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Archive for the category “Agents”

Getting Close to Your Characters

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic workshop at the Writers in Progress studio in beautiful Florence, Massachusetts. Led by author Jacqueline Sheehan, the workshop was called “Getting Close to Your Characters.”

Anyone who’s struggled with bringing characters and their motivations (real and hidden) to life knows what we’re talking about. It ain’t easy.

Character-Motivations-Header-605x300

The studio described the challenge this way:

One of the main reasons why readers read is to slip inside the skin of another person. The most memorable characters are those we feel closest to: the ones whose feelings we feel and whose lives we experience…. But how do writers accomplish this intimacy while thinking about so many other things, like plot and pacing and character development?

Jacqueline keeps her workshops grounded in exercises and techniques that writers can immediately put to use. In fact, I went home and did exactly that in my novel draft.

We delved into point-of-view, motivation, physical setting, and verb tense as conduits to create intimacy between character and reader. I can’t put down all the good stuff I soaked up, but here are a few gems that REALLY struck me.

  • Characters need STRONG and CLEAR motivations in order to engage readers. Ratchet up the intensity of their desire. One common complaint among literary agents, Jacqueline says, is characters that are too PASSIVE.

So, the question becomes how we skillfully develop characters to SHOW the intensity of their motivation, and by extension, who they really are. Some techniques to get you there:

  • Engage the senses, make reading experiential. Sight, sound, and touch are of course important, but don’t forget the other sense. Smelling what a character smells, or tasting, gets the reader up personal and inside what the character is experiencing. Scent especially is a very primal sense, evoking memories and states of mind in an instant.
  • Let characters be vulnerable to pain. “Being stoic is not going to work,” as Jacqueline puts it. Show the reader how they react to fear, betrayal, abandonment, loss. “It’s very revealing how we respond to those hard things,” says Jacqueline, who, by the way, is also a psychologist. “Your core is revealed.” Help readers feel what your characters feel and they’ll go along for the ride.
  • Use powerful verbs! Brain imaging has shown that when you watch someone doing active things, the same part of your brain lights up as the person doing the action. So, if they leap, you take a mental leap. The same holds true for readers. So, don’t breathe heavily, pant or gasp or instead.
  • Use actions, not thoughts, to bring readers into a character’s mind. Watching someone throw a punch or flip the finger in traffic is a more telling display of their emotional state than saying their angry, even if they’re “quaking with angry.”

Character-motivation-quote-Kazuo-Ishiguro

  • A good tip—use verbs that are associated with sex; they’re already sensual and evocative!

–Karen

 

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Anthology Seeks Tales of Triumph

A new season brings a new lineup of writing contests. We’d like to bring one to the attention of aspiring, and established, writers, because it’s being judged by none other than my Write Despite co-host Cathy Cruise.

Possibilities Publishing Company’s 2018 Anthology Contest is looking for stories–both fiction and nonfiction–that deal with the theme of triumph.In the publisher’s words, they’re seeking “those moments of triumph, of victory, of doing the things that seemed un-doable. It can be the types of triumphs that everyone relates to, or something that only mattered to one person. Victories that are earth shattering or just day brightening. We want them all.”

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Possibilities is the press that published Cathy’s book, and we all saw what a super nice job they did. They really crank the publicity machine for their authors. Just last week, Cathy found out her book has been named a finalist in the 2018 Indie Book Awards.

Cathy, and her co-judge Jennifer Crawford, will do a bang-up job, and they’re actively seeking submissions! So, get yours in pronto. Submission deadline is July 15.

Now, if you’re not fortunate enough at the moment to be telling stories of victory, there are plenty of other, diverse contests out there. Here’s just a small sample. Good luck!

–Karen

Midway Journal’s 1,000-Below Flash Prose and Poetry Contest
Entry fee: $10
Deadline: May 31, 2018
$500 + publication first prize, and other lesser prizes
Submit up to 1,000 words of flash, 40 words or poetry.
http://midwayjournal.com/contest/

American Fiction AwardsPost-Publication awards for full-length fiction book
Deadline: May 31, 2018
Entry fee: $69.00 per title/per category
Open to all books published between 2016 and 2018.
http://americanbookfest.com/americanfictionawards.html

Golden Walkman Magazine Contest
Entry fee: $10
Deadline: July 31, 2018
Winning manuscript published solely as an audiobook, and awarded a sum of money (to be determined by the success of the contest).
Submit no more than 30 pages of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or hybrid.
https://www.goldwalkmag.com/audiochapbook-contest.html

Sequestrum New Writer Awards
Entry fee: $15
Deadline: October 15, 2018
$200 first prize, and other lesser prizes
Open to fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from new and emerging writers.
http://www.sequestrum.org/contests

 

 

 

 

 

Commercial? Upmarket? Literary?

Of course we all know the differences, right?

Maybe.

Way, deep down.

But in case you’re curious to see them explained succinctly, in colorful little infographics with real-world examples no less, take a glance at these little gems.

Originally posted by Women Fiction Writers, who credit agent Carly Watters for their creation. God love them.

commercial fiction

upmarket fiction copy

literary fiction copy

Networks and Breakthroughs

Nancy Young, author of Seeing Things, has published a variety of work in a range of genres. She was kind nice enough to share her publishing secrets with us. Please welcome Nancy to Write Despite!Seeing Things 200x300

Learn more about Nancy’s work

NY

 

 

 

 

 

Please tell us about your “breakthrough” publication—that first publication that felt really significant to you. (of course, goodness knows, they’re all significant!)

I’ve published in many genres over the years, but I think that having my novel Seeing Things accepted for publication made me feel that I’d arrived as a writer. I wrote the kind of book I want to read and can rarely find—one that has rounded characters, suspense, romance, humor, and a plot that I haven’t read before. The book goes beyond plot to explore the idea that we choose what we see—not just in the paranormal realm, but in all the realms of our lives. I spent a year crafting and polishing Seeing Things, tweaking chapter after chapter, incorporating suggestions from a dream team of writers. By the time I was ready to send that baby out into the world, it felt like I was sending a kid off to college.

How long had you been writing before you published a piece?

My first piece published in print was a short story that appeared in a junior high literary magazine! I think I was twelve.

What was you reaction upon learning your piece was accepted? Disbelief? Joy?

When I learned that Seeing Things had been accepted, I jumped up and down screaming, then ran around the house, totally alarming the family.  Our cat didn’t recover for days.

How do you go about trying to place your work? How do you choose markets?

That depends on what I’m writing. If I have a new poem or short story, I send it to an editor whose taste runs to what I’ve written. For instance, one editor might like political satire, while another publishes nature poetry. If I have a newspaper article about an author, I send it to local papers and to publishers for posting on their sites. If I have a play, I submit it to whatever group I’m aligned with at the moment. For this novel, I surveyed the requirements of various publishers, read articles on publishing, found publishers and imprints that matched the novel I’d written, and submitted the manuscript to two or three houses before the last one accepted it. I don’t think I consciously chose a market, but I now realize how vital knowing your market is.

Any advice for writers still working for their “breakthroughs?”

First, network. You can meet other writers and editors at various readings. Sometimes editors will hear a piece at an open mic and request it. Small presses are easier to break into that large ones. If you write romance, joining a chapter of the Romance Writers of America can prove very helpful.  Finally, pick an editor who deals with books like yours and learn to write the query letter, since an unsolicited manuscript generally winds up in a publisher’s slush pile.

 

Agent Revisited

I recently sat in on a panel with Jeff Kleinman—again. He’s the agent from Folio Literary Management I wrote about last year. If you missed that post, here it is. He gives lots of great information for submitting novels to agents, especially literary fiction, and had a few new insights this year. But even what I got from the panel last year bears repeating.

 

mistakesOn Biggest Mistakes

Kleinman has four must-haves for writers who submit to his agency:

1) Premise – You MUST have a logline, even if you don’t use it in your submissions. You have to know it in your head because it will help you hone in on your book. Too many good writers don’t have a real sense of what their book is about. A logline, as he explains it, is much like the statement you see on a movie poster. For Splash it was: “Boy meets girl. She’s a fish.”

2) Characters – You get rejected mainly because agents DON’T FALL IN LOVE with anyone in your book. That means you didn’t do a good enough job of bringing your characters to life. Go deeper! Interview your character with crazy questions and keep asking him or her why.

3) Momentum – Make sure words serve to turn pages. Understand what your reader wants to know next.

4) VOICE. This can’t be stressed enough. In commercial fiction it’s what’s most important and it’s a huge problem for many writers. Ask yourself how you can focus and drill down to get something that’s distinctive. Establish voice in the first three to four sentences. There has to be an authority in the voice that the reader buys into.

Also, there’s this. People read for three things: Character, voice and plot. Kleinman suggested reading The Goldfinch as a great current example of all three. The painting in this book, he says, is the plot device that carries the story forward.

 

On Rejection Lettersrejection cartoon

If you’re getting:

All form rejections—Then your premise needs work. It doesn’t sound at all interesting.

“Minimal” rejections, as in “Hey, it’s not right for me”—Then your writing is stronger but you still don’t have a great premise.

Personalized rejections—Then clearly something is starting to work. They want to engage with you more. Now you’re likely done with your query letter—it’s probably good enough.

Requests for the first 50 pages—This is the basic minimal amount that gauges their interest in you and it means you have a strong premise. They’re willing to go further.

Requests for the full manuscript and they still reject it—Then it’s always, always CHARACTER. You didn’t engage the agent enough with your characters, especially the main one.

 

On Queries

query envelopeYour query letter should state:

– Why you’re writing to that particular agent.

– Who you are, and how you met the agent, if you did.

– Your contact info.

– What your book’s about—one to two sentences only. Your synopsis will provide the rest.

And hey, get this: He says not to sweat the synopsis too much: “We usually only ask for a synopsis to ensure you’ve written the whole thing.” We suspected as much, didn’t we?

 

Notable QuotesQuotation-Mark

 

“All agents can do is point out that you’re bleeding. We don’t necessarily know where you’re bleeding from. You have to know how to fix it.”

“Agents want to help you improve your book, but only when you’ve taken it as far as you can. Make sure it’s as ready as you can make it.”

 

Key Recommendation

Paperlet, an online writer community, not only allows readers to comment on and edit each other’s work, but actually helps you “build” your story by walking you through the basic structural steps. Check it out at www.paperlet.com.

Hope you find this stuff as useful as I did, everyone. Write well!

–Cathy

 

 

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