By Hallie Ephron
The best writing advice I ever got came from Arthur Edelstein, a wonderful writing teacher who ran a fiction writing seminar at Radcliffe Seminars. Sadly, Arthur died a few years back but I keep a post-it in my office with two insights. These are so simple but at the they felt like bolts from the blue:
1. Write scenesWrite scenes? Arthur was the first person to alert me to the fact that scenes (not chapters) are the atomic particles of which novels constructed. A scene is bounded in time and place, though characters can enter and exit. When the scene shifts, the author double spaces. If you keep this in mind, it helps anchor your novel in drama (showing) instead of summary (telling). Chapter breaks can come anywhere, and the author can insert a chapter break in a scene to modulate the pace.
2. Kill the narrator
Kill the narrator? Well, not literally. But the point here is that the author’s voice doesn’t belong in (most) modern novels. The voice/viewpoint telling the story shouldn’t be the author but one of the characters, and each scene is narrated start to finish by just one viewpoint character. I know there’s a lot of controversy about this, but I still prefer an anchored viewpoint in each scene.
How do you pick which character narrates if your novel has multiple narrators? Tess Gerritsen gave me some great advice when I asked her how she picks which of her character narrates: “Writers are told to give the point of view to the character who has most to lose in a scene. I would disagree totally. Choose the character who is most uncomfortable, the most off balance.” Great advice.
And finally, following Anne Lamott’s advice from “Bird by Bird,” I long ago gave myself permission to write shitty first drafts.
Hallie Ephron is a writer, book reviewer, and teacher. Her novel "Never Tell a Lie" (1/09, Willliam Morrow) is a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and for the Salt Lake Libraries Readrers Choice Award. It has been optioned for film and has been translated into 7 languages. Hallie is also an award-winning crime fiction book reviewer for "The Boston Globe." Her Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel" was nominated for Edgar and Anthony awards. She teaches at writing workshops across the country. She is also the author of "The Bibliophile's Devotional" and "1001 Books for Every Mood."
Tomorrow newly published author Norma Huss will share who--and what--inspires her.