Pub Rants

Glitch! Take Two.

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STATUS: Quiet in publishing because it’s MLK day. Take a moment to think about the impact he had on our world today.

I’m happy to say that the e-newsletter is undergoing a few tweaks and will probably be sent out by Friday. Don’t forget that the subscription process is a double opt in so there’s no chance of spamming. You must respond to the email sent to you in order to be officially on the mailing list.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SAILING by Christopher Cross

Let’s go from computer glitches to writer glitches because these might be the real rejection culprits. Are you ready to get critical and be honest about your manuscript? If so, here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

1. If writing suspense, is your story basically one long chase scene? This is a tough call because there appears to be a lot of events happening but ultimately, when the plot is broken down, and all you have are long, involved chase scenes, you’re going to run into problems.

2. In fantasy, how many scenes do you have where the main characters are sitting around a fire, dinner, at a table (insert whatever) and chatting? Don’t mistake event summary as actual action or scene building. In fact, do we need this summary? Good writers seamlessly interweave any summations to allow the story forward momentum.

3. In all genres, have you mistaken dialogue for action or scene building or for characterization? Remember, there has to be a balance. It can’t be all dialogue at the sacrifice of the other stuff. Some folks are great dialoguers. Don’t rely on your strength to carry a whole novel.

4. I see this a lot in fantasy. Do you have dramatic or action-packed scenes that are great but ultimately don’t further the story any? This is the hardest to be honest about because you love these scenes. They are sooooooo good but if they don’t help to develop the story, you’re going to get dinged.

5. Are you so in love with your characters that you have them do all sorts of fun stuff in scenes but ultimately these scenes don’t interconnect to the main story unfolding? Misguided character love has caused many a downfall for submissions received.

Can you list what actually physically happens in your story? Do it. How many things are on that list? Too many and your story is underdeveloped. Too few and it hasn’t got enough meat to it.

You’d be surprised at how often I pass on good, solid writing simply because nothing happens. Now with literary fiction, you’ve got a little more leeway but it’s the kiss of death for commercial mainstream and genre fiction.

26 Responses

  1. Tia N. said:

    Concerning item 4. I had to do this with my story. I had this wonderful scene where my character was swimming and trudging through aqueducts inspired by those in ancient Rome. Then I asked myself, why is she here? What is she doing here? Is there a reason that she is here, or did you just want to write a cool aqueduct scene? So that scene joined about 25,000 words worth of other discarded scenes!

  2. S. W. Vaughn said:

    Thanks for a great list, Kristin! Actually, your #1 is a great illustration of the difference between suspense and thriller.

    And just last week I scrapped around 2/3 of a novel (150 lovely pages down the drain!) to start over again from scratch, because I realized I was guilty of #3 (see the cool characters sitting around talking!), and there was nothing happening. Sigh. It’s all good when it makes a better book in the end, though. 🙂

  3. jane said:

    FYI, I just tried to sign up for the newsletter and it told me there was an error while processing my form. (I tried twice — it happened during the 2nd opt-in part). Will try again tomorrow, but thought I’d let you know.

    Thanks for all the helpful info you post here!

  4. Anonymous said:

    This posting is fabulous!
    I am going to print this out and go over my WiP with it.

    Thanks, Kristen.

  5. Anonymous said:

    As a poet, and an avid reader, I have to say that I very much enjoyed my leisurely stroll through your blog…it was time well spent; entertaining and enlightening. I thank you…

  6. katiesandwich said:

    I, like Jane, had a problem signing up for the newsletter, but I think it was a different problem. My computer is evil and is constantly trying to get me.

    This post was really great. I’m at the stage right now where I’m eliminating all of these things in my manuscript. I’ve already cut a ton of cool stuff that ultimately doesn’t advance the plot. It hurt, but my novel is much, much stronger. And realizing that doesn’t hurt at all! In fact, it feels awesome.

    Off to try to sign up for the mailing list again…

  7. krista said:

    I’m also suffering from a case of “a system error occurred while processing your request.” I want the shiny newsletter! Woe is me.

  8. Anonymous said:

    So what is too much and too little? My novel has about 6 major “plot points” or whatever.

    Too much?

    Too little?

  9. chisem said:

    Great post Kristin:
    If you have the inclination, could you explain a bit more about:

    “Can you list what actually physically happens in your story? Do it. How many things are on that list? Too many and your story is underdeveloped. Too few and it hasn’t got enough meat to it.”

    I’m a tad confused as to why too many means an underdeveloped story.

    Great post today. I find your work refreshing and interesting.

    My best,

  10. JDuncan said:

    Hmmm. I will have to go over my bloated fantasy rough draft and see how it measures up to this stuff. 200k is far too fat for submission, so of course I have to figure out what doesn’t need to be there.

    Another item of death I’ve seen in all my blog reading and such is the big long wind-up before things actually get going. I think fantasy, and I think mine is no exception, especially of the epic variety run the risk of getting bogged down in setup and bore the reader before they can get to the good stuff. I’m guessing you’ve seen your fair share of this, Kristen.

  11. Anonymous said:

    chisem–I can’t speak for Kristin, but the way I interpretted it was that if you have too many things happening, there’s no way you could have developed all of them properly. So therefore at least some of them will be underdeveloped. On the other hand, if you have too few, then you’ve probably written quite a bit of “filler” to compensate (hence, not enough meat).

  12. Anonymous said:

    Actually, I’ve read a lot of plays to see how they use dialogue to further plot and characterization. Thanks for the other tips. Jack.

  13. Anonymous said:

    I’ll add my thanks for the informative post AND failure of the email signup. Second form gives a system error.

  14. Anonymous said:

    Hi. I was scrolling through your archives but I cannot find what I was looking for. I was trying to find a post you did many moons ago on author-agent contracts. Something in reference to a clause stating that the agent would be paid for project forever even if you (author) signed with another agent. I just wanted to re-read it and get some info. from it. Thanks for your help!

  15. Anonymous said:

    Oooh, great post, good advice… what were Paris Hilton’s strengths in her opus? Too much action (gum chewing, exiting SUVs sans underwear, botching up the English language) or too much dialogue (“That’s hot”, “As if”, “Whatever”)?

  16. Anonymous said:

    Great advise! I’m seeing pearls here!
    Thanks. Only yesterday I was working on a sitting-by-the-fire scene! ThankGod that is actually the only one on the story.

  17. mimi said:

    Hey anonymous 2:03 pm–

    If you were paying attention, Kristin said she’d read Paris Hilton’s book. She didn’t rep it. Big difference. But she’s a smart businesswoman. I imagine if a book with that kind of name recognition landed on her desk, she’d give it a good, hard look and possibly an offer. Making money? Now that’s hot.

  18. Anonymous said:

    Oh, this always terrifies me, because my characters do talk rather a lot. I try to vary locations, and there’s lots of action in there, but when I see posts like this I always think they shouldn’t be sitting down for a moment and start panicking.

  19. Allison Brennan said:

    Oh, #4 hits home big time. Kill your darlings. Everyone tells me that (no, they’re not talking about my children, I don’t think . . . )

    It is so, so, so hard to cut a scene that is perfect. Beautifully written, sweet or scary or sexy or sincere. But it doesn’t do anything. I usually leave it in the first draft. It makes me feel better 🙂 Now, my editor just writes at the end of the scene, “I don’t think this furthers the story.”

    I just did revisions for my April release. I love this book. And so did my editor, until a big chunk near the end. Another character sort of took over. I ended up cutting 40 pages and picking three, 3-page scenes that were the “meat” of those 40 pages. The book is so much stronger. (even though those 40 pages were gut-wrenching, fabulous, and poignant. LOL)

  20. Anonymous said:

    You’d be surprised at how often I pass on good, solid writing simply because nothing happens.

    That’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks to any writer, especially one with the gift of crafting good prose.

    I don’t know how else to say it, but one does have to get out of the way of their characters. One has to check ‘what’s really going on’ and delve into the emotions and the motivation that pushes the plot along.

    There was a particularly nasty three week period where I had my lead character on train. Literally, I had her stuck there. Oh, I could describe the scenery, the coffee cups in styrofoam, the sound of the ticket clicker (you see –this is the kiss of death for literary fiction), but I didn’t know why she was on the fecking train. It was a bit like being on a cruise with a bunch of loonies and wondering what you have to do with any of them!

    So I had to stop and put those scenes away and come back to them later. Until I figured out how it was going to push the plot along, what was going to happen, and also what personal revelations she was going to get from being on the fecking train it was best to take her off altogether. As it was, I ended up cutting 75% of the scene. There’s still a train, but I scrapped all the extraneous description.

    Have a good writing week, everyone.

    btw… if anyone has tivo’d Peter O’Toole’s interview on Charlie Rose, he has a lot to say about good writing and character.

  21. Anonymous said:

    Great post and one to keep by the computer.

    But it made me think of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” where there are several sitting and talking scenes.

    Personally I like dialogue if it furthers the story. It’s hard to have a conversation in the middle of a war.

  22. Carradee said:


    I’ve tried to cut the conversation and add physical action, I really have. But my POV character won’t let me. The paranoid whelp hates action. It attracts too much attention her way.

    Now, I can only hope that this doesn’t mean my story’s inherently flawed.

    #2 worries me. I’ll have to chew on that one. Thanks for these tips!