HALLIE: "The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing" (2nd Edition) comes out this month from Writers Digest Books, and I'd consider it a good addition to my library even if my piece on "Clues, Red Herrings, & Misdirection" were not in it. I can't believe the company I'm in. Here are just a few of the nuggets I found trawling through the essays.
On plot: "All good plots come from well-orchestrated characters pitted against one another in a conflict of wills." -- James N. Frey
On the three-act structure: "The three-act form is there because it works." -- Ridley Pearson
On setting: "In the end, the only compelling reason to pay more attention to place, to exterior setting, is the belief, the faith that place and its people are intertwined, that place is character, and that to know the rhythms, the textures, the feel of the place is to know more deeply and truly its people." -- Richard Russo
On character: "My method of character building is from the inside out--not necessarily the color of eyes and hair, the height and weight but rather how does a person sleep at night? What does he fear? Does he run from lightning of rush toward it?" -- Alice Hoffman
On writing commercial fiction: "Frankly, I don't care what genre a reader thinks my book is, as long as it gets him to pick it up." -- Jodi Picoult
This week we'll hear from some of the contributors to the anthology, including Elizabeth Sims (Tuesday on writing suspense), James Scott Bell (Wednesday on dialogue), Jane Friedman (Thursday on the changing role of literary agents), and me (Friday on clues and red herrings). Bob Daniher, who is celebrating having his very first short story published in the October issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, will be our Saturday guest!
Today we'll tell you what we think. What writing advice do you have for aspiring novelists?
ROBERTA: Boy, those are terrific quotes Hallie--you are right, great company! To go along with what Alice Hoffman and James Frey said, spend time understanding your character's stake in the story (the mystery, in my case.) And how does your protagonist change over the course of the book?
More practically, treat your writing time with discipline--believe me, the book won't write itself. And get tons of help--if you didn't study writing, why expect you could just pick it up on your own?
HANK: Ask yourself: In this situation, what would *really* happen? What would people *really* do, or say or think? Why? And what would happen as a result of that? "It's all about 'because,'" Sue Grafton says.
RHYS: My primary piece of advice to aspiring novelists is WRITE. Don't say "I plan to write a novel some day." Writing is a craft. You only get better at it by putting words on paper, just as a potter improves by throwing pots. My second piece of advice is READ. We learn so much by observing the craft of the masters.
And on a more practical scale--draw a character arc for your protagonist and one for your villain. Where they intersect is your story.
JAN: If you want to find out who your characters really are, don't waste time with the pre-novel bio. Instead put them in really tough situations and see what they do. Then you'll get at deep character instead of hair color and college degree.
And I'll echo Roberta. If writing is important to you, do it before any other obligations can get in the way.
ROSEMARY: As the newest kid on this particular block I'm tempted to just say "What they said." If I have anything to add it would be this - you weren't great the first time you picked up a tennis racket or paint brush, don't expect your early efforts at writing to be fabulous. If you're paying attention and you really want to get better, you will. Even Federer practices his serve. (And takes advice.)
HALLIE: So Jungle Red readers and writers... what's the best (or worst!) advice you've ever given or gotten?