Starting a novel in the wrong place…or why partials get rejected.

The title for this blog entry came from litaray agent Kristin Nelson.  Back in May, she blogged about the two biggest reasons partials aren’t turned into fulls.  And since she was someone who requested a partial for me but didn’t request the full, I really read this closely.  The first reason was that the novel started in the wrong place.  When I sent my partial to Ms. Nelson, it did start in the wrong place.  It took me a long time to realize that and to recognize where the right place was.  And I wasn’t totally wrong.  The scene I started with is still the scene I start with, just at a different point in that scene.

The second reason Ms. Nelson lists for a rejection is minutiae.  In trying to get the story going, the author gives all details of characters, their interactions, everything about them…you get the idea.  The story isn’t really moving forward.  Instead, scenes are created for the sole purpose of character development.  She reminds that relevant character details should be “seamlessly woven” into scenes that move the story forward.  In my case, I’ve never been satisfied with my second chapter.  I always felt like it stalled, but there was information in there that needed to be there.  When I read this from Ms. Nelson, I realized that minutiae is exactly my problem with some of my early chapters.  I start with the story and then kind of take a break to develop things before going back to the story.

I thought long and hard about what to do and (eventually) had an epiphany.  I needed to move my current chapter five or six to chapter 2.  The other details I need to work into the story.  Now we just need to see if I can do it well.

The dreaded query…

For any of you writers out there, you know how frustrating writing a query letter can be.  My first round of submissions (about a year ago) garnered a couple of partial requests but no fulls.  I’m polishing up the manuscript, especially the beginning, and hopefully will be submitting again by the end of the summer.  So….I’ve rewritten my query letter.  It has been a completely frustrating process but I think it’s finally getting somewhere.  I think what I have now will be much better than what I had before.

Last time I wrote a query, I posted it in the “Query Letter Hell” section on Absolute Write.  I had suggestions and it got to the point where it was ok, but it wasn’t great.  I’ve gone through this same process again, posting on Absolute Write, getting responses, and making changes accordingly.  I’m finally to the point where people are actually liking the query letter.  I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s at least garnering more positive than negative responese.  A huge improvement over last time.

Hopefully a year from now I’ve had success in getting published.  The query letter is a huge part of that, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

It’s not procrastination…it’s…ok, it’s procrastination.

I’ve known for a few months now that I have an entire chapter I need to rewrite, specifically, Chapter 4.  It’s a tough chapter.  There is a lot of information to get into the chapter, but it can’t sound backstoryish or have too much telling.  The problem is that it is critical information.  However, because I know it’s going to take some work, I keep putting it off.  I’ve been working on chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3,…you get the idea.  I keep telling myself that chapter 4 is stewing in my brain and that when I get down to it, it won’t be as hard as I think.  We’ll see if that’s true.  I am bound and determined to finally get to it this week and next.  Cross your fingers.  It could either be one of the best chapters — or one of the most confusing.

Absolute write…absolutely!!

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Absolute Write lately and wanted to let you know how absolutely amazing it is.  Mostly I’m in the forums, specifically “share your work.”  I’ve posted my work there and gotten some great feedback from other writers.  Some of the advice is perfect.  I also get to see samples of other people’s work and share my opinion.  It’s a great place to get to know other writers and to get feedback on your own stuff.

I’ve been especially excited this last round.  As anyone who reads frequently knows, I’ve been working and working and working on my first chapter, specifically the first few pages.  That’s where you either catch the interest of the reader — or you don’t.  Anyway, I’ve gotten some great reviews this time around.  People still want my first few paragraphs to be shorter, but after that, everyone seems to like what they’re reading.  That not only makes me feel like I’m progessing, but that maybe someday you’ll all be able to buy my finished book.

Here’s hoping!!

Writing…and rewriting…and rewriting…you get the idea…

So I know I mentioned a little about this last time, but writing is more revising than it is writing a first draft.  I wrote my entire first draft in four months.  I’ve been revising for two years since then.  Remember that almost one year of that was kind of a joke because I had a new baby, but still.  The only good thing in all of that?  The manuscript is so much better.  I’ve had agents request partials.  I mean, that’s at least something.  I’ve also had beta readers really like my writing.  That’s something, too.  And I’ve gotten lots of great feedback that has made the book even better.  The characters are more developed, the plot isn’t far-fetched, and the pacing is good.  Hopefully this will one day land me an agent.

One other thing I’ve been working on is the first paragraph of chapter one.  One of my beta readers liked how she read it (which is the one I have posted), but thought it could be even stronger.  Another beta reader doesn’t like the kind of openings that are vague and kind of omniscient.  You tell me.  I’ll post three possibilities for a beginning and you can leave a comment about which one would hook you in the best.

Option 1:  “Ethan should never have agreed to this.  It was one thing to engage in a friendly round of swordplay with Lord Andrew, his closest friend.  It was another thing entirely to accept Lord Malcolm’s challenge — not one of his closest friends.  And yet here he was, facing one of the best swordsmen in the kingdom.”

Option 2:  “Some things were secret for a reason.  Ethan knew that.  Perhaps better than anyone.  It had been engrained into him like a slow, constant drip of water from the time he could remember.  And yet, he’d still betrayed the most secret knowledge of all.  He’d revealed too much.  Simon would know — even if no one else did.  Ethan squeezed his eyes shut for a brief second and steadied the hand on his sword.  Whether he liked it or not, things were going to change.”

Option 3:  “It had started like any relatively normal day.  Ethan had reluctantly agreed to meet Andrew for a round of swordplay.  He’d walked into the awe-inspiring hall, without feeling the least bit of awe.  He was accustomed to the smooth, stone walls, the shafts of light from the early afternoon sun streaming through the high, narrow windows, the swords neatly arranged in racks, and the groups of men standing in small clusters, some talking, some practicing intricate patterns.”

Anyway, let me know what you think.

Wow…writing can be a long, long, long…process.

Once again, I haven’t posted in a long time.  I’d like to say that’s because I’ve been furiously working on my book, gotten an agent and a publisher, and I’ve been doing revisions.  Unfortunately only part of that is true:  I’ve been doing revisions.  The problem I’ve had is that my little girl, now eight months, isn’t always cooperative.  Still, I have gotten some things accomplished.  I think I’ve finally gotten the first chapter to how I like it.  We’ll see soon enough.  I have a couple of beta readers giving me their opinions.  If anyone else wants to share an opinion, I’d love that too.  You can find the link on the side bar under “My Book” or up at the top on the tab.  The prologue and first chapter are posted.

On another note, I have had a few responses from agents, requesting a partial.  That is exciting, but since no full has been requested it is also a little disheartening.  It makes me wonder if something is wrong with the first chapter (hopefully not any more), if my writing isn’t good enough (definitely a possibility), if the story isn’t good enough (I can’t really believe that), or if the agent just wasn’t interested in my type of story (I hope that’s the real answer).

I am, however, determined to perservere.

Two paragraphs, that’s all I ask…

I needed to work on something new for a bit and I had a moment of inspiration, so I wrote the first two paragraphs of a completely different book I want to write.  I might not even finish it now.  (I do want to finish my trilogy first, even if it’s just a rough draft.)  However, I do want your opinion.  Just click on the “New Book” tab at the top of the page.  Do you like it?  Would you want to read more?  Too much back story or just right to leave you needing to keep going?  You tell me!!

Four books I’ve read (Book Reviews: The Graveyard Book, Forest of Hands and Teeth, Fragile Eternity, City of Glass)…and writing I haven’t done enough of…

Have you ever been talking with people, reading blogs, searching amazon, or just searching books in general and you keep running across a particular book or author?  Well, that’s how I was a few months ago.  I kept hearing about Neil Gaiman.  Now, I’ve read stuff by him before and I liked it a lot.  However, I recently tried reading “The Graveyard Book,” and I just couldn’t get through it.  I tried, and I really had nothing else to do because of the new baby, but I just couldn’t finish.  I was interested through the first few chapters, and then I just couldn’t get myself to read it anymore.  I stuck it through about a third of the book and then gave up.  Now, this rarely happens to me.  Even books I don’t love, I almost always finish.  So, nothing against Mr. Gaiman (like I said I’ve read other books of his and like them), but I just couldn’t get into his latest.

Another book I’ve read recently is “The Forest of Hands and Teeth,” by Carrie Ryan.  I had read the cover flap of this one and had heard about it from a number of sources.  It sounded interesting so I tried it.  My overall view is that it was really interesting.  I didn’t realize before I started that it was kind of a zombie book, but that didn’t really bother me once I got used to the idea.  I actually kept picking it up to see what would happen next (even when I had other things that I should have been doing).  I read the book in less than two days because I really really wanted to see how she would resolve the ending.  And here is my only criticism…there wasn’t enough resolution for me.  And it wasn’t just that the ending wasn’t fully resolved to my personal liking.  There were little things throughout the book that I felt were left hanging, things I would have loved more explanation for.  And this might be entirely just me.  I like resolution.  It doesn’t have to be a  happy white picket fence ending, but I do like resolution.  And there was some…just not enough, at least for me.  Still, I would highly recommend this book if only for its creativity and originality.  The characters are great and their growth through the decisions they make was fascinating.

All right, now for a book I’ve been waiting for.  I just finished “Fragile Eternity,” by Melissa Marr.  I’ve blogged before about this series.  I loved the first one, I liked the second one.  And…I loved the third one.  This latest book got back to the main characters introduced in book one.  It also escalated the conflict between the faerie courts.  Old friendships cracked, new ones were forged.  Alliances were constantly shifting and sometimes strange.  And it was great.  I couldn’t put it down.  Ms. Marr has created such a great world that’s fun to delve into.  It’s both comforting and scary at the same time.  “Fragile Eternity” really brought everything to a head and I can’t wait to see how everything is resolved in her next book of the series.  As a writer, I’ve had so many thoughts on how I’d resolve this one (do any of you other writers do this, think of endings you’d write to other people’s books?).  I’m excited to see how she does it.

Ok, I know this has gone on way too long, but I have one more.  This is another book I’ve been waiting for.  It is the third book in the Mortal Instruments trilogy by Cassandra Clare.  It’s called “City of Glass.”  I know this series has gotten mixed reviews, but I have really enjoyed it.  The world she’s created is so imaginative and yet you can almost believe it really exists right alongside reality.  I also love the characters she’s created.  They are real, flawed, and likeable (most of the time, which is just as it should be).  Ms. Clare has taken urban fantasy (which I’m starting to get a little tired of because it seems like everything is UF these days), and applies her own twist.

Now about my own writing.  I’m actually really excited.  I haven’t written much, but I’ve had the greatest idea.  There’s always been a part of my book, and it’s the critical set up and introduce everything part, that I haven’t been totally satisfied with.  I’ve left it alone because I didn’t know what else to do.  All that stuff had to be in there and I just didn’t know how else to do it.  Well, I finally figured it out.  I think the book will start off quicker and trickle the back story out bit by bit instead of a big dump of information.  Much, much better.  Maybe now, when I send out a partial, it won’t come back.  I hope maybe this has been part of my hangup with getting someone to read enough that they just can’t put it down.  Here’s my fingers crossed.

No…it’s not as awesome as it appears, but still…

For those of you who read on a regular basis, you’ll notice that my word count just jumkped like 10,000 words in about a week.  Looks great, right?  And don’t get me wrong, I love seeing that little pink meter move further and further to the right.  And I did technically add that many words to the book.  However, most of it was already written.  As I’ve had ideas over the past six or so months, I’ve written them out into very rough drafts right within my outline.  So all it really took to get that 10,000 words was to transfer them from my outline to the manuscript itself.  I did do a lot of polishing — basically what was in my outline was a very very rough draft — so I guess that has to count for something, and all of it was stuff I’ve been really excited about getting in there.  The only downside, I’ve left a few holes.  There is one chapter where I’ve only included a small paragraph giving a general idea of what I want to happen.  Other chapters have an introductory paragraph that is the same.  I just wasn’t up to working out all the intricate details of political intrigue and plot.  Plus, I’m not sure I have it all figured out yet.  So, there you have it.  My amazing 10,000 words in a short space of time.

3,000 words…

In the past few days, I’ve written over 3000 words on book 2.  Even more significant, I’ve gotten past a scene that I haven’t known exactly what to do with.  I finally just knew what needed to be done.  It’s still pretty rough, but at least I know who’s feeling what and how the events got to where I wanted them.  Now I enter the section of the book I only recently decided on.  It’s going to be tricky.  I’ve always known the middle would be.  The beginning almost wrote itself.  The ending I’m actually excited to write (because it explains a lot of unanswered questions — past and present — and really sets up well for the third and final book).  But the middle…the middle is full of building tension, guesses by the main character on what he should do next, and build up to a battle.  The trickiest part is going to be making sure everything plays out in an orderly and logical way.  The characters have to respond to what’s prestened to them in a way that makes sense.  They can’t go off to battle without a good reason.  They must take risks, but only ones that are realistic.  The hero has to struggle.  The relationships between the characters have to grow.  And all that happens in the middle.  I guess I have a lot of work to do.  I’m even tempted to do a real general outline and write the ending first, but who knows…