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The First Sentence – or, How Lee Child Gets It Right

When I picked up the latest Lee Child novel, Never Go Back – well, grabbed it out of my wife’s hand as she walked through the door – and opened it up to the first page, after the first sentence I had to pause. ‘He nailed it,’ I thought to myself, ‘the bugger did it again.’ Then I dove back in and didn’t surface for two days. Let me explain. I’ve been studying writing for a few years now, learning anything I can about how to get it right. More and more in today’s world of instant hits and fast rejections, ‘getting it right’ means catching the reader from the first page and not letting go. Ideally you want to engage the reader in the very first sentence. You want to bring them personally into the story, introduce tension, ask a question, intrigue and excite your reader as soon as you can. Not too much to ask from a sentence, is it? Let’s see how it’s done by a master. “Eventually they put Reacher in a car and drove him to a motel a mile away, where the night clerk gave him a room, which had all the features Reacher…

Deryn Collier Book Review – Open Secret

I had the great good fortune to receive an advance reader’s copy of Open Secret by Nelson, BC writer Deryn Collier. This is Deryn’s second book, and it has confirmed what I already suspected – this lady is the Louise Penny of the West. Open Secret was a delightful read. Deryn’s stories take place in a sleepy, smoky mountain town peopled with a whole collection of characters who wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Bern Fortin, a Rwanda-damaged soldier turned town coroner, has a hunter’s eye and some serious baggage. He is dedicated to speaking for those who can no longer speak for themselves, and in this story he’s kept busy. Deryn brings to life an isolated village just left of anywhere, where evil comes as a shock and nothing gets in the way of the morning coffee. The story takes you in deep, and a week after finishing the novel I’m still wondering what happened next in the characters’ lives. Just like Louise Penny, who has done wonders for backwoods Quebec in world literature, and is sweeping every writing award in the English world with her work. With these two novels under her belt, Deryn is on her way. I am…

I Am The King Of The World – Following Your Own Rules

We can remake the world as we see fit. One of the main joys of writing stories is the ability to rewrite the rules – from giving voice and sensibility to farm animals to reimagining the laws of physics. One minor drawback – we have to follow the new rules we’ve made. It’s called plausible narrative, or suspension of disbelief, or half a dozen other things, but it all comes down to not losing your reader. Readers love it when a writer comes up with a new take on the world, a subtle or overt twist on reality that allows for all sorts of exciting and impossible possibilities. Strand a boy in a boat with a tiger (Life Of Pi). Have someone go to Nigeria and stick it to the scammers (419). Flatten the world, dose it with everyday magic, and make it look like rural England (the Discworld series). Do whatever the heck you want. Make up any premise, any new rules, go nuts. That’s what creativity is all about. But it better make sense, down to the last detail. Aye, there’s the rub. If gravity doesn’t work in your story, don’t have a dropped knife falling down. If…

Delusions of Grandeur, Premonitions of Doom – or, The Ups and Downs of Writing

This story is great. No, it’s garbage. Everybody will want to read this. Nobody will get past the first page. I’m going to be rich and famous from this stuff! I might as well give up right now. Sound familiar? I’m convinced that writing fiction is one of the most manic-depressive jobs in existence. Every single writer I’ve talked to has had to deal with the twin demons of fame and failure, at least at the beginning. Every stage of the writing, rewriting, and editing process is besieged by delusions of grandeur or premonitions of doom, with remarkably little room for anything else. In my own case, these opposing thought forms can switch places daily. Here’s the secret for you, one that I believe every writer needs to find: they are both wrong. It starts slowly. A turn of phrase, a delightful metaphor, a paragraph that does its job, shines on the page with that special twinkle. That’s pretty good, I thinks. That’s worthy. People will like this one. They’ll pay money for this. Hell, they’ll even tell their friends. I can do this. It’s easy, in fact! Just string a bunch of these excellent paragraphs together and I’ll be…

Bird’s Eye View – A Well-Crafted, Touching Tale

This story about one prairie daughter’s journey to adulthood through the crucible of World War 2 wrapped me up for three days of a delightfully deep read. It has just about everything I look for in a book – excellent writing, engaging characters, a storyline that pulls you along, and something interesting to learn. I gave it 5 stars on Amazon. Rose Jolliffe is a prairie girl bent on experiencing the world, and when the War comes along she sees her chance. Little does she know what she is getting into by travelling to England, but she sees the world all right – up close and personal with the eyes of an aerial photograph interpreter. We get to follow Rose as she battles through love and loss, injury and redemption, and the dismal and gorgeous British landscapes. By the novel’s end I was right alongside her on the long trainride back home. Photo interpretation is a fascinating new lens through which to view the same old war. Elinor Florence’s penchant for research comes to the fore here. She brings the Western Front to life in a way we’ve never seen before, and with a remarkably feminine touch – full of…