Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Balding Writer

This is a confusing business sometimes. In fact, I'd venture to say there's not another one like it. Every other business I've been in (and there've been quite a few) has had a clear set of rules for conducting said business. Whole acronyms have been created to show how clear these guidelines are. (Take ISO, for example - the International Standards of Operation, which isn't really a set of guidelines itself, but merely a designation given to companies who DO adhere to their own set of guidelines.)

There is no ISO for writing. Sure, each agency and/or publisher has their own set of guidelines for querying, submitting, editing, etc., but for the writing itself? And even the querying guidelines aren't set from one company to the next - sometimes not even close. And the rules that do exist are both bendable and breakable, depending on the circumstance.

Like I said, confusing.

For instance, I've heard repeatedly not to write prologues. They're a bad bad thing. Editors don't like them. Agents don't like them. And yet... I keep buying new books with prologues.

Another biggie is: Don't use rhetorical questions in your query letters. Agent Nathan Bransford hates 'em, and he's not the only one. (He's just the best example at this point.) Except when those agents do see one that works for them, and then the rule is chucked out the window.

Don't use adverbs - they're the lazy writer's tool. Don't use 'it is, there was, etc.' - again, it shows laziness. Don't use dream sequences, don't begin a book with the MC waking up. Do begin in the middle of the action. Don't start in the middle of the action because it throws the reader off. Send pages even when they don't ask for pages. Don't send pages unless they're asked for...

A girl could go bald, tearing her hair out trying to follow all the rules. Seriously*, I think I'm showing the early signs of female pattern baldness. At the very least, the gray hairs are starting to make a bid for majority status.

So what's a gal to do?

Whatever it takes to get the book sold, I guess. With the conflicting query information, you have to follow each agent's requests as you go along. Keep a database and make sure you follow every single little guideline the agent in question has. With the conflicting information on the writing itself, trust your instincts and write the best book you know how to write. If you trip over one of the amorphous unwritten guidelines, but it's the best way to write your book... :shrug: I still haven't figured that one out.

Spectacle starts out with the MC catching a glimpse of some strange and harried woman, only to find out she's looking at herself. I was told early to change this, because everyone knows you can't do that. But it does happen, and it's the perfect way to show the detached state of mind the MC is in at the beginning of the book. I tried cutting it out, and it took something away from the manuscript. I tried rewriting it, and I ended up telling instead of showing. So I put it back in, and left the advice where it belonged - in the circular file.

One rule I think should be above all the others is this: Write the story as it needs to be written. The rest will work itself out.

In the end, I guess I'll just do the best I can with the tools I have. Even if it means going bald in the process. Hey, I could be a pretty bald chick, like Sinead O'Connor or the gal from the first Star Trek movie. It could happen.

Your turn. What's some conflicting advice you've heard and what have you done about it?

*Okay, not seriously.



Travis Erwin said...

This is why I grew a goatee. It give me even more hair to pull.

JenWriter said...

Well, I don't know about conflicting advice, but I definitely, um, broke a pretty consistent rule I've heard.

I got a little carried away last week and queried an agent or two before my edits were done. And today? I got a partial request.

Guess what I was doing the past five or so hours? Yep, that's right. Editing and pulling out my hair so I could get this baby out. So yeah. Learned my lesson there. It's exciting! But I should have waited.

B.E. Sanderson said...

LOL, Travis.

OMG Jen! Woohoo! If you need someone to give it a quick look, I'll volunteer, and I'll sic my daughter on it, too.