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Fiction Groupie Archives

These are my writing posts from my former blog, spanning 2009-2012. To see new writing posts, click on the blog tab above. To see these archived post organized by topic, click "For Writers" above.

Entries in agents (9)

Tuesday
Jan052010

What Makes Your Story Stand Out?

 

So I finally got around to reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  I know, I know, I'm SO behind the rest of the world.  But I had a feeling it was going to be a book I couldn't put down, so I wanted to make sure I had the time to dedicate before I picked it up.

 

Well, I was right.  I couldn't put it down.  I read the whole thing over a day and a half.  I'm not going to review it because I know many of you have already read it, but I will say, it was a wonderful page turner.  And the premise was not like anything I've read recently, which got me to thinking about what makes a story stand out.

We all know that everything has been done before.  To come up with a completely original idea is next to impossible.  And not always preferable--if it hasn't been done before, there was probably a reason, lol.  And even The Hunger Games, which definitely feels unique, is standing on the shoulders of the dystopian novels that have come before it like 1984 and Farenheit 451.  It also reminded me of a short story I read in high school called The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell where the guy goes on a hunting trip and find out the "game" are humans.

So what is it about this take that makes it resonate with so many readers?  Why did the Vampire Academy series hook me so well even though I've read WAY WAY too many vampire books in my life?

With many of you writing  YA, this challenge becomes even more difficult.  You have to have teens, which means there is usually (not always) some kind of school involved, there is often first love, angst, casual voice, etc.  If you're going the paranormal route, there are only so many mythical creatures and psychic powers out there.  And romance is the same way--every story is boy meets girl (or boy meets boy in m/m) and they face some conflict, and then they end up happily ever after.  So why is YOUR story so different?

If you haven't already, take a look at Agent Janet Reid's yearly stats.  You have to be in the top 1% of everything that comes in her inbox to get her to consider you at all.  And that's just to get an agent, that's not a guarantee of getting sold.  So if a completely original idea is unattainable, what about your story is going to make you stand out and shine?  Take some time and really examine that.

Ask your beta readers when they are going through your pages, "What does the story/voice/character remind you of?"  It will inevitably remind them of something.  Dig into those answers to make sure you're not too much like whatever they remind the readers of.  And then ask them what is unique about your story, what makes it stand out.  Whatever that is--voice, characterization, heart-pounding pacing--play to that strength.  You can't be a one trick pony, but I think finding your strength gives you something to build on so that you can distinguish yourself from everyone else.

So what do you think is your strength?  What makes your story stand out from others like it?  Have you ever freaked out when you read a book that had a remarkably similar premise to what you were working on?  Did you change the story or keep going with it?
 


**Today's Theme Song**
"To Be Loved" - Papa Roach
(player in sidebar, take a listen)


 

Saturday
Dec192009

Somehow, this makes me feel better...

 


Agent Kristin posted her stats for this year:  38,000 queries, 55 full requests, 6 new clients.  The numbers are daunting but somehow give me comfort.  This means .00016% of the queries got representation if my math is correct.  So if you get that rejection in the mail, remember it doesn't necessarily mean you suck (although you certainly could), it just means you weren't the lucky one in 6300 to get an offer.  I guess agents aren't lying when they say they have to absolutely fall in love to make an offer.

 

Also, thanks for all the well wishes from everyone.  My husband's knee surgery went well, so now it's just the journey of getting through the recovery phase.  And playing nurse with a rambunctious two-year old trying to "help" with everything is very interesting, lemme tell you.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

 

**Today's Theme Song**
"#1 Crush" - Garbage

 
 

(player in sidebar if you'd like a listen)

 

Thursday
Dec172009

People Read That? The About Me Section



As she usually does, Sierra Godfrey got me thinking with a post she did a while back on the About Me section of a website. She argued that bloggers and writers should really give this section some thought because it could make or break someone's interest in you or your site.

I honestly had never considered that. I figured no one really reads that anyway. And I absolutely hate writing about myself. Plus, if you write a big long paragraph about yourself, it pushes all the rest of the information further down on the page on your Blogger profile page and can move your blog link (the most important component) "below the fold"--meaning the person would have to scroll down to see it.

However, Sierra made some good points that made me question my stance. She said that if she goes to a site and can get no sense of who the person is, she's less inclined to stick around. Also, agents and editors you're querying could stop by (it's been known to happen). If they are truly interested in you, then they most likely will want to click on that About Me or profile section. And if that happened to me, what would they find out about me? That I'm a "mom, book junkie, and writer of romantic fiction." Wow, that's real enlightening. It can apply to just about any blogging writer out there.

So, I have given in and followed Sierra's advice. Using one of her examples from a published author's website, I used a fun history style format. And instead of filling up my blogger profile page, I made a separate page (and reserved the site for my name at the same time) then included the link in my About Me section called the TMI (too much information) file. So here's the link: The TMI File. Click over and let me know what you think. It's long, but well, it is supposed to be TMI. And then when you're done with that, go visit Sierra's post where she gives more detailed info about the About Me section.

So have you given your About Me section a lot of thought? Do you think agents/editors/readers will pay attention to that part? When you go to a new blogger's site, do you read that section? Does it sway your decision whether or not to follow them?



**Today's Theme Song**
"About A Girl" - Nirvana

(player in sidebar if you'd like a listen)


Friday
Sep182009

Face Off Friday: Prologues

 

It's that time of the week again: Face Off Friday. On today's agenda, the loved/dreaded/maligned prologue. The rumor is that writers love them and agents/publishers hate them. Some quotes from our favorite blogging agents:

 
99.9% of the time, the prologue is vague or doesn’t really give me a sense of the writing or the story that’s going to unfold. I skip them as a general rule. --Kristen Nelson, Pub Rants

It is 3-5 pages of introductory material that is written while the author is procrastinating from writing a more difficult section of the book. --Nathan Bransford's definition

Earlier in the week, I talked about the written and unwritten rules of writing I have discovered along the way. The one that many of you had pain over was the fact that prologues are frowned upon. So, I thought I would delve deeper into that topic today.

First, let's define a few types of "pre-chapters":

 
Prologue is a preface to the story, setting up the story, giving background information and other miscellaneous information. --wiki

A preface is an introduction to a book written by the author of the book. A preface generally covers the story of how the book came into being, or how the idea for the book was developed; this is often followed by thanks and acknowledgments to people who were helpful to the author during the time of writing. --wiki

A foreword is a (usually short) piece of writing often found at the beginning of a book or other piece of literature, before the introduction, and written by someone other than the author of the book. --wiki

Okay, so what most of us are dealing with is the first one, as the preface and foreward are typically used for non-fiction works. (However, Twilight breaks this rule--what's new--and uses the term preface for its prologue.)

Prologues are seen in all genres, but are particularly popular in fantasy/sci-fi and thriller/suspense. In fantasy, the prologue often provides information to help the reader understand the strange world that they are about to enter. In suspense, a prologue can contain the killer's point of view or one of his first victims points of view to ratchet up the tension instantly.

So those seem valid reasons to use one, right? What's the problem?

The problem can lie in the fact that the prologue is almost always a big chunk of backstory. And backstory can be dangerous--it risks boring the reader and makes your pace drag. Prologues can also be a sneaky way to hide a slow-moving first chapter. (I have NEVER used this device for this sordid purpose, *cough*.) The latter is how it's used in Twilight. We get a glimpse of the end action--an unnamed victim being stalked by a unknown predator--before we enter into chapter one where nothing much interesting happens for many pages.

However, prologues aren't always terrible. Hush, Hush which I just reviewed recently had a prologue. The brief pages showed a scene that explained what happened to one of the characters to make him the way he was. In this novel, I didn't mind the prologue and its purpose was clear. Could the story have been sprinkled in later? Perhaps, but the prologue was a big shining billboard that said--"hey this is about angels!" and the scene had tension and action, not just flowery language about some random legend.

So when is it a good idea to include a prologue and when do you need to cut it?


Prologue vs. No Prologue

For love of the prologue:

 
  • Fantasy/Sci-fi/Paranormal can be difficult to jump into without explaining a bit of the mythology/legend/world first.
  • Some of the greats used prologues
  • It can build tension early
  • You have a helluva twist coming later that you need to foreshadow
  • There is history that is vital to your story that must be introduced early
 

Nix the prologue because you are probably using it to cheat and do one of the following:
 
  • Set the mood/atmosphere because you failed to do so in the opening chapter
  • Info dump because you can't figure out where to sprinkle in the backstory
  • Create tension because your chapter one is slow and you can't bear to edit it again
  • Not trusting that your reader is smart enough to understand the world you created
  • Your story or fantasy world is overly complicated and you want to get the reader a school lesson on it first
 
Another thought:
 
"Writers hope to create suspense and interest by writing a prologue about the person who turns out to be the villain but without identifying that person by name or gender. Sorry, but in my opinion, that's a cheap parlor trick and your reader knows it. You're better off doing the hard work of creating suspense and tension with your hero and heroine."--author Carolyn Jewel
 

I have to admit that I am guilty of loving a prologue. The one I had for my first novel was unnecessary and I was using it as a cheat (cheap foreshadowing). I cut it a few months ago and saw that I never needed it. However, I do have some mythology that could be helpful in a prologue, so even though I haven't added it, I'm constantly tempted. *sits on hands for a moment to keep from typing one up*

However, I am a little afraid of including one based on the may negative opinions out there. Most agents/authors say it should be used as a last resort. I don't want to do anything to hurt my already slim chances of breaking into the world of publishing.

So what's your opinion? How do you feel about prologues in the stories your read? Do you have a prologue in any of your stories? Are you using it for the right reasons or are you worried it's a cheat? Do you think they should be used only as a last resort?

**Today's Theme Song**
"Your Cheatin' Heart" - Patsy Cline
(player in sidebar--go ahead, take a listen)

 

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