Sunday, April 24, 2011


Decisions, decisions, decisions. That’s what writing is all about. Many of those decisions should be intuitive in the first draft or drafts. How do you make decisions intuitively? You put yourself in the right place.

Easy to say. Hard to do.

I've put myself in the wrong place a whole lot I often realize as I revise my manuscript. What was I thinking? How did I go right when I should have turned left? Why couldn’t I see the opportunity for the relationship between my three main characters and the central conflict in that relationship? I didn’t exploit that. Missed opportunity. Missed. Missed. Missed.

But—doesn’t matter. To get a first draft on paper I just have to feel like I’m going in the right direction, making the right decisions, and make them well enough that I don’t end up in Anchorage when I’m trying to get to San Diego. So, I won’t get to San Diego in my first draft, but I will go in the general direction of San Diego. I will get close enough that maybe with work in revision I’ll know how to get there.

The intuitive decisions of a first draft, along with the conscious ones, only need to be roughly successful. That’s all. Most of the real work, in the heavy lifting sense, happens in revision.

Or so I think today.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


The way your character tells his story, the kind of language he uses and how he uses it to tell his particular story, is one way to think of voice. A lot of editors and agents say that the very first thing they look for in a manuscript is a strong voice.

I can see that. I love a strong voice as a reader. I start to believe in the story right away if I’m pulled in by the voice. Voice has to do with diction, of course; it has to do with our choice of words. But the way those words are arranged, the tone that emerges from those constructions, reveals character. I think that’s one of the reasons people react to novels with strong narrative voices. They feel an immediate connection to the character telling the story. They want to hear him say more, tell them more.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Published on IndieReader Houston's blog, too.

I will be at the TeenBookCon in Houston on Saturday, April 9. I’m on a panel called Guys Write Great Stuff. Well, they do. So do gals. Right now, in YA, there is so much great stuff being written it’s impossible to read it all.

So guys and gals write great stuff but do guys read it? That’s a question a lot of people have been asking in publishing and beyond lately because they’re worried they don’t. They’re worried that guys not reading will cause them to be poor readers later in life. Also, they’re worried they may not read for pleasure at all.

I worry about this, too, because I was one of those guys who did almost miss out on reading. I didn’t read much when I was a kid. I was well into my sixteenth year before I started opening books without being forced to by teachers.

What changed? I read a novel that did things that I never thought a novel could do. It was strange and funny and frightening and smart and wise and it spoke to me. It did. It was a novel called SLAGHTERHOUSE FIVE. But for every boy, and for that matter girl, it will be a different book. The important thing, particularly for boys, since girls seem to find their way to books and reading easier, is that they find THE BOOK. By this, I mean they find a book that they can’t put down, one that overcomes the resistance to books that comes from not reading them. They have to fall in love. One book is all it takes, in most cases, to decide to open another and another.

For me, reading Slaughterhouse Five made me realize I’d been missing out on things. I’d thought until then that reading novels was another task that had to be done for school. At best I thought of it as a distant and formal entertainment, not accessible like TV or movies. When I found out how wrong this was, how novels could speak more intimately and more directly and how I could participate more fully in the story, something changed for me. I saw the world differently. Great books will do that. They will change the way you see the world (maybe a little, maybe a lot) every time you read one.

So books became my entry into new worlds. They became my friends, too, and over the years I still return to many of those friends. Every book that moves you in some way will be a little different, but all will transport you to another world within this one we live in each day. That’s pretty amazing. That’s a little bit of magic in and of itself. You don’t have to become a writer to get great things from books. You just have to become a reader.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Leave In, Take Out

Writing is a constant rearrangement, like changing the way a room looks: moving the sofa here and the chair there and the bookcase to the other side of the room. And what should you keep and what should you throw away? Aye, that’s the question. It is a lot of work. You need a strong back and sometimes a hard heart. You can’t keep everything. Sometimes the very things you love most, like Uncle Harry’s velvet picture of tropical fish swimming down Fifth Avenue or Aunt Lulu’s diary descriptions of the twelve times she was abducted by aliens, may have to go.

There are many rooms in a novel, but there is no room for anything that doesn’t truly belong.

Kind of sucks sometimes.