I’ve in the middle of reading, with considerable delight, William Alexander’s debut fantasy novel Goblin Secrets. It just won a National Book Award for Young People’s literature, and it’s a wonderful piece of literary storytelling. I wanted to share one of his chapter starts, as it continues the “trick of particularity” point I made in a recent post about the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien, plus some other good writing techniques. At the start of the third chapter, the young central character, Rownie, is sent on an errand to a gear-smith’s workplace (to fetch some oil for Graba, the witch) : Broken gears and stacks ofRead More →

[An excerpt from How To Write Your Best Story, by Philip Martin, Crickhollow Books, 2011] Good storytellers know the value of throwing away the thesaurus and using one of language’s most beautiful forms of expression: repetition. As Ursula K. Le Guin pointed out in her excellent book of advice and exercises for writers, Steering the Craft, “Repetition of words, of phrases, of images . . . all narrators use these devices, and the skillful use of them is a very great part of the power of prose.” Delight in repetition is seen in its purest form in the child who wants to hear the sameRead More →

Read at least a portion of your work aloud! Stories were once upon a time primarily told orally. Not surprisingly, the cadence of what we consider to be an appealing story derives to great extent from what sounds good to our ears. Also not surprisingly, a good number of excellent literary storytellers honed their skills by telling their tales aloud. It emphasizes the need to entertain an audience, to string sentences together in a pleasant way, and sometimes to let the story find its own way. Richard Adams, for instance, spun an emerging story to his children on a series of car drives, till theyRead More →

When I wrote my previous post to this blog on a whimsical piece by James Boswell and Samuel Johnson, I mentioned it made me remember a similar piece overflowing in a sense of place. Here ’tis. It’s by a North Dakota writer, Linda Hasselstrom, who writes and runs a writer’s retreat at her home, Windbreak House, not too far from Rapid City in western South Dakota. I ran across it quoted in The Sierra Club Nature Writing Handbook (1995), by John A. Murray. The piece, like Boswell’s “Meditation on a Pudding,” finds an exultant sense of place in an item of food . . .Read More →

To learn to see and write better, there are great books to inspire you. One of the finest, an exquisite book of nature writing, is Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974), winner of a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, an account of a year spend looking closely at the world centered around a creek in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. As Eudora Welty (no slouch herself when it comes to sense of place), wrote in the New York Times Book Review: “The book is a form of meditation . . . about seeing.” Here’s a brief sample, in which she describes a breezy lateRead More →

Imagery for a master writer isn’t just coming up with a nice turn of phrase . . . one that conjures up a sunset suddenly appearing like a distant marching band turning the corner . . . or the sense of a breeze on the skin like a silk scarf. A truly compelling image is the one that grips your imagination by the throat and just won’t let go. For examples, there’s no better place to turn than Edgar Allan Poe. Founder of the detective story, master of the creepy short story, and a quotable poet, this is his 200th anniversary (he was born Jan.Read More →

At the end of the day, I personally, at this moment in time and with all due respect, want to say something fairly unique. Although it’s absolutely a nightmare to even try, but certainly not rocket science . . . let’s face it, I shouldn’t of started this literary blog for good writing advice, available 24/7, unless I was up to the task! There! I’ve now officially used all of the “Top 10 Most Irritating Expressions” in the English language, per researchers at the University of Oxford. For the record, here are the ten phrases that most irritate the good folks of Oxford: 1.  AtRead More →

Here’s a great tip from Sid Fleischman: Give weather reports. It helps the reality of a scene if foghorns are blowing or kites are in the sky on a windy afternoon or the day’s so hot wallpaper is peeling off the walls. (Sid is a great author, winner of the 1987 Newbery Medal for The Whipping Boy. This comes from a page of tips on his website, a page called “9 Tips for Writing Stories.”) Why mention the weather? Boring? Well . . . maybe you can do it in a fun, not-so-ordinary way, like the wallpaper peeling from the heat. But most of all,Read More →

In a 2004 interview with Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate (2004-06), on the PBS News Hour, Kooser talked about writing with clarity – so that a piece or passage (in his case, a poem) could be understood by the average person. He recalled how early in his career, when he worked in the insurance business, he would bring a poem in to work and read it to his secretary: I’m always revising away from difficulty and toward clarity. [. . .] I’d write every morning very early, and then I would bring my work in [to the insurance company where I worked] and I’d say,Read More →

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” – E.L. Doctorow (American author of the novel Ragtime, and other works) “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov (Russian writer, 1860–1904) “In writing, don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel . . . instead of telling us the thing is ‘terrible,’ describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. –Read More →

Last updated by at .