The Hopefuls Day 4: Expectations (Guest Blog)

Hi, Everyone. Happy Friday! Please welcome our next anonymous guestblogger.  Behind her mask, she’s a very cool author, so I’m so thankful she’s agreed to come on and share her experience. Here you go…

Expectations

You’re finished your WIP, and it is a marvel. Beautiful. You’ve had it beta’d. It’s fantastic. You really feel like, patience notwithstanding, that you’ve waited and made this WIP as strong as you can. You work out your query letter, and you carefully research your agents, and you send out your first queries.

This is the book.

Within a month, you have five offers of representation. Your brain is spinning, you can’t sleep and can hardly eat. What do you do now?

In my case, I could easily discount three of them after speaking with them on the phone. They were okay there was just … something not right. It was my turn to say I really thank you for offering, but…The other two were far harder. Agent A was with a big agency. Huge agency for my genre. Agent B was just starting her own but was super prompt and blew my mind when I spoke to her. Agent A called me crying on the phone right after she finished my book and gushed on my answering machine for five minutes. How could I decide?

I knew them both. I’d spoken to them both. They both had sales. They both were what I was looking for in an agent. And I was stuck.

What would you do?

In my case, I went for the small. I knew that probably a larger agency had ties to the movies, audio, what have you. I knew the bigger agency would probably add cachet to my submission where ever I was at. But you see, when it came down to it, I wanted the comfort and assurance of an agent who was just like me – starting out on their own, big ideas about my book, and a belief in me that somehow I could believe more than a huge agency. I haven’t been sorry one moment since, which is how I know I made the right choice.

I know that if this book can be sold, My Agent is the one that will sell it.

What about you? How did you decide on your agent?

Up Your Critique Technique

Tomorrow, I’ll post an addendum to yesterday’s post on Total Immersion. Can y’all guess what that addendum will be?

Today’s Thursday Post, is once again inspired by my evening spent at the DFW Writers Workshop. It was a pretty crazy last night. We were locked out of the building and tornado sirens were blaring, but the few and the brave lasted until someone arrived with a key.

I was cowering in my car and just happened to last that long on account of having nowhere to go. 

Anyway, this was my second workshop. Again, totally worth the $25 to participate for the summer. But what I want to talk about is the skill of critiquing. Because yes, it is a skill. And it is really amazing to see how talented the longtime members of the Workshop are at critting. 

So, you might be saying to yourself, Why should I care about critiquing? I want my work critiqu*ed* and if I give okay critiques back then great. 

Just kidding. I know none of y’all would say that. But even if you did, I think it’s a worthwhile exercise to really look at the skill of critiquing, not only so that you can be a good critter, but also so that you can direct the person that critiques you.

When I crit, it’s often unguided. But it is so helpful if the person whose work I’m reading asks me a few specific questions, so that I can think about those while reading or make sure that I’m giving back the most useful response for them. 

When my work is being critiqued, I know the responses could be more useful if certain aspects were touched on. So, here are some of the things I think make for an effective critique (of your own work, of others, or for others critiquing your own work):

 

The CheckList:

-word echoes

-too many metaphors/similes

-What was your favorite part? (It’s just as important to hear what is working the best because, as writers, it’s so easy to second guess. We need to know which parts to keep and feel good about it!)

-How did each of the main characters come across?

-voice consistency/strength

-What didn’t you like? (A lot of critters don’t want to say “I didn’t like that part at all.” But let me tell you. Some of the most helpful critiques last night were ones where people were like “No, that’s not any good.” Saying you don’t like something doesn’t have to be mean. That’s the whole point of critiquing, though, so don’t be afraid to use it!)

-weird character or object emphasis (sometimes authors will zero in on something or someone sort of random and the reader is thinking, Ok, this must play a major role–>it’s always odd when it turns out just to be a self-indulgent description instead)

-varied sentence structure

-forward motion (are you both creating and answering questions in your passages so that the reader is compelled to move on?)

-rising and falling tension (the reader needs to catch her breath, too)

-extra words, especially adjectives (Do you consistently have one adjective or one word too many?)

-gaps in logic

-clear character motivations 

-Is the story told in scenes?

-check for info dumps/authorial intrusions/and “explain-y” language

-Along the same line, in an attempt to avoid an info dump, are you making the dialogue too contrived in trying to get the characters to give up the information? In other words, would your characters really be saying those things to one another right then?

-Enough description? (all five senses touched where possible?)

-Do the descriptions match the perspective and worldview of the pov character?

-Scenes have premises, too. Is the premise of the scene interesting? 

-Too much narrative in action sequence?

 

AND THE #1, ABSOLUTE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS: SUGGESTIONS. 

There is nothing more valuable to me than suggestions. To some extent, if a writer knew how to make something better, she would. So if a critter can bring fresh eyes and try to come up with a *solution* that is awesome and oh-so-appreciated. Don’t be afraid to get in there and say, “Oh, yanno what? This might work.” Because even if that idea doesn’t make it into the cut, you never know what will spark the next idea and the next and so on. 

Remember the author has been looking at these pages forever. And what do I always say about editing? It’s hardest to see what’s not already on the page. Critters can more easily separate themselves from the words and, thus, can sometimes more easily help solve. 

 

These are a sampling of the ideas I got by listening to people critique last night. I hope they are helpful and I will continue to post as I attend my Wednesday meetings. 

 

Happy (almost) Friday, Everyone!

Gasping for Air and Other Attractive Ways to Read Aloud

Hi, friends. I’m reporting back after last night’s festivities at my first DFW Writers Workshop. 

First of all, can I just tell you how talented these people are? I mean the members are legit. Second of all, they are Organized with a capital O. 

I showed up around 6:45 because I had to pay my dues and become all official-like so that I’d have the opportunity to read. I met a couple people who said that I should really visit a couple times before deciding if I wanted to join. But, I dove right in, completely undeterred. And I have to say that I would quibble with that guy’s advice. Because I would have totally chickened out if I hadn’t signed up and paid my dues before I had time to think about it. In fact, I met one girl who had been coming for over a month and had  become so intimidated that she still had yet to read. 

Anyway, after I forked over my money, I went to look at the “trophy” case, which contains all the books that have been published by DFW Writers Workshop Members. There are to huge bookcases stuffed full with books. Tor, Delacorte, Harlequin…tons of great publishers represented. I was truly impressed.

Then a  nice woman (named Sue I think?) saw that I looked like a lost sheep and told me I could sit down with her. Thank goodness!

There was then a brief meeting in which I had to  introduce myself. I tried to not sound too ridiculous and, at that point, think I succeeded. Afterward the president asked who had rejections. Everyone applauded. Who had acceptances? Applause. Who had submitted? Applause. You get the picture. 

I was still convinced I’d be okay at that point. Not too worried yet. But when they called out the different reading groups? I started having a full on panic attack. No joke. They split us up into reading groups. About 10 people were in each room without about 6 authors reading. 

There was a moderator who kept time and helped keep the discussion moving. Each writer was allotted 20 minutes…between 10 and 15 minutes of read time followed by critiquing. During the critiquing the author was not allowed to speak. If a critiquer wanted clarification, he could ask the moderator to ask a question. This was great…until it got to me. 

Um, hi, reading out loud is a SKILL. A skill that I am apparently horrible at. I was so nervous and I absolutely wear that sort of thing on my sleeve. My voice was shaking. I had no idea when to breathe. I was completely undeterred by commas and/or periods and spoke 1,000 words/minute. No joke. Oh yeah, and I swallowed at least the last three words of every sentence. The whole time I was petrified I would have a coughing fit. All I can say is that if you are an author giving your first reading, practice. Not reading in your head, but reading out loud for people to hear. 

For people reading for the first time ever (like me and this one other guy), the reading was given applause. After that, you never get applauded again at the workshop. The comments were very helpful. And like I said, these are NOT beginners. These folks have credentials and a serious love of the craft of writing. 

I read second. Then, of course, I had to listen to the others with lovely lilting Southern drawls read their pages completely relaxed. Oh well. 

At around 9:45 pm when the meeting ended, members headed over to IHOP for some meeting and greeting and general merriment. I know y’all will be shocked (kidding), but I’d never stepped foot in an IHOP I don’t think. 

 

Alright, I wrote this post in record time and have so much left to tell. More on the Writers Workshop and a convo with my agent in particular. 

 

Thanks for all the good luck wishes on my last post. I truly appreciate and value the comments. Take care!

The Process of Rewriting

 

I’m not sure exactly where the line falls between revisions and rewrites. For me I guess, it’s a question of degree. Rewriting is more intensive than revisions. Rewriting, to some extent is starting, at least parts of a manuscript, from scratch.

In my last post, I outlined my problems with rewriting. To summarize, I think my main troubles with rewriting stem from (a) loving the words already on the page and (b) the difficulty of seeing what is not yet there. 

So what to do? 

Recently, I’ve implemented advice I’ve received from a couple different debut authors and I think it’s working well, even though, I’ll admit it’s a bit scary. Here it is: start a blank word document. 

I know, I know. You finally got a draft out. You’re pumped never to have to look at a blank page and a blinking cursor again. And here I am, telling you to start it all over. 

Yes, it’s intimidating, but also rewarding. 

I open up my original manuscript document in one window, but with the understanding that I won’t use it as a crutch. I wrote those words. I know what happens. I know what parts are good and deserve to be included in the new draft. Then, I open a separate document of notes I’ve come up with. This document usually contains extra research I’ve done that I think might add to the story. Sometimes, I have thoughts on how certain scenes should be changed or notes on extra scenes that I think I might add. In that “notes” document I write anything and everything. I know darn well that some of the thoughts I jotted down will never see the light of day. That’s ok. Those extraneous thoughts help me get a fuller vision of the world in which I’m writing. They sometimes fuel the inspiration for tangents that will make the cut. 

The beauty of the blank document is that it provides an uninhibited backdrop on which to create your best version. It’s important not to be constrained by the words you’ve already written. Getting the story out in earlier drafts should have freed you to write the polished final draft(s). It should not fence you in.

I know that when I revise within my original document sometimes I want to re-read and re-read the words I’ve written until they sound right in my head. Umm…no. That’s not changing anything. That’s what we like to call self-delusion. So, self-delude no more. The blank word doc has several benefits:

First, as you revise and revise, the different drafts sometimes don’t blend and flow. They become stilted and confused. Ghosts of prior drafts haunt the later ones.* The blank word document allows you to recapture the flow of just writing again. Only you’ve already written the story, so you aren’t starting from square one. It allows you to take it to the next level. 

Second, instead of worrying where to fit the extras, the things you know aren’t already on the page, you can work the extra scenes, the extra description, the extra worldbuilding, you can weave the new stuff in seamlessly. You don’t want to be jamming the square peg into the round hole. That’s not pretty. 

Third, it’s flexible. You don’t have to rewrite the whole manuscript over again. I personally am, but just be careful with your transitions into the old parts as you mesh the two. 

Otherwise, enjoy! I know I’ve recaptured a lot of joy by trying this method and am, honestly, so pleased with the results already. 

How do you rewrite?

 

 

*Mandy Hubbard, author of Prada & Prejudice, shared this insight with me and I loved how she said it.

Going with Your Gut

 

I wouldn’t say that I’m always the best at embracing the creative process. When I started writing, my thought process was basically: I love books, I’m a smart girl, I can figure this out. Square peg, round hole. Got it. 

To some extent, I think that mentality has served me well. I’m willing to muscle through when writing block hits. I go after ideas rather than wait for the muse to visit. I try to think through plot points analytically. And I know that writing is 90% perspiration and maybe about 10% inspiration. 

But you know what? Despite my best efforts at ignoring it in the beginning, I’ve learned that, in the business of writing, your gut is your best advisor. 

For me this was a tough realization. The gut is not an easy thing to control. In fact, I’m pretty sure if you try to control gut feelings, then it’s really not listening to your gut at all. Darn. 

So that’s the bad news. 

Good news: your gut can tell you things. Things you may not want to hear, but also sometimes things that you are delighted to hear. 

I hate to say it, but I actually knew the first book I wrote, the one I tried so hard to query and sub all over town, would not land me an agent. I knew it deep down, even as I was editing and editing and editing. Now, that’s not to say that I shouldn’t have gone through all that with that book. I learned so much in writing it and editing it and subbing it, that who knows if I’d have ever gotten to a point where my gut said “yes” if I hadn’t worked through the process. 

I hear dozens of stories where writers queried their first project to every agent and their mother, with interest or maybe not so much interest, but nothing really happening. Then, came their next project and bam! Interest all over the place and offers!

Of course, this does not happen to everyone. It did happen for me that way–ok, not interest all over the place!–But 3 offers, very quickly. And when I figured out the main plot twist and the voice for Scout I knew that it would take me somewhere. I did. I swear!

Writers that maybe took a bit longer, but with the right book might have decided on a revision that they knew felt right, once they thought about it. 

It’s hard to want to listen sometimes. Especially if you’re a bit of a control freak like me. But, I know that my gut is screaming “yes” when I can’t stop thinking about the scene. When I’m still speaking it in my head. When it’s fun writing. And, well, I guess it’s also a feeling that’s a bit hard to describe. Sort of the opposite of a guilty feeling in your stomach, maybe?

Anyway, this was on my mind because I think it’s nice to know that publishing and finding an agent, it’s not always a guessing game. Also, I’m in the midst of some revisions and I’m feeling like this was exactly what was missing! So, in that spirit, I wanted to share. Happy Writing!

Hi! Bye!

 

Ok, fastest blog update ever. I’ve missed blogging the last few days. Really, I have! But I’m in the home stretch. My first law school final is Friday. *eek!* So I’m trying to focus.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how excited I am for this summer due to the fact that I’ll be able to get in a ton of much needed and much desired writing (slash-reading). 

There is still a lot I want to share about Agent/Editor Day and I plan to. But, as I realized, those posts require (a) brain power and (b) time, both of which are in short supply. 

The one break I did take this weekend, I filled not blogging, but doing something I think y’all can all appreciate–meeting Melissa Marr. 

The author of Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange and now Fragile Eternity was signing  books and doing a Q&A session at Book People this weekend in Austin. How cool is that? I bought Fragile Eternity and had it signed and now have it waiting for me as a reward for when I finish with school. 

In addition to continuing to share Agent and Editor insights I’ll blog a bit about what I learned at the Q&A session regarding the writing process. 

In 2 weekends I’ve met the coolest writing-related people and I’m discovering just listening opens up whole new worlds of thought for me. I know these experiences will help me develop as a writer and I’m glad I’ve been able to seek them out offline now as well. 

The plan for now, though, will be an updated blog–but with shorter blog posts. I’ll have some interesting discussion questions that I’ve been pondering and hopefully y’all will keep stopping in.

The Pre-Owned Story Dealership: “Better than new”

Today some words of wisdom courtesy of SCBWI Dallas Agent/Editor Day. This was a bit of insight from Editor Molly O’Neill. Although I’m sure she put it much more eloquently, Molly touched on the fact that it’s not about finding a unique idea, it’s about finding an new perspective for an old one. 

People have been telling stories for thousands of years. Let’s face it, most the good ideas have been snatched up, re-hauled, and told all over again. But that’s ok. See, there’s a reason those stories have been told and re-told throughout countless generations. It’s because they’re good. 

If you’re telling some bizarre story about giant squids on vacation in Denver and you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow, I’m super original. Go me!” Take a second. Think. Now, why has that story never been written? Oh right, because there about three people that will want to buy that book–and that’s being generous! Publishers don’t really want to invest in a book that has an audience of three. That’s not good business. 

So the trick isn’t coming up with something that’s never-ever been done. The trick is finding a new perspective. A new spin.

The trick is to write a zombie book in a literary voice or a Holocaust book narrated by Death or a social lottery book couched in reality TV. 

Isn’t that what being an artist is all about?

A good book is relatable to lots of people, but forces people to look at the world in a new way or to see an old standby from a different standpoint. 

 

Now, for a visual aid that I thought was on point. This is from photographer Kerry Skarbakka who was recently featured on the Today Show. This guy takes pictures of himself falling. His photographs have touched a nerve with folks because why? You guessed it. Relatable feeling: Falling/Helplessness/Discomfort. Viewed from: A new angle. 

guyfalling

The Story is in the Details

Today I get to share with you a truly helpful, craft-oriented article courtesy of Rona Sharon. Enjoy!

 

The Story is in the Details

By Rona Sharon,
Author of Royal Blood

I am often asked, “What sort of research went into your story to bring it to life so vividly?”

The truth is months or even years of research. If I do not acquaint myself with the ins and outs of the periods I write about, how will I take readers back in time with me?

So where does an author start the research? What sort of research goes into a novel?

Gustave Flaubert (1821-80), the author of Madame Bovary, wrote, “Le bon Dieu est dans le detail.” God is in the details. I find this to be true every time I begin a sentence in a novel.

I will demonstrate this with an exercise. We are writing a story together. The place is Greenwich Palace, the year is 1518, King Henry VIII has been on the throne for nine years. Our hero is an ambitious, out-of-town knight who has come to court to fight in the tournaments.

Page 1, Chapter One, first line: Hero wakes up in the morning.

What time is it? What does he see? What does he do? What does he think? And which words does he use in his thought process? In a modern day story, we would not be bothered by such trivialities. The hero wakes up in bed. His watch says 8:15 AM. He goes into the bathroom to shower, shave, brush his teeth, relieve himself, etc., and then pulls on a pair of pants.

Easy writing, boring events — unless this is all a setup, and our hero will soon find out that while he was sleeping, the world outside was destroyed by hostile aliens.

In our story, however, the historical details are the setup. Our words will draw the reader into the hero’s world. If we do our job well, the reader will suspend his disbelief and follow the hero into a passionate, thrilling adventure, Tudor style, without leaving the sofa. Our next challenge will be writing a gripping story that will hold on to our reader and not let go. However, if the reader does not get a feeling of the place right off the start, he or she may feel cheated, lose interest, and exchange our novel for one with a richer, more believable setting.

The same rule applies to movies. We will believe anything so long as the camera does not tilt aside to reveal the studio behind the Temple of Doom. If we catch a glimpse of a man in a baseball cap crossing a medieval battle scene, we will immediately assume the movie is a farce. And if it isn’t a parody, we will deem it a poorly done movie. We will not cry for the heroine if we see her makeup artist standing on the sideline, waiting to do touch-ups.

To preserve integrity, the author needs to know everything about the hero and everything about the world the hero inhabits. Not every detail will find its way to the final draft, but the author needs to know it before he or she can decide if it is important enough to be inserted into the text.

So back to our hero. He has just opened his eyes. What does he see? How does a Tudor chamber look like? Did people have private chambers or did they share? How can he tell the time? Did they have clocks in the room? Was 8:15 in the morning considered 8:15 then or did they have a different method for telling time? In ancient Rome, six o’clock in the morning was the first hour of the day. What was the rule in Tudor England? Also, did they have bathrooms inside their apartments, if at all? Did they have running water? Do not assume that they didn’t, because actually several of King Henry’s palaces did have water pipes and drainage, and the proper term for a bathroom was a garderobe. We should also determine if people cleaned their teeth in the morning and if so how. Otherwise, we won’t be able to pen a single word.

The simplest detail becomes a mystery. We cannot dismiss what we don’t know as unimportant, because the novel will lose its historical flavor, and worse, the story will come to a standstill. We cannot write what we don’t know, and we cannot invent the answers. The Tudor court, although alien to us, did exist. Writing about it is much like writing a sci-fi novel, only the rules were invented by others and are scattered haphazardly in dusty places, like libraries and museums.

The historical fiction novelist wears two hats: the storyteller and the historian. Every word must be checked, because back in 1518 they had different . . . everything! Even the English language was different. People in 1518 did not ask, “What time is it?” They asked, “What o’clock?” Men did not wear pants; they wore hoses or trunkhoses over stocks or strosses. They did not ask, “How are you?” or “What’s up?” They asked, “How now?” or “What news?” Cheating on your spouse was called a “love intrigue” — a standard occurrence considering that most marriages were loveless, and the English people were an unblushing lot when it came to lust. And so forth.

Some readers stumble over period language, others expect it. Finding the perfect formula that appeals to everyone is another great challenge.

Now let me complicate our experiment. History stops in the year 1518. Nothing beyond this point is usable. What’s more, not everything prior to this point was common knowledge in England of 1518. A great deal of the antiquity had been lost and not yet unearthed. Our job is to ascertain what our hero knows and how he came by the information. The deeper we go in the story, more questions will arise: How did they pass the time? What were the rules of jousting — and of courting? What games of hazard did they play and how? Who was who? What was what? How did they eat, dress, and curse? The multi-use F word was not in circulation in 1518. It was barely in existence.

By this point you must be thinking, “What a whole lot of boring work.” Still, wouldn’t you like to know about prisons, bawdy houses, poisons, intrigues, bloody battles, the secret lives of women, and love rituals of the past? Remember, God is in the details. Historical documentation is the author’s treasure trove. One never knows which detail will inspire a shocking twist or a riveting scene that will come to life on the pages and create a great moment.

©2009 Rona Sharon, author of Royal Blood
Rona Sharon is the author of critically acclaimed historical novels of intrigue, passion, and danger. Her latest, Royal Blood, is a tale of lust and violence in the treacherous Tudor Court. From her home on the Mediterranean Coast in Tel Aviv, surrounded by thousands of years of history, Rona brings her passion for culture and travel to her writing and never fails to deliver a story that carries a punch . . . and a dagger.
For more information please visit www.ronasharon.com

Saturday Six

Thing the first. Law school crunch time is wreaking havoc with my writing time. Lucky I wrote a lot at the beginning of the semester. One strange thing I’ve noticed, though, is that while studying I get a bunch of ideas for new books. I’m sure it’s my pesky subconcious’s means of procrastinating, but hey, I’m not complaining. I just keep my book ideas document open on my laptop and enjoy the tiny breaks I take to jot the new characters/plot points/premises down. Kinda fun. 

 

Thing the second. My library card status via the online “My Account” page now reads “delinquent” and I was much chagrined to find a borrowed copy of Coraline hiding under my bed. This makes me feel quite naughty. 

 

Thing the third. Boyfriend and I saw Hannah Montana last night as we are closet fanatics of the show. Don’t judge! Can I just confess that I thought that it was actually really cute and sweet? I’ve been a bit put off by some of Miley’s recent interviews, but I was happy to find that she was likeable once again in the movie version of herself. As these types of flicks go, it definitely beat the pants off Crossroads (Britney Spears). [Yes, I saw that on the big screen as well *hides*]  Oh, and can someone please teach us the Hoedown Throwdown?

 

Thing the fourth. There’s been an interesting discussion going on in the Absolute Write “No news is no news” thread (aka Purgatory). Someone wanted to kill off their main character in the first book of their series. The writers in the forum, responded as readers, with a strong negative reaction to this idea. I’ve been trying to think about this and I really can’t come down strongly on either side, I think because so much of a story idea depends on the execution. But most felt that they would throw a book across the room if the MC was offed in the first book and certainly not pick up the next in the series. Spinoff topic: What do you think of different POV characters for different books within a series–a la Melissa Marr’s books. 

 

Thing the fifth. My new book will be offered up into the world of editors next week. Exciting? Thrilling? Kinda want to wet my pants because I’m so nervous? Yeah, all of the above. Is it weird that I always picture Donald Trump reviewing my manuscript in The Boardroom? Then I have a vision of Acquisitions meetings as a panel of Randy, Simon, Paula and Kara. Hmmm…I predict frightening dreams next week. 

 

Thing the sixth. Read above. ^ I’m a big believer in positive thoughts and prayers from people and well-wishers. Please offer generously. Thanks, y’all.

Step Away from the Thesaurus

 

This week we’re talking about writing in first person. So today, I’m going to do a quick post. A reminder or warning of sorts, I guess.

When writing in first person, for the most part, you need to step away from the thesaurus. 

There is a prevalent thought amongst non-writers, I think, that writer are constantly checking their thesaurus for different words, fancy words. I think most of us would say that’s not the case. 

Sure, I have a thesaurus on hand, ready to look up a synonym. But, I use it because I can’t think of a word I already know, that is in my vernacular and that I can’t recall. Not to look up some fancy-schmancy word I wouldn’t use in conversation in a bazillion years. 

So back to first person. Remember that a “real live” person is narrating this story. So, that needs to limit the number of four syllable words you use in the narrative, ok people? Sure, you might say that your narrator is super academic or what have you. Then, of course, there might be exceptions. However, even if you, as a person, are truly intellectual, when you are narrating things in your head for no one else to hear, the words probably come out a bit more raw and from a bit more within your comfort level, no? 

So, all I’m saying is that first person limits some of the flowery language you might be able to indulge in, if you chose to write in a different POV.