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Looking Back over the Journey to the Heart

“The idea is to write so that people hear it, and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” —Maya Angelou

Over the course of this year, we’ve taken a long journey from the entrance to the mine to the heart of your story, where the mother lode of gold is hidden. The objective? To create an unforgettable, great novel that speaks to the heart of the reader—hopefully transcending the restrictions of time and place. By aiming for the heart with universal themes, rich characters, and carefully constructed scenes, you might just produce a novel that will live in the hearts of readers for generations—a novel we might call timeless. Continue Reading…

The Universality Is in the Details

I started thinking about universality since we want our novel’s theme to have universal appeal—meaning a whole bunch of people all over the world should be able to relate to it at perhaps any time in history. But while we’re thinking in broad, all-encompassing ideas, I want to make a distinction here. Don’t make the mistake in thinking that in order to appeal to a wide audience with a universal appeal we have to write in very general terms and details. You may think that the more unspecific you can get with your locale, setting, time period, problems presented, the more universal the novel will be. You may think if your character can have a general problem—say a bad temper or he’s a Scrooge—a lot of people will identify with him . . . so you decide to not be too specific and take the risk of making your novel’s world so small that no one will relate.

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A Peek inside the Envelope

Sol Stein, the famous editor, author, and writing instructor, has a very short chapter in his classic book Stein on Writing that he calls “Creating the Envelope.” As I looked through my numerous books on writing craft, I drifted toward his book (which happens a lot), and was reminded again of the best advice to give writers regarding setting details.

I spoke last time of exploring your character’s feelings and responses to setting, to make setting personal and dynamic in your novel, as well as to give it heart. There’s nothing more boring in a novel than a paragraph of dry narrative to describe each new place your character finds himself in (well, it’s up there with trite dialog). But this week I want to talk about boiling down the essence of a locale or setting in a scene, and Stein’s “envelope” really is the best way to do it. Continue Reading…

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