Thursday, September 27, 2012

Got patience? If not, then don’t be a writer.

There are lots of things a writer needs: determination, a fertile mind, a grasp of the language they’ve chosen to write in.  But I’d add patience as a major virtue. 

So much of what we as writers do involves taking our time, cooling our heels, waiting.  Even for people who write fairly fast, books always take far longer to finish than we think, and editing often takes lifetimes.  Then there’s the waiting game while submissions are out with agents, then once we’ve found that dream agent, there’s more waiting time while the agent sells our work.  Then…you guessed it- more waiting once the editor, senior editor, marketing, and the entire company debate whether your book can make money.  And a yes answer leads to lots more waiting.

But today I’d like to talk about a much more subtle patience, the ability to pull back, to keep a work from being finished, or if done, keep it from going out because something isn’t quite right. I just recently went back into editing my steampunk book after a hiatus.  When I finished it I knew I wasn’t totally happy with the climax and ending, but kept editing around it. 

Then a few months ago I ripped the weak parts out.  Otherwise I’d keep coddling them.  Then I did the hardest thing for any writer to do- I ignored the book. I started a new one, did edits on the others.  But my problem child needed time.  I had to give it and I time to forget the original climax and ending, and to re-build a new one.

Of course if you wait long enough, you need to re-read and edit your entire story to get back to that trouble spot.  Got there yesterday.  I’m still working on re-building the missing chunk, but it’s so much easier to do with time between me and my original mis-step.

What about you?  Have you ever stepped away from a project?  Or the opposite, have you sent something out without giving it a time-out?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Say it with me, annoying your readers is bad!

Today I want to look at things that bug readers. Now, no writer wants to be the person who annoys their readers so much they fling your book across the room, flush it down the toilet, or turn it into compost for their garden. So then, why does it happen? We’ve all seen it, whether it be in an unpublished work, or a book on the best seller shelf- those moments that make us cringe and think, “why didn’t they see that?!” (And in the published book, “Why didn’t the agent, and slew of editors see that?!”)

I can’t address why the professionals miss things (if someone can, please share!) but for the writers, I have to say we were blinded by the work. Writers work at a far different pace than readers, we see things at a slower speed and sometimes forget that reading is a much faster event. (Try reading your work as a regular book- NOT as an editing writer- it’ll look a bit different me thinks!)
Awareness of our blind spots is the best way to make sure we nip them in the bud. We can’t count on agents and editors to catch these things, but readers sure will! Looking around a few sites I found some basic complaints readers have, and maybe some ideas to keep them out of your work.

Wasteful sub plots- I call these wasteful because they engage the reader’s attention- but don’t actually impact the story, the character, or anything. (You could call them Tom Bombadil’s.)  Sometimes they are the result of a pantser who changed her mind and ended up with a non-used sub-plot, other times it’s just something really cool the author wanted to slip in. The worst reason though is when an author wants to throw the reader off track. Don’t do it. All it does is annoy folks. Make every scene and sub-plot do something!

Repeat-itis- Even though you may feel that it’s been too long since you mentioned that the lead character has piercing blue eyes and a chiseled jaw, most likely the reader still remembers. Trust that if you tell a reader about how the character feels about the betrayal from their best friend since grade school on page four, they still recall it on page forty. This is a big speed related point- we may take days (or weeks) to write a few chapters; but the reader might chew them up in a single setting. Solution: Don’t repeat basic information. Fight the urge to remind the reader of basic details concerning your characters looks or feelings. If you did it well enough the first time, it will stick with your reader. If ya didn’t, ya got a whole ‘nother set of problems.

Cliché-invisibility- Clichés exist for a reason, at one point eons ago (when monks were hand copying books perhaps) they worked. Now they are a lazy-writer’s way of getting out of work. Some folks feel they can just toss them in for the rough draft, then fix them in edits. Problem is, they have the ability to turn invisible! Right before your eyes, the evil cliché vanishes! Only to pop out with horrific clarity at the poor reader! Solution: Don’t use them even as place holders. Take the time if the rough draft and find a better way to say it. Watch for them in their favorite lurking spots- character descriptions and emotions.

Out of sight but not out of mind- Having something important happen off stage. Now one would really wonder why an author would do this- but alas it has happened. And I saw a complaint specifically aimed at a VERY well published author for this very thing. My only thinking in terms of reasons would be laziness, wanting to maintain some sort of mystery about the event, or just didn’t feel like writing the scene that day. If it is to keep a mystery, make sure that it is covered later! And be aware you may be risking pissing off readers. If it’s a scene that’s important to the story- it really should be shared with the reader on stage.

Ok, that’s four- there are tons more I'm sure  What ones can you come up with? And better- what ideas do you have to stop them from happening?
Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Websites, opportunities, and new agents- Oh My!

Today I thought I’d do something a bit different, post a few cool writer related websites, contests, open opportunities and even a few new agents that I’ve run across recently. Some you may already have heard of- others might be new. As always- PLEASE add any good writer websites you know of!

1) Do you write Fantasy or SF?  Harper Voyager open for un-agented submissions-

2) Galley Cat- a great website for all writers- lots of info there -

3) Newer agent! Thao Le from the Sandra Dijkstra Agency

4) Newer agent! Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of the Larson-Pomada Agency

5) Gotham Writers Workshops- Writing classes and info- here’s some free stuff:

6) Query Tracker- been around for a while- but very handy!  Find agents, find out what other authors are saying about agents!

7) Agent Query -oldie but a goodie-

8) Publisher’s Marketplace- hopefully you all know about this one!

9) Interesting site- workshops, news, and free writing essays :)

10) Great source for where to submit short stories!

11)  For the more literary writers among you- a list a magazines to submit to-{52F69639-85B0-4FCD-A85F-AECC37969AB7}

12) Another newer agent!  Liat Justin

13)  Contests!  Lots of different genres

14)  Cool Conferences!  San Diego this November :    LA next week-end! (also check the site out for San Diego early next year :))
Seattle- Oct 26-28

(I have no idea why some of the links won't come through- blogger hates me!)

If you have any great spots of info for fellow writers, please add them!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Do you have a Tom Bombadil hiding in your book?

For those of you who don’t know who the title character of this blog is, ya ain’t reading enough fantasy ;). So right now, go pick up the Lord of the Rings, and read it. Go on, I’ll wait. Back now? Great. Ok, Tom was a character in the LOTR books who didn’t make it to Peter Jackson’s movies. (For those of you who kept reading here instead of racing out to buy and read the aforementioned book(s).)

Tom was very cute and charming, sort of a nature man married to a water spirit (she got the ax in the movies as well.). When the cutting of him, his wife, and the entire scene came out, there was much hewing and crying at the deletion of this beloved character.

But I agree with the Peter’s choice. And more so, I think if the books had been written today instead of fifty years ago- ol’ Tom may never had made it through editing. The pace of the LOTR books is rather slow. I’ve been a fan of the books since I was a teenager, but I usually skip whole sections after that very first read. Tom was one of those sections that I’d re-read sometimes, but not often. To me it didn’t add much to the book. The characters were changed very little by their meeting Tom (the barrow wrights did more, but still they weren’t part of the “main big bad”). I felt like he and his lovely wife were there as window dressing, just to add more world building to an already very crowded world. He didn’t move things forward- therefore he wasn’t needed.

Now before the pro-Tom Bombadil crowd comes to lynch me, lemme say he fit the original book. Those books were written in a different time, when writers took little side trips in their literary journeys and readers followed along.

But those aren’t the times we’re writing in now. The pace of the world is far faster. Entertain me fast is the mantra of today’s readers. And if you don’t keep up the pace, they’ll wander off, distracted by something bright and shiny on the internet.

My point for this long rambling post (and I do have one ;)) is that most all of us have some Tom Bombadils in our books. It may be a person, or a place, or just a really wonderfully written scene. But if it doesn’t advance the story then it needs to go away. How can you tell if you have one? Since we as the creators might miss it, you might ask a trusted reader if you suspect a “Bombadil” lurking in your mss. Also, during editing, ask yourself if this section advances the story of EVERY SCENE. Have you ever watched a TV show where the status quo is pretty close to the same at the end of an episode as it was at the beginning? Annoying isn’t it? We read to follow a story, yes we want fleshed out characters, engaging world building, and amazing dialogue. But if the reader doesn’t keep moving forward through your writing craft, they may just walk away from your book.

So go forth and hunt your Bombadils down and rip them out of your book. Keep them in a special folder for your eyes only. Or for a great ‘added scene’ to post on your website when your book is out and published. But be merciless- you really do have to kill some of your darlings ;).