Thursday, August 25, 2016

Writer's Block

I thought I would share some of what one of my writers was going through during the last several days, although I think the picture above says a ton.

We have all probably heard the expression, writing with blinders on, or something similar. If you are not familiar with this expression, it is referring back to the the device equestrian people put on horses known as blinders or blinkers. The idea is that the horse cannot see things on either side of their face. It is used to keep the horse from being distracted. Now while this sounds great for the horses, this is not an expression that works well with people. 

When people are operating with blinders on, they tend to only see things one way. Obviously, if you want to be focused, it might work great, but when those blinders are preventing you from seeing a better path, then you are going to run into serious issues,

That is where my writer has been.

She is in the early stages of prepping a proposal for a new line. The initial premise of the story sounds really good, however, after she gets past the beginning of the story, things fall horribly apart. The plot line starts taking off in multiple directions. Every time she adds a plot twist to it to fix the problem, it creates multiple issues. For you mythology people - think hydra here. 

It was not pretty.

And get this, we have only been working with the synopsis and the first three chapters.

So, after the first read through and I saw a lot of the issues, we attempted to tighten the story up. In other words, we tried to cut off that mess before it occurred. I made some recommendations for the changes, gave her some focused, re-aimed her in the right direction and she was off and writing. 

I had a feeling things might not be going the right way when I got on Facebook yesterday and saw images such as:

But with this author, she has always worked through it, so I went back to my own work and figured it would just take care of itself.

And then I get the new version of the synopsis. I get reading it immediately and the first half was great, BUT THEN..... here comes the Hydra again. This time that monster was uglier and really taking over. What happened!!

Sure enough, the author was writing with blinders on. We had fixed the issues in the middle that would have taken care of the problems, but because she saw the ending involving certain plot elements, everything she did would lead to that mess. She couldn't see the solution on her own.

For this author, she would often go to other critique partners and work out the issues, but this time, she was doing it on her own. There is nothing wrong with that, but the outside help had to be there to potentially talk her through it.

After I sorted out the mess, that sort of looked like.

I gave her a call and we talked it through. Sure enough that ending was the issue. We eliminated it (something that was fairly easy) and everything worked out fine. 

The point of this tale is simple. Writing is not a solitary activity. You cannot expect to write a great novel and do it entirely on your own. You need critique partners. You need outside help. You need those editors and agents to see things you didn't see the first time. Trust these people and save yourself some time. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Conflict vs. Complication

This is a repost from earlier, but after the round of submissions I have been reading this morning, I felt it was a good reminder.

I have been seeing a lot of this lately in submissions. Authors are confusing the idea of conflict vs.
complication. I am constantly asking myself, "so why don't they fix it?' or "so why aren't they together?" Instead, the author goes on and on, making up excuse after excuse to keep the story going but there still is no real conflict.

Let's start with the basics. A complication, which is the one we see the most of in stories, is simply a bump in the road. It's easy to see a complication with real life issues. 
  • You are driving down the road and a road crew has a flagger stopping traffic to allow that digger to move dirt.
  • You need to bake cookies and realize you need an egg or two.
  • You are getting ready to set the table for Thanksgiving dinner and realize you forgot to turn on the dishwasher so you have no clean dishes.
These are complications. These are issues that have an easy solution. Each one simply requires you to do something different, or to take one additional step to fix the problem. With the flagger, you wait an additional 1-2 minutes; with the cookies, you run to the store, or even easier, run next door; with the dishwasher, you go "old school" and wash what you need. See? Easy fixes.

When it comes to stories, I am seeing the exact same thing. Authors are going on for pages and pages making a big deal out of something that could have been easily fixed. When you have the heroine worrying about getting the paperwork filed to open up her cupcake store - solution, fill the stupid stuff out and turn it in; when the hero and heroine want to get together but are worried what the other person might think - solution, they talk. Again, these are all easy complications.

I recently read a story where I spent the first part of the book wondering just why this relationship didn't happen. The heroine had been engaged to one guy for several years (they planned on it in their early days of college), but now that guy is away on business, and keeps saying, we will get together eventually after, after, after.... She really has fallen out of love with him a while ago and doesn't really ever think they will get married. She wants out. The hero, who happens to be the best friend of the jerk fiance has always liked and probably loved the heroine but never did anything about it. When the heroine wants to break up with the fiance, the hero spends the time trying to convince her not to. Of course she realizes that she has always liked him. Solution is easy, but nooooo, the author tries for 2/3 of a 100,000 word book to make this a conflict.

This book simply drags because there is no conflict. Everyone wants the same thing but the author doesn't want them to have their solution because she has a 100,000 word count to make for her editor and the book could have been finished in easily 50,000-60,000 words:
  • Heroine says she wants out of engagement.
  • Jerk hero is fine with it since he has been fine with it for some time.
  • Hero uses this as an "in" to the girl he likes.
  • Heroine already liked the hero.
  • And they lived happily ever after.
A conflict, however has a lot more at stake. The characters will be faced with a solution that is not that easy to make. The stakes are so high that there is a chance someone will have to lose out on something, and that something will be much more than a sense of pride. 

Let's say that we have a hero and heroine who are both in the corporate world. Their jobs might be in the same general profession but nothing has really stood in the way of each getting what they want as well as having a relationship. But now one of the two has a chance for a job that is what he or she had always been dreaming of. This is money, prestige, advancement and everything. The issue is that it will be with a rival company with a no fraternization policy.
  • Take the job and the relationship has to end.
  • Take the job and the other person has to quit his or her job.
  • Keep the relationship and turn down the work 
This is not something that can easily be fixed. This is a conflict. In this case, it is an external conflict but it does stand in the way of the characters moving ahead with what they want to achieve - their GOALS. 

When an author works with a real conflict in the story, the readers now have an invested interest in the characters and the plot. They want the two of them together and are now working hard to find the solution to the problem WITH the characters. The readers keep turning the pages wanting to know how the character will really get out of this mess.

There is one word of warning here. If you make the conflict so hard to overcome, and your only solution is to bring in an "act of God" to fix the problem, your readers will be very disappointed in you. They want the characters to figure their way out of the mess, and they don't want that "surprise" solution to just pop out of thin air. An example of this would be a family who is about to lose their home due to finances but mysteriously, a distant relative in another country, who they didn't know about, dies and the one of the characters is the only relative left so the 5.5 billion dollars is now their money. Um, yeah, right! That's believable.  Keep your solutions on planet Earth. Make the conflicts tough and make the characters fight for it, but make the conflicts real. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Change Is The Only Constant

We like to keep things the way they are right now. We find that happy, comfortable space and we simply don't want to give it up. Think about it right now. Walk around your house and you will see evidence of it. That comfy chair that is really not in the best of shape, but it's great for a good book and a cup of coffee in the morning. The coffee cup with the stains on it. Your "go to" sweatshirt for serious writing days. For me, I'm fighting with a cell phone that keeps shutting off (hoping it is just a battery because I really like this one). The point is, we don't like change.

But it is going to happen. 
Change is a huge constant in the publishing industry. The market is in a constant state of change. One week a genre is hot, and then the next week, no one wants to buy it. Think of it. When Chick-lit first came out, everyone wanted it. But then we hit this point that using that term to label your book meant death to that proposal. Oh sure, we tried to label the stories differently calling it "romantic comedies" but we all knew what we were doing. We were trying to keep alive something that was ready for a change. 

As writers, you have to be constantly ready for change. It is going to happen. If you just try and keep track of editor changes at publishers, you will fully understand. Just when you think everything looks great, you read a notice that Ms. Amazing Editor has now moved from Publisher X to Publisher Y!!!! Really? You had a proposal all ready for this person. You prepped everything and now she's gone. To add to this, she is now in a genre you don't write. 

One of my writers has seen just this. When she first started she signed with Avalon Books. This was a great company, but sure enough, she ended up going through 3 editors for those 5 books she wrote for them. But that was fine, because she ended up with another publisher. Since that time she has been through 5 editors (she just got news she is on to a new editor today) NOTE: Actually, I don't think she knows this yet because I haven't gotten a phone call about it. Wait for the screaming!

I am not worried about this writer, however. She is in good hands and she has always handled change well. That first 24 hours is tough, but she works through it.

If you are someone who wants to get into publishing, or you plan to stay in this business, you need to be prepared for change. It is going to happen. And, I promise you, it will happen when you least expect it. Be prepared for it!

And if you can't handle those sudden twists, turns and unexpected changes, this might not be the business for you.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Publishing Is About Taking Risks

There are no promises in publishing. There is no way we can make predictions on what great trends will happen in the coming year. Agents and editors are asked this at every panel I have ever seen or sat in on. "So, what do you see at the future for..."

When editors and agents sign on clients, they are doing so trusting a gut instinct. We THINK this might have potential. We THINK this new idea will fly. We THINK this author will have the stamina to pursue a career of the long haul. But these are all just guesses. We are taking a risk on you. And yes, that risk is going to cost the editors and agents.

  • For agents, it is the time and energy, working for free, to get that that story ready and then to get it out to the editors.
  • For publishers, it is the advance they sent to you, gambling that the book will sell, and the the time and energy that they put into the project.
I wanted you to think about that side of the equation before I dove into what risks, you as authors, need to be taking.

As you write those stories, you have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone every now and then. Yes, writing what you always write is an easy route. You know what you are capable of doing and you can be comfortable writing it. But that pushing yourself to try to do different things with your stories is what will make you a stronger writer.

I don't know how many authors I have heard complain that their editors/publishers are "wanting them to write something that they are not comfortable with." The view this as an infringement on their craft and personal voice. In reality, what they should be seeing is the editors/publishers (and yes, even agents) trying to shape your career and give them something that might potentially prove to be great. 

It is a risk the author has to take. Writers cannot say that idea will not work. Remember, none of us can make that promise.

One of my clients was asked by her editor to spice some things up with her stories. Right now, her novels are pretty dang hot, but the editor wanted to "push the barrier a bit." I knew where the editor wanted to go, and I knew the writer could do it. But, as I read the partial, I could see she was holding back. This was a risk she was struggling with. So, we talked about it and worked through some potential directions she could go with the story.

But, to make it work, means she has to take that risk.

My son struggles with this. He s a swimmer and a dang fussy eater. We know something happened when he was young but now, food is scary to him. He sticks with the things he knows works and that is it. Does it get boring? Yep! Does he get frustrated? Yep! Is he willing to take that leap of faith. Right now the answer is no. We cannot push him to do it because it is up to him and his own personal motivation to take that leap. Only time will tell if he accepts that risk!

All authors have had to take that leap of faith. They had to take the risk to send out that first story for a critique. They had to send out that story to an editor or an agent as a submission. They had to take that risk and sign up for a pitch appointment. Would it work out? They didn't know at the time. Some did and some didn't. The point is, you don't know until you try it. 

So, what risk are you going to take this week. Let me know how that goes!