Monday, July 23, 2018

The Indiana Jones Rule by Author Eileen Dreyer

The Indiana Jones Rule

          It all started when I found myself three chapters into a book by a new author who was making the single most frequent mistake new authors make (and yeah. I did, too). It wasn’t that the writing wasn’t good. It was. Descriptive, insightful, full of life. It wasn’t that I didn’t think the story might become compelling. But it was the third chapter and nothing had happened.
          I was trying to decide how much time I was going to give the author to get to the point before bailing, when suddenly the heroine steps out of a door to be met by a guy holding a gun.
          Bingo. Beginning.
          Then why had I already been reading for three chapters? Because the author wanted me to care about her character so that it mattered when she got into trouble. This translated into 60 pages of backstory of her family, her career, her tragic lost love, her wandering a bad neighborhood to help a child. The book opened on the way to the beginning of the book.
          The first three chapters were really for the author. That was when she got to know her character, motivations, conflict. But the action hadn’t started. And especially in this day and age of frenetic media, nobody waits through the pages spent on the way to the beginning.
           She should have opened the book at the gun. She could have sprinkled the rest in as the story moved along(my critique partner Elizabeth Grayson calls it Peppering the Stew). But the first thing a writer must do is to hook the reader. I call it the Indiana Jones Rule, or Write as you Fish. If you want to write a book that keeps your reader turning the pages, you should start right where the action starts, or, as one teacher said, where the protagonist’s life changes forever. You hook the reader and then slowly reel them in for the rest of the book.
Image result for indiana jones 
          So. Indiana Jones. Think of The Lost Ark. Where does it start? Where Indie is teaching? Where he’s in his house talking to people, or in the hallway talking to the professor so we know exactly who he is by the time a big rock is chasing him? Nope. We start with the rock. What we know about Indie is that he’s handsome and cool and has a whip. And, we know his weakness is that he hates snakes(and if we’re good writers, we know those snakes will show up again later). We meet his enemy and know they’ll have more adventures.
          It’s only after twelve minutes that we find out that in his real life Indie is a mild-mannered Midwestern archeology professor who is bemused that the girls think he’s cute. We see  his co-workers; we see his house. Now we get exactly why Indie was in S. America in a cave.
          But if the movie had started in that classroom, we would have been bored long before the rock.

          In my first novel, A Stranger’s Smile, my heroine was the heir to a great steel family who should have spent her days in glamorous idleness. But she has left all that to become a country nurse in Appalachia. I so wanted my readers to root for her right away; to know what was at stake for her. The book opened with her riding her horse back up to her cabin. It’s fall and hawks are circling, the foliage is changing, chimney smoke is rising, and she’s thinking about her former life and  how much she’s changed. How she is tired and sore from her work, but she’d rather be there. But when she arrives at her cabin, it’s to find a neighbor waiting with a telegram from her family, dragging her right back into her old world. Before she can do anything, another neighbor shows up to tell her a man has fallen off a cliff in the nearby national park, and can she help rescue him?
          I had two very good friends who beta read for me. They both gave the manuscript back to me and said, “Gorgeous writing. I could really see the setting, I understood who she was. Throw it out.”
          As you can imagine, I objected. I defended my heroine, my words, my  circling hawks.
          “Throw it out,” they said again. “We really don’t care.”
          I rewrote that opening five times, each time winnowing away more and more of the opening, per my friends’ suggestions. I murdered my darlings.
          Want to know where the book ended up opening? With the line; “Ya know, it’s been a long time since I’ve had the chance to undress a handsome man.” She’s at the bottom of the cliff in the windy dark assessing the fallen man by flashlight.  The injured man is dressed like a businessman and unconscious, so he’s a puzzle. She’s attracted, of course, but she knows better.
          That version of the book sold in 48 hour (it’s out of print, which is good, because the rest is in need of revision).
          Hook your audience. Set up the puzzle with some action(and not necessarily guns or chases. A meeting. A confrontation. The moment of change). Give us a hint of who our character is; a hint of what the conflict is, the motivations, the enemy. Do it in the first chapter. But don’t give away all the secrets. That’s what the reeling in is all about. The secrets you hint at put suspense into every book. They make your audience turn pages to find the answers that one by one will lead them right to the black moment when the biggest secret is revealed.
          One more thing. Every rule is broken. You either break them big or you follow them until you have a reputation. A classic example of this rule being broken is the movie Up. It’s genius because the very thing that makes that movie so special is what wrecks so many books. They get away with it because they’re genius. I’m not. So I followed the rules til I made my rep. THEN I broke them. Big. But then, A Stranger’s Smile was forty books ago. 

New York Times bestselling, award-winning author Eileen Dreyer  has published 41 fiction novels in most genres, and will soon publish her first non-fiction book, TRAVELS WITH DAVE, an account of the pilgrimage she and friends have been making to take the ashes of a friend around the world. 

 A retired trauma nurse, she still lives in St. Louis with her family. She has animals but refuses to subject them to the limelight.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Try Something New

As authors, we often get caught in a trap of our own making. We get in a rut, writing the same genres, the same lengths. For some, this can lead to writer's block. For others, it may not cause problems, but it may limit how much stretching and learning you're doing within your craft.

In order to hone your craft, it's important that you keep learning. Whether that means reading craft books, attending writer's conferences, or simply trying new things.

1. Craft Books

One of the top craft books is Stephen King's On Writing. You don't have to write horror for this book to be helpful, because it's not genre specific. King was a teacher and professor, and brings that to his craft memoir.

Another book I hear recommended quite a bit is Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. If you've ever been to one of his workshops, you know he can fire up an entire room of people, and his books aren't any different.

Bird by Bird is a good book on craft. It's by Anne Lamott, who brings humor and inspiration together in a guide to the writing life.

Two more I'd recommend are The Art of Character, by David Corbett, and Cheryl St. John's Writing With Emotion, Tension, & Conflict. Both are well written and do a great job addressing their specific topics.

2. Writer's Conferences

For those lucky enough to have a local writer's conference, that's the best place to start. It's easier when you're in a familiar place and not having to mess with flights and transportation. If it's close enough, you won't even need a hotel, making it as inexpensive as possible. If you have to travel for it, I'd recommend finding a general writing conference if you're a newer author, and a genre specific conference if you're past the basics. Try to research those you've seen friends recommending, and don't be afraid to ask them directly about the conference to see what they have to say.

3. Trying Something New

This one's easy and cheap. In fact, it's free! Do you typically write novels? Try a short story, flash fiction, poetry, or essay. Do you usually write a specific genre? Consider giving another genre a go. If you usually write mystery, try your hand at a romance. If you usually write memoir, try a fantasy piece. Write in a different world than your own. Make yourself uncomfortable.

If you need help trying something new, look for writing prompts online. Writer's Digest has some, but there are many beyond that. If you're on Instagram, search for prompts. You'll find a ton. Who knows? Maybe it will lead to your next great story.

What do you do to further your writing education? What books would you recommend on craft? Have you attended any conferences you'd recommend? Have you stretched yourself by trying something new recently?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Editing and Working With an Editor by Mary Kole

As an editor, what are the types of editing a freelance editor might offer, and what are the differences (like developmental editing, etc.)?

The two main services you’ll see offered are developmental, or line, editing, and proofreading or copyediting. In broad strokes, these terms are interchangeable. I do developmental editing, which means feedback on the content rather than simple corrections of grammar or punctuation. This entails commenting on small and large issues of character, plot, voice and writing style. Most writers need this kind of feedback to move their work to the next level, because everyone has blind spots when it comes to their own work. Almost anyone can proofread, that’s not where the art of editing comes into play. Developmental editing is so much more involved than knowing how to use a semi-colon. The editor’s ideas about the writing craft, their experience with the publishing marketplace—these are the things that will differentiate those editors working today. Try to find someone who you really resonate with, and whose outlook on writing you trust.

What have been the benefits/drawbacks of switching from the position of agent to editing?

I love every moment of my career as a freelance editor. Agents wear a lot of hats. We work with clients on their manuscripts, we network with publishing house editors, we negotiate contracts, we liaise between clients and various checkpoints along the road to publication, we pitch to editors and subrights agents, we comb endlessly through the slush... I would find myself always wanting to just work with writers on their projects. To wear one hat and wear it well. That had always been the most rewarding and exciting part for me. Once I left NYC, I decided I couldn’t be an asset to my agenting clients without having “boots on the ground”. So I dove fully into my favorite part of agenting—working with writers one on one to transform their project. I would say that I miss New York and I miss the high of fielding calls from Hollywood or organizing a multi-publisher auction. There was a time in my life for that, and I’m so grateful to have had those experiences. They make me an asset to my editorial clients. Now I wear my one hat, and I love it!

What questions should someone ask an editor they're considering working with?

Feeling out an editor can be tricky. After all, if an editor doesn’t have the vision to contribute to your project, their impressive resume and glossy website won’t matter. But the editor isn’t likely to give out their editorial feedback for free. They are, after all, in the business of commenting on your work, so their comments are their service. Most editors will give free samples, at least for their upper tier services. Some will get on the phone for an introductory call. Find out your potential editor’s policies and get as much information up front as you can. Be wary of editors who don’t ask to see your work ahead of agreeing to work with you. Even if they don’t offer a ton of free advice up front, they should at least review your material to see if it’s a good fit for them. Anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves an editor. Don’t hesitate to ask for their experience, if it’s not obvious from their self-promotion efforts. Good starting points are an English degree, MFA, or relevant publishing experience. If you’re on the fence, don’t hesitate to ask for referrals to past clients. Editors often can’t show you examples of work they’ve edited because it’s the creative product of another client and it may not be published yet. But a good and trustworthy editor should have no problem providing some names of previous customers.

What makes one piece of writing stand out more than another?

I’d say that confidence is a very important quality that is obvious on the page. If a writer is over-explaining what they’re doing or trying too hard to write in a “literary” way to make sure everyone knows their skill level, this is transparent and a huge turn-off. Take for example:

“I don’t know what to do,” he said, shrugging in ambivalence and confusion. Then he glanced off into the undulating waves and the gloaming of oncoming night that mirrored the turbulence in his heart.

Yuck! If he’s saying “I don’t know what to do”, we don’t need him shrugging, and we certainly don’t need both “ambivalence” AND “confusion”. It’s completely redundant. This example hits the reader over the head. “Undulating” and “the gloaming of oncoming night” try way too hard to sound “writer-y”. And “mirrored the turbulence in his heart” is just melodramatic. Not to mention that it’s telling, again, because the reader already knows the character is confused.

I see many passages like this one. If your biggest objective when you come to the page is to prove that you’re a good writer, it will show. Relax, trust yourself, trust your reader, and focus on telling a good story instead.

What are the five biggest mistakes writers make?

Telling is by far the biggest issue that I encounter in aspiring manuscripts. I talk about what telling means and why it’s toxic here: What Show Don't Tell Really Means.

As I mentioned above, overwriting really gets in the way of a genuine story that you’re trying to tell. It’s very hard to have confidence, especially if you’re unproven, but try to dial your efforts back if you’ve ever been accused of “purple prose” or similar.

Passive protagonists are a novel-killer. If your character isn’t driving the story with their wants and needs, and is instead simply reacting to things thrown their way by the plot, readers will find it very difficult to become invested in their story. Even if the story is about a character facing drastic outside forces, let them take control of what they can, even in small ways. Otherwise, they’re just a crash test dummy.

In the same vein, a lack of emotional connection to the character nips many promising stories in the bud. I discuss my concept of “interiority” and why it’s so important here: What Interiority is and Why it Matters.

Finally, and this isn’t just a craft issue: Most writers hammer away at one story for many years. While I admire this level of dedication, it can sometimes stall a writer’s progress. They get in the rut of working with what’s on the page, so they become afraid to make big changes or take big risks. The best thing, really, if you’re suffering rejection or feel stuck in a writing rut, is to work on something new. That’s not to say your existing project is hopeless, but a new idea is always good for your craft. Plus, most agents and publishers will want to see multiple projects, or at least the potential for more ideas. If you hit a wall with one manuscript, start another. Keep learning and growing, and you will go far!

For editorial services, writing and publishing tips, and more, visit Mary Kole’s award-winning sites:
Kid Lit (writing and publishing children's books)
Mary Kole (editorial and consulting services)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

July Is In Full Swing. Pitchers Ready?

Welcome to the start of another month and with it a chance to let your insecurities fly free.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 3 posting of the IWSG are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne!

2018 is now half over and that could bring forth some reflection. Are you where you wanted to be? Where do you see yourself at the end of the year? Maybe with a winning pitch? You could make it happen in a few weeks. The #IWSGPit is nearly upon us. Authors have caught the eyes of publishers and agents during the last two pitches. This time all eyes could be on you. Are you prepared?

Find all the details here. Lots of time left to get those pitches just right for the over 1000 agents and publishers watching.

Will you be one of the over 5000 tweets, or more, for #IWSGPit like last time?

That also leads into the optional question for the month.

What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

Time is constant change. It can bring more or less. Goals can align or be completely upended. But there is always a chance for more. For instance.

The genre is young adult romance and the theme will be announced September 5th.

Now it is time to let your insecurities flow for another month. Let us know in whatever way you choose. We are here to leave you secure in the knowledge that your insecurities can be shared with our expanding community.