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Andrea Widburg

A one-time history major who has spent decades preparing to write the story of her family's journey through 20th century European and Middle Eastern history.

Making Virtue Interesting When Writing a Book

We live in a time when virtue is not considered very interesting. Once upon a time in America, though, virtue was viewed very differently.

In the mid- to late(ish)-19th century, wrote a series of novels centered around young men who were the embodiment of American virtue. They weren’t gentlemen by lineage, they were gentleman by character. In his series of bestsellers, Alger churned out seemingly endless stories about teenagers, or even boys of 10 or 11, who were hard-working, honest, kind, courageous, and invariably willing to take a stand when it come to doing the right thing, no matter the temptations to do the wrong thing.

For the boys and young men across America who couldn’t get enough of Alger’s books, it didn’t matter at all that the plots were cut from the same template or that the heroes were interchangeable. What mattered was that Alger promised a payout on the American dream: If you work hard, are honest, cultivate virtue, and seize opportunity when it offers itself, then you too can make the journey from shoeshine or newspaper boy to a well-paid office clerk with a straight shot to being president of the company one day.

Thoughts about Memory, Myths, and Memoirs

It seems as if memory — both when it works and when it doesn’t — is in the news a lot today. In the world of science, we’re being told that, if we moisturize our bodies, we may have a better chance of preventing Alzheizmer’s, as well as a host of other illnesses.

Elsewhere we read that, if you apply electrical stimulation to elderly people’s brains, you can revitalize their memory so it’s as if they’re in their 20s again. A lower tech suggestion is just to eat lots of garlic.

I’m Hearing Voices In My Head… and That’s a Good Thing

6 of my Favorite Online “Dialogue Coaches”

Even though I’ve read thousands of novels over the years (yes, thousands), my first-time status as a novel writer has been showing itself when it comes to writing dialogue. Dialogue seems so easy when you read skilled writers such as Georgette Heyer or Dorothy Sayers. Both of them managed to create entirely distinct characters whose conversation is natural, charming, insightful and, in Georgette Heyer’s case, often laugh-out-loud funny.

Both these authors perfectly illustrate a core principle of novel writing, which is to show it, not tell it. For example, as I noted above, Georgette Heyer can write dialog that is both charming and funny. She doesn’t have to tell you that her characters are witty. They (literally) speak for themselves.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the author who, incapable of writing either charming or witty dialog, fills her characters’ mouths with leaden commonplaces. Then, having left you feeling as if you’re at the world’s most boring office party, she tells you that “Count So-and-So was one of the cleverest people in court” or that “Our hero couldn’t get over how brilliant the object of his desire showed herself to be.” No, the Count was not clever and that desirable object was dull, not brilliant. With dialogue, you just can’t fake it ’til you make it.

Stubborn Characters When Writing… and Knitting

Although few would guess it, I am in fact a very methodical writer. I always start with an outline, whether it’s a short one that I can hold in my head or a longer one that I have to write out. Over my years as a lawyer, I’ve written thousands of outlines as a predicate to legal briefs and memos. On occasion, I’ll discover that an argument I set up in outline form doesn’t work in prose, but I can usually make it right just by reorganizing my ideas to improve the flow.

Writing a novel is proving to be very different. I came up with a story based upon my family’s experiences in Europe over the course of the latter part of the 19th century and the first two-thirds of the 20th century — and I put it in outline form. I then built up details about each character and put that information into the outline. Lastly, I did the historical research and into the outline went the history too.

The Author’s Dilemma: Introducing Morality Into the Writing

One of my cheap thrills is watching the CW show Supernatural. The interaction between brothers Sam and Dean Winchester and their friends, whether angel, demon, witch, or even human, along with imaginative and sometimes incredibly funny plots, has made it an engaging viewing experience.

In addition to the standard horror show and comedy shticks, the long-running show occasionally grapples with moral issues, in no small part because most episodes have the brothers and their friends killing “ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night.” Usually the monsters are presented as appropriately evil, but there have been times when these evil monsters have been trying to reform — and the brothers sometimes offed them anyway. Fun stuff, as I said…