Thursday, June 17, 2010

Draw Me Into The Story

Out of all the rejections I have to send out, I find that I am, more often then not, telling the writer that I wasn't drawn into the story or the characters' lives. Considering in romance we are dealing with relationships, people and real emotions, this one is a big one with me. It is the job of a writer to really draw all of the readers into the story and giving us the chance to experience all that the characters are going through. The better you can do this, the more the reader can understand what you as the author is trying to get across.

For most writers the biggest reason this is an issue stems from that old line we hear all of the editors and agents screaming about. Show us and don't just tell us. In other words, if you have emotions the character is dealing with, give the reader the use of all the senses to really draw us into the feeling of the moment. This is a bad example, but I think you can get the idea...

You could say, Bob angrily walks into the room. Or you can say, Charging into the room screaming like a banshee out of hell, Bob slams the table knocking the brandy off to the floor. By taking the time to get that imagery set into place, we get more of a sense of what is going on.

Now, we can also draw the reader into the story by not worrying so much about narration that just shows a plot sequence, but providing a bit of introspection. Let us get into the characters head an hear their thoughts on what they are seeing and feeling. Again, treat this as if we are hearing it in our own heads. The easiest way to think about this is to consider listening to your own thoughts. Focus in on the things running through your head. You will likely hear tone changes even in your own thoughts. That is what we want to see.

Finally, to draw the reader in, it is more than crucial to find a plot story that is something normal people can experience. Too often, I think writers are picking storylines that are so extreme an unreal that no one can really understand those feelings. Someone being shunned by a family is fine. We have all probably felt that before. But when you start adding in all of the other elements, (the character is being shunned due to PTSD following getting fired from a job after the character was drinking and driving and then killed a friend accidentally that happened to be the sister's brother's cousin...get the idea) is something that we can't relate to. Keep it simple.

As you read your story, quit looking at the "fun scenes" or the "sexy hero" but think about these as real people (even if they are Alien Vampire Bunnies). Are we seeing real feelings? That's what you want.



  1. I love this post. Its exactly what you told me in my rejection letter.

    I am going to paste something here. Read it if you wish. Or not.

    I am not asking for a second chance, just wondering if you like this any better.

    Kent’s foot tapped erratically on the floor. The waiting room chairs were uncomfortable and he continually shifted his weight from one side of the chair to the other.

    “She’s going to be okay. She’s going to be okay.” Leann quietly chanted next to him. “She’s going to be okay.” Her eyes glazed over with tears, yet she had managed not to allow them to fall yet.

    Kent grabbed the arms of his chair in a death grip. He wanted to shout at her to shut up. He was panicked enough without his near-mother-in-law adding to it. Mentally though, he was doing the same thing. He let go of the armrests.

    Kent continued to run through Andy’s plans; their wedding next month, where they were going to live, how many kids they were going to have. Andy had it planned out to the letter. She would be okay. She would do anything she could to keep her plans in tact. It is just her way. She had to be okay. The toe of his shoe continued to tap incessantly.

    Kent glanced at Frank who had given up trying to sooth away his wife’s concern hours ago. He stood at the far wall of the waiting room facing the swinging doors that lead to the operating rooms. The paper with instructions on how to read the Patient Status monitor went from crumpled in his fist, to smoothed out, to tiny pieces on the floor. Had he made the right choice? Would the surgery work? Would his daughter be a vegetable instead of simply dying, as she would have preferred? What would he prefer?

    Kent stood abruptly, but no one glanced at him. Instead, their eyes went to the swinging doors. Disappointment. Kent had not stood for a reason other than he simply could not sit a second longer. He harrumphed around the room and watched the other visitors. What could they possibly be so upset about?

    One couple had already received news about their loved one. They had gone to the patient’s room in larger numbers and the two had returned to the waiting area. Kent had heard the surgeons tell them that the procedure had been successful.

    Kent had his back to a wall and he tapped the backside of his fist in a one-two-three-pound, one-two-three-pound rhythm, into the wall.

    Across from the younger couple sat a woman in her later years waiting for her husband. With her sat, Kent assumed, her daughter. She herself looked to be at least Leann’s age. This woman had already had a lifetime with her spouse and it infuriated Kent how upset she was. Her loss would be nothing compared to his. He and Andy had just begun.

  2. Jaymi, My son has had many surgeries.

    The operating room is never near the waiting area. People never go to see their loved one and return to the surgical waiting area.

    After an operation, a person gets sent to a half-way room, where they are monitored closely. There are probably 6 other people in there with them. Depending on the situation, family MAY be able to see them at that point, however, if it was a life and death thing, as in your story, this would never happen. They can't allow other patients and families to see this.

    It also takes several hours to wake up fully from anesthesia.

    After a few hours in the holding area, a person is then transferred to their actual room. The family usually walks along as the gurney is being wheeled.

    Once my husband and I got into a huge fight in the waiting room because he pulled out a book to read while I wanted to sit there worrying. We were both shocked we fought about such a thing, but the tension is that high.

    There are also families hugging each other and practically sitting in each other's laps. I mean, teenage girls and their mothers--a thing you would never see in another setting.

    Maybe sit in a waiting room for a while?

  3. One more thing,

    conferences don't happen in the waiting room. The liason comes to give you reports. When the dr is finished, and scrubbed out, he/she gets you, and then you go to a conference room, not far from the waiting room (there are usually several, they are the size of a large closet or small office). The dr. usually draws what he did so you can understand it, often on a white board, maybe on paper.

    You would return to the waiting room after this point, and then when your person wakes up from anesthesia, then you would go see him/her in the holding area. The dr. would be long gone into another surgery by that point. You probably wouldn't see him/her until the next day, on rounds.

  4. Jaymi,

    Anon had some technical points that are certainly things to consider. With that said, I would have to say this is an improvement from what I saw the first time. I am looking at only some of the language development you have in the story. With that said, the first part is heading in the right direction and we are getting a sense of the tension. As you move through this though, the story really starts to fall into a telling instead of showing tone.

    Finally, just on a small note... Take a look at how many times you start your sentences with "Kent..." It really creates a fluency issue.

    Just some thoughts.

  5. Jaymi and I must have received the same rejection letter. I do appreciate the input though. I was wondering something though. I have a group of people that I send my stories out to at different intervals in my writing to see what they think and ask what could be improved. With "The Memory I Can't Erase" that I recently sent to you the comments I received from it were "when is it coming out I want to read the whole thing". That is about twenty different people. Now having said that I am not angry or upset, but I honestly was thinking this was the one. However I know that this is a business. My only question is were you pulled into the story at all, did you like it at any point or did you dislike it from the beginning? Again, not angry, just wondering and do you know any editors that would give me a full critique on it without it coming through an agent? Thank you again for taking the time to read my submission.

  6. Anon-

    Thanks for taking the time to give me the pointers. I will try to take them into concideration.

    I do have to say, the hospital you were at had to be exceptional.

    My husband was recent flown by helicopter to a hospital in Milwaukee for emergency surgery. I was in a waiting room pretty much exactly as I imagined as I quickly wrote this scene this morning. It still needs to be cleaned up obviously, but I was mostly checking to see if I had grasped the point of Scotts post.

    Thanks again.

    Bethany- check out

  7. Bethanie,
    Thanks for the comment and the question.
    I understand your confusion when you get comments from your "advance readers" that tell you they love the book. We get this all of the time. One thing I always stress is to know who you are sending things to. In many cases, these advanced readers love everything a writer does. They might be family, they might be close friends. We need these people to keep us motivated. The problem though, is that many of these people give us a false sense of where the story really is in terms of marketablity.

    When you commented to Jaymi that you must have gotten "the same letter" I do have to remind you that I did state in my post that this is a very common comment I make. Too often, we simply see a focus on putting words to paper and that is it.

    Finally, I have to remind you that this business is also very subjective. If one agent passes on something, maybe it is better suited for someone else. Who knows?

  8. I want to say one more thing.

    Although I am glad to help out with some feedback here, I want to be careful with opeing the door to other writers who now want a critique of their writing, or a "justification" as to why I might have passed on a project.

    In Jaymi's case, I think this was a perfect time to demonstrate some things about a post, but that is as far as we want to take it.

    Keep discussing, keep sharing. I don't want to discourage discussion.


  9. Also, there are POV issues in what you posted.

    In one second we're in Kent's head, then suddenly, in the same paragraph, we're in Frank's head. How does Kent know Frank's thoughts about his daughter being a vegetable?

  10. Scott, maybe you could do a lottery, once a month, as a blog post, where we could all submit 250-500 words for you to critique (as a reply message to the call, as Jaymi did). You pick one, either randomly, or by reading them, to critique that month. It's an interesting blog topic and sure to get you some more traffic too!

    For an author who gets picked, it's a free for all critique of a few paragraphs and for the rest of us, a lesson by demonstration.

  11. Awesome post. Thanks so much.
    I read in Robert McKee's book, "Story", that you should be drawing on the emotion from you own life experiences, combined with your imagination and thorough research.
    I like the way you have explained this in your post.
    You are a great teacher :)