Friday, November 7, 2014

First Chapter Faux Pas

I’ve often heard people say, “Everything’s been done before.” As a writer, I’d like to believe that’s just not true. Although, there are a few openers that tend to get overplayed and agents are getting bored.

You’re opening is the most important part of your novel. It’s more than just an opportunity to impress the masses with your wit, although that’s fun too, it’s your chance to hook the reader. The first reader you need to grip is an agent and they’ve read probably every scenario possible.

Below is a list I’ve complied from interviews on the web and excerpts from the, 2015 Guide to Literary Agents.

In short, here are the things that agents are sick of seeing in the first chapter of our scripts.

In depth character descriptions- Don’t forget, the reason we read is because we love to use our imagination. If you allow the reader to conjure up their own version of the character, they will grow an attachment and connect to your story better.

Overtly busy character doing things nonrelated to the plot- such as washing dishes, tying shoes, staring at things, pondering, a.k.a the false action. The idea is to start your story with the defining moment that changes your characters lives and their course of action.

The super cliché- Dream sequences either having or waking, weather reference, the mysterious phone call, the psycho lurking in the shadows, the funeral, we have five minutes to disarm this bomb, the MC dies and story cuts to x amount of months earlier, the hangover, and the dead hooker in bed. I think you pretty much get the picture here. Basically, don't start your novel the way every movie has ever started.

The unbelievable characters- The perfect specimen of untouchable, with windswept hair and eyes the color of some form of nature. They never F-up thus readers can't relate. Let the reader know your characters are human too (unless of course they're not humans). Every being has flaws, show that as well and build sympathy.

The backstory that could very well be a stand-alone short story- I'm sure your character's past is very interesting, or they wouldn't be an awesome MC, but the point of each chapter (especially the first chapter) is to carry the plot onward. A backstory is just as it sounds, a trip back.

The dreaded Info-Dump- If you have two or more consecutive sentences full of heavy description about one person/place/object, you're info dumping. Sneak that stuff in along the way, who wants to buy the cow if your giving away milk left and right.

The whiny MC- If you were around a person who spent all day sighing, tsking, huffing, and puffing, you might want to slap them. Don’t make the reader want to slap your characters. Do a search in your word document for the word sigh, you might be surprised.

Are you guilty of cliché writing? I was, was being the key word. Take a good look at your first chapter and dive into the depths of your imagination, so you don't end up in the rejection pile.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Query Resources

Querying can be quite overwhelming, especially for a new writer. You find yourself thinking, what do agents want, how should I format, who can help? The cloud of uncertainty grows so thick your mind starts to spiral.

That was your mistake #1, and mine too. Overthinking can ruin a great pitch, which is essentially what you have to do. Pitch your work.

To put yourself in an agent’s shoes, walk into your local bookstore. Upon opening the door, you’re bombarded with concepts of all kinds. You automatically gravitate towards your favorite genres and browse the back cover. What catches your eye? What about that description makes you buy the book? That’s the aspects you have to incorporate into your query letter. Now, a little research can go a long way and I’m gonna help you cheat.

Here are a few links for site’s I’ve found most valuable when constructing a query:

QueryShark- This site provides hundreds of examples of real queries with critiques, so you'll know what works and what doesn't.

QueryFaerie - Much like QueryShark, only not as extensive.

FreeE-book - Noah Lukeman's, How to Write a Great Query Letter. A lot of info on what should and shouldn't be included in a query letter, and format hints. I downloaded a copy from the Google play store and heard it's available on iTunes as well.

For more personalized assistance with query letters, I've found the many Twitter writing events to be the greatest asset.

TheFabulousBrendaDrake - Author extraordinaire, Brenda Drake, hosts contests such as Pitch Wars, Pitch Madness, The Writer's Voice, and the #PitMad Twitter pitch parties. During Pitch Wars, even though I was not selected, I received feedback (from 4 different esteemed writers) on my query and first five pages. Major advantage!

MindyMcGinnis - Not only an intriguing writer, Ms. McGinnis, offers query critiques to a follower of her blog every Saturday in her Saturday Slash.

MichelleHauck - Along with a slew of other talented authors, Michelle Hauck, hosts many Twitter events (too many to mention, check her out) such as Pitch Slam, Query Kombat and #NoQs (Nightmare on Query Street). Win or lose participants always walk away with new writing tips and techniques, and quite possibly a new critique partner.

MissSnarksFirstVictim - Besides her entertaining blogs, The Authoress, hosts Secret Agent Contests, The Bakers Dozen Agent Auction, and a variety of in-house critique sessions throughout the year.

There are infinite sources of query wisdom out there so research, keep an open mind to criticism, and perfect that letter. As to the rest of the novel, next week I'll post a complete list of opening line clichés straight from the mouths of agents.  


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What I've learned from querying

So you did it, you wrote a novel. Congratulations, that is a big deal. Most people dream of writing a novel but very few actually do, and you’re in that club.

I bet you thought the hard part was over, then you found out about query letters. At least, that’s how it happened for me. As a new writer, with zero contacts or friends within the industry, I constructed my very first query letter. Not exactly certain what I was doing, I took some advice from a trusted friend (who never worked in the publishing industry, doesn’t know any writers, and doesn’t even enjoy reading). He said, and I quote, “Just send it to everyone.”

DO NOT just send it to everyone, because chances are your very first query letter sucks. I know that’s horrible, I’m a horrible person. Of course your query letter is awesome, you wrote it and how can anything you penned ever fail. However, unfortunately, you’re not writing to yourself. You’re writing to top of their class, ivy-league, college graduates and they get 50+ query letters a day. If they see one comma out of place, they’re getting tuning off. Multiple grammar errors and it’s a pass. They haven’t even gotten to the guts of your pitch, and they never will.

Well now, you might be thinking ‘That’s messed up!’ but in truth, it’s just the business (and although writing is an art form, it is still a business). Not only are you competing with the hundreds of other querying writers, but you’re also fighting against their current clients.

So what’s an emerging writer to do you ask. I’m no expert, far from it in fact, but my best advice (based on my own blunders) is to test the waters. Limit yourself to around ten queries per query letter. If you’re not getting any hits, chances are the letter is flawed in some way.

Play with your pitch. You want to make sure you are conveying the right information for your genre. If your book is a romance, focus on the steamy elements. If you've got a thriller make the query more tense. Twitter can be a great source of feedback. You can find many writers under the #amwriting #amediting #amquerying hashtags who are eager to swap queries and give valuable insight.

In short, take it slow and research, research, research because once you’ve burned through your sacred lists of agents, it’s gone forever. At least until next script.  

Good luck fellow writers and remember, slow and steady wins the race!