The Secret History, Donna Tartt — a Post on Writing Technique

What does it mean to tell a story? When I think of “telling a story,” I am thinking specifically of the act of verbal storytelling – perhaps around a fire with an audience of people who can leave at any moment. In this situation of verbal storytelling, it’s important to keep your listeners in anticipation of what might come next. It is also helpful to inform them about the world of your story. And to tell them about the kind of story you are telling, and to fulfill that kind of explanation. Digressions that explain the storyteller’s apprehension of what is to come are most welcome, as such pieces of the “story” build towards satisfying narrative and powerful insights into the characters. On the other hand, self-indulgent words or metaphorical flourishes that...

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How to Write Funny — on Charles Stross and the 4th Wall

 APOCALYPSE CODEX Charles Stross                    On the surface, Charles Stross’ third “Laundry Files” novel, The Apocalypse Codex, seems to be a serious secret agency-meets-sorcery story. Other work by Stross – his straight SF novels such as Singularity Sky and his shorter fiction about sorcery like the Oliver North-inspired elegant short story “A Colder War” – all seem to imply a seriousness of storytelling. In Apocalypse Codex, Stross often writes as if he wishes to be taken seriously. Here’s a description from early on in the novel: In my dream… I’m one of the Watchers – or rather, I’m a passive, helpless passenger inside the skull of one of the dead, mummified Watchers who the Baron impaled in a huge circle on the dying plain nearly a century ago, to form...

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On Empathy – A Post about Stephen King and Writing Well

            I read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and Joe Hill’s Horns this month. Both books are written by powerfully strong horror writers and novelists who know how to spin a yarn. (It’s also interesting to observe that these two writers happen to be father and son.) As I read the two books, I found myself pondering the likeability of the narrators of both of these first-person books. One of the books features an obviously positive and sympathetic narrator: the other book features the opposite. One book worked for me, and one book simply did not. So I’d like to examine the importance of your protagonist’s likeability in a first person narrative. One writer – Stephen – gives us a narrator we feel positively connected to, and seems to have good motivations and...

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