Wednesday, March 09, 2011

SleuthFest: Dennis Lehane's Top Ten Tips!

I spent last weekend in balmy Fort Lauderdale attending one of my favorite mystery writing conferences—SleuthFest. Organized by the Florida Chapter of MWA, SleuthFest's two keynote speakers were Meg Gardiner (China Lake, Liar's Lullaby) and Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone). Dennis very generously shared his top ten tips for writers and I am shamelessly going to repeat them here because ... well ... they are really worth repeating. 
Thank you Dennis!

Here they are. 
1. Does the story begin on page 1?
If you have to write reams of back-story, pre-story etc. that’s okay but start the “real” story on page 1.

2. Does the main character act soon enough?
Avoid stasis. The first chapter HAS to be a “happening” chapter.

3. Does the main character have a recognizable “want”?
A clear want leads to action, which illustrates the inner life of a main character.

4. What does the character need?
This is different from the “want.”
Need is theme
Want is plot

5. Are your characters authentic?

6.Does the major character go on a journey and have an epiphany?
Story is the journey
Plot is the vehicle you use to drive on your journey

7. Do the events in the story have dramatic inevitability?

8. Is something at stake?
Does something matter beyond the story i.e. the character’s soul?

9. Write the book you want to read.

10. When in doubt, tell the ****ing story!!

And lastly, always try to transcend your genre. Challenge yourself each time. Raise the bar. Never ever settle.


For anyone who has not experienced SleuthFest ... I encourage you to attend next year!

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