Three People Read 20 Pages of My MS and the Result was Weird

I’m back. No more three-week breaks between blogging. I mean, I need this thing. It forces me to make progress on the noveling. Also, I love it when people talk to me about my posts—so I guess I better write them, huh? (Btw, I have still been blogging at The Write Practice–feel free to check them out at any time!).

So the other day I found out I am a finalist for another writing contest called the Abalone Awards. Basically, it’s a contest for love stories that have a cultural, interracial or multicultural hook. Check! The difference between this one and the Marlene contest is that finalists are given an opportunity to read the judge’s comments and revise the entry before the final round.

Great! Right?

Well, when I opened the first score sheet, all I saw were 3s (out of 10!).  There were a couple of 5s and a 6 here or there, but not many. My reaction was WTF, how did I become a finalist?! The comments weren’t that much better. She didn’t like my switching points of view* (it felt disjointed to her) and she said the opening scene needed work (I’ve since changed it completely for like the 5th time—but not just because of this). Um, ouch. It hurt, but OK. (She did like my characters though :))

On the next two score sheets I received a bunch of 9s—whew! Those judges said the story flowed and they loved the opening scene! In addition, one of them mentioned she did not like my male character but conceded that characters don’t need to be liked to be successful. (For the record, I think he’s likable).

So this is what’s weird: the judges had completely different reactions to the exact same things. What’s a girl supposed to do with that?!

I already know that I’m not going to please everyone—even J.K. Rowling has a few 2 star reviews. But it was a very strange experience to read such starkly different reactions to my work.

My first instinct was to ignore the hater.  But…the whole point of entering these things is to get feedback (right?). My second instinct was to try to address all of her concerns. Too much work. Plus, no.*

Ultimately I decided to take the following approach:

  • Read through the comments with an open mind, genuinely respecting the judges’ opinion.
  • Note any issues mentioned by all three judges.
  • Go to sleep.
  • Revise without returning to the comments, the assumption being that I have internalized the feedback.

While it’s important to take criticism seriously, the process is inherently subjective.  All I can really do is trust my instincts and stay true to the story, so that’s plan.  Plus—in this case, the contest entry was only 20 pages (out of a 300-page manuscript!) Gotta keep it all in perspective.

Til next week! (I promise!)

* Side note: My manuscript currently alternates between the first person (the female protagonist) and the third person (male protagonist). Every time a group has read pieces of my manuscript, someone has commented on this technique. Future fans let me explain:

  • I wanted the female protagonist to be an unreliable narrator. An unreliable narrator is someone who the reader cannot completely trust because her perspective is skewed. The first person is inherently less reliable than the third person because you only have access to that character’s knowledge, opinions, etc. I wanted the male protagonist to be reliable.
  • I wanted the voices to be distinct. In case you didn’t know—this is my first novel. I was very concerned when I began writing that the voices of the two characters would be too similar (because they were both coming from me!) Alternating between first and third person made it a lot easier for me to accomplish this goal.
  • This isn’t a crazy idea. Terry McMillan has done it. Emily Giffin has done it. So why can’t I? Even if you find the switch initially jarring, I promise you will get used to it after reading another chapter or two.

 

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On Book Trailers: Publishing a Novel Today Requires Some Serious Movie-Making Skills

This industry never ceases to surprise me. Recently I discovered a little something called book trailers. A book trailer is exactly what it sounds like—a short video meant to entice audiences into purchasing your novel. So basically, to become a novelist today you not only have to be a writer and a marketer, you also have to be a movie producer!

Before I proceed, here’s the trailer for Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,”–the book I’m reading now:


After procrastinating for a while by watching various trailers on the Internet, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

  • Thrillers make the best trailers. Put on scary music, show a knife and blood and you’ve captured the readers attention. Easy peasy.
  • Trailers also make a lot sense for memoirs. When you publish a memoir, you’re trying to get a stranger to want to read all about your life—a trailer is a good way to introduce yourself to the world and get people to like you.
  • Women’s Fiction may be the hardest genre to produce a good trailer. Most that I’ve seen come across as really, really cheesy—like it’s going to be a terrible movie book.
  • Trailers are high risk/high reward—while the good ones can definitely draw in a new crop of readers and create excitement about the book, a bad one can undercut all an author’s hard work. For movies, it makes sense that great trailer probably = great movie, but not necessarily so for novels. A wonderful writer may turn out to be (and probably will be) a horrible producer.
  • There are millions of ways to produce a trailer all by yourself!  You can use Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, ScreenFlow and some other programs. This probably explains why there are so many bad ones are out there.

A couple of more examples:

Below is the first trailer I found under “women’s fiction trailers” in Goodreads.  I actually think it’s pretty decent compared to others I’ve seen.  She keeps it simple–that’s all you can do.

Famous authors usually just sit and talk about the book because they can do that.  Their faces and voices are enough to entice you!  Colson Whitehead’s trailer for Sag Harbor was one of the first I ever saw:

And here is the trailer for Terry McMillan’s new book “Who Asked You?”

1,000 Words Written! And…Some Talk on Showing (Not Telling)

Success! I finished designing my novel using my nifty Snowflake Pro.  Now all I have to do is write it!  Believe it or not, I started yesterday with about 1,000 words.  Before I started throwing words on the page, however, I needed a shot of inspiration.  So I read the first couple of pages of a few novels on my shelf.  Then, I pulled out the nifty book I bought back in 2007 or so (the first time I tried to write a novel) called “This Year You Write Your Novel” by Walter Mosley.  The book is pretty is awesome because it’s so short and to the point.  I re-read the part on how to “show” rather than “tell” and these are the tools Walter says I need:

1. Sensations.  “If you can include the physical reactions to the emotional situations that your characters find themselves in, you will be bringing your readers closer to the experience of the novel.”

2. Emotions. “To say ‘I love you’ rather than using a more vivid expression is not strong enough for fiction.  You have to get down to the place where the character (and therefore the reader) feels the emotions that drive your novel.”

3. The Pedestrian in Fiction. “Pedestrian details tells and also shows us something about our protagonist and/or her world…Everyday experiences help the reader relate to the character, which sets up the reader’s acceptance of more extraordinary events that may unfold.”

4. Methaphor and similie.  “The methaphor shows us something—something we both see and imagine. And it’s not only human beings that are transformed by methaphor [e.g., “the man was a lion among sheep”]; anything in the writer’s realm can also be something else [e.g., “the sun is a grueling taskmaster with a solar whip in hand”].”  (His examples).  When the methaphor is too strong, turn to the simile.

lion

5. Final note.  “A novel is more experiential than it is informational. Most of what your reader learns is gain through what they are shown about the lives and circumstances of the characters therein.”

It worked! After I read those pages, I felt inspired! Pumped!  I was ready to sit down and write something sensational and emotional, but also pedestrian and employing literary techniques.  And, I did…sort of.  But I found that trying to be so creative at this point slows both me and my story down.  As I’ve occasionally discussed in the context of blogging, I like to just freestyle write and worry about editing later.  So now my plan is to do what I do (snowflake designed outline and stuff) and then worry about Walter’s “showing” tools later.

Have a great weekend!!