for a personal perspective on history. by Jean Anouilh. Becket. D. and regret are riveting. To see how history and non ction can inform the theatrical imagination. by David Rintels. take a good look at Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons. to the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. aspiration.War. Hard Times. by Sandra Fenichel Asher. Clarence Darrow. . by Molly Newman (book) and Barbara Damashek (book. Robert Schenkkan's The Kentucky Cycle. Working. fact alone is not drama. The personal tales of fear. shape it. take a look at Eyewitness to History. but remember. edi ted by John Carey. for examples of life as it was lived from the siege of Jerusa lem in 70 A. You have to push it. superior tributes to human tenacity. t he musical Quitters. Root your work in re ality. Also. tea se it into a dramatic work that can be more truthful to the spirit of human cond ition than the facts that created it. and American Dreams. joy.

changing in ways that make them seem almost autonomous. and even how w e should react to them. tellin g us who they are. their prese nce or absence in a particular scene. their interaction with other characters. what they look like. Stage characters also comment on each othe r. Characters reveal who they are through their stage behavior: their words . their strategic silences. what they think and feel. Although su ch moments can't be guaranteed. Some of that .84 CREATING EFFECTIVE STAGE CHARACTERS By David Copelin ONE OF THE GREATEST REWARDS OF WRITING PLAYS LIES IN CRAFTING m emorable characters. I love those wonderful moments in the process when characte rs you've invented start developing traits you never imagined for them. creating themselves. How do you do this? Let's look at three areas of character creation: the verbal. you can prepare for them by choosing those techn iques of characterization that will help you jump-start the souls of the diverse citizens of your imagination. and the relational. A novelist can describe characters at length. But a playwright's characters must unmask themselvesÐand q uickly. the non-verbal. To dramatize the world is to unmask it.

At one point in the play. characters will have different strategies of communication . When she retur ns to the apartment she shares with a woman friend. St oppard tells us everything we need to know in one line. Depending on who they ar e and what they want. to the extent that you c an sketch a character's "character" with a few lines of dialogue. a little has to stand for a lot. a young woman has just begun a love affair and has been with her new boyfriend for several days. is to gure out which part is which. we learn a good deal about th e . Dialogue is a primary means of communication in the theater. the nature of the socie ty he's used to. In the most successful plays. "A socia l revolution? Unaccompanied women smoking at the opera.commentary is credible. The rst thing to remember about dialogue is that you can do quite a lot with very little. Since plays are so compressed in time and space." In that brief moment. some is not. such economy exposes both character and the world that surrou nds that character in a theatrically involving way. and we instantly understand who the character is. or through a m inimal number of gestures. mention is made of an immine nt world-wide social revolution. her roommate greets her laco nically: "Your plants died. that sort of thing?" We laugh. Part of the role of the audience. you will be a master of dramatic economy. part of t heir pleasure. and his utter incomprehension of a radically changing world. So. A British Embassy bureaucrat inquires. For example. In David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago. take Tom Stoppard's provo cative comedy Travesties.

In performance. the passage of time. to other characters. they can then conceal the larger truths you're rea lly writing about until late in the play. Such appearances deceive the audience. (Check out Ruth in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming. Have you noticed that direct audience address has beco me quite commonplace in contemporary plays? Have you noticed how mixed the resul ts are? If you have one of your characters con de in the audience. characters who sometimes lie may also sometimes tell the truth! This is a situation ripe for dramatic exploitation. this moment is both funn y and poignant. You can use this credulity in many ways. Such chatter can be quite useful as a source of comic relief. jealousy. Audiences tend to believe whatever stage characters sa y. but are devastatingly powerful. Don't use this technique simply because it appears t o be easier than juxtaposing characters with different agendas. domestic responsibility. make sure that the character has to do so. Characters who reveal small trut hs win an audience's con dence. Some characters don't talk much. but are of little consequence in a play's power scheme.roommate's personality. . and cynicism. or it can be a convincing manneris m of disguise for a character who needs to conceal something from other characte rs and from the audience. and to the audience . and the audience will forgive youÐand th e charactersÐthe deception.) Some characters chatter on and on. the women's relationship. Moreover. One of your most interesting options is to have characters lieÐto themselves.

especi ally if the change makes your character less stereotypical. as long as he or she behaves consistently within th e parameters that you set. Focus inst ead on what the characters want and on what actions they take to get it. Much of your play's "music" comes fr om the permutations and combinations of characters as they speak and interact. or jug band doesn't matter. But this is not a choice to be made uncon sciously. more idiosyncraticÐand raises the . As a play evolves. go ahead. Plays in which every character speaks as though she or he has had years of psychotherapy tend to be dramatically inert." Of course. too little of their own. you may be writing a play in which all the characters need to sound alike. full. That's what's important dramatically. s o mixing speakers with different voices and rhythms automatically creates a thea trical "score. The aud ience will then have all the information they need to perceive the theme on thei r own. How do you choose one mode of verbal com munication over another? Think of your cast of characters as an orchestra Ðwhether chamber. class or gender can have a positive impact on both the story and the other characters in the play.It's usually unwise to have a character state the theme of your play. Try not to have your characters explain their own or each other's motivat ions. any kind of change in a character is permissible. Altering a character's age. Your choice must reveal the interplay between plot and character. the tension between individual personalities and the situations they nd themselves in . If so. because they do too much of the au dience's work.

with their con ic ting personalities revealed by their particular and unique ways of speaking. Words express only what characters need to say. visual elements. they also exist visually. Be aware that while words are i mportant. Each such change will force you to review your dialogue. not just about words on a page. That raises a whole different se t of challengesÐthe non-verbal. seeing is believing. rem ember that. about non-verbal communicati on. in the theater. you need to think about people. The 18th-century diarist Samuel Pepys often wrote of going to the theater "to hear a play. we go to s ee a play." What's betwee n the lines may reinforce what's being said out loud. nowadays. This is what actors call "subtext. lighting and non-verbal sound can contribute to an audience's understanding of character as strongly as do your words. where the entire visual and aural context can be manipu lated for effect." We don't do that anymore. and probably to revis e and tighten it. and the like express the emotions that underl ie those words more complexly. Once your characters are established verbally. body language. In eithe r case. or contradict it. silence and non-verbal sound all must be part of your playwriting strategy. on stage.stakes. You need to appreciate what non-verbal communication can and cannot do to help you de ne your characters. and about communication in three dimensions. what isn't spoken may well be more important to the persuasiveness of yo ur play than what is. How do they walk? What radio station do . The difference is crucial. For modern people. deleting and combining characters . Since you're writing for performance. A charact er's tone of voice. This criterion also applies to adding. Th erefore.

" After another list of chores. distinct from other characters and more or less independent of them. Whateve r may be the rules of the dramatic universe you've created.they listen to? Should the lighting make them look innocuous or sinister? Do the y belch? And so on. we feel. add ing. she says it again. an overworked. You can combine verbal and non-verbal means to present chara cter far more effectively than you can express it with either mode alone. You must also consi der the relational aspects of character. even as we see her do her chores quickly and ef ciently. The Conduct of Life. and the oppression o f her situation. What do I mean by that? I've been talki ng about character as if each personality in a play were an individual. the dreariness of the character's life. But characters in p lays are even less autonomous than human beings are in the "real" world. She lists a number of things she does as soon as she wakes up. . "Then I start the day. she repeats. chances are that rel ationships between characters are more important to the play's energy and for-wa rd motion than the individual characters you create one by one can ever be. In Mar ie Irene Fornes's play." After a third list. "Then I start the day. And we're exhausted! We u nderstand. exploited domestic s ervant in the household of a Latin American fascist talks to us as she goes abou t her chores. The play wright's words and the actress's physicality combine to create an unforgettable character and theater with a powerful political sensibility.

pl aylets for children. withou t losing the charm of the immediate and personal. explodes received ideas about gender and its immutability. You will probably not want or be able to use every technique for presenting character that you run across. look at Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9. space. in the context of the ir society. post-neo-futurist cabaret sketches. Churchill dramatizes complex issues that rang e from patriarchy and imperialism. By hav ing men play female characters and women play male characters. Remember. but your own arsenal of ways to make the people "work" is bound to grow . which only a truly imaginative playwright could use s o effectively. or any other dramatic form that puts human beings on a stag e. by having them in teract in highly provocative ways.Try thinking about your characters in pairs. to domestic violence and sexual pleasure. because Caryl Churchill has the wit and the craft to turn our expectations of character upside downÐand make us like it. whether you write kitchen-sink realism. It's fun. If you need to. blood ties. The play is exhilarating. For exampl e. You can create character groupings that ill ustrate the workings of social forces without being too obvious about it. cause and effect. Churchill's highly economical method. in triangles. and it stops conventional thi nking in its tracksÐone of the reasons we have theater in the rst place. you can alter audience expectations of time. as well as individually. the wide variety of character-revealing techniques is . or anything else that they usually take for granted. This justly celebrated play subverts commo nplace notions of what character is in the theater and in the world.

If you can't nd contemporary techniques that ful ll y our needs. Whatever makes your c haracters memorable makes you a better playwright.there to serve your purposes. . feel free to invent (or revive!) those that do.

. and then this army invades. But I recently wrote a play that could be summarized i n a single sentence. and because of this. that is. and he has this dog . it's really kind of a love story. because like every other normal writer. there's this guy.. chopped liver? Nonetheless. not slogans. which may be right. .. I'm now known as a guy with something to say. This makes me bristle. and my questioner hasn' t learned anything. .6 This was a rst for me. (That raises the ancillary ques tion of how you write a play when you have . in the end.85 FINDING A THEME FOR YOUR PLAY By Peter Sagal USUALLY WHEN PEOPLE ASK ME WHAT MY PLAYS ARE ABOUT. well. and because the sentence in question invoked some political and moral questions. What are m y comedies." I feel silly. because if he wants to know what the pla y is about. and I've been asked here to give some tips on how to say it. how to approach the problem of Theme in playwriting. I resent any praise that is not universal. he should see the thing.. I mean. "Well. THEM and haw and squint off into the sky and then come up with something like. we write immortal works of dramatic literature. I became insta ntly known as a Dramatist of Serious Theme.

It is boring to be told an opinion. and my an swer may not suit you and your purposes. will probably ulti mately irritate the audience. Once you have framed your question in an interesting and provoca tive way. i. But the theater has changed a lot and seems to be surviving only because of its toehold in Meaning. if you're Brecht. it seems to me that the pl aywright should always begin not from a statement. going to the theater for "entertainm ent" is like going to a restaurant for indigestion. But a writer who asks the audience. Thus. because the answer depends on your particular vision of drama and the theater. etc.." for example. the political or "problem" play? First of all.e. and their answers may surprise or please or horrify the playwright. For example. but frankly they don't feel that they had to pay $20 or whatever to be tol d again. but if you want to learn s omething. call Western Union. a w riter who sets off to tell us.) SomebodyÐI think it was Woody Al len quoting Samuel GoldwynÐsaid that people go to the theater for entertainment. "Why is racism bad?" or even "Is ra cism ever justi ed?" will hold the playgoers' attention. which is a problem I face daily. you'll p ose your question by writing it on a banner and hanging it upstage center. "Racism is bad!. . it was the actor Simon CallowÐthat in this day and age. movi es and TV may give you cleavage and explosions. because they know that racism is bad and they're s orry. but it is interesting to be asked for your own. but a question.. i f you want to send a message. Somebody else saidÐand this time I know. So how to approach the theme play.nothing to say. come to the theater. because they may never ha ve thought about it before. how do you dramatize it? Here we fall into the great Unknown.

But which solider. If it's about racism. More complicated questions require more complicated solutions. in which war? An Englishman ghting in World War I? A Jew ghting in World War II? An Asian American ghting in Vietnam? A ny situation will give different emphases to different sides of your question. In this context. in your own play. that moment of crisis and decision plucked from t he entire span of an in nite number of imaginary lifetimes. the play was rewritten by Nahum Tate to a nswer Yes: Cordelia. then a raci st or two will be in order. remember that the worst sin the dr amatist can commit is to lie to an audience. The re's a great temptation when asking an important questionÐ"Will True Love Always T riumph?"Ðto go immediately for the best and most comforting answerÐ"Yes!"Ðand ignore a ll the evidence to the contrary that's in the world. For example.What I do is try to make the Thematic Problem into a personal one. it means putting a question out there and then making the answer easy or simple when it's not. You want t o write about a solider. Consider King Lear. H ow do you choose? In considering this choice. then clearly your play will need some lovers. in your heart. sometimes it's not. but part of your job as a dramatist (some would say your whole job) i s to nd that telling situation. so during the 17th century. that perfectly distill s the essence of the question you're addressing. quite alive at the end. Its answer to that particular question would be a reso unding No. united with Edmund . let's say you want to write about the tension between duty to self and duty to country. Sometimes it' s obvious how to do this. If you're writing about True Love.

That rewritten version was rejected by history for. being a lie. by the wayÐwho made her want to scream and strike out every time he o pened his mouth. that freedom is precious a nd worth ghting forÐit won't help your case to set your play in a fantasy world whe re these things come easier than they actually are. Let the situation of the play be rife with ambiguity and doubt. and if by chance you do want to say. who is charming and sympathetic and funny. holding both bad and good within them. among other things. something goodÐthat Love will triumph. Let good people do terrible things to one another. we might do the same thing. Let the most horrible opinions be hel d by the most pleasant and attractive people. So if you are going to ask a tough question. The second worst sin in the theater. In my play Denial I took a character who was very con dent in her support of free speech and confronted her with another characterÐve ry charming. What I've often done is to t ake a character I admire and like. ultimately. abandons his lover in time of crisis. In fact. and then either put that character in a very dif cult position. or cause him or her to do something rather unpleasant and then have to deal with the results. after lying. you must be merciless in your search for the answer. it's often in the pursuit of not being boring that we end up . so we are left to ask ourselvesÐwe. a lead character. let them react to kindness with anger and to attacks with fear. Let your characters be contradicto ry.and her loving father. In Angels in America. who think of ourselves as charming and sympathetic and funnyÐif when the time came. is to be boring. by Tony Kushner. Because that's what happens in the real world. and you should.

according to the mores of the day. and tell the truth. it wants to condemn what needs condemning and praise what needs praising. dra matically charged. but nothing else will. where all forces balance.telling our worst lies. . where you comprehend everything. where the tru e strengths and faultlines of the universe reveal themselves? Work hard. you're going to bore the heck out of your audience. It may not work. There's a strong temptationÐdriven by the market and our o wn inclination to be cheerfulÐto preach to the choir. The theater of today despera tely wants to say something Useful and Good about the world. How do you achieve that kind of aesthetic Buddhanature. But the problem is that unless you do that from a deeply informed. almost universally comprehending place. write e very day.


it can ke ep you from making a fool of yourself. How wellÐif at allÐcould you see a person standing on the cathedral roof? Ima gination isn't going to give you those answers. there's too much you don't know. How muchÐif anyÐcould you see of a house across the street? Now transfer yourself down to the street in front of such a house. but I've never minded. Sou nd book research can not only expand your education in all directions. Guess at matters of hard fact. and then recreating it all in ction. the element of placeÐthe settingÐis not as . But ho w to nd out more about that cathedral roof? Not one solitary guidebook provides a clue. I LOVE FINDING OUT ALL ABOUT A PLACE AND time and the people who lived then and how they dressed and what they believed. The local library can be a writer's best friend. The search for accuracy has led me into some lon g and arduous paper chases through interlibrary loan. But how can you nd out things no book ever tells you? Imagine yourself st anding on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral.86 HANDS-ON RESEARCH: FINDING A BAGPIPER By Eloise McGraw I ENJOY RESEARCH. To many writers. and you're sure to expose your ignorance.

pioneer gravestones. To some of us it is fundamental. I hadn't the leisure or the money to travel to the Nile Valley during the years I was writing three novels about Egypt. There are a number of ways to nd out what you're writing about. I found that these three approaches h ad not let me down. and a r eliable inner map of the landscape. company mergers. and no traveler can go there except via t he library shelves. when I nally did go to Egypt. Historical novels aren't the only books t hat require research. Frequently. old stagecoach schedules. this is not possible. They ei ther stumble around in a sort of fog or just sit there. Years later. sleight-of-hand tricks . mum. b ut there wasn't one that didn't require a little research into something. But rstÐmost memorablyÐcircuses. logging. When I write. I'm stymied. already accepted and awaiting (though I was unaware of it) the . and his own powers of visualization. too. Twelve of my nineteen novels have contemporary settings. If I have no clear mental picture of where and when everything is happening. and so-called antique stores that sell toys and ice-picks and buttonhooks just like the ones I grew up with. my setting was ancient Egypt. the research I had done enabled me to see ancient E gypt right through the modern overlay. In a ny case. codes. You can go to ParisÐor whereverÐyourself . It was my very rst bookÐalready written. the inner process is like watching a movieÐin living colorÐwith sound. the museum collections. I've h ad to nd out about knots. parrots.important as other elements of the story. My characters are. in fact. I took my initial plunge into real research only because my editor gave me a sho ve. World War II ghter planes. fox-hunting lingo .

? How many miles to walk fr om Hastings to Canterbury in 1067. and some leaps of imagination (to ll in the picture they suggest). I knew nothing about this process. to travel from Egypt to Babylon in 1500 B. a kind of labor-intensive jigsaw puz zle technique (to gather and t together various unrelated scraps of information). by wha t route. worked in a circ us. began. I knew almost nothing about circuses or bareback riders. either Ðthough that's what my book was about. I managed to solve the Hastings-to-C'anterbury puzzle by such means. through what sort of countryside? To answer s uch questions you must use plain ingenuity. Whereupon my education. a nd has continued to this day. a war that led nowhereÐhow do you discover the cause be hind the effect. on which m y main character was going to work. It must have read convincingly. in circuses and research. because when my editor inquired if I had. Other questions immediat ely arose." I assured her.C. all having to do with the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry. myself. one sail? Would the work hurt her ngers or tire her back? I wasted time aski ng people who didn't know. "I've read three books about them.back-and-forthing between editor and author that grooms a manuscript for publica tion. she seemed taken aback when I said no. th ough. Faced with a well-documented historical factÐa baf ing suicide. the powerful human motivations. There are times when nobody can answer your questi on. an inexplicable disappearance or usurping. The hands-on method . How long would it take her to embroider one g ure. that nobody has documented at a ll? And here's a more prosaic sort of poser: How many days would it take.

the sm ell and color of the dragons. . Now. I would even go so far as to say that the person writing the fantasy has to be even more strictly attentive to the concrete detail than someone writing in a na turalistic veinÐbecause the more convincing the properties in it have to be. keeping track of the hours a nd my sensations. 40 by 20 inches. most di stant pastÐat least concerns the real world. the detail s of every chair and . Using m y drawing tableÐminus its boardÐas a stretcher I settled down to embroider the scene in a wool thread similar to the handspun original. I had to learn from a book how to do the three stitches u sed on the Tapestry. but I enjoyed every min uteÐand learned to embroider. That done. What about the worlds you invent your self? FantasyÐdreaming them up or writing them downÐseems easy and is anything but.. The historical pastÐeven the dimmest. It 's not your back that gets sore. reality is the proper basis of it. working two to three hours a day during one springÐwriting the book in the mornings and embroidering in the afternoons. Consider Flannery O'Connor's c omment: ". when one writes a fantasy. It is a brave (or naive) beginner who tackles it. It took me 200 hours. .. it's your ngertipsÐbut only on the outline stitch. the squeaky voice of the talking mouse. The strange landscapes. fantasy must seem even more real than real." In s hort. as research this was going overboard.was the only one left. besides. I selected one scene and drew it on linen (using the old art school squaring-off method) to exact size. . I know that.

The other place. VisualizingÐthat's the hard part. This is not a problem with a historical novel. where an hour ew by like an instant and yet stood still. I did not feel wholly free. But a wholly fanciful setting for my human characters seemed wrong for a story based on elements of r eal folklore. and I had my Mound. just waiting. glittering cavern where sound drifte d eerily without echo. because you've read up on your chosen place and period until you feel more solidly oriented in. Obviously. I had two places to inventÐ one an isolated human village at the edge of a non-speci c moo r in a non-real time similar to the early Middle Ages. say. all these years later. where are you? The Moorchild was based o n elements of British and European folkloreÐthat is. on a well-established body of traditional fantasy. But with a fantasy. Lodged in a far corner of my mind. Because of this matrix. in vivid recollection. I wanted to give my village solid. When I was planning The MoorchildÐa fantasyÐmy rst worst hurdle was getting the visual landscape in my mind. it is not a problem with a modern-day setting.mantle ornament in the old rabbit's living room. pseudo-historical reality based on the real world. The landscape inside the Mound gave me ver y little trouble. hidden u nder the nearby moor. must be clearly visualized and sharply described. was the memor y of a salt mine I visited as a childÐa vast. Once I'd thought of t hat salt mine my imagination took off. Yet I didn't want . where on a slope I'd judged only a short walk away a donk ey and cart looked the size of toys. the Moorfolk. the parallel world of my (also invente d) non-human creatures. 17th-century Lon don than you do in your own neighborhood. would be the Mound.

a blacksmith. a potter." the shared plows and animals. the woods. I had to work my way out of it. The vaguely mentioned hillside apple orchard a child climbe d past took solid root and was there for good. Then I mentally situated my village in such surroundingsÐfeeling as though I were constru cting a cardboard stage with a painted backdropÐand gave it the few craftsmen such a village would need: a miller. I drew some . the "wast e land. but unpromising as it feels while you're doing it. the place became real and substantial to me. and the whole place was m ine. feature by feature.to use an identi able country because I wanted to keep this a fantasy. And astonishinglyÐas if each character carried a magic wandÐthe details came alive. nor fairies. as the village rs moved through it. Deadlock. With nearly total lack of con dence. nor brownies. I went through a similar process to invent my MoorfolkÐwho are not elves. Soon I knew where everybody live d. which crops. and old Finch with his dog sitting in the sun. I can't guarantee that this method will work for you. the common elds. using trial and error with no idea what would wor k. what kind of houses. and the ways to the elds and the moor and the woods. nor any other of those remarkably well-documented traditional beings. it's worth a try. with the well halfway along. From the beginning. Once a woman hurried up the villa ge street I could sec (he street Ðgrassy and crooked. and read up on the medieval use of such lands. I started my characters moving through this jerry-built environment. I had thought of a countryside and climate reminiscent of (perhaps) northwest England or the Scottish HighlandsÐso I started with that.

. So I suddenly needed to know what bagpipes look like up close.qualities and habits from such creatures. which bit you blow into. the hopele ss turned out to be easy. Moorfolk play bagpi pes. I was dwelling hopel essly on the air fare to the Highlands or even to Indianapolis. for unlike the sprites of folklore. just like that? The nearest I'd ever come to one was in northern Scotland. who all play ddles. I thought. how you hold bagpipes when you play. could an undersized child of nine or ten ever manage it at all . home of an old f riend's ex-son-in-law. ? My questions. were endless . Is the conglomeration heavy to carry.. like my ignorance. My daughter then reminded me of the Highland Games held annually on a nearby college campus Ðalways accompanied by an entireÐand undoubtedly localÐ bagpipe band. especially their non-human emotions an d attitudes. ear-splitting hour I'll never forget. and called for some hands-on answers. it's that mile that's often the most rewardin g. But that doesn't always happen. used to play the pipes. how all thos e tubes and tassels and straps are hung together. but my Moorfolk are themselves. who.. what's the hardest trick in playing it. In that instance. where do y ou feel the pressure. And this painted me into another co rner. No matter. an d a hands-on. I got enthusiastic cooperation. all my answers. how do you work that bag when both hands are busy ngering s tops. You have to be prepare d to go the extra mile. I phoned my suburban chamber of commerce and learned the name of an expert high-school-age piper who lived just a few blocks away. But how to nd a bagpiper.

and more datesÐwhat a bore! Luckily. dates. to focus on processes rather than events. and I detested it.87 FORGET THE ALAMO: WRITING HISTORY FOR CHILDREN By Sylvia Whitman GROWING UP. By then "social history" had mov ed into the academic mainstream. to think in terms of decades instead of weeks or months. Social historians are the "big picture" people: They tend to highl ight change instead of chronology. I loved to read. I got a rou gh sense of the past through biographies and novels like Johnny Tremaine (1943). treatie s. though. Just as I managed to meet my minimum RDA of vitamins with frozen peas and grape juice. Elections. I rst started to enjoy history in college in the early 1980s. was that I woul d end up writing history books that teachers could in ict upon kids. Esther Forbes's award-winning story of an apprentice silversmith on the eve of the American Revolution. to follow the transmutatio ns of ideas as they . Although it would seem that social historians s hould be poring over the guest list of the Boston Tea Party. they are more likel y to be studying the propaganda of rebellion or 18th-century perceptions of Nati ve Americans. I FELT THE SAME WAY ABOUT HISTORY AS I DID ABOUT s pinach: Everybody said it was good for me. The last thing I ever expected.

ction Most of the biographies I devoured as a child read like novels. founder of the American Red Cross. you can report con versations documented in journals or letters or tape recordings. the author would never get away with al l that embellishment today. and women's studies was gaining respectability. I had long taken an interest i n the activities of my mother and grandmothers. It's historical ction. my personal links to the past. not history. she forgets to leave herself a piece. Developments at the university level have in uenced elementary and secondary sch ool curricula. F act vs. in the 1980s. In the opening chapter. As she divides up her cake. stirrings of multiculturalism were beginning to in uence scholarship . Teachers searching for books and periodicals to enrich textbook fare and stimula te research projects have helped feed a boom in non ction of all kinds for childre n. academia was encouraging me to place family history in a broader context . A t last. You can conjec ture from the evidence. Although the scene skillfull y makes a point about Clara's sel essness. If you're interested in writing about the past you have a captive audience. I r emember in particular one about Clara Barton. Time lines are now merely a springboard in many history classes. But you can nev er invent characters or recreate dialogue. Clara is celebrating her sixth birthday. Writing "pure" history . you can contrast opposing viewpoints.trickle down from the intelligentsia and trickle up from popular culture. Also. Teachers and publ ishers expect authors to adhere to certain scholarly conventions.

Going to the sources Some authors a void putting any of their own words into the collage by compiling anthologies of rst-person quotes. Before I begin a rst draft. You have to search out the juiciest facts. and especially about the variety of my sources. Garcila so de la Vega. a 16th-century mestizo historian who nicknamed himself "the Inca. but his romantic version based on interview s with survivors stands out for its sympathetic portrayal of Native . Resea rching Hernando de Soto and the Explorers of the American South. " didn't travel with the expedition. You can also scale history down to an elementary reading level. By paraphrasing. but they force me to think early about structure. quoting. Cast your net widely. Although both de Soto's secretary and a Portuguese nobleman documented the ruth lessness of the Spaniards. My proposals always include an outline and a bibliography. about the mes. I relied on fou r published accounts. Luis Hernandez de Biedma described the group's wanderings. what's in print. Neither is considered binding. and what might be available through interlib rary loan. I survey the topic in the library to nd out wh at's on the shelf. I prefer to blend primary and secondary sourcesÐcombining accounts by peop le who lived through or witnessed events with analysis and reports by academics or journalists. then juxtapose them to support your points. you can give more st ructure to the collage. and interpreting.requires a sort of collage mentality. This cut-and-paste approach asks young readers to extrapolate a lot. the latter also admired his leader's panache.

With secondary sources. Essential to my book This Land Is Your Land: The American Conservation Movement was William C ronon's Changes in the Land: Indians. As Studs Terkel has demonstrated in hi s many collections of . sociology. make sure you've skimmed titles from the past three decades. Colonists. even science. a nd the "facts" on which they disagreed. for instance. Don't limit your search for lively details to books. literature. And don 't overlook related works in other disciplinesÐart history. I let my readers see the seams of historyÐthe biases of the winesses. anthropolo gy. and lyrics. radio shows. To nd out about Native American trail building for G et Up and Go! The History of American Road Travel. and the Ecology of New England (1983). advi ce columns.Americans. try to draw on r ecent work by young historians as well as classics by old masters. It's not coincidence that Cronon publi shed his groundbreaking study about the colonial deforestation and economic expl oitation of the Atlantic coast after Earth Day 1970. eith er. A balanced bibliography always res ults in a better book. I love lea ng through old magazines to get a feel for an era through ads. such as "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" (a WWII era hit) or "Fifteen Kisses on a Gallon of Gas" (an early car tune). Even if you're writing abou t Pilgrims. Each generation rewrites history. Instead of designating one chronicle as the "true" version. I juggled all four. I often use song titles as section headings . I consulted sev eral anthropological studies of the Iroquois.

including a charming saxophone player who had joined th e Marines in order to play in the band and had ended up a Japanese POW. handle all the layout and illustration. Although mo st publishers. If you come across an exciting photo. I always try to do some original resea rch. Nothin g beats photographs for pulling the past out of the mist. these voices add texture to the collage. make a photocopyÐwith cre dit informationÐto submit with your manuscript. and I added some color to This Land Is Your Lan d by attending a local reunion of the Civilian Conservation Corps. In addition to quoting from Terkel's T he Good War and other rst-person accounts. editors always appreciate ideas. I arranged interviews with transportation engineers on the West Coast by posting a note in a cyberspace dis cussion group. Much admired authors l ike Russell Freedman (Franklin Delano Roosevelt. black-and-white "public doma in" . Most new spapers list community meetings. I've used personal reminiscenc es in all of my "People's History" books. If you have access to the Internet. From a small town in New York. To track down a talkative trucker. 1992) write books that are almost photo essays. oral history brings the past to life. 1990) and Jerry Stanley (Childr en of the Dust Bowl. Eloquent or unpolished. Because color is expensive to prin t and stock photo agencies often charge hefty fees. Their conversational tone makes history more accessible to young readers. you can easily contact people beyo nd your neighborhood. Posting notes on the bulletin board at a local senior center produced a lod e of informants on WWII. I started with a phone call to a garage listed in the Yell ow Pages.interviews. like mine.

downstairs" tour of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. historical societies. Rochester.snapshots from libraries. George Eastman House. you could hire a photo researcher. it may take other forms . In Ticket to the Twenties: A Time Traveler's Guide (1993). your imagination is the only limit. and cohesion. too. Although the vocabulary you use may be simple. consult How the White House Really Works (1989 ). context. Prints and Photographs Division. Wa shington. I stick to the three C 'sÐclarity. Still Picture Branch. College Park. Mary Blocksma breaks down the decade into ashy chapters on everything from jive talk to breakfa st. MD 20740 ***International Museum of Pho tography. 8601 Adelphi Road. Wh ile most titles fall into the categories of biography. DC 20540 *National Archives and Records Administration. George Sullivan's "upstairs. If you don't nd appropriate pictures in published material and don't have time to comb through archives. writing . These are a few major archives: *Library of Congress. and government agencies are usua lly more attractive. Did you know the rst electric pop-up toaster hit the market in 1926? Instead of merely listing the presidents. Once I begin writing. survey. 900 East Avenue. or "issue" book. A small publisher might expect you to round up illustration s yourself. NY 14618 The three C 's Although most authors present history as a narrative.

despite racial and ethnic tensions. Since author s for young people face strict limits (in some cases. keep background brief. To aid t he reader in evaluating an event or a person. To the degree possible. and leave the nuance to the details.for children is often harder than writing for adults. I emphasized Amer icans' shared sense of purpose. Describe the smell of Main Street in the heyday of horse-dr awn wagons or the pastimes of Sunday afternoons before the advent of television and the NFL. Just try summarizing the c auses of World War II in a paragraph or two for someone with no knowledge of Eur opean history. Rachel Cars on's keen observation. in "V" Is for Victory: The American Home Front During World War II. Whether you write about Earth Day or Ralph Nader or highway planning in the '60s and '70s. Therefore. Finally. they may not appreciate the change in women's roles that "Ro-sie the Riveter" represented during the 19 40s. try to include context about the p eriod. you might want to trace t he in uence of a particular trait or skill over a lifetimeÐfor instance. I discuss the public relations efforts of the government Of ce of War Informat ion and the ads that defense plants ran to encourage people to apply for wartime work. Describing the World War II home front. This is the sort of low-key background that often appears in popular hist ories for adults. writ e straightforward topic sentences. points clear. Make it real. several centuries . r emind your readers that in those decades. from Frederick Allen's Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s (1931) to David Brinkley's Washington Goes To War (1988). focus on themes." Since many children today have working moms. In a biography. Americans were beginning to "question authority.

compressed into 60 pages of manuscript). they have to cull their research ruthle ssly. is the art of pulling facts out of a grab bag and turning them into a story worth remembering. Writing history. after all. The key-concept method gives you criteria for deciding what to keep and wh at to discard. .

88 WRITING BIOGRAPHIES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE By James Cross Giblin THERE WAS A TIME WHEN IT WAS ACCEPTED PRACTICE FOR YOUNG p eople's biographies to whitewash their subjects to a certain extent. It protected the subject's reputation and made him or her a more suitable role model. juvenile biographies of Frank lin D. Young people who watch TV talk shows after school a nd dip into celebrity tell-all books expect more realism in the biographies that are written expressly for them. and they scrupulously avoided any ment ion of complications in their subjects' sex lives. one of the main goals of juvenile b iographies in earlier periods. All this has changed in the last twenty. As a consequence. Such whitewashing was intende d to serve several different purposes. Kennedy frankly discuss his health problems and .ve or th irty years as an increased openness in the arts and the media has spread to the e ld of children's literature. At the same time it shielded young readers from s ome of life's harsher realities. For example . Roosevelt now acknowledge that he had a mistress. and young adult studies of John F. juvenile biographies either ignored or gave a once-over-lightly treatment to p ersonal failings like a drinking problem.

honest information about a man or woman worth knowing for one reason or another. I felt it was impor tant to describe Washington's changing attitude toward slavery. the chief goal of a young people's biography is not to establ ish a role model but rather to provide solid. Each book prese nts its own unique problems. With that background in place. which speci ed that his slaves would be freed after the death of his wife. Today. But I tried to present it as clearly an d simply as possible . Much depe nds on the age of the intended audience. Although Jefferson had written in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal. Marth a. These judgments aren't always easy to arrive at. After much thought. I decided there was no way I could avoid discussing Jefferson's con icted position. a children's writer stil l has to make judgments about what facts to include in the biography and how muc h emphasis to give them. For example.womanizing. A picture book biography of Thomas Jefferson presented a much more complex se t of problems. as I'v e discovered with the biographies I've written for young people. However. from easy accept ance in youth to rejection as he grew older. How could he? The very existence of his beloved Monticello depend ed on slave labor. for which unique solutions must be found. when I was writing a pictu re book biography of George Washington for ages six to nine." he never rejected the concept of slavery as W ashington did. I wa s con dent even quite young readers could grasp the signi cance of Washington's will .

Whenever I mentioned in talks with writers that I was doing a biography of Jefferson. Sh e urged me to leave it out. letting readers know that a slave by that name gured in . The role of the slave Sally Hemings proved harder to deal with. and in the end I decided she was right.and was careful not to let the discussion overshadow Jefferson's many accomplish ments. the references to Sally Hemings remain in th e body of the book. would be too complicated for six-to-nine-year-olds to absorb. I would have insisted on the story's retention. Jefferson had made Sally his mistress after his wife's dea th and had fathered her seven children. In the back matter. Madison Hemings. Afr ican-Americans in the audience invariably asked how I was going to treat Sally. I told them I intended to incorporate items from the historical record in the ma in textÐthat Sally had come into Jefferson's household as part of his wife's inher itance from her father. told an Ohio journalist in the mid-19th century. ve of whom lived to adulthood and three o f whom "passed" as white. had accompanied Jefferson's younger daughter to Paris wh en Jefferson was the American ambassador to France. My editor felt that the latter story. and had become one of the mo st trusted house slaves at Monticello in her later years. According to Madison. If the book had been directed toward an upper elementary or young adult readership. I said I'd include the story that one of Sally's sons. But I decided it was probably too involv ed for a younger audience. al ong with other additional information. aside from being controversial. However.

But while I went into this phase of Lindbergh's life in some detail. along with his other contribution s to aviationÐand his errors. When those same readers grow older. namely his irtation with fascism in the 1930s and his open admiration of Nazi Germany. If I'd been writing a biography for adults. assuming that readers will be able to compare his version of the pe rson's life with other. Lindbergh for ages ten to fourteen. more favorable accounts." as the old song lyric goes. An adult biographer may choose to expose or debunk his subject. my bookÐwhile not going deeply into the matterÐwill at least have introduced Sally to them inste ad of pretending she didn't exist. I don't believe that option is open to the juvenile biographer. What sort of balance do you aim for bet ween the subject's achievements and his failings? This question was brought home to me in a particularly vivid way when I was working on a biography of Charles A. they can read about Sally in greater detail in other books about Jefferson. whose readers will most likely have little or n o prior knowledge of the . I decid ed it was my duty as a biographer for young people to "accentuate the positive.Thomas Jefferson's life. I might well have focused more intently on the part Lindbergh played in bringing a bout the appeasement of Adolf Hitler at Munich and his subsequent speeches urgin g the United States to take an isolationist stand with regard to the war in Euro pe. Rarely in American history has there been such a sharp dichotomy between a subject's accomplishmentsÐin Lindbergh's case hi s almost incredible solo ight to Paris in 1927. Biographies for older children confront the w riter with a different set of dif culties. Meanwhile.

subject and thus will be unable to make comparisons. how best can you convey an accurate. If you're thinking about writing a biography for young people. should you discuss the seamier aspects of the subje ct's life. here are a few qu estions you would do well to ask yourself. But even in the portrayal of someone as reviled as these men. Such readers deserve a more even-handed introduction to the person. Depending on the age group of the readers. but instead would try to o ffer a full-scale portrait and locate the sources of the person's evil actions. as some adult biographers might be tempted to do. should you go into detail about t he promiscuous behavior that. that wouldn't be possible if one were writing about a destructive personality like Adolf Hitler. for example. Joseph Stal in. was responsible for his becoming infected . or merely hint at them and leave a fuller treatment to biographers fo r older children? If you're writing for an older audience. how much space should you devote to the darker side of the subject's life and experience? In a biogra phy of sports star Magic Johnson. Of course. the writer wouldn't simply wallow in the person's excess es. by Johnson's own account. three-dimensional pi cture of the subject in ways that the intended audience can comprehend? If the b ook is for younger children. Having the answers in hand should sav e you time when you're researching and writing the project. the juvenile biographer would have the responsibility of trying to help young readers understand how a human being could be capable of such inhuma n acts. In other words. or Senator Joseph McCarthy.

The intensity of your fascination with your subject should be of great help as you decide how much weight to give the person's positive and nega tive aspects. the author of many award-winning biographies for young people. you'll have to rely ultimately on your own good taste a nd judgment. Jean Fritz. making them wan t to keep on reading about the intriguing man or woman at the center of your bio graphy. will be your f eeling for the subject. I'd amend that to say I must be fascinated by a subject in order to invest the time and energy needed to discover what makes t he person tick. It should also communicate itself to young people. though.with the AIDS virus. Perhaps the most decisive factor of all. or should you merely mention it in passing? As you seek ans wers to these questions. once said that she had to like a subject tremendously before she could write about the person. combined with your knowledge of the prevailing standards in the chi ldren's book eld. .

there is no excuse for subjecting children to boringly written history. you risk losing your audience. once you lose a child's inte rest. presentin g facts and concepts in a way that will entice a young reader to read on cheerfu lly and willingly." but entangling you r prose in passive constructions will slow down forward movement in your piece.89 BRINGING HISTORY TO LIFE FOR CHILDREN By Deborah M. had been. use active image verbs. you naturally tend to use verbs like "was. when you are writing about past events . However. Consider these two . she broke her bed the rst night she stayed at the Czar's palace? With marvel ous facts like these at our disposal. Prum DID YOU KNOW PETER THE GREAT PRACTICED DENTISTRY ON HIS SUBJE CT? That Botticelli means "little barrel"? Or that Ivan III's new wife was so he avy. not to entertain. Keep them awake with verbs Nothing puts someone to sleep fast er than the use of boring verbs. Granted. were. A good writer achieves a balance. Whenever you can. Of course. the primary purpose of writing history for kids is to instruct.

Make them laugh Use humor liberally in your writing. espe cially when you have to discuss subjects that ordinarily may not appeal to child ren. you can start by mentioning that Joh ann Gutenberg started out life as "John Goose esh" (Gens eisch). Or. A c artoon will draw a child's eyes to a page. For examp le. . You can use a cartoon to poke fun wit h your material (i. Starving serfs stormed the palace." When appropriate. Avoid the temptation to distort fact in order to be funny. a picture of Botticelli dressed in a barrel. destroying furnishings and attacking the roya l guards.e. Be careful when using humor. apropos of hi s nickname). Once you have grabb ed their attention. Catchy subtitles help. Highlighting an amusing fact ma kes children more likely to plow through less interesting information. then you can go on to talk about the somewhat drier details of your topic. A cartoon depicting the disputing political parties prior to the Civil War may serve to inform your read er as effectively as a paragraph on the subject.sentences: By the mid-sixteenth century. include a cartoon. the unhappy serfs were hungry and became violent. The subtitle "The Burning of the Papal BullÐNot a Barbecue!" will attract mor e interest than "Martin Luther Rebels. you can use a cartoon to make a point. in a discussion of the Gutenberg press.

A sidebar en ables you to include greater detail on a topic without disrupting your narrative ow. that's not t rue. But. Newark. you might inc lude a list of all his inventions. Walla Walla. Every once in a while. including dates. Of course. sidebars are a useful way to handle these problems. Sidebars can give your reader an in-depth view of the period you are discuss ing. you can easily get bogged down in confusi ng details. actions for which the person is famous. Lizard Lick. New Jersey Wh en writing about history for children. There are several ways to help your readers: One is to show a detailed famil y tree at the beginning of your chapter. you have to provide a way to sort through potentially confusing materi al. . you might include a few recipes of the dishes popular at the time. For material that is tangential to your primary point. Washington 3.Using sidebars Not all factual information or lists may t smoothly into your text . it doesn't hurt to inc lude a nonsensical sidebar. North Carolina 2. if you are discussing Leonardo Da Vinci. A young child readi ng about the rst few centuries of Russian history will be tempted to think that e very last Russian of importance was named Ivan or Fedor. like this one: Places Marco Polo did not explore: 1. and may slow the pacing of your piece. Or. Good organization of your material is essential. For a piece on the Civil War.

If you must discuss many events occurring over several years. Make it your ally. consider using a t ime line to show the "who. By telling these stories. not . Controversy D on't shy away from controversy. and when" of any era in a clear and simple way. tell both sides of the story.e. Not all hi storians agree. Another way to help a child understand some of the forces contributing to an ev ent is to tell a story. and ultimately lost the Russian Empire to his wife. Give the children a chance to hear bot h sides and an opportunity to develop their critical thinking skills. That statement will n ot come as a shock to most adults. or transcripts of debates. Mention that Peter III played with lead soldiers and dolls. How did a lightning storm change Martin Luther's life? T alk about the time Borgia betrayed the Duke of Urbino: Borgia borrowed. Ivan the Great. Readers know that historians disagree. When possible. Help your readers form their own opinions by including direct quotes from the controversial gures. Use the tension controversial issues create to add excitement to your text. what. Fedor the Feebleminded). Ivan the Terrible. quotes of c orrespondence.and nicknames (i. then use d the Duke's own weapons to attack his city. but you can make controversy work for you. Which side of the story do you present to young readers? Maybe the "facts" are clear (although. yet it does pose a problem for writers. Cat herine the Great. you will make your material far more interesting and you will give children a better sense of history.

what about Machiavelli? Was he an ogre. debated by one and all. an opportunis t with dangerous political ideas? Was he a practical political scientist who mer ely described reality? Does the answer lie somewhere in between? Those are good questions. For example. Begin with an interesting fact or a question: "What does t he word 'Medici' mean to you? 1) an interesting pasta dish. Ending your chapter well is just as important as beginning well. make your book a visual pleasure. How should you present the topic to children? Fascinating beginnings You must capture your young reader's attention at the be ginning of a chapter and end it in a way that will make that child want to go on to the next chapter. 3) a deadly tropical disease. but one historian may slant a discussion in a completely different way from another. Insofar as possible.always). If you are writing about Ben Franklin." Capture your r eader's attention by opening a chapter with a scene from everyday life at the ti me your book takes place. Make a statement that will pique t he child's curiosity. you could start a chapter on Tho mas Jefferson by describing him playing his violin for some guests in his drawin g room at Monticello. or 4) none of the above. 2) a new foreign con vertible. see if you can nd museum .) For example. (Make it clear that this event "might" have happened b ut don't veer from accepted fact. You want your reader to nish your book.

Figure out what they think is funny. Then. read your manuscript in front of a classroom of kids. You will be sure to get some valuable comments. Pay attention to how they form their sentences. in your own writing. if you have the opportun ity. inclu de colorful maps. if t he children want to know more. you've got a winner. Spend some time around the age group for whom you are writing. use syntax slightly mo re complex than what they used. However. Then. compare it with one they already understand. or just yawns and glassy-eyed stares? If you see tired looks and drooping eyelids. Look for pictures of Catherine the Great's crown or Galileo's telescope. Include a few unfamiliar terms. test it on a child you know.photographs of his pot-bellied stove. If you are discussing a war or an explorer. but be certain t o highlight and de ne any new word. When you are presenting a concept that is fore ign to your readers. List en to the words they use. Find a curmudgeonly person who is a reluctant reader. be certain that you know yo ur audience. enliven your prose accordingly. A grumpy chi ld will provide a good rst test for your material. Once your mate rial is written. When writing history for children. Are your words greete d with excitement and interest. .

" Pif e! Betsy Byars. Surprise . I can't write humor. I was delightedÐand shocked. grandmistress of hum orous children's books. When my rst book.'" Use it liberally." she says. "is 'underwear. HUMOR IS THOUGHT TO BE the rst expressive form of communication. IN FACT. Or you can rise above so-called potty humor and choose one of the standard humor devices that follow. reveals the secret. "I'm not a funny person. In the kingdom of exalted literature. Not only does humor entertain and amuse them. but it lures the most reluctant reader. Good writers understand the value of h umor when they write for children. "The funniest word in the vocabulary of a second grader. Writers often tell me. humor is relegated to serfdom. was selected by third-grade children in Greater Kansas City as their favo rite book of 1995. The Stinky Sneakers Co ntest. But the awa rd con rmed my belief that even though funny books infrequently win prestigious li terary prizes.90 WHEN YOU WRITE HUMOR FOR CHILDREN By Julie Anne Peters CHILDREN ARE BORN TO LAUGH. Humorous books rarely win awards. they do become children's favorites. "Poo poo" wo rks for preschoolers.

in Susan Meddaugh's Martha Speaks. "Mother Doesn't Want a Dog. intermittently. Read Judith Viorst's poem. and articulate animals are all examples of truth stretching. Paul Bunyan. take an expect ed event or consequence and create the unexpected. . m adcap Martians. Martha. ? Next page. He expe cts it to go up and come down.. Surprise ca n delight page after page. and John Henry? The American tall tale is still a fav ored form of humor for children. Not only does Swamp Angel fend o ff Thundering Tarnation. Transcendental toasters. Page two: A wild monkey i n a banyan tree snatches the ball and steals off to . with a surprise ending. the marauding bear. she has to prove herself to tauntin g backwoodsmen who'd have her stay at home. Quick! Turn the Page. Anne Isaac's Swamp Angel moves this classic gen re into the 1990s with her female superheroine. quilting.. Page one: Ball goes up. To bring about surprise. James Stevenson demonstrates this very effect ively in his book. Remembe r Pecos Bill. or just once. Books are the perfect vehicle fo r creating humor through surprise. Exaggeration The earliest American humor used exaggeration in its purest form: larger-than-life heroes performing superhuman feats. A boy bounces a ball. My favorite mouthy mammal is the mutt." for a classic example o f a surprise ending.Writers and illustrators of picture books are guaranteed laughter or smiles by s pringing the unexpected on their young readers.

every suggestion literally. Children love trying to predict the consequences of Amelia's misunderstanding s. choose familiar characters acting out of character. Shel Silve rstein. Harry Allard uses children's perceptions about su bstitute teachers (whether true or not) when he changes meek. Tur n everyday events topsy-turvy. Amelia Bedelia. vile Viola ." Journey beyond the bounds of possibility to create exaggerated humor. If you're not a poet and yo u know it.After Martha dog eats a bowl of alphabet soup. Nancy Sha w's "Sheep" books are shear joy (yes. pun intended). and sets herself up for catastroph e. Role reversal Eugene Trivizas chose role reversal to retell a classic fairy t ale in his The Three Little Wolves and the Big Had Pig. she becomes quite the loquacious pooch. sound. Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy P arish teach you how. Jack Prelutsky. and rhyme that carries your story forward. "You people are so bossy. mild Miss Nelson i nto bleak. Word and l anguage play With wordplay. COME! SIT! STAY! You never say please. Readers become reciters. How about a pluck y petunia? A daring doormat? Even preschool children can differentiate between t he real and unreal as they gleefully embrace the fun in make-believe. try your hand at literal translation. To make the most effecti ve use of role reversal. ev ery conversation. and Joyce Armor are wizards of wordplay in their witty poetry. takes every order. language is key to the rhythm. the indomitable maid.

Nonsense Nonsense includes incongruity and absurdity. It offers distancing from pain. princes and paupers. is the story of a young girl wh o wakes up one day to nd she's grown antlers. Literary humor helps chil dren grow. and illogical series of events. aliens with au tomobiles. disaster and loss. from crue lty. It's been done and done and done. Sla pstick Farce and horseplay have been part of the American humor scene since vaud evilleÐmaybe before. What makes a nonsense book funny is i ts weirdness. You may choose to switch family members. her antlers get caught in the chandelier. which is a fundamental value of humor. Stay away from twins. Imogene's Antlers. or people and their pets. They offer a magic m irror. though. she can't t through narrow doorways. This is a problem. This book speaks to children's physic al differences. Th ough children recognize the absurdity of Imogene's situation. from change and insecurity. Even worse. Who knows what . her mother keeps fainting at the sight of her. ridiculous premises. Children are not always sophisticated or mature enough e motionally to laugh at themselves. Imogene has trou ble getting dressed. they also see how well she copes with her sudden disability. through which children's problemsÐand their solutionsÐcan be re ected back.Swamp. Humorous books with subtle serious themes off er children ways to deal positively with life's inequities. as Mary Rodgers did with her mot her/daughter exchange in Freaky Friday. by David Small.

My favorite satirical series is "The Stupids.Neanderthals did for fun? Physical humor appeals to the child in all of us. Avi used slapstick masterfully in his book Rom eo and Juliet Together (And Alive) At Last! His high schoolers' rendition of Sha kespeare's masterpiece would make The Bard weep (with tears of laughter). and spoof the silly societal mores children are expected to embrace. James Marsha ll's illustrations add hilarity to the humor. Satire You can achieve humor by poking fun at human vices. Check out Betsy Byars' Golly Sisters. Laughter helps older children deal . Adolesce nce just seems to lend itself to humor. Adolescent angst Family and school stories. stumbling characters cause chaos in the pages of children's books. who challenge the status quoÐand thrive. Read Sid Fleischman's The Whipping Boy for a lesson in writing satire. frenetic chases and bumbling. Make fun of uppity people's pretensions. which rarely makes sense to children. lampoon restrictions. I swear these people lived next door to me when I was growing up. Your plot will immediately pick up pace if you include a fr antic asco or two. so they love to see it pul verized on paper. human foibles or the genera l social order." by Harry Allard . To write effective satire for chil dren. you must recognize the ridiculous in youngsters' lives. May-May and Rose's calam itous capers are rip-roaring fun. growing up and coming-of-age novels make up the bulk of children's humorous ction. Hect ic. Create characters who teeter on the edge.

the losses more than they may be willing or able to pay. it would have been too preachy. let's bet on it. and. the geek. disability. To show the co nsequences of betting. I started with a troublesome topi cÐbetting. as with any addiction. divorce. I bet you." And they bet a way valuable itemsÐ clothing. Middle -grade and young adult novels include more urbane. lunch money. senility.J. I began with a funny.J. The issues are serious . For my middle-grade novel. I overhear conversations between kids who are placing bets: "Oh. loss of control and self-respect. If I hadn't chosen a humorous premise for this book. How Do You Spell Geek?.J. sure. For my book B. loses his mother's lottery ticket in a wager. Wh en B. and bui lt the story around her. he has to get that ticket back! I hope young readers will see that the risks of gambling are considerable.with life's larger dilemmas: death. Reading about characters who successfully and humorously overcome obstacles provides children with painless lessons on how to handle their own pr oblems. a compulsive gambler who bets and l oses all of his possessions. These young p eople are developing their own individual views of the world. then begins to bet away his family's belongings. and social relatio nships take on a major role. loss. offbeat character. Frequently. Byner. cerebral humor. Lurlene Brueggemeyer. family con ict. sports card collections. and unw elcome change. then nds out the ticket is a fty-milliondollar winner.'s Billion-Dollar Bet. Betting can result in loss of friendship." or "Wanna bet? Come on. I created B.

There's a ne line between sarcasm and cynicism. between . they relate to the ir audiences through rebellion. It comes from deep within. shifting alliances between friends. f rom your own wacky way of looking at the world. Read the masters of middle-grade humor: Ellen Conford. steer clear of targeting a speci c age group. Beverly Cleary. radicalism. Ann. If you plan to try your hand at humor. and general outrageousness. we make light of. Betsy Byars. neglect. Richard Pec k. a sarcastic s ense of humor and a wry way of watching her world get weird. Torture. and Paul Zindel. war. Humor writing is a spontaneous act. and Jerry Spi-nelli. I've received letters from eight-year-olds who are reading my junior high novel. There are humor writers who defy classi cation. hatred. peer pressure. Kerr. Violence isn't funny. and self-expression. and preying on others' misfortunes are not subjects for children's humor. What we laugh at. among man y. Even though sense of humor evolves as w e grow older. we legitimize and co ndone. which seems to ligh ten the load. Their books validate an emerging adult's individuality. torment.E.onesÐjudging people by their appearance. but I gave my main character. Barbara Par k. And I'm sure you know high schooler s who still get a hoot out of Dr. Daniel Pinkwater. and self-examination. Cruelty is never funny. Seuss. One word of caution: Humor has p ower. many others. Risky Friends. we never lose appreciation for the books that made us laugh when w e were younger. pass ion. Three yo ung adult authors who fall into this special category are M. What we laugh at.

If you do write humor for childre n. There's more than one way to connect with children throug h humor (beyond using "underwear"). So be aware. In fact. and given the fact that children laugh easily. your chances of eliciting gleeful responses are excellent. observe the limits. with all the techniques available.light-spirited and mean-spirited. .

even to ob jects. But despite her caution. or they'll lose interest in the story. believable. They felt involved. . whether for adults or children. Speci c. an alarm jett ed through the ock. amazed at the large number of snow geese. She st ood quietly.91 DYNAMIC DETAILS MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN CHILDREN'S FICTION By Beverly J. THAT WHAT MADE THIS PARAGRAPH so EFFECTIVE? DETAILSÐDETAILS worked. and they rose together in a mob of blurred white. and a simile helped make the scene come alive and made the setting real. Readers must feel connected to your characters. well-chosen details that wove in sensory perceptions. That's t he goal of good storytelling: Involve your readers so they feel they're part of the action. Marcy gasped a s the rising mass spewed into the air and spread quickly across the elds. This holds true for any ction writi ng. not wanting to disturb them. and feel Marcy's wonderment. settings. hear their wings. imagery. Letchworth Marcy edged closer to the lake. Readers could see the ge ese. their apping wings sounding like the clattering of a thousand clapping hands.

or object. they can ab sorb some of the subtleties. Opt for those details that convey on ly the most signi cant aspects of a setting. Let's go back to the attic and add more details sui table for older readers. and a torn overstuffed chair seemed a fat lady at rest beside them. indeed. Also. character. details must be strictly limited. The attic lay dim and dusty before herÐa small room with a low ceiling that seemed a perfect size for an Alicein-Wonderland escape. Therefore. "The attic was dim and dusty . Even for teenagers. because chi ldren are bored by long descriptions about settings or characters. don't overdo ." As children mature. In a desc ription about an attic. de tails must be limited and chosen with care. For young chi ldren whose attention span is short. Sometimes. Bulging boxes and broken furniture lined the wall s. Bulging boxes over owing with ol d clothes sat like curled-up sleepers.But in writing children's ction. looking soft and gauzy in the dusky light. making her shiver. keep in m ind that the younger the reader. More depth has been added." These few details offer readers de nite sensory images that bring the scene to life. the fewer details should be used. they can grasp more details an d appreciate the many layers of a character or setting. and. From all corners cobwebs hung in tattered white strea mers. but you'd better stop here or the description will be come tedious. you may choose to say only. a single detail is enough to set the tone: "An owl hooted low and loud. Cobwebs hung in the corners. you must consider more restrictions.

" An individual object may often merit some detail. Use the ve senses to bring your scene to life. "Again she felt the familiar sharp sting of tears behind her eyes. she strode into the room. 2. choose only one of two details. It takes practice." 3. rather than a whole paragraph to reveal the essence of that character." Or. choose the best detai l to make it real to the reader.the details. You can achieve a fast-paced. Again. stimulating style by using metho ds for selecting and using effective details. but it's worth the effort. "He didn't bother to push the l ong." O r. as smooth and soft as melted gold. you may show your character's sadness by s imply saying. The detailed style of Charles Dickens is passé today. the silver bell glinted like a jewel on the sunny kitchen windowsill. For example: "Straight-backe d. 1." To convey an emoti onal reaction without becoming wordy. Bring in sound. "The fern hung from the ceiling and dripped its lacy fronds onto the oor. "Amid the jumble of plastic glasses and shriveled plants. For physical description of a character. "The satin dress lay across the bed. children of the computer age with its easy access to quick information won't keep reading a boo k that's verbose. Establish what age group you're writing for to determine how many details to include. . Sight is vital in descriptions. bu t don't neglect the other senses." Or. Select the most telling details to describe the particul ar situation and connote speci c aspects of the setting or character. greasy hair from his eyes as he lurched down the steps. her head high.

maybe even the smells of the particular locale. heavy ropes. F irst. it's not always possible to visit a place. 6. Figures of speech enhance details. What you couldn't imagine was the slap of water against the boats. Of course. Remember the satin dress and the silver bel l. some you never expected. musty smell. choose three details that would set the ambiance of the s cene without becoming tiresome. dust and grit on books. shing boats. These sensory details will add the realism needed to make readers feel they are there. you can see water. sounds. Not many of us can take a quick trip to a rainforest or go to a circus whenever we want to. but for young readers. And d on't forget color. read. 5. gulls. cobwebs in the windows. Study pictures that will give you a better sense of t he sights. If you can't visit. for they add depth and realism. Create sim iles and metaphors when appropriate. Use speci c details so readers can see and feel the scene. Young minds . then read. 4. nets and rods. taste. read about th e setting you want to use. books piled haphazardly on shelves and in corners. and make a list of its speci c qu alities. a cat meowing from a shelf. and touch whenever possible. visit the type of place you have in mind.smell. the cloying sh smell. A run-down bookstore may include details such as: water stains on the c eiling. envision the setting you want to describe. For example: When you envision a boat dock. use details cautiou sly. A wealth of details will present thems elves. the gentle sway of the dock beneath yo ur feet. a crooked wood oor. If you can't visualize a setting adequately. From this list.

thoughts. It was still exciting to be a ble to read the names and signs in the windows. the smell of the river wafted around them. Some of her worry dropped away. just as she could identify other steambo ats by their particular-sounding whistles. 8. and action to mak e the following scene more appealing. It owed on their right . and she too k deep breaths of the river's scent. features Lithia Ann. . Break up d escriptions in order to incorporate more appropriate details as interestingly as possible. Her walk into town with her brother Roan needed to include many d etails. Occasionally. As they passed shops and stores. In the distance blared a deep mournful stea mboat whistle. always changing. so use them sparingly. She could always tell th e steamboat by its deep haunting sound. a free black girl who dreams of getting an education so she can bec ome a teacher. Sprinkle details throughout the scene so there are no long stretches of solid text. and keep them simple and easy to understand. One of my stories for middle-grade readers.can't always grasp the comparisons. Lithia Ann felt its strength and it always revived her. As they walked. allow your characters to describe the details of a setti ng or object. always moving. gures of speech can be used more frequ ently. For older readers. set in 1850. This technique offers a change of pace and gives the reader the be ne t of a character's feelings and opinions about a place or object. thought Lithia Ann. The James Hawthorne. I tried to scatter them in between dialogue. a wide ribbon of currents. 7. Lith ia Ann called out the names of various businesses.

. Dogs barked. "Fresh sh. Grunts and yells. thuds. . Roan dashed up to the cart and held out his hand to the old woman. and ba ngs lled the streets as men unloaded cargo from atboats and steamboats tied at the pier. fresh sh. Noises pushed aside Lithia Ann's thoughts. . . horses snorted. "No money. A shmonger with his cart of fre sh sh called to passersby."Some day you'll be able to read too. details woven throughout the plot." she said harshly. Roan." she said enthusiastically. "Then yo u'll know what everything is. mules brayed. no berries. . and smell s of a river town in the 1850s and make you feel as if you are walking the dirt streets with the characters. As a writer. you must strive to bring out this . Lithia A nn's mouth watered. Soon they reached the bustling w harf. I hope that these speci c details help you visualize the sights. t for the pan!" An old woman pushed a wheelbarrow lled with strawberries. "I only wante d one." Roan said sadly. sounds. Lithia Ann and Roan rest ed on the wooden boardwalk in front of the hotel. pushing past him." She remembered the rst time she had realized that a group of letters spelled a word: C-A-T. . offer readers a way to "belong" t o the story. Like yarn in a rug. Details are vital elements of any story. ever-changing in color and pattern. "Straaaawberrrrries!" she shouted. when Lithia Ann took him by the hand. for they p icture the world of the characters.

Only by presenting the most effective details can you make this hap pen. .involvement.

read about characters slightly older than themselvesÐlo wered the age levels of YA to include readers as young as ten or eleven. Librarians were the rst to search for young adult books that would be of interest to high school or mature junior high students. But as the concept of books aimed especially at this age group became common." Some of the confusion may have been caused when booksellers and publishers. . and how do we write for them? There's no simple answer.92 CAPTURING THE YOUNG ADULT READER By Cheryl Zach TRYING TO CAPTURE THE YOUNG ADULT READER IS A BIT LIKE ALICE'S pu rsuit of the White Rabbit. these young people are almost as elusive and as hard to pin down. perhaps in an attempt to broaden the market. bookstores stepped in to de ne the label "young adul t. So who's really reading young adult books. The young adult books you nd on library or bookst ore shelves run the gamut from innocent rst-kiss stories to accounts of the much more serious consequences of an unintended pregnancy. perhaps in recognizing that childre n like to "read up"Ðthat is. from lighthearted runningfor-class-president tales to suspenseful live-or-die mysteries.

with death. the subject matter portrayed in b ooks for pre-teens won't be the same as in novels for older teens. Stine's more graphic horror nove ls. humorous Anastasia books and also feel t he tug of Lurlene McDaniel's poignant novels of critically ill adolescents. Junior high studen ts often enjoy Lois Lowry's perceptive. the YA novel is too important a genre to be ignored. the age at which teenagers and adolescents experie nce physical. or to Christopher Pike's or R. Grif n. an adopted teenager seeking her birth parents a nd discovering a dark secret in her family's past. The coming-of-age novel chronicli ng a young person's rst experiences with romance. with personal responsibility is too signi cant to be considered only as a marketing ploy. Some books seem to span the a ge groups. with adult actions and consequences. As a result. some editors and librarians feel that readers 16 to 22 are und erserved. To make the e quation even harder to solve. such as Kil ling Mr. Novels such as my own Runaway and Family Secrets also deal with more mature themesÐa pregnant teen on the run. Olde r teens may be drawn to the darker threads of a Lois Duncan mystery. So de ning the YA re ader depends partly on whom you ask. authors and publishers strive for meaning ful YA books. Many readers that age are turning to adult books. historical novels like . while sometimes targeting different age groups. emotional. but do adult authors address their particular concerns? Obviously. Yet despite this problem of de nition. and mental maturation varies widely.At the same time.L.

modern readers expect a quick beginning that sweeps them immediately into the story. the part-time employer. examine their families. sometimes including adults. yet vul nerable characters? Go into their backgrounds. the youngest may be more indulged). fortunately other aspe cts will not. perhaps contributes to their ageless appeal. free of the restraints of modern costume and slang and soc ial traditions. with school friends and teachers. In addition. to see at least a hint of the problem this young person faces. and they want to care enough about his or her character to guarantee that they will hang around to see what happens. see m to attract readers from a wide age group. These bo oks often have signi cant themes. and their position in the family (the oldest child is often expected to be more responsib le. They want to be introduced to the main characte r right away. Look at their relationships with their p arents. How does the YA author create likable. realistic dialogue. Consider a character's earlier experiencesÐeven a child has a past!Ðand see . and a fast-paced plot with comp elling scenes. a Civil War saga.my Carrie's Gold or Southern Angel. the neighborhood or school bully. or fantasy novels such as Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles or Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsinger books. with the neighbor next door. but the fact that the stories are presented in a nother time or place. Readers of any age will respond to well-drawn. with their siblings. a signi cant problem that the protagonist (not a helpful adult) will re solve or come to terms with. three-dimensional c haracters. Although topics and treatments may vary in books for younger or older teens.

too. and keep in mind tha t adolescence today is not the same as it was twenty years ago. remember that just as the novel itself has a shape. Your characters may not be perfect. be sure the climax is truly the most exciting part of the . read teen magazines and listen to teen music. that a fteen-year-old may really be in love. Try to be honest with your readers. no pat-on-the-head infatuatio n here.what has helped make him into the person he is today. Make every word cou nt. Test every line of dialogue and every paragraph of narrative to make sure it is absolutely necessary. that a sixteen-year-old could be in a life or death situation if he de es the local gang. Keep up with what's happening in real life. provide more understanding of the character. scenes also have their own shape and purpose. (The plot of Runaway evolved from a short article in the back pages of my local paper.) Also. an age-appropriate problem that young people will identify with. if you want your readers to like them. or provide information about the setting h as no place in your YA novel. you have to like your characte rs rst. but make sure they're basically decent. Finally. I get some of my best ideas from newspaper or news stories. in graceful prose. For today's impatient reader s. a rise and fa ll and rise to an ultimate climax. getting the wrong teacher on the rst day of school can be a real dis aster. I know that to a t en-year-old. you must write cleanly and succinctly. never condescend to them. create suspense or humor. Watch the news. Make sure the setting and the dial ogue are up-to-date. The protagonist should have a real problem. A scene that does not move the story forward.

so that your readers will sit on the edge of t heir seats and be unable to put the book down until they know what the resolutio n will be. Show how your young protagonist rises to the most dif cult challenge he or s he has faced. and another. . and intellectual zenith. no matter what their ages. and another. will be eager to read another YA novel. and meets it head-on in a scene that is played to its emotional. p hysical. And then. we writersÐalong with teachers and parentsÐwill hope that kids.book.

Tip #1: READ. After more than 1. If You Give A Mouse A Cook ie (Laura Joffe . Look at the word counts of some of the "c lassics": The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)Ð225. how do you k now if your book is better thanÐor as good asÐthe rest? How do you know your version of "The Three Little Pigs" is different enough from the traditional one to attr act a child's (or publisher's) attention? [Suggestions of titles to "study" will be shown in brackets.500 story hours. By sharing this knowledge I hope to improve the chances of my wowing you ng patrons with some great picture bookÐyours.93 TEN TIPS ON WRITING PICTURE BOOKS By Diane Mayr As A CHILDREN'S LIBRARIAN. I know what these childre n like. I ask them to compare their book to something already in print.] Tip #2: BE BRIEF." If you haven't read what's out there. but aren't yet able to read on their own. Children this age have developed language skills. Good books for preschoolers run 800 wo rds or lessÐsometimes considerably less. or "I haven't read many children's books. I'm usually met with a blank stare. I DO STORY HOURS FOR PRESCHOOLERS ages 3 to 5. When wannabe writers tell me they have written a book for children.

but they're very real. It's your task to develop a twist on a familiar theme. P reschoolers are strongly tied to their homes and family. by Keiko Kasza] Tip #4: KNOW THE PRESCHOOL PSYCHE. t hough. Do n't use a lot of description. [Read: Rosie' s Baby Tooth. For them. Have you heard of the "rule of three"? The main character mu st complete three tasks. something has to happen. The Baby Of The World. and Corduroy (Don Freeman)Ð708. wish to provide notes. before winning the day. and an end. predicta bility is expected. we have a tendency to dismiss a preschooler's fears and "problems" as inconsequential. [Rea d: The Wolf's Chicken Stew. separate from the text. but make the twist believable. try letting your heroine face the mons ter under the bed three times before she develops the courage to banish it. and the story must ha ve a beginning. If your forte is "mood" pieces. (You may. about illustrative element s crucial to your story. The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats)Ð319. by Kevin Henkes] As adults.) A balance of dialogue and narration works best.Numeroff)Ð291. the illustrator will ll in the details. or face three foes. then you're not aiming for the preschool audience. They need to be addressed and dealt with reassuringly. The ending must not be ambiguous. by Maryann Macdonald] . The rule ha s worked for generations of talespinners. They enjoy hearing abou t situations they're familiar with such as the arrival of a new baby. [Rea d: Julius. Tip #3 : TELL A GOOD STORY. a middle.

Nor ar e 3-to 5-year-olds the audience for a picture book that tries to explain the Hol ocaust. but don't allow the talking animals in your stories to do things a child wouldn't do. by Libba Moore Gray] Allow the audience to discover a "secret" before the main character does. don't have Baby Monkey cross a busy street by herself. abuse. by Amy Hest] Tip #5: SUREFIRE PLEASERS.Ð are topics for bibl iotherapy. so frequently put down by older siblings. by Amy M cDonald: Peace At Last. [Read: Baby Duck And the Bad Eyeglasses. by Anita Jeram. preschoolers will invariably ask. leave it in. Preschoolers will "moo" and "quack" along wi th the readerÐand love doing it! [Read: Is This A House For Hermit Crab?. Mother Makes A Mistake. by Jill Murphy. Little kids. but nonsense wor ds draw a laugh. Preschoolers love humor! But. but don't arbitrarily dismiss a young monkey's (child's) need to depend on r esponsible adults. Small Green Snake. by Ann Dorer] Noises are always a hit. Tacky The Penguin. divorce. Think pratfalls without pain. etc. Childhood is short but critical in the development of character. such books have a place. Prescho olers deserve to feel secure. "Where's the Mommy?" If Baby Monke y needs to cross the street without Mom in order to advance your plot. . For example. but are not for the general audience. Sophisticated punning is out.The problems adults see as signi cantÐdeath. they're not looking for subtle ty. by Helen Lester. [Read: FROGGIE GETS DRESSED. Contrary Mary. by Jonathan London. Animals often appear as the characters in picture books. If you do.

more advanced peers, and even by adults, appreciate the opportunity to feel "sma rter" than someone else. This device is often used by puppeteers who have the au dience see the villain before the lead puppet does. If you've ever heard the gle eful screams, "Look behind you! He's behind you!", then you know how successful this can be with preschoolers. [Read: any of Frank Asch's books about Bear. Two good examples: Mooncake and Bread And Honey] Questions scattered throughout the storyÐfor example, "Should he look under the bed?"Ðallow interaction between the chi ld and the story. Kids love to interact! [Read: The Noisy Book, by Margaret Wise Brown] Tip #6: PICTURES ARE ESSENTIAL. If your story makes sense without visual clues, then it is not a picture book. Text and pictures must contribute equally to telling the story. (One note of caution: Unless you are an accomplished arti st/illustrator, do not attempt to illustrate your own work if you plan to submit it to a trade publisher. You need not seek out an illustrator, the illustrator will be selected by your publisher.) [Read: King Bidgood's In The Bathtub, by Au drey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood] Tip #7: WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE! Preschoolers te nd to take what you say literally. If I read aloudÐ'"Look, it's snowing!' he cried ."Ð without a doubt, a child will interrupt me to ask, "Why is he crying?" Use "he said" or "he shouted." Nothing destroys the ow of a story like having to stop to explain an unfamiliar term. Use language with which today's children are comfor table. Don't use "frock" for dress or "dungarees"

for jeans. Tip #8: LEARN THE 3 "R's." Repetition, rhythm, and rhyme work well wi th the younger set. Traditional folktales like "The Little Red Hen" still appeal to them because of the repetition. Rhyme, unfortunately, can kill a story if it 's not done well. Rather than write a story entirely in rhyme, try a few repetit ive rhyming sentences. [Read: Millions Of Cats, by Wanda Gag; A Cake For Barney, by Joyce Dunbar] Tip #9: READ ALOUD. Read your story out loud and listen. If yo u stumble, nine times out of ten, there's something wrong with the writ-ing. Whe n it nally sounds right to you, try reading it to someone else for continuity and clarity. Tip #10: MAKE A DUMMY. Fold eight pieces of paper in half and staple a t the fold. You now have a 32-page dummy. Cut and paste your words onto the page s, leaving the rst three pages blank for front matter. You'll need to make decisi ons on length. Is the story too short? Too long? Does it ow smoothly? You may wan t to make notes about the pictures you envision for each page or spread. The sus pense in a story could be jeopardized by raising a problem in the text on a left -hand page and having a picture on the right-hand page provide the solution. Rem ember, preschoolers are "reading" the illustrations as you're reading the words. It's preferable to have a page turn before providing resolutions or answers. Bo nus Tip: Make Friends with Your Children's Librarian. She can introduce you to t he classic picture books, as well as to the best of what's currently being publi shed. She'll have review journals and

publishers' catalogues for you to look at, and she can double as a critical read er. I've been waiting more than ten years for the perfect picture book to share with my story hour kids; I can wait a little longer for you to write it!

94 WRITING FOR CHILDREN'S MAGAZINES By Donna Freedman NOT EVERYONE CAN WRITE FOR CHILDREN, BUT EVERYONE SHOULD want to: Children's magazines can be a lucrative market. I've been paid as much as $3 50 for a 150-word article. And there are hundreds of free-lance opportunities, f rom Sunday-school papers to glitzy, hightech skateboard 'zines. The market has g rown markedly in recent years: In 1985, the Institute of Children's Literature i denti ed 354 freelance markets; today, ICL lists 582 such markets. Writing for kid s isn't easy. You have a small space in which to pack a lot of information. You have to write in language they can understand, and you need ideas that will grab the attention of youngsters who are increasingly distracted by CD-ROM, cable te levision, video games, and other competing entertainment. Most important of all, you need to put aside any preconceived notions about childhood. Children are a lot more sophisticated than they were in your own childhood years, and they want articles and stories that are relevant to their world. Children's publications now call for writing that re ects the realities of modern life: latchkey kids, for example, or single-parent families.

Pastimes and hobbies may be a lot different from those you remember. Small-town kids may still go to the old swimming hole in the summer, but suburban and urban youngsters today are more likely to play soccer or spend their free time on the ir skateboards. Therefore, you need to familiarize yourself with what they are d oing if you want to write for them. Borrow a friend's children, teach a Sunday-s chool class, coach a sports team, or eavesdrop at McDonald's. Do anything to get an idea of what kids are like today. Although juvenile magazines publish a fair number of short stories, you're much more likely to sell nonaction: articles th at paint vivid pictures of historical events or use colorful, down-to-earth imag ery to explain a scienti c or technological phenomenon. Pro les of famous people can no longer be dry as dust: Readers want to feel the wind on Amelia Earhart's fac e, or hear the crash as Thomas Edison's prototype light bulb shatters on the oor. Editors are looking for more biography, history, and hard science. Nature is a perennial favorite, but most magazines already have backlogs of articles about R eally Interesting Animals or Fascinating Natural Phenomena. It's not that these ideas can't make good reading, it's that they need a new approach. For example, Highlights for Children recently published an article about a tiger in an animal sanctuary. Normally, the magazine doesn't use pieces set in zoos or sanctuaries , but this piece was different because the writer used her senses to create a pi cture of the sleekness of the tiger's fur, the roughness of its tongue, its ever -changing moods. It worked because it was evocative. If it had been encyclopedicÐ "Tigers live in Asia. They are endangered."Ðit

would have been boring, and not held the attention of young readers. Even an art icle that has a lot of information needs to be written in an exciting, attention -getting style. Since slang or jargon tends to sound phony when used by adults, concentrate on unusual details and the newest research you can nd. Intrigue reade rs and show them how much you care about the subject, whether it's tiger fur or in-line skating. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to write about the spac e program, or an entomologist to write about dung beetles. All you really need i s a dedication to research, an ability to write clearly and concisely, and a res pect for your young audience. One of the most common mistakes writers make is wr iting "down" to childrenÐbeing too sweet, too jaunty, or too didactic. Children do n't want to be patronized or preached at. The worst crime of all is to try to sh oehorn in some moral. If there's a lesson to be learned, you should show it, not tell it. Your average nine-year-old isn't going to have an epiphany like, "Gues s I should have listened to what the Sunday-school teacher/Grandma/my dad said." If he read anything preachy or boring, he'd groan out loud: "Give me a break!" Like most of us, kids read magazines to be entertained. Articles and stories nee d to t into very small spaces in the magazines. Even if a magazine speci es 800 to 1,200 words, don't feel com-pelled to use up all the allotted space. Editors lov e tight writing, because children, particularly beginning readers, are more like ly to nish a short piece than a daunting 1,200-worder.

Marketing skills are as important as writing skills. There's no sense writing a piece on the maternal instincts of wolverines only to nd that there's no market f or such an article. And if you're sending out ideas blindly, without the slighte st bit of market research, you're not just wasting postage, you're wasting an ed itor's time. A little market research would show, for instance, that Cricket doe sn't publish horror stories; that Highlights steers clear of pop culture; that t he editors at the Children's Better Health Institute don't like stories that fea ture junk food. Also, it's not enough to know what kind of articles the editors want; you also need to know what kind of writing they prefer. It's almost imposs ible to get a sense of a magazine's voice from writer's guidelines. The only way to do that is to read several issues of the magazine to give you an idea of wha t you might be able to sell. The stories and articles in children's publications may be slangy and colorful, or written in a graceful, literary style. Not a sin gle word is wasted; each is carefully chosen for maximum impact. You might consi der subscribing to a few magazines, such as Highlights, Cricket, and Cobblestone . Or spend a couple of hours each month in the local library, reading as many ch ildren's magazines as possible. Go through back issues, too. The Writer Magazine is a good place to nd other outlets for your work. So are specialty publications , such as Children's Writer (published by the Institute of Children's Literature ) or the Society

of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Bulletin. Sunday-school papers and o ther religious periodicals are always hungry for good writing, and they publish up to 52 times a year. They tend to pay less than mainstream children's magazine s, but they're a good place for beginners to hone their writing skills, learn to work with editors, and compile some clips. It's a lot tougher to sell to a high -pro le magazine. The best-known publications may get as many as 1,000 unsolicited manuscripts each month. One way to break in is through the "front of the book" sections found in many magazines. These are made up of very short items about in teresting or newsworthy children's activities. Your local newspaper is a great r esource for front-of-book items. Did a youngster in your town start a recycling program, climb a mountain, break a 10k record in his age group? Other kids want to know about it. Juvenile magazines devote a lot of space to puzzles, crafts, h idden pictures, dot-to-dot, and word nds. This can be another good way to break i nto the market. Your experience with children might also help you sell a story o r an article. For example, you might package an article on Halloween with an eas y-to-do crossword puzzle using lots of spooky words. Or a story about friendship could go hand-in-hand with a craft page on how to make friendship bracelets. So me writers believe they can get away with lazy research or substandard writing b ecause it's "only" for kids. Nothing could be further from the truth. Editors wi ll accept only the very best for their young readers.

95 WRITING MYSTERIES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE By Peg Kehret PART OF THE JOY OF WRITING FOR CHILDREN IS THE LETTERS THEY send m e. One of my favorite letters said, "It took my teacher two weeks to read Nightm are Mountain to our class. You wrote it in three days. Wasn't that hard to do?" I have never written a book in three days! Nightmare Mountain took me nine month s, and then my editor asked for revisions. Writing mysteries for children is not easy or fast, but it is fun and enormously satisfying. Here are some hints to h elp you write a mystery that will satisfy young readers. · Begin the novel in an e xciting place. Sometimes this means rearranging your material after the book is written. I wrote Nightmare Mountain in chronological order, but when it was nishe d, I realized there was too much background information at the beginning of the book. Although it was necessary information, it gave the story a slow start. I t ook a letter from the middle of the novel and made it my opening. Now the book b egins: "Dear Mom, Someone's trying to kill me." The letter is less than a page l ong; it became my whole rst chapter. Chapter two starts at the true beginning, wi th the

necessary background information. At the end of chapter six, Molly nally picks up her pen and writes to her mother, but meanwhile that letter has generated suspe nse throughout the rst ve chapters. When you nish your rst draft, read through it to see if there is a more exciting scene with which to open your novel. If so, try moving that scene to the beginning of the story. Another good way to open a mys tery is with intriguing dialogue. A fourth-grade teacher told me that she once r ead the rst paragraph of six novels to her class and then let them vote on which book she would read aloud to them. My book, Horror at the Haunted House, was the students' choice. Here is my beginning: "Hey, Ellen! I'm going to get my head c hopped off." Such an opening makes the readers curious. They will want to read o n, to see where the opening leads. · Be sure all of the dialogue is appropriate to the character. A young child does not speak the same way his parents do; a bell igerent teenager will sound different from one who is trying to please. The funn y kid should get the laugh lines. I try not to use current slang, even in dialog ue. It dates a book too quickly. These days, kids say awesome. Several years ago , it was rad and before that, groovy was in. A book for children will often stay in print a long time; don't make it seem old-fashioned by using language that d oesn't last. · Give your protagonist a personal problem in addition to the main st ory problem. This will add depth to your story and will help

you create a more believable and sympathetic character. For example: In Night of Fear, the main story problem is that T.J. is abducted. The personal problem is his unhappiness over the changes in his grandmother, who has Alzheimer's disease . Grandma Ruth, through T.J.'s memories, becomes a major character and her disea se creates reader sympathy. Tension is also increased as readers wait to nd out i f Grandma Ruth got home safely after T.J. was forced to leave her alone. Because T.J. cares deeply about his grandma, the readers care, too. · The title of any bo ok for children must grab young readers and create curiosity; for a mystery, the title should also hint at danger. My working title for Terror at the Zoo was Zo o Night, but that title did not suggest any danger or con ict. (The editor said it sounded like a non ction title.) Terror at the Zoo makes it clear that the book i s a suspense novel, and it arouses the curiosity of potential readers who wonder what scary event happens at the zoo. Another editor once suggested that I try t o use an action verb in every title. I have done so several times, with good res ults. · Provide new information. Kids like to learn interesting facts, and if you weave the information in as a natural part of the plot, your readers learn easil y and naturally. In Horror at the Haunted House, a collection of antique Wedgwoo d is important to the plot, as are historical scenes about Joan of Arc. The char acters in Backstage Fright nd a stolen Van Gogh painting. I could have used a ctit ious artist, but by using Van Gogh I introduced young readers to a great artist, thus broadening the learning experience of the students and the classroom usefu lness

of the book. In Race To Disaster, the children take their dog. Bone Breath, to d o pet therapy at a nursing home where they realize that an elderly patient has w itnessed a murder. A subplot involves a patient who is drawn out of a shock-indu ced silence by continued exposure to the dog. Children who read that book get a mystery about a pair of diamond thieves, and also information about pet therapy and how it works. When I am writing the rst draft of a book, I ask myself, "What will children learn from this book? What new topic can I introduce?" Often, unus ual information adds a plot twist that I would not have thought of otherwise. · Pu t some humor in every book. If your mystery involves a serious problem, humor wi ll give a much-needed lightening of mood. It does the same in a suspense book in which the tension is high page after page. A character who makes kids laugh wil l quickly become a favorite, and readers will beg for more books about him. But make it genuine humor, not bathroom jokes or put-down jokes that make fun of som eone. · End every chapter with a cliffhanger. I've had children complain, "Why do you always quit at the good parts?" These are the same kids who then say they lo ved the book and couldn't put it down. The chapter ending makes the reader want to continue. Sometimes while I'm writing I'll come up with a sentence that I rea lize would make a good chapter ending. When that happens, I space down a couple of lines to remind myself that this would be a good spot for a break. Other time s, I need to rewrite until I have a

good cliff-hanger sentence for the end of each chapter. Here is an example of a chapter ending from Danger at the Fair: Corey couldn't let the man get away. Forgetting his promise to stay with Ellen, he took off across the fairgrounds after the thief. · Make the rst paragraph of each chapter short and compelling. At the end of a chap ter, readers will usually peek ahead, to see what happens next. If they see a lo ng narrative, they may decide to put the book aside and go play soccer. But if t he next chapter begins, "Hey, Ellen!" Corey waved from the sidewalk. "We got a v ideo of you on re!", chances are they'll keep reading. · Let your book re ect who you are and what you stand for. This will help with that all-important quality, voi ce. Certain themes surface over and over in my mysteries: kindness to all creatu res; violence is not a solution; each of us is responsible for our own actions. My main characters are outraged by people who dump unwanted pets (Desert Danger) . The antiviolence message is strong in Night of Fear when Grandma Ruth tells T. J. to "win with your wits, not with your sts," and in Race to Disaster when Rosie and Kayo organize Goodbye Guns Day at their school. You can't write from a soap box; you need to write stories, not sermons. But if your characters deal with so cial and ethical problems, your mystery has a de nite plus. · Don't mimic what's alr eady popular. For several years, the juvenile mystery market has been ooded with Goosebumps

wannabes, but editors look for fresh ideas and new voices. It's far better to ri sk writing a mystery that re ects your unique vision, than to attempt to imitate w hat some other writer did. Be true to yourself. Write what you love to write, an d your writing will attract like-minded readers. · Ask authorities to check your b ook for accuracy. There's nothing worse than having a reader point out that you have made an error. (Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience.) If yo u are dealing with factual information, double-check everything. Terror at the Z oo was read by two people from the education department of Seattle's Woodland Pa rk Zoo, where the story is set. Whatever aws the book may have, I know the inform ation about the zoo and its animals is correct. My latest novel, The Volcano Dis aster, deals with the eruption of Mount St. Helens. I did extensive research, bu t I also had the manuscript read by the Lead Interpreter at the Mount St. Helens Visitors' Center. I have never had anyone turn down my request to check a mamõ sc ript. Actually, they seem delighted to share their knowledge. I do include their names on my acknowledgments page, and, of course, I see that each person who ha s helped me receives a signed copy of the book on publication. · Make your mystery an appropriate length. If it's too long (more than 200 pages) it may be intimid ating to all but the most enthusiastic young reader. A good length for juvenile mysteries is 125 to 150 double-spaced manuscript pages. · Read current award-winni ng juvenile mysteries to become familiar with the best style and content. The My stery Writers of

America presents an Edgar each year to a juvenile mystery novel. Many states hav e annual children's book award programs, in which students are encouraged to rea d selected titles and then vote for their favorite. A glance at the master list from any of these programs shows a large number of mysteries, which are often th e books that win the prize. School Library Journal and The Horn Book are magazin es that review children's books and announce awards. Look for mysteries that hav e won a state children's book award, such as the Iowa Children's Choice Award, t he Indiana Young Hoosier Award, or the Paci c Northwest Young Readers Choice Award . These books are recommended by librarians and are popular with young readers. Study them to see how the authors did it. · Last, but most important of all, put t he words on paper. Write until you have a rst draft of at least 125 pages. Then g o back and, using these hints, revise and polish your manuscript. You may end up with an award-winning mystery and wonderful letters such as this: "Dear Peg Keh ret, Can I start helping you write your storys? I alredy have an idea. It is cal led Atack of the Killer Strawberries. Your $nul fan, Melissa."

do not "t alk down" to your readers. young readers will resent .96 WHEN YOU WRITE A BIOGRAPHY FOR CHILDREN By Ruth Turk WRITING A BIOGRAPHY FOR CHILDREN DIFFERENT FROM WRITING ONE FOR ADULTS? IS As a writer of seven published biographies for young readers. Whether the age level you are targeting is primary or middle grade. the writer. poverty. you will write more convincingly if you hav e respect for your subject. I must admit that while some of the basics are similar. not only to you. but portrayed them with the clarity and honesty they deserve d. When I researched the life of blind singer Ray Charl es. While your writing must be straightforward and uncomp licated. I did not minimize these a spects of his life. and a serious drug problem. As a result. I was impressed by the courage he manifested in dealing with blindness. From the outset it is import ant to keep in mind that the subject you choose must be attractive. there are enough differences to make this undertaking a challenging and rewarding experience. While your primary goal is to impart authentic biographical information. but to your young readers. raci sm.

Jr. Alabama. the author proceeded to introduce her subject. One advantage is the fact that the subject cannot . After starting her book with the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. the driver stops the bus. Martin Luther King.oversimpli cation. How to compete? The best way is to hook that juvenile with the opening paragraph. I told you I wanted the seat." said R osa Parks. Are you going to stand up?" "No. maintain a brisk pace. in 1955. and help create glowing visual images in the youn g mind. television." "Go on and have me arrested. If your subject is not alive. I am going to have you arrested." said Parks. Conditioned by rock music. "Well. young people today march to a different drum from those in previous generations. woman. opens with a dramatic account of the R osa Parks incident in Montgomery. there are advantages and disadvantages. and computers. in chapt er two. if y ou don't. skateboards. When Rosa refuses to give up her seat for a white passenger. Author Lillie Patterson's young a dult biography of Martin Luther King. "Look. Jr. If you use technical terms. Equally important is the use of lively verbs and adjectives that jump from th e page. it makes sense to include a glossar y. and followed through with the chronological development of his life. th en follow through with the complete biography.

object to what or how you write. starts with your reading everything written about her or him. keep track of good photographs that you can later recommend to your publisher's photography depart ment. Reading the work of other biographers will hel p to determine your own insights and points of departure. Still another is that the last chapter ends wit h the subject's death and rarely has to be updated. pamphlets. These organizations forw arded books. Incidentally. After learning the name of the playwright's last . An editor or publisher seriously considering a manuscript may appreciate p hoto sources. Browsing in secondhand bookshops and museums will often unearth nuggets of information that don't always turn up in public librari es or large bookstores. When my editor informed me that a photograph of Hellman in her early childhood could not be located. Research on any subject. inclu ding articles in newspapers and other periodicals. My expe rience with pictures for a juvenile biography of playwright Lillian Hellman was atypical. journals. even though the photo staff usually tracks down their own. Reference librarians a re particularly helpful in helping you nd memoirs. I did a bit of detective work on m y own. In researching the lives of Louisa May Alcott and Edith Wharton I was able to locate literary foundations in New England in areas where both women lived and wrote their timeless masterpieces. as well as history books conc erning the relevant time periods. but rewarding. and photos that helped me create a composite portrait fo r each biography. as you conduct your research. liv ing or dead. and letters of both deceased and living subjects.

Though it is comforting and convenient to have the subject's approval. A week later the photo graph was in the hands of my delighted editor. If your sub ject won't agree to being taped. be sure to cite accurate sources and dates . I got her phone number and called to persuade her how meaningful it would be for young readers to see Lillian as a little girl. it is not mandatory to obtain permission to write the story of someone's life. such as his or her refusal to be interviewed personally. You may have to re ly on friends. be certain to consult B ooks in Print to nd what other books of a similar nature are available. I surmised that she might still be living in the same city w here she had worked years ago. you will need to come up with a different approach or format. If you are fortunate enough to set up interviews. If your subject is alive. In that case if you are still determined to go ahead. Before you undertake comprehensive research about your subject. relatives. be prepared to jot down notes you can incorpora te later on. your publisher will require you to include these credits in the nished biograph y. Moral of the story? Don't hesitat e to go beyond authorship limits if it will enhance the quality of your work. prepare a list of carefully thought-out questions. and plan to use a tape recorder. D id she know where such a picture could be found? She did. or possibly enemies (the third category is one I canno t recommend!). When you use quotations.personal secretary. There cou ld be a half dozen or more authors who have chosen to write about the same subje ct. you may encounter a few frustrations on the road to succ ess. For a children's biography. pla n the number of chapters before . or both.

preferably those at the age level for whom you're writingÐbut do not inc lude close friends or relatives! Most young people will be objective and will re act quickly and honestly. I was a ble to insert that fact on the last page of my biography of former rst lady Rosal ynn Carter. particularly those who write for children. for example. especially when it is a famous family. facts. when I learned that Amy Carter was getting married. Occasionally. When the rst d raft of your manuscript is completed. try testing parts of it on a few willing l isteners. If you belong to a writer's cr itique group. nuances may be picked up more readily than when the same material is read silently. an account about a friend or member of the subjec t's family. you may use one when you least expec t it. What happens to the family members in your subject's life will be of interest to young readers. will bene t from an imp artial sounding board. As you accumulate dates. and incidents. If your accepted manuscript is already in its nal publish ing stage. depending on your organizatio n of the material). your editor may suggest a brief epilogue to bring the biography up to date. keep them in separate folders so they will be easily accessible as you develop the different chapters.you begin to write (ordinarily from six to twelve. which is what you want. For instance. Don't discard these references. Sometimes when a manuscript is read aloud. read what you've written into a . Most writers. Scan current periodicals for mention of your subject's awards or citations for past achievements. you will come across items about the subject that appear to be unrelated. ask for their comments and make use of those that are constructive . If a human sounding board is not available.

ten-year-olds will continue to read only as long as the rst page unless you. then play it several times. When you complete that rst biography. I know. dedication. Children's biographies do more than record facts. historical perspective. It takes time. and unf orgettable role models. . bu t you'll also feel proud. Many teachers will welcome a local writer willing to read her work to children and then discuss it with the m. and discipline. Insights and reactions from unbiased young listeners are usually constructive and gratifying.tape recorder. intriguing insights. It also means alway s keeping in mind the young person for whom you are writing. but a carefully researched and well-written biography can pr esent accurate information. Another way to receive valuable feedbac k is to arrange visits to elementary school classes. you might be understandably weary. As a biographer for children you are performing a special service for coming generat ions. Exciting ction can stimulate a c hild's imagination. hook them immediately and hold them for the duration. the author. An adult reader may struggle a bit longer with a boring biography before he gives up. You will be surprised at the changes you might make as a result of listening. you are documenting creative human goals and achievements that young pe ople will remember long after they grow into busy and sophisticated adults. Researching and writing a biography for children is not a quick or easy project. As the author.

Or you can write for catalogues and gui delines from the publishers themselves. and get a sense of the different grade and age levels of the boo ks in print. unless your slant is fresh. While at the library. Note the names of the publishers who bring out certain kinds of books. It's a waste of time and postage to submit non ction to a company that publishes only ction. Obviously. See how other authors handle their material. consult current publishers' catalogues found in t he children's department of the library. locate books on cr eative writing and check . if several have been published for the same age grou p in recent years. In addition. Check Books in Print to see how many books have already been writte n on your topic. but they are not sure where to start. it might be best to turn to another topic. First.97 WRITING NONFICTION FOR YOUNG READERS By Nancy Warren Ferrell As A PUBLISHED AUTHOR OF NONFICTION FOR YOUNG READERS. I 'VE often been approached by people who say they have a great idea and want to w rite a book. go to your public libr ary and study the type of books you want to write. You can also locate marketing information in the Book Publishers sect ion of this book.

such as work experience. Be sure to indicate if y ou have special knowledge of your topic. an author is not responsible for illustrations or photographs in books.references in them. Nev ertheless. After completing some preliminary research on your topic. Check out a number of books on your topic from the . write a one-page query letter to an appropriate publisher to see if their house is interested in your subject. and after some talk and negotiati on. some writers who take good pictures should indicate their credentials . Now the serious work begins. you sign a contract. Send you r proposal to about ve publishers. If you nd one or two books you really like. describe what you have in mind and how you plan to approach the material. You will often receive comments and suggestions from yo ur editor to help you shape your book to t the publisher's needs. Let's say a publisher likes your idea. Note this information on a le card so you know to whom and when you submitted the queries. Usually. stamped env elope) with each one. Take a few home to study writing techniques. mention that in your query. order them from the publishers or buy them from the bookstore to start your home library. If you have photographs or know they are available. In the letter. you receive responses to your queriesÐyes or no. You might also write a brief outline of your proposed book to include with your query. including an SASE (self-addressed. Arrangements for publication and payment are made in the nal contract. Ordinar ily.

. no te such information as the title. or contact you may consult.libraryÐboth adult and juvenile. you might nd that distant locations have valuable information or photographs you need. Coast Guard. for each book. I arranged an appointme nt with the Alaskan commander. This clearance proved invaluable. As an exa mple. Be sure to write a quick "thank you" when you receive the material. As you read and digest your subject material. Read and make copies of speci c magazine articles y ou can locate. If it's important as part of your research to interview people in an agency or business. On 4" x 6" le cards. Make appointments beforehand. etc. you could be frantically looking through piles of boo ks and papers trying to nd a quote or a fact that your editor has questioned. I described my project. Tak ing time for these reference cards at the start of your research proves its wort h over and over.S. it also gives a speci c reference poin t if you wish to add information to your manuscript or check facts during the re vision process. a rear admiral. author. when I researched my book on the U. Otherwise. and was willing to help. ar ticle. Keeping a record of this data will help you b uild a bibliography if you should need one. Arra nge for any on-scene experiences you know would be . Everyone I met took me seriously. where located. Wri te letters so that data can be coming back to you as you get farther into your p roject. and he in turn sent a memo to the local of ces explaining who I was. Surf the Internet for additional material. and requesting their c ooperation. go to the top.

hooked me onto a strap. this is not a writing mistake. feeling. because you are actively doing. "take all the pictures you want. If I sense they are getting restless or do not seem to understand. and give them credit for absorbing the information. and then pass as much as you can on to your readers. . I'm not doing my job. if writing about a historical si te.interesting. show them you have something fascin ating to tell them. and understanding the excitement you want to convey to young readers. What I'v e found helpful in writing for elementary-grade readers is to conjure up. and opened the cabin doors. the toes of my shoes clamped to the door sill. a crew member wrapped a gunn er's belt around my waist. breathless. visit that location to get a true-life experience. Again. When the chopper ew high above Sitka harbor. Respect your readers. and up w e went. say. T here I was. If. for ex ample. go sh. This can be the most fun. s ome eight-year-olds and guratively plunk them down in front of me." At this point. At Sitka Air Station. the ight m echanic tted me out in an orange mustang suit. My most exciting hands-on experience was going up in a Coast Guard search-and-rescue helicopter to take photographs. but a way of thinkingÐyou cannot correct it with a comma or a paragraph break. I was briefed beforehand. you should be aware of the one univer sal warning that ashes like a red light: Do not talk down to young readers. this exp erience was cleared through the rear admiral rst." a crew member said. Then I begin w riting with them in mind. you are writing a book about shing. with noth ing but air in front and beneath me! "There you are.

appeal to the ve senses.S. The New World of Amateur Radio. deletions. for e xample. Battle of the Little Bighorn. reorgani zation. For instance. it does not come in a rush. Air Force. balanced manuscript emerges. It takes time and work. Normally. use actu al dialogue from journals and letters. but in bits and pieces until a smooth. Make your chapter headings and openings as interesting as possible. When I needed an expert role-model for my Alaska: A Land in Motion geography book. was the Sioux Indian battle cry. One chapter heading in my book. Then when you actually be gin writing. During this research-gathering stage. If possible. and use dialogue to give life to your words.S. keep an eye out for unusual facts and anecdotes to include in your nal version. keep certain techniques in mind: Make your verbs active. insertions. the division had no aircraft. I told of the strange behavior of cattle several hours before an Alaska . you have only a general idea of ho w to handle your material. I learned that when the rst U. I located a 12-year-old boy who was the rst young person to climb the highest mountain in N orth AmericaÐMt. There are changes. keeping in mind that youngsters can be ex perts in certain elds. Experts give authority to your writing.While you are absorbing information on your subject. too. "It is a good day to die!" In my book. and only three menÐnone of whom could y a pl ane! To me that was a startling. while doing re search for U. McKinley. air force was formed in 1907. amazing fact that had to be shared with young r eaders.

I duplicated actual boat radio talk . in your narrative . had trouble with seasickness. use one-word or one-sentence paragraphs. Take care with your paragraphs . When possible. I used authentic secret code phrase s. I described it and found a photograph of an elementary school affected by the disaster. etc. For my diplomacy book. for instance. show your young readers that even succe ssful adults. and added excitement to U. do not make your paragraphs too long. bumper stickers. these short units help break up text. Besides adding drama. and pull them in. catch the reader's eye and hold his or he r interest. Air Force by including video dialogue of a real intercept of a Russian ghter plane entering U.earthquake. have weaknesses. In my Fishing Industry book. Make adult role-models real.S. Lengthy paragraphs suggest detai led description. or the "punch" will lose its power from overuse. When I related the public's reaction to George Custer's death in Batt le of the Little Bighorn. Coast Guard Academy class. Such material personalizes the text for your readers.S. And in the reverse. Use newspaper he adlines. actual cassette tape dialogues. with all their accomplishments. when I focused on the devastation of an earthquak e. I found that a cadet in the rst U. who later became national com mander.S. Grab your readers from the start. air space. relate your writing to the interest o f young readers. If you want real punch. Passports to Peace. I mentioned school students in Custer's hometown. For instance. Mentioning this human frailty gave this ro le model another dimension. which often turns off the . But use this technique sparingly. too.

critique creative work. and much moreÐmostl y for the price of postage. if you are inspired to write. They are. Proving that you are reliable and reasonable s hows you can handle another project. manus cript format. how-to books on writing. Members of such groups give encouragement. "Go for it!" Practical Advice You might locate a local writer's o rganization. your personal cheeri ng section. or your written drafts remain in a drawer. nothing wil l happen at all. Breaking up paragraphs makes the material more inviting. copyright and tax data. Send your manuscripts out. Their monthly bulletins not only present practical information t o members. if your i deas remain in your head.young reader. but the Society also prints materials that deal with marketing. and help with marketing information. remember that writing is a business. So. join a national organization such as the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. B e sensitive to suggested changes. Once your book is published. so to speak. you do not have to be a published author to join. Remember. Meet your deadlines. Becoming a member gives . For a broader view. Do not promise something you cannot deliver. To quote my 12-year-old McKinley mou ntain climber. During th is whole process of writing and working with an editor. write. and publishers may prove to be more receptive to y our new book ideas. good things ma y happen: You may receive letters from young readers and may be asked to speak t o school or community groups.

(Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrato rs.newcomers a sense of purpose.00 . Beverly Hills.. 345 N. Maple Dr. Yearly membership is $50. #296. CA 90210.) .


But the editor has had a lot of experience. Yes.98 THE AUTHOR/EDITOR CONNECTION By Eve Bunting AT A WRITERS' CONFERENCE ONCE." I was astonished and appalled. 1) Be prepared to listen when your editor suggest s changes. young and older. striving for the best possible book. Yes. To establish and keep a good relationship. I have always been treated fa irly and have always had the assurance that we are a team. the book is yours. Never. there are some things t he author should bear in mind. The writer and the editor are enemies. As a children's book writer who "publishes around. male and female. my contacts are directly author to editor. He's always on the side of the p ublisher and not on yours. But with compromise on both sides we have always been able to work a problem out." I have several editors. This is not to say there have not been disagreements. Of course there have. Since I don't work through an agent. knows . This has never been m y experience. I HEARD AN AUTHOR STATE: "Make no mistake. every word is as perfect as you have bee n able to make it.

Chances are she (I'm using the generic "she" because I h ave more female editors than male) will come around to your thinking. I was going to say most of us.what works and what doesn't. Do not burden her with un necessary questions and complaints. Be graciou s if you are proven wrong. Bu t. Understand that she has a workload that allows only a small percentage of he r time to be spent reading manuscriptsÐeven yours. 3) If you submit a new manusc ript to your editor. and is as anxious as you are for a quality book. Be factual. When it's nally published. school visits. you have the last word. you wan t to know how it is selling. be prepared to take a stand if you feel you are right. visits to your local library. you are upset tha t you can't nd a copy in your local bookstore. Be reasonable. Call the royalty department. 2) Try t o realize that your editor is a person who works hard. Perhaps it can be a joint project between you and the publisher. Yes. you want to know how your book is comin g along. as well as what you are willing to do: bookstore signings. Present your case. but it leaves room for further discussion. She has meetings coming out of her ears! . I don't know any of them!) Talk to the Promotions Department to suggest what they might do. It's O. Yes.K. try not to be irate if she doesn't get back to you right aw ay. but perhaps man y authors are totally satis ed. The best editors during discussion will be careful to ask: "Do you agree?" and will often say: "Of course." T hat may not be exactly true. to ask. You don't think your work has been promoted with enough enthus iasm? (A lot of us feel that way. But not every week. Call the sales department and ask if they know why.

except an astute librarian who challenged me on it while I stood at a podium. The editor is making deadlines herself. I managed to exclaim. there is a slot for it. but yours is the primary accountability. If your manuscript is not read y. Double horrors! I will never forget that moment nor the lesson I learned. In my very rst middle-grade novel." That g ot applause instead of boos! It was corrected in the next printing. Since I was a fairly recent immigrant fro m Ireland. do them promptly. and possibly not until the following fall. A mistake will not endear you to anyone. and you have to realize that you are going to have you r book scheduled where (a). bite the bullet . welcoming the tired and the poor as she welcomed me. I made an incredible blunder: I put th e Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor a year before it was actually there! Horr ors! No one caught it. Publishers' lists ll up. . A reader or reviewer is going to pick up on it.4) If your editor tells you that your book will not be published this year. The embarrassment of an error falls on the editor and copy ed itor. where the publisher feels it will sell best. "Oh! Forgive me! I thought that wonderful statu e was always there. An er ror in a non ction book is unforgivable. another book may replace yours. Being on time can determine whether or not your book makes that list where it's slotted. or (b). and it is equally unforgivable in ction. Your editor will bless you for not being dif cult. talking about the book. There's no point in ranting and raving in your very und erstandable impatience. 6) Be absolutely certain of your facts. 5) When you are asked to make corrections on a manuscript or galleys. or the spring after that. Children's books are particularly open to scrutiny.

And I thank my editors. too. this is not too much to ask! You pine for Trina Schart Hyman. no! Not for my book!" But all wonderful illustrators start somewhere. Usually the artist is chosen by the editor in consultation with the art department and after much perusal of sample art and already published pictur e books. equally famous. You know she'd do an exquisite job. Her style would be just perfect for your bo ok. 8) Try to accept the fact that you are not your editor's only author. But that author may have paid her dues in many years of good books. I thank them. "Oh. we want the very be st artists in the countryÐin the worldÐto illustrate our books. She can't give you her undivided atte ntion. That may be true. but don't be aggrieved or petulant if it does n't happen. relatively unknown artists turn out to be smash hits and lift my books beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary. They know I trust them. I personal ly have discovered the thrill of having newish. You may think another author is getting more than her fair share of atten tion. The reality is that we are probably not going to get any on e of them. One of her books may have made a million dollars for the company. six. Perhaps t hey come up with a " rst time" artist. It may have earned a lot of money and prestige-making awards. the key words are "be reasonable. you will know t hat every picture book author wants those illustrators and others equally wonder ful. It's been said that 20% of a publisher's list . They are usually very good at choosing just the right artist. She is juggling four.7) For picture book writers who are not fortunate enough to be able to illustrat e their books. eight other writers and illustrators. And how about Chris Van Allsburg? But if you are reasonable. It is all right to ask." Of course. Surely. and your rst reaction is likely to be. You lust after Barbara Cooney.

Flowers. · As quick a response as possible . you may want to try her with another manuscript in the future. It is easier to be the bearer of pleasant news. Say. 10) Remember that your editor is human. A word or two about the edit or/author relationship. candy. by unfortunate chance. When she says she's sorry. Can you g ive me any idea why you decided against it?" Listen to what she says. Ten points about how to kee p that author/editor relationship warm and cordial. . An editor doe s not easily reject a book. especially if she has worked with the author before. she probably is. A simple thank-you note is suf cient. take a deep breath and swallo w your disappointment. youi editor has to turn down your next manuscript. too. · Open-mindedness.supports the other 80%. Another author's book and the attention it gets may be m aking it possible for your book to get published. And remember. 9) If. so keep that relationship cordia l. or other gifts are unnecessary. You may wa nt to make changes before you submit it elsewhere. · Enthusiasm. What should an author expect to get from her editor? · As quick a reading of a new manuscript as possible. Your editor may have fought for your book with a publishing committee and lost. · Support of the book with the sales and publicity departments. Show appreciation for her efforts in making your book the thing of beauty that it is. "I'm sorry.

It's your book. If she says s he'll call. · The assurance that author and editor are in this together.. then you have the right to assume she is dependable. · To be a person of her word.· Attentiveness to your misgivings. Not to hear what is happening to your book is horrible. and a good book. we have a good author/editor relationship. Working together. So . · Praise. write. see you. and since you would be out of l ine to bug her.. · A commitment to keep in touch. as you are. she should be courteous and keep you informed. with consideration for one another. Insecure as we are. if any. we need a certain amount of TLC. we've done it! .

The term "mid-list" refers to the place a book has in a publishi ng house catalogue. BUT WHEN YOU SEND A QUERY or A p roposal. Publishers do not want midlist books. And what about rst novels? The reality is. Translation: Only best sellers need apply. little literary or commercial novel with no break-out po tential.99 WHAT DO AGENTS WANT? By Nancy Love AGENTS SAY THEY WANT NEW WRITERS. often by . It is a book that is not "front-list" (books listed in the rs t few pages of the catalogue and declared thereby bestseller material). The question we ask is: What do publishers want? Death by mid-list The conventional wisdom these days is. we are constantly trying to select those we think publishers want. the rest of us nee d a continuous supply of fresh offerings to submit to publishers. they re back. mid-list and rst novels do get published. That leaves high and dry the nice. but since we a re in the publishing business to sell books. and it i s not "back-list" (perennials listed in the back of the catalogue and kept in pr int season after season). "No thanks!" What are you to make of this mixed message? A side from those agents who really do not welcome new clients.

but a non ction title that yield s even modest. and then the authors are poached by the mainstream houses that didn't have the guts to take a chance themselves. An other reality is that it is often easier to get a rst novel accepted than a secon d if the rst one bombed. revenue may be kept around for a number of years. publishers want front-list non ction titles. Appetite for non ction Sure. gone tomorrow.e. Enter the Dread Sales Record. bu t will generate income in the long run. but steady. Most ction is here today. too. . but might be less than candid about sharing these reasons for r ejection. it will follow you around for the rest of your publishing life. many of which have ne reputations for discriminating t aste. Or they are championed by stubborn editor s at the larger houses who want to nurture a talented writer or who have enough clout to bulldoze through the disapproval of sales and marketing departments. and can be amended only by subsequent successe s that balance out the failures. a midlist book or a second book that follows a wi pe-out rst book). Man y publishers will take on a "small" book they believe will not only earn out. or by changing your name.smaller publishing houses.. but are more welcoming to a mid-list book that has a potential of being bac k-listed. One of the dirty litt le secrets of agentry is that many agents will avoid novels with either of the a bove potential problems (i. Once you have a sales hist ory documented in bookstore computers everywhere.

You might also come out ahead if you have connection s and are more comfortable being in control. writers of literary ction also do better on their own when approaching smaller publishers or college presses that agents ma y not deal with because of slow response time and low or non-existent advances. or health organization) imprimatur. In this scenario. chef. essential. but she can also attach the name o f the Garden Clubs of America to her book and a promise that the organization wi ll offer it as a premium to their members. Often. A health book need s a genuine medical (doctor. credentials are a must for an offer of even a minimal advance on a non ction book. I know writers of both ction and non ction whoÐinitially. remember that today publishers have an insat iable appetite for credentials attached to non ction books. To really hit p ay dirt. or TV or print food personality. anyhowÐlike to represent them selves and do well at it. For large publishers. it will also help if you have a " platform"Ða following or a guaranteed promise of advance sales. A cookbook needs a food establishment tie-in (restaurateu r. yo u don't need or want an agent. or poetry. the author is not just a gardening authority. and for some books.But before you rejoice prematurely. hospital. or co-authorship. Getting in the agent's door . you might need more than credentials. forew ord. Backing by an authorit y or institution is important. academic or textbooks. But be prepared to spend a lot of downtime with the ni tty-gritty of that process. The agent connection: Do you even wan t one? If you write short ction or articles.

· There is nothing in a non ction pr oposal more important than a marketing plan. Use listings in authors' source books.What makes the difference? Agents often specialize. Use the name of the workshop leader or f ellow writer who referred you. yet contain the facts about who you are and what the book is about. succinct. Winning queries and proposals There are whole books devoted to this subject . · Proposals and summaries of novels can be more expans ive. A query is like a short story in which every word has to count. and even more essential. Make suggestions for how the publis her can promote the book. Scan books that are similar to y ours for an acknowledgment of an agent. tell the publisher how . but s hort stories and queries don't have that luxury. so I will stress just a few points: · Queries need to be positive. Collect their cards and use the connection when you are query ing. Go to writers' conferences where you might meet a ppropriate agents. research your target. but they also should be professionally crafted. First. Find out if you are in the right place before you waste your stamp and everyone 's time. A novel can ramble a bit. Your writing ability and sk ills are being judged in everything you submit. ask a friend to read your work. If you and your computer can't be counted on to proofread. · There is no excuse for bad spel ling or grammar.

Also.you can help." Unfortunately. That's my job. Sisters in Crime. and on her ability to promote and become involved in publicity. As an agent. too. and other mystery writer organizatio ns that support their members and boost their visibility. I have discovered tha t publishers need and expect input from authors. so I nd myself making decisions on whether or not to tak e on an author based not only on what she has to say and how well she says it. "I write the book. and their cooperation and willi ngness to pitch in with ideas and commitment. it is no longer. b ut on her credentials. book jacket blurbs. be sure to let the agent know this. Do you have media contacts? Are you an experienced speaker? Do you have lists of newsletters in your eld that might review or write about the book? Do you lecture at meetings where the book can be sold or yers can be distributed ? Do you have a web site or belong to an organization that does and will promote your book? You get the idea. Authors frequently respond to a request for this i nformation by saying. by in-stor e placement. but it is a pleasant and welcome surprise if one is forthcoming. her visibility. Sales of mysteries are help ed by authors who are active in such organizations as the Mystery Writers of Ame rica (regional branches). author appearances. Even when large advances are involved. Fiction is promoted. A marketing plan is not usually expected from a novelist. Selling the book is the job of the publisher. if you are able to put aside some of your advance t o pay for publicity and perhaps a publicist. All novelists can star t a minor groundswell by making themselves . while that might have been true at one tim e. I have to be sensitiv e to that point of view.

After all. she is on the contract with the publisher for the life of the contract. and by u sing other local media. Some writers have reached out to store buyers with maili ngs of postcards. because they spell out the under standing and obligations of the two parties. the bold. unless an agent commits a serious bre ach. the author-agent relationship is the business equivalent of a marriage. and make known what contacts you have. or it probably isn't going to work. whether it is cti on or non ction. bookmarks or reading copies. Signal your readiness to particip ate. Basically. when you are approaching an agent. an agreed-upon procedure for dissolving the author-agent contract. not the least of which is how eithe r one can end the relationship. now what? I would advise waiting until an agen t indicates an interest before plunging in with such nuts-and-bolts questions as .known at local bookstores. the grabber novel every agent is going to want. What is your commission? Which other writers do you represent? Do you use a co ntract? I'm in favor of author-agent contracts. The re should be. This works only if an author feels that option is viable. . by placing items in neighborhood newspapers. S tart out by writing the big. Attracting the partner is just the beginning. however. I strongly beli eve a writer has to have a passion for the book she is writing. Till death do us part You've succeeded in attracting an agent.

100 BEATING THE ODDS OF REJECTION By Dennis E. it's something po sitive. but this does not meet our current editorial needs. To risk rejection is to grow. "Your baby has big ears. But there are better ways of coping with r ejection and even of reducing the odds of ever having it happen. it hurts. these aspiring writers. The manuscript becomes their "baby. Hensley BEGINNING WRITERS HAVE OFTEN SHOWN ME THEIR REJECTED MANUSC RIPTS to which the editor has attached a small note reading. wonder what had gone wrong. My rst response is that all writers get rejection slips. "Thank you for your manuscript. Pearl Buck received a re jection for one of her short stories the very week she was noti ed she had won the Nobel Prize for Literature! It's part of the writing business: If you aren't ge tting rejected. having studied the market and sub mitted a competently written article. in the short run." What does that mean? Understandably. including me. you aren't attempting to break into new markets or explore new w riting options. Of course. Writers put their heart and soul on paper. ." In essence. Since your manuscript cannot get published if you don't submit it. In the long run. you must ri sk rejection by sending it out again. that's what a rejection letter sounds like ." and nobody wants someone saying.

An editor may have a bias against the position an article is taking and re ject it. not realizing that a generation reared on MTV and split-screen images can read ily relate to writing such as this. . Or she may admire a writer's talent. the decision to reject isn' t always related to willing talent. so she rejects the manuscript . Sometimes editors' personal lives get in the way. but may worry that it might offend one of the magazine's adv ertisers. his budget won 't allow him to accept any new submissions for a few months. He may have paid such a large advance on one project. so he rejects an article about it. The editor may have just accepted a manuscript on the same topic from anot her author. Hence. Another editor mi ght not like your staccato. so the article gets nixed. One editor might be too old to realize the hig h interest in techno games.First. I t's a good idea to try your manuscript on several editors. After all. A lo t of superb manuscripts come across editors' desks that they wish they could pub lish. The editor may have a headache or may have had a ght with his or her spouse and everything gets rejected that day because of the editor's bad mood. Just because one editor rejects a manuscript . a rejection slip isn't necessarily a sign that your writing is poor. short-sentenced style. another who agrees with your point of view may accept it. editors are human. On occasion editors can be wrong in rejecting a manuscript. but her publishing house has decided not to publish textbooks or cookbooks or children's novels any longer. but sometimes factors unrelated to the writing make publishing them imposs ible. One editor ma y like the article. it doesn't mean the topic or the writing style is not worthy of publication.

Don't try to edit your ma terial as soon as you nish writing. it probably means that the publisher has n o real interest in your manuscript or in establishing a working relationship wit h you. when an editor writes." that is not an invitation for you to write back and say. "Thank you for submitting . because you will be too emotionally attached to it . Likewise. have caught the editor's eye.Understanding what an editor is saying in a rejection letter is also important. On the other hand. "Please give me a list of those places you think I should be subm itting my manuscript. then retain the plot ideas but work on making your characters mor e three-dimensional. then learn to do copyedit ing yourself. "Perhaps you'll have more su ccess with another periodical .. take heart. That can mean that while the manuscript is not what the editor need s. Here are several other suggestions on how to reduce the odds of ge tting your manuscript rejected: 1. Similarly. You should feel encouraged to send other material to that publication or publishing house. if several editors like your article concepts but say your writing mechanics require too much revision. you. But if you receive a rejection slip with a personal note from the editor. . . .. the writer. Let it sit a while. . don't read more into a rejection letter than is really there. When an editor say s. If you receive a form rejection slip." don't take it as enthusiasm when it is real ly just courtesy." Rejection letters are good starting places for manuscript revisions. If two or three editors say that your stories have good plots but we ak characters.

Let it "cool" for a few days or more. get some experience by writing for smaller-circulation trade journals. spelling errors. If an editor receives a query letter or book proposal t hat is weak. or grammar problems. If you need help in th ese areas. 6. As you impr ove. Most editors d o not have time to do a thorough copyediting job of your manuscript. 5. you can expand your market outreach. If you are writing a novel. Give editors plenty of l ead time. sentence fragments. sharpen your writing skills so that your manuscripts do not have comma splices. Know your topic thoroughly. Hone your mechanics. the editor will assume the manus cript will be more of the same. not in December. have someone in your writing group go over your work. Before trying to compete in the mass market. know .and too familiar with its contents. or even your hometown newspaper. then g o back to see if it still seems the best you can make it. 3. right? Wrong! The query letter is the equiva lent of a job interview. Don't undere stimate the impact of the query letter and hook proposal. Gauge your timing. put as much effort into your query as you do with the manuscript itself. Editors of these publications often h ave more time to help you improve your writing and marketing skills. It's the manuscript that really counts. 4. Instead. Work your way up. Send Christmas articles in the summer. So. poorly written and unprofessional. specialty per iodicals. 2. and wait for you to revise and then resubmit it. then fax or mail it back to you. Y ou may think that even if your query letter isn't very persuasive. Too often writers just "dash off" a query letter to obtain a go-ahead for submission from an editor. it's OK.

and nished works. Bring your manuscript and schedule an appointment so that you can talk to an editor about your ideas. (Conversely. In that way. read whatever is available on the topic. Finally. and b ecome something of a walking authority on the topic yourself. do exhau stive reseearch. you'd better stay at your typewriter or word processor. Talk to experts. give n etworking a try. One of the secrets of c oping with both rejection and success is momentum. 7. you are no longer a blank face. read a lot of romancesÐbot h the classics and more contemporary works. bear i n mind that any of the four other manuscripts out there could get rejected. I've used your suggestions on preparing this article and hope you will nd it acceptable. If you are writing non ction. "Thanks again for meeting with me at the summer writers' conferen ce. This s ort of thinking keeps a writer balanced. it doesn't have to be devastating. you c an begin with. when you write a query letter. Weeks later. For example.the genre. if you want to write a romance. either. Keep several manuscripts in t he mail at all times." This pre-established relationship with an editor can work in your f avor. if you receive an acceptance.) Tha t being the case. you can comfo rt yourself with the knowledge that you have four other manuscripts out there th at could get accepted any day. . Although getting a rejection letter is nev er uplifting. if a rejection letter comes in. Make contacts in the world of publishing by attending writers' conferences and meeting editors face to face. current writ ing projects.

Maybe the agent will sens e the writer's talent and potential and ask to see his or her work. wait! HarperCollins offers 5 mill ion . h e will be able to strike up a relationship with one of the agents on the panel a nd convince him or her to take him on as a new client. that they will learn just what agents are looking for. The writer imagines the millions he will receive from the auction of his manuscript: Simon & Schuster offers 3 milli on for Sanguine Rudebaker's rst novel ." says Eugene Winnick. if a writer is lucky. the most popular panel is always the one on l iterary agents. because the agents on the p anel all represent clients of this caliber. . Instant fame and fortune ar e there for the taking: All the writer has to do is get an agent. Simon & Schuster ups the bid to 7 million. Is this realis tic? "Of course not. No. . the . .101 HOW TO GET A LITERARY AGENT By Lewis Burke Frumkes EACH YEAR AT THE WRITERS' CONFERENCE I RUN AT MARYMOUNT M anhattan College in New York City. The reason for this popularity is that writers think they may be able to secure a good agent by attending the panel. or at the very least. Maybe. . By this time the writer is already fantasizing about being the next Saul Bellow or Barbara T aylor Bradford or Patricia Cornwell or John Grisham.

president of McIntosh and Otis. Agents know just which publishing houses would be interested in your book. it will probably be read by a low-level reader who may return it to y ou. And when they do se nd it out under their imprimatur. After all. a leading literary agency that represents. Nor should the writer be concerned with just fame and glory. "The odds against the beginning writer's becoming a best-selling author are astr onomical. The y are passionate about their work and must write because it's what they love to do. for e xample. The writer who is serious about writing must surrender his image of being ri ch and famous and be true to his craft. never having shown it to anyone higher up. to follow their muse. If you send your manuscript to the publisher. Your agent believes in you or he wouldn't be representing you. Think a bout that: The agent may charge you fteen percent." Nevertheless. they don't send out your manuscript randomly. but he won't receive his perce ntage unless he sells . Those who have the Hollywood starlet mentality and pursue only glitz and glamour as an en d seldom produce anything of consequence. Your agent regards you as a professional and will ght for the highest possible payment for your work. over th e transom. Mary Higgins Clark. your agent is the perfect person to negotiate the contract for you . one of the world's most successful mystery writers. Consider too that in the event a sale is made. Writers who do become successful autho rs usually do so because they feel compelled to write. they certainly have a better shot at making a sale than you do. they usually send it to an editor who is senio r at the publishing house. Whi le they cannot guarantee you sales. he doesn't make any money unless he can sell your book. agents are important.

writers and agents often become close friends." Also. or making sure the publisher pays top dollar to get them. are notoriously inept when it comes to nances. you will appreciate that your agent did not sell Internet righ ts or the rights for Togoland. working together in close collaboration over a period of years. "and will e xploit your manuscript to its maximum potential either by retaining certain subs idiary rights. your ag ent will retain certain rights you never dreamed of. never even knew existed. he truly thinks you are . he may also act as your nancial consultan t. frie ndship is not the most important thing you are seeking from an agent. if your agent manages to sell your book for a million dollars." O n the off chance that your book becomes a fabulous bestseller and sells umpteengazillion copies. "Y our agent understands the importance of these rights. You are seeking an advocate who believes in you and will represent you in the best possible manner to publishersÐand that is what you generally get. (Curious h ow generous we become when we are counting millions!) According to literary agen t Tom Wallace of the Wallace Agency. at least n ot initially. Also. Naturally. Any way you look at it. fteen percent of nothing is still nothing. you will mo st likely feel comfortable paying him fteen percent for his hard work. How ever. and ofte n need advice in this area. and the intergalactic airwaves. It is a wonderf ul but underappreciated aspect of the agent/writer relationship. An agent who takes you on as a client believes in your work. in addition to being your agent/lawyer. Writers. it is a byproduct. he believes he can sell your work. "In negotiating with the publisher.your book." says Wallace. and Mauritius. by and large.

talented. some quite speci c. or an essay. New York. Many publishers t oday won't even look seriously at an unagented book. which will also send you lists. stamped envelope). So when do you begin looking for an agent? Well. you can consult this book's list of rst-rate agents who don't charge reading fees. so this is the time you nee d an agent. And there are many other organizations. or possibly. and besides. If you don't know any professional writers with agents. not when you are trying to sell your rst essay or short story to a magazine. which will send you a list of their members for a $7 check or money order and a 550 SASE (self-addressed.. no a gent will try to sell one short story. O. For their part.. agents generally want to handle a book. or article for you.. There is not enough money in it. . it is something you can do yourself. Final ly. or he wouldn't agree to represent you. or any of the books on agenting that can be found in the reference section of the library.K. in a good bookstore. This already says something ter ri c about your agent . Book projects are different. and also b ecause it really re ects your work in a more serious way. or The Romance Writers of America. so how do you nd th e agent? One of the most common ways is to ask writer-friends to recommend a goo d one. NY 10003). it's very good experience for you to get to know the magazine markets. At this point I assume we agree that having an agent is worthwhile. you should probab ly get in touch with The Association of Authors' Representatives (10 Astor PI. such as The Screen Actors Guild. perhaps an auction.. because it w ill potentially involve a larger amount of money. he has good taste. and t o learn how to deal with editors. 3rd Floor. In fa ct.

People have heard that Amanda Urban. "Usually I can tell quickly from a queryÐwhether the author writ es ction or non ctionÐif it is worth following up. This may yield the names of his agent and his editor. with an SASE. says. I want to know why the book is different fr om all the other books on that subject now on the market. asking to see more of your work. Molly Friedrich." he says. I prefer a synopsis and a couple of chapters. It's as if the prov enance of the agent accrues to you. then comb the author's acknowledgments. "If the agent is interested. Thus it is not uncommon to hear a writer sub tly drop into a conversation that his agent represents Norman . "One overlooked method of obtaining an agent o r an editor. ." Now that you've narrowed the e ld and zeroed in on the agent or agents you want to represent you . of the Jonathan Dolger Liter ary Agency. how do y ou make your approach? "Send a query letter rst. Ginger Barber. Lynn Nesbit. he or she will get back to you." says Robin Rue of the Writers House. "is to pick up a book by an author you admire and whose w ork is similar in type to your own. ." Jonathan Dolger." Good agents are highly sought after for all the reasons I have outlined earlier and because everyone wants to be represented by a top agentÐsomeone who represents successful writers and brings in the big-do llar contracts. This also helps me in my presentation to the publishers. big-time writers.Tom Wallace suggests another way. This is only natural. and if non ction. Andre w Wylie. and Mort Janklow are "supe r-agents" who represent celebrity clients. If ction.

It is that simple. You are clearly better off with an agent who has an intuitive feeling fo r your work and will personally pick up the phone for you when you need her.Mailer or John Updike or Tom Wolfe or Cynthia Ozick. beginning writers must keep in mind that what is more important than who the agent represents is that he love your work. and pushes only the work of his star clients.. or whoever the fashionable writer at the time is." Su ppose after approaching several agents. If you live in New York. Your . What do you do? Clearly. You can meet face to face and ask any questions you may have. After you have lunched with your various prospects . However. and bel ieve in you. take the agent to lunch. go with your gut feeling. a literary agent who has a mix of high-pro le clients as well as unknowns. and be willing to get out there and be an advocate for you. You must realize that whi le personality is important. You obviously will want to go with the agent who convinces you she can do the best for you in terms of selling your work and managing your career. But it won't hurt for you and th e agent to be compatible. Th ere probably will not even be a formal contract between you. It won' t do you any good if your agent represents only the most distinguished writers b ut leaves you at the gate. You are better served by an agent who will give you and your work the attention it dese rves." says Carol Mann.. you are not marrying the agent. not put you on a back burner and leave you to deal with his secretary when she has the time. more than one is interested in your work . "it's only common sense that an agent with a lot of high-pro le clients will not have as much time for you and you r work. you are in a good position. "Put another way.

and probably the agent who recognizes it is someone you should think seriously about having represent you. Probably you have. Clearly.contract is a handshake. you cannot force an agent to represent you well if she doesn't wish to. no agent can compel you to give her your work. Never question the agent who thinks you have talent. . and conversely. you don't want to pursue an agent who doesn't want y ou.

You are appalled by what you nd and wonder what to do. My current statement says I owe the pu blisher money. You are deliriously happy. It is exactly as you agreed. You look no further. She's unhappy because she has not received a single royalty from her publisher since her advance. the publisher is paying me a percentage bas ed on the amount that is received from booksellers. sign the contract. con dent of your gr eat deal. CONTRACT arrives in the ma il. take out your contract. I thought I'd be pai d on the gross sales price. "How could that happen?" you ask." you reply. "I never read the ne print that said royalties were paid on net proceeds. and begin to read it. and return it." "That's terrible. minus a few deductions for s hipping costs and other overhead charges. until one day you run into an experienced w riting friend. Instead.102 NEGOTIATING THE BOOK CONTRACT By Sherri L. You go directly to YOUR FIRST BOOK the advance clause. . Burr YOUR DREAM IS ABOUT TO BE REALIZED. secretly wondering if the same thi ng could happen to you. You rush home.

all contracts ar e negotiable. But don't despair. but don't count on it. Instead. It is easy to understand why writers do not read their book contracts carefully. try to insert that the publisher's right of rejection mus t be "reasonably exercised. A s avvy negotiator may be able to get the publisher to waive this clause. Publishers rarely reject a manuscript at the nal stages. The saying. the length." which is often implied in the contract. the name of the author. unless they think that it is unpubl ishable. Or the subject of the . and what rights the publisher will want. Here are some important iss ues to consider when reviewing your contract: Manuscript clause Many book contra cts begin with a standard clause dealing with the speci cs of the manuscript: the title. how many copies you mus t deliver in hard copy and on disk. Contracts are usually written in "legal ga rbage-ese" and printed in the smallest type that the best computer scientists ca n design. it serves as a reminder to review you r contract carefully before signing.While this may never have happened to you. Sometimes. in this clause the publisher rese rves the right to reject the nal manuscript as unacceptable or unpublishable. "The big print giveth and the small print taketh away. You just need to invest some time in determining what rights you s hould keep. the due date. What makes a manuscript unpublishable? The nal draft may not be as well written as the initial proposal." is particularly appropriate to book contracts.

however. permitting the return of all rights to the au thor. a jury ruled that she did not have to return her advanceÐeven though Ran dom House found her manuscript unacceptableÐand that the company had to pay her pa rt of the additional monies due on her contract. but . state that the publisher will register the copyright in the name of the publisher. particularly those from university and small presses. Copyright issues Ideally. and the publisher becomes worried about potenti al libel suits. the publisher will insist on keepin g an "out" clause in the contract. Although this case has been unusual for the publicity it generated. Ms. there have been other instances where t he publisher. In Joan Collins' well-publicized dispute with Random House. For these and other reasons. the advance is tied to the production of an acceptable manuscript. as an act of good will. If a publisher does exercise its "out" clause. Or the manuscript may contain damaging infor mation about a prominent family. Collins' contract mere ly required her to produce a "completed" manuscript. has permitted the author to keep the advan ce.book has become dated: A psychological pro le of Bob Dole that might have sold in 1992 would not be acceptable today. Instead of the usual clause tha t the author must produce an "acceptable" manuscript. you must refund the advance. if the publisher deems your manuscript unacceptable. what happens to your advanc e? Often. Und er most contracts. the contract should provide that the publisher wil l register the copyright in the name of the author. Some contracts.

retain the rights for sales at a later date. consider granting the publisher the movie rights. why grant the publi sher all the rights to your book. A sk your agent about his contacts with Hollywood and whether he has sub-agency re lations with Hollywood agents. but only if you are sure t hat you or your agent could not sell the movie rights yourselves for more pro t. Also. You should also be aware that the publisher may a sk to split the movie rights 50-50. Royalty provisions Traditional publishers typically offer a royalty fee of 10% to 15% on the retail price for hardcover books. but less for paperback.000 or . 7 5-25. after the rst 10 .this clause is negotiable. The "Rights and Royalties" clauses are critical for y ou to understand. including the right to publish it in any trans lation throughout the world? Instead. If your publis her is a major conglomerate with movie divisions and your book has movie potenti al. For example. conside r selling the publisher audio and electronic rights only if the company has thes e divisions. Writ ers or their agents can propose a royalty schedule. Try to negotiate to a more pro table (60-40.000 copies or more. publishers may print 500. 85-15) split. because the publisher will be acting as your agent. If not. If your publisher has only the capacity to publish your book i n English and distribute it in Canada and the United States. On mass market pa perback books. and sell the books in discount markets such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart. tell the publisher that you want to sell t he rights only to the English-language edition in speci c countries. offer authors a 5% r oyalty.

Make sure the term "net proce eds" is concretely de ned in your contract. Accounting provisions Accounting provisions indicate w hen you can expect to receive royalty checks.50. Most trade publishers have semiann ual accountings. do not be surprised if your publisher res ists setting up a different system for you. T hese provisions may be dif cult to negotiate because they often depend on the publ isher's overall accounting practices. these clauses require the author to guarantee to the publisher that: the author is the sole creator and owner of the work. trade publishers have been known to provide shorter accounting periods for their best-selling authors who are gen erating a great deal of revenue. you should be able to negotiate a higher royalty percentage payment. most academic and small presses have annual accountings. the royalty fee increases according to an agre ed-upon scale. but if y ou do not yet fall into this category.000 or 100. Some smaller presses offer payment on net proceeds because they s ell fewer copies and therefore receive less money. You can ask for a similar arrangement. it is important to specify that net pr oceeds include the money that the publisher receives from its sales. In a net pr o t deal. However. . Paymen ts are made within 30 to 90 days following the close of the accounting period. Warranties Almost impossible to nego tiate. at least 10% to 15% or more.000 or so in sales.

If you or your work violates the above warranties. the publisher. Determining whether the fair-use privilege applies r . though it may be dif cult for a st-time book author to negotiate reimbursement for such expenses. If you plan to quote from copyrighted works.the work has not been previously published. and fair use Publishers may grant au thors budgets to cover certain expenses. Warranty clauses are often accompanied by an indemnity provision. you must cover the cos t of such permissions. the work does not violate any government regulati on. the work does not violate anyone's right of privacy. or repay. you should get the permission of the copyright ho lder (usually either the author or the publisher) to do so. other times. such as when critiquing it. Sometimes the publis her will grant a budget for permission fees. such as those connected with travel or interviews. the work does not violate another wo rk's copyright. In some cases. If the publisher is sued because of the aut hor's work. permissions. the author must defend the lawsuit and reimburse the publisher for a ny related expenses. This is obviously a negotiable point. Expenses. in which case permission is no t needed. the work do es not libel or defame anyone. requiring the author to indemnify. should th e work violate a warranty provision. authors claim a fair-use privilege to use other peo-pie's work. the publisher has a right to cancel the contract.

the original author would want to retain this right. Th is should be a negotiable item. all rights reve rt to the author. you should be aware that i f the copyright owner sues. You could easily sell your book to Publisher A only to have Publisher Q purchase or merge with Publisher A soon th ereafter. conference. However. Also. granting the publisher the right to assign the contract to another publisher. New editions. Sometimes these clauses sp ecify that you cannot resell reduced-price copies. or book signing. out of print The contract may also specify that the publisher has the rst right to publish further editions of the work. because they may giv e the publisher the right to name other writers to produce additional editions. author's copies. you have to pay to defend both yourself and the publ isher. and the co st of any additional copies you may want to purchase. Assignment A clause that has become standard in the era of mer gers and acquisitions is the assignment clause. Obviously. The author's cop ies clause speci es how many free copies of your book you will receive.requires authors to use their best judgment. such as when you sell copies at a lecture. Authors of a continuing series (such as mysterie s) and textbook publications should beware of such clauses. Try to strike this portion of the clause or spell out circumstances where resale would be permitted. With an assignment . make sure that the contract provides that when the book goes out of print.

clause. Yo u would be protected because the book would still be published. you should read your contra ct carefully! You will not only avoid royalty payment shock. Your contract ma y contain fewer clauses than those mentioned here. or it may be more extensive. but also prevent yo ur book contract dreams from becoming nightmares should some unforeseen disaster strike. in large or small print. Having read your contract. Whether it's long or short. you will know that the price of a magnifying glass could prove a good investment! . Publisher Q would assume the responsibility for publishing your book.

it nally sold to Random House. My next three b ook manuscripts and their numerous form rejection slips still reside in my ling c abinet. the editors' advice aided me on future books as well. right? Knock out a book.. persevere in sending i t out. After dropping over half a dozen transoms and being promptly being shipped back to me. but found that in most case s the points they made were valid. AND OTHER EDITORIAL WHIMS By Louise Munro Foley EDITORIAL COMMENTS ARE SELDOM GREETED WITH ENTHUSIASM BY w riters. but most writers drag themselvesÐhowever ungraciouslyÐ back to the keyboard to make the changes requested by the editors. Over the years I have often gnashe d my teeth as I capitulated to editors' suggestions. The bad news was my attitude.103 KILLING OFF CHARACTERS . My rst mistake was selling the rst book I ever w rote. helping me to identify recurring pitfalls of my own makingÐ sort of a signal to keep me from repeating errors over and over again. Furthermore. silent reminders against getting too cocky. Did I lea rn from my mistakes? Yes. That was the good news.. Not quite. . indeed. and you'll eventually get a check in the mail. This is a snap.

wi th my page eleven as page one. I learned something else from t hat rst book: The letter I received from Random House expressing their interest l ed off with a mysterious line. a nd sent them off. "Your story starts out on page e leven. I did what any anxious writer would do: Using the sam e characters. I was thinking in terms o f a picture book. Delacorte expr essed an interest.Lesson 1: Respect the craft and the competition. "chapters" (to them). I still tend to go through a narrative "warming-u p" process when I start a new book.K. I sat down and wrote more "books" (to me). but the opening was all wrong. With two sports-playing sons. O. and one piece of advice we've all heard repeatedly i s write what you know. Lesson 2: Know the age level you're writing for. I could do that. . I was le arning to follow the rules. "Several of us have enjoyed reading this chapter. but a sign on my of ce wallÐ"Your story starts o n page 11"Ðreminds me to do some heavy editing before sending out a manuscript. I set out to cash in on those hot-dustyÐ cold-rainy (take your seasonal pick) hours I had sp ent on bleachers in local parks. When may we see the rest of the book?" Well! Obviously there was a difference o f opinion here about what age group I was writing for." The rst ten pages were cut before Somebody Stole Second was published. saying. This tim e. but the vocabulary I had used prompted the editor to see it as a book for older readers. I had the language level right. I wrote a picture book about baseball. An editor called me.

Would I give it a try? Would I?! Piece of cake! As the middle da ughter in a family of three girls. And had the survi vors deliver the dialogue of my three excised players. Sammy would think back to . Although the idea ha d been suggested by the editor. I felt he was right." he groused. listen up. I wrote the book. he gets less atte ntion from neighbors and family. the folks at Western Publishing sensed there was something wrong with my manuscript. Delacorte) This time the editor didn't s top at cutting pages. In making comparisons. My next editorial lesson came when an editor I had previously worked with invited me to write a story about s ibling rivalry. Finally. Five-year-old Sammy nds restrictions are imposed on his lifestyle after the arrival of his baby sister: He doesn't go to the park as often. In retrospect.Lesson 3: Introduce the protagonist and the problem quickly. I knew everything there was to know about sib ling rivalry. he has to curtail noisy activities during her naps. and the rew rites were drudgery. If you think that l osing ten pages is bad. the correct diagnosis was made: The problem was wi th the ashbacks. (Tackle 22." He killed off characters. Figuring that I was on a sports roll. Several editors had a go at it. "Young reader s will get confused. Lesson 4: Don't overpopulate your book. "You don't need this many kids. I turne d my attention to football. But even with a relatively satisfying endingÐafte r he came to grips with the changesÐthe book was a hard sell. Three of them.

"her" book wasn't better or worse than mine. write it to spec. And picture-book kids don't handl e ashbacks very well. as writ ers. Here's my horror story. always be compliant? Should we just roll over and play dead when editorial n gers snap? No. Then there was my "now you see it. After teaching a class for six years on "Wr iting and Selling . The editor had a slot in a series for the book she outlined." my locale was changed from rural to suburban. By the time the editor got through writing her "sugge stions. and a number of plot elements were dumped and replaced. The editor's letter ran over half as long as the book. for this compelling reason. neighbors became family f riends. thus eliminat ing the ashbacks. Lesson 5: Avoid ashbacks in books for readers eight years old or younger. now you don't" picture bookÐthe vanis hing act of my repertoire. She hadn't asked me to write something to which I was philosophically or ethically opposed. and I wanted to make th e sale. a brother was now a neighbor. Should we.what it was like before baby sister's arrival. A cop-out? No. of course not. Lesson 6: If you get an assignment. about how it used to be. I shelved m y manuscript and wrote her book. it was just dif ferent. I solved the problem by introducing Grandma and a friend wh o could talk (in the present) with Sammy. But be aware that putting up a ght doesn't always a ssure a win.

A bachelor.' It's sexist. .' This is the way he would normally ta lk. It's perfe ctly logical for him to say 'lady friends. A farmer.." "No. says: "I'll get some of my lady friends to bake pies. . "Harry's fty ye ars old." I lost. Such was the case with Ghost Train (Bantam). . He doesn't know any men who bake pies. and don't willingly sacri ce a persona in order to suit the editor. And I conscientiously kept them out of my work . I considered that I knew the language and nuances of sexism that creep into books for kids. Harry." "Wait a minute. In the published book. in which one of my male chara cters uttered a sentence that upset the editor (the third one to work on the boo k. the orchard owner.. sending subtle but lasting skewed messages. The storyline goes like this: In a desperate attempt to salvage some of the peach crop when a trucker s strike halts shipping in the Okana-gan Valley. my character suggests they have a Peach Festival to lure tourists. unless I deliberately wanted them there for a good re ason. . the editor has Harry saying that his housekeeper can get some of her frien ds together to bake pies . .Non-Sexist Books for Children" at the university and community college level. thanks to the transient nature of publishing people). . It has to do with the integrity of his character." I argued." says the editor. a statement that has its own sexist connotation. Le sson 7: Fight to keep your character's dialogue in sync with his or her personal ity. excited about the i dea. "Delete 'lady.

transmitted by the little brother of the girl protagonist. I had the villainous vampire come down with chicken pox. "Oh. ." I r epeated. Realistic. "It's not realistic. I hung up the phone. "I don't think so." she replied. "Why not?" I asked. promising to give it some thought. In a series tha t featured a talking cat. and a feline underground spy netwo rk. In my outline. a host of vampires.The most puzzling piece of advice I've ever had from an editor came when I was w orking on book four in The Vampire Cat Series (TOR) for middle-aged readers." said the edi tor. her response called for some intense deliberation on my part. I'm still work ing on it. Lesson 8: Don't ever lose your sense of humor.


Let me begin by asking you. P. I could have used Phyllis Dorothy James or my marrie d name. slightly mysterious. I thought it was important to write under my own genes.D.D. as a mystery writer. everyone knows you're a woman .D.104 A CONVERSATION WITH P. James: I m ade this decision as soon as I nished my rst novel.D. Now.D.D. when I have to sign so many books. Of course. I never wanted to pretend otherwise. which would have been fooli sh anyway. and I wanted my maide n name rather than my married name. Do you think of yourself as a novelist. I certainly wasn't attempting to hide my sex. well. James is probably the most famo us living writer of mystery novels. LBF: Your nove ls have an incredibly complex array of characters. James is short. because as soon as a book is published. James. I didn't know then that it would be published. or both? . or I could have P. So P. Phyllis Dorothy White. i t's rather an advantage that I'm not Phyllis Dorothy James White. Phyllis Dorothy James. JAMES By Lewis Burke Frumkes Lewis Burke Frumkes: P. why did you choose to use initials rather than your name? P. James i t was. and.

I have at least two novels which haven 't been detective stories. went to many trials. and ultimat ely becomes a victim herself. So. and I have a complete set of notable British trials in my library. had lunch with judges.PDJ: I suppose both. L BF: A Certain Justice. Of c ourse. LBF: C an we say. but they're certainly growing in numbers. but there are far mo re of them than there used to be. Not many of them become judges. I t's set in the chambers in the British jurisprudence system. I had immense help from lawyers. and shows a wealth of knowledge of that system. your fourteenth novel. LBF: Are female barristers as common as male? PDJ: No. I would describe myself as a novelist writing within the co nstraints of a classical detective story. How did you do the research for it? PDJ: I have a q uite useful preliminary knowledge of the British legal system because I worked i n the British Home Of ce. that there is a certain fem ale barrister in this novel who is defending an unlikable character. I like to think of myself as a novelist. crime novelist. and I was concerned with criminal law. I suppose. I'm interested in trials. as I began researching the book. but then I'm not in the least ashamed of writing mysteries. where the book is mostly set. and then in the rest of the novel we try to nd out who did her in? Why did you choose a female barrister lead for this? Have . spent ti me in chambers. I'm not sure there are equal numbers of them. and wandered around the Middle Temple. is an extremely ne piece of work. I realized how much I didn't know. without giving too much of the plot away.

with her ex-husband. into of ces of distinguished lawyers and the striking down of a distinguished criminal lawyer. Both are interesting names ending with a. with her lover. I had the main idea. How come they weren't named . then develop her character. kind of a certain type. Venetia's relationship with other lawyers with whom she works. She fascinated me. Readers will see from the clues and what happens to her daughter. which was the setting. who feels that as a politician it's expedient to return to his wife before the gene ral election. her li fe. and then ll in other characters around her? How does it work for you? PDJ: It takes quite a long time. the compulsio ns. LBF: When you have as complicated a story as A Certain Justice. indeed. but of course I do explore the lives. that i t was natural for the victim to be a woman. with an idea that I have mu rder coming right into the heart of chambers. come all the people whose liv es touch hers. Venetia came next: her childhood. I was very much interested in her pa st and what made her the kind of woman she was. her relationship with her daughter. I think I enj oyed writing about her more than I would have had I been writing solely about a male barrister. Then. no. It begins with a setting. do you pl ot it out beforehand? Do you come up with your main character. Often. of course.you any particular animus against female barristers? PDJ: No. the motives. not in the sli ghtest. and the professional concerns of the male barristers who are in chambers wit h her. it takes as long to plot and plan the bo ok as it does to write it. She really is at the heart of the book. Then. LBF: Venetia and Octavia.

it was t he women who were writing when I was an adolescent. and the staff weren't really quali ed. Th e cops weren't really cops. intelligent woman. certainly Graham Greene and Eve lyn Waugh. so that even her name seemed to her a little false. and yet . And in the book. LBF: They were wonderful models! There is something about mystery writingÐyou are a charming. the time between the wars. It was. He ran a boys' school and everything about it was a big fake. something about Venetia's father. LBF: Who were some of the writers who in spired you when you were growing up? Which ones did you read that may have led y ou to write mysteries? PDJ: I think where mystery writing is concerned.Carolyn or Margaret or Elizabeth? PDJ: Naming is very important and very interes ting to me. when talking to the detective about her daughter. a contrast. as far as style is concerned. "She's called Octavia be cause she was born in the rst minute of the rst day of October. One of the other lawyers.' and his daught er knew he'd never been to Venice." Her mother. said. I've learned a lot from my enthusiasm for Evelyn WaughÐan d Jane Austen. He used to say. But apart from her. Sayers. s peci cally. is always rational. she was conceived when we were in Venice. I had intended to say in the book th at he was fake. She was named Octavia be cause of the day on which she was born. It's odd you should have asked that because I left something out of the book. her daughter Octavia is born. Venet ia. 'My daughter Venetia. I think he was probably the greatest st ylist of his generation. Dorothy L. in my mind.

however imperfect that justice is. or is it the acts of violence and crime in itself that you nd most fascinating? PDJ: I don't think it's the acts of violence. for me. Just providing a c redible mystery in itself is. do you think. and it is the duty of hum an beings to try to achieve some kind of justice. and it certainly isn' t the gore as gore. I'm repelled by it. using this unique crime and the disruption it always brings. So I don't think it's ho rror for horror. it's the construction. Nearly always the body is discovered by someone. It's bringing order out of disorder. The person who discovers the body i s horribly shocked. . the structure of it. What. I couldn't write a book about the torture of one human being by another. both ph ysical and psychological. I thin k it is the mystery. it's the form. makes a writer in this genre so in love with crime? Is it the murder. LBF: How the blood is drained from the face of the person wh o discovers the body. comprehensible universe. absolutely fascinating. I think that for some readers it's a very reassuring form because it does s uppose we live in a rational.you also love murder and gore. is it the mystery. as an opportunity for exploring characters. Very rarely in my books do I actually describe the act of mu rder. Writing about it is one way in which one can deal with it. like a game or a puz zle to solve. I would like to think the blood drains fr om the faces of the readers as they observe this scene. PDJ: Absolutely. And I can't see that on television or on lm. and that can be very horr i c because I try to make that very realistic. I think that on a more psychological level I'm aware that I'm very frightened of violence.

but. Byatt and Margaret Drabble. .LBF: It's been said that you have a truncheon. I thought. It isn't a truncheon. . I was awakened in the middle of the night by this astonishing noiseÐit was as if a tank had driven into the house. and then I call ed the police. What had happened. So. it's a little policeman's club. . so if it happens again. Well it's one of those things that journalists make up. very thick. but at least I'll have something in my hand. let alone a smashed window. I do read less contemporary ction. act ually. I'm not likely to cower in my bedroom. Peop le said I shouldn't have gone down to investigate. and I thought. PDJ: (Laughs). do you read any contemporary work? Whose books do you enjoy? PDJ: On the whole. I'll still go down. Maybe an odd thing. I prefer today's women autho rs to men. it's absolute human nature to investigate. near your b ed. LBF: Whe n you are not writing or reading Dorothy Sayers or Evelyn Waugh. was th at someone downstairs hurled a brick through my drawing room window. of course. I went downstairs to investigate. I nd that as I get older. The glass w as 19th century glass. just before I was setting out for a major American tour years ago. and one I'm not particularly pleased or proud abo ut. because I was ying off from Heathrow the next morning. I enjoy contemp orary writers like A. I'll just keep it by the bed. It was highly inconvenient because I had to get a friend to get t he window patched up. I had this policeman's club.S. so that should anyone break into your room. or something like it. you would be preparedÐand unhesita tingly .

and now I'm reading his novels quite seriously. you think of Dick Francis. nor is it with Colin Dexter's Inspector Mor se. British police may have been totally inef cient. I t's partly my age. do yo u write on a computer or typewriter? PDJ: I certainly don't write on the compute r or word processor. are still there. I think. So really. I'm rereading ction or going back to the classics. they have private eyes who worked as much against of cialdom as they did against the murderer. L BF: Have you discerned any difference between American mystery writing and Briti sh? PDJ: There's probably less difference now than there used to be. because no machine devised by man is user-friendly to me. The differences. Henry James was o ne. there was a great difference. He's always got a bit of violence in his books. Generally. but it's not a violent society. However inef cient they were. but they were virt uous. Sometimes quite violent. they were somewhat class-ridden in the 1930s. autobiogra phy. It seems to me that when I rst started reading it.I regularly reread old ction. The American writersÐyou have some absolutely ma gni cent novelists who wrote mysteries. novelists who were dif cult for me. and history. Not particularly notable as novels on the whole. I'm not rea lly an expert on mystery writing. LBF: Do you write longhand. They're wonderful novelists. really. one is thinking of Hammett and Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. I do like writing by hand. whereas in England they were somewhat dom estic. I love biography. and of course. I like the feeling of words . really. When you think of the big names .

Now. the world of men and women. So when I've d one that I dictate what I've written onto tape while I can still read it. that's the rst draft on which I work.almost coming down from the brain and the arm. during the day? Do you work every day? PDJ: Once I begin writing. But when you meet an unusual word. Try to increase your vocabulary. write it down. everything's on the screen. nd out what it means. be cause a good writer needs a good vocabulary. onto paper. I do try to work every da y. and you need to go through the world with all your senses alert to what is around you: the natural world. not so that you can copy their style. But my handwrit-ing i s atrocious. I get up early and write. Everything's a word proces sor. and at the same time trying to hone the craft. You need to read. . and I move in with these characters. I move into the world of the book. LBF: What advice would you give to young writers starting out? PDJ: I would say develop your use of lan guage by reading good writers. and of course it gets worse as I write more quickly. For a writer. I'll be in trouble because those typewriter s can't be replaced. But of course when that gives out. get use d to it. LBF: Do you work at night. and I bash away happily at that . the world of work. as opposed to plotting and planning. I have an old electric portable which I'm rather fond of. It's developing that se nsitivity to life. nothing that happens is ever wasted. you need to pract ice writing. In a sense. because wri ters need to develop their own style. Then m y secretary types it. Whether I'm feeling like it or not. thinking of it as a craft.

Where should we begin with this. .D. John Brown was very important to me whe n I was a college kid in the sixties. which is one reason I suppose the book is as long as it is. Russell? John Brown is getting a lot of attention the se days. where he'd had a f arm for many years. All that was in the back of my brain.105 A CONVERSATION WITH RUSSELL BANKS By Lewis Burke Frumkes Lewis Burke Frumkes: Russell Banks is one of this country 's best writers. You probably read him previously in Rule of the Bone. It turned out that Brown and eleven of his c ohorts from the Harpers Ferry raid were buried down the road. The Sweet Hereafter. and then it kin d of faded out as the sixties faded out. And Brown's face would be on the wall of an S. published by HarperCollins. Russell has split the clouds w ith his new blockbuster novel. of ce alongside Che Guevara and Jimi Hendrix. He was very much connected to litera ry gures that I was obsessed with at the time: the New England transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau. and was politically active in the civil ri ghts and anti-war movements. Cloudsplitter. or saw th e movie version of his book. What brought you to him as the basis of a big novel? Russell Banks: I t hink of him as a door that opened into a whole world for me.S. until I moved into upstate New York and bought a house in the Adirondacks.

RB: Brown became suddenly a ghostly presence in my li fe. OwenÐan unusual devi ce. He was a wanted man. and . and I wanted to humanize him. in the 1840s and 1850s. And he was at Harpers Ferry and escapedÐand lived to tell about it." thus the title of my novel. and the place where he ran slaves north into Canad a. and faces Mt. at the same time very tangible and real. So his son. Owen. I wanted to tell a domestic story. because he was prese nt at all the most important moments in his father's public life. in which an apparently minor character t ells a story about a larger-than-life character. And to make the story perfec t for a novelist. LBF: A great title. Marcy (the highest moun tain in New York). Basically t here's the same situation in Moby Dick. since I wanted t o tell his story from inside and up close. a relational story. he never told about it. an Indian name meaning "cloudsplitter. He disappeared into the equivalent the n of the abolitionist underground after Harpers Ferry. because these were the hills he wal ked over. It's North Elbow. It was a necessary route for th is charismatic. the place he lived. just over the hill. Why did you choose Owen? RB: It's not really an original device. larger-than-life. It's from that house that he launched the famous raid on Harpers Ferry. emblematic gure of John Brown.LBF: Is it near Mirror Lake? RB: It isn't very far from Mirror Lake and Lake Pla cid. LBF: You tell the story through the eyes or the memory of his son. was perfect. and make him realÐto me and to oth ers.

What happens in a relationship between a father and son. the son. Why did they tell this story after all? Was it meant to scare kids? It's a story I wanted nally to go to the heart of and see from the point of view of the son. To me. for instance. but it has also changed. in all its various shapes and permutations. has fascinated me since the b eginning of my writing life. not a psychopath. In Sunday school. LBF: Psychologically. in which the father i s a dominating. and since the beginning of my life. but also happens to be right? John's an idealis tic man. for that matter . controlling gure. Cloudsplitter is a big book in every sense. My books are being read increasingly by younger people. This is tough: Your father takes you out onto the mountain and sharpens his knife. but something more complic ated and seductive. not a sadist. I'm 58 now. not a brute. it was a test of Abraham's faith: Would he sacri c e his son for his God? I always identi ed with Isaac. Are y ou getting different kinds of attention? RB: My audience is much larger. But it was an approach that I had never quite entertained before. it's the Abraham and Isaac story. but I can still remember that when I . that's incredibly gratifyi ng to me. It always chille d me. LBF: And well you did. the son. and it' s getting such good reviews that it has almost moved you to another level. people in their twenties and teens who are serious readers. that story was always told fro m the point of view of Abraham.reappeared on a mountaintop in California. but told from the p oint of view of Isaac. what are the re sonances in this story for you with your own father? RB: I think the father-son story.

It could easily be ruined. If properly done. The Sweet Hereafter. a book could change my life. and it's even making money. Academy Award nominations for Best Directo r and Best Screenplay. LBF: While most of the literar y community knows your work. RB: It's a brilliant lm. It 's a terri c movie. Whatever I read could turn my head in an important way. LBF: Your other novel. I came out of a blue-collar world in upstate New Hampshire. RB: Yes. So it's very gratifying to know that my book is being read by pe ople whose livesÐin their mindsÐare at stake when they read. a marvelous piece of work: ver y imaginative and serious without being somber. as much as I like te aching. It means tha t I don't have to teach any longer and I'm pleased by that. has been getting a lot of at tention because of the lm. t hat'll be the dif culty.was young. Naturally. RB: I hope so. LB F: Cloudsplitter will undoubtedly be a big lm. Af iction has been making the festival circuit. it's changed it economically. But it has changed my l ife in other ways as well. Then. where the idea of being a writer . It's a brutal movie. LBF: You've had other books t hat were made into lms. I think. it's a lso been well-received by the public. to my astonishment. a wonderfully powerful movie. where did you come from? How did you originally get into writing? RB: I kind of back-doored my way in.

When I was 24. Florida. My father and my grandfather we re plumbers. I was writing at night.was like the idea of being a butter y or something. I was publishing fairly widely and was able to get a position teaching freshman English. what would you have become?" And I thought about that for a while. turbulent youth? I grew up an angry boy and became an angry youn g man. it was sh-or-cut bait time. decided that this boy should go to col lege. Someone once asked me. it really politicized me in a way I never understood before. because I was falling in love with books. and it r eally changed me. "If you hadn't beco me a writer. it was the only thing I knew. RB: It's a great school. I . in some ways self-destructive. and I had been a plumber's helper as a boy. But suddenly in the middle of the civ il rights movement and the antiwar movement. my wife's mother. and I said I think I would have become dead on a parking lot outside a bar in La keland. In my early twenties I tried college f or about six weeks and ed. LBF: That school is considered one of the best. Up to then my politics had been basically an adolescent fantasy. How much were you involved in? RB: You mean troubled. by the time I was 22 or 23. LBF: You have a lot of rough-edged stuff in your books. When I got out of Chapel Hill in 1968. I worked as a plumber. bless her soul. and it was fabulous in the sixties. It was so exciting to be there. and she paid for my bachelor's degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And so I didn't take myself se riously as a writer for the longest time.

do you get right down to writing? Do you do research? RB: Cloudsplitter required a good deal more research than anything else I'd ever written. and I did that rst. I needed to know what it was like to lead a daily life in rural Am erica in the 1840s. that b efore he knows it he'll be telling his own most inner feelings to this woman. very lucky. I'll have Brown's son. as an old man. Bu t I basically spent a year and a half doing nothing but research. that I escaped aliv e and didn't injure or maim anyone else in the process. including interviews with the surv iving children of John Brown. till I reached a point where I wondered. by then elderly men and women. and he'll get so carried away by his tale. Owen. how do I enter this story? How do I tell this s tory?" And I discovered Owen Brown. The characters were not givens: I had to nd them and invent a few. that's the way. telling the story at the turn of the century to a young woman research assistant of an historian. so I had to do a great deal of research. He will recount what happened. mainly because I was working outside my turf. And I thought. I was lucky. by tracking down a footnote to the dusty she lves of the Rare Book Room at Columbia University to research materials that had been accumulated at the turn of the century. In a way. "Now ." L BF: Do you write every day? . "Now. I was trying to blast free of what I felt to be a cons tricting past or family background. LBF: How do you actually work on a book? When you get an idea.had a lot of rough edges. 150 years i nto the past. the John Brown story is a given: Every school kid knows it ends at Har pers Ferry.

changing. it could have had a disastrous effect on me. and I'll start to feel strangled. It won't have much effect on my writing because it's happening to me in my middle fties. and you must have control over it. I would say to any young writer. and I have to switch to a yel low-lined pad and a pencil and continue that way. LBF: On a word processor? RB: Whatever works. and I'll switch again. in a sen se. but your career you can't control.RB: Pretty much. LBF: What's your advice to young writers starting out? RB: Going back to what you were saying ea rlier about things changing with this book. before my routines an d my values were set." . That'll work for a while. "Don't confuse your caree r with your work. and the scale of my career. and then it'll all get bottled up. before my habits were set. Had it happened to me in my middle thirties. and then I'll start to feel strangled again. Your work is the one thing you can have control over. You just have to l et it happen to you. and the language seems to ow. Some days I can w rite better on a word processor.

The New York Times called it "a dazzling and bri lliant novel. The God of Sm all Things. I'v e always believed that a story is the simplest way of presenting a complex world . and I think to do something over such a l ong period of time and then to get such a positive reaction is very rewarding. LBF: Through the small things? AR: Ye s. It's not as if I had a three-point program and then wrote a story around it.106 A CONVERSATION WITH ARUNDHATI ROY By Lewis Burke Frumkes Lewis Burke Frumkes: Arundhati Roy's novel." Arundhati. published by Random House. has received extraordinary notices in thi s country and around the world. Why don't you introduce us to the book? What is it about. the book is set in . It took me four and a half year s of solitary work to write this book. It's a way of making sense of the world. f rom your perspective? AR: I'm always tempted to say that it's about everything. It has been a big surprise. through the small things. L BF: I would imagine. Technically. is this very heady stuff for you? Are you able to keep this in perspective? Arundhati Roy: I haven't found it that dif cult to deal with what has happening.

human society continues to behave in very simila r ways. where I grew up. if not three. h ow your career developed. south India. I think. sticking labels on my grandmother's pickle bottles. It' s a book about how. Kerala. LBF: And what language d o you think in? AR: I think and write in English. is a unique place and an incredible backdrop for a no vel. but it isn't really a book about India or about Kerala. AR: I grew up in Kerala on the banks of this little ri ver. Against this sort of backdrop human drama pl ays itself out. LBF: You speak English uently. LBF: Tell us about yourself. and you realize in the long run it really doesn't make such a hu ge difference because human society continues to divide itself up. a thousand years ago or today? AR: Exactly. I speak three: Hindi. Bengali? Urdu? AR: Almost all educated Indi ans will speak at least two. in which four of the wor ld's ve big religions live together. Mala yalamÐwhich is the language we speak in KeralaÐand English. Do you speak E nglish in India? Do you speak Hindi. . She runs a pickle facto ry there. languages. even though the details may be different. LBF: Human nature is human nat ure.Kerala. because it's the only place in the world. over years. it continues to make war across those divisions. the southernmost state in India.

the only pe rson in the class. I was the guinea pig. After scho ol. somehow the future doesn't scare you. it's unheard of that somebody would be in that situation. and I didn't go back again for many years. When you're that young. especially a wo man. My m other started the school. and then became a scr eenplay writer. LBF: As a former lmwrite r and actress. He was making a lm. nobody to o rder our lives for us. We had no money but we had a l ot of fun. all I wanted really was to leave. do you want to be involved with the lm of The God of Small Things? AR: Nothing that I've done in lm has been remotely as . In India. I came back to Delhi and met my husband. I left home. I lived in what we call a slum colony within the walls of an old monument i n New Delhi. I found Kerala in many ways a very terrify ing place to grow up.LBF: As does someone in the book. Then I went away to boarding school and came back. AR: Yes. We were all teenagers with no supervision. where I used to make cake and sell it on the beach. I nished school partly in Kerala. So I went off to Goa. I actually enjoyed myself immensely. which he a sked me to act in. When I was admitted to the School of Architecture in Delhi . you jus t live from day to day. Acting wasn't something I ever wanted to do. I lived on my own with a group of young people. but I felt it wa s a good way to observe the process of lming. I decided I was going to be a ower chil d. Aft er a bit. So I did act. and I studied there. I think that's not as unusual here as it is in India. I wrote and designed the lms I worked on. When I graduated.

or words that do something for yo u. The language. i t has to be reimagined in some way. I don't like to do what the language wants me to do. It's the only com mon language. I don't really see cinema as th e last stop for literature. the narrative. LBF: What advice would you give to other writers starting out? AR: I'm very suspicious of free advice. but w here was it rst published? AR: It was rst published in India. Sometimes that process i s so instinctive that I don't think about it. and I continue to think of it as a visual but un l mable book. LBF: Your use of language is wonderful. in English.satisfying as writing my novel. LBF: In Hindi? AR: No. three languagesÐI think that sort of revitalize s the language that I write in. as I said. LBF: Your book was written in English. There are mor e people in India who speak English than there are in England. the characters would ha ve to be somehow broken apart and made again to be a lm. musical? AR: Because Indians tend to speak more than one languageÐin my case. I don't know if I want it to be a lm. I was very keen for it to be published in India rst. Do you have favorite wordsÐw ords that you use more often than other words. I try to make my language do what I want it to d o. . Even translating the boo k into different languagesÐ though it's been translated into manyÐis dif cult to do. are very special to you.

The way I worked was not to open my work up to opinions until it was nished. or whether it's successful or not. I w orked for four and a half years without discussing it or showing it to anyone. By free advice. .LBF: Do you want to charge me for it? (Laughs) AR: No. You have to be focused enough to know that you have to do it regardless of w hether it's published or not. Each person has to do it in his way. your work just gets up and walks aw ay. S ometimes when you start soliciting opinions. I mean pe ople who just advise people un-necessarily.

107 A CONVERSATION WITH JOYCE CHRISTMAS By Claire E. CW: You must have an understanding boss! . dictation. I don't think a professional writer has to be inspired. But I do drafts on a good old electronic typewriter and lacking that. Betty Trenka. so sometimes work obligations get in the way. And the money. as much as I can get away with at work. But I try to write early in the morning and in the evenings. CW: Do you write every day? JC: I try to. in longhand. White Claire White: Joyce Christmas is the author of 11 mysteries. Joyce. but I have a full-t ime job. Joyce Christmas: Finishing what I'm wor king on. CW: How do you write: computer. expatriate Brit living in Manhattan. Her se cond series stars retired of ce manager. and when I have a deadline. let me begin by aski ng you what inspires you when you write. It's a job. eight featuring Lady Margaret Priam. or longhand? JC: Mostly o n the computer.

middle and an end. CW: How did y ou make your rst sale of a book you wrote? JC: My very rst book was a ghostwriting job. CW: That helps.JC: He is my best friend and my Constant Reader.) Because I had a dozen ghostwritten books behind me. But it is not easy to get one. and there are a lot . was Hidden Assets. Go gure. and a writing partner and I we re asked by an editor to write it. I didn't have a problem. Lying dow n and watching old sitcoms or going someplace different. and even though it was non ction. My rst novel. CW: What is the hardest part about writing in the mystery genre? JC: The competition. Mysteries really are highly competit ive. like a museum. Out of the writing life for a while usually cures it. she wanted a book about a male stripper. CW: Did you use an agent? JC: Yes. (For whatever reason. She didn't quite know what a book was. it had to have a beginning. Again. Do y ou ever get writer's block? What is your "cure" for it? JC: Sometimes. thinking o f plots that are as good as other people's. certainly. and I was asked to help the author. or buyin g something. I have a wonderful agent. I guess it was assumed that I could write a novel. because I h ad a track record of completing books. now out of print.

maybe basing them somewhat on people I knowÐbut I do not base any character completely on a real person. CW: Yes. and so forth. I either "research" by going to the pla ce where they are setÐ Caribbean (although I lived there for many years). and then I start thinking of qualities and likes and dislikes. The characters do take on a kind of life of their own. You know. a suburban neighbor. and Forest Lawn. off -again romance with New York detective Sam De Vere. How do you create yo ur characters? JC: First I think of what kind of character I need. I read the gossip . and it can't always be a murder. The genre isn't really suited to romance unless i t's an integral part of the plot. Harrods. Beverly Hills. and then you think of something you can add to make them more realistic and often more valuable to the plot.of them out there. CW: Lady Margaret has an on-again. Is it dif cult to integrate ro mance into a mystery? JC: Yes. etc. CW: How much research is involve d with writing the Lady Margaret Priam books? JC: I try not to say anything wron g. But I think the protagonist needs an emotional partner to rely on. true. writing a book means lling up pages with something happening. A society lad y. so for the books not set in New York. I walk about New York to look at the stree ts and buildings that Fm writing about. It's a real challenge.

(Actually. and their books re ect which they are.columns. CW: Does she have a sense of humor? What are her best qualities? . Bean catalogue s. and I formerly did public relations work for various charities.L. CW: In mystery writing. she and Tina the cat have reached a det ente.) I've never mentioned it. I try not to say anything really wrong. It's not heavy-duty research. And writers are either character or plot peopl e. b ut I think Betty likes Frank Sinatra. Betty likes the wine chosen by her neighbor Ted Kelso. She is without vices (so far). CW: Your newer sleuth is Betty Trenka. and of course that damned cat someone left on her doorstep. so I ab sorbed a lot of information that I put to use. who also cooks her fav orite meals. retired of ce manager. others like plot-driven. She's busy trying to make a life for herself after retireme nt. stuff like that. but as I noted. Some readers prefer character-drive n books. whic h do you believe is more importantÐ plot or characterÐand why? JC: Plot and characte r are equally important to make a good book. Traf c has to travel in the r ight direction on one-way streets. She buys her clothes at the mall and from L. a n older. Peeves? Being forced to do anything domestic. and she hates having spare time after years of comfortable routine. music from her girlhood during and just af ter World War Two. What does she like to do in her spare time? What a re her pet peeves? What music does she like? Where does she shop? JC: Betty was forced to retire in her sixties. I think Betty would miss her if she were gone.

and didn't have an eye out for the "mega-deal. and editing book s of plays.JC: She sees the absurdity of things. Everyt hing. specifying type. which are fast disappearing. and I had had a number of older characte rs in my books." They cared a bout helping new authors along. Then it turned out th at senior sleuths were Hot!! I have a lot of friends who are in their 70s and 80 s. E ditor. and for the company's other publication. What did that position entail? JC: Editing articles for the magazine. CW: How did you create Betty? JC: My editor asked me to start a new series. CW: You were Associate Editor at The Writer Mag azine for a number of years. Finishing a job once started. so I thought a senior sleuth would be fun. and the late Abe Burack. Sylvia Burack. so they provided role models. one-act plays for children (I wrote a few). they wouldn't dream of paying a has-been a milli on bucks because . were better than a college education in publishing. I learned about writing. And my bosses. getting market inform ation and writing it up. The old school cared more about what th ey were publishing. buying paper. layout of the magazines. Writing letters to authors. True publishers of th e old school. CW: What is the difference between the "old school" of publishing an d the new? JC: I don't think the Buracks. proofreading. still the Editor. or the rest of us. and her best quality is common sense and d etermination. Plays. went out to a lengt hy business lunch more than once a year. and the whol e business. seeing them through the press.

there are wonderful. CW: What were the biggest mistakes you sa w in submissions to The Writer? JC: Most submissions were by invitation. I gue ss the critical eye for things like sense and grammar comes from my editing days . A plug for a friend: Mystery novelist Meg Chittenden's book. Books were not just a bunch of units to be sold. but I w as always surprised that famous ction writers had trouble writing articles about writing.). Many of them were not always good at writing straightforward expository prose. caring editors today.they knew the market. is excellent (and was published by The Writer. Mind you. They didn't think of books as the equivalent of toothpaste. not every good book is a blockbuster. ready to be sold to be the m ovies. Inc. it's not easy to write meaningfully about ction writing. etc. It helps greatly in doing revisions. CW: Does being an edi tor affect the way you write? JC: De nitely. How to Write Your No vel. like mine. But the book business is Big Busine ss.) Do you see a trend toward gore in this genre? . They beli eved in "the profession" and they weren't bottom-line-oriented in the way today' s publishing conglomerates are. I still avoid business lunches. but alas. CW: It seems that over the years the mystery genre has gotten a lot more viole nt and grisly in the storylines (plots about serial killers. But I confess. and knew whether they would make the money back. you know that the passage you absolutely love! should probably be