The Saga of Greene Newbie -- pt. 6

Thursday, February 25, 2010

2 Chiming In
Revisions... I do not think it means what you think it means...

A few weeks later, and a straggling couple of rejections have passed, along with one more request for a full read; he got to make use of his 9 1/2 query letter turned summary twice. Greene's heard nothing back on the original full request and one of the partials has already turned into a "no". By this point, he's chomping at the bit (<---- horse reference for you city types who've never seen horse outside a fountain centerpiece ;-P ) and wanting some kind of sign that the agents at least received his emails. He checked his "sent" box to make sure he'd really sent them to the correct addresses and double, triple, quadruple checked to make sure none of them had bounced back.

It was only a quick intervention on Friendly Writerman's part that stopped him from making that gravest of agent-etiquette faux pas (<--- that's some quality high school French right there): THE PHONE CALL. Greene didn't see any harm in this supposedly benign activity. After all, if the agent is reading his pages, surely he rates high enough to be able to call if he needs to -- but, sadly, no he doesn't. And he never needs to.

Friendly presents him with the hard truth of "no less than three months and then email". Ten minutes later, Greene comes to from his faint on the floor. "Three months? Three whole months? As in 90 days or more?"

"Yep," Friendly says. "Unless it's a holiday season or convention time, then you can bet on four."

Another ten minutes later...

Greene gets a notice in his inbox of a new email message. The clouds part, angels sing, he gets a weird flashback from his college haze...er days... as the room turns purple... it's from one of the agents with a partial.

Reading through her comments (and after Friendly has explained to him that comments =/= complaints, they're good things), he finds a mixed response. She liked most of what she read, but isn't sure about one of the characters. Maybe two.

Your voice is clear and the plot is definitely engaging, but I feel that Sidekick McWhippingboy is a little cliched, and some of his personality traits are redundant next to Beautiful Damselgirl. Also, Hero Goodguy needs a bit more edge to him. He's too good to be real. I'd be happy to read a revision if you can tweak those points.

And so, Greene goes off on a tangent about artistic vision and not selling out and cramped style. He's on his third wind of the filibusterer when Friendly smacks him on the head with a print out of his manuscript. (As it was a 115,000 word piece, that's a lot of smacking power.)

"You don't have to do the revisions if you don't want to," he says. "But you do if you want her to read it again."

But ... that's just not FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIR!!! It's Greene's story. Why should anyone else get a say in how it goes?

Because he doesn't have the same perspective as the agent, that's why.

He doesn't know that:

* three books have just sold with characters like Sidekick McWhippingboy, so another could get lost in the dog pile.
* "clean cut" heroes don't sell as well at the moment as Byronic ones.
or
* Beautiful Damselgirl is nothing special to anyone other than Greene. She's so nothing special that she's having her name legally changed to Mary Sue when he's not looking.

Friendly suggests that while he's waiting to hear back from the other agents, he try to implement some of the agent's suggestions - without getting rid of his original. It's entirely possible that someone else will love the story as is or that Greene will like it better with the tweaks.

It's all a matter of balance. And in the end, it's all a matter of what will and won't sell.

(to be continued...)

The Saga of Greene Newbie -- pt. 5

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

3 Chiming In
But what does it all mean????

Sure enough, Greene got a couple of quick turn around replies from his querying. Within 24 hours, he'd received three "not for me" responses and one request for a partial read. He sent off the requested number of pages, and then sat down to agonize over what - exactly - wasn't for those other three agents. He thought he did his homework, so all of them were perfect for his book.

Unable to determine the answer on his own, he decided to just ask the agents what it was about his work that didn't hook them. That way he could fix it next time.

He sent another email to each agent asking them to elaborate on what he needed to improve, then waited for a reply. And waited... and waited... and waited... Another 24 hours passed and he didn't get an answer.

This led him to the conclusion that the agents hadn't actually read his query. They got something with "query" in the subject line and automatically sent a rejection. Greene decided he didn't want to work with agents like that anyway. If they were so busy they couldn't be bothered to read a short, simple, letter that he'd sweated over, then they should just say so on their websites.

It was in this haze of righteous indignation that Friendly Writerman found him when he came by to check on Greene's progress. And it was in that righteous haze that Greene couldn't understand why Friendly was laughing at him.

"Not for me means just that," he said. "It didn't click for them. They don't have to have a reason any more than you do when you don't like something but aren't sure why."

Greene complained that agents should be better than that. They should at least help new authors out. After all, how long does it take to send a short note?

Friendly asked him how many queries he though an agent got a week. Greene wasn't sure, but he took a guess - and it was so low the Friendly started laughing again.

"If agents responded with feedback to every query, they'd never be able to do the main part of their job, which is to represent their existing clients."

Greene hadn't thought about that. Once he got an agent, he sure expected that agent to help him along with getting his book to publication, and he wouldn't like hearing that the agent spent all their time with people he or she didn't represent. And query-reading didn't make either of them any money.

"Plus," Friendly said. "Most writers aren't near where they need to be to get published. 99%. And a good percent of those don't believe it when someone tells them so. Pointing out their shortcomings isn't a chance for improvement to most of them, it's a reason to blast the agent from the safety of their keyboard."

No one likes to be insulted or belittled, agents included, so there's no reason for them to invite such treatment if all they get out of it is an extra work load.

Friendly told him to be happy with his quick partial request and to keep waiting.

By the next week, Greene had two more partials out and one request for a full. He was practically light headed from the excitement - though he'd still rather the process go faster. His friends and family were still asking why his wonderful book wasn't on shelves yet. They wanted to take his picture next to the display, and they'd love a free copy.

In that time, he also got:

* a detailed rejection that showed him another weakness he'd missed in the first chapter.
* a rejection based on the fact that the agent was already representing a similar book
* a form letter from a huge agency's legal department saying his query had been deleted unread and that they didn't accept new clients except by referral.
and
* something that evidently didn't survive the trip from the agent's email to his, but looked like it might have originally said "no thanks".

Then Greene got another cryptic rejection. This one said that the agent's list was far too full and she couldn't handle one more client, so she was sorry.

This time when Friendly asked how things were going, Greene told him about the successes, left out the "passes" and said he was "wait listed".

By this point, he was beginning to think that Friendly wasn't so friendly and only came over for a good laugh.

"What now?" Greene asked.

"It's a form rejection," Friendly said. "Agencies don't wait list people. She was being nice -- like that girl that says "it's not you, it's me". Let it go."

Poor Greene was left wondering how something so small as a query could be so complicated and what would become of the others out there in inboxes and (the horror!) possibly spam filters.

A Day of Not Writing

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

0 Chiming In
You know that saying "as boring as watching paint dry"? Well, today, I found out that it's not all that boring, nor does it take as long as you'd think.

Since the house where I live was painted by people who didn't know the difference between "buttercream","egg shell", and "off-white" -- meaning they thought all of those roughly translated into something the color of rancid lemon meringue pie filling -- a good bit of my birthday was dedicated to painting walls and hanging curtains.

And, since my laser printer has mysteriously slowed down to whatever is slower than a snail's pace, it took me roughly the same amount of time to paint a wall as it did to print 128 pages of rough draft for editing.

Sadly, I'm going to have to go back for more paint because my room is slightly larger than I realized. (Just like I realized that it was "16" inches on the curtain rod package and not "18", so back those go, too). But at least my room doesn't look like rotten pie anymore.

Also, in a weird mix of happy and sad, another idea popped into my head for a historical fantasy that will be absolutely awesome if I can translate it from the images in my head to something half as cool on paper. Seriously, this idea was so perfect, I googled it to make sure I hadn't read it somewhere else, and ... Nope. It's mine free and clear. It's dark and decadent, like a piece of black forest cake, and a twist on such a well known story that just about anyone can follow it. I have high hopes for this one.

Now... back to the editing.

The Saga of Greene Newbie -- pt. 4

0 Chiming In
My kingdom for a query...

Greene Newbie, who can already feel the color peeling off him, is at that point where he's finished a novel and thinking of letting it rot at the bottom of a drawer where no one will ever see it.

"Why?" you ask...

He's hit the mother of all roadblocks: THE QUERY LETTER!!!!!

This deceptively intricate torture device is what separates to wannabes from the writers, and usually the published from the not. It's not for the faint of heart, those with high blood pressure or the verbose to the point of spawning their own language.

It is your introduction to prospective agents, their first idea of your writing style and voice, and the core plot of your book reduced down to 300 words or less. Greene's first attempt was over ten pages.

Friendly Writerman shook his head and fed the pages into the shredder. And when Greene found out he had less than one full page to work with, he tried to feed Friendly into the shredder. His plot was far too complex and his characters were far too vivid to be confined to such a small space.

He got the brilliant idea to just send the first few chapters with his contact information. If everyone else was agonizing over those stupid (and impossible!) letters, he'd give the agents a break and let them skip that step to get right to he writing.

"Once the agents read it, they'll love it," he protested.

"But, they'll never read it," Friendly said. "Not without a query letter. And not without a query letter that fit certain expectations."

So, Greene sat down and tried again. This time he got it down to 9 1/2 pages. Friendly read them, as good and long suffering friends will do, and this time he didn't toss them out. Greene was thrilled. He hoped this meant he was ready to go with his query letter, but Friendly told him to set the packet aside - he had a great summary if someone requested that, but he still didn't have a query.

Greene pouted. He refused to believe he could do his story justice in a short letter. So, Friendly gave him a little nudge.

To write a query answer these questions:

* Who is your main character?
* What is his goal?
* What stands in the way of his goal?
* What happens if he doesn't meet his goal?

And remember a few guidelines:

* Minimize the number of character names.
* Minimize the number of plot threads.
* Query writing is "main lining" -- Just follow your main character through the main points of the main plot.
* Voice is key: funny queries for funny books, tight queries for suspense. (And know "in your dreams" doesn't mean you nailed it for a fantasy...)

Greene Newbie wrote out answers to all of Friendly questions and sat down to try again.
Have you ever wondered...

Friendly took the page and shredded it. Then he added another guideline:

* Avoid rhetorical questions, especially as the opening. If you ask me if I've ever wondered _____, I'll answer the question with something you don't like, but makes me laugh. The joke will be inappropriate and make me not want to read a book about it.
In a world where...

This isn't a movie, Greene... into the shredder it goes.

Hero and Heroine, total opposites, are thrown together...

... and together, they fight crime! If it sounds like it came from an Internet plot generator, into the shredder it goes.

The struggle went on for an hour before Greene whittled his novel down to its core elements and strung them into a form that didn't end up as confetti. It required two pots of coffee, one trip to the office supply store for more paper, and breaking out the cigarettes no one was supposed to know he still smoked, but he did it.

The grand query total, with salutation and close came out to 326 words.

Greene dashed over to his email account, retyped the letter, pasted in his five sample pages and (after a near miss in which Friendly saved him from the pitfall of blanket copying all of them at once) sent them off.

"I can hardly wait for tomorrow to see what they say," Greene said.

Friendly kind of laughed, and shook his head again. He got his hat and coat and left Greene Newbie staring at his inbox waiting for instant gratification.

(to be continued...)

The Saga of Greene Newbie -- pt. 3

Monday, February 22, 2010

1 Chiming In
Adventures in Beta-Reading...

Greene is not a happy writer. Having learned what a beta is, he found himself an online writing group and paired off with someone he's decided is either deluded, stupid, or jealous. That is to say, someone who told him his opus has promise, but needs work.

Beta Reader offered some 3rd party insight into the mechanics of writing as they applied to Greene's master work --

* There are so many adverbs and adjectives, the prose has been choked down like it was under a kudzu vine. Thankfully, it's easier to prune a MS than it is to kill kudzu.
* Many of the passages are in passive voice, which means there's a stall out where there should be action. If "The page was picked up by Hero Goodguy.", it's usually better to say "Hero Goodguy picked up the page."
* There are inconsistencies in the storyline, such as the character's nicknames and the color of their eyes. The time allowed for getting from place to place is unrealistic.
* While most of the POV is solid, Greene occasionally headhops into the minds of characters whose thoughts he shouldn't have access to.

Greene huffed and puffed and claimed artistic vision for seven and a half hours before stomping off to eat a sandwich. What does that stupid beta know anyway? If he was such a hotshot, he'd be busy writing his own book and not have time to read others'.

His family loved his book and praised his artistic style. His friends did the same. They said the piece was amazing and encouraged him to get it published... in fact, they keep asking what the hold-up is. It's been two whole months, so his book should be in print already...

After his sandwich was well on its way to digestion, Greene returned to his MS, ready to fire off an angry and detailed email reply picking apart each of the beta's complaints. If this moron couldn't tell a stylistic choice when he saw one, Greene was just going to have to point them out.

Then he started going through the beta notes one at a time...

Uh-oh...

He hadn't realized his prose was quite so purple. He certainly didn't notice it straying into the ultraviolet. Maybe it would read better if he cut some of the adjectives.

And where did those redundant passages come from? He didn't remember hammering so many details into the book over and over and over.

Seriously? Hero Goodguy's eyes were brown at the beginning? He could have sworn they were green all the way through... oh wait, it was his car that was green... at least it was until it morphed into a truck halfway through chapter seven.

Crud...

It's even too passive.

Maybe Beta Reader knows more than Greene thought he did, and maybe Greene's family and friends were being a little more supportive than objective.

That's another lesson:

The mom who proudly displayed your first macaroni collage on the fridge, even after more than half the spray painted noodles had dropped off and been swallowed by the dog, most likely won't be in a hurry to point out weak points in your book. She probably won't even notice them. Outside eyes are necessary to catch the things you're too close to see because you will often read what you "meant" to write instead of what actually ended up on the page.

After combing his entire MS, Greene has found that he agrees with about 80% of the suggestions the beta offered. Other aspects, like changing the characterization of some of his favorites, he'll ignore - after all, there's nothing saying he has to agree with Beta Reader's opinions. But when he's done with another round of edits, he'll have a stronger story that will be more appealing for its lack of common errors.

Now, all he has to do is write one of those query thing-a-ma-jobbies.

(to be continued...)

Party Hats and confetti

Sunday, February 21, 2010

2 Chiming In
Today is my birthday - HOORAY!!!

That is all.

:-P

The Saga of Greene Newbie -- pt. 2

Saturday, February 20, 2010

2 Chiming In
When last we left our erstwhile writer, he'd given up on the craft. Actually, he hadn't even crafted yet, he just wrote and gave up at the first hiccup.

That's Lesson #1 -- there WILL be hiccups.

*Most people want to write, few start.
*Of those who start, few finish.
*Of those who finish, few make the book saleable.
*Of those ready to sell, few succeed - mainly because they fold too soon or don't recognize that their vision may need corrective lenses.

Greene Newbie's pal, Friendly Writerman, stands outside the door ringing the bell. When Greene doesn't answer, Friendly slips the key out from under the mat and lets himself inside for a long talk with the wannabe novelist. He starts by telling him that what happened with the not-so-nice publishers doesn't mean he wrote a bad book -- or a good one. It just means he wrote a book, and that in itself is an accomplishment to be proud of.

But Greene didn't want to hear it. None of the "real publishers showed any interest at all. It had been days and not so much as a blip.... that's when Friendly had to explain that most likely his emails were either languishing in a spam filter somewhere or deleted outright by an editor's assistant.

"Greene, you are a writer, but not yet a novelist," he says, then tries to set his friend straight on a few things.

Greene listens, still slightly shell shocked from the downfall of the alliteration-laden letters as Friendly lays out a few points.

1. ALWAYS check out a publisher you haven't heard of. There are millions of wannabe writers out there, and 99% of them fail. That's a huge pool for the less than honest to cull marks.

2. Realize that honest and successful aren't the same thing. Check the track records for publishers. Most new presses fail in a matter of months even if the guy running it has no evil designs in mind. There's no reason your MS should be his learning curve.

3. Find out how copyright works - and how it doesn't. Legit publishers won't steal MS because they're too busy. Fake publishers won't steal MS because it's too much work and they want the easy money.

4. Money ALWAYS flows to the author. Costs are paid by the publisher, not the author. The publisher pays the author for the right to publish their words. The author does not pay the publisher for the privilege of being in print. This is YOG's law. YOG is smart. Listen to YOG.

5. Call your local bookstore and ask if a publisher's books actually make it to shelves. If they say
"No P.O.D.", then don't go with the POD* press.

6. Commercial publishers don't have author testimonials on their sites. Random House, Scholastic, none of them. They don't need them; they're not trying to lure new authors. They sell their product to consumers, so that's where their sites' focus will be.

7. It's a business, not a dream. Publishers are in it to make money - for themselves and the writer. That's all. They don't have the vested emotional attachment the author does. All they want is the best possible product. Sometimes that means a book isn't right for them, and sometimes it means the book needs to be tweaked. It's not a personal attack when they say no.

8. Publishers prefer agents. Since they have no emotional attachment to the work, they like that buffer zone between them and the very emotionally attached writer. Get an agent, then the agent will handle the publishers - they have sharper teeth.

Greene Newbie scribbled furiously in his notebook as Friendly Writerman gave him the finer points, and was shocked at just how little he actually knew. He, like most of his friends and family, thought it was just a matter of finishing a book and handing it over... this is actually kind of scary.

Greene heads back to Google and looks up "American Literary Agents", and after applying Friendly's [name]+[scam] formula weeds out the less than stellar candidates. By the end of the day, he's got himself a list of ten names he's certain will jump at the chance to represent him.

(to be continued...)

*POD = Print/Publish on Demand. The book is stored as a text file to be printed when an order comes in. There are no print runs - which is why the books cost so much.

The Saga of Greene Newbie

Thursday, February 18, 2010

2 Chiming In
I couldn't think of another topic at the moment, so I'm going with "New Writer Pitfalls".

We now embark on the tale of Greene Newbie as he navigates the dangerous waters known as "The Road to Publication". It's a treacherous journey where sharks can be your friends (they're great at shredding bad queries) and there are deceptivly friendly snakes and rats that will actually sink your boat before it leaves the docks.

/boating metaphor.
(I have to. I know nothing about boating other than water is involved.)

Greene Newbie is a writer - an excited writer.

You know the type. He's one of those wide eyed innocents that has just put the last period on his masterpiece/opus/overly-enthusiastic descriptor of choice, and is certain that it's destined for break-out success. He's sweet (at least in public), smart (also in public), and full of nothing but hope and joy for the fate of his baby.

Greene doesn't bother with a beta, as he's never heard of such a thing. He'd never think of allowing someone else to read his book because that's how people's work gets stolen. The only copy in existence beyond the final product on his hard drive is the one he slipped into a large manila envelope and mailed to himself. (Believing, of course, that this is how one establishes ownership of their masterwork.)

Now Greene Newbie is ready to get his baby "out there".

He heads down to the library for a copy of Writer's Market and promptly gets cross-eyed from all the lines of names and information, so he leaves the library and heads home to Google where he types "American publishers" into the search engine. He's relatively certain that there are other publishers in other countries, but he's only interested in the US variety for now. Not knowing that most publishers won't work directly with new writers, he doesn't think to look for agents. After all, only famous people have agents. So he zips off twelve e-mails... with attachments.

By the next day, there are three e-mails waiting in Greene's in-box praising his prowess with prose. These emails use annoying literary devices like alliteration, because that's the mark of a real publisher... yeah...

These emails are also plain spoken and questionably edited, but they all say that his MS was a thing of beauty and depth and they'd love to not only read the whole thing, but they're certain they want to publish it. Greene's not quite sure why they've asked him to submit the MS, since he already did, or why they occasionally refer to him as Ms. Newbie instead of Mr. Newbie, but he chalks it up to them loving his words so much they were too excited to type straight.

He hurries over to the linked websites of these lovely publishers who want his book and finds testimonials from others published with them. Promises of publication and fame anchor themselves in his brain, and the best part is that the "dream" is now a reality for him. He's one of "those" authors. The ones who skipped obscurity and went straight to the top because he really is as good as he thinks he is. And... according to these websites... he got lucky. These publishers aren't like the shady ones that "take" his copyright. His baby stays his baby.

But, now he's got a problem. How to choose between these three awesome publishers... or the forth that showed up in his in-box while he was browsing the other 3's sites. This 4th publisher, he realizes, is nothing but a vanity press. They want him to pay upfront for his book to be in print, so he sets that one aside. He doesn't want a vanity publisher. He wants a commercial one.

Looking for advice, Greene Newbie takes his offers of publication to a friend who is also trying to get published and waits to see what advice the friend can impart. What he hears isn't what he expected.

Friendly Writerman takes one look at the offers and asks Greene if he's checked these companies out. When Greene replies (happily, and now a bit defensively) that he went to their sites, Friendly asks what other research he did. Greene is confused - what other research is there?

"Knowing that no reputable publisher "takes" the copyright, for one. Knowing the difference between available "in" stores and an assurance that the book will be "on" shelves, for another. The former means the book's in a database and if someone already knows it exists, they can go in and ask for a special ordered copy, the latter means someone browsing will find the book on the shelves already. You also want a publisher with a real editor who will make your book as strong as possible and market it when it's done"

Greene's in a tailspin. How could his friend say these things? He's attacking his "baby". (Notice, however, that the MS was never mentioned or questioned, but Greene took the questioning of his potential publisher as a personal attack on his own abilities. It was an attack on his "dream"; i.e. "the fantasy" version of getting published.)

Friendly tells him to go home, get back on Google and check out each publisher by name plus the word [scam]. Greene snatches his offers back and huffs off, shocked that Friendly Writerman would be so jealous as to suggest that his wonderful opportunities were anything less than the end of the rainbow. He sits and stews for a while before opening up his web browser... just to prove Friendly wrong.

Three hours, and pages of complaints later, Greene is crushed. His "dream" turns out to be a farce. All 3 of the responses he considered are back end vanity presses that most likely didn't even read his book. They take almost anyone, pay them almost nothing, and still want him to buy his own book. Had he signed with them, he'd never have seen his book on a shelf and would have been humiliated by having to explain it to the friends and family he was waiting to impress.

He shuts his door and turns off the light, tosses his "poor man's copyright" into the shredder and refuses to come out of his house, convinced he's a failure and that his writing stinks.

Then Friendly Writerman comes knocking....

(to be continued)

Die, Die My Darling

Saturday, February 13, 2010

4 Chiming In
One of Stephen King's better known pieces of advice is to murder your darlings. You know, those beautiful passages that you absolutely love. The pieces of your heart and soul put into words. Moments of brilliance that are beyond the scope of mortal man and therefore must be divinely inspired.

The ones that make betas roll their eyes and give you weird looks... and when someone gives you a weird look by email without so much as showing their face, you should probably take heed.

As with any murder, this is a wrenching and messy ordeal full of agonizing internal conflict while your better self tries to stay your hand. But you know that you must overcome that impulse for mercy... the darlings must die. Sacrifice the one for the many and make your writing stronger for it.

The potential victim doesn't want to be done in. It will try and plead its case and make you feel as bad as possible for this heinous act you're contemplating. It will beg and plead (not exactly sure how those are different, but usually when one is begging, they're also pleading, so I'll go with it). The more shrewd darlings who have the "fight" as well as "flight" responses may even threaten you with the destruction of your precious vision should you excise them. But there's a distinct power balance involved here and you have to remember who's in charge - you or your words?

For those of you with mouthy darlings who refuse to go quietly, shut them down with one of those "sayings" that angry parents like to threaten with, but never follow through on:

"I brought you into this world. I can take you out."

After the deed has been done, you have to remember to clean up the scene. Police your rounds and leave no evidence of the deceased behind to make future readers wonder. Darlings are tricky things, and all it takes is one allusion later in the MS for its ghost to shriek to life reminding the world of what you've done in the name of your craft.

If done properly, you are the only one who will have to shoulder the burden of your act. Your beta is merely an accomplice, the look out, if you will. You're the axe man and this isn't something you can put off on someone else. Their darlings won't be yours and you might end up with the wrong victim on your hands and hard drive. Mistakes like that lead to the plot police and open graves called plot holes... bad stuff to get caught with. A job done well is the kind no one ever notices.

Now get out there and get that manuscript under control.

Knock 'em dead.

;-)

Originality is Such a Cliche

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

3 Chiming In
Seriously, it is.

Everyone wants to be original - worse, everyone thinks they actually are original. So much so that they take exception to being told someone else had the same idea before.

Asked to look over a proposed outline for someone, it took me all of one sentence to recognize certain aspects from an extremely well known series in the same genre -- right down to the organization names and history of the main character.

Sure the character's name wasn't the same, but I'm fairly certain that a simple rededication ceremony would have made this particular piece a well plotted piece of fanfiction. In fact, I'm not at all certain that it didn't start out as just that.

The author didn't want to hear it... no matter how many 2nd opinions she got that all came back with the same impression independently of on another. She had a full list of "yeah buts" ready to defend her "original" idea.

What she didn't understand was that original =/= "I didn't copy this from anywhere". At least it's not in the writing world. For writers, original = I got there first.

This is where people get upset that the idea they "had first" was "stolen" by someone else. It doesn't matter that they only started querying a book two weeks ago and the writer whose book hit shelves today never corresponded, or that it takes at the very least MONTHS (more likely over a year) for a book to hit shelves, as far as the querier is concerned, they've been robbed.

Just look at the people who've accused well known authors of this.

All it takes is a similar name or concept and suddenly, the little newbie is envisioning their face on David's body as they face off with the literary Goliath. The books don't even have to be that similar for the accusations to fly. There may be no proof that the published author every even heard of the newbie (and it's more likely they didn't than they did... the Internet is a big place full of people who all think they're going to find an audience.). Feathers get ruffled and feelings get hurt because suddenly the newbie finds that their idea isn't as "original" as they thought it was.

Now, when they pitch their idea, they feel that it's somehow diminished. They anticipate being called a "copy cat", or worse, fear they'll be rejected because the other one "won't allow" anyone else to succeed in their genre (which is ridiculous). Nevermind that their story is still as good or bad as it was those two weeks ago when they started querying.

The thing you have to remember is that ideas are cheap. They're so cheap they're worthless.

Also remember that people exposed to similar input will produce similar output. No two stories will be any more alike than the people who wrote them - and both can be successful. Execution is everything and that depends on skill, voice, and characterization.

It's also worth mentioning that, unlike a marathon, the first one across the finish line doesn't always win in writing.

Sure, a well known author will get a huge initial sale count for a new book, especially if it's had a big publicity push. Stephen King could probably put his name on a phone book and sell several hundred thousand copies before anyone realized that it was a literal phone book and not a novel by that name. He's Stephen King, he's a brand, and he's a good one. (He's also savvy enough not to put his name on a phone book and sell it, but that's beside the point.)

A new author may not have big sales at first - with or without that publicity push, though "with" certainly helps - but if the story is solid and the characters sparkle and the dialogue is like watching a really good movie... it'll click. The stars will align and the books will fly off shelves so fast the publisher gets that special adrenaline jolt known as the second print run.

It doesn't matter that the book in question is the 2,795,622 were-thingy/fairyland novel ever written. It's good, and people love it for that fact.

Don't get so hung up on being original that you miss your chance to write what you're good at and cost the reading world a potential gem.

Everyone wants to be original, but very few can pull off "good". Personally, I'd rather walk the less crowded road.

Don't Do IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

5 Chiming In
Yes, I meant to use all those exclamation points.

"What is "IT"?" you ask. "IT" is like "THEM". It's out there somewhere doing things that everyone's pretty sure are shady, but no one really has the specifics.

At some point, anyone who asks for advice on parts of their novel is going to be told "Don't ______", as though doing whatever goes in the blank is a set rule. A few of the big ones are:

Don't use a prologue.

Don't use a dream sequence.

Don't use flashbacks.

Don't start with the MC waking up.

Don't start with the MC on/in a plane/train/automobile (and just to be safe, you should avoid starting with them watching old comedies by the same name).

Don't start with dialogue.

Don't make your first book in first person.

Really, really, really don't make it first person present tense.

Don't end without a happily ever after.

Don't head hop (Okay, this one you should actually not do. It's not a stylistic choice, and it's not something you learn to wield with skill. It's just bad/lazy writing.)

Most of this advice, while well intentioned, is offered by people who haven't actually read the thing they're giving advice on. More often than not, it's a knee jerk reaction that's based on some book they read somewhere a long and undefined amount of time ago. (Usually the same book that told them they need to mail their MS to their own address to protect their valuable idea against all those writer-hating agents who only want to steal their brilliance.)

Or worse, they heard it from the friend who "knows how stuff works".

Pssst... I'll tell you a secret: that friend is an idiot. Make friends with Google. It has more information and will never ask you to burn a Saturday moving their stuff that they didn't even bother to pack.

The mere mention of any of those "don't" elements is enough to set those in the (don't) know to barking like dogs next to Pavlov's bell.

However - and here's the big secret - none of them are forbidden. (Except head hopping. Pick a POV and nail yourself into it. Use a soldering iron. Crazy glue. Staples. Whatever.) The second, and much less huge, secret is that in order to work, they have to be done well.

I didn't start a book with someone waking up, and I'm not sure why anyone would unless they were rousted from sleep by something out of the ordinary, but I have started one with a character in transit (on a bus) - reading a journal, no less... in a prologue.... that was written in 1st person... present tense...

Every request I got for a partial/full was based on that scene.

Later on there's along dream sequence that turns out to be a flashback (the reader assumes she's an adult until the point she turns out to be six) as she lives out a repressed memory.

Later than that, there's another flashback that shifts into 3rd person (because it's information about her past delivered by someone else).

In the end, rather than the "happy" ending, it has the "right" ending. Anything less would cheat both the story and the readers.

And guess what? My MS didn't burst into flames or create some kind of vortex that split the space/time continuum.

So, I guess the best thing to remember is that writers are a bit like pirates - there are no rules, only guidelines.

If the occasion calls for it, go crazy. Wake up on a plane with a mirrored window by your head. Write it in upside down Sanskrit. Start with "The End" and work your way back to the beginning, if that's what it takes to tell your story the way it needs to be told.

But you still aren't allowed to head hop.

Prologues

Monday, February 8, 2010

3 Chiming In
You know you love them.

Okay, so maybe you hate them.

Maybe you skip them.

Maybe you're thinking that "prologues" are somehow "pro-logging" and you're vehemently opposed to deforestation and totally offended that I've blogged about this.... if so, I suggest you buy a dictionary and switch to de-caf.

Personally, I like prologues. I also hate them, and have been known to skip them on occasion (though I usually go back later and read it to see what happened).

I get the animosity toward them, I really do. Most prologues are terrible or gimmicky or that horrendous combination of the two that makes you want to not read the rest of the book because you're afraid the whole thing is gimmicky and terrible. But, when done right, prologues can be awesome.

The first thing a good prologue must be is NECESSARY. If you're using it as a crutch to frontload your readers with backstory, use the delete key and be merciless. Give your readers some credit and trust them to figure out the backstory they need from what you've woven into the book. If they can't get what they need from the book, then learn how to weave.

The second thing a good prologue must be is SHORT. If it's not short, you have a first chapter with identity issues. Get it some counseling, tell it to proud of who and what it is, and promptly file the necessary paperwork for a legal name change on your chapter's behalf. It may hate you know, but it will thank you later.

The third thing a good prologue must be is RIGHT. That one's a little harder to quantify in one word, but it's the closest word I can think of to what I mean. If the prologue is done the right way, then the story without it will still make sense, but the story with it will be richer for its inclusion. It doesn't steal anything from the story or cheat the readers out of the experience of discovering the characters, but highlights something that will enhance the overall experience of the tale.


Things a prologue should NOT be are:

The previously mentioned INFODUMP. You may need to know your characters' history for sixteen generations, but your readers don't. At least not at first. (I don't care that Tolkein took up half of The Return of the King with Appendices - you are NOT Tolkein. And even Tolkein didn't use them as a prologue.)

A prologue should not be BORING. If there's any chance at all that the prologue will be read by someone in a bookstore or (on-line) who is considering buying your book, you don't want their "excerpt" to put them to sleep. This will make them put the book back on the shelf.

A prologue should not be an exercise in VANITY for the author or a CHEAT on the storyline. If your action comes in so late that you need a "teaser" to assure people that there will be action eventually... sometime... somewhere... you think... then you may have a bad book on your hands - or at least one that needs to be edited.

Personally, I've used prologues for the following:

To set an omniscient narrator -- this lets the reader know that an actual being is telling the story, even if they aren't featured in it.

To set an inciting incident that happened far removed from the book's beginning -- this gives a character who never appears in the book, but impacts its plot, their (SHORT! CONCISE! TO THE POINT!) moment.

To show something that a character can see, but the reader, supposedly, can not -- think of this like a journal entry or the inscription in the book. Something like a warning... okay fine, I'll just show you what I mean.

If you are reading this book, then it hasn't been burned.

If it hasn't been burned, then your predecessor failed.

If your predecessor failed, then he was not meant to have it.

If he was not meant to have it, then you're better off not knowing what became of him.

The book is your responsibility now.

Open it.

Read it.

Finish it.

Burn it.

That's all.

Only your hands can open it and only your eyes see what's written within. No one else can help you.

And you absolutely must understand this: There are only two ways to relieve yourself of this responsibility. Finish it -- or die trying.

This would be something that set off the whole plot, but requires a direct address to the reader him/herself.

The final "prologue" isn't a prologue at all. It's an epigraph. A short (1-3 sentences), mantra style statement that sums up the entire book's theme.

All animals are created equal. Some animals are more equal than others.

This would be the epigraph for Animal Farm. I have a story that starts with one of these kinds of statements, and I'm currently trying to decide if it should be an epigraph or a one line first
chapter.


I've read all kinds of prologues. You probably have, too, but the number of them that I thought were needed is FAR below the number in existence. I hope mine don't fall into that category.

But... I don't Write Crime Fiction...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

1 Chiming In
This is not the post I intended to put up today. I started a list of "10 Commandments for Writing", but that's currently sitting unfinished in my draft folder because something else broke in and wanted my attention.

So that odd little spark that says "You know what would be cool...." then proceeds to hand me another storyline for my list struck again. Only this time, it's not a YA story or a children's book, or even a fantasy. (It has a fantastic element to it, but it's pretty far in the background.). I don't write crime fiction. I don't even know much about crime fiction, but I still find myself hitting Google to figure out if this is a trite storyline.

I won't go so far as to claim it's original - as we know, there are no original ideas in their entirety - but it seems like it may be original enough. And this is one of the very few "sparks" that's left me thinking "Wow, this is really good."

*We've got time travel (the fantasy element, which is basically only a vehicle).

*We've got a crazy killer man running all over the place taunting the police to find him (Calls himself Marco Polo at this point, still not sure if that one's been used.)

*We've got a family man on a mission as the protag... who just informed me he's Native American and he hates the name I gave him.

*We've got a bit of a love story, for those who like that sort of thing in their thrillers... I hope this thing turns into a thriller.

I really don't know what to think about this, other than it's taken total control of my attention today. Scenes are falling out of the ether into my brain and bringing layer after layer of characterization with them. It's been a long time since that happened with a story.

I have absolutely no idea where the "inspiration" for this story came from. If I dissect it, I'm sure I can match up specific themes or ideas from other sources, but if I dissect it, I run the risk of shutting the whole thing down and I don't want to do that.

Maybe I write crime fiction after all.

Fight... Fight... Fight...

Monday, February 1, 2010

2 Chiming In
As part of a "blog chain" today, the topic is "FIGHT SCENES", so I give you this: big sister, Julie, has set up little sister, Lucy, with a blind date. She didn't know that the blind date came with fangs or that the family was on the menu.

Cue up Eye of the Tiger on the Ipod and enjoy.


"Excuse me... I don't feel very well..."

Lucy threw her napkin into her plate and ran for the stairs. No idea where she thought she was going to go, but she couldn't sit there and pretend everything was fine. Maybe if she left he'd leave, too.

Her mother yelled something she didn't bother to listen to, and the vampire made a hasty exit of his own.

She should have known that it was too easy.

Lucy headed for the one room with a lock so no one could follow her, slammed the door and rested her head against it.

"Food doesn't belong in the bathroom, snack cake."

She was shaking too hard to undo the deadbolt, even if he wasn't there to stop her. She didn't turn, so he did it for her, spinning Lucy by her shoulders. Behind Dixon, the window was wide open on the second floor.

Vampires: no such thing as inaccessible.

"What do you want?"

Stupid question.

"First, I want you to remember your inside voice. We aren't alone. You're going to collect yourself, then you're going to unlock that door, walk down the stairs and out the door, then you and I are going to go for a walk."

Lucy shook her head, since her voice refused to work.

"Oh yes you are." He nodded. "Think of it as dining al fresco as opposed to a big family dinner."

The chill beneath his words warned her the safety of those downstairs depended on her actions. Her or everyone else. He'd kill them if she didn't agree.

"Please don't do this. I wasn't trying to bait you. Or insult you... I swear."

"I don't negotiate with livestock. And I'd just as soon have the smorgasbord. The young one's not exactly my taste, but I abhor waste. I guess I'll have to ..."

"Don't you touch her!"

Lucy shrieked, drew back and rammed the heel of her hand into his nose, an automatic reflex from a long forgotten self-defense class. He shouldn't have threatened Haylie. She surveyed the room scanning for any means of salvation she could find.

Comb.

Brush.

Make-up.

Deodorant.

One advantage of a regular sized house was that the rooms were small. She could reach the sink from anywhere except the bathtub. Lucy's hand shot out and grasped the first thing it touched, she hadn't even bothered to put the lid on the hairspray when she used it earlier. She whipped the can up even with Dixon's face and pressed the aerosol nozzle.

Bloodied hands grabbed his eyes, stumbling backward and hissing. She didn't stop until the can was empty. He toppled through the curtain into the tub.

Lucy was smart enough to know that she'd only slowed him down, and made him mad. She needed something more detrimental to the species. While the monster of a vampire was busy trying to save his burning eyes, she lunged for the second drawer of the cabinet.

Hair sticks weren't the only thing her grandmother left her, or the only thing she owned made out of silver. The confined space meant Lucy's adversary couldn't get enough leverage to move at his full speed. Every parry was clumsy, giving her hope.

She reached in blind and wrapped her hand around the weighted handle of an antique mirror molded from the toxic metal. She swung it like a tennis racket, shattering the glass against his jaw. Dixon's flesh blackened at each point of contact where the shards embedded in his skin.

Old mirrors weren't just made of silver, the glass was backed with it to cast the reflection. Outside the door, someone pounded, demanding entry. Julie was livid that her dinner had been ruined. Humiliated.

"What's going on in there?!"

Lucy was stuck. She couldn't open the door with a transformed vampire in the room. Even if she did, everyone in the house would be dead before she could warn them. His only incentive to leave the alive was to make sure none of them saw him as anything other than human.

"What's that noise?"

Dixon's thrashing carried through the wood.

"Stop throwing tantrums and get out here Lucy!"

Lucy took a step toward the door, then found herself looking up at a ceiling blocked by the vamp's face with one hand over her mouth and the other gripping the collar of her sweater like he meant to tear it off her shoulders. His full weight rested on one knee across her stomach. Dixon's wild eyes sparkled with a manic satisfaction that had nothing to do with vampire shine.

"Don't scream," he ordered before releasing her mouth.

"I'll go with you... just don't hurt my family."

"Tell her to leave. Calmly."

His captive nodded as best she could.

"Jules, I'll be down in a minute. Go away!"

There was a screech from her sister's side of the door. Then stomping. Then silence.

"Not bad, but I think I may have to penalize you for the display. I think it'll cost you one of them."

"No!"

"Do you want to pick, or should I? It was a small error, so maybe I'll take the small one."

"No! Please... leave them alone. Leave Haylie alone."

"No more arguments?"

She shook her head.

"You'll do as you're told."

A nod.

"Good."

Dixon shifted his weight off her stomach and dropped the hand at her throat to the dragon pendant around her neck.

"You won't be needing this anymore."

He tightened his fist and yanked until the necklace broke against her, then stashed it in his pocket. He flipped Lucy over, shoved her face first into the floor, then bent close to her neck, pulled her sweater aside and licked her from shoulder to ear.

"Delicious... I'll be waiting, snack cake."

Then he was gone.

Lucy went fetal on the floor and started crying, mourning her own death. Why was Alexander a dream when the nightmares got to be real?