Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block’s sort of new book about writing recently found its way to my Kindle app. I say “sort of new” because it’s a second edition and includes updated information for today’s writers.I was more than just excited to read this book about writing books. I was downright jubilant. Never have I read a book about writing books that was written before the nineties. The first edition of the book, Writing the Novel from Plot to Print, was published, originally, in 1978, a time before Kindles were even a thing. It was a time when a lot of the authors I enjoy reading today, Lawrence Block included, were putting out some of their best works.

Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel is the second edition, which will be released next month. The book begins with an introduction to the 1978 edition. The best way I can set the tone of this tome is with a quote from this intro.

“One thing you won’t find in this book is an explanation of the way to write a novel. Because I don’t believe there is one.”-Lawrence Block.

So, now you know what to expect, right? It’s explained simply and that’s how I like things—no need for flowers and candy, just take me to the theater.

The book moves quickly, too, which I also like, be it fiction or non. In chapter one, Block discusses why one would choose to write a novel in the first place. Comparing short story writing to novel writing, and the bells and whistles attached to each, Block says:

“If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.”

The second chapter discusses how one might choose which novel to write. This is an important chapter, as I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t get flooded with novel or story ideas and has to choose which one comes first. It’s a system of triage, if you will, and if you struggle in this area, I would definitely recommend buying this book to see what he has to say.

Cover_Ebook_Writing the Novel

“You have to read not as a normally perceptive reader, but with the special insight of a writer.” – Chapter Three

Each chapter discusses, ponders, and argues every single bit of the process involved in taking a simple notion to write to the ultimate goal of publication. There is even a chapter on a topic in which I fear I need to read more about before I write my next anything. I do outline my books to a certain extent, but I feel like I could benefit from writing outlines that are more thorough, so chapter six was of a particular interest to me.

The most exciting part of this book, however, is not any chapter in particular. It is the order in which the topic of a certain chapter appears. The chapter title “Getting Started” doesn’t appear until chapter eight. After chapter eight, there are chapters discussing snags and dead ends, style, length, rewriting, and getting published (respectively). To keep with the ever changing times, however, Lawrence Block has also included chapters arguing for and against self-publishing and how to be your own publisher.

I didn’t find anything in this book to be too difficult to understand, so I would assume that even a high school student could easily navigate the chapters. I would have loved owning the 1978 edition when I was a teenager, so I can imagine this book (either edition, honestly) would make a wonderful gift for a young writer as well as a well-seasoned one. After all, no matter how long you’ve been in the game, the rules may change and you might find yourself standing in the dark. A good book could very well prove to be your flashlight.

On a more personal level, I feel I need to mention that the chapters are so easily laid out that one doesn’t have to thumb all over the book if in search of help in one particular area. If I needed help figuring out how to develop a character, there’s a chapter for that. If I need help deciding whether I should self-publish or not, there are a few chapters for that, too. In no way does Lawrence Block ever say that THIS is how you write a book, there is NO other way. On the contrary, this is just an informational guide, subjective and simple.

I enjoyed reading this book on my Kindle so much that I even thought to invite Mr. Block out to Starbucks, but in the chapter called Staying In Touch With LB, section Things I Won’t Do, it says that he won’t do that. It also tells you where to find him on the internet and where you might find his books. Cheers, Mr. Block. And, thank you for writing such a wonderful guide.

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blockObviously, not all readers are interested in writing, so for those of you who are not writers and have no interest in becoming one, I’d like to suggest another one of Block’s books, The Girl With the Deep Blue Eyeswhich is his latest release. Isn’t that cover something? It is available on Amazon (in the link above) in hardback, Kindle, and paperback as well.

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7 Things A Writer’s Spouse Should Expect

GaimanI sometimes feel very, very sorry for my husband because he’s stuck with me. I’m not the easiest person on the planet to live with. I blame being a hermit for the majority of this, but there are other reasons, I suppose. I’m difficult. Plain and simple. But, I’m a decent writer. So, if you’re in a relationship with a writer and you are planning on marrying them, there are things you should come to expect.

  1. Expect coffee- Expect it at 6 AM, noon, and 4 PM. And sometimes at midnight.
  2. Expect silence- Writer spouse will sometimes vacate all senses. He/She will disappear into their own world for long stretches of time. It is in my experience that these stretches of time are optimal buying times for presents for the writer. Or, ya know, a good time for the spouse to have a bowling night or catch a movie with friends. Whatever.
  3. Expect messy hair and pajamas- I can’t write very well if I’m uncomfortable. And, I can’t shower if I’m in the middle of a big scene.  I know I’m not alone in this.
  4. Expect a blizzard of post-it notes- These little pastel colored sticky paperlets (Is that a word? Heh. It is now.) are excellent for jotting down single thoughts or making short lists of murder suspects. And, they’re all over my kitchen. Also, I have index cards and other piles of papers all over the place. Don’t worry. They file away nicely in large zip-lock bags.
  5. Expect nary a dish to be washed- I wash dishes, sure. But, I don’t wash them when there are only a few in the sink. Now, I realize this drives some people crazy, but shut up. No, really. Shut up. I refuse to abandon my manuscript for three coffee mugs and a couple of saucers.
  6. Expect your bed to be vacated in the middle of the night- Have I mentioned that sometimes the mood to write strikes at the weirdest times? Like, when you’re lying in bed…Because it does.
  7. Expect take out meals- I don’t think a lot of folks would complain about this. My husband doesn’t. The man loves his pizza. Little Caesar’s drive-thru window is a place we frequent. Nobody can beat a quick meal for $5 a pop. But, sometimes cooking is just not on a writer’s mind. Neither is eating, for that matter. Sometimes we just forget that there are other people in the house and that, by most standards, food is expected to be served at some point.

 

Why I’ll Never Write A Happy Ending

There are an awful lot of romances in my stories and I try to make them as realistic as possible. I don’t go for characters no one can ever resist–the brooding, muscle bound hero meets the dainty, helpless damsel in distress–and I don’t see anything wrong with that. It’s real and it’s something a lot of readers can identify with. I read a lot of romances, too, and I love them. I just don’t want to write them.

gentlerogueRomantic heroes are often stereotyped and, while that may suck, there’s a reason for it. Apparently, lots of women like the man next door, the hunky fireman, the long-haired, shirtless werewolf… And, this stereotypical romance hero is often given a bad name for being just that, so let’s not do that here. As I said a paragraph ago, I read a lot of romances. I like them. But, you’ll never see Fabio rescue a fair maiden and ride of into the sunset on a unicorn in one of my books. Never.

The closest to a perfect romance novel hero I’ve ever come to writing was The Demon King. He was close, but no cigar. He had the look, he had the brooding demeanor, and he had an excess of power, but he was flawed from the beginning because he wasn’t in it to marry the girl and live happily ever after. I just don’t think demon kings get that sort of an ending. Realistically, they might achieve other goals, but how on earth would a romance really work in the Underworld? I just don’t get it.

Moving past romance novels, other stories with happy endings make my head spin, too. Does every single time traveler make it home safe to live out the rest of their lives as though they hadn’t just traveled through space and time? What about the traveler who becomes trapped? Or is obliterated en route? What about the traveler who wanderers onto an alien planet and is captured by the emperor of the Zed People and thrown into a rusty cage for the rest of his life?

And, what about crime stories? Does the PI always capture the bad guy? What if they didn’t? What if the main character lets the guy go because he’s paid an amount of money he simply can’t refuse? Or, what if he doesn’t let the bad guy go. What if, during the climax of the story, the PI meets up with the mass murderer in an alley somewhere and the murderer does what he does best–murder?

I don’t write happy endings. I did when I was a kid, but then life floated through me and I through it. At some point in my life I realized that not every story has to have a happy ending to be a good one. Not every book has to end the way we all want it to. Characters can fall into their destinies the way in which they are meant to and the endings of THOSE stories can be just as satisfying, just as wonderful, just as horrifying as a story with a happy ending. And, people will continue to read them because some of us enjoy a good book full of wonderful, flawed characters doing beautifully flawed things. I enjoy it when the outcome of a book isn’t what I might have thought it was going to be. I don’t like coming to the last chapter of a story and already knowing what’s going to happen before it happens because at least a million other stories have ended that way. I like to be surprised, both pleasantly and otherwise.

I think that’s why I’m drawn to horror and realism. There isn’t always a happy ending in those stories and it’s almost expected that the author is going to shred their character’s lives into a zillion pieces. I like that, no matter what’s going on in my life, I can crack open one of these stories and realize that it’s entirely possible that someone else out there might just be having a worse day than me.

All of the many things that go through my head kill me sometimes. I’m a constant thinker. Sometimes my thoughts are darker than velvet and sometimes they’re light as air–but, they are always realistic because I can’t stand the thought of writing a story that isn’t somehow true (even if it’s not). There’s no way on this earth I could ever convince myself to write a story where everything turns out okay because that’s just not how the world works. I will always tie up loose ends in my stories and if I leave something up for interpretation, it’s because sometimes life does that, too.

gwtw

“I can’t go all my life waiting to catch you between husbands.”- Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind

Romance novels are notorious for their happy endings (there are few without them, but Gone With the Wind comes to mind, though I don’t think that book was classified as just a romance novel). It’s totally possible that I might write romance again one day, but know that if I choose to do so, you’re not going to see the hero rescue the damsel in distress and ride off in a million dollar car to a million dollar wedding where their friends and families are waiting on them with smiles and bags of rice to choke the birds with.

It’s more likely that my romance novel will end with the anti-hero and anti-heroine in some sort of stand-off. They might be together at the end of the book, but at what costs? Their fortunes? Their dignity? A limb? Or, possibly even their very lives.

I don’t write happily-ever-afters because that just isn’t real. People pay taxes, they lose properties, they have accidents causing permanent impairments, and they fight like cats and dogs (or demon kings and half-mortals, as the case may be). So, ask me again why I don’t write happy endings.

In short, because shit happens, that’s why.

frankly

“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”-Rhett Butler, Southern gentleman not giving any damns (on film) since 1939.