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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mission Success: Laurie's Journal

We Were All Witnesses

Watching the tenth anniversary coverage of 9/11--the disaster, the recovery, the building of the memorial and rebuilding of the site, there was one quote that really stuck in my mind.

Whether we watched from nearby,
or from very far away,
we were all witnesses.

What happened that day forever changed our country, our perspective, our world, our future and each of us, individually. Every life was impacted in some way—from monumental to minor—but we were all touched by the tragic events of senseless hatred, and by the explosion of compassion and patriotism that followed.

What does not kill us makes us stronger.

Indeed.

Laurie’s Journal

So where am I with my writing?

Struggling.

Two weeks ago I set myself some very ambitious goals, in retrospect probably much too ambitious, to complete my third novel by the end of October. It seemed realistic enough.  The novel is 90% complete and although it needs a significant trim (over 40,000 words), I didn't see that as a major roadblock. Since then, I realized my assessment was far too optimistic. It's going to require a lot more work than I anticipated. (Drat!)

So I’ve slipped into mental reconstruction mode and lost a lot of time at the keyboard while I work out where the story needs to go and where it needs to be. I keep reminding myself it's all just part of the process, but sometimes that whiney little inner voice of doubt tries to drown out my confidence by shouting, "Maybe I should just quit."  Buck up, soldier. Time to regroup.

That which does not kill our dreams makes them stronger.

An Experiment

I participated in an exercise on a writer's site that was both enlightening and confidence-shaking. This is how it worked:

Participants submitted up to 1,000 words of the opening of a manuscript to a special queue. All submissions were anonymous.

Then critiquers (also anonymous) would act as “editors” perusing a slush pile. They would tell the writer exactly where they stopped reading in a few words.

The anonymous factor worked well for me, because I think it made for some very honest, no-holds-barred feedback. It also resulted in a few cryptic and sometimes amusing comments. I was informed in no uncertain terms that it was completely unacceptable to include a grandfather’s clock in a SF story.

My opening got dinged for a long list of reasons including:
  • passive verb
  • too much technology
  • not enough technology
  • self-consciously geeky technology (Ha! Love it.)
  • clunky dialogue
  • didn’t like character's nickname
  • not enough backstory
  • too much backstory
  • didn't like the last sentence
  • too much foreshadowing
  • telekinetics should be spelled telekinesis (two different things)
  • Too much romance chat for SF (the battle rages on)
  • and doesn't want to read about character’s relationship problems in SF 
So now that all of my writerly faults have been laid bare, let me reclaim my dignity by announcing ten critiquers read all the way to the close. (Hey, that means I just got ten requests. Woot!) It was a great illustration of how subjective each reader’s and/or professional’s reactions can be. Although not all feedback I received was helpful, I learned a lot and it gave me some great insights on what does and doesn’t hook a reader (or an editor) when they begin a story.

I also had my shot at the slush pile. My biggest reason for stopping was that a submission was so wordy it took five sentences to say something that should have taken only a few words.  (Don't throw tomatoes!  I took voice, tone, style and genre into consideration.) My second most frequent reason was a failure to connect with the character/s.

Beginnings

So what does make for a great beginning? I'm going to be investigating that question in the next week. Unfortunately, I missed a timely presentation by the amazing Darynda Jones at my RWA chapter meeting on Saturday, but she was sweet enough to send me the handouts.  I also have a few promising web sites to investigate.  I hope to post more soon.

5 comments:

  1. I love how about half the feedback you got contradicts the other half - too much tech/too little tech?! This was something that came up regularly in the forums when I was studying creative writing, and our tutor told us we just had to decide which was the appropriate line to follow. But good to know your 'apparent' faults aren't stopping them from reading to the end. Looking forward to those future posts. :)

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  2. Interesting that the only comments that weren't subjective (ie. "what I like as a reader") were "passive verb", "clunky dialogue", "self-consciously geeky technology" (addresses how, not what) and "too much foreshadowing". Everything else just expresses the reviewers' opinions of what they like in anyone's story--not very useful as a critique of yours. Just goes to show that editing/critiquing is a fine art. A good CP is worth her weight in gold and a good editor is platinum.

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  3. Pippa, yes! I also chuckle over the absolute opposites I sometimes get in judges' comments. Just shows how subjective it all is.

    Donna, although not as useful as a solid critique by a CP it was interesting to read that many opinions (I had almost 40) and there were a few worthwhile suggestions and ideas in there too, so it wasn't a waste of time. I may play again with one of my more polished manuscripts to see if the outcome is any different.

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  4. What a clever idea! Don't you love it when you get exactly opposite reactions from multiple critiquers/agents/editors? Happens to me frighteningly often.
    I got another "pass" from an agent today--she didn't love the manuscript enough. At least I've been around this business long enough by now to know that I don't want an agent unless she adores my manucript. Write on!

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  5. That experiment sounds terrifying. Brave you for exposing yourself to it.

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