Tuesday, September 7, 2010

FAQ -- Will You Read My WIP?

Q: Would you read/take a look at/ critique/edit my work in progress?
A: No.

Unless you're in one of the classes I teach, I really have to decline. And here's why.

I'm overwhelmed with stuff to do already -- just now, tomatoes, garden, house, the reading I'm doing for the Edgars -- all these are consuming most of my time. In a week, my writing class starts: in a few more weeks my new book is out and the month of October is full of visits to book stores, libraries, and other groups -- and I'm not even working on a book now. As soon as I begin my next book, there is no such thing as extra time.

There's another reason I'm reluctant to read your work. There are many kinds of writing -- and  some just leave me cold -- not my cup of tea is one of the politest ways of saying it. And not my cup of tea includes many a blockbuster New York Times bestseller. 

So I really wouldn't want to discourage a writer by responding negatively. Who know, you may be the next Mary Higgins Clark or Dan Brown!

 That said, here's a few quick thoughts for you would-be novelists -- stuff I would tell you if you were in one of my classes.

If you're writing a novel you need a sense of where it's going, an initial problem that sets things in motion -- leading, after many twists and turns, achievements and setbacks, to a resolution.

You need a protagonist readers will care about. This is why readers keep  reading -- to find out what happened to this person who has captured their attention.
And you need to catch your reader's attention at once -- on the first page. (It's a constant battle to keep the reader's attention with all the distractions available in modern life.)

Show, don't tell. Get comfortable with dialogue. Learn how to skip over tedious bits that don't contribute to the story. Put in the weather. Give  your characters something to do while they talk to each other (and don't overdo the drinking coffee, eating meals thing.)

Read your stuff aloud. You'd be amazed at how this helps you to avoid stilted language.

You should have an idea of what sort of book you're writing (what would you compare it too?) and who your protagonist is and what she/he wants. What stands in his/her way and how will she/he overcome it?

If you're serious, you'll keep going.
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Unknown said...

I'm not a writer so I won't be asking Vicki but that is one amazing steeple. I think in England they call steeples like that Needle steeples. How are the tomatoes going?

Marilyn & Jeff said...

I am not a writer but I wouldn't even dream of asking you or anyone else that I have 'met' through blogs, I found your points of interest though. With the farm, garden not to mention family and friends I can only admire you for finding the time to write. I love the steeple photo.

Poetry24 said...

Sound advice, Vicki.

I asked this same question of a favourite author, many years ago. This is what he said:

'Writers are the worst people to show work to – the people who publish writing are publishers. You write the book, you send it on its way, and hope that one of them will take it – that's how it's done, and I don't know of any other way. And if they won't take it, you write another. Hard life, isn't it? But that's how books get published. Good luck.'
Keith Waterhouse - 1984

He was spot on. In the end, it's down to me to write the book and send it on its way.

Stella Jones said...

Yes I agree with you Vicki. What appeals to one person is a real turn off for someone else. There is a certain magickal something some writers have that keeps the reader reading. I find that magickal something in the works of P.D. James and Joanne Harris, especially her books Blackberry Wine and Chocolat. I know how busy you are and facing an exciting few months too with your new book coming out and the reading of all those books you showed us a way back.
Don't overdo it.
Blessings, Star

Brian Miller said...

these are some great tips...esp reading your stuff aloud and giving them something to do while talking....nice...

Merisi said...

You spilled some wonderful tips,
even for a non-writer like me!
(I have this secret dream that a friend of mine one day will write a movie script about my life because there are so many unexpected twists and turns - at least, thatÄs how I think about them. *giggles*)

Btw, I know quite a few people who are addicted to mystery books that have protagonists who indulge in great meals! ;-) I know I'd go for any book with lots of fried Southern food, and a pecan-bourbon-chocolate pie to top it all of. Mint Juleps too.

(This morning I talked to a friend and we resolved that I would reward myself next fall with a hiking trip to Cades Cove in the Smokey Mountains, if I graduate, that is.)

Merisi said...

Oh, top it off -
preview would be such a nice feature! ;-)

Merisi said...

And I know how to spell Smoky Mountains! *drats*

Alan Burnett said...

There is a lot of very good advice in there.

Tess Kincaid said...

Wonderful advice, Vicki. I especially like the "read it aloud" part.

Vicki Lane said...

That needle steeple adorns a church in our nearby county seat. It was so pretty against the clear blue sky.

I understand the desire a just beginning writer has to get some idea if he/she is on the right track. Indeed, I have been guilty myself of asking writers I admire to 'just take a look at this.' So, as I say, I understand that feeling of groping in the darkness in hopes of a tiny ray of light.

And early on in my alleged career, I did read some manuscripts and try to give advice. But, for all the reasons I already mentioned, I just can't do it now.

What Martin's favourite author said is so true.

Merisi -- food is definitely a great addition to many books -- I've written in a few good meals myself. It's just that sometimes, in some books, it seems that whenever the characters have a conversation, it's while they're eating.

Those are some of my very best pieces of advice, well-worn and polished from use.

Helen T said...

I loved your photo of morning glories. I saw a vine of volunteer morning glories that took up at the shed where I keep my lawn mower. I was so thrilled. On Writing, I'm part of a critique group and that's where I have someone read what I write. I highly recommend it. Characters who eat: one of my favorite authors has a protagonist who seems to be having a large meal every few pages. Not sure how she stays so small, but it does get annoying as a space filler.

Suz said...

Oh for sure reading out loud lets you hear the clunks right away

Miss_Yves said...

"Read your stuff aloud", was Flaubert's motto!
He read aloud and even he shouted in front of a wall in his garden and called this place "son gueuloir!

What do you mean by a sequence of "shoe"?()Is there another translation for "chaussure"?

Deanna said...

Great advice all around. Are you tired of tomatoes yet?

Lovely photos as always.

Louise said...

Good advice, some even for those of us who blog. Though, conversation on a blog just doesn't seem to be a problem!

Tammy said...

Great post. I can see why you would have to set rules. One thing you mentioned is that you have to have characters people care about. That is so true. By all means make them flawed, but don't go so far that they are just obnoxious. And if I have to read about one more flawlessly, breathtakingly beautiful (or handsome--although men seem to get a little more leeway) character, I think I might puke. Really, are we all so shallow?? I love to read about everyday people doing sometimes extra-ordinary things. Characters in a book must draw me in. I love a good mystery plot, but if I can't relate to the character(s) then it falls flat.
Have a good one.

Vicki Lane said...

Helen -- critique groups can be great -- if they give honest feedback. I was in a small one as I wrote my first two novels and it was enormously helpful.

Suz -- Yes, indeed!

Miss Yves -- interesting about Flaubert. And 'shoe' was a typo -- meant to be 'shots.'

Deanna -- 45 quarts done -- picked more this morning. Yes, it's tedious but how we'll enjoy them this winter!

Louise -- I read somewhere that blogging is bringing the essay back to life -- that thing many of us dreaded writing in school.

Tammy -- I'm with you on those perfect characters.

JJM said...

And then there's the niggly little worry that, if a writer has sent you a manuscript and -- even if you send it back unopened and unread -- you should ever write anything even remotely like something in that manuscript, you're going to have one hurt and angry would-be writer out there whose lawyer will accuse you of plagiarism ...

Anonymous said...

You must have a lot of courage to write this post so disappointing for those who would have waited for your advice but in the same time so right because it is a great responsability to give advice to "neophytes" and to give a positive/negative advice would
implicate that you have a lot of time to spare. That is not the case I think.

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Great advice Vicki. Reading out loud, which I learned from my writers critique group, has really helped me find my mistakes. Joining a writers group is one of the best things a writer can do.

Tipper said...

Great info for would be writers. My service is still out :( but now I'm cheered by having caught up with one of my favorite writers : )

Like you-I've been enjoying the crystal light that the cooler temps have brought-even walking to the clothesline is a joy!

Vicki Lane said...

Oh, yes indeed, Markin! That's a very real possibility.

Helene -- I've had an increasing number of requests and, while I know that most of the readers of my blog aren't would-be writers, I thought it was time to make this pronouncement. But I'm happy to answer general questions once a week -- thus this FAQ post.

Hear, hear for writers' groups, Sam! So worthwhile!

Tipper -- Hotter today but still clear and dry -- such a pleasure!

Folkways Note Book said...

Good advice to new writers. You sure lead a busy life Vicki -- barbara

Anonymous said...

Twisting in the wind here, being one who was ready to ask if you would check my spelling.

I purposely walked away from my manuscript for three days, then while reading it aloud to myself (a habit of mine, but good to know it's an accepted form of editing) I had quite a few instances of "What the HECK was I talking about!"

If parts of your own story can cause you confusion, you were definitely writing long after you should have gone to bed.

I'm also learning a new mantra: "pace yourself, pace yourself" Even if I finish it by midnight tonight, there's a LONG road ahead of me, so why rush.

Miss_Yves said...

more about flaubert: