First Rejections

I received a rejection on Meteor Man last week. The editor wrote

I can appreciate the attention to detail in your world, but without knowing about the world or characters or what’s going on, the terminology bogs me down a bit too much.

The comment intrigued me because no first reader commented anything similar. Even first first readers – those unfamiliar with my work – didn’t make similar comments. I often gets comments about my world-building but they tend to be more like “Amazing!”, “Rich!”, “Vividly detailed!”, and “Immersive!” (one of my personal favorites).

When I do live readings of works-in-progress, I sometimes get a comment along the lines of “You do more world-building in ten pages than most authors do in the first hundred” and I should spread things out.

I ask in return, “Would you continue reading? Do you want to find out more?”

Unanimous yeses often accompanied by listeners leaning forward in their seats and sometimes by outstretched hands seeking a copy.

All of which tells me I did an excellent job world-building. If people were overwhelmed to the point of being numb, they’d back away rather than continue forward.

Two Recent Classes…
I’ve long suspected that storycrafting and storytelling aren’t the paramount reasons work is accepted or rejected.

Sadly, this was confirmed by two different classes I took over the past few weeks. The classes were from different sources and a little over a week apart. One class had an agent and a publisher, the other had two magazine editors.

I take such classes because I want to understand what got Story A accepted and Story B rejected. A con panel with editors explaining what stood out pro and con in stories from their slushpiles would be gold to me. I’d pay serious dollars to attend such a panel session.

Me, I look for common threads in everything from character to theme, action to plot, … Sometimes the common thread is obvious, other times…?

And always it comes down to “How come this and not that? Give me a list of what works and what doesn’t so I’ll have a better idea how to perfect my own work for publication.” (by the way, two books that do a great job of this are Barry Longyear’s “Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop – I: An Introduction to Fiction Mechanics” and On Writing Science Fiction: The Editors Strike Back).

Want to know what I found out?


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Attribution via Action

People who’ve worked with my in critique groups or in my trainings know about attribution via action because

  • I use it often in my own work and
  • I use it often when editing/critiquing someone’s work as it tightens scenes considerably.

Almost a year ago I wrote

The desire to have characters do something while talking is good, the execution is usually poor, and now we’re dealing with attribution via action which I’ll cover in another post.

in Toing and Froing and now, for various reasons, here’s that post.

Attribution via Action became increasingly important to me when writing my last novel, Tag. I noticed the actions I used for attribution purposes were stale, generic, didn’t apply to what happened in each scene.

I’ll defend myself with “It was a first, rough draft” which is true. I recognized the problem and made notes in the manuscript to fix it during rewrite, which I will because I tend towards anality about such things.

And still, it’s better not to have such issues in any draft, especially first drafts, as the more corrections necessary the more time taken not publishing and promoting the immediate project and all projects together.

So as I often do when I recognize a weakness in my own work, I gave myself exercises to improve my storycrafting and storytelling. In this case, use attribution via action specific to what I want the reader to experience when they read the sentence/paragraph/page/scene.

I’ve also learned from workshops and teaching that the term “attribution” isn’t in vogue any more.

Sigh.

So some definitions/explanations first.

Speech Tags
The reader has to know who’s communicating in a scene. Knowing who’s saying what is often more important that knowing what’s being said. This is done by identifying the speaker with what they’re speaking.

Words like said, talked, shared, spoke, … are now called “speech tags” and use to be called “attributions” but far be it for a writer to use a single, exact word when a weak, two word phrase can almost do the job not as well.

Said, talked, shared, spoke, … are fine words and they are weak because they lack emotional content until we use a adverb modifier such as said angrily, talked quietly, shared emphatically, spoke loudly, …

A thesaurus helps because said angrily becomes hissed, talked quietly becomes whispered, shared emphatically becomes emphasized, spoke loudly becomes shouted, … becomes … and so on.


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Pantsers and Plotters (a neuroscience perspective)

 
Imagine you’re writing a story.

You could be a Pantser. Some people call Pantsing “writing by discovery” because the writer lets the story take them where it will without any preconceptions about where it’s going. Supposedly this is Stephen King’s writing method.

You could be a Plotter. Some people call Plotting “architecting” because the writer first writes some kind of outline describing their characters and what happens to them, and usually details chapter by chapter, act by act, or scene by scene the story from beginning to end. Supposedly this is Orson Scott Card’s writing method.

I like the terms “Pantzer” and “Plotter” because they’re easy for me to remember; Write by the seat of your pants or write out the plot.

My life before becoming a full-time author (you can read my bio or some of my career history on LinkedIn) causes me to think the real divide is between a writer’s conscious and nonconscious.

Conscious, Nonconscious, Subconscious, and Unconscious


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Throughlines

a recurring character/setting/element anchoring the reader in the story that keeps the reader interested

I use throughlines in my own writing and mentioned them previously in Using One-Line Summaries to Write Better Stories and Writing Mentoring.

Recent conversations demonstrated confusion; some people thought a throughline is the same as a plot line, some thought a throughline was an expanded TOC (Table-of-Contents), some thought…

I appreciate the confusion.

I also appreciate Einstein’s “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Therefore, I’m either about to explain throughlines to a six-year old or demonstrate I don’t understand it myself.

Let me know which I achieve.


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Why I don’t read in my genres any more

(updated from an original post on Goodreads long, long ago…)


I debated writing this post for a while.

Three things solidified it for me:

  1. A discussion about fast paced sci-fi reads. I made a comment and offhandedly shared that my library listed my picks – Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man – as Fiction, not Science-Fiction (FWIW, Wikipedia claims science fiction, medical fiction and thriller as his genres). The comments intrigued me. I didn’t see any definitions of genre (sci-fi, fantasy or horror in this case) v fiction/literature offered. Examples, yes, definitions, no. Why is something considered fiction or genre? I wondered if something about being fast-paced shifted my library’s cataloguing from sci-fi to fiction. Did a metricable difference between literature and any genre (let’s include mystery, gothic, spy, romance, military, medical, thriller, western, historical, et cetera) exist or if, as some claimed, was it anything from personal bias to outright snobbery? Basically, I want to know if literature v genre is quantifiable. (i think it is, although I’ll yield that how important the metrics are is based on personal bias.)
  2. I started questing for relevancy; I have reasons why I rarely read in my genres any more. Did anyone else have anything similar? That question led me to Chuck Wendig’s “25 REASONS WHY I STOPPED READING YOUR BOOK” post. It’s classic. I don’t share all of Mr. Wendig’s 25 reasons, simply most and as for the others, it’s not so much that I disagree as I’m not sure if I agree.
  3. I read Pushing Ice (Goodreads rating 4.02, my library casts it as SF) and The Golem and the Jenni (Goodreads rating 4.1, my library casts it as FIC) pretty much simultaneously. Both are first novels, the differences in several factors are so striking that I knocked off 50-60 pages of The Golem and the Jenni whenever I had the time andPushing Ice…well…
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