All posts by Howard Tayler

16.34: Novels Are Layer Cakes

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

Novels deliver a lot of information, and it’s helpful to consider that delivery in terms of layers. Novels are layer cakes, and we’re not talking about a three-layer birthday cake. We’re talking about a dobosh torte, or a mille crepe cake. And if we’ve made you hungry for stratified pastry, that’s okay, because we made ourselves hungry, too.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Remove your entire 1st scene from your draft. Rewrite it from scratch, using the tools we’ve covered in the last eight episodes. Once you’ve done that, revise it by highlighting the elements readers really need to know, and then put all of those ideas into a single paragraph.

Legend, by Marie Lu

16.33: Tell, Don’t Show

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

Few pieces of writing advice get repeated as much as that old saw “show, don’t tell.” We’re here to show tell you that it’s not only not universally applicable, much of the time it’s wrong¹. Tell, don’t show, especially in the early pages of the book when so very, very much information needs to be delivered² quickly.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


¹ Fun fact: this advice comes to us from silent film, when it made great artistic sense to put things on screen rather than on title cards.
² If you need new terminology, Dan uses “demonstration vs. description.” 

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Rewrite your whole first scene as narration. See what parts work better and what doesn’t work. Keep the better bits, and work them into the next draft.

Jade City, by Fonda Lee

16.32: First Page Fundamentals—THE KILLING FLOOR, by Lee Childs

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode we explore the first page of The Killing Floor, by Lee Childs, with the goal of learning how to build  good first pages for own own work.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: here is the 1st paragraph of The Killing Floor, for reference.

I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.

The diner was small, but bright and clean. Brand-new, built to resemble a converted railroad car. Narrow, with a long lunch counter on one side and a kitchen bumped out back. Booths lining the opposite wall. A doorway where the center booth would be.

I was in a booth, at a window, reading somebody’s abandoned newspaper about the campaign for a president I didn’t vote for last time and wasn’t going to vote for this time. Outside, the rain had stopped but the glass was still pebbled with bright drops. I saw the police cruisers pull into the gravel lot. They were moving fast and crunched to a stop. Light bars flashing and popping. Red and blue light in the raindrops on my window. Doors burst open, policemen jumped out. Two from each car, weapons ready. Two revolvers, two shotguns. This was heavy stuff. One revolver and one shotgun ran to the back. One of each rushed the door.

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Ghost Station, by Dan Wells

Write an introduction that focuses on the character’s view of the world

16.31: First Page Fundamentals—MOBY DICK

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode we explore the first page of Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, with the goal of learning how to build  good first pages for own own work.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: here is the 1st paragraph of Moby Dick, for reference.

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time tozz get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

 

 

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Homework: Write an introduction that is purely internal to the character’s mental state.

16.30: First Page Fundamentals—THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode we explore the first page of The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, with the goal of learning how to build  good first pages for own own work.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: here is the 1st paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House, for reference.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

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Write an introduction to your book that is purely description. No action. No dialogue.

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

16.29: Building Trust

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

How do we build trust with our readers? What does that even mean? In this episode we discuss ways in which we let our readers know what they can expect from the book they’re holding, and how we set about getting the to trust us do deliver on those expectations.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Write down every character in your first chapter on an index card. Write each character’s wants and needs? Ask yourself what stakes can be put on screen now.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
NOTE: We’ll be talking about the first page of this book next week, so you may want to add at least page one of this book to your homework.

16.28: Common First-Page Mistakes

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

Let’s have a frank, and possibly painful discussion about the ways in which the first page can go wrong. It may seem like hackneyed writing advice, but rules like “don’t start with the main character waking up” are rules for a reason.  In this episode we’ll talk about those reasons, and why it’s so unlikely for books which break them to succeed with readers.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Have a look at the first page of your work-in-progress, and look for clichéd mistakes.

The First Line (literary magazine)

16.27: Nobody Wants to Read a Book

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

Our controversial episode title comes to us via John Schwarzwelder, and it points up nicely the importance of today’s topic, which is first lines, first pages, and how we set about convincing people (who may or may not want to read a book) to read OUR book.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

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Homework: read the first pages of the last three books you read. Take notes on what you find exciting about them. What kept you reading? What would make you pause?

The Last Watch, by J.S. Dewes