29 July 2011

One Sentence to Hook an Agent?

Peter Brown Hoffmeister has a post today saying you have to hook an agent or magazine editor with the first sentence . . . of you cover letter. Yup, he says that, because of the numbers involved, most agents don't even get to the beautifully crafted first sentence of your manuscript.

But fear not! Unless you say something really stupid* in your cover letter to us Electric Spec editors, we promise we'll read the first sentence of your story before making a decision. In fact, I'll go so far as to say we almost always read the entire first paragraph. Sadly, if you have not hooked us at least by the first page, we're unlikely to read the rest. Based on the numbers, we just don't have time to read the entire story if it does not look promising.

*one example would be, "I'll let you publish my story so long as you agree to publish as is, without any editing"

27 July 2011

Writing on Reading: A Dance with Dragons

My five year wait for the next book in George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series is finally over. The question I ask now: was it worth the wait?

IMHO, the first and third books in the series are some of the finest fantasy books ever written. The second book is right up there, but the forth (A Feast for Crows) was a bit disappointing. Why? It concentrated on new characters who I didn't care about as much and the plot moved too slowly. A Dance with Dragons suffers from some of the same problems as the fourth book. A few new characters are introduced, and portions of the plot move pretty slowly. However, it does develop the journeys of some of the characters that we've known from the beginning, which is really nice to see, and, eventually, some major plot developments occur.

A have one other criticism of Dance: its too dark. You'll rarely hear that from me when talking about fantasy. I'd rather have me some dark stuff than trope fairy tale unicorns and rainbows . But, at the end of Dance I felt beaten down. How depraved can a world and everyone in that world be? Is there any hope that Westeros will survive? Do I even want it too survive? Please, George, I'm begging you! Give me some ray of hope!

So, bottom line, it is worth the read, especially if you're already a fan of the series, but don't go in expecting to be blown away like you might have been with the earlier books. And lets hope we don't have to wait another five years for the next one!

26 July 2011

rookie mistakes

Maybe rookie mistakes is too harsh? How about rookie room-for-improvements? :)
Generally, the slush at ElectricSpec is very good. However, we editors can tell when we get a story from someone new to writing. There are a number of common room-for-improvements we see:
  • Possibly the most obvious is using non-said or non-asked dialogue tags. Don't ask me why only "said" and "asked" are allowed in dialogue tags, but that's the way it is. (If anyone knows, please share.)
  • Another common issue is all telling and no showing. I know like a hundred years ago this was the fashion, but when was the last time you read something published that did this? Telling is summarizing a story and we still do this in our everyday lives. But the current fashion in fiction is to write immediate, have the reader experience the story as it happens (a bit weird when you consider the another current fashion is past tense.)
  • Finally, a common room-for-improvement we see is nothing happens, usually because the protagonist doesn't act. As an editor, this one is particularly disappointing. You get all excited about the big idea or the world-building and the problem set-up and then ...nothing. Often this is linked to a mild or missing conflict: who or what is stopping the protagonist? Generally speaking in stories we publish the protagonist has to do something to try to solve the problem. The protagonist doesn't have to succeed, but they have to try.

So, double-check your stories. You don't have any of these issues, do you?

24 July 2011

A Plug for Indie Bookstores

A great article in the Charlotte Observer this week about my cousin Sally's book store. Authors--note the section about how indie books stores are the key to creating bestsellers.

19 July 2011

Writers Search Engine

Many of you may already know about this, but I recently discovered something neat:
Writer's Knowledge Base, The Search Engine for Writers. The Writer's Knowledge Base (WKB) is a searchable collection of articles that are highly relevant to writers. The articles are diverse and cover such topics as the craft of writing, getting published, promotion, etc. Notice the search engine only covers topics related to writing. If you do a search you won't accidentally get anything weird--like porn. (Why do so many innocent searches lead to porn?)

A little backstory...Elizabeth Craig supplies the links for the WKB. Elizabeth is a published author who monitors over 1500 websites for great articles on writing and then posts the links on Twitter. The WKB then archives the links for us writers to access to our heart's desire.

Does anyone else know of any neat writers websites? Please share!

14 July 2011

Congrats Mr. Sawyer!

This may be a bit outside our usual discussions, but I was excited to hear from SFScope that Robert J. Sawyer's WWW trilogy was recently optioned for television! As faithful readers know, he gave an awesome interview in our last issue primarily about his WWW trilogy. Read more about the deal.
Congratulations, Mr. Sawyer!

12 July 2011

to grimace or not to grimace?

FYI: The submission deadline for the August 2011 issue is July 15.

One of the best teachers I've ever had has a thing about grimaces. He says you should never use the word grimace in your writing because it doesn't mean anything. I would say a grimace is a frown caused by disgust. I looked it up in various dictionaries and they say a grimace is a facial expression, often ugly or contorted, that indicates disapproval, pain, etc. or a sharp facial contortion expressing pain, contempt, or disgust., etc. So, regarding grimaces, I guess: Caveat scriptor.

However, I think this points to a larger issue: the evolution of the english language. There's no question our language has evolved and is evolving over time. How much of this should we use in our writing? For example, in my work I would use "five finger discount", but not "index finger discount". Most people know the former but only a certain subset of folks know the latter (although we could probably figure it out!). Certainly, there are genre considerations here. YA should use a lot of slang. Techno- or geek-thrillers should also use a lot of jargon.

But, IMHO, we can go too far. 2MI can be 2M2H. IKR?

I think we should avoid text-messaging "words" in fiction.

What do you think?

B4N. :)

05 July 2011

revision: unique dialogue

We all know dialogue is an important part of fiction. As such, it's worth taking a look at when doing revisions. First things first: dialogue tags should ONLY use said or asked. Don't get creative. In fact, the prevailing wisdom is it's better not to use dialogue tags; use body language, facial expressions, or other information to let the reader know who's talking. However, don't make your characters "bobble-heads". This is an expression from one of my writing professors and indicates too much head nodding or similar actions. Watch out for this. :) A tip: many published works put the dialogue tag or action between two sentences of dialogue rather than at the beginning or end.

Another important point is every character should have unique dialogue. If I'm honest, many of my characters talk like I do in my first drafts. So, when I revise, I have to get rid of this. Ideally, each character's dialogue is so unique you wouldn't even need a dialogue tag. In a long work, I keep a cheat-sheet of slang or special unique words for each character. For example, one character might use a lot of single-syllable words, another might not use contractions. Good luck with your dialogue!

How about you? How do you deal with dialogue?