Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Are You Writing A Breakout Novel?

While I've been working on my new story, The Puzzle Box, which is the second installment in my series about dragons, kings and a little bit of magic (as in time travel), I've come across an interesting workbook that I thought I'd tell you about.

The workbook is Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maass. I bought my workbook from I'm stressing workbook, because he also wrote a book by the title: Writing The Breakout Novel. I didn't have the money to by both books, so I chose the workbook because it has exercises with each lesson and I wanted to be able to take the lesson and use it. The workbook also has all the writing exercises that Mr. Maass leads in his workshops by the same name.

In this book it tells you how to read a novel like a writer, understanding the technique and motivation behind every choice an author makes. You will find help making your characters more memorable, adding layers of plot and weaving them together, discovering themes hidden in your work, using time and place more effectively and more.

Sound like a sales pitch yet? I hope not, because this book isn't for everyone. If you don't have the time to sit down and do the exercises, which require some application, then you won't get to the gold in this book. And that comes from you. When you learn from your own writing, as you push out those exercises.

Here's an example:

Adjusting the Volume

Step 1: At random in the middle of your manuscript, pick anything at all than your protagonist thinks, says, or does. Heighten it. Make it bigger, funnier, more shocking, more vulgar, more out of bounds, more over the top, more violent, more insightful, more wildly romantic, more active, more anything. Make the change in your manuscript.

Step 2: Take that same action, thought, or line of dialogue, and make it smaller. Tone it down; understate it; make it quieter, more internal, more personal, more ironic, more offhand, less impassioned, barely noticeable. Make the change in your manuscript.

Follow-up work: Select twenty-four more points in the story where you can heighten or diminish something that your protagonist does, says, or thinks.

Conclusion: Larger-than-life characters powerfully attract us. Why? They are surprising, vital, and alive. They do not let life slip by. Every moment counts. Every day has meaning. How can you give that kind of life force to your protagonist? Turn up the volume on what she says, thinks, and does.

(From: Page 35, Heightening Larger-Than-Life Qualities) 

What are you reading? Does it help with your current project?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Reasons For Rejection

The Insecure Writer's Support Group, which posts on the first Wednesday of the month, hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh, can be found by clicking HERE. You can see other members and what they are writing about, or join up yourself.

I want to pass on some interesting reasons for rejection when you are ready to submit a manuscript to a publisher or an agent. These are things that you can investigate in your own writing and see if you need to do some editing. Please remember that there are a gazillion reasons why an agent or publisher might not use your work. It might be as simple as the wrong genre for that agent or publisher. But investigating them beforehand is always prudent and will keep you from having to waste time submitting and waiting to hear back.

Here are some other reasons:
  • An opening image doesn't work.
  • Opened with a rhetorical question(s).
  • The first line's hook didn't work, because it wasn't tied to the plot or the conflict of the opening scene.
  • The first line's hook didn't work, because it was an image, rather than something that was happening in the scene.
  • Took too long for anything to happen; the story taking its time to warm up.
  • Not enough happens on page 1.
  • The opening sounded like an ad for the book or a recap of the pitch, rather than getting the reader into the story.
  • The opening starts with phrases, "My name is..." and /or "My age is..."
  • The opening contained the phrase, "This can't be happening."
  • The opening contained the phrase or implication, "And then I woke up."
  • The opening contained too much jargon.
  • The opening contained one or more cliched phrases.
  • The opening contained one or more cliched pieces of material. For example: a character's long red or blonde hair.
  • The opening had a character do something that characters only do in books. For example: a character shakes their head to clear an image, or "clearing the cobwebs."
Do you know of other reasons why agents or publishers reject manuscripts? Can you add to this list?

Comments about writing: I believe that whether or not you choose to follow the current flow of what's acceptable in writing, is up to you. You are the author and as long as you can present your material masterfully and creatively, then if you want to take ten pages to "warm up" your story that's great. It might not be received as enthusiastically by this generation of readers, but you have to write what's in your heart and not sell out to commercialism.