Monday

The Truth According to Me

Yesterday, I said to today would be a day of the truth. I’ve been scouring my brain (and my slush) for examples of writing truths – those unbendable writing rules you can never break, unless of course you need to. These were all of the ones I could think of so far. I’ll add some more tonight if I think of any during the day. Also, feel free to add any truths you have learned.

  1. Good characters make good stories.
    You may have invented the coolest world. Your character might be having the bestest adventure ever. But if you don’t have a compelling, at least somewhat likeable character for the reader to become emotionally invested in, your book will flop. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an anti-hero. Artemis Fowl in the first book is a villain. Holly, the fairy, is the good guy. But they are both such wonderfully well done, compelling characters, that as the reader you’re rooting for both.

  2. Good stories require conflict.
    Even if you write the greatest character that all your readers adore, if that character doesn’t do anything, the book will be boring. A character must have conflict and strife. The character must have something to do even if it’s just a battle with the evil dishwasher that just will not get those glasses spotless. If you don’t know how to structure your conflict, use The Hero’s Journey. Although primarily known as the formula used for quest fiction, it can be applied to anything. Look at Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey to see how the Hero’s Journey can be applied. Although the book is geared towards screenwriters, it works equally well for fiction. "But I would never write with a formula," you say. Well, there’s a huge difference between formula fiction like Nancy Drew and structured work. As the book shows, you don’t have to use every element. It’s more of a guide than a formula. But now that you have good characters and plots, what do you do to write the actual text?

  3. Avoid hyperrealism.
    Hyperrealism is a coin termed by A. LaFaye to describe moments when authors meticulously describe every part of a character’s day. A lot of the times it’s not important that the character got up at 7, had breakfast, watched 2 hours of TV, got dressed, went to the mall, argued with Mom over the length of her skirt, stopped at the bathroom, etc. This kind of uneventful stuff can be glossed over with a passage of time summary like: "The highlight of her boring, never-ending day came when she fought with her mom over the length of her skirt. She never thought she'd say it, but she couldn’t wait for school to start back up." Okay, so I can’t think of a story where those two lines would actually sound good, but you get my point. Which leads me to my next one . . .

  4. Every scene must do double duty.
    I think this is another A. LaFaye wisdom. Simply put, every scene in a novel (and especially a picture book) must be doing a minimum of two of the following three things:
    • Expanding the setting
    • Expanding character development
    • advancing the plot

    The second and third are the two most important elements. If your scene isn’t doing at least two things, it borders on being superfluous. Hyperrealistic scenes are generally not doing any of the three.

There are many more truths, but this post has gotten long enough. These are the main things that I immediately notice when evaluating slush. Breaking any of the above truths tends to be a sign of a young or inexperienced writer. Something about the work has to be truly outstanding for a submission with one of these problems to move on in the acquisition process.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Buried Editor,

Can you possible explain more about the first item in the list - Expanding the Setting. What is a good example of this that would be an acceptable scene? Anything you could add would be great!

Thanks.

The Buried Editor said...

An example would be the first scene of most books. We usually learn about the character and their world in this scene. We learn if this is a historical or contemporary setting, etc. We might not learn the exact date or the types of trees around, but we can learn if it's the Civil War or they're in a forest.

Anonymous said...

So, say a writer sends a story for an anthology but it's so good it could stand alone as a picture book. Would BTP or CBAY consider it for such? Just curious.

Thanks so much

The Buried Editor said...

We've had one like that we've considered like for a PB. Most of our anthologies are for a different age range than PBs, so stories that work for the anthologies are rarely appropriate for a PB. On the other hand, we've had several stories that we've asked the authors to turn into full length novels. Some examples would be Lyranel's Song and One-Eyed Jack. We asked one of the authors to consider novelizing one of her stories from Summer Shorts, but we never heard back.

On the whole though, we get enough submissions that are genuine PBs or novels that we don't have to rely on the short stories for books.

Anonymous said...

Wow - I'm in SS and I would have jumped at the chance to novelize. Are you sure the author got your message? I always freak out about missing an e-mail or even a snail mail.
LT

The Buried Editor said...

Well, of course we wondered. Then we ended up filling our list for that type of fiction, so it became a non-issue. Not that we'd ever tell an author not to submit something based on a story. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Buried Editor,

One more quick question on your list of the three key elements every scene must have (should have) at least two of. Is this list specific to just children's books? I ask this because I am currently reading an adult mystery book and today when I was reading, happened to notice a scene which had what I would consider character development but neither of the other two (at least not that I picked up on). It did have a significant amount of humor (something for which the author is well known). So how does something like humor fit in? Superfluous?

Thanks.

The Buried Editor said...

Children's books need to be tighter than an adult book. A short adult book has about 60K-75K words. A long mid-grade has 50K and a long YA has 75K. Books like the later Harry Potters and Twilight and The Book Thief are exceptions not the rule.

Adult books are bad (or good depending on your perspective) of going off on tangents. The author often digresses to talk about something or having scenes that don't do 2 things. Terry Pratchett is a humourous example. Children's books cannot do this though. Children have shorter attention spans, so books have to keep moving.

The best example to contrast an adult and child's book would be the Hobbit vs. The Lord of the Rings. H is for children. It is fast paced with every scene achieving multiple goals. LOR for all it's brilliance and revival of the fantasy genre rambles on and loses focus on multiple occassions. Hence, it is not a book geared for children.