Monday, June 17, 2013

Random Thoughts From Writers

For years I've collected snippets and quotes from authors about writing. Here are a few of my favorites.

Samuel Johnson: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

Agatha Christie: "The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes."

Mark Twain on doing research: "Get your facts first, and then you can distort 'em as you please."

Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest): "I like being a famous writer. The problem is, every once in a while you have to write something."

Alan Jay Lerner (author of the screenplay Gigi): "A daydream I have often had about lyric writing... I am locked in a hotel room for three days working on a song. Suddenly the door opens and there stand all my closest friends. "One of them says, "What have you been doing in here for three days?" I reply, "Writing." One of them says, "What have you written?" I reply, "I could have danced all night, I could have danced all night, and still have begged for more." They look at each other hopelessly, call the appropriate medical authorities, and I am put away for the rest of my natural life."

Megan Daniel (author of Regency romances): "For any writer, however talented, to try writing the kind of book she doesn't enjoy and respect is cruel and unusual punishment -- and useless, besides."

Judith Krantz: "I'm so used to people saying, 'Now that you've made enough money with these bestsellers, isn't it time to write a really good book?' Now would anyone have said to Irving Berlin, 'You could write like Mozart if you tried,' or to Willie Nelson, 'It's time you wrote an opera'? They don't understand that I'm writing the best I can, each time."

Kurt Vonnegut: "This is the secret of good story-telling: to lie, but to keep the arithmetic sound."

Dr. Seuss, about And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street: "After the 23rd rejection, I found myself lugging the manuscript up Madison Avenue, headed for my apartment, where I was going to dump the damned thing in the incinerator. If I had been going up the EAST side of Madison Avenue, I would probably never have become a published author. But I happened to be lugging it up the WEST side of Madison Avenue when I bumped into a long-unseen college friend, Mike McClintock. Mike said, "What are you doing these days?" I said, "I'm an unsuccessful author of children's books. What are YOU doing these days?" And Mike said, "I am an editor of children's books. We're standing right in front of my office. Why don't we step inside?" Twenty minutes later I became a legitimate author with a contract, and since that day I have always made it a point to walk up the west side of Madison Avenue."

Alan Jay Lerner (author of My Fair Lady and Camelot): "In the end I have come to realize that I write not because it is what I do, but because it is what I am; not because it is how I make my living, but how I make my life."

Which of these comments resonates with you? 

For me, I have to admit: some days, I agree with Sam Johnson -- but on good days, that last comment from Alan Jay Lerner hits home.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Creating Suspense in Fiction

Suspense is what keeps the reader turning pages, anxious to find out why and what and when and how. Suspense is what makes the reader worry about the characters -- whether they’ll be all right, if they’ll finally reach their happy ending.

Now, we’re not necessarily talking about suspense in terms of actual danger, here. The character's life doesn't have to be at stake for us to create suspense for the reader.

 Suspense is the reader’s natural desire to know what happens next.

Too often, the author – because she knows what’s happening and why and what’s going to happen next, sacrifices the suspense which would keep her reader moving forward.

Here’s an example of how an author sacrificed all the suspense in her situation with a giveaway last line to a scene where she’d told the reader about the scheme her heroine was cooking up:

It was a great plan. And it worked.

At that point, we know what the scheme is. And we know it worked. So just how likely are we to turn the page and read on?

Oh, we might, just to find out exactly how things worked out – especially if we really like the character, or it’s a funny setup. Or if we’re blowing off a slow, lovely Sunday afternoon and have nothing better to do.

But if it’s midnight and we have to go to work in the morning… or if we just recalled that there’s a load of laundry needing to be folded before the wrinkles set… or if the kids are whining about being hungry… or the husband wants to go for a walk on a slow, lovely Sunday afternoon… then the book is apt to get set aside. 
And once a book is set aside, it might never be picked up again.

But what if that author had written this instead?

It was a great plan. And it almost worked.

Then it’s going to be much tougher for the reader to close the book and turn off the light and go cozily off to sleep or out for a walk, or feed the kids anything that takes time to fix. And the laundry? She’ll forget it entirely.

In this case, just one word makes a huge difference – because instead of the reader knowing that the heroine’s plans went just as she hoped they would, all we know is that they didn't.