6.25.2020

Picking a Pursuit

You have finished the first draft. You started off the novel with an idea, and as the grand notion became grounded on the page, characters with personalities you recognized sprang forth and engaged in a series of scenes that led in sometimes surprising directions. As you read it over, though, you find that a scene that seemed so terrific when you were in the weeds of it seems a little dull and clich├ęd now. The formless idea did take a shape, but what exactly do you have?

Agents and editors are going to ask you. Does it belong in a category, such as mystery, romance, or science fiction? If not, can you name two authors or books that would help them position the book in the general fiction market? A manuscript “written in the spirit of” is a very common phrase in a query letter. Books are not marketed exactly like categories of cereal in a supermarket, but without some direction to a reader as to what they’re purchasing, how is a publisher supposed to sell your book?

Luckily for authors who do not wish to be typecast, the pursuits of the different genres are based on a deeper storytelling truth. Any novel benefits from adding mystery. Any novel benefits from adding a romance. I’m not as sure about science fiction/fantasy, but elements of the genre have been added to quite a few books with success.

Rather than bemoaning a publisher’s desire for books that fit marketing slots, you might want to ask yourself: what, practically, can I do to make my book better? Here’s a tip. After I finish reading a manuscript, I often tell an author: you know, that Selena character. I know she isn’t in many scenes, but every time she shows up, she really sparkles. That is, when I see an author connecting to a character with such electricity, I say, “Give me more of that.”

You can employ the same method. As you’re reading your draft, what scenes crackle for you? Which characters give you that burn inside—I nailed that? You’re not a dope. You wrote an entire book. You can tell what you’re doing better. You just haven’t, because of some vague feeling that you don’t want to disturb the grand construct already written, decided to act upon that knowledge. Why not? You’re the one that is finding that you don’t know what you’ve got.

Exercise: Seeing the forest for the trees is a universal problem for authors. Yet you don’t have to “know” absolutely what needs to be done. As you review the manuscript , use a system of impressions. If you really like a scene, mark that “like.” If you’re not so sure, mark “maybe help.” If you’re not satisfied, mark “help.” When you’re done, look over the list. In which plot line, or attached to which character, do you see the most likes? Start writing more scenes to make what you’re doing well better.

“If you have a pre-conceived idea of the world, you edit information. When it leads you down a certain road, you don't challenge your own beliefs.”
—David Icke

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.



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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.