January 14, 2013

Beginning Again

So remember how I started querying back in November? Well, I've pulled myself out of the trenches temporarily thanks to a nasty bout of trench foot AKA a need for further revisions. I thought my WIP was no longer 'in progress', was buffed up and ready to send out into the world. Turns out the front end of my story needs some work. Again.

How do I know this?

One of the agents I queried actually took the time to give me some compliments and some pointers when she rejected my story. (This, after requesting my first fifty pages.) While the rejection still bummed me out, I felt like I had something concrete to work on. Radio silence and "This isn't for me" are expected, but actual advice? Golden. I also took a gander at Pitch Wars, and two out of the three ladies I applied to sent me encouraging rejections with constructive criticism. And you know what? They mentioned the same issue that Helpful Agent had: my intro had too much world-building/info-dumping. I should mention that my CP, Elodie, said much the same thing long before any of these ladies did.

The funny thing about all of this is that I always kind of had an inkling that my opening was weak. Deep down I just never felt right about it. I convinced myself that all of this info was just so darn important that it had to appear early on. Wrong.

But how to fix it?

After completely avoiding even thinking about it over the holidays, I'm now face to face with this thing and on a bit of a self-imposed deadline. (I'd like to have it sorted out before the SCBWI conference that I'm attending at the beginning of February.) Thankfully, a phone chat with my sister helped me to resolve some of the issues, but not all of them. I still don't know exactly where to open this thing so that it starts with "action and/or interactions between characters" (thanks, Helpful Agent ☺). I've always been one of those people who hates being tossed into a story without knowing what I'm dealing with, but I know I'm in the minority. Here's what I've figured out about fixing my sad sack opening pages:

  1. Not all backstory/information crucial to world-building needs to happen right away. I knew this, but now I get it.
  2. Not all of this information actually needs to be in the story. Really. Sometimes it's just a pile of extraneous words.
  3. Weaving this info into the story can add to the suspense. It can also keep the reader hooked, waiting for answers.
I also realized (following a question my sister asked me) that my timeline can be altered a bit too, which might actually help with some of the issues I'm facing. I've got my figurative red pen handy and I'm all ready to tackle this Montauk Monster once and for all. After I'm finished with all that fun stuff, I'll be reworking my query. Again. Wish me luck?


And just a quick reminder about my Pos-i-tute-ly Bee's Knees Giveaway: Have you entered for a chance to get your very own copy of Libba Bray's The Diviners? The giveaway is open internationally and ends Wednesday, January 16th.

47 comments:

  1. Hello! I always enjoy reading your posts. I can certainly relate to this one. I deleted most of my first chapter after swearing up and down it was perfect as it was. I've also rewritten my query a dozen times. I can only hope I've gotten it right this time. It sounds as if you're on the right track.

    I'm currently reading Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole and she says first chapters should 1. Introduce your character without using too much backstory. 2. Make your character sympathetic. 3. Give us the inciting incident. 4. Shape reader expectations.

    GAH! If only it were as easy as it sounds. I've used about five different openings for the same novel. Good luck and keep us updated! :D

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    1. Thank you, Tracey! I'm happy you like reading these ramblings. :) I think there are a lot of us who have had to do some serious rewriting on our WIPs, particularly of the opening sequences. It's so tricky, though!

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  2. I always struggle so, so much with writing openings - what to include then, what to include later, what to cut out altogether...augh!

    Good luck!!!

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    1. I'm still struggling with it, but I think I'm getting closer to sorting it out. Nice to know I'm not the only one, though. :)

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  3. Good luck! I always want to explain everything right at the beginning, too, and I always have to revise it and parcel information out as I go along. It's so hard to find the right balance!

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    1. It's definitely hard to find that balance. I know that as a reader I like to know what's going on, but I think I've been a little too generous with the info, if that makes sense. Now I just need to dial it back. :)

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  4. Good luck! Sounds like the right decision to me ^_^ I've had an agent make suggestions too and I was so grateful because now I can make a few changes and see where it gets me.

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    1. It's so, so helpful to get even a couple suggestions from someone in the industry. It basically just confirmed what I already kind of knew but was in denial about. :)

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  5. Wow! Agent feedback!! That's completely awesome, Jaime--and worthy of three exclamation points!!! Actually, perhaps even four!!!! :) Seriously, for an agent to take the time to give you pointers on how to improve your ms tells me it was not an easy rejection--and who knows, they might be open to re-querying when you've fixed the problem. That's about the best kind of rejection you can get! :D

    I've taken note of the comment myself, and I'm thinking about the opening of my WIP. In fact, I'm also thinking of examples of great novels that open with action/interaction, even when the author could have done world-building/info-dumping. Jumping to mind right now: DIVERGENT, CINDER, LEVIATHAN, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (wow--what a first chapter there!!)... and I'm sure others come to your mind. Great advice. :)

    All the best with revisions!!!!! (five exclamation points!)

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    1. It was a very brief email, but even those couple of suggestions and bits of praise were so, so helpful. I'm really grateful that she took the time to do that for me! And you're right, it's definitely the best kind of rejection.

      It's funny that you mentioned ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, because I went and looked at its opening chapter to get an idea how she approached a similar sort of scenario. (Our stories aren't that much alike, but it was still very useful.) I think I'm getting closer to figuring it out, so that's good. :)

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  6. YOU CAN DO IT :D I know it´s all caps but it´s cheering not yelling I promise. Your story and writing are amazing. I know ´cause I´ve already read your book twice and wouldn´t mind reading it a third or fourth time :D

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    1. Thanks, Elodie! :D You are so encouraging. I think you might like what I've done with the opening so far. Some of it stayed, some of it went, and some of it will be dropped in later on in the story. We'll see how it turns out. Once I've figured it out, I'll send you what I come up with. :)

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  7. I'm glad the feedback has been consistent and useful! I also like some info up front--but what's funny is, in TV, I've trained myself not to. Have you seen any of Aaron Sorkin's stuff? THE WEST WING is what immediately comes to mind when I think of a show that throws you in and expects you to pick up info as you go along. It might be worth watching a few episodes if you can find them and looking closely at how he does it. (Also, it's just a great show.)

    Also--shoot me an email with more specifics of what you're juggling, timeline and backstory-wise, if you like! I can give you a new set of eyes on the issue, at least!

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    1. I've never watched THE WEST WING, but I like your comparison of WIP openings to these types of shows that plunk you right into the action. I've figured out places that I can eliminate some of the world-building info-dump, and in many cases shift it to elsewhere in the story. I'm realizing that it really doesn't need to show up right off the bat. We'll see if I'm successful with implementing this knowledge, though. I'll definitely send off those opening chapters to you when I sort it out a bit. :)

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  8. Isn't it amazing how deep down we know when something's not quite right? It's FREAKY... but it takes time to learn and trust that feeling. It's SO part of the process! And one I'm still struggling with. When you're getting help and feedback from agents, then you know you're on the right path. It means you have talent, you have something of worth, but just a few things need to be tweaked. This is GOOD, Jaime. I'm so proud of you. Dive back in, fix what needs to be fixed, and it'll be great when you jump back into the game!

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    1. It is freaky. :) I've always been bothered by those opening chapters. The rest of the story is fine (I think), but that opening...Gah! I'm lucky to have received such great feedback, and I know my story will be better for it. Assuming, of course, that I can implement their suggestions properly. I think I've figured it out, but we'll have to see. :)

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  9. Good luck, Jaime! Agent feedback is crucial to not being confused/in the dark over an MS. I've gotten such sparing feedback over my MS that I'm having to just coast on the little I have gotten and change anything I think is off. It's a good thing we have that inner radar that tells us when something's not as good as it could be. It gets harder - especially if so many people are saying different things. I'm glad yours was easier to pinpoint and know your revisions can only make your MS better.

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    1. I feel pretty fortunate to have received this feedback, since I know that it's not a regular occurrence. And you're so right about that inner radar. I knew there was a reason my opening has been bothering me for months. Hopefully, I've got it figured out now. :)

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  10. That's so awesome that you got valuable feedback from an agent. Very good sign you're heading in the right direction, even if there was a rejection tied to it. Good luck working on revisions!!

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    1. It is awesome. :) And I hope you're right about it meaning I'm heading in the right direction. It's amazing how it softens the blow of a rejection when you receive reasons why and a couple of pointers. :)

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  11. Oh, Jaime... I have been there. And been there and been there! I think all serious writers are faced with tough rewrites. It's what makes us and our stories better. I'm so impressed with your resolve and positive attitude as you take this on, and I wish you the best of luck in completing your rewrite with your sanity in tact. :)

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    1. It helps knowing that I'm not the only one banging my head against the wall with revisions and rewrites. I've been avoiding my WIP like the plague because I just didn't know how to approach it and do all the hard work it required. The time for avoidance is over, though. I'm trying to be positive about it, but really my face and my keyboard are far more acquainted than I'd prefer. :)

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  12. Thank goodness for our phone chats! I sure wouldn't have gotten very far without them. Someday, if we get published we should have a query burning ceremony. I'll bring the marshmallows ;)

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    1. It really helps to be able to talk it out, to mull it over out loud with someone else. Of course, that's all possible because you've read it and know what I'm going for when I make this change or that change. And as for query burning one day—I'm there. I'll bring the wienies. :P

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  13. I swear...ANY time I would get feedback from a publishing professional on something that wasn't working, it was ALWAYS something one of my CPs/readers had already told me, or that I knew myself deep down in my heart and chose to ignore or stick a band-aid on. So much of this process is learning to listen to people and learn from them...truly.

    Good luck with everything! :-D

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    1. I think I was hugging my WIP a little too closely, afraid to make any major chops into it. But the fact that the beginning sort of rubbed me the wrong way should have been my first clue that it needed serious work. Thank goodness for CPs and helpful agents who are willing to kindly point out what isn't working. :)

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  14. Ooooh, cheerleading for you on these revisions! Feedback is fantastic (and proof that agents and editors can be awesome even if they say "not for me")

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    1. Thank you! And I agree about feedback being fantastic. I was really hoping that someone would let me know what wasn't working (considering I was getting rejections), so this agent's thoughts were very helpful. :)

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  15. Agent feedback is so rare and I am so glad you got some, Jaime! Revising is hard. Rewriting is even harder. I just wrote about it actually-how hard it was for me and how I used to ALWAYS, ALWAYS give up. I can't wait to hear your query positives when you DO go back out into the query wilderness.... Good luck!!!!! You can do it, Jaime!!!!!!

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    1. You are so right about revising and rewriting being hard. I got to a point where I was just too close to the thing and even though I knew something wasn't working, I didn't know how to approach it and do the hard work required. I don't think I could really pinpoint what the issue was either. Now it's glaringly obvious, and thanks to Helpful Agent I can see what needs to go, what needs to be moved elsewhere, and what needs reworking altogether. Thanks for the encouragement, Rachel! :)

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  16. Best of luck Jaime! It's always hard to cut out something you've labored over but you can do it!

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    1. It's totally hard! There are chunks where I love the way I worded things, but they still need to go. :( Ah well. It'll be better for it in the end, right? :)

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  17. Good luck with your revisions! I'd die for feedback right now in my own querying trenches, but we'll see. If you want to run your first few chapters by fresh eyes, just give me a shout. :)

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    1. Thanks, Liz! :) I think it would be wonderful to have someone in the publishing world get past my first 50 pages. Actually, past the first 10 would be something. Any little bit of feedback from them is really helpful, so I'm grateful. :)

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  18. Good luck! Revising is the hardest part because it never seems to end. It's great that you got agent feedback, though! Hopefully that helps you zero in on the trouble spots.

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    1. Thanks, Nickie! You're so right about it being neverending. I tend towards perfectionism too, so I find myself picking at my story over and over again. This, however, was much needed picking. And chopping. I'm super grateful about that little bit of feedback from the agent, and it's been immensely helpful. :)

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  19. Revising is so difficult. I am revising my MS at the moment and it is kicking my butt ;) But it is worth it. Esp when you can feel that you KNOW it has to be done and it's just finding the time/space/brain ability to do it. I really wish you luck. It'll be worth it! (or so i tell myself ;))

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    1. It's definitely difficult, but I agree that it's worth it. I can't begin to imagine how relieved I'm going to feel once I get it right. :)

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  20. Good luck!

    I totally understand the avoiding things technique. I can't count the times I've known in my gut what is wrong but delayed fixing. Mostly, I think for me, this is due to a fear of getting things wrong again. It is as if I am petrified that I will be caught in a loop of constantly not being able to write that part.

    Ahhh! Noo. I feel like I've brought the entire mood down. What I meant to say was GOOD LUCK and I know you will do fabulously because, unlike me, there is non of that looping fear going on. ;-)

    <3

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    1. I know exactly what you mean! It's like there's this fear that if you change something that needs fixing, you run the risk of making it worse and never being able to get it right. I think I'm slowly getting it to where it needs to be, but it's such a brain thing, especially when it comes to self doubt. :)

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  21. Good luck to you! I am also in the minority of people who like a little info up front and less in media res. But a balance of the two is probably the best, and it sounds like you're revising toward that. I'm trying to rewrite part of a manuscript right now, too. So we're in it together!

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    1. I think you're right—a balance of the two is best. I really doubt that most people like to be completely thrown in without any idea what's going on. There has to be some clue. It's amazing, though, just how much you can actually take out and the story still makes sense. I guess I'm just getting to a place where I realize I don't need to hold the reader's hand. :)

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  22. Good luck with your revisions. Agent feedback is AWESOME. You are AWESOME. You can do this. It's a new year, new goals, new shiny, revised chapters. :)

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  23. Good luck Jaime! I know it's tough to have to go back and revise, but it's awesome that you've gotten some solid professional feedback and know what needs to be done. Your manuscript will be so much stronger once you finish!!

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  24. I just read this post in my Reader, heh. I just had the same experience! I'm not querying yet, but last week I was thinking about my beginning and thinking maybe it's too slow, maybe I need to cut some of it out...and then I got back beta notes that said the exact same thing. Sooooo now it's time to figure out what to cut from all of the chapters I JUST fleshed out!

    We'll get there!

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