Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Do You Know Why?

A friend of mine from teaching recently sent me a student's piece of writing. The teacher was overly enthusiastic about the work and really felt like this might be worthy of publishing. OK, first of all, we see this all of the time. When a kid does something better than average, teachers and parents immediately go into "TIGER MOM" mode. In any case, I did take a look.

The writing was not bad. It was OK and certainly utilized a lot of techniques that would normally be taught in a creative writing class. The student also had a good command on a particular sub-genre. The story lacked serious depth of character and plot development. There was an excessive amount of telling and very little showing. Still I read on, but as I did, I had a lingering gut instinct. Did this student really know what he was doing, or was he someone who could just copy (not plagiarize) a pattern and style? Did he really understand why he was doing what he was doing, or how this was really working in the story.

A lot of new authors face this same problem. This is why, being a serious writer, takes time and education. For most new authors, they can "copy a pattern." They can take workshops, learn a new technique and put it in the story. But that is as far as that skill goes.

I have referred to this in the past but review Bloom's Taxonomy


 Where most authors, such as this student fall, is the third level of Applying. The key is to move beyond this level and to do so requires analyzing the writing of other authors as well as your own writing. When an author does something in a story that works or doesn't can you figure out what was occurring? Now, to take it to a new level, if something is not working with a story, can you figure out what needs to get done?

I want to stress this again. If you are at this lower level as an author, it is fine. Learning any skill takes time and effort. Writers will not be amazing with their first manuscripts. Like this student, he has a good start, but a long way to go.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Are Your Characters Truly Believable?

I think out of most of the things I obsess over when it comes to reading books is how believable the characters are. I think that for far too many authors out there, they focus so much on the plot and getting the characters from Point A to Point B that they fail to look at what their characters are saying and doing.

It is always important to stop and ask yourself "What would a real person do in a situation such as this?" As authors, if we do not do this, sure, we can advance the plot, but you lose your readers too quickly as they begin to question the motives, thoughts and actions of the reader.

Let me give you a few examples. These are from stories that I have seen over the years.

  • Ministers who suddenly do things that they would probably preach against in church.
  • Following a break up of a VERY serious relationship, the characters immediately dive into a new relationship with no problem
  • Having in-depth conversations while in those "intimate moments"
  • Detectives thinking it is perfectly fine to start a relationship up with the person they think is a potential suspect.
  • Historical characters acting and behaving like they are living in 2020
So, as you write your stories, always look at your characters. Would these people really say these things or do these things in real life? If not, I don't care if it advances your story, it might be time to re-think that approach. 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Who Taught You To Write Your Novel

I think this is really an important question to ask writers. Who taught you? Where did you get that information from? This is not meant to be a challenge, but one that should cause you to stop and think a bit. This is also one of those ideas leading one of my goals here at Greyhaus - education!

There are certainly a lot of "resources" out there today about writing. But, it is important to remember that not all of those "resources" are going to help you. The source of that information is also very crucial to look at before you start following that guidance. In many ways, what I am talking about here is the same thing we are all talking about with the spread of misinformation on social media.

What I see a lot of authors do is really the wrong approach. They do a quick search of the Internet, find the one that sort of says what they wanted, and follow that lead and take that advice. BAD CALL! When I teach research writing, I bring up the same thing. Just because that link you followed has the evidence "you needed" at that time, DOES NOT mean that information is accurate, correct or going help. Always look at the source.

I have seen workshops taught be people who are "great speakers" and over the years, have become "specialist" on the subject. However, if you look at what that person has done, in the real world, it is far from being a specialist in the field.

What about your critique partners. You handed your manuscript to that person and they gave you feedback. Are they knowledgeable enough to help, or do we have the blind leading the blind.

Along the same lines, if you are "self-taught" are you guiding yourself in the right direction, or is this just a guessing game until something sticks.

This is one of those reasons why I always tell authors to join those national organizations in their individual genre. You will have resources there, and, in all likelihood, professional and established authors who should be there to provide some guidance.

So, before you sign up for that next workshop, follow someone's blog, check to see if they are the experts.

FINAL NOTE: This is part of the reason why I stick to romance and women's fiction and not venture into other genres. Those other areas ARE NOT my specialty and I am certainly not going to guide authors in an area I do not know.,

Friday, January 10, 2020

Be Careful Who You Blame

In recent weeks, I have seen an uptick on social media of authors blaming the industry for why they are not getting signed on with an editor or agent. Often, this statement is backed up by other authors who say, "And this is why I am self-publishing." It is the belief that editors and agents are not willing to sign new authors, are closed to new ideas, and simply do not want to help the authors. As some put it, "They are only in it for the money."

But here is the problem.

This is not an issue of editors and agents hating authors or all of us being unwilling to look at new things. We work with what you send to us.

With that material, we assess several things:
  • The quality of the writing
  • The professionalism of the author
  • The ability of the author to convey EXACTLY what their story is about
  • How well the writing is marketable
  • Is this a project we can market
  • Is this a project we even represent
I frequently find that I reject authors who claim they have been working really hard to be published, and yet, submit me things I do not even represent. I am sure these people then go out and proclaim to the world that they got another rejection and this further proves why the publishing world is not accessible.

Sorry, you submitted something I do not acquire.

I also see this from authors who submit multiple projects to me. Every time, I tell them why I am rejecting the project (again often because it is not romance or women's fiction) and then they submit another project doing the same thing.

You will also notice the first item I stated for what we assess for. It is the quality of the writing. There are simply a lot of authors out there who have great ideas for stories, but when it comes to the execution of the stories, it is not there. These are people who need to learn the craft of writing. It isn't a matter of just typing words on a page, but crafting the story, building the story from scratch, using words and phrases to truly paint a picture.

Readers are expecting a well written story. You know this. How often have you quit reading a novel because it was just not good writing. You may have even asked yourself, "How did this thing get published?"

As I noted, we also look at whether or not the story is something that will even sell. One author recently submitted a project that was 350,000 words. No publisher will gamble with an advance on a brand new author hoping to sell books of this size. It is again, not an issue of us hating your writing. It is an issue that the story will simply not sell. (NOTE: Go back and read most of my posts when I reference Shark Tank!!!!)

The reality of the situation is that, rejects are due to something the author has done. It is not favoritism. It is not an issue of discrimination. It is based somewhere in the material you submitted.