Advice Column

>> Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Not that I'm any guru or anything -- just offering advice from years and years of writing, years and years of learning, and hundreds and hundres of rejection letters.
This is the response to a post I made on another board, who was quite upset with a rejection letter she'd received. Thought others might benefit from the info, as the subjects are universal to writing.

:: questions by fellow athor ::

My two cents below.

First, take a deep breath. I completely understand where you're coming from, but to get anything good out of this rejection (and there is always something good in a rejection, even if it only means you've put your work out there--a huge step), you'll have to look at it objectively.

:: she said my heroine wasn't a very contemparary woman, given that everything happens to her, rather than her deciding to make things happen. what does she mean by contemporary? because my heroine knows how to cook and clean? she also knows how to train horses but that's not in the first three chapters::

Editors/agents want strong heroines. Strength can be shown in many different ways. One of those ways is for the character to take hold of their lives and shape it. Things happen to them, circumstances exist, but what defines character is how they handle those circumstances, what actions they take to right the wrong that occured. If a character simply REacts to problems instead of determining their own direction, it makes them appear weak. An example off the top of my head: Say a woman is suspected of a murder she didn't commit. The police are sure she's the killer and are doing everything they can to gather evidence to prove it, maybe even fabricating evidence to support their theory. A passive character will go about their life, worried, anxious, view the situation as unfair and deny, deny, deny. An active character could do any number of things to take hold of the situation and make a difference--investigate on her own, hire a PI, engage the help of friends, hire a lawyer, etc. Contemporary women are strong, sassy, opinionated and intelligent. It doesn't matter whether they take care of three kids at home or run a multi-million corporation. They don't let others take care of their lives--they take care of themselves.

:: there is no conflict in the romantic relationship she develops. why does there have to be conflict between them there are plenty of external conflicts. which is something else she mentions that all the conflicts are external. is that wrong in someway?why would the conflict need to come from whithin the two main characters? ::

External conflict is good--it develops the plot. But internal conflict is even better--because it develops character. And characters are why people read books. Especially romance. Both types of conflict is the best. And when the external and internal conflict reflect each other or twine to up the stakes, it's as good as it gets. It's all about the conflict. There is no such thing as too much conflict in fiction. That doesn't mean you have to have the h/h bitching at each other. Conflict does not equal fighting or bickering. Conflict only represents roadblocks the characters have to overcome to succeed--externally that may be the villain who has something the h/h wants, or is trying to take something h/h have. Internally that may be fears from the past, insecurities from childhood, personal shortcomings that interfere. In working to overcome those problems, the characters should learn and grow and change. That's their character arc. If there is no conflict, there's no reason to read on to discover what happens, how they overcome it or how they change for the better.

:: i'm very upset at the way they judged the book based only on the first three chapters things don't really even get going for another chapter or two ::

It sounds as if you've started in the wrong place. A reader needs to be immediately involved from the very first line. Character (characterization) should be shown within the very first page. GMC should be defined, even if only foreshadowed, within the first chapter, preferably within the first five pages. It may seem harsh for an agent/editor to judge the book on the first three chapters, but a reader is even more harsh. If the first few lines don't grab them, don't pull them in, they put it back on the shelf. If the first chapter or two don't satisfy their curiosity, they don't read on. Worse, if you disappoint them with low conflict or inconsistent or weak characters, you've lost them completely, and they'll never look for your name when considering a purchase again.

:: my book is set on a horse ranch and she made the comment that there was little to distinguish it from any other ranch. isn't that the point of having an imagination? ::

Imagination is good, but readers don't want to do all the work. They pick up a novel to be entertained. They want you to paint a picture for them, help them with that imagery. And an editor/agent wants a book that's going to stick with a reader, where character, setting and plot will haunt the readers mind and make them want to come back for that author's next book. Theme is an important element of a powerful, memorable story and it should be threaded through every element, including the setting. What makes your horse ranch special, unique? Think about your heroine, her GMC and tie it into the ranch, its appearance, its location, its purpose.

:: i'm thinking of trying to up the word count to make it a stand alone novel rather than a series romance ::

A stand alone novel needs even deeper, more complicated characterization and conflict. It's not about word count, it's about depth.

I hope that helps. Hang in there and try not to take the comments personally. It's actually a good sign they gave you specifics to draw on, instead of simply sending a form rejection. Now you have specifics to utilize if you choose to revise, areas to focus on.

Good luck! Keep writing!


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