One Writer’s Admission and a Giveaway


Fifty-three. That’s how many books I have on a particular shelf in my office, and that doesn’t include reference books or any borrowed from the library. All of them tell me how to write a novel. I counted them because I thought it would bolster my confidence. After all, if I’ve read that many books about writing, surely I must know something about how to write. Right?

Then again, the more how-to books I read, the closer I edge to the precipice of information overload. I don’t like to admit the truth, but here it is: the more I read, the harder it is to remember what I’ve read, and that’s frustrating.

But this week I discovered an excellent check list on Rachelle Gardner’s blog — in fact, not one, but two extensive lists about what “an editor looks for when reading a manuscript.” The perfect refresher course for my foggy brain. On Monday her post was all about characters. On Tuesday the topic was the story itself.

I can’t begin to reproduce all the information, but please consider clicking over to read Rachelle’s posts for yourself. You shouldn’t miss them.

Then come back here and tell me which point you found the most valuable. From the comments left here between now and 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time) Thursday I’ll choose one person at random to receive their choice of one of the following books… ‘oldies but goodies’ that are either duplicates or I’ve read more than once and am finally willing to part with to make room on the shelves for new purchases. (What? You didn’t think I was going to stop reading, did you?)

Negotiating With the Dead: a Writer on Writing (Margaret Atwood) 2002

The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club (Maeve Binchy) 2008

The Writing Life (Annie Dillard) 1989

Thunder and Lightning (Natalie Goldberg) 2000

Writing Historical Fiction (Rhona Martin) 1988

So, what are you waiting for? Go click on the links to Rachelle’s posts, then come back here and tell me which point you found the most helpful.

I’ll announce the winner Friday morning.



Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

25 thoughts on “One Writer’s Admission and a Giveaway

  1. Thanks Carol 🙂 I love the way Rachelle Gardner uses her knowledge to help the aspiring writer. Picking one was not difficult. I craft my stories to be character driven and I was most intrigued by this:

    “A protagonist needs a goal or desire; something keeping them from reaching it; and something serious at stake if they don’t reach it. The protagonist’s dilemma must be compelling enough to carry an entire book.”

  2. I had to go count my writer how-to books. I came up with 29. And I was surprised how many of them were different from the ones in your photograph. In fact, I think we only had one book in common! Wish we lived closer, we could do a book swap and pool our resources. 🙂

    I loved Rachelle’s two blog posts.

    My favorite bit of advice:

    Write in SCENES. A scene has three necessary elements: a location in time and space; action; and dialogue. Make sure the end of each scene drives the reader into the next scene.

    1. When I feel guilty about spending money on books I hit the library. I notice that a few of the *greats* I’ve read aren’t in my pile because I borrowed them. You and Cathy both mention a book swap. Wouldn’t that be great? I have a writing friend/mentor who has given me several of her books, but I’m usually loath to permanently part with any of mine.

  3. Isn’t her blog great? I got so much out of reading both those posts.

    I find that character is the most important element in a story and until I have a clear idea of my main characters in my head, the story lies flat and is a struggle to write. Love all the points she made about character.

    I must admit to having a huge collection of writing books, too. Don’t know if it makes me a better writer but it makes me look cool and serious about it. Heheh Too bad we couldn’t all get together for a book swap.

    1. I love that book swap idea. If only we lived close enough to do it! I don’t think my stack is likely to make me look cool, though, because many of the books are elementary ones I turned to as a beginning novelist.

      1. Many of mine are too, Carol, but it gives me the illusion that I’m a cool, serious writer and I can live the fantasy a little longer. I have all these books. Doesn’t that prove I’m a serious writer? LOL!

    1. I really don’t “know so much”, Carol Ann. In fact, the more I read, the more I realize how much I still have to learn! I sometimes wish I could learn by osmosis. That would justify collecting the books. 😉

  4. “A strong protagonist doesn’t have to be likeable.” She says this, but there’s a lot more to it, I think. The difference is in disliking and being annoyed. She would probably overlook annoying characteristics if all the other elements fall into place. There has to be an endearing quality up front. An unobtainable goal, a few personality quirks — but something has to draw you to the annoying character. Otherwise, I don’t believe she or any other agent would read on.

    Great collection of posts though. I like Rachelle for that very reason: she’s quick to help in any way she can.

  5. Sorry, I meant to say that she goes on to explain that it’s more than not liking a character. Or at least that’s not the entire truth. Or … maybe I should quit while I’m ahead. LOL.

    1. I’m not sure I’d relate well to annoying protagonists, and Rachelle does go on to say, “they have to make the reader root for them and even more importantly, the reader needs to like spending time with them.” That probably wouldn’t happen if they were downright annoying. I agree, there had better be at least some redeeming qualities. 🙂

  6. That’s an impressive stack of books, Carol. If I took a photo of my writing books you’d probably break out laughing.

    Rachelle has a great blog. Lots of good advice.

    1. Me, laugh? Never! The only reason this stack is so tall is because over the past dozen or so years I’ve never been able to resist a book on writing, plus I don’t seem able to part with them once I have them! Not all of them are useful to me now but they all served a purpose in their time and a select few I still refer to regularly. Not all are ‘how-to-write’ ones; some are motivational.

  7. I find the point that the character’s dialogue has to suit their personality, the hardest. It’s a challenge to make sure your characters sound like you want them to on the page. You have to do your homework to get those voices right.

    1. Christine, you touch on something that was a particular challenge for me in one of my novels. I wrote it from the male protagonist’s POV. My beta readers and critiquers found a few places where they heard me and not him! I took a picture from my story collage… someone who represented him… and kept it near the computer as I revised. That helped keep me in his head.

  8. I found this one important information for me. Protagonists must have both internal and external motivation, stakes, and conflict. Right now I focus more on one or the other. Getting more depth to my characters will help me grow as an aspiring writer.

    I am grateful you pointed out her blog. I will read yours and hers on a regular basis.

  9. Hey Carol – Playing catch up (*sigh*). I don’t read agent blogs these days – a time issue more than anything – but of the ‘how to’ books I’ve read (not as many as are in your stack of stuff) the one that stood out for me was by James Scott Bell – The Art Of War For Writers. Runner up – Noah Lukeman’s First Five Pages. Both were very well done.

    1. Those two are indispensable gems, Dave. I know the benefit of books isn’t in accumulating a huge stack, but in making good use of ones that are going to provide the info we need, when we need it.

      I sympathize with your time issue. You have one hectic life! But if you get a minute, Rachelle’s two posts pack a lot of vital info into a concise package.

  10. I think I like this one:

    Incorporate a strong sense of place, culture or environment, and treat it as an important character. Firmly establish setting and time period. Use sights, sounds, textures, and smells to evoke the feel of the fictional world.

    Using all the senses.

  11. The note stuck to my monitor (see Friday’s post) is proof of my intent to select the last person to comment before tonight’s midnight deadline. So, Sandra, you’re the winner of the book of your choice. Congratulations! E-mail me with the title of the one you’d like and provide a mailing address: caroljgarvin [at] gmail [dot] com

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