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This blog was featured on 03/11/2020
Carol Goodman on Characters, Self-Criticism & Advice
Written by
She Writes
March 2020
Written by
She Writes
March 2020

Carol Goodman is the author of 21 novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages, The Seduction of Water and The Widow’s House, which won the 2018 Mary Higgins Clark Award. This month she releases The Sea of Lost Girls, a twisty, harrowing story set at a prestigious prep school in which one woman’s carefully hidden past threatens to destroy her future.

On Early Beginnings

“I started writing at age nine, when my teacher introduced the topic ‘Creative Writing’ and I wrote a 90-page, crayon-illustrated collection entitled The Adventures of the Magical Herd in which a girl named Carol lives with a herd of magical horses. I knew from that moment I wanted to be a writer and that I’d always find a way to rewrite my own life.”

This excerpt was originally published on the author’s website. Read her full post here.

On Process

Like many writers, Carol always has writing on her mind, so she puts the pen to paper when her mind is fresh, but also finds that some of her best ideas come to her when she’s on the go.

“I like to write in the morning, after my first cup of tea and reading the newspaper, before I get groggy and tired.  I usually put on the classical station and write at my desk with my dog sleeping in her bed underneath.”

This excerpt was originally published on Adventures in YA Publishing. Read the full interview here.

“The truth is I have written on the fly – in cafés and restrooms, on trains and planes, sometimes using improvised materials such as the backs of envelopes, theater programs, and once, when I got back to the car from a hike and realized I didn’t have the key or a piece of paper in my pocket, on a leaf.”

She adds that although ideas may strike when least expected, she prefers her writing routine – at home with a good fountain pen. 

This excerpt was originally published on Books by Women. Read the author’s full post here.

On Getting Started

Starting can be hard, Goodman admitted to a fan and aspiring writer on Goodreads.

“I often think about a book for months (sometimes years!) before I begin. What might help is to think about [your] characters and imagine them in different situations. Then think about the moment when their lives begin to change. Write that moment. Don't worry if this ends up being the first chapter of the book or not – you can always go back and write a different beginning. Just get started putting down scenes.”

On Characters

“I do a lot of going back, taking out, and retconning, though to get things right. The one thing I try to do consciously is think about what I want something to look like when it’s really something else.”

That’s when she asks a crucial question about her character development:

“I think about why a person might be mistaken about what’s going on.  The most important question I ask about my characters is: what’s their blind spot?  What are they missing?”

This excerpt was originally published in Writers Tell All. Read the full interview here.

On Criticism

Goodman shares that she hand-writes all first drafts in a composition notebook. She numbers the pages and writes only on the right side of the book. On the left is where she goes back and makes notes – sometimes just wondering aloud with partially-developed questions to revisit later. She adds timelines, maps, tide charts, inserts, quotes from Wikipedia and fact-checking reminders.

“How to respond to criticism (from others and from yourself) and revise your writing is probably the second most essential skill of any writer,” she says. “But the first skill is to get those words down on the page and not let any voices of loathing and self-doubt stop you.”

That’s what she’s doing, she says, with her left side jottings:

“I’m asking for the criticism to wait on the other side of the page while I finish what I’m doing. I’m warding off the negative voices that often accompany that criticism.”

This excerpt was originally published in Career Authors. Read Goodman’s full post.

On Advice

Goodman is generous about sharing what she’s learned and passing along advice to aspiring writers. And among the most important tips she offers, is – no surprise – to read.

“Reading is how writers are born, it's where you learn how to write and where you learn why it's worth doing well. Read eclectically across periods, cultures, and genre.”

Read like a writer, she offers:

“Begin to look at the books you're reading for the lessons they can teach you. How does your favorite author introduce new characters, handle time jumps, slip in exposition? Let what you read inspire you to begin writing.”

She also recommends having your eyes and ears open – at all times. Looking and listening are key.

“It's easy when you've embarked on the writing life to become a little isolated and pre-occupied (perhaps even self-absorbed). Get out of your own head, look at the world-notice what color the sky is on a winter morning, what a man does with his hands when he's trying not to look embarrassed, what a woman's face looks like when she looks at her child, then listen to other people to learn how to write dialogue.”

She suggests jotting down phrases that you overhear and notice the rhythm and cadence to different age groups’ patterns of speech.

These excerpts were originally published on Female First. Read the author’s full post here.

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