After a rough diagnosis from the chiropractor (nothing fatal, just a fair amount of PT ahead to get myself back to feeling right), I couldn't sleep. At all. My daughter has a cold and every cough jarred me. The cool kids with REALLY loud cars kept whizzing down my street. Even the AC switching on and off kept my brain churning, and not in the productive 'I can write' way. Thankfully Amazon (aka my Santa) brought me The Ocean at the End of the Lane to make all the nighttime hours very worthwhile.
At first I planned to stay in bed and read until I drifted off except NOBODY drifts off when you're reading Gaiman. Instead I moved from bed to desk to living room sofa back to desk with pen in hand. I wanted to jot down a few inspiring quotations from the book, and then I had a not-so-startling revelation about his work. While there are certainly notable lines, the man's story construct is masterful. And I ended up giving myself a few reminders (that are most likely found in every writing book out there,) but when you see the rules in action, they set better in the brain. Obviously I recommend reading his new book, but that's probably pretty evident at this point. :-)
At any rate, my simple notes from last night:
1) Find the moment that everything in your story hinges on and start exactly there.
2) Don't embellish. The fancy adjectives are nice, but an original metaphor is worth its weight in pretty words and will blow the reader away. Every time.
3) Make everything count. Literally every detail ought to be purposeful. Whether they find meaning in page one or one hundred, figure out their meaning. (And I don't believe for one second that this just happens effortlessly or that you should sit and slave over every single page in the first draft stage. Examine this after.)
4) Tap into universal feelings. Your characters will be irresistible.
I could go on, for pages, but these four facets of a powerful story showed up time and again throughout the narrative/myth/roller coaster ride. Gaiman gets people. He knows what terrifies us, what satisfies us, and he plays with those two things like a skilled puppeteer, fiddling with our strings until we're absolutely in love and can't put his books down.
I always have a 'Gaiman hangover' when I'm finished with his latest. I'm jealous because I want to write that well, I'm exhausted because I've managed to block out the rest of the universe while reading, and I'm delighted that I get to read it again for an inevitably better ride the second time.