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Show vs Tell: A Guide To Writing

The phrase is everywhere. A simple Google search of ‘How To Write A Book’ will result in thousands of pages popping up in reference to it.

What is it? The all cryptic, all powerful, Showing vs. Telling.

If you happen to be a budding author, then you’ve most certainly heard the term. Hell, you’ve probably read blog after blog, and article after article, that attempted to explain what it means, what it should look like, and how to execute it.

If you’re like me, then you’ve found nothing but pages upon pages of vague paragraphs eluding to the holy grail of getting published. You sit there, like a World War II enigma engineer desperately trying to crack the code! Trust me, you’re not alone.

So, what’s the magic formula?! There has to be one!

Until very recently, I was right there with you. What changed? A single article that altered my entire perspective…*pause for effect, and then whisper*…of everything.

“Well, that’s a bit dramatic,” you mutter, blithely rolling your eyes as you assume an air of nonchalance. Meanwhile, your knuckles blanch white as you grip that steaming mocha soy latte for all its worth. Determined not to read the screen, you run your fingers through damp, tangled hair, before finally taking a sip of your coffee. Fortified, you fill your lungs and reluctantly find yourself glancing at the computer. Damn it!

You’re a writer, and unless you’ve somehow nabbed a book deal from one of the ‘Big Six’, of course you’re interested.

Little did you know, but the tutorial has already begun.

You have to show, not tell…blah, blah, blah. Same old, same old…or is it? Are you ready to have your mind blown?

I’ve discovered that there are two kinds of ‘showing’…descriptive, and – what I like to call – progressive.

Let’s begin.

Descriptive Showing:

Pick the first page of your manuscript. Now read it out loud.

(Why is she making me talk to myself?)

My next question might seem a bit odd, but it’s very simple: Can you see it?

Huh?

If your manuscript was translated from the page to cinema…could you see it? Of course, you can see it in your head…it’s your manuscript after all!

But what about the audience? Can they see it? And by seeing it…I had a damn revelation here…what’s really meant, is: Can your readers see who your protagonist is, as well as the world around them, and how they interact with it?

Example 1:

Dirk was a good guy. He never did a bad thing in his life, that is, not until ten minutes ago. It was the other guys fault, he should have never tried to pick a fight.

Dirk had served three tours in Afghanistan. A genuine, decorated, war hero. Then along comes this guy, talking shit about Dirk’s girl, and suddenly we got a really big problem. An ‘oh-shit-where’s-Dexter-when-you-need-him’ kind of problem.

**End**

I mean, it’s not bad. We get the picture. Dirk’s a vet that just got back from Afghanistan, and has apparently made fist meat out of some guy…on a scale equivalent to everyone’s favorite vigilante, blood splatter analyst/serial killer!

But can you really see it? Can you actually see who he is, and the world around him? Let’s try again.

Example 2:

Dirk was a good guy. Even now, in the ominously dark alley, with nothing but the wheeze of his own ragged breath for company, Dirk was a good guy.

Steam rose from his blood slick hands, and yet all he could do was stand there; staring at the still, silent body crumpled at his feet, as a spasm ripped through his overworked  bicep.

“I killed him,” he whispered, as a nearby cab flew over an ill fitting manhole. Whipping around, Dirk dropped to the ground, prepared for the torrent of gunfire that never manifested.

PTSD would do that to you.

**End**

Now, could you see that? Could you see who he was, based solely on his interaction with the world around him? Could you see how upset he was without me ‘telling’ you how upset he was? Could you see all that he had been through without me ‘telling’ you that he was a vet?

If the ‘camera’ can’t see it, then your reader can’t; and the only way to accomplish this with descriptive showing, is to use the five senses. Sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

Tell: The sun was shining. It was really bright

Show: The sun’s reflection off the stainless steel teapot horrified Mary. It was too early, and the glare hurt her head like a tequila fueled hangover after a holiday weekend.

Tell: Her skin was so soft.

Show: His calloused hands skimmed the silk-like smoothness of her yielding skin.

Tell: Lisa missed her mom’s cooking. Sometimes, she could close her eyes and taste that chicken pot pie.

Show: In quiet moments, when grief crept up so unexpectedly, Lisa could almost taste the flaky, buttery, crust of her mom’s famous, blue ribbon winning, chicken pot pie.

Progressive Showing:

Chances are, you give a lot of back story. I’m guilty of it too. We want the reader to understand the world that we have created…but we don’t have to make the most fatal of literary mistakes: The Info-Dump.

That term gets tossed around about as much as a Sunday game ball, but it can be applied to more than an incredibly detailed prologue outlining the entire history of your fictitious alien race.

The progression of your story can either be shown, or told. You don’t have to reveal every little detail of the story.

Think of your favorite movie. How are you introduced to the main character, and the plot? Are you told everything there is to know about them? How are you introduced to their quirks?

It could be as simple as having the detective in your manuscript constantly flipping a Zippo lighter. Now, imagine that the camera zooms in on the lighter. What does that tell us? That the lighter is significant.

It could just mean that he smokes…or that he used to smoke.

Zooming in on that lighter has just raised a whole bevvy of questions.

Why did he stop smoking? Health reasons? Maybe he never smoked…maybe the lighter was his dad’s – a cop like him…

Or maybe, his own lit cigarette was the catalyst for the house fire that killed his entire family, and flicking that lighter is the only thing keeping him grounded in the here and now…

My God I’m morbid!

Example 1:

Lori didn’t get along with her mom, but hated her stepfather more. As bad as ‘Mommy’ had been, nothing compared to the outwardly charismatic Ryan Saleno.

He was a ‘pillar’ of the community. The Mayor of the city of Aldridge, and the man that had made her life a living hell through the grace of his fist. Her mother too. He was a monster.

She didn’t know how she was going to get through the Holidays…

**Note: There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this passage. The voice is fine, we get the idea, and we have been told about Lori’s dysfunctional family. It’s a good passage, but it’s also very run of the mill.

Example 2:

Passing the little coat closet by her front door, Lori paused. It really was amazing. Not the closet itself – in New York City a postage stamp would be bigger than the cubby that she shoved her jacket into.

No. The amazing thing was that still, after all these years, her heart fluttered every damn time she walked passed it. Or any closet for that matter.

“Where did you go, chickadee?”

Lori shuddered, hesitating as her fingers hovered above the bowl that held her keys. Only God knew how much of her youth had been spent in her childhood closet, hiding from his drunken rages.

The charismatic Mayor of Aldridge – her stepfather.

“We really don’t have to go, Lor.”

Turning, Lori smiled at Ricky. He was Mayor Ryan Saleno’s exact opposite, and she was grateful for that.

“I have to. For Mom.” Taking a deep breath, and grabbing the keys, Lori placed her hand in Ricky’s safe grasp. It was now or never. “Have I mentioned how much I hate the Holiday’s?”

**Note: Can you see the difference? Instead of telling the story of her dysfunctional family, we have shown the story through visual memory (sight), auditory memory (sound), and we could not only understand Lori’s hesitation, but we could almost empathize with her. The well-timed dialogue only adds to the scene, progressing the story forward, and allows us to fill in some of the gaps.

Instead of telling us the back story, simply elude to it. It adds an air of mystery, and succeeds in propelling the story along…aka, it transforms into a page turner!

It’s tough, and it’s difficult. Let’s be truly honest with ourselves – if it were easy, we would already be published.

I have come to the realization that anyone can be a writer, but not everyone can craft a novel.

Research and practice help, but I’m hoping that my own experience can help others find their way.

Remember, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, and line by line : Can the audience see it?

And until they can, your masterpiece might never see the light of day.

Your story needs to be told, so take a deep breath, and revise.

Come follow me on Twitter! @Maria_Tureaud

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Show vs Tell: A Guide To Writing

The phrase is everywhere. A simple Google search of ‘How To Write A Book’ will result in thousands of pages popping up in reference to it.

What is it? The all cryptic, all powerful, Showing vs. Telling.

If you happen to be a budding author, then you’ve most certainly heard the term. Hell, you’ve probably read blog after blog, and article after article, that attempted to explain what it means, what it should look like, and how to execute it.

If you’re like me, then you’ve found nothing but pages upon pages of vague paragraphs eluding to the holy grail of getting published. You sit there, like a World War II enigma engineer desperately trying to crack the code! Trust me, you’re not alone.

So, what’s the magic formula?! There has to be one!

Until very recently, I was right there with you. What changed? A single article that altered my entire perspective…*pause for effect, and then whisper*…of everything.

“Well, that’s a bit dramatic,” you mutter, blithely rolling your eyes as you assume an air of nonchalance. Meanwhile, your knuckles blanch white as you grip that steaming mocha soy latte for all its worth. Determined not to read the screen, you run your fingers through damp, tangled hair, before finally taking a sip of your coffee. Fortified, you fill your lungs and reluctantly find yourself glancing at the computer. Damn it!

You’re a writer, and unless you’ve somehow nabbed a book deal from one of the ‘Big Six’, of course you’re interested.

Little did you know, but the tutorial has already begun.

You have to show, not tell…blah, blah, blah. Same old, same old…or is it? Are you ready to have your mind blown?

I’ve discovered that there are two kinds of ‘showing’…descriptive, and – what I like to call – progressive.

Let’s begin.

Descriptive Showing:

Pick the first page of your manuscript. Now read it out loud.

(Why is she making me talk to myself?)

My next question might seem a bit odd, but it’s very simple: Can you see it?

Huh?

If your manuscript was translated from the page to cinema…could you see it? Of course, you can see it in your head…it’s your manuscript after all!

But what about the audience? Can they see it? And by seeing it…I had a damn revelation here…what’s really meant, is: Can your readers see who your protagonist is, as well as the world around them, and how they interact with it?

Example 1:

Dirk was a good guy. He never did a bad thing in his life, that is, not until ten minutes ago. It was the other guys fault, he should have never tried to pick a fight.

Dirk had served three tours in Afghanistan. A genuine, decorated, war hero. Then along comes this guy, talking shit about Dirk’s girl, and suddenly we got a really big problem. An ‘oh-shit-where’s-Dexter-when-you-need-him’ kind of problem.

**End**

I mean, it’s not bad. We get the picture. Dirk’s a vet that just got back from Afghanistan, and has apparently made fist meat out of some guy…on a scale equivalent to everyone’s favorite vigilante, blood splatter analyst/serial killer!

But can you really see it? Can you actually see who he is, and the world around him? Let’s try again.

Example 2:

Dirk was a good guy. Even now, in the ominously dark alley, with nothing but the wheeze of his own ragged breath for company, Dirk was a good guy.

Steam rose from his blood slick hands, and yet all he could do was stand there; staring at the still, silent body crumpled at his feet, as a spasm ripped through his overworked  bicep.

“I killed him,” he whispered, as a nearby cab flew over an ill fitting manhole. Whipping around, Dirk dropped to the ground, prepared for the torrent of gunfire that never manifested.

PTSD would do that to you.

**End**

Now, could you see that? Could you see who he was, based solely on his interaction with the world around him? Could you see how upset he was without me ‘telling’ you how upset he was? Could you see all that he had been through without me ‘telling’ you that he was a vet?

If the ‘camera’ can’t see it, then your reader can’t; and the only way to accomplish this with descriptive showing, is to use the five senses. Sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.

Tell: The sun was shining. It was really bright

Show: The sun’s reflection off the stainless steel teapot horrified Mary. It was too early, and the glare hurt her head like a tequila fueled hangover after a holiday weekend.

Tell: Her skin was so soft.

Show: His calloused hands skimmed the silk-like smoothness of her yielding skin.

Tell: Lisa missed her mom’s cooking. Sometimes, she could close her eyes and taste that chicken pot pie.

Show: In quiet moments, when grief crept up so unexpectedly, Lisa could almost taste the flaky, buttery, crust of her mom’s famous, blue ribbon winning, chicken pot pie.

Progressive Showing:

Chances are, you give a lot of back story. I’m guilty of it too. We want the reader to understand the world that we have created…but we don’t have to make the most fatal of literary mistakes: The Info-Dump.

That term gets tossed around about as much as a Sunday game ball, but it can be applied to more than an incredibly detailed prologue outlining the entire history of your fictitious alien race.

The progression of your story can either be shown, or told. You don’t have to reveal every little detail of the story.

Think of your favorite movie. How are you introduced to the main character, and the plot? Are you told everything there is to know about them? How are you introduced to their quirks?

It could be as simple as having the detective in your manuscript constantly flipping a Zippo lighter. Now, imagine that the camera zooms in on the lighter. What does that tell us? That the lighter is significant.

It could just mean that he smokes…or that he used to smoke.

Zooming in on that lighter has just raised a whole bevvy of questions.

Why did he stop smoking? Health reasons? Maybe he never smoked…maybe the lighter was his dad’s – a cop like him…

Or maybe, his own lit cigarette was the catalyst for the house fire that killed his entire family, and flicking that lighter is the only thing keeping him grounded in the here and now…

My God I’m morbid!

Example 1:

Lori didn’t get along with her mom, but hated her stepfather more. As bad as ‘Mommy’ had been, nothing compared to the outwardly charismatic Ryan Saleno.

He was a ‘pillar’ of the community. The Mayor of the city of Aldridge, and the man that had made her life a living hell through the grace of his fist. Her mother too. He was a monster.

She didn’t know how she was going to get through the Holidays…

**Note: There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with this passage. The voice is fine, we get the idea, and we have been told about Lori’s dysfunctional family. It’s a good passage, but it’s also very run of the mill.

Example 2:

Passing the little coat closet by her front door, Lori paused. It really was amazing. Not the closet itself – in New York City a postage stamp would be bigger than the cubby that she shoved her jacket into.

No. The amazing thing was that still, after all these years, her heart fluttered every damn time she walked passed it. Or any closet for that matter.

“Where did you go, chickadee?”

Lori shuddered, hesitating as her fingers hovered above the bowl that held her keys. Only God knew how much of her youth had been spent in her childhood closet, hiding from his drunken rages.

The charismatic Mayor of Aldridge – her stepfather.

“We really don’t have to go, Lor.”

Turning, Lori smiled at Ricky. He was Mayor Ryan Saleno’s exact opposite, and she was grateful for that.

“I have to. For Mom.” Taking a deep breath, and grabbing the keys, Lori placed her hand in Ricky’s safe grasp. It was now or never. “Have I mentioned how much I hate the Holiday’s?”

**Note: Can you see the difference? Instead of telling the story of her dysfunctional family, we have shown the story through visual memory (sight), auditory memory (sound), and we could not only understand Lori’s hesitation, but we could almost empathize with her. The well-timed dialogue only adds to the scene, progressing the story forward, and allows us to fill in some of the gaps.

Instead of telling us the back story, simply elude to it. It adds an air of mystery, and succeeds in propelling the story along…aka, it transforms into a page turner!

It’s tough, and it’s difficult. Let’s be truly honest with ourselves – if it were easy, we would already be published.

I have come to the realization that anyone can be a writer, but not everyone can craft a novel.

Research and practice help, but I’m hoping that my own experience can help others find their way.

Remember, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, and line by line : Can the audience see it?

And until they can, your masterpiece might never see the light of day.

Your story needs to be told, so take a deep breath, and revise.

Come follow me on Twitter! @Maria_Tureaud

The Dreaded Query: Part Three

Resolution. A decision, mental state,  or determination to resolve.

Resolve. To convert or transform by any process, through firmness of intent.

Where is your book going? How does your protagonist develop? How will the conflict be righted?

These are the questions you should ask yourself as you begin to write the third and final part of your query body.

Let’s re-cap the three elements to a successful query.

  1. The Hook – Why should the reader (in this case the agent) read on?
  2. The Conflict – What drama happens in the book?
  3. The Resolution – Where will it all end?

Before looking at your resolution and slap-happily giving everything away, remember: the query is not the synopsis.

We have to whet the reader’s appetite. Why would they want to read on if you’ve already laid everything out on the line?

Once again, I urge you all to approach the resolution like the back jacket of a book…so hop to your bookshelves…

“But beyond the court is a man who dares to challenge the power of her family to offer Mary a life of freedom and passion. If only she has the courage to break away – before the Boleyn enemies turn on the Boleyn girls…” – The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

“One Choice can transform you.” – Divergent by Veronica Roth.

“But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?” – Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard.

“Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assasins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the Game of Thrones.” – You must be hiding under a rock if you don’t know what this one is.

So…all four are effective resolutions, but they all seem so different. What, exactly, do you put in that final paragraph?

The resolution can be a tough one, but though all four examples above seem very different, they actually do have a few things in common.

  1.  Each paragraph feels like the protagonist(s) come to a crossroads – one path leads to some sort of Hallelujah moment, and the other to their destruction. This can be a mental state or literal destruction. No, not every book has a nuclear bomb about to go off, but every book should have some sort of journey. Personal, literal, it doesn’t matter. Eventually there is always a choice. There will always be a crossroads, and the choice made at said crossroads will always determine the outcome of the book.
  2. The stakes are clearly defined – if x does not happen, y will occur. Well, Divergent doesn’t directly state the stakes, but we get the feeling that a trans-formative choice needs to take place.
  3. All four are moreish. They whet the reader’s appetite, giving a glimpse into what might happen without giving anything away.

Pulling your hair out? I know. Take a deep, cleansing breath. I don’t think I can say it enough: the query is more important than the book. You need to take your time. Research the right agents. Construct your letter effectively.

There are a few excellent resources to help you find the right agent.

  1. http://www.agentquery.com/
  2. https://www.publishersmarketplace.com/
  3. https://www.amazon.com/Guide-Literary-Agents-2017-Published/dp/144034776X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1496331343&sr=8-1&keywords=guide+to+literary+agents

Number 3 is my personal favorite. Ensure that you purchase the most updated version – a new list is published every year…and DOUBLE CHECK THE LISTED AGENT’S WEBSITE FOR SUBMISSION GUIDELINES! No attachments means no attachments. They want a synopsis, you send a synopsis. First 10 pages, means first 10 pages!

Once you have your agents (which should number above 20), it’s time to construct your letter.

You’ve probably read about personalization in query letters, well so have I. But I’ve also read conflicting instructions when talking about personalization, so – if you feel inclined – follow my how-to below.

How To Personalize your query letter:

These are the ONLY scenarios where personalization is a good idea:

  1. You met the agent at a writer’s conference (sorry, if you happen to be said agent’s barista at Starbuck’s, I wouldn’t mention it).
  2. Another agent recommended that you send your query to said agent. This is called a referral (in this case, DO NOT LIE. Agent’s talk to each other…A LOT. It’s best to supply the recommendation e-mail at the very end of your query…as in, after the sample pages etc. I would mention that you’ve included said e-mail).
  3. A book/author they represent absolutely changed your life (for the better…no mentions of swirling jealousy and a trip to rehab please!)

How NOT to Personalize your query letter:

  1. “I really wanted to submit to you because I thought you might like my work” – Duh. Said agent assumes you’ve already done your research and your homework, so there’s no need to state the obvious. You don’t get extra marks for finding out who they represent etc.
  2. “You like sci-fi, and this is the best sci-fi you’ll ever read” – Nope. See my post on The Author Ego. LEAVE IT AT THE DOOR!
  3. “You’ll want to jump on this, it’s a new best-seller!” – If I were an agent, I’d pass out of spite. Luckily for everyone, I’m not an agent.

So, unless some chance or contrived encounter fell under the HOW TO menu above, forget personalization *hands out tissues to mop up nervous sweat*. Relax. There’s a formula!

Here it is!

  1. Dear (insert agent’s actual name, not Dear Agent…and be professional. Use their last name and SPELL IT CORRECTLY)
  2. Immediately jump into THE HOOK
  3. Continue onto THE CONFLICT
  4. You got it…THE RESOLUTION
  5. New paragraph: *Insert book title in CAPS here*, is a work of *Insert genre here*, complete at *Insert wordcount here*.
  6. Continue with: It is *Insert comp title here* meets *insert another comp title/tv show* (you can flourish a bit here and add on things like: In a style similar to *insert author’s name* with a twist of *some other fanciful thing that sets your book apart), it will appeal to a *insert genre again* audience ages *insert your best guess here*.
  7. Optional paragraph: Biography. Note. ONLY WRITE A BIO IF YOUR BIO IS RELEVANT. Don’t mention that you’re a  dad, or a mom, or that you live wherever. Only mention the following: If your writing has won any awards, if you have ever been paid to write, if you have ever been paid to edit. If money has never been exchanged for your work, then it’s not relevant. The agent wants to see if others found your work pay-worthy. Keep the bio simple. I have a degree in *BA here*, with a passion for *insert genre related passion*.
  8. New Paragraph: Below, please find the *insert what the agent requested in their submission guidelines* pasted below the body of this letter for your perusal.
  9. New paragraph: “I truly hope to hear from you soon, and look forward to potentially working together in the future.”
  10. New Paragraph:

                       Yours Sincerely,

                      *Name*

                      *e-mail address*

                      *phone number

                     *street address*

All that being said, as this is the third and final installment of The Dreaded Query, I decided to bite the bullet and come up with a query of my own to share with you all. A round of applause to all my Twitter followers that were such great sports to participate over the last few months, but it’s time to bare my own manuscript. It’s only fair.

That being said, this series got me thinking about my own, even though I’m months away from being ready for the query stage, and I’ll probably re-work this a thousand times before I am, but here it is. My own Hook, Conflict, and resolution:

When angst-ridden Isa is suddenly freed from her subservient world, her life becomes one worth living. That is, until the Truth is revealed.

Perditio…it comes.

She is the Reaper. Tainted. The unwilling piece to the puzzle of Earth’s survival. But Isa can barely control her own anger, never mind her new found power. It’s going to take a miracle to pull it off, and her reluctant protector agrees.

Brandt doesn’t believe Earth can be saved. He’s just along for the ride, honor bound to keep Isa alive though his life is already over.

So when the past has destroyed the present, and the future remains unknown, betrayal rises from the depths of Perditio, extinguishing the flame of hope that has been kindling in the hearts of those already enlightened with the Truth.

Will Isa cave beneath the pressure? Or will the strong, powerful Reaper that she has to become rise from the ashes of the girl she once was?

Until next time, I can always be found on the Twittersphere! @Maria_Tureaud

Thanks for tuning in!

-Maria

The Dreaded Query Pt 2 – The Conflict

Books are all about conflict. Think about that.

In this sense, conflict can be anything that causes a problem for your protagonist – not just wars, or serial killers, or world ending asteroids about to hit the planet (I always tear up when Tea Leone squeezes her father as that gargantuan tsunami roars toward land. Her whispered plea: Daddy! You know the one!)

Conflict can be found in a whisper, an unbidden memory as your protagonist spies a familiar face among the crowd; something – anything – that sends him or her on their journey.

Sounds like hogwash? It’s not.

Many writers map out their conflict long before they translate thoughts to drafting phase, but just as many writers don’t. Either method is fine – whatever works for you! But you have to be able to identify the conflict in your story in order to write a successful query.

Think about the books you’ve read. Every one of them has some kind of drama. Even the fluffiest of romances sport the dilemmas to end all dilemmas! So what’s yours?

Is it an actual conflict? One Ring to rule them all…

Is it a central theme? One choice can transform you…

…or…

Is it a state of mind? This is Bridget Jones, signing off…

Trust me, that last one is definitely a state of mind!

So, let’s recap the formula of a successful query:

  1. The Hook
  2. The Conflict
  3. The Resolution

When I first started this little project, I realized that a lot of writers couldn’t seem to identify the conflict in their manuscripts. Not because they didn’t know what their conflict was; but again, they seemed to focus on the details that they deemed ‘vital information’, as opposed to the snappy overview.

Boil it down. Write, re-write, and hone in on what’s really important. What will make a reader pick up your book?

In The Dreaded Query Part One, we discussed the importance of The Hook. Remember, you have four seconds before an agent passes your query based on the hook alone.

If you were successful, congratulations! You have just made it to level 2: Another six seconds! You’ve graduated to a whole ten seconds before an agent passes!

As I urged you all in Part One…think about that.

If we, as writers, can’t bring the plot together in one cohesive paragraph, the agent will assume that half your manuscript is waffle.

So, again, I would like to highlight the query of another brave Twitter follower – Christi Silver. An amazing writer, Christi is definitely worth a follow – @EditmoiSVP

Thanks to Christi for participating! Read on for her original query! The conflict is highlighted in red.

Chuck Palahniuk’s gritty tone meets Lidia Yuknavitch’s ruthless style in EXPOSURE, a 75,000-word noir thriller about a bad-girl undergrad who follows her photography professor and her own good intentions down a spiral of self-destruction in the war-torn Middle East.

Eden Saintsbury is no saint, but man, she thinks she can heal people, and she sure isn’t above using her body to do it. A Chicago poli-sci/psych double major, Eden says she has plans to one day counsel victims of war, and in the meantime she prepares by exposing herself to others’ traumas. Between classes, Eden preys on troubled souls. She homes in, uses sex to get into her captives’ heads, and once she’s in, she does some housekeeping.

Her new girl, Zoe Miller, is an empathic police sketch artist whose drawings reveal more than just her subjects’ motivations, and Eden finds herself unexpectedly enraptured. Zoe, a loner who’s swept up in a manhunt for a suspected terrorist, has no time for Eden’s ploys and soon draws the line. Reeling, Eden flings herself into an adventure with her grief-struck photography professor, Jason Lazarus, which leads her to some forced perspective in Syria and helps Zoe frame her missing suspect back in Chicago.

Exposure follows the alternating points of view of Jason, a cold and compulsive photographer who eventually falls in love with Eden’s pure intentions, and Zoe, Eden’s on-again-off-again girlfriend whose drawings bring to light the dangerous depths that Eden is willing to go to help others find their good sides.

Very nicely written, but I had trouble identifying the central conflict of her manuscript (her query was also missing a hook). Upon reaching out to Christi, and asking a few key questions, I was able to give this great query a once over.

Disclaimer: Only Christi knows the true theme/conflict of her work, and though I did ask questions, my re-work might not accurately depict the story that she was trying to tell.

Here it is, again, conflict is highlighted in red:

Eden Saintsbury may be a woman on a mission, but she’s no saint.

 A student with a soft spot for war victims, Eden finds herself in the midst of an adventure after her empathic police sketch artist girlfriend – Zoe – calls it quits; sending Eden straight into war torn Syria on the heels of her grief-stricken photography professor – Jason.

Cold and compulsive, Jason is the perfect test subject as Eden endeavors to drag him back to the light; but when Zoe’s empathic sketches take a very dark turn, the dangerous depths of Eden’s good intentions are revealed, ultimately placing them all in very grave danger.

Which version would entice you to pick up the book and read on?

Here are the questions I asked Christi to determine the conflict:

  1. Can Zoe not concentrate on her abilities with Eden in the picture?
  2. Does something happen in Syria to link back to Zoe?
  3. Does Eden ‘find’ herself in Syria due to something Jason does?

Why did I ask those particular questions? There’s method to my madness, and maybe my madness can help you.

1. I needed to find out if Zoe was central to the plot, or if she was just a character that Christi deemed important

2. I needed to discover the stakes – in other words, what’s the one (or two) thing (s) that would completely screw up Eden’s life if the worst happened.

3. How do all three of these characters link together?

Go through your query line by line, asking similar questions, and if you find yourself answering those questions aloud – as opposed to seeing those answers in your query – it’s time to start over.

The next query I want to share was missing a good hook when I first read it…and that’s about all that was missing. Sekou Smith – a guy with a hysterical Twitter feed – is definitely worth a follow – @KSekouM

Here’s his original query:

Maysar flees his former master’s hired slave hunters.

Riding the front of a sandstorm in a stolen inflatable, he crashes into the legendary Floating Library. The grandson of one of Timbuktu’s most revered scholars and himself a skilled wind cartographer, Maysar settles into life aboard the flying palace of knowledge.

But when ruthless slavers attack the Library and threaten the tentative peace of the region, Maysar realizes he has to take a stand.

This sounds like an awesome read! There’s conflict, and resolution. It’s clear, concise, and a great query example. I know it doesn’t quite follow my formula, but two of the main components were present, and it felt like the back jacket of a book – so revising with a fresh perspective was easy.

Here’s my revision, complete with snappy Hook:

If your inner peace was in jeopardy, would you risk your freedom?

Fleeing his former master’s slave hunters, Maysar steals an inflatable, riding the golden crest of a sandstorm before crashing into the legendary Floating Library.

The grandson of one of Timbuktu’s most revered scholars, and a skilled wind cartographer, Maysar settles into life aboard the flying palace of knowledge. Freedom is everything that he expected it to be, and Maysar doesn’t want to waste one more second of his life.

But when ruthless slavers attack the Library and threaten the tentative peace of the region, Maysar realizes that he has no choice.

He has to take a stand.

That’s it for another installment of The Dreaded Query. I hope the above examples can help you on your quest for a Literary Agent! And give those two brave souls a follow on Twitter! They were great sports!

Next time, we will look at the Resolution – the moreish paragraph that brings the entire query together.

Until then, I can be found on the Twittersphere – @Maria_Tureaud

And remember – crafting your query is 100 times more difficult than crafting your novel. Don’t rush it!

-Maria

The Author Ego – Graveyard of Creative Potential

I wanted to put fingers to keyboard in order to lay out a few thoughts on something that can’t, and shouldn’t, be ignored.

The Author Ego.

Humans are selfish by nature. We tend to rationalize the world around us in terms of our own existence. How are we affected? How did this happen? Nine times out of ten, most people find themselves on the wrong end of a self accountability ladder. “It wasn’t me.” “I did everything I could.” “I don’t understand.”

            “The ultimate aim of the ego is not to see something, but to be something.” – Muhammad Iqbal.

How much, or how little, does our own behavior catalyze our current situation? The answer is simple. One hundred percent.

There are many shades of ego, but the Author Ego is the darkest. As expectations can become the graveyard of broken dreams, so too can the ego stand in the way of our success.

For those of you already ‘agented’ and published, you are doing something right. Something the rest of us are trying to figure out.

Like eighty percent of Americans, I too cultivated the novel idea that I could –well — become a novelist. So I did it. With one creative writing class under my belt, and a love of English Literature, I wrote a book.

One huge gigantic book just shy of half a million words (budding authors everywhere have sprayed coffee all over themselves).

I had no idea what I was doing, so I just kept going.

Five years of stealing an hour here, and an hour there. Of getting up at 4am to get in five hours of quality book time before going to my regular nine to five. Ego wasn’t driving me then. Ambition was.

And I did it. I finished. It was good. My hopes rose…until I ‘Googled’ the words ‘word count’.

Debut novels should typically fall between 60,000 – 90,000 words depending on the genre. Shocked didn’t even begin to cover my reaction. My book was almost five times that length!

So I did what any other newbie would do — picking a cliffhanger, I slapped an epilogue at the end and went about my merry way as I queried the literary world; and in my mind, they were welcome.

Now, I don’t want to say that I wasted large portions of my life, but I didn’t know how difficult it was going to be to break into the literary industry.

It led to a discovery: writing a book is easy. If it wasn’t, then literary agents would get back to us within hours instead of weeks, but because it’s relatively ‘easy’ to write a book, they have hundreds of queries to get through. Every week.

Anyone can write — I’m testament to that fact — but not everyone can truly craft a novel.

I had no luck getting published with that beast of a manuscript. Chopping it up did nothing for it, neither did the re-writes or revisions that followed.

I should have shelved it then. After all, it would always wait for me, but I found that I couldn’t wait for ‘it’.

My ego was damaged, and I ‘couldn’t understand’. I even came to the conclusion that there was no way these agents were even reading my sample pages — the same whine of wannabes clogging forums with their bitter, bruised egos.

Have you ever wanted Mr. Big Shot Agent to tell you the truth? Why can’t they go all Simon Cowell on us so that we can just throw in the towel?

Probably because if they did, we wouldn’t keep going. We wouldn’t grow and develop, and people like Stephen King would have never been published. (Did you know that he actually tossed ‘Carrie’ in the trash after it was rejected, forcing his supportive wife to go dumpster diving because she wanted him to rewrite it? No? True Story. Now look at him!)

My moment of clarity came in the shower — as all good thoughts do.

I realized that if I stood any chance of progressing — any chance at all — then I would have to deflate my sense of awesome and listen.

            Really listen. “I didn’t quite connect with the protagonist the way that I had hoped”.

A form rejection line that some of you might be familiar with…but have you ever read between the lines?

I dissected what was really being said, without those agents actually saying it — because if they did, I probably would have thrown in the towel.

            “I didn’t quite connect” – Dialing doen my ego fifty notches, I realized that what the agents were trying to convey was the simple yet devastating truth: I was telling instead of showing (even though I was confident in my showing abilities!), and as a result they had no emotional connection to my protagonist.

‘Showing’ — aka describing a character’s experience through the use of all five senses — connects your readers to your manuscript, creating that emotional connection that compels them to read on.

It. Is. Essential.

Without taking that step back, I never would have had that lightbulb moment, and without that lightbulb moment I would have continued on as before: lost, hurt, and angry in the face of rejection.

Bitterness is born of wasted tears, so don’t waste them. Anger becomes futile in the face of useless ‘what ifs’, so toss them away.

Instead, open your ears, pull down those walls, and really read those rejection letters, bad reviews, or critiques.

If you do, you will soon realize that you are your own worst enemy, and that your Author Ego is crippling your potential writing career.

Until next time, I can be found on Twitter @Maria_Tureaud

-Maria

 

The Dreaded Query: The Hook

I thought we had ten seconds. We don’t. In an interview with the ‘Writer’s Digest‘, Literary Agent Barbara Poelle stated:

“Sometimes it really is only, say, four seconds; a first line can close it down for me…”

Four. Seconds. Think about that. It has taken you months, if not years to write, craft, revise, re-craft, revise, scrap, re-write, revise, and finish your manuscript.

Everything that you have achieved through personal growth and self-development boils to down to four seconds.

You will also note that my voice has changed for this blog post. It’s a little more serious, and you would do well to take note. This is serious.

Four seconds is the time it takes to read a text message, and that’s all you have.

Literary veterans, whether traditionally published, perpetually unpublished, or published in the indie industry know what I’m talking about. For those that don’t, here are a few home truths for everyone to digest.

  1. Most new Literary Agents have 2 jobs. I’m not talking about that of agent and editor. I’m talking about agent and part time librarian, or cashier at your favorite retailer. Seems crazy? It’s not. If you’ve ever had monetary obligations then you’ll understand the need to make money.
  2. Most Literary Agents receive, on average, 200 queries a week, and contrary to popular belief, they aren’t just flouncing about from meeting to meeting, nose squarely ensconced in their phone just waiting for your query to ping their mailbox! Agents are hard working, ‘not enough hours in the day’ kind of people.
  3. Agents don’t have time set aside to read queries. They check them on the train in the morning, on their lunch break, and in between cuddles with their children at night time.

So, you literally have four seconds, because their time is that precious.

I can hear you now: “But, my work is precious! I missed x, y and z to write it, and it took x amount of (insert months or years here) to complete!

Exactly. So why do so few writers spend so little time on the query? I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again : The query is as important, if not more important than your manuscript!

I’ve written some very successful queries for some not very successful books, but every one of those requests shot my work into the literary stratosphere. I have become something of a query master over the years, and I want to help every single one of you reading this.

You can have written the most incredible book that the world has ever been welcome to read, but no-one will ever see it if your query falls flat.

Four. Seconds. To tell your entire story? Now that’s overwhelming.

Go to your bookshelf and pick up a random book. Now, turn it over, and begin to read the back cover.

I picked two from mine.

  1. One Choice; decides your friends. One Choice; defines your beliefs. One Choice; determines your loyalties – forever. One Choice can transform you.
  2. Dazzled by the golden prince, Mary’s joy is cut short when she discovers that she is a pawn in the dynastic plots of her family.

What do both have in common? At first glance…nothing. One is Divergent by Veronica Roth, and the other is The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

But they do have something in common: they are both hooks.

The Hook:

This is your four seconds. This. Is. It.

Imagine yourself in a bookstore. You pick up a book, turn it over, and begin to read. That first sentence/paragraph determines whether or not you read on. You’ve probably read hundreds of hooks in your lifetime. How many of those hooks enticed you to keep reading and ultimately purchase that particular book? Probably a very small percentage.

Query hooks should always be treated like the back jacket of a book. Like the back jacket, your opening sentence/paragraph should move the agent to read on, and your four seconds become ten.

Every hook should encompass the following ingredients:

  1. The premise of the book
  2. The emotional tone of the book
  3. The stakes
  4. Overview

Everything in one. The hook evokes excitement, intrigue, and a will to continue. Without it, an agent will likely pass on your manuscript, and your next paragraphs will never be read.

The formula to a successful query are:

  1. The Hook
  2. The Conflict
  3. The Resolution

Examples are my jam, so that’s the only way to get my point across…but I couldn’t just make up plot ideas on the spot for manuscripts that don’t exist.

Having reached out to the Twittersphere, a few brave souls have allowed me the opportunity to read, dissect, and re-work their queries so that we can all learn together.

This week, I am highlighting the work of @JesseSmithBooks. Thanks for helping us out Jesse Smith! You’re a trooper!

I’m just going to paste Jesse’s original query body below. I’m omitting the actual letter itself – that’s a completely different blog post – as the Hook really should be the first sentence after you type Dear Ms. Wonderful Agent. So, here it is:

Title: Arthur is Dead Length: 150,695 words

Genre: Noir fiction

Log Line: The antihero’s quest for redemption in the dark modern world of business and politics

The Hook: In Arthur is Dead, a failed quest for the perfect business model sends the new CEO down a dark spiral of bad decisions. But can he reveal his brother’s murderer, without breaking a deathbed promise? Lance Maypole narrates the story of his rise to power, his fall from grace, and his struggle for redemption in the fast-paced and sometimes violent modern world.

Alternate genres: Literary fiction, Mystery, Dark humor, Modern retellings & reimaginings, Arthurian retellings

The 1-paragraph synopsis: Lance’s competitive nature struggles with his better judgment when he meets Cindy. She is the perfect woman; but tragically, she is already engaged to his brother, Arthur. Years later, the startup enterprise loses a tremendous amount of money pursuing an elusive “Holy Grail” business model concept. Lance is left in charge of the company when Arthur departs to pursue a path in politics, running on a platform of global unification. In his absence, Cindy comes to Lance to ask for help dealing with a stalker who is harassing her on social media. Lance tracks down the “troll” and brutally murders him. Having committed this transgression, Lance begins a torrid love affair with Cindy. Everything comes crashing down when the affair is discovered by Cindy’s son, who goes by the hacker forum screen name, Mordred. Shortly thereafter, Arthur dies under suspicious circumstances. Lance suffers a nervous breakdown, and Mordred rises to CEO in his absence. Scandal, losses, new competition, and the insider trading investigation cause Gavin and other members of the Board of Directors to call for the dissolution of the enterprise. Lance returns to try to salvage the family business. In the final courtroom showdown, Lance must face Federal charges that he headed a criminal conspiracy intent on sabotaging his own company for the purpose of profiting from an insider trading scheme. After narrowly winning the court case and conducting some soul-searching, in the end Lance is reconciled to his long-suffering wife, Elaine.

Absolutely no offense to Jesse, but I lost interest pretty early on. He fell into the same trap that we all do/have in the past. Too much info!

Trying to squish a synopsis of the entire work into one sentence is frigging hard! So hard, that we get lost in the emotional connections that tie us to our work and are unable to step away from the waffle. To us, every detail is important!

I reached out to Jesse to clarify a few points, and here is what I came up with instead.

Disclaimer: Only Jesse knows the true theme of his work, and though I did ask questions, my re-work might not accurately depict the story that he was trying to tell. Names have been changed at the author’s request.

Here it is:

Hook: In love with his brother’s fiancée, married man – Lance – consumes himself with the seduction of the business world; until he does the unthinkable – takes another man’s life in order to protect Cindy’s honor.

Conflict: When their love affair is discovered, Lance’s downward spiral into the pits of an insider trading investigation begins.

Resolution: Will he rise like the phoenix, on a blazing trail of fire? Or will his brother’s untimely murder unman his life long quest: Every Man’s Search For Immortality – the legacy of his family.

Details come in the synopsis, and only if the agent wants to pursue your work.

Which version would entice you to buy the book if you were browsing the book store?

Which version do you think would likely capture an agent’s attention?

Because the hook is so important, I’m going to highlight one more query in today’s blog post. This one comes from the desk of @Exsanguinated17 . Again, Natasha Dee has very kindly allowed me to read through her query, dissect it, and come out the other end with a revised version.

Here is her original version:

‘Proximity’ is a dramatic novel of a young rambling woman named Adrianne who finds herself trapped in the world of the undead. Her journey begins with her boyfriend shamelessly lying to her about being a vampire. She is told not to ask questions and to ‘just’ trust him; but his plan falls apart quickly when they run into Darrius, an actual vampire.

Darrius is cold and cruel from the very beginning. He does not like being mocked and that is the only reason he chose to reveal himself, even though he is in the Gold District. Gold District is a lenient district meaning they are lenient on their humans. They have Court mandated ball gatherings which are required for Protectoris and their humans. Unfortunately for Darrius and Adrianne, he is left as her Protectoris. He now has to protect their secret by protecting her; no matter how badly he wants to sink his teeth into her neck and end her incessant rambling.

Adrianne is a rambler but she is also a cutter; and not a very modest one at that. Her life has been a whirlwind of issues since her mother killed herself when Adriane was just six years old and her brother was kidnapped shortly after. Darrius soon finds himself sympathizing with her; something that he would never be caught dead doing for a human.

Like Jesse’s query, my eyes grew heavy before the end of the first paragraph. Too much detail, honing in on things that she, as the writer, feels significant as opposed to what will draw in the reader.

With this one though, I got a good sense of what the book was about, and so I re-worked Natasha’s query below.

Disclaimer: Only Natasha knows the true theme of her work, and my revision might not accurately depict the story to its full potential. Names have been changed as per the author’s request.

Hook: Emotionally broken, Adrianne is duped into thinking that her boyfriend is a vampire; until the cruel and terrifying Darrius reluctantly reveals himself – a walking, talking, member of the Undead Underworld.

Conflict: Living in the Gold District is challenging for any vampire, and left with no choice but to serve as Adrianne’s Protectoris, Darrius reluctantly succumbs to the discipline required of all Protectoris: Protect, serve, and don’t eat your charge.

Resolution: But Adrianne’s secrets run deep, and soon Darrius is forced to not only protect her from the dangers of the Underworld, but ultimately…herself.

So, here’s the thing about both queries. Initially, I found my mind wandering, but having taken the time to really read them both, these manuscripts actually interest me, and if they were on a bookshelf, I probably would read on.

But an agent isn’t going to do what I did. They won’t power through to find the good stuff, or e-mail you to ask about the theme etc.

You. Have. Four. Seconds.

I hope that this entry has been helpful. Next week we’ll look at The Conflict, and dissect another query!

Please follow the very brave @JesseSmithBooks and @Exsanguinated17 for more info on Jesse and Natasha. So glad to have had the opportunity to chat with you both!

That’s it for now. A lot more to come next week!

I leave you with my favorite Hook of all time. Though written in a simpler time, when queries were nothing more than a letter, if Tolkien had needed a hook, this would have been it. It haunted me then, and it still haunts me now, sending chills up my spine as anticipation overwhelms all else:

One Ring to rule them all,One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all,  and in the darkness bind them.

Signing off!

Maria Tureaud

@Maria_Tureaud

The Dreaded Query

Right about now (the funk show brother…sorry. Couldn’t resist!) creepy music ala ‘Axe Murderer Horror Flick’ sounds.

Why? Because you’re done. Finished.

You. Are. Incredible.

You’ve developed your voice,  you have shown versus told, and you’ve gone through the rigorous revision process.

Your book is ready! The world is welcome! But if that celestial choir of awesomeness doesn’t abruptly switch to the discordant symphony from hell…well. You must be new!

For those that know what comes next, the Dreaded Query has foreshadowed every thought, edit, and rewrite since you completed your first draft.

Hang on to your hats! It’s time to break it all down…gangnam style! I don’t know where all these musical references are coming from, just bear with me!

One of three things happens when you complete your manuscript.

1. For fear of getting hurt, you shelf your work, pulling it out and dusting it off on days when you feel depressed just so that you can remind yourself that you’re awesome (I’m guilty of this).

2. You go rogue and self-publish. You rebel! You entrepreneur! (I, however, have neither the capital required to launch a successful marketing campaign, nor do I have the time to spend running a business…because that’s exactly what successful self publishing will entail. I’m not saying don’t do it, but I’m a business woman in ‘real life’. Be prepared. You get out exactly the same amount of effort that you put in).

3. You go the traditional route. You decide to try and nab a book deal. Most writers will ultimately decide to ‘give it a go’, and why not? That’s what you want, so go for it!! But…you’re going to need a literary agent. Mid-size and large publishers will not…I repeat…WILL NOT touch your manuscript with a 100 foot pole unless you have an agent. They don’t see you, or hear from you unless they offer you a contract. You are a peon, and they will only speak to an agent.

If you aren’t already familiar with the process involved from the moment you type ‘THE END’ to signing that book deal (teeny tiny expectations people! J.K. Rowling got $2000 for Harry Potter and look at her now!), I’ll run through it for you…vets, stay with me.

1. Let your manuscript rest…again. I know you’ve finished revisions, but it’s like a fine wine. The more brewing time, the better.

2. Prepare your query letter (dun, dun…DUUUNNNN)

3. Run through your manuscript one final time.

4. Wonder why you need to write a query letter.

5. Share the body of your query to strangers. Online forums and social media are excellent places for this…or you can do what I do. Walk up to random strangers in the mall, thrust my phone into their face, and ask: ‘Would you read this book?’ *Whispers* don’t judge me!

6. Toss your query and start over…what do mall goers even KNOW about books? Filthy savages!

7. Once your query is ready, you need to research!! Which agent is the best fit for your manuscript? (Online resources like Publisher’s Marketplace and Query tracker are a good place to start…but I like to use A Guide To Literary Agents. It’s published once a year, and can be found in every bookstore. 2017 is out now).

But, writing a query can be more difficult than writing the book itself. Not because it’s hard to write a letter, but because the body of the query is a synopsis of a synopsis of a synopsis of your work….written in your voice, detailing everything but nothing, captivating their attention without revealing anything (kind of like this blog post)!

Sounds impossible? I promise, it’s not.

But there’s a lot of information available out there, most of it in direct conflict with each other.

In my Twitter musings, I realized that despite all the info out there, a lot of writers were still having trouble with the query, so I reached out.

And several brave souls have allowed me to spotlight their actual queries – Yes, for real This is not a drill! – so that together we might help other writers in the same boat.

So join us for this series (I’ll attempt to blog once a week,  because good query dissection coupled with examples is every writer’s drug of choice), where we will break down the barriers, demolish the secrecy, and open the doors to one and all.

This is the Query Masterclass…which I now dub #QueryMC

If you haven’t already found me on Twitter, then come join the madness!! You could be missing out!

@Maria_Tureaud

A Novelist’s Nightmare: Revision

It doesn’t matter if you write short stories, novels, poetry, or blog posts…if you’re a writer, one single word makes you place your head in your hands and groan: Revision.

You’ve written your manuscript, and now it’s time to get it ready for publication. If you have an agent, great! They’ll help you along the process and get your piece polished and ready for publishers.

If, like the rest of us, you’re still searching for representation, the revision stage can be daunting.

Where do you begin? When is enough…well…enough?

There are stages.

*Deep, Star Trek narrator voice* In the beginning…*back to me* of my writing endeavors, I couldn’t write more than a chapter at a time before hungrily re-reading my work.

I analyzed, I spell-checked, I re-worded, and re-wrote as I went without allowing a ‘resting’ period.

Like a good steak, you need to allow your manuscript to rest, giving it a few weeks to settle in the wake of the first draft. It’s important. Swallow your impatience. It will wait for you.

Like I said, I’ve since learned my lesson.

Revising in the moment stunted my creative process. I would constantly lose sight of what was to come, focusing only on the story that I had already written, and not allowing the plot to develop on it’s own.

When a new thought sprang to mind, anxiety would overcome my process and I would obsess over changing x, y, and z in what I had already written in order to accommodate my latest plot twist.

This time around, I forced myself to do something that caused even more anxiety…I wrote a first draft without revising. Well…almost. I made it to 65,000-ish words before I decided to begin the revision stage. All that’s left is the grand finale…probably another 15,000 words, give or take.

Everyone’s process is totally different, but I found that almost writing that entire first draft in one shot, I was able to really develop the plot into something special. I allowed myself to spit it all out, changing as I went, and I’m finding it easier to revise.

So…after all that…what are the stages of revision? It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, or what your end-game is (whether one of the Big-recently-Six-but-now-Five publishers, or self publishing through Amazon etc), here is my own, personal check list of stages…

  1. Second Draft
  2. Grammar Check
  3. Read Through
  4. Beta Readers
  5. Final Draft

Honestly, if I have to put spell check on the list…we probably wouldn’t get along. So, spell check is a given after the first draft stage.

SECOND DRAFT:

This is exactly what it sounds like. Going line by line, paragraph by paragraph, and chapter by chapter until you reach ‘The End’.

Fix the following:

  • Plot Holes
  • Overused phrases
  • Strange syntax
  • Ensure that each thought flows into the next to ensure a seamless reading experience.

GRAMMAR CHECK:

Easier said than done…believe it or not. There are a few great FREE resources online that will help tremendously. Even the best of us have trouble with possessive cases! If you’re a grammar whiz, then you’ll probably end up combining stages 1 and 2.

READ THROUGH:

Allow your second draft to rest for a few weeks…preferably a month (like the first draft)…before reading through.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. If your book was a movie, could you ‘see’ what’s happening?
  2. Have you fallen victim to the fatal ‘info-dump’?
  3. Does your story flow?
  4. Is it a page turner?

If so, you’re ready to move on to the next stage. If not, allow your manuscript to rest another few weeks before embarking on a third draft.

BETA READERS:

You think you have a winner, but you need other people to read it to know for sure.

Here are some HELL no’s when it comes to Beta Readers…

  1. Your mother should never be a beta reader (or sister, or father etc.). Sorry, but close family will never tell you the truth. They know how you have struggled, they’ve seen you sweat, and cry, and drink coffee like a fiend in the hopes of realizing your dreams…see where I’m going here?
  2. Your best friend can’t be a beta reader…for the same reasons above.
  3. Someone that reads…say…historical fiction, might not be the best audience for your sci-fi masterpiece.
  4. Never, EVER, have the initial post-reading interaction in a face-to-face environment. Why? Because you WILL be upset. You’re going to be all: “But that’s how she is, I mean, didn’t you ‘get’ that she’s sarcastic?” Apparently not…and that’s why we need to have beta readers. We know the ‘whys’. We know the ‘hows’. We know our stories inside out and backwards. But we have to convey all that…so if your beta readers are telling you something, you HAVE to listen. You failed to convey a message. Take notes.

Here are some hell YES’s when it comes to Beta Readers…

  1. Join online forums and social media sites where you can build relationships with impartial readers that will give you honest feedback
  2. Choose readers that would want to read your book…in other words, if you’re writing a thriller, choose readers that like thrillers.
  3. Always have your beta readers send their post-reading thoughts/notes/critiques via e-mail…that way you can scream, throw things, and pull your hair out in private, without terrifying your poor readers.
  4. After number 3 happens…STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER AND RESIST THE URGE TO IMMEDIATELY REPLY.
  5. Sit on your beta reader’s thoughts for a few days, and then re-open their e-mail. Are they right? They probably are. Unless the advice is something along the lines of: So, instead of a crazed serial killer, maybe it could be an alien race conducting experiments…then they’re probably right. Plot twists are suggestions…plot overhauls are not constructive.

FINAL DRAFT:

This is exactly what it sounds like. The. FINAL. Draft. This is it. You take the constructive elements of your beta readers critique, mull over your work, and go through it one more time with a fresh perspective. Then…? You’re done!

And onto the dreaded query…*cue terrifying Halloween music!*

The idea for today’s blog came from a conversation with one of my Twitter followers, so please feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts and wishes for future posts.

Until next time, you can find me tweeting nonsense on the Twittersphere… @Maria_Tureaud

Signing off…

Genre Blending For Novelists

There are rules…didn’t you know that? Why do you want to be a superhero…a rebel…and break them? What’s wrong with you??

You, my friend, are an edgy author; and that rule book can get tossed out the window if you do it right. Today, we will discuss Genre Blending.

Think of your book as a delicious smoothie; too much kale, and your smoothie is destroyed – doomed to the depths of being re-named: veggie juice. Too much pineapple, and your smoothie becomes as sugary sweet as Steve Harvey’s buttery smooth wit (I love that man!).

So what the hell am I talking about? Balance. There has to be balance.

First, I should discuss the rules of some of the most popular novel genres.

Romance: Generally written from the heroine’s perspective. We are introduced to the love interest by the end of the first chapter, the couple consummates the relationship in some way, and there is always a happy ending.

Fantasy: The parameters, histories, and limitations of the world that you create must be well thought out before hand. The theme (good vs evil), must be consistent but subtle…and when it comes to fantasy, the more original the plot, the better. Let’s be honest, it’s probably been done before.

Historical: The time and setting must be established on the first page, and the details must be perfect for your era. Also, your protagonist’s behavior and actions can only be judged by social norms of the era in question – not by modern day standards.

Science Fiction: Your plot must focus on the fringe. Something that stretches our imaginations beyond the limitations of our world. You may use technology, or any of the sciences (even psychology) to create your plot. But sci-fi also lends itself toward thoughtful, pensive, and sometimes mind-blowing revelations for the reader; so put your philosophical hat on!

Young Adult: This is one of the grayest of gray area genres on the market! But there are still rules. Your protagonist must be teen-age, and no matter the content or sub-genre, you must focus on your protagonist’s feelings.

So how do we blend? What’s the formula? Well…the short answer is that there is none. Oops! However, when we know and understand the rules of each genre we can be sure to correctly balance our manuscripts.

For example, you’re writing a Historical Fiction novel, and there is a love interest, but you – personally – wouldn’t categorize it as a Romance. Your love interest also happens to be a 1000 year old vampire…but you wouldn’t classify it as a Paranormal book either as it’s set in Henry VIII’s court and that’s the main premise. Besides, she doesn’t end up with Vlad in the end anyway. So what do you do?

Here’s my two cents. Set your time and scene in the first page – as dictated by the Historical genre rules. Next, make sure that Vlad is not introduced in the first chapter (if you do, your sweeping Historical will be classified as a Historical Romance). As for the 1000 year old vampire thing (seriously, could I have picked a more obscure example?), I would definitely just elude to his vampyric nature. Would your protagonist have known what a vampire was in the 1530’s? And if she doesn’t end up with him in the end, a little flirtation wouldn’t hurt, but do not – I repeat – do not, have them consummate their relationship in any way, shape or form, unless you want to market your book as a Paranormal Historical Romance.

Today, it’s all about genre blending. YA (young adult) continues to push the boundaries of genre – especially as so many YA novels are being consumed by actual adults (and by actual, I mean…people my age and older – no I will not divulge! How dare you!)

Bottom line, you can include romantic elements without your book being categorized as a romance. You can write Science Fiction that bends the rules of historical without using a time machine. Your manuscript is yours, and yours alone…until you share it with others!

I know that I didn’t hit on all genres, but the rules of each genre are out there for you to read. Google is a good place to start!

Until next time, happy writing! You can find me on Twitter or Instagram!

@Maria_Tureaud

-Maria

Character Voice vs Writers Voice – A Journey

Your ‘voice’ is polished. It took years…and years…and 100’s of queries. So why haven’t you been snapped up by Ms. Big Shot Literary Agent? And where the hell is that 6 figure deal??? I mean, you’ll even take a 5 figure deal…or a 4…hell! If it means that your name is immortalized on a bookshelf you’ll take $10!

So what’s the problem? Your masterpiece is…well…it’s a masterpiece! There are a few probable causes. Let’s list them off together.

1. Your manuscript isn’t the masterpiece that you think it is. (Harsh? I know. But sometimes we have to consider the possibility).

2. Your manuscript is filled with grammatical errors, and Ms. Big Shot Literary Agent rolls her eyes after 2 pages (I know right! She loved the query and requested a partial. She HAS to love it – wth!)

3. Your manuscript is polished, beautifully written, and the concept is fresh…but Ms. Big Shot Literary Agent kindly rejects your partial with the following, damning, and confusing words: “I just didn’t connect with (insert your kick ass protagonists name here!) in the way that I had hoped.”

And the bell tolls. So what the hell is going on?  Voice.

That’s all there is to it…but guess what? There are two completely separate kinds of Voice – and you have to master both. (Is your mind blown? Because my brain exploded when I put two and two together).

It took me a very long time to figure out my Voice – or, (allow me to clarify) what I thought was ‘Voice’. As it turned out, I was had only developed one half of the whole. My Writer’s Voice…and unfortunately, it’s very unique to the writer. Emulating an author that you admire could severely backfire. Here are some of my own examples below.

Lack of Voice – Excerpt from 4 years ago:

Not really wanting to go to the party, she stepped into the bright tiring room, wearing her brand new dress, and squinted. It was too bright.

Developed Voice – Present Day:

Draped in a newly designed silk dress, the tiring room proved too bright for Netty. A thousand candles illuminated the party; banishing that afternoon’s confrontation to the damned shadows.

Verbose? Yes, I am. But that might not be you. A Writer’s Voice is extremely personal, and a reflection of who you are.

Naively, I thought that my Voice would be enough. That my prose lilted, and that my storytelling skills would carry the manuscript.

And then realization hit – like a ton of bricks. Honestly, it knocked the wind out of me. Character Voice – two of the scariest words in the English language (to writer’s at least).

What in God’s name does it mean? Of course my characters have a voice! They’re complex, and well thought out, and, and, and…and.

In order to transform from a writer into an author (oh yes…there’s a definite difference, and I’m certainly not there yet), we must first become actors.

Now, I’m not talking about an Academy Award winning actor, but like the Hollywood elite, we have to get into character.

You need to ask yourself the following questions:

1. Who is your protagonist?
2. Who is she/he?
3. What kind of personality does she/he have?
4. How did her/his life shape the person that she/he has become?
5. What’s her/his trauma? (Everyone has a trauma – daddy issues, mommy issues, sibling issues, food issues, self-esteem issues etc.)

Congratulations! Now you have a character snapshot! Let the work begin!

Example Without Character Voice:

Though she was glad to finally be moving out and heading to college, Laura would miss her family. Truly. The house had always been crazy – and why wouldn’t it be? Twelve girls shared two bedrooms!

Example With Character Voice:

The Smith house was nothing if not claustrophobic. Every time one of the sisters moved out, Laura’s parents made good use of the ear muffs that she had given them for Christmas – ten years before. When prime bedroom real estate went up for grabs, the frenzy that ensued was always fraught with an awkward kind of tension. Her Mom called it ‘chumming the water’.

Laura called it: ‘Too Many Girls Squished Into Closed Quarters Syndrome’. Sighing, she closed her eyes. After tomorrow, her bedroom would be up for grabs. Laura had made it to – wait for it – Harvard!

Both examples paint the same picture. Laura is going to college. Laura has a LOT of sisters (poor dad!). The house is a little insane. Laura would miss her family.


But, which example would appeal more to Ms. Big Shot Literary Agent? The second one. Hands down. In the second example, we learn about Laura. The writer has gotten into Laura’s head. We learn who she is, who her family is, and we really get a feel for where she came from. The writer translates Laura’s thoughts onto the page – how she would think about things – but the writer tells the story in her/his own way.

Even though the excerpt isn’t in the first person, we feel connected to Laura. Any reader that has had to share a room – or any reader that couldn’t imagine having that many siblings – will immediately feel something tangible when they read those sentences.

Voice is complicated, and personal, but just keep on trucking. You’ll get there eventually. I hope that these examples can help someone else out there. I’m still on my journey, and I’m still developing my skills, but always remember: You will never be perfect, and you will always be learning. If you ‘know it all’, you will never succeed.

Signing off for now!

Until Next Time!

Come follow my madness on Twitter  –   @Maria_Tureaud