Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Norman Maclean's dream come true.

Yesterday, the Pulitzer* committee decided (for the first time since 1977) not to award a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I'm not on the committee and can't speak to the decision, but a lot of other book people have used the occasion to commemorate some of the terrific novels that were published in 2011. I'd love to hear your suggestions, of any genre, in the comments.

Norman Maclean was snubbed by the Pulitzer committee in 1977 for A River Runs Through It. Despite being passed over for the award, though, Maclean got to live out what I think is many, many writers' dream. Maclean himself described it as "Probably the only dream I ever had in life that came completely true."

Go here, to the always-worthwhile Letters of Note blog, to see for yourself-- but you might want to queue up the Cee-Lo Green first. (Cee-Lo is NSFW.)

(*A pet peeve of mine: it's pronounced "PULL-litzer," not "PEW-litzer.")

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Write the hard parts.

SPOILER ALERT, if you're not caught up on the following:
Bones (TV)
Mad Men (TV)

Brilliant advice from my SJGA colleague Lindsay Ribar, whose debut YA novel The Art of Wishing will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers next year.

As a friend of mine noted after seeing Lindsay's tweet, we've all experienced this from the reader's or fan's perspective: it's immensely frustrating, as a fan, when a longed-for moment between characters happens "offstage." My friend singled out the TV show Bones, which finally hooked up the two protagonists after SIX SEASONS, but didn't tell the audience for several episodes that the long-awaited hook-up had in fact happened. Why would you, as a creator, do this to your most loyal fans?

Here's another example: on Mad Men, the most recent episode ("Mystery Date") seems to have finally gotten rid of one of the most-loathed characters, someone the fan base has hated since at least his most infamous appearance back in Season Two. This was done in more or less the final scene of the episode, and the fan base consensus seems to be that the scene in which it happened was utterly cathartic. When something important happens, we want to witness it for ourselves, not have to be told about it after the fact. And indeed, TV and movies have trained us not to believe in the finality of something (like a character's death) until we've seen the body. Having an event reported to us, even by a character we deem reliable, doesn't "count" in the same way.

Don't click on this link (or the previous one!) unless you have nothing to do for the next three hours. I'm not kidding. http://tvtropes.org

As a writer, you have a contract with your audience: trust me to tell you the story, and I'll tell you everything you need to know.

I know those scenes are the hardest to write. It's so much easier to let someone recap the big dramatic moments after the fact. But doing so is a disservice to your audience, and it undermines the trust you've worked so hard to build in your readers.

Write the hard parts. Write the secret parts. Write everything your readers want to know about the story, whether your characters want you to reveal it or not. Especially if they'd rather keep it to themselves.