Thursday, March 31, 2011

Show and Tell

 A while back I completed a WIP that finally gave me that feeling of being something special.  After typing “The End”, I allowed it to sit and marinate before reopening it for a harsh edit.  I focused on tightening the pace and polishing it to a decent draft shine.  With a smile, I shipped it off to my first non-family beta and prayed for a glowing response. 

What I got was an education in the difference between showing and telling:

“The ratio is too high on the side of telling. Yes, you have an intricate and different world. No, we don't need to be told all about it up front, and we never need to hear about it as though we're sitting in a lecture hall. Your MC lives in your world. There are a lot of things he's going to take for granted and not talk about, and other things the reader can pick up from interaction and dialogue.”*

Ladies and gentlemen, truer words have never been spoken.  Show, don’t tell.

Telling it easy. It’s the boom-boom that gets an emotion or plot line out in the open. And sometimes you simply have to tell some stuff. 

The question is how much is too much? When do you cross the line? How do you know the difference? 

Movies are a good educator for show vs tell. What does the MC look like when he/she is seething with anger? When they are sad? The subtlety of a look or slight change in posture telegraphs their emotions to the viewers with more emphasis than simply stating how they feel.  It is artful and viewers connect with the characters on a deeper level.  

Readers are no different. We want to be enticed, wooed, and surprised. We want hints of what is to come and experience the joy, sorrow, or frustrations along with the characters. We want stories that envelope us in the world or plot, so much so that we cannot put the book down at 2 in the morning. Many of us are picky and our once interest is lost, we may set a story down for good.

Luckily, showing can be learned. Our stories might tell more than show, but it is something that can be overcome. Those of us behind the keyboard may not always realize the difference, but between experience, education, and some helpful outside eyes, we will eventually point ourselves in the right direction. 

*Quoted with permission from the reviewer.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Betas: The Unsung Heroes of Writing

Prior to joining Absolute Write, the only time I'd heard the term "beta" was in relation to testing computer systems.  Microsoft would "beta" a new operating system or Blizzard would offer "beta realms" for players to test updates, patches, and overall playability. 

But writing? No way.

Now, however, the word carries a great deal of weight and shadows the previous definition.  A Beta Reader is one who will take your draft and apply their outside eyes to it.  A good one is golden and invaluable to improving a manuscript.  Yes they catch spelling and grammar errors (curse you spell-check!), but more importantly they can find things like small plot holes, messy dialogue tags, showing versus telling, and pace issues.  Much of what they discover are elements that diminish the story as a whole.  Whether it be flow, tempo, or simple "rookie" mistakes, they are problems that the writer often overlooks because they are so close to the work.  Betas, however, bring an external viewpoint that is often critical when trying to take a story from decent to excellent.  

Granted, there are horror stories from would-be writers about awful or crooked betas and determining the difference between bad and good can be tricky if you don't know the person.  A way around this is by cultivating professional friendship in the writing arena.  Getting to know others with a similar passion who are willing, able, and most importantly, capable is a big step in the right direction.  AW is a great place to look, but they can be found in writing/critique groups, other forums, etc. 

A person doesn't need a beta to make a story great, but they are often an invaluable, and free, "service" that I highly recommend.  Additionally, it's worth the effort to try your hand at being a beta as well.  Not only is critiquing someone else's work an excellent and professional return favor, but it can also help you avoid some mistakes in future endeavors.   

Ultimately, betas are some of the greatest unsung heroes of the writing world.  They read our slop and then help us polish it into a shine.

And usually for no other reason than the love of writing. 

For that, we thank you.

(Indeed, you are.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Contest - Spreading the Word

For those interstested, Shelley Watter's is hosting a Twitter Pitch contest: 140 characters to pitch your MS.  It's only open to unagented writers with a completed MS. Winner gets a full MS request from Suzie Townsend (Fine Print Lit).  The games begin on April 1 and 2 with final submission to her blog on April 3rd.

Sounds like an interseting idea. 

For complete rules, regulations, and other amazing details, here is the LINK!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Not Just One, the Right One

Last night I was at dinner with the Future Mrs and the family when I received an e-mail on my smart phone from an agent.  The initial burst of excitement was immediately replaced with “well crud” after discovering it was a form rejection.  What’s interesting is that I had forgotten about the query since it was sent a long time ago.  Long before I handed my MS to betas.  Quality-wise, the pages I’d sent were telling and not showing which, as one AW friend said, waves the “Rookie Card.”  Heck, after re-reading the pages, I would have rejected them.

I’m sure we’ve all been there.    

That being said, it’s important not to get too down on yourself.  Writing, like a lot of things, takes time, patience, and a thick skin.  It’s hard to create a plot and develop characters.  It’s even harder to get those concepts down on paper in a logical, orderly fashion.  Then, once it’s all together, you have to tighten it, make it interesting, and create pages that pop. 

But even after the story is polished to a shine, the real journey begins.  Rejection after rejection may pour in (depending on the agent’s policy for query notifications) and the ego can take quite a beating.  “How can anyone not love this thing?” you wonder. 

The reality is that all it takes is one agent: the right one. 

When I first mentioned my intent to write something worthy of querying to agents, an author friend of mine gave me the following advice:  “You don’t want just any-old-agent.  You want someone who you’re excited about.  More important, you want someone who is excited about you.” 

It’s funny, but there are a lot of parallels between writing and dating. There are literally millions of people out there that you could be content with, but only a few that have that special spark.  They are the ones that you’re not only excited about, but are also excited about you. And many times, the path that ultimately leads you to them isn’t easy, but worth it in the end. 

Rejections sting, no matter how thick your skin, but everyone gets them.  Agents may pass on your story and sometimes you may need to rework and re-polish it.  But finding that one agent who loves it will make the entire trip worth while.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Rule of Firsts

A fellow AWer made a post this morning that reminded me of a conversation I had with my father when I was starting my previous career.  He told me about The Rule of Firsts:

"The first day is the hardest, but the next isn't as bad.  The first week is the hardest, but the next one is much easier.  Then the first month.  Then the first year.  Focus on getting through that 'first' and you'll be fine."

Same applies to writing.  The first MS is a huge learning experience, but your second is a lot easier because you've learned how to create characters, develop a plot, smooth pacing, exercise your voice,etc.  And since you've actually completed something, it's not as daunting to do it again.  Short stories, flash fiction, writing prompts, etc, all help develop the skills.

This is where tenacity plays a role in writing.  Accept that the first manuscript is the hardest and get through it. The first submission to an agent/publisher (and subsequently the first rejection) is also painful, yet necessary hills to climb.  Few writers make it big on their first try.  Maybe you'll get published and maybe you won't, but quitting before you overcome a hurdle guarantees the latter.  Be tenacious and remember that each milestone is a huge step forward to the end goal.  All you need is to get past that first.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Are You a Writer?

Last month I attended a writing conference and found myself in a conversation with a lady who works for a literary review journal. 

"So are you a writer?" she asked.

I laughed.  "That's like asking if I'm a golfer.  I own clubs and love to play, but I don't consider myself a golfer." 

Same applies to writing, at least for me. Writers are people who do this thing daily, have a voice in the literary world, and maybe make some money in the process.  They weave intricate stories with complex, compelling characters.  Their novels are impossible to put down.  Classifying myself in the same category just seems wrong.

At the same time, however, I consider myself a beekeeper because I own and work hives, yet I don't make a living off the honey.  It's a hobby (correction: a backyard science!), but I proudly display the small certificate for completing the local club's beekeeping course. When people ask, "Are you a beekeeper?", I answer with an emphatic, "Yes!"

So that got me thinking: what is the definition of a writer?  Do you have to earn a living, or at least have something published, in order to wear the title?  Or is simply the love/passion for writing enough to allow the average would-be-author to proudly call themselves "A Writer"? 

What say you?  Are you a writer?