Have you ever wanted just to sit down with a senior editor and ask what it is they want? Do your eyes glaze over when yet another query letter is answered with “thanks, but no thanks’?
You’ve worked and worked at your submission, followed all the suggestions given to you and, while you wait for query replies, your non-nails are red and raw with worry.
Self-doubt is your closest companion, so much so that your spouse suggests there isn’t room for all three of you in the marriage bed.
And that’s why I went to a workshop given by Craig Pyette, a senior editor at Random House of Canada Limited, through The Writers’ Community of Durham Region.
I wanted to hear yet another person in the business explain just what is in the elusive pot at the end of the writing rainbow. And more importantly, how writers might reach it. Could I dip in for some goodies?
We writers need these experiences to help us along the way to publication but even knowing there are hundreds of answers to the How do I get published? question, we still keep looking for that one key, that open sesame abracadabra that will make our dreams reality.
Craig Mentioned These Points For Writers To Do:
- Keep the voice consistent with each character and his/her sensibilities. A character talking about his didgeridoo would be unbelievable if he has no connection with Australia.
- Check to see if the voice of different characters’ chapters is consistent with that character. My Irish-born visitor to Lucy’s farm speaks with an Irish turn of phrase. Lucy, born in Boston to English parents, can not.
- Write sentences for impact, ending on the point that really matters. Don’t end with the contextual information in the sentence. Bad: Lucy rammed the rifle into the man’s chest after he had dared to suggest she go with him . Better: “I’d be glad to take a pretty thing like you with me, you know.” Lucy rammed the rifle into the man’s chest. “Get off my land!”
- Craig says to let him (the reader) slow down and get into the character’s shoes in the first pages. This sets a base for the unfolding of the story.
- He wants to see a fresh take on something people care about, indelible characters, a strong voice, a great story, prose that’s up to the task of telling that story, and a writer who has become an authority on his/her subject.
Points For Writers To Avoid:
- The reader must not be bewildered. Craig says if he doesn’t get what is happening, probably others won’t either.
- Boredom is to be avoided at all cost. If the writer sets up a scene where something great is going to happen and then it doesn’t, the reader is bored and disappointed.
- Writers need to avoid explaining their suspense, to decide how much the reader must be kept in suspense, and then follow through. Keep your hand on the throttle, so to speak, with a clear destination in mind.
- If an anecdote doesn’t really attach to the story arc, should it be there? Probably not. Would the reader miss it if it weren’t there?
- Avoid putting in extraneous material. Boil down to the little moments that actually affect the reader’s reading of your book and the understanding of your story.
Helpful Items For Writers to Consider:
- Taste is a big thing in whether your novel is picked up. We all have favorite subjects, writers, places. Editors do, too, and they affect whether a particular editor will be interested in your book.
- As do writers and a host of other writing-oriented people, editors learn on the job. They do this by reading and reflecting on great books. I surmise that Craig is suggesting experience, then, is a valuable asset to have in your editor.
- First and foremost, it’s about the quality of the writing. That seems to go without saying but I’ve repeated it for its very importance in this discussion.
- Most authors need to do research for their subject, whether for historical details or the way to do an oil change. Writers must be careful not to wax eloquently on that research at the expense of the story. Be careful not to let your research show. I found out great detail on how to skin a raccoon and my first draft had it all, but subsequent cutting meant most of that scene was gone. It really didn’t add anything to John’s going off to war.
- Great books break rules in a positive manner and that makes them fresh and different.
For the final hours of the workshop we worked on pitch lines. The term ‘elevator pitch’ has more to do with the time it takes to tell someone about your book–and hook them!–than about being on an actual elevator. Here is the pitch I came up with for The Loyalist’s Wife: “A young Loyalist couple in 1778 New York State meet the challenges of their lives as he goes off to fight for the King and she remains alone on their isolated farm to fight her own war.”
What workshop have you taken which absolutely got you going? Is there a favorite writing guru you follow? Or do you eschew others and follow your own star? Consider leaving a comment below.
Coming Soon! A free giveaway of tips for writers!