word craft


Writing Tip: Will Hobbs

I’ve invit­ed a group of top-notch writ­ers to share their writ­ing tips with you this sum­mer. Look for a new bit of learned expe­ri­ence each Tuesday.

DownriverWill Hobbs: Plot is the hard­est part, and you can save your­self a lot of time and effort if you devel­op a dynam­ic premise before you start writ­ing. The premise, I came to under­stand, is what pro­pels the plot. Your “what if,” in one sen­tence, should con­tain a tremen­dous amount of propul­sive ener­gy, a sort of “big bang.” Lack­ing that, no mat­ter how long and hard you work on a first draft, you might have a false start on your hands. That hap­pened to me with my first draft of my third nov­el, Down­riv­er. It was about a group of teenagers who take a Grand Canyon raft trip guid­ed by the adult leader of their out­door-ed pro­gram. My edi­tor respond­ed to my 300-page man­u­script with, “You’ve got a ter­rif­ic set­ting and some inter­est­ing char­ac­ters, but where’s the sto­ry?” What a let­down that was.

After a cou­ple weeks of stew­ing, I re-read my adven­ture sto­ry and found it sore­ly lack­ing in adven­ture, no mat­ter how much I knew about the Grand Canyon and how much I loved row­ing big white­wa­ter. My edi­tor was spot-on, I real­ized. Where’s the sto­ry? Should I give up on this one, I asked myself, or go back to work?

I went back to work, but only after com­ing up with a dynam­ic premise: What if a group of mis­fit teenagers in a “wilder­ness ther­a­py” pro­gram ditch their adult leader and try to raft the Grand Canyon on their own?” It’s dra­mat­ic ten­sion that keeps read­ers turn­ing the pages, and this “what if” enabled me to devel­op a plot loaded with dra­mat­ic ten­sion. What will hap­pen when those kids face some of the biggest rapids in North Amer­i­ca? I could well imag­ine the dan­ger, the dete­ri­o­rat­ing group dynam­ics, and the sus­pense. This time the sto­ry took off like a rock­et and went on to become one of my most excit­ing and suc­cess­ful titles.

If you’ve already writ­ten a story—a short sto­ry or even a novel—you know the fan­tas­tic feel­ing. Now ask your­self, how can I make it bet­ter? Three drafts were par for the course for all of my twen­ty nov­els includ­ing my most recent, City of Gold. Your plot and your char­ac­ters evolve as you keep work­ing, and it’s huge­ly sat­is­fy­ing when your sto­ry comes to life at last. You have sto­ries to tell and a con­tri­bu­tion to make. Good luck and keep writing!

Learn more about Will Hobbs and his books on his website.

2 thoughts on “Writing Tip: Will Hobbs”

  1. Avi, I must tell you a quick sto­ry. Last Sun­day, I met a 25YO man at a small par­ty and learned that he was sent to “WIlder­ness Camp” for over a year as a teen because his par­ents were frus­trat­ed with his video game addic­tion. Despite the cool sound­ing title, it was a hor­ri­fy­ing expe­ri­ence for him. Some­one there men­tioned that the celebri­ty Paris Hilton went through a sim­i­lar ordeal at 17 because of her mom. I was floored when I read about these two facilities. 

    I could­n’t help but think of these busi­ness­es and Sir Matthew Clem­spool. It occurred to me that you are tru­ly com­fort­able with some real­ly strong emo­tions. It also rein­forced my idea that you write books for teenagers that that a cer­tain kind of par­ent would hate <3


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