Marina’s Notes from Laura Whitcomb’s Presentation on Novel Shortcuts

NAS Student Intern, Marina CameronBy Marina Cameron, Northwest Author Series WHS student intern

Laura Whitcomb spoke at the library September 27th about novel shortcuts and how to speed up the writing process without cutting down on quality.

Here are some of her main points:

The Core

  • You have to keep track of why you are writing in the first place
  • One thing to do is to write a dust jacket for your novel (at least 100 words). Make them want to read it.

The Crosshairs

  • What is the most important moment in your whole story? Where do the most important moments in each chapter lie?
  • Imagine your novel being nominated for the Oscars, what clip would they show?
  • Imagine your novel being made into a movie, what would the preview look like?
  • One trick is to go thorough your manuscript and mark the “crosshairs” in each chapter

Culling the Poetry

To get ideas faster, set aside to write about…

  1. What should happen in the scene?
  2. Project dialogue
  3. 10 minute free write (think about the time, the lighting, the overall feel, thought)

“Heartstorm” for 5 minutes (include senses, details, and emotions) about a scene from your novel.

After your heartstorm, choose your favorite words/phrases (at least 10) and line them up like a poem.

Put on some music, it helps you use more of the creative side of your brain

You can check out an unfamiliar movie from the library and listen to their soundtrack

Some good movies (depending on style)

  • The Mission
  • The Englishman Who Went up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain
  • Chocolat
  • Rob Roy
  • Hamelet

Listening to your Ghosts

Sometimes seemingly irrelevant ideas come calling as your write a scene from your novel in progress, those can be really  useful to your writing…

Try to be open minded while you attempt to use this ideas

One thing you can do is a word association exercise

Here are some prompts

  • Smell
  • Color
  • Sound
  • Sensations
  • Taste

Dreams can also be very inspiring, before you go to sleep, tell yourself what scene from your novel you want to dream about before going to sleep, each morning write down what came to you

What to do when your writing stinks?

  • Don’t rewrite crap and don’t be afraid to delete
  • Make sure you have consistent character, plot and voice
  • Backtracking can be helpful here

Tips for crossing the finish line…

Go through and mark up your writing,

  • Awk: for awkward
  • More: when elaboration is needed
  • NO!: If something is totally off
  • Close: if it needs a small amount of rewriting
  • Circle: words that should be changed to improve word choice
  • Move: don’t be afraid to rearrange
  • Check fact: check history for a fact that you want to refer to
  • Check back: check to ensure your novel is consistent


One way to visualize characters is to imagine they have baggage for going on the journey of the novel:

A suitcase

This is what they are all about, their main goal or character trait

Ex: Indiana Jones is searching for lost artifacts

A carry on

Something that makes the complicates the first

Ex: But he is in love

A secret pocket

A surprise for the audience

Ex: He also has a fear of snakes

To learn more about Laura Whitcomb, visit

Books by Laura Whitcomb include:

A Certain Slant of Light (2005) and The Fetch (2009) from Houghton Mifflin

Your First Novel (2006) and Novel Shortcuts (2009) from Writers Digest Books


One response to “Marina’s Notes from Laura Whitcomb’s Presentation on Novel Shortcuts

  1. Thank you for your summary, Marina! Especially since I wasn’t able to attend.