plot tagged posts

Book 3, Starting Draft 2

One of the things writer Anne Lamott is famous for is her advice, “Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft.” To me that’s a kind of liberation theology for writers, but that’s a subject for another time. Today I’m going to continue to pull back the curtain on my writing process, at least as it relates to getting all the scenes in order for the second draft of this book.

So: “Give yourself permission….” Done.

“Write a shitty first draft.” Done.

OK, maybe “shitty” is a relative term, but while my read-through of the first draft got a “not bad” rating, as I wrote last time there were problems with the timeline, that is, the sequence of events in the plot. Timeline is especially critical for this book for two reasons.

  • One, it needs to end at a certain time of year in order to t...
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Critique Technique Table of Contents

Here’s a Table of Contents of all of the Critique Technique posts to make it easier to go directly to the post you want to read.

Introductory Posts

Part 1 of Many

Part 4: Series Preview

Reader Response

Part 2: How Do You Feel?

Part 3: Authorial Intentions and Tracking Your Own Responses

Beginnings and Endings

Part 5: Weak or Missing Hook

Part 6: The Wrong Beginning

Part 7: Scene and Chapter Endings

Part 7b: More on Scene and Chapter Endings

Part 8: Story Endings

Characterization

Part 9: Characters and Conflict

Part 10: Poor Characterization

Part 11: Lack of Character Development

Part 12: Showing and Telling in Character Development

Part 13: Timing the Reveal

Part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior

Part 15: Unclear Character Goals

Part 16: Unclear or Insufficient Obstacles

Part 17: Dialect...

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Revision and Self-Editing for Publication Review

Small 3-star rating on dark blue background

Let’s get this on the table right now: Jim Bell does not write a bad craft-of-writing book. Does NOT.

In one case, however, the title of his book does not match the contents. That case is Revision and Self-Editing for Publication. As K. M. Weiland noted in her 3-star review of this book on Goodreads, there’s little here about revision or self-editing. That’s too bad because what little there is clearly shows that if Bell had focused on those tasks, rather than writing yet another book about writing a decent first draft, he could have done well.

Bell divides the book into two sections: “self-editing” and “revision...

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Wool Review

By Ross B. Lampert

4.5-star rating dark blue background

Wool is the title of both the first novella and the first five stories in the Silo series, and the book which rocketed Hugh Howey to science fiction stardom. Deservedly so.

WARNING: There are spoilers in this review. I’ll put them in a different font so you can spot and skip them if you wish.

Wool is the story of a large, thoroughly developed community of people (hundreds if not a few thousand) who have lived for a long time in a 144 story deep underground silo. One of many, as it turns out, but the residents of Silo 18 don’t know that there are other silos until late in the story. Until then, only a select few even know that they’re “Silo 18.”

The silo culture is divided into dozens of functional groups: the Mechanicals live in the “down deep,” the lowe...

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House Made of Dawn Review

Small 3-star rating on dark blue background

If you’re looking for a book with a linear narrative, a clear and present protagonist, and a consistent point of view, N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn is not the book you’re looking for. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for occasionally beautiful writing, and an unusual style of story-telling, this 1969 Pulitzer Prize winner may be just the thing.

House Made of Dawn is the story of Abel (an obviously symbolic name), a young Native American from somewhere in southern California...

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The Art of War for Writers

Small 4-star rating on dark blue background

Put James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers next to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style on your bookshelf—or better, within easy reach! It’s that good.

Using famous and long-ago Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as his model, Bell presents vital and valuable information for writers in bite-size chunks. These nourishing and digestible non-chicken nuggets add up to a lot of chapters, yet only two are longer than five pages.

That’s what makes them so useful: you can read a few, set the book aside to ponder them, and then come back without being overwhelmed with information. These chapter titles will give you a sense of what I mean:

  • From Part I, “Reconnaissance”: 21. Put heart into everything you write.
  • From Part II, “Tactics”: 36...
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Critique Technique, Part 58 — Magic Middles

Woman reading a book

Image courtesy of Marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Ross B. Lampert

Once a writer has convinced their reader with a great, or at least good, beginning that this is a story she wants to read, his next task is to keep her reading. That means the middle of each scene or chapter has to keep holding the reader’s interest. She has to want to keep reading.

There are lots of writing books that discuss the techniques for creating rising tension: plot twists, character revelations, obstacles revealed and overcome or worked around (or not), turning points, and so on. The purpose of this article isn’t to repeat them—there isn’t space!—but to remind you, the reviewer, that when a writer does this well, especially when they’d been struggling with this, it’s your job to point it out.

As I no...

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Critique Technique, Part 48—Danglers

By Ross B. Lampert

Shoes hanging from a wire

Photo by dhannte, via morgueFile.com

When we think about dangling things—in writing, anyway—we usually think of dangling modifiers, the grammatical fumbles that lead to sentences like, “After spending weeks in the forest, the town was inviting.” So, the town had spent weeks in the forest, eh?

For this post, though, I’m thinking about a different kind of dangler, a story line or character the author lavishes some attention on, then forgets. It’s never developed, it’s never finished, it’s just left—you guessed it—dangling.

This is a continuity problem and it can be hard to catch, for both the author and the reviewer. Why? The author had some reason for putting that character, subplot, or story line in or she wouldn’t have done it...

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Critique Technique, Part 26—Tangents

Lines tangent to circles and ellipses

Image courtesy Wikimedia

If you look up “tangent” in the dictionary, it takes a while to get to the definition like this one from Webster’s Universal College Dictionary: “digressing suddenly from one course of action or thought and turning to another.”

Tangents share a characteristic with excessive backstory and flashbacks: they start from the current story moment and then shift in time, place, point of view, or topic. As with a flashback, the author may mean to provide some kind of amplifying information, but then he forgets to stop after providing it and wanders not only off the beaten path, but off any path at all.

Sometimes that can be intentional, for example if she’s trying to produce a piece of stream-of-consciousness writing...

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Critique Technique, Part 25—Misused Backstory or Flashback

A twisted, two-ended red pencil

Image courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Backstory and its kissing cousin flashback are techniques authors use to provide amplifying information about a situation, a location, or a character. Flashbacks and backstory differ from “front story” in that the author jumps away from the story’s current timeline to relate them, then jumps back (but not backwards) to the story’s present to continue.

Jumping forward in time—a “flash forward”—can have the same purpose, and everything below also applies.

Flashing back is in fact a technique for relating backstory. A brief interruption of the story’s flow, it can be:

  • Initiated by the narrator to provide information not available to the characters;
  • A character’s memory; or
  • A conversation between two or more characters (“You remember w...
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