Spider, Spin Me A Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers

Spider, Spin Me A Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers

by Lawrence Block


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Spider, Spin Me A Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block

The craft of writing is a lot like spinning a web: You take threads and weave them skillfully together, and only you know where this intricate network of twists and turns begin and how it will end. Now, with Lawrence Bloock's expert advice, you can learn this art of entrapping your reader in a maze of facinating fiction.

Spider, Spin Me a Web is the perfect companion volume to Block's previous book on writing, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, which Sue Grafton noted "should be a permanent part of every writer's library." As helpful and supportive as always, Block shares what he's learned over the course of writing over one hundred published books: techniques to help you to write a solid piece of fiction; strategies for getting a reader (or editor) to reaad—and buy—your book; ideas for increasing your creativity and developing an environment that will nourish you and your craft.

Spider, Spin Me a Web is a complete guide to achieving your full potential as awriter.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780688146900
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/17/1996
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 1,166,432
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.64(d)

About the Author

Lawrence Block is one of the most widely recognized names in the mystery genre. He has been named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Edgar and Shamus Awards, as well as a recipient of prizes in France, Germany, and Japan. He received the Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association—only the third American to be given this award. He is a prolific author, having written more than fifty books and numerous short stories, and is a devoted New Yorker and an enthusiastic global traveler.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Organic Writing

"When you sit down to write a book, how much of it do you already.. have fied in your mind? Do you know how it will end? Do you know how it will get there?"

This is one of the questions that comes up most frequently when I meet my readers. (It runs a close second to "What is Bill Brohaugh really like?" and is a whole lot easier to answer.) And it's a point, certainly, that I've addressed from time to time over the years, discussing the relative merits of planning and spontaneity, the security of a detailed outline, the freedom of travelling without a formal itinerary.

I was thinking the other day that, however carefully the writer plans ahead, with or without an outline, you never really know exactly what's going to happen next in any truly engaging piece of fiction. Because good writing is never merely a matter of assembling a boxful of component parts according to a sheet of directions, and that holds true even when you're the one who handcrafted the parts and wrote the directions.

Writing, you might say, is an organic process. It grows as it goes. Each page is the product of everything that has gone before it, including of course the preceding page. I may know-or think I know-exactly what I'm going to write today and tomorrow. But something unplanned will happen during today's stint at the typewriter, some unimportant piece of dialogue, some bit of description-and what I write tomorrow will be changed by it.

Here's an illustration, from a letter I received from another writer a few months ago.

In astory I'm working on now, I needed an unusual
barkeep, and in creating her I gave her just three fingers
on one hand. No reason, other than to, make her distinc
tive. But by the end o f the first chapter, I let her do some
o f the talking, and she explained how she had lost two
fingers, and very shortly the loss of the fingers became
important to the plot then unfolding. Including reference
to the three-fingered hand was, in a sense, sowing a seed
that I harvested-by making certain fictional connec-

This sort of thing happens all the time. Sometimes significant plot developments derive from minor character tags or scene dressing, as the writer above describes it. In other instances, little bits of business which the writer drops into one chapter will create echoing elements in later chapters, in a way that seems to give the overall work a fuller texture.

Sometimes what looks like a theme-and would very likely get labeled one by a critic-grows out of this sort of organic accident. An example that occurs to me cropped up in The Triumph o f Evil; a book I wrote some years ago under the pen name Paul Kavanagh (and due to be reissued in a year or so under my own name). Early on, the lead character, one Miles Dorn, watches robins nesting outside his window. Later on, his young mistress's pet cat kills a baby robin. That scene, which led to an interesting emotional exchange between Dorn and the girl, would never have happened had I not had him looking out the window earlier on with no plan to make use of what he saw there.

But that wasn't the extent of avian influence in that book. At another point in the book, Dorn is in a city and watches a woman feeding pigeons in the park. He muses that for all he knows the woman is poisoning the birds, and ruminates some on pigeon eradication programs which so affect the birds that they lay eggs without shells. And, still later, he's in New Orleans and wanders into a museum where he sees row after row of glass cases containing stuffed birds, some of them of species which have since become extinct.

If anyone were dotty enough to think The Triumph of Evil merited scholarly analysis, some sort of thesis could be propounded on the use of birds as a symbol in the book. (I wouldn't be surprised if there were other mentions I've since forgotten.) Now we could argue that such a thesis would be pure nonsense, since the author is in a position to attest that he had no conscious intention of using birds as a symbol, or as a metaphor for something or other. On the other hand, I wouldn't dream of denying that one bird reference gave rise to another, unconsciously if not consciously, and I am perfectly willing to entertain the hypothesis that my unconscious mind may have had some sort of grand design in mind, one way or another.

 Most of us who've spent a fair amount of time writing have come to see that the conscious analytical/intellectual part of the mind has only a small amount to do with what winds up on the page. It's another portion of the mind altogether that just plain knows, sentences after the introduction of a newly-imagined character, what that character will ot won't do, say, notice, respond to, or remember.

Spider, Spin Me a Web. Copyright © by Lawrence Block. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Spider, Spin Me a Web: A Handbook for Fiction Writers 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was so impressed by this book I have the nook edition and the paperback edition. There is so much information crammed in this book it takes my breath. I highly recommend this book if you are an aspiring writer. Mr. Block tells it like it is and inspires you with tips on making your writing better. Class is in session and Mr. Block is the teacher.
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