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Letting Your Novel Rest 

So you've finally finished your draft of your novel, play, screenplay, etc. Congrats! Maybe you've even gotten some feedback from a critique partner, professor, or editor. As soon as you get feedback, the wheels in your brain will most likely start turning with solutions to the problems your critique partner or editor pointed out. I know you want to open that file up on your computer and start working on it, but resist the urge!

You have to take some time and let a project rest. 

This could be a year, a month, a week, a few days even. However long it takes for you to let the feedback stew and generally forget about the project. You can start on another novel if you want. You can work on some poetry or write some songs or be artistic in creative in another way. But your novel will greatly benefit from you putting it up and not thinking about it for a while.

When you return to the novel, you will do so with fresh eyes, a new perspective. I guarantee you this is something your novel definitely needs.

Now I know those of you racing to make your 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo don't want to think about resting. You have momentum. You're going! You're doing it! And that's completely fine. But when December 1st comes, you've finished that novel, and you so desperately want to go to Amazon and hit publish or start querying literary agents, instead, take a moment to breathe. 

The point is there are different seasons with projects. There is a time to be drafting--when your creativity is limitless, when it's just about getting words on the page so you have something to work with. There is a time to be revising--this can be either on a big picture level (plot, characters, big chunks of the story) or a smaller scale (language, sentence structure, word choice, voice). And in between these two, there is a time to rest. This doesn't mean you can't draft another novel while resting with the novel you just finished, although even that doesn't work for some people. But it does mean that you should allow enough time for each season. 

Boil down your novel to one question 

It's that time of year again! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us! I am not participating this year as my main priority right now is revision and I'm not in a place to really work on something new, but good luck to everyone who is!

I was thinking about the years I did participate in NaNoWriMo. I always approached it as a "plantser"--a hybrid between a plotter and a pantser. I had some vague idea of the plot at the beginning--or sometimes I might even have a reasonably detailed outline--but it almost always changed as I was writing it.

One of the most challenging things about NaNoWriMo for me is figuring out plot. If you're anything like me, your plots can get a little complicated. Sometimes when you're in the middle of writing, you can get so bogged down that you don't even really know what the story is about anymore. If your a pantser, you figure it out after you write your first draft (or while you're writing it). If you're a plotter, you figure it out before. But at some point, you're going to need some plot structure. 

There are tons of ways to think about structure. The three-act structure, the hero's journey, etc. Today I'm going to give you a really simple way to think about plot structure. If you could boil down your novel to one question, what would it be?

Every narrative arc in a novel, movie, TV show, etc. can be summed up in one main question. Will Dorothy make it back home to Kansas? (The Wizard of Oz). Will Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy end up together? (Pride and Prejudice). If you have a series of books, there may be one question driving the whole series (Will Harry defeat Voldemort?) But each book needs to ask it's own question.

I think this is a good way to think about plot when you're in the middle of drafting because it doesn't mean stopping to make a detailed outline. It just means taking a few minutes before you sit down to write to think about what is driving the plot of your book.

So this week, I encourage all of you--especially those of you who are in the middle of your NaNoWriMo projects--to take some time and see if you can boil the plot of your novel down to one question. If not, you may need to think about the plot structure and figure out which question should be driving the plot. Is it a question of characterization? Will your character learn or grow? Is it a question related to some journey or quest? Will your character achieve his or her goal? These are all some good things to think about as you power through. 


Write About the Things You're Obsessed With 

I was talking to a friend the other day about one of the most important pieces of creative writing advice I’ve ever heard: 

Follow your obsessions. 

I’m definitely a person who gets obsessed with things. If you’ve ever binged Game of Thrones for hours at a time or stayed up until 3:00 AM reading Harry Potter or had dreams about the characters on Lost, you know what I’m talking about. 

There’s a lot of talk about fan fiction and whether or not it has any validity. I think fan fiction is great because it gives people a chance to follow their obsessions. If you loved a book, movie, or TV show but hated the ending, you can write your own alternative ending. If you're obsessed with a character, you can put them in a different universe just to write more about them. (Want to see Jack Skellington in modern day New York? Want to make Mr. Darcy go to college in Alabama?Want to see what would happen if Dracula started going to your gym? Write some fan fiction!) Often, fan fiction authors go on to write other original stories (50 Shades of Grey anyone? The Mortal Instruments series? Both of these came from fan fiction authors.) 

Find what it is you are obsessed with and allow yourself to daydream. Allow yourself to fantasize. Start writing stories just for yourself. Because you’ve always loved your history teacher and sometimes you imagine what he was like as a teenager. Because you are obsessed with Dark Side of the Moon and you want to write a story that makes you feel what you feel when you listen to it. Whatever it is, figure it out, and go with it. 

Do not judge or psychoanalyze your obsessions. Who knows why we are into the things we are into? In the world of creativity, there are no limits. Let yourself like what you like and give yourself the chance to write about it. 

Do not worry about what other people will think. Let yourself write and tell yourself it’s just for you. If something really great comes out of it, then awesome! You can show people if you want to. But following your obsessions is just about finding what makes you excited, what makes you tick, what makes you want to create. 

When I wrote the play, Painted, in undergrad, I became so obsessed with the Muse characters, Vincent and Izabella, that I found myself wanting to spend more time with them. I toyed around with other projects that I thought might be more “accessible” for a while but it wasn’t until I returned to Vincent and Izabella that I was able to complete a novel. Because I was obsessed. I couldn’t stop writing. I couldn’t let those characters and that story die inside of me. Ten years later, Vincent and Izabella still live in We Own the Sky.

Find your obsessions and then just let yourself go. Let yourself dream. Let yourself fall down the rabbit hole. You might just find that it will lead you to the story you’ve always wanted to write.

How to Write Better Dialogue 

Hey everyone! So I used to have a writing blog where I wrote specifically about the craft of writing. As everyone is getting ready for National Novel Writing Month next month, I thought it was a great time to bring that back here. So today I wanted to talk about something that comes up a lot in the screenwriting class I teach for Southern New Hampshire University: dialogue. 

Dialogue is something I think about a lot. In college and grad school, my main focus was playwriting. Dialogue is your main tool in playwriting. You can’t constantly change locations like you can with film, and you don’t usually have access to the character’s thoughts and feelings like you do with fiction so the story is primarily told in the dialogue. 

But you don’t have to be writing a play or a film to want to write great dialogue. Whatever you’re writing, dialogue is an excellent tool that reveals so much about the characters. Here are a few things to think about. 


How does your character speak? How do they phrase things? What kind of words do they choose to use? Do they use a lot of slang? Do they curse a lot? How does your character’s education or cultural background inform the way they speak? 

These are all important things to think about when you are thinking about a character’s voice. It’s also important that you give each of your characters a distinct voice. If you have a plethora of diverse characters with different backgrounds and different personalities, you don’t want them all to have the same voice. 


People rarely say what they mean. Understanding what a character really thinks or feels about a situation may help you to craft the actual conversation that takes place. An interesting exercise is to write a scene where only the honest and direct truth is spoken. Then go back and rewrite the same scene where the lines you wrote first are only subtext. 

Whenever your character has a line of dialogue, it’s good to think about what the underlying feelings, thoughts, and motives are that cause the character to say the line. 


We want dialogue to sound natural and realistic, but we don’t need to go into every mundane detail that might be in a real conversation. Dialogue should have a purpose. It should either further the plot, reveal something about a character, or both. Look at your dialogue in a scene from a recent play, film, or story. Would the scene still make sense or reveal the necessary information about your character if the line were omitted? If so, leave it out. 


Here are a few exercises to help you work on your dialogue. 


Go to a public place like a coffee shop or the mall. (Airports are GREAT for this!) Sit in one place and listen to the way people are speaking as opposed to what they are actually saying. Pay attention to dialect. Do they pronounce certain words differently? What can you infer about them just by listening to the way they speak? 

Playwriting 101 

Try writing a short scene (2 - 4 pages) for the stage with two characters where each person wants something different from the other person. Don't use any stage directions. When you are finished, go back and write out the subtext of each line of dialogue. This exercise will be great for fiction writers, but even if you're an experienced playwright, it's always great to sharpen your tools. 

Get to the Point 

Pick a scene from your latest novel, play, or screenplay. Go through and cross out every line you don’t need. How does it change the scene? Is there a lot of extraneous information you’re getting rid of? With this new version of the scene in mind, put the lines back in that help to serve your story.