Tag Archives: Neil Gaiman

When Writing a Novel Seems Overwhelming

When I was working in the financial services industry, I occasionally faced a task that seemed insurmountable in the time allotted. My reaction was usually an internal state of panic: the chest tightens, and the pulse increases. Then I’d take a deep breath and tell myself, “Just break it down into manageable parts. Start small and build upon it.”

That’s how writing a novel is. If you look at it on the whole, the task can feel overwhelming. So my advice is: Take a deep breath and break it down into manageable parts.

Break it down into parts.
Good story structure consists of four parts. I discussed those parts in the post Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation.

“Virtually every successful novel you read and movie you see is built on this trusted and proven structural foundation.” ~ Larry Brooks

Break it down into beats.
A good story consists of beats to keep the reader engaged. I discussed those beats in the post Just Beat It: Using a Beat Sheet to Plan Your Story.

“’Let’s beat it out!’ It means it’s time to put all those great scenes and ideas and characters ‘up on the board’ and see what goes where, which character does what, and whether you need every scene you’ve imagined…or have to invent all new ones.” ~ Blake Snyder

Break it down into chapters.

“Titles are important; I have them before I have books that belong to them. I have last chapters in my mind before I see first chapters, too. I usually begin with endings, with a sense of aftermath, of dust settling, of epilogue.” ~ John Irving

Break it down into scenes.

“You can’t write a novel all at once, any more than you can swallow a whale in one gulp. You do have to break it up into smaller chunks. But those smaller chunks aren’t good old familiar short stories. Novels aren’t built out of short stories. They are built out of scenes.” ~ Orson Scott Card

Break it down into sentences.

“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

Break it down into words.

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” ~ Neil Gaiman



What is the Insecure Writers Support Group?

IWSG badgePurpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time.

Are you an insecure writer? Would you like to join the group? Click here for the sign up page.


Quote of the Week: Neil Gaiman’s Lecture on Why Our Future Depends on Libraries

Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neil Gaiman recently lectured on why our future depends on libraries, reading, and imagination. I’ve included some excerpts below, but the entire lecture needs to be read, and shared, and read again so I’ve included a link to it.

I hope my husband doesn’t read this because I think I’m in love with this man.

Neil Gaiman Lecture on Libraries

“I’m going to tell you that libraries are important. I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do.”

“Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of children’s books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading.

It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out,  because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it.”

“Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.”

“Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over.”

“We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean.”

“We writers  – and especially writers for children, but all writers –  have an obligation to our readers: it’s the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were – to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all.”

“We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.”

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. ‘If you want your children to be intelligent,’ he said, ‘read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ He understood the value of reading, and of imagining.”

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Ocean at the end of the laneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Goodreads Description: Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

My Review:

Opening sentence:

“Nobody came to my seventh birthday party.”

Why had no one gone to his birthday party? Was he new to the area? Was he shy? Was he a social outcast because he was somehow different? What was it? I had only read the first sentence when I began to empathize with the protagonist. I recalled the times in my childhood where I’d felt out-of-place, a little misfit. Neil Gaiman does a remarkable job of stirring those childhood memories to create a connection with the reader.

“Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.”

This story will take you back to your childhood as quickly as the aroma of your mother’s homemade Christmas cookies wafting through the air. Only, it isn’t the pleasant memories that come to mind. You will recall the times you heard or saw things that weren’t evident to adults.

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.”

I often wonder if, as a child, I was more in tune with the metaphysical world, with the unexplained, the things that go bump in the night. It was the time before I learned to put the world in a neat little box where every odd occurrence could be reasoned with a logical explanation. What about the toy that begins to play in the middle of the night? Oh it’s just a malfunction in the mechanism. What about the trinket that falls off the shelf? Surely it had been accidentally shifted by a person’s touch during the day and finally succumbed to gravity.  What was the flash of light across the bedroom wall? Oh, it was the reflection of a passing car. What was the shadow you saw in your peripheral vision? Well, of course it was just your imagination.

“I saw the world I had walked since my birth, and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.”

Reading this book will cause you to relive that paralyzing childhood fear when you were certain something was lurking under your bed or in your closet, but somehow hiding under your covers provided a magical layer of protection from anything sinister. You will believe that there are invisible forces at work. While evil lurks in the shadows, there is a benevolent force, like Lettie, that will cover you like that warm blanket from childhood. And quite possibly you will wonder if there really is an ocean at the end of the lane.

Memorable quotes:

“It’s hard enough being alive, trying to survive in the world and find your place in it, to do the things you need to do to get by, without wondering if the thing you just did, whatever it was, was worth someone having…if not died, then having given up her life.”

“How can you be happy in this world? You have a hole in your heart. You have a gateway inside you to lands beyond the world you know. They will call you, as you grow.”

4 of 5 stars

Teaser Tuesday: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

NeverwhereThis week’s teaser comes from the book Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. The book was published in 1996 and I’m ashamed to admit I never read it until now. If you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know that for years I spent most of my time working and rarely allowed myself to read anything other than “business” books. I was such a masochist back then. As a result, I’ve had a lot of catching up to do and hadn’t gotten to this one yet.

“Until that moment, she had never thought she could do it. Never thought she would be brave enough, or scared enough, or desperate enough to dare. But she reached up one hand to his chest, and she opened….”


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Quote of the Week: Neil Gaiman

“I had become someone who professionally replied to e-mail and who wrote as a hobby. I started to answer fewer e-mails and was relieved to find I was writing much more.” ~ Neil Gaiman

Photo credit: wikipedia
Photo credit: wikipedia

This quote is an excerpt from a commencement speech Neil Gaiman gave at The University of the Arts in 2012. I wrote about it in the post Listen to Your Inner Voice in June. If you haven’t heard it and you’re a creative type, then you should.

The words really struck a chord with me as I was trying to find some balance between blogging and writing, so I wrote it down on a slip of paper. I had intended to display it conspicuously so I wouldn’t fall into the same trap. Writing was to remain the primary focus of my day, but the slip of paper got tucked away, and the warning slipped my mind. I fell victim to the trap. The urgent call of e-mails screaming, “Open! Read me! Now!” became the primary focus of my day. Writing took a back seat to everything else.

I just came across the slip of paper, and although I’ve already rectified the situation, it is now prominently displayed on my desk. Answering e-mails won’t make me a writer, only writing can do that.

Teaser Tuesday: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This week’s teaser comes from the recently released adult fantasy novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.

“I had a dream in that house, that night. I woke myself in the darkness, and I knew only that a dream had scared me so badly that I had to wake up or die, and yet, try as I might, I could not remember what I had dreamed. The dream was haunting me: standing behind me, present and yet invisible, like the back of my head, simultaneously there and not there.”