Friday, June 15, 2018

What We Can Learn From Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy

I do believe that so many authors these days are too hung up on plots. They are trying their best to create these unique and totally different plots to stand out from the rest of the authors out there. While this approach is certainly fine, I do believe that these same authors are missing out on something a lot of the great authors around the world have figured out. They forgot the characters.

There are a lot of times when I read submissions and find that I simply cannot connect with the story. The initial premise of the pitch and the story idea sounded fantastic, but, when I start reading the project, the story just doesn't hit home. In the majority of the cases, it comes down to the characters. In simple terms - I just don't care.

If a reader does not make that connection with the characters and find a way to feel what they feel and see what they see, they are simply bi-standers in the story.

I bring up Jo, Beth and Amy from Little Women simply for this reason. The characters are people that everyone can connect with. When it comes down to it, the storyline itself is pretty simply. We are following this family through their journey. We have no car crashes, no serial killers, no adultery. It is a simple story about a simple family. But the depth of characters is incredible. We know what drives all three of the sisters. We know what touches each of them emotionally. We can connect, in some way to at least one of the characters on a personal level. These are believable characters.

One of the things I tell authors that I look for in romance and women's fiction are characters that are real. Of course, I do have a lot of authors who simply do not understand this and send me a memoir or biography (heavy sigh), but for the rest, many still struggle with this. The key to romance and women's fiction is the ETHOS and the PATHOS. We want an emotional journey but that journey is only going to have an impact if we can "relate" to the characters.

So here is the question for the weekend.

Have you even thought about your characters as being real? Are you creating characters that people can say they "know?" Do you have characters such as Beth that you can really cry over?

If not, it might be time to rethink what you are doing.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

I spent the weekend with my daughter at a dance recital. I got the day off of going to the stable this time. I am always reminded of the comment you often hear people say - "Practice Makes Perfect." I always feel sorry for people who believe this because they are so missing the point.

Practice DOES NOT make perfect.

PERFECT practice makes perfect.

My daughter's ballet instructor is someone who truly believes this. Bonnie never lets her dancers move on to the next element of the dance until the prior part is perfect. As they practice their routines, she is always on their case to make sure the positions are proper and their posture is perfect. The result, a great performance.

My other daughter rides Hunter Jumper equestrian and she too has been fortunate to have some great coaches who demand excellence. The team at her current stables, Thumbs Up Farm push for that excellence. Heels down. Hands in the right position. All of the fundamentals. It is not about the safety, although this certainly comes into play. It is about the perfection of the ride that makes a beautiful performance in the arena.

Finally my son, the swimmer pushes for the same thing every day at practice. Even though much of the practice is about endurance and pacing, there is also the element of him having to push himself to "race speed." Keeping it at that
higher pace allows him the chance to "duplicate" that same performance when he hits the pool at an actual meet. If he never practices that upper level speed, when he hits the race, he will do what he always does.

So, what does this have to do with writing? The answer is simple. As you sit down to work on any piece of writing, you need to push yourself to make that story perfect for publication. Just writing and not putting that effort into the piece to make it the best thing possible is teaching your brain that mediocre is OK.

This is actually one of the reasons why I am not a big fan of the NaNoWriMo   or even those competitions that many writing chapters have where they do "Blitz" writing. Yes, the intent of programs like this is good. They want people to get writing. The problem, however, is that the strength of the writing, the focus on making the story amazing with every click of the keyboard is not there. 

As you write this week, take the time to maybe slow down some. Make sure that those sentences, those characters, those scenes and those plots are the best you can do. You might surprise yourself with some really good writing. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Pitch Perfect! Story...Not!

Writers spend a ton of time writing those pitches for conferences and query letters to submit to editors. They will spend hours and hours word-smithing those small blurbs about their stories. While this is certainly a great thing to do and yes, it does get our attention as editors and agents, if you have not taken the same amount of time with your story, you will not get the results you want.

It is always frustrating as an agent to hear a pitch or read a query and think we have discovered the next best thing. When that story shows up, we end up totally frustrated. The writing is not what they proclaimed. The story is far from what they promised. In some cases, the story they pitched is not the story they submitted. So why does this happen?

As I said, authors really don't spend the time necessary to make those stories great. They madly write that story, get mediocre feedback from their critique partners and rush to get that story out to the editors and agents. When it comes to those pitches though, they devote infinitely more time. Writing groups will take an entire weekend in workshops writing and practicing those pitches. Even at the conferences, these writing groups will meet in someone's hotel room and fine tune those pitches even more. The writing, however, is left for "just what it is."

In reality, you should probably be spending double the time on the editing than you do on the writing. More editing, more revision, more feedback. This is what makes the story great.

So, if you are planning on pitching to me or another editor or agent in Denver this summer, and you have not taken the time to work on the story, you might want to think about not pitching and focus your time on the writing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Being Too Creative Can Be A Bad Thing

All writers have heard the same thing. Try to be unique. Bring something new to the table to wow those editors and agents. We all want to be on the cutting edge of something new. But there is a word of caution here. Sometimes, being too creative and too different may be the one things standing in the way of that next contract.

I was working with a client a couple of days ago and we were talking about her latest Work In Progress. As we talked about some approaches, we came up with some pretty exotic and different approaches. Some really stepped away from the standard approach. These were some pretty AMAZING ideas. In the end, however, we tossed those ideas out.


The approaches were too different.

Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. This is why you self-publish. You don't have to be tied to ridiculous stereotypes and molds. You want to be free. And, while this idea may sound great, authors also have to remember that the readers are also expecting certain things.

When your book buyers pick up your novel, they are expecting certain things. They expect a particular voice. They expect characters to do things that other characters in that genre would normally do. They expect pacing and plotting to be similar to other novels. Throwing them a curve ball runs a huge risk. It will either be an epic hit or an epic failure.

Let me give you another analogy. My daughter had a horse show this last weekend. During the Jumper Speed round, she decided to not push the horse as fast as he could go (He is an off the track race horse and an really book around a course if he wants to). Instead, she took the safer route, held him back a little, cleared the course and did well. Had she gone Mach 11, she ran the risk he would take jumps long or chip the jumps which would likely result in a rail down and a fault. Did she take first? No. Did she place high in the round, yes!

In other words, the safe route might be the best approach.

Just something to think about.