Sunday, November 28, 2010

Writing is about making choices...

HALLIE: So they asked me to write a book: Everything you need to start writing your first novel...

Everything? Really?? Well, maybe not everything. But when the folks at Adams Media asked me, I took the challenge very seriously and right away started trying to sort the essentials from the frills, and thinking across genres rather than just about the mystery and suspense novels that I’ve written.

Three hundred pages and quite a few months later, the book is due out in January.

Then they asked if I'd like to teach a one-hour crash course that I’d deliver live on the web as part of their Cup of Comfort series. Call me nuts, but I said Sure. The class will be December 7, 1:-2:15 EST on the Web.

As I was putting together the course outline, trying to decide what to include, a scene from the movie “Wonder Boys” kept coming back to me. A professor (played by Michael Douglas) is working on a novel, only the more he writes the further away the ending seems to get. Now it’s 2100 pages long and he’s suffering from writer’s block compounded by midlife crisis.

I remember walking out of that movie with a big Aha! -- Writing fiction is about making choices. (Which is why when I get writer’s block the question I can’t seem to answer is: And what happens next?)

It seems so obvious that writing is about making choices -- obvious when someone points it out. Starting with the premise, choosing an idea to run with. Choosing a protagonist and other characters, and deciding what makes them tick. Choosing the words to put in each characters’ mouths, and the thoughts to put in each viewpoint characters’ head.

Moving on to story, deciding what happens first, and what happens next, and how early on you can have you characters do just about anything, but with each choice you make, you narrow the options for what happens next. So writing becomes like walking through an ever-narrowing hallway; to surprise yourself (and the reader) you have to punch through a wall. Metaphorically speaking. But it has to be credible, utterly credible.


I haven’t a clue how you make those choices, only how I do. And I think it better not to put anything quite so ugly and intrinsically unteachable into a one-hour crash course on writing your first novel. People would run away screaming, their heads exploding.

So instead I'll be talking about more teachable stuff, like how to formulate a premise, develop a main character, shape a story arc, plan the book, and write the opening scene. If you’re interested (or know someone who is) in taking the hour-and-a-quarter class, chock full of information guaranteed not make your head explode, ALMOST everything you need to start writing your first novel, then join me! Register here.


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  2. Can't wait. Am going to re-read your "Writing & Selling Your Mystery Novel" while I wait for this one to arrive.

  3. I have the first novel I ever thought publishable out at contests and agents but I can always learn more. I like the idea of making choices because it means I'm doing the thinking and not waiting for an expert to tell me how and what to write.

  4. Here, here to that, Pauline. (And congratulations!) It's why no two people could ever write the same novel. Hoping to hear good news from you soon.

  5. sounds great Hallie-you're always up to something! And doesn't it help to hear someone else put the process into their words? Each time I read or hear a writing teacher, it seems to shake something loose--and that's part of my kooky process!

  6. The book and course sound great, Hallie. I love the way you THINK about writing.