Lew's AUTHOR BLOG

Posts Tagged ‘writing hints from successful authors’

* list of topics in “about writing”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 12, 2013

These are notes on various writing topics, taken from something I’ve read or based on my own ideas. I find it useful to return to these notes from time to time to refresh the lessons they offer for my writing. They also offer many opportunities for questions and discussion, which I welcome.

.

HISTORICAL FICTION 

.
.
.
 .
.
.
.
.
 .
 .
.
 .
.
Advertisements

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* theme

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

Old Man by William Faulkner

  • “nobody told them for what or for why”
  • this convict does not control his life in any meaningful way; the tragedy is that he clearly could, he has enormous capabilities, but he has no concept that this is possible for him;
  • he is stuck within an almost feudal sense of his place in the world, unchangeable.
  • “things had moved too fast for him”
  • but he will respond to whatever happens (and much does happen), stolidly plowing on, showing great creativity but only to accomplish the task he has been set, not to improve his own lot in life;
  • “he thought quietly, with a sort of bemused amazement, Yes, I reckon I had done forgot how good making money was. Being let to make it” … and later … “Then he would retire himself, he would take a last look at the rolled bundle behind the rafter and blow out the lantern and lie down as he was beside his snoring partner, to lie sweating (on his stomach, he could not bear the touch of anything to his back) in the whining ovenlike darkness filled with the forlorn bellowing of alligators, thinking not, They never gave me time to learn but I had forgot how good it is to work”
  • among the few times in the story where Faulkner leads the reader to think what might have been for this convict, with all his talents and determination, but for one stupid mistake when he was 19 years old.
  • and at the end … “Yonder’s your boat, and here’s the woman. But I never did find that bastard on the cottonhouse.”
  • “All right,” the convict said. “If that’s the rule.” So they gave him ten years more and the Warden gave him the cigar and now he sat, jacknifed backwards into the space between the upper and lower bunks, the unlighted cigar in his hand while the plump convict and the four others listened to him.”

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Andre-Louis begins as a supporter of Privilege, since this is how he was raised.
  • His initial support for Equality and Freedom is borrowed from his murdered friend, but not believed, and initially, his real-life impassioned political oratory is all an act.
  • Later, as an actor, he surprisingly becomes more real, interjecting purposely provocative lines, which he apparently believes, into the play.
  • As a politician, he comes to believe that a new constitution will indeed save France from the tyranny of Privilege, but then comes to see that the tyranny of the resulting anarchy is even worse.
  • Sabatini, a historian before he became a novelist, has thus woven an evolving historical point of view (his own?) into his adventure story, giving it a higher premise than it would otherwise have.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • in her 9th novel in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, Anne Perry achieved her breakout novel. She did this by raising the stakes, so that the action in the story mattered in a larger sense.
  • From this point on in the series, Inspector Pitt is removed from routine homicide cases and assigned instead to cases of special sensitivity and political import (issues such as Irish independence, anti-Semitism, the Church of England’s crisis over Darwin’s theory of evolution) … taken from Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass 
  • the old case involves “the delicate question of a woman’s reputation, a distinguished victim from a powerful family, and treason” …
    • so we know that this case involves a broader scope than just a detective story
    • although, as the story develops, the aspect of treason is never presented in a way that I could feel the future of the Empire was at stake, and in the end, there was no treason at all. It seems to me if you’re going to use treason as a hook, it should turn out to be as important as first implied.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • Does God have a plan?
  • Brother Juniper’s efforts to prove this were burned (and we later learn, so was he). Perhaps Br. Juniper’s massive effort to “prove” God’s plan was in itself evidence of his own doubt that such a plan really existed. Why else burn the proof?
  • Dona Maria reflects the doubt of the theme in her own fears. “God is indifferent.” Then she expresses the hope and reinforces the tension of the plot. “But soon a belief in the great Perhaps …”
  • Dona Maria … “I can do no more. What will be, will be … She had a strange sense of having antagonized God by too much prayer.”  This sets up the conclusion, where others (Dona Clara and the one “who had formerly been an actress”) fill Pepita’s intended role.
  • Manuel “tore open the flesh on his knee,” leading to an infection from which he soon dies. An event, a twist in the plot, which ultimately leads Esteban to the bridge.
  • the Perichole gets small-pox, her “beauty had passed,” and she had “never realized any love save love as passion.”

******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* technique

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

* metaphor and simile defined

  • metaphor  1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in “a sea of troubles” or “All the world’s a stage” (Shakespeare). 2.One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol
  • simile … A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by like or as, as in “How like the winter hath my absence been” or “So are you to my thoughts as food to life” (Shakespeare).

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Perry has Charlotte, in her persona as Elizabeth Baranaby, sit quietly listening to conversation and asking herself a series of questions. This helps the reader keep straight what is known and yet unknown about a complicated plot.
  • Similar to what I did when Detective Watson complied a list of unanswered questions in A Good Conviction.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • John Steinbeck … say dialogue aloud as you write it. only then will it have the sound of speech.
  • Tennessee Williams … when I write, everything is visual, as brilliantly as if it were on a lit stage. And I talk out the lines as I write.
  • Samuel Johnson … read over your composition and, when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
  • D.H. Lawrence … they say DHL used to write second drafts and never look at the first
  • Bernard Malamud … first drafts are for learning what your novel is about. revision is one of the true pleasures of writing.
  • James Baldwin … painters have often taught writers to see
  • Francois Mauriac … some writers are greatly preoccupied with technique … they seem to think that a good novel ought to follow certain rules imposed from outside … the great novelist doesn’t depend on anyone but himself … a borrowed style is a bad style
  • Mark Twain … the difference between the right word and the nearly right word is the same as that between lightning and the lightning bug
  • Truman Capote… a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence or a mistake in paragraphing, even punctuation
  • William Styron … I used to spend a lot of time worrying over word order … then I got more and more interested in people … and story
  • E.M. Forster … very few of us have the power of observing a variety of life and describing it dispassionately. Tolstoy was one who could.

Helpless by Barbara Gowdy

  • Gowdy writes as if she’s on a sinking boat and needs to throw out all the dead weight. The only words that survive are the ones that matter: no extraneous evidence of her research, no long-winded descriptions, no self-indulgent frills of characterization. And the result is a page turner that finds tension … from a review by Chelsea Cain, NYT, 4-29-07

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  •  exaggeration … “tidal waves were continually washing away cities … earthquakes arrived every week … towers fell upon good men and women all the time”
  • irony … “only the widely read could be said to knowthey were unhappy.’
  • irony … “many people would never have fallen in love if they had not heard about it.”
  • irony … Brother Juniper’s book was declared heretical, and “was ordered to be burned in the square, with its author.” So much for proving that God has a plan.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • use of metaphor reveals a writer’s grasp of life
  • novels go happiest when you discover something you didn’t know, perhaps a metaphor that startles you even as you are setting it down, a truth that used to elude you.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Yank: “Money and I have been strangers all my life.”
    • effective metaphor, likely to be remembered, and setting the story line of what will happen now that he has money (even though this story line is never effectively developed). 
  • “Somewhat like Byron, he awoke the next morning and found himself famous.”
    • The simile only works if the reader understands the reference, which is not likely.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  •  important characters introduced late in the story … Varo Borja (46); the girl with green eyes (98, 135, 177); man with a scar (173); Victor Fargas (142).
    • This seems to work ok, except for the unresolved plot issues, although when reading, it seemed disconcerting to me.  
  • explaining technical matters … the Ceniza brothers tell Corso how a book can be forged.
    • I like the way this was done. It went on just long enough but not too long.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • Character introduction … After beginning with Stiva and Dolly, many other characters, including the major characters, are introduced later: Levin (p.16), Kitty (p.28), Vronsky (p.39,56), and Anna (p.58).
  • If you don’t know differently, you initially think that Stepan and Dolly are the major characters.
  • When other characters are introduced, it’s still not clear who the major characters will be.
    • I suspect this is not a technique which would work today.
  • Tolstoy ridicules the Russian bureaucracy by simply describing how it works, with no editorial comment. He trusts the reader to get it.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • most readers are quick readers, who will stumble and fall on too-complicated prose
  • the essence of good writing is that it sets an intense mood, then alters that mood, enlarges it, conducts it over to another mood. Every sentence is careful not to poke through the tissue of the mood
  • finding one’s own manner is elusive.
  • manner comes down to a set of decisions on what word is valuable in every sentence you write.
  • another element of manner is consistency. Toni Morrison can write beautifully for pages, then move along in a pedestrian mode
  • find your own distinctive insights
  • Henry James had an extraordinary sense of that unforeseen vibration in the almost wholly unexpected. He created a fictional world out of such insight.
  • You must push your writing to find such insight, by constantly asking questions … what would the character do? … why? … the events must be true to the character 
  • Hemingway could not write a good long complex sentence, so he developed a style of short declarative sentences. which seemed to work out pretty well  
  • some writers always write in their own inimitable style (Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway) while others (including Mailer) go along in a variety of modes. Matisse always painted in a recognizable mode, Picasso tried a hundred modes before he was done
  • describe what you see as it impinges on the sum of your passions and intellectual attainments.
  • write as if everything depends on saying what you feel as clearly as you can
  • do not be afraid to go with the insight provided in an unexpected and happy turn of phrase
  • use your own crucial experiences as a source for your writing, not directly perhaps, where they may be too special, too intense or too concentrated, but rather by projecting your imagination through the crystal of your experience
  • if you tell yourself that you are going to write tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You owe it to your unconscious to keep your promise.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Talking Head Avoidance Device (THAD) – those elements of a scene that illustrate character or illuminate state of mind in ways other than he said/she said; present the reader a visual element in what would otherwise be only dialogue. Can be anything. Draw from character analysis.
  • manipulate language to alter the mood
  • every sentence in a paragraph should be an amplification of the sentence preceding it, or should address a prevailing topic in some way
  • paragraphs must be cohesive, and linked together to create a seamless narrative
  • I develop my outline and write my novels in the order they’ll be read
  • Note every opportunity for causal relationships to be developed
  • Write the running plot outline – stream of consciousness
  • By having as much information as possible before writing the scene, can concentrate on the writing

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  •  jargon … “two sticks short” … this jargon is never directly explained, but indirectly we learn that it is four inches or 30 lines.

The Faith of a Writer by Joyce Carol Oates

  • In dramatic literature, the tauter the scene, the more emotionally effective
  • if the scene is protracted or repetitive, and the (reader) gets ahead of the (story), there’s a slackening of attention;
  • but if the story is too short and underdeveloped, the dramatic experience will be thin, slight, sketchy, forgettable
  • the goal of the writer is to fully realize his material, to discover the ideal balance between fluidity of narration and background exposition, description, an amplification
  • the story’s theme is the bobbin upon which the narrative, or plot, is skillfully wound. Without the bobbin (the thematic center), the thread would fly loose
  • longer fiction (must) involve the reader emotionally
  • trying always to write beautifully, brilliantly, with originality, can be paralyzing

 ******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* suspense & tension

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • the concluding scenes are full of tension, both political and personal, as Andre-Louis’s life is made clear to him, at age 28, for the very first time. The personal melodrama is fully submerged into the action, and it is the action which reveals it.
  • who shall appear after the duel? is a question Sabatini uses twice.
    • Andre-Louis’s appearance at the Assembly after his first duel is brilliant … “his place was vacant … very few ever expected to see him again … they saw him enter, calm, composed, and bland … M. le President, my excuses for my late arrival … I have been detained by an engagement of a pressing nature. I bring you also the excuses of M. de Chabrillane. He, unfortunately, will be permanently absent from this Assembly in future.”
    • the second instance of who shall appear? transforms a dramatic tension into a comedy of errors. Aline, terrified for Andre-Louis, rushes to the scene of the duel with Mme. de Plougastel, sees the Marquis appear first in his carriage, thinks Andre-Louis is dead, and faints. The Marquis stops to help her. Andre-Louis now drives past, incorrectly interprets Aline’s condition to her concern for the Marquis, and angrily keeps on going.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Pitt’s first meeting with Ballarat ends with a high degree of tension. “He (Pitt) went out with his mind seething.” This tension is immediately relieved. “Then the cold air hit his face …” The next scene introduces Pitt’s children anticipating Christmas eve.
  • Veronica: “We too are taking up our lives again.” Mrs. York: “You are.” Mrs. York’s tone was charged with emotion, but … Charlotte could not define it … a warning of some sort?
    • Something is there. We want to know what it is. We want Charlotte to figure it out so she can help Pitt and he won’t be as furious with her as we expect him to be. The reader wants to know something and will keep hooked until it is revealed.  
  • Mrs. York: “Family responsibilities are something one never grows out of, nor is one able to escape them.” … Charlotte had the sudden, intense feeling that the two women disliked each other, perhaps even more than that … Charlotte believed they were speaking of something quite different, and for all the tension between them and the underlying violence, they understood each other perfectly.”
    • But the reader will not understand until almost the last page in the book.  
  • Pitt and Charlotte are conducting separate investigations of the same crime, but not sharing the information. This creates tension in the reader, who wants them to share.
    • I think Perry relieved this tension too soon, allowing them to share their information when it could have been sustained longer.

 The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • in the first paragraph, it was “unthinkable” that the bridge should break.
    • This suggests a hidden reason. I began to think very early on that the bridge did not fall by accident, that perhaps someone cut the ropes. I was looking for a character in the story to commit this act, which didn’t happen, unless God, having a plan for all of us, is ultimately that character. The narrator never openly states his conclusion on this point (which would be ‘preaching’ in the literal sense), but the ending suggests it.
  • Brother Juniper “knew the answer … there was no element of doubt … he merely wanted to prove it” But we’ve already been told that Br. Juniper did not know everything.
  • by revealing 3 of the people who perished in the bridge disaster, but not the other two, Wilder creates a tension (who dies?) that is not resolved until well into the book.
  • the Abbess “had felt not only the breath of old age against her cheek, but also a graver warning” (the lack of a successor) …
    • foreboding establishes tension … will she accomplish her life’s work? This question is never again addressed until the final pages of the story, when it is resolved. 

 The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Yank describes Jiggs. “To this man Yank Lucas owed his life, and he suspected that the man was not going to let him forget it. He was afraid of the man, his brutishness, his low-grade guile.”
    • This is a potentially useful thread of suspense, which O’Hara does almost nothing with.  ·     potential suspense is relieved too quickly.
  • many suspense threads have been started in the first two chapters.
    • Will Yank fuck Zena, and if he does, will it be for PR purposes or something real? (hackneyed plot line now, but maybe not in 1967)
    • How will Jiggs interfere with Yank’s rising success?
    • Will Walton screw Yank, or vice versa?
    • What conflict will emerge between Walton and Payne? between Yank and Payne?
    • Will Zena dump Payne? Will Peggy (the agent) prove a reliable ally for Yank?
    • And, underlying all else, how will Yank change as he becomes famous and rich? Will he remain the “sweet” person that Peggy says he is?
    • Will Zena turn out to be as described?
  • None of these threads are pursued in any suspenseful way. 
  • Ellis to Yank: “already Barry is kind of afraid of you, and he never was of me.”
    • Good setup, but nothing ever done with it.

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • foreboding … “That was the first time he ever scared me.” The sentence appears before Sammy’s words which provoked it, which follow, in which Sammy tells Manheim he doesn’t want the help which has just been offered, that the route Manheim suggests for him, which is the only way within Manheim’s power to help him, is far from matching Sammy’s ambition. “No thanks.”
  • the hook … “What makes Sammy run?”  bartender: how should I know?  “But I’ve got to know.”
    • Why does Manheim have to know? Is there something in what Sammy does that he wishes he could also do? Is he jealous? Manheim’s statement “I’ve got to know” seems intended to make the reader also want to know, to establish the hook for the rest of the book.
  • “My old lady at a musical show?” This unanswered question suggests a family situation that is going to play a role in the story. The fact that it is unanswered makes the reader want to know something. Keep reading!
  • “The first sure sign of Sammy’s growing up …”   a hint of what’s to come. Keep reading!
  • “but some day …” Sammy has a much more clear idea of his future than does Manheim, who is never revealed to have any driving ambition, at least not to make money, which . Thus ends Chapter 1, with a premonition of what’s to come.
  • “Sammy Glick was teaching me something about the world.” A blatant role reversal, recognized early by Manheim, and suggesting to the reader that Sammy has something to teach all of us about the world. Later Manheim says … “when it came to knowledge of Sammy Glick I was still in the first grade.”

 Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • suspense needs to be created; suspense initiates wants in the reader – the reader wants to know what’s going to happen
  • a writer achieves suspense by making the reader care about something
  • putting a character at risk heightens suspense
  • confrontation creates suspense, either physical, psychological, or emotional
  • suspense is created by a scene in which a momentous discovery (a new piece of information) is made which propels the story forward, perhaps in a new direction
  • characters working against time creates suspense
  • Make partial disclosures creates suspense
  • Suspense is that state of wanting to know what’s going to happen to the characters and how it’s going to happen to them
  • A novel has suspense only when it contains characters the reader cares about
  • Give the character an intention – suspense: will he carry it off?
  • If reader cares about character, will anticipate problems he’s going to face
  • Create suspense by making a promise to the reader at the beginning of a novel
  • Don’t play out your hand too soon!
  • Anticipation in the reader adds to suspense 
  • making long term promises to readers (through foreshadowing, or by placement of dramatic unanswered questions) creates suspense
  • clues are pieces of information which, if correctly interpreted by the reader, lead him to solve the case in advance of or along with the detective
  • red herrings are items planted in the story to deceive the reader
  • readers should have no way of telling whether they are seeing a clue or a red herring
  • the detective cannot ignore what the reader sees as real clues. This puts the reader ahead of the story, knowing more than the detective knows, and destroys the suspense

 ******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* surprise

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Charlotte asks if Pitt has “any interesting cases.” The expectation is that Pitt will discuss his new case, as it is implied he has done in the past. But instead, he says, “No. An old case that will go nowhere.” Charlotte persists, “Nothing?” Pitt responds, “Nothing.”
  • This is surprising. Why does Pitt pass up the opportunity to discuss his case? Perhaps it suggests that this case is different from the others. We sense that his surprising response will have consequences. And it does. Charlotte eventually drags it out of him, and then she sets off, without telling him, to do her own investigation into his case. Would she have kept this from Pitt if he had not been withholding with her? 
  • It is a huge surprise when Pitt is arrested for the murder of the prostitute. It is even more surprising that Ballarat won’t lift a finger to help him. And it is the most surprising that, while Pitt languishes in prison, Charlotte and Emily solve the case without him.

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • Were there any significant surprises? No.
  • It was clear in Chapter 1 that Sammy would steal other people’s work and promote himself. That’s what he did until the end of the book.
  • Did Sammy Glick ever do anything out of character? No.
  • The details of what he did, and who he did it to, were of course unknown at the end of Chapter 1, but the path he was to follow was predictable, and there were no deviations from that path.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • two surprises at the same time … “He’s dead,” and that it is the green-eyed girl who tells Corso.
  • However, why this happens as it does is never made clear.

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* setting

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • many outstanding descriptions of places.
  • One of the best, of the villa M. Kercadious’ brother’s villa on the heights of Meudon, is combined with a political statement regarding the excesses of the nobility
    • “Andre-Louis crossed the threshold of that great room, softly carpeted to the foot, dazzling to the eye … immensely lofty … festooned ceiling … overwhelmingly gilded … what was customary in the dwellings of people of birth and wealth … Never, indeed, was there a time in which so much gold was employed decoratively as in this age when coined gold was almost unprocurable, and paper money had been put into circulation to supply the lack … if these people could only have been induced to put the paper on their walls and the gold into their pockets, the finances of the kingdom might soon have been in better case.”

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • “the curtains seemed to be without the usual faded marks which the sun so quickly made in blues, which meant they were not above a season old.”
  • this tells us about the place, the financial circumstances of the owner, and the perception of the viewer, all in one sentence.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • research and know each of the separate locations
  • use settings to create atmosphere, trigger mood
  • Show a character in his setting; the individual setting for each character
  • Setting can be a contrast to the events that occur within it
  • choose your settings so that each is a place that you want to know about
  • Writing about a place should involve all the sensory impressions
  • Rendering a setting requires details to bring it to life
  • Descriptions of place and character should be part of the narrative, accomplished without interrupting the flow
  • consider the concept of landscape, by which I mean the broad vista; not only the setting but also the emotions evoked by the setting
  • Invite the reader to own the landscape
  • Go to the place: see the land, the sky, climate, weather, sounds, scents, wildlife
  • the objective is to stimulate the reader’s senses and imagination

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* scenes

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Some of the most interesting scenes in Scaramouche are the ones that aren’t there … Sabatini often skips the scene you expect to see.
    • None of the duels, except that with the Marquis, are portrayed. Thus Sabatini avoids what would be repetition and holds the reader’s anticipation of a dueling scene until the last and most important.
    • Andre-Louis’s entrance into Paris in the midst of chaotic street fighting is also not shown. How did he get past the guards? Did anyone question him?
    • Likewise, the leaving of Paris, first by the Marquis, then by Andre-Louis with Aline and Mme. de Plougastel, become past events, never shown “live.” … Why?
    • One also looks in vain for a real love scene between Andre-Louis and Aline where either’s emotions are shown rather than merely stated or even hinted at.

Les Miserable by Victor Hugo

  • Robertson Davies … there can be a 90 page digression about something which happens to interest Hugo.
  • When is he ever going to get on with the story?
  • But the story is so good, and Hugo writes so fascinatingly about his odds and ends that you can’t stop.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • pages and pages of narrative scenes. Charming in 1924 when written, perhaps not so much now.
  • Very well written but no immediacy.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Ch 3 begins with a long transitional narrative (over 2 pages) telling what has happened in the few months since Ch 2 ended.
  • This is lazy. It would have been more effective to work whatever was essential into the ensuing action.
  • O’Hara’s abrupt transitions to new immediate action work much better.
    • “They were in Boston.”
    • “The New York opening was an ordeal and a delight.”
    • “The house was at the edge of the village of East Hammond …”

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • exposition … long, detailed descriptions and lists of old books, which the reader can’t possibly read and absorb. what is the purpose?
  • transitions … the reader is suddenly transported from Fargas’ home in Portugal to Paris, with no transition. The details of this change of scene are presented later (187-88). Does this work?
  • It’s a technique similar to what Tolstoy does repeatedly in Anna Karenina.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Every scene MUST advance the plot, advance a subplot, develop character, or address theme. If not, toss it!
  • Every scene MUST contain some degree of conflict
  • Dramatic narration – omniscient narrator gives us the facts of what occurred. No dialogue.
  • Summary narration – quick, economical, not fully explored
  • Fully rendered scene – allow the reader to be a witness to the activities of the characters or an eavesdropper on their conversations
  • in PD James, A Taste for Death, two characters appear for only one scene, passing on valuable information. This adds verisimilitude, as opposed to simply reporting the information.
  • partial scene interrupting dramatic narration
  • Every scene must have conflict.  Begin at the low point, let thetension rise to a climax, then provide a resolution which propels the entire novel forward.
  • not every scene must be formed identically.
  • Alternative scene formulation: motion picture, sound vs sight, present-past-present, plunging in
  • motion picture: set the scene, move to a narration of action, hit the dialogue
  • sound vs sight: begin with dialogue (not explained first), back off to set the scene, then return to dialogue
  • present-past-present: start the scene in real time, stop the scene and go back to previous action to bring the reader up to date (summarizing that action instead of a fully rendered scene), then return to real time
  • plunging in. start with a character in thought or action and go with it.
******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* POV and voice

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • omniscient narrator, able to show the inner feelings of all the characters
  • at least once the narrator speaks in his own voice … (beginning of Ch 3) … “Faber … Godliman … two-thirds of a triangle that one day would be crucially completed by … David and Lucy”
  • the narrator thus provides a foreshadowing, setting the stage and piquing the reader’s interest.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • an omniscient narrator, who sometimes interjects into the story … “nor can I discover …”

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Perry gets us into the heads of all three of her major characters – Pitt, Charlotte and Emily – and the omniscient narrator POV allows this easily and smoothly.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • the narrator is omniscient, knowing things that were not known at the time
  • this narrator, who is never introduced to us, gains our trust when he says that what the people of Lima have come to believe about Dona Maria is not true, and “all real knowledge”
  • also when he corrects Dona Maria’s impressions of the Perichole … “It was … untrue …”
  • in the conversation (p 24) between Dona Maria and the Perichole, the narrator reveals the inner thoughts of both.
  • the Abbess has “fallen in love with an idea several centuries before its appointed appearance in the history of civilization.” The idea is the modern role of women, and the way it is disclosed reveals the perspective of the narrator, and places him in the 20th century.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • O’Hara uses an omniscient narrator.
  • Had he used 1st person (Yank) he would have been forced to write a far more interesting story.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • inconsistent narrator.
  • How can Boris Balkan, the knowledgeable narrator of the Dumas part of the story, continue to function as narrator after the April 1 meeting of the Club Dumas, when the story now switches totally to the other narrative, in which he is not involved and knows nothing?
  • the narractor seems to be a minor character who interacts with Corso, so he is really telling the story from what Corso has told him. Why not have Corso narrate in 1st person? I wonder if Perez-Reverte thought of doing it that way.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • must be clear about point of view in each scene
  • Objective viewpoint ·  writing is journalistic, like a reporter; provides facts, but not thoughts and feelings of characters – tough to carry off well
  • objective narrative can create an aura of intrigue about a character or a situation – precisely because the reader does not know inner thoughts or feelings, but it also minimizes the reader’s intimacy
  • Omniscient viewpoint. · Must be adept to remain truly omniscient and not just slip in and out of different characters points of view
  • the omniscient narrator knows, sees, hears all  ·  the narrator enters into the mind of every character
  • the viewpoint of the narrator is not necessarily that of the author
  • the omniscient narrator is a story teller; the reader sinks into the story; the narrator is not confined to the time or place of the individual scene (like a reporter would be) but can provide history about the characters as well as what’s in their hearts and minds
  • Character viewpoints … Reveal only what the chosen character would see, know, think, feel in each scene in which the character is participating
  • First person … Stay with one narrator throughout the novel … be in that character’s head and none other. Terrific intimacy, authenticity. BUT this one character must be in every scene, which is a challenge to plotting
  • Shifting first person. Multiple first character viewpoints. Each section or alternating chapters told by a different first person narrator. Challenge: each “I” must be utterly distinct
  • Shifting third person. NOTE: no viewpoint shift within a scene
  • can combine first person with shifting third person (that’s what I did in A Good Conviction)
  • too many narrators slows down the pace of a novel
  • the narrator can be reliable or a devilishly clever liar, likable or not

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • The entire story is about Sammy Glick, but everything is told through the eyes of Al Manheim. When something occurs that Schulberg wants the reader to know, but Manheim wasn’t there, he has the person who was there (usually Glick) tell Manheim what happened. These sections are in italic.

Write Away by Elizabeth George (voice)

  • voice is the tone that comes through the narrative when the point-of-view character is on stage
  • voice comes from the character analysis you’ve created; if you’ve designed characters who come to life, highlighting the salient aspects of their personalities allows their voices to emerge
  • a character’s voice comes from his background, education, position in society, personal and family history, prejudices and biases, inclinations and desires, belief system, what he wants for his life, his agenda in an individual scene, his arching purpose, his core need
  • voice: use of language, vocabulary, attitude
  • we’re inside his head, living the scene through him
  • attitude reveals character
  • reader can recognize connections to a character or can recognize that the character is very different (curiosity piqued?)

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • in the 1st person, you gain immediacy but lose insight, because you can’t move into other people’s heads.
  • in the 3rd person, you are God, ready to see into everyone’s mind, enter into every character’s consciousness.
  • 1st person cannot be as free as the separation between author and protagonist offered by the 3rd person.

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* plot

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Executive Power by Vince Flynn

  • Flynn has a number of plots boiling simultaneously, with uncertain outcomes in each. He switches among these actions, leaving every scene with a hook.
  • This is standard fare for a thriller; how will it work for my Heretic sequel?
  • What makes it a more complicated approach in a historical novel is the number of names and other information (beyond plot), which without great care can confuse and discourage the reader.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Follett’s purposeful ping-pong structure alternating between the characters forced him to slow down to show (in his words) “how the protagonists were reacting to each other’s moves,” and to include more enriched attention to “character, landscape and emotion.”
  • It surely worked.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Pitt asks one very short question after another, each one 2-5 words. This not only shows his investigative style, it moves the background process swiftly along.
  • Perry frequently alternates family scenes with investigative scenes, breaking the tension, showing more of what Pitt cares about

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • Ernest Hemingway … I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader. Anything you know, you can eliminate. But … if you omit something because you don’t know it, there’s a hole in your story.
  • James Baldwin … the goal is to write a sentence as “clean as a bone”
  • Georges Simenon … I cut adjectives, adverbs and every word which is there just to make an effect. Every sentence which is there just for the sentence. You have a beautiful sentence – cut it.
  • Elie Wiesel … I reduce 900 pages to 160 … writing is more like sculpture where you remove … you eliminate in order to make the work visible … there is a difference between a book which is 200 pages from the beginning and a book of 200 pages which began as 800 pages … the pages you remove are really there – only you don’t see them

Old Man by William Faulkner

  • the central action of the story introduced by an innocuous question … “can you fellows paddle a boat?”

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Scaramouche is more driven by plot than by character. It is an exciting adventure story, tracing a vow of revenge from one improbable escapade to another.
  • The pace, usually rapid, is slowed from time to time by philosophical and political ruminations on the changes occurring in France at the time of the 1789 Revolution and its immediate aftermath.
  • This transforms the story, raising its level of importance, since what the characters do impacts these epic historical events.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • having both sisters (Charlotte and Emily) take on different hidden personas was not credible for me.
  • In a “Society” where everybody knows everybody, it seems unlikely that either could get away with it, let alone both.
  • But Perry is such a good story-teller that I allowed a “suspension of belief” and did not allow my incredulity to interfere with the tension that these subterfuges produced.
    • Perry has Charlotte, in her persona as Elizabeth Baranaby, sit quietly listening to conversation and asking herself a series of questions.
  • This listing helps the reader keep straight what is known and yet unknown about a complicated plot.
    • Similar to what I did when Detective Watson complied a list of unanswered questions in A Good Conviction.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • E.L. Doctorow … as the book goes on it becomes inevitable … choices narrow … the thing picks up speed
  • Truman Capote … what I am trying to achieve is a voice sitting by a fireplace telling you a story on a winter’s evening
  • Isak Dinesen … I start with a kind of feeling of the story I will write … then come the characters and they take over, they make the story
  • John Irving … how can you plot a novel if you don’t know the ending first? how can you introduce a character if you don’t know how he ends up?
  • Norman Mailer …generally, I don’t even have a plot … my characters engage in action, and out of that action little bits of plot sometimes adhere to the narrative (I don’t believe him, he’s just shooting off his mouth)
  • John Mortimer … the plot and discipline of the crime novel save it from terrible traps of being sensitive and stream-of-consciousness and all that stuff … life is composed of plots
  • James Thurber … we’ve got all these people (in our story), now what’s going to happen … I don’t know until I start to write and find out … I don’t believe the writer should know too much of where he’s going
  • William Kennedy … if I knew at the beginning how the book was going to end, I would probably never finish … I knew Legs Diamond was going to die at the end of the book, so I killed him on page one

 The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • we never get to know what’s actually in either of Yank’s plays. O’Hara provides scant detail, probably because he never thought it through himself.
  • Yank uses the people in his life to feed the characters in his plays, which could have been very interesting, if we had been allowed to see it happening.
  • BIO NOTE: John O’Hara received high critical acclaim for his short stories, more than 200 of which appeared in The New Yorker. But it was mainly his novels, though mostly of dubious literary merit, that won him the attention of Hollywood. Their focus on ambition, class conflict, money, troubled marriages, and promiscuity was the stuff of film melodrama in mid-20th century America.
  • These plots seem trite and barren today, all surface and no depth.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • plots should not insult reader’s intelligence, no holes, characters who are real
  • create subplots that illustrate the same theme through different situations
  • every scene advances either the plot or one of the subplots (or it doesn’t belong)
  • using a piece of information from the character analysis, twist the story one more time
  • keep aware of what the reader knows or doesn’t know at each point in the story
  • work with your characters to design the plot
  • Plot is what characters do to deal with the situation they are in
  • the primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel
  • Events must be organized with an emphasis on causality
  • The first event (scene) triggers the event that will immediately follow it
  • High drama results from: direct conflict between characters, discovery, revelation, personal epiphany
  • Plot must have climax, and climax itself must have a climax
  • Post climax comes resolution – tie up loose ends, illustrate the nature of the change that has occurred in the characters
  • Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)
  • I always know the end in advance
  • subplots arise out of a novel’s theme, mirror the theme
  • you need to end every story you begin
  • theme – the basic truth about which you are writing. ·   you may not know the theme in advance, but it will emerge (???)
  • the writer’s object is to keep the reader reading
  • if a plot is essentially believable, it can sustain a suspension of belief
  • every story needs plot points, critical moments when events change (the plot and send it in a new direction)

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • a novel is most alive when one can trace the disasters which follow victory or the subtle turns that sometimes come from a defeat.
  • to know what you want to say is not the best condition for writing a novel.
  • novels go happiest when you discover something you didn’t know: an insight into one of your more opaque characters, a metaphor that startles you even as you are setting it down, a truth that used to elude you.
  • our love of plot comes from our need to find the chain of cause and effect that so often is missing in our own existence
  • I look to find my book as I go along. Plot comes last.
  • I no longer make up a master plan before I begin a novel. some of my best ideas come because I haven’t fixed my novel’s future in concrete.
  • I want to keep the feeling that I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.
  • I prefer a story that develops out of the writing.
  • Characters (who are alive) need to fulfill their own perverse and surprising capabilities.
  • I don’t do my research too far ahead of where I am in the novel.
  • if you get a good novel going, you have a small universe functioning, living in relation to its own scheme of cause and effect.
  • Planning too carefully makes it almost impossible for one of your characters to go through a dramatic shift of heart.
  • the artist seeks to create a spell … a feeling that he knows something deeper than his normal comprehension … a sense of oneness
  • both artists and scientists are trying to penetrate into the substance of things
  • coincidences occur … exciting us with a livid sense that there’s a superstructure about us, and in this superstructure there are the agents of a presence larger than our imagination.
  • stories bring order to the absurdity of reality.
  • In analyzing novels, consider each major character, and describe where he was at the beginning of the story, where he ended up, and how he got there.
  • Jorge Borges has a magical ability to put plots through metamorphoses, thus posing the difficulty of comprehending reality.
  • writing a novel is creating a world, God-like, presumptuous, intoxicating, never comfortable.
******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* pace

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • even though it’s a short novel (117 pages), the story seems to drag, as long narrative scenes regarding Esteban and Uncle Pio are added.
  • What does this all have to do with the collapse of the bridge, and with Brother Juniper, who has totally disappeared from the story?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • the way Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina communicates immediately that this is not a novel about pace, but will proceed in a leisurely manner to wend its way through the lives and relationships of the many characters.
  • Anna Karenina is widely regarded as the best novel ever written. So I’ve read over 400 pages, with another 400 to go, and I’ve had enough.
  • The story is slow, boring even, with very little happening, and characters that are not gripping.
  • Actually, it’s one long slow soap opera.
  • Tolstoy’s descriptions of places are remarkable. His interior monologues are often revealing, although too frequent and too long for my taste.
  • Bored, I have put Anna Karenina aside to be picked up later NOTE: it’s been four years and I haven’t

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* historical fiction

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Follett starts with a one page historical preface about the D-Day deception. He ends the preface … “That much is history. What follows is fiction. Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.”
  • the high stakes of blowing the deception plan are emphasized several times … Godliman: “If one decent Abwehr agent in Britain gets to know about Fortitude … we could lose the fucking war.”
  • But of course we know that D Day was successful and we didn’t lose the war. Follett creates tension about an event where we know the actual outcome, ie that Faber cannot succeed.
  • this is much like Forsythe in Day of the Jackal (published in the early 1970s, before Eye of the Needle), where we know that De Gaulle was not murdered by a sniper but are carried into great tension anyway.
  • Perhaps the tension is maintained because we don’t know if Faber will fail, or if he will succeed but Hitler doesn’t act on his knowledge.
  • However, we are told repeatedly, by Hitler himself, that he will be guided by Faber’s report.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • The occasional insertion of the narrator’s voice into the story, and the reference to supposed actual documents (Andre-Louis’s Confession, playbills, newspaper articles) add historical credibility to the fictional adventure.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Perry provides the timing of the story by giving the date of the burglary to be re-investigated – “about three years ago – October seventeenth, 1884, to be precise.”
  • “star-glazing” is explained … a burglar’s technique … what this does is add verisimilitude, and give the reader confidence that the author knows the period she is describing.
  • this technique can be overdone, if it appears that the author is just showing off her knowledge.   ·
  • Perry has Emily read real novels published in the time frame of the story. A good way to reinforce that time frame.
  • Perry explains terms that a modern reader could not be expected to know.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • John Irving … I begin by telling the truth, by remembering real people … but the people aren’t quite interesting enough … I exaggerate … soon I’m on my way to a lie
  • Graham Greene … one never knows enough about characters in real life to put them into novels … one must imagine what one does not know, but what is imagined should be consistent enough with what is known so that it is believable to a knowledgeable reader

The Scarlet City & In A Dark Wood Wandering by Hella Haasse

  • This frustrating historical novel, first published in Holland in 1952, opaquely treats the early 16th century: the machinations of papal and imperial forces have divided all of Italy into scheming factions, and mercenary soldiers gather to sack Rome.
  • Haasse ( In a Dark Wood Wandering ) chooses a nonlinear approach: various historical figures alternately narrate a series of complicated events. This structure bleeds the narrative of its intrinsic drama.
  • critical episodes invariably take place offstage, characters enter and exit abruptly, and the single-minded concerns of the individual protagonists overshadow the central action.
  • Those who don’t know much about this thorny patch of history will be thoroughly adrift; on the other hand, anyone familiar with even a snippet of the works of the figures incarnated here will chafe at Haasse’s shallow and simplistic interpretations.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • the specific date (Friday noon, July the 20th, 1714) and number of people who die (5) in the first sentence adds versimmilitude. (Stein)
  • Wilder chooses to have a 20th century narrator for a story set in 1714. Why? What does this accomplish? Does it makes the story seem true?

comments on “historical fiction” by author David Liss, who writes historical fiction

  • Like pretty much everything else in the universe, historical fiction can be divided into two categories.
    • On the one hand are books that use real historical events and people as a springboard for the author’s imagined events and people.
    • On the other hand are novels that limit their scope to characters and events from the archives.
  • I strongly favor books of the first kind and shy away from the second.
  • History — fortunately — tends to make for great history. Reality, however, does not necessarily make for great fiction.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • Ancient Evenings, a book about ancient Egypt, took 11years to write
  • if a novelist can take actual people who are legendary figures and invent episodes for them that are believable, he has done something fine.
  • the trick in doing a historical novel is to digest your research (before writing your fiction based on it)
  • in researching ancient Egypt, I felt I knew things that the average (historian) didn’t – not more about the details, but more about the underlying reasons for what was done
  • both the historian and the novelist are engaged in writing fiction, making an attack on the possible nature of reality
  • there is an inevitable slipperiness to most available facts … when we think we are approaching reality, we are only writing a scenario to comprehend it, a hypothesis that seems correct until new evidence subverts it.
  • Trust the evidence of your senses until they are revealed as inadequate, tricked or betrayed – then refine them
  • history in Mailer’s view seems quite like the process of scientific discovery; I think he’s right.

******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* endings

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • the ending, which I will not reveal, is, in my view, too quickly rendered, not quite believeable, and has nothing to do with the main theme of the book
  • However … it was also a total surprise which tied together all of the unexplained threads that have puzzled the reader, and in Perry’s sure hand it actually worked quite well.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • the Abbess “had felt not only the breath of old age against her cheek, but also a graver warning” (the lack of a successor) … foreboding establishes tension … will she accomplish her life’s work?
  • This question was never again addressed until the final pages of the story, when it is beautifully resolved.
  • Soon we shall all die, we are told, and memory of us “will have left the earth.”
  • But the “love will have been enough,” and all “impulses of love return to the love that made them,” ie to God.
  • beautiful last sentence … “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • Yank has not grown at all, remaining the same totally self-absorbed (but honest) person he was when the story started. There was never any reason to feel any emotion towards him.
  • Yank has used other people and when he had gotten what he could from them, he moved on.
  • So we are left with Yank Lucas, writer of plays, incapable of feeling emotion except in the characters his talent (his “instrument” ?) creates for the stage. Hollow.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • at the end of the book, there are major unresolved issues, which are not even acknowledged by Perez-Reverte.
    • Who is the green-eyed girl?
    • Why does she follow Corso and help him?
    • What happens to Varo Borja, who has committed murders but is not (yet) sought by the police?
  • Is this effective? I find it frustrating. Did I miss something?
  • what seems like two unrelated stories are intertwined and become a single story, then end up to be two separate stories. Perez-Reverte is playing with the reader, which angers me.
  • I came to the end of the book with great anticipation that the threads would be tied up and then felt great disappointment when they were not.
  • At the end of the book, there is an implication that the Ceniza brothers did in fact forge a page, at Corso’s request, thus preventing Varo Borja from achieving his contact with the devil. This page was never shown or mentioned before, or if it was, I missed it. There must have been a better (more clear) way to present this, so perhaps the author wanted it to be unclear, maybe to be thought of long after finishing the book.
  • But he leaves unexplained why Corso would have thought to have the page forged, and for what purpose, at the point in the story when this would have been done?  Another frustrating aspect of the ending to this book.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • I look to find my book as I go along.  Plot comes last.
  • I want my conception of my characters to be deep enough that they will get me to places (which I did not plan) and where I have to live by my wits.
  • If the characters stay alive, and keep developing, the plot will take care of itself.
  • Is there a problem if the reader senses that the author doesn’t know how the plot turns out?

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • I always know the end in advance
  • after the climax comes resolution – tie up loose ends, illustrate the nature of the change that has occurred in the characters
  • you need to end every story (ie, every sub-plot as well) you begin

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • I expected more. I’m not sure what, but more.
  • It’s hard to imagine Sammy upset with his runaround wife for very long.
  • Upset at younger men nipping at his heels, for sure, but for poking his wife, I don’t think so.
  • He didn’t love her, and he would get over the embarrassment, probably find a way to turn it to advantage.
  • He’s not happy. He’s never going to be happy. But ‘happy’ wasn’t ever his goal. Money and power were his goals.
  • Sammy was never portrayed as introspective enough to understand and be upset at what his life had become, and since he did not ‘grow’ over the course of the book, we never got a sense that his original goals might have changed or even be questioned.
  • We sense the incompleteness of his life, but does he?
  • Perhaps Schulberg was too close to the film industry and some of its major players to go any further than he did in dramatizing the essential emptiness of the success driven life.
  • I never cried for Sammy Glick.
******


Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* writing notes … don’t do …

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

  • the “dream” the writer creates for the reader must be continuous; avoid interruptions and distractions which force the reader to stop thinking about the story and start thinking about something else

Les Miserable by Victor Hugo

  • Hugo gives in to the temptation, common in writers of historical fiction (including myself), of “showing off” his research. I studied it, I think it’s interesting, so I’m going to tell you everything I know.
  • This is a serious mistake, certainly for me, but even for Victor Hugo. (see ‘The Year 1817’ p. 119)

Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • the reader is suddenly transported from Fargas’ home in Portugal to Paris, with no transition.
  • The details of this change of scene are presented later (187-88).
  • Does this work?  I don’t think so.
  • It’s a technique similar to what Tolstoy does repeatedly in Anna Karenina.
  • Ah, crticizing Tolstoy – heresy!
    • NOTE: since making these comments four years ago, I have become less critical of suddent transitions, perhaps because I think I have learned to use them
  • long, detailed descriptions and lists of old books, which the reader can’t possibly absorb and likely will not read. What is the purpose?

Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

  • avoid anything that distracts from the reader’s experience even momentarily
  • don’t over-characterize a minor character, making the reader think he is more important than he is; select one memorable characteristic that distinguishes this character from the rest of humanity and let it go at that
  • don’t present characters who are either all good or all bad. It’s not believable.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • avoid preaching
  • avoid dealing with too many ideas at once

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • The moment you moralize in your novel, your book is no longer moral.  It has become pious, and piety corrodes morality.
  • Don’t go into your protagonist’s thoughts until you have something to say about his inner life that is more interesting than the reader’s suppositions

******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* dialogue

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • Constable Lowther speaks in a heavy dialect, which is difficult to understand. The only reason this works is that he is a minor character, so you can struggle through.
  • If Pitt spoke that way, it would be a good reason to put the novel down.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • A character’s dialogue illustrates opinions, personality, education, economic background, attitudes, beliefs, superstitions, pathology
  • Wield dialogue as a way of banishing doubt from the reader’s mind
  • Dialogue can foreshadow events that will not take place until well into the story
  • relationships take on life through dialogue
  • natural speech isn’t fluid. Writing like that would be virtually unreadable
  • Dialogue needs to seem natural even when it can’t be
  • syntax reveals character: pedantic speech, casual speech, uneducated speech
  • a character may have a signature word (or expression)
  • each character has a distinctive way of using language
  • dialogue needs to be concise
  • dialogue should never be obviously expository
  • dialogue is not supposed to be the way people talk all the time
  • dialogue can reveal subtext – what the characters are really talking about beneath what they appear to be talking about
  • to offset the direct nature of dialogue with minimal (or no) subtext (St. James and Deborah often speak directly, trusting each other), which would become repetitive and tedious, you need to have other scenes in which the dialogue is rich with subtext (Lynley and Helen rarely speak directly and often speak at cross purposes)
  • a lot is going on, and much of it is not expressed
  • subtext colors the scene. People don’t always say what they really mean. They don’t always state their thoughts and feelings directly. Sometimes they talk around a topic
  • fancy tag lines such as snarl, moan, whine, growl (instead of said, asked, answered, replied) call attention to themselves. EG discourages using them at all. The reader will know if someone is snarling without obvious words to say so
  • Adverbs can add a degree of precision, but draw reader’s attention to how the line is said rather than what is said
  • Junk words. Use them only if they illustrate character. Otherwise delete.
  • Suggest dialect rather than using full dialect. The reader will get it.
  • In a long speech, maintain attention by showing other characters’ reactions, gestures.
  • Interrupt the speech with a moment of thematically related action – sound of voices, wind against the windowpane, song on the radio in car which passes by.
  • Intersperse some physical thing into the stream of dialogue (may reveal character, contain important information, be a metaphor)
  • Indirect dialogue is a summarized form of dialogue, told in narrative style, which alters the pacing of the scene, compresses the dialogue while still allowing the reader to know that it was lengthy.
  • after writing dialogue, evaluate it. Does it add tension? Demonstrate conflict between characters? Reveal some aspect of the character speaking or listening?
  • Would some of the dialogue be more effective as indirect rather than direct?
  • If the dialogue isn’t essential, get rid of it!

******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* conflict

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • The entire story is a series of obstacles for Andre-Louis to overcome.
  • Every other character exists mainly to create such obstacles.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • “Ballarat disliked Pitt and resented his manner, which he considered insolent.”
  • we know early on (p3) that Pitt’s boss doesn’t like him, and we sense why. This enmity between the two turns out to be of real significance as the story unfolds.
  • Charlotte explains to Radley how she will investigate Pitt’s case. “But will Pitt approve?” … “Thomas won’t have to know.” This is conflict coming big time.
  • However, when Pitt finds out what Charlotte has been doing, he is so appreciative of what she has learned  that he expresses no anger. I found this to be unrealistic.

 The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • between Dona Maria and her daughter Dona Clara, who “barely glanced at the letters.”
  • between the twin brothers Manuel and Esteban over Manuel’s love for the Perichole.
  • between the Perichole and Uncle Pio, as she grows too much a lady to be seen with the man who had everything to do with her success.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • plots must have conflict
  • Events occur as the conflict unfolds
  • Conflict is a form of collision
  • Conflict can be created by resistance against a character’s desires. Resistance can come from within the character himself, from nature
  • Conflict adds tension to the novel
  • The story’s conflicts are reflections of the theme
  • Put your characters into conflict
  • Look for subplots (which provide opportunities for conflict) based on character’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Characters are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, confusion; not their joy and security
  • what does the character do when under stress?
  • conflict is what brings characters to life and makes them real for the reader
  • Put the character to the test by putting him into conflict; he then springs to life, forced to make a decision, to act on that decision
  • create a situation where the characters are bonded together and are unable to escape being in conflict with each other; then “heat” the situation
  • conflict is a character’s will in collision with something else
  • a character’s inner conflict will show that he is real
  • conflict works best when it is rising conflict, builds over time, reveals more facets of character as incidents occur
  • Every scene must have conflict.  Begin at the low point, let the tension rise to a climax, then provide a resolution which propels the entire novel forward.
  • foreshadow future conflict with the present dialogue
  • after writing dialogue, evaluate it. does it add tension? does it demonstrate conflict between characters?

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* character development

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Executive Power by Vince Flynn

  • Characters must be given the opportunity to become the object of our emotions.
  • In Executive Power, Vince Flynn gives Mitch Rabb a terrific triumphal scene (p. 319) to match his outsized, outrageous character.
    • Rabb barges into  a meeting of the National Security Council and first berates, then arrests the Assistant Secty of State whose email had caused the failure of an attempted hostage rescue and the deaths of two commandos.
    • Realistic? Probably not, but who cares.
  • The hero has been heroic, and his triumph in Washington is more important, for this reader, than his previous triumph on the battlefield.

Old Man by William Faulkner

  •  “nobody told them for what or for why”
  • this convict does not control his life in any meaningful way; the tragedy is that he clearly could, he has enormous capabilities, but he has no concept that this is possible for him; he is stuck withn an almost feudal sense of his place in the world, unchangeable.
  • “things had moved too fast for him”
  • but he will respond to whatever happens (and much does happen), stolidly plowing on, showing great creativity but only to accomplish the task he has been set, not to improve his own lot in life;
  • “he thought quietly, with a sort of bemused amazement, Yes, I reckon I had done forgot how good making money was. Being let to make it” … and later … “Then he would retire himself, he would take a last look at the rolled bundle behind the rafter and blow out the lantern and lie down as he was beside his snoring partner, to lie sweating (on his stomach, he could not bear the touch of anything to his back) in the whining ovenlike darkness filled with the forlorn bellowing of alligators, thinking not, They never gave me time to learn but I had forgot how good it is to work”
  • among the few times in the story where Faulkner leads the reader to think what might have been for this convict, with all his talents and determination, but for one stupid mistake when he was 19 years old.
  • and at the end …
  • “Yonder’s your boat, and here’s the woman. But I never did find that bastard on the cottonhouse.”
  • “All right,” the convict said. “If that’s the rule.” So they gave him ten years more and the Warden gave him the cigar and now he sat, jacknifed backwards into the space between the upper and lower bunks, the unlighted cigar in his hand while the plump convict and the four others listened to him.”

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Faber is of course the villain. But he is also patriotic, enormously competent, and capable of feelings, which he must repress in order to carry out his mission. He is an wonderful lover, which he could not be if he were truly without feeling, no matter how much he will not allow himself to express it.
  • This complex character must be admired even as we hate and fear him. A remarkable achievement.
  • Lucy starts out as a dominated young woman, who chooses to escape to her father-in-law’s island rather than live among people. But in her relative solitude, she develops an unexpected resolve, and when facing the ultimate challenge, she rises to it.
  • Is what she does believable? Maybe not, although in wartime people do extraordinary things.
  • In any case, Follett portrays this larger-than-life character in a way that arouses the reader’s emotions as we root for her to succeed against overwhelming odds.
  • The final scenes and epilogue drew tears from this romantic reader, always a sucker for melodrama.
  • Godliman (what a name! I’d like to know where Follett found it) is the enabler of the story, providing the narrative links that eventually lead Faber to Lucy.
  • But how much better to provide these through an interesting character than through narrative prose. Godliman’s growth from nebbish professor to razor-sharp spycatcher is done a little quickly. We can believe it, but we would like to know more about him. Perhaps as #3 character, he doesn’t warrant more attention.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Andre-Louis is clearly a larger-than-life character. We meet him as an obscure attorney representing Privilege, but, enraged by the murder of his friend, he embarks on a succession of spectacular careers.
    • He becomes a political orator, with a message he does not believe.
    • Forced to go underground, he hides in plain sight as the actor Scaramouche in a traveling cast of players.
    • When his own actions destroy that career, he becomes a fencing master, inventing new techniques that later become the standard.
    • Later, he is a member of the National Assembly drafting the constitution for the new republic of France.
  • Through all of his many incarnations, Andre-Louis controls his feelings with an iron determination, and we never really learn what he’s all about. Whatever he is feeling for Aline is never revealed. He is not given to introspection.
  • M. de Kercadiou, Andre-Louis’s godfather to Andre-Louis: “Why can’t you express yourself in a sensible manner that a plain man can understand without having to think about it?”
  • But Andre-Louis always hides his feelings behind a veil of sarcastic humor and his self-imposed rigid Stoicism, of which he is so proud. he says many times that he is not a man of action, but this is not true. He exists almost solely through his actions, not his thoughts, and surely not his feelings.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • the characterization of Inspector Pitt begins on the first page, through the eyes of the sergeant … “He did not meet the sergeant’s conception of a senior officer … downright scruffy … the man let the force down. Still, the sergeant had heard Pitt’s name and spoke with some respect.”
  • Is Perry writing for readers who have read the previous books, or for the reader who has not read any of the Pitt series? She must accommodate both.
  • Pitt feels guilty at taking the case from another man, and uncomfortable with his evasive poking around … we have an immediate (p2) sense that we are dealing with a man of exceptional integrity
  • “Mobray took a deep breath and sighed slowly. “The elder Mrs. York was a remarkable woman …” This begins the characterization of Mrs. York, who turns out to be a lot more sinister than Mobray’s infatuation would suggest.
  • Pitt’s interrogation technique changes from simple questions to complex, and he immediately trips up the Foreign Service officer he is questioning. We are impressed that he is a skillful detective.
  • “Ballarat … was the antithesis of the disheveled Pitt, whose every garment was at odds with another …”
  • Charlotte is first mentioned on p17. Her first words are “Any interesting cases?” If the reader is familiar with the series, this would be in character with earlier stories. If not, it serves to set her character and an important aspect of their relationship in just 3 words.
  • Emily, who will be such a major player in this story, is briefly mentioned, but not truly introduced until p29. The initial characterization of her starts out as a description, from Emily’s perspective, of her recently murdered husband George, but evolves in a few sentences into a self-characterization of her feelings for George, her wisdom, her intolerance for injustice, and her evolution into someone more like Charlotte – opinionated, quick to anger, and a fighter against “all she perceived to be wrong” even if “sometimes hasty.” A perfect setup, in one paragraph, for the role Emily will play.
  • “Jack Radley entered … casually dressed … his tailor was clearly his chief creditor … his smile … those remarkable eyes.” All this from Emily’s POV tells us about Radley and Emily’s feelings for him. Next page: “his eyelashes still shadowed his cheek.” Another reference to his eyes, his individualizing feature.
  • Mrs. York. They are discussing the winter art exhibit at the Royal Academy, and Charlotte says she does not paint very well. “I had not supposed you to enter a work, Miss Barnaby, merely to observe.” Nasty! We don’t like Mrs. York.
  • Pitt’s persistence is shown in his relentless pursuit of leads, even after so many of them turn prove unproductive (at least for now).

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • Eudora Welty … You can’t start with how people look and speak and behave and come to know how they feel. You must know exactly what’s in their hearts and minds before they ever set visible foot on the stage. You must know all, then not tell it all, or not tell too much all at once; simply the right thing at the right moment.
  • Samuel Butler … the Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor.  ·     Kurt Vonnegut … make your characters want something – right away
  • E.M. Forster … human beings have their great chance in the novel
  • John Gardner … the first thing that makes a reader read a book is the characters
  • Lillian Hellman … I don’t think characters turn out the way you think they are going to turn out
  • Aldous Huxley … fictional characters are much less complex than the people one knows
  • William Kennedy … what moves you forward to the next page is wondering why he or she acted in this particular way … what’s most interesting is not the plot … the character does something new, and then the story begins to percolate
  • Norman Mailer … what’s exciting is the creative act of allowing your characters to grow … to become more complex … then a character becomes a being, and a being is someone whose nature keeps shifting
  • Francois Mauriac … you may start with a real person, but he changes … only the secondary characters (undeveloped, the ones who don’t grow) are taken directly from life
  • William Styron … I try to make all of my characters “round” … it takes a Dickens to make “flat” characters come alive
  • William Trevor … fiction writers remember tiny little details, some of them quite malicious
  • Norman Mailer … one’s ignorance is part of one’s creation. If you’re creating a character whose knowledge of a subject is spotty, then perhaps your own spotty knowledge is a plus (I don’t think so).

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • Dona Maria – characterized both by the derision of Perichole and the theater audience, and her own unawareness of what is happening, and then immediately after by her sad (pathetic) letter to her daughter
  • Pepita – first characterized by her kindness to Dona Maria in the theater
  • Pepita’s letter, read by Dona Maria, is her first attempt to express herself to the Abbess, “her first stumbling misspelled letter in courage.” Pepita tears up the letter, and soon sets out with Dona Maria for the bridge. The Abbess will never know Pepita’s first steps of growth toward the mature personality the Abbess has worked so hard to create.

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • in the dialogue … Jiggs to Yank … “I never saw such a miserable, ungrateful bastard in my whole life.”
  • O’Hara has characters ask each other questions.
    • Jiggs to Yank: “are you a writer?”
    • Ellis Walton (the producer) to Yank … “Where is your home town?” (Ellis asks this out of nowhere) … “What do your people do?” … “Have you ever been married?” … “What was your wife like?” … “Why did you happen to marry her, if you don’t mind my asking?” (finally, Ellis realizes that his questions are intrusive … but he keeps on asking) … “And what finally broke it up?”
  • This is a lazy dubious approach to characterization
  • New characters are often introduced first in the conversation of other characters. Yank and Ellis Walton discuss (and begin to characterize) Zena Gollum, David Salmon, and Barry Payne before we meet them.  c
  • haracterization is provided through the eyes of a minor character (only possible with an omniscient narrator) … “The porter sized him up …”
  • Yank’s self awareness: “I’m a genius now, but ten plays from now I may not even be good.”

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perer-Reverte

  • characterization of Lucas Corso … brilliantly presented over a long period of time …  a mercenary of the book world … talking fast … getting his hands dirty … a prodigious memory … canvas bag on shoulder (a recurring image) … steel rimmed glasses … untidy fringe of slightly graying hair … facial expressions of a rabbit (never got this … who knows what a rabbit’s facial expressions are like?)
  • THINGS NOT TOLD IN INITIAL DESCRIPTION: tall or short, lean or heavy, handsome or not.
  • bottomless pockets of his coat … appears fragile yet solid as a concrete block … features are sharp and precise, full of angles … alert eyes … ready to express an innocence – dangerous for anyone who was taken in by it … seemed slower and clumsier than he really was … looked vulnerable and defenseless … later, when you realized what had happened, it was too late to catch him … an oblique, distant laugh, with a hint of insolence … a laugh that lingers in the air after it stops …  attractive to women. … (Corso would) say something casually, as if he had no opinion on the matter, slyly goading you to react … (getting you) to give out more information (than you had intended).
  • NOTE: the adverbs are the key words. Who says don’t use adverbs?
  • thin and hard like an emaciated wolf (ie, he is a hungry hunter)… a well-trained, patient wolf.
  • but then, Corso’s actions are not consistent with character. Corso has been beautifully presented as dangerous both mentally and physically, someone who is not what others see him to be.
  • This is excellent, but I’m not sure the author has then had Corso act in a way consistent with these characteristics. He acts weak and unsure, he is as often manipulated as he is the manipulator.
  • glasses and canvass bag as props. Corso often takes his glasses off. his vision is then limited to vague outlines. He is inseparable from his canvas bag. I found myself wondering what he would do if he were ever disconnected from either, and this does happen, on the bridge in Paris. However, the green-eyed girl retrieves both objects for him before too much damage is done.
  • I think more could have been done with that, given all the build up.
  • As with the resolution of major plot details, Perez-Reverte does not finish what he has started in the way of characterization. Why?

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • Karenin … a pathetic character, unable to act in furtherance of his own wishes, but motivated only to avoid being embarrassed by his professional and social associates.
  • Stiva has no money. Tolstoy shows this, when Dolly asks him for money for clothes for the children … “Tell them I’ll pay.” The reader knows he won’t. He is spending his money to buy a necklace for his actress girlfriend.
  • “I haven’t stopped thinking about death,” said Levin. “It’s true that it’s time to die. And that everything is nonsense. … Once you understand that you’ll die today or tomorrow and they’ll be nothing left, everything becomes so insignificant … So you spend your life diverted by hunting or work in order not to think about death.”
  • Q: How does Tolstoy have Levin adjust these depressing thoughts to marry Kitty and have a life? A: he sees Kitty and instantly reverses everything.
  • Characters do this often in this on-going soap opera.
  • from Mailer – The Spooky Art  … Tolstoy is a great writer – maybe he is our greatest novelist – because no other can match his sense of human proportion. Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our lives only when it is severe – when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum is probably a little more good than awful.

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Analysis of character is the highest human entertainment
  • Human character is the greatest of puzzles
  • what we take away from a good novel is the memory of character
  • Characters effect events and events effect characters
  • Real people have flaws; no one wants to read about perfect characters
  • Characters who make mistakes, have lapses of judgment, experience weakness, are interesting
  • We want to cheer when the character (finally) comes into her own
  • Characters learn from unfolding events
  • A character is (best) revealed slowly by the writer
  • characters are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, confusion; not their joy and security
  • begin with a name; names can suggest anything to the reader (personality traits, social and ethnic background, geography, attitude)
  • Names influence how a reader will feel about a character
  • Create an analysis of each character, facts, a full psychological profile
  • Do not bring a character to a book unless he or she is alive before the book begins
  • Create your characters in advance; use personality quirks and telling details; know your characters, who they are, how they’ll react
  • constantly ask yourself questions about what each character would do in the situation in which he finds himself
  • become the character’s analyst
    • understand your character’s core need
    • What does the character do when under stress? (generally the flip of the core need)
    • delusions, compulsions, addictions, denial, illnesses, self-harming behavior, manias, phobias
    • what is the character’s attitude toward sex, what is his/her sexual history
    • What does the character want in the novel?
  • As you write, frequently refresh your memory about your characters
  • the behavior of a character is rooted in who that characters is and what has happened in the scene (and before)
  • we all suffer from guilt, fear, worry, doubt
  • a character’s inner conflict will show that he is real
  • rising conflict, built over time, reveals more facets of character as incidents occur
  • at the climax, the character stands before the reader fully revealed
  • a reader can bond with a character if there is something in common
  • Every character has two landscapes: (1) external, (2) internal
    • External landscape: select details which will resonate with the reader
    • Internal landscape: emotions, wants, needs, reflections, speculations, obsessions
  • Allow characters to reflect – reveal what’s in their heads
  • characters in a novel are more interesting if they have lives outside the (action of) the novel, before the novel was written, and after.
  • We admire characters who face and prevail over situations we ourselves have experienced, who unflinchingly examine themselves, learn from their mistakes, meet challenges with courage

What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

  • Glick is characterized mainly through Manheim’s observations, and only rarely by his own words or actions. ·   simile … “he would come back to me panting, like a frantic puppy retrieving a ball.”  ·   “one stupendous talent, his ability to blow his own horn.” So the die is cast for the rise of Sammy Glick.
  • “You know what, Mr. Manheim, these are the first brand-new shoes I ever had.” Whenever Sammy calls him Mr. Manheim, that is a signal that he is making an important statement.
  • Sammy’s obsession with shoes is a continuing motif, which is not explained until Manheim learns about Sammy’s family, and the too big, hand-me-down shoes (from his older brother) he had to wear as a young boy, and which were often a source of humiliation to him.
  • Sammy grew in superficial ways, ie, he became more successful, but his character never changed significantly. Nor did Manheim’s.
  • At the end of the book, both were essentially the same as at the beginning … which is perhaps less interesting than if they had changed
  • Miss Rosalie Goldbaum. A character introduced so Sammy can throw her aside, which the reader knows instantly will happen.
  • Julian Blumberg. Another schlub for Sammy to throw aside? Not quite, because Julian has something Sammy will continue to need, the ability to write.
  • Julian is from a background similar to Sammy’s, and offers a contrasting development, taking a moral position to his own detriment in a way that surely Sammy could never do. Who is happier in the end?
  • Julian Blumberg and Kit Sargent each play their roles in the plot, but neither was allowed to realize the emotional pull that might have been possible. We were never inside their heads so we didn’t have the opportunity to really care about them, although the things that happened to them would have permitted such caring if Schulberg had wanted to go in that direction.

The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

  • Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our lives only when it is severe – when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum is probably a little more good than awful.
  • an author needs to ask himself constantly if he is being fair to his characters.
  • we are relatively unfamiliar with the cunning of the strong and the stupid. We tend to know too little of how the world works. those who do real work tend not to write, and writers who explore the minds of such men approach from an intellectual stance that distorts their vision.
  • I should  seek to apply what I know about political power, finance, and management to my portrayal of Lorenzo de Medici. Imagine how he feels about what he does, or does not do.NOTE: I was in the middle of writing The Pope’s Conspiracy.
  • never be satisfied with (the way you are presenting) any of your characters, even when they have come alive for you. unless your characters keep growing through (their response to) the events of the book, your novel can go nowhere that can surprise you.
  • if the character does not grow, there is no place to go but into the plot
  • the creative act of allowing (demanding?) your characters to grow is the real excitement of writing. Your characters become as complex as real people. But what if they don’t grow, and you don’t bring out the beauty you initially perceived.
  • if you get a good novel going, you have a small universe functioning, living in relation to its own scheme of cause and effect. Planning too carefully makes it almost impossible for one of your characters to go through a dramatic shift of heart.
  • don’t go into your protagonist’s thoughts until you have something to say about his inner life that is more interesting than the reader’s suppositions.  
  • protagonists are always moving between choices, while the author monitors those decisions.
  • there are points in the course of fashioning a character where you recognize that you don’t know enough about the person you are trying to create. At such times, I take it for granted that my unconscious knows more than I do.
  • any person studied in depth will prove fascinating.  
  • In analyzing novels, consider a major character, and describe where he was at the beginning of the story, where he ended up, and how he got there.

******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* beginnings

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

Old Man by William Faulkner

  • Faulkner takes 4-5 pages to introduce two convicts who are never named; only then does the story begin …
  • “It was this second convict who, toward the end of April, began to read aloud to the others from the daily newspapers”

Executive Power by Vince Flynn

  • Here’s how Flynn did it, scene by scene:
  • SCENE 1. special op craft filled with Navy SEALS approaches an island in the Philippines, heavily armed, mission unstated; foreboding hook at end of scene: the mission has been fatally compromised by someone from their own country.
  • SCENE 2. Mitch Rapp is enjoying the last day of his honeymoon; he is high-up CIA, they were married in the White House; he leads teams of commandos on secret and dangerous missions; he has scars; no hook at end.
  • SCENE 3. back to the SEALS;  mission explained: recue hostage US family; many details as they leave the support boat, rubber launch to the island, deploy; then they are attacked with major force; call in backup and evacuate; lose two men.
  • SCENE 4. another boat in Monte Carlo; the assassin named David gos to meet his Arab sponsor, five hours early; insists that the man be awakened.
  • SCENE 5. CIA HQ; Dr. Irene Kennedy, Director of CIA and Rabb’s direct boss, is furious that leaks have compromised the mission and caused two deaths; she knows who leaked, and is planning to make this information public; hook: Rabb is the only man in DC who can do the job.
  • It works for a thriller; can it work for a historical novel?

Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

  • the prologue is set in 1832, whereas Chapter One is set in 1752-53.
  • In the prologue an old plantation slave from Carolina (which is where we later learn slaves captured in the settlement were to be taken) talks of a Liverpool ship and his white father (later we know this is Paris) who was a doctor on the ship. I totally forgot about this prologue until I reached the epilogue. So … was it necessary? helpful? distracting?
  • there is, in effect, a second beginning: Book Two on page 397, begins in 1765, a gap of 12 years. This creates a need for extensive flashbacks, which are inserted at different places in the second story. This works very effectively to create suspense and a desire to know what happened in the intervening years.

Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

  • Follett starts with a one page historical preface about the D-Day deception. He ends the preface … “That much is history. What follows is fiction. Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.”
  • the first chapter begins with Faber. The first clue to his identity as a spy is … “Faber watched such things – he was considerably more observant than the average railway clerk.”
  • in the first chapter, Faber kills his landlady, packs his transmitter, and moves on. We now know he is a German spy.

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • first lines … “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony. His very paternity was obscure …”
  • a great opening, characterizing Andre-Louis and raising a question not answered until the very end of the book.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • first line … “Police station, sir!” takes you right into the story.
  • the first hook (p2) is the opening of a 3 year old burglary case. why? why now?
  • the old case involves “the delicate question of a woman’s reputation, a distinguished victim from a powerful family, and treason”
  • this case was first introduced as a burglary; soon we find out (p3) that it’s a murder as well … the reader’s interest is heightened.

The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

  • Joan Didion … What’s so hard about the first sentence is that you’re stuck with it.
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez … One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph. In the first paragraph, you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone.
  • Philip Roth … I often have to write a hundred pages or so before there’s a paragraph that’s alive. That then becomes the first paragraph of the book. Underline all the sentences, phrases, words that are alive. write them on one piece of paper. There’s your first page. the “aliveness” sets the tone.

The Day Of The Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

  • opening sentence … It is cold at 6:40 in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.”
  • the precise time convinces the reader of the reality of what’s taking place.
  • By not naming him, the reader wants to know who is being executed. And, since the reason is not given, why
  • … from Stein on Writing

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • first sentence … “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below” … specificity provides verisimilitude.
  • the fact that the “finest bridge” collapsed suggests something out of the ordinary, some unseen hand. (Stein)

The Instrument by John O’Hara

  • O’Hara’s first two chapters (50 pages) are a nice setup … Interesting characters are introduced, the primary event takes place (the production of Yank Lucas’ play), and a whole range of expectations of interesting story line are established.
  • There has been no mention of what the “instrument” is.
  • first paragraph … “Yank Lucas fell asleep late one night and left the gas burning on the kitchen range. … when the water boiled over … extinguished the flame … the odor of gas … Jiggs knocked on the door.”

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

  • opening scene. man hanging … is it suicide or murder?
  • the connection to Dumas Three Musketeers is very well done.
  • opening line. “The flash projected the outline of the hanged man onto the wall.” … a powerful visual image

Write Away by Elizabeth George

  • Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)
  • primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel
  • you can begin at the beginning, before the beginning, or after the beginning (permits non-linear narrative … back stories)
  • In A Great Deliverance, the novel starts with a priest on a train, going to London, reacting to some important (but not revealed) event that we will later learn was the primary event of the story
  • Opening scene either possesses or promises excitement, intrigue, conflict, foreshadows problems; establishes atmosphere, place, some characters (not necessarily the main characters)
  • must hook the reader (first task is to keep the reader reading)
  • Follett – Key to Rebecca – opening scene introduces but does not identify character, shows aspects of the character’s behavior that are intriguing, mysterious
  • can use the opening to establish place by specific memorable details – atmosphere, mood, tone
  • the opening can be used to illuminate theme or plot or place
  • or to illustrate the agendas of characters

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  • opening sentence … “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
  • From which we know that this is going to be a story about unhappy families (more than one).
  • opening scene … Tolstoy starts (p.1) with the Oblonskys, Prince Stepan (Stiva) and Princess Darya (Dolly), who are not the main characters.
  • Q: Are there successful examples in more modern novels of this use of secondary characters to begin the story?

What Makes Sammy Run – Budd Schulberg

  • first paragraph. “The first time I saw him, he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, a little ferret of a kid, sharp and quick.  Sammy Glick. Used to run copy for me. Always ran. Always looked thirsty.”
  • Brilliant. Tells a lot about Glick and also about Manheim.
  • first chapter. 28 pages. Sets the stage beautifully. Gets right into the story. Conflicts established. Sets reader’s desire to know more. Great beginning.

******

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

* Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 26, 2012

First impression … “Hemingway’s Boat” is a wonderful combination of Hemingway gossip and Hemingway writing.

Unfortunately, this view was not sustained as I continued reading. After about 100 pages, my enthusiasm began to wane.

There is much repetition and a confusing lack of focus. The timeline and cast of characters has become very jumbled. I have the sense the author has lost control of the material and is just pumping out everything he knows. Yet, every once in a while there is a fascinating story.

Almost 200 pages to go. I think some serious editing would have made “Hemingway’s Boat” much more readable and memorable.

100 pages to go. I am so thoroughly bored and confused by the frequent leaping from decade to decade and character to character that I’m not interested enough to do the work to figure out the connections and point of what I confess I’m now only skimming.

Finally finished. Ernest Hemingway is one of our best writers and he lived a fascinating life, full of triumph, failure and tragedy. A biographer, it seems to me, would need to approach a life of Hemingway much as a historical novelist might, with focus and selectivity. But while “Hemingway’s Boat” contains many interesting anecdotes, my conclusion is that the author was simply overwhelmed by the huge amount of material he has obviously studied and absorbed.

Believe me, I know the feeling, having succumbed to it more than once in writing my own historical novels. Fortunately, several of my early readers pointed out to me that it was not necessary, and indeed distracting, to write everything I knew. “Hemingway’s Boat” would have been a far better read had Hendrickson received and taken that same advice.

It’s a real shame this book wasn’t shorter and more focused, in no small part because there are numerous really terrific insights into Hemingway’s love affair with writing … which turns out to be no less compelling and interesting and tragic than those with his wives and friends. For example …

  • p 16 … so much more fear inside Hemingway than he ever let on
  • p 17 … a bookish man in glasses trying to get his work done … finding it harder with each passing year
  • p 35 … his onetime mentor Gertrude Stein had turned on him savagely … EH calls her “that fat old lesbian bitch”
  • p 40 … every chickenshit prick who writes about my stuff writes with a premature delight and hope that I may be slipping.
  • p 77 … Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night … close to a commercial failure … had to terrify Hemingway
  • p 80 … Hemingway conflates and rearranges several women and several events … he emphasizes writing “true” … but what is true? … does he believe that fiction can be truer than true
  • p 82 … in “Snows of Kilimanjaro” he portrays an author still so young and in seeming control … yet able so vividly to foresee his own doom
  • p 112 … when you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place, and you know what’s going to happen next … that’s the time to stop … then leave it alone and let your subconscious mind work on it” … Hemingway’s technique for dealing with the terror of tomorrow’s blank page
  • p 132 … “save your best stuff until you’ve learned how to handle it” … keep something in the tank
  • p 133 … “look, it doesn’t matter that I don’t write for a day or a year or ten years as long as the knowledge that I can write is solid inside me” … trying to convince himself?
  • p 134 … “I’ve got it all and I know what I want it to be but I can’t get it down … I can’t!” … and that’s all he had, so if he didn’t have that, he had nothing.
  • p 156 … one by one, he lost all his friendships, with men and with women
  • p 211 … Stein … “he was so tough because he was really so sensitive and ashamed that he was” … “I doubt if he will ever write again truly about anything” … Stein knows that Hemingway will read what she said … she is taunting him … she is killing him …
  • p 333 … NYT Sunday review … Hemingway on the cover … the most important author living today has brought out a new novel (Across the River) … that’s a very high bar .. and what if you know that what you’ve written really isn’t so good … it’s not true
  • Across the River and into the Trees stands as Hemingway’s statement of defiance in response to the great dehumanizing atrocities of the Second World War. Hemingway’s last full-length novel published in his lifetime, it moved John O’Hara in The New York Times Book Review to call him “the most important author since Shakespeare.”
  • p 345 … in 1925 … The Sun Also Rises … its seeming miraculous, falling-out whole, first draft, which in effect was the final draft … and now he couldn’t do that any more
  • p 459 … in spite of all his illnesses, he kept on writing, or tried to – that’s the heroic part
  • p 464 … the irrational fears returned … he felt incapable of writing one sentence

Posted in *** Lew's reviews - general reading | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* “character” in Executive Power by Vince Flynn

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 4, 2009

Characters must be given the opportunity to become the object of our emotions. In Executive Power, Vince Flynn gives Mitch Rabb a terrific triumphal scene (p. 319) to match his outsized, outrageous character. Rabb barges into  a meeting of the National Security Council and first berates, then arrests the Assistant Secty of State whose email had caused the failure of an attempted hostage rescue and the deaths of two commandos. Realistic? Probably not, but who cares. The hero has been heroic, and his triumph in Washington is more important, for this reader, than his previous triumph on the battlefield.

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

“plot” in Old Man by William Faulkner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 1, 2009

the central action of the story introduced by an innocuous question …

“can you fellows paddle a boat?”

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* “beginning” in Old Man by William Faulkner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 1, 2009

Faulkner takes 4-5 pages to introduce two convicts who are never named; only then does the story begin …

“It was this second convict who, toward the end of April, began to read aloud to the others from the daily newspapers”

Posted in *** about writing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* “beginning” in Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 23, 2009

  • the prologue is set in 1832, whereas Chapter One is set in 1752-53. In the prologue an old plantaton slave from Carolina (which is where we later learn slaves captured in the settlement were to be taken) talks of a Liverpool ship and his white father (later we know this is Paris) who was a doctor on the ship. I totally forgot about this prologue until I reached the epilogue. So … was it necessary? helpful? distracting? 
  • there is, in effect, a second beginning: Book Two on page 397, begins in 1765, a gap of 12 years. This creates a need for extensive flashbacks, which are inserted at different places in the second story. This works very effectively to create suspense and a desire to kniw what happened in the intervening years.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* “don’t do” in The Art of Fiction by John Gardner

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 23, 2009

  • the “dream” the writer creates for the reader must be continuous; avoid interruptions and distractions which force the reader to stop thinking about the story and start thinking about something else

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* “don’t do” in Les Miserable by Victor Hugo

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 23, 2009

  • Hugo gives in to the temptation, common in writers of historical fiction (including myself), of “showing off” his research. I studied it, I think it’s interesting, so I’m going to tell you everything I know. This is a serious mistake, certainly for me, but even for Victor Hugo. (see ‘The Year 1817’ p. 119)

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* “don’t do” in Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 23, 2009

  • transitions. (185-86) the reader is suddenly transported from Fargas’ home in Portugal to Paris, with no transition. The details of this change of scene are presented later (187-88). Does this work?  I don’t think so. It’s a technique similar to what Tolstoy does repeatedly in Anna Karenina. Ah, crticizing Tolstoy – heresy!
  • exposition. long, detailed descriptions and lists of old books, which the reader can’t possibly read and absorb. what is the purpose?

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* “don’t do” in Stein on Writing by Sol Stein

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 23, 2009

  • avoid anything that distracts from the reader’s experience even momentarily
  • don’t over-characterize a minor character, making the reader think he is more important than he is; select one memorable characteristic that distinguishes this character from the rest of humanity and let it go at that
  • don’t present characters who are either all good or all bad. It’s not believeable. show the contrasts. for example … suggest a character’s vulnerability before that character exercises power, or show a character’s strength before that character is hurt physically or emotionally

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“point of view” in Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 1, 2007

·     omniscient narrator, able to show the inner feelings of all the characters   ·     at least once the narrator speaks in his own voice … (beginning of Ch 3) … “Faber … Godliman … two-thirds of a triangle that one day would be crucially completed by … David and Lucy” … the narrator thus provides a foreshadowing, setting the stage and piquing the reader’s interest.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“pace” in Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 1, 2007

·     Follett’s purposeful ping-pong structure alternating between the characters forced him to slow down to show (in his words) “how the protagonists were reacting to each other’s moves,” and to include more enriched attention to “character, landscape and emotion.”

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* historical fiction … in Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 1, 2007

  • Follett starts with a one page historical preface about the D-Day deception. He ends the preface … “That much is history. What follows is fiction. Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.”
  • the high stakes of blowing the deception plan are emphasized several times … Godliman: “If one decent Abwehr agent in Britain gets to know about Fortitude … we could lose the fucking war.”
  •  But of course we know that D Day was successful and we didn’t lose the war.
  • Follett creates tension about an event where we know the actual outcome, ie that Faber cannot succeed.
  •  Much like Forsythe in Day of the Jackal (published in the early 1970s, before Eye of the Needle), where we know that De Gaulle was not murdered by a sniper but are carried into great tension anyway.
  •  Perhaps the tension is maintained because we don’t know if Faber will fail, or if he will succeed but Hitler doesn’t act on his knowledge. However, we are told repeatedly, by Hitler himself, that he will be guided by Faber’s report.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“character” in Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 1, 2007

·     Faber is of course the villain. But he is also patriotic, enormously competent, and capable of feelings, which he must repress in order to carry out his mission. He is an wonderful lover, which he could not be if he were truly without feeling, no matter how much he will not allow himself to express it. This complex character must be admired even as we hate and fear him. A remarkable achievement.   ·     Lucy starts out as a dominated young woman, who chooses to escape to her father-in-law’s island rather than live among people. But in her relative solitude, she develops an unexpected resolve, and when facing the ultimate challenge, she rises to it. Is what she does believable? Maybe not, although in wartime people do extraordinary things. In any case, Follett portrays this larger-than-life character in a way that arouses the reader’s emotions as we root for her to succeed against overwhelming odds. The final scenes and epilogue drew tears from this romantic reader, always a sucker for melodrama.   ·     Godliman (what a name! I’d like to know where Follett found it) is the enabler of the story, providing the narrative links that eventually lead Faber to Lucy. But how much better to provide these through an interesting character than through narrative prose. Godliman’s growth from nebbish professor to razor-sharp spycatcher is done a little quickly. We can believe it, but we would like to know more about him. Perhaps as #3 character, he doesn’t warrant more attention.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“beginnings” in Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 1, 2007

·     Follett starts with a one page historical preface about the D-Day deception. He ends the preface … “That much is history. What follows is fiction. Still and all, one suspects something like this must have happened.”   ·     the first chapter begins with Faber. The first clue to his identity as a spy is … “Faber watched such things – he was considerably more observant than the average railway clerk.”   ·     in the first chapter, Faber kills his landlady, packs his transmitter, and moves on. We now know he is a German spy. The next chapter jumps to Godliman recruited to be a spycatcher.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“point of view” in Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2007

·     pov is an omniscient narrator, who sometimes interjects into the story … “nor can I discover …”

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“plot” in Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2007

·     Scaramouche is more driven by plot than by character. It is an exciting adventure story, tracing a vow of revenge from one improbable escapade to another. The pace, usually rapid, is slowed from time to time by philosophical and political ruminations on the changes occurring in France at the time of the 1789 Revolution and its immediate aftermath. This transforms the story, raising its level of importance, since what the characters do impacts these epic historical events.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“conflict” in Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2007

·     The entire story is a series of obstacles for Andre-Louis to overcome. Every other character exists mainly to create such obstacles.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“character” in Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2007

·     Andre-Louis is clearly a larger-than-life character. We meet him as an obscure attorney representing Privilege, but, enraged by the murder of his friend, he embarks on a succession of spectacular careers. He becomes a political orator, with a message he does not believe. Forced to go underground, he hides in plain sight as the actor Scaramouche in a traveling cast of players. When his own actions destroy that career, he becomes a fencing master, inventing new techniques that later become the standard. Later, a member of the National Assembly drafting the constitution for the new republic of France.    ·     Through all of his many incarnations, Andre-Louis controls his feelings with an iron determination, and we never really learn what he’s all about. Whatever he is feeling for Aline is never revealed. He is not given to introspection.   ·     M. de Kercadiou, Andre-Louis’s godfather to Andre-Louis: “Why can’t you express yourself in a sensible manner that a plain man can understand without having to think about it?” But Andre-Louis always hides his feelings behind a veil of sarcastic humor and his self-imposed rigid Stoicism, of which he is so proud. he says many times that he is not a man of action, but this is not true. He exists almost solely through his actions, not his thoughts, and surely not his feelings.  

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“beginnings” in Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2007

·     first lines … “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. And that was all his patrimony. His very paternity was obscure …” … great opening, characterizing Andre-Louis and raising a question not answered until the very end of the book.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“point of view” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 25, 2007

·     Perry gets us into the heads of all three of her major characters – Pitt, Charlotte and Emily – and the omniscient narrator POV allows this easily and smoothly.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“plot” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 25, 2007

·     having both sisters (Charlotte and Emily) take on different hidden personas was not credible for me. In a “Society” where everybody knows everybody, it seems unlikely that either could get away with it, let alone both. But Perry is such a good story-teller that I allowed a “suspension of belief” and did not allow my incredulity to interfere with the tension that these subterfuges produced.   ·     Perry has Charlotte, in her persona as Elizabeth Baranaby, sit quietly listening to conversation and asking herselp a series of questions. This helps the reader keep straight what is known and yet unknown about a complicated plot. Similar to what I did when Detective Watson complied a list of unanswered questions in A Good Conviction.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“pace” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 25, 2007

·     Pitt asks one very short question after another, each one 2-5 words. This not only shows his investigative style, it moves the background process swiftly along.   ·     Perry frequently alternates family scenes with investigative scenes, breaking the tension, showing more of what Pitt cares about

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“endings” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 25, 2007

·     the ending, which I will not reveal, is, in my view, too quickly rendered, not quite believeable, and has nothing to do with the aspects of treason which Maass says took this book to a breakout level. It is also, however, a total surprise which ties together all of the unexplained threads that have puzzled the reader, and in Perry’s sure hand it actually works quite well. I’m ready for the next book in the series.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“dialogue” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 25, 2007

·     Constable Lowther speaks in a heavy dialect, which is difficult to understand. The only reason this works is that he is a minor character, so you can struggle through. If Pitt spoke that way, it would be a good reason to put the novel down.   ·     Veronica is responding to her mothr-in-law Mrs. York … “Oh, I think the people are quite different also,” Veronica argued. “Argued” is much better than” said,” suggesting the tension between the two women.  

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“conflict” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 25, 2007

·     “Ballarat disliked Pitt and resented his manner, which he considered insolent.” … we know early on (p3) that Pitt’s boss doesn’t like him, and we sense why. This enmity between the two turns out to be of real significance as the story unfolds.   ·     Mobray was “told … by the powers that be as I should keep to me place …” Pitt will not have a clear path with this investigation. Shortly after, Mobray tells Pitt, “Don’t envy you.” Pitt says to himself … “Damn Ballarat and the Foreign Office.”   ·     “It took him a quarter of an hour to persuade the right officials and finally to reach the department where Robert York had worked until the time of his death.” Pitt overcomes a small obstacle, suggesting that perhaps he will overcome the larger obstacles as well.   ·     Charlotte explains to Radley how she will investigate Pitt’s case. “But will Pitt approve?” … “Thomas won’t have to know.” This is conflict coming big time. However, when Pitt finds out what Charlotte has been doing, he is so appreciative of what she has learned (about the woman in cerise being seen in the Danver house as well as the York) that he expresses no anger. Not realistic.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“character” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 25, 2007

·     the characterization of Inspector Pitt begins on the first page, through the eyes of the sergeant … “He did not meet the sergeant’s conception of a senior officer … downright scruffy … the man let the force down. Still, the sergeant had heard Pitt’s name and spoke with some respect.” Is Perry writing for readers who have read the previous books, or for the reader who has not read any of the Pitt series? She must accommodate both.   ·     Pitt feels guilty at taking the case from another man, and uncomfortable with his evasive poking around … we have an immediate (p2) sense that we are dealing with a man of exceptional integrity   ·     “Mobray took a deep breath and sighed slowly. “The elder Mrs. York was a remarkable woman …” This begins the characterization of Mrs. York, who turns out to be a lot more sinister than Mobray’s infatuation would suggest.   ·     Pitt’s interrogation technique changes from simple questions to complex, and he immediately trips up the Foreign Service officer he is questioning. We are impressed that he is a skillful detective.   ·     “Ballarat … was the antithesis of the disheveled Pitt, whose every garment was at odds with another …” … characterization repeated for emphasis. Why did Perry choose this means of describing Pitt? Does his manner of dress play an actual role in his subsequent actions? For all this emphasis, it should, but I don’t recall that it does.   ·     Charlotte is first mentioned on p17. Her first words are “Any interesting cases?” If the reader is familiar with the series, this would be in character with earlier stories. If not, it serves to set her character and an important aspect of their relationship in just 3 words.   ·     Emily, who will be such a major player in this story, is briefly mentioned, but not truly introduced until p29. The initial characterization of her starts out as a description, from Emily’s perspective, of her recently murdered husband George, but evolves in a few sentences into a self-characterization of her feelings for George, her wisdom, her intolerance for injustice, and her evolution into someone more like Charlotte – opinionated, quick to anger, and a fighter against “all she perceived to be wrong” even if “sometimes hasty.” A perfect setup, in one paragraph, for the role Emily will play.   ·     Jack Radley entered … casually dressed … his tailor was clearly his chief creditor … his smile … those remarkable eyes.” All this from Emily’s pov (which the omniscient narrator knows, tells us about Radley and Emily’s feelings for him. Next page: “his eyelashes still shadowed his cheek.” Another reference to his eyes, his individualizing feature.   ·     Mrs. York. They are discussing the winter art exhibit at the Royal Academy, and Charlotte says she does not paint very well. “I had not supposed you to enter a work, Miss Barnaby, merely to observe.” Nasty! We don’t like Mrs. York.   ·     Pitt’s persistence is shown in his relentless pursuit of leads, even after so many of them turn prove unproductive (at least for now).

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“beginnings” in Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 25, 2007

·     first line … “Police station, sir!” takes you right into the story.   ·     the first hook (p2) is the opening of a 3 year old burglary case. why? why now?   ·     the old case involves “the delicate question of a woman’s reputation, a distinguished victim from a powerful family, and treason”   ·     “you’d better speak to Constable Lowther first; he found the body” … this case was introduced as a burglary; now we find out (p3) that it’s a murder as well … the reader’s interest is heightened.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“plot” in The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 13, 2007

·     E.L. Doctorow … as the book goes on it becomes inevitable … choices narrow … the thing picks up speed  ·     Truman Capote … what I am trying to achieve is a voice sitting by a fireplace telling you a story on a winter’s evening  ·     Isak Dinesen … I start with a kind of feeling of the story I will write … then come the characters and they take over, they make the story  ·     John Irving … how can you plot a novel if you don’t know the ending first? how can you introduce a character if you don’t know how he ends up?  ·     Norman Mailer …generally, I don’t even have a plot … my characters engage in action, and out of that action little bits of plot sometimes adhere to the narrative (I don’t believe him, he’s just shooting off his mouth·     John Mortimer … the plot and discipline of the crime novel save it from terrible traps of being sensitive and stream-of-consciousness and all that stuff … life is composed of plots  ·     James Thurber … we’ve got all these people (in our story), now what’s going to happen … I don’t know until I start to write and find out … I don’t believe the writer should know too much of where he’s going  ·     William Kennedy … if I knew at the beginning how the book was going to end, I would probably never finish … I knew Legs Diamond was going to die at the end of the book, so I killed him on page one 

 

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“pace” The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 13, 2007

 

·     Ernest Hemingway … I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader. Anything you know, you can eliminate. But … if you omit something because you don’t know it, there’s a hole in your story.  ·     James Baldwin … the goal is to write a sentence as “clean as a bone”  ·     Georges Simenon … I cut adjectives, adverbs and every word which is there just to make an effect. Every sentence which is there just for the sentence. You have a beautiful sentence – cut it.  ·     Elie Wiesel … I reduce 900 pages to 160 … writing is more like sculpture where you remove … you eliminate in order to make the work visible … there is a difference between a book which is 200 pages from the beginning and a book of 200 pages which began as 800 pages … the pages you remove are really there – only you don’t see them

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“endings” in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 13, 2007

  

·     One of the most perfect and marvelous endings in literature is the little boy, crying that he’s afraid to go across the moor because there’s a man and woman walking there.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“character” in The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 13, 2007

·     Eudora Welty … You can’t start with how people look and speak and behave and come to know how they feel. You must know exactly what’s in their hearts and minds before they ever set visible foot on the stage. You must know all, then not tell it all, or not tell too much all at once; simply the right thing at the right moment.  ·     Samuel Butler … the Ancient Mariner would not have taken so well if it had been called The Old Sailor·     Kurt Vonnegut … make your characters want something – right away  ·     E.M. Forster … human beings have their great chance in the novel  ·     John Gardner … the first thing that makes a reader read a book is the characters  ·     Lillian Hellman … I don’t think characters turn out the way you think they are going to turn out  ·     Aldous Huxley … fictional characters are much less complex than the people one knows  ·     William Kennedy … what moves you forward to the next page is wondering why he or she acted in this particular way … what’s most interesting is not the plot … the character does something new, and then the story begins to percolate  ·     Norman Mailer … what’s exciting is the creative act of allowing your characters to grow … to become more complex … then a character becomes a being, and a being is someone whose nature keeps shifting  ·     Francois Mauriac … you may start with a real person, but he changes … only the secondary characters (undeveloped, the ones who don’t grow) are taken directly from life  ·     William Styron … I try to make all of my characters “round” … it takes a Dickens to make “flat” characters come alive  ·     William Trevor … fiction writers remember tiny little details, some of them quite malicious  ·     Norman Mailer … one’s ignorance is part of one’s creation. If you’re creating a character whose knowledge of a subject is spotty, then perhaps your own spotty knowledge is a plus (I don’t think so).

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“beginnings” in The Writer’s Chapbook edited by George Plimpton

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 13, 2007

 

·     Joan Didion … What’s so hard about the first sentence is that you’re stuck with it.  ·     Gabriel Garcia Marquez … One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph. In the first paragraph, you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone.  ·     Philip Roth … I often have to write a hundred pages or so before there’s a paragraph that’s alive. That then becomes the first paragraph of the book. Underline all the sentences, phrases, words that are alive. write them on one piece of paper. there’s your first page. the “aliveness” sets the tone.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“beginnings” in The Day Of The Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 28, 2007

·     opening sentence It is cold at 6:40 in the morning of a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.” the precise time convinces the reader of the reality of what’s taking place. By not naming him, the reader wants to know who is being executed. And, since the reason is not given, why … from Stein on Writing

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“point of view” in The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 27, 2007

·     the narrator is omnicsient, knowing things that were not known at the time, not even by Brother Juniper during his six years of investigation. “Yet for all his diligence Brother Juniper never knew … And I, who claim to know so much more, isn’t it possible that even I have missed the very spring within the spring?”  ·     this narrator, who is never introduced to us, gains our trust when he says that what the people of Lima have come to believe about Dona Maria is not true, and “all real knowledge” … also when he corrects Dona Maria’s impressions of the Perichole … “It was … untrue …”  ·     in the conversation (p 24) between Dona Maria and the Perichole, the narrator reveals the inner thoughts of both.  ·     the Abbess has “fallen in love with an idea several centuries before its appointed appearance in the history of civilization.” The idea is the modern role of women, and the way it is disclosed reveals the perspective of the narrator, and places him in the 20th century.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“pace” in The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 27, 2007

·     even though it’s a short novel (117 pages), the story seems to drag, as long narrative scenes regarding Esteban and Uncle Pio are added. What does this all have to do with the collapse of the bridge, and with Brother Juniper, who has totally diappeared from the story?

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“endings” in The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 27, 2007

·     the Abbess “had felt not only the breath of old age against her cheek, but also a graver warning” (the lack of a successor) … foreboding establishes tension … will she accomplish her life’s work? This question never again addressed until the final pages of the story, when it is beautifully resolved. “the search (for a successor) ended with Pepita” who later dies in the gorge, to be replaced, as we are surprised to learn in the last pages, by Perichole and Dona Clara. ·     God’s plan is seen in these new assistants for the Abbess’s worthy efforts, each of them coming to the Abbess because of their own losses in the same accident. Dona Clara lost her mother, Perichole lost Uncle Pio and her son Jaime, and the Abbess lost Pepita and Esteban. Soon we shall all die, we are told, and memory of us “will have left the earth.” But the “love will have been enough,” and all “impulses of love return to the love that made them,” ie to God. ·   last sentence … “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“conflict” in The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 27, 2007

·     between Dona Maria and her daughter Dona Clara, who “barely glanced at the letters.”  ·     between the twin brothers Manuel and Esteban over Manuel’s love for the Perichole.  ·     between the Perichole and Uncle Pio, as she grows too much a lady to be seen with the man who had everything to do with her success.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“character” in The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 27, 2007

·     Dona Maria – characterized both by the derision of Perichole and the theater audience, and her own unawareness of what is happening, and then immediately after by her sad (pathetic) letter to her daughter  ·     Pepita – first characterized by her kindness to Dona Maria in the theater  ·     Pepita’s letter, read by Dona Maria, is her first attempt to express herself to the Abbess, “her first stumbling misspelled letter in courage.” Pepita tears up the letter, and soon sets out with Dona Maria for the bridge. The Abbess will never know Pepita’s first steps of growth toward the mature personality the Abbess has worked so hard to create.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“conflict” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 25, 2007

·   plots must have conflict  ·   Events occur as the conflict unfolds  ·   Conflict is a form of collision  ·   Conflict can be created by resistance against a character’s desires. Resistance can come from within the character himself, from nature  ·   Conflict adds tension to the novel  ·   The story’s conflicts are reflections of the theme  ·    Put your characters into conflict  ·   Look for subplots (which provide opportunities for conflict) based on character’s strengths and weaknesses  ·   Opening scene either possesses or promises excitement, intrigue, conflict, foreshadows problems; establishes atmosphere, place, some characters (not necessarily the main characters)  ·    Characters are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, confusion; not their joy and security  ·  What does the character do when under stress·   conflict is what brings characters to life and makes them real for the reader  ·   Put the character to the test by putting him into conflict; he then springs to life, forced to make a decision, to act on that decision  ·    create a situation where the characters are bonded together and are unable to escape being in conflict with each other; then “heat” the situation  ·  conflict is a character’s will in collision with something else  ·   a character’s inner conflict will show that he is real  ·        conflict works best when it is rising conflict, builds over time, reveals more facets of character as incidents occur  ·     start with an idea that contains one of: the primary event, the arc of the story (beginning, middle, end), or an intriguing situation that suggests a cast of characters in conflict  ·     Every scene must have conflict.  Begin at the low point, let the tension rise to a climax, then provide a resolution which propels the entire novel forward.  ·   foreshadow future conflict with the present dialogue  ·   after writing dialogue, evaluate it. does it add tension? does it demonstrate conflict between characters?

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“point of view” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     O’Hara uses an omniscient narrator. Had he used 1st person (Yank) he would have been forced to write a far more interesting story.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“plot” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     we never get to know what’s actually in either of Yank’s plays. O’Hara provides scant detail, probably because he never thought it through himself. Yank uses the people in his life to feed the characters in his plays, which could have been very interesting, if we had been allowed to see it happening.  ·     BIO NOTE: John O’Hara received high critical acclaim for his short stories, more than 200 of which appeared in The New Yorker. But it was mainly his novels, though mostly of dubious literary merit, that won him the attention of Hollywood. Their focus on ambition, class conflict, money, troubled marriages, and promiscuity was the stuff of film melodrama in mid-20th century America. These plots seem trite and barren today, all surface and no depth.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“endings” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     Yank has not grown at all, remaining the same totally self-absorbed (but honest) person he was when the story started. There was never any reason to feel any emotion towards him.  ·     Yank has used other people and when he had gotten what he could from them, he moved on. This began with Jiggs, who saved his life, and continued with the string of women. He ends, after Zena’s suicide, confessing to himself that, without Zena, he would never again write anything as good. ·     LAST LINE: “Unless, of course, he could find someone else.”  ·     So we are left with Yank Lucas, writer of plays, incapable of feeling emotion except in the characters his talent (his “instrument” ?) creates for the stage. Hollow.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“character” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     in the dialogue … Jiggs to Yank … “I never saw such a miserable, ungrateful bastard in my whole life.”  ·     O’Hara has characters ask each other questions. Jiggs to Yank: “are you a writer?” Ellis Walton (the producer) to Yank … “Where is your home town?” (Ellis asks this out of nowhere) … “What do your people do?” … “Have you ever been married?” … “What was your wife like?” … “Why did you happen to marry her, if you don’t mind my asking?” (finally, Ellis realizes that his questions are intrusive … but he keeps on asking) … “And what finally broke it up?”  This is a lazy dubious approach to characterization.   ·     New characters are often introduced first in the conversation of other characters. Yank and Ellis Walton discuss (and begin to characterize) Zena Gollum, David Salmon, and Barry Payne before we meet them.  ·     characterization is provided through the eyes of a minor character (only possible with an omniscient narrator) … “The porter sized him up …”  ·     Yank’s self awareness: “I’m a genius now, but ten plays from now I may not even be good.”

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“beginnings” in The Instrument by John O’Hara

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 23, 2007

·     O’Hara’s first two chapters (50 pages) are a nice setup for what (I hope) will follow. Interesting characters are introduced, the primary event takes place (the production of Yank Lucas’ play), and a whole range of expectations of interesting story line are established. There has been no mention of what the “instrument” is. ·     first paragraph … “Yank Lucas fell asleep late one night and left the gas burning on the kitchen range. … when the water boiled over … extinguished the flame … the odor of gas … Jiggs knocked on the door.”  ·     I read The Instrument because Sol Stein quoted this first line in his Stein on Writing. Would that Mr. Stein had commented on the rest of the book.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“beginnings” in The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 16, 2007

·     opening scene. man hanging, suicide or murder? connection to Dumas Three Musketeers ... very well done. intriguing   ·     opening line. “The flash projected the outline of the hanged man onto the wall.” … a powerful visual image

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“point of view” in The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 16, 2007

                     

·     inconsistent narrator. How can Boris Balkan, the knowledgeable narrator of the Dumas part of the story, continue to function as narrator after the April 1 meeting of the Club Dumas, when the story now switches totally to the other narrative, in which he is not involved and knows nothing?  ·     the narractor seems to be a minor character who interacts with Corso, so he is really telling the story from what Corso has told him. Why not have Corso narrate in 1st person? I wonder if Perez-Reverte thought of doing it that way.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“endings” in The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 16, 2007

·     unresolved issues. At the end of the book, there are major unresolved issues, which are not even acknowledged by Perez-Reverte. Who is the green-eyed girl? Why does she follow Corso and help him? What happens to Varo Borja, who has committed murders but is not (yet) sought by the police? Is this effective? I find it frustrating. Did I miss something?  ·     two stories. what seems like two unrelated stories intertwined and soon to become a single story ends up to be two separate stories. Perez-Reverte is playing with the reader, which angers me. I came to the end of the book with great anticipation that the threads would be tied up and then felt great disappointment when they were not.  ·     the forged page At the end of the book, there is an implication that the Ceniza brothers did in fact forge a page, at Corso’s request, thus preventing Varo Borja from achieving his contact with the devil. This page was never shown or mentioned before, or if it was, I missed it. There must have been a better (more clear) way to present this, so perhaps the author wanted it to be unclear, maybe to be thought of long after finishing the book. But he leaves unexplained why Corso would have thought to have the page forged, and for what purpose, at the point in the story when this would have been done?  Another frustrating aspect of the ending to this book.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

“pace” in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 16, 2007

·    Leisurely pace …This way Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina communicates immediately that this is not a novel about pace, but will proceed in a leisurely manner to wend its way through the lives and relationships of the many characters.  ·     Anna Karenina is widely regarded as the best novel ever written. So I’ve read over 400 pages, with another 400 to go, and I’ve had enough. The story is slow, boring even, with very little happening, and characters that are not gripping. Actually, it’s one long slow soap opera.   ·     Tolstoy’s descriptions of places are remarkable. His interior monologues are often revealing, although too frequent and too long for my taste.  ·     Bored, I have put Anna Karenina aside to be picked up later.

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“character” in The Club Dumas by Arturo Perer-Reverte

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 16, 2007

·     characterization of Lucas Corsobrilliantly presented over a long period of time  a mercenary of the book world … talking fast … getting his hands dirty … a prodigious memory … canvas bag on shoulder (a recurring image) … steel rimmed glasses … untidy fringe of slightly graying hair … facial expressions of a rabbit (never got this … who knows what a rabbit’s facial expressions are like?) … THINGS NOT TOLD IN INITIAL DESCRIPTION: tall or short, lean or heavy, handsome or not.  …  bottomless pocket sof his coat … appears fragile yet solid as a concrete block … features are sharp and precise, full of angles … alert eyes … ready to express an innocence dangerous for anyone who was taken in by it … seemed slower and clumsier than he really was … looked vulnerable and defenseless … later, when you realized what had happened, it was too late to catch him … an oblique, distant laugh, with a hint of insolence … a laugh that lingers in the air after it stops …  attractive to women. … (Corso would) say something casually, as if he had no opinion on the matter, slyly goading you to react … (getting you) to give out more information (than you had intended). NOTE: the adverbs are the key words. Who says don’t use adverbs?  thin and hard like an emaciated wolf (ie, he is a hungry hunter) … a well-trained, patient wolf.  ·    but then, Corso’s actions not consistent with character. Corso has been beautifully presented as dangerous both mentally and physically, someone who is not what others see him to be. This is excellent, but I’m not sure the author has then had Corso act in a way consistent with these characteristics. He acts weak and unsure, he is as often manipulated as he is the manipulator.  ·     glasses and canvass bag as props. Corso often takes his glasses off. his vision is then limited to vague outlines. He is inseparable from his canvas bag. I found myself wondering what he would do if he were ever disconnected from either, and this does happen, on the bridge in Paris. However, the green-eyed girl retrieves both objects for him before too much damage is done. I think more could have been done with that, given all the build up. As with the resolution of major plot details, Perez-Reverte does not finish what he has started. Why?

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“endings” in The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

·   I look to find my book as I go along·   Plot comes last. ·   I want my conception of my characters to be deep enough that they will get me to places (which I did not plan) and where I have to live by my wits. ·   If the characters stay alive, and keep developing, the plot will take care of itself.  ·   Is there a problem if the reader senses that the author doesn’t know how the plot turns out?

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“endings” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

·   I always know the end in advance  ·   after the climax comes resolution – tie up loose ends, illustrate the nature of the change that has occurred in the characters  ·   you need to end every story you begin 

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“beginnings” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

·   Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)  ·   primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel  ·   begin at the beginning, before the beginning, after the beginning (permits non-linear narrative … back stories)  ·   starting just before the beginning – must have a scene that illustrates the status quo of the main characters before the primary event occurs  ·   start before the beginning by illustrating the character’s emotional status quo; good chance of hooking the reader  ·   start at the beginning by introducing simultaneously both the characters and the primary event … “The bodies were discovered by …” the reader is thrust immediately into the story and the characters  ·   start after the beginning, after the primary event has occurred  ·   In A Great Deliverance, the novel starts with a priest on a train, going to London, reacting to some important (but not revealed) event that we will later learn was the primary event of the story  ·   Opening scene either possesses or promises excitement, intrigue, conflict, foreshadows problems; establishes atmosphere, place, some characters (not necessarily the main characters)  ·   must hook the reader (first task is to keep the reader reading): Follett – Key to Rebecca – opening scene introduces but does not identify character, shows aspects of the character’s behavior that are intriguing, mysterious  ·   opening – establish place by specific memorable details – atmosphere, mood, tone  ·   opening – illuminate theme or plot or place  ·   opening – illustrate agendas of characters 

Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

“don’t do” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

  • avoid preaching 
  • avoid dealing with too many ideas at once
  • Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    * “beginnings” in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

                          

    • opening sentence … “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” From which we know that this is going to be a story about unhappy families (more than one). 
    • opening scene … Tolstoy starts (p.1) with the Oblonskys, Prince Stepan (Stiva) and Princess Darya (Dolly), who are not the main characters. 

        Q: Are there successful examples in more modern novels of this use of secondary characters to begin the story?

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “character” in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·    Karenin … a pathetic character, unable to act in furtherance of his own wishes, but motivated only to avoid being embarrassed by his professional and social associates.  ·    Stiva has no money. Tolstoy shows this, when Dolly asks him for money for clothes for the children … “Tell them I’ll pay.” The reader knows he won’t. He is spending his money to buy a necklace for his actress girlfriend.  ·     “I haven’t stopped thinking about death,” said Levin. “It’s true that it’s time to die. And that everything is nonsense. I’ll tell you truly: I value my thought and my work terribly, but in essence – think about it – this whole world of ours is just a bit of mildew that grew over a tiny plane. And we think we can have something great – thoughts, deed! They’re all grains of sand … Once you understand it clearly, everything becomes insignificant. Once you understand that you’ll die today or tomorrow and they’ll be nothing left, everything becomes so insignificant … So you spend your life diverted by hunting or work in order not to think about death.”  Q: How does Tolstoy have Levin adjust these depressing thoughts to marry Kitty and have a life? A: he sees Kitty and instantly reverses everything. Characters do this often in this on-going soap opera.  ·    from Mailer – The Spooky Art  … Tolstoy is a great writer – maybe he is our greatest novelist – because no other can match his sense of human proportion. Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our lives only when it is severe – when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum is probably a little more good than awful.

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “character” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·   Analysis of character is the highest human entertainment  ·    Human character is the greatest of puzzles  ·   What we take away from a good novel is the memory of character  ·      Characters effect events and events effect characters  ·    Real people have flaws; no one wants to read about perfect characters  ·   Issues of self-doubt  ·    Characters who make mistakes, have lapses of judgment, experience weakness, are interesting  ·    We want to cheer when the character (finally) comes into her own  ·    Characters learn from unfolding events  ·    A character is (best) revealed slowly by the writer  ·    Characters are interesting in their conflict, misery, unhappiness, confusion; not their joy and security  ·   begin with a name; names can suggest anything to the reader (personality traits, social and ethnic background, geography, attitude)  ·    Names influence how a reader will feel about a character  ·   Create an analysis of each character, facts, a full psychological profile  ·   Do not bring a character to a book unless he or she is alive before the book begins  ·   Create character in advance; use personality quirks and telling details; know your characters, who they are, how they’ll react  ·    constantly ask questions about what each character would do in the situation in which he finds himself  ·   become the character’s analyst  ·    understand your character’s core need  ·  What does the character do when under stress? (generally the flip of the core need) : delusions, compulsions, addictions, denial, illnesses, self-harming behavior, manias, phobias  ·  what is the character’s attitude toward sex, what is his/her sexual history  ·    What does the character want in the novel?  ·    As you write, frequently refresh your memory about your characters  ·   the behavior of a character is rooted in who that characters is and what has happened in the scene (and before)  ·    we all suffer from guilt, fear, worry, doubt  ·   a character’s inner conflict will show that he is real  ·        conflict works best when it is rising conflict, builds over time, reveals more facets of character as incidents occur  ·   at the climax, the character stands before the reader fully revealed  ·    a reader can bond with a character if there is something in common  ·   Every character has two landscapes: (1) external, (2) internal  ·   External landscape: select details which will resonate with the reader  ·   Internal landscape: emotions, wants, needs, reflections, speculations, obsessions  ·  Allow characters to reflect – reveal what’s in their heads  ·     characters in a novel are more interesting if they have lives outside the (action of) the novel, before the novel was written, and after.  ·   We admire characters who face and prevail over situations we ourselves have experienced, who unflinchingly examine themselves, learn from their mistakes, meet challenges with courage 

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    * “character” in What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·   Glick is characterized mainly through Manheim’s observations, and only rarely by his own words or actions. ·   simile … “he would come back to me panting, like a frantic puppy retrieving a ball.”  ·   “one stupendous talent, his ability to blow his own horn.” So the die is cast for the rise of Sammy Glick.  ·    “You know what, Mr. Manheim, these are the first brand-new shoes I ever had.” Whenever Sammy calls him Mr. Manheim, that is a signal that he is making an important statement. ·   Sammy’s obsession with shoes is a continuing motif, which is not explained until Manheim learns about Sammy’s family, and the too big, hand-me-down shoes (from his older brother) he had to wear as a young boy, and which were often a source of humiliation to him.  ·   Character development. Sammy grew in superficial ways, ie, he became more successful, but his character never changed significantly. Nor did Manheim’s. At the end of the book, both were essentially the same as at the beginning.  ·   Miss Rosalie Goldbaum. A character introduced so Sammy can throw her aside, which the reader knows instantly will happen.  ·   Julian Blumberg. Another schlub for Sammy to throw aside? Not quite, because Julian has something Sammy will continue to need, the ability to write. ·   Julian is from a background similar to Sammy’s, and offers a contrasting development, taking a moral position to his own detriment that surely Sammy could never do. ·   Who is happier in the end?  ·   Julian Blumberg and Kit Sargent each play their roles in the plot, but neither was allowed to realize the emotional pull that might have been possible. We were never inside their heads so we didn’t have the opportunity to really care about them, although the things that happened to them would have permitted such caring if Schulberg had wanted to go in that direction. ·   “It’s a good evening for me all right. But I don’t know about you, Mr. Manheim.” Sammy says Mr. Manheim, so we know this will be important. And it is. Sammy has undermined his boss and stolen 4 inches of his theater column for what soon becomes “Sammy Glick Broadcasting,” Sammy’s own column about radio. Sammy did it. It was rotten. Yet he doesn’t hide it. He comes right out and tells Manheim, being so brazen as to imply that he did it for Manheim’s benefit 

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “point of view” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·  must be clear about point of view in each scene   Objective viewpoint ·  writing is journalistic, like a reporter; provides facts, but not thoughts and feelings of characters – tough to carry off well  ·  objective narrative can create an aura of intrigue about a character or a situation – precisely because the reader does not know inner thoughts or feelings, but it also minimizes the reader’s intimacy    Omniscient viewpoint. · Must be adept to remain truly omniscient and not just slip in and out of different characters points of view  ·  the narrator knows, sees, hears all  ·  the narrator enters into the mind of every character  ·  the viewpoint of the narrator is not necessarily that of the author  ·  omniscient narrator is a story teller; the reader sinks into the story; the narrator is not confined to the time or place of the individual scene (like a reporter would be) but can provide history about the characters as well as what’s in their hearts and minds  Character viewpoints. ·  Reveal only what the chosen character would see, know, think, feel in each scene in which the character is participating  First person. ·  Stay with one narrator throughout the novel. In that character’s head and none other. Terrific intimacy, authenticity. BUT this one character must be in every scene, which is a challenge to plotting  ·  Shifting first person. Multiple first character viewpoints. Each section or alternating chapters told by a different first person narrator. Challenge: each “I” must be utterly distinct  ·  Shifting third person. NOTE: no viewpoint shift within a scene, unless …  ·  can combine first person with shifting third person (that’s what I did in A Good Conviction·  too many narrators slows down the pace of a novel  ·  narrator can be reliable or a devilishly clever liar, likable or not  

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    * “point of view” in What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·  The entire story is about Sammy Glick, but everything is told through the eyes of Al Manheim. When something occurs that Schulberg wants the reader to know, but Manheim wasn’t there, he has the person who was there (usually Glick) tell Manheim what happened. These sections are in italic. 

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “plot” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·   plots should not insult reader’s intelligence, no holes in plots, characters who are real  ·   create subplots that illustrate the same theme through different situations  ·   every scene advances either the plot or one of the subplots (or it doesn’t belong)  ·   using a piece of information from the character analysis, twist the story one more time ·   keep aware of what the reader knows or doesn’t know at each point in the story  ·   Ask questions about each character  ·   Work with your characters to design the plot  ·   Plot is what characters do to deal with the situation they are in  ·   primary event – that which gets the ball roiling in the novel  ·   Events must be organized with an emphasis on causality  ·   The first event (scene) triggers the event that will immediately follow it  ·   High drama: direct conflict between characters, discovery, revelation, personal epiphany  ·   Plot must have climax, and climax itself must have a climax  ·   Post climax comes resolution – tie up loose ends, illustrate the nature of the change that has occurred in the characters  ·   Open up the story by asking dramatic questions (but do not answer)  ·   I always know the end in advance  ·   subplots arise out of a novel’s theme, mirror the theme  ·   you need to end every story you begin   ·   theme – the basic truth about which you are writing. ·   you may not know the theme in advance, but it will emerge (???) ·   the writer’s object is to keep the reader reading  ·   if a plot is essentially believable, it can sustain a suspension of belief  ·   every story needs plot points, critical moments when events change 

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “beginnings” in What Makes Sammy Run – Budd Schulberg (1941)

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

    ·     first paragraph. “The first time I saw him, he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, a little ferret of a kid, sharp and quick. Sammy Glick. Used to run copy for me. Always ran. Always looked thirsty.” Brilliant. Tells a lot about Glick and also about Manheim. ·     first chapter. 28 pages. Sets the stage beautifully. Gets right into the story. Conflicts established. Sets reader’s desire to know more. Great beginning.

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “endings” in What Makes Sammy Run by Budd Schulberg

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 14, 2007

    ·    Sammy’s comeuppance. I expected more. I’m not sure what, but more. It’s hard to imagine Sammy upset with his runaround wife for very long. Upset at younger men nipping at his heels, for sure, but poking his wife, I don’t think so. He didn’t love her, and he would get over the embarrassment, probably find a way to turn it to advantage. ·   He’s not happy. He’s never going to be happy. But ‘happy’ wasn’t ever his goal. Money and power were his goals. ·   He was never portrayed as introspective enough to understand and be upset at what his life had become, and since he did not ‘grow’ over the course of the book, we never got a sense that his original goals might have changed or even be questioned. We sense the incompleteness of his life, but does he? ·   Perhaps Schulberg was too close to the film industry and some of its major players to go any further than he did in dramatizing the essential emptiness of the success driven life. ·   I never cried for Sammy Glick.

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    * “don’t do” in The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

    • The moment you moralize in your novel, your book is no longer moral.  It has become pious, and piety corrodes morality. 
    • Don’t go into your protagonist’s thoughts until you have something to say about his inner life that is more interesting than the reader’s suppositions

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    * process … in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

    ·     learning something new in writing the novel is a source of energy for the writer  ·        the original idea prompts questions which expand the simple idea into a more complicated story idea  ·      next is research; identify what needs to be learned in order to tell the story  ·     research the specific locations where the story will take place  ·    details about where the characters live adds verisimilitude  ·      specific details: kinds of shops, kinds of houses, types of trees and plants, sounds, smells  ·    take camera and tape recorder on research hikes. Photograph constantly and speak notes onto tape. Transcribe notes every night.  ·     Talk to people, tape record everything  ·     next: create characters – generic list – names! The name of the character is the first chance to position the reader’s attitude toward that character. ·     Say the character’s name aloud – the  reader will.  ·     Write freely about each character, touching every area of their development and lives; develop a voice for each character; 3-4 page document on each character. What drives that character?  ·    Re-read these character analyses when writing.  ·        the deeper the character analyses, the more plot elements jump out  ·    consider how characters’ lives interlock, what the subplots might be  ·    doing the character analysis first allows the writing to be about art and not about craft.  ·      Having created all of the characters, I know their worlds and can create exact settings (not generic) for each   ·   render the setting with as much authenticity as the characters and events  ·   create settings – plan physical layout – each building, connections ·   develop a place I can own on paper, so the reader can experience the setting  ·     step outline – quickly list all the events in the story that can be generated from the primary event and that have causal relationships between them  ·      place these events in the best dramatic order – an order that allows the story to keep opening up and not shutting down  ·   make sure I maintain dramatic questions and do not play my hand too soon  ·    running plot outline – a present tense account of what’s going to happen in a scene, including point of view, stream of consciousness, how can I bring it to life  ·    bullet points for each scene  ·  I see the scene playing out in my mind – do this for every scene in the step outline  ·     rough draft – having done all the advance work, I can now involve myself in the sheer artistry of writing  ·    there are surprises and changes – new ways to steer the story, new elements, new dramatic questions, new ideas  ·   move back and forth – step outline, running plot outline, actual writing – write 5 pages per day  ·   read the hard copy of the rough draft; make no changes in the text; make notes about weaknesses, repetitions, places where story is not clear, where character does not emerge well  ·     I write myself an editorial letter, a guide to the 2nd draft  ·        write 2nd draft on the hard copy (not computer, can’t see it all at once on computer); about 50 pages per day  ·    revise manuscript; give to cold reader for an honest evaluation; with two sets of questions, one to have before reading and one to see after reading.  ·   Take comments, 3rd draft, send to editor  ·    Writing is a job like any other  ·   195. mentions Richard Marek  ·        196. examine every facet of character’s lives, needs, personalities, behavior prior to writing a single word of the novel  ·     write a minimum of 5 pages per day  ·   write every day (even on vacation) – stay situated in the novel – my novels are large, long and complicated  ·   Clear your life of the things that keep you from writing

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “dialogue” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

    ·   A character’s dialogue illustrates opinions, personality, education, economic background, attitudes, beliefs, superstitions, pathology  ·   Wield dialogue as a way of banishing doubt from the reader’s mind  ·    Dialogue can foreshadow events that will not take place until well into the story  ·    relationships take on life through dialogue  ·    natural speech isn’t fluid. Writing like that would be virtually unreadable  ·   Dialogue needs to seem natural even when it can’t be  ·    syntax reveals character: pedantic speech, casual speech, uneducated speech  ·    a character may have a signature word (or expression)  ·   each character has a distinctive way of using language  ·    dialogue needs to be concise  ·   dialogue should never be obviously expository  ·    dialogue is not supposed to be the way people talk all the time  ·   subtext – what the characters are really talking about beneath what they appear to be talking about  ·    to offset the direct nature of dialogue with minimal (or no) subtext (St. James and Deborah often speak directly, trusting each other), which would become repetitive and tedious, you need to have other scenes in which the dialogue is rich with subtext (Lynley and Helen rarely speak directly and often speak at cross purposes).  ·    a lot is going on, and much of it is not expressed  ·    subtext colors the scene. People don’t always say what they really mean. They don’t always state their thoughts and feelings directly. Sometimes they talk around a topic  ·   fancy tag lines such as snarl, moan, whine, growl (instead of said, asked, answered, replied) call attention to themselves. EG discourages using them at all. The reader will know if someone is snarling without obvious words to say so  ·        Adverbs can add a degree of precision, but draw reader’s attention to how the line is said rather than what is said  ·    Junk words. Use them only if they illustrate character. Otherwise delete.  ·    Suggest dialect rather than using full dialect. The reader will get it.  ·    In a long speech, maintain attention by showing other characters’ reactions, gestures.  ·    Interrupt the speech with a moment of thematically related action – sound of voices, wind against the windowpane, song on the radio in car which passes by.  ·   Intersperse some physical thing into the stream of dialogue (may reveal character, contain important information, be a metaphor)  ·    Indirect dialogue is a summarized form of dialogue, told in narrative style, which alters the pacing of the scene, compresses the dialogue while still allowing the reader to know that it was lengthy.  ·   after writing dialogue, evaluate it. Does it add tension? Demonstrate conflict between characters? Reveal some aspect of the character speaking or listening?  ·    Would some of the dialogue be more effective as indirect rather than direct?  ·    If the dialogue isn’t essential, get rid of it!

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “voice” in Write Away by Elizabeth George

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

    ·     voice is the tone that comes through the narrative when the point-of-view character is on stage  ·    voice comes from the character analysis you’ve created; if you’ve designed characters who come to life, highlighting the salient aspects of their personalities allows their voices to emerge  ·      a character’s voice comes from his background, education, position in society, personal and family history, prejudices and biases, inclinations and desires, belief system, what he wants for his life, his agenda in an individual scene, his arching purpose, his core need  ·    voice: use of language, vocabulary, attitude   ·      we’re inside his head, living the scene through him   ·     attitude reveals character   ·     reader can recognize connections to a character or can recognize that the character is very different (curiosity piqued?)

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “plot” in The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

                            

    ·   a novel is most alive when one can trace the disasters which follow victory or the subtle turns that sometimes come from a defeat. ·   to know what you want to say is not the best condition for writing a novel. novels go happiest when you discover something you didn’t know: an insight into one of your more opaque characters, a metaphor that startles you even as you are setting it down, a truth that used to elude you. ·   we live in and out of ongoing, and discontinuous, plots ·   our love of plot comes from our need to find the chain of cause and effect that so often is missing in our own existence  ·   I look to find my book as I go along. Plot comes last. I want my conception of my characters to be deep enough that they will get me to places (which I did not plan) and where I have to live by my wits. If the characters stay alive, and keep developing, the plot will take care of itself. ·   most of our lives are spent getting ready for dramatic moments that don’t take place. ·   I no longer make up a master plan before I begin a novel. some of my best ideas come because I haven’t fixed my novel’s future in concrete. I want to keep the feeling that I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. I prefer a story that develops out of the writing. ·   Characters (who are alive) need to fulfill their own perverse and surprising capabilities. ·   I don’t do my research too far ahead of where I am in the novel. ·   if you get a good novel going, you have a small universe functioning, living in relation to its own scheme of cause and effect. ·    Planning too carefully makes it almost impossible for one of your characters to go through a dramatic shift of heart. ·   the artist seeks to create a spell … a feeling that he knows something deeper than his normal comprehension … a sense of one-ness  ·   both artists and scientists are trying to penetrate into the substance of things  ·   coincidences occur … exciting us with a livid sense that there’s a superstructure about us, and in this superstructure there are the agents of a presence larger than our imagination. ·   stories bring order to the absurdity of reality. Relief is provided by the narrative’s beginning, middle and end.  ·   In analyzing novels, consider each major character, and describe where he was at the beginning of the story, where he ended up, and how he got there.  ·   Jorge Borges has a magical ability to put plots through metamorphoses, thus posing the difficulty of comprehending reality. ·  writing a novel is creating a world, God-like, presumptuous, intoxicating, never comfortable.

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    “point of view” in The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

    ·  in the 1st person, you gain immediacy but lose insight, because you can’t move into other people’s heads. ·  in the 3rd person, you are God, ready to see into everyone’s mind, enter into every character’s consciousness. ·  1st person cannot be as free as the separation between author and protagonist offered by the 3rd person.  

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

    * “character” in The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 9, 2007

    ·   Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our lives only when it is severe – when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum is probably a little more good than awful. ·    an author needs to ask himself constantly if he is being fair to his characters.  ·    we are relatively unfamiliar with the cunning of the strong and the stupid. We tend to know too little of how the world works. those who do real work tend not to write, and writers who explore the minds of such men approach from an intellectual stance that distorts their vision.  ·   seek to apply what I know about political power, finance, and management to my portrayal of Lorenzo de Medici. Imagine how he feels about what he does, or does not do.  ·   never be satisfied with (the way you are presenting) any of your characters, even when they have come alive for you. unless your characters keep growing through (their response to) the events of the book, your novel can go nowhere that can surprise you.·   if the character does not grow, there is no place to go but into the plot  ·     the creative act of allowing (demanding?) your characters to grow is the real excitement of writing. your characters become as complex as real people. But what if they don’t grow, and you don’t bring out the beauty you initially perceived. ·  if you get a good novel going, you have a small universe functioning, living in relation to its own scheme of cause and effect. Planning too carefully makes it almost impossible for one of your characters to go through a dramatic shift of heart.  ·   don’t go into your protagonist’s thoughts until you have something to say about his inner life that is more interesting than the reader’s suppositions.  ·   protagonists are always moving between choices, while the author monitors those decisions.  ·    there are points in the course of fashioning a character where you recognize that you don’t know enough about the person you are trying to create. At such times, I take it for granted that my unconscious knows more than I do. ·    any person studied in depth will prove fascinating.  ·   stories bring order to the absurdity of reality. Relief is provided by the narrative’s beginning, middle and end.  ·   In analyzing novels, consider a major character, and describe where he was at the beginning of the story, where he ended up, and how he got there.

    Posted in *** Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »