Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Key Elements

Listen to the mustn’ts, child. 
Listen to the don’ts. 
Listen to the shouldn’ts, 
the impossibles, the won’ts. 
Listen to the never haves, 
then listen close to me… 
Anything can happen, child. 
Anything can be.
― Shel Silverstein

Melissa Donovan has included the great passage above in her article on Writing Forward entitled Excellent Writing Tips from Successful Authors. And it’s appropriate that she begins with that, because inspiration is always the first requirement of creative writing. You may be the best mystery plotter on the planet, but until you have an idea of where your story is going, that skill isn’t going to do you much good. A swift kick-start of inspiration is the best solution for getting things churning around in your head so you can transfer those thoughts to your anxious typing digits.

Once you’ve been inspired and have an idea of where you’re going to take your anxious reader, you can begin. You need to start off with a bang. It's my firm belief that a great opening is the best way to greet your new reader and grab their attention. The following opening line is from Stormbreaker, and it's one of my favorite beginnings.

When the doorbell rings 
at three in the morning, 
it's never good news.— Anthony Horowitz

So a strong start is key to whetting the reader's appetite. But you can't fail to deliver. You need to keep their interest high as the story unfolds. If you don't, they'll put your book down and pick up another. And when it comes to knowing how to maintain a reader's interest, Jodie Renner is one of the best.  She's a creative writer and a professional editor who has written a great post about how that’s done. This is a three-part series entitled Tension on Every Page. You can read the first installment (and it’s very good) at the Writer’s Forensics Blog.

So, you’ve got the inspiration, you’ve grabbed your reader with a fantastic opening paragraph, and you’ve just completed the first draft of chapter one. And as The Carpenter's song from the 70s informs—we've only just begun. You know you’ve got to keep going or you’ll never finish this masterpiece. So how do you maintain that productive attitude and keep churning out those 2,000 words a day? Ann Aguirre has the answer for you. Her post on Writer Unboxed, entitled Five Productivity Tips, is an excellent treatment with some great advice.

So there you are. You’ve got the ingredients of a great novel right here on this page. Now all you need to do is get inspired, keep the tension on the pages, and remain productive. Before you know it, you’ll be typing The End. As we all know, that’s when the editing begins. But we’ll talk about that another day.


  1. Thanks for this great info - and so well written! I love Shel Silverstein and Anthony Horowitz - and a lot of other great middle-grade and YA fiction! Having been a school librarian before I started editing books, I got to know and love a lot of exciting books for young people. And yours, Lost in the Bayou, proudly joins the ranks!

    And for writers looking to improve their craft and take their fiction to the next level, I write a lot of craft of fiction articles, and they're published on such blogs as Crime Fiction Collective, The Thrill Begins, Blood-Red Pencil and Writer's Forensics blog, among others.

    Thanks, Michael/Cornell!

  2. And I just read Melissa Donovan's tips and great quotes from writers - excellent!

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