The best way to put readers off your novel is to write a scene-by-scene synopsis. Or so it can feel. Prose is replaced by dry description. It’s like looking at an image of your most precious one rendered as an x-ray skeleton; the bare bones revealing nothing of what made them special.
Yes, I’m in the midst of writing a synopsis for a potential literary agent … and not managing it very well … and feeling that because of it i will fail, facing a winter of rejections. I don’t know if this is a common feeling. But it’s when the doubt creeps in – going over the whole thing again and finding yet more careless errors.
The main problem: how do you compress 100,000+ words into less than a thousand? Whole scenes have to be omitted. Which ones? This is where it’s so easy to become lost; not able to see the wood for the trees. The funny thing is, writing a blurb-style teaser précis hasn’t been a problem – you give an impression, set up the tension (must stop rhyming now). But by the same token that can build false expectations in much the way advertising often does.
I’m certainly not expecting much sympathy from anyone in the publishing industry. They’d probably tell me: “If you can’t manage to sum up your novel in less than a thousand words then maybe there is something wrong with the book itself.”
….is knowing what to leave in, or cut out.
On that (possibly) final draft, when I’m feeling confident, I rewrite with ease, often thinking: that so obviously needs changing, how could I not have seen it before? So another paragraph further honed until I’m happy with it – again. But the thought of having to cut said paragraph seems, well, unconscionable. This is common; it must have given rise to that troubling phrase “kill your darlings.”
What precious sections were in need of cutting only becomes apparent when it’s too late. I recently noticed a new review for my novel Time Over, having assiduously avoided reading them lately (I find it’s generally best not to read my own reviews, and certainly while the next book is in progress). I just happened to see the word edit (or editing); it was enough to make me turn away and click off before I could see any more words of that damning indictment.
The problem is, one reader’s self-indulgent dross is another’s profound insight. At least that’s what you tell yourself … to keep the darkness at bay. But really you can’t strike the same cord with everyone. Yet there is a standard, and maybe this is why a professional editor can be valuable.
But if my latest book does go to an editor, it would be tempting to tell them: “I accept all the amendments you advise/the corrections you’ve made. Just don’t let me see them.” Then I am spared the potential pain of seeing my creation ripped apart.
Very little reward, if you’re one of the ninety-nine percent of fiction writers. Well, that’s what it feels like when you read about the latest multi-book/million [insert currency] deal, and you’re still trying to make that breakthrough, still getting the rejections. Or self-published and garnering fewer sales than some second-rate generic knock-off that managed to get five-star reviews from well-wishers (or dare I say it: followers). Actually some of the most brutal reviews have appeared on Amazon, not so much for my novels but those who have achieved acclaim for their previous works; well that’ll knock ’em down a peg or two – is perhaps the thinking, but also it could be that expectation has been built up way beyond anything a mere mortal writer can fulfill.
So if you do make it to the big league it’s not all plain sailing. Acclaim doesn’t guarantee good sales, neither does fame. I was shocked, looking at the sales rankings for authors with big publishers who are probably only selling in the hundreds. Maybe that goes to show that less and less readers bother to even notice if it’s HarperCollins, Tor or some small press, and instead look for reviews and recommendations. And, yes, this is when it’s good to have many followers. One big league author who got a huge advance and deal was questioned over whether he might not make even more money if he self-published, such has the indie route come of age. He pointed out that it was a risky option – and it is: many successful self-pubbers have accepted the lure of a big publisher, because that means less hassle and more security, if less profit for said author. Editing one’s own book is the most difficult thing an author can do, even when it doesn’t feel like it is.
Of course, writing novels can be a rewarding experience. Just not, in my case, financially.
My site: http://www.adriankyte.com/
In a book review I read only this afternoon someone decried the use of a prologue, recommending that you skip it, saying it detracted from the story. While that can be true, it can also give an insight onto the essence of a novel, a flavour (if it’s done properly) of the style as well as story. In brief, a shortcut.
Not that I’ve managed those things perfectly. There’s always been something of a compromise, having to balance interesting or entertaining writing with explanation (though trying to avoid exposition). There may have even been inconsistencies. My latest focuses more on a key character than any important plot point; it’s about his condition as result of his predicament.
A prologue is not about leading you into the story’s beginning but more like a snap-shot taken from a different angle to the rest, maybe a wider angle or a narrow focus, whatever seems the most interesting and revealing. If it focuses on a specific point in time dealt with later on in the novel then best to avoid repetition, even if the reader has forgotten much of the prologue by then. Peter Watts’ Blindsight is a the best example I’ve read in recent years.
It’s true that the prologue seems to have gone somewhat out of fashion. I don’t know how much publishers and agents are reflecting this or leading the way but many now are showing their dislike, judging by blogs I’ve read. Maybe it became too obvious a device; in science fiction often used to ease the reader in to a complex storyline concept. Then that dreaded word formulaic is invoked.
But here’s a final plea from someone who still cleaves to that old device, not as a standard formula, but just as an option. Because sometimes there seems no better way to begin a story.
If you’re writing the third and possibly final draft there’s no excuse for not giving it your all. The question is, does that mean only working on it when you feel a hundred percent well, comfortable and generally on top of your game?
Today I’m writing this with a cold when I’d normally be on that third draft of The Captured. It’s easy, then, to make excuses for not really feeling up to it. It could be that you’re just feeling fed up for having missed the only bit of sun on an otherwise gloomy February day; a whole multitude of reasons for being less than a hundred percent focused on the work. (And, BTW, I hate it when people talk about giving something 110 or more percent, as there’s no sense of any maximum effort. OK, rant over.)
There’s plenty of advice out there on writing fiction in general, about ploughing on even when the muse is not there. But this (though hardly ever stated) seems to refer to that first creative stage, when just getting those words down is a achievement and never mind the quality. Not that I’d ever set myself a word-count goal – that’s a tyranny of the self, treating it like some feat of endurance. If someone has set a deadline, a contract with money involved, then maybe. No hard and fast rules otherwise.
I guess many writers have realized that on their third draft they haven’t been completely focused, and so they do a fourth, or a fifth…. But why waste the time if your not giving it your A-game?
Let’s be honest. What matters most is not how good you think your novel is but how others rate it. Now I’m not writing this as someone who received accolades for their work and can smugly pontificate. On the contrary, I’ve had some negative reviews, one even used the dreaded B-word (bored), a state you should try to avoid causing more than even offense. So how could this happen?
After a number of rejections I lost confidence in my second novel Time Over. The first book The Hidden Realm was also rejected, but the problems with it were clear and I mostly fixed them although in the days before self publishing became, er … respectable. So I cut my losses and put it out as a free download. It proved relatively popular, got a good number of likes. Only Time Over seemed to have no easy fix; I’d set up a simple premise, which then spiralled into something rather complicated.
The problem is, once you lose confidence in a project you focus on what’s wrong rather than the positive: a loose end here, an inconsistency there. You imagine a reader picking up on some implausible aspect (and in SF there can be a lot of those). So what you do is add more detail for verisimilitude. Dialogue can also be affected in this way, slowing down the pace. I’ve of course tried to address these issues. But regaining confidence: that’s something entirely different.
Still, you move on to the next project with a renewed faith. At least until the next rejection.
Time Over is free to download for a short while:
Reviews still welcome.
My other site: http://www.adriankyte.com/
For me, starting work on a new book has been easy. Getting beyond the first chapter – let alone to a completed novel – is an entirely different matter. Some might compare embarking on a new novel to falling in love … again: This is The One, at least you think that when it starts to take shape. Of course, all previous ones seemed exactly as special at the time – it was going to be your magnum opus, nothing was ever going to top that. Then reality hits. In my case in the form of reviews. Although some have been positive I always like to fixate on the negative. My initial reaction (in my head) is: But you haven’t read it properly; you don’t understand that character’s motivations or the underlying causes. In truth, I would get carried away with an idea. But – in science fiction – you can get mired in trying to unravel a complex theory shaping an event with an even more complex explanation. Brushing over it can seem like a lack of attention to detail or authenticity; the obverse seeming weighty and stymie the reader if not the plot. However, this type of insight has tended to be very much after the fact (when the book is out there). At least with an E-book it’s never really too late.
If I’m going to stretch my initial analogy, then think of that work-in-progress as a new relationship. You invest your all into it and expect to find answers very quickly. You are filled with hope but also troubled by insecurity, the latter tends to happen about a quarter of the way in. Life eventually intrudes: distractions, maybe personal events or outside that can make your big idea seem insignificant, irrelevant or inappropriate. At the start it might have been like living in a bubble. But when that bubble bursts is when you can truly get a handle on what your WIP will become. Not that there’s anything wrong with quixotic thinking at the outset, because the voices of doubt telling you to prepare for failure are rarely useful. Anyway, if you make it halfway (for me around 50,000 words) then there is that sense of having been on a journey with a possible destination, maybe not what you expected it to be, but still well worth continuing.
Time Over is now free to download for a very limited time.