Archive for January, 2012

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012 by Sasha White
Doubt Demons

Persistence is what makes the impossible possible, the possible likely, and the likely definite. – Robert Half

I’ve had several conversations in the last week with other writers that surrounded the subject of doubt demons, dealing with stress, and career paths. I’m sure part of it is that January was fast coming to a close, and if they’re anything like me they’re thinking… “Damn, time is just whipping by…again.” and if others are like me they’re thinking maybe they need to revise their goals for the year. But I think the other part of it, the bigger part, is that we’re writers, and no matter how much you write, how many sales you have, or how well your last book did, we still have doubts.

It’s funny because I know me and my friends fight these demons off to somewhat regular intervals, and I often hope that someday I’ll get to that point where I don’t doubt my skill/talent/or drive anymore, but I doubt it. Yes, there’s another doubt. 😉

Because it seemed to be such a prominent topic of conversation I figured I’d share some thoughts of my own, as well as some that I’ve seen elsewhere that have stuck with me.

Carrie Vaughn’s post a while back called A NYT Bestseller has a meltdown really hit home with me, not just because of what she said, but because of who she is. I’ve been a fan of Carrie’s for years, and think she does a fabulous job on every Kitty novel, as well as her other stand alone’s.

The truth of it is, we all have doubts, and it’s not always a bad thing. Doubts are very bad, when you let them cripple you, or worse yet, stall you altogether. Doubts are bad when you give in to them and let them take over. But I believe if you acknowledge them, and consciously work to run right over them on your way to the finish line (whatever that is in your case) that they can be a both of a good thing because doubts mean we care about what we’re doing. That we’re not just churning out the same thing again and again in some sort of formula that once worked and we think will work again.

Like most things in this often crazy business, doubts are all about how you use them.

If you want more reinforcement that you’re not alone in having self doubt…check out this articles, that quote’s some pretty well-known authors voicing their doubts, and gives some great advice for dealing with doubts.

I’m going to leave you today with a couple of steps from a post I found on romance writer Kelly Wolf’s blog
1. Keep writing. You won’t want to, but you can. It’s all in your head. Really. Just do it.
2. Read a book on your craft.
3. Write some more.
4. Check out blogs by your favorite author or other writers with information on your craft.
5. Write again.
6. Read. And then read some more. Remember why you love books.

Want to read more… click here 12 Step Program for Writers Doubts by Kelly Wolf.

Monday, January 30th, 2012 by J.A. Pitts
Stranger than Fiction

If you’re an artist, one of the key things you do is observe life around you.  It’s second nature.  With your eyes wide open, there should always be plenty of ideas and characters for your work.  As a writer, I observe some of the wackiest shit you can imagine.  People are illogical and inconsistent to the point of madness.  Just look at the folks running for president this year.  They pander to the moment, to the funders, to the specific crowd they are standing in front of at any particular moment.   Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the fallacies and the out-right personality shifts.

Oh, you’ll find individuals who have a fairly strong narrative in their real lives, those who try to live by consistent values and appear logical from one moment to the next.  But I promise you, there are going to be moments when you see people do something so illogical that it will make your brain hurt.

As a writer, this is the stuff of dreams.  If you are writing comedy, then the election season is  your goldmine.  Or was that tragedy, I forget some days.  Regardless, you should never be short on characters, motivations or reactions when you write.  If you don’t believe me, take your favorite writing device and casually stroll through a department store or better yet, grab a beverage and sit in the food court of your local mall.  Within ten minutes you’ll see enough to fill a novel with secondary and perhaps, main characters.  It’s better than television most days.

Now, here’s the trick.

You can’t use that stuff as it happens.  No one will believe it.  We humans are just too whimsical and capricious to be used as is in a story.  See, unlike your day job, your dating life, or even a trip to the grocery; fiction has to make sense.

I can hear some of you out there gasping and examples of fairies and dragons are just popping to mind faster than you can write them down in the comments section of this post.  Yes, we write about stuff that doesn’t exist.  Sometimes we take things that exist and twist them around to be different than what they really are.  But the one thing we also do is proceed with internal consistency.   I don’t care what logic you use, but if you tell me the Bobby turns green on Tuesdays in the first paragraph.  When I see a green skin tone next, it damned well be Tuesday.

See, the characters in your books and stories can be wild men but no matter what their motivations, no  matter what their appetites or fears, they must behave with a level of logic that your readers can follow.

Every action must be aligned with the behavior this character has portrayed before, or ample justification must be shown as to why this individual would suddenly start behaving in a way that is different from what you as the author has shown.

It’s a balancing act.  I’ve critiqued a lot of stories over the years, shorts all the way to novels.  I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve had an author tell me, “but that’s the way it happened.  I wrote that based on real events.”

To which, I have to inform them that real life is too crazy for fiction.  Fiction must follow a logical thread if you want to keep your readers engaged and if you want them to finish reading the piece.

Don’t get me wrong.  Be gonzo, write some avant-garde story that would make your high school English teacher cringe in his cardigan.   But if you do not have the characters act with an internal logic that the reader can follow, you will lose them.

So, be a people watcher.  Eaves drop on conversations and experience the drama of real people from time to time.  It’s where we get our juice.  But when you put that down on paper or pixels, make sure your darlings can follow the bread crumbs back to their first introduction and your readers will gladly follow you into the apocalypse, or the next general election, depends on your threshold of pain.

Saturday, January 28th, 2012 by Ken Scholes
Grains of Salt and Writerly Advice

Howdy Folks!  And Happy Saturday!

Today, I want to chat briefly about advice.  Over the course of your writing career — from way back in the very earliest days when you’re pushing for that first sale all the way up to your glory years of multiple books in print and more books under contract — you’re going to need advice.

You’ll need it early on when it comes to getting to the place of writing compelling stories and novels that are publishable.  You’ll need it when it comes to how to best find an agent or a publisher.  You’ll need it when you bump up against something in your career that you’ve never bumped into before.

I’ve asked for a LOT of advice over the course of my writing life…and I’ve always gotten it.  Hell, I just sent off notes this morning and made some calls yesterday to get a bit.  The need for help as we go along our merry way never really completely goes away.

A few things come to mind when I think about asking for advice.

1.  Am I Asking the Right Person the Right Question at the Right Time in the Right Manner?

I think about all of that.  Is this the person who really can help me…and if I’m not sure, am I asking them who they might know if they are the wrong person?  How much research have I done to see if there is advice elsewhere already waiting for me to find it thanks to Google?  Have I really thought about the question and am I asking it clearly?  I’m asking for a piece of their time and experience — am I offering them the best venue for them to answer in?  Email?  Phone?  A lunch meeting?  And am I mindful of the other things going on in their lives?

2.  Am I Open to Their Advice Even If I Don’t Like It?

This is a big one.  Sometimes we ask but we have an answer we already want or believe to be so.  I know people who, upon not liking the advice, just go asking more people and more people until they hear what they want.  I try — and do not always succeed — to listen and ask questions and gain an understanding of why the advice is what it is.  This applies to story feedback especially.

3.  Am I Placing Too Much Importance on Any One Person’s Advice?

Advice is…advice.  If I’m asking for someone to give it to me, I should know why I’m asking but I should also know that it’s one person’s opinion, usually based on their experience.  They may or may not be giving me the best advice for my situation.  Often, if I’m asking a handful of people, I’ll gauge it based on what the consensus of the group seems to be.  And I try to go outside of the box (which somewhat ties in to asking the right person.)

And a few things come to mind when I think about giving advice:

1.  Was I Asked?

I usually don’t appreciate unsolicited advice as much as the advice I ask for.  Though sometimes it’s just what the doctor ordered.  But when giving advice, I try really, really hard to only offer it up when asked.  And if I’m going to offer unsolicited advice, it’s  usually good to ask, “Hey, can I give you a bit of unsolicited advice?”  Though you have to be careful with that because few people are going to say “Well, no, Ken, I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t.”  And you have to be careful about just assuming that a person thinks you’re the right one to give them advice.

2.  Do I Have Any Meaningful Advice to Give (or Know Someone Else or Some Other Resource That  Could Better Help) in this Instance?

Sometimes people offer advice where they have no experience — they have a hard time saying “You know, I really don’t know.”  And they make it up.  I try hard not to do that.  For example, I frequently get asked about how to query for an agent or publisher and I truly do not have much experience there.  It serves the asker better for me to point them toward others or toward the vast array of information available on the web when it comes to that.

3.   Am I Delivering the Very Best Advice for THAT PERSON (not for me) in as Helpful and Clear a Manner As Possible?

Sometimes, we project onto others what we ourselves wished we’d known.  And sometimes that’s good advice…and sometimes it’s not.  Not everyone is the same.  For example, telling everyone that they should only submit to pro-level paying markets isn’t really good advice if the person is cranking out fifty stories a year.  They can afford to hit a broader range of markets.  And how we say something is important — I try to make sure that when giving advice, I’m up front that their mileage may vary.  And I try to make sure I’m delivering it in a way that helps and doesn’t hurt.  The truth is, once we get to a certain place, some people really really listen to every word we say.  Our expectations for ourselves based on who WE are can be easily misinterpreted into perceived expectations for everyone or for that person who is asking us for advice.

And in it all, whether asking or being asked, take it with a grain of salt.  Stay courteous and friendly.  Don’t take it personally if it’s not what you want to hear or if they can’t help you.  Be grateful — thank them for giving the advice and thank them for asking you for it.

And now that I’ve given you all a bit of unsolicited advice on asking for advice…I’m out!

Have a great weekend!


Friday, January 27th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
To Tell or Not to Tell

I read with interest Megan Whalen Turner’s recent blog post about not revealing anything to her fans when they ask questions about her insanely beloved Queen’s Thief series.

“I said that it felt like cheating, to me, to try to add an explanation to something I’ve already written. I got my chance to write what I wanted to write. If I didn’t do it well enough for my readers to understand what I was trying to say, it’s not fair for me to try to take a second shot. When it comes to talking about what I am writing next, I told people that I think it’s teasing to drop hints about a book… for five years at a time. If I wrote books a little faster, I might be a little more willing to talk about what’s in them ahead of time. But I don’t, so I won’t.”

Boy, do I admire her restraint. I don’t think I can do that.

Early in my career, a book club chose my book to read, and they invited me to their house to discuss it. In the grand tradition of crappy middle school English teachers who seek to extinguish all pleasure in reading (“Please list the meanings of the following symbols found in the short story you were assigned”), the most common question I got was, “What did you mean when you put XYZ in the story?”

I was a literature major at college. I’d studied New Criticism, in which we’d learned that the book must be it’s own thing, separate from what they called “the intentional fallacy” — i.e., what the author meant. All that stupid stuff from middle school about deciding that X symbol meant only Y and nothing else? Poppycock. The book meant what you decided it to mean.

At least, that’s what I’d learned.

I tried to do the whole Mona-Lisa-smile, “What did you think it meant?” thing — no dice. The book club members were extremely frustrated. They had not invited me to the house and fed me dinner only to get non-answers out of me. They had the author, in their midst, a luxury afforded to few readers. And dammit, they wanted answers.

It changed my thinking significantly. Yes, I do a disservice to readers if I have this expectation that they can only understand what I’m doing if I’m standing over their shoulder. The book must be able to stand on its own, because only a miniscule percentage of reaers are going to get tot eh point where they track an author down and ask. But if they have — if they’ve bothered to invite you to their house and feed you pasta and iced tea, or if they’ve dragged themselves to a booksigning or festival for the sole purpose of meeting you and asking  — if they want to know — shouldn’t you play along and tell them?

I decided to play along. I created “spoiler threads” on my website upon book releases, where readers could go and discuss the book and ask questions. I answered them.

But the ease of the internet has made the pendulum start swinging the other way for me. It’s one thing if I verbally tell a group of people in a book club something. It’s very much another if I start answering questions, in writing, of every person who fills out a contact form on my website.

Once, I got an email from a reader with over a hundred questions in it. This reader wanted to know absolutely every plot trail of every character and every feeling that every character had throughout the entire book. She wanted confirmation of things that I hoped were obvious. Stuff the equivalent of:

  • After Mr. Darcy was so sweet to Elizabeth and her relatives when he met them at Pemberley, THAT’S when she decided that maybe he wasn’t the asshole she thought, right?
  • Was Lydia ever jealous of Lizzie when Wickham was paying her attention at Meryton?
  • How long after they got married did Darcy and Lizzie have a kid?

And so forth. These are questions that fans want to know. Entire industries have been created in fanfiction (both the free kind and the stuff that makes money — like all those Jane Austen sequels) to answer these sorts of questions. Indeed, I’m partial to that kind of stuff myself. My favorite scene in the 2007 remake of Persuasion is the scene in Lyme where Captains Wentworth and Harville discuss the trouble Wentworth has gotten himself in by flirting with Louisa Musgrove. You always know there’s a scene where his friends are like, “Look, you moron, her whole family thinks you’re getting married, so if you’d better check yourself before you wreck yourself.” It was nice to see it performed.

But Jane Austen is dead. We’re all just fans making it up as we go along. That’s different.

For what it’s worth, I wrote the reader back and told her to pick five of her most burning questions.

I have also seen the intent to stay “true” to the author’s vision, based upon something they wrote, backfire enormously. The case in point is the new “ordering” of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. Now, children are introduced to the series NOT through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but through a prequel, written many years later, and written, (in my opinion as a published Narnia scholar 😉 ) in a more mature tone and with the expectation that readers are familiar with the world and the stories published thus far. However, one time, Lewis wrote a response to an eleven year old child in which he says he agrees with the child’s contention that the books should be read in chronological (not publication) order, and now, that’s how they publish them.

But upon reading the actual letter, I find that conclusion appalling. These are Lewis’s words:

“I think I agree with your order [chronologically] for reading the books more than with your mother’s [order of publication]. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn’t think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last. But I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone reads them.”

See? It’s doesn’t matter! Great! Let’s not fix what ain’t broken! I know that I, for one, will not be giving my daughter The Magician’s Nephew before TLTWaTW.If this is what Lewis really thought (and he doesn’t sound so sure himself, even in the letter) then he was wrong.

And maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s fine to answer reader’s questions — but it’s not fine for the reader to treat the author’s intent as gospel. They have to make their own decisions, because even though it’s the author’s book, the author might not know everything. And when it leaves their hands, it takes on a life of its own.

Thursday, January 26th, 2012 by HelenKay Dimon
No Shame Here

Let me just start this by saying people should read whatever they want to read.  If you love space monkey erotica and you find a great space money erotica author, I am thrilled for you.  Really.  Digital, print – go you!  I actually get a little sad when I see or hear someone say they’re reading a “guilty pleasure” and almost apologize for it because I have never – absolutely never – felt guilty about reading a book (a big thank you to mom and dad for that).  I don’t want anyone else to feel guilty either.

Having said that, let’s talk about my newfound love for Octavia Spencer.  [Note: this will eventually relate back to the first paragraph. Stick with me for a second.] In case you don’t know, she’s an actress. She won the Golden Globe and is nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Help.  She’s talented and just looks like a happy person.  For some reason, whenever I see her I smile. But none of that is the reason for my Octavia love today.  I love her today because when asked by People magazine in the “Star Picks” section about her favorite author, she said this:

I collect books about murder mysteries, but my favorite author of thrillers is James Patterson. I’ve probably read all of his and Patricia Cornwall’s.

The part I find so refreshing is how real the answer sounds.  It doesn’t come off like some PR-packaged response that was first tested in a research group.  In this feature in People, the actors frequently say things like, “I re-read my James Joyce collection every week or so.”  Now, not to put down actors or James Joyce, or to question the combination of the two, but you see a James Joyce type answer enough times and it’s hard not to be skeptical.  Maybe all of Hollywood does read Joyce exclusively, but I’m thinking probably not. I’m betting people read across genres and that some read popular fiction, though it would be hard to get that from reading this feature on a regular basis.

So, congrats to Octavia Spencer for her awards and for not being afraid to tell the truth when she answers a question about the books she reads.  I’m guessing she doesn’t feel any guilt either.



Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
How To Prepare for a Writers Conference II

From The Writers Conference Guide: Getting The Most of Your Time & Money

Make sure your travel plans are set and you have copies of everything.  Again, a checklist helps.  We have a packing checklist at the end of this section.

Make sure you know how you are getting from the airport to the conference.  If the conference has a venue away from the hotel you will be staying at, coordinate transportation.  Again, conferences often have boards or loops where you can find others in the same situation. This is another great way to begin the networking experience. Remember, you never know who is going to help you move your career along…or how you can help them.

Going down the list of speakers, pick the primary ones you’d like to meet and network with.  Read some of their books so you can approach with a question about them, rather than pitching yourself.  Often, you’ll be surprised to learn that you’ll know more about their book than they remember.  Authors are usually focused on the book they’re writing, not the ones they’ve written.  Such as an approach shows a level of professionalism that most people don’t achieve.

Print out beforehand the list of presenters with their photos.  Even though people wear nametags, it’s good to have this handy.  Highlight the people you’d like to talk to.  One thing you can do is print out the bios and pictures, then cut them up and then scan/copy them on your home printer in a more condensed version, focusing on those you want to emphasize.  Go to their web pages and note their bios.  Google them.  Know more about them than is in the conference handout.  Know where they just were and where they might be going to next.  Do they have pets?  Hobbies?  All of these can be ice-breakers in starting a conversation.

If you’ve participated on social media with other people going to the same conference, make a plan for a time and a place to physically meet these people and get to know each other better.

Volunteer.  This is the best way to get out and meet other attendees. Most conferences need lots of volunteers to run the conference.  Being a volunteer is a great way to get on the inside and meet some of the presenters, editors and agents.  You might also get a discount on registration.  If you have a car, volunteer to pick up and drop off presenters at the airport.  It might seem like a pain, but it’s a great way to get some face time with them.

Workshop Selection

First, focus on the presenter, more than the topic.  Does the presenter have something you want?  This is why we lean toward going to workshops presented by a writer, not an agent or editor.  Not to say they don’t have something to offer, and if you’ve never listened to agents or editors speak before, it’s worthwhile to hear their spiel at least once.

Don’t get caught up in the ‘big name’ speakers.  Often their sessions are crowded.  By attending workshops where there are less people, you can have more interaction with the presenter.  Also, as mentioned before, big names might not have the time, while other presenters might be more approachable.

Don’t attend workshops where the material has no application unless it just interests you.  Terry Brooks did a workshop on how he wrote Phantom Menace at the Maui Writers conference.  You have to ask what application such a workshop has to a wanna-be writer unless they’re simply attending because they love Star Wars.

You should attend at least one agent/editor panel just to see how they discuss ‘standards’ and how they view publishing. However, we have found that the workshops where editors and agents are paired with the writers they work with offer a lot more about the publishing process than agent/editor panels. Often these types of workshop topics are about the editor/agent/author relationship while the panels are more about how to and what to query. One interesting side note, many of the author/agent/editor workshops will tell the story of how they came to work together, often sharing that the rules editors and agents set forth about submissions during the panels sessions were broken.

Balance out going to craft and going to business workshops.  Of course, this all depends on your goal for the conference.  If it’s focused on the writing, then you’ll do a lot of craft.  If it’s focused on selling and publishing, then it will be those.  Many new writers, though, focus too much on trying to sell and not enough on learning to write better.

Even with the changes in the publishing climate, we still see a disturbing trend.  Aspiring authors rush through the doors by the hundreds if there is an Agent Panel, while the published author who is teaching, let’s say, Developing Effective Characters, asks the five attendees to pull their chairs in a circle and do a group hug for support.

Attendees sweat over their ten-minute pitches to editors and agents, but don’t focus on craft workshops. They’ll sit in their room in the evening agonizing over their pitch, instead of socializing and networking.

Ever hear of the cart before the horse?

Reality check

The odds of finding an agent who will sign you or an editor who will buy your manuscript at a conference are low.  Very low.  Despite that, agents would love to find that gem in the rough and every once in a while it does happen.

But you have to have a gem FIRST.

Be honest with yourself (a tenet of Write It Forward).  How many of you have spent thousands of dollars going to conferences, pitching, networking, marketing yourself on social media, and still haven’t gotten published?  But you haven’t spent that much effort on LEARNING to become a better writer.  You keep rewriting the same manuscript, or even write new ones (pretty much a new version of the old one craft-wise), but you’re basically moving deck chairs around on the Titanic.

TNWIFConference(6)There are even people who go to conferences and pitch an IDEA, thinking if the agent is interested they can go home and knock the book out in six weeks.  Agents do NOT want to hear that for fiction.

Others think that the editor will probably want changes or make suggestions and clean the book up for them so why bother cleaning it up themselves? NOT.

Ever go to a museum and see students sketching the successful painters hanging on the walls?  Writers need to do this too.  Not only go to craft workshops, but study craft every day.  How?  Read.  Analyze.  Watch movies.  Analyze.  Shows.  Analyze.  Everything in them is done for a purpose.  We are always shocked when we ask audiences how many have read X book or watched Y series or seen Z movie and no one raises their hand.  Learn from the experts.

Now, we’re going to be very blunt and honest, a trait those who have attended Bob’s workshops can attest to:  In Who Dares Wins: The Green Beret Way to Conquer Fear & Succeed, he teaches a thing called the 5% rule.  5% of people are willing to achieve internally motivated change.  This is statistically born out in a number of different fields from getting published to becoming a Green Beret to getting a black belt in martial arts.  If you aren’t where you want to be YOU have to change.  Bob has had people pitch the same thing to him ten times, supposing, he guesses, that eventually he would change and see the brilliance in it.  Teaching writing, we have seen only about 5% of aspiring writers actually truly learn craft and change.  But when they do, it’s amazing how much better they get.

Bob has had workshop attendees who have gone on to become NY Times bestsellers, multi-published, and very successful as writers.  Not because he was a great teacher, but because they were great students who were willing to learn and CHANGE.

We could go on about this for a long time.  In fact, this is what Bob does in his Write It Forward Workshop, which is all about the author.  Learning the mindset and habits of a successful author.  And learning how to CHANGE.  Change is not just thinking differently.  It’s not just making a decision.  It’s SUSTAINED ACTION.

Bottom line for most conference attendees—focus on craft.

Conference Worksheet

Being organized at the conference can save you time and energy when time and energy are limited. Now that you know your goals, have researched various conferences, its time to fill out your conference worksheet.

Some of this is repetitive, but we have found the more we write out goals and align them with our efforts the more successful we become. They key is to know what you are doing and why you are doing it.

What is my overall strategic writing goal:

What are my conference goals:

List of workshops I want to attend:

List of presenters I want to meet:

Where are the conflicts between workshops and presenters?

Cheat Sheet of social media friends I know but have not met:

Tentative Schedule:

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 by J.A. Pitts
It’s all about the details

As a writer I make it my business to pay attention to details.  I’ve always done it.  Even as a little kid I would notice things the adults around me would miss.  I also have a crazy scary memory for minutia.  Like the time a friend of my mom’s, Lynn mentioned that she worked with a certain Gail who had a crooked nose.  Weeks later at the bowling alley, Carol and Kim, two women who bowled with my mom, were once again oblivious to my presence.  I was so much a regular to the Tuesday and Thursday bowling leagues that they forgot I was listening.

They were gossiping about how Gail was such a whore and how she probably did things with men, for money.  Kim commented that anyone who worked in “that kind of place” was probably a whore as well.  I had no idea what “that kind of place” was.  Those kinds of details are not important to the story yet.  I’ve learned that.  Those details will present themselves with time.  Even at eleven I knew they were being catty, but I filed the information away and went back to reading A Wrinkle in Time.

Four months later, I was sitting at my grandparents house flipping through the paper after my grandpa had finished reading it.  Deep into the entertainment section I saw series of head shots of young women.  They were strippers and advertising a specific club.  The first picture was a young woman with a crooked nose named Gail and my mother’s friend Lynn was the next picture over.

I looked up at my grandma and asked,  “So, is Lynn a whore as well as a stripper?”

Grandma walked over, took the paper away from me and said I’d have to discuss it with my mother.  I didn’t even know Gail.  I’d never met her.  But the way Carol and Kim had described her and Lynn’s picture next to hers, I was able to put things together.

Events like this have occurred all throughout my life.  It’s amazing to me how many connections you can make if you just pay attention to what’s going on around you.  Writers are voyeurs.  It is our business to collect things and string them together into stories that entertain, enlighten and possibly, earn a bit of coin.

Don’t think as a writer you need to give the reader every detail of a scene, an argument, or a moment of passion.  What the reader needs is a few specific details, the overall feel of the scene, and enough runway to get off the ground.  They can fill in a significant amount from their own imagination.  It’s a balancing act.  How many pieces of furniture do I need to describe to give you the idea the characters are sitting in a diner?  How many specific sensory inputs ground you in the tacky booth with the overflowing ashtray and half empty coffee cups?  Do you need to see the one lonely slice of lemon meringue pie in the class container on the counter?  How about the way the waitress has a stain on her uniform, or perhaps the pungent aroma that greets you as you first walk in the door — that grease and despair, old cigarette smoke and overcooked bacon.

You could describe every barstool and every patron, but how long do you really have before you lose the audience?  The last thing you ever want is for the reader to look away from the page.  Rolling their eyes at the overload of details is one cause for folks walking away from a story.  Flipping ahead to see if anything interesting happens is another fatal point.

So you need to come up with those important details that are critical for the story to connect.  A young woman named Gail with a crooked nose who is a stripper and possibly a whore.  Then later, when you see a picture of a Gail who is a stripper and she also has a crooked nose, your audience will start to put two and two together.  Seed clues along the way, little details and points of interest that will make your reader’s story brain start to click.  They are looking for road signs that will point them to a satisfying connection and a plausible conclusion.

It’s a tough skill to hone.  I know I struggle with it all the time.  Fortunately writing allows you to go back and weave in details as they unfurl in your writing brain.  Unlike the real world, where you may not have the luxury to go back and look for all the right clues; in fiction you not only have the ultimate control over space and time,  you also have the ability to rewrite history so it fits the story’s needs.

We are builders, we artists.  We create something from nothing.  It is a gift and a curse that will haunt us for our entire lives.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t listen to half a conversation in the elevator at work and I fill in the blanks.  I saw two squirrels chasing each other round and round a tree one morning and I store that scene away for another time.  Someday I’ll have a story where the characters are walking through the woods and they’ll happen upon the strangest scene with two squirrels.

But you must keep your head up, your ears open and your mind engaged.  That’s the life of a writer.  We observe and report.   Just because the next story you see from me deals with aliens or elves don’t be surprised to find some mundane details that enrich the story and make it believable enough for you to follow along.

If you do the job well enough, you can turn something simple into something magical.  It’s all in how you put the puzzle pieces together.