Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 7 – Avoid Open Onions)

No one gets to change your work but you

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.
Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness? shared some examples of improving sucky writing (my own).
Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts dealt with extracting actionable information from test audiences.

An important part of improving one’s writing is knowing whose suggestions to pay attention to. Notice, not what suggestions, but whose suggestions. Some people don’t have opinions – they’re not making suggestions – they’re opening onions – their goal is to make you cry, to make you suffer.

Avoid Lennys
About 3:45m into my interview I mention Lenny. Lenny’s goals were to destroy you, your work and your love of what you do. Nothing you do was or is going to be good enough. Example: In my story, The Settlement, the original opening was The needle thin Scimitar class asteroid explorer Vega was resting in a parking orbit over Mars’ northern pole.

Lenny spent 30m telling me and everyone else in the group how stupid it was to have a parking orbit over a northern pole. Not a word about verb tense, exposition, active voice, … nothing about storycrafting. Was Lenny correct that parking orbits can’t exist over planetary poles?

Absolutely!

Was the ship’s location worth 30m of scientific discourse?

Absolutely not! The ship’s location is mentioned once and only to let the reader know the story takes place away from earth. A 1,400 word story and 30m on a mistake that can be addressed with something as simple as “The Vega parked over Mars’ northern pole.”?

Lennys miss the story because they can’t understand the story. The first time you read The Odyssey you’re probably in school and reading a great adventure tale about gods and goddesses, magic, armies, wars, and sailors. Ten years later you read it and you’re reading about the battle of the sexes and marital fidelity. Ten years after that you’re reading about the decline of matriarchal societies and the rise of patriarchies.

Lennys can’t even get to the great adventure because Homer’s description of some knot on the ship isn’t accurate. Lennys can’t do what you do at the level you’re doing it. You’re better than they are, they don’t consciously know it and they hate it. More to the point, they will do everything in their power to make you focus on tying proper knots than telling your story.

Find a group that pays attention to your story while helping you correct your knots.

Avoid Lennys.

Avoid Fascists
Wa-a-ay long ago I attended a writers’ group that had a de facto leader, a fellow who always sat at the head of the table even when no table was present. Table or not, he would find the chair that allowed no one else to sit near him, a chair that allowed him to look out upon all others in attendance. When he critiqued others’ work, he sat in his chair. Not so everyone else. Everyone else stood and recited their critiques.

What makes me think they were reciting instead of reading?

Igor do good, Master? Master love Igor? Master say ‘Good, Igor’, yes?

 
The way they stood, their tone of voice, the number of times they looked at their leader after they’d made some point and sought confirmation/approval. Perhaps it was the sniveling, groveling, hunchedback “Igor do good, Master? Master love Igor? Master say ‘Good, Igor’, yes?” that often ended their recitement.

After they critiqued this fellow would correct and explain where they made mistakes in their critiques.

Should you encounter a group like this, get out while you can! This is fascism in the guise of a writers’ group.

No one can be more correct than the leader, no one’s opinion can differ from the leader’s and god forbid it does, the leader will bring the offender back in line, graciously if possible, with The Hairy Eyeball of Hades if not.

Most importantly, you’re only getting one person’s opinion disguised as a consensus. Not worth your time, that. If you want one person’s opinion, submit your work to editors and publishers. At least then you’ll be getting your name out there.

Avoid Fascists.

Avoid Queens, Kings, and anyone with an entourage
A close second to the above is the writers’ group with the designated star, the one person who has at least one recognizable publishing credit…and who quietly or otherwise lets everyone else know they have at least one recognizable publishing credit.

The star’s word goes. The star’s got it right.

The star has an entourage – The King/Queen and His/Her Court – that backs the star up all the time. Nobody argues with the star. Should someone argue with the star, the entourage provides defense. The King/Queen would never deign to do so. They are, after all, The Star!

There was a time when having one recognizable publishing credit meant the person’s work was recognized as having worth by those (usually) far outside the individual’s circle. You wrote something, polished it, sent it to an EDITOR (heavens open, angels sing) who bought it (god’s light shines on you!) and you have a publishing credit that tells other EDITORs at least one of their peers thinks you have talent (you’d often start hearing Also_Sprach_Zarathustra about this time).

Nowadays, anybody can self-publish and most do and it shows because the majority of self-published material sucks. And now the caveat: Most everything published sucks. Have you seriously read what’s on the shelves out there?

Avoid Queens, Kings, and basically anyone with an entourage.

Avoid editors/publishers who do these things
Editors are suppose to improve your work. This is not a fact, merely my opinion. My opinion was based on experience. Recent experiences with editors have left me re-evaluating my opinion. Examples follow and in each of these cases, demand another editor. If the publisher makes excuses for the editor, get another publisher.

  • You’re assigned an editor who’s completely ignorant of your genre: A romance editor will have tough going editing a thriller and vice versa. If you submit a military thriller and your editor wants to know what a BDU is, demand another editor.
  • You’re assigned an editor who knows less about grammar than you do: Your job is to provide as polished a manuscript to the publisher as possible, it is not to teach the editor basic editing skills. Some publishers have their own style guides that are…interesting. Forget Strunk&White, forget CMoS, some publishers create new punctuation rules as they go along based on god knows what.
  • Along those lines, beware of editors who believe the house style guide is the bible and adhere to it like Fundamentalists at a Saturday night dance-a-thon.
  • Your publisher gives you a publication/editing schedule and your editor unnecessarily blows it out of the water.
  • Your publisher doesn’t answer your questions regarding their business (sales, forecasts, years in business, growth rate, how many best sellers, how many employees, how many authors, a list of happy authors, a list of unhappy authors, …)
  • Your publisher wants to change (not edit, change) your work so that it fits a house imprint, ie, they bought a block of stone and are going to sculpt it into what they need. By the time they’re done, you won’t even recognize your own work.
  • Basically publishers and editors who make you feel uncomfortable. About anything.

Right up in there somewhere are

  • talk to other authors with the same publisher. Find out their experiences. First lesson, if the responses are uniformly good, run away. They’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. You don’t have to. Look for a few sour apples in the basket. Learn why they’re sour. Determine if their reasons are likely to become your reasons.
  • Find out if the publisher has put a book through their publication process then decided not to release it for reasons out of the author’s control. This is a big flag something’s not as it should be.
  • Make sure the majority of authors aren’t house authors, meaning they work for the publisher in other capacities. If your head of marketing has also written three westerns and none of them are doing well, there’s trouble in Dodge. If your senior editor has a series of cozy mysteries, make sure you put down the teacup. You’ve run into a self-publishing vanity press wanting to legitimize itself.

It’s something special when a publisher accepts your work. No questions there.

But remember, it’s your work, not theirs. They’re job is to make it better, not different, definitely not less. Any edits/changes that decrease the quality of the work are a big signal to get away. Now!

Avoid editors and publishers who do such things.

Lennys, Fascists, Kings/Queens, Publishers, Editors and all such who do the above are opening onions, not offering opinions.

They’ll make you cry if they can.

Next up – Keep Growing!

Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts)

Listen. Understand. Act.

Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all! of this multi-post arc dealt with some folks I knew who vanity published their books back when we called vanity publishers “vanity publishers”.
Part 2 – Vanity/Self-Publishing provided an overview of Vanity and Self publishing.
Part 3 – What Camp Are You In? identified four reasons people consider self-publishing.
Part 4 – Pray thee, Joseph, 4 Y do these books suck? delved into editing that doesn’t help a book.
Part 5 – Could you provide examples of suckness? shared some examples of improving sucky writing (my own).

A woman read the opening of a play at a writers’ group I recently attended. She had four characters talking to each other for about eight pages. Not doing anything, just talking.

Ever been at a party and walk up to a group of people talking then discover both they and their conversation are boring as hell?

You look around for another group, one where voices are raised or there’s laughing, one where, even though the people are standing, they’re animated, moving their arms, nodding or shaking their heads to whatever’s being said, stepping back and forth, their bodies demonstrating their feelings about the conversation.

You strategize ways to get out of the boring group and into the interesting group simply because it is interesting!

People reading your story or watching your play behave much the same. If your characters, setting, situation, whatever, is dull, they’ll stop reading, change the channel, get up and leave the theater, take your pick. People need a reason to put their attention on your material. Give it to them.
Continue reading “Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 6 – Opinions are not Facts)”

Stanley Fish’s “How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One”

Is that an adverbial clause in your pocket or are you happy to see me?

How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One was an interesting read that spawned my Great Opening Lines blog posts. I enjoyed it, didn’t always agree with it. The one truly fatal flaw (to me) is the lack of exercises, something like “Here’s a rotten sentence, fix it. See possible solutions in Appendix A”.

 
Fish’s explanations of what makes a sentence worth reading become – to me – increasingly complex as the book progresses. I was bordering on being lost by the time I got to his “First Sentences” chapter and started skimming, looking for the meat – the very thing he warns authors against – too many readers, when unsure of what’s going on – skim until they get to something they can understand.
Continue reading “Stanley Fish’s “How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One””

Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines)

Opening lines that propel the reader into the mythic

This post is the third in a series on what makes any story’s – flash through novel – opening line great. Part 1 provided some background and why opinions only matter if you know enough about a subject to make an informed decision.
Part 2 covered what makes an opening line great.
Let me know what you think are great opening lines and I’ll include them in the series provided you explain what makes them great.

Fish mentions some websites that list beautiful sentences. You can find websites that list great opening lines and Fish has a “First Sentences” chapter in his book.

I had a problem with the websites: they offered a line, its source, but didn’t explain why the line is great.

How frustrating!

Perhaps they feared being subjective, hence being called in error. Kind of like everybody pointing at the sun and saying “That’s the sun.” Not much argument. Ask “Why is that the sun?” and people wonder at your intelligence if not sanity; isn’t it perfectly obvious that the sun is “the sun”?
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 3 – Some Great Opening Lines)”

Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?)

Well crafted prose doesn’t necessarily create great opening lines

This post is the second in a series on what makes any story’s – flash through novel – opening line great. Part 1 provided some background and why opinions only matter if you know enough about a subject to make an informed decision.
Let me know what you think are great opening lines and I’ll include them in the series provided you explain what makes them great.

Where an elegantly crafted sentence doesn’t matter (as much) is with the first, opening line of a story (any length, any genre, fiction). Nancy Ann Dibble (writing as Ansen Dibell) wrote in Plot “…every effective beginning needs to do three things”:

  1. Get the story going and show what kind of story it’s going to be.
  2. Introduce and characterize the protagonist.
  3. Engage the reader’s interest in reading on.

Get past the technical and a great opening line must take the reader into the mythic, specifically the story’s mythic; its setting, plot, characters and so on. At best it’ll propel the reader into the story’s mythic, at the least it’ll invite the reader into the story’s mythic and anything combining those two is over the top good.

A great opening line offers the reader no room for escape, no chance for egress, no opportunity to back away. I state it simply as “You’re either in or you’re out.” A good opening line should either put the reader firmly in the story or leave them at the door, wishing them well, hoping they catch the next train and leaving them to other, more enjoyable journeys.

For them.

Again, subjectivity wins.
Continue reading “Great Opening Lines – and Why! (Part 2 -What Makes a Great Opening Line?)”