The Live Pitch

If you’ve followed the blog for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve heard me whine about how ridiculously hard the query writing part of the process is. And. It. Is.

But if it’s really true that more people would rather die than speak in public, then a truly terrifying part of this writing process comes in the combination of public speaking your query.

Only you don’t have a nice page to explain your book. You have about a paragraph + answers for questions, some you might have expected, many you haven’t.

WHY DO A LIVE PITCH IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Seriously? Why wouldn’t you? Okay, I know it can be very intimidating if not terrifying, but realize this: a live-pitch is like moving your query from the slush pile to the front of the line. You are guaranteed that agent’s full attention for a few minutes. Your story gets the best possible consideration amidst the hundreds if not thousands of queries they get on a regular basis.

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LUW Conference – Notes Part 6

It’s the final post, the final notes, the final bits of advice. So what did I decide to attend?

POETICS IN PROSE

Okay, so what image does that title evoke in your mind? Why would I choose such a class? Because, dear readers, I have a couple of elderly ladies who come to our writers group sometimes. Both of them are poets, though their poems aren’t the traditional this-rhymes-with-that sort. What I notice every time they read their work is I feel drenched in powerful imagery. I feel strong emotion. I feel like I could leap into a beautiful colorful world. And so I thought, I should read more poetry and see if that doesn’t influence my writing. Because a poet, at least the ones I read, must choose their words carefully. They are great at showing you what they want you to see vs. the telling we novelists sometimes fall prey to.

So, having all this in mind, I went to the Poetics forum, taught by a man named Jack Remick. He really fits the caricature, in my mind, of what a poetic prose writer would look like. And he really knew his stuff.

Why the long intro? Because I know some of you may be put off by this idea, by poetics in prose. You just want to write commercial fiction, and this seems something that belongs to those literary types. But I believe letting something like this influence your writing can help set you above the other commercial fiction writers. And who’s to say you won’t write something literary in the future anyway? Keep the door open on all writing friends. Besides, I think this session helped me better understand the mechanics of sentences and why they do what they do and shouldn’t we all want to know how to do that if we’re serious about writing?

THE NOTES

In great writing there are three important things: story, structure, and style. Listen to your characters. Write the story they want to tell you, not the story you want to write. Why do some stories grab you and won’t let you go? The hook isn’t just in the story, but in the attitude and style.

What the character “can’t have” is a central point of conflict in the story. Want, need, and can’t lead to action.

We’re going to do something called Structured Timed Writing to help develop the techniques of style—Beat, Breath, Rhythm, as well as Attitude and Voice.

Rhythm: short sentences, fragments, long sentences.
Rhetorical devices: three kinds of repetition.
Attitude and Voice: strong verbs and concrete nouns give you voice and attitude and style.

REMEMBER. Adverbs not only kill prose, they hide images. Adverbs tell the reader what to feel.

The longer you write the more you need structure. Inherent in structure is rhythm. That gets us to style.

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LUW Conference – Notes Part 4

PLOT DEVELOPMENT by Maxwell Alexander Drake

Accept what type of writer you are. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter or a little bit of both, know how you work and work with yourself. If you must outline things and spend time on the front end plotting out arcs and character development, spend the time and get it right. If you prefer flying by the seat of your pants and discovering what your story is by writing it with lots of rewrites later, go for it. Either way if you think about it, you’ll be doing the same amount of work either on the front end or the back end, but neither way provides a shortcut (if you want the best story possible).

And know that if you do outline you don’t have to stick to it like it’s written in stone. If your muse takes your story in a different direction, let it. Likewise as a pantser, if you get to a point where you need to take some time and write a few things down, it’s okay to do that too.

Being prepared as a writer does cut down on writer’s block (in Max’s experience). He prefers working out the details up front so that he has a good idea of where he’s going when he does finally sit down to write it.

Create a story that resonates with the reader. As yourself: Is this story going to have an impact on the reader? It’s okay to write things for yourself, but if you’re in the business of making a living off of your writing you’re going to have to consider your audience and what will resonate with them. You can’t just right things solely for the purpose of pleasing yourself. Although you should still be passionate about your project, otherwise it won’t be a good story.

SO YOU HAVE AN IDEA FOR A STORY. WHAT NOW? (as a plotter)

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LUW Conference – Notes Part 2

Loads of notes to go, so be prepared for tips, tips, and MOARRR tips!

WHY DOES POV MATTER?

POV is the lens through which your story is being told. It’s the battery of the story, it’s what drives the story in the first place. POV can make or break a story. Let’s start with Harry Potter (because as Kate and I know, Harry Potter is the best example for everything).

Why is Harry the POV character? How does Harry provide the right lens? How does Harry provide the battery? With Harry we have an outsider so it seems natural for Harry to have things explained to him—which in turn are explained to us. If it was the POV of, say, Ron Weasley, he wouldn’t wonder about the magic of his world because he grew up with it.

Let’s go over the types of POVs:

FIRST PERSON. It is the most common in youth fiction. But it can be easily flubbed. Some of the pros are you can be right in the character’s head and feel what they feel. But some of the cons are your story is limited in its perspective. Even though first person is common in youth fiction, don’t automatically default to it. Take time to weigh all the options and decide whether this perspective is actually best for your story.

But before writing in in first person, learn how to do 3rd person well FIRST!

SECOND PERSON. Unless you want to continue on writing some Choose Your Own Adventure books, don’t. Just don’t.

THIRD PERSON (omniscient).  In this POV, the narrator can see all things at all times. It commonly moves between heads. The master narrator knows all.

WARNING: Today’s readers aren’t familiar with it. Which means, especially for newer writers, this is a very dangerous road to tread down. Avoid omniscient unless: 1) You were born by 1920, 2) You have the other POVs down, 3) You have a publishing track record and fan base will stick with you, 4) Your last name is Sanderson (as in Brandon Sanderson).

NOTE: Most new writers mistake third person omniscient for the ability to headhop. This is NOT third person omniscient. For a good example of TPO, read Watership Down.

THIRD PERSON (limited). You are in one character’s head at a time. You can vary it by changing how close the mental camera is. It is the most common POV today. When in doubt, use third person limited.

Okay, you’ve chosen third person limited, but exactly how many characters can you narrate from? How many is too many? A good rule of thumb is just two or three but not more than four at the max. The reason for this is your reader’s need someone to empathize with and root for. If you have too many characters they need to get to know they won’t be able to build up a connection with any of them and won’t have any interest in the story overall.

When picking the right POV for the story or the scene ask yourself: who has the most to lose in this story/scene?

But DON’T CHEAT!

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Death Is Not the Worst Thing

At least not in storytelling it isn’t. If you’ve read any of his books or attended any of his workshops, you know this is a big point of Donald Maass. How can you make it worse?

Part of our job as writers is to torture our poor protagonists and often their friends and family as well. Sometimes we hesitate to take our stories to the level it needs to be because we like our protagonists. Why let them suffer so much?

Because it doesn’t make for a good story. Sorry, that’s the rub.

We like stories because we like to see conflict overcome. Triumph attained. Some kind of new understanding gleaned. In my opinion this is because we hope those issues in our own lives will come to some kind of catharsis in our lives or just a resolution that makes sense. So it’s relieving to read about others’ troubles and trials because typically stories have a resolution, whereas our lives may continue on troubled for some time.

That’s why what our protagonist is after should be harder and harder to attain the further we get into our story. Something should keep getting in their way, and each time something does it should make things worse.

Since hearing the advice, how can you make it worse for your character, I’ve come to new ideas I’m not sure I would have come up with otherwise. But the other side of that is remembering, death is not the worst thing. For our main characters, death must be off the table—as a result, not as a fear.

Firstly, if your protagonist dies, end of story—unless of course you’re doing some freaky ghost realm back and forth story. But when I say death, I mean no longer available to act in your story. Also, death can often merciful for a character. They can no longer be tortured, whether physically or mentally, by something.

When we’re crafting story, remember death is not the worst thing.

Do you torture your poor protagonists? Do you try and apply the “how can I make it worse” principle? Or has this philosophy helped spark any new ideas for your story? Have you read any Donald Maass or listened to him? Anything you would add?

How Star Trek Helps Us with Showing Rather than Telling

Remember how we were talking about showing vs. telling on Monday? Well here’s another great blog post that explains the idea marvelously—especially if you’re any kind of Star Trek geek.

Kristen Lamb's Blog

While I’m running my tail off in NYC spreading the WANA love, Marcy offered to step in and help. She knew the two words that instantly would capture my heart. Star. Trek.

Take it away Marcy!

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You’ve heard the advice show, don’t tell until you can’t stand to hear it anymore. Yet all writers still seem to struggle with it. I think one of the reasons is we lack a clear way of understanding the difference between showing and telling. And that’s where Star Trek comes in to save the day.

Showing happens when we let the reader experience things for themselves, through the perspective of the characters. Jeff Gerke, editor-in-chief at Marcher Lord Press, explains showing in one simple question: Can the camera see it?

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 8.15.46 AM

While I love that way of looking at it, we’d have to really say, can the camera see it, hear it, smell it…

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Cleverness Has an Expiration Date

I’ve been watching a lot of stuff on Hulu lately (especially FMA, thanks a lot Gloria!), so I see way more commercials than I have in a long time—especially since I gave up cable.

I’ve noticed an interesting movement between two competitors, namely Geico and Progressive. They want your money, folks, and they don’t mind bombarding us with ads in the process. Let’s face it, now Hulu is a good chunk of their age range.

Now before you start to *yawn* and click to another page, understand there’s a lesson about cleverness here. And that lesson is, cleverness always has an expiration date. It just may last a little longer for some things than others.

PROGRESSIVE

I don’t even remember the days of Progressive before Flo. According to Wikipedia, she started making her appearance in 2008—and she’s still here 5 years later folks. (Though some are speculating she may soon get the axe…)

They say this was her first ad:

However you feel about Flo, I think she was a clever piece of advertizing—for awhile. She seemed like a regular person, someone like us that we could relate to while navigating this car insurance-a-rama—and if Progressive can really get it figured out, all the better.

GEICO

Take Geico, who did something similar, promoting a familiar face we’d associate with their insurance. A gekko. Geico, gekko, get it? Waaaaaahooooo! Mostly I’d find the mute button or another channel whenever this badly formed CG lump came on. (Oddly enough born of a SAG strike in 1999). But over the years they’ve tried a number of things all the while poking fun at our cultural foibles, be it overzealous PC efforts exemplified in the Caveman spots, geekery in the voiceover ads, and a bit more recently, the rhetorical questions.

Some things they’ve tried have been not so great, but they keep changing it up. In fact, the How Happy Are They spots are among my favorite. Very tongue-in-cheek and many of them still make me smile. My two favs:

Coming in close seconds were the Dikembe Mutombo one and the recent Pillsbury Doughboy one.

Meanwhile…

Progressive is still using Flo. Woot.

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