Sunday, November 05, 2017

The Weekend Writer: Direct From The Editors' Mouths

Yesterday I attended The Third Annual New England SCBWI Agent/Editor Day, and now, Weekend Writers, you will get the benefit of my experience there.

Holly & Julie are there somewhere
These events are set up so that participants select two of the agents or editors in attendance and become part of small groups meeting with them. The writers have around fifteen minutes to do a short reading and receive feedback from the agent/editor and sometimes other group members. It's actually beneficial to hear critiquing of other writers' work, as well as your own. All knowledge has value, as my father-in-law once said.

What To Do With Your First Pages

You could sense a theme in Holly West's (Feiwel & Friends and Swoon Reads, both imprints of Macmillan) comments. While you often hear about "hooks" being needed in first pages, Holly talked about something different.
  • Readers need to get a sense of what a book is about right away.
  • The main character's goal should be clear up front. 
  • Character first in early pages. Add backstory later. 
  • The first words and lines of a story are a contract with readers, through which the writer explains what kind of book is about to read and who the main character is so readers know what they are getting.
An interesting bit I learned about Holly last night on-line--She edited These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, which I described as Georgette Heyer Meets Agents of SHIELD. And having talked with Holly West, I can see her working on that book.

How To Move A Story Along And A Great Definition Of Voice

I took away two thought-provoking points from Julie Bliven from Charlesbridge.
  1. Embed description and narration within dialogue and action, because dialogue and action are what move stories forward. Description, not so much. I'm thinking of a well known adult novel from years ago in which a character is making his way through Paris. Over and over again the action stopped so the author could describe a building. Evidently I don't care that much about Paris.
  2. Voice is the narrator's attitude toward what is going on around him or her. This is huge. Voice, I think is like art. People can't define it but know when they see it. Julie can define it, and it's a definition that is functional. This is a definition that should help help authors create voice. I think this definition also explains why I find writing so much easier once I have a voice for my main character. Once I have a voice, I know how characters will feel about what's happening. What's more, once I know their voice and attitude, I can also often determine what they'll do, not just how they'll feel about what others are doing.

Why Editors Matter

Both Holly West and Julie Bliven were very impressive yesterday. They were presented with fourteen to sixteen readings of four to five pages they'd never seen or heard before and had to respond to them on the spot. They functioned in classic critique mode, beginning with something positive and then moving on to analysis of where the manuscript needed work. They were able to do both those things for every single manuscript. If you haven't been part of a writers' group, you may not recognize how difficult that is. In which case, take my word for it.

Both women illustrated what editors do. It's not unusual for me to read about prepublished writers thinking that editing is just correcting grammar and usage. I've also read about self-published authors thinking they can take care of editing with their writers' group or with alpha readers. What the editors yesterday were doing was far more than that. They were pointing out things like:
  • humor should not just be relatable, it should illustrate character
  • characters' efforts should be focused 
  • what you tell about characters must be illustrated by what you show about them; telling and showing can't contradict one another 
What I'm trying to say, Weekend Writers, is that whether you end up working with a traditional publishing house or publish yourself, you need an editor. A real one.


Nancy said...

Great round up - very interesting take aways!

Nancy said...

Thanks for the round-up. Great take aways!