The single greatest novel-writing tip I ever got was to “Burn the House Down.”
I’d been having a hard time getting anything to happen in Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains. It just didn’t seem like my story was dramatic enough, and I worried everything was too slow, too boring. I typically spend a lot of time thinking about how to say things, and sometimes neglect my plot.
So I asked another writer what to do, and she said, “Obviously you should burn a house down. House fires are never boring. Plus, then all the characters will have to help out and figure out how the fire started, and you’ll learn all sorts of other stuff about them when you see how they react!”
She turned out to be absolutely correct. Whether you send in a hurricane, a house fire, a plague, or a gigantic shark, there’s always an easy remedy for a book that suffers from too many yawns. So long as you go back later and make sure that you weave the rest of the story around it! I tossed in a boat tipping over a waterfall and a terrible storm and everything was better!
Laurel Snyder is the author of a picture book, “Inside the Slidy Diner” (Tricycle, October, 2008) and a children’s novel, Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains OR The Search for a Suitable Princess (Random House, August, 2008). Currently she is at work on a second novel, Any Which Wall. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a former Michener-Engle Fellow, Laurel has published work in the Utne Reader, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Revealer, Salon, The Iowa Review, American Letters, Commentary, and elsewhere. She is an occasional commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered, but most of all, she is a mom.