Three Dirty Birds on Self-Editing for Fiction Writers — 3


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Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King, Chapter 3: Point of View.

Kate: I don’t have any stickies. I guess it’s because I recognize that close third is what’s fashionable right now, I rarely write in first, and I don’t have the skills to handle omniscient.

Ana: I guess it depends a little on the genre? Once you go into YA you get bombarded with 1st person story.

Zoe: Yes, I rewrote my new adult from third past to first present to make it work better for the category. And next I’m tackling omniscient…but it’s horror, and omniscient can work well in horror.

Ana: Good luck! Actually, my first thought… or my first sticky in this chapter was: Omg, 26 different types of POV?

Kate: Someone is a little OCD, methinks.

Zoe: I’m going to have to look them up on the internet, because I can’t know it exists and not know what it is.

Ana: Yes, I’m intrigued. Although I don’t think we need to distinguish between 26 types of POV. I get along just fine with the regular three. (Or well, maybe four, counting 2nd person POV)

Zoe: Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted has second person plural. (No—wait I’m confused. It’s first person plural. Fight Club has a lot of second person, and I think parts of Haunted use second person, but not the parts I was initially thinking of. JUST IGNORE ME.)

Kate: That’s just…odd. But if it works, go for it. Some stories need that. Me, I like my third person for the most part, though my one piece in first is cute too. But that one really depended on personality to work, so third wouldn’t have carried the same weight of story as first was able to.

Ana: Talking about writing in 1st person POV she mentions that you can’t write about anything your main character wouldn’t know, but I have the same limitations writing close 3rd person POV. Unless, of course, I switch my POV character. You can do that in 1st person too, but she does say you have to be an expert to do it right. Funny enough she doesn’t say what happens when you’re doing it badly.

Kate: People don’t know which head they’re in, is what happens, then the plot falls apart, because they spend too much time trying to figure out how this character knows something, only to realize that it’s actually the other character. And then they throw the book.

Zoe: Which can totally be resolved by naming the chapters after the POV characters. /sarcasm

Ana: I hate when I’m reading something and the POV changes and for a couple of lines, sometimes even a page, I don’t know whose head I’m in. It’s frustrating. (Kate: Not something you want to do to your reader. Not until we have the Substibook™ in production, anyway.) Recently I read something where the POV changed and I didn’t even know there was a POV change for a while…

Zoe: That’s where voice can be really important.

Ana: What did you think about her example for using narrative distance?

Kate: I like that she takes the same passage and rewrites it to show what it would look like with different degrees of narrative distance. That’s sometimes more help than all the explanation in the world.

Zoe: You mean showing, instead of telling? 😉

Kate: Yes, indeedy-do, that’s it! 🙂 I’m debating trying that POV slip she shows near the end of the chapter, where the chapter is equally important to both characters, and you just slip naturally from one POV to the other in the same chapter. I usually scene break to change POV, but I’ve written and rewritten this chapter from both POVs, to the point where I’m wondering if there’s some way I can just take it out, because no matter which one I choose, I lose something I want from the other POV.

Ana: I actually tried doing this with my second novel (which I was writing while reading this book for the first time, if I remember correctly.) I did it by going distant first. With the narrative, I mean. I’ve only had non-writers beta that novel, though. They didn’t notice what I did, but writers/editors probably would.

Zoe: It certainly can’t hurt to try it out. After all, no one’s going to ever see it if it doesn’t work. You’ll just learn something and scrap it.

Kate: Then here’s another question–can I get away with it in just this one scene? Or is this a technique I’m going to have to rewrite the rest of the book to match?

Zoe: I think the only way to answer that is to do the scene, and then see how it all plays together.

Ana: I only used it in that one scene, because it was only necessary there. I’m not sure, but this might be something where the more you do it, the more noticeable it becomes.

Kate: Hmmm, something to think about. It could be the solution to this particular issue, though. *adds rewrite #27 to the list of ‘Things To Do’*

Three Dirty Birds on Blurbs

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Today we’re (finally) talking about something that isn’t Story Trumps Structure! This talk is all about blurbs. You know, those pesky things that go on the back of your book or your Amazon description that every author needs but most hate to write.

Kate: Blurbs are hard. I have a 100K word story, and I’m supposed to distill it down to two paragraphs? *squawks and sheds feathers*

Ana: You can make it four paragraphs but I’d probably fall asleep before reaching the end of it.

Zoe: Blurbs are hard, because you have to switch from telling the story to selling it. And, as the author, you’re at a huge disadvantage: you know too much!

Ana: Yes, it can be really tricky to figure out what doesn’t need to be in the blurb.

Kate: My first recommendation for blurbs is: don’t try to do them all by yourself. Get someone who can read it and tell you if it’s accurate, if it’s catchy, if they still want to read the book after reading the blurb. After your cover, this is the next major thing that will drive sales. But you also need to be sure that some of your help hasn’t read your book. Otherwise, you don’t know what the blurb’s true potential is as a selling tool.

Ana: I usually need someone to tell me if my blurb even makes sense. Trying to condense things, I sometimes cut too much.

Zoe: My recommendation is to not confuse it with a query. The blurb and the query (which you send to agents/editors) have two different purposes. You actually need to give more of the story in the query, and do more interest-raising and teasing in the blurb.

Ana: Also, if you’re writing romance, please don’t end your blurb with something like ‘will their love be strong enough?’ Duh, of course.

Zoe: Yes! Don’t ask questions readers can answer for themselves (thanks to genre).

Ana: You need to hint at the struggles the couple will face, maybe hint at your black moment. Tension is as important for a blurb as it is for the novel.

Zoe: Oh, that’s a great point.

Kate: Yes. In a blurb, you don’t want to tell too much of the story, because then what’s the point of buying the book if you already know the major plot points? Which makes it different from the query, because there you need to show that you can put together a good climax.

Ana: I think the best ending lines for blurbs are the ones that leave you with that dun dun dun feeling.

Zoe: You would think that. (Ana is a bird of the species Dun Dun Duneus.) Many writers have probably run across advice that gives them a template for blurb writing—the first sentence does this, the second does that. It’s helpful…but at the same time kind of stilting. So use it as a guide for your first draft, if you’re really at a loss, but then rewrite the “template” out of it before the final version.

Kate: KJ Charles has a couple of good posts on this. Here’s one:  As a writer and an editor, she’s had a lot of experience with blurbs and the pitfalls of writing a good one.

Shall we dissect a blurb?

Ana: I’m always for cutting things open.

Zoe: I always have a scalpel at ready. (And a chainsaw. Just in case.)

Kate: Okay, I’m going to voluntell Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. It’s a good choice–I’ve read the book, but neither Ana nor Zoe have. So I’ll be playing the part of Diana in this conversation.

So, here’s my blurb:

Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another…

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon–when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord…1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire’s destiny is soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life …and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire…and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Zoe: It’s fashionable right now, in query/blurb critique circles, to poo-poo hooks, but I think it’s because so many have been done poorly. In this blurb, the hook opening really works. It piques your interest, and you read on to find out more.

Ana: I agree, I like that first paragraphs. It makes you go on to read the next one. (I think in blurbs that’s really your goal, keep the reader reading to the end of it. Kind of like you do in your novel, only on a much tighter scale.)

Zoe: Keep the reader reading till the end…or get them to stop reading and click buy because they don’t want to know more from the blurb: they want to get it from the book.

Kate: So the hook worked. What about the second paragraph, the one giving the starting point and the first plot turn of the story?

Zoe: That’s the one where, if I haven’t clicked the buy button because of the first line…I thought about not clicking it—but only because personally, as a reader, I was turned off by “innocently touches a boulder.” But there’s no way around reader preferences: if that’s what happens in your story, that’s what happens. (But it probably could have been presented differently and got me.)

Ana: It didn’t turn me off, I just kept reading. (Although I still wouldn’t buy it because I don’t much like historicals. That’s another reader preference. But at least the genre is clear here.)

Kate: Okay, so I’ve hooked you in the first line, and made sure you got the genre. Anything else I could have done here to make you want to keep reading the blurb?

Zoe: I don’t know how you might do it, but I’d actually be more engaged if the third paragraph were the second (incorporating somehow enough Claire info to get my footing).

One thing I noticed when researching blurbs for Suckers was that in the 80s (during the horror boom, and when mass market paperbacks were much more common than today), blurbs were much shorter. Often just a paragraph, or two very short paragraphs. I’m not saying that’s better or more right, but it does minimize the number of opportunities for you to lose the reader’s interest.

Kate: A bit like writing flash fiction, then.

Ana: I do try to keep my blurbs short because I don’t think readers give you much time or attention when casually browsing. Personally when I start reading a blurb and ‘click to see more’ and like five more long paragraphs open up, I’m out. I don’t think the Outlander blurb is too long, though.

Zoe: No, it’s a good size—much shorter than some I was I thinking about. Some blurbs seem to take up the entire back of a 6”x9” trade paperback.

Kate: I think there’s a tendency in the romance genre to write these long blurbs, as if the authors are still so wrapped up in the story that they need to show you all the wonderful things about it. I don’t appreciate blurbs that tell me the whole plot. And I wonder if this isn’t a result of the ‘market yourself’ trend, where writers are left to figure out these marketing tools on their own, without advice from someone trained in writing what is essentially ad copy.

Zoe: Yes, more and more writers these days are left to write their own blurbs, either because the publisher doesn’t do it, or because they’re self publishing. (I’ve been considering paying an editor to write one for Suckers—someone who has the necessary distance from the story to look at it from the point of view of the potential reader.)

Ana: What I like about the blurb above is that it does a good job showing me the conflict, and it leaves me wondering how it’s going to be resolved. Is she gonna go back? Which guy will she end up with?

Zoe: Agreed. The blurb definitely starts and ends strong.

Kate: Soggy Middle Syndrome?

Zoe: Middles are tough, whatever you’re writing. You need enough information for it to make sense—but which information? In what order? We actually get nothing on the husband here—no name, no sense at all of who he is or what he does. (So I’m leaning toward she winds up with Fraser. I already feel a little bad for Mr. no-first-name Randall)

Ana: Haha. Good point. That’s probably what will happen.

Kate: I won’t spoil it on you. 🙂 So you think some of the tension is deflated by that? Or was it maybe deliberate on the part of Dell’s marketing?

Zoe: I’m sure it was deliberate. I’m not sure you can successfully sell an equilateral triangle in a blurb. The reader wants to be able to root for something clear.

Ana: I don’t read triangles because I always end up rooting for the wrong guy. Breaks my heart every time.

Zoe: So downplaying Mr. Randall was more a feature than a bug. (Also, I didn’t even really note that he’d been downplayed until my second reading. There are enough words in the blurb that I thought surely he’d been covered.)

Ana: And I guess the average reader doesn’t dissect the blurb before buying the book.

Zoe: I know I don’t.

Ana: Usually the first thing I do after reading a blurb I like is click the Look Inside feature.

Zoe: I don’t usually get to the end of the blurb. At some point before then I’ll click Look Inside, or I’ll close the tab.

Kate: So you probably wouldn’t  have made it to my smashing last line.

Zoe: I might have seen it—I may skip the middles of blurbs and check the last line. That’s probably more accurate than what I said above. (And having realized that, I really need to start looking at my own blurbs that way: what would someone get out of it if they only read the beginning and end?)

Ana: I always get to the end of the blurb, unless they’re too long. Then sometimes I peek at the reviews to get an idea of whether it’s worth it to try reading the whole thing. Yes, I’m that lazy.

Kate: I’m currently futzing around with two blurbs, and this is really going to help me.

Zoe: I have a few I’m playing with too. The really cool thing about online retailers is that now you can change the blurb after publishing. I don’t recommend putting up a bad blurb on the premise that you can “fix” it later. But you can do some testing of blurbs.

Kate: Which is a really cool twist that only came along with the ‘new publishing’. Like having your very own focus groups.

Zoe: Yes, you have much more control over how your book is categorized, what keywords you use for it. You can even update the cover with little fuss (and without losing your reviews—you don’t have to make a whole new edition).

Ana: It’s a brave new world.

Kate: Next week, we’re going to start talking about Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King (second edition)

Three Dirty Birds on Story Trumps Structure 24 — Plot Flaws

threedirtybirds-400|Master list|

Cawing about plot flaws, and how to fix them–that’s what the Dirty Birds are on about today.

Kate: This is essentially a “Here’s where you look in my book to figure out how to fix what you did wrong” section. It does include a nifty little reference chart, to help you identify the pertinent chapters.

Zoe: I enjoyed going through the chart more than I expected I would.

Kate: I like charts.

Zoe: I don’t, typically, but I had all the problems that I still need to work out on my WIP in my head, so it was a chart I engaged in…for a couple minutes at least.

Ana: I don’t really like charts either, but I liked them here. Although I have to admit I skimmed the last one because it was so long. I also wondered, if you have the problems mentioned here, would you know it? I mean, I imagine a lot of people (myself included) get this scene that something isn’t working, but can’t always pin-point it.

Kate: That was the one real weakness of this chart, that it’s predicated on you (or someone else) being able to pinpoint what the problem actually is. This is where good beta readers and good editors come into play.

Ana: Yes, I liked that ‘what to do when a scene isn’t working’ chart. I could really have used that for a certain chapter when I was writing Lab Rat’s Love. In the end, my editor helped me with it, but it would have been nice if I’d been able to fix it before submitting it.

Zoe: Ha, yes. I want to fix All The Things before submitting a story.

Kate: That’s part of our job, to make sure we fix all the things we notice, even when it’s hard. We need the beta readers and the editors to catch the things we aren’t aware of, because we have the entire story in our heads, not just the part that made it down on paper. And this is why I do my little “Angry Bird” dance when I hear people talk about, “Oh, I don’t worry about that. My editor will fix it.” NO! *rolls up newspaper*

Zoe: Right! I want my editor focused on the stuff I am incapable of seeing. I don’t waste her energy unnecessarily. That doesn’t help my story.

Kate: But once the editor points out something that isn’t working, then the chart will help you find a chapter that might have some ideas, or reminders, that will let you fix the issue. Or, if you know something isn’t working, you kind of know why, but you don’t know how to fix it, the appropriate chapter might offer a clue.

Ana: Yeah, I’ll keep it in mind when I go through my current WIP.

Kate: It’s a resource I plan to keep on hand and try out. I’m all for anything that short-circuits days of flailing and false starts.

Next week, we’ll be talking about Gimmicks and how to avoid them, then we’ll be doing our wrap-up on the book, and giving it a rating.

Ana: Dun dun dun.

Three Dirty Birds on Story Trumps Structure 21 — Character Status


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Today, the Dirty Birds will be fighting for status, because that’s what James has lined up for us today–how the character’s status affects reader perception, and how you need to manipulate that.

Kate: I liked this chapter for spelling it out. And it was the only chapter in the book where I thought he might have had a clue about romance.

Zoe: I thought he made a lot of good points…none of which I could find a way to apply to my WIP. (Ana: I’m glad I’m not the only one!) But I did come up with things I wanted to discuss!

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