Monday, August 31, 2009

Elements of Mystery Fiction: Character Call

While I plot and begin writing my second, I thought I'd revisit the basics of mystery writing.

First, the characters:

Protagonist--this is the detective, professional or amateur, who will solve the crime.

Villain--this is the person (or people) who committed the crime.

Victim--the person (or people) who is harmed (often killed) by the crime.

Now, you could have a mystery with only these people, but it would be a little too easy to solve. So lets add some more.

Red herrings--these are other people who might have had motive, means, or opportunity to kill the victim. This complicates the mystery.

A sidekick--a helper for the detective. A sidekick is also a help to the writer, since the detective and sidekick can discuss the case, revealing all kinds of information to the reader in dialogue.

Antagonist--this person may not have committed a crime, but makes life difficult for the protagonist. Which, in fiction, is a good thing.

Experts--especially if the detective is an amateur, he or she may need to draw on the input of experts. Cops, coroners, private detectives--these may figure in the story, often in conflict with the amateur detective.

Family, friends, and romantic interest--no man is an island. But the more family a detective has, the more people the author has to account for. But they do make for interesting subplots and interactions.

Community--general people the characters interact with. They may provide a number of service from yielding clues, making lunch, or just rounding out the picture.

And thanks, Shelly, for pointing out the typo.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

And now the wait begins

I like collecting advice from other writers. One thing that has stuck with me is to expect rejection. And now that I've emailed off my proposals, that's what I'm doing.

Now, don't get all Pollyanna on me and tell me I need to believe in my dreams. People who believe in dreams are most often delusional.

The standard answer to a query or a proposal is a "no." That is, if you even get an answer at all. To not know that is to set yourself up for disappointment and dejection from the beginning.

While there are an endless variety of attitudes aspiring writers can have, ranging from the Eyorian hack(It ain't never going to happen) to the Disneyesque pre-published (believe in yourself, and all your dreams will come true), I probably fall somewhere in the mucky middle of realism.

New authors get published all the time.


Most manuscripts are rejected.

Balancing these two is perhaps the healthiest medium for me.

Writing is a lot like a lottery in that, the odds are slim.

Writing is unlike the lottery in that, you can change the odds. Honing craft, and working and editing the manuscript take time, but also yield results. Preparing a professional query/pitch/proposal also ups the odds.

But even so, there are still so many factors the writer cannot control.

You cannot control the economy, and how many other books are competing for fewer slots the publisher is trying to fill.

You cannot control the market and which genres and trends are likely to sell.

You cannot control the subjective response of the reader. What one agent or editor might love, another might hate.

And you cannot control the competition. Even if you produce a great manuscript, you will always run the risk of someone popping in with an even better one.

So what is the aspiring writer to do? Keep plugging away. Don't think of being published as the only end to your writing. Consider it a bonus--a distinct, but distant possibility. Keep your feet grounded in reality, and work toward your dreams.

But never give up your day job.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Power of "Send"

Okay, one proposal sent, and I just need to spiffy up a cover letter and tweak a few things to personalized the second. Whew... That's a relief.

Or is it?

Pressing the send button on my email proposal had to be one of the most gut-wrenching, anxiety-producing aspects of writing so far.

Consider this analogy. Completing a manuscript is like having a baby. The gestation period may vary from months to years, but once complete, is a joy. You count its fingers and toes, and check to see if it has a beginning, middle, and end. It's all yours and it even looks like you.

Sending out a manuscript is like sending your child off to kindergarten--alone--in a rough neighborhood. You hope it will be ok, but there's nothing you can do about it now--only pray that it doesn't pick up a biker boyfriend and return home covered in tattoos.

Okay, I have metaphor issues.

But there is now one more manuscript out there trying to make its way in the cruel world of agents and publishers. Auditioning, in a sense, trying to break into a competitive field with little opportunity for financial reward.

Does it even make sense?

Only to writers. And now on to the second book.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Writing Avoidance

My last post was titled, "Don't Wake Me Up." I considered naming this one "Okay, Go Ahead and Wake Me Up."

I've experienced another bout of 'writing avoidance.'

Now, I've heard of writing avoidance before. It is the tendency for writers to drag their feet on their latest project, perhaps as an attempt to shield themselves from failure. The project that is never completed can never be rejected. And at first, I really thought this was a stupid piece of psycho-babble.

Until I caught myself doing it three times.

I hit a patch of avoidance before I finished my draft, just before I finished my editing, and now again, as I'm preparing a proposal. It is not something you plan to do. It is something you catch yourself doing.

I don't know what the solution is. Maybe more self-discipline. Maybe a good swift kick.

Anybody willing to give me a good kick?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Don't Wake Me Up: Post-Conference Report

I think I dreamed I attended the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer's Conference (Write His Answer) last week. But I've been assured that the events I am about to relate to you actually happened. Even so, I don't have signed affidavits, so take this all with a grain of salt.

First of all, I have to say, I loved the conference. I got a lot out of the workshops and continuing sessions. I hope to attend again, and will probably become a regular.

I have to say, the thing that blew me away was the response to my "pitch."

Now I don't know that I have the whole "pitching" thing down. How much to share with each appointment has proven to be a challenge for me. I tried to vary the length based on how interested I thought the agent or editor might be, and found that to be a problem. I think I made one pitch overly short, and ended up making another editor glaze over.

But, out of my appointments, I did leave with two requests for proposals--one from an agent and one from a publisher. And I was ecstatic about that. Yes, it was more than I was expecting. The publisher's representative asked to read a portion and the synopsis during the appointment, and was highly enthusiastic about my manuscript, comparing it to several authors--um, best-selling authors (blush and squeal).

I also scheduled a paid critique, and was told that I had wasted my money--by the author doing the crit. "It is ready," she said. And then proceeded to tell me she read it aloud in the bookstore/registration area, and everybody was cracking up. (Yes, it is supposed to be funny.) I had wondered if she were exaggerating, but I have confirmation on that one. Unreal. Pinch me. No--let me keep dreaming.

I had one of those weeks where reality has surpassed not only my expectations, but my daydreams as well. Considering my original plans were to finish the manuscript, query it around (for experience sake) and the put it and the rejections into a drawer. So anything from here on is only icing on the cake. And I wasn't even expecting cake.

Well, now it is time to come back down to earth. Today is laundry day, and I'm going to start working on the proposal. Fortunately I took two workshops that touched on how to prepare one--and got insight on that from the agent, the publisher's representative, and the author that prepared my critique. Too bad their information included a few contradictions. I guess maybe I should have taken just one class.

More later this week on I try to figure them out.