3 Novels That Make Brilliant Use of Unconventional Structure

3 books with an unconventional structure

Stereotypically, a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. And more often than not, they occur in that order, starting with the earliest relevant chronological event and moving linearly through time before ending with the last relevant event. A narrator, usually a character in the story or an omniscient observer, relates the events. A story that experiments with … Read more

The Mistaken Mare of Easttown Gun: Blending Forensic Fact and Dramatic Fiction

The fatal Colt Detective Special

The mystery in HBO’s 2021 hit limited series Mare of Easttown hinges on the details of the gun used to murder a teenage girl. Drawing on my experience as a forensic firearms examiner and fiction author, I explain what the creators got wrong about the Mare of Easttown gun and assess how they blended fact and fiction in the show’s … Read more

The 93 Best Novellas

The Little Prince, Animal Farm and The House on Mango Street—three of The 93 Best Novellas

Based on curated lists from Lit Hub, Book Riot and more, suggestions from readers on Goodreads and Reddit, and recommendations from authors like Stephen King, Seanan McGuire, Banana Yoshimoto and Sandra Cisneros, here is a roundup of the 93 best novellas ever written. For the purposes of this list, I am following the Science Fiction Writers of America’s definition of a novella: a … Read more

Writing What I Know

A puzzle piece missing from a head illustrates my understanding of writing what I know

Writers are often advised to “Write what you know.” This well-worn phrase encourages writers to base their stories around subjects they understand and experiences they have had. But if followed strictly, this advice does not leave much material for storytelling. Writing what I know would leave my stories populated entirely by white men, dealing only with sports and forensic science. … Read more

The Three-Act Structure and Violent Socialization

Diagram of the three-act structure for stories

Great stories are built upon a careful organization of characters and plot. The main characters face conflict and engage in action that builds to a resolution. Skilled storytellers, whether they are writers or not, have a knack for this organization. Their stories are easy to understand and follow. They tantalize you with details and reveal twists and punch lines at … Read more

How Dystopian Novels Are Written

Our Dried Voices and 1984, two dystopian novels

An article I wrote for The Curious Reader about the key elements in my dystopian novel Our Dried Voices and other classics in the genre. Thanks to a young adult boom and television and film adaptations, the dystopian genre is riding a comeback. Authors who write dystopian novels have a new audience eager for stories that play on modern anxieties and … Read more

Planning Versus Pantsing: Why Writers Should Learn to Do Both

Planning Versus Pantsing: a brain with a variety of images illustrates the pantsing approach

When it comes to starting a new story, writers’ approaches generally fall into one of two categories: planning versus pantsing. Planners meticulously outline their stories before they write. They make sure to get every plot element in just the right place. Pantsers fly by the seats of their pants. They fill up blank pages with whatever comes to mind, believing … Read more

5 Writing Lessons from My Second Novel

5 Things I Learned from Writing My Second Novel

My first novel Our Dried Voices was published three years ago. As you might expect, I learned a lot going from publishing newbie to debut author, and I reflected on five of those writing lessons in this article. But as long as you remain willing to learn, the lessons never end. Three years later, and two months removed from the … Read more

Worst Year? Best Year? How to Move Forward in 2017

Worst Year? Best Year? How to Move Forward in 2017

“The worst year ever.” “The worst year in history.” Many writers and social media-ists have bid goodbye and good riddance to 2016, eager to turn the page on a year that brought much consternation and ready for a new beginning come 2017. And while I found much to distress me these past twelve months, it’s rare that things are as … Read more