This is the elusive “thing” that everyone says cannot be taught and I think to some degree it might be weak in my WIP. However, I think it can be taught and that’s why agents, editors, and published authors tell wannabe’s that they have to read, read, read. There are several authors who I think have distinctive voices for their characters; Harlan Coben and James Patterson. I’ve been devouring their books for insight on pacing and now I’m rereading sections for voice. If you know of any hints for voice, I’d love to hear about them.
There are so many online tools out there for writers that sometimes you can become bogged down with all that virtual weight. However, I would recommend subscribing to Kristen Nelson’s (literary agent) monthly online newsletter. Usually, I glean a writerly nugget or two and this month was no exception. She wrote a piece on why she stopped reading manuscripts and she narrowed it down to four issues. They are listed below either in her words or paraphrased.
1. Does the chapter move the story forward by doing one thing (like introduce a character), or does it do multiple things, like introduce a character, add a new plot element, and also plant a clue that will be referred to later? Each chapter or scene needs all three.
2. Does the chapter give a clue about characters, larger story, or some information that will play a crucial part later. If you are on top of your game as a writer, you will include all three.
3. Is the main plot point of the chapter interesting enough to stand on it’s own? If not ditch it.
4. Could any events be summarized in one sentence instead of playing out over a whole chapter or scene? If so, chances are good your plot pace is off. If you can answer no–this is essential–then the chapter or scene is probably okay to keep.
Right now, I’m back into writing (new WIP, 10k words) and editing mode (old WIP) and I appreciate anything that can narrow down advice in such a succinct manner. I’ve already implemented her suggestions while I write and am deleting/rewriting scenes that would cause an agent to quit reading.
What advice do you follow while you write/edit?
Here’s the good news, I finished my WIP on August 23rd with a word count of 88,000 words. I’m thrilled, but nervous about the editing portion. My last manuscript, I really struggled with how to edit, but this time around I think I have a better understanding of how to do it. I know some of my writer friends hire an editor, but that’s not an option for me, at least for now. Thankfully, I have a wonderful critique partner, willing beta readers, and my mother in law is a technical writer, so she’ll be able to catch the grammar/punctuation errors that I’ll miss. I’ll keep y’all updated about the process and if I learn any new tips.
Moving on to another subject….
Recently, I spoke with a writer friend who dropped $900 on an editor . (This is the second paid editor for this manuscript.) He told me he isn’t going to take her advice to cut 25,000 to 35,000 words from his 135k word manuscript or her advice to change it from new adult to young adult. This isn’t the first time he’s heard this advice, several other agents and editors have said the same thing. This is his 37th time editing the novel, either with a professional or on his own. He’s going to make one more round of queries and then is going to publish it himself.
Here’s what I’m wondering…
Why bother with spending the money when you aren’t willing to take the advice from INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS?
The ironic thing is that he doesn’t understand why he’s being rejected. I asked him if it could possibly be his word count and he said, “Nope.” I kid you not. Then I asked him if he thought it was because it should be YA instead and he repeated his answer. Seriously, I about fainted. I mean he’s lucky enough to receive feedback and I feel he doesn’t put any value in it.
However, I’m not sure he’s alone. In some ways, I wonder if I’m a little like him, blind to the important critiques and only willing to focus on the small things. It’s easier to solve small problems, like adding a coma, instead of large ones, like cutting 25,000 words. After a few days of reflecting on this experience, I’ve decided to pay more attention to my critiques and make sure I’m not trying to dodge the big things. I’m hoping it will make me a better writer and after all isn’t that what we all want.
What about you, do you think you focus only on the small issues and ignore the larger ones?
The universe seems to be sending me a message repeatedly and I guess I better answer it or else…well, I’m not sure what happens when you don’t. Maybe you miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime or you end up with a list of regrets. Since I’m not sure what the consequence are and I’m not willing to find out, I thought I’d head the call.
Lately, everywhere I turn, I am reading about successful artists who find the emotion of the project resulting in a better ending. Today, I read about a women who helps directors and actors figure out what the real emotion of the movie is and how to portray that effectively to the audience. She has influenced over 700 films and has a long list of Oscar winners. She says that if you fail to discover the true essence of the story, then the audience leaves feeling flat.
I’ve thought a lot about this as it pertains to my WIP and have to agree with her. Cheating you’re readers out of a satisfying emotional ending leaves the reader feeling disappointed. I’m not talking about crying, but about the large themes of the manuscript. Things like passion, acceptance, greed, or tolerance, to name a few. I’ve wondered if I’m conveying the true emotion of the scene and plot. If not, I want to enhance that part of my writing and have added it to my list of things to look for when editing. After all, most of my favorite stories (To Kill A Mockingbird, The Shining) and movies (Copycat, Steel Magnolias) are all about emotion.
Do you think emotion plays a large part in a novel/movie?
Since last Friday, I’ve had company and have put off writing. It was a conscious decision. Not one because I was stuck with a writing problem. This forced free time has allowed me the opportunity to think about the changes I’ve made, additional changes that still need to be made, and to read lots of books. Currently, I’m reading The Sixes by Kate White and loving it. This book has inspired me to up the threat level and to really think about what makes a book suspenseful.
To me, I think there are several things that make a reader sit on the edge of their seat and clasp their hand to their mouth to keep from screaming. First, you need to truly care about the protagonist and have some sort of emotional connection with him/her. Second, you need to put the protagonist in harm’s way. The more the better. And third, you need to keep up the ante on the danger to your protagonist. And finally, you need to force me to ask questions about the plot, because if you don’t the “danger” to the protagonist isn’t enough. If you do this, I will continue to read way past my bedtime.
What makes you turn the page?
Usually I would describe myself as a positive person, but lately I’ve been Negative Nelly about everything including my writing and because of it I can’t seem to fix this plot point that is driving me crazy. So, instead of parking my butt in the chair and writing or at least trying to outline a fix, I’ve been ignoring it. However, I can’t continue to stick my head in the sand. I have to resolve it now and to help me I’ve eaten more sweets in the last four days than I have in the last four months. YIKES! Not sure my running will cancel the calories.
I’m grasping at anything to get me going, including reading how to books. Yesterday, I borrowed another E-book on writing. This one from Lawrence Block and he says that when he is stuck. He talks it out. So, today that’s what I’ll be doing. Talking to myself like a blathering fool while my kids nap. I’m praying it works because I’ve got nothing. Nada. (Yes, I’m trying to prolong this post because I don’t want to go talk to myself…well here goes.)
Wish me luck!
My current WIP takes place in Mississippi and because I have undertones of gay marriages and the lack of acceptance. I picked this state specifically because it is in the heart of the bible belt. So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that I had picked the perfect place for my story. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Mississippi does not recognize same-sex marriages, does not allow same-sex couples to adopt, and does not have any laws protecting people from hate crimes based on sexual orientation.
So I shouldn’t have been shocked about a story I read, but I was.
In a small town in southeastern Mississippi, the newspaper reported a gay marriage on its front cover calling it historical. The backlash the paper received was appalling and the paper’s owner Jim Cegielski had to write a response as to the reason the paper reported the story. Here’s what he said:
“We were well aware that the majority of people in Jones County are not in favor of gay marriage. However, any decent newspaper with a backbone can not base decisions on whether to cover a story based on whether the story will make people angry.
The job of a community newspaper is not pretending something didn’t take place or ignoring it because it will upset people. No, our job is to inform readers what is going on in our town and let them make their own judgments. That is exactly what we did with the wedding story. Our reporter heard about the wedding, attended it, interviewed some of the participants and wrote a news story. If there had been protestors at the wedding, we would have covered that the exact same way … but there weren’t any. We never said it was a good thing or a bad thing, we simply did our job by telling people what took place.
I took the bulk of the irate phone calls from people who called the paper to complain. Most of the complaints seem to revolve around the headline, “Historic Wedding,” and the fact that we chose to put the story on the front page. My answer to the “Historic Wedding” headline is pretty simple. You don’t have like something for it to be historic.
The holocaust, bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Black Sox scandal are all historic. I’m in no way comparing the downtown wedding of two females to any of those events (even though some of you made it quite clear that you think gay marriage is much worse).
We have stories about child molesters, murders and all kinds of vicious, barbaric acts of evil committed by heinous criminals on our front page and yet we never receive a call from anyone saying ‘I don’t need my children reading this.’ Never. Ever. However, a story about two women exchanging marriage vows and we get swamped with people worried about their children.
I had at least 20 or so readers express to me they think gay marriage is “an abomination against God.” We never said it wasn’t. We never said it was.”
And here is where I think he missed a great opportunity to continue to educate Jones County. He continues on by saying he is saddened about the hate-filled viciousness directed at his staff. Okay, I get that, but this was written in the opinion section and he could have gone one step further and talked about the hate that the gay/lesbian community must be facing. But he didn’t.
And that saddens me.
During my childhood, my mother would dabble on and off with writing this one manuscript. It took her ten years to write it (she had six kids to raise and support) and probably another year or so to edit it. I was one of her beta readers and I loved the manuscript as I saw the changes over the years. Not all of them, did I agree with, but most of the time it improved the book.
The time came when she finally decided she was ready to query an agent. By now I was in my early thirties and the book had sat untouched for several years. She wrote her letter, sent it by email, and received a rejection rather quickly. I encouraged her to continue to query other agents, but she said she was done.
And that was it.
Her manuscript sat idle for another couple of years until my younger brother convinced her to publish it online. My mother called me and we discussed it and I encouraged her to update it first. Now that I was studying the art of writing I realized there were a few things that needed to change, but I could tell she was disappointed with my advice and my brother kept urging her to publish it. As far as I know it still is sitting idle with no plan for the future.
Because of the self publishing craze, my mother and brother have both encouraged me to self publish my last two manuscripts and I’ve disappointed them with my response. I’m not against it, but I feel I still have lessons to learn with my writing and I don’t think I will learn what I need to without going the traditional route. Who knows, I might change my mind down the road, but right now that is how I feel.
The other day, my mother (who has decided to start writing again) sent me this excerpt from Louise DeSalvo’s book, Writing as a Way of Healing. “I didn’t know that for writers there is an apprenticeship period and that the sooner we begin, the better. Virginia Woolf started taking herself seriously as a writer when she was fifteen, though other writers, like Harriet Doerr, author of the novel Stones for Ibarra, or like the poet Amy Clampitt didn’t begin writing or publishing until they were elders.”
“If we commit ourselves to engaging in the process of writing, our work will evolve and mature. Becoming competent takes time, and we all have within ourselves the capacity to do it. Yet instead of being helped to achieve this healing insight, I was taught that, in the words of one of my English teachers, when it comes to be a writer,
“you either have it or you don’t”.
“That simply isn’t so.”
After she sent this to me, I wondered how many aspiring authors were like my mother and believed that they didn’t have it. Probably more than I realize. I know as writers, it is easy to become discouraged, but I hope most of us agree with Laura DeSalvo’s advice. In my opinion, true failure is giving up.
What do you think?
Current Word Count 66,391
My heart is thumping and my hands are sweaty. I am so close to writing the climax and I don’t want to disappoint myself or my character. Also if you are wondering how I visualize some of my characters, I’ve gathered pictures on pinterest. I’m under Rachael Dahl.
Yesterday’s writing was an excercise in patience. I’ve finally changed the entire WIP from third person point of view to first person and I like it better, but I’ve spent so much time on it that I lost the momentum I had going. I don’t have time to cultivate momentum as I only write during nap time which can be anywhere from one to three hours,. However, yesterday, my toddler couldn’t sleep more than an hour because she kept coughing and I kept checking on her by leaving my desk to go listen to the baby monitor. By the time she fully awoke, I’d only written a little over seven hundred words.
Even if I’d had another hour, I don’t think I would have written much more because I couldn’t think of where my character needed to go next. Um, hello? Usually, I have a bazillion places for her to go and it’s trying to figure out which one is right for her story. So, what do I do when I need inspiration? Either I work out or I take a bath. Right now, I’m still sick and not able to breathe well enough to work out, but thankfully, I was able to squeeze in an hour bath last night and now I’m gearing up to write. Thank goodness because it’s like Barry Eisler says, (I’m paraphrasing) if you want to be a serious writer than you need to keep writing.