Friday, May 14, 2010

Chimera Critiques CONFLUENCE

Sorry I am a few hours late today. I am fighting a bad cold and took a sick day to sleep in! (which helped immensely)

I mentioned last week that I had won this, and I was THRILLED. CONFLUENCE has had a dozen or so readers and I've gotten GREAT feedback from ALL of them. Everyone who has read has helped me improve the manuscript. I even had someone who NEVER read it, Colleen Gleason—my first 'real author' friend I made through a 'connection' instead of this slower network process (she is friends with my neighbor) give me improving words. “I hate to sound negative, but nobody is going to read something that is over 200,000 works,” leading to the largest Adverbectomy in the history of time (more than 40K just from THAT... another 20K out for plot pieces I grudgingly removed).

And over my rounds of querying (3 so far) I went from no nibbles (out of 7) to 1 nibble (out of 14) to 3 nibbles (out of 11)--one of those LAST for 75 pages—so real interest. But no takers. It was time for drastic action.

THAT is when I stumbled upon a question at an author blog: what would you rather win? Query advice, first chapter advice, lunch with an agent, or... not remembering what choice 4 was... might have been something more tangible like a writing book or something... and I signed up for 'first chapter advice.' My query could use some work, but it seems to me it's gotten some peeks. I think my PROBLEM is my opening chapter.

Callie, at Chimera Critiques contacted me, said she'd seen that was what I was interested in, and let me know they were getting a service going to help authors and were having giveaways about once a month—she encouraged me to submit, so I DID! I think, because they are just getting going, and I was early in submittants..., but I 'WON' and I got the critiques: 3 of them!

The critiques all begin with an intro of some sort, some brief, some longer, and then END with the summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the chapter. WITHIN there are comments... tons of them, things like “This is a good dramatic last line, but I'm not sure who is talking or what they are talking about, so it loses impact.”--

Unanimously, they didn't like the very first 'teaser'--me trying to be clever with set up from behind the scenes—the decision makers who are DOING this rotten stuff to the family. They liked what it hinted at, but wanted it to be more explicit, which in my mind would give away too much of the book... I am thinking I will just dump it.

There is also too much 'set up'--the reader isn't quite sucked in because I am establishing relationships and building character, then just as they start to pull in, I change scene... That was me being too clever by half, I think...I was trying to leave them wanting MORE, but apparently, 'bore, suck in, abandon' is not a clever strategy.

Now this 'too much set up' is something I had already suspected—that as a chapter 1, I just have too much time invested getting to know characters. Some of it can just be cut, some can be woven in later, but I definitely have to work on arrangement.

Another thing I heard: My parents aren't very sympathetic (seems there might be a deeper meaning here *shifty*)...I think PART of this is all the cutting I've had to do—making the book shorter, I cut some 'sweet moments' because they weren't related to the plot... mom has a mini-breakdown at a later point, and I'd REALLY like readers to CARE before that happens... Mac on the other hand, I want to GROW in how sympathetic he is—starting somewhat selfish and career oriented, then REALIZING what his family means to him... And I think this is the first time I've exactly articulated that, so maybe it is progress. I need to leave in reasons Trish would BE with him if he seems unsympathetic... I definitely don't want her to be a 'trampled upon spouse' (at least not of her own free will)... it's tricky, and I am seeing how taking some deliberation here could definitely help me strengthen the interest readers have in following forward.

And then the darned PLOT... with the PoV changes—it seems to be hard to grasp... possibly because I have some strong subplots, that at the beginning, get a fair amount of time because they are part of the set-ups (like Jessie being forced to move with her dad, which then follows through her adjustment)

And then there are my transitions between scenes... rough, disorienting... So what I need to do with those words saved from cutting the 'set up' is smooth these transitions. I will try to avoid the clever, “meanwhile, back at the ranch”... my other books with alternate PoV by chapter, or with Deniability, half a chapter. All the rest have only two, but this one has 4 PoVs. I am SERIOUSLY considering rewriting it from all Jessie (with maybe an occasional Hannah)--I like Trish's breakdown, but I think that can be observed... what CAN'T is the manipulation Mac and Trish are both receiving at the hands of their coworkers and colleagues, but I could probably manage that with some overhearing, some dinner conversations—maybe twist around the rumors Jessie hears at school--or write it more as a mystery Jessie unravels.

Jessie was universally popular. I've known she was my strongest character all along—her voice came most easily. She is the one most disrupted through the move that sets events in motion. I'm not sure yet—it is a BIG rewrite... it is a rewrite that MIGHT even make this a YA book if I make the motivation of the villains less complicated (though then I'd have to shorten yet again—I think 90K would be pushing the limits, and right now I'm at nearly 140K). Then again, cutting 2 PoVs might do just that...

Whatever the case, I have work to do.

I find this process was helpful in several ways—when I see three professionals point out the SAME piece as problematic, I KNOW it is a problem. But at least there is some suggestion of how to address it, and I believe them. They were very clear what was unclear, versus what they just weren't buying: how teens talk, for instance... I happen to HAVE teens, but I've decided how teens talk is regional. I love having feedback that is both broad, and has all these specific points... I can decide which problems to address just by cutting out whole sections (or approaching from a totally different direction) and which I want to deal with one issue at a time to improve (or occasionally, ignore).

Having these from three people, I figure I fall into “only one points out=preference” but if more do... well I need to think about it.

I also loved that they pointed out the strengths—the lines they really liked with why they worked. The character actions that really gave a feel for personality—VERY helpful. (even got a compliment on my lack of adverbs and clean writing, so thanks, Colleen!)  And thank you especially to Callie, Erica and Zellie at Chimera Critiques!  They have another selection coming up, so if you have a first chapter that you aren't sure how to get right--maybe you've given it a couple goes, and it just isn't GOING--I strongly recommend you give these ladies a chance.

I am mid-process in a critique for a friend of mine, and I DEFINITELY want to keep all this in mind, so I can be as helpful as possible.

So I am back to the drawing board with this (eventually--after POSSIBLY the cozy, then LEGACY) but I feel like I have now thought about it on a much different level, and I think I can streamline the plot, and strengthen the book, so THANK YOU!

And YESTERDAY I had a giveaway with my blog, but comments were low, so if you want to have a chance to win a journal and booklight, go to YESTERDAY's post and see the instructions (easy, just a comment, but on yesterdays, and then a tweet, link or facebook share for this blog or the Virtual Book tour)--be sure to let me know to be in the drawing.


Bridge Marie said...

Sounds like an awesome opportunity! I have a serious problem with words, too, as in too much of them, and no real idea where to start trimming. Fresh eyes definitely help with that.

Also, nice to here details on your work! I hadn't quite dug through old posts to find out more, so it was nice to see here.

Helena Soister said...

These changes almost sound overwhelming, but then I remember that when I do rewrites I can juggle about a dozen ideas in my head. So it also sounds like you've got it all under control.

And I love your word "adverbectomy."

Watery Tart said...

Bridge--always start word cuts with the adverbs... Adverbectomy is standard procedure. But also the linking verbs and helping verbs... just SAY IT--not that I've ever noticed wordiness in your writing, but those are the two surest shorteners of my earlier stuff.

Helena-it IS sort of overwhelming... facing a full rewrite instead of just an edit, but I think it needs to be done-especially if it ends up as my first book out there (though I think LEGACY may fly first--that was a 'closer to clean' first draft.

Kassy with a K said...

This whole adverbs thing has always troubled me. I just don't understand WHY they're so BAD. And because I don't understand the WHY I have a hard time obeying the rule. (Even when I do understand whys, I typically don't like the rules).

I agree with Helena though, reading all of your ideas for changes seems entirely overwhelming. Thinking through even the one-fourth finished story I have I would struggle conceptualizing all of that stuff. Basically, major props to you. :]

Lisa K. said...

To get those critiques, that's just priceless, especially for a first chapter, which can make or break you for attracting an agent or editor (not that I'm the voice of wisdom on that, mind you). There's nothing like the feeling of being able to actually see the problems in a manuscript and having at least some idea of how to start fixing them. Good luck on the revisions.

Watery Tart said...

Kas-look at it THIS way: Adverbs usually mean you just needed a stronger very. Instead of 'said quietly': whispered. They aren't ALL bad, but most manuscripts as first draft are trouble by the way we SPEAK--there is a lot of hesitation. Speaking, we do it to be polite: not offend. In writing, there isn't really room for that hesitancy-the reader will doubt you are saying something they have to read. I had TONS of 'just', 'slightly', 'a little'--diminutives that take away from the power of the words.

Lisa-EXACTLY! I think this is the first time I've sort of seen the vision of the BIG changes that might streamline and bring out the important points--very valuable!

Marjorie said...

You know teenagers always swear more than they should. If you were to go the YA fiction route would that be a problem do you think? Would you have to change Jessie's voice in order to fit into the genre? Because I know you love her as a character. I don't think you would be willing to budge on that would you?

Watery Tart said...

I have Jessie swearing a fair amount at the beginning, when she learns her parents are making her move... I think in the 'non-first' chapter there is maybe one shit and one bitch. I happen to be a believer in 'write what's real' but if an editor is insistent, I can probably fall back on Leanne's "flusking pimhole' version of swearing. (which I think is Stephen Frye in origin.

The beginning though, I actually have a scene where she panics even MORE because her mom isn't stopping her from swearing--THAT one seems important to the progression.

Jan O'Hara (aka hope101) said...

Sounds like you had a valuable experience, and it's doubly helpful when the opinions are unanimous.

I haven't hung around you enough to know if you're aware of these resources, BUT, some of my friends have used Holly Lisle and Lani Diane Rich's approach to revision and been very pleased. They look at turning points, motifs, themes... you name it.

While you're mulling this over, it might be worth seeing if they're about to start a class.

Also, without knowing your fiction AT ALL, your blogging voice and personality seem like a good fit for YA. Not saying you can't write other stuff, and it's certainly best to settle in one area and learn mastery of it before complicating matters, but, if YA calls to you, it might be worth investigating.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I'm impressed, Hart. 1 out of 14, then 3 nibbles out of 11. That's very good.

I would have to pick lunch with an agent. I can get people to laugh and feel good about themselves (no, not by comparison to me!) I think I could pitch a winning proposal.

Here's a trick for thinking about your edit of your query : Tell your book as if you trying to get your impatient friends to see it as a movie. What would connect with them at a gut level to make them see it? Remember, they're impatient.

Come up with one sentence that will make them die to see that movie.

"Imagine your worst nightmare as a child : your parents are insane. Now imagine that isn't a nightmare. It's true. What do you do?"

I know that isn't your novel but it suggests where you could go with your beginning hook.

Just a thought, Roland

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I think it's fantastic that you got this critique! Lots of useful info...good pointers and also encouraging feedback. Hope the revisions go well!

Watery Tart said...

Jan--definitely worth looking at the resources! My work to date has been suspense or mainstream with suspenseful undertones, but it is certainly helpful to have new resources. And the YA DOES seem to be a bit of a calling...

Roland-my background is RESEARCH psych, so I haven't got clinical experience, and am BAD in 'real time'. I just feel like I'm not quick enough with conversation and am POOR at salesmanship--never feel comfortable in that role--I left advertising for that reason. So the LUNCH would never work. But the idea of framing it as a movie is a really good one!

Thank you Elizabeth! Yes, I feel like it ALWAYS helps to have a direction, and this definitely gives me that!

Callie Forester said...

Hart--Hi! This is Callie. :) Thanks for the rave review, we always appreciate it. We all enjoyed reading your work!! :)

I did want to correct one thing you said though. We didn't take your submission because of a contest. We take two submissions every month--sometimes more if we aren't too busy. We are open to anyone who wants to submit for critique. Also, it's not really a "business" since the critiques are--and always will be--free of charge. :) Just wanted to make sure anyone reading this knows that.

Thanks for the awesome write up! It's been great meeting you. I'm off to enter your contest. :) Make sure to come back to the site and click on our blog link--our chimera needs help! :)

Callie Forester said...

Ummm...I kind of feel like an idiot, but where exactly is yesterday's post? lol...

Also, I forgot to say in my last post that I think all your revision ideas sound excellent. I've done about a billion revisions of my book. I never look at it as time wasted though, it's all just part of the process and each revision makes the book better! I'm sure the same will prove true with you. :)

I really think you should look into the YA thing. From what I read, more YA books are getting published right now than anything else. The whole YA section is booming, so it's a great idea! We have a YA forum on our boards, you should come check it out! :)

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

Hi Hart!
Just want to thank you (along with my other Chimera's) for taking the time to do a review on your blog for us. We really do appreciate it, and enjoyed your submission.
So glad you found them helpful. :) From what you took away from the critiques to the revisions you have discussed on here it sounds like you have a very solid direction which is awesome! Best of luck with the revisions, I am there myself. When am I not? lol.
Anyways thank you again, we would love to see your around the site, you're blog is so much fun to read and keep up with. We hope you'll stay in touch :)

Watery Tart said...

Callie and Erica--Thanks for stopping by! Ha! I misunderstood--will correct how it reads on how you work! If you click the watery tart at the top, all COMMENTS disappear and the week of posts appears... THEN you can scroll down, OR, you can go down and in the sidebar is the list of 'past indiscretions' and yesterday should be under todays...

Zellie said...

WOW! Thank you so much!! You are GLOWING! That's how I feel after critique meetings....I know there's a huge workload but I feel so energized that I now have the tools to fix what wasn't working ^_^ that's the feeling I want to give to the people who submit to us! I feel all accomplished and warm and fuzzy (:

haha good to hear that Mac was supposed to be selfish...I felt bad about not liking him ;) definitely has the potential to grow because I WANTED to like him.

Also way cool to hear that Jessie is important enough to the story that she could carry it on her POV.

The word count issue makes me smile...Erica, Callie and I all have that problem. Callie's got it worst I think. I cut 100,000 words from Lightning Spliced. It's so much better for it, it wasn't just a cut to market length kind of thing. But the concept of market length really made me consider which parts of the story were most essential and exciting.