Monday, May 30, 2011

The Novel, Guerrilla Style: part 13, The Manuscript and the Future

Finally, this concludes this whole novel writing series. We end with the future. What is the future of your novel? If this is the first one you've written, it's highly unlikely that it's going to win the Pulitzer Prize. It's unlikely to make the best seller list. It's unlike to ever get published. But this, I hope, was not the motivation for writing it. So, what is the future? Well, it can go anywhere from here. You can shop around and solicit a literary agent, for instance. A literary agent, like any agent, is a specialist who can be very helpful if you don't know about publishing contracts and law. They generally take a percentage of your contract if it gets that far. I say that far because if an agent chooses to take on your project, he or she will shop the novel to publishers. If a rejections comes then, it's the agent getting it and not you, so, the 15% you pay an editor is worth that alone. The next option, eliminate the agent and go straight to the publisher. I can't imagine this will yield great results, but it may. Sure, small presses offer contests. You write a check for $20-$200, submit your manuscript and hope for the best.
If you choose either of these two options, study your market (agent of publisher) and put together your packet. The packet will include a letter, your hook and summary, your credentials and contact information. Avoid the used car salesmen pitch in your cover letter. Good luck in this endeavor. My anecdote: I pitched 2 novels in a query letter to Kristen Nelson Literary Agency. Mostly, they serve women's fiction, something I do not write. I did it anyway. Why? I wanted the experience. Aside from the experience, a friend of mine worked there and so, I may have gotten a read just for that. During my research I knew that that agent and this writer were not well matched. But, it was worth the experience. And as we're talking about query letters, if you want an idea of a hook and summary, check out the bottom of this page. I have all my novels as hook and summary there.
Now, there is self publishing, or the vanity press. If you just want a book in print, and that's it, this costly future may be for you. I don't recommend it. It's one thing to get a book printed and another to get it marketed, distributed and sold.
Last, the electronic option. E-publishing is cool. The possibilities are endless. Also, it is inexpensive and unlimited. My two examples: my novel, Sand and Asbestos at Sophia Ballou. This is a third party publisher and she specifically chose me and my work. Great. It counts as a publication. No money in it and no guarantees it will be there for the generations to read. But there it is.
Victor David Giron, his book Sophomoric Philosophy and his magazine, Curbside Splendor is example number two. Mr. Giron wrote a book. He then created a publisher to promote the book. Along the way, he began to publish other writer's work. He became an editor and a publisher. I doubt he knew how wonderful Curbside Splendor was going to become when he started. Not only did Sophomoric Philosophy get published and promoted, Curbside Splendor is a wonderful magazine and a voice for dozens of writers, poets and artists. Mr. Giron will probably not become a rich and famous writer because of Sophomoric Philosophy, but he has achieved the best this a writer can achieve, he has become model and mentor, he had enhanced his own experience and by providing a forum for others, he has developed a network for himself. I am continually impressed by Mr. Giron and I've always been excited by Curbside Splendor.
Whatever the future brings for you and your manuscript, always know that the work you did during the Novel, Guerrilla Style is the best work you've done so far and it's nothing compared to the work you will do.
If you do choose to promote this piece of writing, please know that finding a publisher will be long and tough and you will probably get more rejections than you'll be able to count. Don't get disheartened. It's all part of it. Hopefully, you'll find a forum for your work an d hopefully the reward will be equal to the work you put into it. Yet if you competed the novel in the 12 week time-line, you will write three more this year. How amazing is that?
Thank you for this opportunity to share what I know about the writing of a novel. I hope these last several weeks have proved lucrative for you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Novel, Guerrilla Style Part 12: The Manuscript and Revision

If I may, I'd like to recount my exploits from graduate school. How many silly, stuffy or burnt out teachers say that? And it isn't graduate school so much as my thesis: From Ansbach to Color. For starters, the novel began in January of 2007 from a writing prompt exercise assigned (by no other than) Kyle Bass. I turned the 225 page, 49,000 word manuscript in 2 years later. Two years. Not the proper guerrilla style novel the subsequent novels have proved to be. But, the thesis underwent several revisions, and many of them came while I was still writing it. In a period of two years, I had three different readers, two advisers and an assigned second reader. I had to listen to three different people telling me what I ought to be doing and what needed to be done. It was a worthwhile experience, but what an awful job. The three made strong opinions and many times they didn't agree on certain points. One loved the lyrical expositions and the other two thought that the writing was cumbersome. They were all correct in their assessments. In the weeks leading up to the final deadline, I trimmed a 350 page novel of close to 72,000 words by 1/3. Tough job. Ultimately, the final project was much better, tighter, more concise. And the revision process is indeed part of the creation. Earlier in the series, I talked about Anthony's three in one method . This method, as you recall is draft one, two and three in one step. Yes, this is challenging, but it omits the longer process of distillation that was my process at grad school. Just because I can subscribe to and employ this three in one system does not mean I am (or those who follow the 3 in 1 is) immune to revision. When I talk about revision here, I do mean in the macro sense of the piece. If you have a reader who tells you she had no idea what your book is about, then who cares about your well crafted dialogue or impeccable grammar?
Revision can mean the difference of readability. Revision can mean a good reading experience from the (un)forgettable.
If you're resistant to revision, you've lost. First, remember that you spent 12 weeks writing your novel, and those hours are probably uncountable. You've taken the time to put the piece in working manuscript form. You've built characters, you've done all this work. I know that there is probably some emotional stake in the piece. Don't have so much emotional stake that you cannot bare to edit, revise or even remove parts of the piece. Failure to edit or revise or simply tinker with the piece or a portion of it because of emotional hang ups is not only short-sighted, it's bad for everything. It's bad for the piece, the characters within it, bad for you and bad for readers.
At this stage, take the revising of this piece as a challenge and a treat. The revision may even take longer than the piece took to write, so be it. Revise it and make good on it. When it's revised, consider the job done. Some writers will revise one piece over and over for the whole careers. Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass comes to mind. That kind of chronic revision, too, is not being able to let go of something emotionally.
In this week of The Novel, Guerrilla Style, we're about the job, doing the job and getting it done. Listen to your readers, listen to your intuition and done fear the revision.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Novel, Guerrilla Style Part 11: The Manuscript & Readers

All right. The novel is finished. Good for you. Now what? Come up with a short list of readers. This list will only one reader initially—you.

Before you endeavor to read this novel, put it in manuscript form. If you're here in the USA, your page size is 8.5” x 11”. If you're elsewhere else in the world, it's probably A4. Does size matter? Probably. It will make the task easier. Next, use standard margins: one inch (USA) and that means uniformity, a balance of white space for a clean look. Then, use a 12 point font. Why? Because it's easy to read. Double space, again because it's easy to read. As far as fonts go, use a readable one like Times New Roman, Ariel, Garamond or Courier. I use the Courier font because I find it easy to read and each character is the same size, plus it looks like the old Olympus manual I once typed on.

Now, you read it. You must be the first reader, read it with attention to the clarity of thought, pay attention to the flow. More importantly, pay attention for misspellings, typos, improper usage or punctuation. If you have 50,000 words, the only reader who needs to see such mistakes is you. Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT torture the next reader with small errors you should have fixed. A reader will not see the flow of thought, the brilliance in your dialogue or the art of story telling if they see errors in spelling and punctuation. I know this because I read a dozen short story submissions a week and I always return work that has such errors. If you think it's a big job to read this (your) manuscript, imagine what you're asking the next reader to do. If you choose a friend, they will probably treat you kindly, the best you can do is offer them your very best.

The manuscript:

1)put it in manuscript format: stander paper, 12 point font, double space.

2)carefully proof read it first.

Enough said. As you surrender it to the reader, know that your reader will have impressions and critiques. Be gracious and be grateful. Whatever they say will probably be right. Once you get the manuscript back, you'll have plenty to work with and possibly a big job in front of you.

Congratulations for making this far.

Until next time, happy proofreading.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Novel, Guerrilla Style Part 10: Where are we going? Where have we been? The last reprieve.

As the series winds down, I hope your novel has taken form, and I hope it has been a rewarding process for you. This week, we're going to take a step back. This, if all has gone well is week 14. How has it gone?

Admittedly, in my work and in recent longer works: Sand and Asbestos, and Just Then, the Moment, I did the bulk of my work in the final weeks. It's funny when I claim I can begin and complete a manuscript including 3 drafts in 12 weeks. It's more like this: I can write the first 20,000 words in about nine weeks and the next 30 to 50,000 in the last three. It takes time for an idea to grow and it takes time to develop character and story. This is true. The best way to figure out your mode of work is just by doing it. No amount of planning can amount to the act of just doing it and looking back on it. For those of you out there who have subscribed to The Novel, Guerrilla Style, I never claimed the process would be anything more than a mode of work and work habits. I don't know how many writers, teachers of writing or would be writers agree with me; all it takes is to write a novel is the hours of work to do it. Style guides, even this one, is only as good as your work habits. Years ago, I believed a writer only needed a good dictionary, a pen and a notebook. Those are very tangible tools. Then I thought a writer needed a good place to write, and I meant a physical place like an office or a desk. Then, I figured a library of read books was in order. These are all good things, but they are very secondary. Whatever the compulsion is, a muse or inspiration or sickness, the only thing a writer does is write. The greatest tool? Work ethic and work habit, that's it. Yes, the Watermen fountain pen and the composition notebook or the wordprocesser make the job easier, but the main tool is discipline.

During this last reprieve, our writing exercise for the week is going to be a little different. Take a break from the novel and write about your process. If this novel was your first, begin thinking of this exercise from this one question: do you plan to write another novel? If no, then don't worry about it, it's over. If yes, then you must begin to consider what worked and what didn't. Believe it or not, the next novel will be completely different from this one. The only thing that will be the same is you. You are the creator, the worker, the writer. What was your work ethic? And what was the habit? What was your process? These are the questions you must ask. Consider this exercise the sum of your work.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Novel, Guerrilla Style Part 9: Dialogue and Attribution

Dialogue in fiction will do so much more for your work than you'd think. For starters, I've heard many instructors of writing call dialogue “the dramatic structure” of a novel. I think it's a wonder thing to call it. It's like a mini play embedded in your exposition. Dialogue can put the reader in a specific locale or a specific time. For instance, in Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana, the dialogue puts us in Cuba with the British vernacular and the Spanish language as well as the Spanglish that happens between. John McManus in Bitter Milk takes us to the rural south with the dialogue in his book. He writes the dialogue in the regional vernacular that I had to sound out occasionally. Anthony Burgess does the same thing in A Clockwork Orange. When properly executed, dialogue places readers in the specific locale and time. Consider that, point one.

Point two: we can learn a great deal about a character and that character's relationships through what they say. We're told that actions speak louder than words, and whereas that might be true in real life, let's consider the opposite in fiction. There must be a context. A character would not say, or perhaps should not say anything that doesn't progress the scene, or the plot in total. As far as interpersonal communications, a specific character may have more than one form of speech. For instance, Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me has the dialogue of sheriff and lecherous murderer in one character and it all depends on who that character addresses. Suzanne Moore in In the Cut express the character's relationships through dialogue too: the English teacher, the cop and the street kid. And lastly: Willa Cather's O Pioneers! is similar to Our Man in Havana with multicultural and multilingual speech between characters.

Point three: since dialogue within fiction breaks up descriptive exposition, we'll consider all the old professors who say, show don't tell. Dialogue is a great tool to show.

Any questions?

It's easy to say it: dialogue, use it, it will enhance your writing. But what about writing good dialogue? Well, that takes practice. A few things to consider, reading plays can help with your development of dialogue. Even movies, we've all seen movies where the dialogue seems contrived. We usually blame it on bad acting or bad direction, and that may be true, but it's probably bad writing and let's assign blame where it's due. If you want to write good dialogue, pay attention to good dialogue.

Troubleshooting? My only two ideas here are: a) keep what the characters say very short. In old novels, a character can speak for paragraphs and paragraphs and it doesn't seem like they tire of it. Gogol's Dead Souls is a good example of this. The dialogue becomes soliloquy and soliloquy becomes the narrative. So what's the point of even adding dialogue at all? Keep in mind that human speech patterns are generally more curt, and seldom are they grammatically correct. In a play writing exercise in my days of study under Kyle Bass, he had us write and share mini plays with our group. One of my cohorts had written something very funny about two people in a car and the driver being a bit of a maniac. As I said, it was funny. The banter was two to five sentences each batted back and forth. Kyle then had us read the little piece and this time we read each line to the first period. In short, we took this very funny bit of dialogue and shrank it to one sentence each. What had been funny became brilliant. Kyle Bass is a playwright and a brilliant one at that. Lesson learned? Keep it tight, clean it up. And b) remember that even in life we seldom talk to one another, we talk through one another. This means that when we speak, we do it very economically. In your dialogue, the use of contractions will make things more natural.
Attribution. Simplified: who's speaking? Admittedly I had trouble with this. Again, Kyle Bass had suggestions. And fortunately, I will give his suggestions to you. If you remember my dialogue and attribution post during the short story for the editor, the examples are the same: Raymond Carver's “The Things We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and William Faulkner's “That Evening Sun.” We're going to set aside the craft of dialogue for a minute and just look at the grammatical aspect. Carver's use of “he said, she said” becomes part of the lyrical appeal of the narrative. It's almost hypnotic. Faulkner, likewise, uses the “he said, she said.” Whereas Faulkner's work is not as hypnotic, as readers, we do not have a single question as to who is speaking. In both stories, there are several people talking at one time. Attribution is important. Paul Bowles in The Sheltering Sky, as I recall, does a great job with the physical aspects of attribution. As you write dialogue, whether you punctuate it in the traditional style or not, do not confuse your readers.

At this stage of your novel, even guerrilla style, I would hope that you have more than one character and that you have employed dialogue. If you have some stylistic concerns, this is a good time to make good on it. Yes, by all means, use your own style, but treat your readers well. We will talk about our readers in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, as always, happy writing.