Friday, May 11, 2012

Writing Tips For The Day

Inspired Writing

A few things agents hate, a few thing readers some advice about the underdog

A Few Thing Agents Hate.

This guide is not intended to help you find an agent, or get published. Let’s be clear about that. This guide was developed to help you make your novel the best it can be. However, I would be remiss if I failed to offer a little bit of advice concerning agents. You can get an agent by meeting one at a writer’s conference or you can query them. Either way, the following is in your best interest.

Never call an agent. Send a well-written one page query letter - either by post or email. The letter should be normal font and text size, no more than 250 words. Don’t include pictures of yourself, your cover art or your dog. Trust me on this. Check the agent’s guidelines for what sends chills up their spine. They love thriller/suspense but hate horror? Don’t send a query for a horror novel.

Never put weird things like glitter or heart cut-outs in with your query letter. Common sense, people.

Never, ever get angry after a rejection. Even Tom Clancy was rejected….a lot. It’s just business.

Never be impatient or demanding with an agent. It’s just counter-productive. Again, common sense.

Enough of That Crap

All right. Your query letter interested an agent enough to put your manuscript aside. Does it get read cover to cover? Not necessarily.
Agents are the first line of defense for editors and publishers. Both have very difficult jobs, trying to find diamonds in vast fields of coal. I know of agents who fan through manuscripts, deciding if they are even going open one up and try it.
Why? Simple. If a manuscript has huge paragraphs that go on for pages, or lots of empty space that’s the result of too much conversation, the agent in question can tell if the writer still needs time to hone their work.
The same can be said for the dialogue in a manuscript. Agents will randomly sample dialogue to see if it feels real to them. If it doesn’t, that novel goes into a stack to be rejected.

“That’s not fair! They don’t even give my manuscript a chance?”

Err, yeah. That was your chance.

“I can’t believe this! My book is the best thing that ever happened to the publishing industry!”

Maybe….but if you don’t know how to tell that story in a way that excites the agent, then there’s a very good chance it won’t excite the reading public. Agents are really good at their job, by the way. And they’ve been the gateway to getting published since the early 90’s.
Publishers, I would think, love good agents. They filter out the crap manuscripts, and generally make an editor’s job much, much easier. So get used to that fact.
If you’ve been rejected by an agent, however, don’t give up. Please remember that the average agent receives between 100 and 300 book ideas each week, and a lot of those ideas are tired and overused. Your idea should truly be fresh, just to get noticed.
Another thing to remember as well….what one agent hates another agent might adore.

A Few Things Readers Hate.

Right now, at this moment in time, we are very fortunate. We have one book - later made into a craptastic movie - that covers everything readers hate. I Am Number Four by James Frey, a known literary fraud.
Mr. Frey, looking to cash in on the Young Adult market, believed that wrapping up Percy Jackson and Harry Potter with whatever else he could steal would poop out into a bestseller. It ain’t quite that easy.
If you are guilty of the following, then you should rethink your book. Seriously.

A. Your main character has special powers that only seem to fit the moment in need. Powers shouldn’t be random. More importantly, your hero - whether there is magic involved or he’s a normal person - should have a clearly defined weakness. Yes, I’m looking at you, Frey.
B. You wrote your hero into a corner and used a conveniently timed - earthquake/ tsunami/ tornado/ circus midget/ whatever - to get that character out of a jam. More on this later, lazy writer. Yes, I’m looking at you, Frey.
C. Your villains are about as scary as the average Juggalo concert attendee/ Your main villain is so evil my bunny slippers just ran for cover. Yes, I’m looking at you, Frey.
D. You spent so much time setting up a sequel that not only does your ending suck, but your entire novel feels flat. Yes, I’m looking at you, Frey.

Let’s look at some facts that are surely a gauge of success, shall we? Harry Potter novels spawned eight fantastic movies. Good job.
Percy Jackson churned out one okay movie with the slim possibility of a second - not bad for a story originally written down simply to please the author’s 5-year-old son. Good job.

And I Am Number Four? The novel became a movie that tanked here in the states, but did well overseas. The reviews? Roger Ebert wrote, “…..shameless and unnecessary….”
Dreamworks executives, I think, would rather set their own balls on fire rather than mess with this crap again. Bad job, go back and try again.

I, like most of the reading public, enjoy a good yarn.

It doesn’t have to be perfect by any means. Ludlum’s Bourne series wasn’t, but I still couldn’t put those books down. Barry Eisler’s John Rain - a fantastic anti-hero. John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport - a charismatic protagonist. Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta - always a treat when she cuts open a decomposing body.

Each of these writers has something in common besides being very successful.

They’ve invented strong main characters that thrive well in stand-alone novels that happen to be part of a series. There is nothing wrong with a series. We readers want to keep enjoying our heroes in brand new adventures. At least, I do.
As a writer, I don’t do sequels. But I do write spinoffs, which is more fun for me. In my first book a Swedish super angel, Sabine Mellde, makes an extremely brief appearance. She’s the main character in book two. My second book was literally spawned in an attempt to give angels a bit of humanity. You just never know where inspiration will come from.

You do want your heart dictates. A series? A stand-alone book? A spinoff? It’s up to you, but whatever it is, do it well. There is no excuse for some of the rubbish coming out today.

We have been overrun by vampires, werewolves, trolls and elves that feel exactly like the vampires, werewolves, trolls and elves we’ve seen before. What does that mean? It all seems the same old, same old. There are no fresh takes anymore.

Heck, I’m even guilty.

My entire fiction collection is about extraordinary dead people who work for God in some capacity or another. My first book was written as God in the first person. Talk about delusions of grandeur.
No, there is nothing wrong with a good vampire story. Notice the good part. Or an exciting new take on werewolves. But please, and this is important, pay attention to what sells.

Directors of the films we enjoy, along with Hollywood executives, have to compromise to make a buck. Heaven’s Gate is a great example of a movie from a director that didn’t compromise his vision. And this film, this fine and magnificent passion from Michael Cimino, tanked so badly it put United Artists out of business. In today’s dollars it cost 150 million to make and earned a mere nine million. The director, whose reputation was ruined forever, had won an Academy Award just a year earlier.

The same standards for a movie that entertains us are the same for a good novel. They both must appeal to a large audience. They both should have engaging characters and an intriguing plot. And they both must suck you in with a strong opening, an interesting middle, and a thought-provoking ending.

A heart-pounding movie trailer fills theater seats on opening day. And like a good movie trailer, the first three pages of your novel should make your reader’s mouth water for more.

“Three! Did you say three? I thought it was twenty pages.”

Oh, it used to be twenty pages. Back in 1885.

Today’s audience is very different from the readers and movie-goers of just fifteen years ago. The Internet and smart-phones changed all of that - not to mention Twitter and Facebook. The audience you are trying to reach can be influenced in a matter of seconds by today’s technology. Remember that. A bad review can be transmitted to 100,000 potential readers of your work in the time it takes to blink an eye.

You need to accept this and adapt.

Before I published my first book, I put it on a shelf for three years. When I took this masterpiece down (I’m being sarcastic) I edited out 12,000 words. That’s right…12,000 delicious heart-rending words that meant more to me than life itself. But those words made the opening boring, they slowed down the overall story and they contributed nothing. They had to go.

You do what ya gotta do.

What have we learned? You can’t cut corners, take shortcuts, or rely on other authors for inspiration. The reading public knows. They expect originality, vision and clever characters - as well as perky dialogue - that feel real to them.
An excellent example would be the person of Harry Potter, a very likable young man - and the ultimate underdog. Sure, that series of books is an easy example to use…but can you think of a better one? I personally am not a huge fan of magic, that being said, I like very much how Rowling’s series encouraged children to get excited about books again.

Back to the underdog.

Everyone loves an underdog. You gain a readers trust through their heartstrings, without a shadow of a doubt. Give them a main character they love and cherish and they’ll stick with you forever. A case in point would be the children of Hogwarts. An entire world watched them grow up over the past decade.

I very rarely pick on other writers (unless it’s Frey, which is almost too easy) but I am going to give you a clear, honest opinion about something. And I’m about to make a few enemies, but some things must be said.

In 2025, the youngest Harry Potter fans of today will be passing down the books and movies to their children with love and excitement. And again in 2040. Those works hit the mark with the accuracy of a Tomahawk missile, being a well-told story of magic, friendship, and the little guy in us all winning against terrible odds.

But what of the Twilight novels and movies in 2025? Yes, they made a buttload of money recently, but how will they hold up to the test of time? You know what I mean; the shoddy writing and the mouth-breathing blank-stare performance given by Kristen Stewart. Will Bella/Edward fans share their passion with their kids in the future?

I’m thinking….not so much.

What are you favorite 
film adaptations?

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