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A writing friend sent me this question: “Are you a writer because of your distinctive ideas, the volume of material you produce, or because of a call or skill or gift?”
None of the above. I’m a writer because I write. It’s my venue for sharing truth and beauty and all that is important to me. It’s how I express myself. My friend Rebecca is a singer because she puts herself into her songwriting and musical performance. My buddy Brad is a doctor because that’s how he connects to the world and shares himself and his abilities. Maybe that constitutes a calling — it’s certainly a gift. But I’ve always seen books and words as a reflection of who I am. Some of us have to write, the way others have to sing or run or paint or speak or run or lead. With me, words tend to pour out.
The thing that doesn’t get talked about very much is the fact that not everybody can be a writer, and few of us can ever be great writers. I’m all for writing conferences, because I often get to meet and encourage diamonds in the rough. And I’m a big supporter of mentor/protégé relationships because they allow an experienced person to share with an inexperienced person. But I’ve come to believe there’s a limit to the talent that can be shared. I believe I can make a writer better, but I’m not convinced I can ever make a writer great — some people just have the gift. Some people can paint, some people can sing, some people can dance – we can write.
Occasionally I come across a writer whose talent is enormous, and it usually leaves me in awe. I love that. At a conference this past weekend, I had a chance to host a salon with one of my favorite writers, Tom Robbins — an author whom many believe
To better understand the value of a style sheet, let’s consider first the earmarks of a well-edited manuscript. Compared to an unedited manuscript (or one that has merely been proofed for typos), the following is usually true of an edited manuscript:
- The voice has been refined
- Plot clarity has been improved
- Story universe is more clearly defined
- Pacing is more consistent
- Syntax is tighter/cleaner
- Word choice is more effective
Some of these qualities are dependent on the author’s experience/writing skill– it generally takes a more practiced ear to pick up on and critique things like sentence structure, weak word choice, or inconsistent pacing. Others, however, are virtually entirely dependent on good record-keeping and a disciplined adherence to the established norms– plot and character details are vivid at first because the author wrote them that way, but they stay sharp and clear in the reader’s mind because the author kept track of and stuck to the initial rules he made for that universe/character. An author’s voice is most effective when it is consistent and clear throughout rather than weakened by distractingly inconsistent usage, punctuation, spelling, or grammar. That’s where a style sheet comes in.
What is a style sheet?
Think of a style sheet as a reference tool written especially for and tailored specifically to your manuscript. Remember the APA or MLA reference books/handouts your teachers in high school or college gave you and expected you to use when writing your papers? If a teacher wanted your paper in APA style, you consulted your APA style manual to determine whether or not to use an oxford comma, how to format a quotation, which spelling of “cancelled” to use, etc. A style sheet (and don’t be
I wrote last week about the difference between the up-close-and-personal nature of the writing perspective and the more objective, big-picture mindset needed to be an effective editor. Obviously, it can be difficult to approach your own work objectively, especially if you have strong emotional ties to the material, and as I said last week, time is the best way to gain that emotional and intellectual distance from your work– you’re much more likely to see the weaknesses in your work after letting the initial writer-high die down.
But what if you still struggle with objective, big-picture thinking even after letting your manuscript sit for days/weeks/months? How much time should you let pass, realistically, in the hope that you’ll wake up one day with a completely different perspective on your work? Truth be told, some authors will always struggle with finding the right perspective from which to edit their work, no matter how much time passes, but the good news is that there are other ways to help train yourself to approach your work like an editor rather than a writer.
Cleanse Your Palate.
If you have any experience on the fine dining scene, you’ve probably had meals at which a palate-cleanser was served between courses– a beverage or a sorbet intended to rid your mouth of any lingering flavors from one course before another was served so that the next course wasn’t “tainted” by leftover, clashing flavors. Obviously, if you waited a day between courses, all traces of one course would disappear from your mouth before you tasted the next one, but a palate-cleanser lets you enjoy the flavors of two dissimilar courses to the fullest without having to spread your meal out over three days. In the same way, you can cleanse your editorial “palate” by
Continuing my series on being your own editor, I’m talking today about the importance of the right perspective when editing your own work, specifically the role that time plays in your editorial success.
Writing is an up-close-and-personal business. You live and breath your story while you’re writing it, spending hours with your characters while thinking about and planning your story, talking about it with friends and family or your writing group, and then when it’s time to write, your creation appears on the page literally seconds after you conceive it– writing is, in essence, a largely improvised art form. Even if you know the general direction your story is going to take, even if you plan out all the names and scenes in advance, the truth is that when the time comes to put words on paper, you’re making it up as you go along. The words that come into your head are the ones you put down on paper; that’s the only way anything ever gets written. If I sat here and waited to write my blog post until I knew every word I was going to say in exactly the order I was going to say it from beginning to end, I would die before I started a single sentence– that’s not how writing works, and many writers’ favorite thing about writing is the instantly measurable nature of it– “I wrote 1000 words today!” But while that stream-of-consciousness creation is great for getting words on the page, it’s not so good for editing.
Editing is a process in which the majority of your decisions are made on a comparative basis— this line isn’t as clear as the rest of the paragraph; this scene’s pacing is slow compared to the rest of the chapter; this character/plotline is less developed than this other one, etc. To be an effective editor, you have to train yourself to take one or
Welcome back to my Tuesday blog on craft! I’m starting a new series this week in response to several questions that have come in from authors over the past couple of months on the subject of editing your own work. If you’ve spent any amount of time on this blog in the past (or read any resource on getting published, or attended pretty much any class on writing), you know the importance of submitting a clean manuscript to an agent or editor. “One chance to make a first impression,” “These people work with words for a living,” “We’re looking for a reason to say no–” you’ve heard all the warnings, and you would never submit pages without having thoroughly proofread them, right? The problem many authors have is that they equate “proofreading” with “editing,” and while proofreading is certainly an important part of the editing process, your manuscript usually needs a lot more than just a proofreading to be ready to submit for consideration by an agent or an editor.
“But I’m a writer, not an editor!” Obviously, writing and editing are not identical tasks, and the skill sets needed to perform each one well differ enough that some authors have a really hard time putting on that “editor hat” beyond a basic proofread for punctuation and spelling typos. Some people don’t have a great eye for editing, while others flat-out just don’t like the process, and many don’t trust themselves to see their own story realistically after being so close to it throughout the writing process. I understand that it can be hard to switch gears from neck-deep-in-the-middle-of-the-action author mode to cool-and-detached objective editor mode, but as many excuses as there are for not being an editor of your own work, there are a lot more arguments in favor of developing your editorial skills.
“Can’t I just pay someone to do that?” Sure, there are plenty of great editing
Welcome to what will probably be the conclusion of my “Craft for a Conference” series (unless someone asks a question about an aspect of conference materials that I haven’t addressed already). Through my last four posts on conference craft, I repeated one mantra: that the purpose of any material you take to a conference (including spoken pitches) should be to gain the interest of the person you’re talking to as quickly as possible and to make yourself stand out from the crowd (in a positive way) as much as you can. When I meet with authors at conferences, the thing I see missing from pitches/conference materials more than anything else is that memorability factor– I read a lot of good hooks, some nice one-sheets, but at the end of a day where I’ve taken 20 appointments plus heard pitches at lunch and dinner, I’m often hard-pressed to recall ONE story idea without looking at my notes.
Now, obviously, there’s an element of information fatigue at play there; even a great, memorable story can get lost in the annals of memory if I heard ten forgettable pitches after it, and that’s what my notes are for. But when I read those notes, I want to go, “OH yeah, this one!” because I recognize the unique elements that stood out for me when you pitched it. I want you to have made it easy for me to remember it by pulling out everything that is most unique and most characteristic of that story in your one-sheet or your pitch. The fact that this doesn’t happen more often tells me not that authors aren’t writing memorable stories, but that they don’t always know how to make themselves/their pitches or materials memorable, that they don’t know what elements of their book stand out from the crowd and how to highlight those.
With that in mind, here are some places to start in your quest
I’m frequently asked where people can meet us and talk books, so if you’re traveling and want to chat sometime, look us up.
Amanda Luedeke is speaking at the Realm Makers Conference, July 7 & 8 in St Louis. For people who like science fiction and fantasy, this is a popular conference to attend. It’s held on the campus of the University of Missouri, and this year’s keynote is our good buddy Robert Liparulo.
Chip MacGregor will be at the 60th annual Pacific Northwest Writers Conference in Seattle July 16-19. We’re meeting at the SeaTac Hilton, and this year’s conference offers a a robust line up of workshops to benefit writers at all levels, from specific instruction on elements of craft to sessions on the business of writing for those writers ready to publish. A sampling of topics range from crafting a memorable villain to developing an author platform and marketing your book. (You can find the full schedule here.) There’s also a long list of agents and editors coming, plus keynotes from authors like Andre Dubus III, J.A. Jance, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Boyle, and Kevin O’Brien.
He will also be speaking at the Willamette Writers Conference, August 7 to 9 in Portland, Oregon. One of the great writing conferences on the left coast, you’ll find a long list of agents and editors, a very strong list of workshops to attend, and one of the most creative schedules of any conference. Chip even gets to moderate a panel with New York Times bestsellers Jennifer Lauck, Philip Margolin, April Henry, Laurie Notaro, and Daniel H. Wilson.
If you write for the CBA market, we’ll go right from there to the Oregon Christian Writers Conference, August 10 to 13, also in Portland. Several CBA-focused editors and agents will be there, as well as teaching sessions with such bestselling authors as Susan May Warren, Jane Kirkpatrick, Leslie Gould, Jim Rubart,
Welcome back to my series on crafting effective pieces for use at a conference. Today, I’m discussing the value of bringing a writing sample with you to a conference and how to make sure it represents you effectively.
Like I said the first week of the series, there isn’t one hard-and-fast rule as to what you should bring to your editor and agent meetings at a conference. Some editors are happy to glance through a full proposal, some agents love to see a one-sheet on your project, and some people don’t want to look at anything on paper, preferring to hear you talk about your project and ask you questions instead. NONE of us wants to leave with a big stack of papers, and word is starting to get around that it’s increasingly difficult to get us to leave with any printed materials you bring us, so the practice of authors carrying around their sample chapters or first 50 pages or, heaven forbid, their full manuscript, has become much less common at conferences.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad fewer authors are trying to send me home with ten extra pounds of paper, but I have been disappointed, on many occasions, when meeting with an author who’s done a good job of hooking me with their story or concept through their one-sheet or pitch, to ask if the author has a writing sample with him and be met with a blank, slightly panicked stare and the stammered apology, “I– I didn’t know– I’ve heard you don’t want– I don’t have–” by which they mean, “No, I don’t have a writing sample, either because I didn’t expect to get this far, or because I’ve been told not to bring a big stack of paper to a meeting like this, or because I thought you would only be interested in hearing about my platform, and now I’m having a heart attack
I’m nearing the end of my series on how to write great endings, and am talking briefly today about one of the most frustrating types of endings to read, for an agent, editor, or any other reader, the “bait and switch” ending, particularly in terms of the tone of a story.
I’ve talked several times throughout this series about the importance of being fair to your reader in your endings– that you satisfy their sense of justice, that you’ve laid some groundwork for any surprises, etc.– yet I’m constantly surprised by the number of manuscripts I read that end in a way that is completely dissimilar to the tone/story universe/set of expectations the author has spent the entire preceding manuscript establishing. If you’ve spent 200 pages developing a nice, sweet, wholesome romance, don’t try to get all depressing and cynical at the end. If your comedic cozy mystery stayed on mostly “safe” ground for the first 3/4ths of the book, don’t turn it into a chilling, violent crime novel at the end. If you spent the majority of a book developing deeper themes and a more literary voice, don’t just slap a conventional romance ending onto it and call it a day.
I want a book to end with the same “flavor” that compelled me to follow the story through to completion. It’s as if someone ordered a mint-chocolate-chip ice cream cone but the soda jerk decided to put a dollop of lemon sorbet at the bottom– even if the lemon sorbet is good, it’s not what the customer was expecting, and it’s not going to compare favorably to the mint-chocolate-chip, coming as it does when they’re not expecting it and have their mouth all set for something completely different.
There are a number of reasons this happens, even to experienced authors. First, writing is largely a solitary profession. Even if you have a critique partner/group to bounce ideas off
Narrative-Based Mobile Games: Inconceivable?
Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS
This week in Publishing & Technology, we’ll be using the recent ios release of Gameblend Studio’s The Princess Bride: The Official Game as a jumping off point to discuss the adaptation of books and stories for mobile games.
Earlier this year the industry newsletter newser.com reported on the release of the $20 flash-animated game and its merits as an entertainment. Let me pause here to say that I have not downloaded the game. I do not have any interest in it beyond its value as another example of the blurring of the boundaries between story and game through the integration of narrative elements from an existing work of fiction into new and emerging technologies.
From my perspective, the adapting of written works to new technological modes of delivery is primarily interesting as it represents a potential revenue stream for those of us that make a living from the written word. But how much of that $20 price tag for the game will eventually end up in the William Goldman’s pocket? I am not privy to the details of Goldman’s initial publishing contract for the book, nor of any renegotiations of that contract in light of technological developments since 1987. But, if I had to wager, I would probably put my money on his royalty for the mobile game being somewhere between nothing and negligible.
While the potential for developing written works for mobile games may hold some promise as a side stream of income for writers already working in more traditional story modes, it remains to be seen if authors may ever be able to rely on it as a significant portion of their living. The practice is still infrequent and the