Like many of you, I’ve written a novel. Well, several novels, but I have one in an extremely marketable genre with all the bells and whistles. The query letter knocks agents’ socks off and most I query ask for the manuscript … and it hasn’t gone any further than that so far. Sigh …
The problem with the process is that agents simply don’t have the time (or the responsibility) to tell us why our work is rejected, short of the standard comments. “Not right for our agency” or “Not interested at this time” is absolutely no help. Of course, I understand how overworked and pressed these people are to find only the most profitable possibilities where taking on an author is concerned. But all too often the discouragement can be devastating.
Nope, this isn’t a blog about sticking it out and never giving up. It’s an entry about finding a solution.
I watch Top Chef. Being a retired chef, I love the show for a variety of reasons, but oddly enough, last night’s show crossed over into a new and different look at my novel. The contestants were challenged with taking a traditional recipe and deconstructing it. The goal is that the diner tours the various ingredients on the plate and when they’ve eaten it all, they get the flavor and emotion evoked by the original, calssic recipe. That made me wonder; is it time to deconstruct and rebuild my novel? In pondering this concept, I realized that I have already explored several possible tools to do just that, all I need to do is put them to work.
Here’s what I mean …
- Get a Mentor. Seriously. If you don’t have a mentor you really are floundering in the dark. Get a mentor but not just any mentor, a great mentor! Someone who knows not only how to write very, very well and sell their work, but also understands your genre. Having a mentor and using that mentor are two different things. Listening means nothing unless you put the advice into action. Yes it takes a little time to trust someone, especially if they tell you something that directly contradicts what you imagine was important and vital to the story. My best advice? Bite the bullet, swallow your ego and try. You always keep your original work, so where’s the harm in testing a suggestion? You’re no worse for the attempt and chances are, your work will be far better for it. Everything I learned from my mentor falls under the category of Deconstruction and Rebuilding.
- Back Story. Maybe you have a prolog or perhaps your book starts with something you feel sets the tone or tells a part of the story a reader may not understand. In many cases, opening a novel with back story simply slows it to a crawl. Not a good thing if your goal is to trap a reader in your imaginative lair and hold them there through 300+ pages. Remove the back story and plant it carefully within the text of your story, preferably within action/dialog scenes.
- The Dreaded Head Hopping Curse. Good gravy, I learned so much about this in one simple statement from my mentor, it made my own head spin. It’s one thing to have a sharp eye against incorrectly shifting POV, but head hopping is another nasty animal all together. It’s not something a writer should never do, but it is something a writer must do carefully. The key is to be inside the RIGHT head. It’s far simpler than I originally thought and here’s the trick. An event should always come from inside the head of the character who has the most to lose in that scene. Well DUH. If you’re anything like me, you have several scenes that should be rewritten this way to create a far more powerful story, scene by scene.
- Twenty-five Reasons, All in a Row. When starting a novel, everyone, even Dan Brown, gets caught up with the exciting energy of writing. Somewhere in the process we all step back and ask, “Where are we going? What was the point again?” Many authors have no issues working blind; they have an inner compass that pulls them from A to Z. Many of us aren’t quite like that. Some of us outline, some mind map, some make charts and graphs. All that is way too time consuming for me. Then someone told me an easy trick to getting started. (After all, getting started is the point, right? Can’t finish without beginning.) Here’s the coolest tool I’ve learned in a long time. Sit down and write twenty-five sentences on separate lines that basically tell your story from beginning to end. It may only take ten, it may take thirty, but get from start to finish in simple statements. There. Now you have a prompt for each and every chapter, in order and clearly guiding you through the conflicts and climax of your novel. Neat, huh?
- Co-Stars and Supporting Cast. Do you have a habit of falling in love with your supporting characters too? Sometimes a character is so much fun to write we tend to float that way, making the character more important than s/he needs to be and unfortunately, throwing the story off keel. I have a few I should seriously back off with, but there are also a few who are planned for the next book in the series, so approaching the supporting characters thoughtfully is major. If my reader falls in love with a secondary character because I unintentionally led them that way and that character has no real importance … the story suffers. I think this falls under the category of “kill your babies”. Painful but necessary.
- Get Readers and Listen to Them. Again, listening and doing something about what’s being said is two different things. In my mind, if a reader (friend, family member or crit buddy) asks a question about a character or event and I have to give a ten minute explanation … something just isn’t right with the manuscript. I do have a policy though, I wait until the reader has read and made notes on the whole manuscript before I begin addressing those questions. It saves me a little anguish during the process. It helps more to hear “you foreshadowed, “or “this came out of left field” than, “where’s this going?” before they’ve read the next page. Either way, it’s vital to hear what readers find cumbersome or misleading and do something about it.
- Set a Timeline. Yes, you need all the input you can get in order to begin a deconstruction and rebuilding process, but set a time limit for gathering that information. Continually thinking that one more reader or one more mentor should be found before you begin the work falls under that bad category of Procrastination. We writers are real good at that. Procrastination evolves into writers block then we’re screwed, big time. So determine a finite deadline for collecting as many well focused comments as you can gather then just do it. Put your head down and fingers to the keyboard, dismantle the entire book and make the changes.
- After the Rebuilding? Exactly, what happens next? It seems it will depend on the writer. For me, I’ll go back to my mentor and readers for a review of the changes. If it seems positive, I’ll begin the query process again. It’ll be finger-crossing and nail-biting time here in my little home office but that’s what it’s all about. And in the process of deconstructing and rebuilding, I will have become a sharper writer. I’m game, D-day for the Deconstruct is tomorrow.
- Setting the Goal. One month is my goal. November 1, 2009. The rebuilding will be finished and polished by then and I’ll be moving ahead.
Um … pray for me, everyone. Now, where did I put those work gloves?