Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pitching Tips

After mentioning my pitch in the last entry, I thought I should expand on that a bit. Last year's ABNA contest was the first time I'd ever been asked to pitch my work, so I spent a fair bit of time researching how to write a good one ("researching" in this case being synonymous with "worrying myself sick over"). The ABNA forums were helpful, as were any number of other writers' blogs, but there's a lot of conflicting information out there. In the interests of throwing a little more into the mix, here are a few bits of advice that worked for me.

1. Know your story's most unique feature. Stuff of Legends brings together fantasy heroes and talent agents, so the opening of my pitch was about the setting: picture this world. If your story's best feature is the strength of its characters, don't hang the pitch on that alone -- sell what makes them stand out from everyone else's strong, well-written characters.

2. Let your style show through. If you've written a serious literary piece, show that you can turn out a smart phrase. Pitch comedy with a bit of humour. Example from my pitch: "Eliott wants an adventure with his hero, Jordan the Red, whose greatness rivals Beowulf and sliced bread."

3. Don't tease. Anything that boils down to "and if you want to know how it ends, you'll have to read the book" should be lanced. You don't have to spell everything out, but most people on the receiving end of a pitch have so many to choose from, they don't have time to be teased -- they want to know that you can bring the book to a strong conclusion before they commit themselves to reading it.

4. Clarity. Okay, this one's a tip from my theatre days, but really, a pitch is a lot like an audition, so it applies: Whatever approach you take to pitching your work, whatever you may choose to say, be clear. Say what your story is about succinctly. Cut out any details from your plot synopsis that veer away from the core storyline. Choose each word for the precise meaning it needs to convey, and have clear in your own mind the exact impression you want each word to make.

Writing a good pitch isn't easy. If I've learned anything from my research, it's that there's no magic formula; what will hook one reader may be rejected out of hand by another. But if I'm that reader, those four tips cover the areas where a pitch will catch or lose me.

On the creative side, I discovered a new character for the next book today: Caulix, the Halitotian (from the island of Halitos).

(Countdown: 9)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Getting Descriptive

Those of you obsessively refreshing the Stuff of Legends page at amazon.com (okay, that's just me, isn't it?) may have noticed a small update: I now have a Product Description!

A true legend rescues maidens...pillages temples...and slaughters evil hordes...

But what does he do when all the fun is over?

When an annoyingly eager young man by the name of Eliott, his elfish guardian, and a bard-for-hire magically drop into the life of former hero Jordan the Red, the aged warrior wants nothing to do with them he's had enough of battling the world. But Eliott wants an adventure with the legendary, sword-swinging soldier of fortune-and this hero is about to be forced out of retirement.

Now, to be clear, this isn't something I wrote. It isn't even something that was run past me. I was sent some very similar wordage recently, but only for my own information (I have no idea what the folks at Ace would have done if I'd hated what they came up with, but luckily that's a non-issue in this case). There are also a couple of typos in the amazon write-up ("He's had enough of battling the world" should be its own sentence, "fortune-and" should be something other than hyphenated) -- but all that aside, I'm thrilled to see this. This is how someone other than me has chosen to describe my book, and y'know, it's not that far off the description I used to pitch Stuff of Legends in the first place, last year in the ABNA contest.

So what do you think? Does it do its job?

PS: Starting a count-down from today's blog post; keep watching. (10)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Edits and new perspectives

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of discussions floating around about how much a writer should be editing as they go along -- whether 'tis nobler, in the early draft, to suffer through the imperfections of phrase and content, or to take up the red pen against the offending passages and by opposing possibly rob oneself of momentum. Personally, I'm of the mind that there isn't a correct answer -- go with whatever gets you to the end of the first draft. But the question has made me look at how I'm working, and I noticed a technique I've been using to edit on the go without letting the small details hang me up.

(This does, by the way, mean that I'm making headway, even against the tide of form letters. Yesterday: 735 words vs. 33 letters.)

I have a scene early in the sequel to Stuff of Legends, in which Eliott and Cyral meet up in a tavern. For days, it's been troubling me, because their dialogue hasn't sounded right, and there's nothing that stalls me out worse (as a writer or a reader) than clunking dialogue. I know where the scene goes. I know where it starts. But each time I sit down with it, something goes astray.

Rather than take sandpaper (or more accurately, a chisel and a big hammer) to the phrases that aren't working, or ignore the clunk for now and push on, my answer has been to write a different scene. A scene that just happens to start and end the same way, with the same characters in the same location.

There's an improv game that works like this. Those of you who watched "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" may know this one: two performers talking, with a third one in the wings saying "change" at random moments. When he says "change", the performer who just spoke must immediately say something else that replaces her last line, and the scene continues using the replacement. I'm editing in the same way: Cyral's pleased to see Eliott. Change. Cyral's annoyed to see Eliott. Change. Cyral is preoccupied with his song and tries not to let Eliott distract him. Change. Each of these generates a mini-draft of its own until it reaches the end of the scene; then I look at it, see what works, where the dialogue sounds right, if there's another approach I'd like to try. After a few of these, I have enough pieces that the truth of the scene is showing up.

Plus, one or two juicy phrases that I'll fit in because I like them; they may not last the next major draft, but again -- good enough for now.

The key thing at this stage is assembling all the pieces. If I had to give one piece of advice from this (admittedly novice) stage of my career, it's Never Throw Anything Out. The mini-drafts each live in their own separate document file; stray paragraphs that need to be cut go into a scrapbook of clippings. With all the parts and perspectives and possibilities written down and visible at once, the final (first draft) version of the scene rattles out as easily as that one anecdote you tell at every party. Eliott and Cyral sound right, because they've been talking through a half-dozen conversations already. Things flow, because whatever snags I've hit in one mini-draft, I've avoided in one of the others. Without feeling like I've cut anything, I've re-written my way through -- and I now have a folder of potentially usable snippets of dialogue and description that may be useful later on.

So there's a glimpse of my approach. Again, whatever works to get to the end of the draft.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Running Tally

Words written for the sequel to Stuff of Legends today: 265.

Form letters folded and stuffed into envelopes: Somewhere in the vicinity of 350.

My other life is winning.

Don't get me wrong, they're both good lives; the one in which I sit in an office and sell tickets to people simply happens to be drawing on more of my time and energy lately than the one where I take up words against a world of wizards, pirates, and elves. Office-life is also not the one from which I blog (though if anyone wants to learn the minutia of thermal ticket stock ordering or building a complimentary childcare matinee, let me know) -- hence the lack of posts here lately. One day, it'll be really nice to catch myself wondering how I could fit in a couple hours of office work between chapters...

But yes, the writing carries on, in stolen moments. The writing about writing catches what grains of time slip through that thief's hands.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

After an Intermission...

I'm back here again. It's been a rough few weeks, as work (my other work, in the Box Office) and a general replacement of energy with stress have put a damper on both my writing and my desire to take my thoughts out for a walk around the blogging neighbourhood. But I'm writing again (5,000 solid words into the sequel to Stuff of Legends, plus a couple of short oddities), and I think I'm regaining some of my mirth.

So, to ease back into things, no deep thoughts today, but a link for that mirth thing. It's Shakespearean -- make of that what you will.

Copyediting Shakespeare