Monday, November 24, 2008
Critique Archive 0019:
Dear Mr. XXXXX,
I have contacted you due to your representation of authors whose work I admire, XXXXX and XXXXX. I thought you might be interested in my 90,000 word Fantasy manuscript, THE THORN. I believe there is potential to serialize the characters in a trilogy.
Under the twin blue suns, Azure and Aqua, war rages between the tribes of Gideon, Daniel, and Uzzah. Jonathan son of Samuel, the last living Heir to the Throne of Daniel, finds himself staging an opportunistic rescue of his childhood friend Eli, Uzzahite Warrior and a Temple Priest, from a small band of Gideonite soldiers. After the swift skirmish has ended, a young Gideonite soldier by the name of Pekah joins Jonathan in the cause of the Tribe of Daniel, and discovers the truth about the true motives of the Gideonite Emperor. Pekah's eyes are opened, and he becomes the instrument by which the Three Brothers are united once again. Jonathan, Eli, and Pekah work together to keep General Rezon of Gideon from accomplishing his evil designs -- the total annihilation of the other two tribes. As peace returns to their lands, Pekah finds himself a changed man, and with a new found love by his side, they watch together as the promised sign of a special birth appears in the heavens above Gan. Worlds away, "The One Who Would Suffer" has been born.
I would be pleased to send the entire manuscript (or just sample chapters if you would prefer), for your consideration. I have included a SASE for your convenience. Thank you in advance for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Many of my posts come directly from whatever I'm currently reading or editing, and today is no different. I've been through a lot of historical fiction lately, so without naming names, I'm going to compare two novels and what they did (and didn't) do right.
Plot & Character over Period
Novel #1 has an intricate plot that relies heavily on actual historical events. But even though these events are dramatic and real, the point of the story is actually the characters involved and how they react to the situations they're thrust into.
In other words, in spite of the historical detail (and how involved real events are in the plot), the time period is secondary. I doesn't really matter when the story is set, because the characters are real, universal, and riveting. I had to find out what they would do next and what would happen to them.
Novel #2, on the other hand, has a time period that overrides the plot. Lots and lots of events are thrown onto the page seemingly just because they happened then. Yes, they (usually) impact the main characters at some point, but too often the time period comes first, the plot second.
And the characters? For starters, there's too many to keep straight. For another, few are interesting enough that I'm compelled to keep reading. I don't really care about them. It's a book more about a particular year in history than a story about characters who feel real and face real crises.
A novel should always be about the characters. We shouldn't have to care more about the year than about the hero and heroine in order to slog through the book.
The irony with this comparison is that of the two periods, Novel #1 has (by far) the more intricate story as far as weaving in the history. Tons of dates, places, people, and events from real life are woven into a complicated plot. But again, the characters and story come first. The story is about how the hero and the heroine handle the conflicts. The history is there enhancing the story, not making it.
Novel #1 was obviously heavily researched. So was Novel #2. Some of the details in both books make that very clear.
I caught one tiny thing in Novel #1 that made me pause and wonder if it was accurate. It was so small that I don't remember what it was anymore. Novel #2, however . . . I can list off several things I know (and I'm sure many other readers know) are downright wrong. It's as if the author researched X and Y and then just assumed Z.
But Z didn't show up for another fifty or sixty years. And in another case, Z didn't show up in history until even later than that. You can't assume.
Research vs. Showing off
With Novel #1, the historical details never got in the way of the story. They were there as the backdrop of the stage the story plays out on. If we heard about a car or a hairstyle or a piece of clothing or a meal, it was described in a way that made it clear that this is simply the way things were back then. These details set the scene and make the story come alive.
Novel #2 . . . well, a lot of details feel as if they were thrown in for the sole purpose of waving a flag to get attention and yelling, "Look at me! See? I DID RESEARCH!!!!"
To be honest, I'm still trying to finish Novel #2. While I'm not a fast reader, Novel #1 was longer than this one, and I finished it in half the time #2 has taken me to get 2/3 of the way through. That alone says volumes.
Whether you write historical fiction or not, many of these same principles apply. The Hunt for Red October wouldn't have been interesting if we spent too much time learning all about Tom Clancy's research into submarines.
House wouldn't fun to watch if they spent too much time explaining all the medical terms.
The characters and the plot come first. Research is important, but don't let all the facts you dug up get your story quagmired in boring mud.
Oh, and be sure to look up Z. Just in case what you assumed about it isn't really so. It happens.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Critique Archive 0018:
Dear Ms. XXXXX,
I've chosen to contact you due to your representation of an author whose work I truly enjoy, XXXXX. I thought you might be interested in my 84,000 word YA manuscript, THE REFUGE. It is the first installment of a planned trilogy.
When Narissa discovers she's been shifted to an alternate dimension, she resolves to locate the elusive gate that links back to her world. As she begins her search, Narissa finds herself the object of unwanted attention and gossip, which escalates as people begin to notice the way she's captured the interest of one of their leaders—prickly, reclusive Daman. It is only after deciding her new friendships are worth abandoning her quest to return home that she discovers how to leave. Will she cling to the life she craves or choose to return to the responsibilities of caring for her younger sister?
I would love the opportunity to send sample chapters, or the entire manuscript, for your consideration. I've included a SASE for your convenience. Thank you for your time and attention, I look forward to hearing from you.
P.S. As a professional courtesy, I'd like to let you know I'm also querying two other agents.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
"Write what you know" is likely the most touted bit of writing advice any of us have ever heard. I don't think I've ever gone to a writer's conference and not heard at least one presenter talk about this topic. There's a reason it gets so much attention, it is a very good place for a writer to visit and become familiar with, but it's not about writing your life story. Instead, it has a variety of uses that, at different times, will come in handy. Here are a few examples, please feel free to share if you have some more advice along this line. After all, I can only write what I know, so if I don't know it someone better learn it to me:
1) What do YOU know?
Was your father a butcher? Did your grandmother tat lace? Were you forced to pull weeds as a child? Have you ever been arrested? Divorced? Dragged by a truck on icy roads in the winter? What about that vacation you took to those caves you got lost in for three hours? What about the tornado that wiped out the town twenty miles away when you were fourteen?
The point is every single one of us has a lifetime of experiences. Some are going to be similar to other people's--this is good. Shared experience allows us to communicate to other people's memories, it's a powerful tool to apply to your writing, taking full advantage of things you have in common with your readers. However, there are other things you have gone through that the typical person hasn't. My dad is a teacher. Boring. Average, right? But he's an art teacher. Not that much more interesting. He's also a sculptor with a special ability to take a two dimensional picture and transform it into a three dimensional sculpture. I grew up watching him take pounds of oil based clay (that stains your fingers and stings if you get it in your eyes) and slowly transform it bit by bit into the San Diego Chicken or Squatch. It's a phenomenol process and because I grew up around it, I know details of sculpting that most people don't know.
All of us have details like this in our lives that, if not useful in and of itself, lends us to knowing where to look for similar information. Try making a list of all the occupations, locations, talents, family situations, and household tasks you know more about than the average Joe. Keep these things in mind when creating characters, storylines, and details in your books. You might surprise yourself with how much you really know.
2) What do you KNOW?
Do you know where to go to look up the names of stars in any given constellation? Can you tell me the chemical make up of Elmer's glue? How many cups of water equate to a metric ton? How many players on Berkley's basketball team have set records in assists?
Don't know these things off the top of your head? Learn it. We are not limited by the things we already know based on our life experience. Because we are writers, we are likely very good readers, meaning we absorb information well and learn from the printed word better than most people. Take full advantage of this by continuing to learn all the time. Even if you aren't working on a project that demands research, keep your mind open to learning new things. You never know when they might come into play. And, by excersing your mind this way, you have a better chance of finding information when you need it because you have vast resources on research to go to. You might not know the name of that star, but you did read about the zodiac in that one book you found at the library six years ago. I bet you could find it in there. Julie recently blogged about this and it was a great reminder of just how awesome research can truly be.
3) WHAT do you know? (about your genre)
Did you know that in a Romance novel it's okay for the guy to be a playboy, but not the girl? Did you know that fantasy really isn't fantasy if it doesn't have magic in it? Did you know that horror is often considered the purest of all genres in regards to morals and ethics because it is, at it's core, a battle between good and evil? Did you know that even Children's books must have conflict?
Whatever it is you write, be sure to read it, and study it, and immerse yourself in it. There are rules and expectations that have to do with the contract you make with your reader and in order to be successful in that market, you need to offer up those expectations. This isn't to say that you can't provide your own twists and turns, that you can't set yourself apart from the crowd, but you must fit the parameters of your genre FIRST. There are pletny of writing books on this subject as well as very good internet articles you can find via google. Knowing what an editor, agent, or reader expects from you is a great way to start your next story.
4) What DO you know?
What if I don't know the ending? What if I don't know the first chapter? What if I don't know who dunnit? What if I don't know what color I want the carpet to be?
Well, what DO you know? Annette lyon talked about this a couple weeks ago and it pulled me out of a slump I'd been in. I want to write from page one to page 805 without stopping. I want to then start over and revise. It's what I want, but it's not reality. After Annette's advice I just starting writing what I knew. I knew, for instance, that I wanted my character to take over the kitchen. I also knew that I wanted her to find out a medical inconsistancy. And I wanted a really broody character that rubbed her wrong. I don't know who killed the guy behind the curtain and I don't know what they are trying to hide by killing him, but I know I want her to keep her jogging whistle in her pocket for protection, so I wrote that. And then I wrote this other scene, and then I wrote the really funny part. I've managed to break the 30,000 word barrier despite the fact that anyone that tried to read it right now would think I was completly bonkers because it doesn't make sense. Yet. But I have over 100 pages and that alone inspires me to continue. This week I've begun bridging those scenes to one another. I know she needs to get from the bedroom to the kitchen--how? It's coming together, not as easy and seamless as I'd like, but it IS coming together because though I don't know much, I know THIS and I'm writing it down. Don't be afraid to jump around. We live in the age of computers, lucky us!
We are more than we think we are upon first glance, and the journey of discovery often leads us to doors we didn't even know could be opened. Own the knowledge, own the power.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
One of the coolest things about writing is the stuff I learn while writing. I dropped out of college my sophomore year because the stress was too much. I was taking a full load of credits on classes I didn't care anything about just because some one somewhere said that was what I had to learn in order to be well rounded. I don't regret not having the piece of paper that says, "Look at me! I graduated!" But I do miss the fact that I missed an opportunity to take classes I genuinely cared about. I regret not learning about the things that truly fascinate me. I would have loved archeology, and ancient civilizations. I would have loved photography and film making. Sigh. Oh, wait a minute, I'm not posting about past lamentations.
I'M POSTING ABOUT WHY WRITING ROCKS!
It's all about the research, baby. I love doing research. I love trying new things all in the name of research. I learned how to rock climb just because I wanted a rock climbing scene to be right in a book. You have to get those details right. People who really do go rock climbing will recognize your ignorance if you don't research out the details well enough. If you're having a portion of your book take place in Disneyland, then darn-it-all you just might have to take a little vacation for research. (there is one writer who missed this concept, and made some grievous errors in his novel. Those of us who love Disneyland will forever be irritated by his book. No I won't name names)
My latest book has been a blast to research.
The things I learned while researching for my current book:
1. Thimbleberry bush leaves can be used for toilet paper because the leaves are soft, large, and non irritating.
2. Choke cherries can be eaten in the wild, but usually at the time they are ripe enough to eat, they are full of worms, and they are so bitter and sour as to make people sick to the stomach.
3. The worldwide birthrate is on a major decline--specifically in "civilized" nations, however even tribal nations are feeling the pinch of a aging population and no youth to bear the burden of work and societal needs.
4. Three out of every five teenagers are sexually active.
5. Four out of every five of those sexually active teenagers have a sexually transmitted disease.
6. When Mount Rainier finally blows its top, the possible death tolls stretches over 150,000 people.
7. A lahar is like a swiftly moving wall of wet concrete.
8. The people living in the path of a lahar would have less than a 45 minute warning to seek higher ground.
9. The city of Orting Washington is settled on six meters of deposits from the last Mount Rainer eruption.
10. Combining the declining birth rate and the amount of sexually transmitted diseases that cause sterility in both men and women, it will only take three to five generations before humanity puts itself into a precarious situation.
11. The climate of the entire world is affected by volcanic eruptions. Major eruptions cause worldwide "cold spells" or "winters" where crops die, animals die, and everyone finds themselves a little colder and hungrier than they were the year previous.
12. An electron can "skip" from one allowed orbit or energy level to another.
13. Quantum physics is awesome.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because I love writing. I love the tidbits of fact that I get to manipulate into my stories. There have been days where I've run little scientific experiments to make sure a thing is possible before I make an idiot of myself by including it in a book without checking first. I've learned more on more topics than two years of general education classes taught me in college. And it's been a whole lot cheaper.
I'd be interested in knowing what fun little tidbit(s) all you writing-on-the-wall readers have learned while working on your own writing.
Don't you just love what we do sometimes?
Sunday, November 9, 2008
The Whitney Award Benefit Auction is being held through the month of November. Items are added to the auction daily and all funds go to support The Whitney Award which is a reader based award for LDS writers. If you have been considering getting an edit, now might be a great time to do it (just in time for Christmas :-) and so far the prices are great. Here are some links to make finding the writer-related auction items easy-breezy:
PEG Content or line edit, click HERE (as of this post, the price was at $50)
Full 200-page content OR line edit from Precision Editing, a premiere service for writers of all genres. Content edit evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of your plot and includes in-depth evaluation of writer’s style, characterization, flow, tension, pacing, and plot structure. A copy/line edit addresses grammar, spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. For more information about their many services, please write to us for contact information. RETAIL VALUE: $400
Writing Excuses Podcast ad, Click HERE (as of this post, the price was $31)
Need to get word about your book, product or service out to 5,000 new people – fast? This is the auction for you! You write the text for a twenty-second advertisement and the witty writer guys from Writing Excuses will read it on an upcoming episode of WRITING EXCUSES.
Each episode of this popular, fast-growing podcast by fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson, cartoonist Howard Tayler, and horror novelist Dan Wells is downloaded at least 5,000 times every week!
Ad spots sell for $250 and more, but this rare opportunity can be yours through the Whitney Benefit Auction for a song. (NOTE: Podcasters will not sing! Well, they might if you beg…and/or pay enough!)
Manuscript Evaluation by YA novelist Aprilynne Pike, Click HERE (As of this post there were no bids on this item)
Aprilynne Pike will read and evaluate any fiction work up to 200,000 words. April has been spinning faerie stories since she was a child with a hyper-active imagination. At the age of twenty she received her BA in Creative Writing from Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. When not writing, Aprilynne can usually be found at the gym; she also enjoys singing, acting, reading, and working with pregnant moms as a childbirth educator and doula. Aprilynne currently lives with her husband and three kids in Utah, and dreams of warmer climates. Her first novel for young adults, WINGS, will be released by Harper Teen in May, 2009 and is the first of a series of four.Approximate Value of this Professional Evaluation: $600
While visiting any of these items click on the link "View Seller's Other Items" to see what other treasures the Whitney Benefit Auction holds.