WSJ Tips for Writing the Great American Novel

via Flickr’s frogmuseum2ArtTracker| If only it were so easy as having a rule book for writing a great novel.  In a fall season unusually rich with new reads, the WSJ gets “how I write” guidance from a long list of established writers: Nicholson Baker, Orhan Pamuk, Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Ondaatje, Richard Powers, Dan Chaon, Kate Christensen, Margaret Atwood, Edwidge Danticat,  Junot Díaz, Amitav Gosh, Russell Banks, Colum McCann, Anne Rice, John Wray, and Laura Lippman.

At the risk of stereotyping by gender, male authors tend to talk more about getting the plot and characters right. They grow beards and live in rat-infested basements.

John Wray wrote New York subway-based “Lowboy” riding the F, C, and B trains six hours a day. P.S. he really got into the G train for awhile.

Some write digitally; others don’t. Big monitors, voice recognition technology, lying down, sitting on the edge of the bathtub for tough parts. There’s no prescription for ‘right way’ in this writer’s recipe box.

Women speak more of process.

Laura Lippman: Mystery writer Laura Lippman creates elaborate, color-coded plot charts, using index cards, sketchbook pages, colored ribbon and magic markers.

Ms. Lippman says she can tell a novel is off-track if her chart lacks symmetry. I like this approach

Lippman first used the technique on her ninth book, “By A Spider’s Thread,” which had two lines of action. She assigned a color to each point of view and made a chart with alternating blocks of color. For her novel “To The Power of Three,” which had seven different points of view, she bought seven different colors of ribbon and assigned a color to each character. Then she created a grid and strung colored ribbon representing each character between chapters where that character appeared, creating an intricate colored lattice. via WSJ

According to the author, people find her charts “mildly disturbing”. Let’s call them inventive.

via Flickr’s {nifty_photos}Edwidge Danticat: Writer Edwidge Danticat makes storyboard collages, using her own photos and National Georgraphic to visualize her home in Haiti. (I LIKE this idea. The above visual is not Danticat’s work.)

“I like the tactile process. There’s something old-fashioned about it, but what we do is kind of old-fashioned,” she says.

Sometimes, the collage grows large enough to fill four bulletin boards. As the plot becomes clearer, she culls pictures and shrinks the visual map to a single board. via WSJ

If you’re a writer, of course you’ve experienced writer’s block on occasion. Margaret Atwood has a solution.

“Put your left hand on the table. Put your right hand in the air. If you stay that way long enough, you’ll get a plot,” Margaret Atwood says when asked where her ideas come from. When questioned about whether she’s ever used that approach, she adds, “No, I don’t have to.” viaWSJ