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Mind the Gap: great writing advice from the London tube system

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In London, every time a train door opens, an automated female voice tells you to “Mind the gap,” so that you don’t fall into that nether space between the train and the platform.  When I was in England last year I smiled every time I heard it.  I was about to start a new novel, and Robert McKee’s book Story was on my mind.  McKee is another of my screenwriting gurus (if you read this blog, you know I have a few of them—I think screenwriters are often better at talking about plot than novelists) and “the gap” is a concept he talks about a lot. I should say right off, though, that his...

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Developing Desire: Why Knowing What Your Character Wants May Not Be Enough

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I started such a brilliant novel a few years ago.  Oh it would have been groundbreaking, won awards, made me famous. At least that’s what I thought after I wrote the first chapter.  It was about a girl who was searching through time for her long-lost boyfriend and soul mate, but he’d been born into another body and she didn’t know what he looked like.  Brilliant!  Okay, that’s debatable, but it really had desire. I had taken to heart what I’d learned from so many writing teachers and books: know what your character wants.  She wanted this man.  Bad. My favourite writing book at the...

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Writer’s Block, Writing Partners, and “the Dread”

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Back before I started my first novel, I asked my full-time writer friends how they did it, how they sat down at their desks every day without that feeling of dread, that feeling that their desk was repelling them like a magnet.  None were very helpful, I must say.  I got some blank stares, maybe a few, “Y…es, I remember that it was like that once…” but no definite answers as to how to combat that particular form of writer’s block that sometimes affects new writers: the inability to get started and keep the momentum going. When I was a young student just beginning to tell people (in a...

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Michael Hauge—A Different Way of Thinking about Character Development

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Last month a number of other children’s authors and I attended the Screenwriters’ Summit in Toronto.  I’ve already written about what I learned from speakers Linda Seger and John Truby, and now I’ve finally found a moment to write about my favourite speaker of the conference, Michael Hauge. Because all the speakers have books that they’d love you to buy, I haven’t summarized their entire talks; instead Ive chosen the one nugget of wisdom in each that struck me the most. Michael Hauge is well known for his Six Stage Plot Structure, and he writes very powerfully about how to create...

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Miss Hurka: The First Writer I Ever Knew

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Is there anyone whose books you loved? Anyone whose diary prompted you to pick up a pen? Anyone in your family, maybe, or someone you knew growing up, who loved books and encouraged you to write? This was the question posed to me this week by the lovely writer Erin Thomas.  Today on her blog, she’s posting an interview with Marthe Jocelyn about Marthe’s new book Scribbling Women, and as a lead-up, Erin wanted to include a few blurbs from authors she knew about the scribbling women who had inspired us.  Immediately, I thought of Miss Hurka. Miss Hurka was a boarder who lived in the attic...

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Fantasy Worldbuilding: Part Two

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Last week I wrote about backstory, worldbuilding as an element of character, and taking each changed element of your world to its logical conclusion.  This week I have three more questions you might want to ask yourself if you are writing a fantasy novel and want to make your fantasy worlds rich and satisfying. Okay, I realize this one is similar to #1, but at the risk of repeating myself: 4) Have you made your characters a product of the society you created? One of the things that really makes me sigh in high fantasy is when an author creates a medieval- (or other-) style world full of...

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