If you've been at this game for any amount of time, you know as well as the next that rejection is a common scenario. I've faced it, our clients have faced it, and nearly every published and unpublished author has faced it as well. It can be discouraging, overwhelming even when you receive that notification that your work has been rejected. It threatens everything you've done, steals the joy and the drive from future projects too. So, if it's such a common occurrence, then how are we supposed to keep moving on with damaged emotions and a pessimistic outlook? Well, before we decide how to deal with rejection, let's take a look at the reasons why we are rejected in the first place.
Most agents, publishers, and even end-consumers won't give a full explanation of why you have been turned away and your work disliked. At QuickFire, we make an effort to detail those reasons to our submissions, but that's one of the distinguishing factors of our agency. Not all companies will take the time to do the same, so you need to be prepared to face unexplained rejection. But here, we can offer a few of the more prevalent reasons for you.
Though there are many more reasons for rejection, these are the most common and the ones with which we may adapt. Take the time to invest and improve when you are turned away. Find a community that can offer unbiased insight to your work. And when you aren't given details for why you were rejected, take heart and press on and realize that your work is never done. Real authors are a rare and obstinate breed; giving up isn't in the blood. Until next time...
It's time for some brutal introspection and honesty... And this goes out to all the artists out there, not just the writers. So, your hours have turned to days, and even those have escalated to wearying weeks and months. You've worked hard, poured every last ounce of energy and soul into your craft, and now it's finished. You're proud, and rightfully so. This is the epitome of why you started, the reason you began this long journey in the first place. The book is finished, the scene painted, the lyric written with soul-wrenching melody to accompany it. Now, the world needs to see.
But before we go there, before we share our hearts and minds with society at large, we need to take a step back. Careful now, friend, lest your subjectivity be your downfall. Have you ever considered that your creation might not be so... good? Of course, in your eyes, and likely in the eyes of your close family and friends, the fruits of your labor may seem like heaven-sent manna for the starved and withering souls of your audience, but let's go beyond that... Beyond yourself, beyond your inner circle, your confidants... Pull a shade of objectivity over your eyes and let's take a ride through your work together. You may not realize it now, but you could be thinking more highly of your treasured creation than you ought...
All too often, I find that the artists that submit to us are ill-prepared and overconfident. Obviously, this is a poor combination, but what plagues me most is that these artists, some ripe with potential and others far from it, are blindly unaware of their ailment. It's a dangerous game to progress in the world of publication, submitting to agents and publishing houses alike, when you aren't fully prepared. At the least, you can be rejected and dejected in response; such a result can hamper your future creativity and drive. But at worst, and as an altogether likely scenario, the agents and publishers that first review your crippled work might not give credit to the followup submissions you send. You will have, in essence, broken ties with the companies that you so desperately need before you have even established them.
So, that in mind, let's discuss a few basic steps to take in order to avoid conceit in your work that might develop into barriers in your future.
These simple steps should put you on a path to seeing objectively, considering your work as one who receives it and not as the one who creates. Whatever the state of your art, be it severely lacking or near perfection, be open to change, open to adaptation based on what others say. Tunnel vision can beset the best of us.
Short and sweet and brutal. But perhaps it will save you from future heartache. Share it with your friends and let us know what you think! Until next time...
Have you ever wandered? Not wonder, mind you. You're likely already wondering where I am going with this post. But have you wandered. If you were like me as a child, wandering was amongst the greatest hobbies. In those days, it seemed like an adventure of itself, discovering the world with fresh, innocent eyes by the monotony of milling about. It was a wonderful time (Pun intended). But as we get older, wandering doesn't seem to hold the same value as it once did. We get upset when the GPS reroutes us and loses signal. We hate to have to stomp around the grocery store in search for that one elusive line on our list. We even grumble when Netflix won't give us good suggestions and we have to go digging on our own! So, what makes us, as writers, think that wandering through our story is acceptable?
Abraham Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Words to write by, friends. Your imagination is an incredible, God-given playground, an easel with which you can experiment and dream without borders. But when it comes to transplanting those imaginings to the page, much can be lost in the journey. That's why preparation is critical when it comes to telling your story. If you leap into the tale without having tools at your disposal, plots planned out, characters carefully created, and an end in sight, you are setting yourself up for likely failure. We can't simply wander through our stories with no clear objectives or solid groundwork and expect it to hold the same value for the reader as it did while in your mind.
So, what does such organization look like? When you're a creative thinker, it can be very difficult to sit still and carve out the tedious details hovering around in your head. But remember, the four hours spent sharpening the axe only makes the tree fall both faster and with less effort. I am no master organizer, as my wife may attest. I don't have any level of obsessive-compulsion to keep things neat and tidy, but I have deciphered a feasible way to keep my mind on track when structuring my stories. Three facets lead the charge: Character Bios, Plot Arc, and Explosive Scenes. If you have a difficult time staying on track towards the goal of your writing project, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, novel or short story, then perhaps you can find some assistance in my methods.
Let's begin with Character Creation. In my humble opinion, this can be one of the best places to start. Without engaging, relatable characters, a story can feel dry and forced. Oftentimes, we as writers plant a few main players in the tale, work a little on their personalities, and then let the rest unfold as the story progresses. While that may work for some, I can confirm that it's not a foolproof plan. I suggest sharpening the axe a little more before setting to work on the tree. Here is a great way to look at the gambit of characters in your story: you have Primary (main), Secondary (minor), and Tertiary (temporary support) players.
Primary characters are exactly what the title entails. They are the individuals that the story revolves around. Before ever putting your pen to the page, these characters need to be well-considered and fully developed. What are their personalities like? Are they short-tempered or patient? Are they bold or reserved? Intelligent or average? What are their worldviews? Are they religious or secular? Are they apathetic or active in society? How about physical appearance? Tall or short? Hefty or thin? Good eyesight, poor hearing, any physical ailments? The list can go on and on... But you get the idea. Even the smallest traits play into your understanding of these primary characters. When you create a scenario in the story, these nuances will determine their reactions and even feed into the Plot Arc that we will discuss later. Bear in mind, as well, that your primary characters are as much human as you or I. They may be the heroes, but they are flawed and those flaws need to be shown. Realism is a factor that every reader aches to see. It helps your audience connect on a personal level that may be difficult with the "Superman" types. Consider this carefully as you forge them.
Secondary characters are still important to the Plot Arc, but have less prevalence in the grander scheme. These are the distant friends, the relatives that show up occasionally but don't hang around, even the villains that play a role but have little presence compared to a Primary antagonist. In fact, a secondary character can be considered anyone in the story that impacts the Plot Arc in any shape or form, but does not constitute someone the story focuses on. This is the sandwich category that many, many players will fall into. Let's move onto the next category to give a better understanding of what a secondary character looks like by defining what he/she is not.
Tertiary characters are the chaff. Yep. They mean nothing to the overall story and they impact only your ability to formulate a real experience. This is the cashier at the grocery that has to check the prime character out. If the cashier was missing, the prime character would actually be stealing when he/she exits the store with goods in hand. Doesn't make much business sense to have an open market like that... Let's take this into a Gunslinging Western world for one of my favorite analogies. A tertiary character may be one of the many victims for the John Wayne of the story, as he draws down on a group of bandits and empties his six-shot revolver. They have no names, no personalities other than bandit-like behavior. They don't even matter other than being fodder for John Wayne's slick shooting. But without these characters, John would have no one to shoot, thus making this gunslinger keep his gun holstered. Tertiary characters are necessary to create a flow to the story and keep it locked in reality, but ultimately are expendable. Sounds harsh, I know, but knowing and remembering this as you write can save you time and effort of trying to forge too many secondary characters. Not all players in your tale have to be developed to the same level as the others. Take time to properly categorize and you will be well on your way to wise writing.
Now let's talk about Plot Arc. This is where your fiery imagination is translated to cold, calculated facts. We're not trying to turn you into a computer, but you need to access the left side of your brain for this exercise. Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Simple logic. So, what does each stage entail? I'm glad you asked. How about a quick, bullet-point breakdown to help guide your plot creation:
For example, if I wanted John Wayne to have a love interest during my story, I can't simply ignite the flame and then send him out to deliver justice on the frontier, forgetting that the flame still burns back home. I have to address it in John's thoughts, forge scenes that show how the love is still alive, or even reunite John with his love at some point during the story. If John continues slaying his enemies and never stops to think of her or return to her, then why did I form the love interest in the first place? It was dead space in the tale, and readers don't enjoy dead space.
And lastly, let's cover Explosive Scenes. This may be the shortest section of all, as it speaks for itself. Consider the following comparison:
But keep in mind that these events should be developed before you write, at least to a base level. If you're like me, scenes play out well as I am in the moment of writing. I see and experience things in my imagination that just don't come as I plan and prepare in a methodical sense. But before I begin writing, I ensure that I have the right idea paved out; I know exactly what is going to take place and I know that there are certain aspects of the scene that need to stand out to the readers. Therefore, my Explosive Scenes are set; I only need to color in the lines with a vivid palette.
All this said, take time to carefully plot out your story before diving in. It pays to be patient and prepare. Honest Abe thought so, and I believe that we ought to do the same. Still looking for some tools and software to use to make this process easier? Drop a comment below and we would be happy to share our favorites to help make your writing project a true success. Until next time...
You adjust your collar, flip your hair, test your breath, touch up the mascara... It's likely that you've done it a few times already, working the cycle nervously over and again. Cold sweat, rapid heartbeat... It's the moment you've been waiting weeks, maybe even months, for... The first date.
We've all been there, to that crucial moment when everything has to be perfect. The moment you meet her family for the first time; the moment he sees you in the dress reserved for only him; the first kiss, the first dance, the first _____. Fill in the blank. How vastly important are these moments to us? We fret over them, labor away in preparation to ensure that they are our dreams come to life. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
First impressions can be critical. And though I use the dating analogy that we can all understand, I want to impress (pun intended) upon you the value of first impressions in your art, specifically literary fiction.
So, you're writing a story. This implies that you want people to read it, to invest in it. If that's the case, then you can't expect your audience to tough it out through the first several pages in order to get to the meat of the story. You have to capture them. Now, this could take several different forms, and may look different for different authors and different genres. But the idea is the same: grab attention. Explode onto the scene with might! Or fade into the corner with tears and emotion... Leap off the precipice into the mystery, or build curiosity and tension with carefully planted words and scenes. Whatever your tale demands, kick it off in a way that impresses the reader from page one.
What exactly does that look like though? At times it can be difficult to visualize your story with a dynamic intro. If you're like most authors, stories develop in your mind and imagination in the same manner as they come to the page: piece by piece beginning with ground zero. Stars may align, and your writing may naturally begin with a bang. But more often than not, there's a slow chronology to every tale that takes time to build until the central point is found. If that's the case for you, and you can't enter with guns blazing and emotions flying wild, then here are a few options for you.
Remember! First impressions can work wonders in your favor, but the opposite bodes ill for any writer! Leave a sour taste in the readers' mouths and they'll repay you with a closed cover and poor reviews! Till next time readers...
Jay is a plumber. He is on call at Mrs. Jane's today. Mrs. Jane's pipes are clogged. Jay pulls into the drive and sees Mrs. Jane on the porch. She looks upset and only stares ahead as Jay nears. Jay is tired. He wants to go home, but he has a job to do....
Boring, isn't it? The story is 2D, flat and repetitive. Sadly, despite the reality of the dull presentation, many writers slope into this type of narrative. When there is information in our brains, we tend to dump it onto the page in the most efficient manner. The problem with that lies in the ability of the reader to stay awake... Oftentimes, efficiency is the arch-nemesis of creative writing. It provides a great platform for the transference of data but a terrible platform to tell a story! In this short article, we are going to go over a few "do's and don't's" of the trade.
In the above story, we definitely received information. We know the names of two characters, Jay and Mrs. Jane. We know that Jay is a plumber and he is coming to fix Mrs. Jane's clogged drains. We have the groundwork of a story, right? So, what's wrong with it? Well, there's no flare, no imagination churning to life in our heads, no connection that draws us in! When we tell a story, we need to paint a picture that let's the reader draw conclusions. This keeps the reader engaged, active in a manner. Our picture can't be too vague, and yet it doesn't need an overwhelming presence of details. There is a fine line to walk that takes much practice but provides readers with a semi-filled canvas. You start the image, and the reader finishes it. This is called Showing rather than Telling.
Let's have an example in converse of the first.
Jay turned into the gravel drive, hearing the small, gray stones grinding beneath his tires. As he neared the house, he spotted Mrs. Jane, the resident, sitting on the front porch. Her brooding gaze pinned him, relaying her sour disposition at him having to be there at all. Jay looked away, checking the work order in his lap. Standard plumbing job, drains clogged on the base floor... 'Let's get this over with,' he thought, already eager to get home. It had been an exhausting week...
It doesn't take much effort to find the difference between the two renditions. With just a little work and imagination, we were able to take Jay from a flat, uninteresting character to a blue-collar worker that most people can connect with. We all know the pain of working a shift when we're beat! Jay does too, and now you and I understand him on a deeper level. Notice that there was very little added to the story, some gravel beneath the tires and Jay's internal voice, but nothing more. But the way in which the story is told, now, makes it active. Jay turned, heard, neared, spotted, looked away, checked, etc... There are a variety of actions taking place, requiring the readers to keep up. It's work! And though we don't want to exhaust our readers, we do want them to stay engaged.
To further the lesson, think of Anton Chekhov's quote, "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." When we have a chance to paint a beautiful and important scene to our readers, we must find a creative way to relay it. If I was looking into the sky on a clear night, moon shining brightly above me, how best could I describe that to you if you were blindfolded?
I could say, "The moon is bright. It's casting a ring of light around it. I can see the indentations in the surface from here." You could probably picture that, right? But is it the most creative and impressive way that I could've described it?
How about this, "I can see rings of luminescence around the chalky orb, even divots from the craters in its surface. Although we are thousands of miles away, it's brilliance is more stunning than the nearby streetlights, casting away any semblance of darkness in the sky."
Not to become a sudden poet, but the second example gives us a deeper understanding of what the moon looks like in our perspective. Consider, as you write, that your audience is ignorant of the wonders in your mind. When you see a flower springing forth from the ground, describe it to us as if we have never beheld a flower before in our lives. Succinctly and purposefully, of course. Not every sentence in your writing requires such attention to detail, but rather the parts that mean the most to you as the author. The first kiss, the moment it all goes awry, the explosion, the firefight, the last goodbye from a dying character.... Whatever those scenes are, show them to the reader in a way that brings it to life!
And that's all, folks. Questions? Examples? Experiences? Share them below!
Steven C McCullough
Author and Agent to QuickFire.