No more boring characters. Please. Pretty please.

Without interesting characters, there would be no reason to pick up a novel, as humans are all basically voyeurs, and our most favorite pastime is observing each other. With a good read we can get inside an imaginary human’s head, see what makes them tick, understand their flaws and foibles. So beyond what physical descriptions can tell us about our characters, what can we do to make them alive and breathing, especially considering some modern schools of thought decry physical descriptions at all? Let’s take a look at this “Checklist on Creating Characters,” taken from David Starkey’s Creative Writing – Four Genres in Brief  (Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009), a terrific textbook I’ve used in my Creative Writing classes:

  1. Do you know your main characters and their desires well? You should have a strong sense of who your characters are, where they live, where they’ve been, and the driving forces that make them act. They should know what they want and what they’re prepared to do to get it.
  2. Does your story show us only the essential aspect of your characters? While it’s important that you know your characters thoroughly, you will be revealing only a tiny sliver of that info on the page. Show your characters being themselves, only more so. Whatever conflict they are involved in should bring out a heightened sense of who they really are.
  3. Is your description of each character appropriate to, and necessary for, that character’s function in the story? You, the author, should always have a clear mental picture of your characters, but you should ask yourself if a complete physical, psychological, ethical, etc., description is really necessary for all characters. Unless some physical or emotional aspect of your character is necessary to the storyline, leave it out.
  4. Are the characters’ names appropriate? Do it reflect their personality? Their ethnicity? A physical characteristic? Try not to have too many Sams, Steves, Saras or Susans, as so many of the same letter can be confusing. And if that 1840s character from the remotest region of cloistered China is named O’Brien, you better have a reason why.
  5. Should that character be named at all? He’s a doorman the protagonist breezes past on the way out. Who cares. Unless, of course, later on he comes after him with a shotgun.
  6. Are your main characters different at the end of the story than they were in the beginning? The most convincing fictional characters are both consistent and surprising. Reread the opening and concluding sections of your story. Do you see a difference in how your protagonist began and how he or she ends up? If there’s no growth–or considerable decline–then you have a static character, and your readers will feel cheated.
  7. And at the end, will they leave your readers wanting more? Essential if you want to continue your story in a series. Like breadcrumbs through the woods, leave a trail of intriguing tidbits about the characters you’d like your readers to follow into the next book. And the next, and the next, and beyond.
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Autumn! Where the eff are you?!

pine-barrens-wharton
Sigh…oh my–when? WHEN?!

No lie, it was freaking ninety degrees in Jersey today. Like it’s the middle of July, I’ve been blasting the air conditioner inside my house and on the road. What’s worse, here it is three days from October, and I’ve yet to see anyone cradling Pumpkin Spice coffee yet (not that it’s any great loss to mankind). But how would you when the only thing anyone still wants steaming is the hot fudge atop their sundae? Really, I’ve had it with summer already.  I want the temperature bearable. I want a frost to finally get rid of these bastard mosquitoes who’ve  been chomping my legs all summer. But let me give you a few more reasons why I’m so much more about Autumn than the hellacious  weather this year passed as summer. (And if you think you’ve read some of this before, well hey, you can’t plagiarize yourself, and dammit, some things just bear repeating):

1. Apples – Gala, Cortland, Mac, Granny – sure you can get them at the supermarket all year ’round, but this time of year, you can pluck them right off the tree. Here in the Northeast there’s no shortage of apple farms, and luckily enough, no shortage of Apple Festivals and Hard Apple Cider samples either. This abundance of apples leads to the inevitable apple cakes, apple muffins, apple sauce, fried apples, apple fritters, apple dumplings, apple doughnuts, applesauce, apple lasagna…

2. Cooler Nights – Seriously, I have nothing intrinsically against summer, but I also like to get a good night’s sleep. And I don’t care what you say about air conditioning – the only difference it makes to my downtime is I get a bit of Sinus Inflamed Fitful Sleep instead of wallowing the night away in a pool of sweat-soaked sheets. Big difference from leaving the window opened a tad and tucking the covers under your chin. Plus you can snuggle up with the person next to you and not have your skin go phwhuck! from the contact. So much pleasanter. And quieter!

3. Better Movies – With the summer blockbuster season behind us, the studios finally roll out their “serious” films, as we get closer to Oscar time. Goodbye car chases, blue screens and dick flicks, I can finally revel in some meaningful dialogue and decent acting. Now if I could only find a theater that’s actually showing one I would be happy.

4. Boots! – And tights and leggings and socks. Look, there’s nothing like freeing your feet for sandals and walking barefoot. But with that comes a lot of leg and foot maintenance. I mean seriously, pedicures aren’t cheap–$35, $40, $50 a pop, and you wouldn’t want to see what my toenails look like when I do them myself. It’s worth every penny, but sinking your tootsies in knee-high boots and zipping them over a tight pair of jeans has merit, too. Not to mention skipping a time or two with the razor or wax job. Invaluable.

5. Scarves Are Back – Love them. LOVE THEM. They make you look artsy and dramatic, and keep your neck warm at the same time. What other article of clothing can you buy at Target that says so much for so little? Plus they keep the collar of that wool jacket you look tres chic in from itching so bad you’d like to rip your skin off. Ah, the price of fashion…

Let the leaves fall!

 

New Agent On the Prowl

While I was perusing one of my favorite writing-related sites, Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity, I came across some brandy-new agents who are actively seeking clients and lo and behold–one of them is from the agency that represents moi! Her name is Meg LaTorre-Snyder of Corvisiero Literary, and here’s the skinny on who she is and what she’s looking for…

Meg LaTorre-Snyder is an editor and writer with a background in magazine publishing, journalism, medical writing, and website creation. With her background, she’s excited to have a hands-on editorial partnership with authors. She has written for digital and print publications on a variety of topics, including book publishing, writing how-tos, nutrition, healthy living, startup companies, and pharmaceuticals. In her free time, she enjoys working on her own adult fantasy manuscript, reading long novels, drinking tea by the bucket, running in competitive races, participating in musical productions, playing basketball, and reading nutrition textbooks (yep, textbooks). To learn more about Meg, visit her website, follow her on Twitter/Facebook, and subscribe to her YouTube channel, iWriterly.

What she is seeking: YA, NA, and adult:

Fantasy
Historical fiction
Romance (with magical elements)
Space opera
Steam punk
Thrillers (with magical elements)
She loves books written in third-person with multiple POVs, quirky, realistic characters, and rich descriptions.

Meg is not interested in nonfiction, picture books, contemporary stories (particularly those with no magical elements), erotica, horror, dystopian, screenplays, poetry, short stories, and novellas.

How to Submit: Send your query, first five pages, and 1-2 page synopsis in the body of an email (no attachments) to query@corvisieroagency.com with the following information in the subject line:

Query for Meg: [TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT IN ALL CAPS], [age group], [genre]

Getting ready to pitch? Read me first!

So you’re getting ready to pitch your book at your first writers conference because you think you’ve finished the ms. But have you? Here’s something few new writers realize: you haven’t. Then how do you know when you have finished? When you send back the publisher’s galleys. Galleys? What are galleys?

Oh boy, do you have some work to do.

So between now and then you need to go over your manuscript with a magnifying glass, looking for plot holes, continuity slips, characters inconsistencies, etc. This is also a good time to use a beta reader, a critique partner (highly recommended), or someone you trust to give it an honest, critical read, and not someone who’ll just say “It was great!” because they don’t want to damage your fledgling writer ego. (Look, I may as well hit you with it now–the World of Writing is a World of Hurt. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can dab off your cryin’ eyes and get back to work.) But here’s a caveat to all that critiquing–DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! If your betas are worth it they’re not criticizing you, they’re critiquing the work. And it’s better hearing it from them first than having it rejected by an editor or agent because of some very fixable flaw. So do the work now and get it over with because you’re going to do it eventually anyway. Your work will need to be as perfect as possible, and that’s  the whole work, right to THE END.

One thing that is ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE is that you MUST have a FINISHED MANUSCRIPT before you start pitching it. Why? Let me tell you something about agents and editors: they are being bombarded by submissions. My agent alone gets up to 200 queries a week. If you get a submission request and you don’t send your manuscript within a month, trust me, she’ll forget all about you. Strike while the iron is  steaming and before you move out of her memory. But again, only after you polish that manuscript until it’s pink and screaming.

The Basics—Genre and Word Count.

You know what your manuscript is about, but how would you categorize it? And what is your word count?  A typical fiction novel is 75,000 to 100,000 words, though most check in around 80-85k. Round this number to the nearest thousand. The editor doesn’t have to know it’s 82,437 words. You also need to know your genre. This is key as this is how you’ll not only narrow your search for an agent, but once you’ve found one, it’s how she’ll target it to editors. Common Fiction genres are:

literary                 commercial          mystery                romance    

women’s fiction   humor/satire        historical              new adult

young adult          middle grade       children’s             picture book

espionage             thriller/suspense    gay/lesbian          military

horror           fantasy        sci-fi                graphic novel

paranormal           erotica

Or any combination of. Some of the popular genres, such as mystery and romance, also have sub-genres, ie, “cozy” mysteries, like Agatha Christie, or historical romance, or spec-sci-fi.

Common Non-Fiction genres are:

history                 sports                   biography            science

memoirs               narrative              pop culture          cultural/social sci

travel                   political                humor                  gift books

health/fitness       gardening            photography       self-help

true crime            art                        adventure            business

how-to                 journalism           religion                cookbooks

celebrity               current affairs

You need to be very familiar with your genre and word count, as you’ll need it for your presentation or query. It’ll be one of the first things the editor or agent will want to know.

Finding your Perfect Editor/Agent

The majority of publishers no longer accept unagented submissions. Some epublishers do, and so do some genre pubs, like romance and sci-fi but if you want to target one of the major houses without an agent, really the only way you’re going to get to them is through pitch sessions at writers conferences or the direct recommendation of one of their clients. Unless you’re lucky enough to know the latter, you’re going to have to do some legwork for the former.  Because there’s nothing worse than meeting with an editor or agent face-to-face and having them say, “Sorry, I don’t represent that genre.” From which the luminescent glow of your  crimson face will no doubt show the world what a minor league player you are. So do your homework.

  • Read other authors in the genre of what you write, and target those editors or agents. Look in the acknowledgement page and see who the author thanks. Look through the books you have already bought, or go haunt your local bookstore. Then when you’re querying the agent, or sitting down for a face-to-face, you can say your book is a cross between “this writer and that writer with a touch of another writer thrown in.”
  • Literary Marketplace (LMP). If you don’t know what it is, time to find out. Available in hard copy and database at most local libraries.
  • Manuscript Wish List , the websiteMSWL or the hashtag, #MSWL. Find editors and agents, and see what they’re looking for.
  • Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity. Love love love this blog. Too much publishing info to put down on this entry, so go there and see for yourself.
  • Go directly to the agent’s website, and see what authors they represent, and what books they’ve sold. This is even more important for an editor. Go directly to the publisher’s website. An editor or agent may say they LIKE something but if they’ve never SOLD it, they may not be a good fit. A SALE is always a more reliable indicator.

Targeting your Editor or Agent

Now that you know your genre, and how to research an agent, or an editor, you need to target which one will fit your style. Compare the list of visiting editors and agents to what you write and see if there’s a fit. If an editor only publishes literary fiction and you write sci-fi, chances are, no matter how well you write, they will not accept your submission. Same goes with agents. If an agent’s specialty is romance, and you write essays, you’re going to strike out. Too many times writers will submit to agents that don’t represent their type of writing, and then can’t understand why they get rejected. I can’t stress this enough: It’s better NOT to submit than to submit to the wrong editor and/or agent. Don’t think they’re just going to fall in love with your western and grab it anyway, when all they’ve previously sold is cookbooks. That happens VERY rarely in the real world. Save yourself a lot of needless rejection angst and just do your homework.

Now hop to it!

If it seems like you’ve waited 250 years then yeah, you’ve got it bad

I’ve been told that several “Easter eggs” have been planted throughout Outlander Season Three premiering this Sunday, September 10 on Starz. So what’s an Easter egg? It’s those little hidden gifts the producers like to plant in various scenes that only true fans will know the significance of. Sounds like fun and I can’t wait to look for them. But you’re an old-time devotee of the series, then you’ve already noticed quite a few pieces of coal as well. What I mean is we old-timers have been on the Claire/Jamie team for well over twenty years now since the Diana Gabaldon’s first book of the series, Outlander, debuted in 1992. And as readers of the books–sometimes two or three times–there’s certain things that have veered from the texts. Personally, I’m not complaining, as many variations have either had no significance or even improved the story. And since Diana Gabaldon has had such an active part in the production, she must approve of the changes. Plus ultimately, showrunner Ronald D. Moore is certainly entitled to his own vision and for the most part, I overwhelmingly approve. Still, there are some things that have veered from the written text that stand out for me (and if you don’t want to know what they are, if you think I’m a spoilsport and should just shut up and watch, then stop reading right here):

  • Claire, unlike the very talented, blue-eyed Caitriona Balfe, has brown eyes. In the book they are described as very unusual and “sherry-colored.”
  • The wedding ring Jamie gives Claire is a silver band decorated in the Highland interlace style, a small Jacobean thistle bloom carved in the center.
  • Jamie gets violently seasick, so bad he’s literally unable to come on deck when a ship is in motion. After he is liberated from Wentworth Prison in the book, he’s mostly unconscious and it’s not until France when he’s taken to the monastery to recover. The fact he’s unconscious is a lifesaver. Gabaldon deals with this quirk of Jamie’s in an inventive way with a novel character in Book Three and sailing on a ship becomes pivotal to the plot. Not that I’m telling you here!
  • In the books, Jamie and Claire’s daughter, Brianna, is described as tall and big-boned, size 16 and six-feet tall. There is no doubt that she is Jamie’s daughter, with her height and flaming-red hair. She was also born and raised in Boston, and there’s no doubt in my mind she pahks her cahr in Ha-vahd yahd.

Don’t get me wrong–I love-love-LUFF this series, and I can live with any of these changes and enjoy it tremendously. But I’m not going to deny the fact as a tall and big-boned woman, I would have loved to see an equally tall and big-boned woman playing the part of Jamie’s daughter, especially in this year of Wonder Woman. But if that would mean living without Jamie each Sunday night at nine, well, come on. Life is all about compromise, isn’t it?

Sunday night at eight.  You’ll know where I’ll be.

Editors! Agents! Authors! Oh my!

Jones-ing for some editors and agents and a little literary elbow-rubbing? Then how about taking a trip to Red Bank for the LitPow Author-Preneur Workshop by the River on September 16, 2017.  This event is an amazing multilayered interactive full day workshop with presentations by  Literary Agent Marisa A. Corvisiero, Esq., and other key industry professional guests dedicated to authors’ success. The workshop is presented at a beautiful location by the Navesink River in Red Bank, NJ, where the setting is relaxing and inspiring. Light breakfast, lunch, and social mixer will be provided.

During this retreat like full day workshop authors have the opportunity to attend various Presentations, pitch Literary Agents and Editors (Optional), get a book signed by NY Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Heidi McLaughlin during our Mixer, get work critiqued by Agents and Editors (Optional), attend the Gong Show: First Page Critique Literary Agent and Editor Panel, and Network with authors and industry professionals all day long and during a Networking Mixer after hours.

For more info and registration about the Author-Preneur Workshop visit their website here.

(Un)Totally Awesome

That’s me in all my hefty glory staring up at the sun (yes, it’s true the camera adds ten pounds. Or it’s what I choose to believe!) I was staying at a hotel in Smithville, NJ, and as it happened our room had its own deck on a pond (or “lake” as they chose to believe), which gave us a great view of the moon slowly chipping away at our local star.  Okay, so it was only at approximately 76-80%, and the sky didn’t really darken, and the birds didn’t hit the trees to roost. But it was really, really chill looking at this cosmic event. Or as Neil deGrasse Tyson  tweeted, “The divided United States of America will unite today, sharing a cosmic event predicted by the methods and tools of science.”

So why is this important? I mean beyond the expected scientific significance? Because of all the rampant divisiveness lately, this was one instance where we all came together as humans, as like the setting and rising of the sun itself, the eclipse affected everyone. Everyone had a chance to revel in or marvel at it, as even complete strangers, caught up in their glee over it, were willing to share their solar glasses so those unequipped could have a peek. Although I and my husband didn’t view it in a group per se, we were at a public place (the hotel we stayed at is in the middle of a little commercial village of shops and cafes), with people walking by, kids fishing in the pond, or employees milling about, with everyone ready with a comment and the willingness to share their eclipse glasses if you didn’t have a pair. We had three pairs and gave away two, one before and one after the peak, both of them to kids.  Both were delighted.

So what’s next on the nature extravaganza schedule? Welp, we’re now officially in hurricane season, which is supposed to be more active than normal, which is apropos as this October brings us to the five year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Not only that, but current studies are showing us it’s not only the West Coast that should be worrying about earthquakes, and we’re way overdue for one on the East Coast. Really? Now I’ve got to worry about that?

Maybe I’ll just wait for the leaves to change. As the eclipse just showed, some nature is much more passive than aggressive.

 

And you sir, are no George

Bust of George Washington on display at the Museum of the Revolution in Philadelphia, said to be the closest resemblance in existence of the nation’s first president.

The father of our country has been getting a bit of bad press lately. There’s been chatter going around that he’s no different from General Robert E. Lee, saying they both were Southerners, they both owned slaves, they both revolted against an oppressive government. The chatter says if you’re tearing down monuments of Gen. Lee, you should also be pulling down monuments of Washington, as what’s the difference? They were both flawed men, both incited dissent and revolution, both, I don’t know–rode horses (thanks, Brian Williams). And if we want to be perfectly truthful, both were men of their times. But there’s a distinct difference that some don’t get. Or rather, refuse to acknowledge.

What Washington did, along with Jefferson and Franklin and Adams to name a few, was extraordinary in its audaciousness. They dared to propose a government not of kings but of laws, not of a hereditary monarchy but of the people. Of course it was exclusionary, but it allowed for evolution, to create a more perfect union, to strive for …the pursuit of happiness.  This American Revolution began even before Jefferson’s pen scratched out its principles, because it was so revolutionary in its thinking it instantly made obsolete every form of government before it. These men were not only of their time, but of the future. They envisioned a way forward, they dared to think that all men were created equal, even if all men at that time weren’t. But toward that more perfect union they marched, this government of laws that no man was above, in a sincere effort to get it right.

But Gen. Lee disagreed and led a march toward the past. He was defeated, as all backward thinking usually is. And in that, we find another truth.

We won’t go there again. We can’t. Because it’s not only in our nature to not go back, it’s in our collective DNA.  We’re still marching toward that more Perfect Union.

 

If I only had the time, sigh…

I read an article today in the New York Times by Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed about a woman who had a powerful dream one night about writing a book. The dream was so intense she awoke in tears, almost ready to quit her job and become a barista so she could pursue it. (Riiiight. Because that’s the path bestsellerdom, certainly more practical than getting an MFA and adjuncting yourself out as an English professor. But I digress.) Cheryl Strayed, who knows a thing or two about dropping out, acknowledged that dream may have been a kind of wake-up call, but also issued a few cautions. “Writing a book is drudgery,” she said. “It requires an apprenticeship. I suggest that you begin by doing it. Sign up for a workshop or take a vacation and spend it writing. See where that leads you. You don’t have to immediately quit your job to become a writer. You need only to start writing.”

Words never more true. You can’t call yourself a writer if you never write because writers write. I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve heard, “I’d write a book if I only had the time,” or “When I retire I’m going to write a book.” Yeah, because writers are really people with these friendless, vacant lives, and they only write to give themselves something to do besides watching The Bachelorette. (And no I didn’t.) Now, when I retire I’m going to preform brain surgery because you know, it’s the same kind of simple skill set. In my opinion, this type of thinking boils down to what many outside the profession believe: that writing is either something anyone can do if one could afford the leisure, or it’s this ephemeral kind of vocation that awards stardom upon completion of the inevitable masterwork. In reality, I hate to tell you, it’s usually neither.

But one thing I can say with absolute certainty is the writing life is just that. It’s like being being pregnant: you either are or you’re not. You can’t be kinda. When you’re in the life, it’s all-consuming. A work-in-progress is a cruel, unrelenting succubus (or incubus) that forgoes your loins for your every creative thought. It demands all of your time, whether working or driving or eating  or sleeping–it takes hold of both rational and irrational thought and doesn’t let go. It demands you set every word and impulse down by forcing you to confront the blank page, administering pain no opiate could numb, but rewarding you with a pleasure beyond sublime in the process.  But to be good at it, to be a success, it entails hours upon tens of hours of trial and error, the ability to withstand heaps and heaps of criticism, the tenacity to write the same passage a dozen times over, and the capacity to understand failure as a fact of any writer’s life.

In the end, if you have a hardened enough hide to spend hours in a chair, days without family, weekends forgoing anything social, and months and months of hurrying up to meet a deadline, only to spend an equal amount of time hearing nothing back, then maybe–just maybe you’re ready to wake up from that dream into a new reality. And take that job as a barista.

Hey, at least it has benefits.

Seriously Snark

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