Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Don't Get Hung Up On Technique

I have been working with writers lately on query letters and I started to see similar trends in how they were structuring their queries. Time and time again, I was finding a formulaic writing style. In other words, I could clearly see these writers had taken a course in query letters, or had been reading "how to" texts on the process. As an agent, we see this all of the time, not just in query letters, but in synopses as well as manuscripts.

It really isn't hard to see how writers can be tempted to fall into this trap. When we read this informational material, or we take courses, the "instructors" often discuss the components of their skill in these basic skills. The goal is to identify the common trends in that particular skill and to give the learners an understanding of how each of the pieces work. The problem, however, is that these instructors are probably not (I would hope) believe that each and every query, synopsis or manuscript is written in the exact same format. These are simply ideas and approaches. Unfortunately, that message is often not conveyed.

Let me give you two examples of this.

When I talk about writing query letters, I stress that a query really should have three parts to it. The BASICS of the book, information about the BOOK, and the BIO of the author. I really see a query breaking down into these three elements. I also often stress that I am a believer that the basics of the book (the title, genre, word count and high concept) are the first ideas that appear so that the agent or editor can begin thinking about placement. Now, with that said, is this the only approach? Absolutely not! In no way am I saying that you have to have three paragraphs and this information shows up exactly in this fashion. I simply said I saw a query providing three basic pieces of information. Do with it as you wish. Just make it work.

The second example comes from my session I teach on DISSECTING THE NOVEL. In this session, I discuss some of the things an author should look at if he or she is trying to determine why a novel works or doesn't work, as well as the unique voices of publishers and agencies. In the session, I identify "some of the things you can look at to gain this information." And yet....I do get authors who leave the session believing these are the "only" things a writer should look at.

When it comes to writing, the goal is to produce a story with a strong plot, great characters that the reader can relate and connect with, a theme we can get something from, and certainly the setting and the world building that is 3-dimensional. How you get there depends on you, the story and what you want to achieve. You cannot write a story using a formula and built strictly on technique. You have to THINK! You have to do the things that work for that given story and that given situation.

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