The Absolute, Non-negotiable Truth About Writing and Selling Your Fiction

Imagine a room somewhere, a hotel conference center perhaps, full of 46 professional types who have flown in to commiserate with their esteemed peers.  They preen and sip coffee as they eyeball each other’s name tags, casually dropping names while waxing eloquent and wistful about the lack of great stories out there.

They are literary agents.  Professionals whose primary goal and purpose is to find and exploit (sell) publishable writing.  And this conversation is the same old blah blah blah that agents have been exchanging for decades.

Deep inside they nurse the fantasy that they alone, among everyone in the room, will find the Next Big Thing.

Just like us.  As writers, we aspire to Next Big Thing status, too.

But there is one thing they won’t readily admit.  On the contrary, often their brassy chutzpah smacks of the diametric opposite of this one unspeakable thing.  And that is…

Nobody knows anything.

Two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter and novelist William Goldman (All The President’s Men, Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and dozens of uncredited screenplay buff-ups at a hundred grand a week) said it most famously in his book, Adventures in the Screen Trade (highly recommended, by the way, even for novelists).

He was referring to the studio system in Hollywood.  The in-your-face truth of that statement, as genius truisms do, quickly went viral to apply to novels and short stories and pretty much anything else in the writing realm.

Nobody knows anything.

Back to that gathering of agents. 

You can almost smell the hubris in the air competing with the scent of bourbon and Donald Maass’s cologne.  There are enough credits here, some of them bestsellers you’ve heard of, most of which you haven’t, to fill a wing at Borders.

Borders, by the way, didn’t know, either.

The number here – 46 – is telling and apropos, for our purposes.  Imagine now that each and every one of them was once offered the opportunity to represent a novel entitled The Help by a then unknown author named Kathryn Stockett.

And that all of them in that room turned it down.

You don’t have to imagine it… it happened (though I doubt they’ve gathered in one place to fess up).  Forty-six professional agents said “no” to Kathryn Stockett and The Help.

Because, despite their own certainty that they did, they didn’t know.

Forty-six professionals who declared that they did know, at least where that particular book was concerned.  They were served the most significant home run dream shot of their career, and they passed.

As regrets go, this is another flavor of Home Run.  It would be interesting to hear how some of them rationalize this one away.  Hubris has a funny take on that sometimes.

Sure, a cynic could successfully argue that nobody bats a thousand. 

We writers already know that one.

In baseball you’re in the All-Star game if you fail only seven out of ten times at bat.  Not the point.

From Kathryn Stockett’s perspective, she believed she had failed, struck out swinging, 46 out of her first 46 at bats in this business.

Imagine if she had packed it in right there.  If she believed she knew, based on this evidence, that her novel wasn’t good enough.

It was that 47th swing that ended up counting for something.  And still counting, well beyond the many dozens of millions of copies sold thus far.

Publishers, by the way, don’t know either.

They are out there swinging, too, just like us.

They are in the Home Run business, and they may likely throw anything that smacks of a single or a double under the bus.  Unless you know someone at the senior level (which is why you absolutely need one of those agents who doesn’t really know), your project lands on the desk of a newly-graduated MFA who is absolutely terrified of taking anything up the elevator that might not fly at that altitude, resulting in a black mark on their budding career scorecard.

Certainly, those first-reader MFAs know less than the people upstairs, who, by the way, still don’t really know.

This not knowing, by the way, is a fact to which they (readers, agents and editors) will, in a moment of transparency, admit to.  What they are less likely to own is the fact that, while perhaps not knowing a bestseller when they read one in manuscript form, they don’t really know if a manuscript won’t sell, either.

Though admittedly, they do often come a lot closer to knowing on that count.  Because, unlike upside potential, there are standards and benchmarks for failure.

Then again, they still don’t know.  Four words: Fifty Shades of Grey.

Millions of readers claim to know the writing in that novel is bad.  Statistics expose this belief as questionable, while proving that bad and good is always just an opinion.

The criteria for getting published is all over the place.  Everybody knows that.

But nobody knows when lightning will strike, and what we will make of it when it does.

So what are we, the writers who don’t know either, to do with this?

We should cling to hope, that’s what.  Hope that is directly proportionate to effort and perseverance.

And, we cling to the certainty that our first line of satisfaction and reward is our own bliss at the process of disappearing into the stories we write.  That is something we can know.

We can know this, too: we have tools and criteria and standards within reach – a bar to strive for – based on certain principles that, like gravity and death and taxes and yet another U-2 tour, are almost always a sure thing.

You need to accept that you just don’t know.  And then get back to it.

Unless you aren’t out there with a finger pointing to the sky.  Then you know, absolutely, that lightning won’t strike you.

We all have the opportunity to submit our story for the 47th time.

And, to tweak it up between that 46th and 47th submission.

The goal isn’t to find someone out there who knows

It’ll never happen.

The closest you’ll come, on both the rejection and acceptance fronts, is someone who thinks they know.  Which is both curse and blessing.

The goal is to craft a work of fiction that you believe, in your heart, aligns with principles and story physics, so that it has the best possible shot at knocking the right person at the right time off of their righteous chair.

You may not know if it’s good enough, but like those agents and editors, you can come very close to knowing when it’s not.  And from there, hope is fortified by not quitting, not settling, until you are peace with that certainty.

Then you can stand in the storm with your foil-wrapped finger pointing skyward, waiting for fate and the Laws of Literary Attraction to light you up.

****

Do you think you know your story is good enough?   Or that it isn’t?

Would you like to find out?   Or at least get a professional second opinion on that verdict?  To add an understanding of WHY to your knowing?

Maybe you don’t know after all.

Check out my story evaluation and coaching services… HERE (the $150 level)… or HERE (the #35 level)… or HERE (the full meal deal level).

Because it’s what you don’t know that dictates your outcome.  And because, by definition, we can’t know that which we do not know, this process becomes an odds-improving step in the right direction.

I don’t know, either.  But where your story is concerned, I can tell you why someone out there might think they do.

37 Comments

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37 Responses to The Absolute, Non-negotiable Truth About Writing and Selling Your Fiction

  1. Sara Davies

    I love this. Love your e-book, by the way.

    When I was an art student I had a great instructor who’d come to review my paintings when I thought they were ready, and I’d be all excited, thinking I’d done something amazing. He would invariably crush me by standing there for thirty seconds and saying, “Eh. Needs more work.”

    I think most creative types become emotionally attached to what we’re creating in a way that can obscure the fact that our vision hasn’t quite caught up to reality. We know what we intend, but haven’t manifested it well enough for someone else to see what we see.

    I also know it’s possible to create professional quality work that gets rejected by nine people and accepted by the tenth and there is no particular rhyme or reason to that. Maybe the gate-keeper had acid reflux that day. Who knows? But when we know that we’ve got the right stuff, we don’t care. The hard part is learning how to know…which is a long road.

    Nobody goes into a creative field for the money or recognition. Ambition can conjure the ego-related baggage that makes it difficult to learn the objectivity needed for evaluating our work, and for knowing when we’ve reached the level we need to be at to make it fly.

    So yeah, what you said. 😉

    Tell it.

  2. RS

    Great post. For a moment, I thought you were going to do a deconstruction of Fifty Shades of Grey. 🙂

  3. I’ve never tried to publish anything I’ve written. My first 9 novels were junk and not worthy of publishing. I’m holding out some hope for #10 which I recently finished. Maybe after some editing?

    So, I am a bit curious about the final message behind this post. I know that part of it is that some amazing works get shot down by the “experts.”

    However, I was left unclear if this was a support for self-publishing? Or is it an encouragement that means rejection isn’t the end?

    Or, is it a message that luck is still a key player in the publishing industry?

  4. @Jason – sorry to hear the “final message” is not clear. It’s just this: keep improving your craft, take your pleasure from the journey and the stories themselves because the destination is elusive, never give up if you believe your story cuts the mustard, because mustard is only part of the secret sauce. And yes, while there is luck, it is luck we can manufacture through perseverence, strategy and a constant eye toward improving each story we write, each time we do it, including what we revise after it gets rejected, even 46 times.

    Didn’t mean this as any kind of endorsement of self-publishing… that’s a different choice, one often made as an alternative because the bar is too high and the barriers too high in the traditional publishing world, which is changing rapidly. As it sits today, self-publishing is still largely the realm of the otherwise unpublishable, even when that’s not qualitatively fair.

  5. Passionate post! Thank you! While we all want the blessing of publication, a huge part of success is in the journey toward that destination. It is on that journey that we grow in excellence, respect for and understanding of our craft.

    MaryAnn

  6. You crack me up! Love this post, and it’s so timely for me. I’ll be pitching my novel soon and every insecurity imaginable has sunk in its teeth. So this post was perfect today. Thanks. See you at WW in August. M

  7. Right stuff at the right time. Thanks.

    While I love the informational how-to posts, I’d also like to see more of these logic-based inspirational articles.

  8. Good psychological warm-up for the Willamette Writer’s Conference and agent challenge!

  9. Fantastic post, Larry. I’m in the process of trying to find an agent, and it is soooo discouraging! Though I don’t know this novel will sell, I believe it will, and so I’m going to keep trying. Thanks for the encouragement!

  10. “Nobody knows anything” = the best stories can be passed over.

    Okay then you need to figure out HOW to discern if a story is good to great (if it’s good to great then it’s a question of marketing a product):

    1 – Get someone like Larry to look at it (questionnaire to the manuscript).

    2 – Figure out what your Target Audience is like: Perhaps use Survey Monkey (maybe Goodreads.com) to look for people that like a story similar to the one you are writing (in other words, your story could be good+ BUT the test reader just doesn’t like your kind of story…or writing voice–therefore you could be getting inaccurate feedback).

    3 – You need “qualified” Test Readers (step 2) to evaluate your story ONLY as a Reader–NOT as a coach or writer (coach, writer is step 1).

    4 – AFTER you have accurate, intelligent reader feedback from a LOT of test readers that LOVE your Good+ story/book (so love = they had a GOOD time reading it…”couldn’t put it down”, wanted to see what would happen next, hated the bad guys and loved the good guys, made them think about the theme and message, had an emotional experience) –you NOW have a “viable product”.

    5 – Viable Product can be sold to prospects NOT “suspects”. A Prospect is one who is looking (wanting) your product as in: they want it now; they have the money AND they have the buying authority. Trying to sell anything to a suspect is just a waste of time (Yes I’ve been in sales and was good at it when I used this premise that I learned from the pros).

    6 – Marketing finds Prospects. The Internet is amazing to market anything. There are websites out there that curtail to readers that discuss the “theme” of your story (yes, it would be useful to figure out a theme). For example, I am writing about organized hidden (occult) conspiratorial groups. There are a LOT of websites that are into such conspiracy (rense.com; alex jones;). We are talking about a TON of site viewers. Some of these viewers like to READ. Why not read my novel? In short, the users of these websites are PROSPECTS for my novel. How do you find out? Answer: you interact with these users, using forums, chat, email–whatever you have to do. Do a survey. Get to know your Target Audience. It’s not difficult with the Internet. In fact, to make it easier you go to Step 7.

    7 – You need a Web Presence regardless of Self Publish or Traditional Publish. “WordPress” is the easiest choice of technology to create a website that will align itself with Social Media, AND will be the cheapest one to pay someone else to do it for you (at least to set it up…you can do the rest if you want). I’m in IT (computers…) and can vouch for this recommendation. It’s never been easier to get a website that looks decent and is appealing.

    8 – Market Your Product to your Prospects. This will be a combination of proactive communication (forum, chat, social media, whatever) with websites (traditional, social media, whatever) from you–and also “Passive” communication where you will post interesting and compelling information about your product (Story-Book-Theme) on your Web Presence. This isn’t anything new. It’s been done before as in other products. A Book is just another product. YES the book is expected to “perform as advertised ” (entertain, inform, etc.) just like any other product you are considering purchasing. This IS where “self publishing” is going (I get reports from other authors…).

    9 – Give away the first 4 chapters of your book…sell the rest. Make it EASY. Your book’s “webpage” is the new “Book Cover”. Have a compelling graphic, colors and title. You can get this stuff made for you via the web. There are lots of artist pages out there that will give you a bid for what you want made. Ping me if you want to know this site…I saw one within the last 2 months. I tell ya, the Internet is just exploding with creativity like I’m talking about. Traditional Publishing is already getting hammered by all this. Wait 5 years!

    In short, your job as a writer is to make the product good to great. You need to test your “prototype” before you go into production (just like any other product). Testing this product requires you locate people that will give “accurate” feedback, and these people have to be familiar with the type of product you are making. In this case, they have to be fans of the genre and theme you are writing about.

    This is my plan. I’m not going to worry about convincing the traditional publisher that my book is the one. I’m already on version 8 of my book after learning from Larry (Story Engineering and now Story Physics), and also his Story Questionnaire (every time I learn something new, the questionnaire has a better answer and thus I go back to my story to make it better–hence version 8). BTW my web presence isn’t even launched. I’ll do that after the story (product) is ready. First things first.

    My plan comes from my IT background solving problems that aren’t obvious, and also from my sales background. Bottom line: if you have something that is useful (fixes a problem; informs; entertains) then I guarantee you that others will want it (if the price is right and it’s easy enough to use–in this case it’s reading a story).

    Finally, my attitude with this comes from many years of working on weird IT problems that have unknown causes–but who cares? You just “go around” the road blocks and fix it. In this case, if the publisher is pretty much impossible to sell your book to–then go around them.

    But remember: the book–the PRODUCT–is “expected” to PERFORM.

    As advertised!

    Best,

    Kerry

  11. Robert Jones

    I’ve heard stories of authors who submitted a hundred or more times to agents, and I’ve heard of writers who nailed several agents asking to see their manuscript out of the first batch of query letters. I’m not an advocate of luck–or the coincidental paradigm of inerrable time and place–though most who strike oil with anything at all will toss it up to luck the first time. After that the story might change to the fact they are some type of god of whatever the hell they’re preaching, depending on ego…which is a whole other story.

    I say to all, remember your struggles, take note of each turn of events and record thepieces of knowledge along your path toward success. Factor in as much learning as you can until you’ve accumulated a set of rules for yourself that are worthy of falling back on if you should ever need to do so. Because after that first time, the gatekeepers may step aside for you on your illustrious return, but the second novel needs to be as good, or better, than the first. If you arrived at your destination by dumb luck, how will you know if luck will strike twice? Knowledge and understanding of the principles you’ve relied upon, however, are immutable.

    That’s not meant to be a damper on the spirits of this discussion, it’s meant as a battle cry to become one with that lightning, harnessing its power for yourself. Larry already mentioned writing for “the rewards of your own bliss,” which really sums it up for me. Because I want to pull down that lightning and all the writing power/knowledge that goes with it. And even then I won’t easily settle without challenging myself. Does it just sound good to me, or does it hold up next to it’s peers, and why?

    I would also like to add that when an agent says your type of story isn’t what they are looking for, or they can’t sell it, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done a bad job. It often means they are only selling certain types of stories, or writers who have already published. Because whether they say it with a smile, or a lot of self-importance, they are just as frightened as you are about a potential failure causing damage to their reputation. Some just have a very non-commital way of trying to get that point across to people while “seeming” to know. Others may just be hoping they are right, possibly even a tad disappointed they can’t take on something they felt was good. Because the one thing they do understand is whether the market is up, or down–and whether the time is right for taking a chance. Other factors are also involved. Doors open and close not only based on opinions of good and bad, but by demand as well. Is the market open to the next Anne Rice clone? How many publishers are excepting new novels this quarter? Who needs to eat and make sure their mortgage is paid?

    If you keep that in mind, you won’t take the rejection slips too personally and keep on submitting until that moment (really a complex brew of circumstances, opinions, and whether or not you’ve paid proper attention to craft) which you’ll later call “luck” seems to strike.

  12. Robert Jones

    @Kerry–Excellent!

  13. Bob

    I got to say that writing is art, which means that there is an X factor that popular stories tap into. In other words, there is a certain Zeitgeist that successful stories capture. There is some important human experience that a successful story lays out into words.

    All the technical aspects of writing, story structure, turning points, tension, etc. really don’t mean much unless you can use these things to create emotions in the reader. I don’t see that art is exactly like regular fields of work. It is not like construction work, or accounting, or pipe fitting.

    Artists are observers and psychologists. They use music, words, film, etc. to create emotions in people, which is honestly very difficult.

    A news reporter once said about news that, “there is no such thing as a story about a cat that ISN’T caught up a tree.” I see this as sort of a universal truth in art as well. In all good art there is some sort of conflict, usually a highly emotionally changed one, that is being dealt with. This is where the dramatic tension in temporal art comes from.

  14. Bob

    “usually a highly emotionally changed one, that is being dealt with…”

    I meant CHARGED not CHANGED.

  15. Great post, great discussion and, of course, the ubiquitous typo. Thanks, Bob. I loved it. 🙂

  16. Keith

    Good post Larry!! I love the baseball analogy. Great insight on enjoying the journey. Not sure if I’m weird, but I don’t enjoy writing. However, I do enjoy going back at a later time and reading what I had written 🙂

  17. Kerry Boytzun

    @Bob. Agreed.

    Michael Crichton would write about a LOT of “bellwether” trends that would create immense change for society. Call this “Theme”. He was the best at it and nobody else has come close.

    Many don’t like his “writing” and consider authors like him aimed only at “commercial” writing. Fans of his writing, however, described his writing as “cut to the chase”. I prefer Crichton’s writing as I am not enamored with what the character had for dinner (unless it was poisoned), what she was wearing.

    In fact, I was thinking the other day that I NEVER describe what someone was wearing to anyone else when I am telling them about “what happened” at work. If someone came to the office dressed like a slob–I don’t break down the brands unless asked. If the woman was “hot”, I don’t break down her wardrobe. And I never get asked what she wore (or him). BUT I do get asked, “so THEN what happened?”

    Crichton wrote about what happened NEXT and added technical information that was germane to the story, and the theme, whether it was about time travel, dinosaurs, or the psychology of office politics (Disclosure). I’m reading Disclosure 1993 right now (again) and it’s a lesson in how to move a story along, to have you interested in the next chapter by way of how he ended the last paragraph preceding it–and the dialogue is snappy, relevant and REALISTIC.

    Regarding dialogue, I’ve read many expert editors state that if “one doesn’t talk like that in real life” then don’t write like that. Jerry Cleaver (Immediate Fiction) stated that the most interesting dialogue was short, brief and usually antagonistic (to add conflict…interest).

    What I’m trying to say is that I’ve met many “writers” that are snobs towards Crichton and Grisham’s early work–because the writing was “poor and amateurish” –but guess whose book is a “can’t put it down page turner”…

    And whose is not?

    One more thing: I wish more people would share their thoughts on writing–anything relevant to Larry’s posts. Many of you have interesting things to share and I’d love to hear them. Thanks to you that do share.

    This blog of Larry’s is way better than any other writer blog I’ve seen due to the comments AND Larry’s specific nuggets of information that one can use to improve their writing. Many others are just generic and don’t have details.

    thanks all!

    Kerry

  18. Sara Davies

    Writers often limit themselves by making assumptions about who their audience is or what someone else is going to like. I’ve seen authors actually come out and say, “this books is only for people who….”. I think that attitude is a terrible marketing strategy. It almost begs for failure.

    I resent publishers who think they’re psychic and try to tell me who I am, what that means, what it should mean, or what they think people they IMAGINE are similar to me want, believe, or respond to. Knowing nothing about me or what makes me tick, what I care about, what my values are, where I’ve been in my life, why I’m interested in their books, etc. Don’t make assumptions based on demographics like gender, income, age, background, politics, religion, documented interests, or past purchases. It gets done all the time, but for me, when it’s overt it’s a deal breaker, because it makes the process of seeking new information, perspectives, or experiences alienating and degrading. I shouldn’t have to justify my interests, as a potential audience, to anyone. It’s their job to attract me (if they want my money) – not to make me jump through their imaginary hoops or conform to their expectations about what people they mistakenly believe are like me are supposed to care about. It’s not my job to like their books for the reasons THEY think I should.

  19. Robert Jones

    @Bob–Great post. I see I also made a typo (far from my first), using the word “excepting” instead of “accepting.” I should really proofread these things better 🙂

    @Kerry–I agree with wardrobe descriptions for the most part, and the same goes for writers who tell you everything that’s in a room when a character enters so you have a “complete” picture of the surroundings. Such things need description, but I believe they could be summed up with less than some writers give us. I always think about the key things in a room, what’s the character going to notice first, or stands out most. Because if a scene is coming from a character’s POV, who enters a room with a notebook in hand and an eye for such detail while something presumably important is about to happen?

    After the important details that best establish a scene, if the character is going to sit down, he might notice the type of chair. If they smoke, maybe they notice the ashtray is cut crystal. But I believe they notice such things as they encounter them, or as the scene dictates gets placed in front of them to be noticed.

    My one aside on clothing, however…is if that certain types of clothing can be made to characterize in an important way, or note some eccentricity. So ignoring wardrobe entirely might be an opportunity lost. For example, if the new guy hired by a fancy legal firm on Friday, comes to work on Monday wearing cut off jeans and a Led Zeppelin shirt, people aren’t going to bypass what he’s wearing when they speak of this, or just mention the fact that he didn’t shave, or comb his hair that morning. Also a woman in an uptown market wearing curlers barely concealed beneath a scarf is going to conjure a different type of character in the readers mind than if the same woman wore a mink coat into a convenience store.

    Clothing shouldn’t be overdone no matter what. But since writing is also about differences in appearance, or cultural biases, then clothing is certainly a way to bring about conflict or differences. Because this is the way most people judge us…by our appearance. By the same token, clothing, in terms of lengthy, or unimportant details of everything the character is wearing from day to day, scene to scene, is boring. Laundry lists and interior decorating tips only slow the story down. That’s when the reader might decide to take a break, or maybe that the book lost them in the writer’s interest in such things. The same thing applies to the character going for a walk and describing the quaint English village they are staying in right after a murder just occurred–in which they might be a suspect. People don’t think that way, so why would your character be walking around marveling at the architecture, the way his room is smartly decorated at the inn they happen to be staying at, or what everyone he just talked to is wearing. If you’re implicated in a murder, would you notice all that? Or would you be thinking about your alibi, or a darn good lawyer?

  20. @Robert. thanks for the kudos and I agree with you on the clothing.

    Bottom line is that everything should be “relevant” to the story.

    Best example of clothes being relevant to the story is the scene in the movie, The Shawshank Redemption where the hero, Andy, is returning to his cell after leaving the Warden’s chambers (he did his books). What the camera shows is that Andy is wearing newer Shiny SHOES. And that’s all.

    The shoes were relevant…germane to the ending.

    Elmore Leonard has sold a ton of books skimping over what he called unnecessary details like food and clothes, wall paper and the weather.

    For me personally, it’s easier–and faster–to read a scene that isn’t loaded down with “fluff and filler”. Nothing kills “momentum” or excitement faster than blah blah blah blah (as I’m excited to just “get on with it”).

    It’s no different than coming home or to the office with your clothes in shreds, covered in dirt and blood on your hands. You go on about what everyone was wearing, how her hair shimmered in the sun like the sun reflecting off the water. No, you have your audience’s attention–“get on with it”.

    But not everyone is like me, thank the gods. Myself I can’t read Anne Rice as every wall is described with wall paper to carpet choices, and the sorry assed vampires are sad they can’t die (I say just walk into the sun and quit your whining).

    later…

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  22. Sara Davies

    @ Kerry

    Description, as with everything else, can work or not work depending on how it’s done. When it’s overdone or static, that might be less interesting than if it’s moving or relevant to the specifics of the scene. In Tim Powers’ books, everything he describes is active. David Gilbert describes a scene with an emotional response and/or editorializing about the description, so I feel like I’m there with him. Tolkien is considered great, but I can’t bring myself to wade through his pages and pages of static description. On the other hand, I like atmosphere. But more than atmosphere, I like emotion, so I want the atmosphere to serve the purpose of evoking an emotional response, setting a mood, like music in a film. But with most of that stuff, it’s subjective, open to interpretation or preference. It’s not the description or absence of description, but whether the reader is engaged with it and in what way.

    Talk about anti-marketing… there are whole genres I will never read, that you could not pay me to read no matter what the books are about, regardless of the skill or story telling ability of the writers…because I’m offended by the way they’re promoted. It’s like the publishers want to be in the business of social control instead of selling books.

  23. Robert Jones

    @Kerry–Agreed. I haven’t even attempted Anne Rice, or many other authors I won’t go into, for years. I do get caught reading a lousy one now and then, but have tried to read authors who do make everything relevant…or at least most things. No one is perfect. And I’ll read and re-read those books I’ve learned the most from while I’m learning to put the pieces together myself. I would rather read 25-30 good books in a year that I lingered over and learned something from over 60 bad ones just because they are popuar. Though I have spent several years reading “best-sellers” and award winners just to see what they had in common. Some did have common denominators, many I noticed had beautiful writing and originality in the first chapter that was not repeated for the rest of the book. And I had to wonder why, if a writer could write with such passion and conjure such words, why didn’t they at least have the ocassional spurts of that throughout? In which case, I began to see an agent, or editors assistance up front to capture one’s attention, then the rest of the story was as common as gnats at an outdoor fruit market. Some were outright terrible. So the old cliche about judging a book by its cover needs amending to–never judge a book by its first chapter.

    Yet they became best-sellers. In which case the common denominator there was that the beginning of a novel can truly make, or break, one’s chances.

    This, of course, brings about the notion that if one can, for a time, land on the best seller lists with a book that has a certain type of fresh imagery and characterization that stands out…along with something happening…what would be the result of a novel that actually remained consistent in that sort of quality throughout? Or at least have the writer chime back into that sort of writing now and then.

    If one can learn it, make it a part of their thought process early on, then we won’t need an editor to jazz up our first chapters. We can deliver something more than merely a fast paced story. Everyone wants a page turner, and I understand pacing is very important. Dean Koontz, for example is a master at pacing. But when the ride is over, I don’t recall a single thing about most of his characters, other than the fact that they ended up caught up on the same merry-go-round of events I was. And by the ending, I was never truly pleased with how things turned out. I say goodbye to the characters and we part, agreeing neither of us really wants to hang with that Koontz guy again in a hurry.

    I’ll probably get people telling me to try Odd Thomas–which I admit I have not. Others have said as much before whenever I picked on Koontz. The man is already laughing at me and his other critics all the way to Tahiti and back. For me, however, after half a dozen tries at the man because I was fascinated by his pacing, I won’t be disappointed again. There are too many other authors to try.

    So yeah, I’m probably not like a lot of folks, and what pleases each of us is a very personal thing. But getting back to the point at hand, pacing can move like a rocket, details should be relevant to the story, but give me substance and make those details important and interesting as well. I’m sick of characters swept up by harrowing happenstance. The author can tell me how the dude loves his wife and daughter, and wonders now if he will ever get back to that sweet life he had before life swept him into a nightmare of a tornado that took his family hostage. Well, okay. Circumstances like that are dire. But who the hell is this guy? Is he worthy of my attention? What makes him different than 842 other jackasses I’ve read in the same harrowing circumstances?

    Vicarious experience may entice me to feel bad for this guy, certainly NOT want such things to happen to me. But it’s just one ingredient in the story physics manual. Yet how many play that card on a slice of whole wheat pacing and add a child in peril for all those parents in the audience and just keep running headlong with the plain white Joe of a hero until he’s armed with a 9mm, or bazooka, and a big old Yippy-ki-“F”-word trailing from his lips as he blows the kidnappers into exit wound shrapnel.

    Sorry, but having a rough week in finding my own writing ground, hating every lame-ass story at the moment.

  24. @Sara: Agreed on (especially if it’s first person POV) the character giving an opinion of what she sees in the scene. That’s a great way to show what’s in the scene and add the dynamics of the character’s opinion. Reminds me of detectives that are hung over or just disgruntled as they point out everything in the room–that is weird, wrong, and just looking ugly. Humor can be developed like this.

    The TV Show TrueBlood’s first season was just wonderful regarding how we could listen to Sookie’s thoughts as she scanned the restaurant and its patrons, telling us what she thought–and to hear their secret thoughts. Season one was a riot for that–I couldn’t get enough. Last year got tedious, but I hear that this year is rocking again.

    @Robert: Why is the character worthy of your attention? Great question and should be started by making the character just not all they appear to be–in an ironic, mysterious and perhaps funny way. A priest that daydreams during confession; a teacher that studies hypnotic language.

    Anything that breaks the stereotype and either reverses it, or perverts it in a humorous fashion.

    Most of the stories out there lack imagination and are like reruns of the 70s. We want something different. In real life, every so called “leader” that is supposed to be looking out for the people–ain’t–so how about some stories about those kinds of characters? The character that used to be good, turned bad, and now just isn’t sure anymore.

    ciao

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  26. Robert Jones

    @Kerry–Absolutely. Or a character with a serious handicap, like Jason W. is writing about. Limitations to overcome can be brought into new and interesting light. Real people all have fears and phobias…not to mention the numerous physical handicaps that many have to overcome. We are used to seeing military veterans in great physical shape, but most are not very relatable, even to the real vets who have tossed back into society after being given a set of rules and circumstances to live by that most cannot understand. Many having undergone either physical, or mental trauma. How do these guys relate? How might some who had all that specialty training go from physical combat to a beaurocratic war that goes against the very principles they were taught to fight for?

    I recall one writer saying pretty much the same thing you did, that it’s easy to break out of the commonplace and cliche. Whatever you think of as the current standard, just do the exact opposite. Might be a fun experiment to try. Take our first ideas for everything, spin them in reverse and see where the story leads.

  27. Kerry Boytzun

    @Robert. Agreed.

    AND, I really wish that people would stop writing from historical stereotypical “facts”–that have been proven to be lies. Like the US military are “the good guys”. How could ANY military be a good guy when they are invading another country, blowing it up and taking their stuff over–all under the good guys’ alleged reasons “our interests”.

    It all starts with the initial idea. I think that’s where a lot of authors go wrong from the get go. Sure they could make the best job of it–for another story that’s been told before and before. But if it’s the same old same old–it won’t be that popular.

    Stories that go viral are ones that strike a nerve. There are plenty of nerves to strike, and these nerves have been conditioned with the “official” main stream media version (explanation) of events, from the alleged history of humanity to what happened on the “news” yesterday.

    If you want to write something that catches someones eye because it’s “fresh”–it can’t be the “same old same old”.

    The answer is where you go and research something that gets you upset. Where you discover a lie and dig deeper. Turn it into a story. If you need to, then change the details to avoid lawsuit, but keep the theme.

    Take Fluoride for example. The average person will “repeat” (not really think about it) that fluoride is GOOD for your teeth. This has been proven false and was a scam from the get go. The scam part–now THAT’S a story. It could be the backstory for a core story of a dentist that learns that what she thought is good for people–isn’t. And she looks into the past to find out that there’s a scam going on. You can have her chase the scam, or just choose the “healthier” side of keeping ones teeth–and deal with the resistance + acceptance from her customers.

    If a lie is repeated often enough–it passes for a “Fact” (truth) among people. Does that sound logical? It does and it doesn’t. It’s illogical that people don’t really investigate what they believe, but it’s logical that people won’t check on something “that will go against their Father Figure (Anima or Animus)”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anima_and_animus

    Now we’re in the realm of psychology. Psychology is what makes your belief systems develop and when (in the stages of your early life), and it’s the operator’s manual to changing your psychology–in order to manage you.

    Now you’re going, Kerry, I’m just not into all that crap. I just want to write a story about when Harry met Sally. I’m not into “conspiracy”.

    Hey I never said it had to be international with dark Govt. and Aliens. Please note that conspire means “to plan”. Everyone conspires every day of the week. Again, this brings us back to the Anima and psychology.

    Psychology is what human relationships are built upon, and are what characters are made of. The more you understand psychology, the better your character’s interaction within the story will be, and the more interesting it will be. This is a step towards the A Game that Larry brings up all the time. Not psychology, but that the A Game has something in addition to everything else.

    The Name of the Rose had conspiracy in it. It was fresh. The movie Doubt 2008 was similar and very POPULAR.

    Lets see now…what movies, books went viral that deal with so called conspiracy: Star Wars; The Matrix; All the Presidents Men; The Firm; The Hunger Games; Harry Potter; The Help; Disclosure; Enders Game; Rising Sun; Titanic; DaVinci Code; Shawshank Redemption; GodFather Series; Schindlers List; Lord of the Rings; Once Upon a time in the West; Casablanca; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Terminator series; Promethius; The Departed; American Beauty; The Green Mile; Lawrence of Arabia; LA Confidential; Chinatown; V for Vendetta; Casino; The Wizard of Oz (symbolism).

    To me there are two ways to make a story. First way is to come up with some idea and then “What If” it until it gets interesting. The odds of that striking a nerve in society (the human unconscious) is very low in my opinion. But you can make a very interesting story.

    The second way is to act like you are an investigative journalist that is looking “for a big story”. You comb the news, your contacts, whatever–to find something that “smells off”. There’s something just not right. Things aren’t as they appear. You go digging. You eventually find something and somebody–who tells you what is really going on. There’s your STORY. Now you just have to fictionalize it.

    Many will say (ah yes I keep talking but I have PASSION for the human race and I express it) ah, but I just want something close to the heart. Okay, how many of these “conspiracies” affect the family unit, children and lovers? ALL of them!

    Continuing to use a known chemical that causes issues with the brain (autism for example)–that’s a story, and yes it’s international, but it’s also local to a family whose child went bad…AFTER the VACCINES shot into the baby BEFORE its even developed enough to deal with the chemicals in it. Imagine that’s your kid? You can Google this.

    Or you can just blow me and others off. And let all the children from this moment on–get vaccinated with stuff that they don’t need and is harmful to the body. (so much for mother nature…trust the boys who made the vaccines just like you can trust their Big Banks and Big Govt.).

  28. Robert Jones

    @kerry–you’ve pretty well summed up much of my own writing philosophy. The “truth” takes on many forms to cover whatever is profitable. That includes personal truths morphing into acceptable myths as well.

    Here’s a few facts that are scary about just how far people will go to sell us whatever they want to make a prophet on. The same people in the tobacco industry are also working to create addictions to the crappy foods we are consuming. One example I recently discovered is that they want to create cheese addictions. They partnered with a popular fast food chain to create a certain cheddar cheese series. And the facts are, the average person used to eat about 12 pounds of cheese per year. Now we eat about 32 pounds per year, per person. And the real hitch is, all that calcium for stronger teeth and bones is a complete fabrication. In actuality, too much calcium can cause brittle bones as we get older…among other problems caused by dairy in general.

    Talk about a reversal. And why? Because the government has huge stages in the dairy industry. Does that really surprise anyone? Once you dig into anything, the fix is usually in there somewhere.

  29. Robert Jones

    Huge “stakes”that is. Typo.

  30. Kerry Boytzun

    @Robert. Yup.

    What’s even more interesting is that these agendas aren’t about money. The public facing agents have been interviewed and even told the interviewer as much–but the interviewer didn’t believe it.

    Humanity is viewed as a “culture”. But it’s not the culture you think it is. This culture is the POV that a scientist has in the lab.

    It’s something that is “grown”…and owned because it was grown. Just like genetically created bacteria, cells, and critters.

    @Robert: The “fix” is so obvious that it’s hidden in plain sight. But the POV hides it.

  31. Sara Davies

    @ Kerry – When I feel drained of ideas, documentaries about conspiracies are among my favorite places to look. Other good sources include non-fiction, multiple sources, perspectives, and topics. And alternative news outlets that explore events in ways traditional media never will, both national and international.

    @ Robert – The fix is in.

  32. Robert Jones

    @Kerry–I’ve heard they think of the populous at large as cattle, or workers, but taking profit out of the equation, “owned” is really a level up on the scale of concede duly evil. Although I’m sure they see themselves as our benefactors, taking care of us as the farmers, or scientists.

    I can really use that notion for my villain. One could justify almost anything if they saw themselves as staring down at a culture within a Petri dish.

    Thank you for that perspective.

  33. Robert Jones

    “Concededly evil.” Blasted bumbling tapping on an iPad can cause mistakes the spell checker gets creative with.

  34. Robert Jones

    @Sara–Also a good idea. I’ll hunt up some conspiracy documentaries tomorrow on Netflix. Secret society stuff also good.

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  37. @Larry — Thanks for clarifying. Sometimes the clear just isn’t clear for reasons unrelated to the writing. Looking back, I was actually in a lot of pain from a shoulder injury as I posted, and reading through your blog partly as a distraction from the pain. (I prefer distraction over drugs.)

    As for the self-publishing, in my current state, which is less influenced by pain, I have no clue where I pulled that from! This is an example of one of your more recent posts about a child’s interpretation of the Bible. I was not reading what was written!