#Pitchwars Lessons-Theory vs Application

So with the agent round almost here, I wanted to talk a bit about expectations. There’s a huge gap between knowing something intellectually and applying it to your work. You expect that you’ll get feedback, and it will tell you what to do, and you’ll just immediately see how to do what it suggests.

Except you won’t.

Most of the time, you’ll flutter and fuss and angst over how to do it before you start digging in. That’s normal, and I’d be lying if I didn’t have the same feeling every single time. I get it when I sit down to do my beatsheets, or to do a write up for a client. It’s like when your house is a mess-Dirty dishes, laundry, sweeping, mopping, taking out the trash, dusting, cleaning out the cupboards and closets, etc. It’s hard to know where to begin. If you start out dusting-cleaning up your spelling and punctuation- it’s just going to get messed up again when you start scrubbing other things.

Start with the biggest things first. If the house is on fire, figure out what parts can still be salvaged, and pull them into the fresh file. For example, I’m getting ready for Nanowrimo. I love it, I’ve done it for over a decade, and lost more than I’ve won. I decided that if I was going to try it this year, I was going to do it right. I wanted a project I was passionate about, with strong stakes, goals, conflicts, and motivations. So I started outlining a couple different projects, one practical, a romance that I could easily write up in the confines of nano. The second, a larger project that’s been stewing on the back burner since I failed at it my very first nano in ~2003.

Talk about a crapfire: This thing has one dimensional characters, a plot where I often skipped ahead to the next scene that seemed interesting, regardless of causality, and a romance angle that was, well, about as simplistic as it gets. The first version literally has 2 scenes that I want to keep. But I’ve always loved the concept of it, and wanted to redo it with the skills I’ve built over the intervening years.

I know what to do. Figure out the blurb/concept/stakes/characters. Put that into a beatsheet, develop the points, then break that into my chapter by chapter, scene by scene outline. Nothing I haven’t done time and again.

Only to discover why this story didn’t work the first time-My stakes weren’t high enough or timed correctly. It’s a portal story, and the portal wouldn’t even happen, following the normal beatsheet, until the end of chapter 5. Which is utterly ridiculous, and would cause any number of rejections. Imagine if Alice doesn’t fall down the rabbit hole in the first chapter, how dull it would be to listen to her sister drone on in her history lesson for 20,000 words?!

So I’m hitting the drawing board again, trying to find the real stakes, the core conflict that will pull her into the other world sooner, or add tensions before that, and give us a reason to care about this character and world.

I might end up doing the romance instead of this fantasy novel. At least there, the beatsheet works.

But there’s this gap, where even as an experienced editor, when I turn my eye to my own work, I have to sit there and gnash my teeth, and say “Well, that’s broken! ARGGGH!” before I can start fixing it.

Take heart- You are not alone. When the entries go up a couple weeks, we’ll be watching them for agent love, but really? I don’t care if agents request or not. I’m more interested in if the kitchen sink works, if the bed is comfortable, if everything in the house is, if not precisely gleaming, at least shiny enough that you don’t have the urge to put down plastic before you sit on the couch, you know?

#Pitchwars Lessons-Outlining in revisions

So I find it SUPER helpful when I’m revising a novel to reoutline it, and make sure everything got developed. It’s a great way to see where your story may have dropped plot threads and where the tension may lag. If you take 10k words to go from plot point A to B, chances are, you’re going to have trimming to do.

There are as many outlining methods as there are writers. Some swear by snowflake, but I find it doesn’t hit the right points for me. Instead, I use a kind of hybrid-A three act (sometimes four act) structure with key plot points. Victoria Schwab called these kind of points beads, that she then strings together.

First: list out all the major events. I find it helpful to start at the ending and say, “What caused This?” and work backwards. This keeps minor events that aren’t important out of the list.  Once I have this list, then I look at where they are in relation to the word count (up to where that event starts). This is where the beat sheet comes in handy. I divide the major events into each section of the beat sheet (I modified the ones from Jami Gold’s site and put them into each section, based on their role in the story. Then I can see, based on what the target word count should be, where I need to do cutting/adding to make the pacing flow the way I want.

*NOTE: This assumes your plot itself makes sense and is logically complete from beginning to end. If your plot itself is broken, you need to sort that out FIRST*

This can also be useful for developing your story in the first place.

Some things to keep in mind:

*Your subplot should effect the primary plot. If they’re falling in love, for example, their love interest needs to be involved in the ending in some way. If they can walk away from their love interest and that solves the plot, then your plot isn’t developed enough.

*It doesn’t need to be super precise with the word count. I’m shooting for ballparks. If I say something should happen around 10%, I’m fine if it lands at 12% or 8%. But if it’s not til 20%, I’m probably going to be grumpy, and have a lot of cutting to do.

*This outline can also be used to develop the synopsis, which makes your life MUCH easier! If an element isn’t important enough to include in that synopsis/outline, then it probably needs cut. It’s also useful to make sure your synopsis isn’t dumping too much backstory. If you hold up the novel and the synopsis side by side, you should be able to follow the progression of events in the same way, mostly.

Have you tried this method of editing before? Any tips/tricks, feel free to share them in the comments! I’m always evolving my process (As you should be as well!). You never know when you’ll find that one piece that just makes everything else gel for you!

We Interrupt these #Pitchwars Lessons for a RANT

I’m almost done with the second, very close pass on Hetal’s wonderful MS. Hopefully, by the time this posts in the morning, I will be. But I was up way too late with the debate to finish my blog post… So pretend I said something insightful here, would you?

I just.. I cannot with politics. I mostly stay quiet on the subject on my professional feeds, be it twitter or facebook or here, because that’s not what they’re FOR. My personal FB, well, that’s a whole ‘nother subject. But I found myself watching the debate, and getting so frustrated that someone so hostile, so manipulative, so awful, was even put up as the best thing the Republican party can provide. He literally gives my boyfriend nightmares and panic attacks, because he reminds him of Hitler. This is not a false equivalence notion either.

How did we, as a culture, get to the point where such incoherent, -phobic, sexist rhetoric (and I use that term VERY loosely) is spouted from a national podum? We want to be entertained? Is that it? Because I’m not entertained. I am NOT amused. I am horrified.

The sad part is? He’s not alone. The utterly damning thing is that there are still chunks of this country who think he is the better choice. In a sane world, there would not be a SINGLE state who gave Tr*mp their electoral votes. If you are anything other than straight, white, rich, male, and you vote for him? You’ve lost my respect, because you’re being used.

Back to writing lessons next week. Meanwhile, comments are set to moderated, I’ll approve anything that is civil as my time allows. I have 2 days to finish this chapter, the pitch, and the query, and a query for a crit partner, before I have more client work landing (I’m looking forward to this week and next week’s client work. Fabulous romance writers that give me an escape from the madness!). No drama.


#Pitchwars Lessons: Queries-Some Pet Peeves

I know I’ve given you guys advice on querying before. But I figure I’d add to that and throw some opinions out. Bear in mind, I’m not an agent (yet), though I’ve spent a couple years sorting queries for them, and I mainly see them in Pitchwars. Which, to be blunt, is a higher caliber than what I often saw in the general slushbox. I suspect most of that difference is that all new writers learn quickly to query. By the time you learn about contests, you’re more advanced, and the quality of the entries reflects that.

None of these things are hard and fast rules. I absolutely guarantee you could find examples of queries that got requests that did things I’m going to say to avoid. Why? Because agents don’t all have the same pet peeves, or sometimes they see a project as really marketable and connect with the voice, and ignore the query almost entirely. Amazing pages will almost always compensate for a lousy query, sure, but if they’re on the fence, a bad query will result in a rejection.

  • Don’t use rhetorical questions- They’re not a hook. People use these to start queries sometimes, and it just feels like filler. “Have you ever wanted to just pick up and leave your life behind?” would be better done as “Jesse walked out of the McMansion she’d bought with her husband without looking back. Armed only with a few thousand dollars, she hopped a bus to NYC to chase her dream of being a Broadway star.”
  • Get to your story first-Some agencies will have you putting the personalization (the quick bio) up front. I suggest putting it last unless they say otherwise, because it’s mostly to show you’re human and not a jerk. It’s not going to make them more disposed to requesting your novel if you like their website or share their love for Zebras. If they posted an #MSWL for it, you can mention it if it’s not obvious how that element plays in. Keep the personalization to a couple lines, tops, and keep it light. This isn’t the place to expose your secrets. Remember: This is a business letter, no different really than a cover letter attached to your resume. Don’t give them a reason to say no before seeing what you have to offer.
  • When it comes to comp titles, tread carefully. Too popular, and everyone’s using it. Too obscure, and they won’t know what you’re talking about. Your best bet? Don’t focus on plot. Find a nice, solid midlist title that fits the emotional themes, style, or character types instead.

I’ll leave you in suspense as to what next week’s post will be. It depends on when I finish these edits for #pitchwars. I wanted to have this pass half done by now, it’s a third done. My dayjob office moved locations over the weekend, so I expect things to be even more chaotic than usual there this week. If anyone needs me, I’ll get to you when I can, shout if it’s priority, please.

POV-Who’s head is it anyway?

Point of View covers a LOT of territory, so let me know if there are any parts of this you want me to get more in depth on, and I’ll try to work it in.

First: .

  • First person, present-I am writing a novel-This is most common in YA and MG. It gives it a stronger sense of immediacy, which is helpful in getting that younger sounding voice. (Scorpio Races, of course, uses this from two character’s perspectives.) Some adult novels use this too, especially ones that have a focus on action.
  • First person, past-I wrote a novel- Mostly used when you have an older version of the character telling their story. (Six-Gun Snow White)
  • Third person, present-Hetal is revising her novel
  • Third person, past -Hetal wrote her novel.-Most common in Adult novels.

There are, of course, exceptions. You also have the choice of limited-readers can only know what the character knows- vs omniscient-it can jump between people/events that the main character may or may not know- narration.

The Star Trek: Next Generation tie in novels, for example, are in third present omniscient, and so it mimics the effect, mostly, of looking through that camera lens. It gives you a little more insight to the thoughts and motivations of the characters than the TV episodes, but that’s basically just replacing the body language you’re missing from the screen. When you do this unintentionally, it’s called head-hopping, and gives me a headache to read, frankly. It makes it hard to get to know the characters, and often ends up making a mess in action scenes. Generally, if you want to do third person, stick with one or two people in limited POV. Past or present, whichever is more common for your genre and fits your story best.

What’s harder to figure out is who that I should be, or who needs to be holding the proverbial camera the most in third person. Your main character should be the person with the most at stake emotionally. This is why I always suggest keeping as few POVs as are ABSOLUTELY needed to tell the story. Sure, you can show what’s happening to the research team, the hot archeologist, his love interest, her cat, and the new intern who gets eaten by a grue… But some of these have more at stake, and the more POVs you have, the more chances for things to go wrong. Each person you take a POV to needs to earn their perspective, not just because it’s cool in this one spot.

Since this is already getting a bit unwieldy, I’m going to focus on the most common- First person past limited, and third person past limited.

A lot of YA does first person because it lets you FEEL a lot more of the emotions. When you’re a teenager, everything feels so much more immediate than once you get older. So this is great if your story has a lot of strong emotional situations causing internal conflict, and less external conflict. I hesitate to use it for stories with a lot of explosions or frequent battles, because that tends to end up with a lot of the POV character being knocked out, which is not nearly as fun in real life as novels tend to make it sound.

You’d think, from that, you’d want most adult romance novels in first person, right? Nope! Oddly, it’s a genre with the convention of dual close third narration. You follow the heroine, and the hero, but you’re not entirely seeing the world from their perspectives. It’s more like a camera that can read their body language as key thoughts, you just don’t get the ongoing narration. Close third is more useful, generally, than omniscient third. (For a good example of omniscient third, check most any TV tie in novel, like the Star Trek: The Next Generation ones.) You get a strong sense of the main characters, who they are, what they want, and how they feel, without getting bogged down in their internal monologue. In the case of romances, this lets you relate to the heroine/hero without getting in the way of the fantasy it’s building. The characters there are developed, but as part of those roles specifically.

Either POV, if you’re using more than one POV character, you have to craft different voices for them. You should be able to easily tell, without a chapter heading, which character you’re dealing with. It’s in the details-word choice, the details they notice, and the cadence of the sentences. We’ll go over this a bit more in a later post, but the way you weave the details in around the dialogue and into the action is really key to making a novel work well. This is where studying awesome books comes into play. I’m a firm believer that all the advice and help in the world won’t get you anywhere if you’re not reading. Yes, I know, it takes time, time you could use for your writing. Do it anyway. Read amazing books, read mediocre books. Just don’t read books you don’t enjoy. Life is too short for that.

More to come! (I’m not 100% sure what post is next at this point. Whatever I finish next, haha!)

#PitchWars Lessons: Character Arcs

Not the Advanced Readers Copies of books. I’m talking about your character’s emotional journey. As much as the external events of the story pull the character from one crisis to another, the emotional events of the story cause them to grow.

There are three people you need to focus on, typically:

Main Character(MC)-What makes someone the main character is that they are the PRIMARY DRIVER of the story. This isn’t always your sole point of view character, but the more you take away from them, the worse for your story, generally. They are the one with the most to lose, and their growth is a result of this. This is something I think Brenda Drake does well in Library Jumpers, for example. Gia discovers the magic of books, finds love, and finds danger, and grows as a result of all these things. The Gia of the beginning of the story, without those experiences, would not have been able to handle the climax of the story.

Love Interests(LI)-Almost all stories have these, because there’s nothing like intense emotion to heighten your tension. Love, more so than simply physical attraction, forces people to grow. Think of it like putting together a jigsaw: The first time you tried, it was overwhelming and you thought, there’s no way. Then you figured out you could put the edges together, and use the picture on the box to give you an idea of what it looks like. But you still have to figure out where each of the middle pieces go. Depending on the relationship, some puzzles are easier to solve. Some pieces click into place easily, other pieces take work, and others still will never fit right. Like, I love Owen dearly, but there are some parts of our relationship that we acknowledge are flawed. That’s okay. You don’t want everything perfect, you’ll get bored. Your love interest needs to grow almost as strongly as your MC, to stay worthy of them.

Antagonist (A)- Love and hate are two sides of the same proverbial coin-You can’t hate someone if you aren’t emotionally invested in them. If you, truly, don’t care about someone, you aren’t going to invest the energy in hating them. Feeling sorry for them, thinking they’re an ass, sure, but hating takes a lot of energy. To have a strong antagonist, there needs to be something they want, something they’re growing towards. The key? What they want most cannot happen if the MC and LI get their ways. To make them believable, they have to be at least as developed as the love interest, without making them too sympathetic that we don’t like your MC. If you’re having trouble with an antagonist that feels one dimensional, try seeing the story from their POV instead. If they were your protagonist, what would they think they’re trying to accomplish? How would they justify their actions?

So how to do this?

Go back to that outline, or make one: look at each scene, and ask yourself: What do I learn about MC/LI/A here? What situation, as a whole, ties them together? If your MC or Antagonist could just say “You know what? This is too much, I’m done.” and walk away unscathed past ~20%, you’ve got a major problem with their motives. They need to be in over their heads, and it needs to be intense for them. Whether the plot is full of explosions or personal revelations, it doesn’t matter. Your book will have a much stronger chance in the market if these characters have an emotional connection and the reader feels that.

Once you do that, look at how they bind together. They can’t get too comfortable with each other-If the LI and MC sit down for coffee to discuss their relationship, it needs to have tension still. If the Antagonist is a factor in that tension, all the better. Your MC should be willing to risk conflicting more with the Antagonist to make things work with LI, and vice versa.

Questions? Shout!

Next week: POV!

#PitchWars Lessons: Genre Lengths

Genre lengths are guidelines, but it’s to your advantage to try to follow them. (As always: All advice is a tool, not prescription. There are exceptions to every bit here.)

  • Publishing is a business full of risks. They aren’t going to push the envelope for a debut author. They’re already taking a risk on publishing a book with a new author. You have to earn your way, via having good sales, to pressing the envelope. This is also why it can be helpful to write solidly within your genre, and target it towards what a specific group of publishers tends to like (Especially in romance, where each publisher tends to have their guidelines known, they’re not likely to take on something that can’t follow their basic instructions.)
    • Readers have certain expectations. In category romance, especially, it needs to fit with the other books on their shelves of that line. If you go too long, they might think the story’s boring. If it’s too short, they might not feel they’re getting their money’s worth.

      So what to do you do when your Ms is too long? Judicious cutting.

      • Reoutline with your ending in mind. Every scene should add to your character growth, plot tension, and world building. Make sure they do. Any scenes that don’t, either fix that, or cut them. Every single scene we see SHOULD be essential to the one before it and the one after it. We want the highlights reel. The beginning and middle most often have this problem, so go through and make sure you’re not starting too early. Eliminate flashbacks and trim any place you over describe.
      • Do you have more than 2 points of view? Consider cutting them down. Make sure that nothing repeats, and that they’re really needed. You need to know whose story it is, and the reader needs to be able to follow that.

What to do when your MS is too short?

  • Look at your pacing. Is it too fast? Add more description, carefully, and if it’s first person, show your characters’ thoughts more at key points.
  • If your pacing is fine, consider if you need to add a subplot or a more complex plot. Nothing should come easy to your characters. If they just swipe the keys from the guard and walk out of the prison, that’s too easy, there’s not enough tension. Always be thinking, what is the worst thing that could happen at this moment to the character that will progress the story? Not every story has enough meat to it to be a novel. You might have a short story or novella on hand instead.
  • Look at your character arc. I’ll go over this more in detail next week, but you need space to develop your characters and their relationships, so having their arc and growth is absolutely key.

Next week- Character Arcs!


#PitchWars pitches #Pitmad

So you have a curve ball, a fast ball, a screwball… No, I’m not talking about baseball (Let’s be real, that’s about 75% of my knowledge of baseball right there). I mean pitches for contests like #Pitmad!

At the most basic, a pitch is a short bit meant to entice someone into reading your MS. There  are a few different templates you can use, and tweak to your heart’s content: (I’m pulling examples from movie log lines, because they’re easy for you to see the pattern on)

There are two main ones:

MC wants GOAL, But/Because of  OBSTACLE

Archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.”

A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.”

An ex-con reunites with his estranged wayward 16-year old daughter to protect her from drug dealers who are trying to kill her.

This is the most common. But simplifying your story enough to get to those bones is HARD, I know.

Start out with the obvious. Your MC. Don’t name them in your pitch unless they’re well known, you don’t have enough space for that. Give us a small label for them. We need to have just a very basic idea of who your protagonist is. If you have more than one, pick one per pitch, or roll them together- A team of misfits, A pirate crew, Two stubborn lawyers, etc.

Then let’s skip to the obstacle. What is it that causes the external tension in the story? Your antagonist, usually. Drug dealers, an evil overlord, cancer, doesn’t matter, strip them down to their closest match.  If there’s more than one, your plot might be a mess if they can’t be connected together into something.

Now, how are those two opposed? What is the KEY plot in the story. Looking for an item? Building an army? These all require your MC to conflict against the antagonist, with their goal being the thing the antagonist is opposed to.

You’ll see this sometimes as MC must Thing before Consequence. In those cases, the antagonist is obscured by their actions. Good if they’re not revealed in your first book,

No antagonist? That’s ok. Try this:


A man returns to his small hometown after learning that his mother has fallen ill and is about to undergo surgery.”

An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.”

That second one’s a bit wordy and explains the situation more than you’d want for a twitter pitch, but you get the idea.  It still keeps the main character, but instead of there being an antagonist, the situation itself is what drives the conflict, with the stakes built in. Usually, these are the stories with emotional stakes in the foreground. There’s no explosions, no person or group responsible for their situation as such. It’s either brought by circumstances out of their control, or as a side effect of a choice they made. It’s often earlier choices coming home to roost, or choices that were the best at the time, but have outlived their usefulness.

You still keep the MC at the front, but then what the change is comes next. Think in terms of discovery, moves, or loses. Most of the time, those words will resonate with these kinds of pitches.

Then what’s the cause of tension? Usually, these are emotional stakes inherent in the situation. Failing health, failing businesses, a war, etc.

There are other variants, obviously, but these cover the majority of stories.

So write your pitch. Then trim it to the space you have. Look for over elaboration. For example,

““A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armor worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past.”

Could become “A young boy must find his dead Samurai father’s magic armor to defeat a vengeful spirit.”

An Irish immigrant lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local. When her past catches up with her, however, she must choose between two countries and the lives that exist within.”

Becomes “An Irish immigrant falls in love in 1950s Brooklyn, but her past forces her to choose between two countries and futures.”

Does it catch all the nuances? Nope! That’s not what this is for. The key is to simplify without using too many unfamiliar terms (especially in SF/F!), and while keeping the primary conflict in mind.

Questions? Shout! Good luck in #Pitmad, I’m cheering you on from my editing cave!

(Next week: How long should your story be? Exactly as long as it needs to be to tell it… but.)

Post-#PitchWars Advice


So now that picks have been announced, a couple things to note:

  1. The next two months are jam packed for me. Between working on Hetal’s fabulous MS, client work, a trip to NYC for a Broadway show and meeting up with one of my CP’s while we’re there, the dayjob hitting the end of the contract year and pushing us so we at least get close to our goals… Yeah. I’ll be around, but blog posts are going to be once a week, on Mondays.

  2. I want to pick your brain: What else would you like me to post about? I’m planning to write up a whole bunch of posts on the craft of writing. I’ve got several started, but if there’s specific areas you’d want to see my thoughts on, suggest them in the comments! I’d like to give you guys a mini class, basically, so you can edit along with Pitchwars.
  3. I know it’s tempting, when you don’t get picked, to want to quit. Don’t. Your not being picked is not a judgement of you or your work. It’s sheer numbers. Walk into a bookstore, and allow yourself to only buy one book. Why did you pick that one, not the one next to it, or the one with the blue cover? It was because you hate blue and only like purple, right? No! Unless you get specific feedback saying “Yo, this blue here? That’s problematic, it won’t sell”, don’t take it as anything other than it was one book on the shelf, and something about theirs appealed slightly more. There were easily 20 more that, if we’d had time, I would have wanted to request and they could have easily been picked instead. We were also having to consider what the other person likes, what the market does, and the amount of work it’d need vs the time we have.
  4. Especially in such a crowded area as SF/F, the market was a major factor. Writing is a craft, an art. Publishing is a business. One of the things that I always feel is rather soul crushing-You can write the best novel in the world, but if it’s a hard to sell concept in the market, if it’s something like vampires or dystopian right now, it’s going to have a harder go of it. Not saying it can’t sell, because amazing writing has a way of wiggling past barriers. But something that’s only good, and would sell in a hot market, won’t in the tight market. So much of this industry is timing, luck, and keeping up on what’s going on. So keep following new friends who are writers and watching what sells on Publisher’s Marketplace (Not all deals are reported there, but a lot are).
  5. Find CPs, find editors (I’m booked til November, but the other kickass ladies at Chimera are also fabulous. Many other mentors edit as well.), but get fresh eyes on your book. Take whatever of their feedback resonates with you, after you sleep on it. Always sleep on it first, because your kneejerk reaction WILL be to feel like they’re mean and your writing is awful. I promise you, it’s not. Look for big issues, and then tackle them.

    Set goals, set deadlines, and then crush it. You’ve got this!


Characterization-More Than Paper Dolls+A peptalk for #Pitchwars

I have the worst time with characters in my rough drafts. They’re always too SOMETHING- Too heartless, too timid, too something. It’s not until I get the feedback from my beta readers that I usually see it. But then the fun begins: How do you take these characters who are one or two dimensional and make them leap off the page?

Think about why this story is THEIR story. This is, I think, the foremost key. Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz had to be a farm girl with a stubborn streak and a soft spot for her dog. Anyone else would have quailed from the Wicked Witch’s anger. Imagine a pampered city girl and her cat in the same position! Without making them a Chosen One, what is it about your MC that makes them able to rise to the occasion? It’s not enough to just say, “Well, all the action happens to them.” Well, yes, but why doesn’t it happen to the girl down the street, or her brother?

How do you avoid that dreaded Chosen One angle? Your MC shouldn’t be the only person in the world with that Specialness. But… wait, didn’t you just say, this story needs to be for them? Exactly. There’s a middle ground here. This is especially a problem in SF/F because you have all these powers to use. They can fly, they can shoot lasers, they can save the universe from the powers of Evil. But… Why? What is it about them that drives them to push themselves to be good enough/powerful enough/WANT IT BAD ENOUGH to face what seems like certain doom, no matter the scale? What drives them? It has to be internal reactions/decisions derived from the external situation.

It’s two sides of the same coin. Every time I go to edit my novels, or someone else’s, I’m looking at what drives the characters. Not just the MC, though they’re my main focus; but the love interest and the antagonist too. For example, I was helping a CP with her outline recently, and the antagonist was coming across as a bit of a one dimensional villain. She was stuck. We had to dig into the story’s bones, to the backstory, to the protagonist’s core, to find out WHY. Because ultimately, you want your antagonist to be a foil to your protagonist, but not in an obvious way. If they always go right when your MC goes left, that’s boring. I adore worlds where morality isn’t cut and dry, where the choice isn’t right/wrong, save the day or doom the world. But to make us care about the stakes, we HAVE to care about the character. We need to fear they’ll lose, even as we know the narrative structure always has them win. We have to care when those they care about are lost, and to do that, we have to feel the cost TO the main character. Swat a fly, we don’t care. Crush their support system, and we care, a lot. But it’s too simple if the antagonist is predictable and unrelatable. We need to understand the motive for both, even if we don’t agree with them.

Because then, when it’s just the MC vs the antagonist? We hold our breath, and we bite our nails. The pages fly. Because either one is set up to win, and they both want it badly enough to make it happen.

Real talk, #pitchwars: Later this week, picks will be up. A tenth of you, roughly, will be ecstatic. The other 90% of you will be disappointed, even crushed. You know, the very first convention I ever went to, there were some writers from Star Trek: Next Generation, a series I adored as a kid. When they were asked “What’s the one piece of advice you’d give an aspiring writer?”, they responded “Run, run now. Get out while you still can, because if you can do anything other than this, you should.” I was completely pissed. How dare these people crush hopes?

Yet we crush hopes every time, because we can’t avoid it. We can only pick one. Last year, some of us were lucky enough to get a bonus pick and get 2. But either way, that’s nothing compared to how many we’d want to help. But wanting to help doesn’t make it so. I can’t realign the plasma conduits to give me more free time to give every entry feedback (Even the feedback for the fulls I requested that don’t get picked may happen in November rather than September because of my dayjob, client work, and the rest of life has to come first. This is why Chimera Editing exists. It allows me to prioritize giving people feedback and help far more than I’d be able to otherwise.)

What, I suspect, those script writers meant was: This is a hard industry. If you are going to be dissuaded so easily, then you won’t make it. You’ll go sell real estate, get a call center job, do anything else but chase this dream.

Here’s the secret: You have what it takes to prove them wrong. Do what you need to, but channel that anger, that disappointment, that “I’ll show them” into growing. Because we’re in an industry where we are never, ever masters of our craft. This isn’t chemistry. We can’t just take Reagent A and combine it with Reagent B and get Particulate C and Solution D. At best, we’re taking experience, often years of it, and based on what other, similar projects have had as results, saying, “This has a better shot.” That’s it.

You can chase the market or ignore it. You can add romance or keep it out with a thorny wall. Whatever you do, FOLLOW YOUR PASSION, then temper it with your head. Much like you wouldn’t run a marathon without finding the right shoes, or wearing jeans, take the time to build the skills, to read widely, and in depth. Read bad novels, read amazing ones, and see if you can figure out why they’re considered bad or amazing. What is it that makes them tick? Write book reports, reviews, intern for an agent or publisher if you get a chance. Not because the traditional publishing side is the only way to go (It’s not!), but because you learn a lot about how the book world works from it. Get reinforcement from fans, even if they’re just your friends who think you’re amazing. Get criticism from your editors, from CPs, from anywhere you can.

Because someday? If you keep at it and keep at it and keep at it, and never let anyone convince you to give up, even if that anyone is sometimes yourself? You’ll get there. You’re not there yet, but tomorrow’s always another day.❤ For whatever it helps, I’m rooting for you all.