Tag Archives: howIwrite

Writing a Blurb from Gareth L Powell

Having done my “thoughts about pitches” a few weeks ago, I came across a template from the fantastic Gareth L Powell on “how to write a novel pitch or blurb”:

I know those of you on Twitter will have seen it already, but it’s worth saving! And if the tweet isn’t showing up above, here’s the image, and you can find the original tweet here.

Writer’s Block: Building Your Sandcastle

Have you heard the thing about writing a first draft; it’s like piling sand into the bucket, and the second draft is then building the castle?

My writer’s block at the moment feels like the sand is that really hot, dry sand you get sometimes at the beach; the sand that slips and slides and just falls through your fingers when you pick it up.

So I can grasp a handful, but it just trickles through my fingers: and even if I did manage to get it into the bucket, I’d tip it out into my castle and it would just melt away again.

I’ve got the ideas; but I can’t put them together into anything. I can’t flesh out the bones: every word is a grain of sand picked up and put in the bucket, and then taken out again.

Here’s hoping the tide comes in, and then there’s some damp sand again!

Image via Pexels.

Thinking About Pitches, Queries and Submissions

I accidentally joined in on the whole “Let’s Open The Gates To Hell” thing last week (for those not in the UK…politics broke, the weather broke, and we had a huge storm. Most of us are just assuming the devils are here to stay, and moaning about the heat.) When Ryan Estrada suggested over on Twitter that what the hell, everyone just go for your dream, ask for what you want, shoot your shot…

We joined in.

We had 1k replies within the first 24 hours, and I both regretted every life decision that had led me to that point, and laughed so hard at how enthusiastic, wonderful and simply bonkers the world of writers can be.

I’ve already DM’d a bunch of people, we’ve had some fab submissions in, and it’s open for another week so if you haven’t yet pitched then I’m still looking at them!

But the sheer amount of pitches got me thinking. What makes a good one? How can you catch my attention? What do I need to know?

Some people have been resorting to gimmicks; telling me that I’ve already decided to publish your story is a cute idea but doesn’t actually tell me what your story is, and frankly it creeped me out enough to not want to ask. Same with the people bouncing up and down in my mentions with cute little comments: it doesn’t help. Plus, I’m an introvert. I don’t like it when people wave frantically at me – it means I might have to talk to them!

The ones that have been attracting my attention are the ones that tell me some or all of the following;

  • what the conflict/problem is
  • what the setting is
  • what the genre is
  • who the main characters are

And the major two things:

What’s the hook?

What’s the difference?

THOSE are what I want to know. What’s the thing that is going to make me go “oh, ok! I haven’t seen that / I want to know more / what happens next?”

I’m going to pick someone I know (@AndrewSkinner, because he’s got an amazing book out with Solaris shortly and it’s about giant robots beating the snot out of each other; IT MADE ME CRY and I haven’t quite forgiven him for that) as a first example:

THE BARREN GATE SOCIETY – Val is militia, keeper of order in Rimir, the city with a second skin. By law, militia can’t cloud their eyes, can’t see or feel the all-sense projection that clothes Rimir’s rot in luxury. That is, until Val witnesses a murder. With no killer in sight.

So…I know the protagonist’s status (militia), the setting’s interesting and different (a city with a second skin? How does that work?), he’s set up the  individual conflict (can’t cloud their eyes) plus told me something about the wider world conflicts (rot and luxury)  – and then tells me the central hook.

And I’m sold. Yes, I’ve asked for a manuscript.

How about an example from someone I don’t know?

“lesbian AI space pirates”: What do you do when your ship has been blown to pieces by rebels, and you’re floating in the middle of deep space with no hope of rescue and only the shipboard AI for company? “Find love” was not exactly on Pepper’s to do list, nor “piracy”, and yet…

And I was sold by the “AI” part. Lesbian space pirates? Cool, that puts a few ticks on my personal list (which, obviously, is what I’m looking for – obviously all the editors are going to be looking for different things) – but the AI is the different bit. And that’s the point I went “oh, ok! That’s a story I don’t think I’ve read!”

The longer pitch then tells me about the wider world (space, rebels, they’re blowing up ships), the conflict (rebels!) and the problems (love and piracy)… none of which put me off!

I will note, though, that you can write a story I’ve read before – but tell me what’s different. If there isn’t anything, then maybe you need to have a think about what could be – and that doesn’t necessarily have to be anything huge, but what makes you stand out from the other books already published? What’s your personal hook? Your personal signature? Why should I read (or publish, in my case) this book when there’s already X stories of this type out there?

I mean, even the author who told us that he’d rewritten J.R.R. Tolkien because he felt Tolkien didn’t put enough description in had a good hook, even if it was one I personally disagreed with. (That wasn’t in this pitch storm, thankfully.)

There’s so many ways of doing pitches, and also multiple ways that you could do one for your own book – I mean, our blurbs often go through two or three iterations as we focus on different parts of the story, conflict and characters. So it’s worth trying variations!

And it’s also worth remembering that editors are looking for things they like. A pitch might be very good but just not something I’m looking for; that’s the nature of pitching and publishing, unfortunately – we’re trying to pick out things we’ll be passionate about in the hope that other people will too, but it also means we can’t choose everything. It’s been really nice seeing the other comments on Twitter, and seeing people join in with the conversations – there’s a whole world of readers out there!

So – if you do want to pitch us, throw your Tweet into the ring – I’m having a lot of fun reading them all!

A Thought About Voice – The Start

I had a piece of writing recently that I was editing, and it started with;

“Finally,” the young woman said-

What voice do you read that spoken word in? What tone?

Is it “FINALLY we have gotten round to THIS THING!” or “So, um, finally I get to say something?” or “Fiiiiiiinally in my very long list of shit…” or something else entirely?

It turned out, half a sentence later, to be a tremulous tone.

And so I did what editors do, and I crossed it out.

It’s too uncertain an opening. It’s a single word with too many different tones and meanings and phrases, and it brought in too much of an about-face in the reader if they read it the wrong way (“well FINALLY we’ve got to this point! HUMPH!”) and then suddenly had to switch to tremulous.

One of my core principles is that the reader shouldn’t have to re-read unless it’s a deliberate choice. If you’re pulling an abrupt switch or a big reveal, then a re-read is great! (One of my favourite parts of Skin Games by Jim Butcher comes after the reveal three-quarters of the way through, and you end up gleefully skipping back through entire conversations to get a hidden meaning.) But if you’re using dialogue and you’ve got a long conversation, I shouldn’t have to track back four lines to check who is saying what. I don’t want to have to return to the start of a paragraph to check when they actually moved location/opened the window/did the action. And I shouldn’t have to realise halfway through a sentence that my tone is completely (and I mean completely) wrong.

As an addendum to that; slightly wrong, I think, goes with the territory. No reader will read the characters in the same way that the writer hears them, and that’s fine. But you should be able to at least convey the general tone of the conversation: and that’s why “Finally” got a red line through it. There were other ways of conveying the hesitation and tremulous tone; in fact, all I actually ended up doing was suggesting the second half of the sentence went first, which conveyed the tone far better.

That said… you know this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, right? Maybe just a general suggestion to have a read of your openings, and check if there might be another way they could be read.

An analysis of a flash fiction edit: draft to final

So, as you may or may not know, I write silly short fiction based on my workplace. And I wrote one recently that I’m not happy with – so I though it’s a pretty much perfect piece to analyse, and give some idea of how I work as a writer.

The edits are the hard bit to explain, often – unless you watch an editor work – and it’s often just trial and error that makes things work.

Version One

True power is never good or evil, you see. It lies in the hands of those who hold it, and lies with their decisions; and a neutral overlord is in many ways more terrifying than the maniacal laughter or the sweeping righteousness of the extremes.

He was good at his job; knew when to put a finger on the scales to tip the decision, and when to give a subordinate enough length to make their own bad decisions. The chastisement was never bad, per se; but it left you feeling like you had a pit in your soul. But the truly terrifying thing was that he did not care; underlings were resources, and when those clear eyes looked at you, you were judged useful – or not.

So! In this one…I haven’t caught the emotions I want. Paragraph 1 Line 1 works, I think. Line 2…doesn’t. It captures the feel, but it’s too long – it overdoes something that could take fewer words to say.

Paragraph 2; hmm. There’s a repetition of “decision” that I don’t like; I did want to use “enough rope to hang themselves” but I hate that expression, and the substitute doesn’t work. As for the next two lines, hmm, They’ve sort of captured the feel but they’re still very muddled. I want to use a specific example there, I think – it’s too general a feel, and I want to narrow it down.

Version two

He was not the maniacal-laughter type, but it was generally agreed that amongst the Evil Villains of the world, he was ranked pretty high. He was extremely good at his job; knew when to put a finger on the scales to tip the balance, and when to give a subordinate enough length to make their own bad calls. The clear eyes would look at you and judge you useful, or not; but that simply allowed him to use or discard resources for the project’s best interests. And the chastisement for failure was never extreme; but it left the subject with a pit in their soul, a chip on their spine, and the feeling that they had somehow failed beyond any measure of redemption.

This actually went through about two rounds of tweaks before I remembered that I was trying to keep track of what I was doing and why! You can see that quite a lot has changed…

So, I’ve removed the start; I just want the feeling of “Evil Villain” so I may as well state that outright.

From the original paragraph 2, with too many “decisions”; I’ve changed that to “call” in the second, and “balance” in the first. I’ve also extended the idea of being judged useful or not.

And the final line; to give the failure some consequence, and tell us something about the person – a final jab.

Unfortunately I feel like I need a red pen and highlighter to try to catch everything else I’ve done, and why; I’ll try to do this again with another piece and catch more of the reasons for the changes!