Monday, October 26, 2009
The Eternal Student
ROBERTA: I have to admit I'm a writing book junkie. I have dozens of them and I'm always looking for tips that will catch my imagination and improve my writing. Just before the mystery convention Bouchercon began, I was fortunate to attend Donald Maass's seminar on writing the breakout novel, sponsored by Sisters in Crime. Who wouldn't want to write the breakout novel, if you're going to all the trouble of writing one anyway? I was quite relieved when he talked mostly about developing complicated characters, rather than outlandish plots. Now I'm going through my novel draft, looking for ways to make the readers care more about my protagonist, to make her human, to make her multidimensional, to bring forth more drama, more conflict, more contradictions. A lot of what he discussed can be found in his excellent new book, THE FIRE IN FICTION. Though sometimes it takes hearing the ideas out loud for them to sink in. Have you heard any tips on writing lately that have caught your imagination and maybe made a difference in what you're writing? Or maybe an oldie but goodie that you tend to fall back on?
HALLIE: When I was at Bouchercon I was on a panel with James Scott Bell who wrote the excellent book, PLOT AND STRUCTURE. He talked about the "doorways of no return." At the end of Act 1 of a novel, for instance, there's a point when the protagonist must have no alternative but to move forward (and do something that character is profoundly uncomfortable doing) -- and once through cannot turn back. Moving through that doorway of no return propels the character into Act 2. It's a much more useful notion than "plot twist."
JAN: I took an online class in screenwritng last fall that was amazingly helpful. I needed it to remind myself how to write a screenplay, but it's also a way to look at novel writing from the point of pure structure. Along the novel writing way, I've developed a system I use for revision -- after the first draft. I was thrilled to find that it worked equally well in revising a screenplay.
On the other hand, I just wrote an essay for an essay collection thats coming out on how crazy parents make themselves over college admissions. And I can tell you, after all these years, an essay is hard every time.
HANK: Writing tips. Yeah. Why are they so provocative? It always seems like there's the perfect one, just the one you need, just around the corner. I'm so bummed I didn't get to hear Donald Maass, and Hallie's class was wonderful and inspirational, as usual. I'm starting a new project and of course, now in my head I'm going through all the "tips" I've ever heard.
And I guess the one I'm stickin' with is: Sit down at the desk. Write the book.
RO: I like Hank's tip. I've taken two classes that I thought were enormously helpful - Hallie's workshop at Crimebake three years ago, and Nancy Pickard's class for SINCNew England a couple of years back.
I bought a lot of books when I first started writing and I leaf through them every time I start a new book. Time to start leafing again.
ROBERTA: Jan, do spill the name of your screenwriter teacher when you get a chance. And please chime in with your favorite writing tips. And come back often this week--tomorrow we'll feature suspense writer Libby Hellmann, then James Benn on Wednesday, and on Friday--stay tuned for the Hallopolooza!