Dialogue that Speaks

  I once critiqued a fictional story based on the writer’s own life experiences. When I noted that his dialogue didn’t sound authentic to me, he replied, “But that’s what we really said.” I’m sure that was correct. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that what someone actually said works effectively in fiction. Replicated everyday speech in…

Butt In, Distractions Out

“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”  — Gene Fowler, journalist and biographer It always comes back to the chair. Okay, you’ve done your research, created your outline or filled a notebook with ideas, detailed your main characters complete…

Necessary Arrogance

  Writing is a tough business. Gratification (publishing) can be long in coming. If and when it does, royalties are usually insufficient to live on, sometimes even nonexistent, especially when averaged over the months or years and costs it’s taken to finish a manuscript and get it accepted for publication. Once published, we have to…

Barrels

My Uncle Grattan, my father’s oldest brother, was a brilliant man. He spent a couple of years in New York City in his twenties studying art before he returned to his native South Carolina. He then lived out the remainder of his life on the coast at Murrell’s Inlet, and for many of those years…

Why We Write

  But isn’t it really about personal fulfillment?   If you’re a struggling writer, you’ve probably had someone say this to you. In my long and frustrating journey to publication, I heard this a number of times, usually from friends who meant to encourage me. And, yes, there have been moments when I’ve asked myself the same…

Two Daisies

Recently, the New York Times Book Review featured two writers asked to comment on the question, “Do critics make good novelists?” I wasn’t particularly interested in the question but was struck by two passages from novels cited by one of the responders. Both passages describe fictional characters named Daisy. In The Great Gatsby, the first view…

The White Room

I heard Twyla Tharp say that to begin a new work of choreography, she enters a “white room.” Certainly, this is a metaphor, although a dancer’s creative space is likely an actual room/studio. But for writers, the white room is the blank page. Sitting in front of that blankness and typing in page 1 can…

Writing What’s In You

  “If ya ain’t got it in ya, ya can’t blow it out.”   Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong   “Write what you know” is a familiar adage to most fiction writers. But it’s an adage often misundertood. What it doesn’t mean is is that our stories should be limited to personal experiences and familiar places and pursuits.…

The Eleventh Thing

Writers often join critique groups. Others invite friends or colleagues to offer feedback on work-in-progress. Peer feedback can be important, sometimes even essential, providing helpful reality checks and critical insights. But allowing others to critique our work carries risks. Too harsh a critique may stop a writer cold and lead to an unfinished story or…