Pub Rants

180 Degrees?

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What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLUE TRAIN by John Coltrane

I’ve been doing a lot of full manuscript reading lately—which is always exciting. That next new client could be a read away. It seems like full manuscript requests go in spurts. We won’t ask for anything for a month or two and then boom, we’ll ask for four or five all at the same time.

So we recently just had a spurt so Sara and I have been reading like mad, and we’ve noticed an interesting trend for some of the fulls we’ve read the last couple of months.

The work will start off strongly with solid writing and a building story and then suddenly, the storyline turns 180 degrees from where we thought it was going. We are left puzzled.

What’s wrong with that?

Well, on one hand, nothing. Who wants to read a story where it’s obvious about what’s going to happen or how it will end? Twists or a little surprise are good things.

I agree but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about reading a manuscript that is really building one particular storyline (and a story I’m liking and really curious as to how it will end) when suddenly the plot diverges and the story goes galloping off in a totally different direction.

And I’m left with a raised eyebrow and a “wow, I wasn’t expecting that. That’s not the story I thought they were telling.”

Despite good writing and a concept I really, really, really wanted to work, I end up passing. The revision would potentially be too big or maybe that’s the story the writer really wanted to tell and I just couldn’t see it.

It always makes me sad though because the initial concept was really original.

13 Responses

  1. Kimber An said:

    I think I know what you’re talking about and it is a tough thing for a writer. Last time, I had a main plot and a very strong secondary plot that was constantly threatening to take over, not to mention a bazillion other little plot threads all in knots. Made me want to grab my head and run screaming from the room. I hope those writers get it sorted out and get a second chance one day. They certainly have my sympathy.

  2. Adrienne said:

    Do you think that it may have something to do with every book now having to have a twist? That people think they have to end completely differently from what people expect of them?

    It may not be the whole story, but I do wonder if that has something to do with it.

  3. A Writress said:

    Would this be the sort of thing that gets mentioned in the rejection letter? Maybe spelled out as the reason?

    And isn’t this 180 degree thing sort of what happens in the otherwise brilliant Julianne Moore-movie “The Forgotten”? There I was, enjoying the psychological enigma, wondering how it would all tie together – and then – aliens…!

  4. Kelly said:

    Can you give an example of this and maybe an example of the opposite, a well-done twist?
    Is the problem that the principal characters disappear and others take over or something like that?

  5. Patrick McNamara said:

    Maybe you should ask for a synopsis so you can tell how the story will go before reading the whole manuscript.

    It makes it particularly difficult for the writer if they have to worry about getting rejected just because of how the story goes.

    If you look at TV today it’s important to keep the viewer guessing. People are wise to the old tricks. If you suggest something in the first chapter they’re going to have it figured out by the third.

  6. Kimber An said:

    Kristin has mentioned before that she always gives a reason for the rejection of a full manuscript. This is particularly excellent of her, I think, because the story concept must have been good if she requested it in the first place. Knowing the reason why it fell short of an acceptance can be extremely helpful to the author!

  7. Anonymous said:

    I find myself wondering if this “sudden shift” might at the heart be pointing to a GMC issue. I am an admitted “plotter” so I do know where my stories are going long before I write the first word of chapter one, but there have been many moments where I have thought “wouldn’t it be neat if. . .” only to have to sit back and realize, yes, that idea would be a neat plot twist, but my specific characters would never go there. More often than not, it is my characters’ internal GMC that holds them true to their storyline.

  8. Kristin said:

    I would agree with you, anonymous. I don’t plot a whole heck of a lot before I write, but I do know my characters well. Usually what guides my story is the internal conflict of the character. If you don’t know your characters well enough, I could see your book going off on some other plotline…

  9. Anonymous said:

    I certainly agree with you…I was recently re-reading Tommyknockers (S. King) and in the middle of the book, he drops the two main characters and opens the story to a multitude of town ‘characters’.
    When I was younger, I stuck with the book…but not this time around.
    I couldn’t believe he stopped the main story…simply could not believe it. I wanted the story he was telling and he refused to keep telling it.
    Now we all know how popular he is…but that was too much for me.

  10. Kanani said:

    Well, I think twists are hard to do. We see them in movies all the time, but it’s a bit different in novels, where you’ve got the reader in a groove and there has to be a reason for shifting gears.guy2250

  11. Anonymous said:

    Anon 9:46: What’s “GMC”? I’m guessing Goal Motivation Conflict, or something similar?

  12. ~Nancy said:

    Anonymous 11:45 said: What’s “GMC”? I’m guessing Goal Motivation Conflict, or something similar?

    Whew. Thought it was just me.