Tag Archive - critique

The 6 Necessary Elements in Your Novel’s Opening Chapters

Writing a novel is a massive undertaking. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written one or thirty.

And even after studying countless how-to books on fiction writing and taking workshops and listening to podcasts, many aspiring writers still flounder.

Why is that? Because there is so much to learn, and if you undertake this mission to learn without focusing first on the most important elements of a story, you can waste a lot of time.

Yes, it’s important to learn how to craft great characters. And write distilled, effective dialogue. And have a riveting plot. But that’s not enough.

I do more than 200 manuscript critiques a year, some by beginning writers and others by seasoned authors. Regardless, I can tell you this as fact:

Very few of these manuscripts hold up structurally. Continue Reading…

The Punch at the End of Your Novel Scenes

I’m sure you’ve heard people tell jokes. Whether you’ve listened to stand-up comics on a stage who are masters at joke-telling or a friend at a party or coffeeshop, you know what they’re all about.

The punchline.

The genre of joke-telling is all about the last line. Everything builds to it. Listeners are eagerly awaiting that last line because they know that’s the payoff. They expect a twist, a surprise, a pun … something entertaining that makes the whole joke worth listening to.

If you’ve ever listened to a  joke that doesn’t deliver–that leaves you puzzled or disappointed because the last line is dumb or flat or obtuse–you would say the joke failed. And the person telling it is assessed as a not-so-great joke-teller. You may not pay a lot of money to go see that comedian again. Or watch a movie she’s featured in.

Thankfully, most of us don’t have to make a living telling jokes–because it’s hard to do well. We greatfly admire comedians that can tell a great joke or anecdote that builds to a terrific punch at the end. Continue Reading…

Writing Scenes with a Purpose

I know this may sound silly and obvious, but your scenes need to have a purpose. Thing is, so many scenes that I edit and critique seem purposeless. Or the purpose is irrelevant to the premise. Or to the plot. Or doesn’t help reveal anything of importance about the characters.

I remember Donald Maass talking at his weeklong breakout novel workshop about this. He said something like, “You can’t imagine how many middle scenes I’ve read in novels that accomplish nothing.”

Same idea. Your scene shouldn’t just be entertaining or tense or exciting to read; it has to serve a specific purpose in light of your overall plot and premise. Every scene.

So how do you go about this?

Well, first thing: plot our your story, and make sure you have a riveting, fresh premise. If your premise is boring and predictable, it’s going to be hard to write a story that’s not boring and predictable. Continue Reading…

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