Bracing myself…

StormPrep

Ready for this? In just two short days, I will receive the notes from my editor. TWO DAYS. I got an email yesterday with a little sneak peek of what is coming, and I have to say … I’m SO EXCITED!!! No, the forecast is not all sunny. The words “months of hard work ahead” were bandied about. But here’s the thing … I’ve known for a long time that there were some plotting and pacing issues that needed help, but I’m too close to it to see how to get there. And this right here – this is my chance. The notes I’ve gotten so far have been vague-ish (because the Big Notes are coming in TWO DAYS – did I mention that??), but I’m so encouraged by them. Someone out there gets it. And now I can make it what I’ve known all along it had the potential to be.

As you may have guessed, this is my first time working with an editor. I still get a huge thrill out of saying things like, “Why yes, I heard from my editor today.” And I’m not exactly sure what to expect. I do know that I’m not obligated to follow the advice/notes/critique/plan he lays out for me – that ultimately, he works for me and I can do what I want with my own words. BUT – I didn’t pay him so that I could listen to my own advice. If I may quote Alice for a moment…

alice advice

Truth.

So what I really need then, is to sort through what is fitting with my vision, and what is not. I’m preparing myself for the notes, for the doubts, for the inner-critic that pops up and says “See?? Why did you ever think you could be a writer??” Because that’s coming; it’s human nature.

Example: Yesterday, when I got the email addressing in vague terms some of the notes that are headed my way, one of the notes said that we live too much in my MC’s head. I glossed over that at first because there was so much else going on in the email that I was a little giddy and overwhelmed for a bit and it took a little while to settle into what I was reading. But that came back to me in a big way. And my reaction was “But it’s first person narrative; of COURSE I’m going to live in her head. I like it there! I know this character inside and out and I’m comfortable with living in her thoughts. Am I supposed to change the whole perspective of the book?” And then, somewhere around 5:00 this morning, I woke up (not on purpose – it’s my day off) thinking, “Oh wait a minute. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t think we should live in her head. It means that there’s not enough action to balance the thought-life. We should be seeing more of what’s actually happening rather than hearing her thoughts on what’s happening.” And I can DO THAT! Not only can I do that, but it makes me really excited for the potential of where she’s headed and where she’s going to take me.

So. Lesson learned. In two days (TWO DAYS!!) I shall attempt to make this happen:

  1. Read through the notes as a whole
  2. Don’t panic
  3. Don’t touch a single word of the manuscript for at least 24 hours
  4. Read through the notes again
  5. Make a plan (still not touching the ms!)
  6. THEN… get out the post-its and the highlighters and the purple Sharpie and DIVE IN!!!!

And that, my friends, is the plan. How well it will be executed remains to be seen. But I am so freaking stoked for this part of the journey. I feel ready. Notes? Critique? Months of hard work and late nights?

Yeah. Bring it.

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Breaking the Rules, or Who Made These Rules Anyway??

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I read a book last week that really messed with my head. Okay, so there were some clues … the book was called We Were Liars after all. I went into it expecting some mind games, maybe an unreliable narrator or some misinformation along the way. But in spite of going into it expecting that, it still messed with my head. But this post isn’t about that book (even though I think I’m recommending it – it was so beautifully written; the language was simple and poetic and unexpected and so gorgeous I just wanted to weep at the beauty of it). But it left me in a funk. You know, the kind where you can’t bring yourself to pick up a new book for a few days because (for better or worse) you’re still stuck in the world of the last book? Yeah, that funk.

So then two nights ago, I decided it was time to get out of the funk and pick a new book. Based on some reviews I’d read, I decided to give Shadow and Bone a try. It’s the first in a trilogy (or larger series? I’m not sure) and the third just came out, so there’s been lots of buzz about it lately and I thought I’d see what the hype is about. And I have to admit, I was completely hooked after the Prologue. Completely. I loved the intrigue and the implied darkness and the world-building right off the bat. And the stakes … so inspiring to my current predicament with my own writing. I mean, the main character is in love with her best friend and he has no idea. STAKES. She is small and scrawny but part of an army, joined by magical beings called the Grisha who are led by the mysterious Darkling. STAKES. And she is en route to a crossing of a perilous, otherworldly desert known as the Unsea which may or may not kill her and her entire travelling party. STAKES. All of this before Chapter Four, and all of this isn’t even The Thing. (There are no spoilers here, by the way – I think all of this and more is in the back cover description.)

So I started thinking… how do I incorporate these kinds of stakes into my own writing? When was I first hooked? What was it that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let me go? And the answer: it was the Prologue.

And THEN I started thinking … Hang on. A Prologue?? But what about The Rules?

You know the rules, right?

  1. No bright light
  2. Don’t get them wet
  3. NEVER feed them after midnight

No wait, those are the wrong rules. But these are no less familiar, I’m sure, to those of us tackling our first novel. How to start that all important first chapter:

  1. Don’t start with your character waking up
  2. Don’t describe your narrator by having them look into a mirror
  3. Don’t use that crutch known as a prologue

So those are the rules, don’t break them or there will be severe Gremlin-like consequences, right? SO WRONG! I’m sure that they’re good rules, and they’re there for a reason. You have to know the rules before you can break them, and all that. But seriously … Let’s look at each of those for a second.

Don’t start with your character waking up. Anyone remember a little book called the Hunger Games? Yeah, it starts with Katniss waking up. She realizes that Prim is missing, and we immediately see how her instinct to protect her little sister will drive the rest of the story. It works.

Don’t describe your narrator  by having them look into a mirror. I can see how this could be over-used, or cliche, or just lazy. But maybe you recall Divergent (another favourite of mine), and the opening scene where Tris’s mother is cutting her hair. The use of the mirror is unique for them in their household because they’re Abnegation and it’s the only time during the year when she gets to see herself. And so, breaking this rule WORKS.

Don’t use a Prologue. The first example that comes to mind in breaking this rule is TwilightEvery book in the series begins with a Prologue. But since that series as a whole has fallen into disfavor, the much better example is the aforementioned Shadow and Bone. The Prologue sets up the world so beautifully, and we immediately see the bond between Alina and Mal before they’re older and soldiers and about to be ripped apart. It works.

So who made these rules? Why do we abide by them when clearly they are meant to be broken? Obviously, with the right story and the right hook, they are not the immediate turn-offs that we’re led to believe they are. But aren’t we supposed to have the right story and the right hook regardless of how we open chapter one? YES! So what’s the big deal here?

BREAK THE RULES! Tell your story the way you need to tell it and forget the rest. Let the critics be critics, it’s what they do anyway. At least you’ll get to write your novel the way you know it needs to be written. The way no one else can do it, even if you have to make your own rules.

Bring on the Orcs?

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I’ve had trouble classifying my novel from the start, and have had several missteps. I started out thinking it was sci-fi, which was a mistake entirely. Then I realized that time travel is classified as a fantasy element, not sci-fi, but the rest of my novel takes place in modern day California. This led me to call it “contemporary YA with a fantasy twist.” And then I started trying to justify(or clarify?) that even more with “contemporary YA with a light fantasy time-travel twist.” That’s a lot of words and it starts to sound like I’m apologizing for my genre before I even get the plot out.

So. Here’s the thing … if I up the ante on the time travel bit, then can I call it a “Fantasy” novel?

When I think Fantasy, I think dragons. I think fairies and swords and trolls and magic. I love all those things and they will play a bigger role in my next book (already planning that one – can’t wait), but they are not in this book’s world. I don’t want people to pick it up thinking “Ooo! Fantasy! Bring on the Orcs!” and end up disappointed because it’s not any kind of High Fantasy. I know that there’s a distinction between High Fantasy and Light Fantasy, but I have yet to see Light Fantasy as an accepted genre. So what do I call it?

I looked up Kirsten Gier’s Ruby Red trilogy on to find out how that is classified since it’s also a time-travel story based in contemporary times. I couldn’t find an actual genre label. What I found was this… “Kerstin Gier’s Ruby Red is young adult novel full of fantasy and romance.” Granted, she also has a main character that talks to ghosts who don’t know they’re ghosts, and has a sassy gargoyle that follows her around, which are definite Fantasy elements which I don’t have. But we both share the time-travel device and the romance (which I’ve never thought to capitalize on, but my book has just as much romance as Gier’s does).

So there’s the real question. Can I label my book as simply “Fantasy” or do I need to clarify that with more descriptive words? I think I’m having a genre identity crisis.