You know you’re in the right job when you can’t wait to get back to work. The holidays were fantastic, but I missed my story. Since I already have ideas for books two and three, I’m anxious to finish writing book one.
My laptop has been out of commission most of the last month (apparently spilling a drink on the keyboard is a bad idea) so I spent the time reading/studying the opening chapters to dozens of novels. I have two new books on the craft of writing (Les Edgerton’s Hooked: Write Fiction that Grabs Readers at Page One and Never Lets them Go and Mary Kole’s Writing Irresistible Kidlit) and I wanted to put their theories about what makes a good book to the test.
It was a great exercise. I recommend it to anyone thinking about writing a book because if only for a moment, you’re forced into the literary agent’s shoes – reading one story idea after another and deciding which pile to put it in. Accept or reject.
I was looking for the placement of the inciting incident (the “uh-oh, now what’s he gonna do” moment) and an introduction to the main character(s), plot and setting. What I found was a lot of bad writing – cliché dialogue, stereotypical characters and thin plots. After a while they all started to sound the same and nothing – not even a cleverly placed inciting incident – can save a story from that. I’ve had my fill of hidden special powers, prophecies and weak female characters whose only aspiration is to be kissed by the vampire-like male heartthrob.
It’s not all doom and gloom mind you. There was some cute stuff in there, but I didn’t put any of the books on my “to read” list. I wanted a book to grab me the way The Hunger Games did. That’s where my bar for YA fiction is set now. A number of agents I follow list stats on their websites: number of manuscripts received, read and rejected. Rarely do they announce that they’ve signed on a new author. I think I see why. They’re waiting to be “wowed”.
This business is such that agents and publishers are always trying to predict what an audience may be interested in two or three years down the road. Books they’re reading and negotiating deals for today won’t hit the market until probably 2014 or 2015. So the advice in the craft books I’m reading is just that. Advice. It’s an informed, educated view on where the business is going, and what trends we might see in the coming years. I firmly believe though, that good writing (regardless of where the inciting incident shows up) will always be in vogue.
I go back to what I said in an earlier blog about the “contract” between an author and her audience. If my audience is going to give me their hard-earned money, I have to study the craft of storytelling and do the best job I can creating something that will entertain them. And I can do better than cliché dialogue, stereotypical characters and thin plots.
Here’s a fun little video from AvonBooksUK for anyone who has wondered how a book gets published. Happy New Year!