Tag Archives: publishers

It’s the End of the Week as We Know It…

…and I feel (largely) fine!

This is despite the fact that – of course – my hubris has caught up with me again.

Ah, yes... she's coming! I, Hubris, will throw this pie in her big silly face and show her who's in charge around here! Image: wordswewomenwrite.wordpress.com

Ah, yes… she’s coming! I, Hubris, will throw this pie in her big silly face and show her who’s in charge around here!
Image: wordswewomenwrite.wordpress.com

I was supposed to start the querying process by the end of this week. You might remember I said so, in black and white, right here on this very blog. Putting things in writing here is sort of like creating a contract with myself, a means of shaming myself into doing stuff in a timely fashion. If I write it here, I have to follow through with it.

It works well, a lot of the time.

Not, however, when the book I want to query is undercooked, as ‘Eldritch’ definitely was – and, perhaps, still is. Although, I really hope not.

I’ve spent this week working through the book again, reading carefully, editing (6, 500 words fell beneath my ruthless blade!), fixing problems, keeping an eye out for things like ‘jumpy’ scenes – in other words, when reading something makes you feel like you’re listening to a CD skipping* – and something I tend to do a lot, I’ve noticed: writing unrealistic reactions.

What I mean by ‘writing unrealistic reactions’, of course, is having a character go completely nuts with rage when it’s, actually, a vast overreaction to the situation at that time, or say something which is logically unconnected to what’s gone before, or seem too calm when another character drops a bombshell of bad news on their head, or whatever it might be. I can’t really explain why I did this so often during the course of the book, particularly near the end, without even realising it; on this, most recent read-through, all these ‘clanging’ moments jumped out at me like samba dancers wearing neon headdresses, but up to this point I’d entirely missed them.

I think, somehow, it might go back to an age-old conflict in the world of fiction-writing: plot vs. character.

Take that, you bounder! Image: nancylauzon.com

Take that, you bounder!
Image: nancylauzon.com

I’ve a feeling what happened was this, or something like it. On the first few drafts, I was too busy getting the plot of ‘Eldritch’ out onto the page, unravelled, exposed, explained, resolved and told to focus sufficiently on keeping my characters consistent. This, of course, is a silly, silly thing to do. A book should rest on the shoulders of its characters. They should drive it, they should shape and mould it, their reactions should be true to their personalities (because, yes, even fictional people have personalities!); in short, a collection of things happening is a story; characters living through that story makes a plot. But, at all times, a writer must be mindful that their characters are the focus. People don’t (generally) act wildly ‘out of character’, unless they have an excellent reason – so, why would it be different for a fictional person?

If this is forgotten, what we have are wooden-seeming characters, who move about jerkily like Thunderbird puppets, waiting for a string to be pulled before they can take any action. If we have prioritised story over character, then it’s natural that reactions will be unbelievable and ‘unreal’, unnatural, and clunky. And, of course, this is not something which will go unnoticed by a reader. It will scream out from the page, and make a reader very unhappy indeed, and may even lead to them (gasp) not finishing the book. That, of course, is a nightmare scenario. I know, as a reader myself, that what I look for in a story more than anything else is characters so real I feel I can reach into my book and touch them, characters with whom I can imagine having a conversation (or a beer, depending on the book), characters who are fully rounded, fully realised and true to themselves, and who act at all times in accordance with their personalities and the circumstances in which they find themselves. So, it upsets me that as a writer, I should fall into the trap of prioritising plot over people.

The only good thing in this situation is, of course, that I’ve spotted my mistakes now, and not three weeks after I’d started querying the manuscript. I also know that the draft of ‘Eldritch’ currently saved on my various computer files and disks is a better version of the book than that which existed two weeks, even one week, ago; after it’s settled for a few days in my mind, I’ll go back to it again and make sure it still holds water. It’s by no means a perfect book, but I dare to hope it’s reasonably good. In its own small way.

And then. And then it’ll be time to send it away into the big bad world. I hope it doesn’t come back until it’s encased within covers.

*I’ve just realised how many people reading this will now be thinking ‘What an old-fashioned fuddy duddy stick in the mud! CDs? I don’t even know what they are anymore.’ Well, sorry about that. I’m a troglodyte.

The First 10,000 Words

I’m almost finished with my edits for ‘Eldritch’. I thought, yesterday, that I was completely done and dusted, but then I remembered that there was another important job to do.

That job? Polish the book’s beginning with such vigour and vim that it shines.

Now, of course, the whole novel has to be written as well as I can write it, and the entire story has to shine as much as possible. This, without doubt, I know. But I think it’s worthwhile going back over the manuscript and focusing on the opening sections, the first few chapters, the source from which the river of the story flows. The reason I’m focusing on ‘the first 10,000 words’ is because those words are the ones which will be looked at by agents and/or publishers during the querying process; those are the words that really need to be catchy, compelling, interesting and fresh. Those are the words, in short, which have the power to sell, make or break your book. For some obscene and devilish reason, they’re also often the hardest words to produce. They’re easy to write, first time round – you’re enthusiastic for your story, and you want to get stuck into it, so you dive right in and get going – but they’re hard, very hard, to come back to and spruce up.

At least, that’s what I’m finding at the moment.

Not all agents are the same, of course; they don’t all request the same things from prospective clients. But, from the research I’ve been doing over the past few days, one thing seems to be fairly common among them, which is that they like to receive 10,000 words, or three chapters, whichever comes first, from querying authors. This puts me in mind of a job interview, or meeting a new person for the first time, and how important it is to put the best of yourself forward; it also reminds me how socially awkward I am. I am that person who goes in for a cheek kiss and ends up giving a smacker on the lips instead. I am the person who laughs at all the wrong moments. I’m the person who puts their hand out to shake at just the wrong angle and ends up whacking someone across the face. So my 10,000 words – my equivalent of a first meeting – is really going to take some work.

Sometimes, I remind myself of this guy. Image: suchsmallportions.com

Sometimes, I remind myself of this guy.
Image: suchsmallportions.com

I’m a nice person when you get to know me. But I hate to think of the amount of people who’ve come away from their first meeting with me wondering what on earth just happened. I’m sure there are plenty. I hope the same isn’t true of ‘Eldritch’ – in other words, everything from Chapter 4 onwards is fine, but the opening sections are completely off the wall.

It’s hard to find a ‘hook’ – something which will hint at the wonderful story to come, which sounds different (but not too different), fresh (but not completely out of left field) and interesting (not in that raised-eyebrow way, the one which is just ‘weird’ in a fancy coat). It’s hard to know whether your idea is flabbergastingly good, one which will make an agent’s heart start to beat a little faster, and one which will make them start sending you an email to request the rest of your manuscript before they’ve even finished reading your query, or whether it’s just plain crazy. Or, worse than these – perhaps your idea is so bland, so boring, so porridge-y that it makes the agent stop reading before they’ve even reached the end of the first page. The first 10,000 words have a lot of hurdles to leap over, and a lot of sinkholes to avoid.

I’ve made a choice with the narration style of ‘Eldritch’ and the structure of the story that I’ve never come across before in any book I’ve read – certainly not one aimed at this age group – so this might explain my trepidation. I’m not sure if I’ve taken a sensible risk, or if I’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater altogether.

And this is important to me because, of course, I’m hoping to start making query submissions within the week. Within the week.

Image: buzzle.com

Image: buzzle.com

I reckon the only thing I can do is have the courage to stick to my convictions, and have faith in my choices. There’s no point being half-hearted about it; if you make a choice with regard to narrative style, then go for it one hundred percent. Make it snappy, fast-moving, interesting, fun and exciting; make it new, unique and ‘you’. Make it good. Write it well.

So, no problem then.