There are a lot of things in life where either too much or too little won’t work, and when it comes to fiction, interiority is definitely one of them.

When I talk about interiority, I’m talking about what happens inside the point-of-view (POV) character, as opposed to what happens in the external world of the story. This might take the form of internal narration (“Anna wondered what he was thinking”), direct thought (“What the hell was he thinking? Anna wondered”), free indirect discourse (“His mouth was set in a thin line. What was he thinking?”) …

This month, I had the pleasure of attending Lisa Cron’s virtual launch for Story or Die: How to Use Brain Science to Engage, Persuade, and Change Minds in Business and in Life, and wow, what a surreal experience it was to hear her glowing priase for me as her book coach — I, who started off as a total fan girl of her books Wired for Story and Story Genius.

Story or Die is just as brilliant as Lisa’s first two books, but while those books are aimed specifically at writers, this one I’d recommend to just about anyone, because…

a coach helping a man do push ups
a coach helping a man do push ups

Tell people you’re a book coach and you’ll get some questions: What is that, exactly? And what’s the difference between book coaching and editing?

I get these questions a lot — at least I did, when I was allowed to leave the house — so I thought I’d speak to them here.

Editing is that old-school thing wherein someone reads your manuscript and provides you with editorial feedback designed to strengthen it in revision. The first round of feedback generally takes the form of a detailed editorial letter, while the second typically involves markup on the manuscript itself.

Independent editors…

Two white birds flying above water — it looks like they could be in conflict.
Two white birds flying above water — it looks like they could be in conflict.

The poet William Carlos Williams said, “No ideas but in things.” It’s a refrain from a poem, and as such, Williams made no particular interpretation of it, but those who came after him have taken it to mean that poetry should focus on objects rather than concepts, on actual things rather than the abstract characteristics of things.

As a fiction writer and book coach, I have my own corollary: “No conflicts but in scenes.”

This is not to say that scene’s complementary opposite, summary, is not important. Summary provides background information, collapses time when necessary, and gives us the point-of-view…

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been working with teen writers through Interlochen Online, the Covid-era version of the Interlochen Center for the Arts’ summer camp program. These are smart, gifted young people, all of whom are working on novels, and they all want help with the same thing: plot.

I imagine that’s because they’ve waded out maybe waist-deep into the story they envisioned and can’t tell where they’re supposed to go from here.

Or perhaps it’s because they’ve written their way to The End but suspect there’s something essential missing, something that would make this story a better story…

As the country erupted in protests over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery last week, I spent some time on the phone with two of my Black clients.

We talked about our fears and hopes for this country, and we talked about their creative work. I’m sure they were both feeling shell shocked, and I’m sure they were both going through things that they wouldn’t necessarily share with their book coach.

But neither of them seemed to feel helpless in the face of current events, or at a loss for how to contribute to the conversation…

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

There’s a point in one my favorite movies from childhood, Labyrinth, where the young heroine, frustrated at her lack of progress through the Goblin King’s maddening fantasy landscape, asks the Wise Man–who happens to have a bird for a hat–how to reach the castle at the center of the labyrinth.

After an appropriately ponderous period of pause, given his advanced age, the Wise Man replies, “Sometimes the way forward is the way back.”

To which the bird rolls its eyes and says, “Will you listen to this crrrap!”

I suspect many writers would have the same response if I told…

Image via Sacred Stone Camp FB page

Even amid the flurry of efforts to promote my first book, even amid the roar of the election season and its various outrages, Standing Rock has been on my heart and mind. Standing Rock, shorthand for the largest Native American act of resistance since Wounded Knee, and one of the largest climate actions in history.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, which many have termed the “sequel” to the Keystone XL, is a 1,172-mile conduit slated to carry crude oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois–directly under the Missouri River, and across the watersheds the Standing Rock Sioux tribe uses for drinking…

John Gardner, in his classic On Becoming a Novelist, said, “Practical sciences, including the verbal engineering of commercial fiction, can be taught and learned. The arts too can be taught, up to a point; but except for certain matters of technique, one does not learn the arts, one simply catches on.”

Gardner seems to imply that pretty much anyone can write a book that sells (pshaw!), but to produce a real work of art — well, as Louis Armstrong said,

“If you’ve got to ask, you’ll never know.”

I don’t know if my debut novel, Hot Season, is a real…

Susan DeFreitas

Susan DeFreitas is an award-winning author, as well as a freelance editor and book coach specializing in socially engaged fiction.

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