Category Archives: inspiration

The art of storytelling

The story matters. But so does the way you tell it. Just learn from this 23-year-old who has been writing a memoir on Instagram.

There are so many great things to love about this story. Sure, I appreciate the beautiful photos and well-written captions, but I admire the sheer ingenuity most of all. Fact: a new memoir is published every 38 minutes. Don’t fact-check me on that, just trust me. There are a lot of memoirs out there. Another fact: not many of them are written using the medium of a photograph social media platform, with carefully curated shots posted a year later, a completely different practice than the usual immediacy and spontaneity of picture posting.

Short stories and even entire novels have been written on Twitter too, but what technology gives, technology also takes away. Algorithms generate news stories and a scary amount of written content that you would never suspect. Don’t believe me? Then take this test.

The point is this: technology has changed everything and will continue to change everything, for better or worse. There are an unimaginable number of ways to spread stories now. Get creative and find a way that is uniquely you. Otherwise computer algorithms may as well write your story for you.

Also, I just wanted to include a quick update on one of my earlier blog posts. In March 2015, I posted a blog about censorship and China being named the guest of honor at BEA 2015. Want to see what that all amounted to? This was the result.

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The Tempest in a tempest

Last night I attended the Shakespeare in the Park production of The Tempest – well, part of it at least.

In case you aren’t familiar with Shakespeare in the Park, it’s one of the most amazing things about New York City. Every summer since 1954, The Public Theater presents two productions of Shakespeare in an open-air theater in the middle of Central Park, with tickets free by lottery or by waiting in line. I was lucky enough to get a pair of tickets in yesterday’s lottery – I’m guessing the entry pool was slim thanks to all-day rain and temps in the 50s. But I was not scared off! In fact, I thought it would be a lot of fun to see The Tempest in the midst of an actual tempest, and I was not wrong. Thanks to a hasty purchase of trusty emergency ponchos and a cozy blanket, my friend and I were ready to brave the elements and hoped the actors were as well.

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And they were! For at least the first act. And what a first act it was! The play opens with a fearsome shipwreck scene, and the scenery and special effects would no doubt have been impressive in any conditions; experiencing it with nature contributing her own genuine rain and blustery winds made Shakespeare’s gorgeous lines, and the fine work of the hardy actors, truly exceptional. It was a show to remember even though they decided to close the performance after the first act. (I was soaked and shivering, though intellectually elated, so it wasn’t a complete disappointment.)

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And it got me thinking about the way the weather influences fiction, for readers and maybe for writers as well! This weekend I was reading Neal Stephenson’s excellent Seveneves and thunder boomed outside just as I read an account of the moon exploding into pieces – quite a startling moment! On the other hand, fiction can be escapism – read a beachy book on a frigid winter day, or vice versa, to forget the miserable weather report.

I wonder if the same goes for writers as they create the fiction we love to readDo they have to work a little harder on a blizzard scene if they’re writing on a gorgeous spring day? Or can the creative imagination do its thing regardless of what’s going on outside the window?

What do you think? Do you match your book to the weather, or the opposite? Do you find the weather creeping onto the page when you write? 


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Plausibility

As devoted DGLM readers know, we run an in-house book club here to broaden our horizons and keep abreast of categories we might not otherwise investigate. This month, we’re doing thrillers, and while I enjoyed my book—fast-paced, good characters, lots of practical information—ultimately it bugged me because the central premise was totally unbelievable. While there’s eventually a plot-twist that tries to explain away the implausibility of the concept, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

Yet without naming names, the book came from a Big Six house, edited by a top editor, and was the author’s tenth novel. It came armed with tons of blurbs from major authors, and I could find only one review that took issue with the premise. To which I say… really? But while I sit here feeling like I’m taking crazy pills with Mugatu from ZOOLANDER, the book did make me think about plausibility in general.

I’m sure plausibility is a question  for all writers, but especially ones who write in plot-heavy genres like thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, kids books, etc. It’s hard enough to come up with inventive plots, character and voice, yet do it in a way that readers will buy–even if your story is about, say, zombie kittens from Mars. So if you’re wrestling with plausibility issues, check out this essay from Steve Almond in Writer’s Digest, which ably dissects the various plausibility traps writers often fall into (I’d say the premise of my Book Club book falls under the Factual/Logistical umbrella). Or, for an elegant summation of how to think about plausibility, it’s hard to beat this letter from Ursula K. LeGuin.

How many of you have run into problems with plausibility? And how have you found your way out of the traps?

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Weather or not…

This piece in Salon about how rain is often used in literature and film to create or punctuate a mood, advance the story, or simply provide an arresting backdrop to the goings-on, tickled me because it immediately led me to run a mental list of rain-filled books and movies.  And, sure enough, rain as metaphor and plot device is everywhere, in ways big and small.

Of course, I’ve been railing for years about weather.com writing, imploring authors not to open their work with long descriptions of weather or geographic conditions.  While I get how irresistible it is to set about capturing in words/images the awesome power of nature, very few authors can make non-catastrophic meteorological events compelling over a large span of narrative. 

That said, there’s no denying that weather is great for atmosphere (tautological pun intended).  From the foggy moors of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, to the feverish heat of Lily King’s Euphoria, skillful depictions of weather conditions help make literary works unforgettable.  Many years later, you may not remember other details of a story, but you probably recall the sense of humid discomfort in the bayous or the crispness of a spring day in southern France. 

What are your favorite weather sequences?  And, which authors do you feel use weather most effectively?

Lake

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My small town wins big!

I live in a small town in New Jersey called Haworth (pronounced Haaworth). Like just over 3,000 people small. 1,100 households small. Most people have never heard of it, even people who grew up in NJ. I love my little town. Even more so because they recently raised almost $300,000 for a major library expansion that was facing a large funding deficit. Of course, I did my share. I donated money to buy a brick that will decorate a patio outside the entrance. And I offered to give a literary consultation to an aspiring author for a library fundraiser. But I was blown away when I saw this article about the fundraising efforts in a local paper, northjersey.com.