How “The Hunger Games” hooks readers: Bringing a premise to life

How author Suzanne Collins creates a compelling high-concept premise in the opening chapter of The Hunger Games, how she brings that premise to life through character, world-building, and language, and how that premise conquered the literary world. Watch the video above and read the transcript on Medium.

How “The Road” hooks readers: Rooting for the underdog

How author Cormac McCarthy creates vulnerable characters that engage our emotions in his Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Road. Also, how the literary theories of Greek philosopher Aristotle still apply today, and what the modern anti-hero gets right and wrong. Watch the video above and read the transcript on Medium.

How “Cloud Atlas” hooks readers: Delivering the Unexpected

How author David Mitchell uses unexpected structure and unexpected language to hook readers in his novel Cloud Atlas. Plus, how the psychological concept of flow applies to great writing. Watch the video above and read the transcript (with extras) on Medium.

Learning from “Coraline” by Neil Gaiman: Building a world

Great writers build spaces for compelling stories and settings that capture our imagination. Here’s how author Neil Gaiman hooks readers using exploration and discovery of a setting in Chapter 1 of his novel Coraline. Watch the video above and read the transcript on Medium.

How Susanna Clarke starts “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell”: Big questions

How author Susanna Clarke asks the right questions to hook readers and drive the story in the opening chapter of her fantasy novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Also, how the philosophy of Romanticism comes alive in the story and setting, and what writers can learn from kids cartoons. Watch the video above and read the transcript on Medium.

How Yann Martel starts “Life of Pi”: The power of first-person storytelling

In Life of Pi, Yann Martel searches for the “spark that brings to life a real story.” Life of Pi itself uses first-person storytelling to light that spark. Let’s see how Yann Martel uses the power of first person in the opening chapters to hook the reader, and why the novel starts before the first page. Watch the video above and read the transcript on Medium.

How J. K. Rowling starts “The Philosopher’s Stone”: Voice vs Exposition

How J. K. Rowling’s first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone hooked her readers, agents, and editors, using voice, mystery, and nostalgia. Watch the video above and read the transcript on Medium.

Close Your Eyes: a short story

A shooting star streaked through the clear mustard sky and burst apart, bombarding the plateau and the colony below with shrapnel. After a fragment with a bullet’s velocity shattered a dish on the colony’s communications tower, Arjun decided to climb the tower himself to repair the dish rather than pull construction drones away from their scheduled work.

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Almost the second draft


Getting close to officially completing the second draft of my novel. Picked up a print-out of the book yesterday from Staples. I’ll start a full read-through next week and spend the next month or so finalizing the draft. A lot of positive changes came via my six-month mentorship at Banff. The book is currently 85,000 words (332 pages in this format), down from 91,000 when I started the mentorship. Before that started, I had already cut it down from the 120,000 words it was as an official first draft. Throughout the mentorship, I had this fantastic feeling of watching the book get better and better with each passing day. Now I’m curious to see how all the edits turned out.

The first draft…

Three years, eight months, and one hundred and twenty thousand words later, the messy first draft of my novel is done! Now to start reading it over. It’s messy, so this is like the alpha or something, like v 0.843. I’ll read it and spend a couple of weeks revising it before even considering it an official v 1.0 first draft (which itself is only the first of many future drafts…). I’m a little apprehensive, to be honest. This past year, I blazed through the draft. I was ticked off at myself for taking so long (never mind that I had a lot of structural decisions to make). Maybe 10 months ago, I was at something like 50,000 words, and now I’m at 120,000. So I really blazed through. I said to myself, “Don’t worry about making it perfect, just make it. It will be perfect later.” I kicked myself in the ass and have managed to end up with this thing, whatever it is, but I know I can do better—the gap between good taste and the thing I’ve made. Keep doing the work, that’s how you close the gap.