Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mission: Improbable?

Last week I mentioned I landed an agent. Tomorrow I'll meet her for lunch. After that, I'm heading downtown with two friends to watch the Kentucky Wildcats in open practice. (I've got a basketball-themed mystery idea but I need to research the sport more before I write it.)

Anyway, I sent my agent the first three chapters of a book I'm working on, and also pitched another story I'd finished. Unfortunately, both are too short and I need to double their lengths. I'm working on one, and finding I hate my beginning. Openings are my bete noire, and I often end up writing different scenarios before finding one I like.

I'm debating putting this one story aside and working on revisions of the other one. Or maybe plotting a new book. But part of me doesn't like to give up on what I consider a challenge to my imagination.

Maybe a day away from the book will give me a new perspective. Maybe talking with my agent will give me some ideas.

Now if I could write faster.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Ten Commandments of Writing #2: Thou Shalt Avoid Conversations Starting With "As You Know"

For the next few weeks in this series of posts, I will be focusing on things that you should not do in your writing. As a disclaimer I will add that you will always find examples of these in published work. Thus proving that if you bring in a huge profit for your publisher, you can pretty much get away with anything you want. But for unknown writers, trying to get a contract, there are just some things that will put an editor off. And these are the things that I want to share with you. The things that I have learned - generally the hard way - not to do.

The trope we are dealing with today is the situation of having two characters discuss something they both already know for the sole purpose of telling the reader about it. In my writing group we tend to refer to it as "As You Know Bob" syndrome or a case of "So tell me again, Professor, how your time machine works."

Imagine, if you will, a novel that begins with the sentence:

"As you know, Prince Edward, your father, King Henry, has been at war with the neighbouring kingdom of Ilyria for nearly twenty years," the prince's aide said.
There is a lot of information here, but since it is all detail that Prince Edward (presumably a major character) already knows, this is a clumsy way of relaying it to the reader. If I were to read a novel starting with this sentence, I doubt I'd get beyond that first line.
The 'TV Tropes' website goes into more detail about this particular literary tool, giving examples from film, TV and literature that are guilty of it. Sometimes it can work, but generally it doesn't, and it is one of those tired old tropes that has been used so often it would put a lot of editors off if they picked up something from the slush pile that uses this. There are generally better ways to get vital information across to the reader. Perhaps one of the easiest examples to pull from popular contemporary TV is Dr Who, where the Doctor's companion generally plays the role of the 'Watson' - the character who is assumed to be less knowledgeable than the audience, and therefore is the mechanism used to allow the main character (ie the Doctor) to explain things, to both the other character and the audience.

To go back to the 'Time Machine' example, let's think about one of Hollywood's more famous time machines, Doc Brown's DeLorean in "Back to the Future". Imagine if the conversation went like this:

MARTY: So tell me again, Doc, how your time machine works.

DOC BROWN: Well, as you know Marty, it is the flux capacitor that makes time travel possible.
Let's go over once more how it works....

In the film, this is not at all how it goes. An ordinary teenage boy plays the perfect 'Watson' to Doc Brown's intellectual 'Sherlock', giving him someone to explain everything to. The audience learn about the time machine at the same time Marty does, when he is summoned to the Twin Pines Shopping Mall one October night in 1985. We never find out exactly how the flux capacitor works, but we don't really need to know - it's enough to know that it is the magical gadget that makes time travel possible. And it works.

And so there it is, the second commandment of writing - Thou shalt avoid conversations starting with "As You Know". Join me next week when we explore the third commandment, which is all to do with how not to end your story.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I Got an Agent! Now What?

2015 started out on a rather momentous note. In January, I had shoulder surgery, from which I'm still recovering. (The entire healing process will take about a year, including physical therapy.)

I also landed an agent in January. The agency is small and new, but my agent has fourteen years of experience in the publishing world. Turns out she'd read a collection of my short stories and liked them well enough to ask me to submit something to her.

Now I'll be the first to tell you I never thought I'd get an agent. I figured my writing career would consist of submitting to small pubs and self-publishing. But that was until my small press publisher became an imprint of a New York publisher. So that adage about "never say never"? Yeah, I need to remember that.

What does getting an agent mean for me? First, I'll still submit to small presses and self-publish. But I will also be working on selling my writing to traditional publishers. (Or, more appropriately, I should say my agent will work on selling while I work on the writing part.) This means I have to do things that I hadn't had to do before, such as write longer books. It's funny, I can write short stories, and I've had fellow authors tell me they can't write short because they find it too difficult to distill a story down to its essentials. Me? I'm the opposite, and I've had to work hard to make my stories longer. But if I want to advance my writing career, I need to push the idea I can't do it out of my mind. Before, I never thought I could write a 100,000-word novel. Well, I did. Once. Granted it ended up being 35,000 words after all was said and done, but the point is, I did it. The third book in my Angels of Death series, Devil Inside, is 68,000 words and my 2014 NaNoWriMo political thriller clocked in at 65,000 words.

I can do this. That's what I have to keep telling myself. Because rehearsals are over and it's time for the main show.