Character voice and teenage girls

Last night turned out to be a pretty productive session. I churned out 23 pages, 13 more than my daily minimum. I suspect most of it will even make the cut in revision!

I was having a hard time finding the “voice” for my protagonist, a fifteen-year-old girl, mainly because I’m not and have never been one. Thanks to entirely too many Disney tween movies and some sage advice from my wife, I was able to put myself in her mind a little more, and the entire project seems much easier now.

Hoping for continued success today, although I don’t think I’ll be able to get to work until later tonight; life and all its many demands beckons.

The question of the day is, how do you find the “voice” for a character completely different from you?

Rough day at the keyboard, dear?

Had a rough go of writing yesterday; did my page minimum and called it a night. I’ve been having trouble sleeping, but that shouldn’t be an issue today, as I slept in for quite some time. Hoping it goes better when I get a chance to sit down and get some work done.

I’m deep in a realm I know little to nothing about: the life of an average teenage girl. I guess I should read a few books for tweens, maybe watch some of Disney’s shows just to get a feel for it. Thankfully the whole point of the story will be that she soon becomes much more than just an average girl, so the voice will change as the character changes. I think this is a big reason why I had so much trouble yesterday; I kept trying to tell the story from a viewpoint I’m familiar with, the dad, versus the actual character. After some much needed rest and a few errands that can’t be put off any longer, I hope I’ll be able to get back inside this character’s head and tell the story in her voice, not that of a grumpy middle-aged man.

The Ideal Reader: Who am I writing for, and why?

Today I thought I’d talk a little bit about the one thing every writer has, whether they know it or not. I’m talking about that one person they write for, what Stephen King called the “Ideal Reader.” This is the one-person target audience every piece is aimed at. For me, that person is my wife. When I write a particularly good passage, it’s always her reaction I see.

 

But it takes more than that to be an Ideal Reader; he or she MUST be an honest critic; if it doesn’t work for your IR, it sure won’t work for an agent or editor. A good IR will tell you what works and what doesn’t, whether or not they liked the piece, and (most importantly) the reasons behind it. I’m lucky in that my IR is also an eagle-eyed proofreader.

 

The question for today is: Who’s YOUR Ideal Reader, and why?

Writing groups, or “Oh my poor little ego!”

As most of you probably know, I’ve recently completed a novel and am currently querying agents, seeking representation. A large portion of this task is comprised of networking and research, research, research. As a result, I have a list of approximately 100 agents to query, which I have broken down into groups of ten for the sake of tracking and management. So far, I’ve queried the first ten, and received two rejections. Here’s where things get weird.

Part of my “networking” has been to join several writing groups and forums. I initially joined and participated in ten, and that list has subsequently been whittled down to two as I’ve seen what happens. The vast majority of them are people looking for an excuse to NOT write, as in “I’m blocked…help me!” instead of sitting down, turning off the distractions, and getting to it. A few have been legitimate, but not to my taste; instead of taking critques and suggestion from editors and agents about why their work isn’t quite ready, they prefer to bitch and moan about those MEANIES who wouldn’t take their work.

I’m about to quit the next one for a similar reason, except instead of being mad they get rejected, they get their FEEEEEEELINGS hurt. As suggested in the group’s guidelines, I have updated with the results of my queries as I get them, and the overwhelming response has been hand-wringing and oh-you-poor-THING messages, one going so far as to say she should call me RIGHT NOW to make sure I’m okay. I kindly explained my view of rejection:

First, it is NOT personal.
If an agent says your work is not right for their list, that’s what they mean. It is not a commentary on your writing, or you.
I have had someone literally take a dump on my lap; telling me no, sorry really doesn’t bother me.
Rejection letters, if used correctly, are invaluable tools. If you got a form rejection, was it because you didn’t research that agent enough? Was your query spotless? (proofread multiple times, addressed CORRECTLY, to the RIGHT agent?) If you sent a sample, was it also spotless and polished? If not, there’s your problem. If they sent a more personalized rejection, as in “This is good, but there are problems with xyz” did you take an HONEST look at what they suggested? When Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said “Murder your darlings”, this is what he meant. No matter how much you like a particular phrasing, passage, or plot twist; if it doesn’t work IN THE STORY, you have to kill it. Enjoy it, save it for another piece, but kill it, kill it with fire if you have to, because that’s your job.

The overwhelming response to this was “But, but, but, they said NO!” Obviously these people have extremely thin skins, and have place entirely too much of their self-worth in the acceptance of their work, and are therefore very likely to be in the same place ten years from now: still whining about the same rejection letter. They’ve become so wrapped up in that single rejection, they’ve forgotten to keep querying, and to keep writing. I don’t need the histrionics, and I don’t have time to hold their hands through every form rejection. So I’ll keep looking for that one GOOD writing group, and if it doesn’t appear, I’ll form a new one. Although I’m starting to get the feeling most of the good writers don’t have time for them, because they’re too busy querying, revising, editing, and WRITING.

I’m starting to feel the same way.

“When can I read that?”

I’ve received a couple of messages asking why I’m not sending my manuscript to other to read. The answer breaks down like this:

1. I simply can’t afford to print and mail the thing willy-nilly. My home printer runs at a cost of about $0.06/page; at a total page count of 225 pages, that works out to $13.50 per completed ms. Add to that postage of about $26 per round trip, including return postage. So, if I printed three copies so that 3 people could be reading at any given time, and mailed them to all fifteen people who have stated they want to read it, I would be looking at out-of-pocket expenses of about $430, all without any exposure to the agents or editors that could put it into print.

2. Per advice from an agent I spoke to, the fewer copies floating around, the better. As there may very well be future revisions made, copies “floating about” will not contain these revisions, and the fewer different versions of a ms you have, the better off you are when it comes to things like reprint and paperback rights sales.

I’m not worried someone’s going to “steal my idea”, or avoiding criticism on the work. I’m simply doing what is best to maximize my potential for sale. I will be printing off one copy to be bound and shown to a very small circle of people for input, but I’m afraid the majority of people saying “hey, I wanna read that” is just gonna have to wait till it sells 😉 (trying to think positive here)

That being said, the people who do end up reading it in manuscript form will be the ones who have shown me the ability to offer real insight and critique, and give well-thought-out explanations for what they feel works and doesn’t work. I appreciate very much everyone who raves and tells me something is good (who doesn’t?) but I don’t need cheerleaders; I need people to tell me WHY they like it, or don’t like it. While I’m tickled to death to hear “I liked it, it was good” it doesn’t help me fix what might be wrong, or point out strong points to editors or agents.

Hope no one gets their feelings hurt by this; it’s just how it is.

Recent exploits into the world of the “Artiste” /end snooty voice/

Last week I joined a writer’s workshop, in the hope of getting a little feedback and maybe some tips on writing query letters to agents and publishers. Well, the feedback was utter nonsense, lots of “Oh, I really like it, I just don’t know how to tell you what I like about it” crap. As for the query letter information? Well, apparently none of them have ever submitted ANYTHING, ANYWHERE. Several didn’t even know what a query letter IS.

For those of you that don’t know what I’m talking about:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Query_letter

Anyway, I quit the group and, as per their guidelines, requested my membership fee back. That money could be better spent on postage, actually SUBMITTING MY WORK.

This, of course, was a strange and foreign concept to a bunch of “serious” writers. You know, the ones who spend most of their days “working” on their writing, although from what I could tell “working on it” to them consists of drinking, talking about writing, and taking pictures of themselves sitting in front of the computer looking “thoughtful.”

Well, they (grudgingly) refunded my membership fee, and the moderator (who has been “working” –full-time, mind you– on her novel for the last SEVEN FREAKIN YEARS and has about 25,000 words to show for it (about a hundred pages) sent me a pissy little email about how I must not be a “serious” writer and that in the future I should focus more on the areas my “talents” might be appreciated, such as comic books and trashy genre novels. I replied back with “Oh, you mean actually PUBLISHING something as opposed to living in my Mom’s basement and pretending to be an ‘artist’?”

Yeah, something tells me I won’t exactly be getting rave reviews from any of them. Oh, I think I might have spurred some of them into at least considering submitting something, but mostly they’ll stay tucked into the safe world of their little “workshop” and pat each other on the back.

Me? Rejection doesn’t scare me. I have children; when someone strips off their diaper, crawls in your lap with a big grin, and literally takes a giant shit on you, a few people saying “No, sorry, not right for us” don’t bother me at all.

Hello world!

Just a quick note to introduce myself…

 

I’m a husband, father, networking technology student, former cook, former security professional, former lots of different things.  I’m also a writer, probably the only description of me that’s never changed.

I’m currently working on my second novel, while actively seeking representation for my first.  I plan on using this blog to post my thoughts, insights, and other generally random things that go stomping through my brain.  Be warned:  I don’t pull punches, I’m opinionated, and I don’t whine.

I don’t shy away from criticism, provided it’s civil and has a point.  I don’t run away from those, either; I just don’t take them into account.

 

Let me know what you think as we go along, and I’ll do my best to do the same.

 

Regards,

Michael