5 Writing Tips from Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer, Author of the acclaimed Southern Reach trilogy (perhaps you’ve seen a trailer for the film adaptation?) and Borne, shares his top five tips, with the caveat that “for most novels revision is the key to success.”

Have you hammered out that first draft and now have no idea what to do? His tips below might just be what you need.

1. Changes to structure can relieve pressure and allow your novel to breathe.

“As I weighed how much information to provide to the reader and where, I realized I should experiment with a three-part structure because I was in danger of off-loading too much context too quickly on the reader.”

2. Finding space for proper introduction of characters does not mean sacrificing tension.

“Once I knew the novel would have three parts, roughly corresponding to stages in Borne’s development, it meant that scenes involving other characters could now be spread out across all three sections and I could introduce characters like the Magician, an antagonist, in a more leisurely way. Ironically, this “leisure” would create more tension in the novel because I no longer had to do more than allude to the Magician until the point at which her entrance would be most dramatic.”

3. The emotional depth of your story can be affected by how you provide exposition.

“A change in structure meant a change in the length of the novel to some degree, but more importantly it meant I had more space for context related to setting and landscape and history to be situated at regular intervals along the way—only in the places it was needed and thus made more active than simply inert exposition. This changed the texture of the novel by making individual moments of description or explanation shorter.”

4. A multi-level narrative voice requires detailed attention at the paragraph level.

“In a way, the simpler the language became, the more complex the effects. This is because some of the more complex word choices drew too much attention to themselves in the midst of highly emotional scenes—scenes in which I wanted the reader fully engaged in the moment of the scene.”

5. A character’s past can be parceled out in aid of balancing the personal and epic.

“At one time, I had a long separate early chapter that detailed [the protagonist’s] past, thinking this was necessary for characterization. But I later realized, in the new context for the novel’s structure, that this chapter would be more effective broken up and spread throughout the novel, with more of it dramatized than summarized.”

Source: Publisher’s Weekly

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