The First 15 Pages

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If you’re writing a novel or a memoir, the following exercise might be helpful. It came up recently while I was working with a Fresh Pond writer on his memoir. This writer was really trying to nail the opening chapter, and so I suggested that he select five of his favorite memoirs (published by others) and analyze the first 15 pages.

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It’s Critical That You Type Your Critiques

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I started a writing group, and last night was our first session. We spent our time on administrative things, such as setting a schedule to discuss each other’s writing and establishing some rules of play. One of the rules I wanted – and folks agreed to – was that readers would type up their comments for the writers. I’ve always felt that a writer learns more from this experience than the reader actually receives. To lend weight to my argument, I submit these ideas from Steve Almond, a Boston-based writer whose book of essays and flash fiction, “This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey,” I’m reading at the moment.

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Emotions Should Lead to Decisions

Here’s a tidbit from the Bookshelf Muse, which I came across this week: Emotions should lead to decisions. Angela Ackerman writes, “Always keep the story moving forward. A character agonizing over a choice will crank up the tension and heighten stakes, but too much will slow the pace. Remember too, often when emotion is involved, we make mistakes. Mistakes = great conflict!” Continue reading

The Exploratory Draft

I’ve started doing something completely different. Instead of trying to write a story. I’ve begun simply to write. The writing is more like riffing or freewriting. I focus on the characters, or the situation, or the setting, or the emotions, or the back story and just go. My goal each time I sit down to riff like this is 1,000 words. I’m capturing some nice phrases and images in the process. I’m also capturing snippets of scenes. When I have sentences that I like, I copy and paste them into a separate document — the story. Continue reading