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Scratch Paper, Episode 20: Finding the right words

This week’s lesson is about actually writing–a craft lesson related to detail and tone.

It includes how to choose words that will make your reader catch onto the tone WITHOUT EVEN NOTICING.

I think this trick is like magic. I think it is the difference between OK writing and good writing. It’s what I try to do. It’s what I am thinking about most as I’m working on my new novel.

Click through to listen to the full episode:



Writing update:

I have written a few more pages of my novel. Reveal! It’s about a psychic (Lia) who is helping an evangelical family whose foster daughter has stopped talking. I’m on page 75 and I am working towards 100 pages, but I’m stalling out.

Reading update:

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (who also wrote The Swan Thieves, HIGHLY RECOMMEND!)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is another really good, really long book.

Black men and public space by Brent A. Staples is a brilliant essay about race in an “elevated” tone. Here is an example from the intro:

My first victim was a woman-white, well dressed, probably in her early twenties. I came upon
her late one evening on a deserted street in Hyde Park, a relatively affluent neighborhood in an
otherwise mean, impoverished section of Chicago. As I swung onto the avenue behind her, there
seemed to be a discreet, uninflammatory distance between us. Not so. She cast back a worried
glance. To her, the youngish black man–a broad six feet two inches with a beard and billowing
hair, both hands shoved into the pockets of a bulky military jacket–seemed menacingly close.
After a few more quick glimpses, she picked up her pace and was soon running in earnest.
Within seconds she disappeared into a cross street.
That was more than a decade ago, I was twenty-two years old, a graduate student newly arrived
at the University of Chicago. It was in the echo of that terrified woman’s footfalls that I first
began to know the unwieldy inheritance I’d come into–the ability to alter public space in ugly

See those words? Uninflammatory, billowing, menacingly, earnest–that’s what I’m talking about.

This essay, published in 1986, is unfortunately still relevant today, and I highly recommend you Google it.

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