Do you know how to spot the difference between a good query letter and a fantastic query letter? This is going to sound trite, but the answer is: Ask your heart.
That’s right—the single most important thing that your query letter can do if you want to get a literary agent’s attention is create an emotional experience for the reader. You’ve got to make your reader feel. You’ve got to give him/her a reason to become emotionally invested in your tale.
For that reason, telling the bare facts of “what happens in the story” is not going to get your book a lot of attention.
A professional scriptreader read 300 screenplays for five different studios, all the while tracking the many recurring problems. The infographic he made with the collected data offers a glimpse at where screenwriting goes wrong.
In my editing of fiction, I find my clients often tend to over-describe characters, with too much emphasis on specific visual details. Readers like to be active participants in the reading experience. They enjoy the challenge and satisfaction of piecing things together and drawing their own conclusions about characters.
Research. For some fiction writers, it’s the best part of the process. For others, it’s a torturous chore. But either way, it has to be done if you want readers to believe in your story and characters. Because my novel, Strange Case of Mr. Bodkin & Father Whitechapel, was set in Victorian England, the research process was intense and lengthy. But it hammered home some crucial aspects of doing serious research. Here are my five biggest takeaway lessons:
This isn’t about creating dynamic characters, but rather how writers create character dynamics.
In other words, it’s the way characters work with and against each other within the story. It’s the dynamics of characters and their relationships with each other that interest the reader and keep them engaged.
We often think of the antagonist as an external obstacle to our protagonist’s forward motion. The antagonist is usually a physical entity, something standing in the way of our protagonists’ ability to achieve their physical goals and perhaps even threatening our protagonists’ lives or their physical well-being.
Consequently, it can be easy to forget that antagonists are just as important in driving your character’s personal arc as they are the plot’s conflict.
I consider myself primarily a creative writer, but to pay the bills, I take on many the odd job involving writing. Because of that, I’ve been doing a lot of editing lately, editing blog posts, articles, books, and more.
With all this editing, I’ve found that I keep making many of same changes again and again. Yes, there are typos and grammatical corrections, but a surprising amount of the editing I do is just simple formatting.
As I mentioned in my last post, understanding Dwight Swain’s Motivation Reaction Units (MRUs) can help us write emotional responses. Just like real people, our characters experience emotions when something triggers those emotions. This is the action/reaction chain:
I've been changing how I write. These days I use (virtual) index cards to create a detailed outline of my novel before I put pen to paper to create a first draft. That said, I do write bits and pieces of scenes here and there, as the ideas come to me, so I have a feeling for my main characters' voices while I'm doing the cards. Filling out index cards--approximately 56 index cards--will be familiar to just about anyone who has written a screenplay.
If you’re not familiar with The Emotion Thesaurus, let me give a quick overview. The ET lists physical, internal, and mental responses for different emotions.
In other words, all that showing instead of telling we’re supposed to do? The ET has our back. I literally use the ET every day I write. Take a look at some of the ways the ET can help our writing, and you’ll understand why.
Writers are known for having a way with words and an ability to use their imaginations. They’re lauded for artistry and passion; they’re heralded for the power to connect with readers. But they’re also notorious for lacking drive, stick-to-itiveness, and the ability to complete projects.
Just as the stereotype suggests, many of the writers I work with struggle with two seemingly elusive things: focus and motivation.
In seeking to find an effective way to highlight the unity that exists between the outer and inner journey in a story, both in my own writing, as well as in my teaching, it struck me that the structural pivots in a tale (the inciting incident, the turning points, the midpoint) precisely provide for such an opportunity. They are the knots that tie the outer and inner strands of the tale together.
The last decade has seen an increase in programs to help writers plot, write and read their books — but there are also plenty of non-writing tools that writers can use to help them create their masterpieces. At the company where I work, CompletelyNovel, we use digital tools every day to streamline their tasks. Here are our top 10 tools to help writers write.