Letters to Young Writers

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The Bus Theory

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Maybe the best way to gauge the true importance of what you’re doing is The Bus Theory. You wake up in the morning. You get to your workspace. You carve. You chop. You create. And at the end of the workday – be it an hour, or a morning, or the whole livelong day –…

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Avoid the Labels

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A lot of the time when we talk about writing – and in particular fiction – we talk about the complicated confluence of truth, reality, history, facts and lies. But what is a lie? And how is it shaped? And do we lie in order to tell the proper truth? Let’s talk about the word…

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Google Isn’t Deep Enough

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Research is the bedrock of nearly all good writing, even poetry. We have to know the world beyond our own world. We have to be able to make a shotgun leap into a life, or a time, or a geography that is not immediately ours. Often we will want to write out of gender, race,…

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Punctuation: It’s Not A Throwaway Thing (Comma)

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It’s not a throwaway thing to tell you the truth. It’s not a throwaway thing, to tell you the truth. You see? Punctuation matters. In fact, sometimes it’s the life or death of a sentence. Hyphens. Umlauts. Full stops. Colons. Semi-colons. Ellipsis. Parentheses. They’re the containers of a sentence. They scaffold your words. Should a…

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Writing Dialogue

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Fugheddaboudit. Dialogue on the page is never real. Never. You could go out this moment and tape a story being told on the street and then transcribe it, but even then it will probably never seem absolutely true. But there’s a difference between truth and honesty. A dialogue might not be true, but it must…

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How Do You Bring Fresh Eyes to Your Stories?

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Stories can exhaust us. Sometimes we just can’t see them anymore. We have become so close that we forget what it might be like to read it for the first time. Often we need a bit of breathing space between us and our work. When you’ve finished a story or a poem try putting it…

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Plot

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Plot matters, but plot is juvenile: it is subservient to character and language. Writing teachers make a mistake by concentrating too much on plot. It is not the be-all and end-all in a piece of literature. Plot takes the backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens.…

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Violently Embracing the Violent

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How has the passion of our calling been robbed from us? The crisis of our age is that people are living in stunned submission to the political circumstance of the times. We are being bought off by our comforts. At the same time social outrages are unfolding at our feet. But never forget that writing…

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The Problem of Sincerity

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Happy families are all alike, said Tolstoy, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. So ask yourself these questions: Are you making your characters too nice? Are they too sincere? Have you given them enough rough edges? Have you “flawed” them up? Our characters have to have fingerprints. Don’t be afraid to…

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Who What Where When How and Why

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This sounds inane, but do you really know who is telling your story? And do you know why they want to tell it? And do you know where they’re telling it from? And do you know when, in terms of time, they are telling the story? And do you know exactly what happened? And do…

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