Thursday, May 5, 2022

Surrounded in Inspiration

 Many writers have reminders or aphorisms within easy sight from their writing desks; I am no exception. Because I know some are curious about writers’ processes and habits (superstitions, even), I thought I’d pass mine along.


From left to right, with my interpretations interspersed:

From Edith Wharton’s “Five Rules for Novelists:”

·       Know your scope

o   Do less better

(A book that tries to be about too much will be about nothing. Decide in advance what ground to cover and stick to it.)


·       Lead with your characters

o   Dialog is where you learn most about your characters

(The more the characters talk, the better the reader knows them. The action is primarily important because of how it affects the characters. This is why Higgins’s description of action through characters talking about it after the fact is so effective.)


·       Create peaks and valleys

(Any trip that never changes its speed or scenery becomes either tedious or exhausting. Break things up. It will place the primary actions in better contexts and give time to show other dimensions of the characters.)


·       Have a point

(What’s the book about? Differs from “Know your scope” in that scope is how much ground to cover; the point is the reason you chose to write this particular book.)


Dennis Lehane

No one cares

(Except you. Don’t worry what others will think about a passage or a sentence. No one is going to notice it in the grand scheme of things except you.)


Wes Anderson (from the film The French Dispatch)

Try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose.

(This will help the prose to flow, making it easier for the reader to experience your story, as opposed to reading it.)


George V. Higgins (from The Friends of Eddie Coyle)

Jackie Brown at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said that he could get some guns.

(Make every word count. In those opening 17 words, we learn that

·       Jackie Brown is a young man

·       He’s talking about his business, not something he does for fun

·       His business is selling guns

And we’re off to the races.)


The Sole Heir (placard purchased by her, for me)

If you were in my novel, you’d be dead by now

(If you need to have this one explained, you’re who it refers to.)


Bonus coverage: TSH also bought me a small notebook I always keep handy. The cover reads, “If I had a choice to have sex with any celebrity, living or dead, I would probably choose living.”

(You’re telling stories, not curing cancer. Don’t take any of this too seriously. Life is short. Have some fun.)


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