Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Who are your CHARACTERS?

For me, a part of revising is rethinking and reworking my characters. We've been told that characters need to be "authentic," but what does that mean and how do we go about creating these "authentic" characters in our writing? Many authors do these types of character activities before drafting. As stated, I go back to the drawing board once I already have established a very basic draft. It's up to you, but these writing activities do help to strengthen your characters and give them an "authentic" life of their own.

1. Do a written sketch of your character. This means to describe him or her. Don't leave anything out. This goes beyond long hair/short hair, blue eyes/gray eyes. How do you see this character in your head? Does he or she nervously bite his or her lip? Does the character fidget? Does the character slouch? Or is he or she over confident to the point of cocky? If so, describe it. (Remember, this is just for your notes. I'm not advocating putting a one-two page description of your character in your story.)
2. What makes your character unique? This is an exercise to pin down his or her personality. This will help to point out those characters who may fit into stereotypes. For instance, if you described your character as nervous (fidgeting, biting fingernails, twirling hair, biting lower lip), WHY? What makes him or her nervous? Is he or she shy? Maybe this character has something to hide. Work out all the idiosyncrasies to develop what makes your character, not only different, but also integral to the story you are writing.
3. Outline out the relationships between your characters. Is there a love/hate relationship between child and parent? Are there two best friends who secretly have feelings for each other? Is there a reason the antagonist is plotting against the protagonist? By outlining the chemistry between characters (and I'm not just talking about romantic chemistry), you will create depth of characters through their interactions with each other.
4. Now, rewrite. Or, start writing. These characters have a story, and it needs to be told. By having an understanding of each of them, and who they are, they will hopefully become more layered and multi-faceted.

Throughout your writing process and developing of characters, make sure that you are continually reading books. Reread those with rich, in-depth characterization. Learn from them. Have any tips to share? I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Formidable Form Rejection...

Your novel is finished, revised, and ready to go. You've slaved over your query to make it the best it can be. You're ready to start submitting to literary agents. Staying away from the formidable form rejection is a difficult task, especially when literary agents are receiving hundreds of queries a week. There are some pointers, however, that will help you not get that "automatic" no.
1. Address the query to the specific agent: Nothing says novice than "Dear Agent" or "To Whom It May Concern." JUST DON'T DO IT. Agents want to feel that you have researched them and have picked them out on purpose. By not even giving them the courtesy of addressing them specifically, you are setting up yourself for an automatic "no" before they even read that first line.
2. Follow the agent's specific requests: Some want a synopsis, others don't. Some want a greeting first, others want to know the story right from the first sentence of the query. Some want to know about your five dogs and twelve cats, most want just the basics. This is where research comes in. Do not EVER send the full manuscript (or even a partial) if they do not ask for it.
3. Make sure the query is free from errors: This seems like a given, but agents have frequently complained that queries oftentimes have glaring errors (including agent's misspelled name) that are a big turn-off.
4. For the most part, queries should not be long: There are a slew of websites/books that address how to properly write a query letter, so I will just say that it should never be longer than a page. One-Two paragraphs on what the book is about (include title, genre, and word count), and possibly a short paragraph on yourself (and for nonfiction, why you're qualified to write the book).
5. Do not compare it to successful novels: "This is the next Harry Potter!" No, no, no, no, no. Let your book speak for itself.
6. Do not insult the agent: "If you do not like this book, then there is something seriously wrong with you." No, no, no...
7. Are you querying an agent who actually represents what you write? Do not send queries to agents who do not rep your genre. Most agency sites have detailed lists about what they are looking for and what they are not. I can't say it enough: RESEARCH!

So, let's say you do all of that (I do), and you still get that formidable form rejection (I do), what then?
1. Be brutally honest with yourself: If all queries come back with a form rejection, you need to take a good hard look at your query and your book as a whole. It may need a revision. Regroup, rework, revise, then start researching agents again.
2. Set the project aside: This is difficult, isn't it? You know your book is brilliant. Still, set it aside. Coming back to it weeks or even months later helps you see it differently.
3. Take some time to read/reread books in your genre: This will help you look critically at your own work to see if you measure up or if your work needs revision.
4. Start writing another project: Get your mind off the other one for a while. The more we write, the better we get.
5. Lastly, NEVER GIVE UP. It will never happen if you quit.

Here's to publishing success for all of us! Do you have any pointers to share? Leave me a comment below.