word craft


Blog Posts from the Beginning


I am work­ing on a new book. It’s so new it has no title, and to be hon­est, I’m not sure what will hap­pen. Cer­tain­ly no end­ing is in sight. But it’s dif­fer­ent, I think, than any­thing I have writ­ten before, so I’m hav­ing a good—if hard—time.

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Sleepless in Denver 

Here’s one of writing’s haz­ards. I had spent much of the day work­ing out a plot prob­lem on new book. At about 11 PM I thought I solved it. Great, I told myself, write it first thing in the morn­ing. Made a brief note, and went to sleep. Or tried to. Bin­go! Eyes opened at

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The cov­er of a nov­el is usu­al­ly the first con­nec­tion between read­er and book. Very impor­tant. Read­ers are some­times puz­zled that the writer usu­al­ly does not con­trol the choice. The truth is, the writer is not always the best judge. I’m not. The writer may write well, but his/her artis­tic, mar­ket­ing, design tal­ents and judgments

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No straight lines 

I want read­ers to read my books from page one to … the end. I don’t write them that way. The book I’m work­ing on (still no title) is (at the moment) a mys­tery, a thriller, or some­thing like. That means I go back and forth, mak­ing sure every­thing fits togeth­er smooth­ly. Some­times, as happened

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Cre­at­ing a good title for a book is hard. I’ve writ­ten some strong ones, The True Con­fes­sions of Char­lotte Doyle, and some weak ones, Shadrach’s Cross­ing. Just today, I had a dis­cus­sion with my edi­tor about my soon to be pub­lished book. I’ve been call­ing it Decep­tion. “I’m not sure,” she said, “it’s strong enough.

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Copy editors 

The copy-edit­ing process is some­thing about which the read­er is gen­er­al­ly not aware. Think of it this way: You’ve writ­ten a term paper for school, and your teacher returns it to you (with­out a grade) with cor­rec­tions (such as punc­tu­a­tion, spelling, gram­mar), sug­ges­tions for changes, per­haps point­ing out con­fu­sions in your writ­ing and nar­ra­tive logic

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I have writ­ten before about book titles. Changes, changes. Now my edi­tor and I have set­tled on a new title for my forth­com­ing book. It came about this way. When I was writ­ing the book I had a work­ing title, The Field of Bat­tle. It derived from a line in the book, some­thing that Thomas

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Miss Spelling 

If you are a poor speller, does that mean that you are a poor writer? F. Scott Fitzger­ald was a famous­ly poor speller. Does that make spelling unim­por­tant? It is a ques­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Take this sen­tence: I went walk­ing with the dog. Using the same let­ters you could write, I went walk­ing with the

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Salted peanuts 

The oth­er day, when talk­ing to a fifth grade class, a boy asked, “How do you know when to end a chap­ter?” A good ques­tion. A good book has a com­plex struc­ture, with dif­fer­ent struc­tur­al beats. Those beats might be the turn of the plot, a great sen­tence (or para­graph), a shift in mood, an

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The word thriller seems to have come into the Eng­lish lan­guage at the end of the 19th Cen­tu­ry. Ken Fol­lett cites the 1903 nov­el The Rid­dle of the Sands (Childers) as the first mod­ern thriller. I’d sug­gest The Turn of the Screw. James Pat­ter­son, by way of def­i­n­i­tion, speaks of the thriller’s “inten­si­ty of emotions,”

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