On writing

authors have a book—or part of a book—that they don’t talk about much. The
project that refused to take wings. The practice manuscript. The story that wrote
itself into a corner. The manuscript lurking
under the bed with the dust lions.
have two failures to launch.
first is set in the 1920s and was to be a romance between newspaper columnist Tinsley Ledbetter and bootlegger Nick Woodfield.
did an inordinate amount of research on the 1920s (I love research. It’s a
rabbit hole that can lure me away from almost anything). I adored the heroine.
I didn’t adore the book. I put it aside.
forward three plus years.
recently looked at Tinsley’s adventures with the idea that she didn’t need
Nick. What she needed was to solve mysteries. 
years when Tinsley languished, abandoned and almost forgotten, on a hard-drive
changed my writing.
Before: She forced a laugh. It sounded brittle,
like it might break into hysteria if anyone poked at it, so she hurried to wave
the sound away with a flip of her slim fingers.
After: She forced a laugh. It
sounded brittle, as if it might break into hysteria if anyone poked at it. That
wouldn’t do. She waved the splintery sound away.
first change—I used a preposition when I needed a conjunction. Like it might break should have been as if it might break. An easy fix.
second change – I added a sentence. That
wouldn’t do.
It gives the reader a peek at Tinsley’s thoughts.
third change – I deleted
so she hurried to wave. Why? It’s telling. I told the reader about
Tinsley’s intent. It’s better to show her actually doing something. Namely,
The fourth
change – I added splintery and
deleted slim fingers from the last sentence. Why? Splintery describes a sound.
Slim described Tinsley’s fingers. The problem? In theory we’re in Tinsley’s
head, would she describe her fingers?

I’m not sure if
Tinsley will emerge from that old hard-drive behind. If she does, I have loads
of work to do.

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean–and she’s got an active imagination. Truth is–she’s an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions. 

Her next book, Clouds in my Coffee, releases on May 10th.
8 replies
  1. Kimberly Jayne
    Kimberly Jayne says:

    Excellent examples of how you've grown as a writer and why you made those changes to improve the narrative. I feel like I've grown enormously over the past decade, and I think about resurrecting the novel waiting in the dark of my computer for me to shed new light on it. I still might, but it's a lot of work editing an entire manuscript.

  2. Unknown
    Unknown says:

    Thank you for the examples and insights. Every speck of information is valuable. Writing is not a moment, voila, where you realize you've finally got it…It is a progression of learning concepts and facts to become a better storyteller.

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