Tuesday, June 14, 2011

In which I deliver a little slice of reality

I guess I should live up to my own blog name, huh? Last night I had a fabulous meeting with my critique group where we talked about our fears and concerns with writing, what we're struggling with currently, and our thoughts on pursuing publication. One of our group members began talking about her current experiences with querying agents (1 book to one agent, a different book to 2 agents). She recently heard back from the first agent on book 1 with a rejection. The agent's reason? She loved the book, though it was well-written and cute and funny, but she said rhyming picture books aren't selling. Because of this, my crit partner thought she shouldn't query anymore agents with that book.

Yeah. You read that right.

Let me be crystal clear: I don't know the agent she submitted to and I don't harbor any ill will toward her. She did exactly what a good business person should do - she evaluated the prospect and determined it wasn't a good one for her. It wasn't a personal attack, it wasn't mean-spirited or disrespectful, it was actually a very friendly rejection letter. And if you're reading this, you know the reality - we get rejected. A lot. It's like a speed dating exercise - you get one letter's worth of clever to convince someone to spend their time with you. It's difficult, and it's personal opinion, and it hurts.

But I was surprised that she would take one agent's opinion as fact. I've read about the tenacity of querying so many times that it's already ingrained in me, but watching my crit partner explain her reasonings I realized why all of those blog posts exist. I imparted all the wisdom I've gleaned from you, my wonderful bloggy readers - I told her she had to have enough faith in her work to feel confident that she would find the right agent for it. Only she can really know if she's ready - if her story is the best it will ever be - and a single agent's opinion of her odds in the marketplace can't be her reason for never sending out another query letter. She's a very talented writer - and I'm not just saying that to be nice, or because she's my crit partner and I don't have a choice, or because she bribed me to (although I do accept bribes, if you're offering). I say that because I would be heartbroken to see her give up the dream without putting everything she had into it.

So my slice of reality is this: you'll get rejected in life. Whether it's writing, dating, job interviews, a court case, your kid's concept of how cool you are, people will reject you. Life will reject you. Your own cells will sometimes reject you. That doesn't mean you stop loving what you do, or who you are, or where you're going. It means you learn that not everyone likes the same thing, and that's okay. Because someone will like what you do, just as much as you do, and that's the person you were meant to find all along.

That's my nice way of saying get over it and move on.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When the story tells itself

I'm kind of a planner. I don't go so far as to outline (usually), but I like to know my story roadmap along the way. I imagine scenes, make notes of upcoming scenes, and plan out the order of events to know when and where to reveal key details that will be needed later. This usually sets me in good stead for developing the story arc of an entire piece, but every once in a while a story element sneaks up on me.

I've got two pivotal scenes remaining in my current WIP, and while "planning" out (read: daydreaming in my car on the way to work) who would be in the first of those two remaining scenes, an idea popped up. An idea to plant a character in that scene that had previously been referenced but had yet to make an appearance. And of course, my first thought was:


Why is this character here? What happens if this character is here?

And then it all unfurled like a great majestic cloak to finish out my story. Because as soon as I placed that character in the scene, I knew why they were there and, more importantly, what their presence would do to the rest of the story. It gave my villain motive, it set up future story ideas, and it closed out the story in a way that I never saw coming. As a planner, I was floored.

My story just told me what to do.

I've seen other writers reference the whole concept of letting your characters tell you where the story is going, but I'd honestly never put a lot of stock in it. To me, if I just let my characters roam across the page without any direction I'd end up with a few thousand words of witty banter, random descriptions, and not a whole lot of plot movement. My approach has always been to make things happen to my characters and see how they react. This is the first time I've ever really had a character tell me what they were going to do, and why. It was an amazing, bizarre experience that I hope to encounter again very soon.

How do you plot? Do you let the characters tell you what's going to happen, or do you make things happen and wait to see how they react? Do you grow your stories organically or are you a plotter? Have you experienced this moment yourself?