Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Reviewing the Basics - A Good Practice

Every now and then , I will go back and review the basics. In other words, I go back and dust off my old books and lecture notes to review the information on the simple elements of writing, or what we thought at that time to be the simple elements. During this time, I can remind myself what is really important in a plot, characters, setting and the like.

At this same time, I will often go back and review what I am looking for as an agent, and also what I have liked and not liked in the last several months (sometimes up to a year). This allows me to determine if I have put the blinders on and have missed some good things, or if I find that I have only been looking for certain things and missing out on other writing.

I was doing that today and stumbled across a great article in the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS (2010). The article was focusing on that great start of a book and the one thing the agents said, over and over again was their concern over information dumping, especially in the beginning. In all cases, they were stressing that authors do this too much and writers end up getting rejected for slow starts just as many times.

Although you as an author might need to know this information, the readers might not need that information this soon in a story. Simply put, if you throw too much information to us in the beginning of a story, we lose track of what is going on and who is connected. You cannot expect the reader to remember all of those tidbits. Let's face it, in all likelyhood you had all of that data on a flow chart in front of you to keep track of them when writing, but you are expecting the reader to remember it?

I see this problem, more often than not with romantic suspense stories. Writers have all of the sub-plots they want to throw out there to get the ball rolling. Their simply plan is to bring all those plots together in a colliding explosion at the climax of the story. I love stories like that! I love reading something when I start to scream, "There is no way they will get out of this!" But, writers doing this ineffectively will simply give us far too many characters, plots that seem unrelated, situations we don't understand, and then we have a complete mess. To add to this problem, many romantic suspense writers will also keep names of people hidden in these early scenes so now we are dealing with faceless characters.

Now don't get me wrong, romantic suspense people are not the only ones that do this. It is common with all writers.

What we would prefer to see is a layering. Get one story going. Get us hooked. Once that his going, then layer in a new plot that adds that complication in. I don't want to get you thinking this a forumla but that next layer shouldn't come in until at least chapter 4 or 5. As you add in that layer, remember the "thesis" of your story and keep connecting that newer plot to the main plot. Don't just drop one and focus on the next one. Depending on the size of your story, and complexity the publisher you are targeting or writing for, you can add in as many of these as you want.

One word of warning though. Don't have too many loose ends. It becomes nightmarish to bring it all in together at the end.

Anyway, that was my "ah ha" review moment for this morning. Take the time to go back and review as well.



  1. Another super post. I hope you are collecting all of these blogs for a book that can be purchased down the line.

  2. Awesome post. Thanks for the advice, Scott.

  3. Nice to know this point of view from an agent. I think a beginning should hook, but I don't like reading books that overly inform all at once or overly describe. As a writer, it becomes challenging sometimes to know whether or not you have 'just enough'. :)