Monday, November 22, 2010

gems from novelist Gail Anderson-Dargatz

I recently had the privilege of hearing and participating with novelist Gail Anderson-Dargatz at the Kamloops Arts Council Writers Fair. Anderson-Dargatz is the internationally acclaimed and best-selling author of The Cure for Death by Lightning, A Recipe for Bees, Turtle Valley, and A Rhinestone Button, among other titles. Some gems in her presentations glittered with special brightness for me. I hope you find them helpful and inspiring:

-Simple is sophisticated. It's not necessary to use flowery language and try to sound important.

-Making invented things seem real is like a magic trick.

-Things you write in fiction don't need to be probable, just possible.

-Feed your muse. Do research, interview people, get out and experience life.

-People are dying to tell their stories. If you open yourself to them, stories will walk up to you.

-When interviewing, it's preferable to meet people in their own environments, not someplace like a coffee shop.

-When interviewing people for the purpose of writing fiction, it's less about what actually happened than about what could have happened. Ask your interviewee "what if?" Brainstorm with your interviewee, then brainstorm by yourself.

-Don't write to get rich and famous. Write because it feeds your spirit.

-Your initial idea for a novel or short story should be big enough to provide sufficient potential for conflict.

-A genre novel, which is written according to certain rules and conventions, is generally quicker to write than a literary novel, which is more organic.

-It can take five (or more) years to write a literary novel. You need a topic and/or theme that will engage you emotionally for that long.

-There are lots of "three-chapter novelists." They write three chapters and don't know where to go from there.

-A writer may have good description, action, dialogue, etc. but be weak on structure. A knowledge of dramas/movies can help since dramas/movies are usually well structured.

-Real life is episodic. One thing happens after another, often with little evident cause and effect. Fiction shouldn't be like that. There should be a causal chain that escalates to a climax. Don't write coincidences.

-Writing a story as fiction can help you tell it even more truthfully than if you stick to the facts.

-A couple of recommended titles: Writers Gym by Eliza Clark, and The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham.


  1. Thanks for posting, Elma. I didn't get to Gail's workshop but loved what I had heard about her philosophy. Glad you wrote and updated us on more!

  2. Thanks for that great post. I also wanted to thank you for being a great moderator for the publishing panel at our Writers Fair. I knew you would do a fantastic job. People were making notes of the online resources you mentioned. Maybe that could be a topic for your next post.
    Sylvia Olson

  3. Great points. Very helpful. Thanks, Elma.


  4. Great summary, Elma. I attended her first workshop. The second I went to was about Editing, given by Sue Buis. She gave a handout listing many do's and don'ts for writing that flows.

  5. Hi Elma,

    Thank you for sharing these points of wisdom with us. It is great to see that writers can learn from each other.

    All best,


  6. Lots of good stuff to think on here. I love such lists of writing advice!