Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Unreliable Narrator: What's the Truth?

One of my favorite picture books is The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! By Jon Scieszka. Besides the attitude of the wolf, the fun is knowing he’s lying, and for little kids who know the real story, they enjoy being in on the secret.

For adults, when they discover the author is using an unreliable narrator, they must question everything they thought they knew about the characters and the story. The story becomes more interesting. This literary device encourages readers to keep reading to discover what else the author is hiding and why.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins uses an unreliable narrator. Rachel, the main character, also a drunk, thinks she witnessed a murder. As she investigates, she becomes personally involved with the case and entangled in the lives of the other characters. Can the reader believe a black-out drunk?

There are three types of unreliable narrators:
1. Deliberately unreliable: Narrators who know they are lying. They lie because the point of view is theirs and they can tell the story whichever way they want.

2. Evasively unreliable: Narrators who aren’t aware they are lying. This can be the author’s way of telling a story so that it proves something or serves his purpose.

3. Naively unreliable: Narrators who tell the truth, but lack the information. For example, child narrators are truthful, but don’t understand the way the world works or understand the consequences of what they’re seeing or hearing.

If you use an unreliable narrator, make sure your narrator has a reason for deceiving the reader. Confuse the reader just enough so the reader doubts or questions the narrator; is the author lying, and why?

Below is my source and a link to the top ten unreliable narrators.


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Agent Etiquette

Always be professional and courteous when sending out query letters to agents. This will be your first introduction to the agent and you want to make a good impression. Below are tips to guide the newbie and refresh the seasoned writers.

1. Address the agent formally by their last name: Mr. or Ms. Smith followed by a colon. You may address them by their first name if you have a relationship with that agent or the agent addresses you by your first name.

2. Remember your query letter is a business letter. Use spell checker, be concise, don’t ramble on about your story or yourself, don’t put yourself in a negative light (listing how many times you’ve been rejected), don’t use flowery fonts, do be respectful.  Nanthan Bransford's How to format an email query letter.

3. Follow the agent’s guidelines. If they want the query and X number of pages pasted in the email, don’t send attachments and vice versa.

4. Read their profiles to see what they represent. Don’t send genres they’re not interested in. You are wasting your time and theirs.

5. Don’t get cute or clever with the query letter. One writer turned the query letter into a question and answer format about the writer. The end result was the query letter was all about the writer and very little about the writing project.

6. Do try and highlight your writing voice in your query letter. This can be accomplished by taking text from the manuscript and using it in the letter. Text that is funny, witty or a clever turn of phrase gives the agent a taste of your writing style and hints about the story.

7. After you make your submission, do not call or email the agent pestering them if they received it, did they read it or when will they read it. Believe it or not, reading the slush pile is not their primary job.

8. Be respectful of their time. Their primary job is taking care of their current clients including tracking down royalty payments, getting submission packages ready for editors they want to query, reading manuscripts and making revision notes for current clients, negotiating deals with editors over current submissions and negotiating contracts once an offer has been accepted to name a few of their jobs.

9. When you receive a rejection letter, do not contact the agent complaining that they didn’t tell you why the manuscript was rejected or how to make it better.

10. If you receive a detailed revision request from an agent (multiple pages with thoughts, comments or suggestions on how to make the manuscript stronger/more marketable), you owe that agent the first look.

11. Know the acceptable word counts for your story. Don’t send a 2000-word picture book or an 80,000-word chapter book or middle grade. This is an instant rejection.

12. Pick a lane. Don’t write your story, intentionally or unintentionally, so it straddles the line between middle grade and YA. There are important distinctions between these two categories. Writer's Digest article on the differences between a middle grade and a YA novel.

13. Always be courteous and considerate of the agent’s time. Never insult, threaten, berate or belittle the agent. Being rude never works in your favor and agents do talk to each other.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Six Rules for Writers and their Critique Group

All writers should have a critique group or partner. Critique partner(s) are objective, non-emotional readers.
1. Writers need a fresh set of  eyes: Writers become blind to the faults in their own manuscript. Critique groups or partners are detached from your words which makes it easier for them to spot weaknesses in your manuscript. 

2. Trust your gut: New writers tend to have blind faith in their critique group or be doggedly obstinate about their writing. By that I mean, the new writer doing everything or nothing their critique group suggests. Doing either one is a bad idea. The key is balance. One must be open to changes and at the same time know when to trust their gut and hold firm. Trusting your gut comes with time and experience.

3. Write what you feel passionately about. If you write to follow trends, it will show in your manuscripts with a lackluster prose. For example: if you’re writing a story about a little girl who dances with unicorns every night and your critique groups says it should be dragons because they’re “hot right now” or make it dinosaurs because “all kids like them.” Don’t do it. Unless you feel as passionately about dinosaurs or dragons as you do about unicorns.

4. Your critique group or partner should be compatible with what you write. They should write in the genre and age group that you do. For example, if you write science fiction novels and your critique group or partner writes picture books or romance novels, you'd be better served by finding a science fiction novel writer looking for a critique partner.

They should also have some experience with writing or critiquing. You may go through several critique groups or partners, but eventually you’ll find a match. When that happens, treasure them!

5. Find beta readers: When you've completed your revisions and the manuscript has settled in a drawer (literally or figuratively) for weeks or months, reread and revise. When you feel it is as polished as you can make it, now use a beta reader, ideally someone who is not familiar with the manuscript.

6. Once your manuscript is finished and you are happy with your revisions based on your critique group, beta reader and gut, check out the following link before submitting your manuscript.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

October 2018 Boosting Creativity with Sara

We were delighted to have Sara Sargent, Executive Editor at HarperCollins lead her workshop, Sparking Creativity, at our 2018  Children's Writers of the Hudson Valley fall  event.  She was enthusiastic and fostered a fun learning environment. Below is a sampling of some of the topics that we discussed.

 Before you start writing, think about what you are writing, why are you writing it, who is it for and what is your goal. We talked about why writers get stuck and how identifying what makes us stuck is the answer to solving it. If you are feeling mired in your writing progress below are some ways to stimulate your writing muscles.

Some external ways to boost your creativity include changing your environment, create a vision board of the story you want to write, help someone else with their project and get your brain off your problems to name a few.

Internal ways to spark creativity include journaling or seeing a therapist to awaken that inner child or stir that pot! These were only two of the multiple suggestions. I picked my favorites.

Sara discussed elements for a good beginning: sense of intrigue, strong sense of place, compelling voice, good writing, compelling character and one good device.

Other topics discussed were how to fix your beginning, errors on the first page, tangible and emotion objects of the story and writing exercises to encourage creativity.

I left with three pages of handwritten notes and a three-page handout from Sara that also included additional writing exercises.

Thank you, Sara, for spending your Saturday afternoon with us. We received numerous compliments about your workshop and look forward to having you as an encore presenter in the near future.

The CWHV team also thanks our local writers for their continued support of our conference.

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Why Does the Publisher Want Comparative Titles and How to Find Them

At some point in your querying process, you’ll be asked to list comparative titles. I found this request/requirement daunting and intimidating. I could not remember any books that I thought were comparable to my story. I felt defeated before I had even started.

Luckily, I have a writing community that was extremely helpful and steered me in the right direction.

Some basic facts:
1. Publishers use comp titles as a gauge to show how new titles might sell.

2. Use Amazon to start your search. Look for books that are similar to yours in subject matter, genre, age group, fiction or nonfiction. You can also pick the brain of your local librarian. Ask them if they know of similar titles to your book.

3. Don’t use bestsellers as a comp title. Chances are your book will not be a bestseller and you should look for modest-selling titles.

4. To find modest-selling titles, use Amazon to find similar titles and check the reviews. Bestsellers can have hundreds of thousands of reviews, modest-selling titles may have less than 1000.

Bonus: click Five Tips for Finding Comparative Titles for more tips, my source and more detailed information. 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Important First Line

The hardest part of writing a novel, or any piece of writing, may be the opening line. The first line must catch the editor's or the agent's attention. Once a book is published, it must compete with every other book in the store. 

Who hasn't stood in front of a bookshelf, selected a book in a non-scientific manner (based on its title, jacket cover or even color), perused the back cover or the first few lines of the first page and rejected it?  For whatever reason, the book didn't resonate with you or pique your interest enough to make you parade to the register with said book in hand.

As writers, we’ve all stared at the blank page. Sometimes becoming painfully paralyzed by the importance of the first line, we developed writer’s block. A debilitating illness affecting writers by rendering them unable to construct sentences. (Throws salt over shoulder)

Let me ease your suffering. The rescue medicine is Seven Ways to Create a Killer Opening  by writer and Writer's Digest contributor Jacob M. Appel. He lists seven different ways to start your story or novel. Using one of his techniques might help your manuscript get out of the slush pile and into the hands of an editor or agent. And ultimately, one of the envied positions on a bookshelf near you. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

What Is Your Story's Hook?

Simply stated, your hook is what makes your book unique. Your hook is just as important as your story's characters, plot, climax and resolution, if not more. Can the reader relate to the hook, is it marketable and will the reader feel it's worth their time?  

Once you’ve identified your hook, ask yourself, would an age appropriate reader for your story care about it. For example, would an 11-year-old boy care if his mother got a promotion and his father stayed home doing childcare? Probably not, but he would care if his whole family went on vacation and left him home alone.

Your hook can be a statement or a question. 

In THIS TINY PERFECT WORLD by Lauren Gibaldi, will Penn stay in her small town and marry her boyfriend or will she leave and pursue her dream of acting in a big city?

In GEMINI by Sonya Mukherjee, Clara, a conjoined twin wants surgical separation, but her twin, Hailey, does not. Can Clara convince Hailey to have the surgery?

IF I STAY by Gayle Forman, after a tragic car accident leaves Mia in a coma, she must choose to fight for a life without her parents and brother or give up and die.

RAIN REIGN by Ann M. Martin, Rose, a girl with autism, has to decide whether to look for her lost dog or stay home where it’s safe and familiar, but never see her dog again.

FAR FROM THE TREE by Robin Benway, Grace, who always knew she was adopted, tells her adoptive parents that she wants to find her birth mother.

Think about some of your favorite stories. What made you read the book? A good exercise to help you identify and write your hook is to read the back cover of novels. You can also include your hook in your query letter.

Before you spend months or years working on your novel, spend time thinking of a hook that is identifiable, unique, one that is strong enough to be turned into a book (a product that can be sold) and one that a reader will care about.